If rage fuels the passion and pummel of punk rock, then Brody Armstrong of the California punk quartet the Distillers should be in good form for a while, as she used hers well at Axis Friday night. Armstrong battered through a tight, fierce set, ignoring audience heckles about her ex-husband, Tim Armstrong, a founding member of the revered punk band Rancid. Several of the night’s best songs were from The Distillers’ new album, “Coral Fang,” due out next month, which shows Armstrong turning her anger at the divorce and its fallout into potent, emotionally effective songs that push her range as a songwriter and singer.
Armstrong’s father kicked off the set with an amusing, profanity-laced band introduction. Glowering from under shaggy black hair, with eyes made up to look bruised, Armstrong then launched into the speedy, almost death-metal number “Sing Sing Death House,” roaring over bassist Ryan Sinn and guitarist Anthony Bradley’s bellowed chorus. Andy Granelli’s big loose drums bounded into “Bullet and the Bullseye,” during which the crowd formed a mosh pit.
The band’s search-and-destroy delivery dispelled suggestions that it has gone soft since signing to major label Sire.
After Sinn greeted the crowd to silence hecklers, the group ripped through the tight punk numbers “Old Scratch,” with its heavy breakdown, and “L.A. Girl,” for which Armstrong threw down heavy rhythm-guitar riffs and sexy vocals that hardened at times. Sinn played his bass with one hand, dancing like a punk Elvis.
Although unfamiliar with the new songs, the audience responded enthusiastically, crowd surfing during the coarse yet soaring chorus that crowned the mid-tempo rocker “Hall of Mirrors” and the catchy pop punk breakdown within “Dismantle Me”.
The infectious chorus and propulsive beat of the loosely rollicking “Revenant” made the crowd roar. Then the lilting zombie waltz of another new song, “The Gallow Is God,” with its jagged shimmer of rock vocals and off-kilter bass line, revealed a new direction for the band.
The fans pumped their fists during the rampaging “Sick of It All” and “City of Angels,” and Armstrong finally seemed relaxed. A new song, “Deathsex,” closed the set, with pounding drums building amid a roar of feedback. Armstrong left the stage with a small cut visible above the heart tattoo on her back — bloodied, but clearly having done what she had come to do.
The band’s tour mates, Los Angeles punks called the Bronx, whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a blazing set that sounded like punk-metal Fugazi. The Amherst-based heavy rockers Red Yellow opened the night with a high-energy set bursting with wailing guitars and tough, athletic vocals.