Richie James, the vocalist and guitar slinger for the Anaheim garage band The Willowz, has a bit of an advantage over the punks in his peer group. His mom used to date Henry Rollins and was Dee Dee Ramone's art dealer, so he was listening to old-school punk back when the other kids in his class were still buying CDs by a big purple dinosaur named Barney. His band caught an early break when their music was used in the Jim Carrey film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but even without this boost fans of the lo-fi, retro-guitar rock sound would have discovered the Willowz, who ape '80s groups such as Redd Kross, with near-requisite garage-rock nods to the Sonics and the Kinks, coming off like the White Stripes on a Brian Wilson kick. The Willowz have youth on their side (none, to my knowledge, are old enough to buy a beer) and all the energy and angst that youth entails, and maybe someday they will find a sound all their own. But even as they wallow in spastic rock-and-roll - tossing in some wonderful acoustic songs to give their otherwise electric squall some context - the Willowz can be every bit as exciting as their parents' record collections. They're at the Buccaneer on Saturday, July 23rd, with Memphis garage-rock stalwart Jack Yarber and his band The Tennessee Tearjerkers.
A word to The Asylum Street Spankers: Plug it in, plug it in! I know the decade-long refusal to hook up your amps and submit to the horrors of demon electricity is your schtick, but it's getting old and so am I. When it comes to playing a more cosmopolitan brand of Depression-era blues with smatterings of early country, nobody does it with Spanker style. But I've seen you a zillion times, and love you though I do, I'd give almost anything to have a nice, quiet conversation at a Spanker show without having some 22-year old hipster chick in chunky glasses and a too-tight Lucero tee scream, "Shut up, asshole, you're ruining my experience." Anyway, the Spankers put on a stunner of a show for those who can be very, very quiet and would rather appreciate the music than enjoy it. They WON'T be plugging in at the Hi-Tone Cafe on Friday, July 22nd.
- Chris Davis
The last couple of decades haven't been kind to commercial hard rock. Twenty years ago, womanizing, spandex-clad giants roamed the world of rock - filling arenas, dominating MTV, and abusing their bodies with massive intakes of drugs and alcohol, all while decimating the ozone layer and helping the hair-care industry get rich with their much-imitated teased manes. I think the necessary link between destructive debauchery and rock-and-roll is utter bullshit, but I'll always welcome a bracing guitar riff, a danceable beat, and a righteous, fist-pumping chorus, none of which have been that easy to come by on commercial rock radio since that day in 1991 when Nirvana supposedly saved us all by ushering arena-metal into history's dustbin.
Nirvana was a great band, but like Star Wars and Quentin Tarantino, they may have done more harm than good. Eighties pop metal was supposed to be a big joke, but what would you really rather listen to right now - the over-serious, under-hooked, alt-certified drudgery of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots or such sure-shot, lighter-waving anthems as Ratt's "Round and Round," Bon Jovi's "Livin' On a Prayer," and Night Ranger's "Sister Christian?" By the end of the '90s, metal had unfortunately learned its lesson, coming roaring back in a more serious, more respectable "nu" form that essentially combined the worst aspects of '80s metal and the grunge/alt-rock that followed it.
If you want a reminder of how much fun pop-metal used to be - taken one good single at a time, anyway - check out the first disc of Def Leppard's new double-disc best-of collection, Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection. Back before producer Mutt Lange was upsetting country puritans with slightly twangy dance-pop tracks for his wife Shania Twain, he was helping this British band - a midpoint between heavy metal and Duran Duran, guitarist Phil Collen admits in the liner notes - dominate the radio-rock world. At the time, 9-year-old me would have called their Pyromania the best album of 1983, and even if these days I'd be more likely to cite Marshall Crenshaw's Field Day, Husker Du's Metal Circus, or Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual, I still get a charge whenever "Photograph" pops up on the iPod.
You can transport back to the '80s with Def Leppard Tuesday, July 26th, at Mud Island Amphitheater. Local rockers Crippled Nation open. n
- Chris Herrington