Directed by Vicente Cordero. From The Chain, out now on Cleopatra.
It’s been 17 years since Bobby Hecksher’s psychedelic Warlocks first blew our mind with The Phoenix Album. I still rank “Shake the Dope Out” and “The Dope Feels Good” as two of the best songs of that whole turn of the century “garage” rock scene. Seeing them at the first Chicago-based Lollapalooza in the middle of the day was a highlight of the whole weekend. And Johnny Loftus’ review of a 2002 Double Door show is one of my favorite things we’ve ever published.
And now the Warlocks are back with a brand new concept album about “two star-crossed lovers who commit a bank heist together.”
Hecksher recently talked to the Big Takeover: “In the video, we see them commit the crime and get caught. The Warlocks are playing to the fictional movie as if scoring it or writing music to it as it’s happening. Our male lead Rocky (played by Tygh Runyan) influences our female lead Diamond (played by Leslie Gladney) by fear to do the crime and her lawyers plead this. She’s loosely a Patty Hearst-type character and gets off. Rocky gets a public defender and the book is thrown at him.”
This is a slow-burning bum trip of a jam. I’ve always respected Bobby Hecksher, but I prefer the Warlocks when they’re making feel-good dance music like “Shake the Dope Out” or “The Dope Feels Good.” Why do bands have to get all serious and stop writing catchy pop songs?
Holy shit, it was hot on Sunday. I was pretty sure we were all going to die for a while there. But hey, Glorious Noise suffers unbearable heat so you don’t have to.
It’s hard to believe that the first Lollapalooza was 14 years ago. I was a dopey college kid who could barely drive straight when my pals piled into my mom’s Corolla and we drove across the state to see Perry Farrell’s brand new music festival. I was looking forward to seeing Ice T and Jane’s Addiction, but was most impressed by the Butthole Surfers when guitarist Paul Leary picked up a rifle, aimed it right at my face 60 rows back, and pulled the trigger. I swear to god I saw fire shoot out of the barrel and expected to feel the bullet split my skull. Good thing Leary’s a lousy shot.
This year no one fired a gun at me. But I was blown away by a couple of bands that I wasn’t expecting that much from. It’s a much different world now (George Bush, Iraq, economy, etc.), but a few things remain the same: good music still isn’t played on the radio, and young people still love to get half naked and stomp around in the dirt and listen to bands.
The Warlocks Leave Phil Wise and Johnny Cowering In Fear
To fully engage in the particular voodoo of the Warlocks, you must be high as a kite, or at least 8 feet tall. That’s the realization Phil Wise and I came to on Saturday night at Chicago’s Double Door, as we took in the Warlocks: bassist/vocalist Bobby Hecksher, four guitarists, two drummers, and enough drug-rock vibe to fuel the acid flashbacks of ten men.
I don’t want anything to do with the giant that stood in front of Wise and me. He made the music scarier, all Elvis-style sunglasses in the dark, smoky club. Onstage, the Warlocks whipped their mojo into a slowly boiling frenzy, with the woven sound of four guitar players nodding their heads along with their beat, committed to that moment in each song when the beat would break and the fuzz would fly right in. Each Warlocks number had this moment, this apex, when the song would kick open the doors of conference rooms nationwide and spill all over the tables inside. Let’s fog up some windows, baby. We’ve heard this sort of evil before – the Velvet Underground, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, even Brian Jonestown Massacre (which briefly featured Hecksher in their lineup). It’s not the new style by any means. But that doesn’t mean the band’s two drummers won’t make your head swim. Especially if your head resides 8 feet in the air, like the fellow in front of Phil and me.
Almost as soon as I put in the new Warlocks album, I felt that familiar metallic taste in the back of my mouth. I took a deep breath and stretched out as “Shake the Dope Out” swirled around the room with its chugging, Velvety guitars and organs. And the background vocals going la la lahhhhhh. Ahhhhhh.
The Phoenix Album will keep you clenching your teeth and seeing visuals through every one of its sixty-four minutes. It’s sequenced to be the soundtrack for a perfect, one-hour rock and roll trip, complete with peaking and coming down and lots of good noise in between.
“Hurricane Heart” contains the coolest one-note bass line ever recorded, and “Baby Blue” could be a Banana Splits song if not for the degenerate bass line and drum parts. But you can’t go wrong singing about pretty pictures and circular cars, disco bars and cool guitars…
While drugs are certainly not required to enjoy this album, it might be hard for a clear-headed listener to make it through all 9+ minutes of “Cosmic Let Down,” especially its two-minute finale of a single key held down on a solo Farfisa organ. But sticking with it will make the poppy track that follows sound even fresher in comparison: Oh, don’t you worry, I’ll be all right, I’ll be all right… Oh, the dope feels good.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that there was only a year or two between the apex of American garage punk (1966) and the dawn of psychedelia (1967-68). And don’t forget that at the exact same time that a million teenagers across the world were trying to figure out the chords to “Get Off Of My Cloud” there were a handful of kids eating shitloads of acid and then making music to take it to… I can only imagine that the Warlocks’ “Inside and Outside” sounds like what it must have been like to be one of those precocious kids who happened to find himself drooling at the 1966 Dylan performance in Newport. It’s even got a Bob-like “Awwww” and a harmonica solo! But then it rides the groove right off the edge into classic psych territory complete with a moog freak-out and a false ending. Far out.
Phoenix is a great album in the all too rare style of music that falls somewhere between garage rock and psych, before the kids got too self-conscious and too self-aware to want to rock out and dance, and still wanted to just make some noise!