Thursday, May 31, 2012

Uintahs, The Green Zoo and The Mighty Sequoyah @ Grainey's Basement (5/29/12)

I felt a little guilty about going to see this show.  I'd spoken with Josh Gross a week or so before and told him that I'd planned on seeing Godcrotch play the Red Room this same night.  And that had been true, but then I saw that my friend Keesha Renna's Vagabond Promotions had set up a show at Grainey's Basement featuring three bands I hadn't seen before.  Sorry, man.  See you another time for sure.

This looked like a promising bill: three local bands, two of which I hadn't seen before, and an excellent folk(ish) rock group from Utah.  A decent crowd had built up by the time that the first band took the stage, and it only grew as the evening progressed.  That made me happy for the bands and especially for Keesha: for as long as I've known her, she's been an enthusiastic supporter not just of the local music scene but of the Boise community as a whole.  Her hard work and dedication seems to be paying off, and deservedly so.  From what she's told me, Vagabond Promotions has some good shows set up in the upcoming months.  I expect that you'll be reading about a few of them here.

First up this night was Uintahs, a moody, tuneful four-man rock band based here in Boise.  If Coldplay or Echo and the Bunnymen decided to man up and not be such wimpy navel-gazers, they might sound a little like these guys: Patricio Torres' steadfast basslines and Malcolm Youngberg's rumbling, propulsive drumming cut through the layers of sparkling mist conjured up by Marcus Youngberg and Perry Bentley's guitars and keyboard.  That combination would have been beguiling enough, but what made it really take off was Marcus Youngberg's strong, aching, forthright tenor.  "We are Uintahs," Youngberg said at one point.  "Goddamn, you aren't gonna remember it, so don't even try."  I wouldn't be so sure of that.

Next up after Uintahs was local alt-rock band The Green Zoo.  This group clearly had talent to spare: their melodies and harmonies stuck to my ears, they stopped and started on a dime, their dirges were no less impressive than their rave-ups and leader Thomas Newby has got a helluva set of pipes on him.  In spite of all this, however, I just couldn't get into their music all the way.  The whole enterprise felt tainted by an adolescent, melodramatic self-absorption.  This came through most strongly in their lyrics' nostalgic idealization of childhood's simplicity and comfort.   Lines like "In the darkness, my nostrils flare" and "Sunlight taps at my window like a lost lover trying to wake me" just made matters worse.  I should probably note, however, that my fellow audience members seemed to like this group just fine.  Guess some folks have a higher tolerance for melodramatic self-absorption than I do.

After The Green Zoo came The Mighty Sequoyah, whose straight-ahead folk- and pop-tinged rock served as a tonic after the previous group's emo archness.  You could possibly think of this five-person group from Provo, Utah as the Beatles or the Byrds up top (twangy guitar jangle, ringing keyboard, yearning fiddle, angelic four-part harmonies) and the Rolling Stones or Cream down below (solid, unflashy bass and kinetic drumming).  At the head of it all rode lead singer Caleb Darger, whose clean, rousing high tenor suited the rootsy melodies perfectly.  This mixture proved irresistible to the crowd, who danced and cheered throughout the entire set.  A single picture doesn't do justice to the infectious good vibe of those thirty minutes, but thankfully, Keesha managed to record some of The Mighty Sequoyah's performance on her phone.  Hopefully, she'll post a clip of it online sometime soon.

I drifted over to the Red Room after The Mighty Sequoyah and consequently missed the closing set by Parade of Bad Guys.  Considering the previous performance of theirs that I caught, I don't imagine that it could've gone too badly.  Their fun-times roots-rock seems like just the thing to have kept the party going.

You can find info about all of these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Also, for any bands interested in booking shows around Boise, you can look up Vagabond Promotions on Facebook, email or call 1 208-283-0259.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hotdog Sandwich, Point Break 2 and Vanity Theft @ the Shredder (5/28/12)

I was very excited about this show.  I write that a lot, I know, but I've been looking forward to seeing Vanity Theft again since I saw them play with Hunter Valentine and Sick of Sarah at Neurolux last year.  The latter two bands were okay--as I've written before, it always does my heart good to see women rocking out--but this quartet from Dayton, Ohio was something special.

If there's any justice in this world, Vanity Theft will soon be tormenting the ears of any hipper-than-thou type who dares turn on the car radio or set foot inside a shopping mall.  The songs on their 2010 album Get What You Came For suit to a tee my ideal of pop-rock: the tunes and hooks grab your ears and don't let go, the riffs and rhythms get your heart pumping and your hips shaking, and the singing sends a tingle right down your spine and into your unmentionables.  And best of all, you don't need to switch off your brain in order to enjoy them (quite the opposite, in fact).  While the youthful hedonism, bad romance and oh-snap sass of the lyrics may call to mind the Donnas or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the touch of sly deadpan in Alicia Grodecki's strong, throaty delivery suggests a maturity and sophistication beyond those groups.  "Live it up while you can, kids," her singing seems to say, "cuz it ain't gonna last forever."

I grew a little concerned when I got to the Shredder and found only a handful of people inside ("Not even sure if these folks are members of bands or road/merch crew or something," I wrote in my notebook).  Happily, enough people showed up to form a not-bad crowd for a Monday night.  They stayed for the entire show, moved right up to the front of the stage when Vanity Theft came on and danced their butts off during their set.  Like the fella said, "Fit audience let me find though few."

First up for the night was Hotdog Sandwich, a local bass-and-drums duo.  They sounded kinda ragged for a band that claimed to have been around for fifteen years: their second song had not one but two false starts, and their groove came slightly unglued here and there.  Overall, however, their grungy, catchy punk-tunes went down just fine.  Their massive Krist Novoselic-esque basslines and John Bonham-esque drumming took me back to those halcyon days of my youth when alt-rock ruled the airwaves and MTV played music at times other than 5 AM.

Local three-man band Point Break 2 followed Hotdog Sandwich.  Their instrumental rock played out striaghtforwardly: slow-fast-slow tempo shifts; simple, solid riffs and tunes; grounding bass; effectively minimalistic drumming (the guy played one-handed); pleasant, clean guitar tone.  They didn't command active listening the way that Red Hands Black Feet does, but I imagined that they'd do fine as background music.  Also, I gave them bonus points for having that GREAT name.

After Point Break 2 came Vanity Theft, who more than justified my esteem.  The songs off their new EP, The Right Amount of Distance, matched those from Get What You Came For in tunefulness and danceability.  Strutting around the stage (as much as she could, anyway--not much space up there), playing with her wavy brown hair, tinkling on her white keytar and belting out the songs in her low, sexy voice, Alicia Grodecki showed the confidence and charisma of the born frontperson.  Guitarist Brittany Hill played Keith Richards to Grodecki's Mick Jagger, pitching in with backup vocals and bending low to slash out the terse, irresistible riffs.  New guy Daniel Sahagun's driving, unobtrusive basslines kept the music pressing forward in the great tradition of Bill Wyman.  Last but not least, Elyse Driskill's high-energy drumming dared the audience not to move their feet (my picture doesn't convey how badly the audience lost that dare).

I'll go on the record with this right now: if you don't know Vanity Theft, you will soon.

You can find info about Vanity Theft on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Also, I've got a bright, shiny dime for the first person to tell me who I quoted earlier in this post (no, you can't just Google it).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hospitality, Here We Go Magic, Tartufi and Yeah Great Fine @ the Reef (5/24/12)

This show marked what may prove a turning point for me: I actually wore earplugs.  It seemed prudent, considering the massiveness of Tartufi's sound, the modest size of the Reef's concert space and the necessity of retaining what remains of my hearing to keep this blog going.  The joys of getting older and more responsible.

A couple of hours prior to the show at the Reef, I stopped by the Record Exchange and checked out part of their celebration of Bob Dylan's 71st birthday.  Some personal highlights: Catherine Merrick and Kayleigh Jack's sultry "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," a "Things Have Changed" that featured some bad-ass wah-wah fiddle soloing, and Steve Fulton's desolate "Mama, You've Been On My Mind."  Best in show: John Hansen's majestic "Bob Dylan's Dream," which showed the young whippersnappers how it's done.

I got down to the Reef around 8:15.  The posters said that the show started at 8, which in rock and roll time usually means 8:30 or 8:40.  As it turned out, the show didn't start until around 10.  Sheesh.  Being unemployed pays off sometimes.  Still, when the show actually started, I couldn't complain much.

Four-person Brooklyn group Hospitality opened the show with some tough, tuneful indie-folk-rock.  They adorned their impeccable pop melodies with sharp guitar solos, elastic bass and high-powered drumming.  Amber Papini's breathy voice made up in shrewdness for what it may have lacked in range and power.  Their set included a solid cover of Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number", and their original songs didn't sound any worse for it.  A good start to the concert.

After Hospitality came Here We Go Magic, another four-person group from Brooklyn.  The Facebook event page for this show mentioned that HWGM can count Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich among their fans.  That gave me some trepidation initially--I am NOT a big Radiohead fan--but in this case, I'm glad that I let my curiosity overcome my prejudices.  This band's African-derived groove, ethereal guitars and catchy chants might have cheered up Ian Curtis himself.  "I believe in action," lead singer Luke Temple sang, and they made the audience believe too (lotsa folks were feeling the beat).  Extra kudos to Jen Turner, whose thick, rubbery basslines served as the music's bedrock and secret weapon.

Tartufi took the stage after Here We Go Magic.  I was grateful for the chance to see this San Francisco-based group again: I enjoyed their previous live performances immensely but, to my surprise, found myself left a little cold by some of their recorded music.  The problem came, I think, not so much from the music itself but from the fact that I listened to it on my laptop's dinky speakers.  In order for Tartufi's powerful art-rock to really work, it needs to flood your senses.  It might be better to listen to it on headphones or on a stereo system with really bitchin' surround sound.

The best way to take in Tartufi, however, is live.  In concert, this band generates a feeling of almost religious awe.  The audiences at the shows that I've attended tend to stand still, look at the stage and let the music wash over them.  The band's generally undemonstrative stage presence seems to add to this feeling: as they solemnly deliver their loops, hooks, riffs and tunes, it's almost as if the music is flowing through them from some otherworldly source.  I suspect that Tartufi knows on some level the effect that they create: it can't be accidental that they've closed the two previous live shows that I've seen with a retooled Hebrew hymn.  This night's set ended with an original composition (I think) but generated the same feeling nonetheless.  I wonder what Tartufi would come up with if someone asked them to score a film adaptation of The Divine Comedy.

Yeah Great Fine, a five-man indie-rock band from Portland, closed out the night.  They thanked what remained of the audience after Tartufi's set for staying up so late, and their idiosyncratic funkiness definitely kept these stalwart folks awake.  The band's mock-cowboy outfits stood out in jokey contrast to the African base of their music.  Staccato guitar lines, dreamy keyboards, unobtrusive basslines and jazzy, boiling drums hopped and bopped around with each other, and both band and listeners did likewise.  Yeah Great Fine's set concluded with a joyous cover of Fugazi's "Waiting Room," which they prefaced by inviting everyone to sing along if they knew the words.  I thought it very much to the audience's credit that a big chunk of them did (they were one up on me: I didn't recognize the song until close to the end).

You can find info about these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Also, to those of you who disapprove of my not considering Radiohead the greatest thing in the history of recorded sound: any complaints must be submitted in the form of crappy emo poetry.

PS  Very special thanks to Eric Gilbert and Duck Club Presents.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Art Fad, Finn Riggins and JEFF the Brotherhood @ Neurolux (5/23/12)

"Have you seen Art Fad?"  I can't tell you how many times I've been asked that question over the past month.  More often than not, the question came from folks whose musical taste I respect.  So, when I got a chance to go see them, how could I turn it down?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when the crowd for a live show starts out kinda thin and then builds as it gets closer to the time when the headliners take the stage.  I still am, though.  Why would people not want to see opening acts?  If you're paying good money for a show, why would you not see the whole thing?  It makes me think of back in the day when folks would just walk into a theater during the middle of a film.  Of course, I imagine that some folks have to do stuff that I should (in theory) do too (i.e. work and earn money).

Anyway, enough ranting.  On with the show!

First up on Wednesday night was Art Fad.  Now I know why everybody's so crazy about this guitar-and-drums duo from Caldwell.  With their maniacal drumming, tsunami-like guitar riffs, poppy tunes and arty noise, they sounded like a hallucination of a Ramones or Agent Orange concert.  While they played fast enough to satisfy the most ADD-addled hardcore fan, they managed to work enough of a groove into their music to render it danceable.  My only quibbles are that I could've used a lyric sheet and that I don't know how long they can keep up music this rarefied.  In the end, however, I found Art Fad's music so pleasurable and galvanizing that it overwhelmed such petty concerns.

After Art Fad came Finn Riggins, who got off to a bit of a rough start but hit their stride quickly and delivered a decent set.  Lisa Simpson's voice and guitar were in good form, Cameron Bouiss snuck in some nice little fills and Eric Gilbert's keyboards made the music go vroom.  I wonder if I'll ever get tired of hearing "Arrow" or "Benchwarmers."  Guess I'll find out.

Headliners JEFF the Brotherhood came next.  Jake and Jamin Orrall may hail from Nashville, but their fusion of the Ramones and Black Sabbath would've sounded right at home in grunge-era Seattle: catchy, sing-along melodies; droning, low-tuned, buzzsaw guitar; ironically detached singing; slyly simple lyrics; muscular drumming.  As befits good Southerners, however, their groove was much more solid and much steadier-rolling than, say, the Melvins'.  They switched from sludgy stomp to full-throttle blitzkrieg without preening or breaking a sweat, and they kept the solos short and sweet.  I'll bet that Kurt Cobain woulda loved JEFF the Brotherhood.  Joey Ramone too.  Hell, maybe even Johnny Ramone.

You can find info about all of these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Bare Bones, The Finer Points of Sadism, The Sneezz and Junior Rocket Scientist @ the Red Room (5/22/12)

Tuesday had some ups and downs for me.  Up: I set up HCTD's new Facebook page, and I crossed the 1,500 pageview mark (once again, thanks for reading!).  Down: I found out that my uncle may have colon cancer in addition to the possibly malignant tumor that the doctors found on his hip.  This means that he may need to undergo chemotherapy before they can cut the tumor out.  I was happy to get out of the house for a while and go down to the Red Room; if I stayed inside, I'd have probably just stewed over that until I drove myself crazy.

While I waited for this week's Atypical Tuesday show to start, I sat at the bar and watched Wings of Desire on the TV.  For those of you who haven't seen it, the movie's about an angel who goes around watching over humans and bringing them as much comfort and guidance as he can.  The angel longs to become human, to embrace mortal life and all of the suffering and joy that go with it.  I won't say that it brought me comfort (my uncle could use a lot more comfort than me right now, and I doubt that any movie's gonna help much with that), but it did kinda put things in perspective.

(By the way, if my synopsis sounds familiar, that's because Hollywood remade Wings of Desire as the film City of Angels with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan.  If you haven't seen the original, I recommend doing so.  It's not nearly as melodramatic, and you don't need to see Dennis Franz's ass.)

The Bare Bones, a young local power trio, kicked off the night's music.  And when I say young, I mean young--I found out later that two-thirds of the band can't legally drink yet.  Don't underestimate these guys because of their age, though: they've got more chops now than some musicians twice their age do.  Nathan Norton's fluid bass and Aaron Bossart's roiling drums infused their tuneful, psychedelic/metallic hard rock with a jazzy litheness.  Chris Brock squeezed all kinds of wondrous sounds out of his guitar and sang with a sly confidence that belied his voice's boyish register.  A guy I spoke with said that this band will be absolutely fantastic when they get older.  I agree, but from what I saw and heard, they're already there.

After the Bare Bones came The Finer Points of Sadism, an experimental electronica duo whose dissonant samples and textures, disorienting polyrhythms and ominous, grisly lyrics owed a clear debt to Throbbing Gristle.  If you have any idea who Throbbing Gristle is, you should know whether or not this group is for you.  Me, I found TFPOS's waves of noise entrancing and cleansing.  It undoubtedly helped that Jacobb and Ashley Sackett packed them with stuff that aficionados of the finer points of songcraft appreciate: covert hooks, beats, riffs, even tunes.  On one song, they called to mind a sprung-rhythm Bauhaus or maybe Second Edition/Metal Box-era Public Image Ltd.  That I might have liked their improvisations even more says something very good about this experimental group.

Local one-man act The Sneezz followed The Finer Points of Sadism.  If D. Boon from the Minutemen had switched to bass, decided to dress like a Keebler elf onstage and started hanging out with Devo, you might have gotten something like this.  Absurdist, satirical lyrics met with robotically funky beats, propulsive basslines and screechy, scratchy samples to form a smart, catchy, hilarious melange of 80's New Wave and indie music.  I heard a little Talking Heads here, a little Red Hot Chili Peppers and Violent Femmes there.  The dominant influence, however, was Devo, and that became unmistakable well before the set-capping "Whip It" cover.

Local four-man indie rock band Junior Rocket Scientist played last.  Their playing sounded a little stiff and awkward at some points--drummer Mark Molitor threatened to get ahead of his bandmates now and again--but overall, their post-punk, Sonic Youth-goes-pop/disco sound provided a fine ending to the live music for the night.  Droning, chiming guitar parts combined with Peter Hook-y basslines, catchy synth and electric violin riffs, hyperkinetic drumming and enthusiastically guileless vocals.  When they all joined hands, it was good stuff.

You can find info about these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online (except The Sneezz--couldn't seem to find anything about him).  For info on upcoming Atypical Tuesdays, go to

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Return of the Hardluck Cowboys @ the Crux (5/18/12)

There's something appropriate, I suppose, in calling yourselves the Hardluck Cowboys and performing to an almost empty place.  Nonetheless, it's still pretty sad.

A few folks popped in and out as the evening progressed, but the only people to watch the entirety of Speedy Gray and Johnny Shoes' set at the Crux last Friday were the man behind the counter and me.  You could blame the lack of an audience on the ban on serving alcohol under which the Crux suffers currently.  The numerous pedestrians who stopped for a moment to watch through the window and listen may suggest that you'd be right.  It'd be nice to see the Crux's business pick up after the ban's lifted.  If not sooner.

Anyway, if the Cowboys were upset over the absence of people, they didn't show it.  For about two and a half hours, they tossed songs, solos, stories and bad jokes back and forth.  Please note, though, that when I use the word "tossed," I do not mean "tossed off."  These two gentlemen turned in a solid performance even though there were only two people watching them (and I doubt that it was because I mentioned that I'd be writing about them).  I can't say the same about some of the younger musicians that I've seen.

While I've written a fair amount about Speedy Gray's guitar playing and singing, I haven't given much space to his songwriting.  I first noticed the cleverness of his songcraft when I heard "Tea Party" at Tom Grainey's.  I grinned at the way that he borrowed the chord changes from John Cougar Mellencamp's "Rockin' In the USA" to emphasize the middle finger that he shoots at the titular political group.  I suppose that quite a few of Speedy's songs (the ones that I've heard so far, anyway) are like that: they seem simple and off-hand, but listening closely reveals their careful construction.  Just as often, though, he'll dispense with subtlety and go right for the knockout: highlights from this night's set included his songs about his mother passing away, a musician preparing to stomp the hell out of the club owner who just ripped him off and a man trapped indefinitely in a Louisiana jail after Hurricane Katrina destroys the paperwork on his arrest.

Speedy's partner, Johnny Shoes, is a man who knows from hard luck.  He ran the Old Boise Guitar Company for 26 years before changes in the economy forced him to close it in 2010.  He'd played guitar for much of his life, according to a 2009 Boise Weekly article that I came across, but he didn't start writing songs until 2008.  I find that awfully surprising, because aside from the Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan and Louvin Brothers songs that he pulled out, I wouldn't have known his wry, warm originals from his wry, warm covers if he hadn't said who wrote what.

Of course, it probably helped having a wealth of experience to draw upon when he turned to writing and performing full-time.  During a brief break, he graciously spoke to me about his experiences travelling with renowned folksinger Rosalie Sorrels collecting songs and stories for the 1991 book Way Out In Idaho.  He told me that he helped break the ice between Sorrels and the people whom they were trying to interview: some guy getting up and playing mandolin with this legendary performer made it easier for folks to open up.  He went on to perform on three of Sorrels' albums and as part of her band at the Vancouver Folk Festival.  Listening to him, I suspected that he had truckloads of other stories to tell if he'd had the time.

I wrote that the first Hardluck Cowboys gig "was so great that it felt downright criminal being the only person there to see it."  This one was no different.  Johnny Shoes delivered stunning guitar solos throughout and sang in a voice that suited his songs perfectly: weathered, resilient, knowing.  I don't know if anybody at the Record Exchange's upcoming Bob Dylan's 71st Birthday Bash will be able to top his and Speedy's night-ending cover of "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere."

You can find info about Speedy Gray and Johnny Shoes on Facebook and elsewhere online.  They gig regularly around Boise and Meridian.  I recommend seeing them (together or separately) if you're at all able to.

PS  Special thanks to Speedy Gray for the use of his digital camera.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Godcrotch, The Ratings Battle, Joe Buck Yourself and Viva Le Vox @ the Shredder (5/19/12)

This show excited me for two reasons.  First, it marked my first time seeing The Ratings Battle in about a year (I think).  Second, it marked my first time going to a show at the Shredder.  Over the past couple of years, I'd noticed a good number of fliers around town advertising some very promising shows there.  I didn't see any of them, unfortunately, partly because I may have been working on some of those nights, partly because I can be a rather timid fellow and partly because I simply wasn't sure where the Shredder was.  The fliers had listed its address, but the nondescript warehouse that I'd found there just looked like... well, a nondescript warehouse (they only added the marquee seen below this year).  "If this is the right place," I'd think, "what would happen if I tried to go in?  Would I get branded as an intruder and beaten up?"  (Like I said, timid.)

Anyway, now that I've been inside, I imagine that I'll be checking out more shows there in the future.  The Shredder kinda reminds me of the Red Room back when it was on the corner of 6th and Main: not too dirty and not too clean, it's definitely not a bad place to watch some bands, drink cheap beer and hang out with some buddies.  I liked the modest skateboard ramp and the 90's arcade games (NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat II) along the right-hand wall.  Near the end of his band's set, Tony Bones of Viva Le Vox told the audience that this was a special place.  "Keep it safe," he said.  He had a point.

Godcrotch kicked off Saturday night's show with a much rootsier-sounding set than is its norm.  This incarnation of the Josh Gross project featured the leader on electric guitar, kick drum and hi-hat, a bass player, my friend Keesha Renna on tamborine, maraca and backup vocals and some dude who jumped onstage to play drums for one song.  After seeing him/them this night, I've come to regret slightly my calling Godcrotch "one really good joke" in a previous post: Gross may intend this group as a goof and a lark, but he still plays, sings and writes better than some of the putatively serious bands that I've seen around town.  Personal highlights of the set: a blues-dirge "You Are My Sunshine" that was actually quite effective (honestly, have you ever noticed how depressing that song is?); "Battle Hymn of the Fence-Sitter," an original about how hard it is to write a rousing anthem about evenhandedness and political compromise; "Ghosts," a no-joke original about all the people who died; and a respectable "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)."  "We wrote that one," Keesha said after they played it.  Uh-huh.  Sure.

After Godcrotch came The Ratings Battle, who powered through a couple of flubs to deliver a more-than-respectable set.  They admitted that they'd only played a handful of rehearsals recently, but they still offered plenty of proof that the chemistry between Josh Gross' drums, Matt Wildhagen's bass and Matt Hunter's guitar is intact.  It felt damn good to hear their songs live again and even better to see other people getting off on them.  And I'm still amazed that Matt Hunter can scream/sing like that without blowing out his voice.

After the Ratings Battle came Joe Buck Yourself, whose solo set was one part Misfits, one part Robert Johnson, one part Johnny Cash and one part Iggy Pop.  Sporting a mohawk/mullet hybrid that drooped down over his face, leering and glaring with ghoulish menace, pounding his kickdrum like he wanted it to punch a hole in your chest and slashing at his guitar so hard that I'm amazed he didn't tear its strings out, he looked and sounded like the devil to whom Hopeless Jack sold his soul to learn to play.  He crooned and growled songs about drugs, murder and the devil coming to make you pay.  The crowd moved in close and ate it up, myself included.

It's a pity that more people didn't stay to watch Viva Le Vox's night-closing set.  Their demented, fever-dream take on blues, rockabilly, swing, jazz, surf and R&B didn't remind me of anything so much as the "Brawlers" disc on Tom Waits' 3-CD set Orphans (i.e. the one that's devoted exclusively to twisted blues/funk-rockers).  Because that disc has always been my favorite, I mean that as high praise.  Tony Bones hacked out the riffs and solos on his guitar and howled, groaned and belted out the tunes with his gravelly baritone.  Joe Buck Yourself stoically plucked, slapped and twirled his stand-up bass.  Antoine Dukes' drums handled the mind-bogglin', body-movin' time changes without stumbling once.  Joe Buck Yourself wasn't jiving when he called his bandmates a "fuckin' bunch of young kids tryin' to wear my ass out."

You can find more info about these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Toilet Babies, Black Bolt, Static Thought, Pig Noose and the Jerkwadz @ the Venue (5/15/12)

I once read a Zen proverb: "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water."  I've always liked that because that's just how it goes: you have your epiphany or whatever, but then you've still gotta deal with your day-to-day crap.  On a similar tack, what do I do after I've had what is easily the most-viewed post in this blog's history (by the way, thanks for reading, everybody!)?  I go out and get an oil change for my car.  I fret about finding a decent day job.  I go check out another show.

I grew eager to see Tuesday's show when I saw that the Jerkwadz, one of my favorite Boise punk bands, would be playing.  Also, I've wanted to write a post on the Venue for a little while now.  From what I've observed, this place doesn't seem to get a whole lotta respect around town.  A few well-meaning folks may pay it lip service now and again, but many people still seem to regard it as the bratty brother/sister who tries to follow and emulate the cool older kids.  That's a shame, because I think that it deserves some props as one of the few all-ages places in Boise as well as a crucial supporter of the local punk and metal scenes.  (I'll admit that I myself was a little wary of going to shows there a couple years ago, but as Dylan said, "I was so much older then.")

First up for the evening was Toilet Babies, a promising, two-thirds-female hardcore trio based here in Boise.  The Sleater-Kinney devotee in me is always glad to see women deciding to kick out the jams, and this band had in spades the locked-in rapport that all good bands need, regardless of gender or genre.  Some of their material didn't feel fully developed, but their grounding bass, eyebrow-raising guitar riffs, quicksilver drumming (that guy probably burned off 5 lbs during the course of their set) and call-and-response shouts encourage me to keep an eye out for this group in the future.

Next up was Black Bolt, a local four-man group.  These guys had slightly smoother rough edges than Toilet Babies did: they gave more advance warning for their tempo shifts, and they had not only melodies (and pretty good ones at that) but harmonies too.  Their set included a cover of one of my favorite Circle Jerks songs ("I'M BEING FRAMED!  IT'S ALL A SET-UP!"), a lot of friendly, self-deprecating banter ("Let's not play that fast ever again.") and an original song with one of the greatest titles I've ever heard: "You Don't Look Like a Video Poker Machine."

Static Thought, a four-man group from Oakland, CA, followed Black Bolt.  Lead singer Eric Urbach got their set off to a good start by politely asking everybody to come forward and form a circle around them (which they did) and by shaking one audience member's hand.  The band's music didn't sound as nice as that, but of course, this audience didn't pay for nice.

Static Thought's un-bluesy, powerful riffs and adrenaline-crazed drumming made me think a little of My War/ Slip It In-era Black Flag.  They were more streamlined than that, though: they eschewed lengthy guitar solos and didn't force the tempo shifts too hard.  It was as if they didn't want anything impeding their forward motion.  Their ominous intros gave their metallic punk a brooding feel, but their three-man chants/shouts brought me to attention and suggested a healthier and more outward-directed precursor for their music: Fugazi.  Someone told me later that they've seen Static Thought play here a couple of times before.  I'll look forward to seeing them again.

After Static Thought came another local four-man group, Pig Noose.  Following the Oakland band couldn't have been easy, but this group still sounded (and looked) kinda rote and lackluster in comparison.  The bassist and guitarist spent most of the set with their backs turned to the audience while the singer ambled around up front, his eyes cast down.  Aside from some guitar noise and whirlwind drumming, I didn't hear much to distinguish Pig Noose's blur and din.  I don't know--maybe seeing so many familiar faces in the crowd tempted them to just go through the motions (the singer chatted with quite a few folks at the front).

The Jerkwardz closed out the night with a set that went surprisingly well, considering how drunk they professed to be.  You could maybe call this power trio pop-punk if you didn't mind losing a few teeth.  They could almost rival Spondee or the Very Most in tunefulness, but their tough rhythm section and terse guitar solos bring the RAWK.  Fusing these two strands together is frontman Jimmy Sinn, who proves that John Doe didn't use up all of punk's reserves when it comes to orthodox great singing.  It's been a while since I last saw them, but I don't remember them sounding quite as tight and fierce as they did this night.  And goddamn if it didn't feel good to shout along to the chorus of "Shotgun" again.

You can find info about most of these groups on Facebook.  And for those of you in the Boise area: if you haven't seen the Jerkwadz before, do yourself a favor and catch them at Liquid this Monday (5/21).  Cover's only $5.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Top 5 Idaho Bands

drawing by Ashton Sperry

I've been mulling over this post for a while now.  I'd been trying to come up with some grand address on Idaho music--its past, its present, its future.  I've finally given up on that as beyond my current historical and critical acumen.

For a bit of the past, you can check out this Boise Weekly article.  As for the future, who knows?  That leaves me with the present, and I can only say that, from what I see and hear, quite a few people are making good music right here and right now.  That "right here" encompasses not just Boise but Nampa, Caldwell, Twin Falls and who knows where else in this state.  These folks have helped make the past couple of years the most enjoyable and rewarding of my life so far.

Some critics both local and abroad may not share my assessment.  Fuck 'em.  Let 'em listen to their flavors of the month and their amber-encased treasures of yesteryear and whatever else floats their boats.  I've got other stuff to do.  Like go see one of these bands, maybe.

(Please note: this list is in no particular order.)

photo by Abigail Noveen

Finn Riggins

In my mind, Finn Riggins is as quintessentially Boise as Camel's Back Park, Hawkins Pac-Out, the dearly departed Hollywood Market and that big friggin' hole on the corner of 8th and Main (as my Boise readers can probably tell, I was a North End kid).  It's not that they make music exclusively about or for this place.  Instead, I think that it has to do with the open, communal vibe that each of their live shows generates.  Between their danceable beat, their predominantly major-key melodies, their rousing keyboard and guitar riffs and their playful vocals, Finn Riggins' music seems to say, "Come on in and join the party."  I suppose that you can hear in their songs something of the same spirit that led their keyboard player, Eric Gilbert, to organize the Treefort Music Fest.

Red Hands Black Feet

I wonder sometimes if this group ever gets tired of me writing about them.  I'm sorry if they do, but I can't help recognizing that, as I've written before, they're one of the best bands in town.  I wrote this about Red Hands Black Feet in my post for Day 3 of Treefort:

Eric Larson and Jake Myers' guitars blend and play off each other as if they're telepathically linked, Joseph Myers' elegantly simple basslines add warmth and body to the band's sound and Jessica Nicole Johnson's elemental drumming grounds and powers the whole enterprise. Together, they create music with startling dramatic power. Riffs and grooves form out of the ether, build, gather steam, shoot into the stratosphere, explode and come cascading back down to Earth. The band handles shifts in tempo, dynamic range and tone with such skill and rapport that their compositions seem to live and breathe.

I can't think of anything to add to that.  I might reword it a little, but that's just how I am.

a.k.a. Belle

I'm tempted to call Sam and Catherine Merrick Idaho's answer to Richard and Linda Thompson, but I don't want to jinx their marriage.  Besides, the analogy doesn't quite work.  Sure, a.k.a. Belle's lead instruments are Sam Merrick's tactfully raw guitar and Catherine Merrick's lovely voice.  They probably wouldn't sound quite as good, though, without the support of Mike Rundle's drums, Chris Galli's stand-up bass and Kayleigh Jack's fiddle and harmonies.  Also, as songwriters, the Merricks sound friendlier and more well-adjusted than Richard Thompson does typically (granted, it doesn't take much to pull that off, but let me go on).  Songs like the goofy "At Least I'm Stupid," the straight-shooting "For A Fool" and the go-to live-show closer "Painted, Faded & Tainted" make me think of a much warmer and homier duo: John Prine and Iris DeMent.  Toss in some old-school honky tonk and some Neil Young for good measure, and you've got a band that I'm almost genetically predisposed to love.

The Ratings Battle (formerly the North End Snugglers)

Idaho boasts some respectable punk bands (see some of the names below), but this three-man unit stands at the top of the heap.  No other local band that I've heard crams so much musical sophistication into their two/three-minute bursts.  The Ratings Battle's disparate elements--Josh Gross' agile drumming, Matt Wildhagen's chugging, melodious bass and amiable backup vocals, Matt Hunter's ferocious guitar and pitch-perfect, throat-shredding scream--are stunning in themselves and fit together like a punk rock Voltron.  Their deft arrangements sneak up from right in front of you.  They cover Eddy Grant/ the Clash's "Police On My Back" masterfully, but the song itself pales in comparison to the melodic and lyrical muscle of TRB's original compositions.  They've been on hiatus for a while, but they've announced recently that they're rehearsing and set to play some gigs.  Words cannot express how excited I am to see/hear them tear shit up again.

Like A Rocket

Full disclosure: Like A Rocket's leader, Speedy Gray, was so impressed by my review of one of the band's live shows that he decided to put me on the payroll, as it were.  He's paying me a little bit of money to help out with publicity.  Make of that what you will, but I will insist that LAR's spot on this list has NOTHING to do with payola.  If I thought that his band sucked, Speedy would need to pay me a lot more to get me to work for him. (He's paying me $25 a month.  I said I'd do it for free, but he insisted.)

I don't think that LAR sucks.  In fact, I consider this band the best-kept secret in Boise (for now, anyway).  As with The Ratings Battle, there are no slouches in LAR when it comes to musicianship.  Broken apart, Max Klymenko's drums, Z.V. House's bass and Speedy Gray's guitar would serve as the shining stars of lesser bands.  Joined together, they form the proverbial whole greater than the sum of its parts.  I have yet to see them give a bad performance. As a matter of fact, I have yet to see them give a so-so performance. They've kicked ass even when they've played to an audience of five, which included me, Max Klymenko's girlfriend and the two bartenders.

As impressive as each member's playing is, LAR's secret weapon is Speedy Gray's singing.  I believe that many of us, from the most hardcore American Idol and The Voice fanatic to the most insular indie music devotee, accept on some level the Aretha Franklin/Otis Redding/Wilson Pickett model as the gold standard of singing.  I won't dispute the validity of that model (I think that Marianne Faithfull hit the nail on the head when she said, "God does have a voice--it's Aretha Franklin's"), but it can disincline one from perceiving how rare an achievement Speedy's unflashy assurance and conversational, Zen-like cool are.  Indeed, the only singers whom I can think of comparing him to are honky-tonk legend Lefty Frizzell and especially one of Frizzell's greatest disciples, Willie Nelson.  I certainly won't claim that Speedy's as great an artist as those two are, but I will say that he's in a class nearly all by himself among male singers in this town.

Update 12/23/12: I officially stopped helping Speedy Gray with publicity in September.  Unofficially, I pretty much stopped well before that (working on this blog took up most of my time).  To his credit, Speedy has never tried to influence anything that I've written in this blog.  I still have the highest regard for him as a musician and as a person.

Other Idaho Bands/Musicians That/Whom I Really Dig (again, in no particular order):

Hotel Chelsea
Atomic Mama
The Acrotomoans
The Jerkwadz
The Very Most
Range Life
Johnny Shoes
A Seasonal Disguise
The Useless
The Hand
Stargaze Unlimited
Death Songs
Sleepy Seahorse
Aaron Mark Brown
Jac Sound
Cap Gun Suicide
Le Fleur
Dark Swallows
Storie Grubb & the Holy Wars

Wow.  That's a lot of bands, now that I look at it.  I should mention, though, that this list is by no means exhaustive.  I'm sure that I've forgotten some worthy folks, and I know that there's quite a few groups that I haven't seen yet.  I'll look forward to adding some more names to this list in the future.

You can find more info about most of these folks on Facebook and elsewhere online.  All photos were used with the kind permission of the bands.  And very special thanks to Ashton Sperry for the drawing of the guitar-playing spud.  To see more of his artwork, you can go to

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dragons, Mostecelo and Camp @ the Red Room (5/8/12)

This was a good day.  I had a job interview/ test in the afternoon, at the end of which I felt 90-95% certain that I would soon have a job that 1) would put my B.A. in English to use, 2) would pay me enough to get by comfortably, 3) would involve doing work in which I could actually find value, and 4) would leave me with enough time to keep this blog going.  What better way to celebrate than to head downtown and check out some new music?

Since it took place during finals week, this Atypical Tuesday didn't draw quite as large a crowd as the last one did.  It certainly wasn't bad, though, and it included some familiar faces from the Boise hipster set--Wes Malvini of Evil Wine (granted, he was tending bar, but still...), Eric Gilbert, Josh Gross, etc.  I was glad of this by the time that I left the Red Room: the music that I heard this night deserved a good audience.

First up was Dragons, a supercharged power trio from Arizona.  They laid dreamy melodies, introspective lyrics and gentle, boyish vocals atop high-powered surf guitar, surging bass and mind-blowingly fast and precise drumming.  It sounded like what you might hear inside Brian Wilson's head if he were tripping on acid, jacked up on speed and staying up all night listening to the Ramones.  This marked their first time playing in Boise.  I hope that I'll get to see them around here again.  They could join forces with Holograms and become the freakiest surf-rock group ever.

After Dragons came Mostecelo, a.k.a. local musician Rebeca Suarez.  On paper, this lady might sound like something that'd make rock-and-rollers run screaming for the hills.  A folkish singer/songwriter armed with only an amplified Spanish guitar, a keyboard and a kick-drum who sings stuff about chimney-sweeps and Jude the Obscure?  Excuse me while I listen to Black Flag until my ears bleed.  Take it from me, though, headbangers: it'd be your loss if you missed out on her.  Suarez didn't need much more than guitar and keyboard to support her clean, firm voice.  Her spare melodies and sardonic, empathetic, winningly plainspoken lyrics made me think a little of Joni Mitchell's Blue and Leonard Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate.  Even that Jude the Obscure song was pretty damn good.  My favorite of her songs, though, was "Go," a skewed, ironic depiction of brutalities in Bosnia worthy of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

Next up after Mostecelo was Camp, a four-man rock band from Twin Falls.  I don't know what the hell is going on out there, but that city has been cranking out some hard-rocking stuff lately.  This band framed strong melodies and atmospheric, filtered vocals with shimmering, piercing guitar, solemn keyboards, a hard-driving rhythm section and a trippy projection show.  They sounded so powerful and together that I was just flabbergasted.  I imagine that this won't be the last that we'll hear of Camp's muscular psychedelic/shoegaze rock.

I promised a friend that I'd meet her for a beer after Camp, so unfortunately, I missed the night-closing set by Hillfolk Noir, a local group whose hobo folkie shtick and arty, self-conscious take on old-timey roots music probably owe more than a little to Tom Waits and the Coen brothers.  Don't take my leaving as a sign of my disapproval--I'm sure that I'll see them again another time.

You can find info about all of these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  For details about upcoming Atypical Tuesdays and more, you can go to  And if she doesn't have it already, somebody please get Rebeca Suarez a copy of Lost In the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill.  She was born to cover "Ballad of the Soldier's Wife" or "What Keeps Mankind Alive?".

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cap Gun Suicide and Dying Famous @ the Red Room (5/5/12)

Oy.  Two blog posts in two days.  I was ready to take a break from writing, go down to the Red Room and have a nice, laid-back Cinco de Mayo.

Then I got to the Red Room and heard the music.  Sigh.  Time to get out the notepad...

I walked in near the start of Cap Gun Suicide's set.  After listening to a few songs, I grew puzzled by the audience's rather tame response to this local, four-person hard rock band (it picked up as more people showed up, but still...).  Have hipsters become so jaded or rarefied in their tastes that solid melodies and hooks, smart lyrics, buzzsaw guitar, streamlined bass and hard-hitting drums do nothing for them?  Who knows?  In spite of the muted reception, the band gave a more-than-decent performance: they cracked jokes, got a good groove going, unveiled some strong new songs and pulled off covers of U2's "With Or Without You" and Neil Young's "Rockin' In the Free World."  My only complaint about their set was that the guitar sounded a little quiet.  But you could turn that into a compliment for this group--they make music that should make the walls rattle.

After Cap Gun Suicide came Dying Famous, another local four-person rock band.  This group had a much more metal feel than Cap Gun Suicide did: slower tempos, longer guitar solos, Danzig and Rage Against the Machine covers.  They played a little too loosely and raggedly to really qualify as heavy metal, but as a guy who's always preferred punk anyway, I didn't consider that such a bad thing.  Of course, it helped that these guys clearly didn't take themselves too seriously.  They cracked wise throughout their set, sang songs with lines like "You smell like gin, you've only had wine," let a drunk-as-a-skunk Irishman grab a mic and holler incoherently while they tuned up and closed with a hilarious anthem entitled "Big Balls."

You can find info about these two bands on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Hardluck Cowboys @ the Crux; Dark Swallows, The Gunfighters, Range Life and Annex Madly @ the VAC (5/4/12)

This was a busy night.  I don't usually shift between two venues or shows (the big exception so far being Treefort), but I wanted to show my support for Speedy Gray, who was playing a show at the Crux with local musician Johnny Shoes, and for Keesha Renna, whose Vagabond Promotions set up a solid bill at the VAC.  Man, who woulda thought that being a hipster/ poseur would be so much damn work?

My first stop for the evening was the Crux.  Both Speedy and Johnny Shoes apparently lost a gig, which prompted them to put together this one-off show under the name The Hardluck Cowboys.  I stayed for a little over an hour, and I wish that I could've been there longer.  Playing without his compatriots in Like A Rocket, Speedy Gray got to demonstrate just how fine a singer he really is.  On his quietly devastating cover of "Sunday Morning Coming Down," he channeled Willie Nelson right down to the conversational, just-behind-the-beat phrasing.  As for Johnny Shoes, he proved himself a songwriter and performer cut from the same cloth as Guy Clark and John Prine (both of whom he's opened for, according to his Facebook page).  For the 75 or so minutes that I watched them, they traded stories, jokes, songs and solos like they'd played together for years.  It was so great that it felt downright criminal being almost the only person there to see it.  I did note, however, that a lot of pedestrians passing by the Crux slowed their pace a bit to rubberneck.

I noticed quite a few cars in the parking lot when I arrived at the VAC.  That boded well, I thought, for the bands playing, for the VAC and for my friend Keesha.  That's the spirit, people!

I got inside just in time to catch the tail-end of Dark Swallows' set.  They sounded in particularly good form this night, and some smoke and lasers created just the right ominous atmosphere for their music.  The little bit of their set that I saw confirmed for me that, much as I like Le Fleur, I prefer this group just a little more: to my ears, they've got a stronger beat, stronger riffs and especially stronger melodies.

Next up after Dark Swallows was the Gunfighters, a local six-person rock band who decided to film their set for use in a music video.  After listening to Speedy Gray and Johnny Shoes, the traces of blues and rockabilly in this group's music felt a little cosmetic.  However, I couldn't complain much about these folks, considering that they came equipped with solid melodies, pleasant harmonies, outstanding guitar solos and a funky rhythm section (the drummer's a monster with that hi-hat).
(Note: There were a LOT more people at the VAC than this picture suggests.  They were all just hanging back by the bar and hiding from the lights and the camera.)

After the Gunfighters came Range Life.  This marked the third time that I've seen this local group, and it was easily the best yet.  The extra oomph that they put into in their minimalistic rhythms, artfully artless singing and jangling, droning guitar interplay made clear that their sound stems not from a lack of ability but from conscious artistic choices.  It also made clear to me that, while their music definitely owes a debt to groups like Pavement, Sonic Youth and the Velvet Underground, its true precursor is one of my all-time favorite groups (and a precursor of two of the bands that I just named, incidentally), Neil Young and Crazy Horse.  The unprojected vocals did make it hard to hear the lyrics, but the sure-fire tunes and razor-sharp soloing encouraged me to lean closer.  I'll look forward to seeing this group again and watching them develop further.

Closing out the night was local group Annex Madly, whose multi-textured, polyrhythmic rock and mysterioso light show owed something to bands like Nine Inch Nails.  My phone's crappy camera proved unequal to the task of capturing the darkened stage, the strobelights and the laser beams, so unfortunately, I don't have a picture of their set.  Maybe it's just as well--you might just need to see them live to get the full effect.

These guys had samples, noises, riffs, hooks and tunes galore.  The only thing that held them back was their singing, which I found at once too obtrusive and not obtrusive enough.  Music like this needs a belter/screamer like Trent Reznor to spearhead it or a gentle warbler like Bernard Sumner to stay out of its way.  Annex Madly's vocals seemed to insist on their own distinct identity, which I thought broke some of the spell that the music and lights tried to create.  All the same, the group's set was impressive and provided a good ending to the concert.

You can find info about Speedy Gray, Johnny Shoes, the groups who played the VAC and Vagabond Promotions on Facebook.