“KEXP Presents: Raw Power - A Tribute to Iggy & The Stooges” (2016)

I go to a lot of meetings.  A LOT of meetings.  It seems like my work calendar these days is nothing but meetings.  At these meetings lots of ideas are brought to the table, most practical, some interesting, and a select few are innovative.  But I’ve never been to a meeting where someone has said something like, “You know what we should do?  We should put together an all-star band made up of Seattle musicians and have them do a free show where they play nothing but Stooges covers.  Oh, and they should do it on the roof of Pike Place Market, and it should be a free concert.  And then we can release it on vinyl.”  That sounds like a pretty cool meeting.

It all came together on a beautiful night in late August 2015, thanks to our friends at KEXP radio, the same station that helped bring us killer live vinyl releases of The Sonics Live at Easy Street and On Top! (KEXP Presents Mudhoney Live On Top Of The Space Needle).  And the band they put together for this little hootenanny?  Oh my, what a band it was:

  • Mark Arm (Mudhoney, Green River)
  • Mike McCready (Pearl Jam, Mad Season)
  • Duff McKagan (The Fartz, Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver)
  • Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Skin Yard)

All of these guys grew up in the greater Seattle area, so it truly is a pretty impressive crew of locals.

In case you were wondering how awesome this was, you can watch and listen to the entire show online:

So what about the record?  Well, it sounds pretty damn good, I must say.  I found the set list a bit interesting, most notably due to the songs that weren’t played.  A lot of The Stooges’ classics were left out - no “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” or “No Fun,” or “Fun House,” or “Raw Power.”  However… in some ways that makes it a bit better.  It makes the guys feel like something more than just a cover band hammering out the hits, almost like a cool band you’ve never heard before, especially if you’re like me and don’t have a deep knowledge of The Stooges’ catalog.

The B side is absolutely fantastic.  The extended jam of “Down on the Street” has some fantastic guitar work on it, plus Mark Arm breaking out at one point to tell the fans how this show came about.  The side also gives us our biggest classic Stooges number, “Search and Destroy,” one of my personal favorites.

Overall the sound quality on KEXP Presents: Raw Power - A Tribute to Iggy & The Stooges is excellent, even more so when you consider it was performed outdoors on the roof of a building.  It’s limited to 2,500 units, but you can find plenty of sealed copies on Discogs for less than twenty bucks, which is a pretty good deal if you ask me.  So if you’re a fan of The Stooges, or just that early proto-punk rock in general, go get yourself a copy, and you too can be a street walkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm…

Book Review - “What Is Punk?” (2016)

Can Play-Doh be punk rock?  Based on what I see in the book What Is Punk? the answer is a resounding yes.

Released in 2015, What Is Punk? is a cool little kid-style book (suitable for little kids and big ones too) that explores the history of punk rock using the clay creations of Anny Yi and the couplets of Eric Morse.  Over the course of 30 pages or so we’re treated to some imaginative dioramas of punk fashions and icons.  The early influential bands and individuals are all here from Iggy Pop to the Sex Pistols to the Ramones to Bad Brains.  And while the stage set-ups are cool, it’s the attention to detail that caught my eye.  Safety pins?  Check.  Zines?  Check.  Henry Rollins’ tattoos?  Check.  Plus there’s a two page spread dedicated to the ladies of punk featuring The Slits, Poly Styrene, and Siouxsie Sioux.  It’s impressive how broad of a reach Yi and Morse were able to have in such a short book.

Not only are Yi’s figures and backgrounds impressive, but so too is the photography, all of which is in color and impeccably lit and shot.  While the book is certainly directed a young audience, even as a not-so-young-anymore punk there’s a lot here to like, and I think it’ll put a smile on your face.

You can learn more about the project at the book’s website HERE.

KMFDM - “Salvation” (2015)

I “discovered” KMFDM by accident a couple of years ago via their Virus 12″ and dug their sound.  So picking up this RSD 12″ was a no brainer.

Salvation has six tracks.  Three of these are from KMFDM’s 2014 LP Our Time Will Come - “Salvation,” “Blood Vs. Money,” and “Brainwashed,” though only “Salvation” is presented as the album version.  In fact there are three versions of “Salvation” on this record - the original plus a pair of remixes.  Joining that track are two remixes of “Blood vs. Money” and one of “Brainwashed.”  If I’m picking favorites, I particularly like “Salvation (Mindless Self Indulgence Remix)” and the modulated vocal stylings on “Brainwashed (KMFDM Remix).”

I’d probably describe KMFDM as “industrial dance” - the EDM beats and flows are unmistakable, but there’s a serious weight behind the music.  It’s like Skinny Puppy meets Ministry.

I’ve got to make a point of getting more KMFDM - it’s that damn good.  The music is absolutely infectious and makes it impossible to sit still.

“The Rough Guide to East Coast Blues” Compilation (2015)

I’ve never been a particularly big blues fan, at least not so far as traditional blues goes (as opposed to blues rock).  My father-in-law is though, and we spent many an evening sitting on his driveway after dinner having drinks, smoking cigars, and listening to blues tapes, so that’s what I always think of when I hear the blues.

The Rough Guide to East Coast Blues consists of a dozen old school blues tracks that originated from the Piedmont region, a style that differs a bit from that of the more frequently referred to Delta blues from the deep south.  All the performances date from the 1920s and 1930s, so while the mastering and production did an excellent job in cleaning up the sound, the songs still retain a certain old-timey feel.  We’re talking about songs that were all performed in one continuous take using a process that is basically the exact reverse of playing a record, instead cutting groves into a master.  When you think about that, it makes the quality of these recordings that much more impressive.

In listening to this album I’m reminded of a couple of contemporary bands I truly enjoy - Hillstomp and Devil Makes Three.  Certainly both have a much faster paced style than the old school bluesmen, but the influences are certainly there to be heard.  The influence of the blues on rock is unquestionable, and while it may not be as truly a uniquely American musical style the way jazz is, it is a heavily Americanized version of traditional folk, one influenced by geography and ethnicity, and how those things interacted.

The A side consists of what I think of as more traditional blues - limited instrumentation and a soulful singer.  The B side gives a few more uptempo, almost poppy kind of numbers like “Mama, Let Me Scoop for You” by Blind Willie McTell.  Not being any kind of blues expert myself, I’m not sure how these two different styles fit together, though I’ll admit the inclusion of these bouncier tunes gives a bit of extra flavor to the collection.

I give the Music Rough Guides label a lot of credit for the quality of The Rough Guide to East Coast Blues.  The overall quality is excellent, the notes on the jacket reverse are informative, and it includes a download card.  And for around $15, that’s a pretty solid value.

Green River - “1984 Demos” (2016)

Was this the moment that grunge started? (♠)

Record Store Day 2016 had some pretty big releases for Seattle music fans, including two live albums (The Sonics Live at Easy Street and KEXP Presents: Raw Power - A Tribute To Iggy & The Stooges) and the first ever official release of Green River’s 1984 Demos.  I was lucky enough to find all three at Easy Street Records a couple of hours after they opened on RSD, and I couldn’t be happier with all of them.

You can make a solid case for Green River being the first true grunge band.  Not only were they recording way before anyone was even using the term (♥), but when they eventually broke up in late 1987 members went on to form bands like Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, and Pearl Jam, each bringing a certain amount of Green River influence to their new projects, most obviously and sonically in Mudhoney (♦).  So if Green River isn’t grunge’s patient zero, I don’t know who is. (♣)

Producer Jack Endino didn’t record these sessions, but he is the one who ended up with the tapes and was finally able to secure permission to master it for this RSD special vinyl release.  It comes with a reproduction of an early Green River gig flyer as well as a band sticker.  The edition was limited to 2,000 copies, and based what I’ve read online it sounds like 1,800 of these are black and 200 pink - but there’s no way to tell what color you have until you actually open the cellophane.  Mine is black, which I guess is a bit of a bummer, but whatever - I wasn’t buying this as a collectable; I bought it because I love Green River.  And after listening to it, I love them even more.

Endino notes that he hears Alice Cooper and Black Flag influences on these demos, and I certainly agree - I definitely hear some of the slow heaviness of My War‘s B side on songs like “Leeech.”  I also get a ton of The Stooges and just general hardcore.  But what I love is how they blend different elements together.  “Means to an End” is mostly a hardcore song, but Turner does some little guitar start-stops that would have never flown in a typical hardcore song, fitting more into a straight forward rock style.  “New God” takes that heavy psych quality of early Black Sabbath, but with an Iggy Pop-ish approach to the vocals.  “Against the Grain” opens with a drum beat that has you convinced you’re about to get some hair metal, but then is joined by Turner’s guitar and you start thinking, “OK, this is some kind of prog rocker”… until Arm comes in sounding like The Sweet’s Brian Connolly on “Ballroom Blitz”… and that’s all before the song pounds forward into what can be best described as a early UK style punk number… but, you know, one with tempo changes…  I think that song just broke my brain.  The closest Green River come to a prototypical grunge song on 1984 Demos is side B’s “Take Me,” reminding me more than a little of the frenetic pace of early Soundgarden an Mudhoney.

What’s crazy to me is that the 1984 Demos material pre-dates Green River’s debut, the 1985 EP Come On Down, and yet of these nine demo tracks only “Tunnel of Love” made it onto that record - so basically the band recorded an entire album that it never used.  Endino is right when he refers to 1984 Demos as “Green River album number zero.”

1984 Demos is a flat out killer record.  That’s all you need to know.  Go buy it!

 

(♠)  Look, a lot of people, including a lot of Seattle musicians, hate the term “grunge”.  I get it.  I really do.  But at the end of the day, that’s the label that was slapped onto the type of music that came out of here in the mid to late 1980s, so it’s a convenient term as much as anything.  Sure, you could call it punk, but at that point you’d have to call it “Seattle punk” to differentiate it from the New York, Los Angeles, and DC styles, not to mention the stuff coming out of the UK and Europe.  So for our purposes, I’m just going to call it grunge.

(♥)  Of course, future Green River frontman Mark Arm famously used it in a letter to the zine Desperate Times in 1981 to criticize his own band at the time…

(♦)  And not just because of Mark Arm’s unique voice.  To my ears Mudhoney is like Green River v2.0, with that muddy, intentionally sloppy style that defines their sound.

(♣)  Unless you want to argue for Arm and guitarist Steve Turner’s pre-Green River band, Mr. Epp & The Calculations.