Phoenix spent the waning days of the last millennium with his dog and two horses, making his way from Montana to the Mexican border, where he swapped the horses for a jeep and continued south. This journey was a meditation, an opportunity for the mixed-blood Native American to try and make sense of this crazy world, especially its hateful, selfish inhabitants who seem bent on treating the world—and each other—like a baby treats a diaper.
At a beach outside the Mexican town of Sayualita, Phoenix befriended drummer Pauly Donaldson. After passing a few days together on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, they parted without exchanging addresses. Months later they ran into each other again on the streets of Missoula, where Phoenix had just moved, and a band was born. Several incarnations later, the band stands at three, with the addition of Mike Freemole on bass. Their first album, Kindred Spirits, is hot off of the presses.
Phoenix’s songs rise from the ashes of his journey down south. They explore the forces that are threatening to unwind the fabric of the world, as well as those forces that still manage to somehow bind it all together. The song, “The World is Burning,” for example, a tribute to legendary eco-buccaneer Doug Peacock, notes: Our heads are in the sand/guns and bombs take their trillions/patriotism’s opiate of millions/if corporations will make their billions/cast a plague upon the land...will someone tell me where to stand/ we must unite more than our nation. Meanwhile, the track “The Wonder of it All” is practically cosmic in its optimism: Dusk becomes mist/the mist becomes stars/the light illuminates my soul/and I am overcome by the wonder of it all.
“Carlisle” is a haunting history, through the experience of Native American Tom Torlino, of the attempt to convert Indians into Americans. This retelling of American Indian history is reminiscent of the work of Jack Gladstone of Kalispell. Both Phoenix and Gladstone are native voices singing in a medium that is very much post-colonial American, from folk to rock to whatnot. But before anyone gets a hair to pigeonhole anybody, Phoenix’s sound is very much his own thing. His voice still sounds like Dave Matthews, minus the Dave Matthews cover tunes. The top-notch musicianship of Donaldson and Freemolt (who Phoenix boasts is the best bass player this side of anywhere), and all of the threesome’s collective musical inspirations have blended together to form a sound that is somewhere in between, and somewhere else altogether. The music is crisp. The lyrics are deep and substantial. The overall sound is unified and beautiful.
Anti DiFrancos, Kill the Bastards, Self-released/Poisoned Candy Records
Hardcore punk rarely makes it to a larger audience. Even in Missoula, with its very incestuous and constantly cross-pollinating music scene, hardcore thrives only on the margins. At all-ages shows at the Boys and Girls Club. On Monday and Tuesday shoulder-night shows at Jay’s Upstairs. Missoula bands like to think it’s different elsewhere: Even in a modestly large city like Portland, it’s possible to walk past certain corners or stick your nose into certain shops and music venues and believe that crusty punks in patchwork leather pants and frayed Amebix and Crass T-shirts compose a sizeable percentage of the city’s show-going youth population. But it’s all relative. Missoula isn’t there yet, and thankfully may never be. Like it or lump it, the scene just doesn’t have the numbers to support the camp mentality in its punk scene.
So why don’t hardcore bands like the Anti DiFrancos have the same draw as other local bands like Volumen or Disappointments? Because most people like to loosen up and feel good at shows, and feeling good isn’t what hardcore is about. At least, that shouldn’t be what hardcore is about. That’s the paradox, and something that so many people find incomprehensible: What kind of poorly-weaned sociopath actually enjoys being shouted at from the stage and having his eardrums flensed with the maximum brutality that modern electronics can muster? When there’s an easily-digestible funk/jam band playing right down the street?
There are several ways to approach this quandary, though none likely to satisfy anyone whose mind is made up that hardcore simply isn’t music. So let’s start right from there: Hardcore isn’t music in the goes-down-smoothly, no-bitter-aftertaste sense. At its most basic, it’s a conveyance of ideas and beliefs that don’t have a place in other types of music. Agree or disagree, the lyrics should provoke you and challenge your assumptions. And do so with conviction—the worst thing a hardcore band can do is lack conviction. You might find the lyrics stridently oversimplified, but even if they piss you off or cause you to dwell on them for just the minute or two it takes to decide you don’t agree, then the band has done its job.
As for the music itself: There are at least as many different kinds of hardcore as there are species of “classically trained” and “drawing from a diverse variety of influences” jam bands. To the educated ear, it doesn’t all sound the same. As many different kinds of hardcore inform the bazillion mph youth attack of Kill the Bastards as different eras of the Grateful Dead have influenced the soundalike stinkfoot band-of-the-week. And if the “level of musicianship” of a band like the Anti DiFrancos (who are in ass-kicking form on Kill the Bastards) isn’t up to String Cheese Incident snuff in the estimation of someone for whom technical seamlessness is the most important thing about a band, that’s because not everyone who plays in a band cares first and foremost about being a virtuoso.