Henry Rollins: The Column! Diggin' Dax
[The one and only Henry Rollins contributes a weekly column and far-reaching reportage to the music section of the LA Weekly. Look for your weekly Henry Rollins fix right here on West Coast Sound every week and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast, or however else you decided to listen to the most eclectic DJ on LA's airwaves.
Hello from one of the hottest places I have ever been, the Rajasthan region of India. I just got off an eight hour train ride from Delhi. We went north and west and into miles of the seemingly endless Thar desert. This is my third trip to India, but until today, I had not been higher north than Delhi. We will be working in temperatures of over one hundred and fifteen degrees tomorrow.
Being in India, it would be interesting to write to you about the influence music of this country has had on famous musicians of other countries. From the Beatles to Coltrane, India has inspired the imaginations of many great Western artists. Perhaps we will get into that on a different occasion. But this week, we are zeroing in on one of my favorite artists who will be performing two nights, June 10 & 11, at the Echo. His name is Dax Riggs and I can solidly recommend any of his records. I imagine he will be pulling from his two latest releases, We Sing Of Only Blood Or Love and Say Goodnight To The World , but who knows what he will bring to the stage.
For those who are fans of Dax and his work, nothing more needs to be said, but there are a lot of people who have not yet had the good fortune of checking out this very considerable force. This is a situation that should taken care of immediately. The following is the briefest of overviews that hopefully generates some curiosity. To get deeper into Dax's work would take a more than a few pages and I just don't have the space!
For me, Dax is re-defining Blues music. Even though he plays his songs through the guitar-bass-drums model for the most part, he is the self-contained unit. He is, as they say, the whole package and the real deal. Musicians like Dax come along very seldom. When I listen to Dax's work, it makes me think of another great stand-alone, the late great Jeffrey Lee Pierce of the Gun Club, who so clearly demarcated his territory.
If you are not familiar with Dax's catalog, and you very well might not be as he has somehow managed to fly under some pretty strong radars, I suggest you take the entire ride from the start to the present. It's all good, all the way through.
There are three bands that Dax can be heard in before he went solo a few years agoAcid Bath, Agents Of Oblivion and Deadboy and the Elephantmen.
As much as I like all of the records that these bands released, I must say they get better as they go. The two Acid Bath albums, When The Kite String Pops and Paegan Terrorism Tactics, released in 1994 and 1996 respectively, are great with their Master Of Reality-era Sabbath warm low-end battering with Dax's vocals that seem to go from roar to croon effortlessly. If you dig those records and still want to hear more of them, there's a compilation of demos, Demos: 1993 - 1996, that's really cool.
With the next incarnation of Dax, The Agents of Oblivion, he and his bandmates leave genre specificity behind and this is where, at least for me, it all gets very interesting and really great. You can hear an evolution in the writing and arrangements; there's a Bowie element that can be detected here and there. Again, Dax's vocals and lyrics dominate the album. There are no happy songs here. It's all heavy. Death, sex, drugs and darkness permeate the lyrics, the songs are hard rocking but there's definitely something more going on. It's not everybody's thing but it sure is mine. This album is one of my favorite suggestions to people when they ask for the record of a blink-and-you-missed-them band.
Next was Deadboy and the Elephantmen. Their first album, If This Is Hell, I Am Lucky has been re-released on Fat Possum under Dax's name. It is different than Acid Bath and the Agents recordings. Way more out there, more ambitious, another one of those records that went away for awhile but is now back in print and another one of those that makes you wonder how it could have gotten by you. You can hear Dax stretching himself and taking his work forward. It almost makes the Acid Bath and Agents recordings sound slightly derivative.
Dax's next release, Deadboy, and the Elephantmen's We Are Night Sky, are when I finally caught up with Dax and all of these great records. Heidi, a woman who has been working at my office and running my life for well over a decade, came into the building years ago with this album and told me to stop what I was doing and put it on. She had heard it the night before and said she was riveted for its entirety. I put the album on and had the same reaction. Where Hell is a full band, We Are is stripped down to a twosome of Dax and Tessie Brunet and it succeeds in a very big way. This is a gem of an album. While everything that came before did well with volume and density, this album triumphs in its minimalism and strong songs. It's too bad that the band never released this on LP.
After Night Sky was released, Dax went solo with We Sing Of Only Blood Or Love in 2007. This and Dinosaur Jr.'s Beyond were my two favorite albums that year. Blood and 2010's Say Goodnight To The World still find Dax in a dark, heavy and very compelling place. Great songs, great songwriter and singer.
It's going to be a must-see weekend of music at the Echo. I hope the place is packed both nights.
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