Friday, June 11, 2010

A Few Moments With The New Warden

"Whatever you do, just don't tell them the truth."

It's 8:30 P.M. on a rainy and gray Wednesday night in West Newton, Massachusetts. The New Warden, a pop-punk trio from the Greater Boston area, has just wrapped up an especially sloppy practice, according to them. After instructing me on the ramifications of this immensely popular blog ruining their reputation, bassist Kenny (we'll just go with that) elaborates.

"It sucks you had to see us today," laments Kenny. "We hadn't played together for a month. We just ran through the shit we hardly even play live."

"What are you gonna write about?" asks lead singer/guitarist Jelly Roll. "Are you gonna mention that I wear a t-shirt that has Webster's definition of "role model" on the back, even though I'm like, the worst example of a human being ever?"


That sense of ironic apathy runs through the whole band. What is The New Warden "About", according to their Myspace page?

Sometimes there's a band... I won't say a heroes, 'cause what's a hero? But sometimes, there's a band – and I'm talkin' about the New Warden here – sometimes, there's a band, well, they're the band for their time and place. They fit right in there. And that's the The New Warden. In Boston. And even if they're a lazy band – and The New Warden was most certainly that, quite possibly the laziest in the Greater Boston Area, which would place them high in the runnin' for laziest worldwide – Sometimes there's a band...

"The Big Lebowski", the magnum opus of ironic apathy. But as the Coen Brothers knew, that kind of irony only works when the main character can't HELP but give a shit. Sure, The Dude can act like he doesn't care. He can insist that he's nothing special and that the world should pay no attention to him. After all, he's just a Dude. But the world refused to leave poor Duderino alone. He was too smart, too funny and too damn cool to just sit in his bathtub smoking a joint for an hour and a half of screen time (though I'd probably still find that amusing).

The Dude can deny it all he wants, but for a stoned, unemployed, burnt-out old man, he was a hell of a Private Investigator. And for a group of 20 something bastards who can't sing and can't play their instruments, The New Warden is a hell of a band.

I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' they’re out there. The New Warden. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners.


The punk rock cock-tease. It's an age-old tradition amongst asshole bands that like to fuck with an audience. You're watching a band you've never seen before and you don't recognize any of their songs. You feel left out. Then all of a sudden, you hear it. Maybe it's the opening drum fill to "The Sweater Song", or the first chords of "Smells Like Teen Spirit".

You shout out an enthusiastic "ohhhhh!" that can be heard over the drums. You're really going to sing obnoxiously loud on this one, boy howdy. You might even put you arm around the stranger next to you and belt out the lyrics. This sure is going to be fun, you think.

And then, it's over. Just kidding. Next song. That excitement is fun to take advantage of for bands. Why? Because fuck 'em, that's why, I guess. Maybe I'm unfairly biased. I'm always on the fooled end of this trick. For the fooler, I would guess it's quite fun.

In The New Warden's case, Fugazi's "Waiting Room" is their flirtatious but ever-elusive beautiful woman. With one of the greatest opening bass lines in music history, one can be excused for getting over-exuberant at the first few measures being played. And each time, a new set of basement folk or bar patrons await an "I am a patient boy..." that never comes. Suckers.

But with a month until their next show, the trio has some time to give the whole song a go during practice. A discussion breaks out about the guitar chords in the latter part of the song. Jelly Roll strums different combinations, awaiting the shared approval of his band mates.

A cordial debate ensues. It doesn't sound quite right, according to Kenny. He suggests Jelly Roll simplify and just play power chords.

"They throw that 2nd in there, I'm positive," Jelly Roll pleads. "Don't we have that DVD of there's down here?"

"Yea, but I think it's a VHS," says drummer Alex Beaton. He should know, the four of us are in his parent's basement.

Beaton sits in the back of the room, his drums set up against the wall. Lemothe and Kenny face him with their backs to their respective Marshall amps. "You Shriek" is planted on the back of Jelly Roll's amp, the command staring right back at me. A piano is trapped-in on the right side by the large stacks, covered on top by CD's and piles of paper. The opposite shelf features numerous notable board games (Parcheesi anyone?) and the entire Disney Catalogue on VHS. This is a 1990's basement and it intends to stay that way.

I sit behind the amps, a sonic wall of necessary separation. Beforehand, it was requested I "not go all yoko" if allowed to observe the practice. Since I am not sleeping with any members of the band at this time, this proves not too difficult. Except for the occasional nod of approval, I make a point to keep my mouth shut, especially when the important topic of chord structure is being discussed. The debate comes to a speedy and amicable conclusion.

"Whatever man," says Kenny. "I understand. You like playing the chords with all those notes."

And with that, Kenny plays the distinct opening bass line. And then Jelly Roll plays that chord. You know: the one with all the notes.

The group gets through the intro and reaches the second stop in the song. The original has the silence filled in with muted guitar chords and drum fills. Kenny has another idea.

"No, no," Kenny tells Beaton. "Right there, we should just stop and do this."

"This" can be described as a combination of heavy panting and salivating directly into the microphone. Jelly Roll joins Kenny, possibly out of fear. Beaton finally ends the possible case of sexual harassment and kicks back in.

It might not have been pretty, but it was rockin' (I want that to be the epitaph on my tombstone by the way) and the band finishes the entirety of the song. That beautiful woman finally gave in. However, it's still up in the air whether she'll fuck publicly or not. For now, the basement of Mr. and Mrs. Beaton's house will have to suffice.

"That's closer than we've ever been to getting it right,” claims Kenny.

"I don't know, it was sort of marginal," says Beaton. "Marginal Walker."

"Oh, Fugazi puns!" exclaims Jelly Roll. "Can we just make all Fugazi puns at our shows?"

"We still need to write a song named 'Margin Walker, Texas Ranger'."

No debate on that.

“This song is a neubian,” Jelly Roll says to me. “A brand neubian.”

The New Warden has been writing songs since 2008. Jelly Roll and Beaton had played together in the short-lived group “Get the Memo” as early as 2006. But Jelly Rolls’s first band, The Eskapade, is really where the story begins. A horn-filled, ska-punk outfit that most notably won WBCN’s High School Battle of the Bands, Lamothe’s signature pop hooks have translated with ease to the smaller trio format.

In high school, he was a bassist and 2nd singer. Now, he is the front man and driving musical force of the band.

The group plows into a new song. Moreso Green Day than Dillenger Four, it stands out as poppier and less rhythmically complicated than the group’s other new material. It’s a straight-ahead rocker that omits Beaton’s usual fast-paced double-time switch up. But just like Green Day, it’s catchy as hell.

Beaton exhales a deep breath after the song ends and complements the new tune.

“Man, that’s already stuck in my head,”

“That other new one was about the Baptist Church,” Jelly Roll explains, referring to a previous song called "Black Hearts".

“Southern Baptist?” asks Kenny.

“No, Westboro Baptist,” Jelly Roll replies. “The guys who protest Military funerals with signs that say ‘God Hates Fags’.”

Beaton chimes in.

“Aren’t they always wearing some crazy hats?”

“Yea man!” says Kenny. “‘Lovin’ hats, Hatin’ fags’. It’s bullshit.”

The truth is a New Warden song can be about almost anything. That’s because all three members take turns writing lyrics. Yes, even the big, dumb animal behind the drum kit.

“Alright Jelly, actually writing a lyrically-driven song!” says the drummer turned self-acclaimed poet.

There’s the song about taking in a summer day on the porch of their Waltham apartment; one about working at the “best” (read: worst) IHOP in the United States; a new one about having a panic attack while running into an ex-girlfriend; and now, one about bigots in Texas. Oh, and don’t forget “Ork Life”, a definite band favorite. Just to name a few.

So, how to describe the music then? Pop infectiousness intertwined with chaotic rhythmic-precision; a lot of offbeat timing and unexpected song turns that reward you with a sing-a-long bridge. The New Warden may reel you in with pop hooks, but you end up appreciating the surprising cohesion that dominates each song (you can thank Mr. Beaton for that).

It’s much like Bart Simpson’s take on flying first class: “I come for the service, but I stay, for the leg room.”

It’s another damp, and gray night in Massachusetts. This one’s a Thursday and the band is unloading their gear out of their van at Echo Base in Fitchburg. This is the home of Sexwing Starfighter.

Most well known for ___________, Fitchburg is home to many underground punk bands that offer up their basements to college aged ruffian’s who have nothing better to do than take in some free music while getting drunk.

The New Warden will go into these situations with about an average of one fan per a show (take a guess) attending. The surprisingly large crowds are mostly there for the hometown bands.

On this night, The New Warden is at the behest of Sexwing Starfighter, an old school punk band with Star Wars themed lyrics:

“If you wanna dress up like that Princess from Alderaan/I think you know I’d gladly be your man”.

They’re hosting a show to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. A life-size cardboard cut-out of Chewbacca stares at me while I take a piss. Needless to say, the crowd is eagerly anticipating some songs about your droid being your best buddy.

Up first though? The New Warden. I sit on a couch in the living-room-turned-venue by myself as the band sets up. All the other attendees are outside smoking or in the kitchen drinking.

“Look at Hillman, our lone fan,” jokes Kenny.

“Hillman, I’m gonna make a t-shirt with your face on it. It’s gonna say “The New Warden” and then under it “Hillman was there”, with your face planted right in the middle.”

“Shit, we gotta get on that,” says Beaton. “Once we get some other fans, of course.”

The set starts off small, with maybe 10 people total in the room. Behind Beaton, there’s a window displaying the droves of people on the porch, smoking and passively listening to the unknown group inside.

But as is the case at most New Warden shows, the small crowd becomes a passionate-if-not-initially-reluctant group of supporters.

The drunken Fitchburg State students are officially won over when Kenny belts out a forceful scream to mark the beginning of “Bastards of Young”, The Replacement’s punk anthem. One Coor’s Light waving individual throws him arm around Kenny and leads the room in the classic chorus, pumping his fist with a fervor only the classic-widemouth can offer.

Not long after that, a young kid leans over and tells his friend to bring people in here off the porch. They’re missing out and they don’t even know it, he says.

By the end of the set, the room is once again packed. The New Warden play their last song of the night, the appropriately titled "Patron Saint of Perpetual Sausage".

Check out their songs, y'all.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Thermals: April 18th at the Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge, MA

Hey there you filthy animals,
The wonderful ladies at have once again published one of my creations. This is an interview with one of my favorite current songwriters, Hutch Harris of Portland's The Thermals. So yea, click on the link below and see if you can pin-point the exact moment Hutch makes me giggle like a schoolgirl.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Hold Steady: April 6th at The Pearl in Northampton, MA

Maybe I’ve been too positive lately?

A problem with a blog like this is I’m only reviewing bands I truly enjoy. I would be going to these shows whether I had a revolutionary concert review site or not. I’m not paying 15 bucks to go see a band I dislike just so I can snidely make fun of them on the Internet. I’ll leave that to the true assholes. So I began to worry if my incessant praise of bands would become repetitive and boring. Then The Hold Steady came along. As I watched the Brooklyn band perform for their Western Mass brethren at The Pearl in Northampton, Craig Finn’s overjoyed exuberance had the opposite effect: I felt a little cynical.

Traveling over two hours to see The Hold Steady probably didn’t help. Sticking to their small-town club roots, the group scheduled only one Massachusetts show this tour. While it would have been nice to see them at say, The Middle East Downstairs, The Pearl is really just that. In an age that encourages the stagnant and lifeless features of venues like The House of Blues, The Pearl is a throwback. Reminiscent of any number of Western Mass Town Halls, the show had the flavor of a whole city coming together for the usual Tuesday night entertainment. And after buying a Budweiser for $5.50, I felt like I had never left Boston in the first place.

Speaking of throwbacks, this had to be one of the most varied and strange crowds I had ever witnessed. Turn to your right, and you would see a group of 16 year olds discussing which high school party to attend following the concert. Turn to your left, and you would see a group of 60 year olds discussing which high school party they had to pick their kid’s up from after the show. To The Hold Steady’s credit, this broad-based appeal covering several generations is an extremely unique one in any music scene. Hipsters, Former Hippies, Metalheads, People Who Actually Saw Led Zeppelin Live, Indie Rock Snobs, you name it. They were all there on Tuesday night. It’s not a certain type of music fan that enjoys The Hold Steady; it’s a certain type of person.

Yet as I watched the band play a lengthy 23-song set, I couldn’t help but feel I had missed my chance with The Hold Steady. Relying heavily on 2008's Stay Positive and their new release Heaven is Whenever, the concert had the feeling of a band holding on to the last remnants of their creative energy. Keyboardist Franz Nicolay quit the band earlier this year, and his explanation says more that I ever could about The Hold Steady’s current state:

“The need for a change, Nicolay says, is about ambition. ‘They have their one big idea—making literate, wordy lyrics over big anthemic rock—and the last two records were about as good as I felt like I could do with that idea.’”

Unfortunately, it appears as though that quote may apply to Finn and the rest of the band. The new songs are not new in style or tone, but simply watered-down versions of the group’s better and more exciting older catalogue. Nicolay probably figured this out in the midst of recording Stay Positive and quit before The Hold Steady became exceedingly unnecessary. Finn tried his best that night to sell the band’s new material, but no sheen of positive energy could save the lukewarm and unoriginal new single “Hurriance J” or the awkward nature of performing “Navy Sheets” without Nicolay’s signature keyboard line. Much like Rivers Cuomo without Matt Sharp (you’ll notice I bring up Weezer a lot when speaking of disappointment), there was a sense I missed out on the real thing, and I would never get a chance to experience it.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. Opening with “Hornets! Hornets!” off the incredible Separation Sunday, no song sums up the group’s quiet-to-loud, slow guitar-chugging style better. Finn was obviously ecstatic to be playing for the Western Mass crowd, and had the look of a man who wished he could just hug the entire audience. And after screaming for it several times, concert-goer and huge Fleetwood Mac fan (just kidding) Adam Shulman got his wish with a rousing version of “Stevie Nix”. At their best, The Hold Steady can make you love music like few band’s can, and those moments of triumphant ecstasy were still there on Tuesday night. “Little Hoodrat Friend”, a personal favorite of mine, closed out the show extremely strong.

Music appreciation is so deeply tied to time and place. It’s not only the music, but how and when you experience it. It would have been great to see The Hold Steady in their heyday. But I didn’t drive around my hometown in high school listening to Craig Finn describe my adolescent experience. On the contrary, I came to The Hold Steady as a young adult. And while I’m glad to have finally seen one of this country’s true American Rock bands, The Hold Steady is much like the United States: well past it’s prime.

SETLIST: Hornets! Hornets!, Hurricane J, The Swish, Magazines, New Song, Navy Sheets, Banging Camp, Massive Nights, Chips Ahoy, Constructive Summer, Multitude of Casualties, New Song, Lord I'm Discouraged, New Song, Stevie Nix, Hot Soft Light, Stuck Between Stations, Sequestered in Memphis, New Song, ENCORE: New Song, Stay Positive, Little Hoodrat Friend

The Bronx: April 5th at The Paradise in Boston, MA

Hey everyone. Due to some very nice friends, I got to review The Bronx show for Click the link to check it out. Fans of my long-winded and pompous style may be disappointed.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Nada Surf: April 3rd at The Paradise in Boston, MA

"In five years, they'll be gone and we'll still be Nada Surf." -Daniel Lorca

In 2006, I was lucky enough to smoke a cigarette with Daniel, the bassist for Nada Surf. It was after their short 30-minute set at the WFNX Block party. They had been the 3rd of five bands playing at the now-defunct Avalon. I complained that a less renowned and much worse emo band had gotten the top bill with an hour-long set. Daniel simply shrugged and said the above quote. Five years later, his arrogance has proven to be completely correct.

It is that lack of regard and respect for Mainstream music that has driven Nada Surf all these years. After their 1996 hit "Popular" slowly faded away from radio, so did any recognition for the band. The following 14 years, Nada Surf carved out a unique niche in the Indie Rock scene. With a lack of mainstream singles and overblown ambition (think Rivers Cuomo), this trio has relied on a combination of incredible pop sensibility, relentless touring, and above all, consistency. Matthew Caws, Ira Elliot, and Lorca have been together since the very beginning, and that confidence Lorca displayed is due to the band's camaraderie. Let other bands deal with the Bullshit, Nada Surf is here to enjoy themselves.

And enjoy themselves they did. Adding a touring keyboardist and extra guitar to the lineup, Nada Surf was able to display the fuller sound of their newer albums. Early on, Caws told the crowd this was going to be the longest set the band has ever played. He wasn't kidding.
They ended up playing 25 songs in total, a blistering two hour set that covered their entire catalogue. As my fellow concert goer Christophe Porier noted early on (when he wasn't musing on proper concert drink etiquette...3 fingers on the side with the pinky stabilizing on the bottom), these guys just love playing live.

In fact, they seemed to outlast the somewhat sleepy and unenthusiastic crowd last night. Nada Surf's style does not inspire overt enthusiasm, let alone something along the lines of a mosh pit. It's easy to take such a consistent band for granted. But the sold out crowd was especially dormant. The fact that Nada Surf's new release is an album of covers did not help. It's a tell-tale sign that an older band is losing creative momentum. And that showed somewhat in the audience last night.

Luckily, the band had no dearth of energy. "Weightless" off of their last album Lucky opened the show, leading into "Hyperspace", the relentless and fast-paced opener off 1998's The Proximity Effect. Elliot is in charge of pumping up the band, as are most drummers, and "Hyperspace" gave him an early chance. Lorca, famous for constantly smoking during
performances, was without his trademark billow of smoke surrounding him. Either he's chosen the healthy life, or The Paradise finally insisted on enforcing the law. My guess is the latter.

"Bad Best Friend", a rarely played track from Proximity Effect, was a great treat for any hardcore fan of the band. As was "Neither Heaven Nor Space", one of Caws most beautiful and eerie tunes. Let Go is widely considered their best release, as well as the album that rescued the band from non-existence. Nada Surf affirmed that view, playing 7 tracks off the 2002 release. They also played a whole lot of covers. Of the seven played, six are featured on their new cover album, If I Had a Hi-Fi. The seventh was an unexpected version of "I Fought the Law" that closed out the 25 song set. For my money, Caws has one of the best voices in pop music and to hear it live is pretty remarkable. It is an effortless and natural style, as though he was born singing elaborate melodies.

Inevitably, the time will come when this mid-90's trio closes up shop. But it wasn't after being deemed a one-hit wonder in 1996. It wasn't after being kicked off their record label in 1999. It wasn't five years ago as their bassist gave some cigarette-smoking nerd the time of day. And it certainly wasn't after last night's barn-burner of a show. Lets give it another five years or so.

1. Weightless
2. Hyperspace
3. Happy Kid
4. Whose Authority?
5. I like What You Say
6. Killian's Red
7. What is Your Secret?
8. Bad Best Friend
9. Your Legs Grow
10. Electrocution (cover)
11. Enjoy the Silence (cover)
12. Blizzard of '77
13. Neither Heaven Nor Space
14. Hi-Speed Soul
15. The Way You Wear Your Head
16. You Were So Warm (Cover)
17. Unknown Cover (by unknown, I mean I didn't recognize it)
18. Unknown Cover
19. Unknown Cover
20. Blonde on Blonde
21. See These Bones
22. Do It Again
23. Always Love
24. Blankest Year
25. I Fought the Law (cover)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The RX Bandits: March 31st at Harper's Ferry, Allston, MA

Bands change.
It's a hard fact for the music-obsessed fan to accept. We are a selfish-animal, only interested in the version of a band that pleases our mostly arbitrary expectations and strict guidelines.
When a band strays too far from those guidelines, we accuse them of selling out. When that same band stays within those guidelines, we accuse them of lacking creativity and ambition. Simply said, 9 times out of 10, an artist can't win.

There is that rare occurrence however when a band can progress and bring their fan base along for the ride. This requires A) Longevity, B) Desire to progress, and C) Talent to progress. Not many music fans from the late 90's would have guessed it, but in 2010, The RX Bandits perfectly fit this bill.

I am fan of the Bandit's latest release, Mandala. The first five tracks have a spot in the band's classic canon. And it perfectly fits into their new identity: Progressive, alternative rock with melodic pop hooks. The Bandits have replaced their ska roots for a strange version of Frank Zappa playing hard rock. When it was announced that the 3/31 show would feature Mandala from beginning to end, I had my doubts. Not of the band, but of the audience. Would there be cries for earlier works such as Progress and The Resignation? Were people planning on throwing Trombones and Trumpets on stage? Could the chant "Play-a-ska-chord! clap-clap-clapclapclap" be a possibility?

Not only did the Bandit's literally play note for note their newest release (interludes included), the crowd could not have been more excited to witness it. Lead singer Matt Embree informed us this was the 3rd time the band had played the whole album in concert, and the previous outings showed. One of the key factors that led the Bandit's out of third wave ska is their incredible technical prowess. Guitarist/Keyboardist Steve Choi has the responsibility of switching off lead on guitar and keys even in the midst of a single song, and did so without missing a note the entire night. Chris Tsagakis continued his rightful quest to be recognized as the best drummer in modern rock. And when he wasn't leading the crowd in one of his annoying and overused call-and-response chants, Embree played like he always does: With tons of over-the-top energy, pitch-point singing, and guitar chops that would make most lead singers jealous.

Even though I wasn't as familiar with the second half of Mandala, the crowd shocked me in singing along to every word until the end of "Bring Our Children Home". While waiting for the encore, I wondered just how satisfying this experience would be for any veteran band; to put out a new album and perform it for a sold out crowd that already knows every word. The band came out for a three song encore, playing the title track of And the Battle Begun, "Never Slept Soundly" off of The Resignation and the unfortunately overrated single "Only for the Night" from ATBB.

So no "Consequential Apathy". No "VCG III". And no horns. But on a night that featured no tracks from their ska-pop punk classic Progress, the Bandits proved to everyone in attendance that they've done just that.

(I promised myself my first review would end in a horrible pun)

1. My Lonesome Only Friend
2. It's Only Another Parsec?
3. Hope is a Butterfly, No Net It's Captor
4. Hearts That Hanker For Mistake
5. Mientras La Veo Sonar
6. March of the Caterpillar
7. White Lies
8. Bury it Down Low
9. Breakfast Cat
10. Bled to be Free
11. Bring our Children Home
12. And the Battle Begun
13. Never Slept so Soundly
14. Only For the Night

The Shitty Beatles? Are they any good?

To the People of Earth and Future Civilizations Dying to Know Who Steve Albini Is:

Welcome. This is a blog. A blog of mammoth expectations and futile results. With it I hope to document experiences in the arena of live music.

I enjoy live music. I also enjoy writing. My hope is to bring these two passions together in a way that no man has ever done before. I don't know much of the internet, so I feel it's safe to assume It's Not Just A Clever Name is the first of it's kind, combining the experience of live music with the vanity of the internet. But here we are folks, at the edge of the universe. Who knows what could happen next?