Tag Archives: punk rock

Rock Docs: Pussy Riot, Love and Death

25 Jun

Just in time for the hot weather, there is more than one good reason to stay in the air-conditioned indoors. Three amazing rock documentaries are on TV, online and in major theaters this month. In a way, each one of these films poses the same big question – “What is being a rock musician worth to you?” – then answers on very unique and personal terms.

Free Pussy Riot PosterPussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (HBO)

There is nothing complacent about punk. It’s noisy, raw, provocative and unapologetic. Done poorly, punk music merely sneers at the world. Done well, it changes it.

The Pussy Riot Collective, a group of young feminist oppositional artists, formed when Vladimir Putin was elected to a third term as Russian President amid allegations of fraud. Dressed in their subversive uniform of “masks, dresses and musical instruments,” their songs challenged Putin and his repressive social policies. After several brief, goofy performances,  including one in a cosmetics store and another in front of a Russian prison, they staged a protest in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, playing for 40 seconds at the altar before being hauled away. Their goal was to expose the cozy relationship between church and state as well as the breathtaking patriarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.

As a result, three members of Pussy Riot were arrested and found guilty of trespassing and religious hatred. As this remarkable documentary makes clear, they were also convicted for being outspoken and female. After being on display in glass cells in the Russian courtroom throughout their trial, all three were sentenced to two years in a prison camp. One is now out after an appeal (and back in the Collective); the others are still in Siberia.

Watching this film, I marveled at how fiercely brilliant these women are and how their commitment to their art and ideals leaves most Americans in the dust. Catch it while you can.

A Band Called Death (available as video on demand now and in theaters starting June 28)

Why have I never heard of this band until now? I can’t be the only one asking that after hearing songs by Death, a band formed in 1973 by three African-American brothers in Detroit who wanted to play rock and ended up creating punk:

I can’t wait to catch the documentary when it opens this weekend. With Alice Cooper as a featured interview, it’s gotta be good.

20 Feet from Stardom (now playing in major cities and going into wider release)

I adore Darlene Love. I know her best from the Phil Spector Christmas album and look forward to her gig on the David Letterman show every December to sing “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).” I also love the gals with the big voices backing up Joe Cocker in “A Little Help From My Friends,” wailing on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” and blowing the roof off  “Gimme Shelter.” When those songs come up on my playlist, I sign along with them, not Joe or Mick or David Gilmour.

Pity is, none of them – not even Ms. Love, who’s rightfully a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – is a household name. Many of them sang better than the stars they supported yet for one reason or another, they never became famous in their own right. They are literally and figuratively in the background. Given how much press this film is getting, that may change.

Let me know which musicians you’re watching this summer on the big screen … and whether you’re a Junior Mints or M&Ms kind of movie-goer.

See you on the flip side …

Buzzing about The Hives

9 Jul

The Hives – a class act

My older daughter and I went to The Hives concert at Clutch Cargo’s in Pontiac a couple of weeks ago. The space is a converted church, and the stained glass windows were ablaze until about 9:45when the sun finally set. Since Michigan is at the edge of the Eastern time zone, it’s like Sweden this time of year; I’m sure the The Hives felt right at home.


There were two opening acts. The first was a three-piece outfit that introduced themselves as Hootie and the Blowfish before pounding through a ditty called, “I’m a Punk Rocker (Babe, a Punk Rocker).” The drummer was a girl—always nice to see a lady beating the tar out of a drum kit—and the band did a very respectable set of 12 songs in 30 minutes. (We think their actual name is The Flashlights and they hail from Austin. I can’t find any evidence of their existence online … leads on their online whereabouts would be greatly appreciated.)

Not punk

Then there was the second band, which I almost don’t want to name in case that garners them any more publicity: FIDLAR, which is an abbreviation for something obscene and asinine. (Don’t look them up, don’t download their stuff—don’t give them the benefit of additional clicks on their Google Analytics page.)

The whole ethos of punk is that music is an expression of rage, often for its own sake. Iggy Pop said in a recent NY Times interview, “I couldn’t stand the sincere punks [like the Clash] … I went more for the profligate, sneering groups.” You have to rage against something worthwhile like oppression or poverty or The Queen: go big or go home.

All these jackasses could come up with was a dozen songs about how broke they were and how high and drunk they would be if they weren’t so broke. This might be strong stuff if you’re twelve and riddled with acne but doesn’t fly if you’re touring the world with an internationally known band and have benefited from world-class orthodontia. (The lead singer, whatever his name was, had an absolutely fetching smile.)

Sensing the audience was ready to head to the parking lot to wait it out until The Hives showed up, the lead singer tried to strike a chord with the audience … by dissing Pontiac. “This place is stone cold ghetto. There is nothing here. When we were walking around before the show, all we saw was a head shop, a pawn shop and a liquor store.” Then he insinuated the town was racist (after calling it “ghetto”) and complained about being called a homophobic slur outside the venue (right after lobbing a homophobic slur at the audience).

There’s an unspoken rule of life: only you can say bad things about your mother, your dog or your hometown. Anyone else who does deserves to go down.

The crowd started rumbling. The dudes behind us, each of whom were four beers into the evening, looked ready to bound on stage and throw him into the balcony. I looked at my daughter, who was completely disgusted, then at the door, trying to map an escape route. Thankfully, they played two more songs in four minutes and were offstage before any bottles were thrown.

The Hives were stellar. I can’t really describe their music any better than my friend at Defending Axl Rose, who celebrates the charm of their “shouty-shouty-handclap” style. But what capped the experience for me was how lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist brought the show to a close by thanking the audience and acknowledging he and the band were from Fagersta, Sweden—“a rust belt town, just like here”—and how great that can make you.

So, hope you’ll enjoy a song off their new album and appreciate how great a garage band can look in top hat and tails (especially when they yet haven’t sweated through 90 minutes of crazy fun music):

See you on the flip side …

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