ISSUE 14   WINTER 2002/2003
page 12 of 27


by Joe S. Harrington

Real Feelness
The Pattern

Start the Panic
The Agenda

Dual Mono
The Greenhornes

Phoenix Album
The Warlocks

The Wild Untamed Sounds of…
The Riviera Playboys

Up here in Maine where I live we have this band o’ fab (but certainly not prefab) adverts known as the Points, of which there are five, just like the Stones, Yardbirds or Strokes, bands whom they resemble both physically (gaunt) and musically (raw and alive). They’re definitely the shakin’est combo in the Northeast right now, and the only local band to evoke the fervor of the whole “rock revival” which might seem self-evident if y’ live in Berkeley or Seattle or even Athens or Cleveland I would IMAGINE, but is a non-mover here in the land of icecapped consciousness. There are a few other dead-end dudes around, but none like the Points: their girlfriends’ re all sleazy-glamorous, and they’ve all dated in and out of each other’s scenes, and if one o’ the Points ain’t estranged from his missus then she’s having a fight with one of her friends who’s also been a former Points moll etc. It’s that kind of insidious hobbit-like enclave, a kind of separate scene-within-the-scene of an almost Warlocks/Brian Jonestown—or Sex Pistols—variety. There are fashion tie-ins just like there was w/ the Pistols and Strokes, thanx to singer Rob’s galfriend Marga’s proprietorship of a local thriftstore boutique altho’ only singer Rob n’ guitar-sloucher Roosevelt Point ‘re real dress-up boys. Pacemaker rhythm-man Andrew Colston is strictly a lanky Westerberg/Keith Richards type, who should have the Union Jack affixed to his denim jacket (which he never takes off) while bass player Dan is the only true “punk” in the group w/ a string of his own even-sleazier sweeties following him around altho’ he sometimes dives into the mainstream Points date-pool (usually to disastrous results). The drummer, Andrew’s brother, James, is definitely the Ian Stewart of the group with his spitcurled shop-clerk demeanor. It’s a somewhat dysfunctional family affair, but it works, at least for the time being, and the five little monsters are currently the talk of the town even though gigs are few and far between and usually end in chaos. The Points are so sloppy that Rob, Roosevelt n’ Andrew all had to endure a lecture from Cold Coffee guitarist Noel Ventresco recently about their inherent “unprofessionalism.” But that’s like the New York Dolls, the boys reason, and they’re a pretty good Dolls replica w/ Andrew playing Sylvain to Roosevelt’s Thunders (he really does wear make-up as well as an ascot onstage) with Rob as the congenial front-man ala Johansen (w/ a little Handsome Dick Manitoba thrown in there), Dan equaling Arthur Kane and James as Nolan. They fit the Dolls profile more than any other group, having also performed in drag (the “fashion” thing again). Meanwhile, musically, the whole Stones/Dolls/Pistols/Replacements drunk-chug of their music fits right in with their general incompetence (but inordinate WEALTH O’ SPIRIT). They are the most exciting band in Portland right now, possibly the whole East Coast, which just goes to show that the whole “rock revival,” spearheaded by the Strokes and those pretenders the White Stripes, is actually spreading and I couldn’t be happier since it is DEFINITELY, as I’ve attested in these pages before, the hippest thing currently happening in the realm o’ contemporary whatsis and whosis despite the protestations of people like Chuck Eddy who claim it’s merely the same-old/same-old. Then again, what isn’t? Rock n’ roll, far from being any barrier breaker in terms of cultural impact anymore, is merely a motif, a religion, a style, a way of life which ain’t gonna just shrink up n’ die even tho’ it’s being encroached upon by such not-even-with-it trends as Hip Hop, Boy Bands and Britney Spears (which is all the stuff Chuck LIKES). The true essence of rock n’ roll is alive, it just ain’t ever gonna be the pre-eminent form o’ muzak anymore…nothing’s ever gonna be pre-eminent in that Beatles/Elvis way again, because the whole culture has become dissipated. So now y’ just pick whatever angle y’ fancy and do it to death n’ drive it into the ground…and if y’ ain’t drivin’ it in the ground like the White Stripes then I guess yr resurrectin’ it like the Points…and I can honestly say that, from my aged and flabby perspective, these boys are a breath o’ fresh air and have definitely raised the stakes on the home front and reaffirmed my faith that REAL rock n’ roll, as a way of life, still exists on a street-level day-to-day basis. It’s like that song by the Real Kids sez: “Get off your ass and go downtown and shake yer ass and it just might happen again.”
       Which brings me to this latest batch o’ disks, which I decided to lump together since each one, in its own way, further reaffirms the reality of the so-called “rock revival” since all of these bands exist organically within the firmament of their own individual hometown scenes…that is, they are all active performing attractions who’re helping spread the message already pigeon’d out to the reclusive inclines o’ the hinterlands by such well-meaning practitioners as the Strokes, White Stripes, Detroit Cobras, Mooney Suzuki, Hellacopters and many others. And the message is, raw, primitive, highly eroticized sweaty rock n’ roll, rendered through human hands and hearts and played in sweaty basement clubs as opposed to being rendered solely in the cold and noxious void of the modern-day recording vestibule, is alive and well.
       These five bands—Cincinnati’s Greenhornes, Rochester’s Riviera Playboys, Athens’ the Agenda and Berkeley’s Warlocks and Pattern—are not terribly similar. Each one has its own take on the whole retro-rock energy trip: the ‘hornes and Playboys are the most self-consciously retro, the Warlocks the only ones to expand the 3-minute song timeframe and go for more loose jamming; the Pattern and Agenda are the two most similar, going for a complete unchained, catapulted-into-the-heart-of-the-beast sense of teen-zealot MC5-like abandon. But all these bands are of a piece, if y’ ask me, just like the aforementioned Points and, I guess, thousands of other bands across the country who are rediscovering the raw and basic principles of rock n’ roll.
       Mind you, all these albs merely arrived in the mail unsolicitedly, which I guess is what provided the ultimate confirmation that something was indeed “happening.” Once again, since these bands come from scattered all over, it seemed like the fact that they could reach the same conclusion—mainly, that fast, hard, loud, primitive sounds ruled—independent of one another meant that such more prominent bell-ringers like the Strokes and Hives weren’t an isolated phenomenon. Nope, rock n’ roll sounds are decidedly back in vogue (if even in a limited capacity). In a certain sense, Eddy’s argument holds true—when has raw rock n’ roll ever not been in vogue? Even at the height of grunge you had everyone from the Dwarves to AntiSeen to Supercharger evoking garage-prone non-crybaby sounds. But it just seems like more of a consensus now, and also it seems to be reaching a younger audience who approach it with less irony and more of a pure fascination with the energy and sex appeal of real rock n’ roll (a form of music that had, for all intents and purposes, already reached its PEAK before most of ‘em were even born). Can’t stress enough, just the fact that five elpees of the REAL SHIT arrived completely unrelated to one another SEZ SOMETHING to me about the legitimacy of the whole “movement.”
       Take, for example, the Pattern’s Real Feelness, which I’ve been listening to for a couple months now—the thing that’s great about this whole “rock revival” thing is, for the first time since maybe the ACTUAL daze of punk, the stakes ‘re getting higher which means the quality level is goin’ up. Coz when I heard the Pattern alb I thought it was the most kick-ass document possible…that is, until I heard the Agenda alb a few weeks later, which I thought was even better. So you can see it’s the same kind of elation that existed when y’ had things like Young, Loud & Snotty, Rocket to Russia and Never Mind the Bollocks all comin’ out w/ in weeks of one another! And while the current movement might not ultimately have the same legs as that one did, you never know and the TIME IS NOW to find out!
       …and one big way to do it is to check out the Pattern alb. For one thing they have a genuine “hard-rock” sound, not the more tube-oriented stun n’ strum o’ the Strokes n’ their ilk. I mean, production-wise, something like the opening cut, “Fragile Awareness” is immense in the tradition of Zep or AC/DC…or the MC5. What Bangs called the “barracuda bite,” the lunging attack of true heavy-metal…but the vocals and attitude are pure Strokes, which means post-modern fey, a common motif amongst the Jason generation (and like I said, Portland’s got it share of grown-up-but-still-ginchy boys showin’ up to parties at the Skinny in their pajamas…the male equivalent of the hobbit girls I guess). All it really means is that they would defend their haircuts above all else, and their haircuts are pure Strokes which also means Roosevelt Point and at least 3/4ths of the Hives. I personally like the Hellacopters’ ‘dos, which are just seventies swamp-rock redux (Lemmy rules)…but the mophaired boys seem to be marching down the street flailing away with their mascara in increasingly large numbers.
       Where else would there be a preponderance of ‘em but in Berkeley and I’ve been a firm believer for several years now that the whole Bay Area has the hippest rock scene in the country. Maybe it’s my devotion to all things Miller but it seems like the region has produced a wellspring of unique talent in the past decade (not that there’s any cohesion amongst the different artists and factions). One of the best groups of the past few years to hail from the Bay Area is the Sub Pop punk-brat act Vue, who also enter into this discussion seeing as that they not only LOOK like the Pattern, the Points, the Strokes, the Agenda and the Brian Jonestown Massacre (who might’ve been the ones who started it ALL) but they sound like the Pattern and the Agenda and to some extent the Points (who also sound like the Rolling Stones). Sub Pop of course have been instrumental in the whole rock re-instatement, from the Hellacopters and Murder City Devils to Vue and the Black Halos—and don’t forget Mudhoney, another important influence on all these groups (Agenda lead screamer Justin—“Jason”—Suicide is pure Mark Arm, if not Iggy, and the Warlocks’ “Cosmic Letdown” on The Phoenix Album sounds like Mudhoney mixed with Alice Cooper circa Love it to Death or Killer).
       But the Pattern out-rock the Vue, as evidenced by powerful anthemic rockers like “Let’s Get Important” which once again plies AC/DC Highway to Hell dynamics and Saints rapid-fire string action…what are they an Aussie tribute band? Yup, they’re THAT cool so buy a full can of Foster’s and throw it at the lead singer’s head next time they’re in town. This album literally whips by in ten seconds, since most of the tracks are, how does one say, efficient? Not a lot of dross here, just the real goods…songs that GO SOMEWHERE and SAY SOMETHING and do so w/ the economy of a quick murder. On “The Best Hate the Rest” they employ an almost soulful bass intro of the same type o’ footstompin’ foolishness recently enacted by the Mooney Bazuki but the Pattern are a far superior outfit as far as knowing what to do with a song to keep it interesting, like good foreplay…all those twists and turns, oooh yum, a little pinch in a cinch! These guys get away with it, which means their music is once again more in the Stones/Brian Jonestown tradition than the Husker Du/Helmet one. Just dig what is de facto the alb’s grand finale “Happy Sarong” which opens with a croaking riff reminiscent o’ the Angry Samoans’ “Psych-Out 129” with some absolutely eyelash-twirling guitar flourishes, another AC/DC speedball with a pure—albeit momentary—arena-rock breakdown before lunging back into its final slashing skidmark at the end. The vocals by Christopher Appelgren are once again superb as he pulls out petulant lines like: “Killing all my time waiting for the waiter…” It’s the cart-before-the-horse stuff as far as being a “rock star” goes and let’s face it, what great has ever not done it from Bowie to Rundgren to the Sex Pistols to Al Jourgenson? You have to assume the role, and boy, on Real Feelness, the Pattern does just that. But the reason I call “Happy Sarong” the de facto closer is that the ACTUAL closer is a really lousy acoustic tune called “Rangefinder” which is so fey and trite that it HAS to be a joke…and it’s not a good one, but undoubtedly Jason and his pals are getting a snicker off it. For further reading on how this built-in “ironic” factor can come back and bite a young band on the ass, consult pg. 500 of Sonic Cool.
       Ain’t no sappy ballads or ingrained self-negating ironic statements on the Warlocks’ Phoenix Album, another Berkeley-borne triumph that proves the Bay is still a bastion for weirdo outsiders. The Warlocks are closer to a communal psych-tribe than any one of these other groups, which is why their music is the most lysergically distorted. A song like “Hurricane Heartattack” may be a slow swamp jam laced with almost Hawkwind-ish freakout textures, but the thing that’s funny is, it’s ultimately a play on AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells.” I guess the kids can’t escape it, but you know, you won’t hear me ever arguing about that influence, nor Cooper, which, once again, they evoke on the dirge-like “Cosmic Letdown.” Other tracks like “Baby Blue” evoke the praying-mantises-with-guitars-and-tambourines-humming-in-unison spirit of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (who Warlock bassist Bobby Hecksher used to be a member of, along with half the other people in the Berkeley scene). Like the Jonestown, the Warlocks are unabashed drug-boys, as evidenced by the heavily fuzzed-out epic, “Stickman” where they really say: “let’s kill the dealer”—and let’s face it, they have a point, who’d miss him? That’s not the only time they summon their passions in the name of dope-oriented pursuits. No hidden meanings needed to decipher on “The Dope Feel’s Good,” a mid-sixties punk type stomp with a repetitive riff and glazed-over vocals of an almost Syd Barrett variety. Never mind the fact that they open the album with “Shake the Dope Out,” a pure Velvets “Sister Ray”-inspired “homage” (if not outright “rip off”), the Warlocks are “retro” but not ever in a wimpy way—to me, they seem like the logical heirs to the whole Berkeley tradition of groups with collective mindsets who all live together in almost cult-like fashion in order to nurture their cosmic vibe in the name of the MUSIC itself. Think only of the Dead, Jefferson Airplane and, more recently, the Jonestown. The Warlocks are in the league with all of them, as well as the Velvets, and they even have a girl in the group, just like the Vue, in the person of organist Laura Grimsby (how does a girl get such a perfect name?) Does that disqualify ‘em from being part of the movement? Not sure but this ain’t yr dad’s (or mom’s) indie-rock, or riot grrl either, that’s for sure. The Warlocks represent something totally new and different, but strangely reminiscent nevertheless. No Jasons in the group this time, although there’s a guitarist named JC Reese so I guess that could be “Jason” or at least “Justin” (which still counts). The 9-minute second-to-last-song on the album, “Stone Hearts,” is an absolute monster of dam-breaking Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” / “Salt of the Earth” proportions. This song is cool because I thought the sneering putdown of the lyrics was aimed at an ex-lover and then I realized in the second verse that Hecksher was actually singing about his LAWYER! These guys strike me as a little more sophisticated than the rest o’ these brat groups, in other words, but there’s really no way to read ‘em since there are like eight of them in the group and on the inside they’re even huddled tea-squatter style with Confucius caps. Who are they trying to be, Acid Mothers Temple? They also show the proceeds of PROGRESS since this alb is markedly superior to their last, Rise and Fall, which also wasn’t any slouch. In any case, Phoenix Album is certifiably one of the year’s best.
       Less psych and more deliberate garage-y are the Greenhornes who’ve actually released a few albs altho’ Dual Mono is the first (and thus far only) one I’ve heard and I lump it in w/ the rest o’ the rock revivalists I suppose coz they have the pudding haircuts, evoke the same raw passions as “hipper” (and prettier) groups like the Vue, Pattern, Strokes and all the rest, and also in deference to Rob Point, who digs these guys as much as he digs the ORIGINAL garage kings whom bands like the Greenhornes—as well as Points—are indebted to. Hailing from Cincinnati and utilizing a more reverb-heavy attack on songs like the stompin’ opener, “Satisfy My Mind,” the ‘hornes are the best garage revivalists I’ve heard since the golden age o’ the Fleshtones/Chesterfield Kings/Lyres/Mummies/Cynics/Plan 9 etc. “That’s the Way It’s Meant to Be” evokes Brit mid-sixties Nuggets II freakbeat and features a blistering guitar solo by Eric Stein while the singer Craig Fox almost sings in the same reedy register as the Yardbirds’ Keith Relf. Speakin’ of the Yardbirds, and for that matter, the Who, there’s even an improv’d psychedelic bridge in the middle of “Hard Time” that once again evokes the era when such tomfoolery was actually new in the hands of the original Brit string-bending pioneers, from the Creation to Cream. Meanwhile, “Too Much Sorrow” sounds like the Groupies’ “Primitive” with a heavier Pretty Things style bash and a swamp-rock feel that recalls the first Creedence album. Along with reverb, striped shirts seem to be their thing—in fact, they seem to be as devoted to ‘em as the members o’ Portland’s own Vacationland (the Points’ arch rivals) are to bandanas. The Greenhornes’ secret weapon is their recent kinship with the great Holly Golightly, whose guest appearance on “It’s Not Real” is a smoldering stand-out that’ll set yer pants on fire. Just as much as Marianne Nowottny is the Marlene Dietrich of the day, Holly is the Patsy Cline (or Wanda Jackson). Her duet with Fox on the set closer, “Gonna Get Me Someone,” is as good as P.P. Arnold jamming with Chris Farlowe.
       Even more self-consciously “retro” than either the Greenhornes or Warlocks is the Riviera Playboys. Then again, hailing from Rochester, NY can you blame them? Remember, Rochester was the home of the Chesterfield Kings who were so authentically retro that they purposely used only vintage equipment and raided the thrift stores for threads (and of course records) twenty years before it became a trend. So while “retro” didn’t exactly begin in Rochester, the city left its mark on the whole mindset. Now I dunno if there’s any Chesterfield Kings lineage to the Riviera Playboys, any conscious baton-passing, but if the scene in Rochester is like the scenes in most small towns—like Portland for instance—I would imagine someone from the old days knows about, and condones, these guys because their whole MO is actually very reminiscent to the Kings…particularly in the fact that the album cover is faux “authentic” (that is, it looks like it was issued in 1965). But whereas the Kings were mod revivalists, the Playboys are more frat-rock throwbacks. Once again, they keep a steady hand on the Rickenbackers and seem to hark back to the pre-psychedelic rave-up of original upstate New York bands like the Invictas and Knickerbockers. A three-piece, the Playboys ain’t exactly clothed of the same flashy cloth as the more stylish Pattern or Warlocks, but they still fit in the whole “rock revival” discussion because what else would you call what they’re doing, and I know for a fact that there’s a real cross-pollination with this stuff, meaning that if these palooks came to town at least 2/5ths o’ the Points would turn up to see ‘em and the same goes for the Greenhornes. Also I could logically see the Riviera Playboys on a bill w/ not only the ‘hornes but also the Points or even Warlocks. Basically any band plying the bare bones formula in this day and age belongs in the camp even if the Playboys do take their self-conscious retro stance to almost absurd lengths. It would almost be laughable if it wasn’t so effective—for one thing, they have a giant sound…the guitars are all in the front, and they know a thing or two about vocal harmonies (which are, after all, kind of a lost art). There are a few real fuzztone killers on this album like the huffing “Get Ugly” which reeks of Creation-style subterranean bad intentions. They do good covers too, like their version of the Motion’s “For Another Man,” an obscure freakbeat ditty that once again shows their rigid devotion to such matters. This record rocks so play it loud! Hope they come to Maine!
       The Agenda, who quite honestly are the pick o’ this whole litter, have already come to Maine and made quite a graven impression, particularly on five young Points, all of whom were present for this Athens, GA’s completely broiled-up brand o’ cavestomp. It was Election Night infact when these five brazen lads (there are always five in the new-model band) rolled into the Skinny along w/ snap drum masturbators I Am the World Trade Center, an odd billing solely reliant on the fact that both bands make Athens their home. But all similarities end there because, while the two sub-Nowottny organ twiddlers who make up IATWTC camped it up w/ ad hoc renditions of “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” the Agenda presented the most exciting rock show I’d seen all year—kind of like the MC5 if they’d had an organ player (please note the organ, which I guess is only a 2-in-5 embellishment in this camp considerin’ that the only one o’ these bands who feature one is the Warlocks). Got to talk to the band too, or atleast members thereof, and they were all a swell bunch of boys, just like my friends the Points…in fact, this new generation of post-teens beats the fuck outta the eighties version if y’ ask me…maybe Jason and his generation are ready to come alive, who knows? The Agenda even looked like the damn Points, whom they befriended and invited to come tour with them sometime soon so big things may be breaking out for our own little monsters. Agenda lead vocalist Justin Suicide even LOOKS like Rob Point only as Marga, Rob’s own girlfriend noted: “Eeeh, only thinner.” But then again y’ ain’t gonna become a flab-boy doin’ the kind of jumpin’ around that Justin does onstage. Once again, he kinda reminds me of Keith Relf with his whole elfin blonde hair thing…but the vocal style is pure Iggy/Mark Arm. The only other one I’ve EVER heard, besides those two, to pull this kind of forceful vocal off with as much aplomb is Ron, the former lead singer of a Boston band called the Pretty Flowers who gigged in the Tim Shea years of the mid-to-late nineties. All I know is that there were five very shamefaced Points after the Agenda’s gig—it’s a simple fact, altho’ the Agenda ain’t that much further up the evolutionary scale than the Points, that they have atleast toured n’ released an album so in a way they’re kind of the Points’ heroes even tho’ they may actually be YOUNGER (definitely younger than James anyway, whose favorite album of all-time is Moody Blue by Elvis Presley). So it was touching for me to hear Roosevelt (nee Jeremy nee Jason) Point say: “Oh! I think we just got a heiny-whuppin. Damn them!”
       So after all this the Agenda’s debut album, Start the Panic, finally arrived in the mail and damn if it wasn’t even more of a revelation than even I’d pictured based on their electrifying live show at the Skinny…y’ hafta understand, I was completely blown away by the Pattern alb, to the point of almost instantaneously proclaiming it the album of the year but this one blows even that away and w/ only mere days left of 2002 it’s highly unlikely that anyone’s gonna come along now and top it coz it’s chock full of brainboilers fueled on the great liberating gifts that have always informed this kind of music—i.e., rock n’ roll—for decades. Once again, with songs made up of mere minutes in length, and all of them basically subscribing to the same headlong caterwauling formula this album acts almost like a mantra that to me really confirms that something is indeed happening in the name of rock n’ roll. Sure the throb of “Crash! Crash!” “I Want the Panic!” “Hotpants!” and all the other great songs on the LP sound absurdly similar, but that’s a good thing, kinda like once when I was a kid I dreamed of an alb where every song would be AC/DC’s “Problem Child” because how could you ever get sick of hearing that riff or that sentiment? And that’s the way I feel about the Agenda who, at various times, evoke the MC5, the Stooges, the Who, Mudhoney, Radio Birdman, and a host of other influences. Did someone say the Faces? Listen to the good old boy lad-rock roll of “Last Chance For Action” (and then take note of the fact the Points are also enormous Faces fans). But once again, it’s Faces-by-way-of-Lyres-and-Birdman…absolutely great stuff, and guitarist Ryan Riot is the Keith Richards of the New Millennium. How often do you get stuff like this anymore? That is, since the last Hellacopters album!?
       If any album proves the “rock revival” is for real it’s this one so don’t let its life-affirming thrash pass you by. I know at least five rolled-up ragamuffins who didn’t, and the world may someday be a better place because of it.



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on the proverbial Mac Davis income