[Flag, the more name-heavy of the Black Flag reunions, treating Moose Lodge 1873 in Redondo Beach, CA to a secret show, 4/19/13]
- thank you, Chuck Dukowski, for bringing a splash of color to this shindig
- I’m surprised the band didn’t institute a “no cell phone” rule to prevent the tangled mess of arms rising up from the crowd; on the other hand, when’s the next time most of Black Flag’s gonna be at your local moose lodge?
- feel like maybe they hung those antlers up for effect
- in a surprise to no one, this reunion performs with a degree of excellence, probably because no robots in sombreros are involved
- the person recording this made some weird cuts, such as editing down the tension-fraught bass/drum opening of “No More” (WHICH IS KIND OF THE WHOLE POINT OF THAT SONG BUT W/E)
- Egerton nails Greg Ginn’s guitar tone; again, not a surprise as he seems like something of a Ginn disciple, but still, I didn’t assume he’d be this on target
- this has no relevance to anything but I met Egerton after an ALL show in 1997 and he was really nice
- Flag hits it out of the park on “My War”
- am I on drugs or does the band look “professionally lit?”
- “My kids are out there!” Chuck says at one point in reference to the crowd, seemingly amused that his children even exist
- I think “White Minority” has always kinda spoken for itself and doesn’t necessarily need further defense, yet Keith offers one any way (something about his grandma sexing Native Americans)
- when Dez Cadena takes over on vox for a few songs his stage patter makes him seem like a “down to Earth bro” I’d “like to have a beer with” (I’m actually being sincere)
- Dez gets a little Vegasy in “Thirsty & Miserable” and I ain’t mad at that!
- closing with “Louie Louie” hit this brother hard in the heart for some reason, maybe because that seems like a true Black Flag move, in the true spirit of the orig band
- DUDE NO “TV PARTY” WHAT THE FUCK THAT’S A “FALSE FLAG” IF I EVER HEARD IT LOL LOL LOL
The Fear Record
The End Records
Fear’s 1982 debut The Record eschewed the standard Ramones blueprint of punk for a more obtuse, syncopated sound that pushed the guitar back while simultaneously pushing forward the antagonism and social apathy that marked the genre. To this day there’s honest fright to behold in the album’s grooves as the jarring barbs of singer Lee Ving fly by in operatic style beside a band that sounds like some kind of malfunctioning machine. Alas, The Record can no longer stand alone proudly in its own field: Ving and his latest version of Fear re-recorded the entire album last year as The Fear Record for reasons that were never made entirely clear.
The Record was originally released via L.A. punk label Slash; Slash was bought up years ago by Warner Bros, and if I were a betting man I’d say Lee Ving probably attempted to buy back the original tapes at some point before this and gacked on his own tongue when WB slipped him the price. There could also be some legal red tape with Fear’s other original surviving members, inventive guitarist Philo Cramer and hyperactive drummer Spit Stix. On the other hand, considering Ving’s propensity for re-recording Fear oddities and b-sides in the past, maybe he simply decided 2012 was the right time for a do-over of his most ballyhooed creation. Whatever the reasoning, it was faulty. This endeavor is the underground equivalent of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.
The Fear Record brings a meaty NOFX-style sound to the material, which of course never needed those kinds of sonics to come across punk. Philo Cramer’s frayed guitar work was enough to convince you Fear were no normies. A Cramer solo is a spine-bending affair that projects an acute sense of odd; here, we get half-hearted wanks sitting atop of Xeroxed Johnny Ramone pounding. Speaking of pounding, original drummer Spit Stix was the best reason anyone had to take Fear seriously as musicians, circling around in strange time signatures and playing with such fervor Dick Dale famously accused him of “goosing the beat.” Fear’s current drummer Andrew Jamiez does an okay Spit Stix impression on The Fear Record but ultimately makes you yearn for the real mccoy.
Of course, most Fear boosters will probably be focused on Lee Ving’s voice, which by this point has become a phlegmy shadow of its former self. It was a bad move to start The Fear Record off with Lee croaking out the famous “I Love Livin’ In The City” refrain—more of a lozenge commercial at this point than ironic rallying cry. Sadly, there are several spots throughout where you can apply the same put-down. At least Lee gets through the album’s faster numbers like “We Destroy The Family” and “Gimme Some Action” without losing his place.
Whatever other good things you can say about The Fear Record (the songwriting itself retains some of its original magic, there are no kazoos, as far as I know no pets were maimed during its recording) are outweighed by the massive pointlessness of the endeavor. What did Lee Ving and his latest Fear cronies (Jamiez, Paul Lerma, and Dave Stark) stand to gain by giving us a take two on one of punk’s greatest entries? Who knows. The only thing we gain from this lark is a sharp reminder that the original version of The Record is an amazing relic that cannot be improved upon.
FINAL SCORE: One Xeroxed Johnny Ramone (out of four).
Into The Future
If I’m supposed to be comparing Into The Future to the explosive, game-changing Bad Brains of yesteryear, then the album is an embarrassment, an outpouring of lukewarm slurry sorely absent the thunderclaps that made this band riveting a million lifetimes ago. Independent of the towering Bad Brains legacy, Into The Future is at least something different, an exercise in rasta-tinged traditional hardcore with aggressive power metal flourishes. Still, there are few (if any) transcendent moments here, the best tracks being so merely because they offer a little more pep or energy than the rest.
Instrumentally the Bad Brains’ execution is tight, and singer H.R. gently coos over the shifting reggae-punk sands like the space cadet everyone’s made him out to be. It’s almost hypnotizing to hear how calm the vocalist remains even when the music behind him is raging several decibels into the red. That said, H.R.’s melodies sometimes clash painfully with the music, and the man’s lyrical creations leave a bit to be desired (“Music is fun, school is fun,” he chirps in “Fun,” and the list doesn’t end there). I don’t fault a fifty-something guy with apparent mental health issues for not coining the next set of revolutionary slogans, though. Based on all the things I’ve seen and read about the poor fella it’s an accomplishment that they squeezed performances out of him that are this entertaining.
Into The Future includes a full-on tribute to Adam Yauch entitled “MCA Dub”; the late Beastie Boy produced Bad Brains’ previous effort, 2007′s Build a Nation, which I recall being a very similar affair (alright for a bunch of nobodies but depressing for genre legends). To that degree, this band is being consistent. Alas, this album’s title is a misnomer; Bad Brains are not going into the future so much as treading water in the shallow end of a pool they helped fill. Passing another kidney stone like this will only yield more painful waves of “remember whens?” and “back in the days” from disappointed fans.
FINAL SCORE: One rasta lions (out of four).
Viva El Heavy Man
Making no bones regarding their status as a throwback, Smoke Mohawk open their sophomore effort Viva El Heavy Man with the auspicious ode to antiquation “VCR King.” Actually, it’s kind of hard to tell if the band is clinging to this once-proud title with some sort of reverence or using it as a whimsical digital era putdown; the song’s parade-ish stomp (broken up by a handful of breezy, declarative choruses) suggests either idea is plausible. Not that you’ll be considering this to any great degree as “VCR King’s” semi-smirk hooks you in for the dirty hippie rock pleasures that make up the bulk of the album.
Everything about Viva El Heavy Man—including its blurry cover featuring some afro’d white kid in jean shorts next to a hatchback—emulates that timespan in the 1970s when psychedelia and proto-metal were brewing together in the same stew, swirling distorted riffing into a haze of ethereal keyboards, acoustic arpeggios, and other spacey effects. Singer Thomas Felberg is in proper command of these cocksure retro dips with a voice that easily alternates between soothing salve and whiskey-soaked rasp. The guy even sells me on “Squaw Woman,” a song that, while playful and catchy, could be construed as inappropriate Native American fetishization. Of course, we have no reason to believe “Squaw Woman” isn’t about a true Black Hills princess Felberg pines for, and there’s no dubious imagery outside the subject’s “buffalo skirt.”
Smoke Mohawk probably want you to notice their cover of the unexpected 1972 Osmonds hit “Crazy Horses” tucked deep into the album, but this particular run-through fails to live up to the charisma/insanity of the original. Instead, turn your attention to the sexy robo-funk of “Inspector Holmes” or the butt-shaking swagger of “Expresso,” the latter of which eschews whatever it started with mid-way through for a relaxing jam seemingly ported from Robby Krieger’s bathroom. The seven minute album closer “POTLOP” continues the atmospheric soundscapes and will surely make you wish you hadn’t gobbled up all your ‘shrooms last week.
The sweet gallop of “Sophia” stands as Viva El Heavy Man’s one perfectly aligned moment, though, a carefree jaunt with enough melody and kicks to override any hesitation concerning the root nostalgia (thereby making it a microcosm of the band itself). Hey, remember the ’70s? Smoke Mohawk do, and we shouldn’t complain about that.
FINAL SCORE: Three Beta Max dukes (out of four).
Big dumb riffs return!
Enough highs to justify
Ben Shepherd 4 LYFE.
get on your hog, your chopper
and fuckin’ ride, bra.
Draggy songs are saved
by uplifting choruses
and those big dumb riffs.
Deficit of Dreams
Central Florida’s RunnAmuckS have long seemed gimmicky: their t-shirts and record covers are shamelessly emblazoned with copyright protected comic book characters, the group went out of their way to cut one release at Sun Studios (hallowed home of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, et al), and once upon a time they (allegedly) tossed cat feces at a club owner with whom they reached an impasse. Of course, none of this really reflects on the RunnAmuckS music, previously a fierce, intimidating, and fun punk/metal hybrid. One could look past the blatant theft of Marvel hero Steve Rogers when the jams were as searing as those on 2001′s On The Brink or 2003′s Of A Different Breed.
Now, a decade-plus after their formation, the ‘Mucks have calmed things down for a new genre their calling “panic pop.” While the lyrics appear to carry more bitterness and frustration than blank fear, the rocky rumblings behind singer Josh Dobbs’ throaty half-whispers certainly pop in more places than not (the ballad “Don’t Cry For Me” opens with piano work worthy of a slot in the “American Idol” stratosphere). Unfortunately, bland songwriting and flat production mar Deficit of Dreams, stalling a band that once had no issue with bite or charisma. Furthermore, Dobbs paints himself into various melodic corners from which he can’t jump free. It is painfully disappointing to see the wheels come off like this, but not all sneering rockers are meant to soften up.
The RunnAmuckS need to get back to their roots—by which I mean they should scoop up some kitty poop with their bare hands at the next available opportunity. Also, do they know Steve Rogers isn’t dead anymore?
FINAL SCORE: One and a half sad Captain Americas (out of four).
Libyan Hit Squad / Round Eye
East meets west in this split LP from Florida’s Libyan Hit Squad and China’s Round Eye. The Hit Squad does our shores proud with a thick, frenetic tapestry of punk that owes as much to Mission of Burma’s emotionally-charged dissonance as it does to more aggro pavement pounders like the Descendents or Black Flag. Speaking of those heralded giants of thine famed four bars, reclusive Flag guitarist Greg Ginn makes a surprise and surprisingly good appearance with LHS on Full Circle’s math rocky title track. Ginn’s fussy, disintegrating solos are instantly recognizable but don’t distract from the ability of the lesser-known players. The Libyans are just as talented/dynamic as their apparent influences for sure, enough so that I will not disparage either them or Ginn by joking about donations to the latter’s feline rescue charities.
Jazzier in approach (they have actual brass!) but no less busy is Round Eye who hook the listener in with the coy swingin’ fun of their eponymous introductory cut. The horns this outfit employs suggest an artier, more deconstructive approach, but that could be my misinterpretation as a result of listening to too many Stooges records. Round Eye certainly could have hits in the affecting doo-wop slog “I’m So Young” or the jittery open wound “Kenting”; the real joy, however, comes when the band cuts loose on a detuned party mess like “Carne Seca.” The vocals on that sexy entry could merely be a recording of drunken revelers at a twilight rooftop shindig, but the carnal undercurrent works in any setting.
FINAL SCORE: Three and a half multi-colored dragons (out of four).
At this juncture, Green Day have become diet creme soda—they remain sweet and spunky, but overall their brand pales in comparison to the richer, full-bodied equivalent. ¡Uno!, the first entry in a trilogy of albums from the ’90s punk titans that (for better or worse) mirrors the Kiss solo album debacle of thirty-four years ago, takes its production cues from all those mid-Aughts Killers records and thins out Green Day’s signature stomp to a wafer. With the bombast that served them so well on earlier outings evaporated, these MTV stalwarts barely squeak by on a spate of mellifluous but generally ineffectual mall punk hymns that bounce between the universal subjects of love (“Stay The Night,” “Fell For You”) and bein’ punk as fuck (“Kill The DJ,” “Carpe Diem,” “Nuclear Family”).
It doesn’t help that singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstong coughs up some of the worst lyrics of his career on ¡Uno!—clouds of malaise circling around him, BJ hits the nail on the head (unknowingly?) in “Rusty James” when he mews “This whiskey sour / amateur hour / raise your glass and toast, my friends / one day we will fight again.” Further evidence of Green Day’s laziness: ¡Uno! and its two follow-ups are meant to represent each member of this famed trio, but for the past thirteen years they’ve been a quartet thanks to the addition of Pinhead Gunpowder guitarist Jason White in 1999. What a shame they’ve Richie Ramoned this guy into what appears to be a permanent independent contractor position.
Then again, if ¡Uno! is indicative of Green Day’s general direction, maybe asking for another album isn’t the smartest idea.
FINAL SCORE: One and a half pints of Billie Joe’s eyeliner (out of four).
Unsolicited Musings From JG2′s TV Viewing Journal Forever: Extreme Teen Mom Reality Junk Food Edition Makeover Hell
“Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition”: In which morbidly obese average citizens spend a full year trying to slim down with the help of an extraordinarily compassionate personal trainer. An interesting concept that generally goes one of two ways—the subject either buckles down and sheds their excess flab with minimal hiccups, becoming an entirely new physical specimen, or the subject goes off the rails after one bike ride and remains relatively chubbed out by year’s end. I have yet to see anyone attack the trainer, Chris, which is amazing because he personifies the term “aggressively chipper” (he’s sort of like the “Extreme Fajitas” guy in Office Space) and I think if he took my devil dogs away I’d have no recourse but to go shit-house on him, werewolf-style.
“Hotel Hell”: Gordon Ramsay yells at barely competent innkeepers until they agree to start washing their linens/paying their staff. Again, I’ve yet to see any situation come to physical blows on this program, but it’s only a matter of time when you have a metrosexual Brit invading our heartland to swear at doughy Americans who are already irritable because they’re fifty thou in debt. Yeah, I know, Gordon used to play rugby, but that was a long time ago. He’s not hungry anymore. Johnny Bedsheet in rural Pennsylvania, who lives on a diet of stress and black coffee and has zilch in his bank account, is ready to fucking rumble, especially when some celebrity chef rolls up to scream about his hotel’s brunch menu.
“Teen Mom”: This show is getting away with murder in the sense that one of the teen moms gave her baby up for adoption. Thus, you never see her being a teen mom. She’s just being a teen (i.e. looking overly distressed, dressing strangely, mumbling a lot). Hey, MTV, I could mosey on down to the roller rink if I wanted to just see regular-ass teens. The breakout stars of this show are Amber and Gary, two planet-sized balls of emotion whose screaming matches and joint decision to support Ed Hardy at all costs have surely scarred their child for life (or the middle-aged dwarf actress playing their child). I predict we’ll see some member of that family boxing the likes of Darva Conger on FOX in less than five years.