REVIEW: Riot Fest 2016 Denver (Denver Westword 9/5/2016)

The Misfits and their "fucking cool" pumpkins at Riot Fest 2016 in Denver.
The Misfits at Riot Fest 2016 Denver (photo by Jeffrey Perry)

REVIEW: Riot Fest 2016 Denver
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 9/5/2016

For the past decade, Riot Fest (a three-day festival that takes place each year in Denver and Chicago) has been the place where childhood punk-rock dreams come true. For instance, two years ago outside Mile High Stadium, I got to see the Descendents tear through Milo Goes to College, which I played so many times in my Walkman as a high-school freshman in Pittsburgh that the cassette was destroyed. Last year, when Riot Fest’s Denver edition moved to the National Western Complex, I earned a new appreciation for goth trailblazers the Damned and beamed, laughed and sang along with thousands of others to the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl.”

Riot Fest, which began as a multi-venue festival at clubs and theaters in Chicago, is mostly about reveling in raucous performances by edgy, legendary bands you had no idea were still around and making pilgrimages to witness long-awaited reunions. The most anticipated reunion in the history of heavy music, arguably, took place last night in Denver, but I’ll get to that in a bit. (Read the full article at Westword.com)

NEW CHILDREN’S BOOK TACKLES THE QUESTION: “WHAT IS PUNK?” (Westword 10/28/2015)

WhatIsPunk-800x800

BOOK REVIEW: What Is Punk? (Akashic Books)
by Adam Perry for Westword 10/28/2015

My daughter, Sidney, is somewhat of a punk-rock connoisseur, at least for a Boulderite, and especially for a five-year-old. Sure, she’s obsessed with Cinderella (the princess, not the band) and digs Frozen, but “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill is near the top of Sidney’s favorite songs. Plus, when she heard the Clash’s debut album last year, Sidney unknowingly echoed many noted rock critics, scoffing, “Papa, this just sounds like the Ramones. Can you put the Ramones on?” She was even able to recognize that the theme song to PBS’s The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! blatantly rips off “Glad to See You Go.”

When I asked her to define punk rock, Sidney—one of probably very few kindergartners in Colorado who show off the Ramones posters above their beds during playdates—told me, “Punk is a sound that is awesome. Punk is loud and has loud singing. I just like it.” With Sidney’s budding music-geekdom in mind, I recently procured a copy of the new children’s book What Is Punk? and sat down for a father-daughter jaunt from Iggy through the Dead Kennedys.

Billed as “a punk primer for the youngest set,” What Is Punk? is thirty pages of colorful clay figures (by Anny Yi) and a playful recap of punk history written by Trampoline House’s founding editor, Eric Morse. It’s an especially entertaining and educational little book if you pause with your child to share a YouTube snippet each time a new band is mentioned.

One of the highlights of What Is Punk? is a scene outside CBGB in Manhattan, ostensibly in the mid-1970s, featuring cartoonish clay likenesses of members of crucial early punk-associated acts Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, the New York Dolls and the Velvet Underground. It’s all in good fun—and wonderful for any kiddo to get exposure to some of the all-time great American rock bands—except that the Velvet Underground (New York’s late-’60s alternate-universe Grateful Dead) was defunct by the time those other acts effectively gave birth to punk in the East Village, inspiring the 1977 punk explosion in England and eventually the ‘80s hardcore revolution in California.

Even more confusing is that not until three pages later do the Stooges—whose phenomenal 1970 sophomore LP Funhouse essentially invented the raw power that still defines most punk—get a mention, although the hugely influential Detroit quartet had broken up by the time CBGB began hosting the aforementioned groups, along with the Ramones.

New Children's Book Tackles the Question: What Is Punk?

Arguing over what represented the first true punk band is useless, sure, but providing a simple, accurate timeline would have been an easy task for Morse. What Is Punk? gets on track, however, when Yi’s extraordinary clay scenes move along to late-’70s England. Partly because of the amazing photos included in the Clash’s big, hot-pink eponymous biography, my daughter now loves Joe Strummer, but Yi’s incredible Sex Pistols scene in What Is Punk? piqued her curiosity about the Pistols’ brash music and “silly names.” By our second time reading What Is Punk? as a bedtime story, Sidney was already able to identify Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious by their outfits.

Yi and Morse also hit a home run with the two-page spread declaring “just like the boys, the girls came to play.” Clay figures of the Slits, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene are framed over pink wallpaper, a nice touch if you’re trying to get Disney princess-obsessed tykes into music with edge, or—as Morse writes—young women who “made a holy racket with their glitter and their grit.”

When I asked Sidney what she thought of the female-fronted bands featured in What Is Punk?, she replied, “They are weird. I like them more because they sing louder.”

Pressed for her personal review of What Is Punk?, Sidney continued, “It is really fun because it has lots of pictures of clay people. It is amazing that they can make those people. But I don’t want to play punk, because I’m shy of being with so many people I don’t know in the audience.”

The book’s succinct, effective conclusion is fantastic: “Punk is music, it’s art, it’s culture and vision. But if you really want to know punk you just have to listen.”

More than anything, Yi’s engaging clay figures (especially those depicting Milo Aukerman and Iggy Pop) represent the bulk of what enticed and educated Sidney within What Is Punk? That’s partly because Morse was so general in his description of what punk actually sounds like—“a deafening roar,” “a fresh new sound,”—until the last few pages, when the unlikely pairing of Steve Ignorant and Glenn Danzig is juxtaposed with the words “loud and fast.”

Along with adding a more straightforward, accurate timeline, it would have been helpful if Morse had used the first few pages of What Is Punk? to plainly describe not only the instrumentation and musical ethos of early punk, but also what it was a musical reaction to.  Still, What Is Punk? belongs on the bookshelves of music-loving parents, because Morse’s creative, charming narrative and Yi’s unforgettable clay scenes bring to life the genesis of a music that’s all about freedom and energy, and they do so in an amusing way that has my kid excited to travel down the many rabbit holes of punk history.

SHOW REVIEW: JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION (Westword 5/20/2015)

photo by Adam Perry
photo by Adam Perry

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Has Mastered Primal Fun
by Adam Perry for Westword 5/20/2015

Jon Spencer is prolific, taking turns in underground noise-rock and garage acts like Shithaus, Boss Hog and Pussy Galore, among others. He formed Jon Spencer Blues Explosion almost 25 years ago in New York City, and the trio has not lost an energetic step, as its nearly seamless set at the Bluebird Theater in Denver showed last night.

Dark and dynamic young opener We Are Hex – whose frenetic leader Jilly Weis somehow made the Bluebird’s cramped stage into her own wide stomping ground – provided a good prelude to Blues Explosion’s famously bass-less rave-ups by injecting generous helpings of Karen O. into flashes of the most raw, raucous shades of Samhain and early Danzig. Then, the 49-year-old Spencer, ducking and duck-walking a la David Johansen and Chuck Berry, led his funky garage-rock act (which peaked early with 1994’s classic punk-blues LP Orange and 1996’s more radio-friendly Now I Got Worry) in deftly ramming an hour and a half of music together, Ramones style, before a sweaty fifteen-minute encore. The reappearance was somehow even more driving than what came before, and included “Brenda,” “Blues X Man” and the Beastie Boys-esque fan favorite “Fuck Shit Up,” which had been requested repeatedly from deep in the crowd throughout the show.

It wasn’t always easy to tell one song from another or sometimes, in the case of a sadly shortened “Ditch,” when the next Blues Explosion song had begun. But it was easy to tell how much the trio (Spencer with twangy guitarist Judah Bauer and thumping drummer Russell Simins) enjoys playing together after all these years, still juxtaposing Spencer’s Iggy-meets-James-Brown revival antics with powder-keg rock ‘n’ roll thinner and funkier than the Stooges’ seminal Funhouse, but just as primal.

Spencer’s endearing trademark myopic name-dropping – fitting the term “blues explosion” into every spare second like Ozzy proclaiming “We love you all!” or Wiz Khalifa, early on, reminding listeners his name is Wiz Khalifa – was ubiquitous as ever, along with the diffident Bauer’s occasional Albert King flourishes and Simins’ Muppet-like frenzy. A great drinking game – though one that might end in alcohol poisoning – would be taking a shot every time Spencer said the name of his band during one of its concerts.

Simins (with his sparse one-tom, one-crash setup) was at times as forcefully grooving as John Bonham, as tastefully thrashy as Bill Stevenson and as head-bopping as anything played on Paul’s Boutique. But it was his constant dependability as the possessed Spencer’s home base – his foundation – through enjoyable flashbacks like “Wail” and unrecognizable dance-party sludge, that really impressed.

Spencer, if nothing else, is relentless, a quality that was strangely almost lost even as far back as the 550-capacity Bluebird’s bar but downright palpable up front. Blues Explosion is truly a band best appreciated so close you can see Spencer’s sweat flying around as he commandeers his theramin.

CD REVIEW: Timber Timbre “Hot Dreams” (East Bay Express, 4/8/2014)

Image

CD REVIEW
Timber Timbre Hot Dreams
by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express, 4/8/2014

On “Demon Host” — a track on Timber Timbre‘s 2009 self-titled breakthrough album — singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Taylor Kirk proved his love of both Randy Newman and Glenn Danzig as he crooned about death and hellfire over an acoustic guitar melody. That impressive track has proven to be an effective blueprint for the Canadian trio’s slow, funereal — though oddly pleasant — music. The band’s just-released fifth album, Hot Dreams, however, adds a hefty dose of weird and sexy to its haunting and whimsical sound.

The twisted instrumental “Resurrection Drive Part II” is a leftover track Kirk wrote for the 2013 movie The Last Exorcism Part II. (His score, which was rejected, will reportedly be released in its entirety soon.) The rest of Hot Dreams is dirge-y, with alternately surrealist and sensual lyrics (e.g., my two hands landed like two spiders on your knee) and a hazy, velvety synth that makes the whole album sound like the soundtrack to a spacey, slow-motion porno filmed at a funhouse in the Wild West.

Timber Timbre’s records have always sounded profoundly cinematic and melancholic, but Hot Dreams is a startling left turn for the band — luxurious and hypnotic but at times absolutely terrifying. This is surely Timber Timbre’s most impactful album to date.

 

 

REVIEW: Black Angels & Sleepy Sun in Boulder

photos by Adam Perry

The Black Angels with Sleepy Sun
Fox Theatre, Boulder
Thursday, May 5, 2011
by Adam Perry for Westword

Better Than: A Black Angels show in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, which my brother, Jeff, told me found several members of the band appearing too inebriated to perform.

REVIEW: Earlier this week at the Boulder Theater, Glenn Danzig came to town, ostensibly to show Colorado that dark, heavy rock ’n’ roll used to be relevant, exciting and, well, awesome. And last night at the Fox Theatre, as Austin’s Black Angels shrieked, stomped, thrashed and pounded, my mind kept curiously dragging me back to the old-school AC/DC anthem, “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be.” Yes, the Devil’s music—as American as apple pie, baseball and (apparently) dancing with smiles on our faces after our enemies are shot through the head—is still very much alive.

And yet, unlike Danzig—who I saw knocking smart-phones out of fans’ hands and swiping expensive cameras from journalists who’d come to cover the show Tuesday—the Black Angels are nice guys (and a fierce drummer gal) who happen to play sinister, explosive music. Music that simultaneously makes you smile and worry a few evil notes might actually rip your heart out Temple of Doom-style.

The co-ed psych-rockers’ walk-on music was the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” which made their opener, Phosphene Dream’s “Bad Vibrations,” even more pleasing to the celebratory audience, high on Cinco de Mayo partying and pre-graduation exhilaration (guitarist/singer Christian Bland was sure to mention both).

“What a cool town you guys live in,” scruffy singer Alex Maas told the capacity crowd before his group broke into “Young Men Dead,” from the Black Angels’ sizzling 2006 debut album, Passover. The tribal sludge that made the band famous a few years ago is just getting better with time, juxtaposing the Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath, the 13th Floor Elevators and the Doors. Songs like “Prodigal Son” energize fans of heavy music while setting the bodies of young psychedelia lovers in frantic motion; they also somehow make sense of Maas’ comment to me an interview three years ago that his biggest creative inspiration is “the unknown.” In a town like Boulder it’s always good to be shaken awake by lyrics that don’t just tell you everything’s gonna be alright.

Phosphene Dream, the quintet’s latest LP, marks a low point in its career, with only a few highlights, including the title track and “Bad Vibrations.” The lyrics often seem drugged-out rather than enlightened and cutting; even the aforementioned standouts are just too derivative at times—occasionally parroting “Not to Touch the Earth” and “The End”—and mixing almost whimsical ’60s surf music with the dark stuff is hit-or-miss. But in concert, although the Cinco de Mayo performance was the least impressive of the three Colorado Black Angels shows I’ve seen since 2008, barely a moment was dull.

The new songs made it obvious that, like Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire, everyone in the Black Angels can—and often does—play any instrument on the stage, which brings a sense of togetherness off of which delighted audiences hungrily feed. Plus, the whimsy of Phosphene numbers like “Yellow Elevator #2” seemed to make sense in the razor-sharp wilderness of mischievous bombast that makes Black Angels concerts special; and the focused violence of Stephanie Bailey’s Bonham-meets-Moe Tucker drumming kept the Crazy Train snug on the rails—even when a fan hit her square in the chest with a full water bottle. I’d like to see Glenn Danzig’s reaction to that one.

CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK

Personal Bias: Sleepy Sun, whose frontman Bret Constantino told me after the Fox show that talented co-lead-singer Rachel Williams quit the band recently because “she was sick of being in a band with a bunch of dudes,” played a gig with my old group The Love X Nowhere in Los Angeles about five years ago. Back then they were a smattering of UC Santa Cruz kids known as Mania.

Random Detail: Judging from the Fox’s concert calendar for the rest of May, it looks like sparse times for rock shows if you’re actually spending the summer in Boulder like I am.

By The Way: The Black Angels’ encore—“Bloodhounds On My Trail,” “You On the Run” and “Phosphene Dream”— was a flawless mini-set to itself, showcasing menacing Southern Rock with a hint of the Stooges, a swirling ceremonial dirge for 21st Century paranoids, and a truly inventive, dynamic existential buildup that, in my humble opinion, probably rivaled anything the Doors ever played. The long encore boasted some of the best material from the group’s three albums—here’s hoping someone recorded it. Where’s the “Taper’s Section” at non-jamband concerts anyway?

REVIEW: Danzig at the Boulder Theater

photos by Dane Cronin

Danzig
Boulder Theater
Saturday May 3, 2011
by Adam Perry for Westword

Better Than: Watching Jerry Only, bassist for the original Misfits—the seminal punk band fronted by Glenn Danzig, who wrote all their songs—trudge through laser-quick versions of Danzig’s classic songs while dressed like a professional wrestler. Sadly that’s what’s passed for “The Misfits” for many years.

The first time I went out to see Danzig, over a decade ago as a teenager in the Pittsburgh, Pa., of my youth, the concert was inexplicably canceled minutes before show time and I returned to my ’89 Pontiac Sunbird to find it towed. Last night in Boulder, I feared some similar fate would follow me to Colorado, but, when doom appeared in the form of a dead camera battery, local photographer Dane Cronin tapped on my shoulder just before the Satanic cacophony began and offered to use my much-coveted photo pass to provide professional-quality pictures of his own. And he even bought me a beer.

Cronin proved talented, altruistic, and even courageous, as Danzig appeared onstage just after 10pm at the Boulder Theater—flanked by Spinal Tap-worthy statues of giant skull-octopi—and literally ripped an expensive camera out of a concertgoer’s hand mid-song before handing it to a roadie. The former Misfits frontman has been known to walk into record stores and snatch bootleg recordings of the Misfits and Danzig, but Tuesday night was the first time I’ve seen him, or any other artist, prowl the crowd for cameras. It’s hard to see the point—a true metal legend, Danzig looks fine for his age (55)—but at least the guy sticks to his convictions.

Musically, Danzig’s Boulder Theater performance was surprisingly impressive, considering the departure of Danzig’s bandmates from the group’s heyday (1987-1994). After a few incomprehensible newer songs that found the audience excited to see its longtime hero but puzzled by unexceptional and unfamiliar music and lyrics, Danzig plunged deep into his treasure chest of darkly themed classics and won the crowd, many dressed in just-purchased $35 t-shirts, over easily. With the muscle-bound vocalist’s booming, vengeful voice mostly intact, “Twist of Cain” and “Her Black Wings” energized the whole building, inspiring Danzig to repeatedly give the Boulder faithful a chance to sing into his microphone, and “How the Gods Kill” provided a reminder of just how powerful and enjoyable heavy music can be.

There’s a reason Danzig—who still sports long black hair, a massive skull and horns belt buckle and a skin-tight muscle t-shirt—influenced just about every relevant heavy American band from the mid-‘80s on, from Metallica to Korn. His huge voice, equal parts Elvis and Mephistopheles, is inimitable and startlingly compelling, even today, 35 years after his debut with the Misfits and 24 years after Danzig’s eponymous debut. And his best lyrics, from the psychosexual horror of “Bullet” to the somehow soulful murder-obsessed rage of “Long Way Back From Hell,” pique the primitive American intellect just enough to remain a guilty pleasure for decades after teenhood. At least for myself and the few hundred other headbangers surrounding me last night at a venue where considerably mellower acts, such as Jolie Holland, Nick Lowe and Broken Social Scene, have treated me to some magical performances in the recent past, it was metal heaven for a while. And man, Danzig and eTown would make for an incredibly interesting evening together.



CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK

Personal Bias: It was a fun show, but in reality watching Danzig perform forceful favorites he wrote and recorded 20-25 years ago is only marginally more significant than seeing one original member of the Misfits—Jerry Only—pounce on a bunch of songs he played bass on 30-35 years ago. But I was in the Boulder Theater bathroom when Danzig broke into “Mother,” the group’s 1993 MTV hit, so maybe I missed the high moment of the evening.

Random Detail: Danzig’s current backing band, which dons matching black wife-beaters and jet-black manes of shoulder-length hair, looks like it’d be equally comfortable giving the devil sign to audiences of weight-lifter automobile enthusiasts and excelling behind the counter at a pizza parlor at the gates in Hell.

By The Way: It’s unfortunate that Danzig, a New Jersey native and comic book enthusiast who reportedly turned down a chance to play Wolverine in the X-Men movie series, may end up being best remembered not for his impressive recorded works but for amateur footage of him getting knocked out by a rival band a few years ago, which ended up on YouTube and has been viewed a million times. I mean, Johnny Cash even recorded one of his songs, for God’s sake. Either way, both his classic music and the video below are all kinds of awesome.