Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Heaven on Earth

Wednesday June 10, 2009
Ogden Theatre, Denver, Co

For years, it seemed as if Strung Out came through Denver every six months. Last spring they supported Pennywise on a large-venue tour that stopped at the Fillmore (boo). Thanks to Live Nation and their inability to make up their fucking minds, we strolled into the venue only to hear "Matchbook", a sure sign that Strung Out has just completed their set. Now it's been 13 months and I am exploding at the seams. The icing on the cake? Death by Stereo is opening. No two bands have made such an impact on my life. It makes me randy just thinking about it.

Photo courtesy of Live 'n Loud Magazine

Our immaculate timing brought us into the Ogden just as Death by Stereo began to destroy the crowd. Their set consisted of a surplus of Day of Death tunes (my fav), including "Porno, Sex, Drugs, Lies, Money, And Your Local Government" and "Desperation Train". After celebrating drummer Chris Dalley's birthday with a My Little Pony cake in the face, it was on to new tunes. Guitarist Dan Palmer took opportunity to show off his finger-tapping skills with "I Sing for you", followed suit by "Emo Holocaust", a new version of "Hippie Holocaust", a pit-friendly hate song. :)

Photo courtesy of Stephen McGill

With the energy at max levels, Strung Out's Chris Aiken joined the crew on bass for a speedy rendition of "The Curse of Days" as guitarists Palmer and JP Gericke joined force in dueling solos. Frontman Efram Shulz dedicated the next song, "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Salvation", to all the assholes trying to sell us God. This track was supported heavily by the crowd chanting "Die, die!". A typical skeptic of crowd participation, I found myself abiding by every one of Shulz's orders . His performance empowers every member of the audience while strengthening himself and the music. Ironically, Death by Stereo finished their set with "Wasted Words", a plead to listeners to open their ears and minds to what they are actually experiencing.

Photo courtesy of Stephen McGill

A little sidenote: I recently read a review of this show by local writer Andrew Brand. Here's what he had to say about Death by Stereo: "Synchronized and obviously choreographed guitar-swinging motions combined with matching outfits to make it feel like the band worked more on planning their stage personas than writing songs" ( What this author failed to grasp is that their stage personas stem from their passion for the music, from Shulz's windmills to Palmer and Gericke's synchronized guitar lunges.  I have never seen a band whose music, and performance, is so true to their characters. What other hardcore band takes the stage and informs the crowd that we are all here to celebrate ourselves as individuals? I encourage everyone to experience Death by Stereo live for themselves to see what the hub-bub is all about. And spread the good word.

Now that my heart is pumping and blood is boiling, it's time to get Strung Out. With nearly 150 songs to choose from, waiting to hear the opener is always a nail-biting situation. This year, the first track from Twisted by Design, "Too Close to See" was the chosen one. Guitarist Rob Ramos' twangy riffs accompanied by legendary drummer Jordan Burns' triplets threw the crowd to the dogs as the pit exploded with energy. The spaghetti western intro to "Calling" gave way to sweeping Spanish guitar and string-bending solos from Ramos and Jake Kiley as they redefined the word teamwork. "Mind of My Own" followed close behind, complete with singer Jason Cruz's growling cackles as he crouched in a dark corner, causing every woman (and most men) in the house to cream their panties. Whew.

Photo courtesy of Live 'n Loud Magazine

The steadfast aggression continued as Strung Out blitzed the crowd with "Bring Out Your Dead", complete with new lyrics and extended instrumentals. "Velvet Alley" was sandwiched nicely between two Exile in Oblivion favorites, "Vampires" and "Scarlet", fabricating a lyrical triple play depicting romantic and cultural atrophy, coupled with fantastic transitions and experimental guitar. Strung Out kept it going with a two song set chronicling the undulation of the American youth and ideals through "The Kids" and "Blueprint of the Fall", between which Cruz appropriately shared a joint with crowd members.  Welcome to Colorado.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Thackeray

Before heading on the road, Strung Out had spent the last few months in the studio, and everyone expected a little taste of the new album. As Cruz juiced up the crowd, I noticed guitarist Kiley and bassist Aiken switch instruments.  A true sign of a well rounded musician. The prog-metal newbie (featured on their studio diary) incorporated the creative construction seen in Element of Sonic Defiance with heavy, crunchy riffs. "Matchbook", Strung Out's coup de grace, followed close behind. Although it's not my favorite song, you can feel the emotion tingle your skin as everyone in the venue throws their heads back and sings as if no one is around. We had the honor of chatting with Ramos after the show, and spoke our displeasure on always ending the set with "Matchbook". He shot me his most sincere look, and told us that the song means something to them as a band. Need he say more? I can once again appreciate this tale of a corroding relationship.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Thackeray

After a booming chant from the crowd, aided in part by the members of Death By Stereo, Strung Out re-appeared for their encore. The haunting hit "Cemetery" set the mood with Aiken's hypnotic bassline and Cruz's thunderous voice.  It was during this song I realized that the sound at the Ogden was immaculate, the levels perfect, allowing each instrument to speak for itself.  Strung out immediately jumped into Ozzy Osbourne cover, "Bark at the Moon", which never fails to get the testosterone flowing.  With gratitude, the band exited the stage, sweaty, exhausted and accomplished.  

In the 15+ years Strung Out has been performing, Colorado has been fortunate enough to play host to these punk-rock-legends-in-the-making numerous times.  Each performance shows their musical advancement as they push the boundaries, setting themselves apart from what one typically expects from a dying music industry.  Strung Out and Death By Stereo continue to astound me, both as musicians and as every day people.  I believe these two bands will never loose their passion for what they do, and I consider it an honor to be a part of it as a fan.  Thank you.

Photo courtesy of Stephen McGill

Like that shit? Here's more!
Ten Foot Pole - DBS's drummer Chris Dalley's and SO drummer Jordan Burns' old band
Straight Faced - DBS touring partner and fellow Cali hardcore crew
Zero Down and Pulley - featuring former SO bassist Jim Cherry

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No Use For a Name Weekend Extravaganza Round Two

No Use for a Name, Only Crime and Pour Habit

No Use for a Name

Sunday June 7, 2009
Surfside 7, Fort Collins, Co

As our weekend in rock continued, DJ and I found ourselves at our home away from home, a little punk rock bar in Fort Collins that goes by the name of Surfside 7. Those of you who haven't visited this gem, go now. Not only do they serve killer pizza, but they always have a plethora of microbrews on tap for under $3 a pint. The walls are a collage of local artwork, hanging pleasantly with random keepsakes the bar has collected over the years, from He-Man to tiki men. And chances are, you will run into whichever band is currently recording at the Blasting Room.

We were lucky to get into the show, seeing as they sold out in five minutes when the doors opened, waaaay before we arrived. Just remember, especially when going to shows, where there is a will, there is a way. After acquiring wrist bands and a brief trip to Trailhead for cheese fries (mmmmmm.... cheese fries), it was time for Only Crime. The set up at Surfside always cracks me up; there's only enough room on the "stage" for the drum kit, so the remainder of equipment and band members kick it on the floor next to the audience. Awesome. There's nothing like being close enough that you risk getting chopped in the face with a guitar neck.

Seeing as the show was very similar to the previous night's, I decided to let our photos speak for themselves. Enjoy! Only Crime shots by DJ, my budding photographer.

Matt - Only Crime
Guitarist Matt Hoffman

Dan - Only Crime
Bassist Dan Kelly had an incredible amount of energy crammed into such a tiny space.

Russ and Aaron - Only Crime
Guitarist Aaron Dalbec and singer Russ Rankin

Matt - Only Crime

Russ, Aaron and Dan - Only Crime
Dalbec and Rankin

The Fort Collins crowd had an increased awareness of Only Crime, and it was nice to see some well-deserved appreciation for these hard working fellas. Somehow the bands were able to change places, and we watched headman Tony Sly swagger toward the stage. DJ had learned from an earlier conversation with Sly that this was originally their day off. But the band had some friends in Fort Collins who convinced them to play a show (thank you!). It was quite apparent that some social drinking had taken place, resulting in a sort of punk rock karaoke night.

Tony - No Use for a Name
The crowd bracing singer Tony Sly, who at one point during the set, asked the bartenders for "sober in a glass".

Matt and Dave - No Use for a Name
Bassist Matt Riddle and guitarist Dave Nassie took over vocal duties after Tony was unable to perform and the crowd didn't know enough of the lyrics.

Rory - No Use for a Name
Drummer Rory Koff

Tony and Dave - No Use for a Name
During "Biggest Lie", Sly lost the guitar and the music became much more enjoyable for everyone!

Tony and Dave - No Use for a Name
After botching the planned set, No Use decided to play an additional tune. Nassie slammed into "51 Days" as Tony helped to amplify the guitar with his mic.

Tony - No Use for a Name
Sly passing out in DJ's arms. Immediately after this shot, Sly responded with the biggest shit eating grin.

Although the music was cloudy and the lyrics were lost, this was one of the more entertaining shows I have seen in a while. The coziness of the stage combined with the drunken aura of the venue turned the sands of time. I found myself at a house party with No Use practicing in the basement for a few of their good friends. Shows just don't get any more intimate than this.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

No Use For a Name Weekend Extravaganza Round One

No Use for a Name, Only Crime and Pour Habit

Saturday June 6, 2009
Larimer Lounge, Denver, Co

My next stop on the Nostalgia Express was the Larimer Lounge in downtown Denver. The first, and only, time I came here was a few years ago to see an little known band by the name of The Flobots. You may have heard of them. This locally-owned venue caters to the underbelly of the Denver scene, providing tons of great bands with a stepping stone into the music world. As Russ Ranking from Only Crime put it, "Just when I think there's no new place in Denver to play, along comes another." And what better place to see No Use for a Name, a band that introduced me to punk rock?

The Larimer Lounge offers an intimate setting from the moment you walk in the door, (and it's 21+!). When we arrived, the PBR was already flowing heavily as Only Crime was setting up their equipment. As a proud member of the vinyl bandwagon, I was excited to see records for sale at the merch booth. And at a screaming deal. An Only Crime t-shirt and album would only set the starving punker back twenty big ones, leaving lots of cash leftover for more PBR.

As Only Crime took the stage, it became apparent to me that few attendees knew what they were about to witness. Only Crime is a sort of punk-rock supergroup with members who embody a rich history in the genre. Drummer Bill Stevenson, producer and former member of Descendents, All and Black Flag, is also co-founder of the epic recording studio, the Blasting Room, in Fort Collins, which plays host to Rise Against and NOFX among others. A few years ago, he joined force with Russ, former head-man of Good Riddance, in hopes to form a more active band. The duo has worked with members of Bane, Hagfish and GWAR to produce two raw, to-the-roots punk records that apparently Denver knows little about.

Back to the show. Although I am unfamiliar with their music, Only Crime never falls short of incredible. There are few heavy hitting punk groups that are actually decent live, and they take it to a new level. Onstage, this five man army keeps it relatively simple, making each instrument just as important as the next. They began their set with "Too Loose", moved on to guitar-heavy "Eyes of the World" and oldie "RJR", which contains very noticeable Descendents influences. Bassist Dan Kelly completed the set with his twangy levels on "Take Me", as Russ took his characteristic lunge position, leaving the small crowd satisfied and hungry for more.

Once Only Crime had exited the stage, people started trickling in from all directions, filling the floor within seconds with anxious onlookers. My tension grew as I didn't know what to expect from No Use. Last time I witnessed these Cali punks, their tempo was incredibly slow and they focused mainly on their pop-crap songs that introduced them to radio play. But when they started the set with "Invincible", all my concerns wilted away . The set continued with new tune "I Want to be Wrong", and drummer Rory Croft's masterpiece "On the Outside", in which the band actually stopped on cue as I have always wanted them to (go listen to the song, you will understand).

Before continuing their breakneck set (they crammed 17 songs into a mere 45 minutes), No Use broke down into some pop punk for the ladies. It was quite interesting to watch the male section of the crowd recede from the frontline, allowing their female counterparts to replace them. The girly side of me was thrilled to witness "Chasing Rainbows", followed closely with "Growing Down" and "Life Size Mirror". This trio of songs are a bit of a reality check, taking listeners out of their shoes to look at things from a different point of view. At least the ones that were paying attention.

After a Maiden cover and more More Betterness, No Use for a Name did what all bands should. Singer Tony Sly informed the crowd that instead of leaving the stage and returning for three more songs, they were just going to continue the set. Fuck the encore! Finally a band that understands that their thirty seconds of silence is a waste of my time (I'm running a tight schedule). This, in turn, makes the last few songs even more powerful. They delivered with newbie "The Biggest Lie", featuring tasty guitar licks (and facial expressions) from Dave Nassie and some crowd surfing by Tony. Only Crime's Russ was invited onstage for back up duty on "Fairytale of New York", a cover of Irish folkers The Pogues. As a perfect end to an amazing set, Tony lost the guitar and the band proceeded to destroy the crowd with "Feeding the Fire". I couldn't have asked for a more perfect finale. Nor a better set. No Use pleased every crowd member by playing at least one song from their many albums. This really was the feel good show of the year.

Like that shit? Here's more!
Descendents, All , Black Flag, Bane, Hagfish - featuring members of Only Crime
Tony Sly - Acoustic
Pulley and Face to Face - featuring No Use bassist Matt Riddle