If anyone would have asked me more than twenty years ago if I ever thought I'd see the day where a large percentage of AmRep's roster would get together in Minneapolis and celebrate Amphetamine Reptile's 25th Anniversary—I would have probably said yes just based on the talent Hazelmyer had collected at that point. If you would have asked the same question five years ago, I would have said, "Fuck no." This could possibly mark the first time I've ever been happy for potentially being wrong.
The reality that many of these bands reunited only to play the AmRep Bash, The Thrown-Ups hadn't played in more than twenty years and only did so in Seattle, says a lot about Hazelmyer's character, the musicians he signed and the significance of the label. While AmRep never amassed the roster of Sub Pop, Touch & Go or Sympathy—five of AmRep's bands were picked-up by a major and Helmet inadvertently conceived nu metal. Not bad for a label whose releases just barely total three figures.
The event kicked off on Friday night with a free show by Lollipop and Unsane. I couldn't imagine that anyone left with their hearing intact because both bands pummeled the place. Unsane was absolutely sick. They played Scattered, Smothered & Covered whether we "like it or not" and played with a focused intensity that I hadn't seen since the nineties. The place was packed and sweaty but it didn't matter because you knew you were catching a moment that wouldn't be repeated.
The Minneapolis music community is a tight group. The AmRep Bash was both a reason to get together to check out some of the best music the Pitchfork faithful have never heard as well as catch up with old friends. The word reunion was mentioned in spades over the weekend but it wasn't only ex-pats, friends and locals in attendance. People descended upon Minneapolis from neighboring states, both coasts and just about everywhere else—running the spectrum from young to old. There was a gentleman who made the trek from Manchester, England as well as a kid named Kyle, no older than twelve, who was accompanied by his dad and quickly endeared himself to all gathered.
The crux of the three-day milestone took place in Grumpy's spacious parking lot on Saturday afternoon and began as the Minneapolis heat started to beat down. Dope, Guns & Fucking Up Your Video Deck host Dr. Sphincter served as master of ceremonies while Lori Barbero (Babes in Toyland) and Chris Spencer (Unsane) spun records in between bands.
First up was the Melvins who turned in a tight thirty-minute set that featured Dale Crover on vocals for a run at The Ramones' "Pinhead" and a wizardly Buzz Osborne. By this time you know what to expect from a band that's been around as long as the Melvins. While the make-up of the band has changed in recent years you still get a rock and roll show that delivers uncompromised tenacity with a bit of a wink. No one ever went home unsatisfied after these guys left the stage.
What a shitty slot—to have to follow the Melvins. But Vaz, lead by Paul Erickson who would turn in no less than four performances with four different bands (Vaz, Hammerhead, Jet Legs and Janitor Joe), played a driven crowd pleasing set and while Vaz will probably never escape the shadow of Erickson's former band, Hammerhead, there were still plenty of delicious moments to take in.
White Drugs were one of the few active bands in the line-up as well being a part of only a handful of AmRep releases since the label went on hiatus. All the way from Texas, the bearded foursome tore shit up—matching the ferocity of the recently released Gold Magic. There's a reason why Hazelmyer will resurrect the label from time to time, White Drugs are the rhyme to it.
Next up was local favorites Gay Witch Abortion. Unfortunately, I had to duck out for some food as well as a break from the sun and missed them. I heard that they absolutely killed and that the crowd went crazy. But I had to pick a victim and I wasn't about to miss the next band....
The Thrown-Ups hadn't played together forever but the non-band reformed for Hazelmyer. Haze had been quoted in the local weekly stating that he had never seen the band perform live even though it was the label's second release. They didn't disappoint. All came out in tight half shirts, one nipple exposed through a cut out, with statements like "my mom is hot." They also sported tinfoil caps, a blacked-out tooth and black garbage bag pants. Singer Ed Fotheringham's homemade trousers were especially dynamic since they were filled with shaving cream and exploded like a zit when he punctured strategic places that included his ass. He also took a black magic marker and doodled all over himself while he spouted gibberish and nonsense. This was a band that vowed to never write songs or practice and somehow it all came together brilliantly.
The only way to have sobered up from that surreal performance came from the brutal assault of Today is the Day. I hadn't seen these guys since the Clusterfuck tour but they haven't lost a step. The three-piece continuously pummeled the crowd with a thick wall of rage. While singer/guitarist Steve Austin remains the only original member, the trio continues to record, tour, serve as an influence and defy what it means to be metal.
If the day had any surprises it would be when Shannon Selberg took the stage adorned with his leopard skin hat, mousetrap earrings and blow-up doll face to perform the National Anthem on bugle while Hazelmyer abused the guitar in the background. Needless to say the crowd exploded over the Selberg/Hazelmyer appearance but that was nothing compared to the excitement over what would follow. Selberg, one to never disappoint and easily one of the best frontmen ever, stayed on stage to perform the Cows' version of "Shaking" with God Bullies as his backing band. The moment was perfect and set a huge benchmark. Fuck, who could follow that?
God Bullies have been around since the early days of AmRep but singer Mike Hard, having sold his soul, hasn't aged in twenty years. If anyone could compete with Selberg it would be Hard and he nailed it. The ageless frontman came out and astonished the crowd. He had them eating out of his hand while guitarist David B. Livingstone contorted chords along with his body. Hard's theater days serve him well as he's able to transform on stage into a twisted evangelical conservative whose actions and lyrics betray your first impression. There were two or three bands that day who generated plenty of talk and God Bullies were easily one of the three. Well deserved praise for a band that hasn't really been functioning full-time for a while.
Of all the bands that reformed for AmRep's 25th Anniversary, Hammerhead, if rumors are true, may be the only one that continues. They may have also been the most anticipated act of the day. Their performance was jaw dropping. The trio took the stage, stepped on your neck and never let up. Singer/guitarist Paul Sanders swallowed the microphone and twisted his guitar until it spit out just the right noise while guitarist Paul Erickson and drummer Jeff Mooridian kept the punishment focused. You didn't want to take a breath in case you would miss something.
And who best to cap off the night? Why Boss Hog, of course. Hitting the stage with nothing but cool swagger, Christina Martinez proved once again why there's no way in hell that you could ever accuse her of living in husband Jon Spencer's shadow. Boss Hog is all Martinez and she commanded the stage like she was a member of NWA—prowling back and forth, spitting lyrics and taking on the audience. The performance was nearly an hour of straight groove that sent plenty of bodies shaking and twisting.
An event that didn't take place was the Fuzz Buzz Kill—a demonstration of Barry Henssler's (Necros/Big Chief) effects pedal. Henssler was a no show but a frail looking Grant Hart was ready to go. Too bad, it would have been something to see Haze, Buzz Osbourne, Jon Spencer, Hart and Henssler make a lot of noise.
Day three took place in the much smaller outdoor setting at Grumpy's NE. The event kicked off with Jet Legs but I was hurting in a big way and couldn't seem to get off the bar stool—too content to just hang while nursing a Coke. I heard that Paul Erickson turned in his third appearance but never witnessed anything. Someone mentioned something about a former Cows drummer and kraut rock.
I think Freedom Fighters were the collective age of seventeen when AmRep released My Scientist Friends in 1997. They were a trio from the Minneapolis suburbs that caught Hazelmyer's ear and folded shortly after the label went quiet. I don't know how many people outside of Minneapolis ever had the chance to catch them live but they played like there had been no hiatus. And like all participating bands—didn't sound dated.
I didn't pay much attention to the art damage of Calvin Krime while they were still kicking and I'm going to blame that on never having seen them live. Singer/bassist/keyboardist/Har Mar Superstar, Sean Tillman, resembling Ron Jeremy, exudes charisma in spades. He belongs on a stage. Not to take anything away from sparring partner/guitarist/singer Jon Kelson or drummer Jason Ralph because they serve as a perfect balance for Tillman. This is one band that shouldn't have quit.
The final band of the afternoon was Janitor Joe but before taking the stage, drummer Matt Entsminger walked to the mic and raised his glass in a toast to members of the AmRep family no longer with us—Robbie Watts (Cosmic Psychos), Sean McDonnell (Surgery) and Kristen Pfaff (Janitor Joe). He was replaced by singer/guitarist Joachim Breuer, wearing a bright orange Hammerhead t-shirt, who proceeded to lay it all on the line. Big Metal Birds should have been a huge record—the trio of Breuer, Entsminger and Pfaff smacked you with strangled vocals, hooks and Pfaff's fat bass lines. Some of that was recaptured on Sunday but the experience rang bitter sweet for obvious reasons.
There were some notable absentees over the three days. There wasn't an appearance by Hazelmyer's own Halo of Flies/H.O.F., the label's biggest success, Helmet, was nowhere to be found and perhaps the biggest disappointment was that Hazelmyer couldn't solve the impossible task of convincing Cows to reform. While this collective omission took nothing away from the event, it did give everyone something to whine about and potentially anticipate for the golden anniversary. We can always hope.
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