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The Bunker cast deceptively simple brilliance


I‘ve only seen the Bunker twice, but so far, with captivating songs constructed from the same three or four chords that pop songwriters have been using since the dawn of time, they’re the most promising new band in town. They’re nothing fancy—just two guys, Spike Clem and drummer Sam Maurer—and that’s exactly why they’ve been stuck in my head for the last couple weeks. Youth is complex; the Bunker aren’t.

Clem is a rakishly thin 18-year-old and has already written the kinds of songs that make stars out of kids who don’t know just how weird being a star can be. At a show last week, the Bunker hadn’t yet played one note when a group of fans started crowding in tightly. After warming up with a run-through of the Strokes’ “Someday,” which was released when he was 10, Clem began pounding on the acoustic guitar slung over his gray hoodie and singing his own songs somewhere beautifully between everything-matters and don’t-give-a-shit. Most of the teenagers present drowned out the PA system by singing along, while the aging musicians at the bar pointed with one hand, beer in the other, and made the eternal, cyclical concession: It’s their turn.

I used to think Clem sang like the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, with his deceptively plaintive voice, but he’s actually more comparable to John K. Samson of the Canadian band the Weakerthans. Like Samson, he possesses the ability to convey both tenderness and authority, singing lyrics like “It’s a quick draw, where I drew too fast and far too soon / I’m going crazy, but don’t mind me, ’cause tonight it’s a full moon,” and his songs are straightforward and fresh, the result of his ethic of immediacy. “I never really sit down to write a song,” he told me recently. “I just have something in mind that would be cool for a song, and I try to elaborate on that one idea. I’m incapable of going back to old ideas.”

Last week, at the end of his set, there were already people coming up to Clem requesting “the old songs.” As for me, I want to wake up in a world where he’s written 25 new ones. Hear a handful of them when the Bunker open for the Devil Makes Three on Friday, Jan. 23, at the Phoenix Theater. The Flat Iron String Band also appear. 8pm. $15. 201 E. Washington St., Petaluma. 707.762.3565.

Sonoma County Library