For Those About To Rock 

Headbangers, unite! -- at the first Mid-South MetalFeast.

The F*****g Champs

Both dabblers and die-hard fans of underground metal will have a hearty palette to pick from this weekend when the first Mid-South MetalFeast is held at Last Place on Earth. A Friday, Saturday, and Sunday lineup (beginning in the afternoon on the weekend days) promises to deliver the goods in death metal, post-grindcore, metalcore, spazzcore, and er "sludgenoise." Okay, so you see why I prefer the innocuous yet more appropriate term "underground metal." And in case you haven't ascertained this yet, the "metal" in MetalFeast means metal. It has very little to do with the loud pop music that saturated late-'80s MTV or with Renaissance fair regulars updating '70s prog rock.

Friday night headliners Immolation have been around for 12-plus years, hammering away at a distinct black-metal/death-metal sound since before death metal sat next to the riot grrl movement on The Jenny Jones Show. Coming up alongside better-known contemporaries Cannibal Corpse, the New York City band's more sporadic output and, well, better sound have unjustly caused them to fly under most metal radars. But they are definitely worth checking out in a day and age when most decade-plus "death-metal" careers end up sounding like bad new age.

Another reason to get out of the house for Friday's lineup is Epoch of Unlight, a local band whose own black-metal/death-metal hybrid and full-length album for Pasadena's End Records -- a metal label that boasts an international roster -- have deservedly garnered them positive national attention. The band recorded a second record for End last December, and hopefully that forthcoming release will give Epoch an even wider following in the metal community. Those privy to the mind-shattering live show put on by Today Is the Day will want to check out Mastodon, since they contain the rhythm section for Today Is the Day's In The Eyes Of God tour and album. Or maybe you'll just want to check them out because they have the greatest metal band name EVER.

It looks as though Saturday evening's lineup will prove to be the weekend's high-water mark. New Orleans is giving us a huge pummeling mess in the form of Eyehategod and Soilent Green. The former's semi-legendary live set is a fine remedy to wasting your money on a DAT-backed Black Sabbath concert performance, especially since they deliver a wall-of-shit millennium version of Sabbath with nary a whiff of the revivalist rhetoric so common in the current "stoner-rock" scene. Soilent Green will headline the evening with their patented Molly Hatchet-meets-grindcore sound, as people explode on stage behind an 18-octave-vocal-range uh attack.

But most importantly, Saturday night's lineup features the festival's can't-miss band, the Fucking Champs. The Champs exist entirely outside of the metal underground yet are greeted with irony by the indie-rock scenesters that they usually have to play for. But this band does not make ironic music. Is it funny? In that they have a sense of humor about their work, yes, it's funny. People who are unable to let great music speak for itself will be left making dumb comparisons ("har har, they sound like Hanoi Rocks," nudge nudge). The Fucking Champs possess a vast knowledge of music, metal and otherwise, as their records make plain. At a Champs show, spectators must be open to embracing an often metallic form of instrumental music that is much more fun than the staunch in-joke-isms enjoyed by Trans Am -- a frequent and misguided post-rock comparison.

Some have come to the Fucking Champs by way of guitarist Tim Green, the only member of the revered D.C. punk band Nation Of Ulysses who decided not to make faux soul music with a band of human props (see the Make Up, or don't). Green has also been moonlighting as an increasingly prolific producer/engineer, having manned the boards for the Melvins' Maggot/Bootlicker/Crybaby trilogy and a Sleater Kinney release or two. Lesser histories suffice for the rest of the band, but Josh Soete led the untouchable one-shot Weakling through a double album of transcendent black metal before disbanding them to focus on the Fucking Champs.

For the Fucking Champs, two 1994 demo tapes graced with the eye-catching titles Songs For Films About Rock and Bad Recording LIVE!! launched a discography that was to cause the nodding and scratching of heads for the next six years -- usually the same heads. In 1997, the more than 400-minute Home Taping Is Music (Frenetic Records) dropped on unsuspecting ears like a '90s version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music as if simultaneously interpreted by early Rush and New Order. This recently reissued opus defined the Champs' (as they were called at the time) modus operandi: Thin Lizzy, Carcass, Steve Reich, Iron Maiden, Giorgio Moroder, and OMD all mix and mingle on Home Taping, as well as the band's latest, IV (Drag City). The Fucking Champs will be playing at 9:15 p.m. sharp, and coupled with the rest of the roster, Saturday night may turn out to be this year's local live-music landmark.

Origin and Catastrophic provide notable Sunday night closure to an exhausting weekend. Catastrophic were brought together by Trevor Peres, static guitarist for the now-defunct Florida death-metal band Obituary. Origin, like Soilent Green, call the lofty Relapse label home and seem to have perfected some spazz-out bastardization of death metal to boot. If any of this sparks your interest, then get off the couch and help put Memphis on the metal map.

The Mid-South MetalFeast

Friday-Sunday, April 27th-29th

Last Place on Earth

music notes


Book It

This Friday, April 27th, boasts a couple of competing music-related book signings, both scheduled for 5 to 6:30 p.m. At Burke's Book Store in Midtown, British critic and historian Michael Gray will be signing copies of Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan (Continuum, $35). This third edition of Gray's Dylan tome -- an in-depth critical analysis, not a bio -- weighs in at 918 pages, adding 75 percent new material since the 1981 publication of the book's second edition. I haven't read all 918 pages, but I have read enough to have my quibbles with Gray's outlook and appreciate the intelligence and scope of the work.

From my perspective, Gray seems overly concerned with Dylan's literary merit, a defensive bent that would seem to convey too little appreciation for pop music as a forum for great art. (The book actually has a chapter called "Dylan and Rock Music" -- can you imagine a book on Chuck Berry having a chapter called "Berry and Rock Music"?) And, while Gray is far from sycophantic in his analysis of Dylan's music, his Dylan-centric perspective still inspires some questionable hyperbole, such as Blood On the Tracks as "without doubt the best album of the Seventies" (I'd go either Exile On Main Street or The Clash, actually) and the recently released Live 1966 as "the most enthralling, truthful, priceless concert performance ever issued by a great artist" (I'm not much on live records, but I'll take James Brown's Live At the Apollo, Vol. 1 and Jerry Lee Lewis' Live At the Star Club). But, nit-picking aside, after Paul Williams' Performing Artist series and Greil Marcus' Invisible Republic, this is the most impressive Dylan book I've laid eyes on.

While Gray is addressing the Dylan faithful at Burke's, Oxford, Mississippi, writer Steve Cheseborough, who has written for Living Blues and Blues Access magazines, will be at Davis-Kidd to promote his new book, Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues (University Press of Mississippi, $18). Blues Traveling is a handsomely packaged travel guide for blues aficionados, full of detailed maps and good photos. Outside of a 20-page opening section on Memphis and brief stops in West Memphis and Helena, the book sticks exclusively to Mississippi, working its way down to Vicksburg and Jackson and over to Oxford and Tupelo. And the information is very up-to-date, with the Memphis section providing the new location for the Center for Southern Folklore and information on the artists who play there, as well as a mention of Robert Belfour's Sunday night gigs at Murphy's.

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