Anyone who thinks the “fuck you” spirit of punk has died out need only have been in the crowd at this Anti-Flag set at the recent Bamboozle Festival in Asbury Park, NJ. The strength of the band’s birds is in no doubt, but even better is the flared, loogy-ready “FUCK YOOOOO!!!” of the fans, especially the wild-eyed youngsters up front. DI East Coast operative Joe Russo brings us both sides of the rail in this double whammy stoked by these 24 year and counting veterans – who coincidentally just released a strong new album, The General Strike on March 20th.
With a 17-percent approval rating, the U.S. Congress needs all the help it can get redeeming its once sacred name, and Denver-based, Virginia-bred The Congress – like kindred spirits These United States – are infusing the words with renewed vigor and genuine freedom loving moxie. Their full-length debut Whatever You Want offers a sound and spirit to make one actually believe the future is ours and that it might be worth following one’s passions regardless of the many reasons not to. It’s bold statement etched in pure rock ‘n’ roll terms, no adjectives like ‘modern’ or ‘classic’ needed to pen them into a single category, filled with air guitar ready riffage, a crushing low end roll, and broadly charming tunes that leap ably from Tom Petty to Radiohead to Muscle Shoals soul to lightly skippin’ lovers laments, the boys twirling confidently each and every step.
Lead singer-bassist Jonathan Meadows belts ‘em out in a voice kin to JJ Grey, Chris Robinson and Ronnie Van Zandt in his fighting prime – everything slathered with un-fake-able passion, intuitive phrasing and shit tons of raw power. In fact, The Congress in their oomph and sinewy togetherness on this debut remind one of the Lynyrd Skynrd that caught ol’ Al Kooper’s eye and made him want to show them off to the world. Some cuts on Whatever You Want like “Distance” have just enough southern drawl to potentially slip in next to the better parts of Nashville these days like the Zac Brown Band and Blackberry Smoke, and the Otis Redding-like simmer of “Impatiently” would make them a primo opener for Sharon Jones and other classic soul revivalists. There’s even a hot jazz interlude (“Domestic”) that seems shot in cool black and white, and one moment (“Oh Babe”) that feels like a lost 10cc or Queen b-side. Closer “Echoes” suggests they’ve got a well-worn copy of Graceland in the tour van, and they’ve done Paul Simon proud here.
At the bottom, Meadows (nickname = “Schmeadows”), Scott “Scotty” Lane (guitar) and Mark “Goose” Levy (drums) are following the mandate of their album’s title and playing whatever they want in a most rockin’ way. It’s a guiding force that shines out of them live whenever this potent young band hits town, and it’s quite a feat that they’ve distilled this feeling in the studio. Grammy/Ace/Emmy award winning engineer for these sessions John Macy (Los Lobos, Richie Furay) offers, “The thing I like the most about this (besides the awesome songs, playing and people) is that it’s a record of commitment – no click tracks, no editing, no Auto-Tune with 3 mic mono drums, mixed in three days with no recalls, etc. Period. It’s kinda like analog grabbed digital by the throat and told it, ‘You’re doing things our way today!’ It’s the closest I’ve gotten to a live record in a studio environment in a long time – reminds why I got in this business.”
Whatever You Want oozes conviction, the core of this growing thing strong and itching to get in the fight, or maybe just grab an eager but scared wallflower onto the dance floor as they raise a glass to coming home or maybe just to being alive another day, free to wrestle with all the shit coming down instead of just being buried alive by it.
Here’s what the band had to say to our inquiries.
Dirty Impound turned two-years-old yesterday, and this week’s mix offers up 24 cuts we dig in honor of DI’s 24 months of existence. This is just a variation on our usual offering – good rockin’ with an emphasis on fun, deep album tracks, juxtapositions you won’t find anywhere else, choice cover tunes, and a firm belief in putting emerging talent shoulder-to-shoulder with established greats. We simply can’t get enough of sharing all the great things that hit our ears, and we thank you so much for hanging around our lil’ aural water cooler from time to time. We promise to keep the conversation lively and entertaining.
If you experience playback problems, pop over to the 8tracks mix page and it should play fine.
In this edition: Anders Osborne, Antioquia, The Cult, The Dandy Warhols and Simone White.
We learned some time ago to trust Jake Krolick when he tells us a new band is kickin’. So, when this Krolick-sculpted live clip rolled up we dove in without a second’s hesitation, and you should do the same. What we found was a band with a juicy finger on a big beat working some unseen g-spot to produce a most undulating sound. Together only about a year, Minneapolis’ Polica gives off pheromones any Tricky, Massive Attack, and Portishead fan should flare over [and they're vibrating on a frequency with the smoother side of K.Flay, too]. Lead singer Channy Leaneagh conducts the air and commands our attention in this performance, but we’re also smitten with the jerky, white boy fonk being laid down by the bass player and lock-tight drummer. Just based on these minutes, Polica warrants further investigation.
What does the son do?
He turns away,
Goes outdoors to feed with wild
Things, lives among dens
And huts, eats distance and silence;
He grows long wings, enters the spiral, and ascends.
Talent and passion are not enough to guarantee success in the music business. It’s a hard truth but one faced by many hard working musicians on a daily basis. The machinery of the industry – the part that spills out money and fame – is calibrated to different parameters in the 21st century, where manufactured shock, passing fads, and homogenized commonality count for more than the music itself. Turn on MTV, CMT and VH1 and the blunt commerce of the product on display slaps one with a sting that’s hard to shake if one is a true lover and connoisseur of real music made by real musicians. However, if one looks away from the comic car-wreck mainstream there is amazing music being made by VERY hard working, highly skilled folks all over the place. Really, it’s blooming in your backyard – DI guarantees that if you make an effort to explore your local scene there are delights the likes of which you cannot currently imagine.
Case in point, the 2nd Annual Guitarmageddon Blues Ball which showcased some of the most talented, driven, downright gifted musicians in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. None of these folks are household names. None of them has a country house, a big sailing ship or even health insurance in many instances. But, you would be extremely hard pressed to find better players making better music just about anywhere today. Each shucks ‘n’ jives every single day to keep the bills paid and the dream rolling along, but put them in a studio or especially up on a stage in front of a few enthusiastic listeners and they glow. The joy of what they do – their abiding pleasure in their craft – shines out of them with a light that cannot be measured by any man-made device but warms us and sustains us in palpable ways. The Impound has known may of these musicians for the better part of a decade and it amazes us that they keep on keepin’ on in the face of the challenges to working musicians in modern times. Their courage and dedication to doing what they do for the right reasons is inspiring to us, and it should stoke the fires of anyone trying to build their own heart songs and public dreams.
Photographer John Margaretten – a blossoming kindred spirit to great talents like Jay Blakesberg and Danny Clinch – brings us a truly marvelous set of images from this night, including the opening sets from Huckle and the Sean Leahy Trio. The six-string knows no greater, more naked celebration than Guitarmageddon, who only gather a few times each year (next up for this self-described “soundtrack for the end of the world through wailing guitars” is High Sierra Music Festival in July), and the festivities are captured in a vibrant, equally joyful way by Margaretten here. It is a pleasure to share his work on DI.
We STRONGLY encourage you to get to know the work of Huckle, Leahy and the other participants in this performance/Cali scene. New Monsoon shredder Jeff Miller has a sweet, intimate solo record out you should delve into, and Tea Leaf Green‘s Josh Clark is always up to something interesting either as a blazing singer-guitarist in TLG and as a fine, under-appreciated artist/cartoonist. And Kiyoshi Foster, Four Year Bender, the varied projects of the Sean Leahy Trio’s rhythm team [Daria Johnson (drums) and Mark Calderon (bass)], and the other fine folks involved in this night are all doing their own voodoo regularly on sessions and in clubs. Explore what they do. Support it with your time, dollars and attention. In each instance, it is a good measure finer and more noursihing than what’s being shoveled at you by the mainstream.
Y’all can download this freakin’ amazing album for FREE until June 2nd right over here!
And the Hips will perform the album in its entirety at San Francisco’s The Independent on Friday, June 15th.
“They were playing the reels of old dreams in the back room last night.”
Few bands have arrived more fully formed than The Mother Hips. Stepping into the world in 1992 – looking as charmingly scruffy and fresh faced as any young band has ever looked – Tim Bluhm (vocals, guitar), Greg Loiacono (vocals, guitar), Isaac Parsons (bass, vocals) and Mike Wofchuck (drums) did not come on like a bunch of college novices knocking out their first long-player. Back To The Grotto is the sound of a benevolent, odd gang aching to make their mark in rock’s grand book. You can practically smell the ambition and keep-them-up-at-night sweats in just the first few minutes. Hungry might be a simpler way of saying it, but plenty of bands are famished and the Hips came on like guys who believed even in their formative days that they were gonna get a spot at the big table or die trying – and given that Grotto ranks handily with the firsts from Badfinger and Moby Grape it was reasonable to share that belief.
“I went out to the desert on some pills with no name. The doctor couldn’t tell me what they were and, man, ain’t that a shame?”
However, before a note rings out, one enters a touch puzzled. Who is this Little Lord Fauntleroy on the cover? Is it a child or a little person? And who names their debut “back to” anything? That’s usually reserved for the fourth album no one wants from a one-hit wonder. Then we meet Emilie…but really we don’t. Like much of the album, there’s a peculiar specificity that’s given openness for others to fill in, elbow room left in the curves of the Hips’ calligraphy. What seems etched – Los Angeles, dear pain erasing Emilie – become our characters through an act of poetry, but poetry with balls, nothing too high tone despite all the preternatural wisdom and understanding flowing in these songs. Despite their age, the Hips ensnare some fairly large truths on Grotto. What other men of their age reject the power of tits and ass or understand that true corruption runs far deeper than the politicians we catch?
“This is a man who walks around with his head held high but his pants are falling down.”
In every corner of this album, they push at the boundaries of their talents, egged on by producer and future bassist Paul Hoaglin, dancing between sweet melody and dissonance, dotting the music with endless small, lovely touches – primal howls, miniature guitar solos, falsetto blasts, shimmery swells – but in a manner that’s not too careful, some mess left on things because that’s how the real world is. The rhythm team is so perfectly foundational that one almost doesn’t notice them, and thus may miss just how bloody good Wofchuck and Parsons truly are. Admittedly, it’s not easy to see past the guitar front line, a pairing that ranks up there in their embryonic promise and Basque-like uniqueness with the opening salvos of the Allmans’ Dickey Betts and Duane Allman and Quicksilver Messenger Service’s John Cipollina and Gary Duncan. Then as now, no one sounds like Bluhm and Loiacono together, who arrived speaking their own language, a tongue with both sharpness and woozy slur, blues bite and watery slipperiness – no one had to tell you there were surfers in this bunch. That guitar sound is a big part of what makes Back To The Grotto such a bona fide bong hit masterpiece – a delightful blend of sativa and indica moods.
“Would you like to come down to me from your town above the line?”
Ultimately, it’s the songs that capture one with Grotto, the totality and sheer quality of them forming a most compelling bone structure that they’ve just built and built upon in the intervening years. These tunes remain the spine of their live shows, which attests to their enduring strength and intrinsic role in defining who The Mother Hips are as a band. A debut is usually something shed with time, a larval self bands aren’t that interested in endlessly revisiting but Grotto is different – it is the group’s DNA writ wild and large.
And while I’ve never understood the endless Buffalo Springfield/Byrds critic-comparisons for the Hips, there are plenty of echoes of quality elders on this set. “This Is A Man” is a number Jefferson Airplane would have given Marty Balin’s left nut to have penned, and “Precious Opal” suggests a melding of the Velvet Underground and Derek and the Dominoes – sex wriggling around in the music as one tries to wet the bed all night (????). But there are just as many spots on Grotto where they sound like no one else, notably the happy platypus of “Two Young Queens” with its hickey bookends to a monster groove vamp and the hypnotic singularity “Figure 11”. There’s so much mojo inside these tracks that they still hit audiences with major wallop in concert, where folks punch the “goddamns” in “Turtle Bones” and lift a little out of their skin as a key turnarounds arrives on “Chum” and “Stephanie’s for L.A,” singing along knowingly, empathetically, as Tim notes, “Everybody smiles for the camera and I think that’s kinda strange” or shouting in cracked disgust that spills back on our ourselves, “All the revolutionaries are revolting,” wondering perhaps where we dropped our own freedom flag along the way.
“Some things tear a little town apart, and some things cut right to the heart.”
The incision that this debut makes is a good one…or maybe a fruitful evisceration is more correct. It might not make us lose all the weight we feel but it does leech some of the ill humors and leave us smiling on the edge of a circle, suddenly possessed with the notion of rotation, and eager to return to a grotto we know not where. The horizon seems wider on the other side of this record, and the colors most assuredly richer, deeper, and closer to our outstretched hand. It’s a shockingly good first chapter, and all the more impressive that the band has kept mutating and building upon the story begun here. It should long ago have hit tastemaker lists of the Finest Rock Albums of All Time, but the universe is uncaring and so are the record industry and its aggregate press corps who prefer to have things handed to them in gulp-able, sugary bites. This slab requires one to work their incisors a bit but the meal you get will stick to your ribs for the long haul.