The first thing I see when I walk into the Blue Star, a retro-fashioned diner/bar/venue plonked in the middle of an industrial warehouse district in downtown Los Angeles, is Pangea guitarist Cory Hanson arguing with the door girl. I can’t quite catch the issue, but it’s getting heated. Pangea lead singer/songwriter/auteur William Keegan comes over to investigate.
“She doesn’t believe I’m in Pangea!” says Cory indignantly. It’s hard to fault the door girl for her incredulousness: Dressed in his usual uniform of rolled up trousers and cardigan sweater, blonde, bespectacled Cory looks less like the lead guitarist of one of L.A.’s hottest punk bands and more like he just wandered off a yacht at Hyannis Port. William assures her that Cory is indeed a member of Pangea and, problem solved, we’re all stamped in for a night of first rate punk rock.
I’ve been going to see Pangea regularly since first catching them supporting TRMRS last year. I was blown away by the band’s high energy and catchy songs; and, though I sort of panned the band’s tape on first listen, the more I saw them play, the more I came to appreciate their particular brand of what can only be deemed drunk-punk. I mean that in the best possible way, for Pangea demonstrate a rare sense of self-parody that so many bands playing in their idiom lack. Come to think of it: Pangea possess a sense of self-parody that bands playing in ANY idiom lack, which may explain why their most popular song is the popish, dramatic, hilarious “Too Drunk To Cum”.
One thing that’s become apparent in the past few months is that a steady stream of touring has transformed Pangea from a good band to a great one. Erik Jimenez, in particular, has become one of the best punk drummers in L.A. His relentless energy and creative beats add variance to the standard breakneck punk pacing and make the music more interesting than it might be otherwise. (Thomas Alvarez of the Audacity asked Erik to fill in on drums while Alvarez was on tour with King Tuff; enough said.) Bassist Danny Bengston completes the rhythm section with a fresh, McCartney-influenced approach to melodic bass lines. And preppy Cory? It’s his 70′s style guitar heroics that add an undeniably hard edge to William’s occasionally sugary pop-punk and lend the band a scoop of defiantly un-punk technical mastery to go along with the snotty attitude. Not bad for a group that started life as a freaky art school folk band.
Pangea’s musical proficiency is certainly on display tonight, although the energy in the Blue Star isn’t the highest. No matter: I’ve seen this band turn an audience of hipsters and drunks at a shitty L.A. sports bar into instant Pangea fans, so the group of stoned punks at the Blue Star don’t stand a chance. The band turns on the charisma and the kids move up towards the stage as Pangea launch into familiar tracks off their excellent Living Dummy LP (Burger Records). A mosh pit erupts during the rollicking “Shitty”, an obvious fave among attendees. The band packs their setlist with similar crowd pleasers, but there’s plenty of new stuff mixed into the setlist, along with a cover of the Circle Jerks’ “I Was So Wasted” (apropos, no?)
The show wasn’t one of their best, but that has more to do with my own perception than any failing on the Pangea’s part. The problem is that Pangea have outgrown their material. When played alongside chunky new songs like “Snake Dog”, Pangea’s older tracks have begun to sound a little simplistic, a little sing-songy. They’re still undeniably catchy, but the depth apparent in the newer material (combined with their increasing musicianship) left this reviewer hungry for more substantial fare. Sugar is all well and good, but eventually you have to move onto greater things or turn into yet another fourth-generation Blink-182 clone playing unserious songs about getting wasted long after the joke has ceased to amuse.
It strikes me that Pangea is in a transitional period. They’ve always been a bit darker than their previous releases suggest. Killer Dreams, the band’s latest EP, is a better showcase for their moodier musical shadings, a direction which, if the new songs are any indication, the band plans to pursue. William’s lyrics are still primarily about drinking too much and doing stupid things, but read between the lines and you’ll find a finely tuned sense of pathos if not outright existentialism. It’s there in lyrics about goblins and ghouls, about meaningless things, about emptiness inside. It’s always exciting to see a band developing musically, but catching them in the middle of metamorphosis is kind of like catching someone with their clothes half off: a little embarrassing for both parties involved. Come to think of it, it’s the sort of the thing Pangea might have written a song about once. Well, as they say, tragedy is the root of comedy.
Words: Mariana Timony