Ken Derr's "Letters From A Dying Town #11" originally appeared in The Rawk (www.therawk.com)
It’s the year 2033. War without end, now fleshless and bloodless, is
fought in uninhabitable desert areas by remote control nobots. All US citizens
are required by law to have TIA plugs inserted up their asses to monitor pulse
and adrenaline. These devices connect to one’s liver and lungs to make
sure that no alcohol or nicotine intake increases to dangerous fun levels- said
plug is connected to Langley database that registers any individual “overindulgences,”
and if such ingestion is noted, shock therapy is sent screaming through the
body, thrusting criminal onto couch, into a state of catatonia where telescreen
instantly switches on and punishment of 14 hours of Dixie Chicks singing “America
the Beautiful” at gunpoint is administered. Underground presses emerge
and are confiscated, but one mag, Scum Bags, dedicated solely to a small, long-defunct
rock n roll label, In the Red records, battles the Ashcroftia Secret Police
in a desperate attempt to keep the long since banned “spirit of rock”
alive. Odds of survival- not fucking good, but the battle for humanity rages
I don’t know about you, but while the world gets more and more horrifying, rock music in these soiled quarters has never been better. And while there are lots of folks to thank, Mr. Hardy at the In the Red has got to be at the head of your grateful list. He has recently put out a string of winners that defies history and common sense and makes ya wonder if faith ain’t such a bad thing after all. The Cheater Slicks return with a vengeance, bringing their singular brand of gutter skunk with melody back to us. The Reigning Sound deliver a nearly perfect blend of pop rock singalongs, a timeless piece of writing that will have our children rediscovering them with Ugly Things devotion. Dan Melchior crafts a weird mix of hypnotic blues that crawls under your skin and demands the replay button. The Hunches give us the best record of almost any year, but certainly the last couple, with a collection of tunes that answers your screams, satiates your late night self-loathing, and pins your ears back in a way so thoroughly satisfying that to apply words is to lie. OK, so I’m over the top, but fuck me, it’s nice to feel good about rock again. I know we get easily attached to our whining, but let’s stop a moment and smell the scuzz. Not bad, eh?
So with all this good feeling running through my veins, getting out to the live thang is just a little bit easier, and the night air don’t nip quite as harshly. Back to the Stork to catch the latest two piece purveyors of power blues, Modey Lemon, who have been receiving heaps of praise for their live deal all over the rotten place. Opening up were a couple of bands I’d never heard of, starting with Killer’s Kiss, whose name instantly had me thinking, “Oh no, goth Lost Sounds wannabes.” But given what mama told me about books and covers, and given the new credo of “no expectations” (try it, and watch your live experience happiness quotient shoot off the radar) and the all-around spirit of nice guyery, I let that old mean voice drift away. 30 seconds into the set, the angel was rewarded. These folks were lapping at the trough of the other side of Memphis, cranking out the younger bro of Play 9 Songs with Mr. Quintron. They rocked it up with a heavy dose of prime Crypt-styled hate, but with the added bonus of melody and, dare I say it, soul. Their tunes added flavor to the disgust, as they weren’t content to just flail and scream at this godforsaken world. There was rage there, but underneath the ripping bent notes and spewed lyrics, there were songs. Real songs. You can tell these guys have been around a bit and fully digested their record collections, as you can hear multiple influences- Scientists, Oblivians, Back from the Grave- but their past don’t come screaming out at you. The gestation period enabled them to absorb, but not to copy. With exactly no recorded output, we have something to look forward to. Note to Sir Hardy- get these guys in a cheap, beer-soaked studio at once.
Next up were the Mirrors, and not a reunion of those Cle-dudes. This three piece was led by the freshest-faced young lad I’ve seen since that cover shot of Dexter on Safari, and was backed by who I believe are the rhythm section for the Rock and Roll Adventure Kids. Descriptions? Progressive trance-psych? Neil Young sitting in Spacemen 3’s heroin chairs? Phil Ochs shot up with PCP-laced elephant tranquilizers? OK, I fail, but you check ‘em out next time they’re in your town and see if you can do any better, ya goddamned peanut galleryer. Let’s just say we had hootenanny crowd singalongs, five-minute acoustic guitar feedback solos, and mikes three feet off the ground, forcing our daring young leader to bend over when the spirit would lift him out of his chair to keep them vocals amplified. Not really my cup of PBR musically, but ya gotta tip the Giants hat to the talent on display. The young’un had no fear and real stage presence, and the crowd was swallowing it. Good for them.
Finally, with the room thinned by maybe half, the night’s star attraction quickly set up. Introduced by whom I can only assume is their svengali/roadie/protector, and who proceeded to spend the entire show standing motionless behind the band like some Ottoman Empire palace guard there to taste the sultan’s food, the Pittsburgh duo showed immediately why so many have been singing their live prowess praises. This was a non-stop barrage of sound delivered with ferocity, as I got the feeling that the drummer might attack the audience at any moment, leaving a trail of blood and broken teeth in his furious wake. The guitarist had the kind of energy I was bemoaning just a few months ago was so sorely lacking, as he flung and throttled and twisted and contorted and just plain delivered. Relentless they were, cranking out one bludgeoning hard blues-thump after the next. My only complaint was that they could have mixed it up a bit more, as a little variety might have given us a chance to catch our breath, and might accentuate the maximum freakouts even more. But complaining about too much high-speed energy falls under the, “You’re a dirty, stinking hypocrite” category, so I’ll self-deliver cease and desist orders.
So the next time you hear whiney “I was here firsters” backlashing against Friends chicks wearing MC5 T-shirts and Strokes getting mile high celebrity blowjobs, remember this- rock is alive in all the best ways. There are dirty rotten bastards doing it with passion and with fury and with creativity, and if folks don’t appreciate these sons of bitches while they’re giving it up now, they may not be back at your local dive tomorrow. Me, I’m gonna nurse this raging hangover with the first of the day, put on The Hunches and smell the beautiful, beautiful scuzz.