Music

Hightower :: Sure.Fine.Whatever. :: Knives Out Records



From the first notes, I loved this Sure.Fine.Whatever. Hightower is exactly the brand of punk that will always get me. It is aggressive, catchy, and full of energy. I have spent the last month trying to pick this record apart, tell you what is awesome, what makes it so great. But I can’t. It kicks off with Aqua Tiger which totally kicks your ass, and it only goes up from there. 1076 is deeper track and a bit slower, but 100% punk rock. This Is Really Neat balances screaming and melody perfectly and Under a Funeral Moon has a breakdown that is so catchy you will be singing along the first time you hear this song. Motion Sickness is all thrash, all aggression. Mathematical Crank, may be my favorite instrumental ever, as in on the first listen, I didn’t realize over a minute and a half went without lyrics. And See You At the Party, Malcolm, wraps up the album perfectly, a straight punk rock track, that slowly mellows out until it brings the album to a close.

The Young Rochelles :: Know The Code :: Greenway Records

 

SoThe Young Rochelles are a splinter of The New Rochelles, who I am totally a fan of. I was a bit confused at first, thinking that I was just typing or remembering the band’s name wrong (and maybe going through a panic or two when posting things to twitter) but once I did a bit of reading I caught up with the times. Though the Young Rochelles are two-thirds the same members of The New Rochelles, there are different music and lyrics writers. Think Descendents vs All.

I love Third Eye Blind more than I should. Seriously.

It is no secret that I love Restorations, I have reviewed every album of theirs as it came out of CC2K, (A/B EP, LP 2, LP 3) always super taken up with their sound, their vibe, their music. Up until now I haven’t had the opportunity to see them live, it always seemed that I has other commitments when they came to Pittsburgh. Restorations opened the show, looking a bit disheveled, with no introduction. Lead singer, Jon Loudon asked the audience if we ever saw Spinal Tap where they had to keep getting a drummer because theirs kept exploding. I’m still not sure of the circumstances but their regular drummer was out and the drumming duties were split between their merch guy and Jeff Kummer of The Early November.

 

So knowing that the drummers just learned the songs, I took the set in a different way. For one, I never realized just how intricate the drum parts of their songs are, seriously. I always thought that their music had another level that created an atmosphere, and therefore, they aren’t the type of band that you can tap your foot to the beat, but there is too much going on. Each song was solid, they worked together to ensure that everything sounded great, but their was an air of preoccupation on stage, they simply had too much on their minds to give us a killer set. This did offer some insight into the band, they couldn’t have been nicer, funnier, or vulnerable. Loudon commented on how beautiful the venue was an talked as though he had known the whole audience forever, so though they only played short, slightly distracted set,  I watched as they won some new fans as their set went on. Rumor has it, or at least they said, they’d be back in November. So I am super looking forward to that show.



As for the other two bands, I may be one of the few but I didn’t know either  Lydia or The Early November. This offered me an unusual look at the show, usually I get to choose shows where I love the bands, or at least know what they sound like and who they are. This time, I was seeing it with fresh eyes and was able to really look in on this audience who was small but intense.

 

Lydia was up next, an indie rock band from Arizona who has been around for over ten years. Leighton Antelman, may have been the least likely lead singer I have ever seen. Slightly awkward at the front of the stage but so passionate that his body seemed overtaken by the performance. His gangly mannerisms were unrestrained and natural and the way that he turned away from the microphone before every phrase was completed added to the unique performance style.

 

Antelman talked with the audience a lot, asking where they were from and how far they drive for shows (because bands skip over Pittsburgh on the regular). The audience cheered as each song was announced and sang along to every world. Though I still wasn’t won over musically, (it’s just not my style), there where these moments of pure poetry that lead me to look up some lyrics when I got home.

 

The Early Novemeber was the headliner. Though I had never heard of them, the room knew otherwise. They are a Drive-Thru band that sounds like most Drive-Thru bands, melodic poppy emo. Though that was really not my thing, it was a huge part of my high school years because I had quite a few friends that were into that genera. The audience here felt like they were waiting years for this show. That all these emotions were pent of for years and they were looking to let it out in a room full of people that went through the same things.

 

Maybe because most of my friends that were into the poppy emo thing were girls, I associate it with female audiences, so it was kinda weird that this show though was mostly male, screaming along with every word. Groups of dudes singing along, singing to one another when their favorite verses came on, holding up their beers in solidarity.

 

Ace Enders was very charismatic, super stylish and trendy, yet the awkward emo kid still came out when he spoke and sang. There was a heckler in the audience, though I am not sure you could call him a heckler, he just really loudly loved them...a lot...whom he took in stride and formed a pleasant enough banter with him by the end of the night.

 

The highlight of their set was a stripped down song, which Enders told the audience was the first song that he ever wrote for The Early November performed by only himself and bassist Sergio Anello. It was intimate and beautiful and raw and the audience just adored it.

 

I was asked by a friend what I look for when I do these reviews, the truth is, that I never thought about it. I talk about what I see, hear, and experience, but I don’t look for anything. When I am at a concert or listening to a record, I do have an agenda or outline. Every time is new and different, every time I approach it as a potential fan, if I am not one already. Music is about how it makes you feel, from records to shows, from music to lyrics, to personality, to ambiance, everyone has their own strengths that they use as tools in order to make the audience feel what they felt when making that music.


BAsed on that criteria I thought about this show. Restorations had other issues on their mind and performed as though they did, Lydia and The Early November stirred up passion and turned strangers into a sea of of screams with a common bond, if only for that night. And really, as a band, what more can you ask for.

A few weeks ago I was talked into and made the last minute decision to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. It was being held in Cleveland this year, which is an easy 2 hour drive from Pittsburgh. This year Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Green Day, Bill Withers, and Ringo Starr were being inducted, which is a pretty great cross section of my musical upbringing.

 

Each year I have a bit of existential musical tug of war going on in my head. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has its politics like anything else, but I am sucked in every time. There is a history to the museum and the performances, which is actively being preserved, from the gracious acceptances and donations by all of the artists honored so far, and the fuck off’s from some of the greats. Each build on the history of music, what it stands for, and what it means in each of our lives. So, fuck it, I was on my way.

 

I arrived late and unfortunately missed Joan Jett’s performance, which kicked off the ceremony. (I am still super bummed about it.) We walked in as Miley Cyrus was into her induction speech and my gut just kinda said “What the fuck…” like really, do we really have to insert this media whore everywhere? Media whore not, when Joan Jett thanked her for her speech, she acknowledged that Miley is a strong woman who does everything her own way. Which, is kinda, what makes Joan Jett such a bad ass (though a classier one). The Blackhearts speeches were tough and funny with a much applauded reference to Iggy Pop when Ricky Byrd tells a story of his daughter asking if this means that she can meet Iggy Azalea and he says "Baby, In my world there is only one Iggy you want to meet".

 

Joan Jett started off thanking her family for supporting her whole career before launching into a poetic love letter to the genera. "I come from a place where rock and roll means something...it is the language of a subculture that made eternal teenagers of all who followed it. It is a subculture of integrity, rebellion, frustration, alienation, and the glue that set several generations free...rock and roll is political...it is meaningful way to express dissent,  upset the status quo, stir up revolution, and fight for human rights." She then thanked the music scene, she rattled off a list of the infamous clubs of the 70s in LA and NYC, she went through all of the fantastic musicians that helped them out along the way, including the other members of The Runaways and Pete Townshend, dropped a few unexpected ones, Dave Grohl, Lemmy, Iggy, Blondie, X, Replacements, Social Distortion, and gave props to Ian MacKaye, Fugazi, and Dischord Records. Through and through she was the image of Joan Jett that we loved all these years.

 

The transitions were a bit lacking as the next performance launched. Tom Morello, Zach Brown, and Jason Ricci ripped through a killer instrumental featuring a harmonica but no one knew what was being performed, or at least no one in my section. The audience then deduced that it was a number by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who were being inducted next. Though I had never heard of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band they had me hooked with their speeches and performance.  You couldn’t help but be struck by Elvin Bishop’s bright green plaid shirt and overalls (which I didn’t learn until Googling him later, was kind of his trademark) and Sam Lay with his cape.  They were some great old guys, with some good stories, and a ton of humor. Bishop's speech was full of humor and humility. He told the audience of moving to Chicago looking for a music scene and came upon Paul Butterfield as he was sitting on a stoop playing the blues and drinking a beer, and thought to himself, “this is my kind of guy”. Or when told us all that he remembered a time when there was no rock and roll, "When I was a young teenager the best a young person can do for pop music was Perry Como..." He even came back in between speeches to thank his wife who is still talking to him after he left the trunk open and her luggage fell out, never to be found. Sam Lay’s walk was slow and his speech measured, he expressed his gratitude and love for the audience and the fans, as well as offered a few jokes about his descent into being an old man. But when The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played, Lay was the same young man that the audience remembered, his drums flawless and his voice smooth. I was not familiar with their music before this performance, but they killed it, I have seen bands with members in their 20s and 30s who didn’t give it that much.

 

Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble were inducted by John Mayer who gave a touching speech about what they meant to him and as developing guitarist. Accepting the honor for Stevie Ray Vaughn was his brother Jimmie, who showed the audience a bit of his personal pain and gratitude for his little brother. The performance features Jimmie on vocals along with John Mayer, Doyle Bramhall II, and Gary Clark, Jr. alternating and trading solos.

 

I was kind of surprised that Green Day was at this point in the set, I thought they would have saved them for later...maybe right before Bill Withers and Ringo, or maybe that was just my personal bias coming through, but I suppose their energy did offer a jolt to the middle of the show. As excited as I was for this honor being bestowed upon Green Day, I was a bit nervous. I was kind of distant from them as a fan since Billie Joe's temper tantrum and a disappointing (yet ambitious) three album release. I should have known better though, they are one of the bands that I grew up on. I wasn't old enough to discover Kerplunk or 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours before Dookie, but man, when Dookie came out, I was fucking hooked. The perfect blend of alternative and punk (I was still a few years away from going to my first punk show even), I knew that this was the sound my youth. Edgier, angrier, and rawer than the grunge bands, this was one of the first bands that struck me in a visceral way yet that I could sing along to. I was a fan though out their career, as they grew, changed, and experimented (I'll go to bat for Warning every time) and was excited that they got in on their first year nominated. Personal feelings and preferences aside, they are one of the few bands that weathered the storm and not only stuck around, but remained relevant, not only to the Gen X and Y-ers, not only to the punk rock and alternative kids,  but to the Millennials too (and the woman  next to me was a 60+ year old Green Day fan).

 

The induction speech by Fall Out Boy was good, I mean, nothing spectacular, but it sufficed. Green Day had packed the seats with young fans, I am assuming from the Idiot Club fan club. So the teen age girl shrill was going strong throughout. Tré Cool was up first for the acceptance speeches. Usually the goof ball, his speech was eloquent, “Music is the force that gets up in the morning it is also the shit that keeps us up all night...It is overwhelming the amount talent and love in the room”. He goes on to tells stories of where Green Day came from, screen printing t-shirts on guitar cases, playing back yard parties and squats, and sleeping on floors, I didn’t think back then that we would be here now, in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…” with a pause for comedic effect “…for another year or two”.

 

Mike Dirt, I always look at as the stoic one of the group, so it was great to see his personality come though in his speech. He stared out with, “I also have a mom who gave me a guitar.” He thanked Lawrence (Larry) Livermore for starting Lookout, “you gave a home to a lot of bands.” And continued to thank all of the kids who make up every punk scene, the ones who booked them in small vet’s halls and back yards, and the hundreds of people let them sleep on the floor.  The humor popped back in when he thanked Ford, for creating the Econoline van. He thanked, Reprise and Pat Magnarella for letting them be themselves, and got a bit choked up as he thanked the The Armstrongs for taking him in as a kid. He closed with thanking their fans and anyone who has seen Green Day live “I am very proud to share this life on earth with you.” What a guy. At that point, even if Billie Joe did go off on a tantrum, I still would have been proud to be called a punk kid and being represented by Tré Cool and Mikr Dirnt.

 

Billie Joe stepped up to the podium and the applause was deafening, he has a few false starts as the crowd continued to cheer. He began with, “The gratitude that I feel right now is overwhelming.” Then launched in to an off the cuff speech that was more a collection of interconnected memories and stories about his and Green Day’s life and career from the time they met up to this day of the induction. He tells the story of being the youngest of 6 children all who loved music and brought in difference influences. “My record collection is actually sitting in this room.” He gets a bit shy and choked up while thanking Adrienne. He talks of meeting Mike Dirt and calls him is musical soulmate and how Tré Cool came to be a part of  the band and calls him the most dangerous drummer in rock and roll. Mike Dirt gets a bit emotional as Billie Joe thanks his parents and family. He thanks John Kiffmeyer, the original drummer, Larry Livermore, owner of the now defunct Lookout! Records, producer Rob Cavallo, and manager Pat Magnarella. Armstrong actually apologized to Magnarella more than thanked him, “You are a brave man, you are our manager. I want to apologize for the hotel rooms, apologize for Tré’s drum sets catching on fire, I want to …you know, thanks for rehab.” He then shares his gratitude to Gilman Street, “We come from this place called Gilman Street. We were so fortune to play there, it’s all ages, it’s nonprofit… It was like Romper Room for degenerates…it was a great scene.” He then goes on to list some of the bands that he has the privilege to see there, including Crimpshine, Operation Ivy, and Nasal Sex, which by his reaction Mike Dirt had not thought about in years. Armstrong concludes his speech, “I love rock and roll music, I always have, as soon as I opened my eyes, with my first breath. The one thing I want to close with is, I love rock and roll.”

 

Their performance was killer. It was loud. It was raw. It was tight. And the crowd responded. Mike Dirt, played in a suit, sans sleeves, in his unmistakable legs spread pose, Billie Joe jumped around the stage like a kid, and Tre oscillated between serious drummer and class clown through each song.  They kicked off the set with American Idiot, the balcony started screaming along and dancing in the seats even the honored guests at the tables, led by Joan Jett, got up and formed a pit. The plowed through a Dookie heavy set with When I Come Around and Basket Case, cleverly avoiding lyrics that talk about being stoned, instead using those measures to rile up the audience. (I swear that the interlude between When I Come Around and Basket Case was the intro to Haushinka but I’ll have to watch the telecast to see if I am just making that up). I believe that their set was all the evidence that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Committee needs to start inducting people early in eligibility, these guys are still relevant, they can still rock, and their fans came out to support them. As much as Ringo and Paul performing together again was something that we have all been waiting for, Green Day’s set drew more crowd response.

 

Regardless of your taste in music or your opinion of the Billie Joe Armstrong freak out/rehab fiasco, you can’t help but be impressed by the unity of this band. Together since they were kids, we never hear of inter-band fighting and they always support one another. These three may have the best relationship in music, and it really showed as they were giving their speeches. They have stuck with the same manager, same producer (aside from one album with Butch Vig), and same label since they left Lookout, another rare commodity in rock and roll, I guess though Billie Joe doesn’t want to be making punk music for the rest of his life, the important punk values are still sticking with him.

 

The “5” Royals were another group I wasn’t familiar with, yet their do wop songs became standards covered by the who’s who of the 50s and 60s. There were no surviving members, their children accepted for them, with one spokesperson, with Leon Bridges performing as the In Memorandum collage scrolled behind him.

 

Lou Reed was also inducted posthumously (though The Velvet Underground already had their time) with a  beautiful speech by Patti Smith. I am not a fan of Reed or Smith but as long time friends and contemporaries, this was an elegant choice.  She was choked up at points as she told stories of her late friend and the moment she arrived back in NYC to hear the city’s mourning his death and celebrating his life through the songs that he gave the world. His widow, Laurie Anderson, accepted the award on his behalf and told stories of a Lou Reed that most of the world didn’t know. We knew the punk rock fuck you Lou Reed, she though told stories of a loving, tender, self-aware partner. Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs performed Vicious and Beck (with backing vocals from Nate Ruess) performed Satellite of Love.  Both performances were interesting in a very Lou Reed tribute sort of way, though I was surprised not to hear Walk on the Wild Side, until I remembered that they were honoring Lou Reed, and leaving that song out was the most Lou Reed thing they could have done.

 

Up next was the induction of Bill Withers by friend, Stevie Wonder. Aside from Lean on Me, I wasn't very familiar with Bill Withers until I met my husband, but over the years I have come to adore his music, so this was another highlight I was looking forward to. Knowing his music and seeing the documentary, Still Bill, I had an idea of his life, but what I didn't know how funny is his. His speech was filled with beauty, gratitude, and humor. He addresses the prior speeches and performances and tells stories of meeting some of the other performers, "I didn't know that Beck and me were boys, he came up to me and said, 'you and me know some of the same cats'". He concluded is speech is a great lilting cadence of rhyming poetry of the beat poets and jazz musicians.

 

The only disappointment was that Bill Withers did not think that he was up to preforming. Instead Stevie Wonder and John Legend performed Ain't No Sunshine, Use Me, and Lean on Me with Withers coming in only in one chorus on Lean on Me after some coaxing from Legend. Though solid performances, the Stevie Wonder put too much of a Stevie Wonder spin on it and John Legend's voice is simply to polished and pretty. Though it was very lovely to watch Bill Withers watch is friends performing his songs. The look of admiration, love, and nostalgia in his gaze was even able to be captured by the cameras.  Even though, he himself was not performing, it was a very beautiful moment captured on this stage.

 

Closing the show was Paul McCartney inducting Ringo. McCartney was a cool as you thought he’d be and Ringo just as endearing. Though both McCartney’s intro speech and Ringo’s acceptance speech were kind and humorous I was a bit disappointed that they were so Beatle-centric. Paul told the story of how The Beatles met Ringo and Ringo told his side if that meeting, yet neither of them mentioned is solo career, which was what he was being inducted for. The Beatles have been in the Hall of Fame for years and years and years, this was Ringo’s time to be recognized as a solo artist. Yet, as his whole career has been, this moment was overshadowed by the fact that he was one of the fab four. Ringo goes on to tell the audience that he is excited to be being inducted in Cleveland (to a roaring round of applause, of course) because of the Alan Freed radio show that was broadcast from Cleveland and aired in England which is where he first heard Jerry Lee Lewis and all the other fathers of rock and roll that he looked up to.  

 

Before the three minute mark of his speech, McCartney pops over Ringo’s shoulder to tell him to wrap it up. Being in my early 30s I wasn’t alive when the Beatles were the Beatles, hell I never lived in world where John Lennon was alive, so all I ever had was the Beatles music, not the Beatles media sensation. I never got to see the cheeky humor that everyone writes about and makes reference to, but at least tonight the audience got a little peek into that rapport, it also showed a relaxed moment between two friends. Like the other bands, who started out traveling too much and playing small shows for next to no money they talked about farting in vans and how sharing hotel rooms and close quarters really solidifies a band. Making, just for a second, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, struggling musicians rather than half of the biggest rock band in history.

 

Ringo’s set was predictable, for the most part. He kicked off with Boys, the standard that has always been a staple for his sets, only this time with Green Day as his supporting band. Next he performed It Don’t Come Easy for which Josh Walsh played guitar and Ringo stepped out from behind the drums and took center stage. After way too long a set up (which Ringo filled with banter and a few hugs for audience members) came With A Little Help From My Friends, which I assumed would end the show, you know the perfect “Let’s get all the musicians back out on stage now” song.  All of the musicians who played that night were invited back on to the stage to sing along, starting with Paul McCartney “I want to introduce another friend to you, he plays bass occasionally.” Some knew the words and the chords by heart and some cheated by way of teleprompter. It was a cool arrangement and would have been a satisfactory ending to the show, which we all thought it was as the stage crew ushered everyone off the stage. Then there was the opening cords to I Wanna Be Your Man, a total surprise. A Lennon/McCartney song that they had given (sold?) to The Rolling Stones back in the 60s. It started off shaky, it seemed that no one knew where they were supposed to be. But after a few seconds Mike Dirnt ran out on stage followed by Nate Ruess and Beck, then by the rest of the musicians. It seemed that everyone wanted to join, but no one wanted to overstep their boundaries. Though it took a bit, everyone fell into their place. Ringo made his way back to his drum set and a jam session for guitars and bass ensued, while Stevie wonder pulled out a harmonica. By the end of the song, Ringo behind the drums, McCartney in front, and a slew of talented musicians all influenced, at least in some way, by the Beatles singing back up.

 

Throughout the night there was a running joke about long winded speeches, and I really don’t understand the bitching. This ceremony is obviously not aired live so the edit team can pare it down to what they need to. But the audience that is there is there to honor these people, and the people who paid for a ticket, paid for a ticket, why wouldn’t you want to see as much as you can, all the stuff that the television audience won’t see? It is an awards ceremony, that is kind of what it is about. Whatever. I had a great time and I think that the telecast will rock. It airs at 8pm on May 30th on HBO.

 

If you don’t have HBO or can’t wait, you can check out, March of The Rashbaum, a YouTube channel which has most of the speeches posted.

Long Knives :: This is Your Life :: Count Your Lucky Stars

Long Knives are a 90s indie/punk/emo hybrid who self identifies as an emo band. I don’t know if I am having a hard time calling them an emo band because I like them so much and I am not an emo fan. They have great scratchy guitars, and the vocals are robust and can fill a room (two traits that usually do not describe an emo record).

Strung Out :: Transmission.Alpa.Delta & Show at Altar Bar :: Pittsburgh

 

I will admit, that I suffer through bouts of complacency. Sometimes (especially in the Pittsburgh winter) it is far too easy to go to work, come home, and stay there. It is an easy, boring, unfulfilling cycle. Last Tuesday after a particular hectic day at work, the kind where I would usually race home as fast as I could, turn my phone off, and have a beer until my head stopped spinning, I instead made myself go to a show. You know, those things that I used to do all the time when I was younger, and didn’t need sleep, and didn’t have job to wake up for early the next day.

 

Though I love some albums and am lukewarm on others, Strung Out has been one of my favorite bands for the last 15 years. From the moment I heard the opening cords to Ultimate Devotion I was hooked. I ran to the record store and bought Twisted by Design and Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues immediately. I was, and still am, blown away by those albums, they will forever rank on my top 20 of all time list. Like all bands that I have loved for a long time, I was super nervous as I was hitting play for the first time. What if it was mediocre? What if it sucked? I should have known better though, the worst Strung Out can do is put out an album that is slightly less good than others. Their latest album, Transmission.Alpha.Delta is a solid Strung Out record. It has the melodic hooks that we all love, the fast, furious music that gets us riled up, mixed with heart and passion. One of the things that I have always loved and admired about Strung Out is that each of their albums has an undeniable sound but also experiments with nuance. You always know that you are listening to a Strung Out record, but one never sounds like the others. Transmission.Alpha.Delta has alternative rock vibe to it that sounds so natural with their other elements, yet in a subgenre that they have not entered previously. The stand out tracks are the opening song Rats in the Walls, which just fucking hooks you and pulls you in and No Apologies which is a bit slower and introspective, which seems to instantly resonate with whoever hears it.

 

As you may or may not know, singer Jason Cruz is also a visual artist as well as a poet, which should be no surprise as we have listened to years of Strung Out lyrics. There are quite a few songs on here that have killer lines and stanzas that I wish I had written such as, “I still believe a good man better knows his darkness well…I raise a glass to every restless heart and lonely soul / Because these boots were all I ever needed to get me to where I had to go” and “Articulate the chaos and the way to resurrection” from Westcoasttrendkill. And anyone who reads this column at least semi-regularly knows that I am a total sucker for a kick ass song that celebrated shows and being a punk rock kid. The Animal And The Machine is one of those songs, “This song’s for everyone screaming from the pit / We are the soundtrack / We bleed together strong / Nobody here's pretending that we got this figured out”. 

Over the years I have seen Strung Out a few times, the first time, back in ’99 or ’00, in the shitty warehouse we used to have shows in Wilkes Barre. That shitty warehouse was the best place to see any band, especially a band like Strung Out. We were sixteen year old believers in a rundown coal town, pits were always solid, but for that show kids were literally hanging off rafters. As they got bigger I saw them in bigger venues and they always put on one hell of a show. Last week’s show was at an old church in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. A fairly small venue who’s acoustics are far from the best, but the intimate atmosphere is unmatched. I’ll always take a bit of degraded sound quality if the tradeoff is a small show feel. If I wanted to hear the songs perfectly I would stay home and listen to the album, a live show is about the performance, it is about the sweat, it is about the experience.

 

One of the worst thing about Pittsburgh is that most midlevel bands skip us on their tours. Unless you are a band just staring out and have a contact here or are doing a large stadium tour, chances are Pittsburgh is not on your schedule. Daily I look at tour schedules, scan to PA and am disappointed when it is always Philadelphia.

The 1st opening band, Operation Shutdown, a local Pittsburgh staple gave a solid performance. I would check them out again. La Armada, a Costa Rican hardcore band was next, the crowd that had gathered at 7:45 on a Tuesday evening was not prepared for the aggressive set they were about to experience. Heavy bass lines, infectious guitar parts, all under politically charged growling vocals. Each band member in turn, was doing his best to instigate the audience, get them to move, get them to respond. A few guys, drinking a bit too much, tried to get a pit going, but when there are only 4 of you and you keep just bouncing off one another into people waiting at the bar, you are not starting a pit, you are being an ass.

 

The crowd started to assemble as Red City Radio started to set up. I have been a Red City Radio fan since 2011 when I reviewed their Dangers of Standing Still http://www.cc2konline.com/music-1/item/2382-red-city-radio-the-dangers-of-standing-still for CC2K so needless to say, I was super excited when I saw their name on this show. Their set was everything that their records promise. It was loud, fun, and a dammed good time. The pit formed and started to surge. Within their first few songs the pit was going full force with a solid amount of people screaming along. I was impressed with the amount of fans that were there. An Introduction of Sorts, which was fucking made to sing along to while thrashing in the pit, was the crescendo of their set.

                        

When Strung Out came on the crowd was just getting warmed up. From the opening cords of Rats in the Walls from Transmission.Alpha.Delta there was no lull in the night. The band and the pit were in a fury, feeding off one another’s energy. Strung Out played a cross section of their songs from all of their albums over the years. I can’t even tell you which ones got the crowd most excited because the room was seething with energy and screaming along the whole night.

 

One of the elements that has always stood out is that each band member’s personality come through I he stage, no one trying to upstage the other. But even with that balance, I have to admit that I am mostly drawn to Cruz.  His command of the stage is unrivaled. Whether he is singing in his signature stance (with the mic cord wrapped around his arm with his foot on the monitor) or just pacing the stage, he owns the space. When he is on the stage he is 100% in his natural element, you can’t take your eyes off him. Almost to prove that the stage is his territory, I saw him reach to catch a crowd surfer’s head he thought may crash off the monitor and catch a cup of popcorn (I think it was popcorn) someone through at the stage and toss the rest in his mouth mid song. Showmanship all the way.

 

Every member of Strung Out gave the show as much energy as a band playing to their first real audience, no choreographed banter, no forced showman ship, just a ton of relaxed conversation, singing, screaming, playing, and energy. It was one of the performances that made me proud to be a part of the punk community. The love, energy, and respect in the room is something that you can’t fake and you can’t force. It is that realness that has kept them relevant for the past 15+ years, it is why most people in that room knew every word to every song, it is why people never see Strung Out just once.

 

As an older school fan I was super excited for the Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and Twisted By Design songs. It is amazing how being at this show, listening to these song played live, instantly brought me back to being 16 years old, to the nostalgia and the heartbreak. Sometimes it is good to tear open a wound from the past, to remind you of another version of yourself.  

 

The set ended and the audience still wasn’t done, there was the ruse of them ending the show, but the house lights never went up, so we knew there would be an encore. (I have gone on record about hating encores, if you are going to play three or four more songs, just fucking play three or four more songs. But, they are what they are, and the band probably really needed that five minute breather.) When their set ended, Cruz jumped off stage to speak with a few people in the front, I don’t know if he was thanking them for coming or saying hi, if he knew them or not, if he had invited them or never saw them before. But as a fan, watching the performer that you just paid a fee to watch play music for the last hour or so, come into the audience to thank people for coming, even if he knows them well, is a great sight. To me it shows how we are really in this scene together.

 

This Strung Out show really took me back to a place in myself I have been neglecting for too long. It reminded me that live shows are as much as party of being a member of the punk community as buying records. That night I had no day job, it was all about this music that makes me feel alive. My voice was scratchy and my ears were ringing throughout Wednesday, just how they should be.

 

Strung Out  is still on tour through out the summer. Check out their dates here.

 

I also have a few more photos up at Dirty Clubs and Gritty Demos.

I don’t listen to a ton of new music, but Rachel Brooke’s tunes make me feel like I’m listening to new old music. I’m always at home, comforted, overwhelmed with emotion, weirded out, left shaking. Oddly enough, the only album of hers I haven’t purchased or listened to, except for maybe a song or two on Youtube, is her previous collaboration with Lonesome Wyatt, A Bitter Harvest. I’m not sure why. Just one of those things, I guess.

 

As far as Lonesome Wyatt goes, I’ve listened to some of his music as one half of Those Poor Bastards. I also reviewed an album from his solo project, Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks on this site. Those Poor Bastards released Gospel Haunted in 2010 and it became one of my favorite records. Ever. I probably listen to it at least a couple times per month. I’m not sure why I haven’t paid much more than casual attention to the band’s other music, but I suspect it has something to do with a fear that it won’t stack up to Gospel Haunted. An absurd thought, to be sure, but part of my neurotic consciousness nonetheless.

 

Anyway, all this is to say that it would probably take a lot for a Lonesome Wyatt / Rachel Brooke album to disappoint me. Bad Omen met my expectations and confirmed something I’ve suspected for a long time: that these two artists are among the most interesting musicians working in the folk / Americana genre today.

 

Ever present on this album are Wyatt and Brooke’s other-worldly sounding vocals, processed so that the words seem to be coming from a distance away. You get a lost-in-the-woods kind of feeling, a gypsy-dance kind of metaphysical feeling, a gloomy love-conquers-all feeling. Sometimes the music is savage, almost violent. Sometimes it steals your breath with mourning beauty.  

 

You are, perhaps, beginning to see why a part-time madman such as myself might like these songs.

 

Like all of Brooke’s work, and a lot of Wyatt’s too, the depression-era first family of country, the Carter Family, are ever present. There was always a natural lo-fi kind of gloom to the songs Sara Carter sang, especially to contemporary ears. Even the Carters’ love songs and gospel songs had a dark quality about them. This gloom is also present in every track on Bad Omen. Backwoods strangeness and brooding abounds. 

 

This album can be listened to as a strange narrative in which Brooke and Wyatt play the same two lovers, as characters, from beginning to end. This is true especially when you consider the final song, “What Happens to our Love?” The song features vocals even further remote, with an echo more distant than any of the previous tracks. The voices fade away while they contemplate whether love lasts beyond death, and in what form. We’re left to ponder the answer on our own.

I have been going back and forth and back and forth about writing about this soundtrack at all (or “concept album as it is being called”). As a punk rock kid who also fucking loves Broadway, I have always longed for the two styles to merge, but I have been less than impressed with every endeavor that I’ve seen/heard. I counted the days until American Idiot came to Broadway, I saw it once in previews and once with Billy Joe Armstrong, giving it all the chances that I could. Though the music is good, I felt cheated, it fell short of meaning anything, at all. (If you are interested in that review, you can find it here.) There are several rock musicals that have succeed in modern theater, Rent was ground breaking, Next to Normal edgy yet poignant, Hedwig full of glam shellacked attitude. Yet, punk, has never been able to bridge the gap. I’ll admit it freely, I wanted Home Street Home to be awesome. I wanted a punk rock musical, I wanted to see two genres that I love connect in an honest, organic, kick ass way. I want punk rock kids to be represented on stage as hippies were in Hair and how 90s East Village artists were in Rent.

The Flatliners :: Resuscitation of the Year :: Fat Wreck Chords

The Flatliners 2 track, double A side (which I have issues with, but whatever, it’s a thing and people use that term) Resuscitation of the Year is one previously released track, Resuscitation of the Year and one new track, Fangs. This EP can be tagged, Intro to pop punk 101, it aggressive and catchy, it is full of energy, dissatisfaction, and screaming for change. It kicks off right out of the gate, and does not stop for 5 minutes.