Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Portraying The Under the Rug Regimen of Child Labor: Tj Templeton's "Waxing Candidly"

Years ago in 1984, I spent time in the nation of Bangladesh, which still had scars from its liberation from Pakistan, a very malnourished population, and a very obviously large number of children who were working under fairly barbaric conditions. On this rainy day in Lincoln in mid-November, I went with my editor to a private showing of Lincoln artist TJ Templeton's latest display at the Spatium Gallery on O Street downtown. In the main room of the display, he has very painstakingly and dutifully captured some of the faces that were components of the American child labor force, and inspired by photographs from Lewis Hine. Children were then used to provide many companies cheap and long hours of labor, and sardine shops were one of the usual culprits who profited from these exploitations.

In current times, TJ recognizes that this effort has been largely outsourced, with companies in nations such as the Phillippines and India taking on the brunt of the business. This display that continues the entire month of November in the gallery has the sardine cans as the main attraction, but delves uniquely into the realm of bridges, his collection of Cold War style propaganda posters he created ten years ago, and some captivating works of visions from the studio. It took him quite some time to perfect the task of placing the images and the wax into the empty sardine cans, and you quickly realize this when gazing at the wall of haunting black and white portraits.

In the times we live in, the race to build things cheaper and at the path of least resistance from labor laws and regulation will continue to be intense. When Tj decided to put much energy into another facet of his art on display here this month, it was his own disdain for the neocon agenda. He redesigned WWII and New Deal era looking propaganda style posters into his own breed of graphic art that placidly evoked his own opinions, and his opinions were shared by so many that they were even featured in textbooks. and found their way on to t shirts, magnets, tote bags, and even onto national TV outlets such as "The Daily Show". Scared outright by the elements that he felt were going to gain control of the nation, he really poured his heart into these images that were used in an online news portal.

From the proceeds of his marketing genius for this "Project for the Old American Century", he ran as a very progressive liberal for a state representative in Iowa during 2008. During this he experienced intense retaliation, death threats and other forms of scorn for his free thinking and very anti-globalist sentiment. There are many who dream of some form of social change, and imagine doing just about anything to accomplish it. When you really get down to business and start cranking out material that others will deem offensive, you find out firsthand the ways in which some people don't want change, and the lengths that they will go to keep things towards their version of what they want to the world to be.

One of the reasons why this exhibit is so important is that it really exposes many talents: the time and effort alone spent on the sardine tins, the elaborate portraits of bridges that TJ spent years of teenage angst walking on, and his own full-scale leveraged attempt at getting folks to see a bigger picture of what was happening to the nation of America. The bridge in question is a legendary Kansas City Icon: the A.S.B. bridge. There were only 3 bridges ever to have this type of construction: cars and pedestrians gained passage on the top, and railways on the bottom. The extreme underside can be raised to let boats pass underneath without disrupting the traffic on the top.

These bridge works are incredibly detailed. We have seen many others similar to this with industrial smokestacks in the distance and an extra wide view that depicts every etched nook and cranny; but TJ's work here is intricately defined, and brings to mind how much knowledge anyone would have to acquire to be a structural engineer. Beyond the structural layers, the well-portrayed hues of blue in the background and reflectionary details on the water are of the upper end of all the art I had seen over the last three years, even after spending time in one of the ten biggest cities in the nation. This thought provoking and technically proficient display will be at the Spatium until the end of the month; but unfortunately, the many social and economic problems that TJ chooses to tackle with his work may be around for decades to come, providing no shortage of inspiration.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pondering the Pit With The Push of a Button: Beaver Damage's “Spread Eagle”

The notion of thrash, metal, punk and grindcore always conjure up images of unfathomed revelry, late nights around out of control fires, gasoline and sweat smelling rooms, and the thunk of palm muted guitar riffs. When DRI released The Dirty Rotten LP in 1983, a new way of perceiving headbanging and speed drumming was born, and the well calloused club of lightening fast percussionists and completely out of control shows was born. Suicidal Tendencies, Stormtroopers of Death, and punk greats The Dead Kennedys all shared one thing in common: they seemed more than a little unhappy with the system, had a middle finger extended towards society in general, and were always pleased to pierce the air with amps turned up so loud you were gonna feel like you lost a fist fight with three people the next day.

I settled in to listen to Beaver Damage's “Spread Eagle” album with a bit of a vision in my head of what greats Slayer and Pantera had become: not just bands, but an entity out of control, that hundreds of thousands of people now worship for their precision, volume, and unfiltered power. At first listen of the track “You'll Never Make It” the drums caught my attention right away: very precise, crisply miked up, and well earned prestige on the double bass. The guitar riff wanders a bit like The Dead Kennedys' “Holiday In Cambodia”, then the vocals remind me of the anger and junk yard scorch of heavyweight grind core contenders HateBreed. An obviously jaded number about someone who was once told they were worthless, it scoffs defiantly through with quite the unmodified diesel formula: complete stops, good breakdowns, and plenty of sinister snarling.

The next track on the list was “Cowboys and Lycans”, and it began with a much more calculated approach: palm muted lead, soaring barre chords on rhythm, and came out of the assembly line sounding much like what Prong or Valient Thorr has on tap: palm muted dribbling of the ball that easily graduates out of beginner's class with the syncopation. A few well placed pinch harmonics, the same angry voice and the middle breakdown had me thinking about another one of the most underrated thrash bands of all time: The Accused. This track reminded me a bit of the heavy jumping around and boisterous air of an album that any true thrash fan should check out: “Martha Splatterhead's Maddest Stories Ever Told”. Just an all out assault and mind blowing display of skill, it still carries much weight in the thrash community.

The third track “Cro-Magnon Man” immediately had me drawing parallels to one of the greatest moments I had experienced over the last two years: seeing Clutch at Riott Fest. The delivery of this song, the way the vocals switch it up to an almost playful sneer, and the simple notion of a primitive being and straightforward chorus with the drum sound I appreciated in the beginning still rang true, and it was my favorite track from them yet. Last on the list for my sampling was “Derailed”, and even though the timing and writing leans towards the mathematical, I was reminded of pioneers Motorhead, just due to the sheer haul ass factor and swagger. At 53 seconds there is a sweeping guitar solo that fits the tune perfectly, with some nice hanging notes and a few harmonics, minus the unnecessary waltz through some flashy sweep picking that scores of metal solos fall prey to. This 12 song album will be available from Beaver Damage during their next live show with shock thrash kings Gwar, and will surely stoke more than one patron where the notion of thrash itself begins: into the circling pit.

An Early Summer's Punk Rock Summons: Skid Tard at The Spigot

Joey Ramone himself said: “To me, punk is about being an individual and going against the grain and standing up and saying: this is who I am”. Going over classic vinyl covers like Black Flag's “My War”, The Circle Jerks' “Wild in the Streets” and other greats like JFA have been inducing a full blown walk down memory lane for me lately. When I walked into the Spigot to see my comrade Brook Taylor on guitar take the stage with Skid Tard, I knew that visions of California pipelines, trespassing to skate backyard pools, and anarchy patches on the backs of leather jackets in the 80's would leave me grinning ear to ear. Phil Burcher of The Bay and Precision skates takes over vocal duties, While Mark Anderson provides the bass. He was locking with the drummer well and noisily like my sludgy favorites “The Jesus Lizard” who blew me away many times and on many stages in years past.
Drummer Bruce Stephens and Lincoln punk icon Bill Jones also on guitar seemed elated to perform, for a crowd that was very excited to delve into something a bit rowdy and raw. People that may think Lincoln doesn't have much of a punk history are wildly misguided; seeing SNFU on the “And No One Else Wanted to Play” tour at the Malone Center had me not sleeping for weeks in anticipation. While we were waiting for the show to begin, I talked to longtime native Daniel Kelley about the drought of '91 when the East O St. Ditch was dry, and we would carve in trains ten to twelve deep on skateboards as the heat pelted the earth; at the time we all felt that our visions of Venice, La Jolla and the Hills of SF were just that much closer.
Burcher's presence on vocals had me drawing comparison to bands like “OFF!”, the Black Flag rebirth and abrasive punk rock element that still sweeps the nation. Hunter S. Thompson writes in “Fear and Loathing” about seeing a movement at it's peak right before the tide goes out and washes the true bastions of style away with it; reminiscing that San Fran would never be the same after mass development and certain attitudes were lost in time. Sneering aloofness, capturing the playful essence that punk was born on from the beginning, and a few questions for authority of his own were the proper finishing touches for Skid Tard's set. “Plastic Girlfriend”, “Keep what you feel”, “Government shutdown”, “Penguin Necktie”, and “Bandito” were some of the selections that Skid Tard belted out with well practiced bravado.
Hearing the group's set that Wednesday night as the summer humidity set in and Lincoln residents edged by on the sidewalks with bikes and high spirits, I was reminded of something that was begun way before smart phone apps could find you a place to eat or find a “plastic girlfriend” of your own. Parties where amps were turned up in hopes of getting a few last songs out before the cops came, water pipes bursting in dingy basements while mosh pits circled, and other Lincoln outfits of yesteryear like “Speedwobble” came to mind. Out there to cultivate years of friendship, not take anything too seriously, and stoke up your own memories of hopping a fence to skate a backyard pool, Skid Tard is an example of people who actually BUILT the local scene still belting out tunes and spreading the sometimes PBR-fueled good word.