Williamsburg’s Knitting Factory had a big celebration for Brooklyn Rocks StrummerJam which is a DIY event where bands, venues and promoters unite to raise funds for their local music charities and keep the memory of The Clash’s Joe Strummer (who died in 2002) burning brightly. The night had four extremely diverse and awesomely rockin’ bands who had me thrashing my head around in wild abandon all night.
First up was a band of true NYC punk veterans, Squirrels From Hell, who are ominously known as “The Band New York City Couldn’t Kill.” These four guys had their rock fully focused and surprisingly tight for their whole set, which isn’t surprising since the band has been around since 1978. Hearing them described as art-punk came into full focus now as their sound had lots of heady, complex jazz-leaning time changes, which almost gave them a progressive rock appeal, until the full-force punk riffs came in to totally napalm everything in a wonderfully loud controlled explosion of anti-corporate cynicism. Reminiscent of classic icons like Dead Milkmen, Warren Zevon, and X, not to mention the good ol’ Clash themselves, or perhaps more Big Audio Dynamite-era Strummer, which was more my era of exposure to him anyways, so I was in full support of the rock given. After that was the enchanting mellow rock of Holly Overton and her band the Midnight People. I’ve seen Holly perform with a couple different projects before (Juniper Rising and Habibi come to mind), but this is the first time I got a full solo dose of her music, and I was truly impressed by her strong lyrical wit and smooth harmonies that reminded me quite a bit of awesome artists like Belly, Liz Phair, and Letters to Cleo. On her recordings, she apparently plays much of her own instrumental backings, but live, she has this amazing all-star unit of musicians called Midnight People, who seem a veritable who’s who of local NYC bands, whom all together sounded deadly awesome.
Next at bat was one of my fav local acts, Del Caesar, a Brooklyn power trio that bring back classic 60’s garage rock, along with a bit of mid-60’s London rock, and modern surf-rock shimmy. They sound like a nice mix of the psychedelics of 13th Floor Elevators, the raw kick of early Kinks, smooth hallucinogenic jams of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and the brutal swing of Thee Oh Sees, all executed with a raw, blunt, low-fi attitude. Harlem’s Band Droidz was up next, and there isn’t any way to overstate how much this kickass trio impressed me. They effortlessly fused genres from 70’s punk, 60’s psychedelic, classic roots reggae, perhaps a bit of two tone ska, and some funk and soul into a tasty mélange that astounds. Their ingredients were actually pretty openly pronounced with some definite Clash stagger, a dash of raw Nirvana served hot, a nibble of Jimi Hendrix Experience drive, some wildly expressive Vernon Reid axe solos, moments of skater punk Bad Brains hardcore crash, and a generous helping of funkalicious Fishbone spice. You would be sadly remise to miss this band next time they play near you.
Closing out the night was Shellshag, the devilishly delirious duo from Brooklyn, who are like the cool mom and pop of the NYC punk scene that you just wanna get down and party with. Shellshag are drummer Jennifer Shagawat and guitarist John “Shellhead” Driver, and they both sing fun pop punk anthems of DIY resilience, getting old but never losing the spark, affection and woe, as well of the pure love of getting wasted and fucking off. If you have never seen them live, you are sorely missing out on the fun, as they are an experience to behold. They play facing one another singing into a homemade Y-shaped mic-stand with their name burning in neon effigy along its base, on top mics are intertwined like they are taking sips of champagne arms interlocked, Jen with her belt and boots full of various bells to jangle along to the beat, and most of all engage each other as the play face to face, an intriguing concept indeed. These two certainly have a lot going on right now, recently releasing their fifth LP Why’d I have to get so high?, and continuing to kick ass with their Starcleaner music label. With their online variety show of absurdity Shellshonic Shag-O-Vision is must-watch television, as well as books and animated features, these two truly do it all, without sacrificing an ounce of punk cred. By the end, much like they do on stage, they tear it all apart just to put it back together again.
Article: Dean Keim