Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi The Drags, Various Artists: Live at the Laundromat

By Michael Henningsen

Alibi Value Scale Formula:

Total minutes of good music @ 50¢/minute minus total minutes of bad music @ 25 ¢/minute = Value. Note: For recordings with a total playing time of less than 30 minutes, above values are doubled.

The Drags
Stop Rock and Roll (Estrus)

Good Minutes: 16:00
Blah Minutes: 0:57 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 1:32
Actual Retail Price: $12.87
Value: $15.34

AUGUST 18, 1997:  On their second full-length Estrus outing, the Drags have traded in some of the more abrasive moments from their debut, Dragsploitation ... Now!, for more melody, more emphasis on interesting songs and an overall sound that's more cohesive. There's also quite a bit more reverb at work on the ghost-of-a-surf-guitarist guitar sound.

What remains, though, is the essence of The Drags' music: open-ended chord bashing, stop 'n' go bass and drums and matter-of-fact vocals that have that rare, anthemic quality to them no matter what lead vocalist/guitarist CJ Drag happens to be singing about. The Drags make it clear with this record that their mission isn't to urge you to look deeply into their compositions for spiritual guidance or philosophical breakthroughs--their mission is to pound as much surf-infused punk rock into your skull in as short a time as possible.

Among the 12 minute-and-a-halfers that combine to form this most exemplary of Drags' releases, though, there are many subtleties. Not the least of which is simply the fact that CJ has taken to singing rather than shouting a good deal more of the material here than on previous releases. The results are that many of the songs on Stop Rock and Roll are more instantly listenable and that the overall genius of The Drags is upgraded by the emergence of yet another secret weapon.

Beginning with the instrumental "Bacon Striptease," Stop Rock and Roll builds up steam through the Ramones-meets-John Spencer Blues Explosion incantation that is "Iron Curtain Rock" and super-pop "Tastes Like Poison."

By the time "Anti-Satisfaction" bops its way into your ears, the map's been clearly splayed in front of you. All you can do is prepare for a psychedelic trip that flits between Buddy Holly's pioneering jangle, rockabilly stylings (check out the "Tobacco Road"-inspired "Conspiracy") and classic punk rock--especially the stuff the Cramps and Sex Pistols are/were made of. If Dragsploitation ... Now! was just the tip of the iceberg, then Stop Rock and Roll is at least the upper two-thirds.

Various Artists
Unscrubbed: Live from the Laundromat (Toy Gun Murder Records)

Good Minutes: 71:06
Blah Minutes: 6:13 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 0
Actual Retail Price: $14.97
Value: $35.53

In the 4-square-mile area that is San Francisco--prone to catastrophic earthquakes and a lack of good parking spaces--there remains a unique sense of refuge for the struggling artist, musicians in particular. In the 1970s, San Francisco established itself--quietly at first--as both a melting pot of artists, writers and musicians and as a sort of hostel for misfits of all kinds: hence, the perfect springboard for punk rock, spoken word and a host of other performance-related artistic movements. Things may have changed somewhat over the years, with the closing of vital venues like On Broadway in the '80s and the sudden popularity and commercialization of art forms previously scoffed at or ignored by mainstream society. But San Francisco still somehow manages to coddle its children, remaining rich soil in which an entirely new generation of artists are encouraged to plant their roots.

Just ask Albuquerque-bred guitarist-extraordinaire/singer/songwriter Eric McFadden. Or, better yet, listen to "Hey, Joey," the track he contributes to Unscrubbed: Live from the Laundromat, a collection of 21 live songs by some of the Bay Area's most promising new acoustic acts. Collected and produced by Ian Brennan, Unscrubbed miraculously captures 21 moving, intimate performances by artists such as MK Ultra, 100 Watt Smile, Justin Chin, McFadden and Brennan himself. It's one of the most diverse collections of acoustic music you're ever likely to hear, not to mention the only such record of recent memory boasting great songs, top to bottom.

--Michael Henningsen

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