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Biology Is Destiny 

Where do you go when the frontier has been mapped, sliced and packaged into neat subdivisions? What do you do when it's all been done before? You do the only thing you can do: mix it up, rip it up, f*** it up. So it is with rock 'n' roll, that perennially surprising and noisy form of self-expression cursed with having to continually re-invent itself in order to avoid extinction. The pattern is locked on repeat: idioms once deemed old-school become new again, as a generation weaned on a particular sonic dogma comes of age and takes up the cause. It's this cycle of decay and rebirth that gives rock 'n' roll not only its vibrancy but also its sense of tradition.

Japanther didn't just appear out of nothing. For all of its innovation and fresh-as-a-daisy relevance, this fun and provocative Brooklyn duo is clearly a product of its parentage. It's what the band does with its birthright that makes it interesting. Japanther is currently on a collision course with Spokane and will be smashing it up at the Spike Underground on Wednesday night with locals the Awesome Miami.

Inspired by the lo-fi anti-pop of late '80s and early '90s bands like Beat Happening and Sebadoh, Japanther updates unschooled, enthusiastic, D.I.Y. musical primitivism for lovers of new sound here in the early Oughts. The duo's intense, distorted spin on garage-punk (or "bedroom pop blast," as they refer to it) is informed with synth fills, sampled ephemera and hip-hop beats. Matt Reilly's fuzzed-out bass provides the dominant instrumental texture against which programmed rhythms and Ian Vanek's savage kit drumming are fired. Vocals are leveled alternately and together by both Reilly and Vanek into a telephone receiver which serves as a microphone. Though artistically ambitious and technically proficient, Japanther ditches virtuosity for intensity and complexity for honesty. Melody and other pop niceties frequently find their way into the revved-up, amp-up, shouted-out cacophony, making for quite an approachable, even lovely, aural manifestation of frustration.

Vanek and Reilly formed Japanther in 2001 after meeting each other in art school (to this day, the guys refer to the band as an "art project") and immediately embarked on a relentless hell-ride of recording (at home and in whatever small studios will have them) and touring (they were last spotted in Sydney, Australia). Everything -- booking, producing, marketing, what-have-you -- is done in-house. They formed their own label (Tapes Records) to release Japanther discs and those of kindred spirits in rock. Dump the Body in Rikki Lake is the band's latest full-length offering, adding to an impressive discography that also includes the album, Leather Wings, the five-song EP, South of Northport, and a new-ish EP called Operating Manual for Life Here on Earth, which was recorded with "most of the time" member and guitarist/vocalist Claudia Meza.

Live, the band serves up considerable visual spectacle, with Vanek leaving his drum kit from time to time to confront the audience more directly with sweat and lung shards, clutching that phone receiver as if it were a lifeline to salvation or sanity.

Salvation, sanity or oblivion? Only those who make it down to the Japanther show Wednesday night will know for sure.

38 Spankings for Ken -- Punk can have a taxing effect on the body. Let me rephrase that: The punk lifestyle can have a taxing effect on the body. The music though... sigh. The music keeps you young, man. And since Fat Tuesdays owner Ken Dupree is rounding the corner towards late thirty-dom this Friday, you bet your buttons he's throwing a birthday party rife with as much punk rock as he can afford.

Zeke, one of Dupree's all-time favorite bands, will headline Friday night's show, with local partners-in-crime Scatterbox and the Creeps opening up the party. Old dogs to the punk rock scene, the Seattle-based Zeke has been around the block more than a few times and used to be a semi-regular feature at Spokane's old punk rock bastion, Ichabod's North. The hard-driving, fast-paced, play-like-it's-the-end trio has toured the globe, spouting its fit-inducing Northwest sound past language barriers and borders. After losing one member in 2002 to "more profitable and domestic responsibilities," the rest of Zeke soldiered on, hardly slowing its advance.

That shameless attitude toward touring and playing that has earned Zeke the huge and loyal fan base that it enjoys today. The band has kicked out the jams with everyone from the Misfits and Methods of Mayhem, to Iron Maiden, Pearl Jam and Korn. All of that, combined with their red-white-and-blue logos and nods to NASCAR Americana, says all you need to know about why Spokane loves them so dearly. (Leah Sottile)

Publication date: 1/20/04

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