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November 14, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Don’t call Sub Pop’s Obits garage-rock | Concert preview


Obits — Rick Froberg, Greg Simpson, Sohrab Habibion and Alexis Fleisig, from left — plays Neumos Friday. Photo by Fleisig.

Obits guitarist Sohrab Habibion would like to be clear.

“We are not a garage-rock band. That substance-free party music is fake youth culture sponsored by corporations. Eventually Scion will move onto something else, and Pabst Blue Ribbon will find a different youth group to exploit.”

Lest fans of the lo-fi punk subgenre du jour take offense, understand the men of Obits, who headline Neumos Friday, have been in the game long enough to recognize a fad.

During the 1990s, singer-guitarist Rick Froberg fronted influential San Diego post-hardcore outfits Pitchfork and Drive Like Jehu — then, later, the wildly popular Hot Snakes — while Habibion and drummer Alexis Fleisig played in Washington, D.C.’s Edsel and Girls Against Boys, respectively.

“Alexis and I have actually been friends since we were 15,” Habibion, now 43, explains. “We grew up playing hardcore shows at community centers together.”

When Obits formed in Brooklyn in 2007, its punk-laureate makeup attracted attention, yet unlike other supergroups, it’s outlived most of its members’ past projects, and continues to evolve.

True to their roots, Habibion, Froberg, Fleisig and bassist Greg Simpson write economical songs. Their three LPs each contain a dozen tracks, clock in around 40 minutes, and borrow liberally from late-‘70s guitar legends like Portland’s Wipers and NYC’s Television.

But “Bed & Bugs,” their latest for Seattle’s Sub Pop label, is a more eclectic affair, drawing additional inspiration from psych, surf and world musics.

While brisk, insistent numbers like “Taste The Diff” (listen) and “Malpractice” show Froberg hasn’t lost his agitated snarl, the bluesy “Pet Trust” (listen) finds him embracing his inner John Fogerty, while standout “Besetchet,” a cover of an Ethiopian traditional, features no vocals whatsoever.

In certain punk circles, Froberg is considered an iconic figure, but Habibion says the press-shy frontman doesn’t see himself that way.

“Though Rick can seem elusive — he rarely checks email, and doesn’t use Facebook — the fact he’s not interested in talking about himself doesn’t mean he’s aloof. I’ll just say this — the best way to interact with him is one-on-one, with a beer.”

Fans will have many opportunities to buy Froberg a cold one in coming months. After the current West Coast jaunt, Obits is Europe-bound in 2014.

While the itinerary certainly doesn’t include any Scion or Pabst-sponsored garage-rock blowouts, Habibion softens his stance as our interview winds down.

“There’s so much interesting music out there in the world… more than just that one monochromatic view. I’d rather not be lumped in with that [garage-rock] scene… but at the end of the day, we’re all just bands.”

Obits, Survival Knife, Dreamsalon
8 p.m. Friday at Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $12 (206-709-9467 or

Comments | More in Rock/Pop | Topics: New York, punk, Sub Pop


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