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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.

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