QUIEN ES MAS PUNK? I just finished reading Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, subtitled Scenes from the Indie Underground 1981-1991. It essentially documents the years that represent my indie coming of age, the decade in which I spanned 12 to 22, and the decade in which, for better or worse, I developed a sense of moral code as regards to music. I wrote my first album review in the 7th grade; the world has changed a lot in the ensuing years.
In addition to presenting 13 chapters that profile bands pivotal to the construction of the punk/indie underground, Azerrad throws in a preface and epilogue to put it all into context. One of his many on-target points is that the streamlining of punk rock into the culture at large following the 1991 release of Nirvana's Nevermind--perhaps the pinnacle of which was a 1993 car commercial wherein a grungified teen kid exclaims "This car is like punk rock!"--stripped the DIY (do-it-yourself) movement of most of its meaning. Nobody bothered doing their homework to discover that the original punk bands incorporated more into their sound than just three chords and an attitude, and an entire generation of bands and fans formed around the idea that that's really all it was (which ultimately is the exact opposite of what punk stood for previously).
Just when I thought I was getting old and not quite equipped to grapple with punk rock as a cultural norm, a thoughtless diversion as opposed to a philosophy/way of life (or was it just that the majority of what gets labeled "punk" these days simply sucks?), my beliefs were confirmed by a couple of passages in Azerrad's book. Mission of Burma's Peter Prescott on the post-Nirvana syndrome: "I thought that was the end of what you might call punk rock, because punk rock is unique and individual and is not for everybody. So almost by definition it can't be popular."
And the book's final passage, by Azerrad himself, on the bands he profiles: "They took the path less taken--a path largely unpaved, far more perilous, and with precious few signposts--but ultimately more rewarding. And in so doing, they lived out a very basic premise of punk: Think for yourself." In other words, punk is far more about an individualistic approach to music than a distinct sound. Or, Beat Happening is more punk rock than, say, Sum 41.
All of which brings us to a pair of shows this week by two very different local punk bands at the opposite ends of their respective careers.
Los Federales, who have proudly worn the self-anointed badge of "Tucson's Most Hated Punk Band" for the better part of the past decade, will play its final show this week.
Over the years they've maintained a certain integrity that any well-schooled punk would cherish. The band has held to its artistic vision even as bands of its ilk--political '80s-style hardcore punk à la Circle Jerks--have largely gone out of fashion even among the indie community. While there may be no shortage of loudfastrules, how many bands can you think of in the current state of macho rap-rock posturing that would dare write a song like "How Your Church Can Destroy Your Childhood in One Easy Lesson," a succinct attack on those who bash the narrator due to an unnamed issue of sexual identity.
That song is found on last year's La Maldicion de los Federales (released on No Theme!, the album is promoted as "16 excruciating doses of ideological futility"), as is "Rock Star Research," which targets trust-fund wannabe punk kids only in it for the chicks and cash: "When this trend ends I'm gonna change my look -- I got a hookup, got an opportunity / To fuck you over and get on TV / I'm making connections, lickin' some ass / I'm getting used to it, man the flavor lasts."
But even more important perhaps than their personal/political ideologies or place on the righteous punk rock totem pole, Los Feds have always played like they fucking mean it. The '80s were loaded with fungible hardcore bands screaming about Reagan because in the indie world that was the fashionable thing to do; It didn't make them decent bands. It was the ones you could believe that mattered, and Los Federales make me believe. We'll miss 'em.
Los Federales' final performance kicks off at 9 p.m. on Thursday, January 31 at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St., with openers Swing Ding Amigos, Shark Pants and Ultra-Maroon. For more information call 670-9202.
Meanwhile, combing the press kit of Tucson pop-punk band The Elemenopees, one gets the feeling that "Rock Star Research" might have been directed at them. The package contains a bio of each of the band's members, and at the end of each passage there's a section titled "Marketing Info" which lists the guys' attributes. We learn such enlightening information about the band as: Singer Travis Peters is a "Natural sex symbol. 6'5" of pure rock star!"; drummer Robin Roberts has "Male model looks and stature"; and guitarist/vocalist Brian Combs is "Learning to speak Japanese."
And in the band's one-sheet, after listing off the "punk rock big shots" the band has opened for, the final sentence reads: "Now its [sic] the elemenopees turn to be 'livin' the good life provided by punk.'" Never have a band's aspirations been so succinctly stated: punk rock = cash, and the Elemenopees are ready for the big payoff.
The band celebrates the release of its debut album, Smile Like a Donut (San Jacinto Records), this week with a CD release party at Club Congress. The disc opens with the very un-punk sound of hammered guitar notes--think Eddie Van Halen but not as fast--which is followed by 12 tracks (and three interludes) of textbook pop-punk mostly about girls and beer. Oh, and Tony Hawk. Y'know, 'cause punk rockers skate.
The Elemenopees perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, February 1 at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Good Talk Russ and Scratching the Surface open, and admission is $4. For details call 622-8848.
SOLAR POWER: Chicago's Milemarker has just released its fourth album, Anaesthetic, its first for über-indie Jade Tree, which, if this release is any indication, is branching out beyond the emo sound for which it's become known. The band incorporates the currently in-vogue use of cheesy '80s keyboards with its angular, post-punk guitars, but unlike many of the bands that employ a similar tactic (The Faint comes to mind) Milemarker manages to emerge unscathed of the "retro" tag. Recommended if you dig The Dismemberment Plan.
Milemarker performs an early show along with Tucson's Okmoniks at 8 p.m. on Sunday, February 3 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $5. Get more info at 884-0874.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESTOWN: Once known more for its members' on- and offstage antics (over the course of its 12-year span the band has seen roughly 40 members come and go, some fired onstage at gigs) than for its music, San Francisco's Brian Jonestown Massacre has explored a myriad of styles over its career: Brit-style shoegazer, jangle-pop, country and out-and-out psychedelia, to name a sampling. The band's latest offering is Bravery Repetition & Noise (Bomp, 2001), one of those gorgeously textured, gloomy pop albums perfect for chillin' with the bong and a set of headphones on a rainy day, and one that proves just how overlooked BJM really is.
Brian Jonestown Massacre performs with Tucson's Soundtracks at 9 p.m. on Sunday, February 3 at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $5. For further details call 622-8848.
BRIT BLUES BLUSTER: Remember Hands Across America, that disastrous post-We Are the World bellyflop of a non-event that sought to form a human chain from the Atlantic to the Pacific? In the end there simply weren't enough people to complete the chain; that was the hitch. If only they had enlisted the former members of British blues-rock band Savoy Brown, whose ranks are many. The band has seen enough dudes come and go that they could've probably linked things up on their own. If only we'd have thought of Savoy Brown. Damn!
By the way, original guitarist Kim Simmonds, who pretty much is Savoy Brown, is the lone holdout. If Clapton and Mayall ooble your wooble, and you don't know who the hell Simmonds is, you'd be well advised to throw down your cash.
Savoy Brown performs at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, February 5 at Nimbus Brewery, 3850 E. 44th St. Tickets cost $15. For more information call 745-9175.
RICHMAN RETURNS: And finally, the legendary Jonathan Richman returns to town after a prolonged absence. Sadly known to the public at large as "that singing guy from There's Something About Mary," Richman began his career in the early '70s fronting The Modern Lovers, rightfully regarded as a seminal punk band, before going solo. Performing these days with only a drummer--Tucson's Tommy Larkins--as backup (he sings and plays guitar), Richman is as charming a performer as has ever graced a stage, a rare combination of naivete and swagger as he sings what have often been described as children's songs for adults.
Jonathan Richman performs at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 2 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Tickets cost $10. For more info call 798-1298.