The collaboration Fight Dirty, a pairing of Erik Petersen’s Mischief Brew, and Guignol (French for “puppet”) is an interesting venture to say the least. Unlike a traditional split, each song on the album is a joint effort. Half the tunes are Erik Petersen backed by Guignol, and the other half are Guignol featuring Erik Petersen on guitar. If you’re guessing that this disc is one hell of a ride, go ahead and pat yourself on the back.
Within the first 30 seconds of “The Tardy Barker,” it’s audibly apparent that no less than half the members of the instrumental Guignol are also in World/Inferno Friendship Society (Franz Nicolay on accordion and mandola and Peter Hess on clarinet, to be specific). Hess’ flittering clarinet twirls bounce playfully off the low end of George Rush’s tuba before John Bollinger (not that John Bollinger) kicks in a hurried punk rock rhythm and Petersen unwraps a nearly metal-sounding sounding guitar lead. Speaking of metal, the quartet (plus one) also tackles a mini-cover of Iron Maiden’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” cutting the seven-minute anthem in half but keeping all the twists and turns along the way with the help of Slavic Soul Party’s Ben Holmes on trumpet. Also covered is a highly enjoyable rendition of jazz great Django Reinhardt’s whimsical number “Appel Direct,” which hears Hess matching Reinhardt’s incredible guitar melody on clarinet and adding plenty of his own flavor. Guignol’s originals are awash with traditional jazz, klezmer, Balkan, and circus-y sounds which only rarely lose steam (“Sugar Park Tavern Death Song”) and just as frequently remind the listener of the group’s punk undertones (the phenomenal “Dirty Benny’s Pogo”). The only drawback is after getting a taste of Nicolay’s singing ability on Major General, Guignol remains instrumental, a critique that is more out of curiosity of what could be than anything lacking.
Erik Petersen sings on five of the 16 songs, with the delightfully anti-digital/anti-tax/anti-papertrail “Off The Books” serving as the first taste of the batch. Though Petersen’s songwriting doesn't deviate greatly from what Mischief Brew fans are used to, his songs are aided exponentially by the addition of Guignol as a backing band. Though “When It Rains” passes by and large in a lull, and “Mr. Crumb”’s mostly acoustic structure brings to mind the previously released anti-cop anthem “Thanks, Bastards!”, the collaboration overall yields unique and memorable results. “Create Destroy” is a jazzy howler that ranks among the disc’s best tracks, and the tuba-heavy title track serves as an appropriate manifesto of the boundary-busting collaboration.
For a band made up of accordion, clarinet, drums, tuba and a guy singing essentially raucous folk anthems with a seafaring twist, Guignol and Mischief Brew are no doubt taking punk to places it's never before ventured. However, they’re also taking it to where punk has always been, as Guignol promises on their Fistolo Records homepage: “We’re playing a squat, punk rock flea market, or dingy basement near you.”