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Saluting the Most Prophetic – and Persecuted – American Band of All Time

Today, on the nation’s birthday, what would be more appropriate than a shout out to the best rock band this country’s ever produced? In the forty-plus years since the Dead Kennedys released their debut album, pretty much all of frontman Jello Biafra‘s dire dystopic scenarios have been facilitated by digital technology in the hands of fascists. Seriously – does anybody really think “trace and track” has the slightest thing to do with public health?

What happened to the DKs was an embarrassment to this nation. Hounded by the right wing, they were put on trial on obscenity charges for including world-famous artist H.R. Giger‘s painting Penis Landscape as a poster along with their classic 1985 Frankenchrist lp. The judge in charge eventually dismisssed the case, but by then the damage was done: the band were broke and their career was over. To add insult to injury, Biafra’s bandmates later sued him for control of the group’s recorded output…and won. Biafra, undeterred, has gone on to lead numerous projects while running his improbably successful label, Alternative Tentacles Records and releasing several prophetic spoken-word albums as well.

Last year, a trio of field recordings of DKs concerts were issued as a triple live album streaming at Spotify. The first, Skateboard Party, a 1983 recording immediately predating the band’s Plastic Surgery Disasters album, was widely available on vinyl in the 80s. The Paradiso album is slightly earlier vintage, from close to the low point of the group’s career, such that there was one. The last of the three, The Farm is peak-era DKs, packed with Frankenchrist material. Obviously, the band never originally intended to release any of these, but even as they dodge stage-divers and battle sonic issues, they are a force of nature.

Although the recording quality has been digitally tweaked, it’s obvious that Skateboard Party was made with a walkman recorder that couldn’t handle the show volume. The set list is a mixed bag. The early part of is all hardcore punk material that’s so fast it’s impossible to figure out what Biafra is saying – other than his priceless between-song banter. East Bay Ray’s trebly, reverb-drenched guitar-torturing is every bit as evil as on the Plastic Surgery Disasters recordings, especially the creepy Trust Your Mechanic, a prophetic assessment of what Big Pharma would do as the Reaganites demolished government oversight.

The rhythm section snaps and crackles, bassist Klaus Flouride higher in the mix as the show goes on. Biafra’s call for audience requests is spot-on, if you know their songs. What a hilariously woke band these guys were! Biafra addresses police brutality in the spy movie-ish Police Truck; reminds that political prisoners exist here at home as well in places like Russia; and pokes merciless fun at phony outdoorsmen, tv preachers and every right wing authoritarian within earshot.

Hardcore didn’t suit this band either lyrically or politically – since so many of those bands were Reaganites or even neo-Nazis – and the Paradiso set has some of that as well. But it also has a menacingly psychedelic take of I Am the Owl, a painfully acute look at deep-state and agent provocateur evil, which the band revisit a little later with similar results in the anti-violence anthem Riot. Ray’s nails-down-the-blackboard guitar on this concert’s version of Police Truck is savage even by this band’s standards. And Bleed For Me has taken on more macabre resonance in the time since Dick Cheney and his sympathizers legalized torture in the name of blood-for-oil.

Drummer DH Peligro’s mom introduces the band for the Farm set: it sounds like a monitor mix and is the best of the three recordings. The quasi-ghoulabilly anti-vigilante tune Goons of Hazzard is a strong opener. This Could Be Anywhere, a searing portrait of suburban atomization, has only gained relevance in the past few months; this version is unexpectedly short. Soup Is Good Food is especially ghoulish; the surreal A Growing Boy Needs His Lunch connects the dots between cultural imperialism and far more lethal kinds.

Both the excoriating noise of Forest Fire and the drifting, corrosive sarcasm of Moon Over Marin remind how eclectic the band’s sound had grown by the mid-80s. They thumb their nose at macho redneck culture again with Jock-O-Rama, and little later, in MTV Get Off the Air, they give the finger to the decade’s biggest mass-media music influencer.

The three albums also contain also multiple takes of several DKs classics including the chromatically searing anti-imperialist broadside Holiday in Cambodia – which Pepsi once tried to license for a commercial! – and the immortal Too Drunk to Fuck, which became the #1 single of the year in Finland.

How ironic that the greatest punk rock band of all time would be American.

Los Disolados Blast Into the Latino Punk Festival at Don Pedro’s This Weekend

Punk rock has been balkanized and co-opted so much over the years that it’s a wonder there are any bands left who are true to the fearless, funny, politically-fueled spirit that made punk so much fun and so relevant in the first place. But there are. Sometimes you have to look for them. One good place to find a bunch of them this weekend is Don Pedro’s, where there’s a latino punk festival happening this Friday and Saturday. The Friday night lineup starts at around midnight and includes shorts sets by AtruthNamatay sa ingay, Boston’s Los Disolados and Chicago’s Autonomy.

Los Disolados’ new album, sarcastically titled Bonus Trax, is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The power trio includes guitarist Ghandi G, guitarist/drummer Roberspierre and bassist Mateo W. Everybody in the band contributes vocals; lyrics are in Spanish and as gleefully grim as you would expect. The first track, Atentado Terrorista opens with a blare of sampled martial brass-band music and then the band kicks in with a chromatically-charged menace. The vocals blast back and forth; you can imagine the crowd at a show roaring “terrorista” back at them. Then there’s a icy, echoey guitar solo.

The band gives Profecia Malparida a hard-hitting midtempo minor-key intro and then hits a machinegunning sprint, then goes back again. No Humano is another slow-then-lickety-split number with a blend of watery and gritty guitars. Dusted is noisy and really short, as is the band’s signature song, Disolados. The cut before that, Maquina de Guerra is the most oldschool.

On one hand, songs about terrorist attacks, drug damage, inhumanity, war machines and inscecapable solitude have all been done before: you might be able to find one of each on a random UK Subs album from the 80s. On the other hand, Los Disolados put a lot of imagination into their songs and have a sound that doesn’t rip off a thousand older bands. And their music reflects the state of the world we live in. If you’re not comfortable in that world, you’re not alone. If that’s not punk rock, nothing is. Bring your friends and make new ones at Don Pedro’s this weekend.

A Good Noisy Punkish Night Coming Up This Saturday at Hank’s

There’s a cool quadruplebill at Hank’s on Saturday night, the second of January. It’s as if somebody said, “Let’s find four bands who know who the Dead Kennedys and Joy Division were, but don’t rip them off wholesale.” Creepy chromatics, minor keys and no fear of noise seem to be the themes this particular evening. The Heaps – who aren’t as hard to find on the web as you might think, and do a cool, noisy post-DKs thing, and have an organ in the band – open the night at 8:30, followed at 9:20 by the funniest and most original act on the bill, Sex Scheme, then ominously swirling lo-fi keys/guitar/drums unit the Hot Solids at around 10, then speedmetal band Elefantkiller at 11. Shows like this are reason to stay optimistic in the midst of ongoing real estate bubble-related devastation: that there are four punkish bands like this still in town, and that there are still places to see them (in this case for a measly five dollar cover) testify to the tenacity of the people of this city. Just wait til after the bubble bursts – gonna happen, folks!

The Heaps have a cool “demo tape” available as a free download at Bandcamp, although the cassette is worth owning. They like short songs. Funeral parlor Eraserhead organ kicks off the first cut, Amoeba Brain, then the bass and guitar punch in and blast up to doublespeed and back and forth. Deranged is a really good, hard-hitting mostly instrumental number where the drums gather steam and then everything suddenly falls apart. Kid Sin sounds like Metallica if that band could swing and their albums didn’t have such sterile production. Wool – which might or might or might not be about crack – has a really catchy, tumbling verse, then hits a slow, doomy interlude.

Wrist/Willows sounds like a catchier Sex Scheme, finally reaching the point where the band just lets their haphazard vamp implode. Ruin kicks off with some delicious Bach organ and then makes swaying punk rock out of it – how cool is that? The concluding cut, Magnet is the shortest and most hardcore thing here.

Sex Scheme also have a couple of free eps at Bandcamp. The most recent one follows a recent live setlist, the songs segueing into each other with a noisy, careeningly menacing early Joy Div/Warsaw feel. Have My Child is pretty twisted, screeching with feedback as the band stomps along. “Push your head into the mattress and have my child,” the singer insists. Hey Jesus follows the same kind of vamping, feedback-infested stomp : by now, it’s obvious that the dude is either completely trashed or trying hard to sound drunk and doing a pretty good job of it. Put Your Priest on My Leash – a song that needed to be written, huh? – has fuzzier bass and a twisted story that slowly comes together. Gratification is like the Joy Div cover of Sister Ray, but about a tenth as long. The final cut, Sleazy Doctor circles around a catchy. trebly blues hook that the early Stooges could have used: this creep likes to watch, maybe do something more. It’s a fun song.

The Hot Solids, led by vocalist Drea Mantis and multi-instrumentalist Michael Merz, have a Reverbnation page with several tracks that bring to mind jagged postpunk bands like Live Skull, Come and Pere Ubu. Likewise, Elefantkiller have a few machinegunning tracks up at Reverbnation – and a welcome awareness of how messed up the world is.

Tuneful, Noisy Intensity from Millsted

Millsted are way more tuneful and interesting than you’d expect a band who unassumingly call themselves “noise hardcore punk” to be. They’ve got a new album, Harlem – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show at Bowery Electric at 9:45 on July 18.

The album’s opening track, Perfume begins with a squall of icy high feedback and sheets of reverb, then Pete Belloli’s machinegun drums kick in along with the menacing, chromatic stomp from Christopher Carambot and Robert Dume’s guitars. It builds to a long, raging tremolo-picked peak that brings to mind Noir Desir or some of Jello Biafra’s more metal-flavored projects. Frontman Kelvin Uffre delivers a literally explosive ending before bassist Samuel Fernandez winds it out with a creepy little solo riff.

They keep the chromatic intensity going with Coyote, veering between a biting stadium rock pulse and a noisier, sideswiping sound. Benghazi is slow and deliciously abrasive in a vintage Live Skull/peak-era Sonic Youth vein, with twin reverb-drenched guitar lines that disintegrate into a skin-peeling of eerie, chilly textures.

The album’s best song, Televangelist brings back an uneasy, hammering pulse, built around murderously direct East Bay Ray-style horror-surf riffage that spirals out in acidic sheets of reverb, hits a misterioso interlude and then rises again. Raunchula opens with screechy feedback and then hammers along with SY-ish downstroke guitar: the way the two guitarists pair off midway through, one adding a funky edge, the other wailing up and down on the strings, is a cool touch.

Las Casas is a characteristically assaultive mashup of hardcore, prog and noiserock, ending with a nonchalantly savage pickslide. The album’s longest track, Seafoam Lovers, doesn’t mesh. The long drony outro is cool, but it feels like the band is just phoning it in up to there – New Order ripoffs are obviously not their thing. The rampaging, cumulo-nimbus closing track, Gypsy brings a headbanging focus. We need more good, loud, uncompromising bands like Millsted. Maybe the best thing about this album is that it’s available on transparent vinyl: a sound mix as rich as this deserves it.

A Grim Look into the Future from HUMANWINE

Boston’s best band for the better part of a decade and now based in Vermont, HUMANWINE play important, politically insightful, exhilarating Romany-flavored punk rock and noir cabaret. They’re the closest thing to the Clash or the Dead Kennedys that we have right now. Those comparisons are especially appropriate considering that HUMANWINE (a cryptic acronym for Humans Underground Making Anagrams Nightly While Imperialistic Not-Mes Enslave) don’t just write songs about doom and despair under an all-seeing Orwellian eye. The band’s core, frontwoman Holly Brewer and guitarist/keyboardist Matthew McNiss envision an alternate future that’s NOT a corporate fascist surveillance state. Since the band came up right after the Bush/Cheney coup d’etat in 2000, their response has been venomous, and sarcastic, and articulate right from the start. They see this happening in their own country, and they take it personally. More of us should.

Right now they have a characteristically creepy, carnivalesque new album, Fighting Naked, and an ep, Mass Exodus, up at their Bandcamp page as name-your-price downloads, as ominously entertaining as they are prophetic. The music on the album is intense, and feral, and anthemic, and the message is spot-on. Are we going to be hypnotized by the “hypocritical fascist porno priests on the tv selling you shit you don’t need, ” while we let the billionaires and their multinational cartels inch us closer and closer to fullscale slavery – or are we going to join forces, all of us, delete our Facebook accounts and then give Big Brother the boot? It’s our call.

Many of the corrosively propulsive narratives here are told from the point of view of exiles and freedom fighters battling a murderous occupation. Some are set in the imaginary fascist state of Vinland, which is basically the world taken forward a few years to where every move a person makes is recorded and watched. But as Brewer reminds on the live acoustic version of the catchy, defiant protest anthem 1st Amendment, surveillance can work both ways. Who’s watching the watchers?

The first track on the album is a macabre punkmetal waltz, UnEntitled States of Hysteria, Brewer’s machinegun vocals splattering a grim tableau of life under the occupation, with a snide outro that makes the connection between medieval witch trials and this era’s demonization of so-called terrorists. The next cut, Big Brother, a Middle Eastern-tinged punk tune, is more defiant and optimistic: when the “Eye of the pyramid is keeping track of your every move, every day your thoughts are all you got – so go and do what you gotta do.”

Tumbling drums – is that Brian Viglione or Nate Greenslit? – and McNiss’ murderously growing low-register guitar fuel the title track, another creepy waltz. Wake Up is next, a sarcastic, surreal lullaby that morphs into a viciously sarcastic faux military march, followed by a punk sea chantey that offers a hint of comic relief.

“Sometimes families change…create your own,” Brewer sings coldly on the chorus of Epoch, which opens as a deliciously ominous, Britfolk-tinged number and then bounces toward Balkan musical territory in 5/4 time. Likewise, the album’s most macabre song, Worthless Ode, shifting from a morbid march to a Transylvanian dance: it’s about love during wartime, and it doesn’t end well. Another menacing waltz, Script Language sounds like Vera Beren covering Trans-Siberian Orchestra, with some brooding trumpet from the Ghost Train Orchestra‘s Brian Carpenter.

The banjo-driven Rivolta Silenziosa has a World Inferno-style noir cabaret feel, shifting uneasily between low-key and anguished. The most vivid of the Bush-era parables is the pensive, defeated, Pink Floyd-ish art-rock anthem When in Rome: “You can’t see the dead as they’re arriving – many more in the back are under flags and hiding,” Brewer intones. The album ends with a radio transmission from Vinland, the hardy few remaining trying to enjoy themselves with “an apocalyptic night on the town,” or what remains of it, Brewer taking it up and out with an operatic intensity.

The ep also includes Our Devolution Is Televised, whose recurrent mantra is “Can’t you feel the lockdown?”, and the raging, surreal Death Wish for the Impostor. These are great albums, and they’re important ones. The whole point of this music is that in times like these, you become either a hero or a zero: it falls to ordinary people like us to do heroic things. And history is on our side: there’s plenty of precedent. The Nazis weren’t defeated by a race of giants. It was people just like you and everybody else who risked their lives – and lost them, sometimes – to put an end to that particular strain of fascism. We really don’t have any other choice. Imagine what the guards at Auschwitz would have done with GPS technology.

HUMANWINE are playing the album release show for these two on June 10 at the Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass Ave. in Cambridge, Massachusetts with their acoustic side project the Folks Below opening.

The Hussy Has a Weed Seizure and They Love It

If you’re looking for something fun to do tonight, you couldn’t do much better than to go see psychedelic punk rockers the Hussy, who are playing the Parkside at around 10. The Wisconsin duo (Bobby Hussy on guitars and keys, Heather Hussy on drums) started out loud and kind of sloppy but irrepressibly fun; a couple of years and several ep’s down the road and the first thing that jumps out at you is how excellent Bobby Hussy’s guitar playing has become! Maybe it’s all the pot – the title of their new album Weed Seizure pretty much says it all. As usual a lot of these songs clock in at under a couple of minutes.

Heather sings Liar, which sounds like the UK Subs doing garage rock. Bobby, who handles most of the lead vocals, sings FUDje, which brings back memories of the Dead Milkmen but with with way ballsier guitars. SFB (i.e. Shit for Brains) could be early Violent Femmes if they’d been an electric band; Bang Bang is catchy and stomping, like Oasis doing garage punk, with a nice, offcenter bluesy guitar solo. I Don’t Really Want To is a throwback to the band’s lo-fi punk roots – the intro sounds like it was recorded on a 4-track with the needles pinned in the red. Bad Speed – a free download – and The Moon Rules #1 both reach toward a hypnotic, riff-driven Black Angels vibe, while Stab Me is a fun singalong mix of la-la pop and punk: “No, you can’t stab me in my back.” Dog Said Yeah takes the usual garage rock chord changes a little further outside -and this a Son of Sam reference?

The best songs are the longest ones, all of which push the band’s focus past straight-up punk into psychedelia. The opening track, a massive blend of dreampop, punk and metal, is a prime example. The squalling I-need-weed anthem Feeling Dry, with its noisy, resonantly echoing reverb guitar, is sort of Brian Jonestown Massacre as done by Oasis. The best song on the album is the creepy Harsh My High, which could be the Dead Kennedys with somebody other than Jello on the mic; Mind Alright (as in “make my mind all right”) has the same kind of chromatically-charged menace. If you’re openminded enough to realize that punk rock and stoner music aren’t mutually exclusive, you’ll love this band.

Mighty High’s New Album: Still Smoking

The follow-up to Brooklyn band Mighty High’s hilariously classic, satirical Mighty High in Drug City, from 2008, is hardly what you might expect. That one stumbled with a spot-on wooziness through a stoner universe populated by pilfered Ted Nugent riffs and every drug ever invented – as a Brooklyn counterpart to This Is Spinal Tap, it’s priceless. Mighty High’s latest album, Legalize Tre Bags – actually, let’s not stop at the little ones, let’s legalize ’em all! – is available on green vinyl (duh) from Ripple Music along with a download card for all the vinyl virgins. At heart, this is a punk rock record, beginning with I Don’t Wanna Listen to Yes, which from its cruel intro and the slurry Motorhead riffs the band leaps into afterward is sadly over in just a minute and sixteen seconds. Despite their metal cred, guitarists Chris “Woody” MacDermott and Kevin Overdose, bassist Matt “Labatts” Santoro and drummer Jesse D’Stills have a lot in common with the Dead Kennedys: they like short songs.

Mooche, a surprisingly straight-up punk tune, chronicles the ultimate freeloader weedhead who won’t get high on his own supply unless you’re paying for it – and if you’re going with all the way up to 241st St. in the Bronx to score with him, he wants an extra hit! The Ram, a riff-rocking tribute to “25 years of toking…I won’t quit til I take my last hit, kill off what’s left of my mind” has a twin guitar solo and then a Spinal Tap hammer-on attack. Speedcreep goes for a blend of hardcore and Motorhead, with an amusing halfspeed interlude; Tokin’ and Strokin’ has a cowbell intro and a musical joke that’s painfully obvious but still too funny to give away here. Cheap Beer, Dirt Weed shows you how much mileage you can get out of one chord and a couple of sticky riffs: “The perfect high is in my reach,” the poor guy stuck in the industrial wasteland of New Rochelle, New York insists. Likewise, Come On! I’m Holdin’, a tribute to the superior weed you find in Brooklyn, at least compared to “That weak shit in Washington Square, I had to live and learn!”

They go back to UK Subs-style punk for Drug War – “Your weed against mine!” – complete with sampled Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush “quotes” to underscore their point. Then the mockery kicks in, first with Loaded Loaded, a Molly Hatchet spoof, then the longest track here, Chemical Warpigs, an irresistible if completely over-the-top mashup of Slayer’s Chemical Warfare and Sabbath’s War Pigs. The album ends with High on the Cross, a twistedly spot-on contemplation of the ultimate drug – and the most lethal one – religion. If you like New York-centric weed jokes (“High Street/Brooklyn Bridge, Jay Street is next”), funny songs that make fun of heavy metal cliches, and purist guitar sonics – the production here is bubonically good – you’ll love this album. Can you listen to it without being high? Yes. Well, make that affirmative: as Mighty High wants you to know, Yes sucks!