Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Underground Classics, Blue Cheer - 'What Doesn't Kill You'

“Meet at 4.20 ‘cause that’s where I live,
Look for a place to throw stones…”

Blue Cheer: named after LSD, too loud to be recorded in the studio, and only now being recognised as one of the key proto-stoner bands. However, I’m not going to get caught up too much with their legacy, this piece is about their last stand, the 2007 record, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’. It’s tragic (in the true sense of the word) that the final album that long-time bassist and front man, Dickie Peterson, would make would be such a tremendous return to form after many dodgy years and a few equally dodgy albums. ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ saw the band cut the crap and get back to the meat and potatoes; loud fuckin’ fuzzed out fuckin’ riffs. A fitting end to a life in music for the late Dickie.

As I write this I have reason to celebrate this type of thing, as I have just been watching the BBC documentary ‘Secrets of the Pop Song’, which, while educational, features the slimiest of producers searching for the fabled gold in the land of Generica. Depressing stuff from anything but a pure business point of view. Anyway, on with the point!

The record opens up with ‘Rollin’ Dem Bones’, a celebration of pot in every respect, underpinned by ZZ Top style distorted slease. Dickie’s voice is clearly not what it was in 1969 but it makes his performance all the more impressive since he doesn’t shy away from going for those high notes and yelps.

The band’s ‘golden years’ from 66 to 69 saw them record covers of several blues oldies and so they did here with their take on ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’. Guitarist Andrew ‘Duck’ MacDonald, approaches his parts like a metal player who is also a true musician; trying his hand at a myriad of different styles to see what works. Check the choppy funk laid down on ‘Piece o’ the Pie’, the slide guitar on 'Rollin' Dem Bones', or the early Van Halen style tremolo bar tricks on ‘Gypsy Rider’. Gypsy is one of the heavier moments on the record, not unlike Black Label Society in its dark chugging simplicity.

Drums on the record are shared by golden years member Paul Whaley and former Pentagram drummer Joe Hasselvander. Neither show their age as the whole record has an excellent driving feel, heavy on the kicker in that Ginger Baker, solid-yet-loose kind of way. The energy is only let up on the ballad ‘Young Lions in Paradise’, a forlorn song of youth and better days that features the most sparkly clean guitar tones you’ve yet heard. And the band continue to move through various rock stylings as we move through the tracks. ‘Maladjusted Child’ brings out more funk and lo-fi fuzz to go with it; an unlikely pairing. Think Funkadelic collaborating with Kyuss era Josh Homme.

Dickie sadly succumbed to cancer in October 2009 just before a planned Blue Cheer tour. As I said at the outset, this last album, being such a return to form, was an all too appropriate end to the life of a musician. Joe Hasselvander wrote a goodbye to the late Dickie Peterson on his blog, see the link below but it is quite a sad read, I have to say.

“…You bring your stash,
I’ll bring my own,
You bring the bong,
and I’ll keep on rollin’ dem bones!”

By Edward Gerard Brophy
For Born Again Nihilist 2011

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