Bandemonium @ The Showbox - 1/7/99
Black Sabbath @ Key Arena - 1/12/99
D.O.A./Fastbacks/Hai Karate @ The Fenix Aboveground - 1/15/99
Meridiem @ ARO.space - 1/14/99
Sadhappy @ O.K. Hotel/Sit 'n' Spin/Sonarcy Radio - 1/14-16/99
January 7, 1999
("I Fucking Hate Alternative Rock and I Wish It Would Go Away." Alternate title to Bob Mould's "I Hate Alternative Rock." --ed.)
I knew from the start it should have been for shits and giggles and that I could handle it. I was wrong. For starters, it was a 107.7 FM (in and of itself, not an evil entity, let's get that straight) gig but since the term alternative music was co-opted in the '90s and has lost its intent, it's really not my bag. Secondly, the event tonight was a Battle of the Bands competition cleverly called Bandemonium; a sure-fire way of grating on one's nerves.
The winners were to receive a $500 cash prize and the usual illustrious awards, primarily a photo op with The End's Bill Reid. With corporate logos bombarding the Showbox walls (sponsors Pepsi, Gibson SG, Sam Goody, etc.), I felt like I was auditioning for a commercial slotted for a space between MTV's Real World or Road Rules. The first band, Sometimes Y, from Idaho, proved to have the musicianship to make another Dave Matthews Band or Counting Crows. The collective played well and proved their musicianship but didn't take it to the next level. I felt like I was stuck at Sunday School listening to the church band. I wasn't pleased. The second band was Stout from Oregon--no doubt a cerebral lot with that name. These goofy knaves had a serious identity crisis. Some would label them "eclectic"--in other words, unoriginal and having the ability to sound like each of the band member's favorite alternative acts. But Stout, don't we have one too many versions of Sugar Ray and The Red Hot Chili Peppers already?
Sometimes Y won the $500 prize. All in all, I suppose the kids had potential but I've heard more originality from street musicians or from kids tooling around in their garages. Why aren't they out here then? Because they're smart. I just hope Sometimes Y and Stout find a way to branch out and really experiment to find their own niche.
Now on to The Flys…yikes! A friend commented about the Flys' show in Seattle as appropriately stated in the opening line of the band's hit, "Got You (Where I Want You)." It basically comes down to this question: "What's the point of this?" Fronted by two brothers, Adam (vocals) and Joshua Paskowitz (vocals/rap), the two appeared onstage in a latino Double-Mint, Olsen Twinsish kind of way. The band, signed to Trauma Records, pleased the majority of the crowd, but for the most part it was pure crap. The Flys are commercial radio friendly with straight ahead "alternative" rock created by James Book (bass), Peter Perdischizzi (guitar) and Nicky Lucero (drums). Nothing new, nothing interesting. The main problem was the obvious manufactured nonsense of the Paskowitz brothers. Not only did they have the same perfectly styled hair cut, the right sized biceps that were inked with the proper tattoos, matching wife beater shirts, pretty boy mugs which sported sunglasses (Toto, we're not in L.A. anymore) (Note: It turns out the Paskowitz family founded the Black Flys eyewear company; how apropos), they also gestured in pure rock dude form (read: Beavis and Butthead). I was embarrassed for them. Then of course the hit ballad, "Got You," proved that the Milli Vanilli wool can still be pulled over audience members' heads. Obviously lip-synching, it was hard to tell whether Paskowitz brother #1 was being serious when he said, "I could never get sick of this song, I can play it for a second time." Please don't.
I was frightened. Not only was this a Bic-flicking moment for a number of cheesy couples who were at the Showbox tonight, people actually fell for this charade. These guys had so much production and effects on their voices that it took away the raw intensity of pure vocals--a real treat if you want to hear and see real singers. If folks paid attention, they would have noticed the contrasting difference when The Flys frontmen strained as they covered Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train."
If you're still interested in this band and that god-awful ballad, The Flys' debut is called Holiday Man. I can guarantee that if you wait a few months, you can get a cut-out copy of it at your favorite record store. Better yet, check the used CD joint.
January 12th, 1999
Having Mom's Black Sabbath taxi drop us off downtown at the show, we proceeded
to get some cash and load up on food for the forthcoming drinking. After carbo-loading and a trip to the local beer mart…pause…flashback to high school;
bootlegging beer at the local store and brown bagging it on the streets,
watching the concert goers, scalpers and homeless intermingle. All forms of
creatures have made it out tonight. From the spandex Trans Am drivin' glam boys,
grim reapers, metal chicks in minis, to the white leather jackets with fringe
sleeve complete with the white leather boots to boot, and tons of denim and
leather. This, I could tell, was going to be the greatest live show I had
We proceeded to drink through Incubus and most of Pantera. I had never seen Pantera live and was not too impressed with them. The 4 songs we saw seemed to have the same riff. Maybe it was the beer. We sat center stage 15 rows from the roof in the nose bleed section. Luckily they had three video screens, one on each side of the stage and a giant "Sabotaged" mirror-like screen behind Bill's kit.
Just before Sabbath came on they played rare live footage of the band with tidbits of song mixed in. Sabbath rose from beneath the stage through the fog. Bill was shirtless, the others were dressed in black and looking to hand us to our doom. Thundering out the starting of "War Pigs," thousands crammed for the stage. "War Pigs" spilled over into the heavy bass of "N.I.B." I felt sorry for the woman sitting in front of us who was passed out for most of the show. Here she is at the best live show she will ever see and she had a little too much of something. With about two songs left she sat upright and started straightening her hair.
Sabbath played really tight and loud, hammering out the tunes. Bill Ward was playing his heart out. Ozzy was hopping around havin' the time of his life, singing "I-I-I-I-I" to one verse of "Fairies Wear Boots." During "Electric Funeral" Tony displayed his unique mastery of the guitar, and I was impressed that even with the simplicity of the riffs they all came out thundering. The video screens showed crowd shots of girls on their boyfriends' shoulders flashing some skin. Great, I'm at an arena metal show! Next up was "Embryo/Into the Void," followed by "Snowblind;" both songs very monstrous and loud. Then the lights went down and we heard the bell toll. And we all know that can only mean "Black Sabbath." Ozzy yelled, "This is the first song we ever wrote." What a statement that first song made! "Iron Man" and "Children of the Grave" were child's play for them. After that the crowd roared and Sabbath said some thank you's and then left the stage to the loud disappointment of the fans.
The setting went black. Fans screaming "Black Sabbath!" Lighters flickered. Sabbath re-emerged to play "Paranoid" and "Changes" as their only encores. After an hour and thirty minutes, the greatest live band to ever play disappeared into the darkness. I had witnessed something incredibly special…the greatest! Enough said, nobody can compare to Sabbath live!
photo by robert blaylock
We arrived during the opening band Hai Karate. With their Nicholas Cage
Leaving Las Vegas look-a-like singer, they played a tight set of punk 'n' roll
to many local fans dancing around. They do have potential, but need to work on
it and develop a unique style. Next up were the oldest running punk band in
town, The Fastbacks. They have a woman each on guitar and bass, one male guitarist and one revolving male drummer. The first time I ever saw D.O.A., in 82, The Fastbacks
opened for them. I admit that I haven't been too much of a fan of theirs over
the years. Their old punk style has given way to a more bubble gum punk feel.
The two best songs of the night for them were their U.K. Subs covers, "Time and
Matter," and "You Don't Belong."
D.O.A. was up next. The oldest running North American hardcore band. Now reduced to a three-piece, the older Joey Shithead was matched with two young pups. He showed the boys the energy level they needed to play to his standards, and the crowd was into the mix of the old and new songs that were cranked out. Joey played with loads of enthusiasm, ripping through "Disco Sucks," "War," "Fucked Up Ronnie," and "The Prisoner" had the male testosterone flowing in the pit. The two youngsters were enjoying themselves, keeping pace with the elder statesman. Part of the show consisted of Joey demonstrating various hockey stick movements, like the lumber jack, and slashing. For the last couple songs two of Joey's friends came out and joined in, and for one of the encores they performed a stomping cover of Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown." The last song was a Canadian drinking song in which band members chugged a beer or two or three while playing and watered some of the fans in the crowd as well.
January 14, 1999
After Meridiem announces itself succinctly with its opening number,
Percy Howard III approaches the mike and simply says, "I think you know
these guys." These guys being the reason most of the crowd was out at
ARO.space tonight. Fred Frith, pioneering guitarist who did time with
Henry Cow when a name like "Henry Cow" was as acceptable as the term
"art rock" which was applied to their music. Bill Laswell, sublime
producer and bassist extraordinaire. Charles Hayward, founder of This
Heat which showed a lot of youngsters that tape loops and synthesizers
could be cool. Well, I could write a page on each of these guys and
their accomplishments and Percy could talk for a half hour on each as
well. But, foremost for each, it has always been about music. And so,
Percy simply pointed each out and then got the hell out of the way for
them to tear through an instrumental number that moved like a cheetah
pouncing on an antelope. There is just a flurry of movement--so quick
you aren't quite sure what has just happened--but the room is shaking,
something has fallen down, and the wind has been knocked out of you.
Sorry. I had my "not worthy" moment about fifteen minutes into the show.
Neither Laswell nor Frith seemed to break a sweat the entire night. All of their motion, all of their concentration was burrowed into their fingers. Frith's hands moved like hummingbirds across his strings. (I've never seen a hand move that quickly.) His fingers danced across the frets like a sure-footed jester doing a gig across a carpet of shining coals. He pulled tones of ringing clarity, notes so tight and sharp they seemed like sparks leaping from his guitar, drones like the breath of great whales. Laswell stood silently on the other side of the stage, his fingers rippling across the bass strings as if he was counting a million marbles, one by one. (Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneight: about twice as fast as you can say that.) Or he stroked the strings for these oceans of sound that rolled over us like thick waves.
Hayward did break a sweat. But you wouldn't know it from a casual glance at him during the course of the show. Most of the time, he looked like your uncle sitting on the porch swing, moving his head back and forth to the beat on the radio in the kitchen window. Maybe he was tapping his hand on his knee to the music. Kind of laid back, kind of passing the time. Below the neck, Hayward was an unfolding explosion, his hands darting back and forth with blinding clarity on the drum kit.
In front of all this, Percy Howard kept his cool. He just stepped up to the mike and gave us the throaty croon of his voice. While he adopted a gentler tempo with his vocals, the rest of the band simply darted around him like a swarm of hummingbirds, looping and vibrating with such speed and precision that it almost seemed as if they were standing still.
I'm still stunned at the depth and density of the sound produced during that hour and a half. And, from the looks of the crowd around me, I wasn't the only one pulling my socks back on after the show. Together, paired, or even singled, when these guys come to town, you should go. It doesn't matter if they're playing the men's restroom at the Greyhound station, you will hear music as it is meant to be played: with fiery conviction and a passion for the pulse of a great rhythm.
photo by robert blaylock
It's not often that you get the opportunity to see one of your favorite bands play three nights of different music in three different venues. It's even less often that band is Sadhappy. The last few years have found the duo of Paul Hinklin (bass) and Evan Schiller (percussion, samples) playing infrequently since parting ways with sax monster Skerik. Now having teamed up with bass supra-genius Michael Manring for last year's Good Day Bad Dream (Periscope Records), these three unique musicians were out in January showcasing their formidable musical prowess under three unique circumstances.
While Manring has added a new spectrum of depth and color to the band with his bass virtuosity, the driving sound behind Sadhappy remains the dynamic interplay between Paul and Evan. Paul Hinklin's bass sound and approach to playing is wholly distinctive, and once familiar with it you can pick it out in the murkiest of sounds. His ability to simultaneously lay down the groove for a song while effortlessly working both ends of the fretboard playing lead runs is mesmerizing to both see and hear. Coupled with Evan's spot-on precision in complementing Paul's bass playing with articulate and fluid drumming, these two lay down the tracks for a formidable sound; starting, stopping, changing direction in perfect synchronization. Now add to this Manring's mastery and unique bass style and you suddenly find yourself feeling like a voyeur as you realize you're witnessing some of the best musicians around--playing for the love of their muse, completely enraptured with each other and the interplay between.
The first night found them in the lounge of the O.K. Hotel playing three sets of mostly improvised music. I walked in to hear the band meditating on Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun." Paul and Michael were trading bass lines; walking 'round, over, up and down the song's lead while Evan kept time with a waterfall of soft fills. Manring's bass sounded like a forlorn trumpet against Hinklin's heavy low end. They played a few recognizable songs off their last release, as well as "High Ball" from the forthcoming album. Paul did a couple of spoken word songs, and Michael showcased his brilliance as a bassist by performing a solo piece that was as hypnotizing with its technicality as it was beautiful with its timbre. The night ended with "Wendy's Pumpkin" off Depth Charge (1992, Periscope Records) which, in the midst of a night of improvisation, sounded a little out of place.
The second night found Sadhappy playing to a packed crowd in the bandroom at Sit 'n' Spin, concentrating more on their structured songs as they played a number of tracks off Good Day Bad Dream to a very receptive audience. "Hammering Man," "Oscar Wins the Lottery," "Oscar Gets Laid," "Oscar Goes Drinking," Maintenance Pissed," and Mingus' "II B.S.," among others. It was good to see such a large number of people come out and support Sadhappy, and it was obvious the band was feeding off the vibe. Again Manring mesmerized the room with his solo piece, then continued on to play a second number, "No Wontons for Elvis," from his latest solo release The Book Of Flame (1998, Alchemy Records).
The final night of Sadhappy's three night stand was not at a club, nor in front of an audience, but was for KCMU's radio program Sonarchy Radio--an hour of completely improvised music broadcast out over the airwaves with minimal introduction and just a short break in the middle to explain the technical aspects of the studio. The band spent an hour improvising and playing mostly ambient music whose tempo and volume would softly rise and fall, breaking into nothing but percussive sounds, then climbing back up to a more structured and up-tempo number. With vague set notes reading something like "surf music," and "everyone drum"--and with no real beginning, direction, or end--Sadhappy showcased their ability to play and present extraordinary music capable of keeping the listener's attention with its depth and virtuosity. A powerful ability indeed--and that's what Sadhappy is all about. Continually challenging not only themselves musically, but challenging the listener as well to keep up with them. Believe me, it's a ride worth taking.