Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: grit

Tenement at Mickey’s Tavern – 9/9/14 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

Tenement II

To get this out of the way at the top: there are very few bands that mean as much to me as Tenement. Without the support of that band when I was starting to do things like book and play shows, I probably wouldn’t have been affected as much by the DIY-centric artists and spaces that Heartbreaking Bravery was designed to bring into focus and celebrate. They’re a band that I’ve been filming fairly consistently over the course of the last six and a half years with an increasing amount of admiration. I’d book them to play shows in my city; they’d return the favor and invite the band I was playing in at the time to drive an hour to play their basement (The BFG) and, in doing so, opened a cultural door that allowed me to invest in the community shared by the other bands that played there. A few of the bands that wound up playing The BFG had a massive effect on my musical growth and now regularly snag features on this site- Swearin’, Screaming Females, The Hussy, Sundials, Delay, and an impressive selection of other bands that now populate labels like Don Giovanni, Dead Broke, and Salinas. Whether I was just fortunate enough to be at (or play on) the right shows, I’ll never know, but the amount of support and easy camaraderie surrounding the bulk of those shows was something that made me feel like I’d found a home.

Over the course of those early years- and on the back of playing host to consistently strong bills and relentless touring- Tenement began to build their reputation as one of the Midwest’s best bands. Amos Pitsch, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, had spent more time behind a kit as the drummer for Social Classics, than writing songs in front of it. While at that point, it was already clear Pitsch was a preternaturally gifted musician, it was likely difficult to know what to expect. Unsurprisingly, the most visible role in a band was one that felt naturally suited to Pitsch- and, importantly, allowed him to more fully demonstrate his music’s personality. Lyricists who are characterized more by novelists than other songwriters tend to be the ones that feel the most worthy of acclaim and Pitsch falls squarely into that category. Utilizing a wealth of musical knowledge and integrating it into stanzas and vignettes with a literary grounding, Pitsch has been able to create a sound that’s as influenced by John Steinbeck, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, and William Faulkner as it is Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., Hickey, and The Figgs (who once played a very memorable set in The BFG’s living room).

There’s an additional allowance for the abstract that helps further differentiate Tenement from other bands that are attempting to play their hands at similar combinations, which has caused both emphatic celebration from some sets and scathing derision from others (the latter usually tends towards the genre-specific). After years of touring and playing host (before The BFG was forced to cease their venue operations), word started to spread pretty quickly and the band was able to leave with another fiercely-loved WI act, Holy Shit!, for a fairly lengthy tour in Japan. During their time spent in Japan, they played with two of Japan’s finest basement pop acts: Sanhose and Your Pest Band. Fortunately, both of those bands wound up finding their way Stateside not too long after that tour ended, allowing the possibility of all three bands playing a show on Tuesday night at Mickey’s Tavern in Madison, WI.

Mickey’s has long been a staple of Madison’s live music scene, consistently booking shows that would have made sense at a place like The BFG. The fact that it’s small plays well to the bands that have a fondness for eardrum-shattering volume levels and to the people who actively seek out more intimate settings. It’s essentially a 21+ basement venue with proper business licensing. All of which meant that it was a perfect fit for the night’s bill. Riff-happy trio Sanhose played first, going full-speed from the outset and only pausing to adjust or add extra weight to the cinder block positioned in front of the bass drum to prevent the whole thing from toppling over. While that issue was eventually solved by having a friend leave a foot planted firmly into the block while they played, Sanhose couldn’t bother to be too distracted by it. All throughout their set, there was a very palpable sense that the band loved to simply play their music- which wound up being a great reminder that earnestness in punk-leaning music isn’t completely dead. From 20-second blitzes to three-minute anthems, Sanhose left just about everything they had at Mickey’s and got the night off to an excellent start.

Considering Your Pest Band has most of their discography available at any major punk distro worth their salt, it’s a relatively safe bet to say that they’ve built themselves a strong following and a considerable reputation. Their music is frequently celebrated on both sides of the ocean and frequently featured in blogs, zines, and publications. Nearly all of their releases over the past few years have been heavily anticipated by very specific communities and subsequently met with acclaim- so, their live show had a fair bit to live up to. Any doubt those elements cast on high expectations were thoroughly obliterated by the end of their first song. It doesn’t matter what mode this band is in, whether it’s the unabashed 50’s pop stylings of “Time to Go” or the ferocious basement punk onslaught of “Dice“, they always tear into their songs with manic glee. Those efforts are doubled live. Every member of Your Pest Band was constantly in motion during their songs, working themselves into a sweat as they grew more frenzied. Towards the end of a set that was graciously spread throughout their seriously impressive discography, it seemed like they were practically jumping out of their own skin, totally alive and incredibly impassioned before ending it all with one of the strongest performances of the evening (which can be seen below).

Tenement played last (likely to ensure as many people as possible were there for Sanhose and Your Pest Band) and tore through a set of songs that they’ve now been playing for about two years. Not that it mattered or worked to their detriment- the songs that they’ve been playing are some of the best songs in any genre of those past few years and Tenement’s consistently been one of the best live bands that today’s music has had to offer. Any opportunity to see them play any song should be jumped at whenever possible and their set at Mickey’s wound up being yet another one that wound up giving additional weight to that opinion. Playing with the knowledge that this set would be one of the last they play before a scant few others (at least before their upcoming record’s released) may have pushed them to play with even more gusto than usual- or maybe they knew they had to be in their rarest form to follow Your Pest Band’s stunner of a set- but their short set found them hit a near-perfect stride. Blazing through material from their last two records with next to no pauses and a laser-sharp focus and intensity, they left absolutely no doubt that they are one of the best bands of the moment (for further proof of this, watch the supercharged set-ending take on “Stupid Werld” below). Factor in the fact they have a few records on the horizon (including their debut for Don Giovanni, which is projected for a Spring 2015 release) and will have a new set under their belt shortly after those releases and the set they offered up at Mickey’s instantly becomes one worth remembering. Tenement are nearing the end of a chapter in their career before bigger doors start opening for them- and they’re making sure that it ends on the right notes.

Sanhose, Your Pest Band, and Tenement will all be playing in Milwaukee (along with So Cow, Holy Shit!, and a handful of others) on Sunday, September 14. If at all possible, don’t miss it.

A photo gallery of all three bands can be seen below and videos from each band’s set can be viewed below that.

Enjoy.

 


Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club (Review, Stream)

Jawbreaker Reunion

Once in a rare while there’s a band that springs up suddenly and immediately hits all the right notes, sweet spots, and pleasure points. They’re the kind of bands that are immediate, engaging, and reveal untapped expanses of potential while still managing to come across as fully-formed just out of the gate. Enter: Jawbreaker Reunion. With only two EP’s to their name, this Annandale-on-Hudson, New York quartet just self-released their debut full-length Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club and are set for some serious gate-crashing.

There’s a very unique, very distinct mixture of intelligent humor, depth, and an incredible amount of pop sensibility on display throughout Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club that sets it apart from a lot of its peers. All the songs are catchy as hell, bristling with attitude, and manage to pack a knockout punch in just under 18 minutes. From album opener “Empire” onward, it’s made abundantly clear that the band’s tapped into something special by utilizing a fairly original approach to combining key characteristics of great soul, surf, doo-wop,  powerpop, and punk (for that fact alone, if this record doesn’t wind up getting pressed to wax by someone, it’ll be a travesty).

While most of the songs on Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club only run about a minute and a half, a few managed to break the two minute mark- including the incredible highlight “E.M.O.”. Riding a crest of gently propulsive riffs, the band explore territory that’s just a few shades darker than the rest of the record and wind up with not just the best song on the record but one of the best of the year. When the chorus of “I don’t want to wait anymore, you don’t have to wait, accepting that there is no cure” rings out a final time, it feels unflinchingly honest. It’s a rare moment where the band allows their guard to fall down- and instead of cloaking their missives in biting humor, they opt for a brave vulnerability. It’s extraordinary.

They don’t let the moment linger too long, though. In the very next song, there’s the gleeful couplet of “So just go ahead and try it/I’m a fucking pussy riot!” buried in a song that’s built around challenging gender identity. Most of the songs on Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club are either socially or politically pointed and all of those points are exceptional- and exceptionally well made. It’s a record that’s not afraid to back down from a fight, which is a fact that’s never more crystallized than it is on than on profanity-laced closer “Jeggings”. Tapping into a deep well of anger and frustration, their final rallying cry gets directed at body image discrimination and winds up summarizing everything Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club stands for.

After “Jeggings” throws it out its final “Ass” chant, the band’s torn through 10 tracks and wound up with a perfectly paced, masterfully sequenced, and astonishingly great debut (one that’s made even easier to love after finding out it was recorded in a living room and bathroom). Shots get fired, a wide selection of earworms get revealed, an endless amount of smiles are more than earned- and Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club stands tall as one of the very best of 2014. Don’t be surprised if this one winds up on more than a few folks’ year-end lists. It’s already approaching a direct guarantee for one of them.

Listen to Luthan Sisterhood Gun Club below and get inspired.

The Pharmacy – Masten Lake Lagoon (Stream)

thephar

Burger’s at it again. This time in the form of The Pharmacy’s incredible new record/tape/whatever, Spells. To celebrate its existence in the world, the label’s streaming “Masten Lake Lagoon” an undeniable basement pop tune. Weaving in some classic psych elements while retaining a rock n’ soul style always seems to come effortlessly to The Pharmacy, who are now five full-lengths deep and following up what was their previous high point, Stoned & Alone, with a brand new one. Spells is one hell of a record and the decision to stream “Masten Lake Lagoon” was the right one; it’s the record’s defining moment. Just as perfect for a sunny day is it is a stormy night spent with friends, “Masten Lake Lagoon” is a triumph no matter when it’s spun.

Listen to “Masten Lake Lagoon” below and use it to soundtrack a camping trip this summer.