Saturday, 30 January 2016

Gig Review: The Barnett Brothers at The Cricketers 22/1/16 & The Lexington 23/1/16


Last week Emma and I went to two Barnett brothers gigs; the first being at The Cricketers in Kingston and the second being at The Lexington in London. For those who don't know, the Barnett brothers are Greg Barnett from The Menzingers and Bobby Barnett from Captain We're Sinking. Last October at The Fest the idea was pitched for them to come over to England for a bit of a vacation and to play some solo acoustic shows. Emma and I both had the time booked off work for my birthday and luckily this coincided with the tour so we decided to go to two shows. I thought it might make interesting reading for us to each review a show and then combine them into a single blog post that compares and contrasts the shows. Emma reviewed the Cricketers show (italics) and I did the Lexington gig.

 

Dave House is one of those names that I’ve heard of but, for one reason or another, never actually listened to before – and no I’m not thinking of Dave Hause. He said himself that he has been off the radar for a while – and incidentally had to re-learn his old songs for the show – whilst he’s been working on some new material under his new guise, Permanent Record. But, being from Kingston and having released his last album (in 2009) on Banquet Records, it was no surprise that much of the crowd knew Dave and his music. Even if I didn’t necessarily know the songs it was great to hear everyone else singing along with such enthusiasm. Dave joked that all of his songs are either about ‘the kids of today’ or ‘water’, of which he had several examples of each! His enthusiastic performance, complete with foot stomping that shook the small stage, was excellent and exactly what was needed to kick off the night. Dave has certainly earned himself a new fan and I’ll be checking out whatever he does next.

Support at The Lexington came from Brightr. I wasn't aware of Brightr until that show but I've since learned that he plays acoustic pop punk songs. When we walked into the Lexington we looked towards the stage and noticed a stool on the stage, which was surprisingly used by Brightr and which I felt took away from his stage presence. That being said he had some fantastic songs with some very powerful messages behind them. Brightr is definitely a man to look out for. We had decided to hang out towards the back of the Lexington tonight to watch the gig. This had some good and bad points, the good being a fantastic view and the bad being people at the back seemingly wanted to just have a chat rather than watch the artists they had paid to see. I always find people who spend the majority of a gig talking quite annoying and think it's quite disrespectful to whoever is playing. 

 

I must admit that I’ve not really listened to as much Captain We’re Sinking as a punk rock fan perhaps should have. I certainly didn’t know that the band featured the brother of Greg Barnett – something that apparently a lot of people didn’t know (much to Bobby and Greg’s amusement). I was also very surprised to discover that the band has never actually made it over to the UK to play shows before – maybe that’s one reason why I wasn’t too familiar with them! Although he has some of his own solo material, Bobby’s set mostly consisted of Captain We’re Sinking songs. Something I imagine is just what fans wanted to hear really! He was clearly very grateful to have the chance to play in the UK and shared stories between songs, including one in which he and Greg, as 5 and 6 year olds, tried to find the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a sewer. The main thing that struck me about Bobby’s performance was what a great voice he has, which isn’t really something you often think to comment on in the world of punk rock. In particular I really loved his passionate performance of ‘Brother,’ which, although not strictly about just Greg (it’s more about friends being like brothers), felt pretty fitting.
 
Up next was the first of the Barnett Brothers – Bobby. The Captain We're Sinking front man was making his first visit to the UK ever (which I found surprising as I thought that Captain We're Sinking would have made the journey from Philadelphia at some point). I've always been impressed with Bobby's voice whenever I've heard it on record but live it's something else! It's incredibly powerful and the emotion is amazing. He mentioned that he had brought seventy-five copies of his solo album with him on the tour but had already sold out so would be playing a set consisting of only Captain We're Sinking songs for the evening. Classics such as Brother, More Tequila Less Joe and my personal favourite Crushed By Milwaukee's Best all got played to fantastic reactions. To make acoustic shows truly memorable the crowd needs to be involved and happily there were enough people in the crowd who knew Bobby's songs to sing along. Bobby was great, I'm hoping the love shown to him on this tour will encourage him to bring Captain We're Sinking over to the UK very soon.

 

At this point I should probably mention that The Menzingers are almost definitely my favourite punk band in the world. I’m a huge fan of the band and, I must admit, a big fan of Greg in particular. I love Tom May too but there is just something about Greg’s songs that connect with me better than most of Tom’s do (sorry Tom!). Plus his voice is one of my favourites in punk rock. I was ridiculously excited when I found out that Greg would be venturing across the pond to play some solo acoustic shows and I can’t deny that I am the main reason we ended up going to two nights of the tour in a row (though it was partly because it coincided with Colin’s birthday too). It was a little odd at first for Greg to be up on stage without the rest of the guys, as well as playing stripped back versions of The Menzingers’ songs rather than the loud, fast tunes we are used to. He started his set with Gates and it wasn’t long before the crowd was singing along, much the same as for a full band electric show, although without any stage diving! It was great to hear Greg talking in between songs and interacting with the Cricketers’ crowd, telling us how the Barnett brothers tour idea came about – Greg just wanted a holiday! Colin and I both agreed that he spoke a lot more than at a typical Menzingers show, which was no bad thing. Something I love about Greg is how genuinely happy he seems to be when performing, particularly when a sing-a-long moment happens with the crowd. It was awesome to hear some different versions of songs, such as Deep Sleep, and also songs that are not played so often – On The Impossible Past, My Friend Chris and Sun Hotel pt. 2 – as well as all the (Greg) hits. The whole set was excellent and definitely over too soon. I’d been keen to see Greg play solo again but now I also just want to see The Menzingers as a whole as soon as I can!

Next up it was time for the man we'd all come to see, a few of us not for the first time on this tour. Greg Barnett is the main singer in one of the most loved punk bands to emerge in the past decade – The Menzingers. Menzingers shows are well known for being crazy affairs with big sing-a-longs and bodies flying everywhere so before the tour started I was curious to see how it would translate into an acoustic environment. Turns out it translates really, really well! From the opening song Gates to the final song In Remission and the encore song Irish Goodbyes it was one big sing-a-long party. It was like a massive punk rock choir. It was just amazing. At times we sang so loud you couldn't actually hear Greg's voice through the microphone. Songs in particular that stood out with the Lexington's adoring crowd were The Obituaries, Good Things, Casey and I Don't Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore – the later receiving massive "whoa-ohs" during the chorus. We were also treated to some rarely played, softer songs such as Sun Hotel Part Two and My Friend Chris. Throughout the entire set Greg had us gripped, showing a much more story-telling side that we don't often see when he plays with The Menzingers. For me this type of show is what punk rock is all about in 2016 – it's about getting together with your friends and singing at the top of your voice to songs that really mean something to you. There was some real emotion on show at the Lexington that night and I suspect almost everybody in the room came away moved.

Check out Greg's band The Menzingers here: https://www.facebook.com/themenzingers

Check out Bobby's solo stuff here: https://www.facebook.com/Bbarnett1289

Check out Bobby's band Captain We're Sinking here: https://www.facebook.com/captainweresinking

Check out Dave House here: https://www.facebook.com/iknowdavehouse

Check out Brightr here: https://www.facebook.com/wearebrightr

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Art of Punk: Skulls & Stuff


Skulls and stuff… I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for quite a while now, but it keeps getting put off. I’m continuously coming across more and more examples and want to gather as many as possible before I set the post in stone, so to speak. But enough is enough because skulls, skeletons and all kinds of macabre imagery go hand in hand with punk rock and they always will. Plus, I have a growing Pinterest board of relevant images that will continue to grow regardless of this post being published now – do check it out!

Why exactly do punk bands adorn their album covers, t-shirt designs, posters and such with skulls and skeletons? I can’t really give a definitive answer – I don’t even know why I love such imagery so much myself, I always have done (I have a skull shaped mug on my desk at work that serves as my pen pot). However, I can at least try to consider a few ideas and share some examples. I’ve published a couple of posts already in the Art of Punk series that heavily use a theme of skulls – Dan Allen and Brunofsky – so I will refrain from repeating myself with those.

 
 
 

As we all know, punk evolved from an anarchistic movement in the 1970s, going against what was perceived as ‘normal’. In some ways punk rock still has this element to it but really it is so much more than that – ie. not all songs are about ‘sticking it to the man’. In visual terms, using images that would most commonly be used to represent poison, death and mortality goes quite against the norm in itself. I know that skulls are not strictly associated with only punk music, they are used within all kinds of alternative music genres, but they do seem to be frequent occurrence in many sub-genres of punk rock. But nor are skulls solely a symbol for death, they also bring to mind Hamlet, pirates, horror movies, halloween costumes and the Mexican ‘Día de Muertos’ (Day of the Dead) festival – which is a celebration of lives lost rather than mourning. Why?

I’ve done quite a lot of reading into the symbolism of skulls – as I said, I really do find skulls appealing and I know I’m not the only one. I found this paragraph from Wikipedia quite interesting. Although it doesn’t, of course, relate to punk rock it is still worth considering.

‘A human skull with its large eye sockets displays a degree of neoteny, which humans often find visually appealing – yet a skull is also obviously dead. As such, human skulls often have a greater visual appeal than the other bones of the human skeleton, and can fascinate even as they repel. Our present society predominantly associates skulls with death and evil. However, to some ancient societies it is believed to have had the opposite association, where objects like crystal skulls represent "life": the honouring of humanity in the flesh and the embodiment of consciousness.’

And so, onto the punk… I can’t talk about skulls in punk rock without first of all discussing The Misfits and one of the most, if not the most, famous skull images. The Misfits’s skull first appeared on the cover of their 1978 single ‘Horror Business’ and was inspired by (some say completely stolen from) a poster for 1946 horror film, ‘The Crimson Ghost’. It was from that point on that the skeleton figure became a mascot for the band and the standalone skull logo became an iconic symbol as well. And what better visual representation for a band so influenced by horror than a skull! The skull and a variety of skeletal figures feature throughout hundreds of Misfits posters both old and new.

  

Social Distortion are another band that use this theme for their logo – this time with a whole skeleton rather than a skull. But the logo is more than just a typical skeleton… it’s a dancing skeleton wearing a hat and holding a cigarette in one hand an a martini glass in the other. Yeah, it sounds a little odd (and more than a little awesome) but the band have used it consistently since its creation in 1983. The skeleton – either as a standalone logo or incorporated into an illustration – is often used as the stage backdrop at shows. He also seems to find his way onto posters and T-shirts. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2011, Mike Ness, singer and guitarist, explained where the skeleton came from: That I found – it was an invitation to a New Year's Eve party that my friend had designed. At the time, I saw that, and it just felt like, "That's it right there. It's life and death, it's celebration." It just felt powerful.’

 

The skull and cross bone symbol, in particular, is of course synonymous with pirates and piracy. Therefore it is no surprise to me that bands such as The Dreadnoughts – with a very much piratey/shanty folk punk sound – choose to use it. Bands like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, who play a similar form of folk punk, although perhaps a little less shanty-like, also use a lot of skulls and skeletons. Though not strictly logos for any of these bands, that doesn’t stop them from featuring heavily in posters and T-shirt designs. Teenage Bottlerocket are another band that use the skull and cross bones. In fact it is their logo and it is used for every album cover design – but with the background colour and logo colour varied.

  

Elsewhere in punk rock, Alkaline Trio are known for their almost-cute simplified skull and heart logo. The logo is teamed with macabre imagery such as coffins and blood (think Tim Burton), which along with the band’s poetic lyricism has earned the band as much of a goth and emo following as punk – much like the Misfits before them really! Perhaps a more recent band that is embracing similar themes is Creeper. Their purple grim reaper logo is already pretty well known – note how it also appears in a heart, like Alkaline Trio.


But skulls and skeletons aren’t used exclusively as logos, they frequent album artwork, posters and T-shirts of hundreds of bands and festivals. A recent favourite of mine is the album cover for Will Tun & The Wasters’s The Anachronist’s Cookbook (Colin’s number one album of 2015!). The three skeletons on the cover – one being some kind of dinosaur or perhaps a crocodile – are having a great time playing their instruments and moving to the music. It was whilst researching for this blog post that I came across something called ‘Danse Macabre’ or dance of the death. The term comes from medieval times and is a metaphor about the universality of death: no matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites all’. It sounds dark but there are some great illustrations not unlike the Will Tun album cover.


What do you think? Am I dark and twisted or do you love skulls and skeletons too?

NOTE: I really wanted to call this blog post ‘Skulls & Shit’ as it has a better ring to it but I try to avoid using such language on the Internet unless it’s absolutely necessary – like talking about Shit Present. Also, Colin isn’t so keen on ‘foul language’!

Monday, 25 January 2016

Album Review: Some Things Never Change by Airport Novels


Airport Novels are a four-piece pop punk band from Kansas City. On New Year's Day they released a brand new EP named Some Things Never Change, which features four songs of fast-paced, in your face pop punk with catchy choruses and bouncy bridges.


The opening track Ties starts with some fun sing-a-long lyrics that would get a live crowd going immediately. The song then picks up some pace during the verse, which adds a bit of punk rock urgency before the catchy chorus. Second song Uprooted is the one that really stood out to me on my first listen of the EP. Musically the song starts slowly with a down-tempo build before the song jumps into life. The song is about feeling most at home whilst being on tour with your friends. I really enjoyed the storytelling feeling that comes out of the song. The third song is called Seasons Change and is about learning to do things your own way despite it being perceived as being the wrong way. Drummer Kyle's relentless pounding really stood out on this song along with some great melodies from the guitars. The beginning of the final song October feels like it could have come straight from an American Pie film. It's sunny sounding pop punk at its finest. It also really makes me want to bounce. I love the tempo of the vocals on the song which do a fantastic job with carrying the melody. 

There's a lot of great pop punk emerging from all over the world. Airport Novels are a fun new band who do exactly what they set out to do - make you sing and dance.  You can't ask for more than that!

Stream and download Some Things Never Change here: https://airportnovels.bandcamp.com/album/some-things-never-change

Like Airport Novels here: https://www.facebook.com/airportnovels

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Top Tens: Martyn Hodder of Dynamite Dynamite's Top Ten Punk Rock Influences


Martyn Hodder of Dynamite Dynamite gives us his top ten punk rock influences.


Stray Cats:
They’re basically all I listened to between the ages of zero and 10. My dad’s favourite band. They were my musical introduction to everything ever. Year zero.
 
Noel Gallagher:
Fucked up choice yeah? Oasis were the first band I got into off of my own merit. Probably the first time I heard a huge distorted guitar sound. And Noel Gallagher sure can write a good tune.
 
The Offspring:
The first time I'd ever knowingly heard a punk rock band was when my mate in year 7 gave me a mixtape with Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) on. I bought myself Americana and got totally hooked. I lost myself in their back catalogue for a good year.
 
Green Day:
Green Day passed me by for the first year or two after hearing of them. But hearing Insomniac made me a lifer. My first band (read me and a bass playing friend in his living room) basically ripped off everything on 39/Smooth and changed a few words around. But it was ours! The first day I got an electric guitar (xmas day, Titanic was on!) I taught myself Minority front to back.
 
Descendents:
They're the Descendents. If you know, you know.
 
Tim Armstrong:
Operation Ivy and Rancid taught me everything I ever wanted to know about ska. My first real bands were all ska. Punk was always more than one genre of music to me. It was whatever the fuck you wanted to do and fuck whoever told you not to.
 
The Living End:
They were MY Stray Cats. They had the look, the stand up bass, the ability to impress my dad, and I could claim them as my own. I introduced HIM to them and he loved them. They were everything I grew up hearing but louder and more urgent.
 
Hot Water Music:
I used to hate gravelly-voiced 'shouty' punk bands. HWM changed it all. I could sing along to Paper Thin for hours and realise your voice doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to mean something when the words come out.

Dave Hause:
I fell out of love with punk rock for a few years in my early twenties. Dillinger Four pulled me back in, The Loved Ones kept me anchored. Dave's solo stuff taught me more about melody than I could ever hope to keep in my head.
 
Dad:
My dad influenced and started my path to everything I have ever loved in music. He taught me my first ham-fisted chords, he played me music and melody from being a baby and always taught me to like what you like and never be ashamed of it, forever proud, because in the end it's what makes you whole.

Check out Dynamite Dynamite's Bandcamp here: https://dynamitedynamite.bandcamp.com/ 

Like Dynamite Dynamite here: https://www.facebook.com/dynamitedynamite

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Album Review: Homegrown by Across All Oceans


Across All Oceans are a five-piece emo/pop punk band from Middlesbrough in the North of England. After forming in 2012 and releasing their debut EP Looking Back in 2014, Across All Oceans release a second EP named Homegrown on the 22nd of February. I was lucky enough to get an early copy.


The first song on Homegrown is Everywhere But Home. Whenever I think about UK emo music the first band I think of is Moose Blood so when I clicked play that was the sound I was expecting. As ever with when I assume something, I was wrong. Lead singer Andrew Thomson has a much more aggressive vocal style that I really love. The song goes along at a good pace and is a fantastic start to the EP. The second song, Permanence, shows more of the pop punk side of Across All Oceans. On my iPod I have a playlist with all the music I have to review and the other day this song popped on whilst I had it on shuffle. My first thought was ‘why are The Flatliners on this playlist’. This is by no means a slight on the band, The Flatliners are one of my most favourite bands and Chris Cresswell has one of the most recognisable voices in punk rock. Up next is latest single Monophobia. This song is a great punk track with some great hooks and sing-a-long moments. Starting slowly with just vocals and guitars, the band picks the tempo up slightly and brilliantly combines emo and heartfelt punk rock to create a fantastic sound that can't be ignored. Title track Homegrown goes back to a more typical emo sound with Thomson's vocal becoming a bit less harsh, perhaps making the song more accessible. The song is about questioning your place in life and if you are at the stage that you're supposed to be. I can see this song being extremely popular with the younger people with its cleaner sound. Homegrown finishes with a song named Eston Square. Eston Square starts out slowly with some really restrained, quiet vocals. Soon enough this changes and the song becomes a huge, up-tempo, sing-a-long emotional punk rock anthem. At the start of the song I wasn't so sure that I would like it but by the end I was ready to proclaim it as the song of the year (very early days I know).

Across All Oceans are a fantastic band. This genre of punk rock is getting more and more popular and I wouldn't be surprised if AAO (as I'm sure they'll become known soon enough) could have a breakout year on the strength of this EP. It's very, very good.

Pre-order Homegrown here: https://acrossalloceans.bandcamp.com/

Like Across All Oceans here: https://www.facebook.com/AcrossAllOceanOfficial