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Butlins Heavy, Pt. II

14 Dec

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Continuing on from my last post, I’m back to let you know who I thank and/or curse for ruining a little bit more of my precious hearing this past weekend at ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas 2008. Off we go:

1) THE MELVINS 2008 – Just the best established heavy band on the planet today, period. And I got to see em play twice. While they may not have been the first punkers to get heavy, their endless explorations and permutations of the concept over the past 2+ decades continually blow minds wherever they are heard. Who else would be confident enough to adopt a new rhythm section – the BIG BUSINESS guys – who, on a good night, are capable of upstaging the original members 6 ways to Sunday? Only crazy Buzzo and Dale.

Live, THE MELVINS played most of their amazing new Nude With Boots CD, surely in my top 10 for this year and the best reimagination of LED ZEPPELIN I’ve heard in a decade. Buzzo’s always a commanding presence whether playing rhythm gtr, pealing vicious leads, or growling cryptic lyrics; Jared looked and played bass like Davey Crocket might’ve skinning a coon; and the masterfully tandem drumming of Coady and Dale linked songs into seamless chains and/or destroyed entire sections of the audience on a whim. It was glorious.

They ended the first set with a defiantly in-your-face a cappella(!) version of “The Star Spangled Banner” which, after the election and this kinda gig, gave us American ex-pats permission to again stand proud. On the second night they played completely insane versions of “My Generation” and “Boris the Spider” with Jared mumbling and crawling arachnid-like through the audience. Nuts! All this was capped off by Jared & Buzzo singing Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” which got me pondering just what other kinda ugly ornery beauty has helped shape the contorted wonder that is THE MELVINS.

2) ISIS – The RADIOHEAD of black metal, ISIS is a big deal these days and for no apparent reason. Fans talk of “climatic, shifting dynamics” and “cinematic tension and release” but all I hear is a bunch of control freaks trying desperately to flatten everything out into one smooth, highly-polished aural pancake. It was not only boring but maddening trying to figure out what the damn appeal is. They can’t write songs (any more than 1 or 2 chords would ruin the gloss), there are no distinctive players or voices (although one of em did chime like U2’s The Edge), and the deadly seriousness with which they approach the whole thing gets me thinking these dweebs need to away from their Playstations a bit more frequently. Hopefully ISIS stuck around to get schooled by the some of older acts over the weekend.

3) MASTODON – Wunderkinder in the latest phase of heavy, MASTODON hit incredibly hard and physically powerfully like HIGH ON FIRE accompanying NEUROSIS on a flaming chariot into cosmic battle. Unlike ISIS, these southern boys took some real chances: gtrist Bill Kelliher was sidelined by illness and so they went ahead and played as a 3-piece. Without the dual gtr harmonies, the THIN LIZZY influences exhibited on their records were largely absent, and the sound was left wide open to shed light on individual playing.

Singer/gtrist Brent Hinds played relentless, ever shifting circles of notes that worshipped at the feet of John McLaughlin, drummer Brann Dailor used distinctly jazzy flourishes to color what otherwise might’ve been straight thrash playing, and Troy Sanders filled the substantial space between with monolithic bass chords and his wispy beard. While their sound may have been forged by gods, it was hammered by fellas who obviously engaged life in human terms. We were impressed, lemme tell ya – and their cover of THE MELVINS “The Bit” (with ample help from Buzzo, Dale, and Coady) reminded everyone just who carried that hammer to Earth first.

4) THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS – Only caught about half their set, but I’ll make a stab anyway: Gibby was as misanthropic, self-obsessed, and offputting as I remember him from the Locus Abortion Technician tour in ’87. I don’t care what Johnny Depp says, he’s a liability to the human race. But that don’t mean his band (esp. pinhead Paul Leary) aren’t still totally hot – they are, and have a uniquely skewed pop sensibility that spits out great songs as often as Gibby hollars abuse at the audience. Not sure what their confrontative abjection of yore is suppose to mean in 2008, but hopefully they’ll train their freak on new and wondrous musical activities in the near future.

5) THE LOCUST – Again only caught some of these guys, but they buzzed and freaked hella loudly around the periphery of my vision and hearing long after they’d left the stage. How does one describe the extremities trod here . . . Unitarded grindcore? Pigfuck electro-thrash? Powerviolent nerdprog? Mike Patton most definitely invited these guys, and for once I’m glad he did – so long as somebody made sure they reboarded their spaceship promptly afterward.

6) THE DAMNED – They started with alotta strikes against them: the sonics and lighting were very awkward, the keyboardist wasn’t plugged in for the first few songs, and the audience already pretty beat from the day’s hard rocking. Their challenge: how to follow a brain-crushing MELVINS set and win over a crowd of tired, heavy-loving longhairs with a sound that’s basically revved up, 60’s inspired party pop-rock. It wasn’t a match made in heaven, and alot of people didn’t understand what all the hubbub was about. But me, I watched keenly, moved in closer, smiled widely, and bounced evermore frantically through a rip-roaring set that included among others “Fan Club”, “Love Song”, “Dozien Girls”, “Under the Floor Again”, “Alone Again Or” and a gnarly take on “Smash It Up”.

Dave Vanian – once again sporting ghoul makeup – sang with a voice that gets stronger with every year you haven’t bothered listening. He’s now as clear and confident as a late 60’s Scott Walker, only he doesn’t forget how to laugh when he gets intense. Captain Sensible can’t move his neck too much these days but his licks were as wild, raw, and exciting as contenders half his age – his underappreciated talents still have the power to make the night skies burn with mystery and joy. Septuagenarian keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron both grounded and colored the songs when he wasn’t showing us how he pogoed back in ’76. The rhythm section was less distinctive (Rat Scabies left some big shoes to fill) but still solid and able. Best of all the great new material – harkening back to Strawberries-era glories – had me searching vainly through the merch area for their just-released, killer So, Who’s Paranoid? CD.

Yep silly ol’ Captain got naked and mooned the audience at the end (go YouTube it), but that doesn’t change anything. THE DAMNED remain a totally vital rock n roll act into their 4th decade. Plus: they were the only band I heard who actually thanked THE MELVINS for the invite to play! We at PS Recon thank em too.

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Thanks to Nathan Wind as Cochise for the awesome photo of Buzzo

Butlins Heavy, Pt. I

12 Dec

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ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas 2008 at Butlins in Minehead: leave it to Mike Patton & THE MELVINS to curate what had to be the most unorthodox ATP festival the UK has yet witnessed.

For once, heavy was well represented – not by mainline metallers, but rather by that odd/difficult end of beard-swinging hessians who visibly irked the SLAYER fans I had the pleasure of standing next to one evening. Also, there was a dearth of trad indie acts on parade, and the indie-aligned who did show up – THE BLACK HEART PROCESSION, SQUAREPUSHER, maybe BOSS HOG – were relegated to afterhours/second stage action. This must’ve bummed the skinny sweater contingent something fierce. And then: there were all manner of wha-the-fuh picks in the mix (JUNIOR BROWN, VOCAL SAMPLING, THE LABEQUE SISTERS . . .) getting everyone to scratch their heads at least a couple times over the weekend. Clearly, contrary is a musical esthetic that Mike and Buzzo both wallow in. And wallow we did.

But it was a fucking great weekend all the same. As I saw so many good bands, this post’ll haveta continue into another post next week. But let’s get started with a rundown of some of the hallowed ones who really sought fit to screw a nut straight into my headstock:

1) THE MELVINS 1983 – I just fucking love that these pillars of Modern Stoner/Sludge still stand proudly by their punker roots. This reconfigured lineup sought to recreate the very earliest MELVINS stirrings, and though they couldn’t lure Matt Lukin outta bass retirement, that didn’t bum their death trip one iota. Their songs at this point had a rapid, multichord gunfire attack I most associate with the GERMS (GI) rec, and at least one set of lyrics was about yr welfare running out – which really dated things. I mean c’mon: is welfare even part of the English language in Bush Jr. Amerikkka? Even when they slowed the beat down, it was in a gnarly slowcore vein that got me thinking D.I. doing “Richard Hung Himself” rather than anything SABBATHoid. A great little history lesson into the house that Buzzo built, and I bet it spun heads other than mine too.

2) TEENAGE JESUS & THE JERKS – Odd tableau vivant of long gone, late 70’s Lower East Side anticulture. James Sclavunos reinacted Bradley Field’s monomaniacal stare & snare, Lydia the 40-something Polish matron reinacted Lydia the mad teen runaway, and Thurston Moore made sure the bass sounded exactly like what he loves about their original 45s. They did every song they knew, and one twice (“when you’re this ugly you better be perfect”) and the set lasted 20 minutes. I dug every moment of it, but that’s what I say every time I come in contact with Lydia in a live setting. Hey: when’s she gonna corral THE WEIRDOS into revisiting that bitchen 13.13 LP with her?

3) THE MEAT PUPPETS – Had that couldn’t-give-a-fuck confidence that comes with knowing you’ve honed your thing to a sharp knife edge, these guys were a breath of fresh air at the end of long day of relentless rockin’. Oh man does Cris Kirkwood look to’ up and it’s no secret he ain’t much in the way of a bass player no more. But he was there at the beginning, his voice still sounds sweet, and it’s a brother thing I suppose. Anyway Curt is so fucking good at flatpickin’ they all can just ride on his coattails. I don’t actually own too many Pups recs, but I recognized most of the tunes: “Touchdown King”, “Plateau”, “Up On the Sun”, and a great and soaring rendition of “Look at the Rain” that had me grinning ear to ear. As I was really burnt by this point and some fool kept spilling his beer on me, I skipped out before the end. But what I witnessed was powerful enough to get me planning to explore all those Cobain-era records I’ve never bothered with.

4) JAMES BLOOD ULMER – Just James, sitting front and center in a suit, ringing out all alone with his voice and gtr. He strummed open tuned blues while simultaneously hammering-on lead jazzy lines/notes in true harmolodic fashion. The stuff from his recent Bad Blood In the City CD sounded especially powerful, separated entirely as it was from the annoying pro/tech impulses of producer Vernon LIVING COLOUR Reid. James is as deeply rooted as John Lee Hooker but somehow sounds futureforward and freewheeling all the same. Check out his great solo Birthright CD from 2005 for a taste of similar magic; by all means see him shred live while he still walks the earth.

5) FANTOMAS – I watched this performance with a bunch of very sweet but oh-so clueless Mike P. fans (“he’s so cute”). And like FAITH NO MORE and MR. BUNGLE before them, FANTOMAS was nuthin by a monumentally loud, complicated waste of my time. Yes they can stop on a dime, but so can MY SHITS, and that’s not a pleasurable sensation no how. Eggheads may love the near superhuman athletic ability it takes to perform such music, but I can’t ignore the ever-annoying presence of Patton’s pipes and ego. Anybody got any ideas how we can keep him away from the mic for good?

6) BIG BUSINESS – Bassist Jared Warren performed with an unassuming earthiness that reminded me of Mike Watt, and in tandem with drummer Coady Willis’ whirlwind Neil Peartisms I almost believed I was watching GONE tear it up after Ginn had stepped out back to smoke a fatty. Some guy named Dale Crover eventually stepped up to sling gtr over the top of their din, but honestly: this rhythm section woulda made anyone sound angelic. Somewhat expectedly, straighter-laced heads in the audience couldn’t seem to comprehend the depth of beauty unfolding right in front of them, but the seeds were planted. Fruit will follow, you’ll see.

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Shit I didn’t even get around to ranting about ISIS, MASTODON, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, THE DAMNED, or THE MELVINS 2008. Check back in a couple/3/4 days or so for Pt. II . . .

Thanks to curiouslypersistent for the nicely blurry ATP photo

The Hangover After The Nightmare Before Christmas

8 Dec

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Just stumbled in from a very long weekend in Minehead, Somerset for ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas 2008, as curated by Mike Patton & THE MELVINS. And man, am I beat. Got soooo much gushing praise for the ignoble ones called THE MELVINS – not to mention MASTODON and JAMES BLOOD ULMER and THE DAMNED and . . . yeah ya just might have to come by and entice with a six pack to hear all about it. Do expect to read a summary of the weekend’s highlights here at PS Recon in the not-to-distant future.

For now, get a load of the handdrawn caricature of Yours Truly morphing into Henry Rollins fronting BLACK FLAG, ca. 1984. Noted SST Records-loving artist Brian Walsby of DOUBLE NEGATIVE drew this of me in no time flat as I checked out his merch table. It’s no doubt the closest I’ll ever get to actually rockin’ with Ginn, and my wife says Brain nailed my shit-eating grin perfectly.

Nightmare Before Mike Patton

11 Sep

It’s official! My wife, her gal-pal, said gal-pal’s new NEGATIVE APPROACH-loving Kiwi hubbie and I are bound for ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas this 5-7 December at Butlin’s holiday resort in Minehead out along the Somerset coast. Yep that’s here in the UK you idiots. Curated by THE MELVINS & (ahem) Mike Patton. Egghead whitenoise types collide head-on with dudes with braided beards wearing NEUROSIS long-sleeve T’s for a little ring-around-the-punkeroo to spite the grim English winter. You and I know who’ll emerge victorious.

Big names? You got it buster: THE MELVINS, FANTOMAS, JG THIRWELL, BOSS HOG, ISIS, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, OS MUTANTES, MEAT PUPPETS, frickin’ TEENAGE JESUS AND THE JERKS . . . and the glory that still is THE DAMNED. Don’t ask me why THE DAMNED are like my favorite band I really didn’t listen all that closely to growing up, but I now do left/right/center. Don’t try and argue: they are great and inventive and such fun and oh my I can’t wait to see a geriatric Dave Vanian and Capt. Sensible rip through anything from their last (actually really good) CD from 2001, Grave Disorder. Course, I’ll settle for “Smash It Up”, too.

Among the littler ones, there’s BIG BUSINESS (MELVINS roadies); THE DIRTBOMBS (black-led NYC garage rock); DOUBLE NEGATIVE (North Carolina HC featuring cartoonist Brian Walsby) and the new folks I’m most excited about: TWEAK BIRD (incestuous sibling gtr/drums bludgeon duo from a post-Mrowster SoCal). Just prop me up in front of the Marshall stacks with a couple of cans of Foster’s, and I’ll be living the dream.

(OK so all I really know about these ATP holiday concentration camp experiences is what I gleaned from this informative home movie, courtesy of the good folks in REDD KROSS. But hey I got my bucket and spade packed already – seaside holidaymaking never seemed so grotesquely appealing. Join us there if you can!)