Sunday, May 12, 2013

Promoter Profile: Mike Black n' Blue (Albany NY)

I often say when it comes to promoting concerts, shows, bands or whatnot that "I"m too stupid to quit".  This sentiment seems to ring true for me all the time, yet I often wondered what my fellow promoters felt about this seemingly never ending game of running around and hustling.  There's no rhyme or reason to the order of which these interviews will appear, but I am trying to post them in the order that they were sent back.

From what I know about Mike Black n' Blue, he is a stand up guy....a rather tall and intimidating stand up guy, but a stand up guy nonetheless.   Mike has brought Bogie's in Albany NY back from the dead and has continued to promote at other venues in the region as well.

FYI:  Interview format is strictly "question and answer" to expedite things.

At what point in your sane life did you decide to book your first show?  Was it for your own band or your friend’s band?

MBNB:  I decided it was time around 2003.  There seemed to be a lack of good hardcore in the upstate/Albany region. Previously, I booked all my own shows that were metal/hardcore in the 90's, it wasn't consistent though.

How did you mentally prepare for your first show?  Was it a major event where you had to rent a hall or something completely under the radar in a basement? 

MBNB:  Menatlly prepare?? Haha, no, didn't need to mentally prepare, it was my band at the time and I new it would be a good draw........until I got ripped of by the club owner.  I'm not going to trash talk and it shall rename nameless as to where it was.

Was there frustration within the local scene where you were at the time that was the major catalyst for throwing all caution (and sanity) to the wind to get into promoting bands?

MBNB:  Oh there's still frustration, it's an uphill battle but at the time, it was very frustrating. I owned the Hudson Duster in Troy NY in 2003 and I wanted to see Murphy's Law but was sick of paying a lot at other venues.  I did a $5 show, it was packed and I knew the bar would do great!  

What has changed within the scene locally or on a larger scale from when you first started?

MBNB:  For one, the scene is real clicky now. There's a lot of "self-entitled" assholes out there who make it a point to be known. Before Facebook and even My Space, people actually went out to try and see what the bands were about. Now what I've been seeing is that if it doesn't have 5000 likes they discard it. 

What is the most frustrating aspect of promoting, dealing with venues/spaces and bands?  Does anything stand out?

MBNB:  That's easy, money.  Everyone from bands, to patrons, to booking agents think you make a million and you're loaded.  That's BULLSHIT. This is a hobby and not a living.  I will accept a certain amount of loss but when people abuse that, and give you unwanted cost on top of your loss (ie: lawsuits, damage, bad attention, etc), its extremely frustrating.  The bands DON'T work half as hard as they used to, it's a fact.

On the flipside, what has been the most satisfying aspect of promoting?

MBNB:  That's easy, the kids saying thanks!

Did you ever consider stopping this altogether or do you feel that you enjoy the good and the bad?

MBNB:  Honestly, I want to quit once a week. It's an addiction though.  

Who would be the band or performer you’ve only dreamed about booking?  What would be your fantasy show of bands currently touring?  

MBNB:  I'd love to get Hatebreed or even Slayer in a small club, like Bogie's, for a private show inviting a select group of 100 kids that are worthy of such a show.

Booking agents run the entire spectrum, any fun (or not so fun) stories of dealing with any in particular (without naming names of course)?

MBNB:  Agents for the most part are the devil.  Most of the expenses that I have are because of them but at the same time, in order to get some of the bands in here, they're a necessary evil unfortunately.

If you could change one thing about the scene as a whole, what might that be?

MBNB:  That's easy, two things really.  Lower prices and scene unity.

Have you ever considered scaling back operations and booking less/booking more/keeping things the same?

MBNB:  I try to book quality not quantity for certain genres, but I run a club so scaling back is not an option when it comes to paying the bills.

Do you find yourself ever working with bands or performers because you like them as people but don’t like their music?  How do you handle the diplomacy?  

MBNB:  This is something I have to do all the time.  I am a sucker for a polite band and will try to package them differently if they are a bad draw.  Diplomacy only goes so far and eventually they will hate me for whatever reason.

Promoting in general seems to be getting more challenging as technology advances, where do you see the future of promoting headed?

MBNB:  Pretty soon people won't leave their house at all.  Even less than they do now because it's all on the computer.  Maybe they'll pay $5 to watch while you have a drink all while watching on your laptop.  It's sad, but I can see that day coming.  CBGB's ** actually did live streaming of their shows.

Mike is bringing many bands up to the Capital Region and beyond this summer, be on the look out for what he's got cooking.  Check them out there 
Both Black Flag and Agnostic Front are playing in June! 

**This is not one of CBGB's archived live streams as best I can tell, their streams had more fixed camera footage than anything else.  I could be wrong.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Punk Rock Bowling 2013 Countdown

If you've never been to Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas NV, it might not be a bad idea to try and get there this year. 

More later, but expect this to be as intense and just as fun with a few thousand of your closest friends!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hey, It's Been Awhile.....Are You Still Here?

Hey, It's Been Awhile.....Are You Still Here?

Yes, RSR is still here in some form or another.  Quite honestly wasting too much time on Facebook is hardly conducive to actually writing.  Going back to a print format is completely unrealistic for me at this point because I don't have the time to devote to putting out issues with any regularity.  I'll leave the big thick annuals to The Big Takeover who do it the best as far as I'm concerned.  I've been reading this great (maga)zine for years now.  

In order to remain somewhat current, I've reviewed a few of the more notable releases I've picked up and performances of seen within the past few months.  Some were here in Pittsfield, some were not.  Some of the releases were sent by the record labels, some were bought from stores (yes!) or from bands on the road.  Please comment on anything you agree or disagree with.  Comments are always interesting to read even if the original source doesn't share the same opinion.



Iron Reagan
Bogie’s-Albany NY
February 20, 2013

I’m a fan of the Municipal Waste side-project No Friends so I was bit disappointed to hear they were basically finished due to a member moving across country.  However, I was really looking forward to seeing Iron Reagan, which features members of Municipal Waste and Darkest Hour, at free show in Albany.  We arrived just as a band finished but it was still early.  Next thing you know, after a very short break singer Tony Foresta grabbed the mic and said “We’re Iron Reagan, thanks for coming out” and then the band tore into a blistering set of crossover thrash fused with punk rock that was actually different than that of Municipal Waste.  While the bands are similar, they’re very different.  I don’t know how to explain it, but they ripped through their set to a small but appreciative crowd who took a chance on seeing a relatively new band on tour in support of their debut LP.  The songs retain some of the comic nature of Municipal Waste, but for the most part its completely different experience to see Iron Reagan.  I like this band quite a bit and hope they’re able to stick around longer than No Friends.

Cockney Rejects/Youth Brigade/Dan Webb & the Spiders/OC45
Middle East (downstairs)-Cambridge MA
February 23, 2013

After a long ride to Boston, it gets to be a longer drive as you get older trust me, we grabbed some amazing grub and then headed over to the Middle East to catch what was anticipated to be a great night of punk rock featuring co-headliners Youth Brigade and the UK’s Cockney Rejects.  I’d seen both bands in 2012 at the Punk Rock Bowling kick-off party in Las Vegas so it was a treat to catch them both again.  Locals OC45 started things off in fine fashion and started to build up the energy in the growing crowd gathering in the basement of the Middle East.  I’d seen OC45 and this time the sound was much better than before and therefore I felt this performance was much more memorable as they showcased their best before the hometown audience.  The relatively unknown (at least for a punk rock show anyway) Dan Webb & the Spiders took the stage after a short break and closing my eyes for a moment while they played I felt like I was back at that Buffalo Tom show I saw back in the early 1990s at CBGB’s.  While I like Buffalo Tom, I wouldn’t expect them to be on the same bill at any of the other three bands and that’s exactly what I thought about Dan Webb & the Spiders.  Not bad, but Dumptruck wasn’t the headliner.  Come to find out that Dan Webb actually works at the Middle East and the rest of the obvious fell together.  When Shawn Stern says to me “this band has no business being on this show” one can’t help but agree.  Youth Brigade’s much anticipated return to Boston was met with loud cheers and the band tore through many classics from Sound & Fury as well as Happy Hour and To Sell the Truth.  “Where Are Old The Old Man Bars?” (accompanying video clip of Youth Brigade features Joey on bass and Johnny second guitar from Old Man Markley) from their split with the Swingin’ Utters was a surprising favorite of the night as everyone for the most part was singing along as was I who doesn’t even drink.    The legendary Cockney Rejects brought the evening to a fine close as they played hit after hit and had the nearly capacity crowd singing along and dancing wildly throughout their set.  After seeing them 3 times within a year’s time, it’s great to see them still performing and having fun while doing so when they could easily go through the motions to collect a hefty guarantee.  Not these guys, they’re the real deal and if you missed them, don’t let that happen again.

Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls/The Sidekicks
Pearl Street (upstairs)-Northampton MA
March 2, 2013

You know your life is busy with all kinds of random details when you completely forget about a show until 2pm in the afternoon on the day of the show in question.  That was the case with Frank Turner and the Sidekicks in Northampton and had I missed this show I would’ve been extremely mad at myself.  I had no idea Frank Turner was so popular and after finding a good spot it became increasingly obvious that Pearl Street upstairs was going to sell out.  The last time I’d seen it this crowded was for Public Image Limited a few years ago.  That I understood, this was quite impressive, I still think of Frank Turner as relatively new to the States at least as far as radio airplay goes, but then again, I live in Pittsfield Mass which certainly isn’t the hotbed of any sort of music scene or alternative rock radio.  The Sidekicks were the sole openers and the last time I’d seen them was when I booked them in Pittsfield and they played to a good crowd for The Room but I wasn’t expecting them to take command of the stage at Pearl Street as they did and they sounded incredible!

It was great to see them play their set and there were people there actually there for them and they were singing along to many of their songs.  The Sidekicks remind me of early Soul Asylum, mid-period Husker Du, The Replacements and even classic Cheap Trick.  They were fun to see and a perfect compliment to Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls well-deserved headlining slot.  Frank took command of the Pearl Street stage like an old friend and from the first note, the crowd sang along as if this was a much smaller, more intimate performance.  I would expect this is probably about as intimate as you can currently get as if this show was any indication, Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls did us a favor by playing such a small venue compared to the rest of their tour.  Turner's set consisted of material from all his solo albums and it was great so see him in this setting. 

Teenage Bottlerocket/The Prozacs/Nice Try Kid/On the Shoulders of Giants
Chameleon’s-Pittsfield MA
March 4, 2013

Monday night shows are always an odd thing in Pittsfield; and tonight was no exception.  One never knows what to expect when you walk into a club to catch the first band.  Sure there are a few bodies but then the next thing you know, halfway through On the Shoulders of Giants’ set, the place became packed!  OTSOG played a couple of covers but most of their material was from their debut album and they sounded great.  I’ve seen this band a bunch over the past year and they’ve really come into their own as one of the younger but better bands in the local scene.  The same can also be said about Nice Try Kid, they just keep getting better and better.  You can tell they don’t just practice for a show; they are working on songwriting as well as their live performance.  Both of these bands are forces to be reckoned with.  The quasi-local quartet called The Prozacs were the next band to play and their lightening fast pop-punk was the perfect appetizer before the main course of Teenage Bottlerocket.  The current line-up that features Matty, Jay, John and Jon have started to work on new material and they busted some of it out tonight.  Good stuff right there.  People drove from all over the region, which always surprises me, for Teenage Bottlerocket’s first appearance in far western Mass it was well worth it.  TBR played songs off all of their albums and the crowd was singing and dancing to everything they played.  It was so exciting to see them in a small club as I’d only seen them once before in a larger outdoor venue at Punk Rock Bowling.   With all of the touring this band does it’s no surprise the set was virtually flawless and it was an honor to have them play in the middle of nowhere to a near capacity crowd on a Monday.    They gave it 110% from start to finish and this is why Teenage Bottlerocket are one of the best touring bands currently on the road today. 

Urban Waste/The FU’s/Dead Aces/Aggressive Response
Bogie’s (front stage)-Albany NY
March 23, 2013

I had many reservations about attending this show and it had nothing to do with DYS dropping because their guitarist quit for another gig.  It had to do with other reasons and I guess I was dragging my feet a bit and missed Aggressive Response.  I’m sure I’ll convince them to play Pittsfield, so all is not lost.  The front room at Bogie’s leaves a lot to be desired, sure you can see fine, but it’s a weird set up.  Instead of walking in the door to the merch area, you walk in the door and it’s like “hello, you’re smack dab in the middle of a show!”  Not a fan of that so much and sound was sub-par as the only speaker was the one in the far left hand corner against the men’s room wall.  Vocals were definitely difficult to hear over the sonic assault of any of the instruments.  Dead Aces tore through a set of old favorites and a couple of new songs, but the sound was problematic and distracting.  The band was tight and it’s a shame you couldn’t really hear the vocals.  Seeing The FU’s was something I’d been looking forward to since I heard from Zack Danger that the band was well worth seeing.  The FU’s faced the same sound issues as Dead Aces and while they put on a great show, it was difficult to hear James’ voice over the rest of the band.  I’d love to see these guys again under different circumstances.  NYHC pioneers Urban Waste are still working hard and the multiple member changes in recent years hasn’t changed their sound as much as one might think.  Guitarist Johnny Waste is the sole remaining original member and is the main constant in keeping the sound of the band heavily rooted in the classic NYHC sound.  Even the new material sounds like you’d expect from Urban Waste.  Even without DYS, this was still worth checking out even with the sound issues.

CJ Ramone/The Damaged/Hijinx/Dead Aces/The Poncherellos
Chameleon’s-Pittsfield MA
March 24, 2013

It had been at least 10 years since I last saw the Ramones when they finally broke up.  I hadn’t made it to Los Angeles yet and seeing them hang it up after one last show would’ve certainly been bittersweet but it wasn’t to be.  I missed it.  After the deaths of Joey then Dee Dee and finally Johnny I knew it was definitely over.  There would be no more Ramones with the exception of tributes here and there but the band was gone forever.  To make a long story short, this is what I thought until I started hearing that one of the four surviving Ramones, who wasn’t a drummer by the way, was currently playing some Ramones’ songs live and I had to find out more.  After trying to book CJ Ramone for almost 4 years, it finally happened.  CJ Ramone was coming to Pittsfield and bringing two members of the Adolescents with him:  Steve Soto and Dan Root (Dan also sang for One Hit Wonder who released four albums between 1994 and 1998).  I know Steve is no slouch and if he’s attached to a project, it’s going to be good and hot damn, it was awesome.  Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself.  The first band to play are the longest running local punk band of all time, The Poncherellos and they played their first show in almost a year.  They must’ve been practicing as Jonny, Plaid, Mugy and Andy played a great set of 11 songs from their never-to-be-released Reach the Beach album.  It was a short but sweet set, I think it lasted 15 minutes.  Troy NY’s Dead Aces took the stage next and played a great set of working class punk anthems that also included a couple of songs not on their most recent album.  The sound this night was much better than the night before and it showed, the band sounded great.  Upstate NY’s Hijinx were next to play and they always put on a good show tonight being no different.  They’re fun to watch.  Local bootboys, The Damaged really got the crowd moving and ready for the night’s headliner.  This was one of the band’s best sets recently and you could hear Colin’s vocals perfectly.  The rest of the band was tight and the packed crowd at Chameleon’s was into it.  The guest of honor and his band was finally ready to play some of the songs many in attendance had never seen live as they were too young to have seen the Ramones before.  Others there had seen the Ramones many times and even one fan drove all the way from Quebec for this.  I only drove from across town but it was worth it, I would’ve driven for hours if it were in the cards.  CJ Ramone, Steve, Dan and Mike ripped through what seemed like 3 full albums worth of material from the Ramones’ catalog including many songs I’d never heard live before.   The songs they played off his soon-to-be released album Reconquista were fantastic as well.  One of the highlights was “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” which CJ said he never got to play before because “as you all know, Johnny hated Joey and if you sang love songs you were a pussy” and with that the band started to play it and everyone sang it with them.  When finished it was “1-2-3-4” into “Glad to See You Go”, touché!   After they finished their set, CJ explained they’re not going to walk off and come back; instead they’ll just keep playing.  After those couple of songs, the packed room wouldn’t let them leave and after a short discussion, they played two more songs.  Finally, after what seemed like 30-40 songs, they were done.  It was awesome!  If you have a chance to see CJ, do it, it was one of the best times I’ve had in a quite a while.



Bad Religion-True North
Epitaph Records

Generator was the last Bad Religion album I reviewed in a publication.  Back in the old days, Epitaph sent vinyl LPs for reviews as that was my preference over CDs and now years later, I received my review copy via email because I needed to make a deadline.  While time and technology have changed the music business for the rest of eternity, thankfully any change that may have come to Bad Religion have in fact made them one of the best punk rock bands of all time.  Bad Religion have managed to overcome challenges that would most certainly break up other bands who couldn’t handle the pressures of the curve balls pitched by life on a daily basis.  True North kicks off in high gear with the solid title cut and shows no signs of letting up throughout the 16 tracks.  It’s high energy without redundancy and there’s enough variety without Bad Religion losing any of what makes them great.  “Crisis Time” comes to mind as one of my favorite tracks on the album, it’s almost like a pop song, but not pop-punk or even a true pop song, but there are elements of song structure that is different for a band like Bad Religion and they hijack it and make it their own.  “Robin Hood in Reverse” is another favorite.  It’s all there: the solid drumming, the “ooh’s” and “aah’s”, the urgent bursts of guitar solos, a solid vocal performance by Greg Graffin and all out music attack by this well established band.  Trends have come and gone and for the most part Bad Religion show no signs of letting up.  Of course they can’t do it forever, but if they keep releasing albums like True North, I’d like to see them try!

Off With Their Heads-Home
Epitaph Records

Off With Their Heads kick off their second release on Epitaph with the excellent modern punk rocker “Start Walking” and don’t leave much to be desired.  This album is one of my favorites from OWTH and the buzz that has been surrounding Home actually rings true.  It’s that good if not better than expected.  Ryan Young is the nucleus of the band and his cohorts this time around are long-time member bassist Robbie Swartwood and drummer Justin Francis.  A tip of the hat goes to the team at the Blasting Room who can add another notch to their bedpost with this one.  They’ve captured a band reaching their stride with just the simple formula of guitar, bass, drums and solid vocals throughout.  That’s rock n’ roll and this is already in contention for album of the year as far as I’m concerned.  “Focus On Your Own Family”, “Stolen Away”, “Alter Boy” and “Don’t Make Me Go” are definite favorites on Home….actually, all of the tracks are favorites.  Scrap that last sentence.  An unexpected surprise is a rerecording of an early OWTH favorite “Janie”.  Under normal circumstance I can’t stand when bands rerecord newer versions of older songs, but this actually works.  Janie” was a favorite on All Things Move Towards Their End and it’s a favorite here too.  You won’t be disappointed; I endorse this album 500%.

Alkaline Trio-My Shame Is True
Epitaph Records

When bands release a song here and there prior to the release of their album being released, I get nervous.  It’s kind of like a movie preview, is this the best part?  Does the rest of the album stink?  In the case of Alkaline Trio and the constant amount of any criticism they get at this point in their career, it’s tough not to think the worst.  However, and it’s a big however, My Shame Is True is a perfect follow-up to This Addiction in that it retains the classic AK3 sound at the same time allowing their mature song-writing to show through.  At this point for Matt, Dan and Derek when they get together as Alkaline Trio, it has to be like putting on your favorite t-shirt or pair of jeans.  The songs are fun, dark and even somewhat mischievous, which is what you’d expect from Alkaline Trio.  “Kiss You to Death”, “I, Pessimist” (featuring Tim of Rise Against), "I Wanna Be A Warhol" (see below) and “I’m Only Here to Disappoint” are stand-outs but to be fair, this is another case where the album wasn’t rushed and My Shame Is True is a solid performance from a band that people hold near and dear to their hearts.

Dropkick Murphys-Signed and Sealed in Blood
Born and Bred Records

Did you know the Dropkick Murphy’s are from Boston?  Did you know they’re Irish?  Of course you did, but did you know that Signed and Sealed in Blood is actually a solid throwback to the sound that made them a one of the best underground bands within the past 15 years?  Probably not and I am always skeptical of any DKM release, I’m not Irish, I don’t live in Boston, so why would I care?  Long before they were Boston’s unofficial mascots, the Dropkick Murphys released some great albums and singles that had little to do with either really.  As they started to incorporate more traditional sounds into their punk rock, it became increasingly obvious they were in for the long haul.  They were no longer only appealing to the punk and skinhead demographic; they had their sights set on bigger audiences.  Bands can never keep releasing the same record and at first look Signed and Sealed in Blood is just another Irish-punk record, but after multiple listens, the Dropkick Murphys have managed to keep things fresh, yet familiar and definitely not dull.  Some songs are serious in nature, but many of them share a sing-a-long fun quality that the album doesn’t get bogged down in one theme.  “Burn” is a great fun up-tempo song that follows the album’s first single “Rose Tattoo”, which is good but it’s one of the weaker songs on the record.  “Out on the Town” is another favorite.  This is the first album I’d actually listened to since Blackout and the Tessie EP and it’s safe to say this was worth the wait!

Various Artists/Sound City-Reel to Reel
Roswell/RCA Records

For those who don’t know, Sound City-Reel to Reel is the official soundtrack to Dave Grohl’s documentary about the famous recording studio in Los Angeles.  Grohl assembled a who’s who of musicians that recorded at Sound City and while you’d never expect to find Rick Springfield, Stevie Nicks and Pat Smear on the same album, it actually works and works well I might add.  There have been reviews all over the spectrum for this and while I’m not surprised, I am surprised that I like most of it.  Some of the tracks on here remind of 70’s AOR (album-orientated-rock) radio, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing, it actually brings me back to my youth (yes, I’m that old).  Hearing Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac backed by the Foo Fighters and Wallflowers on one song and then Rick Springfield with the Foo Fighters and Pat Smear of the Germs/Nirvana brought a smile to my face.  The Rick Springfield track, “The Man That Never Was”, is one of the best on the album.

Another one of my favorites is the Lee Ving track “Your Wife Is Calling”, the Paul McCartney/Nirvana track “Cut Me Some Slack” and the almost 8-minute album closer from Josh Homme, Trent Reznor and Grohl called “Mantra”.  This album goes hand and hand with the Sound City documentary and any music fan of good rock n’ roll should check out either.  This CD couldn’t include everything, which is the only downside for sure.

David Bowie-The Next Day
Columbia Records

Every hipster doofus under the sun is going to say, “the new David Bowie album is amazing!  It’s a crucial listen!”  Now I don’t disagree, but come on.  The Next Day is a very good album at this point I wasn’t expecting much because quite honestly, Tonight was so bad I had written him off at that point. Okay, to be fair, I did like that “Under the God” song by Tin Machine, but that’s about it.  Most of the hipsters feigning excitement about The Next Day weren’t even born when Bowie was all over MTV in the 80's so I really don’t know what they’re comparing this too.  You can’t compare this to classic Bowie because that is in it’s own category.  But The Next Day is a great follow up to Scary Monsters and that’s how I see it.  David Bowie pulled a fast one and not only did he record an album in secret but he recorded an album I have listened to multiple times.  In the day and age of shuffle that says a lot.  He thankfully ignored current musical trends and stuck to what he knows best and for this we’re grateful.

Chelsea Light Moving-s/t
Matador Records

My key source for disappointment with Chelsea Light Moving’s self-titled debut is that while it sounds like Sonic Youth, it’s not Sonic Youth even though this is Thurston Moore’s new project.  I have been a Sonic Youth fan since picking up the noise-filled Sonic Death release on cassette many, many years ago and stuck with them through the end.  There was no farewell tour in North America, just some inactivity and then it was over.  This album signifies that Sonic Youth is truly over and instead of Moore releasing another solo album, he formed a new band and almost picks up where his previous band left off. He assembled a top-notch band featuring musicians who have recorded for Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label.  Moore covers guitars and vocals with Samara Lubelski on bass, Keith Wood on guitar and John Moloney on drums. It’s hard not to compare Chelsea Light Moving with Sonic Youth and the differences are slight as there’s feedback, unique arrangements and of course Moore sometimes singing and sometimes not.  "Alighted", "Empires of Time" and "Burroughs" are 3 stand out tracks, but it's even tough to pick stand outs when the entire release is worth listening to repeatedly.  There are 9 originals and a cover of the Germs’ classic “Communist Eyes” that rounds out this great but bittersweet debut.  Moore has moved on in his career with Chelsea Light Moving, let's hope for a long chapter.

NOFX-Self Entitled
Fat Wreck Chords

How a band this old manages to be so prolific without writing a slew of lousy songs on equally lousy records is beyond me.  Fat Mike may be the most revered and hated man in punk rock depending upon the week, but hot damn, he writes great lyrics with Erik, Eric and El Hefe coming through with solid arrangements and musicianship.  Those following along will appreciate some of the dare I say, self-reflective lyrics of who are we kidding, not-so-fat Fat Mike.  If he’s fat I must be a blimp.  Anyway, “I, Fatty” and “I’ve Got One Jealous Again, Again” are fun but at the same time deal with somewhat heavy subject matter at least for NOFX.  If you love NOFX, you’ll dig Self Entitled and if you’re not too familiar with them, but at this point who isn’t, this is actually a good place to start.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds-Push the Sky Away
Bad Seed Ltd.

I was lucky enough to get a limited edition copy of the new Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and it’s beautiful.  It comes in a book with the CD inside the front cover and a DVD that I haven’t watched yet, inside the back cover.  This isn’t a soft cover edition either; it’s a hardcover book with heavy paper stock filled with photos and copies of original handwritten lyrics, not a cheap item to say the least.  Nick Cave has been one of my favorite artists for decades first with The Birthday Party and then with whatever he was doing since.   He’s been most prolific with the Bad Seeds and this album, like the new David Bowie release, Push the Sky Away is exactly what this world of fly by night hit makers and songwriting teams needs from a veteran artist:  one of the best albums of the year!  If any band has defined this style of darkwave or gothic music it’s Mr. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.  Cave’s haunting vocals and the arrangements the Bad Seeds have created are excellent.  I love this album!

Teenage Bottlerocket-Freak Out!
Fat Wreck Chords

TBR continue to do what they do best on their latest Fat Wreck Chords release Freak Out!  14 tracks of aggressive pop-punk that’s a must for any fan of the Ramones, The Queers, The Dickies, Danzig-era Misfits, Zero Boys and NOFX.  Teenage Bottlerocket have refined their sound but they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, they do what they do because they can do it extremely well and sound like they’re having a blast at the same time.  If a band can write songs that have you trying to sing along before you’ve even finished hearing the song for the first time, then that’s a very good sign.  Great album in Teenage Bottlerocket’s discography!

Mike Watt & the Secondmen-Hyphenated Man
Clenched Wrench/Org Music

Technically this release is a couple of years old, but really at this point, what’s old and what’s new? In the digital age it's rather daunting to try and keep up with what your favorite musicians are doing, it’s nearly impossible to keep up.  Mr. Mike Watt has been writing and recording music since the early 1980s and he’s still innovative 30 years later showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.  I was lucky to catch fIREHOSE a few times before they called it quits just after leaving SST for Sony/Columbia.  I wasn't lucky enough to see any fIREHOSE reunion shows but did catch Watt’s first solo tour for his Ball-Hog or Tugboat, a Minutemen set at the Flipside reunion (with an empty mic in place to honor D. Boon) and then oddly enough a couple times in the Punk Rock Karaoke band in Los Angeles.  I think he finds himself most comfortable in a trio situation and Hyphenated Man is a mammoth 30 song rock opera of sorts that sounds like the lost album never recorded by the Minutemen.  I love the chemistry between Watt and his band comprised of Tom Watson on guitar and Raul Morales on drums, the fury of the Minutemen is still there, somewhat aged, but still thankfully in tact.  Free and clear of the major label grasp, Watt handles bass and vocal duties with a sense of determination and purpose that's clearly for the fun of it rather than because he's in need of fulfilling contractual obligations.

Without spelling it out, this is a fine tribute to his past while looking into the future.  You can listen Hyphenated Man out of sequence on shuffle or song by song but that would clearly defeat the purpose.  This is an album intended to be listened to from start to finish.  The longest songs are just over 2 minutes and Watt’s story telling and the band's musicianship is a pleasure to listen to in the 21st century.  If you can catch them live, don't hesitate by thinking twice.  


Why not?  Here's a classic from The Big Boys with some great vintage footage of this pioneering band.  If you don't know them, well, watch and learn, that's all I can say.

Friday, June 29, 2012

So This Band Called Agnostic Front Came to Pittsfield and.......

they packed Chameleon's, a club who has quickly become Berkshire County's answer to CBGB's, the legendary club on the Bowery responsible for launching thousands of music careers.  One never knew what to expect when walking through those hallowed doors and here in the Berkshires, one never knows what to expect when walking into Chameleon's.  To date they've hosted bands from across the globe including China (Shanren), Canada (The Real Deal), Japan (Misled Balds) and throughout the United States in addition to DJs, comedians and even magicians!

It was certainly a real treat to witness NYHC legends, Agnostic Front, in a club that holds about as many people as CBGB's once did.  When the show was first announced, local fans were in shock and were in disbelief a band who headlines major festivals across the world were play here in Berkshire County!  Well, it proved to be true, it happened and it was incredible!

Fans came out from under the woodwork to support the three local acts on the bill who brought their A game to tonight's show.  With the exception of some minimal vocal mic issues during The Damaged's set, the night was flawless.  Malicious Tendencies kicked of the night in fine fashion ripping through a 30 minute set that got the crowd moving early on with no intention of stopping except for the break in-between sets.  Chris, Arron, John and Dave showed no signs of letting up and were just as intense from the first note to the last!  Don't miss Malicious Tendencies as they don't play locally all that often, but you can be promised a good time.

After a short changeover, local hardcore heavyweights Bloodwar took to the stage and ripped through a classic set of hardcore!  This current line-up of Jerome, Matt, Kevin and Dave are a force to be reckoned with.  Agnostic Front has such a huge influence throughout hardcore, punk and metal it was a nice to see a local band that also embodied all of those styles in a different way.  Bloodwar's influences are without a doubt something near and dear to each member as they bring something unique to their performance, putting them above much of the current hardcore bands out there today.  This is another case of another locally based band that hasn't played around here all that much in recent years, it was great to have them play this show.

The Damaged took the stage after Bloodwar's wild and chaotic set and they brought a little melody and punk to the party in a big way.  They just released their first official album in almost 15 years and its great to see them play these songs live!  "Cracks in the Sidewalk" kicked off their set featuring songs from all three of their albums and while many in the crowd weren't familiar with the punk band at the party, by the end of their set, they had quite a few new fans throughout Chameleon's.  Kevin, Jay, Mark and Colin are one of the hardest working punk bands in the Berkshires and are probably one of the best kept secrets in the area.  Their working class anthems resonated throughout the packed club and even with some minor vocal mic issues, The Damaged played one of the best sets I've seen them perform.

It's hard to imagine the anticipation of everyone in the audience of seeing Agnostic Front in such an intimate setting as Chameleon's.  Even the band was excited to play the show after a minor technical bass guitar issue.   However, as professional as they are, Agnostic Front didn't let a technical delay in entertaining the crowd.  Stigma was telling jokes and he was an animated as ever!  He's one of the greatest characters in all of hardcore and he was certainly a crowd favorite.  He was even gifted a half pepperoni/half cheese pie from East Side Cafe by Mike Pigott of Mass Tropicas!

As they finally started the first notes of "Victim in Pain", you could tell they were into this show more than one might expect.  Agnostic Front has headlined festivals throughout the world and here they are in Pittsfield, playing to almost 200 kids going bananas without bouncers, without barriers and without a stage, just a simple drum riser.   This chaotic caccophany was perfect.  There was respect given to the club, the band and the fans gave respect to each other.  At times it looked like the end of the world, but then the song was done and everyone stopped moving.  Roger called for a classic circle pit a few times during their set and everyone obliged.  When Agnostic Front played the classic Iron Cross cover, "Crucified", the entire club sang along as they did with the closers "Gotta Go" and "For My Family".

This concert event surpassed all expectations of the opening bands, Agnostic Front, the Chameleon's staff and everyone in attendance.  For those who happened to miss this historical fact, if success is any indication, Agnostic Front will be back sooner than later!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Some Reviews of Recently Enjoyed Music and Books

Thoughts on "Commando"

On the way to the annual pilgrimage known as Punk Rock Bowling, I scrambled to find something to read for the flight there and back.  Even though I was wielding my new smart phone, I didn't want to be tied to it more than I currently am.  I made the trek to the only actual bookstore in Pittsfield and snagged a copy of "Commando", Johnny Ramone's autobiography.

I looked at it briefly after walking out of the store and the first thing I noticed was that it's a very impressive looking book.  The cover is very heavy duty cardboard and the pages are glossy.  For a punk rock book, it's top notch similar to that of "Fucked Up & Photocopied", except it's not a coffee table book that's currently out of print going for insane amounts of money.  Before driving away, I sat in the car and stared at the book.  A five hour flight was in my immediate future and I didn't want to start reading before I was actually at the airport, I wanted to start this book fresh.  I wanted to read a punk rock book on the way to Punk Rock Bowling. Without looking at too much as to ruin it for myself, I checked out a couple of the photos which were neat, Johnny's criticisms of all of the Ramones' albums and a few other things that didn't spoil the impending punk rock reading marathon.

One incredibly interesting detail that still has me shaking my head to this day is that the book was bound and printed in China.  How anyone involved with Johnny's estate would've let this detail slip by as okay is beyond me.  This is something Johnny wouldn't have been okay with.  Even his words in the book state something along these lines and it's just a shame that this wasn't even a detail that mattered to the publisher or his estate.  The book wasn't cheap and an additional $5 more wouldn't have mattered to me if the manufacturing of "Commando" was actually done in the USA. 

This would've certainly pissed on Johnny Ramone, hell, it pissed me off and I had just walked out of the bookstore with the book.  I actually debated on returning it for this very reason, but curiosity got the best of me.  I had to read it.  I'm glad I didn't return it, "Commando" is a great book.  It's like an early Ramones album, its short and too the point without a lot of fluff within the main story.  Some of the fluff that populates "Commando" is wisely left for the end of the book as it contains Johnny's unofficial Book of Lists.   Johnny always seemed to be the most serious of the Ramones and this book proves that to be case.  He had a tough persona and was all business and while the band didn't get along for whatever reason (which was often), they knew their fans were dedicated and they had to be dedicated to their fans.

I loved the overall presentation of "Commando", the photos and Johnny's perspective on being in a band who changed the landscape of rock n' roll forever.  The book brought me back to a happier time in my life and even though I knew the outcome, I read it as if I didn't know he would pass away upon completion of his story.  "Commando" is something I can recommend without a second thought.

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith

Flight delays are no fun and this trip was filled with delays to and from Las Vegas.  After finishing "Commando" in a few hours in the Albany airport, I started Patti Smith's "Just Kids", which I had picked up upon exiting passenger screening and I'm very happy I did.  Both the outcome of "Commando" and "Just Kids" are similar, major protagonists don't live to see the wonderful written tributes to them in finalized form.   Fortunately (or unfortunately depending upon my mood) I remember the controversies of artist Robert Mapplethorpe and the fear he brought to people because of the art he produced.  In 2012, it seems so ridiculous but at the time hearing about it, it made New York City seem so far away and magical in an odd way.  Living in the isolated hills of far western Massachusetts, you didn't hear too much factual information just random news reports or crazy conservatives like Jesse Helms attacking these crazy artists and their grant money.

"Just Kids" is not only inspiring and magical, but it's also tragic and gut-wrenching.  I wasn't aware of the extent of the connection between Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe until picking up this book.  What started as completely random encounter laid the seeds for a beautiful friendship, sometimes romantic, frustrating, inspiring and always fulfilling.  Smith is one of rock n' roll's strongest lyricists and her talent made it very difficult to put down "Just Kids" when I was finally ready to pass out for the night.  

While portions of "Just Kids" are solely devoted to Smith's story, Mapplethorpe is always on her mind like soul mates out on their own adventures eagerly awaiting their next encounter to share stories with each other.  Interestingly enough, the two never traveled afar together.  They'd visited Patti's family in New Jersey on occasion, but any extended trips were in the company of others. 

One of the more fascinating stories in "Just Kids" is how Patti assembled what was to be known as the Patti Smith Group.  She brings you back into the busy nights of the infamous Warhol hang out Max's Kansas City, the early days of CBGB's and bustling Chelsea Hotel.  From self-conscious poet to one of the most influential female voices in rock n' roll all because of the encouragement of Mr. Robert Mapplethorpe.   All the while during this book, I couldn't get the inevitable ending out of my mind.  What would this world be like had Mapplethorpe lived?

I loved this book and I loved "Commando", but I think I loved "Just Kids" just a little more.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Local Music Scene? (Part I) - There Are Two Scenes and You're Part of Neither

by Andy Poncherello

There are two distinct music scenes in the Berkshires.  One is comprised of cover bands and the other is comprised of bands playing original music.  One of these two factions has a thriving scene filled with supportive fans and supportive musicians while the other scene thinks they are doing everything right.  Sadly, they doing everything completely wrong and guess what?  The cover band scene is the thriving scene if this is any indication as to where this article is headed.  Oddly enough, the cover band scene has a large population of cheerleaders who are mistaken for true promoters and would lead you to believe that these performers are the next best thing to sliced bread.  This subject in particular will hopefully be the subject of a future article as it's a very interesting subject on it's own.

The original music scene that encompasses a selection of bands playing a wide variety of musical styles revolves around basically two clubs in Pittsfield who agree to book them.  Out of the two clubs, one is a restaurant during the day and the other is solely a club.  The club has two rooms, two sound systems, large dance floor, security/door people, a competent sound engineer and a ramp to load in and out, which is very convenient.  The restaurant has a marginal PA, a nice sized stage, small dance floor, stairs to climb and no one to run sound, security or collect the door.  Regardless of either venues' shortcomings, there are positives with each situation.  With the exception of these two outlets for original live music, the rest of the Pittsfield city limits and beyond is reserved for your run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter cover bands.

(There is a third venue that somehow skirted numerous permitting regulations with the City of Pittsfield.  The lobby of the Colonial Theater known as the Garage is where they manage to tout the brilliance of bands no one has ever heard of except for the most music listener.  The focus of this is about rock bands, not jazz fusion.  Because jazz fusion bands have a strong support system with fans, friends and other band members, they would fall into the cover band category based on support alone, not based on what they're actually playing.  Again, for the sake of argument, the jazz fusion crowd will be assigned to the cover band category.)

Out of the scenes previously mentioned, the cover band scene appeals to an older audience and the original bands generally appeal to a younger audience.  There will of course be exceptions, but that's not the point, the point is to actually finish this and make some sort of coherent observations.

Bands Support Other Bands in the Pittsfield/Berkshire County Music Scene

This statement is 100% true in the world of cover bands but barely 25% true in the world of bands playing original music.  How can this be?  Simple actually.  Fans of cover bands are generally older, have kids, a regular job and basically need to blow off steam when given the chance.  This chance seems to occur 52 weekends a year, yet, without making excuses, these fans support the bands who are also their friends or friends of friends.  They actually repost show announcements, bug their indecisive friends to come out instead of staying in and will do whatever it takes to make wherever they are, seem like the place to be.  Surprisingly, there is very little ego to be had (and really, when you're playing someone else's music and getting paid for it, how can you have an ego?   It is possible I suppose).

When dealing with bands playing original music however, none of the above is true.  Unlike the cover bands, some original bands won't even promote their own shows!  Band members won't even tell their friends, co-workers and family that they have a show!  Its almost as if there's an embarrassment factor.  Well, if you're embarrassed about being in a band, QUIT!  The few fans they may have had at any one given time probably don't even know there's a show to begin with.  It may be a hard concept to fathom, but show announcements aren't being shared telepathically just yet.  Now, if people who might go to the show know about it, there are more excuses being thrown around as to why they can't go instead of supporting their friends.  Even other bands who play essentially the same style of music being performed at the show, stay away from the show like the show has the plague.  Bands seem to have an ego or an attitude that they're beyond the level of supporting their friends or other bands locally especially if they've seen the band once or twice.   In the defense of the folks who don't attend for whatever reason, the crowd that gravitates to the exciting world of cover bands like flies to feces are older and have a less hectic schedule.  They're not dealing with exams, homework, weird shifts at work, video games, Facebooking, crying on Tumblr, posting to Pinterest, partying, smoking dope or hanging out at the mall.   These distractions will continue to kill live original music to the point that neither of the two remaining venues for it in Pittsfield will opt to book something else.   

If you can stomach going to see a cover band even for just a few songs, take a look around the room and if their band isn't playing that night, you'll see quite a few audience members who are in other bands at the show.  This is something you rarely find at shows where bands are playing original material here in region and this is extremely frustrating. 

Take for example a recent show in Pittsfield with the band Shanren from China.  Shanren will normally play to 15,000 in extremely large venues throughout the world and it was a coup that they somehow ended up in Pittsfield on their first-ever North American tour.  The band understood they would be playing smaller venues to smaller audiences because they are virtually unknown here.  Shanren has successfully combined the traditional sounds of what you'd expect a band from the mountains of China to sound like with rock n' roll, metal, hip hop and reggae to create a very unique and incredible sound that really will appeal to anyone who hears them.  At times they remind me of John Zorn's Naked City of all things and at other times they sound very familiar but different.  Also sharing the bill with Shanren was three great bands.   Locals Noumenon and SufferDie were representing the hometown scene and the band Wringer was added to the bill as they were on tour from Indiana.  The Berkshire Eagle did a fantastic job of plastering Shanren on the 413 section (above the fold, for those of you keeping score) as well as getting picked up on a few other outlets including Paul Rapp's Nippertown site.  Yet with all of that promotion and buzz, the show drew a paltry, very typical amount of people.  Don't get me wrong,  everyone attending enjoyed it, the other bands enjoyed, the club enjoyed it but it was a shame that more people couldn't drive a few miles to see a band who traveled thousands of miles (or hundreds in Wringer's case) to play here in Pittsfield.

To be continued!!!!!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rebel Sound Radio Playlist March 6, 2012

The goal of updating this blog has kind of been failing, but I don't know if the reader actually cares.  I say "reader" as there couldn't possibly be more than one!  Okay two, if you count me.

Rebel Sound Radio is broadcast every Tuesday night on WTBR-FM 89.7 out of Pittsfield Massachusetts. You can listen online or on the radio of course.  The program is hosted by Jon Hanson and Andy Poncherello.  They occasionally play requests.

March 6, 2012

GLOO GIRLS - Yo! Blondie! (vinyl)
MOTORHEAD - Eat the Rich
SCRUMTRILLESCENT - Pizzacracy (request)
JIM CARROL BAND - People Who Died
THE SWEET - Fox on the Run
OLD MAN MARKLEY - For Better For Worse
TIGER ARMY - After World
MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE - Na Na Na Na (request)
RAMONES - The Job That Ate My Brain
THE GIRAFFES - Prime Motivator (request)
CHUMBAWAMA - Your Ugly Houses
SHANREN - song 2
CURSIVE - In the Now
THE DAMNED - Disguise
BEACH BOYS - God Only Knows (vinyl)
SONIC YOUTH - Cross the Breeze
BAD RELIGION - Los Angeles is Burning
ALICE COOPER - Clones (vinyl)
THE HOUSEMARTINS - The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death (vinyl) (request)
ANDREW W.K. - Party Hard
BOW WOW WOW - I Am A T.V. Savage (request)
BOOMTOWN RATS - I Don't Like Mondays (vinyl)
ARCTIC DEATH - Handprints
CIRCLE JERKS - Wasted (request)
BLACK FLAG - Wasted (request)
ALKALINE TRIO - This Addction
THE ONLY ONES - Another Girl Another Planet (vinyl)
BARONESS - song 2
FLAMING LIPS - Drug Machine in Heaven (vinyl) (request)
SCREAMING FEMALES - Boyfriend (request)