Killing Joke – “Live at Odeon”

I have no prior experience with Killing Joke, to the point that I’m not sure I know any of their songs at all.  But I’d certainly heard of them, and I like to take a chance from time to time on a live record, so when I saw this bootleg or whatever you want to call it on eBay, I decided to give it a shot.  I know that bootlegs suck in that by their nature they’re produced without the band’s permission, so the band isn’t getting paid.  And, just as importantly, the sound quality is often dubious at best.  But I’ve had a few over the years, and some of them have been pretty good… and if I like the live sound, there’s a good chance I’ll buy a CD or two later.  So bootlegs are kind of like my vinyl gateway drug to a band’s official releases.

Live at Odeon was recorded live in Italy in November 1981, and like many live boots the quality is marginal with the feedback and higher sounds blowing out whatever tape deck was being used to record the show.  You get a strong sense of the band’s energy and stripped down, raw power, but it’s not clean sounding and the bass and drums get lost in the scratchy guitar – the sound overall is hollow and tinny.  There’s no track list provided and the labels are blank (one white, one blue), but according to Discogs there are 11 songs here including “Requiem” and “Wardance”, two songs that managed to sneak into the US Dance Chart Top 50… though the live recordings don’t do them justice.  I’m not sure if this will compel me to go out and buy those CDs, but I’m interested enough to at least check out a few songs on iTunes.  So who knows… maybe Killing Joke will get some of my money yet.

The Tokyos – “God Save the Emperor!”

We’re back to some punk!

I found this 2002 release featuring Southern California punks The Tokyos the other day at Hi-Voltage Records in Tacoma.  Part of the American Lost Punk Nuggets series (#18) put out by the Italian label Rave Up Records, it comes on red vinyl and includes a decent bio of the band on the jacket reverse.  It’s my understanding the disc includes all six songs from the band’s original 1979 self-named 10″ plus three studio tracks that were never previously released.

I’m intrigued by the sound of these kids from San Diego and I’m kind of surprised they didn’t make it.  The opening track, “You’re So Silly”, is kind of derivative and is almost a straight copy of the Sex Pistols’ sound, even down to the use of the word “bloody” in the lyrics.  But after that The Tokyos really get going and quickly break free of the English punk mold.  By the second track “CIA” you can hear a bit of surf rock twang in the guitar, while still keeping with punk rock political topics (chorus – “Don’t mess with the CIA”).  They then take a completely different turn with “Daddy Says I Should Be Rich” which has a bit of an early hardcore/rockabilly sound and plays off generic anti-society themes.  “Test Tube Baby” slows it down a bunch with a funky bass beat and more sneering vocals, but this time done without the band taking themselves seriously at all, and then “Party Girl” closes out side A with a straight forward late 70s punk song about teen lust.  And the whole side runs under eight minutes.  Eight minutes!

The equally brisk Side B opens with another curveball, this time a song called “Cop Killer” that beat Ice-T to the punch by close to 15 years, and the whole side wraps up in just over five minutes.  Total running time on the album:  Nine songs, roughly 13 minutes.  Now that, my friends, is punk rock.

The Tokyos cover a lot of punk territory in such a short burst of musical energy – they mix up styles and topics in a way that would almost make you think God Save the Emperor! was some kind of American punk compilation and not a record comprised entirely of songs written by one band over a roughly one year period.  I mean, the original six tracks were all laid down within six weeks of the band forming, which is impressive as hell given the relative inexperience of everyone involved.

This is my new favorite punk record, without a doubt, and while I’m sure something will eventually come along and knock it out of the top spot (I’d say I might get bored of it… but it’s only 13 minutes long!) I suspect I’ll be pulling this one off the shelf a fair amount in the upcoming months.

Tygers of Pan Tang – “The Cage”

I pulled this out of the new arrivals bin at Vortex primarily because the band had made the cut and were included on Rhino Records Heavy Metal Box, a seemingly decent endorsement.  I mean, Tygers of Pan Tang are considered to have been part of the NWoBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) in the late 70s/early 80s alongside the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, so it has to rock.  It HAS to rock.  Doesn’t it?

Well… it sorta rocks.  In the same way that Survivor rocked (it’s easy to forget how incredibly HUGE Survivor was when “Eye of the Tiger” came out, which was pretty much a hit with everyone between the ages of seven and 70).  Calling it metal is a pretty big stretch, but we have to place Tygers in the context of the era – mainstream metal was pretty vanilla and subgenres like thrash and speed were still pretty deep underground.  This is the heavy metal of long hair, open shirts with hairy chests, necklaces, and leather jackets… done unironically.  Hey, there are some pictures of me as a kid running around in the 70s in some plaid pants and shirts with huge collars, but I thought I looked like the man back then even though today it just makes me cringe.

The Cage is fine, but nothing special and certainly not anything we would think of as metal today.  Unfortunately for the boys the best song on the album is actually a cover – and a cover of “Love Potion No. 9” to boot, though to be fair some legit rockers like Ronnie James Dio and AC/DC have covered it too.  Of course to be unfair, so have Herb Alpert and Neil Diamond.  I let you figure out if that’s cool, uncool, or simply one of life’s great mysteries, like whether William Shatner’s album Has Been is brilliant or terrible (someone bought the CD for me as an ironic gift, and I love it).

Tygers of Pan Tang had their period of heavy metal glory to be sure, and The Cage certainly doesn’t make me want to pull the record off the turntable and fling it against the wall or turn it into some kind of hipster art piece, but to me it sounds dated.  Unfortunately a lot of hair metal from the early 80s sounds that way to us today, which makes it easy for people to make fun of it.  But those of us that came of age and cut our rock teeth during that time will silently listen to the mockery, but secretly we go home and bust out these albums when no one else is around to see us rock out.  So rock on, Tygers of Pan Tang.  Rock on!

Miles Davis – “Bitches Brew”

Last night I returned home after a long holiday weekend in San Diego, but came home solo since Holly had to remain in California on business.  I decided to take today as a PTO (paid time off) day to catch up on some laundry, do some chores, clean some records, etc, but it’s a dreary, cold, wet Seattle day today and I’m feeling introspective and unmotivated.  Normally I’d go with something uptempo to try to get some energy up… but since I actually have to put in an hour or two of actual work today (a friend at work says that PTO actually stands for “paid to obsess”, and I think he’s right) I decided to keep it chill.  Enter Miles Davis.

Now let’s be clear about something.  I know nothing about Miles Davis (he played the trumpet, right?… kidding), and my exposure to his music has been more or less limited to owning the CD set for Ken Burns’ Jazz (<– owned… not necessarily played) documentary and the RSD re-release of Sketches of Spain in mono that I bought on a whim when it came out.  That’s not a lot of background, but it also more or less sums up what I know about jazz outside of a few John Coltraine and Thelonius Monk CDs that made it into the house at some point but rarely get played.  Jazz creates a strong emotional response in me – I find much of it very disjointed and jarring, and to some extent that’s probably the point.  But when we walked into FeeLIT Records on Saturday night and I heard Bitches Brew playing on the turntable it really caught my attention, enough so that I asked how much it was selling for… only to be told, “believe it or not, I got this from the library.”  I didn’t even know you could get records from the library!  What the hell??  That didn’t stop me from picking up some dub albums from FeeLIT, and fortunately I ran across an original release of Bitches Brew at Port of Sound Record Shoppe in Costa Mesa later in the weekend and snatched it up.  So that is how Miles Davis ended up on my turntable today.

I don’t have the knowledge, or frankly the language, to effectively describe any jazz album, let alone something as magical as Bitches Brew.  But what I can tell you is that if there are more jazz albums like this out there, I need to start tracking them down, because it’s great.  Davis’ trumpet pulls the music along, standing out on top of the backing band and pushing the emotional themes of the album.  There’s a lot of power and energy here.  What I really need to do is to play it while just chilling out and drinking some wine and just… listen.  Too often music ends up being played in the background of my life and not in the foreground where at least some of it deserves to be… front and center.  But I’ll definitely be doing that with Bitches Brew sometime soon, so I can revel in it.

 

Record Shopping, San Diego Style

Holly and I decided to take advantage of the Memorial Day holiday for an extended weekend getaway someplace warm, and that someplace was (technically is, since I’m sitting outside on the patio of our hotel room) San Diego, California.  And since we’re traveling, that means that somebody (me) made sure to look up the local record shops on the chance I’d have the opportunity to make some detours.  So, with that in mind, here’s a bit of a recap on some of the shops we visited.

Lou’s Records

OK, Lou’s isn’t in San Diego – it’s in Encinitas, but since we flew into Orange County and drove to San Diego, it was more or less on the way.  Lou’s is a decent sized indie shop, and one packed full of both vinyl and CDs, new and used.  They had a strong selection of rock and punk titles, but I only managed to come away with two oddball punk records that I took chances on because the prices were reasonable.  We did, however, run across a used CD by hip hop artist Sensational which I’m looking forward to listening to – I think he’s one of the overlooked geniuses of the genre.  Lou’s is worth a stop if you’re in the area or passing through, but probably not if you’re basing yourself out of San Diego and just looking to hit some shops.

FeeLIT

We found ourselves having dinner on Saturday night at the edge of the Gaslamp District, and since I’d done my homework I knew there was a shop called FeeLIT within walking distance of the restaurant.  We got there about 15 minutes before closing time, but owner Markalan never made us feel rushed.  Instead he chatted us up, and even gave us a list of all the area record stores with some notes on what they carry.  Totally classy guy.  FeeLITs selection wasn’t at all geared towards my bread and butter of punk and metal, with way more emphasis on electronic, dub, reggae, soul, blues, and some subgenres I didn’t even know existed, and I took advantage by taking chances on some dub and funk that should be interesting to spin as I try to break out a bit more into some different genres.  FeeLIT also has some art and jewelry type stuff, and Holly came away with a nice handmade leather bracelet, so everyone was a winner.  Well worth the stop!

M-Theory

M-Theory carries a nice selection of new and used stuff with a lot of indie, punk, and rock.  I actually made two nice pulls out of the half price bin (records by The Girls and Gruppo Sportivo), a place I rarely seem to have luck in other stores, plus I found a vinyl re-release of Seattle OG punks The U-Men that I’m pretty stoked about.  Had we not had more stores to hit I probably would have spent a bit more time and taken advantage of one of the listening stations, but we had things to do and more record shops to hit!  Well worth the stop, though, and the prices overall looked decent.

Taang!

Taang is both a record label and a shop, with a super heavy emphasis on punk, punk, and punk.  The reviewers on Yelp seemed to conistently note that Taang has a great punk selection, but is on the expensive side, and I’d have to agree with both parts of that assessment.  That being said, their selection was fantastic including a lot of hard to find original releases, and sometimes you just have to decide if you’re willing to step up and pay the price.  I ended up with an old Oi! compilation and the “Peel Sessions” for Joy Divison, and was pretty happy.  As an added bonus, Taang puts paper inserts into the plastic sleeves covering their records with the artist, album name, and price – which means no pesky price tags to remove an/ord jack up the covers!  Worth the stop for the punk enthusiat.

Record City

About a block from Taang is Record City, which is a nice sized store with a great selection of used vinyl (they carry new as well) that spans across a lot of genres.  Not only was their selection great, so too was the pricing, and I found a couple of records there that were considerably cheaper than they had been in other shops.  I unearthed another Northwest gem here in the form of a K Records compilation from 1992 featuring all kinds of different bands, including a bunch of Riot Grrrl stuff, plus a Brian Jonestown Masscre double album on colored wax that I’ve been eyeing from various eBay sellers over the last month or so.

Overall I was pleased with my experiences at all these stores, with special nods to FeeLIT for being a cool spot and Markalan for being a genuinely personable guy, and Record City for having both a great selection and really reasonable prices.  There were some other stores on my list that we didn’t get to… but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

On a totally unrelated note, I have two food recommendations.  JWok is a great Asian fusion place that we hit up for tons of appetizers, and all of it was fantastic.  And if you like a good burger like I do, check out the grass-fed angus beef at Burger Lounge.  Because hey, ya gotta eat too!