Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015's Top 1: Mutiny at Muscle Beach

Not to be glib, but I'm boiling 2015 down to one awesome hardcore punk LP, Night Birds' Mutiny at Muscle Beach. Lemmy's just left us and I feel like piecing together a Top 10 is just pointless now. Let's just fuck off and go listen to Motorhead instead. It's evident that Lemmy loved loud-ass rock-n-roll music more than anything. And I'm lucky enough to know (and occasionally travel with) four other punkers that do as well. That they released a damn near perfect LP this year is just an added bonus...

"Oh fuck you - fuck off!" A quickly angering Joe Keller glares into a busy stream of endless traffic as dickheads behind us decide to take their chances and swerve around. They were probably in a hurry to get home and do nothing; guzzle Thanksgiving leftovers, watch TV. We had no such luxury. It was Vermont for us. Finally a slight break in the highway and Joe guns it northward.

This weekend was just one in a series of outings this past fall that Night Birds undertook to support their latest LP Mutiny at Muscle Beach. It was a disjointed, sleep-depriving tour, that enabled them to simultaneously work full-time and play your town. "We had to take some time off to record the LP, so basically used up all of our allotted vacation time by the time it came time to promote the record, so we really had no choice but to do it this way," Brain Gorsegner (on the vocals) explains.

But fuck it, who's not up for a bunch of raging weekends sharing the stage with everyone from Dillinger 4 to Boston Strangler to French oi! rockers Rixe to Iron Reagan!? Not a one band pairs with Night Birds in any kind of obvious way. "We all like all kinds of shit, so we'll always play with bands we don't necessarily fit with," says Bri, "we do this for fun, so it's like we'll go to Toronto and play a bill where maybe we are the odd-balls, but it's a cool bill with bands we actually want to see so who cares if we fit in 100%. It's all punk rock in some way." Cool bills usually (not always) = killer shows. Now as I sit in the van, this coming weekend might be the crown jewel - Negative fuckin' Approach. Thus, The Author weaseled his way into the extra seat for the next three days.

This is how they get their new LP to the masses. Like deranged DIY door-to-door salesmen. Trading hard-earned for vinyl, CD, and cassette. And maybe some new threads and pins to boot. I know cuz I was the guy hocking it for the weekend. Plenty of folks walked away armed with 12 short attacks of blazing HC ferocity, moody/melodic punkers, and surf-inspired monsters.

There's kinda a big change though. This new one is on Fat Wreck Chords. And it doesn't detract or add to the tunes, but it does mean the album is available far and wide for way more people to dig or tear down or whatever. More Bri: "I 100% think that it's having more of a positive effect than a negative. There was definitely people at the show last night also who came up and said 'ok i have this one' pointing to the new one, 'i need everything else.'" Regardless, Bri goes on, "each time a new record comes out it's a couple years later and, at that point a shit-load of people have gotten out of punk and a shit-load new people have gotten in, so there's always gonna be a new audience."

Mutiny opens the same way they start their sets lately - exploding directly into "(I'm) Wired" with a fevered intensity that makes me shake and grind my teeth. Machine gun verses with a quick chorus you can chant along with if you are on the ball. Also note, this number couples the guitar lead with a killer bass solo. Before you know it, it's over and we're immediately onto "Life Is Not Amusement For Me." Another State of Mind reference? Check. This number balances the velocity of the opener with a pounding mid-tempo and a farfisa filling the space. Brian's vocals waver seamlessly between Biafra and Brannon, howling this way and that, unveiling a new motto for the rejected, "I'll face each day like it's an incurable disease!"

The LP's third track "Blank Eyes" has received some previous attention for it's light-shining on postpartum depression. While hardcore punk by its very fucking nature acts as a catharsis against depression while exploring the depths extensively, I can't think of another occasion where a band has lifted the veil on such a specific trauma. Kudos! This tune chugs along with a poppiness that betrays the lyric. A trick (shall we say) Night Birds deftly employs.

And that's how they kicked it off in an old church-turned-venue in Brattleboro, VT. Though they bring a wall of aggression and kids were psyched, this isn't exactly their crowd. Grinders Dropdead play next followed by Negative Approach. Tomorrow night they're playing with jangly power-pop bands. When Dropdead play, it's a swirl of moshers, punks, crusties and dirty hippies noodle-dancing away. Only in Vermont. Only in Bernie Sanders country. There were over/under bets on whether J Mascis turns up. If you bet heads, you won.

Now about Mutiny's fourth song - Dead Kennedys sang "Kinky Sex Makes the World Go Round;" while Night Birds clarify "Lapsed Catholics Need Discipline." This is The Author's favorite track on a full-length of legit favs. It rages in a way that makes me ball my hands into fists, with a tempo that doesn't let up or fall apart and call/response vocals urging participation in the violence. Other songs that make me feel this way: AF "Victim in Pain," the mosh part in Megadeth's "Wake Up Dead," and Big Boys' "No."

Brian and I slept on the floor of a child's bedroom surrounded by Legos on the first night. No children present at the time. No heat either, for that matter. We stayed at the house of not the person who hosted us. He was just house-sitting. A delicate rain greeted us as we ventured back into town for morning coffee. "Look sweetheart, I think these guys are a rock n roll band." What gave it away? Leather jackets, the farty stench or the palpable, carnal desire for caffeine as we waited in line? The goddamn people of Vermont are just too nice to be irritated by.

Navigating through New England in the chilly rain, listening to New Bomb Turks sounds right to me. The Middle East Upstairs tonight. Cambridge, Mass with Conmen, Casanovas in Heat, and Dark Thoughts, oh and Negative Approach topping the bill. First we scatter - Brian to Veggie Galaxy to old-man-it at a diner; Joe, PJ, Darick down the block to one record shop; and me up to Harvard Square and Armageddon Records. The sun sets at what feels like 3:00 pm, but at least the rain has stopped. Talkin' some shit with Cliff from Boston Strangler as he works the register while I pour through old thrash records. Talkin' about Night Birds. He smiles earnestly, reflecting on playing with them in Canada last week - "They're a band's band. If you are in a band, you like them." Fuckin' nailed it. There's this extra dynamic that bleeds through as if, they know rock n roll's dirty little secret. It's not about appearing cool, it's about the obsessiveness handed down from generation to generation; worshipping a catalog that grows exponentially and making it your own, all the way down to your core.

All this evident on the new LP as it winds down Side 1, with an ode to television built like a warning. "Golden Age of TV" smacks of Static Age with a West Coast burn. Flip the goddamn vinyl over and rage to the record's title track. A friend of mine once talked to me about letting songs breathe. This song doesn't breathe, it hyperventilates. Tag it with whoas ala Naked Raygun and a some Ribbed-era metal solos. Without a second of dead air, the opening beat of the next tune, "Son of Dad," wrenches your ears into a 360 tempo shift of ass-shaking drive. It's the slowest track here, but perhaps the most-disturbing. A serial killer as a "force of nature" set to some rock n roll riffage. A deep-cut Seinfeld reference takes on a grisly life of it's own. All of that and the line "can't renovate the hate in my soul." Goddamn, to be a mall punk again and stumble across this doozy as I sift Fat's releases.

The show goes off hitchless, punctuated by Negative Approach. Al Quint does a stage dive, I nab some records from Painkiller and Radio Raheem, John Brannon tells us old stories and the night winds down with junk food and Danzig videos. All the NA dudes are so fucking mellow and friendly. This is not what you get on stage. Taken together, the members have a done time or are currently playing with Detroit's holy trinity: NA, The Necros, The Meatmen. Drummer Darick says, "it's an awesome experience and then it's also inspiring because they're so down to earth and having a blast in what they're doing. 20 years from now, if we're lucky, maybe we could be doing the same thing."

The next morning, fortified by the dual weaponry of Spikes dogs and strong coffee we hurry up n' wait in what's arguably the worst traffic day on the east coast - Thanksgiving sunday. It's an opportune time to get the guys on record with my handheld recorder, re-jigger the night's set list with a surf opener, and of course, have an emergency pee at the side of cemetery. Boston's wet, but Brooklyn's cold and after the drive, we huddled in the Acheron waiting for oversold bodies to pile in and warm the place.

The final third of Mutiny takes additional twists and turns, starting with a "1-2-3-4" by CJ Ramone, guesting well on "Off the Grid." Naturally, it's the album's poppiest number as an actual Ramone croons along. Then we have a Kinks cover followed by the lone surf number, "Miskatonic Stomp." Deep nerd reference? Check. The Author loves that surf and horror seem to hold hands so well. Remember these guys morphed John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" into their own ditty.

Wrapping the record is the dour "Left in the Middle," bleakly laying out America's current social breakdown between "the one percent and the penniless." It's a truly depressing picture as The Author counts himself as one of the "regular schmucks trying to keep up the pace." I suspect most of us do. And that's why it hits so hard when the LP just ends without any redemption. For all the nods to Seinfeld, horror movies and playful explorations, Night Birds don't shy away from systemic suffering bred in our fuckin' society.

There's something to be said about a hardcore punk band being on Fat Wreck Chords. What could be a cautionary tale, spins out of control with Mutiny at Muscle Beach. Purists and the cynical expect a dumbing down. But whether intentional overcompensation or a natural devolution, Night Birds deliver a spastic package brimming with savagery and anger like Urban Waste jamming Dead Boys.

Pulling this off included using Mitch Rackin (who recorded their previous rager) on the boards at Seaside Lounge, with Chris Pierce (who recorded their first LP) now serving as Producer. Got that? It's a genome of their recording legacy, really. On this, Bri says, "I wanted to find somebody to fill that role just to help solve debates and arguments, and also offer solutions for certain things and that's where we got Chris Pierce." And at the last minute, there was a line-up change - exit Ryan McHale, enter Darick Sater on the drums. Sure to impact the record and recording, "I think Darick is just a bigger, heavier, fuller-sounding drummer," Bri continues. For his part on joining the band and immediately recording an LP live in the studio, Darick adds that there was "a lot of urgency and coffee and stress and anxiety...I think everybody just kinda fed off of each other and getting to record live, you're not gonna lose any of that urgency."

And now New Jersey's Night Birds rip the stage in Brooklyn; for all intents and purposes, co-headlining with Negative Approach. As perplexing as it may feel prima facie, it makes sense that they're sharing the stage with Negative Approach weeks after playing the pop-punk round-up The Fest. This is, in fact, the natural order. Are they a band's band? I mean, none of this is for bystanders whether you are in a band or not. Guitarist PJ says on seeing NA three nights in a row, "Every single night, I thought I was too exhausted to dance and every single night I fucking started moshing during "Nothing." You lose it one way or another when a band you love plays and people lose it when you play in a band that they love. I think it's part of that obsessiveness, where your devotion to gritty, loud-ass music manifests as such. And Mutiny at Muscle Beach is that feeling in a bottle.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Completing the Circle: Reuniting a 90s HC Band.

I am once again sidetracked by the events of the times. Not the idiocy of presidential campaign season (my favorite reality show) or the start of football season (the other reality show), but by a cat. That's it, just a cat. Riding my bicycle swiftly to the train one recent morning, my velocity spooked a rogue feline who opted to attempt suicide. It ran alongside me, surprisingly keeping pace, and then pulled a hard right direct into my front tire. My bike stopped immediately and fell gently to the ground; I proceeded. Supermanning through the air, by and by I reached the asphalt. My line of site at that moment: sky, bike, ground, sky, bike, ground. The result: one fractured elbow, one sprained wrist, only one typing hand available for a few weeks. So that slowed any Thrashwagon progress. That and One Way, the mid-90s hardcore band I was a part of.

By Tony Price
By Melody McWhorter
When you don't play guitar and you don't play drums, but you are adequately insecure and crave some attention, what do you do? Sing in a HC band obviously. And that's just what happened in 1994 when a confused high school junior picked up a mic in Matt's basement and ripped into Minor Threat, Op Ivy and Bad Religion covers. A year later, we had three and then five members and we're taking the stage to open for local heroes Act Of Faith and Crisis Under Control. One Way, Atlanta Hardcore, 90s style.

We cut our teeth at shitty venues in an even shittier part of town, the Somber Reptile and the Wreck Room on East Marietta. These two venues sandwiched African-American strip club, Pink Pony II, always an interesting scene on Friday night as we traversed the block between shows. Our entire set consisted of tunes who's only valid reason for existence was to prove that we could actually write songs and perform them. We got better though. I saw Sick Of It All on the Scratch the Surface tour. Strife opened and the thank you list on their One Truth cassette proved an excellent Rosetta Stone to an underground world. We met tons of new friends that challenged and inspired us. I learned to scream; Matt learned to write riffs; Joel learned to play hard, fast and powerful.

A couple of key things happened that worked-over the Atlanta HC scene in 1996. First, the Olympics came to town and venues like the Somber Reptile decided punk was out and Cajun restaurants and jazz clubs were in. It was a complete flop and who knows where those dickheads are now. But we learned a lesson too. Quadiliacha screamer/shredder Will Greene scrawled something on a flyer that made the rounds, something attuned to "please, clubs are fine, but we should be supporting DIY venues and $3-4 shows." Goddmammit if that isn't what happened! While One Way did not eschew non-DIY ventures as policy, we happily migrated to living rooms and basements, where 30 friends meant a successful and fun night.

It was raw emotion, a real catharsis, and at every show, our community. Some of us were SXE, some of us not. Some of us in college, some of us not. Some working, some just hanging out. And while youth subculture by its very nature is rebellious, this was our world. We found it, we fostered it, and we held on to it tightly. Earnest as it was, absolute passion can also give rise to drama and pettiness, but that's ok because 10,15, 20 years later, I realize how much I learned, what was important and what was bullshit.

The other big thing that happened in '96 was the break-ups of AOF and CUC. Rather than the kids growing up and moving out, it was like the parents had moved out and the kids needed to learn how to cook dinner or starve. The scene contracted once again as the genome of moshers devoted to those bands drifted. By '97 however One Way was reaching it's stride. The line-up shifted here and there, but the core remained Matt, Joel and I and finally Mark joined on bass completing the band. By default, we had a spotlight on us and we stepped up and did our best as four young dudes just trying to figure shit out. We played fast with a mosh crunch and obligatory but crucial singalongs.

We hit the road a couple of times climbing out of the South and up as far as New England. The first time, a really fun flop - sleeping in a parking lot, showering at the beach, splurging on a single hotel room for 11 of us, hopping on shows where we could. The second time, we found more success playing solid shows from NC to Wilkes-Barre to Worcester to Virginia Beach. 

One Way found their final home at the dependable Under The Couch on the Georgia Tech campus. I don't think any of us realized how lucky this situation was. UTC was a student-run venue with good sound, a short stage, and a studio in the back. And that's where it came to a close. In April of '99, we were over. Like countless underground bands before us, we practiced, we played, we had our following and eventually we ran our course and it ended. Again, we were fucking lucky. We quit while we were ahead with minimal tension, not a touch of acrimony and a fantastic farewell show.

A year later, Matt and I joined another band having their day, No Comply, for a hastily organized partial reunion. We did five songs at break neck-speed. And until this year, that was it for One Way.


Two weeks ago, I walked into a studio in Gwinnett County and played our old set again with Matt, Mark, and Joel. After 15 years. Four and a half hours later, I went from feeling nostalgic to woozy and out-of-breath to confident and sweaty through and through. If the reunion tanked (it didn't), I would have felt sated at this experience; playing loud, obnoxious, fervent music with three of the best friends I could have ever imagined. Loud-ass rock and roll, fuck all the rest.

On September 12, One Way stepped on stage again, leading the charge with friends (and HC inspiration) The Difference and Crisis Under Control close behind. I didn't want to be up there like an embarrassed old fart trying to relive a distant past. For whatever reason, I never burned out on HC. I may have cast about a time or two, but I never stopped believing, going to shows or moshing. I wanted a One Way set in 2015 to be as, or more powerful than a set in 1999. I wanted us to play like we never stopped. Like we had been on tour for a decade and a half. A tour to Mars and back again in the ATL. I like to think we pulled off attacking our set with all the passion and reverence for tunes written with blood and sweat when we were young and dumb. Lyrics I wrote as a kid that I still fucking believe in at 39 yrs (I checked, I'm good with every word I sang that night).

And then there was the 7 Seconds cover...

Surprise to the singer, the guys ripped into Young til I Die at the last beat of our last song. Good news, I knew it like the back of my hand. Any hardcore punk rocker would have to turn in their membership card if they couldn't recite that tune word for word on the spot. Another surprise - at the breakdown, Matt handed the guitar to the band's best friend Tony Price to wrap the song, thereby making him an official member as the band played their last notes ever. Matt off the stage, moshing; Joel and Mark carrying the rhythm to the final beat like an angry machine.

And where did I find myself at those final moments? In the crowd, with my bad arm (see the intro) around Matt as we screamed together - "I'm gonna stay young until I die."

Big extra special thank you to Brad Castlen and all of CUC, The Difference, The Drunken Unicorn crew, Tony Price, Ken Saluzzi, Drew, Melody McWhorter, our entire crew of old friends, family, and accompanying small children and CiCi's Pizza. And duh!: Matt, Mark, Joel.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Thrashwagon: Summer Successes & Failures

It's time for another Thrashwagon update. Let's call it the late-summer-it's-too-damn-hot-and-I'm-feeling-lazy update. Before I launch in I just wanted to pay my respects to Pia Maybury Lewis who passed away earlier this month at 89 years almost to the day. In the early 2000s, while I was circle-pitting by night, by day I was working for her and the human rights organization she co-founded, Cultural Survival, in Cambridge, Mass. She was as severe as she was compassionate and gave me some of my first opportunities post-college. One of my fondest memories was her straight-faced assumption that while on the road with Tear It Up in 2001, I was going to be "taking quite a lot of cocaine." You'll be missed, Pia...

Summer kicked off with a quick LA visit for a friend's wedding. The usual amount of vegan gluttony went down as my wife and I caught up with old friends. However, I was able to reconnect with another old friend outside of wedding-related taco bars, cake for brunch (why not?), and Mexican Cokes. This being the impressive Paul De'Elia.

For hours, we talked Dead Nation, Tear It Up, and Cut the Shit. Ran out of steam to make it to The Rites. Holy shit, look at the bands this guy was a part of! Equally impressive is the small army of chihuahuas that he is hoarding in his backyard. His family is great and we happily joined them for some Veggie Grill before saying goodbye and hunting down nearby vegan doughnuts from Doughnut Friend.

One trip down, one to go. The following weekend I trained it up to Boston to nail ten interviews discussing the Berwick to Think I Care to Cut the Shit to Suburban Voice to XfilesX to name a few. Read an exhaustive play-by-by here.

These two jaunts were partially mopped up with subsequent interviews with Paul, Cut the Shit's Andrew Jackmuah and Think I Care's Jason Clegg. Still on deck is a Round 2 with Chris Minicucci and a handful of Round 1s from some other Boston crew folks.

This summer also saw a few more meet-ups with Matt Wechter from, well...all the same bands mentioned above for Paul. We've been slowly grinding through his story because he "kicked around in that scene for a while," as he puts it. But I also had some time to sit down with Dave Ackerman from Dead Nation and TIU. Still have a couple more to go with him.

I tried really hard to get together a Philly trip to talk to Rambo and Gatecrashers dudes. Sadly I couldn't pull it together. Since Philly is only about 75 mins south of my house, I'm sure I'll make it down there soon rather than later.

Remember the urban legend of the actual punk band that pretended to be a clueless punk band and went on TLC for a full "punk rock makeover" ala Good Charlotte? Well that shit happened. And in July, I reunited Snakebite for the first time in years to discuss thrashcore's most legendary prank.

Most recently, I was lucky enough to catch Max Ward (aka Max 625, aka What Happens Max) before he flew off to Tokyo for the next 12 months. It was fascinating to run over his history in the fast hardcore scene from seeing early 80s HC/punk shows to his massive contributions to grindcore, power violence, thrashcore and all things fast, punk and DIY!

Finally, I've logged about 40 interviews for this project, but the other day I added up all the people and bands I'd like to connect with on the east coast (still!) plus European and West Coast contacts I want to focus on for the remainder of '15, but not yet counting Japan or parts elsewhere (like Brazil!) and was struck by the fact that I had 105 interviews left to go. 


It nearly stopped me in my tracks. So what happens next? Slog away. Hope for a brutal New Jersey winter with nothing to do but Skype folks around the world.

For those of you still reading, here is the list of bands I still need to talk to. If you are in one of them or know someone that is, drop me a line. Let's talk. DS-13, ETA, Vitamin X, Dead Stop, Reproach, Seein' Red, Bettercore, Bruce Banner, Point of Few, Highscore, FPO, Tangled Lines, Surf Nazis Must Die, Amdi Petersens Arme, Shank, Herodishonest, E-150, Das Oath, 9 Shocks Terror, Gordon Solie Motherfuckers, Limp Wrist, Runination, Punch In The Face, Scot Baio Army, Lifes Halt, Hit Me Back, Holier Than Thou, No Reply, Scholastic Deth, Knife Fight, Municipal Waste, My Revenge, They Live, Gatecrashers, Last In Line, Bones Brigade, Melee, Black SS, I Object, Crucial Unit, Rambo, 97a, Direct Control, Total Fury, LIE, Crucial Section, Flash Gordon, Jellyroll Rockheads, Breakfast, Exclaim, I Shot Cyrus, Infect, Discarga, No Violence...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Thrashwagon on the Road: Boston Update

Last weekend was everything it needed to be, crucial hangouts with old friends, moshing and vegan doughnuts. And in the process I was able to score 10 interviews for the Thrashwagon project.  A free Amtrak ticket, a solid show, and reasonable proximity to where I normally sleep in NJ meant a weekend like this could actually happen.

It kicked off perfectly when Craig Arms got to South Station the moment that my train arrived. I didn't even have to break stride. Immediately launching into talking about old days, we eventually landed at Darwin's in Harvard Square for coffee. My good friend Joe DeSilva told me once, everything is better when you have a cup a coffee to go with it. This weekend proved that point, as Caarms and I got juiced up and bullshitted for a couple of hours. The current singer of Waste Management cut his teeth as the bassist for Say Goodbye, an old school hardcore band that continually blended more thrash elements into their sound with time. They were a band that bridged gaps amongst the swirling of mass of sub-genres that congregated in the dusty air of Dudely Square's Berwick Institute. Besides his duties with Say G'Bye, Craig was also a charter member of the Bridgewater/New Bedford Mosh Crew - a group of scenesters that brought the underground of underground punk to Boston hardcore. 

I made my way over to the Watertown diner next, drunk on coffee and armed with a box of Craig's old flyers. There I met up with my old bandmates and some of my favorite people in the world, Eric Yu and Chris Strunk. After quickly inhaling dinner, we adjourned to some nearby benches to talk shit for the balance of the night. I first met Eric at a Fast Times show in Western Mass not long after I arrived in Boston in Y2K. He quickly became a willing car ride to all the good shows in the area, later the incredible songwriter for Glory Fades, as well as one of my best friends. Strunk had arrived from Pittsburg at more or less the same time I had arrived from Atlanta. He was referred to us as a good drummer who also drinks 40s. Throw Terry Fades into the mix and we had a band. As the scene developed, Eric became the go-to-guy for booking shows at the aforementioned Berwick - a dirty ass basement in a rough around the edges part of town that hosted so many HC shows that most of the weekend's subjects couldn't recall which shows they had been to and which they hadn't. 

Chris Strunk drummed for grind thrashers Crucial Unit before making the move to Boston and pounding away in a number of great bands. Check out the discography CD of his time with C.U., Everything Went Strunk. Possibly the best hand-drawn cover out there. What Strunk should be most recognized (nay, revered) for, is the person who swept and mopped the Berwick for the very first time. If you attended a show down there, he is the reason you don't have a lung infection presently. 

Crashed on a familiar couch in Eric Yu's living room. Stick a fork in it, Friday's done. 

At 7:00 am, a hungry Eric nudged me awake and we sleepily ventured out for vegan doughnuts. A pink lemonade and chocolate-covered along with a large coffee set me up for a day of jittery interviews. I eventually made it down to Central Square for a Middle East power matinee featuring reunions by likes of Think I Care, Invasion, and In My Eyes. Also topping the bill were current ragers Boston Strangler and Rival Mob. After discussing SxE for old dudes with Sweet Pete, it was time to see some bands and score some interviews.  Setting up interviews at a show is a perfect blessing/curse. You get a bunch of people you need to talk to all standing around at the same place, but that place is full of endless distraction and other commitments. Needless to say, my endeavoring to knock a few interviews out before the show proved futile.

Still, I was able to pin down the Shumksky bros for a great interview on TIC and RNR. If Winchendon, Mass was not already on the map, it is now as Think I Care emerged from basements and living rooms with Infest-inspired blasts and dark fucking rants, and developed into a moshing powerhouse releasing LPs on Dead Alive and Bridge 9.

Since I met up with the bros directly after In My Eyes, I figured I had missed out on Boston Strangler, but I popped back inside to catch Rival Mob. Vocalist Brendan Radigan was next up on the interview chopping block. As I stood inside the sweaty venue I couldn't help but notice the room clearing out and DFJ breaking down his drums. Oh fuck, I missed both sets! Suddenly I'm getting texts from Brendan telling me to meet up so we can talk. I run out of the venue immediately. Apparently the last two bands split their sets, playing a round robin of three songs at a time. Too efficient for me. 

I found Brendan on the roof of a nearby parking deck where we shot the shit for a couple of hours on one of his first bands - XfilesX. For Brendan, it was all about skateboarding. SxE was easy, because skating was the drug. Where he is confident and sarcastic on stage now, he was self-deprecating and often referred to himself and the other XfXers as "heels," during our talk. Still I remember my jaw hitting the floor the first time I saw them at Relfections in New Bedford. I couldn't believe how fucking loud and fast Edison beat the drums. Brendan, always funny between songs, was fucking terrifying during them. I remember seeing them in some hall with a bunch of other teenage (but not HC) bands somewhere in the 'burbs. At one point during their set, he threw himself sans abandon into rows of vacant folding chairs. It looked confusing and painful, but impressive nonetheless. XfilesX also had tongue-in-cheek militant SxE lyrics that were a foil to any reasonableness I was trying to apply to my own personal SxE as I watched the old youth crew kids break edge one by one. That demo was like the goddamn Judge 7".

"Hey that's Choke over there!" A giddy Jimmy Flynn grabbed my arm and pointed me towards the bar. Sure as shit, it was the guy who sang Chunks, So Ends Our Night, Step On It, and Punk's Dead, You're Next. I thanked him for all the tunes and he laughed at me. And so ends my day at the Middle East. 

That night, Eric Yu volunteered his kitchen for a midnight interview with Scot Oxholm. An ever-present fixture at Boston shows, he also experienced the burgeoning thrash revival in Cali with no less than Life's Halt and No Reply. As we sifted through a box of flyers he fluently told old stories about Boston's dustiest venue. My favorite memory of Scot was him dressed up as a gorilla at the last Glory Fades show in the Shumsky basement in '02.

Seven hours later, Eric dropped me off at Somerville's True Bistro where I met up with Andrew Jackmuah from greats Cut The Shit and Bones Brigade. I first saw Andrew fronting youth crew revivalists Days Ahead. Like it or not, for better or worse, the youth crew was a big influence on thrash. Anyway, yours truly got wired on coffee and attempted to interrupt my subject as little as possible. We talked about everything from singing for two fast HC bands at the same time (but not simultaneously) to the time he lacerated himself mid-set in Europe to get a goddamn reaction from a sedate crowd. This was the start of a trio of back to back interviews. First Andrew, then Cooch, then Al Quint. 

When the clock struck 12:00, I cruised down to Ana's Taqeruia in Davis Square for some lunch. I appreciate that most of my interviews are over food or coffee; shows I'm talking to some like-minded individuals. Chris "Cooch" Minicucci rolled in a few mins later and we launched into a quick interview. Not only did this guy play in a million bands (including the vastly underrated Close Call), he also has an expert memory from the 100s of shows he attended in the early 2000s. He may be most well-known now for running Painkiller records, but I'll always remember him hocking limited edition Western Mass HC box sets at the Last In Line Halloween show in 2001. 

To close out this awesome weekend, I was absolutely honored to interview Al Quint of the legendary Suburban Voice zine. Al seemed to be at every show I was at back then, taking photos and singing along. Then he would print the photos and write about all the fucking amazing bands playing out. Issues of Suburban Voice didn't come out too frequently, but they operated like a yearbook for an incredible time in HC, and some came with CD comps, so you got a sndtk to go with it too. Fucking rad. I consumed my last coffee of the day, while Al told stories. Solid end to a solid trip. 

But what punk rock road trip could be complete without a trip to a punk rock record shop? The answer is none, and since Armageddon lay between Davis Square and South Station (a chilling thought), a stopover was necessary. I had 20 mins to kill, so I had to be strategic. Only thrash records, only filling in the gaps in my collection. I won't tell you what I got, lest you think me a poseur for not already having them. Boston Stranlger Cliff Demedeiros eyed his watch, "you better get a move on." Oh damn, how did 20 mins become 35? 

I had plenty of time to reflect on the weekend, as my train was delayed arriving in NYC forcing me to kill an hour plus in Penn Station (while trying my best to avoid other human beings). I've said it before and I'll say it again, I wouldn't be doing most of what I'm doing with my life today if I hadn't taken a risk and moved up to Boston in 2000. It definitely set me on a path personally and professionally. I'm grateful to Craig, Eric, Chris, Aaron, Joe, Brendan, Scot, Andrew, Cooch, and Al. Thanks for your time, energy, and encouragement. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"I Think I Brought a Sword to a Laser Fight"

If ever a record could be a time machine, a telaporter, and a goddamned star-fighter it's Empty Palace's first full-length. Like a Delorean hurtling towards Twin Pines mall, I'm bracing for old style rock n roll and maybe hoverboards. It's this power, among others, that their new record The Serpent Between the Stars brings to bear. The burgeoning crunch of proto-metal with an unironic nod to 70s glam wrapped in something previously unheard. You there, the reader, the one that appreciates the good shit. Stop what you are doing and start listening now. You already have the answer, the punchline, the moral. You don't need to read any further. Much appreciated if you choose to do so, please know you are absolved regardless.  


We need to start this story in the mid-90s hardcore days, down in the South. Double XL days. Choker beads like so many thick black Xs adorned us. Dreaming of chugging barre chords grasping at the virtuosity and precision of Kerry King paired with shouted slogans ala Ian MacKaye. It's as earnest as you get. One Patrick Houston steps on the sweaty stage and smiles at the night's turnout of misfits. He knows most of them; they're friends. There's no fucking barriers here. Jason Walker clicks off four from the drum stool and an explosion of well-tuned, well-rehearsed noise dominates all.  

There's nothing about that night at Birmingham, Alabama's now demolished, Unity 1605 venue that indicated I would be reviewing one of the most inventive and damn near perfect rock albums I've ever heard, penned and performed by this very same duo 20 years later. But it's, in fact, a fact. LA's Empty Palace started their twisted journey in the hardcore band Bear Witness so many moons ago.  

Hidden in the routinely-titled "Intro" is a delicate warning that this will be like nothing else that's graced your eardrums before. You get :40 to prepare. A pulsating heartbeat from the synth reminds me of an Italian horror flick (just before the scare) gives rise to a simple pick slide and the riff begins. The first proper track drives like a fast car and only gently breaks the pace momentarily. It's probably the most straight-forward rocker on the album. Patrick delivers the vocals with a Rob Halford-like conviction; "I'm just a human made of blood and bone."                                                                                                                                                        

"Human Trampoline" (yeah) - another Judas Priest rocker with retro-fitted Hammond keyboards almost struggling to keep up, but matching Jason's hyperactive rhythm beat for beat. Though this album may be from outer space, Patrick asserts confidently, "I don't come from the future but my ship's still wired tight." For those monitoring, this is the only song where I can detect any hardcore influence.  

Staring at my plate of vegan whatever, a familiar face flashed in my peripheral. Long hair, dark eyes and that goddamn smile. A smile masking anything else, yet sincere to the core. Southern fuckin hospitality. And that was Patrick fuckin Houston. Feelin' exiled from everyone I knew and loved up here in the mountains, searching for loud music somewhere to embrace me, here was the ultimate thrasher, an old friend, and a nice guy, to boot. 

Empty Palace climbed out of the primordial punk rock swamp in Denver, Colorado. First Bear Witness relocated en mass and rebranded as the even heavier, even screamier Angels Never Answer. A holdover from days past, to be sure. Built around Patrick's riffs, accompanied by Jason banging it out far above his hardcore pay grade. Play for the part you want, not the part you have. 

"Unknown Unknown" takes steps towards Bowie meets Queen in composition and nails it. A gliding, pleasant rhythm; sweet vocals. Jason punches the song along preventing it from drifting away. The guitar leads and accents channel Brian May (and the man's not even dead yet!).                                                                                                                                                        

Then the pulsing glow of synthesizers commands the ship - "Separation Sequence." I don't know where to begin, the Author truly is in uncharted territory. Drums swing forward and a rousing robotic chorus. The vocal effect is a vocoder and actually inspired by Neil Young and not by some space robot from The Black Hole. On an incomparable LP, this is an incomparable track. I don't want to tap my foot, I want to shake my ass. The repercussions of that are self-evident. 

When the first band he bet it all on fell apart, as all local bands slogging away tend to do, Patrick cast about moonlighting, jamming, developing, studying studio engineering, always thinking. His hands ever present on the fret board, striving one day to have the ability to play anything he hears on the spot. He spoke of natural talent (rare as they come) and developed talent (his self-appointed lot in life). Jason joined pop-punkers The Gamits, among others; a great drummer in constant demand. All the while, they both knew they would come together for the next band when the time was right.  

As fate would have it, the next band was two bands. The New Rome was meticulously crafted by the pair to be heavy like Judas Priest and sonically intricate like Sunny Day Real Estate. With vocals surpassing King Diamond's range, they manifested on stage on June 6th of 2006. 66fuckin6.  

I was lucky enough to join their ranks for the second band, Brainhammer. The sound was less stringent than The New Rome, taking cues equally from "Kickstart My Heart," Maiden's second crusher, to DRI's crossover blast. The attitude was equal parts rage and party time. I poured all the misery of a recent divorce into lyrics inspired by everything from Rollins-era Black Flag, to the MC5, to the superlative-earning heavy metallers Nitro, to WWII, to Fawlty Towers gags. It was eclectic to say the least, but powerful enough to blow the goddamn roof off the place. I'm honored to have played with these guys for a short time. And it was all so unlikely, a sentiment Patrick and I shared from the stage right before the lights went down on our first show.  

After the sad, slowly bouncing "Games," side 1 closes. If your cassette deck has a continuous auto-flip feature, then you don't even have to get off the couch. While we're waiting for that, I'll take a brief moment to chide Empty Palace for not including lyrics in the layout. That is a general disservice to the listener and musician alike. It's obvious that great care has been taken in the writing process and the words deserve to see the light of day.      

And Side 2 kicks off with the slowly building tension of "Between the Stars." Be patient, for at 2:03 you will be treated with a fantastic hard rock break. All elements present, this one moment is as 70s as the album gets, executed perfectly. The track bends inward and trails off quietly, before giving rise to another slow burner, "I Liked the Old You Better." This number sits nicely on the second side, plods a bit but keeps the listener infinitely interested with a mid-number interlude leading right back to the hard pounding, effects-laden chorus. There's enough going on here to make Phil Spector blush.

All of this fanfare leads to the albums strongest rocker, "What Do We Tell the Family?" Hammond organ in overdrive complements the gits and the driving rhythm nicely. Like most of the vocals/lyrics on this album, they are somewhat mournful and cryptically instructive. An earlier recording of this number performed well as a single (with two others) in 2013. It's equally as powerful here not necessarily punctuating the side, but rather bridging the listener to the album's striking three-part closer. 

For a moment The New Rome had the spotlight. Something churned below the surface though and the band cannibalized itself recording its one and only release. Brainhammer soldiered on as the city's premier party punk band, soon to be without me as I relocated back east. The tension was dense at that point and I left my friends, feeling a sense of guilt and remorse for my contribution to the pain.  

One by one nearly all of my friends trickled out of the mile-high city. Patrick and Jason, found a kindred spirit and shared sense of musical mission with Karl Zickrick, The New Rome's bass player. Eventually the trio drifted west to Portland, then one by one down to LA. The city famously churns with dead and dying dreams twisted with new hope, vision, and opportunity. In other words, a perfect place for rock and roll to germinate.  A mutual friend told me at the time that Patrick had walled himself off in a home-made studio. Just work-shedding. What was happening was one of the best guitar players I've know was perfecting his vocal chops for the next band. Empty Palace.  

Part one begins as "(The Pleasure)," a short, graceful near-instrumental. A drawn out lead carries you along through a synth landscape. With a scant :60 to spare the vocals arrive, "he can't feel anything at all." This notion betrays what Patrick has revealed thus far and offers a glimpse into the divided nature of singing in a rock band.                                                         

Part two, "Compass," quietly builds like a ballad, but when it loses it, we're somewhere in Black Sabbath Sabotage territory. Banging your head to the rocker, but equally pounding a fist into the wall as despair rules all again. "Still don't know which way to go" rings on and on and rings true. Folks, this album is as sad as it is strong.  

If ever Patrick had a home, it was the city of angels. The city was built for him. Hearing Empty Palace confirms, corroborates, verifies. No way this record is happening in Birmingham or Denver. But it wouldn't have happened without Birmingham or Denver. 

Jason thrived too, with the architecture of original LA hardcore set up like a playground for the aspiring. I remember him saying to the reunited cast of Brainhammer before a late July 4th show in 2012, "just look at me for the changes, I got it." Brimming with confident control; like Marty McFly before Johhny B Goode, "try and keep up."  
Finally, "To End All Pleasure" is a brief outro with unintelligible distorted vocals, exasperated and drug off into infinity as the last notes slow and speed up before being lost in space at the last. Count to 5, flip the tape and start again.                                                                
As usual, the unassuming Snappy Little Numbers knocks it out of this park with this release. I only hope the reason we don't have a vinly version yet is that they're still deciding between a gatefold sleeve or a holographic cover. Easy answer - choose both.

I'm lucky I know these guys. It's endless entertainment and insightful impressions. It's a Friday night of just bullshiting, of laughing our asses off, even with years between encounters. It's hearing the repeated thunderous musical output over time, culminating in something too grande for the cassette it lives on. It's a life's work at 36. What's next?