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BENT NIGHTS Punk, punk and more punk: Part 1
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Vern Hester

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"Punk rock: a loud, fast-moving and aggressive form of rock music popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"Punk: a worthless person, often used as a general term of abuse."—from the 2010 edition of The Oxford American Dictionary, Third Edition

California punkers Green Day have been catching hell ever since their major label debut, Dookie ( 1990, Reprise Records ) sold more than 10 million copies.

For decades, DIY punk purists have loudly questioned the validity of a punk band that regularly fills sports stadiums, has sold 85 million albums, received five Grammy Awards, been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and even conquered Broadway. After watching Billie Joe Armstrong ( vocals and guitar ) and his pals ( Mike Dirnt on bass and Tre Cool on drums ) blow up Wrigley Field on Aug. 24 in front of a capacity crowd in support of the new Revolution Radio ( Warner/Reprise Records ), I can't say the argument of punk ethics vs. mass entertainment got settled—but I can say that I had a blast.

The title of the new album is slightly deceptive, being that there is nothing faintly revolutionary about it. The title song is essentially pop blasted with punk fury with a swooping chorus, an upfront melody and blatant hooks making it radio-friendly hardcore with just a hint of malice ( in other words, exactly the kind of music Green Day has been making for 30 years ). The song is a nice blast off but "Bang Bang" is the surprise here, with its jangly cyclone of guitars and Armstrong declaring, "I want to be a celebrity martyr" with his tongue firmly in cheek.

"Bang Bang" is enormously entertaining with its beat-driven bama-lama ( courtesy of Dirnt ) and oddball lyrics ( the chorus being "I'm daddy's little pyro and mommy's little soldier" ) and it's easy to just indulge in its goofiness. "Youngblood" is even better, with its send-up of the cliche of an unattainable goddess who makes the protagonist do right while inspiring all kinds of naughty thoughts ( with Armstrong crooning "I want to hold you like a gun" ).

After all this time, the members of Green Day are hardly the young cocky punks they used to be, but as evidenced by the show at Wrigley Field, they didn't care. Front man Armstrong still works harder onstage then most rockers half his age, but his most disarming virtue is his desire to please his audience.( For a punker, he sure did smile a lot. ) To top that off, the set list was packed with delights, both old and new ( "Know Your Enemy," "Bang Bang," "Hitchin' A Ride," "Jesus of Suburbia," "American Idiot," "21 Guns," "Good Riddance," "Minority" ) and even a curveball surprise thrown in for good measure ( a mash-up of "Shout," ( I Can't Get No ) Satisfaction" and "Hey Jude" ).

Green Day may be punk rock for the masses ( yes, I did see hundreds of teenagers with their 50+-year-old parents in tow, sporting Dookie tees ), but as accusers rant about them selling out they still make anarchy family-friendly, and that's not necessarily a bad thing is it?

Travis Travis Travis, the front man and mouthpiece for avant-garde collective ONO, couldn't give a shit about being family-friendly. He also said "I have no use for punk rock. ... I can't even understand what they are saying," at a SRO panel discussion filled with queer punks at last month's Fed Up Fest. Regardless of labels Travis ruffles feathers by using the artistic forum to sing haunting and uncomfortable sound collages about ingrained racism, homophobia, xenophobia, segregation, and racial violence. Using his personal history as a springboard ( he grew up in the Jim Crow south and in 1969 he was accused of being gay and drummed out of the military ) Travis and band leader Michael Ono create disturbing soundscapes that are at once jarring, danceable, stirring, and hypnotic. At a sold out show at The Hideout on August 23, ONO shared a bill with Moor Mother Goddess that redefined what being a punk really is.

With the band spread out at the front of the stage ( there are seven members in ONO ), Travis, who, at 71 ( ! ), loves to accentuate his queerness with a multitude of fine evening gowns ( Ms. Ross, take note ), started the show with "Coon" and proceeded to draw his audience in with a selection of sonic soundscapes with brittle edges, dance beats and odd samples ( like having Gladys Knight's "The Nitty Gritty" in the mix ). On "More," "Stain" and the closer "Sycamore Tree," his delivery shifted into near-theater with his use of body language and a subtle use of dance. What gives him and the collective power and heft is their use of sound as an anchor while offering only fragmented narratives and leaving room for the audience to fill in the blanks.

If ONO reshapes and re-imagines the past to comment on our present, Moor Mother Goddess uses the here and now to address the here and now in a similarly uncomfortable way. With just her on stage ( and a cameo from saxophonist David Boykin ) with a myriad of electronic devices, Moor Mother piggy backed on ONO's opener to present spoken word/rap/sung pieces using ambient sounds shot through with longing and fury. While enjoying the critical reaction to her recent releases Crime Waves and Fetish Bones ( both on Don Giovanni Records ), this show was hardly about celebration or joy.

"Tell Me About It"—with its submerged vocals and murky mix—was both alluring and off-putting. With her repeating the lines, "Everything A-OK, Why we gotta die this way?" over a backdrop of ambient noise and tortured screams, this version sounded like the soundtrack to a nightmare. On "Deadbeat Protest," all that electronic noise got tweaked into a coiled tense mess while she declared, "Get away from me/you can see my dead body at the protest!!!!!"

Although ONO and Moor Mother Goddess deal in ambient, world Afro-futurism and electronica, many may not consider them as punk—but the lyrical content gives them away. This kind of anarchy is not meant for family viewing, and clearly the religious right would love it if Moor Mother Goddess and Travis would just go away.

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