This year I can’t say I saw so many amazing performances that merit separate old and new posts (but see my Televison post). Not that this was a horrible year for performances, but I have always been a tough grader. There were several tremendous individual and cumulative moments, like sweating virtually head to toe at several Thee Oh Sees shows in San Francisco, Austin (including the best show ever put on in the backyard of an Italian restaurant!), seeing Savages blow away unfamiliar crowds at the SPIN party at SXSW and at Pitchfork and not take any shit from some drunken asshole at an evening show–instead responding up with the song–don’t let the f___kers get you down.
Here are some performance highlights of 2013 not in any particular order.
JULIE RUIN -Fun Fun Fun Fest. I’m disappointed to say that I missed Kathleen Hanna’s first two acts, as the lead singer for Bikini Kill and leader of the Riotgirl movement (check out The Punk Singer documentary for what I missed). But Kathleen has beaten Lyme disease and created a feminist dance band with Kathi Wilcox and others in the Julie Ruin. Think Polystyrene leads the B-52s. Wisecracking about how she was interviewing for a tech job in Austin, Hanna looked more like she was auditioning for the lead in Hairspray in shimmying in a leotard. Really a pleasant surprise, a band that has something to say and says it in a fun way.
Follakzoid: Empty Bottle/SXSW. Hypnotic pulsing energy from Santiago, Chile. Sons of German immigrants, this band was reared on German progressive rock (or Krautrock, e.g. Kraftwerk and Can) from the 1970s. Whether playing in total darkness or with Xmas lighting they combine the German influence with South American aboriginal beats to layer distorted guitars on top of keyboards and slowly speed up from a drone to a Autobahn repetitive pulse with higher-grade intensity. While they are known in the indie/psych world, Follakzoid could probably succeed in the trance dance circuit too raising the stakes from highway and ending up with waves of distortion hurtling you into space. Totally an intense trip.
NEGATIVE SCANNER (Owl, Cole’s, Burlington, Whistler, Empty Bottle). Look no further than this new Chicago post punk band for short, sharp, furious songs that get your head nodding and feet bouncing. With influences ranging from Siouxsie and the Banshees to the Sex Pistols to bands I have probably never heard, lead singer Rebecca Flores howls while the rest of the band buzzsaws away at electric transmission wires. Next year at this time, please check “best of” music lists and you may well find this their first album (not released yet) there.
PARQUET COURTS (Pitchfork). Brooklyn brash and bratty band with simple, fast chords and comic book vocals (Stoned and Starving). The lead singes sing together, often simultaneously, with a bit of cacophony like Times New Viking, but also as sense of urgency like the Gang of Four and joy and whimsy like Jonathan Richman. One thing that is often difficult to understand is how much work it takes to sound so disorganized–and it really shows on stage, where precision and organization actually reigns. My daughter and I thought that this band would be just as fun in performing as is their recorded music, but the performance was a bit lacking–though the music wins out and is still fun and pulsing.
SAVAGES (The Main (used to be Emo’s), Easy Tiger, Lincoln Hall, Pitchfork) This is a band that you could tell would hit it moderately big and fast. An all-girl post-punk group from London featuring sharp driving and sometimes atmospheric guitars with a ferocious lead singer Jehny Beth. She is a vocalist with incredible angst and anger (think a male Ian Curtis). What amazed me was how much power she possessed that she channeled an immense, intense rage through her eyes, fists and upper body with an economy of motion while chanting such declarative songs as “shut up” and “don’t tell her.” It is hard to avert her glare, if only to watch the bassist bouncing around with her eyes closed or the slashing guitar chords of Gemma Thompson, who provides an angular haircut and stance as she pulverizes her chords. I saw them first when they did not even have an album out but delivered with energy and a new variation on the punk form I thought I had seen many times before–but the intensity, anger and seriousness, all made it seem so fresh.
BARE MUTANTS (Logan Square Street Festival): My other favorite Chicago band, featuring Jared Gummere of The Ponys. While every song is reminiscent of The Velvet Underground (Heroin or Waiting for My Man) or the Jesus and Mary Chain–you could do much worse than sound like those bands, and once in a while there seems to be a little Rolling Stones Dead Flowers thrown in for good measure. The slow, tension building repetitive guitars provide shimmering noise with feedback and echo distorting deep and depressed (though not that dark) vocals.
HUNTERS–(Subterranean, This Brooklyn band (who has recently moved to Philadelphia because it is less costly than Williamsburg) is my opening band winner of the year has the hard rockin riffs and hard ass vocals of bands like the Runaways, Donnas and Sahara Hotnights down in a good way. A little, punk, a little glam, a little heavy metal, a little electro-thrash
THEE OH SEES– (Independent-San Francisco, SXSW, Empty Bottle, FFFest) Probably one of the saddest music notes is that Thee Oh Sees is going on hiatus. But, it makes sense that after 5 years of driving the highest intensity and fastest moving train along the tracks, some break was required. Frankly, I am not sure if I saw them 6, 7 or more times this year, but the energy which Jon Dwyer and his crew bring to bear will be missed. Really, if I could just add one Thee Oh Sees show a week to my workout regimen I would be set. It will be hard to replace the breakneck speed paced Nuggets-garage-psych riffs of this San Francisco treat, which never seemed to get too old for me–even though I pretty much knew what songs were coming. The shows this year encompassed a surprisingly dispassionate home town crowd, the awesome and almost peaceful show in the backyard of Botticelli’s Italian restaurant, two very sweaty weeknights at the Empty Bottle and a great outdoor festival show in Austin where there was non-stop crowd surfing and jumping chaos. Here is a really good video of the Botticelli’s show. There must have been 40 people there, but one person recorded it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcXlAfPwbSE. This shows you that whether they are playing to 40, 400 or 4,000+ they give it their all.
BLEACHED (Subterranean, Hotel Vegas, FFFest– Although their debut album came out just this year, it seems like I have known them forever.The Clavin sisters–once and future punks from the same Smell collective club as No Age, play their sunny day jangly, driving, power pop gems about driving and boyfriends past, present, future and dead–with a Damned or Misfits cover thrown in just to remind the crowd they have cred. Their music is both perfect for an afternoon in the warm sun or a cold dive bar after midnight which is not an easy thing.
NO AGE (Schubas, FFFest) This LA two piece punk band bashed their way into hearts and souls with percussive noise and catchy riffs which sometimes lead and sometimes need to be mined through the layers of distortion. They can cram almost their entire catalog into a fiery 45 minute set.
KURT VILE–(Lincoln Hall, Mohawk) A stoner groove is the best way I can describe the laid back feeling provided by the Violators roots rock guitar jams. Whether indoors or outdoors, there is such a thick layer to his sound that carries you to and through the haze.
Deer Hunter (Metro, FFFest). While this band seems to cover multiple genres, the best two for me are the harmonic dance noise and krautrock space jams that are both part of Nothing Ever Happened and Desire Lines. Inspired by Television they delivered the best show of theirs at FFFest–delaying the show to decode Television’s riffs and throwing them in the middle of songs.
MISSION OF BURMA (Riotfest). Having seen this band several times over 30+ years I can say that I have never heard a more uncompromising band or one that plays with such relentless intensity (at least one that I can listen to). The power and propulsion of this Boston original post punk band were enough for me to throw in the towel on the rest of the day at Riotfest–why hear anything more?
JOHNNY MARR (FFFest)- Ever the mod-British hipster with a magenta velvet sportcoat (with metal buttons pinned to the lapel, of course), skinny tie, skinny jeans and an I’ve probably been drinking and I don’t give a _____attitude. His solo stuff like Upstart is pretty good, but just hearing him do “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” made my day.
Fleshtones (Fitzgerald’s)-Another band I have seen perform for more then 30 years. Still garage, fun and rock and roll, with a lot of showmanship. While in major arenas, bands use satellite stages to get close to the crowd, in this episode, Peter Zeremba the lead singer, followed by Keith Streng, the lead guitarist–leaped onto small rickety tables trusting the crowd, if not the tables to make sure they survived–and we held them up–limiting the dancing but increasing the drama.
Zombies –If there was a “real old” category, I suppose Colin Blunstone, Rod Argent and Jim Rodford (probably the oldest performer I saw this year at 72) would win, since they comprise 3/4 of the current Zombies. Though most of their set was comprised of Steely Dan sounding mellow rock, when they got down to the Zombies/Argent hits of She’s Not There, Hold Your Head Up and Time of the Season, it was a 15 minute time warp better than anything that PBS can deliver and brought back memories to when my mama rocked me in the cradle.–Rod Argent’s keyboard playing is still very strong and the vocals were right there–not bad for almost 50 years on.
Let that be my wish for all of us!