Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Post-Radical Day One.

It was 3 days of fun and 2 days of music. It was loud, drunken, sun blasted and amazing. It was Rad Fest, likely to be the first and last of its kind. Its strengths, while amazing, were definitely its financial weaknesses. There were no lines, not even at registration. This wasn't Fest, I could get into any venue I wanted to, whenever I wanted to. I could even get to the front of any show I wanted to. After the show, all the bands were there eager to chat. It was great.

However, I know it had to suck for the parties (well party mostly) responsible because there were a lot more blue (band) bands on wrist than orange (paying). And that's a damn shame, because it may have been the best music festival in the history of music festivals. I can't recall a concert that has been so amazing or so fun.

It started Friday morning. Originally, the car was going to be me, my girlfriend, and Jay from Red Collar. Then their merch girl. Then Beth from RC got off work so they drove separately. We were also waiting for Joe and Jay-Ar so they could follow us to the beach house. Joe forgot something at his sister's house so it ended up being my girlfriend and I driving by ourselves.

But first we had errands to take care of. Dexter needed to be kennelled. I needed two new tires (which ended up being 4 new tires!). My girlfriend needed a new SS card. So around 10 am we pulled out of our driveway and headed for Carolina Beach! The ride down was mostly event free. We sweat a little because my AC doesn't work properly and we had to listen to music through her macbook, but it wasn't a bad trip.

We got to Carolina Beach around 1 and discovered that it was the same condo complex my girlfriend had stayed at for a bachelorette party last year. Joe and Jay-Ar showed up and we all unloaded our cars. We made some sandwiches and had lunch. Then we all piled into my car and drove to downtown Wilmington to pick up tickets for Rad Fest!!!

Registration was a breeze. We parked in a parking lot across that was a tow lot, so my girlfriend stayed behind and protected the car. The three of us walked upstairs and got tickets instantly. So much better than sweating outside a hotel in Gainesville for hours on end. This was not the first time I thought, 'Wow, this is so much better than Fest!' I also introduced myself to a very stressed out Chason.

Then we scoured downtown for a parking deck so we could be centrally located to the 4 venues. Of course, we only needed three of the venues (16 Taps, Charlie Brownz, Soapbox) because we had no interest in the Whiskey. We found a parking deck somewhere near Charlie Brownz and wandered in for the opening act of Rad Fest, Fossil Arm. We got there a little before he started and settled in.

FA was like a modern day Bob Dylan, even going so far as to cover one of his songs. He played the entire set in shades. Cool dude. Up next was Greenland is Melting. They were the first band on our list of bands we must see. And they set the tone for the rest of the weekend. The bass player normally plays a standup bass, but his right arm was in a sling. It did not slow them down. They brought the house down. We also saw a fierce mullet and coined our motto for the weekend. Business in the front, party in the back. We definitely took every opportunity to throw that into any situation. The guys in Greenland is Melting were very friendly and we discussed our common friend Michael Claytor. He is apparently a big deal down in Gainesville, deservedly so.

We took an early dinner break at some mexican place made up like a sports bar. It was pretty good. It was here we learned about fat tacos and mini shrimp. Also learned that Jay-Ar is afraid of frogs, so no one ordered the frog legs. Out of respect. Didn't need any panic attacks. You dig?

From there we ventured over to the Soapbox for our first show in that establishment. What was the main stage of the entire weeked was also the biggest disappointment. Not from a musical standpoint, but totally from a sound standpoint. Both upstairs and downstairs were afflicted with a case of bass and drums. Bass was definitely turned up too loud and the bass drum drowned out vocals and guitars. It wasn't just one band, it was almost every band we saw in the Soapbox, upstairs or down.

First up at Soapbox was Gatorface downstairs. They were tight, played a good mix of old and new and also were the first band to claim they couldn't play the song I wanted because they didn't remember how to play it. Boo. Still pretty good, though. Would see again. Their set ran short which was a great thing for us, because we had to run over to Charlie Brownz (the venue furthest away) to catch Coffee Project.

Coffee Project was exactly like I expected. One guy on guitar, one guy alternating a horn and a guitar. Discovered that "Oh Sweet Pickle" was actually about a cat and not a dog like we thought. Found out that our friend Michael Claytor was on CP's new record (and was even cartooned for the jacket, how awesome is that?!). Girlfriend bought a shirt and the new record, even though we still don't have an operational turntable yet.

It was time for us to make our way to the main stage also known as the Soapbox Upstairs. On our way to Soapbox a bum on the side of the road noticed my Saigon Kick shirt and was moved to comment, "What do you know about Saigon?!" and "That really brings me back." It was pretty awesome. Then we arrived at the Soapbox and the hordes of people smoking out front.

Having never been to the Soapbox, I wasn't sure how to get upstairs. We did not realize there was a set of stairs at the entrance, so we walked up the stairs at the back of the venue. When we got upstairs, Nothington was about halfway through their set. I had never really listened to them, but they were pretty energetic and the crowd loved them.

We were there to see The Measure (SA), so we caught up with friends in between Nothington and Measure. Measure fell victim to the same thing that afflicted Gatorface. The sound mixing was awful. I couldn't make out what 1/2 the songs were. The guitars were totally drowned out and the vocals were almost non existent. It really sucked because I was looking forward to Measure a ton and they just did not have a good mix for their sound.

Measure was the last band my girlfriend really wanted to see, but we had seen Rehasher before and she had enjoyed that so we hung around to see how they were this time. Also, Roger had commented on my Saigon Kick shirt so that warrented us sticking around. They were probably the fastest band we saw at Rad Fest and funny as always. But it was also my girlfriend's bed time so we loaded up and went back to our condo at Carolina Beach to drop her off.

On the car ride back home, we had a crazy old dude almost walk into the side of the car while we were going about 60 MPH. That was the only thing of note on the trip home. Dropped her off and switched over to Joe's car. This will be important later in the story.

We made our way back to Wilmywood to see Red City Radio who was a hit in Durham the previous night. The crowd was electric and I probably would have enjoyed them more had I known their songs, but their sound really just wasn't my thing. They were very good at the "Whoa punk" sound typical of fests, but I think I was just a little burned out on it. Scotty Sandwich and company were thoroughly enjoying this set, and I caught up with them after the show. Scotty was mega hammered and they wandered off to get some food promising to meet up after TRB. Yep, never saw any of them the rest of that night.

Everyone else I knew ditched out after RCR to see Worn in Red, but I had never really listened to them and I owned Spanish Gamble's CD so I figured I would stick around for them. SG was very similar to RCR live. SG had a little bit more technical guitar work, but overall if you had told me that RCR had never left the stage, I would have believed you. The only difference was the crowd size/energy. Again, they were a solid band, but I think I am just worn out on the straight up whoa sound and they were firmly in that mold.

I ran into Brett from The Riot Before at 16 Taps. I had seen them previously at the Milestone in Charlotte opening for Leatherface. They were a band I had enjoyed, but I never really appreciated until I saw them live. At the Milestone show, I had requested that they play "Threat Level Midnight" at the Rad Fest show. He said he would. Now at 16 Taps I asked him if he remembered that conversation. He had, but he said they did not remember how to play TLM. Disappointing. But it wouldn't keep me from coming back for their show, especially considering how good their new album is. But there was work to do before that.

From 16 Taps we headed back to the soapbox downstairs for the first band I was really excited about seeing, Dirty Tactics. It was the 1-2 punch on the first day I was mega hyped for. Dirty Tactics, then running back over to 16 Taps to see The Riot Before. We got there as the last band was finishing up their set and I saw DT merch that I wanted. The new album and a really awesome baseball shirt. The problem was, none of the DT guys were around. This had me super bummed and they had no one at the merch table. This was going to be a major problem.

Oh well, DT took the stage on time and Gary was noticeably irked that they were going on against None More Black. I understood his frustration, but whatever, I was here to see DT and they did not disappoint. They were also the only band that played a song I requested. Luckily it was already on their set list and a new song, so the odds were in my favor. The sound mix was again suspect, but they were blistering. They were drastically different from the sound that is most popular at these fest shows (see "Whoa punk" or "WP"). It is always awesome when I see a band that I like on record and they blow that away live.

I hit up the guys in the band for merch after the show, but told them I had to cut out ASAP to get back over to 16 Taps to catch TRB. They were understanding as they were headed that way also. The Riot Before was impressive as always. While they were originally a "WP" band, they had begun to shatter that mold on their new album. They opened with "The Middle Distance" and it was awesome live. Just awesome. They played a good mix of old and new. The crowd definitely responded better to the older stuff and at times were just standing around during the new songs. Especially "The Oregon Trail" which is one of my favorite TRB songs. I was disappointed for the band, but I know it is the curse of new music. Random fans just don't know it as well. But the new stuff was excellent live and increased my respect for this band. They are, easily, one of my bands to watch to have major success in the immediate future.

The Riot Before was the last show of the evening for us and we met up with Beth and Jason from Red Collar (well, actually, Beth was asleep in the car) plus their merch girl Lynn. While we were talking I met John x1984x again. We had met very briefly at the Leatherface show at Fest. It was cool to talk with him and his lady friend and exchange gossip on why Leatherface was denied entry into the US. It was all very hush hush. I also ran into Dan from DT whom I had seen at the TRB show and he told me I could run by his car to buy merch now if I wanted. I wanted to, but I had to get this group (me, Joe, Jay-Ar, Jason, Beth and Lynn) back to our beach house for the night. Very bummed about this.

Remember the part about taking Joe's car? It matters now. Jason said to us, "Hey, we'll get in our car and give you a call when we get to a cross street so we can meet up and follow you there." Joe heard, "I'll call you if we get lost." It should be noted that I was rather tired at this point as it was 2 am Saturday morning and I had been up since 7 am the previous day. We had a GPS and we just started going. I realized we were out of downtown Wilmington and I said, "Joe, where are we going? We're supposed to be waiting for Jason." He said, "I thought they knew how to get there."

Well, I called Jason and we figured out that they were going the right way, but I guess I thought they were heading the wrong way so said, "I think you are going the wrong way, but I do not know my way around Wilmington at all." All of that statement was true, but they were definitely going the right way. I kept telling Joe we should probably turn around, and he definitely kept driving forward. We finally stopped at a breakfast place and Jason said that would be a great place for us to meet up. My misinformation had sent them way out of the way, but I had no idea how far out of the way. I offered to drive back to meet up with them and guide them, but apparently Beth had woken up and saved the day. Thank you Beth!

We got into the restaurant which was mostly empty. Knowing we would have 6 people, I picked a table set up for 8. I figured they were probably about 10-15 minutes away. About 5 minutes after we got there, a drunken party of about 10 stumbled in. The three of us sitting at the table sure looked like jerkwads. Oh well. We ordered our food about 30 minutes later and about 15 minutes after that the Red Collar car arrived. Any irritation the drunken party had for us was lost instantly when they saw Jason's spurs. Apparently they were enthralled and commented on them constantly. I imagine the wait staff was still irritated with us though, haha. My girlfriend was also not pleased as she thought we were dead on the side of the road somewhere. It was only like 3:30!

Now regrouped we headed back home to prepare for Day 2 of Rad Fest...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Disgaea killed my childhood

Okay, not really.

Generally, the idea that something new in anyway devalues how awesome the original was doesn't hold water. This is no different. And I love Disgaea. It's great. In a lot of ways, Disgaea saved Strategy Role Playing Games (sRPGs). NIS, the publisher, has been churning out mediocre to great sRPGs on PS2/3 and is pretty much the only reason the genre is relevant in anyway, shape or form. But in being the almost sole torchbearer, they have forced new genre conventions that people just don't want to break. And it kills me.

A little history on the sRPG. It is, unlike many other video game genres, an invention of console gaming. Nintendo put the ball in motion, as they did with almost everything for consoles, with a series called Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem begot Langrisser which begot Shining Force. This is when the genre began its golden age, at least in my opinion.

Shining Force, if you've ever heard me talk about video games you should know this, is unquestionably my favorite video game of all time. It took Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy, threw them into a blender and popped out one of the most creative games of all time. It is loaded with secret characters, hidden items and easter eggs. What's more, every character was given personality and it had a story that had legs.

SF, along with FE, pushed the genre forward. They pretty much established every convention along with every innovation. They opened the door for Front Mission, Vandal Hearts, Tactic Ogre. While I never got into FE (mostly because it was a Japan only title until the 00s), I did love me some Shining Force. I have beaten the first game close to a hundred times. That's a lot for someone who hates replaying games. The second one I've probably beaten 10-20 times. The third only 3 times and only the first chapter.

Shining Force III might be the pinnacle of sRPG, but it was dead in the water. It was on the Saturn (a dead platform) and only one part was released in the US. You can now get the other two chapters translated and play them on a Saturn emulator, but it was an epic game. It told a story of war from three different perspectives and you would lead your army against armies would control later in the story. It was truly epic.

Then Camelot, the team that developed the game, jumped ship to Nintendo. They developed the well recieved Golden Sun series and (again, along with Fire Emblem) are largely responsible for sRPGs being handheld dominated development.

The final nail in the coffin for the original console sRPG was Final Fantasy Tactics. It was a game that aped every other sRPG on the market and ripped its story straight from other superior games. It also became the standard for sRPGs and (much like its big brother) ruined the genre. This was the ET for sRPGs. After Tactics, the genre just stagnated. It was a good game, sold well, and somehow managed to keep the genre from ever reaching lofty heights again.

The next wave of consoles (PS2, Xbox, Dreamcast) brought developers that did not see the value in games that weren't pushing graphical boundaries. The sRPG was ignored as a relic of the past. Except for one little Japanese publisher. Nippon Icchi. They created Disgaea, the game that changed all the rules.

NIS and Atlus had had some minor success with sRPGs which had been pushed off to the niche market with dating sims and shoot-em-ups. But NIS developed Disgaea and it changed all the rules. It was about as big an underground hit as the PS2 had. Super rare, super fun and super popular. It created a whole new rule set for a genre that had been big on change. It scrapped a lot of the standard conventions and started from scratch. And it was glorious.

NIS went on to churn out lots of fun, goofy games with solid mechanics. Always low budget, mediocre graphics and worse voice acting, but sRPGs that made you work to beat them. And, always the same. NIS games are great. But they aren't original. Atlus games are even worse, knock offs of the same Disgaea model over and over again. While sure, Grownlanser was still lurking in the shadows and there was a bevy of games on the DS and PSP, console games were stuck with the same NIS games year after year.

So, now we're on the next level of consoles and the next level of sRPGs. I just picked up Record of Agarest War for Xbox 360. And it sure does channel that new Disgaea model of sRPGs, but...BUT there is hope. It is a game that actually has a story (not a great one, mind you, but it is a step in the right direction. It is a game that gives you a reason to play the story mode beyond seeing how super duper you can make a character. It is a game that takes the gameplay outside of the standard grid.

But it isn't enough. A game like Valkyria Chronicles shows that someone understands that sRPGs can be an amazing thing if given enough attention. But VC had its sequel thrust onto the PSP. RoAW gives me hope. A hope that someone can take the Disgaea model and throw it in a blender with Shining Force and create the greatest sRPG of all time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kicked Mine

I saw Kick Ass opening weekend. On Sunday. Theater was not even half full. Let me just say that this is a travesty. A great injustice. This is a movie that should be seen. On a big screen. With popcorn and a soda. It was, in every sense of the term, a summer blockbuster. Comedy, Drama, Action, Romance all rolled into a neat, well-paced package. And it got beat out by How to Train Your Dragon.

I like dragons as much as the next dude. They have been in mythos as long as mythos has existed. They breathe fire. They fly. They horde gold. And they are freaking dragons. So, movies about dragons should, by default, be awesome. Dragon movies should be this:

If that was a scene from a dragon movie, it would probably be an instant top 10 movie. It would double the gross of Titanic on its opening weekend. It would easily win every Academy Award, including best adapted and best original screenplay. The Dragon would win best actor, actress and best kiss.

But no, HtTYD is just some Dreamworks flick trying to ride those Pixar coattails with a story about Dragons and Vikings (another group that gets the raw end of the stick. Seriously, how do these Hollywood types mess up Vikings and Dragons?) that is probably charming, predictable and fun. That's great. I'm sure I'll love it when it is on HBO and I see it 15 times because I'm too lazy to change the channel. Or, maybe I'll be too busy watching superior Pixar flicks on Starz. Who knows?

But Kick Ass is a movie that caught me off guard. Even if I knew where it was going, I was surprised when it got there. It is insanely violent. It made Ninja Assassin look like Bambi. It made Saw look like Gremlins. It made me laugh, squirm and it even was touching. It reinforced the Nic Cage rule (one film out of 10 is going to be amazing if he's in it). It is garnering pretty good reviews, especially considering the graphic nature. And it is already being considered an industry failure.

This set two separate thoughts into motion. One, how ridiculous is it that a movie can be considered a success or failure off one weekend? This is definitely a word of mouth hit waiting to happen. Everything about it screams potential breakthrough, but I think industry experts were expecting that from the first weekend. Industry experts suck and are stupid. Two, word of mouth needs to get out about this movie. Everyone I know who has seen it (which is pretty much just the people I saw it with), walked out slack jawed. No one else is talking about it. I would be very upset if this movie fails.

I think the biggest problem is the marketing. I saw the trailers and thought comedy. I do not envy the team that had to put together a trailer for this movie. And I think they did a fantastic job. It creates an expectation for a movie and this movie is not what I expected. It had aspects of that movie (satirical superhero flick), but I wasn't expecting the greatest action scenes in comic book movie history. That's right, I said it. I never thought anything would ever top my excitement in seeing Nightcrawler's attack on the White House. Then I met Hit Girl. Her first action scene reshaped what I expected from comic book movies and the rest of the movie continued to raise the bar.

This is easily one of the best comic book movies of all time. It is like Tarantino directed Watchmen. That is a lot coming from me. Comic book flicks are probably my favorite genre. X-2 ranks in my top 5 films of all time. It is rare that a film manages to be truly immersive and I imagine that enjoyment depends on how well you are immersed. There were scenes that truly clinched my stomach (the microwave scene was difficult to watch) and it was a stark contrast from the over the top action when the heroes attacked. Watching the film in theaters was like riding a rollercoaster. And it was a wild ride.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Teenage Riot Before

I just downloaded the new The Riot Before album and it is good but it reminded me of my biggest peeve with the digital era, disconnection. Media formats are notorious for short shelf lives because there is always something newer and better. Phonograph to record to 8-track to cassette to CD to MP3. Reel to VHS to DVD to Blu-ray (and streaming). Mono to Stereo to Dolby Digital 5.1 to god knows what. Black and White to color to progressive to high definition. You get the picture.

Almost always the advances are to the betterment of the format. Sure, there is the argument that vinyl has a warmth that can't be replicated, but who really wants to watch a movie on a VCR hooked up to a black and white TV? You don't. I loved CDs. They were great audio quality, convenient and customizable. I didn't even have to cover the hole with tape! But they still maintained one of the greatest advances in music, the album. Sure, you could rip songs and make your own mix CDs and they didn't quite have the charm of the mixtape, but you still went to the record store and bought a new album the day it came out. You popped it into your CD player and listened from start to finish. It didn't force you to listen to every song (here's looking at you vinyl), but it allowed songs to flow from one to the next as the artist intended.

But then the big, bad internet reared its ugly head. I am well known as a technology hater even though I am a junkie. But I really, really, really hate the internet. It's a wonderful tool and has lead me to so many incredible bands it's hard to fathom how I found music without it (the radio actually used to be a quality source for new bands, shocking I know), but boy has it put a dent in how I enjoy music. The internet is one progression on music that has also encompassed a regression.

There was a time in popular music history that artists recorded one shots and that was that. No one went to a studio and knocked out 15 classics. There was no thought of how one song would feed into another. Every song had to be a hit because it was going straight to the radio. B-sides were not always radio ready, but they had better have some measure of accessibility because they were going to get radio play also. Deep tracks just did not exist.

That era was a double edged sword and one I am glad came to a close. While it did force song writers to be at the top of their game, it also encouraged familiarity. You get a lot of great songs that share a lot in common and they end up sounding almost exactly the same. Originality was rewarded, but only as long as it sold records. So while you could get Buddy Holly mixing up the rockabilly formula (and I love Buddy Holly), his collection rarely strays out of the box he established. Elvis covered a lot of bases, and covered them well, but there were a lot more "Jailhouse Rocks" than "In the Ghettos." For such a revolutionary scene, it sure didn't stray from the SOP.

The impending death of rock and roll is well documented and everyone loves to laud the British Invasion as the savior of R&R, but I'd say the true saving grace was the emergence of the rock album (jazz, always the innovator, started the trend in the 50s, but it did not catch on until the 60s for American music's slow little brother). Yes, those mop haired mods did catch the airwaves on fire (people carried fire extinguishers just in case it got a little too hot), but there was something magical going on in the studio also.

Band stopped recording collections of singles and started recording cohesive experiences. Songs didn't have to be 2 1/2 minutes long. The Beatles, Beach Boys, The Who and the Rolling Stones all had landmark albums that begot Led Zeppelin and Velvet Underground. There are a lot of fantastic journeys to be had in that era.

The 70s took album love to a whole new level. Many would argue that it was to the detriment of music, especially in light of the biggest band ever forgoing touring for the studio (Beatles' Abbey Road), but it also gave way for tons of great punk albums. Punk rock very much returned to the rockabilly era of music, even on record. Quick bursts of radio ready rock highlighted by the Ramones and their many imitators. Punk records were, very frequently, a collection of singles.

But the album was not forsaken by punk rockers and one band in particular pioneered the punk album. That band, The Clash, kept alive one of the greatest traditions in rock music. They reminded everyone that you could put a record on and be lost in the music. London Calling in particular set the stage for another magical era of records.

While many will remember the 80s as New Wave and hair metal (Slippery When Wet is a fantastic album, by the way), there were a ton of bands operating under the radar turning out some of the most influential rock records of all time. The Replacements, Husker Du, the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, the DC hardcore scene, the Bay Area hardcore scene, the pretty much everywhere in American scene...well, you get the picture. They all were churning out amazing albums. And those albums in turn lead to the Alternative explosion of the 90s.

As has happened at the end of every rock era (save the 60s), there was stagnation near the end of the 90s and into the 00s. Lounge Singers to Disco to Hair Metal to nu-Metal. However, this era was also "blessed" with the internet. Disgruntled fans stopped complaining to their DJs because they didn't have to listen anymore. They could hop on Napster and rip off their new favorite band. Myspace became the new radio. Youtube is the new MTV. And music fans started cherry picking songs.

Why buy a whole album when you can hop on iTunes and download the three songs you liked at first blush? Why bother recording 15 songs as a collective whole when you have to make every song accessible? And, when the bands do take the time and energy to make a complete experience, what does it matter? Fans will download the album, pop it in their ipod and let it get mixed in with the rest of their collection.

No more peeling the plastic off. No more reading the liner notes while you listen. No more hitting repeat all or flipping the vinyl or tape. No more experience. Just a song in a sea of music. No matter how much work a band puts into an album, it is just going to be distilled into individual songs. Would Daydream Nation be a landmark album today? Some of those songs don't have the same impact when they are disconnected from the previous track.

I am as guilty as anyone, heck probably worse. There is a current punk rock subculture that is keeping the vinyl market alive and well. They are people that still appreciate the intrinsic value of an album. And, they are a subculture of a subculture of a subculture. So, when I started listening to Fists Buried in Pockets by The Riot Before you can probably guess how I enjoyed it.

If you didn't guess disjointedly (or a similar word choice), then you probably haven't gotten much out of this. But those craft gents from VA got me. I noticed how the opening track lead into the second track. "Capillaries," the closing track, brings the whole thing to an epic conclusion and brings the experience full circle. Intrigued, I put the album into its own playlist and went from start to finish. It was like reading a great novel. Songs I had previously disregarded were given new life. I got it.

So when Rebellion came out, I was given a choice. Throw it in with the rest of mix for Rad Fest or give it a go on its own. Easy decision. I couldn't imagine seperating some of those songs. They were made for each other. "The Oregon Trail" is, right now, my favorite track on the album. It also is a great stand alone for anyone looking for a reason to buy (which you should, digital download, cd, whatever, it's worth the price of admission). You can check it out at their myspace page, www.myspace.com/theriotbefore.

Opening track,"The Middle Distance," throws a little noise into the mix. I love it. I really wish they had used it more in that song, but it makes the title all the more appropriate. This album might be the middle distance between where they started and where they are going. It still dips into the beardpunk that they are associated with, but it brings new layers to a sound that is starting to reach its breaking point across the board.

I know it's a sound that is on the verge of exploding (see Off With Their Heads on Epitaph and Banner Pilot on Fat Wreck coupled with D4 and Against Me! already in the limelight), but I am excited about a band that is willing to take chances with the formula and one who might help make the scene more than just another punk fad. They could easily ride the fest/beard punk sound to success, they have that sound down pat. Instead, they are challenging it and I hope it pays off.

The Riot Before is on Paper + Plastick and their album can also be downloaded from iTunes. They will be headlining 16 Taps at Rad Fest. Tickets are $25 for the two day event.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Getting Ready to Get Rad!!!!!!!!

It is very rare that you get Christmas in May. Usually it is June or July, no one has Christmas in May. Well, this year, Wilmington, NC is having Christmas early and Santa (as played by Chason) is bringing me this(click on the picture):

If you're still not sure what this is go to http://www.radfestnc.com/. Still confused? Do I have to spell everything out for you?

There is this awesome new trend in the punk rock community of college towns hosting multi-day festivals. Think Bonnaroo without the hippies and fleabag motels replacing mud drenched tents. The granddaddy of them all is Fest (http://www.thefestfl.com/). It is in Gainesville, gets bigger every year (there were like 300 bands there last year) and is pretty much amazing. Fest 7 was responsible for me seeing Leatherface for the first time. They have also hosted Seaweed, Samiam, Snuff and tons of other bands that I adore all in one place. But like most great things it is also overcrowded and you're as likely to stand in line 3 hours at Common Grounds as you are to see 20 of the hottest up and coming punk rock acts. It is also in Gainesville. I'm not.

Enter fest veteran and noble Seahawk Chason, a man of which I will never speak ill. He's taken a torch from Fest's fire and brought its warmth to his port town on the coast of North Carolina. And he brought the Boat with him (that's Leatherface for the uninitiated).

The best thing about these music festivals, at least for me, is that it gives me a chance to explore new music and then see it live. As noted above, Fest has hundreds of bands and Radfest is clocking in somewhere around 100 I believe. My one and only (to this date, at least) Fest was Fest 7. I didn't get a chance to check out too many of the smaller bands that I wanted to and the reasons are two fold. One, I had no idea the format (or how bad the lines were). Two, we missed Saturday because we drove to Charleston for my Aunt Judy's birthday. Family always comes first, mang!

But because there is such a huge variety, and it is varied, my girlfriend and I methodically go through every band and give them the A&R listen. If they don't grab either of our attention off the bat(usually give a band 2-3 songs and 30 seconds a song), we cross them off the list. Once we have a list of bands, we check out their myspace, download free songs or, if either of us really likes them, buy their stuff (and please, if you check out any of these bands and enjoy it, support them, they are not rich and they certainly aren't rock stars).

Fest 7 was certainly overwhelming, but it was also showcasing better known acts. It was easy to share Less than Jake and Bouncing Souls when I already had their albums. But, there were also the hidden gems. I'm sure there are kids out there who already know every song by every band playing punk rock these days, but I'm a working man and, to be frank, I'm not crazy about every band out there. These giant lists of bands and myspace pages is a treasure trove though.

From Fest 7 we found:

Measure (SA), a pop punk band with mostly female vocals that is super infectious

Towers of Hanoi, a punk rock band channeling Janis Joplin

Ringers, one of the better '77 punk bands channeling the "Jawbreaker" sound prevalent in punk rock these days

and the crown Jewel...

Austin Lucas, an Americana singer with a solid gold voice and an amazing musician. He does a little bit of everything, country, bluegrass, gospel and folk. We've since seen him at Local 506, at a house show in Hillsborough, at the Pinhook in Durham and even in our own living room. He has become a friend and he is probably one of the most talented musicians around today. That's right, we went to a punk rock festival and found a country superstar in waiting. He's more Hank Williams Sr than Garth Brooks, but unfortunately you won't find him on the radio with either. Through Austin, I've also been introduced to Michael Claytor and Josh Small. Talented musicians and guys not on mainstream radio, but they should be.

But that was Fest, this is RAD FEST!!! and Rad Fest has opened our musical doors to so many new bands. Perhaps the coolest thing for me is that our friends Red Collar are playing. Red Collar is a rock and roll band from the Bull City itself. They are amazing live and Jason Kutchma is a heck of a song writer.

In prepping for Rad Fest, I have discovered some great bands I might not have ever found (some are even bands I overlooked in prepping for F7).

Dirty Tactics is probably my favorite new find. They are old school punk rock with dueling vocals and rough around the edges production. I am so stoked to see them live.

The Menzingers are a band I was really excited about but they have since pulled out. They are the lovechild of punk and 90s alt rock. Very anthemic, very fun, but they are opening for Against Me! so I guess I can't blame them for pulling out.

P.S. Eliot is a low-fi rock band with female vocals. They are channeling 1994 something fierce. Hypnotic and fuzzy with just enough pop hook to keep you coming back.

Two Hand Fools, out of Ohio. A rock band with male and female vocals. Very indie rockish, but not the pretentious stuff mass produced these days.

My girlfriend jumped right onto Greenland is Melting, Coffee Project (featuring a member of Rehasher) and Sharks Come Cruisin'. Greenland is Melting is a straight up bluesgrass band. Coffee Project is a two man group, acoustic guitar and a horn. Sharks Come Crusin' is a band churnin' out rocking shanties. If you like drinking and shouting responses, they are right up your alley. My girlfriend calls it happy music, because just listening to them gets you in a good mood.

My greatest disappointment with RF is that I have two conflicted shows. Red Collar is playing at the same time as Two Hand Fools and Sharks Come Cruisin' and P.S. Eliot are on at the same time. That's the one huge downside to all of these festival shows, there are always going to be bands playing at the same time. My schedule of events is posted below.

We're heading out to Carolina Beach on Thursday night and are coming back Sunday afternoon/evening. If you're going, let me know.




Greenland Is Melting – 3:40 – 4:10 (CB) http://www.myspace.com/greenlandismelting
Gatorface – 5:40 – 6:10 (SD) http://www.myspace.com/gatorfacefl
Coffee Project – 6:10 - 6:40 (CB) http://www.myspace.com/coffeeproject
Dinner Break
The Measure (SA) – 7:30 – 8:10 (SU) http://www.myspace.com/themeasuresa
Rehasher – 8:30 – 9:15 (SU) http://www.myspace.com/rehasher
Toys That Kill – 9:35 - 10:20 (SU) http://www.myspace.com/toysthatkill
Spanish Gamble – 11: 20 - 11:50 (16T) http://www.myspace.com/spanishgamble
Dirty Tactics – 12:20 - 12:50 (SD) http://www.myspace.com/dirtytactics
The Riot Before – 1:00 – 1:40 (16T) http://www.myspace.com/theriotbefore


Senders – 1:50 - 2:20 (16T) http://www.myspace.com/senders
Two Hand Fools – 3:40 - 4:10 (CB) http://www.myspace.com/twohandfools
Red Collar – 4:00 - 4:40 (SU) http://www.myspace.com/redcollarmusic
Lemuria – 5:00 - 5:40 (SU) http://www.myspace.com/lemuria

Dinner Break
Annabel – 7:50 - 8:20 (CB) http://www.myspace.com/annabelrock
Museum Mouth – 8:40 - 9:10 (CB) http://www.myspace.com/ilovemuseummouth
Sharks Come Cruisin – 9:40 - 10:10 (SD) http://www.myspace.com/sharkscomecruisin P.S. Eliot – 10:20 - 10:50 (CB) http://www.myspace.com/pseliot
Leatherface – 11:40 - 1:00 (SU) http://www.myspace.com/leatherfacepunx
Ninja Gun – 1:00 - 1:40 (SD) http://www.myspace.com/ninjagun

Soapbox Upstairs - SU
Soapbox Downstairs - SD
16 Taps - 16T
Whiskey - WSK
Charley Brownz - CB

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Got my BofP at the UofW!!!*

Sometimes the end is not what you bargain for.

My friend Joseph Daniel (name changed, surely no one will crack this code) is getting married this spring and so he gathered all his friends and people he had to invite (former co-workers from states he no longer lives in and future brothers-in-law) to pay for him to drink a lot, gamble a lot and eat a lot. Great deal for the rest of us, trust me.

I'm not going to lie to you, when I signed up for this I was expecting a casino in Vegas. What I got was a Holiday Inn across the Detroit River in America's Hat. Same thing? Not quite. I was booking my flight and scoping out where I would watch the NCAA tournament when the bombshell was dropped on me. It was tough digesting that I would be driving for 3 hours through northern Ohio instead of seeing Don Ho's replacement and watching Charlotte on 40 screens dominating the NCAA tournament (let's not talk about that one).

Needless to say, my excitement level was not through the roof. Maybe not even through the floor. But, I was getting paid to watch basketball, drink beer and not be at work. I'd say that's a fair trade for me. Couple that with low cost of living (hotel room was only $45 for 2 days) and public transportation (my wonderful girlfriend's mother practically gave me a plane ticket and I didn't have to drive anywhere for 4 days) and at least it wasn't an expensive jaunt.

When I got to Columbus, it seemed normal enough. Big city, they love the Buckeyes (no accounting for taste), and the bars all served beer and fried food. No sweet tea, but I knew what I was getting into there. We watched college basketball (Go A-10), drank, watched college basketball and drank. I also got to meet one of my gears of war cohorts and see his Miami Medical promo. He gets coffee for one of the guys that produces it, so keep him employed by watching it! [/end free advertising]. Only negative so far, having to wake up at 4 am to catch my plane. I'm ahead of the curve. Oh, and I found out that I had closed the door to the litter box, so apparently the cats had taken to using our closet as their new one. Whoops, sorry sweetie!

That was the initial good. Then came the reality bad. I had to ride 3 1/2 hours through northern Ohio to Detroit. I honestly thought the badlands were in the Dakotas. What an awful place. Cornfields and dead factories. Cornfields mostly. I'd consider myself a slightly above average traveller, but anytime I visit the Midwest I find plenty of reasons not to come back, but I definitely understand why they have such a fertile punk scene. Who couldn't be disaffected living there?

At least the company was good. I was fortunate enough to be riding in the back seat with a Xavier grad. A-10 was out in full force (Also met a URI grad on the trip. Reppin' hard core). I was in the Brother-in-Law car. I am twice over a brother-in-law so I fit right in, even if I had no relation to anyone in the bridal party. We made a quick drive through Bowling Green (which we would visit on the return). We listened to a couple of games in the car, Cincinnati has a powerful AM radio station, and stopped at a Mickey D's on the road.

Normally I don't make it a habit to stop in fast food joints when I'm touring the US of A, but I have got to say they don't make McD's in NC like they do in Ohio. This place had HDTVs and a gas fireplace. What? TVs, okay I've seen that before. But this place had at least 2 big screens and a fire blazing. It was spotless too. Maybe I've been out of the FF game too long, but I did not expect it.

That was the only real point on interest on the ride up until we got to customs. We had two options, bridge or tunnel. Who knew Canada and NJ were the same thing? We were going tunnel but made an ED (that's executive decision) at the last second to go bridge. Normally if you asked me if I would rather see a wall or Detroit, the option would be easy, but I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty the view from the Ambassador Bridge is:

Now, this must just be a Canadian (maybe even just a Windsor) thing, but I was quick to notice it. The women in uniform are hot. I'm talking more dimes than Scrooge McDuck's vault. Our customs lady was very abrupt, very rude and very hot. We had to turn on the AC to get through the gate. She also couldn't wait to get rid of us. Didn't even let us finish our questions before she pushed us through. I imagine it was because we looked a reputable sort (save my unibomber photo in my passport). The other car following was not so lucky, but that may be because their driver fumbled over questions like nationality and "Do you have anything to declare?"

Ahh, scenic Windsor. If you've never been, I don't blame you. But our venture was not quite over and so onward we went to the Holiday Inn! JD (the groom to be, in case you forgot) and the BIL posse parked at the front counter. Mr. Xavier and I were eager to see how the Mousekateers were fairing in tournament play, but we had to check in first. Luckily the hotel was in a prime location, we had a bar RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET featuring everything you could ever want and more, the Crazy Horse Saloon! I was disheartened that we didn't stop in, but we did have to check in.

We had three rooms reserved for 12 guys:

"Hotels.com said that each room would have 2 queens."

"We don't have any rooms like that."

"What do the rooms have?"

"One king."


They sure weren't kidding about that either. Luckily I had had 4 hours to bond with my roommates, cause this was gonna be like some kind of sick college suite. We went into our rooms and cut on the TV waiting for the rest of the Columbus party to arrive (4 more of the 12 total). The A-10 was doing their A-terrible routine again. At least Xavier had come to play. We contemplated stealing a chair from one of the other rooms so that we'd have space for the four of us in our room. That plan never came to fruition, but something better was just around the corner.

Once the second car arrived we decided to head over to the Caesar's Palace to get our gamble on. And by we I mean everyone other than me. I am cheap, I hate losing and this recession, well you know. But on the way to the elevator (that required use of a room key, we were on the executive floor, nothing but the best, you know), I spied a cot in the hallway all bundled up unused. "Hey," I said to myself, "What better use for this than to sit in our room and give us all a place to sleep!" I'm sure it was reserved for some other happy camper and one of the wheels was a little busted, but JD's older BIL was surely appreciative.

We walked the 3 blocks or so to Caesar's Palace (featuring Whoopi, doesn't get much better than that) and I got a table at the sports book. The beer wasn't a total rip off (shocker) but the food was way over priced and I learned a harsh lesson. The food in Windsor is just awful. Not only was it about 15 dollars too much, it made me yearn for the McDonald's in Nowhere, OH. And I ate in this place twice. Glutton for punishment or just a moron? You decide.

During the mid-afternoon break, we made our way back over to the hotel to get ready for the night games both on and off the court. I watched the one game and half of the last party arrived. I failed to mention earlier that some members of our party had gone Motley Crue on the last (and at that time unoccupied) room and left all sorts of fun presents for the last to arrive. Apparently, no one staying in that room was happy about it.

We also found our hotel had been taken over. Now, I'm from the south. I'm used to life being integrated, but I recognize that the Midwest is not so fortunate. This hotel was swarming with Jamaicans and it caught all of us off guard. It was definitely a change from how white bread the whole trip had been so far. It, however, did not surprise me as much as it did when I asked them where they were from. "Toronto." Did not expect that.

We went back to a bar to watch the late games and we got to play Canadian bar bowling. You only get one ball per frame. It is also clearly rigged as I had a lead the entire game until the last frame and I had my only gutter ball. What is that about? I think there were also 12 frames or something. I don't know, I was drunk. It was fun and only cost me a loony or two. Canada is the biggest European poser I've ever seen. It was like being in the European Detroit.

The best part about all the bars on a Friday night was how easy it was to get service. I never had to wait to get a drink.
Got it?

Somewhere along the way we ran into another one of my Gears cohorts (there were a total of 4 of them on this trip) who had brought his Vietnamese friend that knew absolutely no one. He was good people though, I'm pretty sure he bought me a drink and I am definitely sure I didn't return the favor. They had driven in from Cleveland, so I'm sure it felt like they were still at home. The night's only other real highlight was a double rally (meaning he managed to do it twice) by the oldest member of our party.

Sometime after the bars closed, a handful of us (my memory is a little hazy) decided to make a run at the casino. We walked in and discussed strategy. Turns out the strategy for me and two of my new friends was to head back to the hotel and pass out. I went back into the hotel room with the Russian (who was actually Ukrainian) and the eldest was already passed out on the cot. We each claimed one half of the King sized bed and were small enough that we never came close to touching. Sounds like a win for everyone but the groom, who was either getting the chair or the floor. But we'll get to that part soon.

I woke up around 8 am the next morning. When I drink a lot, I sleep like the dead. But unless I'm really ripped I can't sleep for more than 5 hours. I only got mildly ripped the night before so I was hungover but not dead. I was also starving. I managed to get out of bed around 8:45 and walked into a hallway that reeked of pot. Pretty much anytime of day if I took the stairs there was someone smoking pot. The whole hotel was infested with roaches. I think I got a contact high on the elevator.

I made my way to the front desk to ask if there were any diners in town. I was determined to not eat more awful Canadian food. FC lady said there was a restaurant in the hotel (yeah, like I wanted spend $7 for a bowl of oatmeal) but there were no diners in town. Luckily there was another woman working and she told me there was a place called Biscuits and Gravy in town and they specialized in southern food. 'That sounds an awful lot like a diner,' I told myself.

After a little wandering around downtown Windsor, I found my destination. They had just opened, perfect timing! I examined a menu that featured eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, cheese grits, you name it. I asked the waitress if the ham was country ham, and she gave me a blank look. Oh you poor Canucks! Or should I say you lucky Canucks cause that stuff is awful. She called upon the chef, who was very clearly an American and he informed me that country ham was a delicacy they just couldn't get in Canada. I told him to just pour a bag of salt on his regular ham, problem solved!

The restaurant (which until recently was known as the Downtown Diner) had pictures all along the walls of historic Windsor. Lots of awesome old buildings, a really cool hotel, parks, you name it. The best part?! They had all been torn down and cement blocks were in their place. Now I saw why this was a tourist's dream vacation!

The food was actually solid and the waitress was really friendly. She told me all about her family and asked me my life story. She also gave me about 15 cups of coffee. Thinking I was cured of the horrible malady known as a hangover, I informed my waitress of my plan to go back to the heated pool at our hotel and get a few laps in. It really seemed like a good idea to go swimming at the time.

Boy am I ever stupid. I don't know how many of you have ever gone swimming with a hangover, but it is about the worst possible way to detox. I got to the swimming pool and gingerly lowered myself in. So far, so good. I splashed around a little bit, went under water, you know got acclimated. Then I went for the first lap. Seriously like my temples were the Berlin wall circa 1989. Now an intelligent person would realize that swimming more laps would only exacerbate the problem. Instead, I would prop myself up on the side of the pool, take about 2 hours for the pain to pass and then swim another lap. Chlorine rinse and repeat. I did that about 15 times before I finally just gave up. We may have only been in Canada 2 days in mortal time, but in hangover time it was at least 3, maybe four. And I spent one of those days swimming laps in the pool (Navin Johnson time).

After my refreshing workout, I took the elevator back to our executive floor and ran into the driver of the other car (you know, the one who got them detained at customs). He was the only other person alive at this point and he was going downstairs to get breakfast. I figured it would be better to spend time with other people since this was a party and nobody likes a wallflower so I went back to my room, changed and met him downstairs. This is how I found out a cup of oatmeal cost $7 in Canadaland.

We talked a little about college basketball (he was the only Ohio State fan, in a group of Ohio State fans, that actually attended tOSU) and about how ridiculous last night was. He told me that the groom had ended up passing out on his floor somewhere around 7 am when they got back from the casino. He also told me that he had ended up in a king sized bed with two of the king sized members of our group. There are many things in life I am jealous of, his sleeping arrangement will never be one of them.

We paid (2.50 for a cup of coffee, c'mon Canada) and went back upstairs. It was inching toward lunchtime and people were slowly waking up. I showed someone the diner where I had enjoyed the only good food I would eat in this godforsaken place. The waitress asked me how my swim was. I lied and told her it was great! I called my girlfriend and found out she had two flat tires. She just wasn't having a good weekend. Right before I left our washing machine's motor burned out also.

Back at our rooms, 80% of our group was back from the dead so we did what any normal people would do after binging. We went back to the casino, watched basketball and started drinking. I had promised my girlfriend that I would gamble the $25 she gave me and I held up my end of the bargain. I bet on a 4 game parlay: WVU covering, KSU covering, UK covering and UNM being a one point dog to 11 seed Washington. I hunted down a wolf after that game and kicked the crap out of it. I hate lobos. What a stupid mascot anyway. And who calls their gym the Pitt. What kind of stupid name is that?

Anyway, that was the extent of my gambling and in case you can't tell, it did not go well. At least it was only my girlfriend that was out money. Somewhere around the 5 o'clock mark, most everyone decided that they hadn't actually recovered from the night before they were going to go home and get ready to go out. Luckily for me, everyone in my room was well rested (the Russian slept about 15 hours, and that is in real people time). So, the BILs went out partying early.

We hit up an Irish pub that was next to an adult entertainment venue (one that promised "Stiff Drinks, Hot women and no cover!" no less). It was atmospheric and not overpriced (the food was supposedly good as well, but I did not eat there). The drinks were watered down, but it was probably better for me that they were. After hanging out there for about an hour and watching the last of the basketball games, the rest of our host showed up and we somehow found our way next door. It wasn't planned, I swear it.

The old adage you get what you pay for is sometimes true. This was, unfortunately, one of those times. One of the girls made that transvestite Tiger Woods was dating look like a Victoria Secret's model. Most of the brief time in the "club" was uneventful but there was a challenge to tip one of the strippers to see what she would do. It would be unfair to marine ecosystems to say this woman was a beached whale, but I am always an adventurous sort so I stepped up to the plate.

What followed was easily one of the five worst moments of my life, ranking somewhere between nearly losing a finger (and the subsequent "painkiller" they forced into the opening) and living in Chapel Hill for a year (just kidding Tarheels...sorta). I offered her someone else's $5 bill and she stuck it in my mouth and retrieved it with hers. It felt like I had a vacuum sucking the life straight out of me. Just awful, awful, awful. That was about the time I was ready to go.

We hurried out of the establishment before Moby Dick could sink our ship and steal my leg and I stopped into a place called (I kid you not) Pizza! Pizza! While there, a group of girls were consoling their friend who apparently had driven up to Windsor to her fiancee sucking face with another broad. I don't believe in hell, but if I did I imagine it would be something like that.

We spent the rest of the night bouncing between clubs filled to the brim with 19 year old girls. Somewhere along the way I realized that only one other guy and I were being carded. The legal age is 19, we were all in our late 20s (or older). C'mon man! I guess I am just very mature for my age. I believe one person commented that a bar we had just been in was like a high school prom. So, Saturday night in Windsor was definitely off the hook, if you're not old enough to drink in the US that is. Wooderson would have had a field day.

Pretty much everything else that happened is either covered by the "what happens in Windsor" clause or I was asleep. Apparently there was a giant party in one of the other rooms on the executive floor. And there was tons of marijuana stench the next morning. Those Toroncans sure do like their ganja. We made a pit stop by BnG for some more breakfast and then rolled out for Columbus, OH again.

On the way back we decided to forgo the awful view from the bridge for the picturesque tunnel. Not only was the trip to the customs station twice as long, there was an ugly American dude waiting for us. And we spent the whole time longing for daylight and pointing out rust spots on the ceiling. Great idea groom!

We had to stop for gas in Detroit. For all you gangstaaaars in Durham, you should really relocate. There was gang graffiti covering the side of the gas station. Inside, the bathroom door was a piece of plywood with a door handle. There was a woman who propositioned the cashier with homemade cologne or perfume. I really wish we had spent the whole time there, the cultural value would have been immense.

We stopped for lunch in Bowling Green at a place called Myle's Pizza. Not bad. We also stopped for stuffed bread sticks at a place called Campus Pollyeyes. Also not bad. American food, you may be horrible for me, but at least you aren't horrible tasting! We rolled back into Columbus around 6 or 7 and for some reason I stayed up watching old WWF matches on Youtube (Royal Rumble '92). I had to be up at 4 am to catch my plane back to work, so naturally I went to bed somewhere around 12:30. The groom drove me back to the airport and I made it back in just enough time to get something to eat and put in a closing shift at work.

If you're still with me, then you may not be sure if this was a fun trip or not. Or you may have seen the Hangover one too many times and gotten your expectations way too high. Let me tell you, it was a lot of fun. If you're not having fun in Windsor, it is proof you're just not drinking enough.

*Bachelors of Partying/University of Windsor...