Monthly Archives: April 2017

ARCADE FIRE – The Reflektor Tapes: A Film By Kahil Joseph

Title: ARCADE FIRE - The Reflektor Tapes

Director: Kahil Joseph

Release Date: February 24, 2017


Those only vaguely familiar with Arcade Fire and their proficiency for staying several steps ahead of the musical curve may not find further insight in this daring two disc documentary meant to showcase the band in concert and commentary.

Shot partially in black and white before segueing into color, the rapid scene switching, disjointed imaging, and schizophrenic cinematic set-ups all reinforce the unusual nature of their quirky indie pedigree. That leads less to accessibility and more towards a sense of general mayhem. As a backstage document it offers some opportunity for band members to speak candidly about the music and their involvement with the band, but the rapid shift from scene to scene compels the viewer to lean in order absorb all the sights and sounds. Disc two makes much more sense from a musical perspective, in that captures a complete concert and allows a continuous thread of music rather than simply a series of strange scenes that reflect an extreme psychedelic sensibility.

Given a sound that often verges on cosmic cacophony, that’s appropriate, but viewers might be best advised to become familiar the band’s song selection before subjecting themselves to a total sensory assault.

The Damned + Bleached 4/19/17, Denver

Dates: April 19, 2017

Location: Summit Music Hall, Denver CO

Summit Music Hall in Denver follows up on previous Riot Fest appearance, this time for a special 40th anniversary bash.


Wow, The Damned come back to Denver within 2 years of their last stop! Excellent! True, they visited our fair city in 2015 as part of that year’s Riot Fest and scorched the stage (they were my favorite band of that years R.F.). Here they were back on their 40th Anniversary tour  hitting most major outposts in America and beyond. Hard to believe but yes, it was 1977 when their classic debut, Damned Damned Damned was released. This crowd seemed hungry with anticipation.

Opening were Southern California all-female band Bleached (actually I think their drummer is male) who it had been a few years since I’d last seen them and they seem to have added more melody to their hard-rockin’ tunes. The core of the band is sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin who both have plenty of energy on stage (head waggin’ their brightly colored hair). They don’t have a new record out (their latest one was 2016’s Welcome the Worms on the Dead Oceans label) so I’m guessing they’re working on  a new one.

The Damned, straight from the UK and led by original members Dave Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible (also longtime members on keyboards Monty Oxymoron, bassist Stu West and drummer Pinch) came to entertain and that they did.


Early in the set my wife looked at me and said “Is Vanian’s arm in a sling?!” I squinted and looked and by golly it was (a fall on stage in Sacramento a few days earlier) but it didn’t stop the long-running Dracula from bouncing all over the stage, ever-present shades on and having a beard.

They went from opener ‘Melody Lee” into “Generals” into “Disco Man” (which Captain Sensible pointed out an audience member and called him that…”You sir are …disco man!”) into “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” and onward.

While Vanian was dressed like Lon Chancey (or Boris Karlof) The Captain had his usual bright, fiery pants on, white sunglasses and red beret that I’m convinced never comes off of his head. Monty’s crazy ‘fro swing with every glide and tinkle of his keyboard. After all these years the band still seems like they’re having a blast on stage and the audience feeds off it as well.

After those first 4 cuts they launched into a few memorable covers including “The Last Time” (the Stones classic that seemed impromptu) and Love’s “Alone Again Or” (which was on their Anything album).  They also pulled out vintage Damned originals like “Love Song,” “Machine Gun Etiquette” and “Ignite” and ended the set with a rousing rendition of “Neat Neat Neat.”

The sold out (or close to it) venue was not going to let these guys get off that easy  and they came out for not one but two encores. During the first one we heard “Noise Noise Noise’ and “Smash It Up” while in encore number two they pulled out “Nasty,” “Fan Club” and ended it all with crowd-favorite “Anti Pope” and called it an evening.

These guys may not be doing this forever (forty years for godsakes) so if they come to your town forget groceries that week and buy a Damned ticket. You won’t regret it (and may even lose a few pounds!).


VISUAL ABUSE: Jim Blanchard’s Graphic Art 1982-2002

Title: Visual Abuse

Author: Jim Blanchard / Introduction by Jim Woodring

Publisher: Fantagraphics Books

Publication Date: October 26, 2016

The Upshot: An anarchic ride for sure, and a must-read (see?) for any fan of underground art.


By way of full disclosure: From around 1992 – 1997 I was the books/magazines buyer for an indie record store in Tucson, Arizona, and if you have a sharp memory of that time, you’ll know that the aforementioned period was what I’ll tentatively peg as “alternative lifestyles in ascendancy” for the book biz. Not only did I sell boatloads of tattoo/piercing books, straight-up rock bios, and (cough) The Anarchist Cookbook (ask me sometime about the grilling I got one afternoon from a couple of Tucson detectives looking into the presumably illegal escapades of a local punk “subversive”), the underground art milieu was in full bloom, along with its printed chroniclers.

Fantagraphics was not only one of the distributors we ordered from, it was a cultural force of nature in its own right, playing host/den-mother to its own stable of urban guerillas. So thumbing through this recent hard-cover volume from the publishing house, which collects, per the subtitle, native Texan/subsequent Northwest underground artist Jim Blanchard, I’m immediately struck by how delightfully right the guy’s work seems—and by that I don’t mean “for that era,” but instead, for the enduring underground aesthetic.

By way of additional disclosure: Somewhere in my attic is a sizable collection of old underground comics, hippie-era artifacts containing ground zero epistles from the likes of Crumb, Rodriguez, Griffin, Wilson et al. If you were born at the right time, it was a no-brainer to graduate from Mad and Cracked to Zap and its printed peers; and then, sometime later, after punk hit, to the sometimes realistic/sometimes impressionistic/always outrageous  work of folks like Blanchard.

Visual Abuse is a flashback, for sure, stuffed with psychedelic skeletons, colliding craniums, bouncing breasts, exploding eyeballs, morphing mutants, and even the stray construction worker (?). More to the point, this handsomely appointed 200-page volume serves up a buffet of twisted brilliance that neatly presents an artist evolving alongside the culture he was chronicling and/or commenting on. Early in the game, Blanchard is found publishing his fanzine Blatch, duly inspired by punk and hardcore and soon dispensing photocopied word of wisdom alongside vivid pen-and-ink depictions of the likes of Black Flag, T.S.O.L., etc. Within a couple of years he’s doing concert posters and handbills, and with a relocation to Seattle in 1987, Blanchard, along with similar talents such as Charles Burns, crafting delicate (ahem) visual come-ons for potential attendees of upcoming shows by Skin Yard, the Fluid, Killdozer, Mentors, Butthole Surfers, and some three-piece called Nirvana.

In addition to reproductions of gig posters, the book includes Blanchard’s album art: Coffin Break sleeves for Sub Pop and C/Z, New Bomb Turks, Italy’s Raw Power, Mooseheart Faith (apparently a fave of Blanchard’s—and mine, too, with 1991’s Magic Square of the Sun a psychedelic gem as masterful as any of the Fillmore-era artists), and others.

Blanchard would digress into pure fantasy, both drug-induced and sexual in thrust; on occasion his sketches of females may border on sexism, but most of the images portray them as coming from a position of strength or power, such as the faux-Blaxploitation poster starring a giant Afro hair-do, and one for a “Patty Hearst is Tania” film. Here and there the book also displays some relatively straightforward narrative comic strips, like the chilling nine-panel “An abbreviated picto-history of bad crime in these United States,” about a pair of “big time hoods” who turned out to be just another pair of fuck-ups.

It’s an anarchic ride for sure, and a must-read for any fan of underground art, particularly those who came of age alongside Blanchard. As fellow artist Daniel Clowes testifies, in Blanchard’s honor, “A treasure trove of fucked-up shit from the dare end-times of a lost civilization.” You got that right. Now, more than ever.

Jay Som + The Courtneys 4/6/17, Denver

Dates: April 6, 2017

Location: Lost Lake Lounge, Denver CO

Lost Lake Lounge plays host to one Flying Nun band and one Polyvinyl band. TMOQ, no lie.


Man, I really wanted to get there early enough to catch Denver’s Shady Elders who, though I’ve heard some of their tunes, have yet to catch them in a live setting, but it was not to be. By the time I showed up they were breaking down.

I sure as hell wasn’t going to be late for Vancouver, BC’s Courtneys. I love their new record (II, out now on New Zealand’s classic Flying Nun label…I’d heard it’s the first non-NZ band to be signed to Flying Nun and there’s some truth to that).  The band is three gals who I believe are all originally from cowtown Calgary but headed west to Vancouver to seek their fame and fortune. Ok, probably not that but to at least make some noise with friends. They were each in several different bands before finding their groove as a trio making fuzzy, infectious pop. Said new record is just fabulous but live you see their interplay, the drummer (Jen) does most (all) of the singing while the bass player (Sydney), the talkative one in the band, held down the low end and the quiet, tattooed guitarist (Courtney) eked out some of the coolest sounds out of her instrument. Cuts like “Silver Velvet,” “Virgo” and “Minnesota” take on the feel of classics the first time you hear them. If The Courtneys come to your town do not miss them.


I’d only heard about Jay Som (pictured at the top) a week or so ago, but my pal insisted they were worth staying for and they were (though due to some unforeseen circumstances, a babysitting snafu, my pal and I had to leave after about 30 minutes).

Still, though the band looked and seemed pro (I snickered to my buddy that the guitarist looks like a high school gym teacher (“One more smirk like that Hinely and you’ll be running laps for the whole class!”) while the long-haired bassist looked like a member of Soundgarden, rocking back and forth for the whole set, and the versatile drummer was flat-out excellent.

Up front is Jay Som (real name Melina Duterte) a short, laid-back woman with loads of low-key charisma. I still have yet to hear her 2016 debut Turn Into (Polyvinyl) but the latest one Everybody Works (on the same label) is a real head turner with sneaky melodies and danceable bits all over the place. We had to leave just as the groove was sinking in but I was glad that I was able to catch at least part of Jay Som and her band. I’m staying to the end next time!


THE BLACK WATCH- The Gospel According to John

Album: The Gospel According to John

Artist: Black Watch

Label: Eskimo

Release Date: April 21, 2017

The Upshot: Three decades on, the quality of guitar pop songcraft remains more than just high – it’s inspiring.


Few things are predictable in this world. But one that generally is: if The Black Watch releases a new record, it’s bound to be good. Sure enough, The Gospel According to John – the L.A. act’s fifteenth album, give or take a half dozen EPs – is damn good. Leader John Andrew Frederick long ago established his mastery of taking his influences, from the Beatles to My Bloody Valentine, and distilling them down into his own vision of literate indie rock, and he’s in top form here. “Whence” and “The All-Right Side of Just OK” mix shoegazing guitars with unfancy pop hooks, with a motorik rhythm sneaking into the latter. “Orange Kicks,” “Satellite” and “A Story” add considerable rock muscle, the latter stretching out in a way that makes it a natural show-closer. The band also revisits “Oscillating,” from its fine 2011 LP Led Zeppelin Five and reminds us how easy Frederick makes doing simple pop songs look with “Jealously.”

There’s no overarching theme or sense of purpose here, unless the cheeky wit of the title serves as a guiding principle. The Gospel According to John is simply a collection of extra-strength guitar pop tracks that should inspire delight in fans and jealousy in peers. As this LP proves, TBW is nearing its 30th (!) anniversary, and unlike so many bands of advancing age, continues to get better and better.

DOWNLOAD: “A Story,” “Orange Kicks,” “Whence”


THE MUFFS – Happy Birthday To Me

Album: Happy Birthday to Me

Artist: Muffs

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: March 03, 2017


The Upshot: 1997 gem, newly expanded, and loaded with hooks and ‘tude.


The Muffs may have been out of the spotlight for a decade, but they’re certainly making up for lost time. They turned is an absolutely stellar reunion album in 2014, with Whoop De Doo, and have spent the past couple of years touring, making up for lost time. On top of that, Omnivore Recordings has been religiously re-releasing their earlier efforts, the latest being Happy Birthday To Me.

Originally out in 1997, the songs here hold up remarkably well two decades on. Cramming this record with more hooks than their first two efforts, this was the band’s first album without an outside producer. Turns out they did just as well on their own. On a song like “Pennywhore” (one of the catchiest tracks the band ever wrote) or “You and Your Parrot,” you can’t help but wonder why The Muffs weren’t just as big as their labelmates Green Day (to be honest Kim Shattuck had better lyrics than Billy Joe and the boys).

The re-release, like Omnivore’s earlier offerings, includes a number of previously unreleased tracks. In this case, the UK single “Pace” and half a dozen demo versions. Revisiting their back catalog, The Muffs prove once again that they should be treated like Pop Punk royalty. All hail the monarchy.

DOWNLOAD: “Pennywhore,” “Crush Me” and “You and Your Parrot”



Album: Be Myself

Artist: Sheryl Crow

Label: Warner Bros.

Release Date: April 21, 2017

The Upshot: Emotional, frequently upbeat, and a rich portrayal of an artist’s interior life.


Sheryl Crow is back. The nine-time Grammy award-winning artist is releasing Be Myself and it is going to be an album that will be played throughout the years to come. The songs are passionate, the type that everyone will be able to relate in one way or another to each one. Some are upbeat, some are emotional, and some are reminiscent of some of her past music. The drums, guitar, and bass are phenomenal as well. Sheryl Crow is an artist who has been there and done that, and somehow, she keeps coming back, better than ever, and an artist who puts herself into her music. Be Myself is truly a look inside the life of Sheryl Crow:

  • Alone in the Dark – Good upbeat beginning using guitar and drums to lyrics that are in a certain way, kind of sad. Great song for those who have heartache. Overall a nice upbeat song from an artist who brings herself into her music her way.
  • Halfway There – Nice rocking song that will make you want to move your groove thing. A good tap your foot song. This is the song that will make you want to rock.
  • Long Way Back -Love the drums in the beginning! Nice guitar solo in song! If you like guitars you will enjoy both guitar solos. Catchy little tune that will be a favorite by many.
  • Be Myself– Reminiscent of earlier songs from her long and successful career. Straightforward lyrics and good music. A great song.
  • Roller Skate – A different kind of song but in a good way. A nice change in the middle. This song is a nice uptempo kind of song.
  • Love will Save the Day – Slower, dream-like song that will take you to another place, full of hope.
  • Strangers Again – Another rocking song. Good guitar and drums.
  • Rest of Me – A folkish feel in the beginning that works nicely. Love the guitars in this song. Introspective lyrics that will hit the sensitive hearts.
  • Heartbeat Away – Dark song, but I like it. One of those songs that will stick in your head in a good way, with solid guitar, bass, and drums. The lyrics this time seem more like a story.
  • Grow Up – Great beat! A really catchy tune, one to sing along to at concert.
  • Woo Woo – Good rock beginning. Another song that will most definitely be sung along to at concert. A very upbeat song, it’s the type of album closer that will leave you feeling good.

Overall, this album shows an artist revisit her past and embrace her future in music. This is a rare album that is upbeat while also showing an emotional side that we all have felt from time to time. Sheryl Crow is presenting a great musical journey with Be Myself. It’s a journey that everyone should get on board with, one that will be listened to for a very long time.

DOWNLOAD: “Alone in the Dark,” “Be Myself,” “Woo Woo”

Photo credit: Mark Seliger

Real Estate 4/12/17, Denver

Dates: April 12, 2017

Location: Gothic Theatre, Denver CO

Happy birthday, Tim. At the storied Gothic Theatre, the acclaimed indie rockers were anything BUT gothic. View Real Estate tour dates HERE.


I got there too late to catch opening act, harpist Mary Lattimore, but got there in time to get good seats for New Jersey’s own Real Estate, up in the balcony. I don’t usually sit for gigs but some pals wanted to so what the hey (plus it was my birthday so we celebrated in style).

I’d seen Real Estate a few other times live, in fact the previous time being at the Gothic, and while they’re not the most exciting live band they more than make up for it with songs and nuance. They’ve been compared to another New Jersey act, The Feelies, and that comparison is fair, though not always completely accurate. They’re touring for their 5th album,  In Mind (Domino Records)  which seems to be as critically acclaimed as the previoius ones were. To put it simply, critics love this band.

Though leader Martin Courtney writes all of the songs, one of his main cohorts, Matt Mondanile, has left the band to focus more on his own project, Ducktails, but was replaced by a more than able new guitarist (Julian Lynch) and the band didn’t seem to miss a step. Let’s not forget the keyboardist, Matt Kallman, who looked like a reject from the Seton Hall men’s basketball team. Oh also he had no shoes or socks on but the rest of the bad were fully clothed. Bassist Alex Bleeker chatted up the crowd, as always, while long-haired drumemr Jackson Pollis, did his thing, and very well I might add.

They opened with “Saturday” off their latest record, and also off said new record we heard chiming gems like “Darling,” “Stained Glass,” “Serve the Song” and “White Light.” The band, however, didn’t forget their back catalog, either, as we were treated to older cuts like “Youger than Yesterday” and “Suburban Dogs” (unfortunately no “Talking Backwards”).

But honest to goodness, Real Estate rocked on this evening. Not sure if it was due to guitarist Lynch who took Mondanile’s place, but the band really bit down and chewed for pretty much the whole set.

After an hour they’d called it a night, but came back out for a few encores. “Had to Hear,” “Two Arrows” and “Crime” (two of them off of 2014’s Atlas) and then called it a night as the close-to-sold-out crowd left with smiles and that look of contentment after a satisfying gig.




Album: Ooga Booga 10"

Artist: Schizophonics

Label: Pig Baby

Release Date: March 24, 2017

Schiz 1

The Upshot: With a sound hearkening back to the MC5’s Motor City ramalama, the San Diego trio unapologetically kicks out da… you know.


Ooga booga, indeed. San Diego’s Schizophonics—the unholy spawn of Roky Erickson, Sky Saxon, and Rob Tyner—serve up a sonic scorched-earth policy guaranteed to singe even your nether hairs. I mean, seriously, folks, the music on this EP erupts from the grooves with such primal velocity, you can practically see a hologram of guitarist Pat Beers in full stage-leaping flight hovering over the turntable. (Check these photos at their website for confirmation.) The trio has been around since 2009, built around the nucleus of Pat and Lety Beers, plus bassist Brian Reilly, and has a couple of 7”ers to their credit, on Munster and Ugly Things, so you know that’s a TMOQ.  Ooga Booga seriously ups the ante, with nary a throwaway or B-side among the five tracks here.

From the outset they serve due notice: “Ooga Booga Boogalo” commences with a brace of klassic Kinks-style riffage and a Kick Out The Jams-esque arrangement (hence the aforementioned Rob Tyner namecheck). That’s followed by the riotous rumble of “Electric,” powered by sinewy, fuzzed out leads and Pat’s extemporaneous grunts and whoops. Flip the platter and get caught in the “Rat Trap,” another Nuggets-esque garage rockin’ gem of vintage Yardbirds aplomb. “Two Thousand Seventeen,” with its Keith Moon-worthy percussion and dark chordage, contemplates our contemporary era of reverse evolution to signpost the annum  in much the same way the Stooges marked the year of 1969.  The band wraps things up with “Venus Transit,” another slab of MC5 ramalama, all chaos and convulsion with a take-no-prisoners ethos.

Whew. Six successive spins of the rec, and I’m exhausted. Partially deaf as well. If this band tours anywhere near you, don’t miss it. But make sure you don your flame-proof pants before entering the club….

Consumer note: The EP is pressed on electric orange 10” vinyl, and each of the 1,000 copies pressed comes in a hand-numbered sleeve. It’s like getting Record Store Day early, so what are you waiting for, punters?

DOWNLOAD: Aw, c’mon, I already TOLD ya all five songs are indispensable.




Album: We Will Rock 7” EP

Artist: Somerset Meadows

Label: Self-released

Release Date: October 28, 2016


The Upshot: The New Wave of the late ‘70s meets the alterna-nation of the early ‘90s.


Hey kids, nostalgic for the early/mid ‘90s? Me neither! The members of Portland’s Somerset Meadows clearly remember the era, but they’re smart enough not to emulate it despite having sonic overtones of Guided By Voices—which they preemptively state on their bio—as well as other indie/garage/lo-fi outfits such as the Grifters, Sebadoh, and the Mountain Goats. Like those avatars, SM have a knack for penning tuneful, hooky pop nuggets marked by careening guitars, riotous, Keith Moon-like drumming, and yowling vocals.

Lead track on this four-song EP (the follow-up to mini-album Time and Relative Dimensions in Sound) is “She Is Waiting,” a slice of revved-up British Invasion filtered through a Hold Steady lens, while the 1 ½-minute “Time to Shine” adds some surf-y riffage to the mix reminiscent of vintage Blondie. Hold that thought: this band wouldn’t have been out of place in new wave Manhattan, holding court in dives like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and going for broke in front of a leather jacketed crowd night after night. All four songs here inhabit that rock ‘n’ roll fairytale universe, and luckily enough, for us the setting is 2017.

This limited-edition (250 copies), hand-numbered vinyl platter may or may not be sold out by now, but even if it is, you can preview it at the Somerset Meadows Bandcamp page and buy it digitally.

DOWNLOAD: All four tracks. C’mon, what are you waitin’ for?