July 29, 2004
IT WAS A BIT LATE FOR THE phone to be ringing, close to 10 p.m., but I wasn't doing anything special, just watching some inane TV show. The obviously excited caller was polite enough to ask if he was disturbing me, but what he really wanted to know was: Could it really be true? Is Superjoint Ritual really playing a show in Humboldt County? I assured him that I had not fabricated the brief mention I'd made of the July 30 show at the Mateel in this column a few weeks back, and admitted that I actually did not know too much about the band, only that the vocalist, Philip Anselmo, comes from the terminally heavy Pantera, and for some strange reason the bass player is Hank Williams III, grandson of the country icon. The caller in turn assured me that the band is as heavy as they get, as indicated by the fact that they have a prime slot on the annual mega-metal tour Ozzfest, sharing the main stage with seminal metal bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.
Diamondback's "Slab of Ozzfest" in Redway also features two more bands from the tour: Devil Driver and Lacuna Coil, an Italian Goth metal band led by the bewitching Cristina Scabbia, who provides vocals reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks. Also on the bill: local heavies P.H.I.S.T., Esoteric and Force of Nature. Take note: the show starts early (6 p.m.).
Surprise: SjR's Satanic-voiced leader Anselmo is a patriot who describes the band's latest, A Lethal Dose of American Hatred as "an unashamedly pro-American record."
"I know a lot of different countries can look at the U.S. and go `God, look at those pigs -- they have no respect for themselves, they'll do anything -- the drug problem, the killings in schools,'" Anselmo rants on the Ozzfest Web site, "but, when provoked, and when our freedom, our way of life, our belief in our system is threatened, you'd better not fuck with the U.S. `cause we will do what it takes to maintain the quality of life that we have here."
That same night (Friday, July 30) Mazzotti's presents a couple of bands that do not take themselves quite so seriously. The double dose of tongue-in-cheek rock is provided by Sound of Urchin and Instant Death, two bands closely associated with indie masters, Ween.
Bass/drum duo, Instant Death, features Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz and drummer Scott Byrne. Check their disc, New Evil Vibe, for ironic blasts of proto-metal. Urchin, formed in Brooklyn in the spring of 1998, was opening shows for Ween by winter of that year. The following year they signed with RCA Records and continued on their mission to rock the world.
"Rock n' Roll is for men, not boys," declares Urchin lead vocalist/drummer Tomato 11. "Too many bands these days are made up of boys, with nothing to say, except `What's in it for me?' with no care for the music, the rock, the history, the future -- no care for you, and no care for themselves. Fuck them all. Fuck anything that is not real and from the heart. Do not succumb to the man, and the pull of the easy way out."
There's more metal mayhem the following night, Saturday, July 31: an upsidedowncross show at the Alibi featuring "The Final Tribute" by Arcata's best ever Judas Priest tribute band, Sad Wings of Destiny [photo at top of page], who sadly, after a fun-filled year together, are calling it quits due to a series of intraband troubles (including a miraculous pregnancy and the unrelated, unexpected conversion to Islam by the lead singer, now known as Ali). Opening the show, Oakland pyrate punx Scurvy Dogs, with Mike Klosoff of the inimitable Phantom Limbs.
Meanwhile at Rumours over in Eureka, Levi of Allegory fame shifts from hip-hop to '80s karaoke with a benefit show for a mystery cause. "It's like, totally gonna be like a Monsters of Rock Party celebrating the rock and hair metal bands of the `80s," he tells me. "Totally tubular prizes will be awarded for best karaoke performance, air guitar performance, as well as best costume. The karaoke and air guitar competitions will be followed by like a totally bitchin' `80s DJ dance party courtesy of Dub Cowboy."
Sunday afternoon, Aug. 1, at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, you can hear one of those '80s rock and hair metal bands in person, specifically Loverboy, along with Edgar Winter and locals, MVP.
Loverboy got its start in 1980 in Toronto, and soon jumped the border with a platinum album that spawned the hit single, "Turn Me Loose." They scored again the next year with "Working for the Weekend" from the Get Lucky album, a tune that has since become an ubiquitous staple of classic rock radio, and the band joined the ranks of the '80s stadium bands crafting one would-be anthem after another. Twenty-some-odd years later, they're a bit grayer, but still at it, playing the only thing close to a stadium here in Humboldt.
Texas native Edgar Winter, who shares the bill, got his start much earlier, playing sax and keys with his brother Johnny in 1970, before heading off on his own. Like Johnny, he pursues a Texas blues-tinged path, although his monster hits, "Frankenstein" and "Free Ride," both of which charted in 1973, were not blues tunes by any means.
The Strangers and Kickball, two bands from that indie rock center Olympia, Wash., hit the Placebo Saturday, July 31. (Arcata rising stars Shaking Hands open the show.)
Kickball and the Strangers share a couple of things in common beside a hometown -- drummer Lisa and bass player Adam are in both bands -- but, as Lisa explained while heading up the coast in one of two tour vehicles, the bands are quite different.
"For one thing, Kickball is a three-piece with bass, drums, guitar and keyboards, while the Strangers is a six-piece [with the same rhythm section] with accordion, violin, trombone, cornet, lap steel. And the songs, the compositions, are really different."
To my ear, Kickball plays bouncy rock leaning toward pop sounds, while the Strangers are more alt. Americana with shades of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western music. Lisa doesn't quite agree with the alt. appellation.
"We've called it `Eastern-European influenced cowboy rock `n' roll.' A lot of people in the band are into old time country, and Joe and Ian listen to a lot of East European music, Greek music, Arabic music. I've never come up with a good way to describe Kickball, but especially in Olympia and Portland where we play a lot, people tend to sing along with our songs, they're kind of catchy and memorable. And people like to dance to them."
After a side conversation about ants (Lisa is a college-trained expert on the subject), Lisa hands the phone to Dustin, leader and songwriter for the Strangers, who began by explaining how he formed the band with three friends from Wisconsin, who independently had relocated to Olympia. "In the beginning it was me and Joe and Ian, guitar, accordion and violin, playing on the street mostly. Joe and Ian were into Ukrainian and Czech music, so that was an influence."
Considering the country influences, you might think the band name was chosen in tribute to Merle Haggard and the Strangers. Not so, said Dustin, who said he was not aware of Haggard's band at the time. "I named it after the book by Albert Camus," he explained. So there you have it: existential-spaghetti western-Balkan country -- or just plain rock if you prefer.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.