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House of Tudor 

Swingin' Utters' wistful, fist-pumping punk, and Deadly Snakes' gritty street-wise soul

Wednesday, Feb 19 2003
It was with a very heavy heart that I set aside my adoration of the Swingin' Utters at the turn of the century. The Streets of San Francisco, the Utters' 1995 translation of all that had been musically seditious and delicious about Britain in the '70s, actually prompted my first music-feature pitch. While I remained an ardent loyalist over the next several years, there was no denying the group's self-titled 2000 album didn't sound like the Utters in whom I had once reveled. It didn't come as a complete surprise: In this day and age, one can hardly expect three great albums from a band before a little extra studio time, a slick producer, and a few arena tours take the edge off. What did come as a complete surprise was the quality of the outfit's recent release, Dead Flowers, Bottles, Bluegrass, and Bones. With raw, street-punk anthems that hearken back to 1996's A Juvenile Product of the Working Class and emotionally evocative ballads that stretch frontman Johnny Bonnel's voice in new (unpredictably melodic) ways, the record is, at once, a return to youthful ferocity and a sojourn into thoughtful musical terrain. (An interesting development, given that it was founding guitar player Max Huber who left the band after Swingin' Utters to develop more fully as a musician.)

Here, poet and working-class bard Darius Koski (pictorially captured selling fish in the Feb. 6 issue of the Chronicle) re-emerges as the Utters' principal songwriter, which is exactly as it should be, given that few of his contemporaries bring such a wistful mien to fist-pumping punk rock. The band explores this proclivity fully on the LP's closing lament, "Shadows and Lies," which guitarist Koski sings to delicate effect, making it easily the prettiest thing the Swingin' Utters have ever recorded. Still, it is Bonnel's earnest rasp and confrontational might that leave the final stamp on the Utters' songs, even on the chirpy "Glad," whose chorus, "I'm glad we met/ So sad you left/ Sometimes the sweetest things turn sour," feels like a tongue-in-cheek farewell to departed guitarist Huber. For those who don't care for laments, ballads, or farewells (appropriately, this album is dedicated to seven recently deceased friends), DFBBAB also has plenty to offer in the way of inspired bedlam. The Swingin' Utters celebrate the record release on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 330 Ritch with the Lucky Stiffs opening at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $3; call 541-9574. The group also plays at Rasputin Music (2401 Telegraph in Berkeley) on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at 5 p.m. Admission is free; call (510) 848-9004.

"Canadian soul." The mind naturally banishes such a notion to the same mental hoosegow detaining oxymorons like "new classic," "peace force," "easy labor," and "daily special." But perhaps one should not be so quick to judge, since the Great White North has, in fact, offered quite a convincing appeal. Hailing from Toronto -- one of the few cities on the continent that can boast midnight traffic jams -- the gritty street-soul group Deadly Snakes was launched, as all Canadian bands should be, by a late-night keg party and hotel swimming pool break-in. Maybe it was the heady amalgamation of beer, chlorine, and exhaust fumes that fueled the musicians' loose-limbed gyrations, but whatever it was, the six young men have yet to shake the magic of early Stax performers and their punk rock counterparts at CBGB's. While not the first to be so inspired, the Deadly Snakes quickly proved among the best. With souls on fire and fingernails etched in garage rock grime, the band headed south to perform a set in Memphis that Greg "Oblivion" Cartwright immediately recognized as the furious cry of kith and kin. Heedless of a record-breaking blizzard, Cartwright flew to Toronto to produce the Snakes' debut album, I'm Not Undone, for Sympathy for the Record Industry, one-time home of the Oblivions, the Makers, Tav Falco, Billy Childish, and, of course, the White Stripes. (Canuck legend has it that, during those sizzling Snakes sessions, the snow finally began to thaw.) By album No. 2, 2001's I'm Not Your Soldier Anymore (In the Red Records), the Memphis guitarist had actually become a member of the group, adding a bit of the Oblivions' garage gospel to the Deadly Snakes' undeniable raw energy. Subsequently, the sophomore release dropped us in the middle of more diverse and satisfying topography, filled with gut-twisting ballads, ramshackle convulsions, strident rebel yells, and maudlin confessions. While Cartwright by no means steals the Snakes' limelight, it's quite easy to see this is the band he's always wanted. Me too. The Deadly Snakes appear on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at the Bottom of the Hill with Oneida and Kinski opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 621-4455.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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