Bagpipes are so punk rock. They’re ugly, they’re clamorous, they’re easy to learn, and their defiant DIY allure is sealed by a rebel pedigree: The Great Highland Bagpipe is the only musical instrument ever banned as a weapon of war. A recent informal poll of Voice-affiliated music scribes revealed a veritable secret history of kiltcore: AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll),” Slade’s “Run Runaway,” the Animals’ “Sky Pilot,” not to mention one-hit wonders the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, whose rendition of “Amazing Grace” topped the U.K. charts in 1972.
On Saturday—that’s National Tartan Day to you—the horn blowers marching up Sixth Avenue in the ScottishPower Tunes of Glory parade didn’t take requests, sticking instead to an endless four-bar loop of vaguely dirgelike bleatings, perhaps as a means to keep nearly 10,000 drummers and pipers from dozens of countries in rough unison. But ScottishPower (no nationalist hubris in the name, by the way—the event is spearheaded by a Glasgow utility company) was less about the music than the presentation. Shivering onlookers, including many a kiltie kiltie cauld bum, craned for glimpses of participants Sean Connery and Ewan McGregor (“Is that Oo-yan?” a pre-teen inquired about a fetching lad from the highlands of Ontario). An Irish consortium sported leopard-print stoles. A small boy, raffish in his balmoral, maneuvered his drum on training wheels. A lone African American dragoon sauntered in Royal Guard feathered bonnet and tire-sized sporran, upstaged only by a towering foreman resplendent in full George Clinton/Village People regalia. And among the hundreds of rippling flags, the internationally recognized insignia of nonpartisan brotherhood flew highest: a banner depicting a foaming beer mug. As an expert last year told the Scotsman, “Tae play pished, you’ve got tae practice pished.” —Jessica Winter
Faster Than a Silver Bullet
The Briefs’ Lance Romance, on April 1 at Luxx, took a moment mid-set to urgently explain that his friend Patty “was suppressed by this fucker for so long she couldn’t stand it.” The fucker, as “Silver Bullet” made clear, is Bob Seger. (Chorus: “Kill Bob Seger right now!”) While Seattle’s Briefs seem serious about hating Bob, they threw out goofy jokes elsewhere; they act like rebellious, wacked-out teenagers decades after the fact. Taking the stage, Romance hollered, “From North Dakota . . . Foghat!” (the guitarist’s name: Steve E. Nix). Announcing gleefully who in the band has crabs, this band wore their (white wraparound) sunglasses at night, spinning out tight, short, three-chord anthems circa 1977, romping and mugging, matching bleach jobs glowing, skinny ties aflutter.
The Briefs, who bill themselves as a new wave band (“Green Day meets Devo,” an onlooker suggested), have met with success: a Sub Pop seven-inch, a 13-track “LP” that clocks in at 25 minutes, a national tour supporting the venerable Damned, and now a record deal with Interscope. Clearly, they’re doing something right, although they don’t improve on the genre so much as perform ’70s punk in the 21st century with inspired flair. And while some songs are boring (like the hypocritical “She’s Abrasive”), a few—those with a degree of pathos, those that ventured beyond STDs, new shoes, and killing cheesy rock idols—stand out. The midtempo, Wire-like “Rotten Love” is the longest track on the record, and for good reason: It has a seriously head-bouncing guitar part and drifting vocals that recall Joey’s whiny inflections in “Beat on the Brat.” And “Poor and Weird” approaches genius in its declarations of the band’s credo. “I’m poor and I’m weird baby, you got no time for me,” chanted every member of the band, over and over, in perfect unison. —Hillary Chute
Sweet and Tender Hooligan
Last Saturday night at Irving Plaza, a wee blond lass was doubled over in reflection, collapsed upon her seated self like a compact. Concerned by this excessive display of contemplation, and doubtless used to more sinister teen foibles, a security guard jostled her shoulder. She looked up, registered alertness, then promptly folded back upon herself. Ease back, dude. Just gripping the pain.
Dashboard Confessional will do that to you. With an oeuvre that reads like the scattered diary entries of a high school prom dumpee, fully tatted arms, and a coif straight from the Morrissey files, Dashboard frontman Chris Carrabba puts the emo back in emocore, and in so doing becomes a beacon of hope for thousands of teens in search of that perfect final song for their breakup mix tapes.
No wonder he writes the songs the whole world sings. Carrabba’s wail is just melodic enough to give punch to his nimble songwriting, and just annoying enough—veering slightly off pitch when necessary—to convey genuine despair. He opened his set with the fuck-off-but-don’t ode “The Best Deceptions,” dropping out midway to let the kids take over: “So kiss me hard, ’cause this will be the last time that I let you.” By the time he got to “Brilliant Dance,” the campfire chorus was in full effect, chanting along to gentle twanging from Carrabba’s fire-red guitar: “So you buried all your lover’s clothes, and burned the letters lover wrote, but it doesn’t make it any better.” Indeed.
Occasionally, toward the end of a song, the mousy Boca Raton native will turn raspy for some sore-throated growling over jagged guitar—a nod to the (hard)core fans. Closing out his final number, he found his inner Ian Mackaye and turned dark angel, stage-dove, then groaned unconvincingly and dashed off. He wants you to think that this is the catharsis, that he’s been holding it in all along under a placid veil. Yet you sense that it’s all merely pro forma. He’s not mad, only sad. —Jon Caramanica