Friday, March 6
The band that spent much of the past 12 years equally as broken up as they were together began in the late 1970s as fusion-loving jazzheads. Singer ("throat") Paul "H.R." Hudson and his brother Earl on drums, guitarist Gary "Dr. Know" Miller, and bassist Darryl Jenifer discovered punk and reggae after hearing the Clash and seeing a Stanley Clarke/Bob Marley show. Inspired by Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, they adopted a "PMA" ("positive mental attitude") that evolved into Rastafarianism's bluesy, militant positivity, spurred by its vision of an African prophet in Haile Selassie. Early Bad Brains took their cues from the Damned, whose "New Rose" inspired their single "Pay to Cum," as well as other non-African music.
Bad Brains' legacy has been their ability to channel hardcore's aggressiveness without its negativity. H.R.'s chimerical, PMA vocals — whelping howls, Smokey Robinson-like crooning, jaw-gnashing snarls — leapt from the abrupt time changes, jazz flourishes, and blinding-but-still-swinging tempos. Where other bands started out as three-chord thrash outfits and outgrew it, Bad Brains excelled in it, making punk their bitch, becoming the Charlie Prides of hardcore.
At the age of 15, Against Me! singer Tom Gabel was beaten up by a gang of ten cops in Naples, Florida, badly enough to be hospitalized for two weeks. This radicalized him from skate-punk brat to political anarchist, and over the next few years, he picked up the guitar, moved to punk mecca Gainesville, and became a folk-punk troubadour.
In 2001, Against Me! jumped into the big leagues as a proper band with the album Reinventing Axl Rose, an anthemic melting pot of folk, reggae, and punk rock with enough gang choruses to please an English soccer crowd. Every coffeehouse punk with dreads across the world fell hard for Against Me! These fans were to be bummed out in latter years when the band moved first to punk giant Fat Wreck Chords and then to major label Sire Records — which released its latest album, New Wave, in July 2007.
New Wave features enough midtempo, Gang-of-Four-via-Fugazi rock to make angry young men cry "sellout." And one did, in a Tallahassee coffee shop in August 2007. Gabel subsequently caught a battery charge for allegedly introducing the would-be-conscience-of-punk-rock's face to a table. But Gabel and company are on the road, living their dream — and 90 percent of kids who bitch about selling out are going to wind up selling insurance after they realize their poly-sci degree is worthless.
Eschewing convention, this Toronto electro outfit — with a name only a motherfucker could love — doesn't use computers to create its hallucinatory soundscape. Compelled by an aesthetic defined as "find something in the trash and plug it in," founding members Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh create their effects using tape machines, cheap keyboards, those annoying toy laser guns, and even a 35mm film sequencer (extra points to the bright girl or boy who can identify this device in the music). The act's second album, LP, received a Juno Award nomination (Canada's Grammy) for Alternative Album of the Year as well as a Plug Independent Music Award nomination for Avant Album of the Year. Backed by a solid rhythm section, Borcherdt and Walsh sweep listeners into an electro-industrial, psychedelic dream world straight out of Fritz Lang's id. See Holy Fuck live and the name will make perfect sense.
Saturday, March 7
King Khan's twisted rock 'n' roll ride landed him in a damned fine place. From his stint in trash rockers Spaceshits to the dual lineup of King Khan and BBQ Show to his current leading-man role with the Shrines, there has been a helluva lot of howlin', struttin', and shirtless-stompin' showboating. Khan screams in a raspy yowl like he's trying to break up a fight or get in one, a bit of Little Richard exuded through the Shrines' big band horns into a mess of good time.
And party time fits them well. After all, Khan was originally a would-be protégé of Mike Mariconda of garage punk hepcats the Raunch Hands. Both the Hands and Khan present unrefined schlock, to be sure. But it's showmanship at its finest, going for the type of stage show Khan envisions as its most pure, born of the frantic early days of rock 'n' soul in the 1950s and early '60s. Road-tested by a guy born to Indian parents and raised in Canada who launched his career and is now based in Berlin, this is also music fully at home in our own raucous time.
An expression of Los Angeles' rich cultural melting pot, Ozomatli grew from a loose collective supporting the transformation of an old building into a community center as part of a labor dispute 13 years ago. That generous, familial spirit infuses this horn-driven octet, offering a combination dance party/celebration of the human spirit.
Drawing on disparate backgrounds, Ozomatli blends hip-hop, jazz-funk, Latin roots, and rock, powered by SuperBall bounce vibrating from soulful world-roots fusions to dance-floor infernos that can even find band members leading a conga line through the audience. They scored a major-label deal for their second album, Embrace the Chaos, which, ironically and to the band's detriment, came out on September 11, 2001. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Middle Eastern tones join the mix on their 2004 follow-up, Street Signs.
For 2007's Don't Mess With the Dragon, the group's latest studio project, Ozomatli employs pop producer KC Porter (Boyz II Men, Ricky Martin) to forge a furiously dance-friendly sound that's so frenetic and pulsing as to be almost oppressive — like a loud talker in a jazz bar. That said, the tracks are fine fodder for the footloose live show whose electricity rivals the Vegas strip at night.
Their home country wobbled on the brink of economic collapse in 1982, when these besotted Irish punk traditionalists came together in London. These days, Ireland's doing OK, thank you very much, and it's our own internally plundered homeland that could use a stiff drink. And when better to drown your recessionary sorrows than during the Pogues' rare South Florida appearance? The magnificently dissipated (and dentally challenged) frontman Shane McGowan, who returned to the fold in 2001 after a decade-long, alcohol-related hiatus, still plays Keith Richards to talented bandmates Spider Stacy and Patrick Chevron. (The latter rejoined the band last year after a 2007 throat-cancer scare). Expect material ranging from their 1985 masterpiece, Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, to 1993's excellent Waiting for Herb, which was released during McGowan's absence but holds up just fine.
Sunday, March 8
Tokyo Police Club
With only two of the 11 tracks on Tokyo Police Club's brilliant 2007 full-length debut, Elephant Shell, crossing the three-minute mark, this Canadian quartet offers the ideal soundtrack for our attention-impaired age. The twitchy dance rock of the group's much-lauded EP, A Lesson in Crime, has given way to poignantly nervous future pop on its follow-up. The musical statements, however, are just as terse, tense, and taut. Although it's not always clear exactly what vocalist/bassist David Monks is going on about, the anxiety and melancholy with which he, guitarist Josh Hooks, keyboardist Graham Wright, and drummer Greg Alsop inject their brief boppers are undeniable. Exquisitely bittersweet melodies pair with bubbly beats that strike strategically at your dancing bone. If you have trouble imagining what it would sound like if Ben Gibbard covered the Ramones while held prisoner in a penal colony in space, get out and catch this foursome from the future.
Old Modest Mouse fans like to pit themselves against the Johnny-come-latelies (specifically, those who joined the bandwagon circa Johnny Marr's arrival), but the old rules about selling out don't apply here. Although there is a certain disparity between the band's humble K Records roots and contracting the guitarist from a legendary group like the Smiths, Modest Mouse's deliciously bitter core has remained intact through the group's 15 years. Isaac Brock's sarcastic bark and trademark bent guitars perfectly offset that new upbeat sound that crept in with 2004's "Float On." All Smiles' Jim Fairchild will take Marr's place for this tour, which bodes well: The happier Modest Mouse's music sounds, the more deranged it actually feels.