Concert review: Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (with Cross Examination, ThorHammer, and the Basement) thrash and bash at the Firebird on Wednesday, February 20

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Ponce de Leon may not have found the fountain of youth, but hardcore-thrash crossover band Dirty Rotten Imbeciles proved that spending 30 years in the thrash zone is the next best thing.

The Basement opened the night at the Firebird with a 30 minute set of pop-punk that aimed for Rancid but ended up at Green Day. The vocals were in the Tim Armstrong/Lars Frederiksen wheelhouse; they weren’t half bad. The guitar sounded great and their rhythm section propelled the songs along fairly well.

The set was not without problems. I don’t know if they were having an off night, but there seemed to be a lot of issues with forgotten lyrics and songs abruptly ending in trainwrecks. There were enough clunky endings that D.R.I. bassist Harald Oimoen shouted some advice from the merch booth in the form of “Work on your endings, guys!”

My main complaint was that the whole “punk” schtick was not coming across the way I think the band thought it was. Being a punk is more than buying some Manic Panic and a denim vest and saying “fuck” every other word. I don’t remember Dez Cadena or Glenn Danzig explain away forgotten lyrics or sloppy endings by saying “I forgot the lyrics. So what? This is punk rock.” If you have to tell someone that you’re a punk, you aren’t a punk.

I know I’m coming across a bit harsh here, but my point is this: Don’t try to mimic other bands or copy styles. Find your own thing and do it. There is nothing more punk than making your own path, so blaze that trail instead of trying to copy someone else. The effort is well worth the payoff in the long run.

Next to hit the stage was ThorHammer, and hit the stage they did. ThorHammer is one of those bands I want to hate because they play lightning-fast, complex riffs so effortlessly that I feel like a lesser primate when I pick up my guitar. However, once the riffer madness starts, I can’t help but love what I’m hearing.

The band’s entire set was loud heavy riffs and wailing leads underpinned by a rhythm section well-versed in laying down slabs of rock. Everyone was playing double-time without hiding sloppy playing behind mountains of distortion or overly high volume. They almost sounded like an over-caffeinated Exodus.

When I lived in New Jersey, I had this neighbor with a Pomeranian that would chase the neighborhood cats all over the street yelping and growling. That dog was a bad ass and was nothing to mess with, much like the vocals that were being shouted out over the music. The vocals were perfectly matched to the music and sounded great. The drummer looked like Gandalf beating the hell out of his kit, and there is nothing more suited to metal than a wizard, right?

While I was doing some research after the show, I read that this was the last show with this lineup and that two members were leaving. This was my first time seeing ThorHammer, and I sincerely hope they find new members to fill the vacant spots. Their set tonight was a prime example of how good metal should be played.

Cross Examination only played a total of about 20 minutes, but they were the most fun 20 minutes of the entire evening. The last thing I expected to see was an act that seemed more grindcore than thrash and didn’t apologize for a damn second of it. The music reminded me a little of Discordance Axis, without the douchebag pompousness. The liner notes from DA’s Jouhou album made me want to punch them in the throat. Cross Examination’s vibe made me want to buy them beer.

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Concert review: Pujol (with Dad Jr. and Diarrhea Planet) punk out at Off Broadway, Sunday, January 27

Pujol. flickr.com/photos/elawgrrl/6307359629 / Nicole Kibert

Off Broadway‘s amber glow illuminated the back of Dad Jr. guitarist Zack Sloan’s blue-jean vest. It read in four-inch tall black marker, “Get Fucked.”

St Louis’ Dad Jr. is not one for subtlety. It played a set wherein guitarists/singers Zack Sloan and Ray Kannenberg would leave stage for several songs and watch along with the crowd of 30 people. Once, Sloan bounded off the stage and flattened a bystander. He then whipped himself around like a toy helicopter in a tailspin before he stood in front of Kannenberg for the better half of the song. Kannenberg followed suit and jumped off stage for the last song.

During this chaos, crowd members moshed. One fan was knocked so hard he flew halfway across Off Broadway. He deftly managed to stay on his feet and ran back into the pit, laughing all the way.

Switching gears, Dad Jr.’s arrangements have a metal bent with a punk-rock consistence. Alternating errant, grandiose guitar solos from Sloan and Kannenberg slid over Lucz’s drums. Sloan and Kannenberg’s vocals were dichotomous in tone. When Sloan sings, “Pukin’ in the sink,” he sounds like he is. Kannenberg’s voice, in contrast, sounds fit for a punk band and matches Dad Jr.’s heavy compositions.

Both would shout indecipherable lyrics before they retreated to thrash mode. Lucz anchored the dog-whistle guitar lines by thumping the mess out of his kit. The disparity of pitch between the guitars and drums balanced the mix. Lucz’s regulated drum work thickened the band’s messy arrangements enough for consumption. Just when the music came together for the last song, Sloan dropped his pants to reveal navy-blue boxer-briefs. The burly guitarist left them at his ankles as he waddled back stage.

Diarrhea Planet has a name so ludicrous it belies its ridiculous talent. But maybe that’s the shtick: talent camouflaged by egregious choices. Members of the band soundchecked to Third Eye Blind’s “Never Let You Go” and “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by the Darkness before they encircled the snare drum and crashed into their first song. Lead singer/guitarist Jordan “Hodan” Dickie and guitarist Evan Bird raced to see who could melt the face off a fan first with their firecracker-fast fingers.

The Nashville, Tenn. band’s four guitarists snapped, plucked and brought Guns N’ Roses-style arrangements to the modern age. Every guitarist took a turn at lead vocals. They fit all this into a set that was barely half an hour long, playing the first half in under 10 minutes. Their minute-and-35-second jams are miniature stadium anthems. Propulsive and rowdy, they could soundtrack a night of debauchery with aplomb.

Dickie introduced “Raft Nasty” off “Loose Jewels” as “The Cartoon Song” for it was featured on MTV’s animated series, “Good Vibes.” It was a marquee number for the band. With all instruments ablaze, its live sound is more idiosyncratic in person. In particular, Dickie’s guitar lines showcase know-how finesse and bassist Mike Boyle’s knack for keeping up with the four guitarists breakneck fretwork.

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Concert review: Local H (with Animal Empty) almost starts a holiday riot at the Firebird, Friday, December 21

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Animal Empty opened the raucous evening at the Firebird with a gothic set of tunes helmed by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Ali Ruby. The four-piece band slid from heavy post-rock verses to jams that featured a light Latin influence, which Ruby accentuated with nice trumpet work.

“Goodbye” grew from an acoustic jangle to a lilting confession from the raspy-throated Ruby. Drummer Mike Craft flooded the room with well-timed floor-tom rolls. The song deftly mixed the sounds of Our Lady Peace, “Ugly Organ-era”-Cursive and modern post-rock female vocal elements.

“The Flood (Sensual Centaur)” scaled with a tight, near-math-rock drum rhythm. Alec Frisch’s guitar rang layered with the perfect level of distortion, while next to him, Aaron Cajilig bobbed along on bass, as Ruby breathed the song’s chorus like an incantation.

After Animal Empty left the stage, Local H‘s mastermind, Scott Lucas, appeared strumming immediately into “Waves” from 2012′s “Hallelujah! I’m a Bum.” The song built on a wall-of-sound guitar drone with dreamy vocals, which Lucas sang as he quickly plugged in the bass pickup on his modified guitar. Amazing that such a small thing allows Local H to remain a duo.

Local H’s other member, drummer Brian St. Clair, sat on the other side of the stage with a double-stack amp pointing directly at him and his drum set. He adjusted his gloves and sweatbands, took a drink of whiskey and charged to life as Lucas cranked into “Cold Manor.” Weezer contrails mingled with up-beat pop-rock, Lucas subverting both with his snarky, judgmental style.

As a form of punctuation, Lucas spit on the floor kicking out the chords to “Bound to the Floor” from 1996′s “As Good As Dead.” The crowd screamed the lyrics back at Lucas, “Born to be down…” I reveled in the ’90s glory of the tune, which back then, taught me the word “copacetic,” and now conjures memories of plastic beer cups and mud sailing through the air of some long-lost PointFest.

The social commentary that Lucas builds into Local H’s stood strong. “They Saved Reagan’s Brain” featured Lucas howling catchy “o-o-o’s” then singing, “There is no use running with the Chinese coming and I don’t want to see this world burn no more.” The still pertinent, “All the Kids are Right,” from 1998′s “Pack Up the Cats,” sparkled with its sage lyrics, “All the kids they hold a grudge, their minds are logged onto the net.”

“Everyone Alive” from “What Ever Happened To P.J. Soles?” hammered hard with Foo Fighters overtones and call/response from the audience. “Night Flight To Paris,” shaded toward grunge-metal, while “Feed a Fever” rocked with a barroom swagger, similar to something the Hold Steady might attempt.

“Another February” stood-out as an excellent angry punk-balled, offering massive guitar and drum drops. “Hands on the Bible” from “Here Comes the Zoo,” shuffled and accentuated the fact that the world didn’t end in 2012.

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Concert review: The Supersuckers (with Fat Tramp Food Stamp and Ded Bugs) raise a little hell at the Firebird, Saturday, November 17

flickr.com/photos/seanbirm/8180328895 / Sean Birmingham

With dark sunglasses, a darker 10-gallon, a couple of Guy Fawkes-inspired beards and plenty of “rock ‘n’ roll about rock,” the Supersuckers reasserted their self-declared title of “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world” at the Firebird.

After manning his merch booth most of the night, Eddie Spaghetti, the leader of the group, took his rightful spot front and center of the stage, insisting everyone “Gather ’round, we’re here to rock the house.”

Sure enough, the leather and denim of the crowd quickly took over the monopoly that the canvas-shoed had enjoyed amongst the front few rows, as the Supersuckers launched into a trademark high-octane set. “Rock Your Ass” provided one of ample opportunities for “Metal” Marty, playing one of three on-stage Les Pauls, to launch into a solo invoking the frenetic tone of Allen Collins. When presented with birthday present offers, Marty, since they were obviously providing the rock ‘n’ roll, requested the first two of the timeless yet constantly updated “wine, women and song” indulgence — albeit in a manner befit to a group named after a porn trope.

Eddie’s cowboy hat resembled devil horns the more the night went on, as it became clear that the Supersuckers would provide the theme music for nights of debauchery. The crowd understood it similarly, as the band’s simultaneous raising of signature gold-top guitars marked the escorting out for a few of the more rambunctious fans. “Pretty Fucked Up,” an excellent but tidy setlist staple, and “Supersucker Drive-By Blues,” a reminder built to ease the listener back into normalcy, served as high points.

Fat Tramp Food Stamp proved promising as soon as Chum, the overalls-wearing lead singer, brought his own bongos to the stage. Shortly thereafter, the bassist, Brandon Shrum, turned out to be the most proficient R&B player in the building while the backup vocalist picked up at least four different instruments. Regardless, the crowd swayed appropriately to the endearing tone as Chum reassured that “she plays whatever (she kindly) feels like.” Expecting to hear straight-forward country alt-rock, one instead gets a nuanced band that hangs in the head like a wisp of smoke in the air.

Ded Bugs, taking the stage as if they just finished a marathon session of “Anvil: The Story of Anvil,” was backed by dive-bombs, distortion and a love of feedback. Playing songs with titles like “Who Will Save Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Ded Bugs collectively showed an utter abundance of talent, yet never allowed anything to be as important as being loud. Even better, the three non-drummers, when trading off vocal duties, slightly traded styles, and the band fluctuated from the heyday of CGBG’s to strip club baroque with each song.

Concert review: Off!, the Spits and Double Negative blast through Fubar, Thursday, November 1

facebook.com/offband / Katie Hovland

To be quite honest, I’m not really sure what happened last night at Fubar. A couple of really fast and hard bands played, a bunch of sweaty people moshed and most everyone seemed a bit wasted.

Standing in the very back of the crowd, trying to crane my neck and peer over the writhing, black-clad masses, was the closest I came to seeing any of the bands perform. Finding it impossible to push forward in the crowd and fearing a set of broken glasses had I tried too hard, I resigned myself to the bar to gather what I could from the deafening sounds emerging from the opposite end of the venue.

First up, North Carolina hardcore punkers Double Negative growled out one minute-and-a-half song after another. Being mostly used to the mix I hear at indie-rock shows, the heavy bass drum and heavier vocals were both refreshing and oppressing. The band played no frills, old school hardcore with furious energy, inciting the first (but not even close to the last) crowd surfers to take flight.

Blasting fog and performing in front of a giant skull with strobe lights for eyes, Seattle’s the Spits felt just right. The band’s brand of Ramones-tinged garage punk was sandwiched in between two hardcore bands and gave the night a decent variety in heavy-punk sounds. I got the feeling the Spits are the type of crew to put out 7”s quite regularly; my assumption was validated when I checked the band’s back catalogue the next day. In a time when it seems garage rock is peeking its greasy head out of the basement and into the underground spotlight once again, it was sweet to see a band that seemed to have the formula down for quite a while. Squealing electric guitar, gang vocals and the occasional synth riff dominated the set.

Last to hit the stage, Off! thrashed out old-school hardcore with a get-in-get-out mentality. Playing short and fast songs – most had no more than a single verse and chorus — the Los Angeles band held up to the hype.

Featuring Keith Morris, former vocalist for punk mega-gods Black Flag and the similarly iconic Circle Jerks, Off! fit well with FUBAR’s vibe. The walls were plastered with old Fugazi and Ultraman flyers, the lights were dim and the toilet overflowed. Combine that with the fuck-it-all attitude of Off!, and it was almost like a night straight from the early ’80s. The show had a number of facets that I’ve been missing of late. First off, the bands kept between-song banter to a minimum. With the exception of Morris (his wisdom on politics and war were fascinating), the bands just churned out song after song with reckless abandon, leaving no time to flex their egos. The level of intensity from the crowd was awesome, from crowd surfers to older guys getting into the pit. Best of all, the night was void of any pretension. Most everyone there acted like they wanted to be there and to have a good time — and not really care about much else.

It was well worth dipping into a scene I don’t usually get a chance to observe. So here’s to the three tenets of punk rock: short, fast and loud.

Album review: Green Day forgoes the political rock operas and lets loose on ‘¡Uno!’

Green Day
“¡Uno!”
Reprise

“¡Uno!” plays as an exuberant, physical release after several years of Green Day’s devotion to political punk-rock operas.

Despite being released as the first in a trilogy of albums, Green Day’s ninth studio album offers no epic song suites whatsoever. Rather, the songs are lean and biting. Boiled down to power chords, breakneck tempos, snotty lyrics and probably some black electrical tape.

As a result “¡Uno!” makes itself much more effective than its predecessor, “21st Century Breakdown.” The album opener “Nuclear Family” stands as a manifesto for the straightforward approach of the album, and takes certain explosive liberties with the idea of the nuclear family along the way. Only vague political overtones pop up throughout the album, which otherwise alludes to and often lampoons the more mundane aspects of modern society. Whether tackling lackluster pop culture or unpleasant blasts from the past encounters, Billie Joe Armstrong spits out something rude and poignant about it all.

Although not as humorous as the band’s early material, the smart-ass and bratty lyrics Armstrong once perfected appear splattered all over and throughout each song. Combined with the hyperactive performance, Green Day sounds in prime form. Songs like “Let Yourself Go,” “Carpe Diem” and “Loss of Control” all set the hectic pace of the album and pile-drive any notion of the group’s past pretensions. This is Green Day having fun.

The band’s 1997 album “Nimrod” may be a quick and easy comparison due to the inclusion of jumpy punk rockers, revamped oldies and an off-kilter song or two. Here, that off-kilter song takes the form of “Kill the DJ.” In the vein of the Clash or maybe Franz Ferdinand (who opened for Green Day circa 2004) the indie-dance song is difficult to take too serious and impossible to dismiss, but stands out as a catchy and bizarre moment regardless. The closing numbers of the album, “Sweet 16,” “Rusty James” and “Oh Love” each allow the hyper-romantic side of the band to poke its head out from the backseat of an old Chevy. “Rusty James” even revisits the bittersweet melody of “Scattered” from “Nimrod.”

Despite its similarities to “Nimrod” make no mistake that the band returns to any prior ’90s form. “¡Uno!” clearly etches yet another era in the 20-plus years of Green Day’s career. Moments throughout the album suggest Cheap Trick or the Clash, but are in no way rehashed or ripped off. Rather they appear more a sum of the many different parts of Green Day. A refreshing and exciting listen, “¡Uno!” belongs in the collection of old and new fans alike.

Concert review: Bug Chaser, Volcanoes, Ou Où and Jack Buck go crazy (folks!) at Bad Dog Bar and Grill, Friday, September 28

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I was pretty stoked to see that Jack Buck, the mathy hardcore locals named after the late sportscaster, would be opening up the insanely solid lineup at Bad Dog Bar and Grill on Friday night.

To use a couple phrases lifted from the Buck’s Wikipedia page: “I don’t believe what I just saw!” “Go crazy folks, go crazy!” and “Pardon me while I stand up to applaud.”

Jack Buck gnarled out riff-heavy, technically meandering licks in the vein of Converge or Dillinger Escape Plan. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a band of this particular leaning, and it reminded me why I was ever into the sound at all. More musically intelligent than primal hardcore and metal bands but still maintaining that intensity underneath their shells, the band broke out viscerally searing jam after jam. Breakdowns were performed with a get-in-get-out mentality — none of that tough-guy-posing, ridiculously-drawn-out shit a lot of the more mainstream metal kids are playing these days. Plus, the band totes a pretty sick wood-carved case for its first 7″ record on the merch table.

Fresh off a show with Moon Duo at the Firebird the night before, Ou Où brought the emphasis on song structure down while bringing the eeriness level way up. I’ve had the chance to catch them live before, but this night the duo invited a burlesque-esque dancer on stage — clearly for the purpose of tripping me out. The dancer bizarrely wandered about, getting lost in staring at the lights, just as the crowd was similarly getting lost in the hypnotic layers of the sound. Patrick Weston twisted and twirled knobs behind his two-tiered equipment stand as Travis Bursik punched and pulsed samples and beats from his wooden electronic pulpit.

Both members shared looping duties with a vast arsenal of electronic goods, weaving a continuous tune. Watching Weston and Bursik reminded of 1950s footage of scientists pulling and patching chords in those huge, room-size IBM computers. Alternatively abrasive and gloomy, Ou Où fit right in with the overall heaviness of the night — despite being the only electronic act.

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Concert review: Girl in a Coma crashes into the Firebird with Tex-Mex rock ‘n’ soul in tow, Sunday, July 29

Dustin Winter

Where were all the ladies and lady lovers of St. Louis on Sunday night? Because they should have been at the Firebird rocking out to badass San Antonio trio Girl in a Coma.

The garagey outfit plays punk-tinged soul tunes for none other than badass Joan Jett’s Blackhearts record label. Behind asymmetrical bangs and tattooed biceps were heartfelt songs of longing — or lust, according to lead vocalist/guitarist and all-around firecracker Nina Diaz. We learned some Spanish (“gracias” means “thank you”; “Ven Cerca,” a gorgeous song about the aforementioned longing and lust, translates as “come close to me”). We danced. We worshipped at the altar of the power chord. We were treated to material from the girls’ latest release, “Exits and All the Rest,” and smaller helpings from “Both Before I’m Gone” (“Consider”) and “Adventures in Coverland” (“Come On, Let’s Go”).

If you have ever wondered how much noise a triplet of barely-drinking-aged women can make with a short stack of amplifiers, the answer is: plenty. My eardrums are still humming from Jenn Alva’s rockabilly-inflected bass lines and Nina’s impressive pipes, which ricochet from a smoky croon to all-out, heart-shattering wails in a matter of seconds.

It was impossible not to engage in any one of the following during this show, including but not limited to: pogoing, fist pumping, over-the-head hand clapping, side-to-side swaying, head banging, generalized shimmying and shaking. Feedback from Nina’s guitar had barely faded when her sister Phanie, holding steady on the drums, crashed into the next punk ballad, song after song. The rhythm and raw energy, coupled with Nina’s unholy roar, conjured up memories of early, “Arkansas Heat”-era Gossip. By turns riot grrl and serenaded blues, Girl in a Coma is a band to see live, despite its no-frills stage presence.

It’s no surprise that the the band has built up a loyal — some might say feverish — fan base during its several trips to St. Louis. After a tight 45-minute set (no encore? Really?), the bandmates hung around their merch table, graciously signing CDs and posing for photograph after photograph with what appeared to be every single person in attendance.

Clutching t-shirts and posters, fans stumbled out of the Firebird with punk rock flowing through their bloodstreams. Viva girls and guitars!

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