I've missed Harvey Milk. The Athens, Ga., band has been out of action for more than a decade now, but its sludgy, deconstructed WTF ZZ Top worship remains some of the most ridiculous and inventive rock and roll of my lifetime. What other band gives you drone-doom dirges, revved-up party rockers, soulful Thin Lizzy boogie and a Southern rock symphony over the course of its catalog?
But Harvey Milk was also funny as hell, skirting the line between all-out bummer and winking absurdity — think of every great standup comic who gets maybe a little too real onstage, then add what seems like too many Jimmy Page solos, and that gives you an idea. Heavy in every possible way.
Which brings me to Harvey Milk's front-to-back live cover of R.E.M.'s Reckoning at the 40 Watt in Athens, Ga., on April Fool's Day in 1993. This show's got some lore behind it: The cover set was unannounced, but (as happens in small towns) word got around. Some taper recordings are known to exist, but only Lance Bangs got a decent-enough sound. Michael Stipe was in attendance, too. "He probably thought maybe it would be a goof or something," Harvey Milk bassist Stephen Tanner said in 2014. "But [after] he pulled me aside and, I don’t want to say he was moved, but he was impressed."
Harvey Milk hadn't even released its debut album, yet. They were just some Athens weirdos with a few 7"s to its name.
But here's the thing: Harvey Milk played that R.E.M. set straight. No extraneous guitar solos, no deranged blues howls, no out-of-place drum fills, just dang earnest jangle. That's the joke … and it's so, so satisfying. For instance, on this version of "7 Chinese Brothers," Creston Spiers keeps the melodic, self-contained riff intact and manages a passable Stipe-y croon as Paul Trudeau keeps a steady Bill Berry beat — only Stephen Tanner's slightly overdriven bass gives the track an edge.
Up until now, the only way to experience the show was as a hidden menu item on Anthem, a live compilation DVD that's long out of print. That's why I'm so pleased that Chunklet's releasing the whole Reckoning set on vinyl for the first time, complete with a silly sticker that I want to plaster on my guitar. —Lars Gotrich
P.S.: This weekend, I will be down in Alabama for Furnace Fest (aka Elder Millennial Punk Fest). Nah, I'm kidding, I like how they program the schedule with a mix of nostalgia (Ninety Pound Wuss, Training for Utopia, Bane, Gorilla Biscuits), the new (Turnstile, Scowl, Gel, Zulu) and the enduring vets (Zao, Extol, Thursday, Braid). If you're there, come say hi!
P.P.S.: Bob Boilen is retiring from NPR after 35 years; I've worked with him at NPR Music for 17 of them. In fact, a good chunk of y'all are likely here because of the Viking's Choice conversations we've taped. For one of his last episodes hosting All Songs Considered, Bob wanted to hang with me in a studio.
Mclusky, "unpopular parts of a pig"
Harvey Milk, "7 Chinese Brothers (R.E.M. cover)"
Caroline Davis, "burned believers [for Agnes and Hugette]"
Dasom Baek, "Tightrope : 외줄타기"
Oriki Tabalá, "El Negro Americano - Canta Sebastian Salgado"
偏執症者 (Paranoid), "市民的不服従 (Shiminteki Fufukujyuu)"
Earth, "Angels (The Bug Remix feat. Flowdan)"
Patrick Shiroishi, "how will we get back to life again?"
Mildred Maude (feat. Lorena Quintanilla), "Shifting"
Lydia Loveless, "Sex and Money"
Yuma Zouma, "KPR"
Emma Bowers, "southeast"
Daniel Bachman, "Summer's Fingers Sweetly Linger (Everywhere on Every Side)"
Resavoir (feat. Elton Aura & Whitney), "Sunday Morning"
Vague Imaginaires, "Ondées Cosmiques"
Aaron Dooley, "Funeral of Fireflies"
Pharoah Sanders, "Memories of Edith Johnson"
Kate Carr, "Usually Concealed in Dense Foliage"
Kory Reeder, "Adjacent Spaces"
Shotmaker, "Now and Then"
NÜDE, "Gospel of the Midwest"
Tomb Mold, "Will of Whispers"
Hannah Diamond, "Affirmations"
Koma Saxo, "Watten Koma"
Svitlana Nianio & Tom James Scott, "Eye of the Sea"
Cleo Sol, "Love Will Lead You"