New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles

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“Out of the mouths of babes…” – From, surprising to me, Psalms 8:2. Who knew?

As most of our intrepid, regular readers know, here at B&V we tend to focus on older, more established artists who are still putting out new, vibrant rock and roll. Admittedly, we’re also fond of “vault” releases from those same older artists. But every now and then we need to get out of our comfort zone and explore some of the new and sadly, increasingly rare rock and roll out there. I might be pushing some of you to an uncomfortable edge here, but this is a band you need to hear, much like Greta Van Fleet (for very different reasons and very different music).

In my life of musical spelunking, it’s become apparent that I discover music in the weirdest ways… Earlier in the year, the Rock Chick bought us tickets with our daughter to see Beck, Cage the Elephant and Spoon at Fiddler’s Green in Denver in late July. Because I’m a neanderthal, I wrote that down on my calendar instead of posting it on my work calendar. At the time I had months and months to worry about July, it was a lifetime away. Sigh. I ended up scheduling a very important meeting on the day of the concert. There was no way around it, I had to skip the show.  I haven’t been to a concert all year, so there was deep anguish associated with this decision. Not to mention my family was not pleased.

When the Rock Chick got back from Denver and I returned from my business travails, she told me the highlights of the show. Spoon rocked, Cage the Elephant was great and Beck was well, Beck. She even put a Spotify playlist together featuring the combined setlist for each band together. In the arc of the story about the show she mentioned the opening act, Starcrawler. She mentioned they rocked and were fronted by a woman, two things that were bound to pique my interest. She said the performance was “something else.” At one point, the lead singer, Arrow de Wilde spit out fake blood. She crawled around on the stage. At the end she collapsed and had to hold onto the railing to crawl backstage again. She said, “You know, I’m not sure if their set was any good, it was kind of overwhelmed by the spectacle.”

She immediately went to YouTube and started pulling up their videos. As I sat there, mesmerized by the physical appearance and performances of the show, I started focusing on the music. And damned if I didn’t hear the Runaways. As I’ve admitted previously on this blog, I was late to getting into punk or punk-influenced rock. I live in the American midwest, where we didn’t discover punk until 10 years later, like we were encased in amber. The Clash and the Ramones were my gateway punk bands. After that I was in – the Stooges (and Iggy solo), X, and The Sex Pistols, I love all of them. The more of the Starcrawler videos I watched the more I knew I had to check this band out.

Formed in L.A in 2015 by literally children, Starcrawler is a foursome consisting of Tim Franco (bass), Austin Smith (drums), Herni Cash (on nasty guitar) and Arrow de Wilde on lead vocals. Arrow’s mother is a photographer and is friends with Beck… that’s his daughter on their debut album cover (pictured above). They have, according to Wikipedia, the funniest origin story since Hendrix founded the Experience and hired Noel Redding because he liked his hair. From Wikipedia:

“In the summer of 2015, Arrow de Wilde and Austin Smith came together to collaborate in making music. When the school year began in 2015/2016, the two decided to recruit new members, a guitarist and bassist. One day during school Wilde saw Henri Cash and asked: “You look cool, do you play guitar?” Cash was actually carrying a tuba. Wilde later recruited bassist Tim Franco.[7]” 

“You look cool, do you play guitar?” may just go down in the annals of rock and roll. The fact that he was holding a tuba is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

I immediately started crashing through their entire catalog of recorded music. I love this band. They’re punky and edgy. They can be vulgar and in your face. They conjure up the Runaways, or at least that was my first impression, but I also hear some Ramones and a lot of Hole in this music. I am not suggesting in any way they’re derivative like Greta Van Fleet, these are just the bands they remind me of. This is elemental, primitive rock and roll played extremely well. It’s visceral music. There’s not a lot of solo’ing or really any solo’ing on guitar it’s all just big riffs, played fast and aggressively.

Their first single from 2017 was “Ants” backed by “Used to Know.” Both tracks are that nasty, fast guitar rock that I just fall for. “Ants” kind of reminded me of the Ramones. From 2018, the had the single, “Hollywood Ending” and “Tank Top” both of which reminded me of Celebrity Skin-era Hole.

Their first LP, eponymously titled, is harder and has less obvious influences. There is a lot to like here. “Loves Gone Again” has a desperate, edgy riff. “I Love L.A.” (no, not the Randy Newman song), reminds me of Missing Persons with guitar. I’ve heard this first album compared to Sabbath, and I don’t particularly hear that except maybe for the big, monster riffs that drive “Chicken Woman,” another highlight here. I love the song “Pussy Tower,” but with a chorus that begins, “She gives me head,” how could I not love it. “Full of Pride” is another vulgar putdown, “‘Cause you’re a pretty little bitch, no matter how I word it, You’re always full of shit and everyone has heard it.” I like where these kids are coming from. Total punk attitude. The album ends on “What I Want” a declaration, “I don’t wanna be anyone but me.” At almost 4 minutes long, this amounts to an epic for this band. There are 2 songs on here that clock in under 2 minutes. Keep it up!

They followed up in 2019 with three new singles, “She Gets Around,” “Pet Sematary” (which has to be from the movie I’d guess), and the pick of the litter, their latest, “Bet My Brains.” “Brains” has a loping gait and I dare you not to become addicted to Arrow singing “Bet my brains, I’ve gone insane.” I have to say, “Pet Sematary” is catchy as hell and probably the most polish thing they’ve done… it almost sounds like arena rock.

I’m not sure where this band is going, they’re still awfully young, but I like where they’ve started this journey. Hopefully all of the singles released this year are pointing to another LP, I can’t wait to hear what they do next. Check this music out and keep an eye on this band.

Cheers!

Editor’s Note: It came to my attention that Starcrawler indeed have a new album coming out, ‘Devour You,’ on October 11th. We’re all looking forward to that here at B&V! 

 

 

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Review: Middle of the Map Fest: Spoon 6/29/18; Social Distortion, 6/30/2018, LIVE

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*Photo of Mike Ness of Social Distortion taken by your intrepid blogger

Sometimes you just gotta see a band live to understand what they’re about…

When the Rock Chick approached me about going to a new music festival in town entitled Middle Of The Map Festival, I was skeptical. I mean, it’s late June… fucking hot weather in the Midwest. And besides, I didn’t recognize most of the bands involved. But then I examined the line-up more closely. Two names immediately jumped out at me. Greta Van Fleet and Social Distortion. GVF is my new, classic rock crush and Social D, well, the Rock Chick got me on their bandwagon when we met in 2000 and I’ve been a fan ever since. I also noticed that one of the Rock Chick’s favorite bands, Spoon, was on the list… I could easily discern that this was the reason she wanted to go. Although, in truth she’s a bigger Social D fan than I am, so it was probably a win/win for her…

I have posted a couple of times about Great Van Fleet, (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP or per chance, Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). I was so stoked to see these guys live… are they for real? Only seeing them live would tell me. Even my buddy, Drummer Blake texted me and asked if I was going to the MOTM Festival. Was I!?! And then on Thursday I saw the tweet… Danny, the drummer in GVF, hurt his wrist and they were cancelling their appearances in KC and Chicago, prime blues rock country. Goddammit son! I don’t know how he hurt his wrist, my guess would be skateboarding… I’m certain his wrist wasn’t hurt throwing a TV out of the window of the 30th floor of a Hilton like Bonham would have done. Without B&V who will teach the children about rock and roll? The fucking show must go on, son. Suck it up Danny, rub some dirt on that wrist and hit the stage, goddammit.

I was disappointed. The Rock Chick was still pretty excited about Spoon and to tell the truth without the GVF hype, I sort of felt free. I could just drink a bunch of vodka and groove on the tunes. Our friends, Edie and Brad (names changed to protect the innocent) came over and everybody seemed jacked up for the show. My corporate overlords kept me on the phone right up until the time I had to jump in the Uber. Someone handed me a strong vodka drink and I was like, OK, no GVF, I’ll just party. We got down to the festival and the first band I saw, on the second stage, in a parking lot no less, was a band called Y God Y and they were just taking the stage. I was hammering down another vodka when these guys hit the stage. Two keyboards, never a good sign, a drummer and a groovy, hipster lumberjack in shorts on lead vocals and guitar…That guy was extraordinarily hairy… I couldn’t help but think, well fuck… But here’s the weird thing and the great thing about music festivals, they give you exposure to bands  you’d never hear. The really hairy lead singer actually had a nice falsetto voice… these guys sounded great. I realized perhaps I’d taken this thing too lightly… Forget about GVF. I grooved to Y God Y for a few great songs and then lurched into the main venue, the intrepid Grinders, which is basically a mulch covered field and hunkered down for Spoon. Y God Y had me grooving.

I will be the first to admit I am the last person who should review Spoon. Short of knowing my wife likes them, I couldn’t have told you anything about them. I’ve heard a number of their tracks, because, as mentioned, the Rock Chick loves these guys. Frankly, I thought they were European. But my dear friend, hummus and chardonnay enthusiast RJ will tell you, “Did you know they’re from Austin, Tx, Ken?” For the 8th time RJ, yeah I got that… Spoon, lead singer Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, bassist (and unsung hero of this band) Rob Pope and keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel with touring member Gerardo Larios (keys/guitar) took the stage a little earlier than expected. These guys had me immediately… the first track, which I’d never heard was “Knock Knock Knock.” They have a slinky groove, I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but they are catchy AF, as the kids say.

The lead singer, Britt Daniel, would occasionally pull out his guitar and play a funky rhythm guitar… there was no intense solo’ing. It was more of a groove or a mood. Alex Fischel plays spooky, epic keyboards that Rick Wakeman would envy. The only thing Alex is missing is a big high collared cape. The bass player, Rob Pope held everything together with a tight, insistent bass line. These guys tore it up on their set. I was very very impressed with them. “Don’t You Evah,” “I Turn My Camera On,” and “Do I Have To Talk You Into It?” were all great. Towards the end of the show, they even did this long, psychedelic jam… I’m ashamed to tell you I don’t know what track it was. I’m not qualified to talk about Spoon, and well, vodka. These guys were great. As I staggered out of the venue a great power trio were starting on the Tito’s parking lot stage… I still don’t know who they were, but I stood there mesmerized for two songs… I wish I’d taken it more seriously. Some great music went down Friday night… Sometimes, you just gotta see the band live to understand. I’ve spent the last two days listening to Spoon.

Nursing what the medical profession would call a “hangover” I rode the Uber down to Grinders for Night 2 of Middle of The Map Fest. I got in the venue early enough that I saw a number of songs by an artist I want to check out more in-depth, Nikki Lane. She was awesome. She lives in Austin and sounds like old country. She even covered a Jesse Coulter song. Thankfully I wasn’t using vodka as liberally on night 2… I didn’t see, but I could hear the Sluts play on the parking lot stage. Great punk rock. The only down part of the build up to Social D was Built To Spill whose senseless jams sounded like serial killer testimony set to music… Oh well.

Finally, shortly after 10 pm, Mike Ness and the latest incarnation of Social Distortion hit the stage while a tape recording of Tom Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane” played to honor the fallen… A wonderful gesture. Besides Ness, currently Social D consists of Johnny Wickersham (guitar/backing vocals), Brent Harding (bass) and David Hidalgo, Jr (drums). It was like seeing old friends. These guys do punk/cowpunk/hard rock like it’s meant to be done. They started with a brilliant trio of songs, “Reach For the Sky,” “Highway 101″ (one of my favs…”I believe in love again…”), and “Don’t Take Me For Granted.” Sadly KC took Social D for granted… the crowd was spartan. “She’s a Knockout” turned into an extended guitar jam. They also did extended guitar jams on “Story of My Life,” and “California (Hustle and Flow).” It was so great to see hard rock guitar on a beautiful night in KC.

“99 To Life” brought the country/cowpunk influence in for the night, it was just great. My wife has a cat, named Rhett, and his theme song is “Mommy’s Little Monster” and I was thrilled to hear Social D play that song last night, a first. As was early punk track “Another State of Mind,” which they crushed.  “Machine Gun Blues” and “California (Hustle And Flow)” from the last album were both high lights. I just wish Ness would stop being the 10 year cicada, issuing a new album every decade… Mike, get in the studio, we need more guitar rock! Ness introduced “Don’t Drag Me Down” as a song he’d written about racism back in 1994… He said it was sad in 2017 the White House started tacitly making racism ok again… Indeed, Mike, indeed.

After a 12 song, hour long set, Social D left the stage. They came back for a three song encore, the highlight of which was “Ring of Fire,” the Johnny Cash cover… I was tired, I was hungover, but I was very very happy! Social D always brings it people, get out and see them!

That’s my report from the front lines of MOTM… I hope they do this again next year, it was a blast. See you next year folks!

 

 

Inspiration, Kindred Spirit, Chef, Writer, TV Star, Anthony Bourdain, Dead At 61

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*Images taken from the internet and likely subject to copyright

I woke up groggy this morning… I’d been on the road all week. Traveling for work isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. I was trying to figure out what I was going to put on. I was in the closet, half-asleep and confused (which could be the title of my autobiography) when the Rock Chick tearfully burst through the closet door… “Anthony Bourdain has committed suicide.” Tragedy has struck again, darkness scores another triumph. “Ah, fuck…” was my anguished first response. My friend Al texted shortly after, “Horrible to hear about Anthony Bourdain. Sorry.” Al knows what a fan of Bourdain’s I am…

This blog is about the joys of sipping bourbon while listening to rock and roll music so it may seem odd that I’m posting about the loss of Anthony Bourdain. But, as with all blogs, it’s first and foremost a writing enterprise. I have so much love and respect for Anthony as a writer. I don’t tell many people this, I have occasionally mentioned it in these pages, I once wrote a novel. It wasn’t a very good one, but it was cathartic. I don’t know if I’d ever have even tried to write anything if it weren’t for Bourdain.

I first became aware of Bourdain the way most people did, through his TV show. I never saw his FoodNetwork show, but I did see his work on the Travel Channel on No Reservations. His ability to travel to far flung places and weave a story around the food and the culture that produced it were fascinating. He was a bad boy on the road, drinking and eating in small huts. He even went to places outside the American wheel-house like Iran and Vietnam. He seemed to particularly love Vietnam. Later he left FoodNetwork and joined the CNN team with a show called Parts Unknown. I always thought it made sense that he’d be on CNN – his show was about so much more than just food or travel. He gave us glimpses of the world we might not have otherwise seen. He made the world seem smaller and closer knit through his cultural and culinary observations.

Somewhere along the line, years ago, I finally sought out Bourdain’s first book, the one that made him famous, Kitchen Confidential. His wide eyed, utterly honest portrait of the restaurant industry was not only a big hit, it was a great read. All of us at some point, at least in our youth, have worked in a restaurant. At least we used to… I was a bus boy a life time ago. I always thought it was one big rolling, insane party behind the scenes. Bourdain’s book confirmed that for me. I saw him interviewed one time and while speaking about writing the book he said, when he woke up, he’d light a cigarette and before he’d finished his coffee he’d managed to bang out 8 to 10 pages. The writing, the wonderful use of language just came naturally to him. He was also wickedly funny. He had an ability to weave cultural references together with an ease that must turn Dennis Miller green with envy.

One could look at Bourdain’s career as a Chef as less than spectacular, until he cleaned up from his heroin addiction and took over Les Halles in New York. Yet, he was still able to sit down and write a book that made him more famous than many of the Chefs he admired and eventually did shows about. There’s something about that – the ne’er do well whose talent finally burst through in a late blooming moment – that just appealed to me. I loved that this rebel made good in the end. He will forever be intertwined in my mind with the city of New York, like the Empire State Building or Lou Reed… he’s just a part of that city for me.

And since this is a rock and roll blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Anthony had kick ass taste in rock and roll. He wore his love of punk rock on his sleeve. His show with Iggy Pop, who it was clear he idolized, was one of his best. Even his theme song for No Reservations was all big guitar cords. I followed Bourdain on Insta-gram and whenever he posted a video, usually a panorama of where he was, it was always highlighted with some rock and roll playing in the background.

Sadly, last night in a Paris hotel room it appears Anthony Bourdain took his own life. His dear friend, Eric Ripert is said to have found him. I’m sad for both of them. I’m sad that the darkness closed over Bourdain and took him from us, at the young age of 61. I’m also sad that his good friend was the one who found him. I can’t fathom what that must feel like. I’ve had my own brushes with the dark side. I’m glad I was able to push through them to find the Rock Chick, my stepdaughter and a world of joy waiting on the other side.

For those of you out there in pain, reach out to someone. There’s help to be had. For Anthony Bourdain’s friends and loved-ones, my heart goes out to you. RIP Anthony Bourdain. You will be missed, sir. You certainly enriched my life.

It’s a dark ride folks, take care of each other out there.