The Vandermark Five--Target Or Flag/NRG Ensemble--Bejazzo Gets A Facelift
Atavistic (PO Box 578266, Chicago, IL 60657-8266)
The membership of these two ongoing projects is substantially overlapping: Mars Williams, Ken Vandermark, and Kent Kessler form the nucleus of the two bands, with Brian Sandstrom and Steve Hunt filling out the NRG Ensemble and Tim Mulvenna and Jeb Bishop completing the Vandermark Five. NRG was originally founded by the late Hal Russell in 1977, but is now led by Williams, whose résumé is extensive enough to include stints with the Psychedelic Furs and Ministry as well as his other groups Liquid Soul, Slam, and Witches and Devils, along with the two presently under consideration. Bejazzo Gets A Facelift balances concerted squalling improvisational jazz blasts from saxophone and clarinet men Vandermark and Williams with the rumbling rhythms of the other three, resulting in an exhilarating set of avant-jazz filled with interplay and instrumental fire.
As leader of his own group the Vandermark Five, Ken Vandermark pays tribute to some musicians whose work he has admired in the past by dedicating each track on Target Or Flag to a different person, ranging from killer funk guitarists Eddie Hazel and "Catfish" Collins to improvisational music terrors Derek Bailey and Peter Brotzmann. The Vandermark Five's renditions of Ken's tunes are more laid back than the barreling attack of NRG, but not too laid back for a good hearty dose of rock-derived guitar to leaven the jazzbo trappings. Either Bejazzo Gets A Facelift or Target Or Flag should provide a reliable jolt of improvisational energy and well-oiled playing for modern jazz lovers frustrated with the increasingly stultified output of the major-label controlled jazz companies.
"Dance Like We Used To"/"Sneer Society" 7" (Zero Hour Records)
This was my first encounter with the music of Anders Parker's band, Varnaline. The A-side is a bouncy alt-rocking pop song thick with guitars; it's somewhat reminiscent of Sugar or the Replacements, but slightly more harmonious and singalong, and was produced by Adam "Red" Lasus (who's recorded Versus, among others) at Studio Red. The B-side sounds like it was recorded with a portable cassette recorder on someone's porch, and presents a high-and-lonesome acoustic plaintive side of the band. I actually prefer this side to the A-side quite a bit. --Aaron J. Poehler
‘Voodoo Glow Skulls’ & Hickey
"Me And My Homies"/"Food Stamps And Drink Tickets" 7" (Probe Records)
This 7" comes with a 28-page zine, You Bet Your Sweet Ass I'm A Turtle: To Blow The Horn Of Justice, which ties in with the record. Apparently back in the fall of '95 FYP got Hickey on a bill with Voodoo Glow Skulls in Mesa, Arizona. Hickey said some derogatory things onstage about Epitaph Records (Voodoo Glow Skulls' label) and VGS labelmates Rancid, and when they got offstage VGS lead singer Frank demanded Hickey be thrown out without pay or he wouldn't go onstage. On the way out Hickey snagged a trumpet belonging to VGS by way of payback and hauled it around for awhile telling everybody they met of their mistreatment. Eventually they mailed it back under threat of bodily harm and/or legal action, but after the horn was returned the fun really began. Apparently before the horn's safe return Frank was worried they might pawn or destroy it, but after it was back he got his courage up and let loose with a variety of threatening, profanity-filled messages to the Hickey household, purportedly from Amsterdam on the Epitaph phone tab, and even got some of his friends to join in the death-threat fun. Hickey even reports intimidating calls from Epitaph Records staffers (which if true is more serious than interband slapfights--ever hear of RICO, the anti-racketeering and criminal organizations act?). So this isn't really a VGS/Hickey split: "Me And My Homies" reproduces a selection of the best messages Frank from VGS and his "homies" left on Hickey's machine, underlaid with taped tootling on the Horn of Justice itself by Aesop from Hickey. "Food Stamps And Drink Tickets", a Hickey tune about the whole mess, is on the flipside, complete with a musical allusion to the Clash's version of "Police On My Back" to make their point about how VGS and company were acting like cops. The zine reproduces letters from Hickey to VGS and from Frank to a Hickey associate, and includes a thorough retelling of the entire saga in exacting detail. What's funniest is that in the first message Frank pretends to be a friend of VGS who just heard about the incident, but then recounts specific details about it like someone who was there. This is obviously not a bright person. So where do I stand on the issue? Well, I must admit if anyone stole any of our instruments I'd be mighty pissed and might resort to drastic measures against the perpetrator. Then again, I'd never be such an asshole as to insist anyone be thrown off a bill, especially just for something they said onstage, and secondly anybody stupid enough to leave a $4000 horn unguarded in a rock club is bound to get it lifted eventually. Truthfully the horn's theft and return is less interesting than the heated exchanges it provoked; there's a real Negativland/U2 feel to this whole thing, and that whole flap certainly wasn't good for U2--does anybody think they're cool anymore? So I'm not buying any Voodoo Glow Skulls stuff, but then I wasn't buying any before. I've never heard a really good record on Epitaph--even the Cramps' record on Epitaph doesn't seem as good as their others to me--but I'd probably still buy a record on Epitaph if there ever was one that was really good. It doesn't seem like it's going to be an issue, though: it's seemed to me like that label's been struggling and gradually sinking commercially ever since Offspring left. I hear they're going to be putting out a Tom Waits album, which might prove the exception to the rule, but then again it might not--we'll see. The Hickey track on here is pretty good, though, so I might be interested in hearing more of that. Needless to say, I'm keeping this record. --Aaron J. Poehler