Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wire - "On The Box: 1979" (concert)

This gem comes from Herbert who tweeted about a week ago "whatever your indie band does, [Wire] did it first".  Prior to this tweet, I wasn't really familiar with Wire -- I knew that a band of that name existed, and I have some of their stuff on remix LPs, but that's not really representative of their sound.  Apparently they've been active off and on since 1976, as well as being quite influential if not exactly popular.  Unlike some of their contemporaries (e.g., The Clash, The Jam, The Cure) I don't think they ever made it in the US onto radio, MTV, etc.  Maybe they should have been "The Wire" instead of just "Wire".

Herbert's tweet included this 1979 concert for the German TV show "Rockpalast", which Wire released in 2004 as "On The Box: 1979", a joint CD/DVD.  Despite having the standard issue awkward, subdued TV audience, this is actually quite a nice time capsule of a band I was mostly unaware of.  A track listing is available, but trust me: you probably haven't heard any of these songs.

I'm not really familiar enough with the band to rate this, so I'll just link to the Pitchfork review.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

GWAR - "Phallus in Wonderland" (spotlight)

Dave Brockie, aka "Oderus Urungus", a founding member of Gwar died this week in Richmond.

What can I say about Gwar?  Other than it is possibly short for "Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh".  With Gwar, you either get the joke or you don't; Gwar is equal parts band, performance art, long-running (~30 years) inside-joke, and social commentary.  It's like they combined KISS, Gallagher, This Is Spinal Tap, grindhouse, and He-Man and the Masters of The Universe and decided "that's a good start, but what would happen if we took it to 11?" 

Terry first introduced me to Gwar.  He was pretty plugged into the VA music scene during the 90s and I'm pretty sure he's visited Gwar's headquarters, The Slave Pit, in Richmond where they made their costumes, filmed their videos, held GWAR-B-Qs, etc.  I was always simultaneously proud that something as odd as Gwar would come from VA, and sad that VA is such a religiously conformist environment that it would effectively create a backlash like Gwar.

IIRC, Terry told me that Gwar was advanced a small amount of $ to make a music video but instead they made an hour long movie.  That would be 1992's "Phallus in Wonderland", which is now out of print and Terry's copy is probably worth a good bit. The plot: the "Morality Squad" steals Oderus's "Cuttlefish of Cthulu" and Gwar creates the T-Rex "Gor-Gor" to get it back.  I'd say it makes sense in context but, again, you either get the joke or you don't:

I never saw Gwar live, although we occasionally had a chance when they played at the Norva.  I hope they continue, but the future of Gwar is still up in the air.  They play in costume, but knowing that Dave Brockie isn't there would somehow lessen the experience. 

Don't have time for the full movie?  At the 21 minute mark is "Have you seen me?", their "tribute" to missing children on milk cartons.  If you can make it through that, you'll enjoy the rest of their canon.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mission of Burma - "Signals, Calls, and Marches" (LP Review)

For my 200th post on F-Measure, I'm covering something simultaneously new, old, and timeless.  One of the pleasant finds from my recent reading of "Our Band Could Be Your Life" was Boston's Mission of Burma.  I have a vague memory of Terry talking about them while we were in college, and I knew a band by that name existed, but I don't remember actually listening to them at the time.  Part of the problem is they essentially broke up in 1983 after two landmark releases, a result of guitarist Roger Miller's tinnitus.  They reformed in 2002, but had largely missed out on the scene they so heavily influenced.  In doing so, they nicely illustrate the difference between "popular" and "influential".  Example: Pearl Jam's 1993's LP "Vs." is named in honor to Mission of Burma's 1982 LP "Vs.". 

As influential as "Vs." was, my personal favorite is their 1981 debut EP "Signals, Calls, and Marches".  Keep in mind that I discovered it some 30 years after its debut, but it still sounds fresh and relevant today.  It occupies the transitional space between early 80s "punk" and "college alternative" in a way that contemporaries like Sonic Youth, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Black Flag, and other candidates simply don't.  Part of it is their strong song writing (with hooks!), without compromising their heaviness and anger, and intelligent lyrics.  Another dimension is member Martin Swope, credited as "tape manipulator/sound engineer", who used techniques you'd associate more with early 70s Pink Floyd to add a rich but subtle extra dimension to an otherwise sparse, angular punk sound.

So while this is over 30 years old, I just "discovered" it within the last year.   Give it a listen: it will sound both new and familiar.

Standout songs: "That's When I Reach For My Revolver", "Fame and Fortune", "This Is Not a Photograph", "All World Cowboy Romance", "Academy Fight Song"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 9/10 

Bonus link: the entire, original six song EP

Bonus links to covers: Moby - "That's When I Reach For My Revolver", R.E.M. - "Academy Fight Song".  While: 1) I have much respect for both Moby and R.E.M., and 2) I love covers... -- let's just say these versions underscore how good the originals are.

Note: my copy of the CD is the 1997 Ryko re-release which adds their 1980 7" single "Academy Fight Song" to the end of the original EP, so that's what I review here.