Tag Archives: Punk

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.

Fat Mike’s “Home Street Home.” Reviewed by Taylor Farner.

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This is certainly something very different from anything else Fat Mike has produced. Noticed, this is by Fat Mike, not NoFX. All of the songs were written by Fat Mike, as well as the lyrics, along with additional lyrics by his girlfriend (or wife now?) Soma Snakeoil and Jeff Marx, creator of Broadway musical Avenue Q. I’m reviewing the album, which is not really what the whole project was about. It was about the musical titled Home Street Home. The cover is even slugged, “Hit songs from the (s)hit musical.” It’s a musical about dirty drug abusing punks that are living out on the street. But it’s that… it’s a musical, not a punk album. The project as a whole is genius and puts a smile on my face; it’s an artist branching out and doing something other than what’s expected of him. Throughout his musical career, Fat Mike has been eclectic: NoFX changed from a hardcore outfit, softening up, playing melodic hardcore, pop-punk, ska, and doing a wide variety of covers from all different genres in Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. So, go Fat Mike!

Okay, the record… Some facts: the record has a lot of cameo performances by other members of punk bands. I don’t know who exactly sang what and where, but Matt Skiba was on the record as well as tried out for the musical. The story behind it comes from experiences in both Fat Mike and Soma Snakeoil’s lives. I don’t want to say I related to the album because I thankfully can’t, but it totally let me try on their shoes, or at least hear what it’s like to be in them. I grew up in a very fortunate house: I didn’t have to spend nights on the street, abuse drugs, or sell my body to get along. I know there were people out there and there are now. But it’s easy to forget and ignore when you aren’t walking around LA, or just being unfortunate enough to live in a messed up household. Some people are well off, but just fall into a bad situation.

The record also goes beyond that. There are people who were thrown into situations like that, but have become content with it, and have grown out of it, and made it a part of who they are. They’ve evolved out of the lifestyle and turned a bad situation, to them, into a good one. Through all of the misery and drug overdoses and the loss of friends, some come out of it stronger for it. Then you take people like them… the drug abusers, the people abandoned to the streets, and looked down upon because they don’t have jobs or didn’t grow up to be these contributing members of society, when really they had no choice. It’s a miserable situation, both then and now, and it’s very real.

Something like this coming from Fat Mike speaks to his ability of playing anything any way he wants. An immediate reaction might be to see the subject matter he’s written about, drug abuse, turning tricks, drinking your life away, trying to kill yourself… it might be easy to see all those things as trying to get shock value, especially in a Broadway musical setting. But really, it’s just honest. There isn’t a man eating a sheep out on the cover, they’ve made a point to put their own lives into these songs. It took them a long time to get the project finished, but it’s been well worth all the effort they put in. If you like punk, you probably have to be in the right state of mind going into it to really appreciate it, but it’s worth it to at least hear the stories.

A Trip Back in Time: Bad Religion’s “Process of Belief.” Reviewed by Harmony Hertzog.

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Rather than write a review of something new, which I almost always hate at first because I don’t like change and new things, I thought I’d remind everyone of The Process of Belief by Bad Religion, which was released in 2002. I know 13 years is kind of a random time, but I had to be honest with myself and admit that The New America, which came out in 2000, really did kind of suck. That album was the first one to gain mainstream attention with the title track “New America,” which sounded nothing like the Bad Religion everyone was used to. If you ask almost any veteran punk, they will tell you The New America is the worst Bad Religion album ever, they sold out, etc. I defended that album for a long time, as it came out when I was in my formative years, but I have to jump on the bandwagon (slightly grudgingly) and admit The New America doesn’t even break the top 10 of Best Things Bad Religion Ever Produced.

I feel like The Process of Belief was heavily ignored by the non-mainstream due to the reception of The New America. Obviously the album did well; everyone knows “Sorrow,” and it peaked 30-some-odd points higher on Billboard than The New America. But even then, I don’t know many people who are into punk without being Bad Religion fans that remember The Process of Belief. Since I don’t play music, I can only judge as a consumer. My standards are somewhat low; I like the basic instruments (guitars, drums, bass) played fast while still being more music than noise, with melodic vocals that are some combination of intelligent, witty, and/or entertaining (read: I am able to sing along). This album meets my somewhat mediocre standards, but music is so much more than that: this album makes me feel. The New America, overall, did not make me feel anything. In contrast, The Process of Belief really made me think and feel about things outside my 16 year-old inherently narcissistic self. I didn’t understand what “Kyoto Now!” was about at the time, but I knew shit was bad, and that song made me angry. Rightfully so, covering up nuclear disasters is generally frowned upon. “Sorrow,” even despite being completely played out, still encourages me to love my neighbor, in complete opposition to my general apathy toward everyone who isn’t my cat. “Evangeline” is rather cryptic, but it always made me proud to be an atheist, if only because what’s mine is mine and I don’t have to worry about any omnipotent being judging me. Similar feelings arose due to “Destined for Nothing.” That song is far more transparent, with lyrics like “headed for eternity and destined for nothing,” making me happy that I was living for myself and not for some interpretation of a 2000+ year-old book. The last song that gave me particularly peculiar feelings was “You Don’t Belong.” When I was 16, I was like, yeah, outcast anthem! But after hearing the song a few times I was like, no, wait, no one is special..? I didn’t know at the time who most of the people in the song were, save Milo, GG, and Jack, two of which I did, and still do, look up to as people who “don’t belong.”* I decided this song really was dedicated to me. And you. Yeah, you.

If you don’t know who Bad Religion is, The Process of Belief is a good place to start. No, it is not their best album by punk standards, but I feel like this is their most encompassing, mass-friendly album that is not offensive to long time Bad Religion fans. And if you are a Bad Religion fan, revisit this album. If you’re still holding a grudge about them being sellouts, maybe this last purist fact will help: The Process of Belief was their first album back on Epitaph Records and ushered the return of Brett Gurewitz. There is bound to be at least one song on the album that is meaningful to you, and meaning is what it’s really all about, right?
*Milo is Milo Auckerman of the Descendents, who took a hiatus from the band in order to obtain a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and still plays to this day in between bouts of scientific research.
*GG is GG Allen. Look him up.
*Jack is Jack Grisham, lead singer of T.S.O.L and infamous cross-dresser. He also ran for governor in the clusterfuck that was the 2003 California governor reelection. I, and approximately 2,000 other people, voted for him.

Good Riddance’s “Peace in our Time.” Reviewed by Taylor Farner.

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Well, it seems Good Riddance is ageless. They’re still playing gnarly jams. You would think a gap of 8 years in their catalog might have an effect on their ability to play like a bunch of angsty teenagers. Not the case, my friend.

I, for one, am new to Good Riddance. I didn’t start listening to them until the midst of their hiatus, so I didn’t get to feel the pain long-lost fans felt during the gap. I don’t even know, man.

But I was thinking about this the other day when I started planning this review: Good Riddance has one of the strongest sounds I know of. Their sound doesn’t wither away, and hasn’t changed into something else. They’re still busting out these great hardcore jams with the same voraciousness they had in the mid-90s. Musically they know their shit. Melodically, they’re catchy as hell. Let’s get to it:
Opening song: It’s hardcore. Duh.

“Disputatio,” (Latin for dispute) is in a lot of ways GR’s recurring anthem. They still hold the dream, and the vision of being able to speak your mind. It’s a statement for their hardcore straight-edge friends and neighbors to stand firm and uphold what you believe.
Another favorite of mine from the record is “Take it to Heart.” The first reminder that GR is a group with very strong and willful political views, the song reminds us of all the shitty things that we allow, as a nation, and cause, all the while putting up blankets to hide everything in slaughterhouses or mental institutions, or bury in the past. There isn’t really a doubt that we’ve been ignorant and willfully chosen to not look at the grimy parts of life, but GR throws the ignorance out the window and slaps us with another catchy hardcore song.

I’m assuming they purposefully made the intro to “Dry Season,” sound like “Green Corn,” which made me smile. This song is another political one. It gives an interesting perspective, but ultimately brings us back to the title of the record. It’s a call for peace, when no one seems to be interested in it.

“Washed Away,” is a thought-provoking melodic tune that makes us question our routines and why we do the things that we see as necessities that are ultimately what are destroying the world, and made us willfully ignorant. The greediness of humanity and our selfishness has tarnished their belief in any divine faith or organized system of beliefs.

“Glory Glory,” is here to tell us that changing our ways isn’t going to be easy. We are where we are, because being ignorant is easy. Conforming to an ideology is ultimately hindering us from a real freedom, and is really just a huge joke that we’re playing on ourselves, and preventing us from being true to ourselves.

Just go get the record. GR is back, giving us their catchy melodic hardcore straight-edge jams, asking for us to try and be better people, and reminding us that we’re the reason the world is the way it is. It’s up to us to fix it, and being ignorant to our problems doesn’t really make them go away.

I saw them right before the record released. They’re easily one of, if not the best band I’ve seen live. They know their shit, they sound amazing, and they are here for the greater good. I’ll try to dig up some tour dates.

Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s “Not Sorry.” Reviewed by Taylor Farner.

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This record is fantastic. I’m glad I gave it a shot. The record released in June, 2015, under Fat Wreck Chords. To give some perspective for this review, I’m a fan of female fronted/dominated bands. I like Riot Grrrl records, and metal-chick bands. I find what Bad Cop/Bad Cop has to say in Not Sorry very interesting, especially in a genre that is, for the most part, male-dominated.

To me, their sound is very close to Gwen Stefani, as far as lyrical image goes (and I mean that to be a good trait. No Doubt is mas tight). The three guitarists in the band all sing. They have two consistent lead singers, Stacey Dee and Jennie Cotterill. They trade off singing the songs, it seems, and act as the front women for the band. Upon seeing them for the first time (04.18.2015) and not knowing who they were or ever having heard of them before, they sounded a lot more rugged, and had a crisper sound in person than they did over their record. It reminded me of Bikini Kill or something like that. It’s the reason I got the record.

The opening track, “Nightmare,” is a nice touch on writing over-polluted love songs, spinning it around a bit, with lines like “I’ll never write a stupid poppy love song/ (Beat) For anyone but you.” Funny, and gives the band character. It tells me Yeah, we’re not here to write a bunch of soppy songs about our crush or whatever, but we’re still human, and like sharing how we feel.

The second track comes on, “Anti Love Song,” and I think, Ah shit, I had high hopes for this album, but there’s already a trend starting here… a hypocritical one at that… But when it’s over, I see that’s not the case. It gives me an impression, but not the one I initially thought I was going to be left with. It was just extra wrapping around the idea they originally started with their opening track. And it is something I think needed to be made. It tells me that it was the right time for them to make the record, for themselves. They have just found who they are as a group, and don’t need to build musical careers off of relationships, and they aren’t defined by their emotional triumphs and failures.

Another track that sticks out is “Sugarcane.” I thought of it as an homage to their female musical predecessors. It follows the narrative of a girl who enters abusive relationships and keeps going back to them. It tells women to stand up for themselves, and stop putting themselves through shitty relationships. While it’s not right, it’s your fault that you keep putting yourself through abuse by not trying to move on, go somewhere else, or find someone that is deserving. It is a bit brutal in that it doesn’t take into account the great deal of physical and emotional pain, but maybe that’s what people need sometimes is brutal honesty.

The whole album is good. You should check them out. I recently saw them live (and wrote about it). They play a lot harder: they’re capable of playing loud, fast, and they’re funny. Go see them, if you can. They’re playing with a lot of their fellow Fat Wreck Chords bands on their various tours.

Screeching Weasel’s “Baby Fat, Act 1.” Reviewed by Taylor Farner

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And now for something totally different, again. Screeching Weasel, or the new Screeching Weasel, rather, has come out with a story-driven record that branches out of their normal angsty genre of being who we are and saying what we think, bringing in a bunch of guests to the carnival, including their tour mates of the last couple of years. Blag Dahlia was there, along with Roger Lima from Less Than Jake, Chris Barrows from The Pink Lincolns, Todd Congelliere from F.Y.P. and Toys That Kill, and a handful of other musicians from bands I’m less familiar with.

I’m a fan of bands branching out and trying something new. I don’t buy the new records of a 30 year old band expecting it to sound the same as their first record. Sure, Weasel plays really fucking well live, but who wants to record the same music for 3 decades?

Because they blended a bunch of other people into the album, it goes beyond just a Weasel album, even if Ben Weasel wrote the majority of the music. That may have to do with Blag Dahlia’s very distinctive voice and style… or maybe something more.

The premise and story behind the album is Blag Dahlia, named “Baby Fat,” is the manager of a band called “Serpentello,” of which Ben Weasel, or “Tommy Swank,” is the singer for the band and owner of a “The Reptile House Club.” Throughout the album the different characters in the play follow a lot of typical band drama. The singer gets a superiority complex, the manager disagrees with the members decisions, unreliable crew members are making the whole situation boil.

The story starts to take a turn around the song “Things Aren’t So Bad After All.” It starts to turn more towards the social issues than the practical dilemmas that every band encounters, ever. It starts to involve an actual narrative in this “play” of sorts.

I’m not the biggest fan of the album, honestly. I really like that they did something different, I just don’t think this worked well for them. I think that the only way to really get into it is if you’re already a huge Screeching Weasel fan and will sit through it a couple of times to get through it, or have the booklet in your hands so you know what these characters are and what’s really going on. That is to say, I am a Screeching Weasel fan–not so much a Ben Weasel fan, but I like the music. What I like about them is that they’re catchy, they have thought provoking lyrics, and, while their stage antics and band history doesn’t stand up against their own music, they’re good at what they do. This, however, was not catchy, and unless you sit through it a few times, you’re not really going to feel like you’re living in the music–hence, why you have to already be a fan.

However, for my second contradiction, I will listen to Baby Fat, Act 2. Even if, on my first listen, it sounds the same and has some of the same problems, I’ll still give it a try, because this is the first time Ben’s done something like this, and as I said, I can appreciate what he’s doing in trying to create something new. He had a style that he probably perfected early on in Boogada Boogada Boogada, and My Brain Hurts, and has played off that style ever since.

Out of curiosity, I did check around online to see what other people thought, and my findings seem to match up with what I thought: fans will love it, and people who like SW, but don’t crawl out of Ben’s ass every time he beats someone up to defend him, they will probably have a hard time convincing themselves they need to put the extra effort in to get behind it. Based on his personality, I’m sure Ben didn’t write it for those people.