So we took a couple weeks after our epic tribute to Neil Diamond at the end of August (here’s a link to a Youtube video we posted of our own “Hot August Night” complete with entries from our annual coloring contest). I guess I’d like to remind you that even though we take the occasional break, we’ve been hosting free live music, mostly by local artists, in the shop every Sunday for almost a year and a half. I couldn’t even begin to list all the amazing things I’ve heard here in the shop over that time. Just this summer we’ve heard neo-psych rockers Panther Ray and good old fashioned blues rockers Walker Fields. We’ve established an annual tradition of welcoming the Taxpayers – truly one of the best punk rock bands touring the country these days – with their only legit venue show in town (what’s up with that?). We’ve also heard some really exciting new projects, like Tyler Haag’s collaboration with the New McCarthy and Fletcher Magellan‘s big awesome country band.
Fletcher Magellan will be back in the shop next month as part of our second annual Schlitz Kickin’ Country series, which features free local country music and free beer (one tall boy of Schlitz for each 21+ customer) every Sunday in October. We’ll post more about this series in a couple days – some of last year’s awesome bands (and Hymie’s favorites) will be returning, and the new bands we’ve invited are really awesome.
For September we’ve only got a couple live music events scheduled in the shop. We’ll still have tons of awesome albums in the shop for you to listen to and maybe buy (like nice used copies of the entire Zappa catalog that came in last week, which is still about 1/2 here, or the new Dylan album, Tempest). At the end of the month Tim Schumann, a regular at our in-store performances and a good friend of ours, will be here to perform (Tim put out a disc in 2010 and recently moved back to the Twin Cities – his website is hilariously unfinished but we’ll stream a couple songs on the website next week).
And this Sunday the band who recorded one of our favorite discs to play in the shop will be here – If you’ve been in and out of the record shop this summer you’ve probably heard a song or two from this disc.
(“Marcy Holmes” by the Porch Knights)
I met the Porch Knights while DJing a show for the Fuck Knights at the Triple Rock. They were an opening act and they were great. Guitarist Maxwell Kubala wandered into the crowd while playing, dragging an extra-long cord behind him. Drummer Ryan Bandy, who also sings lead, stood, jumped, twisted around and even rolled on the floor at one point. The kit ended up all over the place and somehow, I think, back together again. They were rockin’ like an old Chicago blues band but tearin’ things apart like the Stooges. You have to admire a band that can out-play the Fuck Knights and I did in an instant.
(“Poor Boy” by the Porch Knights)
I was invited to DJ a show during their own residency at the Kitty Cat Klub which was a little less raucous (guess you don’t want to scare all the college kids) but still as rockin’. The Porch Knights are a really exciting blend of blues and post-punk rock, kind of trending towards the old time-y in their showmanship. Their album, Barrel Housin’, has become a house favorite.
Like a lot of local artists I guess they don’t expect to sell a lot of records, and so they left me with only the one disc. We play it in the shop all the time and probably would have sold ten of them by now because people often come up to the counter and ask what it is (Sometimes they think it’s the White Stripes, which I think is an insult because the Porch Knights are so much more awesome and fun). I have a couple favorite songs on the disc – the violent yet vibrant “Goldie”, with an awesome, memorable chorus, and “Poor Boy”. The entire disc is great, though.
So Bandy and Kubala are a duo (no bass), which is a format I’m known to dislike. It’s true, and I think even at their best the Porch Knights are missing something (a bass). A friend of mine says bass players are temperamental and that’s why there’s so many bands without one in the Cities these days – he seems pretty temperamental himself, so I couldn’t say that explains it. Maybe bass guitars have become a lot more expensive in the past couple years. I’m guessing it’s the simplest explanation: It’s hard enough keeping three or four or five people together, working on the same goal. Two makes for an easier dynamic.
And it’s produced some pretty awesome discs here in the Twin Cities – the Bloodnstuff album totally delivers for fans of their explosive live act, and Walker Fields’ disc Double Down delivers for fans of blues-rock like myself. Would I like both albums a little better if they had a bass player? Oh, yes. Neither is working in a genre that does well without the weight of a bassline. I’ve always thought Bloodnstuff sounded like Motorhead, and seriously, what’s Motorhead without Lemmy?!
(“Goldie” by the Porch Knights)
What stands out on the Bloonnstuff album is the potential brought by technical proficiency. Ed Holmberg and Dylan Gouert had years of experience playing together before taking on the name Bloodnstuff as a duo, and you can tell listening to their new album. Pedals and effects can do amazing things, and free musicians up to write songs without limits. The Bloodnstuff album is full of inventive riffs, beats and melodies. The same could be said for Walker Fields’ new EP, which takes a familiar format into new terrain. Brad Senne told me he and bandmate Chris Tierney recorded enough material for an album and I’m kind of sad we can’t hear it because what they did release is really exciting.
Of course blues records are notorious for their inbred homogeneity. Cut to cut most of John Lee Hooker’s Endless Boogie sounds the same, maybe that’s the point. If not live blues artists are best heard on singles, where their persistent repetition of progressions, themes and idioms becomes jumbled through a number of artists (it’s best to shuffle your blues 45s) – this is why compilation albums are such a good choice when you’re looking at the always-thin blues section of a record shop. You may think you need a copy of Mississippi John Hurt Today or Sonny Terry and his Mouth Harp but those albums are pretty well represented by the tracks you’ll find on compilations, along with a few by artists like J.B. Hutto or Jesse Fuller, whose albums you are less likely to find.
Blue-based bands have always introduced solid rock numbers, or country numbers or whatever it is, to give their sets a little give and take. It helps a band like, say, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, highlight their traditional roots and in the end probably does a service to the music’s legacy. It also gives the band an identity crisis, which is why you’ll find the Butterfield Band in the rock section in some shops and the blues section (if any) in others. Same for Canned Heat, the Groundhogs, and a number of other white 60s bands that could have gone either way.
The ‘Hogs are the closest classic rock reference I can offer for the Porch Knights – If you loved Scratching the Surface you’re going to love the Porch Knights, even if the heavy bottom’s missing.
Ken Pustelnik kept the band moving forward with enough groove to be a R&B drummer and enough force to be a proto-metal pioneer. Tony McPhee noodled just enough, hardly straying from the melody in his own adaptation of (uncredited) Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”:
(“Light was the Day” by the Groundhogs)
The Porch Knights are less derivative than the British blues bands were. The most radio-friendly pop on their disc, “Poor Boy”, might be equal parts Jimmy Reed and Canned Heat for all I can tell (the leisurely syncopation of it’s beat suggests a little lean towards the former). It’s a song that captures the ambivalence between rockabilly, rock and roll, and the blues. It’s got an accessible narrative and a timeless riff, making it the kind of song you’d like to have on the soundtrack to your life (you know, the movie version). Kubala plays licks that could have been on a pre-”Joker” Steve Miller Band record or some other dinosaur and Bandy is clearly, audibly, having fun singing along.
Bandy, by the way, is the only singing drummer I can remember seeing here in the Twin Cities over the past couple years so there’s a pretty good chance he’s the best, too. I feel like a lead-singing drummer is enough of a novelty in a live set to merit note. I remember a passage about the dual role in Wheel’s on Fire, Levon Helm’s personal history of the Band. He said drumming while singing lead helped him find the right places to sing.
If you’re one of the customers who’s asked what’s playing when you hear this disc you’ve got a chance to see it live Sunday afternoon. We really love this band but I think like a lot of the best in the Cities they’re not famous. Give ‘em a chance and you won’t regret it!
(“Elena Rose” by the Porch Knights)
The Porch Knights are playing here at Hymie’s on Sunday along with an awesome band from Eau Claire, Kalispell. Music starts at 3pm.