Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mischief Brew - "Jobs In Steeltown" 7''




Overgrown weeds engulfing a family's dilapidated former home.
A cracked-up vacant parking lot.
An abandoned factory with most of its windows broken.
If that vintage mindset intrigues you, you might like Mischief Brew's new 7'', "Jobs in Steeltown."
There are only two tracks on this one. Side A has "Jobs In Steeltown," which is a bittersweet song about an old Pennsylvania (I assume, since they are from Penn.) steel town.
Places in Pennsylvania like Pittsburgh, Midland, Aliqiuppa and Ambridge were/are all steel towns and after doing a little Internet scavenging on these places, I couldn't help but associate the industrialized towns with Chicago's once-heavily industrial south side.
To this folk/punk tune, guitarist/vocalist Erik Petersen sings, "They need food-spooners, janitors, and prison guards/And they look out and I look in, sometimes I forget who the prisoner is."
The dynamic here is interesting. The chorus of the song is about how there are no jobs in "Steeltown" anymore, but the bittersweet part is that there are jobs; depressing jobs that do not feed productivity, rather maintain some sort of sad, working-class population stuck in the days long gone.
Mischief Brew is considered to be an anarcho-punk band, a genre I'm not really familiar with. I looked it up and found a history and discovered that many of the bands I like and even mainstream ones like Against Me! fit into this category. It seems to be a history full of DIY ethic and individual "lifestylism." It seems to be very anti-establishment as well, like the traditional punk beliefs, only this anarcho-punk genre seems to want to keep the aspect of individual importance and pride first and foremost.

Side B has a track called "The Barrel," which, to me, is a very metaphoric song. The song is about his "candy shop." Petersen sings as a scavenger, picking through flea market goods in search of treasures others overlook.
Petersen's lyrics have a hopeful underbelly to their surface pessimism. Or maybe not pessimism, but bleakness.
"Raid the scrapyard like a garden, wring life from rusty bones/My candy shop is a vacant lot where anything may grow." It begins with a bleak outlook, but finishes with a sort of, "OK. I'm surrounded by decay, but does it have to be ugly? And why do things have to be this way and that?" That's the message I saw, anyway.
Towards the end of this dark-yet-hopeful redemption song, Petersen sings, "Your scrapyard, my garden, or so the saying goes/You turn water into dead things and I'll make the dead things grow."
That verse didn't make sense to me at first, but after some thought, it's a powerful line to end the song. Everyone knows dead things are, well, dead. And with water symbolizing life, Petersen is simply saying, "You turn life into death, well I'll turn death into life." Very poetic, I dig it.
Mischief Brew has proved to be not only musically talented, embodying that folk/punk sound, but conveys strong themes and perfectly highlights the dynamic between life and death, rich and poor, and past and present.
Fans of early Against Me!, Leftover Crack and the World/Inferno Friendship Society would really appreciate Mischief Brew.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shorebirds - "Shorebirds" 7'' review



A few weeks ago, I came across a MySpace band site and had never heard of them, but something caught my eye.
"What's that say? Jawbreaker?! Latterman? Damn, I didn't know any of those guys were doing anything with music anymore. I thought they called it quits!" (And then I came to realize after reading the band's description on No Idea's site that it sounds like Shorebirds isn't even a band anymore).
I saw Chris Bauermeister from Jawbreaker's name along with Matt Canino, vocalist of Latterman, on that site, which belonged to a band called "Shorebirds." Immediately I gave it a listen and it was love at first sight (so to speak, of course).
Canino from Latterman does the vocals for Shorebirds, by the way. So if you like Latterman, Shorebirds will be to you like The Broadways sound to Lawrence Arms fans. Or how The Mopes are to the Methadones. You get the picture.
Track one on the 7'' is called "DOA," and it's about getting older and waiting around. Canino outlines pretty well the uncertainties about passing the time. Between the strong, steady power chords and the slowed-down note playing and fluctuation in Canino's voice, you get a sense of helplessness. He's waiting around for his friends - it's out of his control. It keeps raining and raining - out of his control. He even talks about something we're all familiar with - trying to get a certain someone off your mind. That can be the hardest thing of all. My favorite part is the end, after Canino sings throughout the song about waiting for his friends. He finishes the song by saying, "My friends have shown up right at the front door." And that's when the music - and the waiting - stops and a new song begins.
Track two is called "Tinctures are 90% Alcohol." For those like myself who aren't quite sure what a tincture is, it's an alcohol solution of nonvolitile medicine such as a "tincture of iodine." It's also a color, like a tint or a pigment. Which is interesting because he could just be singing about blurry vision in this alcohol-soaked song.
This one radiates uncertainty and a bit of insecurity. Canino yells "I don't know what to do 'cause I can't stop thinking of you/I don't know where I'm gonna sleep tonight...my floor is covered in beer." His words paint the scene of a party. Broken glass everywhere. Beer all over the floor. Not knowing where he's going to sleep that night and not being able to get someone off his mind. It sucks. But it's good to listen to. It really gave me an "Ah, so I'm not the only one, huh?" feeling. But the lyrics sound more than anything like Canino's trying to drink a girl away.
The third song, "People I Live With," is sad, in the way that you feel bad for Canino. This one's about walking around lots of people, not being able to identify or connect with anyone. Being ostracized. Outcasted against your will. He sings about not getting along with people he lives or works with. But he says he's only trying to survive. He sings about being ashamed and without admitting it, about hurting people he's loved. But the song is not a complete bummer and outpour of empathy on Canino's behalf. He redeems himself at the end of the song, mans up so to speak, repeats the chorus and adds, "I've done some things that I'm not too proud of/And you never want to hurt the people you love/Sometimes you gotta look them in the eye and apologize."
The last track, "Down in Denver," is a fast song - only 1:37 in length. It keeps the theme of helplessness, but in a more upbeat fashion. He sings about watching Denver decay and how when he was there, all he did was die. As pessimistic and negative as his words come off, Shorebirds is amazing. I can't stop listening to these guys and I recommend it to everyone. I'm addicted to that feeling I rarely get from bands that's like, "Hey. Shit's fucked up. I have a fucked up life. My friends are pretty fucked up too...and I don't know how to handle a lot of things." I'm addicted to the sense of belonging there; that huge gap of admitting things like that, and putting it to music is powerful to me. And therapeutic, in a way.
Fans of The Broadways, Hot Water Music, Latterman, The Draft and of course, Jawbreaker, need to check this 7'' out. Shorebirds hooked me real fast. Get it at No Idea Records for 3 bucks.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Robot Chicken Season Three DVD Review





Usually, when comic book nerds get together to play with action figures, it's at the national Comic-Con convention or in the privacy of their own place - and that's if they even open them, fearful that they'll decrease in value.

When you get a bunch of them together, throw in stop-motion photography and witty jabs at pop culture, you get Robot Chicken.

With each episode lasting only 11 minutes, the show gives the viewer a real short and sweet experience.

The episodes move fast and generally have no plot.

On the second disk of the Season 3 DVDs, we see Paris Hilton throw up in bed saying, "I love sex and Johnny Walker!" to which the camera reveals Jimmie Walker, who coined "Dy-no-mite" from "Good Times." Following, is a newscast about celebrities going to rehab. In rehab are Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Hilton, all of whom are actually aliens, fueled by alcohol with a mission to destroy the human race.

Paris' assignment is to kill President Bush, and she is seen doing so - only it is George Bush Sr.

Barbara Bush jumps out and engages in a fight scene with Paris, ultimately breaking her neck with a roar of victory.

For anyone who knows enough about pop culture to follow it, but hates it at the same time, Robot Chicken is the perfect show.

It's one of those shows that makes you laugh out loud when you're alone.

One minute, Conan the Barbarian breaks out in song, the next minute, a gigantic carrot bursts from the ground and tears a rabbit to pieces. If everyday life of TV, the Internet and being fed constant advertisements hasn't given you attention-deficit disorder already, Season 3 of Robot Chicken will.

At the very least, it will leave you clucking with glee.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Special: Making a living at the funeral homes





Jerrald Bennett, owner and funeral director of local funeral homes, Harper-Swickard and Caudill King, already has his casket - and vault - picked out for when he dies.

"I've got everything written down for me, what's to happen, and my family knows what it is," Bennett said. "I got my casket picked out, my vault picked out. (It's) Solid bronze. 48-ounce polished bronze."

Jerrald pulled a catalog down from the top of his desk in his Harper-Swickard Funeral Home, which he also lives above. He flipped to a page, and pointed to a glowing bronze casket with bright red interior.

"And as fat and heavy as I am, this is gonna be a monster for six guys to carry," Bennett said. "It's called a Promethean."

Bennett has lived above the place he works, above the Harper-Swickard Funeral Home, located at 720 Monroe Ave. in Charleston, for 5 years.

"There was an apartment built here when this addition was put on, and it has been used on and off since 1952," Bennett said.

He owns the entire building.

When somebody dies, wherever it may be, one of the two funeral homes is called - either Harper-Swickard or his other one, Caudill-King, located at 1117 Jackson Ave. in Charleston.

"We make the pickup. We use a minivan most of the time; it's a little more discreet," Bennett said. "Folks kind of appreciate that. They don't really like everybody in the neighborhood to know what's going on."

Before the funeral homes picked up the deceased themselves, it was handled though the city, and ambulances would come out. The problem was, nobody ever paid for the ambulance service.

Once Bennett and his associate and fellow funeral director, Shawn Livingston, find out what kind of service the family of the deceased wants, they either embalm the body or if the family wants cremation, Bennett and Livingston prepare the body for the crematory, located in Sullivan - about 30 miles from Charleston.

As for the wake, or visitation as they call it in the funeral business, it can be held at either funeral home.

Depending on what cemetery the family chooses, a traditional funeral will cost about $6,400, and that includes a minister, a musician, flowers and a half dozen death certificates, Bennett said.

Bennett became involved with the funeral home business because of personal reasons.

"I lost my father at a young age and the funeral home that home we used, we did not have a lot of money, but they didn't treat us any different than they did folks with lots of money," Bennett said. "So it's my way of passing (that) along."

Associate funeral director and embalmer, Shawn Livingston, attended mortuary school at Carl Sandberg College in Galesburg when she was 30.

Originally from Charleston, Livingston wanted to go back to school, but couldn't for a long time because of her mother's conflicting opinion on Shawn attending mortuary school, so she attended nursing school and became a registered nurse. She works at William Houseworth's office when she is not working between the funeral homes.

"He's an OBGYN. I get to see both ends of it (life), comin' and goin,'" she said.

Working with life and death day in and day out, Livingston sees a wide range of people come and go into this world.

"I get a lot of deliveries and I don't like to have the two come together."

Luckily, it doesn't happen often, she said.

At her job, Livingston enjoys one aspect of it more than anything else.

"I really like the embalming, I've just always wanted to do it," Livingston said.

She learned about ancient preservation procedures in mortuary school.

"They used a lot of oils. They actually removed organs," Livingston said.

Today, not much of the old way of doing things carries over, but one thing does.

"Just the respect," Livingston said. "That's carried over. They respected the deceased and so do we."

In school, Bennett was very interested with the ancient preservation methods as well as the entire history behind embalming.

"How they (Egyptians) got everything out of that tiny little incision without - I mean, I think…it's about three inches long, the incision to get all the internal organs out," Bennett stammered.

"How?! And they put them in the canopic jars, about four jars and each one has the specific organs that they were to have. They weren't mix and match. They were very specific on which jars they were to go in," Bennett explained.

"And then the poor people went in the tar pit, you know that, right?" he said.

Even more recently, in our country, embalming and preservation was once a new procedure.

"When did basic America started embalming? Do you know? Think about it," Bennett asked. "Civil War, quite honestly. The surgeons - the doctors were the actual embalmers and when a surgeon performed surgery on - say you got shot in the arm - and they didn't know if you were gonna make it or not, they would put the surgeon's business card in your pocket and when you died, the surgeon got to embalm you, and that's how he made his money, shipping bodies home," Bennett said. "And that was the first war where bodies were able to be shipped home, because embalming had made enough advances. And President Lincoln did outlaw that before the war was over, by the way. He thought it was unethical."

Smiling, Bennett looked at me and said, "You should go to school to be an undertaker."

"Yeah?" I asked, confused.

"Yeah! You're from Chicago, you'd make some serious money," he said.

After school, Bennett came into possession of the titles to both buildings after his old boss, Greg Jerden, "downsized," said Livingston.

As a funeral director, Bennett enjoys his job. The drive and dedication he had with his father's passing carries over to this day, and his passion shows. At funerals, he, as well as Livingston, often comforts the families in their time of need.

"It's just getting to help people at a very difficult time," Bennett said. "If it's someone I know closely, it's more difficult for me. Infants, you know, babies are - I just can't imagine what the family is going through, but those are very tough for me as well."

The only part of the job Bennett and Livingston dislike even slightly are the late-night phone calls of somebody dying.

"When you get called out at 2 o'clock in the morning when you're sleeping, we do go when the death occurs. We don't wait till the next morning on a hospital or a nursing home death," Bennett said. "I've actually made a removal in Tinley Park before."

The embalming process is quite intriguing. Post-mortem human preservation has been practiced since long ago, dating as far back as the ancient Egyptians.

"You put the person on the embalming table, which is basically a table with a recessed curve and there's a channel around it, so the fluid will go in the channel and then down the drain," Bennett explains.

"To embalm a body, you make an incision into the skin, pull out the artery and the accompanying vein," Bennett said. "It's thick and very elastic. The veins are translucent; you see the blood right through them. You inject the fluid into the artery; you drain from the vein. Basically, what you're doing is using the embalming fluids to push the blood out."

If you're lucky, it can be done in one injection. If the person's been dead for a while, you're very likely to have to use more than one injection, Bennett said.

Bennett starts at the jugular vein because it's the most accessible and the largest.

"And from a pressure standpoint, you want to go from large down to the smaller," Bennett said.

If all the blood cannot be drained through the jugular vein due to damage, he resorts to using other points in the body. The most incisions Bennett has ever had to perform on a body to drain its blood were eight.

"If the hands don't clear, you have to come down into the ribs. You have to make a hole into the vessel," Bennett said. "If it's a normal case, (it takes) as little as 40 minutes. In any complicated case, where you have several sites, it can take several hours. Some funeral directors use formaldehyde, (but) we use a glutaraldehyde-based fluid. It's from the same family, but at this point, it's not known to cause cancer. Formaldehyde can. Glutaraldehyde is not necessarily as firming as formaldehyde, but you don't need that for preservation."

After suturing the wound closed, the director hides it with clothing.

"Typically, the embalming would take place before we make arrangements with the family, but we have to have permission," Bennett said. "Once the family comes in, we're all set and then once we have the clothes, we'll get them dressed. If it's a woman, we usually contact the hairdresser and have them do her hair and we try to have the makeup done before they come."

Inside the prep room, Bennett and Livingston use an assortment of tubes to drain blood and pump in the embalming fluid. The tubes are reusable, but the scalpels are not, Bennett said. The directors also need cotton to clean up messy areas. But the eye caps and mouth formers are tools I had never seen before.

"Folks that wear false teeth that for whatever reason, they aren't with the person when they die, we're able to put that in there so their mouth looks normal," Bennett explained. "This is the mouth former," he said as he put one in my hand. "What you do is, you put that in the mouth, you fill it out and to get the mouth shut, you use little spring-loaded device. You drive one of these into the lower jaw and into the upper jaw and tie them together. You just turn them back. You spring load it, just grip it and you have it in.

"Those (eye caps), you put inside the eye (for) muscle contractions," he explained.

"People with pronounced buckteeth present a challenge getting the mouth closed. I'm talking where they're sticking out," Bennett said. "I do know guys that have actually removed the teeth to get their (the deceased's) mouth closed, with permission of course. I never had to do that.

"What I do, is I just fill out the inside with cotton to raise the lower lip up to meet the other one, 'cause I'm not about to remove somebody's teeth, even if I had permission. It's too much," Bennett said with a cringe.

After the body has been embalmed, makeup is applied to the deceased, usually after the body is dressed.

"A lot of the makeup is the same that we use, but if somebody has some trauma that you have to cover up, then you go to mortuary makeup, which is a heavier makeup that covers bruising and such better," Livingston said. "And if the deceased has a favorite lipstick that, you know, she always wore or a favorite nail polish, we just have the family bring in her makeup.

"You might use a little more concealer on 'em, but a lot of times, that's cause they scratched themselves or something and their skin dries out cause there's no fluid circulating through your system like in a live person," Bennett said. "I guess you could say it kind of browns or darkens."

Most of the time, the family brings in the clothes the deceased is to be buried in. It is not often that the funeral homes have to dress the deceased.

As of late, funeral services and traditional burial procedures are diminishing.

"Cremation rates are up quite a bit," Livingston said. "People are doing cremation and not so much having services or visitation and it's kind of becoming a disposable society. Visitations used to be two and three days before the service and now they're just maybe two hours before the service. Business-wise, it's taking away our jobs and what we need to do. That's just the way it is. Cremation doesn't generate as much revenue, so it hurts the business."

But to Bennett and Livingston, the funeral homes are a living.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Q&A with Matt Senreich, co-creator of Robot Chicken


Squid Pro Quo: How did you and Seth Green meet up?

Matt Senreich: "We met on J-Date, and it was love at first sight. That’s what Seth always says and for some reason people laugh at that. Um, gosh how did we meet? I was working at Wizard Magazine, which is a magazine about comic book and toys and video games and the like and gosh, this was back in like 1996 or 7 and uh, I called his publicist to interview him and within 3 minutes he called me back saying he was a big fan of the magazine and I interviewed him and we just became friends after that."

SPQ: How do you get all those toys to make the episodes?

MS: ”We build a lot of them in house now, but we have a guy who is our toy wrangler and he goes out and checks eBay and goes to all the toy stores and calls all the people and its his job to get toys. Ever since we’ve been up and running, we’re now in this great scenario where a bunch of toy companies actually send us stuff when we need it, which has been really nice but the older stuff you have to go out and hunt, which is the best job ever."

SPQ: Has there ever been times with old toys - where you don’t want to play with them, but you have to?

MS: “We got a vintage Batmobile and it was like pristine condition and it was heartbreaking because we bought it for our first season and we had to destroy it for animation - it gets blown up - and I remember Seth was actually filming a movie in Hungary and I called him up at the wee hours saying, ‘Hey, our animators need to destroy this’ and he’s like, is there any way we can do, you know and he tried throwing out like eight different methods to try to save it and I was like no, can’t have that, no, can’t have that, we’re gonna have to destroy it. And he’s like, ‘I guess we’ve got to destroy it’ and it was just heartbreaking for both of us because we always wanted that for ourselves. And we were hoping to keep it in our office as soon as we were done filming it, but no, it got destroyed."

SPQ: Oh man, at least you got the pieces, no?

MS: "Those pieces had been used in many different other segments, but they are shattered into crumbs by now."

SPQ: Man.

MS: “Yeah, heartbreaking.”

SPQ: That is heartbreaking. I saw your Star Wars special, I thought it was very clever, very hilarious. I read another interview with you guys that says you’re working on another one, right?

MS: “We are! We actually are just finishing it up and it’s going to air, I think it’s November 16, so yeah, it’s right around the corner.”

SPQ: Are you guys big Star Wars fans, or geeks, I should say, as well?

MS: “You know, Star Wars is a movie I’ve seen more than any other. It was on HBO when I was growing up every day. I probably watched it on video tape three times more than I’ve watched it on television. But yeah, it’s the movie that got me into this business.”

SPQ: That being said, who shot first, Han or Greedo?

MS: “Oh, Han."

SPQ: OK, awesome. I was gonna say, if you say Greedo, I don’t know if I can go on with this interview.

MS: “That’s the version I saw. Just to show you, I still have the HBO video tape that I have from watching it over and over as a kid on VHS, so that’s the version I like to watch whenever possible."

SPQ: So Seth Green is also involved in Family Guy, but he’s doing Robot Chicken with you. So what’s it like with him doing both those shows, is there competition, how does that work?

MS: "You know, it’s actually really friendly between the two shows. I mean, Seth pretty much just acts on that show, so it’s always a nice surprise for him to go in there like when they gave us that nod on the 'Family Guy' Star Wars special. It was a really nice nod and in the writing process, we have a good relationship with them where we’ll call each other up and be like ‘Hey, we’re doing a thermal exhaust port joke, are you doing anything like that?’ and they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, we have something like it and we’ll compare notes and be like, 'OK, ours is totally different.' Um, but it’s been a lot of fun, because Seth McFarlane comes on our show and does the emperor voice and he’s redefined that character for us and its just been really nice. We take some creative trips together as well."

SPQ: Cool. I was looking at the Star Wars special, and did you say it premiered at Skywalker Ranch?

MS: “It premiered at Skywalker Ranch. Yeah, we took our cast and crew up to the ranch and screened it at their theater there, which has the most amazing sound system ever and it was just a nice little ‘thank you’ that they provided for working with them. I can’t speak highly enough of those guys."

SPQ: So George Lucas was there then, in attendance?

MS: “George was the surprise that we snuck in after we started airing, and our cast and crew didn’t know he was going to be there and we snuck him in and he watched it and Seth and I actually stood in the very back watching him watch it for the first time, really nervous to see what he was going to say and we just kept seeing his body shaking cause he was laughing and we’re like ‘OK, good, we’re doing something right.’ And afterwards he came up and spoke to our crew and I think everybody got a huge kick out of it and we just developed a nice, fun relationship with them.”

SPQ: Are you guys going to do the same thing with the second Star Wars installment then?

MS: “We were just up visiting and showed him the second Star Wars special beforehand. I don’t know if time will permit him to make our second screening or not. We don’t know what we’re doing for the screening of this one quite yet, we’re still worrying about finishing it. But he saw a rough cut, which he seemed to like a lot and he ever quoted it to us, which was quite flattering.”

SPQ: Is there a plot for the second one, kind of like how the first one was running on a lot of the Death Star stuff?

MS: “We kind of follow the storyline of the bounty hunters a little bit in this one. We still skip around the universe a lot and you’ll have a lot of random stuff in it, but we really do follow the sequence of who these bounty hunters are, how they were hired, what their storyline ends up being, and what ends up happening. You could say there’s a good Boba Fett mark in it.”

SPQ: Cool. I was looking at that, and you said you don’t know who he should sound like.

MS: “We just boiled it down to, he just sounds like Breckin Meyer now. He’s redefined that character the same way Seth MacFarlane has redefined the emperor.”

SPQ: I never remember Boba Fett ever saying anything in the movies.

MS: “He had a couple things. Then in the prequels, his character is there, he’s still a kid. And there’s Jengo that he’s kind of playing off of, and he is a clone technically of Jengo Fett. But yeah, it’s one of those things where we just try to make it so it can exist at the same time as all the stuff that they’re doing in the regular Star Wars universe. Ours is kind of like an Earth-Two, to make a DC Comics reference, of the Star Wars universe. This is an alternate view of what the Star Wars universe could be like in the comedy world."

SPQ: I thought it was hilarious when you had the random scene with Leia and Luke in bed saying, ‘Oh, that was wrong.’

MS: “We were shocked that they let us do that. It was very flattering."

SPQ: Final question, the production. Is it all in one place, how do you do the production?

MS: “Everything is done - we have a studio here in Hollywood and we have about 80 to 100 people working here. Everything from animators to a set department, puppet department, lighting, tech., editing - everything is done in-house. All our voice records are done here, we have a voice booth. It’s pretty much self-sufficient now."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ani DiFranco - "Red Letter Year" review


Widely recognized feminist singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco has just released her 20th album since 1990 titled, “Red Letter Year” on September 30. Outside the music, the red cover, picture of the moon and the album’s title confuse - until you start listening to it. Compared to her earlier material such as “Not a Pretty Girl,” Ani has mellowed out. A lot of the angsty undertones have vanished, and since have been replaced by feelings of happiness and warmth. There are still hints of her inner feminist surfacing through her words, urging change and equality, but “Red Letter Year” takes a more introspective look at Ani’s life.

On January 20, 2007, Ani and her producer, recorder and mixer, Mike Napolitano, welcomed their daughter, Petah Lucia DiFranco Napolitano, into the world. In “Present/Infant,” Ani sings, “I fear my life will be over/And I will have never lived it unfettered/Always glaring into mirrors/Mad I don’t look better/But now here’s this tiny baby/And they say she looks just like me/And she is smiling at me.” Her modernized folky and bluesy vocals combined with her upbeat guitars, pedal steel guitar and vibraphone cause the listener to transcend into a bright, sunny day as she reassuringly sings, “I’ve got myself a new mantra/It says: ‘don’t forget to have a good time’/Don’t let the sellers of stuff/Power enough/To rob you of your grace/Love is all over the place/There’s nothing wrong with your face.”

Two other love songs that stick with a sappy resonance to the listener’s heart are “Smiling Underneath” and “Way Tight.” In “Smiling Underneath,” she makes it known that the superficialities of life do not bother her as long as she is with “you.” My favorite track is “Way Tight.” Its overall tone is bluesy and comparable to Norah Jones‘ soft, harmonious verses. It hides itself in the sound, but the song has an underlying pop theme to it, something I’m a sucker to. Her steam of consciousness lyrics give that romantic wonderland of hers away when she sings, “You are ever true/Ever new in love/And I mean that in the best and worst way/And I don’t really know what I was so mad about/But the full moon is about a week away.”

Rivaling her upbeat love songs that give off a wisp of dependence, Ani sings of her traditional independence, addressing what she will and will not do. Behind her love, there is no blind foolishness and she says it bluntly. In “Alla This,” Ani declares, “I won’t rent you my time/I won’t sell you my brain/I won’t pray to a male god/Cuz that would be insane/And I can’t support the troops/Cuz every last one of them is being duped/And I will not rest a wink/Until the women have regrouped.”

A lot of people will hear her bit about the troops and turn their heads, but if you empathetically look at what she’s saying, it’s not a jab. She takes a conscious stand. This, I respect in a nation swarming with people who choose apathy over any solid stance. She addresses a similar frustration in “The Atom” when she says, “Yes, messing with the atom is the highest form of blasphemy/Whether you are making weapons/Or simple electricity…The glory of the atom/Begs a reverent word/The primary design of the whole universe.”

Fans of blues, pop, indie, folk, funk and punk should check out “Red Letter Year,” as it showcases these genres and themes amidst its 12 tracks. The only thing Ani may have working against her is if listeners are just too set in one type of music or if her old fans are not accepting of her growth and rebirth as a feminist and as a musician.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Queers Are Here!





The first known usage of the term "punk rock" was in the Chicago Tribune on March 22, 1970 in an article about a New York band called The Fugs, where lead singer Ed Sanders described his solo material as "punk rock - redneck sentimentality."

Punk was not just about making a different style of music for the hell of it, which is a common misunderstanding. Punk seemed to be a necessary step taken in the 1970s by those across the globe who didn't agree with the pompousness and sentiment of the era's rock 'n' roll bands and society.

"Punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that [acts] like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock 'n' roll, when to me and other fans, rock 'n' roll meant this wild and rebellious music," said John Holmstrom, founder of "Punk Magazine."

By 1977, the punk movement was in full swing. England had The Clash and The Sex Pistols. The U.S.'s punk scene stretched from The Germs in California all the way to The Ramones in New York. Australia had The Saints.

While it had a tendency to spawn in urban areas, punk was not just found in big cities. Many obscure towns birthed some of the longest-living and most influential punk bands of the era. One such place was in Portsmouth, N.H.

In 1977, then-vocalist John Hayes (also known as Wimpy Rutherford) was practicing with guitarist and current vocalist Joe King when his friend, Kevin came running in saying, "'Come out to the car, come out to the car, you gotta hear this tape I got,' Hayes said.

"So we went out to his car and we sat in his car and we listened to 'You're a Loudmouth, Baby' and 'PT Boat On the Way to Havana' and I've never heard The Ramones or anything like that before and that was the day - that was the actual day - that we just stopped doing all the shit we were doing and went down a whole other road. Once I heard the energy of that kind of thing, that just sent me right down the road."

"We were just inspired by The Ramones and Black Flag and we kind of just wanted to start a band," said King. "We were fooling around with our instruments and then we just said, 'Let's start a band.' And that was really it, to just have a legal reason as it were, to drink and try to pick up girls and stuff like that," said King.

At this time, Hayes and King (also known as Joe Queer) played in a local punk band called The Bugs and another called The Falling Spikes. Then in 1981, Hayes, King and bassist Tulu declared themselves "The Queers."

"Joe and I were both just sick of the crap of the '70s, the music that was out and what people listened to, like fuckin' Steely Dan and The Eagles and all that kind of crap, and we just wanted to be anti all that," Hayes said.

King and Hayes just wanted a name people would remember that was provocative and also pissed off the art community.

"We just wanted a name that we could spraypaint around our town to piss 'em off, so that's kind of where it came from and it stuck with us," King said.

When The Queers started out, punk was just punk. There was no "this type and that type" like there is today.

"You were nasty and snotty and played power chords with no beats and it was really, everything was kind of similar," Hayes said. "The only dissimilar things you had was, you had the east coast American and west coast American and then the English."

The Queers released two 45 rpm records between 1982 and 1984.

"I remember when we put out the first two Queers records, it was so small then, I remember being at my house, I was a just little kid, living in my little apartment and in came a letter from Jello Biafra and he said, 'Hey, I heard your two singles on some radio station somewhere, where can I get a hold of them? Thanks, Jello Biafra,'" Hayes said. "So even people like that were already in touch with other people that were doing the same. It was pretty small, pretty close-knit. I sent him the singles, I sent him a letter back and I never heard back, but I had come to find out that the guy's an asshole."

In the mid-'80s, the bandmates went separate ways.

King got into the restaurant business, and owned a two-story bar/café in New Hampshire at the time that had burgers, nachos and things of the sort.

"It's creative and there's a good energy," King said. "A lot of people complain about the restaurant business, but it doesn't have to suck, you know, it could be really fun if you get a good crew in there." We had the dining room area (where) there would be a lot of grilled salmon and Italian food and stuff. It was a pretty cool place and I miss cooking. Every once in a while, I wish I still had the restaurant."

King took me back to the 1980s and early 1990s when he had his own place in N.H.

"I was really dedicated, it was a small place. We only sat 46 upstairs and 46 down in the lounge. Everything was fresh," King said. "So, I cooked my own turkey for the roast turkey sandwiches, I cooked my own roast beef, I cut my own French fries, I made my own tomato sauce - I used canned tomatoes - but I used as much stuff fresh as I could, whether it's a burger or whatever. There's a right way and a wrong way to make it, so I didn't just have a restaurant that I opened up to throw frozen French fries in the fryer, no. I didn't do that, that'd be kind of boring."

As King got into the restaurant business, original bassist, Tulu and Hayes went to Boston.

The bandmates were doing their separate things until 1990 when King put out the first record with bassist Greg Urbatis, drummer Hugh O'Neill and guitarist "Young" Sean Rowley.

"I owned the restaurant then, Hugh and B-Face (bass) worked for me - my friends, you know. We were the punks and so I said, 'Let's make one album. Let's get together and make one more album, we'll put it out ourselves and we'll call it a day, but at least it'll be a great punk album,'" King said. "OK, so we hadn't played in about a year, but we still had a bunch of songs. I met Ben Weasel out in Chicago, I sent him an old recording or something. And he got on Lookout! (Records) in 1992 or 1993 and I was working at the restaurant and Larry Livermore called me from Lookout! and he said, 'Do you want to make an album?' So here I am in N.H. and I'm thinking 'Hey, fuck it, I was going to buy a restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H. There was a great deal, I had the money, I was going to go in there at the restaurant downtown and Larry called."

At that time, Lookout!'s own Green Day was just hitting it big.

"I said, 'You know what, I haven't gone down that path in life and I need to learn those lessons. So I know I'll probably regret this, but I'm not going to buy that restaurant,' so I didn't buy it," King said. "The people went in there and they made a lot of money. But I went down that path in life with music and I traveled and that's what happened."

To King, it was weird because he and his friends just wanted to have fun and play on weekend and work the restaurant business.

"That's the point where we made 'Love Songs For the Retarded' and put it out ourselves, we pressed like 500 vinyls or something and called it a day, but here I am," King said. "Then all of a sudden, I went down that path in life and that's how I met my wife and all my friends now are through music, so this whole big life I have was all because I took that decision not open the restaurant and take a chance and go on the road and play music and meet people and learn about life. It all worked out."

Before 1993's "Love Songs For the Retarded," The Queers' 1990 release, "Grow Up," was the band's first and, undergoing numerous lineup changes over the years, The Queers today have over 15 releases between full-length albums and 45 rpm singles. The band's 2007 release, "Munki Brain," deviates away from straight punk and into bubblegum pop and surf.

It's rare that a punk band outlives The Ramones' 22-year career, but The Queers have done it and are still traveling the world.

"You kind of get to the point doing music where listen, all of want to party, at least a bunch of us musicians, want to party and do drugs and drink and not have to work a regular job and sleep with girls you wouldn't meet otherwise," King said. "You want to do all that stuff, but ultimately, it was something inside, that I had to do music. Once I started doing music, I realized it was all about punk rock to me, and music was about being the better person and learning about life and becoming a better person through it. People think it's just about playing a gig to a bunch of drunken people, but its so much more. It's like a journey; if you don't learn anything from the journey, then I should've just stayed in the restaurant."

To King, musicians are lucky to take on the job of going out and touring and playing music to lots of people.

"Not many people get to do a job where they cheer, you know? And say 'MORE MORE MORE.' That doesn't happen when you're flippin' burgers or writing for the paper or whatever, right? You know, if you don't learn from this lucky trip that you're on right here, then you might as well go manage a fuckin' Taco Bell 'cause you're a fuckin' asshole and you haven't learned anything."

"Like George Harrison from the Beatles said: 'We woke up one day, we're the biggest band in the world but then we looked at each other and said, 'Now what?'' So yeah, that's the way I look at it, it's all about learning about life," King said.

Over the years, a lot of now-famous pop punk bands have opened for The Queers.

"A lot of the pop punk bands that got famous like Lit or Good Charlotte or Fall Out Boy or Blink-182 and tons of those other bands - Sum 41 - but really, the only truly great one was Green Day. I'm inspired by it, it's great and that's cool and more power to 'em, I mean, I did it 'cause it was something inside, but bands like us, Green Day, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Screeching Weasel, The Muffs, we didn't do it 'cause it was a career move," King said. "Now it is a career move. If you look like you dress at Hot Topic and got eye shadow on and you write some gay ass songs, you can get famous whether you have fuckin' talent or not, if you got the look.

"It was like a loser's proposition. You were either fuckin' 'Welcome to Burger King, may I take your order ma'am?' or a punk rocker. There wasn't any fuckin' safety net under you. You did it because something told you to do it. Green Day, they were going to do those songs on 'Dookie' whether they got fuckin' famous as hell or they didn't. They had those songs written - we saw 'em, they were showin' 'em to us - before 'Dookie' came out. Some of us got really famous, some of us got semi-famous and some died, some lived, some learned, some moved on, you know. But it touched all of us. Punk rock really did a bunch of cool people out."

King is now married, but playing more than 30 years of punk rock, he is definitely not looking to call it a day anytime soon.

The Queers, who tour a lot, can live off touring, but the band needs a break, King said.

"I'm opening up a recording studio and starting my first session next week, working with The Riptides from Ottawa, Canada," King said. "We're going to do a split with them and a couple other projects. I got a bunch of bands coming in. We're starting slow, but it's pretty cool. I'm spending all my money on stuff, but it's fun. To be honest, I'm more into getting behind the scenes. I see some of the newer pop-punk bands, not many of them really excite me and none of 'em can really hold a candle to Screeching Weasel or Mr. T Experience or The Muffs back in the day. So, I get inspired to show 'em how it's done properly."

Hayes is currently fronting The Jabbers, G.G. Allin's first band. The Queers' current lineup consists of King on vocals and guitar, The Bugs' Dangerous Dave on bass and backup vocals and Ryan from the Atom Age on drums.

At 7 p.m. Sunday, October 5, The Queers will be rolling through Urbana, stopping to play a show at The IMC, 202 S. Broadway, with The Independents, Roberta Sparrow and Dizzy Chair Time. Admission is $10.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Olehole - "Holemole" review


First of all, it’s pronounced “Olay-ho-lay.” Second of all, its debut album, “Holemole,” pronounced “Ho-lay-mo-lay,” will rock you like a stormy sea.
From Oakland, CA, Olehole consists of singer/guitarist Brian Moss (ex-The Ghost, Hanalei), bassist Dan Wedgwood (ex-Burial Year, Quest For Quintana Roo), singer/guitarist Jackson Blumgart (ex-Quest For Quintana Roo) and drummer Alex Case.

Produced by American Steel’s Ryan Massey, Olehole delivers a barrage of music reminiscent of Helmet's musical sharpness and heaviness.
There’s also an indie/hardcore element to Olehole comparable to that of Thursday.

The first track, “Gatekeeper,” sets the bar high for the nine tracks that follow. Moss’s vocals scream of sarcasm aimed at the “W.A.S.P. hive,” which is the traditional conservative religion in the U.S.
A lot of the song’s titles are interesting, in that the average person (such as myself) has no clue what they mean. For example, track two is titled “Ostinato,” which only the musically savvy can identify as “a motif or phrase, which is persistently repeated in the same musical voice."
“Ostinato” is one of the more catchy tunes on the album, fitted with hard-driving bass lines and delivered with a Jeff Dean (The Bomb, Four Star Alarm) style of guitar playing.

“Monuments of Motion” is another noteworthy track. This is the hardest-driving song on the entire album. Listening to the cranked guitar and bass working together feels like I’m being punched in the ear rhythmatically. It could be these awesome Bose headphones, but it’s definitely Olehole’s massive instruments bombarding my head. I seriously am having trouble describing just how heavy and coordinated this band is.

The cover art to “Holemole” is a depiction of an elephant, which also works with the music.
Have you ever seen an elephant stampede on TV? Have you then ever tried imagining what that must sound and feel like if you were standing beside and under those stampeding beasts? Olehole captures that energy of constant pounding, swelling, tension and quickness and transforms it into beautiful calamity.

“Take the Walk” is another great song, which I believe to be about the shallowness and falseness of individuals. Moss sings,

“Hands clap for empty rhetoric/A crass display of knowledge unapplied
Jaws flap regurgitating text/A bubble dialect of function denied.”

He’s got a good point. Later in the song, Moss sings

“Resting raised fists on an arm chaired couch/Picture painted clear, we’ve got it all figured out.”

He paints a clear picture of apathetic individuals putting up the front and image that they are actually trying to do something, but I get a sense that when it comes down to it, Moss is saying that these so called “activists” and "passionate ones" don’t really do anything and are just in it for the perceived attention of others. Aka “scene points.”
You know, beneath all of Moss’s sincerity, I get the feeling he and the band has a sense of humor due to the names of both the band and the album. Thumbs up on this one.
Check out Olehole at www.myspace.com/pronouncedolayholay.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Off With Their Heads - "From the Bottom" review


Minneapolis, MN has always been in the top ranks with me as far as music goes. I mean, they've given us Dillinger Four, Rivethead and Prince. What more could one ask for?
A couple years ago, this band, Off With Their Heads, opened for the Methadones at the Beat Kitchen. I thought they sounded like one of those hardcore bands. You know, "RAH RAH RAH I'M TOUGH NOW CLAP YOUR HANDS!!!"
There's this other band I love called Dear Landlord. So I picked up a split 7'' featuring them with Dear Landlord.
It was then that I became interested in what they had to offer, so I purchased Off With Their Heads' new album, "From the Bottom," which came out on August 12.

They weren't quite pop punk or punk rock. But at the same time, they didn't strike me as that hardcore band I thought they previously were either. They're just Off With Their Heads from Minneapolis.
What struck me about them first was their lyrics.
The desperation, heartache and sincerity really got me. I mean, on one hand, part of me wanted to say, "Jesus, stop whining about being hopeless and sad and helpless." But on the other hand, I can relate. And when I relate to a song, I like the band. And when I like a band, I review their newest album.
When I listen to Off With Their Heads' new album, "From the Bottom," I get a series of mixed feelings. I can't stop listening to that album, but at the same time, a little part of me still feels as if the lead singer is just totally helpless and/or depressed, scraping for some kind of truth or comfort.
The first song, "I Am You," starts out with:
"If you really want some answered questions
If you really wanna know just what its like
If you want to dig inside my head, pull up a chair, you got all night
I'll tell you why I fucking hate my life
I'll tell you why I can't seem to get it right
I'll tell you why I entertain the thought of dying all the time."

It's a bit depressing, yes, but at the same time, lead singer Ryan Young says there's a little bit of him in everyone. I can't deny it.
While I have yet to find a similarity between the band's name and Alice in Wonderland, I did find something interesting on its MySpace site.
I was fooled into thinking the band had a separate Web site than its MySpace site, but it just led me here. The link name didn't lie! That gives us a little bit more information about Off With Their Heads and their personal beliefs. An interestingly humorous Web site by the way, check it out.

"For the Four" is another song worthy of notice among the rest. This one was featured on their split 7'' with Four Letter Word. I think the story behind this 7'' is the two bands were driving down to Gainesville or back and they released a split titled "One For the Road."
It's a song about hope, but it leans a little towards the pessimistic stance.
"Let’s put the petty shit all behind
Remember when we used to laugh all the time
It makes me wonder why we bend over backwards
Scraping up nickels and dimes
What can end the constant struggle
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel anyway"
I automatically assume that Francis sings about a rocky relationship, which I think we all can relate to, male or female.
He's got the right attitude, and I agree with him when he desperately says:
"Let's put all the petty shit behind."
Two individuals in love, or even so-called love, should be able to work past petty differences and have fun without getting snagged on one of the barbs of insecurity, jealousy or whatever he may be particularly singing about in this song.

Finally, the album ends with "I Hope You Know," a song slightly different than all preceding ones.
"I hope you know wherever you are
I'm sorry I wasn't there from the bottom of my heart
I'm sorry that when you would call, I'd shut my ringer off
And I'm sorry I erased the mail you'd send to patch things up
But there's one fault of mine that I won't soon forget
And that was never being there when you were on the bed
I got the news in California sick with what you had
I was laid up in the hospital with pneumonia in my chest
I felt the pain that you had felt every day of your life
I regret all my selfishness..."
It's a truly heartfelt tune and while sang in the same voice and with the same fast, driving instrumentals, it's distinctively slower and more intimate than all the preceding songs, which tend to be faster and carry more of an attitude of selfishness rather than regretfulness and sincerity. "From the Bottom" has quickly made its way to the top of the ranks. For fans of Dillinger Four and The Arrivals.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ben Weasel/Danny Vapid - "My Brain Hurts" show review

Saturday night started out pretty well. I got some food, had a few RC Colas and was feeling pretty damn good. There was a terrible DVD looping on the TVs of Gang of Four footage. They were really artsy and didn't seem to carry any sort of rhythm. But luckily after that, there was a Dwarves DVD. It wasn't much better, but it beat that Gang of Four crap.
So between looking at the naked Dwarves on four screens and looking at the Repellants on the live Reggie's feed, I decided to get up and go next door. I missed the Repellants unfortunately, but caught the Chinese Telephones. They were great, as always. During the show, a dude that goes by codename Jerry Cola requested "Crying In the Chapel," to which Justin Telephone, the lead singer, said "No requests!"
I figured it was worth a shot. They did play it at the Subterranean a little while back, though.
I was disappointed to learn that the Chinese Telephones might be breaking up really soon. Justin informed me after the show that the show I just witnessed very well possibly could be their last, which sucks. Something about the drummer leaving, I believe, but I don't want to spread non-facts.
That kind of bummed me out, because the Chinese Telephones are absolutely awesome and fun fun fun to watch. It's a shame the crowd is never really into them. Then again, most of the words are impossible to decipher.

Next up were the Jetty Boys, who I wasn't all too impressed with. The lead singer/guitarist of the band played in Ben Weasel's band in May, so I recognized him right away. The music was pretty good, but after all the clap-your-hands stuff, I got kinda turned off. They weren't bad at all. I just wasn't feeling them, and I was so excited to see Danny Vapid play with Ben Weasel, that any band that was up there, I probably would have felt the same restless feeling.

After the Jetty Boys left the stage, Ben Weasel's band came out and tore right into "Making You Cry."
My favorite part of the night was the fact that Reggie's doesn't give a shit who goes backstage. I witnessed the whole show from the side of the stage, and wandered up to the fence-balcony for a song. It was cool.
"My Brain Hurts" is my absolute favorite album, blah blah blah. It's a lot of people's favorite.
What I especially enjoyed were Vapid's background vocals. That's something Ben can't capture solo. His backing band does a pretty dead-on job of nailing the notes and has timing down. Simon Lamb, Ben Weasel's guitarist, did a great job especially. But it's the backing vocals that complete the true sound of the album. Ben is great solo. But Vapid and Ben together were incredible. Ace from the Steinways also took over for Simon on a song. They played, I think, four Riverdales tunes. Which, obviously with Vapid there, was really really cool. Ben will do Riverdales tunes, like in May. Sometimes Vapid will do Riverdales tunes during Methadones shows or that Mopes show in 2006. But having them together was awesome. One more person, and it would have been a Riverdales reunion show.

After the show, there was a free Vacation Bible School gig next door. They were fun. I want to check out some of their stuff. Another band of note was Teen Slut. They were fast and right on as The Queers, and they did a couple of covers, too. They covered "Terrible Monster" by The Vindictives and "Island of Pogo Pogo" by the Groovie Ghoulies. I think they did "Rockaway Beach" too. But I forgot who sings that originally.
After THAT, The Arrivals played next door.
Both shows were free if you attended the Ben Weasel/Danny Vapid show. You can't go wrong with the Arrivals. They've got a certain charm about themselves. I believe they are one of the more underrated bands in Chicago. All in all, though, Saturday night was awesome. The burgers next door in the music joint rule, by the way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Steinways - "Unoriginal Recipe" 7'' review


I saw Ben Weasel at Reggie's (Chicago) in May and met Larry Livermore from Lookout! Records. He was wearing a Steinways T-shirt. I had heard of them before, but have never heard their music. So as much as I don't like to do this, a few weeks later, I went online and tracked down a couple of their seven inches. I didn't wanna buy the album, cause what if they suck?

Anyway, I picked up "Unoriginal Recipe" as well as a split they did with The Peabodys called "Irreconcilable Differences."
I immediately took them to my turntable, plugged in my handy USB cable, fired up Audacity and went to town making MP3s.
My first impression was, "Eh. Sounds kinda amatuer and redundant." I decided to take out the insert and read along to the tunes.
Not even after the third song, I was hooked. By the time I got to "Main Street, Flushing, USA," I was a fan.
The Steinways are the most fun pop punk band I've heard since The Leftovers. The songs are straight up fun, upbeat tunes about girls. Simple and sweet.
No redundant political statements or songs about stressful social issues (even though females can be pretty stressful at times). Just fun, upbeat stuff.
The absolute most fun aspect about this release is the sixth and final track, "Voce Tem Labios De Uma Galinha."

Yeah, what the fuck, right? Aren't labia vagina lips?
They totally are, but after reading the insert, I learned it's a song sung in Portuguese. And I guess in Portugueuse, "labios" just means "lips" (of the north).
But I was stoked because I, myself, am partially Portuguese and have a Portuguese last name, but don't know a word of it.
Translated into English, the song is titled, "You Have Lips Like a Chicken."

So, it's not the romantic pop punk serenade I half expected, but it is 100 percent cool. And plus, when people ask me what the hell I am when they see my last name, I can have something to actually say in Portuguese. Thanks, Steinways! It's kind of like the first impression of that NOFX song on "So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes" but way cooler cause it's Portuguese and who the hell speaks Portuguese?

Another song worthy of mention is "Main Street, Flushing, USA."
It's got a reference to Burger King, which, since the Ramones stapled it to "Oh Oh, I Love Her So," every punk band after them that mentions it is somehow paying homage. It's also got a Riverdales reference in there, too.

It's neat getting a peek at what The Steinways are into (like we can't just assume).
But the thing that gets me about this song is this "27 bus." Grath, the lead singer, sings about all these hot girls on a 27 bus. Where can you get on this bus? Or is it just some ironic "Route 27" thing? Either way, Grath's lyrics are blunt and catchy.

"Oh girl, c'mon, let's go/Get in your little car and listen to the radio/Oh please, please girl give me a chance/I wanna see you naked."
You know what, girls, at least he's honest.

Thanks again, Steinways, for the Portuguese lesson as well as some more great tunes to listen to as I go about my day. Fans of pop punk, check this out!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Skuids - "Skate-Happy Demo" review


It's been a long time since I've seen a skate punk band come around. Especially a band of genuine 18-year-olds, who truly embrace a punk rock spirit. There's something about it that is just way too reminiscent of high school, which isn't a bad thing at all.
The Skuids, from El Paso, TX, are definitely no emo, Fall Out Boy-influenced guys. Rather, their tunes sound a lot like the older stuff such as NOFX, Screeching Weasel and Bad Religion.
Javi, the band's vocalist, seems to embody a sort of old school Tom DeLonge sound to his voice. But instead of being backed by Blink 182's poppy punk rock, the music has more of a ska influence and sounds like a mesh between Authority Zero, Suicidal Tendencies and NOFX.
The Skuids have a four-song demo up on its MySpace page, with free MP3s of the songs.
Listening to these guys brings me back to my early days of getting into punk rock; being upset, confused, frustrated and totally 100 percent fucking cynical.
The Skuids are a lot of fun to listen to, and the best part about it is that fans of old school punk rock and skate punk will appreciate them, as will the new fans of this 21st century band.
"The Power of Thinking Positive" is my favorite. It's a song about people always seeming to want to bring themselves down. Javi, The Skuids' lead singer, says that so many people don't know how to think positive; it makes him want to frown.
I find it kinda funny in way. It's a song about thinking positive, but with the negativity of all others around you, it's so hard to not frown. But there's a message of hope in there somewhere that says no matter how negative people are, you have to keep your chin up.
Fans of punk and all its subgenres should check out The Skuids.
The Skuids are not only fun to listen to, but reassuring in the sense that a hope for the next generation of good, true punk rock music is not totally lost.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shot Baker - "Take Control" review


Most of today's "Chicago punk bands" have strayed far from their roots. By roots, I mean bands like Naked Raygun and The Effigies, two Chicago originals from the early 1980s that gave Chicago a defined, unique sort of working-class sound.

Sure, Chicago has popular bands like Alkaline Trio, whose influences include Naked Raygun, Pegboy and a slew of Chicago originals, but they are a completely separate animal.

But in 2003, Shot Baker exploded onto the scene.
My first time hearing them was at a Mopes reunion show at the Beat Kitchen in the summer of 2006, where I picked up a five-song demo with a little bird on the cover.
I immediately fell in love with the philosophical, yet contemplative lyrics backed by such strong, driving music.
At first, I was reminded of Screeching Weasel, not by the band's sound, but by its messages and thoughts. One of my favorite elements of Ben Weasel's lyrics is that he admittedly doesn't know everything, but finds a niche in not knowing and he still tries to figure things out. I sensed this in vocalist, Tony Kovacs' lyrics.
It's something I can relate to, just like Shot Baker's new album, "Take Control," released on June 24 on Riot Fest Records.

The album, less than 30 minutes long, has a lot packed into it.
The first song, "Short On Time," is a straight up punk song about accepting the way things they are, even if they would be better changed. It's not a song about giving up, but a song about living and going with the flow, so to speak.
Kovacs sings "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em/I'm done searching for the truth."

Immediately following "Short On Time" is "Falling Apart," a song re-recorded from the little bird demo I picked up two summers ago.
This tune's eye-opening lyrics sing of fear and man's ignorance. Kovacs sings about how the borders of large and powerful countries are nothing more than lines drawn in sand and how depending on which side you're on, the other side's men are always going to be less than yours.
It's about the ridiculousness of pride and arrogance. But like most Shot Baker songs, it's a hopeful tune, ending with a message.
"Let evolution strike the human heart/Ignite the light of truth/Compassion will triumph over ignorance/It all starts with you."
Kind of like a "Your vote matters" message, only without the false pretense lying underneath.

The next song that really caught my attention and sparked a bunch of neurons was "Just In Case."
Kovacs really digs a philosophical mine in this one, as he breaks everything down by saying, "Did you ever stop and think? Your ancestral history. All those people had to meet and all the circumstances had to be just right, down the line, back to the time when man first started. This big bad life is what you're handed, will you take your time for granted?"
There's a little hint of sarcasm in there, poking fun at all the depressed people we have wandering the Earth for no real reason.

But the real kicker in this song that makes me want to live each day to the utmost fullest is when Kovacs says, "Now is your greatest journey, make it all worthwhile just in case there is no afterlife/Live like it fucking matters, search for heaven deep inside just in case there is no afterlife."
I can't say enough about how truly amazing "Take Control" is. It covers both spectrums of musical enjoyment. If you're more into the words, this album's got it. If you're more into the sound, this album has it down to a beat.

Do your ears and mind a favor and pick up "Take Control" by Shot Baker. For anybody else who hasn't quite figured things out but are open to life's possibilities, this album is an ass-kicking, reassuring pot of gold.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Methadones: Cutting the middleman


Costco does it. Furniture warehouses do it. But seldom do bands do it. Cutting out the middleman is risky business, especially when advertising and promotion is left solely to the band.

Chicago’s most well-known pop punk band (still together), The Methadones, have just released its new split with The Copyrights via Transparent Records, a record label thought up and made up by Dan Schafer of The Methadones (vocals/guitar) and Adam Fletcher (vocals/bass) of The Copyrights.

“We looked at three different record labels to put out the record,” said Mike Byrne, guitarist for The Methadones. “I work for a CD/DVD replication company, so Dan and Adam from the Copyrights were talking about a split for a while.”

The Methadones’ last album, “This Won’t Hurt,” was released under Red Scare Records.
One day at work, Fletcher and Schafer were talking and decided, “Man, we ended up working with these record labels that support us and promote us, but they really don’t do anything more than we could do for ourselves,” said Byrne. “So Dan asked me, ‘Well, could we press the record through your work?’”

The last statement The Methadones received from Red Scare said they sold more CDs than album downloads, thus got the ball rolling.
Byrne’s boss ended up giving the band a really cheap price to press 1,000 CDs. With a good deal, a tight fan base and a bit of confidence, The Methadones decided to completely cut out music’s middleman: The record label.

The Methadones are still going to sell its new split through distribution sites such as Interpunk.com, No Idea Records’ online store, iTunes, independent record stores and of course, Methadones shows.
But aside from label issues, the band still has to record its music somewhere, which is the biggest cost of everything.

“We’re recording at Atlas Studios, where Matt Allison recorded the last two records we did. He’s great. He’s the best person I’ve ever recorded with, he’s real easy to work with, real relaxed,” Byrne said.
Allison recorded the early Alkaline Trio albums as well as the Lawrence Arms’ music and most recently, Less Than Jake.
“He gave us a really good deal too; he helped us out a lot,” Byrne said. “Matt Allison definitely made this possible for us. Even though we got a cheap rate at where I work at, pressing 1,000 CDs costs money and Matt was real good with giving us a really good deal.”

After recording and spawning its own label, The Methadones are anxious, but confident to see how the DIY approach turns out.
They figured it would be better to experiment the no record label idea with a split, because if it fails, big deal. You only lose out on six songs and fans of the band are still going to buy it. The only trouble would be getting new fans, the job of record labels and PR associated.

“It’s one thing to experiment with a whole record, because you put so much time into a full-length record and it would suck if we gambled and ended up dropping the ball on our own record,” Byrne said.
Back to Transparent Records. It’s basically just a sticker they used to stamp on the split album so it appears professional, but it’s also its own middleman in a way, in that up and coming bands can use the Transparent Records logo to get their foot in the door, so to speak.

“Say you had a band and you wanted your record out. You could just use Transparent Records logo, stamp it on the CD and you’ll get paid for everything,” Byrne said. “Hopefully it’ll get out there and more bands can use it.”
Being that the split just came out, if everything goes well, The Methadones are already considering using the same idea to release its next full-length album. If not, Byrne stated that they might work with Red Scare again.

In the past, The Methadones have run into a bit of trouble with labels, which is part of the reason why they want to release their albums themselves, because that would not only ensure them getting paid and given the proper credit for their work, but they have total control over their band.
“Red Scare’s done a good job with us, but some labels will put a CD out and that’s all they do is put the CD out and don’t promote it or anything, and they still take 40 to 50 percent of the profit for printing up a CD, which anyone can do,” Byrne explained.

Say you have $2,000. You can print any CDs you want and the labels will still take 50 percent out of it for doing nothing.
“It’s kind of ass backwards sometimes, so it’ll be nice having full control of the record. Also, if it goes out of print, we can work with another label down the line, but it’s kind of nice having full control for once,” Byrne admitted.
Currently, The Methadones are having some issues with Thick Records, who released “Career Objective” and “Not Economically Viable.”
“We’ve never been paid by (Thick Records) at all for anything. Right now, we’re in a bickering battle trying to get our rights back to those CDs ‘cause we’re going to Europe in the fall, and we probably won’t have enough time to re-release them by then, but when we get back, we want to re-release the CDs with bonus tracks and things like that.”

Five hundred copies of “Career Objective” were just re-released on vinyl via Underground Communiqué Records. Two hundred were pressed on blue vinyl and 300 were pressed on gold vinyl.
“They came out looking really, really nice. (UC Records) is doing ‘Not Economically Viable’ too,” Byrne said.

As for the new split with The Copyrights, the whole album is really short, with 12 songs spanning 25 minutes. They are The Methadones’ shortest songs, save for a few here and there on various albums of theirs.
“Three of them are more straight-up pop kind of songs and three have more of a darker sound,” Byrne explained. “We have one that’s really, really pop-sounding on there. First, we weren’t sure about the song, and then we went to the studio and started messing with it and it came out really good.”

Schafer and Byrne are both huge fans of pop and power pop music, and Byrne anticipates the next full-length will be headed more in that direction of the band’s influences, much like The Methadones’ cover album, putting its unique pop punk twists on power pop songs of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
With bassist Pete Mittler back from his humerus injury, The Methadones are back in full swing.

The band will be traveling to Europe from Sept. 10-30. When they get back, they will be playing Chicago’s annual Riot Fest as well as The Fest in Gainesville, Fla. With all this traveling ahead of them, Byrne said the band will not work on any new material until November or December.
“Probably spring, we’ll be ready to record again. In the wintertime, it sucks to tour, so we try to do all the touring in the summer, fall and spring,” Byrne said. “So we should have enough songs by spring to start recording again.”

The new split has no name, but Mike Byrne cranked out a few ideas.
“I wanted to call it, “Toby or not Toby,” ‘cause Toby runs Red Scare, to kind of poke fun at him. That’s what I wanted to call it,” Byrne said. “But we had to call it the split then.”
Instead of one band doing every other song, the split is organized in two blocks. The first six tracks are Methadones songs and the second six are Copyrights tunes. All are new songs with no covers.
Check out The Methadones at www.myspace.com/themethadones and The Copyrights at www.myspace.com/thecopyrights.

Friday, July 25, 2008

MEATHEADS!!!!! by Mike Byrne


Here, we have examples of both a male and a female Meathead. Note the quadruple popped collars and hairdo.

By Mike Byrne
Poet Laureate Extraordinaire

This is my first column I have written and I thought I would discuss a topic that seems to fly under the radar, but is around each and every one of us every day of our lives.
Meatheads.
What is a Meathead? Well, the easy answer to that would be to call them Jocks or Sportos, but they are more than just a jock. I have friends who have played sports and some friends who are really into sports, but that does not qualify them as a Meathead, although it could qualify them to be douche bags, snapperheads and dingleberries, but I will save that for a future column.

A Meathead is someone who loves to watch sports, is overly aggressive to friends and enemies, loves to hi-five, is really into Golden Tee and Baggo and is usually found in places that end with the words "Bar and Grill." The odd thing about Meatheads is that for the most part, they are friendly.
When someone who doesn't like you walks up and hits you in the arm or pushes you around, you would call that a sign of aggression. But for a Meathead, those are traits that he really likes you. Here are some mating calls and language translations for Meatheads:

-Hi-Five: A handshake, "how are you doing" or your favorite team just scored. Maybe he just scored with female Meathead.
-"NICE!!!!!": Something good just happened or they agree with what you just said.
-Chest bump: Means they just accomplished something and are proud of it, but most of the time, the thing they just accomplished could have been done by a 5-year-old.
-The phrase, "That's what I'm talking about": Means that you both have come to the fact that you just agree with what the other person just said.
-The phrase, "I would hit that": Means he wants to have sex with a certain female that he has no chance of ever having sex with or even having a conversation that would last over two minutes with.
-"Nerds": the Meatheads' mortal enemies.

If you were to go into a bar on the North side of Chicago, the best chances of running into Meatheads would be along Clark Street. They usually travel in packs of five or more, and as homophobic as most meatheads are, they seem to have a lot of male love tendencies.
They love hugging and putting their arms around each other. When you walk into a bar with Meatheads, the best spots to find them are near a Golden Tee machine or a plasma TV showing a sporting event. It would be in your best interest not to walk up and hang out with them because they are unpredictable, and if you are not wearing cargo shorts and a college sweatshirt in the summertime, you could be spotted and get a hi-five across your face, which was intended for a friend of theirs that they nicknamed, "Beast Whore."

There are female Meatheads, and the best way to spot one is they usually are shaped like a bowling pin. They have huge asses that they try to cover with a college sweater thinking they can fool some guy into thinking that they might look kinda good.
The Meatheads are a dying breed these days because the 1980s are over and the nerds won the Jock vs. Nerd wars of the '80s.
It was a violent war with many swirlys given to nerds in men's rooms across the country. Underwear was torn off of nerds in locker rooms in junior high schools and high schools all through the '80s. You can spot a true nerd by seeing the red marks on their bodies from towels being cracked on the bare skin in a walk-by towel snapping. For more into on the great Jock vs. Nerd war of the '80s, I recommend renting "Up the Creek," "Revenge of the Nerds," "3 o'clock High," "Just One of the Guys" and "Karate Kid."
With the takeover of the Internet, it would seem the nerds got the last laugh. But go into any sports bar on any given night, and the Meatheads are planning a hostile takeover soon.
Even though the world is basically controlled by computers that nerds run every day at their jobs, the computer can be taken down by viruses.
Nerds can be taken down by the violent stampede of Meatheads.
As long as they have cold beer and half price appetizers, the Meatheads can fuel their violence in a way that cannot be controlled.

I am going to stand on the sidelines and see how this all plays out. Some people are playing both sides by buying "Deep Space Nine" and "Dr. Who" shirts and others are stocking up on "Bears" and "University of Oklahoma" sweatshirts.
Deep down, I think the Meatheads have already won.

Mike can be reached at MySpace.com/mustlovewings

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Smoking Popes - "Stay Down"


On June 7, the Smoking Popes played a record release show at Chicago's Metro for its new album, "Stay Down."
It's been 11 years since the Smoking Popes recorded anything new in the studio. Eleven years. When I compare Josh Caterer's voice from "Destination Failure" to "Stay Down," it's like I'm going through a time warp. It's really, really hard to imagine 11 years passing between the albums. Put over a decade past any other band and the change in voice and sound would be drastic. Sure, the Popes have mellowed out a bit since the early '90s material, but some would argue that they've always been pretty mellow to begin with.

"Stay Down" opens with a song about a girl named Jane from Janesville, WI. She wants to escape the town, but will never be able to because her name, permanent, will always remind her of it. I thought it was pretty silly, but in a sad way. I ended up feeling bad for Jane.
"No matter how many ways you try to kiss this place goodbye/It lives in you till the day you die, say the words with a tear in your eye/Welcome to Janesville."
The next track, "If You Don't Care," is among the best couple on the album. Josh and his brothers jump right back into that familiar "Smoking Popes mindset" of love and all its uncertainties backed by beautiful, yet catchy, instrumentals.
"Employing a few choice words/We flutter like captive birds, finally free but still afraid to fly."
Josh's analogy of humans to birds is nice, but when you think about a couple of baby birds afraid to take flight, and remember he's talking about himself and a girl afraid to take off into the unknown vortex that is love, something hits like an ice pick to the chest.
It's one of those passages where you sit back and say, "Yeah! Yeah, I know exactly how that feels! That's a tough fuckin' choice and a thin fuckin' line to make a decision on!" Some musicians seem have a great way of exploiting that feeling. Josh Caterer is among them.

Have you ever tried to play a 45rpm record set on 33? I get that feeling when "Stefanie" starts up. It's a great song, but it drags out. However, the great part about this song is that it serves as an early break in the album. Instead of getting a bunch of momentum and halting it halfway through, the slow and steady "Stefanie" is placed after tracks one and two, building anticipation for the remainder of the album.

At first, I thought "Little Jane-Marie" was a song about a girl, and it is. But I thought it was about the relationship kind of girl.
Little Jane-Marie is a heartfelt song about what I can only assume is his daughter. It really takes you back to about first grade when Josh paints a picture of cotton ball clouds and Styrofoam planets with his voice.
"Oh, I'm alive again whenever I hold you in my arms/Oh, I'm a child again just like you are, my sweet little Jane-Marie."
You know, as rarely as I let the word "cute" out from it's cage, I'm going to here.

"Grab Your Heart and Run" is hands down the best track. It is really, really catchy, fun and reminiscent of the Smoking Popes' older material. What makes it the best track is going through that time warp, though. It could have been written and recorded years ago. Just like a fine wine, aging slowly, not caring about time's wrinkling effect as it develops into the perfect product possible.
I wouldn't have known the difference.
It's a song about being so determined to take a girl's heart for one's own. It's almost like robbery, but in a good way. It reminds me of postive graffiti. Do you erase graffiti that says "Unity" between rival territory, or do you leave it? It's a dilemma. Here, is stealing one's heart wrong? Too controlling on the thief's behalf? Maybe, but definitely in a justifiable way.
It has good feeling behind it. It's stable, determined, positive and definite. He knows what he wants and he's going to get it. It doesn't seem as if any bad can come of his snatch-and-run plan.

Following "Grab Your Heart and Run" is "It's Never Too Late (For Love)," where the album slows back down a bit. It's a hopeful song for the loveless and the doubters of the overpowering emotion. He sings about how all the nights spent alone with the rain are not nights spent in vain. He sings about how love is in front of all of us all the time. He basically says, all you have to do is open your eyes to see it. It's a great song, even if it sounds a little too idealistic for the still-pessimistic-but-still-want-to-be romantics.
"Somewhere waiting only for you is the one you've been dreaming of/Deep down you have got to believe that its never too late for love."
It's all building towards something in a sense, and he urges us to keep that spark of potential true love alive within us and to not give up on it. Sixteen years old or 90, male or female, this song's message applies to everyone.

The final thing way worthy of mention is the revamping of "First Time." The album closes with an acoustic version of the song, which was originally placed in the middle of the band's "1991-1998" album.
It's a sincere, painful yet positively heartfelt closing tune to "Stay Down."
It's words are raw, real and so gut-wrenchingly easy to empathize with for those who have loved and lost, it kind of hurts the chest cavity to think about.
"It's just the thought of another arm around her shoulder where my arm used to rest so comfortably/She'll probably never be again as happy as I made her then/But then I'll never really know for sure, will I?"
At first, it's like, "Poor Josh. That really sucks." But then you apply it to your past or present life and your heart skips a beat.
And then it's like, "Shit. This could happen to me."
Even so, the album doesn't lose it's tone of positivity, overcoming and pulling through. Instead of being 100 percent down, he stands up to his emotions (or even demons) and he acknowledges them by saying, "There's nothing like the first time, you fall in love so strong/At least this is the last time I will ever say so long to my first time."
If I was a hotshot magazine with a militant and definitive star-rating system, this album would capture them all. No buts about it. The lyrics are incredible and heartfelt. The music is strongly and passionately played.
The Smoking Popes have really made a triumphant comeback with "Stay Down." I cannot muster up and spit shine enough positive adjectives to describe how truly great this album is.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Shot Baker 'Takes Control' on new album


In July of 1946, shot Baker was a shallow-water nuclear test conducted by the United States Navy to determine the effects of atomic detonations on ships. The test sunk eight ships. And because shot Baker kicked so much ass, the deep water test was canceled. Little did anyone know, the Baker blast would be reincarnated in the 21st century and its energy distributed among four musicians hailing from Chicago, who would keep the name and the effect alive.
Shot Baker was born from the ashes of lead singer, Tony Kovacs’s former band, The Poonanies and drummer, Chris Gach’s former band, The Dorks.
“Chris was the main promotion guy in his band and I was the main promotion guy in my band,” Kovacs said. “When our respective bands broke up, Chris and I decided to get together and start a band and the goal was to be a real working band, not to completely half-ass it and try to take the music thing as far as we could.”
Since then, Shot Baker has released an EP titled “Time To Panic” and two full-lengths. The most recent of which, “Take Control,” was just released on Tuesday, June 24.
“It’s a lot like everything else we’ve put out in a sense that it’s a lot of harder-type punk rock with kind of a mix between faster songs and mid-tempo type songs,” Kovacs said. “I’m pretty happy as far as lyrics, because that’s what I do. And not to sound totally boring, but it’s a lot of the same stuff, I mean it’s a similar style. We don’t experiment that much. We know what we like and go with it.”
Gach thinks the lyrics in the album are a lot more personal than in “Awake” and “Time To Panic.”
While the new music has stayed true to its roots, “Take Control” shows growth for the individual musicians as well as their interaction with each other.
We went to the studio to record “Awake” and Tony didn’t have final lyrics for some of the songs and so we were doing backups and not even knowing the lyrics for the songs, Gach said.
But for “Take Control,” Shot Baker has a few years worth of shows under its tough, worn belt and the band members have gotten to know each other a lot better.
They figured out the hard way that they can be stuck in a van for 32 hours together and not want to kill each other. They drove from Phoenix to Chicago in one drive, taking shifts. Right outside of St. Louis, their van broke down, a mere six hours from Chicago.
“We were on the road for 24 hours straight and then the van breaks down. With all the touring so far, we’ve all gotten along really well, which is a really good thing,” Gach said.
Just as they fit nicely together outside and on the road, they work well with each other inside the studio.
“We’ve really become a lot more comfortable with each other as far as writing goes and we have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. We bounce off of each other better than in the past and I think it shows in the music,” Kovacs said. “Well, hopefully it does.”
But when making “Take Control,” the band focused on quality and not just getting the record out. When they had enough material and were ready, they went in and recorded it.
The themes in the songs off "Awake" and "Time To Panic" range from confusion, anger and frustration to sincerely introspective lyrics concerning life and even love.
“The album title is kind of the general undertone of the whole album,” Gach said. “That’s my take. If you listen to every song, it’s more about live in the now. Take control. Do what you want to do and don’t just settle and let shit fly by (because) when you look back, shit’s gone.”
“Awake” was a bit more scattered and some of the songs weren’t so personal, he said.
“Take Control” features 11 songs, short and sweet.
Shot Baker has a philosophy based on that “short and sweet” feel. It applies to their albums and live shows.
It’s definitely better to see to a band for about 30 minutes or less and find yourself wanting more than to sit through them for longer than you’d like and never want to see or hear them again, Gach explained.
“We figure that less is more in a sense,” he said.
Shot Baker is signed to Riot Fest Records, an up and coming Chicago label. “Take Control” will be the label’s second release. “What Poor Gods We Do Make: The Story and Music Behind Naked Raygun” was its first.
They like the fact that their band is the only one signed thus far because Riot Fest puts all its effort into them and what they want to do.
“Us and Riot Fest, we’ve actually grown to have a really strong personal work relationship with them,” Gach said. “It’s not just business. They really believe in what we’re doing. They believe in us and we believe in their label as well, so it’s on a really cool level like that.”
The “Take Control” record release show will be held at 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 26 at the Beat Kitchen (2100 W. Belmont) in Chicago. Admission will be $8 and the show is 17+. This will be the last show on a string of tour dates and will act as a sort of “homecoming” for the band.
“Normally at the end of a tour, you’re like a machine, so we wanted to be as good as we possibly can,” Kovacs said.
Shot Baker will kick off its tour Monday.
Check them out at here and be sure to catch them live if they pull through your neck of the woods.

Friday, June 20, 2008

June 19, 2008: Chinese Telephones, Potential Johns, Birthday Suits at SubT


It's been a while since I've gone to a show on a Thursday night. But I'm glad I went, it really broke up the week and tricked my mind into a sort of early weekend mindset. Then I remembered that I work all fucking weekend.
Anyways, my first time at the Subterranean in Chicago was a good one. I went to see the Chinese Telephones and to check out the Potential Johns (who the Telephones did a split 12'' with) and Birthday Suits, who I've only heard of.
The Chinese Telephones were great. They played a decent set with a good amount of songs from their self-titled album as well as off their 7 inches. They played "I Can't Be Right," "Back To You Again," "It's Starting Again," and many more.
Their bassist, Andy Junk, was either very energetic or very drunk. The band has an interesting stage presence. Justin Telephone, the band's lead singer, takes a pretty serious approach to the stage, but it's nicely balanced by Andy as well as guitarist, Daniel James, who reminds me of someone just plain goofy. Not to make any jabs at all, but in a world where pretty much everyone in punk rock does the same sort of thing with the chucks, tight pants, short hair, etc etc, Daniel James is reverse that. He looks a bit older than the rest of the guys with his receding hairline and strikes me as a joker. The guy knows how to play though. He is not only fun to watch, but adds a catchy and energetic kick to the music via his guitar playing (does VIA strike you as a yuppie trendy word?).
More or less, at a glance, the Chinese Telephones appear to be a conglomerate of all sorts of different tastes, and their music kinda reflects that. I can't exactly say, "Oh yeah, the Chinese Telephones sound like (insert catchy pop punk band here)." I know this much, though: They're damn good. And every time I see them, it's a great show.
Next in line were the Potential Johns from Denton, TX. They were interesting. The vocals are reminiscent of very early punk, distorted, hard to make out and fast. I almost want to say garage-style, but without the indie and grunge implication attached. They sound like someone...ah, it'll come to me.
The lead singer of the Potential Johns played the last couple of songs with the Telephones because for some reason, Andy left the stage. He was taking pictures of his band, shirtless, with the lead singer/guitarist of the Potential Johns. Maybe he was too drunk to play? Maybe the band needed more pictures? Maybe both? Maybe neither. I will never know, and in the last 10 seconds, stopped caring.
Anyway, I learned the Potential Johns are more or less of a side project of The Marked Men, also from Denton, TX. I looked 'em up and they sound the same to me. It's my first time hearing both bands, so I'll have to listen to more of each to note the distinctions, but for the sake of somewhat of a review here, I'm just gonna make a note of that. Oh! You know what they sound like? The Kinks on speed and maybe a little bit of Toys That Kill. Yeah. That's what I'm gonna leave it at. Very good, by the way. I ended up getting their split with the Fones. I'm excited to become a little more familiar with their music.
Last up of the three bands was Birthday Suits from Minneapolis, MN. They weren't like anything I'd seen before. Actually, that's not true. They were a two-piece and it immediately reminded me of Local H. However, they don't sound quite like Local H. Birthday Suits' drummer is really into drumming. Like, a lot. The guy seriously went ape shit on his skins. The vocalist/guitarist was crazy in his own way in that he would jump around, lay down and play, etc...etc...
His vocals were high-pitched and fast, along with the drumming, making for a pretty entertaining show. I can't say I got into their music, but watching them perform was very entertaining. I was surprised there wasn't much of an audience even by the end of the show. All of about 30 people showed up and were more or less lounging around, nothing too crazy. Don't get me wrong, it was nice! It was great being able to stand up in the middle of the place and enjoy a beer without sweating my balls off or having it knocked out of my hand. I like being able to focus on the music and not on who's going to kick me in the back of the head next.
I can't really compare Birthday Suits to any bands in particular for ya's. The two of them are so intense and quick with their instruments and all-around so sporadic, that it's really difficult to place them anywhere. The best I can do is say they are like one of those indie bands that just bangs on shit real fast and randomly and yells into the microphone in an off-beat way. I didn't hear a lot of what he was saying, but that's something all three bands had in common last night. All the vocalists have a way of making it so you have to look up the lyrics somewhere to translate the mass of sound and what you think they say into factual lyrics.
It was a good night, with the $8 well-spent. The beer was a hell of a lot more than that all together, but that was good too. I haven't seen a place that carries Dead Guy Ale on tap in all my 11 months of going to bars, but drinking that is always a treat.
Before the show, something cool happened. A semi truck was driving under a bridge outside of the Subterranean, and the truck was a few inches too tall, made a horrible thundering noise as it passed under the bridge, and a big, flat chunk of truck roof fell into the street with an assortment of twisted metal bars from either side. The truck did not stop to assess the damage, as it landed on the front corner of someone's car.
It somehow fit the persona of the show I was about to witness. A loud, fast mass of stuff going at a steady speed, tearing shit up and not turning around or even stopping to see what it had done. That's kind of how the bands played. Thumbs up.