Agony Shorthand

Thursday, April 29, 2004
PERE UBU AND THEIR EGGHEAD PALS…..If it’s true that you’re judged by the company you keep, then PERE UBU in the mid/late 70s ought to be very highly regarded indeed. Which, of course, they are, on their own gargantuan merits and for those other Clevelanders they helped nurture along the way. A CD that sheds light on who they were hanging out with in the epochal 1974-78 period is the outstanding “Terminal Drive: Pere Ubu Rarities” , the 5th CD in the Pere Ubu “Datapanik In The Year Zero” box set. The CD is one of the best extras I’ve seen in a box set – one entire disc devoted to unreleased or barely-released side projects (CARNEY & THOMAS, TRIPOD JIMMIE, DAVID THOMAS solo), pre-Ubu bands (like ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS), and mid-70s fellow travelers like the ELECTRIC EELS and MIRRORS. The actual years this thing spans are 1972 (TOM HERMAN’s spastic “Steve Canyon Blues”) to 1982 (the throbbing, weird density of Herman’s TRIPOD JIMMIE), with an obvious bias toward artistically complex but primal rock and roll. Highlights – and other than a pointless Allen Ravenstein synth-wash, they’re ALL highlights – are the intelligent, Beefheart-inspired dance music of FOREIGN BODIES and HOME & GARDEN; the early, harder-rocking “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” from ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS, and a revealing practice tape by “Proto Ubu” in which Peter Laughner gently instructs the rest of the band on how to play “Heart of Darkness” (only one of the greatest rock songs of all time). And don’t miss the rare 1979 Hearpen 45 from PRESSLER-MORGAN, “You’re Gonna Watch Me”, in which a girlish-sounding Charlotte Pressler (Ubu guitarist Laughner’s wife and an early Cleveland rock chronicler of some renown) spins a yarn around spying on her neighbors. Top-drawer stuff.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

There’s a live recording from the early 1990s making the rounds on this illegal file-sharing site (I’ve only read about the naughty site, I’d never actually use it to illegally download music!!) from SUPERCHARGER, perhaps the hottest raw, punk-infused “oldies” band of all time. It’s from about 1992 or 1993 at the Covered Wagon in San Francisco, and for all I remember of those years, I was there. I enthusiastically saw the band a good 6-7 times around this period, but it’s funny, I always rated their garage revisionist pals/peers THE MUMMIES higher and thus celebrated with the latter upward of a dozen+ times. History – at least my version of history – now says Supercharger were the better band, and this blazer of a live set confirms it. What came off as a bit inept and tentative at the time – a posture nurtured by the band themselves – is full-on wild and overamped energy here, with the usual coterie of screaming girls in the background cheering them on. (These same females were fixtures at Mummies and Phantom Surfers shows during the era, and a few later started The Trashwomen. The apple did not fall far from the tree). The set is way tighter than I remembered, and each 90-second knockout is complimented mere seconds later by another crashing intro. Oh, and a hippie in the audience gets disgraced in public – always a treat!

Guitarist/vocalist Darren Raffaelli is sorely missed by “the scene” – this guy was a terrific, sweat-soaked frontman, yelping and whooping his way through 50s ramalama oldies and originals that sounded just like 50s ramalama oldies. This live set even contains a version of BUNKER HILL’s masterpiece “The Girl Can’t Dance”, but the band charge through it so quickly you might’ve been lost in your pint while it was playing (at least that’s where I imagine I was). Raffaelli’s last move that I know about was a mid-90s 45 I never heard called “Donny Denim”, to say nothing of his shepherding of THE DONNAS’ first LP (something I’ll spout about in the weeks to come). Greg Lowery, at least, put his post-Supercharger energies toward a hot label and band, and Karen, the drummer? Saw her at Safeway a few years ago in the dairy section. Yet Supercharger needn’t be lost to history and illegal, immoral file-sharers – there’s a terrific under-the-radar compilation of their 45s that came out a year ago that I highly recommend called “Singles Party”, and if you haven’t heard “Supercharger Goes Way Out”, by all means get on the case!
(UPDATE: now this is embarrassing. This ill-gotten live set that I was so proud of procuring is actually an OFFICIAL release on Lowery's Rip Off label! Limited edition! Go to it).

NOXAGT : “THE IRON POINT” CD….The press kit for this one promised that it’d “burn a hole through your temple and sear your brain”. Wow! Now why would I want that? In any event, these Norwegian pummelers have put together a pretty hard-hitting, vaguely ambient mix of instrumental thud and bass rumbling that slots in well with labelmates LIGHTNING BOLT. There are a couple of MELVINS-like crunchers that I rate very highly (“Blood Thing”, “Naked In France”), and in terms of tempo it’s lodged somewhere between heavy sludge/doom metal and the speedier numbers on Lightning Bolt’s latest. There are some nods to Scandanavian compadres CIRCLE in that there’s a real distant, icy drone/buzz on some tracks that deliberately blunts the riffage a bit, and then there’s even a little Gregorian mysticism going on in this chant-like number that’s quite honestly intolerable. In sum, my temple remains whole and my brain unseared, but I wouldn’t wander too far if these guys hit a stage near you. Just bring those big orange foam earplugs your mom makes you wear.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

One of those CDs that lay dormant and unlistened-to for 18 months until I forced myself to pry it out of hibernation to give it a “love it or sell it” spin. It made the cut. As an unabashed 60s girl group enthusiast, I’d never been bowled over by these Romulan “Girls In The Garage” comps when there were out on LP only, and my first listen to this one when I got it a while back resulted in another tired shrug. But it’s clicking now. This CD collects most of the first two volumes of the out-of-print LP comps and adds everyone’s second-favorite girl garage track, the BELLES’ “Melvin” (a raw tongue-in-cheek update on “Gloria”) – the first being Suzi Quatro’s PLEASURE SEEKERS and the wild drinking anthem “What a Way To Die”. Add a few new ringers to the list: not one but two versions of the stomping “You Don’t Love Me” by KIM AND GRIM and THE STARLETS, and my favorite on this CD, “Only Seventeen” by obvious New Yawk gals THE BEATLE-ETTES, who incorporate a few Beatle-isms in the track itself but otherwise reign with great harmonies and fun, uptempo surf-styled tunage. Why not girl garage bands? The liner notes indicate they were ubiquitous across the fertile plains and high schools of America in 1965-67, and their inept tunings and ham-fisted playing styles are right in line with their teenage male contemporaries. There’s definitely more male svengali action and less original initiative with the girl bands – many of these are Phil Spector productions/creations; only the rawest and fuzziest of the tracks seem to speak to true, naïve, let’s-start-a-band-in-our-garage gumption. And hey, girl voices are just better. You’re not going to find any barnburners on the level of the “Back From the Grave” compilations, but there’s enough moxie & hidden charms within the 27 tracks to probably make this worth your while.

Friday, April 23, 2004
THE LOST RECORDS OF THE DIGITAL AGE…..While I’m often cheerleading hard for the gift of time and freedom of place that CDs, MP3s and the like give the modern music connoisseur, I’m not blind to the fact that some good things have been lost in the great migration from analog. Take, for instance, some LPs that are now nearly forgotten as stand-alone, perfect-as-they-were long-playing records, because they’ve been shoehorned along with a bunch of other tracks onto a all-encompassing retrospective or a 2-for-1 CD. We all know that LPs were often created and sequenced with the utmost in care, often with the best (perhaps 45-ready) tracks kicking off Side 1 and Side 2, and the lesser tracks hidden around Tracks 4 and 5 of each side. That sort of care and feeding is lost in the translation to CD (track 6 is now just track 6, not the formerly raging kick-off to Side 2 of the LP), as is the notion of a conceptual beginning & end to each side of the record.

But what really gets my proverbial goat is the fact that certain carefully-crafted LPs that should be worshipped on their own don’t even exist in the digital world anymore to be judged on their own merits. My prime example is BIG STAR’s “Radio City”, their second album. This classic is easily one of my twenty favorite records of all time, but it’s an afterthought in both the packaging and sequencing of the twofer CD that includes their vastly inferior debut, “#1 Record”. So “Radio City”’s locomotive kick-off track “O My Soul” is track #13 on the CD, which makes sense from a historical perspective, but not if you’re listening to a CD someone forced on you, and are in the midst of concluding that BIG STAR really aren’t all that. You may have given up around Track #11 and never even come around to “Radio City”; hell, you don’t even know that this is one of the peghooks upon which all indie guitar pop hangs! What about MISSION OF BURMA’s incredible “Vs.” LP? Sure, you can get it on CD with that title and original cover art, but this record was sequenced just so – “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” was a perfect closer for the record; now, as Track #12, you barely have time to catch your breath before the chimes of “Forget” (Track 13) begin on the CD. It ain’t right, and I’m not sure who I need to complain to.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

If there’s one band that’s fallen further from my good graces in a single decade than any other, it’s the JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION. While I can’t write them off as being wholly worthless, it’s hard not to want to try. What sounded dynamic and loose and like a stunningly fresh punk/soul hybrid in 1992-93 now plays like a bunch of hipster honkies jibbering juvenile jive they picked up five minutes ago on “Yo! MTV Raps”. And that Elvis shtick was the worst – I even smelled a rat back then, but “chose to ignore it”. But I still fell for the package hook, line & sinker – but then it’s a commonly-accepted FACT that one’s bullshit detector can’t fully ripen until the threshold age of 30 hath been crossed (and believe it or not, for some people it takes even longer!). Hey, it’s not like people didn’t try to write these guys off at the time – but I never trusted those doubting Thomases because these were the same folks who hated Spencer in PUSSY GALORE as well. And that – well, that was unforgivable.

For every measure of respect I’ve lost for “The Explosion”. I’ve retained that much and then some for Pussy Galore, particularly after going back through their early catalog and letting it rip on headphones this week. Wow. Say what you will about the posturing, the badass preening, the rich kids play-acting at phony aggression and nihilism – Pussy Galore were a straight-up killer rock and roll band for the ages. Today it’s just as common to hear a noisy garage band of Johnny-&-Jill-come-latelys dismissed as “apeing Pussy Galore” as it is to hear “apeing The Stooges” or “apeing The Scientists”. That’s got to count for something, but I think the real power lies in how amazingly this band swallowed early European and indigenous US Industrial music (Einsturzende Neubauten, Whitehouse, TG etc.) and spat it back out via a 1960s garage punk delivery system, with 3 distorted guitars amped up to unholy levels and no bass or low-end rumbling allowed. Thus they came off as the most snotty, over-the-top 1965 teenpunk band imaginable – what the ESQUIRES, RATS or HUNS might have sounded like given 20 years and a drumkit made of metal.

Their pinnacle is the exceptionally brief, 45rpm five-song 12”EP from 1986, “Pussy Gold 5000” – their third proper release after a 7"EP and another 12"EP, and one that come out on the very incongruous New Jersey funnypunk label “Buy Our Records” (today all 5 tracks can be enjoyed on the “Corpse Love” retrospective CD). “Pretty Fuck Look” is their template song for this Industrial/teenpunk mindmeld – brash, swaggering and totally great. “Spin Out” has got that exhilarating 15-second opening, with the rasped-out scream/rap from guitarist Julia Cafritz, “Sometimes I get so desperate / I get a pain deep inside of me / And I wanna hurt someone / Oh BABY, step a little closer! – vrrrooooooooooom!!!! I’ll bet I’ve played this song hundreds of times & put it on almost that many tapes for people I wanted to turn onto exciting new “cutting edge” rock music. Then there’s “Walk”, the best and most excusable “The NWRA”-era FALL rip-off/tribute you’ll ever hear (this is Neil Hagerty's baby all the way), the skittering full-bore howler “Get Out” (three guitars? No way. Seven?) and the band’s live run-through of 60s punker “I’m a No-Count” by TY WAGNER & THE SCOTCHMEN (outstanding choice!). The whole thing wraps up in ten minutes, and like the band’s live show I saw in 1988, is louder than loud should be allowed. In short, the band got their relative ticket punched after this masterpiece hit the cognoscenti & ended up on big indie Caroline, with superior distribution, good press kits, photo studios and the like. Their next record, the full LP “Right Now!” was almost as good as this one, but “Pussy Gold 5000”s brevity, wide-groove volume and 1.000 batting average earns the nod from me. You gotta get “Corpse Love” if you don’t have it for these five songs alone.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004
THE SILVER : “DO YOU WANNA DANCE? / POPPER” 45….A lost D.I.Y. experimentalist rocker from god-knows-when – I think late 70s or 1980-ish, and I know that some of you know the truth -- now bootlegged up in an edition of 500 and ready for consumption. These Finnish folks spring from the same retard tundra genius that gave birth to LIIMANARINA and the bizarre Bad Vugum stable, and it’s nice to hear something so perplexingly and genuinely wacked for a change. “Do You Wanna Dance” is a foaming-at-the-mouth, ultra-homemade take on the Beach Boys/Ramones “classic”, with what sounds like children being horribly crucified at the end. In fact I’d swear one of the two vocalists here is an 11-year old girl. Poor lamb! The feel is not unlike the pleasurable discomfort produced by Florida’s TEDDY & THE FRAT GIRLS a few years later – and if you don’t like it as first, you’ll learn to love it. “Popper” is just ribald experimentation gone awry, but eminently listenable – somewhere lost in a crevice between simplistic 1-chord punk and full-overload noise panic. If you’ve got an interest in picking one of these up, I know a guy who has some -- and he takes Paypal. E-mail him directly by clicking here.

KILLER’S KISS : “GOTTA LOTTA LOVE / BACKSLIDER” 45….Big guitar crunch and 60s organ piping hot in the background calls to mind a sloshed 1am beer party in a basement somewhere, courtesy of a very OBLIVIANS and LYRESian debut from this San Francisco 5-piece. The band features bassist Chas Glynn, formerly of HELEVATOR, a distinguished pedigree not to be underestimated! I like it, especially the rollicking Stones-like B-side. If I ever make it to a 1am basement beer party again, I can only hope it's this crew kicking out the jams and not some other fellas.

Monday, April 19, 2004
STRANGE NOTES, 4/19/04…..Crow continues to be eaten in mass quantities as I hear more and more 1990-2004 material from THE FALL, creators a whole index full of CDs I’d ignored and assumed were subpar. One such proof point to the contrary is 2000’s “The Unutterable”, a very solid and shambling techno/punk hybrid buffeted by three outstanding tracks, “Cyber Insekt”, “Dr. Bucks’ Letter” and “Hands Up Billy” (a guy who’s not Mark E. Smith sings on this one (!), very punk rock, great song), along with a number of good-enough ones. Smith sounds drunk and tired, like the warrior he is. It’s a revelation to me, this Fall “renaissance” that’s not really a renaissance at all…...We ramble on about bootlegs a lot here at Agony Shorthand in an effort to appear mysterious and clued-in. One to probably look askance at is “Studio Demo Tapes”, a 1968-69 effort from German propulsive chooglemeisters CAN – also knows as “Technical Space Composer’s Crew” or “Canaxis 5”. It has a brilliant soft-churn version of “Little Star of Bethlehem”, one of their best ever, and a decent version of “Uphill” – the rest is boring dung, not worthy of 60 seconds of your time, let alone the 47 minutes or whatever it takes to get through the plodding “Dakoda”….One band that I’ve tried to get a jones for and failed is New Zealand 1980s homemade pop hallmark the TALL DWARFS. After another big spin through “Hello, Cruel World”, their early 80s EP collection, I’m still at a loss as to how some rate Chris Knox & his pal higher than, say, The Clean. Whatever, there’s no big contest at stake, but it’s all so….innocuous. When I saw them live in the early 90s it was such a non-event that the only thing I can remember is one dude wore shorts, and there was a keyboard up there somewhere. And I really, really dig Chris Knox’s solo efforts, so go figure….I got my first MP3 player a few weeks ago, a piece of shit freebie I was given by a “vendor” in my line of work (payola is alive and well). And yes, I think I see the appeal. This one stores about 2 and ½ CDs’ worth, that’s it, but the ability to listen to and carry music on an object not much larger than a keychain is pretty compelling, particularly if you spend anywhere between 60-90 minutes every weekday walking to & riding on public transportation as I do. Not being an early adopter on most technology items, but a card-carrying member of the “early majority” when I see a gadget I desire (once the prices have plummeted), I’m strongly considering an iPod after toying with one in a store the other day. Why not – the majority of my music collection is now digital , right, and what isn’t can easily be converted into digital files. I’m going to listen to even more this way. Millions of former "I'd rather fight than switch", LP-loving people making similar half-baked rationalizations will have extreme ramifications on music delivery & listening as we know it, an observation that I know I’m in the late, late majority in making. It’ll be interesting to watch the phenomena unfold beyond the commentariat and into the mainsteam even more than it has.

Friday, April 16, 2004

This is one of those listening “projects” of mine that lie in a netherworld somewhere between pure entertainment enjoyment and painstaking scholarly research. It’s one that I’ve been eager to “tackle” for some time. I finally got around to active listening of all three of the heralded VELVET UNDERGROUND “Quine Tapes” discs in their entirety this past week, and like just about everyone else who’s heard them, I am very, very impressed. The Velvet Underground come away from the experience sitting in the fabled catbird seat for all-time great rock bands, right where they were perched a week ago. The word on the street was that these were the very best of the Velvet Underground live tapes out there, far too good to only circulate on bootlegs, and deserving of a proper release. In October 2001, Polydor Records did just that. I have to agree that they’re among the best I’ve ever heard, up there with “Sweet Sister Ray” and “The Legendary Guitar Amp Tape” and some of the great rehearsal material that surfaced on the “Peel Slowly And See” box set. What makes these CDs special is that this is truly the Velvet Underground at their unadorned, most rocking best, not subject to anyone’s agenda for track listing or to shoddy recording techniques (though Robert Quine’s tapes are a bit RAW). It’s really just one young law student and a tape recorder, taping up his #1 favorite band like the seer, visionary and public servant he was.

In researching this collection on the World Wide Web, I read a couple of instructive reviews that capture some good insights on the set. This is from Jonathan Moscowitz in the New York Press:

“Quine’s tapes were made right before the Velvets went into the studio to record Loaded, an experience so negative it made Reed quit the band and move back home to Long Island. You can hear that sound foreshadowed in the versions of "It’s Just Too Much," "Ride into the Sun" and "Follow the Leader" offered here. Good-natured and bouncy, they show off Reed’s love of old-school rock ’n’ roll and Sterling Morrison’s effortless rhythm work. At the other end of the spectrum sit the old Factory-era chestnuts "Venus in Furs" and "The Black Angel’s Death Song." In their original incarnations both these songs were built around Cale’s heavily droning viola, and it’s instructive to hear how well the band evokes the junky creepiness of their first album without him.”

These shows were recorded in late 1969 at a large hall (The Family Dog) and a small club (The Matrix) in San Francisco, as well as the basketball gym at Washington University in St. Louis, thus illuminating the band in both spacious and intimate environs. There appear to be some extremely small, uninterested crowds in attendance, and the sets, as Moscovitz says, lean heavily to “Loaded” and third album material. There’s also a few big eye-openers: “Follow The Leader”, long considered a “lost” and highly sought-after VU song, is probably not worth much further hype as it’s a middling chugger that goes on about 10 minutes too long, clocking in at a robust 17:05. Yet nothing compares to the not one, not two, but THREE wholly unique versions of “Sister Ray”, one sitting on each disc. You really think the Velvet Underground were the antithesis of the hippie scene? This set gives one pause. Rather than coming in blazing with posturing and standoffish black-leather New York hipster ‘tude, the Velvets instead adapted to their San Francisco environs quite well, and cranked out lengthy instrumental passages that sound like any typical free- form band of the period (just better). Quine says of the November 7-9th 1969 shows, "The first weekend, at the Family Dog, it was basically just a bunch of hippies there. They brought their tambourines, harmonicas, and were playing along. I made tapes of that stuff that came out very well. It was a large place, so they could really turn up the amps." The versions of “Sister Ray” are especially terrific if you’re willing to smoke a fat doob and sit back and feeeeeel them. Built around one of the all-time great riffs, the song has so many different piece parts that it’s really 12 songs in one – now multiply that by 3 different versions (one slow, one hard, one that morphs into an excellent “Foggy Notion”) and, well, 12 cubed = 1,728 different combinations and ways of playing “Sister Ray” on any given night. Quine captured three of them, and they’re fantastic.

There’s also a brilliant distorted version of “What Goes On” and two incredible “I’m Waiting For The Man”s – one gentle and jaunty, one dark and mean. The banana really does peel down to the base once you’ve tackled all 3 discs here, and I’m left with a much better picture of the Velvet Underground live experience than previously captured on various bootlegs. I’m confident that no two shows were identical, and that this was a band well worth slavishly following the way Quine obviously did. In sum, this small box set is essential for those who feel it important to dig deep into Velvet Underground arcana beyond the 4 LPs, the 2 posthumous LPs and the “Peel Slowly” box set. We are a limited crew, granted, but we make up in fanaticism what we lack in self-restraint – an endearing quality for Agony Shorthand readers and those few people who love them.

WHAT THE HELL IS 16RPM???!?....As I reclined at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California yesterday evening, watching the NHL Pacific Division champion San Jose Sharks deliver a smoking finish to the playoff hopes of the woeful St. Louis Blues, an interesting topic of discussion presented itself to me and my party: why in god’s name did old “record players” have a setting for 16rpm??? My old childhood Fisher-Price deluxe model had this, and other than being an excellent speed for spinning the hamster around without flinging him across the room, I never got what it was for. 78rpm I know about, 45rpm I get, 33rpm makes some sense to me – but 16? Was this for flexidiscs, records off of cereal boxes, or Ukrainian folk records of the 30s? I’ll bet a “record collector” in the audience might understand what this nonsense was all about – any insight would be much appreciated.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I can’t figure out whether this CD would have any legitimacy in a brutal police raid on my music collection, but it appears to collect the complete recordings of a great lost 1968 San Francisco band who have probably had a much lower posthumous profile than they deserve. For instance, I live in San Francisco and have for many years, yet I always thought these guys were Brits (probably because THE FALL covered their outstanding drug ode “Mr. Pharmacist”). Joel Selvin, San Francisco 60s hippie chronicler to the exclusion of virtually everything else (to this day), has to the best of my knowledge said not a word about them (but oh, please don’t get him started on Sly and the Family Stone). This CD brings all the old OTHER HALF 45s together, and then some. Many psychedelic and raw garage moves abound – you might hear the RATIONALS, STANDELLS, sometimes YARDBIRDS and sometimes even a precursor to the band that guitarist Randy Holden broke up THE OTHER HALF to join, BLUE CHEER. “Mr. Pharmacist”, is, of course, a knockout classic, but there are other bounce-filled numbers that would make a Dutch Beat freak spill his fondue pot. There are also a couple long hippie freak-outs that are tolerable, if just barely. Oh, and “Feathered Fish”, which I heard for the first time on that LOVE bootleg I wrote about last month – well, it’s an Arthur Lee original, covered here by The Other Half (and it sounds a LOT like early LOVE). Rumor has it that The Other Half also recorded the theme song for the 70s TV cop show “The Mod Squad”, a huge favorite of my TV-besotted youth (Peggy Lipton was hott!), but a tune I can’t pull up to memory. Anyone out there who can confirm it?

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I’ve been so impressed with the other three releases on pre-WWII blues/string band/hillbilly revivalists Old Hat Records that I decided to complete the quartile and order up this one. For the record, the other Old Hat compilations are “Down in the Basement” (essential), “Music from the Lost Provinces” (essential) and “Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow” (essential). This one? Good, maybe not so essential. It concerns itself with those African-American country blues or early hillbilly artists who lent their mournful or celebratory musings a violin interlude, or used the instrument as a full-blown lead. Sometimes the bands are in full-breakdown mode, with hardcore kazoos, jugs and whistles in the mix; other times it’s sad, raw, depresso blues with little in evidence beyond the singer and his song. Perhaps there are some out there who may have a hard time discerning what might make an African-American fiddler of the era different than a white one. Being a neophyte, it’s probably better if I let the liner notes do the talking:

“African-American fiddlers on early phonograph records offer a rich variety of technique and material, yet many share stylistic traits that distinguish their music from that of white performers. Their approach is strongly rhythmic, with a penchant for improvisation that may stray from the melody. The tone is often husky, and the phrasing flexible. They use the violin to paraphrase the human voice, following the texture and flow of the singer. Spontaneity is valued over rote performance, and these fiddlers often engage in repartee with colleagues and listeners. Such tendencies are evident on many early recordings, ranging from the rough Delta blues of Henry Sims to the smart jazz of Leroy Pickett. But other black fiddlers, such as Jim Booker of Kentucky, often performed hoe-down music much like their white contemporaries. So, while general distinctions might apply to black and white fiddling styles, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole either tradition considering the long history of cross-fertilization between the two”.

Allrighty then. “Violin, Sing The Blues For Me” has paid off more handsome aural dividends each time I’ve listened to it, but not the way some of the aforementioned compilations, Yazoo’s “Music From Kentucky” or the Revenant pre-WWII compilations have. Perhaps it’s because much of this has been captured elsewhere (the MEMPHIS JUG BAND’s “Memphis Shakedown” must be paying someone some fine royalties these days), or maybe in trying to capture a mood based upon the color of skin rather than content of character, the disc renders itself sloppily uneven in quality throughout the 24 tracks. There are certainly some highlights worth hearing: the BOOKER ORCHESTRA’s “Salty Dog” is remarkably similar in structure and riff to one of my favorite songs of any era, CHARLEY PATTON’s “A Spoonful Blues”, and I love both the band name and the performed song by the MOBILE STRUGGLERS, “Memphis Blues”. The whole thing’s best heard in smaller doses – at times it reminds me more of source material for a college music-appreciation class than tunes I wanna play over and over. The CD’s certainly got enough raw 78rpm gristle to chew on for neophytes and olde hands alike – it just doesn’t win top honors in my pre-WWII revival sweepstakes.

Monday, April 12, 2004
SCREAMERS : “MASQUE 1978” / WEIRDOS : “REHEARSAL/DEMOS 1977” CD…..I’ve got a friend who shares my inextinguishable obsession with Late 1970s Los Angeles punk rock, and the fountain of musical genius that followed it in that locale in the early 80s. As an LA resident and music accumulator of some renown, he trolls the weekend record swaps in hopes of building a definitive archive of the finest recordings scraped together in that hallowed era, lately with a great deal of success. It appears that LA punk hit the bootlegger’s radar in a big way the past couple years. Maybe it’s the GERMS’ recent renown (which includes an upcoming Hollywood feature film), perhaps the handful of books published on the era, or even that Rodney Bigenheimer thing that opened on Friday nationwide. In any event, there’s some gold to be found at LA record swaps, my friend has learned. There’s a guy who apparently shows up every weekend with new unearthings of 1977-79 Masque habitues. Among the artifacts he’s unearthed from various public servants/ardent capitalists is this split CD from first-wave punk heroes THE SCREAMERS and THE WEIRDOS.

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally come around to the opinion that The Screamers just really weren’t all that, “y’know what I’m sayin’?”. I mean, if this was 1977 and we were all in Hollywood, I have no doubt that I’d be rushing out to each and every show, because Screamers performances not only appeared to be quite the spectacle and a true event for the scene to rally around, the band played years-ahead-of-the-time, pumped-up, loud synthesizer-based punk rock that snarled and sputtered in a terrifying (and often exhilarating) manner. Hell, they really invented their subtle flavoring of this sound, a formula not copied for many, many years (early Cabaret Voltaire and even their predecessors Chrome notwithstanding). But singer Tomata du Plenty annoys the hell out of me. What a pompous would-be poet; man, if I had to repeatedly listen to him shout out his own lyrics between songs and pronounce his words like a five-year-old (“fear” = “fee-yuh”), I’d probably be doing what I’m doing now – writing smarmy asides and hiding behind a barely-read fanzine. Anyway, for a while there The Screamers were the unheard holy grail – everyone knew who they were, but no one had ever heard them, since they left behind zero records. Then came a rare 45 on Seymour Glass’s Stomach Ache records with a few demos on it that was pretty good, and after a few years’ wait, the floodgates opened and all sorts of Screamers demos & live tapes came pouring out. It’s mostly strong, better on demo than live I think, with a few real aggro classics (“Mater Dolores” and “If I Can’t Have What I Want”), but at times dripping with pretentiousness, and overall a little boring after the continued pummeling. This one’s mostly live, but like so many of these things, it’s not exactly as advertised – there’s an OK studio version of “If I Can’t Have What I Want” tacked on after the so-so live set, and then some odd 20-second acoustic piece of a woman singing and dedicating the song “to Tomata” before the WEIRDOS stuff kicks in.

Ahh, the Weirdos. Now we’re talking. What a powerhouse. Listening to this helped me realize (again) that in their earliest incarnation, they were easily one of the top 10 punk rock bands ever, right up there with fellow Californians CRIME and THE BAGS, and often surpassed both for sheer wall-to-wall sonic roar. Unlike a Screamers’ performance, which appeared to be more akin to a lecture or an art opening, the Weirdos were all about fun, just letting it rip and maximizing audience enjoyment (and I’ve seen the videos to prove it, and saw the band in 1985 on their first of many reunion showcases). Some of this sounds like the same practice tapes that led to the posthumous bootleg “Ranting in a Rubber Room” double-7”, but I could be wrong – nevertheless, every song is gold. “Message from the Underworld”, “Neutron Bomb”, “Teenage”, “Do The Dance” and this incredible start-stop number (really fast and short) that I don’t know the name of (my research assistant believes it may be called “Scream Baby Scream”). The recordings are raw and unkempt, just the way you like ‘em, but mixed loud and in the red. Makes me almost want to violate my curmudgeonly maxim about reunion shows (e.g. “I don’t go to them anymore, hrrrmph”) – a maxim that’s loosening every year (2002 it was Mission of Burma, and in a few weeks, The Urinals supporting The Fall!). Then I remember that these sounds were recorded 27 years ago, and the center begins to hold once more.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Maybe it’s just me, but I haven’t been this gung-ho excited about a loud, guitar-drenched, garage-influenced rock and roll band since the CHEATER SLICKS. These MODEY LEMON fellas, of which there appear to be only two & whose age is said to be of relatively recent vintage (e.g. very early twenties), have already mastered the dark art of feedback-laden, high-energy ramalama, extending a template thrown down by the MC5 into the 21st century. These boys are hard, they are heavy, and yet I’d peg them much, much closer to In The Red-style garage punk than Man’s Ruin-style sludge/metal. If you liked Joe Carducci’s take on true rock and roll in “Rock and the Pop Narcotic”, which defined the touchstones of rock as the MC5, Stooges, Sabbath and Black Flag, you will very likely enjoy Modey Lemon. I keep coming back to 1989-1992 CLAW HAMMER, who were about the best band in the world during that brief era, and had a similar attack rooted in blues, punk, 70s proto-metal and cranked-up teenage lust. The Lemon are probably wowing their crowds just as much as the Hammer wowed theirs for a couple years. (note: I wrote this Modey Lemon review that you are now reading last weekend, and refrained from posting it while I “tidied” it up. In the interim one “Bagarozzi” [i.e. Chris Bagazrozzi, late of Claw Hammer themselves] added a comment to the John Coltrane post below. Lest you think that I am gushing about the Hammer in order to curry favor with the man, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. Handsome Chris, a player and mack of the highest order, needs no help from me).

“Thunder + Lightning” is their second full-length record (I haven’t heard the first yet), coming after an EP on Birdman and a double 45 on In The Red. It’s got just one full-bore mother after another, all chugging and careening like a car off the rails & twice as loud. Keeping with the MC5 thing, “The Gemini Twins” is their equivalent of the 5’s take on “Starship” and follows a similar structure – maybe the best track on here. There’s frequent, jarring bursts of Moog and CDX keyboards, whatever those are, in the mix, which adds an even more chaotic sheen to the proceedings. If I’m allowed one complaint it’s that no one song busts out of the chaos as being a truly exceptional calling card: they’re all real great, and none of them are classics (though “Gemini Twins” is close). So there it is. It all adds up to one conclusion: I need to see this band play live, maybe even follow them up & down the west coast the way I used to latch onto tours back “when I was their age” (*sigh*).

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

"Prayers On Fire” has always been the one BIRTHDAY PARTY LP whose charms have continually eluded me, and I consider myself a – if not a worshipper, then a mighty big fan of this seminal early 80s hellfire & brimstone band. I’m a longtime partisan of "Junkyard” and especially those two godhead late-career EPs, “Mutiny!” and “The Bad Seed”. Does drug-fueled low-end rumbling Satanic goth punk get any better than “Sonny’s Burning”, “Mutiny In Heaven” or “Jennifer’s Veil”? I thought not. Listening to Prayers On Fire this week, the image this band must’ve thrown off really hit me – I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to be confronted LIVE with the ghastly site of 90-pound Nick Cave and his cowboy-hatted junkie band cranking out this unholy noise. I saw cheap imitators SCRATCH ACID (who I love), but seeing the Birthday Party themselves must’ve been the shit (and the amazing “Live 1981-1982” CD confirms it).

But “Prayers On Fire”, their second LP and first one as the Birthday Party proper, still doesn’t deliver the solid kick to the groin the follow-ups did. I just got it on CD (thanks CS) and again gave it the once-over thrice. Sure, the overall panic attack is in full bloom – a mix of barbed punk rock jabs, cabaret-from-hell piano and horns, and a stinking-drunk lounge crooner/screamer. Standout tracks are the bump/grind of “Nick The Stripper”, "Zoo Music Girl"'s thumping rhythms, the plinking “Kathy’s Kisses”, and the slash-guitar of the hook-filled “Cry”. You can hear quite clearly just how musically adept and educated these young men were, as they touch upon tribal elements, 1930s vaudeville/cabaret and smoldering post-punk in liberal quantities, and with their talents bared & obvious. The Australians built on the success of homeboys the Birthday Party and patented this foul brew in the late 80s, and shipped it overseas in many forms (Bloodloss, Lubricated Goat, King Snake Roost and others). Compared to those sometimes-worthy bands, “Prayers On Fire” is light years above, but still set below the high-water mark set by “Junkyard” and the 1983 EPs.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

I’ve had a complicated history with jazz, with many false starts, disappointing attempts to divine the pantheon and forays into stuff I absolutely hated. In college I made a concerted effort to get out there on the hustings and figure the whole thing out, and unfortunately (but understandably) began with what my dope-smoking, wise-beyond-their-years peers considered the coolest – JOHN COLTRANE’s insane late period, ALBERT AYLER’s braying and snorting and ORNETTE COLEMAN’s free jazz squealing. Unimpressed, I fled from the entire form for a few years (note: I now know what people see in these gentlemens’ late 60s stuff; it just wasn’t for me at the time). Not knowing where to go when I became brave and curious enough to get going again, I asked around. I have to thank RF, a smart guy who patiently explained to me about a decade ago that the best way to figure out if a jazz record was any good or not was to study the players on the back of the sleeve/CD. If names like “Coltrane”, “Dolphy”, “Tyner” and “Jones” showed up, you were likely in exceptionally good hands. That revelation ten years ago led me to the single jazz CD that I credit for kicking off my entire and still-developing love of the genre, JOHN COLTRANE’s 1961 masterpiece “Ole”.

Sure, I think I can objectively admit that there are “better” jazz classics even within Coltrane’s own discography, but I put this on at least three times a year and stand back and hear it soar. It’s where the beyond-mortals genius of Coltrane also clicked for me, and the one that led me off into Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon and even Charlie Parker. I’m now sporting a respectable 100 or so jazz CDs, all of them quality, and growing carefully and methodically so as not to upset the delicate balance of what can be a perplexing and oft-times infuriating art form.

Why “Ole”? Well, let’s start with the 18-minute monster track #1: “Ole”. This is the piece de resistance of what was originally a 3-song LP (the CD adds a very sweet and slow-burn love ballad, “To Her Ladyship”), and contains some of the most entrancing music you’ll ever hear. Coltrane is on soprano sax for this one, and the unit he hastily assembled for the session are just locked down and humming, each soloing in turn and helping the others to shine. It’s got an Eric Dolphy flute solo (flute!) that is just out of this world. And if you can ever single a bass player out of a song for commendation, and I know it’s rare, it’s here: and that’s likely because there are two low-end slappers present, Art Davis and Reggie Workman. "Dahomey Dance," is definitely more relaxed; it has a loping riff dressed up in colorful brass harmonies, and Coltrane's tenor solo sounds heavily influenced by the blues. Finally, there’s "Aisha", which is a romantic ballad penned by McCoy Tyner, lovely as any Coltrane ballad you’ll hear anywhere. Coltrane’s much-vaunted expanding search for “freedom” was already off and flying on "Ole", yet it’s a CD you could play with grandma in the room (and I, in fact, have done just that). You can probably tell that "Ole"'s got a bit of everything – though beautifully wild and untamed in places, it won’t frighten the proverbial horses, and is a must for any burgeoning jazzbo’s collection.

Monday, April 05, 2004
PAYPAL NATION…..If one person doing something is uneventful, and two people doing it is a coincidence, then THREE people doing it has got to be the start of a full-blown worldwide consumer revolution, with massive ramifications on art and commerce as we know it. I’m talking of course about the widespread rise in usage of Paypal accounts to fund record and CD collectors’ buying obsessions. This appears to be the 2003-04 habit of choice for those needing to justify a large “spend” on music by pretending that it’s not really money that they’re spending, but “Paypal” instead (sort of like the “Flooz” and the “Beanz” of the dot-com era). Got a spouse or significant other concerned about making ends meet, in light of your propensity to blow massive amounts of your bi-weekly paycheck on music? Time to get a Paypal account, baby – it’s the digital equivalent of the fake-name post office box you used back in the analog days. Naturally, you do have to fund the Paypal account with something. The 3 individuals in my control group (one of whom is me) use their winnings on eBay, converted to Paypal, as an exclusive “pot” for all subsequent music purchases. That’s right, you sell off the old LPs and replace them with brand new 45s, LPs and CDs. Paypal/eBay takes their cut(s), gets fat and happy, and you’re living large with some new music. That old P.O. Box can still serve a purpose if you need to hide the frequent packages pouring in from Crypt Mailorder, Goner, CD Universe and other eBay sellers. The more you sell, the more you buy, and its effect on the homefront bottom line? Zero, unless you count the opportunity cost of what you could have done with your winnings instead of buying another 15 CDs. But since that’s impossible to quantify without taxing the brain beyond comprehension, I say forget about it and get that account set up forthwith. It’s been keeping families together and collections healthy & growing for over 1 year!


Or so says BILLY LAMONTE on one of the finest early raw R&B comps you’re likely to find in any corner, “WILD AND FRANTIC”. This longtime LP favorite of the Little Richard-worshipping set quietly snuck out on CD a few years ago, and augmented its original 18 late 50s slammers with 17 (!) bonus tracks from the upper echelons of the “oldies” genre. And nothing that was ever a Bandstand-bopping hit, no way, not even regionally – we’re talking the most over-the-top and wild of all post-jump R&B, blazers like BUNKER HILL’s “The Girl Can’t Dance” and the PINETOPPERS’ “Shout Bamalama” (albeit the wimpier of the two versions). The label that originally threw this together, “Mr. Maestro”, had a very well-tuned quality control system that filtered out so much of the dreck the settles onto most of these retro comps, settling in favor of only the most up-tempo and raunchy R&B, with the crème-de-la-crème shouters and wailers – the ones that scared parents silly and forced them to lock up their nubile daughters to keep them away from reefer-addicted rock and rollers. So that means OTIS REDDING and “Fat Gal”, the outstanding “I’m In Love Again” by the UPSETTERS, JIMMY DEE’s “You’re Late Miss Kate” (a new one to me), and “Chicken Little” by none other than PICO PETE. Can one truly sit through 35 tracks of it? Depends upon your pain threshold for screaming Little Richard imitators, squawking saxes and raw, greasy riffs. I think it’s easily one of the most essential compilations of the genre, right up there with “SIN ALLEY”, “SHAKIN' FIT” , “LOOKEY DOOKEY/TALKIN' TRASH" and "NO COUNT DANCE PARTY, VOL. 1". I got my CD from Norton Records and I’ll bet you can too.

Friday, April 02, 2004

When I dreamt up my Ultimate Post-Punk C-78 master list a while back, I flat-out forgot a perfect inclusion for the thing: the throbbing (and criminally underrated) 1977 debut 45 from THE MISFITS, “Cough/Cool”. I could never understand what naysayers of this record were smoking. Aww, I’ll own up to not digging it much the first time I heard it either, but that was after being bludgeoned with their razor-sharp punk rock pantheon-defining 1978-79 follow-up singles (“Bullet”, “Horror Business”, “3 Hits From Hell” etc.) and then working backwards. You trek back to their debut, and on first listen it sort of sounds like a wet noodle in comparison. But it’s really almost a different band, and certainly an entirely different vibe being presented. Both “Cough/Cool” and the flip “She” have an eerily distant, disconnected sound – almost tentative and even unsure, which stands in stark contrast to the posturing bombast of the next couple of Misfits singles. Yet there’s such a calculated building and tension release to “Cough/Cool” that the clouds clear after a couple listens and the verdict’s just as plain as day: this is a fucking great song, and one completely devoid of guitars. I love the junior high shop class electric piano and organ, which sound slightly out of tune and homemade, and the “news flash” beep-beep-beep-beep intro is like a low rent cousin to the first few seconds of PERE UBU’s “Non-Alignment Pact”.

Glen Danzig also slurs his initial vocals like a shushed-up schoolchild before launching into his Enrico Caruso imitation we know and love. I mean, I’ll defend Danzig as a first-rate songwriter up to and possibly including “Walk Among Us” (note: this most definitely does not include lyrics), and I think this is one of his finest. This is the sound of bedroom America getting off its collective ass and inventing a whole new subgenre of rock music. It’s exciting to listen to even today. I’m kicking someone off my previous “C-78” and throwing "Cough/Cool” on. Now mine really kicks Jon Savages’ ass!

Thursday, April 01, 2004
AMERICAN HARDCORE REDUX: MECHT MENSCH vs. URBAN WASTE....A month or more ago I put down on digital paper my favorite American 80s hardcore blasts, and waited to see if others might have their own favorite win, place & show finalists. Two hardcore heavies that came up in the comments section were Madison, Wisconsin’s MECHT MENSCH and New York City’s URBAN WASTE and their “Mob Style” 7”EP. I took the bait and checked ‘em out. I’d actually heard the Mecht Mensch “Acceptance” 7”EP record before, and remembered it to be angry, raw and pretty good, just not exceptional. The memory was confirmed. I’d peg them as possessing about 3/5th of the power and aggressiveness as Midwestern compatriots THE FIX, whom they very much resemble in both vocalist and overall delivery. There’s one tremendous bleary-eyed slow-ish track called “Grinder” that’s head and shoulders above the remainder. See what you think by downloading it for free right here.

I always thought, like others, that New York City missed the boat entirely during the few years that hardcore punk was fresh & exciting, and instead served up multitudes of meatheaded muscle-flexing morons or god-awful anarchist atrocities, HEART ATTACK and temporary residents the BAD BRAINS excepted. URBAN WASTE and that vaunted “Mob Style” record doesn’t do much to alter my perception, though that is one hell of a fiery circuit-blowing guitar sound their main axe-slinger had. Lots of shouting and Angry Man 101 platitudes. How did MINOR THREAT do this sort of thing so much better? Just ask the kids, they know (except they’re all 37 now).

THE COMPLEAT DOW JONES & THE INDUSTRIALS….After a beggarly entreaty to my handful of readers last year, I was kindly rewarded by a good American with the “compleat works” of 1979-81 Indiana synth punks DOW JONES & THE INDUSTRIALS. All 12 songs! My curiosity ran amok after detailed listening and worship of two fantastic compilation tracks by DJ&TI, the roaring “Can’t Stand The Midwest” and the wonderful Jetsons-like robotics of “Ladies With Appliances” (which I can’t say enough about – it’s everything you’d want in a head-on collision of DEVO and LA’s DEADBEATS). It would appear that the wad, as it were, was shot on those two crazed numbers – but the rest of their recorded works still manage to leave a good-time feel. They kicked out one three-song 7”EP (“Can’t Stand The Midwest” + 2), eight tracks on their side of a split LP with their pals THE GIZMOS (whom I’ve come to regard as a bit, um, overrated), and the aforementioned “Ladies With Appliances” on the “Red Snerts” compilation LP. It’s all one big drunken new wave frat party that mashes up 70s hard rock, raw American punk, and cheap DIY waver electronics. You can hear these guys painfully testing the limits of what they can do with their new synths (“Malfunction”, essentially one big fart-around), while they put them to utilitarian rock and roll use in the next song (the revved-up cut-up “Dude In The Direction Field”). Only a couple of the previously unheard tracks really fall short of a mark set by already-high expectations, while nothing really reaches out and screams essential. Someone’s sure to cobble together a CD one of these days just to get those two big whoppers out to the hoi polloi, where they belong.