Friday, February 13, 2015

Andrew W.K./Wolf-face
Thursday, January 29th 2015

The State Theatre, St. Petersburg, FL

Originally published at Zero Warning

 “Our next show is a wet dream come true for me.” — Michael J. Wolf.

I get wet indeed. Sometimes a promoter will put together a tour or pick a support act that is so beautifully perfect it elevates all the excitement around the gig. To share the stage with Andrew W.K. and not get utterly buried you have to have something going for you, and Wolf-Face are a band going nowhere but up right now. The St Pete locals have been showing up at every level of geography, from the mural over at Fubar, to discussing their favourite wolf-eatings in the nation-spanning foodytunes magazine Rice and Bread, to appearing on a free compilation from Belgium by the name of Beardedpunk. As popular as facial hair might have become as of late, there could have been no more appropriate pick for the album; dolled up in doggy masks and yellow gym uniforms, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re nothing other than an adolescent gimmick.

But the jokey theme only works because the music is damn good, and not unlike the actual Adolescents. After the multitude of lead up noises and film clips there’s a cover of ‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf’ by The Cramps, followed by lots and lots of fun punk. Wolf-Face at times remind me of Snuff or The Misfits, and that’s aside from the fact that many of their songs have expletive-ridden titles like ‘I’m a Son of a Bitch’ and ‘Put Me in Coach… On Second Thought Go Fuck Yourself.’ Many of those same titles that lead singer Michael J. Wolf snarls at the audience are references to Teen Wolf, but as someone who doesn’t remember ever seeing it I am perhaps well placed to tell you the tunes stand by themselves. That said, the novelty of the performance does add entertainment value. There’s more clips between the songs, somewhat slowing the momentum as they are badly projected onto a curtain. A mini, skinny Andrew W.K. jumps up and sings through one track with Wolf-Face, temporarily drawing your eyeline away from the y-fronts and tales of high school trauma. The band end with their “hit single”, the endlessly catchy ‘I Wanna Be a Homo(sapien).’ Go watch them. Just don’t mention Teen Wolf Too. 

What to expect from Andrew W.K.? It’s been over a decade since he came across my mind in any significant way, yet something has me inclined to believe that while his party-metal might not be amazing, the night’ll be high in revelry [Err, maybe it’s the fact that the central mantra of his entire output is that we should party all the time?]. It takes a while for them all to file on, but eventually Andrew is onstage, surrounded by his eighteen guitarists, hammering away on that keyboard and smiling like a person you cannot help but love. The pit is immediately mental and it’s only a few songs before there’s the perfectly reasonable sight of a wolf crowdsurfing across the room. Yes, this sets it up to be about the vibe you’d imagine. You’ve got tonnes of unashamed devil horns popping up after every number, hair swinging everywhere, more smoke and lights than a blown-out Tony Scott production, and obviously, a barrage of noise coming right at you. Definitely fun. Channeling the comfortably uncool and somewhat patronising wedding DJ who puts a slow one on “for the ladies,” Mr. W.K. dedicates ‘She is Beautiful’ to them. Not exactly radical at the end of a month in which I saw bands such as War on Women and Bitchmouth, but nice I guess, and for an act that could very easily be a safe space for unbridled dudebro behaviour it’s a job well done.

The “No Crowdsurfing” signs at State Theatre continue to be laughably ineffective as the band break up their set with stunts: a Green Day style audience participation bit, throwing shirts to the crowd, Rocky Horror-esque theatrics. ‘I Love New York City’ becomes ‘I Love Florida’ following a polite request by the singer. I can’t read my writing, but that’s more to do with the darkness than anything; at this point I was hoping my notebook would look like a cross between a well-thumbed Delia Smith tome and a handkerchief post bronchitis. I suppose you have to be able to meet the party halfway, and I’m just not up to it, as much as I like the idea. Still it’s not just me; the room seems to be running out of juice a bit towards the back end of the night. The chorus boys on the axes (I’m starting to wonder if they’re lip synching or if I just can’t distinguish between their five practically identical roles) manage to ramp it back up before and during the encore, helped along by the unstoppable ‘Party Hard.’ With ‘Don’t Stop Living in the Red’ half the crowd is on the stage, and AWK himself is hidden towards the back on his blessed keyboard, letting the communal message overtake even his larger than life character. While it isn’t the kind of music that’d I’d generally choose to dance, drink and shag to, Andrew W.K. does at least fulfill the important role of reminding us that we are biologically wired to get feral once in a while.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Broken Things
Four Songs EP
Self-released, 2014

Originally published at Zero Warning

Back in December I referred to a live performance by local punk band Broken Things as “loud, distorted and deafening.” It speaks to the growing importance of one-of-a-kind live gigs in this age of free downloads that the groups’ Four Songs EP conjures up an almost entirely different feeling. In fact, after listening to this release gradually over the past few months I can comfortably declare that it only makes me more interested in going to see them again, to see how the two experiences work off one another.

Like its Fugazi godparent Thirteen Songs, the EP starts with a wonderful and relaxed instrumental intro. It has just the smallest dash of late nineties emo guitar, quickly papered over with straight punk rock. These instrumental stretches come throughout the record, and without feeling like padding, indicate a band interested in providing more than a background to its lyricism. The songs are allowed to breathe, and it’s clear that although this is Broken Things’ first release, the writers aren’t complete newcomers.

The vocals of Anthony Louis run parallel to the style of the music even if they aren’t desperately filling every moment. Delivered with a deep and sometimes sandpapery texture, the focus of the content is on cautiously optimistic contemplation, particularly about life in a big city. This is most overt on ‘Always Adrift’ and ‘I Can’t Set Back,’ tracks that, like the dimly illuminated building cover art, wrap and bookend the whole of Four Songs in a kind of love letter to urban living. The middle songs, ‘Jayne Mansfield’ and ‘Goring,’ are more metaphorical and storylike, but also acknowledge emotions of melancholy and isolation. It’s a record about nostalgia, yet also weakly-smiling positivity and forward-movement. It’s about movement in general: multiple walking and crashing references fit St. Pete all too well, reflecting herky jerky restlessness in a supposedly burgeoning city.

On the subject of the past and future, it seems appropriate to mention that I once reviewed a demo by the former band of both Louis and Broken Things guitarist, Stewart Nicol. When you learn of the connection to Dead Sound/Steady State it’s impossible not to notice the similarities, in fact I had to be careful not to go repeating the same exact observations and terms as I did 4 years ago (“narrative-driven,” “grufty,” “Leather,” “face”). When writing about the gig a few months ago I even, unawares, compared Broken Things to Dead Sound, which was hilariously (and admirably) not referenced by the band in my second-hand communication with them regarding this EP. There’s a lot going on here in a small space, with controlled scope and real depth to chew on if you give it a chance. There’s also a sense that they still have room to grow and pan out some of the ideas that are being expressed (as you would hope from a debut). Nothing is broken, nothing needs fixing. But let’s hope the next offering shows a willingness to expand their tool kit.

Broken Things will be playing with Against Me! (who I also made comparisons to in the 2010 review) at The Ritz Ybor on February 18th.

Four Songs is available for $4 on bandcamp and the Dead Sound demo piece is available in exchange for asking me nicely.* You can also hear a live track on their Soundcloud page.

* Dead Sound - Monuments To Alienation review