There isn’t really “a” Boston rock scene – there are maybe a few dozen that, for the most part, remain largely oblivious to each other’s existence. And that’s okay. My guess is most cities are sort of like that.
But regardless of anyone’s hang-ups about the Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble – an annual battle of the bands that’s persevered for nearly 40 years – it consistently showcases acts that pass a litmus test for quality, but all jump off from different sections of New England rock’s patchwork. Outside of the Rumble, most of these bands would never make sense on a bill together. Everyone who shows up gets dragged at least a tiny ways out of their comfort zone. And that’s better than okay.
Such was the case at Thursday night’s semi-finals shindig at T.T. the Bear’s – the Rumble’s official venue since 2011. Read on for my kneejerk reactions.
When Particles Collide
Chris Viner is an insane drummer. Just whoa. Dude was playing 16th notes on the bass drum, and I do not recall seeing a double kick pedal. Dude switched from right hand to left hand to hit the same crash cymbal because it looks cool so why not? Dude is resurrecting the lost art of bombastic drum solos and with none of the Neil Peart-style “just play lots of paradiddles on a crazy expensive kit and everyone will think you’re great” gibberish. Somebody thought WPC sounded like The Raveonettes. I thought about likening them to a raunchier, co-ed incarnation of Local H.
Viner and singer/guitarist Sasha Alcott summoned the essence of the mighty “Stone Cold” Steve Austin via “W.P.C. 316” T-shirts. With his days of trouncing The Rock and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels behind him, the modern day SCSA podcasts about squirrels who sneak onto his property and poop in his truck. While the Stone Cold Stunner may be useless against such wily beasts, WPC could vanquish them handedly, because squirrels fear loud noise. “The Rumble is over. I might as well go home. These guys will win,” I thought, because I am wrong sometimes.
Out of all the original songs performed last night, WE’s “Rivals” is my personal fav, so I kind of hoped the whole set would sound like My Chemical Romance. It was not to be. The dancetastic, synindie spirit with which WE first made its mark in 2012 abides. For a moment, I thought the third song was a cover of “The Office” theme, but it wasn’t. My buddy Tony knows these guys, and if memory serves, mega-crooner Greg Alexandropoulos – who, from afar, resembles Matt Berry of “The IT Crowd” and “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” – reached down from the stage and petted Tony like a kitty. A particularly impressive tune introduced as a “dark disco” excursion deployed towering keyboards and a wall of vocal harmonies. But Rumble judges have leaned towards more, well, “traditional” styles in recent years. Most of WE’s favorite records, I’m supposing, came out within the past 15 years. “WE will not win this night, for they are too hip,” I thought, because I am right sometimes.
I’m pretty sure the synth player was the only Petty Moral not grinning constantly, because playing the keyboard requires fierce and total concentration. “Dear lord,” I thought. “This band is All. Fucking. Smiles.” I suppose a sunny disposition is needed if, during a songwriting session, one plans to say, “Okay everybody, during the verse of ‘Keep it Down’ we’re going to sing and rap like Salt-n-Pepa, and I assure you, no one will laugh at us!!!” And end up being right.
HOLD THE FUCKING PHONE. STOP THE REVIEW. I’m just now finding out that almost everybody from Tijuana Sweetheart/VAGIANT is in Petty Morals?! And I didn’t recognize any of them because they wore pink instead of black and at no point screamed “DIE, DIE, DIE!” or “FUCK THE KELLS?” or told anyone to go eat shit? Hm. Apparently some people can do more than one thing well, and have the capacity to feel emotions like joy and exuberance, as well as rage and contempt. MUST BE NICE.
Well, to heck with me, Petty Morals are bound for the finals, and rightfully so. Singers Taiphoon, who also used to be pissed off at the helm of Cult 45, and Hellion’s charisma and utterly synched delivery makes for showmanship that’ll be tricky for future competitors to overcome.
DUDES. THIS IS A DUDE ROCK BAND THAT SINGS ABOUT ANGUISH KNOWN ONLY TO DUDES. BEARDS. AWAIT RESCUE DEMANDS TO BE WRITTEN ABOUT IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE EVERYTHING IT DOES IS EMPHASIZED FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT. FINGER PLUCK THE BASS. MAKE THEM FINGERS BLEED. RUUUUUMMMMBAAAAAAAL. FIST PUMP TO THE RAWK. I ENJOYED AWAIT RESCUE’S RENDITION OF “KASHMIR” EVEN THOUGH I HATE LED ZEPP BECAUSE THIS DUDE ROCK VORTEX CANNOT BE REPUDATED. “TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER 3.” MANY STOOD IN PLACE AND NODDED THEIR HEADS IN APPRECIATION OF AWAIT RESCUE. WHY DID NO ONE FLOOR PUNCH DURING BREAKDOWNS? DUUUUUUUUUUUUUDES!!!!! RRRRAAAARRRRRRWWWWAAAAARUUUUUMBLE!!!!
The competition continued at TT’s Friday night for round two of the Rumble Semifinals.
Illness forced FEINTS to bail at the last minute, and Yellabird swooped in to fill the void. So, for the second consecutive night, festivities began with a guitar/drums duo.
Intuition tells me geetist/singer Martin Stubbs is the guy you meet at college who, at first, appears too straight-laced to have any drugs to sell. But after conversing for 15 minutes, you realize that he actually sells all of the drugs. “Where can I get some ‘shrooms?” You ask. He pulls a handful straight out of his backpack. Need some pills to stay up for three days during finals week? He happens to work part time at a crooked pharmacy. “I’ve always been curious about horse tranquilizers,” you mention. He says, “HORSE TRAQUILIZERS? Buddy, I got more horse tranquilizers in my sock drawer than I know what to do with! I’m a little messed up on horse tranquilizers right now, boy howdy! Swing on by! I’ll let ya have some horse tranquilizers for CHEAP.”
Stubbs probably isn’t really that guy, but his band travels about as close to the cusp of stoner rock as one can without abandoning all pop accessibility, so it’s easy to get that impression. Drummer Felipe Gaviria’s kick pedal kept malfunctioning, but his inability to miss a beat reminded me of Bo Burnham’s “accidentally” knocking over a glass of water on purpose routine. Dude definitely could’ve convinced me that the technical difficulties were part of the plan.
“Oh my jeez, it’s the fucking Wyatt Family!” I thought, as the pseudo hillbillies of Tigerman WHOA! sang of the quandaries presented by death’s sweet inevitability, establishing a thoroughly sinister ambiance, then lurched to the stage and destroyed everything. BEARDS. SO. MUCH. BEARDS in this band.
I can say, “Their album doesn’t do their live show justice,” for every Rumble band I’ve seen this year, because becoming an entertaining live band is much cheaper than studio time. That’s extra-double true for Tigerman WHOA! I haven’t experienced unrelenting, unholy americana/punk this intense since O’Death in something like 2007. Not to belittle the two volumes of Tigerman’s “Up South”, but they did not prepare me for this.
Actually, nevermind the “americana/punk” descriptor. The term “americana” has been co-opted by too many bland, drippy, easy listening artists in cowboy hats who write songs designed to be licensed for credit card commercials. Instead, let’s say Tigerman WHOA! plays Satanic mountaineer moonshine punk. Bonus points for swinging a stand-up bass around like a go-go dancer with a hula hoop.
Does anyone remember the Abbey Lounge in 2002? ‘Cause Goddamn Draculas do, I’d bet.
Almost every goddamn dracula has competed in Rumbles of yore with other projects. You wouldn’t expect anything esoteric from Boston rock O.G.s embarking on a sorta “What if Street Dogs covered Andrew W.K.?”-ish affair. But GD DRAX prompted as many questions as it answered. Among the lingering conundrums: “Where did all of these little plastic vampire fangs come from? They’re everywhere all of a sudden.” “If these guys hate emo vampires so much, why is the guitar player walking on the crowd as if he borrowed a page from Davey Havok’s grimoire?” “The lyrics of this song encourage us to beware of a woman experiencing her menstrual cycle. Wouldn’t vampires be excited about that sort of thing?”
GD DRAX squeaked by Tigerman WHOA! and garnered the judges’ nod for Friday’s finals showdown. If Tigerman WHOA! gets the wild card slot, I’m summoning a Mr. Meeseeks to write my review for me because boo sobriety and note-taking.
Asked to comment on Barricades, a notable hardcore musician declared that the guy who plays acoustic guitar is probably that guy. Y’know. The one who brings his guitar to every party, gets obliterated, and ruins everyone’s night by playing “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).” The hardcore musician disliked Barricades, but emphasized that he dislikes most things. I didn’t mind Barricades so much. They were okay. Mostly I was kind of distracted and unsettled ‘cause out on the sidewalk, this super wasted guy from Lynn wouldn’t stop rambling at me about whether he cleans his bed sheets often enough, and how he’ll frequently just return them to L.L. Bean in lieu of doing laundry. He also claimed to work at Bed Bath & Beyond. This man’s obsession with sleep-oriented sanitation may indicate pathology of some sort.
[Photo Credit: Derek Kouyoumjian]