the Whore Moans – 2009.04.29 – Middle-East, Cambridge

•May 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Wednesday night.the Whore Moans

Middle East Upstairs.

$9 show.

My expectations; Very Low.

Mark sent me a text months ago. It went something like this, “The Whore Moans. You’re new favorite band. Must go see them.”

As I get older, Wednesdays have become a wasteland. Wednesday is the epitome of the work-week. I can convince myself that it’s OK to start the weekend a day early, on Thursday. Occasionally I can be convinced to extend the weekend to Monday or Tuesday night. But Wednesday? Oh, what the hell. Mark’s Birthday was coming up and the tickets put me out a total of $18.

Worked late, scrambled to get to Colin’s baseball game, arrived late, got our butts kicked, flew home, put the kids to bed, change clothes, headed for the door. Before walking out, I stopped; It’s 8:45 on a Wednesday night, after a full and crazy day. I’m about to get in the car to drive nearly an hour to Cambridge. I have to be at work at 8:30 tomorrow. What the hell am I doing?

I found a spot on the street around the corner from the Middle East and walked over to meet Mark. Based on the 12 other people that are milling about the club, my outlook on the evening didn’t getting any better. My fond memories of this space are limited to a sold-out Angry Samoans show about 5 years ago and a sparsely attended Little John show more than 10 years ago. I expect that following tonight the scoreboard will stand at 2 for 3 at the Middle East upstairs.

We missed the first band while eating a pie at Hi-Fi Pizza but showed up in time to catch the Dogfight U.S., the second opener. I discovered that hardcore circa. 1982 is still alive and well in Boston. These guys sounded like a serviceable combination of Keith Morris-era Black Flag and Jerry’s Kid; a comparison I’m pretty sure they would be thrilled with. It wasn’t quite as exciting to me as it was back in the late eighties when I discovered hardcore, but it was still worth a listen.

It’s funny, I used to think a lot about how cool it would have been to have seen the first wave of American hardcore. My friends and I always had this romantic vision of seeing Black Flag or the Misfits, or any of the early D.C. Dischord bands. You know what though; I think the reality would have been much more like this Wednesday night at the Middle-East than any fantasy show that we could imagine. 25 guys standing around trying not to look too into the band, while trying just as hard not to look too bored. Or worse, crammed into some basement squat with the same 25 guys and no windows or air conditioner. Over the years my philosophy has changed; enjoy the bands you have the opportunity to see today. Don’t pine away for a past that couldn’t possibly have been as cool as you imagine it. I also have the benefit of having lived long enough for the pendulum to have swung back around. Lots of these guys have gotten bored with their lives and decided to go back on tour. Thus in the first decade of the 21st century I’ve been able to see Henry Rollins and Keith Morris play all those Black Flag tunes live as well as see classics like Jerry’s Kids, the Angry Samoans, Gang Green, the Freeze and the Decendents. I have a feeling that I appreciate the opportunities today as whole hell of a lot more that I would have 20 years ago. So don’t wax nostalgic for a past you didn’t live. Chances are it will come around again to meet you in adulthood. But I digress…

I knew nothing about the Whore Moans beyond Mark’s recommendation that we check them out. I did manage to check out a song or 2 on their MySpace page, but frankly it sounded horrible. I learned that they were from Seattle and from the pictures on the web site my mind went immediately to Mudhoney. So, with nothing but a couple of pictures and the knowledge that they came from the Great Northwest, I held some sparkle of hope that this night would not be a total waste.

Nearly a month later, as I write, I still have no idea how to describe what I saw that night. Part of the reason it’s taken me so long to post this show is that I haven’t figured out how to coherently write down what they were all about. I guess I can start with; I freakin’ loved them! They were nearly a disaster from the get-go. These four guys were all over the place; standing and falling off the drum risers, climbing on top of amps, trying to jamb themselves into a crawl space above the stage. They were careening all over the stage (that’s not much bigger than the back seat of my car). At any second the whole thing could have degenerated into a racket of feedback and out-of-tune instruments. But it didn’t. They were as sloppy as anything that I’ve ever seen out of Seattle, but at the same time they were tight; never missing a beat or a note.

They were the strangest combination of influences I’ve ever heard. At the core was the garage-punk of the Hives. There was definitely a fair dose of Mudhoney mixed in. Then suddenly, in the middle of everything they would start a harmonized, sing-a-long chorus, ala Naked Raygun. My favorite effect was their screamo backing vocals. At key moments, the rhythm guitarist would step to the back of the stage and, totally off mic, start screaming a chorus at the top of his lungs. Clear as day you could hear him from the back of the room. I was convinced that this was a cute effect that could only work in a tiny room like the Middle-East, but listening to their CDs I found that they managed the exact same thing in the studio.

These guys were band-geeks high on hardcore, mixing every style of indie rock and punk that I could imagine. That’s one of the particulars that really grabbed me. This felt like music by music fans. They took everything that they liked to listen to, threw it in the blender, and watched what came out the other side. The beautiful thing was that they didn’t seem overly concerned about what came out the other side. As long as things they loved were in there, they were happy. That approach lent to the near-disaster feel of the performance. It felt as though the whole thing was going to fall apart at any second, but it never did. They just kept sounding great and weird and like nothing I’ve ever heard before.

Remind me not to shy away from Wednesday night show invitations.


The Builders & the Butchers and O’Death

•April 6, 2009 • Leave a Comment

odeath1I’ve been in the midst of one of those beautiful periods recently when the discovery of one band leads to another then another. My infatuation with Murder by Death prompted me to dig into two of their recent opening bands; The Builders and the Butchers, and O’Death. There’s nothing better than discovering someone new that you know no one else has heard of. I love paying it forward and handing my new discoveries off to everyone I know, and these are a couple of gems.

Both bands belong in the same genre; trouble is I’m not sure what genre it is. It’s punk rock-Americana-bluegrass-murder-ballad-mariachi-Eastern-European-etc-etc-etc. You get the picture. Totally uncatagorizable. Think the Violent Femmes with Jello Biafra on vocals; or Social Distortion with fiddles and banjos. How the Hell do you put a label on something like that? And why would you want to? That’s half the fun!

If Murder by Death is the modern incarnation of Johnny Cash, then the Builders and the Butchers are the same, but of Jimmy Rodgers. I was immediately reminded of the first time I heard the Violent Femme’s Country Death Song. I had to stop and reassess everything that I thought I knew about my tastes in music. Their style takes Appalachian mountain music, and combines it with New Orleans funeral march, and layers on a cool modern edge.These songs about floods and coal mines could have been written at the turn of the last century, but at the same time sound totally relevant right now.

I wrote briefly about O’Death some months ago but let me recap. Here’s the visual; fronted by a lead singer that could be a missionary from a Russian Orthodox church and a fiddle player that’s straight out of Deliverance, and the rhythm section is comprised of 2 guys from an Iron Maiden tribute band. Here again; like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They have a similar mix of influences, but O’Death throws in a whopping helping of Eastern European folk music for good measure.

Banjos, fiddles, mandolins, accordions, trumpets, tambourines; they’re both like a middle-school music class from Hell. They’ll play any damn thing you put in front of them. Much of the drumming sounds like someone wrapped a piece of leather around a cardboard box. The high-hat and tambourines sound more like someone rattling a pile of rusty chains. When I close my eyes sometimes I see bearded men, dressed in black home-made suits, sitting around someones living room making music. Sometimes I see a bunch of shit-kickers in the back of a pick-up truck, in the middle of a field. Sometimes I see the house-band in a dusty western saloon. There are just too many influences to count or keep track of. They all crash together in a beautiful mess.

Dropkick Murphy’s – 2009.03.14 – House of Blues, Boston.

•March 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The annual DKM pilgrimage. The seeds of this annual event started back in 1986 or so at one of my first hardcore matinees, nearly 20 years before my son got his first pair of DKM tickets for his 5th Birthday. I was still in high school when I first saw the skinhead with his son/little brother on his shoulders walking around the Channel (or the Rat, or T.T. the Bear’s. I can’t seem to remember where the first time was.). What a lasting impression that left. My 16/17 year-old brain kicked into high gear and started running the math; all-ages = all-ages. What a revelation, huh? From that moment forward I swore that my kids would experience their music up-close and personal beginning at an early age. I had to wait until the 8th grade to see my first live music (Ozzy Osbourne, Bark at the Moon, Worcester Centrum), and even then it was from the cheap seats. I kept that promise I made to myself so long ago.

All Roads Lead to Boston

March 14th was the 4th annual pilgrimage. It should have been the 5th but last year Colin was recovering from a tonsilectomy and we had to take a pass. We decided that this year we would invite along one of his friends, and with friend came Dad. Some consider me crazy for taking a young kid to a punk-rock show, but I’m not crazy enough to take responsibility for someone else’s young kid. I hoped that the House of Blues would not be the final resting ground of one of the few new adult friendships that I’ve developed.

This was an interesting line-up, with The Old Brigade and Civet opening; traditional Irish music and all-girl street punk respectively. Given the proximity to St. Patrick’s Day and the time of day (1 p.m.),  The Old Brigade was a perfect choice to begin the day. With nothing but an Irish Bodhran for percussion I was shocked that they managed to fill the room as well as they did. For anyone who hasn’t been to the new House of Blues, the room is enormous. The perimeter is slightly larger than the old Avalon Ballroom, but the ceiling has been kicked up three stories with two balcony levels,overlooking the pit and stage. The fact that a bunch of guys with acoustic guitars, mandolins, and penny whistles could control a space teeming with punk rockers is fairly impressive.

Civet was something else entirely. Four tatooed pin-up girls walked out on stage and proceeded to assault us with a dose of traditional hardcore punk with vocals that were reminiscent of a buffalo with streph throat. I’m still confused by the performance a week later. I really didn’t know what to make of it. The incongruity of the whole thing was weird. Hot, tatooed pin-up girls on the one hand; Lemmy-from-Motorhead vocals on the other. Ah, I’m starting to get it even as I write. Had they been a band of beefed up hardcore boys I would have hated them. Damn, I’ve always thought myself above that sort of stereo-typing.

Here’s the thing with the Dropkick Murphy’s. I find that I have to look at the show from two very different perspectives. One is from that of a Dad who has built a special tradition with his son; the other from someone who has seen a million bands play a million shows. Dad loves these annual shows. They really mean a ton to me. I know they’re something that Colin will remember forever. He may decide in years to come that he hates punk rock and would prefer to listen to the stylings of Brittany Spears (he already has a soft spot for bad top-40 dance music), but he certainly won’t ever forget these DKM shows.

The concert-loving guy says, “How many times can I see the same show?” I expect that this is what it feels like for someone who sits through 5 performances of Mama Mia in a row. You can’t take away the energy these guys bring to a show, but it’s all a bit gimicky after a few run-throughs; the bagpipes, the Irish step dancers, the endless stream of slightly overweight chicks slopping up on stage for the bazzillionth rendition of Kiss Me I’m Shitfaced. I’ve had enough already. I find myself wishing they’d do something different. What I’d really like is for them to write some new music but at the very least could they play the set list in a different order from year to year?

Frustrations aside, I’ll keep coming back. I suspect that every January Colin will start asking when tickets go on sale. That’s the draw of this show. It’s family time for the punk rock set. Boston is a city of traditions and we all know that you don’t mess with tradition.

A Month Without Music.

•March 14, 2009 • 1 Comment

I would have said it couldn’t be done. Anyone who knows me would have said that I couldn’t do it.

This past month has been a perfect storm of badness in my personal and professional lives. It’s all conspired to keep me from any real music listening. Now to be fair it wasn’t literally a month without music; there was a little radio here and there; I managed to listen to the new U2 album a couple of times through.  But for someone that spends near two hours a day of commute time listening to the latest and greatest. For someone who keeps the MP3 player running 8-hours a day at work in a effort to keep up. For that guy; MAN this felt like a month without music.

I’ve sometimes wondered, to myself but never out loud, is this all some mad habit that I’ve built for myself over the years? Would I miss it if it was gone? I learned the answer over this past month. It’s passion, not addiction. It’s love, not lust. God, I missed the music. It was a strange and disconnected month.

I’ve been carpooling with my brother-in-law for the last bunch of weeks. It’s been great to spend some quality time in extended conversations with Joe. Our time together is so often a tidal wave of 6 kids crawling atop one another. The commute has been a nice time to catch up; talk about our respective families; catch up on the trials and tribulations of worklife. Even with all the conversation it’s been oddly silent.That’s no cut on Joe. It’s simply that an important part of my life, one that I’ve apparently come to count on, has been removed entirely. There’s a weird sense of loss.

Professionally things have been likewise tumultuous. Imagine putting everything you do in a day, tossing it in the blender, and hitting puree. I went to sleep one night and woke up in Crazy World. My industry has been turned on it’s head in 2009, to the point that most of us don’t recognize the business any longer. Opportunity abounds, but the whirlwind means that I’ve foregone even my regular background music. It’s made the days seem, at the same time, longer and shorter. Both in a bad way. Some people can’t concentrate with music rolling in the background, I can’t concentrate in silence. Whether it’s the nu-metal that I trade with the IT guy, or the psychedelia that I trade with the training training guy, it all gets me through the day. Take it away and things just get harder.

It’s going to be quite some time before things are back to what I would consider normal. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what I had come to think of as normal even exists anymore. Nonetheless, over the next few weeks I’m going to make a concerted effort to bring the music back in. I’m going to turn the volume back up. Way up if I can.

The Time Machine Test: SNFU vs. the Meatmen.

•January 24, 2009 • 1 Comment

The Time Machine Test. The occasional series in which 2 bands for which I harbour fond memories compete head-to-head for the Time Machine prize. One winner, one loser. Which stands the test of time? In this installment SNFU takes on the Meatmen.

My memories of SNFU start with the If You Swear You’ll Catch No Fish LP. My friend Matt brought home a bunch of albums from our high school radio station to give a listen to. Also among them, another classic from my early punk rock discovery years; The Bags – Rock Starve. My first listens to If You Swear You’ll Catch No Fish were quickly followed by the purchase of , and as with so many of my early hardcore albums the 2 albums became synonymous with each other. They lived on opposite sides of the same TDK cassette tape so the line where one album ended and the other began disappeared almost entirely. A listen to these albums brings back a flood of high school memories. Mr. Chi Pig’s sarcasm always bit hard and to my teen-aged ears was a pinnacle of hardcore philosophy. My 2008 ears find more humor than insightful social commentary in the lyrics but damn if they’re not still pretty amusing. One of my faves was Better Homes and Gardens. A song, sung dead seriously, about wanting to have his home featured in Better Homes and Gardens. Razor-edged criticism on materialism, way before the Martha Stewart phenomenon.  Other classics like Loser at Life, Loser at Death, The Devil’s Voice, Cannibal Cafe… and on and on; they all still shred hard. More than 20 years later, I can still shout along with any song off these 2 albums. In my opinion, the stuff that came after these albums is merely adequate, with occasionally flashes of the brilliance that I remember.  Meanwhile, these first 2 albums remain burned into my consciousness for eternity.

The Meatmen came onto my scene around 1986 when I picked up the We’re The Meatmen And You Suck cassette. I was attracted by their reputation and the album art; a comic rendition of a harcore show. Seeing them at the Channel in Boston on their farewell tour has remained one of my favorite hardcore shows; a constant stream of stage dives, a churning-yet-friendly mosh pit, and Tesco Vee treating everyone with an endless stream of wigs, dresses, prosthetic breasts and dildos. Songs recorded at this show made their way to the live version of We’re the Meatmen & You Still Suck. We spent endless hours screaming along with Tooling for Anus and One Down, Three to Go. The bathroom humour was perfect for our teen-aged minds. These guys left my consciousness years ago when my cassette crapped out. You can imagine my excitement when years later I discovered Stud Powercock: The Touch and Go Years 1981-1984; a CD that compiled the early Crippled Children Suck EP with We’re the Meatmen and You Suck and a Tesco Vee solo effort. You can also imagine my disappointment when my childhood memories were shattered upon hearing the utterly unlistenable crap contained therein. After a couple of songs I looked at the liner notes; OK the CD starts with early demo stuff. Let’s move right to the payoff; right to Tooling for Anus. Hhmm. Yeah, I remember there was in intro where 2 guys with faux-gay voices talked about going going to the club. I don’t remember it being what seemed like fifteen-freaking minutes long. I had no illusions that this was anything other than a childish guilty pleasure but I remember actually liking this. What the hell was I thinking. Everything on this CD is utter trash. I forced myself to listen all the way through… twice. Wow. There’s no accounting for the tastes of a 16 year-old punk.

The only redeeming piece of the Meatmen story comes from my 4 year-old daughter. When something isn’t going her way or she needs some help she has a habit of saying, “I’ve got a problem”. I usually respond with a rendition of the Meatmen’s “I’ve Got a Problem”. This has evolved into a fun family sing-a-long. When I got the Stud Powercock CD I decided it was time to let her hear what it was we’d been singing these past years. Much as I hate everything about this CD, I have to admit that I love listening to my daughter sing along with it; “I’ve got a problem, I’ve got a problem, I’ve got a problem and the problem is you!”

So, this installment of the Time Machine Test is simple. Hands down SNFU destroys the Meatmen.

Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue.

•January 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I don’t get it. I’m never going to get it. I’ve read all the praises that have been heaped on Jenny Lewis in all her many flavors. I would probably never write a Jenny Lewis post, but that Acacid-tongue1id Tongue contains my most-hated-song-of-the-moment: Black Sand. Holy crap! I nearly stopped listening less than 60 seconds into it. I had to poke around on-line to be sure I wasn’t listening to the wrong CD. Nope. Right CD.

Who let this girl open the album with this song? If she had a producer, she needs to fire him. If she produced it herself, she needs to hire one. This is a karaoke version of a Xanadu-era Olivia Newton-John song. It pains me to even think about it. A minute and a half in and I feel as though I’ve been scraping my face through the Black Sands. I can’t believe that I managed to listen to the next song and make my way through the whole album. I’m happy to report that nothing on the rest of the album sucks as bad as Black Sand. Pretty Bird is marginally better and gets a boost from M. Ward on guitar. By the time I get to The Next Messiah I think I might be starting to get the whole Jenny Lewis obsession. A song with a nice swamp boogie a-la ZZ Top, with a nice groove until the chorus hits…. Aaargh!! Here comes Olivia Newton-John again, only this time from Grease. The sounds of a horrendous Broadway musical. It comes back over and over again too; the hokey musical feel. One time I think I’m hearing something from Grease, the next time I’m sure it’s Jesus Christ Superstar. The time after that I have no idea which musical, but I know I hate it. 

Beyond the most-hated-song-of-the-moment, the thing that shocks me most about this album is its couple moments of brilliance. If I could strip out the middle of this album I might be the newest Jenny Lewis fan. Acid Tongue and See Fernando are great songs. Remind me of vintage Dolly Parton (in a good way). And Carpetbaggers; I don’t know what to say. I fell in love with it during the first verse. An amazing, old fashion country ballad. A pair of old jeans that Emmylou Harris would be comfortable in. And then; BOOM. In drops Elvis Costello and it’s suddenly the best Elvis Costello song in years. How can my most-hated-song-of-the-moment and my new-favorite-song-of-the-moment be on the same album? I have no idea. It gives me a headache to think about it.

My recommendation… iTunes. Grab the couple of good songs. If you’re a sucker for punishment find somewhere to stream Black Sand on-line. See how long you last. Tell me if you agree.

Early Punk Discoveries: This is Boston Not L.A.

•January 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I can’t recall how or why I started listening to punk music. It actually bothers me that I can’t pinpoint the moment; particularly when I seem to have instant and total recall of nearly all of my important musical revelations.  There are a couple of early contributions that I can remember.  If I were pressed, I think that I would have to list “This is Boston Not L.A.” as my first hardcore album.

This is Boston Not L.A.

This is Boston Not L.A.

This seminal Boston hardcore compilation features the likes of Gang Green, the Freeze, the F.U.’s, Jerry’s Kids and the Proletariat.  I’m not sure what drew me to the album. I can’t recall having heard of it before or for that matter hearing of any of the bands it featured. I remember where I was though; the giant flea market at the old Atlantic plaza in North Reading, MA. My friend Matt and I used to sucker our parents into taking us every few weeks so we could track down old Kiss trading cards and Black Sabbath albums. There was a record dealer that had a space in the back. He’d set up a display on the wall, just like a real record shop, where he always hung some interesting albums. This is where I saw Boston Not L.A. hanging. I think it must have been the black and white photo of the stage divers on the cover that caught my attention. But for whatever reason, I had to have it. I pulled it off the wall, paid the man, and dropped it into a brown paper bag.

The Freeze were to become one of my favorite punk bands of all time and I loved their contributions to this album immediately but I think when I first listened it was the Proletariat and the F.U.’s that grabbed me. The political and religious commentaries were totally foreign to me.  Religion is the Opium of the Masses? Green Beret? Huh? What’s this all about? Remember, I went to the flea market looking Kiss cards and Black Sabbath albums. Not exactly bands that revealed lessons on the socio-political merits of socialism.

I remember also being taken by Gang Green and Jerry’s Kids; thinking “Oh my God. How can these guys play so fast?” This was sloppy punk rock at its best. The musical equivalent of the moment before the car crash. They’re either going to get the thing under control at the last moment and avoid disaster, or they’re going to hit the wall at 90 miles an hour. I’m still not sure if which camp these songs fall into; disaster averted, or bloody car crash. Whatever the case, it was a beautiful mess.

What I do know is that I’d never heard anything like this in my life. That’s a theme that has stayed with me and my musical tastes my entire life; a constant search for something that I’ve never heard the likes of.  I always hear myself saying “That was a moment that changed my life.” It’s true though. Each time I hear something entirely new it changes my perspective on everything I’ve heard before, and on everything I hear after. You can set something aside for years only to rediscover later but you can never truly un-hear something. And when that something sends you on new path of discovery, it truly is a life-changing moment.