Nobody Does Rockabilly Like The … Swiss?

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Title: Hillbilly Moon Explosion

It’s really all my mom’s fault. My mom grew up in a conservative small town in the Midwest. I grew up in a low rent suburb of Seattle and am now firmly part of the liberal coastal elite.

Therefore, she and I don’t have a lot in common. Her television is locked onto the Fox Channel. I don’t have a television. She abandoned the Methodist church and is attending a nondenominational one because the Methodists ordained gay clergy. I haven’t set foot in a place of worship (other than weddings) for many decades and have friends and co-workers that are gay and I support gay marriage (after all, gay couples can scarcely do worse than hetero couples on that score).

But…she did grow up in the 50s. Even growing up where she did, Elvis was huge and she was a fan. Even while I was growing up in the 60s and the 70s, she would regularly play rockabilly.

Somehow that took. To this day, I love the sound and the rhythm of rockabilly. Given that it is decades after its emergence, the sound has morphed over time. So, instead of listening to the rockabilly of Elvis (although I do have some of his songs on my playlist), I listen to the psychobilly of The Cramps, The Reverend Horton Heat, The Legendary Shack Shakers, The Termites, Guana Batz, and many others.

Somehow, probably through the magic of iTunes, I stumbled some years ago upon the Hillbilly Moon Explosion.

They’re hard to categorize. They play pretty conventional rockabilly. Many of their songs feature a female singer (Emmanuela Hutter). Her voice just somehow lyrically floats in an ethereal manner above the steady rockabilly beat. For some odd reason, the songs that feature her seem to be those that would belong in a song track of a David Lynch film. The music is traditional but has some edge of abnormality to it that is somehow compelling.

The fact that the group is based in Switzerland makes it even more mysterious. How does a Swiss band decide to form a rockabilly band? How do they come up with such a unique sound? Is it because of the remoteness of being Swiss that they were able to experiment with the form and come up with something new?

They’re kind of a niche band, and being located in Europe, I really had little hope of ever seeing them live, so I was much shocked to learn that they would be appearing at the Funhouse.

I’ve written about this a couple of times before, so I won’t belabor the point. I’d just like to reiterate that the Funhouse has a capacity of at most a couple of hundred people. I think my ticket was $15. I checked their tour schedule. Their US schedule is about a dozen dates starting at Nashville, heading to the West Coast, going up the coast, and then heading back down. If all of the venues are about the size of the Funhouse, how is this an economically viable proposition for them to come all the way from Europe for?

Regardless, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.

When Hutter was singing, they were exciting to listen to. Even live, her voice floats. Live, she puts more energy into her singing. She screams, groans, and moans.

Those songs where she doesn’t sing are not as strong live. At that point, they become a pretty typical nondescript rockabilly band.

Also, they are much stronger when the lead guitarist plays with a heavier sound (think Link Wray). Sometimes he switches to a gentler sound, and when he does, they veer into almost a conventional country territory.

In the studio, they occasionally collaborate with Sparky from Demented Are Go. His grounded gravelly voice contrasts sharply with Hutter’s ethereal in a pretty awesome way. Considering Sparky’s …um…legal troubles… in the US, I will probably never see the two bands tour together. My loss.

It was definitely a pretty awesome night to watch one of my favorite bands in the close confines of a small club.

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No Brawling, But Still Fun

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Title: Psychobilly Brawl 2018

This was another of those nights where a bunch of bands play. The venue usually tries to have a theme built around it (previously I’ve seen ska and rockabilly shows). This one, as you can probably guess from the title, was centered on psychobilly.

This is kind of an iffy proposition because psychobilly can take on so many forms. It is typically described as rockabilly  (the name, after all, comes from the Johnny Cash song One Piece At A Time) crossed with punk. The Cramps in the mid 70s actually named it and are loosely considered the originators.

Having said that, it gets complicated pretty fast. Some bands focus on the Billy part (ie The Reverend Horton Heat) while other bands focus on the Psycho part (ie Demented Are Go with their stage blood and song titles like Bodies in the Basement and Retard Whore).

Be that as it may, I checked out three bands. The first two I’d never heard of before. The first was Against the Grain, and right away the big tent that psychobilly encompasses is apparent. Against the Grain is pretty much a pure metal band. The lead singer was shirtless and wearing tight leather pants. The bassist had long stringy hair that completely covered his face while he was headbanging (hence pretty much all of the time). Picture Cousin It gone metal and you get the idea.

And that’s kind of the problem with watching a conventional metal band in the, shall I call it, Post Spinal Tap Years. They were perfectly competent musicians who played their hearts out, but I just couldn’t stop thinking how much they kind of looked like Spinal Tap. I kept waiting for the little Stonehenge to descend from the ceiling.

Next up was The Gutter Demons. They were recognizably psychobilly. They had the muscular bassist who played a stand-up bass and would lift it and twirl it (ala Jimbo Wallace from The Reverent Horton Heat).

Following them was The Goddam Gallows. They were the band that I’d come to see. They have an interesting sound. Their best known song is probably Y’All Motherfuckers Need Jesus. I found it interesting that their live shows seem substantially different than their recorded music. Their recorded music has much more of a country feel to them. The banjo is much more prevalent. Their live show had a much heavier sound with guitar and the stand-up bass taking over.

I do find it interesting when I attend a show with that many bands. As you progress through the opening acts and work your way to the headliner, you can see the proportional rise in musicianship and stage confidence. I missed the headliner (the Koffin Kats) because they probably wouldn’t have even started until after midnight, which is definitely way past my designated bed time. I’m guessing that the trend would have continued even with them.

I’ve gone to enough shows now where I see bands that are opening for another act at a larger venue actually be the headliner at a smaller club. The band behaves different at each. I’m guessing that the opener doesn’t want to show-up the closer (since being a good opener is probably critical for getting more exposure to your band). I wonder if the band also just feels more confidence when they are the opener because they know that the audience has actually chosen to attend to primarily watch them?

The audience, as is typical for a genre that is so broad and has been around for so long (more than 40 years now!), was pretty diverse. For the hard core psychobilly fans, there was plenty of full-on mohawks and extensive face tattoos. There was a bunch of O.G. grey beards there as well. The essential attire for men was leather jackets with patches from their favorite bands. The choice for women were retro dresses, fishnet stockings, bold lipstick and eye shadow, and pinup hair.

It was a lively drunk crowd that was having a lot of fun.

Laughing At Murder / Suicide

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Title: Anthony Jeselnik

I first watched Anthony Jeselnik when he did his Netflix special Thoughts and Prayers. Some of his jokes were kind of obvious and sophomoric but he won me over with the Thoughts and Prayer part of his routine, where he explained why he sends out really insensitive tweets after major tragedies. It was insightful social commentary that still resonates even now, I think of it whenever I hear a politician send out thoughts and prayers to shooting victims but then does absolutely nothing to help and/or solve the problem of mass shootings.

Mo Welch opened for him. She did a strong set. She’s in the mold of the the current  tradition of extremely personal comedy. She is gay, grew up poor, and her father apparently spent a substantial amount of her childhood in prison. All of these topics were fodder for her humor.

She was a good opener for Jeselnik because, like him, her comedy pushed boundaries. She had a riff about how a lesbian’s finger is her penis, meeting a friend who was from Joliet (a famous prison), and joyfully exclaiming that her father did time there, and an extended bit about wanting to marry her mother when she was a child (ending with a joke about sex with her mom).

She received good laughs and warmed the audience up well.

Jeselnik then came out. His act was in the same style as his Netflix special. He assumes a character on stage. He acts cocky to the point of arrogance. He frequently assures the audience of the brilliance of his jokes. He stalks the stage like a tiger. When he gets to the punchline, he stares directly out at the audience with a fierce intensity.

And that’s the interesting thing about Jeselnik. He tells jokes. The current trend of comedians is personal. If you think of the current top comedians like Louis C.K., Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, or Chris Rock, they tell stories about themselves. Sure, they address larger themes, but they come from a personal place to express it. The trend is still ongoing. An up and coming comedian like Ali Wong goes into extremely graphic (and hilarious) detail about her pregnancy, giving birth, and raising a child.

Jeselnik stays aloof on stage. Even when he does tell a story about his father, it’s pretty obvious that it’s not based in reality. It’s like the old school unmarried comedians making jokes about their wives. It’s a vehicle to a punchline, not a personal observation.

And that’s OK. I just find it interesting how he’s going against the stream. He clearly owes a debt to Mitch Hedberg and, even earlier, to Steven Wright. Like Hedberg and Wright, he has fun with language. He’ll start talking and it follows a very predictable path and then, still staying in context with what he’s talking about, he takes a very dark twist. The unexpected path and the abruptness in which it happens is the source of his humor.

It usually is very effective. I have noticed that you can get into the rhythm of his bits. If you listen carefully and project just a bit ahead, you can with some regularity actually predict the joke, which of course lessens the impact.

I think that it’ll be interesting to see how Jeselnik’s act will be in ten years. Will he be in the same persona? Will audiences still want to see him? Over time, I see his act becoming more and more predictable. It’ll be interesting to see if it evolves.

Tonight, as usual, he tested his audience to see how far he can take them. He does a bit on baby dropping. From what I recollect, I believe that he did a similar bit on his Netflix special. I think the idea of getting people to laugh at such an obviously absurd comedic premise is a challenge to him. Similarly, he had extended bits on murder / suicide, abortion, and racism. His abortion bit especially skirted the edge of exactly what he could say that would be simultaneously funny and shocking.

I’m wondering if he had one true moment during the end of his routine. He talked, in an ironically obsequious manner, of what a great crowd the audience was. He then made an offhand comment about the time he was at Bumbershoot and half the audience walked out on him. There’s no reason to actually believe him, but knowing that Bumbershoot is basically a bunch of random people deciding to catch a show, not knowing who Jeselnik was, that could very well be the one true fact of the evening. He tossed out the little aside with just enough of a hint of a bitterness to make you think that it actually happened and that it stung him a bit.

Reliving The Past That I Missed

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Title: Damned I’m Cramped

I grew up in a part of the Seattle metropolitan area affectionately known as Rat City. At that point in time, in the late 70s and early 80s, it was a lower middle class blue collar town of predominantly white people.

In that setting, the two avenues of music that were generally available to me was the AC/DC style of heavy metal or the Judas Priest style of heavy metal (I was pretty solidly in the AC/DC camp). If you want to see a pretty much spot-on documentary on how I and my friends were at that time, I’d advise you to go to youTube and find Heavy Metal Parking Lot. It is exactly what the title claims. Someone brought video equipment and filmed the crowd gathering before a Judas Priest concert. At one time, this was almost lost footage that would play very rarely in theaters (it’s about 30 minutes long). I remember seeing it for the first time about fifteen years ago in an art house theater as part of a documentary collection and I almost pissed myself in some bizarre combination of laughter and shame.

Because of that, even though I lived through the height of the punk movement, none of my friends were into it all. I didn’t have the sense / self confidence to go to shows on my own, and then later I married a woman who didn’t enjoy music at all. So, even though I really enjoy punk music and I was at an age where it would have been just about perfect for me to go such shows, I completely missed them. The fact that I easily could have seen the Ramones live in really small venues occasionally causes pain in my soul.

Now I’m much older and I have no problems at all going to shows on my own. As you can imagine, the pickings are pretty slim. You might have some copy of some punk band with possibly one original member show up to play their hits. I saw X play their Los Angeles album live in its entirety one New Years Eve some years ago.

Sometimes I have to make do. I noticed that a cover / tribute band was opening for another band at the Funhouse called Damned I’m Cramped. They do two sets, in the first one they cover The Cramps and in the second they cover The Damned. The Cramps are one of my favorite bands and The Damned are about as O.G. punk rock as you can get. Seriously, their drummer was named Rat Scabies.

This one I had to go to. I had an absolutely great time.

For the Cramps set, the lead singer tried his hardest to channel Lux Interior. He showed up on the stage in a tight leather one piece, a fur coat, long gloves, and eye makeup. Several times, he gave a blow job to the microphone by taking the head of it into his mouth (a signature Lux movement). He climbed on top of speakers. He danced into the crowd. He was buzzing around while singing the Human Fly.

For The Damned part, he changed character. Still wearing the leather one piece, he now also wore a leather jacket and sun glasses. He snarled and spat the lyrics.

The band was tight. The songs were awesome. I much prefer The Cramps songs to The Damned, but they absolutely kicked ass on The Damned songs. The Damned’s two most famous songs, Neat Neat Neat and New Rose. were absolutely blistering.

The band was not a group of young men. The bassist looked like nothing more than some corporate cubicle rat putting in his thirty years. The rhythm guitar was a paunchy bald man that looked like maybe he managed a local parts store. Towards the end of the show, the singer turned to the lead guitarist and thanked him, saying that it wasn’t for him that the singer would be a sad karaoke singer somewhere. You get the feeling that there was truth in what he was saying.

But on stage, this motley group of aging men absolutely killed it and they looked like they were having a blast.

Sometimes I think about the economics of the music business, especially those bands that are opening acts for places like the Funhouse.  There was maybe two hundred people in the audience. My ticket cost eight dollars. I bought two PBRs.

How much can an opening act make? I then look at the band and I get it. For a couple of hours, they get to be rock gods. The money is just icing.

And for me, even though I missed out on the real thing, it was great for me to hear songs that I love played live. Not as good as the real thing, but still a hell of a lot of fun.

 

Toasters Of The Town

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Title: The Toasters

The Toasters have been around for over thirty-five years. They are an American second wave ska band. Second wave ska, otherwise known as two-tone, also featured bands like The Specials and Madness. The Toasters nowadays are kind of like Guns and Roses in that there is only guy left in the band carrying on the name.

I think that I’ve written about this before, but the economics of live performance for middling bands kind of fascinates me. Five bands are on the bill. The leader of The Toasters, Bucket Hingley, lives in Spain. I just took a look at their tour schedule. They’re doing a show every night for the next several weeks. They are driving all around the western part of the United States (Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Oklahoma). They then have a break for a couple of weeks, do one gig in Costa Rica (?!), take another couple of weeks break, and then off to do a little tour in Germany.

In Seattle, they played at the Funhouse, which can accommodate a couple of hundred people at most. They’re playing a gig in Wenatchee at a place called Wally’s House Of Booze (no, I am not making that up). My ticket cost $12.

My question is, how is this even close to financially viable? You have to pay your openers something, I’d think. Maybe you get a piece of the bar. And yes, there is a merch table. But still, Bucket Hingley has to be in his sixties (he has the Hemingway look going for him). Does he have a pile of money socked away? Is he doing this just for fun? Does this somehow pay for his life in Spain? Or is he basically a beach bum in Spain and lives in a shack and doesn’t need money?

Be that as it may, I learned a valuable lesson at the show. Be very wary of attending all ages shows at the Funhouse. The Funhouse is a pretty tiny room. They have a bar in the back. Therefore, to accommodate all ages, they basically have to bifurcate what is already a tiny room. So, if you actually wanted to have a drink, you’d have to fight your way through the people crowding the stage, get your ID checked by someone guarding the bar entrance, and then fight your way to the bar. If you wanted to go and watch the stage, you either had to guzzle your drink and fight through the crowd again to get back to the main area or try to scrunch around and see some small part of the stage from the back of the bar. There was no access to the bathroom from the bar area. So, if nature called, you had to fight your way through the bar and then fight your way through the crowd in front of the stage. The layout of the Funhouse is just not conducive to accommodating all ages.

The music itself was good. I arrived late and only heard a couple of the bands. If I had to classify them, 2KLIX would probably fall under predominantly thrash. They had high energy and good sound.

The Toaster were pretty much as expected. After that long on the road, you pretty much know what you’re going to get, and they didn’t disappoint. The audience was dancing and shouting along. Good times were had by one and all.

Lenny Bruce – Asian Female Style

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Title: Ali Wong

First of all, let me start with an old man rant. A comedy show at a large venue like this usually has an opening act that lasts about twenty minutes and then a headliner that lasts about an hour. Therefore the entire show is about ninety minutes.

This was at The Moore Theatre. It’s not a huge theater, but it is a good size. About 7:05, about five minutes late, the opener is introduced. For a good fifteen minutes after, many people were still streaming in. The theater is dark, so the ushers, with little flashlights, were ushering people to their chairs. Nonstop. For fifteen minutes.

I basically got nothing out of the opening act because people were streaming constantly in front of me for all but about the last five minutes of the act.

First of all, how hard is it to show up on time for an event? Granted, it’s easy for me. It’s a ten minute walk. However, I didn’t always live here. For shows, I used to come in from the ‘burbs. If I drove in, then like a normal human being, I factored in the time to drive in (including the possibility that traffic might suck), factored in time to find a parking spot, factored in time to walk, and throw in a buffer on top of that. It’s not hard. Yes, you might show up early, in which case, walk in and get yourself a drink and relax. Or go to a local bar.

Speaking of which, many of the people coming in had drinks in their hands. In other words, they considered it more important to get a drink than to come in ten minutes late to a ninety minute show. Hey, maybe you can drink before the show or after ? Are you such an alcoholic that you can’t sit through an entire performance without alcohol?

The Moore Theatre clearly has some responsibility here. They need to shut down the bar once the opening act is close. I know that that is lost revenue for them, but it’s annoying as hell for the people that actually have sat down.

And, now for the final old man rant, it’s not as if these were like $5 tickets. I paid somewhere around $50 for it. If I’m paying that much, I don’t want to miss the first fifteen percent of it so that people can get their watered down whiskey and Coke.

I’m ranting because this is the second time in about a month that this has happened. Pretty much the identical situation went down with Sarah Silverman at the Paramount.

OK, whew. No more old man ranting. Onto the show.

First of all, I can’t comment on the opening act since I missed so much of it. #angryShakeOfFist.

I’d first heard of Ali Wong on a Marc Maron WTF interview. She did a great one, which piqued my curiosity. I poked around and found her Netflix special (Baby Cobra). It was wild and unpredictable. If you haven’t seen it, it really is awesome. It’s convention busting. Picture a five foot tall, seven month pregnant, Asian woman telling absolutely filthy jokes.

When I saw that she was coming to town, I had to see her live.

And it was amazing.

She is the rawest comic that I’ve ever seen. Absolutely nothing is off limits. If there’s a body function that you are in anyway shape or form squeamish about, she will talk about it and take it up to eleven.

Here are things that she talked about:

  • Being in labor for thirty-two hours and then having a C-section
  • What a woman’s vagina looks like after giving birth
  • Comparing being a stay at home mom to a prison isolation cell
  • Lactating with breasts that shoots out milk in every direction like a Bellagio fountain
  • Bringing in a lactating specialist and the crazy breast exercises that they make you do
  • Somehow moving on from lactating to shitting into her husband’s mouth
  • Having sex while menstruating
  • Her one and only experience with a micro-penis

And it’s not just shock value. She is legitimately hilarious. Although her topics are crude, her comments are trenchant.

She is not overtly political. I don’t think she mentioned Trump once. All of her jokes were personal experiences that became universal by her telling of them.

However, there is no doubt a strong political element to her act. She is clearly an ardent feminist. She is the embodiment of a Social Justice Warrior.

She strongly advocates for maternity leave. She angrily rejects the double standard that rewards fathers for the little things while ignores the huge things that a mother does daily. She makes a mockery of the demure Asian female stereotype.

I remember there was a time when comics openly scoffed at the idea of female comics. They’re not tough enough. They can’t handle the road. They’re not funny. Similarly, they mocked Asian comics. No one can relate to them. They’re not funny.

Ali Wong kicks the shit out of those stereotypes, and she does it on her terms. She tells jokes that not a single male or non-Asian could tell, and the audience, which as usual at Seattle comedy shows, has a strong white male contingent, was roaring, if at times somewhat uncomfortably. She also drew a significant Asian and female crowd, who cheered her on. She sold out all four shows at The Moore. She owned the audience from the moment she stepped onto the stage.

This was a professional at the top of her game.

 

Rockin’ Around the Clock – Until 11 PM

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Title: Rockabilly Riot

The Rockabilly Riot was at El Corazon. My ticket cost me $15 and there were ten bands on the bill. Considering the fact that one of them, the Legendary Shack Shakers, is a band of some renown, I’m guessing that the lower billed bands might have been playing for free beer or something.

El Corazon has two stages: its own stage and The Funhouse stage. The lesser bands were on the much smaller Funhouse stage while the bigger bands were on the main. For the purpose of efficiency, they alternated. Once one stage completed, the next stage would start up immediately.

I didn’t listen to all ten bands because I’m old. I’m guessing that the headliner, the Shack Shakers, probably would have taken the main stage somewhere around one in the morning. That was not going to happen with me.

I caught pieces of four of them. I came in as the Stoned Evergreen Travelers were just getting started in the Funhouse. This was a band out of Tacoma. The person playing the stand-up bass was a woman. There was a woman playing the fiddle. The lead guitar / vocalist was a man sporting a serious ZZ Top grade beard. They went on stage and just rocked out. Being somewhat lower on the bill on the smaller stage, they might have been playing for free beer, but they sure had a good time doing it.

Next on the El Corazon stage was Redneck Girlfriend. Right away, you can tell the difference between bands playing on the main stage compared to the smaller stage. The bands on the El Corazon stage were just generally tighter, more confident, and had better stage presence. Clearly, these bands have been touring for a while and know how to put on a show. While nothing outstanding, Redneck Girlfriend put on a solid rockabilly set.

Just like with the Skatoberfest concerts that I go to, you figure out pretty quickly that a significant percentage of the people in the audience are either in one of the bands or are staunch supporters of one of the bands. As Redneck Girlfriend was finishing up, a woman that just happened to be standing next to me turned to her friend and said that she should finish her drink because she’s up next.

Sure enough, after Redneck Girlfriend finished up, I walk back to The Funhouse and there she was on stage. She was Marieke of Marieke and the Go Get Em Boys. Before the show, I’d went to their Facebook page and there they announced that this was their last show. On stage, she slightly softened that statement by saying that it might be their last show.

I hope they reconsider. They truly had an interesting sound. Marieke was on vocals and her style was somewhat reminiscent of Hillbilly Moon Explosion, a band whose sound I really enjoy. However, Marieke has a slightly nasty punk sound to her voice that adds another layer to the sound. Rockabilly can start to sound the same (especially when 10 bands are on the bill!), but this band’s sound really stood out as something unique.

For pure entertainment quality, you can’t touch The Delta Bombers. They were just an incredibly tight band. The drummer and bass were absolutely rock solid, driving the band forward at all times.

The lead singer had a great presence. The lead guitarist was cooking. The audience was dancing and slamming. Several members of the Shack Shakers came out to watch them, which in itself I would think is a pretty good statement.

I poked around a bit at the next act, but I felt so good after watching The Delta Bombers that I decided to head out.

It was a great night out, lots of fun, all kinds of people of all ages politely crowding each other with absolutely no problems. It was a good time for all.

 

We’re All Fucked, So Let’s Dance!

Title: Anti-Flag, Reel Big Fish

I saw Reel Big Fish and Anti-Flag at the Showbox last night.

There were a couple of openers, but I wasn’t all that interested in them. I managed to walk in just about when Anti-Flag took the stage.

Anti-Flag is a hard-core punk band that’s been around for twenty years. They are a high energy band raging against government. Their first albums were released in the 1990’s. If they were angry about the Clinton administration, then you can imagine how they feel about Trump.

Between songs, they were aggressively advocating for immigrant rights and attacking Trump, encouraging everyone to take to the streets to protest.

Paying money to be preached to / ranted at (even if you agree with them philosophically) might have gotten a little tedious but, in all honesty, they rocked the house. Musically, they are a tight, hard driving, raucous act that had the audience dancing, jumping, and screaming.

Amusingly enough, from a distance, the drummer to me actually looked like Bill Clinton. I’m not talking about the current, skinny, vegan version of Clinton today but the mid-90s portly, ebullient Clinton. The key to any hard driving band is its rhythm section, and seeing Clinton in the back just furiously beating on the drums with what looked (again, from a distance) a very smug Clintonian smile on his face made me smile as well.

One highlight was when the singer introduced the song that got them into punk rock and then they played an intense version of The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go. Another highlight was when the bassist and the drummer set up in the audience and played a song from there.

I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations for Anti-Flag and they certainly far exceeded those. They were pretty awesome live.

Now I was a little concerned. After firing up the crowd on punk and politics, how was Reel Big Fish going to fare?  They are not political and they play goofy, happy-go-lucky ska.

No need to worry.

 

They came on and played a couple of quick songs to warm the crowd up. They then announced that since it was 20 years since the release of their major album, Turn The Radio Off, that they were going to play the album in order.

On the one hand, it’s a cool idea. This was the album that first turned me on to Reel Big Fish. I listened to it several times, so I was going to be pretty familiar with all of the songs.

On the other hand, I always think it’s an interesting choice for an artist to make. I had a similar thought when I saw X perform front to back the album Los Angeles on the thirtieth anniversary of its release.

How does an artist feel completely reliving music that was generated decades ago? Is it somehow comforting / reassuring that your work has stood the test of time? Does it make you wonder if the ensuing decades of artistic work has been a waste? Are you left feeling that you are so far from your prime that you have to mine your youth for inspiration? Or are you at the point in your career where, fuck it, I have a mortgage payment to make and if this is what the monkeys want to hear, here it is and go fuck yourselves?

To go off another tangent, whenever he performed, it was written in Chuck Berry’s contract that he’d perform for 46 minutes (or some such specific number).  My brother went, and sure enough, at the 46 minute mark he was finished, unplugged, and walking off of the stage. His act was timed so precisely that for decades he played the same precise set. At the end of the day, it was just a job to him.

Be that as it may, Reel Big Fish rocked it. It was a totally different vibe than Anti-Flag. They were happy, colorfully dressed, pogo’ing, making fun of each other. Their enthusiasm was infectious, as most of the crowd was also pogo’ing. Even though it was tight quarters, many people were skanking.

I guess this show shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. For a band with limited commercial appeal to survive twenty or more years implies that they must have a rock solid live performance.

And for both Anti-Flag and Reel Big Fish, this was certainly true. Although in the same show you ended up with two dramatically different vibes (in the first half you were raging at the man and the second half you were gleefully dancing), at the end of the night what you remember is how much fun you had.

A Night Of Genteel Comedy

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Title: Sarah Silverman

I saw Sarah Silverman at the Paramount Theatre. The show started close to 30 minutes late. This was very likely caused by long lines that were a result of burly security men having to wand us and check all bags. Apparently Silverman has been getting threats. Given the political climate that we live in and the ruthlessness with which she attacks it on her Twitter feed, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

It was a pretty entertaining night. Her delivery was at times awkward. Sometimes the pacing flagged. She came onstage equipped with a lot of notes that she referred to regularly. There were parts that didn’t really fit together. The segues between jokes was often abrupt.

So, it’s pretty clear that she was working through new material. She certainly had an hours worth (probably more). We were watching the process of her trying to form her bits of material into a cohesive act. She was open about it. I’m guessing that by the end of this leg of her tour, she will have it honed down enough such that it’ll be ready for an hour long special.

Despite the occasional awkwardness, it was a very much Sarah Silverman performance. She has an honest, open personae from which she spews forth outrageous comments.

She had bits about:

  • The pain of laser removal
  • Growing up, her dad giving her a dirty joke book to overcome her bedwetting awkwardness at an overnight camp
  • A rape joke about her sister (seriously!)
  • How important 9/11 is to childless people
  • Children in movies and child molesters
  • A hated nun’s menstruation flow
  • Shaking hands with a woman with a hook
  • The male equivalent to an pre-abortion ultrasound
  • God cumming in the mouth of a Christian man (tied it back to Abraham’s command to sacrifice his only son, Isaac)

Clearly she’s an experienced, expert comedian. Even with the awkwardness, she delivered her routine with great timing and humor for an overall enjoyable night.

Another Dose of Ska Relief

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Title: Skatoberfest

Venue: Highline

I hadn’t gone to a concert for a long time, so I felt I was due. The Highline was hosting another ska festival, which I pretty much always love, so off I went. I always find it hilarious that the cover charge is $7, the club holds maybe a couple of hundred people, there are six bands, and the average ska band has about eight members.  No one is getting rich tonight!

I missed the first act and came in when Curtis Irie was playing. I had some hopes because Irie (the word) is Jamaican patois after all, but no, it was a one white guy playing an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. He clearly is a talented musician, capably playing both melody and bass lines simultaneously on the guitar (maybe that’s easy to do, but it always blows my mind when someone does it). However, despite his last name, he is way more Bob Dylan than he is Bob Marley. Some of his songs had ska like influences, but it was pretty folk and in at least one song, was outright blues. A good musician, but probably did not belong on the bill.

Next up was Heavy City. This was much more what I expected.  There were eight people on stage (two guitars, one bass, two saxes, a drummer, and a female lead singer). With that many people, the members were barely able to move on the stage.

They played much more traditional ska music.  They certainly had a signature sound. That’s basically a polite way of saying that their original compositions actually all kind of sounded alike. Where they got creative, interesting enough, was in their covers. They did a cover of an Ike and Tina song and an old Spinners song that was interesting when interpreted within the prism of their own sound.

Finally, they managed to step upon a pet peeve of mine. One song featured a flute. There is just no place for a flute in any rock oriented band, especially one that plays several other loud instruments. In the ska context, a flute just sounds like some little wispy voice trying to make itself heard against an ocean roar. Yes, I know about Jethro Tull, but no more flute!

The other band that I listened to was Natalie Wouldn’t. This was another band with a very traditional ska lineup (Trumpet, trombone, two saxes, a drummer, a bass, and two guitars). This group was clearly heads and shoulders tighter than the previous two acts. This was in your face, fun, get up and start skanking kind of music. And people did. For really the first time that night, the dance floor was shaking and I saw the sheer joy that ska inspires.

Interestingly enough, except for the female lead, every other person on stage for the three bands that I saw were white males. A huge percentage of them were either white males in hats or bald white males. It seemed like the average age of the band members was 35 to 45, which might make sense if you think of third wave ska as cresting in the mid 90’s. These are middle aged men with day jobs that are reliving the favorite music of their young adulthood.

Regardless, as always, I left the concert smiling.  No one is allowed to be down at a ska concert!