Red light washed the wealth of gear crammed on the Blind Tiger’s stage: Stratocasters and Telecasters, Jazz and Precision basses, Gibson SGs, combos and stacks bearing revered names like Vox and Ampeg and, for the drummers, two kits — one purple, one pearloid — surrounded by Sabian and Paiste cymbals.
Yet, at first, the bar was empty.
June 1, a Wednesday night, started slow, but Diarrhea Planet topped the Greensboro bill. Hailing from Nashville — the garage punk sextet met while attending Belmont University, a non-denominational Christian college with a renowned music school — the band has garnered national attention over the past seven years. “Separations,” a mid-tempo Weezer-esque number, served as the theme of the HBO comedy series “Animals,” and Diarrhea Planet will promote their new album, Turn to Gold, on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” on June 9.
“It feels good to have someone not throw a b**** fit about the name and take a risk on us,” the band said in an email interview.
Having played to welcoming receptions in the Triad, including Winston-Salem’s Phuzz Phest, they decided to kick off their summer tour in Greensboro.
One may wonder if four guitars sharing a stage leads to redundancy or, worse, excessive wanking. But Diarrhea Planet soon dispelled any such fears.
The Blind Tiger may have been empty when the night began, but by the time Diarrhea Planet took the stage, dozens crowded at the front of the room, all there for good reason. Immediately, slamming drums from Ian Bush — aka “Tuff Gus” — and the thick wall of guitar, chords pounded heavily with choreographed head-banging, threw the fans into a frenzy. Lead vocalist and guitarist Jordan Smith wildly soloed on his knock-off SG equipped with a single humbucker at the bridge — a shred machine.
The theatrical guitar assault fired its first salvo and claimed decisive, crushing victory.
While they namecheck classic-rock idols, Diarrhea Planet doesn’t play tired schlock rock. Sure, they list big names such as Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC and the Rolling Stones — evidenced by their “guitar weaving” — as inspirations, and yes, they rip like self-indulgent virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. But their sound more directly emulates every major iteration of punk, from proto-punk to new wave to glam to grunge, echoing Cheap Trick, early Clash, the Cars and more. They add their spin to garage rock: face-melting chops. Two-handed tapping, dizzying arpeggios, sweep picking galore, sometimes in perfect harmony.
And all four guitarists sing.
Along with fan favorites like the aforementioned “Separations,” Diarrhea Planet delivered some special treats to mid-week attendees: tracks off Turn to Gold.
“This song’s from our new record, so nobody’s ever f***ing heard this before,” Smith beamed from the stage before the band launched into not one but three brand-new numbers, all excellent, chunky power-pop with top-notch soloing from guitarists Brent Toler, Evan Bird and Emmett Miller.
“We’re playing this song on ‘Seth Meyers,’” Bird said before the third new song.
The band also offered Turn to Gold and other goodies at their merch table.
“Check out those records,” Miller said at night’s end. “My mom doesn’t even have one yet.”
The album release was a gift from the band.
“Everybody’s been through a lot in this state,” Smith said earlier in the show, “so we thought, let’s bring something good.”
Four guitars may seem like overkill, but with impressive fretwork, intimate knowledge of music theory and the use of small amplifiers combining more cohesively and less aggressively than would a line of Marshall stacks, Diarrhea Planet makes more work.
Before the quadruple-guitar attack began, though, a fresh local act opened the night: Harrison Ford Mustang, a trio formed last summer.
Plenty of sunlight divided the two groups’ styles. But, in other ways, the two bands remained more alike than meets the ear — they share technical skill, some common influences and, clearly, catchy names.
With a name like Harrison Ford Mustang and their self-described genre of “soda rock,” one might believe the band may be a nostalgic ’50s act, covering golden-oldie hits from the American Graffiti soundtrack. Their sound heralds a past era, but not quite that far back.
All three musicians acknowledged a debt to early ’90s alt bands such as Pavement, Built to Spill, Yo La Tengo, Pixies and Weezer.
Guitarist and vocalist Josh Peek especially recalls Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus in both playing style and vocal delivery — juxtapositions of noodling, single-note lines echoing the vocal melody and quickly strummed chords high on the neck, all with just a touch of dirty tone by default, paired with deadpan talk-singing. Melvin Holland’s bass work swings between bedrock root notes and bouncy, melodic riffing once Peek goes off the rails. Zac Lassiter’s drumming draws inspiration from every popular genre, punk to jazz. And while the sound may be stark, the nascent ensemble keeps listeners guessing with shifts in dynamics and even time signatures, reminiscent of math-rock legends Slint.
The theoretical virtuosity makes sense: The three friends met while at UNCG majoring in music, just like Diarrhea Planet; Lassiter jazz drums, Peek trumpet and Holland tenor sax.
“I started playing bass to be in the band,” Holland laughed after the show.
Described by Lassiter as “the least-hardest-working band in Greensboro,” Harrison Ford Mustang peddled no merchandise or recordings to the growing crowd at the Tiger. They do, however, have a three-song demo on their Bandcamp page recorded last year on WUAG’s “Radio Greensboro,” featuring Ramones-esque “80s Slasher Film” and “Cola Mtn.,” Harrison Ford Mustang’s rockin’ spiritual successor to the folk standard, “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
“We’re not gonna sell that,” Peek clarified in an interview. “That’s kinda frowned upon.”
Peek cited “lack of resources” for the merch dearth.
“We have stickers and magnets,” Lassiter remembered. “People love stickers and magnets.”
The band plans to record an EP in the next few months, perhaps capturing their set themselves. They also have a weekend tour in Florida slated for later this month.
The promising upstarts might have asked for guidance from their marquee mates.