Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Big Business
Everybody knows lots was wrong in 2016 but musically for me there was some pretty excellent stuff that came to and happened in Missoula. Big Business played at the Badlander and were nothing but of bruisingly excellent. Jonny Fritz and the Best Westerns played at the Palace. Divers played at the VFW. Absu wore corpse paint and defiled the Palace. Timmy's Organism and Wolf Eyes careened into the ZACC. Mordecai and Plastic Crimewave Sound blazed down the VFW. Purling Hiss erupted Stage 112. Danava and the Shrine dusted the Top Hat. I really got to see a such a great set of bands in Missoula this year that I'm running out of stupid verbs do describe them. And those are just the touring acts. The best Montana band I saw was when I was in Crow Agency for work, and I saw a Crow country singer named Sammy Hoops on a flatbed trailer, with a pedal steel accompaniment. It was like hearing Neil Young for the first time or something. Chilled me. Back here in the Garden City, I had a blast seeing St. Balls play huge, self-indulgent psych jams, and that Dwarves cover band at the Bike Doc. around Halloween made me grin ear to ear. I remembered most of the lyrics to "Backseat of My Car" which doesn't exactly make me proud.

I used to help with Total Fest and this was the first year we didn't do it since 2003. Mostly, that meant I got to do other pretty normal things like go hiking, and enjoy summer. It was sad too because Total Fest was easily as much about the hangouts as it was about the tunes and I missed all of that hanging out (seeing Joe Preston on a BMW motorcycle, drinking Dan Engler's beer) hugely. Fretting over attendance, money, logistics or drama weren't among what I missed.

Camp Daze
However, 2016 did not want for music festivals around here. Of the fests I took in I think again I dug Camp Daze best. I caught a night of it and had a blast. My favorite act was Vasas who play great, weaving rock, kind of like a less frantic Meat Puppets. I was stoked that Wes Williamson's and Jared Sayre's new Austin band Gold Leather made the trek, and they pretty raging. I didn't get what Iron Eyes deal was, or rather, I think it just wasn't for me (an uncool 42 year old who wants a Treepeople reunion more than anything). As a dad with small kids my partying days are pretty well behind me and I didn't see anywhere near the entirety of these fests that I once would've. I did get into a little of it and I loved Camp Daze' mellow, hang-out vibe most of all. If I get to have one note for the comment box, it's for Camp Daze to take the plunge with a couple more gnarly, heavy bands. I love what Camp Daze does and think it's got real wheels under it now, and thusly I'd love to seem some the heavier weirdos from the northwest on its stages here and there.

Second up was the Badlander Complex's Saudade, which seemed a wee bit damned by its unwieldy name and latish publicity, but was otherwise hugely ambitious. Too few Missoulians checked it out, even with some solid headlining by Red Fang and Lee Fields. Hopefully that's just first year blues, and now that they're over the hump they get some momentum. Saudade has a lot of potential to rule, and needs to leverage any an all name recognition in year two and pay some more attention to its curation and it'll be a solid force. The hope I think was to have genre-geared stages, e.g. a jammy stage, a metal stage, a dance music stage, etc. and I think that approach didn't quite pan out as well as organizers hoped. The metal night was a success, but other stages seemed to lack audience. I hope that with the Palace's recent closing as a music venue that the festival won't be effected. It's noteworthy too that the Badlander folks made a sizable charitable donation on behalf of Aaron Bolton, the deceased Missoula musician, promoter and co-owner of the Badlander as part of Saudade.

Wolf Eyes
I wasn't in town when Plus One Fest happened this fall, but I heard it had great bands and very few paid Missoulians in attendance. That may have to do with the fact that its organizer, Mike Gill who used to live here, no longer lives here. I mean, it may be my pre-internet informed, Generation X worldview talking here, but I still believe music promotion is 95% word of mouth, posters and hand-to-hand "hey, this rad thing's coming up, here's a handbill" kind of deal, compared to any other form of promotion. And that all really seemed to happen a little too late with Plus One, unfortunately. I get concerned that our town's good name in the live music and fan departments might get needlessly sullied if there are many more of these things that fail to reach actual paid attendees.

Gold Leather

Erosion Fest also happened in the fall, this was its second year, and first time in Missoula, after launching in Great Falls in 2015. It unfortunately happened when I was away from town so I wasn't there, but the folks I talked with said it was a great event, and was well attended, with Acid King, St. Vitus and a bunch more doom metal acts converging and playing with heavy locals like Swamp Ritual and Stone Elk.

Back onto the subject of venues, it's interesting that recently two pretty solid bars with live music announced they were getting out of the business of live music altogether. First Stage 112 in the Elks Club and recently the Palace Lounge made a similar announcement that their show-hosting days were over. This seems to be ebb and flow of Missoula every few years. To me, speaking from the perspective of indie/DIY show economics: it's a tough racket to make work financially. Even when you've got a band with a built-in draw, there's very little wiggle room left in a door take after paying bands, sound and venue rental costs to cover even basic promotion costs, let alone luxuries like print advertising. In my experience in Missoula, there's a trend of starting a new show space out simply, and then ramping up the production values as a next step. Larger productions come with larger costs that in my experience quickly make modest DIY shows next to impossible financially.

For example, a lot of good music can happen with a basic vocal-only PA, and many, many weeknight shows can't sustain a soundperson, and all of the mics, amps, mixers, monitors and between band nu metal that comes with one. A DIY promoter in Missoula regularly faced with the prospect of the having to pay a minimum of $100-300 for sound/room, and pay a touring band next to nothing, or coming out of pocket to make ends meet. Which seems like a totally preventable deal. I don't know exactly what the solution is, but I think it has to do with shows at great Missoula nonprofits like the ZACC, and more back-to-basics bar shows where bands are able to get all the door money, because the sound was a minimal vocals-only set up. Sorry to get into the weeds there, but you know, sometimes simple and cheap are the sustainable solutions and I think it's good to acknowledge the importance of simplicity, and not fixing what isn't broken.

Here are the records I like most last year:

Modality: Under the Shadow of this Red Rock (House of Watts)
CCR Headcleaner: Tear Down the Wall (In the Red)
The Double: Dawn of the Double (In the Red)
75 Dollar Bill: WOOD​/​METAL​/​PLASTIC​/​PATTERN​/​RHYTHM​/​ROCK (Thin Wrist)
Nots: Cosmetic (Goner)
Jonny Fritz: Sweet Creep
Big Business: Command Your Weather (Joyful Noise)
Purling Hiss: High Bias (Drag City)
Yass: Things that Might Have Been (X-Mist)
Helms Alee: Stillicide (Sargent House)
Vaz: Pink Confetti (Learning Curve)
Dead: Untitle (We Empty Rooms)
Ngozi Family (re-issue)
The Plastic Harmony Band: Voyage of the Angernaut

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Big Business: Play Monday, June 27th at the Palace.
June here in Missoula is a good month! We just got done with Camp Daze, which was a great blast of a fest, and we've got three great shows with some kind of direct Total Fest tie-in coming our way.

First up, this Sunday, June 19th Helm Alee is playing. Helms brings the fury, and I'd never miss 'em, ever. Spacious, but focused. Heavy, but pretty. You know, a band of paradoxes or something like that. And a great live band. That's at the Palace, and it's this coming Sunday at at 8:00 PM.

Helms Alee play Sunday, June 19.
Next up, Darto, comes through here on their way home to Seattle from a string of dates in western Canada. Darto similarly skip traditional rock conventions and do whatever the fuck they want to. Which means that each of their records has got a whole different vibe to it. I like their heavy stuff, I like their soundtracky stuff, I like it all. I can't wait to see them again. They play an all-ages show on Sunday, June 26th at the ZACC. Zoo City Apparel is hosting that.

Darto play June 26, Sunday.

Finally, Big Business are coming on Monday, June 27th. That show will be at the Badlander and is 18+. Local locos Holy Lands and Swamp Ritual open. Tickets $10 via Ear Candy, or through the show page. Big Business will be touring behind a brand new LP, which they'll have on tour before stores do.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Absu. Nuff said.
Everybody knows Marty, he's a show booking powerhouse, his baseball cap is rakishly allowed to be off-center, and he's a big part of keeping independent rock and roll happening in Missoula. This week, there are two pretty sweet shows happening, thanks to Party-Marty, the M-Dawg, uh, Minor Bird Records: Missoula's getting its first ever taste of Absu and I think our third visit from Divers.

First up, Tuesday, April 12th legendary Texan deathmetalers Absu bring their decidedly brutal rage to town, and to the Palace in particular. Pre-sale tickets are available from Ear Candy in Missoula, and a good chunk of them will be kept at the door for y'all coming in from other places. Zebulon Kosted, Judgment Hammer and Shramana open.

Divers. Slightly more said.
Next up, Divers were lots of folks sleeper hit of the last Total Fest. They have that special psy-band vibe, that comes from too much van time, too much time smelling each other's feet etc. And they just kick it out. Kind of like I imagine the Replacements did in their heyday.

Divers play Thursday, April 14 with VTO, Wojtek and Sunraiser open. It happens at the VFW bar.

Missoula, get to 'em.

Monday, December 28, 2015


This thing was on top of our year-end list.
2015 was a year that went by entirely quickly, but when I sat back to think about what new music stood out I came up with a decent list pretty quickly. In Missoula I think we were lucky to have a major renovation done to our largest real-deal, non-sports hall live music venue, the Wilma Theater, which had been in dire need of it. The Wilma was always a funky and sweet place, and while I tend to prefer my buildings well past their prime and dingy to new and shiny, you can only see Yo La Tengo so many times with sub par audio and not start to wonder. So, thanks to the Top Hat's Nick Checota, the place sounds and looks great and here's to a sweet roster in 2016.

Additionally, this August's Total Fest was the last one, you can read about why here. I think it was the correct way to wrap it up, and I encourage people to direct a good amount of their live-show attention to smaller and mid-sized venues like the ZACC, VFW, Palace and Stage 112, all of which are helping keep Missoula vibrant with affordable shows chock-a-block with great locals, and amazing touring national talent. Camp Daze will happen June 2-4, 2016 and I'll be there.

V/A Long Time Comin': Lost Sounds From the Treasure State
Unquestionably, this double LP is at the tip top of my listening heap for 2015. This thing took Dave Martens (Best Westerns, Magpies, etc. etc.) many years to assemble, and his hard work digging up the great, never-released, or long-forgotten gems included on here speaks to a garage rock past in Montana that had scenes from Sidney to Kalispell and all points in between. It fascinates me that Montana bands were getting national air time and attention via the more democratized and culturally important radio. There are as many stories behind this record as their are bands, and the copious liner notes help contextualize all the great stuff that was going on about fifty+ years ago. The first pressing is selling through quickly. A+ stuff.

Dan Deacon "Gliss Riffer"
Dan's ideas continue to push electronic music and pop music in general, and I continue to really dig what he does, as indescribable as it can be.

Broken Water "Wrought"
This great band just called it quits, after probably 8 years of doing it. I always found their sheets of sound mesmerizingly hopeful and great.

Ciudad Lineal  "El Nuevo Hombre"
Spaniards (or I think actually Catelonians) Ciudad Lineal from Barcelona make decidedly 80s Cold War synth jams. Kid of Cure-y, I guess, but a little more awkward and eastern euro vibed.

Hammerhead "New Directionz
Duh. Hammerhead regrouped fully and officially this year, with Jeff and Paul's return to the snowy and windswept prairie of the north. And they self-released a full-on return-to-everything-you-loved LP.

Shahs "The Bodyguard"
Missoulians Shahs released a great full length this year, and it's a progression from their mostly Tom Helgerson dreamy tropical synth to something a little more layered and complex. Sorry this sounds like Wine Spectator. Trust me, mon.

DIÄT "Positive Engery"
Australian two-piece living in Berlin, making decidedly un-modern sounding and cold post punk/new wave. I hate saying the words "post punk" as much as you hate reading them, but I think they're pretty close to correct here. Damnation is this great. Heavily, heavily rotated.

Benjamin Von Wildenhaus "II"
As the title says, this is Benjamin Von Wildenhaus's second LP, and his first was a revelation. This one continues to mine the same great vein of subtle and wild, uh, guitarscapes. Uggh, right? Who said that word would be okay?

Miss Lana Rebel and Kevin Michael Mayfield "The Midtown Island Sessions"
Most of these are in no particular order, but this record is my co-top record of 2015. We'd been waiting impatiently for the next phase of Lana and Kevin's output, following up on their excellent A Real Subtle Beauty, and this album rings true to all the greatness of their songwriting and performance abilities. Heavy rotation.

Flesh World "the Wild Animals In My Life"
More stellar, depressed but frenetic kind of post punk, this time from somebody from Limp Wrist. I really dug this.

Swamp Ritual "S/T" 
Heavy Missoulians whose riff mastery became pretty clear in 2015. Riffin' bong-rock at its finest, with only a bass and drums behind it.

Shopping "Why Choose"
British band whose sound is like a kind of modernized Gang of Four. Super LP.

Nots "We Are Nots"
Memphis band on Goner who played here. Niki saw them and gave me the CD, I loved it.

Sleaford Mods "Key Markets"
British (I guess) hip hop that's so smart and political that it's kind of creating its own world around it and their documentary Invisible Britain is apparently great news too. Here's hoping that Big Sky Doc Fest or the Roxy get it next year.

John Carpenter "Lost Themes"
Arguably, the thing I waited most anxiously for in 2015, and it didn't disappoint one bit.

Shannon and the Clams "Gone By the Dawn"
I always have a blast watching this band. They're incredibly good musicians, and songwriters and something about them just makes them transcend so much of the rest of what's out there.

Fireballs of Freedom at Total Fest.
Red Fang at the Palace.
Big Business at Total Fest.
Earthless at the Top Hat.
The Whip at Total Fest.
Dead at Total Fest.
Black Cobra at Total Fest.
Built To Spill at the Badlander.
Humpy at Total Fest.
Everyday Sinners at Total Fest.

I think I'll need to get out of the house more this year.

Monday, October 5, 2015


The 1990's were a curious time. Folks interested in underground music were hugely record label-conscious, or at least I and most of my friends were. You got a lot of stuff just because Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, or Tom Hazelmyer had put it out on their Sub Pop or Amphetamine Reptile labels, respectively (or SST, CZ, Kill Rock Stars, Boner, etc.). I thought of places as having their own sounds. Seattle always sounded very much like halfway between Mudhoney and Gas Huffer to me. The Twin Cities sounded like Hüsker Dü, Boise like Treepeople, Olympia like Beat Happening, Ellensburg like the Screaming Trees. It didn't make a ton of sense in retrospect, but so it goes, right?

All that has largely faded with the advent of ala-carte song purchasing/stealing courtesy of the internet's "here's everything, no waiting necessary." and youtube to MP3 capabilities, etc. My point isn't to say anything was better about the old way, just to kind of set the tone for how Hammerhead came onto my radar. Missoula was somewhat of a stopping point between the Twin Cities and Seattle, and we hosted a lot of the bands who's music got released by Tom Hazelmyer's Amphetamine Reptile or "Amrep" label. We had the Cows, God Bullies, Janitor Joe, Steel Pole Bathtub, and probably several more I'm not remembering through town. And regardless of whether anybody knew anything about the band or their music, there was some kind of a cache that came with being associated with this label that had put out all this raw, weird, angry noise.

Hammerhead were different, though. They had a paranoia and desperation about their music that just kind of set them apart, and made the others seem a bit like more of an act. Hammerhead were from Fargo/Moorehead, and came with the full-on endorsement of North Dakota transplants the Fireballs of Freedom who helped add to the super-human mystique that surrounded the group. It didn't hurt that Hammerhead were and are a spot-on tight power trio, with great musicianship, better tones and huge volume. They stopped playing or broke up, not sure what the exact story is, right at the end of the '90s. Jeff Mooridian and Paul Erickson went on to form Vaz, which has been very productive for the past 15 years, releasing some of the decade's best music, from my vantage point.

Roughly five years ago rumors started that Hammerhead was reforming, if ever so briefly, to play the Amrep 25th anniversary show. They also used the occasion to record a few songs for an EP, called "Memory Hole." We got them out for a Total Fest set shortly after that, and they continued to play sporadically, recorded an album called "Global Depression" for Learning Curve. This summer they released a record called "New Directionz" and are doing their first tour in something like 15 years to support. They're coming out with the band Qui, who played with the Jesus Lizard's David Yow for a while. Both bands and Missoulians Naked Limbs play tonight, Monday October 5th at the VFW in Missoula. Show starts at 9PM, $6. Here's a nice video to whet your appetite.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Red Fang.
Arguably, Red Fang and beers go together like very few things. Like jalapenos and cream cheese and deep frying. Like chocolate and peanut butter. Like uh, coffee and donuts. Why do I always, only think about food? Well, like beers and metal too, right?

Anyhow, tonight, Sept. 30th, Wednesday in Missoula City, Montana, Red Fang plays at the Palace, but not until after Total Fest's  North Side Kettlehouse Community Unite pint night. We'll be giving any bucks we raise to our pals at the Zootown Arts Community Center, because they rule. Join us, won't you?

The Kettlehouse event goes from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM, on N. 1st St., at the North Side Kettlehouse. The Red Fang show doors open at 9:00 PM at the Palace Lounge, and there will be tickets at the door. It's gonna be a good time. All of it. So come and say hello.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Andy Smetanka
Total Fest friend, musician, writer and filmmaker Andy Smetanka just announced that he's raising money for a new project: the documentary about Missoula. Yep, that's the correct article. He's planning to make the definitive film about this weird vortex where five valleys intersect. And my guess is it won't have much to do with trout fishing. I guess we also should add that he's the one responsible for Total Fest's cinematic debut, and only actual made-with-film Film that we know of about Total Fest. Total Fest Forever captures the important part of Total Fest that happened at the river, and in backyards: the hanging out, conversations, laughing, potato guns.. It makes us a little teary-eyed watching it!

 The film's crowdfunding page is here, and deserves a generous action on your part. A large part of the Missoula we love has to do with people like Andy, who, god love 'em, really want to make movies about World War I (And We Were Young), Volumen, the Fireballs of Freedom, Bukowski Stories, and Missoula. We know you might get a little tired of us encouraging you to direct your business this way and that, mostly toward our sponsors and friends, but we do think it's a worthy thing. We actually think you should be eating at the Burns St. Bistro, drinking Black Coffee while listening to Ear Candy vinyl and wearing a Betty's shirt and thinking about going to Big Dipper, and then Kettlehouse while your Subaru gets fixed at Kent Bros. We truly believe all that. And, likewise, we truly believe that getting in as a shareholder on a Smetanka film is a unique and special thing. It's a modest budget in the grand scheme, and we think this is the art and culture that matters, and we sure hope you agree with that.

This is Andy's second crowd-fund. The first was the beautiful stop-animation World War I epic And We Were Young, which debuted earlier this year and has been screening steadily since. So, Smetanka does what he says he's going to do and has a record of completing what he sets out to. He has officially stuck his neck out out to raise the modest sum of $25,000, largely to buy and process Super 8 film to make a movie about Missoula. We encourage you to spend what you can afford to make this happen. Thank you.