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Review: Bad Religion, Nofx, and Pour Habit, Auckland Town Hall, 04/10/09 by underground

New Zealand doesn’t get too many bands visit from overseas, let alone two heavy-weights at one single show. So when news broke earlier this year that Bad Religion and Nofx would play the Auckland Town Hall together, the punk scene was stoked.

Name any modern punk band and either Bad Religion or Nofx influenced their sound or gave them their break. Both bands born in the earlier 1980s, they have led the way for countless other bands, and are still going strong as Nofx surpasses 25 years and 30 years beckon for Bad Religion.

One of the hordes of bands who owe a lot to these pioneers is Pour Habit, a recent Fat Wreck Chords signing, who opened the Town Hall show. Hailing from Compton, CA, Pour Habit is really unlike most punk bands we see on our shores. Soundwise, the vocalist, an acrobatic African American, reminds me of early Tim McIlrath (Rise Against), and the band is heavy, with souring Strung Out-esque guitar solos and thunderous drumming.

Considering punk is usually about equality, acceptance and (sometimes) inclusiveness, it is a shame the scene isn’t more diverse. Hopefully Pour Habit will break more stereotypes and entice more non-whiteys away from rap and RnB and towards punk.

On to the main show, and the self-proclaimed “Sultans of Slander” took to the stage. Well known as a band who talk a lot between songs Nofx did not stray from convention, with more talk than Muammar al-Gaddafi at the United Nations before they’d even played a note, with Fat Mike quipping the instruments were “props”. Apart from a few exceptions the band played a very different setlist than previous visits, which would have pleased those who had seen them before, but likely disappointed new-comers to the band. Nonetheless the band played with enthusiasm and got nothing less from the packed crowd, with mayhem on the floor and the balconies.

With all the banter and a few rubbish songs performed, Nofx could have thrown in The Decline or a few other crowd pleasers, but with Nofx, fans should understand to expect no more than 70 or so percent.

Bad Religion took up their positions on the stage and got right into Los Angeles is Burning. They sounded flat and unenthusiastic. The single was followed by much debate and a hasty sound check. The crowd got restless but the work was worth it, as the sound was greatly improved as was the attitude of the band. Bad Religion came to please and so wanted the best sound possible. Many songs were made heavier, with the guitars producing the heaviest-sounding palm-muting imaginable, which gave the songs extra fury. Drummer Brooks Wackerman was a marvel, beyond describable. Surprisingly Bad Religion only played one track of their latest album New Maps of Hell (2007), instead playing several from Recipe for Hate, the Grey Race and many from the early 1980s.

Next year should see a new album from the world’s greatest band, and if we’re lucky, having found a shores for the first time in only 2007, Bad Religion will be back. If they do, don’t miss it for the world, as they are one hell of a fine live band.



Review: Rancid – Let the Dominoes Fall by underground
August 14, 2009, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , ,

Barring an exception release over the remaining months of 2009, Rancid’s Let the Dominoes Fall is the album of the year. After a six year hiatus, Rancid have come back with a new drummer and an album worthy of their fine back catalogue.

Rancid do something few bands their age have. Each album, apart from perhaps their first two, differs greatly from their others. This means the band do not sound tired and are able to take inspiration from different genres without losing their core sound or fans.  Let the Dominoes Fall has the rough rock n roll feel of their early sound, the radio friendly song writing and style of Out Come the Wolves, the reggae and ska infusion of Life Won’t Wait,  the energy, grit and passion of Rancid 2000 and the soul and hip hop attitude of Indestructible.

Tim and Lars give Matt Freeman another chance on vocals in several songs and his voice never sounded so good, or rather appropriate, especially on LA River. The band’s ode to New Orleans is fantastic, but this really is an album of many highlights and few, if any, fillers. Typical to form the album has 19 tracks, so there is a lot of listening to be done.

If you haven’t already bought this album, make sure to purchase the special edition with acoustic bonus track. Sceptical of how well Rancid songs could make the switch to unplugged, I was surprised about how listenable the 12 track bonus CD is. Great for road trips through the countryside!

Definitely worth the wait.



Review: NOFX – Coaster by underground
August 14, 2009, 6:14 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , , ,

The first NOFX album I bought was Pump up the Valium. I couldn’t stand it. I was just getting into punk, having moved on from the Blink 182s and Green Days, but NOFX was not for me. Where’s the intro, verse, chorus, verse, etc. formula? After a few listens I gave up on NOFX.

NOFX was an acquired taste for me that I eventually became addicted to. I picked up their back catalogue and eagerly awaited new releases. Their latest, Coaster, has left me wondering whether they are past it though.

It’s not that musically it isn’t good. El Hefe and Melvin’s trademark licks and palm muted riffs are there in abundance. Fat Mike can play the bass like few in the business and Smelly is still a killer drummer.

It’s just a bit same old, same old.

Fat Mike is still singing about drinking and hating on religion. Sometimes it works; I am an Alcoholic and Blasphemy (the Victimless Crime), sometimes it doesn’t; First Call and Best God in Show. These songs aren’t bad; they’re just not that good. Mediocore – if you will.

The highlight is My Orphan Year. Unfortunately all too little really stands out as exceptional.

Coaster is the first NOFX album since Valium I have put in stereo, listened to for half a dozen times and then left in its case on the rack for several months.

I have on several occasions rewritten this review. It appears the album is slowly growing on me…



Review: Anti-Flag – The People or the Gun by underground
August 14, 2009, 6:08 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , ,

As a fan of this band for many years I may be something of an exception in their older fanbase. When The People of the Gun was released, while many older fans heralded the Pittsburgh four-piece’s return to a minor label and to their earlier sound, I was mourning a lost opportunity for the band.

Don’t get me wrong – I love their older stuff. But after the fairly experimental Bright Lights of America, which was a bit hit and miss (many songs were perhaps too long), I was excited to see where the band would go. Instead of pushing the punk envelope, Anti-Flag opted to revert back to their sound of old, which fails for me, because their bratty and sometimes naive protest songs just don’t seem to apply to a band that should have matured. If I want to hear something off Underground Network, Die for the Government, or Mobilize, I’ll put on those albums.

The People and the Gun is a quality record, although there are a few low lights and even fewer highlights. Some of the album is painful, such as the lyrically pathetic The Economy is Suffering – Let it Die, but there are glimpses of brilliance. The Gre(A)t Depression is refreshing on the album for its creativity, while still possessing the Anti-Flag singalong typical of their back catalogue, and When all the Lights go out could fit in on any of their previous albums such is it the quintessential Anti-Flag song.



Voting for violence by underground

The question on the paper reads “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”. When I received my citizen initiated referendum voting paper I asked myself “What accelerant would best burn my ballot?”.

Nine million dollars wasted during a recession. The question is absolute bullshit. Anyone half literate agrees. It does not ask the Government to do anything. If the referendum was binding, nothing would come of any vote. And fortunately anyway, our Prime Minister has the sense to shut the whole thing down before the vote is out.

No is yes and yes is no. The question requires one to acknowledge that  smacking is “good parental correction”, against the judgement of the social agencies who we trust with our most vulnerable and child experts the world over.

We are taught that violence is never the answer for anything. New Zealanders’ pacifist psyche has surprisingly been discarded on this issue. All of a sudden violence is a reasonable way to deal with a situation you cannot handle. Don’t say it is not violence to smack a child. To use physical force to get someone to do what you want, or to stop them doing something you don’t want them to, is violence. What message does this teach children?

The issue has been distorted. The repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act was to remove the defence of “reasonable force”. The cases where this law was used to keep child abusers from justice have been well documented. Those who have distorted this argument are absolving these child abuses of their actions. How was it the country was so easily deceived by coercive lobby groups? The PM has rightly said he will only look at reversing the amendment if it is shown not to work. The police have come out repeatedly saying there is no sign it isn’t working. Is the country not listening?

Social norms change. A referendum 40 or 50 years ago on something like smoking in restaurants or airplanes, women’s rights to choose, homosexuality, corporate punishment or pay equality would have received different results than now. Things that were once not acceptable are now common place and visa versa. It’s called evolving. Otherwise it would be only wealthy landowners casting their votes  while their slaves sustain their lavish lifestyles. Or life in Iran.

People are already using violence less against their children. In thirty years time smacking will be a dirty word. And the Neanderthal’s children will herald a brighter future where violence is not acceptable. Ever.



On winners and losers by underground

Like the sadist I am, sometimes I like to watch Fox News, cheerleaders of religious conservatism, where the likes of O’Reilly and Hannity make the most ridiculous assertions. According to Hannity, Obama is a socialist because of the US’s increasing deficit, despite George W Bush’s efforts to plunge the surplus he inherited into the red. Yesterday, I enjoyed Hannity slating the network’s opposition for their criticism of the Fox-endorsed anti-Obama “tea party” protests. While I believe it is part of the media role to often advocate a cause, organising anti-government protests is hardly fair and unbiased. And who are the people protesting? They are not the millions who took to the streets objecting to Bush’s illegal war and the erosion of civil liberties. They are tens of thousands of people who voted for the guy that did not win a democratic election last year. They are the sorest of losers, who supported a failed president for eight years and have written off the guy who inherited his mess; a troubled economy and a fractured nation. They are Hannity and Co.’s rent-a-crowd.

In New Zealand, the Left have had to stomach a National Government for six months and, even more difficult, the realisation that John Key is not as bad as previously believed. Key’s empty rhetoric and lack of substance pre-election concerned many, but his inclusive, measured governance has caused a re-think from many. There are indications unpopular policy may be in the pipeline and their pre-Christmas rush and their 100-day inaction may have given opponents some amnunition, but for the time being it’s plain sailing for the Government. The losers of the last election will need to regroup and consider their moves for the future. Let’s not see the pathetic sore-loser response shown by the tea baggers across the Pacific.



Review: Rise Against at the Powerstation 31/03/09 by underground

Previously of the Chicago hardcore underground scene, Rise Against is no longer under the radar. Their latest album, Appeal to Reason, made it all the way to number three on the Billboard 200 in the States, and their latest single Audience of one is played on even the most commercial pop radio station. Punk elite may slate the band as sell outs, but when seen live it is evident that the passion and grit evident in their first album, The Unravelling, remains.

Having seen RA a couple of times before, I knew what to expect before their Powerstation show in Auckland. However, the crowd at the latest show was very different to their previous shows, with many dressed as though they were going clubbing as opposed to a punk show, indictive of how much this band had connected to a different audience of recent years, or even just months. Accordingly, their new songs were greated with cheers from the fashionably attired, whereas the earlier tracks were met with some bewilderment. From their first album, Stainglass and Marble bought the diehard old fans charging forward to scream the song in unison, whereas Re-education, Audience of One and others from Appeal to Reason got the younger fans singing along.

While some bands fail to take their songs from the studio to the stage, RA has no such problem. Vocalist Tim McIlrath’s voice never fails, replicating even the persistant, yet audio, scream of State of the Union as capably as on the original recording. After a lengthy set, the band left the stage, before returning with acoustic guitars to perform the awesome Hero of War, and the crowd favourite Swing Life Away. The volume picks up for three more encore songs, ending on the passionate Prayer of the Refugee, before the band depart and the house lights herald the end of an entertaining Tuesday night.

Sales of the band’s first four albums must have increased after that show, after the punkrock virgins got their first taste of what real live music sounds and looks like.




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