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Tall Black Girls: They're Not Really But Who Cares...

A recent trip to New York City's Lower East Side revealed a band that has the neighborhood buzzing.  I couldn't help but notice buildings tagged with the words "Tall Black Girls" in spray painted scrawl.  I asked a friend who lives down there what it was all about, he said, "Oh, they ROCK!"  I went and checked out their MySpace page and they do in fact, "ROCK!"

The all female punk band from the L.E.S. formed in 2007.  They have been barnstorming the city playing clubs all over their neighborhood, as well as some national and international gigs. Intuition tells me they won't be a secret for much longer.  The women in the band are easy on the eyes, full of swagger, and write well-crafted 2-3 minute punk rock songs.  They all go by the last name Black and are indeed quite tall.  They toured last year with the Misfits, Fear, and Dwarves.  Their sound harkens back to to 80's punk rock .  I found very little press on them, so get in on the ground floor.  Should be worth watching in the coming year.


Noise Pop Turns 17: Still Independent and Still Essential

Noise Pop 17 takes over San Francisco, beginning Tuesday, February 24th and running through Sunday, March 1st. The annual independent music festival, which began in 1993 as a single night showcase of local bands curated by founder Kevin Arnold, has expanded over the years to include art, film, and panel discussions. Many of San Francisco’s top music venues will be participating and the festival promises to carry on the tradition Arnold and co-founder Jordon Kurland have sustained for the past seventeen years.

This year’s performers decidedly favor the “pop” and less the “noise” referenced in the festival’s moniker. The festival has always brought an eclectic approach to booking and has served as a blueprint for other similar music festivals across the country. Highlights include: current Pitchfork Media buzz band Anthony and the Johnsons at Nob Hill’s Masonic Temple, indie demigod, Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, solo at the Great American Music Hall, and opening the festival with a free performance, no wave torchbearers Deerhunter at Mezzanine.

Past festivals have introduced some of alternative music’s biggest names to Bay Area fans, like the White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Cat Power, and Death Cab For Cutie, to name a few. This year’s keynote will be delivered by Dinosaur Jr/Folk Implosion/Sebadoh alum Lou Barlow along with Bob Mould of Husker Du/Sugar. There will be several panel discussions peppered throughout the week touching on a variety of music industry topics. Wilco’s concert film, “Ashes of American Flags”, directed by Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, will screen as part of Noise Pop’s film program on Wednesday night at the Roxie Theatre.

While the talent remains of the highest quality I would have liked to see more Bay Area performers take on headlining roles. The absence of Bimbo’s 365 Club and the Hemlock Tavern as venues surprised me as well. There seems to have been a shift in recent years away from emphasizing the local talent that served as the genesis for the festival in its inception. As mentioned earlier, there is a slant toward singer/songwriters and orchestral pop acts on the bills. It would be nice to see some harder edged representation on this year’s roster.

Still, Noise Pop remains an unrivaled gem for music fans in the Bay Area and continues to entertain, inform, and stimulate the senses. At a time when music festivals seem ubiquitous, Noise Pop still serves as a bellwether for relevance and buzz in independent music. My picks for the shows that are not to be missed are below. Tickets can be purchased for individual shows or you can buy a festival badge for entry to all performances.

Deerhunter at Mezzanine 444 Jessie Street @ Mint on Tuesday the 24th. This is a free show with RSVP on the clubs website. Know in advance that you will not get in unless you are prepared to arrive obnoxiously early and wait in line. I have been burned before by Mezzanine’s “free” events before. They over sell the venue and basically everyone is on “the list”. But worth the wait if you have nothing better to do with your Tuesday afternoon.

Thee Oh Sees with TYVEK, Unnatural Helpers, and The Fresh and Onlys at Café Du Nord 2170 Market Street on Thursday the 26th. One of the few San Francisco bands headlining a show at this year’s festival, they are a handful live and should have sweat dripping off the ceiling.

Dear and the Headlights with Kinch, Big Light, and A B and the Sea at Bottom of the Hill 1233 17th Street (17th @ Missouri). This Phoenix band mixes lyric driven vocal harmonies with swelling arrangements. The rest of the bill is strong as well, should be a wonderful night of music.

No Age with White Circle Crime Club, Infinite Body, and Veil Veil Vanish at Bottom of the Hill 1233 17th Street (17th @ Missouri). This Los Angeles duo is on the rise and produces a mega-ton of energy on stage. They won’t be playing clubs of this size for much longer, so see them now.

See schedule for Noise Pop '09'

They're Not Rock and Roll Animals; They're Rock and Roll Athletes. The Soft Pack Interview...

2009 is shaping up to be a very busy year for Los Angeles based The Soft Pack (formerly The Muslims). They recently signed to Kemado records, are about to embark on their first European tour-where they were invited to play England's "All Tomorrow's Parties", being curated by The Breeders (whom the band toured with this past year)-are recording their debut record for their new label, and will be touring the U.S. extensively with Friendly Fires and White Lies.

This is all the more remarkable considering they have only been in existence for two full years.  The buzz is deserved, after witnessing them open for The Ravonettes recently at Bimbo's in San Francisco, I saw plenty of converts by set's end.  The set was blistering; showcasing the wit, intelligence, and musical economy that make them a band to keep your eyes on in the coming years.

I was able to run into the founders of The Soft Pack, singer/guitarist Matt Lamkin and guitarist Matty McLoughlin, at a bar up the street.  They were relaxed, focused, and truly genuine. After bonding with McLoughlin over our fanatical devotion to the Replacements, he agreed to an interview with me.

Duvet: Give me a little bit of a background on how the band came together? I think you mentioned that you went to high school together?

Matty McLoughlin: Matt and I started the band in January of 2007. There was a rotating cast of drummers and bassists for a year. Dave and Brian joined in January of 2008 and finalized the lineup of the band. Matt and I and Dave went to the same high school but never really hung out until afterwards. Brian previously played in bands with friends of ours, we have known him for about 5 years or so.

Duvet: How would you like to have your music described?

Matty: I really don't have a preference. It's just kind of a rock n roll band. Catchy.

Duvet: Who would you site as influences and inspirations?

Matty: We all like comedy a lot. A lot of the books that get passed around in the van are comedian biographies. Steve Martin, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor. Big fans of Kids in the Hall. I get more inspired to write tunes after seeing/reading something that makes me laugh. When it comes to musical influences everyone grew up listening to different stuff, but I would say the big ones are Roy Orbison, The Fall, David Bowie, The Replacements, Modern Lovers, Bob Marley, Iggy Pop, James Brown, Pavement. Guys who have a good sense of humor are badass.

Duvet: What is the music scene like in San Diego?

Matty: Well we moved to Los Angeles about a year ago but the San Diego music scene is doing well. Kill Me Tomorrow is a band we've been fans of for awhile. Our favorite band the Sess broke up but those guys are getting new projects together that are good. We like the Night Marchers.

Duvet: How important is where you grew up and began playing to your sound and development?

Matty: We were all big fans of San Diego bands in the 90's like Drive Like Jehu, The Blackheart Procession, Hot Snakes. I'm not really sure how growing up there has affected us. We are laid back but there aren't any Spicoli's in the band really. No one did too many whipits in high school, no wrap around shades.

Duvet: Seems like things have moved pretty fast for you guys, is that weird or has it been difficult?

Matty: Nothing too weird. The shows have gotten bigger. Besides that everything is the same. We have been able to open for some bands that we were huge fans of growing up. Meeting those people can be a little intimidating. People that changed the way you went about your business. But they all have been very cool and nice.

Duvet: I think you mentioned you don't have to work day jobs anymore?

Matty: Yeah. We are going to be on tour for awhile, had to quit the day jobs. This is our job now.

Duvet: You recently signed with Kemado records, why were they a good fit?

Matty: We really liked the people at Kemado. We got along really well and felt like they got what we were about the most. Also, they were one of the first labels to talk to us and show a genuine interest. Long before all the CMJ hype stuff.

Duvet: Do you see the songwriting moving in a different direction, after all the touring you've been doing recently?

Matty: Well the song writing has changed since Brian and Dave joined the band. Now someone comes to practice with a riff or chord change and we all work the song out together. The first record was done by Matt and I. Things are much more collaborative now. Touring has made the band much tighter. The band has gotten stronger sounding because of the touring.

Duvet: Your self-titled record under the old band name was pretty stripped down, production wise...
Do you envision this changing with the new record you're currently working on?

Matty: We were trying to make the first record more "hi-fi" but that's the best we got. I'm proud of that record but I don't feel it captures us as a live band. We sound a bit tougher than the record indicates I think. We want the next record to have better sound quality but nothing too glossy or lame. We want it to be better sounding, more exciting sounding. Just want to make a better record.

Duvet: How did you decide on the new name?

Matty: We had been trying to change it for a year but all of the names we came up with horrendous. Then Brian came up with the name The Soft Pack around Thanksgiving and we all liked it.

Duvet: Are you working with a specific producer?

Matty: We are going into the studio to record with Manny Nieto in a couple weeks. He has a great studio in east Los Angeles.

Duvet: What are some of the themes you like to work with lyrically?

Matty: Matt writes all of the lyrics so you'd have to ask him. But my take is that they are about just everyday stuff.

Duvet: So how is 2009 shaping up? I know you mentioned going to Europe to play some festivals, is this your first time going there?

Matty: We are going to be doing a lot of touring and will be recording our record. We are going to the UK in couple weeks. Then we are doing a tour with White Lies and Friendly Fires throughout the U.S. Then we have some festivals in Europe around the summer. I have never been to Europe so I'm really excited. Busy, but all stuff I'm looking forward to.

Duvet: What are some of the challenges up and coming bands face with the changing musical landscape?

Matty: Gas prices were a big problem for us but they have gone down so that's good. Any money we made before went straight to the gas tank. Other than that I think you can do whatever you want. You can release your own records, set up your own tours. If you are willing to eat Doritos or a banana for dinner you can get whatever you want out of it.

Duvet: How important do you feel sites like Pichfork, Stereogum, PopMatters, etc. are to a band's success?

Matty: That's how the majority of people hear about bands now. Read about bands on a website, then check their MySpace to hear the music. Then go to YouTube to see if they are good looking or whacky or something.

Duvet: Are social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook still useful tools, if so in what way?

Matty: Yeah with MySpace you can instantly hear a band, see what they look like, communicate with them. As a band you can set up shows with other bands, a tour, a rivalry.

Duvet: What would you like people to know about you guys that they may not know?

Matty: That we are athletes, that we don't care.

Duvet: Any good road stories?

Matty: There hasn't been anything too far out there lately. Last year we got thrown in the back of an immigration truck at the Arizona border because the drug dog went crazy on our van. They detained us for about an hour, didn't find anything, and drug dog ate Dave's burrito. I met Lebron James on our way home from tour. We didn't speak for very long but he was a great guy. Charismatic as sin.

Duvet: What do you find yourself listening to on those long drives?

Matty: Steely Dan, Curtis Mayfield, The Breeders, Metallica, Warren Zevon, a bunch of stuff. Whatever anyone brings on the trip or we buy at truck stops. Oh, Steve Martin's "Get Small" album. Sometimes talk radio or nothing. Nothing can be relaxing.

Duvet: What would be a dream bill to play on (bands can be either current or past, alive or dead)?

Matty: REM, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Stones, Women, Jonathan Richman, Mika Miko, Spiritualized. There is alot. We are down4whateva.

Duvet: Any bands you're excited about?

Matty: We all really liked this band Women that we saw at CMJ. They are from Canada. We are playing with them in England and are really excited about that.

interview conducted with ©2009 Robert L. Celli, Jr.


Batman Nearly Has A Stroke...

This could be the best thing I've heard all week. Listen as actor Christian Bale, loses his shit over the director of photography walking onto the set, during the filming of a scene for some jackass, Hollywood blockbuster he's shooting.

Imagine what would happen if Batman's suit wasn't ready at the dry cleaners?  Perhaps, these fools take themselves a little too seriously...I mean, the film he is working on is called Terminator Salvation, not Schindler's List.  I guess the "Dark Knight" might need to get his script refilled.

From a Sammy Hager Way of Life to Sober House: Bob Forrest of Thelonious Monster Just May Save Your Life

There are certain performers and bands from your youth that leave an indelible mark. They have a profound influence in shaping your musical aesthetic and become the barometer, against which, all others will be judged. For some it is generally accepted "Godheads" like the Beatles or The Rolling Stones. For others, it may be a band from your hometown only a handful saw perform. Often, these lesser-known acts disappear into the ether of your mind-only to come back in a rush of memories, triggered by a song or a friend recounting a time you hadn’t thought about in years.

One of those bands for me was Thelonious Monster, especially their dynamic, conflicted and, I assumed, dead singer/songwriter Bob Forrest. I say this because Forrest and some of his fellow band mates’ drug addictions were hardly a secret. Those lucky enough to have seen Thelonious Monster perform, often witnessed erratic performances, that oscillated between inspired and disastrous-sometimes within the stretch of a few songs. At the center of this storm was the transcendent, boho punk; Forrest.

Forrest was like a raw, exposed nerve. His reedy voice aching with the passion of a life spent living off the rails. I remember him walking out on stage, after the band had just abandoned it in a hail of finger pointing over who was responsible for that night's meltdown. Forrest, hunched over, eyes obscured by dark sunglasses, began stomping his feet in 4/4 time. He delivered "Mercedes Benz" a capella as if he was channeling Janis Joplin. The words spilled over his lips. They sounded desperate, lonely and cathartic. When he finished, he asked for anyone with heroin to meet him at the end of the bar.

Thelonious Monster formed in Los Angeles in 1986, their name, a play on jazz great Thelonious Monk. They featured a revolving door of LA musicians over the course of seven years, releasing four albums on Epitaph, Relativity, and Capitol. The sound of these records was often as schizophrenic as the band itself. Psychedelic jams giving way to well-crafted pop or acoustic confessionals alongside "bar rock" were not uncommon. All were done with earnestness, highlighted by Forrest's brutally honest lyrical self-examinations.

The band’s recordings featured music industry notables on both the production and performance side. X's John Doe produced their third record Stormy Weather and Beautiful Mess contained a duet between Forrest and Tom Waits. Flea, Al Kooper, Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy, Benmont Tench, and others contributed over the years.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers were early boosters with both bands emerging out of LA's underground scene. The Chili Peppers experienced their own tumultuous years of losing members to drugs and Thelonious Monster acted like a farm system for replacement guitarists. They along with X took the band on the road with them.

Thelonious Monster flamed out sometime in the late '90s, with Forrest going on to form The Bicycle Thief. That band would release one critically well-received album entitled You Come And Go Like A Pop Song in 1999. The Bicycle Thief featured former members of Campfire Girls and (Red Hot Chili Pepper) John Frusciante's band, along with guitar wunderkind Josh "Kobe" Klinghoffer. Frusciante, himself, plays on some tracks along with Ana Warnoker of That Dog. Thelonoius Monster would later reform in 2004 to play a set at Coachella and still occasionally surface to play gigs.

I, however, lost track of Bob Forrest. The occasional "T-Monster" song would pop into my head, and I would dig through my records to satisfy the itch those songs generated. The frankness of the lyrics still floored me. It was if all his demons were on display, swaddled in the hope of better days.

My friend and I saw Bob working as a busser at a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in LA's Silverlake sometime in 2002. We were sure we were the only ones to recognize him, electing to keep our admiration to ourselves. It felt sad.

Fast-forward five years, as my wife and I settled down to watch the premiere-of our sure to be latest guilty pleasure-Celebrity Rehab on VH1. The congregation of D-list former television stars and one-hit wonders file into a room for group therapy. Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of the show, begins by introducing his staff. The camera settles on a pockmarked, horn-rimmed wraith from my past, hair buried under a familiar Panama hat; it is Bob Forrest.

Dr. Drew introduces Forrest, currently the Chemical Dependency Program Director at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena, CA, as a wave of happiness and relief overtook me. My musical hero had emerged from the wreckage of junkie despair. He was alive. And even though we never knew one another, I felt as if I was looking at a piece of my youth that could have, so easily, been forsaken to a well-worn Rock narrative. Instead, he puts the same passion and openness he committed to song; to keeping people off drugs on another VH1 show Sober House. This show follows some of the same celebs in their post treatment recovery.

Today, aside from his role as drug counselor, Bob Forrest still plays music. He contributed his version of Bob Dylan's "Moonshiner" to director Todd Haynes film, I'm Not There. In 2006 he released a solo recording and now hosts Bob Forrest's: Happy Hour Hootenanny at various clubs in LA (also released digitally). A documentary about Forrest entitled Unsung is in postproduction and should be released this year.