I’ve seen people walk out of Coma Serfs’ shows shaking their heads, which is something I’ve seen at Wooden Indian Burial Ground shows too. But, that’s the epitome of rock and roll. If you’re making everyone happy and there’s time for a kumbaya with everyone holding hands between songs, then you’re doing it wrong. Rock and roll is about irreverence, maxed-out amps, and an “I don’t give a damn what you think” mentality. If you’re at a venue that features rock and roll and you’re mad that you can’t hear your friend’s boring story, then you should go to a fancy restaurant.
Coma Serfs are a psychedelic rock band that’s been playing in Portland since the second half of 2013. The band has many styles. They like to sync up their instruments, in that way that makes them all smack you in the face at once with pulsating waves of dissonance. The music can be silly at times, but it’s also filled with energy and swing. It’s like watching a punk kid do a sped up waltz with polar bear. (That means it’s badass and furry.)
The band has played around Portland quite a bit, featured at venues like Bunk Bar, Slabtown and The Firkin Tavern. As with most psych rock bands in town, they weren’t immediately accepted into the indie-pop scene that dominates some of the more popular venues. To play desirable nights, they tour the city going from Kelly’s Olympian to the Alhambra Theatre and everywhere in between that will let them break the windows with noise.
Like many rock bands, they started in a garage and couldn’t keep a drummer long enough to finish a song. They came from various places—from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh—as is common around these parts, and bassist Wolfgang Warneke claims they met their current drummer, Joseph Napkin, in the diaper aisle of a Walmart. True or not, you can tell these guys are in it for a good time.
The band has been through quite a bit together already. Their worst show to date was at a wedding in the middle of nowhere. The band got incredibly drunk and can barely remember it. “We sort of forgot how to play our instruments and we all got naked. And that's when things got weird,” guitarist/vocalist Dustin Simensen recounts. “I seem to remember something about a cupcake fight with the groom and frosting on my nipples,” Warneke adds.
Coma Serfs’ live shows are loud and sometimes overwhelming. They’re not one of those bands that stand idly, plucking at their guitars and playing a basic drum line. They connect with their audiences, seemingly collecting energy from the response. The shows are unapologetic and participatory, challenging you to fight back against the turbulence, as the sometimes sludgy amalgam of each members’ desire to be as active and brazen as possible surges forward.
They’re a real rock band, Portland, and I know we don’t come across many of those. That’s not to say that plenty of Portland bands don’t have elements of rock and roll in their music, but these guys get loud and strip out the pop sensibilities.
“There are a lot of West Coast bands coming out with that new psychedelia sort of thing with different flavors thrown in,” Warneke explains. It’s true, the psychedelic scene is growing, but Portland’s still catching up. Bands like Wooden Indian Burial Ground and Still Caves are bolstering our scene, but they’re all too often an exception to the rule when it comes to rock bands that people give a damn about in this city. Warneke says Coma Serfs are “trying to do something different in the sea of indie pop.” Bands like Coma Serfs have the unique opportunity to shake the boat.
Coma Serfs’ new songs, which will be featured on their God's a Babe EP when it comes out in June, are even more garage and psychedelic in flavor. A song like “Hurt Me” actually speaks more to their punk rock influences, with angry, disheveled vocals that could fill a barrel with angst and panic. It’s a bold move to bring out the punk in a band that could easily fit into an ethereal psychedelic rock genre that’s more easily digested, but it gives their music some diversity and charisma.
To be a rock band in Portland, or any local band for that matter, you have to play out a lot before people start noticing, and it may take a moment for people to get used to seeing brash bands like Coma Serfs that aren’t using synths or drum machines. Rock and roll may have died, temporarily, but we’re going to drag that corpse out and party.