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The Observatory: Why We Hate to Love Screeching Weasel

Written by Taylor Farner

Screeching Weasel, The Queers, and The Mr. T Experience.

This was a long-anticipated show for me. Screeching Weasel, The Queers, and The Mr. T Experience, all playing together at the Santa Ana Observatory, August 8th. I was really pumped up for the show for months beforehand. I’d seen The Queers a few months back when they played with The Dwarves and Atom Age in Hollywood, but Screeching Weasel had been a long time coming.

I hadn’t been listened to them for very long. I had about a year or two of hammering out their discography under my belt, but plenty of time to find my favorites. From what I can tell, they don’t normally play in Southern California… I’m assuming a deliberate choice based on their lyrical distaste for anything not-Midwestern, very unfortunate news for fans in California.

I should probably start off at the beginning: The Mr. T Experience opened. They were really good, and I’m glad I got to hear them live. I am not a huge Mr. T Experience fan, but was not disappointed. The band was very cool and interactive with the audience, and they were likewise, very grateful to have such a nice turn-out. They played the songs I knew, along with tons of others I didn’t, and was surprised how different they sounded live in comparison to their recordings, but I suppose it has been over 25 years since Night Shift at the Thrill Factory was released; Dr. Frank’s voice has aged very very well with that in mind. I do love “Go Away,”….

The Queers came on next. Like I said, I’m a fan. When we saw them in Hollywood however many months ago that was, it was easily one of my favorite shows. Chip Fracture has been playing with them for the last few years, and it was pretty dope seeing him play a full set with The Dwarves and The Queers. They had a lot of people come up and play with them: the guitarist from Atom Age came out, Blag Dahilia sang some songs, and Richie Ramone closed out the set with them.

Richie Ramone also played with The Queers in Santa Ana, although not as much. I guess he could give up the thrill that comes with playing in front of die-hard fans. Although, I will say, it kind of cheapened his “special appearance.”

Anyway, The Queers played a handful of their older songs from the 80s and a lot of songs from the 90s. Kris Roe, from The Ataris, came on stage as well, if only because Joe Queer threatened that if he didn’t join them on stage, they’d play “Boys of Summer.” I never really listened to The Ataris. When they were big I wasn’t a huge punk guy. Metal was my cup of tea. Apparently in Ventura, The Ataris overplayed the shit out of the Ventura Theatre, so even if I was into them, it would have been short-lived. Nonetheless, Kris played a song, then scrammed.

The Queers played a few more of their songs before Richie came out. They played “Somebody Put Somethin In My Drink,” and “Judy is a Headbanger,” and it was mas dope. I went to the show with Harmony Hertzog, my lady and fellow zinester, and having seen The Queers with her twice, we had to share a look when Richie came out. It was cool seeing him again, but it turned our once-in-a-lifetime experience into a twice-in-a-lifetime shrug and a smile. Maybe I’m just not hardcore enough of a Ramones fan.

After The Queers, The Weasel was up to bat. Everyone but Ben came out to start off with their instrumental intro, “Il Tremendo Fantasma,” from Baby Fat, Act I. It was pretty good, but the pathway to backstage revealed an Elvisy-jacket clad Ben Weasel performing his pre-show deep-thigh stretches, and I honestly lost hope at that moment. I had a feeling it was not gonna go well.

Now’s a good time, I think, to bring up my pre-concert findings. A month or so before the show in Santa Ana, I really started digging into who Screeching Weasel was. I found out about the incident during their South by Southwest Festival that happened in March, 2011: Frontman Ben Weasel essentially just had a meltdown, decked a chick from the crowd in the face and started swinging at another to the extent that he had to be held back by roadies. Some time after the show, the other members of the band had collectively stated that they wouldn’t be touring for a while after that incident. Ben then turned around and stated that he’s going to continue performing and producing content, and replacing the rest of the band that didn’t stick by him, very shortly after Dan Vapid’s interview with Squid Pro Quo goes up about the upcoming tour, what it’s like to be in Screeching Weasel, and what to expect from the new album/line-up.

Before that, he tried to have a fight, via social media, with Fat Wreck Chords founder Fat Mike after they dropped Screeching Weasel from their label. The whole thing seemed a bit childish, but Weasel repeatedly tried calling Fat Mike out over social media. Fans rallied behind him because they thought it was bullshit, but it’s common sense. You write a song bashing all kinds of shit that the owner of your record label does, yeah… he might not like that.

Before either of those childish tantrums is a long line of ex-members in the Screeching Weasel history books… some with, and some without explanations for their leaving. In total, the band has gone through 21 members since they began in 1986, Ben Weasel being the only member that has been there through the whole show. Not a great picture to paint for the lead singer, here. It’s nothing to make a big deal about I suppose. Other bands have much more awkward circumstances surrounding them, like the monopoly over the Black Flag name and all it’s worth…

But hey, all that aside, I really like the music. They have a lot of really thought-provoking content. I’ll continue to listen to the music despite what I think of the singer. He’s definitely not the worse person in punk rock. It’s just sad that someone with such an insight could be so ignorant at the same time, and so careless about what his out-of-song words and actions mean to his fans. Yeah, he apologized for the girls from the South by Southwest Festival, but here’s what happened at the observatory:

Ben Weasel comes out, and they played a bunch of their old songs. It was really fuckin good. They played really well, proved that they could still play like they were 20… despite three out of four members being replacements for replacements twice over. They recently had a new album come out: Baby Fat, Act 1. Ben was cool enough to ask if we wanted to hear the new songs or not, which was an obvious no, and for the most part only played a couple.

There wasn’t much time left in the show. As I said, they were still very good. Their musical capabilities have not aged. If you long for Boogada Boogada Boogada, you’ll hear just that if you see them live. But towards the end of the show, a girl tossed her beer up on stage. Not an uncommon thing at a live punk show–but you wouldn’t know it by the way Ben and the roadies acted. They tore after her, Ben abandoning any attempt of finishing the song. The rest of the band kept going, but Ben, then standing atop a stack of amplifiers yells into the microphone, “fuck you, you fat fucking cunt,” over and over.
Taking a beat, Ben then tells us how people are “so pathetic that they tried and failed to throw me off my game.” Really man? Cause it looks like she did. I have a hard time believing that someone who’s played punk rock shows for 26 years hasn’t come to expect he might get some beer splashed on him. Hell, I don’t even drink and I usually leave punk shows with my clothes fully soaked in beer.

Like I said, the show was a really good show. In the end, after all the drama, I’m glad I went. I had a good time, and honestly, I was waiting for something to happen. I still listen to Screeching Weasel and NoFX; sorry if that makes me an unloyal, shitty fan. They’re both up there on my list of favorite bands. I don’t have a problem with it, and Fat Mike certainly doesn’t. He just stays the hell out of it, because reading all of the shit Ben tried starting up via social media is exhausting. And listening to him bitch about Fat Mike on his eponymous, self proclaiming and self indulgent podcast is one of the most painful things I’ve sat through.

Ben is the only one who still cares apparently. One kid at the show was walking around wearing a NoFX shirt, and Ben just haaaaad to say something. He said “aww, you’re still young. You’ll learn.”
If you have a chance to go to a Screeching Weasel show, do it. Just be prepared for some wacky shit. They play really well, they play a lot from the older chapters of their catalog, and they have been touring with a lot of great bands the last couple of years, but new and older bands. And don’t throw ice at the stage, no matter how drunk you are.

Baldur’s Brews #1

Welcome to Baldur’s Brews: where a klutzy, overly curious engineer explores the often overlooked world of coffee.

By Luis Balderrama

Understanding My Coffee Background:
When I first began drinking coffee my first year in college, my whole world of coffee was based around a coffee drip machine. College was driven by it and it was one of the most useful tools I had to keep me up for hours on end. My coffee gradually got stronger and stronger the more I needed caffeine. I read that there was more caffeine in the less roasted beans, so I basically just loaded up light roasts in my machine as much as I could. I had great success with it. I got to try out lots of flavored coffee creamers and all that jazz to make your cup of brew even better. But in general the stronger the coffee, the better. Out of college, I never really looked twice at coffee. It just was. I knew some was better than others…and that was about it. I had heard about coffee snobbery, but it was something that I never really looked into. It was just a world I knew existed. It wasn’t until recently that I decided I would dive into this world of coffee, and frankly, I ruined coffee for myself. I utterly ruined my view on coffee.

How it All Started:
It began with my curiosity: I decided that I wanted to become proficient with a French Press coffee maker. I am fortunate enough to have a hot water faucet at my place of work, so I don’t have to boil anything or bring provisions to heat up water, so, I figured I would give it a try. At first, I began just pouring regular ground coffee into the pot and experimenting with that. It was indeed different, but I couldn’t figure out why people were so gung ho about the apparatus. Then I began to research the tried and true methods for making some seriously good coffee. I began to read about the 3 stages of coffee brewing, the types of flavors you can get from a coffee bean and how the grind of the bean affects the outcome of the flavor profile. Being an engineer, something went off in my head. I had to run experiments and figure out how all of these flavors came together and how they changed with grind coarseness. I acquired an old coffee grinder that had the ability to adjust the coarseness of the grind. Perfect. I started buying whole bean coffee and grind it myself with my snazzy grinder. Immediately, I was able to tell a difference in flavor. I began experimenting with the time I steeped the beans and the flavors that came out. It was a new discovery every day. One thing led to another, and nowadays I roast my own coffee and I manually grind the beans right before I make the start brewing, just to make sure it is the freshest and most flavorful pot of French Press it can be. Here is the beginning of the downfall of regular brew for me. The exposure to this amazing coffee has ruined a regular cup for me. I cannot go anywhere without analyzing the flavor profile of each cup. Don’t get me wrong, I will drink a cup anywhere I can get one, but I can’t help but analyze it the entire time. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. I rather enjoy being a connoisseur of coffee. Getting a cup of coffee now seems like such an adventure. I want to try out what different places have to offer. Like someone who has just lost his virginity, I want to go explore this new world. I have become one of those people.

Coffee Roasting: Experimental Tips
For those of you who are already roasting your own coffee, I urge you to give this a try. And for those of you who want to roast your own coffee, DO IT. Also, try this experiment. It’s very fun, DANGEROUS, and tasty. So I have been grilling for more than a couple years, but not a lot. One thing that I very much enjoy is cooking steaks. But what I like about it is the smoking aspect of grilling. I love trying different woods to see how the flavors affect the taste of a good cut. So, a couple weeks after I began roasting coffee, I had this idea. Why can’t coffee be smoked like a steak? It will still roast due to the heat, but instead of putting steaks on the grill, put in some green Burundi coffee beans. I gave it a shot. I started up my grill and got it up to around 450°F. I placed prepared wet cherry wood chips into the coals along with dry ones. Once the smoke was pouring out of the grill, I placed the beans, which were in a pan, on the grill. I monitored the beans and moved them around as necessary, but for the most part, I let them soak up as much of the smoke as possible. Once it was at about a dark medium roast [the second crack], I took them out and cooled them. A few hours later I ground them up and put them in a French press. Success. The smokiness did not overpower the flavor of the bean, but rather elevated it. It was delicious. So it got me thinking, why doesn’t smoked coffee really exist? Turns out, it does, but it’s a very small market. So go out there and smoke some coffee. You won’t regret it.

Feature Coffee Joint to Hit Up: Full of Beans, Ojai, CA
I cannot recommend this place enough. I very much enjoy going here and grabbing a cup of Joe. I absolutely love driving, so getting to this place is always a pleasure. It’s out on the CA 33 on the way to the CA 150. The drive is very scenic, but once you get there and you step in, you are met with this super cool, artsy vibe. Lots of warm, welcoming colors adorn the walls and the outdoor furniture. What I found interesting about the place was that among this cool artsy vibe was this touch of motorcycles, and being a fan of old-school stuff, I really enjoyed the combination. Enough about the location, let’s talk brews. They have a bunch of different types of coffees available and I can’t say that I favor any one more than another; it’s all solid coffee. They have different roasts and beans. Try them all, but be prepared to serve yourself your own cup. I liked that aspect of it because I could mix up any types that I wanted. I had that flexibility, but I know that some enjoy the service of having it poured for them. Either way, it’s still a great experience. They have snacks and wraps, but I recommend getting a cup of Joe and a dessert. They have brownies, and small little cakes that are delish. Also, Dave, the owner of the place, looks intimidating when he rides in on his old Shovelhead Harley, but he is such a cool guy and I enjoyed talking to him. They also have live music on weekends which just makes the scene so much cooler. So, if you want to go out of your way a little bit for some awesome ambiance, great coffee, and cool music, check out Full of Beans.

Artwork by Michael Ishibashi
Artwork by Michael Ishibashi