Sunday, April 23, 2023

Piss and Bacon: Sleaford Mods and FEAR upstaged by a) Gustaf and b) the Dayglos

Gustaf by bev davies, not to be re-used without permission. Check out the gravity-defying bassist...

Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods, April 20, 2023, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Sleaford Mods probably truly are a great band (if  you can call them a "band" - it is interesting how they challenge the conventional notion, but if you have a charismatic-enough frontman, do you really need to see a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer?). Trouble is, I don't understand them well enough to be able to evaluate them. I like some of what they do, for sure - but I figure I'm running at about a 30% uptake in terms of lyrical meaning, on average, when it comes to songs I have heard by them; I understand 70-80% of "Kebab Spider" or "D.I.Why," say, but that's balanced by several songs I get 10% or less of. Often there'll be a single potent image that lingers - the piss-and-bacon factor, say - coupled with  a few cunts and fucks, and that will be about all I get, other than the general mood of derision and complaint and the sarcastic tone of Jason Williamson's delivery. I mean, there's also Andrew Fearn's minimal, if often hooky, music, but, like, the music clearly isn't the draw, is it? You didn't go see Ian Dury for the Blockheads. And this is doubly so for a Sleaford Mods concert, because no one is even PLAYING that music, live, it's just a recording and Fearn dancing. 

So why did the Sleaford Mods nearly sell out the Commodore? There were more people in the venue last Thursday than for the fucking "all-original-members" Gang of Four reunion I was at awhile back, for chrissake. Was the mostly young crowd mostly British? Did they actually understand something about the Mods' lyrics on a level much deeper than I did? They sure seemed to be enjoying themselves, and occasionally seemed to be "singing" along with Williamson, which I guess means they at least felt a connection to his words. For me, half the time he might have been singing them in Esperanto, for all the sense I could make of them.  

Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Like, take "Tory Kong," for instance, off their newest LP, UK Grim. I get there's a King Kong reference in there, with the chant of the natives in the original version of King Kong crossed with a common term for conservatives; and that the island that the singer doesn't want to visit is not Skull Island, but the UK. Dense, clever, potent: piss and bacon, check: Williamson is rejecting an atavism he perceives in conservatives, a backwardness in male attitudes towards women. Okay, gotcha. But who is Kong signifying, exactly? If it's Boris Johnson or some other male politician, why does it begin with what one presumes is some sort of quoted barb at a female? Is that a reference, perhaps, to a specific conversation that somehow made the news in the UK, or...? "She's never worked... he does it all." I can't imagine the attitudes in the opening are Williamson's, but IS there a conservative woman who hasn't worked? (It's not Liz Truss, she's held jobs before...). Probably not; probably it's some other female public figure that has been abused thus, and Williamson is seizing upon it as a pretext for a song, whether we get the specifics or not. Maybe people in the UK don't know what he's talking about, either, here?

Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

So maybe I understand more than I think I do, and have all that I need - all that's available to be understood - but why is there then a poke at Midge Ure, and what does it mean to "Midge Ure" someone? ("Midge Ure'd ya, so did I"). Williamson uses the man's name as a verb, because as we all know, verbing weirds language; that's clever but - did someone hand out decoder rings before the show and forget to give me one? Or do I just not pay enough attention to Midge Ure? About the only thing I know he's done in the last 30 years is to play the Rickshaw a couple of times; if he's been in the news, I've missed it. Now we have the reverse issue: I know WHO Williamson is taking a poke at, unlike with the first verse, but not the meaning of the poke.

 And then... "suns out, yeah, guns out," which apparently is an idiom for showing off your biceps, though in the context of a political rant, this seems to mean something more, but from about this point on, I'm lost.

You think results come out ya arse
They fall out of the sky
Sun's out, yea, guns out
Make 'em pay at 9:05 on morning news
My baby's got the blues
You ever thought about leaving her then?
I'm always deeper, I don't know why

Sleaford Mods by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

It's like the lyrics are stitched together from the day's news in a country I don't live in, as reported in a newspaper I don't read, written in a dialect I don't speak, by someone who doesn't care if he's understood by me or not, with in-jokes and references zipping by me on the left and right (but mostly over my head). I did better with Joyce's Ulysses, even, because there I could at least tell what the references were references to - some piece of classical literature or religious ceremony or whatever; I didn't understand the specifics, but at least I could classify'em a little, and here, I can't even do that. What's this about the morning news? Was there a shooting rampage that he's alluding to? Do people even do that in Britain? What does that have to do with showing your biceps off? Do all these people in the Commodore cheering and dancing and so forth have any fucking clue (more than I do, anyhow) about what Williamson is saying, here, and if not, in the absence of that understanding, WHY THE HELL DO THEY ENJOY IT? Is it because he seems to MEAN what he says, even if he doesn't make that meaning penetrable to a non-Brit? Is it because he punctuates it with fun birdlike squawks - he reminds me of an annoyed Fred Frith, when he does that - and colourful profanity and fist bumps to the audience? (He definitely has charisma, I'll give him that). Is it because there are piquant explosions of misty saliva when he delivers a particularly biting lyric, which catch the light and then fall? (I've never been as aware of spit-spray at a show; he's Mr. Plosive, and it was kind of beautiful watching the droplets catch the light as they hung in mid-air for a second). There are about five songs of the Sleaford Mods I feel like I have a pretty firm handle on ("D.I.Why," for example - one of two songs I shot a clip of here) and a whole bunch that just exclude me utterly, some of which are actually musically catchy and songlike enough that I don't mind not understanding (I actually don't really understand "Tied Up in Nottz," say, but I do like it). Could this be a case of the emperor's new t-shirt and track pants? WERE those track pants he was wearing? They seemed loose and comfy, in any case, and inclined to slip. I think we saw his ginch a couple times. 

Hell, maybe I'm just not cool enough. I've never felt as mystified at a live show, less by the band than the audience, and while I kind of enjoyed that mystification, if someone out there DOES have a decoder ring they can mail me - some website where Williamson's lyrical references are unpacked, for example, a Sleaford Mods for Dummies - I sure would appreciate it. I did, in fact, pay $35 for the Sleaford Mods' new record, and I do plan to listen to it and scratch my head some more, and could use some pointers as to what the songs on it are about. They're an Important New Development in Punk Rock, right? I get why they are critical darlings but most bands that are don't also have audiences this big. Is it just that Brits make better use of the word "cunt" than we do - is THAT a draw? Is someone really clever in how they're marketing this band? Why is this band a phenomenon here?


Gustaf by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Granted, I didn't understand Gustaf's lyrics, either - I somehow thought "Best Behaviour" was a cynical commentary on giving blowjobs, though I can't back that up with anything - but the hooks were way hookier and the singer, Lydia Gammill, was REALLY entertaining to watch, doing things like sprinting off one end of the stage and re-entering on the other side, which she must have practiced and timed before the show, because she'd come back round just in time to get back to the mic and get the next line of lyrics in. She also occasionally hit herself in the face, gesticulated expressively, had more than just a loud birdlike squawk in her bag of vocal effects, and seemed to want to crawl out of her clothing, though not in a sexualized way. She put all sorts of emotion and movement into her performance, seemed like a really quirky original, with a great voice and a real ENGAGEMENT with her audience - her eyes locked in on ours and made the fun SHE was having up there infectious as hell.  

And hey, look, there's an ACTUAL BAND ON STAGE! You can watch their music being made LIVE! (Very entertaining indeed in terms of the gal, Tarra Thiessen, who was dancing and providing distorted background vocals, the one with the triangle and plastic pigs and such. My buddy Will, who'd gotten me out to the show, laughed when he realized that the thing next to her was NOT a keyboard, "it's just a bunch of shit on a table!" Which I hadn't cottoned onto myself, at that point). Why weren't the Sleaford Mods opening for Gustaf? That might have made more sense to me (of the two clips I've linked above, they've gotten about eight times the attention so far, 282 views to the Mods' 36, as I write; that actually makes perfect sense, but only because there's probably a lot more competition for Mods content out there). I'd snapped up the opportunity to go to a show and bought the albums by both bands, but of the two, it's Gustaf I'd go see again.  

Oh, I haven't said a lick about their music, have I? Do you know the Bush Tetras? Sounds quite similar in ways, with a bit of dance-party-mode Talking Heads flavour at times; I wonder if it's stuff their parents were into, or maybe involved in? Gustaf's album, Audio Drag for Ego Slobs has already been on my turntable, but UK Grim has not, as yet.

Erika digs it too. More on Gustaf here

Gustaf by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Then there's FEAR. I got to chat with a certain former member of FEAR who was in town recently - I'll leave his name out of this; he's not on The Record, and he didn't speak on the record, either, so I guess it would be unfair to single him out  - during which chat he offered the observation that Lee was now 78 years old; Wikipedia says Lee is 72, so I was gonna go with that and assume this guy, genius musician he may be, was just wrong... and then I saw FEAR live. Unlike what one of my less welcome commenters sometimes asserts, I have no desire to be ageist, don't think that there's anything wrong with being older - as a 54 year old, I'd be in trouble if I did - and have to admit that Lee's voice is AMAZINGLY good for someone in his 70s; there were some really fun flourishes that he added to "Beef Bologna," for example. But, y'know, this wasn't our grandad's FEAR we were seeing at the Commodore. Lee's former menace and hostility and tough-guy image, and the barbed insults directed at the crowd that were almost his trademark in the 1980s, have been replaced by telling the audience how much he loved us and how great we were (the impact of which was somewhat diminished when it turned out that he thought he was in LA; he also seems to have thought this was his first time in Vancouver, which was repeatedly asserted in the online advertising, though FEAR has been here at least twice before, apparently, once at the Starfish Room in the 1990's and once somewhere else - at least I've seen a ticket stub for a different location). From the moment he walked onstage, it seemed like he had a fair degree of just basic difficulty moving around, which he didn't do a whole lot of while he sang; and though their setlist was almost the same as recent shows in California, there sure had to a be a fair bit of discussion around the drum kit about which song they were going to play next (sadly, "Responsibility," the song I was most hoping to see, and the song that would best suit Lee's self-presentation - like you were getting a lecture from your punk rock granddad - got the axe). At one point, Lee was trying to be expressive and theatrical with his moves, clutching his chest and throat and staggering like he was wounded, and I couldn't tell if he was performing or not, thought for a minute or two that he might just topple over. I'm glad the Vogue was packed, glad I got to see them - I would have kicked myself to have missed it - but I also was expecting a much more visceral and memorably hostile performance. As things were, there was a fair disjunct between Lee's lyrics ("piss on your warm embrace/ I just want to cum in your face," which is up there as one of the nastier lyrics to live on a record in my collection) and his between-song exhortations about how wonderful we are. "Vegas," a friend of mine quipped, derisively noting the appropriateness of the choice of exit music - Sinatra's "My Way," not even the Sid Vicious version, which I presume was meant as a bit of witticism from the house DJ, who'd noticed the same thing: "What a great audience! I love you guys!" 

Yeah, right. And here I had deliberately worn pink, intending to bait Lee, maybe get called a fag or something, so I could open my mouth and bite back. (I disapprove of their homophobia and was entirely willing to confront it and challenge it, if given the opportunity. It would have been too easy just to wear black).

Matt Fiorito and Murray Action of the Dayglo Abortions, April 21 2023, by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

Blind Marc of the Dayglo Abortions by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission 

While clearly they revered FEAR and had no desire to upstage anyone, the Dayglo Abortions (next playing with Random Killing and Motorama at the Waldorf on May 6th) kinda blew them off the stage, I thought. They also outdid themselves: I've seen the Dayglos four times this year, so far, having loved Hate Speech so much (Matt tells me THERE WILL BE VINYL SOON, btw - it is pressed and should be available by the next time they play in town). But this was the best set of the year, that I've experienced. Between Murray's cancer diagnosis and whatever pressure opening for a band as legendary as FEAR brings, they really brought their A-game to the show (the mosh pit was rowdier for the Dayglos, too, I thought, though more people crowd-surfed for FEAR, it seemed). Here's a clip of "White People" and "Scared of People" that I shot... Murray, responding to the weird comment there about plagiarism, has said on FB that he is "sure all Dayglo fans are aware that I didn't actually write the guitar solo for 'Whole Lotta Love' [which the opening licks in the 'White People' solo reference] and the solo in 'White People' is my attempt to sound as white as my white ass can be, so I spoofed the solo in 'Free Bird.' On top of that there is a Black Sabbath riff somewhere on every single Dayglo album (purely to acknowledge one of my biggest influences.... Banksy hahahaha get it?)"... I had thought the solo had some familiar parts but hadn't pegged what these bits reminded me of and love the song even more now - proof that a guitar solo can have a sense of humour!

And no, folks, deliberately and overtly quoting a lick for humorous intent is NOT plagiarism...

Billy Bones of the Vicious Cycles MC by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

I was happy to see the Vicious Cycles MC again, too, and to see that they have re-included "A Tiger in the Night" in their set, after having been apparently kind of traumatized to learn that my wife had heard the central lyric as "attack her with a knife." (Sorry to rub that in, guys, but I actually think it's really funny - ignore me; it's a good song!). They're actually really sweet, nice guys, for a punk rock motorcycle club, though it was fun that Rob got a laugh out of the audience by asking the lighting guy to turn up the lights, at one point, so he could see us, then quipping something about how fucking ugly we were, an uncharacteristic bit of rudeness that would have fit just perfectly with the audience-abusing FEAR of yore, but in fact ended up the only barb at our expense the whole evening. Who'da thunk, the politest band of the night would say the rudest thing? (FEAR lyrics notwithstanding). 

Anyhow, it was funny, and kudos to Ben Frith - presumably unrelated to Fred Frith - for repping the absent DOA via his t-shirt.

Ben Frith of the Vicious Cycles MC by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

My strangest audience encounter of the evening was with a guy with a spiky Mohawk and tons of punk patches who sat in front of me and let a stream of politically-themed invective about surveillance, digital IDs, and Trudeau, not seeming to realize he was hitting mostly right-wing talking points, ending up saying how we should just should dissolve the government, or something: "We don't need them, we know how to do everything, it would be great for the economy, and then we'd all be driving around in Bugattis and Ferraris," all of which I just nodded and smiled at until he came to his conclusion: "I mean, I'm not a racist," he said, straight-facedly - not realizing there is no phrase more effective when it comes to getting a big red arrow to point down on your head with the word "racist" in boldface above it - "but that would take care of the Hindu thing too, because they're all driving around in their Trans Ams and they can't beat a Bugatti. It would be, like, natural selection," whereupon I said "Jesus Christ" and laughed in his face and rolled my eyes, because, I mean, what else could I do?

He stopped talking and left, then, for which I deeply thank him. 

I mean, maybe I am being unfair, here. Lee sure can sing - that was undiminished; and rude as his lyrics are, at times, politically incorrect as they are, they're great postcards from a different time and place, and it's refreshing to get some uncensored, unapologized-for in-your-face rudeness in this hypervigilant, hyperconsiderate day and age. I kinda hated seeing X alter "feel retarded" to "feel so stupid" in a clip I saw of "Nausea," and so worried that FEAR might follow suit. If he'd altered a single line - "give guns to the queers," "New York's all right if you're a homosexual," etc - I'd've been steamed, because there'd just be no point, then; a 'politically correct FEAR" would be an oxymoron. In fact, to my surprise, I could see happy punk girls dancing and singing along to "The Mouth Don't Stop (The Trouble with Women Is)," which I also don't really understand but found amusing.  And the band - also including Spit Stix on drums - were great, too. very tight. Was the new guitarist Eric Razo? Some real fun licks there. There's a new FEAR single, covering Australia's Rose Tattoo; maybe there will be an album, even...? Really, I'm glad I went. It just was NOT what I'd expected. 

Murray "the Cretin" Action of the Dayglo Abortions, April 21 2023, by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

Ah well! Hope the Dayglos got some new fans out of it. (And I hope Joe Keithley is doing alright after his operation - he has a new solo album in stores now, by the by). 

Note: FEAR had a complicated contract that limited photographers' use of their images, and I want to put this article up ASAP, so I'm not posting any pics of them here, so we don't have to get permission. I have photos of my own, some not bad, but I don't want to screw anything up for Bob. They also might not like the writing I've done much, either (but unlike the photographers, I signed no contracts, and I paid for my admission, so I'm callin' it like I see it). Best just not to ask. 

So it goes.

FEAR audience by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission
See the Dayglos on tour across Canada!

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