Saturday, September 06, 2008

Everything Turns Gray... (MRR #305)

Except for the singer for Agent Orange's hair. Do you think he dyes it? He must be getting on a bit. Agent Orange was my favorite band for a while. They were among the first American punk bands I was exposed to, thanks to their skate-rock credentials. I had a skater friend called Campbell who subscribed to Thrasher and had an auntie that lived in America and would send him records and tapes of bands he read about in the Pus Zone. Thanks to this relative, Campbell was also one of the few people I knew who wore actual Vans shoes, not just the copy ones that only cost a fiver from the cheap shop and fell apart after one attempted ollie.
I'd lie on my bunk bed with the rain battering the window, blasting my Agent Orange tapes and reading Campbell's old Thrashers or well-thumbed copies of Freestylin' (the BMX magazine that Spike Jonze worked on before becoming a famous film and music video director). Agent Orange's beach-baked surf-punk sound promised the perfect, endless bitchin' summer that I was sure existed on the other side of the world. Sunset pool carving sessions with the Bones Brigade, Miami hoppers on Venice Beach with Woody Itson and Martin Aparijo, or airing out of the huge bowl at Pipeline Skatepark with Eddie Fiola and Brian Blyther. Agent Orange were my imagined soundtrack for all my teenage California dreams, as well as appearing on the soundtrack of many 80s bike and skate videos. They were also my introduction to surf music, leading me to seek out such surf classics as Dick Dale's version of 'Miserlou' long before it became a dorm-room staple thanks to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
Agent Orange released two albums in the 80s, several years apart and sounding quite different, trading in the buzzing SoCal punk sound of 'Living In Darkness' (Posh Boy) for a glossier 80s pop sheen on 'This Is The Voice'. When I first heard that album I thought it sounded like U2. It grew on me though and wimpy as it is, some of those songs are still favorites to this day. After that they seemed to disappear and I suppose I forgot about them. Their albums were squeezed onto the shelf and only occasionally got pulled out for nostalgia's sake.
When I moved to America I didn't meet many people who had shared my childhood love for Agent Orange. I got the impression they were considered a joke amongst too-cool-for-school hardcore hipsters. Admittedly, the early 90s was a time of us-vs-them, and admitting to enjoying a band with such brazen pop sensibilities could be considered a crime on a par with enjoying Green Day's major-label output. From time to time I'd see ads for Agent Orange shows in or around San Francisco, usually in weird venues that punk bands never usually played. I'd heard that it was just Mike Palm (singer/guitarist) and a couple of hired guns. People who had caught this later incarnation of the band hadn't exactly given them rave reviews. That, coupled with my reticence for reunion tours and nostalgia, prevented me from ever going to see them, although I always had a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I ought to at least get to see this band, my one-time favorite, at least once in my life.
So, a couple of weeks ago, Agent Orange was playing at the Uptown in Oakland, about five minutes from where I live, on a Saturday night. There was pretty much no excuse for not finally taking the plunge and seeing them.
The wife and I got to the Uptown (an unremarkable but decent-sounding black box of a rock club) too late to catch the opening band but in time to catch local streetpunx The Sore Thumbs. They were great, if somewhat derivative; some good guitar playing and catchy melodies. They played for too long for an opening band though. It seriously felt like an hour. I was a little bit confused by the crowd. Looking around at the amassed handful of skater bros, Burning Man hacky-sack types, and Hot Topic punk chicks, I felt like I was at a midweek bar show in a Northern California hick town, not seeing a legendary American punk band in a major metropolitan area.
Agent Orange took the stage and performed to a half-empty venue. I felt a pang of sympathy for Mike Palm that at this point in his career, after being a major part of one of the most influential scenes in American music, he can't fill a small venue in the San Francisco Bay Area. He didn't seem to care though; the band soundchecked with surf instrumental 'Mr. Moto', then launched straight into the classic 'Everything Turns Gray', and from there ploughed through a swathe of greatest hits from both albums, their EPs, and pre-'Darkness' demos, as well as a couple of tracks from their (unknown to me) 1990s self-released CD. Every song was tighter and faster than on record (sometimes to their slight detriment, especially on some of the poppier stuff from 'This Is The Voice', which could have benefited with a softer touch). The bass player bobbed up and down energetically like a Muppet the entire time, but was pretty harmless, except for screwing up the intro to 'Living In Darkness', which is the one time the bass has to take a really prominent role. The drummer stole the show though. Mike Palm is unquestionably the captain of the ship but the drummer was at the rudder that night. For all that it was small and somewhat unusual, the audience met the band's energy with boundless enthusiasm. The 'pit' was made up of computer-programmer types in Birkenstocks and glasses.
At their core, Agent Orange is a solid, tight live act with a repertoire bursting with timeless, classic punk tunes. So where were all the punks? I think Agent Orange just isn't cool enough for some people. I admit, the on-stage banter verged on the corny. I think that if the band had broken up just after 'Living In Darkness', or maybe even before releasing it, and then got back together right now for a reunion tour, punk scenesters would be wetting themselves at the thought of seeing them. They could have broken up after appearing on the Rodney On The Roq compilation, and they might have become another Middle Class or Rhino 39: ghostly touchstones that had faded into punk lore only to be resurrected by a future generation of hardcore historians.
So instead of stoking the loins of eBay-scouring message-board punk enthusiasts, with their sophisticated palates refined by copious obscure kbd rarities, Agent Orange play the Warped Tour or half-empty places like the Uptown, serving up 80s nostalgia to knock-kneed ageing skaters and a dose of what poppy punk could have sounded like before all those NoFX clones got hold of it to neophyte mall-punks. I'm not sure who's missing out more.
I'm not trying to make a case for Agent Orange's relevance in 2008. 90% of MRR's readership will think I'm lame for liking them or for writing this column about them, but too bad. I may never see them again, but I'm glad I went to see them this once, and that it wasn't a total bummer. Now that little voice in the back of my head has finally been appeased.

Seven Inches of pure pleasure (MRR #304)

I know it's a far from controversial opinion, even in the era of the digital download, but the seven-inch single is by far the superior format for recorded music ever invented. That's not to say that all seven-inch singles are great, but done correctly, e.g. one perfect, two-and-a-half minute pop nugget on the A-side, and a carefully chosen B-side (especially an equally great non-album track), it cannot be beaten. (Due to the comparative shortness of most hardcore songs, the EP naturally becomes the preferred format, but still on a 7" please).
That said, I came to this realization pretty late in the game. My introduction to collecting music came via cassettes, as we didn't have a record player in the house. I went through a succession of cassette players that my dad bought off some guy in the pub. The first one came with a Johnny Cash tape, the first piece of music I ever owned. My wee brother and I played it over and over again. I don't know if it occurred to us that we could go out and get more tapes. Those songs are embedded in my memory, never to be forgotten. It could have been worse I suppose. The mind boggles at the thought of the utter garbage that could have been on a tape deck bought off some random boozer in the Pine Lodge. (Later, in a moment of desperation for blank tapes, I recorded The Stupids' Peel Session over the Johnny Cash tape. Still got it though). Eventually I got a cassette player that also had a radio, exponentially expanding my musical exposure. I spent the summer listening to BBC Radio 1 all day, and taping the hits off the Top 40 rundown on Sunday afternoons. Inevitably, I ended up listening to the radio into the late evenings, when the pop DJs went home and the night shift came on–Tommy Vance with his metal, Janice Long with her weird indie stuff, and of course John Peel. I'd hear all sorts of stuff that I didn't understand or thought was too weird (or, in the case of 'White Riot' by The Clash, too fast. Too fast? Have you listened to that song lately? It plods along).
At some point a record player turned up in our house. It was a behemoth of a thing. It probably weighed fifty pounds and came equipped with a non-functioning 8-track player, which were already completely out of vogue by then. So much for taping records for friends.
I had started buying albums on tape, but now I could finally purchase vinyl. I continued to buy LPs though. For a while, I was especially fond of singles collections, greatest hits albums, and 'Now That's What I Call Music' compilations. I viewed these releases as offering the best value for money. All hits, with minimum filler. Given that I was spending my hard-earned paper round money, that was a huge consideration. Singles just didn't cut it. Two songs for a quid, when you could get a whole album for a fiver, or sometimes less? Do I look thick? It took several years of buying albums with two or three good songs (the singles, naturally) and a bunch of tossed-off piss takes for me to realize the error of my ways. I still couldn't bring myself to spend a lot of money on records though. Luckily, I discovered the joys of the Woolworth's 50p record box. The slightly out-of-date hits of the 80s at 1970s prices! I snapped up singles by Madness, The Jam, and Adam & The Ants, as well as a few guilty secrets I won't mention. And while you were in there you could help yourself to as many Kola Kubes and Strawberry Bon-Bons as you could stuff in your mouth from the Pick'n'Mix (or Pick'n'Nick) aisle. (After a considerable dry spell in the mid-80s, Woolies' cheapo box later yielded scores along the lines of Public Enemy and Run DMC singles).
Once I started getting into harder-to-find punk and hardcore, my main sources were taping stuff off the John Peel show, and trading tapes with friends, both locally and through the post. Amongst the few of us in our area that shared similar tastes, it was unheard of for all of us to buy the same record. One person would buy an LP and at least five of us would get a tape of it. There are some albums that I consider among my favorites to this day that I still only have on the tape someone made me in 1985. It still throws me off to hear some of those records played somewhere and not hear the extra tracks tacked on by Sandy at the end to fill the space on the C90.
This process of acquiring music led to many disappointing purchases, and the discovery of second album syndrome. Someone would tape me a copy of some band's blistering first LP, and then I'd see a later record by said band in the shop. Since I liked the album I had on tape, I'd dutifully purchase this later release, only to get home and discover that the band 'crossed over' in between the two records. Suicidal Tendencies' 'Join The Army' and 'You Got It' by Gang Green are two purchases that particularly smarted at the time.
I was still passing up any singles that weren't in the bargain bin at this time, on the grounds of value for money. I did eventually start gravitating towards singles and EPs later, but only when they were fairly cheap. I've never really been much of a record collector. For most of my music-loving life, I've been pretty happy to just have the music, in whatever format. Nowadays, that's become easier than ever. For a while, I found myself 'sharing' (ahem) the complete discographies of bands I already liked, filling my hard-drive with album after album I already possessed in some form or another, whether on a cassette dub, CD, or LP. I also downloaded records I'd always wanted to own but had never seen available for a price I could (or would) pay. Once the novelty wore off, and I got over my excitement at finally getting my (digital) ears on some of those long-lost or forgotten gems, it really felt kind of empty. I could listen to 3000 songs in a row on shuffle on my iPod, but most of the time I'd really rather just listen to one perfect single on my record player. So nowadays, if you're looking for me, you can find me in the 7" racks, indiscriminately picking up any old shit on 45 that I passed up first time around when I was skint. Most of what I pick up is still under $3 and I rarely go over a tenner though.
If you've got 70s/early 80s punk and post-punk for sale/trade, send me your list: PO Box 22971, Oakland, CA 94609,

Chaos In Tejas 2008 (MRR#303)

Sandy and I sat up until 4am, out in the shed in the garden of his Austin home. We chinwagged long into the night to a soundtrack of John Peel Session tapes recorded many years ago on a cheap ghetto blaster in a Newmains bedroom. The Prong peel session was they best thing they ever did, and that night it sounded like some kind of sonic bulletin from the distant days of the mid-80s. Yeah that's right, I said Prong. Blistering, is how I'd describe the guitar sound. We also jammed the HDQ Peel Session. HDQ were a funny band: starting off as spiky-topped Discharge noiseniks and turning into Sunderland's answer to Dag Nasty. It wasn't until Dickie Hammond twinned those Brian Baker guitar riffs with Frankie Stubbs' dreary, rain-and-gin soaked Coronation Street songwriting that melodic hardcore finally reached its true potential. Listening to that HDQ session in the shed was definitely a heavy nostalgia trip, but it was ultimately more satisfying than watching Dickie (in full Eric Bristow darts regalia) back on stage with Frankie and turning in a greatest hits set. Leatherface weren't bad at all, in fact both sets I saw at the Texas fest were solid, but it's not 1988 any more, for us or for them. The nostalgia just felt empty. Memories; ghosts of passions first stirred in the bloom of youth.
The next evening we set out on bikes. A twenty mile party on wheels, through the hills above Austin with a messenger bag of beer. The circuit ended with a swim in the creek amongst ducks and turtles. Two little kids asked us to keep an eye on their fishing poles - bent safety pins tied to two tree branches and a slice of Wonder Bread for bait. You should have seen the one that got away. Huck Finn was hiding in the bushes.
At sunset we dodged sightseers and rode past clouds of leathery bats as they began their blind riot charge into the warm Texas evening. Secret samosas were consumed before stopping at a bar called the Hole In The Wall. It's unlike the Hole In The Wall in San Francisco: different dicks hang out in this one. The bartender stood Sandy and I to free whisky beverages, which we enjoyed just before local alt-country act Lonesome Heroes took the stage. I can't stand the term 'alt-country' but the band was really good. They call themselves psychedelic country but I couldn't tell if any of them were actually tripping. In a town whose musical legacy includes the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and the Butthole Surfers, everyone has to be a little psychedelic, right?
We spilled onto the street after the show and went for more tasty samosas at the secret samosa spot. There wasn't anything that secret about them, they were right there in the counter display. I suppose it's the fact that you don't expect to be able buy a samosa in a donut shop at 2am.
Maybe I should backtrack a bit, to the actual fest itself? Do you really want to hear about the bands and who played what? Roky Erickson was basically the same as the first time I saw him last year in San Francisco. It's still amazing to get to see him play those old songs. People were stoked that Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top joined him onstage for the last two numbers. I have to say, although I'm aware of ZZ Top having a respectable body of work prior to their 80s MTV video fame, I basically only know them from that era. Sorry, but that stuff is shit. All of it sounds like it was programmed by a sleazy, bourbon-drinking robot. Which, now I actually type that, sounds like a recipe for the best music ever. Maybe they got the wrong software for the robot or something.
Anyway, I didn't mean to go on about ZZ Top. Let's move on to London's answer to ZZ Top, minus the beards, Hard Skin. Blistering set of classics on the Thursday night, straight off the bus after another short tour bringing the sounds of fake Oi to spoiled Yanks. Best line from Fat Bob: "I liked Los Crudos when they were just Mexican, but I like them even more now they're gay." The next day they played on a party boat out in some Texas lake to a 100 unhealthy, sunburned miscreants. It was like a recovery program for people with regrettable tattoos. Tall Dan from punk HQ (eg the MRR house) took a tumble on the kiddie chute, sliced his arm, and stirred up some chum for the freshwater sharks. Later that night he was all stitched up and putting on a brave face. After Hard Skin played on the barge the coast guard had to come out and spirit Johnny Takeaway back to shore so he could jet back to jellied-eel land. Genius can't hang about getting a suntan. Criminal Damage just about managed to get through an impromptu set as a three-piece with the drummer throwing up into her mouth all the way through. As soon as they were done she heaved her ring over the side, only to hit some poor unsuspecting punk swimmers. Oops!
Back on dry land there was more punk nonsense to take in. I managed to miss a bunch of bands I'd wanted to see but what can you do? There's too much to take in. At my advanced age I can't see ten bands a day any more. Afternoon shows. After-parties. Inside shows. Outside shows. Bloody hell.
Once things calmed down a bit and most people had gone home, there was a wee gig at a pizza parlor with The Young and Social Circkle, who were both brilliant. It turned into a mini-fest of its own, with just about every band still left in Austin jumping on the bill. Crude and Fy Fan played two of the best sets of the fest, and even Los Crudos turned in a few songs. It ended up being one of the most fun parts of the weekend, because it was so much like a normal show.
That's when my real holiday started, and where we came in at the start of the column. Thanks to Timmy for organizing the fest, and to Sandy & Jen for putting me and the missus up for all that time.

Cut The Crap: The Clash on PBS (MRR # 302)

I suppose it should come as no surprise to me at this point that whatever small element of danger or revolutionary potential that punk ever had is long gone, but every TV commercial or Hollywood soundtrack featuring the incendiary music of the late seventies serves as a fresh reminder that it has more or less become the classic rock for my generation. It was par for the course then when I was flicking through the TV channels the other night and came across a PBS fundraiser centered around the broadcasting of some recently released compilation of Clash performances called "The Clash Live: Revolution Rock." For those readers outside of the USA (or without a TV), PBS is public television, funded by subscriptions and donations from the viewing public (as well as, increasingly, from corporate sponsorship). The channel usually features the kind of programming (documentaries, BBC costume dramas, etc) that let smug middle-class people feel smarter and better than the kind of people who watch American Idol and Survivor. Their pledge drives are usually built around four-hour specials of the protest music of the sixties and shit like that. PBS is all about the sixties–most of their donations probably come from millionaire ex-hippies. At least, they were all about the sixties.
Picture the PBS studio, with its rows of phone banks for accepting donations, decorated for the evening with flashing police lights, camouflage webbing, and blown up Clash album covers. In between songs, the hosts encourage viewers to call in or go online to make donations of anywhere from $75 to $250. Guest 'experts' have been called in to expound on how important the Clash were to rock history: hippie DJ Pierre Robert, and "rock critic" Alan Light (of Spin, Rolling Stone, Vibe, etc). The PBS host comes on to give us the hard sell. "As an intelligent person, you appreciate and enjoy all different kinds of music, and we're happy to bring it to you." In other words, the Clash are just one more group that can fit on the PBS viewer's CD shelf alongside other PBS-approved fare like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, or Buena Vista Social Club.
The film itself is a mixed bag. Documentary sequences pair a clueless, sensationalist voiceover ("taking their name from the headlines of the day" ... "they changed the musical landscape forever") with the same hoary old recycled Don Letts footage you've seen a hundred times. Cue the banner being unfurled at Bond's in New York, then Joe Strummer with his ridiculous 80s Mohican taking a photograph from the back of a convertible. Repeat ad nauseam. There are some cool performances though: what looks like a promo video from 1976, shot on a soundstage with amateurish lighting. Mick's out of tune, and the band perform intensely for the cameramen and probably a couple of mates. You can imagine Bernie Rhodes behind the scenes, exhorting his boys to give it all they've got; The band performing "Radio Clash" on the Tom Snyder show with a genuine NY graffiti artist getting up on the corrugated iron backdrop.
Don't get me wrong. I like much of the Clash's music and I think that Joe Strummer was a genuine and thoughtful man. But they were the first punk band to really milk the revolutionary posturing and political rhetoric of the early punk scene and turn it into a massive cash-generating industry. I'm not saying they didn't mean it, maaan... Just that whatever they may have "meant" was probably lost on the crowds at Shea Stadium.
I'm sure that the smiling happy TV presenters were or are fans of The Clash, as are probably a lot of PBS viewers, and obviously The Clash don't represent the be-all and end-all of punk rock in any way whatsoever. It's just that the fact that someone at PBS thought that this was a good way to try and raise money is another nail in the coffin for punk as a movement, for punk as something that stands apart from the rest of society. I've spent a large chunk of my advancing years feeling like an outsider, so it's weird when I hear the music that gave me something to believe in used to sell cars, cruises, retirement plans, or PBS subscriptions.
To contradict myself in the first part of this column, I'll go on record here as saying that the new 'reality' TV show following NOFX on their recent world tour is one of the best shows currently on the box. The best part of the program is their manager Kent. He gets totally plastered all the time but still manages to hold it together enough to string together a sketchy tour that takes in places around the world that bands rarely get to. I doubt these guys could make it to the corner liquor store without Kent holding their hands. Well, actually, I think Fat Mike seems to have his shit together, but watching this I can't help thinking that the two guitarists are lucky they ended up getting into a successful band, because it definitely seems like their alternative would be flipping burgers. I mean, they've been playing for over twenty years but in the first episode one of the guitarists has a problem with a pedal and basically just gives up, like he's helpless. I think what warms me to the show is that despite all their success, for the most part they come across as pretty average normal punk guys that any of us might know. They seem to have their hearts in the right place and for the most part appreciate that they are pretty lucky to be in the situation they're in. The show might be more for readers of Punk Rock Confidential than MRR, though. TiVo it yourself and see what you think.
By the time you read this, Chaos In Tejas 2008 will have come and gone. I don't usually do 'fests' but I'm making an exception. Actually I've wanted to try and get to this one for the past few years but other commitments have always gotten in the way. There are always good bands and Austin is one of my favorite places in the US. Mostly I'm looking forward to hanging out with friends I haven't seen in a while, going swimming, and eating some good food. The main musical attractions for me this year are Hard Skin, Leatherface (with Dickie Hammond back on guitar!), the Marked Men, and especially Roky Erickson. Can't wait.

Wire: Read & Burn 03 (MRR #300, May 2008)

WIRE - "Read And Burn 03" (Pinkflag)
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me when I say that I am a huge fan of Wire. It started, for me, with the song "12XU", which appeared on some punk compilation a friend of mine had and was my first exposure to the band. The record that song came from, Pink Flag, is a perfect album, and still my favorite of theirs. In fact, I put off listening to anything after that record for years. I would pass on Chairs Missing and 154 as they turned up in the record bins, suspicious that they originated from the 'lost years' I'd heard about, when Wire got derailed a bit. I think this worked to my advantage. By the time I got around to picking up those albums, not only had my tastes widened (mellowed?) a little, but I feel like I'd absorbed so much of the band's earlier music that I could pick out the essential Wire-ness of even the least Pink Flag-like of their tracks on the two subsequent records. So there I stayed, for a long time. I adhered steadfastly to those first three albums, eschewing all later output. Sure, I dabbled in bootleg issues of 77-79 stuff like their demos and the Live At The Roxy tracks, but no Wire sounds from those dark detested 80s every graced my ears. Since then, I have grown to appreciate some later stuff: if you can get beyond the slick production of A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck you can detect the strain of controlled tension that run through all their work.
Which brings me to the controversial subject of Wire's production. I think Harvest knobsman Mike Thorne did a great job with the first three records, although the earlier, live, stripped-down versions of the Chairs/154 songs as they were performed on German TV and released on the Wire On The Box DVD/CD package (highly recommended by the way), I can't help wondering if maybe he wasn't a bit heavy-handed with the synths etc.
Wire broke up and then got back together again a couple of times, at one stage with only three of them so they called themselves Wir, which I remember thinking was a bit strange at the time. Then in 2000 they reformed once again and have been a band ever since, although they don't seem to play or release records on a very aggressive schedule. Their post-reunion recordings, for the first two "Read & Burn" EPs and the "Send" album, were hailed as something of a return to form, and while they did mark a renewed and welcome readoption of both velocity and volume, something about the production was still a bit off. They (or at least Colin Newman, who appears to handle most of the post-production these days) seem fascinated with processing sounds digitally, so that guitars sound not so much like individual instruments played by humans, but like some robot supercomputer's nano-engineered idea of what the perfect guitar should sound like without any messy interference from pathetic inhabitants of meatspace. It's almost the opposite of the too-lush production of the 1980s but it serves the same purpose: it dilutes the band's core strengths, which are to be found in its superior songwriting, structure, minimalism, and kinetic energy.
Which brings me to their latest release, something of an appetizer for their upcoming eleventh(! - really?) studio recording. I don't recall seeing it in our review section since it came out, but then the chances of me actually making it all the way to the "W" section of any issue of MRR are pretty slim. I've found myself listening to at least the first track of the EP on the way to work almost every day, so I thought I'd talk about it here. Coming in at roughly the same length as Pink Flag even though it's only got four songs, Read & Burn 03 could almost count as an album in its own right. The first track, "23 Years Too Late" nips under the wire at just under ten minutes long. The remarkable thing is that once it's over I want to listen to it again right away (and have), and I usually get bored if a song goes over two minutes. It's almost a spoken-word piece set to music (usually the use of the term 'spoken word' is a massive red flag, I know): bassist and lyricist Graham Lewis reads a long piece describing a decadent continental scene as a three-note guitar and synth figure builds tension behind, exploding into a propulsive, angry Colin Newman-sung chorus and a squall of bass, guitars and drums. Lewis's terse, pointed delivery could earn him a spot doing voiceovers for documentaries about serial killers, while Newman, quite simply, is still the second best vocalist to come out of the '77 punk era (Rotten of course, since you asked) and is possibly the only one still putting out interesting, exciting music. Of course, the record's not perfect: the processed production makes Robert (Gotobed) Grey's already robotic, metronomic drumming sound like a drum machine most of the time. In fact, I think there might be a drum machine in there as well at times. Still, for a band that's been around for as long as they have to still be producing music this good, skirting the edges of pop with the vitality of much younger men and no small dose of intelligence and wit, is quite a feat. Especially while contemporaries seem content to mine the revival circuit.
It has to be added that as a group Wire seem to be a little far up their own arses much of the time. Don't get me wrong, I think they come pretty close to genius but in interviews it sometimes seems like they do as well. There was an amusing snippet of an interview with Colin Newman in the Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo (Mike Watt has often cited Wire, along with The Pop Group, as one of the biggest musical influences on the Minutemen, especially for their short songs) where it looks as if the producers have collared him on the street unawares. His body language resembles someone trying to extricate himself from a pair of Jehova's Witnesses. On apparently being asked about Wire's influence on the Minutemen he expounds on how much Wire influenced American hardcore bands, saying something along the lines of "especially the way we would do a whole song of just one note." It's here that he demonstrates how out of touch he is with how Wire actually affected people. I'm going out on a limb but I'd guess pretty much the only Wire song that influenced US hardcore was the aforementioned "12XU", and even then probably more because Minor Threat covered it than anything else. That "one note" quote shows that he probably hasn't even listened to very much hardcore, since I can't think of many hardcore songs that stay on one note for very long. Hardcore is about fast riffs, not exploring the sonic possibilities of deconstructing a chord down to its essential spatial coordinates or something. The American bands who really owe a debt to Wire are the 'post-punk', artier bands like Mission Of Burma. In fact, Burma have said that it was only after seeing Wire reform as older men and not look stupid up there that they decided that they might be able to get back together as well. So there's that to thank Wire for too.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

April fool...

So yeah, that last post/column about the iPhone was an April Fool. 
iPhone Punks are real though:

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Maximumrocknroll #299 April 2008

I have seen the future and it is now. Technology has changed DIY punk rock forever. One single technological breakthrough has revolutionized punk, bringing it into the 21st Century with a bang. Not since Iggy stepped from behind the drums in '67, or since Dee Dee learned to count to four in '76, or since Discharge popularized the d-beat in the early 80s, has there been a development that promises to affect punk rock so profoundly.
What is this groundbreaking advance in punk technology I hear you ask? Is it online radio? Is it the mp3? Is it the availability of cheap home recording on PCs? No, it's not any of those things, but you're getting warm.
The single most important event for the future of DIY punk rock as we know it was the introduction last year of the Apple iPhone.
"He's lost his mind", I hear you say. "The iPhone costs four hundred dollars, how can anything that expensive be punk?" Well, punks have been known to buy guitars (and records!) that cost several times that amount, and an iPhone is five times more punk than a Flying V with a GBH sticker, and ten times more hardcore than a Fix 'Jan's Room' with insert. Bear with me.
Apple's iPhone allows you to go about all your punk rocker business, anywhere you want, any time you want. You're on the bus home from work and you want to check on the status of your eBay auctions? No problem! You can also surf message boards to keep up on the latest punk and hardcore news. No longer do you have to wait until you're home in front of your computer to enjoy the benefits of Terminal Boredom, Shit-Fi, or even! You can stream your favorite punk podcasts, or download the latest hardcore hits right from iTunes.
No self-respecting punk rocker is without a MySpace page these days. Keep track of your friend requests and comment wars 'round the clock via the iPhone's wireless Internet access.
Going on tour with your band? Touring will never be the same again. From your iPhone, you can connect with other bands on MySpace to book the tour itself. Keep up with the bookings as you travel, and alert fans to any changes via MySpace bulletins–again, sent from your phone. Getting lost on the way to the show is a thing of the past: some hippy bands may prefer to 'wing it'... not so the modern iPhone-equipped touring unit. You've got maps and directions right there in the palm of your hand. And when you're onstage, don't worry about going out of tune - you can download an application that turns your iPhone into a guitar tuner. That saves you $100 on a regular guitar tuner right there. The iPhone just became an even better deal. (I realize that many punks regard tuning your guitar to be an unnecessarily frivolous show of rock-star like 'chops', so if you fall into this category, feel free to ignore that last part). Using the iPhone's 2-megapixel digital camera, you can document the tour as you go, and post the best pics to your blog. And speaking of blogs, let's face it–zines are a relic of the past. Rather than writing a zine about sitting in the 24-hour diner drinking muddy coffee all night, then wasting hours of your time at Kinko's trying to scam copies, wouldn't you rather just publish your thoughts and feelings directly to thousands of readers AS THEY HAPPEN from the diner itself? Talk about revolutionary.
I haven't even gotten to the mp3 player part yet. Your iPhone can carry thousands of songs. That's way more songs than anyone but the most pretentious of record collectors could ever need. (In fact, according to a list on, there are only ten essential punk albums. Those are:
1. RANCID - "And Out Come The Wolves"
2. NOFX - "Pump Up The Valium"
3. FUGAZI - "Repeater"
4. PENNYWISE - "Land Of The Free"
5. BOUNCING SOULS - "How I Spent My Summer Vacation"
6. RX BANDITS - "The Resignation"
7. BLACK FLAG - "Damaged"
8. GREEN DAY - "Dookie"
9. BOX CAR RACER - "Box Car Racer"
10. OFFSPRING - "Smash"
Shit, I'm only 2 for 10. But fire up the iPhone, and I could download the ones I'm missing from iTunes and complete my punk collection! See how easy and convenient Apple has made it to be punk? CRASS said pay no more than 2.99. Apple says pay no more than 99 cents (per song)!)
I don't think there's any aspect of the life of your average punk rocker that couldn't be improved by the use of an iPhone. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if it's not already, in very short order an iPhone will be essential for any truly DIY punk. With the technology of the iPhone at our fingertips, there's nothing we can't do. We can finally and instantly mobilize to make a punk takeover of the online airwaves a reality. We've been waiting for this a long time. The struggle has been long and many have been lost along the way. But with the introduction of the iPhone, we have finally won.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Top Ten Punk Records of 2007

My very first attempt at podcasting: I decided to make an audio addendum to my year-end top ten that appears in the latest issue of Maximumrocknroll. You can listen or download by clicking this link.
The playlist includes The Tranzmitors, Criminal Damage, Loser Life, and the Young Offenders. It was fun making it so I might do more of them, but I'm not going to get on a regular schedule or anything.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Overrunning Of The Orifice Region

Browsing YouTube late the other night, as you do, I luckily happened across a hitherto unviewed (by this writer) promotional video for Stretchheads. One of my favourite bands of all time, I was luckily enough to see this band many times in Glasgow. You know those local bands in your town that you like a lot, but you know that you don't have to go to every gig, because there'll be another one round the corner? With the Stretchheads, you made it to every one you could. Every one was different and every one was a total multimedia experience. 'Singer' P6 had a flair for the dramatic and a barely suppressed desire to be confrontational. He brought the concert to the audience one at a time and at close range. It felt moderately uncomfortable for this particular 18-year-old to be screamed at by a large, bald man in a tinfoil suit less than an inch from my face, but it was an experience I went back for time and time again. Musically, they were like nothing I'd ever heard. As time went on I became aware of the groups the were an influence on the Stretchheads but at the time I had been subsisting on a pretty strict diet of American hardcore and punk. The Stretchheads were hardcore alright, but in a completely different, twisted way. After the first LP, when they started to get even more experimental and incorporated samples, loops, and dubby effects, they just got better and better.
I remember going in to Rat Records on Buchanan Street and buying Five Fingers, Four Thingers, A Thumb, A Facelift, and a New Identity off of drummer Richie, without realizing he was in the band. When my friend Sandy and I drew up the list of must-have interviews for our new punk zine, Stretchheads were top of the list. Bassist Mofungo answered just about every question with references to The Ramones or The Sweeney, as I recall.
At any rate, thanks to the wonders of 21st Century technology, rather than just tell you about this amazing band, I can also direct you to sites where you can see and hear them for yourself. Enjoy!

Stretchheads on YouTube:
Overrunning Of The Orifice Region - Part 1
Overrunning Of The Orifice Region - Part 2
Live In Stockwell, 1990

Stretchheads on MySpace

Vocalist P6 and drummer Richie have a new(ish) act called DeSalvo that continues their fascination with brutal sounds and theatricality. DeSalvo on MySpace

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Maximumrocknroll #297 February 2008

The other night I went out to see Naked Raygun with a few friends. I would have missed it because I forgot to get a ticket but luckily Timmy Brooks from SF's finest over-30s pub rock act the Young Offenders phoned me up cos he had an extra. The doors were set to open at 7, with Chicago's Shot Baker and legendary 90s Frisco street-punx the Swingin' Utters set to open. No mention of Johnny Peebucks in any of the advertising literature unfortunately. At any rate, we got to the Elbo Room in the fashionable Mission District at about half eight, thinking the gig would be well under way, to be met by a queue that reached almost to the end of the block. Long story short, in the end NR didn't take the stage until about quarter to twelve. On a Tuesday night? I know at least one person who had to leave before they even played and two more left during the set. Doors at 7, three bands, you're expecting to be tucked up in your scratcher and sawing logs by half eleven. Instead I was dragging my carcass up the stairs about 1:30 am and trying not to wake the missus. Did I mention I was up at 7 for work the next day? Christ, I'm not going to maintain my youthful good looks for long at this rate.
Anyway, performance-wise, Naked Raygun were a mixed bag, but I enjoyed their set immensely. As I understand it, singer Jeff Pezzati apparently has some kind of chronic illness and he certainly seemed to be in pain at times, or at least very uncomfortable, and his voice was kind of weak. I got the impression that he was trying really hard to perform in less-than-ideal circumstances, and I was rooting for him the whole set. Naked Raygun were one of my favorite bands at one time, but I never got to see them live - they toured the UK, but never made it to Scotland. For a long time, it was pretty common for American bands to come over and tour England, while completely ignoring Scotland and Ireland. They might make it to one or the other, but rarely both. The excuse was often distance, which I used to think was fair enough. However, now I live in the US and I know that bands routinely drive ten hours to get to a gig. Typically, the longest drive a band might have to make in the UK is about four hours. Worst-case scenario would be driving from London to Glasgow, about six hours. I think the real reason is that the English tour promoters didn't think their bands would make much money in Scotland. Still, we were always grateful for the bands that did come, despite the lack of huge guarantees.
Back to the Naked Raygun show. It was a surprisingly social affair, which made for a nice change. I'm picky about the gigs I go to these days and usually if I go, I decide on the night and shoot out the door. Turn up by myself, maybe chat to a few folk, leave right after the band plays. This time, I actually planned to go with people in advance. At the gig, we met up with more people, including out-of-town visitors and MRR coordinators-du-jour. In between sets we nipped out to a quieter pub down the street for a swifty and I attempted to enlist a new columnist to our roster. Hopefully it will pan out. He or she will have probably forgotten all about it by the next morning.
Swingin' Utters played and all their old fans had come out of the woodwork (with the exception of one Mr. Bruce Roehrs, conspicuous by his absence). Every coiffed Fonzie with a swallow on his neck (tails as long as you like) for miles around had got suited up and cruised down to Valencia for the occasion. After they finished, there was a skunx exodus. Post- shift change the crowd looked very different: Naked Raygun's fans were mostly clean-cut late 30s software engineers. Some tech dudes with ponytails came on stage, set up their gear, and tuned up, so we all moved towards the front, thinking it was about to start. Half an hour later (seriously) the band actually came on. They didn't display much energy on stage (I don't think they ever really did) and the sound wasn't the greatest, but from the first 'whoa-oh' the crowd were singing along and the room was buzzing. They played a lot of their hits but the highlight for me was the encore of 'Rat Patrol', even though I had to help break up a bit of a handbag fight during it. As mentioned earlier, the show went on a bit late for a school night but I'm glad I went and I'm glad I stayed for the whole thing.
Naked Raygun were known to play Stiff Little Fingers' 'Alternative Ulster' as part of their live set. They didn't play it the other night, but as coincidence would have it, young Brooksy (mentioned above) happened to furnish me with a much-anticipated DVD copy of the Irish TV documentary 'Shellshock Rock', which features SLF performing said tune. I'd been hearing about this doc for years, but had never managed to lay my hands on a copy. I finally got to see it and it's been worth the wait. Not as polished as I would have expected from something that was actually on TV, it's actually pretty random. There's footage of some of Ulster's finest acts, including Rudi, The Outcasts, Protex, and of course The Undertones, as well as interviews with some interesting Belfast characters. They touch on the unique situation of how punk rock in Northern Ireland managed to bridge the sectarian divide, which definitely seems to have added a different edge to the proceedings there. It obviously meant a lot to these kids to have a place to go where the only thing that mattered was their shared music taste, not where you were from or how you pronounced the letter 'H'. I don't think this film is readily available for sale but I'm sure if you do a bit of digging on t'internet you can track it down. If you're a fan of melodic Northern Irish powerpop/punk rock it's a must see.

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Maximumrocknroll #296 January 2008 Lance Hahn RIP

Back in the early 90s I played guitar in a band in Glasgow. We wrote some songs and played some gigs and did some demos, and as is the way these things happen we got around to recording and self-releasing an LP. We'd been writing and working on our songs over the course of about two years. Besides our regular weekly practices, the bassist Angus and I met up several times a week just to play our parts together, over and over. Finally it came time to record the album. We booked two consecutive weekends at a new studio that some friends of ours had just opened. Our friend Richie (local hero and drummer in Dawson, the Stretch Heads, Fenn, and now DeSalvo) was at the mixing desk. We worked long into the night, recording and mixing fourteen songs with minimal overdubbing. Listening back to it now it's not the greatest album in the world but I think we were pretty proud of it at the time. An artist friend, Tim Goldie, designed the cover art, and we had the record cut at Porky's in London.
When we got the records back I don't think we could quite believe we'd made an album (I also don't think Angus could quite believe he'd got himself into so much debt, either). Naturally, we send copies to MRR for review. Around the time I thought the issue with the review would come out, I would go down to Tower Records (the only place in Glasgow still stocking Maximumrocknroll regularly at the time, I don't think anywhere does now) to see if it had come in yet.
After a couple of weeks of checking there was finally a new issue on the rack. I flicked furiously to the review section, scanning for our band name... nope. Not in this issue. I waited another agonizing month until it was time to start obsessively checking the newsstands again. At last, the new issue arrived, and there it was: our review. Surely this masterpiece we'd created would take MRR by storm, earning us rave reviews and coveted top-ten placings, skyrocketing us to the stardom we so obviously deserved? I skimmed the review: "sorta like FUEL, but sped up to hardcore and without the melody... "; "like straight edge kids grown up and gone to art school..." The reviewer didn't say he hated the record, but it didn't sound like he liked it, either. Who was this cloth-eared critic, who obviously had no taste and probably hated music, or at least didn't understand it? At the end of the review, those telltale initials: (LH)
Later when I moved to San Francisco and knew Lance personally I gave him shit about the review. Of course, he didn't remember it, but he did remember a time around MRR where the culture was such that there was almost a competition between reviewers to see who could write the meanest reviews. In that context I suppose Glue got off lightly. Lance's review certainly wasn't the worst one we ever received. Coincidentally, he also later introduced me to his roommate Jim, a member of Fuel with whom I ended up trying to start a band. We never really got it going but whenever I would go round to their apartment Lance would be in his room with the door closed, playing guitar. I remember hearing him play along to Queen and being impressed. For a guy in a punk band, he could actually play guitar.
Despite Lance's long-term health problems, the news that he had fallen into a coma and subsequently passed away seemed to take everyone by surprise. You just felt like he'd always be around, you know? There'd always be another J Church split 7" coming down the line, or another article about some long forgotten anarcho band. Even though I'd been following his regular email updates about his medical travails, I just figured he'd get better. He was only 40 for crying out loud. I can't help thinking he'd still be here if the American healthcare system wasn't so fucked.
Although Lance was obviously poor, had no health insurance, and had to work a shitty video store job to support himself, over the course of his short life he released dozens (hundreds?) of records, performed countless shows all over the world, made friends in every city and country he went to, and had made serious headway on what was shaping up to be a great book. He lived his life the way he wanted to. He was still taking his band out on tour and making records in the midst of his debilitating health problems. It's safe to say he didn't die thinking "I wish I'd worked that 9-to-5 office job instead." It's just criminal that his life was cut so tragically short.
The day after Lance died the word went out about a possible gathering of his old friends somewhere in the Mission. In a flurry of emails, message board posts, text messages and phone calls it was finally deduced that yes, the gathering was happening. 9pm at the top of Dolores Park, near where the J Church streetcar passes by. A few old Epicenter and former (and current) MRR workers hung out at a bench, drank a beer or two, and traded Lance stories. It was pretty low key. No one could figure out who instigated the event and no one took responsibility. It was decided that Tim Yohannan probably organized it. After I said goodbye to everyone I walked down the hill to my car and got in. I turned the key and the radio burst into life with a KUSF DJ playing a J Church song.

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Maximumrocknroll #295 December 2007

Bedtime for Mediocrity

Does punk rock inherently breed mediocrity? Looking at the glut of shit-looking, shit-sounding records that we manage to churn out year on year, I'd have to say it does. Obviously, not all punk records look or sound shit, and there are vast differences in aesthetic tastes. Personally I appreciate rawness in a recording and a certain rough and ready graphic style. But as a whole, I think we have learned to tolerate an unacceptable level of shittiness. Unintelligible flyers. Boring zines. Unimaginative (or simply stolen) record art. Shoddy musicianship. "It's cool, it's punk, right?" When did "punk" become an excuse for doing something half-assed?
There are, of course, often very valid financial reasons for doing things low- (or no-) budget. One of the best things about punk is that you don't need a lot of money or a lot of musical skill to get started, but just because something is cheap doesn't mean it has to look or sound that way. I know you've got a shitty guitar and borrowed amp because it's all you can afford. It costs nothing at all to figure out (or ask someone) how to get a good sound out of what you've got. "Nah dude, it's punk." Turn up two minutes before your band is supposed to play, ask to borrow someone's amp, plug in a crappy Metal Zone pedal, and you're good to go.
This attitude is crippling us. No wonder attendance at punk shows is dwindling. People are reluctant to spend even a nominal fee of $5 because let's face it, the chances are three out of the five bands on any given night are probably going to be mediocre. The preferred venue for punk is now the basement or house party, because while the crappy bands howl and squawk away to their five friends, everyone else can drink their 40s in the backyard or kitchen and talk about single-track bikes or some new trust-fund art-gallery-slash-clothing-store that their friend opened or something.
And that five dollar thing. People complain that $5 is too low these days, what with the price of petrol and everything. I couldn't agree more, but bands are lucky if they can even get that much now. The best they can hope for is that someone at the filthy punkhouse they're playing at has the wherewithal to aggressively hit up the crowd for a "donation for the touring band." People's expectations for punk bands are so low now that bands play not for a guarantee, not for a cut of the door, but in the eager hope that they will please a group of jaded underage drinkers enough that they will spill a few coins from their beer fund into a hat at the end of the night. That's not touring, that's busking.
For other styles of music, people queue up to buy tickets in advance. They get excited about going to shows. They don't toss the bands a couple of crumbs as an afterthought.
I dunno what the answer is. In the long run the good bands seem to do all right and the bad ones either break up or keep plugging away without really going anywhere. Again, they're not really harming anyone but they are diluting the gene pool, know what I mean?
I feel like I get quite curmudgeonly in this column. One could get the impression that I don't like punks or punk rock. Far from it, I just think we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. I judge myself the harshest. I've come to realize that I have accepted mediocrity in my own life for far too long. All my life I felt different, and then punk came along and showed me there was another way. I didn't have to follow the established path. I successfully avoided the pitfalls of a normal life but along the way I defined myself by what I didn't want to be. So I never became a square, so what? Now what? Everything I learned I taught myself. Never went to school, never had a career. I'm approaching middle age with little to show for my years than a woefully inadequate record collection. "What did you do with your life?" "I was a punk". What does that mean? Am I an idiot for wanting it to be something to be proud of, instead of feeling like I'm (we're) selling myself (ourselves) short?
It's confusing when you devote so much of your energy to something that most people get into, pass through, and get out of in the space of a few years, graduating to hipster bar DJ nights. Those punk tattoos used to keep you out of the corporate workplace but now coolhunting ad agencies, design studios. etc fall over themselves to show how edgy they are.
I never picked punk up like a new outfit to try on and throw away when fashion changed. It was already well out of fashion by the time I found it (or rather, it found me). Punk was there when I had nothing else so it's not something I can easily forget about. I don't know what brought on this crisis of confidence. I'm trying to start speaking up for myself. When (non punk) people ask what I do, rather than mumble something about whatever dead-end job is currently paying the bills, I'll say I'm a musician, and a writer. Eagerly, they'll ask about the music or the writing. "What's your band called? I'll look for the records in the shops!" "You're a writer? Where have you been published?" "Ermm, well, the records are all out of print because we only pressed 300 but it might be available either through the post from some distro in the Midwest or maybe on a stall at a twelve-band thrash festival in someone's shed. The writing, well, all fifty copies of the last issue of my zine are sold out but I've still got the originals somewhere so I can photocopy it for you if my mate is still working at Kinko's..."
I'm being negative, I know. On the positive side, I'm extremely lucky that I've even managed to put out records at all, and been in bands that have toured the US and Europe. I guess right now it just doesn't feel like it's adding up to much. I'm not sure what's missing but stick around with me while I try to find out. And above all don't accept mediocrity, from yourself or from those around you.
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Maximumrocknroll #291 August 2007

Is this what winning looks like?
We know what it's like to be a small-town punk. The cool kids spat on us. The cops moved us along and poured out our beers. We're not going to forget. We've paid our dues. We've been run out of dive bars by rip-off promoters and greedy owners. We've played to empty clubs and had to call home for gas money to get to the next show. We deserve this opportunity. If we sign to this label, we can get our message out to a wider audience. Man, isn't it totally subversive that our song was used on that car commercial? And anyway, it was for a hybrid. I know our ticket prices are expensive now, but those tour buses don't run on air.
The platitudes come down like a spring rain. This time it'll be different. But time and time again, bands build a following and grow up in the DIY, underground punk community, only to leave when the money starts to come in. All of a sudden, the horrible corporate venues that you wouldn't go to unless you could sneak in for free become the only game in town. "We hate this place, but where else can we play? It's the only place big enough." Warped Tour, media whore, sadly this has become your life. All that crap about getting the message out there, it was all bullshit, wasn't it? Or when does it start? Is there a dollar amount, once you get to a certain point, then you start giving back to the community that spawned you? Or was it all just a ruse, a pose, saying the right things to climb that ladder? Because it just looks like business as usual. You said you were punks, but now you're no different. You play the same rock biz games, play the same high-door-price venues, hide behind the same violent bouncers. You've got a street team spreading the word about your gigs when you used to have street cred.
Punk rock is on MTV and in the shopping malls. Mainstream punk is getting bigger but the infrastructure is shrinking. Why is it that after all this time, there are still only a handful of reliable punk-operated music venues in the world (Gilman Street in Berkeley, The Smell in LA, ABC No Rio in NYC, Mr. Roboto in Pittsburgh, and the 1 in 12 in Bradford, England are the ones that spring to mind)? OK, I know that there are tons of punk-run squat venues throughout Europe but that's a slightly different situation. Either you're big enough to play the huge, corporate, beer-company sponsored venues, or you have to rely on people who are having shows in their living rooms and basements. Don't get me wrong, house shows are almost always more fun than bar shows or other regular venues. But it's hard to build a scene around a venue that could get shut down any minute by angry neighbors or disgruntled roommates. Also, sometimes it's nice to actually be able to hear the vocals.
I guess what I'm getting at is that if we had our shit together, there would be a network of punk rock venues/community centers, one in every medium-to-large size town. Bigger bands would play there and that would subsidize the smaller shows with less of a turnout. The bigger bands would have local bands on the bill, so that those bands could build a following and grow the scene, so that more people would come out of the woodwork and help keep the venue going. I realize it's a pipe dream - just about all the venues I mentioned earlier exist by the skin of their teeth. The kids are mostly just users who take a lot of stuff for granted, and even most of the people who do want to get involved and do more end up getting burned out, either by in-fighting and status-jockeying, or by the constant uphill struggle to keep things going in the face of apathy.
I got to thinking about this stuff when a local art space/venue, Balazo Gallery, was shut down by the city for permit issues. It was one of the few places in San Francisco that was available to rent for all-ages shows. I'd had a show booked there for months (in fact, the final show for my band, Giant Haystacks. I've never mentioned the band in my column before, but since we've broken up, I suppose it's OK), and when they had to close down I had to find a new venue, for a Friday night, at extremely short notice. In the end we split the show between two smaller places: an early show at a bar on Mission Street called The Knockout, and a later, all-ages show in the basement of Thrillhouse Records across the street. Both venues came through in a pinch, although unfortunately many unlucky people got turned away from the second show. I couldn't help daydreaming that if SF had a decent, reliable all-ages venue, we'd never have had the problem in the first place.
In the Mailbox: Along with my long-awaited copy of the Down & Outs "Minneapolis" EP on Rat Patrol Records (Reviewed in this mag by Andy Darling a few months ago), I received a four-track EP compiling some of the output of Randy 'Biscuit' Turner, to benefit the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. The record has two Big Boys songs performed by the Slurpees/Texas Biscuit Bombs, as well as a Cargo Cult tune and a live version of "Identity Crisis" performed by the Big Boys in 1981. The cool little package is rounded out by some of Biscuit's artwork. Not sure how many were pressed, but check for details. While you're online, take a look at
My fairy godmother was really looking out for me, because she also saw fit to guide a copy of the Fucked Up/Hard Skin split 7" my way. On the Hard Skin side, genius Johnny Takeaway gets to do his best Jonesy impression on a note-perfect cover of the Professionals' 1-2-3. Someone from Fucked Up did a bit of digging and unearthed a candid snap of Fat Bob with a Neil-from-the-Young-Ones barnet on some hippie peace march. Can't tell when it was taken but it looks to be from back in the sixties or something. The Fucked Up song, "Toronto FC", is another work of genius on their part. Don't know if I'm picking up the theme but it makes me think of those American skinheads who bend over backwards to be as authentically close to their imaginary ideas of working class British life as possible - right down to forming little hooligan gangs and following their favorite Major League Sawkir teams. It's quite cute really.

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