Rough Francis: not rough at all

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Rough Francis: not rough at all

Rough Francis

Rough Francis

HM Magazine

Rough Francis

HM Magazine

HM Magazine

Rough Francis

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I’ve been listening to a lot of earthy girl-rock lately, ‘90’s stuff: Jonatha Brooke, Bic Runga, the Sundays, the usual suspects. Rough Francis, the 3/5 black punk group that played Dibden on Oct. 2, reminded me what I was missing. They injected a strengthening shot of masculine thrust into my spiritual bloodstream. “Rejuvenating,” I’d call it. Not rough at all.

 

I only bring up their skin color because punk rock, the “historical” punk rock, the movement that mutilated hippie culture like they mutilated their loose black t-shirts from about 1974 to 1979, seems like a distinctly white movement. When I think of punk rock, I think of scrawny, pasty white guys, generally British: like Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Even in the States, boys like the Ramones or the very first (popular) punk bands, the Stooges and the New York Dolls, were quite white. Hip hop seems to be for black culture what punk rock was for white culture. Seeing a predominately black punk band is a pleasant surprise.

 

Rough Francis began as a tribute band to an all-black punk band, a group that showed up right as punk rock’s fuse neared the dynamite: a band called Death. (Imagine how much fun it would be to talk about one of their concerts. “Man, I saw Death last night.” “Dude, sorry I missed your call, I just got outta Death.” “Death totally sucked!” “I can’t get enough of Death, man!”) They started as an r&b band, then switched to rock after seeing, of all people, Alice Cooper. A black punk band in 1974, before punk exploded, didn’t attract much of a following, but now, as Peter Margasak, music critic, noted, it makes ‘em look like visionaries.

 

Well, the visionairies—the three Hackney brothers plus Bobbie Duncan—broke up the band in ’77, right when the Sex Pistols and the Clash were big, and got the hang outta Detroit. Where did they move to? Burlington, Vt.

 

In 2008, one of the Hackneys’ sons discovered the Death recordings in their parents’ attic. Can you imagine? What are you gonna do after that? “I found out my dad and uncles were in one of the first punk bands. Yeah, just some old records in the attic. Why yes, I am young, and not yet sure of my direction in life. But I think I’m going to become an office worker.”

 

F—k no! The next generation of Hackney boys started Rough Francis. The only thing rough about their Dibden performance was the time they had trying to motivate the audience. Me hunched over in my big hoodie scribbling in my notebook, I don’t blame anyone for not leaping up and dancing in front of the stage (and the audience), but my god, is it surreal to see a stiff-postured, blank-faced audience staring out of the dark as five guys scream and prance and flop around on the stage.

 

To make it even stranger, the Dibden security crew stood in front of the stage for the first couple songs, facing the audience, hands clasped before them, like Eminem’s security entourage. Nothing wrong with that, but goddamn, what a strange scene.

 

Anyway, the band. What they played wasn’t my idea of punk. If it’s punk, it just makes the punk cut. It’s closer to ‘90’s alt-rock, like a blend of Beck’s music for “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and the works of Archers of Loaf. The tempo wasn’t a sprint, it was more of a charge, and not always: the vocals alternated between angry screeching and a low, confessional tone. Sometimes the drummer hit the cymbals like the Who’s Keith Moon, sometimes he danced across them like in the kind of slow ‘90’s hit they would’ve played at high school dances.

 

The drummer holds his sticks at the very base, thwacking the drums Blink 182-style; with all the distortion, I couldn’t tell the snare hits from the speakers’ crackling.

 

Nor could I understand what the lead was singing/screeching. I caught words, pieces of phrases: “I been lonely”; “I can’t take it”; “I gotta get away”; “Misunderstood”; “Let’s put our minds together”; and my favorite: “I thought it was the summer of looooove!”

 

I didn’t need to hear the words: the music said it all. The songs were distinguishable only by the feelings they provoked. Some were head-nodders. Some brought on a consistent nod and a hard heel thump with it. At least two made my leg go like a jackhammer. None of this would’ve happened were it not for the incredible rhythm of these guys. Rough Francis played with stellar rhythm, one pulsing whole.

 

The guitar solos, one for each guitarist, both during one song, were wicked: they weren’t showpieces or tweakouts like a lot of amateur (and professional) guitar solos. If the songs were explosions, the solos were hot cars blasting out of the cloud, sports cars racing ahead of the band, before the rest of the band caught up: a sonic “Fast & the Furious.”

 

Despite Dibden rocking, many in the audience were on phones, Snapchatting and visiting Facebook. Music like Rough Francis, loud, fast, rocking stuff, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and god knows we’re living in a hip hop culture. I imagine that in the ‘90’s, Rough Francis would’ve brought the house down.

 

Barefoot Truth and similar bands seem to engage the Johnson audience more (even though 30 seconds of Rough Francis could squash hooked-on-sonics Barefoot Truth). To Emily Nielsen & Co., who are doing a wonderful job coordinating these acts (which seem to be getting better and better), any chance we could snag Yuck? They’re indie, not huge, probably not much bigger than Rubblebucket or Barefoot Truth. Sonically, they’re a bridge between Rough Francis and Barefoot Truth. Care to give it a shot? I think Johnson would like ‘em. I’m looking forward to seeing an act that’ll top Rough Francis, the best act Dibden’s seen in a while.

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