Child Bite, Meth & Goats, Daddad, Eyes Empty Bottle, Chicago - May 10, 2009
I think clubs like Chicago’s Empty Bottle are the best places you can see music. The place is small, intimate, up close and personal – the true indie experience. No need to stand on your toes to see the stage, because you can see the band wherever you are. You don’t have to worry about washy sound, because it’s always crystal clear everywhere – it even sounds good when you’re taking a piss. The dark-like-a-cave setting adds to the mystique of the performance, as does the fact that Empty Bottle shows kick off past your bedtime. I was very happy to find Child Bite here last Sunday (May 10, 2009), in an environment that suited them perfectly. The opening acts had their ups and downs, but overall the night was a great success.
The first openers, Meth & Goats, score immediate points for their excellent name. You can immediately tell they’re not going to sound like Death Cab For Cutie. Their stop-and-start rhythms and twisted take on punk rock made them perfect appetizers for the main act. Before “Filling Up On Sweets”, the singer announced that “This song’s about a lady [he] met at a gas station wearing an all purple jumpsuit.” Hey man – great poetry comes from writing about what you know! The guys stayed tight through their often tricky rhythms with some very involved drumming that steered the bass and guitar extremely well. Though I’d never heard of the group before tonight, I would definitely see them again.
Eyes followed, making absolutely no introduction before they dove into their difficult electronic set. They stood out strongly from the rest of the groups – still obnoxious, certainly, but more Public Image Limited than Blood Brothers. And even PiL fans would have a tough time getting down to this – anyone would. I was more confused than intrigued by the mumbling, white-man dancing lead vocalist, and the ocean of noise behind him might have translated better in a studio than in did live. The vocalist kept promising us that “We’re almost done – I swear!” and I think he thought he was being ironic or funny or something, but I felt my heart breaking every time he broke that promise! The saxophone was an interesting touch, adding to the “strange art project” vibe, but it wasn’t interesting enough. I can give ‘em creativity points, but Jesus Christ this was difficult to sit through. Overall Eyes sound like the future, if the future sucks.
Daddad came on stage to a Minutemen soundtrack, and the bassist instinctively began jamming along to the track, almost flawlessly. So then it came as no surprise that the band sounded almost exactly like the Minutemen: quick, short, frenetic songs with funky overtones. The guys could really jam, but they didn’t seem like they were very into it, which made it tough for them to 100% hold my attention. Maybe they were tired – I mean, I was too. It was a Sunday night and I had an office job to look forward to the next morning, but I come to shows like this to get as far away from the work world as I possibly can, and so on that objective, they failed.
On the other hand, musically, technicality-wise, Daddad were experts. Plus the bassist wore a cape and the guitarist wore a goofy hat – all good things. There could have been more energy to it – especially for such an energetic type of music – but honestly, after the devastation that was Eyes’ set, I was just thankful to see a live drumset again.
Child Bite took the stage next, and their set was well worth the wait. Before the show, I was surprised that they all just looked so serious! Turns out van problems had gotten them down, but as soon as the music started, the spirits of the audience and band seemed to be totally lifted. The set kicked off with an excellent new track – the first of several that they’d be unveiling throughout the night. If this show was any evidence, the next release is going to rock our faces off (and be prepared, because they’ve got three EP’s coming out this summer alone!)
I knew the band’s bass-heavy sound and stop-on-a-dime precision would be perfect in a live setting, and they sounded even better than I had anticipated. The songs from their 2008 LP Fantastic Gusts of Blood really came to life in this little club, and it really felt to me – as I’m sure it did to every other individual watching the show – that they were playing directly to me. That’s partly because shows at the Empty Bottle are just like that, and it’s also because the group gave it their all, even if there weren’t all that many people watching.
Child Bite added some all out blasts of sound for good measure, included a feedback solo manipulated by what seemed to be an Atari joystick. The group played loud enough and hard enough to set off car alarms blocks away. Shows like this make me embrace tinnitus. In fact I was so intrigued by the show I took so many notes I ran out of paper. I ended up writing on a speeding ticket to get those last thought down. And they were this: “Holy fuck.”
Producer: Derek O’Brien
Band: Eric Melvin (NOFX), Greg Hetson (Bad Religion, Circle Jerks), Steve Soto (Agent Orange, Adolescents), Derek O’Brien (Adolescents, Social Distortion)
Release Date: October 28, 2008
People come to Punk Rock Karaoke to be the star of the show. And they are.
Since I go to school in the absolute middle of nowhere, I feel like I understand what the Ramones were feeling when they wrote “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”. Young, punk, bored, I just wanna have somethin to do. That’s why people like me need to keep our eyes open for items like this, Punk Rock Karaoke, which may enhance a drunken night out with the guys. I mean, just look at the title. How can this not be entertaining at the very least?
There’s actually a history behind Punk Rock Karaoke that the DVD is based on. In 1996, Bad Religion’s Greg Hetson and some friends started a regular live band karaoke night at Vida Restaurant in Hollywood, and all sorts of punk rockers came by on a regular basis. Any average Joe could grab the mic and a little book of lyrics and scream, with a band of professionals beneath him. Since we haven’t all been able to share the experience, the DVD brings it right to our living/dorm rooms, and presto, that’s 90 minutes of doing something!
Punk Rock Karaoke is a CD/DVD package, and the CD is a collection of already karaoke-d songs with frontmen from other punk groups, such as Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Alkaline Trio, Pennywise, and even Flogging Molly. While this probably sounds like the most throwaway piece of the package, I actually found it pretty interesting to hear the voice of one group that I love on top of the music from another group that I love. Circle Jerks’ “Back Up Against the Wall” fronted by Pennywise’s Jim Lindberg is a great example, and the band sounds awesome – especially at the end when the tempo gets completely out of control. Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba sounds pretty out of place taking on Black Flag’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme”, but that’s sort of the point. As for replay value, this stuff ranks high above the actual karaoke videos, because honestly how many times are you going to do these 10 songs? Don’t you have Rock Band yet?
In the bonus feature sections, there are a few live karaoke versions (meaning, you watch random people sing songs live) including a couple Black Flag tracks and Dead Kennedys’ “California Uber Alles”. If you even watch this once, you’re pretty much guaranteed to never watch it again. Don’t get me wrong, it would totally kick ass to be there, but watching it and doing it are two totally separate things. As with pretty much every DVD I own, the so-called Bonus Features are nothing more than padding; consider the completely pointless “Welcome to Punk Rock Karaoke”, which is essentially, as you may have guessed, the words “Welcome to Punk Rock Karoke” repeated over and over.
For the most part Punk Rock Karaoke is a pretty hilarious idea, but it’s not necessarily worth $20. You might as well just turn on your Itunes and sing along, which would cost you nothing more than the price of the songs you already owned. I’ll come back most often to the vocalist renditions on the CD, but even that’s not worth the money. The best thing you could do is find somebody who already has it and borrow it.
Director: Don Letts
Writers: Don Letts
Release Date: 1978/2008 (USA)
Originally released 30 years ago right as the punk thing was just starting to take off, The Punk Rock Movie is a paradoxical concept when you consider that a movement this antisocial would under no circumstances allow itself to be filmed – I mean, if you were to go by the Punk Rock Rulebook. Punk DJ Don Letts was the guy who infiltrated that blanket of punker isolation, filming a bunch of groups with a super 8 camera at the exclusively punk club he owned in London, The Roxy.
There are a few reasons why Letts’ project worked. First of all, groups like the Sex Pistols obviously loved attention, even if they claimed not to. Second, there’s basically no dialogue or actual interviewing to be found in this movie. It’s more or less a series of song performances plopped down next to each other and juxtaposed with some random scenes of kids distantly talking to one another. The press release that came with the movie praised it as “stripped down and raw”, and I won’t argue against those descriptions, but the problem is in fact that the filming is too gritty for my 2008 senses to take in.
Besides the fact that the film overlooks Crass, those maniacal anti-musicians who were banned from The Roxy around the time The Punk Rock Movie was being filmed, it’s incredible who actually did make the cut. The roster includes bands you wouldn’t think to mention in a historical punk discussion: Slaughter and the Dogs, Subway Sect, Alternative TV, Wayne Country, etc. And sure, you could argue that while the punk movement was happening, you’d never know which ones would last since they were all set on self-destruction (particularly in Britain), but that doesn’t change the fact that on the Relevance Meter, most of this movie fails to chart.
As far as capturing punkers shooting heroin in a bathroom stall and carving shit into their stomachs, bravo. You don’t see that on film too much. But musically, it’s a little less exciting than that. Every performance is dominated by that canny, really loud kind of silence that you get in crappier YouTube videos, where it sounds like a vacuum cleaner is cleaning the space right by the microphone. I had the volume way cranked up so that when I put on music afterwards, I blew my ear drums. You’d think the crappy sound would work since it’s a film about bands who don’t care too much about how they sound, but you’d be wrong. This shit requires more attention than your average punk rocker is willing to spare.
There aren’t really any interviews in the film, just a bunch of fly-on-the-wall observations like Radiohead’s Meeting People is Easy. During these little segues, sound isn’t as much of an issue because there’s no music to be not hearing. Also, the songs you aren’t hearing get a little repetitive by the end. You’ll get pretty sick of “White Riot” by the Clash, which is the menu music and shows up at least twice in the film. And the super Sex Pistols overkill at the end of the movie – maybe 5 or 6 songs in a row – is at least interesting, but really makes you question how this qualifies as a ‘movie’.
As for special features, there’s just one Johnny Rotten interview, in which he clarifies that he hates the term ‘punk rock’ because it’s cliché (which totally surprised me.) Honestly, this single interview is probably better than the entire film, because for one thing you can hear what’s going on. Plus, there’s more insight in the questions and answers. When asked for his opinion on Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, Rotten answers, “What, do you want me to be sick on camera?”
“We take our silliness seriously” reads the tagline on Friday Night Villians’ Myspace page, where the Charleston, IL based group’s 1765 fans can check up on their favorite bar-band’s latest happenings. The group’s performance Friday night at the Uptowner in Charleston, IL, opened with a drunken Mitch Hedburg joke to set the right vibe, was the perfect mixture of alcohol-fueled goofiness and obvious much-practiced precision. Neither the dedication of each song to a different character from Star Wars or the completely inebriated rambling of vocalist Josh Easton took away any focus from the head-bangable grooves; and never did the tight musicality overshadow the ridiculous lyrics about Goosebumps books, dinosaurs, and “intergalactic civil war”.
In addition to the fact that FNV knew their songs like the back of their hands, the experience was enhanced by the surprisingly controlled sound of the venue. The bass drum hits were perfectly album-quality, vibrating the seats in front of the stage; the guitar had the perfect Zack Wylde crunch to it, so that even Easton’s random fretboard noodling between songs sounded crisp and exact. Most importantly, though, was the fact that the keyboard's sound fit the mix: an improvement, since they're often overbearing at Villain shows.
Even potential setbacks came out in the Villians’ favor. At one point, keyboardist Justin Hayes knocked over his microphone stand, and in his attempt to catch it with his foot knocked over Easton’s stand as well – but the band kept playing. Later a ridiculously wasted birthday girl walked on stage and shook her groove thang, but nobody was even distracted. When the microphone was sending shocks all over the place, it was quickly fixed and no one missed a beat. All in all this was a great performance, much worth my time.
That is not to say that the other acts were as entertaining. Opening guitar slinger Jeff Randall looked and acted like Uncle Jessie from Full House, but with even less street cred. He represented everything wrong with solo singer/songwriters; he went for pretty much every cliché out there, leading me to toss him into the watered down genre I have dubbed GetChicksCore – no focus on music, all focus on poon tang. His singing style was a lousy Melloncamp / Van Morrison mash-up, complete with some deep stomach-launched Bon Jovi shouting that made me want to launch my own stomach. His range was not bad, but the style was just incredibly boring.
Further, the club’s generally controlled sound went to shit during the Dylan-esque harmonica solos on two of the songs (neither of which actually needed a harmonica solo – but I guess neither did any Dylan song) from which my ears are still ringing the next day. Probably the worst part of the performance though, along with the fact that Randall kept his eyes closed the whole time as if he too were falling asleep, was the lyrics, ridiculous clichés about “walking down that road”, “turning over that stone”, “playing my hand that’s been dealt to me”, and any other cheap fate metaphor. Overall, the singer’s beat up looking black acoustic (wow, what happened there?) was a lot more interesting than the man himself.
The “headliners” (if that’s what you want to call them) Javelinas were greeted coldly, as they followed the Villian and the entire bar turned its attention elsewhere. Vocalist Chris McInnis called out before the first song: “Go ahead and keep getting your drink on. Don’t let us bother you.” He would frequently address the lack of attention he was receiving throughout the night. For what its worth, even though it was a terrible lineup choice to put this garagey-grunge-rock-sometimes surf band (who, in hindsight, resembled a less exciting Mudhoney) after the obvious scene-favorites Friday Night Villians; and although about 3 people (if you don’t count the bandmembers’ stumblingly drunk wives) were watching the band: they performed with all the energy that they would give to a bigger, more attentive venue.
McInney was huge on eye contact (when he wasn’t humping his microphone stand or insulting some other band member), and instrumentally, the band was on fire. They’d go on extended jams that lead their performance time to almost 90 minutes, and every instrument got to take a solo. So, although my rating of their songwriting would be pretty negative, I was into their “it’s-12:30-but-you-better-not-be-tired!” performance. Also it helped that they were not Jeff Randall.
Friday Night Villian: A
Jeff Randall: D