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Look Behind You

9 Dec


No, I’m not exactly back in action just yet, but in the meantime . . . do read Joe Carducci’s touching tribute to SAINT VITUS and the singularly heavy drum style of Armando Acosta (RIP) over at The New Vulgate. Fittingly, Joe ends by locating VITUS in the larger pantheon of great but criminally-ignored bands hidden down in the South Bay during the 80′s – SACCHARINE TRUST, OVERKILL, SLOVENLY, SECRET HATE:

‘Ray Farrell . . . referred to the SST bands as “neighborhood bands”, which made me think that that might be the secret, maybe only in the south bay did rock music continue to be a folk music like rock and roll had been for the sixties garage bands and the rockabilly bands of the fifties’

We at PS Recon couldn’t agree more.

I Was So Heavy Man, I Lived On The Strand

30 Jan

Great new interview with Keith Morris reminiscing about his earliest Hermosa Beach stirrings is now up over at the Easy Reader, done by The Godfather Of Wildass 70′s South Bay Rock N Roll himself, Mr Don Waller. Keith: “it was taking Ted Nugent and Black Sabbath and ZZ Top, speeding it up, and taking it to the next step” – exactly.

Photo of Keith, ca. 1980 courtesy of Jennifer L7 Finch

Kickin’ ‘n’ Stickin’

26 Nov

Have now made it through all 402 pages of the new BLACK FLAG biography written by Londoner Stevie Chick, entitled Spray Paint The Walls. I had high hopes for this, oh did I ever. The short intro piece – describing the author’s vain attempt to locate hallowed South Bay punk places of yore in the new millennium – had me grinning wide. The self-effacing tone of it was most welcome; here, a Brit was attempting pilgrimages I’d made 20+ years ago, and coming up nearly as empty! But once the book got rolling proper . . . well, let’s just say I was underwhelmed.

For starters, there’s Chick’s lazy decision to begin by contextualizing this story within wider, modern myths: “California has always been the stuff of dreams . . .” Maybe, but however you slice it, Hollywood ain’t the appropriate starting place for a book about gangly, ham radio weirdo Greg Ginn. Then: there’s those irksome place/name/factual errors strewn willy nilly throughout. Oh so you so used to hang out in “Huntingdon” Beach, did you? And THE MISFITS are from the west coast, you say? Yeah sure . . .

Chick has a tendency to pad the book out with tiresome, often superfluous details, slowing everything down and adding an unnecessary 100 pages or so to an already-long book. There’s a lengthy, yawn inducing bit on the post-FLAG career of Rollins, not particularly interesting info about dozens of SST artists with only vague connections to the larger story, and sorta patronizing, Wikipedia-like descriptions about everyone from MINOR THREAT to THE GREATFUL DEAD sprinkled throughout. Stevie, I agree that not all Deadheads are gonna know who BF roadie Tom Troccoli is – but that all FLAG wavers are gonna know who Jerry G. was? I guarantee.

Such things I can forgive, had the author more fully acknowledged his cultural distance from his chosen subject. Chick’s more of a “lyric” guy – as opposed to an “instrument” guy – which bothers me. Clearly he’s read and loved Joe Carducci’s writing about the rock core in FLAG, and he’s definitely written alot about FLAG’s music here too. But the endless attempts to read deeper meaning into Ginn’s lyrics seem misdirected to me. I’ve come to believe it was the incredible musical power of the band that still means much in 2009, and I don’t always get a sense that Chick has digested the full significance of the 100 or so changes Ginn led his FLAG through during their time. Certainly, I don’t always agree or relate to his assessments of the relative merits of various FLAG recordings.

What is impressive is the extensive collection of interviews Chick has amassed here. No he didn’t get Ginn or Rollins on board, but dammit if the lengthy words by Dukowski, Keith Morris, Ron Reyes, and Kira aren’t all amazingly insightful – while contributions by more peripheral guys like THE LAST’s Joe Nolte, REDD KROSS’ McDonald brothers, Mugger, and the aforemention Tom Troccoli are equally eye opening and vital to fleshing out this often very private, suburban picture. Had he decided to pattern this book on Brendan Mullen’s Lexicon Devil or We Got the Neutron Bomb, as straight oral history – this woulda been un-putdownable, as the story itself is a great one. But since Chick’s writing is merely journeyman, his book provided few real revelations for me. Which is ironic, since every BLACK FLAG record has continually blown my mind all down the line.

A Tale of Three Bands

18 Nov

Gonna talk a bit about three 80′s bands tonight: ARTISTIC DECLINE, BATTERY FARLEY, and LEFT INSANE. These bands came at music from very different places, referencing separate aesthetic agendas, exhibiting few if any overt musical similarities. That said, they all hailed from that neck of Southern California I grew up in, and somewhat incidentally actually had some overlapping members. None of these bands ever got the kind of attention they deserved, but I recommend checking out any/all of em, as their tunage is spun frequently here at Chez PS Recon.

ARTISTIC DECLINE – “Reality Or Dream” (Random Violence CD, lowartmusic, 2006) A quartet active in the early/mid 80′s South Bay hardcore punk scene. All the love em or hate em hallmarks of suburban HC are on display here: the nasally rants about political and parental targets, the over reliance on polka beats, and those midsong drops from double-time to half-time (think TSOL’s “Code Blue”). But . . . listen a little closer, and you’ll hear any number of curious, arty considerations too: quite severe & angular chord progressions ala THE URINALS, jolting blink-and-you’ll-miss-em song structures learnt from early MINUTEMEN records, and aggro but occasionally harmonized vocals. ARTISTIC DECLINE really were straining to burst the arbitrary shackles of HC convention, ca. ’83.

This places em in higher company, for sure. Rather than just another SUICIDAL TENDENCIES clone, ARTISTIC DECLINE came across like a younger, kid-brother version of 100 FLOWERS, with their only real peers around the South Bay at the time being the great and equally overlooked SECRET HATE. This 29 song CD collects most everything they did after their first EP in 1983, and I can vouch for the fact that, in 2009, the entire thing will hold your undivided attention every goddamn time you spin it. Maybe if ARTISTIC DECLINE had started out on New Alliance instead of New Underground, they’d be better remembered today? Maybe.

BATTERY FARLEY – “Flag Waving Idiots” (S/T double 7″ 45, Fission Arts, 1985) Named after both mainman Jeff Farley and the Point Fermin military bunker in San Pedro where much of this was recorded, BATTERY FARLEY was the band ARTISTIC DECLINE’s gtrist Jeff Charreaux moonlighted with during those very same early/mid 80′s years when he wasn’t feeling particularly hardcore. So what the heck was this? New wave is too derisive, synthpop too reductive, and nobody in the South Bay knew what the heck coldwave was back then – so call em artpunk. In 1985, BF released an awesome double 7″ that serves up, among many other things: moody, floating pop disassociation (“Help Me Down” and “Doctors”), a frozen instrumental that could’ve been a Blade Runner soundtrack outtake (“1985″), and the most manical rant ever to target the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles (“Flag Waving Idiots”). For those that missed the passing of ARTISTIC DECLINE, the near-HC rage of “Merging Buses” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the aforementioned Random Violence CD. As if that’s not enough, there’s some neat herkyjerk gtr scattered throughtout, courtesy of Paul Radabaugh . . . but more on him later.

Taken in total, the mix of styles and sounds is so unlikely, I’m gonna call this mind-expanding in the literal, hippie sense of the word. Their later Dress For Obscurity EP couldn’t possibly top this early peak, but does continue doing a damn good job of keeping me guessing, entertained, and kinda nervous in pretty even amounts. If DEPECHE MODE and their ilk had been this appealingly off-kilter back then, I might still have a sideways haircut to this very day. One day, very soon, this stuff’ll be reissued by lowartmusic for the masses to finally appreciate.

LEFT INSANE – “Beginnings” (Tool Box, Nemesis/Cargo, 1990) I’m not the first to call these guys “kinda SSTish” – hell, the band themselves once acknowledged this in an interview published in an old issue of Suburban Voice. LEFT INSANE cut an instrumental path that picked up at the proggier end of late 80′s DESCENDENTS and left off within earshot of Greg Ginn’s GONEtogical arguments from the same period. Which makes sense: drummer Tony Cicero had been in SACCHARINE TRUST, and their original bass player and producer was Stephen Egerton, better known for his playing with THE DESCENDENTS and ALL. But this band was actually led by gtrist Paul Radabaugh, who’d previously been the hidden gtr weapon in BATTERY FARLEY’s otherwise synth-heavy artillery. Go figure.

Everyone in this trio could play play their asses off, and thankfully they left behind a good 7″ and this great CD as proof. A modern reference point would be the post hardcore heaviness of STINKING LIZAVETA. LEFT INSANE were equally tightly coiled, expansively jammy, and/or explosively raging, depending on mood and inspiration. And as STINKING LIZAVETA has now gone and covered JIMI HENDRIX’s great “Power of Soul“, so too LEFT INSANE once went and blew the top off JIMI’s “Beginnings”. Oh man, does Tony C. ever kill on that one.

Open 24 Hours

7 Nov

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Beneath nobby knees, stripey socks, and the formidable hit of a dozen cups of acidic coffee, lay the baddest 5-piece band ever to stalk the Earth. The flipside of their TV Party 45 EP (SST Records, 1982) proves it once and for all:

Thanks to Glen E. Friedman and We Got Power for the image

Imperial Leather

3 Oct

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THE IMPERIAL DOGSLive in Long Beach (October 30, 1974) DVD.

So: it’s 1974, ok. All across the USA. It’s another year for me and you, another year with nothin’ to do. But there’s an insane South Bay rock band calling themselves THE IMPERIAL DOGS who’ve come to play the student union at a local college campus, promising “an evening of sex, violence and public outrage.” Needless to say, all promises are kept. And somebody brings a video camera to document it.

35 years later, this DVD arrives.

Yep: THE IMPERIAL DOGS were indeed four wildass white guys from the early 70′s who dug gtrs and very loud amplification. Fed up with suburban life, they channelled the Gods of Detroit Heavy Metal and kicked up a racket that sounded like a particularly fun and sloppy night on the BLUE ÖYSTER CULT Secret Treaties tour. Their only claim to fame at the time came when BÖC themselves used an IMPERIAL DOGS song title and refrain (“This Ain’t the Summer of Love”) on their mega-platinum Agents of Fortune LP. But for a few of us, they also remain a vitally important link in the chain that connected 60′s garage rock with early 70′s heavy metal and on into late 70′s punk rock.

Sonically speaking, the music contained on this DVD bests the live stuff waxed on their archival Dog Meat Records LP back in 1989. The fidelity here is equally murky, but the rockin’ is tighter and the song selection superior – check out newly unearthed cuts like “Just Kids”, “Loud, Hard & Fast” and “Sweet Little Strychnine” – vicious little gems, these be. Throughout, gtrist Paul Therrio slashes both rhythm and lead menacingly behind a surfer’s wall of blonde hair, drummer Bill Willett not only plays but looks like the MC5′s Dennis Thompson, and bassist Tim Hilger – dressed in bondage leather, chains, and fur trousers! – keeps it totally cool, and strikes me as the most musical of the bunch.

Visually though, it’s frontman Don Waller who bumps this performance up to a new level. Oh man is he one righteously pissed-off cat. He screams like David Johansen, contorts like Iggy, and stalks this multi-purpose room stage like an crazed S&M biker, hollering more abuse at this polite hippie audience than any sane man oughta. I like that he’s smart enough to keep a sense of humor biting throughout, and that he explicitly acknowledges that hallowed lineage that gave him permission to get this crazy in the first place: Bo Diddley, THE KINKS, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed & THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, MOTT THE HOOPLE. His over the top performance – at various points utilizing a whip, a chain, and a revealing couple of inches of asscrack – renders most of the clueless crowd mute. He does succeed in getting a couple cute girls dancing – which, I suppose, was his not-so hidden agenda all along.

Taken together, this IMPERIAL DOGS performance sounds & looks like what I always imagine Mick Farren’s DEVIANTS must’ve, 5 years earlier: sub-basement primal, burning hot to the touch, and fiercely urgent. It’s four misfits grabbing the time of their lives straight outta the thin, milktoast air in early 70′s suburban Southern California. True, damn near nobody there knew quite what to make of it all. But then such is the fate of so much rock ‘n’ roll greatness, especially that which surfaced before punk made such musical/emotional extremes more socially acceptable. At least now we got the goods to keep their promise alive for generations to come.

Get it here

Progressive Kinda Rhymes With Caribbean

15 May

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Apologies for the lack of action round the Pig State lately – been on vacation the past couple weeks, adrift in warm Caribbean breezes of the US Virgin Islands. No indigenous rock and roll was heard during my travels, but at least two separate versions of Buster Poindexter’s manic “Hot, Hot, Hot” were noted – the first rendered on cheap solo gtr & rhythm track by a Hound Dog Taylor-looking gentleman outside the St. John airport, the second on steel drum in a restaurant we dined in too frequently (belch).

When not snorkeling, drinking, burning, or sleeping, I could invariably be found listening to progressive rock on my I-Pod – and, inexplicably, only that prog that grew outta the neck of the woods I happened to grow up in. Now this was a somewhat new development in my musical maturation – even as an adult, prog hasn’t been something I’m always enamored by – and it sure irked the hell outta my wife. But as I’ve blogged about the music of the South Bay many, many times here before, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d eventually write about prog sounds from my old stomping grounds too. So here goes:

146021. AMBROSIA – “Time Waits For No One” (Ambrosia, 20th Century Fox Records, 1975) – There was this short lived Redondo Beach record store for a couple years in the 80′s called Round Sounds that seemingly made it their sole mission to revive classic 70′s prog rock. ELP gatefold albums were displayed with pride on the walls; GENTLE GIANT listening parties were arranged but sparsely attended; and yep the owner sported exactly the frizzy mullet and soccer jersey you might imagine he did. Here, all this amazing post punk/hardcore underground rock was unfolding all around us, and this dude’s trying to sell me my first ALAN PARSONS PROJECT record.

But I do not doubt that this shop owner held AMBROSIA dear to his heart. Hell, I’m starting to myself. All these AMBROSIA fellas grew up in the South Bay, they claimed San Pedro as their home years before that town became most-closely associated with THE MINUTEMEN, and they concocted at least one great if totally commercial LP in 1975 that you should check out before you die. Yes they sound PABLO CRUISE/DOOBIE BROTHERS slick (how could you not if you were a hotshit SoCal career musician in the mid 70′s?), but this also sounds like 4 dudes still totally excited to be allowed to leap through ambitious, progressive rock hoops for the rest of us to marvel at. The story goes these guys were diehard CROSBY, STILLS, NASH, AND YOUNG fans, until they had a spiritual moment at a KING CRIMSON gig on the Sunset Strip and went for it. In turns West Coast breezy, fusionoid complex, and dorkily escapist – at one point they’re playing beneath a hammy reading of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky – this was the result, and a thing of beauty it is. You punkers will forever deride em but that’s just cause mullets and soccer jerseys are an easy target. The harder thing to do is find the balls to give this a listen. AMBROSIA might just surprise you like they did me.

chakraTachika2. CHAKRA – “Keys to the Kingdom” (Chakra, 1979) – I don’t kid myself: this ain’t “somewhere in between bands like RUSH, YES, ZAZU, and GENTLE GIANT” as every other prog website says about this thing. No, this will never be anything but a muted, local prog rock relic from a smelly bedroom in Torrance, ca. ’79. Earnest in it’s love of sprightly keyboard figures and overly-arranged song structure, these guys at least display a DIY enthusiasm missing from pros like AMBROSIA. It might’ve even accidentally got CHAKRA opening slots for THE LAST at their early, more out-of-the-way suburban gigs . . . OK I too could’ve done without the Christian lyrics, but hey if I ditched all the records in my cabinet by avowed Xian types I’d be staring at one jaundiced collection, that’s fr sure. My wife laughs at me when I play it, and I rarely play it all the way through. But dammit I’m still happy that it’s 2009 and I got a CHAKRA record to spin if I wanna tap my foot to regular joes playing in odd time meters. Me I can follow CHAKRA’s kinda convoluted, suburban musical logic, even when I’m blushing.

816933. 5UU’S – “Roan” (Hunger’s Teeth, ReR Megacorp, 1994) – This is actually well past their South Bay phase, after they’d become world explorers/ex-pats not unlike Yours Truly. 5UU drummer & leader Dave Kerman hates the prog label, but how can a band that started as a KING CRIMSON cover band ever ditch that tag completely? While these guys became known as the American wing of HENRY COW’s Rock In Opposition (RIO) movement, I prefer to remember them as The Band That Confused The Heck Outta Me The Most whenever Splat Winger would spin em on KXLU’s Brain Cookies radio show – this was frequently. Their musicality was always scary, lemme tell ya – in ambition, scope, and execution. Upon reflection stinky RIO socks are jammed in lotsa hidden corners of their sound, particularly in their ZAPPAesque integration of Schoenberg’s 12-Tone Technique in composition. But it’s the sheer intensity and determined angst of the sound/conviction they exhibit that really pins me to the wall. Why didn’t Greg and Chuck ever get these guys to record something for SST Records back when they were still trapped in the South Bay? They seemed a natural to Blast a few choice Concepts back in mid-80′s Torrance.

South Bay Swells

24 Aug

I ain’t no surfer; the couple times I tried, it wasn’t any fun at all – I nearly drowned. Yeah I lived across the road from the Pacific Ocean for a decade and a half, but no, I didn’t ever participate in the surf culture thing. My ignorance was exposed when this surfer dude from Redondo Beach once asked me, knowing I’d grown up in Lunada Bay: “what do you think of what they’ve, ya know, done up there?” I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about, and told him so. He explained that for years Lunada Bay had been a place you didn’t venture down into with a surfboard without somebody to vouch for you. It was locals only territory; it just wouldn’t have been in your best interest. Had I surfed, such truths would’ve been self evident.

Now instrumental surf – rather than the butt-cold, salty ocean kind – is a kinda surf that I’ll gladly submerge myself in. While South Bay musicians didn’t single-handedly invent such music, they were an integral part of the string of folks who gradually shaped and honed late 50′s instrumental rock toward the reverb-drenched, fleet-footed sound that would eventually be taggable as surf. Along with Orange County, the South Bay was ground zero for where rock was created that reflected and spoke of this unique, regional beach subculture. Granted, instrumental surf adhered to fairly narrow musical perimeters, but within the context of early 60′s popular music, it stood out as some of the most compelling, rhythmically-driven music imaginable.

You can keep Brian Wilson and the neo barber-shop harmonies of his BEACH BOYS (who, not coincidentally, came from this area too). Today, I’m here to talk real surf music made in real time on gtrs/bass/drums by and for teens in and around the ocean at the time. Bands with names like EDDIE & THE SHOWMEN, THE REVELAIRS, THE VIBRANTS, and most importantly, THE BELAIRS. These bands and a dozen others were playing regularly at the Club Bel Air on Catalina Blvd. in Redondo Beach, just as artist Rick Griffin was developing his distinctive artwork on flyers for surf bands while attending high school in Palos Verdes, and as pioneering surf film director Bud Browne was lifeguarding in Hermosa Beach. The South Bay scene was on fire, nearly 20 years before the area became synonymous with suburban HC punk rock. Here are just a few sonic samples of that original South Bay sound:

1. THE BELAIRS – “Mr. Moto” (from The Origins of Surf Music 1960-1963, Iloki/Hep Cat Records, 1993) The original Rolling Hills bedroom demo of the greatest surf instrumental of all time. Like me, you may have learned this one from AGENT ORANGE – but in 1960, these 14 yr olds had only each other to learn from. Primitive and utterly captivating; at this early point, this stuff wasn’t even called surf music. But as these kids did hang out at Torrance Beach, it would be at later gigs that the term started being applied to this sound. Gtrist Paul Johnson observes in the liners that “good music comes from real life flowing between people” – I can’t think of a better way to describe the moment that’s caught on this ancient bit of tape.

2. THE CROSSFIRES – “Out of Control” (from Out of Control, Sundazed Records, 1995) Just rippin’ early ’60s instro action from a pre-TURTLES Flo & Eddie. These boys were from Westchester and held down a residency at the Revelaire Club in Redondo during the dying days of surf, as THE BEATLES were urging everyone toward vocal poprock tunage. Though this one’s pretty straight ahead, their full recordings illustrate a surf band pushing the envelope in a half dozen interesting directions, searching for ways to hold on to their original audience but also stay with the changing times.

3. THE JOURNEYMEN – “Surfer’s Blues” (from Rare Surf, Vol. I: The South Bay Bands, AVI Entertainment Group, 1995) Like me, these guys lived in Lunada Bay and didn’t actually surf. Apparently they represented the late 50′s crossover of ho-dads (non-surfer, greaser types) trying to get with the new surfin’ trend – sort of a naive, early ’60s equivalent to punxploitation – and hence the cheesy title. Talented gtrist Artie was the main attraction here, who’d go on to join Paul Johnson in the way more OG surf band PJ & ARTIE in late ’63.

4. PJ & THE GALAXIES – “Tally Ho” (from Rare Surf, Vol. I: The South Bay Bands, AVI Entertainment Group, 1995) The pinnacle of ’64 South Bay surf, imo. Shows how forward-sounding surf could actually be: close your eyes, and you too will believe this is New Zealand’s THE CLEAN doing their own self-penned post-punk song of the very same name. This was Paul Johnson’s group after he’d left THE BELAIRS, and the first 30 seconds of gtr chiming here (before the melody is introduced) is so intoxicating I usually hit replay a half dozen times before I listen to it all the way through.

5. THE LONELY ONES – “Miserlou” (from the Diggin’ Out comp., Mr. Manicotti Records, 198?) Don’t know jack shit about this one except they were apparently from Hermosa Beach and the lead gtrist shreds. If this isn’t an earlier form of the same suburban rock mania that BLACK FLAG and THE DESCENDENTS eventually made this town famous for, I dunno what is.

6. THE NOCTURNES – “Sticky” (from Rare Surf, Vol. II: The South Bay Bands, AVI Entertainment Group, 1995) Wild, bigger surf band from Tustin/Orange who gigged alot in the South Bay in ’64. The gtrist could almost be heard as a precursor to SYLVIA JUNCOSA, what with that totally compelling, chaotic/messy lead style of his. Certainly a nice palette cleanser after listening to too many of the more buttoned-down, perfectionist surf players out there. Could see these guys besting all the rest on this list live by the sheer size of their cojones.

Southland Implosions

7 Mar

I was back in SoCal for a week this month – first time in two and a half years! While there, I spent some time cruisin’ freeways and highways and byways through those geographies known as the South Bay, San Pedro, & Long Beach. While at it, I got to wondering: has anything musically meaningful gushed outta these once-hallowed grounds since the 80′s?

In the intervening years, I’d come to believe them areas to be, in the words of Mr. David Tibet, “DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD!” Oh sure, I too heard all about bands with names like PENNYWISE, F.Y.P, and SUBLIME. But somehow, those yahoos just did not equate with meaning in my jaded mind. And I do not think I was the only local harboring such beliefs.

But as I’m still jetlagged, I’m feeling gracious. What follows is an attempt to reevaluate three turn-of-the-century comps that give an indication of what these three areas – each of which, at various points, I’ve called home – stood for when my wife & I up and jumped ship to the UK 3 years ago. Me, I didn’t give this stuff so much as a nod (much less a wink) at the time, but, in the spirit of fair play, I’ve come to back to really listen.

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bayafter.jpgThe Bay After (Raw Power Records, 1999) – The concept is obvious: 19 “nu skool” South Bay punker acts take on 21 “O.G.” South Bay hardcore tunes. And the results? Well, they depress the everlovin’ shit out of me. To think that at one time such inspired – nay, genius! – HC punk rock like BLACK FLAG, THE DESCENDENTS, RED CROSS, CIRCLE JERKS, hell even THE NIP DRIVERS once ripped forth from these zip codes still puts a big, shit-eating grin on my face. That UTTER CRAP like this would eventually follow, well, that’s one for the mystery books.

Hot tip: don’t ever go and do a straight cover of a BLACK FLAG or DESCENDENTS song with a clueless drummer in tow – you’re begging me to turn your music off. And that’s like a full third of this disc. Those bands who set their sights on less-ambitious groups like THE CIRCLE JERKS, NIP DRIVERS, RED CROSS and WASTED YOUTH [ed. note: since when were them West LAers a South Bay band?] at least have a fighting chance. The original stuff relied on rage/aggression as much as anything musical; kids of any generation oughta be able to replicate that. Outta this lot, WAR CALLED PEACE takes the cake – but wait, they feature singer Roby Rogers, who was an allumni of an actual early 80′s South Bay HC band, CON 800. So again, the old guys win. Only Mikey Theodore’s FISHSTICKS do anything fun with the material – but here, it’s with unreleased demos you probably never heard by the aforementioned CON 800, so you won’t be able to tell anyway. Watt does bob up playing old MINUTEMEN tunes with something called AGROKULTURE, but it feels like a vain attempt to legitimize things: too little, too late.

Can something this bad be blamed entirely on bogue concept? Does it speak more to the way many of these once-diverse, vibrant beach towns have been gentrified beyond all recognition? Maybe, just maybe, commodification of subculture leads invariably to SHIT.

triskaidekaphobia.gifTriskaidekaphobia (S.A.D. Cassettes/Recess Records, 2001) – I can’t say this is my favorite, but it is the most interesting of the lot, as the San Pedro terrain this maps has always been the most ornery and uncompromising of the these three areas. This collection sounds & feels homegrown/homebrewed, which gets my thumbs up from the get-go. And this documents crosscurrents that not only the punkers, but the metallers, experimentalists, and the aging ganja-rockers (yeah that’s you, Watt) will get a kick out of. Bill Bowman’s VIDA-sideproject, THE FARMERS (imagine that! A VIDA sideproject!) sounds tight, as does the overblown leslie organ that newcomers THE LEECHES base their garage madness around. The ubiquitous Watt sounds powerful doing a STOOGES cover with a trio called WE GO SPEEDRO, the F.Y.P guy sounds less annoying in his TOYS THAT KILL – and Pettibon did an eerily compelling cover. Craig Ibarra, who publishes The Rise and Fall of the Harbor Area fanzine, curated this with real affection. Gotta love that folks other than me were still groovin’ on a post-SST wavelength at this late date.

various_lbr_longbeachblvd.jpgLong Beach Blvd. (Skunk Records, 1999) – I lived in Long Beach in the late 90′s/early 2000s, and avoided all LBC tattooed white-guy dub action like it was Anthony Kiedis’ stillborn child. And this collection, not-so-subtly referencing the Beach Blvd comp. on Posh Boy from ’80, sprang from that fetid womb. But this comp’s ok, really it is! That’s probably cause Mudd (drummer of the original FALLING IDOLS) put this together. It starts really strong, with the reformed SECRET HATE doing songs found nowhere else. And those sound as eccentrically rockin’ as they did on their great Pop Cult Vomit CD from around this same time.

Somebody smart went and did a cover of a CREWD song, but I gotta admit the more rote-sounding stuff in the middle loses me. And just when I thought it was over . . . in swooped THE PIVOT FOOTS. These guys’ wry, lounge-punk stylings got me hooked and laughing but good. Could totally imagine them being a hoot and a half live someplace like Alex’s on Anaheim after a couple of those nuclear gin martinis they specialize in there. Yeah maybe I shoulda gone out more back then. If this comp. had only included the equally absurdist VANDALS-do-hotrod-music of DEL NOAH AND THE MT. ARARAT FINKS, I’d say it’d be a winner fr sure. As it is, seek out the individual CDs by SECRET HATE and THE PIVOT FOOTS, pretend you just ditched a nasty speed habit at Redgate Rehab facility out near Terminal Island, and get ready to live Long Beach Allday, everyday.

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Now I must admit, that really wasn’t too hard on my ears. Just don’t ask me to reevaluate Nu Orange County punker nonsense any time soon. I ain’t got the stamina.

NeareSST Relatives, Part IV

27 Oct

SSTfront

I can’t go on like this forever. It’s just not sustainable, this 1-degree-of-SST idea. I mean, there’s only so many SST/New Alliance Records-related fixations a man can reasonably have. And I’ve talked about most all of them over the course of these here NeareSST Relatives posts (the 1st, or 2nd, or 3rd installments in this series will clarify things for newcomers). So: barring the appearance of, say, a TOM TROCCOLI commemorative water bong or a MERRILL WARD annotated tarot deck – this’ll be the last of this series. Now, don’t start stamping your feet: there’ll be other SST rants/raves here is the future, oh yes indeed. But this’ll stand as your last NeareSST affront. Turn it up to 12 and count it off . . .

1. THE PERFECT RAT“Clouds” (from their Endangered Species, Alone Records, 2007) I once stumbled into The Idea Room – a short-lived coffee house & performance space adjacent to the SST Records HQ in Long Beach in the 90′s – and watched slack-jawed as bassist Greg Ginn, saxophonist Tony Atherton, and an unknown-to-me drummer (Bill Stinson?) coiled loosely together into a freestyle jam. Then, up stepped one Rev. Jack Brewer, who proceeded to intone a stack of obtuse poems like they were particularly nasty death threats/suicide notes. Now I’d seen Brewer perform before, but as I’d missed out on seeing BLACK FLAG and GONE, this was my one and only time I ever saw Ginn play live (though I did bump into G. once manning a cat rescue table outside an LB pet store!). It was urgent, plaintive, intuitive and out there, man.

Now: this CD hits the “market”, and dammit if it ain’t oddly similar. It’s the same core of dudes and the execution’s not unlike that one-off performance, except the twin gtr smudge attack (c/o Mario Lalli and Gary Arce) pushes the sound away from BOHO JAZZ and right on into the smoldering firepit of HEAVY DUTY. A third of this is instrumental, but the rest has Jack right up front, preaching the word – older, but no less ornery or driven. If he’d been a bit more prolific over the years, Jack would stand as a Cali equivalent to THE FALL’s Marc E. Smith in terms of nutrient-rich verbal content. And Ginn’s basslines, alternatingly contemplative and playfully blippity – so unlike his chunkstyle riffing and careening soloing in FLAG! – compel me in totally unexpected ways.

These are a lot more than just TEN EAST demos, pal.

2. BRIAN WALSBYManchild 3 (Bifocal Media, 2007) – New softcover by this cartoonist to the HC stars. Brian Walsby has been around for a coon’s age drawing flyers/recordcovers/comics based on our communal slam pit heritage that are boneheaded and bellyaching, in pretty equal amounts. This issue is especially heavy on the SST references, with a couple of great, full-page caricatures based on famous depictions of BLACK FLAG and THE MINUTEMEN, not to mention a hilarious Brady Bunch send-up of Greg, Chuck, and the rest of the gang. Other pieces include “Life After BLACK FLAG” (check that one out here), “Possible Careers for the BLACK FLAG My War Puppet Mascot” etc. . . you get the picture. The fact that Brian returns to this subject matter over and over (not unlike yours truly) belies a real reverence for the entire SST nexus. Bonus: this comes with a CD by Brian’s other favorite subject – THE MELVINS. A lo-fi, unreleased demo tape from 1987, pre-Ozma with Lori Black on bass! Would make a great stocking stuffer fr sure.

3. TWISTED ROOTS“Every Party Song” (from their Twisted Roots LP, CD Presents, 1986) – Not to be confused with the self-titled TWISTED ROOTS LP/CD on Bacchus Archives (which I recommend heartily), this was a one-off LP by Paul Roessler + a totally different band, including gtrist Dez Cadena and bassist Bruce Duff of the mighty JESTERS OF DESTINY. It was recorded while Paul was in DC3, but acted as a vehicle for his more theatrical, singer-songwritery impulses. It’s kinda sorta similar to the wacko approach Pat Smear took on his Ruthensmear rec on SST that same year (i.e. glitter/croon/pomp), but with a focus on piano-driven pop songcraft. And, for reasons that escape me now, much less successful.

While Ruthensmear delivered what I always considered to be a bitchen, post-wave update of MICK RONSON’s Slaughter on 10th Avenue, here Paul ends up sounding like, I dunno . . . an underground 80’s JOBRIATH? It won’t be the sort of brew most can stand, but hey: I’m kinda fascinated by JOBRIATH, so I can at least follow Paul’s logic. This particular cut is no less sappy/over-the-top than anything else on this rec, but it does have one of them nice melodies both Pat and Paul were once able to toss off during a quick Oki Dog midnight run. Plus, it kinda makes me miss the days when going to see Pat’s DEATH FOLK was a viable Friday night gig out in LA.

Stretches your patience, perhaps – but for whatever reason, I’m still sitting here listening to it.

4. SLUTS FOR HIRE“Problem” (from The Happiest Band on Earth CD, Flipside Records, 1996) In many ways, the LEAVING TRAINS were odd-men-out within the SST constellation: they were glamfag and willfully Hollywood, unlike all the rest of those dress-down, hairy/nerdy SST rocker types living out in Harbor City or wherever back then. The TRAINS never bothered with boring things like musical chops, and though they wrote great tunes they were often so amped up they’d race through em hastily like they were devouring a tube of Pringles. But like their labelmates, the TRAINS were originally from ‘burbs (well Pacific Palisades, anyway) and they always stuck their tongues out at any urbane coolness/smugness around LA.

As did their screaming kid-sisters, the SLUTS FOR HIRE. The SLUTS were initially the TRAINS + friends in disguise, and they released a stupid/silly single to prove it. Then, Falling James was kicked out for being too old. Soon after, the SLUTS released a full-length CD and became 90’s Flipside mag idiot savant glitterati.

Now I’m not gonna kid you and say they were any shade of genius. But oh man they were soooo much fun live, kicking/yelling/screaming and flinging all their colored hair and bright, thriftstore duds round the clubs, long after most hipsters had lost any kinda fashion sense whatsoever. Seeing them had this unrepentant SPARKS/CELEBRITY SKIN fan thinking he’d died and gone to Tinseltown. Hell, I can honestly say they remain my favorite gig-on-cannabis ever. That’s EVER. Best SLUTS lyric (from “Neil Young”): ”Bruce Berry was a working man/ he used to load that Econoline van/ but that’s not all Bruce was loading . . .” Wish there were still half a dozen bands this fun out in LA anymore . . .

5. BLACK KALI MA“Evil Clowns” (from their You Ride the Pony CD on Alternative Tentacles Records, 2000) Gary Floyd’s is the third voice I most-closely associate with my home state of Texas. His falls right after ROKY ERICKSON and BILLY GIBBONS, but most definitely ahead of both BUDDY HOLLY and GIBBY HAYNES. And Gary’s is a great one. He screamed out one of the most memorable/iconic songs of the early hardcore punk rock era (THE DICKS’ “Hate the Police”) and howled all over two good SST LPs (THE DICKS’ Kill From the Heart and SISTER DOUBLE HAPPINESS’ self-titled LP) . Gary’s also known for his large stature but by the time he put together BLACK KALI MA he’d lost a heck of a lot of that weight, surely for health reasons. But that didn’t affect his voice one iota. I especially like Gary when he gets all sentimental, since it’s so obvious he’s a big – really, really big – softy underneath it all. Though here, the band is crunching down in that burning, hard ‘n’ heavy Texas blues rock tradition, bringing to mind THE MELVINS circa Stag. Tasty.

6. DEBRIS INC.“I Love Livin’ in the City” (From their Debris Inc. CD, Rise Above Records, 2005) If SACCHARINE TRUST were soul music, Wilmington-style, then Dave Chandler’s SAINT VITUS were most definitely soul music, Lomita-style. Longhair boys who just wanted to rock it slow, low, and heavy. Nothing more. How many people this side of Terry Riley have been so goddamn single-minded about their mission?

But that GERMS (GI) t-shirt Dave always wore (prominently displayed on the cover of the SAINT VITUS Thirsty & Miserable EP) was the source of many moments of really, really deep thought for me a kid. Like: were all these HC punkers just metalheads reborn with crewcuts? Was THE GERMS’ “Shutdown” a not-so-veiled BLACK SABBATH tribute? Did the Fabulous Furry Freak Bros. listen to THE RAMONES while they got high? It was positively confounding.

As was Dave’s recent DEBRIS INC. project. I suppose this was just a lark – nuthin’ but a diversion cooked up by bassist Rob Holzer (ex-TROUBLE) to get Dave away from the internet porn for an album’s length. They do this FEAR cover, an X cover (“Nausea”), and a bunch of short, blunt riff rants that sound as if they were written in the studio. And while the sum total ain’t exactly substantial (unlike every damn VITUS release), Dave is one unheralded gtrist/musician who actually deserves our unqualified support, even when he decides to goof off. My old boss once described his solos as sounding “like insects scrambling up a wall.” And there’s some of his patented insect-scrambling on this release too – ah, the sound of pure ecstasy! More than a few of us continue to slither in the shadows, patiently awaiting Dave’s next project . . .

7. ANDY & THE RATTLESNAKES“Patience” (From their Last Summer to Dance comp. CD, Fellaheen Records, 2006) As the 70’s became the 80’s, Andy and the boys held down a couple-year residency at the Taurus Tavern in Culver City near Venice. A pre-SST Records TOM TROCCOLI swooned to ‘em many a night therein, vowing then and there: should I ever get the chance to make a record, I’m gonna record something by this man. He got the chance on his Dog album on SST from ’85 with a wiggy version of this tune, albeit with liberties taken in the lyrical and arrangement department. And last year, Andy finally pulled together all his band’s loose cuts/demos from ’80-’81 on to this CD.

Time hasn’t exactly smiled on the sound of guys like Andy – the GARLAND JEFFREYS of the West Coast, anyone? But see, people forget that bands like THE MOTELS defined Hollywood street rock way more coherently than, say, THE GERMS did back in ’77 (Darby & Pat’s thing wouldn’t cohere for at least a year more). And Andy was the spiritual heir to that solid, early MOTELS sound. Aww, now you punkers just relax why doncha, it’s all just music anyway. Some of this band went on to be in BURNING SENSATIONS, but if that bothers you imagine you’re listening to the genesis of all things NIG HEIST and this tune’ll sit just fine.

8. JACK BREWERNo Lunch (Sinistry Press, 1991) A fitting end to this fitting (as in epileptic) series of posts. I bought this slim printed volume of Jack’s poetry at the tiny SST SUPERSTORE that existed on Sunset Blvd. for a year or two in the early 90’s. Pat Smear wasn’t working that day – maybe Kurt had already drafted him into NIRVANA? At any rate, it was left to a miserable-looking Falling James of THE LEAVING TRAINS, clad head-to-toe in drag, to accept my cash payment for this. And in all my travels, I’ve never ever seen another copy. It’s mostly lyrics taken from his various musical projects (SACCHARINE TRUST, JACK BREWER BAND, BAZOOKA, etc.) but there’s some stray bits in here that I don’t believe have ever found their way to record.

Jack’s always had a disquieting knack of melding mythical allegory & religious iconography with the mundane harshness of that $4.25-an-hour suburban CA life he’s been exiled to. His words are timeless, crystaline sweat; they ring out loud and righteous, no matter if he’s reading from high on a pedestal or from the prone position on a beer-splattered rock ‘n’ roll stage. And his art exemplifies that utterly compelling mix of high & low brow aesthetic senses – filtered through the grim reality of service-worker chumpdom – that underpinned all the best SST bands/artists. Dig the blurb.

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With that, I’m done. My hope for all you reading these NeareSST Relatives posts? That you will be reminded to plug into the work of these fine, fine ex-SST folks in the near future. Amen.

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Vintage SST tuner photos courtesy of Jonathan Charles

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