Tag Archives: punk rock

Blink-182 – California

Blink-182 - California album coverIn summer 2016 two of the biggest bands in the world of pop punk released records that had something of a comeback feel to them. I’ve already taken a look at Green Day’s effort, Revolution Radio, so now I’ve had a listen to Blink-182’s California.

Originally forming in the wake of the pop-punk explosion caused by the likes of Green Day back in 1995, Blink-182 became arguably the biggest band of the following wave of American pop-punk with their 1999 album Enema of the State and 2001’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.

Since then something of a direction on their self-titled 2003 album was followed by a lengthy hiatus and then a change of personnel before California with Alkaline Trio leader Matt Skiba joining in place of founding guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge.

So to California. As the name suggests this is a partial concept record about the band’s home state, particularly the southern part of it – Blink originally formed in and around San Diego – and it is the three tracks that most obviously provide this theme that are three of the highlights. Los Angeles, San Diego and the title track all present different aspects of the band at their most mature and inventive sounding.

Blink-182 circa 2016

Blink-182 – Hoppus, Barker and Skiba

This is balanced with the kind of songs that made the bands reputation with pop hooks, singalongs and catchy choruses aplenty, that had me singing along after only a couple of listens. Particularly in this group are She’s Out Of Her Mind and Kings of the Weekend.

On top of this Built This Pool and Brohemian Rhapsody show the band still have their juvenile streak with these two 30 second skit-songs very reminiscent of several from their back catalogue.

What sets California apart from Blink’s past efforts is, I think, something that Skiba brings to the table. Alkaline Trio are known for adding gothic elements to their pop-punk and dealing with darker themes and that sneaks through here. Sober is a song that while upbeat and still has the Blink thing going on suggests something deeper as do the Californian tryptic.

Admittedly Blink have headed in these directions in the past as well with the likes of Stay Together For The Kids and Adam’s Song but Skiba’s presence adds an extra level to it as well as making for a more digestible sound than DeLonge ever managed.

Blink-182 playing live

The band playing live

With a lot of variety for a pop-punk record California still falls together like a complete package of an album including some moments of the more modern style of pop-punk with heavier guitar tones along with the upbeat feel.

It’s not just Skiba who’s on top form either, but founder member Mark Hoppus (bass and vocals) and long time drummer Travis Barker are both clearly at the top of their game as well, and as ever the drums are a big part of what elevates Blink-182 above the rest of the pop-punk pack and California certainly shows this longstanding band can still be a cut above the rest.

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A Stray Cat Struts: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel by Slim Jim Phantom

A Stray Cat Struts by Slim Jim PhantomWhen I look at musical biographies I’ve read in the past, from Laura Jane Grace to Tony Iommi to Ginger Wildheart to Frank Turner amongst others, it’s fairly obvious that most have focussed on frontmen or band leaders.

This seems to be a fairly standard trend so, coming to the autobiography of Slim Jim Phantom, most famously the drummer from The Stray Cats, I expected something a bit different, and that’s just what I got.

From the start Phantom makes it clear that his book won’t be a mudslinging ‘needless to say I got the last laugh’ type affair but a look at the positives that his life as a rockabilly musician of note has brought him.

That isn’t to say that it’s all saccharine sweet though as he and his various band members go through their share of problems but, for the most part, Slim Jim finds the good in all the situations, one way or another.

With this approach he makes it clear early on that he won’t engage with the potential fallout of the split of The Stray Cats, so when that comes it’s not a surprise (though later he sheds a little light on the relationships between himself and fellow Cats, Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker).

The Stray Cats

The Stray Cats

Up to the split of that band the book moves in, largely, chronological order tracing Phantom’s life from Massapequa, Long Island, New York to London where the Cats first found fame, through meetings and tours with The Rolling Stones and the kind of encounters and happenings that are genuinely amazing to hear given the speed with which they occur following the trio’s arrival in the UK.

In this we begin to meet some of Slim Jim’s ‘true pals’ who become a major feature of many of the stories and many are household names from the world of rock ‘n’ roll. While this could easily feel like name dropping par excellence, it actually comes across as if our humble narrator is as surprised by many of these encounters and friendships as we might be, including his marriage in the mid-1980s to Britt Ekland!

As the book goes on the stories focus more on specific subjects so there are chapters on Lemmy, ‘The Killer’ Jerry Lee Lewis, George Harrison and other rock ‘n’ roll heroes as well as Phantom’s endeavours in film acting, nightclub ownership and life on and around the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

HeadCat and Jerry Lee Lewis

HeadCat and Jerry Lee Lewis

Through all of these what makes the book so engaging is the manner in which Phantom writes. It’s as if he is telling you these stories one-to-one, and his enthusiasm for his music and extraordinary comes through strongly in every passage regardless of what he’s recounting.

As the book goes on he becomes more reflective as his hard partying days subside to watching game shows while on the phone with Harry Dean Stanton, spending time with his, evidently equally rock ‘n’ roll, son TJ and later charity mountaineering trips to Kilimanjaro and Everest.

Rockabilly music is never far away though and it’s clear this remains what makes his heart beat and its worth having YouTube handy to look up some of the Stray Cats performances he mentions just to revel in the same things he is.

Slim Jim Phantom up Kilimanjaro

Slim Jim Phantom up Kilimanjaro

What I think this accessibility and enthusiasm stems from is something he highlights and I’ve noticed in my own life that, in a majority of cases, drummers are the members of the band most happy to let down the facade of rock ‘n’ roll life, connect with others and generally are more open and sharing.

Using this Slim Jim lets us into his world in a far less self-conscious way than many other musicians making for a fascinating and easy read that may have a few rough edges tidied but feels honest and true in the way that the best things in rock ‘n’ roll should be.

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Green Day – Revolution Radio

Green Day - Revolution Radio album coverBack in 2004 Bay Area punk trio Green Day reached something of a milestone moment in their career with the release of their George W. Bush baiting concept opus American Idiot.

While that launched them into being one of the most commercially successful punk rock bands of all time (despite causing something a rift amongst long time fans) with arena tours and festival headline slots aplenty, they have since struggled to live up to the impassioned, firebrand strength on record.

Follow up album, 21st Century Breakdown, tried to relive the glory of its forerunner while a trio of albums in 2012 (Uno, Dos and Tre) seemed to slip out somewhat under the radar with less of the hype, but still sold well.

Following that Revolution Radio then looks and sounds like another attempt at returning to the American Idiot idealism, but, despite being written and recorded during the rise of now-President Trump, it doesn’t seem to have such a targeted focus.

While Bang, Bang and the title track are serviceable numbers with some good upbeat sounds the first half of the album feels somewhat too clean and over overproduced, demonstrating their arena rock credentials but losing much of the band’s spirit.

Green Day

Green Day

From the sixth track, Bouncing Off The Wall, onwards though this seems to change with a far more straight forward punk rock feel to things – faster, harder and more based around the core trio.

While it’s still not the focussed assault it sounds as if it should be there’s a lot to like and here Green Day sound like a band refreshed before closer Ordinary World takes it back to the start a little too much.

As a whole Revolution Radio is a mixed bag but shows there’s still life in Green Day yet, even if they are now very firmly more an arena rock outfit than the young punks who came out of 924 Gilman Street in the early 1990s and I can but hope they return more emphatically to their more political leanings now there is something worth shouting about again.

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Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi

Tranny Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace and Dan Ozzi book coverIn May 2012 Laura Jane Grace came out to the world as transgender via an interview in Rolling Stone magazine. At that point her band, Against Me!, had been going through a lot of transition themselves and this marked something of a watershed moment, not just for Grace herself, but for the band.

In her autobiography, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout (written with Dan Ozzi) Grace explores her life and career up to this point in startling honest fashion.

The book starts in 1985 with Grace (then known as Thomas James Gabel) seeing Madonna on TV and the wheels are set in motion for her life both in terms of her personal development and her musical ambitions – of course stylistically, the music at least would go in somewhat of a different direction.

I won’t go into detail of her story, this would be the autobiographical equivalent of spoilers, but it follows a natural chronology starting with her life as child of a military family regularly moving from place to place and never forming solid foundations, something that comes into play as she moves into being a touring musician.

Laura Jane Grace

Laura Jane Grace

As the title of the book suggests the story has two main threads that Grace weaves together seamlessly. Each chapter loosely follows a section of her career based around an album or tour, especially once we get to the point to the point of Against Me! releasing their debut album, …Reinventing Axl Rose.

This is a fairly standard conceit and obviously makes logical sense for a musicians memoir, but, what lifts it beyond that is the combination of newly written passages and sections lifted from Grace’s extensive journals.

What this does is extraordinary as we get the view of Grace now, with not only hindsight but an almost entirely changed life, and the in the moment thoughts and views of Gabel at the time.

While the view taken rarely changes it gives the book a duality that only serves to hammer home the experiences of Grace’s dysphoria that, it is evident, were present from her early youth (certainly at least since seeing that Madonna performance).

Against Me! circa 2013

Against Me! circa 2013

These journals are fascinating as its clear Grace documented everything, really putting the reader in the moment with her at many key moments both for herself and Against Me!.

This makes for a very intense and personal experience, like we are a fly on the wall, or even closer than that. With that we share many nights with her on the bench seats of vans or bunks of tour busses, as well as the back of a police car or two, in a way I’ve never read in any other musician’s life story.

As a fan of Grace’s music I did wonder if her personal story would take preference but I’m happy to say that it doesn’t as it is clear throughout just how inextricably linked these two things are, more than comes across in many other such stories. That said the most fascinating stuff comes with her personal story and quite how she came to terms with her gender dysphoria and how she dealt with it (or didn’t) at different stages of her life.

Grace as Gabel

Grace as Gabel

It never paints transitioning or anything associated with it as a quick fix or an easy process as some flippant reporting of such has, both in relation to her and others. In this it does a great job of expressing the feelings she felt and what she went through that, as a cis-male, was one of the most valuable insights I’ve had into this.

The story of the band is one we’ve heard many times before with members falling out, life on the road extremes and just what its like to support metallers Mastodon on tour when you’re in a band playing punk rock.

But with this we get a look into the American punk scene from the late 1990s to the late 2000s. While this view is obviously that of Grace herself, it is fascinating to see the DIY end of things and how it relates (or doesn’t) to the mainstream world of pop-punk and what comes between.

This just adds fuel to Grace’s resilient fire as she faces off against former fans who now brand her and the band sellouts and how some came back round as this part of her story neared its end.

The final chapter and epilogue of the book change things up as Gabel’s journals are no more and we get pure Grace, rounding off her story in suitably open-ended but still satisfying fashion (for now) as we find out about the writing and recording of the Transgender Dysphoria Blues album and the reconstruction of Against Me! as, arguably, even more of a potent force than they ever were before and certainly a more focussed one.

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard) of Against Me!

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard)

All this makes Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout not just one of the most satisfying autobiographies but one of the most satisfying books I’ve read.

Like much of Grace’s music its fast, raw and honest while provoking thought and opening up a wider world of experience than most other does not and, given the subjects it deals with, it offers an invaluable and important insight into something not everyone will experience but everyone should be able to at least try to understand all in a very personal way.

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Against Me!, Milk Teeth and Mobina Galore – Electric Ballroom, Camden – 08/12/16

Against Me!

Against Me!

Heading into Camden’s famed Electric Ballroom venue on a surprisingly mild December evening it was clear that the night’s headliners, Floridian punk rockers Against Me!, had brought a sense of occasion with them.

Snaking down Camden High Street from the venue’s doors, waiting for them to open, was one of the most diverse crowds I’ve seen for a show all clearly attracted by the message of inclusivity the band have been championing for, at least, their last two albums but in less specific ways their whole career.

This idea of inclusivity was reflected in the supporting line up. It sounds like something that shouldn’t need commenting on but, as this was, I think, the first time it’s happened at a gig I’ve attended, all three bands were at least female fronted but in each case this was far from their defining factor.

Winnipeg duo Mobina Galore kicked off proceedings with a wall of grunge punk noise that combined the fuzz sound of Nirvana-era Seattle with the heavier end of The Offspring’s brand of pop-punk.

Mobina Galore

Mobina Galore

Jenna and Marcia were instantly captivating thanks to the sheer power of their sound, the fact there were two and not at least four people on stage was never sonically noticeable, bringing to mind the likes of The Hyena Kill and Science of Eight Limbs in different ways

This, combined with the way they worked together and obviously fed off one another’s energy, created something that got the already big and still growing audience nicely warmed up.

Had the set gone on any longer I worried their sound may have become a bit repetitive but for a raging half hour Mobina Galore were powerful and absorbing from start to finish.

It was obvious from their reception that Stroud based quartet, Milk Teeth, brought quite a following with them and as they launched in Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation before segueing into their own material that quickly gained more.

The band’s sound was rooted in pop punk but they weren’t scared to venture into heavier territory and it was when they merged the two that they hit their best moments.

Milk Teeth

Milk Teeth

Becky Blomfield was a constant focus with powerful vocals along with a great line in high kicks and bass playing while Billy Hutton, celebrating a year on guitar with the band, acted as a great counterpoint.

Highlights of the set came with Swear Jar and a very nice slower number from Blomfield that was the first moment of the audience consciously coming together in support of a band’s explicit lyrical sentiments – though plenty more such moments were still to come.

With a nice little speech from Hutton continuing this, Milk Teeth delivered a brilliantly uncynical performance that, judging by the audience response at the end of the set, saw them win over many new fans to their diverse punk rock sound.

As a banner revealing a pair of black and white, Rocky Horror-eque, lips was revealed and Against Me! hit the stage the now packed crowd in the sold out Electric Ballroom pushed forward and the level of excitement surpassed possibly any show I’ve ever attended.

Against Me!

Against Me!

Launching into True Trans Soul Rebel before a surprisingly powerful 333 and then Haunting, Haunted, Haunts the band matched this excellently and proceeded to ride a wave of energy with the audience for the next 90 minutes spanning their entire career, balancing older material with a focus on songs from new album Shape Shift With Me.

Despite the fact some of the subjects dealt with in Laura Jane Grace’s lyrics can be on the dark side their delivery camet with a positive attitude and a huge, infectious smile, throughout, with Dead Friends, White Crosses and Delicate, Petite and Things I’ll Never Be highlights of the first part of the set in this regard as the audience sang virtually every word back at the band, at times almost out doing the PA.

While the first half of the set would have made this a stand out show in anyone’s book something changed to elevate it even further when, in the introduction to Bamboo Bones, Grace made a comment that, while she is an atheist she got the impression that the energy she feels performing is the equivalent to that the evangelical claim to feel in church.

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard) of Against Me!

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard)

This seemed to strike a particular chord with the audience, myself more than included, as we shouted back the words ‘What god doesn’t give to you, you have to go and take for yourself’ with an astonishing conviction and invoking a sense of a ‘punk rock revival meeting spiritual’ which continued for the rest of the night.

From there through Boyfriend, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I Was A Teenage Anarchist and an almost overwhelming Black Me Out, Against Me! took this further elevated energy and converted it into something truly life affirming and poignant on both a personal and social level.

Throughout the set all four members of the band were astonishing. Grace and guitarist James Bowman (the other long-standing member) clearly have a telepathic connection on stage. Inge Johansson (who joined in 2013) looked like Johnny Ramone picked up a bass and got a whole hell of a lot happier while being an energetic powerhouse and clearly having a powerful connection with Grace while Atom Willard (also in the band since 2013) was mesmerising behind the drums, truly thundering and powering the band’s folk-tinged punk rock.

Inge Johansson of Against Me!

Inge Johansson

As the audience called for more Grace headed back onto stage alone and, as well as a customary thanks to the crowd, made the point that playing in the UK means she can be pretty sure she’s not playing for anyone who voted for Trump, before delivering a particularly poignant solo version of Baby I’m An Anarchist from the band’s debut, again with full crowd vocal backing.

With the rest of the band back FuckMyLife666 and a particularly rousing Sink, Florida, Sink closed the show with the audience a sweaty, moshed up mess but still calling for more even as the house lights came up and the backing music returned.

Only beginning to disperse once Grace returned to the stage to distribute some guitar picks brought to a close one of the best night’s I’ve spent in a music venue anywhere (this may be up with the Rancid gig at Brixton in 2006 I have bored my friends about) and re-confirming a sense of punk rock (and live music in general) as not just a genre but a feeling, a lifestyle and a place that is genuinely accepting and life-affirmingly positive in an entirely uncynical way.

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Ginger Wildheart and Ryan Hamilton – Fuck You Brain (single)

Ginger Wildheart and Ryan Hamilton - Fuck You Brain coverIn a nod to his well documented and ongoing battle with depression the ever prolific Ginger Wildheart has found time between touring with his own band, Hey! Hello! and The Wildhearts and recording a new Mutation album to team up with Ryan Hamilton and sneak out a single for the festive season, the subtly but suitably titled Fuck You Brain.

Available through Ginger’s Round Records Bandcamp page the three track single is raising money for the Samaritans and aiming to highlight the problems people have with depression over the holidays which, as Ginger has pointed out, can be one of the toughest times of year for those with the condition.

Belying all the preconceptions one might have of depression Ginger and Hamilton have created a short sharp dose of glam rock laced pop punk – putting the sounds of the early 1970s run through the Wildhearts filter to create something reminiscent of the Silver Ginger 5.

Ginger Wildheart

Ginger Wildheart

While both the relevance of the title and the lyrics to the song will be familiar to many fighting depression themselves, through not sugar-coating or dealing in euphemism Fuck You Brain should also act as a very direct message to those who may discredit or simply not understand how it feels.

And if that feels a little on the heavy going side its counteracted by the music which can only make you want to move and Ginger’s always impressive turn of phrase helps keep it light too.

As well as the title track the single, in an old school moment I can only appreciate, is backed by two more short sharp tracks.

Ode To The Idiots, featuring lead vocals from Hamilton, is a blazing minute of punk rock that packs in everything you could want and is reminiscent of Jim Carroll’s People Who Died.

Ryan Hamilton

Ryan Hamilton

Dogbreath on the other hand has sounds reminiscent of the instrumentals on Ginger’s own Valor Del Corazon LP, combining his usual punk-metal guitars with synthesised brass and scratching to make something truly eccentric in the way only Ginger can.

As I’ve said above the single is raising money and awareness this festive season and is available through Bandcamp for £5 though as it’s for a good cause and is a great little set of songs, the musicians (who appear for free) are asking that people feel free to pay as all proceeds will go to charity.

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PUNiK – F**k Yeah!!

PUNiK - Fuck Yeah!!I first properly encountered Japanese punk four-piece PUNiK when they headlined the first night the 2016 Chaos weekend and they made an instant impression. Their debut album, Fuck Yeah!! does just the same as it delivers intense, energetic blasts of no frills punk rock in twelve tight packages.

P.U.N.i.K!! starts the disc off as it means to continue with an assault of trebly, buzzing guitars, snappy, rumbling bass and ferocious drums, all with the band hollering over the top.

From there its much of the same, and all the stronger for it, as frontman Tagu rants in a mix of Japanese and broken English with bass man Nigel’s gruffer vocals providing a strong backing, while Makoto’s lead guitar provides some suitably manic solos and Osamu’s drums never let up.

Throughout about the only intelligible English words are (arguably) unprintable in most reputable publications but set the scene and really tell you all you need to know with ‘Fuck you its rock ’n’ roll’ (in Fuck’N’Roller!!) and ‘Got no money, got no future’ (in Punk Bomb!!) being two of the more choice moments.

PUNiK at Chaos

PUNiK

Stand Up!! breaks things up a bit with a slightly slower, more bass driven feel, before Hello!! gives the album its one ‘conventional single’ type track that, if you’re looking for a more accessible example of what PUNiK can do, is a spot on piece of pop-rock run through a scuzzy punk ’n’ roll filter.

The production sounds just the right side of four enthusiastic drunk men in a room with some microphones, evoking a sound familiar to anyone who’s listened to their share of DIY music from the 1970s and 80s while the songs at times echo The Damned, The Ramones and Sex Pistols in the best of ways.

While the energy and power of PUNiK is certainly best experienced live, Fuck Yeah!! captures the band’s gang like spirit making for a record that is a raw and filthy pleasure.

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Punk Night at the Tav – The Fermain Tavern – 08/10/16

Short Was Found

Short Was Found

With five bands on the bill, one of whom was marking the release of their debut album and another was making their non-festival Guernsey debut, it was a busy night at The Fermain Tavern on Saturday 8th October 2016, celebrating punk rock in many forms.

First up was Silas The Assyrian Assassin who did exactly what we’ve come to expect armed with his acoustic guitar, an always impressive streak of cynical vitriol and some undeniably questionable jokes. As always the set came to life when Silas was playing off heckles from the audience, while his ability to ignore taboos and work this into songs is reminiscent of NoFX’s Fat Mike.

Silas The Assyrian Assassin

Silas The Assyrian Assassin

Silas’ best moments tonight came with his songs dealing with society and politics such as Trust Fund Anarchist and God Bless The Daily Mail and, while the set began to ramble by the end, it was a good start to proceedings – if you like that kind of thing.

Burning At Both Ends changed the atmosphere considerably with their brand of pop punk which was as solid and tight as they come – in fact their performance here made me wonder if it was maybe a bit too precise.

Despite this their songs are undeniably great examples of their style and, as the set went on, their energy increased, particularly following slower number What If Someday They’re Not There.

With this the audience began to get more invested and the energy began to flow both ways as in the best performances rounding off their set on a high and making a great case for picking up their newly released self-titled debut album.

Burning At Both Ends

Burning At Both Ends

From one extreme to the other, energy is never something that Jawbone have to worry about while precision seems to not really be something that matters to them so much, and tonight was no different as they ripped through a set of punk classics and originals in their usual, no frills, style.

Back to their full strength line up is when they are at their best and are one of the most fun bands playing in Guernsey today, and they proved this here.

Their original songs bring to mind a mix of NoFX, Rancid and Jersey punks Bulletproof as highlighted in what guitarist Lee described as ‘A love song between myself and the Tory government’.

Jawbone

Jawbone

Rounding the set off with The Ramones’ Bonzo Goes To Bitburg along with Silas on guest vocals marked an energetic and fun highlight and brought to mind punk gigs of years past with songs delivered in sloppy fashion but with real passion.

With the energy up Honest Crooks kept it going and continued the old punk gig spirit with their ska and reggae infused sound.

Particularly notable early in the set was bass player Cheese being handed increasing numbers of shirts and jackets and continuing to play despite his arms being largely immobile as he overheated under the stage lights.

Back to the music and it was exactly what we’ve come to expect from the trio with tight songs delivered with energy and fun designed to fill a dance floor – and that’s just what they did.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks with Lee and Dan

As the set went on they were joined by Lee from Jawbone for a particularly heartfelt take on Rancid’s Fall Back Down before his bandmate Dan joined them for kazoo and Bez like dancing duties on Gentlemen’s Dub Club’s High Grade.

With midnight fast approaching the atmosphere in The Tav dropped somewhat, as it tends to at this time, as people headed to town while Short Was Found were setting up. None the less the band launched into a loud and furious assault of a set mixing hardcore and metal with straight up punk rock.

Frontman James Pallot delivered with a forceful conviction as always and former Bulletproof rhythm duo Lee and Darren were tight as ever with Darren’s drumming speed and intensity particularly standing out.

Short Was Found

James of Short Was Found

As the set went on the small audience came and went and, while the thrashy guitar solos provided something of a diversion it was hard for the short sharp shock approach from the start of the set to not become a bit repetitive which combined with the lower energy in the room to make for a slightly disappointing climax, but this was far from the fault of the guys on stage giving it their all.

What tonight did prove though was that punk rock is as much a varied force to be reckoned now as it ever was and, while I might be a bit biased, it offers something for pretty much anyone from fun high energy danceable sounds to socio-political vitriol all in an uproarious musical package.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me

Against Me! - Shape Shift With Me coverTwo and a half years ago Against Me! launched back onto the international punk scene with Transgender Dysphoria Blues, an album that marked something of a change for the band in many ways. Now, following a live album chronicling the blistering shows they performed in support of that record, they are back with a new full length studio album, Shape Shift With Me.

If Transgender Dysphoria Blues was a direct response to the changes being undergone by both the band and their front woman Laura Jane Grace at the time, Shape Shift With Me builds on this in a way that takes that personally visceral approach and augments it with the hints of pop that had marked White Crosses to create something of a hybrid moving the band forward into what feels like a new era.

Provision L-3 starts the album off in with short, sharp, punk package railing against the changes in politics in the USA (and beyond) in recent years intermingled with the same issues personal to Grace that were the hallmark of the previous record grabbing you by the throat to drag you into the album.

Against Me!

Johansson, Bowman, Grace, Willard

From there it weaves it way through the personal and political, with the two intertwining as the band have always done at their best, it just seems to have an understandable new charge and poignancy.

While all still punk the record shifts stylistically throughout taking in both new and familiar sounds. Haunting, Haunted, Haunts brings the folk punk tinge that made their name to the fore while Dead Rats and Norse Truth add a darker, fuzzier vibe to proceedings and, one of two lead singles, Crash comes with an almost glam-pop vibe that is as astonishing as it is infectious.

While this makes it a stylistic mix, Shape Shift With Me flows together excellently with a general sense of a search for intimacy pervading the record which rings true with much of Grace’s media presence in recent months, but this is far from the Laura Jane Grace show as Transgender Dysphoria Blues, maybe, was. Added to this, the continued use of a more stripped back production style and striking artwork make for a complete package of an album continuing the thematic feel of the last two releases.

Against Me - Laura Jane Grace

Laura Jane Grace on stage

As a band this feels like a new version of Against Me! blasting out at full force with Inge Johansson (bass) and Atom Willard (drums) feeling as much a part of the band now as founder Grace (lead vocal and guitar) and longtime collaborator James Bowman (guitar) giving the whole thing a more cohesive feel adding to the dynamics within the songs, even though they are all the brainchild of Grace.

While not as instantly blisteringly intense as Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Shape Shift With Me moves Against Me! forward and shows they’ve not let their recent brushes with more mainstream recognition, that has come from Grace’s personal situations, effect their musical mission of being a forthright and honest punk rock band. On top of that it all comes with a pace and power that can’t help but give a real sense of positivity to it, despite some of the darker subject matter.

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The Electric Shakes – Stereotypical Girls

The Electric Shakes - Stereotypical GirlsThere are some bands for whom the expression ‘more of the same’ would be a bad thing, then there are bands like Motorhead, AC/DC and, you can add to that list, The Electric Shakes as they release the follow-up to their self-titled debut album, three track single, Stereotypical Girls.

Ok, so it’s not entirely true that it’s exactly more of the same but, much like the other bands mentioned above, The Electric Shakes deliver straight forward rock ‘n’ roll with their own spin, in this case a 60s garage vibe tinged with a 70s punk spirit.

Lead track Stereotypical Girls takes a knowing look at the sort of young ladies you see out on the town of a weekend and rings remarkably true. Really though, like all three tracks, what really makes the song is the driving garage rock that is full of groove and beat and I would defy anyone to not, at the very least, nod their head as it plays.

All three tracks are staples of the band’s live set but on record They Won’t Believe Us and Turn It Over Now do feel strongly like B-sides, though they keep the head nodding action going strong even if they are slightly less engaging than the opener.

The Electric Shakes

The Electric Shakes

Recorded by Ed Deegan at Gizzard Studios, his classic vintage style suits the band’s sound and manages to evoke the same styles as their music while capturing a hint of their live energy.

While Stereotypical Girls isn’t quite as strong a release as their debut it shows The Electric Shakes doing what they do best and if you even get a vague idea that this might be for you after a listen, I’d recommend catching the band live as that is where they really excel and you can hear these songs as they were meant to be.

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