Thursday, January 10, 2013

Groupthink, the Mohawk Place, and a New Start-up Mentality

A lot of sentiment has gone into writing about the Mohawk Place closing-- but this piece isn't about sentiment. It isn't about two or three 'epic' stories they somehow end up circling back to me: how my band played there, how I saw indie microcelebs there, or got shit-faced drunk and made an ass out of myself.

This isn't about placing myself in the pantheon of Mohawk legends past-- its about the future.

In a town that seems self-obsessed with its own history-- writing about the future will come as shocking, or even offensive to some. Mohawk Place, especially most recently, is part-and-parcel with Buffalo's backward-looking mentality.

The bar is an extension of the greater music culture in Buffalo. Taking a deep dive into the local papers, blogs, and band websites will fill your head with a laundry list of rock-and-roll namechecking and a retelling of the gospel of rock and roll. Of course local musicians, scenesters, and music bloggers should embrace the past-- but many of them use it as an exclusionary device, making their tent smaller and filling it with the familiar and the non-challenging.

Grumblings within the music community have persisted throughout the years over this orthodox groupthink that derides nonconformists as outsiders-- regardless of their creative output or approach. In fact, several bands that saw themselves as reactions to this local groupthink found success outside the area, including the Tyrades and Bloody Hollies.

Many of these same critical musicians cite Mohawk Place as ground zero for the rock-and-roll orthodoxy that holds sway over the Buffalo music scene. Critics say their exclusionary local booking policy rewards unoriginality-- picking winners and losers based on adherence to a strict doctrine.

For this reason, the closing of the old bar could be seen not as a tragedy, but as opportunity. Shaking off the shackles of a static infrastructure could shift the emphasis away from groupthink and towards meritocracy. New venues will have the opportunity to establish themselves based on the ability to curate an aesthetic and musical talent on a nightly basis.

Buffalo needs to embrace a start-up mentality-- one that rewards effort and creativity. The local scene needs to become an incubator for good ideas, regardless of where the come from: classic rock, indie, punk, dance, hip-hop...

Closing the doors at 47 East Mohawk Street could just be the first step towards changing a conservative culture that has yet to bring results.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mohawk Place: Honest and Raw

Waxing nostalgic is lame. But, sometimes when it has to be done, it has to be done. There's no denying that a music venue such as the Mohawk Place has earned it's share of nostalgia and revelry. It served as the staple rock bar for it's 20+ year run in downtown Buffalo, a place that seemed less than likely to host any kind of night life seeing how sadly Buffalo's populace diminished over the same 20+ year period.

Mohawk Place could be seen as a last strong hold in this instance. Seeing it close its doors effective January 13th, 2013 is a sad thing, but in some ways, it was inevitable. The management had "lost it's lust for life", so to speak and the relatively unknown and lack luster newer owner was an absentee sort, unlike the original Pete Perrone, who relinquished control in late 2008 as the task of owning a deteriorating building that happened to host some of the most amazing music in the world was too tall an order for his health and livelihood. Pete's departure left a bit of a hole in the venue, with booking & management changes and oversight of the calendar falling into the hands of people who were not as eager to see a local scene prosper, as much as they were into cashing in on having a small room to use for their mainstream fodder. From an outsider perspective, Mohawk Place was business as usual. But for us insiders or people that knew people that worked there, we knew the truth. It was bleeding internally and on life support.

Sadly, Mohawk Place declined into a state sadder than a clown with a broken kazoo. The venue that once was a lively and fun hot spot, full of rock and roll and weirdos became another "space" for whatever kind of bullshit was happening that night. If it was a "ska" night, than it was a bunch of goofballs wearing two-tone and acting righteous. If it was a "Transmission" dance party, well, than indie rock nerds reveled in their own delight as the hipster parade ensued. The truth is though, regardless of the "clique" taking over the venue that night, it was nice that people still got together at the Mohawk and got wasted, regardless of their taste (or lack thereof.) The loss of it will certainly disenfranchise more than a few local scenes and cliques.

A healthy local music scene did evolve from it, some of the better bands decided even to start a label, which was insular and self-serving, but at the same time, it gave the appearance that at least there was something going on. Other local bands became ambassadors for rock at the Mohawk Place, so to speak, inviting out of town and even more obscure national acts to grace the sticky, dank stage and perhaps even garner a humble crowd. This is the purpose of a small bar with a stage. Sharing some spirits, leveling the field, making a venue for art. Mohawk Place served many a purpose in this regard.

The truth is that the Mohawk Place's raw nature was unwieldy and to some it was uninviting. I spent many a night there, listening to people's initial response and sometimes it was "this place is soooo cool!" and other times it was simply "Eeewww, there's a rat in the toilet!" Either response those was music to my ears. I love when a venue is definitive and immediate. I love when you feel something right away and take a side. Too many environments serve as mediums, venues that are amorphous to a fault. Mohawk was not, it was always a raw, broken down beast, that you either learned to either love or hate. But you made a decision and that was what mattered in the end.

A lot of people waxing nostalgia will claim to have the inside angle on why it's closing, just like I kind of did. But regardless of why, the sad truth is that it is closing. Is it because you, dear reader, did not go there, except for that one time 10 years ago to see that hip band that AV said was the next "Jesus and Mary Chain"? Did your lack of attendance over the past decade matter? It probably did, but hey, you can still youtube clips of your favorite bands performing there and vicariously (and more comfortably) enjoy it, time and again.

 - Vic Lazar

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Centipede Hz, the final nail in the hipster coffin (You're Welcome)

Animal Collective previewed their Merriweather Post Pavilion follow up, Centipede Hz, this week, leading to the inevitable high praise and subsequent backlash. Some people think the band is an over-hyped, blog driven, Pitchfork-anointed paper tiger, while others see them as the most important band in music right now.

But let's put all that aside...

Pitchofork's People's List also came out this week, and while it simply confirmed Pitchfork's status as an amplifier of the hype-feedback loop-- it served as a reminder of the different phases underground rock has gone through. From Radiohead and the Flaming Lips' art pop, to Bon Iver and Jeff Tweedy's singer/songwriterisms, to LCD and the xx's post-electronica-- underground music has shifted forms and spun off sub-genres like it had long before the music industry's premier tastemaker came into being.

The List also had This Is It by the Strokes as the fifth best album in the past 15 years. Love em or hate em the Strokes ushered in hipster swagger better than any other band. Skinny jeans, trucker hats, and "irony" were the order of the day. To their credit, hipsters also brought a sense of purpose and community to a post-9/11 NYC that certain sections of Brooklyn picked up and ran with.

However, not long after Brooklyn became the most important borough in the world, hipsters became a self-parody that no one wanted to identify with. Seminal NYC hipster bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Rapture looked to distance themselves from the scene and began openly talking about embracing a child-like and sincere sense of earnestness-- the kryptonite to irony's cynical, faux-hawked Supermen (and Supergirls).

Thus began the long road out of Hipster Town. The YYYs album Show Your Bones came out in 2006 in an attempt to put sincerity over cynicism. That same year fellow Brooklynites TV on the Radio put out Return to Cookie Mountain, a record that heavily referenced the very un-hip and earnest Peter Gabriel.

But laments over hipster culture justifiably persisted for years with many bands, like Liars, tempering their NYC cool with Berlin MNMLism. Zombie hipsters rose from the grave so many times-- they now have their own meme.

Which brings us to Centipede Hz. Yes, Animal Collective had to follow up MPP with something weird. To be taken seriously as the artists they want us to believe they are, a trip back to the drawing board was in order. But something funny happened along the way, AnCo always had that child-like wonder from their earlier albums. As their confidence, prowess and ambition grew, that innocence and earnestness morphed into different forms, but remained central to their sound.

MPP gave the band a pop legitimacy to make a statement with their next record and they did. What that statement was.... well I'll get back to you on that. I'm guessing it has something to do with a post-world-music mentality filtered through an organic jam session, but that's beside my point.

Centipede Hz has one significant side effect. The respect, both critically and commercially, that the band has earned has allowed them to make a record that is well respected, cool, weird, and absolutely un-hip. Just try rocking out to the album's first single, Today's Supernatural, and its hectic jig in a pair of tight jeans with a PBR in the air.

All that being said, we can now officially call it-- at 2:51 PM EST August the 23, 2012: the hipster is deceased. You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Idol Threats: a review of a battle of the bands from the perspective of a Guest Judge

by Rudy Sizzle

Something told me that I was not from around here. I drove up towards the "Hard Rock Cafe" in downtown Niagara Falls, NY and felt like I took a wrong turn into a nightmare I had about once accidentally driving into a building and then realizing I was doomed to actually drive off of Niagara Falls and never be seen again. I recall the dream quite vividly. Me, my sweet little "Stella" (a 2008 Pontiac Vibe) going over the great Wonder of the World, disappearing into the mist at the bottom forever. When I awoke, I am pretty sure I had almost pissed myself. Sometimes drinking too much water before bed and watching movies about drowning will do that to you.

Why do I not dabble in some "guilty pleasures" audibly speaking? Like, what's so terrible about "Ke$ha" and why am I too good to find "Maroon 5" awesome? Well, it's because I am a musician and I have standards. I cannot “settle in and saddle up” for a joy ride with the likes of Miley and Adele. Sure, they are gems in their own minds and the world’s rewarding them with success they totally and undoubtedly worked very hard for.

Perhaps our culture has stalled out and stuck in "mediocre" gear. I am not sure if Triple A is coming to give us a jump any time soon either. The Battle of the Bands I was invited to be a guest judge at in Niagara Falls, NY on Thursday February 16th did not dissuade me from feeling hopeless about the future dirge of mediocrity in the local scene. Plus it made me realize that the term "Hard Rock" is totally strange and perhaps more meant to mean, "Pretty loud," or "Kinda loud." Or I have no idea what "Hard Rock really means," just order some food and buy some rock n' roll memorabilia already…

First off, I was invited by the opening band of this quadruple band battle, the Screaming Jeans. I need to fully disclose this: they invited me as they seem to dig my music and respect my opinion. I think it may also because none of their other friends were willing to take the trip as it was a Thursday in February and it was kind of a weird scene to end up in.

Regardless, I got fed lots of booze and could've eaten some of HRC's finest cuisine, if I so felt inclined. I did not know this ahead of time though, so I was only indulging on free booze. It was cool to sit at high tables amongst the other "judges" of the battle. I felt like I was given a secret word to enter the VIP room on a cruise ship or the back room at a bar where the good drugs and weird sex is happening. But really, it just meant that I was stuck to endure a night of relatively tame music.

The Screaming Jeans kicked off the battle and were initially thrown off by some weird sound-related issues. The sound person seemed disinterested in this event, plus I am not sure if he knew exactly what was going on. I assume he was the regular engineer for the venue, but maybe he was the back up. Regardless, SJ sounded a bit off their normal well balanced mark right out of the gates and it threw their live energy out of whack. It was odd watching them seem a bit more self conscious about their live stage levels than usual, I am pretty sure the crowd may have noticed it, but regardless, the band pulled off their trademark brand of catchy guitar pop a la the Pixies/The Strokes well enough to earn applause and props from the other fellow judges on the panel sitting next to me. I would have chosen them to win, not just because I like them as people and a band, but because they were really the only "authentic" sounding band that night.

Up next were Google-proof rockers The Path. From their name, it was clear they were "straight shooting," normal rock. Parental Rock. Really something that would go well with a shot of Jack and a Bud. You know, not so much rock as it is-- roll me into a fire and let me stoke a bit. It was pretty much like being hit with a wet and muddy sock in the face while playing Tetris on a Gameboy, while camping with your asshole significant other to make them happy on their birthday.

I can’t say that The Path was totally terrible. As far being a band, they evidently had a "style" and "sound". All black outfits, with a relatively friendly and portly lady singer with a 5 or 6 note vocal range belting out very awkwardly juvenile lyrics about things that seemed vague enough to pen on the inside of a box of "get well" or "thinking of you" cards.

At times, the image of Jerri Blank from Strangers with Candy came to mind, which instantly made watching the Path kind of funnier than it should have been. I felt like a jerk thinking this, but it was a necessity to get through their snooze fest of a set-- middle of the road tunes all the way. The crowd was nonplussed too, mostly their brood of local support hooting and occasionally hollering for them when one of their banal riff-laced bluesy rock jams climaxed and then fell back into a blustery mid tempo groove. They felt stiff and aside from the bassist’s sweet black beret, they were as normal as one can imagine a band named the Path can get.

Thirdly was a band that was called The Eric Van Houten Band. The fellow "guest" judge sitting to my right was apparently invited by Eric Van Houten himself as they were once band mates. He had a lot of nice things to say about his former mate, stating that he was "doing his own thing now" and he pledged his support like any good friend would. It was nice, I really hoped for something to catch onto, perhaps this would be a surprise and we'd both share a beer while Eric's band tore it up. But alas, Eric Van Houten and band were a mish-mash of bland radio friendly, teen drama ready, Cheese Whiz 101. It could not have been any clearer to me at this moment that something is wrong with American pop culture once they started in on their last few tunes of the night, referencing "Jesus" and evoking the term "Country" as if it were a buzz word to get more oxygen pumped into the room so that nobody would suffocate.

The musicianship of the EVH band was standard issue with Eric singing his heart out like a karaoke contest winner and his female counterpart lead singer (who looked like she was wearing an outfit that would've been part of a color guard or elementary school jazz dance recital) belting out off key and out of tempo phrases. The "lead" guitarist soloed in every song, sometimes twice.

The drummer looked Randy "Macho Man" Savage (which was awesome), managing to hold down the fort, while the teenage bassist seemed to be having a blast showing off his newly honed skills on his 5 string bass, sometimes making the rhythm of a song seem more interesting than it really was. They were bland, but people seemed to be there in numbers to see them, so perhaps I am totally missing something here. Or perhaps I did not drink the Kool Aid.

Closing out the night was Whiskey Reverb. Having played a show with them a while back, I had an idea as to what to expect and knew they stood a chance of winning this thing. Not because they are technically "good", but because they are totally into their band. They love it. Probably like a mom loves their new born infant. They coddle it, coo it, breast feed it and even love to change it's diapers. It's kind of a weird thing to see a band be so into being a band, but it also makes me like them. Not for the music, but for their devotion to themselves.

I have never been able to do that. I stew in self defeat and constantly feel like I am wasting my time with my bands and music. These dudes are totally the opposite. They take all of their influences and blend them into a weird funky sound. It's like 311, Incubus, Staind & Red Hot Chili Peppers, all getting together to play hide and seek in weird enchanted forest filled with psychedelic mushrooms and cough syrup waterfalls.

It's weird to think that this may be the next level of what I used to affectionately call "Rapcore" or "NuMetal", but alas, it may very well be. The audience they brought out seemed to love them, with people performing back flips in front of us at the judging station and even a quasi dance party happening in front of the stage. It was sad to behold, since it was really 20 people they knew giving it their all to show that they too loved Whiskey Reverb like it was their own baby to be swaddled and rocked gently to sleep.

I was on my 5th drink at this point, totally feeling good and not really paying as much attention to Whiskey Reverb's musical performance as I was the cute girls they brought out with them and also how weird the "rapper" in the band looked, reminding me of Lil' Kev from Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And just like the ending of that episode, Lil' Kev got the last laugh and thus Whiskey Reverb won the battle. I was not surprised in the least. At least they love their band more than Jesus.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Handsome Jack Unleash Super Moon

On a cool, fall Saturday night the flannel-clad descended upon the western edge of Allen Street to celebrate the latest release by local hard rockers Handsome Jack. The crowd spilled out of Nietzsche’s and onto the sidewalk in anticipation of hearing songs from the band’s fourth proper studio album, Super Moon.

Sitting next to the merch table, just a few feet and a few hours from where his band will take the stage, guitarist and lead singer Jamison Passiute leans back and says the band had an extremely simplistic approach to the new record.

“We basically listened to what we did in the past, heard things we don’t like, and kinda go in the opposite direction.”

Over the past year the band scraped together money for Super Moon by playing in a multitude of different bars throughout Western New York. Some of those included long hours and late nights doing 3-hour stints at Gonzo’s in Lockport “just to make some money.” Passuite explains the band would do what it could to earn enough money to pay for recording and pressing the album.

“We even played a birthday party for some guy we didn’t even know cause they paid us 400 bucks just to do it.”

After a stripped-down, drummer-less set by fellow classic rockers Johnny Nobody and indie atmospherics by the Mourdant Sisters, Handsome Jack takes the stage around midnight to a packed-in back room of Nietzsche’s, buzzing with anticipation. The group quickly settles into their somewhere-between-mid-and-slow-tempo bluesy groove.


Holed up at Matt Smith’s HI/LO Recording in Eden, NY the band recorded the majority of the music in just two days. After a few overdubs, some re-recording and mixing, Super Moon was completed in just less than three months. Inspirations varied from song to song but are all “rooted in the same feel” said Passiute.

While the title Super Moon could easily be mistaken for a pagan reference, the album, with its down-home lyrical affirmations, feels like a template for what they could be playing at packed-full mega churches instead of the typical Christian rock and reworked hymns. On “Time will tell”, Passuite sings “I know there’s a good life that’s out there in the sun/ It’s not too far to see.”

On stage, the band belts out the new songs with the conviction of a Sunday preacher, inspiring more than a few sweaty dancers. The group maintains a rhythmic slow burn as Passuite and bass player Joe Verdonselli wring every note from their instruments. It’s now in the early hours of Sunday morning, and Handsome Jack is working hard to conjure up a catharsis-- just a few yards from the First Presbyterian Church quietly sitting down the street.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Music Is Art, kind of.

a Rudy Sizzle review

Would an artist who has work within the paragon that is the Albright Knox Museum cringe at some of the sights and sounds of the Music is Art Festival? Would he or she be disgusted by the over-priced and sub par vendors and crafts being filched as cuisine and artistry?

I cannot imagine Renoir being inspired by a bloated belly dance troop from Williamsville sloppily traipsing through the courtyard of the Museum fa├žade and I am pretty sure Mozart would gladly toss crab apples at the generic, blustery hoopla that sprung forth from the backline of amps of the usual suspects at this years MIA fest. Sadly, art is not being yielded at this event, but rather the mirrored image of a banal culture and its slovenly patrons. Does this seem to be a concern to the masses that get drawn to this event (for the 6th year now)? Would the suburbanites who show up in droves care if the music was higher browed and perhaps the vendors were of higher standard?

Being that as it may, people still enjoyed themselves. Perhaps the event should be called “Music and overpriced food is fun for most people,” or “Music is art, kind of.” I get the feeling that the average MIA audience member is friends with someone in a band (you know the type: you went to see them play at 3pm, bought a hot dog, drank some beer, did not watch any other stage, did not even know there was a side stage around the corner, or did not know any of the other bands, so therefore they probably suck.) Chances are you saw your friends play and thought they should’ve played longer, since it is strictly 3 songs per act, but hey you don’t make the rules. The rules are pretty straight-forward. Most bands think they can sneak in a 4th, perhaps even 5th tune. I mean, c’mon, Robby likes us more than the other bands. He totally gave us the sweet slot because he loves you man.

I honestly think Robby’s intentions are relatively good, I just think he has bad taste. There is no accounting for this in today’s day & age though, especially when people are herded like cattle and given the scraps to chew on. I guess I should not look the gift horse in the mouth since Robby is supporting the local community with this event. It just seems that there are so many amazing artists not being represented. It seems that it is always the same line up, with a few variations to keep it seemingly “fresh.” But that being said I pretty am sure if my band spent a ton of our hard earned cash in Robby’s beauty of a studio, I’d expect to be put on his showcase too.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

inTheirWords: The StayLows on The Signature Bridge

This spring, local indie rockers The Stay Lows dropped their latest full length album, The Signature Bridge. As some reviews of the album are already out, silo3 met up with the band in order to break it down-- track-by-track, "director's commentary" style. In the process, the band delved into how the songs were written, the concepts behind them, and most importantly which one is JP Losman's favorite.

The Stay Lows are:

Jim Schiffert-Guitar,Bass,Vox
Eric Kendall - Guitar
Rick Wright - Cello
Brandon Delmont - Drums
Jeff Delmerico - Bass, Keys

1) Burning None
"What's kind of weird is-- and it's the same thing with the last album-- the order we have been writing them, is how they've been ending up on the albums too. I don't know if that means anything, but that's where we started and the songs progress as we progressed going through it. So if somebody has it on 'shuffle'-- don't." (RW)
"It's a great intro to what we were trying to accomplish, by releasing the four songs we had written previously and then bridging into the newer stuff." (RW)

2)Business of Taking Care
"That song, more that the rest of them, evolved during the mixing." (JS)
"That's probably one of the first songs where we wanted the vocals to be prevalent in writing (the song) at least." (EK)
"Actually, more of the new stuff is 50/50 right now, if not weighted more toward the vocal side." (JS)
"Yeah, our next album is going to be doo-wop" (BD)

3)They Smoked the Moonlanding
"I really like the concept of industrial-in-motion. When we started the electronic drum beats on there and in some of the other parts, it just started morphing. We had a couple of themes going into the album and post-album a couple more came out." (RW)
"That was also JP Losman's favorite song-- he told us." (RW)

"At a Califone show. We opened for Califone and he was there." (EK)

"He came up to us after the set and said he liked us. We had a demo of 'Moonlanding' up (online) and he's like, 'Yeah, it's on my pump-up tape.' " (JS)

4)Are You Guys Pilots?
“That’s actually my favorite song. I guess playing it on drums, it’s cool, you get the best of both worlds. You have a groovy, I don’t want to say dance-y or whatever, but it has a feeling to it more than just like-- rock. Then it kind of goes into, a rock thing. But I don’t know it’s just a really good song.” (BD)

5)Haunted Mouse
“Haunted Mouse was the one song written in that weird practice space on Main St.” (RW)

“We would just heard these two bands that were really loud (all the time).” (BD)

“It was the quietest song we wrote ‘til it progresses…” (RW)

“...until the guitar part then we’re like ‘All right, we have to be louder than the other bands in the space and this is what we’re writing right now.’ “ (JS)

6)Back of the Face
“When we were recording, and we got to that final part, things started just adding on, and adding on-- that’s when I started kind of getting excited about it. Because, there’s a lot of stuff going on and it was just crescendo-ing very nicely.” (RW)
“I always thought (the song) was hysterical… We played with this band Dungen, from Sweden, and the dude from that band came up to us and said (in a Swedish accent)‘That song you did was beautiful-- that dun-ga-dun-ga-da dun-ga-dun-ga-da.’ It was great.” (BD)

7)To Evil (Waltz)
“I came up with the original thing at home and I had just started playing with them. I went out on a limb and showed these guys (the song). They took it and turned it into what it is. But it was a totally new idea for me to be in a band where people listened to me.” (BD)

“And that was the last time that ever happened…” (JS)

8)Ugly Babies
“When we play live, we’re a loud band. We’re not deafeningly loud, but we’re up there on the decibel level, and when we were writing that song, I wanted something that took take advantage of the fact that we play loud.” (JS)

“Yeah people nod their heads. People tap their toes…” (RW)

“I don’t really understand why it works, but it seems to.” (JS)

9) The Pastoral
“What I like about that song-- it has such a great sad, tinge-y melody. But then there’s the comedic part, the 70’s cop part, and this is probably very Stay Lows, is to take a really nice, beautiful piece of music and then lob it between comic, you know, cop parts and stuff.” (BD)
“That song's a good closer.” (EK)

“Yeah, its kind of like when Hercules walks off on the path, but with that like ‘To be continued…’ ” (RW)

About Us

Buffalo, NY, United States
I am an online journalist/blogger/ freelance writer with a strong background in science and deep interest in indie rock.