Pansy Division/The Bowery Electric/June 26, 2015
In 1991 in San Francisco, California, Jon Ginoli started performing solo sets under the moniker Pansy Division, the name being a pun on World War II Germany’s Panzer division and the word “pansy.” Intent on creating the first openly gay pop punk band, he recruited Chris Freeman as bassist, and with a series of drummers Pansy Division performed as a trio. Presently, the group consists of Ginoli, Freeman, lead guitarist Joel Reader and drummer Luis Illades. Pansy Division’s sixth and most recent album is 2009’s That’s So Gay.
Pansy Division’s first East Coast appearance in six years was a headlining engagement at The Bowery Electric during Pride weekend. It also happened to occur about 12 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was constitutional in all states. The musicians in Pansy Division triumphantly mentioned the court ruling, but the focus was more on cheeky gay humor in the between-song chatter and in their lyrics. The band opened with “Fem In A Black Leather Jacket,” the first Pansy Division song ever written. “Twinkie Twinkie Little Star,” “Bad Boyfriend,” “Dick Of Death,” “James Bondage” and a poppy cover of Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s A Sin” were among the highlights. Ginoli also introduced new songs, saying that Pansy Division would be recording them in the coming weeks; these new songs also were similarly rooted in 1960s pop and 1970s punk. “Queercore” has yet to hit its peak in contemporary music, but the veteran Pansy Division may lead the march.
The Cynz/Sidewalk/June 26, 2015
Cyndi Dawson left her New Jersey home for the bright lights of New York City to pursue acting and dancing. Meanwhile, she wrote volumes of poems and began to read at established poetry clubs. Longtime musician friend Henry Seiz suggested she read her spoken word to his music. With that, they formed The Cynz in 2011. The band released The Original Cynz album in 2012, the Five Mortal Cynz EP in 2013 and several singles in 2014. The Cynz presently consists of Dawson, Seiz, bassist Anne Husick and drummer Bob Stockl.
The Cynz has been honing its chops in local clubs, and at Sidewalk, normally more of a singer-songwriter venue, the band hit the back room with a canon-like rock and roll spirit. The group kept it simple: the charismatic and engaging Dawson fronted the band with the voice and the visuals while the power trio behind her played driving three-chord rock. Seiz, originally the band’s rhythm guitarist, filled the breaks in the pop melodies with sharp and sting leads. This is the kind of thick and hearty garage-rock that spurred old-school punk rock.
King’s X/Stage 48/June 27, 2015
Vocalist/bassist Doug Pinnick (sometimes stylized as dUg) was born in Braidwood, Illinois, then at age 14 moved to Joliet, Illinois. Guitarist Ty Tabor was born in Pearl, Mississippi. Drummer Jerry Gaskill was born in Bridgeton, New Jersey. In the late 1970s, each independently gravitated to Evangel College in Springfield, Missouri, and came to know each other through their respective bands. Together they formed The Edge, which became Sneak Preview in 1983 and then King’s X in 1987. The new power trio relocated to Houston, Texas, and more than 30 years later, the original band is still together. King’s X’s 12th and most recent studio album is 2008’s XV; the progressive metal band has released only live albums since XV.
King’s X returned to a faithful core of fans at Stage 48. The 15-song set touched on 12 albums, ending with “Goldilox” from the band’s 1988 debut. With no new songs to introduce, the setlist was comparable to previous tours. King’s X injected fresh dynamics to the old catalogue, as with the now 12-minute version of “Over My Head.” In many ways, King’s X was the perfect power trio, with each member proficient and creative with his instrument. When Pinnick sang softly and soulfully, as in “Flies And Blue Skies,” Tabor matched his passion with bluesy guitar fills, and Gaskill’s drums rolled and crashed appropriately. When Pinnick picked up the energy, as in “Everybody Knows A Little Bit Of Something,” the band accented the action. Then there were the brief but complex interludes in songs like “Go Tell Somebody” that were imaginative and innovative. King’s X never achieved more than a cult following, but that small following has seen something the rest of the hard rock world should witness.
The Melvins/Santos Party House/June 29, 2015
While still a teenager in 1983, Buzz Osborne formed The Melvins with schoolmates from Montesano, Washington. Osborne named the band after a despised co-worker in a convenience store, thinking The Melvins was a ridiculous name for a rock band. Since 1984, the core of The Melvins has been Osborne (also known as King Buzzo) and drummer Dale Crover, with frequently changing bassists filling out the trio. The Melvins’ 24th and most recent album, Hold It In, was released on October 14, 2014.
Headlining at Santos Party House, The Melvins included bassist J.D. Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers. The 19-song set began with 1993’s “Hag Me,” followed by 2010’s “The Water Glass.” Although The Melvins have been playing music through four decades, the set featured catalogue only from the 1990s and the present decade, plus a handful of covers. This time around, the covers consisted of the Butthole Surfers’ “Graveyard” and “Moving To Florida,” the James Gang’s “Stop,” the Wipers’ “Youth Of America,” Pop-O-Pies’ “Fascists Eat Donuts” and Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” Droning vocals, distorted guitar leads, thick-bottomed bass, crashing drums and cymbals, this sludgy stoner rock hit like a tsunami, and the only way to survive was to float to the top. Whether fast or slow, the music was loud, harsh and heavy. Even the tamest songs grooved along a melody for a while and then were injected with coarse, amplified noise before they ended. The music scene needs radical concerts like this in order to keep the less extreme artists centered.
Ceremony/The Bowery Ballroom/July 1, 2015
Ceremony originated as a punk rock band Violent World in 2005 in Rohnert Park, California. As the music became faster and faster, the band renamed itself Ceremony after a Joy Division song. Ironically, while the first album was a hardcore punk album, each subsequent album has been slower and more brooding, sounding closer to Joy Division each time. Ceremony’s fifth album, The L-Shaped Man, was released on May 19, 2015. The band is comprised of vocalist Ross Farrar, guitarists Anthony Anzaldo and Andy Nelson, bassist Justin Davis, and drummer Jake Casarotti.
While Ceremony’s five albums gradually moved from hardcore punk to increasingly ominous and discordant post-punk, the band interspersed all of those timelines at The Bowery Ballroom. While the audience seemed to embrace it all, the older songs received the greatest response, demonstrated by pit-moshers, crowd-surfers and stage-divers. Yet, it seemed that once angry, the core of the band has retreated to a simmering despair, a sadness that resounded Joy Division, The Smiths, Wire and Echo & The Bunnymen. The band performed this well, but by evolving from one retro epoch to another, the band did not break new ground. Nevertheless, a genuine sense of honesty prevailed, and perhaps it was this earnestness that helped the die-hard fans appreciate Ceremony’s softer change of direction.