photo & text by nacrowe
KISS is a bit of a joke.
or at least that is what i grew up hearing and reading from people around me and national music publications. they are unapologetically from the "more is more" school of entertainment and are universally derided for supposedly being all style and no substance. in fact they are regarded by many tastemakers as the epitome of INAUTHENTICITY.
which is all pretty much missing the point because in essence all musicians are in the KISS business of entertaining audiences, whether they be BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, NEIL YOUNG, PATTI SMITH, DAVID BOWIE or BOB DYLAN. they all carry an image that is sold to the masses, some more consciously than others. when i consider the actual legacy of KISS, i think of what bands they influenced, which conveniently enough include members of DINOSAUR JR, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, TOOL, ANTHRAX, FAITH NO MORE (and even STEVIE WONDER) found on the KISS MY ASS: CLASSIC KISS REGROOVED (MERCURY, 1994) tribute compilation. other vocal KISS proponents not featured on this MERCURY RECORDS-initiated compilation famously include the likes of THE MELVINS, PANTERA, THE REPLACEMENTS, ALICE IN CHAINS, HUSKER DU, SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM and THE MINUTEMEN.
my sense is that for kids in the 1970s, KISS represented an escapist fantasy where a fan could transcend their daily existence. this feels very much like the very credo of ROCK N ROLL itself. and it goes beyond that since the band was an economic entity unto itself, foreshadowing the DIY HARDCORE / INDIE ROCK ethic that followed in the 1980s. economic independence goes hand in hand with freedom of speech. it should come as no surprise then that these bands are are consciously challenging the political, economic, cultural and gender normative culture of what a ROCK N ROLL is and can be.
critical respect is nice, but clearing the way for such a disparate set of quality bands is a legacy i'd argue better worth having. the KISS MY ASS tribute compilation is evidence of that.
photo & text by nacrowe
its funny saying this now but i first learned about TOOL from KIM THAYIL of SOUNDGARDEN. i was a huge fun of THAYIL and around the SUPERUNKNOWN-era of that band there were several publicity shots of him playing live with a TOOL shirt on in guitar magazines. same thing regarding THE MELVINS. i wasnt even a teenager yet when my i bought the UNDERTOW (ZOO, 1993) record on a family trip to ITALY in the mid-90s on one of our first trips after relocating to NIGERIA. for what its worth, between my brother and i, we also snagged RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE's EVIL EMPIRE (EPIC, 1996) and SEPULTURA's ROOTS (ROADRUNNER, 1996) and CHAOS A.D. (ROADRUNNER, 1993) records on that same trip. no doubt one of the better record hauls of my life.
what i remember about the experience of first listening to that record was how thick, pronounced and upfront the bass guitar was. songs like "SWAMP SONG," "FLOOD" and "PRISON SEX" showcased the instrument as a key fixture of the melody and song composition as opposed to background support, as usually is the case. i should also mention that between the musty smell of the liner notes (which no doubt had to have been related to the small record store) and the transgressive artwork that was found therein, i was wholly engaged through being caught entirely off-guard. my impression was that here was a band that was playing by an entirely different set of rules than i was familiar with.
and that is before i even attempt to discern the opaque and mysterious lyrics of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN. the whole bit about the cries of the carrots in "DISGUSTIPATED" was something i couldnt even handle as a preteen, much less other subversive tracks such as "PRISON SEX," "SOBER" or "BOTTOM." even after reading his memoir and its elucidation with KEENAN's deep appreciation for the sacred art found with geometry, religion, comedy and the visual arts, i choose to not meet his lyrics intellectually as something to be deciphered. instead i attempt to appreciate them in terms of their poetry or potential allegorical interpretations. my sense is that such is what he would want as well as a gifted writer and performer.
i would be remiss not to mention guitarist ADAM JONES and his incredible PROG-worthy guitar riffage and atmospherics, not to mention the visual artistry of his music videos. also there is the drumming savant that is DANNY CAREY and his mastery of AFRICAN and LATIN polyrhythms. being familiar with their expansive catalogue of material post UNDERTOW, it is interesting to see this record as a blueprint of what was to come. and what followed this stellar record was a sonic vocabulary that makes TOOL a singular outfit of its era, or any era for that matter.
UNDERTOW is a record that deserves all the praise that it has received the past few decades. it has held up and established this legendary band commercially and artistically from whence they pushed further with subsequent albums like ÆNIMA (ZOO, 1996) and LATERALUS (VOLCANO, 2001) that influenced a whole new generation of bands unafraid to mix art with progressive musicianship. cant recomeend this record hard enough. a must listen for any fan of METAL or ALTERNATIVE ROCK.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
there's something to be said about musicians interview musicians. there is a telepathy and a common wavelength at work that transcends superficial aspects like genre and style. it probably comes from a rooted common experience and mentality of persistence that comes with "making it" in a band setting. IT'S ELECTRIC! (APPLE MUSIC) was a in-person, pre-pandemic podcast where METALLICA drummer LARS ULRICH interviewed peers like JERRY CANTRELL (ALICE IN CHAINS), NOEL GALLAGHER (OASIS), JAMES MURPHY (LCD SOUNDSYSTEM), MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN (TOOL/A PERFECT CIRCLE), BILLY CORGAN (THE SMASHING PUMPKINS), LES CLAYPOOL (PRIMUS), GREG PUCIATO & BEN WEINMAN (THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN), DAVE GROHL (FOO FIGHTERS/NIRVANA), JOAN JETT, JACK WHITE (THE WHITE STRIPES) and TOM MORELLO (RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE) among many others.
whats interesting is that ULRICH, despite his notorious reputation for talking (and talking and talking), within the confines of these interviews he is mostly listening. in fact, i'd argue he is an incredible astute interlocutor that gently guides his subjects through insightful productive conversations. most teachers know that the longer you speak the less impact each word has on your students. i was really taken when recently rewatching these interviews to see just how gifted an interviewer ULRICH was and how engaged his follow-up questions were. you didnt get the sense that he had a list he wanted to get through, rather in an almost HOWARD STERN-like manner allow the subject free reign to drive the conversation as he gently steers it. to pull this off you must be a really good listener, which in popular culture i think ULRICH never gets credit for. makes sense though, given the fact that he is often a key composer within METALLICA who often deals with arrangements, a practice whereby you need to listen with intention to surmise the best presentation of musical ideas for maximum impact.
i hope he gets back to this podcast post-pandemic, because it felt like he was really on a roll with it. and it seemed like he was genuinely in his element and having fun. selfishly i just found the conversations compelling and insightful, more so than the vast majority of ROCK AND ROLL interviews you find online.
photo by nacrowe
every time i enter FRANKFURT AIRPORT, the main international transit hub of my youth, it is never lost on me that the place itself is more or less the same. only i have changed over the last 20+ years.
thats kind of the experience of seeing TOOL in concert over multiple tour cycles, since each one is 8-10 years apart. its an odd sense of deja-vu or a time warp or something. the last time i saw them was during the 10,000 Days cycle and the LATERALUS cycle before that. love the band but im not big on big corporate arena shows. you always feel screwed when you can't get better seats and you get the feeling those below you either paid royally in a secondary market or worse, got them as a corporate gift like box seats at a YANKEE game. i guess the demand is just so great after so much time that there is no easy answer to this conundrum in fairness to them.
but the actual show this past saturday (with KILLING JOKE opening!) was epic, TOOL are like the second coming of BLACK SABBATH meets LED ZEPPELIN meets RUSH meets CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. i wasn't super-enthused on the last album since it feels like everything post-LATERALUS is just a rehash of it, like they are using the same tricks (mind you, those tricks are beyond cool). i just wish they'd push the audience a bit more at this stage in their career since they have nothing left to prove.
unless filling arenas that screw over fans is a goal of theirs. if you catch them this go around, thats cool. if not they'll back around. in 10 years.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
for whatever reason, the four seasons of 90s cult classic comedy show MR. SHOW (HBO, 1995-1998) starring BOB ODENKIRK (BREAKING BAD, BETTER CALL SAUL) and DAVID CROSS (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) is criminally overlooked. an outgrowth of the alternative comedy scene in LOS ANGELES at the time, its cultural impact can be seen in the varying careers of its many collaborators including that of BRIAN POSEHN (METALOCALYPSE, THE BIG BANG THEORY), TOM KENNY (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, JOHNNY BRAVO), JILL TALLEY (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, THE BOONDOCKS), PAUL F. TOMPKINS (BOJACK HORESMAN, BOB'S BURGERS, THE DAILY SHOW), JACK BLACK (TENACIOUS D), SARAH SILVERMAN (THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, BOB's BURGERS), JAY JOHNSTON (THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM, MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENHOLE), BEN STILLER (THE BEN STILLER SHOW, ZOOLANDER, DODGEBALL), JERRY MINOR (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, COMMUNITY), MARY LYNN RAJSKUB (24, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE), JOHN ENNIS (TWIN PEAKS, WALK HARD, ZODIAC), SCOTT AUKERMAN (BETWEEN TWO FERNS WITH ZACH GALIFIANAKIS), MARLON WAYANS (IN LIVING COLOUR, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) and JANEANE GARAFALO (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, 24, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW). the "Titannica" skit was referenced in the name of a BLINK-182 song ("Adam's Song") and the show even become the springboard for a TOOL side project (MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN's PUSCIFER) and TENACIOUS D, who themselves had an HBO show that was co-created and co-produced with ODENKIRK and CROSS.
the show takes its sensibility from MONTY PYTHON in that live and prerecorded skits are connected tangentially from segment to segment with no narrative arc. this frees the material to be the focus. a product of the CLINTON-era, much of the focus of the humor is derived from lampooning the stupidity of american life (reality tv, jingoism, sensationalist journalism) and public institutions (the police, government officials, corporate america). in many ways the lack of intellectual curiosity and selfish nature of the american general public is a target just below the surface and for that reason, this show has aged remarkably well.
given the political nature of their comedy, the creators and select cast members have done mix-media tours of theaters over the years. i saw them in NYC around 2003 as they lampooned the build-up to the misguided return american military adventure into the middle east on their HOORAY FOR AMERICA! tour. to me MR. SHOW holds a special place in my heart as they were consciously articulating a perspective and using comedy as a mirror to articulate just how far from our professed ideals we had fallen, especially during a time of compliance and plastic patriotic fervor rooted in raw, uninhibited xenophobia.
again, MR. SHOW still holds up. definitely worth your time to investigate.