ST. PETERSBURG — The first sound played to the sold-out crowd Tuesday night at Jannus Live, as the pop duo 100 gecs appeared on stage in Party City-esque wizard outfits, would’ve been familiar to anyone who’s been to a blockbuster movie in the past 40 years: the THX Deep Note. The second was a chunky guitar riff, processed within an inch of its life.
Together, the noises evoked an era when seeing a hot, still-ascending rock band was an event unto itself. But 100 gecs — the insistently lowercase duo of Los Angeles singer-writer-producers Laura Les and Dylan Brady — isn’t exactly a rock band, nor is it a nostalgia trap.
What has made Brady and Les beloved and sneakily influential is their ability to reinvent the past. They reconfigure cultural detritus as precisely calibrated pop songs that sound laser-beamed in from the future, with a sui generis sense of humor rooted in the present.
Which is how they wound up Tuesday night with a couple of thousand people raising lighters to a song called “I Got My Tooth Removed,” and, later, thrashing around to one named “Doritos and Fritos.”
That’s an instructive title. Like any good junk food, 100 gecs’ songs hit with an immediate head high, and they seem constructed in a lab in a way that defies natural order. Most of these electro-pop chimeras take only a couple of minutes to ravage neurons, which meant the duo was able to jam most of its catalog into just over an hour Tuesday.
That included several songs from Les and Brady’s 2019 debut, “1000 gecs.” On that album, 100 gecs sounded like the fulfilled promise of a decade-plus of developments in pop music: the post-Soulja Boy explosion of rap on YouTube and, later, SoundCloud; Skrillex’s positioning of dubstep as the heir apparent to arena rock; the critical establishment’s embrace of more mainstream sounds and artists, a movement known as poptimism.
With screams, sneers and lots of autotune, they also incorporated a strain of late-aughts pop-punk and metal bands that incorporated rap and trashy dance-pop. Most of those acts aren’t worth remembering beyond the hideous T-shirts that adorned Hot Topic walls, but “1000 gecs” made the reclamation sound thrilling, novel but unironic.
“Money Machine,” the group’s breakthrough single, shows the band’s way with an unexpected hook. At Jannus, fans screamed along to the Les rant that kicks off the song: “You talk a lot of big game for someone with such a small truck.”
“1000 gecs” didn’t make 100 gecs a household name, but it netted the duo heaps of critical goodwill and some famous fans — Fall Out Boy and Charli XCX appeared on a remix album the next year. Hyperpop, a Spotify playlist named for the very online subgenre gecs spearheaded, became an unlikely tastemaker. There was a Skrillex collaboration. And the band signed to a major label, Atlantic Records.
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By the time gecs’ second album, “10000 gecs,” came out in March, nearly four years had passed. That’s eons in the frenetic musical circles Brady and Les move in. Before the pandemic halted touring, they mostly headlined smaller clubs, with capacity for a few hundred; since reemerging, they’ve been playing to spaces many times that size.
So would the sound and energy scale up? And if they did, would people still care?
The answer was — mostly — an enthusiastic yes. Gecs’ best songs overwhelm the listener, a quality that didn’t always lend itself to an open-air venue. But the band cultivates a good vibe. The crowd, which appeared populated almost exclusively by 20-somethings, was enthusiastic and benignly stoned. There were mall-goth revivalists and novelty T-shirts and more than a couple of wizard costumes, a coherence of diverging styles that resembles one of the band’s records.
After mining their coming-of-age years for “1000 gecs,” Les and Brady turned to the sounds of their childhoods, the mid-90s to mid-aughts, for “10000 gecs”: Ska and nu-metal, Primus and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s a nod to Weezer’s fizzy “Beverly Hills” in the stomping guitars of bummer anthem “Hollywood Baby” — as in, “you’ll never make it in Hollywood, baby.” Gecs’ most conventionally structured song, it was a highlight Tuesday, its build-and-release choruses setting off mosh pits.
In that song’s music video, Les gets hit in the eye by a firework, which is kind of what listening to 100 gecs feels like. This has its drawbacks. Gecs’ songs are short for a reason. By the latter half of the set, some crowd energy had dissipated, as if it were exhausted by all the musical hairpin turns.
Brady and Les have taken pains to make it clear that they like all of the music they draw from. Their songs can be silly — about dental work, or making friends with a frog — but they’re never making fun. Where there is humor, lyrically or in their musical sensibility, it’s the warm kind that flows easily between close friends. Making someone laugh is a good way of showing your love.
Sometimes their irreverence barely conceals more powerful feelings. On “Dumbest Girl Alive,” the first song gecs played Tuesday night, Les, who is transgender, refers to “(doing) science on my face” and “bruises on my thighs” — the latter a possible reference to estrogen injections. For all its self-deprecating packaging, its core is a defiant display of identity: emphasis not on “dumbest” but on “girl.”
A song like that carries some extra weight in Florida, which recently banned gender-affirming care for trans youth. Les nodded at the political landscape between songs. “This song is about going to the bathroom in Florida,” she said, introducing a recent track called “The Most Wanted Person in the United States.”
And sometimes the pleasures of these songs are straightforward. “Fallen 4 Ü,” an as-yet-unreleased song played Tuesday, slots into a love-song tradition as old as rock music: “First saw you in the back of the mosh pit.”
Live, these songs suggest a better, or at least different, world. What if the term “guilty pleasure” had never been invented? What if the body could survive on Monster Energy and Fuego Takis alone? Who says you’ll never make it in Hollywood, baby?