Normal History Vol. 522: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

For a few years in the ’90s, Mecca Normal headlined (and sometimes sold out) shows, yet, until now, there hasn’t been a live album, let alone one from that era.

“Ice Floes Aweigh” from The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

Live Review: The Flesh Eaters, Porcupine, Philadelphia, March 15, 2019

Last week at Philly’s Johnny Brenda’s, the punk rock of the Flesh Eaters swallowed the sold-out crowd whole. The mythical Los Angeles dream team of frontman Chris D., Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman (both from the Blasters), John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake (both of X) and Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) filled the stage to the brim with sweaty hellfire rock for the ages.

Touring behind this year’s I Used To Be Pretty (Yep Roc), the first release from this lineup since 1981’s A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die, the Flesh Eaters were a glorious sight to behold. Alvin’s blistering guitar solos—matched with Doe’s bass lines and Berlin’s sax—made for a heady mix of jazz-ish punk to accompany Chris D.’s evocative lyrics. Add to that Bonebrake’s marimba and Bateman’s drums, and it’s a propulsive sound like no other for a show that may never be replicated again. 

Minnesota’s Porcupine—featuring Hüsker Dü’s Greg Norton—opened with a super-charged rock set of its own. Norton’s bass (and stage moves), Casey Virock’s gut-punch vocals and Ian Prince’s crushing drums were a sublime start to the night.

—words and photos by Chris Sikich

Porcupine

Unwound Released “New Plastic Ideas” 25 Years Ago

25 years ago, Unwound released New Plastic Ideas. If you are reading this and don’t own at least half of this band’s output, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a train. Read our review of the essential album by Justin Trosper and Sara Lund’s post-Unwound outfit Nocturnal Habits:

Essential New Music: Bill MacKay’s “Fountain Fire “

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The visibility afforded guitarist Bill MacKay by his recent run as Ryley Walker’s right-hand man might create the mistaken impression that he’s new on the scene. In fact, he’s been a fixture of Chicago’s music scene for years as both a versatile sideman and a recording artist in his own right.  Fountain Fire, his second solo recording for Drag City, showcases both MacKay’s knacks for cohesive self-editing and elegant arranging, which make his instrumentals feel like complete songs.

Swooping slide licks push back the horizon on “Pre-California” and “Arcadia”; a galloping tempo and strategically situated organ harmonies invite you to imagine the anticipatory journey that preceded the jaunty salutation of “Welcome.” And when MacKay stretches out, as he does on the layered, lyrical “Dragon Country,” there’s enough tension in the exchanges between echo-drenched lead and tempo-pushing rhythm tracks that you’ll want to hang in there and see who wins. Hitherto known as an instrumentalist, MacKay sings two songs. Since Walker’s ditched his folk stylings for jazzy jams and deep dives into the Dave Matthews songbook, there’s room for a new troubadour in town, and MacKay just might be that guy. 

—Bill Meyer