Live Review: Bottomless Pit, Pittsburgh, PA, May 15, 2009

bottomlesspit390Bottomless Pit shouldn’t even exist, but when a bizarre and tragic event took the life of Michael Dahlquist, drummer for the group Silkworm, in 2005, that treasure of a band appropriately folded and the remaining members (Andy Cohen and Tim Midgett) soon found their way back to the music in the form of Bottomless Pit. The band is looser and rangier and more serious-sounding, and you can hear the heartbreak and bewilderment and simple missing-you feelings in so much of Bottomless Pit’s mature, downcast guitar rock. (In case you don’t know the story: Dahlquist was killed on his lunch break along with two friends when a suicidal woman intentionally crashed her car into theirs, which was stopped at a traffic light. She lived and is now in jail.)

The Chicago-based Bottomless Pit has toured sparingly since forming about three years ago. A warm spring night in Pittsburgh found the band near the end of a few-days tour around the Midwest. The 31st Street Pub has a heavy-metal, biker-bar feel. There’s a display case of fake skulls and other freaky bones, and part of the ceiling is decorated in autographed symbols from drum kits. The Iron City beer is cheap. The place is rock ‘n’ roll. Opening, as usual when Bottomless Pit stops in Pittsburgh, was Karl Hendricks, a ‘burgh staple whose namesake Trio/Rock Band has been around for ages. It’s now a more back-burner concern for Hendricks, and he still puts out records but rarely plays live. You wouldn’t know it, though, as the three-piece didn’t exhibit any rust. Hendricks’ formidable guitar skills kept the set interesting despite the loud, murky sound and drowned-out vocals.

Expanded from Silkworm’s spare trio formation (Midgett has jumped from the bass to join Cohen on guitar, and the band is rounded out by Brian Orchard on bass and Chris Manfrin behind the drums), Bottomless Pit has a more layered and textured post-punk sound that delves into expansive classic-rock noodling and math-rock arrangements.The classic-rock leanings were most evident on the handful of new songs that opened the band’s set. Serious and stoic, Cohen and Midgett aren’t hell-raisers onstage. They executed their songs in a precise, thoughtful way, with the rhythm section so subtly holding down the back end that you sometimes forgot they were there. After the batch of promising new songs, the band played selections from its two records to date, 2007’s Hammer Of The Gods and 2008’s Congress EP, starting with the catchy “Dogtag,” which features a trademark driving chorus from Cohen. As with the Hendricks set, the sound at the club wasn’t as crisp as it could’ve been. Cohen has a great, flat Midwestern baritone that was lost in the mix. Despite that, it was a compelling, albeit brief show. There were a number of enthusiastic fans jumping around up front, but most people stood quietly listening, maybe seeing Bottomless Pit for the first time and not knowing the back story or maybe thinking about Silkworm and feeling that collective loss.

Bottomless Pit doesn’t play Silkworm songs. No one at any of the band’s shows I’ve seen has ever yelled for a Silkworm song. I think everyone just understands. They know you shouldn’t look back. While Midgett and Cohen have always appeared quite serious when playing, Dahlquist was the ham of Silkworm, almost always performing shirtless, talking to the crowd from behind the kit he played so thunderously, drenched in sweat and glee. That’s missing now. And that’s the heaviness and seriousness you feel at Bottomless Pit shows and on the band’s records. It’s an unsecret loss. When Midgett sang, “Silver moon/Hanging up in the sky/The same moon that you see/From the other side,” on the elegiac, set-closing “Red Pen,” you could feel a tangible weight because you knew exactly what he was talking about.

That was it. A few words of thanks. No encore. No frills. On the way out, I thanked Midgett for playing. While many of us wish Bottomless Pit didn’t ever form, we’re still very glad the band did.

—Doug Sell

“The Cardinal Movements” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/TheCardinalMovements.mp3

Film At 11: Monahans

We named Low Pining, the debut by Austin’s Monahans, one of the 10 best albums you didn’t hear in 2007, saying it was like the Friends Of Dean Martinez resting under the lush sonic boughs of The Joshua Tree. Try not to miss the boat with follow-up Dim The Aurora (Misra), because this ship occasionally abandons the moodcore tempo and moves at a comfortable, Joseph Arthur-like clip. Here’s the video for album track “It’s Enough To Leave You…”

From The Desk Of The Meat Puppets: Robert Burns (And Turds)

meat4logo100cTo have Cris Kirkwood back as the bassist of the Meat Puppets is nothing short of a miracle. The band he founded with his guitarist/vocalist brother Curt in 1980 broke up in 1996 due to Cris’ addiction to heroin and crack cocaine. In the ensuing years, Cris’ life spiraled far out of his control as he lost his wife to a drug overdose and spent 18 months in prison for attacking a post-office security guard. Now, almost four years clean and sober, Cris is gearing up to hit the road in support of the band’s 12th studio album, Sewn Together. Before he does, Cris will spend the week guest editing magnetmagazine.com. Read our new Q&A with Cris and our 2007 career overview of the Meat Puppets.

robert-burns354Cris Kirkwood: While sitting around trying to come up with something pithy with which to conclude my stint as guest editor of magnetmagazine.com, I realized that, heck, maybe the best I have to offer—and what the world just might need—really is, after all, another tale about turds. Or better yet, several! And so I was gonna share with you the one about the mummified log in our Grandma’s attic, and another about the tent on the tip of Long Island awash in the liquified shit of a young American punk-rock band. But then, once again, I found I have misgivings, given the somewhat questionable politesse in regard to all things fecal, and yet, somehow, poo—the very essence of our ubiquitous lifelong companion, doo-doo—seems to encompass a certain sense of the things of which I wish to impart, to exude, I feel, just the right note with which to leave you. And yet, we’re talkin’ about doody, so I’m torn. What to do, what to do. Wait, I know: a quote from the classics! “An’ singin there, an’ dancin here/Wi’ great and sma’.” Robert Burns. Phew, thanks, Bob. I mean, come on, poopy-caca?! Yuck! I’m outta’ here. Bearers, fetch my litter!

This concludes “Meat Puppets Week” here at magnetmagazine.com. Thanks to Cris Kirkwood for all of the crazy and entertaining stuff he covered. Be sure to check out Sewn Together.

MP3 At 3PM: The Black Lips Featuring GZA

blacklips375Stoned-and-dethroned Black Lips track “The Drop I Hold” (from last year’s 200 Million Thousand) gets a visit from Wu-Tang’s GZA. To be honest, GZA’s contribution sounds tacked-on at the end—yet not as tacked-on as the Vice Records plug at the very end—but somehow matches the track’s overall warped sound and retardo-Dylan attempts at rhyming.

“The Drop I Hold” (download):

In The News: Wilco, Walkmen, Echo & The Bunnymen, Stuart Murdoch, Animal Collective And Free MP3s

stuart315Unless you’ve been living under a virtual rock—or maybe you just don’t like Wilco; we’ve heard some people fit that description—you already know that the new Wilco album, cleverly titled Wilco (The Album), due June 30 on Nonesuch, is streaming at the band’s website. But now you know, just in case you didn’t … No Depression (The Magazine) may no longer exist as a bi-monthly publication, but that’s not stopping the rag from putting on the first No Depression Festival on July 11 in Redmond, Wash. The all-day event will feature Gillian Welch, Iron & Wine, Patterson Hood & The Screwtopians, Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter, Justin Townes Earle and other Americana acts. Tickets are on sale now here. Download Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter’s “LLL”The Walkmen head to Portugual for a July 18 Superbock Superrock festival gig. They might want to consider talking to their booking agent because they have to play Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival the next day. The band’s other U.S. dates include the Austin City Limits Festival on October 2. Download “In The New Year”Echo & The Bunnymen‘s classic 1984 LP Ocean Rain will be shot into space June 13, going along with Bunnymen superfan and astronaut Col. Timothy L. Corpa to the International Space Station. “Now it’s official,” commented typically modest frontman Ian McCullough, “we are the coolest band in the universe.” Not so surprisingly, the stunt coincides with the Ocean Rain boxed set coming out May 30 … Ska legends Madness resurface July 7 with The Liberty Of Norton Folgate (Yep Roc). It’s the band’s first record of original material since 1999’s Wonderful, and it would be wonderful, indeed, if it includes nothing that sounds like “Our House” … If you’re into the intstrumental stylings of Los Straitjackets, Yep Roc has a deal for you: the All Access Virtual Box Set featuring 10 of the band’s records in one tidy digital package. With the $55 price tag, you can also get the group’s new LP, The Further Adventures Of Los Straitjackets. The first 250 orders receive an exclusive backstage-style laminate … Stuart Murdoch (pictured) of Belle And Sebastian has a new project that is certainly ambitious: God Help The Girl (Matador), a “story set to music” out June 23. Fey, sweater-wearing fans can order a subscription to the project here; it includes two seven-inches, a deluxe CD or LP, a 10-inch LP and an instant stream. Download “Come Monday Night” … “Summertime Clothes,” the second single from Animal Collective‘s Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino), drops July 7. It features the album version plus three funky remixes for the kids. Download “My Girls (Dave Wrangler Remix) … In news that is either pathetic or cool, depending on your views on Guitar Hero and the increasingly lame Aerosmith, fans who prove just how well they can shred on Guitar Hero: Aerosmith will actually get to open shows in each city on the band’s tour this summer with fellow relics ZZ Top. Let’s ponder this: Now we’re at the point where you don’t even have to play a real instrument in order to perform in an arena, while some of our favorite artists who write and play their own songs struggle to fill small clubs. Now that’s progress.

From The Desk Of The Meat Puppets: The Grand Canyon

meat4logo100cTo have Cris Kirkwood back as the bassist of the Meat Puppets is nothing short of a miracle. The band he founded with his guitarist/vocalist brother Curt in 1980 broke up in 1996 due to Cris’ addiction to heroin and crack cocaine. In the ensuing years, Cris’ life spiraled far out of his control as he lost his wife to a drug overdose and spent 18 months in prison for attacking a post-office security guard. Now, almost four years clean and sober, Cris is gearing up to hit the road in support of the band’s 12th studio album, Sewn Together. Before he does, Cris will spend the week guest editing magnetmagazine.com. Read our new Q&A with Cris and our 2007 career overview of the Meat Puppets.

grandcanyon535b

Cris Kirkwood: The Grand Canyon is the best-known and most-visited example of the untamed splendor of the great American Southwest. It’s an excellent subject, I think, for the contemplation of the dichotomous nature, the beauteous and the beastly, if you will, of life, not only in the desert, but on the planet in general. I mean, there you are, taking in the view, life is good, what a wonderful world, and then … one little slip, hazard’s way, and you’re buzzard food. A visit to the Grand Canyon speaks volumes for the inarguably majestic, awe-inspiring side of what it is to be on our little green world. For a peek behind the curtain, to get a glimpse at the lethal yin that balances the Canyon’s benign yang, I recently read Over The Edge: Death In Grand Canyon by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas P. Myers, an exhaustive detailing of the many and various ways to die in one of the world’s most scenic spots. Somewhere in there, I guess, is some kind of allegory, or whatever, about this or that. I don’t know. But I do know that the Grand Canyon is sure one goddamn big hole in the ground. Watch your step!

Film At 11: Mazes

Mazes is an offshoot of Chicago band the 1900s, featuring that group’s Edward Anderson and Caroline Donovan. We highly recommend Mazes’ self-titled debut (on Parasol); “Love To Lay” is twee thundering down Laurel Canyon in a power-pop hovercraft, possibly driven by Nick Lowe.

From The Desk Of The Meat Puppets: The Good, The Bad And The Rack

meat4logo100cTo have Cris Kirkwood back as the bassist of the Meat Puppets is nothing short of a miracle. The band he founded with his guitarist/vocalist brother Curt in 1980 broke up in 1996 due to Cris’ addiction to heroin and crack cocaine. In the ensuing years, Cris’ life spiraled far out of his control as he lost his wife to a drug overdose and spent 18 months in prison for attacking a post-office security guard. Now, almost four years clean and sober, Cris is gearing up to hit the road in support of the band’s 12th studio album, Sewn Together. Before he does, Cris will spend the week guest editing magnetmagazine.com. Read our new Q&A with Cris and our 2007 career overview of the Meat Puppets.

torture-rack350Cris Kirkwood: Thanks to recent developments in the field of agriculture, human kind has been able to spend a lot less time wandering around trying to scare up something to eat, and a lot more time laying around staring at their belly buttons, which, depending on how you look at it, is either a good or a bad thing. In support of the bad-thing side, may I recommend The Inquisition, a book we found on tour in Amsterdam, a collection of photographs of torture devices from through the ages dreamt up by folks who suddenly found themselves with a lot more time on their hands and decided to spend this novel new leisure time dreaming up fancy gadgets with which to inflict pain on others, including the rack (pictured), the skull crusher and, one of my faves, the anal and vaginal “pear.” Yikes. In support of the good-thing side, please allow me to trumpet the talents of the illustrious Robert Crumb and Zap Comix. Or in support of both, and speaking of Amsterdam, how about that rascally old enigma, Vincent Van Gogh? A tip of the hat to Eli Whitney, John Deere and all the other fine folks through the ages whose hard work and dedication, if nothing else, keep a lot of tummies full.

MP3 At 3PM: Faux Hoax

fauxhoax340Faux Hoax (pronounced “Folks” because otherwise we’d have to associate it with the unfortunate faux-hawk hairstyle) is Gang Of Four’s Dave Allen and Menomena’s Danny Seim, along with fellow Portlanders from Tracker and 31Knots. “Foxworthy,” from the group’s debut seven-inch Your Friends Will Carry You Home (out on Tuesday via Polyvinyl), is as free-form as you might expect from these guys. It is not about Jeff “You Might Be A Redneck If … ” Foxworthy.

“Foxworthy” (download):

Normal History Vol. 8: The Art Of David Lester

davidleaster8Every 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 25-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

August, 1992: During mainstream-media interest in the social movement known as riot grrrl, a producer from NBC’s Boston-based The Jane Whitney Show phoned me, inviting me to be on an episode called “Women In Rock.” It involved a plane ticket, a hotel room, a limo ride and the general weirdness of tabloid TV. Of course, I agreed. During the blank spots where they would later insert commercials, they powdered our faces and encouraged us to interrupt each other. I think the producers wanted to create a cat fight between the feminist musicians and a rock-video “MTV girl.” (The woman, I forget her name, phoned me at the hotel the night before the show and begged me not to rip her to shreds, which I had no intention of doing.) She was pretty wound up about it, but it was her own granny who stood up and said, “My granddaughter does everything for herself,” or some other crazy indictment. The real action came from audience members who had been given a lot of sugary items before the show and told that the Women In Rock used foul language incessantly in their lyrics. Finger-wagging lectures from Boston moms ensued. For years after, Calvin Johnson used to mimic the woman who interrupted me when I was talking about K Records to blurt out the name of her label: “I’m on Def Jam.” It was all pretty bizarre.