Sunday, March 1, 2015

Days Riding on the Thrashwagon

Thrashcore and circle pits!
Long hair, short hair, it all fits!
What happens next?

What happens next is you write a goddamn book.  That's right friends, I've been kicking this idea around for a couple of years and after multiple starts, stops, and periods of time where I'd rather hide under a pile of blankets than type a single word, I've decided to announce my intentions. I'm writin' a book.

In the early 2000's I was lucky enough to see, mosh to, sing-along with, and buy records from some amazing bands.  The Youth Crew revival of '97-'98 was more or less tuckered out. By 2000, In My Eyes were calling it a day. Modern Hardcore wasn't a thing yet, but American Nightmare was about to release their first 7". Punk was about to go through it's own little pop hiccup.  Things were getting a little cute. This is a gross over-simplification. But all the while, a slew of lightning fast bands were chugging along.  That shit was dark, pissed off, and purposeful.  Before long, that attitude appeared to merge with some old school reverence.  Pure speed was the order of the day, but mosh parts were cool too.  Better still, circle pits.

We called it thrash, thrash-revival, bandana thrash or whatever.  It was simultaneously fast, fun, moshy, and angry.  So while I still dug that second IME lp; while I still thought that AN ep was maybe/probably the best of the year; and while I was most-likely too forgiving of the second Fastbreak lp, I really found a home in what was going on in thrash.  Dead Nation, What Happens Next?, Tear It Up, Life's Halt!, No Reply, ETA, DS-13, Highscore, XfilesX, Cut the Shit, Vitamin X, Municipal Waste. And there are tons others. Bands I loved, bands I counted as friends. Bands I now want to write about, talk to, share some cool memories with.

Were you part of this scene too? Were you in a band? Did you release records, put-up bands, take photos, write a zine? Were you just some random who moshed cyclically? If so, I want to talk to you, so get in touch, like now.

This is gonna happen...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

December '14 in February '15

Ice is raining on New Jersey and I'm thinking of the warm few weeks I just spent in Thailand. I've never really taken a cold winter vacation to someplace hot before. Skipping out on a few weeks of cold is a smart move though. Recommended. However, traveling to South East Asia with a 21 month-old is a new kind of adventure. "Yes, that's my son screaming and pooping nonstop from EWR to SFO. Yes, we have two more long-ass flights to go. Yes, I appear to be a bad parent." Whatever, at least my son has his full collection of vaccinations. Speaking of, he got his last shots just a few days prior to departure. Walking into the doc's office, he's as healthy as a goddamn horse. Walking out, he's carrying a virus that will manifest into a red hot fever and middle-of-the-night screams 48 hours before international travel. Dontcha love that? When I took him back to the doc's office with a raging temp, we hid in the bathroom while the waiting room coughed and sneezed and sprayed bodily fluid. Sunday brunch at the germ buffet. So the fever subsides but now we have an antibiotic that we have to keep refirgerator-cold during 28 total hours of travel. That's three airports, three countries, some passport control, some baggage claim, and a couple of car-ride bookends. So challenge number one given the above scenario is the logistics of it all. It's like a sick relay race. Don't let that egg fall off the spoon! Challenge number two is keeping our kid viable while the antibiotics blow out his intestines at 38,000.

The above rant notwithstanding, I have no real complaints. We dodged some winter and had a great experience with family and friends in the tropics. But it took all my effort just to prep for the journey at the close of 2014. While everyone was putting together year-end best-ofs, I was sweating over a fluctuating exchange rate. Now it's the "great gray beast of February" and the sky is raining Hoth. What the hell - I'll talk about a few bands. 2014 was like any other year where an aging punker celebrates his son's first birthday, roadies on two tours, including a European jaunt and buys a goddamn house. Yeah, your standard 365.

Because of the costs associated with these particulars, I didn't really have space in the budget for records (gasp!). So I had to be strategic. I felt that paid off for the most part. Here's a few bands that I think just nail it...

Night Birds 
Their sole release of 2014 was an instrumental 7"of jangley surf numbers. It's a great record and if you saw them live in the States or in Euro-land, you know how powerful this band is. There is not an ounce of bullshit, pretension, or self-consciousness when these guys hit the stage, just intensity. As influenced as their songs are by the past, when they play, it's kinda like nothing happened before them. Like hardcore punk, day one...and tighter than a duck's ass.

Government Flu 
The other band I toured with last year. More no frills hardcore. This time from Poland. Short songs of speed and mosh with the occasional dirge in the vein of early gems of the genre. They cranked out a new LP and EP in 2014 and toured the States. If you like HC, I sure hope you saw them. "Misplaced Anger" off the Tension LP might be hardcore perfected. But does perfection imply singularity? Because "Still No Justice" off the EP of the same name is perfect too. One song is a mosh / the other a blast. What more do you need?

Beast - their 3rd EP (if you count the excellent demo 7") is everything I ever wanted from HC. Rage, mosh, thoughtful lyrics, pure speed, killer artwork. But what truly completes this pic is their live performance. Sadly, I only saw them once on their summer string of East Coast dates. A sweaty New Brunz basement is kinda the best place to see Replica though. After their final note rang out, there was dead silence. Eventually applause, but I think me and my fellow show-goers had to process what we just saw. It was unstoppable. I don't know how to be more adamant about this. It's the cure to cancer. Buy their records.

Boston Strangler 
Hype, defined? Here's the thing about hype. Sometime's it's not bullshit. Sometimes that shit is real. I'm here to tell you this is the real deal. 2014's "Fire" LP is more than Boston's finest. It's American hardcore's finest at this point in time. Mark the date. It wasn't some well-respected old-timers; it wasn't a super-group; it wasn't from a big label expertly picking and choosing their next release. It was just some regular dudes that know how to write/perform/rage. I think the fuckin' thing is even self-released. They back it up with a killer live set - proven at a Boston invades NYC show a few months back. Believe the hype.

Gonna wrap this up with a great 7" that just crossed my desk. Released in the nick of time in December on Snappy Little Numbers. This is pretty different from the aforementioned. But I need some spice in my life from time to time. These guys do some killer garage meets garage punk meets power-pop meets KBD meets punky garage KBD power-pop. Infectious singalongs, mid-tempo groove all under a thin layer of grit. Too bad this band is all the way in Denver. Please play New Jersey (where The Author currently resides) and sound as good as your 7". Or just move to New Jersey. Yeah, do that.

Some honorable mentions that I must mention honorably: Taken By Surprise released excellent LPs by touring soon No Problem and sadly defunct Neighborhood Brats. Also Portland's Long Knife should be on your radar.  And hey Forward still flys over from Japan and kills it. Still! In addition to Gov Flu, Refuse Records put out killer fast HC from Mind Trap and Vowels. Two reasons why HC in Germany kicks ass. And then there's Violent Reaction! And Give! Well done, 2014, well done.

People - buy records, listen to music, go to shows! You'll be glad that you did. Off to shovel my driveway...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Night Birds Euro Tour: The Quest for a Comfortable Toilet

In the summer of 2014, I found my way into a van in Europe with Night Birds for a couple weeks.  Aside from selling merch, hauling gear, moshing and running my mouth, I also snapped a bunch of photos and posted daily updates to my blog, Go Start Your Own Band.  The camera was a Nikon D70s; the laptop, a Toshiba NB505. Despite their age and condition, they did me well. When I made it back to the States, I realized I wanted to combine some of my favorite photos with all the nonsense I had put to paper. So that’s what you get here. All of the writing was previously posted on the blog along with a handful of the photos.  Most of the shots are by me.  Photos by other folks are labeled as such. Thanks a lot for letting me use them. Speaking of, there are tons of great photos and videos out there of this tour that you should check out. But for my part, thanks for reading.

Ladies and germs, The Quest for a Comfortable Toilet:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You Wanted the Best, well, you can’t always get what you want…

I just finished reading Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of Kiss (1972-1975).  Surprised as you might be, this was not Gene and Paul tell the story of Kiss exclusively.  While I’m sure they had veto power over every single word,  there’s a lot of voices throughout this far-reaching, even tedious exploration of all things Kiss from a loft on 23rd to Cobo Hall and a “live” album known to all as Alive!.  There’s even some shit-talking – but not on the level of Morrissey’s Auto.  So don’t get too excited.  Still, this largely enjoyable read made this Kiss nerd dig back through their old LPs (even, and especially, the bad ones).  Now go ahead and take a moment to scoff, curl your lip, and/or point your noise skyward.  Ok – now that you’ve purged, warm to the fact that you just can’t escape the cultural institution that is Kiss.  

If you like loud, ballsy, dumb rock and roll, odds are you like Kiss or the bands you listen to like them.  We’re all affected. After having accepted the fact that Kiss is in your DNA and all denials to the contrary are futile and irrelevant, some Kiss is better than other Kiss.  And that’s ok.  You have a lot to choose from as you integrate Kiss into your existence more fully. A copious amount of recorded material is smeared across four goddamn decades of American rock n roll.  The Author has bravely listened to every fuckin’ LP in the past coupla’ weeks for the purposes of this blog.  With that, the handy guide below will help you on your journey.

The first and one of the absolute best. If you like music that has guitar, bass, and drums, you should probably own this one.  Nearly every number is a hit. “Deuce – Strutter – Firehouse – Cold Gin.” When I hear this record, I just think NYC.  Not in a Madball Set it Off kinda a way. More New York Dolls.  Stripped down, primitive, and fun.  The album bombed when it was released.  They even recorded an additional song (the bubblegum cover “Kissin’ Time”) and quickly repressed it in a hasty effort to broaden appeal.  And for those keeping count, there’s a lot of Peter Chris vocals on this one.  Go figure…

Hotter Than Hell
Numero dos.  Here’s what you get: inexplicable Japanese cover art, a muddy attempt to make their tunes heavier, and band photos from some kind of drunken orgy.  The black star covering up the bare breast printed on the back cover was scratched off my second-hand copy as if there might be a nipple down there somewhere and not fuzzy paper pulp. Back to the songs though – not the greatest recording, but great songs. Not as classic as their first shot, but classic nonetheless. 

Dressed to Kill
Despite the rad cover art – Kiss in business suits on 8th Avenue – this album doesn’t stand up as a full length.  A cool mini-album would have been the way to go.  It was basically written on the spot because they were hemorrhaging cash on the road and needed a quick injection.  The first side is almost a joke and the flip is fuckin’ great.  Totally uneven.  But despite this mixed review, "Rock and Roll All Night" is the closer.  So what - it tanked as a single.  It was the “live” one that broke the band.  Today’s radio programmers got it all wrong when they play the studio version.  Get with it Clear Channel!
This is the one that the career-making "RnR All Night" came from. The not-so-live “live” record benefited from some post-performance tinkering. But you know what, every live album does.  Just gonna throw that out there.  Unless you recorded some punk band onto cassette while they played a set on your college radio station, it’s all been enhanced. Reality comes crashing down. If you just want one Kiss record, this is the one.  Well, this and Love Gun and Alive II and Ace’s Solo…aw damn. 

The kabuki boys get all fancy on this one.  Together with Bob Ezrin, they decided since they hit the big time with Alive!, they could stretch out in the studio and really explore the space.  Enter orchestration, piano, soulful back-up singers, and sound effects. There’s even a 1:30 long LP intro that samples, you guessed it, "RnR All Night." That’s basically saying – “this album by the guys that brought you last summer’s smash hit!” Still hustling as the record spins on your turntable.  The cherry on top of all this newfound creativity is the not-so-power ballad “Beth.” It’s a sweet love song that everyone is familiar with.  But it was originally called “Beck.”  I’m fucking serious.  “Beck I hear you calling.”  Still, I kid cuz I love. This album is a personal favorite of the Author’s.  It was one of the first by the band that I picked up as an aspiring metal head.  It has some good crushers like "Detroit Rock City" and "God of Thunder," plus the anthem "Shout it Out Loud" (ahem, "RnR All Night" part deux).

Rock and Roll Over
By this point the band was surging to the top of America’s consciousness, inching ever closer to being a “family-friendly” carnival act.  Rock and Roll Over is sandwiched between two ragers, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s as 1970s hard rock as you get.  Besides heavy rockers like “I Want You” and “Makin Love,” it has the Gene hit “Calling Dr. Love” before it was a Dr Pepper advert.  Let’s not forget Paul’s contribution to English prose with the line “Put your hand in my pocket, grab on to my rocket.”  Peter has another slow number with the Rod Stewart inspired “Hard Luck Woman” where he refers lovingly to a sailor’s only daughter named “Rags.”  Why is Peter’s understanding of standard female names so skewed?  First “Beck,” now “Rags!”
 Love Gun
Up next is the LP subtly named after a penis.  That’s right, imagine if this album was called Cock?  This album is a straight up rocker Side A through B. Possibly the last solid Kiss LP until the 80s.  Own it or stream it or whatever you do to hear music.  It’s fantastic – fast tempos, catchy sing-alongs, blazing Space Ace guitar solos…and fucked up lyric content.  Guys, besides the eponymous title track, there’s a song about pining after a teenage girl ("Christine Sixteen").  What the fuck!?  Gene announcing himself as a willing sex offender.  There’s also another song about cock.  That’s a lot of cock for one record.  "Plaster Caster" gleefully accounts the woman who immortalized rock n roll genitalia (ew).  How did anyone’s parents let them listen to this?  Did they truly not give a shit about their kids?  Is that why seatbelts were optional?  As a parent, the Author might have be at the front of the protest line back then wielding a sign indicating KISS as short for Knights In Satan’s Service.

Alive II
After a worthy trio of 70s heavy metal LPs, it was time to go back in the studio and record another “live” album.  Curiously, you get three “live” sides and one studio side with five new ones. I gotta hand it to the guys.  Rather than recycling numbers featured on Alive!, they stuck solely to post-Alive! tunes for this double LP. So Alive! and Alive II operate more or less as greatest hits albums for their first six studio LPs.  Not bad acquisitions if you are on a budget.  The “live” albums also capture that Kiss feeling better than the studios. 

Double Platinum
A greatest hits of studio tracks.  Huh?  Well, refer to my review of Alive II above and know that this collection is worthless.  A disco-fied rework of "Strutter" is a haunting harbinger of dark times ahead.

The Solo Albums
So Kiss tried something interesting, when one or more members desired to go off and do their own thing, they reached a compromise – release independently-performed solo albums each slapped with the Kiss logo. All four records were issued on the same goddamn day.  And for the year 1978, this made for five fucking releases! As far as the solo albums though, only one was good…and it was actually great.  Leave it up to Ace!  He made a dynamite solo album.  Song for song, it rules.  I like one song…let me repeat that…one song on the other three solos.  In regards to Peter's jazz-boogie fusion, Gene summed it up best when he said, "I think that one showed that the guy behind it didn't really have a clue" [Behind The Mask; David Lead, Ken Sharp]

If you stopped with Kiss at Ace’s solo, you lose out on some legit hits, but you’d also mercifully be spared Kiss’ foray into (gulp) disco.  None of this should be surprising though, given that Kiss was the flagship band for what would become a huge disco label – Casablanca.  Donna Summer, the Village People, and Kiss.  Oddly enough, their most obvious overture is actually a great song and a live standard, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”  Ace’s Stones cover of “2,000 Man” is fantastic.  He also continues to keep shit real with “Hard Times.”
Despite the cool comic book cover art on this one, things really go from bad to worse with Unmasked.  “Shandi,” seriously “Shandi”?  They thought it was ok to do this song?!  Every time I hear it I visualize a disco ball spinning, I get dizzy and throw up.  So legend has it, Ace was really on the way out at this point (ditto Peter).  Gene and Paul love to talk about how fucked up he was, but still his songs are by faaaaaaaaaaaaaar the better tracks.  He probably was fucked up, you would be to playing on songs like “Charisma” (Dynasty) or “What Makes the World Go Round.”  To be fair, there are some hard rockers on this and Dynasty, but you really are off in uncharted territory.  You’re exploring the Amazon.
Music From “The Elder”
After Unmasked bombed and with true blue fans forsaking the band in droves, Kiss promised a return to their early heavy metal roots.  Fuck yeah! Only they inexplicably wrapped it in a weak-ass concept album. Even though “The Oath,” Ace’s “Dark Light” and the anthemic “I” are highly defendable, you are subjected to the easy-listening stylings of “A World Without Heros.”  Check out Gene’s teary eye in the video for this one, like a heartbroken Native American stumbling upon a Snickers wrapper on the roadside.  The album also begins with a bizzarely dramatic, symphonic intro that clearly is not a product of this quartet.  Paul’s slow, crooning and frankly embarrassing “Odyssey” makes “Just A Boy” seem like a cathartic anthem.  “Under the Rose”?  I don’t understand this song at all.  What the hell is happening?  You really can’t help but scratch your head on this record.  But the Author has a confession to make.  There’s something in his wiring that makes him enjoy this record. What’s wrong with me?  I would appreciate it if you kept reading this blog, but you would be forgiven if you packed it in at this point proclaiming my taste in music to suck.
Another pointless, confusing greatest hits.  Made even more pointless by the fact that it was only released abroad.  Made even more confusing by the fact that four mediocre new songs are integrated into the track listing.
Creatures of the Night
What Kiss promised on the last record, they deliver on Creatures.  Except for a soon-to-be requisite power ballad, this LP is nothing but heavy. It’s not a return to form though.  Welcome to the 80s, where heavy metal is just different.  Kiss got caught up in (nay, kicked off) the whole hair metal glam thing.  But for one brief moment, they nailed it.  Solid 80s heavy metal.  Incidentally, this one has 50% different membership (so long Ace and Peter).  This was another childhood fav and I still stand behind it.  The title track, "I Love It Loud," "War Marchine."  All great rockers.
Lick It Up
Make-up, off.  The 1970s, not a trace.  Hair metal transition, complete.  This has got to win the award for most subtle album title ever.  Hey, at least they ain’t sexist. It’s totally enjoyable though and probably their best post-make-up LP.  The two videos from this one both take place in some kinda’ post-apocalyptic construction site rampant with scantily clad members of the fairer.  Of course if you were Kiss in this type of situation what would you do?  Engage in a bizarre food orgy, of course.  Save some grape kool aid for me please.
The rare good numbers from this one and the following Asylum could be combined to make a passable cock rock album, but as it stands this is a pretty uneven offering.  You get the killer “Heaven’s On Fire” and KISS’ exclusive (and repeated) use of the word “ fuck” on “Get All You Can Take."  The insert photo maintains the post-apcolyptic motif.  Believe it or not, the costumes get worse…

…because on this jammer Gene dresses (not ironically) as a frumpy middle-aged woman.  While Poison were getting dolled-up like young vixens, Gene considering his age, dressed like your mom on ladies night out.  This LP has the song “Uh All Night,” perhaps the greatest I-hate-my-job anthem of all time.  It advocates sexual intercourse as a way to ease the punch –clock blues (insert hump day joke here).

Crazy Nights
Numero veintidos. So this LP and the following Hot in the Shade hold a special place in my heart.  They’re not great – they’re just the ones that came out as I became a new Kiss fan.  It’s pure pop metal.  “Crazy Crazy Nights” (the song) fucking rules though.  It’s at the top of the heap for Kiss’ many (many) rah-rah anthems.  I guess at this point Gene was more into being an actor (see here and here and here) so this was basically a Paul Stanley solo effort.

Smashes, Thrashes and Hits
Still another pointless and confusing greatest hits.  This time they throw in two understated new ones “Let’s Put the X in Sex” and “(You Make Me) Rock Hard.”  Seriously, the title of the latter is a declarative statement about inspiring an erection.  To make matters even weirder (as they are want to do with these collections), they pull a little “fuck you” to Peter Chris and have their current drummer re-record "Beth."  Wow! Incidentally, I own the picture vinyl for this, housed in a gatefold sleeve and I'll never get rid of it.

Hot in the Shade
Pop metal, but good pop metal.  Well written, catchey pop with guitars.  “Hide Your Heart” tells the story of Johnny and Rosa and Tito (“he was king of streets”). Paul raps on “Read My Body,” as was the style at the time. “Forever” is a great song for awkwardly slow-dancing at arm’s length at your junior high formal.  This tour was the first time I saw Kiss live.  They had a giant laser shooting, talking sphinx on stage that sang the third verse (same as the first) of “God of Thunder.”  13-year-old me was psyched!  Oddly enough this wasn’t the first time a robot sang a Kiss song to me.  Two years prior, I was serenaded with “New York Groove” when a robot spotted me wearing a Kiss shirt at Epcot Center.  True story.  

Things happen. Styles change.  A band that drifts into straight-up pop music every ten years corrects its course once again.  This one still has a pop sheen (as hair metal bands do), but it’s more in line with Lick it Up or Creatures of the Night, than the synth-heavy Crazy Nights.  If you really are compelled by post-make-up Kiss, check this one out.

Alive III
Random selection of songs for this third “live” record.  Best part of this one is the how clear all the fireworks and explosions come across.  It sounds like missiles are being launched during “I Was Made For Lovin You.” I saw them on this tour and the stage set-up for no particular reason looked like the last few minutes of Planet of the Apes.  They even closed with the "Star Spangled Banner" ala Jimi Hendrix.

Two live albums in a row! Kiss reunite!  And it’s confusing.  Cuz it’s not really a reunion is it? I mean, for a few classics they have like two drummers and three guitar players.  It’s like the Kiss ensemble jam band.  It’s a live record, but it’s not a new volume of Alive.  Yeah, when this aired on MTV it was exciting to see Ace and Peter in the company of Gene and Paul, but it was kinda anticlimactic for Kiss, wasn’t it?  Like old men around a campfire, not “you wanted the best, you got the best.”  Still, this foretold the eventual reuniting of the original four and the donning of the make-up and the pyro, and the cod pieces, and the blood spitting.
Carnival of Souls
But before the fireworks could be lit…Kiss wrote, recorded, and released a grunge record.  You read that correctly, a grunge record.
Psycho Circus/Sonic Boom/Monster
Since getting all kabuki again Kiss have returned to form with three new studio albums.  A return to form, sorta.  More like an adequate stab at 1980s hair metal while donning 1970s gear and grease paint.  Of the three, I’ll take Sonic Boom.  If you liked Kiss in the 1980s, you’ll probably like this one too.
Alive IV and Alive IV
As if their various “live” albums needed to be a little more confusing.  There is a properly-titled Alive IV with the Australian Symphony Orchestra (but this is actually the fifth live album, ya’ dig).  And there is an Alive IV preview track on the Kiss box set that is not from the aforementioned symphonic live record from down under. But then there is this thing called the Millennium Concert.  I don’t even know if there is a stand-alone release of this, but there is a Kiss Alive box set (not to be confused with the other Kiss box set) that has Alive uno, dos, tres and the Millennium, but not Alive IV (and certainly not Unplugged).  Finally, there’s something out there called Alive 35.
Ongoing series of nonstop greatest hits collections
Finally, not to be out-done by the series of live albums I just spoke of, their continuous releasing of greatest hits collections is nothing short of amazing. Nobody needs this many thrashes, smashes and hits.  But if you are the kinda’ person who would prefer a new Kiss disc in your stocking at xmas each year, you are in luck!  There’s absolutely no way even the most ardent of Kiss fans can even make sense of all these.  I once bought one that came with a bonus phone card. Remember those!?  It might as well have come with a pager or a palm pilot.  The only one of this plethora I would recommend is the standard five-disc box set chock full of rarities, demos, and a serious book.  If you are a big enough Kiss fan you don’t need to know this, because you probably already own it.  Or if you already own it and you want to own the fucking thing again, you could also buy the version that comes in a goddamn guitar case.
I seriously doubt anybody made it this far.  Not even my mom.  But if you did read this whole thing – then thank you for your ample attention. I wrote this to have some fun with Kiss, because Kiss is all about fun.  You really can’t take it beyond that.  I love Kiss. You will not solve life’s greatest mysteries, but you will have a good time having Kiss in your life.  When I’m riding the train to work or commuting on the bustling, rush-hour sidewalks of NYC (just a handful of blocks from where they originally rehearsed), I know I’m listening to better music than everyone else around me cuz I’m listening to Kiss.  But you know what, maybe they are all listening to Kiss too. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

We're Not In It To Lose (Fuck You!)

This just in – a rad Big Boys tribute compilation now exists and can be obtained here and here.  I recently saw a photo of none other than Glen Danzig’s fist in the air singing along at a Big Boys show.  To me, that says it all.  How this band affected the most disaffected can’t be matched.  Without them would people be keeping Austin weird?  What would the “Fun Fun Fun” fest be called?  Hell, what would this blog be called, since I stole the title from a familiar mantra of theirs?  Somewhere I read that they were a huge (and somewhat obvious) influence on the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Like those guys or not, that really exemplifies their impact.  Yet somehow, they seem to maintain this kinda’ cult status.  Is it because you can’t pin down their sound easily? Or is it because they are not out beating the reunion circuit to death? With Biscuit’s death in 2005, that is not likely to ever happen. Still, if you are not more than a casual fan, you should be.  Trust me on this one.  Take a look at the 20 bands covering them on the aforementioned comp, Influence.  They know what I’m talking about. 

It’s hard to get cooler than the Big Boys.  Somehow they did it all.  With no irony or hipster shtick, they blended punk, hardcore, funk, soul, post-hardcore and art.  Somehow full of equal parts rage and joy.  They had tons of records and they’re all great.  Every one of them.  When prepping this post, I couldn’t help but notice that so many of my favorite songs were missing from Influence. Though nearly every track is great, where were the covers of “No,” “Fight Back,” or “Brick Wall”?  Where was “Baby Let’s Play God”?  It’s more than just a product of there being far too many good tunes to choose from.  I think the reason is that everybody has their own experience with the Big Boys.  Different songs hit them in different ways at different times in their lives.  Well, that’s my experience, at least.  They came and went well before my time.  So what I have to talk about are the intersections of their incredible songs and shit in my life. 

The first time I truly listened to Big Boys is significant primarily as a reference point.  I was riding in a van with Fast Times in 2001 as they drove around the country playing shows.  It was one of those “you haven’t heard the Big Boys?!” moments.  For me, it was one of those “I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” moments.  “Cool, they kinda sound like Dead Kennedys.  Wait, they kinda sound like Dead Milkmen. Wait, what do they sound like?”  This experience was later reinforced by repeated listens to The Fat Elvis while going to/from shows with Eric Yu in Boston.  Eric Yu also gave me my first proper introduction to Husker Du, so I guess I owe him a fruit basket as well.

Driving aimlessly in Boulder, Colorado in ’05.  Recently returned from a few years abroad.  I was married, unemployed, and living in a city I had no connection to.  The mountains were beautiful and right there.  Take one turn too many and you’d be rolling upwards.  It lent itself to great moments of exploration.  Fat Elvis in the CD player, “Which Way To Go” grabbed me.  How had I not been aware of the song until now?  It’s perfect.  The raspy, desperate vocals; the jangly guitar; the faster and faster drums over an ear-worming chorus.  The song title is too literal to be a symbol.  Enhancing everything I felt, it was the exact right thing at a not-so right time and place.

As it happens, I would be divorcing and then divorced within the next 18 months.  As I crashed in a friend’s basement right next to the goddamn laundry machines, you would think a somber or desperate Big Boys song would be fitting as my mantra.  You would think that.  But no, it was “Fun Fun Fun.”  It went on every mix I made.  I’m not sure it had anything to do with my divorce, truth be told.  It may have been a decoy for some legit pain.  Probably was.  Regardless, my external face was Fun Fun Fun.  So much so that in 2008, I had it tattooed on my skin along with a certain armadillo.  Yeah, move over bald eagle, the new beacon of freedom is a grinning, anarchist skateboarding armadillo.

What goes down, must come up.  Meaning – I got hitched, tied the knot, took the plunge, once again.  Foreva’ Wife (a vast improvement on Not-So-Foreva’ Wife) and I took some kinda’ honeymoon to that holiest of holies for music fests.  Austin, Tex-ass!  Chaos in Tejas 2011.  Punk rock summer camp for adults.  Where the aging and aged can see loud music being performed nonstop (often good bands!), eat copious amount of tex-mex (surprisingly vegan-friendly!), go swimming, raid the record stores, mosh and hang out (all while sweating continuously!).  I was psyched to be newly-married to an awesome human being at a fest with tons of cool bands in Big Boys country.  I expected at any moment a band at Mohawk would interrupt their set and invite me on stage.  There would be much congratulations at our recent nuptials.  The crowd would simultaneously and with full-throated enthusiasm scream “huzzah!”  The drummer would click off a four-count and the band would dive into a raucous rendition of “We’re Not in it to Lose.”  The mic would be in my hand as I belted out those words now with a new and personal meaning.  Marriage – “we’re not in it to lose. Fuck you!”

But it was more than anthems that touch your heart and make you ball your fist.  There is this whole other dimension to the Big Boys.  Their artwork and design was so eccentric and bizarre.  Child-like, creepy, and beautiful.  A two-headed baby.  The hand-made covers of Frat Cars.  The skateboard anarchy. That goddamn armadillo grinning up at me from my ankle.  In 2009, I got an only-played-once mint copy of Lullabies Help the Brain Grow from Celebrated Summer in Towson, MD.  According to Tony, the original owner gave it a sole rotation to dub it onto cassette and then sealed it in a trash bag for 20+.  It might as well have been cryogenically stored.  Everything about it looked brand spankin’. I put that smiling black and purple sun in glass and hung it on my wall like it was a Monet.

In 2010, I was feeling at a crossroads again.  This time I was on the way out of an unappreciative job I had given my blood and sweat to.  Damn lucky to be reflecting on my next move from Helsinki with friends, I sought inner peace and solitude the only way I know how…buying records.  Big Boys seemed to make so many appearances in my life at key moments that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I pulled out a mint, still shrink-wrapped copy of the Big Boys / Dicks split “Live at Raul’s.”  I had been looking for that one for quite some time after scouring eBay repeatedly with the unfortunate keyword search “big boys dicks.”  Yeah, I’m probably on a list somewhere.  Hopefully when the cops take me away, they’ll be impressed by my record collection.   

Earlier this year I had a troublesome mole removed from the inside of my left ankle.  This thing sat like an asshole on the “F” in the first “Fun” of my tattoo.  When the flanking margins were sliced out, I was left with “Fun” almost completely erased and replaced with a puffy, pink scar.  The “F” and the “U” vanished; the “N” left lonely and mangled.  So my tattoo now reads “Fun Fun.”  Now we all know when we get older, we tend to have less fun, but damn! 

When Ty Stranglehold was collecting photos of Big Boys tattoos for the Influence comp, I was elated to find an old one of my Fun-having ankle armadillo in its unmolested state.  Originally preserved on my leg by tattooist extraordinaire Mike Schweigert, it is now further immortalized in the accompanying booklet for the album. I couldn’t think of a better place for that grinning armadillo to live than with photos of other Big Boys tributes.

There’s something about Big Boys tunes that make them appropriate or at least adaptable for all occasions. Biscuit’s voice sums up all the rage and pain and joy I’ve felt in my life; a perfect aural expression.  I’m always drawn to their flyer art, their bright record designs, their slogans. After listening and re-listening to Influence and reading the liner notes, obviously I’m not alone in this. Hell, look at any reflection from any of their re-issues or discographies, love and inspiration is consistent throughout.  I get the sense these days that their posthumous popularity is on an upswing.  I hope the result is a further appreciation for all that they were and all that their songs are. They did for me what any good rock-n-roll should do for wayward souls.   They provided the soundtrack.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Obligatory Old Man Birthday Post

A month ago I left for Europe with Night Birds armed with the laptop I’m currently tapping away on, my camera, and a change of clothes.  Now a couple weeks after our return to the US of A, my morning brain on the train is wondering why I’m not typing daily.  Dare I say, cranking out daily updates from the tour van in Germany, Hungary, or Finland formed a habit?  I guess time will tell.  But for now, I feel the need to write and, maybe just maybe, you’ll want to read.  I’ve got a handful of ideas in the pot that still need some time to simmer though.  For today, I thought I would give you a birthday screed, since 38 has got me by the ankle presently. 

I turn 38 tomorrow. Say it with me – thiiiiiirrrrrttttyyy-eeeeeiiiightttt. Hearing it as a booming chorus is probably the only way it can sink in.  At the risk of inducing one of my annual existential bug-outs, I feel the need to reflect.  A birthday is a birthday is a birthday and they are like assholes, ya’ know.  And also after a certain point birthdays don’t fucking matter.  38.  I can’t think of a more meaningless number.  Sure - the Author giggles to himself in a quiet train car – keep telling yourself that. If the number is now meaningless and therefore the significance of a birthday is hollow, then I guess I can mark the day as an opportunity to inventory the past 3-6-5.  See how I did that?  

Not as an effort to cling to the last fading wisps of my youth or prove my virility, I found myself on two hardcore punk tours this year.  I traveled with a European band through America and an American band through Europe.  And both of those bands intersected nicely on both continents for a pair of memorable nights (here and here). When Government Flu hit the States straight outta Poland, I was psyched to have a seat in the van.  My son had just turned one year old.  Family and friends celebrated sweetly with us.  Balloons, cupcakes, party favors.  Just a few days later, I temporarily abandoned fatherhood for hardcore - busing it down to DC in order to catch up with old friends, hear good music, and mosh.  Then I got in the van to catch up with old friends, hear good music, and mosh in a different town.  I more or less did the exact same thing when I was 24 with Tear It Up and Fast Times.  But now I’m 37.  Go figure. 

Two months ago, I was sweating bullets at work over various deadlines and projects and the eventual quarterly performance review during the days.  The evenings were spent sweating bullets over pending home-ownership and monthly budgets and moving logistics.  In mid-July, I was off to LA for a work assignment.  12 hours after returning from that trip, my wife and I closed on a house.  Three days later we moved, then another three days later, I was standing at Newark’s international terminal with Night Birds for a two week adventure across 12 countries.  See above about temporarily abandoning fatherhood, but this time throw in any and all familial responsibility. I left my wife and son in a new house full of boxes.   

I didn’t necessarily give any thought to my age as we pogoed from country to country.  My main concerns were centered around having a good time, having some food, and then having a place to sleep.  I mean, those needs tend to transcend age, right?  It’s really just the context that makes it more unique than say, the average 37 year old dad with a nine-to-fiver.  But really, how unique is it?  Bands young and old do this shit all the time.  Maybe they crash in a hotel or maybe they crash on the hardwoods like many a night on the NBs tour.  Not a ton of difference.

I’m certainly not the old guy at shows in New Jersey or NYC.  No way.  One of the advantages of living in the general area of the punk rock primordial soup is there are all sorts of great weirdos who have just been around since day one.  I suppose I’ll join their ranks one of these days.  Or maybe I already have.  I guess it’s all relative.  Still, it threw me for a loop when I wore an SSD shirt to a show and some young kid asked me if I had seen them back in the day.  What the fucking fuck?!

I still mosh at shows, only now I’m way more cognizant of flying fists or diving bodies.  When shit gets out of hand, I immediately think through the ramifications of dealing with a broken nose.  I don’t mosh as often as I used to, and when I do, I basically have the flu the next day and I’m sore for a week.

When I was a kid, the first hard rock, heavy metal, whatever bands I got into were Kiss, Motley Crue and Iron Maiden.  I purchased an overpriced cassette by the middle one at Six Flags one summer night.  Girls, Girls, Girls.  The video for Wild Side is what did me in. For some reason, I was hooked. It was one of my first tastes of rebellion.  They looked like the dirtiest, heaviest creeps ever.  The lyrics were so intense too.  “Papa won’t be home tonight, found dead with his best friend’s wife.”  Whoa!  “No escape, murder, rape.” Crazy! “Our father, who ain’t in heaven, be thy name on the wild side.” Holy shit!  I mean, how did I sneak this past my mom?  Except, one time while blasting a second generation dub of Shout at the Devil, she asked me “hey wait, are these guys satanic?”  My reply – “YES!”  I told Vince Neil that story at a Borders book-signing a few years ago and he was kinda taken aback.  Glad I could freak both of them out.

My passion for loud music and seeking out adventure via good rock-n-roll certainly hasn’t abated with age.  Year 37 is as telling an example as any.  Tomorrow night, after a lovely day on the Shore, I’ll abandon my family once again.  May they breathe a sigh of relief though; I’ll just be gone for the evening.  Got tix to see Motely Crue.  As I stand there in my cheap seats, I’m not sure if I’ll be thinking about being a 38-year-old jerk or being a perpetual kid or being a father.  I suppose I’ll just be thinking of good tunes and where I can find more of them.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tour Post 13: "Oh my god it's Ken Ramsey!"

Well sports fans, this is it.  12 days on the road and a pair of travel days in the air and it’s over.  12 shows and one cancellation.  11 countries in three different time zones. An innumerable amount of roadside toilets.  Countless shirts, records, cassettes, stickers, patches, pins went to good homes in trusting hands.  I weaseled my way on to this tour because Nights Birds are more than one of my fav bands – they're good friends.  I love travelling, seeing new faces, hearing new bands, and eating.  Believe it or not, I love working the merch table.  I also love taking photos and writing, so the blog/photography angle seemed appropriate for the band’s second go-round in Europe.  Except I don’t take photos when the band plays, I mosh (well, usually).  For all those reasons, the guys were nice enough to let me in the van. That and I didn’t smell too bad or snore too loudly.  So at the end of this series of tour updates (now, one week after the fucking tour finished!), I just wanted to extend a thanks and a high-five to those of you bothering to read this stream of reflections, memories, and random crap.  Thanks for passing on your kind words at the shows.  Much appreciated!

PS: Sorry for any bad grammar. You should hear the way I talk...

Brian nods forward in the front seat, Adolescents quietly whispering from his headphones. Joe, also sporting headphones, rocks out in his own personal bubble.  PJ carefully reads Artie Lange’s latest with a furrowed brow.  Ryan makes not a peep from the sleepy loft. I’m just trying not to disturb the peace with full-throated laughter while flipping through the barrel of monkeys that is Seinfeld’s book. Michl pushes the van ahead to the next stop. I fucking love tour.

Like two long-lost spider lovers signaling to one another, PJ and Ryan hover in the sky, backlit by the afternoon sun.  Attached to rope and harness, they spring towards the clouds repeatedly, surrounded by the jubilant chorus of our laughter below.  The ritual interrupted only briefly when the man running the operation grabs Ryan by the feet and holds him down on the trampoline for a few extra seconds ensuring an impressive lift-off.  I fucking love tour.

As if I’m watching a TV show in the middle of the night, I was not an actor, but a brainless viewer.  “What are you doing?!” Brian yelled in our Punk Rock Holiday dorm in the mountains of Slovenia.  Michl apparently trying to crawl out the second story window turned toward him and spouted off in tongues.  Not German, not English, pure gibberish.  “What the hell are you talking about?!”  And like turning off the TV, I rolled back over and drifted away.  Also, there were fireworks lit off sometime before dawn.  That’s the reason there’s a chair flipped over in the room.  Of course.  I fucking love tour.

Hearing that we were at risk of another showerless, hobo night in an airport, Masa from Ydinperhe arranged for us to clean up and rest up before the journey home.  Like every night of this tour it was a singular experience – some nights you watch Jingle All The Way; other nights you drunkenly miss the bed after turning off the light and your arm gets torn up like a mountain lion attack, other nights you squeeze into a crowded dorm of 100 snoring punks; still other nights you gotta’ suck it up and skip sleep or even sleep on the floor of an airport.  On this last night we sat around buzzing on the success of European tour and digging Finland’s hospitality while listening to a vintage poetry slam of black power activists from the early 70s.  I fucking love tour.

Every punk, every mosher, every hardcore kid, every normal, every weirdo, every jerk that came to the show.  Everyone that lost their mind, that banged their head, that screamed along, that rattled their brain.  Everyone that stopped by the merch table to chat or throw their hard-earned down for a t-shirt or record.  Everyone who is psyched to wear a dagger pin on their denim, their bag, their hoodie, their leather jacket.  Everyone who drove across town or international border to see NBs for their first time or 50th.  Every local band, every other touring band, new friends and old pals.  Everyone who put the band up, fed them, made them sound good, hung up posters, posted online, or just said hello at the show.  You are the reason I fucking love tour.