Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WHO are you...


I saw The Who this week (or as my friend Dave and I joke - ‘The Two’). Anyway, I couldn’t help but consider several things as I watched them play. It occurred to me that even in a revised form, they are still powerful, exciting and valid.  The obvious parallel of a band replacing key members and carrying on almost doesn’t warrant comment. There are also obvious differences, but the notable comparison for me was how little their current bassist, Pino Palladino, tries to emulate John Entwistle. He brings his own style to the mix, which has got to be a tough gig. I’ve seen The Who three times and never much thought to consider this fact until now. He holds his own bravely and admirably, occupying a position that would seem untenable.

Being that this week marks one year since we lost Joe Young I could relate to how he must feel. Although it may be a bit of a stretch to compare my position to Pino Palladino’s – or ANTiSEEN to the Who for that matter – I think I can fairly say that stepping up to work at a level that occupies a ‘legacy act’ status is quite daunting. I can’t speak for the others, but for me Joe’s memory weighs heavily in my consciousness every time we play. It isn’t that I necessarily feel as if I’m being ‘judged’, or that people are making unfair comparisons. I already resolved that sort of thing before I ever played the first show. For me the memory serves as a standard; an expectation to do the best I can do. Not so much for the expectation of ANTiSEEN fans as my own self-satisfaction. The fans can walk away carrying whatever praise or criticism they may have, but I gotta live with this shit every day. And my conscience is clear. I channel my anger and angst through this outlet I’ve been fortunate to have been provided. And for that I have no doubt what I’m doing is correct and respectful… and valid.

I argue that art in general and music specifically – however great or meaningless or meaninglessly great, or greatly meaningless – isn’t subjective; it’s patently objective… if it has validity. Because if it is valid it possesses meaning and will stand. This is why something like the Ramones, what once was considered non-commercial at best and anti-commercial at worst, now is used in commercials.

OK, OK... maybe that’s a bit of an over-simplification, MAYBE… but it’s true. There is a reason why Gerry Rafferty isn’t a household name and the Sex Pistols is. Moreover there is a reason why the Sex Pistols are still remembered and recognized while say, something like Color Me Badd is not.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that so much of what has risen in the wake has been increasingly mediocre if not wholly non-essential. Far too many are grandstanding in self-sanctimonious posturing while expressing nothing outside of their pointless self-indulgence. I think as a culture we are fragmenting, splintering and disintegrating constantly. I don’t see very much new model anything leaving any real impression. That which does usually echoes back to another era. Perhaps this is why we cling so dearly to our shared cultural past. What we once dismissed as ‘dinosaur’ we now acknowledge as ‘iconic’. Talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-generation…

Because the other thing I was struck by seeing The Who is a latent truth only recently realized; the truth that ‘My Generation’ is still ‘My Generation’. However what once was an anthem of teen angst rebelling against a society masking its own insecurity with complacency is now an anthem of the middle-aged raging against the succeeding youth culture masking its own ambivalence with the same said tired complacency.

Youth culture is so seemingly void of transcendence, catharsis or - I dare say – spirituality. Oh, I don’t mean church-like or religion. I mean that intangible quality that shakes you to the core; that which sets the hair on the back of your neck on end and can bring tears to your eyes. I've been fortunate to see, hear - experience - things that I cannot really describe in words. I've been fortunate to see icons, legends and groundbreakers... Little Richard, Blue Cheer, The Who, GG Allin, Chuck Berry, Ramones, Johnny Cash, the New York Dolls, Bo Diddly, Stooges and so many more. These moments are burned into my memory and my soul. Trying to convey what it is, what it means and why it is important is all but impossible. I somehow seriously doubt anyone gets that same sort of elation at a Foo Fighters or Red Hot Chili Peppers gig.

The children of privilege stomp about with their instant gratification, iPhones, MP3 players, movies streaming on demand and omnipresent social media substituted as communal experience. Their pursuits are superficial and superfluous. As such they offer nothing of substantive integrity. Even their protest is prefabricated and predictable. But then, it is kinda hard to rebel when you’ve been allowed so much.

Rock and Roll was a sin in my house, and I found myself having to fight tooth fang and claw for every piece of vinyl I could embezzle my lunch money to buy. Time spent in church never offered the salvation I was seeking or the redemption I required. Time spent in front of my ancient console stereo was much more penetratingly meaningful than Sunday school by a long shot. If ever I saw the light, I must’ve realized I wasn't blinded. I still craved the forbidden fruit, ripe for the plucking as it always is. As I myself, was at that moment. I was ready to R-O-C-K in the U-S-A, but still I lacked fundamentals while cursed with the fundamentalist.

When I bought ‘Honour Among Thieves’ - my first ANTiSEEN record  - way back in 1989, I studied the back cover liner notes and clearly remember being impressed and surprised to see comparisons to The Who. I didn’t totally hear it; my ear not yet trained to that understanding, but I somehow instinctively understood it. Its attitude was unstudied and unrefined. Its pose was unpracticed and uncaring. Its energy was unrelenting and unmerciful. The music jumped off the grooves and infected my psyche with a freaked out overload of aggro that demanded attention and response. It opened up new avenues to self-discovery and self-realization and altered my life forever.

But here I guess I’m throwing punches around and preaching from my chair.

This week we are going to play in Detroit, spiritual wellspring for a great deal of my musical upbringing. From the distant thunder of ‘Kick Out The Jams’ in the Grande Ballroom to the cannon blasts of KISS at Cobo Hall to the Stooges infamous implosion ‘Metallic K.O.’ at the Michigan Palace, or The Who shocking the chaperones of Southfield High School in 1967… if I can syphon off even an ounce of that history and energy then I count myself fortunate.

It seems anymore when I get that old-time feelin’ it usually comes via the dusty grooves of an old lost record from some bygone era. But, hey, them roots need augmented every now and again… And if I’m ‘left in the dark’ then hide me from the light forever and ever…

Coz I don’t care what you say, boy – there ain’t no way out.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Noise Travels...


OK so it's been awhile since I last updated the blog. We've been pretty busy working on some new material and if all goes according to plan we'll be recording soon. Meanwhile we've been hitting the gravel taking the noise on the road, invading and infecting a few small hamlets and burghs with that good ol' D-Rock we've all come to know and love. Here's a rundown of whats been happenin':

 

CHARLOTTE - March 21

ANTiSEEN has been very fortunate to have had a longstanding association with Tremont Music Hall in Charlotte. Over the course of the bands history they have enjoyed working relationships with several clubs in town, but none more important and vital as the one shared with Tremont. Since Tremont first opened its doors in 1995 it has welcomed the band and its audience, hosting countless shows including several of the bands infamous anniversary shows. It has employed various members to pick up some extra cash. It has opened its stage for rehearsal and its lock up for storage. It has been a home to ANTiSEEN, one that is respected and appreciated beyond all others. 

Tremont Music Hall has stood so long now that it is an institution, perhaps one overlooked and underappreciated. This is unfortunate. Never a venue to breed elitism or exclusivity, it has provided a stage for many young bands to prove themselves. It has (and continues) to allow exposure for bands no matter what style or approach; from adolescent punk rock kids to graying middle-aged hippies to rising rappers to introverted indie-rockers to heavy metal merchants and any and all things in between - Tremont welcomes it all. So when Tremont owner John Hayes asked us to perform at Tremont’s own 20th anniversary party on March 21, it was our honor and privilege to accept.

The show was loaded with many bands from the era of Tremont’s opening, most reuniting for the event. Former ANTiSEEN member Doug Canipe performed with his band Cronic Disorder and Barry Hannibal reunited with his former band Bloody Mary. Another highlight was the reunion of Rabid Salesmen as well as a reunion of the surviving members of Animal Bag. ANTiSEEN was scheduled pretty much smack in the middle - although the only band on the bill still actively performing and touring, we wanted no special favor. We were content to be part of the festivities.

I arrived shortly before our scheduled time. Most groups were sharing the backline of equipment provided by the club, but I had my own stuff already stored there. Fortunately our roadie Brandon was there and we loaded onstage quickly. A few words on Brandon: I only met him last summer. He has proven very valuable doing the boring and tedious shitwork the road requires. Everything from loading and unloading equipment to merely fetching us water for the stage, he steps up to every request and demand without complaint or hesitation. He rides along cramped in our van (he's a big man; about 6'5) content to endure our random idle chatter and schizophrenic music tastes. I find myself relying on his assistance more often than not; "where’s Brandon?" a common phrase. It has been really good to have him on board.

So we load our gear and drive into our set with a trifecta of A-SEEN oldies; 'Burnin' Money', 'Last Days On Earth' and 'Wifebeater'. I feel really sluggish having eaten something that afternoon that didn't agree with me. Barry walks over to me at one point and stares me down. It’s obvious, I think. I try to step up. Our set is short, only about twenty minutes. We reach a stopping point and I check the tuning on my guitar. With my back turned I hear Clayton begin to verbally berate someone in the audience. I miss the altercation but it ends with some guy getting whip-snapped in the face via Clayton's well aimed microphone. All of this occurs while I'm tuning. I merely finish up and we launch forth into the next song.

We've invited John Hayes to join us on stage for our cover of the great old Alice Cooper song 'Sick Things'. John provides some tasty lead work while I trudge out the main riff. It isn't something we've ever played; we only gave it a few run though at practice a few times. It gets a tad wonky in spots but we all had a great time and the audience seemed to dig it. We sure did, we might include it in future sets. Time will tell.

After the set Barry tells me he thought it was great. I look at him somewhat surprised. I asked him if he could tell I was dragging and he says no. I tell him about his starring me down while we were playing and how I thought he could tell. I tell him I was feeling queasy before the set. He assures me it was great and then jokingly suggests I should get sick before every set.



After the Tremont Anniversary we scarcely had time to practice, however we still managed to work up a pretty cool set and packed up for a weekend road trip across the Great Smoky Mountains and up into the Bluegrass State of Kentucky. Here’s how it went down -

JOHNSON CITY, TN - April 3

We headed out early on Friday to beat the holiday weekend traffic. It was a nice ride up, as it always is in this part of the country. One thing I've always enjoyed while travelling is the scenery. I know its sounds corny and convoluted but its true. Whether its the desert of west Texas, the high-rise cityscapes of the Northeast or the rural rust belt of the Midwest, I never want to take it for granted. I enjoy all of it. As many times as we've driven this route across the Smokies it never gets old.

We made good time rolling into Johnson City late that afternoon. We go ahead and find a motel for the night, check in and settle. After killing some time watching TV, we head over to the club. The city has some sort of street festival happening. Streets are closed to traffic, including the street the club is located on. However it has started to rain and nobody is out. We drive around in  circles to no avail. We consider some alternatives before deciding to hell with it. We take matters into our own hands, running a roadblock and driving on up to the club. Nobody stops us or questions our action.

The club is called The Hideaway. The band has played here several times before. I remember coming here when still working merch. Its a simple room, a long narrow corridor with the stage located immediately next to the front door. The bar is situated along one wall about a third of the way back. This is clearly a room for live music and nothing else. There are no pool tables or distracting televisions. I like this fact. We load in and everyone walks down the street for something to eat. I decide I'm not hungry and stay behind. I like having a little downtime alone in the van.

Our set that night is witnessed by a small but enthusiastic crowd of about thirty people. They really seem to get off on it, I suspect there isn't much to do up here. These kids wanna hear some loud rock & roll and blow off some steam. We give it to 'em. I have my Hiwatt cranked a little louder than usual and the sound guy doesn't seem to mind. The room has great acoustics; hardwood floors and plaster walls as opposed to the usual concrete and steel bunkers most clubs seem to occupy anymore. The heat is steamy and sweat burns my eyes. I notice blood on my guitar. I've opened up one of my fingers. It makes me play harder. Its a good set, we burn thru it quickly and get called back for an encore.

The people were all very cool as was the club. I wish every show could be like this, without the snobbery and elitism we sometimes encounter in larger cities and venues. I've decided that I very much like Johnson City.

 

LOUISVILLE, KT - April 4

After an obligatory IHOP stop that morning we loaded into the van and proceeded to encounter some of the worst interstate traffic I've seen in some time. Virtually bumper-to-bumper moving about twenty miles under the speed limit we crawled along, occasionally hitting pockets of resumed normal speed before slowing back down again. We detoured off onto a state highway only to hit another traffic jam - a car on fire on the side of the road. After about thirty minutes watching it burn the police let us pass and we eventually made it to Louisville around 7pm.

The last time we were in Louisville I was merely tagging along. With no real responsibilities or obligations I hopped into the van almost at the last minute for a quick run of dates thru the Midwest. The trip was highlighted with a set in Chicago with Sloppy Seconds. The Louisville show was at a little place called the Magnolia Bar. There was no stage there, they simply moved a pool table aside and the band set up on the floor. It actually was very cool - the kids crowded up around the band and it made for a really fun atmosphere. Although this show is scheduled at a larger venue I find myself kinda wishing we were back playing at the Magnolia.

The club is called The New Vintage. It is two rooms; one holds the bar and the other the stage. It is, in fact a pretty nice place. Large heavy drapes and carpet insulate the room and provides some semblance of soundproofing for the neighboring apartments. We load in quickly and meet the soundguy. He is very cool and helpful. He is impressed with my rig and doesn't seem to mind when I explain my settings. I warn him I'm a "little bit, uh... loud". He laughs good naturedly and assures me it'll be fine.   

We inquire where we might find something to eat and are told there’s a White Castle two block down. Gooch lights up; he loves White Castle. I've never had it before but certainly its reputation precedes it. Gooch is like a kid at Christmas, practically salivating on his shoes. He wrangles Brandon and myself and we make the short walk over to the restaurant. Gooch orders a mountain of the tiny burgers, scarfing them down like its his lifes mission. I manage to ingest about three. They are the gnarliest, slimiest most wretched excuse of a "hamburger" I think I've ever eaten. Gooch is somewhat crestfallen, but continues to chow down on the slime patties. Oh well, you live and you learn I guess.

We return to the club. We bring a bag of White Castles back to Kerrie. Kerrie is Clayton's daughter and sells the merch for us. Merch might be the least enviable job on the road. There is a lot responsibility involved and it takes certain temperament to deal with some of the knuckleheads that you encounter at the table. Moreover you're pretty much stuck behind the table all night. Kerrie does a good job and better still she fits right in with our crazy little traveling party. She decides the White Castle is pretty gnarly, too.

We meet up with Adam Neal. Adam is the lead vocalist in a band called the Hookers, longtime friends of ANTiSEEN. Tonight however we are paired with his side project, a band called Savage Master. This group is something of a throwback to early 80's theatrical Heavy Metal, adorning themselves in black executioner hoods and studded leather arm bands. Adam is a guitarist in this band. The lead singer is Stacy Savage, a powerhouse vocalist who performs in a leather Dominatrix outfit. Its quite the spectacle.

We finally hit stage and plow through our set. I remember thinking our set was kinda long at practice, but now as we drive though it I find myself thinking its too short. The crowd is much larger than the one that came to the Magnolia show. They all seem to know the songs and its fun to see the flash of recognition on their faces, particularly with some of the older tunes we are playing now. I find myself less nervous and playing harder. My fingers are bleeding again; the sticky slickness of the blood makes it hard to keep hold of my pick. I notice what I initially think is a broken string hanging from the peg of my guitar. It's a strand of Clayton's hair. We sometimes collide.

At the end of the set we are called out for an encore, but I'm somewhat surprised when they call out for a second encore. We huddle and discuss what to play. We quickly decide on 'Death Train' and 'Up All Night'. I somehow get lost momentarily in 'Death Train’; we haven't played it in several months. It all comes together though. We finally leave the stage and I stumble against the wall exhausted. I think its probably one of the three best sets we've done yet.

After the show I get some much appreciated well wishes from people. We load out and pack into the van, high on the natural energy from a great set. Riding along the highway in the dark of night I can't help but smile to myself. I can't think of any time when things have ran as smoothly or everyone has gotten along as well as right now. Through all the heartache, loss and misfortune things have finally settled in a very good place.

 

WILMINGTON – April 10

I remember coming down to Wilmington with the boys a bunch back in the early 90’s. They would regularly play a club called the Mad Monk and later on a club called Jacobs Run. It was at Jacobs Run where the band was surprised when Joey Ramone was in the audience one night. He came backstage for a quick ‘hello’ but the boys were so shocked to see him they didn’t even think to have him join them for their version of ‘Today Your Love’. Missed opportunity, oh well.

The last time I came down with the boys was a couple of years ago working merch. The club had done nothing in the way of advertising and as such nobody turned up. This is phenomena I never fully understood; the ‘lets book a band and never advertise’ approach to running a club. I’ve seen this method in practice since I was a kid, it clearly is nothing new. And if the idea is to not make money then it works quite well. However as far as I can tell most clubs generally do want to make money, so ….?? We’ve encountered this more often than not. Oh and then the other winning booking philosophy; ‘we’ll make two flyers and post them in the bathroom’. Sometimes I think the only requirement to run a club is little more than breathing.

Some clubs meet you at the door holding some weird grudge. It’s as if somebody held a gun to their head and insisted they book the show. They treat every request as the biggest nuisance and eyeball you sideways with suspicion. I mean, sure maybe you don’t like the band or what it does, but a little professional courtesy would be appreciated. We try to hold our end of this bargain. Its amazing that some clubs seem genuinely surprised that we our nice people; professional even.

 Fortunately this trip we encountered none of this.

We arrived in town early in the afternoon. Our old pal John the Baptist from the band Rapegoat invited us over for a pre-show cookout. I caught the new Iron Sheik documentary and chowed down on some killer chicken and burgers. John and his wife Alex are some cool folks and their hospitality was much appreciated. We all got sufficiently stuffed and then packed into the van for the short ride over to the club.

The club is Called Reggie’s 42nd St. Tavern. It is located on a side street behind some strip malls, a fairly unassuming building save for a garish and rather sexually suggestive sign for an Ice Cream shop that doesn’t actually exist. Evidently the sign is a leftover prop from a low-budget film shot here. The front houses a tiny record shop and hair salon. The tavern itself occupies the rear of the building. There are three rooms aligned, one with pool tables and game machines, another holds the bar. The third room hosts a tiny stage. The PA is relatively small. I think it only runs the vocals. There are no monitors. It’s all very low-rent and basic; a cool little no-frills underground rock & roll club.

We load our gear in and kill some time in the record shop. I always love it when clubs have adjoining shops. Afterwards I kill time sitting in the van. The club has started to fill up and it gets very humid inside. The weather outside is beautiful. Suddenly I hear the first band start. They open their set with a song that is virtually identical to the ANTiSEEN song ‘OD For Me’. I know its coincidence but its still pretty cool. They’re called ‘White Tiger & The Bed of Roses’. They deliver a pretty sharp set of straight forward rock & roll.

The next band is called ‘Rural Swine’ and features Greg Clayton on drums. Greg of course played drums in ANTiSEEN as well as with me in the early days of the Mad Brother Ward thing. Ironically it was here in Wilmington, way, way back in 1992 when ANTiSEEN decided to replace Steve Sadler with Greg. I remember sitting with them in a pancake house after a show as they had the conversation, feeling like I was witnessing something I shouldn't have. Anyway Rural Swine have been around Wilmington forever. They remind me a bit of the band I used to like called Ed Gein’s Car. Kinda swampy pop if you can imagine such a thing.

We finally hit the stage and are soon drenched in a copious amount of sweat and blood. The stage is low and people are crowded right up in our faces. The floor is slick with beer and kids crash about slam dancing. I’ve compensated for the tiny PA by adding some volume to my guitar. I let it feedback and squeal between songs. We barely stop. I find it difficult to breath in the heat and humidity. It feels like a workout. This is not a complaint.

We get called back for an encore. The crowd seems as exhausted as we are. After the set many lay siege on the merch table, where Clayton does a swift business selling shirts and holding court. Some local food joint has set up catering tables in the bar and the boys load up on some food. We talk a bit with the owner who seems very happy with everything and eagerly invites us back. I quickly pack up my gear and am met by a couple of guys who are fans of the band. They want to meet the “new guy” and we talk about my gear and how I came to join. Bob, the guitarist from Rural Swine joins in the conversation. He pulls out his Les Paul Junior, a sweet little guitar I’m envious of.

It was a fun trip, a cool club and great people. I look forward to coming back.

 

We have another run up thru Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan in a few weeks. We're also working up another little something special for our hometown that we’ll be announcing shortly. A few other projects are in the pipeline that I'm pretty excited about and hopefully maybe - something really cool towards the end of the year. We'll have to wait and see.

 

So stay with us and we'll hopefully be seeing you all real soon...