Wednesday, November 25, 2015

DVD Review: What Did You Expect? The Archers of Loaf: Live at Cat’s Cradle

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet
What Did You Expect? The Archers of Loaf: Live at Cat’s Cradle
Produced, directed and edited by Gorman Bechard
What Were We Thinking Films
88 minutes, 2011 / 2012

The 1990s was a good time for indie music. Just listen to Mary Lou Lord’s song from that period, “His Indie World,” and you’ll possibly think, “Oh, yeah, right.” One of the bands not mentioned in the song though, was the Archers of Loaf, hailing out of Ashville and Chapel Hill, NC.

Everybody seems to talk about how bad a band name it is, but what I never hear anyone say is that it’s actually the “badness” that first absorbs the attention of the listeners. In other words, people will remember the name better if it’s badder [sic].

That being said, what the band is most memorable for is their music, of course. As director Gorman Bechard describes them on the DVD cover: “Archers of Loaf were the greatest indie rock band of the ‘90s. No one had more energy on stage. No one put out better records.” You might even say he is a fan (yeah, I’m bein’ a smartass).

The group formed in the early ‘90s, broke up in the late ‘90s, and reformed again for short tours (one of the band members refer to themselves as “weekend warriors”) in 2011, when this concert was filmed by seven pretty steady handheld cameras at the Cat’s Cradle, in Carrboro, NC, a mere few hours from their home turf.

Well, enough with the history lesson, let’s examine the documentary. Before anything, let me state that one of my pet peeves in concert footage is quick edits, I prefer slower and longer shots, to see what the band is doing musically (e.g., watching hands on frets). The tendency is to match the music to the edits, and with indie or punk bands, the inclination is to do extremely quick shots. For this film, the edits fall somewhere in the middle. Bechard uses medium length clips that are not gonna be flashing so fast it could set off a grand mal, but it’s not lingering, either. It’s a pretty decent flipping camera-to-camera ratio.

Most of the cameras, however, are either from the back, the side, long shots of the whole stage, or close-up to vocalist Eric Bachmann; often it’s hard to make out exactly what they’re playing. However, some of the camera work is excellent, such as the one to the far stage left near guitarist-lawyer Eric Johnson, which often manages to get his guitar and the rest of the band at a great angle.

The Archers had four albums, so at this point when they play live they are a more or less a Greatest Hits group, like the Beach Boys. This is not a criticism, it’s just the fact. Luckily the music holds up after all these years. You can see it in the faces of the fans who look like they were in infancy when the Archers was originally active, and they mouth along with the songs. That’s a testament to both the band and the material.

The band takes a song or two to settle in, especially Bachmann’s vocals, but by the time the ballad “Greatest of All Time” comes up, he’s in top form. Some of my favorite bands have that couple of songs warm-up, so that’s not unusual. Except for some gray here and there and some hair loss on a couple of them, their energy levels were on full force. This is especially true for bassist Matt Gentling, rocking ripped cargo shorts, and just plain physically rocking…and jumping…and moving.

The Archers of Loaf sound is definitive ‘90s, with jangling guitarwork full dissonance, discordant chording and almost atonal melodies, but manage songs that you can sing along with, which is one of their strengths. It should be noted that they are one of the early proponents of that particular sound, and helped popularize it.

That style definitely feels strong here, thanks to the concert audio recording and mixing by Minnesotan bred, Carrboro living Brian Paulson, who was once in the band Man Sized Action (still have the LPs). More notably, though, he has produced recordings by this band, Wilco, Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Dinosaur Jr., Superchunk, etc.

Between songs, there are brief interviews with the quartet which I really found interesting, as they are a personable bunch of guys, especially Gentling. They tell of the origin of their name and the infamy of having such an unusual one, the differences of touring in a van versus a bus or plane, their friendship, and being in a band while holding other jobs, to name a few topics. For anyone who is going to be making a music documentary, please note that I (and I am assuming others) would rather the interviews have been after the film, rather than inbetween songs, because it’s harder to get into the music when it’s interrupted for talking heads, even when it’s the band doing the telling.

For the extras, there are six more songs from the same set (you can see the list below), giving you an additional almost 25 minutes of music. Also included, as Bechard is really good at giving these perks on his discs, is an additional 12+ minutes of interviews with the band, each of whom tell an extended anecdote that are worth a listen, and the trailer for the film (see below).

As for me, I still like their first song, “Wrong,” best, followed by “1985/Fabricoh.” But that’s neither here nor there, really.

Eric Bachmann: vox / guitar
Eric Johnson: guitar
Matt Gentling: bass / vox
Mark Price: drums

Song List:
Harnessed in Slums
Greatest of All Time
Lowest Part is Free
Freezing Point
What Did You Expect?
Worst Defense
Attack of the Killer Bs
You and Me
Web in Front
Slow Worm
Plumb Line
Second Encore:
Scenic Pastures
All Hail the Black Market

Bonus songs:
Dead Red Eyes
Strangled by the Stereo Wire
Form and File
Let the Loser Melt
Step Into the Light
Smoking Pot in the City

Friday, November 20, 2015

DVD Review: Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)
Written and directed by Scott Crawford
New Rose Films / MVD Visual
102 minutes, 2014 / 2015

There were so many important Third Wave scenes when the hardcore explosion grew into fruition, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Phoenix, and so on. There is no doubt, however, that the standing of the Washington, DC base is among the strongest. Two names tend to rise to the top, Henry Rollins, and especially Ian MacKaye, both of whom are represented here.

Of course, the opening shot is of Ian MacKaye talking. Without meaning this as any form of sarcasm or complaint, is there anyone in the punk scene who is represented on indie documentaries about the genre as much as Ian? After all, he was the one who started the whole Straight-Edge movement (though he did not invent the symbol of the X on the hand) that became somewhat of a preachy religion to some. And the fact that he’s this present so many decades later just proves how much he has injected into the movement.

The second person to talk is Henry Rollins. Henry, one might say, left his band SOA and joined one that was arguably bigger than Fugazi ever became, namely Black Flag. Flag had an influence on the world, but MacKaye was definitely – and rightly so – king of his kingdom, the land known as DC. Whereas Black Flag spread a sound, MacKaye spread a philosophy.

The growth of DC hardcore was nothing less than ferocious, with Little Ronnie Reagan right there, in a town mixed with rich government overlords and extreme poverty. This split personality was a societal PTSD with a beltway around it. Generally speaking, you could get depressed or you could get angry. Punk in that town went down the road towards the latter, with Doc Martins and spiked hair.

It’s no secret that the home base for Third Wave in DC is the 9:30 Club. Every town had it, be it CBGB, the Rat, or the Mabuhay Garden. In DC, it was the womb that launched a hundred bands that would have a ripple effect on every other club in every other town, even the older, more established ones.

The film is broken up into segments, each of which covers a topic or two. This is extremely well handled, as are the interviews. Yes, talking heads, but even when it’s the same person discussing her or her view, sometimes you can tell it was done over time as you can see them in different settings. Mixing in with this is some of the best hardcore photos I’ve seen, mostly in crisp black and white, and music clips that ranged from clear to pre-camcorder fuzzy, of bands and fans in action.

Let’s talk about some of the guest interviewees. There are the likes of Thurston Moore (known for Sonic Youth, but before then he was in the Coachmen, and I do believe that FFanzeen was the first ‘zine ever to publish anything about Moore; but I brag and digress…), Fred Armisen (the actor/comedian from Chicago was also in the band Trenchmouth), J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. , Tim Kerr (Big Boys, from Austin), and arguably the almost as omnipresent Dave Grohl, who was in the early DC scene and in the local band Scream. For once his stories didn’t sound like Whocares to me. And what, no Keith Morris, who is also usually on these types of documentaries?

Punk scenes that last long enough seem to follow a similar trajectory. A group of people start playing at a bar or a new space and an insular crowd with camaraderie forms. Everyone knows each other, bands respect each other (even with some rivalry), and everyone gets picked on by the local jocks and cops. Time passes and the scene starts to get popular, and the very jocks that were doing the jumping are now doing the moshing, and being violent inside the club. People get fed up and stop coming. The scene disintegrates. On some level, that fits DC as well, even though it splintered in the early 1990s, rather than disappeared.

The scene starts with the likes of the surf-inspired Insect Surfers (saw them play Hurrahs), the pop-rock Tru Fax and the Insaniacs (both these bands not mentioned in the DVD) and the garage-laced Slickee Boys (I saw them play twice at CBGBs and was a fan), and becomes the balls out Bad Brains. The BB left early on in 1980 to move to NYC, but they were adults by then. So the kids start forming their own bands, like Gray Matter (their drummer, Dante Ferrando, was amazing), Iron Cross and especially Teen Idles, began to rise.

The latter, with Ian MacKaye, didn’t last long, but they were the first to release a DIY single in the area. After they broke up, MacKaye formed the more iconic Minor Youth. It was here he started the record company that would define the scene, Dischord Records. Soon touring bands from DC would find gigs on just the strength of having a Dischord release.

This is the first section of the film. Another part discusses the violence coming from outside the close-knit group, from Georgetown College boys in Mustangs who would gang up on punkers. Henry Rollins tells a great story of how a group of punks used Alec MacKaye (Ian’s younger brother) for bait to catch the guys who were doing the beating to return the favor. They needed to take actions into their own hands due to a police force ambivalent to their needs. This would be mirrored in a later section on how moshing turned into performed behavior independent of music (I’ve seen this too, where the music playing was not as important as the stage diving; it could have been Andy Williams and gotten the same action), which turned into violence as the pit became the eye of the storm of the elbows and knees of skinheads and “Drunk Punks.” This led to gay bashing. Some started DIY self-promoted shows to limit this vehemence. MacKaye, again wisely, says he realized that the music they were playing and its subject matter are partially to blame because, as he put it, “Violence begets violence.” This led to his forming the less ferocious yet equally energetic (and nationally popular) Fugazi.

You really can’t discuss the DC scene without detailing the whole Straight Edge movement started by Ian, with the black “X” on the hands. While this is a quasi-zealous group, it did have at least two important results: it lead to the All Ages shows, which opened up a whole new, younger fan market, and (b) created a backlash that sometimes broke the scene into two defiant schisms, and bands would fall on either side; e.g., Black Market Baby came out as anti-SE, calling their counter-movement Bent Edge. The legacy of that lives on: when I wrote a blog on how I imbibe just a tiny bit and called the piece “OnBeing Straight Edge, Kinda Sorta,” l had some interesting responses blasting me for not being all in; this was in 2008.

While even the director of this film, Scott Crawford, becomes part of the story as he discusses his own introduction to the scene at age 12, and also fanzines, including his own Metrozine. There is a short, interesting segment on Go-Go, a black music scene that was incorporated into the punk catalog, much as earlier British punk celebrated reggae. As MacKaye succinctly puts it, you would find punks at Go-Go shows, but no Go-Go fans at punk shows.

The more interesting and intersecting segments to me dealt with social issues, including Misogyny (the “boys club,” dismissed by one dude as “we were young”) toward the female musicians who explain what it was like. Also there was the political and social upheaval as DC became the “murder capital of the U.S.” and the mayor, Marion Berry [d. 2014] was caught on camera smoking crack (sound familiar, Toronto? DC beat you to it!). One of the results of this, in 1985, was the formation of Mark Anderson’s Positive Force organization, that booked shows and held fundraisers for various causes (poverty, end animal cruelty, etc.). They were (and are, after three decades) a bit preachy, but a definite positive influence in the region. There is a documentary about / by them called Positive Force: More Than a Witness – 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action.

The extras include 14 “Extended Interviews” (aka deleted scenes), and 10 full live song performances (each averaging around two minutes) from the likes of Fugazi, Government Issue, Gray Matter, and Marginal Man (acknowledged as the first Emocore band, coined by Brian Baker of Dag Nasty), and others.

Representing the scene is more than thirty people interviewed, including musicians, photographers, fans (titled “Scenesters,” I term I often use), fanzine editors, and organizers. It’s an excellent oral history of the period. Mix in all the stills and films, plus some interesting graphics, it’s well-edited together and gives a well-rounded view of what was going on during the 1980s in the Capitol’s punk capitol.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

DVD Review: GG Allin – (Un)Censored: Live 1993

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

GG Allin – (Un)Censored: Live 1993
Produced by Merle Allin
MVD Visual
110 minutes, 1993 / 2014

Iggy Pop’s infamous glass on skin and self-peanut butter smearing was outrageous in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The next step up was Suicide’s in your face aggression and Transistor’s Von Lmo chasing his audience out of clubs (usually Max’s Kansas City) with a running chainsaw. They all paled in comparison to what GG Allin had in store for his audiences. His shows (and arrest records) were notorious.

This DVD is a collection of four shows during the Murder Junkies’ Terror in America 1993 Tour in the spring of 1993. GG would be dead less than a month later from the last one here, after an extremely wild and violent show at a New York club called the Gas Station.

If Allin wore any clothes at the beginning of a show, odds were good he was stark naked at the end (not counting the dog collar, boots and gloves), and somewhat lighter than when he came in, as he was known for both peeing and crapping on stage (and on occasion throwing said releases into the audience). Words to describe him have been transgressive and disgusting, but the first word in my mind is fearless.

The first show is from New Orleans at the RC Bridge Lounge, on May 16, 1993 (22 minutes long). Starting with his iconic “Bite It You Scum,” this actually ends up being the closest to a real show of GG’s I’ve seen in quite a while. Other than the occasional foray into the crowd, he stands his ground on stage and there is actually some quite agro moshing by the audience.

Here is also something I don’t see very often when watching these shows, and that is the audience gives as much violence at they get, if not more so. There is one fuckin’ huge inked and shirtless mofo (the bouncer?) who stands on the stage with him occasionally before diving off. The crowd is hyped, and when GG starts swinging at them, they don’t run away, they actually fight back. Props. I would like to believe that GG acknowledged them in return by actually keeping with the songs. Unlike some later, more theatrical shows (see the Chicago one, for example) where he’s brought props to the stage, here he keeps his jacket and jockstrap on for the whole show, though he does pull it down and do some yanking on his surprisingly micro-member (this was even discussed at his funeral, from the 1993 video I've seen called GG's Last Ride).

While the lighting is questionable due to the lack of decent illumination from the stage, and it seems the only brightness you can see is from the video cameras, the action is mostly viewable other than the occasional near “blackouts” when the floodlights from the videos are off. As with all the shows on this DVD, the entire gig is single-shot-camera, with no editing.

Next up is in Houston at the Catal Huyuk on May 17 (26 minutes). Funny, but the most eye-opening part of the show for me is when his microphone inevitably dies about a third of the way in, and as the techs work on it, GG goes into the audience and says, ‘How ya doin’?” and then sits down with them on some wooden, joined bleacher-type fold-down chairs. Someone hands him a plastic clear cup with beer and he drinks it down. It’s a very calm moment, and something I’ve never seen before at an Allin show, even when there are technical problems.

This is, in fact, a pretty sedate audience. Even as he prowls among the throng, they seem to be just standing them. When he whacks one or two along the way, they either duck or get hit and laugh. It is hard to explain just how surreal this all is. It is for this reason that a sudden fierce fist-led gang-up attack by a group occurs, it is also a shock. Still, this is one of the better musical shows of the four.

The Chicago show is from the Medusas club, on June 5 (33 minutes). It’s kind of fuzzy and the sound is terrible, also shot on a handheld camcorder in VHS. For over half an hour you get balls out (literally) GG, and the Murder Junkies pile drive their sound.

During “Bite It You Scum,” the opening number, GG removes his overcoat, which revels that all he’s wearing is tall leather boots, black gloves (I am assuming leather as well), and his spiked dog collar. As his brother Merle leads the band with his bass, GG rolls out an American flag onto the stage floor, gives himself an enema with a turkey baster, poops on the flag, pees on it and into a cup (which he flings out into the audience after a swig), and then uses lighter fluid set the flag alight (after wiping his butt with it, of course). In between all of that, he takes physical swipes at members of the audience, who douse him in beer from those omnipresent red cups. I’m not making an opinion, just relaying the action. And this is only the first song.

GG roams the crowd, occasionally being herded by the club’s bouncer to behind a fence between the front of the stage and the people in attendance. As many times has he climbs over, or tries to breach it (including breaking the separator’s metal braces which he wields as a weapon that someone grabs out of his hand), he is thwarted, sometimes not to daintily.

My major complaint about this quarter of the film is more in the line of how fuzzy the picture and sound is. If I didn’t know “Bite It,” I would not have been able to make out any of the song.

The last show is at the Marquee in Detroit, on June 6 (32 minutes). This one starts off a bit freewheeling, with fewer props at the start. Yes, “Bite It” is the first number, but no flag.

So what’s an artist to do? Crap on the stage and fling it, of course! He continues to roam around with a big, brown smudge on his rear, like someone with lack of sphincter control who did not wipe himself. However, none of this is as gross, to me, as when he does a “Pink Flamingos.”

There is no barrier between the man and his crowd in this place. He roams and with the exception of people taking pictures of him, people tend to avoid him and scream out verbal abuse. He spends more time off the stage than on, but that’s not too unusual.

Also not unusual is that his microphone keeps going in and out. Nearly every show I’ve have seen (recorded; was always too much of a wuss to see him live) the spotty mic has been an issue, but it’s hardly surprising with all the abuse it goes through, between his hitting his head with it until he bleeds, or shoving it up his anus. I think about the modern remote mic, and how that might have made a difference (not to mention HD video).

The club is kind of a cavernous  warehouse setting with pool tables, but the audience doesn’t seem to be that extensive; either that or they are staying way far away from him, and possible (make that probable) genetic projectiles. However, it’s the audience who is the most violent here, throwing either objects or oral confrontations. Yes, GG definitely confronts the occasional audience member, but it’s the macho jock assholes that just seem to be there for no other reason than an excuse for violence that had me scratching my head. At one point, GG screams at them, “Say that to my face!” but the chickenshit cowards never do, preferring to insult him from a safe distance. Some of what GG does on (and off) stage is not pleasant, but he’s the real deal. These guys doing the hollering are bully posers, and far more disgusting in my eyes. And I bet some of those same pussies smugly went home and said, “Yeah, we showed him.” Yes, you showed the world that you’re not even worth having poo flung at you.

What is interesting to me is that no matter what is happening by or to GG, the band just keeps playing, as if they were in another room. Singer’s microphone doesn’t work? They play. GG is in the audience beating someone? They play. Someone or a group is beating on GG? They keep playing. It really was an interesting social experiment.

When I see GG being interviewed in other places, like on the infamous Springer episode, I see theater. When I see video recordings of him perform, I see theater. Yes, I believe he believed in what he was saying, I also believe there is some narcissistic element that underlied his way of thinking that he is supreme, and I know people who have taken his message of “no PC as I envision it” that translates as just another way of either self-aggrandizement or the degradation of others (from the interviews, I believe GG would agree with that): “I can say whatever shitty thing I want, be it racist, sexist, homophobic or genderist, and if you don’t like it, you’re just being ‘PC.’ This is the same mentality of those hyper-Christians (and other religious groups as well) that state that if they discriminate against others, it’s religious right, but if someone complains about it, it’s a War on [Religion]. I could rant on for a while on this, but I will stop as I digress…

Whether you agree with GG and his stage performances or not, as a media theorist, I admire that a musician at his level has as many shows available as he does – thanks in large part to his brother Merle, who controls his estate – and remains a strong presence in the likes of social media and YouTube.

Songs list (in total from all shows):
Bite It You Scum
Cunt Sucking Cannibal
Expose Yourself to Kids
Highest Power
I Kill Everything I Fuck
I Wanna Rape You
Kill the Police
Live to Be Hated
Look Into My Eyes (and Hate Me)
Outlaw Scumfuc
Terror in America


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Chinas Comidas: An Inside Look – Rock’n’Roll in Washington State [1980]

Text by Mark Wheaton / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This self-interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #4, dated May/June 1980, page 21. It was written by Mark Wheaton, the keyboard player of the Seattle-based band Chinas Comidas.

Part of what makes this article of added importance is what would explode in Seattle a decade after this article, because the focus on the city tends to start in the early 1990s, but this plainly shows that punk was not something that began with Nirvana, or even Mother Love Bone, or any other grunge band. It was alive and well for quite a period before “punk broke.”
Chinas Comidas, whose name is Mexican slang for “Chinese Food,” moved to Los Angeles in 1980, as stated at the end of this article, and then broke up soon after. – RBF, 2015

Let’s be upfront here: It’s true I’m a member of Chinas Comidas. But I’m also a fan of Chinas Comidas, and have been long before I joined the band. The current line-up includes: Chinas [aka Cynthia Genser – rbf, 2015], vocals; Rich Rigginsguitar; Brock [Wheaton, Mark’s brother – rbf, 2015], drums; Dag Midtskog, bass; and myselfkeyboards. We’ve been together, as such, for a little over a year. Chinas Comidas actually started around 1976 and has gone through several personnel and style changes since then. The content and intent has been refined, but basically has remained the same.

Originally, Chinas herself would sing with a loose-knit group, who also backed Barry Minkler, known as Red Dress. This Chinas-Red Dress band existed on and off through 1977. Brock joined the band in the Spring of 1977, originally as a last minute fill-in. By 1978, Chinas Comidas and Red Dress had become two separate groups. Chinas Comidas started to take a “rock” direction. I began to do the sound for Chinas Comidas in 1978. At the end of that Summer, the band began to establish a local reputation and had even ventured to San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens. The group disbanded and re-organized that Fall. It was during this time that the first EP was recorded. Rich played guitar and overdubbed the bass part, and a keyboard player came in and did those parts. At the end of the session, we decided that I should play the keyboards; so I got a piano and synthesizer and began to learn how to play.

Dag was, at this time, in a band called Violent World. Violent World included Electra-Blue, an amazing person who had previously been in Seattle’s only true heavy metal group. Mondo Band. Violent World was much more punk. Unfortunately, the band fell apart and I asked Dag to come to an audition. I was working at a used record store and Dag worked across the street at a florist shop. After a few rehearsals, we had developed a very tight, rocking sound.

Our first gig was New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1978. Actually, it was 3:00 AM, January 1, 1979. It was an intense, frantic show. Following that debut at what was to become less than a year later The Showbox Theatre (a New Wave showcase), we played at a Country tavern called The Rainbow. We opened for the Ramones. This was followed by a show with Red Dress at a new performance place called WashingtonHall, one of those echo chambers where nothing can really be done to get a good sound. It was like the first show where we really felt like a band. A local critic saw fit to review the show and he blasted us mercilessly. He even confused us with Red Dress, whom he hadn’t even seen. Our local supporters returned the blast with a flood of irate letters and even some editorial comments in other rival papers.

As yet, Chinas Comidas had not really played for the younger, punk crowd, most of who thought we were some kind of folk-group or something.

We recorded our second record, which was also our first with the current line-up. While we were waiting for the test pressing to come back, we did a show with the Dils and D.O.A. It was very well attended and as the punk crowd then found out, we weren’t a folk act.

Shortly after the Dils show, we went to New York. We arrived with no gigs and very little money, ending up three weeks later having played at Hurrah’s and Tier3, and in Philadelphia with the Dead Kennedys. We also recorded two new songs at Soundmixer, on Broadway. It was a quick session, but we got “Sweeter Than Ever” and “Criminal Cop” finished, the later sung by Rich.

Returning to Seattle, we finally released “Snaps” b/w “For the Rich,” and played a few club gigs around town, including a performance at the And/or Art Gallery with Red Dress.  

In late October, Chinas Comidas ventured south to L.A., where we played with the Germs, at the Hong Kong on Halloween. We stayed in L.A. four weeks, played the Hong Kong three times and the Whiskey once.

Upon returning to Seattle, we played a gig with L.A. performance artist Johanna Went at the Roscoe Louis Gallery. Chinas went to New York for a short visit and in her absence we did a gig without her as an Exquisite Corpse (our label) artist, opening for Ultravox, at the 800 seat Showbox Theatre.

In February, we returned to L.A. for an extended visit.

The Music Scene in Washington State According to Mark:
  • 1973-75: Tomata (Screamers); Whizz Kids
  • 1976: Chinas Comidas; Fruitland Famine Band; Meyce; Mondo Bando; Red Dress; Telepaths; Tupperwares; Uncle Cookie
  • 1977: Jim Basnight; Chinas Comidas; Feelings; Fruitland Famine Band; Knobs; Lewd; Mondo Bando; Red Dress; Telepaths; Uncle Cookie
  • 1978: Chinas Comidas, Cheaters; The Enemy; Features; Feelings; The Girls; Henry Boy; Lewd; Loud Ties; Moberleys; The Radios; Red Dress; Telepaths; Violent World
  • 1979: Blackouts; Cheaters; Chinas Comidas; Citizen Sane; The Cowboys; The Debbies; The Enemy; Frazz; The Girls; Heaters; Jitters; Lewd; Little Koreas; Macs Band; Mad Shadows; Moberleys; Red Dress; Shivers; The Spell; Student Nurse.

Local Records:
  • Uncle Cookie: “Hamburger” b/w “Kidnapped,” “Little Orange Babies” – 45
  • Jim Basnight: “Live in the Sun” b/w “She Got Fucked,” “Precedent” – 45
  • Telepaths: “Frozen Darling” b/w “I Must Perform,” “Telepaths” – EP
  • Chinas Comidas: “Peasant/Slave,” “Lover/Lover” b/w “”Disease,” “Snake in the Sun” – EP
  • Clone: “Jacuzzi Fluzzi” b/w “Afterthought,” “Run Right Through You” – 45
  • Ian Fisher (Cowboys): “Girls Like That” b/w “Riot” – 45
  • Pink Chunk: “Louie, Louie” b/w “Kitchen Cantata” – 45
  • Accident: “Kill the BeeGees” b/w “True Detective,” “Nothrees” – 45
  • The Enemy: “I Need An Enemy” b/w “Want Me,” “King Tut.” – 45
  • The Lewd: “Kill Yourself” b/w “Trash Can Baby,” “Pay or Die” – 45
  • Student Nurse: “Lies” b/w “Snow,” “Disco Dog” - 45
  • Snots: “So Long to the ‘60s,” “New York Loveletter” b/w “It’s Later Than You Think,” “Edge City” – EP
  • Feelings: Destroy Destruction – LP
  • Chinas Comidas: “Snaps” b/w “For the Rich” – 45
  • Chinas Comidas – “Peasant/Slave” b/w “Lover/Lover” – 45

Upcoming releases threatened: Blackouts; Moberleys; Jitters

Of course, this overview ignores or forgets numerous commercial Tavern groups, country rock, etc.; many have records available either locally or nationally.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

DVD Review: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Fifty By Four: Half a Century of CSNY

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Fifty By Four: Half a Century of CSNY
Executive Producers: Rob Johnstone
Narrated by Thomas Arnold
Pride Films / Chrome Dreams Media
165 minutes, 2013 / 2014

I was wondering what should be the next DVD I would review. There is a backlog, so I have quite a few from which to choose. While out at the supermarket, as I pondered, weak and weary over a quaint and curious walking through the door, while I nodded, even though shopping, suddenly there came a sound over the PA. It was “Our House,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash (CSN). I took that as a signal that Fifty By Four was next. I had avoided it, honestly more due to its length of nearly three hours, so I decided to delve in and review that, and then watch it…er…nevermore.

Growing up, with the possible exception of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Ohio,” CSNand/orY were pretty peripheral to me, even though they were one of my older brother’s favorites. By the time the late 1960s came around, I had essentially stopped listening to the radio much, and focused more on film and television for entertainment. When they reunited on Live Aid in 1985, their set had some wincingly off-key harmonies. It wasn’t until the Ramones came along that I was lulled back into music. The catalog of CSNY was not really on my menu then either, as the punk revolution took me over. It wasn’t until someone gave me a CSN/CSNY Greatest Hits CD during the late 1990s that I started to enjoy more of their material, though a lot of it still leaves me scratching my head. And now, here we are.

Chrome Dreams (and their subsidiaries, such as Sexy Intellectual, Prism, and Pride) is a British company that does extremely detailed histories of both British and American bands or singers, including Clapton, Dylan, Zappa, the Stones and the Beatles. I have seen a few Neil Young bios by them before, and even reviewed a couple, but this is the first one I’ve seen for the whole megillah (though I know there are others from them).

CSNY fans tend to run towards the rabid, much like the Dead’s, so there is a question of who is going to watch this. For the die-hard fan, at least the first 2 hours are probably not going to be anything you don’t already know. If you’re more of a casual fan and are into music history, such as me, well, this is ideal (hell, I even read Slash’s annoying autobiography).

The DVD starts in the Laurel Canyon of Los Angeles during the mid-‘60s, with David Crosby in the Byrds, Stephen Stills and Neil Young in Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash in the Hollies over in the U. of K. It was the time just before the hippie revolution and the counterculture was on the cusp beyond that. It was the rise of the singer-songwriter (as opposed to the folkie, which would overlap) essentially begun the day Dylan went electric (okay, Dylan is credited here, but that last part isn’t in the documentary, but is my theory, which is mine, too).

Then, as now and always in any singular scene, bands were incestuous, and members often flow from one band to the next. Young quit Springfield, Crosby is brought in after the Monterey Pop Fest (but not before he discovers Joni Mitchell), and Nash is bored by the stuffy Brit band and wants to go all Carnaby Street. He hooks up with them and Crosby, Still and Nash are sprung. One might consider this one of the first supergroups, and that’s even before Young kinda joins the fold.

CSNY then
In a hippy dippy dopey (pot reference, FYI) idealistic mentality, they decide they are not a band, but will creatively shack up as individual singer-songwriters who perform together. But like common-law marriages, things start to get complex, especially when Stills comes out as macho Alpha Male, taking the word control of the control room literally. He ends up playing most of the instruments on their first album, Crosby, Stills and Nash (1969). By the time they start to tour, Crosby and Nash have no idea how to play the material and they get some back-up, including drummer Dallas Taylor and ex-Motown bassist, Greg Reeves. Soon, they are joined by Young (after his two failed solo albums), also an Alpha. Now the non-band is a band (see: complicated).

Over the next few decades, they would dance around each other, alternatively quitting, firing, rehiring each other due to (among other reasons) Crosby’s drug use (possibly due in part to the pain of losing his girlfriend, Christine Hinton, in a car crash), Nash and Rita Coolidge developing a relationship after she and Stills had a “tryst” (as it is described on the DVD; same thing happened with Joey and Johnny Ramone a decade later), and more ridiculously, the macho ego posturing of Stills and Young. It seems the only time they actually all worked together well was during periods of political outrage, such as the post-Kent State shooting “Ohio,” which pretty much became the anthem for the unrest in the period.

Again, most of their catalog and history are well known and documented through the late 1960s and ‘70s. The DVD especially became interesting in the last hour as the documentary starts focusing on the later part of their career, from the 1980s on, as I know so little about this period, as I was way too involved in the whole first wave punk movement to give a care about CSN(Y). Yet, even with that, I noticed that there was no mention of the media attention of Y’s joining CSN at the abovementioned Live Aid in ’85.

I know I talk about this every time I review one of Chrome Dream’s releases, but here ya go: This label has an easily identifiable, nearly auteur way of presenting their stories (usually produced by Rob Johnstone). Usually, it’s Tom Arnold doing the narration (he does a great job), as we see lots of photos, clips and interviews. The clips are a mixture of live in-concert, television performances, music videos and occasionally record cuts. Some of them are easily accessible, and some are quite rare, but in nearly all cases, they almost never last more than 20 seconds before Arnold begins talking. In some ways this is annoying because you want to hear the song, but on the other, well, this is already almost 3 hours, and it would have been more than double that if the full clips were shown. I’d like to see them include a second disc that just includes the full musical segments.

CSNY now
As for the interviews, as I’ve whined about before, there are all males talking, like women were only peripheral. The band’s momentum constantly changed due to women, including July Collins, who is never mentioned even though one of their earliest hits, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is about Stills’ relationship with her.

That being said, this is one of the better selections of interviews I’ve seen for one of this label’s releases. Sure, there is still the writers who give us second-hand stories and opinions (and they didn’t include the excellent Jeff Tamarkin or Richie Unterberger, both of whom write extensively on this period), but there is a large number of people who were actually there¸ giving first-hand anecdotes, rather than stories. All four of CSNY are represented, though it is via previous television interview clips through the years. However, their producers, studio engineers, and band members (yes, I’m using the term “band” and not “collective”) are interviewed specifically for this release. There are, in part, four drummers (Dallas Taylor, Joe Vitale, Joe Lala, Chad Cromwell) and three bassists (Greg Reeves, Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuel, George “Chocolate” Perry) represented, some telling what it was like in the studio, or on tour. As much as I like the writers, even those who saw the band live, it’s the ones who were in the trenches (an appropriate word considering all the conflicts within the performers) that mean more to me.

The nicest thing about this is that so many stories about ‘60s musician end with an untimely demise, but as of this review all members of CSN and Y are still kickin’ and performing – and getting somewhat along. They finally realized they “gotta get down to it.”

The extras are scarce but interesting. Other than some text info about the interviewees and a link to see more online, there is a 14+-minute short titled “Joe Vitale: The American Dream Sessions.” The personable drummer tells about recording the album at Young’s ranch in 1988.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Review: Color Me Obsessed – A Film About the Replacements

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Color Me Obsessed – A Film About the Replacements
Written and directed by Gorman Bechard
What Were We Thinking / MVD Visual
123 minutes: 2 discs, 2011 / 2012

Only once have I had the honor of seeing the Replacements live. Thanks to writer and music historian (and friend) Nancy Neon Foster, we managed to get tickets to see them play at Madison Square Garden in 1991, opening up for Elvis Costello. While we didn’t have nose-bleed seats, weren’t close either, at an almost 90-degree angle from the stage. They put on a good show.

The Replacement rose in Minneapolis around the same time as Husker Du in the early 1980s, and while there was a Beatles/Rolling Stones rivalry between the two bands (which is which depends on your point of view), there is no question that these two groups were the most influential bands to rise out of that punk scene. Husker Du were a bit more driven towards success even with the internal pressures within the band, but the Replacements were a complete time bomb waiting for the right moment to both explode and implode. As the director, Gorman Bechard says correctly in his commentary track, the record companies that signed the Replacements should not have been surprised when the Replacements showed up. In other words, they were volatile, played by their own rules, and had absolutely no respect for any kind of authority, record company or otherwise.

Of course, that is part of what made them such an amazing musical force, whose impact is felt to this day, even after all these years, which includes newbies on the scene who don’t realize that their favorite band was influenced by them. Same is true for Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, or the New York Dolls. This is evidenced, in part, by the sheer number of musicians interviewed for this doc.

While we are at it, let’s talk about the interviews in this film. There are probably about a hundred people gushing and dishing about the band, including some big name musicians, actors, and fans. The musical who’s who is quite stunning, including Tommy Erdeli (aka Ramone, who produced one of their albums), two members of rival Husker Du (except Mould, natch), three members of the GooGoo Dolls from Buffalo (including Robby Goo), Archers of Loaf (with whom Bechard has also done a live film to be reviewed at some point here), Titus Andronicus, the Decemberists, the underrated Babes in Toyland, etc. For writers, the list includes Legs McNeil, Jack Rabid, and the late Robert Christgau. From the big and small screen, there’s (among others) George Wendt from Cheers and, of all people, Tom Arnold, who apparently is a huge fan of the band and has some great stories to tell. What I really like is that no one tells second hand stories, like “At that moment Paul was feeling like…” which really annoys me, but rather they tell their own experiences, or their interpretation of things.

With rare exception, all of the interviews are in short bytes. It’s unusual for any clip to last more than 30 seconds, so for most of the two-hour running time, it’s bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-etc. It’s a bit whiplash inducing, but happily Bechard puts in the captions of who is who quite often, so you’re not thinking, who is that?, which is another peeve of mine in documentaries. There is a nice touch where in many cases you see photos of the interviewee from the ‘80s.

Essentially, this is more of an oral history than just a bio of the band, which is actually what makes it even more interesting, because you definitely get more than one side of a story (and sometimes contradictory), and some questionable information, such as one guy claiming that he is the inspiration for the name of the Replacement’s album Tim. Could be true, just no way to verify it. But that’s what oral histories are all about, and also why the subtitle of the film is “The potentially true story of the last best band.”

Who isn’t interviewed? Well, any member of the Replacements. In his commentary, the director explains quite clearly that since the band were rule breakers, this documentary would do be same, therefore there is purposefully no member of the band in it whatsoever other than still photos, and no music, live or from the records, only the stories and the fans. Besides, if you’re obsessed with the band and viewing this, you’d probably know it anyway. For the casual or curious, their music is available elsewhere. At a running time of just a bit over two hours, it’s probably better it was left out because of the amount of time it would have extended the film. As it was, it was cut down from an original 3-hour first edit, and that from 250 hours of interviews.

Another nice touch is the text included sporadically throughout the film, such as facts about the albums (how many units sold of a particular record as compared to the top selling one of that year) including song list, what was happening with the band playing at particular shows, why the band’s nickname is the ‘Mats, and like that. It’s actually the closest to “fact” in the whole piece. Sometimes it interferes with the talking, and I ran it back so I could grasp both, but I wouldn’t change it.

Over the dozen years they were a viable band, the quartet were known for their excesses, be it great or dreadful shows, depending on the night you saw them (the Heartbreakers, a band I saw often, could be that way as well). Substances, such as booze – and lots of it – were also mixed into the equation. That they were banned from Saturday Night Live after practically destroying their dressing room in a drunken haze is an example of that.

Now for some truth: yeah, I really like the Replacements, but I’m not obsessed with the band. There is way more on this double-DVD set then I really want to watch (I can hear Gorman in my head saying, “You’re no fuckin’ fan!”). I sat through the entire first disk, which consists of the film (2 hours), an excellent commentary by Bechard (2 hours), an interesting commentary by producer Jan Radder about getting the interviews and editing them together (1 hour), and a 19 Deleted Scenes collection that is definitely worth watching (over 1 hour). The second disc, which I didn’t watch, is a Behind the Scenes with Bechard and producer Hansi Oppenheimer, which are two separate segments (over 1 hour), three complete interviews of Grant Hart of Husker Du, Robert Christgau, and Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis (over 3 hours), and four completely individualized trailers (5+ minutes).

That’s nearly 11 hours, not counting the desire to replay all their records. I’ve happily put in my 6, but I’m done. As I said, I like the band, and I like this documentary, but I’m not obsessed enough, I guess. Could be good for a cold, shut-in weekend. You won’t be sorry.