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[whitespace] Patriotic Punks

Stalin's War sets off the pit but leaves its message in the music

By David Espinoza

LEAVE IT TO a punk rock band to flout the current flag-waving trend and post an upside-down American flag on one of its amplifiers. Of course, local quintet Stalin's War also had an upside-down Soviet flag on the opposing guitarist's amp, presumably just in case there were any folks from the former USSR. to offend at the SC Vets Hall last Saturday (Dec. 15). (This could have been an oversight in proper flag display since Stalin's War had pictures of Lenin on its merchandise but no J. Stalin). Politics aside, Stalin's War succeeded in setting off the pit a couple of times with its fierce femme-fronted hard-core tunes. Lead guitarist Matt and bassist Rocky were particularly intense, with their veins popping out and instruments slung low in what VH1's Behind the Music will inevitably call "classic punker pose #2." In contrast, front-grrrl Moana is still developing a convincing stage persona, but that should all come with more gigs.

Last year, when Swedish Marxist mods the International Noise Conspiracy came to town, they confidently soapboxed the crowd about revolution and fashion. Whether that would be too preachy for Stalin's War to attempt was hard to tell, as its in-between-song messages were limited to veganism (as ubiquitous a cause among hard-core bands as ending the death penalty is among hip-hop crews) and a civil-liberties argument against the USA Patriot Act. Then again, if a band has a sociopolitical message, it's best to work it into the music, and that's what Stalin's War did.

A couple of hours later upstairs in the SC Vets Hall, the First Annual SC Hip-Hop revival kicked off with a decent-sized crowd. While the lighting and sound setup ranged from bad to worse, the show did offer some real talent with MCs Thunderhut, Namu and Dirty Dick Grunge, but especially with homegrown SC slacker boys the Moonies. A major difference between live rock and live hip-hop is that the former can get away with staying in one place (guitars, bass, and drums tend to anchor the performer); the latter has to keep moving or suffer the consequences. The headlining acts of the night knew this instinctively and put on the best show they could, given the circumstances. The Moonies (fitted in lowbrow goofy attire akin to the Digital Underground) were naturals onstage, tossing rhymes out like candy on Halloween. One of the crew's best tunes began with the chorus, "Who needs a job when you're born to rhyme?" and involved getting the audience to sing "employed" after the Moonies sang "Un."

Further south on Pacific Avenue Rosie McCann's put local indie rock & roll on tap with newcomers Tenth of Always and Lesterjett. The all-grrrl quartet Tenth of Always may just be stepping out of the garage but it's already generating a buzz with its Sebadoh-styled guitars and breathy vocals. With more vocal melodies and college rock inclinations than most bands in town, Tenth of Always is definitely a band to watch in the coming months. Local power-pop trio Lesterjett would also be a good band to bet on, especially if you dig Elvis Costello and the Police. Performing for a practically empty room late on Saturday, thanks to a very long set by Tenth of Always, Lesterjett played as if there were thousands watching. Sporting ties a la the Jam, the three Lesterjetters busted out some of the most polished songs I've heard all year from a local act. Clearly all well-trained musicians, Lesterjett works jazz chords and reggae beats into hi-fidelity rock & roll songs about things that, according to their redheaded lead singer, don't exist--such as women who only like redheaded men.

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From the December 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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