Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Live from Rock Camp edition

Today I'm blogging live from the second session of Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, in beautiful downtown Brooklyn! Instruments are being wielded, bands are coalescing, and music is being made, people! And, perhaps most importantly: about 100 girls, ages 8 - 18, are being transformed into confident, outspoken, bold young women. It truly is an amazing sight to behold.

And for some reason, it all reminds me of one of my favorite songs when I was a kid. They were a little before my time, but when I was a young girl of 8 or 9-ish, I was a big fan of The Go-Gos. How could you not love a band of five hot girls with rad '80s style, who seemed like the flirty bad girls from your local high school?

So today, in honor of Rock Camp, we present The Go-Gos' 1982 hit single, "We Got the Beat".

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hump Day Treat, a la français Edition

I was perusing the reviews section of the recent issue of Bust magazine (with Diablo Cody on the cover), when I ran across a short, positive write-up on a new record from a French band called The Plastiscines. Intrigued, I youtubed them, and this live cover was the first thing I found. I just couldn't resist posting it:

We all know and love Nancy Sinatra's classic kiss off song, but what about the Plastiscines? What does their music sound like? According to Bust they "self-identify as garage rock." Judge for yourself:

The shout-spoken vocals, despite being in English, aren't entirely clear, but luckily the gritty, distorted guitars and tight rhythms speak for themselves. (Also helpful is that these women are fluent in the international language of Stylish.) So sweep on some thick eyeliner and waterproof mascara, tease up your hair, and get down with the unbearably cool Plastiscines on this thunder-y hump day!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Such a tees.

Yesterday I engaged in an activity that for me is unprecedented in its overt 'femmey'-ness: I went around the corner to the local salon for a little mani/pedi.

While waiting for a beautician to start working on my nails, I paged absent-mindedly through some celebrity gossip magazine. I didn't quite recognize a lot of the people in the photos, and so the headlines about scandals involving diet plans, adultery, and adoptions didn't really move me.

But here's what got my attention: photos of Kristen Stewart at Comic Con, wearing a Minor Threat t-shirt. Minor Threat?! I incredulously wondered to myself. Really? I experienced a split second of elation, yes -- Kristen Stewart listens to Minor Threat, FUCK YES! -- which gave way to judgment, cyncism, and scorn. Like she even knows who Minor Threat is. Chyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.

Kristen Stewart, looking t-u-f-f tough in her Minor Threat tee, with some guys. (Who are those random dudes? Fans or something?)

And then I regretted it. Because it occurred to me that whenever I see a young, pretty girl, especially an actress, sporting a t-shirt of any decent band, I assume that she doesn't know the band. Why do I do that? I don't think anyone ever questions it when a guy wears a band shirt. Why the double standard?

The better question might be, why do we wear band t-shirts? And maybe the right place to start is at home: I myself have quite the collection of band t-shirts. I like t-shirts, they're comfortable, and they're a great way to support a band. I try to only buy shirts at actual shows, because that way the proceeds go directly to the artist. T-shirts are also an important means of signaling your musical tastes, not only to others, but for yourself. Your band t-shirt is a declaration of your appreciation for a band, and also of your choice to wear a t-shirt rather than, say, a three piece suit, or a tube top.

Band shirts seem neutral, but are in fact very gendered (and also classed) articles of clothing. The fair-skinned, heterosexual, overtly feminine, middle class standards of womanhood and girlhood, do not involve band t-shirts. Such women and girls are rarely presented in such casual clothing -- they are expected to wear dresses, skirts, blouses, and other garments with decorative buttons and lace and ruffles. Women are their professional/office and formal attire, just as a younger women are their trendy, not-really formal, but not really relaxed, 'misses' section outfits.

And if you do see a girl in a band t-shirt, particularly as represented in film or television, she's sleeping, doing housework (like Jennifer Garner in Juno pictured below), depressed, or 'punk'.

Heaven beside you: Jennifer Garner paints nurseries in her (husbands?) band shirts!

But that's it, right there -- such a t-shirt often signals that a girl is punk, or at the very least, 'different'. Anyone remember Peyton on the early seasons of One Tree Hill? Who didn't fall in love with her and her devotion to her favorite bands, and her numerous band t-shirts? (I maintain that in real life, Peyton's taste would actually be much better, and much edgier, but I guess it's the point and not the vernacular.) Peyton is 'the rebel' on that program, as directly contrasted with Brooke, her stylish bff, who never wore any kind of t-shirt, though I wished she would.

In 'real life', band t-shirts seem to mean the same thing: a girl or young woman who wears band shirts on a regular basis, is bucking gender conventions, by wearing an article that is designed for men. And if she's taken the time to modify the t-shirt, tailoring, altering, or even just cutting it and transforming its dude silhouette into a garment that is more flattering to her figure, even better.

Or, you hope, anyways. The paradox is that as an article of clothing, t-shirts are inherently superficial. A girl in a band t-shirt could be a total radical, or she could just be wearing t-shirt. Women are assumed to be superficial, and because it's been feminized, fashion is assumed to be superficial as well. No one bothers to consider that women's choices of clothing, from t-shirts and jeans to ballgowns, are deliberately made, based on the individual's grasp on how clothing is produced, where it comes from, and what it means socially. Women and girls' sartorial behavior is automatically written off as irrelevant and frivolous.

So in the same spirit of bucking convention, I'm going to refrain from making assumptions about Kristen Stewart and her clothes and musical tastes. Because wearing band t-shirts is meaningful to me, and it's just one way of declaring that women are part of bands, shows, and the music industry, too. I have to believe this, despite the stereotypes and generalizations. I have to have faith, based on my own experience, that not every girl in a band t-shirt is just wearing something she found in her boyfriend's dresser drawer.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reunited, and It Feels So Good: Each Other's Mothers at Silent Barn, 8/2/09

In what I've come to think of as typical Mother's fashion, Each Other's Mothers played a reunion show this past Sunday that wasn't really about them. Instead, it was about their friends, fellow bands, and community, and was a celebration not so much of their regrouping, but of the DIY ethos that made the show possible. Apparent long-time friends Taigaa and Algernon Cadwallader, as well as out-of-towners Songs for Moms, filled out the bill, and Silent Barn, located in Ridgewood on the Queens side of Wyckoff Avenue, provided the site for what might turn out to be the show of the summer.

Taigaa opened the show with their suggestively rhythmic, bass-heavy jams. An experimental trio featuring keyboards and bass as well as percussion and synthesized drums, Taigaa has a pleasingly schizophrenic sound. Cold, robotic synth sounds clash against a warm and sensual 'real' instruments. The result, on Sunday night at least, was a surprisingly successful and undeniably sexy techno jazz that sets Taigaa apart as true originals, and as a Band to Watch.

Songs for Moms of San Francisco, who loudly and joyfully answer the question "What if Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two sounded more like That Dog?" with their wild combination of crooning harmonies, country-style guitar picking, bouncing basslines, and fast crashing breaker percussion, played their rockabilly-goes-surfing style songs about love, loss, and gender to a receptive crowd. SFM got everyone in Silent Barn moving, and got the floorboards shaking.

The penultimate Algernon Cadwallader stood out on Sunday night as the only band on the bill with male musicians. An all-guy band from Philadelphia, AG plays deceptively simple songs reminiscent of the old Mid-western Polyvinyl sound. They sound accessible at first, until tricky guitar work and marching percussion takes an unexpected turn or swerve into dissonant harmonies that disorient you for long instrumental passages that right themselves before the tune's end. AG sounded to me like musical pointilism: it made more sense, and was more enjoyable after I learned to stand back and 'see' the whole picture.

By the time Each Other's Mothers played, Silent Barn's performance area was unbearably hot and stuffy, and the entire place was charged with anticipation. Excitement over the band's reunion was palpable. But it still wasn't really about them -- EOM graciously thanked the 'staff' at Silent Barn, the other bands, and the audience, and guitarists Rachel and Kathi commented on the importance of DIY all-ages venues. It was a refreshingly
non-self-aggrandizing reunion set.

EOM is a difficult band to review, mostly because it's hard to stand still and simply observe their performances -- the building momentum and waves of kinetic energy coming from all four musicians makes it impossible to not dance at least a little bit. (Anyone remember that Miami Sound Machine song "The Rhythm is Gonna Get You"? That about sums it up.) This past Sunday at Silent Barn was no exception. You wouldn't know that the band just came off of a long, and almost permanent hiatus; their bold, lithe instrumental compositions sound fresh and (post?)modern.

An old video of Each Other's Mothers that doesn't in any way, shape, or form begin to do them or their live show justice.

There's something about EOM and their music that's hard to pin down, and I suspect that this is deliberate. Their light, but never flimsy music is never too heavy, nor is it ever too thin -- it's a just right combination of intertwining lead guitars, bass undertones, and solid, but never overbearing percussion. Harmonically, their songs don't sound quite major, and they don't sound quite minor, either -- they refuse to be one or the other. EOM's songs develop quickly, and organically, and they take key and tempo changes that sound arbitrary. In other words, it sounds like the songs change when they feel like it. The songs don't explain themselves; they just are. And in this context, the shouts of "Extra, extra, read all about it!", the only vocals in any of the songs EOM played on Sunday, sounded willful and defiant, like a dare to scrutinize and attempt to label their music.

But no one was labeling Each Other's Mothers on Sunday night. From what I saw, everyone fortunate enough to be at Silent Barn that night was too busy having a good time.

Silent Barn -- at myspace
Taigaa -- at myspace or their official site
Songs for Moms -- at myspace or their official site
Algernon Cadwallader -- at myspace or on their official site
Each Other's Mothers -- at myspace

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Fallen Comrades Edition

I've had a few weeks to deal with it, but I'm still bummed: at Rock Camp last month, I got the incidental news that one of my very favorite local bands, Cheeky, "isn't really playing anymore," from a former member. I'm going out on a limb here and assuming that "isn't really playing anymore" is a euphemistic way of saying that the band broke up.

Maybe 'broke up' is too strong a way of putting it. "Break up" implies that a deliberate decision was made by the band to stop working together. It also implies that there was some concrete entity, a working, functioning, and frankly ass-kicking thing to break. I don't know how the band made the decision to stop playing, so I can't say whether it's a real 'break up' in the traditional sense.

I've noticed that in this particular community, this 'scene' if you will, bands don't really 'break up'. Bands come and go, projects start and stop, and everyone kind of plays with everyone. When one of these bands stops playing, it's not this big thing, because everyone knows that new bands, new projects, and new music will come from it. There's something almost refreshing about this zen-like, anti-ego approach to making music.

But I sometimes worry about the lack of documentation of these bands. A band doesn't have to be together very long to make an impact (see the Sex Pistols for proof of this). I can't tell you how often I go to see local bands, I go to these great shows, and all I want is for other people who can't be there to have some access to this music. And, I want the people in the bands, some of whom I'm usually acquainted with, to receive some recognition, even if they aren't playing to get noticed.

To that end, today I post one of the handful of videos of Cheeky as today's Hump Day Treat. Turn up the volume, click play, rock out, and just think of all the amazing stuff these kids are going to do next on this humid hump day.

Hear more at Cheeky's myspace, where you can also find out how to order their Choke on a Cheeseburger 7" Wanna see more? Look up Cheeky on Just A Visual, an awesome site dedicated to documenting the New York and New Jersey scenes.