Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Rise Above: Above Snakes/Red Calling/Slade and the Wasters and more
Friday, August 10th, 2018
Fubar, St. Petersburg FL

These Cards For Humanity personal calling cards -- made available to your resident radical immediately prior to this gig from local graphic designer Elizabeth Herrmann -- are exactly the sort of reason why the world’s rich countries shouldn’t go around giving handouts to immigrants.  They’ll swagger into venues with renewed confidence, snapping up OUR music criticism gigs, and hand over the money they saved to causes that help other “others” get in to this land of growth hormone injected milk and honey.  The cycle continues, and before you know it we’re drowning in a paper jungle of professionally made documents, and the stuttering music scene of Anglo-America has been infused with the renewed life of global influences!  What a nightmare.  In order to avoid this, we should (in addition to clamping down on the modern technological scourge of letterpress printing) be careful never to support events like Rise Above.  The promoters are donating all the door money to RAICES, a Texas-based nonprofit that gives free and low cost legal advice to immigrants and refugees.

So out of proportion has the influence of “the foreigns” gotten over this nation (which was definitely NOT established on the basis of expanding the territory for outside settlers, as erroneously claimed in the Declaration of Independence) that a band from Illinois, playing in Tampa on this very evening, made the outlandish decision to name themselves “American Football” -- a surely totally unnecessary term here in Proper Country.  My nevertheless mild disappointment with missing Gridiron Football is tempered by opening act Blestian, a local duo who partake in some of the pretty plucking that the post-rock Midwesterners are known for.  Halsey -- aka “Wife” -- provides some Dismemberment Plan-type bedroom beats, while Matt “Husband” has a voice that puts the whole act in the ballpark (see, that’s an American sporting term) of post-punk revivalists Clinic.  1-800-C-U-L8R is that hitherto mythical driving song that is so relaxed it doesn’t send me into an SUV-burning rage.  Speaking of the environment: “if we can ban plastic straws then why can’t kids stay with their parents?  Not that I’m against it, but who foisted that on us?” says Matt, apparently unaware the not-exactly-peer-reviewed impetus behind the campaign came from a 9-year old’s homework in 2011.  Blestian will be touring across the Eastern U.S. in September.

With this many acts on the bill it’s polite to have some of them be duos, just to give me the illusion of a manageable workload.  Bee-low Brass, The Horny Man and Slim Taper is actually two artists, working in a genre where much of the most respected output comes from two-pieces.  From the offset with The Braddest (Me Too, Right Guys??) Brass and Taper are providing a Guru and Premier combination of retro yet contemporary, all calm delivery, boom bap and horns (or blowbrass).  The double time referencing continues with the nostalgic Transformers, and, due to a lack of ideas in supposedly late capitalism, nostalgia is big fucking business right now.  On Bunk Funk Inn the duo pay clear homage to OutKast, whose use of “motherfunkers” on So Fresh, So Clean so confused the BBC’s censors back in the day.  The naughtily titled track even starts with a skit that sounds a lot like the Drinkin’ Again one off Stankonia.  While there is a moment or two where the music is bassy to the detriment of the other elements, their last few cuts are instead bathed in 1980s dry ice, with the beat and immature humour of My Tears Works Fine in particular reminding me a lot of the recent Reggie and the Full Effect record.

Following the Bee is Follow The Monarchs with their first gig.  Is the name a reference to butterflies, or to stoke hatred of the segment of the ruling class that I’ve been banging on about for the past six months?  It would appear to be more the former, with the local “electro-punkish” group channeling a butterfly effect that goes from tiny sounds to mega ones then back again.  The single performed track, Restraint, is a crazy-ass winding jam, or something that we might call jambient (terminology credit: Randy Mang).  Fubar is probably a good place for a diverse, largely instrumental band to get their thing going; it seems to have worked for set and setting, whose presence is often hard to escape here.  As I sit through Follow The Monarchs’ set waiting for beer I see it all over behind the bar, on reverentially placed stickers and shirts (also visible is a box of Cards Against Humanity, mirroring the package I’m lugging around).

I get to my feet just in time for the sleepy stylings of El Coyote (uh, I believe in this country, where we proclaim one particular imitation of a foreign language to be acceptable, that it’s pronounced THE Coyote?)  By sleepy I do not mean that their music is boring, I mean that it has the stony mesmerisation of the band Sleep from the former Mexican territory of California.  I have many pleasant memories of watching musicians that made me doze after a long day at work, like the time that I “almost fell asleep standing up” watching Mountain Holler in this same dimly lit watering hole in 2014.  El Coyote’s music seems to have that similar desert fascination as Sleep’s does, with titles like Highwayman and Mexican Radio, and instrumentals that press your body down to the floor until it turns to sand.  A track that appears to be about Godzilla lumbers through you, leaving you floating in its volume in awe.

SO HERE IT IS MERRY CHRISTMAS! EVERYBODY’S HAVING FUN… wait, the next act isn’t the Noddy Holder-fronted glam rock band from Wolverhampton?  Damn it people, don’t put confusing shortenings like that in your promotional posts.  Tommy Slade of Slade and the Wasters does put me in mind at times of other esteemed rock frontmen, such as Kurt Cobain and Tim McIlrath of Rise Against when he does the odd mid-line screech.  There are also reminders in the music of Strike Anywhere, but interestingly, not the recent offspring of those two bands, Great Collapse.  So The Wasters are somewhere on the Kid Dynamite sweet spot of the spectrum between hardcore and melodic hardcore.  They become the second act of the night to perform a song they claim to have written in 1982 (the first being Bee-low Brass).  I think I heard them say it was by The Evaporators.  The band fronted by Nardwuar, that daft interviewer who named himself after a wet napkin?  I’m so confused, I don’t know what direction is up anymore… But this spaghetti of references all points us away from the fact that Slade and the Wasters make music that is straightforwardly amazing.  If I hadn’t already voted for Car Bomb Driver for Best of the Bay, I’d be x’ing them in for best local punk (some lovely person nominated me for Best Blogger, so please, give us your ego vote if you’re so inclined).

At times like this when criticism and suspicion of foreigners is coming strongly from both sides of the major political divide, a band by the name of Red Calling could be considered brave.  Especially when you consider that most of their members appear to be of Venezuelan descent, and the fact that when you look their site up on Google it tells you that “This site may be hacked,” which seems fucking weird.  As if all that’s not brave enough, the Tampa-based musicians make a kind of stylised hard rock, alternative metal sound that to my mind at least is not something you hear very much at all anymore.  The list of bands they’ve supported cannot help but evoke a different time: Candlebox, Mushroomhead, Lit and Taproot, just to name a few.  There’s even some slips of industrial in the segues if not so much in the songs.  The loud/quiet vocals of Jessica Pons fit the bill too, giving me the occasional sense of Gwen Stefani in her diminishing respectable moments.  Amusingly, one of their first -- and it would seem, most successful -- tracks is called Never Go Back, which they perform tonight to cries of adulation.  Red Calling only further go to show that gigs put on by one Michael Patrick Couling are a diverse affair, a pretty neat analogy for multiculturalism that I’m presently loving.

Which brings us to the final act of the evening Above Snakes, a new band that includes Couling.  He’s joined by Lauren Lance, aka LILITH on vocals, who as I understand it was previously the in-house witch house witch over at The Venture Compound (RIP).  They get off to a Flying Snakes start on a cover of Rise Above (obviously), with all the awkward rigidity that I’ve always felt the original has, decent a song as it is.  It definitely gives you a good idea of the speed and arena that Above Snakes are experimenting in as they move from covers to original material.  Propeller and Underwater, performed here for the first time are something like beautiful power rock ballads, mixed up with grunge influences to make something cool.  Lance’s voice is subdued then bursts out of nowhere, just right for a cover of Teenage Whore by Hole.  There’s the song about being Iggy Pop’s “favourite pet animal” (I Wanna Be Your Dog), and a closing rendition of This Land is Your Land to accompany Couling’s “This Kills Fascists” Guthrie-adorning bass.  In my humble opinion, the hardcore stuff is fun on the side here, but the female-fronted grungey rock really gives Above Snakes something to build on.  And thanks to the $555 raised by this event, some of the vulnerable border crossers trying to navigate a fiendishly complicated and often merciless immigration dragnet will as well.  Jealous cowards try to control.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Mad Caddies
Punk Rocksteady
Fat Wreck, 2018

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

The Mad Caddies have never done anything that made me think they were any more interesting than the sport of golf.  I’ve spent more time watching the anti-enclosure, class-warfare-tastic “now you’re gonna die wearing that stupid little hat!” scene from the Michael Douglas classic Falling Down than I’ve actively spent listening to Mad Caddies recordings.  But I’ll admit they’ve had some catchy club bangers, and down the memory hole comes this Punk Rocksteady album: a collection of reggae/ska/et al covers of well known punk songs.  Produced by Fat Mike, part of its appeal lies in its Fat-heaviness: Propagandhi, Bracket, Snuff, NOFX, Lagwagon, Against Me! and Tony Sly.  While a number of these artists have dabbled with the brass devil the Caddies have taken specifically punk cuts and removed all trace of that sound.  There’s golden oldies in the form of early Descendents and Misfits, the 2000s beauties of melancholy rebels like Sink, Florida, Sink and Bad Religion’s Sorrow, and a slew of 90s skate staples.

While the choices are not obscure deep cuts, they’re also generally not the most obvious biggest hits of the artists in question.  Let’s start with my favourites, the various politipunks.  Sorrow is a track with lyrics that seem like they’d lend themselves well to Jamaican-style peace-loving hippydom, and they do.  While this is a pretty interpretation of a pretty song, Sorrow was already more melodic than punk, and to me this offers little other than taking away the underlying groove of the original.  The band’s take on ...And We Thought Nation States Were A Bad Idea by Propagandhi goes on a more extreme turn, with a ska bounce that nevertheless holds on to some of the thunder of the original masterpiece.  Mad Caddies copy the adolescent humour mixed with the righteous, rollicking seriousness of the “shitrag hooray!” forerunner, with a quick version of Ska Sucks in the closing moments being cheekily changed to Punk Rock Sucks.  The skankers, after a mere quarter century, come out of their marijuana slumber long enough to exact some revenge.  Sink, Florida, Sink by Against Me! is pleasant, maintaining that singalong nature but putting a happy face on it.  Of course a band from California would deliver this message with inappropriate glee.  How are those giant fuck-off wildfires right now, dudes?

The newest cut on the album is AM (2010), a cover originally featured on The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute put out by Fat Wreck in 2013 in the wake of Sly’s death.  (His passing apparently ushering in an era where Fat becomes one of those legacy labels, content to re-release the same music in possibly slightly altered format ad infinitum -- see last year’s No Use For A Name compilation Rarities Vol. 1: The Covers).  Working appropriately as something of a reggae dub spin, it retains the forlorn mood of the original, with the keyboard that replaces the organ glowing softly behind the songs wintery foreground.  Fittingly, with Sly having often collaborated with Joey Cape, we then get an interpretation of Lagwagon’s Alien 8.  Already working against Mad Caddies is the fact that I’ve always enjoyed the Double Plaidinum album through a really badly dubbed cassette tape.  So a sanitised dub version -- as happens all too often listening to Punk Rocksteady -- finds me yearning for the grit with which I am familiar.  It works better on something such as Green Day’s She, the clean melody of which translates nicely into sways and reverb.

The cover of Some Kinda Hate by The Misfits has got a respectable spooky sombreness to it while being strangely quirky and attractive.  It’s so far from any kind of hate that it’s almost venturing into irony territory, which as we all know is a no-no.  Then again, I might care more if I cared more about The Misfits.  On the interpretation of Jean Is Dead by Descendents the speed is so drastically altered that it’s barely recognisable.  This sounds more like Sublime (a band who did several of their own legit hardcore versions of Milo Goes To College numbers).  The sadness of the song lends itself to the rocksteady sound, but perhaps a later Descendents track with a poppier flavour would have been more fun (maybe something from the Fat Wreck-released Cool To Be You).  Following this up is the ode to the English weekend, Take Me Home (Piss Off) by Snuff.  While I can appreciate ending the album by covering a band famous for doing a lot of covers, this, like Jean Is Dead, lacks the uplifting, album-closing excitement of the original, even forgoing the complete outro for some reason.

Strangely, it’s on their cover of Operation Ivy, the band that laid the blueprint for the third wave ska-punk that birthed them, that Mad Caddies dare to get their most experimental and thus interesting.  On Sleep Long, Joshua Waters Rudge of The Skints delivers a guest spot reminiscent of trip hop pioneer Tricky.  Jesse Michaels’ rapid-fire lyrics of social and cultural degradation lend themselves well to the grim spoken word style.  It’s a weird outlier, especially so early in the album when nothing else that follows is remotely like it.  If the goal was to give it a UK flavour, it certainly succeeds, but whether that makes sense for a California band covering another California band is questionable.  Ironically, The Skints’ most mainstream moment came when they did a dub-reggae cover of the hit single On A Mission by post-dubstep pop singer Katy B.  Aimee Interrupter of The
Interrupter can be found making barely noticeable appearances on both Sleep Long and on NOFX track She’s Gone).

The lost potential heard in this one track is really where I find myself judging this album.  I love the idea of genres being forced to crash into one another, but is anyone on either side of the punk/ska divide really that unaware of what is happening over that garden fence, and unaware of whether they like it?  The two have been cousins since the 1970s.  Birmingham’s veteran protest reggae act Steel Pulse played here in St. Petersburg just this week (as are Steel Panther, at the same venue, oddly, but the less said about that sack of shit the better).  So that can’t be the impetus behind Punk Rocksteady.  I have few qualms with the choice of tracks.  I’d say I love a good half of these originals, which perhaps indicates that Mike and the Mads picked popular and easily enjoyable songs to cover, and that for better or worse, this is a labour of love.  The people involved and those who really enjoy it can do so without any wider artistic merit.

Punk Rocksteady
may be suitable for a gathering of grown up punk kids looking for a respectable nostalgia, or with a good sound system that can pick up the right musical details: all things rarely within spitting distance of this critic.  For personal listening I’d preferably go with a compilation of these songs, which I have made as a YouTube playlist here, should you wish to partake.  A quality genre-changing cover of something familiar can work great in the closing scenes of a film, but a full length album like this is mostly unnecessary.  In this case, it’s not so much a hole in one, as ones failing to make up much of a whole.

You can stream Punk Rocksteady at the bandcamp player here.  Mad Caddies are doing American West coast dates between now and October.