By Hadley Tomicki
How many shows do you attend that rock the fuck out, while no one seems to be dancing but you and that mulleted guy who drank too much Budweiser? One could never point such a finger at a Moving Units’ show, where the dance-heavy beats mix with dark progressive rock to get asses pogo-ing, shaking, and moshing like it’s Olympia circa 1993 all over again.
It’s rare to find a band with such an enthusiastic middle-sized following as the Units, who bring a funkdified, diverse bunch of ages to each show. Youthful enthusiasm and high expectations filled the historic confines of the Avalon on November 16th, as the Units debuted brand-new songs, along with a relatively recent, yet beloved oeuvre.
Sponsored by indie record label Dim Mak (named for the deadly martial art of attacking pressure points) and presided over by star DJ/label owner Steve Aoki (whose sister, Devon, totally wants to bang me), the Units had the support of the Dead ‘60s. The ‘60s are a great band sounding out carnival-esque rub-a-dub somewhere between the Clash’s Sandinista by way of Manu Chao-like radio feedback, with enough calliope riffs and punky guitar to keep the crowd piqued, skanking and headbanging. We’re keeping our eye on them and expect even greater things than their exciting self-titled first album. The Dead 60’s make for a tantalizing lead-in to the Unit’s hard-driving, stripped down songs, and a nice match akin to a pint of Black n’ Tan before a shot of Jaeger.
When the Units hit the stage for their only announced date, the floor was as jampacked as the Cobrasnake’s short shorts, and possibly sweatier. All it takes to get the youth of L.A. pumped is a simple series of handclaps from drummer Chris Hathwell, the star of the Units’ shows. In Herman Munster-esque proportions, his awkward stance and crazy energy, backed up with extreme talent on the kit, Hathwell keeps a beat unseen in modern rock. Somewhere between techno and hardcore, Hathwell’s punk speed cymbal taps provide one hell of a dancebeat. I marvel at how he does what he does, seemingly playing 1,000 beats per minute with only two hands. Occasional stage dives and frequent disappearances from his kit to get the crowd clapping again only add to his command of the room.
As the drums ensnared the crowd, Blake Miller’s distinguished guitar sound erupted from the amps, causing pandemonium and ecstasy. Anguished, driving riffs backed by a darker voice than is found on their records lead into the Unit’s repertoire. The Unit’s danceable rock contains snippets of some psychedelic, shadowy guitar, with a steady, melancholy groove lain down by bassist Johan Boegli, as if the Cure’s Phil Thornalley re-emerged to accompany dance music. Miller’s howl is no less effective, constrained yet unrelenting, it details stories of missed connections, unspoken promises, and unrequited feeling without sounding whiny like 85% of popular vocalists out there today.
With some backup guitar duties given to a new guitarist (some dude named Victor or something), The Units delivered on new songs which were more than promising, in some places more guitar driven and exploratory, definitely the sound of a band maturing without losing the qualities that make them great. Though Miller questioned the waning energy of the crowd, from up on the balcony it appeared it was only with great concentration that the surge of bodies slowed, for the songs were just as strong as ever, but at risk of being boring, sounded more intriguing and seductive than more hit-ready Unit’s tunes. For fans whose lives seem to cling on to the Unit’s every decibel, the debut of new songs could not be any more important.
It wasn’t long before Moving Units snapped back into favorites from their EP and first LP, Dangerous Dreams, bringing back the rabid movements of the audience. As far as their hometown is concerned, the Units have L.A. locked and might soon need bigger venues to hold their swelling local masses.
Moving Units are signed to Rx Records, an indie label run by Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell (who helped promote and produce Robert Nesta Marley and U2 on U.S. shores) and legendary music manager Gary Kurfirst, who managed The Ramones, Talking Heads and Jane’s Addiction. Rumor has it they are partnering up on the Unit’s next release to give the band the exposure fans and ticket sales show they deserve. If the songs they debuted last Wednesday are any testament to a forthcoming album, it won’t be long before the band Moving Units is indeed moving said units.