Sunday, November 26, 2023

The New Anthem of the Sun?: Tool Live in New Hampshire

Tool has always been an odd one.

When the band first performed for large audiences, it was by far the weirdest in the weird lineup of bands storming America on the 1993 Lollapalooza tour. The quartet charged out of the gate with music that was thematically dark and sonically complex—one of the band’s early hits was called “Prison Sex,” for fuck’s sake—and a logo that could very easily be interpreted as a huge metal cock. On paper, none of what the band did during the anything-goes (-and-sells) “alternative” wave of the era should have yielded more than a single Gold album and an array of smirks from the music press. (There were plenty of examples of that phenomenon back then. Hell, even Butthole Surfer had a dalliance with the Top 40 album chart in the ’90s.) However, Tool not only survived the rise and inevitable market crash of the Alternative Nation but had sold 13.4 million albums by August 2019.

Very little about these fuckers makes sense. They’re four rich men who’ve never been accused of selling out. Their albums top the charts at a time when nobody buys records. Earlier this month, they drew 11,000 or so people to a show in Manchester, New Hampshire (far from a typical hotbed of activity) on a Monday night. That evening, the band—which, in a world where everyone is glued to a screen, banned the use of phones and other means of photography (enjoy the exclusive, band-sanctioned pics contained herein, folks)—dropped an intermission into the middle of its two-hour set but split without delivering an encore (opting instead to have a recording of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” pumped through the arena as audience members left their seats.) And the songs went on for bloody eons—perfect for Yes in 1973 but not customary for a typical Rock band in 2023. Also, the group’s fans are clearly a rabid lot—this is their band. Simply put, Tool is a musical and cultural phenomenon out of left field. How in the world did a band that once played Lollapalooza’s second stage (one-time home to chartbusters like … well, nobody else I can think of) become my generation’s Grateful Dead? (Give that comparison a good think. I ain’t wrong.) The answer is simple: Tool has always been a band with a singer who can really sing and three musicians who could make classic-era King Crimson break a sweat. For 120 minutes on a chilly evening in New England, Tool was the greatest live band on this planet—and perhaps on a few others.

So what exactly made the group so great that night in New Hampshire, then? Honestly, that’s a tough question to answer. How can a person write about something that needs to be seen, heard, and felt to be understood? With Tool, if you know, you know. That’s pretty much it. Hyperbolic fanboy squealing from a fortysomething typing away in his apartment on a Saturday afternoon while listening to Fear Inoculum ain’t gonna add anything new to the mix … but I will say this about the show:

1. I last saw Tool live more than 30 years ago. The fellas were good then, but it appears they’ve been practicing.

2. Each member of Tool is an awe-inspiring sonic genius. You could have just Maynard, Adam, Justin, or Danny up there alone for two hours and the show would still be worth the price of admission. Frankly, I’ve never encountered such individual talent in a single group. This is not a band—this is a symphony conducted by a Mohawk.

3. Fucking Danny Carey, man. I’ve been a drummer for 37 years and have performed on 50 releases—including one featuring Danny himself—and I still can’t figure out 95 percent of what he does behind a kit. He’s equal parts Bonzo and Bruford.

4. Parking was a breeze.


Thursday, November 23, 2023

Sex in Somerville? Just a Typical Sunday Night for My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult

Bathe me in leather … drown me in your sex.”

It was the summer of 1991, and I was an impressionable 13-year-old pre-high schooler who spent his early Monday mornings watching 120 Minutes on MTV. It was the right pastime at the right time for a passionate young music fan who had already developed a fondness for the esoteric. The floodgates were bursting open back then. Perry Farrell’s inaugural Lollapalooza tour was up and running, bands like Dinosaur Jr. were using major-label funds to create landmark albums, and the air was filled with a strong sense that the world of music was about to change in a huge way.

Since I was 13 at the time, my hormones were evolving as well. One night, my eyes and ears caught a video by a band that … made me feel funny. A bunch of sashaying leather daddies and dayglo psychedelic ladies were suddenly on the TV screen celebrating the virtues of gettin’ it on. This wasn’t “getting’ it on” in the soulful Marvin Gaye way—no, this was the infinitely more thrilling dark alley-at-3am version. The band certainly made an impression on me—especially considering that my raging adolescent mind wasn’t sure which member (regardless of gender) I wanted to take home first. I bought the album on cassette within a week.

It was Sexplosion! by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult (TKK).  

It was an interesting one, that record. Sure, the band sang about all sorts of unsavory behavior, but it was all done with enough kitsch and piss-taking to add a wink to the proceedings. If Coil was the Clive Barker path to exploring sexuality through sound, TKK was the Russ Meyer route. After all, being naughty is supposed to be fun, right? Thirty-plus years later, I can still feel the aural amyl nitrate enter my body whenever TKK hits my stereo.

This formula of danceable decadence paid off in the ’90s, which saw the group—anchored by cofounders Groovie Mann and Buzz McCoy—leave its original label, Chicago’s Wax Trax!, for a run on Interscope. While a few big-league moments followed (who could ever forget the band’s cameo in The Crow?), TKK was back in Indieland by the close of the decade and has stayed there ever since.

Thankfully, TKK has never let the occasional valleys in its decades-long career prevent it from peaking on stage. In fact, the group maintains a rigorous, nearly Black Flag-level performance schedule that very likely hits your area at least once annually. (Trust me, if you’ve never heard of TKK playing your nearest city, you’re simply not paying proper attention. Hell, the band’s probably gigging down the street from you right now.)

A few weeks back, the circus returned to Massachusetts—this time at the Crystal Ballroom in Somerville—for a show devoted to songs from the group’s classic 1987-1997 period. Years before Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nail brought darkness to the masses, TKK was unleashing sinister tracks like “A Daisy Chain 4 Satan,” Do You Fear (for Your Child)?,” and “The Days of Swine and Roses” in the underground—setting the stage for most of the mainstream Industrial music that followed. And you know what? Those tunes still sound as salacious now—especially live—as they did in the Reagan/Bush years.  And they’re still danceable as fuck.

Full marks to the guys (and gal) for diving into my beloved Sexplosion! on stage and delivering “Sex on Wheelz” (the video I referenced earlier) and “Leathersex” (featuring the lyric I quoted at the beginning of this piece). High scores as well to openers KANGA (a one-woman show of truly impressive Dark Pop) and ADULT (whose innovative use of tape—not tape as in backing tracks, but tape as in what you use to stick on things—was a sight and sound to behold) for making the evening even more menacing and memorable.

The crowds these days may not be the biggest they’ve ever had, but the spirit of musical adventure and sensual abandon that Groovie and Buzz introduced in the late 80s is still alive and well. I’ve been going to TKK shows for over 20 years now, and the band today is absolutely on fire. 

And I still can’t decide which member I wanna take home with me …

Help Charles Levi

Former TKK bassist Charles Levi—my old Pigface bandmate and a deeply loved figure in the global Industrial music scene—has had a very rough time in recent years. Please visit this GoFundMe page for information—and help this absolute gem of a human being if you can.

My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult


Sunday, November 12, 2023


Author/journalist Joel Gausten talks with musician Richard Duguay (Personality Crisis/Duff McKagan/Solo) about his history in the Canadian and Los Angeles music scenes, recording with Mike Hudson of The Pagans, touring with Duff McKagan, and how he ended up performing on Guns N’ Roses’ 1993 album,“The Spaghetti Incident?”

Richard Duguay at Bandcamp

Still the Dictator: A Chat with Handsome Dick Manitoba

How do you spot the real goddamn thing in Rock ‘N’ Roll?

That’s easy: Go to a venue in Nowheresville, USA. If there’s a guy old enough to collect Social Security peeling the paint off the walls with his incredible band in front of about 30 people without the slightest inkling of a fuck to give besides delivering the hardest music possible, you’ve fucking found it—and I sure as shit did last weekend when Handsome Dick Manitoba and his backing band slayed The Stone Church in the decidedly unRock ‘N’ Roll town of Newmarket, New Hampshire.


Formerly the frontman for the legendary Dictators and its late-‘80s Hard Rock offshoot, Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom, Handsome Dick recently completed a run of shows in New England with his incendiary band—guitarists Alex Kane (Life, Sex & Death/Enuff Z’Nuff/Little Caesar) and Craig Behrhorst (Ruffians/Two-Bit Thief), bassist Michael Butler (Exodus/Jetboy/American Heartbreak), and drummer Scotty Slam (The Stoning/Circus of Power). The set, which included a ton of classic Dictators tracks (“The Next Big Thing,” “Two Tub Man,” and “The Minnesota Strip,” among others) alongside a handful of perfect covers (The Stooges’ “Search And Destroy,” MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” and a jaw-dropping rendition of The Flamin’ Groovies’ “Slow Death”), proved that Mr. Manitoba—49 years after the release of The Dictators’ Go Girl Crazy!—ain’t ready to tap out just yet.  


Chatting with me after his gig, Handsome Dick was quick to praise his current bandmates.


“They all move amazing, give you physical energy, and sing. It makes my job easier and more fun. It’s just nice to be treated with love, respect, dignity, and appreciation for what I do—not for what I don’t do.”


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the above statement is a thinly veiled reference to Dick’s former band. Naturally, The Dictators’ saga is a long and rocky road—and not all the surviving members who appeared on the band’s three classic ‘70s albums get along swimmingly these days. Anyone interested in the soap opera can read what guitarist Ross the Boss and bassist Andy Shernoff had to say in previous features on this website. To his credit, Handsome Dick is setting his sights on the here and now.


“What happened with those guys and what they did to me has turned into a bad thing. Sometimes, if you have patience and look around the corner and your spirit is correct, it can turn into something good.”


“Something good” includes an upcoming single that will be released under the Handsome Dick Manitoba moniker.


“I’m trying to push that brand—I have to get that brand stronger … When [Ross and I] went out as ‘Dictators NYC,’ we made a lot of money—more money, more people, more everything than The Dictators ever did. When we went out as ‘Manitoba NYC,’ we didn’t. [The brand] means a lot.”


Of course, the Dictators fan in me still had to toss in a band-related question. I hit up Handsome Dick for his response to Shernoff’s comment to me that 1977’s Manifest Destiny was “the wrong record at the right time” due to its slick sound at the time of the great Punk explosion. The floodgate opened from there.


“I don’t think it was ‘the wrong record at the right time’ – it was a bad record with some good songs on it … Almost everything on that album was way over-produced, way too bombastic. There was way too much beautiful singing. Then we did [1978’s] Bloodbrothers, [which] was the best of three records because I sang every song on it. I don’t have to be a great singer … I can sell a song. The first album [Go Girl Crazy!] was one of the worst albums ever made. Well, the reason why it wasn’t totally one of the worst albums ever made was because the subject matter, the craziness of it, the uniqueness of it, the first time of it at a time when it didn’t fit at all was brilliant. But I can’t listen to the music, the sounds, and the performances. [That album] is great and terrible. The second album had some real good songs on it—who cares? The third one, everyone says that’s the best record and the best songs.”


With the present always more important than the past, Handsome Dick Manitoba is still out there giving people the real thing—and those of us who are still listening and watching are better for it.  


“I love entertaining people, I love traveling, I love the camaraderie of being with the guys, and I love being on the road. It’s what I’ve done most of my life … That’s what I do.”

Handsome Dick Manitoba