CD Review: Monster Magnet – Last Patrol

Monster Magnet – Last Patrol
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: A-

Monster Magnet - Last Patrol 2013
Without Monster Magnet around to spark up their own full-throttle brand of “stoner metal” and go joy-riding through space to seek adventure and cruise for easy girls in the cosmos, the universe would be far less interesting.

Hedonistic space lords as magnificent as Dave Wyndorf apologize for nothing, and with the unforgiving Last Patrol, Monster Magnet’s latest magic carpet ride on Napalm Records, pimped out in retro amps, guitars and trippy effects in an attempt to summon the hallucinogenic demons of their early psychedelic-garage days, the word “sorry” cannot be found his rich vocabulary. Exuding warm and distinctive clarity, Last Patrol is produced with care, so that every part of this sonic space-rock jalopy sounds brand new and forceful, even with all the miles on her.

Housed in such a clean-running machine, this work of mind-blowing pulp fiction is full of noir-style, sci-fi tales of obsessive torment, revenge fantasies and sexual conquest pulled from the outer reaches of Wyndorf’s fevered imagination, and yet Last Patrol never gets lost in the stormy turbulence of its own making. Even amid the howling chaos of wah-wah guitars, crazed distortion and crashing drums that close the title track, Monster Magnet’s momentum-gathering riffs drive straight through it without ever being blown off course, just as they do in “End of Time,” another blazing garage-rock comet propelled forward with apocalyptic urgency and NASA-like precision into swirling madness.  

Painting vivid scenes with absurdist imagery and colorful language, Wyndorf talks of stairs that lead nowhere, a man-hungry 10-foot blonde and “dead moons and chicken bones” in a commanding, if weathered, voice, as if he’s author Philip K. Dick with a guitar. With his craggy, deep vocals, Wyndorf builds aural cinematic drama like a musical John Ford, the ominous acoustic guitar plucking and strums in the intros to “Paradise” and “I Live behind the Clouds” foreshadowing something evil coming this way or a showdown of half android, half human gunfighters in a parallel futuristic universe to Deadwood.

There is religious fervor in the stomping, hell-spawned blues of “Hallelujah,” where Wyndorf gives a wild-eyed sermon on sin and salvation that could make the dead rise and the righteous weep. And while the careening “Mindless Ones” works up a furious tempest of distorted, violent energy reminiscent of those whipped up by Hawkwind, in Monster Magnet’s disembodied hands, Donovan’s exotic “Three Kingfishers” undergoes a withering transformation into a heavy metal odyssey of the mind, “Stay Tuned” dives headlong into tunneling blackness and “The Duke (Of Supernature)” hitches a ride upriver through the conga drum currents of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan.” Monster Magnet continues to go where others fear to tread.
    Peter Lindblad

Various Artists – CBGB: Original Movie Soundtrack

Various Artists – CBGB: Original Movie Soundtrack
Omnivore Records
All Access Rating: B

Various artists - CBGB: Original Movie
Soundtrack 2013
So far, the critics haven’t been at all kind to the movie“CBGB.” Even though Television's Richard Lloyd and the Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome, both of whom have a long history with the iconic punk venue, have gone on record giving it their stamp of approval, others aren’t so enamored.

Their knives sharpened, the film’s detractors have crucified it, in fact. Actors were reportedly miscast for important roles or gave performances that were just plain flat. Inaccuracies are said to abound, at the very least compromising its authenticity. And these are just a few of the complaints.

Worst of all, there’s a sense that the filmmakers failed to go that extra mile to capture the explosive zeitgeist of the times or the energy of a place that was so vital in nurturing the innovation and raw fury of the nascent punk rock scene of New York City in the late 1970s, not to mention its propensity for good, dumb fun. The Ramones had a lot of it, and so did The Dictators.

If nothing else then, the Omnivore Records soundtrack has to be good, right? Well, yes and no. Taken out of context, without any regard for what actually took place at CBGB, this is a fine collection of riotous, vicious rock ‘n’ roll that provokes and agitates, with a pulse that simply races and lyrics that are poetic and unflinchingly honest. The tension of almost every track threatens to boil over at any point, even if stylistically speaking, there is a good amount of diversity. Whatever qualms people – especially the old punks “who were there” – have about the film, the track listing of the soundtrack offers at least some measure of salvation.

Containing all of 20 songs within its graffiti-splattered walls, it is not, by any means, an exhaustive survey of the trailblazing acts or performers who made CBGB their home. And some of the choices are predictable, but perhaps necessary, like the Talking Heads’ anxiety-ridden “Life during Wartime.” Exactly what the MC5’s wild-eyed “Kick Out the Jams” or The Stooges’ bad acid trip “I Wanna Be Your Dog” – both groundbreaking pieces of great significance and influence, no doubt – are doing here is up for debate, seeing as how the scene of the most memorable meltdowns from these Motor City proto-punks was probably the Grande Ballroom in Detroit.

In between such obvious and controversial selections, however, lies the true identity of CBGB, where the Tuff Darts’ gnarly, bull-in-a-china-shop manifesto “All for the Love of Rock ‘N’ Roll” knocks the martini glass out of the hand of Blondie’s sweet and stylish 2013 remake of the sunny and sophisticated “Sunday Girl.” What could be more CBGB than Wayne County and the Electric Chairs’ edgy, kinetic “Out of Control” sharing garish makeup tips with the New York Dolls’ gleefully obnoxious and thoroughly pugnacious “Chatterbox” or Television’s nervous art-pop tale of romantic bitterness “Careful” commiserating with Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers’ punched-up, soul-searing lament “All By Myself.” God, but the serrated guitars everywhere on this soundtrack cut you to the quick.

All of these songs bristle with frustrated energy just begging for an outlet. CBGB and its eccentric owner Hilly Kristal were only too happy to oblige the poetic vitriol and tortured self-loathing of “Blank Generation” by Richard Hell & the Voidoids, as well as The Dictators’ obscenely funny, amphetamine-fueled romp through The Rivieras’ classic rocker “California Sun.” Two songs by the Dead Boys, the snarling “Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth” and the blazing arson that is “Sonic Reducer,” have a seat at CBGB’s table, as do the swaggering, hip-shaking garage-rockers “Slow Death” and “Psychotic Reaction,” by the Flamin’ Groovies and The Count Five, respectively.

Of course, they also made room for The Police, who played at CBGB just before they broke it big. Their super-tight, bubbling paean to a painted-prostitute “Roxanne” is part of the soundtrack, which, as many critics will undoubtedly say, could serve a musical textbook for any Punk Rock 101 class. It should have been much better though.

Although Joey Ramone’s bare-knuckled brawler “I Get Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)” makes an appearance, how is there nothing from The Ramones as a whole here? And why give space to a Blondie remake of “Sunday Girl” when some other original from back in the band’s more subversively sexual heyday would have lent the set more heat? For that matter, who needs yet another chance to own “Kick out the Jams” or “I Wanna Be Your Dog”? Every winning choice and every unexpected surprise on the “CBGB” soundtrack is matched by another that’s completely baffling or gallingly superfluous. Give this to a kid who needs some real punk rock in his or her life, but tell them there was more to CBGB than this.
     Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Lita Ford – The Bitch is Back Live

Lita Ford – The Bitch is Back Live
All Access Review: B+

Lita Ford - The Bitch is Back ... Live 2013
Polite society may not approve of today's liberal usage of the word “bitch.” Lita Ford has lived her life in a different kind of world, one where sticks and stones are occasionally used to break bones, but names couldn't ever hurt her.

On her last studio record, Ford wrote of coming to the realization that she'd been living like a runaway her whole life. And, of course, the title, Living like a Runaway, had a lot to do with the hard-luck story of the teenage punk rock girl group The Runaways she was a part of in the 1970s, but there's more to it than that.

Away from the stage, Ford has endured great tumult in her personal life, especially in recent years. Getting through it requires the kind of resilience one gets from being as independent or brave enough to escape a troubled home. In other words, being a bitch is sometimes necessary for one's survival. Making 2012’s intensely personal Living like a Runaway was not only therapeutic for Ford, as she opened up about a lot of stuff, but it also served notice that those who'd written her off as a relic of the ‘80s were dead wrong. The bitch was back, having penned and recorded some of the most affecting and edgy rock ‘n’ roll of her career, and the crowd who welcomed her to the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, Calif., in early October of 2012 was glad she hadn't burned out or faded away just yet.

How appropriate then that she should kick off her latest concert album, The Bitch is Back Live, with the defiant Elton John song of the same name. A ballsy rocker dripping with attitude, Ford's version is unrepentant and has a thick skin, not veering far from the raucous spirit of the original, even if the choruses are delivered in a surprisingly tame and reserved voice. She must have been saving her strength.

The rest of The Bitch is Back Live holds nothing back. "Hungry," off 1990's Stiletto LP, sounds even more lewd and lascivious than it did back then, as Ford and her band, featuring Mitch Perry on guitar, Bobby Rock on drums and Marty O'Brien on bass, make its hot grooves perspire and its sinful melody slither and slide in the most seductive manner possible. Sex is not the only thing on Ford’s mind, however. In bringing out the heavy artillery of "Devil in My Head," "Relentless" and "Hate" off Living like a Runaway, Ford and company couch darker, more disturbing lyrical themes of temptation and violence in meaty, mauling riff grinds that plow these evils under as if they were sites of some horrific tragedy.

Still, this is a party, with an undeniably communal vibe, and Ford raises hell on "Kiss Me Deadly," hitting all of its confetti-strewn, sugary pop notes to close out the night. Ford expresses her love for the "roaring guitars" of "Hungry" and the dueling guitar "dive-bombs" of the sinister and melodic “Back to the Cave,” before begging all in attendance to check out the powerful words to “Hate.” And when Ford gets to “Can’t Catch Me,” the little ball of thrash-metal fury she wrote with Motorhead hellion Lemmy Kilmister while on a bender, nobody’s the least bit surprised that its ramshackle rumblings and blitzkrieg riffage has shaken the Canyon Club’s foundations.

As intimate as live recordings get, with plenty of audience reaction captured in pristine clarity, The Bitch is Back Live sees Ford playing with the reckless swagger and raw energy of a teenager who doesn't know what life's about yet. Trading well-executed licks with Perry, Ford causes her guitar to scream its orgasms, but when she sings, she's part little girl lost in the world and part worldly madame who's seen it all and then some. Her voice can be soft and alluring when it has to be, but when she wants it to scratch and claw like a wildcat, it's certainly capable of turning feral or moody, as it does in the hit “Close My Eyes Forever,” which loses some of its Gothic romance here while gaining more emotional heft.

Some of Ford’s songs have always had parts that flat-lined, and in the harsh glare of a live performance, these flaws are magnified. The flaccid “run baby, run” chorus of the song “Living like a Runaway” is a prime example, but Ford is also capable of exhibiting toughness and heart in songwriting that is always accessible and easy to relate to, just like that of her old partner Joan Jett. Ford, though, is metal’s queen, and as such, she demands a sound that’s thick and crushing, but also tuneful. She’s ready to take back her throne.
-           Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Santana & McLaughlin – Invitation to Illumination – Live at Montreux 2011

DVD Review: Santana & McLaughlin: Invitation to Illumination – Live at Montreux 2011
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: A-

Santana & McLaughlin - Invitation to
Illumination - Live at Montreux 2011
John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana are two peas in a pod. Musically adventurous and perpetually thirsty in their lifelong quests for spirituality, the two guitar shamans were similarly drawn to the teachings of guru Sri Chinmoy in the early 1970s, and after the original Santana band disbanded after the difficult birth of Caravanserai, an album that confounded Santana fans, the two threw themselves into the making of the paradigm-shifting 1973 jazz-rock fusion record Love Devotion Surrender, which made even less sense to Santana followers and some critics.

To McLaughlin and Santana, however, their uniquely innovative creation was perfectly understandable, a melting pot of revolutionary ideas both harmonious and chaotic. In that respect, it took its cues from humanity and life itself, as Love Devotion Surrender paid homage to heroes like John Coltrane and Miles Davis and served as a beautifully disordered prayer – expressing deep hope and faith in a higher power and mankind’s capacity for goodness, while acknowledging the continuing fight for justice and peace requires an army of patient and persistent non-violent soldiers. 

And somehow, all of these notions are communicated throughout Love Devotion Surrender to anyone willing to listen for them. In 2011, with Claude Nobs serving as matchmaker, the two men joined up onstage at Nobs’ Montreux Jazz Festival to do something they’d never done – that is, co-headline a concert together. The effervescent “Invitation to Illumination – Live at Montreux 2011” documents that dazzling, once-in-a-lifetime performance in sumptuous color and sound, as Santana and the one-time Davis sideman McLaughlin, with help from members of both their bands, dust the cobwebs off Love Devotion Surrender and re-imagine four of its five tracks in a live setting, including their warm and reverential reading of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and various and sundry pieces from their back catalogs. The audience may not have always understand the language they were speaking, but those who were there surely appreciated its complex and creative nature.

And what they get is a transcendent, almost religious experience, where the fluid, melodic playing of Santana and the almost subversive, exceedingly progressive virtuosity of McLaughlin reach for and run to higher ground – as they do in that LP’s “The Creator has a Master Plan,” a gently flowing mélange of congas, shakers and other percussive elements, soft piano rain and intricate guitar negotiations. Taking great delight in watching each other launch into flights of daring, high-wire six-string machinations, they go bushwhacking through the thorny thicket and building drama of “The Life Divine,” Love Devotion Surrender’s remake of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” in the search for light and open spaces to roam freely about. For Coltrane’s “Naima” and “Lotus Land Op 47, No. 1,” the pair go acoustic, alternating on tricky, labyrinthine leads and then exploring Flamenco flavors on the latter with great finesse and smiles on their faces.

A somewhat flabby and uncertain medley of “Peace on Earth/A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall/Stairway to Heaven/Our Prayer/SOCC” offers a tribute to the likes of Dylan and Led Zeppelin and sees Santana and McLaughlin reeling off interesting and clever leads in a joyful and playful manner. None of it, however, prepares the uninitiated for the strange and wonderful free-form jazz anarchy of “Vuelto Abajo” and “Vashkar,” where Santana exits and lets McLaughlin, fiery drum engine Cindy Blackman and the rest of these sonic explorers go off on their own crazy adventures through these works from Tony Williams’ Lifetime, each one taking a separate, inaccessible and seemingly incongruous route to coalesce at a safe house of insurgent, kinetic energy.

The bluesy cooking of “Downstairs” grounds McLaughlin and Santana, while “Let Us go into the House of the Lord” finds them basking in the luminous glow of a heavenly, meditative worship, but that’s as comfortable as they get. “Venus/Upper Egypt” is all frenzied jazz action, and they bring out, in stark relief, the industrious funk grooves of “Black Satin,” off Davis’ 1972 On the Corner release, almost drowning it in puddles of sweat, as McLaughlin interjects alien shapes and figures here and there that are not only accepted, but encouraged.

Professionally shot to capture the triumphant and celebratory mood of the show, while also making sure to pay undivided attention to the skilled and imaginative playing of all the actors – not just the two main characters – “Invitation to Illumination – Live at Montreux 2011,” with its diverse and unpredictable set list, only adds to the revered legacies of both artists. As he told the attendees, all Santana and company wanted to do was touch their hearts that night. Cynics might scoff, but there is precious little of that going on these days, and what Santana and McLaughlin were able to accomplish at Montreux suggests they might want to do this more often.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Vista Chino – Peace

Vista Chino – Peace
Napalm Records
All Access Review: A-

Vista Chino - Peace 2013
The names have been changed to protect … well, the brand. After stoner-metal giants Kyuss called it a day in 1995, the group’s following grew exponentially and calls for a reunion grew louder and louder as the years passed.

In 2011, John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri toured as Kyuss Lives! Conspicuous by his absence, Josh Homme, having long ago moved on to Queens of the Stone Age, wanted no part of the much-anticipated reunion. More than that, however, he didn’t want anybody else using the Kyuss name either, and he, along with another former member, Scott Reeder, set in motion legal action to stop them from using it. Evidently, Homme was going out of his way to make damn sure this version didn’t tarnish the Kyuss legacy with some half-baked cash-grabbing nonsense that failed to include him.

Being the hardy desert folk they are, Garcia and Bjork, who played with Sabbath-influenced, muscle-car fanatics Fu Manchu for many years, have decided to carry on under a new name. Say hello to Vista Chino. Tuning down their guitars to deeply resonant levels, while still allowing shape-shifting melodies to drift in and out of a fuzz-toned haze, Vista Chino concocts a murky and strangely intoxicating brew on the musical sweat lodge that is the surging Peace, with the grumbling malevolence and guitar witchcraft of “Dragona Dragona” casting a particularly irresistible doom-laden spell.

Crispy around the edges, Peace is not the work of burnouts living off their past reputations, even if the record’s dank atmosphere is as smoky and close as any seedy drug house. A swirling maelstrom of burrowing, evil guitars, pummeling drums and splashing cymbals, rumbling rhythms and Garcia’s strong, illuminating vocals cutting through the sonic fog, Peace is thick, heady stuff, indeed, but it’s not exactly pretty.

Insidiously infectious and utterly compelling, “Adara” and “As You Wish” ride on hypnotic, writhing movements and grimy riffs into dark, scary places, while the dirty bomb of distortion known as “Planets 1 &2” drives Hawkwind’s space-rock aesthetic down to bad interplanetary neighborhoods and slides into a slow-motion slipstream that drowns all who follow it there in sludge and bong resin. There’s a bluesy feel to Peace that is inescapable, but it’s a dangerous, rough-and-tumble mutation of Cream’s heavy psychedelic visions, as the jazzy “Dark and Lovely” swings and tunnels ever deeper into a disordered mind, its grooves becoming more engorged as every second passes.

It all leads up to the tempest-tossed, mythic 13:25 closer “Acidize … the Gambling Moose,” a gloomy, gathering blues-rock storm whose immense winds blow trash and paper all over a lonely highway, some of it getting stuck in a dead tree’s spindly branches. Portending doom, it’s like a soundtrack for a Day of the Dead march in Mexico, as Vista Chino slows to a seductive crawl and a guitar solo pierces the gloaming of a truly evil-sounding love song. Vista Chino’s fevered imagination has finally gotten the best of them in the most surprising and interesting ways. They let songs and arrangements unfold organically, whereas Queens of the Stone Age seems hell-bent on making incongruous ideas fit, even though they never will. Vista Chino has its revenge.
– Peter Lindblad 

CD Review: Bl'ast! – Blood!

CD Review: Bl’ast! – Blood!
Southern Lord
All Access Rating: A-

Bl'ast! - Blood! 2013
As was made abundantly clear while waxing nostalgic about Sound City in his feel-good documentary film about the place, Dave Grohl plans to put the famed studio’s grand old Neve console – the one that brought to life the magic of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors and Nirvana’s Nevermind – to good use.

Breathing new life into some long-lost vintage master tapes of Santa Cruz hardcore heroes Bl’ast was one of his first orders of business, and he takes a flamethrower to material that was already highly flammable, his remastering and mixing work enhancing the already concentrated violence and red-eyed fury of these unpredictable punk-rock seizures. And he’s just a bit player in this drama, as was William DuVall – now plying his trade with Alice in Chains.

Blood! is reportedly the only document of DuVall making sweet fiery hardcore with Bl’ast. Industrious rhythms and rampaging guitars that are thicker and wider than one would expect are what cause the sudden impact of Blood!, but don’t mistake activity for a lack of musicality. Still, raw power and unbridled fury course through its veins, as the aptly titled Blood! packs enough explosives into these combustible tracks to attract the unwanted attention of the ATF. From the first bruising, urgent rumblings and building momentum of “Only Time Will Tell” to the sharp turns negotiated throughout the blazing “Something Beyond,” the high-octane action of Blood! is breathtakingly fast, aggressive and relentless.

Even while Bl’ast cultivates a resonant, animalistic growl in guitar tone, something most old punks cared nothing about, on Blood! they engage in dizzying shifts of dynamics in “Ssshhh,” “Sometimes” and “Winding Down” while driving impossibly fast, but never recklessly, as they brake and stomp on the accelerator through the stop-start traffic of “Sequel.” Knowing exactly what direction they want to go, Bl’ast feverishly tears through the 1:38 “Poison” – tied for the shortest song on Blood! – as if they have three strikes against them and they’re being chased by California cops, but they never seem desperate or self-destructive.

Then again, jail might be preferable to the unsettling psychology of “Your Eyes,” made even more deliciously disturbing by heavy, almost sludgy, metallic riffs that rise up and look to the heavens for deliverance. If Minor Threat took more of a liking to Black Sabbath and explored slightly longer forms and staged more angular sonic ambushes, all while maintaining its muscular torque, they might have made the tempestuous, biting and brawny Blood! As it is, there are only a few hardcore acts with this kind of DNA, Black Flag being one of them. If Henry Rollins needs a transfusion, he might want to give Bl’ast – these raging sonic contortionists of the highest caliber – a call.
– Peter Lindblad