Seriously, guys? Is this some kind of joke, or are we really determined to turn the next decade into some kind of stupid amalgamation of the ’80s and early ’90s? Of all possible time periods in US history we might be recreating, we’re going with the time of Reaganomics, the AIDS epidemic, Rick Springfield, and construction paper collages depicting things that start with the letter P (alright, I was in first grade when the ’80s ended, but I’m pretty sure a lot of the people at this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest don’t bat an eye when they play Nirvana on classic-rock radio). Ever hear of the’60s and ’70s two decades defined by pre-crack drugs, kick ass music, and casual sex that didn’t result in anything a trip to the free clinic couldn’t cure? There has to be a mistake.
What’s that? They’re remaking Red Dawn, and the Cranberries reunited? Hand me those neon green leg warmers — I’m not gonna put them on. I just want to stuff them down my throat until I suffocate.
If all that fashion crap holds true, there should’ve been a bigger crowd for Knoxville’s Royal Bangs, aka the band that went on before Crystal Antlers, aka the Killers if Brandon Flowers were less worried about looking over-the-top. Seriously, I feel compelled to ask again — are you guys serious, or are you sarcastically paying real money to see bands that you only enjoy ironically? When the Royal Bangs restrain themselves even a little (give “New Scissors” a listen) they’ve got a noisy, fun, promising sound, but otherwise the ridiculous the synth lines and relentless dance drums overload the song (notice how “Maniverse” includes the kitchen sink but not a memorable hook). All you keep-it-weird hipsters wearing eight layers of vintage store rags, meet your new favorite band. Also, I hate you. Please know that.
The Crystal Antlers
Royal Bangs were not a tough act to follow, but Long Beach’s Crystal Antlers put on a good enough show to (sort of) restore my faith in blogger buzz bands. Most of their reviews read like rejected graduate thesis papers, but sometimes Pitchfork’s onto something. Both CA’s debut EP and this year’s full length, Tentacles are worth a listen, but the band’s even better live. “A Thousand Eyes” masterfully blends fuzzy noise rock with sunny melodics, pitting Andrew King and Errol Davis’s guitar feedback against Cora Foxx’s vintage organ fills, and bassist Andrew Bell’s hardcore scream keeps Damian Edwards’ world-music influenced auxiliary percussion from drawing the Talking Heads comparisons that so screwed Vampire Weekend. These guys are definite descendants of the ’80s and ’90s (I swear at least one of the rhythm section musicians used to be in a ska band), but what’s really noteworthy here is that they seem to have taken what works from the previous generation, dropped the really shitty parts and then MOVED ON. Do you think the first homo sapiens ever felt kitschy and went back to flinging their own feces? Of course not. They were too busy getting disembowled by giant sloths. Now there’s a trend in need of a revival.
This one’s cheating ’cause I only saw Louisville, Kentucky's Young Widows playing a few songs while I was waiting in the bathroom line, but this is a band you metal heads (and indie kids who like to look tough when you roll your car windows down) should check this band out immediately. They’ve got a dark, hardened sensibility that sounds even more wicked live. I wish I’d needed to pee sooner.
I’m pretty sure I was here for this whole show, but I only remember a few details. MC Chris acknowledged his star-making role as MC Peepants on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but he didn’t do “I Want Candy.” He did, however, do ode to cough-syrup abuse “The Tussin” and he closed the show with “Fett’s Vette,” as per a request screamed midway through the show. “Of course I’m going to do my hit,” MC Chris yelled back, then explained that if he played it right now, everyone would leave. “I know this isn’t real,” he said, “but let’s pretend that it is so I can hold onto this sad illusion of having a fan base.” He also did a weed song (Well, actually he tried to do it twice, but forgot the words the first time. Seriously.) that accompanied the most open smoking of marijuana I think I’ve ever seen at a concert (including many people smoking from brightly colored pipes they obviously purchased at one of a couple of onsite headshop kiosks), “Hoodie Ninja” and “Geek,” a nerds-kill-bullies song with a chorus that concludes “your brains on the wall, my face on TV” to which several of the dudes around me knew every single word. I’m slowly backing away now.
I didn’t really see what was going on onstage, because I was camping out for a front-and-center spot at Death (Fun Fun Fun Fest, because it’s one of the best fests ever, has two double stages, which allow one act to set up while the other performs), but I was pretty close to a speaker. So I’ll say what I’ve always said about these guys, which is their two-man guitar-and-drums set up is great for generating interesting noises, but not a hell of a lot of actual songs. There are a few exceptions (“Teen Creeps” and “Eraser” being the most obvious examples) that make me think this band might be worth at least some of the hype thrown its way, but not many.
Now, we’re onto something. Detroit’s Death released one of the year’s coolest albums, For the Whole World to See, in February. The seven-song album borrows equally from psychedelic and punk music, for an exciting … oops. Turns out the music for this album was recorded in 1975 and basically shelved until this year. Read all about it at our sister paper Detroit’s Metro Times. The two surviving Hackney brothers (and Bobbie Duncan, who replaces departed guitarist/songwriter David Hackney, whose poster hangs on either side of the stage) take a while setting up, probably because they appear to be using the same equipment they originally recorded on. They fiddle with knobs for a few minutes, then wander offstage again just as the show seems about to start. The crowd gets antsy. This is Fun Fun Fun Fest, where the bands tag team to avoid boring the youngsters with their internet-shrunken attention spans. When one of the festival staff approaches the microphone, I figure he’s about to tell us the show is cancelled, but he’s actually introducing the band.
“Please welcome Death!”
The crowd shrieks with delight (or maybe that was just me), and the three men walk slowly onstage, wearing black reaper hoods now.
They launch into their album opener “Keep on Knocking” about 15 minutes after their scheduled start time. (They play their entire album in order, which makes it extra hilarious when some jerk yells for album closer “Politicians in My Eyes” about three songs in. They have seven songs, total, asshole. Just wait a minute. ) Immediately, two things become apparent: 1) They still aren’t completely comfortable with this material, and 2) It doesn’t matter. Whether Duncan’s not as technically proficient as David Hackney or has just modified the solos to suit his own playing style, some of the instrumental breaks have been noticeably trimmed and simplified; drummer Dannis Hackney has done the same with his own parts, and everyone drops a few notes.
But bassist/vocalist Bobby Hackney’s voice is still in great shape, and I don’t think anything onstage made me happier all weekend than the look on Dannis Hackney’s face after completing the drum solo for the Love at 45rpm scorcher “Let the World Turn.” He was so happy.
“Politicians in My Eyes” ends with an extended jam through which everybody grins. They should’ve been rock stars 35 years ago, but they don’t seem bitter. I never thought standing in a crowd of people chanting “DEATH! DEATH! DEATH!” would be such an uplifting experience.
The Jesus Lizard
During a seemingly endless and purposefully annoying set from punk-pop act/UN outlawed torture device Face to Face (Seriously, screw you guys. I’m sorry that everyone in your audience was just camping out for the Jesus Lizard show, but maybe you should have thought of that before you made such terrible music.) I had a pretty cold realization. While I was sneering at all the stupid hipsters in their stupid Ferris Bueller costumes watching imitation New-Wave acts, all the acts I was most excited to see — Mission of Burma, GZA, the Jesus Lizard — are actually from the ’80s and early ’90s. When did I get so old? All the dudes standing around me wearing Circle Jerks and Scratch Acid T-shirts were a good 10 years older than me. Why wasn’t I at Ratatat or at least Destroyer?
Then the Jesus Lizard came onstage, and I remembered. David Yow screams “All right, Dallas,” to a confused audience, then dives into the crowd before anyone’s played a note. Unlike Death, the Jesus Lizard seem to have gotten a little more tight and polished since their glory days. Their music’s admittedly less complex (mostly) but Duane Denison, Mac McNeilly, and David Wm. Sims play like a hive-minded noise unit. Everything clicks. If anything, Yow’s yelp has gotten scarier as he gets older (eventually he’ll look like the schizophrenic old hobo he sounds like).
I like Destroyer, and I’ve got no problems with Ratatat — I can appreciate both intellectually — but neither connects with me on the visceral level the Jesus Lizard does, and it seems like few modern artists do. Whatever you think of Jesus Lizard, they force you to engage with their music on an emotional level, because they so clearly are, and that’s a quality I worry has been disappearing since the machines took over. During the Lizard’s glory days, you still learned about bands at the record store or through friends, and the internet consisted of America Online and dial-up bulletin boards. Now you can download an album, get sick of it, and analyze all its flaws with complete strangers all from your house, and all in less time than it would have taken 15 years ago to find out that the album even existed. In fact, thanks to early leaks, you can usually do all of this before the album drops. When we had access to fewer albums and knew about fewer bands, I think our alliance to those bands was stronger and we were more willing to make an effort to appreciate unexpected and experimental material.
Maybe the solution, the one the movie and record companies want anyway, is to just get rid of the internet altogether, or at least limit or even scale back its capabilities, but we keep a lot of our pornography there. Also, the late ’80s and early ’90s sucked big time, remember? I’m pretty sure I mentioned that about 2,000 words back. Why do you think the Jesus Lizard stuff sounds so damn angry? Not only did they have 12 years of Reagan/Bush, everyone was listening to this manufactured synthpop crap and dressing like a glowstick threw up and … wait a minute. This all sounds pretty familiar.
Anybody want to start a band? You play all the instruments, and I’ll tell you what to think and who to listen to.