Jello Biafra at the Continental Club, 11/9/2014

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Photos by David Ensminger
Jello Biafra (left) kept the polemics to under five minutes Sunday night.
Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine
Continental Club
November 9, 2014

As Jello Biafra abundantly proves, pioneering political punks need not go quietly into the fetid night, especially when every new government regime like "Barackstar O Bummer" and corporate hoodlums prove ripe for his combative wit.

Gesticulating with spaghetti arms asunder, Sunday night he became a combined demented court jester, B-movie mad scientist, fiery populist soapbox orator, and tweaking meth addict. In fact, he held forth at tiny Continental as if reenacting episodes from 1978 at the Mabuhay in San Francisco, though updated for the emoticon generation.


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An Unfiltered Chat With Jello Biafra

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Photo courtesy of Alternative Tentacles
Jello Biafra (second from left) and his fellow Guantanamo School of Medicine surgeons
For more than three decades, Jello Biafra has remained the brassy conscience of punk rock, willing to knock down the sacred cows of politics and rock and roll. First honing his diatribes in the Dead Kennedys, next dabbling in film and spoken word, and ultimately joining forces with DOA, NoMeansNo, the Melvins, and Al Jourgensen for projects aplenty, he has remained ever-potent and enrapturing, a changeling that never quite sheds his skin.

As a news junkie, edgy showman, political reformist, and punk shaman, he has continued to curate fabled label Alternative Tentacles, survived a bitter feud with former bandmates, and kept retirement far away while firing up Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, his vociferous psych-punk band with ex-members of Victim's Family and Rollins Band.

Rocks Off's David Ensminger rang up Biafra before he hits the road for Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin and Houston's Continental Club this Sunday night. Here are some excerpts.


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CBGB Survivor Cheetah Chrome's Creed: "Honesty and Quality"

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Photo by Anna O'Connor/Plowboy Records
Alongside fellow contenders like Johnny Ramone, Cheetah Chrome became one of the titanic, blistering guitarists launching the first wave of CBGB-era punk into the stratosphere of American culture. Yet his origins erupted a few years earlier in down-and-out Cleveland. As an authentic, no-bullshit rock and roll soldier, he helped propel two groundbreaking units there: Rocket from the Tombs, with David Thomas of Pere Ubu, and the Dead Boys, with his mate Stiv Bators. Together, these bands fomented a warped sonic renaissance and soon rendezvoused with history.

Since leading the attack with tunes like the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," Chrome has taken a slightly crooked path by working with a variety of equally laudable figures, such as Ronnie Spector, Nico, Jeff Dahl and more recently New York Dolls alum Sylvain Sylvain, his partner in the Batusis. As his memoir A Dead Boy's Tale: From The Front Lines of Punk Rock recounts, street smarts are a crucial part of his DNA; hence, his new album, the swaggering Solo (incredibly, Chrome's first full-length solo outing), evokes a gritty spirit of survival without hauling along tons of sentimentality.

Rocks Off's David Ensminger reached Chrome on the road before his gig Friday at Fitzgerald's with Houston's Born Liars, the Guillotines and the Drunks.


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Some Nerve's Latest Cuts Pretty Close to Home

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Photo by Vanessa Gomez/Courtesy of Some Nerve
Some Nerve has been gigging with legendary bands like MDC, Casualties, Negative Approach, and 7 Seconds since rising from the local scene in 2013. On their new self-titled album, released by Dying Scene Records, they offer explosive, potent, metal-punk hybrids that leave play-by-numbers bands in the dust.

Almost effortlessly, they seem to weave the bellicosity and dark-encrusted atmospheric thrust of bands like From Ashes Rise with the grim punk politics and bottom-end bass blitzkrieg of Final Conflict, while also echoing the brooding musical dexterity of Darkest Hour.

Tunes like "Held Hostage" are both fiercely focused and limber, setting the tone and style of the entire work. The song's center of gravity is "the idea that we're never truly in complete control of our own lives," explains guitarist and back-up vocalist Allan Davis, who also recorded, mixed, and mastered the album last winter. "We have a knife held to our back, and they require us to partake in capitalistic constructs for us to even think about doing anything we want."


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Casting Martin Scorsese's New Ramones Movie


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Good fellas: Ramones get the Scorsese treatment
Last weekend, word got out that an upcoming Ramones biopic would be helmed by one of America's greatest living filmmakers, Martin Scorsese. The movie would be one of several band-related projects slated for 2016, the 40th anniversary of the bruddas' debut album, Ramones.

Scorsese isn't that odd a choice to direct a film about the groundbreaking punk band. He's a New Yorker who loves music, and directed The Last Waltz and Shine a Light. He also knows what to do with a good story. Like The Wolf of Wall Street or Raging Bull, the tale of the Ramones is a fascinating one, filled with underdogs, victors, losers, users, lovers, betrayers and a litany of insecure gods.

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Austin's OBN IIIs Are No Retro-Rock Chumps

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Photos by Renate Winter
With unlimited sweat, furious finesse and hook-heavy musical manners, Austin's OBN IIIs are the bastard child of Flamin' Groovies and Radio Birdman, just as their latest slab Live in San Francisco documents. Their closest allies in Texas are likely the equally forceful, cunning and haunting Sons of Hercules, so be prepared for a pent-up cataclysm.

Pitchfork has claimed them as retro-"townies" reinventing the anti-college rock of the 1970s, even likening them to floppy-haired heroes Van Halen and Blue Oyster Cult. Think again, and take off the revisionist glasses. OBN III's kind of grit and determination seems a lot less like the black-light poster crowd of rusted Mustangs and stinky hashish and a lot more like Budweiser slamming, take-no-prisoners garage-rock rioters from vintage MC5 to the Cynics, the Greenhornes and Zen Guerrilla. This would never have been heard on FM airwaves alongside REO Speedwagon and Asia.


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Raw Power's Screams From the Gutter Still Ring Out Today

Categories: 1-2-3-4!, Playbill

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If punk mythology truly existed, the tale of Raw Power might unfurl like this: as the reign of Ronald Reagan swept through the Western world "... the gods of punk-metal rose from Italy to fight back with megatons of warp-speed power!"

Held together thick as thieves for years by the Codeluppi brothers -- throat-scorched Mauro and walloping guitarist Giuseppe (the latter died in 2002) -- the band set off from Reggio Emilia in the early 1980s and carved out a hard, compact, compelling basement-punk sound alternating between catapulting heavy-metal drum mania (clang goes the cowbell!) and anything-goes guitar attacks, as documented on You Are the Victim, an album not far removed from fellow scenesters like Negazione and Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers.


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7 Seconds at Walters, 8/9/2014

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Photos by David Ensminger
7 Seconds, the Copyrights, the Turnaways, Some Nerve
Walters Downtown
August 12, 2014

"Give the people what they want," seems to be the populist modus operandi of touring veteran punk and hardcore bands, from Youth Brigade to DOA and 7 Seconds, who belted out a stew of contagious hits from the early-mid 1980s at Walters on Saturday night. Sure, that meant a steady flow of lean hardcore, but it also meant a Stalinist purge of their pop-minded fare.

To be sure, the crowd, which swelled precipitously right before the band hit the claustrophobic stage, was eager to chew every morsel, especially when the band unleashed deep catalog shockwaves like "Red and Black," "The Crew" and "You Lose" (each under one minute long!) to dizzying singalong hoarseness and beer slosh that shot out like a fire cannon at times.

Up front, the punk ladies of the humidity-caked night pushed their way forward in a heave of righteousness on tunes like "Not Just Boy's Fun" and made the chorus of "99 Red Balloons" reach immense proportions, like a seismic sonic wave inundating the scene.


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7 Seconds' Kevin Seconds: "Some Days I Just Want to Scream"

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Photo by David Robert
As heroic elders of the 1980s posicore genre alongside brethren like Uniform Choice and later Insted, 7 Seconds replaced hardcore punk's sheer bellicosity, anti-government sloganeering and stiff ideology with tuneful melodies, deep pockets of personal conscience, and a stalwart sense of hope. Beginning as skinheads forming a community in Reno, known for its steady gambling, easy divorces and arid desert, they soon became stalwarts of a West Coast second-wave insurrection, joining the roster at BYO Records. The band also maintained their own label, Positive Force, which helped launch Youth of Today and Verbal Assault.

7 Seconds' tunes evolved over time from terse, forceful, straight-edge pleas ("Drug Control") to increasingly pop-tinged singalongs steering punks towards unity ("Walk Together, Rock Together"), social and environmental justice ("Regress No Way" and "Satyagraha"), pro-women stances ("Not Just Boys Fun"), racial tolerance ("Colour Blind") and much more. In the late 1980s, as punk often became mired in gang wars and ultraviolence, the group sought softer musical traits but never fled the scene or became sloths.


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A Conversation With Texas Punk Icon Gary Floyd

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This photo by David Ensminger/Others courtesy of Gary Floyd
Gary Floyd today
Gary Floyd is a long-loved underground music icon entangled in fiery black music, queer outrage, punk vendettas, barbed-wire politics, and Eastern spiritual bliss-outs. Whereas the homegrown Texas musical tornadoes the Dicks (later reinvented in San Francisco) were ribald and cantankerous, Sister Double Happiness were rootsy purveyors of sweeping, mesmerizing alt-rock that helped initiate the Nirvana generation.

By the mid-1990s, his Gary Floyd Band buried themselves deep in East Texas saggy porch-howling blues, while Black Kali Ma soon followed by unleashing Shiva as a devouring rock and roll entity. Now, Floyd effortlessly evokes wisdom, transcendence, and transience in his latest guise, Buddha Brothers.

Floyd recently spoke with Rocks Off before heading down for Friday afternoon's meet-and-greet at Cactus Music, his first Houston appearance in the last half-decade. (Note: David Ensminger is also co-author of Floyd's forthcoming autobiography and featured the singer in his book Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons.)


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