Tuesday, January 27, 2015


@ Cake Shop
Thursday, Dec 4th 

Van Gogh never got his due; while he was alive, at least. Neither did William Blake. Poe died penniless. There was a time when it seemed that one John D. Morton was destined to follow in such tragic footsteps. Following his muse for the last forty-odd years has led Morton down some dark alleys, but score one for the freaks -- and maybe the internet -- because, against all odds, Morton, professional artist and shit-stirrer, is finally getting his due. The man hasn’t met a convention he hasn’t mocked, or a rule he hasn’t kicked in the ribs til it broke. If they handed out MacArthur Genius grants for misanthropy, Morton would be short-listed.
Morton’s main claim to fame is his mid-’70s Cleveland band of nihilistic rock n’ roll lowlifes, electric eels. The eels plied their trade surrounded by post-industrial strife, the crumbling landscape providing inspiration  -- and a reason to get the hell out. But before Morton pulled up stakes for New York City, he made one more attempt to give Cleveland the soundtrack it deserved. X__X terrorized the city’s punk scene with a smart and muscular take on no wave, which Morton had already prefigured with the eels. X__X were more “musical” than the eels, as evidenced by their two singles, collected, along with unreleased and live material, on this year’s essential XStickyFingersX (Ektro). This past Thursday, X__X played the Cake Shop and proved, beyond a doubt, that you’re never too old to smash yer art into yer punk and vice versa.
The set started off a bit shaky, but after a too-quiet run-through of “You’re Full of Shit,” guitars were turned up to their proper volume and the band roared to life. Grinding versions of art-puke classics like “No Nonsense,” “A.” and “No No” followed, hammered out with conviction by Morton’s cohorts -- original member Andrew Klimek, Rocket From the Tombs’ Craig Bell and drummer Matt Harris. At one point, Morton whipped out an electric saw and used it to systematically sever a length of bamboo. Why? Why the hell not? The band crashed back into their set as if it had been a tuning break. Speaking of tuning, Morton’s other obscuro Clevo outfit, Johnny & The Dicks, didn’t bother, as they posed in rock-out freeze-frames while a friend snapped photos. Prescient as ever, it seems Morton invented “vogue-ing” years before Madonna. A reprise of “No Non cents” had the crowd howling for more, and during the set-ending anti-anthem “Cleveland Sucks,” even Morton, high priest of fuck you, couldn’t suppress a smile.
Due to a rip in the time/space continuum, your correspondent missed the first two acts of an all-around excellent bill, but we did manage to catch spazz experts Cellular Chaos.  Conducted by the tireless, irrepressible Weasel Walter and finding a voice within the charismatic Admiral Grey, Cellular Chaos flirts with no wave shred, but just as often reaches an MX-80 Sound level of density. Invigorating stuff.


@ Best Buy Theater

Some forty-odd years ago, the men known as Devo began concocting their strange music in a moldy basement in Akron, Ohio. A little over twenty years ago these early experiments were made available to the listening public via the Hardcore Devo collections. Reissued last year by Superior Viaduct, the two volumes of pre-Warners Bros. Devo have been rightfully hailed as visionary examples of prime proto-punk. To honor recently passed founding member Bob Mothersbaugh (aka Bob2) and raise money for his family, Devo decided to embark upon a ten city tour performing, for the first time ever, the material from their gestational years of 1974 to 1977. As show time approached, you had to wonder – did the aging spuds still have it? Would they be able to do justice to the freakish, funhouse nature of their initial incarnation? 
Any lingering doubts were laid to rest immediately as the foursome emerged from an ingenious backdrop mimicking the cinderblock confines of a dank Akron basement, and launched into the malfunctioning robot lament of “Mechanical Man.”  There was to be no skimping on the weirdness as the run of “Auto Modown,” “Space Girl Blues,” and “Baby Talkin’ Bitches” demonstrated. As if the last forty years had transpired in the blink of an eye, Devo slipped back into these songs with great ease, shedding their commercial skin and reveling in the primordial ooze of their founding years. It was striking how effortlessly Devo dusted off these old, musty tunes and thrust them into a hyper-modern, movie palace-esque venue like Best Buy Theater. While still retaining their quirky lurch and mad scientist synth blurts, these songs were heavy, and thrillingly alive. Ace drummer Josh Freese is likely one of the few humans alive who could replace the late Alan Meyers, and his powerful, precise touch added a weighty bottom to the devolved mutant funk of songs like “I Been Refused” and “Midget.” Of course, the bizarre, decidedly non-PC lyrics of a song such as “Bamboo Bimbo” still perplex and amuse in equal measures. Bassist and noted ham Jerry Casale seemed to particularly relish glimpses into his own twisted, young mind. Except now there are several generations of weirdos to laugh along with him.  
And then the suits came out. Forgoing the iconic yellow hazmat suits and flowerpot domes, the quartet donned “Akron janitorial wear” and bank robber masks. As the previously nondescript basement set split apart into a dazzling yet tasteful lighting backdrop, Devo delved into the songs that established them as one of the great pop-art groups. Their genius take on the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” early hit “Be Stiff,” debut album kickstarter “Uncontrollable Urge” and the slow burn of “Gut Feeling” contrasted perfectly with lesser known tracks like “Soo Bawls,” “Ono” and “Fountain of Filth.” To the packed crowd, they might as well all have been number one hits as the band whipped the Devo-tees into a lather with official anthem “Jocko Homo.”  
After creepy mascot Booji Boy waddled out and serenaded the audience to the warped tones of “U Got Me Bugged,” Devo ended the nearly ninety minute set by dedicating “Clockout” to the late Bob2. Since the band seemed to have as much of a blast as the gathered faithful, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these old chestnuts found their way into the regular Devo set. Bob, Alan, General Boy and Rod Rooter would be proud.


@ Union Pool
Tuesday, January 13th

Under the seemingly innocuous name of “Music Blues,” three of the city’s finest craftsman of loud n’ heavy sonic demolition occasionally gather together to grind out their frustrations through the miracle of amplification. The power trio formed to bring bassist Stephen Tanner’s Things Haven’t Gone Well (Thrill Jockey) album to lurching life. You may know Stephen from his time with kings of slo-mo power-sludge Harvey Milk, or perhaps you’ve sampled his mouth-watering fried chicken at The Commodore (or the original Pies n’ Thighs). In either capacity, the man shows an abundance of skill, and he made a smart decisions in recruiting his bandmates (Tanner performs all instruments on the album). Just to make sure his band, in addition to crushing your skull, could cook you under the table, Tanner nabbed James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Brooks Headley to smash the skins. You may also know Headley from bands such as Universal Order of Armageddon, Born Against, and Wrangler Brutes. Finally, with Ben Greenberg (Hubble/Uniform/Pygmy Shrews) on guitar, it’s clear that Music Blues is a part-time band consisting of full-time dudes. Yet, the band is casual; Tanner seems unsure of his role as leader, which is kind of charming. After an (intentionally?) awkward beginning, the band roared to life as it navigated what seems like Tanner’s brain in riff form. Much like Harvey Milk, Music Blues deal in molten riffs with long pauses and gaps of near-silence between notes (which were conveniently written on the floor of the stage for the musicians). As the oddly-shaped off-time riffs pile on top of each other, you find yourself sucked into Tanner’s weird head-space. It’s not an unpleasant sensation, especially when Greenberg starts peeling off harmonic bends and brief flashes of solo shred.

Occupying the middle slot, Ice Balloons presented an entertaining spectacle. Warped visuals were projected onto the band as the fly-masked singer fronted a pulverizing rhythm section over which all manner of electronic noise was spread liberally; they even have a keytar. At their most aggressive, Ice Balloons brought to mind ‘90s greats like Brainiac, Six Finger Satellite and even Cows. Halfway through the set, they calmed down a bit and played some weird hybrid of surf rock and spastic new wave. Suffice to say, you should probably book Ice Balloons to liven up your next loft party.
Opening the show, Call Of The Wild brought their usual combustible mix of punk and metal. Basically, Call Of The Wild is the band that Crispin Glover’s character in River’s Edge should be blasting out of his souped-up Volkswagen Beetle. Hurry your ass!


So Percussion feat. Man Forever 
Battle Trance 
@ Judson Church

Winter Jazzfest is a sprawling three-day festival that occurs at multiple venues throughout Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. While traditional forms are represented in abundance, the festival is careful to incorporate a selection of acts from the outer regions of avant-jazz and improvised music. The Saturday night showcase set by So Percussion, featuring Man Forever, at Judson Church was a perfect example of the Jazzfest’s adventurous programming.
Before the percussion-based ensemble took the stage, Travis Laplante’s Battle Trance stilled the audience with their Palace of Wind composition. Comprised of four saxophonists, Battle Trance utilize extended breathing techniques to weave an undulating tapestry of overlapping tones that stretch out and occasionally snap, erupting in squawks, barks and even mimicking unruly flatulence at times. The set was a nice counterpoint to the impending rhythmic display.
After a brief intermission, the four members of So Percussion came out and sat down at their homemade tabletop guitar stations. To call these constructions guitars isn’t quite correct, and they certainly aren’t played as such, but each one is plugged into a Fender Twin amp, so there is still a link to rock music. The quartet performed a composition that consisted of the musicians bowing and striking their lapsteel-like instruments in synchronicity, conjuring gamelan-like textures that at times echoed Tortoise-style post-rock while the louder moments harkened back to Glenn Branca’s massed-guitar orchestras.
The second part of the set featured local drummer/composer John Colpitts aka Kid Millions, longtime skinsman of Brooklyn fixtures Oneida, and a fearless musician willing to tackle any playing situation. Colpitts and So Percussion collaborated on last year’s excellent Ryonen (Thrill Jockey), an album that somehow achieves a glacial beauty amidst its flurry of percussion. On this night, the group, with an expanded line-up of drummers, performed the title composition. The piece began with almost African rhythms, introduced forceful, hammering blasts, and eventually settled into what can only be described as a landscape of drums. Despite the seven different percussionists on stage, the piece never felt busy or fussy. It’s not easy to be satisfied hitting one drum for twenty minutes, that’s why it’s best to leave it to the professionals.


@ The Marlin Room at Webster Hall

There was an interesting dichotomy at Manhattan’s Webster Hall last Thursday night. In the main room, NYC indie faves Parquet Courts headlined a sold-out show that was the culmination of a productive and triumphant year, while in the more intimate setting of the Marlin Room, longtime Sonic Youth leader Thurston Moore played with his eponymously-named band.  Since time immemorial, the young have always devoured the old, but the eternally floppy-haired Moore is still the world’s oldest teenager, and he can make a guitar shriek with the best of them. Although this performance was a bit light on such moments, it still provided some insights into Moore’s newest project.
Featuring material from his most recent album, with the seemingly rom-com-inspired title of The Best Day (Matador), Moore’s seasoned vets gave the songs heft, channeling ballsy rock more than any avant tendencies. It was nice to see My Bloody Valentine bassist Deb Googe in a different setting, laying down a thick bottom end with local Ryan Sawyer on drums. Youth drummer Steve Shelley plays on the album, but on this night he was head-nodding approvingly from the audience. With the presence of Lee Ranaldo as well, there was a possibility of some SY nuggets, but Moore stuck to the program of his recent efforts, except for an encore of “Ono Soul,” a college radio hit from his first solo album, 1995’s Psychic Hearts.
While lacking Sonic Youth’s combustible chemistry, Moore’s band makes up for it with fluid guitar lines that occasionally erupt into hard rock riffing. Pedal-hopping instead of string-abusing, Moore engaged in call-and-response sparring with British guitarist James Sedwards, as on the propulsive mantra “Forevermore.” The chugging “Detonation” was dedicated to Chelsea Manning and recalled past Youth screeds like “Youth Against Fascism.” Twisty rockers like “Germs Burn” and the title track seemed to satisfy the crowd’s desire for classic Thurston moves, but the billowing, Polvo-esque instrumental “Grace Lake” proved to be the highlight of the evening. Although he may have tempered his sonic terrorism of old just a smidge, Moore can still hold his own with today’s youth.



@ Cake Shop

This past weekend, the three-man Australian wrecking crew known as the Cosmic Psychos steam-rolled their way through the city with consecutive shows at the Cake Shop. Friday night was a certified rager, a top-to-bottom killer bill of beer-guzzling rock n’ roll, right in the heart of the increasingly douche-oriented Lower East Side. The Psychos made their name back in an era when the LES still provided a sense of grit and threat, and they are touring the US in celebration of thirty years of blowing eardrums and mooning audiences.  A new documentary about these hard-livin’ Aussies, Blokes You Can Trust, fills you in on the nitty-gritty, and Goner Records is issuing their initial run of records -- Down on the Farm (1985), Cosmic Psychos (1987) and Go the Hack (1989). In this business, stick around long enough, and someone is bound to make a movie about you. Friday night, Cosmic Psychos unleashed a nonstop barrage of fan favorites like “Lost Cause,” “Custom Credit,” “Pub” and “Hooray Fuck.” Singer/bassist Ross Knight dedicated “I’m Up, You’re Out” to “the cunt who tried to take my farm.” The raucous set ended on a ridiculous note with the sarcastic wish fulfillment of “David Lee Roth” (“I want long golden locks/I want a great big 20-inch cock”). The Cosmic Psychos may not be able to execute mid-air splits like Mr. Roth, but they had no problem splitting heads open with their Stoogeoid pummel on Friday night. Next stop: Gonerfest, where they’ll team up with old mates Mudhoney for dual headlining nights. 
Before the burly men from Down Under graced the stage, the surly dudes in local outfit Pampers strafed the crowd with their nasty garage spew -- the nervous tics of Devo sifted through the blown-amp aesthetic of prime Oblivians. In case you hadn’t heard, sci-fi love song “Purple Brain” was the jam of the summer. Pampers’ debut album on the In The Red Records is imminent.
Leading off the night was Brooklyn power-trio Call of the Wild, a perfect foil to the following bands. Guitarist Johnny Coolati solos like a demon, burning his way through the muscular throb of the rhythm section. Call of the Wild is probably the closest thing Brooklyn is gonna get to Thin Lizzy; pure hard rock, emphasis on both words. They sweat, you sweat, everyone goes home happy.



@ Death By Audio
Saturday, April 5th 

This past Saturday at Death By Audio, a diverse bill of touring and local bands played to a house packed with all stripes of the punk rock rainbow represented. Perfectly mirroring the bands, all of which are female-fronted and –dominated, there were a lot of ladies in attendance. 
Unfortunately, we missed locals Nuclear Spring, but suffice to say that if you have ever put Crimpshrine on a mixtape or own the Blatz/Filth split, you should make it a priority to see them. Boston’s Exit Order tore through a set of clench-fisted hardcore punk led by the assertive presence of singer Anna. Priests have played their fair share of NYC shows of late, but they were off their game on this night. Equipment problems and long pauses stalled any momentum the Washington, D.C. band was able to muster, although they did manage to close with a decent version of their most bracing track, “Radiation."
For their first show in the US, London’s Good Throb justified their small-scale hype with a tense and fun set of poke-in-the-eye punk featuring songs from their brand-new Fuck Off album. Singer KY Ellie has a classic British snarl that cuts through the band’s spikey post-punk. The jagged “Acid House” recalls Erase Errata while the minute-long screed of “Double White Denim” is Wire stripped of all archness and going direct for the throat. Good Throb are an exciting band, partly because of their lack of pretense. Local quartet La Misma closed out the night, and none of their recorded material prepared me for their stomping pogo-punk. I can’t say I can understand the singer’s Portuguese lyrics, but her high-pitched yammering paired with an occasional guttural utterance gives the band a unique focal point. She bounced around the stage while the band raged behind her like Nog Watt’s long-lost sisters. La Misma are an appealing blend of obscure influences and just good ol’ fashioned ripping punk rock.


@ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Saturday, June 7th 

It was a family affair this past Saturday at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. International rock n’ soul collective King Khan & The Shrines headlined an excellent triple bill that mined the deep reservoirs of Montreal’s fertile underground scene. As Arish Khan leads his Shrines to the promised land, he’s also bringing old friends and co-conspirators along with him. Tourmates Red Mass and Vomit Squad feature former members of The Spaceshits, Les Sexareenos and CPC Gangbangs – Montreal legends all. 
Vomit Squad opened the show by ripping through a set of snotty punk as singer Richard Ritalin hopped around and contorted himself into poses that conveyed his paranoid rants as effectively as his adenoidal, Doc Dart-like vocals.  
Red Mass followed with a genre-defying mix that seamlessly blended garage rock, mutant disco, heavy riffing, bursts of free improv noise, and impressive soloing by leader Roy Vucino. The head-spinning set ended with Vucino smashing his guitar in ecstasy or rage, both key elements of Red Mass’ raison d’etre. The crowd responded with approval, hootin’ and hollerin’ for more.
Enter Mr. Khan and his ragged band of troubadours – a nine-piece group that functions like a juke-joint version of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. Khan is a consummate showman, unafraid to get down n’ dirty, like some sort of demented cross between GG Allin and a tent revival preacher. He led the band through old favorites and selections from their most recent album Idle No More on Merge Records. Cuts like “Born To Die” and “Bite My Tongue” got everyone moving, but it’s Khan’s special brand of stage banter that really loosens the crowd up. A lady in the upper levels was even moved to discard her pants and let it all hang out. The Shrines have that kind of effect people, and far be it for anyone to tell other folks how to have a good time. It was Saturday night, the band was rockin’, and everyone was having fun.


@ Bowery Ballroom
Friday, June 6th 
Toronto institution, the six piece rock unit known as Fucked Up, were in town last Friday celebrating the release of their latest magnum opus, Glass Boys (Matador). Truth be told, I lost track of Fucked Up after their first opus, Hidden World, so I’m not overly familiar with their subsequent opuses (opii? nope. Opera). But, to their credit, Fucked Up always bring the noise in their live incarnation (except the one time the singer had to go to the hospital after smashing a lightbulb on his face during the first song). On record, frontman Damien Abraham’s one-note bellow is a liability, but on-stage his good-natured fury is an asset. With his ever-present basketball shorts and bare-chested demeanor, Abraham comes off like the world’s most pissed off teddy bear. The crowd loves him, and when he makes his way onto the floor of the sold-out Bowery Ballroom, the people embrace him, literally and figuratively. There is an undeniable anthemic aspect to Fucked Up’s music, which, despite their epic song lengths and endless bag of riffs, reminds me of Avail shows back in the ‘90s. Everyone from punks to squares to the hardcore faithful would go to those shows, and even a grump like me couldn’t ignore the explosion of energy generated by the subsequent dissolution of the band/audience dynamic. Like any good hardcore show, there is no difference between the two. On the strength of Jonah Falco’s muscular drumming, the chugging guitars, and Abraham’s sweat and record-nerd between-song banter, Fucked Up put on a pretty good show for a bunch of aging hardcore kids. They closed the set with a spirited run through of fan favorite “Police.”

Local punk quartet In School opened the show with a clutch of DC hardcore-indebted stompers like “Conquest” and “Apocryphal Scum” from their Praxis of Hate 7”. Ending with a cool take on what’s become a virtual punk standard, The Urinals’ “I’m A Bug,” these ladies did a nice job of transferring their basement/loft-dwelling hardcore punk to a bigger venue like Bowery. The much-hyped Big Ups occupied the middle spot, and, while showing some promising moves, failed to fully deliver the goods. Spazzy singer Joe Galaragga has a good punk scream and plenty of nervous energy, but his band drops the ball at times. Their second song was a weak Jesus Lizard imitation by a freshly-showered high school band – not a good look. Big Ups is better when they are operating from a Dischord Records template, echoing latter-day post-hardcore heroes like At The Drive In. Galaragga’s urgent, motormouthed delivery on a track like “Goes Black” is dampened somewhat by the guitarist’s got-a-gift-certificate-to-Sam-Ash-for-Christmas guitar tone. Big Ups shows promise, but, based on the pedestrian “Wool,” I get the feeling they need a year or so of serious roadwork before they can truly provide the catharsis their audience craves.


The above -- along w/ photos -- originally appeared  at cmj.com

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