By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Seventies rock was headed for the crapper when smug freedom rockers started caring more about the mountain ranges of cocaine they were Hoovering up their noses and less about having anything new to say. It was only a matter of time before punk came along and put a much-needed monkey boot into rock's bloated corpse. But while punk was busy cramming its liberty-spiked, come-one-come-all attitude down every feathered-haired rocker's throat, it unfortunately sent guitar playing back to grade school. Who needs craft and theory when three chords and a noseful of snot will do?
A similar thing happened with heavy metal: In the Eighties, it threatened to crumble under the weight of it own hairspray. All it took was Kurt Cobain pounding out a few beautifully muddy chords on his crappy Fender for the once promising genre to seem wholly irrelevant. There's no way around it: Popular culture no longer embraces show-offy guitar playing. You can Shred and Rip all you want, but it has to be in a tongue-in-cheek way. Just try listening to some longhair sincerely let loose with a bunch of 64th notes and see if you don't start cracking up.
But disenfranchised guitar dweebs, take heart: The pendulum seems to be swinging your way. Take the Fucking Champs for example, a San Francisco trio so dedicated that their liner notes include a detailed list of every last piece of equipment they've used to make their albums--including make and model of guitar pick. "If you would like to talk more about guitars, the Fucking Champs would love to get together with you," says their press release.
Brimming with both talent and hair, these nimble-fingered dorks can noodle with the best of them. The group's fifth album, aptly titled V (Drag City), features epic instrumentals swarming with razor-sharp guitar solos that stop, start, change course, and build on themselves. The Fucking Champs (formerly the Real Champs, and before that just the Champs) employ only two guitars and one drum set. Yet their technical proficiency makes all the other stuff that usually fleshes out a band's sound (like bass, say, or vocals) seem extraneous.
Be forewarned, though: If you like your songs tight, catchy, and formatted, you'll soon grow tired of the Fucking Champs' ceaseless prog-rock and sprawling opuses. This music is for serious metal geeks only. These nerds cover Bach, for chrissakes. If, however, there's a zitty 13-year-old boy trapped inside you who listens to Rush and can't get laid, you'd be wise to haul him to 7th Street Entry on Friday for the Champs show. Live, they are exhilarating and inspiring. And lest you think any differently, you will never, ever, not in a million years, not even if you grow an extra pair of hands, be as good on guitar as Tim Green and Josh Smith. So you may as well just put the instrument down. because you're only embarrassing yourself.
Drunk Horse singer/guitarist Eli Eckert credits the Champs with teaching him that it's okay to show off his formidable talent. "The Champs were a huge influence on me," he says by cell phone from a tour stop in Kansas City. "At the time I was pretty into punk. But the first time I saw the Champs, I was impressed that peers that I thought were cool were also really great musicians."
Drunk Horse are built essentially from the same goober mettle as the Champs: a riff-laden foundation of dual guitar leads. But they dirty it up and add a dose of sleazy Southern grit to their songs about out-of-control road trips and waking up passed out with your ass out. The foursome live in Oakland, sound like they're from Alabama, and look like something coughed up by the Bicentennial. As with the Champs, people don't know quite how to take these lads. Are they a Seventies send-up? A blues-based, boogie-infused mockery of all things ZZ Top and Foghat?
"Some people think we're being sarcastic, like we're poking fun at the pantheon of rock. But we're not," Eckert declares.
July finds the band heading back into the studio to record another psychedelic full-length of epic rock songs about, according to Eckert, "shoes, bears, and man-whores." Engineering will be none other than Champs guitarist Tim Green, who recorded Drunk Horse's two previous masterful full-lengths (1999's Drunk Horse and 2001's Tanning Salon/Biblical Proportions, both on the defunct Man's Ruin) at his Louder Studios in San Francisco.
Green's Louder Studios is something of a destination spot for heavy, riff-laden guitar bands. The Cherry Valence, also on Friday's bill, are another band who recorded there and who, in contrast to Drunk Horse, not only sound Southern, but truly are. The dexterous quintet hails from Raleigh, North Carolina, and boasts something none of the other bands can: a female member. Guitarist Cheetie is not only one hot number, but also a first-rate guitarist and singer whose harmonies perfectly round out the group's tempo-shifting, ass-shaking, retro-sounding anthems. Their full-length Riffin' (Estrus) is the soundtrack for a hot, school's-out-for-summer evening. Live, the band doesn't so much kick out the jams as pummel you with them, all thanks to two--that's right, two--kick-ass live drummers.
Gentlemen, start your air guitars.