Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Melvins w/ Big Business Pops, Sauget, Ill. | 09.26.07

October 1993: 

The Primus "Liquid Pig" Tour rolled into Kansas City. Seated in the balcony of Memorial Hall was Lavis Dichiud: a young college freshman and devoted Primus fan. This evening was the first time that he saw Les Claypool & Co., and boy was he excited. He had no time or patience for some sludge metal band from Washington. He wanted Primus and he wanted it now. The scene was brutal. Melvins were treated to a chorus of boos and shouts of "PRIMUS!" throughout their opening slot. Thirty minutes passed and the Melvins left the stage with a torrent of sarcastic cheers. Primus soon came on, and Dichiud had the time of his life. He would later go to a Stone Temple Pilots show and boo the Butthole Surfers. If only he knew at that time how stupid he was.

Like all of us, my musical tastes evolved greatly over the years. A year after that Primus gig, I transferred to the University of Kansas, where I got involved with the student radio station. Suffice to say, the volume of music that I naturally stumbled upon was enormous. My college degree may read "Journalism," but it might have well had an asterisk on it with "Minor in College Rock" at the bottom. In my tenure at the station, one of the bands that I really got into was Olympia, WA's Karp. The written review on the sleeve of their 1997 Self-Titled LP went something like this: "R-O-C-K. Black Sabbath + Melvins." Hmmmmm. Very interesting. It did take another five years or so, but a re-examination of this band called "Melvins" commenced. It did not last long for a verdict to be read. It turned out that Kurt Cobain really was on to something: Melvins rocked and I had heckled them. Amends had to be made. Apologies were in order.

Meanwhile, Karp had broke up years back and bassist/vocalist Jared Warren moved on to Tight Bros From Way Back When. Disappointingly, they were nothing like Karp. However in 2004, Warren started Big Business with ex-Murder City Devils drummer Coady Willis. It was not Karp, but it was close enough. Tuned down, loud and booming, Big Business had the smell of Melvins all over them. So it came as no surprise (Okay, that's a fucking lie) when the head Melvins Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover invited Warren and Willis to join as full time members. Melvins now had two drummers. The fruit of the latest incarnation of the Melvins was (A) Senile Animal. Deservedly touted as critics as the best Melvins record in years, the disc was personal revelation. I finally got it - Absolutely and completely. 

With a crowd mixed with youngsters in Nirvana shirts to old-timers who probably resented their presence, Pops was not at capacity. However, it was not sparse to say the least. Following a screening of A Purge of Dissidents - a collection of ten animated shorts - Big Business took the stage. In what was a small surprise, Big Business finally brought a guitarist - Toshi Kasai - along with them. In previous tours, BB mostly performed as a two-piece, thus leaving out any guitar work that appeared on their records. Kasai's presence was felt the most during "Easter Romantic," which when played with just drums and bass loses a great deal of its punch. The set was great, marked by two great moments of banter from Warren. As he paused between songs, Warren commented on how Pops looked like a venue that Whitesnake would play. Hoots of sarcastic laughter filled the room at the dead accurate quip. Warren quickly backtracked, stating he meant nothing insulting by the observation. Later, while introducing Kasai, Warren pointed out that the guitarist had brought his own PBR with him - which in the world of music is a true rarity. Trust me, it was funny. It was a visual thing. You just had to be there.

The drum set of Willis and Crover needs to be seen to appreciate fully. Basically two drum kits welded together with communal toms in the middle, it resembled a medieval torture device. It also had the name "MELVINS" stretched across the fronts of the two bass drums which was a nice touch. Their set in essence was divided in two, with the "classics" filling the front half, while numbers from (A) Senile Animal dominated the latter section. The crowd was loud and appreciative - myself included. Strangely enough, there was no encore.


After the show, I did not get the chance to personally apologize to Crover or Buzzo for that autumn night in Kansas City. A dorky, sappy sentiment indeed, but it does prove that sometimes you do get a chance to redeem your crappy taste in music.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Blood Brothers Creepy Crawl, July 17, 2004

The gig was sold out. Still, a line of fans snaked around Creepy Crawl into the parking lot like the Mississippi River. Outside strode a clearly rushed and irritated Creepy employee. “If you do not have tickets that you purchased online, I’m sorry, but this show is sold out!” Grumbles were heard en masse, the Internet was cursed, and people headed back to their cars. A sold-out summer show at the Creepy was upon us. I could tell that this was going to be an interesting night.

Following the Chromatics’ brief set of shoe-gazing dance punk, Kill Me Tomorrow took flight. Hailing from San Diego, percussionist Zack Wentz’s kit was an electrified get-up with a digital console that looked like a futuristic heart monitor. Accompanied by bassist K8 Wince and guitarist Dan Wise, KMT were a perfect match on this bill. Noisy no-wave, art-rock smoked out of the PA with all three members sharing vocal duties. Their set was by no means easy and their sound uncompromising, which came as no surprise from a band that’s signed to Gold Standard Laboratories: Where Convention is a Four-Letter Word.

When the Daughters took stage, the mercury had risen to a level that would make a high-school wrestler cutting weight giggle with glee. Applying the death metal theory of drumming, a double kicker ruled the entire set. So did screaming and songs that rarely exceeded a minute in length. The Daughters have clearly been raised on a large diet of the Locust. I can’t say that I’m going to rush out and buy their entire catalog, but I can’t stop myself from loving the very fact that they exist. This might not make a lick of sense, but unless you’ve tricked an unsuspecting friend into attending a Skin Graft Records fest or owned more than one Melt Banana record, you just wouldn’t get it. Art can be that way.

Mirages were popping up everywhere around Creepy when the Blood Brothers started playing. Playing a set that was largely a testing ground for their new LP Crimes (out October 5 on V2 Records), Brothers vocalists Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney shook, screamed, and flailed through the wall of heat that enveloped the crowd and the band. The new material they played showed no evidence that the Brothers are going to churn out a record that will soften their legacy in the slightest. Those up front went absolutely apeshit as the Brothers closed out their set with “Cecilia and the Silhouette Saloon” from Burn, Piano Island, Burn. Afterwards, as the crowd filed out of the under-21 section, faces and bodies drenched in sweat, they looked as if the night had been a marathon held in a sauna. No matter, for this was a sauna worth every penny. The Blood Brothers were magnificent.

Don Caballero, The Constantines, and Dakota/Dakota -- Rocket Bar, March 13, 2004

This night is what I consider a “stacked” lineup—stacked enough for advance ticketing, which is a rarity at the Rocket Bar. For this night was an evening on which skipping the opening acts was not an option. Three bands, all three of them rolling in from out of town and all of them ranging from great to flat-out amazing.

Let me be blunt: Chicago’s Dakota/Dakota are amazing. Taking cues from fellow instrumental outfits Pelé and Dianogah, Dakota/Dakota create sounds that are mellow and beautiful in one breath and straight-up rocking the next. The interplay between guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Colin Dekuiper, combined with rhythmic beatings of Jim Myers, was nearly perfect. Watching Dekuiper’s typewriter-like taps halfway up the neck of his bass was damn near jaw-dropping. Like a new discovery, the ever-building crowd expressed its appreciation louder and louder ’til the end of the set. It was obvious that Dakota/Dakota made one hell of an impression on those lucky enough to show up early.

Up next came Toronto’s The Constantines. By this time the room had pretty much filled up and the front of the stage was packed. In support of their stellar Sub Pop release Shine a Light, the Cons were equally impressive. Described in many circles as Fugazi meets Springsteen, vocalist Bry Webb sounds like he’s spent 30 years washing his mouth out with Old Crow and smoking two packs a day. His vocals have that sleepy, raspy, imperfect quality that reminds me slightly of Cursive’s Tim Kasher. This, of course, gives the Con’s tunes a boatload of sincerity and soul. The crowd on hand was clearly enjoying the Constantine’s set. At one point, drummer Doug MacGregor even distributed the band’s tambourines for some full-fledged audience participation. The highlight of their set came near the end of “Shine a Light,” when the band held a pulsating note for at least 30 seconds while each member held his hands in the air much like a congregation praying for a miracle. Solid, solid set.

Up next was Don Cab, nearly four years removed from their breakup and last record, American Don. First off, they played perhaps the longest set I have every heard at the Rocket Bar. For at least 75 minutes Don Cab played through their back-catalog. They were solid and rocking. Unfortunately, drummer Damon Che chattered irrelevantly between every song, which quickly became beyond annoying and started to detract from the band’s performance. Whether out of fatigue or having their fill of Don Cab, the crowd had diminished substantially by the end of the set. Sometimes you can get too much of a good thing, and when a band doesn’t quite measure up to the acts that preceded them, you have a recipe for heading for the doors early.

Clockcleaner -- Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center, May 29, 2005

Bands that have a geeky, bespectacled wise-ass as their frontman are few and far between these days. Fronted by the crass and sarcastic John Sharkey, Philadelphia’s Clockcleaner takes us back in time to 1988 when Big Black released the classic Songs About Fucking and a year before the Jesus Lizard first landed.

Following sets from The Hell and Corbeta Corbata came Clockcleaner. Hailing from a town that prides itself in displays of brotherly love and being the greatest battery-chuckers in the sporting world came Clockcleaner. On this evening, the theme for their set was short but sweet. In support of their recent EP The Hassler, they blew through their nine-song set at a jailbreak pace. Playing only two songs from said EP (“Hands Are for Holding” and “Shingles”), Sharkey took every opportunity to remind the assembled crowd that the next song was something we hadn’t heard or was on a record that we didn’t have. Another bit of Sharkey between-song banter happened when a young lady made reference to the nipples of bassist R. Slegel. Sharkey immediately fired back with the obligatory request that she show off hers as well. Closing out their set, Sharkey started repeating “Bye” in a prickish, bored monotone.

It may sound extremely strange, but the antics of Sharkey and contemporaries like Steve Albini and David Yow are put-ons 90 percent of the time. It’s just an added flavor in their collective bombast. Without it, they wouldn’t have had half of their appeal. Strangely enough, this type of behavior doesn’t work anywhere else in the rock spectrum. A collective ass-wupping would await your average touring singer-songwriter if he would try and pull that act off. Yet through and through, regardless of the flippant attitude of Sharkey, Clockcleaner rocked. Sure they were a ripoff band—but they were a damn good ripoff band.

Cougars -- Rocket Bar, July 14, 2004

Sometime between graduation from college and now, my frequency of attending shows on pure spec dropped off to all but nothing. Age and having a full-time day job limited my capacity and, frankly, the motivation to drag my ass to a venue two blocks away from my apartment, let alone to the Rocket Bar on a Wednesday night. On this evening, I can say with certainty that a short night’s rest was well worth what I witnessed. Eight men: two guitar players, a bassist, drummer, trumpet player, saxophonist, keyboardist, and vocalist with a bombastic voice and mile-wide grin. Not since Rocket From the Crypt have I heard this many musicians make rock ’n’ roll this infectious. There are better rock bands out there, but Cougars possess a crossover, party-band quality that even the most jaded music fan can enjoy. Barring a premature break-up—or me being declared legally insane—these guys are going to be huge. Yes. They were that much fun.

Seeing eight men squeeze themselves onto the Rocket Bar’s small, elevated stage was quite amusing. Especially when saxophonist Jeff Vidmont and trumpet player Mark Beening walked out to see the stage packed already. Both had looks of how in the hell are we gonna fit? Well, obviously, they made it up there, along with vocalist Matthew Irie, who was dressed like a regular t-shirt/shorts/ball-cap kind of man. No country club, thrift store textiles for this guy; just a regular ham-and-egger.

Mostly comprised of former members of the Chicago ska outfit Hot Stove Jimmy and the magnificent Big’n, Cougars played the rock. Rock that fell somewhere in between the Jesus Lizard and any number of AC/DC revivalists that are roaming the continent. Vocally, Irie fell right between the universe of Brian Johnston and David Yow, but far raspier. Throughout their set, Irie held court with a flim-flam man grin and hands extended in various arrogant/satirical poses.

However, what made the set were the horns. Vidmont and Beening not only rounded out Cougars’ sound, but also were the key ingredient in what made this band so memorable. Subtract the horns and Cougars are just another noisy rock band; with the horns, they are a blast, which doesn’t work very often in the straight-up rock realm. Horns too often are a distraction from music that would be fine, if not for Mr. Saxophone.
I don’t want to oversell this band. If you listen to their first LP Nice, Nice, you will probably wonder what the big deal is. I’m not dissuading you from buying that LP or their new EP Manhandler, but go see this band the next chance you get. I saw them with around 20 people within spit-shot of the stage. My hunch is that, in a short time, you’ll have a little competition for a spot down front.

Dysrhythmia -- Creepy Crawl, April 5, 2005

On first listen to Dysrhythmia’s Relapse Records debut Pretest, you can’t help but wonder, “How did this band, playing this style of music, land on arguably the best metal label in the country?” Although Relapse has devoted a branch of their label to all things experimental, DR’s complicated, angular licks are of the type you’d normally find on a label in the Southern Records umbrella.

So as the night opened with three heavy-as-all-get-out openers, I had some concerns about how DR’s set would go over on what was essentially a metal night. Would DR get heckled or would they get a receptive audience?

Technically, DR’s setup was mighty impressive—not surprising, considering the scope of rhythms and melodies in their music. Bassist Colin Marston had numerous pedals to go with his six-string bass. Guitarist Kevin Hufnagel’s effects were comprised of one keyboard-sized gizmo with two pedals and nine effect settings. Overall, it didn’t match the 40-plus pedals that Kinski lugs around, but it was nifty nonetheless.

The grand hypothetical “Why Relapse?” was answered as soon as DR broke into their first number, played so fast and so hard that I couldn’t even recognize the tune. It was when I discovered that this was a song I was normally very familiar with—“Annihilator I” from Pretest—that I finally understood why Relapse had signed this band. It simply took a live setting to get the message across.

Seven more numbers followed that were harder and heavier then anything on Pretest. At some point during the show, Marston somehow sliced his right hand and blood started flowing. It wasn’t long before the stage was covered with bloody bass picks and used tissues. The smell wafted into the crowd and a pack of wolves wearing Slayer shirts descended upon Marston. It was a horrible sight, as they tore him apart limb by limb.

Okay, so none of that wolves stuff was true. But Marston did cut his hand and some blood did run—resulting in several of his bass picks—or “collectors’ items,” as he put it—being swapped out during the set. As for the crowd, they were into it. No catcalls from the peanut gallery. Dysrhythmia was mighty tight and together. All was right with the world.

The Forms -- Hi-Pointe, January 20, 2005

The Forms’ debut EP Icarus is maddeningly incredible. Right when I realized that I was listening to one of the best indie/emo records I’ve heard ever, it was over. Nineteen minutes of revelation followed by dead air. My first thought was, “Where the hell was I when this record came out?” No matter. I caught air just in time before they were here and gone.

As openers Chunnel played out their set, it was obvious from the start that these guys were good. Chunnel’s sound takes the base of Dianogah, with a little Victim’s Family and Couch Flambeau here and there. But unlike Dianogah, Chunnel spends far more time in periods of breakout guitar work, tweaking and noodling, building slowly into cohesive melodies that resolve in crescendos of hard, driving guitar. Keep an eye open for these two guys.

With a name like Camp Climax for Girls, the next band had to at least be interesting. Employing a tongue-in-cheek mix of Zeppelin and AC/DC, they succeeded massively. I know to some this sounds sacrilegious, but I’d rather see good natured indie-rock vets up there having fun than a bunch of middle-aged guys in leather jackets taking themselves too seriously. Camp Climax makes it safe to rock out and not have to shower with a bar of Lava the next morning. Opening with “Almost Died, Dead,” Camp Climax played numerous cuts off their debut Ten Dollar Birds, including “I’ve Been Meaning to Axe You,” “Elbows in the Face of Disguise,” and “Less Blues, More Depression.” In the weeks preceding the show, guitarist Billy Wallace had teased a new cover they’d be playing on STLPunk.com, writing, “We got a new cover song to drop. It’s in drop-D too, how very metal of us. Word.” The mystery cover turned out to be the Melvins’ “Revolve,” from the 1994 Stoner Witch LP.
Then came the aforementioned The Forms. Formed in Brooklyn, New York, in 2000, The Forms reminded me a great deal of Sunny Day Real Estate.

eres’ vocals have a quality similar to that of Jeremy Enigk’s, while remaining distinctly his own. His vocal style is less about specific words than creating melodies that hover and fill the air with their jaw-dropping beauty. And the fact that Teres is often unintelligible doesn’t detract from his performance. Incredible. As they played, my attention was less focused on what each member was doing physically than what was coming out of the sound system. By no means whatsoever am I implicating that The Forms put on a bad performance (they did quite the opposite), but they could not replicate onstage the quality of their recorded work. Whereas many rock bands can invigorate their tunes in a live setting by playing faster and nastier, the music of The Forms plays best in their recordings.

After a taped introduction of the “Theme From Superman,” Riddle of Steel hit the stage to close out the show, immediately launching into “Revenge of R.O.S.” Their set consisted of the classics, the Pythons, and the new. Andrew Elstner, Jimmy Vavak, and Rob Smith showed, as usual, that the band is a consistent and dependable source for a solid evening of rock. During the set, bassist Vavak announced that their long-awaited follow-up is due from Ascetic Records this May. Titled Got This Feelin’, the new release should prove quite a treat for audiophiles, as the vinyl is slated to be released a full month before the CD. Yes sir. Albinism is everywhere.

Ghost in Light w/The Floating City, Kelpie, and Ricky Fitts Hi-Pointe, January 8, 2005

No wasted words or superfluous descriptions. Here’s the setup: it was Saturday and it was cold.

Up first came the spazzy, manic Ricky Fitts. Featuring two vocalists, one with a rather high, screechy yelp in guitarist Matthew Wiseman and the other with a deeper bark in bassist Dan D., Ricky Fitts were a solid combination of At the Drive-In, Blood Brothers, and other manic apeshit post-punk outfits. Ricky Fitts were a fistful of energy, spazzing around the stage while Wiseman sang into a mike that looked to be a couple of feet too low for him. All the while he had a frozen, mile-wide smile on his face. Without a doubt, it was the best thing I’ve seen out of Wichita since my last trip to White Castle.

From Lawrence, Kan., Kelpie was evidence of that town’s continuing tradition of pumping out infectious indie pop. Surrounded by a jangly sound heightened by vocalist Casey Burge’s high-end falsetto, I wasn’t too keen on them at the start of the set, but they grew on me as their set wound down. After checking out their 2003 LP One, I will be keeping my eyes open for the next time they roll into town.

Deploying a post-punk art school sound, St. Louis’s Floating City has a sound that doesn’t sit still for more than a couple of songs at a time. Songs changed from intricate math rock at one point to slower keyboard-driven pieces the next. Floating City is a popular band around these parts, which shows that this shifting of tempos and mood has a devoted audience. However, in my opinion, when vocalist Gareth Schumacher abandoned the guitar and sat behind his keyboards, the results were not up to par to those songs with faster tempos and harder sounds.

From the first time I saw Pave the Rocket with a handful of people in Lawrence’s Bottleneck in 1990-something or other, I could tell that Jason House was a passionate guy when it comes to music. Where some bands take a “shit happens” mindset to their live performances, House takes his music far more seriously. He’s concerned with how the band sounded through the club’s PA. If he thinks he didn’t play well, he’ll say it. Once he even apologized for the price of a CD that was dictated by Pave the Rocket’s record label. Now in 2005, House fronts the Railers of Kiev. Playing muscular post-punk, Railers are not far from what House has done in the past. Yet that is not his only creative vehicle. House describes his new side project Ghosts in Light as having a mighty different sound. “Comfortable” is the word he uses. It was. All seated in chairs, the set had a more acoustic feel, even though the trio had enough hertz flowing from their instruments to cook enough Angus beef to bury Morrissey up to his forehead. Difficult to describe, Ghosts in Light played relaxed, mellow rock with a pleasant strum. In a very short span of time, Ghosts have grown from just being a musical outfit, with no other intentions but to play music, to a band that is currently prepping their debut CD for your approval. If the material they played live is any indicator, may Ghosts in Light prep it sooner rather than later.

Hot Snakes -- November 5, 2004 The Granada, Lawrence, Kansas

As they did on their last major tour, Hot Snakes chose gigs in Chicago and Lawrence, skipping over St. Louis. So this show took the shape of a mini-pilgrimage. Fans that drove in from Omaha, Des Moines, St. Louis, and other Midwestern cities lined the merch table before the gig to buy stuff and to talk to punk veteran John “Speedo” Reis, whose involvement in bands like Drive Like Jehu, Pitchfork, and Rocket From the Crypt has made him something of an underground icon. Joining him behind the altar were bassist Gar Wood and drummer Mario Rubalcaba. Nowhere to be found was vocalist/guitarist Rick Froberg, who played with Reis in both Jehu and Pitchfork.

After sets from Die Electric and Red Eyed Legends, Hot Snakes appeared from around the black curtain amid a cloud of appreciation. All told, Hot Snakes played 20 songs in all: 7 from Automatic Midnight, 7 from Suicide Invoice, and 6 from their latest, Audit in Progress. While some bands generate energy from jumping around stage, Hot Snakes did it by standing more or less in place. Froberg’s yelps exuded fire, oozing with manic energy. Reis, Wood, and Rubalcaba were no Christmas turkeys either, as their execution of the set was damn near flawless.
The show’s high points came from the order in which they chose their set list. The first three songs on Automatic Midnight (“If Credit’s What Matters I Take Credit,” “Automatic Midnight,” and “No Hands”), Suicide Invoice (“I Hate the Kids,” “Gar Forgets His Insulin,” and “XOX”), and Audit in Progress (“Braintrust,” “Hi-Lites,” and “Retrofit”) were all played consecutively during various portions of the set. A heightened sense of anticipation resulted in the songs getting the biggest cheers.

The night also served as a platform for the fans to yell out non-Hot Snakes material, meaning songs from the bands they used to be in. The band (mainly Froberg) took the suggestions with a chuckle, but didn’t bow to the requests. The set was 100% Hot Snakes. Unlike their visit to Lawrence two years ago, they did not bust out Drive Like Jehu’s “Bullet Train to Vegas.” It didn’t matter, for Hot Snakes ended the evening as they started—arguably the best punk band on the planet.

On a side note, I got a major shock that I couldn’t have imagined in a million years. The Lawrence City Commission, without a referendum or ballot issue, passed a no-smoking ordinance that went into effect in July. Bar owners are fighting this ban as we speak, collecting the necessary amount of signatures and hoping to get the issue on the March 2005 ballot.

Personally, as a non-smoker, it was a strange yet pleasant change. However, as a fan, I worry about the potential financial impact that this ban will have on the clubs. As far as St. Louis goes, imagine the impact if one day there was NO SMOKING at Rocket Bar, Hi-Pointe, Off Broadway, Way Out Club, etc. Sure, I could wear my jeans more than just one day, but bands, smokers, and club owners would run wild in the streets.

Iron Doves, The Narrator, and The Skintones -- Rocket Bar, June 4, 2004

Maybe it was the pints of coffee that the fine folks at Rocket Bar supplied me with in lieu of al-key-hol. Maybe it was the fact that The Skintones were just a trio of cheesy-ball slobs playing sleazy rock ‘n’ roll with some obvious influences ranging from Girls Against Boys and Speedealer. Or maybe it was just the fact that vocalist/guitarist Pete “P-Ray” Ress was wearing white leather shoes not unlike those Randy Quaid gave Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation. The bottom line was I really liked the Skintones, despite part of me saying, “How can you like these goofballs?” Skintones preceded their set with the humorous countdown of, “Twenty-one seconds to rock down. Three seconds to rock down!: Their set unfolded with punctuating rock kicks and plenty of goat horn hand gestures. Satan would have been very proud. Guilty pleasure that they are, the Skintones were a fine start to the evening.

The Narrator’s debut EP Youth City Fire frankly doesn’t do the band justice compared to their sound and presence in a live setting. Playing intricate and varying post-punk described by their label as “Trail of Dead cemented in Pavement,” the kids in the Narrator were eerily gelled as a unit. While each member appeared to be zoned in a world of their own, their sound never faltered. Guitarist and vocalist Sam Axelrod climbed on top of the Galaga video game to the left of the stage. Bassist James Barron and guitarist Jesse Woghin turned their backs to the audience for long portions of the set. Overall, the Narrator had an air of confident perfectionism. This was illustrated after the set when Axelrod mused that he wasn’t pleased with their performance due to a broken guitar string. If that makes for a bad set, then I’d like to see them when they’re dead on. Keep an eye on these guys; they’ve got something special going.
I can’t imagine something more annoying for a musician than being in a successful band in your early years, and having that band later become a benchmark for which every new outfit you play in is judged against. Iron Doves members Dan Campbell and Brian Marshall (formerly of the very successful Back of Dave) know this feeling all too well. While Marshall was relatively inactive, Campbell went on to join Five Deadly Venoms, Keyop, and Asia Minor. Of Campbell’s new bands, Back of Dave comparisons would inevitably be brought up in private conversations among friends. “Well, they aren’t Back of Dave–ish enough.” Or “When Five Deadly Venoms got their second guitar player, their material was a lot more Back of Dave–like.” While BOD have played few shows since their breakup, the band’s shadow continues to linger over the heads of all of the principal players.

Well, guess what? Iron Doves sound nothing like BOD or Keyop or Asia Minor or Five Deadly Venoms, and amen to that brothers and sisters, because they rock in a totally different way.

Iron Doves are not emo; they are not post-punk or indie rock. Iron Doves are a Sabbath-influenced rock band and they do bring the rock mightily. With Campbell on guitar and vocals, Marshall on that four-string thingy, and Lynn Sipole on drums, the Doves created tunes that rumble with tons of meat and muscle. While it is true that they are more metal than any of the aforementioned defunct outfits, I wouldn’t consider them metal. Their set was brief, but it left me wanting more. Back of Dave? Who is this Back of Dave you speak of? 

Life and Times, Roman Numerals, Riddle of Steel, and Traindodge Hi-Pointe, April 9, 2005

I can prattle on about the heyday of the Kansas City rock scene for days. Back in the day, the “Kansas City Sound” was a buzz phrase bantered about with visions of the Lawrence/KC scene becoming the next Seattle. That never happened, of course, but it did produced a slew of rock heavyweights in Season to Risk, Molly McGuire, Shiner, Rocket Fuel Is the Key, Giants Chair (Come home Rex Hobart. Come home.), Dirtnap, and Tenderloin. While the majority of these bands are long gone or have fallen into side-project status, many of their principal players are still around, and on this evening they came to play with Riddle of Steel (from the STL) and Traindodge (technically Oklahomans, but they’re on locally based label Ascetic Records, so that should qualify them for dual citizenship). And from the state’s left coast came the Roman Numerals (featuring former members of Season to Risk, Shiner, and Dirtnap) and Life and Times (featuring Shiner’s Allen Epley).

Following a fine set from Traindodge, the Roman Numerals took the stage, comprised of KC rock stalwarts Steve Tulipana (S2R), Shawn Sherilll (Shiner), Billy Smith (Dirtnap), and Pete LaPorte (Dirtnap). According to an interesting description on the band’s Web site, “This is the sound of the past informed by the future, as if Big Black had visited early-’80s era Gang of Four in a vision, or if the ghost of Fugazi had haunted Modern English.” If you need that whittled down to a quickie description: They’re good. Their sound makes the very fact that they also play in a Joy Division cover band seem very fitting. Hitting new songs and tracks off of their demo, Roman Numerals was fantastic.

I’ll be honest with you, when Allen Epley first unveiled Life and Times at the Rocket Bar a spot back, I didn’t like them. Epley seemed dead and uninspired. In hindsight, those feelings could’ve been due to my unrealistic expectations that they were going to live up to Shiner and their final LP, The Egg. But seeing them again, on this night, Life and Times were mighty good. No longer are they “The Band Allen Epley was in after Shiner,” but simply a band standing on its own merits. Maybe I should have had that mentality from the get-go, but let’s face it: I hate change.

What can be said about Riddle of Steel that hasn’t already been said? In what’s becoming something of a monotonous statement, ROS seem to get better and better with every show. Not to disparage any other bands, but there isn’t a single independent band in this city that busts their collective asses, or takes themselves more seriously, than Riddle of Steel. Their new LP Got This Feelin’ hits the streets June 21 on Ascetic Records.

Nomeansno w/Corbeta Corbata, and Steerjockey -- Creepy Crawl, April 21, 2005

There is a lot to be said about a band that stands the tests of adolescence, college, and early adulthood. It’s during these years that your tastes, attitudes, and entire life outlook go through the greatest changes. A record that beat the drum to which you marched at 18 isn’t likely to have the same resonance at 30. As great an album it is, Minor Threat’s Complete Discography just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I still listen to it once in a while, but if I focus on the lyrics, I can’t help but roll my eyes. Sorry, but I haven’t been straightedge since I was 19.

In contrast, the reason that Nomeansno has stayed with me through the years has been the strength of their lyrics. In the hands of most punk bands, love songs tend to be filled with “everything is going to work out” lyrics. Love in the hands of NMN, however, is a painful and empty feeling. It’s moments of overflowing regret over mistakes that can never be undone. It’s love that, deep down, you know will never be reciprocated. It’s the nights of loneliness. Before I get too misty, their music is just as good as their lyrics. NMN have discovered many ways, styles, and tempos to remain relevant musically. Biased I am, but judged through their entire career, NMN is amazing.

However, there was a small problem: they didn’t come around very often, if at all. It wasn’t until 1998 that I finally got a chance to see them. For ten years I had waited, and like a neurotic dork, I arrived two hours early for that show, worried it would sell out. (This was absolutely hilarious to anyone who had ever been inside the warehouse/coffee shop in Olathe, Kan., then known as Gee Coffee.) Suffice to say, I got to see Nomeansno for the first time. Unfortunately, as the gig went on, I had to worry about the lateness of the hour, so I could make it to my $14,000-a-year, six-days-a-week job running the board at an AM radio station. I left the gig early and got word later that they played for at least an hour longer, eventually just taking audience requests. Shit.

Nomeansno returned to the Midwest a few years back with a show at the Creepy Crawl. This time around there were no jobs to worry about, no worries about how shit-faced I got; I was free to immerse myself in the show. It was an epiphany. It was not only beyond amazing, but also the loudest show I have ever gone to. My ears did not stop ringing for at least three days. Now, with that exciting backstory out of the way, let us get to the show at hand.

Hailing from the river city of Cape Girardeau, Mo., openers Steerjockey were clearly an inspired bunch. Playing fast, fast, and fast, Steerjockey were mighty impressive. They reminded me of late ’90s Zeke and early REO Speeddealer, who later had to drop the REO because Champaign’s favorite rock band couldn’t just roll with the changes and leave them well enough alone. Near the end of their set, a moment of great humor came when the drum intro to NMN’s “Real Love” was played three times; all the while, NMN bassist/vocalist Rob Wright was concentrating intently on a game of Arkanoid. Wright was oblivious to it the first time around, but after the second time, a bemused grin came across his face as he shook his head with a smile.

Corbeta Corbata is a punk band like no other in the STL. With the wild-eyed playing and facial gymnastics of bassist Ben Smith, the imposing presence of guitarist D.I. Beasley, and drummer Von Damage’s top-shelf time keeping, Corbeta play with the swagger and confidence of band that knows they’re good. This evening they fired off, among others, “Sink,” “Here’s to the Good Life,” “Be Ignored,” “The Last Thing,” “It’s Better Not to Know, and “I Will Decide.” The latter three comprise the entirety of their new seven-inch, Investing With Corbeta Corbata. What stands out to me is that Smith’s bass is just as important to the melody of their songs as Beasley’s guitars. Stylistically, the NMN influence is there, but I also detect elements of Shellac and the Jesus Lizard. However, when you get down to it, Corbeta Corbata is Corbeta Corbata. If you think punk has gotten mighty boring, do yourself a favor and check these fellas out.

And then it was time for the headliners. Early in the set, technical difficulties with monitor feedback and a faulty microphone stand stood out more than the music. It came to a head four songs in when, in the middle if “The River,” singer Wright brought the song to stop and blew his stack, furiously grabbing a roll of duct tape to fix the slowly descending mike stand. The show started back up fairly quickly, but it was obvious for a couple songs that Wright was playing angry.

With the tech problems out of the way, the remainder of the set played out like karaoke night as they touched upon nearly every one of their LPs. Unlike their previous show at Creepy Crawl, their set list left off quite a few fan favorites, thus making room for lesser heard songs like “Mr. In-Between,” “Victory,” “I Need You,” and covers of The Clash’s “I’m So Bored With the USA,” NMN alter egos Hanson Brothers’ “Joey Had to Go,” and AC/DC’s “Shot Down in Flames.” The highlight of the evening came with the first song of the first encore. Wright, now in a far chipper mood, stated, “Let’s try this one again.” To my great relief, they played “The River” again, this time with no interruptions. Frankly, if they hadn’t played it again, it would have left something of a sour note on the evening.

To be frank, I have been anticipating Nomeansno’s breakup for quite awhile, so this show was a bonus: one last round with Victoria, BC’s finest. It’s a possibility that Nomeansno might hit St. Louis again, but this time I really feel that the STL has seen its last NMN show. If my gut feeling turns out to be true, I can’t complain: I got to have Nomeansno songs ringing in my ears for another three days. 

Retisonic/w Riddle of Steel and Target Market -- Rocket Bar, November 13, 2003

Why does it seem like every musician I know is in the food service industry? Have these pluckers and wailers no skills beyond slinging pints of Newcastle and slipping drops of Visine into your Jack and Coke? It’s a mystery that scholars have spent hours upon hours debating.

“Tell me this, Coleman: Why cannot the world’s guitarists obtain dutiful employment that does not include serving cognac and cleaning lavatories?”

“Indeed, Winthorp. Indeed.”

All jokes aside, not all musicians toil in the booze collar sector. Restisonic’s Jason Farrell is one these anomalies. You may not recognize his name, but chances are fairly good that you’ve seen his work. Over the years, Farrell has done the graphic design for some your favorite bands’ records. Fugazi, At the Drive-In, Lungfish, Burning Airlines, and local gents Riddle of Steel are just a handful of examples. However, it’s in his music that Farrell has spent the majority of his work hours over the past 15-odd years.

Growing up as a skate punk in Bethesda, Maryland, Farrell found his musical roots in the local Washington, D.C. hardcore scene. Early forays into the musical universe followed. Band X formed and broke up; band Y started and ended; band Z’s van ran out of gas in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the winter of ’89 and had to resort to cannibalism in order to…err, disregard that last part. Eventually, in 1995, Bluetip was founded. For the next six years, Bluetip churned out four outstanding releases for the holy grail of indie labels, Dischord Records, self described as a “post-hardcore band with heavy doses of rock and small injections of new wave thrown in for the fuck of it.” As with Farrell’s previous bands, Bluetip ran into difficulties and disbanded. By this time, Farrell had packed up shop and headed to New York City. It was here he met up with one of Bluetip’s former drummers, Joe Gorelick, and Retisonic was born. Jim Kimball (no, not the Jim Kimball formerly of Mule, Laughing Hyenas, the Jesus Lizard, and currently The Denison/Kimball Trio) later joined the group, rounding out the threesome.

As band names go, Target Market rings in the ear like a band that plays noise-rock or post-punk. Maybe the name just made me think of Haymarket Riot or Barkmarket, and I was making a subconscious assumption of what I was about to hear. But my assumptions were shown to be off base as soon as Target Market took the stage.

One could lazily pigeonhole Target Market as “emo,” but there’s too much going on in Target Market’s sound for that to be completely accurate. Complimenting their two-guitar attack, Target Market incorporated a synthesizer and a little bit of keyboard into their music, creating a sound that’s rather difficult to classify.

Target Market’s brief set was filled with songs that ranged from slow-paced to harder-edged quiet/loud numbers. Their opener started with some Trans Am–like synthesizer, which immediately segued into a heavy, up-tempo number. From the get go, it was immediately evident that there was more going on in the song that could be picked out through the PA. The set’s last song ended as the first began: with one last burst of synthetic noise. Overall, I felt that band needed to give the synthesizer a larger role into their sound, instead of bits and pieces of it at the beginning and endings of their numbers. The way it is now, the instrument comes off as a little gimmicky. However, overall, Target Market was an interesting listen and I am looking forward to see how they evolve in the future.

In what is a fairly common practice for weeknight shows (or, as Jason Farrell put it, “a school night”), the touring band Retisonic played next. I suppose it makes it makes it easier on the poor schmucks who prefer to not drag their asses into their respective offices with less than five hours’ sleep.

As Farrell prepared to kick off Retisonic’s 45 minutes, he announced that they were going to play a lot of new tunes. What he didn’t say was that they were going to play all new songs. Unless my ears did me wrong, I didn’t catch a single tune from the debut EP Lean Beat. Retisonic’s sound isn’t far removed from what Bluetip churned out, but the songs that Retisonic played were leaner, meaner, and catchier than Bluetip’s back catalog. Adorning a long-sleeved cowboy shirt, Farrell was a dynamic presence, bounding back and forth from the front of stage to up against his guitar amps, rarely opening his eyes to gather his surroundings. The years on the road make it plainly evident that Farrell is totally at ease with playing in front of an audience.

Near the conclusion of their set, Farrell announced that as soon as Restisonic returned from touring, the band was heading to the studio to record its first full-length for release in spring 2004. If the record is made up with what Retisonic played this evening, it should be a smoker. Then perhaps, Retisonic won’t just be a band with ex-Bluetip, but a band that can stand free of their members’ past laurels.

Riddle of Steel opened their set with an oldie in the terms of their existence, “Fourteen Bucks the Hard Way.” Aside from that opener, the majority of set was devoted to tracks off of their Ascetic Records release, Python. The lion’s share of the crowd who stuck around was mighty impressed with the show ROS laid out. I’ve seen Riddle of Steel play more than any other local band (counting both Lawrence, KS and Kansas City) ever, and with the exception of Ring, Cicada, I haven’t witnessed a band that has improved more as an outfit than Riddle of Steel. I’ve not always been totally down with ROS, but they are now certified Grade-A Prime St. Louis Rock in my book. There may be a STL band out there that plays more shows or promotes themselves more aggressively than ROS, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove me otherwise.

On a side note, STL’s Ascetic Records are currently collecting tracks for the second edition of their Socomtonar Collection compilation. The disc will feature two tracks each from Riddle of Steel, Kansas City’s Dirtnap and The Life and Times, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma’s Traindodge, and Japanese imports Ballons and Undercurrent. Release date yet to be determined.

Rock Against Bush/Jade Tree United w/Strike Anywhere, From Ashes Rise, and Challenger Creepy Crawl, May 6, 2004

 There’s a big-time problem with the voting-aged youth today and Punkvoter wants to do something about it. In the FAQ explaining the organization’s existence, the problem is laid out succinctly and in boldface type: “Something needs to be done to unite the youth vote and bring real activism back into our society. Punk rock has always been on the edge and in the forefront of politics. It is time to energize the majority of today’s disenfranchised youth movement and punk rockers to make change a reality.” While that sounds nice and polite, if you claw your way past those delicately chosen words, the message is blunt: Dubya must go and Punkvoter sees organizing the young, punk rock vote as a small step toward that goal. Thus, the Rock Against Bush tour was born.

Sweeping through the states, Punkvoter has been registering voters at every stop. At the show, Strike Anywhere vocalist Thomas Barnett said that the tour was averaging between 20 to 50 registrations every night, but the Midwestern cites have been “a little dry.” He said that Music for America organized the voter registration with help from Planned Parenthood, and even MTV stepped in to assist when MFA was not able to find a local registrar to sign people up. Unfortunately, he said it was possible there would be no voters registered this evening, as St. Louis has no local MFA rep to cover the show. Those fears were soon put to rest as Karrie and Sarah from Planned Parenthood dropped from the sky, armed with registration cards and condoms: the night was saved. With the voter side covered, the stage was set for the punk rock thing. On the tour that night was a quartet of Jade Tree Records bands: Strike Anywhere, From Ashes Rise, Challenger, and new signees Breather Resist.

Following short sets from St. Louis’s Step on It and Breather Resist, Chicago’s Challenger (which includes three Milemarker members) took the took the stage in support of their new record Give People What They Want in Lethal Doses. While their Hüsker Dü–inspired punk was genuine and heartfelt, they are growing less impressive to me with every listen. Judging by their merch table, the band appeared more interested in spreading their progressive message than playing music and hocking t-shirts and CDs. By rough count, their table had over 35 books with topics ranging from the bicycling organization Critical Mass, to Marx and Anarchism.

In the penultimate performance of the evening, From Ashes Rise guitarist and vocalist Brad Blowright provided the comedy with a perfect example of someone thinking he’s making a deep, significant statement when he’s actually coming off as a moronic goon. Near the end of the band’s set of shout-and-scream, metal-edged hardcore, Blowright went into a tirade about the current state of things in this country. While most of what he said was probably true, all I heard was that he ended every point by saying it was “bullshit.” The climax of his monologue was ended when he told everyone who supported the conflict to “get the fuck out!”

Up last, Strike Anywhere was by far the best band of the evening. While Challenger brought the right message to their merch table and By From Ashes Rise delivered virtually nothing, Strike Anywhere took the stage with the right attitude. Upbeat, high-energy, and positive, Strike Anywhere’s brand of punk rock was catchy and up-tempo, with a boatload of sing-a-long choruses. Call me hokey, but after hearing three bands that were borderline metal with boorish vocalists, it was pleasant to hear Thomas Barnett sing with a semblance of melody. Barnett also got brownie points for taking the time to physically point to the front of the Creepy and inform the crowd in a calm but pointed voice that Planned Parenthood was there to register them to vote. When Strike Anywhere finished their set, the current total at the voter table was a peace sign. As I left, there were probably 25 to 30 people lining up in the merchandise area. One hopes they all headed for the table up front before they left.

Shellac w/The Conformists -- Collinsville VFW Hall, June 17, 2004

A dead human being once said, “All good things come in threes”—or maybe it was “bad luck comes in threes.” I’d like to choose the sunny side of life and say good things come in threes, not because I’m an optimist, but because I need it to transition into the next paragraph.

Nomeansno and Rocket from the Crypt had been taken care of yet, before tonight, Shellac was the band that remained. As you may have heard, The Conformists set up a gig with Shellac at the Fairview Heights VFW Hall in 2002. Wednesday, October 23, 2002, to be exact and I was stoked. The fire was soon pissed on as Shellac drummer Todd Trainer injured his back. One guy told me that it was skinny-dipping. Funny, but I highly doubt it. Whatever the cause, the months went by, and then a year went by, and finally I gave up on the idea of Shellac playing a “make-up” show as they had promised. I picked the easiest target. “Fucking Albini, what an asshole.” However, I later checked The Conformist’s Web site to find that, hot diggity dog, the show was on.

After The Conformists’ wonderfully loud opening set, Shellac quickly set up their gear and then Trainer and Albini disappeared for at least 20 minutes. Weston remained, lounging on the security railing at the side of the stage ’til his mates finally returned. Albini went through a series of athletic stretching, limbering up his back and hammies. I know that musicians do this all the time, but still, it was mildly humorous.

Opening with 1000’s Hurts’ “Ghosts,” Albini herked and jerked his guitar in robotic motions as they followed with a crowd favorite, At Action Park’s “My Black Ass.” However, it wouldn’t just be an oldies night as they played a tune during which Albini’s sarcastically yelled “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW! CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW!” on numerous occasions. Much laughter and giggling was provided next when the band introduced Terraform’s “Canada” with the cardinal call of Bob and Doug McKenzie. The sound in the hall was excellent and Shellac was spot on musically in all corners. Not that I was keeping track or anything, but in its entirety, Shellac played 13 songs and they hit most of the best, including “A Minute,” “Squirrel Song,” Dog and Pony Show,” “Wingwalker, “Copper,” and two more newbies.

However, the night was not just music, as bassist Bob Weston broke up the set with three Q & A sessions. Examples: When asked about the Big Black song “L Dopa,” Albini snapped back, “Wow. That heckle is like 15 years too late.” Guy #1: “When is the new album coming out?” Weston: “2007.” Guy #2: “What’s up with Rapeman [Albini’s old band]? Albini: “Your mom gave me genital warts.” Can you believe that some people hate the guy?

The evening closed as Shellac’s set was cut one song short when the house lights were turned up during “Copper.” Before he left the stage, Weston pleaded with the crowd for the second time to head over to Music for America table and register to vote. “Please vote in November. Please vote in November. Please vote in November.”

Anticipation can provide great disappointment when matched with the real deal. After 20 months of waiting, Shellac did not fall short and they did not disappoint. They may never return to the bi-state area, but after seeing them in top form, I can now die in peace. Smoke me a kipper. 

Snmnmnm -- The Hi-Pointe March 5, 2005

Chapel Hill, N.C.’s Snmnmnm aren't your typical rock band. You can easily jump to that conclusion just by talking to them—and it doesn't hurt knowing that collectively they play an amplified tuba with numerous effect pedals, trumpet, trombone, and a shiny red accordion on top of two guitars. They also resemble They Might Be Giants very closely; something the band admits while saying their music has elements that make them “stylistically unique.” Add it all up and it’s pretty clear that a set of dork rock was about to commence.

Playing in between the somber, Radiohead-esque sandwich of Ghost in Light and Berry, the men from Snm took to the stage free of seven days worth of smoky clubs and other road filth. Earlier that day the band had “splurged” on a hotel room. “We took showers!” is how vocalist Seamus Kenney gleefully explained it.

The band’s first few tunes were greeted with polite applause from the bar-stools and couches near the rear of the room. However, when the two guitarists dropped their five-stringers in favor of a trombone and trumpet, the tide quickly turned and humanity spewed forth towards the stage. Playing an extended version of “Spanish Cucumber,” vocalist Kenney urged more people to come forward for some crowd participation. After laying out instructions for the crowd to yell “Spanish cucumber!” following his prompt of “I lost my favorite,” the remainder of that song proved to be the set’s high point (no pun intended). The fun didn't end there, however, as a bemused Kenney announced that they didn't make a set list for the show “because we’re lazy.” A fan quickly filled the void, yelling for the first song on the first side of their first album, 2003’s Power Pack Horse Crunch. The song was called “Number 10,” and had Kenney breaking out the accordion. It was easily the catchiest song in the band’s set.

It’s always a pleasant sight to witness a band gradually drawing a mass of people up front. That wasn't exactly the case this evening, as the turnout was rather low, but when you put things into proportion, calculate the ratios, carry the ones, and convert the number from hexadecimal to binary, you've got a frigging stampede of humanity lining the stage. That in itself proved that Snm had the appreciation of those who were in attendance. They just didn't have enough bodies in the room.

These Arms Are Snakes, Paris Texas, and Communiqué -- Creepy Crawl, August 1, 2004

A shared common experience among humankind just entering their college years is the day at some family gathering when Aunt Edna gets all excited because, in the 15-odd years since you’ve seen the lady, you had the audacity to grow up. “Oh look at you. You’re all grown up now! I remember the time when you were playing on the railroad tracks and that Union Pacific train came within inches of squashing you like a bug. You should have seen the look on your daddy’s face. He would have whipped you with a hickory switch if he could have found one.

Ahhh…Did I tell you the story about the Kansas State Fair of 1929?”
If one wants to equate that to record labels, then one should take a close look at what the hell has happened over at Lookout! Records in the past few years. The label that brought you Green Day, Operation Ivy, The Smugglers, Hi-Fives, Mr. T Experience, The Queers, The Donnas, and others has branched out in ways I never could have predicted. Let’s face it: in 1997, Lookout! didn’t have much in the terms of diversity. They were the King Shit of Pop Punk Mountain and that was about it. However, recently the label has hosted such un-Lookout! bands as the Drive Like Jehu screech of The Cost, the immensely talented Pretty Girls Make Graves, Ted Leo, and Engine Down. And one cannot forget Communiqué, who brought up the curtain on this evening’s night of music at the C.C.

Bred out of Oakland, California, Communiqué is pure, unadulterated indie pop. I’ll be honest; I don’t like 85 percent of the indie pop that’s out there, past, present, or future. However, even with this prejudice, I will fully admit that I liked Communiqué a great deal. Vocalist Rory Henderson croon is tailor made for the ditties that band throws out. With keyboards, two guitars, bass, and drums, Communiqué’s short set was filled with upbeat pop tunes designed to stick in your head for days. Want to hear what you missed? Their debut record Poison Arrows is out now. Go check it out.

Named after the Wim Wenders film bearing the same name, this Madison, Wisconsin, quintet played a tight, high-energy set. Imagine a poppier Foo Fighters and you would have a good idea of Paris Texas’s sound. As their set played out, vocalist Scott Sherpe, a tall and lanky fellow, led the infectious energy, leading rounds of claps and crowd chorus sing a-longs, cupping his hand to his ear a lá Hulk Hogan, hoping to channel the positive energy in the room. The highlight came when Sherpe proclaimed that “St. Louis is the land of seahorses,” whatever the hell that meant. No matter, Paris Texas has grown a long way from their early days and their new LP Like You Like An Arsonist is well worth checking out. Catchy. Catchy. Catchy.

As expected, These Arms Are Snakes were the complete opposite from the bands that preceded them, yet they strangely fit. Comprised of members of Botch and Kill Sadie, the boys had a sound that would fall somewhere in the Unwound, Sleepytime Trio, At the Drive-In, and Frodus territory. One tune would be mellower with dreamier, Birthday Party–style guitar and the next they would go sceamo, but never did they cross over into the metal-core region. In support of a couple EPs, This Is Meant to Hurt You and a split with kindred spirits Harkonen, the band’s physical energy was equal to the music that they played. As they played, vocalist Steve Snere took to the floor mid-song, choosing to sing the vocals among the crowd. He later gave in to the rock demons and dropped to floor, flopping around near the end of the set. However, the night couldn’t have been completed without a round of ritualized shots with tour-mates Communiqué. TAAS is a great rock band and with a new record, Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When its Antelope Go Home, out on September 21 on Jade Tree, the cult will be growing s
oon. 

Unsane w/Turbo ACs and Hearts of Darkness -- Creepy Crawl, October 18, 2003

The last time Unsane came through St. Louis, it was promoted as their reunion tour. At that time, vocalist/guitarist Chris Spencer and bassist Dave Curran had already formed new bands in the Cutthroats 9 and J.J Paradise Players Club. So I figured that I was seeing the last of Unsane. Now wasn’t I naïve? As it turns out with most reunion/farewell tours (can you say The Dismemberment Plan?), Unsane wasn’t quite finished. Earlier this month, Relapse Records released the band’s career-retrospective Lambhouse (24 tracks and a free DVD to boot), so like the D-Plan, Unsane found their way back to Creepy Crawl for one more round.

Local lads Hearts of Darkness like to drink; of this I have no doubt. They had their dancing shoes on and were ready for a Yo-Ho-Ho set of beer and whiskey rock ’n’ roll. Most people would classify them as a punk band—and they do have a very heavy punk influence in their tunes—but they’re really just a flat out fast, “here to kick your ass” rock band. Lead vocalist Jim Mulligan, dressed head to toe in black, swaggered through a set full of songs about drinking, drinking, and more drinking. Throughout the set, Hearts of Darkness laid on all the rock ’n’ roll clichés one could possibly think of. In one of the few non-booze related songs, “Cursed,” Mulligan bragged about the band being banned from clubs all across town. Whether that was accurate or not didn’t really matter. The folks up front bought into Mulligan like he was selling volcano insurance. People jumped up and down, fists were shook, a guy up front dropped to floor and flopped around like a Holy Roller, and the first song played on the PA after the set was “Ace of Spades.” I felt it quite fitting. I couldn’t tell if the Hearts of Darkness took their rock swagger that seriously or if they were playing the part a lá the Rye Coalition; I could only hope it was the latter.

The crowd quickly filled up front for the ACs. This was the band the crowd came to see and they did not disappoint. In town to support their Gearhead Records release Automatic, they had their patented rock ’n’ roll moves down to a T. Call them garage rock, rockabilly, surf-punk. They rocked, in that PBR, two shots of Jagermeister, elbow-in-the-kidneys sort of way; most Gearhead Records bands do. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for bands like the Turbo ACs and The Dragons. Their songs, are fast, simple, and over before they get derivative. I love the Smugglers and Man or Astroman, but I wouldn’t want to stand through 90 minutes of either band. I do not mean that as a knock, but simply an observation of the genre.

Unsane took their sweet ass time setting up. When they finally took stage, the familiar soundtrack montage from “Taxi Driver” that introduced the majority of their shows started to play over the speakers. Grinning like loons, Spencer and bassist Dave Curran started reciting Travis Bickle’s lines, which they both had heard literally a thousand times. Not to get sappy, but they grinned like two friends, enjoying the rush of playing together for probably one of the last times. Meanwhile, drummer Vincent Signorelli sat in a trance, staring ahead, abusing his drum kit like he was praying for rain. Then the wall of noise started and people cleared out of the Creepy Crawl like someone had dropped a canister of tear gas.

Chris Spencer yanked the microphone off its stand with his teeth; eyes bulging like a cornered wolf. Shirt off, Spencer bore a nasty scar from when a gang of Austrian punks nearly kicked him to death. Spencer has always been a fairly intense looking guy on and off stage, but the scar just added to the effect. The hour- long set was filled with standards like “Committed,” “Body Bomb,” “Empty Cartridge,” and “Scrape.” The show ended with tourmates the Turbo ACs joining them onstage for a loud, extended free jam.

NYC’s Unsane isn’t for everyone; they’ve never been. People either like it or they don’t. Noise rock is generally like that. Gauging how empty the Creepy Crawl was when Chris Spencer & Co were finished, I’d say the majority chose the latter; which is too bad because it’s probably the end of the line of for one of the finest noise rock bands around.

While Unsane may be done, it appears that Spencer and Curran have work with their newer outfits in the not-too-distant future. Curran said that J.J Paradise Players Club had just finished up their second LP the day before Unsane left on tour. As for the Cutthroats 9, look for them to be on tour with the JJPPC sometime next spring. Whether or not St. Louis will be on the itinerary remains to be seen.

Unsane -- The Gearbox at Lil’ Nikki’s, May 18, 2005

The P.A gods couldn’t take it anymore. After 15-odd years of abuse, the tables were about to be turned on Unsane’s Chris Spencer, Destroyer of Rock Club Speakers. No longer would they be the victims of the wall of noise called Unsane.

Doors were at 8 p.m. at The Gearbox. The first band, The Adversary Workers, didn’t go on until 10 p.m. That provided plenty of time to observe the little things that a concert attendee does when bored. Let’s go check out the merchandise table. Let’s get a cup of coffee. Let’s play some video bowling. Let’s check the merch table again. I think I’ll get another cup of coffee? Damn. It is colder than a witch’s tit in brass bra in here. Ah, fuck it, let’s get a beer.

Following their Collective Records brothers, The Adversary Workers (who brought the good noise to open the evening), came Belleville’s The Conformists. Simply put, the Conformists are good. Really good. One might think that many of their songs are improvised; however, as I observed, it’s a no-brainer that they got the shit down hard. On a rather lengthy number, it would appear that a cohesive melody was coming forward, only for it to collapse into a wall of schizophrenic noise. Shortly after the instruments would go silent and vocalist Michael would stand parallel to the mike, face contorted, furiously mouthing lyrics. More crash of drums, bass, and guitar and then you had near silence. Then, on cue, the melody would start again with fans wildly shaking their fists in time, for they knew what was coming all along. Mighty impressive the Conformists are.

The New Orleans drum-and-guitar collective known as The Blackfire Revelation is heavy rock stripped down to its foundation—with a wall of amps stacked with a pair of antlers placed on top. Guitarist John Fields and drummer Hank Haney didn’t have a strip of pedals to trick out their sound, they just brought the rock. Nothing fancy, just plug and play. One should keep track of BFR for they are definitely a band I’m going to check out the next time they pass through town.

Unsane took the stage around 12:30 and, after some final tune-ups, busted into “Release” from their new LP Blood Run. That was when the gods struck as Spencer blew out his amp. Justice had at last been served. However, this in turn caused a delay as BFR’s John Fields swapped in his. Once the technical problems were fixed, the set began in earnest again. In their hour, Unsane played ten songs, seven of which were on Blood Run. As 1:30 a.m approached, they dipped into some old favorites, ending their set with “Scrape,” “Alleged,” and “Empty Cartridge.” It was not the greatest Unsane show that I’ve seen, but who am I to complain?

ZZZ -- Creepy Crawl, June 1, 2005

ZZZ -- Creepy Crawl, June 1, 2005

Maybe its just me, but I can’t help but to snort up a low-brow snicker when discussing Holland’s ZZZ. To start with, ZZZ is a two-piece outfit consisting of drummer/vocalist Björn Ottemheim, a shaggy-haired, tall, heavyset fella that doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a frontman, and the more stylish and youthful Daan Schinkel on organ. Add to that the fact that they play a sleazy rock/dance club hybrid with its collective lyrical aura leaning heavily on what some folks refer to as “plowing the fields.” And to cap it all off, ZZZ is from Amsterdam. All potential hash/red-light jokes aside, ZZZ unload songs that would probably fit at the Velvet Room as well as the Creepy Crawl. Their Stateside debut Sound of ZZZ firmly establishes this theory with rhythm and melodies that are sure to induce massive freak-ons more than Death From Above 1979 fueled freak-outs. Also, with song titles that include “Ecstasy,” “House of Sin,” and “Sweet Sex,” the sexual connotation of the group is impossible to ignore. While it would be quite easy to lump the two bands together, the only things they have in common is they’re both two pieces and that they lay the sleaze on heavy and often. What sets ZZZ apart from DFA 1979 is the organ and the fact that ZZZ’s sleaze feels much more authentic.

While it’s terribly overplayed, the word for this evening was “fun.” Playing first, The Paul Bearers started their set with lightning-fast punk complete with Rancid-style bass and the overall feel of a band from the Fat Wreck Chords’ roster. However, as their set progressed, The Bearers showed multiple dimensions, throwing in a little bit of funk and ska into the mix while extorting plenty of movement throughout the set.

The Fusion followed and played what is a true rarity in this town: real, true garage rock. Light-hearted and good-natured, this was music you could dance to with fear of getting hit with a flying body tackle.

Following a rather lengthy sound check, ZZZ took stage with a rather sparse collection of kids standing up front. For a band that one would assume feeds off the enthusiasm of those in attendance, ZZZ played as if the place was packed. As the set entered into its back stretch, the Creepy took on the aura of a high school dance with people glued to their collective iron fence, wall, or concrete pillar, afraid to be the first one to start dancing. When they were through, ZZZ had made one hell of an impression.

Scene of Irony arrived at the Creepy expecting to play third, only to find that they were the headliners for the evening. With the daunting task of following ZZZ, Scene of Irony played straightforward Nirvana-influenced rock. While this style doesn’t do a great deal for me, SOI had meaty hooks and, better yet, solid musicianship. They didn’t blow the roof off the place, but who could have. All in all, this was one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.

FRAGILE PORCELAIN MICE UNLOAD SOME BAGGAGE

Standing on the side of Pop’s stage, Fragile Porcelain Mice vocalist Scott Randall (decked out in a green, striped terrycloth tank top and pants) has a line of five people before him with pens in their hands. Typical grip and greet conversations go on as Randall signs T-shirts and ticket stubs. A couple of fans hand him two one-dollar bills. Randall makes a crack to the guys that defacing federal currency is a federal offense. This round of catching up with old friends is, in a way, three years in the making. Six years since the release of their previous LP, All This Baggage, Fragile Porcelain Mice have just concluded the official CD release show for their fourth LP, The Best of Modern Rock. Written over the course of three years, FPM has released the most meticulously prepared album of their career. However, the path to the present started with the recording and promoting of 1998’s All This Baggage.

“I think we had put so much emphasis on All This Baggage. We called it ‘taking it to the next level.’ Which I think was getting signed. We pushed the records labels and I don’t know how many rejection letters we got,” Randall chuckled.

When no label bit at the record, FPM chose to put the record out themselves. It was shortly after this point that founding guitar player Tim O’Saben chose to leave the band to return to school. Exit O’Saben. Enter Chandler Evans and J Robertson, both from the recently defunct Geishamen. FPM was now a five-piece. Suddenly, the dynamic of the band had changed dramatically.

“When J and Chandler came into the band, I could totally see where it didn’t feel right,” Randall said. “It was good, because I think those guys wrote some really good stuff. But for me, Dave, and Mark, we were different. We weren’t working. Certain things like how we worked with Tim. Basically we would get there and ‘jam.’ You fed off one another. Tim would feed Dave. I mean that’s unspoken. [FPM as a five-piece] didn’t have that.”

Not that the new FPM couldn’t have morphed into something close to it. “Who’s to say if J and Chandler would have stayed in the band another year or so, we may have gelled into that.”

That eventuality never came to be. In 2001, O’Saben returned to the band and Evans and Robertson departed on good terms. Fragile was a four-piece again.

“We all sat down. Back to the original lineup; what do we want to do?” Randall said. In between a few one-off shows, what they decided on was The Best of Modern Rock.

“The goal was, ‘Let’s write a record that’s an actual record.’ Like an album that has some fluidity to it,” Randall explained. “It gave us something to direct ourselves, like ‘Are we relevant?’ That was the goal, mainly to stay relevant.”

Toward which FPM put forth much effort, in the form of multiple delays in the release date of The Best of Modern Rock.

“A lot of it was us, mainly just tweaking it. We would just listen to it critique it. We’re probably our harshest critics,” Randall said. “We were just like, ‘There’s something that’s maybe not there.’”

Luckily, whatever was missing was easy to fix, as Heinz is a recording engineer.

“We live real close to one another. If we needed to add another vocal track or add some instrumentation, we could do that,” Randall expained. “We constantly pushed it back on our own terms because we did not feel like it was there yet.”

On this record, however, FPM does not have a great deal of marketing and selling of this record as was the case six years ago.

“With this record, the goal is to just get it into people’s hands as much as possible,” Randall said. “If it gets picked up by a label sometime down the line, then great. If it doesn’t, hopefully enough people will have it in their hands and they’ll listen to it on a regular basis.”

Listening to The Best of Modern Rock, it’s easy to see what Randall means by fluidity. Not only does it meet that goal, it surpasses it. Starting off with “We Have A Problem,” Randall, in robotic monotone, repeats the song title followed by the bitter reality of “but there’s no so solution here.” The mid-tempo melody very obviously foreshadows a record ready to teeter off its platter—which it does with the breakout speed of “Disposable,” spot-on FPM. Everything sounds familiar yet refreshingly new. Dave Winkeler’s bad-ass bass picking, Heinz’s crisp and sharp drumming, Tim O’Saben’s hooky guitar riffs, and of course Randall’s decidedly distinctive vocals. As the record progresses with number after number, the realization sets in that this record really does have continuity and a consistent level of quality to it that was lacking in their previous three LPs. There have been some memorable songs in their back catalogue, but The Best of Modern Rock is by far the best album of FPM’s career.

While it may be their best career album, The Best of Modern Rock had to be one of the worst album titles ever. FPM couldn’t have chosen that title with a straight face.

“I kind of liked how it sounded,” Randall stated. “Really, it’s just tongue in cheek. I think it sounds to me like one of those K-TEL records.”

Together since 1991, The Best of Modern Rock might just be the right title for a band that finds itself in front of aging fans and a whole new generation of young ones. With the six-year gap between albums, would the band be put off by a “You mean they’re still around?” attitude?

“I don’t take offense to it. I think that would be a common reaction. As long as they remember us, that’s not a bad thing. It’s better than ‘Who are they?’” Randall said.

It’s a common enough reaction that even Randall would have shared back in the day.

“If you told me in ’95 that I would still be doing this, I probably would have told you you’re crazy,” Randall said. “I think the thing is that we enjoy playing music and it’s hard to get it out of your system.”

As for any touring, don’t expect anything more than regional gigs for now. Full-time jobs, wives, and kids are going to prevent any kind of extensive touring.

“We can’t be playing out of town just to be playing out of town. The goal is to play shows that make sense,” Randall said. “We don’t really have the luxury of going out for, say, a month. It may not be to your benefit to play a Wednesday night in Portland, Maine, in front of five people.”

So for now, Fragile Porcelain Mice are contenting themselves with gigs on friendly turf.

“Right now for us, just playing in general is fun because people want us to play,” Randall said. “We’re lucky that people want us to come play a venue and people would still be willing to come out.” 

Henry Rollins: The Girls at the Office Say I’m Shallow

Good spoken word performances are few and far between. Where Jello Biafra overloads your brain with enough damning historical/political facts to make your head explode, Henry Rollins tends for the most part to keep things on the lighter side. Self-effacing stories about the time he knocked himself out seconds into a Rollins Band gig or stories about his youthful misadventures are the type of fare you can expect. If you sit through an entire Rollins spoken-word show and don’t laugh your ass off at least once, chances are you were probably weaned on an iceberg.

Like the late Johnny Cash, Rollins has been literally everywhere the past 25 years. Best known for his years singing for the punk band Black Flag, Rollins, through his own grit and will, has built up a body of work whose breadth is larger than most professional “entertainers” could ever dream of. Rollins, while continuing his musical career in the Rollins Band, has established a career as writer/poet, actor, voice-over talent, publisher, hovercraft captain, and a spoken-word entertainer without peer. Late in 2003, Rollins embarked on his first USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour. The “meet and greet” took him to military bases in Afghanistan, Qatar, and Kurdistan.

Rolling toward Cleveland the day after his forty-third birthday, a rather reserved Henry Rollins discussed just what keeps his pilot light lit after all these years and the impression the USO tour left on him. “It was an eye-opener, and I met a lot of really good people. It gives you a sense of just how stupid wars are. They’re just stupid, you know. There’s just no sense to it. It’s almost like being in a movie. It’s surreal, because if everyone just put the guns down, there would be no war. It’s all you would have to do, and all of a sudden, it’s a different day.”

While Rollins let it be known that he doesn’t agree policy-wise with the Middle Eastern conflicts, he jumped at this chance and plans for a second USO tour in April. “I think the war in Iraq and the thing in Afghanistan is about something else. I don’t think it’s about ‘We feel so bad for Iraq.’ I don’t think our president feels that bad about an evil dictator. While I don’t agree there, I do see the predicament of these young people, and I can understand their loneliness and their isolation and their displacement, and that’s what I respond to.”

In his interaction with the military personnel, Rollins found out later, through their correspondence to him, the gravity of discontent among some of the men and women stationed overseas. “It’s not in person, but it’s the letters that you get later where they say things like, ‘Oh, I’ve been in Baghdad for like four months, and I still don’t get it. I don’t know why we’re here, or this is bullshit.’ They will say things like that.”

That USO tour all but closed out what was another endless working year for Rollins. Starting roughly on January 6 through December 15, his typical year will take him on the road for musical and spoken-word tours upwards of 180 days a year. When not on tour, Rollins uses his “downtime” to get caught up on his other projects.

“Between tours, it’s usually steady office work, which is editing a book, working on releases at the label (2.13.61), voice-over work, auditions, or a movie or TV thing. When I’m home, I work through the weekends. I get a lot of work done during the weekends, writing-type stuff, just because the office is quiet, and I can do a lot of typing, a lot of research on stuff.”

So with a schedule so bogged down with tours and “downtime,” what exactly does he do to fend off burnout? “I just basically switch mediums, and it kind of gets me out of one thing and into another. I get burnt on one thing, and I just go to the next.”

Despite changing up his schedule, Rollins’ career leaves room for very little else; in fact, there are aspects of his career that are not so pleasant. “There’s an element of vigorous work ethic, but I can’t overstress the unflattering aspects of it, which is, like I said, I don’t have a whole lot else going on, to the exclusion of probably a lot of things that I could be checking out. The girls at the office say I’m shallow.”

Whether Rollins is truly shallow is frankly irrelevant, for he remains driven by his own philosophic ideas of what the artist work ethic is. “This sounds really strange, but I really thought, and still do, that the real paradigm of the artist-type is vigorous work.”

Rollins bases this ethic on the lives of John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and Henry Miller. While he does not equate his life with his heroes, their lifestyles have left a big mark on how Rollins carries himself professionally today. “They just worked all the time. They were; therefore, they worked. They were their work, and their work was them, and they were happy with that.”

One can also dig deeper into Rollins’ past to find the seeds of what drives his engine. “I come from the minimum-wage working world with a high school education. So I went from an ice cream store job paying four or five bucks an hour…to being in a band where I was all of a sudden completely broke all the time [Black Flag], and little by little, one thing led to another, and I can pay my rent now. Knowing where I come from gives me a lot of backbone, because I got a break.”

So after 24 years on the road, what accomplishment stands out as the one thing of which he is the most proud? “Pride is a weird word. The thing that I am the happiest about is not any single release or anything; it’s the fact that, after 24 years of touring, I’m still touring, still releasing stuff, and people are still showing up. Like anybody else in my situation, I’m very grateful.”

One can give up the love to Henry Rollins as he hits town March 6 at the Pageant.

THE BRONX | 2.15.06 W/HIGH ON FIRE, BURIED INSIDE, BIG BUSINESS, RIDDLE OF STEEL

\Wednesday, 05 April 2006 

Los Angeles greaser-punkers the Bronx played a set that served notice that they might be the best live punk band in the universe. 

Wrote opening act Riddle of Steel in an alarmist MySpace bulletin: “If you arrive at 7 p.m., you will be too late to see us, and most likely you won’t get in because this shit will SELL THE FUCK OUT. ARRIVE EARLY. 6:30pm.”

And on February 15, in front of the Creepy Crawl, a group of people had arrived early. Whether or not ROS’s message prompted them was unknown. However, the warning turned out to be unnecessary, as Riddle didn’t start playing until 7:20—and the crowd, though solid, was not at capacity.

After ROS and Ottawa, Canada’s Buried Inside came the thundering drum-and-bass duo, Big Business. Big Business had played the STL on two previous occasions, both performances rather dull and disappointing. This time would be different.

As they took stage, it was apparent that Big Business had brought along some new twists. Aurally, Jared Warren’s vocal effects were far more noticeable than before. In fact, before they started, Warren wrapped his mic with a dingy, old-man hanky. Also at his feet was a wired toy keyboard that he stepped on throughout the show. 

By adding new tracks from their four-track, tour-only CD, Big Business breathed some freshness into their set. They also touched on tunes from their debut Head for the Shallow, including “O.G.,” “Easter Romantic,” and “Off Off Broadway.” For the first time in three St. Louis appearances, Big Business received a healthy dose of claps and appreciation from the assembled masses. 

Los Angeles greaser-punkers the Bronx played a set that served notice that they might be the best live punk band in the universe. Sailing their ship to sea, Matt Caughthran masterfully guided the Bronx through their set. As they opened with “Heart Attack American,” their fans screamed in recognition. Fast, raucous, and filled with positive energy, Caughthran—sporting a Kix “Blown Fuse Tour 1989” tee—moved around the stage testifying his way through “White Tar,” “They Will Kill Us All,” “Bats,” and others, passing out dedications left and right. Recipients included the ocean, the Creepy Crawl bar staff, Dapper Dan’s, and former NFL running back Sammy Winder. Through all this, Caughthran even found time to jump into the crowd for a little bonding. Verdict: an excellent set by an excellent band.

Then came High on Fire, which brought to mind the infamous Casey Kasem outtakes in which the furious DJ profanely complained about the transition that led from an upbeat song straight into a long-distance dedication about the death of a little dog named Snuggles. This night had a similar situation, minus one dead canine. 


After the Bronx’s up-tempo set, transitioning back to High on Fire’s vibe was impossible. High on Fire are without a doubt one of the best metal outfits in the world today. However, given the circumstances on this night, High on Fire was an annoying and colossal bore.

DOUG STANHOPE | 05.06.06

Written by David Lichius

“I look forward to not knowing what to expect,” Stanhope said.

Pop’s
May 6, 8 p.m. | all ages
Tickets: $10 | Call: 618-274-6720 

On a damp, yet pleasant Thursday night in Kansas City, Doug Stanhope is standing inside a rock club that has flyers for an upcoming Low concert posted on the walls. Fifty plastic chairs are lined in rows up front for those who purchased advanced tickets. On this particular evening, Stanhope is sharing the stage with fellow comics Blo-Chi and Travis Lipski, as well as the sex punk sounds of the Pornhuskers. The Record Bar, suffice to say, is not your usual comedy venue. In the past, you’d most likely find the 39-year-old comedian a mile or two down Westport Road at Stanford & Sons Comedy Club. It is a club that Stanhope has played on several occasions. It’s also a place you can bet that he’ll never set foot in again.

“You come here [Record Bar], there’s probably a bunch of people at the bar that would be sitting in that bar regardless if it was no entertainment, if it was Monday Night Football, if it’s karaoke; they’re regular people. No one is walking around telling you to fucking shut up, you can’t talk to the comics and that whole comedy club feel,” Stanhope said, “When you play this gig, you don’t need a two-drink minimum.”

While Stanhope stated that there are still comedy clubs that he will go back to, he feels that bars have more adrenaline and chaos in them and, therefore, are more enjoyable

“A town like Kansas City where I have a small fan base, if I play Stanford and Sons and do six shows there, my fan base will be spread out sparsely throughout six shows and intermingled with bachelorette parties and fucking douchebags who think that they won 20 free tickets for their birthday party. So there will be people there to see me and there will be a fucking slew of people who, if Larry the Cable Guy came in with a pan flute, he could lead them off a pier,” Stanhope laughed.

Stanhope’s small fan base in Kansas City—or any town, for that matter—has not come from a lack of effort. A touring comedian for over 15 years, Stanhope’s most visible exposure was hosting the ill-fated The Man Show—which Stanhope openly admits absolutely sucked. However, his most recent place in the spotlight was his participation in the comedy The Aristocrats. When he was initially approached about the project, Stanhope had zero interest. It wasn’t until co-director Paul Provenza showed him 45 minutes of rough footage that he jumped on board. In his segment, Stanhope is telling his own rendition of The Aristocrats joke to an infant. As funny as that segment was, Stanhope wanted to alter the scene a bit.

“I wanted to tell it to a kid who old enough to understand it, like a nine-year-old,” Stanhope chuckled. “That would have really pushed it fucking over the top and just pan on this fucking sunken, sallow face. That would have been hilarious.”

Suffice to say, Stanhope’s act is beyond over the edge. A fearless and wickedly insightful truth teller, many people finger Stanhope as a comedian in the vein of the deceased Bill Hicks. However, to try and describe his act is nearly impossible. To hand over a transcript to virgin ears would not do his material justice. It’s in his delivery and self-effacing honesty that the brilliance of Stanhope comes through. While the list of topics that he has touched on over the years—smoking, drugs, pornography, drinking, abortion—have been used by numerous of other comics, Stanhope has taken these topics in directions and to such extreme levels that, on some occasions, clubs have posted signs warning audiences that Stanhope’s brand of comedy won’t fly with those with gentile sensibilities. Or, as Stanhope once said, “My act is like animal porn. It’s not for everyone.”

On this night, there are no such disclaimers at the door. Following the opening acts, Stanhope takes the stage and begins by stating that he’s more interested in seeing the Pornhuskers then doing his set. One might think that for a show that featured the Pornhuskers—two young ladies dancing provocatively with pasties covering their chests—that the audience would be fairly desensitized. However, as evidenced by one young woman sitting in the third row, this would not be the case. Her gasps of, “Oh my God,” were heard throughout the venue as Stanhope ran through his set. The observation that garnished the most audible reaction touched on a Dawn dish soap ad that, to Stanhope’s disgust, used the cleaning of an oil-drenched duck to sell their soap. Stanhope followed by drawing a direct comparison between that and using Elizabeth Smart to sell feminine hygiene products.

After his set, Stanhope stays up front with his digital camera, capturing the opening moments of the Pornhuskers. It isn’t long until Stanhope is swept away by well wishers who start feeding him shots of Jager and whatever booze they can think of.

While the Record Bar proved to be a friendly and hospitable venue, Stanhope also books on his itinerary some towns that have a higher potential of being the exactly the opposite. This is something that he welcomes.

“I look forward to not knowing what to expect,” Stanhope said. “The Improv is the most ironically named fucking comedy club chain; you know nothing out of the ordinary is going to happen. Maybe a waitress will spill a tray of drinks. Generally, you’re gonna see a guy who knows exactly what he’s gonna say verbatim, word for word; there’s gonna be a guy who’ll do 15 minutes who probably sucks and then a guy who’s kinda mediocre do 25 minutes, and then the guy you supposedly came to see is going go through his fucking script and then you will leave.”

Fifteen days later, Stanhope is back in Missouri and is going to get a full dose of the unexpected. For on this occasion, he is not in a major metropolitan city nor is he is a college town. No, on Good Friday 2006, Stanhope is in the tiny enclave of Cedar Hill, Mo. Thirty-odd miles southwest of St. Louis, the show is sold out. However, the crowd is filled with locals, not with many people who are familiar with his act. Inside the local advertisement weekly The Green Apple, an ad teases the show: “Straight from The Man Show: Comedian DOUG STANHOPE, 1 Show Only, 10pm, April 14th! Closed Easter!”

Inside the converted dining room, the place is packed with people sitting around circular tables set up so close to each other, you could easily step from table to table with little effort.

After opener Andy Andrist, it is now plainly evident that the crowd is here to see the guy they know only from the The Man Show. Contrary to his show in Kansas City where he tried out mostly new material, Stanhope—with a few exceptions—hilariously improvises his through his “contractual obligation” of 60 minutes. In the opening minutes of his set, Stanhope subtly ridicules the town he is standing in.

““If you’re wondering what the fuck I’m doing in Cedar Hill, so am I,” Stanhope said with a snicker. “I’ve never done a gig where I’ve had more people warn me not to do this gig. ‘Are you suicidal? I’ve been to that town. What the fuck are you doing?’”

Stanhope quickly turns to the subject of his motel room—18 miles away in Fenton.

“I’ve never played a town that doesn’t have a motel,” Stanhope states. “The next community hall thing where you get together and fight about burning flags or teaching evolution in school, why don’t someone bring up, ‘How about a motel?’”

Stanhope continued with his improv.

“Can you pin point the exact moment when all your Cedar Hill dreams fell to shit? Sometime around senior year in the back seat of your Ford Tempo? You looked at your girl and said”—and here he switched to his best redneck accent—“‘Baby, as soon as we graduate, we’re getting the fuck out of this nowhere town. We’re gonna go to Key West, Florida. I’m learning how to play the acoustic 12-string. I’m gonna play country music right on the boulevard for tips. Oh? You can carve coconuts into scrim-saw monkey heads and sell them at a flea market. We don’t need money, baby. We have love and each other. Our whole future is wide open. Why don’t we fuck one time without a rubber just to celebrate? Oh, what could possibly go wrong?’”

As the minutes go by, Stanhope tauntingly turns up the knob of the vulgarity of his material. With about five minutes left in his set, the room has emptied considerably and a woman—whose voice sounds ravaged from years of smoking—starts yelling at her party that they’re leaving.

Stanhope stopped and responded, “No. No. No. No. No. Take your time. Take your time. I’m gonna keep talking about stinky pussy.” As her party exits the room, Stanhope smiles and taunts her with a singsong chant of, “Stinky pussy on Good Friday.”

After the show, Stanhope is selling his CDs on top of pool table covered with a wooden plank. A man walks up, whispers into his ear, whereupon Stanhope turns and follows the man out the door.

As for his show on May 6 at Pop’s, Stanhope is looking forward to his return to the bar that never closes—as well as the surrounding ambiance.

“I love it. It’s like Porky’s. It’s just so fantastic when you compare it to going to the Funny Bone—and I’m not trashing the Funny Bone, but for what I do it fits.” Stanhope smiled. “I belong in a fucking dirty tavern.”

THUNDERBIRDS ARE NOW!, RAHIM, THE OCTOPUS PROJECT | 03.21.06 | CREEPY CRAWL, ST. LOUIS

To be blunt, the Creepy Crawl was fucking cold. Attendees were wearing winter coats and stocking caps just to keep warm. In a way, this was appropriate. After endless summer evenings standing amid the heat and the humidity in this same room, experiencing the exact opposite seemed rather fitting. The circle was complete. The innards of the Creepy Crawl had now experienced both ends of the thermometer.

Playing first, TU laid out catchy and endearing pop that had those gathered near the stage clapping in unison. Reminiscent of the Dismemberment Plan and Mates of State, TU were thoroughly enjoyable. On the completely opposite side of the road, Micahveil was a noisy bunch that combined elements of post-punk, space rock, and a smidge of emo. Playing their set with tons of frantic energy—along with a boatload of feedback, blips, beeps, and intense keyboards—they were mighty impressive.

Fronted by keyboardist Yvonne Lambert, the Octopus Project played a wildly entertaining set of new wave-y instrumentals. While Lambert held court up front with an array of sound manipulators—mainly a theremin that allowed Lambert to raise and lower the pitch of a squeal—bassist Josh Lambert and guitarist Brandon Durham bounded back and forth, frequently swapping instruments. On a night where quality was a surplus, the Octopus Project was a very remarkable outfit.

In support of their debut LP Ideal Lives—gladly sold at the merch table two weeks ahead of its street date—Rahim were the enigma of the evening. While the rest of the bands on the bill were fairly straightforward and conventional, Rahim’s brand of rock was out of the mold. Resembling French Toast and a little bit of El Guapo, Rahim’s set was inspired, well played, and lively to be sure.

Thunderbirds Are Now! is very comparable to Les Savy Fav; just ask them and they’ll totally admit it. They may lack a front person who strips on stage piecemeal, but they certainly shared LSF’s lively stage presence, marching their way through “Eat This City,” “This World Is Made of Paper,” “Harpoons of Love,” “From: Skulls,” and others, including a new tune on which Rahim joined them on stage. In a moment of rock hilarity, guitarist/vocalist Ryan Allen took time to jokingly insult Micahveils’ band name only to immediately turn the insult around, calling Thunderbirds Are Now! “the worst band name ever.” Ah, there is nothing like self-effacing humor to further endear yourself to a crowd. However, by that time, they didn’t need it. TAN! was a blast.