Niagara & The Hitmen

St. Valentine's Day Massacre

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Ron Asheton was a hero to primal guitarists all around the world for his work with the Stooges, but that band didn't represent the beginning and end of his body of work, even if his other music never achieved the same degree of recognition. Asheton collaborated with musician and visual artist Niagara in a pair of groups, Destroy All Monsters and Dark Carnival, and when Dark Carnival toured Australia in the early '90s, the Hitmen, one of the many Aussie bands that owed a major debut of influence to the Stooges, had the honor of joining them as their opening act. In February 2008, Niagara was going to be in Australia for an art show while the Hitmen were staging some reunion shows; it was arranged for Niagara to appear as a special guest at the band's show at Sylvain's Crest Hotel, and the Hitmen backed her on a set of Stooges classics and Dark Carnival numbers she'd written with Asheton. The homage to Asheton was prescient, as he would pass on in a little less than a year, and Niagara's collaboration with the Hitmen has been transformed into a more lasting tribute with the release of St Valentine's Day Massacre, a live recording of the Crest Hotel gig. Hitmen guitarists Chris "Klondike" Masuak and Tony "Juke" Jukic clearly did their homework, and they capture the nuances of Asheton's style with an accuracy that's commendably enthusiastic and just a bit spooky, while bassist Tony "The Kid" Robertson and drummer Murray "Muzz" Shepherd lay into these songs like a heavyweight fighter ready to level some chump. As for Niagra's vocals, she's always been more of a sneering howler in the manner of Lydia Lunch or Kat Bjelland than a studied rock singer, but there's no arguing that she brings both force and attitude to her performances here, and if she's not exactly Iggy, she's every bit as defiant, and here that's more than enough. Two songs are also included from the Hitmen's own set, with Johnny "Zeus" Kannis reclaiming the vocal mike from Niagara, and it's lean, furious stuff, impressive enough that one hopes their full show will surface on disc some day. St. Valentine's Day Massacre is another in a long line of musical artifacts attesting to Australia's loving obsession with all things Stooges, and if this tribute to Ron Asheton and his music likely made it to CD because of his death in early 2009. That doesn't dull its obvious sincerity and fire, and if Ron can hear this in the great beyond he's probably got a big smile on his face.

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