When Rancid side project Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards issued its debut album, many assumed it was just another vanity project. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Frederiksen had made one of the more stellar recent punk efforts. Ever since, Mohawked pundits the planet over have been itching for a follow-up. With Viking due at the end of June and a national trek slated for the summer, the wait is finally over. And it's a family affair -- Frederiksen and the Bastards are joining other like-minded acts for the Punks vs. Psychos tour. For those weary of the scorching heat and commercial vibe of the Warped Tour, Punks vs. Psychos is the perfect antidote, even given that it's only an abbreviated version that will be arriving at the Meridian this week.
So, what about those Psychos? Well, the HorrorPops may look like the Cramps, but they're more razor-edged pop than horror. The outfit's parts fit together like Roger Corman's Frankenstein -- not quite as scary as hoped. The Concrete Blonde head of Siouxsie Sioux is stitched onto the torso of Gwen Stefani. Dick Dale's arms are added, and Kat Bjelland's legs are stuffed into two-tone ska shoes. Coming from an act featuring Nekromantix guitarist Kim Nekroman, the Pops' debut, Hell Yeah!, is awfully shy on rockabilly, save for "Kool Flattop," which weds the Stray Cats and Lucinda Williams. The singer-upright bassist, known only as Patricia, toggles between sensual, late-'80s chanteuse and '90s semi-sweet morsel for one of the oddest mixes ever to come out of the Scandalnavian invasion.
HorrorPops' "Psychobitches Outta Hell" borrows all the drive of Babes in Toyland's "Sweet 69," minus the explosive release. The unintentionally sexy vocals are more effective here, however, than the cuteness exhibited earlier in "Drama Queen," and the winking guitars make for catchier-than-SARS tunage. Meanwhile, "Miss Take" and "Baby Lou Tattoo" are so fully fleshed out with attractive adornments that they're nearly impenetrable compositions. Even so, fierce back-chanting and string-bending force the proceedings into a dark turn. "Emotional Abuse" is crippled by singsong delivery, awkward phrasing and flat-out dumb lyrics ("Too much emotional abuse / That's a game we're both gonna lose"). And the surf instrumental "Horror Beach" ripples as it closes, ultimately leaving the psychobilly audience confounded. -- Geoff Harkness and Richard Skidmore
Sunday, June 20, the Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.
On "Popstars," from Rooney's self-titled debut album, the five-piece outfit takes the unprecedented, bold step of totally sticking it to Britney Spears and 'N Sync. "Hey, baby, you've hit me again one more time / You said, 'Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, good-bye'," the song starts before reaching its conclusion: "These are the words of the unsophisticated money machines." Rooney protests a bit too much about not being down with TRL, but it's certainly clear where the band's pop allegiances lie. Rooney excels at handpicking retro-hip influences, from ELO and the Cars to the Beatles and the Beach Boys. It all comes together well, but it still might be worth mentioning to these expertly unkempt Angelenos that for the most part, all they're really doing is writing songs about girls. Besides, talking trash on Justin Timberlake? Pick on Beyoncé to see what happens, and maybe then we'll be impressed. -- Robert Bishop
With Straylight Run and Ozma, Wednesday, June 23, the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.
Amanda Woodward, with the Walls You've Built and the Catclaw Acacia
French emo? Shouldn't that be emeaux? Pardonnez-moi, myself I could not 'elp. Anyway, despite traveling under the über-WASP-y name Amanda Woodward, which sounds more like an SMU sorority girl than anything from Normandy or Bordeaux, that's just what this bunch does. AW's French lyrics are said to be political, and they tend to the hard-core fringes of emo, so maybe they could more accurately be branded screameaux, but merde, I hate all those terms anyway, and AW flat-out rocks even if you learned all your French from Pepe Le Pew. Openers are the Walls You've Built and the Catclaw Acacia. TWYB comprises former members of Jon Benet, This City Is a Curse and Burned Out Bright, and they've been known to toss in a Scorpions cover or two in the mix. As for the Catclaw Acacia, you might have known them by their former name A Lot Like Dying. They define their mission as "searching for a unique way to bring old-school screamo to people who have forgotten what screamo is all about." Lord knows, screamo's been around for all of about two or three years, so there should be a lot of you out there who've already forgotten the genre's halcyon days. -- John Nova Lomax
Tuesday, June 22, Fat Cat's, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.
Back about four years ago, a couple of the Nashville branches of the major labels had little boutique imprints that were stocked with quality tradition-based acts. To name a couple of the most prominent examples, there was Universal's Lost Highway -- home to Robert Earl Keen, the Jayhawks, Johnny Cash, Ryan Adams, the O Brother album and Lucinda Williams. And there was also Sony's Lucky Dog, where Deryl Dodd, BR5-49, Charlie Robison and the Derailers all hung their hats.
Lost Highway is still hanging on, though Keen is gone and neither Adams nor Williams sold the way the label suits hoped. Lucky Dog today pretty much exists in name only.
What went wrong? As it happens, the Derailers perfectly exemplify what happened. Lucky Dog signed them straight out of their adopted hometown of Austin, where their hard-charging update on the Buck Owens Bakersfield sound had won them legions of devout fans. So what did Lucky Dog do? Encourage more of the same, and give the band a bigger budget? Of course not. In a misguided effort to mollify the moronic sheep who run country radio, they drafted in a bunch of Nashville producers (Kyle Lehning), songwriters (Jim Lauderdale, Al Anderson, Gary Nicholson and Kostas) and session players (Dan Dugmore and John Jarvis) to contribute material, ideas and guidance.
Talented men all, with track records beyond reproach But still, all the band's two Lucky Dog records did was divorce the Derailers from a fan base that had loved them for years. The label invariably chose to make singles of the worst tunes on each of the albums, the songs that sounded the least like the Derailers people knew and loved and the most like what other drivel corporate radio's maw was begging to be spoon-fed that particular week. And even the crappy tunes they submitted didn't get much play. You couldn't drink Shiner Bock to the Derailers anymore -- Coors Light maybe, but not anything richer than that.
All in all, the Derailers signing with Sony was like ditching a good, intelligent woman who loved you for who you were and throwing it all away for a fling with a hottie with a heart of obsidian and a brain of oatmeal, one who didn't laugh at your jokes, wanted you to wear gel in your hair and tuck in your shirt. A common mistake, but a mistake nonetheless, and one with terrible consequences
In January of this year, guitarist and founding member Tony Villanueva announced that he was quitting the group. He had seen the light, literally. Well, almost literally -- he found God and renounced his wicked honky-tonkin' ways, and the remainder of the band announced a hiatus. Which is now over, obviously. Austin guitar legend Caspar Rawls has filled in for Villanueva some, though the band has yet to find a more permanent replacement. But in the meantime, the Derailers have got a lot of 'splainin' to do with their fans. -- John Nova Lomax
Saturday, June 19, the Bill Mraz Dance Hall, 835 West 34th, 713-864-HALL.