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Mr. Fastfingers

Thursday July 28, 2005

Normally, if all I have to offer is a link, I'll just cram it in under "On the Internets," but today I have found a website that is so fantastically awesome in its righteousness, that I feel it deserves a proper post. And I'll throw it up on the right. I love this site that much. It will only take you ten or fifteen minutes to experience the whole thing, too, so get to it. Start with the lesson and jam, then go to the show-off solo. You will not be disappointed.

Posted by Matt at 09:18 AM | Comments (2)

We Are Shitty Performers

Friday July 22, 2005

Against my better judgment, I trekked north to Allentown last night to see a one-time favorite band of mine, W.A.S.P. There were a lot of reasons to skip this show. For starters, they were pretty bad the last time I saw them, about a year ago at the same venue. Then there were the openers; while I wouldn't have minded seeing Metal Church (featuring, at this point, only a single original member, drummer Kurt Arrington), but I was in no way interested in having to endure L.A. Guns or The Artist Formerly Known As Ratt's Singer, Stephen Pearcy. Plus, it was a long, late drive on a thursday night. But I am a fool, and I went anyway, if only to meet up with my pal Chris, who plays bass in my band.

Nancy and I didn't leave the house until after 8:00, and this for a show an hour and a half away. This is fairly standard procedure for the Croc Rock - the headliners always go on late, usually after 10:00, and like I said, I was only interested (for lack of a better word) in the headliner. We hadn't eaten yet, so we stopped at a Bravo Pizza on rt. 100 just south of Pottstown. Bravo Pizza is a family run chain of pizzerias in Southern Chester County, and they're reliably good, not to mention staffed by honest-to-god Italians who are all, as far as I can tell, incredibly friendly. You're always greeted with a, "Hello!" and you can't leave without a warm, "Thanks for coming!" I like it. Nancy's eyes were bigger than her stomach, and she ordered two slices of mushroom. The pickin's were slim at that hour, so I got a slice of plain and a slice of stuffed pepperoni. The plain was the best - it crisped up nicely and was everything you can ask for in a slice. The stuffed pepperoni was a little on the heavy side. Who needs to much spiced meat? Nancy's mushroom slices were good, although the mushrooms prevented the crust from really getting crispy, although it didn't much matter as she barely finished her first slice. Abandoning my half-eaten stuffed slice, I came to the rescue, but even my hearty appetite was not enough to do away with all the pizza on the table. Still, we left full and happy, and got back on the road to Allentown.

When we got there, Stephen Pearcy was playing. He had apparently been on for fifteen minutes or so. We went into the main room to find Chris, and stayed long enough for someone to realize there was no reason for us to be in the same room as that terrible music, when we retired to the bar for some repite from the terrible poser rock. Chris had been there since 7:00 (it was nearly 10:00 when we arrived) and was looking pretty burned out. He reported that Metal Church were not bad, although they only played 6 songs, and nothing from the Mike Howe era, which is a terrible sin. He said that L.A. Guns were terrible, the worst he's ever seen from the band, whom he's inexplicably seen many times. I registered an absence of surprise.

It was a long time after Mr. Way Cool Jr. left the stage that W.A.S.P. finally got their show on the road, albeit by playing a taped song by The Doors. This is an odd and annoying trend among these aging 80's rockers - opening your set with a tape of some even older band. Iron Maiden opens their show with "Doctor Doctor" by UFO, Twisted Sister opens with "It's A Long Way To the Top (If You Wanna Rock N Roll)", and I seem to recall some other bands, recently, doing the same. (Megadeth? Overkill? I can't remember exactly.) What is the point of this, I wonder? W.A.S.P. didn't actually walk on stage until nearly 10:45, starting the show with a medley comprised of "On Your Knees," "Inside the Electric Circus" (yes!), and... something else. Maybe "Hellion"? The whole set, as it turned out, was old shit, including some surprises like, "The Headless Children," and "Kill Your Pretty Face" from the vastly underrated K.F.D. album. I should have been happy with the show, but that happiness never came.

The fact is, the whole show seemed like a put-on. It felt like a bunch of guys who got on stage and pretended they liked playing, and that they liked us, just because that's the only way they can make a buck these days. The songs were played well (for the most part) but there was no fire in the performances. Blackie Lawless stands behind a ridiculous 1000 lb. mic stand (equipped with stainless steel skull and spine, and motorcycle handlebars) and barely sings 1/2 of his lines. Whe a high note comes around, he'll point to the bassist, who will dutifully step up to his mic and somehow sing with Blackie's voice. No metal band has ever so egregiously abused the backing tape than W.A.S.P. Blackie has always used them, I suppose on the assumption that his songs won't sound the same without his trademark root-fifth vocal harmonies. But he used to at least pretend like he was actually singing. Not anymore. He has a whole grab bag of tricks to somehow get him away from the mic at exactly the right moment, so that it looks like the passion of the performance prevented him from being there to hit the note. But he repeats these tricks every time they play. It's a lame, canned performance from a guy who used to really know how to work it on the stage. It doesn't help that the band doesn't feel like a band, like W.A.S.P., so much as it feels like Blackie Lawless and backing players. I know that bassist Mike Duda (who spends an awful lot of time giving the crowd the finger) and drummer Stet Howland (who sets up his kit with the kick drums apart, so that you can see his feet working long-shafted pedals in the center) have been with W.A.S.P. for a long time, but they still have the feel of hired guns. And while that new, skinny guitarist with the mesh shirt might think his performance is intense and passionate, it looks pretty canned to me.

The only song I flatly objected to was some eternal balled from The Crimson Idol, an album I have never warmed to, although I know many people who love it. A great setlist from a band I (used) to love, and yet I left angry. What gives? I can't explain it. The first time I saw W.A.S.P. was on the K.F.D. tour, their first tour of the states in years. Chris Holmes was back in the band, bleeding from the needle-wounds between his fingers, and looking like bloody hell. But they were awesome. It was one of the best shows I've ever seen. Listen to their essential live album, Double Live Assassins to hear for yourself how much energy they had on that tour. Now, they're a bunch of washed up losers, phoning in a tour they don't want to be on just to make a few bucks selling ugly tee shirts. It was a sad night for metal, folks.

Posted by Matt at 09:50 AM | Comments (5)

Weirdness Down Below

Wednesday July 20, 2005

Slough FegI don't know how it started, but a long time ago I took it as my responsibility to see every heavy metal concert that I possibly could. I used to think things like, "Someone has to go, or the clubs will stop booking shows and the bands will stop coming to town," but that's a delusion along the lines of believing that every vote counts. A lot of the shows I see now have become little more than exercises in endurance: I barely even watch the band! But I rarely have a bad time when I go out. I often meet up with some friends at the venue and we share a few rounds, and my eternally patient girlfriend is such a good sport that I'm almost never wanting pleasant company, so that even an Amorphis show can be a good time. It's rare that I ever even consider giving up this hobby/habbit of mine, and when I see a truly great show, all thoughts to that end are completely obliterated.

That's the sort of show I saw on Monday. It was even sweeter because I had to drive to Baltimore to see it, and let me tell you, there's nothing more tiring than an hour and a half drive home at 1:00 am after a band that turned out to be not-so-good. In this case, I felt it to be my neighborly duty to see Slough Feg (formerly known, even more inscrutably, as The Lord Weird Slough Feg), as we're both on the same record label. I'm a very recent convert to this band's music, although I've been aware of them for many years. The sticking point, I'll admit, are the unique vocals of guitarist/mastermind Mike Scalzi. Let us say that his singing is an acquired taste. Slough Feg's music is a tough nut to crack, too. They only band to which they're regularly compared is Manilla Road, but beyond a similar penchant for quirky, melodic metal in the traditional vein and a singer that a lot of people can't stand, I don't think the two bands have much in common. Slough Feg might be described as a cross between old Metallica and Thin Lizzy, but that's still too easy a summary for this band's complex sound. They're one of the only bands I can think of that are both truly nerdy and utterly intimidating. Their last disc was a concept album about a 70s sci-fi roleplaying game(!!!), but for some reason, I find this band more than a little intimidating. I think Scalzi himself is the main reason for my trepidation. The guy looks like a heavy metal cavemen; a very thick brow draws attention to what can only be called psychotic eyes. He's a scary man! Before the show, he was walking around in a sleeveless denim vest with a St. Vitus backpatch, and he wasn't wearing a shirt under it. My observant girlfriend assures me that he was coked up, too. I briefly introduced myself before the set, thinking he might appreciate meeting one of his labelmates, but we didn't speak for more than a minute or two before he rushed to the stage to play (after dilly-dallying for a good twenty minutes!) I didn't mind, though - I had nothing else to say. I would like to interview this band for my zine, but I don't know if I have it in me!

But now I've gotten wholly ahead of myself. I'm already to Slough Feg's set, and they were the last band of the night. Some background is in order. The show was held at the Sidebar Tavern in Baltimore, MD. Baltimore feels a lot farther away than it is, but it's still a bit of a haul for a monday night show, especially when the doors don't open until 9:00! Nancy and I got there without any trouble and met up with our friend Jaime who works nearby. It was at least 9:30 when we got there, and I was really hoping the first band would be halfway through their set when we went inside, but such was not our luck. Their gear was set up, but alas, they had yet to take the stage. The Sidebar is a pretty cool little dive. It's in a basement not too far from the Inner Harbor, and while it's small, it has all the charm you look for in a dumpy underground (no pun intended) venue. You know a band like Slough Feg is not going to draw a huge crowd on a Monday, and this is exactly the sort of tiny venue that can make any crowd seem like just the right number of people required for a good time. I saw a few Skinless stickers on the walls, so I guess the Sidebar is no stranger to metal, but the crowd, particularly for a metal show, seemed awfully hipster to me.

I blame the openers, The Assrockers, whom I won't even dignify with a link. Musically, they were generic bar rock, leaning toward AC/DC or some other frat-friendly pseudo-metal band. The lead guitarist and bassist weren't bad. The rhythm guitarist and drummer were pretty crappy. But special new adjectives are needed to describe the lameness of the singer, a waifish, balding, tone-deaf rockstar wannabe whose every ironic, Jagger-inspired stage mannerism made me want to punch him. This would have been pretty easy, too, as he had a habit of coming off the stage and into the crowd to do his idiotic ass-shaking. I might have been able to endure his terrible posing if it weren't for his abysmal singing. I would be shocked to learn that he could command a full octave of range, and he couldn't even hit those 12 notes reliably. Just awful. I will give him credit, however, for the clever pun of "Carpe Denim." That's funny, at least.

The Sidebar's website led me to believe that Slough Feg was second on the bill, but it didn't take long after The Assrockers left to realize that Bible of the Devil was next. My friend and bandmate Chris Black recommended them once, so I wasn't unhappy to see them, but I was hoping to be out of Baltimore earlier rather than later. No dice. Bible of the Devil were pretty cool, though. They sounded a lot like Accept to me, with more than a little Iron Maiden thrown in. I always appreciate it when a band looks like they're having fun on stage, and Bible of the Devil certainly had fun. I liked them enough to pick up their latest disc, but I have to say that the live show far outshines the studio recording, which comes off like a slighly heavier Buckcherry or something like that. Not so good. They have a new disc just about to come out, though, and insofar as Mr. Black also told me that the band just keeps getting better, I'll hold out some hope that this new release will be better than Tight Empire.

So now, finally, Slough Feg. As an aside, this band was formed in State College, PA, in the early 90s, although the band has been based in San Francisco for more than a decade. As a grumpy and bitter Penn State alumnus, it warms my heart to know that at least this one good thing has come from Happy Valley. Slough Feg were even more fun onstage than Bible of the Devil, and Mike Scalzi becomes a lot less scary when he straps on a geetar and starts singing. Their set was pretty short, no more than 45 minutes, I'd say, but they seemed to cover their discography pretty evenly. I know they played at least one song from their first album, and a lot from their last two, and I presume their second and third albums were represented as well, but to be honest, I'm not that familiar with those. Without knowing the numbers, I'd guess they played more songs from Traveller (the role-playing album) than from the new disc, Atavism. There was one song I was really hoping to hear from the new one ("Hiberno--Latin Invasion"), and they didn't play it, but otherwise I was totally happy with the setlist. The crowd was thoroughly into it, too, which, as I've said before, makes even a good show better. I left the show with a handful of t-shirts and an unpleasant reek about me. What more can you ask from a night of metal?

Follow ye olde "Continue Reading" link for some pictures.

My digital camera is not particularly adept at low-light photography, but I do appreciate the ghosty images it produces with the "nighttime scenery" setting. The last picture is Bible of the Devil, but the others are all Slough Feg.



More Mike

Slough Feg

Yet More Mike

Bible of the Devil

Posted by Matt at 11:03 AM | Comments (4)

Jam out with your clam out

Monday July 11, 2005

Yeah, you've all heard "rock out with your cock out," but this doesn't apply to the ladies, so I applaud the sick individual who came up with this post's titular exhortation. It's become a favorite saying at MCR Studios, the subterranean recording facility where I spend seemingly all of my weekends these days as I labor to finish the new Pharaoh album. It all started in April (I think... it's been so long), and at this point, the drums, rhythm guitars, and bass are all done. The vocals and a few lead guitar parts are all that remain, but when you've only got the weekends for rockin', getting 11 tracks of highly layered heavy metal screaming and fret-melting noodling can take a long damned time. It's generally fun work, though, and in particular I've enjoyed tracking my guitar parts. I've made liberal use of Matt's great collection of guitars, having so far recorded with six different geetars through three different amps (including a very fine Soldano, on loan from my good pal Gary). I even played a Les Paul, which, while undeniably sexy, is nevertheless a heavy, uncomfortable, godawful thing to play. It sounds nice, though. Tim sang two entire songs, and part of a third one. This might not sound like much, but believe me, it's a lot to accomplish in basically a day and a half. I can't wait for this thing to be done. I'm eager to be told that it's our most mature work to date. After all, what do heavy metal musicians aspire to, if not maturity?

Posted by Matt at 02:48 PM | Comments (2)

He's not in Kansas anymore

Friday July 8, 2005

I saw Kerry Livgren last night. Not in concert or anything, but just walking past me in a restaurant. Kerry Livgren is the guy that founded 70s prog rock band Kansas - if you ever saw the "Dust in the Wind" video, he's the guy with the platinum blond mullet with matching moustache. Now, he's just an old, bloated, balding guy like you'd see at 10:00 am at that seedy bar around the corner. Like that guy from the old neighborhood that grandpa goes deep-sea fishing with. At least, that was the impression he made on me as he walked briskly by. I would not have recognized him on my own; my friend Jeff, jaw agape, was staring at this guy in a column of guys just like him threading between the tables at the Bethlehem Brew Works in Bethlehem, PA (the town that actually inspired the song "Allentown" by Billy Joel.) Someone else in the caravan of old wizened men said, "Say hello to your fans!" or something to that effect, and Kerry Livegren waved and said, "Hello," on command. It was only after they had passed that Jeff was able to regain his composure and explain to me who we had just seen. I wish he had said something before the moment was over, so that I could have really studied this guy. I mean, "Dust in the Wind" is just about the perfect rock ballad, right?

I was in Bethlehem for the express purpose of seeing some old friends, Jeff and Hunter. Jeff was the guy who brought me on as a writer for Metal Maniacs back in 98 or so. Hunter plays drums in the excellent Canvas Solaris. I haven't seen Jeff in a couple years, and Hunter I've never really seen at all. I did, in fact, meet him at a metal festvial in 2002, but we weren't friends at the time. Since then, we've become pretty tight through the internet and the mail, trading jazz and technical death metal CDs. Jeff and Hunter were in town for NEARfest, the premier prog-rock festival in the United States. If you are hardcore into prog-rock, then NEARfest is like Christmas. I like some prog-rock, but I don't think I could endure two or three days of mellotron solos and 60 minute epics. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Plus, the festival sells out in about 30 minutes (no exageration), and about 4 weeks before I even know it's going on sale. So I've never been, even though Bethlehem is just a little over an hour from where I live.

The point is, Jeff and Hunter had travelled to steel country, USA, to rock out, 7/8-style. They had arrived a day early to settle in, and the time was right that we got together. We met at the aforementioned brew pub primarily because in the basement there's a bar called the Steelgaarden [sic] that specialized in Belgian beer - they have about 100 varieties, in fact. Jeff is rapidly becoming obsessed with the stuff, and my experience with Belgian beer has generally been good, so it seemed like a no-brainer. Plus, Jeff assured me, their food was pretty good. We met around 6:45 at the bar, had a few beers, and talked metal. Lots of metal. I wore a Sieges Even t-shirt to make them jealous, and it worked. Hunter said, "You know, I almost wore my Sieges Even shirt, and Jeff, laughing, added, "Oh yeah, me too!" I knew they were joking, but I rubbed it in by explaining that I actually had to choose between my two Sieges Even shirts. They were appropriately awed. Chances are, you have no idea who Sieges Even are. This is not unusual. They are an extremely obscure technical metal band from Germany, who have released five albums since 1986 or so. How I came in the ownership of two Sieges Even shirts shall remain a mystery to you all.

After about an hour we headed upstairs for dinner, where I had a fairly delicious platter of locally-made bratwurst, with red cabbage saurkraut and potato pancakes. My old granpappy (RIP), a native of Germany, would have been proud. He had a fondness for nasty teutonic sausages. We were finished eating, I think, when Mr. Livgren sauntered by. After that, it's all denoument. There's not much else to report about the dinner, except, possibly, for the fat man in a Jellyfish t-shirt. You might have to be a shameless music nerd to find that funny at all, I suppose.

We walked back to the bed and breakfast where Hunter and Jeff were staying for the weekend, because Hunter had left some CDRs he made for me in the room. They narrated some funny stories about trying to make it clear to the employees of the B&B that they were not a homosexual couple - Jeff said he went out of his way to mention his wife. But said employees probably just assumed he was talking about Hunter. Many homoerotic jokes were made. Good times were had by all. After a little while, we went back to the bar to meet Mike G, a founding editor of Metal Maniacs (who recently resigned the post). He'd been chopping my stories for years and years and I had never met him, so it was nice to finally make that connection, although he was not exactly what I expected. Nice guy, though.

I had two more beers, neither of which I had to buy. In fact, I didn't buy a single drink for anyone the whole night! I was the ultimate bar mooch! I don't know how it happened, really. Usually I'm pretty good about picking up my share of the rounds. We didn't do too much drinking, overall, which is probably how I got away scot-free. In any event, the first of the beers was a thick, sweet, unfiltered, high alcohol Belgian selected by Jeff. I have no idea what it was called, although I'm sure he could tell me, even now. It was not too good. The beer Mike bought me was much better - I asked for a white beer, but what I got was not white at all, but in fact pretty amber. It had a lightness of flavor though, and perhaps, despite the color, it was brewed in the manner of traditional whites. Who knows. One or both of the beers, or possibly the sausages, gave me a terrible headache. It was really pounding by the time the party ended and I got in my car, around 12:30. I slammed four advil and a caffeine pill to stay alert (and to fight the headache), but this, I recognize now, might have been a mistake. In fifteen minutes, I was sick to my stomach. I needed to throw up. I knew it wouldn't come naturally, but I knew that clearing out my gut was the only way to sort me out. It was another fifteen minutes before I finally mustered the courage to pull over onto some very dark side road off PA rt 100 in the middle of nowhere, stick my finger down my throat, and release the gnome or demon than was afflicting me from the inside. It was raining fairly hard, but I didn't care. In fact, it made me feel better about puking into a puddle in someone's driveway. I'm sure by the morning my bile had all washed away. I felt better immediately, but I also immediately felt the absence of the caffeine and advil, which had no doubt been lost in the purging. My headache got worse, and I was so sleepy I could barely think. Plus, I was still a little nauseous. I was clearly in no condition to drive, but I had to get home! There was no getting out of work the next day!

Suffice it to say, I made it home, safe and sound, and I obeyed all local traffic directives. I had not drunk so much that I could possibly have been over the legal limit, but getting pulled over was the last thing I wanted to do. I just wanted to be home, in bed. When I finally hit the sheets, I went out in 10 minutes, despite the sickness and the pain in my skull. It was a fairly terrible ending for a pretty fun night, but at least I got a good story out of it. And if you've made it this far, you can thank me for wasting a good fifteen minutes of your day, and that just when you thought there was nothing else to read on the Internet. Now, carry on, my wayward son!

Posted by Matt at 10:09 AM | Comments (8)

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