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.

1 comment:

  1. stage dive.. I got off a good jump but ended up landing on my head and then stopping by the emergency room on the way home. No serious injury, just bruises, and the medical staff was more than a tad amused when I told them what had happened... "you did WHAT? Why would you dive off a stage? Do you know how old you are?" And then I got it again from my wife and mother-in-law when I got home. Oh well--the show still kicked ass.