White Girls Can’t Jump

Brassy live at Double Door

Chicago, IL

March 20, 2001

Let’s get it out in the open. The lead singer for Brassy, Muffin Spencer, is Jon Spencer’s, (he of the Blues Explosion) sister. Ok? We can’t ignore it. Why try? Sure, Muffin gets a little steamed from time to time when people always ask what Brother Jon is up to, but c’mon. He’s Jon Fucking Spencer!

Now, Muffin decided to do things her own way. She packed up and moved to England years ago to start her own band. Pussy Galore be damned with their punched-up New York Dolls impressions. Our Muffin was up to something else.

I don’t know how old Muffin is, but I’d guess she’s old enough to remember most of the Sugar Hill artists of the early 80s and ALL of the new wave artists of that same time. Mix that together with a pinch of punk a la Buzzcocks or even a touch of the Plazmatics and you have Brassy. That’s great. Everyone loves it when new sounds are created from tried and true genres. But that’s where Brassy falls short.

Throughout the 40-odd minute set, Muffin did her damndest to get people to shake their rumps or at least pump their fists, but aside from one portly fellow with a striking resemblance to Kelsey Grammer, it just wasn’t happening. Mainly because of the poor sound quality that Double Door is too often associated with, but also to the fact that Brassy can’t pull off a hybrid of hip hop, new wave and punk.

Guitarist, Stefan Gordon, is capable and had some great early 70s soul effects throughout most of the set and bassist Karen Frost does her job in typical riot grrl (I’ll bet you thought that was over, eh?) fashion with just enough detached attitude and growling bass to make the guys go wild. That alone is the foundation of a great sound and would be perfectly rounded out with tight drumming and a gregarious front woman/man. But Brassy just misses.

Drummer/DJ Jonny Barrington is the perfect minimalist punk drummer. Simple, three-piece set and excellent fills. He’s also a decent DJ with some creative mixing and tight, albeit standard, scratching. But he can’t do both; try as he may. The switches between drum kit and turntables were often awkward and distracting. They sometimes threw the whole band for a couple of bars. To really pull off this sound I think Brassy needs a drummer AND a DJ. I mean, is Jonny the only game in town? Get that sorted out and you really have some balls and the spark of something really hot. That alone will almost get the ass shaking.

Which brings us back to Muffin. Glorious Noise contributor Johnny Loftus told me he had heard that Muffin was a sassy bitch, much like her older brother (sorry Muffin. That’s the last reference to him). Well, sassy ain’t enough to lead a band. You also need some charisma. Parroting 20-year-old rap anthems (B to the R to the A to the S to the S to the Y) works for the Beastie Boys who have a deeper box of trick than Carrot Top. Muffin fails to dig deeper and ends up sounding like a 1987 white comedian making fun of rap on the Tonight Show. Until there is some sense of real emotion and attachment to her music, Brassy will always sound like the white liberal kids who dig black music but can’t play it in the house until dad goes to work.

Luckily, headliners Idlewild took the stage within ten minutes of Brassy’s departure and final got the crowd to shake their asses—and the band didn’t even have to ask.

That’s your cue Johnny.

THE MUFFIN SPENCER BLUES EXPULSION

Brassy @ Double Door

Chicago, IL, 3/21

Brassy isn’t yr average hardcore/Kurtis Blow/funk/DIY rock collective. No wait, they are.

Brassy does two things very well. First, mouthpiece Muffin (sister of Jon) Spencer’s supreme belief in her band’s dominance over all comers is admirable. And the band is very adept at making tons of noise, even if the pieces don’t always fit together. When a glorified punk rock quartet gives its drummer double-duty on the wheels of steel, and sprinkles its tightly-wound booty anthems with amateurish MC’ing straight outta Whodini, something might be lost in the translation. At The Double Door Tuesday, Brassy’s inside joke never quite got over on a crowd unresponsive to their punkrock.com 2-minute drill.

Muffin’s hand-on-the-hip vocal posturing has a lot of sass. She knows what boys like, and what girls want, too. Guitar slung low on her hip like some kind of B-team female Han Solo, Spencer’s stage moves consisted of a cocky smirk coupled with a cat-scratching hand gesture, suggesting that this pussy had claws. While her guitar-playing was satisfactory, it was definitely Bono to Stefan Gordon’s careening wave-wall of distortion. His defeaning screed was complimented by Karen Frost’s capably funky basslines and Johnny Barrington’s drums. But wait! Barrington also plays the role of DJ Swett, his masked marvel alter ego who supplies Brassy’s electrofunk, gonna-make-you-sweat side. What was odd about this arrangement is that the group couldn’t afford another drummer to spell Swett’s while he was spinning. Instead, Barrington/Swett had to leap between his equipment like he was a contestant on an early, punk-dance incarnation of “American Gladiators.” Not really sure why this was so, but it didn’t add any cohesion to an already disjointed set.

While Brassy’s hardcore numbers suggested the sneering punk of (fellow Wiiija Record-mates) Huggy Bear, the addition of decks, samples, and white-girl raps was like watching Bratmobile if they’d grown up in 1980s Queens. At one point, my pal Phil Wise leaned over and said, “Someone’s been listening to The Plasmatics.” While no one in Brassy accessorized their nipples with electrical tape, that group’s hurried, style-over-substance approach to Rock and Roll reared its head during Brassy’s athletic 40-minute set. On record (Got It Made, Wiiija), Brassy’s confluence of styles works a little better, no doubt helped along by overdubbing DJ Swett’s electronic flourishes. But in the future, Muffin and her peeps should probably back up their bravado with a better, more succinct approach to their booty-rock mojo.

JTL

Gimme Mayhem

The Rolling Stones documentary film, Gimme Shelter

The Detroit Institute of the Arts Film Theater

March 19, 2001

So there’s no revolution in this world of lawyers and record companies. Yeah, well, what better to replace revolution than anarchy? How freaked out would you be if you were filming a concert movie and you just happened to catch a brother with a gun get murdered by a Hell’s Angel? On camera.

I went to a stabbing and a Rolling Stones concert broke out.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, time that I’ve seen the Maysles’ seminal piece of countercultural realism. This is as close as any of us will come to living through the notorious Altamont Speedway free concert. Alarmingly so: It’s probably as close as you’d want to come, given the circumstances. But then again, you would have seen the Flying Burrito Bros. play what must have been a way-inspired set in broad daylight, before the violence. And, of course, who wouldn’t want to party with The Stones? (Including a Mick Taylor who looks suspiciously out of place, as if his mom dropped him off at the music store for a guitar lesson and the Stones kidnapped him. No wonder this guy couldn’t hack it during their descent into hell.) I think I just might have taken my chances, even with Sonny Barger there, the Supreme Angel ruler of California’s packs of motorcycle one-percenters in the 60s. What’s the worst thing that he could do? Oh yeah. . . kill me.

People were thinner in 1969, and if this film is any indication, they took a lot more drugs. Just look at Mick and Keith then—scary. (But not as frightening as Grace Slick today, especially after you’ve seen how she used to look back then.) Other observations from the film seem significantly less astute: Lawyers ran the world then, as now, shown in the opening sequences where they’re trying to make the concert happen after the initial plan to hold it in Golden Gate Park falls through; parking is always a problem at concerts and promoters really don’t care if you have to walk a great distance; people climb scaffolding. All of this is captured with great sound and surprisingly cool cinematography. And film geeks, this is the best work that will ever bear a credit reading: “George Lucas.” (Yes, he was one of the cameramen.)

“But what does it mean, man?”

It means very little, at least in the generic sense. Nothing that went down at Altamont can be billed like Woodstock in our collective consciousness. Oh yeah, the rock historians will give you that load of crap about “The End of The Sixties” but there never was a “Sixties,” at least in the sense that revolution and change could happen to significantly alter our society. I could say something like: “There’s always a cost to be paid, even when something is free.” Sanctimonious hippie freaks might like that, but it’s a crock of shit. To write Altamont off with an epitaph that sounds like it came out of a fortune cookie would be failing one of the most significant and complicated cultural events in the history of rock and roll. (For starters, consider what happens nowadays when there’s violence at a rap concert. Then think about Mick sitting there watching the footage of someone getting murdered while he’s singing an ode to the Devil.)

“Gotta get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down.” Except that this time the “soldiers” were the Army of the People, the Great Countercultural Icons that Kesey brought to the hippies and Jerry to the Stones and thus Altamont. Four dead in San Francisco. How does that sound, Neil?

At a dirt stock car track, of all the ironically ridiculous places.

Stock car racing has a great heritage of giving The Man the finger, derived from the moonshine-runners of the Deep South in the Prohibition-era 30s. Hell’s Angels were the West Coast equivalent, if not in organized criminal activity, at least in spirit. They wasn’t breakin’ no laws most a the time, lest not any laws ‘at made much sense, an’ lest not any law that hurt nuh one ‘at mattered. Yet the cops fucked with the Angels (read Hunter Thompson’s book), just as they fucked with the granddaddies of NASCAR. And just as they fucked with the peaceniks, hippies, Blacks, women, and other assorted disenfranchised groups that made up the rock and roll Revolution (sic) in the 60s.

But at Altamont, it all came to a head and there weren’t even any cops there. No Politicians, no Pigs, no Puppet Masters. No Old White Men getting rich off the kids—the Stones footed the bill to glorify their own hubris. Yet we still killed each other, we still fought like cats and dogs, we couldn’t get along. Maybe the issue here is that the Revolution, if it existed, didn’t fail us, but we failed it. And we failed ourselves.

“It’s only rock and roll,” Mick? That was your cop out in 1974, and we all knew it was a lie. But hey, it was better than admitting the truth. We did like it. A lot. We even killed and died for it. And in the end, and that was the end, we had some great times and some great music to ease the pain. But by then, it really was only rock and roll. The revolution wasn’t televised because ABC never bought the pilot.

But it’s out there, on video. You can rent the revolution. Go ahead and see for yourself, the few flickering frames in Gimme Shelter and its contemporary brethren that prove out the power of Rock. To move, to love, to empower, to subdue, to create, and to destroy. Read between the lines, man. Rock is the revolution and it goes on every day inside of you. And inside of me.

Thank God, the Devil, Sonny Barger, and the Rolling Stones for that.

Tahiti 80 in the Springtime

As I stared at my records, I was late to work.

It would’ve been no problem. I had awoken with an old Sebadoh song bouncing around in my skull, making the choice for today’s music easy; besides, “Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock” is a great EL train album. Jarring distortion, Eric Gaffney’s yelping, and Lou Barlow moaning – what else can you ask for to annoy the people around you on the 10:25 express?

But it’s the first day of Spring. And it’s sunny. This changed everything.

So I gazed at the records lined up on the shelf, trying to get my cabin fevered, winterized mind to access the good-time Spring music database. Loading….loading….loading….please wait.

But as the gears moved, and the streaming sun began to burn off Winter’s brain freeze, I quickly began to grab the sounds of Spring. Buck Owens and his easy-drinkin’ Bakersfield sound went in the bag. The sly Philly groove of G Love & Special Sauce is like the hot sun on a car seat. And Tahiti 80’s gauzy, Brian Wilson toe-tappers are probably going to rule my CD changer from now ’til the White Sox win the pennant.

Hailing from France, Tahiti 80 sounds more like Wilson if he and The Zombies collaborated with The Dust Brothers in a 21st century studio environment. The charmingly froggy falsetto of Tahiti’s Xavier Boyer can be a real ringer for Colin Blunstone, while the band’s clear-eyed pop nails those notes and riffs that make you think of short skirts and smiling. “Puzzle” (Minty Fresh) has the intangibles that make up a championship record: flourishes of trumpet, organ, and modern-day electronics, with solid, straightforward songwriting that doesn’t mess around with greasy kid stuff. That’s the great thing about Tahiti 80’s music: it isn’t all sugarplums and pixie sticks (i.e. the galactic easy listening of countrymen Air). Songs like “I.S.A.A.C” or “Heartbeat” wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack to this summer’s first romantic comedy. But at the same time, they have enough balls to be included on that CD for the road trip with the fellas.

So it’s officially Spring, and it’s sunny. But I’m not naïve. You won’t catch me watering my lawn just yet, because I know Old Man Winter hasn’t exactly packed up the tent and moved on. But in the meantime, Tahiti 80, G Love, and Buck go great with a few High Lifes on the porch.

Won’t be long ’til Summer comes.

JTL

LIKE A ROCK, SORT OF

Despite his flair for Camaro-Rock, Bob Seger is still important to the legacy of Detroit music. Ever seen pictures of him from back in the Bob Seger System days? Long hair snaking down his back, Lucky Strike dangling from his sneering lips, Seger was definitely a nails-for-breakfast Detroit rocker. Smokin O.P.’s, his 1972 release, even cops the Lucky Strike logo for its cover art. Sure, he chopped the locks in favor of an Eddie Money-style layer job. (Which could be a Samson-esque metaphor for his music pussy-ing out…). And he can never be forgiven for tripe like “Mainstreet” or “Shakedown.” But forever-shirtless Iggy Pop looks more like The Oldest Chili Pepper these days; and Alice Cooper does indeed play a lot of golf (“I’m Eighteen” holes?). So Seger’s in good company when he disses his D-Town Rock and Roll roots.

But back in the day (1968), there was the Bob Seger System, rocking out the bars and VFW halls in the Detroit/Ann Arbor circuit. The System released an album, “Ramblin’ Gamblin Man,” and the title track built a nationwide following after solid Michigan-area support. Its opening half-time drum beat gives way to a funky Hammond B3, which builds the shambling melody of a song about a rambling and gambling fellow. Not ground-breaking lyrics, but I bet if you saw Seger and his long hair screaming them out in a dingy backroom Detroit bar, you’d have thrown your hands in the air. The track possesses a great mix of Detroit-style, messy rock with a funky organ that wouldn’t be out of place on a hard-edged soul album. Which, coming out of Motown, isn’t exactly surprising.

It’s odd how success will make a band trade in its best components for the shiny new model. After achieving widespread acclaim for the “Live Bullet” and “Night Moves” LPs, Seger and his Silver Bullet Band collective went on to record the poor-man’s Springsteen rockers that are featured prominently on today’s classic rock radio. Much of the grit of his early work was lost forever, only clawing its way back into the music briefly, like in the vaguely disconcerting herky-jerky backbeat of “Hollywood Nights.” Sure, “Night Moves” and “Like a Rock” are nice enough songs. But they’re about as Detroit as a Le Car.

But Seger’s later work as a professional pansy shouldn’t diminish his early, rip-roaring days. Even though he is a member of classic rock radio’s glitterati, a great song like “Ramblin’ Man” is rarely played, letting it keep its vitality. And in that song’s scorching, gospel-funk chorus, Seger puts the hood up and shows off his Detroit rock engine, even if he’s since downgraded to something a lot cheaper and less balls-y. But that’s okay, Bob: Rock and Roll (and D-Town) never forgets. Which in your case, can be a good OR a bad thing.

JTL

Smartass Motor City Punks

Check out this letter to the editor from the July 6, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone:

I can’t help but notice that nearly every time you mention Detroit, it’s some sort of put-down. I wish you wouldn’t pass judgment on an entire city. Not everyone around here holds John Sinclair as his savior, or spends his time grooving on the MC5, Alice Cooper, the Stooges and so on. […] Not all of us are smartass Motor City punks.

Jeff Stern

Southfield, Mich.

Isn’t that great! Associating “punks” with the MC5 and the Stooges (and Alice Cooper — huh?) back in 1972. How cool is that?

Posted another Lester Bangs review. This time it’s Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality.

Continue reading Smartass Motor City Punks

Wilco Sighting

Click this for a bigger pictureWilco Sighting…

By now we’ve all seen Apple’s new ad for their CD-RW-enabled iMac. “Rip. Mix. Burn.” But there’s an extended version of that ad on their website that features our very own Jeff Tweedy. How you like me now? Pretty good? The extended version also features Iggy Pop and Aimee Mann.

IT’S NOT EASY MAKING DEALS WITH THE DEVIL ANYMORE

There are too many nameless crossroads intersecting throughout the Information Delta. You can’t just hunker in a ditch, waiting for The Prince to show up. Sure, in the old days, you’d get some songs together, do some travelin’, and eventually The Man (or his boys) would contact you. You’d know where to go, and the deal would go down as such. The idea was, sell your soul to the devil, and you might not be saved from eternal damnation, but you’d at least avoid earthly poverty and sell a few records in the process. The electric mud flowed, the kids danced, and the parents were angry.

But the devil has diversified.

And we’ve already lost. Remember the song’s warning: “if you lose, the devil gets your soul.” If it’s a conscious decision, fine. Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Screamin’ Jay, Ritchie Valens; those guys dealt directly with The Man in The Horns. Sure, he still screwed ’em. But at least he bought them a drink first. Nowadays, The Prince has got himself a board of directors (a band of demons?). And poor you, waiting out by the crossroads, you don’t even know what’s coming at you out of that darkness down the road. And that’s the way he likes it.

Keep their heads ringin’.

If the funk of 40,000 media outlets just keeps on truckin’, pumping its high-octane mix of jury-rigged Claymore entertainment into the porous, inviting frontal lobes of the TRL nation, then The Man and his peeps’ll just keep on raking in the dirty cash. And it’ll get darker before it gets light. Because things just aren’t that simple anymore. It’s like that 50s futureworld of a tangled mass of cables and circuitry, all buzzing with bleeps and blips has finally manifested itself in the form of a 24/365 media T-1000 that never quits in its Quest to Sell. Everybody knows that the gun is loaded, but no one’s going to give a shit until Stone Phillips’ faceplate comes loose and he looks like Yul Brenner in “Westworld.”

I guess you could say that media killed the radio star, but that wouldn’t be true. If you’ve got talent, you can still make it to the top, baby. Just look at the skyrocketing careers of our baby popstars: Britney, Christina, and Justin all got their start as gleeful cherubs on Mickey Mouse Club. Somehow, their respective parents/managers dropped those kids off at the right crossroads, at the right time, and the little dynamos didn’t even scream when The Prince came looking for a soul to steal. Fast forward 10 years, and that shiny fiddle made of gold is still the holy grail. Unfortunately, Mr Daniels was wrong in that song: The Devil wouldn’t give you that fiddle even if you DID play “Fire on the Mountain” and “Run, Boys Run.” I mean, this is The Man we’re talking about. He’s going to keep that fiddle hanging just out of reach, and everyone – including the popstars, talking heads, newsmen, actors, actresses, and TV presenters themselves – are going to keep on dancing ’til their feet fall off. We can’t blame anyone, and we’re not innocent, either. Because Axl was right. That old Man, he’s a mean motherfucker, and he’s going kick us right down the line.

Old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be.

JTL

Style vs. Substance

Warning to all, I’m in a particularly bitter and cynical mood today. But what a great lead-in to my continued rant about the Fourth Estate: “I can’t imagine MTV with all their censorship…”

Remember back when MTV was subversive and anti-corporate, almost like The Stone at its genesis?

I wasn’t even allowed to watch it because it was full of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I used to race home from school as fast as possible for about an hour of view-time, hoping to catch a Twisted Sister video before my mom got home from work. But now that it’s full of corporate-approved sd&rnr: Watch on kids, become better consumers. Is there anything in our lifetime that better exemplifies the commercialization of pop culture and its resulting affect on the world we live in? You want to name names, MTV is the one, The Devil Made Me Do It.

And for all the bally-hooed Internet Revolution (revulsion), I don’t see much going on that’s at all subversive to the prevailing society, government, corporate music industry, or anything else. Oh, we all read the Web sites about Lisl and get our alt.news and then go back to farting around at work, making jack for The Man to buy our crap at Ikea so that we can sit around and bitch about the sorry state of the world in comfort. And don’t give me “Napster, dude,” which was only sort of subversive, because the Old White Men put a stop to that right quick. Besides, when you really think about it, was a bunch of stoners trading unpaidfor copies 70’s disco tunes and bootlegged versions of ICP’s “Slim Anus” really revolutionary?

No. Because the Real Rock Revolution, historically, was about telling The Man to go fuck himself. You had something better, more Real, more Alive, and more fun than anything that He could dream up. You were smarter than He was and you didn’t buy His Pat Boone records. Rock and roll was a lifestyle, a way of thinking, a belief system. “Rock and roll can change your life.”

Rolling Stone changed lives. MTV changed mine and most of my friends’. But to that I say, “Yeah, so what?” We all know that these days. It did change our lives but it didn’t change much else. We told The Man to Take This Job and Shove It and we went out and got another J-O-B. We even got one where we, under the guise of being cool, decided to sell off a part of what rock and roll stood for. “Hey, I can make money marketing cool!?!?”

So we just continue to draw finer lines of cool, to absolutely no end. I do it all the time: “Britney sucks because she’s a corporate drone.” But why can’t Britney “change your life” too? She can, and does. And since no one really ever threw the Man off his or her back, it don’t matter, just don’t mind. Think about it for a second, does it really make a difference if you listen to Public Enemy instead of Backstreet Boys? In this day and age, not in the least, because you’re still lining up at Starbucks regardless.

So what’s next?

The appeal of rock has always been rebellion, but who are we rebelling against when a guy like Ronald Reagan drapes his presidential campaign with a Springsteen song that’s not even about the patriotic furor that the Elephants thought it was? (Or maybe they were smart enough to know that the American public would buy it anyway. Who really cares as long as I can pump my fist and shout, just don’t spill my beer.) And this was over 15 years ago; people haven’t been getting much smarter since.

But we have been getting cooler. We’re all hip to the Rock ethos. We’ve substituted this phony rebellion for anything real in the world. There is no rock and roll left, just marketing campaigns. There is no truth, no honesty, no nothing: All style, cool, no substance.

But why?

Blame falls on only one set of shoulders here, and yes, it is this thing, formerly known as The Press, currently known as The Media. But let’s just call it what it is: the corporate infotainment industry. To bring this entire rant full circle, remember the Lester Bangs character’s statement in Almost Famous, the crucial thing that he tells Crowe on the phone about journalists? “We’re not cool,” he admits. Funny how, in a world where everything has to be cool, the media shouldn’t be. But it is. Increasingly more so, every day.

This is wrong, absolutely wrong. Our job as a member of the Fourth Estate isn’t to make friends with the world, it isn’t to be a nice guy. It’s to be suspicious, critical, and keep these mofo’s in line. To keep society from being ignorant and stupid and liking shit music, shit culture, shit politicians, shit everything. We’ve been doing a really fucking good job, haven’t we? We suck.

And that, my friends, is the great crime of the turn of the century, that the media has substituted Rock and Roll cool for honesty. And thus, rock, in its conquering and all-powerful moment has come to destroy itself. Or rather, we have destroyed it. Part of the bargain that we made with rock in the 60s was that we’d die before we get old, that we’d have sympathy for the devil, that we would teach the fucking world to sing. But we didn’t. We didn’t change the world, we didn’t even really change ourselves.

Except we all got cool. Great. Enjoy that new mass-produced single and your 60-hour-a-week job and your closet full of Gap crap and your boring life that’s only punctuated by a few fleeting moments of greatness in anything before it becomes recycled and corporatized. And we’re really sorry, but we’re too busy sucking down free cocktails to care. Party like a rock star, dude. Or if you’re a journalist, just party with one.

Dubious Inclusions Damage Credibility Of Entire Record Collection

From this week’s Onion:

Dubious Inclusions Damage Credibility Of Entire Record Collection

HAMMOND, IN— The credibility of 26-year-old Jeff Gaskill’s record collection is badly damaged by the inclusion of several albums of dubious artistic merit, friend Rob Appel reported Monday. “He’s got tons of awesome stuff, everything from [X-Ray Spex’s] Germ Free Adolescents to [Al Green’s] Call Me,” Appel said of the 750-plus CD library. “But then, smack-dab in between The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy & The Lash and Portishead’s Dummy is Poison’s Greatest Hits.” Continued Appel: “Before I could ask him what the hell it was doing there, I spot Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles. That record alone negates the coolness of Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets and The Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace Of Sin.”