Latest Blog Posts

by Allison Taich

16 Oct 2009

Photo by
Patrick Houdek

When thinking of punk rock what bands come to mind? Maybe the Sex Pistols, Screeching Weasel, NOFX, or Naked Raygun? What about the Butthole Surfers? I normally would not have associated the Butthole Surfers with punk, that is, until I witnessed them headline the opening night of Riot Fest in Chicago.  The aim of the five night event was to showcase generations of punk rock music of all shapes and sizes.

Normally punk is not my first choice of music; I associate it with teenage friendships, an adolescent rite of passage soundtrack if you will.  But what drew me to Riot Fest was the Butthole Surfers, a band I have enjoyed since seeing them on Beavis and Butthead.

Photo by Patrick Houdek

Photo by Patrick Houdek

Hesitant about their association to punk rock I really did not know what to expect.  The venue was filled with an eerie glow from a screen serving as a stage backdrop.  As the band took the stage, audience members packed in as close as they could to best glimpse the imminent spectacle.  The backdrop began to flash, spastically, three different montages as the band hammered out “Something,” with guitarist Paul Leary on lead vocals.  Meanwhile usual front man Gibby Haynes danced around, honking on the saxophone.  Jeff Pinkus slammed his bass, and percussionists King Coffey and Teresa Taylor drove a steady yet intricate rhythm on various drums.  The lineup of Haynes, Leary, Pinkus, Coffey and Taylor represented the band’s original roster from the mid-‘80s.  After the first song I knew it was going to be one hell of a ride.

The music got increasingly loud, intense, and stylistically interesting.  Every song featured Haynes’ patented “Gibbytronix” voice modulator, which tweaked sounds and altered his vocal pitch.  Other effects included an abundance of distortion pedals, industrial soundtracks, a megaphone, sirens, squeaking, squawking, and plenty of noise trails.  Interacting with the crowd, Haynes chatted about how many girls were there, the number of people wearing glasses , how many were bald, and how young the crowd seemed.  He described the scene as “unprecedented.” 

Photo by Patrick Houdek

Photo by Patrick Houdek

Known for their extreme debaucheries on stage the Butthole Surfers played a relatively tame show.  The only shock value came from the blood, guts, fear, fury and skin projected on the backdrop.  Some film scenes were recognizable—such as It, Silence of the Lambs and Killer Klowns from Outer Space—while others just included surgeries, zombie/slasher films, bugs, geometric shapes, explosions, combusting heads and more.  It was not unlike A Clockwork Orange, being force fed images of violence and gore.

Their set closed with “Who was in My Room Last Night?,” with Haynes performing an inspiring interpretive dance as the song rumbled to a close. Then the backdrop went black and the stage remained still for almost half a minute.  At this point the venue reeked of B.O. and smoke, thanks to a smoke machine filling the room with a thick fog.

Coming back for an encore, Leary confided in the crowd: “Normally we’re this really good rock and roll band [who] plays normal shit…it takes special people to come see us!” Their encore, lasting almost 20 minutes, was full of monster solos from each member, and more deafening psychedelic freak outs.  It felt like a finale to one of the slasher films projected in the background, when the apparently doomed teen knows they will eventually get out alive.  The show officially ended with grinding noise, like helicopters hitting pavement, topped off with bass reverb.

Reflecting on punk, the theme of Riot Fest, and how the Butthole Surfers fit into the picture, I thought that their sound was not all-out punk, but instead their energy and ethos reflected the genre.  They took the audience for a twisted ride, razed some eardrums, and upheld their legacy of being a motley band of bizarre, discombobulated chaos, who ultimately leaves their fans satisfied.

Set list obtained by Allison Taich

Set list obtained by Allison Taich

by Kevin Mueller

14 Oct 2009

Photo by
CJ Foeckler

Calling Justin Vernon a nice guy is like saying the Rolling Stones are a good blues rock band.  They’re both whopping understatements.  Bon Iver’s frontman goes out of his way to make you feel welcome.  And the guy’s so polite that he apologizes for being so polite.  It’s this sincerity that made his performance Sunday night at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater such a treat.

Vernon’s tall tale, and now familiar, back-story has always threatened to eclipse his music (Raleigh folkie breaks up with girlfriend and band; moves back to northwestern Wisconsin hometown; locks himself in cabin for three months and composes beautiful debut album) 2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago.  But here in Milwaukee, a place where fans want to claim Bon Iver as their own, Vernon and company are calling it quits for “an indefinite amount of time.”  Not surprisingly, Vernon won’t stop thanking people.

The hiatus coincides with Vernon’s latest release with his side project, Volcano Choir, featuring the Milwaukee group Collection of Colonies of Bees.  There were murmurs of a possible invitation to the group to join him on stage, but nothing came of it.  The thought must have whirled around Vernon’s head, but it would’ve been an imposing, egotistical move.  Someone with his grace wouldn’t sideline his own band to introduce his new outfit, especially on the former’s final gig.

Vernon’s whinny falsetto has always defined Bon Iver’s sound, but it was his backing band that gave the group its ethereal beauty on Sunday.  Michael Noyce’s guitar creaked, evoking rusty, wooden doors; multi-instrumentalist Sean Carey’s quaint wind chimes opened “Lump Sum,” giving the song an eerily pastoral feel.  The two’s percussion, along with Matthew McCaughan, rang like thunder on “Skinny Love.”  During this tune, along with “Flume” and “Lump Sum,” Vernon, with unkempt hair and scraggly beard, transplanted the audience back to his solitary Eau Claire cabin.  He didn’t leave them there long, though, mixing his set with shredding solos on “Creature Fear” and “Blood Bank,” showing glimpses of his experimental side.

A staple of their live shows, Bon Iver covered The Outfield’s “Your Love,” bringing some ‘80s camp to the otherwise serene night.  “The Wolves (Part I And II)” transcendentally closed the set as the crowd repeated the line “what might have been lost,” crescendoing louder and louder into a full-out burst of energy.  As the seats rumbled it was obvious that, no matter how courteous, Justin Vernon still puts on a hell of a rock show.

The entire performance can be streamed here.

by Dave MacIntyre

13 Oct 2009

One of the greatest benefits of live band journalism/photography is the exposure you get to artists that are not yet in the mainstream. In most cases, these artists are opening acts who perform their hearts out attempting to make a lasting impression and ideally, warm up the audience for the acts that follow. Such was the case Saturday night at the El Mocambo in Toronto when the UK’s the Brakes (known as BrakesBrakesBrakes in North America due to a Philly based punk band’s claim on the truncated name) started the evening with an adrenaline boosting set of super-catchy pop songs. Fronted by former British Sea Power member Eamon Hamilton, the band formed in 2003 and has toured with the likes of Belle & Sebastian and the Killers, their experience evident both in ability and crow-pleasing interaction.

Next up was Glasgow’s We Were Promised Jetpacks, labelmates of the night’s headliner The Twilight Sad. The four-piece was immediately greeted by a wild group of cheering fans, whistling and clapping before they even had instruments in hand. They performed a tight set of shoe-gazey heart-felt melodies, all through which their fans openly sang along.

The room became electrified when headliners The Twilight Sad finally stepped on stage. After what I had just witnessed, I expected nothing short of an epic performance. Musically, the band sounded equally good live as when studio produced, covering songs from both Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and the recently released Forget The Night Ahead, but their stage presence lacked the group unity the two previous bands exemplified. Band member interaction was virtually non-existent as each performer stood in expressionless stoicism throughout the entire show, with the exception of singer James Graham who, in his attempt to convey the angst and melancholy of the lyrics, sang on his knees and, at times, beat the drum set with his own stick. His whole performance felt too contrived, unconvincing and was more distracting than anything. Looking behind me to gauge how the rest of the room might be feeling, I wasn’t surprised to see the crowd had thinned considerably and those who were still there didn’t appear to be really into it either. By the end of the set, which concluded with a solid five minutes of feedback from the strings and Graham standing motionless staring off into space, I was ready to go home as well.

by Thomas Hauner

12 Oct 2009

Rosanne Cash performed for a sold-out crowd Saturday night at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn to celebrate the release of her latest album, The List.  The album, like Ms. Cash’s own repertoire, spanning both genres and epochs, is a selection of songs from a list of 100 that her father, Johnny Cash, presented to her in 1973 as a rudimentary syllabus of country, or rather American, songs.  Her set drew heavily from the new re-interpretations while mixing in her own classics as well.  The crowd (equal parts inebriated yuppies and nostalgic boomers) was excitable yet polite, holding their collective breathes for poignantly delicate numbers like “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” where her guitar danced and curtsied with John Levinthal’s, and “500 Miles.”  Other numbers like “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Motherless Children” became haunting spirituals over guitar, Ms. Cash’s strong vocals beguiling each with gentle vibrato.  However her set wasn’t all downbeat dirges and laments:  “Heartaches by the Number” possessed country-twang and “Radio Operator” imbued both her father’s ruggedness and army career.  The best song of the evening—and Ms. Cash’s proclaimed favorite on the The List—was “Long Black Veil,” its underlying darkness ruefully exhumed.  During the encore Ms. Cash drew from her father’s songbook, playing “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” and forgetting the third verse while her band vamped behind her.  It wasn’t a tell of her own age, but revealing her daughter’s request for a list of 100 essential songs was.

by Dave MacIntyre

8 Oct 2009

After what seemed like an interminable wait for the sound check to complete, New York City rockers The Bravery took the stage to an anxiously waiting crowd at Toronto’s Opera House on Tuesday night.  It was well worth the wait.  The rich sound unleashed right from the get go was nothing short of monumental and worthy of a stadium-sized sound system.  Lead vocalist Sam Endicott strutted all over the stage sporting a white suit over a prison-stripe undershirt, completing the look with a white flower in his hair.  His voice was reminiscent of The Cure’s early era Robert Smith, a feature that complements the rock/electronica sound of the band.  It wasn’t until Endicott had half a dozen songs tucked away that he stopped to breathe and share with fans a story about the now-closed Brooklyn bar, Magnetic Field, a place the band once liked to frequent.  He added that their next song was about that place and launched into their hit “Believe” much to the delight of the wildly clapping crowd.  They kept the flow of songs steady and energetic for the rest of the set which included the current radio single “Slow Poison” as well as “Time Won’t Let Me Go”, and introduced some new material from their much anticipated upcoming album Stir The Blood.  An already great performance was capped off with a brilliant version of “Honest Mistake” and a short but sweet three-song encore.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article