Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Piebald

Piebald- If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds It Would Be Curtains For Us All

The follow-up to ‘When Life Hands You Lemons’, part of the amazing initial batch of records that HydraHead put out in the late nineties, before the label narrowed their focus to metal.

Whenever it was, 1997 or so, Piebald was like THE band around town (which I spend a little time explaining in the review down below for ‘Barely Legal/All Ages’, the retrospective repackaging of the band’s first few. It’d make way more sense if you read the reviews chronologically, I think, but, anal as I am, I feel duty-bound to review them according to their release dates, and, of course, the retrospective was released later on. Stupid trick chronologies).

‘Venetian Blinds’ still gets pulled out every now and again. I understand that ‘Lemons’ is the sentimental favorite among fans, and I feel some of that, too- I have deep associations with listening to the album right when I moved to Boston, learning my way around town with the album playing in the headphones. Totally makes sense. ‘Blinds’, though, is the better record musically. A lot of the ‘Blinds’ songs were kinda of the same era- I remember, f’r example, a bunch of shows where the debut, ‘Grace Kelly With Wings’, was being played amongst the ‘Lemons’ tracks. ‘Grace Kelly’ was the song where all of the kids would go ‘whoot!’ during this mini guitar break, which I always thought was cool and funny- like watching a live-action Rocky Horror or something. That was one of the things about the band that I found to be charming- the fans were super familiar, and totally fucked around at shows, making things feel more participatory and inclusive. Y’know, a little club.

Continued explorations of voice-cracking melodicism, invitations to makeout parties, odes to motorcycles (Aaron took to wearing a motorcycle helmet around town), innocent introductions to radical politics, spelling lessons involving Zeppelin and Tom Petty. The band at their charmingly geeky best, not trying so hard to sound menacing or tough, just concentrating on being themselves and banging out these quirky ditties.


Piebald- The Rock Revolution Will Not Be Televised

After hitting one out of the park on ‘Venetian Blinds’, Piebald jumped into a barrel of oil and came out sounding pretty slick on ‘Rock Revolution’: Big chords and big production, big lyrical ideas.

I don’t know. All of these high-falutin’ but non-specific lyrics about Huge Issues- art, rock, economic inequality- didn’t sit well with me when the record came out, still don’t now. They feel like a stab, a grab for the brass ring. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with trying to make a living doing what you love- I don’t begrudge anyone that. It’s just that Piebald was always a band that was emo, singing about girls and their feelings, all that cool shit. The shift over to this quasi-politically aware Big Rock band with more volume and less tricks seemed more like a career move than a progression. Shit, the best song on the record is ‘David Lee Rock,’ a song about Van Halen- so much less self-conscious and goofier than the rest of the songs, like they weren’t trying so hard (having said all that, though, it sounds kinda like a J Church song, except for the mathy bit at the end).

Piebald- Barely Legal/All Ages

Let this anthology of previously released Piebald songs serve as a warning to all fledgling label owners- the job that you do on the packaging, however impressive it looks, can totally ruin a release. When this anthology was released, no one talked about how all the old out-of-print stuff was finally available again because the nice-looking double-disc package, for some inexplicable reason, contained this embarrassing essay written by the label head on the inside cover. Not only was it light years cheesier than any of Piebald’s stuff (no easy feat), but it contained all these typos and misspellings. Never before or since have I seen anything like the shit talk on the message boards about the package’s lameness detracting from the product.

Anyway: Piebald. Local kids, from Andover, this affluent suburb. The early stuff has this screamy vibe to it. A product, I’d guess, of being big Converge fans- songs that didn’t sound much different than any of the bands loved by readers of HeartattaCk, if that’s any indication. Not a lot to distinguish them from the pack, aside from the aforementioned localism.

Not until ‘Sometimes Friends Fight’, anyway. At that point, two things happened: the band started to smooth out their rough edges a little bit, and, most importantly, the band started putting patches in with their recordings. There was a space of like three years, I shit you not, where it was completely impossible to go to a show within fifty miles of Boston without seeing some kid with a Piebald patch sewn onto his/her ________. Brilliant.

‘When Life Hands You Lemons’, released on Hydra(ponic)Head, was totally a summer album. The band was approaching their best, having ditched their screechy basement hardcore leanings in favor of a goofy melodicism. Travis starts to sing, or try to, and his voice cracks all over the place- not sure if the breaks are affected or not, but it doesn’t really matter because they’re charming and inclusive, like “Hey, my voice is changing, and I’m in a band! You can be in one, too!” Seeing the band live was always a trip, because the kids knew every note. Always an amazing moment when the kids all shouted ‘Say we had a falling out……now we gotta FALL BACK IN!’ Hell, it extended beyond the lyrics to singing along with the guitars, no shit .

I’m not sure if Piebald’s stuff would be enticing to a new listener or if my apreesh for the band is a product of (blatant) localism. Whatever, really- I was there, I was down, and I’m glad I have it to listen to, embarrasing packaging or no.

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