If the Lollies were practically any other band imaginable, they’d be dead in the water. After losing a member like Brian Pretus, who could at worst be described as a fantastic guitarist and one of the most pitch-perfect vocal harmonizers in New Orleans or at best be considered the co-face of the band, the Noel to Zach Quinn’s Liam if the Gallagher brothers had a hilarious onstage chemistry and weren’t completely unintelligible, the Lollies’ flawless brand of highly complex, mathematical guitar-dueling pop punk could have been rendered virtually unplayable, forcing a depressingly early curtain call for this talented unit.
However, anyone who has witnessed even a messy set by the Lollies is starkly aware of the level of talent and confederacy running through the veins of this young band. With the Community Records Summer Tour with Nashville thrash band Stuck Lucky looming, and with no practical way of either replacing Pretus or retooling their material to fit a three-piece, the remaining three members did what possibly only they could be capable of doing: they wrote a wealth of drastically different material tailored to their new dynamic and road tested it.
Returning to New Orleans on July 8 for an Independence Day weekend-ending Sunday matinee show at the Big Top, the Lollies were a very different band than the lighthearted pop punkers we have come to love, naturally. But the personnel change – and the minor growing pains associated with it – is arguably the best thing that could have happened to them, as this stylistic shifting of trajectory takes them, at times, far from the comparatively sugary Descendents-influenced punk of Potential into something edgier, darker and heavier – a complex interplay that often finds Alex Talbot’s gnarled, muffed-out bass lines surprisingly becoming the driving melodic force behind Quinn’s note-for-note guitar perfection and Joey Mercer’s increasingly heady rhythms. As the sole vocalist, Zack is gruff, harsh, guttural and everything else that could generally describe someone who yells rather than croons, creating an ambiance that more often than not abandons punk altogether for unabashed aggressive rock.
The hallmarks of the Lollies, as they’ve come to be known, are their well-channeled penchant for snappy melodies and their nostalgic anti-conformist humor. Though the levity hasn’t been wholesale eviscerated (Quinn still exudes a considerable amount of charming swag in his inter-song banter), their pop sensibility isn’t noticeably present in their new material; but it genuine doesn’t matter when that new material is as compelling and perfectly executed as it was on Sunday. Certainly it’s relieving to see a band, when faced with personnel adversity, brave through it and attempt to retain some semblance of quality. But surprising in the case of the Lollies is that their change of gear has resulted in something that might be better than it could have ever been without the tumult.
Picture: from June 13, 2012