July 22, 2009

Review: Varsity Drag | Rock and Roll Is Such A Hassle: Live in Europe

This week’s Varsity Drag set at the Middle East seems to be a pivot point for the band’s leader Ben Deily. While Friday is the record release party for Rock and Roll Is Such A Hassle - Live in Europe (Boss Tuneage), the new set was recorded by an earlier lineup of the band. The current lineup -- including Lisa (Mrs.) Deily on bass and (bass player for former 90s-era Deily band Pods) Josh Pickering on drums -- is preparing to hit the studio to record a full-length album for release in the fall (this writer, as they say, has heard a few of the early demos and some of the new songs performed live, and they are killer). If that weren’t enough, there’s the accompanying second Varsity Drag European tour slated for October.

Even if it is a sort of clearing off the decks, when Deily co-founded Lemonheads with Evan Dando back in the day, they were all about great punk rock with heart and wit, with Deily’s songs arguably dominating the highlights. For Deily, that’s what it’s still all about. When Deily relocated to the west coast in the '90s there were a few years of hiatus before we were finally able to hear a few demos via the Internet (this was about 10-ish years ago, and even then the intertubes weren't what they are now), and it was thrilling stuff: "Skinny Ties," the blinding "Miles of Ocean," and especially the catchy paean to Boston rock in the person of the titular scene legend/impresario "Billy Ruane."

These tracks and more were released on the mini-LP For Crying Out Loud by UK punk label Boss Tuneage in Europe in 2006 leading to a 25 date tour through Germany, England, France, Spain, and Austria that is chronicled by hilariously by Deily on his tour diary (read it here). To hear Deily tell it, this was the classic tour of its kind: long drives, weird food, sometimes empty clubs, sometimes packed clubs, no food, and the occasional random exceptional well-treatment by local promoters.

You hear all of this in the complete presentation of their February 8, 2007 set at The Weekender in Innsbruck, Austria on the new disc. Bursting out of the blocks with For Crying Out Loud's "Skinny Ties," and traveling back and forth through time to the set-closing rave-up, "Second Chance," a gem from Lemonheads' debut LP Hate Your Friends, ...Hassle is a career-spanning retrospective of surprising coherence covering 20 years and Deily is still full of a nervous energy that continues to manifest itself in sharp, driving songs and vibrant live sets.

The energy here is especially surprising when you consider that all this racket is coming from a trio and that this is a straight-from-the-soundboard recording. This is no bootleg, though. What it is is an exceptional, consistent, sweaty, bier-soaked, raw-as-the-day-it-was-made, warts-and-all you-are-there document. Are there rough moments? Only of the sort that happen when you have the guts to make a live record without benefit of overdubs and other nonsense. Besides… they do make the beer stronger over there. You can get your copy on Friday night. -- Michael Piantigini

Varsity Drag -- "Postcard" -- Rock and Roll is Such A Hassle - Live in Europe
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Download Varsity Drag's Rock and Roll is Such A Hassle - Live in Europe right here.

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Previous Varsity Drag Coverage:
Varsity Drag @ Cantab Lounge, March 2009
Varsity Drag @ O'Brien's, August 2008
Varsity Drag @ Cantab Lounge, February 2008
Free Range Music: Varsity Drag, May 2006

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