An invasion of Operation Barbarossa proportions is about to take place, and the signs are as subtle as the dust from a Panzer division blotting out the sun over the Russian steppe. The aggressors: five visiting bands and two groups of local sympathizers. Their objective: to reduce Jay’s Upstairs and Downstairs to a smoking crater once and for all. The cunning architect of this rock ’n’ roll overrun: local record label Wäntage USA.
Boasting a stable of bands made up of equal parts locals (or former locals), family affairs and rip-snorting outsiders, Wäntage USA is Missoula’s local-rock-supporting record label as well as its highest-profile blip on the national DIY radar. And, with nearly two dozen releases to its name including singles and long-players by locals Volumen, Fireballs of Freedom, and the International Playboys, it’s also Missoula’s longest-running rock label and its most prolific. Wäntage releases get reviewed regularly and generally favorably in national music publications as respectable as Magnet and Alternative Press and as grubbily venerable as Maximumrocknroll. If you count non-Wäntage releases by bands on the label roster, Wäntage-related produit has even been favored with highfalutin’ accolades from publications as up-there as Rolling Stone.
A recent coup for the label: Portland-based Wäntage band Last of the Juanitas got the full-body rush upon hearing John Peel play their “Look Bolt the Door,” from the Wäntage LP Time’s Up as the opening song on his BBC show. The same June 5 also featured six live “Peel Session” tracks from another Wäntage band, Baltimore art terrorists Oxes.
If these international dispatches sound faintly “big in Japan” to you, well, that’s how much you know. But this week, the Wäntage world is coming to Missoula. On Monday night, Last of the Juanitas and the Fucking Champs join fellow “Wäntage bros” Drunk Horse, Federation X, Japanther and locals Volumen and Maha Mu Waldi. So let’s go right to the vital stats.
The Fucking Champs are already three-time visitors to Missoula (which means they’re due to be presented with the Twelve-Pack to the City in lieu of a key that doesn’t actually open anything), and all three performances have been mind-blowing. A new release on Chicago’s Drag City Records, the aptly titled V, picks up right where IV left off and should put to rest once and for all any rumblings about an ironic animus to the Champs’ New Wave of British Heavy Metal-meets-Johann Sebastian Bach “total music.” If you pay any attention at all to heroic guitaring, the trio of Josh Smith, Tim Green and Tim Soete needs no introduction. Which is just as well, because the expletive-enriched name is still as lame as ever. Wäntage connection: 1996 single with “Lee Tom” and “Thor Is Like Immortal.”
Fellow San Franciscans Drunk Horse first came to the label’s attention with Tanning Salon/Biblical Proportions, a double concept album exploring consumerism and Christianity, and a self-titled debut album that thwaps the living crap out of a Lynyrd Skynyrd-style riff on songs like “Arroyo Grande.” The band made its first Missoula appearance last year, and in the interval Wäntage has released a two-song tribute to the Artist Who May or May Not Be Known As Prince Again, including a crisp new version of the Moustachioed Purple One’s “Dirty Mind.” Proper!
Last of the Juanitas have two Wäntage releases, a seven-inch and a 12-inch 45 also available on CD, and after multiple sorties to Missoula their partisan attack on established rock norms should be plenty familiar to fox-eared local listeners. Federation X, from Bellingham, Wash., likewise produce righteous heavy rock by taking the knives to the conventions that got them where they are. Like Oxes (who will not be in attendance) Fed X will also record a John Peel session at the BBC’s Maida Vale studio later this year.
Japanther, featuring Wäntage boss Josh Vanek’s youngest brother, Ian, is a hyperactive two-piece who will be driving insane distances to participate. So you’d better show them your love. Average interval between beginning of song and band member unplugging guitar in spastic fit: 21 seconds.
Volumen you already know. Maha Mu Waldi, the second local act, is going to whoop the collective heinie of the other six bands put together. You’ve never seen or heard a guitar played like this before: 100 percent brutal hammer-ons and squealing pinch harmonics, making the trio the prime exemplars of no-prisoners audio savagery in a very savage festival.