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Blues Explosion at Diesel

9 Aug

review written by Dan Allen
all photos by Alex Giron

The Blues Explosion casually walked onto the stage of Pittsburgh, PA’s Club Diesel on Thursday, July 15th, and immediately started into a fine set of songs, proving to a new generation of fans–who danced and shook side-by-side next to long-time enthusiasts–that one of the best live bands of the 20th century is more than capable of holding the same title well into the 21st. Jon Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins tore through tunes from every era of the group, effortlessly mixing well-known anthems (“She Said”, “Wail”, “Bellbottoms”) in between their sadly-lesser-known-but-just-as-essential tunes (“High Gear”, “R.L. Got Soul”, “Hell”). As always, some well-chosen covers (Chain Gang’s “Son Of Sam” and Dub Narcotic Sound System’s “Fuck Shit Up”) rounded out the show.

While some attendees mentioned that the house sound at the beginning of the Blues Explosion set was lacking, everything seemed mighty-fine to my ears…then again, I was standing next to a stack of speakers throughout their performance. Technical difficulties with Spencer’s theremin were fixed prior to the end of the evening; the resulting wall of eerie sound filled the room and brought the event to an appropriately ear-blistering conclusion. With recent re-issues of their previously out-of-print material now currently available through fine labels such as In The Red Records and Major Domo, I’m looking forward to seeing the Blues Explosion laying down their distinctive version of distorted rock action on a stage in the very near future.

Icon Gallery sadly had to start playing soon after doors opened, so only a small portion of the crowd were lucky enough to hear songs from their upcoming debut LP on Dear Skull Records. Many bands have tried to mix together influences from punk rock and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but no group has blended those scenes together as successfully, nor with songs as catchy as the ones Icon Gallery creates. Expensive Shit, a new project from Paul Quattrone (drummer of the Modey Lemon and !!! ) and Eric Yeschke (of Raw Blow and Dreadnots) were in the middle of the bill. Their gripping instrumentals, a combination of sampling and live drumming, bridged the rousing sounds of Icon Gallery and the Blues Explosion.



12 Jul

Me reviewing my photo during Human Eye set, photo taken by John Bodnar, 2009

July 11th was Gigawave’s three-year anniversary, which also marked the day that Turbo Fruits return to the Replay Lounge this year. Therefore, one of the songs off Echo Kid starts out the mix. I originally made this mix as a birthday present to myself, but it’s been a hectic week so I kept forgetting to post it until now.

A mish-mash of my favorite songs, songs relating to summer or partying, and songs relating to, well, aging.


Turbo Fruits

played a fun set tonight. Not too savvy with their discography but they played “Get Up and Get Down,” “Mama’s Mad Cos I Fried My Brain,” “Trouble” and maybe “Broadzilla”–all from Echo Kid–and then some other songs I didn’t recognize. Some highlights of my crowd experience include one young gentleman who made the semi-vacant Replay Lounge (not really, because the patio was still bumpin’) his own personal living room through interpretive dance; it was especially fun to watch during Mini Mansions’ set. Always cool to see dudes who let all their quirks hang out, even if I can’t completely get into their moves, haha.

© Mahsa Borhani, 2010

I imagine that the show I missed in March would have been more of an adrenaline rush–much like Echo Kid is–but the band didn’t let the attendance tonight faze them. The chemistry on stage between the members and their pleasure in playing the songs never wavered, and in turn, this allowed them to sweat out some psyched out & amorphous tunes towards the end of the set without missing a beat. The guys will be returning to these parts on September 30th to play at RecordBar with Those Darlins.

At the show, I also met Patrice Jackson, another local photographer who’s quite good with film. She cut a rug with me to a few songs, which was a blessing since the dancing woke me up enough that I could drive home tonight safely. You can check out her work here:, and if you’re into Shmacebook, this is her page: Patrice Jackson Photography

catching up with local bands

18 Jun

It’s been a month and I haven’t posted, but rest be assured that I have been doing stuff related to all the cool music that’s taking the country by (thunder)storm this summer. In May I went to go see Centipede Eest and then Screaming Females, who had the relatively new KC band (first show last october) THE FREDS open up for them. They were nice enough to give me a tape which had five of their songs on them and listening to it made me glad to know that people are still keeping the DIY punk sound alive in KC. After attaining the help of the drummer from Hanna Barbarians on bass, The Freds will hopefully record some more music to put out in the future.

In other news, local Lawrence badasses MOUTHBREATHERS opened up for Psychedelic Horseshit earlier in June and blew my socks right off. Containing members from Blood On the Wall, Rooftop Vigilantes, Weird Wounds, and Boo & Boo Too, the band possesses a lot of talent and is sure to gain a larger following with more time. A year or so ago I thought that maybe the indie scene had migrated to Kansas City, but these guys make it pretty obvious that Lawrence is still kicking ass and taking names when it comes to their brand of local rock.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, KC party kings Lazy K recently opened for Pocahaunted and they made me feel like a real tool for arriving halfway into their set. Their music had a swagger and tune that sometimes grunged out with its cock out or subseded into a cool shell that, during one song, reminded me of Young Marble Giants. Their performance style is certainly influenced by entertaining antics of the SSION, but a bit darker and laid back. They also have some tapes available, so if you’re interested, hit them up!

Lastly, I’m taking a couple weeks off from covering shows–even as much as I would like to see The Prids at the Record Bar–because of the slew of shows that are coming up in early July. Yep! July is closer than you guys think! Nobunny, CAVE, and Turbo Fruits are all coming to town. I haven’t seen CAVE in almost two years and I missed Turbo Fruits when they played Lawrence in March (funny story…I was in Louisville at the time) and Nobunny skipped us on their last tour due to booking conflicts so that’s my excuse for a break and for opting out of the Lightning Bolt show.

The Middle East & Laura Marling

11 May

After three years of pitifully running this blog myself I have the good fortune of getting a guest submission from talented Pittsburgh writer, Matthew Stoff. The following concert review is by him. He is the editor of the Pittsburgh music website, Burgh Sounds. Hopefully, there will be more in the future. Thanks Matt!

The Middle East, 5/8

photo © Matthew Stoff, 2010

It’s amazing to watch seven musicians cram onto a stage, each with several instruments, and still play songs that sound light and dreamy, with room to breathe. Australia’s The Middle East came to The Warhol Museum Saturday to do exactly that, showing off a kind of intimacy that seemed improbable given the number of moving parts on stage. Despite the count of personnel, the band’s artisanal brand of folk-rock was utterly uncluttered. The many band members and their tools were called upon selectively to provide the smallest details in the deepest corners of their songs.

To do this, they took turns sitting out. At one point near the end of the set, singer/guitarist Ro Jones stood barefoot in front of the microphone, buried his toes in the plush stage carpeting, and closed his eyes. Several of his bandmates sat just offstage, while others clasped their hands over their instruments. With only his lips and fingers moving, Jones leaned forward and sang in a quiet whisper that cracked into tuneless speech, supported only by an irregular pattern of gentle strumming. It was a moment of quiet, beautiful introspection. Only later, when two more vocal parts and the soft twinkling of a glockenspiel chimed in, did the tune coalesce into something that Mark Mothersbaugh might have composed for a Wes Anderson film.

This was the method of the band throughout the evening. In the seven songs they played, there was not a single solo, nor any jamming nor, from the looks of it, any improvisation. But this austerity did not leave the music impoverished. The whole band repeatedly showed off its canny ability to group particular noises —the rising wave of a cymbal roll and a syrupy, lethargic guitar, for instance — into fully realized set pieces. They had brought on stage with them a trumpet, flute, banjo, laptop, various handheld percussion, and more, in addition to two guitars, bass, and drums. This explains why The Middle East has been labeled chamber pop and compared to The Arcade Fire.

The band is slightly on the mysterious side and cultivates a reserved stage persona. It was silent between most songs, lending the performance a concert-hall quality, especially in the auditorium at The Warhol. Most of the performers stood still. At one point, the bassist sat on the floor. Jones, the de facto front man for the group, made only a few brief, half-mumbled comments, including his pithy introduction, “We come from a place called Australia. I know you haven’t heard of it.”

The musical themes were, in a way, just as confounding. Though they are masters of multi-part, male-female, and block harmonies, the singers didn’t enunciate clearly enough to hear distinct lyrics most of the time. And so the audience was left to intuit the meaning of the songs without them. Fortunately, the music was so evocative that even without words, it conveyed sophisticated attitudes like irony and disappointment. One song ended hanging on an unresolved chord plucked in frustrating slowness; during another, a galloping drum beat and the jangle of handheld percussion supported a melody that was both mournful and optimistic. The tune was not happy despite literally being upbeat.

The band is currently touring of North America and Europe including several sold-out dates in New York, Chicago, and London. Their blending of indie experimentation with the purity of the folk tradition will please what is sure to be a growing international base of fans. And their stoic but impassioned live performances will certainly captivate those lucky enough to watch.


8 Apr

JEFF the Brotherhood @ the Replay Lounge, 4-7-10
© Mahsa Borhani, 2010

Yeah, this show was awesome. A bunch of people who were gonna go to the NODZZZ show ended up coming to this, good choice, right? Pretty decent crowd for a Wednesday night. I had a great day at school, then went home and watched The Dark Knight, drank coffee, and ate some cheese and apples. Driving to Lawrence was a nice twenty minute breeze except for the KU BUS THAT ALMOST CRUSHED ME. Fuck dat. There were a couple of super fans at the JEFF show who kept whooping and keeping it alive. The vocals were a little muffled cause Jake kept standing like half a foot away from his mic. BUT they were still rad and played my faves off of heavy days.

Picked up the Heavy Damage / Pleasure Centre 7″. tight. Apparently it was JEFF da brohood’s first time playing kansas so I hope they come through again, yeah! Only band I have ever bothered to bake for.

“hi, we’re sisters.”

7 Apr

original photo taken by michael forester, march 23rd 2010 @ recordbar

As you can see, I am trying to turn a new leaf by posting more frequently. I went to go see Sisters, So Cow, Past Lives, and Air Waves a little over a couple weeks ago at the Record Bar. It was a pretty spectacular lineup for only being ten dollars, to be honest, as all bands were out of towners–with So Cow coming all the way from Britain. But I guess that’s the perk of being a city on the way back from SXSW. In any case, I had seen Sisters before in Nashville at Betty’s over spring break. They played a great set there and I was expecting a little more than what we got at the Kansas City show. However, the Tuesday night crowd must have been disheartening, and the vocalist also had issues with his guitar and ended up having to borrow a guitar from So Cow mid-set. Never the less, they played some cool jams and their drummer was nice enough to give me an old EP they recorded back in 2007(?) for having come to see them again on a school night. I’m not sure how much Sisters still sound like this; I’m guessing that the vocal inflections might have changed a bit, after witnessing their live show. Regardless, the tracks are fairly straight forward rock n roll songs, gauging a bit heavier on the indie rock spectrum than most through the use of distortion and aggressive drumming. Here are a couple tracks that I enjoyed:

Ripped Off
In The Mood

Also, completely unrelated, but I found it amusing how they made their screen printed CD sleeves to look deceivingly like individual sharpie drawings. I was like, “Wow how did they sharpie 200+ CD’s?! Ohhhhh.” And if you’re having a hard time trying to find them online, here is their myspace URL: One last thing: I’m not sure where the No Age comparisons are coming from, but I hope someone can enlighten me because I don’t hear the parallels.

song reviews II

11 Aug

Smith Westerns @ Howler’s Coyote Cafe, 4-18-09
© Mahsa Borhani, 2009

Smith WesternsGimme Some Time // I first got turned onto these guys in April when they played night two of Totally Wired fest along with a slew of other bands. They were the first band to play that night (probably due to them being underage at a bar) and pretty much blew me away. Once they started playing, I couldn’t believe that four fresh faced boys in the tightest jeans possible could bust out some of the catchiest pop gems I’d heard in a while. “Gimme Some Time”, which is off of their self-titled LP, is one of my favorite songs, not only due to the steamy lyrics, but also cause of the rambunctious chorus, punk sensibility, and the very fitting garage rock sound. In fact, I don’t think there is a single song on this album that I don’t love.

Box EldersCougars // I have to admit, I’m constantly bewildered by Box Elders. First of all, their drummer is a multitasking fiend who can drum, shake a tambourine, and play an organ all at once. Secondly, they have the most bizarre outfits and do crazy shit like shoot flames during songs such as “Cougars.” Third of all, they don’t take them selves very seriously but somehow manage to make really well crafted pop compositions that are a force to be reckoned with. Their brand of rock differs greatly from the increasingly favored fuzzed out & distorted breed that populates the underground scene today–this is straightforward garage pop that serenades you with strong guitar melodies and jeers at you with an underlying punk attitude. Combine that with a few surf rock guitar licks and punchy bass lines, and it’s very hard not to break out dancing. I’m a little late on their game, having only been introduced to them in January, but these guys tour a fair amount and I’ll have the pleasure of seeing them for the third time in September. Check out their myspace to make sure you catch them on their upcoming tour–you don’t want to miss one of the most entertaining bands to have graced the midwest.

Box Elders @ Howler’s Coyote Cafe, 4-18-09
© Mahsa Borhani, 2009

BuzzcocksPromises // Definitely an oldie, but one of my favorite songs off of the Love Bites re-issue that effectively displays the incredible talents of John Maher to the band’s rhythm section. Buzzcocks have always been a defining figure in pop punk and “Promises” really depicts the level of imagination they possessed in terms of lyricism, melodies, and percussion. I think that Pete Shelley’s vocal range stands out on this track and has a certain vigor and emotion that is sometimes void in their more popular songs.

BricolageFlowers of Deceit // My first taste of Bricolage was “Footsteps” back when it was still an orphaned child with no album to call its own. I was very glad to finally hear the full length LP they released last year and also glad that none of their slightly lackluster demo tracks made the cut. Bricolage demonstrate a talent that is sadly absent from many American bands’ repertoires–harmonizing. The harmonizing is truly cohesive and deftly peppered in. I never realize what I am missing on some songs I hear until I realize it is solid vocal harmonies. You could have a good melody and it will just be flat without throwing in a tertian harmony or two; it’s why 90s top 40 pop hits are fucking great. With two guitarists, three vocalists, and really solid drumming, Bricolage stand miles ahead of other bands in their realm such as Franz Ferdinand or the eerily identical vocals of Dogs Die in Hot Cars. The chummy vocals on many of their tracks become more endearing with each repeating listen, instead of increasingly annoying, as I tend to find with other similar bands. This whole album has taken my fancy and there are a slew of other masterfully mixed songs such as “Turn U Over”, “Looting Takes the Waiting Out of Wanting”, “6th For Poet”, and of course–“Footsteps.” If you’re a slut for brit-pop, I warn you not to sleep on these guys–you will regret it.

X-WifeHeart of the World // I kind of forgot about this band until I accidentally stumbled upon their 2008 full length album, Are You Ready For the Blackout?, a few weeks ago. I first heard “When the Lights Turn Off” a few years ago and was convinced they were British and emulating the Klaxons or something. You can understand how confused I was when I found out they were Portuguese and had more embedded in their talents than just being able to make very catchy dance rock. I think “Heart of the World” is a good example of that; it not only represents an uncanny resemblance to The Rapture, but it also takes the weirdo tinge out of their sound and adds a bit more of a post punk and melodramatic feel to everything. The synth also accompanies their music rather well–slightly cheesy yet still appropriate as it maintains a continuous personality throughout the majority of the songs from their album. Overall, the album remains quite accessible to mainstream tastes–despite the band being pretty unknown in the states–and I’ve found it to be a good source for addictive summer jams.

Blank DogsOpen Shut // Blank Dogs are a diverse and talented band that I’ve criminally disregarded for a while. I missed the show they played in Pittsburgh in March, brushed off the hints I got last April & October, and ignored all the rave reviews from friends. Compared to their previous releases, Under and Under goes in a different direction with more centralized songs, a cleaner recording aesthetic, as well as a strong nod to coldwave influences. Basically, this is the kind of sound that shitty bands like She Wants Revenge are probably striving for. Blank Dogs’ angular melodies are somewhat reminiscent of the A-Frames, and similar to what Fredericksburg band Ceremony are also currently toying around with. I have to admit that the album took a little while to grow on me, but once you accustom yourself with their sound, you’re sent to an altered state adrift with oddball vocals, peculiar synth, and alarming guitar lines; together they form a soundscape which invokes feelings of nostalgia and despondency. “Open Shut”, in particular, is suffused with that kind of creepy, coasting-on-by attitude which is prominent in the band’s musical identity.

TV GhostThe Recluse // The only chance I ever had to see this band was completely ruined due to them getting arrested for drinking underage, or some shit, somewhere in small town PA, therefore being unable to play their Pittsburgh show in April, as well as a handful of other shows on their tour. Very unfortunate, for sure, seeing as their newest album Cold Fish bears that same brand of weirdo rock that tends to spawn in Detroit rather than the band’s hometown of Lafayette, IN. The first thing I got from this track was that it sounded so much like The (now disbanded) Arm, from Texas. The whole album possesses a horror appeal to it–mostly from the reeling synth, erratic guitar and dingy bass–kind of like what Human Eye or Francis Harold and the Holograms have going on. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a larger, conceptual narrative present in the album with more listens.

Pissed JeansPleasure Race // Pissed Jeans…what else is there to say? I have been anxiously waiting for them to drop a new album and when I heard “False Jesii Part 2” I knew we were in for something magical. The 2007 release of Hope for Men was slightly disappointing, considering the earlier standard they had set with quite memorable songs such as “Closet Marine”, “Ashamed of My Cum” and “I’m Sick.” Pissed Jeans have always had a gross humor that they’ve enforced with grating guitar riffs, grimacing yells, and fast bass lines and then also with slower, heavier, wandering compositions; I’m glad to hear that the drums finally get a more considerate mix in the songs. “Pleasure Race” remains as one of my top three favorite songs off King Of Jeans with the repetitive guitar, driving drums, and vocal diatribe that Matt Korvette is notorious for. Once again, Pissed Jeans embrace mundane subjects, contradict the socially acceptable ones, and turn it all into some sort of idolatry. In addition, there are a couple of surprising tracks on the album–such as “R-Rated Movie,” where the instrumentals sound initially uncharacteristic compared to earlier work. Nevertheless, the song then descends into a raging chorus that lauds blood, sex & violence–contrasting the excitement of all the action to the narrator’s seemingly boring life. Who else writes a song about this shit, seriously? So fucking good. The album officially drops on August 18th so be sure to pick it up.