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.

The Eagles of Death Metal Leave No Sex Pun Unturned

The Eagles of Death Metal are to Death Metal what Don Henley’s Eagles are to… um… music. That is, they are antithetical to it. However, The Eagles of Death Metal are pretty good at rehashing rockabilly and generally providing a good time. You could say, in fact, that they are to classic rock what The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was to blues. So if you like that sort of thing (and Beavis and Butt-head quality sex puns), you’ll probably like Heart On, the new album by Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme. Homme,  the lead Queen of the Stoneage, plays drums for The Eagles of Death Metal and sings back-up. Hughes provides the guitar licks and downright silly vocals (If you have a little brother in junior high who wanted to write songs about fucking and sing them in a way that seems badass to a thirteen-year-old, you’d understand where Hughes is coming from).

Clearly, The Eagles of Death Metal are out to have a good time. That’s why their album title is a sex pun, most (if not all) of the  songs are about fucking (“Solo Flights” is about masturbating – way to shake it up, guys!), and there’s plenty of grunting and groaning in the vocals. Normally, I have no patience for novelty songs but The Eagles of Death Metal aren’t a novelty band (sorry kids, The Darkness was totally a novelty band). They’re not serious, but that’s not a bad thing; Interpol is intensely serious and also extremely boring. The Eagles of Death Metal are pushing the old Chuck Berry shtick to its logical, modern conclusion. Ramona’s traded in her tight dress for tight pants and she’s out on the dance floor with Hughes and Homme instead of Mr. Berry (who has, undoubtedly, hidden a camera in the lady’s room of whatever club this is. How the mighty have fallen).

The trick for The Eagles of Death Metal is to create pretty bangin’ arrangements for their lyrical silliness and then keep the songs brief. There are only two songs on Heart On that are longer than four minutes and most are under three. And while the sense of humor is front and center for The Eagles of Death Metal, they never sacrifice melody. These are well-crafted songs about fucking, the sort of perverse little ditties that I wish had populated the FM radio of my misspent youth.

The opening hand-claps and Rolling Stonesish guitar of “Anything ‘Cept the Truth” let you know what you’re in for. Homme is a more-than-capable drummer (far better than that shitty Lars Ulrich) and once you get past the pastiche, the guitars are good for a nod or two of the head. There are some surprises as well, like the Tom Waits-esque growling that inexplicably introduces “Wannabe in L.A.,” (one of the few puns that isn’t a sex pun on the album). “Tight Pants” features a chorus that’s minor-league LCD Soundsystem, one of the many treats that keep Heart On from becoming too tedious.

Of course, Heart On still does feel a bit tedious, and that’s largely due to the subject matter. There’s very little diversion from the macho pretense and cock-grabbing songs about gettin’ it on. Which is why I get bored about half way through the album and start to look around for other things to listen to.  “Now I’m A Fool,” is nice break from the machismo, and it’s one of the first Eagles of Death Metal songs I’ve heard that smacks even slightly of real depth.

When I was in high school, my friends and I used to buy six-packs of Tab soda and take turns draining the cans (warm) as fast as we could;  this resulted in some lengthy and raucous belches. It’s a good time for bored adolescents, and it might be fun to revisit sometime, but I’m kinda past that point in my life. That’s how I feel about Heart On by the time I get to “Cheap Thrills”. Heart On isn’t a bad album, but I’m not gonna crank it up a hundred times a week and it’s not gonna change my life. That’s not its mission, though. I suspect its mission is to get Hughes and Homme laid and I wish them every success in that endeavor.