Monday, August 16, 2010

Breaking News: Chicagoan's Laziness Creates Singularity... Sort Of

My brutal, soul-crushing summer of peanut-filled, candy-coated torture is finally over. I thought it was over at one point last month, but it seems that was just a moment's reprieve which my employers used to lull me into a false sense of complacency so that they could start the cycle of abuse anew, thus keeping my pain fresh and entertaining. Fuck you, candy factory. But no, really. It's seriously over now, and I can write long jumbles of awkwardly-formed sentences that nobody will ever read until I'm blue in the face! Oh... that sounds a lot less exciting in 12 point Georgia typeface.

Anyway, I was going somewhere with all this. Last month, when I was under the impression that the nonstop work-fest was over, I began writing about this badass show I went to. However, I am lazy. As a result, I put it off for a few days (that is to say I didn't want to do the very minor coding required to turn pictures into fancy picture-links, and so took a break from the whole thing), and then work unexpectedly started beating me mercilessly with a morning star for another month. So now we're going to pretend that the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has ripped a little hole in the fabric of time, and the effects of the teeny black hole have rippled from Geneva to the United States, declining in potency at the outer reaches of the affected area's diameter (incidentally, it is currently 1999 in France). You and I and all of everyone in the US have now been propelled backward in time to [gasp] August 13th, 2010. The people are strange, their customs unfamiliar, and their garb exotic. They speak in a tongue you barely understand. Can you survive as a living anachronism? CAN YOU?!? Probably.

Oh man, that was way harder than just changing what I wrote before to cause it to make some sense would have been. Somehow I always end up doing more work being lazy than if I actually try. There's probably a lesson to be learned somewhere hereabouts, but I'm not bright enough to figure out what it is, so... here's the stuff I wrote before:

Please excuse the long absence. My employers have been trying to kill me, southeast Asian sweatshop style. 35 days in a row, 70 hours a week for over two months? Though geography's never been my strongest subject, I was still a little surprised that I didn't realize Cambodia was located in the American Midwest. I need to work on being a bit more cosmopolitan... at least then I'll see my ass-rapes coming.

So speaking of things happening where you wouldn't expect them to happen, how about a "four hour death-march of surf music"... in Indiana? Sources say that two weekends ago there were a number of individuals in the small farming communities lying northwest of Indianapolis scratching their heads over countless guitar-shaped crop circles placed neatly between the windmills in the farmlands outside their houses. There have been reports of females with few teeth and loose morals becoming impregnated with fetuses which gestated, reached maturity and were birthed within twenty-four hours. Rumors that these fetuses came riding out of their mothers' birth canals on surfboards while wailing on Telecasters have not yet been confirmed. And a group of Indianapolis locals claim to have seen strange lights and heard otherworldly sounds emanating from The Melody Inn last Friday night. I am stepping forward, at great risk to my own safety, to proclaim to the world that the rumors are true. We have made contact with intelligent extraterrestrial lifeforms. On Friday, August 13th, 2010, The Space Cossacks landed in a cornfield in western Ohio, stowed their spacecraft in an abandoned barn, and teleported into The Melody Inn in Indianapolis, Indiana, whereupon they used a Cossackian Mind Melter (which they had cleverly disguised as a Fender Stratocaster) to melt my brain, scramble its remnants, then reassemble said remnants into an improved version of the original model. Strangely, they did not probe any anuses... I guess they decided to leave the rectal penetration to my employers, who have long since proven their competence in such matters.

Dubbed the "Indiana Surf Explosion," this seemed to me more like a "let's torture this poor guy by making him play for three hours" explosion. Ivan Pongracic is in THREE of the four bands that played on Friday, and he's no Lazy Daisy when it comes to composing and playing his music. Every song he played during his falange-punishing session of surf madness looked so difficult that following the movements of his fingers made my head hurt. I can't imagine what it would do to my soft, baby-like girl-fingers if I were to play that fast for that long. Congratulations, dude... your digits are made of diamond-encrusted granite.

Anyway, the first band to play was a Shadows tribute band called The Troubadours. If you don't know who The Shadows were (which you very well may not if you aren't into surf - they never really made much of a splash in the US), I strongly suggest clicking the album cover below.

Herein you will find experiments designed using early prototypes of Cossackian Mind Melters. Listen at your own risk. Neither I, nor the aliens who created this technology, can be held responsible for any injuries that you or those in your vicinity incur as a result of exposure to the reverb surf-rays that are emitted during this procedure. Pay extra special attention to "Prelude in E Major," because it's super fucking awesome. It's actually sort of the only reason I picked this album to post... it's kind of a spaghetti western-themed country/surf record, so it's probably the worst possible choice, as a matter of fact. However, the Italian/cowpoke feel of the record makes it one of my favorite records of all-time. But I digress...

So The Troubadours are a sort of father/son endeavor. Ivan Pongracic, Jr (lead guitarist of Madeira/The Space Cossacks) and his father, Ivan Pongracic, Sr play lead and rhythm guitar, respectively. This makes the Pongracic Jr's anachronistic love for classic surf (all of his bands seem to play in a style that pays homage to the surf kings of yore) a bit more understandable. Starting the show off with this kind of sound was a great idea. It really set the tone for the night, and for the remainder of the show, everyone seemed to be playing much closer attention to the musicianship being showcased than they otherwise might have. For pretty much the entire set, the crowd ate this shit up, and the whole band seemed to be really surprised by their reaction. The performance was a feel-good experience, aided by the fact that Pongracic Sr was clearly having a blast... I've never seen an old dude rock out so hard. Faithful renditions of The Shadows' songs, flawless musicianship and a goofy, this-is-all-about-having-fun attitude made this segment of the "Surf Explosion" much more entertaining than I expected. I'll be keeping an eye out for Troubadours shows now.

Next up was the only band that didn't involve any Ivan Pongracics whatsoever.

Named after a short promotional cartoon created for the American Petroleum Institute in 1956, Destination: Earth! are sort of like the Gwar of spacey surf-rock. They play heavy, loud music in crazy alien-astronaut costumes... helmets with visors, fingerless gloves, spiky shoulder pads, the whole nine yards. They also have curious stage names: 7-Zark-7, RSDW40 and Raider-X. The singer's stage name is taken from a comic book I used to read when I was a kid called "Battle of the Planets." More accurately, it was taken from the cartoon that the comic was based on. 7-Zark-7 was a robot who sort of served as the narrator of the show.

The other two members' stage names are totally unfamiliar to me, but I would imagine there is a very nerdy explanation for them somewhere on the Internet. I missed most of their show due to some issues I was having with a tee shirt (none of your business), but I did catch the first ten minutes or so, and it was pretty badass. It sort of didn't fit with the rest of the night though. They shared the stage with some pretty dedicated musicians, and I don't know if their playing was quite up-to-snuff. Though I missed about two-thirds of the show, so I very well could have been absent for some of the "oh shit" moments that make bands like The Space Cossacks seem like such a big deal. Regardless, I will keep this band in mind when I'm bin-diggin'. Pretty decent stuff when not compared to the forces of fucking nature they played with at the Melody Inn. I was, however, disappointed by the fact that at no time during what I caught of the show did they say "Thank you for that unsolicited testimonial," after people applauded. See for an explanation of that reference. Other than that, no complaints. But the most important thing about this band as far as I'm concerned is that the bassist bears a striking resemblance to Lucius Malfoy of Harry Potter mythology.

See?? Every time I see the dude, I picture him swatting at a shivering, sobbing house elf... at one point during the show, I think I even yelled "You leave Dobby alone!" Fucking Death Eaters in surf bands... what's a Muggle to do? Some samples of the intergalactic version of Gwar:

Destination: Earth! - Running Out Of Limits
Destination: Earth! - Adventures In Newspace

Next up was the reason I dragged my overworked, overtired, irritable ass out to the car and drove three and a half hours to Indianapolis... the mighty Space Cossacks.

Though I missed the beginning of the show (tee shirt thing again), I caught the songs I came to see. Their performance of "Tsar Wars" (see shitty video below) made my night.

If only this band were reuniting for keeps. I would love to see them again. I talked to rhythm guitarist Mark English while I was pillaging their merch table, and he told me that this reunion tour went so well that they may do another next year, so I may be taking another surf pilgrimage pretty soon. He also told me that the band had only practiced three (count 'em, three) times before playing this tour due to the formidable distances currently separating the band members' homes (we're talking different time zones here). Considering how spot-on the performance was, I kind of had a stroke when he said that.

This was one of those rare occasions where someone who completely missed the boat on a great band got to see them live AFTER the break-up. Big deal for me. It's Lifter Puller's turn now.

Last up was The Madeira. I didn't even know that Ivan Pongracic had another band until we saw them play at the end of this show. I was expecting more classic-style surf, but I was way off base. This is some weird stuff here. It's like classical Arabic surf, if there could be such a thing. They use a lot of double harmonic scales and the like (sort of Egyptian-sounding stuff for any non-music geeks that might be reading this) and it gives the whole thing a sort of nomadic, desert-wandering kind of feel.

Furthering this whole Middle-Eastern atmosphere is the fact that they convey a lot of imagery and mood through their song titles (at least on their latest record, Carpe Noctem - I don't know much about their older stuff yet). For instance, the track "The Saracen"; Saracen is a word that was once used in Rome to refer to people who lived in the deserts on the outskirts of Syria. So now as you listen to this song, you imagine a guy standing on a sand dune with his head swaddled in cloth, the ends blowing in the wind, his visage obfuscated by a cloud of sand, and you're feeling a bit more connected to the desert-world that this record lives in. But it's not all crazy sandy weirdness. There's still a definite loyalty to classic surf, as evidenced by their song entitled "Surf Fidelis". Fidelis is the Latin word for loyalty, so I would guess this song is about loyalty to his musical roots (pure conjecture, absolutely no facts to back that up - though Fidelis is the Latin word for loyalty). And that song does sound a lot like a Space Cossacks song, so I guess the title suits it pretty well. Another song on this record, "Tangaroa," sounds like some straight-up sixties surf rock. I could swear I've heard this song before from an actual sixties surf band, but nothing's coming... if anyone knows what I'm talking about, leave a comment. I just can't place it. There's also a song called "El Fiaco" on Carpe Noctem which, depending on whether you're speaking in proper Spanish or in Spanish slang, could mean either "The Skinny Man" or "The Piss". For purposes of self-entertainment, I choose to believe that they intended to convey explanation number two here. <-- I know there's a joke in there somewhere, but as I said before, I am a very lazy man.

In addition to all of the aforementioned badassery, a lot of the progressions are quite like 60's progressive rock... a bunch of Emerson, Lake & Powell style stuff going on there (note the difference between the names "Powell" and "Palmer"... I'm not that stupid). Like how the band plays with the capabilities of their instruments, for example. In the song "SOS (Stomp On Stomp)", there's this growling going on at one point, and you can tell it's a guitar, but just barely. There were times during the show where I wasn't sure which amp the weird noises were coming from because they didn't match either guitarist's hand movements. But the most important thing I would like to point out about this band is their diversity. They play a huge array of different styles, and somehow find a way to make it all sound like it belongs on the same record. This band deserves more attention than it will ever get, and that makes me sad. Do yourself (and them) a favor and catch a show if they ever come through your town. It's worth whatever pittance they'll be charging at the door.

The show ended with a really weird surprise, and it was a great way to finish things off. After The Madeira played their last song, the other members of The Space Cossacks got on-stage to play a song with the members of The Madeira. Two bassists, three guitarists and two drummers. It was like Slipknot surf rock, except not as shitty as that sounds. Sliprock? Surfknot? I took a video of the performance, but it was super shitty, so I'm using the one taped by the venue instead. See below for an experiment that probably should have failed, but kicked ass anyway.

Look at that shit! It's like an evil surf army. I was intimidated and elated and a lot of other things that end in "ated" all at once. A little bit of what you missed when you didn't go to this amazing fucking show:

The Madeira - Tangaroa

The Madeira - The Saracen

The Madeira - El Flaco

I was going to post pictures of all the pretty records I bought at the show (two were clear, one was purple, and the other was red), but:

A.) I couldn't find my camera.

B.) Nobody would care anyway.

So I'm going to skip that part for now. I may come back and add it in later.

Okay, so I'm seriously back to doing this on a regular basis now. Next week, I'm going to see FUCKING LIGHTNING BOLT. There's no way that's not going to be fun to write about. I think I need to do some drugs before I go. Can you still get Benzedrine? On a related note, there's a good chance I'll still be pretty high when I'm writing about the show, so you should probably come back and check out the train-wreck that results. Now get the fuck off of my blog. Nobody invited you.