Friday, January 30, 2009

Suburban Voice blog #71


As often happens when I'm out walking with the Creative Zen MP3 player (it used to be an iRiver before that shat the bed and this one hasn't behaved well at times, either--I imagine dropping it 4-5 times on the concrete hasn't helped), weird musical thoughts twist 'n turn their way through my scrambled mind. I've created some playlists based on old mix tapes and the one I was listening to consisted of songs recorded from '77 to '79--it was a sporadic recording process, starting in my senior year of high school and continuing towards the end of my freshman year of college. A very odd collection of songs, though mainly leaning towards punk and power-pop--Clash, Pistols, Radiators From Space, X-Ray Spex, Stranglers, Outcasts but some decidedly non-punk bands/songs--"Helter Skelter" by the Beatles, "Gimme Three Steps" by Lynyrd Skynyrd and a song called "Life In London" by Pat Travers, a Canadian hard rock guitarist with a modicum of US success in the late 70s/80s. His best known songs were "Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)" and "Smokin' Whiskey."

The song on this tape was called "Life In London." I guess I never really paid close attention to the lyrics until recent years. I did mention it in passing in Suburban Voice blog #42, from mid-07. It came out in '77, on the album "Putting It Straight" (it was also released as a single) and dealt with his take on the punk scene happening at the time. Not very complimentary about it, either:

"Life in London is bittersweet /Spray can slogans all along the street /Some kind of revolution in the town /Razorblades and safety pins you look like a clown…"

And, in a 1978 Circus magazine article around the same time, he said London was "horrible--I just can't bear it anymore." It went on to say, "and that's not Pat's last word on the punk phenomenon: "the only real way I'm aware of all this punk shit is by the music papers and , ah, by the lack of sales for our current album. But all our English gigs have been sold out; people haven't changed as much as the press would have you believe. The journalists have really gone over the top. They're so trendy; six months after they promote something they're knocking it."

I can't say I disagree with Pat about the press in England or the fact some of 'em did look like clowns. But denigrating the music that changed my life as "shit" is fightin' words! And guess what song led into "Life In London" on that tape? "God Save The Queen"! The song that made the lightbulb go on over my head and say "fuck yeah!" This was actually the second mix tape that included the song. So that was problem #1.

Problem with Pat #2: I went to see Aerosmith, Travers and Rose Tattoo at the Centrum in Worcester in November of '82 with a couple of girls I worked with at my first post-college job at the Zayre department store. The job I quit after 5 months and this was a few weeks after I left. We went out there in my 1980 Chevy Chevette and I was playing a mix tape that included the "Someone Got Their Head Kicked In" comp and these two hard rock chicks basically weren't digging it. In fact, when the Adolescents' "Wrecking Crew" came on and it got to the part where Tony shouts "we're just the wrecking boys bored with nothing to do," and that blast of guitar cuts through like a rusty razor, they started laughing at this classic punk rock moment. Fuck 'em.

I should mention this was the infamous Aerosmith show on the "Rock In A Hard Place" tour, with the "lite" lineup of Rick Dufay and Jimmy Crespo, instead of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. It was the show where Steven Tyler passed out on stage, during "Toys In The Attic" and had to be carried off. It was covered on "Behind The Music" and also in the band's autobiography book Walk This Way, although they got the date wrong (said it was in '83) and that they only played four songs. They actually got through nearly the whole set. It's amazing Tyler was able to perform that long because, according to the book, he'd snorted pure heroin with Joe Perry before their set--Joe came to hang out but didn't watch them play. In any case, that was the first time I'd gotten to see them, since I didn't go to concerts when I was a teenager. I remember still being psyched on seeing them but, thinking back, I'd bet the OG lineup was a lot better, even though their 70s era drug exploits are legendary... or notorious... or both. By the time I got to see the original lineup, though, in the 90s, things had gotten watered down and they played too much tripe like "Angel" and "Dude Looks Like A Lady."

OK, back to the show. Rose Tattoo come on. I'm excited to see them, having been a fan for a few years after getting the "Rock 'n Roll Outlaw" album out of a 99 cent bin in late '80 or early '81. Picked that up with Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades." The lights come up and people literally started laughing at them. It probably had to do with the fact that Angry Anderson didn't look like the typical rocker dude, with his shaved head and rather short stature but, with his muscular physique, he could have probably kicked the asses of 90% of the dudes there. And, while I don't remember the specifics of the set list, they mainly stuck to mid-tempo bluesy songs and didn't play "Nice Boys." People were booing 'em and when Angry tried to reach out and tell people to smile, say hi to their neighbors or something like that, well, the reception didn't improve.

Then Pat comes out and, of course, the place goes apeshit when he shouts "ARE YOU READY TO ROCK 'N ROLL?" I mean, he wasn't awful or anything. I don't even mind his big hits although I don't own any of his records. But after seeing Rose Tattoo get disrespected like that (the girls I went with weren't into them, either), then seeing Pat have the crowd eating out of hand, followed by the Aerosmith disaster, well, it wasn't too great a night.

I'm sure Pat Travers is a nice guy, he plays a mean guitar... but now you understand why I have a problem with Pat!

In the meantime, here's a live clip of Rose Tattoo playing "Nice Boys" in 1981...

AND, NOW, SOME "PUNK SHIT" (and more):

BRUTAL KNIGHTS-Living By Yourself (Deranged, CD)

The tracks from the Knights' recent "Living By Yourself" 12" are appended by over a dozen more songs coming from recent 7" and comp efforts for a 25 track hellride. The Knights always had a sound that teetered on the edge of trainwreck but they've made it cruder and more blown-out sounding this time. And, a few times, they fuck with the formula--the latest version of "Extreme Lifestyle" (the '08 remix!) has wacked-out, echo-laden vocals, mechanized percussion and compressed guitar--it's plain fucked up sounding and the same applies to "Bowling With Friends" (from the "My Life, My Fault" EP), a techno-mechanized excursion and, yeah, it's about bowling--shades of Part-Time Christians, if you ever heard of them. And that's not to say the extra songs are exactly slick-sounding... there's plenty of treble and trash-can drums. The Supersuckers and Zeke used to do stuff like this although there was also a cheesy LET'S RAWK ambiance, especially later on. The Knights have always offered up a scrappier take on it, willing to allow garagier and Killed By Death shiznit to sneak in. As always, there's an obsession with diets--finding a way to balance those cravings for pizzas and slurpees with trying to maintain some kind of healthy lifestyle or at least feeling ashamed about it ("Feast of Shame"). At least there aren't any calories in punk rock and, if anything, working up a sweat while watching them play in a small space--like I have a few times--should keep the pounds melting off. (

CIVIL VICTIM-Mehr Krieg! (Loud Punk, 7" EP)
One of the lines on "Nothing Left To Say" states, "I Heard It Before" and, yeah, that's pretty much the case for this German hardcore punk band. Not that it's a bad thing--they stick to a hard-edged blueprint but also vary things a bit--the fast tumult of the previously mentioned "Nothing Left To Say" and "Problem," to pounders like "We Are 129A" and "Down The Drain." The guitar playing is pretty hot, throughout, not settling for mere power chords, but adding more damaged-sounding parts, as well. (PO Box 3067, Albany, NY 12203,

DEATHCYCLE-Prelude To Tyranny (Lifeline, CD)

The second and likely last album for Deathcycle. In case titles like "Enemy Of The State," "Pawns Of The New American Century" and "Good Person = Bad American" weren't dead giveaways, the lyrical matter has a pointed politicism and "Blueprint For Enslavement" makes the argument that it's not going to make a difference which party is "in power." In fact, I know that's their vocalist Ron's take on the political landscape--among other things, the onset of an oppressive security state and the belief that the events of 9/11 involved a conspiracy--and some of the links provided deal with those theories. Musically, it remains a bludgeoning tandem of metallic NYHC, encompassing thrash and heaviness and a whiff of Swedish-inspired blitz. In other words, not a whole lotta subtlety here, as with the wordcraft. Definitely attention-grabbing, if perhaps a bit overwrought at times. (PO Box 692, Midlothian, IL 60445,

DEVOUR-s/t (Sorry State, 12")

Devour announce their arrival with a twisted hardcore blitz. There are definitely elements that attack in a similar vein as their North Carolina brethren Double Negative, with the early COC-ish touches rammed home with wanton axe insanity, roiling bass and drums. Their vocalist Cody is credited with "demon howls" and, while his emanations aren't really demonic, he certainly has a nasty, raspy set of pipes. Jugular-grabbing sounds, taking an ambient turn for the intro to the jarring, final track "Useless Ruin"--shades of Celtic Frost going from "Danse Macabre" into "Nocturnal Fear" on "Morbid Tales," although not as unsettling ("DM" sounds like it was inspired by "The Exorcist"). Add this one to my "best of '08' list--I accidentally omitted it on the list published in the last blog. (1102 N. Greensboro St., Carrboro, NC 27510,

GIT SOME-s/t (1-2-3-4 Go!)

Heh, heh... gonna "git some." The nekkid drawing on the cover and rather strategic placement of the hub where you put the CD inside the case (let's just say it's between something) makes one think this is going to be some kind of porn rock nonsense. And that is nonsense. Git Some operate in a seriously heavy vein, all bludgeoning riffage, jerking (sorry) stops and starts and howling vocals that verge on overkill at times. Seems to be a resurrection of the mountainous abraso-rock of the early 90s and it's definitely an antidote to tweedious indy folderol, that's for sure. Some of the excesses could stand a bit of trimming, at times, but it's tough to ignore the savage rush of "Trixie Loves Misty," with its dramatic guitar coda or the rockin' fervor of "Impending Zombie Apocalypse."

MIDDLE CLASS-Out Of Vogue--The Early Material (Frontier, LP)

One of the best reissues of 2008. Middle Class were an early LA punk band made up of three brothers ranging in age from their mid-teens to early 20s, plus a friend of theirs. The band formed in '77 and their first EP, 1978's "Out Of Vogue," might have been one of the earliest hardcore records, with its speedy attack (although 999's "No Pity" was a fast rager in its own right). One of the best 99 cent scores I ever made but that was quite a few years ago. It's not just 1-2, 1-2 fodder, either, as the band evolved into a tight and musically interesting unit. With the bubbling bass/guitar sting for "Archetype" (originally appearing on the "Tooth and Nail" comp), there's a shift into post-punk territory and that's completed for the songs on their second EP, 1980's "Scavenged Lunxury." The vocals have a detached, bored-sounding cadence, the weakest part of the package but not a huge liability. Collecting both of their 7"s, comp appearances and four earlier, unreleased demos that feature more moderately paced songs that still exude a barbed, gnashing punk spirit. They later completed the transition to doomier/Joy Division-ish material for the "Homeland" album, although the vocals remained the same--but that's a different chapter for the band. This is essential. (PO Box 22, Sun Valley, CA 01353-0022,

NOBUNNY-Love Visions (1-2-3-4 Go!, CD)

Nobunny is a guy, not a band, he's from Chicago and he runs around with a bunny rabbit mask on top of his head. According to an interview I dug up, he claims to be the offspring of a jackalope and human and was born in the Arizona desert in 2001. I chuckled when I saw the label that was a tribute to 60s garage label Dunwich Records. And some of the songs here make me chuckle and others make me want to fire my sneakers at the stereo like that guy did to George Bush in Iraq... but it's so damned charming. Obnoxiously so, at times. A good example is the kiddie xylophone (I think) for "Chuck Berry Holiday" that sounds like it could have been on an early 70s bubblegum record. This is a minimalist assimilation of 60s/70s pop, garage and '77 punk. Most of the time, the rhythm is mechanically-generated and these are home recordings. Things begin with "Nobunny Loves You," which is quite brazen in its appropriation of "Land of 1000 Dances." "I Am A Girlfriend" and "Somewhere New," which is actually a cover version of a song from Chicago band The Yolks (and I like it better than the original). It'll ingratiate and grate at 'ya, simultaneously and, much as I want to write this thing off, I can't. (

PIRATE LOVE-Black Voudoun Space Blues (Voodoo Rhythm, CD)

Takin' a ride with stomping garage and trippy weirdness and, even if the urge to dock 'em a notch or two for having some songs that are a bit on the lengthy side is there, this is still quite impressive. "The Lonely Streets" gives the impression it's going to be a by-the-numbers garage trip--and I'll never complain about that--but that assumption disappears pretty quickly, starting with the tribal/psych intro for "Shake It!", leading into another dose of raucous heaviness. David Al Dajani's voice is raspily engaging throughout and the guitars have prenty of fuzzbust and other properties. "Slumber Blues" has them getting low down 'n dirty although it's accompanied by some trem-guitar. "Broken Soul #2" features wide stereo separation and an oldie rock 'n roll melody wrapped in a whirling sonic coccoon that eventually sounds like a transistor radio submerged in water or the stereo playing in a room down the hall, fading off into the ether. Rocking hard but also expansive and done without any sense of pretentiousness. (

RAZOR BOIS-s/t (Boycott The Fencewalkers, CD)
Hearty punk with UK '82 and oi-ish touches and a vehemently anti-racist/fascist/homophobia attitude. As mentioned in a previous review, the Bois are a Moscow band and have also been based in NYC. On this album, there are new songs, as well as tracks from their first two demos and it's a spirited affair. Brief, buzzing songs. It's wrapped up with a track from the Bois' hip-hop alter-ego, the Moscow Death Brigade and their science is tight, if that's the right term but it's all about the punk rock here. Some nasty, graphic cover art, too--a bear decapitating some nazis with his claws. Umm... it's all about the punk rock here. (


RUNNAMUCKS-Clawing Back (Six Weeks, CD)

These baked Floridians continue to bring the rock and add some punk to the mix. Or is it vice-versa? Either way, it's a raucous affair. Another revamped lineup--new guitarist and drummer--and stronger than their last effort, the uneven "Inferno." They get it down to the fired-up essence for the boisterous likes of "Mind of God" (with a 70s rock intro careening into a speed attack), "Crime Waves," "Let It Ride" and "Goodbye Sweet Nothing," with some tasty piano trills that mold it into a rock 'n roll firebomb. And, being the comic geeks that they are, I'm sure they were excited to have comic illustrator Sam Kieth do the colorful cover. The opening song, "The Wilderness," states that "sometimes you gotta take the ride." And, to shamelessly steal from Bl'ast, it's a pretty manic ride. (225 Lincoln Ave., Cotati, CA 94931,

SUBHUMANS-Death Was Too Kind (Alternative Tentacles, CD)
I felt like rejoicing when this disc showed up--FINALLY, a reissue by the Subhumans--the Vancouver one, not the UK one although I love 'em both. This collects two of their early 7"s--"Death To The Sickoids" and "Firing Squad"--and their eponymous debut 12", the one with "Fuck You and "Slave To My Dick." The disc is rounded out with a pair of rare songs originally released with a different mix on the out-of-print anthology "Pissed Off... With Good Reason"). A tough 'n tuneful punk take, with all the scrappiness they could muster and a sharp lyrical eye, making observations about political and sociological issues and also attempting to cope with "being alienated in that special and inevitable teenage way," as the notes for "No Productivity" mentions. "Fuck You" remains a true anthem of defiance with an irresistible refrain, while "Slave To My Dick" delivers the satirical, ironic goods. All that's right about punk--gritty guitars and vocals with a deceptive musical finesse that fuel their catchy-as-fuck tunes. Now, if it's not too much to ask, how about a reissue of their "Incorrect Thoughts" album, with the original mix and running order. Truly classic stuff. (PO Box 419092, SF, CA 94141,

TOTAL ABUSE-s/t (Deranged, CD)
The first full-length audio excursion by Total Abuse represents a developmental leap from the demo and 7". Or should I say decay--as in they've gotten scarier and more intense-sounding. That's obvious from the onset, a four minute noise and Swans-ish lurch that does have one waiting for the payoff and it comes with "I Can See In The Dark." Back and forth between thrash blasts and slower, intense exercises, such as the repetitive "Disease" and "Secrets." There aren't any overtly obvious influences although I'd say that that the driving "Cleanse Me," for instance, has something of an early COC feel to it. The CD includes those earlier recordings and, while you can hear shadings of what's going to come with this album, it still leans towards conventional hardcore--not that I'm complaining about it but, seeing them live, it was a surprising jolt when they played the newer songs--something that wasn't expected at all and this album gives you a good idea about their brutal creativity. Not much in the way of packaging, unfortunately. Just a digipack with no booklet, nothing except the most basic facts but that's minor. Feel the darkness? Watch out for the darkness--savagery lurks in the shadows. Sick. (

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Suburban Voice blog #70

RON ASHETON (1948-2009)

Quite a few of you have probably heard the sad news about the passing of Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, who was found dead in his home earlier this week. He was 60 years old. It's no false tribute when I say that the Stooges have long been an inspiration to me, since I first heard "Raw Power" in 1976. I've told that story many times--how I went into a "head shop" where, alongside the bongs, pot pipes, tie-dye shirts and tapestries, there was a crate of records. I found a used copy of "Raw Power," got the proprietor to play me some of it and immediately forked over the $3 to purchase this incredible album.

I know that Asheton didn't play guitar on "Raw Power." He'd moved over to bass with the arrival of axe-slinger James Williamson, no slouch himself but stylistically different. It may be sacrilege to say this--and I don't mean to besmirch Ron Asheton's memory--but "Raw Power" is by far my favorite Stooges album and one of my all-time favorite albums, period. That was my introduction to the band and it remained that way until early 1978. That was when I had on one of the big FM rock stations (not sure if it was WCOZ or WBCN) and the DJ said something along the lines of people that were into punk should check out the song he was about to play--it was by the Stooges and called "I Wanna Be Your Dog." I got my dad's stereo tape deck at the ready, anticipating something incredible...

And that's what I got--that eruption of fuzz guitar that introduces the song, laying out the three chord signature and the bass, drums and piano plink kicked in and my brain started to melt. That led off a mix-tape that I eventually called "Greatest Tape Ever," a 60 minute Tracs cassette that probably cost me 50 cents and included Wire, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, as well as some lesser-knowns like the Maniacs, The Table, New Hearts and Destroy All Monsters--the latter of whom featured Ron Asheton on guitar and Mission of Burma guitarist Roger Miller's brother Ben on saxophone. It was a prized possession until it got boosted out of my car around '89 or so.

When I was at Boston University, I used to comb the bins at Nuggets in Kenmore Square and came across some awesome 99 cent records over the years. Some were there because they weren't going to be best-sellers--and there were gems to be had, like Rose Tattoo's "Rock 'n Roll Outlaw" and Saxon's "Wheels Of Steel." They'd also put out records in "distressed" (i.e. scratched up a bit) in that bin. Freshman year, I got Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" and, sophomore year, it was the Stooges eponymous debut. It was pretty beat but playable. I did find it uneven--the ten minute-plus mantra-psych--whatever you want to call it--of "We Will Fall" meant that I'd only listen to "1969" and "Dog" on side A. On the flip, four out of the five songs clicked, the exception being the quieter "Ann." Not the case with the savage, sinister groove of "No Fun," "Little Doll," "Not Right" and the "Real Cool Time." Asheton pulled some true pyrotechnics from that axe of his, accompanying Iggy's oozing menace.

I forget when I came across "Fun House"--in the 80s sometime and in all its gatefold glory. Blistering from start to finish--even the more drawn-out "Dirt" had a heavier feel to it and the wild sax skronk featured on side 2, particularly for "1970" (aka "I Feel Alright") added to the already-fierce stew.

I don't need to review these records... any connoisseur of high energy music already has 'em and has played them a million times. And it's incredible to think the albums were released in 1969, 1970 and 1973 and were completely ignored at the time. I'm just giving some personal recollections and paying tribute.

I already mentioned Destroy All Monsters, a band fronted by a woman named Niagara (born Lynn Rovner) that started off as an avant-garde group but eventually moved in more of a conventional rock direction when they recruited Asheton and MC5 bassist Michael Davis. They had a sound that incorporated influences from both bands. Track down their stuff, if you can--"You're Gonna Die" and "Bored," in particular, are incredible songs.

Some of the obituaries mentioned that he was listed as the 29th best of all time on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarist list. At least he made it that high, although what moron thinks that Jack White from the White Stripes is worthy of being 17? Or thinks that the White Stripes are a good band, period. Talk about suckage. Just as bad as getting a quote from the one of the guys from the mediocre Von Bondies about Asheton's death. That list is a travesty, anyway--Angus Young at 96? Are they joking?

I've been listening to this music off and over the past few days and will be doing a tribute on Sonic Overload next week (1/12/09) and it makes me realize that I was a fucking idiot to have missed their reunion tour a few years ago. I blew the one chance I had to see this lineup play and it made me feel worse when friends told me about how awesome it was (hi, Marc!). I could list the coulda-shoulda-woulda bands/artists I missed before it was too late--Link Wray, Dead Boys (with Stiv, none of this reunion stuff), AC/DC with Bon Scott. Add the Stooges to the list...

This year's off to a crappy start, eh?

BEST OF 2008

A little late but here it is finally. I think it was something of an off year for punk rock. There were only a handful of records that blew me away and a lot of good/OK releases. Of course, I wasn't able to track down/listen to everything that might have grabbed me, so perhaps my opinion might have been different, otherwise. I'm sure I'm missing some quality music.

The lists aren't in any order, except that Bastard Sons of Apocalypse's "Strangled By The System" is my record of the year and Systematic Death were, by far, the best live band I saw last year. Sometimes, people are dubious about reunions but, trust me, there was no going through the motions here. It was explosive and frenetic and bands with people half those guys' age should be so lucky to have such a high energy level. Mind-blowing.


MEANWHILE-Reality Or Nothing
THE ESTRANGED-Static Thoughts
AVSKUM-Uppror Underifran

VIOLENT ARREST-Criminal Record
SOCIAL CIRCKLE-I've Got Afflictions
DEEP SLEEP-Manic Euphoria