HAMMERHEAD, VAZ BRING PLAINS-THUNDER TO TOTAL FEST X.
Back when many of us were impressionable young men in the early 90s, there was a noise rock renaissance happening. It kind of centered loosely around the monolithic Amphetamine Reptile record label, Your Flesh fanzine and probably some bars/clubs that I was never old/cool enough to figure out about. Granted, Missoula's about 1200 miles west of Minneapolis, but you know, we got a lot of it through here too. We got bands like the Cows, Janitor Joe, the God Bullies (California), Steel Pole Bathtub (Californians with Montana roots), Walt Mink, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (New York)... uh, there were more I'm pretty sure. And a lot of us spent what little money we could scrape up on things like AmRep's Dope, Guns and Fucking compilations. All of it had this sort of built in coolness, and allure. Every third shirt you saw a show had the huge NOISE AmRep logo on its back.
Looking back, I'm not sure exactly why it had that built in allure. I think for Missoula, it was the confluence of some recent North Dakota transplants in John Fleming (now Ear Candy Music co-owner) and Kelly Gately (Honky Sausage, Fireballs of Freedom, etc) and how ready to be blown away by loud, epic, desperate rock so many of us were. Lots of it was and is awesome, and certainly much of it hasn't aged terrifically.
For my money, the absolute top of the heap was the band Hammerhead. I saw them probably three separate times in the '90s. Once at Connie's bar, a scuzzy biker/hippie sort of place shut because of massive health code violations. Connie's gave a new, dark meaning to the words "dive bar". Anyhow, Hammerhead helped destroy the place, with bassist Paul Erickson knocking loose ceiling tiles with his base, to punctuate some song. The two other times were at Jay's. Every time was like Christmas. You heard about the show about 6 weeks ahead of time, and just spent the time carefully anticipating how excellent it was going to be. And it never failed to deliver in the excellence department. It was loud, though a big feedback/Ampeg rumble powerful and driving kind of way. They pulled you into what they were doing and dropped you onto the floor afterwards. They each had Soviet space program inspired band pseudonyms, they had songs about World War I.. and they had the White Album of the noise rock epoch, Into the Vortex. There was always lots to like. After a final record (Duh, The Big City) and tour, Hammerhead called it quits. I never read an official account of the break up, but the third party scuttlebutt made it sound like there wouldn't ever be a reunion.
Following Hammerhead's demise at the end of the '90s, Paul Erickson and Jeff Mooridian, the rhythm section, moved to Los Angeles and began a new band, Vaz. In lots of ways, Vaz picked up where Hammerhead had left off. It had all the paranoia, all the driving through space sonic blast, and their first record was called Demonstrations in Micronesia. Since then, Vaz has released a major catalog of full length records, each of which continues the excellent saga. At some point, Vaz moved to Brooklyn, and base from there now. They tour much less frequently, but when they do, it's a special thing.
About a year ago, word started circulating about a Hammerhead reunion in time for the Amphetamine Reptile (AmRep) 25th anniversary. We were beside ourselves with joy over the possibility. And when it happened, we knew that someday, if we played our cards right, there might be a chance to get them back to Missoula.
Here's the Brooklyn Vegan piece that ran for their reunion show at the Amphetamine Reptile 25th anniversary.