Archive for the ‘Lesser Known Bands’ Category

Mudhoney – Still Going Strong

December 11, 2013

Mudhoney

Once on the verge of super-stardom, Mudhoney now sticks to mostly small clubs, but every once in a while (like right now) they get back to the top and do an arena tour opening for Pearl Jam. Not too shabby for a band who started in 1988 and practically started grunge and was (and continues to be) the poster boy Sub Pop. While never making the highest of heights like their contemporaries did, they still have left an indelible mark on music, and continue to put out great music.

I had the tremendous opportunity to go see them in concert in he fall in a tiny little cracker box known as U Street Music Hall. It was amazing to see a band like Mudhoney  at a venue as small as that, especially since they were about a month away from an arena tour with Pearl Jam. I wasn’t about to complain, though. The venue was so small that it could have taken place in 1988, or 89 when the band, and Grunge Rock as a whole, was just finding it’s legs.

Some will tell you that Grunge began with Mark Arm’s previous band Green River and the other bands of that era. That’s the best starting point this blogger has come across, but it really didn’t break out of Seattle until Mudhoney’s 1988 single “Touch Me I’m Sick“. Even though the song is 25 years old, when they played it in 2013, the place went just as nuts as they would have in 1988. It was an incredible thing to witness.

They have not slowed down at all. After trying their luck at a major label with limited success, they found themselves back at their roots – Sub Pop. They have released and re-released several albums in the latter part of last decade, and show no signs of slowing. They’re newest album, “Vanishing Point” hits just as hard as their earlier albums. They have not lost their edge and are great to see live. Giving up on Mudhoney would be a huge mistake.

One last thing. It would be a huge mistake if I didn’t mention that I had the tremendous opportunity to meet their legendary drummer Dan Peters after the show in the fall. It was an amazing experience to met one of my musical heroes. He was extraordinarily nice.

Album Review: Imitations by Mark Lanegan

November 25, 2013

20131125-153149.jpg After years of drought between solo albums, Mark
Lanegan finally unearthed his solo career in 2012 with the release of “Blues
Funeral
.” He followed up later in the year with a collaboration with guitarist Duke Garwood for the haunting “Black Pudding.” September 2013 brought Mark to the return to his solo records of past years with a stripped down band (most songs just have a single guitar) in an album of cover songs called
Imitations.””Black Pudding” offered the same tone, but it was more of a collaboration and not a true solo album. The album also marks the return of former collaborators – Mike Johnson, who provided the guitar for most of Mark’s early solo albums, and former Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel.

The album starts off with the slow-paced “Flatlands,” and it only varies from the tempo it sets occasionally. I the album, he covers Greg Dulli, Nick Cave, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, and others. It really shows the wide-range of influences that have led to a career spanning four decades. One particular standout for me is a tremendous version of Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice.” He takes the former James Bond title track, and makes it his own by providing his trademark grizzled vocals. It’s album is a departure from the previous two Lanegan solo albums. “Bubblegum” and “Blues Funeral” had a full band (the artist credited was the Mark Lanegan Band) and took a more traditional rock approach, while still providing haunting songs that defined his earlier work. When asked why he made “Imitations” he replied:

When I was a kid in the late sixties and early seventies, my parents and their friends would play the records of Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como, music with string arrangements and men singing songs that sounded sad whether they were or not. At home my folks were also listening to country music, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, George Jones and Vern Gosdin were some of our favorites. For a long time I’ve wanted to make a record that gave me the same feeling those old records did, using some of the same tunes I loved as a kid and some that I’ve loved as I have gotten older. This record is it. Imitations.

If you like Mark Lanegan, you’ll loves this album. Even if you don’t like him, there are certain songs you can pick out and really enjoy. The album is very accessible to everyone, and deserves a place in your record collection.

Sub Pop 25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee

November 20, 2013
Surfing640

Photo by: John Pusieski

Living on the East coast, I didn’t give much initial thought going to the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee. Sure, it’s my favorite label, but the concert was in Seattle, nearly 3,000 miles away. A friend of mine shared the link with me and the seed was planted. Fortunately, my family lives in Southern Washington, but Seattle was still very far away from them. I made the mistake of looking at the lineup. I knew I HAD to be there. The same friend who planted the seed happens to live near my parents so we made plans to drive to Seattle.

I was getting excited. I was about to live out my dream of seeing all these pioneers of the grunge movement in a single day. We quickly made our list of who we needed to see. That list included: Jack Endino’s Earthworms, TAD, Mudhoney, Father John Misty, and if we had time, we wanted to check out J. Mascis and Greg Dulli.

July 13 came quickly and we were ready. We got to Georgetown Park, the location of the festival, about an hour before the first band was scheduled to get the lay of the land. After looking around for a bit, we stopped in to a local record store and saw the most amazing Nirvana/grunge vinyl collection I have ever seen. Right around the corner from that store was the infamous Sub Pop Mega-Mart. I picked up some 45 adapters and a Sub Pop Jones Cola and I was on my way.

Fortunately for us, Jack Endino’s Earthworms and TAD were playing on the same stage right after each other, so we didn’t have to move for a while. The stage was sponsored by the Elysian Brewing Company, so we helped ourselves to some Loser Pale Ale and their Nevermind Pale Ale. Now it was time for Endino’s Earthworms! While they were getting ready, I got to meet one of my heroes:

Jack Endino

Photo by John Pusieski

Here is a video of the man and the band playing. The entire show was awesome. They played a lot of original stuff, a Mudhoney cover, and, the highlight for me, a Screaming Trees cover featuring Connor brother Pat.

Tad, who was touring with his current band Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, came on next and he came on heavy with a hard-hitting set that pleased everyone. There was even a mosh pit and crowd surfing – a rarity at shows that I usually go to these days. Here’s a little taste of what he brought to the table. Our ears were ringing for sure.

After Tad, we have some time to mill around. We bought some more merchandise, caught a bit of J. Mascis and Greg Dulli. We then went to stake out a spot for Mudhoney. We did not have the best view, but it did not lessen our experience at all. We were still able to rock out like we were half our age.

After Mudhoney, we were ready to head back to our hotel. We had been there, standing, for eight hours, had three full concerts, bits and pieces of several others, and  walked about five miles just back and forth around the event. to put it mildly, we were exhausted. We were able to see a tiny bit of Father John Misty on our way out, so it wasn’t all bad.

Thanks to Sub Pop for making a bunch of losers feel like a king for a day. If the next 25 years are even half as good as the first 25 years, we’re in for some awesome music.

For more photos by John, visit his website at http://personal-spectrum.com/

Album Review: The Manics – Fruit EP

February 28, 2010

Wow, that was a quick couple of months of silence from his blog, but I was inspired by something and I had to share. I got my hands on an EP from a new band called The Manics. I didn’t know what to expect from it. I had never heard of them, but I love trying out new bands and getting pleasantly surprised. The EP is not out yet, but will be soon. It is called “Fruit” and it is not one to be missed. It starts off with the heavy title track that let’s you know right off the bat the direction of the EP and it does not disappoint. The second track, “Doll” is a great ballad that has the singer crying out in despair that he “needs to feel something real”. Not the false hope that people usually cling to.

The third track, “Ellen’s Scars” stands out to me the most. It is seemingly rooted in alternative history. Takes a little form the Pixies with soft verses and very hard choruses. The guitar solo is a lyric copy a la “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The chorus has a lot of fuzz-tone and feedback to make any “grunge” fan proud. The band took a chance with “Tell Her No”, a Zombies cover. I don’t like covers as much, but I love it when bands take chances and this is a very big chance for a few reasons. the most obvious reason is The Zombies are not that well known.  The Manics pulled it off though, and it is a great cover that has their own stamp on it.

The EP comes to a close with the softer “Stars” that has a simple chord progression a la Weezer. It doesn’t let you off the hook very easily as the EP begins, very hard and fast. “Fruit” shows a lot of range for the band and is a very good effort. I am very excited about what the band will put out in the future. There seems to be a wide range of influences that will prove beneficial in the future. The Manics seem to be well-grounded in music history which automatically makes them better than 90% of bands out there. I hope that everyone else will be as excited about them as I am. If you want to hear their first album (and you should want to), it is available here.

Here are a few pictures of The Manics:

The Manics

The Manics

The Manics

The Soulsavers feat. Mark Lanegan

September 22, 2009

The Soulsavers came to the nation’s capitol on an absolutely beautiful day, and the Soulsavers only added to the day’s beauty. Touring for their new CD “Broken” (and we are all thanking them for choosing a shorter album name) they decided to play intimate venues. For Washington DC, that meant the Rock and Roll Hotel. The venue was indeed small. They had a soundboard on the stage and there was barely enough room on the stage for all of them, but there were still rocking out.

The opening act was Red Ghost who provided vocals for the cover of “Praying Ground” on “Broken”. I got there in time to hear about half her set (My apt is not Metro accessible and neither is the venue, so getting there was quite a journey). The songs I did hear, however, really impressed me. She has some pipes and can really belt out a tune. I am going to have to get her EP. The rest of the crowd agreed with me as she left to a good ovation (as good as it could be with small crowd).

She walked off stage and I knew what was next. The last time I saw the Soulsavers was in 2007 in Los Angeles. I count that as my favorite concert of all time. A lot of stars were aligned that night. It was the first time I had seen Mark live in over a year, it was at my favorite venue, it was with a band I really enjoy, and I was there with good friends. Now seeing Mark play live is old hat. I’ve seen him 3 times since then and 6 overall. But it is always different when he comes around with the Soulsavers and tonight was no different.

They started with a rocking version of “Ask the Dust” off of the “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land” CD. Mark walked on stage and they went right into “Ghosts of You and Me” and we were on our way.

The night was a mix of songs from “Broken” and songs from “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land” with highlights that included “Some Misunderstanding”, “Paper Money”, “Jesus of Nothing”, “Unbalanced Pieces”,  “You Will Miss Me When I Burn”, and “Kingdoms of Rain”. The band was in top form, it seemed, really adding a lot to the music and the live experience.

They ended the set with the seminal “Hit the City” and they walked off stage. The facade quickly ended as the band walked back on stage (minus Rich and Mark) and sang a stirring rendition of “By My Side”. After the song was over, Mark and Rich joined the band back on stage and BLEW us away with the powerful “Revival“. I’ve heard that song over 50 times in the last 2 years, and it still blows me away every time.

The show seemed to end as quickly as it started, but we were left in amazement. After the show was over I made my way over to the merchandise stand to pick up a shirt and a live CD I had heard about. To my great surprise, the live CD was from the show at the Troubadour back in December of 2007. It came full circle.

Interestingly enough, due to the “no flash” rule, I was able to snap probably the best picture I have ever taken.

Mark Lanegan

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DSCN0549

The New Face of Grunge Rock

March 1, 2009

Yes readers, grunge rock (or whatever you want to call it) is still going on strong. Thanks to the fine folks over at Sub Pop Records and the resurrection of the vaunted “Sub Pop Singles Club” where they send you vinyl of up and comers that they just signed. There have been many great singles to come from that (as well as a few duds). One single has always stood out as the best ever since I heard it. Despite being only the second single in the series, it is still the best. I am talking, of course of the band Unnatural Helpers. They are the same do-it-yourself no-nonsense style that came to summarize what was known as the grunge movement in the late 80s and that dominated all aspects of mainstream music in the early 90s.

I got their single from Sub Pop in September. I have just about worn down the vinyl playing it so much. Thankfully, Sub Pop records come with download codes so you can download tracks to your computer and listen on yor iPod. Old school meets new school in a really cool way. I truly think this is the future in music. Anyway, back to Unnatural Helpers. They combnie punk and pop that hasn’t been seen since the earlier days of Mudhoney. They are fast and furious with their songs. The Singel had 4 tracks on it and it lasted about 6 Minutes.

I was intrigued by them so I reached out to Sub Pop via Twitter to see if I can find out when the were going to drop their first album. They informed me that they already self-released an album in 2005. Doesn’t get anymore grunge than that. Hearkens back to the early days of Beat Happening.

“Grunge” is more than a term to describe music form Seattle from 87-91. It is a style of music that breaks away from the mainstream. Strips out the overdubbing and overproducing and leaves you with raw emotion. That can happen at any time from any place. I hope that Unnatural Helpers are the start of the Grunge Revival the music and fans so desperately need.
Todd Thurman

The Lonely Trojans

October 19, 2008

I walked in to a local record store here in DC ( in Adam’s Morgan to be exact) to see if I could find any jazz or blues albums. I took a look at the rock section just for Kicks. I never expect to find anything even remotely good in the rock LP sections. Not that there isn’t any good rock LPs, it is just that these record stores are really small and are not likely to have any Screaming Trees or Beat Happening, but younever know, so I always check. I have yet to find any though. I did find something today though.

I was flipping through the L’s, I guess I was looking for Love Battery, but I found the Lonely Trojans. The cover caught my eye because the guy on the cover was wearing a Nirvana shirt. Normally, I wouldn’t care because just wearing a Nirvana shirt doesn’t automatically make one cool. All it means is that you were either alive in 1992 or had parents that were alive in 1992.  This was different though. I looked at the back cover and the record was made in 1991, so they recorded the record and took that picture before Nirvana got big. Upon closer examination of the shirt, I realized that it had Chad Channing on it.  I figured these guys must be cool so I  picked up the EP.

They came from Chicago (home to Touch and Go Records, Steve Albini, RAPEMAN, Veruca Salt, and the Jesus Lizard; to name a few) and recorded on Limited Potential Records. The Lonely Trojans are Mike Meadows (Drums), Chris Morrison (Vocals and Guitar), and Gerard Schumacher (Bass and Vocals). Morrison is the songwriter of the group. They come out hard and fast. Very Mudhoney-esque in their songs, but have their own identity as well. The EP is 6 songs and it is titiled “Three Guys, Six Songs”. Can’t get anymore grunge than that.

While they never made it “big” (or anywhere close) they are still part of the movement and, I think, worth checking out. You can buy the EP for $5 buy clicking on the picture from Chris Morrison himself. They are as indy as they come. Perhaps even more indy then Albini if such a thing is possible. Go ahead and take a chance. You will not regret it. I am sure glad I did.

Todd

Beat Happening

August 24, 2008

Simply put, this band is just about the coolest band ever. No other way to describe them. They did whatever they wanted, however they wanted, and they did not care how many fans they had. They recorded their songs on Calvin’s crude recording devices. They used no multi-tracks (with the exception of 1992’s “Godsend” which featured guitar overdubs). They had no bass guitar. Their drummer had no musical experience prior to joining the band. Guitarist/Vocalist Heather Lewis once commented that you could tell the story of Beat Happening through the drum sets they borrowed. Even with all that going against them they still managed to make incredible music as well as influence the Seattle sound that briefly took over the world.

Calvin Johnson and Heather Lewis both went to Evergreen State College. They had both previously been in a band together, but that band faltered and they needed a drummer to make a trip to Japan. They called on their friend and classmate Bret Lunsford. He had no musical experience but that didn’t matter. Beat Happening was formed. They recorded an EP in Japan, and it got critical acclaim, so they made more albums.

Calvin started K Records to make his and hid friends’ music available to the world. He did not know the amount of influence his tiny little record company would end up having. The do it yourself style really appealed to bands that were starting to pop-up in Northern Washington who were tired of the over-dubbed, bland music that was being force fed to the population through endless rotation on radio stations and the emerging MTV. Beat Happening was the thing they were looking for. (That and Steve Albini’s band RAPEMAN). The minimalist approach was a direct contrast of everything that was popular in the mid-late 80s.

Their first album was self titled and came out in 1985. This caught the attention of a band from Ellensburg, Washington (where the cows live) known as the Screaming Trees. In a 1986 interview, Van Conner (or Gary Lee Conner) mentioned to the interviewer that Beat Happening was making some great music in Olympia. Their second album, “Jamboree” (produced by Screaming Trees members Mark Lanegan and Van Conner) really got the attention of the rest of the Seattle sound. This is the time when Kurt Cobain got into them, right when Nirvana was starting out. After that, they decided to make a split EP with the Screaming Trees. It has not title beyond “Beat Happening/Screaming Trees Split EP” “Black Candy” came out in 1989 and I consider that one to be the best. Also, in 1988, they began a relationship with Sub Pop records. They still released records through K, but they had a cut on the legendary “Sub Pop 200” album and 1991’s “The Grunge Years” compilation. “Black Candy”, “Jamboree”, and 1991s “Dreamy” were all re-released through Sub Pop.

1992 was a change for Beat Happening. “You Turn Me On” was released by K and Sub Pop at the same time and they also featured multi-track recording in their songs. Something they had never done before. I wasn’t around Washington, or their core fan base at the time, so I can’t say what the reaction was, but it was modest enough for me to not let it be a deal breaker for their sound. The lead single “Pine Box Rock” still was the same formula they had been using and it was a great song. After “You Turn Me On” there was a hiatus for Beat Happening. Calvin claimed that they were still practicing everyday, but nothing ever came out. There was nothing until 2002 with the “Crashing Through” Box Set. In 2003, they released “Music to Climb the Apple Tree By” which featured songs they had previously recorded including the entire EP they recorded with the Screaming Trees.

Hard to tell if there will be another band like Beat Happening. I hope there is not. A band like them deserves their own place in history without watered down imitations. Their minimalist approach influenced some of the most popular bands of all time. To overlook them would not only be a disservice to music, but a disservice to yourself.

Todd

Love Battery

March 10, 2008

In the midst of the “Seattle Scene” of the late-80s-Early 90s there were a lot of bands that were well known, and A lot of bands that were swooped up by major labels intent on capitalizing on the new wave sweeping over music. Sadly, Love Battery never reached the pinnacles of success that the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Melvins, Afghan Whigs, or even the Screaming trees reached (More on those bands at a later date).

The band formed in 1989 at the height of he indy explosion in Seattle. Their debut single, Between the Eyes, was a moderate hit for Sub Pop (and a great song that you need to hear) and Sub Pop included it on their venerable grunge retrospect CD, The Grunge Years (1991). Love Battery scored with their first full-length album, “Dayglo”. While not commercially as successful as they would have liked, it was a critical success and gave them credibility as a band. Their next release was disappointing for a few reasons. The first, and most glaring, is that after “Dayglo”, the band signed to a major label (Polygram) and wanted to release “Far Gone” on their new label. However, there were contract disputes with Sub Pop and the label dumped it. Sub Pop released their own, rougher, version of “Far Gone” but it was not well received. They planned to re-release the album on Polygram in 1994, but the never materialized.

In 1994, they continued on with Atlas, a subsidiary of Polygram, and released “Nehru Jacket EP“. the label did not get behind it, however, and it suffered due to lack of exposure. Another bad break for a great band. Their last effort on Atlas was 1995’s “Straight Freak Ticket”. This was a great release that, once again, received little fanfare. By the mid-90s the tide of grunge music had ebbed and the record industry was looking for something different. Love Battery was too connected to the Grunge movement and was lost in the shuffle. too bad, its a great record.

After a hiatus for 4 years, Love Battery released “Confusion Au Go Go” in 1999 for the C/Z label. You might know C/Z for the “Teriyaki Asthma” releases. Because it was an indy label, it did not have the money or the resources to really promote the album. Several stand out tracks including, “Colorblind”, “Snipe Hunt”, and my personal favorite, “One Small Step”. This is a great album that came out in the midst of a lot of terrible albums. (you may remember 1999 for acts like Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, N*Sync, Backstreet Boys, and the like unless you have blocked it from your memory). This is one album that is not to be missed.

Currently, Love Battery is on hiatus and have not recorded an album since “Confusion Au Go Go. I, for one, hope that they make another album because I have never been disappointed with a release of theirs.

Todd.


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