Friday, May 28, 2004

THE WIRE magazine had a cover story last year entitled The New Weird America, which attempted to document all the great happenings in the US underground related - through some stretch of the imagination - to some mythical American cultural trail influenced by free improvisation, Appalachian hillbilly music and Robbie Basho. Or something like that. In other words, there's another generation of post-collegiate ex-punks going through the wringer and living the life of the itinerant boho until Real Life knocks on the door in 5 years and it's time to settle down and get a real job. I hope that's not the case. Read the story if you want to get the lowdown. I have no great beef concerning the article: David Keenan is a fine writer and essentially it's just another all-too-typical case of a limey music publication inflating some non-existent scene beyond its worth and dumping it two minutes later. Some of the music I like a lot - Cul de Sac, Six Organs of Admittance - and some of it is the most worthless, over-rated hippie swill imaginable: Sunburned Hand of the Man, No Neck Blues Band - but that's OK. So, what is my beef?

No beef here, just a recommendation on a couple of CDs by an artist who should have been mentioned in the article: Donovan Quinn, aka VERDURE and one half of the duo, THE SKYGREEN LEOPARDS. It's a bit hard for me to pen this rave without the cloud of self-indulgence hanging over me (I released a Verdure CD last year), though since I'm not talking about that release in particular, I figure it gets me off the hook.

VERDURE have a new CD out on the fine Camera Obscura label: The Telescope Dream Patterns. It's one of the finest CDs I've heard in recent months. Donovan, who's loosely connected to the Jewelled Antler collective on the West Coast (which is sort of a community of musicians and artists dealing in folk/improv/noise related pursuits; best go to the site as I fear pigeon-holing their efforts), is an amazing talent, and anyone who's gone ga-ga over pretty-boy folkie heart-throb Devendra Banhart (who's admittedly very good) needs to jump on this guy's bandwagon. His latest is a stunning blend of rattled, Skip Spence-style fragility, animated Bolan-esque fairy-psych, wigged tape loops and sound FX and the kind of shattered persona I usually only associate with the likes of Jandek. Beneath all that are some incredible songs. Too many of these "New Weird America" putzes are pure schtick and little else, like the right cover/flyer graphics and incessant hipster name-dropping will give them some kind of critical kudos (and hey, it seems to've worked!), though to my ears Verdure is about brilliant songwriting and little else, and that's good enough for me.

SKYGREEN LEOPARDS is his duo with Glenn Donaldson, and their new CD, One Thousand Bird Ceremony, on the Soft Abuse label is something I'm near unable to tear away from the stereo. With a massive assortment of exotic instruments at their disposal - 5-string banjo, bouzouki, jew's harp, Orpheum XII, mandolin, dulcimer, etc. - they've created a seamless blend of psychedelic dementia and pop harmonies I find irresistible. Imagine, if you will, a concoction of Notorious...-era Byrds jumbled in with the acoustic ballads on Big Star's debut and mash it up with the sounds of a few of the early Shimmy Disc artists (Dogbowl, pre-useless King Missile) and the Skygreen Leopards are hovering somewhere in that stratosphere. One of the year's best, no doubt.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

RANDOM RECENT FAVES…

Here’s some selections getting a beating on the home sound system…

CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL – first five albums
I had a “funny” (not funny ha-ha, just kind of amusing) conversation the other day with a friend who’s opening a record store soon. The other guy who’s to be involved in said store (no names, please) is considered in many Australian circles as one of the country’s most rabid and enthusiastic music fans and collectors. You can talk to this guy about nearly anything: Norwegian Black Metal, Eastern European free jazz, Indonesian gamelan, Afrobeat, ‘50s rockabilly, ‘70s French prog rock, NYC No Wave, ‘60s computer music, even completely atrocious ‘70s AM pop (America, Bread, etc.) I’ll likely (and hopefully) never appreciate. The weird thing is, his springboard into music as a teenager was via Coltrane and Hendrix (a high school jazz snob… can’t say I had one at my school), so his knowledge and appreciation of certain music forms you or I may take for granted (classic ‘70s/’80s US punk, for instance) is surprisingly pitiful (he’s slowly amending that). Anyway, my friend was shocked that said music geek – a man he was about to embark into business with - held absolutely no appreciation whatsoever for Creedence. For him they meant nothing, perhaps, at best, a band of yesteryear popular at fondue parties in the suburbs. Such a dire situation had to be looked into and amended, pronto. Friend “A” did what had to be done: he sat him down for the afternoon, and played him one Creedence album after the other until he damn well liked them! If you have such a friend, you should do the same.

MELVINS – The Maggot CD
This is from 1999, released as part of the Melvins’ “musical trilogy”, along with The Bootlicker and The Crybaby. The Melvins were a band I barely listened to from roughly 1993-’99, though I’m glad to say that they’re a rare occurrence of a group who, 20 years on, still appear to be going strong and at least exploring new musical avenues. The Maggot is one of their more fiery recorded efforts, the opening number, “Amazon”, a righteous blaze of metallic, noisesome fury I have a habit of playing at a deafening volume. If you like your Melvins of the more-rock/less-sludge variety, this is a nice platter to raise fists to.

SAVAGE REPUBLIC – Complete Recordings 4-CD box
I bought this one about a year back and have come round recently for a second helping. Whilst Savage Republic are hardly a household name even in the world of underground rock music, they’re a band worth giving an earful and then some. Formed by a small cabal of UCLA students at the dawn of the ‘80s, they evolved from a kind of ‘Neubauten/TG/Cabaret Voltaire-worshipping, metal-clanging “industrial” outfit before moving onto a mid-period Joy Division/Dick Dale hybrid until they finally settled into a role as perhaps the (I mean, someone has to be) epic drone-rock ensemble, heavily influenced by Saucerful of Secrets-era ‘Floyd, Krautrock and Middle Eastern/Indian sufi music. I’ve got a couple of old vinyl EPs I found in bargain bins back in ’91 or thereabouts, but seeing their entire discography compiled into one, singular, handsome box set like this, I couldn’t resist, especially given the patented Independent Projects packaging (the award-winning print/graphics company SR main dude Bruce Licher set up in the ‘80s). The earlier material hasn’t aged so well, though once they settled into more of a melodic rock mode and lost the angst and burning desire to wail on big kettle drums, the results were often magic. Best of all are the Customs and Ceremonial discs, both prime slices of under-appreciated, uncategorisable ‘80s US avant-rock, and given the current popularity of those crazy Canucks, Godspeed You Black Emperor! (or wherever they put that exclamation mark now), a band often accused of shamelessly ripping off Savage Republic in both musical and graphical content, I’m surprised these guys haven’t been trawled up by the critic gods for a major re-evaluation. A nice thing if you can find it.

GEORGE HARRISON – All Things Must Pass 3-LP box
If you’d told me 15 years ago that one day I would willingly purchase and enjoy a George Harrison 3-LP box set, well, I could make a lot of funny puns here, but the upshot is this: I wouldn’t have believed you. Well, life can take some strange turns, and just after George’s death in late 2001, with all the related gushing that went to-and-fro in the media with his passing, I spotted a copy of this going very cheap in a shop window (either they also got it very cheap, or they totally over-ordered it) and thought, What the hell? I’ll have that. Whilst I can hardly see myself indulging in any solo Ringo or McCartney LPs in this lifetime, I’m glad I took the gamble on Harrison: this is a fantastic set. Caught somewhere between the plaintitive, understated ballads Harrison was renowned for, and the sheer bombast producer Phil Spector made his name with, the seemingly shakey mix, much like that on the White Album – a mix that probably wouldn’t work in lesser hands – is its key to success. Given Harrison’s death, it also possesses a ghostly quality I find mighty appealing. The bonus material on the 2nd and 3rd discs probably don’t add a whole lot to the package, but it’s a nice thing to have, behold and listen to, and for my money is likely the best post-Beatles project – perhaps barring Lennon’s first solo album – any of the Liverpudlians managed to record.

NO TREND – When Death Won’t Solve Your Problem LP
It’s nice to have good friends. I spotted this LP at one such friend’s place a little while ago and begged him on the spot to borrow it. Uh, yeah, sure. Actually, you can have it if you want, I don’t really need it. I felt pretty uncomfortable about taking it, but after further discussions I decided it was a done deal, myself promising I’d return a favour some time soon. No Trend were a “legendary” (why of course!) punk/noise band from Washington DC, ca. the ‘80s. Loathed by everyone in “the scene”, especially the Dischord crew, such a predicament has probably earned them more obscurity than they deserve, but, being the misanthropes they were, they probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Featuring such audience-baiting classics as “Too Many Humans”, “Die”, “Cancer”, “Mass Sterilisation Caused by Venereal Disease” and their “hit”, “Teen Love”, their hate-filled combination of hardcore fury, Flipper-esque sludge and dub-y, PiL-inspired drone-rock still shines like a beacon and holds up incredibly well in the 21st century. The only No Trend material still in print are the Early Months and Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex CDs on Teen Beat and Touch & Go, respectively, though neither are quite as ace as this.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

There's one turkey of a film that's also worthy of note: 1990's A Matter of Degrees, starring Ayre Gross (you might not know the name, but you'd recognise the face), Tom Sizemore (a fine actor and - judging by the number of assault charges lodged by his wife against him - a terrible human being) and X's John Doe (the perennial B-movie rock dude). Why is it worth noting? No great reason; the minimal story line revolves around a "radical" college DJ who doesn't want to "sell out" to the squares who run the station; the soundtrack is mostly z-grade college schmaltz for arts majors (Pixies, Throwing Muses, etc.), though they throw some Yo La Tengo in there, a bit of Minor Threat and the Minutemen, and, strangest of all, the film is dedicated (in the closing credits) "to the memory of D. Boon". Sheez, what a tribute! Still, it is an interesting textbook example of a "pre-grunge breakthrough" (ie. pre-1991) attempt by Hollywood to at least remotely understand the "underground" music scene of the late '80s, along with similarly flawed efforts like Pump Up the Volume. Masterpieces they ain't, but you can bet your 8" vinyl collection that a cinema/cultural studies Masters student somewhere is wasting your precious tax dollars penning a thesis on the whole phenomenon as you read this.
Has anyone ever seen the 1985 teen flick, Just One of the Guys? It was a late-night free-to-air TV staple down here in the late '80s and a definite fave of mine from the era. Sure, you've got the standard '80s schtick with a mountain of pastel clothes and peroxided fringes to wade through, but beneath that are some knockout performances (from a bunch of zeroes, so no need to even mention names), a sympathetic high school "freak" who's obsessed with James Brown and the presence of the Stooges on the soundtrack, with "Down on the Street" blaring throughout the "cafeteria scene". Now, how many '80s teen flicks could boast that? I'm happy to say it's now on DVD. The interested, if there are any, should check their local outlet.
BOOFHEAD GOES BROKE ON THE ‘NET

Access to both the Internet and a credit card can be a lethal combination, you don’t need me to tell you that. Without the sight of actual cash exchanging hands, one can be hopelessly deluded into believing that anything purchased is for free. Well, at least that’s the excuse I’ll use for my shameless splurge on Amazon.com a little while back. I finally received the goods last week (and unsuccessfully snuck them past the wife when they arrived at 8AM), have given them a while to digest and am now willing and able to play the hanging judge. On with the show!

FLESH EATERS – No Questions Asked CD; A Minute to Pray, A Second To Die CD
The only Flesh Eaters discs I’ve previously owned (and still do) are the “Best Of” LPs SST put out well over a decade ago, both of which are pretty essential introductions to the greatness that was – and perhaps still is – the Flesh Eaters. Due to the elusive nature of their albums – which have mostly been out of print forever - it’s taken me ‘til now to search ‘em out. I guess the funny thing is that the Flesh Eaters also appeared on the second “punk” album I ever owned: The Return of the Living Dead soundtrack, which I bought as a clueless 13 year-old after being blown away by the movie (and figured it was cool because it had the Damned and the Cramps).
Anyway, No Questions Asked is their debut from 1980, fully remastered with bonus tracks from the good people at Atavistic. Great liner notes by Byron Coley, excellent sound (this sucker is loud), swish packaging, this sounds a whole lot better than I remember it being (my brother has the original vinyl, which I used to have a habit of playing every time I visited him), with their resemblance to (GI)-period Germs being almost uncanny. Or predictable. Either way, it’s a timeless slice of peak-era US punk rock and you need it.
A Minute… is their 1981 “masterpiece”, or so everyone tells me (it is Coley’s all-time fave album, a big call if ever there was). Hype aside, this Rhino edition suffers from a fairly weak sound (way too quiet; will Atavistic be touching this?), though the songs make up for it. With an expanded all-star line-up featuring members of X, the Blasters and Los Lobos(!), this is Chris D. and co. straying from the LA punk formula of yore and branching into a more rootsy territory. Think Black Flag, Exile-era Stones, The Fall, Funhouse and the down-home shenanigans of the Gun Club, stir and serve. A definite keeper, though a disc that wouldn’t even scrape a Top 100 for me, never mind a Top 10 (and whilst I’m at it, I should add that I prefer No Questions Asked. Go figure).

SLEEP – Dopesmoker CD
I’m confused. What the fuck is up with the discography of the almighty doom titans Sleep? Signed to London/Polydor in the early ‘90s (and who was responsible for that money-wasting exercise? The same guy who saw the massive commercial potential of Steel Pole Bathtub and Clawhammer?), they very quickly destroyed any chance at success by giving the company execs their major-label debut recording: one song, an hour long, of unadulterated mile-a-day sludge. Not surprisingly, the label balked and they were dropped. This is the “uncut” version, which, if I’m not mistaken, has been released before in varying forms. Maybe this is remixed… Who cares? Me? Nope. This is righteous and fills all three categories I listed in a previous entry as to what qualifies as great Doom: heavy as a mountain, slow as a sloth and just brimming in a bong-split haze of sociopathy. The bonus live track slays me, too.

WARHORSE – As Heaven Turns to Ash CD
More doom from the land of gloom, here’s Massachusetts’ finest purveyors of heaviness. I listened to this quite a bit a few years back when it came out and was working in a music store willing to allow me to play such anti-social tunes to the unsuspecting customers, so now I can enjoy it in the comfort of my own home. On the worthy Southern Lord label, Warhorse take the bluesy looseness of Sleep, mash it up with the psychedelic antics of Electric Wizard and hammer it. A downer, for sure.

ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO – The Spiritual CD; A Jackson In Your House / A Message To Our Folks CD
I was peeved off when I received The Spiritual: one look at the cover and I knew I was in for a dud. Why? Because I ordered in this very CD for a store I used to work at a few years back and was bummed out by its sonics the first time around. Actually, I think I ended up putting it in the bargain bin, so hesitant was I to recommend it to a potential fan. Two questions you may ask: why is it bad, and more importantly, why did I buy it?! OK, firstly, the sound quality – from a live Paris concert in ’69 – is woeful, and with large segments of inactivity from the band on the recording, I can only assume they spent most of the gig in the dressing room rolling joints or something, because it certainly doesn’t sound like much is going on on-stage. Secondly, I bought it because the Amazon site has a different cover on the screen, what looks like a Black Saint release, not the turkey I ended up receiving. What a crock…
The second AEOC CD makes up for it: primo BYG-era Paris recordings when the band was at the peak of their game. If you’re curious, start here.

GUN CLUB – Fire of Love CD
Now this is a weird one… Friends of mine will laugh at me buying this, for the sole reason that I’m usually the first one heard denigrating the Gun Club and everything they ever recorded. “Over-rated”, “lame”, “tepid”, “half baked”, “contrived”, my list of insults is endless. So, why did I buy the thing? In an attempt to convert myself. Why? Because I needed to finally sit down in solitude, listen repeatedly and make a final call on the worth – or lack thereof - of the Gun Club. The verdict: all insults still stand, though it is beginning to grow on me. Some nice pop tunes, though maybe that’s the problem for me: Gun Club are/were never anything more than a “pop” band. With Blondie fanatic Pierce at the steering wheel, this album possesses absolutely none of the grit similarly great bands from the era – the Cramps and the Birthday Party, for example – achieved in spades, and suffers for it. I’ll hang onto this, though the accolades this group still receives baffles me, and don’t say I didn’t give it a try.

FUGAZI – 13 Songs CD; Red Medicine CD; The Argument CD
What in the mother of fuck am I doing buying Fugazi CDs? Isn’t that the sole domain of skateboarding teenagers, Punk Planet readers and first-year sociology/philosophy majors? If so, let me jump on board! Seriously, this is probably my most peculiar purchase of the last 18 months. In essence, it doesn’t really make sense. Outside of a freak purchase of their Instrument soundtrack a couple of years back, bought after hearing it at a friend’s place and being speechlessly impressed with its dynamics (still their best, I say), I hadn’t bothered to listen or purchase anything they’d done since roughly 1991. It’s not like I disliked them – at one stage in my life (‘89/’90) they were bedroom gods – it’s just I didn’t care about them. There were other, more immediate, fish to fry. So here I am, it’s 2004, and I’m playing catch-up. Huh? I can’t figure it either. This is about art, not science, kids; sometimes there’s no rational or explainable reason, so just take it as a given: Dave Lang is going back in time to check out the Fugazi albums he missed out on the first time around.
13 Songs was in fact the very first CD I bought back in 1989. Five years later, over “that kind of music”, I sold it. 10 years later, and I’m “back into that music” and I like it. You going to deny this is great rock'n'roll? Fuck you.
Red Medicine, upon initial listen last week, I suddenly realised was an album I was more familiar with than originally aware of. I’ve never owned it, so I can only assume my familiarity is through years of working in music distribution warehouses and “punk” record stores throughout the last 10 years and being insidiously brainwashed with its contents by work colleagues without my conscious knowledge. Hailed by well-meaning people as their finest moment, this 1996 effort is ass-kicking rock of a very high calibre.
The Argument, from late 2001, is their most recent recording, and possibly their last, as the band is on indefinite hiatus as members pursue other avenues (mostly family duties, apparently). Well, with almost 3 million(!!!) albums sold worldwide to date, I’m sure they’re not struggling to pay the bills at this stage. The Argument carries along similar lines to their previous two or three discs: angry screaming mixed up with elements of funk, dub and more experimental textures, my only complaint centres on the first track: “Cashout”, which bears a disturbing resemblance to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Excuse me whilst I lie down.
Verdict: Fugazi are one of the very few – nay, possibly only – group of ‘80s/’90s indie survivors not to’ve disgraced themselves in the ensuing years of success and status. My hat is tipped.

SONIC YOUTH – Bad Moon Rising CD; Murray Street CD
And now for the flipside of the coin…
Bad Moon Rising I bought for the simple reason that I’ve never owned it before, have heard it many a time and knew I liked it and needed it. Even back in my SY-obsession days of the late ‘80s I stuck strictly to the holy trinity of Evol, Sister and Daydream Nation, so it’s time to backtrack, bite the bullet and consume. I’m glad I did.
I’ll delay my biblical essay on the worth of Sonic Youth until after their concert they’re playing here next month (as well as the release of their new album, Sonic Nurse), but I should add that their latest, from 2002, Murray Street, is quite the fine item. I heard this frequently when it came out and I was stuck in the backroom at work processing stock, growing on me to the point where I made the massive investment of paying something like a whopping $2 for a second-hand copy of the cassette to play in the car (which has subsequently been chewed up). Given this predicament, I figured I’d go for a more durable format in the “compact disc”, and what better version to invest in than the “special enhanced edition”, which features the following: a screen saver that doesn’t work, a link to a “secret Sonic Youth site” that took me nowhere and an “exit” sign that takes forever to get me the hell out of this completely useless CD-ROM. Still, the album in itself, minus the token Kim Gordon track (someone really should keep her away from a microphone), is pretty OK for a Sonic-Youth-stuck-on-autopilot effort.

20 YEARS OF DISCHORD 3-CD BOX
It’s cheap and a necessary document of an important scene in underground rock music of the last 25 years, one I was quite a fan of as a teenager, so what the hell, add it to my cart. That’s my philosophy, Marty. This is a nice thing to have, and here are the positive aspects of note: great, informative booklet giving the history of the label and bands featured within, with lots of nice photos; a ton of tuneage, including unreleased and rare songs from some classic bands like Minor Threat, the Untouchables, Teen Idles, Void, Scream, Embrace, Rites of Spring, Fugazi, Faith, Artificial Peace, etc.; and an enhanced CD featuring clips from Void, Teen Idles and more. Here’s the down side: has Dischord, outside of reissues and Fugazi’s albums, actually released a listenable disc since, well, 1990? Judging by what’s on display here, I’d say not. I gave all the following a hearty listen, and the result is a unanimous thumbs down: Jawbox, Holy Rollers, Nation of Ulysses (who were a whole lot of hype over nothing), Make-Up (ditto), High-Back Chairs, Autoclave, Branch Manager, Hoover, Slant 6, Trusty, Smart Went Crazy, Warmers, Bluetip, the list is almost endless. If the tracks chosen by these bands are their high points, I’d hate to think what their albums are like. I have the highest respect for Ian and Jeff and the way they conduct business, but for the life of me, I can’t fathom what they see in any of these bands, and even more so why anyone would buy their records. They are dull beyond human comprehension. Plodding post-hardcore collegiate shit-rock with nary a tune in sight, give me the angst and rage of Rites of Spring, Embrace, Scream, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Void, One Last Wish or even 3 (late ‘80s pop-punk outfit w/ Jeff Nelson who put out a scorcher of an album in ’89; seriously, the great lost Dischord album, if ever there was) any day of the week. Great effort, but no cigar.

FELA KUTI – Expensive Shit/He Miss Road CD; Open & Close/Afrodisiac CD; Confusion/Gentleman CD
I haven’t bought any Fela in a couple years, and have been getting the itch all over again. Fela Kuti is one of those great “can of worms” artists, one whose discography is so massive that the clueless may be left either stabbing aimlessly in the dark and perhaps starting off on the wrong foot, or more cautiously simply sticking to a “Greatest Hits” package and leaving it at that (which is exactly what I did for about 18 months after the 1999 release of Black President, an excellent, cheap 2-CD Best Of). Then the avalanche started: Universal started the onslaught with their reissue campaign and I was knee-deep in Fela: Zombie, No Agreement, Shuffering & Shmiling, Coffin for the Head of State, I.T.T., etc. I left it a couple of years, pursued other avenues, and now I’m back on course. This is because, much like other greats of whom I seem to be in ownership of a large chunk of output: Coltrane, Miles, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Ornette (I don’t know why, but they all seem to be jazz artists), every Fela Kuti album points to a piece of a puzzle, and every one is different.
All six albums purchased rock my boat – a blow-by-blow on each is unnecessary – though the standout is easily Confusion, its title track being a 25-minute cosmic keyboard/drums freakout that’d give Can or Mr. Ra a run for their money. Completely unlike every other Fela song I’ve heard, it’s a stunning slab of Afro-futurism that’ll boggle the mind. A can of worms well worth investigating.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Sorry about the pitiful lack of entries lately. You can probably put it down to two factors: sheer laziness and lack of inspiration, and my having spent two hours last week on a New York Dolls piece that, upon completion and prior to posting, was promptly gobbled up by my computer and swallowed forever. To put it mildly, I was PISSED OFF, and swore to not even think about the blog for a week or so when I'd calmed down. I'm feeling better now. Posts to come...

Sunday, May 16, 2004

WFMU Live Broadcasts

Got a nice letter today from WFMU program director, Brian Turner, who sent me a link to the archives section of his excellent radio show on New Jersey's finest audio outlet. He figured that my fandom for both the Soft Boys and Khanate ("a rare juxtaposition", he noted) would tweak my interest, and the man is right! Look at that list of live-to-air performances: Khanate, Soft Boys, Ghost, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Damo Suzuki w/ Cul de Sac, Acid Mothers, Kinski, Temple of Bon Matin... the list goes on. There's even an interview with John Morton of the Electric Eels(!). Great, that's all I need: another reason to sit in front of this computers for hours on end. Time to cancel a few appointments...

Friday, May 14, 2004

LIVE GIGS, Part 1

A friend and I were having a laugh the other night at some of the ridiculous bands we've seen live over the years: the good, the bad and the truly ugly, so I started making a bit of a mental list of the international acts I've laid witness to. I will warn you, however, some of the below-mentioned may frighten you. Read and squirm as I attempt to explain my presence at some of the most awful musical units gracing our planet today, so before I start, let me first add these two points...

Firstly, prior to 1992 or so, it was incredibly rare for an overseas "underground" band to tour Australia. In the '80s, all we got was the Dead Kennedys, The Fall, Gun Club, the Cramps, Big Black and maybe a few others. I was too young for all of them. For me, the watershed weekend was in January 1989 when not only the Rollins Band but also Sonic Youth played here all in the space of two days. A young lad like me was in heaven. It wasn't really until the big "grunge" breakthrough of '91/'92 that foreigners of a remotely decent caliber started making regular trips down here. My point? Beggars can't be choosers. If it was someone I had the remotest interest in, I'd see them.

Secondly, from 1995-'99 I was working for a big "indie" label/distributor and received free entry to just about any touring band they were handling. Looking back, it looks like the vast bulk of them were either metal groups or just incredibly bad. Sometimes a combination of the two. What the fuck did I care? The price was right.

SONIC YOUTH
Saw these guys on the night of my 17th birthday in January 1989 at the Corner Hotel. My scant memories are these: I was panicking at the door, wondering whether I'd be able to scam my way in; Ollie Olsen's NO supported (whom I didn't dig a whole lot and whose discography has aged worse than a carton of milk); I recall looking at Kim Gordon and thinking, "How fucking old is this group? She could be my Mum!"; Sonic Youth rocked da haus down.

ROLLINS BAND
Whilst the name "Rollins" has become synonymous with bad poetry, bad films, bad music and, well, everything that is bad about life as we know it in the last decade or more, what becomes forgotten in all of this is just how good he once was. Scratch that: how fucking great he once was. Fresh from his stint in 'Flag, Hank was a bit of an icon in the land of Oz for a while, and I was no exception in the adoration. Rollins and co. put on a sweat-filled extravaganza that I still rave on about to friends, and whilst the young 'uns may be baffled in my gushing for a guy that's since proven himself to be a complete and total waste of space and fresh air, back in the day, he was IT. Seriously, one of the top 5 gigs I've ever seen.
On another note, I did also catch his mid-1990 show at the Old Greek Theatre and he stunk like a rotting corpse. By then he'd discovered "da blooze" and punished everyone present with 20-minute jams about guns, mouths, cops, whatever. I wasn't listening. Once burned, never to return.

MUDHONEY
I think this was late '89, their first visit, at the Old Greek Theatre again. Don't remember much except that I thought they were "hot". Never cared for Mudhoney at all on disc (except for the first couple of singles), though they proved themselves in a live setting.
On another note, I went to see Mudhoney again in December 1990 at the Palace. With a pre-paid ticket I approached the doorman who, not seeing any ID from myself, refused to let me in (even though I was turning 19 soon). Despite my pleas, he promptly told me to fuck off or prove my age. Infuriated, I tore my ticket up and made my way home, at which point I was jumped by a couple of thugs, beaten into the gutter and spent the rest of the weekend in hospital with cuts, bruises and concussion. Mark Arm, you owe me!

DINOSAUR JR.
This was Mascis's first trip down here, mid 1990. By then he was already on a slippery slope to sub-mediocrity, and the show proved exactly that. Again at the Old Greek Theatre, friends of mine dug it, though I was so bored I think I left before it finished.

ALL
Oh man, here's an embarrassing one. This was late 1990 at the Prince of Wales. Why was I seeing ALL? Like I said: why not? I was a big Descendents fan back in the day (laugh all you want, their '80s LPs still light my fire), and even though I always thought ALL sucked and were merely a pale imitation of their former selves (ie. Descendents), I figured I had to see them, especially with the presence of ex-'Flagsman, Bill Stevenson, in tow. The verdict? Yeah, they sucked.

LEMONHEADS
What was I saying about beggars and choosers? This was early '91, before Evan and co. really ate shit, and since I liked their 1st and 3rd albums a lot (yeah, fuckin' sue me, they still sound OK), I bit the bullet. All I can say about this is that it was the loudest show I've ever attended, and in fact was the inspiration for me deciding to wear earplugs to all subsequent gigs. You Am I supported, who were down for their first Melbourne shows. What can a man say? They blew then and continue to do so.

FUGAZI
This was probably the watershed tour for independent bands hitting our shores. Not only were Fugazi actually a shit-hot unit at the peak of their powers, but they played all-ages shows and at a bargain price, too. Saw both of their Melbourne Uni gigs late '91 and it's safe to say they blew everyone's socks off. Funnily enough, on one of the nights, none other than Evan Dando supported in an acoustic set, doing unplugged versions of old Minor Threat and Misfits numbers. There's a show for the ages! For myself, the highlight was my pants-wetting post-gig interview with Ian MacKaye for some lame-arsed fanzine I was writing for (which was never published... in my nervousness I fucked up and forgot to press record!). Ian proved himself to be the gentleman he's reputed for.

BOB MOULD
I tell ya, at this stage Greg Norton could've toured as a pastry chef and I would've seen him. It didn't matter that Bob was playing unplugged and was boring as dogshit... it was that ex-Husker Du guy! Saw him at the Sarah Sands in '91 and slipped into a coma halfway through the set.

MEAT PUPPETS
Though I was completely obsessed with the 'Pups back in high school, my interest in them had slipped to a big, fat zero by '92, but I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity of a free lunchtime show at Melbourne Uni (after all, I only had about 100 metres to travel). Much to my surprise, they were incredible: tight, funny, rocking, they played mostly old material and I was transported. A top 10 fave.

REDD KROSS
This was a weird one: an all-ages afternoon gig at the Corner Hotel, ca. '92. I dug the 'Kross immensely back in the '80s but had given up on them by this stage. For good reason, too: they were terrible. If only they'd toured back in '88...

GRIFTERS
Gotta skip a couple of years here. I think this was '95, when they were touring with the Dambuilders(!) and Jeff Buckley(!!). They played a solo show at the Corner and hit it hard. A great, lost band, who unfortunately released all their worst material just as they were going to hit it big. Those first three albums, though...

SEX PISTOLS
Now this was a gig, no matter how bad it was going to be, I was not going to pass up. How bad was it? It was bad. Wrong venue (Festival Hall), too many knuckleheads, uninspired performance and the two single worst support bands I've ever had to suffer through: GOLDFINGER and SKUNK ANANSIE. Oh, the horror... For the record, everyone raved about their Palace show, so maybe I just picked the wrong one.

NAPALM DEATH
Here's a freebie from the record company, in case you're wondering. Never cared for the big grindcore "movement" of the day, though my curiosity got the better of me, so I gathered a few metalhead buddies from work and hightailed it to the Palace. The only points of note were the singer's immense mullet and bad soccer outfit, and just how fucking boring Napalm Death were. I mean, I can handle some death metal when it's done well, maybe with a few twists and turns and something different in the mix (I'm scraping for a name here, though NILE pop up, a contemporary death metal group who aren't bad), but "the 'Death" are guilty of the crime every finger-pointer makes at the genre: it all sounds the same. Next!

BRUTAL TRUTH
This was '96 or '7, and another freebie for their Corner show. Napalm Death should take a few pages out of Brutal Truth's book: they rocked! Shitbag grinding pot-rock from a group of deadbeats who play 1000 mph and never let up for a second. Most comical of all was the drummer, with his snare planted somewhere between his ankles, leaning over with an anguished look as his arms moved like butterfly wings. Certainly the most unique drumming style I've witnessed in a live setting. Any "grind" band willing to cover a Holy Trinity of artists such as the Boredoms, Sun Ra and the Germs in their set gets an OK from me.

CATHEDRAL
Whoah! I told you I was getting free entries to a ton of metal gigs at the time, so what the hell, throw Cathedral in there. I know that some people hail this band as the be-all and end-all of Doom, but I just don't get it. Their mid-period albums are shockingly bad, sounding more like Bad Company than Black Sabbath, and even their much-touted debut (can't remember the name... Forest of equilibrium?) never moved me an inch. Gimme a bit of Electric Wizard or Warhorse or Sleep any day of the week! Anyhow, this tour was, recording-wise, Cathedral at their all-time worst phase, though live they were pretty OK. Heavy-as-lead doom-rock with the gear switched into Sabbath mode, they swung and shook their way through a solid set dosed with elements of self-deprecating humour, though I don't care what anyone says: Lee Dorian couldn't sing his way out a soggy paper bag - dreadful, dreadful stuff. At Joey's in Prahran, of all venues.

NOFX
Oh dear, the things you do. Why did I go to this? Am I a glutton for punishment? Yes. I think my only justification could be that I was curious about the support act, UK's SNUFF, whose debut LP from 1990 I liked back in the dark ages, and, well... it was free and my social life was faltering. The Palace, which must fit up to 1,800 or 2,000 people, was packed to the rafters with legions of obnoxious, dickheaded skater clones, so I attempted to ignore my surroundings and simply enjoy any scraps of decent music willing to come my way. Which wasn't much. Snuff were awful, being more "ska-punk" by that stage than the kind of high-energy punker action I'd dug them for in the first place, and NOFX... well, I'd hardly know. I left after about 30 seconds of their set to escape the throngs of slamming, pogoing, stagediving buffoons who threw me around like a rag doll the moment an opening chord was struck. I think it's very safe to say that, had I stuck around, I wouldn't've enjoyed them anyway. Yes, that's a very safe bet.

JAD FAIR
This was Jad's first tour in mid '97, and since I was (and still am) very good friends with the guy who brought him out (Dr. Jim) and a raving fan of many years, I was asked if I'd like to go on tour with Jad up the east coast for general morale/roadying duties. It's a deal! Said tour was detailed exhaustively in an article I wrote for a fanzine many a year back, so I don't really care to revisit it, suffice to say that Jad is one of the true gentlemen of rock, and his band, Jason Willett and Benb Gallagher, are two of the loveliest, most eccentric Americans I've ever come across. No drugs, barely a beer consumed the whole time, not a female groupie in sight, this was a tour for the hardcore nerds. Of which I was one.

BOREDOMS
This was a weird one. The Boredoms - the fuckin' BOREDOMS, man - were supporting has-been no-talents Regurgitator, basically because the 'Gurge boys paid for them to come out. Which is of course a nice gesture and public service, but doesn't make them suck any less. Naturally, the Boredoms made everyone go nuts - in a good way, myself included - and half the crowd left the second they exited the stage. As they damn well should.

MELVINS
This is from '97 or '8, and similar to the Boredoms experience, in the sense that the Melvins were roped into supporting a much lesser outfit, the Cosmic Psychos. Not knowing this beforehand, I arrived at 10 o'clock just to catch the Melvins hitting the stage, absolutely shocked to discover they were playing support to a band NO-ONE cared about. The Melvins? They were good, real fuckin' good. The 'Psychos? Ask someone who was present. I think about 3 people were left when they hit the stage.
Saw the Melvins again in 2002 at the Cherry Bar, but, having consumed about a dozen beers beforehand, I was really only there in body, not in mind or spirit. Errr... my memory's hazy of the event.

BOB DYLAN/PATTI SMITH
Hardly an "underground" gig, though this was my first arena experience (at the Tennis Centre), one I decided to attend at the peak of my Dylan-mania, and the only thing it taught me is this: those crazy punkers in the '70s were right when they said arena rock had killed rock'n'roll. I mean, sitting down at a gig? What the hell is that? I would've been better off just renting a video of this performance. Up in the nosebleed seats, I could barely even see the stage, and worst of all, the sound was so quiet. Like I said, I wear earplugs to every show I attend, but had to take them out this time coz I couldn't hear a thing! Patti was OK, lively at least, though Dylan played like he was embalmed, and, as is his trade, reworked a few of his old classics into unrecognisable snore-inducing jams. No, actually, worst of all was the big group of people behind me talking and arguing (about a burnt dinner, no less) the whole way through it. When I turned around to shoosh them I very quickly realised "they" were a big group of leatherclad bikers, so I had to sit there and suffer it. Never again...

TORTOISE
I think this was '98 and something I paid actual money for. What to say of Tortoise? They released two great albums (the first and second, naturally) and have spent the last ten years doing a very convincing impersonation of Weather Report. Which is not a good thing.

PERE UBU
This was early '99 at the Corner Hotel, with Dave Thomas and one or two original members. The venue was jam-packed with a plethora of old geezers, and 'Ubu were surprisingly solid, with Thomas displaying the kind of grumpiness he's reputed for, and the band, mainly made up of ring-ins or "new members" hit the nail on the head more often than not.

VARUKERS
All right! Remember the Varukers? Nope? The only reason I really know of them at all is because, back in 1984, ABC TV played a special called "UK DK" which documented the decaying punk scene in England at the time. My brother and I taped it and watched it repeatedly, giggling at the gobbing mohicans and marveling at the atrocious music. The band that stood out the most were the Varukers with their "hit", "Soldier Boy". It became a no-brainer anthem in the Lang household for many years, so when a "reformed" Varukers threatened to hit our shores, the Brothers Lang were going to be there with bells on. This was '99 or so at the Arthouse, Australia's premier venue for z-grade punk, so a group of us lined up for an evening of high comedy. What would they look like? What would they sound like? Will they still have the Discharge spikes or will they've grown their hair and gone speed metal? Well, it was nostalgia time: out came the boys (well, two original members at least) with the trademark '81 Discharge-do's, three chords and a world full of hate. They rocked the roof off! Sure, you had to leave your brain at the door, but for a night of dumb-as-hell punker entertainment, you can't go past the Varukers.

LABRADFORD
Another freebie which I got via the record store I was working in at the time, this was 2000, I think, at the Corner Hotel. I really liked Labradford's debut, Prazision, back in '93 when it came out, but basically forgot about their existence in the ensuing years, though when a free ticket comes my way... Let's put it this way: if your idea of a good night out is hanging around a smoky venue surrounded by cardigan-clad indie-rock douchebags whilst suffering the sounds of three pretentious art-school drop-outs ripping off Eno's '70s albums, an evening of Labradford is what you require.


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

BLAH BLAH BLAH...

Weird to read in the latest issue of MOJO that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are responsible for keeping the GERMS's (GI) in print. How? The band insisted to the head of Warner Brothers that they wouldn't sign to his label unless he always kept it active in the WB catalogue. Does that mean we've all got something to thank them for? Oh well, they're probably nice guys...

Finally laid my hands on a copy of the latest (well, from very early this year) ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO disc, Tribute to Lester, on ECM. Since Malachi Favors Moghostut died in recent months, that probably brings an end to this long-running troupe, but what a way to go! If you're not expecting much - like myself - you'll be surprised at just how good this album is. The classic AEOC element of cluttering "little instruments" (which is what they dubbed their sound as containing) is ever-present, though unlike some of the more "abstract" AEOC outings, this never bogs down in its own nonsense or drags. It opens up pensively with a few quieter tracks which work perfectly towards their goal: the eventual full-band blowout. Much more sparse than previous efforts, probably due to the loss of Lester Bowie, the paired-down sound works excellently to their advantage. The Ornette-ish "As Clear As the Sun" is seriously one of the best tracks they've ever laid down. One of the year's best.

I was asked by my good buddy Scotti to write a Top 10 list recently for the Missing Link newsletter. "Just pick whatever and send it to me today", he said. Who am I to resist a good list? I could've pondered and thought about all the amazing bands I could baffle the utterly uninterested public with, but decided to simply pick the nearest 10 LPs and CDs sitting next to the stereo and throw it in an email. Umm, here goes...

1) Khanate - Things Viral 2LP
I wrote about this a few entries ago. Check there. You need it.
2) Swell Maps - International Rescue CD
Been on a bit of a Swell Maps binge lately, after having not bought a single disc of theirs since '93 (the Jane From Occupied Europe LP). Why the wait? Now sure. So much music, so little time and even less money. Sometimes others just take priority. For now, the 'Maps have climbed a rung or two. A band totally worthy of their legend and then some.
3) Robert Wyatt - Old Rottenhat LP
Christ, here's another one I've already written about. I guess it was getting rotation for "research" purposes.
4) Patti Smith - Radio Ethiopia LP
I tend to have a bit of a love-hate relationship w/ Patti. Fact is, prior to my recent surge of Patti-related activity, I probably hadn't spun a single track of hers since 1998. Occasionally she strikes as nothing more than a whining old wheezebag hippie or, worse still, an all-too-typical pretentious NYC "poet rock goddess" (or whatever) who struck it lucky with the critics, but then I give Horses or Radio Ethiopia a spin, and all is forgiven. Yeah, she's pretty OK.
5) Soft Boys - Underwater Moonlight 2CD
I bought this a couple of years back on a healthy recommendation from a friend. I'd known of the band for a long time, mainly through The Eastern Dark's rip-roaring version of "I Wanna Destroy You" (admittedly, it's a hard song to fuck up), though the elusive nature of their material, and their seeming lack of any place within the usual aesthetic I look for in a band had me balking for years. Actually, Underwater Moonlight didn't make a whole lot of sense to me at first. Pretty Beatles-ish pop songs interspersed with ragged Beefheartish rock spruced up with a Buzzcocks-level aggression just didn't fit. Anyway, like they all say: there lies the beauty of the Soft Boys - they just don't fit. OK, now I'm a confirmed fan and when the hell is Ryko or Matador going to put their first album back in print?? By the way, the bonus material on the first disc is superior to the actual album itself, or at least that's how I see it.
6) John Coltrane - Live In Seattle 2CD
I'll write about this in my Top 50 list one day, so maybe I'll wait 'til then for the full rundown. Coltrane live '65 in a six-piece line-up (including Pharoah Sanders) that floors me every time. If you're only going to buy one Coltrane album in this lifetime... Hate to break the bad news, but I think this is out of print.
7) Tar Babies - Fried Milk LP
Wooaah! Where'd this come from? I've been in touch w/ the Tar Babies' head cheese, Bucky Pope, lately (for a Perfect Sound Forever article, possibly a CD), so I've dragged their old albums out of a musty corner for a dust-off. Fried Milk, from '87, is the one that slays me every time. Totally dynamic post-hardcore with a very messed-up, funky, psychedelic edge, if you're currently saying "Tar what??!", then search in a bargain bin near you.
8) Kinski - Air Above Your Station CD
Oh god, here's another one I've already written about twice. Some friends of mine are giving me flak for my current affection for this band. Are they not cool enough? Too standard? Hey, maybe so, but life's too short to waste time listening to music you don't enjoy.
9) Gong - Angel's Egg CD
All hail the mighty Gong! I only bought this fairly recently, putting off a Gong splurge for a long time. The wait was worth it. Search out the first four albums - all still in print - and bask in the pot-damaged pixie-rock space-dementia of Gong. Yeah, you do that.
10) Art Ensemble of Chicago - Fanfare for the Warriors CD
Uh-hu, been on a bit of an AEOC kick of late, and for my two cents this is probably their finest moment, along with their little-known (or appreciated) 2CD excursion with percussionist Hartmut Geerken on Leo, Zero Sun No Point (a stupefyingly great masterpiece of sound; nearly two and a half hours of the greatest non-ESP/BYG/Kraut racket you're likely to encounter). Anyhow, this is their 1973 outing on Atlantic, and their best, most concise recording that covers all aspects of their ouvre: free jazz, ragtime, tribal chants, percussive workouts, the kitchen sink.