Punk music's development is shoved along by the tension between authenticity and novelty. The Sex Pistols incoherently cried out for chaos. The Clash took self-consciously radical poses, marketing themselves as working-class rockers in solidarity with international liberation struggles.
Theatric hyperbole and self-seriousness still split punk, though the rift is realigned to reflect today's cultural landscape: gutter-dwelling mutant showmen and DIY ideologues represent the opposing camps. Ian Svenonius boasts a long career of cleverly balancing the two. He knows that engaging rock 'n' roll is a big, riotous performance that needs levity and humor. Still, considering his outspoken role in bands like Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up, and now Chain & the Gang, not to mention his books, he'd also like to destroy capitalism. Witness Chain & the Gang's dazzling feat -- making critical theory fun -- on Thursday, Jan. 9, at the Make-Out Room, with The Shivas and Skate Laws. The next night, Svenonius' new film, What is a Group? premieres in Oakland at the Starline Social Club.
Bands from Olympia, Washington carry a particular mystique. Its recent musical exports, like Vexx, Gun Outfit, Hysterics, and Gag deal in disparate sounds like psychedelic pop, punk, and hardcore, but the enigmatic Olympia shroud encompasses the whole lot. So, if Olympia trio Broken Water's press release muses cryptically on the artesian drinking well that spouts in the center of town, I read carefully. Broken Water has a tenuous relationship to pop music. There are pleasing melodies and soft atmospherics, but enough harsh dissonance and jarring song structures to alienate listeners in search of something that goes down easy. Logically, we can only conclude that some strange alchemy is at play in Olympia. The well water produces compelling sounds. See and hear Broken Water on Friday, Jan. 20, at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records in Oakland.
The Legendary Stardust Cowboy operates on a higher plane of conceptual art than my humble music journo intellect can readily conceive of. Like many unacknowledged geniuses, his long career of provocative rock 'n' roll is often derided as novelty. The Ledge, as he's known to the devout, is an elderly gentleman today, hard of hearing, whose performance art showcases involve flying paper plates, non-lexical vocables, and the deft support of auxiliary instrumentalists. David Bowie acknowledged the Ledge's brilliance and copped his name for the glam rock persona Ziggy Stardust, which is quite a reductive appropriation. How rude. But the advantage of The Ledge's criminal exclusion from the rarified world of high art is that we can see his performance for little expense at small clubs -- like on Wednesday, Jan. 15, at the Elbo Room in San Francisco.