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Friday, November 11, 2016

Mercury Uncovered Demo Review

Mercury Uncovered is a "bitch house sad wave" band from Pittsburgh, PA; you could also probably use terms such as no-wave, post-punk, experimental, electronic, darkwave, or some other things like that. Being outside neat categories is cooler. The band consists of Kallen, on electronics/laptop, Kristine, on drums, and Rin, on vocals. They only played their first show in April, and I attended and reviewed the second show. Despite the recent formation of Mercury Uncovered, they are soon to release a full-length album! That's awesome! Call me cynical or mean or whatever, but I'm so sick of bands that don't take themselves seriously and just putz around.


Since the full-length is not yet out, let's talk about this demo of live tracks. Right off the bat, this is awesome; I think recorded music should reflect the live sound of band. I am not a big fan of overdubs or studio trickery, though it can work well.

The cover of the demo EP is an interesting collage of images. I don't know if it has any particular meaning to members of the band, though every time I look at that bear, I chuckle a little bit. I like the gritty look, and even the font is decent, which I can't say for a lot of stuff.

The demo EP consists of three short tracks: the hallucinatory speedway "Are We in Colors", the funeral sounds of "Dreamspace", and the whirlwind dance of "Practice". "Are We in Colors" works well as the first track here; it sucks the listener into another world. Compared to the other two, this is a much faster song, and it has a druggy, cyberpunk feel to it that reminds me of films such as Red Cockroaches and Akira. The lyrics don't use a standard sort of metre or rhymes (I am also not an expert though), but it works! Usually I do like more conventional lyrics, and I think that these are a little weird. They keep drawing me in! I really like that this track is more linear instead of circular, as most songs are. There is a powerful refrain, but it doesn't occur after each verse. "Dreamspace" is my least favorite of the three, but I do still like the song. The vocals are a little low in the mix, even more so than the other tracks, and the music is less interesting. I think that this is intended based on the name and the dark tone of the lyrics, which are a little bit awkward. The final track, "Practice", is surely my favorite. The chanted vocals and dance/disco beat remind me of Sonic Youth's "Protect Me You" or Harry Pussy. I really connected to everything on this last one.


If you are able to, check out Mercury Uncovered on tour this winter into next year. They are touring with friends Het Ward (hardcore) and nØthing (noise). The album will be coming out soon too. If the demo, and their live shows, are an indicator of what's to come, I am very excited!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Guitar Wolf - Jet Rockin' Pittsburgh

On September 14th, 2016, the legendary Japanese "jet rockers", Guitar Wolf, played at the Hard Rock Cafe in Pittsburgh. I saw the band once before in March of 2012, but to see that, I had to travel all the way to Brooklyn. Since Guitar Wolf is so far away in Japan, I was super excited to see that they were playing in the United States again, and this time in the city that I live in. They are probably the most energetic band I've ever seen. I knew that this would be a good show, even if other people thought the Hard Rock Cafe was a weird venue. Since Guitar Wolf are huge fans of American rock 'n' roll, it made sense to me in a weird way.

The first band to play was Pittsburgh's Thunder Vest, who I had never seen before. They are a really solid band, sounding sort of like a combination of the Dead Boys, the Misfits, Bad Religion, and the Ramones. That might be a lot of stuff, but I'm sure you can figure it out. The frontman in the band stuck the mic down his pants a few times, and there were some cool guitar solos. Definitely, check these guys out!


I didn't know that the next band, Hans Condor, was playing the show. It was a super sweet surprise, though. The frontman was a short dude who resembled Lester Bangs. He did not look like a rock star, but his guitar playing and wild antics were jaw dropping! He jumped up onto tables and stands, threw the mic stand around after twirling it around his head, and even threw his guitar to the guitarist from Thunder Vest before catching it in mid-air on the return throw! I couldn't believe these guys; it was so cool! They are fast, garage punk like Oblivians or the Dictators.

The crowd was restless after Hans Condor's amazing set. After half of an hour, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf took to the stage wearing dinosaur masks. Guitar Wolf joined them, his mask with a greasy slick of hair. He dramatically chugged a beer into the dinosaur's mouth, creating a large pool around him as the liquid dripped from the jaws of the prehistoric beast.

Guitar Wolf had a wild sound, just like on their records. They played loud, fast, and loose, sometimes going into electrifying jams. The drummer, Toru, has the coolest style: he looks like a member of the Yakuza and moves his entire body when he plays. The bass player, U.G., really gets into the groove and does cool sweeps of his hair. Seiji, the guitarist is amazing and had a guy I met at the show come up and play guitar with them as he sang and danced. They played for an entire hour, sweating profusely.

After the show was done, and we had all gone to the merch table, Seiji returned to play his standard outro of Eikichi Yazawa's "I Love You, OK". His sloppy and out of breath playing shows a lot of heart as always, a dedication to rock 'n' roll and the fans.

After the show, I spoke with Toru and Seiji. They were both super cool. I didn't know what to expect, because Seiji always seems just like his stage presence in interviews. He was actually pretty normal, though. Toru was very humble. A woman I met outside mentioned how she had played with Guitar Wolf a long time ago, and Toru listened to her story about the original Bass Wolf, Billy, helping her sister after she had been cut by a broken bottle. I got Seiji to sign the 10" "Jet Satisfaction" record.

These guys really put all they have into their music, and they really appreciate their fans. Definitely go and see Guitar Wolf if you can.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Cheetah Chrome

On September 13th, 2016, just three days ago, I saw Cheetah Chrome play at Howlers in Bloomfield. Cheetah was in the legendary proto-punk Rocket From the Tombs with Cleveland weirdos that would go on to split into Pere Ubu and Dead Boys, Cheetah being part of the latter. The Dead Boys were fronted by the bony, gyrating Stiv Bators until they broke up in 1979, with Cheetah providing guitar alongside Jimmy Zero with Jeff Magnum and Johnny Blitz as the rhythm section. Afterwards, Cheetah moved on to doing session work, getting clean, moving to Nashville, and starting a family. The Dead Boys had a short reunion in late 2004, but it didn't last since Stiv Bators had passed away in 1990.

In 2011, I saw Cheetah Chrome play with Rocket From the Tombs. The band was great, but the opening bands were disappointing. You can read about that show here.

The show on Tuesday at Howlers was similar to the show with RFTT back then: the opening acts were not that interesting to me. I guess that's the point, - to see the big, cool touring super rockstar peeps. I think the show was a little disjointed.

The first band to play was Only Flesh, who are local to Pittsburgh. They look and sound like a nu-metal band from the same period that beget Slipknot, Disturbed, and Marilyn Manson. It was strange to see them with Cheetah, and I am not a huge fan of this stuff. I don't really like heavy syncopated metal riffs and beats, and I don't really click with BDSM lyrics that are sort of creepy at times. The thing is, even though this was strange for the show and not something I really liked, it ws cool to see. Only Flesh was really into what they were doing. The frontman does a good job; he has a powerful and charismatic presence. Throughout the set, the band got the audience involved, throwing balloons filled with glowsticks, spraying silly string, and unleashing a shower of sparks across our heads, giving Only Flesh's set a sideshow vibe. It was great! I think this band it actually really cool, even if I have sort of mixed feelings that stem from the actual sounds. It really shows when you actually care about what you are doing, especially if nobody else does.

Crash County Daredevils played second. I really dislike bands with names like that. I think you need more in a name, especially when it provokes images of tattooed muscle punk dudes, who are way into punk that they don't listen to the weirdo musick that inspired and went along with the early bands like the aforementioned Rocket From the Tombs. True to the name, Crank County Daredevils are sleaze-rockers from North Carolina with the tattooed muscle dude look. I actually liked a lot of the early songs. The vocalist realy belts out some screeching vox, but there is no sublety or dynamics - the whole set peaking in the red from start to finish. That's exactly the point though.

Cheetah Chrome and his band played last. The crowd was ready with sweaty excitement dripping. He started with "Big Cat Stomp" and then went into the pleasing "Sonic Reducer". Some guys near me started getting really rough we me, a tall lanky dude just kinda come out of nowhere and pushing me off to the side. He whipped his hair in my face until I pushed him away, but he continued pushing me and getting in my face. I punched him in the head and shoved him away; he backed down. After Cheetah and the gang were getting to the middle of the set with a bigger song that I can't recall at the moment, the lanky creep started getting in my face again like aggressively dancing at me. I told him to get his hair out of my face, and then we got in a big scuffle with my glasses on the floor and my teeth in some jerks hand. Cheetah told everybody to chill out. I stood away from those dudes, but I was on edge.

During "Amphetamine", Cheetah replaced one of the standard lines with "Stiv is shooting at the moon". He looked solemn in that moment especially, though the whole song is like that. The big dude made a point that the spot next to me was HIS spot to dance in. It was total passive-aggression. Whatever. Cheetah's band was great. My only criticism is that the other guitarist was a little too loud.


After the show, there were some more attempts to rile me up, but those guys went away for once. I got some pins and a tour poster from Cheetah, and he signed the stuff I brought. We talked a little about the RFTT show in 2012. Cheetah is fair and kind, though he is still rough around the edges. It was good to speak with him again, especially because at the RFTT show I jumped on stage to talk with him out of excitement. It was kinda rude. Anyway, I was very tired before the show, but I'm glad I went even with the bullshit.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Meghann Wright Interview

On Tuesday, May 24th, I spoke with Meghann Wright, a blues singer-songwriter on Blacktop Records. Wright will be in Pittsburgh on Friday, June 3rd at Diesel. Just in the nick of time, my pfone broke the night before the interview, so I had to call Wright from my work pfone. Being in the middle of the office made the interview a little uncomfortable for me, but we still did it.

I got in touch with Wright while she and her band were on the road from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Memphis, Tennessee where her musick is probably right at home. Originally, Wright is from Hawaii, a place very alien to me. She descirbed it as a beautiful place with a "melting pot of cultures". At the moment, she calls Brooklyn home. "I went to school in the northeast and got involved with the heavy music scene in Boston," she said. She moved to New York to pursue her growing career in musick.


Before the call, I listened to her new album, Nothin' Left to Lose. It's a little more produced than what I usually listen to, but I like the album as a whole. Not every song gels with me. The record is polished with good production; haunting organs, fuzzy guitars, and Wright's soulful vocals unite to create a quality sum. My favorite tracks are "River", the bombastic "Vacency", and the gospel-influenced "Sunshine Through the Rain". The album was recorded at two studios owned by friends, Virtue & Vice and New Warsaw. An earlier EP, included with the album, was recorded at Big Blue Meanie in New Jersey. The studios used analog equipment to create a vintage sound. Some of the tracks sound like tunes that could have been sung by Janis Joplin or Elvis Presley. Wright says that for this project, she was inspired by artists like Elvis Costello, Dolly Parton, and other musicians who are hard to pin down in one genre. Though some of the tracks reminded me of Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, Wright says that he isn't an influence at all. Nothin' Left to Lose receives a rating of Good.

The show on June 3rd will be Wright's second show in Pittsburgh. She says that she was here some time ago, but the name of the venue eluded her. "I don't often get to check out Pittsburgh," she said, "I've heard the bridges are beautiful." On the road, the band doesn't get a lot of time to tour each city, but Wright says that they like to find local record stores and cafes. I didn't get a chance to mention it over the pfone, but I hope they get a chance to go to Mind Cure or Soundcat here.

Years ago, Wright released musick on her Bandcamp and was signed to Blacktop through that page. It's cool to here of a success story like that. She recorded all of the instruments herself in a tiny apartment. At the end of the call, I asked her what advice she would have for younger musicians or artists. "I definitely think it's important to keep pushing forward," she said, "People can feel gated, so it's important to work with others. It can help you to stop feeling stuck." It's definitely worked out for her, and, the past two years, I've come to feel the same way.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Under-School of Post-Punk Lo-Fi

My friend Ocasia and I took a bus to Munhall for a sorta no-wave show at a new school/basement venue. I was excited to see the bands, especially Mercury Uncovered, who I had only seen mention of recently, and Tanning Machine, one of my favorite Pittsburgh bands. The trip to the venue was much easier than I thought it would be, though we went through Oakland and heard some students be whiny about taking the bus for one block. When we hit Munhall, everything was super run down. We walked past the emptiest pizza place I have ever seen. It was one room, about 25 by 25 feet, with pop machines and an ATM. For whatever reason, all of those things were pushed into one corner, leaving another totally bear. A few steps away, we made it to the venue.


Mercury Uncovered was the first band to play. It's an odd setup: drums, vocals, and a computer. The band really made me think of early no-wave stuff like DNA, Mars, or the first Sonic Youth record. Rin, the vocalist, was sort of shy, but it kind of added to the set in a way. The awkwardness reminded me of the smaller post-punk bands that you might find on Messthetics comps. It's very mysterious, especially in this cavernous venue. I'm playing with Mercury Uncovered on July 14th at Howler's.


We went upstairs into a super bright art space. Joey Molinaro played his grind violin stuff in one corner, moving around a lot towards the end. I think this was the weakest set I've seen him play. Something just felt off. I think the room was a little too big maybe. If nothing else, that's certainly an interesting shirt.


We returned to the basement for one of the touring bands, Divide and Dissolve. They have a cool band that's very weird. Divide and Dissolve combines elements of doom, punk, and free jazz. Just like Mercury Uncovered, there was an honesty to their band, created by the simplicity and bareness of weird song structures. It was extremely refreshing to see this in a lot of the bands at this show; stuff that is super polished can be a big turn off for me. I really like the guitarist's guitar tone (even if I hate the phrase guitar tone), because it sounded just like my guitar in Satyr/Elfheim. I've never really heard a guitar sound like that that was not mine. I always felt that people thought I had no idea what I was doing, but the guitar sounded great, which is why I play the way I do.


The next band was Eekum Seekum, also on tour. They played a nasty hardcore/grind kinda thing. It was excellent! I'm not a huge fan of those types of bands usually, but Eekum Seekum was really exciting. The vocals reminded me of Nü Sensae. The bass player and drummer were really top notch. I feel like the guitar was lacking a little bit; it should have had more punch. I got a very cool Eekum Seekum embroidered patch with a crystal ball on it after the show was done.


Big Girls played second to last. I did not really like their set. While it sounded somewhat like a K-Records riot grrl band, they seemed unprepared. Some songs seemed too jammy. I couldn't really get into the lyrics, but I did like how they used chants. I'd like to see them in the future to see what they sound like then.



Ocasia and I almost had to leave, but we were able to catch the last band, Tanning Machine. I've only seen them once before. At that show, which may be discussed at a later date, I was pleasantly surprised with their sound and stage presence, expecting it to be sort of phoned in. Tanning Machine plays a fast punk/no-wave that reaches the point of nearly crashing every other song. I'm all about that moment of near collapse in a live band, so it's super appealing to me.Tanning Machine threw Dum-Dums to the audience, which was goofy and fun. It was a great set.

I want to mention that the merch at this show was super cool. I do not remember the artist's name, but their prints and zines had a late 19th century witchcraft look to them, coloring in silver ink on black paper. I got a zine and the aforementioned Eekum Seekum patch. I did not know what to expect going in to this show, but it was a very fun night with mostly excellent musick. I hope more shows happen at the weird underground school venue, and I want to see more "fall-apart-y" post-punk type of stuff.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

I'm Against It!: A Tribute to the Ramones

flyer by Steph Neary
The first Ramones album was released on April 23rd, 1976. It's a great album. On Friday, April 22nd, 2016, I booked a tribute show to the Ramones for the 40th anniversary of that album. Ten bands played Ramones songs for 10 minutes each all night at the newish venue, Spirit. We also had a booth from the Carnegie Library with Ramones/punk media and trivia games and a DJ playing Ramones-related songs. It was a fun night.


The Weird Paul Rock Band played first. They played "Timebomb", "I Wanted Everything", "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement", "Poor Little Rich Girl", and "Durango 95". "Poor Little Rich Girl" was the only Dee Dee King song played the entire night. The set was pretty authentic to the Ramones sound, guitar-bass-drums. Weird Paul was wearing sunglasses, which got in the way for one of the songs; he had to take them off so that he could check the lyrics.


Second up was Jim Storch on his ukulele. I think a lot of people were thrown off. I heard that some of the audience anticipated the show to be one or more Ramones tribute bands, which wasn't the case. All of the bands have their own songs and do shows pretty often around the area. If some people left, too bad. Anyway, Jim did a good job; he played "Rockaway Beach", "She Talks to Rainbows", and "I Want You Around". They all sounded good, with a very cool and Ramones-appropriate lo-fi sound, especially "Rockaway Beach". I also really liked "She Talks to Rainbows", because I had never really heard it before. Jim said that he based his cover off of the Ronnie Spector version.


The new band, Beasters, played third. Beasters is composed of 2/3 of the band the Cunks and 1/3 of the band Boys. They played a doom/fuzz/noise rock that sounded like it was sung by Macho Man Randy Savage. They referred to this as caveman rock; it was an appropriate name. The songs they chose were "Beat on the Brat", "Mama's Boy", "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend", "Judy Is a Punk", and the version of "Happy Birthday" the Ramones played on The Simpsons. The songs were so distorted and weird; it was great!

pfoto by Steph Flati

My new band was next. We're called Sorry, I'm Dead from a line in the NES game Monster Party. This was our first show. We played "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?", "Glad to See You Go", and "Everytime I Eat Vegetables, It Makes Me Think of You". The second song was dedicated to some jerks I know, and the last one was for my friend Patrick. I'm really happy with the set we did, but this was the only one that I forgot to record. We might do some new versions at our practice space. Though the band was formed just for this show, we are definitely gonna be playing out some more in the coming months.


Bat Zuppel, was next, and they are great! They played a lot of the big songs: "Pinhead", "Go Lil' Camaro Go", "Outsider", and "I Wanna Be Sedated". It was a great performance, full of energy, that ended with the singer on the floor amongst pulsating feedback. I've tried to book this band a few times before, but this was the first show we actually got set up. I hope to see them some more.


SFX played sixth. They did a very straightforward set, though it lacked some energy. The songs were "Crummy Stuff", "The KKK Took My Baby Away", and two songs the Ramones covered ("R.A.M.O.N.E.S." and "Take It As It Comes"). There were a few false starts, and the band got into a small argument on stage. Some people said that the argument was intentional, to replicate the real way the Ramones were on stage, while other people told me that the argument may have been more real. Scott wore a funny wig.


The next set seems like it divided the room a bit, though the night was also getting late. If you were really just expecting all bands that sounded exactly like the Ramones, too bad for you. Anyway, Xylen Roberts played an electronic set via keyboard and loops. The songs were the more political ones: "Planet Earth 1988", "Anxiety", and "Poison Heart". I think his set was hurt a little due to all of the vocals being sampled from the original songs with the keyboard over top, but there were medical reasons behind that decision.


Middle Children was next, and they were joined by Dustin Giannopoulos on drums instead of a backing track. I hope that they do that more. Middle Children played the songs "Surfin' Bird", "Do You Wanna Dance", and "We're a Happy Family". "Surfin' Bird" was super fun because they all wore bird hats when they played it. It was a fun, upbeat, and goofy set.


Second to last, there was the Lopez, probably one of Pittsburgh's coolest bands. They played "I Just Wanna Have Something to Do", "Don't Come Close", "Howlin' at the Moon" and "Swallow My Pride"; they play the last of those songs regularly. The songs sounded good. It was cool to hear more synths being played on these songs.


The last band, Abysme confused the remaining crowd with their death metal versions of the classic Ramones songs "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World", "You Sound Like Your Sick", "You Should Never Have Opened That Door", and "I Wanna Be Well". The vocals were so phlegmy and gross, which made a lot of sense for these songs. Some people had no idea what songs were being played. I'm not a big fan of death metal, but even I thought it was a cool set.

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed that members of the band Beasters comprised 2/3 of the band Boys.