The scene is the majestic, if under-populated, Ventura Theater. Mesozoic punk group the Damned is slated to play, but it’s still early in the show and there are only four people on the floor to see openers Pleasure Forever.
The sound is horrible, Ventura Theater is too cavernous for good acoustics with a small crowd. The band is finishing up “Magus Opus,” an eight-plus minute piece that started soft but has now built up into rippling sheets of noise. Keyboardist Andy Rothbard pounds viciously at the keys. Guitarist Josh Hughes slumps to his knees, still strumming. Drummer Dave Clifford drops his sticks, wanders behind an amp, sits down, and it’s over.
“The show was fine,” said Hughes later. “I fucked up a lot.”
Pretty calm words considering the single-digit crowd. But as veterans of the rock ‘n’ roll underground, Pleasure Forever is used to it by now. Hughes started with Colorado noise-core quintet Angel Hair back in the early ’90s before meeting up with Rothbard and Clifford to form the VSS along with Angel Hair frontman Sonny Kay. The four moved to the Bay Area, Kay quit, and they changed the name first to Slaves, then settling upon Pleasure Forever. So why is hopping names on a whim such a common practice for this band?
“People thought we were calling ourselves the Slaves,” Clifford said of the last name change, “and that made the main point something racial or sexual, or something else that was making a really banal statement. It made a lot more sense to have a new name, something more psychedelic or confusing.”
Apparently, misunderstanding PF is a common occurrence.
“In a lot of the reviews we’ve seen, people have said that we take ourselves really seriously,” said Hughes. “It seems bizarre to me. Just look at the cover of our album. It’s completely over the top.” The cover in question features the band members surrounded by bevies of women, alcoholic beverages, implements of violence and fruit.
Rothbard saw the cover as directly relevant to the music and the time spent recording the new album.
“There’s themes on the record that are about reaching for decadence,” he said. “When we were recording those songs, there was a lot of decadence [in San Francisco]. People hadn’t really reached a certain level of burnout yet, but I see those people reaching it now. … I think that records are just documentation, and the more that they can apply to your actual life, the better.”
This seems antithetical for a group with roots in the proselytic hardcore genre. Then again, maybe they just want to carve out a niche, however small.
“We’re pretty abstracted from the predetermined underground scene,” said Rothbard. “The crossover from Locust fans to our band is a pretty low ratio.”
As they continue to shed their sonic skin, the band is aware of the directions they are moving in.
“We’re pretty hell-bent on not repeating ourselves,” said Clifford. “[Our music] seems to be getting more melodic and less noisy, but we’re certainly not any more accessible of a band now judging by the way that people have been so confused. If you want to be accessible, you do more of a noisy rap-metal band.”
Yet Pleasure Forever has signed to indie behemoth Sub Pop, which, while not guaranteeing popularity, at least guarantees exposure. It’s my guess that uber-fame is of little concern to Pleasure.
“I think the scene is devised so that people keep it secret,” said Hughes. “There’ll be a small coterie of people who are interested in things, and that’s the entirety of that scene. … We’re not necessarily word of mouth so much now. We’re doing something that’s different anyway.”
Maybe that explains Hughes’ lack of disappointment with the barren dance floor. As the Damned takes the stage and everyone crowds up to the front to hear 25 year-old anthems, there seems to be a dearth of difference. Being a veteran, yet still immersed in the new, could be its own reward.