Slight Return: Legs’ Indie Pop and the Dead Kennedys’ Visuals in SF Weekly

By Sam Lefebvre
SF Weekly
July 9th, 2014

Legs’ debut, Pass the Ringo, earned its place on SF Weekly‘s list of 2013’s best local albums by deftly executing minimalist pop. On it, a lush bedrock of guitar mingles with saturated analog production as the band strolls behind the beat. The drums are little more than slaps of the snare on the two and four, punctuated by textural cymbal flourishes, while the guitar and organ mostly keep time, advancing irresistible chord progressions with little rhythmic deviation. All of this restraint highlights the vocal melodies of Jeffrey Harland and Amelia Adams wonderfully. On “Go Ask Your Mother,” Harland’s affected English accent (it’s modeled on the ambiguous European accents of movie villains, apparently) delivers the lilting refrain, “Go ask your mother/if she loves you.” As they breeze by, it’s easy to take the words for indie-pop preciousness, but closer inspection uncovers Harland’s snide slight. It’s “Two Colours,” though, that truly makes the case for Legs’ decision to hold back: When the guitar drops out completely in anticipation of Adams’ verses, the gesture of simplicity imparts arresting beauty.

Until recently, Legs hadn’t played live in over a year. A performance at the Chabot Space and Science Center last month, where the band played beneath cosmic projections, marked the quintet’s return to the stage. Plus, the group has announced a new album. Its inclusion on a bill at Hemlock Tavern on Friday, July 11, creates quite the international showcase. Legs guitarist Matt Bullimore hails from New Zealand, as does touring act Civil Union. Also booked is Michael Beach, who lived in Australia for several years. Lastly, the raucous local outfit Violent Change will perform. Like Harland, Violent Change’s vocalist Matt Bleyle also sings in British English, but he doesn’t explain why.

Opening that same Friday is an art exhibit titled “Punk: Convulsive Beauty,” which doubles as the launch for a new book from local publishers PM Press, called Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years, by Alex Ogg. The exhibit, held at the gallery iHeartNorthBeach, presents photographs by Ruby Ray and visual work by Winston Smith, both of whose work appears in Ogg’s book.

A staff photographer for V. Vale’s seminal Search & Destroy fanzine, Ray captured bands like Crime, the Avengers, and the Sleepers — as well as punk’s early adopters — at home and in the streets. True to Search & Destroy’s broader countercultural focus, her best-known image is perhaps a portrait of William Burroughs. Smith, who is named after the protagonist in George Orwell’s 1984, rose to notoriety for handling the Dead Kennedys’ graphic presentation, along with the emblem of Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles records. Working in collage and illustration, his incisive political satire has graced the cover of The New Yorker and other major publications since. As local artists exit San Francisco in droves, the commitment of longtime residents like Smith and Ray, both to the city and to their political convictions, is invigorating.

Back to Alex Ogg’s Author Page | Back to Winston Smith’s Artist Page | Back to Ruby Ray’s Artist Page