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Epic: the Evens rock the Howe Library.

PHOTO: Joe Putrock

In Step

By Mike Hotter

The Evens

Albany Public Library, Howe Branch, June 27

If in a hundred years some liberal form of Christianity rises up and decides to elect a patron saint of punk, Ian MacKaye would have to be a frontrunner for the position. Chief agitator in the groundbreaking Washington, D.C., band Minor Threat (who, along with Bad Brains and Black Flag, pretty much invented hardcore punk), MacKaye went on to form the even-more-widely admired Fugazi, a stalwart of the American indie scene throughout the 1990s. MacKaye has a track record for not only making music with a deep sense of ethics and integrity, but for putting his unique message of chivalric punk-rock into action, self-releasing and offering his music for usually no more than $10 a pop, encouraging audiences to bring their children to his all-ages shows, and seeking out nontraditional venues to bring the music to the people. So there was a sense of reverence as well as excitement in the air when MacKaye and singer-drummer Amy Farina quietly took the stage as the Evens last week in the basement of the Albany Public Library’s Howe Branch in South Albany.

After a quick spoken intro in which MacKaye “demystified” things by filling the audience in on matters like how long the duo were going to play and how many CDs they had left to sell (35), he requested that everyone have a seat on the floor so that all could have a chance to see what was going on, including a girl of about 5 who whirled and jumped to the music near the back of the basement. Farina and MacKaye proceeded through about 12 utterly captivating selections from their two CDs. While the recordings have a hushed, gentle quality, the duo attacked these songs with a passion that frequently brought Mac-Kaye’s old band Fugazi to mind. Mac-Kaye favors a sort of funk- and dub-derived style of guitar playing, chunky minor chords interspersed with sliding riffs and the occasional bent blue note. His use of the rarely heard baritone guitar (favored usually in classic country records and Spaghetti Western soundtracks) ensured there was plenty of bottom end accompanying Farina’s propulsive grooving.

The entrancing music and unprepossessing catchiness of the melodies made sure that the lyrics stood out in stark relief, almost every tune a bracing and exhilarating call to political and social action. “On the Face of It” gently called us (as in the American citizenry) out on our complacency while the Executive Branch wrecks the place. “Cut From the Cloth,” at an epic (by comparison) five minutes, asked, “How do people sleep amidst the slaughter?/Why would they vote in favor of their own defeat?” In true DIY spirit, the Evens got the crowd involved, enlisting the impassioned audience to help end “You Won’t Feel a Thing” with what MacKaye called “an epic fadeout.” Seemingly charged by the audience’s willingness to participate in the show (there was also a “scream-along” during “Mt. Pleasant Isn’t”), MacKaye got more animated as the show progressed, and as the Evens built up a head of steam on the set closer “Everybody Knows (You Are a Liar),” his eyes caught the wild and mad glare of his Minor Threat days. This cathartic and wonderfully intimate show left the crowd in an exhilarated state, smiling and wondering if maybe a room full of punks can still change the world.

Tune In, Geek Out

Rush

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, June 30

If you were ever a pimply young lad or lassie with a penchant for either Isaac Asimov or Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, chances are you have one or two Rush albums stashed away somewhere in the attic or basement, safe from the judging eyes of any visiting tastemakers. Rush rocked like Led Zeppelin’s nerdy kid brother, but at least they rocked. At their best, they were Tenacious D without the tongue in cheek—when Geddy Lee sang that he was a priest from the Temple of Syrinx, he made you believe that he bloody well meant it. With bands like the Mars Volta and Coheed and Cambria making heavy, progressive rock safe for the hipoisie again, it was high time to check out how their Canadian grandpappies are faring.

The good news is that they are still hella loud, and they still do what they damn well please. The first set began with a concession to the classic-rock-radio fans, a pleasant spin through “Limelight,” before heading straight into the deep album cuts “Digital Man” and “Entre Nous,” songs from the days when Rush music roared from inside black Camaros peeling out in front of school buses. Geddy was in fine voice, and it was grand to see where Les Claypool must have first learned to get all slap-happy and fleet-fingered with his four-string. The end run of “Freewill” heralded the first real jam of the evening, Alex Lifeson whammy-barring the angular metallic blues like only he can, setting things up nicely for a turn through the nifty new instrumental “The Main Monkey Business.”

I wondered if that title was a slap at our Commander-in-Chimp—I mean Chief—but Rush are characteristically oblique on these things. They aren’t Rage Against the Machine, of course, but the second set was frontloaded with new Snakes and Arrows songs dealing with topical matters like war, faith and religion. While drummer Neil Peart is an intelligent and conscientious lyricist, the preachiness of some of the new tunes started to grate on the nerves.

The classic “Subdivisions” showcased some of Peart’s best lyrics, and hearing the words “In the basement bars/In the backs of cars/Be cool or be cast out” surrounded by the air-strumming and -drumming of the fans, it was touching to witness this strong connection between a band and its supporters. After the fireworks and lasers went off and the beat to “Tom Sawyer” echoed in my brain during the walk out of the park, I found myself having a newfound respect for this brainy band of music geeks. They obviously believe in the healing power of Rock, and so do their fans—and that’s a special thing. I also got to fulfill a lifelong wish: to yell “Salesmen!” along with Geddy Lee and about 10,000 other people at the climactic moment of “The Spirit of Radio.” It doesn’t sound like much, but I highly recommend it.

—Mike Hotter

Classic Crock

Ted Nugent

Northern Lights, June 27

It looked promising. Terrible Ted, unearthly and loinclothed hero of mine youth, strutted onto the stage ageless, a leviathan with shatterproof jowls, unexpectedly launching into an incorrigible version of the Amboy Dukes classic “Journey to the Center of the Mind.” It should have been a warning.

The crowd, comprising every municipal highway worker within 50 miles, rejoiced in this humpday slaying; huge, truculent men accompanied by women with big hands and eyes made shrewd by decades of American pilsner. The humidity, combined with the Nuge’s melodic but industrially streptococcal Gibson love calls, upped the temperature to over 100 degrees as our man raged, offering a veritable cookbook of nuggets, including “Free for All“ and “Wango Tango.” The wholly unexpected “Weekend Warrior” caused the well-over-capacity crowd to howl with a sick animal glee that made horses on paddocks in the next county sick with fear.

And then it began.

The band whirled directly into “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” an incredible trouncing, replete with awesome girlie backing vocals from beefy drummer “Wild” Mick Brown (of Dokken fame) and Chris Smith (insert ’70s comeback band of your choice here), but halfway through, the bovine spongiform encephalopathy kicked in, physically altering the expression on Ted’s face and he rambled on about how “you can’t do this in France,” apparently a three-year old reference to the country’s decision to stay the fuck out of the Iraq war. This was a refrain we would hear for the rest of the night, which, of course, 90 percent of the audience adored only slightly less than the relentless cheap ploys for applause by toasting every sector of the United States armed forces. Out came the machine guns, with intentions to ram the barrels up the arses of Clinton and Schumer (as if either one of them is worried about hunting or gun laws). I expected this. But I wasn’t at all prepared for the extent of the man’s mental decline. At times he just became a babbling idiot, asking the crowd “Who wants a backstrap?” or suggesting that we arm children with automatic weapons. During the setlist standard “Baby Please Don’t Go,” he spun off into some ridiculous refrain of “Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Geronimo and me,” the irony of simultaneously toasting the military and claiming brotherhood with indigenous American people (“supporting the troops” in 1870 meant kicking Indian ass) lost forever on his face.

But even that was bearable; it was the downright abysmal new material that put me in the parking lot. By any standard, this stuff was just deplorable, predictable and lazy. I mean, “Love Grenade?” From the man who once wrote “My Love is Like a Tire Iron”? And there was this other failure called “Girl Scout Cookies,” which was such a bad metaphor for munching rug that halfway through it occurred to me that he might actually be talking about eating Girl Scout cookies. And why the completely unnecessary, half-assed cover of “Soul Man”? It pained me to no end. Nugent’s like an aging boxer who looks good for about four rounds and then has to go to the gun closet to make things even. Not even the splendid closer “Great White Buffalo” (now there’s a riff) could save him. It was sad. The mad cow has taken him, the center of his mind no less porous than our borders.

—Bill Ketzer


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