Friday, July 22, 2011

In Which I Compose a Birthday Blowjob for Steve Albini

This heat, as well as my spending the last two days brainstorming ideas for something i want to write for Latest Flame, have limited my updates this week. Next week, they will be even more limited, as i will be out of town in the SF/Oakland Bay Area. So until i return, i leave you with this batshit nonsense.

Steve Albini! You are 49 years old today!

A mutual friend (whose name is assuredly NOT Bradley R. Weissenberger, except that it totally is) requested that i post some sort of embarrassing birthday screed for you today, probably assuming that i have way more readers than i actually do.

Steve, today i would like to thank you for this delightful interview with Die Kreuzen from a 1986 issue of Forced Exposure. Not because it includes a hilarious tale of DK being wooed by Run DMC's record label. Not even because of the tales of not eating for a day and a half, which make me feel exceedingly fortunate to have made the decision to tour minimally on vacation time.

No, Steve, i'm thankful because your opening paragraph was so damned boss (and for Bradley's sake, i hope that posting something here that you wrote when you were twenty-three is something you find slightly embarrassing):

Yeah, it's 1986 all of a fucking sudden. Just like that, I'm twenty three fucking years old, I have a job, a college degree, an ulcer, bad breath and no sex drive. Without even trying, I'm a fucking geezer. And punk/rock means shit little to anybody in the world anymore, it seems, save for people who just tripped over it recently and don't know what the fuck to do with it. The precious few musical gangs still creating viable, new music are barely hanging on, thanks to an audience so bent on crushing out originality and inspiration you'd think they were some sort of revenge squad sent in as infiltrators by our parents from long ago. Punk rock was the whole fucking world once, back when it meant cutting loose, going all-out and being nobody's tool. What hasn't been bought out has changed, in the hopes that somebody would buy, save that precious few. Yes, there is a Killdozer. Yea, there are Three (count 'em) Johns. Yes, there is a Naked Raygun. Yes there is a Foetus. Yes, yes, yes there are still too many to name (but barely, fucking barely) and one of the unnamed (as yet) is Die Kreuzen.

I've been spending the last two days brainstorming a sort of "mission statement" that i offered to write for Latest Flame, and it was going to have a central thesis of "man, what happened to indie rock? There's no rock in it anymore," but your opening paragraph reminded me that dudes twelve years older than i have been saying that for twenty-five years longer. So thanks for reminding me that as old and cranky as i am, there are people out there that have been crankier for far longer.

And in all seriousness, Steve, THANK YOU for, on your dime, hosting an online community that has slowly become the only reliable outlet i have for discovering awesome new music, as well as perhaps one of the first thriving music scenes that exists primarily on the internet. The BBQs, the song challenges, and of late, our ability to band together and raise a shit-ton of money to pay for our friend's medical bills...i hope you feel really satisfied and happy that you've played a huge part in making this happen.

Oh, and thanks for all the cool music too.

Oh, also: you probably don't care, but i'm really fucking sorry that Milwaukee declared your birthday to be Bon Iver Day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In Which I Pose More Questions About Music Criticism

Latest Flame Dan clued me in to this LA Weekly article about the resurgent (which i totally wouldn't mind writing for and for whom this mention totally isn't an ass-kiss--Hi Travis!), in which head Buddy Travis Keller included some choice quotes about one of my favorite websites (to bitch about, lambaste, and otherwise gnash my teeth regarding), Pitchfork:

“I’ve met all those dudes [at Pitchfork]. Fuck them,” Keller says. “They’re doing well, or at least Ryan. He doesn’t write anything; he just grades all the records. When you review records for Pitchfork, you don’t get to grade them. I was talking to Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, who got a good review but only a 3.0 rating. He called the reviewer and said, ‘Hey, thanks for giving my record a good review,’ and the kid said, ‘I got fired for it.’ ”

A cursory search of the Pitchfork site found two Bad Religion reviews that were given an 8.2 and a 5.1, but that remark about reviewers not assigning the scores to albums was an eyebrow-raiser, considering it echoed something written by Everett True at Collapse Board, my new favorite website to avoid reading, as its music writing is so fucking excellent that it makes me want to quit (note: bold emphasis is mine, italics are his):

Pitchfork’s failings in managing to make any worthwhile contribution to the discourse around music is not their main fault. Not at all. It’s not even in the way they deny women a voice even though women make up a very sizeable proportion of both their audience and the artists they write about. (Women just aren’t interested, don’t you get it Everett?) It’s not even the lack of individuality among their writers, the fact they’ve coagulated them all into one bigger, all-encompassing brand. Though that’s crap, obviously. It’s not even the way that Pitchfork have turned the alternative into the mainstream (that doesn’t matter: there’s always another alternative, another underground, to be found). Those are not their biggest betrayals. This is.


They have no fucking idea whatsoever about music. To paraphrase David Lee Roth, Pitchfork writers all like Bon Iver because Pitchfork writers all look like Bon Iver.

* * *

Another note states that I should cite Scott’s email about how Pitchfork editors hold long editorial meetings to determine the precise grade of each review … something which apparently started off as a joke … but we’ve wasted enough time discussing that band of second class citizens here.

I find these accusations of editorial homogenizing interesting in light of a recent review my band garnered at a website called Subba-Cultcha. I really don't care that the reviewer gave us a 5 out of 10, although the review is abysmally written and sounds like something i wrote for my high school paper in 1991 (and not only says absolutely nothing about how we sound, but also compares us to the Ting Tings, which makes about as much sense as comparing Six Finger Satellite to that episode of Teletubbies where Laa-Laa plays guitar [everyone knows she's more informed by Deerhoof]). What intrigued me about the review, and about Subba-Cultcha in general, is that this reviewer was obviously listening to us for the first time and had never heard of us previously, despite the fact that Subba-Cultcha reviewed our 2008 CD, Fame By Proxy, and gave it an enthusiastic 7/10 that was in no way referenced in the Nada Surf review.

The writing in the Fame review is pretty dire as well (maybe don't get all your band history off our Wikipedia page, especially when it had just been pranked by some friends of ours?), but the two reviews together represented to me the direct opposite of Pitchfork's stifling hegemony: individual voices so far removed from each other as to be completely unaware.

Two review sites--one with a seemingly dictatorial editorial cohesion, one with more disparate voices than Prof. X's son Legion. Obviously the ideal, as with so many things, lies somewhere in the middle. I personally abhor overly cohesive editorial voices, and am a huge fan of sites that allow individual writers' personalities to shine. On the other hand, a good editor should probably make damn sure that his or her writers are keeping up with everything on the site, lest the staff come off as a right hand not knowing what the left is doing. Thoughts, y'all? I never went to journalism school, so i'm not privy to the discussions of editorial policy that i'm sure spring forth in the walls of UW-Milwaukee.

* * *

On a personal note, i turned 37 (gyah) on Monday after a tremendous birthday weekend. Saturday saw IfIHadAHiFi play a benefit show for our friend Elliott, who is recovering/has recovered from the severe electric shock i discussed a couple weeks ago. We were told we played a killer set; it was hard for me to tell as all i could hear was bass and i was already annoyed with having to play on a backline that wasn't ours. I hate to be that asshole who has to have "our sound, man," but goddamn, shared gear shows are a pain in the ass (except for the much-easier load-in). But we do 'em, because PRF events are generally worth it and why rock the boat when it's manned by a group of amazingly talented and kind-hearted friends? Anyway, Elliott gave us all reason to cheer when he took the stage to play guitar with Trophy Wives, who absolutely fucking DESTROYED on the same backline, so i should probably shut the fuck up about shared gear.

I have no idea how much we raised for Elliott's medical bills, as the organizer, Mat isn't talking, but based on the silent auction alone it had to be pretty formidable. I hope the $40 Liz and i jointly spent on a copy of the Dope, Guns & Fucking in the Streets Vol. 10 purple seven-inch (har har) with Brainiac's "Cookie Doesn't Sing" on it comes in handy. I know i'm pretty psyched that Police Teeth's own Richy Boyer donated that record to the pile. Birthday!

Sunday and Monday were all about wrestling as WWE delivered its best pay-per-view wrestling card in perhaps 10 years, as CM Punk defeated John Cena to win the WWE Championship on what was (storyline-wise) his last night in the company. A completely nuclear hometown Chicago crowd was hot, hot, hot for their hometown hero Punk as he took the title belt and ran into the crowd to escape the wrath of Vince McMahon. I can't really do the match justice here, but if you at all give a shit about wrestling (and if you've been coming here for music nonsense, you probably don't, i dunno), you can read a summary of the match at Pro Wrestling Torch.

On Monday RAW was in Green Bay so Liz and i got a wild hair up our asses and spontaneously bought tickets and drove north for the show. We got there early enough for me to give Liz a tour of 1996 Green Bay: a stop at Exclusive Company to record shop and say hi to Timebomb Tom, dinner at Jake's Pizza, and a drive past the old Concert Cafe site before heading to the Resch Center across from Lambeau Field itself. There we watched some fun live TV wrestling and laughed our butts off as Triple H relieved Vince McMahon of his duties as WWE chairman. Classic soap opera drama and a perfect capper to a killer birthica weekend.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Martian Dance Band of the Week! - The Blind Shake

Image via the band's website

Holy sweet tastes like mutton Baby Jesus do i love The Blind Shake. This Minneapolis "garage-stomp" threesome is rapidly gaining a reputation among those who've seen them as one of the best live bands in the world, if not THE best (and really, the last time i saw Melt-Banana they had maybe slowed down a microstep, which is all the room The Blind Shake needs to pass them by), and luckily for Milwaukee, we get a chance to see them live up to that hype this Tuesday, July 19 at the Sugar Maple.

The Shake have been hitting the road like maniacs lately, spending the first half of 2011 traversing the states behind their new album Seriousness, of which i've only heard a couple tracks, enough to let me know it's definitely a worthy follow-up to their last proper full-length, 2007's Carmel (they've also tossed a few recordings in collaboration with noise artist Michael Yonkers between LPs). Anyway, blah blah recordings blah--it's all about The Blind Shake's live show, which will kick you in the teeth, punch you in the crotch, and scrape your brain clean of rational thought.

The typical burst of sonic fury from this surf-flavored, psych-tinged, garage-punk whirlwind goes something like this:

"Hi, we're the Blind Shake from Minneapolis."





***yeah, i guess if you really wanna show the floor tom who's boss, you SHOULD stand up over it, that makes sense***


(repeat for approximately 23 minutes)

"Thanks, good night!"

Somehow, The Blind Shake's amp volume, effects, and local draw achieve the perfect balance between thrilling and overpowering when combined with the reflective concrete cube that is the Sugar Maple's back room, providing the sensation of taking a bath in sound waves and getting the dirt vibrated off your body. That being said, i wouldn't complain if so many people started showing up to their Milwaukee gigs that a move to larger confines would be necessary. They deserve the attention, after all.

Milwaukee's own instrumental post-punk combo Wereworm opens, featuring local artist and flier producer extraordinaire Tom Stack on drums. A droney, minimalist, trance-inducing warmup for a band that will then shock you out of your comfort zone like a bracing snow drift after an hour in sauna.

ANYWAY, enough flowery prose. Check out this video of The Blind Shake playing the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco (a killer place to play, i can say from experience) earlier this year, kicking off with the vibranium-alloy twelve-bar-blues of "Hurracan" from the new record.

JULY 19. SUGAR MAPLE. Do this, Milwaukee. Do this thrilling thing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Martian Dance Flashback! - The Devo2.0 story

My goal is to get to a point where i'm writing in here daily, in the hopes that it jumpstarts my writing in other areas. Today, however, my body conspired to sabotage my blogging efforts. After walking to the Church of Murray for Zebras practice today, i stopped at "Mister Senor's" taco stand, near the Dog's Bollocks and Paddy's on Murray. (Yes, the name of the place is "Mister Mister's," and no, i have yet to hear "Kyrie" or "Broken Wings" piped through their stereo). That and a Spotted Cow were my pre-practice dinner. ONE Spotted Cow.

Flash forward to band practice, where somehow i have become simultaneously drunk and hung over from the ONE Spotted Cow. A raging headache was combined with sluggish reflexes and a severe case of the drumstick dropsies to gift me with the sensation of what it would have felt like had Kitty Pryde attempted to play drums after the Marvel Mutant Massacre. After a solid hour and a half of "what the fuck is wrong with my wrists," we adjourned and i hi-tailed it to my couch, where i spent the rest of the evening finishing up my rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6. Oh, the sobs, they did flow like New Glarus.

So with that as my excuse, i will now regale you with an old classic from my LiveJournal days. It fits the theme of the last few days because it's a music-related tale--one that i told in abridged form to Faiz during the Archers show on Saturday. Sit back and chew on the time that Keith Brammer and i met DEVO 2.0 at Christ King Grade School in Wauwatosa back in 2006.


I Am Your Favorite DJ: A Blip on the Screen (hotshotrobot) wrote,
@ 2006-04-07 16:51:00

Last Saturday. I'm at Josh's place, admiring our recently-acquired Hot Nuggets! CDs and vinyl, when my phone rings. It's Keith, my pal who recently scored a music editor/writer-type job at The Onion. "Hey DJ," he starts, "have you seen anything about this Devo 2.0 thing?"

"YEAH! It's totally fucked up! It's like this weird subversive extention to Devolution!"

"Ya know, that's exactly my take on it. I mean, to have a 13-year-old girl singing 'Uncontrollable Urge...'"

"I KNOW! That's totally the video i saw and thought, 'ok, this is WEIRD.'"

"Yeah, well, anyway, they're doing this tour of grade schools, and they're going to be playing at a grade school in Wauwatosa on Friday. It's closed to the public, but i contacted them through The Onion and they're into me going down and covering it, and i think i can bring someone. Can you get out of work and go?"

"HOLY SHIT. Are you serious? Yes. Whatever i need to do to get out of work, i will in order to see this."

And so that's how i found myself this afternoon at Christ King Grade School in Wauwatosa, watching five Southern California kids playing Devo covers as authorized by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerry Casale.

We walked into the grade school, and i seriously want you to picture this properly: This is a parochial grade school. There are crosses and references to prayer and Jesus all over the place. Every kid has some sort of red uniform on--sweaters for the boys and plaid dresses for the girls (who are all younger than 11, you sicko). And in walk the drummer from IfIHadAHiFi and the ex-bassist from Die Kreuzen, dressed in variations of black and leather and sunglasses and rocker hair and what have you. We check in at the office, and the secretary goes to look for Diane(?), the tour manager (who, as it turns out, is also the keyboard player's mom). Eventually she finds us, and she is completely tickled (as is the rest of the crew) that The Onion is here to witness this grand spectacle (never mind that it's one dude from The Onion, but just in case they're weird about someone being a guest, i just make like i'm Keith's assistant or something and simply don't say that i'm not with The Onion). We BS for awhile, tell her we're musicians and Devo fans from way back, etc. etc. She shows us that she has Gerry Casale on her cell phone and if we want, she can call him later and have Keith talk to him. Keith is understandably geeked.

So we wander into the gym, where (i overheard an estimate of) 700 grade school kids were sitting down on the gym floor waiting for DEVO 2.0. The instruments are set up, and there's a video screen ready to play the backing videos they have cued up to the music. Some cornball emcee (who was actually a pretty nice normal guy off mic) comes out and starts in with the "HEY WAUWATOSA! ARE YOU RRRRRREADY?" But before the band comes out, he has to explain why the band is there. It's in conjunction with this website called, that exists to increase awareness of and promote music and art education in schools. So they have some kids from the audience line up, and the emcee asks them why learning about music in school is important, and the kids read off answers that are conveniently located on the handout every kid has been given, like "helps student achieve in other academic subjects like math, science, and reading" (note: the boy mispronounced "academic." it was funny).

But finally, it was time for DEVO 2.0. The lights hit and the 700(?) kids screamed like the junior banshee coalition, and out ran the band! If you haven't seen pictures, they have two blonde girls, one on keys and one singing lead, and boys on guitar, bass, and drums. And that drummer could fucking play! He was solid, his tempo was in perfect time with the few synth lines that were sequenced, and he was a showman, all twirling his sticks and shit. When i was his age, i was just starting to play. Fuck that kid.

While Keith and i watched the performance, silly-ass grins were plastered on our faces the entire time. The ages of the band members ranged from 11 to 14, and here they were playing "Girl U Want" with a video screen displaying a 50s-style advertising graphic of a girl pointing at a box of soap labeled "Girl U Want." As Keith pointed out, a song about sex accompanied by a graphic representing the commodification of the subject matter, being performed in a fucking goddamn parochial grade school was probably the most subversive thing we've ever seen, at least since the last time we watched Starship Troopers.

They launched into "Uncontrollable Urge"(I KNOW!!!), and the video screen was covered in potatoes, and the beginning of the video featured a particularly elongated spud creeping up from the bottom of the screen, and goddamn if it didn't look totally like a big ol' potato cock preparing for takeoff. Seriously. I think there may have been nuns in the room.

I did start to notice how the lyrics to many of the songs have been tweaked to sanitize them for the kiddies, though. At the end of "Beautiful World," the singer, Nicole, sings "For you...and for me too" instead of the original "for you...not for me." On the surface, i can see why Devo fans might be pissed at the sanitizing of the lyrics for the kiddie audience, but it was at this moment that i realized just how brilliant this whole project is.

Picture this: you're a 10-year-old kid at a Jesus-loving, conservative grade school. Devo 2.0 are playing in your gym. Maybe it's the first concert you've ever seen. You're bobbing your head and singing and freaking out and screaming to "Beautiful World." Then, you become a teenager or young adult, and start becoming more exposed to music in general. Maybe you've discovered punk rock, maybe you're listening to Beyonce. Whatever. At some point, you will stumble across a release by the original Devo. "Hey!" You think to yourself. "My first concert was the kiddie version of Devo. Those songs were great! I should grab this and hear what the originals were like." You buy New Traditionalists and throw it into your CD player. Because you were an obsessive 10-year-old kid when you first heard these songs, you know the lyrics as you heard them Disneyfied by heart. Suddenly, you notice that the original lyrics aren't the same as what you remember. "Wait. 'It's a beautiful world/for you/but NOT for me'?"

And your mind is blown, because suddenly you're thinking about the real meaning of this song you learned as a kiddie song, and you find yourself possibly thinking about the meaning behind the words more than any first-generation Devo fan has before you.

This is why Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerry Casale are fucking mad fucking geniuses.

After the performance, the band lined up to answer questions from the kids. While this began, tour manager/keyboard mom Diane came up to us and said, "Please, be completely honest--what did you think?" Keith's laughter-ridden reply: "It's completely fucked up!" She laughed, because she knew exactly what he meant. She then rolled camera by us and shot the Q-n-A. During band introductions, each band member was asked to say something about why music and music education is important to them. The bassist said something really quite poignant and excellent by saying, "music taught me that when you're playing music, you can be as awkward or weird or out there as you want, and it doesn't matter." I was so stoked to know that these kids in school uniforms were hearing this from someone close to their age. Then, someone, either the emcee or one of the band members, said something about how music keeps you away from drugs and alcohol, and Diane found herself focusing the camera on Keith and me, doubled over in gut-busting laughter. "You have to understand," i said to her, "that's not exactly what our experience in music has been like." "Oh, of course!" she replied. "It gets you into drugs and alcohol; i know that."

So awesome.

Afterward, she led us downstairs to meet the band before they toured the classrooms to sign autographs. As we walked across the gym, Keith said, "is there any way this could be any more cool?" "Well," i replied, "We could walk into their bus and find a huge pile of cocaine waiting for us."

So then we were introduced as being from The Onion, and we explained to the band what The Onion was. The 11-year-old keyboardist asked us if they could get a copy, and we said, "Yeah, there's one in the car; we can get it for you later." Keith added, "Just don't tell your parents we gave it to you."

So we BS for awhile--the kids ask if we're in bands, we say yes, they think it's super-cool, and they actually start asking us questions about playing music and stuff. I ask the drummer what else he listens to lately, and he explains that he has another band back home that plays "more prog stuff, like Mars Volta, or Yes, or King Crimson." THIS KID IS FOURTEEN! And he's a good enough drummer that i'm assuming that the rest of his other band are probably decent musicians too. Fucking ridic. The drummer (his name's Kane, btw) says something about how Josh Freese is his favorite drummer and that he tries to be a showman like him, and Keith says, "Heck, you should see DJ here," which leads me to mentioning how i lit my drums on fire once, which impresses the hell out of these Disney-sponsored pre-teen rock stars. YES, THAT'S RIGHT, I TOLD DEVO 2.0 ABOUT SETTING MY DRUMS ON FIRE IN ORDER TO IMPRESS THEM. I AM SO FUCKING COOL.

But in all seriousness, for being kids thrown onto a tour bus, they were really sweet, down-to-earth, and really sharp. These kids aren't idiots--they know something about music. They know at least who Sid Vicious and the Ramones and The Clash were. And from the impression we got, they know exactly what role they play in De-evolution. They then had to start their classroom tour, so they said goodbye and shook our hands and said cute kid things like "you guys rock!"

And then Keith and i left Christ King Grade School in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, giggling like complete dorks. The end.


POSTSCRIPT: So apparently that Wiki article i linked to above has this to say about the fate of Devo 2.0:

The band split up in 2007 when lead singer Nicole Stoehr and lead guitarist Nathan Norman quit and said they would never make music again because the album became a flop.

*sad trombone*

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Kickstarter Dilemma

Today over at AV Club Milwaukee, Matt writes about the latest local Milwaukee Kickstarter project, set up by local "Folk/fusion/psychobilly" act The Fatty Acids. The project pays for not only the pressing of their new CD, Leftover Monsterface, but it also partially bankrolls a 2011 tour that the band is planning:

- Our 2011 tour will take us from Milwaukee over to the West Coast, down and over to Texas, then back up to Chicago/MKE. It's going to cost over $3500, and we'd like to offset that just a little bit.

I'm not anti-Kickstarter necessarily (and i'm very much not anti-Fatty Acids, as they're great people and a great band), but occasionally the semantics involved with these campaigns make me uncomfortable. As an avenue for album presales, it's not a bad model; my friend Conan has done this twice now, for his Karl Rove: Courage and Consequence LP and for his band Victory & Associates' upcoming vinyl disc. As AV Club Milwaukee also reported recently, Milwaukee slack-rockers Sat. Nite Duets are doing the same.

Where i start having issues with making it all work in my head is when these campaigns expand beyond a physical purpose into things like "pay for our tour." The Scarring Party did this recently, and if we go back further, Margaret from Pezzettino ran a campaign (that she took a load of shit for) to pay for repairs to her car that stemmed from incessant touring.

The oft-tossed dismissive that Kickstarter is nothing more than "DIY pandhandling" doesn't really wash; after all, with most campaigns, the people who back the project get something for their money (and the best campaigns are the ones that get the most creative with the perks they throw in, like the Evan Gritzon coffee primer or Conan Neutron band bio writing services offered by Victory & Associates during the campaign for their These Things Are Facts album).

Still, there's something that feels unsavory about asking fans to bankroll a tour, and i'm not sure i can place my finger on what it is. Maybe it's the language on the site? The copy refers to "backers" and "pledges," words that imply an act of charity. Would things feel more legit if the different backing levels were presented as outright purchases? After all, IfIHadAHiFi just provided our live performance services to the Bottom Lounge and were paid in kind--money that's going to go toward our first tank of gas on tour. How's that different than sending someone a care package of records, t-shirts and stickers in exchange for some gas money? Does the change in emphasis from the product sold to what the money's spent on really make that much of a difference?

It could be that i feel like there's a bit of disconnect happening between the realities of touring and the act of bankrolling them. The existence of Kickstarter itself is an admission that being in a band (along with most other artistic endeavors) is a goddamn money pit. Records and CDs are expensive, and a band's first several tours rarely pay for themselves. However, speaking for myself, i feel like our first shit-eating, money-losing tours were character-building exercises that tested our resolve. How much did we really believe in our music? Enough to take it in the ass driving eight hours to play for four people and hope that tomorrow's show will make up the deficit in the gas tank? Would it have been the same risky-ass but rewarding, camaraderie-building experience if we had two grand sitting in the bank ready to cover the bad nights?

There's a voice in the back of my head that says that bands that don't willingly face the risk of losing their ass in the pursuit of their art aren't really bands at all. But then, maybe those bands just aren't as stupid as we are. Are the bands relying on Kickstarter to tour disconnected from the realities of the road, or is the road changing? I often think that the members of Black Flag would laugh at us using our Google maps to find the club, so who am i to talk?

This is a post written by someone whose mind isn't made up. So convince me one way or the other in the comments, won't you?

Monday, July 11, 2011

After the Last Laugh - IfIHadAHiFi opens for Archers of Loaf in Chicago

HiFi blasts through our Mission of Burma cover--photo by g33kgrrl K

July 9, 2011

Archers of Loaf have just finished their set on night #2 of a two-night stand at Chicago's Bottom Lounge, and have walked offstage to a flurry of high-fives and hugs, many of them from the members of my band. As the audience screams and chants "Let's go Loaf!" in the hopes of an (obviously impending) encore, HiFi utility infielder Rev.Ever jokes, "hey guys! Let's play another song and bum them out!"

Archers bassist and all-around crucial dude Matt Gentling cracks up. "That would be hilarious!" I look at him and say, "you want us to just run on stage and do a lap and fake everyone out?"

Matt has a twinkle in his eye, but he goes to pow-wow with his Archers bandmates on what the encore is going to be. When he returns to the stage steps, he says, "ok, go, run out there."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Do it!"

And so 700 people waiting to erupt in applause when Archers of Loaf return for their encore explode upon seeing four bodies run onto the stage, only to double-take when they realize it's the opening band. "WHOOO--HUH? Um, uh, ok, whatever, WHOOOOOO!"

We run off stage, doubled over and sides split, as Archers take the stage and launch into "Audiowhore," the opening track of one of the greatest EPs in 1990s indie rock, Vs. The Greatest of All Time.

But i should back up, right? I mean, i just blew my load on this post, opening it with the highest point of a day full of nothing but high points. For the record, yes--my band, IfIHadAHiFi, opened for the Archers of Loaf at the Bottom Lounge on Saturday, one of several reunion shows that the Archers are playing in this, the thirteenth year since they broke up in 1998. In 1998, Yale Delay, Mr. "The Fucking Wizard" Alarm and i formed The Pop Machine--a precursor to the HiFi--with our friend Mandy. Had you told me the day we heard about the breakup of my fourth-favorite band of all time (sorry, Archers, you were just edged out of the top spot by Brainiac, Faith No More, and Poster Children, but you did sneak in just ahead of Superchunk!), "hey, don't worry, DJ--in 13 years they'll not only reunite, but you'll be playing one of the reunion shows," i likely would have slapped you for mean-spirited sarcastic taunting.

For the last 13 years, as several heroes of mine either reunited or reconvened to play shows again (Mission of Burma, Man...or Astroman?, Killdozer, and the aforementioned Faith No More, Superchunk and Poster Children), the one reunion that i ached for was Archers of Loaf. All four band members were still around; they were all still friends; and there seemed to be a lot of interest for a reunion out there on the Internet, so what was the holdup? RRRRGH!

In January, Archers of Loaf played an unannounced surprise reunion gig at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC. This happened the same night that the Green Bay Packers delivered a surprising ass-waxing to the #1 seeded Atlanta Falcons in the NFC playoffs. I was in the middle of a show i was playing with Zebras and freaking out at the realization that the Packers were a legit Super Bowl threat when my friend Jim sent me the text: "Holy shit, i have been informed that Archers of Loaf are playing a secret reunion gig in North Carolina AS I TYPE THIS." What the fuck, Jim? How can you send me this text when my brain is still humming from the Packer game? A Super Bowl run is imminent and NOW you text me that ARCHERS OF LOAF ARE PLAYING A SHOW? Do you realize that synaptic shutdown is imminent, dick?

I provide this exposition to fully convey the weight of the situation as i typed the following message to Matt Gentling via the Electrical Audio Forum shortly after the Chicago shows were announced in April:

Hi Matt,

I'm sure that A) this is a long shot, B) you probably have friends' bands in mind, and C) you don't need random strangers bugging you about this stuff, but i figured it can't hurt to ask:

My band, ifIHadAHiFi, would loooove to be considered for an opening slot on either of the Bottom Lounge shows. We've played there before with our friends Poster Children, and went over very well. Our tunes are all here:

Again, i'm sure you have other bands in mind, so don't feel bad saying, "yeah, thanks but no thanks," but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

That he responded with an enthusiastic "hey man, yeah, i'll see what i can do!" instead of a "you're not the ones who'll let us down, but thanks for offering," was above-and-beyond in and of itself. That he managed to put us on the bill for Saturday's show just because i asked nicely on a whim and sent some mp3s was nothing short of heroic.

But as most fans of the band have always known, that's just par for the course for a band so self-effacing, humble, and averse to typical Rock Star Behavior that the reason they gave for breaking up was "we were afraid we might start to really suck." That self-deprecating humor was in full display while we wandered backstage after arriving at the Bottom Lounge on Saturday and were greeted by Matt Gentling and Eric Johnson. After a story involving a band whose name i can't remember (a name Matt said was horrible, "not that we should talk"), we launched into a volley of tour travel stories about mouses running across faces, competing with band members for the warmth of the dog living at the house where they're staying, and our favorite--making sandwiches with Weezer's catering. ("They had the same set list and EXACT SAME BANTER every night, so we could time it and make huge Dagwood sandwiches in their dressing room and then leave before their set was done.") We talked about mutual friends the Poster Children and how amazing they are, Elliott and his recovery from the onstage shock in Austin, and random other items of note until the Archers were summoned to the stage for soundcheck.

My friends always react in disbelief when they hear me say this, but to this day, i get very nervous before playing big shows. As familiar face after familiar face arrived and asked me how excited i was for the show to start, i quite literally felt faint once or twice during the runup between doors and the start of our set. I've seen too much weird shit happen during HiFi sets over the years to be confident that things would go off without a hitch. When we opened for The Jesus Lizard in 2009 i cramped up so hard during the first two or three songs that i knew it was hampering our sound. Fortunately i planned ahead and ate a banana during the afternoon. Tarim bless potassium and its magical anti-cramping powers. On top of everything else, the night before saw our friends Blank Banker deal with a rack tom spilling to the floor and severing Jeff's bass cable during their first song. Was there an opening band curse we would need to deal with? All it takes is one trigger to completely derail a HiFi set and send a bass guitar flying into my face or a PA speaker onto Yale's head. Great myth-making hijinks, but not the sort of thing that wins over 700 people prepared to sit on their hands awaiting their heroes while the opening act fucks around.

So yeah. Nervous. Fortunately i had my bandmates in back to calm my nerves a bit, as well as the Archers guys saying "have a great show!"

We walked out on stage to--thank god--familiar heckling from friends in the front row. Our peeps know how to put us at ease: by talking shit. The Wizard declared that he was "essentially playing for about five people right here," as i announced the name of the band, the first song, and counted off "We Fiddle, You Burn." We were off and, much to my relief, we were sounding great. I purposely dialed back my usually overexcited drumming and focused on deep breathing between wacky drummer faces (mind you, my "scaling back" is most drummers' idea of "kicking it into overdrive," on a scale of "Charlie Watts" to "Animal").

Our setlist:
We Fiddle, You Burn / Paradise By the Paulding Light / Your Head on a Ratings Spike / (The HiFi Vs.) Potential Energy / Imperial Walker / Black Holes Resonate (in B-Flat), Baby / Arson, You Let Me Down / Doubting Thomas Telescope / No More Music / That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate

We played an all-pop songs set that garnered more and more applause as the set wore on. Yale did his usual fucking with the crowd thang, snuggling up to dudes in the front row, taking their beers and drinking them, etc. The Wizard and Rev.Ever thrashed away on stage right and even got the crowd to laugh at some random Temple of the Dog joke that the Wizard made. I introduced "Imperial Walker" as our song "for anyone here who's a state union employee in Wisconsin" to applause and cheers. I introduced "Doubting Thomas Telescope" as "this song we wrote about a guy who lives outside of Baraboo and makes sculptures out of scrap metal" and in response heard calls of "yeah! Dr. Evermor!" Woah, the audience is getting my references and applauding them. This is crazy! I told Elliott's tale and pimped his benefit show at Quenchers on Saturday.

And every so often i was able to take the time to look out into the audience and see familiar faces everywhere. I saw a head about a third of the way back in the crowd, bobbing maniacally. I focused on it to see that it was our man John Hastie of Nonagon. All i had to do was glance slightly to my right to see Liz dancing her ass off up front, surrounded by loads of Milwaukee and Chicago pals. It really just put things over the top for me--we were killing it in front of 700 people and our friends saw us doing it. "Mommy! Daddy! I'm riding my bike without training wheels! Do you see? Do you see? Lookit!"

We left the stage after our Burma cover to a roaring ovation and i was greeted off-stage by a Matt Gentling hug. "HOLY SHIT! You guys are FACE-PEELING! That was AMAZING!" Mark Price, P.I: "Dude, i can't even imagine trying to sing and drum at the same time."

Rev.Ever broke a guitar string during the set, right before "Black Holes." Matt volunteered to change the string for him during the song. After our set he laughed about it: "so there i am, trying to change Michael's guitar string, and Matt (Archers roadie/tech) grabs it from me and says, 'give me that, you fucking amateur.'"

Back by the merch table, our pal Faiz recounted standing next to Matt during the set. "Matt was leaning over and saying, 'these guys are GREAT!' and i was all, 'uh, yeah! They do this in small clubs too, you know. It gets dangerous.'" The Wizard then popped over to inform us that Bob Weston (the Archers' soundman for the night) walked past him and said, "nice cover." Having completely forgotten that he's the tape loop guy in Mission of Burma now, that cracked me up more than a little.

I grabbed Liz as we heard the cheers of impending AoL-ness and dragged her backstage to watch the set from the side of the stage with me. There was no way i was going to be able to rock out up front after the exhausting set we had just played, so i remained content with exclaiming "HOLY SHIT!" as the Archers opened with "Strangled By the Stereo Wire," the blistering opener to All the Nation's Airports and the first Archers song my friend Nicole, at that point in the front row with the rest of our crew, had ever heard (i know this because i played it for her). Big chunks of the set were spent by Liz and me watching the faces of our friends flipping out in the front row, and loving every minute of it. This was us the night before, losing our goddamn minds because holy fuck the Archers of Loaf are finally playing music in front of me again. Thank you Raptor Jesus.

After the third song, Matt pops up to the mic to deliver this one: "Thanks to IfIHadAHiFi, who, judging by the numbers when they played and the numbers now, most of you saw...fortunately...because they kicked fucking ass. Those pricks. Total assholes too, playing like that, sheesh..." You know, because the Best Night Of My Musical Existence still had more Awesome Sauce to drizzle on top.

Things went nuclear for the Rev. when Eric Bachmann's amp broke on him mid-set. Yale ran over to Roadie Matt and let him know what kinds of amps we had. Bachmann opts for Rev.Ever's Sunn amp with Marshall-style half-stack, and between Matt, Yale, and Rev., they have that amp on stage and plugged in with a quickness. "Hey, check it out, IfIHadAHiFi helping us out," says Eric into the mic. Rev.Ever runs off stage and i catch him with a "dude, Eric Bachmann's playing through your shit. Process that," at which point he shakes his head in disbelief and runs out to the crowd to be with his girlfriend Kim. "Dude, he played FIVE OF MY FAVORITE SONGS EVER through my amp," he would add later.

Somewhere in here, deep into my third post-performance tallboy, i turned to Liz and expressed a sentiment in no way influenced by the cheap pilsners tumbling down my throat: "I am so glad you're here to share this with me." She was equally glad, getting to spend an evening watching her boy, with his boys, doing their boys in bands thing, and doing it to an unprecedented degree. But i found it imperative that i let her know exactly how important this aspect of the weekend was:

I had just played a kickass show--a solid, tightly-wound defense of our central noise-rock thesis in front of 700 critics waiting for their heroes--and not only won over the crowd, but earned the praise of one of my favorite bands of all time. And i got to share it with a lot of my favorite people in the world--most importantly, her. And as a bonus, all our friends in the audience couldn't respond with a "yeah, ok guys" when recounting our Big Rock Victory to them weeks later! Score!

During that conversation with Faiz by the merch table, i had him tell Liz about all the crazy art projects he's worked on in Chicago the last few years, and how he lives his life in constant bewilderment that he gets to surround himself with the most talented, amazing people he's ever met, and get paid to make them execute the cockamamie schemes he concocts. When he finished, i just looked at him, thinking about the day i was having, and said, "we really do lead charmed lives, don't we?" Hey, i may not have a job right now, but this just happened.


And that realization came before the Archers let us take a curtain call before their encore.

There are way too many people to thank for this past weekend. Thanks to the Bottom Lounge for treating us so well. Thanks to our friends for being there for us.

AoL salutes! Photo by John Yingling

And thanks to Eric, Matt, Eric and Mark for giving us reason after reason to love them more and more as the day went into evening. The Greatest of All Time.

Thanks to our new fan Jenny Straub for the photo

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Holiday Band

Like i said last night, i don't have much confidence in my ability to turn people in my hometown on to new bands, but it doesn't hurt to try, especially when a band like Memory Map is worth the effort.

It's amusing that their album is named Holiday Band, since their show at Y-Not III took place on Memorial Day. It breaks down like this: one of their guitar players, one Michael Bridavsky (the blue one), is an old Bloomington, IN pal whose other band, the mathy, crazy, currently-on-hiatus Push-Pull, has done time on stage with the HiFi. Dixie hooked his new outfit, Memory Map, up with a show as we were too busy planning our own out-of-town hijinks for that weekend. However, we were back from our lower-Midwest swing just in time to hang out, grill out, and rock out with what turned out to be a brain-sizzling blend of alt-country flair and post-punk drive.

Memory Map's lineup is three guitars and drums, with one of the guitarists (Mike, i think) running some signal through some bass processing to get the low end. The triple-guitar work results in some busy-ass intricate, cascading melody lines that interweave and harmonize in ways that would knock Duane Allman on his ass. Combine with equally harmonized vocal melodies and (the green one) Josh Morrow's driving, thumping drums (which are actually held in check compared to his dazzlingly confounding rhythms in his other band, the ridiculous-in-a-good-way Slutbanger), and the alchemical rock cauldron spits out a band that would fit seamlessly with any of the alt-country bands that NPR constantly creams its collective trousers over, yet would knock all those bands on their asses with a quickness.

For all the yelling i do about the oversaturation of alt-country in the public indie consciousness, when it's done right, it's hard to fuck with. And while i wouldn't call Memory Map an alt-country band, they provide enough of those flavors to sucker people in while also delivering the hard-rocking goods. Since that Y-Not III show, during which i spent equal time shaking my head in disbelief and in "don't stop rockin!" affirmation, i've probably listened to Holiday Band about fifty times. The month immediately after Memorial Day saw me spinning it twice a day minimum, the vocal lines of "Park Bench" and "Big City" an inescapably hypnotic mental trigger commanding MORE SPINS.

You can stream all of Holiday Band on Bandcamp. Check it out--if this record ever got into the right hands at NPR, or into the face of Ryan over at Muzzle of Bees, this shit would take off and they'd be on their way to ten buck shows at Turner Hall. In the meantime, they'll have to be satisfied with me raving about them, and hopefully you.

Check out "Big City" right here:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's a Beautiful World...For You, Not for Me

On Tuesday my inbox received one of its periodic emails from the Pabst Theater group announcing upcoming shows at its three Milwaukee venues. The message in this case concerned the Australian indie-electro outfit Cut Copy coming to Turner Hall on September 22. As is customary when the Pabst group posts an announcement like this, it later surfaced all over the local A&E blogs, and several people on my Twitter and Facebook feeds expressed excitement. This was all followed up in my head by what is also a now-customary response in many of these situations: "who the fuck is Cut Copy?"

Apparently, Cut Copy has been around since the start of the millennium, but i sure as hell didn't know that. This happens a lot with me, and has over the last ten years or so:

1) Band announces show in Milwaukee
2) Friends get totally excited because they've been into this band forever
3) I get curious and check out band
4) I am less than impressed and immediately wonder what the hell the big deal is

It happened this time with Cut Copy (i checked out this video and was left thinking "not terrible, but not interesting either"). It's happened before with The Spits, Terrible Twos, and a few other bands that give the Goner Records crowd boners. And it happens a ton with bands that come through Pabst (but not all of them--for example, i'm really psyched by the opportunity to see TV on the Radio and Swans this fall).

Every time it happens, there's a part of me that is convinced that i'm merely getting old and out of touch, or that i'm falling into the classic trap of listening to less music as i get older--something that simply happens to lots of thirtysomethings, as this eloquent crosstalk by my friend Steve Hyden (a fantastic music writer who i have tons of respect for) at the AV Club, and his colleague Noel Murray contends. Steve's side of the crosstalk is accepting of the fact that music fans are more connected to the bands they love in their youth, when they have the time and resources to spend obsessing over all the latest bands. It's something that fades away when day jobs and families soak up the typical adult's attention. That's not what chaps Steve's ass:

What I don’t get is the hostility that new music sometimes engenders among aging fans. I’ve chided friends who grew up on punk and indie music for turning into what they always hated—nostalgia-happy, past-worshiping hippies—because they can’t consider the latest buzz band without going into the same tired rant about how artists today don’t have “edge,” “relevance,” or “originality” by comparison with some overly idealized group from their past. I find that this opinion tends to say more about the listener than the state of contemporary music, which is too vast to be summed up by such sweepingly reductive statements.

I think this whenever I read yet another broadside about how today’s indie rock “doesn’t really rock” or whatever. Based on what? Based on your inability to locate bands that make you feel exactly the way you did when you were 15? Let me save you some time: You aren’t going to find those bands, okay? Because you changed. I guarantee you that somebody somewhere is making a record just as transformative as anything you grew up with; it’s just that you have lost the ability to hear (figuratively and perhaps literally) those records for what they are.

Guilty as charged! Most of the current "buzz" bands that i hear about generally fail to impress. And of course no band that i hear today is going to slam me against the back wall of the club in the same way Brainiac did when i was 20 and had no real awareness of the bands that influenced them (Pere Ubu, Chrome...well, a little DEVO, obviously, but i wasn't a student of their albums yet, having just come from the world of hair metal).

That being said, when Steve says "it’s just that you have lost the ability to hear (figuratively and perhaps literally) those records for what they are," i call foul, because i AM discovering transformative, incredible bands all the time. It's just that they aren't the same bands that everyone else is losing their shit over.

As a member of two active rock bands--one of which has spent 11 years building up a nationwide network of like-minded friends and bands--i'm discovering new music constantly. Unfortunately, i'm also a natural contrarian who is immediately suspicious of hype. I've always been more comfortable on the outskirts. My bands have never been trendy and never will be (we're not accessible enough); the bands i like will by and large never be the ones that a majority of people get excited about. But that doesn't mean i have lost the ability to get my mind blown. In the last year my jaw's been rendered slack by bands as disparate as the Touch & Go Records-gone-trance My Disco, the driving, Allman-psych Memory Map, and the gut-punchingly awesome Helms Alee (who came the closest to triggering a Brainiac-level consciousness-altering response in my post-30 thinkmeats when i saw them level the Cha Cha Lounge in Seattle last summer).

So, i don't listen to the same bands that Pitchfork and AV Club get psyched about--who cares, right? Just like what you like and go about your business. That'd be plenty simple, if i didn't harbor some misguided dream of getting paid someday to write about music. Seeing something like the new Bon Iver album, which i tried to listen to but had to shut off due to finding it absolutely fucking abhorrently terrible, get near-universal praise in a world that i'd like to be employed in someday, is depressing and leads me to feel like there's no room in that world for a differing opinion. One might put forth the argument that i could provide a chance to expand a website's audience, but i don't know if that's true when the evidence points to the contrary (by "evidence" i mean "i can't even get more than 40 people to show up in Milwaukee for a show featuring my current favorite band, Police Teeth, no matter how much i hype them and put their music in front of people." The evidence supports the hypothesis that most people just plain don't like what i like--or the stuff i like just needs to hire better PR agencies). (And to be fair, Helms Alee does get a nod in this month's edition of the AV Club column LOUD, but i feel like AV Club's establishing of a catch-all column for aggressive, noisy, and heavy music is an admission that it's simply not as popular as the lighter, adult contemporary indie stuff. Dan Hanke made what i thought was a brilliant observation when he said that if Archers of Loaf were a new band today, Pitchfork wouldn't give them the time of day.)

But hey, this blog is about me trying to be constructive, so enough sad-sacking. Starting tomorrow, i'll be periodically writing posts about bands that are thoroughly kicking my ass but not getting the blog love they deserve. Full disclosure: a lot of these bands are going to include members who are friends of mine. It's an occupational hazard of meeting tons of bands that i should happen to fall madly in love with several of them. Such will be the case with Memory Map, the band i'll use to kick things off tomorrow. In the meantime, if you're aware of any music blogs that actually cater more toward the noisy, unconventional, and ROCKING, clue me in down in the comments, ok? I'd be ecstatic to discover ways to find out about bands that are up my alley that aren't the EA Forum or the act of Playing Shows.