It's a convenient fib that the hard, crude side of rock 'n' roll disappears every so often, only to be rescued in time for a slate of rock-magazine photo shoots. But there are always plenty of bands, somewhere, focusing on the gratifying metal riff, the primal rockabilly beat, the simple chord pattern.
Still, every so often, a few bands give us extra reason to coalesce around the basics. Meet four Madison acts whose work in punk, metal and surf rock is doing just that.
Guitarist and singer Brian Steele has described his band Wife as "progressive townie rock," a funny but apt description of what it ties together. Steele's swift guitar solos and high-pitched cackle capably recall Iron Maiden, but Wife's lyrics belie an odd sense of humor. The song "Salsa Wolf" begins with the lines "Once upon a time, three people lived together with a cat/Aah-Ah! Aah-Ah!" Then there's "Pink Dandy Pants," about roommates and the folks you see at the bar - less lofty than typical metal subjects. (Check it out on Steele's Soundcloud page.)
The band has put out only a cassette release in its three or so years together but hopes to have a demo recorded in time for a June 17 show at the High Noon Saloon.
Guitarist Chris Joutras of Dharma Dogs says the trio's bass player, Adam Uselmann, "helps bring the sludge to the surface." The band's live shows feature a near-constant smear of low end and feedback, and Joutras' riffs and leads frequently edge over into tangled bursts of frustration.
There are songs under there, and the ones with drummer Nate Karls on vocals lean toward the early-hardcore territory of Circle Jerks. When Joutras sings, you can feel the band drawing a bit on Nirvana's Bleach days.
The band's messiness makes it pair well with a variety of local acts, including lurching post-punk group Sinking Suns and garage-rock duo the Hussy. Hussy guitarist Bobby Hussy has recorded a three-song EP for the band, due out on vinyl sometime in July.
The space between the bar and the ATM at Mickey's Tavern can prove a cramped fit for some bands, but Roboman, who's played there often lately, is best experienced at point-blank range. The one-man act began a few years back and may sound like an extension of Rob Oman's work in the veteran surf-rock outfit Knuckel Drager, though Oman says it's impossible to compare the two. "The whole thing kind of started as a joke," he says. "I worked the door at a few rock clubs, so after suffering through so many bad bands for years, my mouth was writing checks that my ass had to cash."
By necessity, Roboman's music is more condensed and harsh than Knuckel Drager's, resourcefully so. Oman has rigged a guitar with two sets of pickups and cable outlets, one of them fattening up the bass lines he plays on the low strings. The modifications are the result of "a lot of trial and error and Dremel tools," Oman says. His feet handle bass drum and snare drum. The addition of an old-looking headset-mike only enhances the feeling that Oman's piloting a small, noisy and possibly doomed runaway vessel. When he speaks between songs, all that reverb makes it sound like an S.O.S. obscured by a storm.
Yeah, yeah, here's another band that's really into X and the Ramones. Some simple riffs, some sassy vocals. Then you realize singer Michelle Schinker just sang something about sausage races, and doesn't take herself too terribly seriously, and the feel changes. Thank the playful swagger of "Baseball Lady," the A-side of a 7-inch Bes Monde hopes to have out by the end of July.
Michelle's husband, Eric Schinker, who plays bass, started the band in April 2011 with guitarist Zakk King and drummer Ben Kruzick, choosing a name that's both roughly French for "kiss the world" and a play on "beast mode." Bringing Michelle into Bes Monde - her first band - is clearly what determined its personality. Onstage, she gets to play the badass ("Shake It Off" is angrily but happily pointed at "Debbie downers" and "assholes"), but she puts herself in the audience instead of above it, identifying with those who pull through life's banal grind and still have plenty of energy to cheer for chorizo.