Thursday, January 15, 2015

egos/Bitchmouth/Window Liquor/Ask For Tiger 
Monday, January 5th 2015
The Fuzz Factory, Gulfport, FL

Originally published at Zero Warning

Bullshit. It’s a term that a lot of different things fall under. One of the characteristics that’s appealing about punk, and traditional hardcore in particular, is that it allows no room for bullshit, at least in theory. Everything unnecessary is stripped away. The bands at this gig all eschewed bullshit in their own styles, and I thought I would attempt to write about it in a similar, honorary manner. If you consider everything that isn’t necessary to be bullshit though, I’m fairly sure I failed when I started this rambling introduction. I might even be having a crisis right now about whether any of this review is worth doing. Fuck. Why are we here?
Ask For Tiger start right at 9pm as I walk in the door. This is apparently only their second or third gig, which is probably the reason they don’t appear to have any online presence. In these times though, it could be considered a mightily punk showing of no bullshit. Ask For Tiger have long rock songs that vary without meandering aimlessly or outstaying their welcome. Having simply two guitars joined by drummer Caleb of UFO Sex Scene (how many awesome bands is he in?) gives them a dense sound full of great instrumental bridges. More bridges than streets, actually. Someone who didn’t get the memo that we’re meant to be asking for tigers is standing front and centre, wearing a bearsuit. “Do you know who the bear is?” “No, I was going to ask if they came with you.” I did come across this one piece of footage of AFT, though it’s from an earlier performance at Fuzz Factory, so it is free of both bearshit and bullshit. And tigershit.

Despite their name the first of the touring bands, Philadelphia’s Window Liquor, couldn’t be said to share much in common with Aphex Twin aside from an affinity for images of children with disturbing faces (look at that demo). Then again I haven’t heard much of the new Aphex Twin album, so you never know. Making a din of punk clangs, distortion and drone all wrapped in a shroud composed of the gnarliest bits of Nirvanaaahh shit the singer has shaggy blond hair, it’s too damn obvious. After a while bassist Astro Spacebag drops his still whining instrument and storms out into the crowd, before getting back on stage, opening a Budweiser and throwing it right over the top of his head at the whole lot of us (specifically me). This sort of thing might explain why guitarist Johnny Trash often appears to be tonguing his microphone as he sings, playing the part of lager licker rather than liquor licker. At one point the noises are the wrong kind and WL stop to get some help from their tourmates Bitchmouth, who have lent them a piece of equipment. Then they restart and so does the odd Cobain-like behaviour, with everyone wandering around, Trash disappearing off to the toilet during the final song, then appearing to my immediate left clapping during the final wall of distortions. I’d question whether all this buggering off and weirdness indicated that they didn’t even want to be here, but apparently it just means they were enjoying the venue, and presumably going off on little explorations of it.

I’m worried that the next act, Virginia’s feminist hardcore finest Bitchmouth, might be set to increase the unrest built by the preceding band. “Where’s the bear!?” comes the demand from all the touring musicians. An attempt to placate them with Fuzzy, the Fuzz Factory money box, ends badly for him when chants of “That’s the wrong fucking bear!” are followed by the opening chords and he falls from an amp to his unfortunate demise. I still feel bad about putting him there. There’s little time to mourn though, as before Bitchmouth are even done with their first 90 second hardcore blitz the space is being dominated by moshing furry beasts and guys going crazy because there’s no liquor or windows anywhere in sight. Warehouse! Part of the bearsuit ends up on vocalist Kelsey Hulvey’s head, turning the band temporarily into Bearmouth. Raging music is being presented in such a fun way, with an ill-advised pit exploding above the concrete floor (Warehouse!), that for added safety is now coated in a layer of beer, beer that’s been flying across the room at a rate not seen at a gig since I was back in England. Roaming trashcans, pain and bedlam, the set is over way too fast and before anyone is really able to get hurt (thankfully). If I had to guess at the circumstances under which I finally met my decade-long Livejournal friend Rachel Sparkman (Bitchmouth’s bassist), I could not have come up with something better. The two groups have just released a split EP. 

If there’s a creative place with less window dressing bullshit than old school hardcore, its noise. Some might argue that it’s shit minus the bull, but they’d be missing out. On quick are noise-punk band egos, who bring the evening’s theme to a perfect close between their genre choice, name choice and once again, lack of internet fluff choice (that link is a free WMNF session). The vocals are buried deep under the instruments, and there is little talking from the members other than “support the touring bands and Fuzz. Don’t spend money on other shit” (paraphrased due to an absence of total quiet at any point). They couldn’t very well stage banter even if they wanted to: only the drummer of the 3-piece is on the stage, a result more of practicality than grandstanding. None of the performers tonight had a lot going on in the BS department. This is something else though. They don’t even list their first names on their lowercased and minimalist Facebook page. I’d like to think that egos’ drive for egolessness is akin to All’s quest for ALL. Like folk music, you can delve and push the boundaries of noise using great skill, yet there’s also a straightforwardness to the genre that means anybody could realistically have a go. I’m not at the point where I want everything I hear to reflect this, and I’m far from saying that egos’ music is of the lowest common denominator; you could certainly do worse than listen to these guys when you’re feeling a bit out there. But it does indicate a kind of humility where you don’t emphasise yourself in your art, don’t lift yourself up by stepping on the heads of others, those currently unaware of or less impressed by their own talents. When they’re finished, the egos drummer does the opposite of a rock star, and throws his sticks backwards.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Propagandhi/RVIVR/War On Women
Saturday, January 3rd 2015
The State Theatre, St. Petersburg, FL

Originally published at Zero Warning 

How To Clean Everything, including forests. A St. Pete Tribune story I read on the way to this gig writes of a deal struck between Oregon environmentalists and loggers, to reduce the risk of wildfires through select cutting. Propagandhi are people who might like the sound of that, and so do I: the last time I went to see them play (in Sheffield, England), an onstage blaze caused the abandonment of thrashings just halfway through. Flames are a menace. Hopefully by now these non-rock stars have learned that you have to keep your equipment fires controlled.

Mans environmental destruction is intricately bound with the oppression of women. War On Women (WOW), from Baltimore, came up with their name before it became a catchphrase on the latest GOP idiocy, that newest chapter in the infinite history of patriarchy. In this way the assault is ironically like WOWs music; a fresh take but well rooted in it's past. You get old hardcore as if women and their perspectives had been represented or respected (how does no-one know the name of the Descendents' original singer?) with hints of the alt rock addition made by riot girl, all while feeling new and relevant. The singing and dancing of singer Shawna Potter is often unapologetically feminine, but the wildness in her eyes as she does so has some Keith Morris to it. (Jello Biafra also appears to see a parallel between Morris's pure throwback project OFF! and War On Women.) That wildness is certainly preferable to the Goat-like, white-people assery of their tribal introduction tones. Everything that came after though made WOW likeable: utterly musically spot on, from the drumming to the strumming. Potter tells the audience they can get free condoms or tampons with their merch, but if you missed out, pre-order their self-titled album due out in February -- I'm sure they'll press one or two into the envelope for you.

On second was PRML SCRM. I mean RVIVR. Brief exposure to their line ups and politics indicates that these three bands go well together for a tour (Sue from WOW performed bass duties tonight). But it goes further than that. Like War on Women, RVIVR take a well-loved scene that is past its heyday and improve it for 2015, making it more closely resemble its punk idealism. This is euphoric skate rock, complete with rad social politics on gender, sexuality and capitalism, smaller numbers of straight white males and bags of woah-ohs. Musically they're not so much early Propagandhi -- skate with hints that they would later become heavier -- but similar to Strike Anywhere, Tsunami Bomb or Bouncing Souls (any song named "Manthem" would probably have a different slant, though). Co-singer-guitarist Mattie Jo Canino starts singing "Party Queen," then excitedly crashes his own vocal to speak before re-commencing. This is a quieter track, reminiscent of The Jesus And Mary Chain if they were fronted by Laura Jane Grace (think of the dynamic on "Sink, Florida, Sink"). Do you reckon anyone has ever referenced two Bobby Gillespie acts in one punk review before? Upbeat hooks, positivity, brilliant co-ed harmonies, and on this night an absolute corker to close with -- that is the kind of revival I can get behind.

I've always thought "Dear Coaches Corner" was a top song with a solid point, but a little bit ridiculous. You cannot compare your ideological opponents to Nazi propaganda officials unless you're a member of a mainstream political party. But when I hear those commentators chatting idly about the good ol' troops and the headbutting riff that follows, it's amazing in it's own right and because it reifies that Propagandhi are here and they have begun. It's the last date of the tour but aside from the fact that they let their music do most of the talking you'd think it was the last date ever; Propagandhi bounce between their various releases picking some of the best off each. The trend of bands playing classic albums in their entirety is given a nod with chronological mini-sets for Less Talk, More Rock ("Apparently I'm a P.C. Fascist," "Nation States Were a Bad Idea," the title track) and How To Clean Everything ("Shove the Fucking Flag," "Haille Sellasse"). Yes, I had to shorten every single title there. They may recently have embraced occasional wordy brevity on both recordings and stage, but for a band that have constantly evolved like few others their songs all sit together surprisingly nicely. This even includes the couple of new songs the audience is treated to. There's constant guest singing from Propagandhi's tourmates, and an encore that includes the inevitable "Back to The Motor League" and a slightly surprising "Anti-Manifesto," the first track on their debut album. This high number of glance backs, attempts to make the tour less of a sausage fest and continued progressive politics all meld to show a band surely conscious of the fact that they've now been pissing about and making excellent music for almost thirty years, but determined to stay worthwhile. If anyone can make punk grow up in an admirable way, it's Propagandhi.

You can't just go right home after a gig like that! What are you out of your fuckin' mind? Am I not a doctor? You need to come down off the high first, or risk getting whiplash. We head across the street to The Local 662 for free entry into the so-called after party. At the Local are four appropriately local bands to cleanse your palette -- the musical one that is -- while you drink beer. Whether you get yourself weened back to Earth by street punk (Not for Nothing), pop-punk (Awkward Age), understated indiemo (Betterment) or hardcore/skacore/jah-core (Station Cases) coverage is available. All sound great even as the crowd slims and are definitely worth checking out next time they aren't just following in someone's shadow. Propagandhi can't be here every week, but these kinds of acts are, so support them. Those noisy foreigners probably wouldn't want you thinking they were doing anything you couldn't do with a bunch of friends anyway.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The 13th Night of Christmas: O.P.H.E.L.I.A/Infinite Third/Mountain Holler/Kersey Williams
Friday, December 26th 2014
Fubar Downtown, St. Petersburg, FL

Originally published at Zero Warning
Surrounding this review is a barrage of scattered attempts at writing other ones.  Originally planning to work on my Archaic Interest piece from the previous week, my roommate invited me out and I decided that amassing more notes was more appealing than trying to spread out existing ones (I come from the "sit at the typewriter and open a vein" school of reviewing).  I also saw the headliners Ophelia (as they were then styled) back in June and despite determination at the time, never typed up those notes either.  My usual pack-rat tendencies failed so they've since been lost.  Which is a shame as I was hoping to steal some wise words from my past self.

Fubar Downtown also appears to be in a state of scattering, with the two foot stage that previously occupied the spot next to the door replaced with some scaffolding.  But the event that would go on to take place here showed well that beautiful things can come out of messy environments.  You could hardly ask for a more smoothing audio antidote to the harsh visual of indoor construction than Kersey Williams.  I only catch ten minutes, but she and her baritone ukelele don't take a long time to get your attention, with a visit to her soundcloud page reaffirming.  Her final performed song, described as "super sappy," is "Fern," and it compares people to plants and is very pleasant.  Among other things, Williams apparently wants to make you feel, create and fart.  Which I did.

The nature-within-concrete theme continues as Mountain Holler (Mark Etherington of set and setting/RedFeather) helps to raise up a white screen in front of the former stage space.  Upon it quickly begins a DVD of the BBC/Discovery programme Planet Earth.  If that isn't enough animal for you, how about a comparison to the band Gorillaz?  Aside from being in as many acts as Damon Albarn, Etherington removes himself from the performance by playing behind this screen.  It's the first time he's tried it and he says we should only expect a little cohesiveness with the video.  That said, Planet Earth has been going for a while before he begins his set, but they immediately compliment each other, and you can see why Mountain Holler is described as music from the city about the country.  The sheet ripples like water through the long and flowing songs reminiscent of Etherington's post-rock ties.  The last three are run together as a compilation called "Prometheus," a reference fitting the singers' point of intersection between art and the natural world.  That tension between anthropogenic activities -- as most creative ventures are -- and nature is present when you see a silhouetted arm and remote moving around trying to get the DVD to restart.  The set could maybe have been shorter, as when Mountain Holler suggested we close our eyes prior to the final lengthy piece I almost fell asleep standing up.  Then again it could have been the getting up at 5am the day after a major holiday.  (This seems to be coming up in every recent review.  Evidently I need to spend less time at work and more time camping.)

On third is Infinite Third AKA Billy Mays the Third.  I have never been good at maths but does an infinite third get smaller forever without ever disappearing or get exponentially larger?  The performance by this man seems to attempt to do both, building to huge heights then winding back down like a collapsing universe, as if to tell Mountain Holler that his "entire globe" message was tiny potatoes.  With the screen taken away and the reminder that the stage is gone it's returned to being less claustrophobic, even if the area is filled with a Homer Simpson cubicle-sized array of dials and peddles.  Infinite Third couldn't be accused of slacking during the nuclear power plant collapse though -- his mix of big beat and haunting guitars and post rock and eccentric spoken samples makes as much commotion as a whole ensemble.  It's interesting but somewhat overwhelming, both musically and philosophically.  Let's not get too existential here now lest we disappear up our own arses; is that a painting of comedy punks Wolf-Face on the Fubar wall?  Proof if needed that humanity is still part of nature and nature part of us.  By the end of the set I am sitting on the floor in what appears to be a journo playpen of photographers and scribblers.  We may just be babies when it comes to understanding the universe, but we'll learn by observing.  (There is footage of this performance, recorded by fellow playpen occupant Jim Grinaker, here.)

Well where do you go from there?  Physically it's pretty much over, so it's into the subconscious: this gig was put on by Remember You are Dreaming, an artist collective that includes Infinite Third, Williams and the next act, O.P.H.E.L.I.A.  Originally the brainchild of singer-songwriter Roger Lanfranchi, O.P.H.E.L.I.A is now a full-on five-piece.  This does not include the man I saw Lanfranchi playing with during the summer (he had a flute and did fine work) nor does it mean there are just five instruments.  One guy, Brad Myers, is on the xylophone, violin and ukelele, and at one point at least there are three people sharing the drum kit.  All this should give you an idea of not just breadth of this project but how many different kinds of elements can be fused with and into Lanfranchi's music.  His uniquely high singing voice combined with neatly honed folk guitar strumming (amongst much else) is relatively joyous, and you can see that it emanates from him in the way that he smiles a lot while playing.  Mr. Music Man Myers later pulls out a flute as well, of course.  The xylophone and bass come together to form a Christmassy funk, but sadly, there is no take on Winter Wonderland as described in a recent Florida Folk Scene show.  On the bright side, even though today is Boxing Day, I feel very peaceful watching this act and all the ones that preceded it.  Not like an insignificant speck floating through space.

The evening title "The 13th Night of Christmas" refers to how long I get to write this thing, yeah?