Agony Shorthand

Friday, October 29, 2004

Somehow Wilkins got thrust into the second tier of 1920s-30s bluesmen despite a brief body of work that's among the greatest roots music every created. Amazingly, I came to his stuff 10-11 years ago not through the STONES, who covered Wilkins' "That's No Way To Get Along" as "Prodigal Son" on "Beggar's Banquet" AND swiped one of his other songs ("Rollin' Stone") for their name, but via the GIBSON BROS, who took on Wilkins' "I'll Go With Her Blues" on their final album. But Wilkins will evermore be known in popular culture as the "original Rolling Stone" thanks to the connection, and that's not a bad thing if it gets folks to buy this essential CD. His blues really weren't shackled down to the commonly-understood delta style of SON HOUSE, SKIP JAMES etc. -- more often than not, he played romping happy-face dance numbers like "Alabama Blues" or ringing, mildly complex mid-tempo numbers like the masterful "I'll Go With Her Blues". Wilkins also employed a couple of different vocal personas depending on the style he was playing. For his slower, more traditional blues, he played right out of central casting: mournful, lonely and distant. For the more peppy numbers, he sang in a bizarre froggy voice that takes some getting used to (but no more than James' falsetto). I've always thought that some rock band ought to tackle "Old Jim Canan's", one of the most bouyant and joyful "blues" ever created. Old Jim's sounds like the party place to be in 1935, a place where you could wile away the time "playing the dozens" and "sniffin' cocaine". It's still a gas to hear a full body of 78-rpm work like his scooped up and plopped onto one near-perfect CD, after years of having it scattered across innumerable compilation LPs. (By the way, take a look at the pictures of the LP comps in this link. Almost makes you want to click over to eBay and start searching, don't they?).

Wednesday, October 27, 2004
THE 'SHOCK TAKES CHICAGO....Great review of the MONOSHOCK CD over at Blastitude this week. They nail it. Check it out here.

STRANGE NOTES, 10/27/04......It's now 24-hours-old news, but British DJ JOHN PEEL unfortunately passed away this week. If you measure musical heroes by what they've added to the canon and by the number of lives they've positively affected, then Peel's got to be way up the hero charts. His Radio 1 program carried on since 1967 (!), and was uncompromising in presenting the worldwide sub-underground rock scene filtered through Peel's own exceptional and far-reaching musical taste. Everyone knows about Peel Sessions; these live-to-BBC recording sessions encompassed just about every great band that ever lived in or played in England, from the early PINK FLOYD to last month's HUNCHES session. By any measurement, he was definitely one of the good guys.....speaking of England, I heard a classic pure pop song last week by a decade-old UK band I'd never heard of called the WOULD-BE-GOODS. You might not like it, because you might not like sugary pop songs sung by disaffected, femme-y girls -- but if you do, I highly recommend the band's "Emmanuelle Beart" from last year. Ms. Beart is hands-down one of the five most beautiful women in the world, but not only that, she's the subject of this fine ditty. I dug deeper into the band's back catalog this week and was sadly let down; it's really, really twee and marginal, with a sort of swinging 50s pillbox-hat, cafe-culture Paris vibe. I am sooo over pillbox hat cafe culture Paris rock!!......Hey, what the hell is going on in the first two lines of The ROLLING STONES' classic "Salt Of the Earth"? Is that a real human singing, or is that Lancelot Link with a ball of construction paper paste in his mouth? Someone once told me it was Keith Richards. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.....A few months ago I reviewed a fantastic compilation called "SONGS THE CRAMPS TAUGHT US, VOL. 1" and pronounced it a must-own. I'm happy to report that Volumes 2 and 3 are just as necessary. Who knew The Cramps covered, swiped, or manipulated so many raw and rare and just plain wacked-out songs? These CDs one-up the "Born Bad" series and add 50s-60s R&B, rockabilly and trash rock songs that Lux and Ivy only thought about covering. Each edition has over 30 tracks, and belong on your shelves next to your "T-Bird Party" and "Loo-key Doo-key" comps. Yep, that good.....finally, take a gander at the latest Tony Rettman (brother of the real Don) column over at Blastitude. It's the only place on "the world wide web" that you'll see write-ups on back-in-the-day hardcore bands YDI and THE WORST sitting next to the single best photo of ZZ TOP I've ever seen. Tony, time to start your own "blog". Blogging is a real hit with the ladies, and brands you as a true visionary, along with the other bloggers creating blogs every 7.5 seconds (a stat I read yesterday). Pepper Tony with emails on this subject, as I'd like to see his rantings a little more regularly. That's all for now, keep your feet on the ground etc.!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Another dub war going on on this 1977 session, with Sly & Robbie's REVOLUTIONARIES recording at Kingston's Channel One studios, paired against the AGGROVATORS recording @ King Tubby's in almighty hand-to-hand dub combat. The slow grooves and lack of pyrotechnics in the Aggrovators tracks keep me from recommending this one. It's sort of like slow, for-lovers-only reggae-soul with a minimum of manipulation and fade-outs, but (to its credit) is played live in the studio for the express purpose of turning it into dubs later. TOMMY McCOOK's involved in both groups, setting down smoky, studio-filtered sax; in fact my sources tell me that there was a lot of cross-pollination between both bands, and this fight was more a loving gathering of like-minded pals to smoke some herb and lay down the grooves. The Revolutionairies' "side" is better, and involves a lot of the King Tubby trademarks heard on dozens of other discs. For instance, ever notice how only his dubs include this percussion tweak that makes every snare sound like the drummer mistakenly smacked the hard metal portion of his chair instead of the drum? And then echoes it for a good couple of seconds over the bass line? It's the sort of technique that's had them queuing up at the Tubby CD sections for years. I'll probably keep this CD in the hopper but don't recommend it for anyone but completists.

Monday, October 25, 2004
"CHATTERBOX: BIOGRAPHY OF A BAR, SAN FRANCISCO 1986-1990" by Aflie Kulzick.....

Had run up a nice credit receipt at the local record store last week and decided to plunk down some of that pretend money on this memoir, which has now been out about a year. My wife thumbed through the photos of various Motorhead-t-shirt-wearing heshers and crazy metalhead alcoholics and said, "Uh, this doesn't really seem like a scene you'd have been a part of". And she's right, up to a point, but not only was THE CHATTERBOX one of the early clubs that looked the other way when I nervously showed up with my horrible fake ID (thank you, Kevin Jay Harris, who looked nothing like me, for turning over your driver's license to me when you turned 21!), their heyday was right smack in the middle of another heyday I like to call "long-haired punk" . Long-haired punk didn't necessarily have to involve long hair, but it DID have to involve a fondness for the few metal bands worth paying attention to, a reverence for the harder-edged punk rock of the late 70s/early 80s (especially hardcore), a tolerance for glam-era posing and strutting (within reason -- cross that Stones/Dolls line and all of a sudden it's Sunset Strip shit rock), and a healthy liver and attitude that proclaimed "Every day is an Alcoholiday!". This was the Chatterbox's home crowd & entire reason for being, and in 1986-90, it was a place I liked to call "home for the evening" every now and again.

Skirting this metal-tinged 80s scene were incredible punk-based groups like THE DWARVES and the LAZY COWGIRLS, both of whom I saw multiple times at this club, and of course all the popularly-known "grunge" bands, including GREEN RIVER (who played here) and NIRVANA (who were supposed to play here but begged off at the last minute). Most of the bands that played this club were shit on toast, and deserve to be long forgotten. I had to close the book and pull the covers over my head when I saw the names (and pictures!) of the following blood-curdlers: The Gargoyles, Hemi, Screaming Bloody Marys, Celebrity Skin (with Don Bolles! Killing the good name of The Germs!! I fuckin' saw them!!!), Jackson Saints, Touch Me Hooker, Samiam, Papa Wheelie, and far too many more bands that I wasted way too much time watching, not all at this club. Maybe the most representative band of all the crap Chatterbox bands, a band who bring a smile to my face even now when I think about them, was San Francisco's VERBAL ABUSE. Anyone remember "VA Rocks Your Liver!"?? Yeaaaah! Glam slam alcoholic party rock. I saw them -- PAID to see them. Times sure were different then.

In any event, Alfie Kulzick, who founded, owned and operated the bar, put together her scrapbook of photos and flyers and added a little text around the edges to flesh out the times. It's the sort of thing that 99.9% of the people who might read this site will find 100% uninteresting, either due to your lack of proximity to the proceedings or due to the mindlessness and mostly bad rock of the Chatterbox "scene". It's so thin on text that it might just merit a nice 20-minute "flip-through" at your local hipster small-press bookstore. But she captures the time in such a way that I admire her approach. I swear it seems like a hundred years ago. As she puts it in the intro,

"It was a time when crack and guns were just beginning to infiltrate the housing projects and AIDS was just a 'gay disease'. Artists and musicians lived together in large flats and small warehouses throughout the city...very few, if any, musicians had cars - maybe the drummer had a van...".

And 14 years later, you can't find anyone that looks like this in San Francisco any longer, except perhaps in the dark alleys off Haight Street. The city's gone from being an unsafe hell in a handbasket during the Chatterbox's time to being the upscale latte liberal's city of choice today. Having lived in and enjoyed both San Franciscos, this book was a semi-nostalgic reminder of the one that's gone, even if I'd never in a million years set foot in that club if I wasn't 19 years old, music-crazy, and very, very thirsty.

Friday, October 22, 2004
TRAIN WRECK IN PROGRESS.....There's a fascinating meltdown going on over at Chris Stigliano's BLOG TO COMM site. Like a Courtney Love interview, you want to look away, but you just can't. Poor Chris. The injustices keep piling up, and Chris just pours more fuel on the pyre. His post today is the best yet. I wouldn't get any more involved than I've been (which is not at all), but I keep getting e-mails directing me to a given Stiglianoism or another every couple weeks, often about me. Lots and lots about me. Chris wasn't very happy with a thing I wrote about his magazine earlier this year (the gist of which was I didn't like reading it anymore), and let me know about it both on his newly-developed-for-the-occasion site and with about 20 e-mails, some cordial, some totally frothing & off the rails. Feeling quite bad for the guy, who was genuinely hurt by what I wrote, I deleted my post from this site. I called him a bit "thin-skinned" in my original post, but the irony of his subsequent responses is apparently lost on him. An interesting line popped up in an earlier post of his this week that perhaps shows that, rather than being hurt, this sort of mano-a-mano "blog war" may just be what makes Chris's heart beat a little faster:

"I was having a perfectly happy day minding my own biz while scouring the competing blogs to see if anything nasty was being said about yours truly..."

Like I said, you can't look away. How do you tell such a person that you mean him no ill? Chris needs some validation, so I think we should all give him some. I tried to do this in some of my e-mail responses to him, and while it obviously didn't work, I'll try some here in public. Chris Stigliano was personally responsible, via his fanzine, for turning me onto some fantastic bands in the 80s and early 90s, like SIMPLY SAUCER (my personal acknowledgement in 2000 to Chris is at the bottom of the linked article) and the ELECTRIC EELS, probably more. His new web site has some interesting posts about music sometimes, and he got me curious about a modern Japanese compilation a few weeks ago. Chris has a lot of longtime fans who've enjoyed his tastes in music and Eisenhower-era popular culture for years. And at age 40-something, the man is still as deeply into music as ever, as I hope I'll be. Hats off to ya, Chris! What the Langs and Hinmans of the world think about him should matter about this much: 0%. I hope he patches things up with Mr. Yamamoto, and someday realizes that obsessing about me, or anything beyond girls, music & food just isn't worth the effort. Drop him a line and tell him he's OK, 'cause he is!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

My first Fahey, bought on LP years ago, is still my favorite Fahey, though the expanded CD versions of "The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death" and "The Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites" come awful close. This one was brought back to the fore because of a friend's toddler who falls asleep to John Fahey every night. He'd wrecked the CD I'd made them, as toddlers do, and I got it out to roast up for him one more time & therefore gave it a spin. It's no less revelatory than the first time I heard the record, and this outstanding CD adds in early 1959 versions of the 1963 and 1967 sessions that made it to the "stereo" LP -- essentially two complete LPs of the same set of songs. Fahey, who had up to this point in his young life been one of America's foremost blues obsessives and door-to-door discoverers of the 1920s-era pioneers, added his own name to the pantheon of dazzlingly inventive guitar players in a matter of minutes -- before track 1, "On Doing an Evil Deed Blues", is complete. His all-instrumental plucking and sliding is perhaps the best update of original recipe delta blues ever, putting him in a mood-creating league with his heroes like MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT, CHARLEY PATTON and SKIP JAMES, while adding an intricate, almost professorial complexity to the tunings and scales. Something about a good John Fahey number: every strum, every chord, is rendered in rich, full, glistening detail, so that it continues ringing and echoing even as the next upstroke or downstroke or slide down the frets is complete. I don't know how he did or learned it, but this is a guy who could wring incredible depth out of a relatively simple instrument.

Hearing a weirdly-scoped track like this record's "Uncloudy Day" again this week helped me to realize the link between this early Fahey and his final experimental recordings from a few years ago. He was pushing instrumental guitar boundaries HARD even back then, while keeping them within the folk/blues "idiom" (as it were -- now I'm talkin' like a poindexter professor). The CD adds 10-minute wackjob called "The Transcendental Waterfall" which gives the best hint of Fahey's eventual move into more "eastern" guitar patterns, as well as a BLIND BLAKE cover. I think that just about any initial exploration into the multilayered universe of John Fahey recordings has got to include high points such as "In Christ There is No East and West" and "Desperate Man Blues", or you're missing some of the very best representations of what he was about & capable of. If you're looking for an excuse to get started, I urge you to strongly consider this one as you brave the man's extensive back catalog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004
FIERY FURNACES / ROGERS SISTERS / BLACK LIPSTICK, 10/15/04, Bottom of The Hill, San Francisco......

Arrived in time to see some of Austin, TX's BLACK LIPSTICK, who put forward a fresh-faced but altogether mediocre take on 3rd-LP Velvet Underground. It was sort of akin to the much-maligned "jangle" bands of the mid-80s, college rock to the extreme, with maybe a little more oomph and feedback and at times, decent Dream Syndicate-like songs. The later, only intermittently interesting Dream Syndicate. One look at the bass player and you know he definitely collects records. I'd sort of tuned out the ROGERS SISTERS since their first CD, but I was hoping that would bring the walloping funk/noise they threatened to bust out on that CD. Their set this evening was like a time machine tribute to the 1981 Downtown New York scene, complete with some funky fresh new wave haircuts, searing BUSH TETRAS-esque thumping, and some good low-end riffs that exploded in a dozen directions every time a pedal was hopped upon. I'm pretty sure "Basquiat" was hovering in the corner with a 50-cent Yuengling and there were Puerto Rican looters lifting old Magnavox TVs outside. They did my favorite track from that first one, "I Dig a Hole" and a small handful of others from their new one. Their whammo 30-minute set helped leave a nice funky fresh new wave taste in my mouth.

One word of advice if you venture out to see the FIERY FURNACES, my new favorite band, as they wrap up their US tour: do not do so unless you're already wrapped up in their bizarre world of operatic pop, song cycles, maximum electric piano and fuzzed-out aggro rock. You'll be lost to their considerable charms forever. As advertised, the band performed a 47-minute medley (start: 12:02am, end: 12:49am) of just about every song from their two records, sometimes starting one number up with lyrics from the middle of another one, or speeding up a 20-second section of one, then deliberately butchering a 15-second section of another, before racing through yet another chunk of tuneage. Back to back to back to back, with not a single beer break in between. I'm torn between two competing thoughts: whether their attempt to annoy, confuse and befuddle is a reflection of a needlessly haughty & contemptuous attitude toward their fans, and whether the fact I still really enjoyed it means they're just a step ahead of everyone else right now & are dancing to a different card. I remain totally hooked into their CDs, even the "controversial" "Blueberry Boat", which I simply cannot stop playing. There's just no one else out there who are writing songs this complex yet with the hook/line/sinker impact of a steamroller. I can only now compare them to GUIDED BY VOICES circa "Alien Lanes" in their ability to worm a line or a song section into my brain to the point of exhaustion. Exhaustion is the only word I can think of when I think about the band trying to master the set they pulled off last Friday night; singer Eleanor Friedberger started losing her voice five minutes into the set as it degenerated into an appropriate Patti Smith-like rasp, and the frantic pace of the hardcore-tempo set was just unfathomable. I ask: why? Is it really too limiting or unimaginative to play your songs somewhat near the way they were written? I'd hate for the band to develop an early reputation for condescension, but who knows. If you can stomach the twists and turns of a band hell-bent on pleasing themselves, and maybe, just maybe, pleasing you in the process, then the Fiery Furnaces live experience is a helluva great night out.

Monday, October 18, 2004
WHO READS YESTERDAY'S PAPERS, NOBODY IN THE WORLD.....But that doesn't mean I can't link off to a few posts from days of yore. Agony Shorthand's nearing 500 all-time posts now, which means the whole Archives section's getting a 'lil cumbersome to navigate. So I thought I'd throw in a few direct links to garbage from the past 20 months that the original readers of this site have long forgotten....enjoy! :

Toolin' For a Warm Memory
The Bottom Ten, 1985-89
Ultimate Post-Punk C-90
Jukebox Jury, Round One
Jukebox Jury, Round Two
Jukebox Jury, Round Three
Jukebox Jury, Round Four
Record Shopping in Tokyo
The Most Underrated Record of the 1990s
Les Femmes De Paris
The Battle Between Art and Commerce
Straight Dope on Scritti Politti
Disappointed in Comets on Fire -- Fuckin' Hippies
More Hippies I Don't Like
Still More Hippies
On The Digitization Revolution
Overrated: The Monks
Overrated: The Dictators
And Don't Forget The Kent 3!

Thursday, October 14, 2004
VARIOUS ARTISTS : "BLOODSTAINS ACROSS BELGIUM, VOLUME 2" CD....."This is Belgium, and it fucking stinks!". Thus spaeketh THE PIGZ way back in 1978, back when complaining about your country was de riguer punk rock behavior for the new vanguard. But it didn't stink. Pound for pound, you'd have to rate Belgium highly in the second tier of punk rock countries, just below the top layer of the US, Australia, the UK and Sweden. They're knocking around with their pacifist pals the French and the Dutch, and opening a can of old school whoop-ass on the Canadians and the Germans. This CD is all the evidence you need -- it contains just about all of the first two "Bloodstains Across Belgium" LPs, which means 28 raw, snotty slices of Antwerp antisocialism and its Brussels equivalent. The "Volume 2" is a misnomer, since there was actually no Volume One CD, and the sleeve on this one happens to be the same as the Volume 2 LP. A confusing shortcut, but that's punk rock, punkers.

Now you may not get too stoked about rare early 45s from DE JEUGD VAN TEGENWOORDIG, but some folks sure do. Those people need to hear the incredible robotic fuzz monster 45 from the MAD VIRGINS, "I Am a Computer / Fuck & Suck", displayed in full digital glory, as well as the smoking "Hot Love" by the ONION DOLLS and RAXOLA's hopped-up "Kill Your Son", all really crucial to any self-respecting accumulator's accumulations. And if you can get through THE KIDS' "Fascist Cops" without singing along in harmony about stomping the pigs, hats off to ya! Not all of it works -- man, I never noticed the over-the-top homoeroticism of ELTON MOTELLO's horrible "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" back when "Dr. Demento" used to play it in the late 70s, but then I also thought the Village People were a bunch of really, really good friends when I was 10. (over-the-top heterosexuality would be no better -- the song just blows). But out of 28 tracks, I'd submit that at least 14 are worth owning. Not even Ichiro's going to put up those kind of numbers. Now, good luck finding this -- I haven't seen any CD versions of the "Bloodstains" series for a few years, but it looks like these people might be selling some.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004
PINK FLOYD : "LOST IN SPACE" bootleg CD.....There are pages upon pages of PINK FLOYD bootleg sites on the web, but what I've still never heard is a collection of incredible early outtakes and demos in the "Vegetable Man" vein. This thing comes the closest. I plunked down $25 at a record swap a few years ago for it; it was one of those events where I'd traveled an hour to get there, but lost all motivation to buy anything after looking around for a few minutes. Record swaps will do that to you -- sap your soul, deflate all goodwill for your fellow man, and force you to briefly consider new hobbies. But like a Las Vegas dabbler, I'd "set aside" a little cash for something and my opportunity cost was high, so I dispensed with all rational economic & financial management rules and departed with this CD. It's a collection of 1967 BBC recordings, some distant-sounding live tracks and a few oddities, like two real early 1966 demos (a boring blues cop of "King Bee" and a decent original called "Lucy Leave"). The "Vegetable Man" outtake from September 1967 is really good despite a different production & added squishy guitar effects than on the more popularly-known version; there's also a BBC version from 12/67 that pales in comparison. A couple of strong versions of the rocking "Scream Thy Last Scream" are on here, as is an excellent 9/30/67 BBC recording of "Mathilda Mother". Nothing really worth busting a collector scumnut over until you get to the closing "Singin' a Song in the Morning", which is a Kevin Ayers tune that the sleeve notes "Barrett plays electric guitar" on. As opposed to...?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

In the 80s I snapped up every Los Angeles scene post-punk and avant-weird compilation LP I could find, usually because they'd have a GERMS, a MINUTEMEN, a BLACK FLAG or a RED CROSS track. These included the "Life Is..." series on New Underground records, and all of Mike Watt's New Alliance comps ("Chunks", "Cracks in the Sidewalk" etc). This 2004 LP-only compilation on S-S Records carries on in that grand, all-encompassing spirit, as it puts forth a US/French "scene" full of experimental modern-day Artless Entanglements, B-People and Plebs along with the raw-edged rock and rollers. Some of the bands are in that very of-the-day school of razorwire, angular, guitar-heavy slashing (THE INTELLIGENCE, A-FRAMES, GUINEA WORMS), others are of the straightforward balls-out camp such as the UNNATURAL HELPERS (whose track is great) and the PIRANHAS (who are just godawful). Then there's the others filling the Spot and LAFMS roles, none of whom really stand out aside from France's CRASH NORMAL ("Quit Looking at my Tits"). I wish there'd been a "Clocked In", "The Lonelys", "Rich Brat" or a "Shit You Hear at Parties" to lead the pack and make the whole thing slide down like butter, but overall it's a solid thumbnail sketch of the tumultuous S-S worldview.

Monday, October 11, 2004

60s instrumental surf music is a micro-genre within the macro-genre of raw garage-based rock and roll, and one that, unless you're an aficionado, you probably only need to skim the best of the best of. I've heard a bunch of surf compilations over the years, but none that hits it as hard & as aggressively as this excellent collection does. "DIGGIN' OUT" is a compilation LP bootleg that I used to see around all the time but only just recently procured -- I'd have to say that it's the "Back From The Grave" of its class -- just full-bore hissing & crackling instrumentals packed with incredible doses of reverb and fuzz. Start to finish, it's one action-packed monster after another, from The ILLUSIONS' take on "Jezebel" to an incredible "Riptide" by the CHEVELS to one of the most angry, uptempo surf tunes I've ever heard, "Gutterball" by the GOLDTONES. Wow. These make the holy triumverate of Wipeout/Miserlou/Pipeline sound like cruddy two-track bar band basement tapes, and pour a sizzling fryer's worth of hot oil into the whitecaps. Going from memory only here, I think the surf compilation CD "Get a Board!" tacked on a bunch of these tracks at the end, but I might be thinking of something else and need to do a little more in-store research. In the meantime, this isn't your momma's surf rock & is a comp to really juice up your stick, if you know what I'm saying.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Right, I know I'm one CD behind in reviewing this debut release from late 2003, rather than the FIERY FURNACES' new CD "Blueberry Boat" . In these wild, half-crazed, past 96 hours I've played both discs over, and over, and over again to the point of obsession, and I feel I'm better acquainted and ready to impart a verdict on their first one, simply because it was the first one I heard and fell down over. The verdict is overwhelmingly rapturous. This is my "new favorite band", supplanting MODEY LEMON, who supplanted the A-FRAMES, who supplanted NUMBERS, who supplanted, I don't know, The Stooges? The Fiery Furnaces sound nothing like any of these bands, and they were fully off my radar screen during a year they leapt onto everyone else's, simply because I couldn't get past the overwhelming hype-ometer on them. I've bemoaned my own built-in bias in this regard before, yet when mainstream pundits and weekly alternapapers declare this indie band or that indie band the hot new thing (e.g. Yeah Yeah Yeahs or other such dreck), I usually clock myself out & wait for a real recommendation from someone I can trust. Like from you, for instance, or in this case, from Music Chamber and from Jon Behar.

Anyway, forget how I came here -- the Fiery Furnaces are a crazy distillation of 1974 East Village loft-era PATTI SMITH, the Velvet Underground, and a mixed-up broth that pours in bombastic rock opera, angular 80s new wave, garage punk, and weird-ass 60s psychedelia a la OS MUTANTES. On "Gallowsbird's Bark" the brew is much less heady and far-reaching than it is on the potentially off-putting but ultimately rewarding new one. The first few times I heard the debut, all I could think about was Lenny Kaye banging out aggressive rock music on a lonely piano behind a strident and sultry Patti Smith, with Robert Mapplethorpe slumped in the corner all beaned up on Quaaludes. Fiery Furnaces vocalist Eleanor Friedberger has a deep and cool vocal delivery that would sound knockout-great in front of just about any music, but her brother Matt, who plays almost all the wacked-out instrumentation behind her, has fashioned an incredible set of tunes that allow her to let loose a crafty torrent of verbiage like some stream-of-consciousness mynah bird. And if there's a Patti Smith TV biopic anytime soon, I'm nominating Eleanor to play the lead -- she even looks the part. But this pair have done something on "Gallowsbird's Park" that just doesn't happen that much anymore. They've created a near-perfect musical landscape of chaos and joy on their first try, and put out a record that has not one single mediocre track. I mean it -- from the screeching slide-heavy first number "South is Only a Home" to the rollicking, piano-driven "Inca Rag/Name Game" to the complex pop sugar of "Tropical Ice-Land", this pair have got a set of pre-programmed creative genes to be very, very envious of (Mom must be pretty fuckin' proud!). You just know that now that they've arrived, they're going to be a longtime force to be reckoned with. Though they're threatening to put out something like four new CDs next year, which is a bad idea no matter who comes up with it, you gotta figure based on the evidence that they're at least capable of four really, really good ones. They're in the midst of a US tour now, and most of the time I find out that a band's worth checking out roughly one weekend after they've blown through my town. This time I got to them before they got to me & I'm seeing them next week. Report forthcoming. The Fiery Furnaces! My "new favorite band"!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A pal pointed out to me not long ago that whenever I write about dub or blues, I might get one or two comments, but when I write about the rocknroll, the kids, they start talkin’. It may have something to do with a lack of credence when it comes to dissecting and recommending a genre like 1970s dub – I wasn’t there, I’m relatively new to the form, and like a lot of white critics, it’s easy to get carried away with any knob-twiddling bullshit when your critical faculties aren’t honed by years of careful study and observation. So when I put forth that the IMPACT ALL-STARS’ posthumous 1998 CD “Forward The Bass – Dub From Randy’s 1972-75” is the single best dub collection I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard dozens!), you can take it for what it’s worth. But I’ve heard and ingested a lot of the heavyweights, and this intense platter even knocks them out. The first two tracks, “Jaro” and “Maro”, are the top singular instances of DUB as MUSIC, not studio manipulation. These two transcendent pieces are live-to-tape band pieces, and if you didn’t think dub could be played live, guess again. Once these two stunners reel you in, you’re in but good for a deep throwdown of heavy-breathing, low-end rumbling dub, this time with all sorts of studio effects layered over the proceedings. I’ve never heard anything like it, and I’ll tell anyone who asks to start here for a first dub CD. Let’s hear what the real experts have to say about it. From Konketsu:

“Less than 200 were pressed, almost instantly establishing its status as a lost dub classic. It's kind of a missing link, tying the radical experimentation of King Tubby, Scientist and Lee Perry with more conservative dub, low on effects and high on groove. What makes most of these tracks stand out is their superb instrumental quality, mostly laid down by the names you know and love--the Barrett brothers, Sly Dunbar, Augustus Pablo, etc. The rhythms and basslines are smooth and inventive, never cliched. The most extraordinary track is aptly titled "Extraordinary Version" and features haunting turntable manipulation over a minor key dub throb, spooky backwards voices spun hither and thither in warped motion--the original vinyl manipulators!”

Yeah, that’s the first “scratching” I know of, beating out the first three seconds of CRIME’s “Frustration” by a couple of years. From George Zahora:

“....this disc showcases the production mastery of Clive Chin during the heyday of Randy's Studio 17 (the Mecca of reggae and dub recording 'til the mid-seventies). Clive's dub style is distinctive -- each of these tracks has been stripped down to its barest essentials, leaving only those elements essential to the rhythm. In most cases that's the drums, the bass, sparse guitars, an infrequent dusting of other instruments and on rare occasions a few sound effects. The effect is a lilting, mesmeric tidal flow of rhythm and melody -- you might find yourself slipping into a trance, with or without the aid of controlled substances. Particular moments of brilliance include "Ordinary Version Chapter 3", which features the mock-dialogue between an aspiring engineer and his boss, and the syncopated harmonica of "Dubwise Situation", but really, the whole thing's just too dead cool for words and you'll notice new groovy bits each time you listen to it. Even if reggae irritates the living hell out of you, even if modern-day dub makes you want to blow your head off, Forward the Bass will win you over -- it's so simple, so archetypal, that you can't help but be wowed”

And if you’re keeping score at home, it’s a resurrection of an LP that was only pressed up with 200 copies, most of which surely never left Jamaica. There’s got to be more All-Stars dub damage out there. Does anyone know about this LP called “Java Java Java Java”? See, that’s the thing about early dub – sometimes the records were as obtuse and destined for oversight as anything on Fuck Off records or by I Jog & The Tracksuits. I remember my first pass at reggae in the early 80s – I’d scour many a bizarre sleeve, looking for the slightest clue for key information – like, say, what it was called, the name of the group, and the musicians who played on it. This one was lucky enough to get a second hearing, and if you’ve got the stomach for a throbbing, experimental and visionary piece of dubwork, this is the one.

Monday, October 04, 2004
CRIME / SALEM LIGHTS / KILLER'S KISS, 10-1-04, Thee Parkside, San Francisco.....

My evening started at a high-society benefit/Q&A with "Curb Your Enthusiasm"'s LARRY DAVID, which I had to high-tail it from in order to find a way to crash the massive, big deal, ultra-secret-but-everyone's-talking-about-it CRIME reunion show. The Larry David thing was packed with black-clad matrons in pashmina wrap-arounds & 5-inch heels, former mayors, back-slapping titans of industry, and glistening glitterati as far as the eye could see. Obviously I was a tight fit with that crowd, my peeps. Storming the Crime thing right afterward, I found a great American (CO) had thankfully secured me a rare ticket, and that there were plenty to be had regardless. Apparently they kept the reunion of San Francisco's first and only rock and roll band a little too secret, but by the time the band got on there were a bunch of hooters & hollerers amped and ready for '77-style action. There was even a posse of awesome leather-clad, mirror-shaded Japanese hipsters right out of the Shinjuku underground & straight off the JAL flight from Tokyo, as there always seems to be whenever there's a big "garage rock" festival in San Francisco. This was the kick-off night of a 3-day "Budget Rock" fiesta, so let's quit the gawking and start talking about the rocking.

It was great to see KILLER'S KISS back up this year's loud-ass 45 with an equally tough set. They're probably the closest thing this coast has in spirit and approach to the REIGNING SOUND, but with a little more in the way of 60s-style growling & pummeling. One guitarist is all about propelling the song forward, the other about jarring feedback and screech, and there's a anarchronistic female keyboardist pounding away to make herself heard above the racket. A fine way to get the eardrums in shape and my game face on. I was really surprised by the SALEM LIGHTS, not simply because that was my Mom's 1970s brand of choice. These guys reminded me of nothing so much as one of my drunk-era early 90s faves, THE HUMPERS, with a glammy Small Faces/Mott The Hoople overlay to big, bombastic, meaty hooks. Another blow-the-sockets rock band, one with one killer crunching song often another. I thoroughly enjoyed them with only a mere sheet to the wind, and in response to the inevitable question -- were they simply a "middle band"? I say no way! I'm calling in my pint orders ahead of time next time these guys hit a local stage.

I've vacillated on my I-don't-do-reunion-shows stance after seeing Mission of Burma a couple times, but after CRIME's flat, lackluster set I'm thinking of clamping the lid back on. I figure these guys -- these Crime guys -- really don't deserve a ritual flogging; I mean it was 2/4th of the godlike legends CRIME, right, and you have to throw out some big props just for trying to give it another go. But perhaps it never really dawned on me just what an outstanding guitar player the deceased-since-1996 FRANKIE FIX was, and how that patented ungodly wailing guitar sound was his & his alone. JOHNNY STRIKE, bless him, was and remains a competant rhythm guitarist, but you lose Fix's incredible 3-second leads (leads that make tracks like, oh, say "Hot Wire My Heart", unlike any punk or rock & roll band ever) and you lose a LOT. Pat Ryan from the NUNS stood in tonight but it just wasn't there. Was there really ever anything more to the Nuns than a beautiful girl, "Decadent Jew", and friends in the right places? Maybe. I'm feeling generous. But when they tried to play "Hot Wire My Heart", it was almost unrecognizable without that squealing guitar squirting out like molten toothpaste after every lyric. They also did "Murder By Guitar" and "Piss On Your Dog", and maybe another one from the olde days, but it appears this new Crime are going to give the reunion thing a real college try, and that this was the first of several shows to come. Thus, they've written a whole suite of new songs, none of which stuck out as particularly memorable nor annoying -- songs that just sort of flopped around on the floor begging for attention. And despite being lucky enough to share a stage with Johnny Strike and Hank Rank, whose hour this really should have been, the garrulous bass player kept bleating about "We're gonna" this and "We are Crime" that. Dude. A little respect! I too once dreamt I'd be standing up on stage as Ron The Ripper, but in my sweat-bathed dream, I kept as quiet as a churchmouse and let the real warhorses bask in the glory they'd earned. So hey, call it first-night jitters or maybe the soft bigotry of high expectations. I truly applaud Johnny & Hank for getting out there on the rock campaign trail again, but I think I've seen what I needed to see of the 21st Century CRIME.

Friday, October 01, 2004

It's hard for me to deny that this 1997 platter just might be the svengali record to top all svengali records. Few will back me up on the claim -- I know this guy will -- but I could listen to THE DONNAS' debut LP anytime, anywhere, anyhow. It's a perfect teenage rock party from start to finish, and I chalk it up to one guy, the then-BRENTWOOD, former-SUPERCHARGER go-getter Darren Rafelli, who personally squired this band of high school girls, wrote all their songs, fashioned their gas-huffing, boy-crazy image for a few months, and then sent them sailing off to minor league rock stardom before he faded back, unrecognized and unrewarded, into the woodwork. The record is pretty much all his, and sacre bleu, I think his work here was as clever and as consistent as anything on "The Ramones" and "Leave Home". Not coincidentally, this album sounds like a sock hop-infused parody of those two, with riffs swiped with loving abandon and The Ramones' set-in-stone structure shifted ever-so-slightly to bring in more of a 1960s girl group sound. So when Rafelli/The Donnas tackle The Beach Boys' "Drive In", it doesn't stray in the least from the 1-2-3-4 template thus set. It's a very funny record, too, full of the sort of Bay Area peninsula in-jokes Rafelli made his stock in trade. Gratuitously namechecked in the course of this 25-minute marvel are South City (of course), CHOPE (County Hospital of the Peninsula), Happy Taco, the windswept beach town of Pescadero, and more. Sample goofball lyrics, all sung in a high-pitched, 16-year-old girl's voice:

"She was from San Mateo / Her dad was in the CIA-o"
"When I'm huffing / And I get high-yi / I wanna be with some other guy-yi"

Genius. There's also multiple 1990s high school tough kid words whose code I've not yet cracked: mano, rab and cheeba among them (I believe the latter is a reference to illegal marijuana cigarettes!!). But the young Donnas themselves aren't too happy with the lift their career got at the time. From the only article that mentions the Rafelli connection that I could find, five years old at that:

....WORST OF ALL, though, is the rumor that the Donnas were solely the creation of a Phil Spector-like impresario named Darren Rafelli, a Palo Alto man whose tiny label Superteem issued the first Donnas album. Thirty-three-year-old Rafelli first saw the Donnas as 15-year-olds when they were playing a gig as the Electrocutes--the girls' first band--at the Chameleon, a grungy club in San Francisco's Mission district. Rafelli had been writing songs for an imagined girl group, and he asked the foursome if they'd like to record some of them. At first, their parents were skeptical--what does this older man want with our daughters?--but after forcing the girls to bring a male friend to their first session, they eventually grew convinced that Rafelli's intentions were honorable. He wrote all the songs on the Donnas' self-titled debut album and collaborated with them on their second, American Teenage Rock n Roll Machine. He quit his job to accompany them on their first tours, both domestically and to Europe and Japan. But both Rafelli and the Donnas grew tired of the popular perception that he was some kind of Kim Fowley and the Donnas his latter-day Runaways, and so they parted amicably before the Donnas wrote Get Skintight. Though they're still close--they had dinner together before the Bimbo's show--the Donnas are battling the idea that they were his pawns. "People don't think that young girls can write songs," Robertson notes, "and so they think that if there was someone involved he was totally in control of everything all the time. We didn't write our songs for two years out of our six years as a band, which means we've written songs for four years. Now we're writing songs alone again. So if people want to keep making fun of us, they can make fun of those two years of our career."....

Fine, but your records after that first one were horrible, horrible, unfunny and horrible some more. I'd much rather make fun of them now! Meanwhile, I'd like to issue an APB for Rafelli himself. He poked his head out post-Brentwoods with a 45 I've never heard called "Donny Denim", but after that, no more. Along with Supercharger's "Goes Way Out" (which he had some excellent colloborative help on from Greg Lowery and Karen Singletary), this Donnas record is the guy's shining moment, one he can take to his grave as his gift back to the world. The original LP is near perfect, containing a baker's dozen of speedy, raw 90-second pajama party ravers; the CD's got all those plus their ultra-primitive, far less compelling early 45s. It's a world of difference between the low-fidelity micro-releases on Rafelli's own SuperTeem and Radio X labels and this classic LP a year later. Download "Lana & Steve" here and tell me you don't disagree.