Sunday, December 21, 2008

Punk Rock Local 27

Since the internet rumor mill is ablaze with talk that the Riverdales may be doing a fourth album, the time is nigh to reprint this Riverdales Review that I did for the Hic-Up #3. Enjoy!



Cranked-out triple-stacked Marshalls set to death-by-buzzsaw and played solely with downstrokes of the wrist. Almost closed hi-hat keeping a FAST four-four back-beat with cymbals on important chord changes. Equally down-struck bass with no scales, just following the guitar. Melody and harmony. This is the desconstructed basis of the sound of punk rock, and thusly rock and roll. When you add shit, be careful, cause you'll most likely fuck it up. It helps when you don't have a lot to work with, cause it lets the simplicity come naturally, like when yer a kid and first learning how to bang out a tune on yer guitar, you'll most likely play something that could be rock and roll. When yer a little bit older and there's a lot of bull-shit to choose from in life and the rock and roll spirit has been co-opted and rearranged so many times that the real deal and appreciation thereof became increasingly esoteric, so much so that real rock music has taken on the role unforseen in its first splash, that is rock and roll as art. In 2007 it's worse than ever, and I believe that. Thirty plus years after punk rock emerged and made it seem like maybe that appreciation of the music that would lead to some kind of abstract freedom could return to our nation for the first time since the first wave of rock and roll was obliterated by a series of wild cooincidental misfortunes (Elvis gets drafted into the army, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens die in a plane crash, Jerry Lee Lewis married his cousin (which I am cool with and "Great Balls of Fire" is fucking awesome... "I shine like GOLD... when I play that piano!!!"), Little Richard became a preacher, and my main man Chuck Berry went to jail for molesting some girl) the trash has cycled back in. It was in that brief neo-natal state that the spark was ignited and somehow didn't go out despite, like, everyone un-hip trying to kill it. Just when things seemed their bleakest came the best band there ever was, the band that stripped it back down, played it faster, and turned it way up. The Ramones. I know this, and the Riverdales know this.

The first self-titled Riverdales album came out in 1995 on Lookout! Records. This was Ben Weasel's project following one of the breakups of Screeching Weasel with Danny Vapid and Dan Panic, all going by their real last names! No Ben Riverdale. Ben predicted that Screeching Wesel fans wouldn't dig the Riverdales and called them a "golden-oldies" type act, but the Riverdales were pure Ramonesmania. Taking expert Ramones songwriting knowledge Weasel and Vapid craft incredibly unique and new punk rock. Like the Ramones and the Dictators, building themselves a little mythos, the Riverdales songs present their personalities shockingly clearly. The original cover of the self-titled is the three guys in action, featuring Ben with his Weaselrite guitar and a new Johnny Ramone haircut and the band's name in letterman jacket script. Inside is simply the "Punk Rock Local 27" logo. This record is fucking great and came out at just the right time, as in 1995 Ramones fans were born every other day, and the record was even produced by Billie Joe Green Day with Mass Giorgini. The first track is one of the best openers ever, with a tight beat starting it off and the chant of "We're gonna have fun tonight!" The Riverdales don't mean that in a cheeky way either, like "hey let's all have a great time!" They mean "WE'RE" gonna have fun, not you. Best of all on this track is Reverend Norb (of Boris the Sprinkler and MRR columnist infamey) as yer "politically correct, W-F-U-N on-air personality" on Riverdale's rock and roll radio station. Riverdale the town, like where Archie Comics take place. Archie of course is very important to rock and roll music, cause bubblegum is good and Archie pal Jughead (our hero!) played the best lead guitar known to man in Screeching Weasel. More on Archie Comics later. On the second track Vapid gets the lead vocal and his voice is so, so good. He sang in Slugdeworth and the Methadones, but never like this. You know, very Joey Ramone-ish but all new, confident and unique, definitely sexy. They develop a pattern on the first record that they loosely abide to by alternating lead vocals, which I can only assume (liner notes are mad scarce) indicates who wrote what, and Vapid's songs definitely stand out. Perhaps they are the poppier numbers, whereas Weasel handles the hard stuff, but still. It's notable that Vapid's "Back To You" was on the "Angus" soundtrack in 1995, for which Vapid and Weasel still recieve royalty checks for whenever it plays on TBS or what-not. The album is filled with three-chord rockers about TV, girls, mental institutions and beach parties. The absolute hit of the first record is Vapid's "Outta Sight" which is probably about my girlfriend (a cheerleader/choreographer), who comments that the Riverdales are great to dance to and the urge to shake one's butt is contagious. That's because it's rock and roll!!

In 1997, The Riverdales put out there second album "Storm the Streets" on Honest Don's Records, despite Screeching Weasel reforming the year before. Vapid's even more pronounced on this one and it really, really pays off. It is an album full of hits of Michael Jackson proportions. Even thicker and louder, and ballsy in a classic America sort of way like a punch in the gut, like Detroit, hairy-forearmed, anti-priss bubblegum. It's that feeling that in every way that a band like Led Zeppelin or any of their fake-me-out ilk are horrible and depressing and wrong, this is right. Simpler than hell and clear of purpose, the record starts with Vapid telling everybody they "better make way" cause "the Riverdales are here to stay." The chorus is one-four-five with a sharp double snare hit one the first and third in the pattern and the kicks into "Teenage Lobotomy" fast hard changes. Next up Weasel answers with an absolutely kick-butt song to add to the list of odes to questionable mental health, the awesomely titled "Mental Retard." Read the column titled "Maximum Isms" in Ben Weasel's amazing "Punk is a Four-Letter Word" for his full feelings on mental illness. Next Vapid's "Don't Let Them Beat My Baby" is a sugar-sweet yet dark smack about a possibly dead girlfriend and hoping to protect her like the Beach Boys on glue with another unbelievably catchy chorus. Other standouts include Weasel's number on hockey violence "Blood on the Ice" (Instead of "Lo-bo-to-my" sing "Blood-on-the-Ice"), Vapid's "I Don't Wanna Go to the Party Tonight" with beautifully delivered great rhymes ("I know my ex-girlfriend'll be there/kissin' dudes in front of me, as if I care,") and the line "Johnny and Frank and the King'll be there," could be in reference to Dr. Frank, Joe King Queer, and... uh, Johnny Jughead?, Johnny Personality? Maybe I'm wishing for some super-cool party with all my punk rock favorites, maybe the last name is actually Donny, whatever. Also the Screeching Weasel-esque (particularly in Ben's vocals) "Boy in the Plastic Bubble" deals with, you know, isolation and what-not, because, as punks, we ARE different from the rest. The best song on the album again goes to Danny Vapid with "The Riverdale Stomp" which solidifies their place in Riverdale, geographically. Vapid sings "I knew a girl named Ronnie Lodge, she always had money on her mind," and "Betty was whacked on sedatives," giving us the real dirt on Betty and Veronica, and "Riverdale Stomp, Baby Let's Go!" times fifteen. After they released "Storm the Streets" the Riverdales broke up, citing stress between the band members on the recent tour with Green Day as the reason.

The third and seemingly final Riverdales album, entitled "Phase Three" came out on 145 Records in 2003. Weasel and Vapid reunited with drummer-whore and super star Dan Lumley (Common Rider, Squirtgun) for an amazing and unexpected next album. It starts again with Vapid's touring song "Homesick" which is sick relatable no matter what yer up to. He sings, "Sittin' here kinda queezy, eatin' macaroni and cheese..." and oh man, it's great. Also on the bridge, "This life of rock and roll/sometimes it gets me down./But when the lights come on/I know I can do no wrong," and I am a sucker but I get chills, cause i dig it. Ben comes with some terrific Ramones I stuff in "Wait It Out" and "Tick Tick Tick," but the best moments, as always, come from Danny Vapid. In "Getaway" he lays down some of the Riverdale's "Phase Three" plans, "Phone lines and all survelience down/twenty-seven is still around." Best of all is the crooniest love-number that the Riverdales will ever do, Vapid's gorgeous "I Believe In You and Me." This is tricky, interesting, catchy and beautiful, showing what the Riverdales and punk rock are capable of with just a few ingredients, not unlike "Danny Says" on "End of the Century." And thank goodness Vapid's wanna party/don't wanna party quandry is resolved in "Party at the Beach" which he is decidedly for.

The Riverdales pushed being Ramones-esque past where even the Queers would take it, but the punk rock pedigree of Weasel/Vapid, who are each absolutely genius songwriters, made it an all-new chapter in the book, they never did a bad song unlike many, many other "similar" bands with good intentions and talentless songwriters, you know who I mean. They contributed to the punk rock mythos continuing themes concerning OUR dumb issues like messed-up brains and removing a section of it, girls of various intelligences and hottnesses, crumby TV and good comic books, and just the idea that yer playing punk rock because it's the best kind of music and you know it and you love it. The Riverdales shouldn't be overlooked as a Screeching Weasel side-project or underappreciated as unoriginal, because "Punk Rock Local 27" is tatooed on MY heart as a warning to all the bland squares that they can't make life less fun when me or the Riverdales are around!