Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Street Dogs - State of Grace

There’s a nice little range of Boston-based or influenced bands who exploit the “fighting Irish” mentality and transform it into rough and merry punk rock, a certain wall of camaraderie among them that’s not as visible in west coast punk bands. What the Street Dogs have got that the others haven’t is the biting bark of Mike McColgan, the former Dropkick Murphys frontman who’s unofficially set the style standard for his genre.

Musically, there’s not much originality bursting through the Dogs’ fourth record, but their angry spirit and true lyrics compensate well. There are tributes here to several deceased – McColgan’s grandmother and firefighting uncle, as well as one of the most well-written tributes to Joe Strummer I’ve seen yet.

The lead guitar on “Rebel Song” is a bit cheap and cheesy, but the band’s cover of the Skids’ “Into the Valley” is a real fighter, “ahoy” aplenty. All this plus a swipe at the NRA, a narrative on homelessness and a beautiful cover shot by '70s/'80s teen skinhead photographer Gavin Watson. Not bad.

Street Dogs - Mean Fist
Street Dogs - Elizabeth
Purchase State of Grace


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Daniel Clay - The Protestant

Daniel Clay was a fantastic surprise to bump into, The Protestant a real beauty that seems to have made its way onto my list of favorite records of 2008. It also happens to make the case for why tangible albums are more delightful than album downloads, as its inner art is a long wave of lyrics printed in what appears a brown Garamond type over cream-colored paper packaging. Exquisite.

Clay's been based in Mississippi and Georgia over his lifetime, and is a 29-year old who's been playing guitar more than half his life. His sound is somehow pious without irony, and though his style is much more that of melancholy folk balladeer, the recording quality of The Protestant is quite similar to Ris Paul Ric's Purple Blaze, where the sound of abundant space is either emulated or obviously apparent, leaving a slight echo that puts every sound, vocal or strung, boldly front and center.

Lyrically, there's a heavy look into the question of God that's written all over the record, but it's not a Christian record, rather a relatively cynical analysis of how religion's made its way into most aspects of American life.

On “Judgement Day,” Clay hopes to see the look on the preacher's face and the reaction of the Sunday school teacher's class when the two respectively meet their judgement days. On “Blindness,” one of the prettiest songs here, Clay sings “I've been waiting all my life to be blind...never see the eye-sore world again.” There's "Things Will Change," seemingly a glimpse of what America will look like when we've taken all we can take and are forced to start over from scratch. And the record is summarized concisely on “Zion,” the closing track, as such: “I can see no difference between the Christians and consumers, the preachers and public officials, the bibles and the billboards.”

Plenty of artists make leftist or protest records, but this one is well-written without hiding under the "look at me" image of a trendy, liberal-when-convenient guise. The Protestant is a thoughtful record that's beautifully and simply performed, proof that a quality record needs no elaborate production or involvement, and that worthwhile songwriters are indeed lurking about.

Daniel Clay - Two
Daniel Clay - Zion

Purchase The Protestant via Daniel Clay's website.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jeff Hanson, streaming fo' free.

What lovely news. The third Jeff Hanson record, Madam Owl, is finally being released on August 19 via Kill Rock Stars, and yes, it's chock full of clean hippie goodness, effeminate vocals and simple but beautiful acoustic chords. The above banner will allow you to stream the whole record prior to its release.

"Your Only Son" is a gorgeous standout, and "Nothing Would Matter at All" is a wonderfully paced example of what happens when folk meets baroque. Oddly enough, after having a listen I'm unsure of why "If I Only Knew" is being "marketed" first, as it's relatively accessible pop from a full band, not as interesting as the more stripped down songs here. But on the whole, the record is something with which to be smitten, as is the case with Hanson's previous two records.

Pre-order Madam Owl


Purchase Jeff Hanson (my personal favorite)
(Download "This Time it Will" MP3 here)

Purchase Son
(Download "Just Like Me" MP3 here)

*Jeff Hanson will be at Pehrspace in Echo Park on September 20.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Classy broads with cameras.

Honestly, much as it is a time waster, I've grown more fascinated with You Tube as a method of discovering music above all other, if only because you get to hear people sing from around the world, from the comfort of their bedrooms, and feel as though you're the only one who's in on the great secret of their voice, even if 20,000 other people have listened to their efforts. That said, I'd love to see this one get famous one day. Just lovely. Even if it is awkward watching her make eye contact with the camera.

(Sadly, the video I'd posted of Emma Russack singing "A Day in the Life" was pulled from YouTube, as were all of her videos. If you can track her down, certainly do!)

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's all fuzz, anyway.

What's nearly as good as news of a Headcoatees reunion? Nothing, really, though this fall there will be not only a second album by Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, but an album seven years overdue by fellow ex-Headcoatee Ludella Black. While Golightly will once again be backed by that charming fellow known as Lawyer Dave, Black will be backed by the Masonics! Sadly, nobody's leaving England anytime soon.

Speaking of great garage rock ('cause, hell, it all blends together, anyway), the Night Marchers are coming back to L.A. next week. Also, Beehive and the Barracudas are finally going to make their comeback, as word has it, and this is from their upcoming record, Pure Commotion.

This video for SJ Esau's "Under Certain Things" is nothing short of perfect.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

King Khan and the Shrines! The Echo. July 10, 2008.

There's a bit to say about the man named Khan, and in sum, what ought to be said is that he'd make a terrible dictator, not that he hasn't got presence – because he certainly has – but that he'd have his population under a spell, causing its own chaos while he watched and laughed a wicked laugh, his people following his every instruction, however absurd.

A preview of the madness that could be was born at the Echo Thursday night, where King Khan and the Shrines literally had a few bowing down, even within the restricted space that resulted from a packed house. This is what happens when you carry a staff and prance around in a cape.

Anyway, if you missed it, their first L.A. tour stop, you missed a bit of action. Everyone's, like, dancing and shit, and then midway through the set, Khan gets his gold cape on, his cobra-headed staff in hand, starts doing his wicked “hoo-hoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha” laugh with only the most serious look in his eye, visions of Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Lord Sutch in mind. And as he's singing, he walks up to his organ player, who could be Chris Kattan but is Freddy Rococo, and when he strokes Mr. Rococo with his cobra (in the g-rated sense, thanks), all he gets in return is a mouthed “I love you.” Or maybe it was “olive juice.” At that moment, if you'd turned toward the brass trio on stage, you'd have noticed sax player Ben Ra looking like he was going to vomit any minute. He didn't.

Bamboorella, go-going with pom-poms, wasn't enough to keep up the spirit of the stage, so Diego Monasteri, drummer of opening act (and damn fine garage trio) Jacuzzi Boys, joined up in a glittery gold number, doubling the cheer power. He danced for a bit, showed off his nipples and left. Then Khan made miserable bastards of us by preceding “Welfare Bread” with the story of how he'd written it for his wife because they'd been on welfare for four years. So a few pretended that they too were on welfare, perhaps in sympathy, and we all doo-wopped along for a couple of minutes, and then the Shrines went back to tearing up some horns and whatnot.

The rest of the show was jolly, each song a new climax that could have served as set conclusion. The Shrines did a splendid run of “Rebel Rebel,” and there was some gospel story time in which we learned that a proper Indian takes off his shoes when he climbs inside a woman (yeah, yeah, yeah). Best of all, the night ended on the most drawn-out, indulgent conclusion possible: a good five minutes of brass noise, crowd surfing by bassist and Chuck Klosterman look-alike Riddiman (who also got his hair and face extensively petted by an overzealous lady up front), and some dude getting on stage and plucking a guitar left behind only to be cut off by another random dude shutting off his switch.

You know where things got a little weird? At one point, Khan starts telling us about his love for the Spits, a northwest punk band whose name warrants a good long chant. Just when we expect the Shrines to start up a Spits cover, though, they play a grand and true cover of the Saints' “Know Your Product.” And once it ends, Khan starts us back up on cheering for the Spits. Either Khan doesn't know one from the other, or he's performing one of the smartest tests in music criticism imaginable. It is a cruel trick, really, to test whether music reviewers know their stuff or bother to research, by feeding them a mismatched band and song, hoping to see a widely read review with the errors they've been handed in clear print. That said, I hope King Khan doesn't read the LA Weekly.

The crux of the story is this: If “cards” don't exist, and King Khan isn't destined for dictatorship, then he can at least settle for being the leader of what may be the best live band in the world.

Erm...the other point of the story is that Los Angeles only dances for bands who aren't American.

...and two points to the badass drummer of the Jacuzzi Boys:

Purchase a limited edition Jacuzzi Boys/King Khan split 7" when the label's store picks back up next week.

Also check out the videos posted from Shrines shows in Phoenix and San Francisco (latter includes a very bizarre/awesome intro with Jello Biafra and the Shrines covering Suicide).

Friday, July 4, 2008

Constantines at the Troubadour. Los Angeles. 7.3.08

I've gradually come to realize that it would be near-impossible to find words that justify my appreciation of the Constantines, a band whose every performance and recording, in my experience, has been utterly perfect. I'm not quite sure what to say, really, except that I'm in love with this band as a complete entity.

Even without the handiwork of second guitarist Steve Lambke, whose damaged hand restricted him to the microphone on “Shower of Stones” and a quick fling with Will Kidman's keyboard before rushing back up to watch from the green room, the band was flawless last night. Finally, there was an opportunity to see them play “Insectivora,” with Dallas Wehrle's bass replacing the horns of the song's noisy climax on Shine a Light, and finally, “Young Offenders,” with Bryan Webb's guitar spread over a wider range of space than on its recorded counterpart, as the set closer we didn't receive at Spaceland two years ago.

It's the little details that make this band – how each man sets up his own, private spot on stage, penetrable by no other band member. Wehrle is 100% in rock-out-with-cock-out mode, legs spread when bass isn't proudly in the air. Multi-instrumentalist Kidman, credited with the “gaudy, dated effects” of recently released Kensington Heights, is an absolute asset to the band's energy, barely able to contain himself at the seat of an instrument which restrains most. And Webb, shielding drummer Doug MacGregor, pours every ounce of himself into his words, straining and snarling with the slightest hook in his lip. Again, it's all so utterly perfect.

With Kidman replacing Lambke on guitar for a good chunk of the set, songs were harder and stripped down to the essentials, though supporting act Ladyhawk lent its guitarist Darcy Hancock for a bit as well, and though there was an encore in which the entirety of Ladyhawk joined the Cons on stage for a skintastic rendition of “Street Fighting Man” that transformed the last few minutes of the show into an official sausage party. It was for this performance that Webb had removed his sweat-stained button-down and revealed a red tank that said “shameless,” matching the upper half of Canadian comrade Hancock and showing himself to be part of a band that's not quite as predictable as they've recently been given credit for.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Love Story.

Since Fleet Foxes was sold out on Saturday night and I was too bitter to bother with their Sunday performance, I headed off to the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood for a showing of Love Story, the documentary on Love that's about to be released on DVD.

A lot of the content within was information you could probably track down in the liner notes of a Forever Changes re-release, frankly – how “Andmoreagain” and “The Daily Planet” were recorded with Arthur Lee and a set of studio musicians because Forever Changes producer Bruce Botnick temporarily fired the band during a period of disorganization. And how first studio drummer Snoopy (Alban Pfisterer, the band's last choice of drummer, by his account) had such trouble with “Seven & Seven Is” during the Da Capo recording session that Lee switched places at the drums with him for every other take. The Egyptian's audience was actually sort of essential to the film, what with all the giggling every time Snoopy came on and showed himself as an odd, pitiful misfit – oh look, the hippie hanging from the tree, staring at the camera. Cheering when footage of Lee driving down Hollywood Boulevard showed the car to be passing by the Egyptian Theater as we were sitting in it. All that fun nonsense.

And there were a few not-so-obvious goodies and tidbits; “Seven & Seven Is” was a cheesy reference to the serendipitous March 7 birthday shared by Lee and his girl of choice. Lee blew a $5000 advance given to the band by buying himself a $4500 two-seater car and distributing the remaining $500. He regretted writing 19-minute track “Revelation” and using it to fill the B-side of Da Capo.

What really made this documentary great, though, was how well it reminded that Love's music continues to hold up, that it's still brilliant. Every time the camera cut to Lee or guitarist John Echols reminiscing, with a song like “Maybe the People Would be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale” playing in the background, I found myself hoping they'd cut the camera away so I could hear the damn song. It's a strange way of putting my appreciation, I suppose, but in truth, I so rarely find myself in the mood to listen to Love, and yet when the music was shoved in front of me I suddenly realized how much I wanted it, even more than those precious personal accounts. I love the part of "Maybe the People" where Lee half-scats along with the trumpet's melody, and admittedly, this bit is far more climactic in my mind than hearing about the bittersweet occasion on which the Doors rose above their enablers.

And more, only when it was pointed out on camera that the Manfred Mann version of “My Little Red Book” was in What's New, Pussycat? - a version arguably improved upon in being roughened up by Love – did I realize “Stephanie Knows Who” (Forever Changes) sounds an awful lot like...an improved upon, roughened up version of “What's New, Pussycat?” I'd give anything to be able to live through the mid-'60s and taste something wild for the first time in a world that hadn't yet seen punk, and though I'm not old enough to verify whether Love was really that fresh, the film's accounts certainly had me believing it.

The strangest and saddest thing here, I ought to note, was the consideration of age, and all that takes place over a forty year period. Most of the band had aged fairly well by these on-screen accounts in the late '90s and mid-2000s, though on camera you could see Lee's transition from handsome young artist to a man in his late '50s with softened rasp and relatively humbled attitude, even a slight bitterness toward money. It was the epilogue, however, where it really sank in that half of the band had died quite young – Lee's death from leukemia two years ago was relatively high profile, but when text popped up indicating Bryan MacLean's fatal heart attack on Christmas 1998, at 52 years old, it was sort of a shock to think that this footage was dated by at least ten years, and that even though we knew how the story ended, there wasn't going to be that happy news of a recent reunion of any sort.