BarRoom Blitz: What to Play in the Bar When the World Makes You Mad

Zachary Lipez (Publicist UK) stops looking at his phone long enough to play some music that he loves.

I get mad looking at my phone a lot. Not necessarily as much as I look at my phone, but that’s because I don’t do anything as much as I look at my phone. But I look at my phone and read the news and I read people’s responses to the news and I get mad and, barring unicorn-level distraction, stay mad. I’m glad that I work at a bar.

I’m glad that I work at a bar because it oftentimes (although not as much as my boss would probably like) requires that I not look at my phone. It’s also good because, as much as I’d like to claim that all of my impotent rage is directed at our current Creep in Chief, I also, being as God made me, spend a fair amount of time reading some of my fellow progressives’ posts, be they of Ironic Leftist Twitter or…the other kind, and thinking, “What, exactly, do you do?”

This is neither fair nor useful, yet here I am, mad, on and offline. I’m glad that I work in a bar, because when I have these ungenerous thoughts, they inevitably lead to, “Well, Zack, what do you do?” And to that, in a time when people very much need a drink, I can proudly (enough) say, “Me? I work in a bar.” It’s hardly Che in the streets or sheets, but it’s something.

My customers are generally anti-Trump, if their reaction to my shift uniform of the Municipal Waste T-shirt depicting Trump blowing his own brains out is any indication. If they feel otherwise, at least the shirt gives them fair warning that I don’t want to hear about it. What is 2017 if not a year where we strive to understand each other? Eventually some coked-up fireman who voted on the fascist ticket will come in and smack me around, but that day is as far off as a dream.

I was traveling for work or on tour with my band for much of November and December, so a lot of bands I’d normally play at the bar and cover in this column fell to the wayside. Since the election, more than punk and metal I’ve been playing a lot of albums by musicians who are outside of the American mainstream due to forces they have no control over (whether punks and metalheads can control what they are is a debate we can have on November 5, 2020, OK? You know what I mean…), be it by dint of ethnicity, nationality, religion, whatever. This is perhaps an empty gesture, but it’s all music that I very much love.

Anyway, this means a lot of Noura Mint Seymali and Alif (the amazing art-rock band that Tamer Abu Ghazaleh put out in 2014, probably the closest I’ll ever come to liking Radiohead) and a bunch of other bands that I’ve either already written about here or that came out too long ago to mention in this column. So, what I’ve got for you this month is a truncated hodgepodge of a couple of recent releases and a few albums that came out last year that I, for whatever reason, never got to.

For records that came out more than six months ago, I fully expect gift bags from all pertinent publicists for giving their artists coverage outside the cycle. (And if even the promo cycle is over and you’re no longer being paid by the artist/label, please still forward them this column. It’s a fucking email. Jesus.)

See? So mad. Let’s get started!

Rakta – III: I’m trying to be kinder on the Internet, or maybe I’ve just lost my nerve, but, regardless, I’m not going to list here all the like-minded post-punk bands that Rakta are better than. Just trust that they are manifold. Rather than just making hard rock with post-punk signifiers slathered on top, Rakta throws out all templates and instead takes Public Image Ltd.’s Metal Box as a platform to get free. A customer of indeterminate age (but with piercings and hair dye that indicated a certain fondness for the ’90s if not a specific grasping) asked if I was playing Pain Teens. I almost bought them a drink.

Plague Vendor – Blood Sweat: The first time I heard Murder City Devils, I felt physically embarrassed. I couldn’t believe people were making something so corny and obvious. On the fifth listen, they became, for a time, one of my favorite bands. I have terrible tattoos to prove it. There’s something about entirely unselfconscious rock, be it Rites of Spring or The Cult, that can work in a way that many “smarter” bands can’t. If you read reviews of my band(s), the phrase “high school poetry” comes up more than once, so I walk the walk. Plague Vendor is, in its fashion, entirely lovely. And PERFECT bar music, especially if you love The Stooges but worked at so many bars with jukeboxes that, to this day, you really can’t stand to hear Raw Power in a bar. I know this all sounds like the faintest of praise, but I play this album all the time at the bar and people love it, and it’s not like I spend my days throwing around Stooges/MCD comparisons willy-nilly, so I hope the band takes this in the spirit intended. I like you a lot, Plague Vendor. If I were a younger man, I’d say, “Let’s please hang,” but I’m old and worried about my heart, so stay the hell away from me.

Hammers of Misfortune – Dead Revolution: This is much-beloved guitarist John Cobbett’s long-running project. It’s perfect for playing after midnight. People who like metal love it and, as it’s wildly melodic, people who don’t like metal don’t really care one way or the other. One dude who teaches guitar at NYU and was wearing a Tragically Hip T-shirt asked if it was The Sword. I’ve never heard The Sword, but have spent enough time online to know that some would take that as an insult. But he seemed to mean it as a compliment and was very nice and a solid tipper to boot so, hell, maybe I like The Sword, too.

Debo Band – Ere Gobez: An Ethiopian/international eleven-piece that is equal parts indebted to sounds of ’60s/’70s Addis Ababa and any hard funk of the last thousand years. A couple of songs on this record, with the guitar distortion, speed and full snare snap, I could easily see coming out of the Goner Records garage factory. This is obviously solid-as-hell bar music and one of the most slept-on albums of last year. Always gets compliments, and one couple got wicked excited because they’d booked Debo Band to play their venue in North Carolina. Turned out we all knew and liked the same dude down there, Ricky from D Generation. So that was nice, and convenient if anyone is trying to play Six Degrees of Separation between Debo Band and Jesse Malin. Happy to help.

Bolzer – Hero: I went back and forth on whether or not to include Bolzer. This album is great. Motorpunk psych blackened death metal (yes, I’m just saying words at this point) with the singer of the Swiss duo alternating between Lemmy snarl and a hollowed-out wolf wail. Customers who dig this sort of thing immediately write down the band name. It’s popular with them. It’s popular with me. That being said, the singer has “sun wheel” tattoos and some ideas about nature and strength and modernity and *cough * “cultural preservation” that wouldn’t be out of place at a, uh, Williamsburg neo-folk show.

But I asked around while touring Europe and even the dudes who wanted to vandalize the tour bus of a band playing across the way for one of that band’s member’s supposed bad politics said Bolzer were not Nazis, just goofy black metal dudes. So fuck it. They can be jerks. Lot of bands I love are jerks. At various junctures of my life, I could have been reasonably called a jerk. Maybe even now. As long as they ain’t racist or fascist, let ’em strongly kiss forest Odin on the mouth if that’s their scene. (As with all things of this sort, if new unpleasant facts come to light, I’ll stop playing them at the bar. They’re good, but there are plenty of good bands and it’s only an eight-hour shift.)

Uniform – Wake in Fright: Speaking of jerks, Uniform is a New York band made up of Michael Berdan and Ben Greenberg, two jerks that I like, and a drum machine that is presumably sweet as pie. Uniform absolutely kills on Wake in Fright, alternating between a particularly aggrieved Godflesh vibe and Cop Shoot Cop covering Chains of Love. It’s all piss and ranting vinegar and I play it sparingly, with the right crowd, and it works real well as angry drinking music. My regular who used to have a metal blog in his native Iran digs this album a lot (and, FWIW, the Bolzer album, too). I’ve been working (in my mind and nowhere else) on a novella-length dissertation comparing Wake in Fright and the upcoming (also very good) Priests album (which I’ll write about when it comes out and I can play it in the bar) wherein I compare and contrast the two bands as the respective most New York City and most Washington, DC, bands currently going. Think Pussy Galore and Unrest, in worldview if not sound, and imagine the mean 7-inches the bands would write about each other if it were the early ’90s. Of course, my idea of fun may differ from yours.

Zachary Lipez is the singer of the band Publicist UK. He is the co-author (with Stacy Wakefield and Nick Zinner) of a number of books, most recently 131 Different Thinks (Akashic 2018). He is a freelance writer in NYC and tends bar at 124 Old Rabbit Club.