Friday, January 20, 2023

Buzz Kuts: AFI, Tommy Bolin & The Polkaholics (1999)

AFI's Black Sails In The Sunset
Reviews originally published as a “Buzz Kuts” column, Alt.Culture.Guide™, May 1999

Black Sails In The Sunset

“Thinking man’s punk” is the only way, perhaps, to describe AFI. The band’s latest CD release, Black Sails In the Sunset, takes the listener on an intellectual journey that is not only unique among punk bands but downright odd, as well. Treading lyrical ground that is closer to Goth or death-metal bands – death obsessions, violent imagery, tribal ritualism – the foursome pound out songs like “Malleus Maleficarum” or “No Poetic Device” with a fury and power that many hard rock bands would find difficult to match. Lead vocalist Davey Havok can shout it out above the din and thunder with the best of them, writing lyrics every bit as oblique and multi-layered as any artist who’s studied at the feet of the master Dylan. Deciphering the poetic undercurrent is part of the fun, however, and one song – the brilliant “Narrative of Soul Against Soul” – speaks directly to the problem of teen suicide with a message that is as honest as it is positive. While some may blame rock music for the problems of society, I prefer to think that, for many, rock ‘n’ roll provides some of the answers they’re searching for. AFI’s Black Sails In the Sunset is a good example of this principle. (Nitro Records)

TOMMY BOLIN's Live From Ebbetts Field
Live From Ebbets Field

The guitar prowess of the late Tommy Bolin has been described in greater length in other forums that this, but suffice it to say that Bolin was one hell of an axeman, easily as far ahead of his time as, say, Stevie Ray Vaughan was ahead of his. Utilized as a utility player by outfits such as the James Gang and Deep Purple, it was with his mid-seventies solo work that Bolin cemented his reputation and created a following that remains loyal today. Live From Ebbets Field is a document of the best of two live Bolin performances from Denver in June 1974. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first full-length live disc for Bolin outside of bootlegs, and it lives up to his lofty reputation. A smoking set of hard rock and electric blues material, Live From Ebbets Field is a fine showcase for Bolin’s distinctive and fiery six-string work and a great introduction for the uninitiated. Mixing original material with appropriate covers like Willie Dixon’s blues classic “Born Under A Bad Sign”, which rolls into an energetic instrumental version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”. The band just sits back and lets Bolin shine, the guitarist ripping off red hot riffs like lightning bolts from the hand of Thor. Released by Zebra Records under the guidance of the Tommy Bolin Archive, Live From Ebbets Field is a fitting remembrance of one of rock’s great musicians. (Zebra Records/Tommy Bolin Archives)

The Polkaholics

Polka has garnered an undeserved bad rap that has only been partially redeemed by celebrity supporters like Drew Carey or Weird Al Yankovic (who’s been known to polka pretty wildly himself at times!). Now along come the Polkaholics to try and turn polka into a true media phenomena. Hailing from Chicago – deep in the heart of the Midwestern “Polka Belt” – the Polkaholics mix punk ethics and energy with good old-fashioned beer guzzling, sausage scarfin’ polka tradition. Although this schtick has been done before, I can’t remember when it’s been done so well. The Polkaholics’ self-produced debut disc provides three-quarters of an hour of wild polka fun, the trio blazing through a baker’s dozen tunes like “To All the Polka Fans” which begins with a spirited, Ramones-inspired “hey ho let’s go!” I don’t know what a “kishka” is but “Who Stole the Kishka?” is a bit of rollicking fun while the country standard “In Heaven There Is No Beer” manages to retain its twang in spite of its rave-up polka arrangement. Lest we forget, there’s also the “Beer Barrel Polka,” the “Fanny Shake Polka” and the hilarious “40 Years Of Shots And Beers.” Forget your inhibitions for a while and go wild with the Polkaholics! Tell the boys that the Rev sent ya… (The Polkaholics, self-produced)

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