In 1982, Clint Eastwood directed one of the first pictures of his career in which he wore his musical influences on his sleeve. In the film, he plays the character Red Stovall (based on Jimmie Rodgers), an ailing Country Western singer-songwriter with Tuberculosis and not long to live. He has been playing Honky Tonks for years and making a minor name for himself throughout the country during the post-WWI period and into the epoch of the film, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. And finally, he has been given an opportunity to audition for the Grand Ole Opry at the world famous Ryman Auditorium. But the trip out to Nashville is no easy trek and will cost a pretty penny just to get from where he’s currently settled way out in the furthest Western reaches of the Mid-West.
Though he has little money of his own, Red picks up a few unlikely fellow travelers along the way who ante up a portion of the funds, including his brother’s wife’s father who was born in Tennessee and wants to return to die there, as well as Red’s nephew who has an intense interest in Country music, wants to learn to play guitar, and most importantly, wants to escape the fate of working as a cotton picker on other men’s ranches for the remainder of his life. Along the way, they stop through Tulsa, Oklahoma and track down an old friend of Red’s named Derwood Arnspringer who owes Red $100. The guy doesn’t have the money, and initially tries to pawn some girl off on Red instead of the money before eventually telling him about a fake robbery plot he’s got going with a diner down the street. He sends one of his thugs to take $100 from the till, the owner pockets $100 bucks from the till, and then reports that $200 was taken: a win-win for the robber and for the owner of the joint, and a loss for the government, which everyone holds in contempt anyway.
Unfortunately, Derwood’s son, who was supposed to inform the woman at the diner about the hold-up, decided to forego this responsibility and almost gets Red and his nephew killed in the process as they attempt to rob the joint without the woman being informed. When Red returns to Derwood’s bar, he steals the money from him and his fellow crap players at the poker table in the foyer, as well as an extra $100 for his troubles, and then rides off into the night with the money, and unbeknownst to him, the girl, stowed away in the trunk of his car.
Much of the rest of the film follows the exploits of Red as he plays various dive bars, hits on tons of women, makes a little money and a spreads his legend through every Honky Tonk he can find to play. His pre-teen nephew Whit Wagoneer (played by Clint’s son Kyle Eastwood, and named after Porter Wagoner) has his first experiences with crime, breaking his uncle out of prison, driving a car, boozing, smoking weed, womanizing, and writing music (he even helps his uncle pen the words to what will become his posthumous hit ‘Honkytonk Man’). Together they steal chickens, trick police officers, and see the plains and the forests and the highways of this great land and become closer to the spirit of where they’re music sprung up, to the wellspring of their beings that gives strength to the music they produce (and whose absence is what makes popular music from the 80s onward rootless, meandering drivel for the most part).
When Red reaches Nashville and finally auditions at the legendary home of Country music, his TB begins to act up again and he is forced to leave the stage before he finishes what would otherwise be a great, star-making audition. Incidentally, the player who auditions on stage before Red takes the Ryman stage is Porter Wagoner, one of the greatest Country music stars of all time and a personal favorite of mine for his murder ballads and tales of the down and out, the oppressed, the mentally ill, and the those otherwise on the periphery of society. In the film, Red’s botched audition ensures that he will never play the Ryman on the Grand Ole Opry as the promoters cannot risk him having a coughing fit in the middle of a show.
But his voice and his writing is promising enough for a local recording studio to take a chance on him (something that never happens anymore on account of the restructuring of the music industry toward fewer artists and less chance, and which also necessitates their deaths and bankruptcies to move American music toward anything like a revival of artistry or importance). The studio commissions an album of singles from Red, which he records in his final days before kicking the bucket and that become radio hits that give him fame beyond his death. During these recording sessions, the Country-Western penman and performer of the classic ‘Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs’, Marty Robbins, acts as one amongst the session musicians in the room and even contributes a few lines to Eastwood’s surprisingly good tune. This film would prove to be Robbins final public appearance before his death in December of 1982.
The film is an homage to some of Eastwood’s musical heroes and inspirations and would form the first part of what would later become a triptych of sorts in which Eastwood explores his preoccupations with various American musical artists. The second of this triptych would come six years later on Bird, Eastwood’s biopic on the life of Charlie Parker. The third, Jersey Boys, would be released almost thirty years later, in 2014, and explored the doo-wop musical craze of the 40s and 50s. Although the latter is a picture I personally couldn’t stand because of the vapidity and lack of vitality of the music that those bands produced, Honkytonk Man and Bird are every bit deserving of the critical praise they received when they were first released and have continued to received over the following 36 and 30 years, respectively.
[Catch another Eastwood film review here: Heartbreak Ridge]
Something like a month and a half or two months ago it was record store day. At my local favorite record spot- Charlotte’s Repo Record- I picked up some hot wax, watched AntiSeen put on a tight set, and talked rock with Eddie Ford. Ford is frontman for one of Carolina’s most raucous, righteous r’n’r rabble-rousers: The Self Made Monsters.
Being the son of a Charlotte punk icon has its perks. One of which was having some of the coolest tin lunch boxes imaginable as a grade-schooler. From Kiss, to Ramones, to my two Planet of the Apes boxes, lunch was my favorite class of the day for the obvious reason-food- and also for the pleasure of upstaging all of my mindless, clueless peers. The coolest piece o’ tin I ever sported, however, was a full black construction worker’s akin to the one sported by Popeye’s hamburger-hound Wimpy. I decked it out with all the coolest stickers I could find: primarily stuff with skulls. Mad Brother Ward, G’n’R’s Appetite for Destruction cover, and this Self Made Monsters image:
Needless the say, I dug it and knew instinctually that I would dig the music when’ere I first laid ears on it.
Fast forward ten or so years. 22 years old and borrowing tons of the old man’s LPs on cd. I come across the album Fine Stew by The Monsters. When I first play the thing on my car console, i’m thrown by the aggression, the roughness, the squealing guitar effects between a few of the tracks. Without any frame of reference, I file it away as something like pared down troglodyte metal and with song titles like “Mongoloid” and “Fine Stew”, and a cover complete with a caricature caveman Ford boiling his bandmates in a pot, my suspicions seem confirmed.
Forget circuity, back to the record store. I ask Eddie if the guys are playing any shows soon and he tells me about an upcoming show planned for the following week up in Lenoir. I instantly make plans to go. The Stooges, The Sonics, The Troggs, and a league of contemporary garage and proto-punk bands having come to my attention, I decide I might really like The Monsters after all and hope to have another extant band to latch onto, to bank my hopes and aspirations on for what r’n’r should and could be. I won’t be disappointed.
The week glides by fairly quickly and I’m off to the mountains of North Carolina with Tyler Adams, friend and drummer of The Boron Heist, in tow. The show is going down at some place called Hotel Hell 10. We drive by it twice before realizing the gig is in an old mechanic garage on a hilly, country backroad. We pull up, a little offput by the conflict between the reality of the venue and our pre-conceived notions of it. Before we even exit the car, this guy walks up and introduces himself as Dave from the headlining act Thing Sloth. He explains that the garage used to be his father’s and that there’s a ton of trails and old picker stuff around and we should walk around and check it out. The trails lead to more trails, which often lead to neighboring homes and outbuildings we’re interested in exploring further, but decide against as it’s not apparent where one home-owners lot begins and another’s ends.
The interior of the garage is a quirky melange of old auto equipment; rock music and horror movie tapes, films, and memorabilia; a large rock wall; and a sound-proofed venue space. When Eddie arrives, I quip, ‘Talk about diy, this is it!’ He concurs.
Three bands were booked for the night, but one had to drop the gig last minute (this seems to be a recurring theme to many of the shows I go to), but most of the thirty or so people who’ve shown up aren’t put off by this as it’s a free show with drinks and snacks on the house… er, garage.
Self Made monsters set up and quickly start their set. A wave of psychedelic, 60s-inflected garage rock quickly envelops the small sound-proofed practice spot. I’m reminded distinctly of Funhouse–era Stooges and catch some heavy T.Rex and Thin Lizzy glam and hard rock vibes coming through. The guitarist and drummer are brothers and founding members of the group alongside Ford, and they are locked in tight rhythmically, stylistically, and in spirit. I can’t help but recall the now-mythical write-ups of The Stooge’s Asheton Brothers who helped hone the core sound of what would serve as a bridge between 60s garage and early 70s punk.
Eddie Ford is a monstrous presence in front of the mic with a distinctive gravitas and personality unique to himself while notably post-glam post-punk post-garage (in the sense of taking them as points of reference). He is one of the most interesting and forceful frontmen of any band i’ve ever seen live or on celluloid. Period.
The Self Made Monsters bassist is a relatively new addition to the group and in energy and focus, he matches the force of the other players of the group. All in all, it makes for a powerful rock and roll experience informed and invected with a number of the strongest traditions within r’n’r’s canon.
With crowd pleasers like “Hook”, “Dinosaur”, and “Monkey Brains” (a track tragically overlooked but infinitely catchy and more worthy of repute than all of what commands pop attention currently), they ignite a relatively small, laid back crowd with an energy only strong compositions rendered with energy and authenticity can. Round that out with a gutter-punk, schizoid, powerhouse rendition of The Sonics classic “He’s Waiting,” and I would call it more than a success.
Next up, the second and final band of the night: Thing Sloth. The group is definitely representative of the Charlotte style even though these are Lenoir boys (I think). Stoner and speed metal influences. Check. Punk and hardcore. Check. Rock and roll. Check. Cds with obscure sci-fi comic book art covers. Check.
Thing Sloth plays a longer set than they might usually to account for lost time from the cancellation of the night’s third act. But with blistering backbeats brewing behind brute, frenetic pacing, galloping bass and experimental guitarwork, the group is an interesting, driving, if not idiosyncratic experiment. I dig it. and it seemed like the crowd did too.
With the free show behind us and free beer within us, Tyler and I got ready to head out after speaking to Eddie Ford, his bandmates, and some of the guys from Thing Sloth. But not before buying some merch! 30 bucks and 20 minutes later and I was leaving with five or six cds, some stickers, and a few Self Made Monsters 7″s. Can’t beat that, eh?
Round about midnight with a two hour drive ahead of us, we rode off into the night, down the mountains, and back into the piedmont, ears buzzing tinnitus shrieks and cool Carolina air rushing on past: Memories of monsters, most recent, just now settling in, of r’n’r music not fade away. Hopefully not too soon that is.
AntiSeen had just played a set of weekend shows in Hickory, NC and Spartanburg, SC. I had made out it out to both shows and had a great time hearing new bands and watching AntiSeen play live. Fast forward a week later, it was Saturday, April 22nd, 2017: Record Store Day.
I meet up with Mad Brother Ward in Charlotte just after finishing my shift at work. We sojourn over to our local record store to check out this year’s Record Store Day vinyl and to prepare for the show AntiSeen will be playing here this evening. Jimmy ‘Repo’ of Repo Records is doing business slinging vinyl at a breakneck pace and the store is packed. Nonetheless, I manage to wade through the cacophony of voices and waves of bodies to find some pretty cool merch. First and foremost amongst which is a pretty killer re-release of ‘Psychotic Reactions’ by legendary 60s garage rock group ‘The Count Five.’ Score! After picking up some re-issue Link Wray and Music Machine, plus a Robert
Johnson cd boxset, I scope out the room and found that my friend and bandmate Owen Sykes had arrived. We shoot the bull, look over some more merch, and catch up with our friend Alex Stiff, frontman of The Fill Ins.
The show is set to start at 5 pm. So at ten till, we stand watching the band do a quick line-check before disappearing into the back room, where I can only surmise they are mentally preparing for the show. The store is even more packed than it was just half an hour ago and it seems subtly quieter. As the minutes tick down, anticipation from fans and a slight impatience from first-timers compound into a palpable atmosphere of uncertainty. I have never consciously ‘read’ a room before, but I find myself doing so now and intuitively understanding crowd psychology on some level.
AntiSeen enter the room and begin to launch into their set full-force. Thousands of teeny-bopper power punk bands claim lineage to The Ramones. But this intensity, this no-nonsense approach during the first act of the set demonstrates it, lives and breathes and revels in it. The past two nights contained only one major hiccup musically, a sonic false start on the same track both nights. Tonight, this issue is remedied and the songs are all played perfectly as far as I can tell. All the same, the crowd is understandably less energetic than if the show were in a large, open space, but many audience members (me included) belt out the lyrics track after track and have one hell of a time. Although its a hot day, AntiSeen’s energy never wavers. The Gooch goes full ambidextrous octopus on his drum kit, while Barry Hannibal lays down steady, driving grooves, while Mad Brother’s aim rings true, launching a surging sonic assault. All this, buttressed by the deep-fried soul-punk groove intermittedly escaping the indomitable Jeff Clayton’s vox.
At the end of the set, a break occurs in my thought. No one is yelling loud enough or directing chanting well enough to warrant an encore. The crowd diffuses quickly and waits to buy some AntiSeen vinyl. People stand around talking about how great of a show it was, or how great the band was, or how they wanted to hear a particular song. They just stand there and let possible experiences pass them by. And I stand there and do the same damn thing. Spiritually hangdog and disheveled, something clicks and a new vista opens itself to me, a thing to which the ramifications of will not become fully manifest till weeks later.
AntiSeen is releasing a new vinyl today: The Complete Drastic Sessions. The release of these early versions of AntiSeen’s first EP stands as an important event for Charlotte music as Bill Cates, the original bassist of AntiSeen is present. This day marks the first time Cates and Clayton have seen each other in over 30 years and the album’s signed by the two of them will definitely become highly sought after collector’s items.
Before making my departure I catch up with one of AntiSeen’s biggest fans, Matthew Vaine, as well as Eddie Ford of ‘The Self-Made Monsters,’ who proceeds to school me on early garage rock and punk bands I should check out asap. I find myself writing a decently long list of band names like ‘The Action Swingers’ and “The Cosmic Psychos’ whose depths I am currently in the process of plunging. Barry Hannibal, Mad Brother, Eddie, Owen, and I head out the The Tipsy Burro, put on some great music on their free jukebox, get some grub, and head our separate ways.
I find myself grasping for words when writing about an AntiSeen set. I have seen too few good rock and roll sets in my as yet relatively short life. This is due, in large part, to the low levels of popularity r’n’r enjoys these days. There were times in the 50s with the black fathers of rock and roll, the late 50s and early 60s with their popularizers and later garage rock, early punk and glam in the 70s, and arguably a revival of rock for a very short period in the late 90s and early 2000s, and during these times the music was vital. But only because it was immediate, true, and above all else, fun.
Now, I and a small group of disaffected, alienated, and generally pissed off youth are taking The Boron Heist multimedia. There is a time for all things commercially. This a time to force the hand: https://www.facebook.com/TheBoronHeist/
(For information on AntiSeen’s upcoming LP ‘Obstinate’ or for upcoming shows near you check out AntiSeen here: https://www.facebook.com/ANTiSEEN-82559392576/ )
If you missed part I, check it out Here
AntiSeen has been around for a long time. They’ve remained while bands, movements, and decades passed. They have a large European following and a strong contingent of fans stateside. They’ve toured alongside many great bands like Fear and The Meatmen. Played large festivals with groups like The Sonics, The Weirdos, and Mudhoney. And enjoy the support of many underground and mainstream acts. But they’ve never seen mainstream success themselves.
This is due in large part to vocalist Jeff Clayton’s lyrics and rhetoric, which have been both lauded and criticized. The latter press ilk has been more heavily emphasized and so, they can sometimes have difficulty booking shows in more asinine parts of the country. To make myself perfectly clear: I mean specifically fascist groupthink sorts of places.
The great American comic and satirist George Carlin talked a lot about how words don’t come pre-loaded with positive or negative connotations. A word means nothing in and of itself. The only real way to evaluate the meaning of some word or phrase is the context of its use and the intent of its speaker. That’s it.
So when Clayton writes a little ditty about a wifebeater or incest or killing your nagging spouse, the first rational thought (I recognize the nonrational validity of one’s first outraged position as knee-jerk that should then give way to thought afterward) should rightly be to ask what the context or intent of these songs is at bottom and not simply what they say on the surface. The way I see it, Jeff Clayton and all the AntiSeen boys are steeped in camp, wrestling, and bad horror movies. Their songs reflect and mirror these interests, presenting some good ol’ southern gothic: painting a picture of a specific real or imagined reality for backwoods southern folk rather than making some political or social statement.
But here’s the double standard. When lauded and beloved punk and roots rock band X did it in LA in the late 70s and early 80s, John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s lyrics about alienated, sexually violent, and xenophobic youth (See ‘Nausea’, Johnny Hit and Run Paulene’, and ‘Los Angeles’) were understood to be akin to harsh realism in fiction and jive Beat poetry as both were budding poets in an art-infused early LA punk scene. AntiSeen, being from middle-of-nowhere, Carolina with no such local cultural reference points, were automatically castigated for being violent, sexist, homophobic, etc., etc., etc. And they’re not. Period.
That said, rant over, and back to where I left off last:
The day before the Hickory show, I rode along with AntiSeen to Spartanburg. It was a long night and I had to wake up early to begin a long shift cooking southern comfort and diner food for the patrons of Monroe, North Carolina’s Jud’s Restaurant. At 2 pm, I call to a close my toil and make a b-line to the car with my friend Owen Sykes. We ride up to Charlotte, score another ride along with AntiSeen to the show in Hickory, and prepare for the night ahead of us.
Along the way, traffic isn’t nearly as chaotic as last night, though through my incessant napping I guess I wouldn’t notice if it was. We opt not to stop for fast food again on account of the lackluster quality we endured at a Hardee’s the previous night and we instead find a Cracker Barrel where we commence to stuff our faces. Before leaving, Barry Hannibal (bass) and I get pretty hyped on some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans we find in the adjoining shop. He buys a pack and we then spend a good deal of the remaining trip talking up how bad they taste to the rest of the van’s occupants. Everyone else decides to sit out the jelly-bean-roulette experience.
We arrive at Hickory, North Carolina’s ‘The Wizard’ saloon and club relatively early and load in the gear. ‘Dirtbag Love Affair’ had to cancel both tonight and last night’s gigs, so that leaves only three bands on the bill: Stardog, No Power No Crown, and AntiSeen. Rather than start the show early, the club pushes back the start of the show by 30 minutes. This means a later eta home, but also allows me ample time to make some conversation with James Capell ‘Cap’ Nunn, a friend of mine who plays bass for No Power No Crown and The Fill Ins. During this time, I also make my way to the merch table and buy a few AntiSeen CDs.
The opening act ‘Stardog’ gives a bar band sort of vibe and some of the lyrics are ham, but I find myself enjoying a few tracks on account of the Gary Moore-like virtuosity of their guitarist, the camp approach and lack of seriousness of their vocalist, and their overall tight sound as a group. Although their set plays a little too long, they perform a great cover of KISS’s “Love Gun” that makes it impossible for me to dislike them and they get some audience involvement from a relatively small turnout.
No Power No Crown is an interesting band. The guitarist and founder of the group is very much a Dimebag Darrell acolyte from playing technique, to the long hair and goatee, shorts and t-shirt, and even the Dean guitar. Usually I like the band’s live performances (although they tend to play a few too many covers), but tonight the guitarist confesses he is a little stoned. He is off-tempo and a bit sloppy on some solos, but the audience has a fun time anyway. And hell, if that ain’t the point of a music performance I don’t know what is.
When AntiSeen takes the stage, I’m taken aback by how good they sound. Last night they played well, but tonight they sound even more on point. Further, the sound man is an old pro and really did an amazing job on the line-check for all the instruments. The Gooch blasts out aggro, caveman beats with a one-pointed ferocious focused force, while Mad Brother Ward’s buzzsaw Tele cuts screaming highs and vicious mids akin to a machine press in its death throes. Barry Hannibal lays down the groove and adds the panache and sophistication that rounds out these otherwise minimalistic tunes. Jeff Clayton hollers and croons his hits with a sinister sneer and snarl while the audience sings along note for note. The set is a success and the band is called out for an encore of more classic destruco tunes as well as a new track off their upcoming LP ‘Obstinate.’
We load out the gear shortly after the end of the set and hit the road. Again, its a long drive home and I have work at 6 am. At some point the following morning I no longer feel tired and somehow get an extra boost of energy for the Sunday church crowd. I tell myself i’ve gone beyond tired and come out on the other side. I’ll find i’m sorely mistaken later that night.
Something about writing straight-forward narratives always tires me out. I wanted to end on a note comparing AntiSeen to other great bands. I was going to write something like ‘Jeff Clayton and AntiSeen’s approach to writing is somewhere in between the contemporary gothic of X and the fuck you, take no prisoners attitude of Fear. Somewhere between John Doe and Lee Ving.’ But I couldn’t stomach this becoming much more labyrinthine or long. So there you have it, take it or leave it. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed it.
(To be concluded: Here)
A little over a month ago, the legendary underground band ‘AntiSeen’ was set to play a couple weekend shows in my proximity. Not getting the chance to see them that often, I made plans to attend both shows with my friend Owen.
Now, here’s a little disclaimer: My dad has know these guys for a long time. Almost 30 years I think. I’ve been to shows from time to time throughout my life. And my dad currently plays guitar for the band. AntiSeen has always been a household name for me, quite literally. I’m biased, so be it.
Time: Friday April 7th. Place: Spartanburg, South Carolina. Ground Zero Club.
Owen and I (heretofore ‘we’) plan on heading to Charlotte right after work to pick up my dad, Mad Brother Ward, who is carpooling with us to the show from there. However, plans change. And usually they change for the worse, but this time is a different story. Jeff Clayton (vocals) and Todd Goss (merch) will be riding up separately from the rest of the band so the band van had extra room. We are invited to go along for the ride and eagerly agree.
The van is Barry Hannibal’s (bass) and is spacious enough to hold 7 comfortably with gear (and who knows how many uncomfortably!). Owen, Barry, Mad Brother, The Gooch (drums), Brandon (roadie and occasional body-guard), and I load into the van and head on toward Spartanburg.
Traffic was bad, fast food was okay, extra sleep was awesome, and roughly 3 hours later we pull up to the club and unload the gear. Ground Zero Club is a medium-sized venue somewhere between The Milestone and the now-defunct Tremont Music Hall (both legendary Charlotte venues I always intuitively use as my points of reference). Four bands are booked for tonight, but Dirtbag Love Affair had to drop the date last minute. This is unfortunate as I like the band a lot more than most local groups that try to pass themselves off as rock and roll. The guitarist has a glam-Johnny Thunders look and guitar style and the band is tight. Besides, they were booked for both tonight and tomorrow’s shows. On the bright side, this means a shorter show and an earlier eta getting home.
While waiting for the show to start, I study AntiSeen’s merch booth and eye a T-Shirt with my name on it. I ask how much one costs, and Jeff Clayton gifts me one as well as a copy of ‘Destructo Maximus’ (https://www.amazon.com/Antiseen-Destructo-Maximus/dp/0967662222), AntiSeen’s restrospective tome of articles, reviews, write-ups, photographs, and lyrics (Seriously, get yourself a copy if you haven’t already). Elated, I automatically turn to the first page and begin reading its contents until the first band soundchecks, at which point I drop it off in the van for safekeeping.
The opener is a group called The Municipators. They are, I will find, the tightest group to play either night this weekend. But I’m a little dismayed with the pop-punk they’re producing because, well, its pop punk (a horrendous genre that takes the worst of both forms and tends to infuse unhealthy doses of pub rock chanting and ‘pseudo-political bullshit’). All the same, their songs aren’t about politics and they close the set with a blistering (if not altogether note-for-note) rendition of Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ with Disaster” that knocks me out of my stupor. Its a good, solid set.
The second band, The Casket Creatures, is something of a genre band as well. This time, horror punk. Horror punk is difficult to get right in the same way that most genres with hooks and choruses are, because very few people have a great pop sensibility. But where other genres may have multiple great pop songwriters, in horror punk, it seems like only The Misfits do. The Casket Creatures do not have this ability. But they have camp and a healthy following, so more power to them.
Finally, AntiSeen soundchecks and takes the stage. Some of the members of the opening bands are really into the set as evinced by some moshing and singing along. The turnout wasn’t as high as it could have been, but those that are here generally leave the bar and come watch the band play. AntiSeen is raw and aggressive, and tonight they are running on all gears. The Boys From Brutalsville encore a few songs including a new track off their upcoming LP ‘Obstinate’ and deliver the buzz-saw, desctructo goods in the way only a COS (Confederacy of Scum) band could.
Jeff Clayton makes some sales at the merch table, and Brandon and we (still following?) load out the gear. The ride back is long, but riding in the van allows me time to get some extra much-needed sleep. We ride into Charlotte, drive with Mad Brother Ward from Barry’s place to Gooch’s where we drop him off for the night. We then drive back to MBW’s apartment, get into Owen’s car and ride back into Wingate, North Carolina sometime around 2 or 3 am (Confusing right?). In three short hours, I wake up and head to work for my 8-hour shift. As I rub the sleep from my eyes and shake off my grogginess with a hot shower, I realize that we’ll be going out again tonight to see the boys play Hickory. I comprehend how drained I am and imagine how much worse I will be the following day. And I don’t mull over going, not for a second.
(To be continued: Here)
Last we left off with an account of Hans Condor’s set at The Blind Tiger club in Greensboro, NC. The boys brought every ounce of aggression and over-the-top stage antics that were present at the show I saw in Japan. It was raunchy, raucous R’n’R! But I was unsure how Guitar Wolf would be able to follow it up with something comparable in energy.
The garage punk trio took the stage in an odd way. In T.REX masks! In bad taste, check. Not taking themselves seriously, check. Idiosyncratic, check. Unsuspected, again check! Right from the gate they were doing everything right! Without disrobing, so to speak, they played through a few songs and began the sonic assault characteristic of Guitar Wolf hits. After the first few songs, they removed the masks and continued their set, all the while interspersing newer tracks from their LP ‘T-Rex From A Tiny Space Yojouhan’ (Don’t ask me what it means?!?!). The highlights of the show were stage dives by Seiji ‘Guitar Wolf’ including a fantastic (in the term’s most classical meaning) foray into the crowd by walking on hands (stuff I thought only Iggy Pop could pull off!) and not to mention, a solo encore performance of requested songs with distorted, crackling guitar and vocals.
After the show, I stuck around and I got the guys from Hans Condor and Guitar Wolf to sign a gig poster, as well as their respective LPs before they hit the road. Since that time, I have been keeping an eye out for more shows from the Hans Condor lot and have been found wanting. It seems they don’t play much anymore and may have disbanded. Their personal and band social media sites have all but disappeared and my attempts to contact them through various extant pages have all but failed.
I’ve been all too aware the past ten or so years of the difficulty of establishing a band in the public consciousness throughout the southeast as many of my friends and friends of friends whiled away in obscurity, playing shows to ten people and releasing albums to little or no critical response. Although I always kowtowed in conversation (“Yeah, i know. It sucks. More people should come out and see shows. etc. etc. blah, blah, blah.”), in thought the more pressing idea has always been “Well, so what? No wonder.” Almost no one is playing powerful immediate music. Most bands are composed of terrible songwriters with no voice or at least points of reference to important music. Many play sub-sub-genres with no crossover appeal to the general public. And furthermore, on the consumer side of the equation, the general public is fed on a steady stream of terrible radio music in the form of southern-pop, hip-pop, rap-pop, rock-pop, etc. And none of it is even good pop!!! Rock and roll just can’t connect with a crowd like that!
The rhetoric here lost its sway in the face of the poor public reception given to Hans Condor. They whiled away in obscurity for years from 2007 and on until the early 2010s, touring constantly in what I gather was something of a Black Flag attempt to gain momentum through a constant presence in clubs, dives, bars, and other music venues throughout the country. They received write-ups through independent blogs pretty consistently, were named group with best frontman through local Nashville press last year, and toured with one of Japan’s best established punk acts both in Japan and stateside. And all to no avail. The sort of energy and material, the quality, that Hans Condor brings didn’t rise above that of deep underground recognition.
Defeated, tired, jaded, worn, rung-out, beaten, dejected, disappointed, I finish what is hopefully only the first chapter in a much longer discussion of Hans Condor as personal myth and legend, and eventually, potentially, a live and touring reality once again. But I’m not optimistic. The only thing that drug public audiences momentarily away from the sickeningly-sweet-bubblegum-pop-infested wasteland of late 80s, early 90s sonic drivel mass-produced for our stupefaction was a series of movements beginning with overrated grunge and culminating in a rock revival with roots in blues, glam, and proto-punk by groups like The White Stripes, The Hives, The Hellacopters, and The Makers amongst many others.
A movement is needed, but cannot be formed intentionally. The connections have to be drawn by rock writers and critics with integrity (a contradiction in terms? maybe), driven by immediate acts with the live power to draw audiences organically, and supported by promoters ready and willing to book shows with multiple great acts (rather than a good headliner and weak, trivial openers) and also willing to promote those shows (a no-brainer, its their money on the line so why lose it by not advertising?). Will it happen? Probably not. But one can only hope.
We last left off in Osaka, Japan, at the Rocket’s Club where I saw three great rock acts put on one hell of a show. The legendary noise rock band Guitar Wolf, the tight King Brothers, and the wild Hans Condor.
I missed the rest of the Condor’s dates on this Japanese tour because of obligations to classes I had in Kyoto (obligations I probably should and could have blown off without too heavy repercussions). Unbeknownst to me at the time, just a short 10 months later Guitar Wolf would headline an American tour with Hans Condor as their main support act.
Sunday, August 28th. Greensboro, North Carolina. The Blind Tiger club. I have been ranting and raving about Hans Condor, Guitar Wolf, and the show in Osaka for months to anyone who will listen. And I think I’ve managed to excite my friend Owen and my father Mad Brother Ward about the prospect of seeing these two bands play live. At any rate, I’ve roped them into making the trip out to see the show.
We arrive and make our way toward the club, where I see Drum Wolf standing outside taking a smoke break. I self-consciously approach him and tell him how excited I am to see the show and wish him good luck. We’ve arrived pretty early, so we buy our tickets and head over to a nearby Sonic for some quick fuel before the show.
When we return, the opening act, The Paint Fumes, are setting up. Chazz and Erik of Hans Condor are hanging around the merch table so I introduce them to my entourage and buy their new EP “The Sandwich,” plus a cassette, and a few t-shirts. Owen and I get some Pabst and sober down (as opposed to sobering up!) a bit for the show.
The Paint Fumes go for a stripped down, 60’s Detroit sound a la The MC5. But the Jack White approach the frontman takes with his off-brand Japanese guitar backfires as the thing doesn’t stay in tune very well. The classic hardcore punk band Bad Brains had a big weakness during live shows: they interspersed aggressive fast-tempo punk with slower reggae tunes, which always slowed down what could of been a more riotous, rock and roll atmosphere. The Paint Fumes are in a similar situation with occasional forays into slower groove and psychedelic tunes (a move The Stooges could pull off well, but few others). All in all, they perform well and the audience seems to dig some of the material despite these concerns.
Next up, Hans Condor! The club is filled nowhere near capacity and I can tell the initial lack of energy from the audience affects the band’s performance. However, The Condor isn’t inhibited for long. Chazz belts out verse after verse, riff after riff, and solo after solo with increasing intensity until a select group of audience members toward the front begin to respond in kind. Chazz throws his guitar to an old friend in the crowd mid-song and climbs atop the club’s impressively tall amplifier stacks. Meanwhile, the kid in the crowd is moving on all gears, soloing in time with the track and of a notable virtuosity. Chazz gives the signal and the guy lauches the guitar in mid-air as Chazz leaps from the speaker, catches the guitar, and falls to the ground in something like an 8 to 10 foot drop… And starts back into the song! This is aggressive, this is raw, this is immediate, THIS IS ROCK And ROLL!
A few songs later, Chazz pulls some of the more engaged patrons onstage. We dance, slam dance, and try our best to get the energy feedback loop between musician and audience going strong. I see a beer can someone has lobbed on the stage, And in my twin stupor of PBR buzz and ritual liminality autopilot (that primal thing that happens at a show), I pick it up and bite a chunk out of it before launching it right back into the crowd. Shortly thereafter, we all hustle off the stage and back in front of it. My hand stings and I realize I’ve cut it pretty deeply with the beer can. I’ve also busted my lip. I bleed on the stage and continue to enjoy the rest of the set.
Set-up for big bands is almost always longer than for opening acts or even headliners at small shows. And this show is no different. As such, I have plenty of time to wash off, clean my hand, congratulate the guys in Hans Condor on a great set, and buy some more merch. (My dad also gives them kudos on their set, and if you know him, you know they must of been good). All this before Guitar Wolf takes the stage. And man do they have one tough act to follow!
(To Be Concluded: HERE )
Rock and roll is vital music. If it isn’t vital and immediate it is making a false claim. That appellation of rock and roll to the music and performance of Hans Condor was, I found out, apt.
Time: October, 11th 2015. Place: Rocket’s Club, Downtown Osaka, Japan. After Hans Condor, King Brothers play their set. The guitarist crowd surfs through at least half of the material. Towards the end of the set, the drummer lobs his kit, piece by piece, into the crowd. The band wades off-stage into the undulating wave of audience members. Their stage antics narrowly raise the ante on those of Hans Condor and the crowd is definitely into it, but the music doesn’t connect on the same primal level as that of the raw power of The Condor. This seems odd on the face of it, as King Brothers is a Japanese band whose music is relatively popular in Japan and would most likely be more familiar to the audience. But the vitality present in their set was tenfold in that of Hans Condor.
Finally, Guitar Wolf takes the stage and audience involvement increases significantly as the frontman and guitarist, Seiji ‘Guitar Wolf’, belts out classic hit after hit. I realize now that audience recognition can occasionally have the opposite effect of limiting energy. Especially, if every song is eminently singable and the crowd exerts energy on that task rather than moshing, slam-dancing, and other such activities. But not so for this band who play all aggro and get that energy feedback loop going strong with the crowd.
The highlight of their set for me was when Seiji launched himself offstage into the crowd and landed square on the bridge of my nose. It wasn’t a high point in some masochistic sense, but because of the novelty of the experience. I remember feeling numb to the pain as the roaring blood came rushing into my face. At that point, I redoubled my efforts, pushed him high in the air above my head with the help of a few others, and sent him surfing along the crowd. If you haven’t already, check out their garage punk anthem “Jet Generation” for some context into their sound and energy.
Buzzed, bruised, and beaten, I left the show with a scratched camera lens, bent sunglasses, and a broken watch. (I dropped my camera at one point, but the maxim that the Japanese do not steal anything held true and I found it again between sets at the bar where someone had turned it in as lost.) But also with a few t-shirts and stickers, joy in having made some new friends and discovered some new bands, and a sense of having done something somehow both vital and ephemeral, compelling and inconsequential, life-or-death and trivial.
The old toad Bukowski called Proust a light-weight author because he never dealt squarely with matters of life and death like Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, or himself. And maybe he’s correct as far as literature goes as it is more of a tangible art than that of playing music live. But maybe the key to this whole rock and roll thing is writing in sand. Writing, scrawling sonic odes in a deathhand that spreads as waves through space, thinning out their signals all along the way until they become indecipherable and inconsequential. Etching moments of the deepest grief and the highest exultation into dense fog-banks of memory only to be forgotten in time or in the final equalizer. The Stooges did it. The New York Dolls and The Dead Boys did it. Guitar Wolf did it. I hear Jesus Lizard could do it. And so could Hans Condor.
(To Be Continued)
(Find Part one Here )
Japan. October 11th, 2015. I cut out early from classes to make the trip to see Guitar Wolf play live, along with two unfamiliar opening acts: King Brothers and Hans Condor.
The destination: Osaka: the closest date near Kyoto. About 2 o’clock I made my way down to the Kyoto station for a long train ride and a subway to downtown Osaka where I commence to become COMPLETELY LOST! I walk around and tried to find my bearings for about an hour before giving up and asking for help.
Now, I can speak almost no Japanese today and knew even less then. To make matters worse, even though most Japanese profess to know some English due to its heavy emphasis throughout public school, very few know it well. So you can imagine how daunting this undertaking was at its outset. Luckily for me, I find two younger, college-aged guys who both speak a little English and are able to not only locate the direction I need to go in, but accompany me all the way there! (And later, attend the show and give me free drinks!!! Talk about Japanese hospitality!)
The venue is ‘Rockets Club’ and it is one of the seediest looking clubs I’ve ever seen. The front entrance is a hangout akin to a large bus-station complete with ticket booth and largely unkempt restrooms covered in graffiti and stickers. As I wait for doors, the area fills up with rockers and rockabilly types. This is the first time since I left the states that I’ve truly felt at home as the place reminds me of clubs like The Milestone and Tremont back home.
We enter the club and make a bee-line for the bar, where I commence to down a few shots of Suntory Whiskey and loosen up for the show. After a short wait, Hans Condor takes the stage and commences to launch a full-out sonic and physical assault on the audience. The frontman and guitarist lays down potent, blinding fast rock’n’roll interspersed with short, sweet, in your face solos, all while stage-diving and power-sliding. At one point, he throws his guitar into the audience, where an unexpecting kid catches it and is goaded into playing a two-finger solo. The frontman gives him a verbal queue to toss him the guitar as he launches himself off the stage and into the middle of the crowd. All the while, the bassist and drummer play on like machines at a breakneck pace and intersperse their own quirky personas. During one particularly roaring section, the bass builds to a crescendo and the guy swallows his lit cigarette and buckles down double time. I’m floored!
Numerous times during the set, audience members crowd surf and many make their way to the stage for some old-time rock-roll dancing (me included). I and a relatively large contingent of about 25 or so others become a wave of slam-dancing, stage-diving menace. This is the coolest audience I’ve ever been a part of! The band feeds off of the energy of the crowd and the crowd replies in kind in a symbiotic relationship I’ve only seen in videos from classic hardcore punk shows, but never seen in person. The set ends and the band ignores the sustained applause for another song, respectfully ceding time to their fellow bands.
I’m in awe. I’m ecstatic. I can barely contain my energy. So when the boys finish tearing down and convene around the merch table, I immediately make my way over, spend all my expendable cash on merch and start talking to them. The frontman, Chazz, tells me that they’re a southern band out of Nashville, Tennessee and that the tour is going really well. They find the audiences in Japan to be much more energetic than at a typical American venue. Erik, the bassist, is a real cool dude. We spend a long time talking about the band, AntiSeen, the differences between crowds here and in the states, and he invites me to come out to their show tomorrow in Tokyo. I’m strapped for cash and the trip out would cost around $200 american to ride out that way by train, so I ultimately couldn’t. I assure them that I’ll see them in the states when I get back and thank them all for the experience, wishing them luck on the rest of the tour.
What I wouldn’t give now to have spent those $200.
(To Be Continued: Here)
During my last fall semester in college I studied abroad in Japan. The trip to and from was pure hell, I worked my ass off reading for courses, and I traveled solo and with my program group a fair amount. Needless to say, there was little time for extra-curricular activity. However, there was one thing on my list of to-dos that topped all else: See Guitar Wolf play live!!!
If you haven’t heard of Guitar Wolf, then do yourself a favor and YouTube them now. They’re a Japanese trio with origins going back to 1987, but pulling largely from ’77 Punk, rockabilly, and garage with a look between The Ramones and Link Wray, and MAN do they put on one hell of a show! But this post ain’t about them. Its about a little known group out of Nashville who opened for them during their Fall Tour in Japan….
I had been in Japan for about 2 weeks and become somewhat acclimated to my apartment and the surrounding block or so of downtown Kyoto. I decided to take an afternoon off from my roaming about town to relax and use up some of my accommodation’s (very) limited wi-fi data to find out when and where Guitar wolf would be playing in Japan in the near future. I came across this:
Being unfamiliar with the opening acts, King Brothers and Hans Condor, I did a quick search online and hit the proverbial jackpot. The Bros. were an alright and tight rock group, but Condor were something else. Their off-the-cuff music video for their track “Time, Rhyme, or Reason” was a salute to all the proto-punk garage acts I had been immersing myself in for the past few months: Low-fi recording, blitzkrieg-tempo, auto-destructive art. It hearkened back to and championed the power of The MC5, the destructiveness and assuredness of The Who, the swagger of Thunders and the Dolls, The Dictator’s kitch, and I knew then that I HAD to see these guys in action….
/(To Be Continued Here)