Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stiff Little Fingers -- always kicking up a racket

Ali McMordie in LA 1988 (Alec Lenenberg photo)
By Andy

"You bloody idiots!"

That was Jake Burns screaming from the stage during an unwanted break in Stiff Little Fingers' raucous set July 4, 1981, at Perkins Palace in Pasadena, Calif.

Some jokers had set off a bunch of what sounded like heavy-duty firecrackers in the balcony area that left some people scurrying left and right and had singer/guitarist Burns downright pissed (I don't think anyone was injured). I was checking out the gig by myself in the seats, not knowing where my friends Mike and Brian were watching the action from Northern Ireland's finest band ... or the best group from anywhere. Didn't matter, as I was digging the tunes spewed forth from SLF's latest "Go For It" album and a batch of earlier, killer songs that would become some of my all-time favorites.

I remember the band jumping about, and it seemed like they had springs in their shoes and could hit the ceiling of the place. Guitarist Henry Cluney sported a Philadelphia Flyers hockey jersey and there was plenty of pogoing and smiling faces in the crowd.

Earlier in the evening, Canada's DOA -- with the formidable Joey Shithead at the helm -- and one of Orange County's top groups the Adolescents ripped it up, and caused me to enter the vaunted slam pit for the first and only time in my concert-going experiences (I wasn't scared of the pit, it just wasn't my thing).

SLF broke up in 1983, and I didn't think I'd ever see them live again. But those records were a mainstay on my turntable, and I still feel Burns possesses one of the most distinct, powerful, rough and melodic voices of all time. (Yes, I even enjoyed his Jake Burns and the Big Wheel stuff, which some found to be wimpy, but you can't help but praise "She Grew Up.")

SLF live in LA 1988 (Alec Lenenberg photo)
But the punk-rock gods smile upon us sometimes, and come 1987, SLF came roaring back into existence. In '88, they played three gigs at the Variety Arts Center in Los Angeles on Sept. 24-25 (these were the only gigs on the tour and featured opening acts All, Lunchbox and Lifeline).

Thanks to friends Donald and Marie, tickets were secured for the two Saturday night gigs and one Sunday evening show. I blew off my Friday classes at San Jose State University and road-tripped it back home (I'd be a fool not to, right?) for the SLF trifecta. They played pretty much the same songs in the exact order all three gigs, but we didn't care -- it was SLF, these were exclusive gigs and that's all that mattered. It was a perfect weekend, and driving back to school on Monday (no classes again) was tough, but when your plans come to fruition, you've got to be absolutely stoked.

And SLF kept coming at us over the years with new albums like the brilliant "Flags and Emblems" and more gigs. (Bruce Foxton from the Jam also handled bass duties for many years, which gave the band an extra edge. "Smithers Jones" was a welcome addition to the set, as well.)  I've since seen the group with Carrie in Seattle, San Francisco and several more times in the LA area. They're still kicking up a racket these days, and that's a very good thing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

L7 & Big Drill Car fly "The Coop" at UCLA, January 1991

Jennifer Finch & Donita Sparks of L7 (all Cat Rose photos)
Frank Daly, Mark Arnold of Big Drill Car
By Cat Rose

There were a lot of great shows at UCLA during the time I attended, but this one stood out the most.  As my friend Caryn and I sat in the very last row of our auditorium classroom for an evening poly sci class (can't remember it now, but it was one of the only classes at UCLA that I got an A in), I was not listening to the Prof.  I was concentrating on refilling the Jack Daniels in our large UCLA plastic drink mugs, which held a smidgen of Coke (when I started UCLA, I assumed The Coop was a bar, but had I known it was a dry campus I might have seriously contemplated going somewhere else...). 

Daly and Bob Thomson
As soon as the last words of the lecture were uttered, we ran out of that classroom like escaped mental patients.  My friend Bridget was meeting us to consume additional quantities of alcohol before we went in for the show.  First up was Big Drill Car and I was stoked, as Andy had gotten me into them and this was my first time (of many) seeing them.  The place was rockin' for their set and it was packed.  But compared to L7, it was like milk and cookies in grade school. Once L7 started, it was mayhem---the pit was out of control, bodies flying.  I do not think the people in charge had any idea what they were in for, as after only a few songs it was over.  They pulled the plug before my friends and I barely got into our buzz.

Even though it was only a few songs and I had seen L7 before and would see them again, it was one of my favorite shows of theirs and definitely the best show at UCLA when I went there.  (P.S. our buzz was not totally lost, as we proceeded to run around the campus and took some illicit photos with the large Bruin Bear statue in the front).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Backstage passes: Tales from the tour bus to the food tray

 By Andy

*Iron Maiden/Testament/Corrosion of Conformity at the Cow Palace in Daly City, Calif. (1992)

First thing I can say here is that small me stood head to head with Maiden's Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson when they cruised past the backstage crowd. Give me a guitar and a wig, and I'm in. Earlier during Maiden's set, they could have used me as an extra roadie or at least had some extra duct tape in place to stop their stage-length, huge banner from falling.

After waiting for what seemed like an hour or so after the gig, guests were finally OK'd and led into the separate band rooms to partake in food, drink, whatever. The backstage scene was pretty tame on this evening, and we moved onto the COC bus for some discussion about how the opening bands are told when and where to be, no questions asked. There didn't appear to be much freedom on the tour, but the boys were having a blast.

As they prepared to hit the open road for LA, Clifford from Bl'ast! jumped on board for the ride and I drove his buddy back home to the Los Gatos area. I would have liked to skip work the next day and hitch a rock-and-roll ride, as well. I'd be back on the COC bus a few years later ...   
*Corrosion of Conformity/Monster Magnet/Sugar Ray/Ugly Kid Joe/Toadies at Great America amusement park in Santa Clara, Calif. (1995)

Probably not my finest moment, and I wouldn't recommend too much daytime drinking and smoking cloves on very little food. But it was a fun show, and MM's Dave Wyndorf either was or wasn't in top form, either (depending on one's point of view) when he greeted the crowd with, "I'm fucking tripping!" before the band launched into its heavy set. COC tore it up, as well, and the band's tour bus featured James Hetfield of Metallica hanging out and telling one of the guests on board, "Aww, you just want to bang that guy in Ugly Kid Joe." Choice words for a festive day.

*REM/The Three O' Clock at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater in Irvine, Calif. (1985)

I went with my girlfriend, whose family was tight with The Three O'Clock's guitar player Greg Gutierrez. Both bands played well, and we were pleased to hear REM play stuff like "Green Grow the Rushes" from "Fables of the Reconstruction," as well as the older tunes.

We slipped backstage afterward, and chatted with Gutierrez, who offered to produce my band Sorex's next recording session. That never happened, but it was a nice gesture, anyway. He pointed toward Michael Stipe in the corner, who was talking with a few people, and asked if we wanted to meet him. We passed, and I believe my girlfriend was a bit nervous to go over there. They wished Gutierrez a happy birthday, and I think we ate a piece of cake. Not bad.  

REM setlist that night (from

set: Feeling Gravitys Pull / Harborcoat / Green Grow The Rushes / Hyena / Maps And Legends / Driver 8 / Have You Ever Seen The Rain? / So. Central Rain / Seven Chinese Brothers / Can't Get There from Here / Sitting Still / Auctioneer (Another Engine) / Old Man Kensey / Pretty Persuasion / After Hours / Life And How To Live It
encore 1: Second Guessing / Talk About The Passion / Just A Touch 
encore 2: Theme From Two Steps Onward / (Don't Go Back To) Rockville / Radio Free Europe / 
encore 3: Boy (Go) / Moon River / We Walk-Falling In Love Again-Hey Diddle Diddle-Frogmore / 1,000,000

*Ramones/Debbie Harry/Tom Tom Club/Jerry Harrison at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, Calif. (1990)

Another friend invited me along to this one ... maybe it was because he needed a ride ... whatever the case, I gave the old Subaru a night out in Berkeley. Had a slice of pizza at Blondie's (nice Debbie Harry tie-in) and got into this gig for free because said friend knew the Ramones and their crew. Watched Harry's soundcheck (awesome) and made our way backstage to eat dinner with members of the Tom Tom Club and their kids. Note: if you're ever backstage, partake in the food spread ... at least nibble on something just to say you did.

I remember my friend Phil shaking his head when I showed him the pass at the gig, because he was a huge fan of all these bands. I offered to give it to him to check things out from the back, but he was happy to pogo along in the pit. 

*Lollapalooza at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif. (1993)

This was a work day for me, reporting on this event for the Mountain View Town Crier. But, c'mon, it was all play, especially when I got to hang out with my cousin Eric and his high-school buddies who made their way up from Morgan Hill and rocked out only like Acorns can. (School mascot, by the way.)

Saw and reported on sets by Rage Against the Machine, Babes in Toyland, Mercury Rev, Front 242, Tool and Fishbone. The Avengers' Penelope Houston played an acoustic set in a small grass area, and my friend Wayne and I were stoked to hear "Corpus Christi," and we slam-danced a bit in honor of that song. (Not much backstage action on this day, as I opted to hang out in the crowd, recline in the lawn seating area and laugh about how I was getting paid to do this.)

Here's how I described Tool's set for the paper:
Before Tool, a demented chain-saw juggler came on stage yelling at the top of his lungs, did a few bad impressions, whipped the saw and some dolls about, stopped to chug a beer ... and left.
I couldn't think of a better opening act for Tool's grinding metal ... matched with Maynard Keenan's wicked body convulsions and vocals, it's almost trance-like. At one point in the 45-minute set, while the Jamaica Jerk food booth was in danger of being toppled by the reeling crowd, Keenan looked almost angelic with the blue sky behind him and his mohawk blowing in the breeze.

I left before Dinosaur Jr., Alice in Chains and Primus (whom we'd seen before) because I had to beeline it back to San Jose to catch The Gits at Club Oasis with Carrie. That was the right decision, because getting a chance to see Mia Zapata (RIP) and company was more important than seeing those three other bands combined.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Walsby's 'Harry Hardcore' strikes again

 By Andy

What you see here is an early cartoon by Brian Walsby that we resurrected from one of Carrie's boxes of memorabilia. The then-Simi Valley, Calif., resident sent the drawing to Carrie and her crew via snail mail in 1985 or so and has now found its way into the present for your viewing pleasure.

Walsby, of course, is known for drawing countless punk cartoons that have adorned album covers, fliers, books and T-shirts. He's a master of the pen and displays a mighty sharp sense of humor.

Strangely, I never actually talked to the guy until I visited him in his new home of Raleigh, NC, in the summer of '86. I'd always seen him around gigs in the LA area when Corrosion of Conformity rolled into town. We were both friends with the band, but apparently we were too cool to speak to each other ... ha ha. Anyway, when I arrived at the airport in Raleigh, I was greeted by COC drummer Reed Mullin, who playfully pushed Walsby into my path. We rarely stopped chatting during my 2 1/2-week stay and have kept in touch as pen pals through letters and via e-mail ever since. Aside from that Raleigh trip, I've only seen him one other time -- at Gilman Street in Berkeley at a Bl'ast! gig in '90.

So to the present ... Walsby recently released his fifth Manchild book, titled "Rabid Pack with Sirens Howling," about his relationship with COC and involvement in the Raleigh music scene. There's plenty of cool cartoons, pics and interviews in there.
Do yourself a favor and check it out at:
Walsby's blog is solid, as well:

Cheers, Brian!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sign your name at the "X"...

Exene and John Doe of X at Grad Nite '85 (All Cat Rose photos)
By Cat Rose

For me it all began on Halloween 1980 at my Argentinian best friend Maria's house in Lawndale, CA.  I was in 8th grade at St. Joseph's Catholic grade school.  Prior to this, I was always considered "the good girl".  She had a friend there and her friend was different -- she was cool.  As we partook on what would be my last night of trick or treating, her friend and I started talking.  We talked about music and different things than I normally talked about with my friends at the time. 

She was the one that turned me on to KROQ (southern California radio station) and Rodney Bingenheimer.  She explained to me that what I was seeking could be found there.  I had never heard of KROQ before, being a top-40 junky prior to this; back then, KROQ was hard to find and get a clear signal.  So that following weekend I had the radio on and was trying to get the 106.7 coordinates down. I ran around the room attempting to get a decent sound, finally the static cleared and the first song I heard was "White Girl" by X.  That was it for me, the metamorphosis had begun. (Ironically KROQ/106.7 actually arose from the ashes of a religious programming station.) 

I did not necessarily dress differently (except for buying my first pair of Converse) but I started thinking differently, and my friends started to notice.  (On a side note, Maria's mother was a religious fanatic that always tried to scare the shit out of us with stories of the end of the world.  She once brought us to a ceremony where everyone started speaking in tongues, but that is a different kind of story.)  

I sought out different friends and wafted away from the religious right.  My old friends did not call me a heathen (to my face anyway) but I think they became scared. My new best friend and I watched "The Decline of Western Civilization" gnawing at the bit.  In that, of course, X was reaffirmed as one of the coolest bands ever.   

When I entered high school (at Bishop Montgomery in Torrance, CA) I walked the line between "normal" and "punk".  I had to start over to find new friends that were of like mind and that took awhile.  Not until junior year and into senior year did I find people that were truly cool -- prior to that, I was stuck with anyone that would get me a ride to Hollywood or near downtown LA where the gigs were to at least hang out. One time, I was with a group of lames but we ended up going to McDonald's right near the Olympic Auditorium where the Circle Jerks were playing that night.  I tried and tried to talk them into us going but they would have none of it.  They were not pleased as I was with the punks pushing in line to get their fries.

With the end of junior year and into senior year, I was finally able to get my driver's license and my first car (a 1977 Fiat -- which really does mean "Fix it Again Tony").  I had also found my people. These people included Bridget, Patty and MaryAnn to name a few (although I could never get MaryAnn into punk as she still had Steve Perry hanging on her wall -- not that there's anything wrong with that.) Now I was mobile and could finally go to the shows.  Those shows included Andy's first Sorex gig at the Cathay de Grande in Hollywood (If only I had known Andy earlier as he had the luxury of getting to shows at a much earlier time).  During all this time, X always remained my favorite band and when we found out that our Grad Nite was at Disneyland and they would be playing (also The Blasters), well, all I could say was "Fuck Mickey Mouse!"

John Doe (above), Exene and Billy Zoom (below left and right) at Grad Nite '85

As we waited for X to start, the anticipation for me was palpable.  The show was all that I expected, and when a friend of ours threw her bra on stage, which landed at Billy Zoom's feet I thought he was smiling because of that.  It was only when I saw them again later that I realized that his smile is a permanent fixture.

After that, I would catch them whenever I could, including most recently in '08 and '09 at the Showbox in Seattle, and prior to that The Knitters at the same venue.  Last year we saw Exene do a solo show at Easy Street Records.  To this date, X has remained one of my favorite bands -- and I give them credit to opening my mind to the other side of it all.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sorex ... in good company on a bed of vinyl

Second row up, second from right ... the mighty Sorex

Only 200 pressed, but it's still alive and kicking. Andy's old band Sorex's "Portrait of a Prisoner" three-song EP from 1985 gets the nod on this bed of rare vinyl on the Hardcore Archeologist site. Social Unrest on one side and Rebel Truth on the other ... not bad. Seattle's Vains and, of course, Black Flag's "Six Pack" make the cut, as well.
More on Sorex later.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rockin' and talkin' with ace guitarist, former farmboy Brian Mello

I wrote the following profile of San Jose State University friend Brian Mello for my final journalism class in the fall of 1989.  

Present: Mello -- singin' and strummin' (Courtesy photo)
By Andy

Brian Mello likes to drink beer.

And when he gets a guitar in his hands after consuming a fair amount, things start to happen.

People start smiling, hands begin clapping and Mello is set to winning yet another crowd over in his never-ending string of impromptu musical jams.

"I owe it all to Miller Genuine Draft," said the soft-, yet outspoken 22-year-old, while sipping -- what else? -- a Miller.

Relaxed on the carpet in his San Jose apartment, Mello's slicked-back brown hair and a cut-off shirt -- which reveals a tattoo of a snake curled around a heart on his right arm -- display the rock-and-roll image.

It is hard to believe the seven-year guitar veteran grew up on a farm in Visalia, Calif. While he grew to appreciate cows and other farm features, Mello decided to leave "the armpit of California" behind to search for greener pastures in San Jose.

There are certain happenings on the farm that will always be remembered.
"There was my grandfather getting pissed off at the chickens," he laughed. "He grabbed two of them by the feet and slammed them together while screaming profanities at them."

Another favorite is when one of his cousins made some marijuana brownies and served them to the family. "All I know is that my mother bounced on her knee and started laughing maniacally," he said. "It sort of scared me at the time."

Not quite the stories your basic Farmer John would tell, but then again, Mello is not normal in any way. His love for music began in the sixth grade when the school band needed a drummer. He filled in and hasn't stopped since.

Pulling out a 1959 vintage Gretsch guitar, Mello strums a blues riff and goes into a spiel of the many bands he's played in.
"There's been jazz bands, bad heavy metal, country and an extremely Caucasian blues band," he said.

One night in Visalia, he and a friend banged endlessly on pots and pans until people threw beer bottles at them.
"We even got hassled by the cops," he said. "But it was all in the name of music."

Past: Mello's San Jose band
Nowadays, he is focusing on the impromptu style that has gained him a lot of fans around the San Jose State University community. At any given party where a guitar is available, he can churn out classic tunes like a jukebox, only stopping occasionally to grab a swill off that crucial brew.

Some of his most requested songs are "The Pubic Hair Blues," the Juicy Fruit gum TV commercial tune and "The Yodel Song." The latter was inspired by a German accordian player, Heinz Kimmich, whom Mello saw perform at an Octoberfest party more than a year ago.

"That song is one of my favorites," he said. "Heinz is a prophet in leiderhosen."

Christine Parise is an avid Mello supporter, and recently asked him to play at her parents' pig roast in Benicia. Her reasoning for enjoying the performances has a lot to do with his relaxed style.

"He makes me feel at home," she said with a smile. "I'm always singing along and having a good time."

Mello's roommate, Phil Bullis, also agrees that his personality is a major asset. "His last name says it all," Bullis said. "He is definitely a mellow person, and it comes across while he's playing or just hanging out."

These special qualities have even been appreciated by an older generation of folks, as shown at the pig roast. While Mello and his band, Mud Bones, went through their set, Parise's mother could be seen collecting money from the neighbors to pay the boys.

The musicians refused the cash because they felt playing there was a privilege in itself, but they did stay around to drink beer and partake in the feast.

"I'll definitely remember that pig," Mello said. "His head was staring at us from the table while we were playing -- it was sort of a haunting experience."

As far as experiences go for Mello, just being able to play the guitar gives him a good feeling inside.

"It makes me feel better," he said. "Whenever I feel like biting the heads off pigeons, I grab the guitar -- it's much more soothing and sanitary."

And having a nice cold Miller by his side wouldn't hurt, either.

From 1991 to the present, Mello has handled guitar and vocals in a handful of bands -- ranging from Americana/rockabilly to power pop -- in the San Jose/East Bay areas: The Jackdaws, Blue Arrows, Parker Brothers, Boxer Lodge and The Bellyachers. There was also The Lonesome Weasels, "a bizarre acoustic cover band -- Billy Squire, Journey and Blue Oyster Cult songs were molested by upright bass and banjo," Mello said.
The Bellyachers: Mello, wife Sandra Austin Mello and Peter Craft (Courtesy photo)


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Just what goes on inside that mysterious tavern?

Outside of Darrell's Tavern ... rock and roll inside. (Andy photos)

Steve Mack, Stag
As the vintage Olympia Beer sign turned, bands rocked out on the miniscule stage to the left at Saturday night's Rock and Roll Circus (organized by Stag).

Welcome to the world of Darrell's Tavern in Shoreline (just north of Seattle, for you out-of-town-readers), where adult beverages have been served since 1967 -- and where tunes of various genres reign supreme these days. Whether it's the DJ cranking Nick Gilder's "Got to Get Out" or Stag pumping out its Cheap Trick-inspired power pop, this place is, simply put, a hit.

Following sets by alt-country groups The Diving Bell, Kasey Anderson and the Honkies and The Glass Notes (and before '60s popsters The Moon Spinners), it was a Stag party with pogo-stick-like singer Steve Mack as the ringleader. Guitars wailed and drinks flowed as the crazed frontman sang his guts out on a host of stellar Stag originals and Cheap Trick's "He's a Whore." "Cheap Trick covers never get old," Mack
Ben London, Stag

Agreed upon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Bowl Meets Punk Rock


By Cat and Andy
In honor of this Sunday's Super Bowl, we decided to pit two mid-'80s hardcore punk bands from each city against each other. It's a duel to the death for Pittsburgh's Half Life (HL) versus Green Bay's Suburban Mutilation (SM).
We did not let our personal preferences get in the way of our picks for who we really want to win.

Four quarters, four songs.

1st quarter:
HL's "Consider the Alternative" -- touchdown plus PAT (7 points), for its Discharge-sounding tune that Troy Polamalu (even fellow longhair Clay Matthews) could bang his head to.

SM's "I Reject U" -- field goal; it's a generic ball of noise with a sloppy guitar solo thrown into the mix, but it's enough to give them the 3 points.

2nd quarter:
HL's "Under the Knife" -- turnover! 0 points ... lyrical redunancy abounds (redundant -- just like Ben Roethlisberger's sexual-assault-charge allegations).

SM's "Plastic Chicken" -- TD and a 2-point conversion (8 total); you wouldn't have thought it by the name, but this ditty is the best song of the bunch. Has a Suicidal Tendencies flavor. Rumor has it, Aaron Rodgers has one of these!

3rd quarter:
HL's "More of the Same" -- three-and-out! the name speaks for itself.

SM's "Twisted Cross" -- field goal, barely makes it over, hits the crossbar and falls in for 3 points.

4th quarter:
HL's "All our Yesterdays" -- TD, but they went for two and didn't quite make it ... does have some good speed metalish guitar work for the 6 points only.

SM's "Daddy was a Nazi" -- field goal (3) due only to the evangelical-type speech about Satan and punk rock in the beginning.

Final score:
Green Bay 17
Pittsburgh 13