Monday, September 07, 2015

Thank you, Kenocore

After hitting "post" on that last (depressing) blog entry, I have to admit, I was depressed about the state of music. I needed something to pick me up, to remind me that there are plenty of artists of all ages that aren't selling out or going batshit crazy or whatever. And as this Labor Day weekend was coming up, I knew there was only one thing I could do.
The Scraps
Take a trip down I-94 for the annual KenoCore Punk Piknik. They've been doing this for at least ten years; the first time I stumbled onto them was back in '07, before Beautiful Bert died. I dropped in last year, too, and was happy to see that the same level of peaceful mayhem was still happening. Since Bert died, Pistofficer's Frank Lefensty has helped keep this community together and growing. I always see events being posted that keep the local punk bands and club going in Kenosha. The Piknik used to be in the city of Kenosha proper, but Kenosha Blue has never been friendly to the punk scene, and rather than bait them, Piknik organizers figured, "oh, fuck this, we'll just find a friendlier local for our music" and found someplace outside of city limits. 

The Wasted
The first year,it was this farm (beset by mosquitos) right across the state line; for the past few years it's at least in Wisconsin, on a nice stretch of property just off I-94. They enforce the law pretty well themselves, thank you, and it's a genuinely family-friendly event that attracts all ages: from 6 month olds to 60 year olds. Folks pitch tents as a respite, most folks bring their own food and drink but there's a fire pit raging all day with local corn. Truly not a scene most mainstream folk would associate with the phrase "hardcore punk." It's a free event (I kept looking for a donation bucket or something -- getting a sound mix, not to mention port-o-lets isn't free) and open to anybody who's willing to follow the rules: no fighting, no excessive drinking (by the time I arrived, somebody had already been kicked out and there was an announcement over the PA looking for that somebody's friends), no underage drinking, and if there was any weed being smoked I sure as heck didn't smell it. 

I'm getting too old (and with too many other obligations) to do a full 10 hours of hardcore, but I do like to stop in and check out the scene. I got there much too early for perennial favorites Pistofficer, but I caught five bands that made me smile to myself, knowing that tight, aggro, thrashing hardcore punk will never die. It was like trash fest in that each band got a short set (there looked to be over 20 bands on the day's bill -- you'd have to keep it to 20 minutes plus maybe 10 to set up. All used the same amps and drum kits). The five:

The Blue Collar Brawlers
The Scraps: older, seemingly seasoned pros for whom a complicated rhythm bit isn't out of the question. Lead singer with cookie monster vocals, tight rhythm section. 

The Wasted: Classic fucked up angry and, of course, wasted punk. Lead singer is impossibly tall, and the bigger the are, the more spectacularly they fall, but this guy didn't miss a beat, even when bloodied by a mike getting shoved in his face while mashing. 

The Blue Collar Brawlers: Of course Milwaukee gets represented by a band whit "blue collar" in their name. Also nice to see some female representation. If you think there's not a lot of women in rock (even in proportion to the rock-listening population), there's even fewer in punk, and even fewer in hardcore punk. And rest assured, there's plenty of women who are into punk, if the attendance at the Piknik is any indication. 

Anyway, the Brawlers have some good songs: pointed lyrics, and even a variety of melody and rhythm. I think they need to get a few more shows under their belt and then they'll build the following that will know and recognize their songs. They should fill an active mosh pit in no time. I'd like to check them out in our hometown. 

Rechid: Now here's a Milwaukee band that's been around for some time, and I'm embarrassed to say this was my first exposure to them. Lead singer/bass player come out looking like Alex deLarge without the codpiece but just as menacing. This band gets old school hardcore despite their seemingly youthful appearance. They even throw in a bit of ska, but just a bit. Lots of jumping around, a voice you can understand, guitar playing a bit more complex. Unfortunately, that's kind of a guess on my part. 

The afternoon was plagued by something wrong in the guitar channel that resulted in way too much constant high end feedback. At first, I thought it was the Wasted being obnoxious, but all the bands I saw seemed to have suffered from it, so I'm guessing it was a crappy patch cord somewhere. Nevertheless, I'm glad I keep high end filters in my purse. They play a lot of shows with the Blue Collar Brawlers, so it will probably be easy to catch them on a night where I'll be able to hear them all. 

Wake Up
Wake Up: I'm glad I stuck around for just one more band, and Kenosha's Wake Up fit the bill of snotty loud sonsofbitches I love about hardcore. Despite the t-shirts, they looked more like hippies, or anthropology majors, but they sounded like they belonged here, and they have quite a fan base. I took another lap around the grounds before I left: impossibly skinny guys slam dancing, tattoos you'd never expect from this crowd, kids getting their t-shirts autographed, couples chilling out, indeed the Punk Piknik was everything I needed to feel good again. Punk was the protest music of my youth, and it just makes me as happy as a little girl to see it pulsing just as strong. I climbed into my car and headed back north, ready to go back to work in two days, glad to know somebody picked up the torch. Thank you, Kenocore. 

Friday, September 04, 2015

Kill Yr Idols

Well, let's get this out of the way: The Grovelers were promised to be an excellent opener for the free X show at Sprecherfest last Friday and they delivered the goods. The very goods. It's not like they're normally not on fire for a show anyway, but when you're opening for legends, that's going to pour a little more gasoline on things.  Rain didn't put this fire out, that's for sure: and maybe because they were opening for X, they pulled out their psychobilly roots and put them on display: the whole set felt very Cramps-like, like what if the Cramps were from North of the Mason-Dixon line, and what if they were Catholic instead of protestant, and what if the psycho part of their influences was psychedelic? Oh, and their version of "Do The Hammerlock" (which is getting to be sort of a Milwaukee standard on par with covering a Violent Femmes tune or even Mustang Sally at Summeriest) got people to close their umbrellas  and bring out their inner Crusher. They all stepped up to the task, and the albatross of opening for X seemed to float off their backs by the fourth or fifth song. The set got cut a little short, because the promoters saw more rain coming, and they wanted to get the LA team on stage before the rain might have even ruined things more.

This will have been my third X show. First time I saw them was at the Park West in Chicago, for the "Under the Big Black Sun" tour. They were loaded with energy and I spent a lot of time getting jostled in the mosh pit (I honestly can't remember what we called that then, I think it was just "getting tossed by the slam dancers"). We were all basking in the glow of young greatness. Then, about 10 years ago I saw them at the Rave on this reunion tour and I'm sorry to say the glow had faded. I'd written that it seemed Exene was phoning it in, but learned later that she'd been diagnosed with MS, and that might have explained things. This past Friday, though, they seemed to find their spark again, and put on a blisteringly solid show, despite the absence of Billy Zoom on guitar. Standing in for him was Jesse Dayton, who thankfully didn't hold back with some kind of false "I won't try to be Billy so I'm just going to be humble" bullshit. No, he didn't try to fill Zoom's shoes: he wore his own and he fucking rocked with X.

OK, if you love X as much as I did, and you particularly worship Exene (as I used to), you'd better stop reading now because I'm going to bum you out. If I were evaluating the band solely on the musicianship and the songwriting, yes, they were great. Yes, they fucking rocked. But I didn't have a good time. There was a nagging question weighing me down like that albatross that flew off of The Grovelers and landed on my back, and that question is this:

What kind of a bitch compounds the profound grief of a family who's lost their son in a horrible mass shooting by accusing the parent of faking the entire incident just to supposedly advance a political point of strengthening gun control?

Answer: the lead singer of the band I just wrote a glowing review for.

Normally, I can separate the artist from the art. God knows there's a lot of artists whose political views I disagree with. (And there's plenty, I don't even bother because both are wastes of time -- case in point, Ted Nugent). But I enjoy the films of Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis, both Republicans. And the Ramones were a mixed bag. And Alice Cooper's stuff is legendary. But here's the thing: they didn't get personal about it. They didn't single out specific people and hurt them. They don't lob personal insults that detract from the issue at hand. They are all simply fellow Americans with whom I disagree about the best way to solve this nation's problems.

Now, we are all aware that Exene's life has had its rough spots. And I know plenty of people who have stories about her drunken incoherence sometimes. And having MS (or maybe not) will take its toll on a soul. And there's a lot of stuff out there that indicates that, well, she may be just batshit crazy. Even when I interviewed her after that Park West show in '83, I came away thinking that maybe she wasn't the brightest bulb in the marquee, but god she had charisma and could write killer rock and roll songs. But while I can laugh at her when she goes all truther conspiracy theory on us, or sigh "oh really" when she gets all anti-vaxxer, (just that morning I'd taken my 12 year son for his painful tetanus booster shot) and even "Oh for cryin' out loud, first Moe Tucker and now this" when she gets all pro-gun bumperstickery and repeats "An armed society is a polite society" it gets a little hard to laugh or even feel sorry when she gets personal. When you accuse a grieving father of faking it, or accuse the parents of the Sandy Hook children of being privy to a conspiracy, you are now in Ann Coulter territory. Fuck that, bitch. And sorry, but your
"apology" doesn't fly. You're only sorry you used the word "hoax" and now you're shocked --  shocked -- that it generated such a negative response. What the hell did you expect, Exene?

Then again, it's not like we ever looked to X for political commentary. That's what the Dead Kennedys were for. No, X, was a band that was more about raw emotion, and they were great at it. She and John Doe opened up their relationship to the world, with its ups and downs and the emotional rollercoaster ride that it was. But you can't decide critical public policy based on emotion alone. And that's what her recent politics are based on: emotional reactions not based in fact. Consider her tweet about Obama: basing her opinion on her perception of his appearance and perception of Executive Orders.  Seriously, let me Google that for you: Obama's use of executive orders is less frequent than any 20th or 21st  century president. And you don't like his robotic eyes? Oh, that's a basis for sound public policy. I guess I shouldn't be surpreised. Again, her core competency has always  been expression of emotion, but that's inappropriate here.

So I woke up the day after, contemplating that feeling of letdown when you learn that an artist you admire is kind of batshit crazy, and I log onto the internet, and there's Chrissie Hynde: animal right activist, witness to the Kent State shootings (Hey, Exene, s'pose that was a hoax, too?) and rape apologist. "If I'm walking around drunk and in my underwear, who else's fault can it be?" Um, I don't care how vulnerable the victim is. The vulnerability of the victim is not the issue. The rapist committed the crime. IT'S THE RAPIST'S FAULT. DUH. Rape seems to be the only crime where it's acceptable to blame the victim. Hynde also tries to make a differentiation between the man-in-the-bushes kind of assault and the girl at a party who's in a vulnerable situation, the ol "Well what were you thinking going to a party with men there dressed like that" excuse. They're both rape, not to mention those rapes lots of people write off: marital rape, date rape, etc. Hynde defends her comments by saying there's worse issues in the world (she points to the refugee crisis) and why are we even worried about her asinine comments? Because I will submit that rape is ALSO one of the biggest humanitarian crises in this world, and if we're still having trouble in the United States getting people to understand that its not the victim's fault, dammit, we're a long way to solving the problem worldwide.

But here's the thing. Musically, I thought those first two Pretenders albums were great, and I thought Chrissie was a badass, but she kind of lost me after those albums, and after her hijinks.  And while I though she was cool, this didn't break my heart. No, it just pissed me off.

Now let's open up this institutional sized can of worms now. Because Chrissie Hynde wasn't the one that made me want to pick up a guitar and play rock and roll, and understand that women/girls want to ROCK. No, that would be Joan Jett.

Joan Jett. Feminist. Spirtual mother of the Riot Grrrls, and producer of half the albums put out by them. Intrepreter of rock and roll standards, including "You Don't Own Me" and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." Author of the Number One Badass Chick Anthem "Bad Reputation" and co-author of its predecessor, "Cherry Bomb." And a couple of months back, a story broke that she stood by and did nothing while her bandmate was being publicly and violently raped by Kim Fowley.  Ugh. Of all the women working rock and roll, Joan Jett did this? Say it ain't so, Joan!

Well, she did say it wasn't so. She denied remembering being there. She and Cherie Currie denied being there when interviewed for the story. God, we didn't know what to think of this. And of all the people I just wrote about today, I have to admit, she's the one I'm most willing to give the benefit of the doubt to. Maybe it's because she's the one who influenced me the most. Maybe it's because she's since done (and continues to do) the most for women artists in general. But maybe, it's because there's a possibility she's telling the truth. Let's face it, she was 15 at the time. And she was in a scene where there was plenty of alcohol and drugs going. It's entirely possible she genuinely doesn't remember being there because she was fucked up. And as badass and tough as she wants to be seen as (and I'd like to be seen as), if I'd witnessed something so fucked up at that age, I can't say I wouldn't do everything to block it out of my mind and tell myself it didn't happen, and tell myself enough times that I finally believed it. And remember, who was the rapist? Was it Joan? No, it was Joan's employer, Kim Fowley. It was the person who held the keys to 15-year-old Joan's career. It was a person in Joan's life who was older and physically stronger than her. It was a person skilled at emotional manipulation, and used it to turn bandmates and friends against each other.  Who had the power in this relationship? It sure as hell wasn't Joan, or Cherie, or the victim, Jackie Fuchs.   Let's not forget that it wasn't Joan or Cherie who raped Jackie. Let's put the blame squarely where it belongs, Chrissie, despite the fact that Jackie was dressed a little more revealingly than a Duggar Wife, that she'd been drugged before she was assautled. Jackie was raped. Jackie was a victim, and her bandmates were victims of a different sort too. KIM FOWLEY WAS the RAPIST. The end.

But the whole thing hammers home that our artistic idols cannot be held as human idols, or at least not all the time. The challenge comes in seperating the artist from the art: and if that's possible or even appropriate. I'm struggling with this. I'm even considering that my headline for this post is ripped from a Sonic Youth album, you know, that band whose guitarist cheated on his wife of a couple of dozen years (and a perennial nominee for Coolest Girl In Rock) in a mid-life crisis for a younger, cuter thing.  But I always thought Thuston Moore was a pretentious blowhard anyway. So, yeah. Kill yr idols.

Trash Fest, like Christmas, came early this year

This thing will outlast nuclear holocaust.
I’m told that the Testa Rosa CD release show at Shank Hall last Saturday night was (unsurprisingly) transcendant. I’ve heard enough of the new recording to know that between the fact that the band is comprised of some of the best players in town, and fronted by the beautifully clear voice of Betty Blexrud-Strigens (comparaisons to Karen Carpenter are apt), the whole night was probably dripping with elegance and beautiful music. Especially worth noting is that this CD took over a year to produce (and who can expect more? Blexrud-Strigens had a Patti Smith tribute show to curate!) and it sounds like that level of care went into it.  If my FB feed is any indication, all the cool and classy people in town were there.

However, nobody ever accused me of being part of the cool and classy crowd. And to prove it, I wasn’t there.

Duh, I was at Trash Fest.

I missed the start of last year’s Trash Fest, and for the first time in memory, the perennial Nervous Virgins weren’t the opening act. (Maybe they were at Testa Rosa that night). Instead , we got a pile ‘o’ Jorins giving us their take on Jesus Christ Superstar, which I admit was was skeptical of. I still have Steven Christ Superstar in my memory from the early 90s, with Steve Whalen belting out “Heaven in Their Minds” over that that guitar line that nobody denies kicks ass. But not to worry. You haven’t heard the JCS overture until you’ve heard it on accordion, courtesy of Tyler Christ Superstar, with Judas Iscariot Priest singing the lead, and a motley crew of whoever they could get wondering what the buzz was and when DO they ride into Jerusalem? Before a pie in Jesus Ted’s face ended the set, Voot Warnings sidled over to me (wait wait wait! There was a VOOT SIGHTING AT TRASHFEST!) and asked me “So…. Best Trash Fest opener EVER?” I’m reluctant to be that absolute, but I’ll put it in the top five, for sure.

Soon afterwards, a couple  of geeky science guys in  Fermilab-issued white lab coats and safety lenses, accompanied by a drummer who looked like he was their financial sponsor approached the stage and proceeded to set up their experiment. Their hypothesis was explained thusly: That, if one were to strip out synthesizers from 80s NuWave (and, frankly, mainstream) hits, one would realize that these songs actually were great songs, and further, that they rocked. And, the proceeded to prove it by running through Tainted Love and even slipping in a 70s Roxy Music tune. The audienc reaction would confirm the hypothesis.  I’m concerned, however, that I did not see any IRB approval documentation in the research venue, and further, that we as the test subjects had not been offered the opportunity to give informed consent to participate in the research. Perhaps the Principal Investigators had obtained an exemption based on expedited review, but I’m skeptical. However, as best as I could tell, none of the research subjects sustained any kind of physical or  psychological damage, and, they proved their hypothesis. On to the next act.

Which turned out to be Gil Massen and the Rockabilly Douches, and they were pretty darn douchey.
They bothered to actually lug in a standup bass (what's a rockabilly band without a standup bass), all their songs were I-IV-Vs (what's a rockabilly song if its chord progression is anything else), all they lyrics were about how they play rockabilly ("We're rockabilly! Rockabilly!") and they were all in the same key: "Hope you like rockabilly 'cos this one's in A!"

We had a really uncomfortable wait for the next band. It seems like somebody didn't show up. Oh, gee, that never happens at TrashFest. To the rescue were a lovely group of people who handed out what appeared to be flyers but then we realized they were BINGO cards! Hoo! A trashy game of Bingo! With prizes and everything! The prizes were bite sized Snickers bars and Mexican wrestling masks (not real ones, just paper party ones, but still...) Bingo! Prizes!

This gave time for the Yacht Core ship to come into port. Paul Setser gave us a feel for what awaited us, with a stirring version of "Feelings," accompanied by Desmond Bone (not sure if that was planned or not) and then accompanied by Mike "I can read Walker quotes with a straight face" Nelson (pretty sure that wasn't planned), but everybody has "Feelings." (Wait wait wait: 30 years of Trash Fest and this is the first time anybody's done "Feelings"? How did we miss this?)_ Then the rest of the band floated onstage, including these two bearded women, one of whom was drinking champaigne out of a hot water bag, both of whom lovingly mellowed us out with "Margaritaville" and "Love Will Keep Us Together" and other shit you'd expect to hear on Judge Smalls' yacht. At first I though it was called Yacht Porn, and that would have been just as appropriate.

Then it was time for some wholesome family entertainment, as children's chanteuse Marlavous Marla
and her puppet friends took the stage and led us in childhood classics like "The Wheels on the Bus." Seriously. They did this straight up. And the crowd had enough liquor in them to reduce the collective intellect to the level of a classroom full of K-4 kids on the first day of school. So of course, we all loved it. You know what I love even more? The fact that this isn't just a Trash Fest act. This is a real gig for Marlavous: she makes good money doing this on the children's stage at Summerfest. God, I love Milwaukee.

Then what's starting to become a perenial act at TrashFest -- Cheese of the Goat oozed onto the stage. They're  this cross between GWAR, Frankie Yankovic, and the cast of Zombieland. And that damn accordion from earlier in the evening is back. Well, it had to be: these guys were playing death metal polka with cookie monster vocals.

This year, the requisite noise band was last instead of first, and Hideous Replica did their job: they pretty much drove everybody out of the place. I'm not a fan of noise bands to begin with, but these guys really were perffect for Trash Fest in that they were completely devoid of melody, rhythm, lycial content, or anything even approaching a "pleasing" (or even a n arresting) aesthetic. I just want to know if they were a replica of something, what the hell was the original?