How many bands can you name who play the biggest outdoor festival in the country and then, just two days later, play a tiny tattoo shop for 100 people?
There's likely only one: Sheer Mag, the Philadelphia '70s-style rock band who lit up Faith Tattoo in Santa Rosa on Sunday night like it was a huge arena. A mere 48 hours after appearing at Coachella, the band squeezed into the corner of the tattoo shop's lobby for a short, propulsive set that caused bodies to spill every which way on the dancefloor.
One might assume that when a band is big enough to get booked at Coachella, they acquire managers, roadies, merch people and stage techs. Not so with Sheer Mag, who set up their own equipment and fixed their own stage problems. When I bought their 7-inches from the guy at a table next to a tattoo booth behind the counter, I realized I was talking with the band's drummer, Ian Dykstra.
This is not unique, certainly -- punk bands have been scraping by on their own in the DIY circuit for over 30 years. But Sheer Mag is in an interesting spot right now: the recipients of online indie-blog hype, they also know the perils of it. “We just get a little worried about things getting out of control,” bassist Hart Seely told Vice last year. “I never want our band to be shoved down anyone's throat.”
And yet on Sunday, the band's DIY ethos never felt reactionary or defiant: just a celebration of great rock 'n' roll. When audience members weren't fixing toppled lights, or repairing crackling P.A. speakers, they were falling all over each other in a dance frenzy that included a woman in the front -- wide-open shirt, bare underneath –- repeatedly hugging singer Christina Halladay between songs.
“Excuse me!” shouted a man at the end of the set, when the lights to the tattoo shop came on. “My friend here drove five hours to see Sheer Mag in Santa Rosa, and can you please play one more song for him?!”
Chants for an encore ensued. The band unpacked their guitars again. Halladay asked which song the long-distance traveler wanted to hear, and then burst into the request: “Button Up," a ramshackle power-pop song with Thin Lizzy leads and a slam-dunk chorus.
And just like that, Sheer Mag wrapped up another night on the road in America.