Grand Band Slam: Editor's Picks
Fear Nuttin Band
Of the many fine bands to come from Springfield, none seems more powerful to my ears than Fear Nuttin. The raucous energy of hardcore and the tumbling rhythms of Jamaican dancehall combine in their hands to become something with profound groove and energy. They went from the Valley to the stage of the Bodog Battle of the Bands reality show and came home with a recording contract, so our particular pond may seem a bit small, but their music always seemed too big to be contained anyway.
The Primate Fiasco
winner, best swing band
Though the band was formed in Arizona, The Primate Fiasco didn't enjoy full-fledged Primate-mania until two founding members (one a Valley native) moved to Northampton, picked up some new members, and took the ruckus to the streets. An ideal summertime band (think hula-hooping in lieu of moshing), The Fiasco packs the season with funky jazz fleshed out with horns, clarinet, banjo, and drums, coalescing into catchy hooks that last long into the winter. Its sound has been described as pretty much everything under the rock genre umbrella, and though it may be difficult to label these rumpus lovers, what distinguishes The Fiasco is an unusual, instantaneous mass appeal due to the zeal inherited from their simian namesakes. The contagious relish emitted from The Primate Fiasco established them as indispensable almost the day they landed here.
winner, best experimental/noise
A few years ago on Christmas Eve, as I was relaxing in front of my brightly lit tree, I heard singing outside my apartment in Easthampton. I bounded down the stairs, expecting to find a handful of aging well-wishers reverently singing Christmas carols. That's not exactly what I found. Instead, at my doorstep were the boys of Yucky Octopus, a high-octane, hilariously entertaining punk/rock/metal/pop/experimental band, and roughly 25 of their rowdy friends. After I let the whole crew, who were dancing and inserting dirty words into lyrics of songs like "Silent Night," use my bathroom and have a few vodka shots, I joined them on a caroling tour of Easthampton. (We got asked to move along quite a few times.)
That sort of raucous behavior is typical of the Yucky crew, whose lyrics cover a whole swath of material, from herpes and gasoline to torpedoes and teenagers. Be advised: wear sneakers to live Yucky shows, as, most likely, the Yucky boys' balls-to-the-wall sheer awesomeness will have you bouncing off the walls in no time.
Leah Randazzo Group
winner, best jazz band
It's hard to play jazz that's hard-hitting and still maintain a wide appeal. Leah Randazzo has done just that, mixing solid grooves in an almost Earth Wind and Fire vein with a jazzy sensibility and fine musicianship. At the group's shows, you can shake your booty or admire the skill of the crew onstage, from Randazzo's nimble vocal stylings to the horn section's dead-on hits.
winner, best hip-hop group
Go see a Problemaddicts show and you will be impressed by what I can only call "game." I know from personal experience that it's a bitch to remember all those lyrics in a hip-hop rhyme, much less bust them out night after night with precision and energy, always keeping things fresh and deftly maintaining a flow of cerebral orgasmosis (yeah, okay, I made up that word) from the brain of an emcee to that of the audience member. Let's face it—most live hip-hop sucks; it's awkward, stereotypical and often lyrically inferior to an NPR food review set to jerky klezmer beats. In contrast, The Problemaddicts' game has yet to go stale; in fact, I think they're just beginning to approach the top of it.
A former classical guitar student at Keene State University and Flamenco guitar student at the La Janda school in Vejer de la Frontera, Spain, guitarist and drummer Jeremy Milligan has played a diverse range of musical styles, including jazz, Motown, country, rock, big band, Latin and folk. He's been in the Rene Romero Duo, Bathtub Mary, the Phil DaRosa Band, Somebody's Closet and the Leah Randazzo Group. In Milligan's latest endeavor, the Jeremy Milligan Quintet, the multi-talented music man is attempting to create a sound that encompasses "his favorite aspects of the numerous styles of music he has been involved in." Milligan began composing music specifically for this ensemble in early 2007—Still Moving, the quintet's first release dropped mid-2008. The full-length album boasts songs with instrumentals tighter than Michael Phelps' abs and a sound that's not quite like anything you've heard before: listening to Still Moving is like eating a quiche filled with jalapenos, double chocolate ice cream, prosciutto and pomegranate (and it tastes delicious). The Jeremy Milligan Quintet also features Jana Byrdd on clarinet, Jazer Giles on accordion, Tristan Gutner on bass, a rotating cast of drummers (Sturgis Cunningham, Zak Trojano and Jon Fisher), and a host of guest musicians.
Problem with Dragons
This band has the character of a spoiler-enhanced funny car, a masked Mexican wrestler or a marshmallow roasted over a desert fire with the aid of a gallon of gasoline. The sound of their fuzz bass is like uncovering a vintage MC-5 recording from a Michigan basement, dubbed over a Tijuana Brass cassette with the little plastic safety tabs punched out. In a pop-culture nod to Superman II, the band members identify themselves only as "Zod," "Ursa" and "Non," three evil super-beings from Krypton that we earthlings prayed would remain trapped in the Phantom Zone. Still, I suppose it's okay if we let them out just for gigs, and with songs like "Failures," "Deathblossum" and "Jesus Chainsaw Massacre," you might scratch your head at their MySpace listing of influences such as Falco, Pat Benatar and Lionel Richie, but then irony has always been a favorite, sneery mode of expression of desert-grunge. With this kind of flavor, I'm hoping for a cameo from the Mentors' Il Duce or the Dwarves' "He Who Cannot be Named."
Okay, so far I'm not rushing out to buy Party Wolf's new album; their style is fairly spontaneous, and their lyrical depth falls somewhere in the range of Arnold Scwartzenegger's after 17 vodka tonics. But this is a live band, brothers and sisters—a band that essentially gets away with singing about nothing because they rock so hard that you really don't care. They're tight, fun to watch and great at playing their instruments, and there is never a question about whether people are having a good time at their shows. They are rifftastic. They have huge, raw power that can only be mined from somewhere deep within the scrotum of a bull with six testicles. But, of course, they're more of a wolf than a bull. What the fuck. I could never keep my Cub Scout merit badges straight anyway.
Remaining Editor's Picks: Rusty Belle, DJ Megha, The Alchemystics (winner, best reggae band), The John Bobbit Experience, The Trials and Tribulations, World's Greatest Dad (winner, best folk band), Curious Buddies, The Amity Front, The Equalites, Phil DaRosa Band, DJ Hush, DJ Studebaker Hawk.