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DS Festival Review: Slam Dunk Festival (North)

In 2001, I moved to the Northern English city of Leeds, in part because of the live music venue, The Cockpit. This small venue put on all my favourite bands of the time, and had a long history of putting on great live music. I worked in another venue in the city on weekends, so […]

In 2001, I moved to the Northern English city of Leeds, in part because of the live music venue, The Cockpit. This small venue put on all my favourite bands of the time, and had a long history of putting on great live music. I worked in another venue in the city on weekends, so Tuesday night was my big night out, and Tuesday nights were Slam Dunk at The Cockpit. A solid mix of ska punk, pop punk, emo, rock, metal and whatever else alternative kids were listening to in the early 2000’s. 

So here I am, 21 years later. The Cockpit has long since shut down and whilst the Slam Dunk Club Night plays on at its new home, the Key Club, it’s the festival that I am at today. Now held across two cities with more than 50 bands, across five stages, things have really grown from that two room sweaty Tuesday night under a railway arch.

The lineup covers a wide range of punk and alternative music, but because I’m old and stuck in my ways, I’m mostly staying at the Dickies stage, which is the main stage this year, hosting The Suicide Machines, The Bronx, Hot Water Music, The Vandals, Streetlight Manifesto, Pennywise, The Interrupters, The Dropkick Murphy’s and headliners Sum 41. 

I’d originally bought tickets on the basis that Rancid were headlining, but they pulled out for undisclosed reasons. Then support from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones collapsed along with the band. Things were looking bleak, and I actually looked into selling my ticket, only to have two of my close friends and original Slam Dunk allies to buy tickets, so it was to be a big day out for us old guys.

The venue for the festival is Temple Newsam House. For further personal historic links, this was the site of the first music festival I ever went to (V98), and a big part of my musical taste was formed in these park lands. The benefit of this location for me is that it is close to home, the downside is that it still takes an hour and a half to get in, as traffic is not well managed and everything is already getting expensive (£10 to park in a field, £10 for a bus), I’d planned to ride my bike to the event, but for three of us, that didn’t make much sense.

Inside the arena, the stages are far enough apart that there is little noise mix from bands and practicalities like bars, toilets and food concessions are plentiful, the addition of a separate “real ale” bar was a pleasant surprise, and I managed to spend an impressive amount in this tent after and before every band. The tent also provides some welcome shade from the unexpected sun that I was totally unprepared for!

So, on to the music…

Hot Water Music, a band that I’ve discovered backwards through Chuck Ragan’s solo work, come out impassioned and full of energy, although the crowd are a little flat with it being an early set. Despite this we get a solid effort from the band, though possibly things are held back a little by a lack of catchy hooks and sing along choruses in the songs performed. Finishing with “Trusty Chords” gets the crowd interested from hearing a song they know. Whether they know the song from Epitaph‘s Punk-o-Rama compilation, or it’s just a favourite is hard to say, but in a pre-internet world, compilations from Independent punk labels are how a lot of us discovered new bands, especially those that didn’t tour the small northern venues like the Cockpit!

A quick trip to the bar revealed the sound of Punk Rock Factory carrying on the wind from the Rock Sound Stage. I was familiar with the band from their Youtube videos of punked up, harmonized pop covers, and as a father of small children, I found myself singing along to “Let It Go”, whilst appropriately stood at a urinal. If I have to play Disney songs on long journeys, then at least they can have crushing guitars as well, and hopefully, like some kind of gateway drug, this leads my kids down the path of home made tattoos and living in a van (or some other punk cliché).

The Vandals took to the stage with a not too reassuring “We’ll do our best”, and whilst I appreciate their honesty and openness, first song “Café 405”, is out of time and out of tune. 

Three songs in, things are starting to tighten up, “People That Are Going To Hell” gets people moving a little, but on the whole, the crowd remain static. “And Now We Dance” raises the energy, “The New You” keeps it going, but there’s just not enough there to hold the attention of the majority of the crowd. My friends desert me to hit the real ale bar, I hate myself for giving up on the mighty Vandals, but cold beer and the Cancer Bats on the Jagermeister stage lure me away. I’m not massively familiar with the Cancer Bats, but the wall of noise, that I could feel through the ground and see vibrating through my pint has led me to listen to more of their back catalogue.

I had a dream the night before Slam Dunk that I took all my family to see Streetlight Manifesto, but instead of their usual set list, they played a really challenging, four hour Jazz set, stopping only to enjoy a sit down meal, where they served soup from tea pots. I was trying desperately to convince my family that really, they’re a great band, whilst simultaneously enjoying the weird spectacle. 

Fortunately, there’s no Jazz today as Streetlight Manifesto, a later addition to the bill, take to the stage. There’s a clear sense of excitement in the crowd as the eight piece tear through classic hits “We Will Fall Together” and “The Three Of Us” along with lesser known tracks with a level of energy normally reserved for headline shows. The crowd sings along, dances, moshes; it’s a perfect blend of everything you want on a summers day. The only slight letdown is Tomas Kalnoky shouting “this is the big finish!” and then promptly not playing “Keasbey Nights.” I get the reasons, and I support them in letting go of a song that doesn’t really represent the band, but for many in the crowd it’s the song they came to hear and there’s visible confusion as the band leave the stage, though encores aren’t really a thing at 16:30 on a festival stage are they?

I last saw Pennywise in 1999. So its been a while. Late last year I read Jim Lindberg’s book “Punk Rock Dad,” which renewed my interest in the band, so I’m excited to see this set, and if the number of Pennywise T-shirts I’m seeing are anything to go by, so are the crowd.

From the get go, the band are on full attack. There’s no sign of age in the band and the crowd are loving it. Covers of AC/DC’s “TNT” and “Breed” by Nirvana continues the energy. Early songs “Pennywise” and “Society” lead to Lindberg lamenting to having been “doing this for thirty years,” but it’s not slowing them down. 

The crowd holds middle fingers aloft for “Fuck Authority,” and whilst it feels cheesy, a load of middle aged men swearing at the sky, its kind of cathartic, and hey, it’s a great song! Who doesn’t enjoy feeling like an angry teenager (teenagers maybe?).

A cover of “Stand By Me,” which closed 1992 album Wild Card/ A Word From The ‘Wise surprised me, as I was certain it was Lagwagon, so I learned something important today if nothing else. 

Set closer “Bro-Hymn” has exactly the effect you’d expect. Huge “wooahs” from the crowd, that epic bass riff and impassioned singing along. Obviously it’s a great song, but I think it hits harder now, after the last few years and I think everyone can take some strength from this song and apply it to someone they’ve lost.

The Interrupters carry a strange position in my mind. I love their songs, they’re great live, but there’s just something not quite right. Something doesn’t sit right with me, and I hate myself for being so negative, but its all a bit too clean cut for me. Like it’s the soundtrack to Disney film where some hopelessly good looking, talented young people form a ska punk band and take over the world with a weird crusty mentor behind them (Called Tim?).

Opener “Take Back the Power” feels stronger than normal. Maybe its that they’re more established, or maybe my cynicism is fading? Either way I enjoy it for what it is, well polished, perfectly-performed ska pop-punk. 

Ignoring a weird segue about how they all used to bathe together… “She got arrested” gets a great crowd sing along, and is probably my favourite of their songs, not least as it was my introduction to the band back in 2017 and a great example of the quality story telling in the lyrics of some of their songs.

A cover medley of “Keep ‘Em Separated”/ “Linoleum”/ “Ruby Soho” gets the crowd going before surprise high point for me, a cover of Bad Religion‘s “Sorrow,” which goes down well with the crowd (For reference Bad Religion played Slam Dunk in 2019, as did the Interrupters).

The band finishes with “She’s Kerosene,” keeping the party going, the crowd moving and generally capturing the moment nicely. People are drunk, its sunny, the people want to dance and the Interrupters deliver.

The Dropkick Murphys take to a stage with a full length riser, done out to look like a stone wall, but there is a notable absence. Al Barr, it is announced, has stayed home to care for his sick mother. Ken Casey steps up for lead vocal duties and the evening begins with the sound of bagpipes on the cool evening breeze. 

“State of Massachusetts” gets the kind of crowd reaction you’d expect from a classic pop hit or a song about Yorkshire, such passion for such a challenging subject is strange, but hey, it’s a great song and the drunk, bouncy, dancey crowd are loving it.

“Barroom Hero” is introduced as the first song the band ever wrote, which is a bit of trivia I didn’t know, but I remember it from way back in the 90s, so I guess that makes sense. The crowd offer weak “Oi! Oi! Oi!” effort which is a disappointment, maybe the crowd aren’t as au fait with shouting Oi! as I’d like? Though I accept my drive to shout “Oi!” is probably higher than most.

The slip up begins with the instruction to sing along to the 1937 hit “I’ve Still Got Ninety-Nine” by the Monroe Brothers, which although an undeniably good song, probably isn’t too familiar to the crowd today. On the upside, we’re promised an acoustic album in September, which is one to look out for. Whether it’s new material or reimagined classics has not been confirmed, but hopefully there will be an associated tour.

“Rose Tattoo” brings the sing along from the crowd, but lacks the momentum to get the crowd moving. This is exacerbated by the big screen showing bored, static faces in the crowd for the first time. Fortunately, “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” brings the party back before the end of the set. I’ve never seen such passion for a missing wooden leg, as the crowd goes nuts, with crowd surfers from all directions riding above the waves of the crowd. All parties appear to have legs intact, so that’s good.

Headliners Sum-41 were a bit of a quandary for me. The first album was an important soundtrack to my late teens/ early 20s and I saw them play in Leeds twice in 2002, but I haven’t listened to their music since Does This Look Infected from the same year.

A bit of pre-show research suggested they have had seven further releases, including 2019s Order In Decline, but in the spirit of openness, I’ve not felt inspired to check these out.

The band come out to a stage with blood-soaked Marshall speaker cabinets, a giant skull, jets of fire and “Motivation” from the first album, All Killer, No Filler. More people than I expected are really into it, though competition with Deaf Havana and the Nova Twins is limited and the other stages have closed.

The stage is set for a night of big rock and I’d like to say I invested more effort into rediscovering Sum 41, but too much sun, too much beer and a designated driver who wanted to beat the traffic meant we made an early exit.

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DS Photo Gallery: Pinkshift w/ Jigsaw Youth & Yasmin Nur – Cobra Lounge, Chicago, IL (10/26/2022)

The rapidly-rising pop punk trio Pinkshift stopped in Chicago for their headlining tour after releasing their debut album Love Me Forever. Accompanied by Jigsaw Youth and Yasmin Nur, the all-ages crowd at Cobra Lounge packed the house and left with an unforgettable night of female-fronted music. Wichita, Kansas native singer/songwriter Yasmin Nur opened the night […]

The rapidly-rising pop punk trio Pinkshift stopped in Chicago for their headlining tour after releasing their debut album Love Me Forever. Accompanied by Jigsaw Youth and Yasmin Nur, the all-ages crowd at Cobra Lounge packed the house and left with an unforgettable night of female-fronted music.

Wichita, Kansas native singer/songwriter Yasmin Nur opened the night with her band and brought along all the dreamy-yet-dark indie rock vibes you can ever ask for.

Jigsaw Youth quickly became one of my favorite bands after seeing them at Cobra Lounge in 2021 with Destroy Boys. The sludge-grunge queens of New York brought the same howling energy as they did last year and introduced the new single “Skin.”

Pinkshift released their debut album Love Me Forever on October 21, 2022 through Hopeless Records. The empowering and emotional album boasts several stellar hits including “i’m not crying you’re crying,” “nothing (in my head)” and “BURN THE WITCH.”

The new wave of pop punk is here and this album deserves to be a part of it!

Check out the full gallery below!

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DS Record Radar: This Week in Punk Vinyl (The Real McKenzies, Cock Sparrer, SACK… PLUS Black Friday Vinyl Deals)

Greetings, fellow degenerates! Welcome to the latest installment of the Dying Scene Record Radar. If it’s your first time here, thank you for joining us! This is a weekly column where we cover all things punk rock vinyl. In addition to new releases and reissues, this week we’ll also be highlighting some Black Friday sales […]

Greetings, fellow degenerates! Welcome to the latest installment of the Dying Scene Record Radar. If it’s your first time here, thank you for joining us! This is a weekly column where we cover all things punk rock vinyl. In addition to new releases and reissues, this week we’ll also be highlighting some Black Friday sales on vinyl records that may interest you. So kick off your shoes, pull up a chair, crack open a cold one, and break out those wallets, because it’s go time. Let’s get into it!

British punks Grade 2 have a new self-titled album on the way. The record produced by Rancid‘s Tim Amstrong is due out in February 2023 on Hellcat Records. Check out their new single “Under the Streetlight” below, and go here for links to where all the different color variants of the LP can be purchased.

If you read our latest Ten Underrated Punk Bands That Should Be On Your Radar column, you know who SACK is. If you didn’t read it (fuck you, why didn’t you read it? I worked really hard on that!) SACK is fronted by Kody Templeman (Teenage Bottlerocket, Lillingtons, etc.). Their new record Ripper! was released on CD earlier this year, and is now finally available on vinyl thanks to the friendly people at Red Scare. Pre-order this beast here.

Also from Red Scare (in case you missed our story about it earlier this week): A first-time vinyl release of Sludgeworth‘s Losers of the Year. For those who aren’t in the know, this was a short lived project of Screeching Weasel‘s Dan Vapid that also featured his SW bandmate Brian Vermin on drums. This album was originally released on CD in 1995 through Lookout! Records, and old school pop-punk aficionados have been clamoring for a vinyl reissue for a long time. The wait is over! Head over to Red Scare’s webstore to grab your copy.

Punk supergroup Fake Names (ft. members of Bad Religion, Refused, Fugazi, etc.) have announced their new album Expendables will be released on March 3rd, 2023 through Epitaph Records. Check out the first single “Delete Myself” below, and pre-order the record here (yellow vinyl, US) or here (“black & white galaxy” vinyl, EU).

Today marks the release of Celtic punk veterans The Real McKenzies new covers album Songs of the Highlands, Songs of the Sea. Fat Wreck Chords is sold out of colored vinyl, but you can still get it on black wax from their webstore. For those outside of the states, the record is available here (CA), here (EU), and here (AUS).

And because you can never have enough Fat Wreck Chords in your life, here’s another new release from Fat! NOFX frontman Fat Mike has teamed up with Get Dead‘s Sam King on a new project called Codefendants. Check out the band’s new single below and order their 10″ split with Get Dead from Fat Wreck’s webstore.

A few Record Radars ago, we let you that the Transplants‘ self-titled debut album was getting a 20th Anniversary reissue. Well, those sold out really fucking quick so Hellcat Records has announced some additional, retailer-exclusive color variants. 1-2-3-4! Go Records and Smartpunk each have their own unique variants here in the US, and Banquet Records has an EU exclusive “cool blue” color variant.

Pirates Press Records is reissuing all seven Cock Sparrer LPs in honor of the band’s 50th Anniversary. You can get them individually for 20 bucks each, or as a set for $125 (that’s a savings of 15 dollars, folks!). No pretty colors here, just good ol’ black wax.

Just in time for the holiday season, Chris Farren‘s Like a Gift from God or Whatever is back in print on neon green colored vinyl. Head over to Asian Man Recordswebstore and get a piece of this yuletide wax 🎄

Fraser from the Murderburgers is a busy guy! In addition to his current band Wrong Life (featured in Dying Scene’s Ten Underrated Punk Bands You Need To Check Out Right Now column) he has now announced another project called Absolute Melt. Check out the single “2am (The Face Changes Shape)” below, and go here to pre-order their upcoming 10″ EP. All profits from physical and digital sales will go to Scottish Women’s Aid, who help women, children and young people in Scotland affected by domestic abuse.

Black Friday Sales

The first Black Friday sale we’ll be highlighting comes to us from the purveyors of pop-punk at Mom’s Basement Records. For one day only, everything on their webstore (including that awesome distro section with The Windowsill‘s album that I just gave a 5-Star review 😉) will be 30% off! Stay tuned to the label’s social profiles for more info. This is the sale of the year as far as I’m concerned.

Merchbar’s entire store is perpetually “on sale”, but their Black Friday Preview sale sees stuff marked down a bit more than usual. The sale has already started, and considering it ends in three days, I assume they’ll be having a proper BF sale later in the week. If you’re just looking for punk records and don’t want to waste precious time searching, you can find most of them here. Some highlights include the RamonesRocket to Russia ($17.99), NOFX‘s Pump Up the Valuum ($15.99), and Operation Ivy‘s Energy ($15.99).

If you’re looking for some gifts for the rude boy (or girl) in your life, Jump Up Records has you covered. They’re not having a sale per se, but they do have some awesome new shit on their webstore for Black Friday, including brand new reissues of some 90’s Moon Ska LPs, alongside a bunch of 7″s, CDs, and cassettes. Happy skalidays! 🎅

Everyone’s favorite indie record store Walmart is having a sale of their own. All vinyl records are $15 in-store at all Walmart locations (exclusives are discounted on their website as well). I’ve seen plenty of pearl-clutching going on about this sale, but I don’t give a fuck 😊 There are some good deals to be had here. I got The Clash‘s 3xLP Combat Rock + The People’s Hall for $15. There were a ton of WM’s new exclusive pressings of Green Day‘s American Idiot and International Superhits at my local store as well. There’s an ample supply of soundtracks and Luke Combs records, too, if you’re into that kinda thing. Sale ends Sunday, November 20th.

And of course, Wally World’s red competitor Tarshay has a sale, too. Starting Sunday, November 20th, all records (and movies, CDs, misc. other media) will be Buy 2, Get 1 Free. Is that cheaper than Walmart? I don’t know, I’m too lazy to do that math (probably not though). This sale will be online and in store, and there’s no limit on how many records you can buy. So if you really want all 375 copies of the new Adele album your local Target has in stock, load up that god damn cart!

Last but not least, we have Record Store Day Black Friday. Again, not much in the way of deals here, but there are some exclusive releases that may interest you. In addition to the 10th Anniversary reissue of Masked Intruder‘s debut LP we highlighted last week, you may also be interested in Goldfinger‘s Hello Destiny (reissued in honor of its 15th Anniversary), and a new Joe Strummer live acoustic album Live at Music Millennium. The only place you can (potentially) get these and all the other RSBF releases is your local record store on Black Friday (November 25th).

And that’s all, folks! Another Record Radar in the books. As always, thank you for tuning in. If there’s anything we missed (highly likely), or if you want to let everyone know about a new/upcoming vinyl release you’re excited about, leave us a comment below (or send us a message on Facebook or Instagram), and we’ll look into it. Enjoy your weekend, and don’t blow too much money on spinny discs. Please note: the Record Radar will be closed next week in observance of Thanksgiving. Have a safe and happy holiday, friends!

*Wanna catch up on all of our Record Radar posts? Type “Record Radar” in the search bar at the top of the page!

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DS Show Review and Gallery: Ruido Fest (Cypress Hill; Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Bruses, Cardiel)

Ruido Fest 2022 took place last month, August 19-21, in Chicago’s Union Park. The event is billed as the area’s largest Latin alternative music festival. The bands and performers came from the Windy City, across North America, and from all around the world. Amongst the forms of music presented are punk, post-punk, hip-hop, electronica, psychedelic, […]

Ruido Fest 2022 took place last month, August 19-21, in Chicago’s Union Park. The event is billed as the area’s largest Latin alternative music festival. The bands and performers came from the Windy City, across North America, and from all around the world. Amongst the forms of music presented are punk, post-punk, hip-hop, electronica, psychedelic, and more. All with a Latin American flavor. 

Whilst a few bands, such as Beach Goons, Siddhartha and Maldita Vecindad, had to drop out, the remaining lineup brought three days of fun and energy to large and enthusiastic crowds. Being that this was alternative music festival taking place in the US, it was not surprising that one of the most prevalent band shirts was that of grunge band Nirvana. Everywhere you looked, people of all ages wore shirts dominated with the band’s name, and often the iconic melancholy expression of the late Kurt Cobain.

Cypress Hill, the CA hip-hop legends might be characterized as punk adjacent. Singer Dr. Greenthumb aka B-Real and percussionist Bobo took the stage after about 30 minutes, give or take, introduction by DJ Lord. By that time, a thick wall of smoke connected the stage to the audience via smoke machine with a bit of thinning out above the photo pit. Some of that was the due to the smoke machine on stage. Of course the group’s advocacy for the use of cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes, is a major theme in its songs. B-Real paced the stage with a rather long blunt in his left hand along with the microphone as he gestured with his right hand.  The group tore through its standards such as “Dr. Greenthumb”, “I Ain’t Going Out Like That”, “Hits From the Bong”, “How I Could Just Kill A Man”, and many others. By the time they got to what is arguably their biggest hit, Insane In the Membrane, Cypress Hill had complete control of the large crowd. Capping off its set was a rollicking cover of House of Pain’s most famous tune, Jump Around.  B-Real called for everybody “standing up to get down like this here” and advised that those with a Fitbit or Apple watch the this was going to fill up their activities category. Indeed the crowd, exponentially larger than any other set that weekend, with many members attending only for Cypress Hill, was jumping around almost completely in unison.

Bruses had a smaller crowd than Cypress Hill but the Tijuana native was no less enthralling. She was clad in a variation of a business suit. A black jacket covered with numerous hand painted looking designs in white, black raggedly cut off just below her knees and sporting on each leg two belts. Clunky black shoes, a black tie white shirt completed the outfit. Almost. Rising above, from behind, each shoulder blade were several, what I can only describe as, glittery black stuffed horns. Her hot pink hair, pale foundation accented with dark red lips, reddish pink eyelids ringed in black, created ethereal stage presence. Her music and movements throughout were bewitching and she had the crowd in a trancelike state.

Elis Paprika, another one of the numerous performers hailing from the USA’s North American neighbor to the south, is also a well know activist in her native Guadalajara. She rocketed off from the start of her set, never touching down until she was finished whipping up the crowd in to exhaustion. With hyper charm and perfectly complementing her strong voice and infectious songs, few would argue with the words on bright red t-shirt, an item of her own merchandise, exclaiming “Mexican Girl Power!”

Skate punk band Cardiel consists of two Valencia, Venezuela natives: Vocalist/Guitarist Miguel Fraíno and drummer Samantha Ambrosio. However, the founded their band in Mexico City in 2010. Little flash but lots of fury marked Cardiel’s set. They pummeled through song after song, hyping up the circle pit significantly.

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, the Buenos Aires ska legends, had the swelling crowd dancing as the night two headliners. The band ripped through “Manuel Santillán, El León”, “Saco Azul”, “Mal Bicho”, “Calaveras y Diablitos”, “Matador”, and “El Satánico Dr. Cadillac”. It was a fun way to end a Saturday night on a not too hot summer day. 

Other highlights from the weekend included sets from Sgt. Papers, El Mato, and Avantist.

See more photos below!

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DS Show Review and Photos: The Beths, SASAMI & Charlotte Cornfield Live At BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

I will be the first to admit that my main (aka only) interest in venturing over to Prospect Park on a hot & humid Friday night was to see New Zealand’s one and only The Beths. I knew next to nothing about the 2 opening acts, Charlotte Cornfield and SASAMI. I can only say now […]

I will be the first to admit that my main (aka only) interest in venturing over to Prospect Park on a hot & humid Friday night was to see New Zealand’s one and only The Beths. I knew next to nothing about the 2 opening acts, Charlotte Cornfield and SASAMI. I can only say now that am I REALLY glad I got to The Lena Horne bandshell early enough to witness one of these sets.

Cornfield took the stage promptly at 7 PM and proceeded to treat the crowd to a steady and competent set of rather quiet and subdued indie folk to which the NPR types in the crowd thoroughly enjoyed. For my ears, however her set just didn’t resonate all that much with me and after the 3 song photo allotment was met I found myself chatting with some of the other photogs in attendance for what seemed like a rather long time considering Charlotte was an opener on a three-band bill at an outdoor show that had a strict New York City mandated 10 PM curfew. Before I go any further, to be clear, Cornfield’s set did seem to be quite good but it just wasn’t my thing and I just kind of lost interest. That’s not to say that she didn’t make a lot of those in attendance very pleased with her set.

Next up was SASAMI who hit the stage shortly after 8 PM.  Truth be told, I had given SASAMI a bit of a listen on Spotify prior to the show and was merely lukewarm about what I had heard. Their first (self-titled) album released in 2019, was a quite polished indie pop album which while very listenable, didn’t exactly get my juices flowing.  And then there is this year’s second full-length LP, Squeeze which hit the shelves back in February. You’d have to do some serious searching in order to find a sophomore LP which takes as strong a departure from its predecessor as does Squeeze

The set started off with Sasami Ashworth’s “The Greatest” off the new album. And while the song on the album is rather subdued, the band came out and raged. They took what already sounded like a homage or at least a response to Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Gift Of All” and turned it into Whitney’s Greatest Gift from an alternative (much less hospitable) dimension.  From here the set only got darker, darker in a heavy metal kind of way with thundering bass lines and loud abrasive guitar chords coming from both Ashworth’s axe as well as the other guitarist who’s name I did not get. To say the least I was almost completely shocked. From here the band ripped through song after song with a fiery electric vengeance which I for one was 100% unprepared for. 


Sticking with a setlist comprised entirely of titles off the new one, SASAMI’s set was absolutely mesmerizing. The energy set forth by Ashworth and the rest of the band was transfixing. A combination metal hell fest combined with an almost performance art presentation made for a show to which I (and virtually every other photographer in the pit) was paralyzed to stop clicking the shutter button. Every moment following every moment felt like something that needed to be captured.  

SASAMI’s set lasted roughly 40-45 minutes yet it flew by in a flash. I for one felt winded after witnessing the whirlwind of a set which they had treated us all to. My initial reaction when it was done was, “I can’t believe it’s over so soon”.  Looking at their other setlists online however, it looks like we got pretty much their entire show.

Which brings me to the headliner, The Beths. It wasn’t all that long ago, you read from me that they were the only real impetus for me being at Prospect Park in the first place. And now as I stood and waited for them to take the stage, I couldn’t help but ponder, “How the hell are they going to top THAT?!?”  Having seen the band make a steady progression from DIY venue, Alphaville to 400-person Music Hall Of Williamsburg to 1000-person capacity Webster Hall, they were now faced with the unenviable task of playing (BY FAR) their most high-profile show ever in New York at the 5000 to 7000 person capacity Lena Horne Bandshell AND having to do that following an absolutely blistering set from the opener, not to mention their backs against the wall relative to a 10 PM curfew.

With it already being after 9, it appeared that we were most likely going to get a truncated set.  The band came on about 9:15, opening with “I’m Not Getting Excited” but clearly they were because they came out answering the call.  Despite what appeared to be some lighting irritations, Liz Stokes was exactly that, STOKED. She, along with guitarist, Jonathan Pierce, bassist, Ben Sinclair and Tristan Deck on drums hit the stage running. Barreling through stalwarts ” Happy, Unhappy” and “Out Of Sight” before offering up the lead single and title track to the upcoming album, “Expert In A Dying Field” due to drop in mid-September.

It was right about here in the set that it dawned on me that the band had figured out how they were going to get their entire set done in roughly three-quarters the normal length of the set. They were speeding everything up and HOLY SHIT, it was working masterfully!  I mean they were almost approaching Ramones kind of tempos and the songs and the vibes and the atmosphere were just perfect.

After “Dying Field” we got three more older songs before they cracked open another new one called “Knees Deep”, a bright sun-shiney rocker (come to think of it a Beth’s song and sun-shiney is just redundant…aren’t they all like that?)

Attacking each upcoming song at a breakneck pace which seemed different yet also quite right.  “Jump Rope Gazers” into “Uptown Girl” into “A Real Thing”, all done fast but not quite furious.

When all was said and done, The Beths managed to come out of the evening having sleighed the dragon. They overcame the adversity which faced them and finished the evening around 10:10 after a two-song encore of “You Are A Beam of Light” and “Little Death” to the delight of all. Liz and crew put on a masterful show which while certainly sped up, never felt rushed. As a matter of fact it appeared that the band had as much fun as the packed crowd. The normally stoic Jon on guitar was flashing a big grin much of the evening. Liz showed off a little Chuck Berry-esque duck walk and the rhythm section of Tristen and Ben were amazing keeping the sped up pace at bay and even keeled.

When all was said and done, all I could possibly say was, “What a night!”

NOTE:  For those in the NY/NJ area The Beths will be at The Asbury Lanes on August 26th and for those in or around western MA, they will be at Courtney Barnett’s Here and There Festival at MassMoca in North Adams on August 13th.

  • The Beths

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Dying Scene Album Review: Mercy Union – “White Tiger”

I don’t normally start album reviews this way but I thought it was maybe sort of important to mention this time that I am, for the record, a big Mercy Union fan and supporter. I’ve known frontman Jared Hart for a long time and have been a fan of his solo work and his Scandals […]

I don’t normally start album reviews this way but I thought it was maybe sort of important to mention this time that I am, for the record, a big Mercy Union fan and supporter. I’ve known frontman Jared Hart for a long time and have been a fan of his solo work and his Scandals work and of sideman Rocky Catanese and his various projects (remember Let Me Run?!?) for quite literally as long as I’ve been involved with Dying Scene, which is to say well over a decade. I was at Mercy Union’s first show billed as Mercy Union (October 2017 supporting Racquet Club at Middle East in Cambridge, MA, if you were wondering) and I was at Mercy Union’s last show before Covid-19 forced us inside for a few years (at O’Brien’s in Boston in March 2020 with Secret Spirit and the Nightblinders and Coffin Salesmen if you were wondering, which I’m sure you weren’t because this is a record review and a not a list of “shows Jay has been too).

ANYWAY, all that is to say that I like Mercy Union a lot. And yet, because I’m a professional (lol) journalist with at least some modicum of integrity (not lol, I actually like to think this latter part is true) I tried to take a 30,000-foot view of the new Mercy Union album and put my personal thoughts about the band aside and listen to it objectively. And so I fired it up on the good speakers in my car went for a drive and about halfway through the album, I got so into the music and the sounds and the textures that I quite honestly got lost, having blown way past my destination. White Tiger is great, kids. Really, really great.

The band’s 2018 debut, The Quarry, laid at least a bare framework of 1990s alternative rock influences through a filter of New Jersey punk sensibility, but White Tiger surpasses it on almost every level. White Tiger, the band’s second full-length, puts any fears about a sophomore slump to bed pretty much from the opening notes of album opener “1998.” It’s an uptempo table setter with swirling guitar riffs and a giant, singalong chorus that combine to serve as an instant revelation that whatever extra time the band spent crafting this album during the doldrums brought on by a global pandemic was put to extremely good use.

The soundscape on White Tiger is both sprawling and crystal clear, and while Hart may the songwriting spearhead, it very much sounds like a collaborative, full-band record (which is not to say that The Quarry wasn’t, necessarily, but when you’ve got multiple accomplished songwriters combining forces in a newer project it’s only natural for some songs to sound like they belong to each individual songwriter rather than “the band.” Hell, The Clash very clearly has Joe songs and Mick songs and Paul songs…but I digress). Even “Basements,” which is a track with roots that extend back to Hart’s 2015 Past Lives & Pass Lines solo record is filled out with a full band treatment that creates an epic, massive feel that would have made the perfect springboard for a wonderfully cinematic video that would have been a staple on MTV back in the years when epic, cinematic videos were actually played on MTV. So, the mid-1990s.

Speaking as a child of the ’90s, there are some very clear throughlines on White Tiger that originate back in that time period, but not maybe in the way you’d expect for an album being covered on your favorite newly-relaunched punk rock website. There were a great many of us that cut our punk rock teeth on the Bad Religions and Rancids and Green Days and other Epitaph/Fat/Lookout bands of the day and who maybe didn’t outwardly state how much we also appreciated the parallel track that was modern alternative rock radio and it’s expertly-crafted, tight and melody-driven power pop goodness. Bands like Gin Blossoms and Soul Asylum and pre-“Iris” Goo Goo Dolls and post-Mats Westerberg and The Wallflowers. Admittedly, it wasn’t “cool” to profess your love for songs like “Counting Blue Cars” or “Desperately Wanting” or “Hey Jealousy” if you also had like a Dead Kennedy’s patch and a NOFX patch on your backpack, but I think those of us “of a certain age” long ago gave up on aspirations of being cool and now don’t mind publically citing our affinity for a well-crafted, mid-tempo, radio friendly, melody driven rock and roll song, and I’m here for it. And White Tiger has a lot of that in spades.

Lead single “Prussian Blue,” for example, is anchored by a fuzzed-out lead bassline from Jorgensen as the guitars weave textured layers of harmonics and swirling melodies, and it’s got a massive arena (or even amphitheater) rock-sounding bridge. “Be Honest” finds Catanese and Hart trading vocal duties, while “Jane Way” puts Catanese solely in the spotlight. the former of those songs…can we call it post-emo? Is that a thing or did I just make that up? It’s got a huge, almost gothic soundscape in the bridge. “Evergreen” could probably stand on its own just fine as a solo acoustic track, but it gradually adds soaring synth and keys and strings (many of which were arranged by the multi-talented Jorgensen) and Benny Horowitz’s massive drums (editor’s note: Horowitz played all of the drums on White Tiger before departing the band and returning to his, uh, full-time day job) and layered guitars all in a full crescendo by the last third of the song.

“The Weekend,” which comes right around the album’s halfway mark, is a track that caught me off guard. It spends the first few minutes as one of those radio-friendly, mid tempo rock songs with a chorus that trends more to the delicate side, before completely switching gears entirely at the halfway point with the riffs getting heavier and Horowitz’s drums in full-on attack mode. This is undoubtedly a standout track and is precisely the moment where I blew well past my exit on the aforementioned evening drive. Other songs, like “Redeye (EWR>SNA)” find Hart taking whatever restrictor plates were left off of his voice, letting it soar to heights we’ve only really ever heard teased before. It’s fair to say that he’s leaned into his voice both a songwriter and a vocalist now, and most of the hardcore-inspired gravel of his earlier works is now a thing of the past.

From a sonic perspective, there is a sort of mid-tempo sameness that serves as a groove that many of the tracks settle into. That’s not bad, necessarily, and the variety of textures, particularly when factoring in the guitars and occasional strings and blended voices keep any particular song from sounding too much like any other, either on the album or in the band’s arsenal. If there’s a song on White Tiger that will inspire high-energy punk-rock style crowd push-and-pull, it’s the singalong, call and response verses on “So Long, Siberia.” And that’s good. Because White Tiger, and really Mercy Union circa 2022 by extension, occupies a space in your record collection that nothing else really does.

Pre-orders for White Tiger are still available here.

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“Legendary in the history of American Ska, Rock Fusion and (so-called) Black Rock, FISHBONE started their twenty five-year professional career in Los Angeles burgeoning, Alternative Rock music scene of the mid-1980s. Their sound has often been imitated, but never duplicated. They have toured worldwide with such bands as the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Roots, Les Claypool/Primus, Fela Kuti, The Dead Kennedys and many more. Angelo Moore’s ability to combine thought-provoking, humorous social commentary with Fishbone brethren’s frenzied, up-tempo music and frantic, euphorically entertaining stage show has cultivated their undisputed reputation as one of the best live acts in music history. Moore himself is renowned as one of the very best live showmen; Gwen Stefani of platinum-selling Ska/Pop band No Doubt cites Moore as her idol.
Composing, creating, recording, releasing and performing original music for over two decades now Fishbone and their music has been featured in numerous films, commercials, and TV programs. Their catalogue has sold over 750,000 records worldwide, solidifying their rock n’ roll legacy as one of the most influential alternative rock bands in music history.”

Grey Trash Aliens

“Grey Trash Aliens has its roots in the pop punk, rock, and alternative traditions of music with melodic and catchy songs. We are here to rock out!”

Gunpoint Alibi

Brand new to the Denver, CO scene, Gunpoint Alibi is pop punk/alternative six piece here to bring you silly vibes and killer music!