Rocktoberfest Acht

So yeah, my friends and I, in a bout of total unoriginality, started this annual party called Rocktoberfest back in 2002. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of beer and friendship and meat and rocking until you break yourself. If that sounds childish and/or unimportant to you, maybe you should attend Rocktoberfest before you go judging things you don’t understand. Or maybe you’re humorless California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who doesn’t seem to like anything at all, especially if it has ever a) been in a union or b) been poor. But I digress.

This year was the 8th annual Rocktoberfest (Rocktoberfest Acht in German. So Achtoberfest, as my pal Jom pointed out while quite drunk) and we held it at my friend Badier’s mostly former house in Menlo Park, which is dangerously close to Stanford University. Having a massive party in a house that is mostly empty is definitely the way to go. Less shit to break.

I’d like to think that everyone who attends  our Rocktoberfest recognizes that, like Hold Steady albums and good beers, the most recent one is always the best one ever. This year was no exception.

Somewhere in the haze of music, drunk, and smoke, I realized why Rocktoberfest feels like a holiday to those who attend it and, as a sort of bonus realization, why rock ‘n’ roll is not a terrible substitute for a religion (when it doesn’t suck, of course). Let’s deal with the last thing first: at its best, rock ‘n’ roll creates community. When you go to see your favorite band, you share in the pure joy of music with a roomful of strangers. The audience and the band are all plugged in to something much bigger than the sum of its parts. The potential exists in that moment to meet new people and make new friends. You don’t have to do that, of course, but you totally can. And maybe you should. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of an ever-expanding community that started with five guys in a house. Those five guys didn’t always get along by any means, but Rocktoberfest creates a unique present in which the past is mostly obliterated while people sing along to songs like “This Fire” by Franz Ferdinand (modified by us so that the chorus is now, “This beer is out of control/ I’m gonna drink this beer/ drink this beer”) and “Holy Diver” by Dio (we poured one out for Ronnie James Dio this year). Sure, it’s silly. But what’s wrong with being silly?

What happened at Rocktoberfest this year was what I  imagine happened around Joe Strummer’s famous campfires at Glastonbury. Old friends met new friends, some of us had wives to bring, others had kids to leave at home. But for several hours of a Saturday, everyone was cool with everyone. For my part, I was deliriously happy. You can do this anytime you want, and you should. Gather your friends and some drinks and some great music, and celebrate your personal community. Rocktoberfest Acht was a reminder of why I love music and – more important – why I literally love a majority of the people I know. It’s not prayer and it won’t save you from much besides boredom, but it could provide you with one helluva a great night.

So, in the great words of Mr. Craig Finn, “Let this be my annual reminder/ that we can all be something bigger.” Go forward, kids, be awesome to each other, and rock the fuck on.

Radius Clauses and Keeping Poor People from Seeing Live Shows

If you ever feel like massaging any latent class-warrior outrage you might have lurking around, I suggest planning a wedding.  If something costs you twenty bucks for the hell of it, that something will cost you two hundred for a wedding. Companies will try to sell you shit you don’t need by guilt-tripping you about “making your special day perfect.” It’s criminal, and implicit in it is the suggestion that poor people shouldn’t be allowed to wed. But if you’re not getting married this summer (I am. In forty-one days. My fiancee and I have managed to plan our wedding on a budget without the purchase of excess expensive bullshit) and you still want to feel shat on for your paltry five-figure salary, why not try to see a cheap concert at a small venue in your city?

Because assholes are making that harder now too. Lollapalooza has a radius clause preventing participating bands from playing “competing” shows within 300 miles of Lollapalooza for 180 days before the festival and 90 days after. Radius clauses are pretty typical of big festivals and I can see the necessity of preventing a band from, say, playing a 1pm set at Coachella and then playing a club in Indio that night. But 180 days is six motherfucking months and what that tells me is that Lollapalooza wants your three hundred bucks and wants to be the only game in town for your concert-going buck. Meaning if you don’t have that kind of disposable bread to throw at a festival (not counting the money you’ll spend on food and water, depending on your festival’s rules regarding coming and going from the concert grounds), Lollapalooza would like you to please go fuck yourself.

To be as fair as I’m gonna be to the assholes who write up these clauses, they do offer exceptions to so-called “smaller” bands on the bill (of course, they choose what that means) but if the festival in question is more indie-oriented, their headliners might be the kind of band you can see for twenty bucks if they’re allowed to play a local gig. Lollapalooza’s clause covers a total of 270 days of the year. That means if your band plays Lollapalooza, they have a 95 day window (96 during a leap year) in which to swing back around through Chicago for a more affordable gig. If that sounds criminal to you, you’re not alone. The Illinois Attorney General’s office is investigating Lollapalooza (an ancient Algonquin word meaning, “Better in the 1990s”) on antitrust grounds.

I’m not sure if Lollapalooza will be forced to change its ways because of this or not, but I want to talk a bit more about what constitutes a “competing” show for a band playing a festival. Because I live in Los Angeles and frequent local shows as well as Coachella (which takes place about 100 miles from here and undoubtedly has its own radius clause, though a possibly less severe one than Lollapalooza), I’ll stick to what I know and use that festival as an example. It’s about three hundred bucks to attend all three days of Coachella. Over those three days, you can see a lot of your favorite bands, many of which will play shorter sets (unless they’re headlining, but I was only interested in one of the three headliners at this year’s festival), but you can also see reunions and special gigs of bands you might not otherwise see (my prospects for seeing De La Soul and Pavement would be slim indeed were it not for Coachella 2010, which allowed me to see both bands on the same day). But again, it’s three hundred bucks for the tickets and then there’s money for food, drinks, souvenirs, etc. And Heineken has a beer monopoly at Coachella, although I complain to them about it every time I go. By way of contrast, I saw a show at the Troubadour (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. They were fucking awesome) this year for twenty dollars without giving Ticketmaster/Live Nation any money and I could get Guinness at the show. What’s not to like? But my point is that people who can only pay twenty bucks to see a band are generally not foregoing a festival because they already saw the band for twenty bucks. They’re skipping the festival because they can’t afford the fucking thing.  If Jesus returned and ordered ’em to go to the festival, they’d be damned to hell by their lack of dollars. Generally speaking, you have to buy festival tickets several months ahead of time and if you’re like me (i.e. poor), that money erases any concert-going dollars you have to double-dip on bands, assuming they can squeeze your city into the fistful of days that lie outside of the radius clause for your local festival. So I don’t think too many of these so-called “competing” shows are really competing. For the most part, they’re playing to different audiences. Granted, there are a handful of superfans who will see a band’s local show and festival gig the same month, but festival organizers and club owners should both see that as win-win.

But here’s what really pisses me off about the radius clause: it smacks of cowardice. Yeah, that’s right. If you need a radius clause to protect your monolithic, corporate (i.e. shitty beer) sponsored festival, you’re a fucking coward. In a free market society, which this is (don’t kid yourself – the Market is America’s state religion, largely because we love our stuff and hate our neighbors. It’s getting interesting now because we love our stuff, hate our neighbors, and are really starting to hate things like education and hard work, which means we’re getting ’round to the time where some asshole is going to make a billion dollars because they think they know what plants crave.), you’re supposed to compete for consumer dollars. Theoretically, Lollapalooza should have to go head to head with small clubs to fight for your concert-going dollar. They clearly can’t win on price (although, if you can see enough bands at a festival, you end up paying like twelve bucks per concert – remembering, of course, that they’re probably shorter concerts), but perhaps they can offer you something small clubs can’t. I already pointed out that Coachella, for their part, tries to provide some awesome reunion shows (Pavement was really awesome,  by the way, but this year’s Coachella also featured gigs by Public Image Ltd., Devo, and the Specials. They also provided me with the opportunity to see Mick Jones and Paul Simonon live because they played with Gorillaz who, by the way, couldn’t really do what they do at a small-venue gig) and stuff like that. But the radius clause allows festivals to take the lazy way out (we hate hard work now, remember) by simply choking off the competition instead of offering the consumer a unique experience (i.e. a reason to go to the fucking festival in the first place). My suggestion to the folks who organize Lollapalooza? Organize Ultimate Fighting style cage matches between concert promoters and music industry executives and have them on one of the festival’s smaller stages. If I could see whoever dreamed up the radius clause bloody up (and get bloodied up by), say, an EMI exec who had a hand in killing Dark Night of the Soul, I might just book a flight next summer.

Oh Good. A New Hole Album. (Part 2)

If you’re just tuning in, beer (Ninkasi’s Total Domination IPA, to be exact. The good folks at Ninkasi have helped me through a lot of shitty records, but they’re also there for me during the good times and I would like to give them a very special Bollocks! shout-out) and I are reviewing the new Hole album. So far, neither of us like it very much.

The track I’m listening to now is called, “For Once in Your Life” and the music is a blatant ripoff of a song from 2005 or 2006 (I remember it from a Boston winter, but can’t remember anything else) that I can’t remember for the life of me. It’s driving me nuts that I can’t remember what song this is. Is it a Perishers song? Snow Patrol? I don’t know, but it’s definitely hackwork. I spent a fucking hour trying to figure out what song “For Once in Your Life” is ripping off – if anyone can help me out with this, I’d be much obliged. Vocally, she’s impersonating Bob Dylan circa Blood On the Tracks, to which I can only respond with some of Dylan’s lyrics from that album: “You’re an idiot, babe/ it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.”

Super good. The next song is called “Letter to God.” My Cloying-Meter just broke. OH LOOK, EVERYBODY. COURTNEY LOVE IS WONDERING WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT AND WHO SHE IS AND WHAT THE POINT OF IT ALL IS! WOW! NO ONE HAS EVER WONDERED THAT IN SONG FORM EVER BEFORE!!!!1!!!ONE.  If you’ve deduced (correctly) that I hate Nobody’s Daughter at this point, think about how much I hate the whole album, multiply it by a thousand, and you’ll get to about half as much as I hate “Letter to God.” This song is pretty much everything I think is wrong with music and writing in general right now.

The next song is called “Loser Dust.” It’s really dumb. Love doesn’t really bother staying in tune much on this song. I want you to ponder something with me, Bollocks! readers: how much did Kurt Cobain have to loathe himself in order to shack up with someone like Courtney Love? “Loser Dust” is the typical Love ego married to a bad Foo Fighters song (i.e., one that came after The Colour and the Shape). Also, it’s about – what else? – how people are always waiting for celebrities to  fuck up in public. You know what? There are two cultural things that make me wanna riot right now: 1) movies where well-meaning white people come into the inner cities and teach African American kids how to read* and 2) songs by spoiled famous retards about how tough it is to be famous because everyone is watching you all the time. If it sucks that bad, Courtney Love, try getting a real fucking job. You wouldn’t last a minute – your job now is “do drugs in public and make shitty records”. That doesn’t exactly qualify you for anything in the private sector, does it? Maybe you can be some town’s Doddering Fuck-Up in Residence**, but that’s about it.

Not too much to go, but “How Dirty Girls Get Clean” is pretty awful. See, it starts out with an acoustic guitar for a few lines and then it gets all loud. To show the emotional impact of Love going through rehab or something. All the dynamics on Nobody’s Daughter are trying to be the dynamics from the Pixies’ Doolittle and they’re failing miserably. “How Dirty Girls Get Clean” is packed with the same lyrical cliches that plague the whole album. Also, more Dylan-impersonation. Minus a million points.

Last track! It’s called “Never Go Hungry.” Love sings about how she’s hungering for dignity. It’s a little late for that. “Never Go Hungry” has a sorta folky vibe to it, but the overall message is that Love will do anything so long as she doesn’t have to go hungry again. You know, like Ghandi did. Actually, I think Courtney Love is making a pretty bold declaration of her morals here: “I don’t care what I have to pretend,” she sings with more conviction than she has shown on the album so far. It’s cliche as fuck, but Love has finally let us know what she stands for: Courtney Love stands for Courtney Love and if you don’t like it, she’ll Twitter some incoherent nonsense about you.

Okay. It’s nearly 1 in the a.m. and my Ninkasis are nearly drained. Musically, Nobody’s Daughter is bland, derivative, and obvious. Lyrically, it is cliche as hell when it’s not being irritating as hell and the combination serves to make it, overall, fucking dreadful. I wouldn’t even recommend this album to people who hate themselves.

*I know someone is going to say that Dangerous Minds and movies like that are based on true stories, but that’s bullshit. “True story” movies are almost always embellished for dramatic effect (hate to rain on your parade, but the real guy from The Pursuit of Happyness was a bad father who abandoned his kid for his precious Wall Street career; the coach in Rudy actually wanted to let the runt play football, they just needed a villain for the film; and don’t even get me started on Braveheart). Know what I wanna see? A movie where Samuel L. Jackson goes to the backwoods of Georgia or Louisiana or Kansas and teaches white rednecks about evolution. Hell, if Mr. Jackson is game, I’ll fucking write that movie myself.

**It’s sort of an advanced version of the Town Drunk.

The Songs of Rocktober 90-81

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The countdown continues! Apparently, it takes something as important as Rocktoberfest to get me to update my blog with anything approaching regularity. I neglected to tell you an important rule when I started the countdown and that is this: I  have limited the number of songs each artist can have in the countdown to two. This is mostly to police myself; otherwise, this list would be evenly divided between the Clash, the Ramones, the Pixies, and the Hold Steady.

If you need a recap, here’s the first part of the countdown. Let’s move on, won’t we?

90. The Delgados – “All You Need is Hate” – This is well-timed. I was just saying that the Delgados need to reunite. This is basically the title track from Hate. It is simultaneously a Beatles tribute and (sort of) parody. More importantly, Alun Woodword exhorts the listener,  “Come on, hate yourself/ everyone here does/ so just enjoy yourself.” But this is no mopey emo bitchfest. It’s a bouncy pop tune carried by Stewart (Quitter) Henderson’s fuzzed-out bass and Paul Savage’s thunderous drumming. I’m thinking we could make a music video for it by just running the song under Birther news appearnces and Tea Bagger protests. Who’s with me?

89. Grand Buffet – “Casting Shadows” – Grand Buffet is supposedly a hip-hop group but, on 2007’s exemplary King Vision, they tossed this synth-punk gem in the mix and made an album that sounds like something badass sent back to us from the future in order to save mankind. That’s not hyperbole – listen to the song. You probably won’t spend a better two minutes musically today (unless you listen to “White Riot” by the Clash) I want a T-shirt that just has the last line of the song on it in big letters: “Fuck you if you really think it doesn’t matter anymore.” That’s just how awesome Grand Buffet is. If you like awesome things (and if you read Bollocks!, I can only assume you do), check out King Vision and rock out to “Casting Shadows.”

88. Gorillaz – “Punk” – Will our children look back at these early years of the 21st century and wonder why Chris Martin (the douche from Coldplay) is a household name while Damon Albarn is clearly the U.K.’s unsung pop genius? Probably. They’ll also wonder why Iowa could get it right on gay marriage but supposedly liberal California couldn’t. And then they’ll laugh at us for being stupid cavepeople. Anyway, you might know Albarn from Blur or you might know him from his genre-destroying Gorillaz project (or The Good, the Bad, and the Queen which featured Paul Simonon on bass). Point is, his stuff is awesome and this song is one of many fine moments on the first Gorillaz record. I have no idea what the words are, but the hand claps and kick drum are quite compelling.

87. Eels – “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” – I know, I know, it’s the song from Road Trip, which was a giant cinematic turd and douchebag buddy movie, but I’ll not fault Mark Everett for that. All the best Eels songs make magic by welding Everett’s journal-entry earnestness to kickass musical grooves (sadly, all their worst songs keep the journal-entry thing and lack the groove thing). This is a great song for Rocktoberfest because of the feeling you will undoubtedly get when Everett sings “Goddamn right/ it’s a beautiful day” while you are rocking out with all your closest pals.  (Unless you hate joy. You don’t hate joy, do you?)

86. Soundgarden – “My Wave” – This song really depresses the me now. I mean, it still kicks ass, but it reminds me that Chris Cornell used to be awesome. A spin through Superunknown, which brilliantly stands the test of time, reveals that Cornell’s supporting players were exceptional; Kim Thayil is still underrated as a guitar player and this song proves it – it’s built on his crunchy, dark, riff and carried on Matt Cameron’s powerful drumming. Not only will this song make you want to pretend Chris Cornell died in a fire, it will make you want to build a Rocktoberfest bonfire of Audioslave CDs and copies of Cornell’s horrendous new album, Scream.

85. Superdrag – “Who Sucked Out the Feeling?” – Remember Superdrag? Me either. They were nearly a one-hit wonder because of this song, which is the only song of theirs I’ve ever heard. I know they named an album Last Call for Vitriol, which is pretty badass. This is a pop tune about how formulaic and sad the record industry has become. They cut this song in the mid-90s, I believe. Unfortunately, they were all too prescient when they declared, “Look at me/ I can write a melody/ but I can’t expect a soul to care.” Crank this tune up and pour one out for the awesome one-hit wonder 90s bands (like Spacehog. Remember Spacehog? Anyone?)

84. Arctic Monkeys – “Red Right Hand” – This is a bonus track on the deluxe release of Humbug. It’s a cover of a Nick Cave song and it’s a perfect choice of covers for the Arctic Monkeys.  For people who have a hard time getting into Humbug, this song will put you in the right frame of mind. For people who like awesome music, this song will fit the bill for that too.

83. The White Stripes – “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine”  – This song is fucking ridiculous, but it’s also awesome. The White Stripes have a lot to offer your Rocktoberfest, but I like to lean more towards the more ludicrous, flailing songs in their catalog, and this is certainly that. Jack White’s guitar does everything that every other guitar player did in the 1970s, but he only takes three minutes to do it. Suck it, Yes.

82. TV On the Radio – “Wolf Like Me” – Skeptics will tell you that TV On the Radio doesn’t rock, that they’re not that kind of band. Or maybe idiots will tell you that. I’m not sure which. In any case, “Wolf Like Me” should silence the detractors. This song is tribal, primal, sensual shit – in other words, exactly what any good Rocktoberfest needs. If there is any potential for getting it on at your Rocktoberfest (and there should be), songs like “Wolf Like Me” will churn up the pheromones for sure and “teach you tricks that will blow your mongrel mind.”

81. Ida Maria, “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” – On title alone, this song bears consideration. The fact that it’s catchy, raucous and built on the tried-and-true chorus/chorus/chorus song structure is icing on the cake. This song is perfect because you can sing along with it even if you’re plastered – there just aren’t that many words in the thing. It’s one of those repetitive songs that manages not to suck despite its repetitive nature. I attribute this to the fact that Ida Maria apparently has synesthesia, a condition which causes her to see colors when she hears music. How fucking awesome is that?

Another ten down the drain. And tomorrow? Ten more! I leave for Rocktoberfest in one week and I’m pretty fucking stoked to go back to Eugene and rock out with my friends. It’s not too late for you to put together your own Rocktoberfest, especially with all this free advice I’m giving you. You don’t have to thank me, though. The deed is its own reward.