Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A VHS converter, a sharp novella, and a beer-soaked live show

(Image: Locust House)

Philips DVD recorder/VCR


One of the most thoughtful birthday gifts I’ve ever received was this beautiful black box of obsolete technology. Obsolete, that is, if you’ve parted ways with Rhino’s VHS releases of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or tossed the multiple tapes of The Muppet Show you made when the series aired on Nickelodeon 20 years ago—which I have not. In addition to reconnecting me with the foundational document of my career in pop-culture commentary (a homemade VHS compilation that’s three parts Devo arcana, two parts Saturday Night Live reruns, and two parts I Love The ’80s), the Philips DVD recorder/VCR also drags these memories into 2016 by dubbing them to only-slightly-behind-the-curve digital versatile discs. Great for releasing family mementos from their VHS-C prison, and even better for making sure that SNL’s scattershot approach to digital distribution will never keep me from watching Chris Parnell’s proto-“Lazy Sunday” rap about Kirsten Dunst. Now I just have to spend some time with the owner’s manual to make sure the DVDs I burn are playable on other devices. [Erik Adams]

Adam Gnade, Locust House: A Novella

Though the San Diego hardcore scene of the late ’90s and early 2000s has as many detractors as it does champions, Locust House doesn’t attempt to defend or deride it. Instead, writer Adam Gnade’s most recent work of fiction uses a house party featuring scene favorites (The Locust, The Blood Brothers, De Facto) as a way to explore the lives of the people who crammed themselves into a sweaty house together. In under 50 pages Locust House deals in sharp, affecting portraits of hopeless kids using spastic noise-punk as a bonding agent. It explains what brought these characters to the same show, and how those radical ideas either stuck with them as they aged or became a distant memory. Gnade doesn’t exalt either side; instead he uses Locust House as a way of exploring the myriad ways people can grow together or grow apart after being steeped in a subculture. In many ways, Locust House ends up functioning like a song by one of the aforementioned bands: short, chaotic, and hyper-resonant. That is, if you’re willing to look for the beauty hidden beneath the racket. [David Anthony]

The Tough Shits’ beer-soaked live show

Despite bopping along to The Tough Shits’ catchy garage rock since 2009, I haven’t been able to see the band live until a few weeks ago. Lead singer Mark Banfill calls the Philadelphia foursome “legitimately non-careerists,” and during the last few years, they’ve primarily done shows only on the East Coast. Coming off of a yearlong pseudo-breakup/hiatus, they’ve picked up a new bassist (Max DiMezza) and drummer (James Horn) and are touring this spring. On their albums, The Tough Shits refuse to take themselves too seriously. Song titles (and, yes, the band name itself) like “I Heard She Kisses On The Mouth,” “Space Heater,” and “Born Drunk” hint at their sense of humor; in “Flash Art,” they encourage listeners to get shitty tattoos. But their good-time rambunctiousness really comes alive in, well, their live performance. Throughout their May 4th show in Chicago, Banfill jumped into the crowd, shoved his mic to audience members’ mouths, and sang atop a man’s shoulders, while the energetic Reggie Watts doppelgänger of a drummer never seemed to stop smiling. The crowd screamed along, chanted, pushed and shoved, and wet the floor with spilled drinks. In How Music Works, David Byrne tips the chicken/egg conundrum of music creation and performance spaces in favor of the latter, saying that it’s as much the rock club or dance hall that shapes the music that will be performed in it as it is the music that shapes what those clubs will look like. The Tough Shits’ rowdy choruses, alongside their hoppy country-guitar licks, were made for bar-room sing-alongs, with perhaps no better example than “Pretty Wild,” in which Banfill and lead guitarist John Heald refuse to give up their Schlitz-drinking, I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude: “All my life, I’ve been pretty wild / But no one seems to like it when I act like a child anymore.” As long as their adolescent behavior includes playing tunes like this one (in a bar near me), I’m for it. [Laura Adamczyk]


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