I know a lot of you foreign types read this blog, so let me explain something. Here in America, we have this thing every year called “March Madness” where suddenly everyone is expected to care about college basketball. It’s a tournament and the team that wins gets to bone every chick at the losing team’s school…at least I assume that’s what happens, because there’s no other explanation for why everyone gets so fucking excited about it.
Anyway, around here we had our own little version of March Madness with our latest Weird Band Poll, and the band that gets to cut down the net (look it up) is a little combo from Upstate New York called Well Worn Boot. I am excited about this because I grew up in that part of the world and these guys represent my favorite part of Upstate, which is the white trash part. They’re from Buffalo but they may as well be from Pigfuck, Arkansas. Except they’re probably a little too weird for that.
Well Worn Boot’s lead singer is a flute-playing hillbilly named The Plainsman. Their guitarist is a horse called Horse. Their bass player is a big baby called Baby Buckingham. Their drummer is a dead guy named Billy Klubb who, for reasons no one can explain, wears a tiny cow-colored top hat. They play music that has been described as “Johnny Cash meets Captain Beefheart,” and yes, it is very nearly as awesome as that sounds. Especially when The Plainsman lets rip with a flute solo. Then they’re like a cowpunk Jethro Tull.
They release comic books with their EPs, which chronicle the adventures of Well Worn Boot like they’re a bunch of drunken Upstate superheroes. The first comic/EP was called Fully Torqued and you can preview it here. The next one comes out next month and will be called Boot in Space. I assume it’ll be set in space but from what I know so far about these guys, it might just be set in Billy Klubb’s basement and guest star a nitrous tank.
Oh and they also have their own festival. It’s called the Wild Wild Fest and it’s happening this year Aug. 29-30 at the Willow Creek Winery in Silver Creek, NY. I’m usually more of a beer and bourbon guy, but I’ll drink whatever that place is pouring.
We’ll leave you with the video from “Drunk on the Highway,” which is pretty typical of the WWB catalog in that it features aliens, drinking and sex. Not necessarily in that order.
Actually, hold up. That one didn’t have enough flute in it. So here’s another one.
If you left any Flaming Lips fans off your Christmas list, there’s still time to get them a cool stocking stuffer: a blue seven-inch vinyl release of the band’s second demo from way back in 1983, when they were just another scruffy post-punk college-rock band with a shouty lead singer (Wayne Coyne’s brother Mark, who left the group in 1985). The untitled four-song demo was originally recorded on cassette tape and has never been previously released to the public. Only 2,000 copies of the blue vinyl were released, all on Dec. 24th to independent record stores. Our friends over at The Future Heart have diligently assembled a list, via Twitter, of which stores still had copies left as of yesterday. There are also apparently still some copies of the Lips’ first EP floating around green vinyl, as well.
Wanna listen before you buy? Of course you do. It’s an on-demand world. So here, feast your ears on what the press release aptly describes as the Lips’ early “primitive shambolic drug-damaged punk-pop.” These first two tracks are called “The Flaming Lips Theme Song 1983″ and “The Future Is Gone”:
And here’s “Underground Pharmacist” and “Real Fast Words.” Dig that walking bassline from Michael Ivins.
And now, a message of holiday cheer from the Radioactive Chicken Heads. No, wait, scratch that. They just wanna say “Cluck You.”
Usually when a band posts a new video this late in the year, we just assume it’s gonna be yet another lame cover of “Jingle Bell Rock” or some such tinsel-bedecked piece of crap. But not the Radioactive Chicken Heads. These costumed purveyors of snot-punk mayhem have a much more appropriate message for when you’ve just wasted your weekend shoving baby strollers out of the way in a futile attempt to find the last iPad Mini in town for your high-maintenance girlfriend: “Cluck You!”
Before we get to the clip, we should also mention that this coming February, the RC-Heads celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band with a show in Orange County, Calif., where they got their start. 20 years! Hope they’ve upgraded their costumes a few times or else the inside of that carrot must smell like a Port-O-Potty on day three of Bonnaroo.
We thought we had already stumbled across the weirdest band in Poland when a reader turned us on to Dick4Dick. Boy were we ever wrong. Turns out that when it comes to weird bands, the Poles roll deep. A reader by the name of Paweł recently dropped his own Polish Weird List on us and we’re still digesting it like a two-foot kielbasa. We’re not even sure where to start at this point, but the “meadow funk” of Laki Lan is as good a place as any.
Laki Lan (or Łąki Łan, if you want to get all Polish about it) is a six-piece from Warsaw or thereabouts. Their name means “meadow field” and they all dress up in goofy costumes evoking various creatures native to said meadows and fields—bugs, mostly, but also the occasional rodent, elf or other adorable woodland fauna. They’ve been around for over a decade and released three albums, but don’t seem to be well-known outside Poland, or at least among us Yanks. About the only things written about them on the Web in English are a brief Wikipedia entry and a fanciful bio on Last.fm that reads, in part:
Once upon a time, somewhere on the meadow near Warsaw, four insects got together and decided to form a music band. They wanted to play, but they didnt know how. After long months of practicing and rehearsing Butterfly, Grasshopper, Bumble-bee and Dragonfly started a psychedelic journey to the big city and thats how the world learned about fantastic live shows giving rare mixture of disco-punk-rock-funkin style of Łąki Łan (meadow field).
I wish we knew more, because there’s clearly some backstory to all the characters. But I don’t think Google translator is up to the task. Here’s how it renders the bio on the band’s website:
Once the leaf jełopianu met six amazing gourmet pollen and nectar …
Mon Kolny, Unruly Bonk hare Cokictokloc, Jesus, Marian, MegaMotyl and little elf named Paprodziad.
Paprodziadowi managed to dig out from his bundle bizarre bottle whose contents then offered all members of the Meadows canopy.
Suddenly, the wind ferocious dust rose into the air, it got dark as in the belly of the track, the birds were silent, flower petals pozwijały and terrible lightning pierced the skies were blue.
Fortunately, there has been nothing more than rain that soaked the wings and doublets.
So they returned to his true fungus, took out instruments and played ŁąkiFunka …
Actually, you know what? I take it back. That’s all I need to know about these guys.
In Poland, Laki Lan are most famous for their rousing live shows, which do indeed look like a funky good time. The band’s music is a highly danceable mish-mash of punk, funk, rock, house, disco and even drum ‘n’ bass. It occasionally gets a little weird, but mostly it’s just high-energy and fun, like this track called “Propaganda,” which based on the video I guess is about one of those girls with so much shit in her purse she gets sucked into an alternate universe just looking for her keys.
But Laki Lan doesn’t get any weirder than “Big Baton,” the clip our buddy Paweł sent us. They’re like the Red Hot Chili Peppers back when they had a sense of humor! And better outfits.
Oh and given what time of year it is, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this earlier, punkier Laki Lan video:
So it being Halloween and all, we were going to make some wacky costumed act our Weird Band of the Week. But then we were going through some old reader comments and a few different folks mentioned Nina Hagen and we said, “You know what? Other acts wear Halloween costumes. Nina Hagen is a Halloween costume.” People have been ripping off her unique style for decades, to the point where some of them (ahem, Lady Gaga) probably aren’t even aware of the original source. So for all you young’uns out there, let’s get acquainted with the so-called Mother of Punk, shall we?
Nina Hagen was born in 1955 in East Berlin, at the height of the Cold War. She was pegged very early in life as an opera prodigy, but she was more interested in pop music. After singing in a more traditional German pop band called Fritzens Dampferband (you can hear one of her early vocals here), she formed a “rock” band called Automobil in 1974. I put “rock” in quotation marks because this was one of their more rockin’ tracks:
The song title translates roughly to “You Forgot the Color Film” and the lyrics are basically all Nina Hagen berating her boyfriend on their vacation for, well, not bringing color film. Apparently it was interpreted at the time as a sly critique of the drabness of East Berlin. Yeah, life behind the Iron Curtain was not fun.
In 1976, she and her parents defected to West Germany, and that’s when the Nina Hagen we all know and love really began to blossom. Inspired by the nascent punk scene on a visit to London, Hagen formed the Nina Hagen Band and began playing a theatrical mix of punk, glam and progressive rock, all punctuated by her increasingly over-the-top, operatic vocals. The music was frankly not all that exciting, but Hagen was developing into an astonishing vocalist and live performer. Here, for example, is the Nina Hagen Band in 1979, performing a track called “Naturträne.” It’s basically one minute of song followed by three minutes of Nina wailing over a bunch of prog-rock noodling, but this woman could wail over a Yanni record and I’d still camp out for tickets.
By the end of ’79, the Nina Hagen Band had already broken up, as Hagen went off to explore wilder musical frontiers as a solo artist. Even in this 1980 clip of her covering “Ziggy Stardust” on Swedish television, the style and attitude she became famous for is pretty much all there: the crazy hair and eye makeup, crazier facial expressions, and positively batshit vocals.
In 1982, Hagen released her first solo album and first album sung entirely in English, NunSexMonkRock. Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds recently called it the post-punk era’s greatest “unsung masterpiece” and it’s hard to argue with him. From beginning to end, the record sounds like it was flown in from another planet, not exactly punk or glam or New Wave but somehow channeling all those forces into a totally original sound. The best-known track is an anti-heroin anthem called “Smack Jack,” which isn’t the weirdest thing on the album but which features a music video that has to be seen to be believed. Yes, that’s Nina in male cop drag. And Nina singing backup. And another Nina singing the other backup. It’s a Nina-palooza.
Hagen’s done plenty of other weird shit in the years since: One of the most amazingly ’80s videos of all time, “New York New York” (her only real hit here in the U.S.). A Rammstein cover with the Finnish cello-rock band Apocalyptica, which is fitting since Till Lindemann stole many of his vocal affectations from Hagen. She released an album of Hindu devotional chants, with cover art featuring herself dressed up as the goddess Kali. She once told David Letterman about a UFO she saw over Malibu—actually, she told lots of people about UFOs. In more recent years, she’s recorded an album of big band standards, covered Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” and, sadly, lost much of her once-astonishing vocal range. She’s also become a devout Christian, which probably alienated some of her old punk fan base. But she remains as refreshingly kooky and totally original as ever.
We’ll leave you with one of Nina Hagen’s signature cover tunes. Sid Vicious may have punked up “My Way” first, but Nina’s version is untouchable, even after all these years.
P.S. Thanks to readers Singing Grass, Alex and Denny for reminding us to add Nina to the Weird List. Better late than never, right, guys?