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Iconic Canadian punk drummer brings new band to Great American Music Hall

Drummer John Wright of NoMeansNo and Hanson Brothers fame returns to the Bay Area leading his new band Dead Bob through songs from their debut album Life Like along with classics from his earlier groups at the Great American Music Hall Thursday.

While they never became a household name, British Columbia punk veterans NoMeansNo forged a unique path that earned them a rabidly loyal cult of fans over the course of nearly four decades making music. Started Victoria as a basement music project after Rob Wright (bass and guitar) returned home from college and started playing music with younger brother John (drums and keyboards), the duo started recording songs to a Teac four-track machine in 1979 after being inspired by a D.O.A. concert.

While the Wright brothers would work with other musicians -- they briefly served as the rhythm section for the local cover band Castle and backed artist Ray Carter for his one-off project Mass Appeal on the flipside of the first No Means No split 7" single, "Look, Here Come the Wormies/ S.S. Social Service" -- they initially focused on their mutual interests in new wave, jazz, prog and punk rock on their duo recordings that reminded critics likened to Devo and Wire early on.

NoMeansNo - Betrayal, Fear, Anger, Hatred (1981) Full EP by Us Roqui on YouTube

It wasn't until after the brothers released their Betrayal, Fear, Anger, Hatred EP in 1981 that they started playing live in public as a duo, refining their idiosyncratic sound and writing the tunes that made up their full-length debut Mama. However, a couple of years later they expanded to a trio with the addition of guitarist Andy Kerr in 1983, who had played with John Wright in the punk band the Infamous Scientists. 

The addition of Kerr's corrosive riffs made the band's experimental punk more aggressive, as heard on NoMeansNo's first recordings with him, the You Kill Me EP which included a cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic "Manic Depression." That recording led the band to a deal with Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles imprint and commenced a stunning string of album and EP releases beginning with Sex Mad. Powered by the band's virtuoso instrumental prowess, NoMeansNo delivered neck-snapping intensity and bleak, existential lyrics laced with black humor on subsequent efforts The Day Everything Became Nothing, Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed, and the album that has been hailed as their masterwork and one of the greatest experimental punk records of all time, 1989's Wrong.

Nomeansno - The Tower Live in Groningen 1990 by livencuddly on YouTube

Wide acclaim for the effort and the band's near constant touring further established the trio as leading lights of the North American punk underground as they backed Biafra on the collaborative recording The Sky Is Falling and I Want My Mommy. The band's next album 0+2=1 would be their last with Kerr, who relocated to the Netherlands and pursued other musical interests. His place would be taken by Tom Holliston, who was already working with Rob and John Wright in their hockey punk side project the Hanson Brothers which amped up the humor factor with its Ramones-inspired odes to hockey and beer.

Both bands would tour and record through the end of the decade, though the Wrights tended to focus more energy and touring time to NoMeansNo with an expanded two-drummer line-up that recorded its sole album The Worldhood of the World (As Such) in 1995. The band released it's final album through Alternative Tentacles entitled One five years later that featured a molasses-slow take on the Ramones song "Beat on the Brat" and a 15-minute cover of "Bitches Brew" by Miles Davis, showing the breadth of their inspirations.

NoMeansNo - Bitches Brew [Miles Davis cover] by Gilpow on YouTube

While NoMeansNo continued to tour regularly, its recorded output slowed with the trio releasing two tour EPs in 2010 following their tenth and final album All Roads Lead to Austfahrt in 2006. The band was inducted into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2015, but sadly announced their retirement the following year. Wright had already started working with Berlin-based animatronic robot band Compressorhead as the group's musical direct, a project that remained his main outlet for a time. However, with Wrong winning the Polaris Heritage Prize (a Canadian award that was based on public vote) in 2021 and the publishing of an authorized oral history of NoMeansNo last year, interest in the band has clearly not waned with the passage of time.

Dead Bob - WHITE STONE EYES (Official Video) by Dead Bob on YouTube

Last year, John Wright emerged with his new band, Dead Bob, that includes some material written with his brother during NoMeansNo's long career on its debut album Life Like that saw release last year. The band -- a quintet featuring Canadian singer/songwriter Ford Pier -- has played to ecstatic reviews across Canada and comes to San Francisco fresh off an appearance at the Punk Rock Bowling festival in Las Vegas with fellow jazz-punk outfit Saccharine Trust.

For this show at the Great American Music Hall Thursday night, Dead Bob is joined by current touring partners Lung. A cello-powered, DIY art-punk duo from Cincinnati, OH, Lung features cellist/singer Kate Wakefield and drummer/vocalist Daisy Caplan. The pair have released a steady stream of cathartic, self-released albums highlighting their unique sound over the course of the last seven years while playing an average of 200 shows per year. Also appearing on the bill are local heroes the Freak Accident. The long-running side project/solo band of Victims Family guitarist and founder Ralph Spight, the band came together as an alternative outlet for some of his other music in the early 2000s. 

Mixing elements of more traditional pop and rock songwriting with surf, punk and even Tom Wait-ish tango influences while always exhibiting the songwriter's surrealist barbed-wire wit and outlandish guitar pyrotechnics, the initial recording by the band for its self-titled 2004 debut on Alternative Tentacles was essentially just Spight singing and playing guitar, bass and keyboards with a variety of guests including fellow member of Jello Biafra's Guantanamo School of Medicine Jon Weiss on drums, fellow six-string virtuoso Eric McFadden and punk horn player Ed Ivey.

THE FREAK ACCIDENT @ Thee Stork Club - Oakland Feb 9th 2023 by Iron Serbian on YouTube

Since that first effort, Spight issued a number of albums and EPs, including an instrumental surf tribute to Joy Division entitled Tropical Depression in 2016. The band's latest acclaimed album Outer Space Is Boring features the current line-up of Spight with bassist Henry Austin Lannan (Othered, KnightressM1) and local drumming institution Stark Raving Brad (The Hellbillys, The Mutaytor, Marginal Prophets, Undercover S.K.A. and many others) and came out via the guitarists own Nerve Center Recordings imprint last year. Unhinged North Bay experimental punks Moms With Bangs, who mix garage, surf, and psychedelia, open the show. Dead Bob and Lung will also play at the Starlet Room in Sacramento Saturday night before hitting the East Bay with a show at the Brentwood Emporium Sunday.

Dead Bob with Lung, the Freak Accident and Moms with Bangs
Thursday, May 30, 7 p.m. $22-$25
Great American Music Hall

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