Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Urinals Hit Pittsburgh

The past Wednesday night, the Love Letters got to play a show with first-generation LA punk rockers the Urinals. They debuted sometime in the late '70s, released a few 7"s and changed their name to 100 Flowers, as their abilities improved and their songwriting evolved. That band released an album and EP before breaking up around 1983. In that incarnation, they were one of my favorite bands during my early stages of songwriting and playing with Bone of Contention (albeit a few years after their demise), thanks to their blend of chopped-up lyrics, punk attack and a strange bit of pop sense that lingered around the edges.

As it happens, right as I was really absorbing all that music, realizing that I could never be like Mike Watt but maybe I could be like John Talley-Jones, Trotsky Icepick showed up with the album Poison Summer. Ex-100 Flowers guitarist Kjehl Johansen started that group with ex-Last organist-turned-guitarist Vitus Matare (who needs punk names when you have great names like those?). As I was wearing that that marble vinyled album out, I did what you did back then, and I wrote the band a letter. Vitus replied by sending me the first Poison Summer album, by Danny & the Doorknobs. The album title stayed the same, but the band name changed, get it? Long story....

Anyhow, to get back up to this week, in a few steps: Trotsky Icepick finally came to Pittsburgh 25 years ago and played with Bone of Contention. Friendships were established. Talley-Jones later released an EP by the Pundits, a band of which I was a member. The Urinals reunited when all old punk rock suddenly had a new audience. They've released two new albums since then, the most recent being Next Year at Marienbad. 

A mini-tour with the Love Letters didn't exactly pan out, but we were able to set something up with them this past Wednesday at Howler's, which is just around the corner from my place. I shouldn't say this was a dream come true, but it was exciting to see John Talley-Jones for the first time since 1991, meet drummer Kevin Barrett and guitarist Rob Roberge (Johansen left the fold a while back) and to hear some of these songs in person for the first time ever.

It's a thought-provoking prospect, if you ask me: when you're known for music that's over three decades old, how do you co-mingle that with the new stuff, keep people interested and not seem like a nostalgia act? The answer is you treat all things equal and just plow through all of it with abandon. That's just what the band did on Wednesday. They started with "Hologram," which consists of two chords hammered away, Wire-style. Without stopping for much of a breath, Barrett clicked off "Shut Yr Trap" from the new album, which segued right back into "Sex" (an early one that can be found on the complete comp Negative Capability...Check It Out).

It helps that the Urinals' newest material is just as solid as the early stuff too. In a way, they do Wire better than Wire does these days. Roberge didn't take leads per se but he plays more than just power chords. Covering "Little Johnny Jewel" takes guts, and these guys delivered. Plus they were loud.

The Love Letters played as a trio that night because our guitarist Buck was out of town. Normally I might pass on a gig without him, but this was a special occasion, so we played as a trio. It was Mike Prosser's first time being fully shoved into the spotlight but he's assumed a pretty firm position in the band now. We're playing a few of his songs, which I really like a lot, and hope to record someday (at least one of them). Following a show we played at Gooski's about 10 days prior (with Buck), which also went really well, I felt like we are on a pretty good roll.

Since we jumped onto a show that had already been reserved at Howlers, the opening act was a New Jersey punk-influenced rapper who went by the name J-E-double-F. He was pretty intense, looking a bit like Danzig, but kicking it old school with a sampler and breakdowns between verses. He played for about 20 minutes which was just the perfect length of time. I hope he didn't mind being on an odd bill with us, but I think it worked.

The Urinals stayed at my house, so before and after the show we got to socialize a bit. I wish I could've showed them more of the city but they were on their way to Chicago the next morning. At least we had time for breakfast and a few photos, as seen below. For those who don't know, that's me on the left and John Talley-Jones on the right. I look like I don't have a spine but I do. I was between bites of a bagel.

My next wish, to have Trotsky Icepick come to town for my 50th birthday show in October 2017. their new album should be out by that time. And Kjehl has already expressed approval online, so we'll see....

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