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Rhett Miller 10/6/18, Philadelphia

Dates: October 6, 2018

Location: Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA

Live at Ardmore Music Hall near Philly, the Old 97’s frontman showed off his impressive solo chops.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Rhett Miller seems to be on a constant loop of record/tour/repeat.

Having just put out Graveyard Whistling, the latest from his main gig in Old 97’s last year, followed by a fairly exhaustive tour, he went to work on his soon-to-be released solo effort The Messenger (due out Nov. 9), and is already on a solo tour again before the album comes out. He somehow managed to squeeze in an Old 97’s holiday record that they will tour behind in just a couple of months, as well.

That being said, Miller was still in full entertainer mode just a few miles outside of Philly in the small, but impressively booked Ardmore Hall (a cool, intimate venue that manages to lure everyone from Fishbone and George Clinton to Willie Nile and a Hall-less John Oates). Miller commented on the venue after a fantastically-spirited version of “Our Love”.

“We were driving near the venue and I thought, well this is a really beautiful part of town, we’re so close to Philly proper, but I couldn’t figure out where we were” recalled Miller. “At that point I watched a really cute girl trying to turn left. Then this guy behind her yells out, ‘No left turn, asshole!’ Then I realized I was in Philly.”

And just like that, the crowd was enamored with Miller. It didn’t hurt that he reeled through one great song after another, pulling from across his half-a-dozen-deep solo catalog and many of the Old 97s greats. Miller managed to hold the crowd’s attention through a 20-song set, in a stripped-down setting, with just him and an acoustic guitar.

He even previewed a new song from the Old 97’s forthcoming Holiday record. The loudest singalongs came at the end when Miller played a remarkable cover of Petty’s “American Girl” that segued into the Old 97’s “Time Bomb.” If Miller is exhausted from the constant write/record/tour routine, he showed absolutely no signs of that weariness in Philly. A remarkable show from start to finish.

Hopscotch Festival 9/6 – 9/8/18, Raleigh NC

Dates: September 6 - 8, 2018

Location: Raleigh, North Carolina

At various downtown venues, the nationally-touted indie music festival brought the noise and demonstrated why it is, indeed, “touted.” Go HERE to view a gallery of some of the weekend’s performers.

BY DANIEL MATTI & CHIP KLOSS

Another year of Hopscotch shakes up Raleigh as the festival marks its 9th year in a row. From City Plaza to Red Hat Amphitheatre to bouncing around the other 10 venues in play, it became another year of running around to catch a favorite band or stumbling into one and discovering something that you might not normally see.

From the first night, where H.C. McEntire, Real Estate, and The Flaming Lips rocked City Plaza, to the tons of conflicts at 11:30pm with the tough choice in seeing Sleep, U.S. Girls, Kilbourne, Waxahatchee, Deaf Wish, House and Land, Yawpers, or Everything is Terrible!, I was able to catch three acts (Sleep, Waxahatchee, and Everything is Terrible!). Because that’s all my legs could muster up that night.

Second night started off with a somber note as Thundercat took the stage and dedicated his set to his friend Mac Miller who passed away earlier that morning. From someone who has seen Thundercat a couple times you could tell he was affected by the passing of Mac since most of his set was a freestyle jam of most of his songs—which ended up being one of the greatest sets I’ve ever seen during this annual festival. After leaving City Plaza I got to catch local cello-core greats, Gown absolutely destroy Slims, and then The Revolution turn The Basement into a sing-a-long dance party that went on late into the night. After so much dancing I managed to get into the Pour House to catch the tail end of a stunning set from Swearin’.

The final night had me dragging my feet, as there was not much that I was completely dying to see, I actually ended up gathering energy and catching more acts than a usual final night of a festival—from Chic and MC50 putting on some of the best sets of the weekend of the big stages, to Sarah Shook and the Disarmers and Negative Gemini waking you up with their stunning performances with late night sets.

Now that Hopscotch has finished another chapter, I look forward to next year. It always brings its warmth with every band, not to mention every friend in the area who comes out to see their favorite band and mostly to discover a whole lot of new ones. —Daniel Matti

***

If you live in Raleigh, September means two things: (1) When the hell is this heat going to end? (2) Hopscotch Music Fest.

Raleigh’s premier festival chugs into its ninth year with three days of music and good times. Having attended before, I understand the steps leading up to the event. Things begin months before the festival with Innuendo, gossip and rumors of who will be appearing. Weeks later comes the official headliners announcement, followed by support announcements. Next up is the release of the official schedule.  Hours spent highlighting the bands you want to see, grumbling about the timing conflicts. Can I make it from Slim’s to the Lincoln Theatre in time? The final step is abandoning the highlighted schedule and just winging it. Going from venue to venue, taking chances on bands you have never heard. One of the greatest joys of Hopscotch is you will always walk away digging a band that 3 hours ago was unknown to you. Perhaps my favorite part of the Fest is running into friends. This year I ran into people I have not spoken to in years. That alone is worth the price of admission. Life sometimes gets in the way, relationships falter a little but music is the element that always brings us together. Regardless of your political, religious or spiritual beliefs, with Hopscotch you are always surrounded by non-judgmental people who are there for the same reason you are….the love of the music.

Thursday

I felt this year’s fest was a little light on both the metal and hip-hop artists. The bulk of the metal shows were Thursday at The Basement. A cavernous open space beneath the Raleigh Civic Center, The Basement held simply a stage and a mixing board. The venue was the size of a few football fields and most likely lived its life as a storage area the rest of the year. But for now, it was Heavy Metal Central. Raleigh metal masters Bedowyn began the evening with a blistering 40 minute set, bolstered by the lead shredding of Mark Peters.  As the band finished I was greeted by some friends who were goIng to see The Flaming Lips. My plan was to stay in The Basement all evening, but who can pass up seeing The Lips? We made our way to City Plaza, packing a few thousand people. I am not the biggest Lips fan, but I do enjoy their theatrics. As usual at a Lips show, the crowd was entertained by batting giant balls and balloons around. I pushed my way through and slapped a balloon as well. I think that makes me an Official Flaming Lips fan. I headed back to The Basements and caught the remaining 2 songs of the set from Grohg. A few minutes of roadies, and a few more people pushed up towards me (I was in the front row against the barricades). The band Skeletonwitch then took the stage. This band has had its share of issues. They booted out their original singer in 2016 and replaced him with Adam Clemans. Not many bands can replace the singer and come out it bigger, badder and louder.  The show they put on was amazing, a lesson to any young rockers in the crowd. I knew I had a lot more Hopscotch to go, but I knew this was going to be one of the best performances.  I was completely enthralled by this band. Simply a phenomenal show. They eventually yielded the stage to the legendary Sleep. This may have been the loudest show I have ever attended. Front row was far too brutal of an assault on my ears, so I made my way to the back of the venue. That did not really help, so I went to the stairs leading to the venue, a good 200 feet from the stage. That was a lot more comfortable, and is where I rode out the rest of the band’s set.

Friday

The afternoon began with the news of the untimely passing of rapper Mac Miller. The headliner at City Plaza that night was Thundercat, who was very good friends with Miller. There was a buzz around town that perhaps ‘Cat would cancel his set. He did not. Instead he gave an incredible, inspired performance. He invoked Millers name several times, each to a roaring applause from the crowd. It was a sad day for the music community, but Thundercat definitely provided an electric eulogy. I hung around City Plaza for the beginning of the Grizzly Bear show. They are not really my thing, so I went venue hopping and caught Vacant Company, Lightning Born, Gown and Swearin’. Bands I knew little about, but that is the spirit of this festival. I really dug a couple of these bands and was glad to have found them.

Saturday

MC50. The 50th anniversary of the classic “Kick Out the Jams” LP. Wayne Kramer (MC5), Kim Thayill (Soundgarden) Billy Gould (Faith No More) Brendan Canty (Fugazi) & Marcus Durant (Zen Guerillas).

They were loud, rude, and obnoxious. Everything you want in a band. Seeing that much talent on the stage was mind boggling. Even more so when the band invited Gary Louris (The Jayhawks) to rip some solo’s during the set. After the band wrapped up I hung around City Plaza hoping to spot Kim Thayill. I did not. So I hoofed over to the Lincoln Theatre where I planned on camping out of the rest of the evening. The evenings soundtrack was Zepheniah Ohara’s old school country, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers’ outlaw country and the headliners The Jayhawks.  I decided to leave The Jayhawks show a little early and head to the Pour House. I had gotten a tip there was an artist I had to see. I reached the venue, but the artist I was there to see was not on. Everyone on the bill had been late going on, so I was lucky enough to catch the last 15 minutes of a band called Combo Chimbita.  This world music band was the perfect ending to my Hopscotch experience. I had no clue of who they were, but walked out of the Pour House wanting to own every piece of music they have ever made.

Overall highlights? Skeletonwitch, MC50, Combo Chimbita, seeing a gaggle of friends at City Plaza—and getting to rest on Sunday. —Chip Kloss

THE HASBROS – Cart Before the Horse LP

Album: Cart Before the Horse LP

Artist: The Hasbros

Label: Hasbin Music

Release Date: April 27, 2018

www.thehasbros.com

The Upshot: Indie outfit gets a chance to revisit its alt-rock heyday and update it for the modern era—but without sacrificing the freshness and energy that must have originally marked them.

BY FRED MILLS

Everybody loves a beat-the-odds, coulda-been-a-contender comeback story, and this one’s as sweet as they come. Hailing from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s NYC alt-rock scene, the Hasbros were briefly positioned for greatness, notching a few high-profile compilation appearances and attracting both label interest and college radio airplay, but, as cofounder Bob Hanophy drily notes in his liners to this much-belated LP, “it just wasn’t meant to be,” and the band split before releasing a full-length. Old story, right?

The members went on to various endeavors—the collective C.V. includes outfits like King Missile, Red Hare, Retisonic, and Garden Variety, as well as numerous solo recordings—and then, in a combined fit of restlessness and celebrating a birthday, Hanophy put out the call for a one-off reunion gig. “Everyone agreed to play and we had a blast,” he writes. “Amazingly, it sounded better than ever before and we decided to finally record the LP that we had always wanted to.”

Ergo, Cart Before the Horse, subtitled “the difficult first record” and issued by the band’s tellingly-named label Hasbin (get it?) Music. Hanophy (guitar/vocals), along with Ken O’Connor (guitar/bass), and Joe Gorelick (drums/vocals) have clearly recaptured their sound, and I say that without even knowing what their “sound” was. One detects vestigial traces of classic ‘80s janglepop in midtempo rocker “Later On” and the somewhat R.E.M.ish opening track “For the Best,” which has a careening, soaring quality that would’ve undoubtedly made the band a college radio darling. Husker Du was also an obvious influence upon the musicians, what with the blazing, yet richly melodic “Kenny” and the equally powerhouse punk anthemism of “Nothing At All” (which is also reprised among the bonus tracks as a low-fi-but-equally-blazing live cut from 1988). It would be easy to play spot-the-influence on numerous tracks here, but the larger point is that these guys internalized the lessons of their era and had the songwriting talent to craft material that, while reverential at times, was still wonderfully unique and deeply emotional. Listening to Cart… is like rediscovering a favorite album from back in the day and realizing that you’d also stashed a tape of unreleased material from the same sessions, tunes that are every bit as strong as the ones you remembered and cherished.

The vinyl LP is lovingly assembled with a full-color insert crammed with vintage photos, including a rather affecting pair of b&w shots that show the three musicians as they were in 1989 (see image at left), and then again in the current era, the former image all fresh-faced indie enthusiasm, the latter suggesting a satisfied “mission finally accomplished” attitude. (The download card contains four bonus tracks as well—nice touch, that.) Indeed, this is how a good rock ‘n’ roll story is supposed to turn out: not with recriminations and missed-opportunities-lamented; and not with lawsuits, overdoses, and the proverbial one-breakout-star-success; but with old friends remembering the magic they once made and can somehow still make, and determined to be the ultimate authors of the story rather than some music critic looking for some good-ol’-days/where-are-they-now nostalgia piece.

Here’s hoping the Hasbros have more chapters they intend to write.

DOWNLOAD: “For the Best,” “Kenny,” “That I Know,” “Nothing At All (live 1988)”

JOHNNY IRION – Driving Friend

Album: Driving Friend

Artist: Johnny Irion

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 18, 2018

www.johnnyirionmusic.com

The Upshot: Americana-tilting indie rock awash in glorious harmonies and melodies that’ll leave you humming them throughout the day. Available on both CD and sweet vinyl, incidentally. Check out some audio and video from the album, below.

BY FRED MILLS

Erstwhile North Carolina resident Johnny Irion—we here in the Tar Heel state are still proud to call him one of ours—has been blessed not once, but twice: First, he was born with one of the richest, sweetest singing voices on the planet, something that was evident even back in the ‘90s as frontman for Queen Sarah Saturday and, later, a member of Dillon Fence; and secondly, he married one of the richest, sweetest singing vocal foils on the planet, Sarah Lee Guthrie, of the not-too-shabby Guthrie family, and with whom he has released several must-own albums that have made the duo beloved by Americana fans. When Irion sings, he soars, period, and when the duo swap verses and harmonize, they’re not merely the latest living example of what Gram ‘n’ Emmylou taught us all those years ago—they brush the gates of heaven.

For Irion’s latest solo album, he doesn’t merely uphold the high musical and literary (did I mention that his family tree includes a granduncle named John Steinbeck?) standards he’s evidenced to date—he stakes out a permanent piece of sonic serendipity that any singer-songwriter would die to lay claim to.

This is evident on Driving Friend from the get-go, on the gently waltzing “Emily’s” where Irion, switching effortlessly between tenor tones and an upper-register, almost-falsetto, “whoo-ooo-woo…” croon, sketches indelible images of a changing South Carolina coastline that will ring true to anyone from or familiar with the region:

“Sun going down on the Intracoastal Waterway
We were Fripp Island bound
Sentry at the guard post said we had to go away
It’s a private community now
So we beat it down the road for peanuts and some cokes
Looking for a sunset for free
Came across an old boardwalk
Surrounded by the marsh
Seagulls wheeling over you and me
That old shuttered church
Sure been burned down
Spanish moss hanging all around…

Much later, in the penultimate, title, track, Irion sets in motion a gospellish reverie amid a piano/strings arrangement which, buoyed by angelic backing vocals, lends an uncommon intimacy to his lyrics:

“There’s no other place I’d rather be than right here this morn
Your arms surround me like branches sprouting from our soul
I’ve been close before, but nothing like this
Only tears produced from my eyelids
But you’ve got everything I need and more.”

In between, you’re treated to sundry gems, from the Laurel Canyon folk-pop (think: CSN meets Brian Wilson) of “Salvage the Day” and irresistible pedal steel-and-twang-powered country rocker “Once in a While,” to the stoned, Muscle Shoals-styled swamp-funk of “Cabin Fever” (here, the backing vocals once again perfectly complement the material) and a luminous ballad bearing the wholly apropos title “Angels Sing,” another tune marked by some wonderful piano-and-strings playing (it brings to mind Wildflowers-era Tom Petty). Throughout, Irion and band maintain a consistent, reassuring low-key vibe that serves as a contrasting force to underscore the cinematic richness of the lyrics. Pitching in musically are members of Dawes, Wilco and the Mother Hips, so the sonics are stamped firmly with the trademark of quality.

That twinned quality, wedded to the aforementioned Irion pipes—which at times stroke the ear canal like pure sonic velvet, nary a note out of place—create the type of musical magic so often missing from today’s indie rock and Americana artists, many of whom mistake angst for passion, or substitute lazy “got up this morning/wrote you a song” lyrics for true storytelling. Ultimately, Driving Friend simply wants to be your friend, a musical handshake and a hug from one of our most gifted songwriters. Don’t be shy, folks—return the embrace.

DOWNLOAD: Driving Friend,” “Forever Wingman,” “Cabin Fever,” “Salvage the Day

 

ROBERT POSS – Frozen Flowers Curse the Day

Album: Frozen Flowers Curse the Day

Artist: Robert Poss

Label: Trace Elements

Release Date: August 03, 2018

http://www.robertposs.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

For rock fans, Robert Poss may be best remembered for the mighty guitar rock ensemble Band of Susans and, if they’re really crate diggers, BOS precursor Western Eyes. But the guitarist and composer has been a leading light in experimental music circles for decades, working with Rhys Chatham, Ben Neill, Phill Niblock and others. Though Frozen Flowers Curse the Day is only his fourth solo album, his long years of experience make it the work of a mature artist. Consisting of both instrumental and vocal songs, the record indulges in guitar sounds of all stripes: acoustic, electric, clean, distorted, lyrical, overdriven. But Poss never lets his fondness for textural variety overpower the sturdy melodies on which his tunes are built.

As a statement of intent, he begins the album with the shimmering jangle of the wordless “More Frozen Flowers” and follows it with the crunchy drone pop of “The Sixth Sense Betrayed.” “You’ll Curse the Day” and “I’ve Got a Secret List” get noisier than “Sixth Sense,” but remain just as catchy. Written for a dance piece, “Time Frames Marking Time” uses spacey arpeggios and layered feedback to subtly explore the nooks and crannies of a simple but accessible melody – one strong enough to work without the visuals meant to accompany it. The slide-driven “Sketch 72” sounds like a long-lost classic rock track, despite a lack of vox. Even distortion fests “Bitter Strings” and “The Test Pattern Setting” keep their grip on tunefulness, no matter how fuzzy and crackling they get.

Accessible and experimental, avant garde and rocking, Frozen Flowers Curse the Day is a new peak in a long and successful career.

DOWNLOAD: “Time Frames Marking Time,” “The Sixth Sense Betrayed,” “The Test Pattern Setting,”

 

 

THE BETHS – Future Me Hates Me

Album: Future Me Hates Me

Artist: The Beths

Label: Carpark

Release Date: August 10, 2018

http://carparkrecords.com/

BY JOHN SCHACHT

One of the perks of being young and in a rock ‘n’ roll band is the license it affords you to be shamelessly self-involved. It’s practically a job requirement, in fact, yet one that being young, confused, and falling in and out of love regularly lends itself to.

Take the debut LP from Auckland’s The Beths, part of the vibrant indie rock scene bubbling up from down under the last few years. Led by front woman and primary songwriter Elizabeth Stokes, the Future Me Hates Me features 10 high-tempo tracks long on fuzzy barre chords, thrumming bass-and-drums interplay, and sunny harmonies that belie the angst-ridden lyrical fare — though without quite shucking its weight.

Stokes, who’d recently transitioned from playing in a folk outfit, takes to the singing role with relish and stands out vocally—she sounds like Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell fronting Sparkle & Fade-era Everclear, with the occasional Joan Jett snarl thrown in for contrast against the vulnerability. On the best tracks here, Stokes manages to balance the music’s adrenalin rush with enough thoughtful imagery to keep the Beths from the hordes of pop punk wannabes. Over the buzzing chords and pointed guitar lines of “Great No One,” Stokes bemoans youthful indecision, comparing herself to a “just a broken bulb/flickering with doubt.” On “Happy Unhappy, where guitars chime more than fuzz, and the back-up harmonies trend more Beach Boys than Blink-182, the Beths embrace their pop tendencies to their benefit.

Stokes’ knack for acerbic lyrics often finds her linked to contemporary Courtney Barnett, but this is not to the Beths benefit. Stokes lacks Barnett’s songwriting diversity, worldliness and clever wordplay; too many of the songs on Future Me Hates Me are interchangeable, built on quiet, jangly verses and fuzz-button sing-along choruses that lament the usual litany of “I” and “me” woes.

It doesn’t take long for the self-examination to hit overload. The song titles alone read like journal headings: “Great No One,” “Happy Unhappy,” “Whatever,” and “Less Than Thou” do not suggest much thinking-outside-the-self box.  (Admittedly, this lack of patience is a function of aging; Young Me Might’ve Been Less Curmudgeonly Than Old Me.) Over the charging guitars and red-line drumbeats of “You Wouldn’t Like Me,” for instance, Stokes worries that “You wouldn’t like me/If you saw what was inside me,” seemingly unaware that such self-awareness is pretty much de rigueur for most adults. The title track features the not-exactly earth-shattering acknowledgement that everyone Stokes knows has “has broken” under love’s vicissitudes yet “has fell for it before.” Well, luv, that explains the high-risk, high-reward attraction of it.

These shifting tides of love and mid-20s anxieties form the cornerstone that rock ‘n’ roll is built on. Nor should anyone begrudge Stokes her personal angst—we’ve all been there, but for sheer visceral terror nothing tops being in the midst of it. Still, with experience comes at least the acknowledgement that there exists a world outside our own Facebook or watering hole favorites (not to mention some different tempos or sonic variants). In the end, there’s just something to be said for taking a step back and realizing that your problems, as an old guy in a fedora once noted, “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

DOWNLOAD: Future Me Hates Me,” “Happy Unhappy” (click on each one for the video)

THE ESSEX GREEN—Hardly Electronic

Album: Hardly Electronic

Artist: The Essex Green

Label: Merge

Release Date: June 29, 2018

https://www.mergerecords.com/

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Nostalgia has always been a big component of the Essex Green’s baroque 1960s pop sound. Even in its early aughts prime, the Vermont via Brooklyn-based trio echoed the billowy harmonies and intricate keyboards of scratchy mod 78s from Thee Left Banke or the Zombies. But now, a dozen years after their last record, Hardly Electronic adds another layer of backward looking, not just to their influences but to the fuzzy Elephant Six pop revival that surrounded them the first time around.

The band’s members now live in different cities and have accumulated the usual mid-life baggage of jobs and marriages and children, but they sound remarkably untouched by all that. “Sloan Ranger,” one of the singles, bursts to life in a buoyant shuffle, all sharp, jutting guitars and wheedling organ, and soft blurrily harmonized vocals that shift from euphoria to melancholy in a measure or two. It’s quality pop a la the New Pornographers, full of a fun-house energy and slyly slanted with sarcasm. Sasha Bell, as before, sings with an endearing brashness, sugary soft but with a sardonic undertone. Chris Ziter again takes about half the lead vocals, in a reticent drawl that falls somewhere between Stuart Murdoch and Dean Wareham. And Jeff Baron plays a chiming, radiant 1960-redolent guitar with more than a whiff of the Byrds.

Yet while “Sloan Ranger” and other songs drop plenty of references to an imagined Brit Pop past (“Sloan Ranger”), the most touching of these songs invokes more recent memories.  I like “Patsy Desmond” the best, for its moody, jazzy piano and slinky violin, its whispery romantic vocals (Ziter mostly, with Bell in lush counterpoint) and its hushed dioramas of 00s indie life in Alphabet City and just south of Chicago (the lost indie siren of the song promises to tell all her friends at Drag City about something). It’s the sort of song that moves through a past that you maybe hadn’t even thought of as past yet, freezes the action and frames it in black and white.

Not all the songs on Hardly Electronic are as affecting – and some of them are just good bubbly pop fun. There are some misses – the country-ish “Bye Bye Crow” isn’t very good – but most are at least solid and surprisingly fresh, and a few are much better than that. Here’s to looking backwards and moving forward at the same time.

DOWNLOAD: “Patsy Desmond,” “Sloan Ranger”

BIRD STREETS – Bird Streets

Album: Bird Streets

Artist: Bird Streets

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: August 10, 2018

www.omnivorerecordings.com

BLURT premiered the Bird Streets track “Carry Me” recently – go HERE to check it out.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It should come as no surprise that singer John Brodeur and Jason Falkner – power pop hero from Jellyfish, The Three O’clock and a slew of stellar solo albums – would make solid music together. What is surprising is just how good they are combining talents. Bird Streets, their eponymous debut, is a fantastic blend of power pop and indie rock that manages to sound like one of the best ‘90s album that didn’t come out until now (for the record, this one was recorded between 2014 and 2016).

All of the songs here were written by Brodeur and both he and Falkner share vocals duties. Brodeur’s voice is simply sublime here, sounding a bit like Dan Wilson (one of the most underrated singers from the 1990s), and lyrically he is at the top of his game. Subtly brilliant lines like “I remember when we were tighter than Steely Dan” (“Betting on the Sun”), remind you just how much we’ve been taking him for granted over the past decade or so.

The dark “Pretty Bones” (and to a lesser extent “Bullets”) don’t really fit in with the other tracks, with the ominous strings and haunting lyrics bring down the vibe a bit, but there are plenty of astoundingly beautiful songs here to more than make up for it.

Here’s hoping Bird Streets is more than just a one-off project.

DOWNLOAD:Carry Me,” “Thanks For Calling” and “Betting on the Sun”

The Melvins 8/10/18, Englewood CO

Dates: August 10, 2018

Location: Gothic Theater, Denver CO

Live at the Gothic Theater, heavy metal was a-happenin’…

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY BEN CURNETT

If heavy music was ever summed up in one performance, it happened last Friday night in Denver when Melvins played to a near-capacity crowd at the Gothic Theater in Englewood, Colorado. I’m not saying that’s what happened. Metal comes in nearly as many flavors as Japanese Kit-Kats (try the black tea if you ever get the chance; skip baked potato), so pulling it all together on one stage, much less in one show, is a task for imbeciles. Any band that tries to be all things to all people sucks outright and is evil in all the ways that are no fun at all. Not like, “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!” evil, but more like, “Of course corporations are people!” evil, and they can go screw.

But that’s what makes Melvins so good live: they actually do it all, heavier than pretty much everyone, and it’s mind-numbingly, otherworldly good. They’re good expressly because they don’t try to be all things to all people, evil or otherwise. They’re just their own very odd, very loud selves. and that’s good enough to be the guys to sum it all up if … IF … heavy music could ever be summed up in one performance.

Which it can’t.

Still and yet, two bass players is a pretty good start. The newest Melvins LP, “Pinkus Abortion Technician” refers both to Jeff Pinkus, longtime Butthole Surfer and second-to-newest Melvins bassist, and the classic Butthole’s album “Locust Abortion Technician,” a collection of songs that still has my vote (cast when I was 12) for scariest record of all time. Pinkus was matched on all things bass just on the other side of the stage by Redd Kross, OFF!, and actual-newest-Melvins standard bearer Steven McDonald. McDonald sang two of the songs on the setlist (Redd Kross’s “What They Say,” The Rolling Stones’ “Sway”) like a rock star, which may sound redundant but bears distinction just because he 1) wore the flashiest suit I’ve ever seen outside of a Too $hort video, and 2) Pinkus is more like something else entirely. A dragster mechanic, maybe. Some gems from the new record came out in the show (“Stop Moving Down To Florida,” “Don’t Forget To Breathe”) as well as classics from all over the board (“Honey Bucket” from 1993’s “Houdini,” “Eye Flys” from 1987’s “Gluey Porch Treatments.”) There was no speaking, if you don’t count the Moving Down To Florida parts, which you shouldn’t. Just rock. That’s all.

Buzz Ozborne and Dale Crover, Melvins’ guitarist and drummer, head and heart, areolas and spleen, know their way around a live performance. It’s as if they have some ectoplasmic connection that leads audiences around like tour guides on Mars; without their guidance, you’ll probably die. This, I strongly suspect, is the reason Buzz wears a magic robe when he plays: Melvins actually HYP-MO-TIZE audiences with thunderous drums and squelching guitar, nonsensical lyrics and brain-rattling distortion that sounds like music but is actually a spaceship engine that’s fueled by 90 minutes of your life and spits out warm, disturbingly loud, humming goo.

 

 

GIANT SAND – Returns to Valley of Rain LP

Album: Returns to Valley of Rain LP

Artist: Giant Sand

Label: Fire

Release Date: August 10, 2018

www.firerecords.com

The Upshot: “Had an accident last night on Highway 95…” Howe Gelb & Co. revisit the band’s 1985 debut in classic freewheeling Gelb fashion. Go HERE to read our new interview with Gelb, in which he discusses his thumbing through the back pages and his long, colorful career.

BY FRED MILLS

It was just three years ago when England’s Fire Records, as part of their ongoing back catalog overhaul of Giant Sand and Howe Gelb, reissued G.S. debut Valley of Rain, remastering and expanding the 1985 gem (as “Beyond The Valley of Rain”) for a 30th anniversary edition. Included were extensive, fresh liner notes penned by Gelb, who duly related a conversation with his dear friend Rainer Ptacek, the late Tucson slide guitarist and songwriter with whom he’d formed Giant Sand precursor Giant Sandworms in the early ‘80s, and who would appear on many subsequent G.S. albums: “Rainer was right,” wrote Gelb, “when he said we need to make a music that won’t embarrass us ions from now (he tended to teach without really teaching).”

Prophetic—and well-taught/learned—words. Valley of Rain, whether in its original Black Sand Records/Enigma iteration or the aforementioned 2015 edition that boasts a bonus disc of outtakes and proximate live material from ’86 (the latter with Ptacek in the lineup), more than simply holds up to this day. It’s as seminal as other Amerindie titles from that period, notably the desert rock/proto-Americana and neopsychedelic/Paisley Underground scenes of the mid- and late-‘80s that included the Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, Rain Parade, Sidewinders, Zeitgeist, etc. And apparently Gelb made a similar determination in 2018 that, even after helming more than 60 albums to date, VoR was worthy of the proverbial Stetson-tip. Ergo, Returns to Valley of Rain, a track-by-track re-recording—with some notable tracklist shuffling—of the ’85 platter.

From time to time you hear of artists who gripe about this-or-that’s earlier release’s faults and how they’d love to attempt a re-do. Once in awhile they might actually go through with the threat—among the adapters, for better or less, Camel, Girlschool, Mike Oldfield, Car Seat Headrest, Suicidal Tendencies, and a slew of metal bands—but more often they simply settle for re-cutting individual songs and, of course, trotting out the “classic album done live” trope, once a mainstay of ‘70s classic rock icons but, nowadays, a staple of the touring-circuit scene. (Not to mention the bread-and-butter of tribute bands, who bank on the enduring appeal of, I dunno, Beatles/Doors/Pink Floyd and Sublime/G’n’R/Phish appeal to keep their mortgage payments up to date.)

Howe Gelb, though, has the luxury of (a) never releasing an album considered so commercially iconic that going the contemporary remake/remodel route would be a reputational risk; and, (b) having a uniquely dedicated fanbase that both knows his records and understands how being a Gelb/G.S. fan means enjoying and trusting the songwriter’s freewheeling, freeform view of his own back catalog. It’s no secret that Gelb takes a Dylan-like approach to song-selection and –rendition.

Returns to Valley of Rain, then, is a start-to-finish delight. It’s technically a re-do of the original UK cassette version of Valley of Rain, which had 11 tunes compared to the 10-song US LP. (Fire’s 2010 CD reissue added a pair of bonus tracks prior to their full-blown expansion in 2015.) And as noted above, it also toggles the track order; for example, where the original album opened with the title track followed by “Tumble and Tear,” the new one reverses the pair, effectively making the latter a kind of brusque overture/prologue that sets up the deeply anthemic groove of “Valley of Rain—with its irresistible riff, memorable melody, and honeyed harmony vocals from Annie Dolan—as a thematic focal point for the album.

RtVoR rocks its desert ass off from start to finish, whether we’re talking about the straight-up Nuggets-worthy garage of “Man of Want,” the almost-but-not-quite metal of “Black Venetian Blind,” the lumbering Old Pueblo howl that is “Barrio,” or the aforementioned “Tumble and Tear,” a Jurassic stomp which, over the years has become a genuine show-stopper (check this relatively recent live version for proof).

Produced by Gelb and Gabriel Sullivan—a musical savant in his own right who came on board with Giant Sand as guitarist a few years ago—Gabriel Sullivan, and featuring guitarist/vocalist Dolan, veteran Tucson drummer Winston Watson (who is also a Dylan band alumnus), and regular Giant Sand bassist Thoger Lund (plus, on a couple of tracks, Kid Congo Powers and original G.S. bassist Scott Garber), the album’s a must-hear for any longtime fan of the band. Intriguingly enough, it also can serve as a righteous introduction for newcomers to the Gelb oeuvre, which has been known to swerve all over the rock ‘n’ roll highway, sometimes to the discombobulation of less-discerning ears and sensibilities. This album, though, is about as straightforward as Gelb gets, and it also sounds like it was a helluva lot of fun to make. In my book, that impossible-to-quantify quality will always be a selling point.

Available on digital, CD, black vinyl, and sweet limited edition blue wax (plus, from Burger Records, limited edition cassette), and with a download code, it’s an essential addition to the G.S. collection.

DOWNLOAD: “Barrio,” “Tumble and Tear,” “Death, Dying and Channel 5,” “Valley of Rain”