We were gutted today to learn that Gary Burger, lead singer/guitarist for our current Weird Band of the Week, The Monks, passed away on Friday from pancreatic cancer at the age of 72. Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current broke the story on Friday, with a local paper called the Bemidji Pioneer filling in some additional details of his post-Monks life in the tiny Minnesota town of Turtle River, where he was the mayor (and still played the occasional Monks reunion gig).
Despite The Monks gaining a sizable cult following over the last 25 years, Burger led a pretty quiet life, producing the work of other bands and musicians out of a home recording studio and occasionally working as a filmmaker. He was elected mayor in 2006.
Burger remained modest about The Monks’ legacy. “We all knew that we were doing a different sort of music,” he told Minnesota music journalist Andrea Swensson in 2009, “but as far as being a forerunner band—that was the furthest from our minds. We really weren’t thinking that. We were thinking that we were playing rock and roll with a twist, and the twist was the electric banjo, the feedback, the drums, basically not using cymbals but lots of tom toms. We had no idea that we were creating a new movement. And I’m still thinking, hey, we were just a rock and roll band that really had a lot of fun.”
With Burger’s death, only two of the original Monks are still alive: bassist Eddie Shaw and organist Larry Clark. But their spirit lives on in countless bands that owe a huge debt to their innovative sound, from The Raincoats to The White Stripes to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
We’ll leave you with a clip of Gary and The Monks from 1999, still rocking out just as hard as they did in the ’60s. Here’s hoping their reputation continues to grow, even after Gary’s passing—they still haven’t gotten all the recognition they deserve.
March Weird Band Poll: Vote for The Hermits of Suburbia, Man With a Mission, RV Carcass, Toxic Chicken or Well Worn Boot
After the week I just had, I need a weekend of less thinkin’, more drinkin’. Which means it’s time to leave the thinkin’ part of this blog to you folks out there Readerland. Yep, it’s time for another Weird Band Poll™! Ready to crush the hopes and dreams of four out of five bands? I know you are.
We’ll have our usual insanely long voting period, because procrastinators need love, too. So voting ends at midnight on Sunday, March 23rd, and the winner will be crowned Weird Band of the Week on March 26th. Play fair and only vote once, K? If you really feel the need to cheat, do it on something that matters, like your taxes or Words With Friends.
[Sorry, this poll has closed. Check back here Wednesday, when the winner will be revealed. And bookmark this page to partake of future polls. We do a new one every month(ish).]
For more on this month’s bands, read on:
The Hermits of Suburbia
These guys are from Atlanta…or the suburbs of Atlanta, I guess…and call themselves a “drinking band with a ska problem.” I hope you get your ska problem sorted out soon, guys, cuz that shit’ll kill you. Here’s a song of theirs called “We Races the Car (So You Don’t Have To) or Who Says a Ska Band Can’t Funk,” and here’s their Bandcamp page. Oh, and their ukulele player is an ordained Dudeist in the Church of the Big Lebowski. Also, they’re a ska band with a fucking ukulele player! Mind = blown.
Man With a Mission
Man With a Mission is Japan’s only wolf-headed alt-metal band named after a Don Henley song. Trust us, we checked. Their backstory is all about how they were created in a lab and then frozen in Antarctica for centuries or some shit but let’s not worry too much about that part. Here’s one of their videos and here’s their official website, which for a band that dresses up like wolf janitors does not have anywhere near enough videos on it.
RV Carcass are named after their recording studio…literally, these guys record all their music in a broken-down RV they’ve rigged up with all sorts of high-tear electronics and converted to run on corn whiskey. You had us at “runs on corn whiskey,” buds. They’re based in San Francisco now but they “escaped” from Morocco, although I’m not really sure what they were escaping from. Judging from this video, I bet drugs were involved. Here’s their website.
We don’t really know much about this dude, except that he’s a Dutch guy living in Bangkok. He makes lo-bit bedroom electronic music which this guy Graham puts out on Wrieuw Recordings. Apparently one of his records came out on a floppy disk wrapped in a diaper, so he’s got that going for him. Here’s his My Cat EP on Bandcamp and here’s a video for the song “biscuits with jesus,” which for some reason co-stars Hitler.
Well Worn Boot
Well Worn Boot are from Buffalo (Upstate NY represent!) and are led by a singer/flute-blower called The Plainsman, so they’re sort of an American white-trash version of Jethro Tull. Their press kit calls them “American folklore inspired” but I’m pretty sure that’s the same thing as “American white-trash inspired.” I bet they and the Hermits of Suburbia could have an epic drinking contest. Speaking of drinking, here’s a live video of them doing a song called “Drunk on the Highway.” And here’s their website.
So there you have it. Remember to cast your vote before midnight Sunday, March 23rd, and may the weirdest band win.
[Note: In a crazy and sad coincidence, Monks singer/guitarist Gary Burger died just two days after we wrote this post. You can read more about his passing here.]
We’re gonna take a little trip in the Weird Band Wayback Machine this week. It’s 1965 and we’re in Hamburg, Germany. On the infamous Reeperbahn, at a club called the Top Ten, where The Beatles had been the house band four years earlier, a group called The Monks are pounding out original, primitive rock songs wearing matching black outfits with ropes in place of ties. They’ve even all shaved the tops of their heads in the style of monastic tonsures. Their music sounds like nothing else of its time; raw and rhythmic, almost entirely devoid of melody, with shouted, nonsensical lyrics (except the parts about Vietnam, which probably would’ve sounded nonsensical to most Germans in 1965).
Where the hell could such a group have come from, you might ask? Well, it turns out they were a product of the American military. They began playing in local clubs while they were still enlisted men, calling themselves the Torquays and performing a fairly standard house-band repertoire of Chuck Berry tunes, surf-rock instrumentals and early British Invasion stuff. It wasn’t until after they were discharged that they took a turn for the weird. The new name The Monks came first; the shaved heads happened later, on a whim. But the original music, even though it sounded like cacophony to most listeners back in the day, was all the result of careful experimentation and hours of playing live together.
“It probably took us a year to get the sound right,” said lead singer/guitarist Gary Burger, in an excellent history by Will Bedard on the band’s website. “We experimented all the time. A lot of the experiments were total failures and some of the songs we worked on were terrible. But the ones we kept felt like they had something special to them.”
Among their many unconventional moves was replacing Dave Day’s rhythm guitar with the harsher twang of a six-string banjo. They also did away almost entirely with high-hats and cymbals and were one of the first bands to experiment with the deliberate use of feedback. All of it was intended to produce a sound as raw, primal and grating as possible. And judging from their one and only full-length album, 1966′s Black Monk Time, they succeeded.
Originally released on then-German label Polydor Records, and never distributed in the U.S., Black Monk Time has since gone on to become one of those records that collectors will fight over like coyotes over a chicken bone. Until it was finally reissued in the ’90s, it reportedly sold for nearly $1,000; these days, an original pressing in good condition can still be worth as much as $600.
Like many bands ahead of their time, The Monks weren’t built to last. They followed up Black Monk Time with a pair of singles, the novelty tune “Cuckoo” and a throwaway attempt at writing a saccharine pop hit, “Love Can Tame the Wild.” But by 1967, the group was done, torn apart by internal tensions, frustration over their lack of commercial success, and the strain of non-stop touring.
Since ’99, the group has played a handful of reunion shows and been the subject of a documentary film, 2006′s Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback, which you can watch in its entirety (in German) on YouTube. They’ve also released one “lost” track, an early demo called “Pretty Suzanne” which was included in the latest reissue of Black Monk Time on Light in the Attic Records. (Another Light in the Attic release, The Early Years: 1964-1965, contains demo versions of songs that would later appear on Black Monk Time, as well as two songs the band recorded as The Torquays, “Boys Are Boys” and “There She Walks.”) But they’ve stopped short of recording any new music, which is probably just as well. It would be impossible to recapture the energy of those early records, especially since the deaths of drummer Roger Johnston in 2004 and banjoist Dave Day in 2008.
Amazingly, there’s a ton of archival footage of The Monks performing, mostly from German television. We’ll leave you with a couple: “Monk Chant,” which features an amazing guitar-feedback freakout that predates Hendrix at Monterey Pop by a year; and “Complication,” which was, improbably, the lead single off Black Monk Time. Those ’60s German teenagers are trying their darnedest to dance to this stuff, but sadly, nobody had invented mosh pits yet.
P.S. Thanks to readers Alex and Twufee the Wondermoose for suggesting these guys to us many moons ago. Told ya we’d write about them eventually, guys.
So the other day, Travis from backwoods clatter-punks The Chewers writes us and is all like, “Our second album Chuckle Change And Also has just been released on real-life CD through Cimmerian Shade Recordings, fully mastered. Will you tell the kids about it?” And we were all like, “Hells yeah we will! An album released on CD? I hear that shit is the new vinyl! Everyone’s gonna want a copy cuz it’s all retro.”
But seriously, the new CD has cool artwork and four live bonus tracks and at eight bucks plus free shipping in the U.S., it’s a pretty good deal for a piece of technology that’s only somewhat obsolete.* If you wanna be all 21st century about it, you can also buy a digital download of the album for five bucks. But get the CD so you can wave it around when The Chewers blow up and be all, “I was into them back when people still bought CDs, bitches!“
Anyway, both CD and download are available via the Cimmerian Shade website, which calls The Chewers “mind-melting, idiosyncratic, Beefheartian punk from the outer limits.” Wish we’d come up with that. Has a much nicer ring to it than “a couple of tattooed hillbillies who decided to retire early from the bathtub speed trade and form a band based on the Residents and Tom Waits records they found at a yard sale in Wheeling.” That was the best we could come up with when they won our Weird Band Poll back in April ’13. Bit long-winded in retrospect.
Let’s play this post out with a sample of Chuckle Change And Also‘s fully mastered charms. This is called “Smiling Samuel” and I’m pretty sure it’s about a guy I used to work with at the DMV.
It’s been three years since we heard any new music from tUnE-yArDs, the hard-to-type-but-fun-to-listen-to musical project of Merrill Garbus. After conquering the indie rock world and landing on pretty much every critic’s “Best of 2011″ list, Garbus went to Haiti to study Haitian drumming and dance and hand out some free food and clothing to earthquake victims. Then she came home to make a “wild mess” of a new record called Nikki Nack, which is now scheduled for release on May 6th (May 5th, if you live anywhere except the U.S.) on 4AD Records.
No tracks from Nikki Nack are out yet, but last week, Garbus released a “megamix” of the whole album, which you can check out below. She’s also announced a handful of North American and European tour dates, including an already-sold-out stop here in L.A. that we’re going to try to get into anyway. We’ve actually still never been to a tUnE-yArDs show and we really need to fill the Merrill Garbus-sized void in our lives pronto.
Tour dates after the megamix clip.
May 5th – Masonic Lodge @ Hollywood Forever, Los Angeles, CA
May 7th – Rough Trade, Brooklyn, NY
May 12th – Village Underground, London
May 14th – Berghain, Berlin
May 15th – Nochtspeicher, Hamburg
May 16th – Les Nuits-Cirque Royal, Brussels
May 18th – Bitterzoet, Amsterdam
May 19th – Café de La Danse, Paris
May 23rd – Les Schwab Ampitheater, Bend, OR (w/ The National)
May 23rd – 25th – Sasquatch Festival, George, WA
May 31st – June 1st – Free Press Summerfest, Houston, TX
June 18th – 22nd – NXNE, Massey Hall, Toronto, ON
June 19th – 22nd – Firefly Festival, Dover, DE
July 19th – Pitchfork Festival, Chicago, IL
Do you love chocolate? I know I do. But it turns that all this time, I’ve been an amateur chocolate lover. In his new video, Zayde Buti demonstrates how it’s really supposed to be done.
Zayde describes “Sacred Chocolate” as “the newest addition to my ongoing artistic exploration of food issues. As the title suggests, ‘Sacred Chocolate’ explores reverence for food (in this case, cacao) and the ceremonial art of eating.”
So next time you’re scarfing down a Snickers, remember: Eating chocolate should be a goddamn ceremony. Sing that Snickers bar a little song before you devour it. It’s what our ancestors who first harvested the mighty cacao bean would have wanted.
“Sacred Chocolate” is also available on Zayde’s Bandcamp page for a mere $0.99. Which is a penny less than what they charge for a Snickers bar in the vending machine at my office. So it’s a bargain. And listening to it over and over again won’t make you fat. Or will it?
I was still a good two blocks away from The Satellite, where I would be attending the camp-pop explosion that is Leslie Hall and her band Leslie & The LYs, when I spotted my first pair of gold spandex booty shorts. It was the first clue that a.) this show was going to be a people-watching bonanza and b.) I had clearly under-dressed for the occasion.
I needn’t have worried about the second part, though. The whole message of Leslie Hall’s goofy, celebratory music is that we’re all fabulous, no matter what size our asses are or what we chose to clad them in when we left the house. Yes, there were shiny and sparkly Leslie fans in abundance inside The Satellite—but some of us were just shiny and sparkly on the inside.
The show began with a knowingly awkward, low-budget video about Leslie and her sidekicks time-traveling into the future on a quest to obtain the Golden Beats. (No, I’m not telling whether or not they succeeded—no spoilers! You’ll just have to go to the show and see for yourself.) Then Leslie emerged, resplendent in gold and macrame, and launched into “Blame the Booty,” the first of several songs about her “lower regions,” as she delicately put it.
Nothing else about Leslie Hall is the least bit delicate, which is what makes her so awesome. She’s a big, loud Midwestern gal, with a personality at least 10 times larger than her dress size. During and between songs, she worked the crowd with banter that would put any stand-up comedian to shame, over-sharing about everything from her flat ass (“If you bring a pillow to a three-hour movie, I feel you”) to her crafting addiction (“When you need to rent one of those storage units and you’re still in your twenties…”).
Her stage set was, as she put it, “Vegas-style production at Midwest prices.” It started out just looking like some stage flats draped in gold fabric. Then her backup singers rotated the whole thing sideways to reveal a bedazzled Leslie visage, which then split in two to reveal her whole band. The effect was pretty delightful considering the whole thing probably fits in one of those little U-Haul trailers.
Leslie & the LYs are touring in support of Songs in the Key of Gold, a dance remix collection of Leslie’s greatest hits. (Remember how fantastic it was when that used to be a thing? I still have the Billy Idol dance remix collection on cassette somewhere and I stand by that purchase 100%.) This was good news for us because it meant that Les was there to play the hits and play them for maximum danceosity. Although I suspect that’s pretty much what she does on all her tours.
The only real break in the action came when Leslie invited several fans up on stage for a little gem sweater fashion show. The girl who won—who did indeed have a pretty spectacular sweater—was so excited I thought she might start shrieking like a nine-year-old at a One Direction concert. But she managed to hold it together enough to dance along to “Craft Talk,” the best-known of Leslie Hall’s many musical paeans to the art of bedazzling.
There was a tribute to Leslie’s cat Shania, “#1 Cat in America,” which was also an excuse for her to have audience members pass up their cell phones to share their cat pictures. (I immediately regretted that I switched wallpapers awhile back and no longer had this to share.) That number also featured a set of giant cardboard cat legs that rose up behind the stage while someone pretending to be Shania squeaked into an offstage microphone: “Hi, Mom! I hid inside your luggage!”
In lieu of a conventional encore (“We don’t have any more songs,” Leslie said apologetically. “Besides, it’s Monday. Don’t you all have lives? Jobs?”), she and the LYs led the crowd in a little impromptu post-show dance party. “This is the dance started it all!” she declared over Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” busting out a move she called “scooping the driveway.”
At the very end of the show, her minions rotated the backdrop again to reveal a toll free phone number. “I do check my messages,” she assured the crowd, before heading backstage to soak her feet and have some pizza: “I need to float these feminine ankles in the old Epsom bath.”
The song that maybe best epitomizes the Leslie Hall mojo was her finale: “Shazam I’m Glamorous”: a call-and-response anthem in which Leslie entreats her fans to tell her she’s glamorous—and of course they do, fervently. And every time they do, her face scrunches up with delight and she squeals “Thank you!” with complete sincerity. The positive feedback loop between Leslie Hall and her fans is a beautiful thing to behold. I think we all left the show feeling a bit more glamorous—even those of us who were only sparkly on the inside.