The Rocks Off 200: Punk-Rock "Newcomers" Screech of Death

Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the original Rocks Off 100 at this link.

Photos courtesy of J.R. Delgado/Screech of Death
Screech of Death (L-R): J.R. Delgado, Lisafer, Arthur Hayes
Who? The annual Sk8 & Rock concert series at Fourth Ward's Lee & Joe Jamail Skate Park circles some of the biggest red-letter days on Houston's punk-rock calendar. For five years now, local bands have cranked out their rowdiest tunes while skaters from all over -- a number that can reach into the hundreds -- practice their craft at a facility that "reinvented vertical pipe-ramp skateboarding," as one of the event's organizers, Barry Blumenthal, told Rocks Off last year.

Dedicated to late Devo guitarist/keyboardist Bob Casale, the series' 2014 season begins this Saturday, and playing one of their first shows (alongside Austin's Biscuit Bombs and Houston vets Talk Sick Brats) will be the righteously named Screech of Death, a relatively new "midtempo old-school punk" combination of two Texas punk warriors and one L.A. import. The Californian is Lisafer, Screech of Death's lead singer and bassist, whose impressive rap sheet includes hitches with storied goth-punks 45 Grave, D.I., Nina Hagen and most recently Snapper, which also featured Rikk Agnew of the Adolescents.

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10 Great Lost '80s Punk Bands

Photo by Jay Francis
Legionaire's Disease Band
Ah, punk rock. No matter how many times declare its demise, it just keeps coming back upon us. Right now, Houston's underground scene is bubbling over with talent and the influence of the '80s scene is going strong. Underground bands are getting resurrected by 7-inch collectors, and the look going forward seems to be looking back.

In the midst of all that, it might be time to explore some of the more underrated bands of the time. Some were influential, some just outright forgotten, but there were so many people kicking ass in this genre at the time that it was hard to keep up. These aren't your Black Flags or your Misfits, but are worth remembering all the same.

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Against Me! at Fitzgerald's, 3/16/2014

Photos by David Ensminger
Against Me!
March 16, 2014

Formula is often the death knell of bands that stick too close to a template that wears thin as a soggy cracker after a decade. Luckily, Against Me!, who helped ignite the world's interest in Gainesville, Fla., has run the gamut from loose-knit, post-Fugazi hoarse punk singalongs to tight-as-hell musical populism contextualized by abundant tattoos, smart-ass stabs at left-wing clich├ęs and conformity, evocative and explorative narratives, as well as hook-infested, fiery, TNT-powered pop.

Whereas mainstream punk bands that sign to major labels often end up over-cooked, bland, banal, faceless and embalmed, Against Me! stuck to their guns and abandoned ship after hitting No. 34 on the Billboard charts and releasing two well-honed records that did seem a bit comfy with slick studio production, thanks to uber-alternative rocker/producer Butch Vig. Once free, they jump-started their own studio, Elkton, and DIY label, Total Treble Music, while witnessing the transformation of former sandpaper-voiced singer Tom Gabel into the alluring and potent Laura Jane Grace.

The band's emotive new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, now featuring a rhythm section retrofitted by former members of Rocket from the Crypt (Herculean drummer Atom Willard) and The (International) Noise Conspiracy (fleet-footed bassist Inge Johansson), is not only a conceptual wakeup call to issues of gender fluidity in the modern era, it also unleashes new and revitalized music territories germane to the bold
subject matter of a singer attempting to un-hitch, and live untrammeled by a confusing past as she reshapes an identity in the mottled glare of the spotlight.

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Against Me! Today: "No Sugar Dust or Fancy Tricks"

Photo courtesy of 'Stache Media
Every half-decade or so, a band becomes the epicenter of a punk-gone-popular zeitgeist. The Clash became hybrid sonic legends underpinned by a political conscience, Nirvana delivered the sludge-core ennui of the Pacific Northwest to the masses, Green Day brought tightly coiled power-trio fare to FM-radio daylight of FM radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made Williamsburg art-punk a common experience. Most recently, Florida's Against Me! sailed beyond Southern brethren like Hot Water Music and agitprop peers like Anti-Flag.

First, they combined stripped-down, raucous sea-chanty punk with narrative finesse, then honed a forceful, deeply accessible and smartly barbed musicality, like Cheap Trick bred from Marxism. Fans grew like mushrooms after a pounding rain.

Then the world turned upside down. After years of battling his own self, singer Thomas Gabel transformed into Laura Jane Grace. Against Me!'s newest effort, the concept album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, is an honest, bracing and invigorating exploration of gender identity, as well as the band's fiercest album in years. A few weeks earlier, Rocks Off caught up with drummer Atom Willard during their current tour.

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UPDATED: 20 '90s Pop-Punk Albums Better Than Green Day's Dookie

UPDATE (Thursday, 11:15 a.m.): Corrects the pogo-worthy track on NOFX's Punk In Drublic to "Reeko." "Bob" is on 1992's White Trash, 2 Heebs and a Bean. Our bad.

Brace yourselves, kids. Green Day's Dookie turned 20 last month, and that means we've all got a case of the olds. Grab your walkers and follow us down memory lane.

Green Day's first major-label release, Dookie was a monster of an album that launched the band into the center of '90s pop culture and into the lives of kids in every corner of suburbia. More than 16 million copies have been sold to date, and it charted in seven different countries. Thanks to Dookie's success, most middle-school kids in the '90s were singing along about the harrows of meth and masturbation. Their fanbase's devotion to that album -- and to singer Billie Joe Armstrong's pseudo-punk stylings -- helped to solidify Green Day as one of the major players in the mainstreaming of punk rock, certainly great news for Armstrong and his bandmates Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool.

But it wasn't so great to our ears. Sure, Dookie was astoundingly successful, commercially, but its popularity never really made much sense to us. In fact, we don't like Dookie, not even sort of.

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Bob Dylan's Star-Studded "Halftime Show" Gets Deluxe Treatment

Bob Gruen/Columbia Legacy
Check out the star power at the concert finale! Why so morose, Sinead?

"Thanks Bob! Thanks for having Bob Fest!" Neil Young enthuses at one point during his set at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert.

And though methinks that the October 1992 show at Madison Square Garden paying tribute to the Bard of Hibbing was due more to the planning of Columbia Records than the honoree himself, the megastar-studded event found a wide swath of performers covering Dylan's deep songbook.

It was capped off by a solo and collaborative set from the man himself, and now available again in a 2CD/2DVD-Blu-Ray Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration -- Deluxe Edition (Columbia/Legacy). As VH-1's Bill Flanagan offers in the liner notes, what "could have been a last waltz instead turned out to be rock and roll's greatest halftime show."

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Northern Punk Avengers DOA Return to the Dirty South

Photo courtesy of DOA
Seething, agitated and anarchistic, DOA continues to unleash tuneful and frenzied songs, proving they are far from retired. For more than 30 years, the band has unleashed rock and roll tethered to lumberjack toughness and 'green' environmental issues.

They balance flannel-shirt, beer-smeared, hockey-drenched jukebox drunkenness with punk savagery, aggressive politics and worldly wisdom deploring both corporate madness and lazy public attitudes. At the helm, singer/guitarist Joey "Shithead" Keithley has always stared down power by culling the hefty history of leftism. He's not Bruce Springsteen waxing sentimental about rivers and steel towns; instead, he exposes fault lines of religion, police brutality, and economic woes.

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Youth Code at Mango's, 1/16/2014

Photos by David Ensminger
Youth Code, Coming
January 16, 2013

No doubt, Youth Code borrows quite heavily from Chicago's fabled Wax Trax! Records (Front 242, KMFDM, Revolting Cocks) roster, the epicenter of seething industrial music in the 1980s and 1990s, when the city rose from the frozen plains and became a beacon of aberrant noise, cluttered and chaotic dancescapes, and post-human poetry.

Other labels like Rough Trade (Cabaret Voltaire) and Mute (D.A.F.) also kicked in their share of forceful bands attempting to deconstruct music similar to the cut and paste assemblage style of William Burroughs novels. Youth Code, the mixed-gender unit Sara Taylor and Ryan George, forcefully revisit the modus operandi of such acts with acrid, atavistic, and artful ear-pummeling.

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Punk Rock and Alleged Sexual Assault: A Timely Story

Photo by Montecruz Foto/ Flickr Commons
The Casualties' Jorge Herrera
Last month, fledgling blog Put Your Damn Pants On ran a guest post entitled "I Won't Apologize for Being Assaulted."

The article's author, identified as "Beth," described herself as a "recovering scenester, 30-something stay at home wife and mom. I listen to the Descendants from the comfort of my suburban home while cooking barefoot and pregnant to Bikini Kill's 'Rebel Girl.'"

She told the story of her sexual assault, which she says occurred 16 years ago, with aplomb and searing bitterness. Her story has evoked visceral reactions from the punk-rock community.

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NOFX at House of Blues, 12/13/2013

Photos by Jim Bricker
House of Blues
December 13, 2013

It's hard to believe that a whole 30 years have gone by since NOFX first started playing music together. I'm guessing the late-forties punkers are probably thinking the same thing. Consisting of the same core lineup of Fat Mike, Eric Melvin and Erik Sandin since 1983 (El Jefe joined in '91), these guys are the epitome of your DIY punk-rock band that was ever so popular in the 90's.

Surrounded by bands like Bad Religion, Pennywise, Rancid, Green Day and The Offspring, NOFX saw decent commercial success on a string of '90s albums, but really shone in the national spotlight with Punk In Drublic, now considered a classic in many circles. They've developed an impressive hardcore fanbase over the years, which was ever-so-present at their first Houston gig in nearly three years Friday to a packed House of Blues.

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