John Lydon is crass. At this point in his 40ish-year-old career, he’s developed a reputation for being unfriendly to press. And politicians. And, well, a lot of people. He tends to offend wherever he goes. He even made it a point to belch loudly during the middle of my interview (“practicing my jazz chords,” as he described it to me, the host of a jazz radio show, for christsakes).
This off-putting demeanor, however, belies an undeniable intelligence. Controversial positions he has long and ardently held, ranging from his omnivorous taste in music to many of his political and social beliefs, are now commonplace, while Sex Pistols’ sneer and Public Image Ltd.’s post-punk discord have long been held as prescient, influential, or both.
So where does this leave Lydon in today’s music landscape? Per John, “I’m quite happy here on the outskirts, doing what I want, and not getting dragged into cliques or categories anymore…And I think these last two albums we’ve put out are probably the best music in my entire career.” Yes, it’s easy to roll your eyes at any musician pushing 60 who claims to be putting out their best work–or really anything short of an outright cash grab (notable exceptions: Gira, Michael, and Bowie, David). And sure, some of his opinions fit quite comfortably within an irrelevant, crotchety old man archetype (rejection of technology, disinterest in any contemporary music). But given his track record, I’m willing to hear him out. The rigors of age and his smoking habit have seemingly done nothing to extinguish that singular, shrill voice that set the world on fire in ‘76, and he seems as pissed off as ever. Not to mention, the new record really isn’t half bad.
Public Image Ltd. is on tour through November. Dates are here. An excerpt from my interview with John is after the break–if it somehow isn’t long enough for you, click here for the full transcript.
I think the most apt way to describe seeing King Tuff live is to describe the banner in front of which he performed. The words “KING TUFF” are spelled out in flames, surrounded by sunglass-clad skulls with varying numbers of teeth missing. The sunglasses have the words “KING” and “TUFF” emblazoned across the lenses.
King Tuff is not big on subtlety.
On Wednesday, Vermont-based garage rock weirdos King Tuff played to a packed house at the Church–part of the string of final shows this fall before R5 cedes the storied space to an after school group. Mr. Tuff (actually named Kyle Thomas) may be one of the world’s best ambassadors of dad rock, slinging shamelessly massive riffs with a bright blue Gibson SG through a beat up Marshall full stack, backed by what appeared to be two aging roadies for Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band exuded a certain skeezy charisma, affecting the part of rock star idols (replete with sweet moves) despite the dingy basement setting. They wasted little time in working the crowd up, which devolved into a mass of moshing entropy after two or three songs that only grew throughout the night. If you suspended you sense of disbelief and squinted just a little bit, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine King Tuff in the mid-seventies selling out stadiums. For now, though, he seems perfectly content being the freak working up weirdos in basements–and I seriously dig it.
5/1/14 update: In a previous version of this post, we mistakenly misgendered the singer of +HIRS+. We sincerely apologize for the error.
I saw much hyped Perfect Pussy at the Church last week, and frankly…I was pretty disappointed. Before I get to their set, though, I’d like to highlight each of the three opening acts, all of whom I enjoyed quite a bit:
+HIRS+, the first group of the night, fit nicely into the ethos of the show (on their Facebook, they describe themselves as being “LGBTQIA, anti-authoritarian, bullshit grind-noise-thrash with PUNK ethics. NO GODS//NO COPS//NO BROS,” which pretty much sums it up). The Philadelphia duo is comprised of a singer, who convincingly screams bloody horror, and a guitar player who shreds along with pulverizing programmed drums. Their short songs are punctuated by found audio recordings that run the gamut from amusing to disturbing. I found their set to be impressive in its sheer volume, energy, and force; the duo maintained an impressive stage presence, pretty much battering the crowd with their sonic onslaught. I dug ‘em. Check out an in-studio they did in WKDU a few years back.
Green Dreams, hailing from Rochester, played a more straightforward hardcore punk set. Regardless, they were impressively tight and boasted some really solid songs. I also majorly enjoyed lead singer Jesse’s vocal delivery—it’s satisfyingly shouty while conveying a fittingly bratty, insolent attitude. Look out for them—they’ve definitely got something here.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan was probably my favorite act of the night. Donning decorative face paint, Chinese silk robes, and bathing themselves in bright white light, Yamantanka // Sonic Titan’s stage presence was something to behold. They meld a variety of disparate genres into a coherent, encompassing vision; throughout their set, I got hints of late-70’s Bowie and some of the darker stuff off Queen II in addition to the more overt stoner/sludge metal and Eastern influences. Able performers, I was equally impressed with their instrumental prowess (there was some killer organ going on) and distinctive stage set-up. Check ‘em out.
All right, so that leaves Syracuse-based headliners Perfect Pussy. I like their new record, Say Yes to Love. Lead singer Merideth Grave’s unhinged shouting pairs very nicely with the feedback laden, low-fi punk instrumentals. However, the elements that make their record an addictingly visceral listen just weren’t there that night. Instead, the Church was enveloped in an overwhelming, ear-shattering wall of feedback. I felt like I was about 50 years old (quick aside—shout out to all the old dudes at the Church with their kids…you all rule) when I asked my friend if she thought the band was having sound problems, or it was intentional. Perhaps they were trying to up the hard-hittingness of their sound with the added noise, but it really just bowled over the tenuous line between melody and raucous din that the band so successfully straddles on their debut record. I really wanted to like their set—the band performed with a reckless abandon on the floor of the Church (hoping to recreate the egalitarian energy of house shows, I presume), but I just couldn’t get beyond the noise.
Last week I interviewed Jenn Wasner, one half of the Baltimore-based group Wye Oak. We spoke about side-projects, the state of pop music in 2014, traveling, and the Baltimore music scene. Be sure to check out their excellent new album, Shriek, and look out for them May 5th at Union Transfer.
So, what’s the situation with having a home between various bouts of touring? It seems like it’d be pretty inconsistent…
Well for awhile I didn’t think it was necessary. During the fall for the touring we did for Civilian when we were really, really pushing it, I didn’t actually have a home. That made sense to me on paper, but it actually took a bit of a toll, as you can imagine. Since then, I have moved into a really nice house with a friend of mine–she’s really busy too, she’s a grad student–but we have a really nice house, and we do the best we can to take care of it, but between her schedule and mine…the best we can hope for is that it’s well-preserved. It’s lived in…but on and off, between the two of us. I’d say it’s really important to have a place to live in, even if it’s just for a couple days.
Understandable. A place that’s not a storage unit, anyway.
Exactly, which is what it was, for a little while.
Well, I looked at your tour schedule, and it seems like you’re hitting it pretty hard again.
Yes, but believe it or not, not as hard as we were. This is an improvement. I know, it seems insane but it is not as crazy as it was [during Civilian]. But it’s still a formidable amount. We’ve been on tour since the better part of March and April, and then we have a little bit of time off, and then we’ll be back in March for the better part of May, June and July.
In March, we toured down to SXSW with our good buddies, Future Islands, and then we went to Europe, and we played a bunch of shows over there. We went to Turkey, and a bunch of other places. Then we came back and went to Coachella, and we came back from that, and now we’re about to go on a proper US headlining tour.
I actually lived in Istanbul for a few months, so just for my curiosity, how did you like it there?
It’s the best! Gosh, I had such a great time. We gave ourselves a couple days after the show just to hang out, and I’m really really glad we did–it was absolutely one of the coolest, if not the coolest place, I have ever been.
I actually picked up, like, three phrases, and they all came in great handy for the show. I can’t remember it anymore, but–I learned it about five minutes before the show and then promptly lost it–I learned good evening, because I have a superstition that I have to start every show that I play, assuming that it’s in the evening, by saying “good evening.”
Is it difficult working out the logistics to go somewhere as far as Turkey to play one show? It seems like it would be tough to pay for airfare and things like that with one gig.
It’s tricky for us to fly in general, just because we are two people but we have way more than two people’s worth of stuff. That actually makes it really tough because of baggage restrictions and stuff like that. If we had more physical bodies to distribute the gear amongst it would be easier, but we really don’t. That is the trickiest part. It can be really expensive and really exhausting, because it basically involves me strapping like 100 pounds of shit to my body and grabbing a couple more bags on top of that and working my way through airports and train stations. So it’s no joke, but it’s way worth it. Getting to visit a place like Istanbul–in my wildest dreams as a child I would have never thought I’d find a way to do that. It’s absolutely worth it, it’s just hard work.
You have a new album coming out. It’s excellent, by the way.
Thank you for saying that!
This new album seems to be influenced by some of the stuff you’ve done as Dungeonesse, and maybe to a lesser extent as Flock of Dimes. Do you think there was an overt influence from that, or do you think it just seeped into your subconscious or or writing process?
So, it has happened. Years of anticipation, speculation, and blind hope have culminated, and the day has gone and passed. I have seen Neutral Milk Hotel.
Naturally, I have rapturous praise for the concert. Of course Jeff Magnum’s voice has retained it’s power, its winding intensity, its ability to reach just a little higher than it probably should and sell it regardless (he did have the slightest of problems during “Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 1,” but it really just served to humanize what has become a deified figure). Of course it was gratifying in a way Jeff’s solo shows were not to see the whole band together–Julian Koster rotating in place with his bass and playing the singing saw, Scott Spillane working an array of brass instruments, and Jeremy Barnes frantically keeping everything together. They really nailed the eclectic instrumentation present in NMH records, with the singing saw, zanzithophone, and electronic bagpipe, among many more, making appearances. Of coursestanding in a room full of people singing along to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” with Jeff Magnum is going to send chills down your spine. Of course, of course, of course.
However, rapturous praise is kind of boring. Pretty much every account of the show I have gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. Instead, I’d like to offer an array of stray thoughts I had during the show.
While Magnum’s voice has certainly not lessened in intensity, it seems like his range has become ever so slightly more limited. I think a few of the songs were played a few steps down, and he reaalllyyy had to strain to hit that note in “Two Headed Boy, Pt. 1.”
I can’t really tell if I like Jeremy Barnes’s drumming or not. Maybe I’m just being silly, but it seems like he has trouble maintaining the beat during fills. Is it possible that Jeremy Barnes is actually not a very good drummer at all? Is this just a weird stylistic thing that I’m not grasping? THIS IS OF GRAVE CONCERN.
I really enjoy the stage dynamic of Neutral Milk Hotel. Jeff was pretty much unrecognizable–he received no applause when he walked onstage, his mess of hair making him look like a roadie in a fantastic sweater. He spoke little but seemed gracious, maintaining his weird indie god aura while not coming off as too stuck-up.
Isn’t this whole tour kind of remarkable? Maybe this is well-tread ground, but I think it’s worth restating every now and again that a band can sell out major venues across the country largely based on the strength of a record they put out on an indie label in 1998.
The “Ghost”–>”[untitled]”–>”Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2″ combo during the encore was phenomenal. Phenomenal. When I saw them break out the electronic bagpipe, I kind of freaked out and definitely sang along to a bagpipe part. No shame.
Fuck it, I can’t think of anything else that’s negative. It was a really great show, and I’m thankful I got to see it.
As you could probably tell, Communiqué has been on a bit of a hiatus recently. I figured I should probably give an explanation for that. As editor-in-chief, it’s solely my responsibility to upload content to the blog, as well as write much of the content and goad others into contributing. However, I’ve been neglecting my duties as of late because I’ve been busy studying abroad in Istanbul. While orientation left me little time to do anything, I should be moving to a more regular schedule which will allow me to pick back up with my duties at Communiqué. We have a whole bunch of posts coming up, so keep your eye on the blog! Thanks very much for reading.
Over the past few months, I’ve been watching an amazing slew local shows being announced for the fall with frustration. You see, dear reader, while Philadelphia is about to have one of the best concert seasons in recent memory, I will be in Istanbul, enjoying the requisite college rite of passage that is study abroad (please, shower me with pity). Despite my infuriating inability to attend any of the following concerts, I have compiled a personal list of must-see shows for this fall.
Truthfully, I haven’t really given a good listen to Kishi Bashi’s only album, 151a. However, I did have the opportunity to catch him at the Church Basement as part of a WKDU Presents event, and it was stellar. Kishi Bashi creates little string ensembles with a lone violin and a loop pedal, which are combined with soaring vocals and occasional beatboxed vocals (it’s way less obnoxious than it sounds, I promise) to great effect. Throw in some whimsical stage decorations and a charmingly intimate venue, and I expect this to be a great experience.
Okay, confession: I’m a huge V-Dubs fanboy. Huge. I’ve seen them five or six times, and Modern Vampires of the City is my album of the year right now. This being said, they’re a very tight, consistent band, and I’m very curious to see how much of their new material translates live. There’s really no gimmick here—just excellent songcraft and musicianship (and a steadily increasing touring budget, I suppose).
A fortuitous pairing, to say the least. I’ve never really associated the psych stalwarts with the fresh faced up-and-comers, but I think the two bands will complement each other quite nicely. While the legendary nature of the Lips’ shows is already well-documented (they do seem to be adding some strange, disturbing elements to go with their dark new album, The Terror), Tame Impala proved to be a pretty excellent live band at their recent Electric Factory gig. I’m already a huge fan of both bands’ material, but I can guarantee that this will be a very entertaining show.
The new Fuck Buttons album, Slow Focus, is a slice of dark, menacing, bass-heavy goodness. I really want to hear this thing pouring out of some overpowered subwoofers. Paired with Voyeur (possibly the most worthwhile nightclub in Philadelphia) and the fine folks at Making Time, I expect this to be a very, very good time. Be prepared to move.
This one’s already sold out, but it feels worth mentioning. Deacon’s manic energy, channeled through performing in the middle of the crowd, is not something to miss. I guarantee that you will dance, and you will love it. Animal Collective is notoriously spotty in their live performances, often receiving the complaint that their concerts are more about writing new songs live than performing old ones. That being said, apparently they’ve been playing more older stuff lately (they absolutely killed Peacebone when I saw them at the Mann a few months back), and I think the energy is going to be incredible. A second date has been announced sans Dan Deacon, which should also be cool, but if you can somehow manage to get into this show…do it.
Oh my god. Go to this. Go to this. I can only imagine what kind of hijinks Man Man have planned for back-to-back hometown Halloween shows. The band has put on some of the most entertaining live performances I have ever seen, and I fully expect this to surpass any previous shows of theirs. This one will be special.
I first encountered Basia as an opening act for Beirut at the Electric Factory last year. She’s an incredibly charming and talented folk artist who plays a variety of instruments, including a weird autoharp thing. It’s cool. Anyway, if you’re looking for an excuse to check out R5’s newest venue, this would definitely be it—warm music to provide respite from November’s cold.
All this being said, I’m just thankful that I’ll be here for Neutral Milk Hotel.