What better time to visit the USA than when it’s busy shooting itself in the foot, and everyone else in the face, courtesy of a cartoon demagogue and his cabal of snivelling sycophants? So I did. Serendipitously, landing in Portland the same day that peerless bluegrass balladeer, AUSTIN LUCAS, was playing an intimate house show in the city (29th March). He’d never sounded, or looked, so good. And the new songs are weeptastic works of wonder. Four days later, I’m in Bend, Oregon, watching outlaw-country punknik, SCOTT H BIRAM, stomp, thrash and croak like Hank III’s lost hillbilly cousin (Volcanic, 2nd April). This dude once survived a head-on collision with an eighteen wheeler which may explain his no-bullshit attitood. Opener, Americana guitar hero, JESSE DAYTON, showed us how they do it in Texas, while brazenly deploying every country-rock trope in the songbook.
The main reason for me hauling my hairy ass to the US was to tour the West Coast with masterful punkgrass mob, LARRY & HIS FLASK. The first show was blissful (Volcanic, Bend, 4th April). Despite the band’s dizzying mash-up of guitars, banjo, mandolin, trumpets, trombone and vocal harmonies, it’s their emotional thrust that truly impresses. Thanks to the tunecraft of singer/guitarist, Ian Cook, there’s a yearning at the heart of songs like ‘Ebb & Flow’ that evokes a bygone age without resorting to nostalgia. This show also kickstarted my solo venture, WARSHY. As in, shy of war. As in, take your imperialist violence and shove it. I was nervous, loose and drunk but the Bendites approved. Phew!
For the remainder of the tour we were joined by Chicago’s FLATFOOT 56: a motley crew with a six-foot-ten singer and a neat line in bullish punk rock. Sure, their Celt-ish melodies and bagpiping pugilism have been covered by Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys but there’s always room for one more. Their shining moment was in Denver, Colorado (Marquis, 15th April). That’s one batshit-crazy city. Rewind to 7th April, and I’m buzzing like Beelzebub’s ballbag because the DESCENDENTS are playing the bigger room (Catalyst Club, Santa Cruz). I duly abandon my Flask duties to witness Milo and Co rip through a slew of classics including ‘Suburban Home’, ‘Bikeage’ and ‘Hope’ alongside heaps of new ditties. Magnificent.
Back home, and Virginia peace-punks, STRIKE ANYWHERE, were tearing Exeter a new manifesto with their trademark blasts of anarcho-positive hardcore (Lemon Grove, 24th April). Likewise, PETROL GIRLS, a band whose unapologetic feminist militancy – like Crass, Poison Girls and Bikini Kill before them – will always court controversy. Amen to that. Aussie punks, CLOWNS, may not be splashing in uncharted waters but their buckshot riffola and petulant shoutalongs certainly got the juices flowing (Junction, Plymouth, 26th April).
London-reggae crew, THE SKINTS, are in the house! Not my house. A much bigger house these days. Indeed, they’ve come a long way since those punky jams of yesteryear, but this felt like a heroes’ homecoming, such is the Ocean City’s love for them (Hub, Plymouth, 9th May). The oldest swiggers in town, UK SUBS, returned to Plymouth for the umpteenth time and reunited all the mama’n’papa punks in an orgy of sonic relief (Junction, 18th May). Charlie Harper, will it/you ever end? We hope not.
Next up, an Americana extravaganza with PAT REEDY, AGS CONNOLLY and MARK J LEE who all proffered their own nuanced take on outlaw country (Junction, 19th May). Connolly, in particular, had a wonderfully rounded timbre, despite his affected Southern drawl. Finally, London politico-pop trio, THE TUTS, plied their pro-community wares in a garden in rural Cornwall as part of their Pledge campaign (Callington, 20th May). The band’s metro-DIY charms won everybody over, except, perhaps, the shy Tories in the crowd. Yeah, we see you, fuckers!