Having recently expanded its store, Oakland's 1-2-3-4 Go! Records is now hosting live shows in the back. Either due to the venue's small size, or the unassuming plywood stage set-up, three rockers known for high powered punk jams decided to break out the acoustic guitars and play tunes that showed the connection between the prarie and basement squats Oct. 18.
With little more fanfare than "Hi, I'm Kepi," Kepi Ghoulie (ex-Groovie Ghoulies) opened the show with a high energy number that was as much Ramones-core punk pop as it was Willie Nelson. While a great deal of pop-punk falls into derivative riffs and literally mindless lyrics, without the cover of feedback and a clipping drum, Kepi showed that when it's just him, a guitar and a harmonica, he knows how to write a song in the classic sense. Although he stayed fairly close to his chosen topics of heartbreak and "cute-ified" monsters, his songs were propelled by solid harmony and rhythm that when removed from their context, could fit happily on the B-side of Red Headed Stranger. As usual, Kepi's demeanor wavered between peppy and coke-fiend (Disclaimer: Kepi was not on drugs--just very excited), and he recounted how he convinced Honer to send him a free harmonica after his fell apart and also wished tongue-in-cheek curses upon Asian Man Records owner Mike Park for putting download codes on the outside of Asian Man releases, making them veryeasy to steal.
While Kepi leaned closer and closer to the country with each tune, the next act, Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience opted to take his earlier electrified music and swap out the juice with some strings. Taking requests, Dr. Frank launched into MTX songs, as well as a few solo ones, playing ragged, but honest versions. The approach made sense, and near the end of his set, when playing MTX's "Hitler," Dr. Frank, through example, made the argument that he and his band were ahead of the acoustic-solo-punk-rock guy trend by a good decade. Because the show had almost a coffee house atmosphere, each of the acts took a few moments to tell anecdotes. Dr. Frank had the best tale of the evening when he explained that he used to write requests on his hand during shows so he wouldn't forget them, and then later on, walked into a liquor store. When the owner frowned at the marks on his body, Dr. Frank explained that "Oh, that's just because I have a song about Hitler!"
Last, Passage Walkers made their live debut. Composed of Jesse Michaels (Operation Ivy, Classics of Love) on vocals, Ralph Spight (Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, Victim's Family) on electric guitar and Mick Leonardy (Cold Hot Crash) on acoustic guitar, the band played simple but profound tunes that reached towards the beginning of rock and country crossover to the later day doomsday musings of Johnny Cash. Having just formed, the band had only six songs to exhibit. While the tunes weren't complex, the sheer talent of the group was on display. Each of the songs seemed to be built around the same pulp as the classics from Sun records, whirling around circular rhythms that seemed to be the result of an eduction in Bible hymns as much as an attempt at distance from the sacred scriptures. Michaels's lyrical, dare I say, genius, was in full force on the new songs. While the lyrics were simple, Michaels is still able to pluck that certain word that none other can do, and place it perfectly in the chorus so that his simple statements remain simple, but are also profound. Tellingly, each of the songs dealt with mortality in some form, often with a forecast of doom.
Interestingly, in contrast to his physical, off the walls performance in the hardcore-driven Classics of Love, Michaels assumed an almost Andrews Sisters posture, with his hands clasped in front of him, body unmoving, and a sheet music stand providing the lyrics. While berserk energy can really drive home a song's meaning, the group made it apparent that in contrast, sometimes the songs themselves can, and need, to do all he work themselves.
-In a serendipitous moment, I picked up the Big Rig EP on vinyl for a smooth six smakeroonies. If you are ever in the East Bay, hit up 1-2-3-4 Go! records. Good selection for rarities, fair prices.
-I encourage you to observe Kepi Ghoulie after his show is over. It seems that Kepi Ghoulie is Kepi Ghoulie, even after the plug is pulled.
-FYI, Michael's other band, Classics of Love, is releasing their first LP in February. I think it might be THE album of 2012. Unfortunately, the group is going on semi-hiatus afterwards as one of their members goes to sailing college… This is on your heads, you illegal Internet downloaders! CoL are so good they should be millionaires from record sales alone! Instead the only way they can make a living is by learning about boats. To the pit with you, illegal Internet downloaders! I hate you!
-After a pleasant evening, I returned to my car to find that I had gotten a parking ticket. To the pit with you, Oakland! I hate you! Anyways, I'm fighting' the ticket. I'll let you know how it turns out.