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Concert Review - Moistboyz @ The Troubadour, 02/12/08
As I sat in the Troubadour balcony, looking down on Moistboyz singer Dickie Moist screaming to a crowd of roughly 70 people like a stadium full of Billy Graham disciples, something occurred to me: Rock 'n Roll used to have real power.
It changed society, outraged moralists, defied suppression and even affected the way artists in other music forms approached their compositions, and this was during the 50s, when the average Rock song was either about some kind of dance move, or a girl who just couldn't be true no matter how many times you hiccupped rhythmically into the mic. And seriously, if a song like Johnny B. Goode can accidentally trigger a sexual revolution, it's got to be doing something right.
Eventually writing good music wasn't enough - to be taken seriously it became necessary for the songs triggering societal changes to talk about the changes, rather than just facilitating them and the eventual result was that generating controversy became an increasingly important part of the artistic machinery of what was, for a while, the world's most popular music. For some, the controversy was sincere - for others, it was a jokey gimmick. Either way, it worked, because by the 1980s, controversy, practically for its own sake, generated notoriety and in some cases, millions of dollars.
And much like the 1950's prudish freak outs, the moralizers responded with their usual method of turning a campsite into a forest fire. Congress held actual hearings, real HUAC style affairs, about the pernicious possibility that satanists had infiltrated the world of shitty hair metal bands like Twisted Sister; government connected scold groups like the PRMC attempted (with some success) to essentially neuter the already limited commercial appeal of Punk Rock by suing bands like the Dead Kennedys out of existence; and lest we forget, in 1983 the city of Los Angeles actually banned hardcore band Suicidal Tendencies from playing inside city limits.
That's heavy stuff indeed. And like it or not, those days are gone.
Nothing hammers the regrettable fact that Rock n Roll is the sick man of art like the February 12th, 2008 Moistboyz show at The Troubadour. Supported by the current winner of the Band With The Best Band Name Ever award, opening act NASA Space Universe, they performed a set that forces me to raid the cliche drawer for the word "Blistering."
Look, despite my best efforts to locate another word, I did in fact get second degree ear burns as I watched Dickie Moist scream convoluted tirades at the small but devoted gathering. I'm no fan of Hardcore (either the metal or punk variety,) but despite the fact that it wasn't exactly to my taste, when Dickie Moist got up on stage and belted out "Fuck it, let's go," followed by an immediate wall of precisely timed noise, I wasn't unimpressed, and I can report to you that Moistboyz are really good at what they do.
They bang out the kind of guitar riffs that get people arrested for domestic abuse, riffs that populate the kind of songs that used to terrify people and the material clearly resonated with the modest crowd of devotees. They screamed along, laughed at Dickie Moist's jokes and generally made it clear, as much as LA audiences ever do, that they loved it.
(Case in point - I saw one unfortunate white dude doing that kind of shaking head bobbing back-and-forth from foot to foot, ending with a theatrically hard lean on the back foot while nodding seriously dance. Folks, I know you're enjoying yourself but that looks lame. You have been warned.)
Moistboyz music has a paradoxically tight, precise kind of looseness to it, as though they've practiced for 80 hours a day to sound like they're jamming. They make complex arrangements sound very simple and despite the cold outside and fluctuating temperature inside, they didn't go in an out of tune, they didn't slack off and the show never lost energy. I'm telling you honestly, they play really goddamned well
As you've guessed, the content of their songs is, at least in theory, angrily satirical, and as I began to feel I was seeing something similar to what a real 80s punk show would have been like. You know, back when America produced people like Hank Rollins and Jello Biafra with the kind of ease that Britain produces junkie Grammy winners. The state of rebellion in America is pathetic, but there was a time when bands like that terrified the nation and it's nice to remember that in an age when "controversy" largely revolves around blowing millions on coke and jewelry.
It also must be noted that Moistboyz manage to do this at like 110% capacity for the full duration of their show. Those of us who can hardly stay on the exercise bike for half an hour stand in awe of that kind of stamina. So, as I said, they're good at what they're doing.
But the question becomes, does what they do matter?
I'll admit that it's not entirely a fair question. You wouldn't ask that question about Hannah Montana. But that's because alleged artists like that don't demand to be taken "seriously" for reasons other than their ability to get rich teenagers to dance and spend money. Moistboyz, simply by declaring their devotion to political issues and free speech and so forth are asking to be taken seriously.
They're a difficult to categorize band upon first listen. The connection to Ween is probably the first place most people learn about them, and Ween fans probably go in expecting something thematically similar. I'm betting it's a surprise to hear them. They're not a genre hopping parody band, they're basically just metal punk with a supposedly satirical bent. But how satirical are they? Songs like "Fuck You," "Everybody's Fucked her," and so forth lead to about 40 questions - Are they leftist agitators or Right Wing libertarians? Are they really a pack of macho, homophobic, sexists? Are they pushing buttons to see what happens? Are they serious, or a joke, or both?
Who knows? In "Year of the Maggot," we're told:
Fuck you and your credit cards your dna in hand
Stick your nazi fingers up your pussy pinko ass
Freedom thoughts and bullshit plots that ain't no fuckin' lie
The year of the maggot is a good time to die
But "Uncle Sam and Me" makes the politics far more explicit:
Don't take my rock 'n roll.
Cause it's all I am.
Don't make me sell my soul.
To my Uncle Sam.
That kind of ambiguity makes it easy for the listener to overlook or even to embrace them, if for no other reason that it's fun to see the squares squirm. But then, as anyone who read my interview with Dickie will attest, these issues have uncomfortable new context under direct questioning. Dickie is pissed off as a motherfuck, but he seems confused about what, exactly, it is that he's angry about and he's too willing to direct his rage at people (like "pussies" and "faggots," who one can't imagine have done anything other than exist at him,) as he is at the powers who actually control things.
The result is that his extremely conflicted ranting seems to serve no real purpose, especially in concert as he varied his polemic outbursts from pointless complaining to statements so odd you can't tell if he's really that ignorant of if he's just fucking with you.
Dickie on being back in the Golden State:
"Wonderful to be back in nonsmoking California; Just like a penitentiary - can't fuckin' smoke."
Dickie on why he wrote "I Don't Give A Fuck Where The Eagle Flies:
"I wrote this song for John Ashcroft. "He's a Democrat."
Now, he could be assuming a persona with Andy Kaufman levels of devotion. Not that you can tell. The excellent performance by the band aside, the lyrics had only the appearance of substance because of the anger and expressed frustration with American society. In the end, it was nonsense, and nothing.
It reminds me of the unfortunate futility of Rage Against The Machine. Now that was a band with some Hard Core motherfucking Political Beliefs. But too bad for them, they didn't seem to know that how you deliver the message is almost as important as what the message is. They screamed so loudly over ugly, unlistenable aggro, macho, rap rock "music" that whatever message existed was drowned in the river of testosterone flowing from Zack de la Rocha's revolutionary scrotum.
Don't agree with me? Then ask yourself how effective RATM really were at the end of their career. Last I checked, we don't live in an anarchist collective. Sure, they were oooh sooo scaaaary and wayout revolutionary and like socialistic and so forth, but their biggest fans were people like my Brother In Law. Don't get me wrong - He's a really great guy, but he's a corporate ladder climbing, republican voting conservative who loved listening to Rage when he worked out. And I've met hundreds of Rage fans like him. Let's face it - Rage's biggest fans were... the machine.
By the end of the MoistBoyz set, having moved downstairs to the bar where, mere feet in front of me I watched them performing for a crowd of mostly young, single dudes, I started to feel sorry for Dickie. He seems to really care. About what, I don't know, but he definitely cares. Unfortunately, like RATM he seems to miss that angry noise tends to so effectively bury the point that the songs are effectively gelded. Music is an emotional art form after all, and when the emotion, devoid of context, is all you can perceive, people to whom the emotion is most appealing flock to it. And in case you hadn't heard, angry white dudes aren't known for their moderate, thoughtful intellectualism.
Perhaps I say this because, as a card carrying member of the "pussies" that Dickie derided in his interview, I'm a bit miffed that with all the problems in America, all people like this can find to be offended by is the fact that there are guys out there who like taking regular showers. But I say this dispassionately: any music form bereft of women is a dying music form. I say this both as a feminist fellow traveler, and someone who likes to sleep with women. The lack of girls at the show only reminds one that thanks to 2 generations of musical inbreeding, the essential sexual quality has been entirely removed from Rock n Roll. Let's face it, the hundreds of thousands of teenage pregnancies caused by Elvis probably changed the world more than Dylan or punk rock could ever hope to. Not that there's something wrong with thoughtful political expression in song, but in the end, dancing, singing, drinking and fucking, having fun in the fact that we're alive, mean more to people than polemics.
I'd like to say that Moistboyz, whatever their point is, might change a few minds. But they won't. People interested in their particular aesthetic will love them. People already tending to Dickie's style of outrage will agree with them. But as Rock n Roll dies slowly and other forms of music take its place, the effect this kind of outrage will have on society declines sharply as people cease to pay attention. In the end, diminishing returns are all one can hope for.
One thing, however, is certain. Watching the show, I touched my increasingly wine-and-cheese softened belly and realized something: No matter how Rock's influence may wane, one thing will never change - Punk Rock Singers have awesome abs. And I really need to find out their secret.
Choose your own adventure and visit http://moistboyz.com/ for more details.
All photos by Erica Zabowski for LAist.