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  • Show reviews: OFF! at Amoeba; howardAmb, Bobb Bruno, Sandy Yang, and DSS at The Smell; Ray Barbee and Paul Kwon at Pacific Standard 2; RFTC and Dan Sartain at The Echoplex

    Saturday, Apr 12, 2014 1:35AM / Standard Entry


    Whoa, the new OFF! album is a beast and Tuesday’s record release in-store at Amoeba Hollywood kicked ass. Not some lukewarm sampler but a full-on, raging 16-song set! Of course for this particular band that adds up to about 30 minutes but damn. Quality minutes of world-class hardcore punk from the originals, measured with Sabbathian darkness and riffs.


    Keith bantered less between songs than usual–maybe because he was comfortably at home on the eve of a big tour and not stuck in a van where his observations and thoughts build up and explode all over the crowd. Dmitri said the band only practiced about 45 minutes for this warm-up set, but they’re already at ramming speed and ready to blow minds and wreak havoc in the pit. Can’t wait to see them at The Roxy in a couple of weeks. Sadly, it will be past Eloise’s bedtime on a school night, which is too bad because she loves watching Mario rip it up on the drums (with RFTC, too) and was already a big fan of Steven McDonald’s work with Redd Kross, as well (especially the last album).


    A couple of weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage to The Smell to see a killer lineup of howardAmb and friends, including old-school GR contributor and my longtime pal Sandy Yang.


    Opening the show was David Scott Stone, who has played with The Melvins, Unwound, The Locust, Big Business, No Age… For this set he played some sort of modular synthesizer, connecting plugs and turning knobs to make heavy sounds and grooves. I don’t understand how this sort of musical science works at all, but was both fascinated and totally drawn into it. Head bobbing, head scratching, bitchin’.


    Sandy was next, playing her deconstructed blues with the guys from howardAmb. No frills or filler, she channels the arty, noisy, New York side of punk with a modern DIY feel. Her songs always sound different–and just as rad–each time I see her, and hope they get a proper release one of these days so I can figure out what’s being tweaked, turned inside out, and cranked up in her great live sets.


    Bobb Bruno is best known as the architect of Best Coast’s sound (which I adore) but his solo catalog would be just as famous in a more awesome world. It’s experimental and noisy but fun–as evidenced by his bear outfit. I love how his entire setup fits into a duffel bag and the leanest of gear can crank out the most brutal of metal sounds. So rad, so fun, and Best Coast fans need to see Bobb solo to fully appreciate the full range of his radness and undying commitment to rock.


    howardAmb has been fine-tuning its live set for at least a year now, and all that work showed in their deliberate, challenging set. How much of it was planned? How much of it was improvisational? Were they not totally happy with the mix? As a first-time listener of the latest sounds, I was sucked into it and can’t wait to hear it again. Fans of Krautrock, Psychic TV, and the Residents take note.


    More friends playing music. To celebrate the release of the brand-new Pacific Standard 2 skate zine, Derec Patrick asked some of his pals to jam. Ray Barbee played new takes on his old solo EPs. Still loopy and dreamy but with more of the fire that playing with the Mattsons has instilled him him. Seeing Ray and hearing is music is always great, but this set was especially meaningful for me because he revisited some of the cuts he played at the ceremony when Wendy and I got married. I was going to cry.


    Finally got to see my buddy Paul Kwon play some tunes, too. I was expecting a singer/songwriter solo sound like Elliott Smith or Bob Dylan but it turned out to have a totally fleshed-out Americana vibe more like Wilco. Yes, that’s Ray Barbee with the combo. Paul’s been playing out often so check him out if you can. I need to see him play somewhere where I can hear the lyrics better, or maybe just corner him over tea and make him spill the beans about what he’s singing one day.


    Mario sandwich. Did I mention that I caught Rocket From The Crypt when they busted through Los Angeles?


    Opening up was Dan Sartain, who played a stripped-down and sardonic (yet pure) mutation of rockabilly. His freakish demeanor isn’t for everyone but I was pretty sucked into his dark vibe. Kinda like the missing link between Speedo and Lux Interior, which is saying a load.


    Rocket From The Crypt have always been one of the best live bands around, mashing up hardcore energy with vintage R&B showmanship. And they might be more driven than ever after their nine-year (or so) break. All the hits and chops are present, but they play with a desperation as if every show might be the last that their rabid fans will ever see. It’s not just about them having fun but giving their audience maximum entertainment value as well. And that’s pretty much how it went at The Echoplex.


    Seeya at some in-between Coachella shows next week!


  • New Music Reviews: RFTC, Bad Cop/Bad Cop, Bongoloidz, California

    Friday, Apr 4, 2014 6:28AM / Standard Entry


    New music. Not from publicists (although I appreciate their good looks) but friends! Mario, Fredo, and Adam are not only rad drummers but the raddest dudes. And my new pals in BC/BC are the best, too. But I actually bought all of the official releases because music is worth paying for–especially from homies.


    Rocket From The Crypt – Hits 6 x 7″
    While not as coveted as the “He’s a Chef” split-single with Wayne Coyne and Biz Markie, these one-sided city-specific 7″ singles are quite rad for any RFTC fan. And while the series of covers originally sold at European tourstops is called Hits, the songs aren’t exactly household names–except for maybe Venom’s “In League with Satan.” Somehow, RFTC’s version channels both a conga line and “Sympathy for the Devil”! Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” is probably the most-played song of the originals, although I know it better from the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa meets Bleeding Gums. Rocket’s version is unironic, epically long, and especially cool. The Buzzcocks are probably my favorite band to get the treatment, but “Love Is Lies” is not a single going steady but a cut from Love Bites. The way it starts off mellow and become epic reminds me of a Tom Jones or Neil Diamond anthem. Wow. The San Diego band’s take on Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s “Spinning Round” nicely contrasts a dark, plucky goth bassline with its trademark heavy horns sound. Covering the Boomtown Rats’ “My Blues Away” is definitely more interesting than taking on that other band from Dublin. More garage rockin’, for sure. Out of all of the bands from London, Status Quo is similarly bold choice but the take on “Shy Fly” cements the band’s links to the tradition of pub rock. The Casbah counts as a pub, right? Buy your set of singles from the merch table like I did at The Echoplex (pictured above) and help fill the Swami van’s tank on the road! [Swami Records]

    Bongoloidz – S/T CD
    Although Fredo Ortiz is best known for his percussion work for the Beastie Boys, his Kickstarter-funded solo project starts off more like Fluf or late Jawbreaker than the Atwater-based (at the time) rappers. Songs like “Subtle Breeze” and “Sompniphobia” are guitar-powered cruisers straight out of the early ’90s and totally rule, but other songs show other facets of the multi-instrumentalist’s abilities, sounds, and tastes. “Japon” has an electro groove complete with processed vocals, “Sk8 Dance” has a cool dark wave feel, and “Facky Freak” has a cumbia vibe (my favorite live song). There’s even some Taiko action! If it sounds like the songs are all over the place, that’s because they are. Yet they all sound great together because Fredo is no dabbler: The multitude of styles comes straight from Fredo’s huge heart and talented fingertips. Very cool cover art by Mackie Osborne, too. [El Bomber Records]

    California – Live Recordings
    Recently, I received a mysterious package of live recordings (not demos) of a new band featuring Adam from Jawbreaker and J Church, Dustin from The Insides, and Jason from Monsula, Pinhead Gunpowder, and Green Day. Who else is on the songs, where they were recorded, and how far the band will go is unclear but I’m digging the music. “More like Big Star than Big Drill Car,” I was warned and I have no problem with that. “Woodson Lateral” could be an allusion to the much-loved Oakland Raider but its patient groove goes better with driving down the I-5 than driving to the end zone. It’s rootsy but not dusty, with cool breakdowns. “Almost Home” has a little more twang and bashing and is mostly smooth with Tom Petty-like asides. Bitchin’. “Hate The Pilot” is the probably heaviest, punchiest song of the batch, and contemplates what happens after not killing the messenger. I swear there’s some Mick Jones-style riffing at the end. So good, so what’s next for this un-Googleable band? [Blackball, Adeline, or the highest bidder]

    Bad Cop/Bad Cop – Boss Lady 7″
    My pal Aaron told me that his girlfriend was in a punk band that just signed to Fat so I had to check them out. In only took a few seconds of listening to the band’s debut 7″ for Fat to realize that the title of this single doesn’t refer to The Man but the badass women of the band itself. They are bosses and their songs are as personal as they are tight as they are rocking–proof that aggro and melodic aren’t mutually exclusive. With killer drums that recall Bad Religion, buzzsaw guitars, and supremely confident gang vocals that are harmonized as they are pissed off, the San Pedro band attacks crappy exes, stupid dudes in the pit, squares on the street, and anyone else who might be uncomfortable with their unapologetic punk rockness circa the early ’90s. “Asshole” is a killer song that you’ll never get to hear on the radio, so you better catch ‘em live or buy the record. [Fat Wreck Chords]


  • Kowloon Walled City/City of Darkness Revisited

    Thursday, Apr 3, 2014 7:43AM / Standard Entry


    Perhaps you remember the Q&A with photographer Greg Girard way back in Giant Robot 22. It delved into City of Darkness, the amazing coffee table book he made with fellow photographer Ian Lambot exposing the interconnected maze of adjacent buildings and connecting alleys that made up Kowloon Walled City. The ultra-dense city block was notorious among Hong Kongers for being separate from building codes and law enforcement alike, and was made famous in movies such as Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express and Johnny Mak’s Long Arm of the Law. So I was stoked when Greg recently informed me that a redesigned edition of the book is in the works.


    While locals didn’t seem to care much when when Kowloon Walled City was leveled in 1993 to make space for a shiny new airport, Greg says that he and Lambot have been impressed by “the unexpected ways in which it was turning up as an obvious inspiration in popular culture, and also being referenced in architecture, urban theory and other areas.” So on 20th anniversary of the demolition they decided to update and expand City of Darkness

    Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lby9P3ms11w

    The revised edition will be 50 percent bigger than the original one (which was already a brick) and include never-before-seen photos as well as extra text derived from interviews with ex-cops who patrolled the area in the ’60s and ’70s as well as a government survey from the period which lists the exact number of brothels, opium dens, strip clubs, pornography theatres, and dog meat restaurants. Sounds amazing, right? Find out how to support the book–and perhaps get signed copy as well as an archival quality print–at the City of Darkness Revisited Kickstarter page.


  • Mike Kelley retrospective at MOCA

    Monday, Mar 31, 2014 2:01PM / Standard Entry


    Last Friday, I attended the media preview for the Mike Kelley retrospective at MOCA and it’s amazing–the biggest showing of the much-loved L.A.-based artist’s work ever. It started with an assortment of short speeches, starting off with new MOCA director Philippe Vergne calling it a homecoming after debuting at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and making stops in Paris and New York. Mary Clare Stevens, Executive Director of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts described the artist’s personal involvement in the show’s evolution and Ann Goldstein, the former director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and exhibition curator, added that the show began as related to theme but shifted to chronology upon the artist’s death in 2012.


    MOCA Curator Bennett Simpson emphasized MOCA’s history of supporting the artist (who was part of the museum’s “First Show” and has been in almost 30 more including one that he curated) and added that the current stop includes a Chinatown-related piece that has never been shown in Los Angeles before. Framed and Frame (1999) is located on the upper floor, and challenges the audience with concepts of context but also alludes to the Downtown L.A. area’s punk rock history via sex and drugs paraphernalia mixed in with the traditional wishing well icons.


    Another large piece is Kandors (2007-2011), a collection of sculptures of Superman’s hometown reimagined from various comic book pages. The reference to the alien city, shrunken by the iconic hero’s arch-enemy Braniac and kept under glass, is esoteric to many but is folklore to hardcore comic book readers. Kelley created a video installation mashing up the four-color hero with the goth poetry of Sylva Plath, but never realized his plan to introduce the Art Forum scene to the Comic-Con crowd online.


    In contrast to the perfectly made installations are Kelley’s raw paintings. While they are often in gloriously simple black and white, the ideas are typically given levels upon levels of depth with text. It is easy to imagine the Detroit-born artist moving to Los Angeles in the mid ’70s and going out of his mind in the same scene that spawned equally subversive and literate artists such as Raymond Pettibon and Manuel Ocampo.


    I rather enjoyed the installation of Pay for Your Pleasure (1988), a colorful group of portraits and quotes that link art and crime. I was too hung up looking at the tributes to Dostoyevsky, Genet, Lord Byron, and other heroes from my English major youth to notice if there was a Manson painting at the end… Painting, illustration, sculpture, photography–Kelley not only tried every medium possible to critique social norms and artistic boundaries but have fun with them.


    Perhaps Kelley’s best-known work among casual art fans like me involves thrift-shop quality stuffed animals accompanied by recorded voices sharing existential, psychological, and paranoid monologues and conversations. These are represented well in the side room, along with the legendary 26-minute Kappa (1986) video made in conjunction with Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, featuring Mary Woronov and mashing up Japanese folklore, Greek mythology, and Southern California apathy.


    Educational Complex (1995) is another monumental piece, sprawling white architectural plastic that recalls every school that Kelley has attended and looking sterile, institutional, and military. MOCA curator Bennett Simpson wasn’t kidding when he said that Kelley’s art would envelope the visitor, and the overwhelming and even numbing piece is especially powerful when noting that Kelley was a teacher as well as student of art.


    Mike Kelley opens to the public on March 31 and closes on July 28. It is located at the Geffen Contemporary (next to JANM in Little Tokyo) and is worth every penny of the $12 admission but can be visited for free on Thursday evenings. Check MOCA’s site for special talks and symposiums.


    Ahh… Youth (1991)


  • Show reviews: Vandals and Descendents at Musink, Channel Three at The Redwood

    Friday, Mar 28, 2014 8:00AM / Standard Entry


    It was just a couple of weeks ago that I was having lunch with my friend Joe, telling him that I bought a ticket to his band’s upcoming show with the Descendents. He asked if I was bringing my daughter Eloise and I said no way! I’d want to be in front where it’s packed with all these big sweaty gross guys. And then he said something like, “No, I’ll get you onstage where all the families and friends of the bands hang out. Wendy can come, too! I’ll put them on the list.”


    Usually I buy tickets to support my friends’ bands. But how could I say no? When would Eloise have that chance again? When would I have that chance again? Sure enough, when the band came out of the dressing room and headed up the stairs to the stage, Joe said, “The baby comes onstage with us.” How freakishly nice is he?


    There were sound issues during the older songs-leaning set, prompting the singer Dave to reprise “Anarchy Burger” during the set because he wasn’t feeling it as the opener. But Eloise didn’t care. I thought she’d dance around but instead she had a stunned look of awe and happiness the entire time. The Bad Religion-inspired breakdown of “Supercalifragilisticespialidocious” and Warren’s so-you-think-you-can-dance moved during “I Have a Date” really made an impression on her. Me, too. Thanks, Joe! Every show will be a letdown for Eloise from now on…


    I’ve been lucky enough to catch The Descendents before Milo Went Back To College and multiple times during the first reunion (with Epitaph) as well as the second one (on Fat). This was the first time seeing The Descendents since the documentary came out, and it seems as if they appreciate being onstage like no other time. Survivors of multiple false starts and various life-threatening conditions, the South Bay band plays every punk classic from “Hope” to “Suburban Home” as if it might be the last time. No mailing it in. Going for ALL. Some kids are obsessed with One Direction and Katy Perry songs, but I’m stoked Eloise is singing “Get The Time” and “I Have a Date.”


    The next evening’s show was too old for Eloise (even a fake ID wouldn’t work for her at The Redwood) and too late for Wendy (I was struggling to stay up until the set started at 1:00 a.m.). But I couldn’t miss Channel Three playing an $8 show just five minutes from my house. Besides my being a massive fan of their Posh Boy-era punk–as well as their Enigma-era rock ‘n’ roll and their latest songs and singles–they just played a Save Music in Chinatown benefit for Wendy, Eloise, and me!


    After much screwing around with borrowed amps, the crew from Cerritos blasted into a blown-out set filled with original members, guest appearances, and cool covers–sometimes all at once, as in the case of “Brand New Cadillac.” I love how they always bring their spouses, childhood friends, and co-conspirators like a big family. Who cares if the vocals are totally lost when everyone is singing along? “Manzanar,” “I Got a Gun,” “Indian Summer”–it was all there. Nothing like waking up a late after a great show, but then to get messages like “Dude, sorry we didn’t get to talk much” and “Thanks for coming”? Seriously, the raddest guys ever.


    Channel Three is playing every chance they get, and I can’t wait to see them (and get their new release) at Left of The Dial on Record Store Day. Vegas and the Midwest are lined up, too. The Vandals? They also have a new LP in the works and are hitting Canada and the East Coast soon. The few, the pround, the Descendents will be at Punk Rock Bowling with another new show-specific shirt by Chris Shary. Maybe the bandana that I slept on at the merch booth, too. Someone get one for me!


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  • Giant Robot co-founder and contributor.
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