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large_WaynesTopTenLUCY: According to Spotify, the song I listened to most this year was “Golden State” by John Doe. I also accomplished my goal of listening to the entire Anthology of American Folk Music without shuffling or skipping (twice). Mostly, though, even with the shamefully easy benefits of music streaming, I don’t go for the whole, new albums the year they came out. I probably didn’t listen to ten entire albums that were from this year. So, I definitely didn’t have ten albums to pick from a wide list. I have never been culturally timely. Not when I was a Beatles-crazed 9-year-old, not now when my favorite band technically hadn’t broken up yet.

Knowing that, I attempted to make a top ten list of the best 2014 tracks. It is still skewed towards the country side of things, and yeah, one pick is a reissue, but it is a feeble attempt to be as diverse as possible, while only picking songs that I listened to numerous times and actually enjoyed.

After more qualifications than any human being needs, here they are. No order, except for the top three, which should surprise nobody.

Honorable mentions:

“Golden State” by John Doe: I started off cheating hardcore! A compilation is arguably more of a cheat than even a reissue, but dammit, The Best of John Doe This Far was released in June, and I heard the song for the first time this year. It became my number one Spotify jam and earworm, so yes, it almost counts. Beautiful, basic song with love and pain metaphors sounds really good sung by John Doe — at heartfelt level of 11 — and Kathleen Edwards, who has one of those rare voice that isn’t nauseating for all of its excessive sweetness.

“Warbirds Over Hickory” by Endless Mike and the Beagle Club: Side B is a collection of orphan tracks, with this being the subtle, yet undeniable skewering of bullshit news, and bullshit War on Terror shenanigans. (Oh, Mike Miller, why don’t you turn your talents towards how much Obama sucks, since you were my circa 2006 “fuck Bush, man” kind of guy?) Endless Mike and the Beagle Club asks the question: what if the painfully earnest punk playing on the out of tune acoustic guitar in the dirty punk kitchen was really talented and hooky? And also he had a kick-ass rotating punk band, and a surprising number of tambourine and shaker players? And also, that band was everything when you hated college, hated George Bush, and sat in a lot of living rooms with a lot of beers? Side B ain’t the gem that is We Are Still at War, or my all time favorite of The Husky Tenor, but like just about everything Miller does, it has some seriously worthwhile tracks.

“Arcadian Coast” by Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua: A bootleg from like 1998 counts just as much as a compilation. Shut up. I do what I want. It was new to me!

Oh, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Dawn Landes covering Bob Dylan’s “Dark Eyes” was really good. And if it had come out in 2014, not 2013, I would pick the bootleg version of Bob Dylan singing “When I Paint My Masterpiece” because holy shit, it is perfect and I listened to it a LOT this year.

I just wasn’t made for end of year top ten lists, children. It is not my nature to be on time. Anway. Let’s proceed.

10) “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift: Here’s my nod to popularity. “Shake it Off” is Godawful, what with the sing-talk breakdown, and the disturbing kinship with “Hey Mickey!” “Out of the Wood” wants to be epic, and is anticlimactic each time. “Black Space” is weird, lyrical, fun, and catchy enough for three songs, instead of one to a half like the aforementioned Swift jams. I am not sure about techno-beat Taylor as a general rule, but I do like this one and its hilarious video. This is also the one song pick on the list from an album I haven’t heard in its entirely. See what happens when you drop Spotify, T-Swift?!

9) “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” by Against Me!: Oh, hey, Laura Jane Grace, turns out an an angry, confident punk album about struggling with being trans is awesome — lyrically and otherwise — in a way that “we signed to a major label/and now I am totally conflicted!” and even “let me be lyrically sodden about my hatred for George W. Bush” isn’t. Not since Against Me! were dirty, hard-traveling punks who wanted to be “a band that plays loud and hard every night/ and doesn’t care how many people counted at the door” have they sounded this good, and this punk.

8)  “Next Sunday” by The Secret Sisters: A fresh, retro, harmony-filled lament about a long week before a lover can be seen again. Superior to the fun, but just a little too close to “Not Fade Away”-sounding single “Rattle My Bones.”

7)  “Waltzing Will Trilogy” by Lavender Country: In a desperate stab for originality, I won’t pick the amazing and FCC-horrifying “Crying These Cock-Suckin’ Tears.” But most of this 1973 gay country album is good. It’s funny, and it’s sad — especially this track, which includes some blistering lines about forcible “fixing” of homosexuality — and it’s real music, even if the country aspect is laid on thick. Its mix of down home affectation and sincerity works bizarrely well. It’s a fascinating piece of history, and it’s also easily listenable today in shiny reissue form.

6) “Dust, Bones, Juice, and Hair” by Martha: Extremely British Belle and Sebastian/This Bike is a Pipebomb-ish/tweeish/pop-punk jam. Over just as it’s getting fun.

5) “Sweet Misery” by Mischief Brew:  It starts acoustic simple, then goes all growling symphonic in its lyrics about a masochistic love affair. Erik Petersen can sing or snarl whatever he likes at me. Let’s say this one is tied with “O Pennsylytucky” and its lines about Three-Miles Island and “Filthadelphia.”

4)  “Life of Sin” by Sturgill Simpson: It was all about Simpson’s trippy “Turtles All the Way Down” for a lot of list-makers. And that’s a solid song, and a great title. But I have to go with this other drugged-up country number. It’s paint by numbers hard livin’ turned into undeniably catchy goodness.

3) “Mexican Cowboy” by Willie Watson: Holy Jesus, Willie Watson went back in time when he parted ways with Old Crow. And that has translated to a ton of seriously stunning live performances, which can be found on Youtube. This song is basically Roscoe Holcomb’s version of the 19th century folk song, but more beautiful. Watson has officially crossed over into Ralph Stanley and Charlie Parr territory in terms of vocals that combine sweetness and an undercurrent of bagpipe-like, gut punching power.

2) “Coping Mechanism” by Shovels and Rope: Shovels and Rope at their best. Piano, drums, guitar: a blistering, raucous, magical duet about doing bad things.

1)  “The Warden” by Old Crow Medicine Show: For all the country-gloss (relatively speaking, this is still Old Crow) put on the first album sans WW, it all ends with a stunning, beautiful, reserved ballad. I don’t just adore this song because it made me cry while writing about a Florida prisoner being murdered by guards (allegedly, I guess), but the strange appropriateness of it at that moment sure helped.

Gil Landry sings lead, with the other gents singing harmony. Some simple guitar  and some basic questions sung in Landry’s deep voice with a whisper of a prison work song rhythm: “Well, the warden stands tall as he walks down the hall/puts all our lives on a shelf/holding the keys/to our misery/how does he live with himself?” A modern, folk classic, and a perfect capper to the album which began with an arguably overly light song about sexy times in prison. “The Warden” is so pure, it elevates everything that came before it on the album. It’s full to bursting with that Johnny Cash spirit of prison abolitionism, and it’s divine.

JOE: Much like the US embargo against Cuba, 2014 saw the end of my own personal embargo against “new” music. In the last ten years (or s0) I’ve purchased a total of one album: Muse’s “The Resistance”. But thanks to Spotify, I finally ran out of excuses. No longer could I casually put down artists I’d never really listened to solely based upon their popularity amongst hipsters and indie kids (I once compared Ryan Adams to the Clarks). I grudgingly combed through the “best of” lists of Spin, NME, Rolling Stone and *shudder* Pitchfork, downloading everything. I even listened to the new U2 album. And as much as I wanted to hate everything, I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of excellent artists still operating. Rock may be mostly dead, but there’s enough pop, country, hip-hop, and R&B sprinkled throughout the world that I found myself struggling to contain my list to just 10 songs.

Also receiving votes: Marry Me, Archie” by Alvvays, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, “You Are All That I Am Not” by Band of Skulls, “Down it Goes” by White Lung, “She Looks So Perfect” by 5 Seconds of Summer, “Champions of Red Wine” by New Pornographers, “Congregation” by Foo Fighters, “So Far So Good” by Sloan, “Head Underwater” by Jenny Lewis, “Fever” by the Black Keys, “Ten Tonne Skeleton” by Royal Blood.

Honorable mentions:

“Eulogy for a Rock Band” by Weezer: Once great, Weezer’s output over the last 12 years was, in a word, bad. Yet, here we are in 2014 and I am praising not only a song from their album “Everything Will Turn Out Alright in the End” but *spoiler alert* it made my top 25 of 2014. Now, as far as “Eulogy for a Rock Band” goes, it’s a twin-guitar throwback to a better time, a time before they released an album with that guy from Lost on the cover and we all hated it. Back are Rivers’ slightly flat delivery, big choruses, and twin-attack guitars. Even the production sounds more like Blue Album Weezer than Make Believe Weezer. Tell Rivers to postpone the eulogy, Weezer’s not dead yet. (But get the shovel ready in case they release another Raditude.)

“Bring Me Your Loves” by St. Vincent: Possibly the weirdest track on St. Vincent’s excellent eponymous album — and that’s saying something. The song lurches forward; St. Vincent’s robotic guitar playing trading off verses with her chanting vocals until it explodes into a chorus of huge synths. Stops. Repeats the progression. Builds. And finally throws all the elements together in a glorious cacophony of noise.

“Body of my Own” by Charli XCX: A good old fashioned ode to self-love wrapped up in an 80’s throwback. It’s catchy, bouncy and about sex, everything pop music should be.

“Telepathy” by Crosses †††: The side project of Chino Moreno (of Deftones fame), Crosses gets the benefit of being a side project. Telepathy takes the Deftones formula, ups the dreamy synth quotient, and unleashes a truly funktacular chorus. All while maintaining the ominous feel of a David Fincher movie.

10) “California (There is No End to Love)” by U2: Rolling Stone putting “Songs of Innocence” as their album of the year ended up being only marginally less controversial than their collapsed UVA rape expose. The truth is, it’s a pretty decent album and number 10 on my list. “California (There is No End to Love)” is U2 at all their bombastic best (I mean look at that title). The song finds the band venturing into new territory with the Beach Boys-inspired opening choral of “Ba-ba-bar-bara, Santa Bar-bar-a,” before launching into “peak” U2, which despite the haters, has and always will be exquisite. When the “woaah-a-oh-a-oh” begins the break into the chorus, you’ll know Bono and co. have worn down your aural defense like the breaking of so many waves on the sandy beaches of California. Just go with the flow, man.

9) “Memories of You” by Avi Buffalo: Avi Zahner-Isenberg‘s lyrics are either unabashedly explicit, or just so filled with sexual innuendos, that in the end it almost doesn’t even matter what he’s  singing about. His voice conjures memories of Wheatus (you know, “Teenage Dirtbag”), which makes the lyrical content even more disconcerting. This lurid tale is infectiously catchy, and boasts — at the “climax” of the song, natch — one of the most impressive, original guitar solos in years.

8) “High Road” by Mastodon: The riff of the year, by far. Mastodon’s “High Road” is a Mastodon song, which should paint a pretty accurate picture of what it sounds like. But their usual mixture of bludgeoning RIFFS followed by MORE RIFFS and then a bridge of RIFFS is tempered ever so slightly by the presence of alt-rock producer extraordinaire Nick Raskulinecz. The monster riffs of the verse lead to a chorus which pulls off the impressive task of being crushingly menacing and massively catchy. It’s a pop song for the Mad Max set.

7) “Pretty When I Cry” by Lana Del Rey: A funeral dirge to love, sung by a drugged out Disney Princess. Lana coos and flutters as the music builds ominously throughout the song. Finally breaking into glorious release as she goes supersonic against the backdrop of a thunderous guitar solo.

6) “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” by Against Me!: Lyrics notwithstanding, you’d have a killer punk song. But the sleek production and uptempo beat belie the obvious heavy emotional content promised in the title. When Laura Jane Grace sings “You want them to notice/The ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you/Like they see every other girl/They just see a faggot/They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick” the song’s brutal honesty knocks you back. It’s a credit to Grace that the song resonates so strongly, even  though most listeners will never have to face the same prejudices.

5) “Himalayan” by Band of Skulls: “Himalayan” is a strutting foot-stomper that throws out wave and wave of groovy riffs, glam beats, and the allure of the male/female vocal dynamic. There’s nothing too revolutionary or transcendent here, it’s just a really good rock song, and sometimes that’s enough.

4) “Lost Domain” by Tim Wheeler: Tim Wheeler of Ash (the best band you’ve never listened to) goes solo in a tribute to his father who passed away after a battle with Alzheimer’s. It’s a emotional powerhouse, packed to the brim with synths, an urgent, driving beat and the requisite “Tim Wheeler chorus”™ (i.e. anthemic). It wouldn’t feel out of place in an ’80s Cusack movie montage. But Wheeler, who has never sounded better, deftly takes the influences and molds them to his style, instead of shamelessly repackaging them. It’s a new direction for Wheeler, but he pulls if off with aplomb; more than a fitting tribute to his father.

3) “Gimme Something Good” by Ryan Adams: The perfect song. Every chord, every note, every word is exactly where it should be. In the future, the chorus will be used in thousands of movie trailers.

2) “Red is White” by Death From Above 1979: All it takes is bass and drums to drive this tale of young love gone bad. Dominated by Jesse F. Keeler’s massive bass sound, the song is immersed in a sense of foreboding that recalls the best of Queens of the Stone Age. You’ll see the tragic end coming a mile away, but with the song’s shifting dynamics and changing moods, its still one hell of a ride.

1) “Red Eyes” by The War on Drugs: As if there was any doubt. “Red Eyes” got to me early (I actually listened to the track when the album was released, not a week before I made this list,) and never let go. A deft combination of Bob Dylan, Dire Straits, and Bruce Springsteen, but packaged in a decidedly modern wrapper. Hints of songs and influences from the past well up, but the band is careful not let them dominate the proceedings. The spirit of the band is fully ensconced in the now. And the song is just really good. Classic, cruising out of town, leaving it all behind good. From the opening notes the urgency of the beat never falters as guitars, snyths and horns cut in and out around Adam Granduciel damaged croon. It’s beautiful revelatory stuff. A song for people who want to remember the past, but not relive it.

111513010.jpgIt is distressing to be a libertarian who loves both history and Americana, if only because both are so often subsidized. There’s The Oxford American, all the amazing photographs that exist thanks to the WPA, the Library of Congress, PBS documentaries, NPR shows…. My fascination with radio, after getting just a taste of it summer before last, is furthering the problem, but I have felt it at least since I loathed Cosmo and loved The OA.

There’s no market, or not enough of one for historical stuff. One upon a time, when I was growing up, the History Channel may have prioritized Hitler, but at least they showed solid, Grandpa-from-Gilmore Girls-narrated documentaries about the events of World War II. Now, instead of moving Ancient Aliens, weird rumors about cyptids, and Aliens I Saw Just Now to, say, the Hilarious Bullshit Channel (HBC) where they might belong, they push history out entirely.

I hate to say “market failure,” and yet… There are still documentaries. Sirius radio and internet radio,, and, well, podcasts can help with the feeling that that medium is dominated by Top 40 robots, or that cozy, aspirational clique over at NPR. I haven’t given up entirely or anything.

There are many easy to mock tropes of public radio, but at the same time, their music is better, and the fact that they tell tales of weird is awesome. I dislike that PBS and NPR are subsidized. The smallness of their budgets is perfect for revealing Republicans as hypocrites when they rail against the subsidies while not going after defense or Medicare, or anything substantial. Yet, the smallness of their budget, and the heartiness with which the left clings to them betrays their own pettiness, and their own deluded distrust of anything left to the market or private sector.

Still, given the opportunity, I don’t know that I would go to hell if I worked for either. Maybe the first level. Maybe just purgatory. For principled purity, then, I have to object to their existence, and I suppose the Library of Congress. For practical reasons, it’s amazing that such a thing exists as a resource. For real-world compromise reasons, I would have to live to be 500 before I need worry about a treasure trove of subsidized knowledge. At the same time, when reading this 1999 Washington City paper piece about legendary 78s collector Joe Bussard, I was pleased when I hit this passage:

They have gathered to make some digital transfers of Bussard’s 78s for a Time-Life Music project on prewar blues. Since the advent of CDs, Bussard has been in great demand as companies such as Time-Life have reissued the old music. His collection has been tapped as much as any, especially by the Yazoo label (featuring the famous Black Pattie peacock), which has put out such acclaimed sets as The Roots of Rap and Jazz the World Forgot. Thanks to these sorts of reissue projects, the sounds of the ’20s and ’30s have never been more accessible to the average record buyer.

“The important thing about Joe Bussard is that he has disseminated the music more than anybody else on earth,” says Richard Nevins, head of Yazoo and its New Jersey-based parent company, Shanachie. “He has preserved and popularized the music more than anyone, and he’s done more for the music than anyone—all the institutions are bogus nonsense. They don’t do any good at all….The asshole Library of Congress refuses to tape 78s for people, not that they have anything worth taping anyway, but here’s Bussard: If the UPS driver comes to his house to deliver a package, he won’t let him out of there ’til he plays 78s for an hour for the guy. There are people in Australia who have tapes of his entire collection.”

Perhaps the Library of Congress isn’t as bad as all that. But at the same time, Bussard is a man who picked 78s over mutual human relationships. The fact that he has a wife at all is surprising. The fact that she is second fiddle — and knows it — to thousands of country blues, early jazz, and other records is not.

Bussard is hyper-individualistic. He’s a Randian hipster who disdains everything past the ’20s in terms of jazz.  The descriptions of him as a pushy, desperate salvager of old records are not flattering. He did it because something clicked in his brain and he became obsessed. It might not make him the nicest person, but it made him a saver of history. And though it sounds like you come to his basement to listen, not to share anything you have to say, Bussard is still generous. He tapes for people. he shares what he has collected. He isn’t hording it all for the cultural apocalypse. I love that. I love that a crank can save music from turning into dust. No subsidies required, just a man with one consuming love.

charlieparrWhile watching Charlie Parr play a show on Wednesday night, I tried to count the number of people at Club Cafe. If there were 40, including bartenders, and only two of them wouldn’t stop talking, I estimated that humanity is doing pretty well. Hell, the bartender/waiters didn’t even pester during the show. For a darkened-corner, tiny, dark, acoustic venue, the level of silence was pretty damn impressive. That, sadly, made the two girls in the back and their constant buzz of conversation a lot easier to hear, and to think homicidal thoughts about.

This is not to say that the show was so dull I resorted to counting tables and then multiplying. Charlie Parr gives you a hell of a show, especially for someone armed only with guitar and occasional banjo. And the Club Cafe dug him. I haven’t seen such enthusiastic applause in a while. As my mother says, there is something awful and off about many Pittsburgh crowds. The one at X was nearly asleep. They’re too cool to clap, and too cool to shut up. At X, I never in my life had to work so hard to encore a band. And this is a punk band, people!

Ohio blues singer Roger Hoover opened, with his wife providing some strong harmonies. Hoover wasn’t as special as Parr is, but still had a lot more heart than your average white dude with acoustic guitar. He played a song about his uncle being caught in the perfect storm, which was pretty epic. Either that or my friend hadn’t yet appeared, and I was sipping the nostalgia-fuel that is Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale for the first time since halcyon Reason magazine days. But Hoover also noted that someone said the blue are inoculation against greater sadness. I dig that. And I dig that beer. And I do like the blues.

Friend R.F. showed up a little into Parr’s set. Parr has great, sophisticated blues guitar. There’s some Doc Watson elements there, but he doesn’t sing friendly like Doc often did. Parr is more huuguh, in the guts thing. His voice actually sounds more powerful and more beautiful live than it does on record. Like Willie Watson, the only other person I have seen at Club Cage, Parr can fill the room with just himself. That is a rarity. And the enthusiastic crowd response was a constant surprise, not because it wasn’t earned, but because, again, Pittsburgh.

Parr is scruffy and uncomfortable looking, with a longish beard and balding head. He dropped out of highschool in the 1980s, but he looks older than that. He’s pathologically deadpan in his delivery of in between song banter. The crowd really enjoyed his depressingly hilarious dead cat story. He never smiles.

He’s not dour, though. Now, listening to Charlie Parr on the bus has diminishing returns — not unlike Greyhound buses themselves. At first it goes with the scenery, but if you fall asleep and wake up to something called “Hogkill Blues” (which Parr played — it’s a union tale) the ache can become too much. (Old Crow Medicine Show’s Tennessee Pusher album as 4 a.m. in Baltimore soundtrack has similar problems.) But seeing him demonstrated why it’s worth it to go see someone live. They’re, you know, live. A-live.

Anyway. I can never quite be an atheist because the two girls with their endless crawl of conversation decided to take what I assume to be a smoke break right before Parr played “1922 Blues.” Judging by crowd response and Spotify listens, that’s his number one hit. It’s a good one.

On the other hand, I am merely an agnostic because the crowd wasn’t as interested in my second favorite tune, “Bonneville” from the same album. This heralded the return of the chatty twins. I had hoped they were just that bored and left.

Parr played a version of the murder ballad known sometimes as “Delia’s Gone.” He, as I had hoped, also played “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold my Body Down” as his final song before encore. He did it a cappella, which was gorgeous and powerful enough to shut up the whole cafe.

Some people might be bored by this sort of show*, but besides bringing up a pleasantly archaic shadowy corners of cafes singing the blues thing, it was also just good. Undeniable guitar, and Americana as filtered through a Minnesota man and his beard. Anybody can plug in and break enough eardrums to get folks’ attention. Doing it with just one instrument and just one man remains a particularly impressive type of incantation.

It was kind of like this, but also different.

*These people are wrong.

JohnExcene2Man, that guy is tall. We thought we were so sneaky approaching the stage from the side. But he’s just standing right in the corner. Literally everyone behind him is a foot and a half shorter. Oh well, he doesn’t seem like he’s actually a dick, just a tall guy who doesn’t realize he’s blocking eight people who he could see over anyway. But, like, how far does that tall person obligation go? He shouldn’t be sent to the way back of the room simply because he can see over 98 percent of the heads here. That wouldn’t be right.

Oh, hey, X. Yes, they’re old now, A. Old punks happen. Hey, Billy Zoom is like two feet away. He’s staring a lot at the crowd. Ugh…so…much…eye…contact. Doesn’t he know the rock star rule about not looking at anyone? This is funny, but also I don’t even look in my loved ones’ eyes, so I am going to look away. I hope A. can’t tell he sort of looks like her creepy ex. But he’s awesome, so that’s not fair.

BillyZoomOh, hey, there are a bunch of X albums in the middle I missed. Ugh, Billy Zoom is so good, that I feel guilty even liking that album that contains “Fourth of July” because he’s not even on it. I can’t hear vocals that well, maybe I should take this cotton out of my ears. Oh, never mind. Loud. Hey, vocals. Awesome. Still odd and wonderful, this clashing, cawing mixing of John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s voices.

Hey, it’s Scott Mervis from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, standing right behind me! Can he tell who I am? Maybe if I mouth the words “Scott Mervis” and “Steigerwald” he will get the idea. Hey, tall guy doesn’t seem to mind that I am kind of in front of him now. Damn, that punk couple could not be happier to be here. Neither could that older lady punk couple. So cute, the four of them. There are a lot more older people here than at any of the middle aged punk rock shows I have attended — this includes Jello Biafra, The Slits, and Stiff Little Fingers. I hate people who think it’s embarrassing that middle aged people play punk (or old people play rock and roll). I hate them. What a horrible way to live, thinking that way. Nobody should ever be embarrassed on someone else’s behalf. If I hadn’t already known that, I would have learned it from an endearing Rolling Stones article in Time a few years back. Rock until you drop dead, gentlemen. I salute you.

Hey, I kind of know this song. Hey, I don’t know this song, but God damn Billy Zoom is good at guitar. Hey, “Los Angeles”! Point of interest: Jello Biafra no longer sings “niggers” in “Holiday in Cambodia.” X keeps the word in “Los Angeles.” I had wondered.

JohnDoeMan, this crowd is so weak. Pittsburgh crowds mostly suck. I can’t believe Altar Bar actually had a no moshing sign. But then, if people really wanted to mosh, they would mosh right now — damn the man!

That movie where John Doe rides a motorcycle a lot is weird and okay, in a subpar Jim Jarmusch sort of way. That mediocre movie where Jewel played June Carter was definitely mediocre, but the casting choice of John Doe as AP Carter was inspired. I wish that was the entire movie.

Exene is a punk rock witch. I’m feeling her Rogue hair and her dress and boots. It’s all just enough, and not too much. I wish I could sit her down and explain to her that being a libertarian is awesome, but she shouldn’t believe in (baseless, Youtube-y) conspiracy theories. John Doe badly needs a haircut. If he had a bit more of a would-be rockabilly hair situation, I definitely wouldn’t be trying to gauge his handsomeness levels. (They would be clear.)

Their “Soul Kitchen” is way better than The Doors original. Man, X should totally tour with The Knitters. That would be so convenient, touring with themselves. I hope A. is having a good time. Man, maybe this is a weird bachelorette activity. At least I can constantly make the joke that if she and C. ever divorce, she can have Viggo Mortensen’s child afterwards. But look, divorced people in a band! It’s fine!

Oooh, “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene”! It is is so catchy, and is also like three times as disturbing live. But then, part of the disturbing quality is how hot John Doe is in this video:

Yeah, John Doe is now attractive because I am remembering this video. This is uncomfortable. Rape is not attractive. Not even fictional song rape. I think this song now makes him seem more attractive because he’s all sweaty and attractive in that video. He’s kind of sweaty now, too. I think that’s okay with me. Also, I think he’s now singing “no” at the end, as kind of a refrain. That’s new. Maybe that’s progress.

exceneI totally once read something about how John Doe brought flowers to his new wife and to Exene because they were both having babies in the same hospital at the same time. So, he’s probably nice in spite of the rape song.

“The last Paulene wouldn’t cooperate” is such a shoutable line, and so awful. So catchy. Fuck you, song. You’re great. (Also I gleefully sing “crushed little kids!” and “let’s lynch the landlord!” but that’s just, like, the Jello Biafra experience, man. This is more awkward for reasons.)

I don’t know a lot of these songs well, but they’re all short and rough and so good. Oh, it’s over. Oh, fuck you, Pittsburgh crowd. I have never had to work so hard to make an encore happen in my life. You paid 30 bucks for this. Enthuse, you fuckers. Enthuse.

I don’t know any of these songs, but they’re still good. Aw, John Doe leaned against Exene and it was adorable. Oh, it’s over. Damn, their songs are too short. I guess Los Angeles the album is only like half an hour long. I’ll stand aside and let the worthy people snag setlists. Man, even though there was no pit, I hope I don’t smell as terrible as I feel I do. No, I do.

Man, that was great. Let’s go again. See you in like four years, when you remember Pittsburgh exists again, X. Bands always do that: “Sorry we’ve been gone so long, Pittsburgh! This is such a great city, we’ll be back soon!” Lies.

God damn, everything just sounds good with that Billy Zoom guitar. I love punk rock. I love this controlled cacophony. I love how after a few listens, when it clicks — if it’s your music — you’ve cracked the code. It’s noise, and you can hear everything underneath it. Rock until you drop dead, fellows. Let nobody make you feel ashamed.JohnExcene

I’m still uncertain about the new Old Crow Medicine Show album — there’s some good, catchy tracks on there, no doubt, and its not as if the gents suddenly turned into Florida Georgia Line (I just learned who they are, and they’re amazingly God-awful). Still, the production is oddly unsatisfying and feels sort of heavy. Their maligned 2009 Tennessee Pusher I tend to enjoy and defend as a style experiment; and because I listened to it during my travels, so it’s very 4 a.m. in a Baltimore Greyhound station. It’s moody, and has some lovely, lonely, eerie tracks, as well as some good fleeing from the po-pos with weed fiddle jams. Compared to that,  something about Remedy feels unfinished, yet overly glossy at the same time.

I’ll delve into that later, though. The final track on Remedy is the only one with Gill Landy vocals, and it’s a sad prison tune called “The Warden.” It’s pretty on the album. And it sounds better still live, near-a capella with five-part harmonies.

Except, listen to that mother fucking crowd murmur.

And then read this glorious Gothamist rant from last week, “Why Can’t You Ever Shut Up During a Concert”. Author John Del Signore is my spirit animal.

I don’t usually feel any homicidal urges at punk shows, for obvious reasons. But any kind of show with any kind of quiet or pretty song brings them up, because people cannot shut the fuck up, and they really can’t shut the fuck up when the song is quiet enough that their equally interesting friend can hear them prattle on without them needing to put their lips inside that friend’s ear drum.

I neglected to review the Willie Watson show I attended in May, but I had long feared that I would want to slaughter the entire crowd when I saw him, because there are just too many Youtube videos with background buzz blocking out the ridiculous Watson vocals. Thankfully at the show, I was squished up enough the stage that I mostly just heard Watson, who is an amazingly dominant player for someone with just a guitar, banjo, and occasional harmonica. When he got real quiet, though, there was the obligatory “I don’t give a fuck about shutting up, because I paid 15 dollars to come here and drink beer and ruin everyone else’s enjoyment” people.

They are everywhere. But every now and then even they can be silenced. That almost — but not really, but almost — makes the rude people worth it. Sometimes someone is so good, they can silence the drunk idiots. Watson managed it for nearly all of “Rock Salt and Nails.” And, possibly in response to my fervent prayers, Ralph Stanley did it with “O Death” last year. When your playing can win a hush from the drunken, loud, self-absorbed buffoons in lawn chairs for even three or four minutes, you have done good, son. But I still wish they would stay the hell home. You can buy beer from stores, people. You really can.

IMG_2789I am not sure when it happened and which flailing body part gave me the bruise, but it currently sits very brown-yellow-purple on my upper arm, looking for all the world like a piece of stage makeup because it’s a bit too perfectly oval.

Last Monday night I mostly stayed out of the Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine mosh pit at a sparely attended Mr. Smalls show. Biafra — looking a little grayer than he did back in 2010 when I saw him last — did as he always does, which was sing newer songs which provoked polite, if sincere appreciation, and then the occasional Dead Kennedys number which brought about a more enthusiastic, cheerfully violent response.

In between songs, Biafra slipped in plenty of topical, geographically relevant rants. Former PA Sen. Rick Santorum got a reference. So did Gov. Tom Corbett. Fracking repeatedly came up. So did the Tea Party in general.

Biafra’s rants are, as always, bracing and amusing in their formulaic way. He calls the Tea Party racist, fascist whatevers, and my face takes on a bemused expression and I imagine — in the spirit of the old Conan O’Brien worst chant ever skits — yelling back instead of “yay!” something like “Yes, many Tea Party members are theocratic creeps, but some people like Rand Paul and Justin Amash have some Tea Party affiliation and they have fought for many good causes, most prominentl opposition to drones and the NSA! Furthermore…” [Booooooooo!]

Or: “I am uncertain of the science behind fracking, but human society demands trade-offs, one of which is energy that pollutes! I believe that knee-jerk opposition to fracking is making the perfect the enemy of the good! Certainly further research…” [Boooooooooooo!]

Nuance of this kind is completely antithetical to the Jello Biafra spirit. The appeal of the Dead Kennedys lay in the killer buzzsaw/surf rock guitar riffs from East Bay Ray, the solid basslines, the weird warble of Biaffra’s voice, and the very existence of songs with titles as direct as “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” and “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Subtlety, even later Clash era variety, was not their forte.

Arguably, an exception is the best Dead Kennedys song, and one of the finest punk songs of all time,  is “Holiday in Cambodia.” “Holiday in Cambodia” is a blistering, (comparatively) subtle condemnation of both Pol Pot’s slaughter and fashion radical, whining lefty college students.

It’s also the only time on Monday that I didn’t fear the mosh pit.

I’ve been at country shows too long. I now have even less pit stamina than I did at age 17, when I first stared in fear at the squished together youths going nuts for the tubby old profane Irishman Jake Burns and the rest of Stiff Little Fingers (yes, I love me some old punks). I enjoyed that show. I kept my elbows up and kept my eyes out for people bouncing out of the pit and flailing into me — and then when I heard the opening guitar for “Suspect Device” I found myself joining the joyful masochism of the pit without much thought.

Since that day, at all punk shows, this same feeling never fails to happen, provided I love the music enough. It is difficult to dance to bad music (one reason I’ve never been to a club in my life), and it is much harder to mosh to music you dislike, or even are indifferent towards. The fearless, foolish mosh urge cannot be faked or summoned at will.  Moshing is a fucking stupid activity, and it is wonderful one. And it simply is or is not. I had a hint of the desire to move with everyone else for “Chemical Warfare”, a solid tune off the Dead Kennedys’ first album. I bumped a little on the edges of the pit. I tried my hand at the non-douchey, non-punching people in the face version of hardcore dancing, but that was all.

And then, after more over the top rants from Jello, more pleasant, but unknown solo stuff, there came the familiar notes of “Holiday in Cambodia.” It was all over. I jumped in. All worries over broken glasses, gimp legs kicked, or teeth knocked out vanished in an instant. All was happy screaming along with drunk, disgusting strangers. All was the highest form of joy that music exists to bring us all. We smashed together, my friend A. — tiny and blind, and a better mosher than I am — and I tried not to sexually assault Jello Biafra when he crowd surfed on our hands. (A drunk girl asked if I believed her when she said she had groped the man in an unfortunate place. I did. I think we all did. But unlike my youthful grabbing of the leg of Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello, I did not intend to do so. It was more an earnest effort to prevent him breaking his face.)

I used to be bothered that punks and certain leftists thought I was a ring-wing scumbag — that I was never, ever going to be one of those black hoodie and Municipal Waste T-clad people at the Mr. Roberto Project, or Gilman Street. I had so many happy experiences with these strangers, and if they knew me, I would never be one of them. The music wasn’t enough to bridge the gap between us, but it felt like it should be. I knew some left anarchist kids in Pittsburgh who tolerated my occasional presence, but I was not in solidarity with them. Nor did I want to be, even then, I suppose. I have been a libertarian since I was 13. (Since I realized George W. Bush was full of shit when he said he knew everyone executed under his watch was guilty. But that hate didn’t translate into leftism, unfortunately for my teenage social life.)

I can put my fist in the air in shameless emotion, arms around sweating strangers, in a painfully earnest Defiance, Ohio pit, and then the next day go back to my internship at Reason to rake in those David Koch dollars. And as I grew older, I could laugh about that dichotomy more.  It might be more satisfying to be “part of” the scene, than to feel like I alone had that secret joke, but the more “liberty movement” (for all its flaws) I found, the less that alienation from the motivation for this music I love mattered to me. (Plus, after hearing horror stories about the East Bay anarchist scene from T., I once again think I am good. I am not a punk.)

Music is more important than politics, and I wish my politics could be translated into kick-ass song, but at the end of the day, the baggage that goes with these ideas belongs to me for two hours at a show, and then I drop it. It’s not about growing out of it. Or that those shows don’t matter. It’s just…compartmentalizing. Metal fans don’t get to go home and be wizards or orcs. I don’t get to go home and be a punk. It’s a costume — an exaggeration that feels meaningful, and comes from real anger but maybe also is pretend the way “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” or “Fuck Tha Police” is a portrait of a feeling, not a photograph.

I try to explain to my mother the joy of the mosh, but she never quite gets it. I remember distinctly a girl who was my year at Chatham trying to tell me once that she was too old for pits. She was actually two years younger than I was, but that wasn’t even the point. My annoyance stemmed from the fact that this was water from the wide river of grow the fuck up, wear business casual and heels. Certainly the mosh is not everyone’s cup of tea — and again, I don’t believe it can be forced — but the teenage perfection of it, which still feels holy, and mad, and necessary, and not political, is not something to grow out of.