Everything—or almost everything—you’ll ever need to know about hardcore punk from Portland, Ore. you can learn in just over fifteen minutes by listening to the Pick Your King EP by Poison Idea. It’s absolutely, positively amazing: thirteen ultra-fast, ultra-pissed-off blasts of spleen crashing through the pipe in barely fifteen minutes. I still listen to it more than any other punk-rock record I’ve ever owned, and it still sounds just as good as the first time I ever heard it. If you consider yourself a fan of hardcore and have never heard Pick Your King, you’d better get with the program or we can’t be friends anymore. Happily, now you can buy Pick Your King on a CD that also includes two other excellent Poison Idea albums, Kings of Punk and Record Collectors Are Pretentious Assholes plus a three-song single recorded during one of the band’s dozens attempts at re-forming (always for about two weeks at a time) for one great low price. Pick Your King alone is a bargain at any price, believe me.
Poison Idea is not flyweight stuff, figuratively or literally—guitarist Pig Champion currently weighs in at well over 400 pounds, and for a time there were two other members in the group pushing the 300-pound limit or better. Locally—meaning in Portland—respect for the super-sized godfathers of ripping HC among the younger punk set seems to be tempered with either pity for the spectacular downward trajectory of band fortunes or grudging admiration for the way they’ve walked the walk right to the brink of self-annihilation. Every Portland punk has a Poison Idea story, and they’re rarely too uplifting. There’s always a new crop there for the asking from the old-timers huddled around the bar at places like the Satyricon (the West Coast’s longest-lived punk club, affectionately known as the “Syringeicon” by its denizens), the kind of crazy yarns that punk burnouts love to feed impressionable kids as long as the kids keep buying the beers.
Whenever I’m there I always manage to hear a few new sordid stories to gladden the spirit—most recently, a truly depressing and scary one about a guy at a Poison Idea party so whacked out of his gourd on drugs that he attacked a toddler because he thought it was a badger. Or maybe it was an opossum. Other people have shared heartwarming tales with me about blottoed members/ex-members/future members at another party, firing handguns through a downstairs ceiling, splintering the floor of an upstairs bathroom just feet from where one innocent bystander was taking a leak.
I remember seeing a Poison Idea show in the early ’90s with lead singer Jerry A. emptying (down his throat, on himself, on his band mates, on the audience) two full crates of beer onstage and smashing the bottles all over the place. What made the occasion so memorable, though, was a stabbing pain in my hand that I got after being pitched onto the stage by a raging mosh-pit. My first thought was that it was a shard of glass, but on closer inspection it turned out to be someone’s tooth—whose I have no idea—jammed root-end first into the palm. Nothing that extreme has ever happened to me at a show before or since.
They’re hardly the role model types, but you have to hand it to Poison Idea for sustaining such a dangerous, violent reputation for so long, not to mention the nihilistic resolve needed to stay alive long enough to keep destroying themselves—over 20 years at this point. Their musical chromosomes are still festering in the Portland gene pool, but seldom does a worthy mutation rise from the primordial muck of the City of Roses. Unfortunately, too much of what followed Poison Idea on the Portland punk scene has had its bullet belts and liberty spikes in the right place but fails to measure up anywhere close to the mark set by these career thugs. It might be too much to ask of one poor city—akin, perhaps, to asking the hometown of one U.S. president to come up with another. But no amount of listless and tepid Masskontrolls or Defiances or Detestations or any other Portland hardcore bands have so far been able to fire my blood for Portland punk again the way those jolly fat men once did and posthumously still can.
Until now, maybe. JonnyX and the Groadies aren’t really in the same ballpark as Poison Idea or any of those other Portland bands, but only because they called in a bomb threat to clear the ballpark. The four of them (members are credited as JonnyX on “filthy filthy mouth,” Travis on “strings and screams,” DJ Invisible Touch on “strings of terror,” and the mysterious Professor Romagna as “master control”) kick up a hell of a ruckus. Their self-released EP, Illin’ Technology, should have been the soundtrack to Maximum Overdrive, the audio version of a million machines going bonkers at once. A little bit orchestral black metal and a little bit goth. Drum machine spewing out terminal velocity blast beats, weird churchy keyboards lofting heavenward between precision white-noise bombings, and the gnarliest death-metal guitar since the Entombed were still plowing down their Left-hand Path. Add to this a vocalist making jerky out of his vocal chords while he screams the lyrics through a tin-can-and-string rig from the other side of the ocean and Portland is suddenly sounding mighty dangerous again. Mighty mad, too. Run for the frickin’ hills!