Monday, July 13, 2015

Recollections from a Thursday Night Punk Mass - Parts One and Two

I decided to tackle this in two parts. I’ll address the occasion first and then deal with the aspect that reflects a particular personal prejudice. The latter borne out of a dread that came over me when I first read what format the evening of July 9th would take. Often I find that if I worry about something long and hard enough, it doesn’t come to pass but this time my hunch was entirely wrong.  My emotional investment was off the scale and the reason for this happening – or Punk Mass – as it was billed - took place to mark the significance of an entity that is known to the world as Suicide.
Part One
As you’re undoubtedly aware but in case you came in late, the first Suicide record was the sonic equivalent of “Eraserhead”. Nobody who ever encountered it to this day has gone unaffected. Particularly back before their influence became the DNA of EDM and several other genres. They have since infiltrated the mainstream to a degree that might have seemed ludicrous when Clash and Costello audiences were throwing everything that wasn’t nailed down at them.
I just watched a YouTube clip where Marty talks about them being “interpreters”. The fact that the debut came out here via Bronze made it possible that they were able to come here and terrorise Europe earlier than they might have done otherwise. Once seen or heard, Suicide was never forgotten. No matter what camp you were in.
London was a nightmare last Thursday but at least the weather was nice. Gridlock brought upon by the tube strike meant that the only way to get anywhere was on the hoof. Prior to wandering off to the Barbican, I was reacquainted with my old mucker Derek Harris who runs Lewis Leathers. WE calculated that we hadn’t seen one another for 30 years but just picked up where we left off and agreed to continue the reunion at the show.
I made it to the venue in plenty of time. It’s a sprawling place but relatively easy to navigate and I had a great seat. Second row, front centre (C33).
Suicide – A Punk Mass was performed in two parts. An ensemble that calls itself The Feral Choir kicked off both. I think I’ll leave it at that. This ensemble included the Japanese combo Bo Ningen. One of them looked like Joey Ramone if he’d raided Ian Astbury’s wardrobe. As a form of expression, I guess it has its place but not anywhere in my proximity.
Then Henry Rollins bounds on and provides an introduction from his perspective. I’m not a fan of much of his music but let’s not forget that he sings on the version of “Ghost Rider” that made the soundtrack of “The Crow”. I believe he is sincere and that his enthusiasm is infectious.
So then Rev swaggers on and limbers up for "Stigmata". Three girl singers flank the stage and he crashes into a meditation upon the Del Vikings “Whispering Bells” that sounded like it had just jumped off an extended soundtrack for “Mulholland Drive” that Shadow Morton might have dreamt up. The bar was raised pretty high at that point. The remainder of the set didn’t quite deliver the same level of heart punch but that first one left me reeling. There’s a consensus to the effect that we wish he would play more rather than assault his keyboard but one can’t unscramble eggs and I’m going to be delving into his solo catalogue when I’m done with this. I particularly favour Rev’s allegiance to doo-wop and the romantic notion of that music that peppers his work.
Next up was the Vega family ensemble of Alan, Liz and Dante performing material from the forthcoming release “It”. This was way more visceral. Alan’s stage entrance was both invigorating and alarming. His face was so expressive but as he told us, “I can’t walk anymore”, so I chose to focus on his facial communication being that I was so close when he was able to propel himself forward. The yelp is intact too. Liz and Dante cooked up the squall that would bolster Alan’s recitation. I look forward to hearing the album. 
A short intermission preceded the critical section of the Mass – Suicide themselves, a force of nature like no other. This event was a celebration of how far they’ve come having stuck to their blueprint if indeed there ever was such a thing. Suicide has changed the landscape of music like hardly anyone else in history. When that patented chopper blade riff started to pummel then the full force came to bear on the auditorium. In the same way that perhaps Dylan performs loose approximations of his catalogue, not much of the set tonight resembles the recorded versions with the exception of “I Surrender”. What was it Vega once said, “Once you write it, forget it” or something to that effect. That was the one that was almost too much. Plain - off the scale - beautiful. The interaction between Rev and Vega reached an apex there and a tear streamed down the left side of my face at that point. This is what we were here for, a deep connection to the mainframe.
A mighty “Woolly Bully” loop ripped through the place next and a mini-riot erupted at the RH side of the hall (facing the stage). It was instigated by one particular girl that was on a mission to get the place moving. Maybe if the venue hadn’t been seated it would have spread further. It was a valiant attempt for sure. I sort of wished I’d been closer to the action.
And then it was done. Just like that. We made it. My worst fear unfounded at that juncture. After much stomping and shouting Alan and Marty returned with Hank in tow for "Ghost Rider". By that point Alan looked like he’d had enough. Rollins tried to cajole him but he didn’t want to. I can’t be certain but it sounded like he said “I’m a fuckin’ parrot”. There wasn’t much truth being screamed at that point but there had been a whole mess of that earlier.
What happened next completely and utterly killed the whole experience stone dead for me and I’ll deal with that in part two. I posted on the facedog when I got in that there were a few very high highs. And that their ability to confound is utterly intact. I stand by that. Post-show, I drowned some pretty deep sorrows with my friends Derek, Saaya and Karen. Had I just gone back to the hotel there’s no telling how things might have turned out. So I thank those kids for their sterling company and the moral support. Likewise to the rest of the crew who continued with the post-mortem on Friday over drinks and Indian cuisine.
My big concern is Alan’s health and I’m sad that I never got to say hello. I consider the man to be a god as well as a friend. However, I hope folks will appreciate my need to be honest. So here goes...
Part Two
A very wise man not present at the event posed the question – Why the fuck would anyone think they can sit in with Suicide?” This is moot but Rollins did OK. He tried to charge Alan with positive energy. The fact that the wee fella was having none of it is another thing entirely. Henry’s generosity of spirit was evident and he earned his wings.
After “Ghost Rider”, I looked down for a second just as “Dream Baby Dream” was taking off. Lifting my head I’m all of a sudden confronted by a character so bereft of humility that I don’t understand why anyone gives him the time of day. Someone that has in my opinion, founded a career on appropriating premeditated 'cool' as a device to flog his modular rock pantomime.
The singer from the group Savages had also appeared to join in on the tone-deaf dismantling of what I consider to be a hymn. My fears had become a reality to the point that I think a wee panic attack ensued. I rallied but they just went on howling like two constipated banshees for the duration.
I wasn’t in the minority judging by the reaction of people around me. Not friends but fellow fans that obviously recognise a chancer when confronted by one. Everything seemed to come to a grinding halt at that point. I wandered out into the foyer in a daze, spitting feathers.
If you don't know who I'm talking about then head over here. You can compare and contrast. You may even disagree with me. That is entirely your prerogative even though you'd be wrong to.
Wandering back to the hotel under sedation, I wondered what Marty Thau would have made of all this. I also saw a Don Letts looky-likey unloading a Boots van on the Tottenham Court Road. It had been a rough night.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Edinburgh, this weekend, the return of....

The return of Tav Falco with a new troupe of Panther Burns I believe...? And prior to the (command) performance there will be a screening of 'Urania Descending'. He'll be in Glasgow at The Poetry Club with The Creeping Ivies on Friday.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Good Things Come In Bundles Of Three!

Three things happened last week that would suggest to me that rock’n’roll is not entirely deid (Scot lingo – not a typo). It may, more often than not, smell funny but rumours of its demise are still premature.
These happenstances were, the majesty of those Dictators songs being performed in a shithole that was not worthy of the performance. Due to virtually zero promotion or the actuality that Glasgow never stepped up to the plate, neither of those altered the experience of those that leave their midden heids (see ‘deid’ above) that Wednesday night.

On Thursday, Mudhoney returned and again rubberstamped their position as something way more than the pigeonhole they were saddled with. These guys swing. The other grunge – including Cobain’s crew – never did - in my opinion.
The third aspect of what restored my faith – and by no means least – was the release of Screeching Weasel’s “Baby Fat Act One”. It’s not often that I have high expectations about anything. It’s even less common that such lofty consideration could be exceeded but I’m hornswaggled to report that it has.
If these were the days of yore then this would propel the band into the stratosphere. Construed as a 'libretto', everything about it is extremely high-calibre. The sound is like those (Bob) Ezrin-produced Alice Cooper records, where pin sharp operatic guitars howl and this is the best example since “Welcome To My Nightmare”. But it’s also way more. The elements encompass shades of John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone, Jim Steinman and of course that Ramonic wallop. “Living Hell” reminds me of Compulsion, who other than Lisa Fancher remembers those guys? “All Winter Long” is just 45 seconds long and it could be the anthem for every summer to come. However, I just remembered – there is no justice. This section features Suzy Chain and BB Quattro on backing vocals. Line Dahlmann plays the part of Miserella and it’s an utter joy to hear her on here. My extended family done great. 
So there’s Ben, Blag Dahlia, Kat Spazzy and Paul Collins too. All pitching in to make this something that would have taken a gazillion dollars to make not so long ago. And even at that – the realisation of such a project would have been down to chemistry. Not the amount of drugs the participants took dufus – the way the music and vocals interact. You could bring in any amount of alleged professional firepower and I doubt they’d arrive at anything half so incredible as this has turned out.
If only there was a way to perform it in some kind of live situation – "Baby Fat" would truly sweep the world. As it is, I’m not sure what songs could find their way into an actual SW live set. The current line up does (I think) feature on 5 of the ‘songs’ but the potential lack of context might render that improbable.
An often controversial figure, Ben sure went the extra mile to bamboozle the fuckwits that like to take internet swings at him from time to time. Believe me. You haven’t heard anything quite like this in a long time. Perhaps you never heard anything like it ever so all the more reason why you need to hear it now. Cut along over to Recess Records now and scratch that itch. CD and cassette (!) available now, vinyl out in July – thanks to the gimp(s) that head up RSD for the delay on that.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Sunday Salon Culture!

Sunday Salon Matinees
2 until 5.30pm Sundays. Free Entry

A series of cabaret style events presided over by Marc Baines and Rob Churm: a splurge of film, performance, projections, musical interludes and good times.

Sunday May 10th: Robert Downey Sr. / Kuchar Bros.
Putney Swope director Robert Downey Senior’s baffling but thoroughly entertaining TWO TONS OF TURQUOISE TO TAOS TONIGHT(USA 1975) features a score by Jack Nitzsche (Ronettes, Neil Young and early Rolling Stones arranger) and an exhuberant central performance by Downey Junior’s Ma, Elsie. A supporting programme celebrates the fabulous Kuchars. Mike’s THE CRAVEN SLUCK(USA 1967) stars brother George (in a Beatle wig) communing with lascivious suburban starlets, a lost dog and a sky swarming with UFOs. It’s glaringly obvious the influence this film had on a young John Waters. George Kuchar’s loquacious humour is in full flow in his videos SCARLET DROPPINGS, ROUTE 666, THE INMATE and BURNOUT (USA 1991 - 2003), mash ups of storm diaries,demented puppetry, melodramatic overtures and thoughtful reflections on death and flatulence.

Sunday May 17th: La Jetée + Raydale Dower
Chris Marker’s apocalyptic time travel rumination LA JETEE (France 1962) occupies a special place of its own in film history and was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys not to mention a zillion art school films. For this screening Marker’s startling images are accompanied by a newly written synth and clarinet score by Tut Vu Vu’s Raydale Dower. In a schlockier vein Curtis Harrington (Kenneth Anger’s cameraman and author of Nice Guys Don’t Work In Hollywood) brings us QUEEN OF BLOOD (USA 1966), a tale of migrant rescue and intergalactic vampires. The film utilises gorgeous footage of Russian space hardware and special effects and the acting flair of John Saxon and Dennis Hopper. Intermission music of a space age variety from Delia Derbyshire, Sun Ra Arkestra, Gil Melle, Devo, Esquivel, Raymond Scott, Stereolab and like that...

Sunday May 24th: Robert Altman / Jane Elliot
Robert Altman’s strange, unsettling and dream-like THREE WOMEN (USA 1977) ranges between desert expanses and confined apartment spaces and boasts extraordinary performances from Sissy Spacek (Carrie) and Shelley Duvall (The Shining). In the wake of a life changing incident health spa workers Pinky Rose (Spacek) and Millie (Duvall) find their relationship with each other shifts and alters in unexpected ways. Also showing: William Peter’s A CLASS DIVIDED (USA 1985) documenting a social experiment teacher Jane Elliot developed in the 1960s for a 3rd Grade  class in Iowa. Segregated by eye colour, on day one blue eyed children are privileged over green eyed children. The next day the roles are reversed and the sometime surprising consequences are observed and disected. A fascinating study of how power and authority exploit discrimination.

Sunday June 7th: William Klein / Gilbert Hernandez
Acclaimed photographer and documentarist William Klein made a trio of fiction films; Qui Etes Vous, Polly Maggoo? (recently shown in the Hairdressers by Matchbox Cineclub); The Model Couple and today’s feature, MR. FREEDOM (France 1969), a pop art extravaganza that resonates with Mai ‘68 and Guy Peelaert’s contemporaneous Pravda and Jodelle comics. American superhero Mr Freedom is in Paris and, confused as to why the locals aren’t falling in line with his right wing agenda, sets about addressing the wayward Europeans with a benevolent dose of violence. The top notch supporting cast includes Serge Gainsbourg, Delphine Seyrig and Donald Pleasance. Also showing: cable TV show NAKED COSMOS (USA 2005) directed by cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez (Love & Rockets) and two SUPERMAN cartoons (USA1941) in scorching colour.

Sunday June 14th: Elkin + Gummy Stumps / Cattle & Richards / Clarke
A busy afternoon of live performances and presentations that ends with a collaboration between Belfast born video and performance artist KATHRYN ELKIN and Hairdressers perennials GUMMY STUMPS, a tribute of sorts to Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. RACHEL CATTLE & STEVE RICHARDS introduce their latest piece, STATION TO STATION (UK 2015) and we’re showing ANNE- MARIE COPESTAKE’s’s new Sound of Yell video. The afternoon kicks of with Shirley Clarke’s THE CONNECTION (USA 1962), a faux documentary in which a director, already out of his depth, gets talked into sinking deeper and deeper into the heroin soaked world of the beatniks and jazz musicians he’s filming. The Jackie McLean Quintet rehearse and Warren Finnerty gives an intense Steve Buscemiesque performance.Clarke cannily remoulds the original stage play by combining cinema verite and experimental film techniques.

Sunday June 21st: Smog Monster / Tanaami / DAM artists
The 11th entry in the original series of Godzilla films is also one of the weirdest and most fun. Yoshimitsu Banno takes over directing from Ishiro Honda for GODZILLA vs THE SMOG MONSTER (AKA Godzilla vs Hedorah) (Japan 1971), an ecological disaster movie wrapped in gogo dancing, stylish animation that demonstrates questionable scientific theories and the inevitable men in rubber suits batting each other from pillar to post. Taking their name from a previous Godzilla film, the Detroit art and music collective Destroy All Monsters (formed 1973), was the early stomping ground of artists Mike Kelley; Jim Shaw; Carey Loren and Niagara. Their music soundtracks Loren’s SHAKE A LIZARD’S TAIL (USA 1995), a wild montage of cable ads, dance offs and b-movie clips. Plus: a handful of short animations by Japanese pop artist KEIICHI TANAAMI (Japan 200 - 2008).