Live Review: Mudhoney, Rouen, France, May 2, 2015


The drum break in set closer “In ‘N’ Out Of Grace” builds toward orgasm. The guitar sprays thick wah loads and then lets a power chord resonate like a delirious exhalation. Mudhoney singer Mark Arm steps to the mic and—with his trademark nasally snarl—screams, “Oh god, how I love to haaaaate,” through a wry smile.

It is the quintessential Mudhoney moment. Yes, the distorted frenzy following a slow build is textbook grunge formula, but the band’s dung-in-cheek animosity always set it apart from its Pacific Northwest brethren. Where Soundgarden wailed, Mudhoney sneered. Where Nirvana wrung hands, Mudhoney grabbed balls.

More than a quarter century into its career, and Mudhoney is still authentic, which may account for its lack of household name recognition. In fact, prior to tonight’s show in Rouen’s 106 club, Arm and guitarist Steve Turner conducted a radio interview, during which the local DJ cheekily commented that Mudhoney was witness to the grunge phenomenon, as it unfolded.

The insinuation wasn’t lost on Arm: “[The other bands] were on the playing field. We were in the front row.”

Indeed, despite recording multiple full-lengths for a major label in the ’90s, Mudhoney never left the garage. But for all its dust and dank, that garage produced a number of enduring anthems.

The performance tonight features a healthy dose of those classics: “If I Think,” “Broken Hands,” a cover of the Dicks’ “Hate The Police” and, of course, the incendiary “Touch Me I’m Sick” with the most irresistible riff since the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Although they may lack some of the bite of the original recordings, “Suck You Dry” and “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” compensate by sounding so much heavier, which actually adds an interesting new color.

Even the newer tracks impress and excite: the celebratory bounce to “I Like It Small” and the hardcore hysteria of “Chardonnay” (both from 2013’s Vanishing Point) energize a crowd that is 5,000 miles removed from the group’s hometown Seattle and on average two decades younger than the band members. But great punk—and Mudhoney certainly fits that description—transcends geographical and generational barriers.

That rich, healthy hatred expressed in the final encore just may explain why Mudhoney is so genuine, so consistently refreshing. Punk is about revolution, and revolutionaries require a foil to piss them off.

An extensive backlog of punk masterpieces, an unfailingly snotty attitude, and a mastery of the form that has survived middle age. What’s not to hate?

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: Beauty Pill, Arlington, Va., May 2, 2015


Beauty Pill’s recent three-day residency at Artisphere functioned as a release party for its amazing album Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are (Butterscotch). But it was also a lot more than that.

The shows were billed as the final installment of Immersive Ideal—an experimental collaboration between the D.C.-based band and the unfortunately soon-to-close arts center in Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood. The first installment occurred in July 2011 when the group recorded the LP there in public. (We covered it in issue #81.) The following January, Beauty Pill unveiled a multimedia presentation of the sessions, including surround-sound mixes of the completed songs. After some delays and complications (see issue #113), the album was finally released a few weeks ago.

Oh, and these dates were Beauty Pill’s first shows since 2007. In the intervening time, frontman Chad Clark contacted a heart virus and almost died. Two heart surgeries saved his life.

Most bands would be content to simply play a regular gig following such an eventful recent past. But Beauty Pill—Clark, Basla Andolsun, Drew Doucette, Jean Cook and Devin Ocampo—is not like most groups. When Beauty Pill took over Artisphere’s Black Box Theatre (capacity: 125) for the third time, it made Immersive Ideal more literal than ever. The band stationed itself around the perimeter of the room; each member had his or her own stage and speaker. The audience was encouraged to walk around and observe the band from different angles as it played.

On the final night, the band members exchanged visual cues and knowing glances from across the room to each other. They had adjusted well to the innovative setting. It was almost as if it wasn’t all that different from playing together on one stage.

But at the same time, it was equally clear that they were energized here, especially when playing songs from the new album. Describes Things is a rare and unique work, filled with time-warped samples and loops interacting with dynamic band performances. Clark’s melodies are seductively hooky, and his lyrics are vivid, provocative and often profound.

The band delivered songs from the album like “Ann The Word” and “Afrikaner Barista” with aplomb. Cook (who’s played violin for Pulp, Jon Langford, Jenny Toomey and others) controlled and manipulated many of the samples with a Monome, a handheld, lighted controller. The sounds ping-ponged around the theater, interlocking with the daring rhythms of Andolsun (bass) and Ocampo (drums), and Clark and Doucette’s intertwining guitars. (Vocals are handled by Clark and Cook.) In these moments, Immersive Ideal had all the live conceptual heft and musical glory of Stop Making Sense.

Older songs like “The Idiot Heart,” “The Western Prayer” and, from Clark and Ocampo’s prior band Smart Went Crazy, “Tight Frame Loose Frame” also received revelatory performances. But arguably it was Clark himself who was the biggest revelation. Despite his long hiatus from the stage, he’s still an engaging frontman—dryly witty and indisputably committed to the music. Around his belt was a battery pack that connects to his heart and keeps him healthy and alive.

After the show, Clark expressed a wish to take Immersive Ideal on the road to other arts centers. The band has East Coast and Midwest shows scheduled for May and June. But these are at standard rock clubs. Galleries interested in an innovative, artful band would be wise to take note.

—Michael Pelusi

Live Review: Acid King, Paris, France, April 28, 2015


The longer a hiatus is extended, the more unreasonably high expectations will soar.

Ten long years have been pissed away while metal fans waited for Acid King to release a new album. Touring regularly during that period, the Bay Area trio has not been thoroughly inactive, but one can forgive a hesitancy to record. The previous album, 2005’s III, set the standard for stoner sludge and established the band as a slow-mo Sabbath. But following up a classic is a tall order.

A decade after its masterpiece, the group has just released Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere, and it feels like the logical next album. A cynic would criticize the minimal artistic growth in 10 years. But if this LP had found the band widely diverging or considerably evolving, fans would have justifiably complained of not having witnessed the interesting intermediate steps.

Instead, the release continues a clear trend in the band’s sound. On earlier recordings, Lori S.’s singing is presented up front, strident and wailing and aggressive. Over time, she has toned down the verbal posturing, mellowed and integrated her voice more snugly into the music. Set well behind thick layers of sonic gauze, her vocals now float, hover really. In parallel, the band’s sound on Middle has become more psychedelic, dreamier, spacier.

Acid King has become more “mood” than “dude.”

But the thrum of a Harley still runs through the band’s songs. Tonight, the trio plays a selection of the new tracks (“Red River,” “Silent Pictures,” and “Coming Down From Outer Space”), but the crowd pops its biggest boner for the epic “2 Wheel Nation” from the previous disc. Lori’s guitar playing is primarily single notes, but notes so heavily distorted that they carry the weight of mammoth chords.

For the encore, the group performs III’s “War Of The Mind”: the quintessential Acid King song, plodding, powerful and poignant. Expressing a scornful fatalism, the tune drags, which is clearly the whole point. It draws out the pain until the pain hypnotizes. Doom drapes a burial shroud over the listener with the deliberation of descending fog.

But like Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere, it’s well worth the wait.

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: Metz, Paris, France, Mar. 5, 2015


Ever since Pete Townshend applied Gustav Metzger’s theory of auto-destructive art to the Who’s live shows, rock etiquette requires that a gig end with an explosion of sound—if not actual destruction of instruments then at least a ringing, feedback squawk that washes away everything that preceded it.

Tonight, Toronto trio Metz places this formula on its head.

While tuning his guitar before the set formally begins, Alex Edkins stomps on the looper pedal, wrenches out a tortured riff that heaves and ho’s under the weight of distortion, then places his instrument against the amp and walks off stage. For a full five minutes, the guitar, unaccompanied, wheezes out an aural palette cleansing.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

The band opens with the shrieking blitz of “Dirty Shirt.” The tone is immediately set: whatever restraint existed on record—performances tightly executed, with vocals relegated to the cheap seats—is thoroughly shot to shit in concert. Onstage, the group expands and explodes. “Wasted” elicits both euphoria and malevolence. “The Mule” is Unsane reimagining Sonic Youth.

At its best, the band burns with the light of a thousand suns. At its worst, a few hundred suns.

With 2012 self-titled debut, Metz drew favorable comparisons with late ’80s/early-’90s harDCore. The record is indeed Lungfish-ian in its arrow-straight riffing, and when it chooses to be “angular” (a key rock crit term of the period), it throws elbows like Bill Laimbeer playing in Fugazi. But the group’s sound is thicker than that of the Dischord legends: it revives the grating aggression of the Jesus Lizard, Big Black and AmRep’s finest noise-meisters.

Metz is the sound of two Transformers fucking: hard driving, unrelenting and as abrasive as metal scraping against metal.

To the delight of all, the group performs a number of songs from forthcoming sophomore album II (“Wait In Line,” “The Swimmer,” “Acetate,” “Spit You Out,” “Nervous System,” “Kicking A Can Of Worms”), all of which stack up admirably alongside those from the debut. Judging by tonight’s performance, the first record has a right to claim sincere flattery.

Despite the show’s hour-long assault on the ears, the trio is actually insufferably polite, even apologizing between songs for its poor mastery of French. When some joker yells out the lame witticism “Metz we can!” from the crowd, bassist Chris Slorach giggles, a little too generously. He then promises to adopt the quip as the title of the group’s next album.

“That or Black Sabbath Volume 4,” counters Edkins.

Once again, impeccable taste in influences.

—Eric Bensel

SXSW 2015: Bushy Beards, Girl Bands And A Russian Invasion


MAGNET’s Hobart Rowland

 files a round of notes from SXSW

See if you can guess the last time I was at South By Southwest. Guided By Voices had recently made its first of two big-rawk statements for pseudo-major TVT. To celebrate, GBV’s drummer felt up my wife at Stubb’s while I was playing pool. (To this day, she says she didn’t mind—a fan to the end.) 

Outside at Stubb’s on the same night, wheezy Philly Americana quartet Marah—hailed by Steve Earle and a few others (me included) as the second coming of Springsteen—presided over a chilly, rain-soaked bacchanalia. Elsewhere that week, Convoy, an unknown band from the San Diego hills, blew a handful of minds at a day party hosted by … someone. Postscript: After an underwhelming experience with the Hybrid imprint (remember Hybrid?), Convoy inexplicably donned mascara and morphed into oversexed neo-glam act Louis XIV, also now defunct.

This may have been the same SXSW where Ryan Adams stormed off the stage after a minute or so of sitting at the piano with a confused look on his face. Like that was anything new.

 If you guessed 2000, you’d be correct. Where this is leading, I have no idea. But it feels good to get it out there. And I’m sure my wife appreciates the shout-out.

 Perhaps the point is that, 16 years later, I’m still chasing after great music—except now, most of the artists are less than half my age. Here were my 10 favorite shows:

1) Honeyblood
Everything they say about Scottish girls is true. This female duo rocks harder than most bands twice its size. And the songwriting is so solid you don’t miss the bass.

2) Fight Like Apes
Dublin’s answer to Siouxsie And The Banshees, co-fronted by a surly drunk dude with impeccable taste in sleeveless Christmas sweaters.

3) Israel Nash
“Hey, man. You sure you’re not Neil Young And Crazy Horse?” Such was the general sentiment at this showcase among the pews at a downtown Episcopal church. Derivative in the best sense, Nash is a minister’s son with an old soul and backbone honed from scratchy ’70s vinyl.

4) Dorothy
Throbbing Los Angeles neo-metal-sludge outfit. Think early Soundgarden, but exchange Chris Cornell for a wailing brunette with overt porn-star sex appeal.

An 18-year-old lesbian from Northern Ireland with a hushed, almost otherworldly delivery, whose songs about alienation and sea life kept a Sixth Street spillover crowd silent for a solid half hour.

6) Anthony D’Amato
He’d been up 24 hours straight when he made his way to the stage at the New West day party, but D’Amato still delivered a taut performance with a bunch of Austin pickup guys he’d just met. He’s more than just a Dylan clone with an Ivy League degree. Seriously.

7) Sun Club
This just in: Madly energetic Baltimore quintet gets tribal on the floor toms and xylophone. Five people loved what they saw.

8) Young Buffalo
The pride of Oxford, Miss., combined multi-part harmonies with a command of melody and arrangements beyond its years.

9) Bob Schneider
The unofficial mayor of Austin didn’t need no stinkin’ badges when he headlined an unsanctioned string of barnburners at Threadgill’s, just south of town.

10) Mumiy Troll
He’s already conquered Russia, so why was Mumiy Troll’s Ilya Lagutenko sucking up to 35 shit-faced college students on a shabby outdoor stage in the rainy wee hours of the morning? Because this is America, baby.

More photos after the jump.

Continue reading “SXSW 2015: Bushy Beards, Girl Bands And A Russian Invasion

Live Review: Harsh Toke, Paris, France, Jan. 9, 2015


Religion is a terrorism of the mind.

Fundamentalist or not, it inspires fear of the invisible and the impossible, it discourages critical thinking, and it banishes the sceptic to an eternity of torture.

Yet religion has become so interwoven into society and so—pardon the imagery here—“bulletproof” to criticism that we ignore its illogic and immorality (as Robert Heinlein once put it, albeit in a different context) “just as fish ignore water.”

Tonight, in a city where just two hours earlier, police ended a pair of stand-offs with Islamic terrorists who killed 17 police officers, cartoonists and Jewish shoppers, the most powerful weapon against this mental scourge could very well be … weed.

The attacks on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo have been cast as a strike at the freedom of expression, a fundamental right in any civilized society. Among the art forms that are most unbridled in their expression—and appropriate “fuck you” antidotes to its suppression—is stoner rock.

Indeed, San Diego’s Harsh Toke embodies, above all else, freedom … specifically, the freedom to light up a doobie and fucking jam.

Released last year, the group’s debut album is a bracing sprint through psychedelia and metal, with just a soupçon of Southern rock. Less riff-reliant than Earthless, less doom-heavy than Sleep, the Tokers give free rein to their inner pothead. Like all hard-rock stoner bands, it owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Black Sabbath, but Harsh Toke focuses on the life-affirming ecstasy of the high rather than the snarling malice of the dark.

It is fitting that, on this night, in this town, the vicious guitar leads don’t express anger or despair or doom … but rather joy and exhilaration, the white-water thrill ride that life can be at its most wonderful, most invigorating moments. On several occasions throughout the show, guitarists Justin Figueroa and Gabe Messner look at each other, mid-jam, and smile. The munchies have clearly not made them grumpy.

The quartet ends its set with the album’s title track, “Light Up And Live.” The song builds from a slow, deliberate groove into an exuberant gangbang of notes awash in wah. Tonight, the band reminds us of the taste of freedom in one’s lungs. Sure, sometimes when you take a big gulp, it burns going down. A harsh toke, indeed. But you’re still the better for it.

No mention of the terrorist attacks is made from the stage or the crowd. The audience is grateful for the respite, relieved simply to ride the good vibes.

The death cult of religion devalues this life and tries to sell you on the unknown and unknowable prize “behind door number two.” So yeah, Light up and live. But most importantly: live.


—Eric Bensel

Live Review: Winter Jazzfest NYC


It’s the 2015 Winter Jazzfest NYC. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers reports from the festival.

Now in its 11th year, the Winter Jazzfest in New York City has become an established fulcrum of offbeat musical activity, ideal for the consumer as well as industry insiders. It’s an impressive series of showcases—much akin to CMJ— crammed into 10 Greenwich Village venues and featuring more than 100 acts. With affordable day passes allowing attendees to wander from one club to another, the WJF encourages adventurous listening and discovery, highlighting avant-garde improvisation, amazing new compositions and high-concept projects.

Both the audience and the musicians ranged from younger neophytes to grizzled veterans, and Thursday night’s formal kickoff epitomized the generational diversity with just two shows. The Le Poisson Rouge venue highlighted a current crop of hipsters with Blue Note recording artists Robert Glasper, Kendrick Scott, Jose James and Derrick Hodge, while the nearby Disability Pride benefit concert showcased esteemed jazz elders including Benny Golson, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb and George Coleman.

Friday night’s schedule was an embarrassment of riches, but I stuck to the action at the Minetta Lane Theater with established artists including reedist/composer David Murray. Murray has recorded more than 150 albums under his own name, and had three different showcase slots including a Clarinet Summit with Don Byron, David Krakauer and Hammiet Bluiett, and a trio gig featuring Geri Allen on piano and Terri Lynne Carrington on drums. Following Murray, there was Trio 3 with Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille along with special-guest pianist Vijay Iyer. Even without Iyer, Trio 3’s collective experience was well over 150 years, and they did not disappoint.

Longtime “Downtown” musicians were also on hand, with Mark Ribot & The Young Philadelphians With Strings playing instrumental versions of classic Philly soul. Ribot’s band killed it, especially with the amazing rhythm section of bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Calvin Weston. Other downtown legends included Strange And Beautiful, which is a Lounge Lizards tribute ensemble featuring Lizard alumni Ribot, pianist Evan Lurie, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, saxophonists Michael Blake and Erik Lawrence and many more.

Saturday night’s schedule was more of the same—both in quantity and quality—including Rudresh Mahanthappa interpreting Charlie Parker, the Campbell Brothers performing a sacred steel version of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and the SFJAZZ Collective playing the music of Michael Jackson. Overall, there was just too much for any one person to see, but that was a good thing.

—photo by Steve Sussman

Live Review: Motörhead, The Damned, Paris, France, Nov. 18, 2014


Creature Double Feature!

Rarely are audiences treated to two bands of such legendary stature on the same bill. And interestingly, the Damned and Motörhead are not merely pioneers in punk and metal, respectively; they also have close historical ties.

Motörhead’s Lemmy played bass on the Damned’s cover of the Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz,” and the two bands once merged for a live version of “Over The Top” under the contracted moniker Motördamn. But their joint immortality was ensured when they both made unforgettable cameos on the ’80s U.K. sitcom The Young Ones. YouTube that shit up, kiddies.

First up: the punks.

“We’ve come from 1977 to save you from The X Factor!”

Captain Sensible is an incorrigible yukster. He has been playing the clown before audiences for more than 35 years as bassist, then guitarist, for the Damned. The first time I saw him perform—at the original 9:30 club in D.C. back in the early 90s—he improvised poetry about Sylvester Stallone sucking his cock.

“We’re the Damned,” he yells tonight. “And we sound something like this … ”

The “this” should have been the most bracing, razor-sharp punk from the original wave of revolutionary yobbos. In a genre that, at the time, eschewed technical skill, the Damned was rebellious in its virtuosity. Drummer Rat Scabies was a Keith Moon who could actually keep time. Sensible was every bit the guitar god that Page and Clapton were. And unlike Johnny Rotten, Dave Vanian could not only carry a tune but also apply a range of “treatments” to his vocals, appropriate to the song’s mood.

Unfortunately, tonight, with only Sensible and Vanian remaining from the band’s classic era, the boys only sound “something like” the Damned.

The punk tunes (“Ignite,” “Second Time Around,” “Love Song,” “Neat Neat Neat” and signature hit “New Rose”) lack the bite they had so long ago. But the more pop-inflected songs (“Wait For The Blackout,” “History Of The World (Part I),” “Eloise,” “Street Of Dreams”) all really buzz. Vanian may dress like an undertaker emceeing a three-ring circus, but his pipes are as clean and rich as ever. Furthermore, with closer “Smash It Up,” the group is subtle, powerful and anarchic: everything that made it the most accomplished, versatile, exciting, and—don’t challenge me on this one—best punk band from the class of ’77.

As he exits the stage, Vanian warms up the audience for the headliners by suggesting we may all be “killed by death.” Only at a metal concert would that be greeted with cheers.

When Motörhead takes to the stage, one senses that the set of an ’80s metal video has come to life: a drum riser towers, the garish Snaggletooth banner seethes malevolence from the rafters, the powerful search lights cast their tendrils outward, and the ubiquitous devil hand symbols reach, ironically, to Heaven.

Lemmy and Co. play a punishing set of their trademark one-two-three  sweaty metal. The band hammers through a series of crowd pleasers: “Shoot You In The Back,” “Stay Clean,” and “No Class.” “Iron Fist” is conspicuous in its absence, but there is plenty gristle elsewhere on which to chew. And if the numbers all sound similar, no one is complaining. Motörhead fans don’t come to the shows for diversity in the songs: They come because—I’m quoting several bleary-eyed fans here—“no one rocks harder.” Indeed, Motörhead is utterly uncompromising. Over nearly 40 years, the group has never sold out, let alone sung a duet with Miss Fucking Piggy. (I’m looking at you, Ozzy.)

Just before the encore, the trio delivers metal’s crowning achievement: the all-time greatest metal tune—I’ll brook no opposition on this point either—the incomparable “Ace Of Spades.” The song that should be engraved on every time capsule we jizz into space.

As preface to the night’s closer, the pummelling “Overkill,” Lemmy addresses the crowd one final time, paraphrasing a lyric from another one of his songs and repeating his intro at the start of the show. “Don’t forget us,” he implores. “We are Motörhead, and we play rock ‘n’ roll.”

Got it.

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: Blonde Redhead, Paris, France, Sept. 22, 2014


Lower your expectations and you will rarely be disappointed. Scientists refer to this as the “Tom Arnold Principle.” It applies particularly well to tonight’s Blonde Redhead concert.

In the 1990s, Blonde Redhead was breathtakingly original. Its bracing, no-wave indie punk inspired (fitting) comparisons with alternative legend Sonic Youth. Its jagged rhythms and jarring, boy/girl vocals created a dynamic that was the envy of all bands who courted the avant-garde yet still wanted to sound catchy.

With the turn of the millennium, BR shifted gears, toning down its rock elements to create dreamy pop gems fashioned in a Fabergé workshop. The group had transitioned from gorgeous art rock to gorgeous art pop.

And now this.

The trio’s latest release, Barragán, is suitable for an elevator in Stockholm—fittingly, come to think of it, since the band seems sympathetic to its captors: it has fallen hostage to Euro-wusscore and seems content to seal the cocoon permanently shut. The album lacks the elegance and exquisite beauty of its previous releases: the tracks—cottony and threadbare—float through one’s ears like tumbleweeds through a dusty ghost town. To cite but one clunker, “Defeatist Anthem (Harry and I)” sounds as if the High Llamas dropped acid and performed on Hee Haw.

So expectations were running low for this gig. However, in Paris’ regal Trianon club, Blonde Redhead offers a polished, and at times inspired, performance. Kazu Makino and twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace play a deliciously languorous version of “Hated Because Of Great Qualities.” Even Barragán’s “No More Honey”—a bit limp on record—is haunting, hypnotizing in this live setting. It oozes voluptuous ’60s French pop à la Ivy. The song’s pendulum-like guitar line hangs suggestively in the air, tantalizing one’s libido.

Late in the set, the focus of the show narrows sharply onto Kazu. She abandons her guitar and bass and takes center stage with mic in hand. Previously, she had lurched about with the grace of a paraplegic spider, but with the euphoric, dancehall shoegaze of “23” she sways and shimmers and thrashes with physical poetry, energy and—fuck yeah—sexiness.

Even while belting out the staccato chorus to “Equus,” she exudes fragility and shyness. The audience is thoroughly entranced.

The band closes with “Seven Two” from the current album. The Pace brothers quickly exit the stage, knowing that all eyes are on a different set of twins. Kazu stands alone in a slinky white dress, absorbing lavish applause. She blows charmingly awkward kisses.

The public gushes. Kazu blushes.

Tonight, Blonde Redhead finds a new way to exceed expectations. Such is the art of seduction.

—Eric Bensel