Saturday, May 21, 2011

Our Concert Could Be Your Life: Who's Playing Who? [Amended]

I should do a better job of googling pertinent press releases while blogging--though I observed in my last post that a mere nine bands were set to show at the renamed Our Concert Could Be Your Life (four shy of the thirteen profiled in the book), little did I know that Azerrad had posted the final billing on his blog at around the same time. Turns out there are now fourteen bands on the bill, meaning one notable double-booking, and now everyone, even Mudhoney, will have their chance to shine.

Color me excited, but slightly concerned that this concert may have been overstuffed as is. I'd never heard of any of the newly-added bands, so I won't be able to add much in the way of prognosticatin'. But in the interest of completeness, here they are.

Callers play Sonic Youth
Callers play what now? Turns out that Sonic Youth is either so monumentally important or so hard to cover that tUnE-yaRDs is getting it/herself a helping hand. Could it be that Merrill Garbus alone can't handle the Youth's 16-string wall of melodies, as I predicted? I'd never heard of Callers before, but they were recently described by my esteemed colleague as "an irritating three-piece" with "a female vocalist who sounds like Jeff Buckley," and given what I have heard on their Myspace, I basically concur. Most of Callers' tunes barely transcend their repetitive lite-shuffle rhythms, and while there are good instrumental ideas here and there, not many of them cohere into anything impressionable. Callers seem more well-suited to cover the Sonic Youth of Washing Machine and A Thousand Leaves than Daydream Nation or their other megaclassics. Maybe Garbus will aid them in injecting some soul into the proceedings.

Citay plays Mission Of Burma
I implored Azerrad to consider the amazing OBCBYL throwback band Yuck for the role of Burma on Twitter, but he obviously didn't like my idea, probably because Yuck is British. Instead, we have Citay, a collective of San Francisco psychedelic/garage players, meaning of course that they have a million members. Surely four or five guitarists can recreate the singular fury of one Roger Miller, right? If any of you know much more about Citay, let me know--nothing I've heard is as hard as vintage Burma, but they got the tunefulness part down, if not the noise. This song, for instance, sounds more to me like the Allman Brothers than Burma, with a bit of Feelies thrown in. As long as they keep in the overdriven bass, I'm good with whatever they choose to cover.

Grooms play Hüsker Dü
I can scarcely find anything about Grooms on their Internet--they describe their music on their Myspace page as J-POP/Nu-Jazz/Religious, which obviously isn't true. In fact, it appears that Azerrad has once again chosen a female-fronted band (or more accurately, co-fronted--there's a dude who sings on certain songs as well) whose recorded output rocks about half as hard as the Dü. Again, there's nothing wrong with that--it will just make it that more difficult to distinguish Grooms-on-Dü from Wye Oak-on-Dino Jr., and I hope they're up to the challenge. I still maintain that we'll see a cameo from Bob Mould at some point, so don't be afraid to collaborate where you can, Grooms (and I promise I will listen to more of your tunes later, once I can find them on the Internet). Meanwhile, check out this interview some members of Grooms did with Azerrad.

White Hills play Mudhoney we go. Check out the opening intensity of this track. I have no worries that White Hills will settle into anything approaching mid-tempo. The heavy riffs therein could have been dropped straight out of the 80s, and it looks like Azerrad has found the perfect group to cover Mudhoney, a band that in my experience gets a lot less respect than other OBCBYL artists. Though they were grunge pioneers, Mark Arm and co. also made far more experimental and radically-rocking tunes than most of their peers, and hopefully White Hills does a good job of demonstrating the depth of Mudhoney's repertoire beyond "Touch Me I'm Sick" (which, despite my reservations, I still think they should do). Of course a band called "White Hills" would immediately conjure the dirty stoner vibe of Superfuzz Bigmuff and the garage-psych melodic jewels of Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. Reach for the deep cuts, White Hills!

Yellow Ostrich plays Beat Happening
I have no idea what to make of Yellow Ostrich, which again probably bodes well when covering what is inarguably OBCBYL's least-rocking subject. Lead singer Alex Schaaf's voice is about two octaves higher than Calvin Johnson's on average (in other words, normal), but his minimal approach to songwriting will probably suit most Beat Happening arrangements. Yellow Ostrich probably has more leeway than most to cover his band however he pleases...might I suggest super-fast and intensely? Just in case, you know, not enough of these other bands get the picture. Weirdly, I can't think of any particular Beat Happening song I especially want to hear covered right now.

That's the bill as it stands, a day or so before the concert is set to take place. Be sure to check out this recent Paris Review interview with Azerrad about the book--I found it intriguing and enlightening, as usual. If you want even more OBCBYL-related material, you can stream or download my latest radio show (featuring lesser-known artists signed to labels like SST, Twin/Tone, Touch and Go, etc.), and here are links to two other recent shows, as well. I'll be broadcasting tomorrow at 7 PM ET, one hour earlier than usual, so I can get to the Bowery Ballroom in time for the doors to open at 8:30. I'll probably be too wrapped up in the spectacle to live-tweet anything, but if some sort of newsworthy reunion happens, I'll find a way to notify readers.

Also, the hosts for tomorrow's tribute are apparently Eugene Mirman and Janeane Garofalo. I remember seeing Mirman many years ago at the M-Shop in Ames, IA, stumping for John Kerry with Yo La Tengo. This will be my first opportunity to see Garofalo in the flesh; here's a clip of her "covering" Dirty-era Sonic Youth.

Expect to see a comprehensive review (hopefully with a vetted set list!) by Sunday night or Monday morning. And a special thanks to Azerrad himself for letting me know about the augmented line-up.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Our Band Could Be Your Life Concert: Who's Playing Who?

In advance of the upcoming "Our Band Could Be Your Life: The Concert" show at the Bowery Ballroom, we at Rockaliser wish to continue paying tribute to one of the greatest rock books ever written. Last week, I wrote a detailed "Where Are They Now" guide to the artists featured in Michael Azerrad's book, focusing mostly on band activity after the book was published in 2001. This week, I hope to similarly guide you through the list of bands performing OBCBYL standards at the Bowery Ballroom on May 22. It's an incredibly strong list of up-and-coming American groups, most of whom are already well-known, but a question still remains: can they all pull it off? And which performances are likely to be the most interesting? My thoughts, below.

Nat Baldwin, David Longstreth and Brian McOmber play Black Flag
You may not recognize the names, but this group is, for all intents and purposes, the instrumental backbone of Brooklyn favorites the Dirty Projectors, sans the two additional singing females. With the Projectors stripped to a power trio, the band's instrumental capabilities will be more at the fore than ever, which will be especially challenging when playing Black Flag's later, stranger work. Longstreth in particular is a major guitar talent, a guy who can noodle with the best of them, and while Bitte Orca certainly isn't very much like Damaged, Longstreth seems like a logical choice to appropriate Greg Ginn's strangled, atonal leads. Among all the bands playing on the 22nd, the Dirty Projectors are the only ones with a history of covering their chosen artist, though I'm not sure I'd recommend the band's 2007 tribute-by-memory collection Rise Above (if you're curious, check out this song, which is amusingly different from its source material). The issue for Longstreth and co. is whether they will work off the arrangements of that album, or try more streamlined, faithful covers. I sort of hope it's the latter, not only because I've already listened to Rise Above but because it would be nice to see the Brooklyn stalwarts rock really hard, for once. In my world, the prospect of seeing the Dirty Projectors play Black Flag live is hundreds of times more newsworthy than that time their biggest hit was covered by Beyonce's sister.

Delicate Steve plays The Minutemen
One of the lesser-known artists on the bill, I actually first heard of this enterprising New Jersey guitarist through Azerrad's blog. Delicate Steve is one guy, Stephen Wong, who plays all the instruments on his recordings and tours with a small band live, mainly on the East Coast. So far, he has only one album, Wondervisions, which came out earlier this year. That LP's MO is chirpy, bright guitar instrumentals, with songs like "The Ballad of Speck and Pebble" and "Don't Get Stuck (Proud Elephants)," each perfectly evocative of its respective title. Most of DS' tunes are brief and punchy, and one listen to Wondervisions will disprove any reservation that Wong is unworthy of channeling D. Boon. As for the rest of his band, I can't speak to their quality--collectively, Mike Watt and George Hurley are four massive, massive shoes to fill for any musician, especially rent-a-musicians, and their ability to play fast and loose depends highly on which era of Minutemen songs they focus on: there's the barely one-minute punk yelps of their early EPs, the funk-fueled maximalism of Double Nickels on the Dime, and the later era of placid, overdubbed classic rock homages. If forced to guess, I'd say Delicate Steve seems best suited for 3-Way Tie For Last-era material, but maybe there's a dormant punk shredder waiting to cut loose on the 22nd--I hope so. By the way, I recommend Wondervisions, although it isn't perfect (some tracks are negligible, the last track sounds more like a scale exercise than a legit song), but I concur with Azerrad's lovely description, that this is "strongly major key and unabashedly imbued with what can only be called a sense of joy and wonder that speaks louder than words."

Ted Leo plays Minor Threat
The eternally youthful-looking Leo, who has (shocking!) been in this business for two decades now, is, by my calculation, the closest thing this show has to an indie veteran. Mr. Leo is of course mostly known for his work with the Pharmacists, a band that has helped produce a mostly-consistent run of great records, most recently The Brutalist Bricks. Mr. Leo is also known for his musical populism, his high punk ideals and veganism, and his occasional acting roles in Tom Scharpling productions. He's so gregarious, he invites fans to play covers with his band. Leo is clearly qualified to do Minor Threat, although note that it is merely "Ted Leo" playing Minor Threat, sans Pharmacists. Does this mean that he is performing solo, or with a different backing band? What if he did an entirely acoustic cover set? Minor Threat is one of the key hardcore bands of any era, but their total musical output barely peaks over an hour--I don't think Leo has that much choice about what to play, although let's guess he skips "Guilty Of Being White."

Titus Andronicus plays The Replacements
Another worthy cover band: in fact, this might be a bit too obvious a comparison. Despite their stupid name, Titus Andronicus is one of the most notable punk bands operating today in the United States, and also one of the most progressive. Their last album, The Monitor, was a punk "statement" album about the Civil War, rife with 5+ minute songs, epic riff breakdowns, and pontifications on the nature of nineteenth century combat. It made a lot of critics' top ten lists last year, and while it didn't make mine, I know there aren't exactly a lot of punk bands left in America that can claim a similar level of authenticity and respect. The major boon here is singer Patrick Stickles' voice, which possesses a plaintive tear redolent of a young Paul Westerberg. No idea if they have a guitarist of Bob Stinson's caliber, though I know they lean heavily on auxiliary musicians these days (in that sense, they are almost Canadian). Replacements songs are hard to nail live, so my suggestion would be to keep the instrumental setup simple, and maybe not concentrate too heavily on Let It Be, if possible.

tUnE-YarDs plays Sonic Youth
One minor complaint some had about Our Band Could Be Your Life was that it was almost entirely dominated by male musicians. It appears Azerrad hopes to rectify this by handing the reins of these overwhelmingly macho groups to some of the best female musicians working today. This isn't to say, though, that the annoyingly-capitalized tUnE-YarDs, aka New England musician Merrill Garbus, isn't still a weird choice to cover Sonic Youth. Da Youf combined dissonant, experimental guitar-playing with punk miasma, but at their core they were a traditional rock & roll band, whereas Garbus is one lady who sings over drum loops for the most part. I don't expect her versions to hew exactly to the originals, but one wonders how she can repurpose Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo's droney six-string interlockings without resorting to a closet full of alternately-tuned guitars herself. Her album w h o k i l l is highly recommended, by the way, although again I find her punctuation infuriating. She has a lot of potential material to choose from (even if she deigns to stick with the pre-major label albums, which is a rule I assume), so hopefully she doesn't get overwhelmed, and hopefully her strategy isn't just to turn guitar fuzz into corresponding bleeps and bloops.

Dan Deacon plays The Butthole Surfers
I may be the only person I know who hasn't yet seen Dan Deacon in concert; apparently his live shows are usually killer dance fests, which doesn't entirely make sense if you only know him from his albums. Lately his stuff has been more lush and freakish, and less about party atmospherics, which works for the Butthole Surfers. Whether or not he can do justice to the Surfers remains to be seen, although signs point toward him at least doing a relatively faithful job. With the increasing availability of home recording technology, Gibbytronics is not the impressive tape-loop feat it once was, and I would be disappointed to see Deacon trying similar tricks from a prerecorded laptop. Hopefully he sticks with the oldest and strangest material, but a few more straightforward rock numbers like "Human Cannonball" and "Fast" would be welcomed as well. Deacon may have the most daunting night ahead of him if he hopes to conjure the anarchic spirit of classic Surfers shows; I don't really care if he forgoes a lot of the additional multimedia stuff, but he has to really go crazy. The measure of his success will be in how bewildered people are after his set. If no one ends up being offended, something went wrong.

St. Vincent plays Big Black
I have little doubt, however, that St. Vincent can pull off a great Big Black set--of all the bands on the list, people seem to be most excited for the prospect of a brilliant lady musician barking her way through Albini's misogynist industrial rattle. St. Vincent's music is difficult to pigeonhole: most of it is more subtle and less aggressive than your average Big Black number, but there are certain tonal and dynamic similarities endemic to what they do, and one thing they both do incredibly well is veer off into scary and unpredictable bits of noise. I assume Clark will be playing the Albini guitar parts, which she is certainly capable of, though she may have less luck trying to recreate the attack from that drum machine. If Clark was born to do anything, she was born to cover "Big Money." I predict she will play that, as well as "Racer X" and "Kerosene." If all goes well, hopefully Albini will hate it, which is as good a sign as any that St. Vincent is approaching this music in the correct, most irritating manner.

Wye Oak plays Dinosaur Jr.
This will be the first time I see my colleague's beloved Wye Oak, playing the tunes of my colleague's beloved Dino Jr., no less. The chances of me bringing this up constantly over the next few months are high, FYI. Wye Oak started as a sort of slow, chimy, blandish duo that has gotten a lot more muscular and focused in the years since, especially on their latest Civilian. They're also another female-fronted group tasked with covering some of the most intense and powerful dude music ever committed to record. Recently I peeped their cover of Danzig's "Mother" to see if I could uncover any clues as to how they might go about covering this mighty trio--I'm not sure I was able to infer much, other than that Danzig cover is a whopper. It's also about half as fast as the original, though, and I wonder if that will be Jenn Wazner's strategy throughout. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing (the average Dinosaur Jr. song is, by my calculations, about twice as fast as an average Wye Oak song), but I really want to see Wazner's take on a J. Mascis guitar solo, and I fear that she won't even try to measure up. With no bassist to fill Barlow's role, can the band generate a comparable cacophony of rock bombast? I hope they make the effort.

Buke & Gass play Fugazi
I'd never heard of Buke & Gass until word of this concert got out; now I'm convinced they're the best thing to come out of Brooklyn in ten years. Apart from the expert songwriting, their instrumental setup is a wonder to behold. Buke & Gass are two individuals, neither of whom are named "Buke" or "Gass"--the names actually refer to the homemade hybrid instruments they sling, which include some sort of bass-ukulele ("Buke"), a guitar-bass hybrid ("Gass"), and lots of foot percussion devices makeshifted into an authentic, almost bluesy battery of noise. Meanwhile, lead singer Arone Dyer has a major talent for bellowing, and the band's tunes are smart, exciting, melody-driven, and full of unexpected hooks. Not unlike Fugazi, actually, although they don't sound similar at all. However they choose to approach the daunting task of covering America's Most Principled Rock Band, chances are it will sound more limber and energetic than any of us expect.

You'll note that there are nine bands being represented at the show, whereas thirteen bands are profiled in Our Band Could Be Your Life; to date, there is no one yet ready to take on Hüsker Dü, Mudhoney, Beat Happening, or Mission Of Burma. Given that Azerrad has been working on this Bob Mould autobiography, I am hopeful that we get a Mould cameo at some point (in which case the chances of Grant Hart showing drop to absolute zero). Who knows: maybe Burma will drop by for a song or two. Even if that doesn't happen, the deck is already overstacked with major talents, and hopefully each band is given time to cover several of their favorite songs, and it doesn't become a round robin of two or three covers each. Basically, any of these bands could cover just about anything and I would be satisfied. If you're a fan of the book, or if you're a fan of any of these bands, I expect it to be a life highlight/endless party.

PLUG ONE: Be sure to check out my radio show, which is currently in the midst of its own month-long Our Band Could Be Your Life tribute. If you listen tonight at 8 ET, 7 Central, I will bedoing a show on notable OBCBYL record labels (such as SST, Touch and Go, Twin/Tone, etc.). You can also stream or download the last two episodes here and here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Class of Our Band Could Be Your Life: Where Are They Now?

This month marks the tenth anniversary of Michael Azerrad's landmark musical historiography Our Band Could Be Your Life: Dispatches From the 80s Underground. As a nascent punk rock fan in the early '00s, few music books have played as necessary a role in the development of my own critical style, and of the bands profiled in the book, all thirteen have become obsessions of mine at one point or another (to say nothing of the bands Azerrad mentions in passing, like Meat Puppets, Bad Brains, Saccharine Trust, 7 Seconds, etc.). In retrospect, Azerrad's lucidly geographic long-view of the 80s indie revolution reads even better when compared with the catty, scene-obsessed amateur culture-bashing that often passes for music criticism today. Rather than base his criticism on a set of generalized, reductive assumptions (hipsters do this! Black people do that!) and meaningless sub-genres, Azerrad writes solely of the music and the extraordinary people involved in creating it. Azerrad thankfully doesn't romanticize this period of music (he is not blind, for instance, to Greg Ginn and SST's shady business practices), but he is respectful of and highly specific about what he likes, and why. His passage on the power of Hüsker Dü's "Eight Miles High," for example, is a gloriously snark-free, brilliantly-considered burst of pure music criticism, which perceptively describes the song's dynamic contrasts, its relationship to the Byrds original, and the invigorating effect of Bob Mould's primal screams.

This is a book's whose 10th anniversary I would normally celebrate, regardless of its popularity. But OBCBYL has been important in the lives of many music fans, as well as many aspiring critics and musicians. On May 22, a handful of those musicians will pay extended tribute to Azerrad by covering some of the bands profiled in the book. The bill includes Rockaliser favorites like Wye Oak playing Dinosaur Jr., Dan Deacon doing Butthole Surfers, and Ted Leo performing Minor Threat, among others. Tickets to the show were sold out roughly twenty minutes after they went on sale, but I managed to get a pair, and I look forward to seeing many of my favorite current bands covering old favorites that, in many cases, I never had a chance to see live.

It's also a testament to Azerrad's precision and research acumen that he chose the bands that he did--each of them, in their own way, has continued to influence succeeding generations of indie and alternative rock. For each of these bands, much has changed in the ten years since the book was published. Azerrad probably did not foresee the Second Coming of the Pixies and the subsequent reunion fever that claimed nearly every 80s indie band that didn't call itself the Smiths. Some of the bands in Azerrad's book reunited; some refused to get back together; others stuck together throughout, and still others embarked on second careers due to the popularity of this book. If it can still be said, for the umpteenth time, that of the few people that bought the Velvet Underground's first album, nearly all of them formed a band, then Azerrad's book is similarly influential, not only in the eventual formation of new bands, but in the reformation of existing bands. I can't think of any other music book that had such an effect. For your curious perusal, I thought I'd break down what has happened to the OBCBYL class since 2001, in preparation for the concert as well as some more OBCBYL-themed material that I plan to publish throughout this month. The bands fall into five basic categories.

The Let's-Stay-Togethers

Sonic Youth
It was probably during the 90s that someone casually labeled Sonic Youth the "Grateful Dead of alternative rock," and indeed, of all the bands profiled in Our Band Could Be Your Life, the Youth have proven to be the most solid and reliable, still continuing to make resolutely weird major label rock years after the grunge wave they inadvertently rode on peaked. Azerrad's Sonic Youth chapters ends in 1988 with Daydream Nation (their subsequent album Goo is disqualified from discussion because the book's MO is only profiling bands up to the point they sign with majors), and by the time the book came out, they had six additional albums to their credit, the most recent being the career nadir NYC Ghost and Flowers. Sonic Youth's output since 2001 has become tighter, more focused, and closer in spirit to their 80s repertoire than the jammy avant-garde tributes that preceded it. Could Azerrad have ever predicted that Sonic Youth would move back to an indie label after so many years with Geffen (Matador, yes, but an indie label nonetheless)? Their 2009 release, The Eternal, was mixed by OBCBYL VIP Steve Albini, and it was more raw and uncompromising, with a harder drum sound, than anything they had produced in years. Of all the bands on this list, Sonic Youth has stuck through the bad times and continued to produce quality music that lives up to their initial 80s promise. Long live Da Youf!

Butthole Surfers
The Butthole Surfers, on the other hand, have only remained together nominally, finding unexpected success in 1996 with their conventional modern rock hit "Pepper" and again ten years later when "Who Was In My Room Last Night?" became a featured track in Guitar Hero 2. Since 2001, the Surfers haven't released anything new, other than a compilation of outtakes called Humpty Dumpty LSD (which I recommend) and a re-release of the first couple EPs on Alternative Tentacles. The Surfers still tour today with semi-original members Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary and King Coffey (as well as returning bassist Jeff Pinkus), and while I haven't had the opportunity to seen them live, I've heard from friends that their shows are as crazy and disgusting as ever. There's no indication we'll see new Buttholes material anytime soon--Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary seem to be focusing on side projects and art for the most part, and unlike many of their peers, they have a major 90s hit to fill their coffers. Nevertheless, their best work is still from the 80s; since 2001, that fact has not changed.

Another band that made it through the 90s, although you probably didn't notice. Mudhoney made the switch to the majors in 1992, prior to the release of their album Piece of Cake; they have since continued to produce albums quietly and unassumingly on Reprise Records for a dwindling audience of grunge enthusiasts. It's a shame, because a lot of Mudhoney's major label stuff is pretty good, and not even that grungy in certain cases (one trend I note from Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge onward is that they jettison the modern rock sounds of Nirvana in favor of more psychedelic, Nuggets-type stuff). The last time I remember people paying attention to Mudhoney was when they played Superfuzz Bigmuff (plus early singles?) in its entirety for the 2010 All Tomorrow's Parties festival. The albums Since We've Become Translucent (2002), Under a Billion Suns (2006) and The Lucky Ones (2008), were all released by Mudhoney's former label (in this case Sub Pop), but if it wasn't Superfuzz Bigmuff, no one seemed to care. Would the fanfare have been more pronounced if Mudhoney had split for a while, and then announced a reunion? Azerrad claims that nothing Mudhoney did subsequently was ever as powerful as "Touch Me I'm Sick." I don't entirely agree, but nothing Mudhoney has released since that pronouncement has come close, for sure.

The Reunionists

Mission Of Burma
Of all the bands mentioned in OBCBYL, Burma probably benefited most directly from their inclusion in the book, and they managed to parlay a brief-yet-influential 80s run into one of those great and rare rock reunions where the new stuff is as good, even better, than the original hits. Burma was poised to become a breakthrough Boston band (years before the Pixies) when epic-loud guitarist Roger Miller contracted a painful form of tinnitus that made playing live difficult. No longer able to build layers of feedback onstage, Miller and the rest of the band decided to break it off amicably in 1983. A full two decades later, the band got back together (Miller's tinnitus had either improved or become more manageable), and started touring and working on new material. Eventually, they signed to Matador. Burma's original tape manipulator, the enigmatic Martin Swope, wasn't around for the reunion, so he was replaced with Shellac veteran Bob Weston. Their first reunion album, 2004's OnOffOn, was just as explosive and vital as Vs., and 2006's release The Obliterati was even better. Burma had sacrificed none of the viciousness and propulsive forward momentum of their classic punk tunes, and the new songs were always a familiar Burma mixture of catchy and discordant. Their most recent release, 2009's The Sound, the Speed, the Light, is somewhat of a drop-off, but I saw them in D.C. when they were touring that album, and "1, 2, 3..Party!!" is a sight to behold live. Of all the bands located in the OBCBYL aegis, Mission Of Burma has arguably produced the most great music in the last ten years, and that is saying a lot, especially given our next entry...

Dinosaur Jr.
Did Dinosaur Jr. ever break up? In theory, they pressed on through the 90s, even as the band became J. Mascis plus a series of interchangeable bassists and drummers. Dino chafed more than most grunge holdovers during their major label years, and while songs like "Start Choppin'" became minor MTV hits, the albums Where You Been, Hand It Over and Without a Sound signified a lack of engagement and an overreliance on filler that had never been characteristic of Dino during their 80s heyday. Mascis' former bandmates, Lou Barlow and Murph, had left long earlier on unfriendly terms, and Azerrad credits Mascis' dictatorial tendencies and blithely unfriendly attitude as proof that the original three would probably not be found working together, especially since Lou Barlow had already found another successful band with Sebadoh. And yet, somehow, the original power trio managed to return, in 2007's Beyond, and it was like everything from Green Mind forward had never happened. Mascis' hummable wah solos were once again at the front of the mix, and the combined distorted might of Murph and Lou Barlow added to that timeless melange of melody and aggression that critics had assumed no longer existed in the 21st century. I don't see any evidence to suggest that the band gets along together better (I noticed during their live act that they barely interact with each other, still), but their internal musical dynamic was as fresh as ever. Their next album, 2010's Farm, cemented the band's status as the most powerful power trio in America. Lou Barlow still moonlights with Sebadoh and gets at least a couple vocal showcases on each new Dino album; Mascis just recently released his first solo album; Murph just looks happy to be back, most of the time.

The One-Off Reunionists

Hüsker Dü
Bob Mould and Grant Hart had grown to hate each other long before Hüsker Dü broke up in 1987; Azerrad suggests that a split was inevitable from the day that Mould started to marginalize Hart's songwriting aspirations. Whatever the case, Hart still talks in interviews about Mould's alleged mistreatment, and Mould has never been shy about stating his indifference to Hart's point of view. It's hard to think of two guys in a band that have ever hated each other more, and this is especially apparent on Warehouse: Songs and Stories, where a number of Mould and Hart songs basically amount to inter-band sniping. Meanwhile, the poor mustachioed non-songwriting bassist, Greg Norton, started to drift from the band and bass playing entirely. A Hüsker Dü reunion has been clamored for since the 80s, although it seemed about as likely as the Clash getting back together--Mould and Hart, to their credit, have stuck to their guns and refused to trot out Hüsker nostalgia in the manner of a reunited Pixies or Stooges. They made one exception, though, in 2004, at a cancer benefit for Soul Asylum's bassist Karl Mueller. Shocking everyone at the show, Mould and Hart went onstage (sans Norton) with their guitars, and played two songs that expressly communicated how unlikely this was to ever happen again: "Never Talking To You Again" and "Hardly Getting Over It." That was it for Hüsker, although Mould and Hart continue to make solo albums, and Greg Norton has had a notable second career as a fancy chef.

The Replacements
Like Dinosaur Jr., the Replacements started as a guitar-bass-drums combo and ended as a solo act, as original members were jettisoned and the band's indisputable hard rock flavor led way to the more placid singer-songwriter style of a maturing Paul Westerberg. The Replacements' story arc over the course of OBCBYL is a particularly interesting one, as at first they are described as a barely competent group that then became a legendary live act, which then lost much of its vitality upon moving to a major label, ending up as more of an AOR act than the punk band they originally set out to be. With Westerberg still doing his solo thing and lead guitarist Bob Stinson long-dead, no one was particularly clamoring for a Replacements reunion. But people got it, sort of, in the most unlikely of circumstances--on the soundtrack for the wacky computer-animated bear movie Open Season. Westerberg, Tommy Stinson (who had spent his post-Replacements years playing bass for Guns N' Roses, let's not ever forget) and Chris Mars reunited to perform a couple songs on the soundtrack, although Mars stuck to backing vocals as opposed to drums. That dynamic continued into the recording of two new Replacements songs for the Rhino retrospective Who Do You Think I Was? Neither of them hark back to classic Replacements, and a reunion without Bob Stinson isn't really a reunion at all, but at least Tommy Stinson has become more accepting of Westerberg's delicate acoustic side. Many Replacements fans still lag behind in their appreciation.

Big Black
Long before Steve Albini was primarily known as a cred-bestowing "mixer" (he rejects the mantle of producer) for the Pixies and Nirvana, he was fronting the dark, stentorian industrial group Big Black, the band least likely to ever make it to the majors. Albini broke the band up in 1987 to head off their increasing popularity, and his subsequent bands Rapeman and Shellac have borrowed a lot of Big Black's punishing rhythms and analog production technology. There was no real reason for Big Black to reunite, but they did, in 2006, for Touch & Go's 25th Anniversary Show, paying tribute to the label along with the likes of Pinback and Scratch Acid. Supposedly, they did "Cables," "Dead Billy," "Pigeon Kill," and "Racer-X." That looks to be the last we'll see of Big Black, at least until Touch & Go's 50th rolls around; Albini is still doing his thing with Shellac, which is similar enough, Santiago Durango is now a public defender and Jeff Pezzatti still plays with Naked Raygun. Albini has made it clear that a reunion tour will never, ever happen, and I would be surprised if he said anything else on the subject.

The Permanently Defunct

Minor Threat
Ian MacKaye's first band certainly did their thing in the 80s, and they remain one of the two or three most important hardcore bands ever. But they broke up for a reason: MacKaye had become sick of violent, macho hardcore culture, and he wanted to make music that pressed the limits of hardcore, whereas the rest of his band remained more or less committed to churning out similar music. Thus was born Fugazi, an entirely different type of band that replaced Minor Threat as MacKaye's primary group. It is, I guess, entirely possible that Minor Threat could reunite: if Johnny Rotten can split his time between Sex Pistols and PiL reunions, and Lou Barlow can switch instruments between Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh tours, then certainly it's not unheard of for a musician to embark on reunion tours for multiple bands. This will never happen, though, not in a million years. MacKaye is more likely to be abducted by aliens than willingly participate in such a transparent money-grab. Minor Threat is a set story that ends in 1983; Azerrad was wise to continue that story with his Fugazi chapter. If you have the Complete Discography and really, really want something else to listen to, I can't recommend much besides the first demo tape that was released in 2003.

The Minutemen
D. Boon's fatal car crash in 1985 effectively ended one of the most productive and resourceful groups in rock history, making the prospect of a reunited Minutemen sans-singer/guitarist about as likely as a Nirvana or Jimi Hendrix Experience reunion. Mike Watt and George Hurley continued to work together a lot in the aftermath of Boon's death--the band fIREHOSE, which featured Boon superfan Ed Crawford taking over guitar and vocals, is the closest one will probably find to Minutemen-sounding music, and of course there's plenty of great additional Mike Watt stuff as well (when he isn't moonlighting with the Stooges). Watt and Hurley also occasionally perform as "The Secondmen," paying tribute to Boon as a guitar-less two-piece rhythm section. No one knows what might have happened to the Minutemen if Boon had stayed alive, but everyone agrees that the band ceased to exist the moment he died. Anything else would disrespect his legacy.

Black Flag
Black Flag had been through several line-up changes prior to the band's breakup in 1986, with guitarist Greg Ginn the only steady member throughout. They had left a legacy of oppressive, emotionally-bare hardcore, the intensity of which could never have been maintained indefinitely, especially after years of constant touring and poverty that were beginning to take a physical toll on the band's members. Strangely, I've never heard if anyone in Black Flag was ever interested in reuniting; Henry Rollins is a major public figure, for sure, but he had largely left music behind in order to focus on his acting and public speaking, and he was never asked to to play along when Ginn and Dez Cadena got back together to play a few Black Flag cuts in 2003. Since Ginn was, again, the only constant, one could argue that any show featuring Ginn playing Black Flag songs counts, but without Rollins the prospects of a full-fledged tour seem unlikely. Ginn still plays music professionally; there's no need to bring along his former bandmates as well. The story of Black Flag will remain closed indefinitely, in part because of Rollins' lack of interest but also because it was never particularly clear who and who wouldn't take part in such a reunion.

The Neverending Hiatus-ists

Beat Happening
Beat Happening never properly broke up; they just stopped making albums after 1992 and stopped recording songs after "Angel Gone" in 2000. But I don't know whether I can say that they continued to exist through the 90s; as usual, Beat Happening's story (as with its music) doesn't really fit in with its contemporaries. Two comps of B-Sides and rarities came out in 2003, and that appears to be the end of the story so far. Calvin Johnson has released a few solo albums (unheard by me), and seems to have plenty of other side projects besides. I know even less about what's happened with Bret Lunsford and Heather Lewis. They could still be practicing together, for all we know, but musical togetherness was never a major part of Beat Happening's charm anyway. Perhaps Johnson and co. have progressed to the point where it would be impossible to reproduce the amateur, lo-fi instrumental qualities that once arrested so many Beat Happening fans; if so, this would be one case where a band breaks up because they have gotten too good at their instruments. For any band other than Beat Happening, this wouldn't make sense.

Ian MacKaye recently played fast and loose with the hopes of Fugazi fans worldwide by saying in an interview that he hopes for an eventual reunion, but it won't be in the immediate future. The main hindering factor apparently is bassist Joe Lally, who has relocated to Rome, making regular practice in Washington, D.C. difficult. We can still hope, though, for the band that left us on an incomplete but exemplary note with 2001's The Argument, to devise some sort of follow-up. On the other hand, all four members of Fugazi have remained busy since, so it's not like we've had no music to show for it. MacKaye has produced records with his wife as the Evens, Guy Picciotto has played with and produced a number of notable acts like Blonde Redhead, Joe Lally worked with John Frusciante in a band called Ataxia, and Brendan Canty had a stint as Bob Mould's drummer for a while. But I think I speak for all Fugazi fans when I say "Joe Lally, go back to D.C." It is time for another Fugazi record, if only because the number of popular, respected bands who refuse to play 18+ shows and sell their tracks to commercials has dwindled to about zero.

Again, expect a bit more about this book, and the show on the 22nd, in the next few weeks. Until then, you can stream my radio show from last week, featuring famous covers recorded by the OBCBYL class, and make sure to check out tonight's show at 8 PM ET, when I will play a bunch of new stuff from the bands performing on the 22nd.

EDIT: As promised, here's a link to last Sunday's radio show, which you can stream or download.