Thursday, May 31, 2012
Our most recent visit, which took place this past Thursday, was undertaken with a slight bit of uncertainty. It was our first trip to Packo's since it was sold earlier this year. We had to wonder. Would it still be the same under new ownership? Would the food be up to its usual, iconic standards? The answer was an unequivocal yes!
If you've never had a Hungarian hot dog before, that's understandable. There was no such thing until Tony Packo I invented it eight decades ago. And to my knowledge, there is no Hungarian hot dog anywhere else in this world besides at Tony Packo's. A Packo's dog is nothing like a regular hot dog. Really it's a Hungarian sausage on a hot dog bun, with a spice profile to die for and a spectacularly snappy bite. Topped with chili sauce and shredded cheese, it's a mouthful and a delightful one at that. Hands down, it's the best hot dog I've ever had. Just thinking about it right now is giving me tingles. Ahhhh! If the Packo's dog were the only thing on the menu, it would probably still be my favorite restaurant. But here's the bonus: the chili might be even better! Okay, maybe not better. But at least as good. I'm somewhat nuts about chili, and for years I've kept a mental top five list of the best chilis out there. Whatever used to be #1 lost its spot once I tried the chili at Packo's. Now there's such an immense gap between #1 and #2 that I've decided to leave the #2 spot vacant out of respect. They don't call it their "famous" chili for nothing. It's all in the spices - in this case a Hungarian recipe that's stood the test of time. I would eat a tub of the stuff. And speaking of Hungarian spices, the must-have side dish at Packo's has to be the paprikas dumplings. So simple, yet so good. Also to not be missed are their sweet hot pickles!
The problem with only getting to eat at Packo's once or twice a year is that I can't afford to experiment with my food selections. I've never had the stuffed cabbage, chili mac, roast beef, or mashed potatoes. It just doesn't pay to stray. I like to go with a cup of chili, two dogs, a side of paprikas, and perhaps an order of pickles. You don't mess with perfection. If I'm feeling particularly gluttonous, I'll order the M*O*A*D, which is a ginormous version of the Packo's dog that's four times the size of a regular dog. I've had the chicken chili a couple of times, and that's aces too. My wife ordered the chili sundae last week, and boy is that a sight to see. It comes out in a sundae dish, with taco chips on the side, and it's filled with chili, cheese, and sour cream. I know, right? It's a food dream come true! And be sure to save room for the strudel!
I have seen some comments on-line about Packo's being hit-or-miss these days. Maybe we've just been lucky, but for us it's always been a hit. I can't vouch for all five locations, but the Packo's in Sylvania is where we went last week. And it was as good as it's ever been. We've also been to The Packo's by the baseball stadium a number of times and have never left disappointed. All the well-documented legal issues and family squabbles that have gone on behind the scenes have not seemed to affect the quality of the food. If you're anywhere within driving distance of Toledo and have never had a Packo's dog, it's not a question of if you should go. It's a question of when you're going.
Monday, May 28, 2012
If you ask me, the "hit" is "Emergency". But nobody asked me, so the first single is "We Talk Occasionally On The Internet". Once again, they're gonna shove that hook down your throat...and you're going to love it! Whether they're partying like it's 1996 on the ska-core sing-along "Chick Flick" or channeling their inner Violent Femmes on "Long Weekend Blues", Nate and Tessa maintain a contagious joyfulness that's very much in keeping with their live rep. I love that their press kit quotes this review: "Why even continue to call your self a punk act when clearly you are playing joke songs with only an acoustic? Where is the pissed off lyrics and distorted guitars and blistering drums?" Too funny! Obviously these two have a sense of humor even if it's at their own expense. Hmmm. Joke songs aren't punk? You mean The Dickies have been hosing me all these years? Damn! As for the distorted guitars and blistering drums, they've arrived. Pissed-off lyrics, on the other hand, are not in Destroy Nate Allen's repertoire. So...if you're like me and think Jonathan Richman is more "punk" than, say, The Varukers, this is a band for you!
Saturday, May 26, 2012
But while it's neat that Terrible Feelings are different, what's most important is that they're really damn good. As musicians and songwriters, they're exceptionally gifted. Iwansson has one hell of a voice, especially when she goes out of her ice queen comfort zone and really pushes the intensity. Given the excessively dark nature of the songs, there are moments when it all feels a little too much over the top. Hearing lyrics like "No savior can mend my apathy/it has festered inside of me/deprived me of courage and made me a minion of heresy", I'm really tempted to laugh out loud. But for the most part, this band genuinely succeeds in executing its vision of a gloom rock/power pop hybrid. Not many bands could effectively drop the phrase "when your desolation devours you completely" into the hook line of a pop song, but Terrible Feelings pull it off! The group is at its best, I think, when Iwansson is more angry than maudlin ("Lady Luck"). And at times T.F. come off like a bleak, feminized Buzzcocks, powering through infectiously anguished love songs like "Simultaneous Beats" and "Another Night". If you're making mixes of the best songs of 2012, superb opening cut "Days To Come" is not to be missed. Perhaps I could do with a couple more songs like "Days To Come" and a couple less like "Wicked Skull (pt. 2)". But that's nitpicking. You can't begrudge a band like this some small measure of self indulgence. After all, they are called Terrible Feelings! And all in all, the majority of the tracks are first rate. Moreover, I really admire that the record isn't padded with songs from prior singles (which are tremendous, by the way). Shadows is a fine debut. And given the vast potential of this band's unique style, surely there are even better albums yet to come. Misery ain't going out of style anytime soon.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Ottawa's Mother's Children may be the best band yet to come charging from the North, and their new single is straight up HOT! My goodness! If you like power pop, THIS is how you do it! "See The Other Guy" is a classic '79-style gem - and it's a hit from the very first note. It's catchy as hell, and to boot it's got some real balls to it. Power pop with power- how about that?! I love the infectious guitar leads, the driving power chords in the chorus, and the throaty, impassioned vocal. I appreciate it when someone's singing about heartbreak and he genuinely sounds like he's heartbroken. Without a doubt, this tune's in the running for best song of the year. And "Don't Go Too Far" is a perfect B-side, full of harmonies and hooks and muscular instrumentation reminiscent of The Who. Coming on the heels of last year's great Are You Tough Enough? EP, this single puts Mother's Children in the heart of the "Who's the best band out there?" conversation. Dig!
Friday, May 18, 2012
11. The Nips
Their claim to fame, obviously, is that Shane McGowan went on to become a beloved and notorious figure in popular music. But The Nips/Nipple Erectors were, in their own right, one of the great unheralded bands of '77 punk rock. Their recorded output, while limited, is pretty damn classic.
10. The Testors
This legendary New York City outfit is generally overlooked even by the most knowledgeable punk fans and critics. Sonny Vincent and his crew never signed to a major label and only managed one proper release in their day. But they made some of the rawest and wildest punk music ever - which has been rescued from the dustbin of history by the Complete Recordings 1976-79 retrospective. In this time when trashy punk rock n' roll thrives, it's great to remember one of the earliest and best trashy punk rock n' roll bands.
Perhaps this German trio was more unknown than underrated. Either way, they were bad-ass! Who doesn't love a band that records in a World War II bunker? The band's debut single ("Com' On') and LP rank amongst the finest punk recordings of their time. Sadly, they were never heard from again. "Nobody Can Tell Us" will still blow your head off.
8. Subhumans (Canada)
The other Subhumans are more known, but the Canadian Subhumans were the balls! Not dissimilar in sound and spirit from their Vancouver associates D.O.A., the Subhumans were emblematic of a time when radical/activist/political punk music was actually good. Check out my lengthy review of their classic debut album Incorrect Thoughts over at Dirty Sheets.
7. The Kids
If The Kids had been from England, New York, or California, they would have been absolutely massive. Listen to any of their first three albums, and it will quickly become obvious why we record collector/punk historian geeks have such a hard-on for these Belgian firecrackers. When it comes to raw and rockin' punk music, I put The Kids on a par with The Saints, Pagans, early Damned, and anyone else from the legends class.
6. The Simpletones
The importance of The Simpletones cannot be denied. Not only were they one of the originators of the So-Cal "beach punk" sound, but they were also one of the first punk bands to write lyrics from an entirely adolescent/high school delinquent point of view. In a lot of ways, they were a direct antecedent to "pop-punk" music as well (Were The Descendents fans of theirs? They had to have been!). Songs such as "I Like Drugs", "Kirsty Q", and "Dead Meat (Killer Smog)" are stone-cold classics of California punk rock. If you can find it, their I Have a Date compilation is one of the coolest punk collections ever. At the very least, get yourself a copy of Beach Blvd.!
5. La Peste
I thought about a lot of Boston bands for this list. And in my mind, the most overlooked of the lot was La Peste. While any English punk band worth two shits could get a label deal in the heyday of punk, a lot of American groups were on their own. Had La Peste done a proper LP circa '77/'78 with the backing of a decent label, surely it would have been on a par with the all-time punk classics of the era. They were that good - a scorching powerhouse of a band with the songs to back it all up. As it is, their patched-together debut album belongs in the record collection of anyone who professes to enjoy punk rock. Everyone knows "Better Off Dead", but "Don't Wanna Die In My Sleep Tonite" is the jam!
4. The Professionals
When I think "classic U.K. anthemic punk", few bands fit the bill better than The Professionals. With all due respect to Johnny Rotten, I have to say Steve Jones and Paul Cook were the musical heart of the Sex Pistols. You can have P.I.L. I'll take The Professionals!
Perhaps Ruts were more unfortunate than underrated. Prior to Malcolm Owen's untimely death, Ruts had tremendous chart success. They had three top 40 singles in the U.K., and their only studio album, The Crack, peaked at #16. And what a band! Ruts were original, musically diverse, and exceptionally good at playing their instruments. There's no telling how great they could have become.We'll never know. But even with only having left behind one album and a handful of singles, Ruts were one of the greatest punk bands ever.
2. The Adverts
While hardly off the radar, The Adverts always struck me as a band that never really got its due. I personally put The Adverts in the very top tier of English punk, on a par with The Clash, Damned, and Buzzcocks. And T.V. Smith has got to be one of the most underrated songwriters that ever lived.
1. Angry Samoans
The Samoans underrated? Am I nuts? But consider this. I don't think any band besides The Ramones has been a bigger influence on the last 15-20 years of good punk music. I mean, just think of all the Rip Off Records bands that "borrowed" from the Samoans! With their songs averaging barely more than one minute and wildly offensive lyrics delivered with tongue-in-cheek vitriol, these guys practically invented "snot-punk". Their first two albums are two of the best punk LPs ever made, and their blending of three-chord punk with the burgeoning hardcore of the day was darn near revolutionary. I'm not saying the Samoans have been completely overlooked. But for their era and region, they ought to be as highly regarded as, say, Social Distortion or The Dead Kennedys.
There you have it, folks. Now tell me who I forgot or neglected. A list like this is always a "work in progress".
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Monday, May 14, 2012
And go big The Figgs sure have! The Day Gravity Stopped is all over the place stylistically, and if you were hoping for another Lo-Fi At Society High or Sucking In Stereo, you're bound to be disappointed. But if you're just looking forward to continued greatness from The Figgs, you'll get exactly that. A full quarter century into its existence, this is by no means a band that sounds like it's bored with itself. By all accounts, these guys continue to put on arguably the best live show in all of rock n' roll. And Mike and Pete's legendary songwriting chops are shining brighter than ever. At worst, there are perhaps two songs out of 20 here that might have been better left on the cutting room floor. That's pretty good for an album as ambitious as is, which takes inspiration from sources as varied as Buddy Holly ("Brain Be Gone"), The Beatles ("Jupiter Row", "Avec U"), '70s soft rock ("Always Time"), country rock ("Can't Sit Still"), blue-eyed soul ("Do Me Like You Said You Would"), late-period Replacements ("Wait 'till Dawn"), classic Springsteen ("Camden Love-In"), and new wave pop ("Chinese Handcuffs"). And what's so remarkable is that they tackle all this stylistic diversity and genuinely pull it off! This may or may not be a concept album, and for sure it's meant to be enjoyed as a complete work (ideally with headphones, to take in all that skillful weaving of '70s style electric piano and post-modern synthesizers). But of course we fans always look for those individual standout songs that we can add to our ever-growing lists of Figgs standards. There are indeed a few of those to be heard. I'd put "Do Me Like You Said You Would" up there with anything in The Figgs catalog. It's kind of like the Stones' "Beast of Burden" meets Prince...or something like that. It's actually the only song on the album to run longer than four minutes, but it seems like it's way shorter than that. A guy named Graham Parker says it's a hit. You may have heard of him. "The Recap", with its rumba rhythm and retro-futuristic keyboards, is contemporary and cool and catchy as hell. "She Can't Say No Either", buoyed by a contagious guitar hook and slick vocal overdubs, could pass for a long lost new wave hit from 1982. And if there's such a thing as a "typical" Figgs song, "On the Grounds of Stately Homes" had me loving this album from the get-go.
I don't want to say I'm surprised that The Day Gravity Stopped is so good. A better phrasing is that I'm amazed by The Figgs' sustained brilliance after 25 years. Usually when a band this seasoned puts out an album of this caliber, it's a "comeback" from years of inactivity or phoned-in mediocrity. But The Figgs never went away. They never stopped touring or making great music. If they've strayed from the musical style that made their early records such a blast, we can hardly fault them for challenging themselves creatively. And truth be told, The Figgs were never a formulaic band even in their heyday. Some bands are great at one particular type of music, and others are just great bands, period. The Figgs could try any genre of music, and they'd be awesome at it. They're just class. Last year I named them one of the eleven greatest bands of the 2000s. At the rate they're going, they'll make my 2010s list as well!
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
debut album immediately. Then you too can be psyched for the next one to come out!
Sunday, May 06, 2012
Friday, May 04, 2012
If you asked longtime Now Wave Magazine contributor Johnny Problem to name one band from our time that should have been huge, he’d tell you Jake and the Stiffs. And I would concur. If you ever saw them live, you’d be on board as well. To this day, I hear songs like “Holly”, “All I Said”, “High School Blues”, and “Jennifer” and can’t quite believe they’re not remembered as punk classics of their time! Oh well. If there’s any lesson we’ve all learned in underground music over the years, it’s that sometimes making good music is the worst thing you can do if your band wants to “make” it. There have been a few exceptions, but for the most part, quality music hasn’t been saleable on a mass level for 25 years. So why fret? Let’s just be thankful for bands who care more about making great music than they do about “succeeding”. Let’s be thankful for bands like Jake and the Stiffs!
Out of all the criminally overlooked songwriters of my time, Randy America may have been the most criminally overlooked. Even within the punk world, Jake and the Stiffs were always a little under the radar. And I think it’s because they were ahead of their time. In the mid-’90s, “pop-punk” usually meant a second-rate Screeching Weasel or a third-rate Ramones. But the Jake and the Stiffs version of pop/punk was more akin to The Dickies or The Boys, steeped in the style of old school punk and informed by power pop. If they had come up in today’s punk scene, in the heyday of Dirtnap and Douchemaster Records, they probably would have hit it big! In spite of the fact that they were a popular regional act (based out of Wilmington, Delaware and tangentially part of the West Chester, PA scene), I never knew much about them until I saw them play at the Blue Star in Lancaster circa 1998. I was blown away. They came out and plowed through song after song of super-catchy punk rock with balls and personality. They covered “Zodiac” by The Rip Offs. The bass player bled. They were everything I liked about punk music combined into one band. And they had songs. I couldn’t believe they didn’t have an album out on a big label! I tracked down their Spike 7” (which I still possess in spite of recently unloading the rest of my vinyl collection). I saw them a couple more times - again at the Blue Star and once at a pizza joint in Wilmington with The Pits. They killed it every time. A few years later, I finally got to review one of their recordings when Mutant Pop Records put out their If It Ain’t Stiff…It Ain’t Worth A Fuck CD. I fucking loved it. The Mutant Pop fan base was not enthralled. After all, they didn’t sound like Screeching Weasel.
Eventually, both Randy America and Algy Siouxcide from Jake and the Stiffs became writers for Now Wave. Man, those were the good old days! One of my great memories of that time period was when Algy made me a homemade Jake and the Stiffs comp CD. I loved that thing! That disc somehow got lost in the chaos of me moving a few years back, but luckily I was able to download the posthumous best-of Laurie’s Other Life off of iTunes. Released in 2008, it includes the above-mentioned gems as well as other should-have-been hits like “Scrappy” and the classic title track. So it’s not like this band’s music has been lost to the world forever. I was a little dismayed with the lack of information on-line about Jake and the Stiffs, so I asked Randy to compile a band discography. He and Algy put their heads together, and so here we have an official unofficial list of everything JATS ever released:
1990: Meet the Stiffs!
Unreleased. Randy America on bass, Jake on guitar, and Scott Goldstein on drums. 5 songs.
1992: Love So Deep
Full length Tape: 500-1000 copies. Randy on guitar, Steve Funk on bass, Zach Hansen on drums.
1993: Steal This Record
4 song 7" on Billy Records with "Smells like Seattle". Randy, Steve, and Zach.
1992: Lub 84
Full Length Tape. 10 + Songs. Unreleased.
1994: Looked What the Cat Puked Up
Tape. 300 copies. Randy on guitar, Algy Siouxicide on bass.
1995: Punk Ass!
Tape. 300 copies. Randy and Algy. Donnie Switchblade on guitar and Matt Drastic on drums.
1995: Spike 7"
Coolidge Records. Two songs: "Jennifer" and "Because".
1995: Pot Belly Pete 7"
Gunk Records, NY. Randy, Algy, Don, and Matt. 1000-1500 copies on black vinyl and 100 on red vinyl.
1996: Dad, I Can't Breathe compilation
Creep Records. One song: "Love Bomb".
1996: Descendents Homage tribute CD
Coolidge Records. One Song: "I'm Not a Loser".
1997: Rosetta Stone compilation
One song: "It's Cold Outside".
1998: "Behind Bars" soundtrack
One song: "Laurie's Other Life".
2000: If It Ain't Stiff....
2000: If It Ain't Stiff....
Full length CD. Mutant Pop Records
2002: "I Like Girls"/"High School Blues"/"All I Said" 7".
2002: "I Like Girls"/"High School Blues"/"All I Said" 7".
Trickshot Records. Randy, Algy, Donnie, and Matt.
2008: Laurie's Other Life
Coolidge Records. Full Length best-of CD.
Where are they now? Randy America is currently at work on a solo album, and of course Algy Siouxicide is with the almighty Keefs. You can still stream some of Jake and Stiffs’ music at their myspace page. Laurie's Other Life is available on iTunes or from Amazon.com. And check out these clips! One is from way back in the day, and the other is from a one-off reunion the band did this past New Year!