Saturday, May 23, 2015


Portland's The Bugs are one of those bands who somehow remain mind bogglingly obscure. Paul and Mike are perhaps two of the most honest and genuine folks playing music. They've been cranking out fun, lo-fi garage rock since 1998. Their songs are quick, poppy bursts with sweeping, observational lyrics. Perhaps they're too self-effacing to a fault. On the surface it seems like straight forward rock, but The Bugs incorporate more wit, good will, snottiness, emotional roller-coasters, and raw sentiment into their short songs and sets than most bands can muster in a career. That's not meant as a slight to other bands, it's just sometimes a dedicated two piece with the right combination of talent, smarts, and humor can pull together and build something more quickly and with greater stability. Think of it as a challenge, then.

I feel like during a big part of the early 2000s, the Bugs played Missoula at least once a year. Then there was a break. It felt like there was this weird void. Thankfully, they crawled out of the crevasses (or more likely dealt with the life things that prevented them from venturing too far, too often) and returned for a handful of Total Fests (VI, VIII, X, XI, XIII, XIV -- to name a few) as well as a couple shows here and there. Honestly, they're a Total Fest staple, and it's bands like them who make (and made) the countless hours of organizing a festival more than worth it. I know it's August when I see Paul and Mike sitting in the grass wearing two of the biggest smiles as they fish through a plate of food. It wouldn't be a Total Fest without them. Rad dudes, intelligent tunes, and pure enjoyment. Get your summer dancing shoes out and stretch out those grins, total dudes and dudettes.

Friday, May 22, 2015


Maybe I've lost track of how many times I've seen the Underground Railroad To Candyland, but I think that means that they've just become like one of those reflexive things you do to stay alive, like breathing, and not jumping off of cliffs, going outside to get vitamin D in the winter, feeding yourself. URTC fit into that category. Once in a while, about every three months I just need a big dose.

Something about the formula, Todd's voice, the always-shouted, always -DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM- with the guitar. Man, shit is just life-affirmingly approachable, fun as shit and has actual social commentary wrapped up in it.

I remember driving around South Dakota for work a couple years ago, right when their last record came out. I'd brought a copy along, and it turned what would've been kind of mundane drive through farmland, away from family and friends into a reminder of what's important in life.  I was able to picture a big crowd of folks pogoing around and having a blast while the band played and it lifted my spirits, and I think that's about the best thing you can do with a song sometime.

It turns out they've got a brand new record that's conveniently streaming here. I've been listening while I type this, and it's damned good. Not any major departure, just great songing from a great band.


To start off I'm gonna quote myself from a review I wrote on Weird Missoula a while ago: "Ancient Forest reminds me of the Tolkien-obsessed eco-folk of Tyrannosaurus Rex...leisurely singing songs in [a] near-vulnerable voice, tunes deconstructed to their constituent parts, referencing trees, referencing Tolkien, and warped along some magic line unknowable to the uninitiated." That was in reference to the very first iteration of Ancient Forest I heard, one in which Kalen Walther was the primary, and for the most part, lone member. This full band version he's been touting lately though, man, OK: much of those above observations are still kinda true but I'm hearing more Syd Barrett-y affectations; it's a better presentation to all this soft-psychedelia. I feel like I wanna reference the band Gandalf right now and hey, that's right back at that Tolkien nonsense. Apt, I guess.

Ancient Forest's recent lineups have been a relative who's-who of Missoula's small but fertile little weirdo scene: members of J. Sherri and Mordecai (both Total Fest alumni) have sometimes joined Kalen at recent shows. Every time I've seen 'em it's been hella magical and for something like this to be native to our neck of the woods means we're really pretty lucky. These guys are the tops and yeah, they're playing Total Fest XIV. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I think Vanek sums up Missoula's Magpies here, where he leads with "The Magpies are one of those bands that you're certain you've heard before the first time you hear them. They've got that built-in familiarity, and kind of walk the well-worn streets of slacker mode independent rock that all kinds of great bands have."

It's a solid review. What's subtlety sitting behind it is this quartet hones that slacker vibe with some superb musicianship. Tolan, Sam, Hank, and Jamie continually impress me with not only how much they grow between each song, each show, and each record, but also how they constantly tweak everything. They're never satisfied. I can't say when I first saw Magpies, but I can say that before I had, it was prefaced with "You have to see them!" and "Why haven't you seen them?" and "How haven't you seen them yet?" The "how" was particularly puzzling because these cats play almost every chance they can. They practice, record, and tour like most of us make coffee in the morning -- it's what oxygenates their brains.

So .... the first time. I was impressed, but I think there was something lacking for me. It wasn't anything they weren't doing or anything they were doing that didn't sit right. The energy is always there, and for a time my favorite thing was watching Sam and Tolan adjust to different drumming styles after the Daver hung up his sticks (so to speak). Tolan and Sam have a definite chemistry that's palpable in all things they do. Shit, they could coax a herd of cats to keep time for them. Add in Hank and, eventually, Jamie, and everything is coming up tornadoes.

Tornadoes is a perfect metaphor for them. It's a controlled, well-harnessed, sustained burst of chaos that appears to meander effortlessly with its explosive force. The guitars are pitch perfect as they lead and underscore the vocals, which, given Sam and Tolan's dynamic, weave together two voices from opposite sides of the spectrum; punctuated by the seemingly deliberate but always powerful and fluid drums, Magpies confidently move between songs, allowing for the music to do the work for them. In the end, isn't that what every band wants? From my perspective, they get the best of both worlds. There's the tireless, yeoman effort attached to the celebration and fun of creating and living their music, and we're all the better for it. Check out this video created by Hanks son, Cade:


Rewind a handful of Total Fests ago and these people, this self-proclaimed "pot-punk" band from San Pedro, totally took me by surprise. I feel that's the general consensus with how Total Fest works with a lot of people (you go for some bands, love a lot more) but Benny & The Jet Rodriguez completely stood out when they played the Top Hat at whichever Total Fest that was (12?). 

Dunno what it is, man, I mean they probably got that "stuff" that is next to impossible to quantify but oh lordy, it could just be the Total California Vibe that at least coming from them, doesn't sound so overwrought or a gimmick or really anything but straight-up fun-loving punx doing that thing they do and yeah, they're doing that thing at Total Fest. Again. It's gonna be another Perfect Summer so prepare, dooods. Get blazed.

ALLEY CAT by Benny The Jet Rodriguez. Directed by Abby Banks from Abby Banks on Vimeo.


Like fellow Iowan's Slut River, Sioux City's It Really Is continue what I guess might be called a thing now, this weirdo Midwestern punk explosion that can and often does sound like chaos, but a chaos that totally rules. Like a lot of pretty small operations, too, they've barely got an internet presence so some of those fancy-blog bells and whistles we've been posting for some of the other acts are gonna get lost here. Don't worry! There's a cassette released by Omaha label Rainy Day Records floating around Bandcamp and jeez louise this is a damn good introduction to what is gonna be yet another sterling addition to Total Fest XIV 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Kelly Gately, Fireballs of Freedom
Aside from having an album called Total Fucking Blowout and being the band that many of us cut our underground punk rock show teeth on, the Fireballs of Freedom have just got a presence and personality that's fully impossible to deny. "FoF" started in  North Dakota as a band called Honky Sausage, moved to Montana in 1992 or 1993 after Ear Candy Music's John Fleming told them these were fertile pastures for the kind of high plains, country-boogie-punk-whatever-exactly-you-wanna-call-it rock and roll they were blasting out. And it turned out that Missoula and the Fireballs was a match similar in potency to coffee and cigarettes, chocolate and peanut butter, Peaches/Herb, etc. etc. etc. Missoula loved, and I'd hazard loves the Fireballs like few other things.

Missoula was a waaaay different feeling place in the 1990s. Namely, those of us who are older now, were younger then. There's your big difference. But also, the town was a fair piece grittier with rickety Jay's Upstairs defaulting as a venue for everybody worth their salt from about '93-'03. Everyone smoked, and did so indoors. Craft beer wasn't widely available. Gasoline cost less. Rent cost less. There wasn't an Ear Candy for a lot of the decade. There wasn't much of an internet. Zines existed. Dreadlocks were in vogue. Shows cost less. Bands constantly came through and played for too little door money.
A person could fill a decent sized book with Fireballs of Freedom stories. I won't here, because they're better I think as oral histories, told by friends, the band and acquaintances. It's exciting to me that the Fireballs haven't stopped, they've made some small lineup adjustments, don't tour nearly as often and probably are far steadier in their personal lives for it. They still are a completely blistering band, and regardless of your thoughts on the kind of music they lay down, you owe it to yourself to enjoy the unhinged power and love for music they bring.