Sunday, December 30, 2007

Suburban Voice blog #55



From a musical standpoint, 2007 was somewhat unremarkable. Not a washout by any stretch and I definitely saw some killer bands live and there were some well above average records released during the year, as well. But there weren’t a lot of records I’d call “great,” that stand up next to my all-time favorite releases. Same with live shows. The punk rock road trips I took to Richmond, for the No Way Records fest and to Pittsburgh for my pals Bill and Rachel’s “wedding reception” were a lot of fun. Well, the shitty traffic I had to deal with in Pittsburgh wasn’t much fun but that, and having to wait for a connecting flight at the dreary Philadelphia airport, were the only irritants.

In all honesty, I spent a lot of time loading up my MP3 player with both old and new stuff and organizing my files on there. The music I spent the most time listening to, when not in review mode, came out roughly between the early 70s to mid 80s. That covers my pre-punk adolescence and then various punk, post-punk and hardcore that followed. Hell, as I write this, I’ve got my MP3 player plugged into my stereo and I’m listening to the Saints’ “International Robot Sessions” of unreleased demos from the “Eternally Yours” album. And the songs from the original album have stuck with me a lot longer than I expect this year’s “best of” list will. I don’t think any song I hear today or have heard over the past year can hold a candle to “Private Affair” or “Know Your Product.” That’s just the way it is. I suppose we all gravitate towards the music that inspired us when we were younger, that really got the ball rolling.

As I look through my plastic mail tub holding my favorite releases of 2007, one thing I notice is that most of them are vinyl. It seems as though there was an increase in the amount of 7”s sent for review this year, on top of the records I bought myself. Yes, I DO still buy a lot of new records and now I’m trying to figure out where the hell to put them. And, NO, you’re not invited to come over and take the ones that you think I don’t need. CD’s are useful for the radio show, if I don’t have the release on vinyl already, and they’re easily ripped and put on my MP3 player. They’re also useful if they have a bunch of bonus tracks from earlier releases, demos, etc. When I saw the Vicious, I got the CD instead of the LP and two 7”s that it comprised. That may cause some vinyl purists to scoff at me—there are definitely a lot of folks who have a completely dismissive attitude towards CDs. Sometimes, though, give me convenience or give me death. Vinyl, CDs and MP3 files can all exist in harmony in my musical universe.

I also notice that quite a few of them could loosely be classified as old-school hardcore punk. A lot of it falls into the “good but not great” category and I suppose that’s what I mean when I say the year was unremarkable. I’m always looking for different permutations of punk, hardcore, garage, metal and other elements that sound fresh, that sound vibrant, that move me in some way and that stick with me. A lot of the time, I’ll listen to something for a bit and file it away. There have only been a handful of records this year that I keep coming back to. And that’s why I’m more inclined to listen to older stuff.

Don’t take that to mean I’m completely jaded. There’s no better feeling (well, for the most part, if you know what I mean) than putting on a record and having it pin your ears back and giving you the urge to stomp your foot uncontrollably, maybe even start dancing around the room and be grateful that no one is catching that moment with a video camera! It’s the same when I see a live band. Just this weekend I saw Out Cold play at Welfare Records up in Haverhill and, from the moment the first chord was struck, I was riveted. They played 22 minutes and I wanted more. Given that my attention span gets shorter and shorter, it’s unusual for me to be able to watch a band for more than 30-45 minutes. This year, the exception was the Armitage Shanks, a fun garage/punk band from the UK, who played around an hour and it didn’t feel excessive. Incidentally, there is an excellent quality MP3 of the show (minus the encores) that you can download at this link (right click, then click on "save links as"). Thank me later!

Actually, the Dio lineup of Black Sabbath aka Heaven and Hell played nearly two hours at the Tsongas Arena up in Lowell. I realize that’s a rock concert environment and a totally different animal. Even with every cliché in the book, like the obligatory drum solo (there ought to be a law against those), it was still a blast. Ronnie James Dio is in his fucking 60s and hasn’t lost a step. I’d guess he was the oldest performer I saw this year. There were a few in their 50s, as well. One of them, Preston from the State, has more energy and intensity than many vocalists half his age and he pulls it off without looking like a fossil. On one of those stupid message boards where I post, one nimrod wrote that it was pathetic to see anyone in their 40s still playing punk. Needless to say, I read him the riot act on that one.

Of course, sometimes quantity doesn’t equal quality. As an example, I give the Neighborhoods, a local band who were one of my favorites in the early 80s. I saw them on my 20th birthday, in fact. I wrote about the band in another SV blog about a year ago, reminiscing about that show. I’ll reiterate that they were one of the best live local bands at that point. See for yourself:

Unfortunately, all they released then was the “No Place Like Home/Prettiest Girl” 7”. They did record an album around that time though, and it’s going to finally be released at some point—or so I’ve heard. All the recordings that came after were tepid, at best. In any case, they played 90 minutes at the Dodge Street Grill in Salem. Their vocalist/guitarist David Minehan still has an abundance of energy and pulls it off without embarrassing himself but the set was dull and largely uninspiring. Unfortunately, few of their early songs were played and even the ones that were didn’t have nearly the snap. It was one step above bar rock and without a semblance of the punk on which they cut their teeth. Also, it was the first time I’d been at a show where waitresses were walking through the audience trying to sell jello shots. Good thing there was no pit or the poor ladies would have had them knocked over. And it begs the question—what’s lamer? Jello shots or Pabst beer? I don’t want either of ‘em. There were two opening bands and they both played 45 minutes. 45 minutes for an opening band? Once again, there ought to be a law. For the record, the bands were the Dirty Truckers and the Vic Morrows and I’m just grateful that I was able to watch the Red Sox playoff game in the next room while those marathon sets were going on. Lame Replacements-ish bar rock and mediocre new wavish rock definitely didn’t cut it. To add insult to injury, it was 15 FUCKING DOLLARS for three local bands. I still had a good time because it was a night out with Ellen and my friend Chelle from Albany came out for the show, as well, so taking one for the team wasn’t so bad.

I guess I’m just spoiled by DIY shows where it costs between $5-10 and shirts are rarely over $10. In fact, the Shanks and ‘Hoods shows were the only over 21 shows I saw the entire year. The only other club shows I saw were in Richmond for the No Way fest, at a crappy club called Alley Katz, the “Few Hours More” fest at Valentine’s in Albany, Cobra Noir and Psycho at Dee Dee’s lounge in Quincy (I somehow missed the brawl outside during Psycho’s set) and a few matinees at the Midway in Jamaica Plain, which is more of a neighborhood bar than a club.

The balance of the shows were at various basement, warehouse and hall spaces. And some cool venues popped up this year—in particular, Welfare Records in Haverhill, the Ratscellar in Boston and the Democracy Center in Cambridge. Welfare is situated in a two story building that houses a record store, recording studio and, downstairs, a show space that holds a few hundred people. Completely DIY. It’s the same for the Ratscellar, which is in the basement of a warehouse somewhere in the city. It’s not a typical basement space. There’s a stage and PA and it comfortably holds over 100 people. Some of my favorite shows this year—Government Warning, 86 Mentality, Sex/Vid—were held there. They’ve also got a recording studio in there, as well. The Democracy Center is a student building at Harvard and it also houses the Papercut Zine Library ( They’ve actually done shows over the past few years but there’s been an increase, of late. Some basement spaces came and went this year, including the Cuntree Club in Brookline, Castle Greyskull in Allston and, supposedly, Baby Safe Haven in Somerville. Actually, I’m not so sure I’ll miss BSH since it was cramped and you couldn’t see shit unless you were right up front. The final straw for me was when the stairs going down to the basement collapsed one night. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Then there was the raw sewerage on part of the floor. There were still some killer shows there—Japanese band Breakfast, along with west coast thrash maniacs Conquest For Death and another show with Danish retro-punks Cola Freaks.


Not every live show was great. The worst performance I saw this year was Pure Hell, the 70s era punk band who have re-formed in the past few years. They played at Welfare Records on Halloween Night and their vocalist Kenny was literally falling-down drunk and slurred the lyrics he could remember. The band gamely soldiered on but it was like watching a trainwreck.

Let’s get to the list. They’re in alphabetical order but Double Negative put out the best record of the year, in my opinion, and they were also the best live band I saw this year, at the No Way fest. One of the things I like about them is they range in age from their mid-30s to early-40s and, once again, don’t look like a bunch of old men trying to recapture past glories. This is a new band with all new material. There’s definitely a lot of early COC in their sound and that makes sense since they’re from Raleigh. That’s not an overplayed style and Double Negative add their own elements to it. An aggressive orientation and also standing apart from almost everything else I heard this year.

Two more items—Brain Handle’s LP was released in a limited tour edition of 300 that is long gone but it’s going to be re-released in the new year by No Way. I only have MP3s but still include it in the best-of. I also just received the new Skitkids CD, Besöket Vid Krubban at the last minute. I’ve had files of it for a couple of weeks and it also deserves to be on the best-of list. Look for a review in an upcoming blog.

If you have any questions or need info about these releases, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Scroll through the blog archives for the reviews. Also, to see live photos from many of this year’s shows, go to my Flickr page at

Happy New Year!


Double Negative-The Wonderful and Frightening World Of…
Brain Handle-s/t
Broken Needle-s/t
B.U.S.H.-New American Century
Clusterfuck-How The West Was Won
Conversions-Prisoners' Inventions
The Daily Void-s/t (ex-Functional Blackouts, review coming soon)
Eddy Current Suppression Ring-s/t (released late Oct. '06. Close enough)
Hex Dispensers-s/t
Knife Fight-Crisis
Kvoteringen-Bister Prognos
Look Back and Laugh-State Of Illusion
Punch In The Face-At War With Everybody
Repercussions-11 Song EP
Skitkids-Besöket Vid Krubban
Street Trash-Into The Wasteland
Totalitar-Vi Ar ElitenViolent Minds-Eyes Of Death (this was actually supposed to come out a few years ago but finally got released this year. It would have been in my top records the past two years, as well)

Acid Reflux-s/t
Catburglars-Holy Shit EP
86 Mentality-Final Exit
Kylmä Sota-s/t
Nightstick Justice-s/t (originally released as a demo)
Straightjacket Nation-6 song EP
Terminal State-Sick
Total Abuse-Sex Pig EP
Wasted Time-No Shore

DEMOS (kind of neglected these this year—sorry)
Bad Advice-s/t
Guilty Faces-s/t


American Cheeseburger, Valentine’s, Albany
Annihilation Time, Braddock Elks and Cambridge Elks
Armitage Shanks, Abbey Lounge, Somerville
Brain Handle, basement in Allston and Mr. Roboto Project, Pittsburgh
Breakfast, Baby Safe Haven
Career Suicide, Alley Katz
Criminal Damage, Braddock Elks
Double Negative, Alley Katz (No Way Fest), Richmond
86 Mentality, Ratscellar, Boston
Government Warning, Ratscellar
Inmates, Incubate Warehouse, Richmond
Look Back and Laugh, Cambridge Elks
The Pist, Braddock Elks, Braddock, PA and Cambridge Elks
Sex/Vid, Ratscellar
The State, Midway Café, Jamaica Plain
The Vicious, Cambridge Elks

BEST LIVE LOCAL BANDS: Conversions, Out Cold, Waste Management, Civil Crisis, Social Circkle, Fruit Salad

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Suburban Voice blog #54



For this blog, I decided that all the reviews would be of 7” vinyl I’ve received over the last few months. It’s not going to completely empty out the box—and some will be reviewed in future blogs--but it’s about time to pay more attention to them and get out the word on the good ones before some of them go out of print after two days. Not that my opinion or recommendations necessary represent any sort of validity—it’s just one person’s take. A take, of course, that you WILL treat as the gospel truth being delivered from the top of Suburban Voice Mountain.

Goddamn I’m full of myself. In any case, a point that I want to makes is these are music reviews, not CD reviews. I’ll sometimes call them record reviews since the medium is often vinyl. I’m not opposed to CDs, and that often attracts the ire of vinyl elitists that I know. A lot of music I review gets sent to me on CD, although if I’m offered a choice, these days, I’ll take vinyl. The thing is I sometimes can’t track down the vinyl if it’s pressed in ridiculously-small quantities. That’s something I’ve discussed before. Also, if a CD has a bunch of extra tracks, then I’ll end up getting that instead.

The reason I bring up the fact that these are music reviews is because I was just glancing at the Boston Globe’s Sunday arts section and there’s a roundup of “2007: The Year In CDs.” The inevitable best-of lists and I’ll be doing my own in the coming weeks. I’ve already started to put that together and you can damn well bet that not one recording on my list will match the “tastemakers” at the Globe. And vice versa. There’s actually a wide variety of music on those lists, covering rock, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, pop and folk. And, as always, the writers sometimes act like lemmings—it’s amazing how they all fall over themselves for as mediocre a band as the White Stripes. I know they’ve “evolved” beyond their garage roots but, even when they were plying that sound, I can think of plenty of bands doing that style a LOT better. Hell, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, as overrated as they were, were much better at it. From what I read, it appears that Jack White has gone the dilettante route by embracing different styles. I’m not interested. Don’t try to convince me I should be. There’s enough underground/DIY stuff to keep me happy. Amy Winehouse is another critical favorite. I’ll admit I’ve only heard a few songs by her, including that “Rehab” song. It’s a matter of taste but it doesn’t do a thing for me. She also seems to be this year’s Courtney Love, heading down a path of personal destruction. Hell, just today I heard she’s been arrested for “perverting the course of justice,” i.e. they tried to buy off someone who alleged that her husband beat him up. There’s one difference, I suppose—Winehouse seems to have at least a modicum of talent. Courtney had ZERO talent.

I’m not here to dissect their choices, though. It’s just a case of a minor annoyance--that thecritics list them as CD reviews, instead of music reviews, because that seems to indicate they ignore music released in other formats. Those being vinyl-only releases, be it 12” or 7” releases. Even 10” releases… hell, in this section, I review a 5”! I think it fails to present a full scope of worthwhile music released during the year… but I tend to complain about things so take it as you will. So let me get off the soapbox and give you the rundown of some recent 7” records.

ANTI YOU-Pig City Life EP (Punks Before Profits)
A one-sided EP, cramming seven short hardcore blasts on there. An Italian band mining the early 80s quarry and hitting paydirt. And, for all the US influences, their cover choice is Discharge’s “Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing” and peeling away the overpowering bombast to something effectively stripped down. Succinct rage. (PO Box 1148, Grand Rapids, MI 49501,

BORED TO DEATH-s/t (Sorry State)
I remember someone had an MRR column called “In Praise of Generic Thrash” or something like that. Well, this is the kind of EP that deserves that kind of praise. This is standard US style thumpa-thumpa thrash, for the most part, by this Japanese band. The cheesy 7 Seconds-ish “whoaaa-oh-oh” during the chorus of “I Don’t Care” makes me smile, as does the sputtering guitar solo on “Borderline.” None of these four guys look as though they’re old enough to shave yet (well, the drummer has sideburns) and their boisterousness is endearing. (1102 N. Greensboro St., Carrboro, NC 27510,

BROKEN-At The Border (Vex)
Connecticut veterans Broken are back with more of a metallish sound on the title track of this EP, a tale of difficulty in trying to cross the border into Canada. Don’t you just love living in this post-9/11 universe? The other three songs occasionally flirts with metal but Broken remain a bruising punk band and vocalist Jim Martin refuses to mellow with age. To quote the title of an earlier release, I hope they remain mad as fuck! (PO Box 1271, New Haven, CT 06505-1271,

BURNING TIMES-s/t (Tadpole)
Kind of an epic quality to some of these songs—well, “Keep ‘Em Coming”--and it’s also somewhat disjointed sounding. Burning Times (who recently split up) let out a rush of rage but don’t fare too well with the blastier/thrashier moments. There are powerful elements but they just don’t come together that well. Sometimes, intensity isn’t always enough. (

CATBURGLARS-You May Be Dumb, But I Don’t Care (Cowabunga)
Some of these guys used to be in hardcore bands Def Choice and Get It Away but this is completely different. Straight-up garage/punk/rock ‘n roll with a snotty, humorous approach. There’s something of a Pedestrians mid-tempo sturdiness, as well. The exception is their cover of the Zeros’ “Don’t Push Me Around,” which is handled well. They have another 7”, “Holy Shit,” that came out around the start of ’07 on the Tooth Decay label—that EP favors a rougher sound and, is actually somewhat better than this one but both are recommended and meant to be played at a loud volume. This EP is accompanied by a colorful sleeve (purplish pink) and that contains a lyric booklet so you can sing along. (195-D S. Armstrong Way, Upland, CA 91786,

CROSS LAWS-Ancient Rituals (Cross Laws/Sorry State)
Another dose of no bullshit hardcore with an old-school feel. As always, it’s tough to come up with nuanced descriptions but I’d argue there’s a Midwestern feel here—Articles of Faith’s flail, for instance. “The Relic” made me think of a rougher version of that band’s “American Dreams,” for instance. In other words, there’s rawness but also a hint of melody in the guitar playing. Guitarist Daniel Lupton runs the fine Sorry State label and this fits in perfectly with the type of records he generally releases. If I could offer one minor point of criticism, it’d be the playing is sloppy from time to time but not to the point where things fall apart. (1102 N. Greensboro St., Carrboro, NC 27501,

CROSSED EYES-Rattled (Sorry State)
This North Carolina trio take a page from the likes of the Observers and The Vicious and have a semi-poppy/semi-nervy take on ’77 era punk only Crossed Eyes aren’t as mannered-sounding in the vocal department. The lyrics have a sardonic quality—taking on self-righteous white guilt for “Broke Bike,” for instance. Other songs are about seeing through phoniness and fakery, as well—then retreating back home or to the nearest bar. The songs bash along nicely with a surging hookiness and the lower fidelity (though not lo-fi) recording quality works to their advantage. (1102 N. Greensboro St., Carrboro, NC 27501,

DAGGERS RULE-Gleaming The ‘Cuse (Barbarossa)
A vinyl press of two demos from this now-defunct Syracuse band—their vocalist Pat Wilding is now the frontman for Boston band Mecchnibal. This is a raw tandem of hardcore, punk and a little metal with tough riffing and Pat’s hoarse, angry-as-fuck vocals at the fore. The lyrics are also up-front—dealing, for instance, with the tough-guy “crews” from their area (“You Chose Poorly”) or avoiding a “conventional” existence (“Never Deny”). Proving it was possible to be from Syracuse and have a bare-knuckled sound with the “firestorm” stuff. (Joshua Smith, 8175 Rt. 13, Canastota, NY 13032,

The one non-7”—this is a 5” and these records are such a fucking pain in the ass to deal with. After adjusting the return function on my turntable, I was able to get this to play and it’s worth the trouble. Deathcycle’s song, “Ten Years Later,” sounds like a heavier, bare-knuckled version of the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer” and Ron’s vocals have a pissed-off urgency. The Holy Mountain’s “Birth” is a piledriving piece of blitz-speed crust and Dan’s vocals are equally pained. Limited to 425 copies, one time press, etc etc. (1463 Ocean Ave., Apt. 2B, Brooklyn, NY 11230,

DEPRESSIVE STATE-Total Annihilation (Thrashbastard)
Mid-paced stuff straddling the line between hardcore and piledriving rock—not RAWK, but a surging/stinging element punctuated with beefy guitars and irritable vocals. The name of the band and EP, along with the tortured-looking soul on the cover indicates an overriding negativity about people, about life and that fits here, culminating in a burst of rain that ends up in a locked groove—endless unless you lift the needle. (Warschauer Str. 57, 10243 Berlin, GERMANY,

ECOLI-s/t (Stress Domain, 7” EP)
A vicious EP—a piercing signal of feedback hovers over the band’s frantic hardcore punk, bridging one song to the next and tearing off a few nasty leads. While the emphasis is on thrash-a-mania, the playing navigates time changes and the like very well. Drawing from the well of Void, Poison Idea and Black Flag but still making their own type of noise. Some vivid lyrical phrases, as well—“my head feels like some fucking rat’s asshole” on “Social Anxiety.” I’m not sure what thought process conjured that up but it meshes well with the band’s heart-racing onslaught. (

EVERYTHING FALLS APART-Tension (Art Of The Underground)
Another session of agitation therapy, courtesy of Everything Falls Apart. A howl from the innards—Pat’s voice conveys the pain and anger and there’s also an aggressive musical punch in the gut, if I can be alliterative for a momen. This isn’t as thrashed out as their first EP and it misses a bit of the roughness in production but the songs still pack a mid-to-fast paced wallop. (PO Box 250, Buffalo, NY 14205,

HUMMINGBIRD OF DEATH-Diagnosis: Delicious (I Deal/625/Give Praise)
This one’s a rager—no sweet bird noises here. This is a pure thrash attack and, even when they go into double-speed overdrive, it doesn’t come apart. As crazy as they sound and even with 18 songs crammed onto the record, it doesn’t lose its focus—well, the ridiculously short songs on side two do blur by but I still like the overall effect here. There are even some cool breakdowns to be heard if you don’t blink and miss them. Tight as fuck and it’ll rip you a new one. Also, there’s no way you’ll be able to read through the lyrics and explanations before the record ends but I’m glad I made the effort because, no matter how many times bands rail against homophobia, stupid scene politics and religion (of course), the sentiments here seem genuine. (19 Goldsmith St., Littleton, MA 01460,

KYLMÄ SOTA-s/t (Raakanaama, 7” EP)
Complete sickness from Finland. Four blazing tracks of D-beat raw thrash done in an appropriately over-the-top fashion. No lyric sheet, songs in Finnish but there’s no missing the anger or outrage expressed by their vocalist Ronnie—and his bandmates are Breznev (sic), Maggie and JFK—clever. Familiar terrain and planting some musical landmines. OK, I’ll stop now. Just track this down. (Rauhankatu 23 E 53, Turku, FINLAND,

NOJONS-s/t (Punks Before Profits/Feral Kid, 7” EP)
They lie because the singer/guitarist is named Jon. I’m not always that enamored with the pop/punk stylings here but the lyrics are humorous and cutting—poking fun at hipsters and Philly punx, wistfully wishing that they could go back to ’83 and skate in Calfornia and ultimately stating ”I don’t wanna be afraid to keep on being a kid”… AWWWW… (PO Box 1148, Grand Rapids, MI 49501,

OI POLLOI-Mind The Bollocks (Kämäset Levyt)
The lyrics are in English for Oi Polloi’s latest EP (the last few releases were in Gaelic) and there’s a theme, as well—namely men’s sexual health. “DIY” isn’t about the music scene, it’s about self-gratification. “A Whole New Ballgame” encourages guys to self-test themselves for prostate cancer. “Mutilation Of The Innocent” isn’t a Discharge-type rumination on the horrors of war—it’s about circumcision and, finally, “Violation” concerns prison rape and how little is done to stop it. Hell, I learned some stuff reading the lyric insert. Oi Polloi also continue to be a musical dynamo—stirring stirring tandem of anarcho punk and oi elements (natch) with drive and passion and that hasn’t dissipated since their beginnings in the early 80s. (

OLDE GHOST-s/t (Handstnad/Rok Lok)
A few folks from the underrated (to me, at least) Books Lie and these songs provide an outpouring of nervy/screamy rock. Vocals howled at the top of the lungs and accompanied by bashing drums and jarring guitar lines, bringing Drive Like Jehu to mind but, where that band had more of sinewy, nuanced approach, Olde Ghost utilize a more straight ahead clamor and utilize it quite well. Nice screened sleeve on cardboard stock. (PO Box 110398, Brooklyn, NY 11211,

SKUDS-Hellbound/REVOLUTIONARY YOUTH-Locked Inside (self-released)
Two trios from Georgia and this split is packaged inside a lavish gatefold sleeve. They may be coming from the same outlook but there are musical differences. Skuds opt for a blazing thrash/crust sound with absolutely rabid vocals and no let-up from start to finish. The darkly themed lyrics echo the band’s sound. Revolutionary Youth also have a political orientation for their title track, a song about the detention facility at Guantanamo, while their other song is about alcohol abuse. They use anarcho/punk stylings, coupling aggression with screamier elements and it falters during the dragged-out “After Another Drink.” I prefer the Skuds’ side quite a bit more. (804 Ellis St., Apt. B, Augusta, GA 30901,

THIS SHIP WILL BURN-Servant Of Servants (Thrashbastard)
Fired-up up punk/rock ‘n roll with inherent melody. Along the lines of early Fucked Up and I also hear a hint of late 80s DC but without any sense of whininess—in other words, there’s emotional content, especially for “So Frowned The Mighty Combatants.” Vocals are conveyed with an impassioned roughness and I’ll even give the soul-baring lyrics a pass. Good mesh of burn with tuneful inclinations. (Warschauer Str. 57, 10243 Berlin, GERMANY,

VASELINE CHILDREN-s/t (Thrashbastard)
Double speed hardcore by this Croatian band. The vocals are harsh and the songs have a viciousness but it doesn’t always hold together that well. The best song by far is the more reasonably-paced “Nothing To Give.” Their hearts are in the right place and I concur completely with the words to “E-Bay Punks Fuck Off,” but this ultimately isn’t too hot. (Warschauer Str. 57, 10243 Berlin, GERMANY,

Friday, December 14, 2007

Suburban Voice blog #53

To make up for the paucity of blogs lately, I present a slightly longer one than usual. Hope your eyes don’t glaze over…


So there I was today, in the grocery store and heard Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” playing over the store’s music system. That’s kind of unusual this time of year since it’s the holiday season and most music systems seem to be on an endless loop of “Winter Wonderland,” “Silent Night,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” et al, until I have to urge to hang myself from the nearest light fixture. Hell, when walking by the Salvation Army guy who was singing “Jingle Bell Rock” at the top of his lungs, I thought about offering him a buck so he’d stop singing but I decided to let it go.

“Come As You Are” has the line “I don’t have a gun,” which is kind of ironic since Kurt Cobain certainly did have a gun when he committed suicide in 1994. Or was killed—but, once again, I won’t go there. I remember a friend of mine being so upset that Kurt had lied about not having a gun that he got rid of all of his Nirvana CDs. I thought that was kind of dumb since he apparently didn’t get the concept that, perhaps, a song’s lyrics aren’t necessarily what’s going on in the singer or songwriter’s life.

One of my favorite show-going stories over the years was seeing Nirvana play in a basement dorm at MIT during the spring of 1990. This was about 15 months before they became mega-stars. They’d just played a gay club called ManRay a few nights before and weren’t bad but this show was mind-blowing. Pure mayhem. I’m not as big a Nirvana fan as I was—OK, I hardly listen to them anymore but it’s not because Kurt had a gun; it’s because I got burnt out on it and my tastes moved away from the kind of rock they played, although it holds up better than, say, Tad.

But that’s a show I’ll never forget. Show stories—I’ve got a million of ‘em and I’ll put them in a book someday so, if you want to hear/read all my reminiscences, you’re going to have to plunk down some cash for it. As with the Nirvana show, I have a vivid memory of my first punk show. It was the Plasmatics at the Rat in early ’79. Read blog #51 for some of the story.

That’s what the title of this blog refers to. In other words, it’s not THAT first time. That’s classified information and no one’s business. It seems as though people like to bare their souls on blogs or message boards but there are some places I just refuse to go. Go listen to some emo crap if you need a fill of that. The reference is about someone’s first punk show, which is the theme of the new book My First Time (edited by Chris Duncan, AK Press, I mentioned the book in blog #51, as well. Anyway, Mr. Duncan has pulled together a collection of short essays from various luminaries (?) to detail their first punk rock experiences. There aren’t the obvious names, either—no Henry Rollins, no Ian MacKaye, no Keith Morris, all of whom seem to pop up in every historical treatment of punk rock. Interestingly, though, many of the shows seem to involve the Circle Jerks and I suppose that’s a testament to their longevity or maybe their drawing power. The contributors are from different sub-scenes, for want of a better term. Many of the stories follow a similar blueprint, different riffs on similar theme. Some go for a direct route, writing from the gut and others aim for a more esoteric, poetic approach. Rusty Mahakian (a writer, stand-up comic and stevedore, according to the info at the back of the book), for instance, writes about the effect that seeing Jawbreaker had on him and calls them his “first ten-speed on the interstate. They were wheels and that show opened my world to the nooks and crannies of industrial neighborhoods, zines and work pants.”

This is what usually happens--an isolated, alienated youth is turned on to punk rock by a more worldly older brother or friend. Maybe there’s a boyfriend or girlfriend (or desired one) who leads the way. The baptism comes through the ubiquitous mix tape or, perhaps, a friend brought back some punk records from a trip overseas. Once that seed is planted, it’s time to make the journey into the big city, usually after convincing the parental units that there’s no imminent danger in such an excursion. Once the author reaches the show, he or she writes about how intimidating many of the other show attendees look, how rough the pit looks but they give it a try anyway and it hooks them for life. Some of them, anyway.

While some of the authors have continued their involvement in the punk scene (I’m using a generalized term here), others have moved away. There are a handful who could be described as “lifers” here and the contributors skew towards the older end of the spectrum. Those individuals who may not go to that many punk shows still maintain some of the ideals and apply those to their ultimate life path but also look upon those years with more of a nostalgic bent. Ben Sizemore from Econochrist writes that, “for a few years there, back then in Memphis, we were family and our lives were changed profoundly and permanently by punk rock.” That seems to be a common thread. Ben also writes, “I still consider myself a punk, but I can’t shake the feeling that the best years of my life have happened, and that the feelings I had back then will never be repeated.” It’s hard to argue with that point. For most of these writers, punk was an eye-opening experience, a rite of passage and experiencing those events for the first time certainly isn’t going to happen again.

It’s an interesting collection of contributors, from long-time punk veterans Joe Queer, Russ Rankin (Good Riddance), Rob Fish (108), Blah Dahlia (Dwarves) and Blake Schwarzenbach (Jawbreaker); Music writers Jack Rabid and Michael Azerrad; Even AK founder Ramsey Kanaan’s mom Ann, who at the age of 41 worked as a “bouncer” at a punk show at a hall in Scotland that he helped set up—that was her first punk show!

Disclosure: I contributed a piece about that Plasmatics show and also provided some photos, as well. But even without my contribution, it still would have been pretty cool. Actually, it probably would have been better. Enough false humility. There’s definitely an air of predictability at times but it’s still a fun read.


ACTS OF SEDITION-Crown Victoria (Bloodtown, 7” EP)
Before looking at the record to remind myself where they were from, I guessed Bay Area and I was right. The band’s second 7” EP (they also had a split with Bafabegiya. Pissed-off hardcore that comes out in the hoarse, sandpaper-coarse (hey, I rhyme!) vocals and hard-driving approach. Full-on aggressiveness but the guitar sound adds a melodic effect at times, so it’s not one-dimensional thrash. Slams at religion, the surveillance state and the “war on terrorism,” among other things—and I can’t find fault in their sentiments nor this record. (PO Box 22083, Oakland, CA 94623,

BUNNY SKULLS-16 Song Demo (CD-R)
A two-piece raw thrash outfit. The participants are Andrew from Vilently Ill on guitar and vocals and Scott, the former drummer from Florida band Gross National Product. The songs are nasty and ripping but, truth be told, these guys would benefit from having a bass-player and I’d also like to hear a better quality recording too. (PO Box 501, South Haven, MI 49090,


CARBONAS-s/t (Goner, CD)
The Carbonas’ third album and it’s some tuneful ‘n snappy punk. They’ve definitely tempered the roughness and raw energy of their earlier records (some of which are difficult to come by) but they still manage to combine the spirit of ’77 with power pop and garage and don’t sound dated in the process. Thumping songs with jabbing guitars and drums that push things along at an incessant pace. “I’m A Schiso” (sic) is the strongest of the bunch, where all the band’s qualities coalesce behind Greg King’s defiant statement of mental confusion. There’s a pub rockin’ feel for “Assvogel.” This will get your heart racing—a dose of musical caffeine. (2152 Young Ave., Memphis, TN 38104,

CLOAK/DAGGER-We Are (Jade Tree, CD)
Cloak/Dagger shed some of the raw(er) trappings from their first EP but it’s not as radical a departure as I first thought when I played the EP and album back to back. They always had a garagier/nervier element, anyway, and that’s expanded on for their debut album. The production still has an appealing crudeness and the songs rock with a jarring force—that’s brought on songs like “Hollywood Hills” and “New Year Resolution.” They haven’t abandoned hardcore touches, either---“JC Pays The Bill,” a clever commentary on religion-as-business, favors a locomotive-sounding rhythm and impressive guitar whizzle. Colin Barth’s six string style owes a bit to the slash ‘n jitter of Hot Snakes, only without the somber properties. Jason Mazzola’s wounded bark cuts across the thumping aggression put forth. Edgy and pounding. (2310 Kennwynn Rd., Wilmington, DE 19810,


CONVERSIONS-Prisoner’s Inventions (Level-Plane, LP)
The Conversions are one of the best local bands to emerge in the past few years and, with their first full-length album, they take it to the next level. Terry’s nasty, abrasive vocal snarl commands attention but the band’s tightly-executed musical accompaniment deserves equal consideration. The words reveal plenty of frustration with life’s uncertainties—more than reveal them in the way they’re violently expelled. At its heart, the Conversions are a hardcore band and the full-bore aggression of songs like “Basement Escapism,” “Point B” and “The Process” quickly reinforces that point. Meanwhile, more diverse influences are embraced—Minutemen-inspired touches for “Big Game”; a hint of Mission of Burma on opening track “The Answer” and, especially, “R.I.O.” That song concludes with free-form cacophony and that continues after you flip over the record for the title track. The playing is intricate, the compositions sometimes unconventional and it hits hard. (

I’m writing this review while working on a blog about creeping theocracy in the US and this demo has a track called “If Only An Atheist Could Pray For The Apocalypse.” A good sounding recording and it brings out the band’s flailing ferocity, coupled with venomous lyrics about the sad state of humanity, to offer a sweeping generalization. A strong blend of thrash, grind and even a little crust with a beefy guitar/bass tandem and in-your-face vocals. (

GERIATRIC UNIT-Life Half Over (Boss Tuneage, LP)
More geezer-core—hey, they’re referencing it themselves with the band’s name and the album’s title. As I mentioned in the review of their last record, some of these guys were in Heresy and that muse remains. A double speed thrash assault that flails off the rails on occasion but not to the point of unlistenability. The cascading pound for “The Return Of Rubbish Past” offers a slightly different wrinkle, for instance. These are minor distinctions—it’s all loud ‘n fast. And, as I’ve stated many times when reviewing bands that include age-advanced members, I enjoy hearing them getting the frustration out of their systems and a kinship is established. Judging by the words printed in red on the lyric sheet, there’s a lot of those negative emotions to be expressed--no patience for the ignorant, the annoying, the lying and not really wanting friends at all, in fact. I’m not quite as misanthropic and their vocalist Gords has seemed like a friendly chap in our correspondence, but I still raise my glass of metamucil, uh, iced coffee in middle-aged solidarity. (

In the Bunny Skulls review (see above), I mentioned that the guitar/drums duo would benefit from a bass-player. That’s not quite as true here, although it still wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Still, things sound a bit more fleshed out here and this three piece (rounded out by De on vocals) have a pretty ripping hardcore style. The opening song “I Can’t Scream Any Louder” captures the anger that De emits and the five tracks are succinct blasts of rage. (

IN DEFENCE-Don’t Know How To Breakdance (Get Outta Town, CD)
Definitely the best material by far from this Minneapolis hardcore band. Superior production, without being overdone, and they’ve got an ass-kicking approach. Surging speed and circle storm breakdowns and Ben barks out the vocals with authority, given plenty of backing. There’s definitely a youth crew vibe at times but they keep the punk in there and there’s also plenty of wit and not much preachiness. OK, “I Eat Kids” urges people to avoid eating meat in pretty strong terms. Still, these songs come across as positive, without the cheesiness. If “Boombox Crew,” with a “Straight Edge Revenge” type vibe, doesn’t get you stomping around, you’re probably dead. No breakdancing necessary—circle pits will suffice. (PO Box 4094, Winter Park, FL 32793-4094,

KILLROY-Football Chants & Angry Rants (Killroy/Nickel and Dime, CD)
Three of this 80s-era SoCal band’s members return and produce of CD of re-recorded songs from “back in the day,” some newer stuff plus a few covers—the Rejects’ “Bad Man” and they turn Sham 69’s “Borstal Breakout” into “Heads Kicked In,” without telling anyone. I guess I never noticed how oi-sounding this band was, the first time around. Pretty straight-forward, catchy ‘eadbanger punk, given a loud sounding. By the way, the football chants are about American football, not soccer and even though they’re Raiders fans, I’ll let it go. This time. (PO Box 555712, LA, CA 90055,


MUNICIPAL WASTE-The Art Of Partying (Earache, CD)
When I saw the Waste awhile back, their vocalist Tony began the set saying, “let’s pretend it’s 1987!” That’s pretty much always been their modus operandi—well, when they perfected the thrash metal style they’ve pursued since their more traditional hardcore origins. No excess, lean and mean, all of it hard and fast and executed with uber-tightness. That’s due in no small part to Dave Witte’s incredible drumming He’s a machine and about as technically solid a drummer as you’ll hear. Ryan’s lead work is tasteful and also non-excessive. They’re definitely capturing a sound, a time period, right down to, as always, the cartoonish artwork and obligatory photo collage centerfold. Many of the songs follow the theme laid out by the title, mainly about drink, puke, repeat although there’s a smart-assed sense of humor and a message from time to time—could it be that “Mental Shock” is an anti-death penalty song since it deals with an innocent person being executed? But there’s nothing lyrically heavy. A sense of sameness does set in after awhile but there’s also a purity in their attack to keep it lively. (43 W. 38th St., 2nd Floor, NY, NY 10018,

OUT WITH A BANG-Love My Life (Fashionable Idiots, 7” EP)
Feel the loooove in the air from these romantic Italianos. Yeah, right. Not with the calculated outrage of “Fagophobe,” which will definitely offend those who it’s meant to offend and make others go, “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke." I'm not even offended--just kind of bored with the button-pushing, to be honest. In any case, that song and “Love My Life” do have a sloppy ‘n chaotic fervor—and that should be viewed as a positive. “I Can’t Come” is an abrasive, lengthy piece of garage-scum, degenerating into a noisy mess and it definitely provides a sonic interpretation of ejaculatory frustration. In other words, Alessandro sounds as though he’s in agony and after "Fagophobe" baits "morons scared of using stupid words for what they are," as he told me in an email, maybe it's some kind of karmic payback. Serves him right! (PO Box 580131, Minneapolis, MN 55458,

PUNCH IN THE FACE-At War With Everybody (Lengua Armada, LP)
Chicagoans PITF’s first 12” piece of vinyl has been a long time coming. When this band started, they had a pretty blatant “Pick Your King” tribute angle, especially in the guitar sound. That was something I didn’t mind, since that Poison Idea slab is my all-time favorite hardcore 7” (well, that and Negative Approach’s). And there are certainly nods to classic hardcore sounds, all the while bemoaning the fact that “everything’s a reunion, everything’s a remake, everything is retro, how much can I fucking take?” (“Retro”). Even if it is retro, it doesn’t matter. This is the way hardcore should be done—short songs, simple riffing and a strong blend of speed and more rockin’ parts, coming out for the title track and “Reap What You Sow,” in particular. Ebro’s vocal agitation remains in full effect and he has the Choke cadence nailed. Rough and pissed the fuck off. The title track is a pounding expression of misanthropy that should appeal to anyone’s inner curmudgeon, the curmudgeon who is sick and tired of dealing with FUCKING ASSHOLES every day. The curmudgeon who has become increasingly disillusioned with people who disappoint him and disappointed with his (or her!) naivety. Live, learn and kick and scream so it doesn’t drive you crazy. That’s what’s accomplished here. And that’s one nasty cover, which could be viewed as an artist’s rendition of the effect of a punch in the face. (1302 Hayes St., San Francisco, CA 94117,

RED DONS-Death To Idealism (Deranged, CD)
Damn, there’s a title I can relate to, the older I get. As “No Pain” states, “it’s all about/the mistake that we made/to believe in anything.” Cynical but I’m afraid idealism sometimes fades with age—that doesn’t mean giving up completely but being resigned to the fact that a hell of a lot ain’t gonna change, at least in a broader sense. The Dons are the new band with former Observers vocalist Doug Burns and Clorox Girls guitarist Justin Maurer is along for the ride as well. Despite Burns being joined by an entirely new crew, it’s not a lot different from the Observers. The emphasis remains on melodic punk with ’77-era influences, particularly the Adverts and Buzzcocks, although Doug’s vocals don’t have the same sort of nervousness one finds in those bands. It’s more of a mannered croon. They’re perhaps a little poppier but there are some driving, energetic rockers here—“Just Write Romeo” best falls into this category and the aforementioned “No Pain” also has a similar punch. (2700 Lower Road, Roberts Ceek, BC V0N 2W4, CANADA,

SINKS-s/t (Fashionable Idiots, 7” EP)
Says it was recorded live on a 2-track and the four songs from this trio certainly have a primitive ambiance. Actually, ambiance is too fancy a word. How about bashability? Crude, slam-bang garage punk that probably wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if it was any more polished. If older Rip Off Records bands are something that floats your boat, this will sink (oof) it quite effectively. (PO Box 580131, Minneapolis, MN 55458,

Oh…my…fucking…god! Getting a package in the mail with a record this blazing makes it all worthwhile. A fiery blitz-bomb from both bands, those being Skitkids, from Sweden and the Japanese terror unit Nightmare. Skitkids haven’t been heard from in a bit and continue to ravage with their blazing hardcore, adding some rock ‘n roll fuel for “Inskränkt å Trygg.” Nightmare’s two songs have a throttling over the top power. Yes, I’m breaking out every hyperbolic term I can come up with but there’s no other way to describe this record. (

VARIOUS-Bands That Don’t Give A Shit About Being God (Social Napalm, 7” EP)
The title is a pun on the old Conflict Records anthology “Bands That Could Be God” and, I don’t know, maybe they’re not going to be god but these bands at least deserve high status. One side features bands from Boston, the other has bands from the Lowell area, and all of it is pretty damned impressive. Social Circkle start things off with some fired-up hardcore inflected punk, a direction they’ve been moving towards of late. Witches With Dicks offer super-catchy, non-twee melodic punk for “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” which appeared on their album and it’s worth hearing again. The Conversions show some post-punk meets hardcore inclinations on the driving “Chosen Few.” Flip it over and it starts with the always-blazing Out Cold, whose “Doomsday Guy” comes from their “Goodbye Cruel World,” followed by Violent Nuns and Sgt. Slaughter, who also stick to a loud/fast/raw vein. Non-stop rage. My copy is a test press and it should hopefully be out by the time you read this. (PO Box 4073, S. Chelmsford, MA 01824-0773,

VOIDS-Sounds Of Failure Sounds Of Hope (Dr. Strange, CD)
Fast-paced, female-fronted punk. Adri’s vocals sometimes overwhelm things but not to the point of distraction and the songs do have a consistently speedy delivery. I’m not too thrilled with their cover of Reagan Youth’s “Are You Happy,” where it seems a somewhat stiff rendering. The type of album that sounds good when you’re listening to it and nothing mindblowing but some of the songs have presence. (PO Box 1058, Alta Loma, CA 91701,

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Suburban Voice blog #52



Ever been at a show and you notice that someone is wearing a t-shirt of the band he (or she, since it’s not just guys who go to shows, of course) is going to see? I guess that’s seen as a breach of show-going etiquette. In fact, I’ve heard that from different quarters, over the years, so it’s nothing new I’m reporting on here. It’s just something bubbling in a corner of my brain, one of those little nuggets to be brought out for a blog or column and here it is now.

But, yeah, wearing a shirt of the band you’re seeing is considered quite uncool. I don’t even know where it started but I tend to follow the same rule. This seems to be particularly true for larger concerts. When I went to see the Dio lineup of Black Sabbath this past summer, there were plenty of vintage Sabbath shirts broken out for the occasion. Some of them rather ill-fitting, in fact. Some of the “those guys” who wore, say, an original “Heaven and Hell” Sab shirt have sometimes, let’s say, put on a couple of pounds and those shirts are a tad ill-fitting. It’s like a security blanket, I suppose, and it makes me wish I had some of my old shirts from when I was younger.

Sometimes, it’s the bands themselves that are “that guy” or “guys.” I don’t recall too many, if any, “that girl” or “girls” doing the same thing. The only “that girl” that needs to be remembered is the one played by Marlo Thomas in the 60s and 70s. Marlo just turned 70, by the way. I don’t believe that. Getting back to “those guys” in bands, you’ll sometimes see a member wearing their own t-shirt. Maybe all their other shirts are dirty or they ran out and they grabbed one from the merch table so they don’t have to bare their torsos but it’s interesting, nonetheless. This often happens with older bands. An example is pictured above--Bones, from Discharge. I’m willing to cut the guy a lot of slack because he plays guitar in fucking DISCHARGE. That trumps everything. Sorry about the quality of the photo. And I also apologize for the quality of the Hirax photo right below here—their guitarist sported the merch at a show I saw a few years ago. I’ve got to give them props for having the brazenness to run their fog machine even in the confines of a 100 capacity club.

I'm sure, in my younger days, I was "that guy" from time to time. I do remember I prevented it once, when a friend and I went to see Kiss at the Worcester Centrum (it has a corporate name now). While we were driving, he said he had a surprise, produced a bag and removed two Kiss shirts, one for me and one for him. I refused to put it on, since even then (this was sometime in the 80s), I knew it wasn't what was done. I was probably wearing some punk rock or hardcore t-shirt. Maybe it was a being contrarian. I was stoked on seeing Kiss--probably not as much as my friend, but still looking forward to it--but I wasn't willing to go that far. Now that I think about it, maybe it was Ozzy we were going to see. Or Priest. No matter who it was, I refused to be "that guy."

Sal from Electric Frankenstein basically made an argument for being “that guy” in one his Loud Fast Rules columns (issue #4), as part of his continuing “So You Want To Be In A Rock &Roll Band” series, basically about having a “career” in the music biz. He writes, “make sure at least one of you are wearing YOUR band’s t-shirt while on stage and that NO ONE is wearing another band's shirt while on stage. Forget all the pussy hippies or “punks” (same thing, isn’t it?) that cry about how conceited it is to wear your own band’s shirts on stage. Fuck them! You just put on an amazing show that made everyone rush to your table to get shirts and CDs and when they go home their great memory of you on stage is the OTHER BAND’s name on the shirts that you were wearing! THINK! That’s dumb! Dumb! DUMB! It is well proven in marketing that people need to see the name 7 times in 9 occasions to strongly remember that name!”

Sal goes on to write that you’re giving away your work to another band by wearing one of their shirts. It’s obvious he’s using a marketing argument. Brand recognition. I was actually a marketing major in college and, from that perspective, he’s correct. But, when applying it to the musical realm in which I’m involved, I’m not so interested in marketing. I’m interested in the music, I’m interested in some sort of community. Sure, it's often a shallow commonality, based on what kind of music we're into. But what do I know? I’m just a pussy DIY “punk.” On a different matter, you might want to offer to buy Sal a drink after he tells you about his miserable experiences with Victory Records. He deserves that drink. Actually, I really do empathize with him after all the horror stories I’ve heard about that label.

Anyway, I strongly disagree with Sal about never wearing another band’s shirt. Why does everything have to be competition? A cool thing is when bands are touring together and they’ll wear each other’s shirts. I don’t think that falls into “that guy” territory but, rather, it’s a way of showing support, kinship. And, considering the stories I’ve heard about bands being at each other’s throats (both internally and externally) during tours, it makes it all the more impressive. But, to repeat, what do I know? I’m also one of those “pussy punks” who isn’t interested in a career in the so-called music biz, although the machinations of such create an endless amount of amusement and gratefulness that I never seriously pursued any of it, beyond music retail.

Links to blogs on the topic, way wittier than mine: and



Before getting to the music review section, here are a couple of photos from recent shows. I posted a picture of 86 Mentality in an earlier blog so here's a new one. Both of them, at the Ratscellar warehouse/basement space, were pretty fucking off the hook. People went nuts for both bands but there was a much more dangerous, in-your-face vibe for 86 Mentality. Let’s put it this way—I didn’t go NEAR the pit during their set, whereas it was fine for Government Warning. Hell, at 86M, the pit found ME a few times. To see more pictures from these hardcore extravaganzas (and a lot more), go to



ALLEGIANCE-Desperation (Rivalry, CD)
Another band doing the heavy, modern hardcore sound. Allegiance have the big riff mosh-a-rola down to a tee and John Stark barks the vocals with purposefulness—the slight distortion on his voice is kind of cool and the production is definitely on the rougher side, which is also a plus. Still, this is textbook windmill/floorpunching/point those fingers in the air hardcore and really doesn’t otherwise distinguish itself. (PO Box 5242, Concord, CA 94524,

BARBIE AND THE HOOKERS/RF7-Split (Conformist, 7” EP)
Punk rock from the west coast and Xavier, the gentleman who sent this record, plays bass in both. BATH’s sound has a slightly garagey flavor merged with three chord snottiness and the lower-fi production works to its benefit. I’d imagine a fair number of you are familiar with RF7 but, if not, they’ve been around since the 80s and their vocalist, Felix, still has the vocal roughness. Nothing to make you forget “Submit To Them Freely” or “Kiss Ass,” but forging ahead with decent mid-to-fast punk. (10800 Laurel Ave., #L48, Whittier, CA 90605,

BITTER END-Climate Of Fear (Malfunction, CD)
A side note first—the label name Malfunction immediately gets me to start yelling “IT’S A MALLLLLLFUNCTION!” as in the Cro-Mags’ “Malfunction.” And Bitter End have that heavy sort of sound. Metallic hardcore at a mainly slow pace although they break out the thrash from time to time. And that’s when it makes my ears pick up. More songs like the hard-driving “On My Own” and I’d probably like this album a lot more but the lumbering crunch they stick to most of the time hurts the momentum. Kudos, though, for opening track “Panic,” the collage of audio clips that documents the past half-decade of madness, starting with the 9/11 attacks. (

BLOODY PHOENIX-War, Hate, & Misery (625/multi-label)
Relentless grindcore/thrash and played with precision and brutality. These guys stick to the thrashier side, with more judicious usage of double-speed and blastbeat drumming. The lethal guitar and bass pummel and high/low vocal attack create a punishing effect along the lines of early Napalm Death and ENT. A little goes a long way with this style but I’ll bet they rage live. Still, to be honest, it’s not something I’d listen to at home all that much. (


BORN/DEAD-The Final Collapse (Prank, LP)
Kudos up front for the superb packaging, with a gatefold sleeve and booklet that offer a visual depiction of the grim subject matter this Bay Area band lyrically explore. Born/Dead continue to connect with their crust meets US hardcore sound. It’s not just noise—there’s a haunting hint of melody to start and end “Years Of Death”and it frames the blistering rampage of “Nuance.” Another powerful effort. (PO Box 410892, SF, CA 94141-0892,

BRING ME THE HORIZON-This Is What The Edge Of Your Seat Was Made For (Earache, CD)
Iron forged technical metal with lots of double-bass madness, molten riffage and vocalized agony. One of the songs is called “Rawwwrr!” and I suppose that puts their approach into the written form. There’s no doubting the instrumental skill but this kind of bludgeoning heaviness quickly becomes tedious, even with only four songs clocking in at under 20 minutes. (43 West 38th St., 2nd Floor, NY, NY 10018,

DISKELMÄ/DISTRESS-Split (Kämäset Levyt, 7” EP)
With the spiked ‘n studded skeletal imagery and, uh, the names of the bands, it shouldn’t be too hard to tell where these two bands are coming from. Diskelmä are from Finland and Distress from Russia. Diskelmä start with a metallish flair before getting down to the crusty business at hand. Distress have an equally raw attack, maybe not quite as low-tuned. You know what to expect and both of these bands hit hard. (Nakari, Sorinkatu 6 B, 33100 Tampere, FINLAND,

INSTANT ASSHOLE-D.U.I. or Die (Tankcrimes, 7” EP)
Mothers Against Drunk Driving would HATE this band and I’m really hoping the title track is meant in sarcastic fashion. John the Baker’s vocals drip with sarcasm, anyway. A devil-may-care spirit lives and breathes through this band’s flailing punk songs and John’s rants. I agree completely with the sentiments for “Driven To Drink”—life is definitely full of assholes who drive you to that point. Or at least make me want to blast this kind of punk rock and make it all go away. (PO Box 3495, Oakland, CA 94609,

JUGGLING JUGULARS-When I See/Addicted (Zerga/Kämäset Levyt, 7”)
Only two songs here—wow, that’s not something I see all that often with the 7”s I review. The full-on punk of “Addicted” is better of the two. “When I See” opts for a more tuneful/emotional approach. A dominant bass-line carries the load here. Arja’s higher-pitched vocals sometimes go over the top but don’t overwhelm things. (Nakari, Sorinkatu 6 B, 33100 Tampere, FINLAND,

ORDER OF THE WHITE ROSE-Ghosts Of The Sidewalk/Seeds Of Destruction (Unitree/Hawaiian Express, 7”)
The latest salvo from this Hawaiian band isn’t as strong as the material on their full-length but not chaff, either. A pair of melodic punk songs with a lyrical sensitivity although not quite packing the same musical “oomph,” for want of a better term. Fitting in with the theme of the A-side, proceeds are going to support a Hawaiian food bank. (PO Box 880908, Pukalani, HI 96788,

RAIN-La Vache Qui Rit (Peterbilt/Dischord, CD)

Another Peterbilt reissue on CD (following Happy Go Licky and Deadline). It’s interesting to note that all the reissues so far were posthumous releases to begin with. This is textbook late 80s DC emo-style music. Before you go running away, I mean that in a positive sense and maybe I shouldn’t even use that term—but I just did. If you’ve heard bands such as Soulside (guitarist Scott McCloud, who joined the band later on, was in that band) or Ignition then you’ll have a pretty good idea of where they’re coming from. Melodic rock that drives home the hooks and the vocals from Jon Kirschten express passion without going overboard. Scott’s vocal on “Snakeout,” on the other hand, echo Guy from his Rites of Spring days. Very much of its time and holding up well. This is the type of stinging sound that wraps itself around my head. (3819 Beecher St. NW, Washington, DC 20007,

RED HANDED-Wounds Remain (Rivalry, CD)
A smokin’ blend of older hardcore, punk and occasional heaviness. If there’s an overall mood to this album, it’s being fucking pissed off—and I wrote that before seeing the press sheet, which says exactly that. Great minds think alike? The aggro really comes out full-bore for “RH Army” and “Losing Sleep.” Two covers paying tribute to the roots—Black Flag’s “Room 13” (you know—“keep me alive!”) and Void’s “My Rules” (sorry, but bands need to cover other Void songs although it’s a decent version). Red Handed don’t allow themselves to get bogged down in sluggish arrangements. Rippin’ it up. (PO Box 5242, Concord, CA 94524,

SGT. SLAUGHTER-They Call Me Guitar Dickmouth (Social Napalm, 7” EP)
Finally some vinyl for this underrated hardcore band from the northern ‘burbs. It could also be the last for awhile, if ever, since their vocalist Aaron is moving to the west coast. “Home On The Strange” has the classic tense buildup, leading to a thrashy attack and that continues through the four songs here. Some hot licks from the dual-axe lineup and the slight bit of distortion on Aaron’s vocals works well. Sgt. Slaughter have a classic old-school inspiration, without sounding specifically like any one band. (PO Box 4073, S. Chelmsford, MA 01824-0773,

VARIOUS-Perhosten Kerääiä (Roku, LP)
Four Finnish bands and, if there’s such a thing as a classic Finnish HC sound, these bands don’t really follow that blueprint. Laybacks, the only band who sing in English, play a driving street punk sound with an adequate amount of burn. Polttoitsumurna also have elements of up-da-punx fodder, a harder edged guitar sound and it’s merged with a few Scandivanian touches, plus there are male/female vocal tradeoffs. Omaisuusvahinko mix things up, as well. Thrash and catchier punk, hindered by sloppy drumming and out of sync vocals at times. The right idea, not always the best execution. Finally, Dissect also have the right idea, that being raw Scandi-thrash/crust but it’s hindered by god-awful vocals (once again male/female). With a better vocalist or pair of vocalists it could be killer. Their last song, “Perseenuolija,” takes a rougher punk approach and has an endearing raggedness. Nothing particularly essential here. This record is actually a bonus that comes with Perhosten Kerääiä ‘zine and that includes lyrics and info on the bands, interviews with Aurinkokerho and Streittari plus reviews of “kalssikot” (as they put it) records. All of it in Finnish, by the way. (

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Suburban Voice blog #51


(something a little different this time... the reviews will be back in the next blog)

On November 15, 1997, the legendary Boston punk rock club The Rathskeller aka The Rat closed its doors forever. The flyer at the top of the page is from the last all-ages show at the club. Gang Green were the last-ever band to play the club later that evening. I can’t recall if I knew that was the final show, at the time and, even if I did, it was only a short time before the show.

I didn’t even think about this anniversary until James from the Pinkerton Thugs pointed it out on the Lemmingtrail message board. As the title of this blog says, where does the time go? The Rat had actually been around as a nightclub since the 60s, was known as TJ’s for a time and reverted back to the Rat name in 1974, according to the New England Music Newsletter. There’s a two part story with reminiscences about the club that you can see here: (Part 1) and (Part 2).

It was located in Kenmore Square, around the corner from Fenway Park for you non-MassHoles/New Englanders. Kenmore was seedy and scary at that time and gradually became gentrified and sanitized, which I’ll get to. It had “charactah,” as we say in Massachusetts English. There’s an interview with the club’s owner Jim Harold that appeared on the Boston Groupie News site and you can read it here:

The Rat became ground zero for Boston’s burgeoning underground rock scene. There was a double disc “Live At The Rat” album on Rat Records (of course). The label later released two singles by the Nervous Eaters. The second, “Just Head/Get Stuffed,” in addition to being one of the best early Boston punk singles, is hopelessly rare, especially with the picture sleeve and with the record not pressed off center. In any case, if you listen to that LP, there was quite a bit of more bar-type rock. Still, DMZ had a solid driving garage rock sound. Vocalist Jeff Conolly, aka Monoman, has kept the flag flying for three decades, most of it with the Lyres. The snotty Real Kids also made a strong impression as John Felice exuded a defiant yet vulnerable Jaggerly performance on their sole song, the stomping “Who Needs You?”

I heard about this place and when I started at Boston University, in the fall of ’78, I knew I had to go into Boston’s most intense underground dwelling… that subterranean cavern of lurid vice and gla-mour known as the Rat…” That was punk DJ Oedipus’s introduction on that album. Oedi, born Eddie Hyson, was the first punk DJ in Boston, on the MIT station WTBS, which changed its call letters to WMBR when Ted Turner bought them for his Turner Broadcasting System. Oedipus’s show, The Demimonde, was must-listening every Saturday afternoon. He even had cool music for his concert reports—the Real Kids doing a cover of Link Wray’s “Rawhide.”

I first entered the club in the fall of ’78 with a high school friend visiting for the weekend. The drinking age was 18 and so it was possible to go to clubs. When the commonwealth raised the drinking age to 20, I was 19 and couldn’t get into clubs for another year. It sucked—they didn’t “grandfather” people in and I missed god knows how many great shows that year. At this Rat show, we saw a wretched Springsteen-esque band, the Stompers. I refuse to call that my first punk show. The band later gained some popularity, signed to a major label and you can probably find their records in a 99 cent bin somewhere.

Nope, the first real show was the Plasmatics and the Molls. I’ve told this story a ton of times, as well, and just did a piece on it for My First Time (AK Press, where so-called luminaries (hah!) write about their first punk rock experience. To give the Reader’s Digest version, that was my first punk show. The Molls had an electric bassoon player but still connected with a cool artsy-punk sound and their 7”, “White Stains,” is a KBD classic. As for the Plasmatics, it was quite the baptism into the live punk rock experience. Wendy O was one hell of a performer, in her bloodstained t-shirt and sheer nylon panties, grinding around, just out of reach of groping hands. This was before they had broken nationally, just around the time when their “Butcher Baby” EP was released. Of course, the climax was the sacrifice of the guitar via chainsaw for “Butcher Baby.” Not bad for the REAL first show I saw. They were one raw, fast, frenetic band. That was punk fucking rock, exactly what I wanted to see. I had to go solo since I had no friends and almost all the people on my dorm floor hated punk, anyway. Shit, one of the disco loving assholes down the hall, a big jockish goon, threatened to break my records.

So, for the next 18 years, I went to shows at the Rat. Night shows, all-ages shows later on, all kinds of shows and a wide variety of bands, everything from punk to hardcore to metal to post-punk to pop. While it had a rep as a punk club, the Rat booked lots of different bands over the years. Off the top of my head, here are some of the bands I saw: Mission of Burma, Effigies, Husker Du, Wipers, REM, Minutemen, Big Black, Sonic Youth, Youth of Today, Naked Raygun, Uniform Choice, Accüsed, Helmet, Hard-Ons, Warzone, Varukers, Genral Foodz, GG Allin, Dickies, Angry Samoans, Dwarves, Soulside, Marginal Man, Bl'ast, Flesh Eaters, Slapshot, Goo Goo Dolls (in their punk days before they turned into top 40 swill), DOA, DYS, Dag Nasty, Descendents, Unnatural Axe, 7 Seconds, Citizen Fish, Jawbreaker, Aus-Rotten, Violent Society, Poison Fucking Idea, Sheer Fucking Terror, Freeze, Scratch Acid, Business, Anti-Flag, Queers, Doggy Style, Megadeth (just before "Peace Sells" came out)…

I mean, I could go on for days and that’s without digging into my “archives.” I also have a list of bands I WISH I’d seen there, had the chance to and didn’t: Zero Boys, in late ’80 or early ’81, around the time their 7” EP came out; DMZ, who I heard on the “Live At The Rat” album but never saw; Dead Boys, who I never saw, either; Metallica, opening for Raven! I was too cheap to cough up $7.50. FUCK!

And then there was the Police. They played a few nights there in the fall of ’78. This is another story I’ve told many times so if you’ve seen it before, my apologies. I’d heard the Police’s debut single “Fall Out” on a college station when I was just starting to listen to punk on the radio, sometime in late ’77 and thought it was a pretty good song but never did get the record. So I stopped by the room of one of my dorm-mates, Mark, and saw a 45 record on his desk. He told me they were giving them out at Strawberries, a record store in Kenmore near the Rat. It was “Roxanne” by Police, as they were listed on the record. I told him I’d heard of the band, that they were punk and he seemed repulsed by that fact and told me I could have the record. I thought it was OK—kind of surprised to hear the reggae in the verses but the chorus had a pretty punk rock feel to it, I thought at the time. That was the week they played four nights at the club. By the time they came back the following April, to play the larger Paradise, tickets sold out in advance. And I never did get to see them play at all. I suppose I could have gone to see them play at Fenway Park last summer (talk about coming full circle—sort of) but I didn’t have a few hundred bucks to do that. If they had guaranteed they’d only play songs off their first two albums, I might have taken the plunge. Much like I would have gone to see the Saints, recently, if Chris Bailey promised to only play songs from “I’m Stranded” and “Eternally Yours” and Ed Kuepper was playing guitar with them. Alas, it wasn’t to be and I heard I didn’t miss that much, anyway.

By the 90s, the place seemed really run down but that’s when I started going to a lot of all-ages shows again, as my interest in punk had been regenerated. There were matinees there almost every weekend and, once again, covering different punk sub-genres although most of the bands fit into the spiky/mohawk/up-da-punx and street punk bands. The first time I saw Dropkick Murphys, with the original lineup, they opened for the Unseen. Mark from that band booked quite a few of those shows and I’ll bet I saw them 15-20 times during the final few years of the club’s existence.

The club did have a rep for nasty bouncers. When they started doing some all-ages show in 1982, there was a show with Mission of Burma and the Proletariat. I reviewed it in the second issue of my zine and said the the club “maintained its reputation for having the most mentally deranged and fucked-up bouncers in any music establishment in Boston.” I imagine that could have also applied to the Channel, a much bigger place with alleged mob ties. But some people started “slamming,” as I called it in the review and the bouncers stopped the kids and said it wasn’t allowed. Things got ugly late in the show and there was a bit of a brawl and Clint from Mission Of Burma said “we don’t think kids should pay four bucks to get beaten up.” I also alluded to the fact that the club had been shut down for three weeks prior to that due to bouncer incidents. Speaking of Burma, they were a lot better then than when I saw them recently at the Institute of Contemporary Art, where I had to shell out $25 x 2 to take my lovely wife. She deserves it, especially after not complaining about all the punk shows I go to. Anyway, by the time the next all-ages show happened at the Rat, with the Effigies, they did allow dancing and removed all the tables and chairs. Unfortunately, according to the same issue of my zine, when the Wipers played there after that, the bouncers once again went into attack mode. And so it went…

In spite of those rough situations at times, I never really had any problems, personally, except for the time I saw Youth Of Today around ’89 or so (it may have even been Shelter. I just know it was one of Ray Cappo’s bands) and someone broke into my car on the street behind the club and boosted around 50 tapes, including many irreplaceable demos and mix tapes. I made jokes about how, since I’d criticized the spiritual content of Ray’s bands, maybe it was some sort of karma but I think I’ll just leave that alone.

I also have to mention Mitch Cerullo, the manager and doorman at the club for years, with his silver hair and impeccable three piece suits. He had also had a laryngectomy, where they removed his voice box and he had to use a device to talk. Sadly, he passed away in ’95. He was only in his early 60s. He was an imposing figure and a friend once told me that Mitch packed heat when he was working there. I can still visualize him standing by the stairway that led down to the club. It’s sad to think that stairway is gone and Mitch is gone, as well. There were even t-shirts made in his honor. T. Max from The Noise zine wrote about it on the New England Newsletter site: “I was afraid he wouldn't like me making money off his image, so I promised to make only 24 shirts. The first 24 sold as fast as I could collect the money people were shoving at me. Mitch saw this, put his arm around me, and walked me outside. He held his small microphone up to the hole in his neck and his mechanical voice spoke the words, “I respect your business endeavors. Make more T-shirts.””

MITCH AND FRIENDS (photo by Blowfish, used without permission, don't kill me)

More memories? Some of the interviews I did in that place. GBH, upstairs from the bar, where we were eating some tasty BBQ and Jock, their guitarist, put some greens on my plate, saying “’ere—it’ll put ‘air on yer chest.” Out behind the club, I interviewed the guys from Sheer Terror in a car and it was one of the most non-PC and hilarious ones I’ve ever done. Even when they said things 180 degrees opposed from my beliefs, I was in stitches. Their inimitable vocalist Paul Bearer referred to Al Sharpton as a “fat Barry White lookalike” and also said that Spike Lee looked like a frog. I mean, you really had to be there but I can still hear Paul pontificating with that New York accent of his. I interviewed David Sims and Brett Bradford from Scratch Acid and a real rat actually scurried near us, while we were in the back parking lot. In the same lot, I hung out with Jerry A from Poison Idea, who finally hit Boston in 1990. He put away a fifth of Jack Daniels and it had no noticeable effect. He’d promised me a shirt when they came to town but they ran out and so he reached into his suitcase and gave me one of his own shirts. It’s never even fit me right but it will never leave my possession. It means more than any standard band shirt. I’m sure other people have much crazier stories about the Rat than I do. I’ve never been a partier and the Rat wasn’t a place I’d go just to drink. The bands were the attraction for me.

In all honesty, this place was a pit. I mean, it was your classic seedy dive club but its history is undeniable. I was just reading an interview with the club’s owner Jim Harold and he talked about the club getting flooded. I remember that happening during a Tad show there around 1990--the toilets exploded! They made everyone go upstairs, pumped out some and once things seemed to be OK, we were allowed to go back downstairs. I don’t even want to know what I stepped in that night. They had a flood another time and someone came up with the brilliant idea to put kitty litter on the floor. You can imagine what happened when people started dancing during a Kiss It Goodbye show there. A fucking dust storm. I can’t remember if I had some kind of bandana in my bag or not but I tried to cover my mouth and nose to keep the dust out. Which, of course, didn’t happen and I was blowing black snot the next few days. Ugh. I mean, I’ve been to some basement shows with dirt floors where they’ve had the flying dust problem but this was just as bad.

As a side note, kitty litter should only be used for something that cats poop into. I found that out the hard way last winter when we had a snowstorm, our driveway was iced up and I went to the store to buy some sand. They were out so I bought five bags of kitty litter and put it down on the driveway and, of course, it turned into this disgusting gooey substance when it got wet. And it stuck to the bottom of our shoes and boots and we had to be careful not to track it into the house, over the new carpeting, which we had to put in when the downstairs of our house got flooded. I don’t think I want to talk about it anymore.


So the Rat closed and the decimation of Kenmore Square was already underway. A record store, Planet, got burnt out of its space a few doors down before the Rat’s demise. Other cool restaurants and shops gave way to chains. Eventually, the entire block where the Rat existed was bulldozed for the disgusting, gaudy Hotel Commonwealth, catering to fuckers who have over $300 a night to piss away, while visiting their obnoxious college student spawn infecting the area. Besides the Rat and Planet, that block also had the Pizza Pad, Nemo’s, an army/navy store and Charlie’s Cafeteria, which later become an iHop that pretty much blew. There were other clubs, including Storyville, which operated for a short time in the 80s. In that same building was the legendary Radiobeat studio where many great bands recorded, including SSD, DYS, The Proletariat and a lot more. That building is now an Uno’s.

There was the unofficial mayor of Kenmore Square, Mr. Butch, about whom I could write an entire column. He was a dreadlocked, African-American gentleman, who was a long-time Kenmore fixture. Butch was a street person, chose to live his life that way but also had people who looked after him. He played guitar through a small amp and I even saw him play a show with his band, the Holy Men, when they opened for Flipper at the Channel club. He was there in 1978 when I started college. After Kenmore got gentrified, Mr. Butch (whose real name was Harold Madison, Jr.) moved on to the Allston-Brighton neighborhood, where he resided until he was killed earlier this year in a scooter accident. Here’s another link if you want to know more about the legend of Mr. Butch:

It’s all gone now. Safer, I suppose. More “family friendly,” as the whole Kenmore/Fenway area is becoming. Lots of high-rises with expensive condos going up, skyrocketing ticket prices to the baseball game, when you can get them or don’t mind taking out a second mortgage to buy them from a scalper—excuse me, ticket agency. Chain restaurants like Uno’s, Bertucci’s and McDonald’s. Just like anywhere else. They’ve even cleaned up the subway station, building a fancy new entrance way. Ah well, at least the huge Citgo sign, corporate emblem or not, remains perched atop 636 Beacon Street, as it has since the mid-60s, and acts as a beacon to draw you to Kenmore. Trouble is there ain’t that much to draw me there anymore. And that’s a pity…