A Season of Songs, day 42: Bears and Bricks

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today we have “Bears and Bricks” by Grand Buffet from their 2007 “The Haunted Fucking Gazebo” ep.

brown bears and building bricks
both symbolically classically masculine solid shit
very earthy, a dangerous marriage
a brown bear that could throw bricks would scare kids
but conversely, a civilized bear
with some masonry skills wouldn’t kill
(wouldn’t care!)
about outside affairs that don’t concern him
he’d be in his brick house – throwing, burning!
throwing secrets out for all to find
basically burning the eye of horus blind

The first time I saw or knew of Grand Buffet was when they played the Roboto Project’s first show, which was ADD Fest 2.  In their ten minutes they quickly became a new favorite band, dancing around, throwing out dollar bills, and generally putting on a short version of the energetic and ridiculous live shows they would become known for.  That would be the only time they officially played ADD Fest but they would come back a few times over the years to do some special guest appearances like the year they came in and did a 311 cover.  Grand Buffet and various side projects (The Four Seasons Boys, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, etc) would play the original Roboto location with some frequency over the first 5-6 years of its existence.  They had some over the top release shows at Club Laga for their first couple CD’s “Sparkle Classic” and “Cigarette Beach”.

Things I love(d) about Grand Buffet:

1) While the members of Grand Buffet are Lord Grunge and Grape-A-Don, they also took on various other personalities over the years.  “Cigarette Beach” brought us Matt and Nate Kukla.  “Undercover Angels” gave us Fred Durts and Mr. Pennsylvania.

2) On stage the members of Grand Buffet weren’t beyond pushing some limits and pushing some buttons.  However, as performers they were always aware of the possibility that someone might take offense and didn’t get defensive about it.  I remember one show that I put them on and this radical puppet group from Philly also performed.  A woman with the group got a bit offended by some bit that Lord Grunge did, but he took the time to talk with her after the set, apologized and came to an understanding.  It’s real easy for someone trying to do this type of thing to take the stance of “I’m right, your wrong.  This is my art. Fuck you.” but these guys didn’t take that stance.  Ultimately they just wanted the folks at their shows to be having a good time.

3) They just threw a lot of shit out at shows – candy, cigarettes, money, etc. At one show Lord Grunge gave me this weird necklace/amulet thing.  I believe the story was that someday, someone would come looking for the amulet and would bring me good luck and riches…maybe lots of drugs too.  I forget.  The amulet is still worn by a stuffed animal at our house.  Grand Buffet were such great practitioners of audience interaction and story-telling.  I really can’t think of ever seeing a dull Grand Buffet show.

I must admit by the mid 2000’s, I wasn’t following Grand Buffet that closely. They weren’t playing as much locally and were doing a good bit of touring.  After having been pretty good about getting all of their earlier releases, I didn’t pick up a couple – “Five Years of Fireworks”, a compilation of “hits”, remixes, etc. and “The Haunted Gazebo”, a 5-song EP were skipped over by me at the time.  In 2008, they put out the “King Vision” album that I picked up when it came out.  Outside a few choice tracks, most notable “Cream Cheese Money”, I could never really get into that album

A few years back I stumbled upon “The Haunted Gazebo” EP at the library and brought it home.  Like I said, it’s a 5 song EP.  Similar to “King Vision”, I thought it was a decent listen but it never really grabbed me like their early releases.  But as I listen to “Bears and Bricks” right now, this is a pretty brilliant song.  The storytelling is there.  The absurdity is there.  This is pretty classic Grand Buffet.

Grand Buffet then were largely inactive for a couple years.  They did a couple “reunion” shows at Brillobox a year or so ago at this point and they were amazing.  A great mix of songs from over the course of their existence.  They still brought it live as good as they did when I first saw them.  So many great memories of seeing this band over the years.  At least 4 CD’s that I will fully endorse – “Sparkle Classic”, “Cigarette Beach”, “Undercover Angels” and “Pittsburgh Hearts”.  All of those are solid gold.  As I said, the later records have some choice cuts, but I think do tend to have a bit more ups and downs.

A Season of Songs, Day 41: A Love Supreme, Part 2: Resolution

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Day 41, “A Love Supreme, Part 2: Resolution” by John Coltrane from the album “A Love Supreme”.

It’s not really possible to judge a person solely by their record collection, especially by the existence or non-existence of a single record in their collection.  I’m pretty sure there are some pretty awful people out there with some stellar collections of amazing music.  However, there are certain records that are indicators of a good collection and a kindred soul whom you might get along with.  “A Love Supreme” is one of those records.

John Coltrane is without a doubt my favorite jazz artist.  It seems a bit cliche, like saying your favorite writer is Kerouac or Hemingway or something, but sometimes the cliche is just the truth.  There is something in Coltrane’s playing that captures a duality of spirit.  Much of Coltrane’s songs you can sense that feeling of always looking for the new thing – the archetype of the jazzman on stage blowing, reaching for new combinations of notes, an on the spot exorcism of forces from within that push the music to farther reaching heights than the time before.  On the flipside it is very clear that Coltrane spent a lot time meditating on his art.  These songs weren’t just spit out on stage but were crafted in the mind, mulled over and released into the wild when the time was right.

And so it is with “A Love Supreme”, a four-part song/album that not only highlights moments of wild abandon but also clearly shows the thoughtful construction by Coltrane and the Quartet members Jones, Garrison and Tyner.  Each of the four parts of “A Love Supreme” have their own mood but tie together to form a cohesive whole.  The album begins with “Part 1: Acknowledgement” which is a slower, building piece that culminates in Coltrane’s chanting of “a love supreme, a love supreme….” The second part “Resolution” and the third “Pursuance” pick up the pace and heavily feature McCoy Tyner’s forceful and lively piano playing.  Things slow back down for the fourth and final section “Psalm” which once again brings the focus back to Coltrane’s saxophone.

Clearly the album is meant to be a very spiritual expression, a thank-you to God, as based on the liner notes and the poem written by Coltrane and included in the liner.  This poem is the basis for Coltrane’s saxophone part in “Part 4: Psalm”, in which he plays the words rather than verbalizing them.  The poem begins with “I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee O Lord” and ends with “Thank you God.  ELATION-ELEGANCE-EXALTATION – All from Gad. Thank you God.  Amen”.

With some regularity I would get up “early” on Sunday mornings while Emma was still sleeping and play “A Love Supreme”.  I’m not a religious man, but the playing of “A Love Supreme” was a bit of a religious experience, a chance to have some quiet reflection about the week left behind and the week waiting ahead of me, a time to immerse myself in the music.  Emma was also never really a big jazz fan so it worked out that I could play this while she wasn’t around, but she would often come down somewhere in the middle of the record and over the years it slowly won her over.

Love this album.

ALL PRAISE TO COLTRANE TO WHOM ALL PRAISE IS DUE.

A Season of Songs, day 40: Get a Hold

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

40 days in and we have “Get A Hold” by A Tribe Called Quest off their 1996 album “Beats, Rhymes and Life”.

We all are human beings
There’s bullshit at the surface
Sometimes, I mean we rhyme
Damn, we ain’t prophets
And if you think so, you need to stop it
So jump back inside your shell
Let your million dollar thoughts propel
But next man don’t get jel
Playa hate that all carries weight
That we don’t need
We slim with disabilities and
Thick with possibilities

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I stumbled upon a lot of new hip hop during high school by watching this late night hip hop show called “Pump It Up”.  I remember seeing the video for “Bonita Applebum” and not being really into it at the time.  But months later I would come across their debut album “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” while out flipping through cassettes at the mall and would decide to pick it up. This album would be an instant hit with me – “Push it Along”, “I Lost My Wallet in El Segundo”, “Can I Kick It?”, “Ham and Eggs” and yes, even “Bonita Applebum” would become favorites of mine.

I would get their next two albums as soon as they came out.  “The Low End Theory” definitely falls in my top 10 hip hop albums, probably top 3.  Not a bad track on the album.  It kicks off strong with “Excursions” and the B-side wins again with “Check the Rhime” and the ending triple punch of “Skypager”, “What?” and the excellent posse track “Scenario”, which featured members of Leaders of the New School.  Classic album, love it.

The next album was “Midnight Marauders”. At the time when this album first came out, I wasn’t too into it.  There are some good tracks on here – with “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)” and “8 Million Stories” being the ones that stood out for me.  I think I would largely ignore this album for years and then return to it and begin to more fully appreciate what they were doing with this album at that time.  Beyond this album I wouldn’t pick up any more Tribe albums for years.

Then in 2011 the documentary “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” came out.  I caught a screening of the movie at the Regent Square theater and it was great.  It showed how these guys came together and gave a good look into the personalities that made this music that I love.  It’s tough to see the friction that ultimately came between them, but you know, that’s all part of the story.  I recommend checking it out.  I’ll even lend you the DVD if Eric the Red is done watching it yet.

Anyway, after watching the movie, I tracked down the tracks from their fourth album “Beats, Rhymes & Life”.  This album is a pretty decent album.  Less stand out tracks but no real duds on the album either.  The album also feature’s Q-Tips cousin Consequence rapping on about half the songs, which lends a little bit of a different feel to the album.  The first couple tracks – “Phony Rappers” and “Get A Hold” are the standout tracks.  “Phony Rappers” is as good as anything on the first few albums, especially Phife’s verse which starts out “Yes, dread, I had a similiar situation / When this kid tried to tell me I didn’t deserve my occupation / He said I wasn’t shit that I was soon to fall / I looked him up and down, grab my crotch and said balls”.

“Get A Hold” is a smooth, slower, jazzy Q-Tip track.  “You know we got to get control / Over the illest drum roll”.  Overall the song is not the most standout lyrics of Q-Tip’s but a great chill delivery takes it up a few notches.  Like I said, nothing too outstanding about this track, but just overall a really enjoyable track.

If you’ve never listened to Tribe, I’d suggest starting with “The Low End Theory”.

If you were a fan of the earlier stuff but never listened to the later records, I’d say you should definitely give “Beats, Rhymes & Life” a shot.  You’ll find some things to like on it.  I still haven’t given their final record “The Love Movement” a chance.  Maybe now is the time.

A Season of Songs, day 39: What the Fuck?

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today we have “What the Fuck?” by Crass, off their 1981 album “Penis Envy”.

A town that is no more,
“My god”, you say, “what have I done?”
But you won’t heed what’s gone before,
“What pity?”, you say, “There is none.”
And so you drive the world to war,
But this war will not be lost or won,
The desolation that you’ve seen but never saw
Is the lesson that you teach, but never learn.

Where does one begin with Crass?  I started, appropriately enough, with their first album, “The Feeding of the 5000”.  I picked it up towards the end of my college years, finding a used copy, I believe at 3D CD in York.  When I got into punk in the early/mid 90’s, the scenes that I involved myself in were awash in mid-90’s emo, DC hardcore, East Bay pop-punk, etc, but I didn’t really have many contemporaries that were overly into Crass at the time.  I got the CD and listened to it a few times and mostly set it aside at that time.

Then I moved to Pittsburgh after graduating college. The Pittsburgh scene was a bit more interested in Crass, largely due to the influence of Aus-Rotten who adopted a certain amount of the peace punk aesthetic.  The Crass logo was more prominently featured on those who populated the punk scene here.  I think it would be by being in a band with Jim Robinson that I would really get to appreciate Crass.  Jim was borderline Crass obsessive and talked frequently about the band’s music, ideologies, history, etc over the years of our friendship and our being in a band together.  I still only owned “The Feeding of the 5000” but I listened to it much more and really began to appreciate what Crass did with their unique sound, their politics and their performances.

A couple years back I picked up the “The Story of Crass” book by George Berger, a wonderful look at how the band came together, their history as a band and their lives post Crass.  It’s a great examination of what anarchism meant to the band, how they chose to live out that ideology and Crass’ impact on anarchism, punk rock and British politics.  The book also gives a good re-telling of the rise of Thatcher, the Falklands War and other bits of British political life that I wasn’t very familiar with.  Definitely a good read.

Having read the book, I delved a bit deeper into the Crass discography.  I picked up “Penis Envy” from the Carnegie Library (isn’t it great that you can get “Penis Envy” out of the library?).  “Penis Envy” is their third-album and all vocals are done by Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre (Steve Ignorant doesn’t appear on the record).  There is a more feminist emphasis in the lyrics on the album.  Overall my impression of this record is that it is more developed and thought-out in many ways but lacks the catchy sloganeering.  In some ways this benefits the record but of course when you think of Crass you are more likely to think of “Do They Owe Us A Living?” or “Banned From The Roxy” just because they are easier to sing along with.

“What The Fuck” starts out with a sound college of fuzzed-out murmuring voices with some sung chanting off in the distance (is that a Catholic prayer?) for the first minute and a half or so.  While the lyrics are pretty classic anti-war Crass lyrics, the song is a fairly slow tempo, minimalist arrangement that goes through several movements with the background singing and sung/spoke vocals overtop holding it together.  At 6:44 long, it is certainly the longest Crass track that I am familiar with; a big difference from the blazing 1:25 blast that is “Do They Owe Us A Living?”.

Even as someone who enjoys Crass, I realize they are not for everyone.  Having said that they are certainly an important part of punk history and would highly recommend seeking out their music for at least a couple spins.  Also, as mentioned above, the book “The Story of Crass” is must read reading for those interested in the roots of punk rock.

Well?  Do They?

A Season of Songs, day 38: Intro/Stone

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today’s song is “Intro/Stone” by Swiz, originally off their self-titled album from 1988.  I have the song as part of the “No Punches Pulled” CD that collects all of their recordings.

I slept on this band for many years.  I think the main reason behind that was that Shawn Brown was ex-Dag Nasty vocals.  Despite the fact that in the early 90’s there wasn’t any publicly available recordings of Dag Nasty with Brown on vocals, I somehow held the fact that he was ex-Dag Nasty against him.  I really liked Dag Nasty’s “Can I Say” LP with Dave Smalley on vocals and really disliked “Wig Out At Denkos” with Peter Cortner on vocals.  Somehow I think I just lumped Brown in the Peter Cortner side of things and wrote him and this band off.

Eventually I think I heard the “With Dave” 7″ that Jade Tree put out and thought it was decent.  The song “Paralysis” got me with that “I guess you could say it didn’t amount to a hill of beans” line…it just would get stuck in my head.

I would eventually copy over the tracks from the discography to my ipod and when they pop up on the shuffle, I always really enjoy them but honestly I still don’t listen to this record as much as I should.  Their sound is a perfect bridge between 80’s DC hardcore and 90’s DC hardcore, still with the anger and delivery of early Discord/DC hardcore bands but showing some of the maturity and introspection that came about in the 90’s in DC.  Strangely the band that I am most reminded of when I heard Swiz is Fuel, who were from the San Francisco/Berkeley area.  Fuel often get called the West Coast Fugazi, so I guess it makes some sense that I hear similarities between Fuel and Swiz.  I love Fuel and listened to their collection CD obsessively when I first got it, so once again, not sure why Swiz never grabbed me in the same way.

3/5ths of Swiz now play in the band Red Hare.  Swiz also recently reunited to play a show with a reunited Soulside and Moss Icon in DC to support the release of the documentary on 80’s DC hardcore, “Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC”.

Great band. Slow burn for myself.  Not high ranking in my list of DC bands but something definitely worth a listen.

A Season of Songs, day 37: Final Count Of The Collision Between Us And The Damned

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today we talk about “Final Count of the Collision Between Us and the Damned” by Public Enemy off their brilliant 1990 album “Fear of a Black Planet”.

I grew up in a very white, semi-rural Eastern Pennsylvania town. I don’t really remember any people of color in my life prior to middle school at the earliest.  Even there I struggle to think when I first would have known or had friends that weren’t white.  I know by the time high school rolled around there was a wider variety of faces in the school, but even still they were a small minority.

I grew up in that strange world of having your family teach you “people are people and everyone deserves respect” but also being told “don’t ever date them”.  Racist jokes were a part of my childhood.  I learned many of them from family and then used these to get attention among my peers.  I mean, I used humor in general, at least I like to think, but looking back I certainly feel like “black jokes” made up an uncomfortably large portion of my repertoire.

But of course I also grew up heavily influenced by black actors and artists – Bill Cosby (between Picture Pages, Fat Albert and the Cosby Show, the Coz raised me), Michael Jackson, and Eddie Murphy were huge parts of my childhood.  So as I got to high school a lot of these different ideologies began to clash in my mind.  Hip hop is one of those forces that helped me clarify these thoughts in my mind.

In the summer of 1989, the year before my 10th grade of school, the move “Do The Right Thing” came out along with Public Enemy’s single “Fight The Power”.  Both the movie and the song would have an impact upon me, sending me down the road to reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and getting heavily into hip hop over the coming years.

I picked up “Fear of a Black Planet” the following year when it came out based on the power of “Fight The Power”.  For me this is the definitive Public Enemy album and probably on most days I would tell you this is  my most favorite hip hop album.  It’s powerful – loud, full of that crazy Bomb Squad production with some of Chuck D’s best lyrics.  You also get some classic Flavor Flav tracks here with “911 is a Joke” and “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man”. Talking about AIDS, the effects of commercial radio, anti-black bias in Hollywood, among focusing on other aspects of the black experience in America, the album was an eye opener for 16 year old me.  And the song “Fear of a Black Planet” spoke of mixed race relationships in a way that made it so obvious how ridiculous objections to such relationships were.

As for today’s song, at first glance “Final Count of the Collision Between Us and The Damned” is a an inconsequential 49 second filler track.  But as they say, the “B Side Wins Again” — the B side of this record goes pretty hard for the whole side, with “Reggie Jax” being the only other song on the B side that really slows down at all.  So, “Final Count…” acts as the calm before the storm – the storm being the hit single “Fight The Power” that caps off the album.  The quiet, drumbeat based track is a perfect setup to the opening of “Fight The Power”, a sample of civil rights activist Thomas Todd, then BAM, “Fight the Power” busts in.

It’s sometimes hard to imagine how your life would be different had you not been exposed to certain cultural elements when you did.  I’d like to think that even had “Fear of a Black Planet” not come into my life, that other experiences would’ve influenced me in the same ways to expand my mindset and become more open to other people’s experiences and cultures, but I’m really glad that I had Public Enemy as that catalyst to change.

A Season of Songs, day 36: Jenna Rations

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today we have “Jenna Rations” by The Gotobeds, Pittsburgh local boys done good, off their “Poor People Are Revolting” LP from last year.

If i was the kind, to be so inclined
I’d see the blues I’d see the blacks as they fucked up the evening
in spite of mind, in spire i mind
i fade to blue i fade to black i wake up with spit on my chin in traffic BABY

I talked a bit about this the other day when I was talking about the Frantic Heart of It song on day 33, but one of the interesting things about being involved in a community for almost 20 years is you get to see people evolve, grow up and in various ways succeed and fail.  I’ve been involved in Pittsburgh’s music scene since 1996 and especially since we started Roboto in 1999, I’ve had the opportunity to watch lots of people go from high school kids to grown ups.  You get to watch them evolve as individuals and many you get to watch evolve as musicians and artists.  Today we get to talk about one of those bands.

The Gotobeds feature 4 guys that have been around the Pittsburgh punk scene for some time.  I don’t really know half the band, but Eli and TFP were guys who were hanging around Roboto pretty early in its day, played in a variety of bands and both lived right around the corner from me for awhile.  I first would have met Eli when he was playing in Forward Motion.  I’m pretty sure he was still in high school at that time.  Maybe early college.  I guess I would’ve really have first had the chance to know TFP when he was playing in Ice Capades and I assume that was his early college years.  Either way they were both just young goofballs with a zest for life and a drive to make music.

Both of these guys would go through a handful of bands.  Eli’s band Mary Celeste would probably be the one that would elevate the status of all the dudes in that band.  They would put out two really great CD’s and I see their name come up in the listings whenever someone on the local messageboard asks “What’s your favorite Pittsburgh bands, past or present?”   Ex members would go on to play in many more Pittsburgh bands, including Icon Gallery and Carousel.  Eli would go on to Kim Phuc, where he would be joined by TFP.

Kim Phuc would rip it up for a good number of years.  They were loud and had a great live presence.  That type of wall of sound that really feels like it is shaking your very being.  Always loved them lived but really didn’t take the opportunity to see them as much as I should have.  Despite not really seeming to play too often out of town or anything, they did create a bit of a buzz outside Pittsburgh city limits.  They would put out a couple 7″s and an LP, which were all adequate records but I always felt none of them really captured the sound and sensation of a live Kim Phuc show.

Even before Kim Phuc had called it quits, Eli and TFP had gotten involved in The Gotobeds.  I remember they played one of the early events in the new Roboto space during construction.  I was like, “Ehhh, this is ok.” but the live show at that point didn’t really strike me.  Fast forward a number of years and I picked up the LP shortly after it came out.  It’s a really great record that I think brings back a lot of the catchiness and danceability of the Mary Celeste records, but also shows some maturity of sound.  And while I haven’t seen The Gotobeds live recently, the record really seems like it actually does capture the vitality of what I imagine their performances to be like.

Recently The Gotobeds announced that they’ll be putting their next record out on Sub-Pop.  Really great news for them.  It’s really satisfying to see people you’ve watched work so hard to create their music and put the time in get acknowledged on that level.  I wish them all the best luck.