February 14, 2006

Blood, sweat, no tears: Throwdown

Hey, I didn’t know Throwdown was a Christian band — Catholics, to boot. The cover of their latest disc, Vendetta, features a pair of prayer-joined hands clutching rosary beads. Never mind the fact that one of those hands is missing a pinky finger; it’s a contemplative image. I guess sharing a tour bus with Norma Jean will do that to you.  After a quick listen to the disc, however, I discovered the error of my ways — no Christian rockers Throwdown, although the band does have straight-edge members and several of their songs deal with the topic … but whatever. What can be agreed upon is that Throwdown is a southern California hardcore band that meets all of that genre’s current requirements: songs that are succinct and to-the-point; a heavy, rhythmic attack; fat, chunky guitars and guttural vocals.  It’s the vocals that intrigued me the most. I get a lot of CDs by bands with singers who utilize that growly technique, so I asked Throwdown vocalist Dave Peters (who has a clear, smooth speaking voice) how he pulls off bellowing like that night after night.   “It wasn’t until recently that I started warming up. I’ve only been doing it for about a couple months now,” he explains. “I’ve been doing it out of fear that I won’t be able to talk when I’m 40, and I want to yell at my kids. And I don’t do it every time. I’m not that disciplined.”   Now, as for those churchy album graphics:  “We basically gave the record title to our friend Ryan and said, ‘You’re the artist. It seems absurd to coach you through the layout process, so do whatever you want.’ He just kinda created those images, the storyline of a guy who has two sides, a light and a dark side to his life, so you’ll see in every picture religious undertones or something that is inherently supposed to be good, but there’s something slightly wrong with each image,” Peters says. “Like the bloody hymnal.”  The sacred and the profane, in other words. It’s also an apt description of the “is it hardcore or is it metal?” dichotomy that baffles fans and journalists alike. While admitting to enjoying Slayer and Pantera — Throwdown has even covered Sepultura tunes live — Peters is pretty direct.  “We are a hardcore band. I think the thing about hardcore that separates it from just another genre and the fact that so much goes into it. I guess on a personal level too, hardcore’s always been more than just a style of music,” says Peters. “There are these metal bands that might have a couple of breakdowns that sort of sound like Hatebreed or Madball, and we’re just like, ‘That doesn’t make you a hardcore band, man.’ We try not to worry too much about those labels. It sucks for us, because we recognize what goes into being a hardcore band and it’s so easy for people to use that term metalcore, and that kind of makes us have to swallow our own vomit.” You don’t get an opportunity like this every day.Jimmy Scott is a jazz legend, one of the few greats from the classic era — when the genre was just growing into its skin and reputations were being made — who is still alive, let alone still touring.Through a series of unlucky professional relationships, his promising career was stonewalled, and he all but retired before he really took off. The intervening years found him working a series of “regular” jobs, occasionally playing an odd gig or showcase.  By the mid-1980s he began performing more regularly, and a 1991 cameo in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” led a new generation to his intimate, distinctive style. Then in his 70s, Scott restarted his career, releasing a handful of albums to an enthusiastic audience and appreciative critics.   Whether dusting off pop standards by Johnny Mercer or Percy Mayfield, or reinterpreting modern songs by the likes of Bryan Ferry, Mick Hucknall or David Byrne, Scott’s phrasing and smoky, quavering soprano beguiles the listener and recharges the most fatigued and time-worn material.  Seriously, it’s often said, “This artist takes the song and makes it his own.” In fact, it’s said so often that it has lost any meaning.  It happens to be true in this case.  Jimmy Scott will play two shows at the Jazz Factory on Friday, accompanied by his regular working trio, featuring Aaron Graves on piano, Hilliard Green on bass and Dwayne Broadnax on drums. —Michael Steiger