New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: pete mancini guitar

An Incendiary, Politically Fearless Lockdown-Era Album by One of This Century’s Funniest, Most Quotable, Pissed-Off Songwriters

Matthew Grimm‘s song West Allis topped the Best Songs of the Year list here in 2013. On the surface, it’s a clear-eyed, unsentimental account of a Wisconsin man, David Carter, whose dead body went undiscovered for four years after he’d shot himself in his own home. But as is usually the case with Grimm, there are many other levels at work here, one of them debunking the myth of how close-knit Midwestern communities actually are.

Before Grimm went solo, he fronted a raucously twangy, ferociously populist New York Americana-punk-janglerock band, the Hangdogs. That band’s 2002 release Wallace ’48 was rated best album of the year by this blog’s e-zine predecessor. Grimm’s new album Dumpster-Fire Days – streaming at Spotify – is his hardest-rocking and arguably most witheringly lyrical album in a long and incendiary career.

He opens with Salt of the Earth, which could be Steve Earle fronting Social Distortion. It’s Grimm’s What’s the Matter with Kansas:

We’re the peasants who cheered as heretics burned,
Put synagogues to the torch
Lined up to die for rich men’s right to own people,
Enforced apartheid a hundred years more
We gathered in the square to watch Black men hang
Like a Friday night football game
We’ll greenlight genocide long as some charlatan
Tells us it’s in Jesus’ name

Not quite everything here is quite as, well, grim. Tommy Keene Is Playing Kiki’s House, the album’s title track more or less, is a bittersweet look back at college life during the Reagan era. Much as it seems Grimm could already see the fascism that was coming down the pike, there’s an indominable joie de vivre here too. Compare your freshman reading and playlist to this one:

1986, Songs From the Film, JP finds it in the cut-out bin
We spin it again and again like it turned some secret key in ou restless brains
Niebuhr, Gramsci, Scruffy the Cat, Hobsbawm, Wiesel, the Mats
Social D, Marcuse, Del Fuegos, Dewey, threads that wove what we became

Aspire is more acoustic, with one of those Texas shuffle grooves the Hangdogs loved so much. It’s Grimm at his most cynically amusing: “Venture unto roads less traveled, unless you’re in the South.” Likewise, Reply Guy (The Dick Next Door) could be the Hangdogs in one of their janglier moments, a ruthlessly detailed portrait of a rightwing nut with an especially twisted secret – which turns out to be less than a secret after all.

In Be Saffiyah Khan, Grimm sends a shout-out to the woman who stared down a crowd of anti-Muslim bigots – and won. He reminds that a Nazi by any other name is still a Nazi in Nazis Agree With You, a perennially relevant broadside which also contains the album’s best musical joke.

Monument, a slow, seething number with organ behind the guitars, doesn’t namecheck Trump, but it doesn’t have to:

He vows to build a wall and paint the country red
He rips children from their mothers while they’re sleepin in their beds
There’s malice in his heart and there’s blood on his hands
We don’t need a monument to that kind of man

Grimm picks up the pace with a rare love song, Friney’s Song, and follows that with the simmering, Celtic-tinged anthem So Long, Good Luck and Fuck You:

I might not make it out alive so it’s down to you rise up
And smash the garbage system that led millions to their graves
Tell the toffs who wrecked the earth to recognize your actual worth
And shut this fucker down until they do

Stephanie King supplies harmony vocals in March, a gospel-inspired, Woody Guthrie-esque singalong for anyone who wants “to make a world of no masters and no lords.” Grimm closes the album with The Whirlwind, as prophetically vindictive a song as he’s ever written:

Did you think we’d take your hand and just go gently into a new dark age
That we’d turn our backs obeisant while you dragged our neighbors away,
That all your Russians and your fascist cult can save you from your sins
Well, count your days, open wide, and prepare to reap the whirlwind

And while we’re at it, let’s resolve that after this whirlwind is over, the world we inherit afterward – and we will – is one where guys like Grimm can play songs like this on a real stage in front of real people.

Butchers Blind Revisits Edgy, Vintage Alt-Country

You watch your friends either sell out or get pulled under by the demands of the dayjob, or the marriage and the kids, and then you don’t see them anymore. Maybe that happens to you. Do you blame them – or yourself? Do you feel bad for them – or yourself – and wish that all of you could get your old lives back, fighting the system, going out and raising hell? Butchers Blind frontman Pete Mancini contemplates those questions on his band’s debut album Destination Blues, streaming all the way through at their Bandcamp page.  He sets his plainspoken, politically aware lyrics to a guitar-driven backdrop that evokes the early 90s alt-country of bands like Wilco, part classic country, part amorphous indie rock. That Mancini would have such a spot-on political edge comes as no surprise considering that he played lead guitar on Matthew Grimm‘s latest brilliant album. A Grimm bandmate, bassist Mick Hargreaves, co-produced (with Billl Herman).

The bitter country waltz Nobody Hears What I Say Anymore sets the stage for what’s to come, and it’s not optimistic: aging ex-punk rocker watches his marriage fall apart and his thirty years of steady employment go adrift as the self-medication gets the better of him. Tear It Down addresses the same kind of doomed anomie with a more aggressive, middle-period REM-ish vibe. The wryly titled OPP is not the Naughty By Nature hit but an original that sarcastically examines other peoples’ problems (rather than pussy) with a strong nod to Wilco. By contrast, the title cut, one of the album’s musically strongest, follows a janglier, more optimistic tangent that reminds of the early days of Australian rockers the Church.

Honestly goes back to the blend of country lead guitar lines over uneasy indie changes, with a venomously sarcastic lyric:

Always have to scream to make a sound
I hear the things you say whan I’m not around
Took your left and drew blood with your right
I was counting cards in the dark,  taking my time

College Town keeps the cynicism at redline, a knowing look at how wide-eyed idealism goes to hell as graduation and then the inevitable dayjob loom on the horizon. Drowned, with its rustic Appalachian bite, is even angrier, a dis at a guy who’s sold out and thinks that makes him better than his friends from his younger, wilder days. Young Again is a lot gentler, with jangly Velvet Underground echoes.

Mancini brings the edge back again with the slow, intense 6/8 ballad  Selfish Silent Films:

Your future heaven
Is giving you hell
A repeat performance
Scripts you can’t sell

Then the band picks it up again with Enough Already Anyway, a sideways salute to a nameless rocker who was obviously an influence although they never got to meet. The album winds up with its most stereotypically indie track, Burn Up Bright (Lower East Side), told from the deliriously exhausted point of view of someone who wishes his nights out in Manhattan didn’t end so soon, waiting for the last Long Island Railroad train out of Penn Station. Butchers Blind’s next show is at the Parkside next January 9.

Matthew Grimm Gets the Crowd at Rodeo Bar to Shut Up, Sort Of

Rodeo Bar on a Friday night is not the first place in New York that you might think of for music that inspires close listening. And it wouldn’t be accurate to say that Matthew Grimm got the crowd there last night to shut up. But he did he did get them to quiet down some, and not by shushing them from the stage. He did it with his lyrics. “Nobody wants to hear a song about a little black dog,” he drawled early in the set, but an awful lot of people in the packed house did. That song, from Grimm’s lyrically rich and frequently hilarious new album Songs in the Key of Your Face, is less about the dog than it is about the kind of people who believe in a very magical furry friend who can do things like make those people immortal. “I haven’t fact-checked all of this, but it’s better than the world we know,” the Iowa songwriter deadpanned as he punched out chords on his Telecaster, backed by a tight, excellent pickup band including Butchers Blind‘s Pete Mancini on lead guitar, Mick Hargreaves on bass and a solid, four-on-the-floor drummer (was that Dave Stengel? From the far wall facing the bar, it was hard to see).

Grimm got his start in New York fronting the Hangdogs, who were playing one of their more-or-less annual reunion shows afterward (an only-in-New-York clusterfuck of bad trains, heavy pregaming and a long trek home afterward nixed any possibility of a review of that show – but here’s an idea of how it might have gone). That crew began in the mid-90s as a high-voltage bar band and ended more or less about ten years later, after the release of Wallace ’48, a brilliant, savagely political Americana rock record. Hangdogs shows were always a hang, usually a late one, Grimm assaulting the crowd with one-liners that got funnier and more vicious as the night wore on. This time out Grimm barely spoke to the crowd, obviously trying to pack as much of a musical wallop into his set as he could considering that the Rodeo usually doesn’t even have opening bands.

He opened with the scampering, anthemic Woody Guthrie’s 33rd Resolution, whose singalong tagline is “Wake up and fight!” Grimm’s songs can be witheringly cynical, but this time out there was a gleam in his eye: this is a guy whose time has come, and he knows it, and he’s been waiting for it since long before the Occupy movement existed. You wouldn’t think that a Rodeo Bar crowd would lean in to catch every line in a slow, determined polemic like The Enemy, but they did. It’s an illustration of how those in power play the divide and conquer game, pitting private sector employees against those on the public payroll. That Grimm could take such a prosaic, never mind divisive topic and make genuine, no-nonsense rock out of it speaks to his ability as a tunesmith and wordsmith. In front of a Manhattan audience who’ve been waiting to see the death of the despised Bloomberg political empire finally appear on the horizon, Grimm reflected a sense of triumph and renewal.

He brought up a pedal steel player to add some flickering honkytonk licks on a resolute cover of Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty; later in the set, Mancini’s sinuous lead lines took centerstage on a smartly edited version of the Dire Straits depression epic Telegraph Road. There were funny songs from the new album – Back Booth, a wry reflection on a hookup that never happened, and Go the Fuck Home Mindy, with its LMFAO annoying drunk girl – and the unselfconsciously hopeful One Big Union, a theme song for a real labor union somewhere in the heartland. But the best song of the night, and arguably the most harrrowing one played in a venue anywhere in New York in the past year, was the closer, West Allis. It’s a shuffling highway rock tune about a guy who leaves his job – it’s not clear whether he’s retiring or he’s been laid off – then drives home, forwards his mail, pays the bills and shoots himself. Grimm’s vocals throughout the set had been pretty matter-of-fact, but finally, at the end of the song, he cut loose. “Four years, you think someone might have noticed something gone,” he railed: see, the guy’s Wisconsin neighbors didn’t see him around much, so he wasn’t missed in “four years of unshoveled sidewalks and unmowed lawns.” Being part of society didn’t seem to matter much to him – or did it? “He made his choice, we make ours, the world endures, “Grimm intoned. But,

Maybe you’re your brother’s keeper not by code or creed or canon
But a simple hope that someone will be yours

Mancini ended the song with a single one of the plaintive guitar licks that wind up the album version. After that, even a Hangdogs show would have been anticlimactic.