Gig review: The Vermin, They at The Wet Stop, 2/11/98

Originally presented in Five/One Magazine, Spring 1998

The Vermin are a Las Vegas institution. Back when I returned to this town (for good?) early in this decade, the first bands I ever heard of were Cries & Whispers, Hers Tabula Rasa, Hostage Symphony, and, of course, Vermin From Venus. They were featured on the cover of the first issue of Scope I ever picked up (and back then, Scope was better than sliced bread!). At one point in my life, I had one of their 7-inches hanging from my ceiling. And now, known as just the Vermin, Derrick “Dirk” Wells leads his punk trio into history, as perhaps the world’s greatest bar band. But, before we get into the good sleazy fun of the Vermin, we must first enter the pop universe of They.

They is a band which, to say the least, probably should not have played alongside the Vermin. They pick up the pop-rock flame where Collective Soul, Cheap Trick, and Soul Asylum leave off. It seems that the only reason They opened for the Vermin was because bassist Sterling is such good pals with the Vermin guys (we all love ya, Sterling). Their set framed by unabashedly shimmering pop songs ripe with hyper-obvious emotional content, They play a form of rock and roll which, for better or worse, seems to remain timeless: Upbeat, dancey drums, playful, crunchy guitars, punchy, driving bass lines, and treble-rich vocal melodies. The truth is, They is a pretty good band — but one your mother would dig just too much.

On the other hand, your mother would probably gasp at the antics of the Vermin — but she’d end up putting out anyway. The Vermin deliver old-school punk the way it was meant to be played: fast, ugly, and loud. Jerry pounds on his skins like a toy monkey on crack, Ruckus’ bass isn’t so much punchy as it is explosive, and Dirk tears into his vintage SG with chaotic speed and precision, shout out vocals with a slight Cockney tint. Songs like “Girl Says No” and “Roach” not only knock you over, but they kick you while you’re down with surprisingly catchy hooks. But the Vermin aren’t all about the music. In fact, these boys are like a variety show unto themselves. They’ll jostle the crowd between (and during) songs; tell jokes, stories — and most of all this particular night — rip apart the opening act. 50% comedy, 50% music, but 100% punk, it’s the Vermin versus you … and that’s just the way they like it.

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