RED DONS: Live Performance in Los Angeles, California at Blue Star Cafe, September 6th, 2012 (Reviewed by Matt Average)
It had been quite a while since the Red Dons last played in Los Angeles. About four years to be exact. Ever since, a couple friends and I have anxiously awaited their return. Well worth the wait, they played the Blue Star Cafe in downtown Los Angeles on Sept 6 (2012). Even better than when they played here a few years back. I would go as far to say they’re the best band I’ve seen all year. And I have seen some pretty good bands (Night Birds, Urban Blight, Rational Animals, NASA Space Universe, No Babies, Trench Rot, Hysterics, Grimace) within the span of a couple months. But Red Dons have this undeniable energy and presence. Everyone in the band seems genuinely happy to be on stage and playing music. The whole time they are constantly moving around, jumping into the crowd, and never missing a beat. Their recent seven inch, Ausländer, on Dirtnap is not to be snoozed on. Get it now! Play it repeatedly. I do. It’s one of those records that when I listen to it, I can’t help but go, “Gah!! What an amazing record!!!” The title track is perfect. Stop you dead in your tracks type perfect. -Matt Average
RED DONS” Live Performance April 22, 2007 in Montreal, Quebec @ L’Esco (Reviewed by J.B. Staniforth)
There have been times that I’ve seen bands I’ve been truly excited about only to discover that onstage they lack the energy to inspire a reaction in the crowd. Some just lack energy in general, but others seem to have it without knowing how to impart it. However, there are also those bands who succeed in shaking me from the first chords and the initial drum rumble, those groups I find myself dancing to before the songs have even fully started. Those are, always, the best musical surprises.
Two years ago I saw Portland OR’s The Observers and experienced that rare, instantaneous rush, so when I heard that they had split up and that frontman Doug Burns and bassist Hajji were passing through town as the Red Dons, I was eager to see them again. I have the Observers LP and it’s a fine record, but over time I’d forgotten what to expect from its principal members live. It took them about ten seconds to remind me: even before the lyrics came in, I was swept up by the swift current of the rhythm. The response in my feet and hips was unconscious and instant. By the time Burns dropped his guitar, grabbed the microphone, and hopped off L’Esco’s miniscule stage into the crowd a few seconds later I was already awash with elation. Ten or so songs (including three Observers numbers) after that, it was over far too soon.
I’ve always been a sucker for a particular sound– frantic and melodic surf-influenced rock and roll in the tradition of late ’70s West coast punk rock– and it’s in the Red Dons favour that they play pretty much that. But what’s important about the Red Dons is that despite playing a style that’s arguably of one time and one place, they make the music immediate. You don’t stand in the crowd and watch them play– you feel what they’re playing, and Burns goads spectators into response with intense eye contact, constant motion, and a long microphone cord that allows him to wander far from the stage and engage people in the back (or, in some cases, wrap around and tie them up in groups). 30 years past punk rock’s year zero, none of this behaviour is novel, and I’ve seen bands turn the same thing into uninspired schtick, yet coming from Doug Burns, against the able backing of his band– particularly the fierce rhythm section– it’s electrifying. The Red Dons, like the Observers before them, actually encourage a feeling of breakdown between the audience and “the show,” leaving everyone in the crowd feeling like a participant. That feeling is the aspiration of many second-rate punk bands, but the rarity of its achievement in spite of so many lame attempts makes the Red Dons genuinely special.
Concert Reviews: The Red Dons and the Estranged in Kansas City at the Newsroom, 6/18/08.
By FLANNERY CASHILL of The Pitch Kansas City.
The Red Dons emerged from the fallout of the Clorox Girls and the Observers, two inspired and unfortunately short-lived punk bands. The Clorox Girls played the Anchor about a year ago, and the Observers played the MoMo gallery two or three years before that. A few MoMo attendees got punched in the crotch, but no matter, many of them risked the groin damage again last night, the Observers were just that good.
The Red Dons pull a few songs from the Observers’ catalog, and continue the tradition of perfect anti-hero anthems. Their songs careen between triumph and doubt, between ambitious guitars and dark, pummeling bass riffs, between whooa-oh harmonies and grim spoken prophesies. Live, the dudes go ape, flailing on their instruments and pushing their way through the crowd. When untethered from his guitar, lead singer Doug Burns thrashed audience members by the shoulders. Eye contact goes a long and unnerving way, especially in such close quarters as the Newsroom. It’s interactive and appropriately uncomfortable, like Cats.
If at first I sounded at all frustrated, forgive me. I loved last night’s show, and I’m grateful to whomever made all necessary phone calls to give the Estranged and Red Dons a place to play. I only wish that the punks would resurrect the lost art of flyering and of incessant promotion, namely because of bands like the Red Dons, whose relative obscurity baffles me. In some alternate universe, the Red Dons play all day every day on top forty radio.
Personal Bias: I adored the Observers, in an earnest, adolescent way. I sang along to them, loudly and terribly, and still do.
Random Detail: I always hope that Kansas City makes a good impression on touring punk bands so that they might spread the word of our hospitality. I was disappointed, then, that the band ate at Pancho’s after the show.
By the Way: I can’t help but wonder if peak oil will make touring impossible for everyone but Bruce Springsteen.
I haven’t even finished reading this interview in the most recent Razorcake about the Red Dons, but dudes, I am even more stoked about this band then I was before. Right after I moved I got an email from my friend Sasha who does the Make It Happen zine. He told me I should check out this band called the Red Dons as their album Fake Meets Failure was one of his favorite albums of 2010. I checked it out and the shit was totally blistering, filled with Clash like energy, a bit of garage rock, heavy Eastern chord progressions and movements. It’s jangly, noisey, firey and pissed off. I was pretty psyched on the recommendation and the album and have been trying to steadily put it in rotation.
The problem is this blog has become a bit of a dumping ground for me to get lazy and just write record reviews. I have a list of like six albums now to review, but I have kind of stopped actually writing about music. This blog was supposed to sort of supplement that aspect of the zine, but in my unemployed state has become more of the focus of this whole project. I’m kind of mad at myself about that. I mean, there aren’t a lot of music zines actually left that I know of that aren’t fairly big productions. The photocopied zine in terms of music seems to have become less interesting to the zine reading and making public. I know, I have a hard time getting my small run of 100 issues to the public (please buy zines here). But I wanted this blog to be the place where extra stuff went, and instead it’s like a part of my daily life.
This doesn’t have a lot to do with the Red Dons, but it kind of does. Basically, after reading the first half of the interview I decided that of all the music I have heard over the last few months I have been furiously writing about music, the Red Dons are the only band I have heard that are doing something unique both musically and with in the content of their art. Pretty much any established, so-called indie act has gotten repetitive and boring and lost their sense of adventure. And while there are a few punk bands that are either great (Ceremony, the Arrivals) or who truly don’t give a fuck about anything besides Pizza, Weed, Beer and Broin’ Down (Too Many Daves), the genre as a whole has gotten very complacent in stretching itself out into new sounds. Too often musicians attracted to punk rock and DIY are much more interested in being loud, heavy, sad, angry, aggressive within the confines of a very wealthy country. No band in America really has to fight for space, it’s basically free and while not glamorous, the DIY network is pretty much secured. This leaves a lot of room for a lot of bands to be very upset in basements, squatted spaces, university’s and churches. And while I love a lot of them, and their frustration and damage resonates very deeply with my 33-year-old self, not many of them are really breaking the mold musically nor constructing a narrative outside of American suburban damage.
This is where the Red Dons are different. It helps greatly that a lot of their lyrical songs are about Third World Paranoia of the potential of being blown up. The interview in the most recent Razorcake reveals a lot of first hand experience by band members in their travels through Jordan and other Mid-East countries. Countries that, as they point out, are replete with American military and private citizens conducting capitalism experiments under the guise of NGO’s. And yet, as they say, even with all this direct involvement in said countries, America as a whole is very uninterested in them. I’m to blame too. The state of the world has me so depressed that I do everything to ignore it. I can’t barely function on a day-to-day basis as it is, but frankly, we are all deeply effected by the violence conducted on our behalf by western Governments and the Corporations whose profit margins they seek to protect and serve. Just thinking about the issues that I am not even talking about here is giving me anxiety. There is a lot of stupid, evil, vile, violent shit being conducted on our behalf, with our complicity because we are all too shit scared and terrorized by it to have any effect on it what so ever. (To all my punk, anarchist, leftists, radical friends who are brave and courageous enough to stick your necks out in this unforgiving society and actually try something, none of this applies to you. You are my heroes and I wish I had your courage, but I don’t. I suck that way.)
So we have the Red Dons who talk about the realities that sometimes opening your front door could literally kill you because you are an American in a foreign land and your neighbors hate you. They talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that was caused by this direct, realized, experienced psychological violence. And what I learned from this, or rather what is reinforced by listening to this music and reading this interview, is that most of the world hates me just because I was born in this country. And that pisses me off because I am just a lone dude, sitting in an apartment, trying to use too many resources, live an ethically sound life and create things that hopefully make people smile or feel better, or feel less shitty.
There are like a few bands that matter to me personally. Some of them matter to a lot of other people too. Some of them no one’s really heard of. Some of them mean so much to me and others think they are stupid. That’s all fine and dandy. I write about bands and music because I love music. It clears the noise, anxiety, stress, fear, damage and depression in my head. Sure, the sun here in Albuquerque has helped, as have the polite, friendly people. The slower pace of life, where people aren’t all evil and frantic and crazy the way they were in DC has also calmed the nerves a bit. But mostly, I just feel like if I don’t drown out all that weird, noise in my life and body I will go insane. But sometimes there are bands that really tap into that fear and energy and are both challenging and comforting. To an even lesser extent, do I think they create something that should reach outside the context of punk rock. The Red Dons are that band. Everyone needs to listen to this.
So, I don’t normally do this, but I feel this strongly about people listening to this music. Below are links to albums that were illegally uploaded by others (NOT ME so if you are in The Red Dons or put these albums out, don’t ask me to take them off the internet. I didn’t put them up. I will unlink from them but I can’t actually remove them from the internets). If you are too chicken shit to spend your money or are unemployed and too worried about money, that you don’t want to financially risk and investment you can grab their records. I have done it. I’m not that psyched about it, but the first bit of income I get will go directly to ordering all available records and merch from this band because they are that important. You can buy everything this band has recorded for $22 dollars here. And seriously, just do that. First of all, the art work is part of the experience. Part that I have yet to enjoy and I suck for that. Second, stealing music is lame and should only be tolerated, but still frowned upon for the unemployed. Unless it’s shitty indie music that is over produced and sucks anyway, or any thing on a major label because corporations suck and should be destroyed.