Can it be? Portland's Witch Throttlegush are better than they sound


Witch Throttlegush, a Portland band running a big trippy beefcore take on the whole "rock is now punk" phenomenon, will be paying Jay's Upstairs a visit this Friday. Their sound fits in nicely with the dirt-rock trend currently pumping juice into punk and rock ("both kinds of music," to borrow from The Blues Brothers), as practiced by the likes of Nashville Pussy, Roller, Speedealer, etc. Fine. Can't wait. Go dirthead go. Rock man rock.

Hey, though, speaking of Portland: transplanted rock rhizomes Fireballs of Freedom recently got kind of a crappy review in a Seattle publication. Nothing especially hair-raising about that fact alone. Some people dig the Fireballs, some don't-the folks who don't being mostly the kind who wouldn't know rock 'n'roll if it was stapled to their keister. But the specific nature of the Fireballs' crime against the milksop sensibilities of the Sparkly Kitty Sticker Weekly or whatever the publication was called, was a novel one for them: high energy, great musicianship-and forgettable material.

Find out what WT really stands for when they play Jay’s this Friday.

Oh yeah? Whatever, you soft little field mice. Most of Missoula scenedom would certainly disagree, but then again most of Missoula scenedom has seen the Fireballs more times than they've got teeth. Two out of three Jay's Upstairs regulars can rattle off the entire Fireballs discography but don't even know how our state song goes. What you have to admit, though, regardless of whether you like them or not, is that the Fireballs put on one hell of a live show, and that's what the Sparkly Kitty Sticker kids are missing.

But it makes a fellow wonder: How often do people miss out on hot live shows because they find a band's recorded output resoundingly underwhelming? The self-titled Witch Throttlegush CD suggests live potential; the thing is laid on thick with marbled slabs of man-rock guitar and even features a ditty called "(Leave My Dead Body To) Karen Greenlee" about the notorious California necrophile who once carjacked a hearse and spent several days cuddling the cargo before the police caught up with her in the next county, overdosed on Tylenol and codeine, passed out cold over a four-page love letter to her new boyfriend. Which is a pretty cool thing to write a love song around.

Alas, the further merits of the digital Witch Throttlegush are cloaked by a spotty sound mix that strips the drums of any real power by highlighting a snare that sounds way too brittle up against the pounding six-string Sabbathisms of songs like "Virus." The vocals have plenty of promise-they sound like a studied blend of Zeke's Blind Marky Felchtone and Blaine from the Accused. Unfortunately, the vocals don't add much to the CD because they are somewhat buried in the mix and garbled by an excess of studio effects.

Nitpickity bits aside, there is every reason to believe that Witch Throttlegush will cough it up live. As mentioned before, their particular brand of hairy revanchism owes a lot more to the yellow-nailed hesher end of the punk spectrum than to liberty spikes and Cockney accents. That's the best kind of rock anyway.

Witch Throttlegush plays at Jay's Upstairs on Friday, April 24.

Geeks unite! Volumen take nerdpop to new heights


Shane Hickey and Doug Smith of the Volumen have been performing together since they were wee lads in Great Falls. Back when they were in fifth and sixth grade, they were in an ensemble called Rapper's Express, rhyming and breakdancing in shows at churches and the local Senior Citizens Center.

"I basically had no skills," Hickey remembers. "But Doug once did 21 consecutive backspins."

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Volumen, a refreshing breeze of fearless nerdpop on a local musical landscape littered with über-serious rawker types. Unabashed fans of Devo and retro bands with names like Capt. Groovy and his Bubblegum Army, the Volumen relish music that, as one colleague put it, "everyone else decided was gay a long time ago."

Volumen give you a heads-up this Wednesday.

Now for some Volumen Fun Facts: Hickey and Smith are prolific keno players. The casino they frequent knows them so well they send the boys cards when they're sick. They also have a fairly long-running feud with Servotron, a Georgia-based outfit fond of the same musical style as the Volumen.

It seems Servotron played a show here years ago at the Moose, and after a rousing set they lurked around the stage with a case of the "Doesn't Celebrity Suck" mopes. Hickey, feeling no pain and wanting to boost the mood of the band, told one member that Servotron reminded him of what Devo would sound like had they been assimilated by the Borg. The comment went over like skinny ties in a biker bar.

"I probably came off as a drunken groupie," Hickey says a bit sheepishly.

The tale was posted on the Volumen's web site and the hateful e-mail from Servotron allies came flooding in. To add insult to injury, the Volumen were planning on covering the entire Valley Girl soundtrack until they heard you-know-who had already done it.

But that's just a small chapter in the larger Volumen saga. After living in Omaha and then briefly going their separate ways, Hickey and Smith both moved to Laramie, Wyoming, which they described as being similar to Missoula, except with more cowboys, less women and a pervasive mood of crank-and-whiskey-fueled aggression.

Smith fled Jackalope Country first, and not knowing a whole lot of people here, he played strange acoustic sets in coffee shops such as Java the Hut. He would tell the blankly staring audience that he was going to keep playing until someone told him where the punk rock shows were.

He eventually found Jay's and then Hickey moved up here. Some time later, they were tossing around band name ideas when someone fiddled with the TV remote. Switched to the "Español" option, the screen read "Volumen" and the name stuck.

Equipped with a home CD burner, the Volumen release their more than 25 hours of catalogued recorded music at will, the most recent one hitting Ear Candy two weeks ago.

They have plenty of plans for the future, including playing as a separate more acoustically-driven band and a tour with fellow locals the Good Word. Oh, and they plan to cover an entire K-Tel CD they have been obsessing over.

"It's the sappiest, sickest bubblegum music ever," Smith promises.

Volumen pop-rawk Jay's Upstairs, Wednesday, April 28.

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