Wednesday, February 28, 2018

High Rise's "II"

The music is rock when it is guitar, bass and drums at the center and they are played by musicians that know the language of the instruments well enough to be expressive with them while playing hard. It is a musically risky proposition; mistakes will be made. It is difficult; practice is required. With the band's individual musicians each aggressively supplying their element, the sound made together can become more than the sum of its parts. This surplus value is the jam, and if it's there in the performing then a rock band is effecting a transubstantiation nearly as sublime as any priest's.
- Joe Carducci, Rock and the Pop Narcotic

[In] the last five years there have been a lot of great tunes – but spiritually they have nothing to do with me. Great tunes are no longer really necessary. There were a lot of them in the past, but back then it was great tunes plus something else – and it’s that something else that I like.
- Asahito Nanjo, Opprobrium Issue 3 (November 1996)

Often compared (by people whom bandleader Nanjo would say don't understand) with Blue Cheer and MC5, High Rise's music is the handiwork of Japanese musos who came of age in the '70s and teethed on contemporary classical music, free jazz, psychedelia, non-idiomatic improvisation, punk, no wave, and movie soundtracks before applying their creative focus to high energy rock. While Nanjo claims (in the above-quoted interview, now reproduced on the Black Editions label site) that they didn't rehearse or have tunes, the music on II -- originally released in 1986 by vaunted Japanese label PSF, now out on sweet, sweet Black Editions vinyl -- is remarkably cohesive and powerful. In the same way doom metal hits like a detail from a Black Sabbath song in enhanced extreme close-up, the six tracks on II take the raw materials from White Light/White Heat, Vincebus Eruptum, and the MC5's A-Square "Looking At You"/"Borderline" single and push the intensity up beyond the red zone. Munehiro Narita wrests waves of pure electronic sound from his fuzz-and-wah-drenched guitar, while Nanjo lays down thudding slabs of bass and incomprehensibly mumbled bits of gibberish (reminiscent of, but not as clearly-recorded as, Gregory Raimo from France's Gunslingers), and Dr. Euro is all over the drums like a Mitch Mitchell-Rashied Ali combo platter. It's good that this is on vinyl now, because if I played it in my car, I'd lose count of the speeding tickets.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Things we like: Panther City Vinyl edition

So last weekend, I filled in at my buddy Dan's record store while his partner Ted was out of town, and was reminded that I love selling records as much as I do playing and listening to music. Also, that it's a bigger kick finding something serendipitously in a bin, or hearing it played in-store, than it is having your coat pulled via social media (at least for me it is). And at the end of the weekend, I left with four items, any of which would have been a "find o' the week" on its own. Hooray!

18 King Size Rhythm and Blues Hits -- Compiled for Columbia back in '69, this Valentine from one great Jewish indie record guy (Seymour Stein) to another (Syd Nathan) covers the whole waterfront, from vocal groups (Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, the Five Royales) to instrumentals (Bill Doggett, Freddy King -- whose instrumentals canny marketer Nathan had the audacity to repackage as surf music!) to embryonic soul men (James Brown, Otis Redding).

Everything You Always Wanted to Hear by Dion & the Belmonts...But Couldn't Get! -- Twenty songs by my favorite early rockaroller ("Presley or Penniman?" "DiMucci!"), which embody the swagger of the Italo-American cats I grew up around (even though a guy from the Bronx who taught at my high school claimed Dion was laughed out of the 'hood for shaving his legs "to fit in those pegged pants!") and include some classic lines ("Here's the moral of the story from a guy who knows," "With my two fists of iron but I'm going nowhere"). Dion said Jesus saved him from junk, and he still had the goods in his millennial blues phase (I treasure a CD-R of a recording of his live NPR broadcast). Now I need to hunt down the "Abraham, Martin and John" single for its Bronx blues flip, "Daddy Rollin'," and the '67 Together Again with the Belmonts, for the OG "My Girl the Month of May" (covered by Richard Thompson with the Bunch).

Stooges: Highlights from the Funhouse Sessions -- The Rhino box set was too much, like being brainwashed with 23 versions of "Loose" (in the same manner as the Sony Robert Johnson box, where someone unwisely sequenced all the alternate takes together, which makes sense as scholarship, but not as record production). CD-era completism gave me a finer appreciation for the art of curatorship. (Relevant quote from Francois Truffaut: "The direction is a critique of the scenario and the editing is a critique of the direction." Un autre: "Many of Welles' recent films give the impression that they were shot by an exhibitionist and edited by a censor.") This distillation of good mature takes, minus overdubs, is in essence a well-recorded live album (because it was cut in a room with all the players together and Iggy singing through a PA). I'm saving the 17-minute "L.A. Blues" precursor "Freak" for a special occasion.

Sonic's Rendezvous Band: Sweet Nothing -- Twenty years ago, when it was new (and the music it documents already 20 years old), this thing steamrollered me like Live At Leeds. In some ways I am still there. At once the final fruition and last gasp of Detroit high energy, fulfilling every promise of Funhouse and the first side of Kick Out the Jams (not to mention the Rationals' great LP), this is hard rock as trance music, and no one will ever know what recent West Virginia Hall of Fame inductee Fred "Sonic" Smith was singing on "City Slang." (Scott Morgan's a better singer, but Fred sounds like a hoodlum, which fits the music's gritty menace better.) A friend of mine heard this music and bought the LP on eBay even though he didn't own a turntable. (Someday before I croak, he and I will play "Slang" onstage together.) Here again, sweet, sweet vinyl beats CD because it omits a less-than-snazz cover of Mick 'n' Keef's "Heart of Stone."

Saturday, February 10, 2018

2.10.2018, Fort Worth

I'm kind of sick of rockwrite, including my own, and I'm kind of preoccupied with other things now, but tonight Heater and The Prof.Fuzz 63 were playing at the Boiled Owl, a place where I'd never set foot before, so my wife and I were going to check it out. In the event, she was still recovering from a bout of flu last weekend, and the temperature dropped down into the 30s-feels-like-20s, but I decided to step out anyway after she'd headed for the rack.

The Boiled Owl is a congenial little spot and they had a good crowd by the time I rolled in a little after 10. I missed the Deep Sleepers' set, but it was the first time on the boards for that crew, and perhaps there'll be another opportunity. I'd met Professor Fuzz, who's a no-fooling history prof and Sinologist at UT Dallas, at a show a couple of years ago, and had dug his band's quirkily idiosyncratic garage rock online, but this was my first chance to hear them in person.

The band -- Fuzz on guitar and vox, his wife Sleepy Redhead on organ and vox, and their son Mr. B on drums (Fuzz quoted an ancient Chinese proverb to the effect that the best drummer is "one who doesn't have other options") -- stays pretty busy, playing 50 shows last year all over Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. The list of upcoming shows on their Facebook page already shows more gigs than Stoogeaphilia ever played in a good year, and it only runs through May.

They're pure concept, with not an ounce of excess anywhere in their sound. Fuzz sings his amusing juvenalia about plumbing malfunctions, a local indie pop band playing Motorhead, double homicides, panda attacks, and the like, while coaxing gorgeously tweaked tones from his custom built axes. His wife is responsible for a huge chunk of their auditory impact, utilizing sounds that variously recalled Question Mark & the Mysterians' Farfisa and the clavioline from the Tornados' "Telstar." Their son thumps the traps in the grand Mo Tucker manner -- small price to pay, he said, for college tuition, room and board. Fair exchange.

I'd seen Heater before when the Stooge band shared a bill with them at Lola's Trailer Park a couple of years ago, but the way to see these guys is really up close and personal, when they're playing on the floor in a small place. That way you can feel the energy wash over you like a tidal wave; it's pure catharsis. I was wondering how the house's tiny PA would handle their sound (both guitar players use Marshall half stacks), but was pleasantly surprised that not only was I able to hear vocals, but I was able to differentiate between guitar parts.

Things got off to a slow start when Adam Werner busted a string on the first song, but they were able to regain momentum with only a slight interruption to resolve a power issue later in the set. Adam's the visual fulcrum of the band onstage, singing in a raspy growl while pummeling his axe hard enough to break another string later in the set. Travis Brown sings from the bottoms of his feet and keeps up a steady barrage of chords, stinging lines, and ringing harmonics from choked strings. Josh Lindsay's drums and Jamie Shipman's bass propel the engine. Together, they're tight and intense.

They played a couple of new songs, as well as the ones from their EP, and quit just as four squad cars and an ambulance arrived at Yucatan Taco Stand next door. Hope somebody's night didn't go as badly as it looked when I was leaving. For myself, spending a couple of hours feeling my clothes being moved around by air from drum heads and speaker cones was just the medicine I needed.