I remember the first Rock*A*Teens show I ever saw. They opened for Superchunk at the Cotton Club. I remember my reaction when a co-concertgoer asked me for my thoughts between their set and 'Chunk setting up.
"WHAT?!?" "WHA..?!? I CAN'T HEAR A WORD YOU'RE SAYING!" "WHAT DO I THINK?! I THINK I'M DEAF! I THINK THE SINGER SPIT ON ME. I THINK HE ALMOST HIT ME WITH HIS MIKE STAND!"
That's my first reaction to a Rock*A*teens set. In my experience, that is one of three generic reactions you will come away with from any of their shows. If nothing else, you'll come away with some significant hearing loss. The Earl, one of Atlanta's hot little indie-rock venues these days, is prepared for this eventuality. They have one of those little bubble-gum vending machines back near the bar; only they've stocked it with earplugs. That was kind of them. (For the record, my spellchecker tells me that that last sentence should end with "they", not "them", in order to pass grammar muster. I'm defaulting to "what sounds right", grammar nazis be damned.)
The second generic R*A*Ts show reaction is to simply stay out of the way. The vast majority of shows fall into this category, actually. Buy the earplugs, sit back and hope Chris Lopez doesn't hit you in the head with flying guitars. Not that he does that rock-star flying guitar thing. He doesn't. But whenever he's around the world tends to become less of a stable environment and more of a spinning vortex, so just be prepared for the possibility of flying guitars.
Finally, there are the shows where Ballard Leseman (the drummer) breaks something. If you're ever around for a show where Ballard breaks something you've most likely seen the band at their best. Whether he's putting his foot through a kick drum or his hand through a snare drum, or even if his glasses just go flying across the stage (possibly into Chris, who would then likely knock a mic stand over onto your head), the shows where Ballard has less equipment at the end than he had at the start are usually the really good ones.
Now that's just my experience, so keep your eyes open for other tell-tale signs. But keep your eyes open for flying guitars too.
Ballard broke something at this show, his kick drum pedal, to be precise. Stomped the damned thing into obliteration, apparently. Had to stop the show for five minutes while he did maintenance. It was at this point that I finally understood that this was going to be one of their great sets. I had been thinking that they were really on, where "really on" means "this is about as close to sheer chaos as one stage can take, what with the backup singers and all, man, no wonder Justin sort of cringes in the corner as far away from everything as possible..." and when Ballard broke his drums I knew I was right. They had a new "member", some little guy playing organs for the new stuff (Chris also dropped down to the keyboards for a couple of songs too). They tore through the new stuff in about an hour, took the mandatory "encore break" and then came back for another near-hour of older stuff. They played Black Ice. They played HingHangHung. They didn't play much from Golden Time, though.
They were loud. Actually, to be more precise, they were LOUD-OUD-OUD-OUD-OUD.
Based solely on the Rock*a*Teens set I would give this show 7 sponges. They were on. Unfortunately I can't do that, because I had to sit through, first, an Athens-based acid pop band (The Glands) that clearly listened to the Flaming Lips' last album non-stop for a year. They played a Grateful Dead song. I can't tell you how much I hate the Grateful fucking Dead. And as if the Glands' very existence wasn't annoying enough they had managed to bring their Big Following over from whatever UGA frat house spewed them out upon the world.
Then some guy in a gorilla suit yelped out the most atrocious sounds imaginable while trying to play eight track tapes from the seventies through the house sound system. That was two hours of my life I'll never have back. Two hours of my life I could have spent picking nose hair, clipping toenails, or downloading porn from the Internet. That guy still owes me for that time, and if I ever find him, I'll take it out of his hide.
So, to sum up: Rock*A*Teens set = Very Good. Drummer broke stuff. YEAH!
Rest of evening, post-Indian food = So Atrociously Bad as to Defy Description.
That brings us to 7 sponges, minus the Glands, minus 2 hours of my fucking life I'll never see again: We'll call it a 4-sponge night that at least had the decency to end well.
They did play Black Ice at least.