post-punk gems, v. 75 — The GC5

Thanks for tuning in to Radio K-SAT after an unexpected break. I’m surfacing after wrapping up the first stage of another project (under wraps for now, but more info soon), and I’m delighted to be better acquainted now with the more recent history of punk in northeast Ohio (which is affectionately referred to as “NEO” ’round these parts. Although “neo-punk” is something else entirely.)

The GC5 (Grady Coffee 5), a Mansfield, OH quintet, got rolling in the mid-90s, released a couple LPs and an EP, and broke up circa 2003. Singer-guitarist Doug McKean is regarded by many as one of the best songwriters from the area of his generation. Their sound begins with the hard-and-fast Orange County aesthetic, but quickly takes on a bit more subtlety, especially around song structures and vocal phrasing. There’s a clear debt to Stink-era Replacements: they do an affectionate cover of “Bastards of Young” and offer a homage to Chris Mars by taking his debut album title for their 1st EP: Horseshoes and Handgrenades. Bob Stinson (RIP) would have been properly, and colorfully, impressed.

This past Saturday, GC5 alum appeared in their current form as The Boys from the County Hell (a Pogues song title) at Cleveland Calling, a fundraiser for the Joe Strummer Foundation at the Euclid Tavern. (Full disclosure: I was a late add to the bill, and read a few passages from *Stealing.*) With a line-up of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass and drums, with intermittent use of a horn section, mandolin, and accordion, BCH offered a rousing, faithful homage to The Clash–and, in the case of “Rudie Can’t Fail” and “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”–offered the crowd a more faithful homage than The Clash ever did to the songs on vinyl. As far as I know, The Clash never made room onstage for a brass section.

Boys from County Hell, Euclid Tavern, July 18, 2015.
Boys from County Hell, Euclid Tavern, July 18, 2015. (Photo by Brian Asquith.)

BCH ply their wares seasonally as a Pogues tribute band. For you NEO residents: catch them while you can! And a big shout-out to All Dinosaurs for kicking off the event and riling up the crowd. Cheers!

post-punk gems, v. 55 — The Weirdos

Happy Wednesday, folks! I’m quite enjoying We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, which along with Please Kill Me and John Robb’s Punk Rock, comprise a solid trio of punk oral histories. The book’s title is lifted from a song by The Weirdos, who were at it in early ’77, and solidified their reputation at an Orpheum show in a matter of months as the premier LA punk band du jour.

I dig the traces of surf guitar bubbling up in the mix, and the drum style that heralds the use of Burundi drums by so many UK bands in the early 80s. Oddly enough, the aforementioned show coincided with The Damned’s first visit to LA for a string of shows at the Whiskey opening for Television. Now, of course, I have less than half the story, but apparently Tom Verlaine kicked them off the bill, and they were stranded in LA without funds. But yes: a name familiar to anyone living in LA in the 80s: Rodney Bingenheimer was there at the beginning.

Thanks for tuning in!

#Replacements on my mind // the once bashful Tommy Stinson

Happy Sunday, reading people. Twitter’s abuzz with the enthusiasm over last night’s show by The Replacements – their first in 23 years in their hometown of Minneapolis. (Check out this lovely review, by Andrea Swensson, and don’t miss the fabulous photos beneath by Nate Ryan/MPR– here’s a teaser.)

tommy

I picked up Tim based on a single review, and then converted dozens of friends to its virtues, with little proselytizing. In the summer of 1987, we drove through the valley heat into SF for their performance at Fillmore and, just before the end (spring 1990, I figure) at the campus gym at UC Santa Barbara. They were great, drunk, and ever-satisfying, and in the pic for Musician magazine, taken from the back of the stage, you can see my head just beyond Paul’s knee.

My favorite memory, though, of Mats live was at Slim’s in SF, when the Tommy-led Bash & Pop appeared in 1994 (or so). I figured the name “Bash & Pop” echoed the punk ethos of getting our noise on the radio. While their debut LP, Friday Night is Killing Me, was uneven, there were a handful of gems there, and how I wish I could find that damn CD. (Timmay, do you still have it?)

Upon taking the stage, though, I realized that echo was rather distant. Rather than the “I-don’t-give-a-toss” indifference Johnny Rotten perverted from Iggy Pop, T. Stinson entered the limelight as a frontman reluctantly: much more bashful than bashing, and we were old enough in mid-twenties to appreciate the desire for affection–“never disappointed by a show of hands,” in the words of Game Theory, and why should they be? “Never Aim to Please” was a song inspired by the past, but was fully reckoned with on stage. Fun times.

Holy cow, is that a non-punk fade-out at the cadence. Maturity, like death & taxes, is inevitable, to some degree.

I’m on the radio for the first time in six years Thursdays this fall, 1700-1800, EDT, @ http://www.wobc.org/, with my show, “The Spirit of ’77.” There’ll be some punk, and oodles of fun (and errors, I’m sure. Bear with me.) I’ll check @stealingclash this week if you have any requests. Have a fantastically rockin’ week!

post-punk gems, v. 39 — The Swell Maps — DIY indeed!

Thanks for tuning in today to what I expect will be my last post for awhile. It’s been a year since Stealing All Transmissions came out in paperback, and I had initially decided to give the blog at least a year of my thoughts, ideas, and odd connections. In the meantime, my publisher’s gone kaput, and I have a couple writing projects that need more time than I’ve found in recent weeks.

Many thanks to those of you who’ve tuned in either regularly or episodically, and to offer a special shout-out to those of you who’ve weighed in and, in turn, helped sharpen my own take on the virtues and continued vitality of the era we called punk. Seeing the number of readers on the dashboard spike here and there really gave me a good jolt of pleasure week in and week out. One last bit of self-promotion, for now: on Tuesday, 10/29, I’ll be giving a talk kitty-corner from the Empire State Building at 630pm on technology, music, and fandom. It should be a hootenany. (Tix are free, but a reservation is required.)

I love the we’re-all-in-it-together aesthetic of the vocals, the foot-tapping cadence, and buzzsaw guitars up until the point where the tune offers no other possible direction but chaotic climax, dissolve, and cut. So good!

Blogging is certainly in the DIY tradition, but it took much more back in the day to create your own label, record a few tracks, and then get the discs into the shops. The Swell Maps, out of Birmingham, had been kicking around since 1972 and, circa 1976, the punk movement helped sharpen their focus. On their own Rather Records, they got 2,000 copies of “Read About Seymour” into UK shops, and forged ahead from there. John Peel, of course, hosted a recording party for them, and they churned out a couple real classics on this bit, which resonated years later in the heads of esteemed noise purveyors such as Thurston Moore, Peter Buck, and Stephen Malkmus (with whom I share a hometown connection–Stockton, CA, in the house!).

Again: thanks for tuning into radio-KSAT. If you find anything you like among the previous posts and you (terry) chime in, I’ll be sure to reply, of course. For those of you in the blogosphere. Keep up the fine work! I look forward to reading what you’re up to in the coming months!

post-punk gems, v. 38 — The Saints: not beaten to the punch

On today’s dispatch from Radio K-SAT, I’m thinking about the 35th anniversary of Sid V.’s arrest for the murder of Nancy Spungen and, on a brighter note, “This Perfect Day,” the first charting single by The Saints, out of Brisbane, Australia. Their debut single, “I’m Stranded,” is recognized as the first punk single to be released outside of the US, beating The Clash and The Pistols vinyl debuts.

The original Saints’ line-up didn’t last long, however, with bassist Kym Bradshaw jumping ship for The Lurkers in fall 1978 and, in turn, worked through a couple variations of the pop-punk aesthetic, with horns and a starker R&B influence. The turn proved sustainable, and The Saints’ most recent release, *King of the Sun,* just came out this past spring on the continent. Here’s the LP’s title track, with Bailey’s trademark vocals.

I appreciate your checking in today, and hope to see you again on Sunday. Enjoy the week!

post-punk gems, v. 38 — The Replacements’ “Black Diamond”

Thanks for taking a moment on post-punk gem day to check out my latest musings. Since folks found my claims about punk covers intriguing (thank you!), I’ll stick with this theme today, and to the twin cities, home of two of the key (post-) punk bands in the US–Husker Du and The Replacements.

I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink on the ‘Mats before (see here, here, and here) and, in checking out their first few LPs, I thought I’d find a cover before “Black Diamond,” originally a Kiss tune, of course, on their 4th effort, *Let It Be.* But that’s not the case. These guys were dedicated to original compositions, even if their stage performance was anything but composed.

That gorgeous opening rhythm guitar, all echo-y and stark, then Paul’s vocals, and drummer Chris Mars sets the tempo and bam: that big guitar crunch from Bob Stinson. Oh, fun stuff, and it stands up well over time.

If The Replacements represented the shambly and shambolic side of DIY, Husker Du were the consummate professionals, with real aspirations to make good (and good money). Their cover of The Byrds’ classic “Eight Miles High” gets a good write-up in Michael Azerrad’s *This Band Could Be Your Life,* which is a key chronicle of the DIY punk spirit between American shores. If you haven’t had your coffee yet, you might want to wait to cue up this gorgeous bit of dissonance.

I’m really delighted that you stopped at my minor outpost here on the world wide web, and hope to see you again on Sunday. Enjoy the week!

post-punk gems, v. 37 — Dalek I Love You

Welcome back to Radio K-SAT, where on Wednesdays I track down lost gems from the punk and post-punk era. Many of these underheralded tunes come from bands whose members you know from their associations with other bands — you might recognize the lead singer of Graduate, who later formed a band called Tears for Fears, which you may be familiar with (smile).

Dalek, I Love You was the brainchild of young gents out of Thingwall, and included (eventually) Alan Gill (of Big in Japan & Teardrop Explodes fame) and Andy McCluskey (who’s still kicking around with a unit called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark). The moniker represented an amalgam of Dalek, the Doctor Who cyborgs, and Darling, I Love You. It’s a unit that takes the notion of Bernard Sumner (of Joy Division and New Order fame), upon seeing the Sex Pistols for the first time, to its next extension: “I saw the Sex Pistols. They were terrible. I thought they were great. I wanted to get up and be terrible too.” It’s a raucous, synthetic aesthetic, and on “You Really Got Me” (a Kinks’ tune, yes), from May 1980, they drain it dry of the Van-Halen-infused virility from just a couple years before.

I would argue it even heralds the lounge-act qualities that David Lee Roth would embrace following his departure from Van Halen–which, as readers of *Stealing All Transmissions* know, was a key band in my youth, since they seemed to be the mirror image of The Clash, and represented all that was wrong with popular music. So, when Aztec Camera’s cover of “Jump” hit the radio in the US, it was the object of much DJ ridicule on the classic rock stations, but I savored every bar of it, even though Roddy Frame’s hair was only slightly less ridiculous than DL Roth’s mane at that point.

I dig the tuning of the lead guitar on this track, along with the sensitive piano comping during the chorus. Fun stuff!

I appreciate your checking in today, and hope to see you again on Sunday. Enjoy the week!

post-punk gems — Echo and the Bunnymen (33 1/3 years ago!)

Happy Wednesday, all.  I’m still basking the audio glow of the mini-box set of The Clash, but thinking about a different band I got turned onto back in the day: Echo and the Bunnymen. Following a trip to the UK and Europe in 1982 with the Boy Scouts of America, I returned home with a mix tape with all sorts of bands I didn’t know, including The Clash and Echo and the Bunnymen.

Two years later, just a week shy of my 16th birthday, I somehow convinced my parents to drive my buddy Brian and I to Berkeley Community Theater (60+ miles–thanks mom & dad!) to see Echo and the Bunnymen on the Ocean Rain tour. (It proved to be the soundtrack of choice when The Fleshtones were the opening band, and they did just fine, touring in support of the brilliant Hexbreaker LP. The crowd was absolutely primed for the Bunnymen when–lo! a special guest appearance by Billy Bragg, who of course no one had heard of. (Does anyone know if this night, ~9 Sept 84, represented Billy Bragg’s US debut?) He played a solo electric guitar, sang a handful of fun tracks including “The Milkman of Human Kindness” and, alas, was booed off the stage. I thought he was brilliant, but my fellow concertgoers must have imagined that the longer he was onstage, the longer the delay of the Bunnymen, so he had to go.

Brian and I secured a space just a row shy of guitarist Will Sergeant, who regarded the lot of us with a bemused grin throughout the evening. Ian McCulloch clutched the mike stand and swayed fore and aft just a few feet away, and the whole evening was sublime. The crowd pressed across the rows of seats toward the stage, sang along to mystical lyrics we could scarcely make sense of, and thoroughly enjoyed Sargeant’s effort to reproduce the string section bits on his Rickenbacker guitar. The light show must have been awesome, but I mostly remember Sergeant’s smirk, and McCulloch’s voice, delivering a perfect balance of urgency, outrage, and bemusement for the sorting out of life during adolescence.

33 1/3 years ago this week, the Bunnymen made their initial Peel Sessions recordings, which you can find below.

Have a delightful week!

Motor City Love — one measure Singapore, two measures Amsterdam

As X’s John Doe scolded many years ago, “Don’t forget the Motor City!” And, since I’ve always done as Doe commands, Detroit was on the table over a delightfully social coffee this morning, and I think our well-caffeinated imaginations have devised a proper solution to the current woes of this once-great city.

detroit  - 1

Like the word “blog,” “Motown” is a portmanteau (“motor” and “town”), and the city’s musical legacy runs deep and wide: John Lee Hooker, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Martha and the Vandellas, The Spinners, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin. Saxophonist Donald Byrd hails from Detroit, and of course, there’s the punk legacy: MC5, Iggy Pop (still got it), Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, and Suzi Quattro, with lesser-known bands such as The Necros and The Meatmen bridging the gap to the garage-rock sound of The White Stripes, The Von Bondies, and Electric Six.

Months back my dear friend John grew weary of the tepid solutions proposed by politicians and pundits alike, so here’s our proposal. Now, I’m not certain how we work out the pensions that should be paid (it’s a contract, and defended by the Michigan Constitution), but I think it’s possible.

Step one: Detroit as a geographical entity, alas, lacks natural barriers to development to the north, west, and south, and suburban sprawl thrived as the dominant paradigm in late modernity. Alas, it was much too late by the time folks realized that suburban life was long on promise and short on sustainability. With the Detroit River (and Lake St. Clair) along the east side as the natural border to Canadian neighbors, Detroit occupies a more natural location for secession. Detroit, a la Singapore, becomes a city-state.

Step two: Once the city-state is established, it can free itself from the cannabis-phobia just starting to wane in the US, and become the Amsterdam of the west, with pot salons and a plethora of bicycles. The urban garden scene of Detroit is already thriving, although the recent acquisition of 2000 lots for $600,000 by the Hantz Group may change things–we’ll see.

Urban Farm in Detroit  

(Photos courtesy of http://www.organicandurban.com/.)

The city has a rich urban cultural center, plenty of decent roadways (they’ll need to turn the street lights back on, of course), and somewhat expensive homegrown bicycles, too. (Images from Shinola and Detroit Bicycle Company, respectively, below.)

Dark Green

Of course, this blog is not advocating smoking and steering, or smoking at all. One might imagine over time, though, that dope taxes could fund pensions galore. (I hear Amsterdam’s swimming in cash.) I would simply advise that the powers that be have, like rock in the late 70s, become ossified, and that we’re due for a punk-rock-esque paradigm shift.

Best of luck to all the parties involved. There will be blood, and tears, and a solution, let’s hope. Many thanks to Sloop John B. for the inspiring conversation and stiff brew.

#postpunk gems, v. 29 — Huang Chung — yes that Wang Chung

So it’s a stiff coffee, and good morning to you, as I gather a bit o’ momentum to get the day started.

In the late spring of 1980, I was living in the San Joaquin Valley, playing 2nd-string right field for my little league team, and listening to Cheap Trick and, well, not much more. With summer commencing, I had no idea who Joy Division or Ian Curtis was and, like most Americans, I wouldn’t learn about Huang Chung before 1984 and the incredibly, well, suggestive “Dance Hall Days.” (Not even Prince was sly enough to get such a narrative on the pop charts.)

And that was part of the beauty of pop back in the day. It wasn’t easy to gather the backstory on a whole host of bands, and they would emerge on MtV for 15 minutes (or more), and then seemingly fade away. Little did I know the Huang Chung — which translates as “yellow bell” in Mandarin — had other singles in their catalog.

The other rumor going ’round was that “Wang” was the sound of the downward strum of the guitar, and “chung” was the upward strum — with no fingers on the frets, of course. With “Isn’t It About Time We Were on TV?,” Huang Chung blends elements of The Police and Frank Zappa, and the band behind Jack Hues keeps it tight. Back in the day, Sounds imagines the track to be a “jazzy version of XTC.”

That third week of June was a big one for post-punk: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” starts climbing the charts at that point, and The Clash’s “Train in Vain,” backed with “Bank Robber” (nice double-A side!), makes its way into continental record shops. Stateside, Bad Brains releases their first single, “Pay to Cum” b/w “Stay Close to Me.” Good times, good times.