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recommended boston area events

tuesday, december 4th

kelly hogan

@ johnny d's

thursday, december 6th

conor oberst

@ converse hall, tremont st.

thursday, december 6th

jason isbell &

the 400 unit

@ the sinclair

friday, december 7th

the weisstronauts 14th

annual holiday jubilee

with guests tsunami of sound

preacher jack, & the derangers

@ the midway cafe, jp

friday, december 7th


moving mountains


@ the sinclair

saturday, december 8th

patrick watson

@ the sinclair

saturday, december 8th

the faint perform

"danse macabre"


icky blossoms

@ the paradise

sunday, december 9th

band of horses

@ house of blues

sunday, december 9th



@ the paradise

wednesday, december 12th

concrete blonde

jim bianco

@ the sinclair

thursday, december 13th

annual boston christmas cavalcade

benefit for the homeless

featuring tons of artists

(see fb event for details)

@ johnny d's

thursday, december 13th

nada surf

eternal summers

@ the paradise

thursday, december 13th

mates of state

in the valley below

@ brighton music hall

friday, december 14th

forgetters (blake from

jawbreaker's band)

& more tba

@ democracy center, harvard square

sunday, december 30th

sufjan stevens

sheila saputo

@ the royale

monday, december 31st

my morning jacket

@ agganis arena

monday, december 31st

deer tick

two gallants

@ the sinclair

monday, january 7th


@ the paradise

tuesday, january 8th


@ great scott

saturday, january 19th

mission of burma

@ the sinclair

sunday, january 20th

camper van beethoven


@ the middle east down

sunday, january 20th


@ the orpheum

sunday, january 20th

ra ra riot

@ the paradise

sunday, january 27th


@ great scott

tuesday, january 29th

kathleen edwards

sera cahoone

@ brighton music hall

wednesday, february 13th

yo la tengo

@ the paradise

saturday, march 2nd

unknown mortal orchestra

@ brighton music hall

tuesday, march 12th

tame impala

@ house of blues

thursday, march 14th

jukebox the ghost

matt pond pa

lighthouse and the whaler

@ brighton music hall

tuesday, march 26th

yo la tengo

@ the paradise

wednesday & thursday

april 3rd & 4th

they might be giants

@ the paradise

visit tourfilter for more shows

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Before the Bordello: When Eugene was a Fag

And here's the post that, if it hasn't happened already, officially adds the Almanac to the profanity-blocking filters of every American school system...

I can't help but be fascinated following along with Eugene Hutz's story over the last 15 or so years: First, newly-arrived Ukrainian immigrant, guitarist/songwriter putting up 'bandmates wanted' signs around Burlington, Vermont; Soon after, manic three-chord, punk rock frontman for a trio he confrontationally (for VT, at least) called the Fags; Then, after incorporating the musical leanings of his ancestry and leaving town, the NYC-based leader of the gypsy-punk collective known as Gogol Bordello; Next thing you know, movie star on his way to being Madonna's Live Earth sidekick. Totally surreal.

Surreal for me mostly because I'd answered Eugene's call for 'bandmates wanted' way back when. In Vermont, he was Eugene Nikolaev, and if you know of him through his Gogol Bordello performances or the many interviews he's been doing to promote their out-now album, "Super Taranta!", he was pretty much exactly the guy he is now, minus the carefully-cultivated wardrobe. A rock star waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with him, a bona fide showman full of enthusiasm, punk attitude, and energy enough to make shit happen.

That musicians-wanted poster listed influences like Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Dinosaur Jr., so even though I was in another band at the time, I couldn't not give the guy a call. Burlington was tiny enough, and so completely Phish-ified back then, that finding another musician with similar tastes was a relative rarity. So we hooked up to mess around on a few covers ("Waiting Room" and "Kool Thing" among them, I think) in my band's practice-space basement. Fatefully, nothing ever came of it, as Eugene would go on to find a more like-minded (and far more punk-rockin') drummer in Dana Shephard, and the two would start up the Fags.

I was a Fags fan from the get-go, even though their punk-on-their-sleeves attitude and Eugene's over-the-top on-stage (and off-stage) personality rubbed some of my friends the wrong way. Not me, though. I dug him, and his band, and not just because no other local acts playing at the 242 Main teen center were doing anything like what they were. The thickly-accented vocals (which, at first, some mistakenly assumed were contrived) fronted undeniably catchy songs... it was punk with melody, some bite, but without a raging mean-streak. The only full-length they released, "No Fleas, Lunch Money, and Gold Teeth", even threw in a touch of acoustic guitar, accordion, and some additional percussion, something most area punk or hardcore bands at the time wouldn't dare try. Their live shows always trumped their studio recordings, as is the case with Gogol Bordello, mostly because Eugene & co. brought so much energy to the stage.

The Fags circa 1995: Dana Shephard, Jason Cooley, and Eugene Hutz

While Dana was the Fags' only-ever drummer, three different (and all great) bass players would come and go: Josh Levy, Shawn Flanigan (who's now in Fire The Cannons), and for the longest and most productive period, Jason Cooley (who co-runs Icebox Records). I'll leave it to some future historian to chronicle the Fags' "Behind The Music" story that details their difficulty in keeping a bass player, but it maybe says a bit about Eugene and Dana that they were able to get such talented guys to fill the spot, and have trouble holding onto them (Denny and I would eventually snag Shawn to play with us in our own band).

So before I left Burlington behind, I'd somehow become a sort of local music scene booster, writing about area bands, putting together shows, and releasing a series of split 7" records (on the imaginatively named Split Records). In the small pond that was Burlington, I always tried to tread kindly, steering clear of negativity and doing things with bands I wasn't necessarily all that into musically in order to foster a closer sense of community. But with the Fags, I was always psyched to see and play with them, always into the songs they'd contribute to compilations, a few of which I'll share here...

The first comes from the last of the six Split 7" singles, which was released in the fall of 1995. The Fags recorded one of their most frenetic numbers, "Pills Of Patience", for the three-song record that also had cuts from local bands Jesus Nut and Rocketsled. I'll never forget the day I got back that test pressing... it just sounded so perfect on vinyl, and I played "Pills..." incessantly. But since I can't mail each of you one of the dusty extra copies I've got in my basement, have an Mp3...

In 1996, I put out a cassette compilation of local bands recorded on a four-track by Denny Donovan called "4-Track Action", and the Fags song "Let's Not Be Friends" was the lead-off, and a personal fave. By then I'd become increasingly tired of Burlington's small-pond syndrome, and Eugene's biting lyrics were exactly what I wanted to hear...

Mp3: The Fags - "Let's Not Be Friends"

I guess you don't really understand
That I don't give a fucking damn
About winning your respect
Oh no, it's nothing I collect

Let's not be friends, let's not be friends
Let's not be friends, let's not be friends

And I don't care what kind of shit
Flies off your mouth behind of me
Or your retarded, sucky zine
Or your position in the scene

Let's not be friends, let's not be friends
Let's not be friends, let's not be friends

The last track I'll share isn't one I helped release, but is one that is long out-of-print. It's the song they offered up for a 1996 Big Heavy World cd compilation of Burlington-area bands called "Sonic Tonic"...

Last I checked, someone had made the entirety of "No Fleas..." available for download over here. Looks like that zip file was made from a cd burn I created for a Gogol fan awhile back, and it includes some other extra tracks.

A related postscript: In 1994, in one of the stranger (sloppier?) and short-lived incarnations of cartoonist/songwriter James Kochalka's backing band (aka James Kochalka Superstar), I had a total blast playing drums behind James, Eugene on guitar, Pistol Stamen on guitar (of the Pants), and my pal Colin Clary on bass (catch him now in the Smittens & the Magogs). Here's a little video evidence, from a show at the still-missed Club Toast...

I'll be sharing up more of that performance eventually, but considering it took me years to get that one clip posted, don't wait up...

featured mp3 download
neil halstead
live in cambridge, ma
on november 14th, 2008
previously: joy formidable - boston 2011

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