I am happy that Shonen Knife are still playing their joyful odes to simple things. It’s been 35 years since the band formed to bring the freedom of punk rock and love for food and fun to the world. The first major release of Shonen Knife music in the US was actually a double album called Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them, with American bands like Redd Kross, Big Dipper, L7 and Sonic Youth covering the bands songs about candy bars and sad bison. When I finally heard the band, I too was enchanted with their sloppy punk enthusiasm and unselfconscious joy in simple pleasures like public baths and Barbies.
Thirty-five years on, Shonen Knife are better musicians, but they’re still enthusiastic about food, animals and rock and roll. The album kicks off with “Jump Into The New World”, with a chorus stating the Shonen Knife mission statement, “jump into the new world, with a happy song in your heart.”
Happy songs is what we get on Adventure: happy songs about tangerines, Wasabi, emoji, Hawaiian vacations and rock and roll t-shirts. The songs about bees and dog fights aren’t so happy, but there are things that even Shonen Knife don’t like. The sound on Adventure is clean and professional and a little bit flat. Call me a curmudgeon, but I miss the barely hanging together enthusiasm of the early records (but can’t you say that about almost any band that has survived for 35 years?).
I’d really love to see Shonen Knife again. I’m sure they’re still super cute and super fun on stage. I still have my rock and roll t-shirt from when I saw them at the Limelight in NYC a lifetime ago. I’ll wear it to their show if only they would come to Florida.
Listening to this 1996 live recording of 7 Year Bitch makes my insides itch with a kind of barely contained frustration. Frustration that there aren’t more bands like this currently playing (with the exception of War on Women); frustration that the blink of an era when 7 Year Bitch, L7, Babes in Toyland and their ilk found a large audience in a time dominated by their male grunge counterparts has long since past; frustration that 7 Year Bitch haven’t yet, like those aforementioned bands, reunited and hit the stages once again. Is this live album a litmus test to see if there is an audience for such a reunion? If it is, I will personally go out and buy a dozen copies to tip the scales in the favor of “YES, THERE IS!”
Not to dwell too much in the past — though we are talking about a moment in time recorded in 1996, so it’s justified — but 7 Year Bitch were one of the greatest, and most underrated, punk bands of the ’90s. Formed in 1990 in Seattle, the group’s first show was opening for The Gits (if you don’t know them, search ’em out — you’re in for a treat!), and a close kinship soon developed between the band and Gits frontwoman Mia Zapata. Three years later Zapata was brutally raped and murdered, an event that buried a band already in mourning even deeper (a year earlier, 7 Year Bitch bassist Stefanie Sargent abruptly died at age 24).
The double punch of painful loss fueled the songwriting fire that culminated in the band’s second (and, arguably, best) release 1994’s <¡Viva Zapata!. This was the record with “The Scratch,” with “M.I.A.,” with “Hip Like Junk” and with “Kiss My Ass Goodbye.” Selene Vigil’s vocals were erupting with fire and passion without resorting to the assumed screams and wails of the era, she sang with an enunciated urgency that begged you not just to hear the lyrics but to feel them in your bones.
What Live at Moe captures is the band at the absolute pinnacle of power. Enraged yet playful, furious but fun — the band plays to a local crowd (Club MOE in Seattle) with a vigor that translates not just through recorded tape, but through time. 2016 needs this kind of fire. 7 Year Bitch, I can assure you, you will have an audience should you decide to resurface.
When you call your band Sharkmuffin, you’ve already got my attention. A sweet, slightly chubby shark? A baked good with bite? Two words randomly married into a band name? What does it mean?! Color me intrigued, even before pressing “play.”
Intrigue could have easily turned to apathy if the music didn’t hold up, but Sharkmuffin’s full length debut Chartreuse bit me with the power of a Great White off the coast of Amity. Girl fronted garage punk with catchy hooks and crunchy guitars describes this Brooklyn trio’s sound in a nutshell, but doesn’t convey the skill with which they wield these commonalities. There’s a punch to their delivery, snarl and spitfire in the vocals of Tarra Thiessen and Natalie Kirch, and if the drum parts on the album bring to mind a certain classic Hole record it’s because Patty Schemel was doing the pounding. It’s a recipe for delicious rage and it all comes together most succinctly on “Tampons are for Sluts,” with its bass heavy groove and an arc that goes from calm and sexy to bleeding fury. If The Coathangers got onstage with L7 it may sound something like this. Watch out for flying tampons.
“First Date,” and “Now” are both primal and raw like a sweaty afternoon romp. “I Called You From The Moon” is an even brasher beast, starting with a scream and winding down two minutes later with a feedback frenzy that would make Metz envious. But this isn’t to say that Sharkmuffin are one trick ponies, Chartreuse packs the melodies alongside the noise. “Mondays,” “Straight Lines” and “Broken Teeth” show a degree of colors to the Sharkmuffin palatte — powerpop, 50’s girl group, a little rockabilly raunch. These girls got range beyond rage — like sharks you can cuddle with, or muffins spiked with acid.
Give Chartreuse a bite. The bitch will bite you right back.
Splashing through the rain-soaked streets of downtown Orlando, the middle America (Minnesota) band Off With Their Heads dropped anchor at Backbooth for the second time in just four short months. Churning up steam for their Epitaph Records debut In Desolation, the road-tired band turned the crowded venue into a rumpus room, capping off an evening of punk rock that touched upon every color of the genre’s murky rainbow.
Teenage Softies, led by the baby doll dress and horn rimmed glasses wearing riot grrrl flashback Abby Dahlquist, were a lovely surprise, and their 15-minute set was over too soon. Dahlquist, who also holds down the low end on bass, has got a grrrl rock growl that isn’t ear-piercing like Sleater Kinney or Bratmobile, nor is it as deep and dangerous as L7 or Hole, but embodies the same essence as all of those bands thrown into the Kathleen Hanna cubby hole. The two boy guitarists (Mark Bonner and Dylan Foeller), who both play in a few other Orlando bands, grabbed lead vocals on a couple of occasions, but with Dahlquist positioned at center stage, it was clear that it was she who straddled the spotlight.
How Dare You
At their best, How Dare You sound a lot like Less Than Jake at their punkest (minus the ska backdrop). If all of their music was more akin to “Eat at Charlie’s,” the song that easily won them the most reaction from their fans and peers in the crowd, I could compare them to fellow Orlando punk acts VRGNS and Gatorface, but every song is not “Eat at Charlie’s.” Their gleeful gang vocals are set atop inoffensive pop punk melodies that, while sometimes appealing, too often sink into the dreaded emo whine. Musically, they lost me at times, but they have gotten their shit together as a band — finally feeling like a collective unit whose confidence onstage is palpable.
The Fake Boys
Aboard for the duration of the tour were Massachusetts’s The Fake Boys, whose husky frontman’s vocals shifted between Ramones-by-way-of-Teenage Bottlerocket style “oh-oh’s” to full throat screams Ã la Jawbreaker. A long haired, bearded guitarist swinging a beat up SG brought a metal edge to the music. As a whole, they just didn’t do it for me or for most of the crowd, as evidenced by the seemingly quick “wrap-it-up” pace to their set.
Off With Their Heads
After a fairly quiet, well-behaved evening of “stand attentively and applaud at the end of the set,” the immediacy of the pit’s formation at Off With Their Heads’ opening note was a surprise worth the bruise on my shoulder.
The audience has awoken, thank the concert Gods!
The gruff vocals and bittersweet, with a sarcastic bite, lyrics brought forth by Ryan Young are the nail that this group hangs their music on. Songs about bad breakups, stress and exhaustion, and general destitution are spewed out by Young while the remaining three (including Young’s brother on drums and Zack Gontard of Dear Landlord on guitar) lay down some of the most delicious melodic street punk to grace the air in years.
OWTH’s Ryan Young
With eight years of material to pull from, they’ve mastered a set list that hits upon all of the choicest cuts (“For the Four,” “Fuck This, I’m Out,” “Until the Day…”) while slipping in the goods that the fans may not have heard yet off of the just released record (“Drive,” “Clear the Air”). The songs gelled well with the old, even though they bore a slightly more mature polish. The uninhibited and inebriated fans approved and demonstrated the only way they knew how: by abusing their bodies.
Off With Their Heads
The chaotic frenzy continued throughout the set, ebbing and flowing but never ceasing, and was filled with friendly fire. Stage divers and crowd tumblers, which included members of both Teenage Softies and The Fake Boys, bounced off of one another (and the heads beneath them) with the gentle crashing of a pile of stuffed animals being tossed into a room full of four-year-olds. The playful atmosphere at the foot of the stage spurred the straight faced band to crack a smile once or twice as well as to play a two-song encore, as requested by the hungry crowd. Encores at tiny punk rock shows?! It’s a rare thing.
Seattle’s “grunge” non-movement, despite the slapdash and wondrously messy nature of the music (and personalities) involved in it, somehow had a degree of image discipline unparalleled in few other musical subgenres (save for perhaps Mick Rock’s visual documentation of Bowie, Stooges, Lou Reed, Roxy) — we’re talking Soviet-worker-poster-level iconic here. The primary lensman who crafted this aesthetic was Charles Peterson, whose sweaty, kinetic, just the right side of blurry action shots defined the sweaty, kinetic music most directly. Michael Lavine’s portraits were more studio-based and somewhat more considered, yet still visceral and immediate. He captured perfect images of the major players of Pacific Northwest music — you’ve seen his pictures everywhere from fashion mags to fanzines to press releases to all the right record sleeves. Lavine cut his teeth with years of snapping street/punk kids in Olympia and Seattle in the early ’80s, sharpening his skills, and introducing him to many of the future stars of the underground.
The first half of the book consists of portraits of young punks hanging out on various urban thoroughfares, the styles are fascinating to consider in a pre-internet and pre-irony subculture — I’ll wear this Iron Maiden t-shirt because I like Iron Maiden, what a radical concept. Cool/creepy stills of Seattle street punks and skaters and shots of Olympia’s arty punk rockers abound. Awkwardness, earnestness, and cool menace pervade the photos. And his portfolio is downright prescient of all of present-day websites like lastnightsparty and The Cobrasnake, dedicated to capturing every detail of young hipsters.
Thurston Moore further cements his position as artist/historian of ’80s/’90s American Underground music by providing the text accompaniment; an essay at the beginning trying to sum up the music of the Pacific Northwest, and a score of capsule band bios at the end. Poor ol’ Kurt Cobain, coverboy yet again, will bring many a casual reader to the table, what with a clutch of unseen photos on offer. And to be frank, the shots of a heavily-junked out Cobain and Courtney Love are absolutely mesmerizing. As far as rock iconography goes, these are unimpeachable. Taken during the infamous Saturday Night Live weekend in 1991, Kurt was so out of it that he was nodding off during the actual shoots, much to the dismay and frustration of his bandmates. But my god, to see him with his badly dyed hair and ratty grandpa sweaters and homemade Flippers shirts, hollow-cheeked and scabby, hanging on to Courtney clad in matching granny sweater, kinda still makes you just pause and say, “maybe it was love.” Just don’t think about the human cost too much.
Elsewhere you’ll find all manner of visual treasure: Beat Happening (they always look like innocents abroad), an elegantly wrecked Urge Overkill, Pussy Galore looking beyond degenerate, almost ridiculously so (who’s that caveman who snuck into the photo?), L7 doing a Guns N’ Roses imitation, Harry Crews (with Lydia Lunch) perched on a wrecked car, oozing girlgang danger, Mudhoney in their teenage caveman non-poses, Surgery looking like downcast kids (man, I used to think they were dangerous when I was young), and all sorts of lesser known highlights like Honeymoon Killers, Redd Kross, Velvet Monkeys, and Foetus.
These Arms Are Snakes, with Young Widows and The Coathangers, was a show that flew under the radar for much of Orlando’s show-goers — leaving The Social with more elbow room than it otherwise should have had. Though the audience was sparse, each band gave a set worthy of bragging rights to anyone who had been there to see it. It’s shows like this — where I go into with few expectations — that keep me continuing to take chances on bands I know little about before hand.
Take, for example, The Coathangers. From their MySpace I gathered that they were an all girl band from Atlanta that pulled influence from the riot grrrl bands of the ’90’s. What I was even more pleased to discover, once seeing these ladies live, was that they had a fiesty, no-bullshit attitude that reminded me of The Runaways. Stephanie Luke, the drummer, came from the grittier side of the girl group tracks, and when she took lead vocals — from guitarist Julia Kugel — it was to add a grittier edge to this particular strain of punk rock that was more L7 than Bratmobile. Dig it, I did.
Their infectious set ended with a charming and goofy song about an ex-boyfriend called “Don’t Touch My Shit,” after which the drummer kicked over her cymbal and declared, “I hate that song.”
After such a sweet piece of candy set as that, everyone pulled up tight to the stage and settled in for the enigmatic onslaught of Young Widows. This Kentucky trio are an odd entity for they do little more onstage than stand and play, yet manage to be an undeniable, jaw dropping live act for the way their sound fills up a room and alters the mood.
Performing in darkness, save for a pair of lights positioned behind them, these quiet young men made a monster of a sound that summoned both Jesus Lizard and Nirvana — without sounding much like either one. It’s somewhere beneath the noise rock/post-grunge songs where these influences lie. On the surface of it all is just sheer ball breaking brilliance.
Steve Snere in crowd
The crazed drumming of Jeremy McMonigle causes him to pant between songs; the spoken-then-growled vocals of Evan Patterson recalls Ian MacKaye; and the pulsing bass thump of co-vocalist Nick Thieneman will shake your brain loose. After a few beers, it all begins to swim around beautifully in your headbanging head.
Seattle’s These Arms Are Snakes have sprouted wings since last I saw them — in 2007 opening for Against Me! and Mastodon. What piqued my interest back then has since grabbed hold of my skull and shaken it around a few times. Skinny, mustachioed front man Steve Snere could be post-hardcore’s Jim Morrison — slinky, unpredictable, half naked onstage, and seeming to rest on a razor’s edge. The success of the band’s live performance rests on his frail shoulders, and he seems to ask for this burden.
Snere, who ran the show this Sunday night before SXSW, was a tornado of motion. In between singing and playing the synth parts, he crawled across the stage floor, flailed about as if electrified, posed erotically against the back wall, and made a production of spitting all over his bare chest. He also climbed up into the metalwork that held the stage lights and hung as if from a jungle gym — after tying his belt around his neck as a noose, that is.
Snere in the rafters
While Snere was giving us all plenty to ooh and ahh at, the remaining band members were keeping the music grounded. Sometimes described as math metal (I hate that term), these post hardcore experimentalists could be the worthy successors to At the Drive-In — at least that seems to be what they’re going for. As live songs, “Angela’s Secret” and “Horse Girl” were both strong enough to put them in the ballpark of the pre-Mars Volta band — though I would have hoped they’d have included “Big News,” off 2004’s Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, into the set. It’s the best song in their catalog, and could have used a little skin, sweat, and spit to really bring it to life. Though after the body-abusing set this band delivered, neither I nor any other member of the audience should have cause for complaints. Not even faulty microphones could hinder the band’s show.
These Arms Are Snakes
The exhausted foursome closed out the set with “Riding the Grape Dragon,” from their 2003 debut EP This Is Meant to Hurt You. These are the shows that are well worth the loss of sleep, hangovers, and random bruises that plague my days after.
I don’t have kids, I don’t ever plan on having kids, and I don’t have any friends with kids,but if I did I would totally buy them Brats On The Beat’s Ramones For Kids as soon as the blood and gunk was wiped off of their screaming newborn bodies.
This Jennifer Precious Finch (L7, The Shocker) produced Ramones tribute is exactly what it sounds to be: Ramones songs done by, and for, kids. Finch phoned up her buddies in surrounding Cali-punk bands and got them into the studio with a bunch of elementary school kids. Legends from bands like Pennywise, Alkaline Trio, Bouncing Souls, The Adolescents, and TSOL sing lead as the brats on stay on the beat doing backing vocals.
The 12 songs chosen are the most accessible, pop-friendly tunes the Ramones ever made (oh wait, weren’t all of their songs accessible and pop friendly?! That’s what made the Ramones so great!): “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” “Suzy Is A Headbanger” to name a few. “I Wanna Be Sedated” is noticably missing. Perhaps hearing a bunch of preteens sing about being sedated was too controversial for even the coolest of parents, even though the song is apparently not about getting high (like most would assume), but about Joey’s anxieties about touring and having to go to a hospital after burning himself on a tea kettle. “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” is also not on here, though think how perfect it would have been!
A portion of proceeds from Brats on the Beat goes to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Bambix, a Netherlands punk band, are the successors to bands like The Gits and 7 Year Bitch, and man have I been waiting for a band like that for a long-ass time! Led by the bold, deep-voiced (non-screaming) Willa van Houdt (who goes by the stage name Wick Bambix), this band I have thankfully just stumbled upon sound like all that good California and Pacific Northwest punk from my formative years (the 1990s). They’ve got Green Day song structures and power chords and the forceful attitude of the Riot Grrl period.
Club Matuchek was released in Europe in 2004, but — like a lot of things — it took the United States a couple of years to catch on and for Go Kart to finally make it available here. The baker’s-dozen collection of straightforward punk rock was well worth the wait and is sure to be a long-time resident on my constant playlist!
Like any punk band worth their weight in PBR, Bambix’s lyrics are equally distributed between politics…
“And there’s fighting in the streets- it seems that’s all you ever need/ To prove you’re in control- the lights will soon go down on you/ The end is near what can you do/ When the stage is set right here for you/ Gotta keep that bullet down, bushranger” –from “Bullet.”
… and partying …
“Well, this girl, she told me we went out… She said that we were kissing- and maybe even more… Said I spilled some beer and that she licked it off- Oh it must have been an evening full of love/ So tell me baby- Is it OK that maybe/ We can do it all over again- Just to make sure baby/ That this time, maybe- I’ll get a little less drunk” –from “Little Less Drunk.”
The Gits, 7 Year Bitch, L7, Hole — and now — Bambix.
At the risk of being called an insensitive male chauvinist, I’ll stick my neck out and say this is one of the most whiney, annoying records about menstruation I’ve every heard. The tone is set with the opening line “There’s blood between my legs…” above a minimal, yet grinding backdrop of chimes and drums. There’s no sense of irony, just a fairly frank retelling of a faltering romance. “I Was the Dancer” follows in a cloud of fuzzed guitar and monotonous drumming that reminds me of the less listenable parts of Captain Beefheart. The theme carries on for 10 songs, each cut a fresh exploration of minimal music where the parts left out are the parts you would want to hear. Sort of like getting the carcass, but not the turkey.
Clearly, someone thought there is a need for this sound, as the Parenthetical Girls have a previous release (((GRRRLS))) Yes, they used triple parenthesis in the title, but hey, it’s a free country. I like women, but this disc may force me to make a few more exceptions than I planned.
Ever the provacteur, former L7 bassist Jennifer Finch is back with a band named after a sexual hand gesture. Ever heard of The Shocker? Let me explain: hold out your hand, open palm. Now bend back thumb and ring finger so that index and middle finger are extended and touching, while the pinky finger extends by itself. What does this gesture mean? It’s a reference to the act of inserting the top two fingers into a vagina as the pinky finds its way into the anus. Shocking?! Hence, the name.
With a name like that you should know not to expect a fluffy band singing about teddy bears and candy canes. The Shocker are an L.A. band playing gut-twisting punk rock born from the spirit of late-night drinking binges and chain-smoking hangovers. In the tradition of early ’80s punk (a la Black Flag, Plasmatics), this band allows Finch to come out front and let her vocals roar on bursts of aggression like “Body Count!” and “Smoke Rings (Up Your Ass Tray).” In between the explosions, the band slows things down and shows a more melodic side on tunes like “Wind Beneath the Wings of the Common House Fly,” on which Finch’s vocals are akin to the godmother of punk, Patti Smith.
The music world has Jennifer Finch again, can you give me a “Fuck Yeah!”?