Interview with Nahko and Medicine for the People August 10, 2017
Live Review: Failure at the Stone Pony June 17, 2014
May 31, 2014
The musical career of Failure can be summed up in one word: ignored. Over the course of close to a decade, three albums of increasing sonic greatness came and went with some critical success, but out much notice from the public. The gritty, lo-fi ridden quality of 1992’s Comfort was lost in the burgeoning grunge scene (which thankfully ended as soon as it began,) 1994’s Magnified was cast aside in the ashes of grunge for the emergence of alternative ‘music’ and their magnum opus (and last album,) the everlasting sonic landscape of 1996’s Fantastic Planet, was unable to find much of an audience thanks to the combined burnout from grunge/alternative, causing the masses to flee towards the developing era of commercialized hip-hop. Regardless of whether it was poor timing or major label incompetence (the band themselves have hinted towards both,) the group was never was able to catch the break that they needed and deserved. Case in point: a YouTube search for ‘Failure Live’ turns up an assortment of gigs, including a fair quality video for one of their last shows in 1997, which was big on sound for a shockingly sparse crowd.
Then, in late 2013 a surprise announcement for the reunion of Failure was announced; a band stratospheric on talent and lowly on record sales had decided to give the music world at large another shot. In the time that they had quietly gone away, Ken Andrews became a sought after Producer/Mixer, Greg Edwards found deserved success with Autolux, and Kellii Scott became in demand as a session drummer. So why reunite and tour extensively? It could have been for a number of reasons: Ken and Greg’s renewed friendship/musical partnership, a surge in album sales as of late, or the fact that their first announced gig in 17 years in February at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles sold out in 5 minutes. It could be anyone’s guess.
The real issue for Failure now is whether 17 years of dust and rust will result in a phoned in performance screaming of nostalgia or whether they would have a solid return, with the energy of a band finally basking in newly found glory, as they took the stage at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. Forgoing an opening act in favor of a short film composed of clips from influential films might have helped to draw the crowd in. But it was a clip from the eerie animated film Fantastic Planet that provided the real hook for their imminent arrival, providing a perfect segue into the expansive space-rock beauty of “Another Space Song” from Fantastic Planet. Led by bone crushing beats from Kellii Scott’s mighty drumming, Failure took the stage to a screaming audience and quickly laid all fears of nostalgia to rest.
They easily kept the momentum escalating, tearing through Magnified’s “Frogs” and “Wet Gravity,” continually slamming the crowd with the droning crunch that fans have lovingly embraced since their arrival in 1990. And before the crowd could get comfortable, they fearlessly changed pace launching into the chords of the slow burning “Saturday Savior”. The rapidly unfolding evening revealed a carefully constructed set list, which placed songs in an order that managed to lean each cut against the next, creating a set that was compiled with true love for the material and the people who kept it alive.
The live vocals of the great Ken Andrews were vastly superior to his studio voice, reaching its chilling heights during fan favorites “Pillowhead” and “Smoking Umbrellas,” which were ironically two songs that Andrews had expressed displeasure with in his Facebook rehearsal posts. On the opposite side of the stage, the shadow-looming guitar painting of Greg Edwards provided the meticulously layered foundations for the vocals to glide over, with heavily processed sounds that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a NASA control room. The songs that benefited the most from his sci-fi soundscapes took the forms of the rhythmic angst of “Solaris” and what was definitely a welcomed surprise, the lonely, planet-orbiting “Segue 3.”
The award for hero of the evening ultimately goes to drummer Kellii Scott, who somehow managed to avoid possible jail time for instrument endangerment, brutally beating his drum set into oblivion as he matched the body smashing power of the artillery level speakers’ slam for slam, all while visibly enjoying himself. It’s rare to have a drummer who can beat low-end frequencies into submission, but Scott managed to wreck it every second of the set, reaching his peak with the best song of the night “Heliotropic.”
The only disappointment was the lack of any Comfort era songs, which originally was supposed to make an appearance in the form of “Macaque” (it ultimately had an audible called on it in favor of the more popular “Bernie”,) but it was more than made up for with the debut of a new track titled “The Focus,” which helped to fire up the anticipation in lead-up to their fourth studio album, due in 2015.
The show ended on a dramatic high with the towering “Daylight,” which felt like more of a sentimental choice in the fact that it also closed Fantastic Planet.
It was a night of ear ringing, heartbeat disturbing chaos that was masterfully put together by a band that was more than welcomed back. In Ken’s words toward the end, he remarked that the night’s show was “the best show in Asbury Park that [the band] had ever had”. I would more than agree.
The Offspring Host Heavy-Hitters Dead Sara and Neon Trees on the Jersey Shore October 1, 2012
Asbury Park September 9, 2012. The Stone Pony Summer Stage
Review by Angela Blasi
As the summer tapers to a close The Offspring settle into a night of rock n’ roll to light up our own historic Asbury Park. Being a Sunday show, doors opened at 5pm with a special indoor performance by Old Bridge Twp locals, The Stolen. A pop punk quintet just getting their feet wet, they were surprisingly easy to listen to. Still a little awkward on stage with a fan base composed of primarily family and friends, they proved confident, appreciative and best of all, catchy. You can give them a listen here.
First up on the summer stage we have Dead Sara, the Los Angeles based, female-fronted quartet catching fire as they tour in support of their self titled, debut album. Though they were only given 30 minutes on stage, vocalist Emily Armstrong, bassist Chris Null, lead guitarist Siouxsie Medley, and drummer Sean Friday made every minute count. Stepping to their respectful places with a quiet, seamless presence, they broke the silence with the steady groove of Medley’s distorted guitar on “Whispers & Ashes.” After a pleasant introduction, the rock got underway with “Test on my Patience.” There is one thing I have to tell you about singer Emily Armstrong- she does not merely sing. Instead, she opens her mouth and lets the music pour out with unabashed passion. A voice that has been unparalleled in recent time, or at least in the twenty something years I’ve listened, she is the physical embodiment of the thumping bass drum and the richness of bass guitar. Music has been devoid of stellar vocalists who understand the instrumentation of the voice for far too long. I loved “Lemon Scent” – matching vocal melody to the squealing allure of Medley’s instrument, yet gravely growls in all the right places.
I had the opportunity to interview Dead Sara and learn more about their music. From their love of the road to the creative process, Dead Sara is all about doing what feels right in order to create pure rock n’ roll as they see fit; casting off the music industry machine in their early trials and distributing their music via their own label to maintaining complete creative control over their art. I hope they realize how much faith they have restored in rock n’ roll fans as they spread their refreshingly raw sound across the nation. Ironically enough their fame is almost accidental, as a radio disc jockey discovered the hit single “Weatherman” and simply started playing the powerhouse of a song out of enjoyment. A fitting beginning for a band that exudes humble passion, displaying modesty and compelling honesty in personality and musicianship. When I asked Armstrong where exactly a voice like that comes from, she simply looked me in the eye, laughed a little and replied, “I wish I knew.” But please, do not underestimate the rhythm section of this band. Songs like “Weatherman” are accented poignantly with rolling snare and punchy bass lines that resonate inside your chest. Behind a screaming front woman is a mess of arms, hair and sticks thrashing away like a rock God. Interestingly enough, Dead Sara only took form into the current line up a few short years ago, as Medley and Armstrong went through a few drummers and bassists before recruiting Friday and Null. It seems to have been a wise decision, as the group explains their creative process as a natural, flowing entity conceived in the meddling of the studio and fostered by the eagerness and excitement of finding a riff and expanding on it.
Though quiet on stage, backstage finds them relaxed and mellow, more like a group of old friends than rock stars who seemed very nonchalant about the being interviewed endlessly thing. Fresh off of Van’s Warped Tour (where they had to cancel the last leg of the tour due to Medley’s fractured ribs) and bouncing around the U.S., fans can catch them on the bill for ShipRocked 2012 along with heavy hitters Godsmack and Korn. Keep an eye on this band; before you know it they’ll be headlining major tours and selling out venues. I wish them well in their endeavors and hope they find rising fame kind.
Second to the stage representing the alternative genre with their energetic, bouncy vibe and electrified music was Neon Trees. Personally, I was only familiar with their radio singles, “Animal” and “Everybody Talks.” However, I was impressed with the vocal clarity, as lead singer Tyler Glenn is just as clean and crisp as he appears on studio recordings, often bending his voice into interesting pitches while adding colorful tones. Neon Trees offered a slightly longer set, featuring an electric light display that matched their fun sound. I was pleasantly surprised as the band played as tight as a drum and executed it with flawless presentation. Glenn also offered witty banter between songs, keeping the crowd entertained on multiple fronts. Something of a contrast to the grit of the previous set, the audience slipped into the bouncing tunes with ease. They even launched into a cover of “State Trooper.” And what is a summer show in Asbury Park without Bruce Springsteen? Overall, the band that has been called an evolutionary step in the glam rock scene proves this is no misnomer.
Which leads us to our main event, The Offspring. Having been a fan since childhood, this was my first time seeing the group live. Let me preface by first saying I have heard for many years that Dexter Holland cannot hit certain recorded notes live. That being said, I took this as an opportunity to see for myself.
Regardless of that, they played an amazing 19 song set complete with two encores. The Offspring opened with “Hurting As One,” a track off their latest album Days Go By. Though the new album clearly had its place in their set list, performing the current single “Days Go By” early in the night, they also played every song I wanted to hear. When the bass line to “Bad Habit” kicked in, older fans in the crowd began to cheer. Singing along, loud and proud, the group paused just before launching into a cadre of swear words energetically backed by Noodles distorted guitar. Another highlight was the slow piano introduction of “Gone Away.” As it crept to a head, Dead Sara’s own Emily Armstrong took to the stage once more to join Dexter on the chorus, adding an even more haunting effect to the overall emotion of the song. As for the vocals mentioned earlier, I am sad to report that the rumors were true. During one moment of the night when the main vocals fell out of rhythm for a brief second, I was able to hear a pre-recorded audio track played underneath. I was a little disappointed when I realized Dexter was either shortening the length of, or unable to hold out, all the characteristic long phrases heard so often on their records. However I am a forgiving fan, dismissing his vocal shortcomings and simply singing even louder, because after all they still put on one hell of a show. The music rocked, the energy was buzzing and the crowd was an eclectic bunch of punk rockers and rock n’ rollers (that could have used a lesson in proper moshing/skanking).
Honestly, this is probably the most fun I’ve had at a concert in a long time. I was thoroughly engaged and entertained from start to finish and highly recommend catching this specific line up before the last date of the tour. You won’t regret it, even if it takes a road trip.
The Dead Hath New Life in This Resurrection: Sublime with Rome at the Stone Pony. September 1, 2010
Review by Angela Blasi
August 25, 2010- The famous Asbury Park, home of the Stone Pony where legends have played and defined the New Jersey music scene. On this night, the Pony’s summer stage was erected for The Dirty Heads and Sublime with Rome. Words can not fully capture my excitement at the notion of actually seeing Sublime. Yes, I understand that Brad passed away and it is not quite the same without him. Yes, I also understand that for legal purposes this is NOT Sublime, but it is Sublime with Rome. That being said, I was still freakin’ excited. Now, if you’re anything like me, or around my age and younger, you probably grew up listening to the band and loving their music all the while knowing it was an axiomatic fact that you would never get to see them live if it wasn’t Badfish or Long Beach Dub All Stars. As a result, this opportunity (yes opportunity) of a show was something I knew was to be inexplicably awesome to behold.
Given that this was an earlier show due to curfews and noise ordinances, The Dirty Heads opened up the show while the sun was still at a decent height in the sky. This also meant that I was not able to catch most of their set (I have a day job too, you know). The few tracks I was able to listen to upon making my way through the crowd seemed to fit well with the night’s overall musical styling. They definitely grooved with the same type of reggae vibe I would expect at such a show. I was able to hear a well-balanced mix of reggae and hip-hop emanating from the stage. I wish I would have been able to hear more of them live because what I’ve listened to online post show, I’ve enjoyed and am actually listening to them as I write this to you, my humble readers. Moving forward.
The sun sank further in the sky and the crowd knew who was coming next. I stood among a small sea of faces- old and young, hemp necklaces, Phish T-shirts, dread locks and lots of open-toed footwear. I wouldn’t have expected anything less at this show. As it got closer to show time my curiosity peaked as I, and probably many others, wondered how well this new guy was going to do in Brad’s stead. At 8:30pm the band finally took the stage, opening with the hit “Date Rape.” An automatic crowd pleaser, every voice was instantly lifted, reciting every word faithfully. That set the tone for the entire evening. Rome proved himself a close second as I found his vocals to carry some of the same breathy, raw and aspirate sounds that characterized Brads. Just as Sublime’s music should do, the band flowed into almost each and every song of the night, going from one right into the next, with no breaks. Smoke rose into the air as the set forged forward and a distinct atmosphere had been set. I came to realize that this show was about far more than the guys on stage playing their instruments. The music of Sublime is legendary because the music itself is so real and so incredible that it takes on a life all its own, embodied by each and every true fan. In reality, the band members, though talented and tearing it up in their own rights on stage individually, interacted very little with one another during the performance. At one point they brought a friend of some type on stage to sing his own number and hype the crowd. It turned out to be a small rap about being Irish and getting drunk as hell. The guy definitely was not a musician, or really all that talented to tell you the truth, but it was definitely done in good fun. Taking requests from the audience and making as many fans happy as possible, they played each song as perfectly as I had always heard. Adorning the set were the tracks “Smoke 2 Joints,” “Wrong Way,” “What I Got,” “Garden Grove,” “Jailhouse,” “Under my Voodoo,” “40oz to Freedom,” “Get Ready,” “Seed,” “Scarlett Begonias,” “Johnny Butt,” “Greatest Hits” and “Doin’ Time”. In addition, the regular Asbury Park boardwalk summer fireworks began painting the sky with their brilliance in the middle of the set, just adding to this feeling of amazement already surging through the audience. Moreover, the guy next to me who had screamed the word, “SANTERIA!” all night, was finally satiated as they returned for their encore with that very track.
Through tragedy and hiatus, the music of Sublime now being performed with Rome Ramirez has endured and proven why it is just so amazing. Beyond any commercial hype or success, this is one show I can say was truly about the music. I had an absolute blast singing the songs that defined and shaped my youthful musical character and adult taste. A fitting moniker, the music of this band is just that- sublime.