Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE WHO - Total Rock Power



Lordy, I am getting old and pathetic as time goes on. I am literally getting older and patheticer. The past 12 months has seen me in the thick of a Who phase. That's not too surprising: along w/ the Kinks and the Beatles, I rate 'em possibly the best of the Brit Invasion bands of the 1960s. I'll be generous and even throw the Stones in there, too. The Move should be there, too, but they're more a second-gen Brit band who made their moves (fnar) in the early '70s, even though much of what they did was a '60s throwback. Plus, I've been a massive fan of the Who-produced Quadrophenia film since I was but a wee lad: I still view it annually, and it stands up as one of the greatest UK youth-cult pics of all time, a terrific movie about the pre-hippie '60s made with a real punk energy. And The Who - at least their main songwriter and brain's trust, Pete Townshend, did like punk a lot, even though he was initially jealous of it stealing his thunder (and his thunder was getting creaky by the mid '70s, anyway). He wanted John Lydon in the film's lead role, but Mr. Rotten reneged. A friend of mine saw Townshend play on a CND bill in a small venue in 1979 with the Undertones and The Pop Group supporting. Huh...
As with most of their contemporaries, The Who blew their artistic wad by the early '70s and it was all downhill after then. They still cut it as an ace live unit, but most of the recordings thereafter aren't items you should spend your free time listening to. I like the Quadrophenia LP set from 1973 a lot - another pompous thematic epic from Townshend telling a grand story - though my sentimental attachment for it may be born from my love of the movie. But play it I do. I've slogged through the entire Tommy set a handful of times, and it remains exactly that: a slog. It's one of those albums which clueless types hail as the band's best release, their meisterwerk, much like Sgt. Pepper's (the Beatles' worst album by far), Exile On Main Street (solid, but it's no Beggar's/Let It Bleed) and Pet Sounds (again, it's good, but Holland and Surf's Up are better). They figure they're supposed to make such a claim without even thinking about it. I'm not here to debate The Who's best album (The Who Sell Out probably gets my vote), but certainly the most untamed is their Live At Leeds recording from 1970. By then they'd let their hair grow out and adopted a 'heavier' musical approach which wasn't a thousand miles removed from the likes of Cream or Led Zep - both of whom they'd undoubtedly influenced - and whilst I used to be of the opinion that this era in the band sucked (epic blues clunkers, Roger Daltrey with that denim and that fucking hair), for a couple of years this incarnation of the band absolutely blew the roof off. There was no greater rhythm section than Entwhistle and Moon. No more smart mod suits and three-minute ditties about East End life: it was about Total Rock Power. Well, before they started to blow, the band was always about TRP, but the loose and expansive nature of the band ca. 1969 - 1971 was indeed something to behold, and beholding it is what I've been doing.
I even found myself reading Townshend's rather epic autobiography, Who I Am, from start to finish. By midway through I was starting to feel the conviction that the guy was an utter fucking creep and jerkoff, but by story's end - when he'd acknowledged what a creep and jerkoff he'd been - he had redeemed himself in my eyes. Well, above is a clip of the band covering Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" from their Isle Of Wight concert. It's rippin', scorchin' and other good things. You can see why the likes of the MC5 and the Dictators - and myself - held/hold 'em up in such high esteem. The Who's candle of greatness blew out pretty quick, as did many of those making their mark in 1960s Britain, but people made a bunch of noise about them for good reason.

Monday, July 27, 2015

MUDHONEY - TOMORROW HIT TODAY




The year was 1998, and this album by the Seattle rock band known as Mudhoney was released on the Warner subsidiary imprint, Reprise. I was not aware of its existence at the time. I didn't even know Mudhoney were still releasing records at the time. Did you? A band like Mudhoney at that stage of the game seemed, well, tres boring to this 20-something windbag, a relic from another era, a band who'd recorded and released a slew of cool sides approx. a decade prior but one who weren't even on the map regarding the Here and Now. And just what was the Here and Now ca. 1998? I dunno, probably some post-rock or glitchtronica nonsense I wouldn't listen to in a blue fit circa now, but then again, going into my time machine to 1998, I recall my taste in music in 1998 being unashamedly retro (lots of jazz, Byrds, pre-war blues and Hawkwind, if you must know). But whatever! The fact is this: a rock band by the name of Mudhoney, one whom possibly many had given up for dead by the end of the century, made a fantastic album for a major recording company: Tomorrow Hit Today, produced by the great Jim Dickinson (he shouldn't need explaining), and right now it remains completely out of print in all physical formats. I believe I've covered Mudhoney several times in this blog over the years: certainly there's been verbiage concerning their 2002 'comeback' record for Sub Pop, Since We Became Translucent (and what an excellent comeback that was), as well as the biography on the band published a couple of years ago (another fine thing).
I actually saw the band play live here in January of last year - the first time I'd seen the band live since 1990. I found them to be rather underwhelming and really don't like the current single-guitar format (w/ Mark Arm on vocals only) the band works with, as also evidenced on their last couple of recordings, which I also think have been weak, but what the hey, they're a heritage act these days and they can do what they want. Tomorrow Hit Today possesses an exemplary use of twin-guitar action as well as a sympathetic and full sound which never veers towards the mersh, compromised or slick. It's raw and powerful but with a real sense of clarity, and it also has some of the band's best songs: lordy, how I love 'Try To Be Kind' and 'This Is The Life', and their rendition of the Cheater Slicks' 'Ghost' works on several levels (conceptually, musically). The band hadn't 'progressed' musically much at all in the 10 years they'd been around - maybe less Blue Cheer in the mix with a bit more garage and Dickinson-style southern rock (but not 'Southern Rock') thrown in, but essentially they remained a post-hardcore rock and roll band. Got me? Over the past dozen years I have been reevaluating the musical legacy of Mudhoney: so far as rock bands go, they're better than most, and seriously one of the best. Don't ever dismiss them because they appear to be too damn obvious.

Friday, July 24, 2015




Word up - punkers, new wavers, rockers and progsters - listen to this cut by Genesis from their 1974 2LP set, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway - and tell me why it isn't absolutely fantastic. Really. There's my challenge to you for the day. Thanking you in advance.

Monday, July 20, 2015

PURLING HISS

Philly's Purling Hiss have been making records for half-a-dozen years, and they make very fine grunge recordings. The band is essentially guitarist/singer/songwriter Mark Polizze and whomever else he feels like dragging along for the ride. I have been particularly taken with the band's last two full-lengthers on the Drag City label, 2013's Water On Mars and last year's Weirdon. The group sound like an amalgamam/mash-up/tribute to 'the grunge years' on the former, with perhaps a slightly less 'heavy' approach taken on the latter, it bringing to mind a musical stew tipping the hat to the early '90s lo-fi scene (and what a scene it was, at least for a brief flash in time). I stand here under the impression that Polizze is a good decade younger than myself, which of course puts all this musical shenanigans into a slightly different context. After all, I was there, man... and do I need to revisit it?
During the Grunge Years - let's loosely frame them as 1988 - 1993 - I was underwhelmed by much of its musical output, feeling that a lot of the gunk the Sub Pop label, or even Amphetamine Reptile, spewed out sounded like B-grade post-HC heavy metal which had smoked too many bongs to various SST bands. Actually, that sounds quite appealing, and indeed, amongst the gunk there was still much to like, and excuse me while I get all nostalgic about a music scene which didn't thrill me a whole lot the first time around... OK, where was I? Nowhere, that's where.
Water On Mars is an excellent slab of grunge-rock - of that I have no doubt. Yes, grunge-rock. It sounds like Bleach-era Nirvana meets Mudhoney's first few 7"s with a bit of Taang!-era Lemonheads chucked on top. Throw in some U-Men 'tard-rock, even some Tad, fer chrissakes, a dollop of SST Dinosaur jamz and mix. Low-brow slob-rock with the tunes to match: loosen up your guard and soak it up, coz it really is a lot of fun. Upon hearing me blasting this one, my ever-judgmental brother screwed his face up and uttered, 'What the hell is this? Grunge rules, man'. Indeed it does.



Last year's Weirdon is equally as fine. It was in fact one of my favourite slabs of contemporary rock during that annus horribilis. Polizze and co. retained the wall of guitar fuzz, but without the grungoid heaviosity, meaning for me this one possesses a slightly En Zed flavour, with other portions bringing to mind the songsmithery and scattershot approach to composition favoured by primo Guided By Voices before they got boring (or awful), or maybe the Grifters' recordings for the Shangri-La label. Actually, just about everything Purling Hiss does sounds scattershot, like a beautiful accident. Their pre-Drag City career involves tapes and vinyl on an assortment of imprints, some of the output bordering on no-fi, but it's pulled together by the ability to throw in surprising hooks which worm their way to the surface at unexpected moments. Polizze hit strings with wunderkind/indie pin-up boy Kurt Vile back in the day or somesuch (there's a connection there which doesn't interest me enough to Google it), and it kinda baffles me that Purling Hiss don't enjoy a wider fan base, considering Vile's unit-shifting abilities in recent years (and I don't say this to besmirch Vile's good name: I think he makes fine records), but whatever. Whisper it to your buddies: Purling Hiss make great music.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

LOVE THE DEAD


Grateful Dead's American Beauty LP from 1970. You heard me right. I bought this album secondhand at Collector's Corner in 1988 (in its old split-level uber-retail outlet on Swanson Street, where it was a promised land of new and secondhand vinyl, CDs [then still a new-fangled gimmick - esepcially so for me, as I didn't even own a CD player until December 1989] and VHS rentals [one could borrow highly coveted Flipside and Target video cassettes there - now let me please escape this double-parentheses nightmare]) when I was but a 16-year-old spud hell-bent on ruining my brain with hardcore and SST-damaged noise. Along with Black Sabbath, Creedence, Hawkwind, Roky and Neil Young, Grateful Dead was an obvious pre-punk forebear to explore in the Solid State Transmitters universe, and these side routes into rock's back pages was a highly educational and rewarding thing indeed.


Of course, The Dead are a double-edged sword: there are pros and cons which one could debate forever - and people have been doing so for 50 years now - and while I acknowledge the negatives associated with the band, I would also contend that some such negative strikes against the band are either irrelevant or based on a misunderstanding of what the band is/was all about. Let's make a couple of things clear:

* The Dead were a live band. Most of their studio recordings are tepid-to-awful, and just about any studio endeavours they engaged in after the mid 1970s are not worth hearing. Their best studio album of the psychedelic ouvre is 1968's Anthem Of The Sun, but the other two fantastic studio albums definitely worth grabbing are about as psychedelic as a pair of dirty old socks: American Beauty and Workingman's Dead. These are unashamed country-rock albums, very much in the same vein as The Band's output from the same period, or the classic sounds of Sweetheart Of The Rodeo/Gilded Palace Of Sin, and you can either take that as a recommendation or a sign you should stop reading this blog entry right about... now.

* They are one of - if not the most - heavily documented live bands in the history of music, so you have a wealth of available live shows to listen to. Spotify - yes, the streaming service coming straight from Satan's anus - has a plethora of live shows available to listen to (more than you'd ever want to listen to, in fact) - and just about any of them from approx. 1969 - 1978 are worth the trouble. For me, this is the band at its best. There's a zillion different versions of their best tunes ('Dark Star', 'Playing In The Band', 'Turn On Your Lovelight', et al) where they really get to stretch out, as well as more outre feedback/percussive-oriented numbers which demonstrate where their rep as outward-bound musical 'heads' springs from. Use this as a guide: if their version of any song from this era is over 20 minutes long, it's probably worth hearing. If it's over 30 minutes in length, it's definitely worth hearing. The Dead are a band who were better the more they musically waffled. The shorter/tighter material is their weakest.

* The best widely available Dead album remains Live/Dead. Well, I should perhaps clarify that by saying that for me it's a dead heat between that and American Beauty, but the Dead album you'll probably want to listen to is the 2LP live epic from 1969 (released in 1970) known as Live/Dead, as it is indeed an excellent document of the band during their musically ambitious ballroom bong-hit phase when the lights were beginning to dim on psychedelia.

* Don't judge the band on their fans nor the occassionally annoying personalities which make up the Dead. And don't judge the band by its frequent fashion faux pas from the 1980s onwards. Look at any footage of the group playing live in the '80s: the music might've still been good, but the visuals made your retinas want to cease and desist: Bob Weir in a LaCoste shirt with a Sensible Haircut, complete with tennis shorts and gym sneakers looking like he just hightailed to the stage from a Republican Party BBQ/tennis match; Phil Lesh with tie-dyed t-shirt tucked in to cut-off denim shorts, librarian glasses and a headless bass FFS(!); and Jerry Garcia just being Jerry: opium-soaked noodling on the sidelines, complete with a Hawaiian shirt, on the verge of nodding off at any moment. And the fans?? Don't get me started. Don't think of even getting yourself started. Sure, the Meat Puppets, Henry Kaiser, Greg Ginn and Lee Renaldo smoked a bowl or ten to the band's extensive catalogue in their time, but other mouth-breathers laying claim to the musical legacy of the Dead include the likes of John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Phish and the band's nth wheel, AOR stalwart Bruce Hornsby. But always remember: plenty of great bands have and will continue to inspire a lot of muck. And I haven't even mentioned the zillion anonymous stoned yoyos who'd follow the band around the world to every damn show they played, but I figured I didn't have to. There's a part of me which unashamedly admires the dedication to the band and the 'alternative lifestyle' many of these fans partook in for decades, but the music fan side of me just has me thinking they should broaden their musical pallette and stop treating an alleged rock band as a cult. But hey: live the life you love, love the life you live.

These points don't sum up much of anything: just a series of vaguely-related rants and collected thoughts on the band. One thing I can say: the Dead weren't jerks. Watching a recent documentary on Bob Weir, he appears to be completely unaffected by his fame and obvious wealth, still living in the same hippie-ranch he bought in 1971. The band toured with Ornette Coleman in the late '80s, giving him wide exposure relatively late in his career, and even donated a chunk of change to Sun Ra and his Arkestra when he hit hard times. And American Beauty? It's the sweet, sweet sound of mellow country-rock, a point in time when the band's straight approach to studio recording totally worked. It even made an impact on my 16-year-old brain: I soon purchased a Grateful Dead t-shirt (the same one John Nolan would wear when playing live with Bored!, natch). That shirt fell apart 15 years ago, but that same copy of the LP remains. Playing it today on this crisp and sunny winter day, I can still testify that it's a recording well worth acquiring.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015



Glenn Danzig turned 60 this week. If you want to get some real perspective on ageing punkers, consider this: Alan Vega just turned 77 this week! I had no idea until fairly recently that he was that old. So when he saw his life-changing Stooges shows circa 1969/'70, the guy was already in his 30s. Doesn't make him any less awesome. However, what does make Danzig slightly less awesome is the ridiculous figure he has devolved into the past 25 years or more. Friends of mine really dug those early Danzig records. God knows I heard them enough at the dawn of the '90s at various parties where bongs were passed and vast amounts of alcohol was consumed, but they didn't mean much of anything to me. Fact is, the Misfits never meant much of anything to me either, even when I was Hardcore Joe Kokomo as a young gent. Sure, I heard the records and knew all about the band (no great stretch: they remain one of the obvious entry points for young rockers globally), but they came across like a bunch of artless lunkheads and not really my cup o' tea.

Naturally, I own all the obvious Misfits (ca. 1976 - '83: not the circus which has been parading as the Misfits in the post-Danzig universe) LPs now, but big deal - I own a lot of records, and not all of 'em good. Still, I can crank up some primo 'fits on occasion and dig the shit out of it in my paunched middle age, and that's not a bad thing. Their story is an interesting one - a band basically considered a joke in the NY punk rock circuit until various midwestern teens (Necros, Meatmen, etc.), DC baldies and west coast aggros (mainly the 'Flag guys) sung their praises and word began to spread. I could be wrong here, but the impression I get is that they couldn't get arrested in their hometown but obviously turned a lot of heads when The Kids took notice throughout the land.

Samhain were a more peculiar proposition: Danzig's outfit from 1983 - 1987, one which slowed down the tempo and went for a more metallic, goth/death-rock angle. I don't own any of their records and never have. Right now they're out of print, even in the digital realm. I've heard 'em, though - there was a nice box set released in 1999 which I remember selling many copies of when I worked at Missing Link - and they certainly have their charm, even if they suffer from the most staggeringly fuckawful production just about ever heard on record (and if you think I'm out of line, listen to the studio version of 'Archangel'). Anyway, this live clip, at least for me, nails how good Danzig and co. could be when everything's nailed down tight. The live version of 'Archangel' above is it. Pure rock & roll weirdness delivered with a hostile snarl. It really is terrific. Watch. Learn.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

VALE ORNETTE!


I can't let such an occasion go unnoticed: Ornette Coleman was one of the most important and innovative musicians of the 20th, and he has passed. He reconfigured the music of jazz as we know it. He's as giant a figure in American music as BB King, yet I didn't hear a whole lot in the major press about his death, but never mind - the music of Ornette never was and never will be 'for everyone' (and I don't say any of this to begrudge BB's coverage or his place in the musical pantheon: his many cuts for the Modern/RPM label are some of the best post-war electric blues you'll ever hear). Discovering Ornette's music in my early 20s was a big deal. His music - so varied yet so of a single mind - remains important to me. I wrote this pile of rambling guff on the man three years ago. Read it. Listen to his music.

DAVID KAUFFMAN AND ERIC CABOOR - Songs From Suicide Bridge LP


Those folks at Light In The Attic - who have recently reissued this obscure gem from 1984 - sure know a thing or two about a thing or two. Sure, they've got all that Rodriguez cash flowing in and keeping things steady (I always say that every successful label needs a Koln Concert in their repertoire for steady cash flow: LITA have found their Koln Concert. That remark may mean absolutely nothing to you), but such a predicament allows them to indulge themselves with this rather deluxe 2LP edition (it was originally a longish - 50 minutes or thereabouts - single LP) of a long-lost self-released singer-songwriter platter. Which matters.

David Kauffman and Eric Caboor aren't exactly household names and never will be. Their collectives careers stalled (but didn't die) pretty much upon the release of this very album, and frankly I'm mystified by its failure. Well, not mystified, as many great albums sunk like a stone for eternity, but its complete and total marketplace failure was indeed a tragedy. Some background... Kauffman was originally from New Jersey and moved to California in the late '70s, hoping to make it as a singer-songwriter in the LA scene like his heroes Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne et al. Caboor was from Burbank. They met in 1982 and played regularly around the fLA olk/coffeehouse circuit at the time. No double bills with The Stains or Saccharine Trust have been confirmed (nor ever suggested).


'Kiss Another Day Goodbye': one of the most awesomely depressing songs ever penned

They amassed a collection of songs, made demos, shopped them around to big-time labels and were promptly rejected by all and sundry. Reagan-era America wasn't in the mood for their feel-bad vibes. Bummed out by their rejections and feeling shut out by The Biz, they decided to record a collection of their most downer tunes on 4-track and release it themselves, if only to say Fuck You, of sorts. Thus Songs From Suicide Bridge. They pressed up 500 copies, gave a stack of them to radio stations and watched it fail. It's a glorious failure. Kauffman and Caboor were no Jandeks: homepsun heroes keeping the DIY spirit alive. They wanted to be stars. They would have signed to Elektra or Geffen in a heartbeat - it just didn't happen. But somewhere it that bitter failure lies the beauty of this release.

Both Caboor and kaufman share songwriting duties, mainly alternating tracks and singing lead vocals on their respective numbers. Their songwriting styles perfectly complement each other; until I checked the liner notes I assumed there were co-writing credits on all tracks. Musically, it's sparse and downbeat, but with a smart, crisp and lyrical musicianship. It's raw, but never sloppy. These dudes could play - it's just that no one gave a shit. One of the obvious comparisons is Springsteen's Nebraska, and it's in that ballpark, for sure, although both members have never suggested having been influenced by it. It remains its own beast, and a very LA one at that, with a maudlin feel gleaned from late nights studying early Tom Waits and Randy Newman sides. Kauffman and Caboor continued to write and record throughout the rest of the '80s and beyond under the name The Drovers, and I can make no judgments on this era of their music. I do know that Songs From Suicide Bridge is the sound of beautiful losers.