Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New Age Hillbilly / Motel Bible / Bread Machine / Human Host - live at Jeff the Pigeon, March 11th 2006

For me to consider writing about a live show, I can't help but wonder what purpose this would serve the reader, as previous Fresh Patina topics are all obtainable, physical documents. Live performances are a moment in time, one that you either experienced or didn't; no video footage or Minidisc recording (assuming either exist) can truly capture the essence of being inside a crusty, stageless venue, standing a few feet from the performer. Sure, a quick live review can let you know who's setting the stage on fire, or what vocalist screamed down his bassist in a narcissistic fit, or just how badly attended Meatloaf's farewell concert was in your town, but the experience itself is over. With that in mind, I feel confident that reviewing last week's gig at Jeff the Pigeon is worthwhile, as a Jeff the Pigeon event is less about the performing acts themselves, and the specific show, as it is the unique culture of violent freedom that has spawned in this most unlikely place and time.

Nestled in a particularly uninviting low-rent warehouse in Allentown, PA (an easily missed, economically crumbling city poking out of the otherwise affluent Lehigh Valley suburban wet dream, roughly an hour's drive from both New York City and Philadelphia), Jeff the Pigeon's glamorous name might have one envisioning more than the dust-covered warehouse space it actually is. You enter through the loading dock, wander past a few old spools of industrial thread, turn right, then left, and you're in the Pigeon, a space slightly larger than your average living room and haunted by the ghosts of 1,000 cigarettes. I could go on and romanticize Jeff the Pigeon's graffiti-riddled walls and piles of ancient trash to no end, but I've got a show to review.

So the opener, New Age Hillbilly, is a friendly enough fellow from the outskirts of Baltimore. The crowd, a mixture of teenagers, bitter adults, and various human ephemera, stood or sat in place, clearly non-plussed by the Hillbilly's musical stylings. Playing solo guitar, he played songs that recalled the worst of the mid 90's pop-punk explosion, sans rhythm, melody or backing band, as well as a series of embarrassingly uninspired noise wanks. I can't recall which style left me less interested. I can only assume that New Age Hillbilly gets by on endearment, that he can somehow come across as a loveable loser, instead of a regular one. The tiniest inspiration one could find in the Hillbilly could come from the fairly astonishing fact that someone can perform so obviously poorly, yet continue forward. That said, I still managed to hurl a few "boo"s his way between songs, impatient for the fun that Jeff the Pigeon consistently delivers.

Following the forgettable first act, local band Motel Bible performed. Theirs was a mix of tech-grind and the more traditional Gravity Records-era screamo, two styles that lend themselves to blending. Visually nervous (and notoriously straight-edge), two of the members were pelted with taunts and half-empty Miller Lites from the crowd, meant more as stamp of satisfaction than an insult. Lock yourself in a dog pound, and expect to get barked at; it was almost as if the more timid members of the band expected the Pigeon to be rough, but not this rough. Meanwhile, the rest of the band were soaking it in like the happiest frat-house pledges. They competently finished their set, holding everyone's attention and fulfilling expectations. Taking it up as my Jeff the Pigeon duty, I put a guitar cable in a full bottle of Pabst, watching the chemical reaction fizz until a 17 year-old scooped it up and sloshed it down.

Bread Machine took the stage next, and provided the baking soda to the Pigeon's vinegar. Perhaps the first local band to be formed solely under the influence of Jeff the Pigeon (and the confrontational noise it has housed over the years), Bread Machine instantly kicked into their youthful, suburban take on Magik Markers wig-flipping and Air Conditioning basement broil. No sooner are they crooning out a stubbly mass of noise, then the crowd is in full-on fight or flight mode: cartons of hand-made confetti are dumped on the band, stink bombs silently explode, upper extremities limply flail from one person to the next. Perhaps the alcohol level finally reached the breaking point, or Bread Machine simply had it coming, but there wasn't a single member of the four-piece who remained safe or dry. Amps were wobbling from unintentional (and intentional) contact, and the drumset was slowly being submerged with dirty carpet and old boxes. Forcing Bread Machine to either elevate things to the next level, or pack it up, a few showgoers picked up the old leather couch and floated it directly into the drumset. This pretty much signalled the end of their rhythm, and rightfully so, but their set still flickered for another five minutes or so, complete with various dogpiles and shirtless wrangling. To simply survive a fight like this, Bread Machine are forever victorious.

Once the dust settled, the crowd was entertained by the usual shenanigans and impromptu arm-wrestling matches while Human Host put together their meager set-up. Sometimes performing as a full band, sometimes supported only by a Discman, tonight's Human Host featured percussion, keyboards and guitar to supplement singer Mike Apichella's incensed yowling. Things started off mellow, with the crowd softly rocking to the beat and nursing their wounds. It wasn't long, however, before an especially riled crowd member (who previously spray-painted his own face red) convinced another showgoer to lay down and catch a blast of paint as well. It was a humorous, confounding scene, especially when accompanied by the Human Host soundtrack. Soon enough, two faces are painted, eyes are winced in pain, drawers are dropped, and cheeks are spanked. Not for the first time in the Pigeon's history, the crowd's antics are out performing the band. Human Host were up to the challenge, however, as they quickly switched over to their pre-recorded, danceable material, of which the crowd was familiar. That was the spark needed to bring the rest of the crowd into a full ruckus; practically every audience member was swinging something or someone over his or her head, falling into a broken couch or slugging wine like Gatorade. Speaking of wine, it wasn't long before a bottle hit the cement floor, with people digging into the broken glass as if it were bubble wrap. Soon enough, everyone's got some sort of blood or paint on their shirt, and Human Host are raising the bar, rolling drums like Donkey Kong rolls barrels, shouting without microphones and occasionally ducking for cover. And like a lucid dream, the set is over. People file out and into their cars, at least one trip to the Emergency Room takes place, and Human Host admits defeat.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mammal Let Me Die LP

I don't know why, but I've always had a particular fondness for helplessly miserable music. Now, I don't go around painting my fingernails with a thick coat of Midnight Raven, or wear an "I AM SMILING" t-shirt to the mall. You would never guess by my colorfully optimistic demeanor, but I am profoundly satisfied when I hear Mark Kozelek wail about his inability to feel love, Swans grind out a slave's horrific nightmare or Townes Van Zandt share the story of a miner's daughter turned diseased prostitute. I've always appreciated music's intense ability to alter my mood and surroundings; hopelessly sad music does this especially well.

That said, Mammal's newest LP Let Me Die froze me in my chair seconds after I dropped the needle, barely able to bob my head as I stared dumbly at the Windows default screen-saver before me. For those unacquainted, Mammal is the solo project of one Gary Beauvais (no relation to Gary Butthead), a Detroit-based electronic artist who has released a slew of cassettes along with a few full-length albums from the early Naughts to present. Most of his material is impeccably monochromatic, with harsh static and corrupted drum machine beats seemingly the only components of his sound. It's a limited pallette, to be sure, but one that he maneuvers with a gratifying dexterity. I suppose his work would fall into the "power-electronics" genre on your iTunes playlist, but Mammal always managed to inflect a distinctly human touch beneath the cold mechanical rumble that so many of his contemporaries avoid, or simply cannot obtain. His debut album, Fog Walkers, started out with what was my unofficial 2003 Summer Jam, built around a popping beat smothered in high-pitched sizzling that had me imagining a few hundred beachballs simultaneously exploding in an industrial-sized microwave oven. It was noise, sure, but it made people smile, cheer and come together. Mammal sucked the color out of "Hey Ya" and recycled it into something real. While Fog Walkers was a fantastic trip to the shore, none of this party vibe is to be found on Let Me Die.

Opening with "Days Into Days", but flowing track to track as one complete thought, it's clear that Mammal has dropped the guillotine on any sort of social outing and has buried himself and his friends loosely under gravel in the basement floor. The pulse is slow and uneasy, like a dying alarm clock that goes off a couple hours early, but the beat is just frequent enough to keep from falling into a complete lack of consciousness. Actually, this whole album could rightfully be described as an uneasy sleep. The aura that permeates through Let Me Die almost reminds one of Metallica's "One", but the cameras are all off, the fantasy takes a sharp turn towards reality, and you're strapped to a table with that deaf-mute stump as your dentist. And yet, while these brutal descriptions are apt for Saw 3's opening scene, there's a deep compassion built into the sounds of Let Me Die. Cover art is always important, and the stark cover image of a hooded human (Mammal himself?) clutching what seems to be an old rosary couldn't fit any better. Sure, you've got pneumonia and the last bottle of Robitussin dried up a couple weeks ago, but someone just cleaned your sheets and left you a glass of water. It's that eternal push-and-pull, the feeling of total hopelessness battling a desire to perservere that elevates Let Me Die past the efforts of any contemporary noise-wranglers to become a defining musical document on the sore struggle of humanity. If life's a swamp, and we're all stuck waist-deep, Mammal calmly rationalizes the grim situation and guides us towards a particularly hungry croc.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show "The Best of MusikLaden Live" DVD

What happens when a bunch of drunken, hard-luck Jersey boys sign a lucrative Capitol Records contract and are flown to Germany to film a live musical performance? Things may or may not be different in this RIAA-butchered age, but in 1974, they'd get loaded on the finest alcohol and pills Deutchland has to offer and bounce through a delirious set of sardonic blues-rock. Replete with violent tambourine solos, over-sized cowboy hats and a drummed named Popeye, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show's amazing set displays them at their peak and absolute weirdest, made possible by the AM radio atmosphere and carefree society of the '70's that reached its apex a few years later with disco.

Take one look into singer Dennis Locorriere's glazed eyes and it's clear that his ability to maintain consciousness is no small triumph, his glossy face wetted from the body's natural reaction to the many pollutants churning through his veins. A few songs later and he's vomiting off-screen, the poor camera work and remnants in his beard providing the clues necessary to reveal the ugly situation. It's alright, because the Manson-looking slide guitarist wraps the barfy microphone in his bandana before belting out a particularly creepy version of "Penecillin Penny", explained as an ode to women with VD, a problem the Medicine Show boys surely encountered first-hand. For such a contaminated group of guys, however, they sure were able to blaze through some infectious boogie-rock and have fun doing it, jamming it out when they felt like it and tightening up when necessary. It's clear from the between-song silence that this was taped without a live audience, one that obviously wasn't necessary for Dr. Hook and friends to really let loose. And if all this rockin' wasn't enough, a brief yodeling demonstration raises it to the next level. It's truly important that audio-visual documents such as "The Best of MusikLaden Live" continue to be made available for future generations, as this live performance is a shining example of music made solely for the sake of warts-and-all fun, without the slightest hint of pretension or overbearing A&R rep puppeteering the aesthetic.

Here's "Cover of the Rolling Stone" from the MusikLaden session. Enjoy it for it's hilarity and smooth country tone, but be forewarned; you're going to want more.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Zoe Strauss - Camden, NJ photography

Zoe Strauss has always cut right into my heart with the intense honesty of her photography, images that really burn in your head, make you chuckle and sigh at the same time. She somehow manages to shoot some of the most crestfallen, hopeless people with an unfakeable dignity and respect I find lacking in most photography that tackles these images. Perhaps it's the twinkle in the eye of a tattered Grandma waiting under the rails, or the blue sky that watches over an Aldi's bag caught in a bush; somehow, Zoe's work always gets me thinking and eager for more.

A native Philadelphian, she's done the majority of her work in Southeastern Pennsylvania, exploring the crevices and burnt alleys Mayor Street would rather forget. It's no surprise then that she made the short trek to Camden, New Jersey, infamous for its second-year standing as "America's Most Dangerous City" per US crime statistics. Keeping in mind the awful rep given to Camden, Strauss leaves us with a beautiful selection of a dying city, reminding us that no matter how frightening the statistics and sirens may be, real people live here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

High School USA

Possibly my favorite thing about the DVD's success as the premiere video format is the fact that practically any movie, TV series or public-access cartoon is getting the reissue treatment. Dig into those Target dollar bins and it's as close to archaeology as most of us'll get, hands weaving through forgotten Bill Murray flicks, Golden-era "classics" and, if we're lucky, a factory-sealed Dunston Checks In or two. It's within those very bins that High School USA can be found, a failed NBC sitcom pilot in the form of a made-for-TV movie. It also serves as a veritable "who's who" of 80's teen stars, the perfect venue to further acclimate impressionable young viewers to all of the network's coolest kids. Just check the lineup: Michael J. Fox (although oddly and humorously credited as "Michael Fox"), Nancy McKeon (star of "The Facts of Life", The Facts of Life Down Under and The Facts of Life Goes to Paris), both Todd Bridges and Dana Plato (as lovable nerd and sassy Southern belle), Anthony Edwards (just as handsome in "ER" a decade later), Jon Caliri (from "Square Pegs") and Crispin Glover as, imagine this, an uncomfortably-weird nerd. There are even roles for Bob Denver (the much beloved "Gilligan") and Dwayne Hickman (TV's "Dobie Gillis"), helping the adults of High School USA to out-weird the teens. And if you're having cameo-overload, I won't even mention that Napoleon Dynamite's Uncle Rico makes a strange, brief appearance as a character named "Dirty Curt".

High School USA certainly could've been as generic as the title implies, but with 20/20 hindsight, a touch of whimsy, an appreciation for the absurd and a nostalgia for a time and place not experienced (but often dreamt), this virtually-forgotten film delivers a surprisingly high level of satisfaction. I'll take you through the plot: Rambunctious troublemaker Jay-Jay Manners (Michael J. Fox) falls for the down-to-earth and (debatably) beautiful Beth Franklin (Nancy McKeon), who just so happens to be dating the coolest snob in the county, a collar-flipped Beau Middleton (Anthony Edwards). Jay-Jay, leader of the nerdy and downtrodden, rallies his troops and wins a bucolic drag-race against Beau, effectively ending Beau's reign of authority over the high school masses. Although endearing in its predictability, the storyline here isn't going to win any awards. However, it's the perfect template to allow a variety of unique, ridiculous and memorable scenes to shine through, found mostly in the outrageous script, exaggerated physicality and general nonsense that pervades the movie. There's the scene where Otto Lipton (Todd Bridges) and Jay-Jay watch as Otto's robot takes a hot shower, the short metal-shop segment where one student rides his bike into a garage door for no particular reason, or practically anytime Archie Feld (Crispin Glover) dribbles out some nonsense in his stoner-drawl. Unintentionally layered, it's a film that begs for multiple viewings.

And like any good high school movie, someone takes a beautifully-iced cake in the face, this one received in superior style (face, arms and chest all inclusive) by Beau. After watching the fight scene in slow-motion multiple times, a logical path from A to B to pie-face remains to be seen. But that's alright, not a whole lot of what goes on in high school makes sense anyway. Just check these stills from that sticky scene, laugh at Beau's delicious comeupance, and start digging those bins before further gems remain undiscovered.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Boy In Love The Peehole Sessions 7"

The whole "folk" revival thing is taking over; I can't open an indie-leaning magazine without some picture of a bearded guy crouched on all-fours, sporting a crusty acoustic guitar on his back. Sure, some of this stuff is nice, and I can appreciate a return to nature and roots and eating dinner in the kitchen with your family (television turned off, or at least on mute), but when I need to hear some rootsy American music that really speaks to me, I'm going to dig into my archives and pull out whatever Wheelchair Full of Old Men releases I can find. This Ohio-based label is a vivid time-capsule that will someday really explain what the Midwest was like for real, middle-class white guys in the wake of the old millenium. Real guys; guys without scholarships, or ice-hockey agility, or social skills. Sockeye were easily the most successful act to come out of the WCFOOM camp (and rightfully so, with such memorable classics as "I Ate a Pizza with Ulysses S. Grant On It" or "Buttfuck Your Own Face"), but all points keep leading me to Boy In Love's sole vinyl contribution, The Peehole Sessions.

Most likely an infrequent side project (weren't they all?), Boy In Love offer four clueless stompers on an appropriate shade of transparent yellow vinyl. Musically, they seem to have more of a hard rock influence than the other projects of their members, most likely because MTV was playing some Aerosmith or Saigon Kick right before they started practice that day. It's chugging, poorly-played, and the perfect setting for the singer's incessant ranting, like a wimpy Rollins worried more about eating a whole box of fruit snacks than the violent apathy of modern society. If you grew up with a joystick in your hand and your butt planted firmly in a leaky bean-bag chair, you can relate.

"Up Grandmother's Skirt" is clearly the inappropriate gigglefest you'd expect it to be, standing as a hallmark for the WCFOOM aesthetic: disgusting, absurd, immature jokes, appropriate only in dad's basement amidst the company of friends and Doritos, that somehow become shamefully-catchy punk songs. The other two tracks continue in a similar fashion, loud shouting bouncing between vulgar and silly while the rhythm section hopes they don't have to go back to Guitar Center for more sticks or strings. It all makes for a fun listen. I can't see many girls enjoying this record, knowing all-too-well how they hate finger-in-the-butt humor performed by ugly dweebs, but it's not for them. It's for us.

"My Bible's A Boy" is what brings home The Peehole Sessions as the true gem it is. The riff could legitimately cause heads to bob, but it's the loony spoken-word shuffle that would be enough to twist Sam McPheeters's tongue. Could anything explain the redneck attitude better? Why write a song denouncing jocks, and bullies, and rednecks, and Christians, when you can become them, all in the course of a three minute rock song? "My Bible's A Boy" fits it all in, pulls the sheet off the hideous Midwestern crime scene called "the popular guys in school", and makes you count your blessings (zits) that you were born with a brain and one day will leave town, go to college, re-create your identity and soon enough be hiring and firing the same jerks that tried to fit you in a half-sized locker. I could go on, but instead I'll present the full lyrics to "My Bible's A Boy", in hopes that this glaringly-honest slice of Americana does not die in my record box.

I gotta bible and it's a boy
It drives a truck it's a fuckin boy
It gets me drunk goddamn it's a boy
I love my bible it's my boy
I fucked a chick to get it it's a boy
My boy takes me to see the Twins play
At Metropolitan Stadium
My bible's a boy you hear
My bible kicks some ass
Goes to Crass shows and fucks up
In the pit
That's my bible that's my boy
Don't you fuck with my bible boy
It invented Iron Maiden
My bible's a boy do you understand
You hear me
My bible's a boy he's a wise boy
He drives a semi-truck
And plays baseball and football
In the back yard
And he gets all the prettiest chicks and fucks em
My bible's a boy you hear
He ain't no sissy boy
My bible will fuck you up
My bible get drunk
My bible bowls a perfect game
My bible once saw Dock Ellis pitch a no hitter
On acid against San Diego
My bible's a good looking boy
My bible will fuck you up if you cross his path
It's a strong boy got a lot of pages in it
My boy's got big pages
Look at my bible that's my boy
He looks like me cuz that's my boy
I love my bible I love my boy
Gets me all fucked up on cocaine
Then my bible hops in the car and drunk drives
He's hardcore
My hardcore bible's a boy
Look at his testicles
Look at the book of Job 3:4
And it'll tell you that he's a boy
It says and then he came in and he
Had testicles
That shows you my bible's a boy
And if it was a woman it'd have a cunt
Don't you fuck with my bible
Don't you fuck with my bible boy
My bible's a boy
It has facial hair
It has tattoos and a scar on it
And he killed a man and spent
58 years in prison
But it's a boy
It never got raped
My bible knows how to take care of himself
My bible will fuck you up man
My bible also likes to watch TV

Friday, November 11, 2005

Marlon Asher "Ganja Farmer"

It's unfortunate that I found my 2005 Summer Jam in October, but when it's this hot, I'll take it in the middle of a snowstorm. "Ganja Farmer" fades in on a woozy ocean groove, deposits some colorful shells on the shore and fades out much in the manner it arrived, as smooth a transition as low tide is to high. Asher's first and only hit (I'm hoping for more), it doesn't take a genius to anticipate the lyrical content from the title; "Ganja Farmer" is all about homegrowing for both pleasure and income. Asher's an interesting character, a humble blue-collar cement mason who lost a finger on a bansaw, friendly and surprised at the success of "Ganja Farmer" in his native Trinidad. The thing is, his barely-vocodered voice is so sweet and soft that this talk of "big stinkin' helicopter(s)" and burning marijuana "in da chalice" sounds more like a lullaby written to rock newborns to sleep than the roots-level ghetto anthem it has become. The mix is potent enough to make me cry like it's graduation day, melt into my queen-size bed for 12 hours and grind up on a lady all at the same time. Isn't that where you want music to take you?

It probably won't be up forever, but right now you can take a peek at the video for "Ganja Farmer" here, thanks to the kind people at DJ Knockz. Pour a cold drink and watch Mr. Asher entertain the people.