There was a time when punk-rock veterans were hanging up their high-decibel angst in favor of the folksier, if no less ragged, sound of Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg. But improbably enough, the acoustic guitar has lately been joined by the accordion as the post-punk weapon of choice.
Once the province of Champagne music purveyors like Lawrence Welk, the instrument is gradually becoming a fixture on the local scene, thanks in large part to frequent gigging by Dear Rabbit's Rence Liam and Good Morning Accordion Terrorist's Chris Mandile. While Rence leans toward more Tom Waits-inspired originals, Chris deploys his squeezebox in the service of an odd array of covers. His repertoire includes "Big Rock Candy Mountain," an old folk song that was, coincidentally enough, once performed on Welk's TV show, and Cracker's "Mr. Wrong," which wasn't.
This Thursday, Dec. 29, the perpetually smiling musician, mechanic and scene supporter will be bringing his contagious post-punk enthusiasm to the Zodiac stage for a festive birthday celebration. This is a big one for the artist — his 40th — and the event will also feature a set from Brian Parton, followed by some birthday karaoke.
"I'll probably play accordion and then smash my face into a cake or something," says Chris, who retains the punk-rock spirit of his long-time band Lambasted, for which he was sometimes bassist, sometimes lead singer. The group was a local fixture for the better part of a decade, before calling it quits in late 2010.
"I think I played my first show dressed as Saddam Hussein, and we had a revolving cast of band members, probably more than 20," he recalls fondly. "I've been playing accordion since the mid-'90s, but I didn't really progress my skills a whole lot until the last few years. I guess I'm a punk rocker first and a musician second. I mean, I want to play accordion, but I still have my punk-rock roots and sensibility — or lack thereof."
Chris, who'll return to the scene of the crime for Zodiac's New Year's Eve Bash featuring Peaks and Pasties a couple days later, also dreams of mounting an exhibition of band T-shirts he acquired during his days as a punk-rock fan and promoter. "There's probably easily 300 of them in bags I'd have to dig out of my storage unit," he says. "A lot of them would fall apart if I washed them one more time." Gallery owners, get in line.
Other live dates this week include a hip-hop farewell show for Eric Radke, aka Earsiq Radkeys, who's relocating to Middle of Nowhere, Iowa. The Thursday, Dec. 29, Black Sheep gig will feature members of the Sound Powered Engine crew as well as DJ Device, Chris Crookz and Stoney Bertz. Mad Trees emcees Earsiq and Jayoin will also be taking the stage one last time, backed by the Charlie Milo Trio. If you caught Milo and company improvising with Black P at the Indy Music Awards Festival, you know this has the potential to be awesome.
Then on Friday, the Black Sheep hosts a 7-inch release party for Blighter, who'll be joined by Sonic Vomit, Skully Mammoth and Dodsfalla. Over at the Triple Nickel that same night, look for cosmic power trio Melting Temple along with Government Camp, Myth of Modern Medicine and Leftmore.
And finally, you can exit the year in style this Saturday with a New Year's Eve performance by El Toro de la Muerte at the Triple Nickel, with Men of Deep Throat and Egg Leggs opening.
Until next week, then, have fun, drive safe, and see you in 2012.