Plasmatics - Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81Plasmatics
Album Title: Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81
By Sal Serio
Posted: Jun 2017
Label: MVD Entertainment Group
(2194) Page Views
What if you took the cartoonish rock spectacle of KISS, and mixed it with carnival sideshow freak show visuals, a juggernaut of pulsating barre chords, and the primal pornographic sex appeal of Marilyn Chambers? You’d have the Plasmatics, of course. Rod Swenson, singer Wendy O. Williams’ longtime domestic partner and manager, dug deep in to his archives to reveal about 64 minutes of rare, raw, and early Plasmatics concert footage (16 songs total).
The first video, “Want You Baby”, from July 26, 1978 at CBGB in New York City, erupts like a Ramones rapid-fire pogo-stick head banger, even though the visual physical manifestation of the band was still a work-in-progress. Thankfully, merely two songs in to this video compilation (“Tight Black Pants”, 1979, also from CBGB), lead guitarist Wes Beech already sports his infamous blue Mohawk and black satin French maid’s outfit.
The rest of this DVD is from the Plasmatics heyday of 1980-1981, when the stage antics were fully realized: Wendy, with breasts covered only by two small strips of electrical tape, inciting young male hysteria when she would lay down on the edge of the stage and reach in to the audience (“Sometimes I Feel It”), mock “Police” men chasing her about the stage, cutting a Les Paul guitar in half with a chainsaw, smashing television sets and a Cadillac with a sledgehammer, and other playful acts of destruction. On “Nothing” (Pasadena 1981) Williams runs straight in to the audience and directly confronts the fans, alá early 1970s Iggy Pop. By 1981 the automobile on the stage was being outright detonated into gigantic, belching, balls of flame.
A Plasmatics concert was not as chaotic as it may have initially appeared to concert goers, in fact it was very tightly choreographed. Ultimately, the fact that the Plasmatics were decades ahead of their time is glaringly, painfully obvious, like a sharp slap across the face. Their influence can be seen across a wide spectrum of musical acts, from the stripped-down Southern raunch of Nashville Pussy, to the sci-fi Neanderthal horror shock-rock of GWAR.
Generally speaking, the audio on this compilation is very good, even if video quality is occasionally a tad lacking. The band, and Wendy, give outstanding performances. The music is tighter and more diverse than one might think, and in the early days Wendy “sang” more than her later “shouty” metal style. Beech’s guitar playing in particular is extremely competent. The end result of this viewing is a renewed appreciation of a truly original American rock ‘n roll band, with a fearless and powerful front-woman, and provides a glimpse in to why the world should always remember and respect Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics.
The Smells - Manure SpreaderThe Smells
Album Title: Manure Spreader
By Sal Serio
Posted: Jun 2017
Label: Rare Plant
(2214) Page Views
The Smells are a new-ish four-piece band from Madison, and they call their music “grain belt rock n’ roll”. They have two singers who also play guitar. Their names are Leith and James. Leslie plays bass guitar and sings. Josh provides the drumbeats. The Smells released an 8-song cassette tape called ‘Manure Spreader’. This is what I have to say about that.
The opening song is titled “1965”, and it has a fuzzy guitar sound and a catchy chorus. I liked the year 1965, because that’s when some of my earliest memories come from, like sitting on my Dad’s lap and gumming the lip on his beer bottle. But if any of you readers ever try to gum my beer bottle, I may get upset with you.
“Vitamin World” is a little more frantic, and the words are harder to understand. But often it’s a good thing when listeners can’t decipher the words. For one, it prevents them from singing along in their car like a fool. This song is under 2:00 long, and that would make Pete Townshend proud.
Things get wooden on the alt-folky “Winter Song”, which does feature lyrics that can both be understood, and probably sung along to as well. Or hummed, at the very least. I imagined hearing Jay Farrar sing this one, except Jay Farrar always sounds like his big toe hurts. I don’t think The Smells have any toes that are giving them pain.
“Cherry Bomb” is the fourth song. It is not a cover by The Runaways.
Side B starts with the song “Another Hit (In A Car)”, which, as a title, also brought back memories of my youth. But I’d bet lots of teenagers from rural areas of Wisconsin have decadent car stories to tell.
Next up is “Blow-Up Baby”, and I suppose you think that title also brings back memories for me, but you’re wrong! Besides, I’m pretty sure the lyrics are talking about a flesh-and-blood lover. This song has a decidedly “Madison rock” feel to me, and I’m not 100% certain what gives it that quality, but I feel like I am in a dingy near-east-side Madison bar when I listen to it. “Barkeep! PBR, por favor.”
Track 7 is titled “Fish”. Thank goodness it is not titled “Phish”.
The last song is “GFG”, and at first I thought this was a term that I read about in Dan Savage’s newspaper column. Which of course, led to lots of speculation what the “F” substitution could be in the phrase “good, giving, and game”. I’ll let your imagination run wild with that one. And, no, I don’t actually think this has anything to do with the song at all, except that both the tune and my speculations were fun and enjoyable.
Big Thief - CapacityBig Thief
Album Title: Capacity
By John Noyd
Posted: May 2017
Label: Saddle Creek
(2143) Page Views
Big Thief steals your heart in small ways; tossing soft, modest waltzes in traveling vagabond ballads while defenseless confessions trickled with ticklish licks, windmill trills and ghostly solos smolder in glowing emotions. Penning beautiful second-thoughts and half-caught eavesdrops into bittersweet indie-rock subplots, song-writer Adrianne Lenker brings tender strength and subtle wonder to the band’s sophomore release deploying discerning ear-worms slipped in whispers uncoiling coy joys from stair-climbing rhymes. The charming, demure, “Capacity,” packages timid sympathies with earthy verses besides purring purges blessed in acceptance for driving folk woven from corrosive commotion and smooth blues tipsy with sing-song tonics rich in wise kindness. Returning to Madison for the first time as a headliner, Big Thief plays the High Noon Saloon July 3rd with Virginia folk-singer Twain.
Franky And The Band - Austin, Texas - The Rock OperaFranky And The Band
Album Title: Austin, Texas - The Rock Opera
By Sal Serio
Posted: May 2017
Label: Round Rock Records
(2155) Page Views
Every once in a while, a package crosses my desk which catches me off guard with it’s unique and captivating presentation. And, let’s face it… in this modern age, to experience something artistic and musical that arrives from a road less traveled, is a rare and welcome event.
In this instance, the road leads to and from Austin, Texas, and the project is a concept album about Austin, paired with a companion novella based in Austin. The brainchild of this conceptual undertaking is guitarist, singer, songwriter, and arranger Fehmi Nuhoglu, known more commonly as “Franky”.
Franky composed 13 songs to describe his love for both the music of Austin, and the community itself. As diverse as Austin is, it is no wonder that these songs run through a variety of stylings, including (but not limited to) blues, Tex Mex, hard rock, country, ballads, and dance.
It’s evident that Franky sought to present the best possible performances for this project, even at the sacrifice of his own abilities. Musicians from across the USA lend their talents to these beautiful and inspirational compositions, with Franky himself only appearing on five tracks. Obviously ego was not a factor in the recording process!
The accompanying 116 page novella, “A Love Like Texas Weather”, is a fictional love story occurring in and around the city of Austin, and includes a plot line that subtlety but effectively ties in with the sequence of the concept album. If I owned a 10-gallon Stetson hat, I would tip it to Franky And The Band, and whoop and holler in appreciation… and hopefully get ‘em back for an encore.
PHO - twoPHO
Album Title: two
By Sal Serio
Posted: May 2017
(2044) Page Views
Recently in Madison to open a show for TAUK, the 7 piece horn-driven instrumental powerhouse from Minneapolis called PHO got the evening off on the right foot… well, both feet actually, as they immediately won over the Madison music freaks and got everybody off their butts and on to the dance floor. As such, I did not hesitate when asked to review the group’s new CD, their sophomore effort, simply titled ‘two’.
There is a Prince vibe present here, which is not by accident. His Royal Purpleness had taken notice of PHO shortly before his passing in 2016, and actually invited them to open for Larry Graham at Paisley Park. Additionally, percussion on the ‘two’ CD is courtesy of Kirk Johnson from Prince’s New Power Generation.
So, regardless of all the accolades and awesome associations, how does this music stand up, purely of it’s own merit? Quite exquisitely, thank you very much! This musical collection is more than dance / funk / groove rock… these songs all breathe with their own lungs, and stimulate and invigorate a life all their own. Sometimes colored by a more avant garde electronic sound, and other times throwing down old school jazz rock like some 1970s attitude that could have been found on a Brecker Brothers or Crusaders album.
One thing is for certain, if you’ve got ants in your pants and you need to dance, then you got to get some mo’ PHO in your diet! This music is chock full of “Vitamin Whee-e-e-e-e-e” and is guaranteed to cure whatever might ail you! Just be sure to stretch first, ‘cause your muscles are going to get a hip shakin’ workout!
Squarewave - A Tighter KnotSquarewave
Album Title: A Tighter Knot
By John Noyd
Posted: Apr 2017
Label: Artisanal Records
(1942) Page Views
Bound by earnest concerns cresting in hypnotic topics and focused hopes bubbling with fearless endearments, “Tighter,” creeps half-asleep in deep-sea fatigue strung among tight-rope kaleidoscopes; a tense sensation somersaulting from beleaguered to exalted, smothered in displaced promises, uprooted in rooftop thoughts and lifted in shifting dreams. Paving dark, defiant highways where twisted detours pass wind-blown beachfronts smeared in silver-plated industrial-twang, Squarewave’s interstellar tremors race into an endless night hovering just past the hi-beams as love, freedom and release weave nomadic ballads between cataclysmic burn-outs dipped in dawn-breaking radiance and airless mechanics spinning molasses-wrapped melodies around storm-distorted chords. Shadow-soaked experiences made tangible in roaring prog-rock riffs. subversive psychedelic leads and driven New Wave rhythms; “Knot.” floats, emotes and coasts painting tasty hay-wired spirals amongst angular cliff-hangers.
The Rolling Stones - Rolling Stones From The Vault : L. A. Forum 1975The Rolling Stones
Album Title: Rolling Stones From The Vault : L. A. Forum 1975
By Gregory Hartumian
Posted: Apr 2017
Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment
(2714) Page Views
With 55-plus years of history, the Rolling Stones continue “pushing the envelope,” as Keith Richards was quoted. With the new “Exhibitionism” installation and public exhibit at Chicago’s Navy Pier, running Apr. 15 thru July 30 (www.stonesexhibitionism.com), the project is more of a stroll through their cumbersome history. One visits a re-creation of their dingy 1961 apartment, memorabilia, what it’s like to be backstage, and performance clothes, not to mention loads of photos.
However, it’s best to remember the music they produced over that timespan which is oddly pushed to the periphery with the exhibit. Eagle Rock Entertainment has been working with the Stones management, and band members, over the past decade in releasing audio and visual items that are prized by collectors. There are roughly one dozen rare videos concerts that have been floating around for years in varying degrees of quality.
The difference with the Eagle Rock Entertainment versions is the stunning sound quality, and picture quality, from being able to restore these pieces from their original elements, be it VHS, film, or digital formats. Unreleased shows like the Marquee Club 1971 (meant as a farewell before the band went into tax exile in France), Live in Hyde Park 1969 (the Brian Jones eulogy and introduction of Mick Taylor to the band), and Live In Texas 1978 (an amazing performance in amazing quality backing the “Some Girls’ album.)
Packaging for each piece is as varied as the formats: Blu-Ray provides bonus features, some sets include audio CDs of the program, even limited edition vinyl LPs make an appearance. All are well worth the investment, but let’s look at two DVD programs: Live At Hampton Coliseum 1981, and Live At The L.A. Forum 1975.
1981 was the year of “Tattoo You” and the resulting “Still Life” tour, where this item originated. It was Richard’s birthday show, and also the first satellite broadcast on pay-per-view. The Blu-Ray has additional footage of the pre-show shenanigans in the dressing room, a jam with George Thorogood, the opening act. The DVD, however, is jaw-dropping in itself by presenting the full 2 ½-hour concert uncut. The visuals are afforded a bright, clear and beautifully clean transfer and remixed audio from the digital feed and the multi-track tapes.
The L.A. Forum show is the one piece of note, having been in circulation through numerous versions of bootlegs, both video and through the legendary Mike Millard audio recording “Tour of the Americas 1975” box set, from July 12. The late Millard would purchase handicapped tickets, arrive in a wheelchair and be placed close to the stage’s venue, giving a prominent position to record from the stereo microphones hidden in his safety flag poles on either side of the chair. Numerous Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Mc Cartney shows were captured in spectacular sound quality using this method.
The video first mad its appearance in the 1980s in a truncated form, titled “Hot N’ Nasty,” giving a glimpse into what must have been an insane program. Later, 90-minute versions, and finally the full-length concert began its circulation. Fans have tried to lend their own acumen on equipment to clean the muddy picture, and expand the tinny soundboard feed that was equally muddy. All the efforts brought checkered results.
“Hot N’ Nasty” kicked off with disclaimers that it was privately shot, and follows a Chinese lizard-dragon working its way across the stadium floor, as it was the Year of the Dragon.
The famous “lotus petal” stage began to unfold to the tune of Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” with Mick Jagger jumping up and down on one of the hydraulic petals to rev up the crowd. “Honky Tonk Women/ If You Can’t Rock Me/ Get Off My Cloud” played as a medley, was a good opening salvo.
The Stones had a lot to prove, as the tour served to introduce Ron Wood, from Faces, as the guitar played replacing Taylor. He was also Richard’s running buddy, at the time, having previously auditioned Jeff Beck, Harvey Mandel, and Wayne Perkins for the slot.
The setlist was stocked with their best known hits, and went heavy on the current album, “Black N’ Blue,” and the previous one, “Goat’s Head Soup.”
For geeks, here’s the bottom line: if you are mildly interested in the Stones, this is for you. Working with videotapes made more than 40 years ago, the visual restoration is very, very good. It’s still from videotape but the colors are now vibrant and time-corrected, the fuzziness is not present, and when compared to the most prestigious bootleg version with the same name, there is no comparison.
The audio is the revelation. Mixed from the original multi-track tapes, it is now “in your face.” Bill Wyman, the bass player, is the proxy archivist of the band. How they sit on these things, and keep it quiet is interesting. For a sample of the 1975 show, a clip of the song, “Star Star” is on You Tube.
This is really a beautiful time capsule and gives the flavor and feeling of being in the stadium, with about seven camera angles including backstage looking to the crowd. “Sympathy for The Devil” closes out the show, with drummers and dancers hopping to the tribal beats.
Check out the full stable of the Rolling Stones vault series at Eagle Rock Entertainment.
The Obsessed - SacredThe Obsessed
Album Title: Sacred
By Sal Serio
Posted: Apr 2017
(2340) Page Views
Scott “Wino” Weinrich is back with the Doom/Stoner Rock innovators The Obsessed, to finally record a follow-up to 1994’s release ‘The Church Within’! Many know of Wino from his early days with Saint Vitus and more recent years fronting Spirit Caravan. In reforming The Obsessed, Wino has maintained lead vocal duties in a 4-piece studio band, and a stripped down power trio unit for live performances.
Engineer Frank Marchand has done an amazing job bringing an expansive, very live sound to the 14 tracks on this new CD project titled ‘Sacred’. The guitar sound is so immense it almost assumes a physical manifestation, and the chords hit like a head-on collision: concussive, dense, and impenetrable. Drummer Brian Costantino’s tempo is relentless and unforgiving, driving with jackhammer speed at times, evident on the more proto-punk stylings of “Haywire” and “Punk Crusher”.
While Wino is one of the key figureheads of the Doom Metal/Stoner Rock subgenres, this collection of songs does not fall in to a stereotypical trap, and does not rest on the laurels of a singular compositional mindset. As examples, the instrumental “Cold Blood” riffs a heavy groove for a full 3 minutes before firing up the lead guitar soloing. “Stranger Things” has a complex rhythm; verging on an intellectual prog rock format, and “On So Long” stretches out like an epic 70s-era slowburn hard rock jam.
Speaking of the 70s decade, Wino and company present two cover songs in this set. Thin Lizzy’s “It’s Only Money” and Mountain’s “Crossroader”, which help to complete the rungs of the ladder that bridge those influences that inspired Saint Vitus, with the 21st century vision of this current line-up of The Obsessed. I recommend ‘Sacred’ quite highly, and not necessarily just for the resident metal-head in your household.
Aimee Mann - Mental IllnessAimee Mann
Album Title: Mental Illness
By John Noyd
Posted: Mar 2017
Label: SuperEgo Records
(2421) Page Views
Stripping away all but what makes Aimee Man one of the finest songwriters of her generation., “Mental Illness,” dresses perceptive duress in simply stated fates; her rich sensuous voice kindly underlines in cleverly crafted melodies backed by studious acoustic guitar, airy string arrangements and cozy open-hearted choirs. Mann’s quietly enlightened ballads are lovingly framed in melancholy modesty, transforming forlorn warnings into picture-perfect curtain-calls, underscoring a razor-sharp intellect behind each sweet turn of phrase. Flinty pop symphonies swaddled in fallen-angel sympathy, Mann’s ninth solo endeavor blends affectionate reckoning inside faultless resolve, supporting each song’s struggling characters in warm compassion as objective conjecture meets earnest concern and blind-faith perseverance embraces patient consolation. Aimee plays Madison’s Barrymore Theater May 2nd along with beguiling ironist, talented troubadour Jonathan Coulton.
Six Organs of Admittance - Burning The ThresholdSix Organs of Admittance
Album Title: Burning The Threshold
By John Noyd
Posted: Mar 2017
Label: Drag City
(2137) Page Views
Dispatched with placid mastery, wistful intricacy and evocative serendipity “Threshold,” unscrolls exquisite hobo road-trips extracting ecstatic patters from synaptic guitar acrobatics to form floral chorals merging in thorny harp-like flights tastefully laced with river-running percussion. White-water otters tramping in railroad-gypsy mystery, bewitched pixie proficiency and intuitive cruise-controlled industry, San Francisco’s Six Organs of Admittance blurs the lines between disciplined imaginations and improvised compositions; transcendental sentinels camping at heaven’s gate drizzling vigorous country-jazz arabesques over teeming, bohemian dreams. Enigmatic instrumentals sparkle among musical tarot-card readings weaving pastoral ballets entwined in sublime serpentine post-folk hypnosis; meditative cave-ins whose budding buddhic grooves greet shadow-chasing incantations dancing in the wind. Full of surprises, the band’s live performances are incredible. Catch them playing Milwaukee’s Colectivo Coffee’s Back Room April 12th.
The Dig - Bloodshot TokyoThe Dig
Album Title: Bloodshot Tokyo
By John Noyd
Posted: Feb 2017
Label: Roll Call Records
(2491) Page Views
As a quartet with three songwriters and two vocalists; The Dig’s albums enjoy a cohesive diversity whose seamless intrigue is fascinatingly balanced in a flashy crash-course of craft, cunning and clout. Doused in playful danger and buffed to a mouth-watering gloss, the slinky ministers of coy nocturnal joys ooze in musical ruses; moon-lit night-crawlers fed hearty helpings of glam-pop showbiz. Exposing unspoken hope behind feigned disdain, the cavalier, “Bloodshot,” plots love-doctor rock with percussive struts and balcony-pelted promises. Flirtatious hooks planted between impatient bass, tweaked keys and bedroom harmonies roam in dramatic undertones as edgy after-hours elegies peddling shadow-seeking jealousies sneak back-seat speeches past thorny romance, heartsick visions and bruised egos. The Dig plays Milwaukee’s Shank Hall March 31st along with Nico Yaryan and Kolars.
Sepultura - Machine MessiahSepultura
Album Title: Machine Messiah
By Sal Serio
Posted: Jan 2017
Label: Nuclear Blast
(3031) Page Views
‘Machine Messiah’ marks the 14th studio album by Brazilian masters of thrash metal Sepultura, and emphatically could be their best release since 1989’s ‘Beneath The Remains’. Thanks to the inventive arrangements by the band, and the superbly crisp engineering by Jens Bogren at the Swiss Fascination Street Studios, the Sepultura vision is razor sharp and painstakingly realized on their new 2017 effort.
The opening title track begins with quiet, intricate, guitar picking by Andreas Kisser and the calm, reassuring vocals of Derrick Green, building to a soaring lead guitar solo at 1:45, and by the 2:50 mark becomes more angry as the tempo builds and Green instructs the listener to “bow down to the Machine Messiah”. The next track, “I Am The Enemy” is a brief 2:27 blast of intensely brutal thrash attack. “Phantom Self” is colored by detailed and insanely tight drum fills courtesy of Eloy Casagrande, and features orchestration doing battle with the guitar fills as Green is “transformed in to his Phantom Self”.
The instrumental “Iceberg Dances” is seriously epic and thematic heavy metal, yet is filled out by keyboards and classical guitar! This 46 minute metal manifesto comes to a close with pure, unadulterated classic Sepultura: the fierce statement of “Cyber God”. Not even 2 weeks in to 2017, this release gives me great hope for the promise of powerful musical moments to come.
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