Anyone who’s been part of a live show, at any level, knows what the word cluster-fuck means. Whether abusing the back line of questionable gear and sharing amps or dragging your own onto some stage 30 feet off the ground (why?!), and those mountainous amplifiers that never seemed to be designed to go anywhere--- you absolutely have to experience the magic for yourself! And with so many artists & groups expanding line-ups way past the point of “overflow” at shows, either at an outdoor festival or some *all ages* show up the street, bands perennially get lost in the shuffle. So do entire clusters of bands within genres. Some artists are stifled within range of modest success, when others pop up out of the woodwork and find immediate and unending fan support and commercial decadence.
Over the years, your once favorite band is virtually AWOL on Google searches.
‘Shoegazer’ acts like Catherine Wheel and My Bloody Valentine, ‘Progressive Rock’ like King’s X, Galactic Cowboys and Fates Warning and ‘Alternative Radio” rock like the Pixies or Jawbox-- so many acts have bypassed the flaming nucleus of success while eventually being credited by fledgling bands for “influencing" their current style. Ahh, the kiss of death…
There were a lot of good sounds going around and not enough room for everyone to be part of the fiery maelstrom. Some groups sparked enough flammable material that could drift through a forest with gradual shifts in appreciation, eventually gaining praise and respect some years later- embers that refused to go out.
At the time that Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains flourished; there simply wasn’t enough room or commercial viability for others. They were destined to produce good music that would be eclipsed by other equally decent recordings. So, I'm paying them their due. Now is as good a time as any other.
Kansas produced a lot more than corn (and more corn) in the early nineties. The band Stick, after going through a significant line-up change as well as several name changes, struck up a deal with Clive Davis’s Arista Records and put out one of the most stripped down rock records (call it Midwest hardcore if you like) of the early nineties. “Heavy Bag”- their debut, would be rife with dense, drop-D guitar riffs, tight drumming and Mark Smirl’s enigmatic and politically charged vocals; the band also had bassist Darrel Brannock pocketing a thick and overdriven bass tone.
Gloriously deep, and often sounding like James Jamerson discovering stoner rock bass overdrive.
Lead track “Grind” portends what would be one gritty song after another: no frills meat & potatoes guitar & bass driven rock. Midway through the disc, the radio friendly “Fuel” presents Darrel the opportunity to lay down a funky moderate tempo opening line, proving bass is always a good way to start. The closer, and one of the moodiest tracks, “Taught to Lose” again proves gnarly as Brannock lays down the bottom for guitarist Mike Tobin’s octave piercing melody shift in the verse section. The song broods along into a syncopated but simplistic bridge, where Tobin’s descending guitar solo eventually rockets the tune back into the sing along chorus.
Stick’s “Heavy Bag” was an early nineties gem and not to ever be confused with their peers- as they had very few in their genre.
Come back and visit again as I will update Cluster-Fuck pt. 2 – 100. Ok, maybe Pt. 2 and 3 at least! Bye for now.
Often unheralded, but no longer overlooked…