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Gretchen Grunbaum May 14, 2023

Last Tuesday, May 2nd, New York witnessed the enigmatic Orange County experimental-punk duo, The Garden, grace the stage during their exhilarating tour for their latest album, HORSESHIT ON ROUTE 66. As a wide-eyed media, culture, and communications student hailing from New York University, I had the distinct pleasure of immersing myself in their live performance. The Garden, composed of twin brothers Fletcher and Wyatt Shears, known individually as Puzzle and Enjoy, masterfully blend quintessential elements of the California punk scene with 21st-century electronic instrumentation. Their unparalleled focus on drums and bass, accentuated by synthetic melodies and samples, pushes boundaries and defies convention in ways that are as thought-provoking as they are entertaining.

Unquestionably, The Garden stands in a league of their own, and their live show is a testament to their creative prowess. With a dash of Kiss-esque stage theatrics, complete with face painting, and an eccentric neo-punk aura, the duo captivates the audience from start to finish. Their three previous records, excluding the multitude of demos and bedroom mixtapes released between 2011 and 2014, have each showcased a distinct sound that sets them apart while remaining true to their artistic vision. The tracks on their latest offering maintain the punk tradition of brevity, with some displaying melodic undertones that stretch beyond the three-minute mark. Surprisingly, this record veers towards a more "punk sounding" direction, reducing the presence of synth injections and melodic choruses, and further solidifying The Garden's dedication to defying categorization.

Dubbing their music "Vada Vada," The Garden challenges the notion of musical boundaries, embracing a mentality that encourages individuals to either love their unique style or step aside. Admittedly, achieving absolute originality within the constraints of the standard major-minor key format that permeates Western music is an arduous task. Yet, "Vada Vada" emerges as more of a state of mind, one that Wyatt and Fletcher embody wholeheartedly. Their message is clear: embrace the experience or make way for those who do.

The fateful evening began with the presence of T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty), a legendary punk band that emerged from the Southern California punk scene in the late 1970s. Their influential albums, such as Dance With Me and Change Today? showcased their ability to blend punk rock with elements of gothic and dark wave, solidifying their reputation as innovators within the genre. Known for their aggressive sound and politically charged lyrics, T.S.O.L. quickly set the pace for the night with their intense live performance and provocative stage presence.

Soon after T.S.O.L.’s 12-song set, Wyatt and Fletcher gracefully took the stage, mirroring their songwriting process in their setup: fast and simple. With Wyatt on drums, Fletcher on bass, accompanied by a single amp, three pedals, and an empty stage that served as their playground, they launched into their performance with "Haunted House on Zillow," the opening track from their latest LP. Given their penchant for concise tracks, I'll focus on the highlights, as their setlist boasted over 30 songs. Despite my familiarity with their music, it was challenging to discern the boundaries between songs, a testament to the seamless flow of their compositions.

Positioned in the general admission section of the legendary Irving Plaza, I had a chaotic view of the stage and surrendered to the electrifying mosh pit. A staggering 150 individuals actively engaged in moshing, while an additional 500 tightly packed fans encircled the floor. Thus, I found myself weaving through the crowd in search of glimpses of the masters at work. And masters they undoubtedly are. While their recorded music often encompasses a whirlwind of sounds and intricacies, witnessing The Garden live highlights the undeniable talent of Wyatt Shears as a phenomenal drummer and Fletcher Shears as an exceptional bassist. It becomes clear that their skills extend beyond their good looks and idiosyncratic dance moves. In fact, I can't help but fantasize about witnessing the brothers swap instruments, a testament to their versatility and musicianship displayed both in the studio and on stage.

With each passing song, The Garden's energy surged, captivating the crowd. Wyatt occasionally took breaks from the drums to lend his vocal prowess and add an extra dimension to Fletcher's captivating performance, particularly during beloved tracks such as "This Could Build Us A Home" and "Stallion." The culmination of their set arrived with the title track from their latest album, leaving the audience yearning for more. Predictably, the chant for an encore filled the venue, and The Garden graciously returned to the stage, gifting us three additional songs. Among them, the timeless "Thy Mission" (sans the Mac Demarco feature), "Clay," and "Banana Peel" led to a hilarious spectacle of bananas being hurled onto the stage. Ever the showman, Fletcher graciously returned the bananas to the crowd, igniting a cyclical exchange of fruity projectiles. The band received thunderous applause as the electric night drew to a close, leaving us with cherished memories and a tally of the evening's statistics: two phenomenal bands, a thousand fervent fans, approximately 10 daring crowd surfs (including one intrepid soul well into his sixties), around 200 painted faces, eight stage bananas, and a pair of court jesters who mesmerized us all.

As a jaded media, culture, and communications student, I've been exposed to a myriad of artistic performances, but The Garden's New York City show was a breath of undeniable satisfaction. Their fusion of punk roots with contemporary electronic elements, accompanied by their unapologetically bold stage presence, solidifies their place as pioneers of neo-punk theatrics. The Garden's unyielding commitment to pushing boundaries and transcending genres sets them apart from their contemporaries, making them an invaluable addition to the vibrant music landscape.

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