Watch their steps

Pub date February 4, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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Drummer Liam Morrison’s bandmates in the Amazements — Brendan, his guitar-playing brother, and Elon Etzioni, vocalist and bassist — could be heard jamming a symphonic-sounding Laibach track in the background when he picked up his phone in Los Angeles. It only got more peculiar from there: the Amazements ended up reeling off more funny, bizarre anecdotes than most groups ever accumulate in their lifetime.

For instance, there’s the incident when the Cobra Snake guy showed up to one of the ensemble’s shows: "He didn’t take any photos … he just left!" Brendan explained. "Either he was intimidated or really unaware." Conversely, they were once photographed by Mick Rock — but never got to see the shots.

In any case, no photo can do justice to the band’s dynamic, which, musically and in conversation, is tight-knit and eccentric. They quietly, relentlessly rib one another through the entire interview, and their music — a fanged and crazed take on garage-rock tradition in the James Williamson–era Stooges sense — seems born of an understanding that’s taken years to sediment. Each of them are quite young — Etzioni and Brendan are 22, and Liam is 20 — but they started playing together as preteens way back in 2001, making what Liam described as "crappy improvised stuff" based around three-chord structures.

They eventually ventured into "song" territory and arrived at a crossroads when they were hired — through Etzioni’s dad, Marvin, a member of 1980s group Lone Justice — to play an instrumental for a record by country vocalist Grey Delisle, who required a "raw garage rock" sound for one of her songs. Such straight-shootin’ session work wasn’t really the Amazements’ thing, however, as their unabashed reverence for some heavily varied sonic touchstones makes clear. As favorites, they name the Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You (Virgin, 1981), L.A. rap station Power 106, and James Brown, whose "Get It Together" they give a possessed, clanging rendition live and on record. They’re likewise fond of Three 6 Mafia: the Amazements can cover 12 songs by the Oscar-winning rap group, including a striking word-for-word version of "Side 2 Side."

An Amazements song sounds like little else: they feel Shaggs-y in their odd, homegrown sense of rock, but they definitely aren’t making music in a vacuum. In fact, last year they curated and headlined four weeks of shows at Pehrspace, the up-and-coming downtown L.A. venue where, according to Brendan, the combo "arrived at performing pubescence." In 2006 they appeared in the 40 Bands 80 Minutes! documentary, and as Etzioni mentioned, their appearance later got shouted out in Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s column for Arthur magazine.

Finally, after two years of work, they’re now within inches of completing their first full-length, soon to be released by Peter’s Pool Boys. "We’re trying to make a masterpiece!" exclaimed Liam — a claim that, judging by what I’ve heard, will likely be fulfilled. According to the group, one of the record’s most fearsome songs, "Time Anus," is a "skate anthem in Colorado" due to its inclusion in a boarding vid put together by Etzioni’s cousin, Connor MacLeod.

"Watch Your Step," meanwhile, was born of a bewildering, improvised Etzioni vocal over a short, looped sample from the tail end of curio-funk number "Tutti Fruit," and where the original "Step" was distorted with disorienting effect — "Some frequency in the loop made people nauseous and feverish," Brendan said — its finished form pairs a frenzied, devolved-sounding rap with totally wired peals of pitch-shifted guitar. It’s anomalously awesome.

If the album’s not done by tour, the Amazements will have homemade CD-Rs for purchase at their shows, which will be well worth picking up. They don’t get to play out of town that often, so roll by a gig and get your head hammered onto their proverbial stick.


With Hungry Ghost, Sad Horse, the Sandwitches

Fri/6, 9 p.m., $5

Argus Lounge

3187 Mission, SF

Also with Pierre Le Robot and Cupids

Mon/9, 9:30 p.m., free

Blondie’s Bar and No Grill

540 Valencia, SF