Monday, November 17, 2014


Let's make it brief and get this embarrassment out of the way. This 2CD set, now on the extremely estimable Superior Viaduct label (who here hasn't burst a blood vessel over their release schedule these past 24 months?), has been around in one form or another for nearly quarter of a century. I recall seeing ads for it in, err, Option magazine some time around the very dawn of the 1990s. I didn't pay any attention. Devo?! Why the hell would I care about those New Wavers? I actually owned the first two Devo albums on the compact disc format back in the 1990s: the editions released on Hank Rollins' Infinite Zero label. He had a good thing going there, and I figured that his stamp of approval meant something, even though at that time he was releasing the worst music of his career. Anyway, I played them a handful of times, got absolutely nothing out of the experience and traded them in about 6 months later. Thrilling, huh? This is why I do a blog: to regal you with such stories.

Skip to late last year. I look after Superior Viaduct's distribution Down Under - a job which is not as exciting as it sounds - but it has its benefits. Out of curiosity, since every fucking human being I hold dear to me has forever told me that early Devo is the duck's nuts, I asked the label for a freebie of the Hardcore Devo 2CD (it can also be attained as two separate vinyl volumes, one a single LP, one a double) in the next order and, upon receiving it have been eating all prior words I said about the band for the last 30-odd years of my life. Chowing down like a humiliated man possessed. Humble pie every fucking day, weeping quietly to myself, sobbing about what a fool I've been. I even re-bought the first two albums (and I like 'em, a lot).

But really what you need - what you probably already have - is Hardcore Devo, which contains all of the band's pre-major label recordings from 1974 - 1977 (basically the infamous demos which David Bowie and Iggy Pop pulled their collective dicks over), when they were but a group of basement-bound spuds from Akron, Ohio, writing and recording a slab of original (and boy, it is original) material on 4-track, hoping the world would one day share their vision. To say that the sounds of these recordings have blown my fucking mind the past year would be an understatement. I have had my head in the sand and up my arse: this is the most visionary 1970s rock & roll - completely out of lockstep with the rest of society - the US of A spat out during this era this side of Pere Ubu, Half Japanese, the Screamers and the Residents. They do not sit to the side of any of those bands: they sit among them. Some folks say they sit above them, but I'm not here to split hairs.

At this stage of the game, Devo were propogating a gonzoid form of post-hippie noise which blended elements of jagged Beefheart rhythms, an absurdist, Sparksian theatricality, the smarmy art-rock of Roxy Music and the wise-ass humour of Zappa before he got too annoying. And so much more. There's THREE ALBUMS worth of material here - two hours - and it's all good. Most bands have a tough time writing three great songs in their lifetime: Devo wrote and recorded three albums worth of all-killer/no-filler tuneage for their own amusement in the cultural wasteland of midwestern USA in the mid '70s, and 40 years later it still sounds better than nearly everything released since. I have listened to these recordings nearly every single day for 12 months - I should know what I'm talking about, even if I'm the last guy to be talking about it.

I'm told that the SV edition is the best-sounding version there's ever been of this set, much clearer and punchier than the old Rykodisc edition. I can't make comparisons, but I can say that, for a group of semi-impoverished outcasts recording in their basement on very basic equipment, Hardcore Devo sounds amazingly good. Every riff, quirk and minutae is captured on tape - it's 'lo-fi', sure, but given a Jim Steinman gloss, it wouldn't sound any better.

What the fuck. Stop reading this and start listening. No sound links here; you do the homework. I apologise for being over two decades late to the party.

Friday, November 07, 2014


You really are going to have to forgive me for my belated appraisal here of the bleeding obvious, but throughout the next few posts I will discuss some recordings I have flogged within an inch of their lives the past 12 months - recordings of a perhaps, shall we say, obvious nature (for those so inclined). They have, in a sense, become an audio obsession, soothing my soul in troubled times. Firstly, let's tackle the Butthole Surfers' major label debut from 1993, Independent Worm Saloon...

I purchased this CD for a ha'penny approximately a year ago, an exchange of cash and goods brought on by a conversation I had with an old friend about how the Buttholes kinda ate shit after their classic albums on the Touch & Go label. Nay, he exclaimed: whilst 1990's Pioughd might have landed on earth as an uninspired clunker, the band then hit a new high w/ their John Paul Jones-produced major label debut (the album I speak of) and then chugged along with the commercially-successfully (though awful - in a kind of Beck/Fun Lovin' Criminals/Bloodhound Gang vein) Electric Larryland in 1995. The rest is history, and I won't speak of it. The point is thus: 1993's Independent Worm Saloon (IWS) came and went and I paid little attention. I couldn't fathom that the band could make an album I'd actually consider 'good' at that point in time and I dutifully ignored it.

I recall a review featured in Eric (Oblivian) Friedl's Wipe Out! fanzine at the time, and the gist was thus: not a total waste of time, but close to it, and so far as 'psychedelic punk' (or whatever) goes, the Buttholes had been usurped by the Boredoms in recent years, and at this stage they were treading water. But this is all merely context and back-peddling, for the early '90s were a different era, and I was a different man. The fact is, was and remains as so: Independent Worm Saloon, whilst far more straight-up 'rock' than anything the band had done before, was also the best thing the group had done since 1987's Locust Abortion Technician, and for my two cents remains the last great recording from the band known as the Butthole Surfers.

Sure, Gibby had been hanging around with Ministry's Al Jourgensen a lot at the time, recording music together and engaging in other, even more unsavoury pursuits, and that, uh, Ministry's 'sound' did rub off onto the Buttholes a touch, but the tough metallic delivery of the tunes here, augmented by the band's natural sense of fried psychedelia makes for an absolutely killer mix. When I recently described this record to a friend as a 'fantastic psych-metal' record, I think he got it all wrong (he turned his nose up as if I was describing a Limp Bizkit or Dream Theatre platter to him).

IWS has a swag of ace tunes, possibly the only drawback being that it's simply too long: being the Golden Age Of the Compact Disc, where it seemed necessary for every band to make their albums 50 - 60 minutes long, it clips at just over an hour. Still, with songs like the opener, 'Who was In My Room Last Night?' (oh lordy, there's Flea in that clip!) powering in, the proceedings kick off to a good start indeed. 'Tongue' sounds like it could've been lifted from Hairway To Steven, but has a much tougher sound and even breaks out ever-so-briefly into speed-metal riffery. 'Goofy's Concern' is one of the best tracks, showcasing Paul Leary's knack at the riff (let me also give honourable mention to 'Dust Devil'), and my fave remains 'Strawberry', a rocker which, despite its obvious 'big' sound, still vibrates like the band which made Rembrandt Pussyhorse. If anything, IWS is slightly one-dimensional - it features no goofy detours of the past, such as 'Kuntz', 'John E. Smoke' or 'Moving To Florida' (good tracks which open a bit of space) - but the dimension it inhabits isn't a bad place to be for an hour.

Hey, I could link every damn song to a Youtube clip, but you do the legwork. Or maybe you already own it and know everything I'm currently telling you. A bunch of '80s underground vets made the major-label move in the early '90s and some made serious artistic missteps in the process (some just made career missteps). That's for the history books. I wouldn't have admitted it at the time, but Independent Worm Saloon certainly ain't one of them. For a relentless slice of psychedelic Texan heavy metal bankrolled by the corporate demons at Capitol-EMI, you couldn't ask for more. It's a party-rock album par excellence.

Monday, November 03, 2014

I'm a little rusty at this, so please be gentle with me. Yes, late last year - 11 months ago, in fact - I walked away from this blog, wiped my hands of it and told myself I'd never go back. Well, it wasn't quite that dramatic, but it was close. My personal/work life underwent several upheavals and dramas, and essentially I felt that I didn't need nor did I want the burden of being expected to deliver 'the goods' with a blog which apparently actually boasted something known as a 'following' (I'm not tooting my own horn here, and there's no time for false humility: people from all over the globe, whether by accident or design, do actually read this blog). And so walk away I did, justifying my absence from it by pretending that it was all behind me, that it meant nothing to me. I haven't even checked my lexdev Yahoo account in over 6 months to see if there's been any correspondence, and given how much spam that account received on a weekly basis, I'm a little afraid to open it. Does anyone care about a revived Lexicon Devil? Possibly not, but it's something I need to do. I need a creative outlet which stretches my mind further than witless Facebook updates and barking at people on street corners.

Anyway, enough of the therapeutic hand-wringing, because no one reads this blog to hear about my personal dramas. I will ease myself into this with an easy entry: an assessment of Fleetwood Mac's Then Play On LP from 1969. If you think I've gone off the charts with my musical tastes, then I'm happy to upset you. In near-future posts, I will discuss the music of the Butthole Surfers, Devo, Hoss, Native Cats, Ry Cooder, Van der Graaf Generator, Ty Segall, Purling Hiss, Keith Jarrett, Sparks, Descendents, Martin Rev, The Who, HTRK, 10cc, Cheap Time and other artists who have kept insanity at bay the past 12 months. There have been two developments in my music-listening habits the past year: firstly, I have been listening to a lot more contemporary music than I had been for the prior decade, a lot of it being Australian (we antipodeans have entered a new Golden Age Of Sound with the likes of Total Control, Nun, Dick Diver, Ausmuteants, Native Cats, Living Eyes, etc., etc. and soaking up their wares has helped refrain me from becoming a hopelessly backwards-looking relic); and secondly, I have taken it upon myself to subscribe to Spotify, the music streaming service apparently designed by Satan Himself, but one whose politics I won't go into in this forum (as a sidenote: it is mighty odd that some compadres of mine have ascended their collective high horse in reaction to my subscribing to such a corporation, given their years upon years of illegal downloading which currently clog up their hard drives. Hey, my streaming is paying the artist a pittance, but at least it's something). Anyway. Spotify has allowed me to listen to a lot of music I otherwise wouldn't have easy access to, and given the fact that my collection of vinyl/CDs/cassettes/fanzines/books/etc. has reached a stage of utter madness and is something I really don't need to add to at all (I'm on a strict no-buying policy for the foreseeable future), streaming new music has been my listening mode of choice for unheard sounds. If you have a problem with that, contact my social secretary.

If you've been orbiting the music-dork stratosphere the past few decades then you've undoubtedly heard the line about Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac being the bomb in regards to Brit blues-rock of the 1960s. The band at this stage were of course an entirely different beast to the zillion-selling soft-rock cocaine cowboys (and girls) of the mid/late '70s and beyond, and in regards to 'Brit blues-rock', do not be afraid. The 'Mac kept it hard and tight, keeping their ouvre (at least when Green was with them) far astray from the bantamweight noodling of Clapton and his cohorts. I had forever kept my distance from this era of the band simply because I didn't imagine them to be that good, and that's because Brit blues-rock of the late '60s I have always found to be a fairly tedious prospect, with obvious exceptions. Peter Green was/is obviously a troubled soul and his story is well known. A Syd Barrettesque character in some ways, he's seen by many as the guiding light in a pioneering band who had to exit the stage to battle his own demons as the group he once lead gained phenomenal levels of fame and money in his absence. He also released an incredible solo album in 1970, just upon his departure from FM, entitled End Of The Game, a freeform/experimental instrumental disc which is well worth your trouble.

By 1969, the band had already released two LPs and secured US/UK hits with 'Black Magic Woman' and 'Albatross', but it was '69's Then Play On which really brought out a playful looseness within the group and a sound they'd never again replicate. Sonically, you could place this era of FM as some sort of meeting point of early Led Zep and early Groundhogs, but with more expansive and ambitious songwriting in tow, one which could encompass quiet ballads, bucolic instrumentals, elongated instrumental passages and some really hard and aggressive blues-influenced rock & roll. The debut of guitarist Danny Kirwan in the group - he wrote some of the LP's best songs - really paid off. There's several different versions of the album, there being slightly different original UK/US editions, a revised US edition and an expanded CD edition which takes on everything from from every issue available. Isn't this exciting? The version in my possession is a recent US CD edition, which replicates the revised US version from 1970, splicing some of the longer songs together (such as the brilliant, epic two-part 'Oh Well'), and inserting other tracks in different order, such as the beautifully plaintive instrumental, 'My Dream'. None of this information is particularly interesting unless you subscribe to MOJO magazine, but what is of great interest is just how excellent Then Play On truly is.

Audibly spruiking this album to all and sundry the past few months, I'm surprised by the broad fanbase it enjoys: 50-something No Wavers who bought it in the pre-punk mist, avant-krautrock types (there's certainly enough musical experimentalism present to cross over into that realm), indie snobs and, of course, the bog-standard rock slob. How did Then Play On fall into my lap? Whilst talking to Mr. Warwick Brown at Greville Records earlier in the year, he was so goddamn insistent of its genius that he simply gave me a copy of the CD. Gratis. He would not let me leave his store without a copy in my hand. His selling point was Green's soulful voice, the strength of the songwriting and the Zep-style riffery on display - his words. I say yes to all three. Within the first minute of the opener, 'Coming Your Way', which I played upon returning home from my jaunt, I was hooked. That instantaneous reaction happens just about never. Then Play On is absolutely essential listening - it should be held in just as high regard as the likes of Forever Changes and Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It sounds absolutely nothing like either of those albums, of course, but for sprawling eclecticism and a kindred adventurousness, they're surely distant cousins of some sort. Just because the band mutated into something else and sold a whole lotta units later on (and I should mount a defense re: Rumours/Tusk at a later date), such flagrant populism doesn't detract one iota from the greatness of their music. That much should be obvious.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

I've mostly steered clear of musical biographies the past decade. I'd rather listen to a band/artist/blowhard's music - assuming their music is actually worth listening to - than read about their life story. There are, of course, exceptions, but there are always exceptions. There are two things which have come to light the past four or so months of my life: A) I've been doing a lot of reading; and B) I have come to accept the fact that I am a rocker - always have been, always will be. Regarding the former: I don't watch TV, rarely watch movies these days (I have neither the time nor inclination at this point in time), and have had to take to a lot of public transport for work. That means a steady devouring of pages which encompass brows both high and low (from Iain Banks to trashy zombie-apocalypse thrillers), and in between I managed to make my way through this Mudhoney biography, given to me by a friend who works for the publishing company (which means he got it for free, the cheapskate).

I was about to take on the book at hand, but then I realised in my ramble that I hadn't even covered point (B) yet: I am a rocker. Oh yes, I am. That is, I have rediscovered and embraced my love for testicles-to-the-ceiling RAW ROCK & ROLL of a myriad stripes, and it has been my steady diet the past third of 2013. And that's meant Cheater Slicks, Hoss, AC/DC, Bored!, Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, Splatterheads, Motorhead, Replacements, King Crimson, Wipers, Discharge, etc. Sure, in between there's been bouts of ECM jazz, Steely Dan, Los Lobos, 10CC, Ry Cooder and Factory Records 12" comps - absolute nancy-boy maximum in extremis sonics - but that's coz I like to mix it up. And then there's Mudhoney. I've been spinning them an awful lot, too. Going to see them live next month, in fact: first time in 24 years. I gave the band a bit of an evaluation in the early days of this blog, mostly in relation to their rather excellent Since We Became Translucent 'comeback' disc of 2002 (they did come back, and they did it well: that's probably my fave full-lengther of theirs), and in my assessment I noted that the band were one whom I mostly ignored throughout the 1990s, or at least post-1991 or so. 'Grunge' had been and gone before it even hit the malls, and I just wasn't that interested. I didn't storm off in a huff - I just didn't pay any attention.

And in some sort of irrelevant, roundabout way, that brings me to Keith Cameron's Mudhoney: The Sound And The Fury From Seattle. Englishman Cameron is a rare breed indeed: an English music writer I don't wish to kill. No, really, he's good. I recall his words from old issues of MOJO magazine. In fact, I was in touch w/ him many moons ago and he used to give F/i great write-ups at the time. That aside, he knows his topic well, understands 'rock' and makes the story of Mudhoney an enjoyable and informative page-turner. The story of Mudhoney is, after all, an interesting one which brings together many threads of post-1980 American underground rock.

The roots of the band lie within the heart, soul and loins of a young Mark McLaughlin, AKA Mark Arm. Originally a hesher and FM-rock suburbanite digging the sounds of Rush, Aerosmith and the turgid muck of REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, et al, he had his head switched onto the New Wave and eventually punk rock then HC via a fairly typical Devo-cum-Stooges-cum-Black Flag series of epiphanies. He then went onto form the notorious Mr. Epp & The Calculations, a nyuk-nyuk HC-but-not-HC joke band in a vaguely Flipper/No Trend mold, before getting a little more serious in the pre-grunge 'supergroup' (only posthumously so) Green River, a band considered to be one of the great precursors to somethingorother, and also an outfit I always found to be remarkably unremarkable in every single way. I recall buying their Dry As A Bone 12" EP when I was but 16, and I traded it in a few months later. They were a strange beast, a meeting point twixt punk and '70s hard rock/metal, and not a particularly successful one at that - both aesthetically and commercially. I don't mean to rag on Green River - I've heard much worse excuses for rock bands in this life - and at the very least Cameron's book gives them a great deal of context and explains the band's sound and how it came about. It was that post-hey-day-of-HC period when punkers in a post-My War universe started digging the sounds of Master Of Reality and Toys In The Attic (the kinds of records they ditched after hearing Never Mind The Bollocks) all over again, and fused these sounds w/ the punk-noise they'd been digesting from the likes of the Meat Puppets, Black Flag, Buttholes, Void, Tales Of Terror, etc.

The story of Green River is an interesting one - and it's given considerable and worthy space in the book in question - because a failed band produced two highly successful but different outfits: Pearl Jam and Mudhoney. Oh, there's also Mother Love Bone in there, but they failed, too. Sure, Green River released discs on Sub Pop and Homestead at the time, but they couldn't draw much of a crowd outside of their home state and had they not spawned two big bands from their implosion, you'd probably rank 'em as a footnote in '80s u/ground rock on an equal footing with... oh, I don't know... Blood Circus or SWA? The music of Pearl Jam has always meant zip to me - there's way too much cheese in there for me to digest - but the book at least had me liking them as human beings. Sure, Stone Gossard comes across like an uptight putz, although Green River/Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament has a surprisingly solid background in HC and underground rock, and Cameron and Mudhoney themselves make an interesting point and distinction: they toured once with a successful Nirvana and were treated like a bunch of lepers, though every time they hit the road w/ Pearl Jam (and I was surprised to read that it's been a number of times), they get treated like kings by their more successful cousins and their roadcrew. Mark Arm also points out Kurt Cobain's bitching at Pearl Jam when both were competing for the grand slam title of being the Reigning King(s) Of Grunge: Cobain rightly derided PJ's mersh factor, although as Mark Arm points out, Jeff Ament had a much more solid grounding in undergound rock than the relative neophyte Cobain. Whatever! It's old news now, the Grunge Wars have been fought, people died and we've all moved on.

Mudhoney's rise was sudden and meteoric. They'd barely been together 6 months when the Limey press shat their collective pants and hailed them as the saviours of rock. The tail-end of the '80s was an interesting time to a young u/ground music enthusiast: something was in the air, something was going to break. The UK press flipped a collective wig over the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth and it seemed like they'd finally woken to the fact that there was more to life than Morrissey. Not that I gave a fuck (or even read) what the UK press said about anything, but their influence was wider and more immediate than a thousand issues of MRR/Flipside/Forced Exposure/Conflicts put together. Sad, but true. Mudhoney - that was Arm, w/ ex-Green River dude Steve Turner (he left GR early on, sensing a bogusness in the air), ex-Melvins party dude Matt Lukin and nice-guy skin-whacker Dan Peters - rode the wave like they didn't give a shit, and suddenly found themselves in the eye of the grunge storm, a cultural phenomenon which became the butt of hipsters' jokes (count me in there) as America (and the world)'s mall culture jumped on board. Candlebox, anyone? Thought not.

The '90s are a bit of a blur for me. I was young, drunk and stupid, and certain things just passed me by. Mudhoney's tenure on the Reprise/Warner label was one of them. By the time they started recording for the Warner Corporation, the thought of listening to a 'grunge' band like Mudhoney made me want to heave lunch, and I was off listening to other spheres of nonsense. Whatever! The facts are these: the band made three platters for Reprise, two of which are great (My Brother The Cow and Tomorrow Hit Today - the latter of which is totally out of print in all physical formats. I made perfunctory enquiries about a possible reissue and was told 'don't bother'), and one I've never heard - Piece Of Cake - which, according to fans and even the band itself, is a lazy, half-assed effort. Regardless, Cameron's book fills in the factual gaps and tells the story of the band's bumpy ride well, from Mark Arm's junk habit (call me naive, but I never knew!) to disputes between members (Steve Turner's desire to grab defeat from the jaws of victory certainly frustrated me, so I can only imagine what it must've been like to play in the band w/ the guy) to label hassles (Reprise A & R dude, David Katznelson, is the type of major-label A & R guy you will never see again) and the details in between.

The second phase of the band, starting w/ '02's Since We Became... is dealt w/ more briefly, but by then they'd almost hit the ranks of 'heritage acts' and the dramas of the band's life had become less frequent. Matt Lukin left and Australian emigre Guy Maddison took over on bass, members had families, Arm has kept himself a steady job at the Sub Pop warehouse for many years and Sub Pop's fortunes have gone up and up since the dawn of the 21st century, after a good half-decade or so in the doldrums-slash-near bankruptcy. Sub Pop's revival could largely be given credit to Andy Kotowicz, who worked at the label from the turn of the century as VP of sales and marketing until his tragic death in a car accident in 2011. The mention of his death in the book sent a shudder down my spine: I had no idea he had passed, and used to trade records/CDs w/ him over the years (the Sub Pop CDs I reviewed in the early days of this blog were all from him - he was also a big F/i enthusiast). I had wondered at intermittent moments over the past couple of years what had become of 'Andy K.', as I saw that he wasn't listed on the label's site as an employee anymore. That's the bad news, and I obviously wasn't the only one who thought he was a stand-up guy.

Mudhoney have now orbited earth for a quarter of a century or more, and yet haven't managed to totally embarrass themselves in the process. That's no mean feat. Mark Arm doesn't sling the guitar so much anymore, the band's last few records being more basic, straight-to-tape vocals/guitar/bass/drums affairs. I miss the twin-guitar line-up and hope that if they continue on that they do in fact return to the dual-guitar sound of yore, but that's not for me to decide. In hindisght, Mudhoney are certainly one of the finer/finest musical options from the US of A ca. the past 25 years. Like the Melvins - another extremely fine long-running ensemble from the Pacific North West, albeit one who keeps the world musically guesing far more than Mudhoney do - it seems like they've always been there, even when I ignore 'em for a solid decade, and a revisit every couple of years is worth one's time. If you're a big fan, you'll need to read Keith Cameron's book; if you're not, it might just make you one.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Oh... why not? The full movie is up: 1977's Roller Coaster. Let me give you a little bit of background: my brother and I were quietly, and then loudly, obsessed with this movie in the late '80s. My brother even named his band after it. It had been on late-night TV a couple of times, we taped it on VHS and kept the copy for rainy days. There were many such days. We knew it wasn't really that good - an enjoyable '70s thriller B-movie, at best - but something about its feel captured our imagination. It boasts a great cast who don an outrageous collection of '70s gear throughout (I think the fact that it was made in 1977 - THE YEAR OF PUNK - and based partly on the west coast of the USA, somehow piqued our interest as a cultural artifact), and the plot, about a pleasant young psycho who blows up roller coasters and bribes authorities in the process, moves quickly and rather stupidly, with the always hamfisted George Segal holding the dramatic *cough* weight of the pic, as well as its lame attempts at humour. None other than Henry Fonda is in there for a minute or two, speaking his lines w/ his hand out, waiting for this cheque, and you also get the great noir character actor Richard Widmark (you might not know the name, but you'll know the face) and a walk-on appearance from, err, a pre-fame Steve Guttenberg. The other great element of the film to recommend is the 'special guest appearance' from none other than Sparks(!). I've been on a bit of a Sparks bender of late - a report will hopefully come soon - and their live performance is something to behold. Roller Coaster is ultimately a pretty square film probably aimed at the family multiplex/drive-in market, so how Sparks, of all bands, wound up in it remains a mystery. I read that the Mael brothers had moved back to the US after years of success in the UK and Europe, and wanted to finally crack their homeland, so I guess they figured a brief role in a piece of schlock like Roller Coaster might do the trick. Who knows? You could do worse than kill under two hours of your life with this film. Thank or blame me later.
It appears that the Black Flag review below went, for the lack of a better word, 'viral', and had over 10 times the usual hits for a LexDev post. Good-o. And now you've probably heard the news: Ron Reyes has just quit the band (read here and elsewhere)... or maybe he was fired. One of the two. Reading his resignation letter almost made me feel bad for having written what I did about the guy: he's probably a nice dude, certainly a nicer cat than Greg Ginn, but that wouldn't take much. The soiling of a legacy continues... I guess I did witness history last week.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Yes, it's been a while. Nearly four months, I believe. I needed a hiatus, a break, an extended one, and so I treated myself to one. I'm back, but I don't know how regularly I'll be posting here. We'll just let events unfold as they may. I witnessed the travelling circus known as 'Black Flag' just two nights ago, and I've had several people imploring me to write a review of the show, and so I will...

There are many ways to preface such a review, most of them likely redundant. If you've been reading this blog over the past decade, you'll know my opinions regarding the band as they stood as an operational unit ca. 1976 - 1986. From their beginnings as Panic to their days as punk rock heroes and social pariahs to their later 'difficult' period - I like it all. No, I love it all. My second-fave platter of theirs is, after all, their last: In My Head. Greg Ginn's immense vision of a rampaging rock band redefining the genre through sheer discipline, hard work and an almost Nietzchean will-to-power ranks them as one of the finest musical ensembles there ever was. Throughout all their ups and downs, changes in gear shifts and musical direction, line-up difficulties, intra-band rivalries and expulsions, legal and police hassles, fan backlashes and more, there remains that band which moved mountains. What the band brought to cultural life in the late 20th century, via its own music, its progedy and its label, SST, so indelibly linked to Black Flag and all its spawn, still ranks for me as one of the high watermarks of life on earth ca. the last 41 years as I and/or we know it. And despite the travesties committed the past 6 - 12 months, I still think there is something there to behold. Ginn's recent activities don't spoil their legacy, because quite frankly, I consider them the actions of a mad man.

What has happened the past 6 - 12 months is well known: FLAG Vs. Black Flag, etc. It's all been very undignified for everyone involved, but Greg Ginn is a guy who's been slowly but surely removing himself from all sense of dignity the past 20+ years. Firstly, there was the SST label's decline from being the Sun/Chess of the 1980s to degenerating into a third-rate vanity imprint for Ginn's many irrelevant musical projects; the endless repackaging and recompiling of old material; the lawsuits; the fallouts w/ old band members, friends and employees; the lack of care given to SST's still-existing catalogue (remastering, anyone? repackaging?); and on and on...

All of that brings me to two nights ago. The band - that's Ginn, Ron Reyes (BF vocalist ca. 1979-'80), bassist Dave Klein and drummer Gregory Moore - headlined the Hits & Pits festival at the Palace Theatre, an ornate 1000+ venue in the heart of the city (or near enough), finishing the day after a litany of also-ran emo/pop-punk bands had graced the building w/ their presence (the line-up read like a Missing Link Records best sellers list ca. 1999). I got there relatively late, having absolutely no interest in any of the other bands playing (other than Ginn's other project, Good For You, who played very early on. They are essentially BF 2013 with pro skater Mike V on vocals instead: friends who saw them said they were better than 'Flag themselves, but that wouldn't be a struggle), although I did slog my way through interminable sets by Sweden's No Fun At All (cookie-cutter '90s pop-punk) and Boysetsfire (indescribably punishing emo-rock which alternated twixt operatic yodelling and death-metal grunts... you really had to be there, but think yourself lucky you weren't). I deserve a medal for that effort alone.

The venue was roughly 2/3rds full and, at a guess, it was mostly people who couldn't give a shit about Black Flag circa any time whatsoever, and thus when Boysetsfire had finished torturing all and sundry, the place cleared out pretty heavily. Some headliners. Black Flag's bad rep - they'd been stinking up the east coast of Australia to no acclaim throughout the week - had preceeded them in a major way. For the life of me, I struggled really hard to convince anyone to come along, and I am friendly with more than a few people who consider themselves fans of the band in at least some guise. I went with my brother and Bits Of Shit drummer 'Pete', bumped into our mutual friend Adam and his brother and that made it the five of us hanging out for the night. It was a strange experience attending a Black Flag show in 2013 and not knowing just about anyone else in the entire venue.

The band hit the stage late - after 12, way past my bedtime these days - and we made up our way to the front and waited for the disaster to unfold. It took 3 or 4 songs for said disaster to take place, but when it did, it didn't cease until curtain time. There are many problems with what Ginn is doing w/ his own legacy at this point in history regarding dragging the BF name through the mud, and I'll illuminate just a couple: firstly, the band he's chosen to represent his most famous creation is made up of a bunch of worthless schlubs who can't hold a beat and have absolutely zero stage presence. Case in point: Ron Reyes. A man mostly forgotten to history except for his appearance in the original Decline... film, he was always my least-favourite 'Flag vocalist, but then again, he's the only ex-member of the band who'll even talk to Ginn these days, so I guess beggars can't be choosers, and given Reyes' lack of public profile the past 3 decades, I can only assume that there was some mutual begging going on. Reyes cut a cool figure as a lean, poor, smart-arsed Puerto Rican teen emigre who lived in a basement closet in his film days (that's Decline... from 1979), and he certainly gave a spirited performance 34 years ago on celluloid, but for me he lacked the gravitas needed for a BF vocalist. BF's music is heavy, and Reyes isn't. He's slightly portly now and cuts an even less impressive figure. He screamed, he yelled, but it was all for nought. It was a sub-Rollins phone-in performance not worthy of the lamest BF covers band. But he's not the worst of Black Flag's problems, because that remains their rhythm section.

It boggles the mind that Greg Ginn - the man who made dedication, craft, hard slog and the idea of musicianship in punk rock a good thing - could settle for these two beatless bumpkins. Gregory Moore - the cosmic shoeless one behind the skins - has a strange knack for fucking up just about every song he plays. If he's not behind the beat, he's screwing up a fill. BF songs are all about tension/release, and that's what made them so different to many of their HC contemporaries. Ginn has always said that he considered his music in 'Flag as a sort of modern blues (BB King's his hero!), and he is correct. Not only aesthetically were BF a form of urban, white-man blues, but the music was unusual for punk rock in that it had swing, it had form. Other than the Ramones-damaged Nervous Breakdown EP, which was mainly whiter-than-white 4/4 punk blitz, BF's music was about building up the tension then releasing, the moments in between, the fills, the rolls. Ginn's new band masters none of the above. Moore can barely even perform a basic drum roll or hit hard enough to create said tension (think of the way 'Depression' ebbs and flows: there was none of that, the song flatlined), leaving the songs totally neutered in their impact. As for bassist Dave Klein, he ballsed up the start of 'Six Pack', has a terrible bass sound which lacks the Dukowski/Kira-level grit the songs require, and has all the stage presence of a substitute high school teacher.

Then there's Ginn himself. He seemed to be in a very jolly mood when he first hit the stage, goofing off, smiling, hamming it up w/ guitar poses and flipping the audience the bird w/ a big grin on his face, and his opening solo was a gas. When he wants to, he can still wrestle those six strings like a genius. In fact, the performances of roughly the first 3 or 4 songs had me thinking the show was going to be a whole lot better than originally expected. For a guy pushing 60, he looks good, too, almost like a retired basketball player who hasn't let himself go. The band nailed the Nervous Breakdown EP relatively well, Reyes emitting a decent bark and the rhythm section not flubbing it too badly. Ginn tore into a few ludicrous and badly-handled Theremin solos, but things were still kept together as a reasonably functioning unit. Theremin, I hear you say? Yes, you've probably heard the stories. I have no beef w/ Ginn playing the Theremin per se - I like the instrument itself and the fact that Ginn, as always, likes to fuck w/ given formulas by placing this instrument into the context of well-known songs - but let's get something straight: Greg, you don't even know how to play the damn thing. Simply waving your hand in front of the instrument to create a noise doesn't add musical value, it just makes a noise. This fact was made painfully clear when, later in the set, a guy on stage (Mike V.?) had a go mid-song and did create a sense of accompanying melody which complemented the song.

So where/when did it all go so wrong? Possibly when the band played some new material, although for myself that wasn't a big problem. Yes, I've heard the new album w/ the terrible cover and it's as non-eventful as we all expected it to be, but the new tracks didn't sound as rubbish in a live context: they were, at a generous stretch, almost on a par w/ In My Head's angular 'rock' material, and not painful, at least to these ears. And then things started to go horribly wrong. They started delving into some Damaged material, screwing up pretty much every single track along the way ('TV Party' and 'Six Pack' were atrocious; Reyes even 'modernised' the former's lyrics to include references to Twitter and Facebook: "No more Twitteeerrrr!!", he screamed. Yikes...), and Ginn appeared to lose his sense of joviality. In fact he seemed to lose interest altogether, messing up his playing or not playing at all, fiddling w/ his amps and generally doing everything but getting down to business. Whatever audience was left started to get cranky. Cans of booze and plastic bottles of water were thrown at the band from disgruntled fans, security was on the rounds and tensions rose. My compadres and I just stood there in befuddlement, watching the band embarrass themselves further w/ more appalling versions of back-catalogue classics ('Black Coffee' was almost beyond comprehension), scratching our heads and wondering why - OH WHY - was Ginn doing what he was doing...

Ginn clearly doesn't need the money. I hear he owns a nice pad in LA as well as the warehouse space in Texas, and has been asked several times by famous rock outfits to guest on their records for considerable amounts of money (people such as Korn, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, etc.), knocking them back because he simply isn't interested. He also employs (and I heard this from a reliable source) the legal aid of infamous entertainment-biz heavyweight Herb Cohen's son to look after his affairs, a litigious hard-arse who keeps him out of harm's way. So I don't view this travesty as a cash-in. Is it sheer bloody mindedness? Possibly. I could forgive such a motive if the results weren't so dire. The fact that Ginn seems content to humiliate himself nightly w/ a band which sounds like a bunch of amateurs messing about in a rehearsal studio, night after night w/ nothing nailed down tight, has me baffled. I was about to posit that such actions don't appear to be in his nature, but who am I to assume such things? The man is an absolute mystery. Did I mention that they finished off w/ a rendition of 'Louie Louie' which sounded like the 'Jazz Odyssey' scene from Spinal Tap? I guess I just did. There were probably under a hundred people left by that stage. The band had once again successfully scared everyone off, just as they had, state by state, throughout the land.

After tolerating the sets by No Fun At All and (particularly) Boysetsfire, Black Flag's first couple of cuts were like a massive breath of fresh air. The opening jam was a beautiful sludgefest w/ Ginn wrenching strings over the top - equal parts Sonny Sharrock and Flipper, if you will - and it brought a massive smile to my face: Now this is punk rock. Good old Ginn, always fucking w/ expectations, messing with any given formulas whilst all these factory-line bands just collect pay cheques and deliver the rote goods. I really thought I was in for a very good surprise indeed, but by show's end he proved himself to be a flake and a fraud. Do I feel cheated? Nope. It was worth every cent of the $84(!!) I spent to attend. It was a train wreck I will never forget. Some people were really pissed about the night's events, as if all notions of BF/Ginn's righteousness had been spat back in their face. Fortunately, perhaps, I'm not still that naive. You really should have been there: people will talk of this show, probably for all the wrong reasons, for years to come. After the last note was hit, Ginn once again hit jovial mode and went up the front of the stage, shaking hands, doing high-fives and autographing LP sleeves. I could only stand there watching this fallen hero of mine, thinking, What the hell are you so satisfied about? Did you hear that set you just played?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Yeah, I know: I heard. Greg Ginn has once again proven himself to be one of the more assholic individuals on earth and has decided to sue his ex-bandmates playing under the name FLAG (you know, the Black Flag-related supergroup fans really want to see). For some reason, he's even roped Hank Rollins into the mix, and since this news is rather fresh, I'm still trying to get my head around whereabouts he fits into the scenario. So far as I know, he's got nothing to do with FLAG and has pretty much given up playing music at all the past couple of years. Whatever. You can read the proposed case here. All personal feelings aside - and I do feel that Ginn should simply stop embarrassing himself and drop the suit, pronto - he may well find himself winning the case. The courts aren't about personal feelings, and let me make the crazy assumption that the judge in question likely couldn't give a fuck about the music of Black Flag either way, and Ginn's case states some simple facts: like it or not, he does hold the rights to the Black Flag name, its music and logo, and thus from a cold, legal standpoint is within his right to protect it from others attempting to profit from its likeness. Those are simple facts. Take a look at what FLAG are doing: the songs, the logo. Got me? The worlds collide here in Melbourne town this coming November. My two long-running obsessions coalesce on one evening: November the 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, and it also marks Black Flag's debut in this fair city, playing at the shitawful Hits And Pits festival with a bunch of emo/pop-punk oxygen thieves better left forgotten (or never known). No matter what a jerk Ginn may be, and no matter how uninspired this version of the band might be, I will be there. I really don't have a choice in the matter.