Round the Dial
Wednesday 02 October @ 10:15:59
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Punk rock (is) not for elevators. It’s not for your regular radio stations. It’s for the nighttime show. Where the guy plays what he wants, not what the programmers tell him to...it’s tapes that get handed from people to people. This is the bloodline of rock and roll...”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “One O’ Clock High”
It’s kinda weird how the music of Shannon Selberg has cruised in an’ outta my personal rock radar over the years. When I first began scribin’ for local ‘zine The Squealer in the mid-’90s, many of my more scene-hip co-workers chided me for not having caught the seminal Am Rep post-punk outfit the Cows—which singer/songwriter/bugle-blatter Selberg fronted for over a decade—live at one of their countless legendary Twin Cities performances. Luckily, I heeded their advice and made it a point to drag my ass out to some of the loudest, most overwhelming, brave-as-%@!#$& rock and roll gigs to ever grace (well, maybe grace isn’t quite the right word here—let’s try conquer) a Minnesota club stage.
My first exposure to the infectious, seething mass of musical genius that was the Cows came from a home-made best-of compilation a pal threw together for me. It was cool %@!#$&, to be sure, but without the live exposure, it was almost like trying to hear a painting. Walls of sonic thrash, howls of rage and pain, ear-splitting trills on the bugle, and downright hoodoo rhythms all combined to assault my senses to such a degree that I found myself fast-forwarding the tape to various segments of various songs (“Whitey In The Woodpile,” “I Miss Her Beer,” and “One O’ Clock High” were instant faves) and splicing together my own “Best Of Cows” with little pieces of said tunes. Turns out that was a good move—when I finally did catch the band out live, I had warped my mind to the appropriate degree and was able to wrap my head around the wall o’ sound and the whirling dervish on stage, and understand a little of the incredible, ant-like energy of the crowd around me.
It was at a Squealer Reader Appreciation night at Lee’s Liquor Bar in the Mill City, and the tension in the air was almost palpable. Though it was below zero outside, the bar was roasting. The dance floor was packed—despite arriving early and scoring a great spot up front, I was soon shoved, jostled, and elbowed until my back was flat against the rail surrounding the stage. At first I was pissed, but I soon realized that, had I been standing in any other area that night, I probably would’ve needed an ambulance. The band took the stage with no fanfare—just ran up and kicked out the jams. High as the temperature was in that room, I swear it went up another twenty degrees, as a hot, half-angry, half-joyful wind blew outta those amps and Selberg whirled and screeched and slobbered a ballsy tribute to all the best %@!#$& rock has ever had to offer; rebellion, teen angst, lust, disgust, rage, and mistrust. The crowd became one, a huge mass of unbridled energy, arms and legs and heads and necks flailing and entwining, a sea of leather, denim, combat boots, and sweat—oceans of sweat.
I barely recall the songs the band played that night—but in the end that didn’t matter. The Cows weren’t a band you went and sat politely through, tidily jotting down their setlist and clapping, whistling, or laughing at all the right moments. The Cows were pure, unadulterated %@!#$&ing rock and roll—and you either bent with the hurricane or were snapped in two like a twig. Not long after, they parted ways and I wondered what would become of such a wild, original character like Selberg—he obviously had the talent and the guts to bust outta the Cities, but would he ever find a lineup like Thor Eisentrager, Kevin and Sandris Rutmanis, Tony Oliveri, and Norm Rogers again? I heard he’d moved to NYC awhile back, and kinda put the band on the back burner of my brain.
Then, a few months ago, I was once again favored with a Selberg musical reunion of sorts at First Avenue’s Rock And Roll Garage Sale. I found a mint copy of the “Slap Back”/”One O’ Clock High” 45 in mint condition, with the original picture sleeve of that rascally, Boris Badanov-with-Bullwinkle-antlers guy on the cover. Recently, I bought a jukebox and was able to hear the Cows blasting outta 1975-era Rock-Ola speakers, the way they were meant to be heard. And I’m sure that’s the coolest record that old juke has ever had the fortune of spinnin’, too. But I digress. Not long after the garage sale, I started gettin’ e-mails from folks buzzin’ about Shannon’s post-Cows outfit, The Heroine Sheiks. Well, kids, I’m thrilled to tellya that the band’s second full-length (their first, Rape On The Installment Plan, was released in 2000 on Reptilian Records, and Am Rep put out their first single) absolutely kicks ass and was in stores as of yesterday.
Recorded and mixed by Greg Gordon at Headgear Studios in the Big Apple, Siamese Pipe (2002 Rubric Records) more than does justice to the legacy of Selberg’s past. Though he’s once again responsible for those brilliant, deviated lyrics, spine-chilling bugle blats, (if the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse had an official herald, it would definitely be Shannon) and gruff, back-alley vocals, Selberg has managed to not only match the awesome power of the Cows, but to gather a band of top-notch musical freaks (the only kind that matter) to help him bring his own personal brand of chaos to mind-blowing, crotch-rattling life.
I’ll tellya more about the album in a sec—but first, here’s Shannon’s take on his latest: “How does it compare with Rape On The Installment Plan? It sounds much better and the songs are stronger—plain and simple. The loud ones are louder, the scary ones are scarier, the “funny ones” are funnier, though much darker. It’s a more daring CD lyrically and musically while at the same time sounding more (here’s that dirty word) accessible, mainly because the parts are more stripped down and played more tightly. Overall, I’d say that it’s the best album that I’ve been a part of.”
Wow. Heavy words indeed from a guy who’s released a slew of classic albums over the past 11 years. And not to take anything away from the Cows, but I think he just might be right. Maybe it’s cuz I’ve already been (willingly and happily) damaged by the man’s music, but right from the get-go, Siamese Pipe is a brilliant, shimmering, twisting-and-turning rock ’n’ roll trip (and I do mean trip) that’s worth every second. Kicking off with the punk-scat riffage of “Army Brat,” (“You know me/Global P.I.G./I am an army brat/My dick’s a baseball bat/That oil’s gotta flow, cuz I say so/Those %@!#$&ers in Iraq/They got their %@!#$& shellacked...”) Selberg (if he wasn’t already) has most certainly managed to get his name on the CIA’s “Rock Freaks To Keep An Eye On” list with this album—but hey, so was John Lennon, so he’s not in bad company.
“Grab The Wheel” is a funky, punky cheatin’ tune, lumbering along with a chunky bass line and lyrics like, “I’m peakin’/I’m peakin’ in my own damn room...” (Gasp!) Oh, no!! Not drug lyrics! Well, what the %@!#$& do you expect from a band called The Heroine Sheiks and an album called Siamese Pipe? A rubber biscuit? This isn’t music for politically correct, lame-ass white-bread tee-vee addicts, man. This %@!#$& is scary—like all REAL rock an’ roll is. Hell, like all real music is. But like a roller coaster or a tab of Purple Microdot, it’s one cool ride for those who can stand the barenaked, unadulterated truth. On “Banger,” Selberg appropriately recalls the gravelly vocals of Shel Silverstein-era Dr. Hook—specifically, doper tunes like “Get My Rocks Off,” “Freakin’ At The Freaker’s Ball,” and “Gertrude The Groupie.” Weird-ass whistling and kooky keyboards alternate with blasts of pure-dee guitar noise. Cool!
Album closer (if ya discount the freaky hidden track tacked on the end) “Mas Suicide” stands as a coherent, post-everything reply to Sammy “The Red Rocker” Hagar’s mindless radio hit of a few years back, “Mas Tequila.” In Selberg’s world, people aren’t sitting around on sunny beaches, quaffing expensive margaritas and checking their stocks on their palm pilots: Between pounding drums, driving bass, whining guitar, and monkey-ish cries of “Oooh! Oooh!” he spews lines like, “Since I was just a little tyke/I’ve kept on swingin’ with all my might/My life’s a shotgun, without a sight/And I say, mas suicide!”
And if there’s any doubt left about the man’s disgust, disdain, and disillusionment with the whole steaming pile of bull%@!#$& that is today’s America, he continues the rant with: “Folks, I tried that religion—but that ain’t right/That Ooga-Booga, that’s too uptight/Worse than the needle, worse than the pipe...the local men folks, they ain’t too bright/Though there’s a couple who read and write...” Think he’s done? Naw, he ain’t hit the weenies where it hurts yet: “I’m still tryin’ with all my might/To end this journey into the night/The last two patrons started to fight/Cuz one yelled “Freebird”—one yelled ‘That bites!” What more can I say after that? GO BUY THIS ALBUM NOW!! My only regret is not having the new stuff on 45 for my jukebox—but hell, I guess I can crank it up just fine on the home stereo; after all, the people who need to hear it the most are the ones who’ll never read about it here. Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.