Saturday, February 17, 2018

Show Time

The Stranglers
THE STRANGLERS - RUTS DC - Town Hall, Auckland, New Zealand - 2nd February 2018
It’s been 31 years (yep - thirty one!!) since I last saw THE STRANGLERS - and that wasn’t even the first time! It was on the ‘Dream Time’ tour and they stopped in Ipswich. That was back when Hugh Cornwall was still in them. Hugh actually jumped in the crowd that night to pull a guy outta the audience who had been spitting at them. The guy had had a warning before letting another big greeny go, so Hugh jumped into the throng at the front of the stage at the Ipswich Gaumont and hauled the gobber onto the stage. The band then proceeded to take said gobber’s trousers and undies down, exposing his weener to all of us laughing and shouting Ipswich Punks! Then a banana was produced, peeled and stuffed on the gobber’s gonads, undies and trousers very roughly pulled up squishing the ‘nana and skin in his undies, before Mr. Gobber was given to the roadies!! That remains one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen at a show.
Anyway, I lost interest in the band after Hugh left; to me he was very intrinsic to the make-up of the band, even though musically they always pivoted around Dave Greenfield’s keyboards and that monstrous, pounding bass of JJ Burnel. This show was billed as the ‘Classic Collection’, which is pretty self-explanatory. So, with the added bonus of RUTS DC, I got my ticket and headed to a rain-soaked Auckland to see THE STRANGLERS for, what I had and still have no doubts about, the last time.
Ruts DC
I’d never been to Auckland Town Hall before. It’s a typical town hall theatre complete with balcony (which spans round virtually to the stage), good sound and over-priced beer. I mean, $9 for a bottle of fucking Heineken??!! Thankfully I managed to squeeze in a good few pints of Guinness in the pub beforehand, so the Heinie topped things off nicely.
All too soon, RUTS DC came on looking very dapper for a bunch of fellas who are probably very close to drawing their pension! The band’s last album, ‘Music Must Destroy’ is a total cracker and they launched with a track from that - ‘Surprise’. From there it was a totally classy performance of classic RUTS and tracks from that new album. It’d be pretty pointless saying what the highlights were as every track, ummm,... Destroyed. ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’, ‘West One’, ‘Music Must Destroy’, ‘Kill The Pain’, ‘Jah War’, ‘In A Rut’, ‘Babylon’s Burning’ and closer ‘Psychic Attack’. The only fault was the set was way too short.
These guys are seasoned, quality musicians. Drummer Dave Ruffy in particular didn’t drop a beat and played those old, complicated RUTS rhythms without fault. Both guitarist Leigh Heggarty and bassist Segs looked great too, often drawing in tight around the drum kit to really lock in. Segs also made the comment of the evening asking, with a distinct smirk, who was going to see the Foo Fighters the following night in some hideous stadium. Surprisingly, a lot (too many?) of the crowd were... “I shouldn’t be so cheeky should I?” was his reply!!
I was hoping for an encore - but alas no....
Ruts DC
So it was left to the other set of near-pensioners to try and follow that. Kicking off with the moody and magnificent ‘WaltzInBlack’, I had high hopes. Then I got the first of many songs during the night that I didn’t know. ‘Was It You’ appeared third from the ‘Dream Time’ album. It’s a track I always liked and was pleased to see its inclusion here - particularly with JJ sounding so impressive. The first real hit of the night though (and I mean sonic hit as well as hit single) was ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’ that saw that bass simply pound out and made all that went before it seem rather tame. From there we got a good number of the Classic Collection - ‘Hanging Around’, ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Walk On By’, ‘Always The Sun’, ‘Nice ‘n Sleazy’, ‘Nuclear Device’, ‘Tank’, ‘Go Buddy Go’ and most surprisingly, ‘Just Like Nothing On Earth’.
Hugh’s latest replacement, Baz Warne, did a fair sounding impression of him I concur, but that sense of intimidation that I’d always experienced at previous STRANGLERS gigs was noticeably lacking. Maybe it’s cuz I’m 31 years older too!! Dave did a stunning one-handed keyboard solo (I think during ‘Walk On By’) while drinking a beer (or water) before scrunching the cup and heading it away. It got one of the biggest cheers of the night and seemed to put the biggest of smiles on the collective face of the band. Incidentally, I didn’t realise drummer Jet Black had left the fold either.
My own personal favourite, ‘Duchess’ got aired (first STRANGLERS record I ever bought dontcha know!), ‘No More Heroes’ was part of the encore - and then they were gone.
The Stranglers
Classic Collection?? My arse was it!! No ‘Peaches’, no ‘Straighten Out’, no ‘Five Minutes’, no ‘Strange Little Girl’, no ‘Skin Deep’, no ‘Something Better Change’ let alone ‘Death And Night And Blood’ or ‘Dagenham Dave’. There were about 10 songs I didn’t know and while both ‘15 Steps’ and ‘Norfolk Coast’ were good (the former in particular), neither are ‘Peaches’.
I felt a bit unfulfilled on leaving. While the good bits were great (let’s face it, the good songs are fucking classics and they were played well), there’s no denying my attention wandered and that tension I always associated with the band had gone.
Yep, this was definitely the last time I’ll see THE STRANGLERS - unless, maybe, Hugh rejoins.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Year-end Recommendations 2017

2017 was an interesting year for music. I heard a lot of stuff but, like any year, I also missed a lot of good gear too. PROPAGANDHI’s latest still hasn’t crossed my ears and I think I only heard about one release on Deranged Records. What I did hear though made for an impressive year, with older bands like CHANNEL 3 cranking out brand new stunners along with newer names like DEBT NEGLECTOR.
For me, 2017 also had a very dark shadow in the passing of GRANT HART. It remains hard to believe that I was talking to him, here in NZ, just the year before. It has brought a whole new sensation which would have otherwise been lacking when listening to the recent HUSKER DU boxset.
Didn’t get to see as many bands as I would have liked. MINISTRY were due to play but cancelled (drug issues was it, Al?), I caught THE DAMNED for the 36th time and ADAM ANT blew me away on the ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ tour. I’m still blitzed by that version of ‘Beat My Guest’!!
Anyway - Top Tens and also-rans as follows. As I said above, there is a lot I have not heard - and these lists are always objective - but for me, these represent the Top Sounds of 2017. 

1. CYANIDE PILLS - Slice And Diced {Damaged Goods}
3. CHANNEL 3 - Put ‘Em Up {TKO}
4. CAREER SUICIDE - Machine Response {Deranged}
5. DEBT NEGLECTOR - Atomicland {Smart Punk}
6. PARANOID VISIONS - Rebellion {FOAD/ Overground}
7. REPLACEMENTS - Live At Maxwell’s {Rhino}
8. KOMPLIKATIONS - Humans {Rockstar}
9. CJ RAMONE - American Beauty {Fat Wreck}
10. PANDEMIX - Scale Models Of Atrocities {Boss Tuneage}
Other contenders: 1919 - Bloodline {Westworld}, BAD COP/BAD COP - Warriors, PEARS/ DIRECT HIT - Human Movement, WESTERN ADDICTION - Tremulous {Fat Wreck}, THE CRAVATS - Dustbin Of Sound {Overground} , DAMNED - 40th Anniversary: Live In Margate {Liveherenow}, DEAD ENDING - Shoot The Messenger {Alternative Tentacles}, DIRTY PRIESTS - s/t {BDI}, GRAND COLLAPSE - Along The Dew {TNS}, STUNGRENADES Class War: Fight Back! {Bastard Son}, SWHAT - Wasty Tasty {Heart Of The Rat}, DELINQUENTS - About Last Night {Violated}, FOX FACE - Spoil + Destroy {Dirtnap}, TIM BARRY - High On 95 {Chunksaah} 

1. DUNCAN REID AND THE BIG HEADS - C’mon Josephine {Damaged Goods}
2. DEALING WITH DAMAGE - Don’t Give Into Fear {Boss Tuneage}
3. FIVE THOUSAND - Monadh {Our Future}
4. NIGHT MEN - C’est La Vie {Rockstar}
5. JADED EYES - Hatespeak {Boss Tuneage}
6. NIGHT PEOPLE - Night People {Deranged}
8. FEEDERZ - WWHD? {Slope}
9. PAGANS/ HIP PRIESTS - Split {Just4Fun}
10. THE SWEET THINGS - Slather {Spaghetty Town}
Other contenders: ANTI-SYSTEM - At What Price Freedom?, NATTERERS - Toxic Care {Boss Tuneage}, FACE TO FACE - Say What You Want {Fat Wreck}, STARVING MILLIONS - V {DIY}, WRATHS - My Home {Bird Attack}, LAST GANG - Sing For Your Supper {Fat Wreck}, HUSKER DU - Extra Circus {Numero Uno}, DR. BOOGIE - She’s So Tuff {Spaghetty Town}, PATSY’S RATS - Roundin’ Up {Dirtnap} 

1. HUSKER DU - Savage Young Du {Numero Uno}
2. COVENTRY AUTOMATICS - Dawning Of A New Era {Free Range Product}
3. RAMONES - Rocket To Russia/ Leave Home box sets {Rhino}
4. DAVID BOWIE - A New Career In A New Town {Parlophone}
5. BAD DRESS SENSE - We Rule! {Boss Tuneage}
6. HANOI ROCKS - Reissues {Dissonance}
7. SWINGIN’ UTTERS - Drowning In The Sea, Rising With The Sun {Fat Wreck}
9. MANIACS - So Far... So Loud {Overground}
10. ELECTRO HIPPIES - Collected Works 1985-1987 {Boss Tuneage}
Other contenders: THE PROLES - Morton Crescent {Overground}, CHRIS SPEDDING - The RAK Years {Cherry Red}, MINISTRY - Reissues {Dissonance}, GOOD RIDDANCE - Ballads From The Revolution {Fat Wreck}

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Show Time

ADAM ANT - DIANA ANAID - The Powerstation, Auckland, New Zealand - 9th October 2017
Back in 1980, aged a mere 11, I was quite an Ant Fan! I had all the singles but felt I needed more. So, one Saturday while shopping in town with my Mum, and after having saved my pocket money, I ended making the first album I ever bought ADAM AND THE ANTS’ ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’. It’s an album that has stayed in my collection ever since and it still sounds superb today, with those fantastic, tribal drums and Marco’s menacing guitar lead lines.
So, when I heard that ADAM ANT was going to be playing the album in full live (plus assorted hits) here in New Zealand, I had to go. I’ll admit I was a tad concerned at the idea of seeing a man in his early 60s try to relive the genuine ‘Pop Star’ status he had 35+ years ago, but reasoned with myself that ‘Kings....’ was the first album I ever bought, so attendance for me was pretty much mandatory.
Before the event, several friends in the UK said that ADAM was in fine form so my expectations were heightened - but I was still a tad apprehensive. Thankfully, The Powerstation is not just Auckland’s best venue, but among the best I’ve been to anywhere in the world (unlike the fucking Studio), so I knew sound and vision would be top notch. Merchandise proved ANT still has ‘Pop Star’ status however...$50 for a t-shirt, $60 for a signed photo... Pah! Lots of people were buying the shirts, and good on them for that. I passed.
With a beer lovingly nestled in my hand, I awaited the arrival of DIANA ANAID. Never heard of her before but apparently she’s from Australia and used to be known as Diana ah Naid and has released about half-a-dozen albums. It was just her and her guitar and, much as I love those solo singer-songwriter types, she pretty much passed me by. I remember a song called ‘I Go Off’ and one about same-sex marriage, but that was about it. Her vocals were a bit over-performed for me, although the guitar sounded good. However, I wanted to hear some Ant Music, not Alt-country music. 
The arrival of ADAM ANT and his band was met with an orchestral fanfare before the dual drumbeats of ‘Dog Eat Dog’ kicked in. While the two drums sounded bombastic, I noticed there was no original ANTS in the line-up, which was a disappointment. However, the band was top-notch, both looking and sounding good. ADAM bound on, hero’s reception and - by jingoes - sounded great!!
‘Ant Music’ and the rest of the ‘Kings....’ album followed. Highlights were certainly the album’s darker tracks - ‘Feed Me To The Lions’, the double hit of ‘Ants Invasion’ (a personal favourite) and ‘Killer In The Home’, along with the stunning title track and album closer ‘The Human Beings’.
With the album having been played, ANT finally decided to address the crowd. He’d made the odd cheeky suggestion during the album, but it wasn’t until it was complete that he finally addressed the crowd. I was anticipating about 30 minutes of the ‘obvious’ other hits but he kicked off the non-’Kings...’ set with a complete surprise - ‘Beat My Guest’, the b-side of the ‘Stand And Deliver’ single. It’s always been a fave track (and wafts stuff like ‘Making History’ and ‘Los Rancheros’ from ‘Kings...’) and it was played with total intensity. This second part of the set actually went on for over an hour with other highlights being ‘Friend Or Foe’ (another track that could’ve made ‘Kings...’ better) that saw the dual drumming really grab the attention with those tribal, tom heavy beats, a set-stealing ‘Xerox’, ‘Car Trouble’, ‘S.E.X’ and, of course, a set closing ‘Stand And Deliver’. ‘Prince Charming’ was played (not that effectively but it’s far from an ANT classic, even though it was a huge hit) and both ‘Strip’ and ‘Ant Rap’ could’ve been ditched in favour of ‘Young Parisians’ and ‘Kick’. Small criticisms really - but that’s my opinion. Encores were ‘Good Two Shoes’ and a monstrous, riff heavy blast through ‘Physical (You’re So)’ that singed the ears.
Have to say guitarist, Will Crewdson, made the absence of Marco a virtual bonus. He looked fucking fantastic (surely a pre-requisite for an Ant though!) and played a smoking guitar, be it those leads from ‘Kings...’ which sound almost Spaghetti Western(Ish), to heavy duty riffing and onto the dam-busting, STOOGES-esque guitar noise during ‘Phsyical’. He didn’t really put a foot wrong from what I saw AND he plays his guitar low - just like all the greats! The rest of the band were really on form too.
And ADAM? Yeah, he’s still got ‘it’ - whatever ‘it’ is. He wore the tunic for the ‘Kings..’ set (but not the white nose stripe) and looked great with longish hair, the ends of which appeared to be dyed red. His voice surely was not broken, he put in the hard work, could still move with the best of them and seemed genuinely enthused by the reception he got at his first ever New Zealand gig.
So, was I happy I went? Too right I was!! The dual drumming was spot on (plus the addition of two floor toms for additional tribal percussion!), the set list was massive, the performance passionate and the execution way better than I could have dreamed.
Still didn’t inspire me to buy a $50 t-shirt though!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Obituary - Grant Hart

On Wednesday 13 September 2017, Grant Hart - founder, drummer and vocalist for HUSKER DU, guitarist and vocalist for NOVA MOB and a renowned solo artist - passed away at University of Minnesota Medical Centre. The cause of death was terminal Liver cancer that he had been diagnosed with in recent months; he was also afflicted with Hepatitis C. He was 56.
Born on 18 March 1960 in St Paul, Minnesota, Grantzberg Vernon Hart was the youngest of his family, born to a mother who worked at a credit union and a teacher father, and attended South St. Paul High School. Aged ten, he inherited his brother’s (who was just two years older) drum set and records after he was killed by a drunk driver. During his high school years, Hart was in a cover band named TRAIN, playing keyboards.
On leaving school, he landed jobs at various record stores, including Cheapo Records where he worked with Greg Norton. It was at this shop that he met New Yorker, Bob Mould. The three went onto form HUSKER DU.
The history of this great and influential band (arguably, the most influential US band after the RAMONES) has been widely documented, from the blur of ‘Land Speed Record’, through to the groundbreaking ‘Zen Arcade’ double album and onto a major label deal with Warner Bros and the ‘Warehouse: Songs And Stories’ double album swansong. There’s been the book, Husker Du: The Story Of The Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock, the chapter in Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life and the extensive Husker Du Database - to name but three - so I won’t detail too much of this iconic band’s history.
However, it should be noted that besides writing and singing songs, he was also responsible for most of the band’s artwork. He also designed a number of other sleeves, notably fellow Minneapolisians, THE REPLACEMENTS and their album, ‘Hootenanny’.
During the band’s tenure, Hart developed a Heroin habit and was also incorrectly diagnosed as being HIV-positive in 1986, just as the band’s major label debut, ‘Candy Apple Grey’ was released. It is said that it was Hart’s drug addiction that lead to to the 1988 break-up of the band. That was no doubt partially true, but the feuding between Mould and Hart about who should retain most creative control was another major factor. Then the band’s manager, David Savoy, committed suicide. If that wasn’t enough, the fact that during the end of HUSKER DU, Hart had already got together a project named SWALLOWS no doubt indicated Hart’s dissatisfaction and rankled Mould's ire further.
Following HUSKER DU’s demise, Hart released the ‘2541’ EP in October 1988 - a mere six months following the split. This was followed early in 1989 with the ‘Intolerance’ album. Later the same year, he formed NOVA MOB, taking on guitar duties along with vocals. It was an often misunderstood band and its fortune was not aided when Rough Trade, the label that released the band’s 1991 debut album, the excellent ‘The Last Days Of Pompeii’, declared itself bankrupt on the very day the album was released.
A second NOVA MOB album was released in 1994 before the band split following a European tour. From then on, Hart continued to play intimate, career-spanning sets and releasing impressive solo albums, culminating in 2013 with the epic ‘The Argument’, a double album based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost and William S Burrough’s adaptation of the same book as Lost Paradise. In that same year, the feature length documentary ‘Every Everything: The Music, Life And Times Of Grant Hart’ was released.
At the time of his passing, Hart was working on another concept album about Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, titled ‘Pop Manifestos’.
Hart is survived by his wife Brigid McGough Hart, his adult son Karl, granddaughter Grace and siblings Nett, Roxanne and Craig.  
Putting into words the importance of Hart and his music is no easy task. I was fortunate to see HUSKER DU at the very end of their career - at the 1987 Glastonbury Festival no less. Sure, it wasn’t the ideal venue or the most intense period of the band’s existence but I felt, and still feel, very fortunate to have seen the band before they imploded.
It is without a doubt that of all the bands that were spawned by the US Hardcore boom, it was HUSKER DU that pushed the boundaries the most, be it the warp-speed of ‘Land Speed Record’, the influence of psychedelia as typified in what must be one of the best cover versions ever in the band’s take of THE BYRDS’ ‘Eight Miles High’, an unerring Pop sensibility often channelled through Hart’s uplifting vocal, through to the ultimate taboo of signing to a major label. 
Hart himself challenged the pack too - long-haired, usually barefoot, openly bisexual and in possession of a voice that could soar to the heavens. I had my own personal nickname for him: Mr. Golden Tonsils.
I was fortunate to see him live here in New Zealand in 2016 - and he was stunning. Classic song followed classic song and yes, those tonsils were still golden! I managed to have a conversation with him also - something I am profoundly grateful I did now. We spoke of that Glastonbury performance and the turd who threw a bottle - which exploded as it hit his vocal microphone. We spoke of NOVA MOB too, a band I also saw at the London Marquee in 1991. And, rather embarrassingly, I mentioned his 'golden tonsils'!
Hart’s passing is tragic on so many levels. Not only was he so young, but he was still stunningly creative. ‘The Argument’ could be his finest work in fact, laden with stunning songs and invention. I desperately hope the album he had near-completion when he passed will be released.
Go well Grant and always Shine, Shine, Shine....

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Show Time!

The Damned
THE DAMNED - LEATHERHEAD - The Studio, Auckland, New Zealand - 8 March 2017
I thought my days of seeing THE DAMNED were pretty much done. After 35 sightings, the last of which was in my home town of Ipswich, I was set to call it a day. Then this 40th Anniversary World Tour is announced, along with a New Zealand date. How could I possibly refuse the band I’d seen that many times? I knew what to expect - which was minor disappointment but laced with great songs, a great vocalist and a few laughs. So, I bought me ticket to DAMNED 36.
I’d never been to The Studio before and, I have to say, it’s a shit venue. One big room with a narrow entry, crap sound and fucking $10 for a (small) bottle of beer!! If it’s competing with The Powerstation (Auckland’s best venue), it has a long way to go!!
Waiheke Island locals LEATHERHEAD started things off and bored me. Imagine BEASTS OF BOURBON Garage Blues ballistics fused with COWS noise-Rock bluster and you’re kinda there but without being as genuinely unhinged as either band. The guitarist (who was in THE PHANTOM CHORDS along with Dave Vanian) had a great sound it has to be said. Of the songs, the only original I recall is something called ‘Bacon’ but, without a doubt, the highlight was a maniacal cover of VELVET UNDERGROUND’s ‘White Light, White Heat’. They left the stage with a few expletives and that was that.
It was a bit of a ramshackle start to DAMNED proceedings. Keyboard player Monty came on and, from that moment, was very nearly the star of the whole show leaping around, playing stellar keys, providing lots of laughs and a genuine enthusiasm I haven’t seen from someone in THE DAMNED since Bryn. That said, it’s THE DAMNED and no one gets to upstage Dave Vanian, who appeared sporting a straggly beard and a long, black gothic coat and looked, as always, magnificent.
Monty - The Damned
A few pleasantries from Captain were said and then the tinkling piano intro of ‘Melody Lee’ was played and it was into things - full throttle. A brilliant ‘Generals’ followed (surely the band’s most underrated song) and from there it was a set culled mainly from ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ and ‘Strawberries’. Highlights were plenty: a thunderous ‘Love Song’, the double hit of ‘Black Album’ classics in ‘Wait For The Blackout’ and ‘History Of The World’ and the surprise inclusion of ‘Street Of Dreams’ which was dedicated to the late Bryn. Truly could’ve done without ‘Alone Again Or’ and ‘Eloise’... originals from that era would’ve been way preferential, but, certainly in the case of the latter, both songs were probably expected by those who discovered the band in their latter days. Never really liked ‘Noise Noise Noise’ much either...
Only two Brian Jones era tracks were played - the obvious ‘New Rose’ and ‘Neat Neat Neat’. Both tracks proved a couple of things: Capt can’t get anywhere near the cranked garage punk jams of Brian James and, as good as the current drummer is (and he is very good), he ain’t no Rat Scabies. You gotta remember that Rat was the best drummer of the ‘77 Punk era and would be Top Three drummers ever if there was any justice, so any one brave enough to steal his sticks and replicate his beats is on for a massive job. And yeah, those who get pissed off with ‘Neat Neat Neat’ being drawn out to epic lengths would’ve been pissed off again. I was. I’ve been seeing the band do this since about ‘88 if not earlier and it fucking irks me every time that one of the most urgent, adrenalin laced songs ever is nullified and morphed into an epic ‘moody’ rock workout. ‘Ignite’ was also drawn out into crowd participation leaves usually reserved for Bruce Springsteen and his ilk.
Captain Sensible - The Damned
Predictably ‘Smash It Up’ was saved for the encore (with Captain sporting a neat black and red stripy shirt a’la Dennis The Menace with ‘Smash It Up’ written across it). What was most unexpected and probably stole the gig for me was ‘Jet Boy Jet Girl’ - it even got me pogoing like I was fucking 15 again!!! Haha!! Another surprise was the second encore (by which time all the ‘Eloise’ listeners had left) of ‘Anti-Pope’ which was presaged by some anti-religious vitriol from Monty.
And that was that. All of ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ was played (bar ‘Looking At You’), a clear half of ‘Strawberries’ and nothing from the band’s output post ‘Anything’. I was hoping for ‘Curtain Call’ as always, likewise ‘Thanks For The Night’ which I ain’t seen the band do since mid-80s I reckon, but alas no to both. A few of us tried to get the "Captain Is A Wanker" chant going but again, the ‘Eloise’ lovers seemed a bit confused.
After the gig I discovered my hearing was damaged - genuine long-term damage. It was brutally loud and that shit sound system didn’t help. A few weeks since the gig, the ears have cleared a bit but not the extent of being back to where they were prior to the gig. It’s kinda fitting THE DAMNED was the band to do the damage.
So, the big question is, will I see them for a 37th time or more? Well, if Rat and Brian James get back together with Dave and Captain again (unlikely now I know), I’ll be there.
Until there - I'll remain a member of The Limit Club and say over and out.... Probably!!