Thursday, May 28, 2009

All Hail Breaks Loose: Midnight Comes to Town

For the first time in over a year I got to leave my apartment and see some Cleveland rock and roll up close and personal. Try not to laugh at my child like excitement but it was like going to see Wrestlemania or Jewel Kilcher in concert (both things I have done on multiple occasions so I know what I am talking about.) Midnight, my favorite Cleveland metal maniacs, rolled through town for a two night stand of evil deeds last week… it was a breath of putrid, polluted air.

Midnight always puts on a great show in Cle; between the whip wielding broads, broken glass and drunken mosh pits you are bound to leave swimming in a pool of vomit and blood (hopefully not just your own). I was hoping for more of the same when I caught them in Long Beach but I was really just happy to imagine that I was at Now That’s Class for one night.

I started off in good Ohio fashion by quickly draining a forty of beer before I was picked up for the trip to Long Beach which is easily the closest assimilate to my beloved Lakewood that I have found near Los Angeles. Once I got there I was pleasantly pleased to see Midnights resident shredder Sean nursing a pint of beer with a big Parma grin on his face. Man, I miss the shitty things we all used to get into ‘back in the day’. The fact that he was driving across the country playing what may be the least accessible Metal coming out of Cleveland further drove some nostalgic giddiness through me.

What made the night better; it was a family affair as my good buddy Ryan Harkins was playing in his stellar stoner-black metal band Sumerian Axe. Harkins is a Cleveland legend in his own right if only in my head and history: he played bass in my first band See World, drums in my baby Amps II Eleven and put an ugly stamp on Cleveland garage rock while playing in the Death Sweats.

Sumerian Axe is the only band in LA that sounds like they are from Cleveland. It’s gritty, funny, riffing and kind of tongue-in-cheek. Harkins is a formidable front man in the effect that you never know if he’s going to hurt you or himself at any given moment. I like that sort of thing (even though, at this stage in the game, I find myself ever farther in the back of the room during these types of shows). The songs are full of stoner rock abandon and Venom-esque vocals; the only problem here is that they sound a little too much like Midnight to be a good opening act for Midnight.

That being said Midnight still held their own. The crowd was thick with Mexican metallists and questionable punk kids, all of them a little rowdy but not at all accomplished at making a real-deal Cleveland debacle. Dressed to the nines in trademarked bee keeper masks and ugly tattoos (speaking of Venom… how is it I never noticed Jaime’s tramp stamp that reads ‘I heart Venom’?) the dudes brought their rapid fire assault sans any creepy girls on stage and easily mowed over every ones minds. It was fascinating to find out how far reaching their music has become as the crowd literally went berserker during the opener ‘Black Rock and Roll’ which seems to be the rally cry for a new generation of bands.

‘All Hail Hell’ is my favorite Midnight cut and it may be their ultimate anthem as nearly everyone in the room raised their fists in the air, calling out the chorus in unison. It’s simple, it’s quirky and probably not really all that evil but it works on a level that reaches us metal heads from the north coast to the west coast. And it was really all I came for; after they played that song I wandered to the beer patio to chug Jim Beam out of a plastic bottle.

I hope Midnight curates an even greater army of fuckups all over the world. They are on the cusp of becoming something special; maybe not a Metallica but they could at least be an Armored Saint. In the meantime I am only too happy to watch Sumerian Axe build its own legion of non-Cle kids who have never seen something like Harkins crowd surfing during a show in a party bus (that was the week before this show).

I have a dream, a noble, selfless dream. A dream that one day Long Beach will be rechristened Parma II. This time I’ll just watch from the back of the room as it slowly gets burned down.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cle Food Fetish Vol II

Major League is an amazing movie. American Splendor painting an even prettier picture of our home. That said the entertainment industry does not always shine a light on Cleveland. Hell the two movies I mentioned are basically an outside joke on the town; we’re poor, talent less and we complain endlessly. But they also show that we have moxie and work ethic to spare.

Arguably the best television show or movie ever based on Cleveland is the No Reservations episode that aired two years ago. Anthony Bourdain is more than a chef, a writer or even my vote for sexiest man; he’s a vanguard, a traveling salesman and a witty motherfucker. His opinions and thoughts should not be just revered but worshiped and studied for generations to come. Maybe you think I’m over exaggerating or in love; maybe you are right on both accounts.

I’ve wanted to write about that episode for a long time but it’s just not timely anymore: like Rolling Stone finally getting around to that Bassholes review.

There was a lot in that episode that I did not know about Cleveland. For starters: who knew that mammoth bookstore was even around let alone that is housed Twinkie filling on draught? Maybe y’all did and I’m just not as great of a Clevelander as I though. And the surfing, casole, Marky Ramone confessing that he could eat “two whole pizzas”? But it’s a vicious cycle, you have to fit into your clothes and write random blogs.

I love No Reservations. I love it enough to actually stop drinking Christmas Ale and get into my brothers high school car (he’s 32) to drive down Memphis to visit the Sausage Shoppe. Remember this part of the show? Tony walks into a little mom and pop joint to sample all sorts of forced meats and pâté? It was awesome and looked delicious and sentimental at the same time.

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I visited the shop in question just a few days before Christmas and it was packed. Packed for a small shop full of meat, anyway. There were delicious samples of the aforementioned pâté with crackers sitting on top of a deli case that housed a wet dream of dead animals. Little old ladies pushing me aside so they could purchase the tastes that they have, no doubt, been savoring since their parents first ushered them into this country.

I was in search of some summer sausage to remind me of the endless summer back in California and, more over, all the yuletides past in this great city. I was not disappointed. Every slice of meat I inquired about the men and women behind the meat oasis were proud to let me try. And it was good, my friends. Good to be surrounded by big, juicy meats and people that have spent their life and even generations of lifetimes submerged in this fatty, delicious environment.

Their website (www.sausageshoppe.com) has coupons to help you through these hard times without hindering your eastern-European tastes for such treats as head cheese and Slovenian sausage (all lean pork with a mild flavor. Call for availability).

While there my head was admittedly swimming; so many colors, flavors and words I had trouble pronouncing. Sadly, I only left with some smoked sausage and some refrigerated smokies which were the perfect gift for my duck hunting, meat loving old-man. He loved the gesture but, next year, Christmas dinner will be amazing if this shoppe has any say in it. Throw that turkey into the Salvation Army bag that has been sitting there for years, we have a loaf of head cheese and ten pounds of holiday kielbasa to get through.

4501 Memphis Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44144-1912
Phone: (216) 351-5213

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Review: Sun God : (S)PAIN

It may be shocking, even orgasmic, to gain the knowledge that I don’t write exclusively for the Deadtown office; I’m actually a celebrated journalist if only in my own and my mothers mind. I’ve been published in weeklies, monthlies and in book form. Yeah, I know, I have impressed you but really I’m actually a struggling wingnut (as Mr. Erba once called me in a letter written in 1996-ish) who, from time to time, pitches a thing or two about local Cleveland music. That’s reason #1 as to why I don’t have a lot of timely reviews on this blog.

But, here and again, I do have a rare chance to wax ever so fucking poetic on something fresh and, well, refreshing. So when I called out to Cleveland in a not-so-overt fashion to send me free music, I was very excited that Sun God rose to the challenge and sent me their new(ish) 7”. I wanted to build a Cle distro and they liked that sentiment; of course I have NO intention on doing so but it shows a sort of local support that I did get free music by just taking the initiative to ask. So this, handful of readers, is my first exclusive.

Sun God
(S)pain
(Pizza Pants Records)

Holy crap, I feel seventeen again.




I dropped down a bunch because I wanted to drive that first sentence into your head. I do… I feel young and a little out of reach of the things I actually have within a hands grasp of now; money, sex, booze and stableness. But, don’t get me wrong, that’s a good feeling to relish in and I’ll tell you why: when I was seventeen I loved music, I loved its surrounding culture and I knew when something was good if not totally fucking killer.

Ever since I found money, sex and especially booze (stableness still avoids me) I have not been able to connect with music the way I had at that age. Sure, I went through a stoner rock phase where songs about drinking, drugging and fucking seemed appropriate. And I have run a gamut of stereotype: vegetarian, straight edge, hardcore, wigger, punk and metalhead. Fuck, I have a Jewel poster on my wall and a James Taylor greatest hits in my closet. But I grew up, or cut my teeth, or learned my way, through and on hardcore. DC, Post, Revelation, Very Distribution, Victory; I’ve got all those catalogs and I still relish how good all of it made me feel. Sun God are, to my ears, the first Cleveland band to rope it all together in an intelligent way without losing the most important part about contemporary music: those lovely hooks.

“(S)pain” is a burner and I know I have used that phrase to an almost freely extent in the past but, trust me, this song could be the start of the best record any old-school HC label put out. Complete with wicked little string slides, the guitar work is taken to over-drive making it a sort of riddle to how the drums even keep time. We have solo this and solo that, it’s always a welcome surprise but the main riff alone is leaving my computer speakers shaking in disbelief. I think I’m hearing this in the vocal: “I don’t need what I don’t see” and it’s nothing short of the truth; I don’t know what these guys are doing to their poor instruments but it’s all sort of all right. A pounding, it’s what both I and computer are taking at one am Pacific Time.

My roommate just left the apartment a while ago but, before he left his graveyard of Pabst cans behind, he summed it up by repeating, over and over, “This shit is awesome.”

Only three songs are humbly given to us here and I’m actually glad for it because it’s the best kind of tease: I’m almost on my proverbial knees begging for a full length with some shitty minimalist artwork. Something I can keep in my collection and pull out in a drunken stupor to happily surprise any record collecting nerd with this pearl out of the Cleveland oyster.

Maybe I’m giving too much credit but in a lake that’s too Erie for it’s own good, we have something that’s pretty special in a throwback that y’all missed kind of sort of way. “Homewrecker” may drive this point home to you with the way the word “time” is drawn out when in reference to it being such a waste. Yeah, you’re on to something, brother. If nothing else, we can all be witness to that, right? And, in context, it’s even more thrilling; post-punk guitar strutting, backup vocals riding a crest and the constant pounding of “what I did was wrong” making us remember the littlest mistake as if it was us getting injured midseason and not Derek Anderson (sorry).

I’ve already written about how much I revere the final song, “Bailin’Out”; reference a few blogs past to know for yourself. Or you can do yourself the favor of buying this record (or do like I did and ASK for it but be sure to return the favor the next time your at Melt by telling the hipster girl next to you how much it rips).

It’s been a while since I have had nothing bad to say about a record from Cleveland or elsewhere, maybe it’s a tribute to how great this release is or it could be a lesson many bands should learn: in this age of kitchen reality shows and three minute pro wrestling matches, just give them what they need, something killer, and then wait and rejoice.