Graded on a Curve: Killdozer and Alice Donut, Michael Gerald’s Party Machine Presents!

Sound reads from the archives, all summer long.Ed.

Killdozer and Alice Donut: two bands for people with great taste that taste great together! Uniting to produce some of the greatest music ever! Talk about your coups! Why didn’t this baby win a Grammy? Because as Elvis Costello said, “Radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools/Trying to anesthetize the way that you feel.” That and both bands have about a 1,000 fans, each.

Madison, Wisconsin’s Killdozer (1983-96) was renowned for its macabre sense of humor—as expressed in the hilariously morbid lyrics of vocalist/bassist Michael Gerald—and gave us such immortal songs as “Hamburger Martyr” (man murders fry cook for making bad burger after saying, “I could make a better hamburger with my asshole!”) and castration ode “The Puppy” (“My old lady’s name is Lois/I love it when sucks my dink/When we set Sonny’s balls on fire/She didn’t even blink”). And then there’s their EP “Burl,” which they dedicated “to the loving memory” of Burl Ives when he was still among the living. As for their music, it was a monstrously loud and grating blues-based noise punk with savage guitars, a big distorted bass, and the unbelievably low-pitched vocal sneer of Gerald.

As for NYC’s Alice Donut (1987-95, 2001 to NOW), they are a freaky outfit that shares Killdozer’s humorously bleak view of existence but expresses it in a less, er, Wisconsin Death Trip kinda way. They focus on the perversities of existence, as is evident from the title of their 1989 LP, Bucketfulls of Sickness and Horror in an Otherwise Meaningless Life (whose two sides are called “Side Sickness” and “Side Horror”) and such great songs as (the quite pretty) “Tiny Ugly Life” and “The Son of a Disgruntled X-Postal Worker Reflects on His Life While Getting Stoned in the Parking Lot of a Winn-Dixie While Listening to Metallica.”

Their music is far more varied—frankly, it’s all over the place, from punk to metal and tunefulness to dissonance—and melodic than Killdozer, which does one thing but does it wonderfully, that is if you like noise and sludge and what sounds like a rototiller moving painfully up your spine. I’m a big fan of Alice Donut’s “The Unspeakable Pleasure of Being Me” and “Madonna’s Bombing Sarajevo” and “My Life as a Mediocre Piece of Shit” and (naturally) their live version of “Helter Skelter”—which is performed primarily on trumpet.

Killdozer was renowned for its covers; in 1988 it recorded the all-covers For Ladies Only, and it has also assassinated “American Pie,” “I’m Not Lisa,” “I Am, I Said,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “Hot’n’Nasty” (the Black Oak Arkansas song, not the identically titled tune by Humble Pie)—and more. And Alice Donut likes the occasional cover (a demented “My Boyfriend’s Back,” a dynamite instrumental version of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind,” a horn-drenched instrumental version of “War Pigs,” and one very metallic “Sunshine Superman”) as well. So when Killdozer and Alice Donut decided to put out a joint EP, it’s hardly surprising they made it an all-covers affair.

Killdozer takes on Procol Harum’s “Conquistador,” while Alice Donut covers the Bee Gees’ wonderful “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You.” The two bands then join forces (as Killdonut) on “Medley: Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In (The Flesh Failures),” from the musical Hair (which The Fifth Dimension turned to gold in the year of Helter Skelter, 1969). “The Flesh Failures” is not a Killdozer joke; the original Broadway cast title of the latter song is “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In).”

Alice Donut’s “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” opens (just like the original) with some mock Gregorian chanting (Gerald’s among the chanters) of “Oh solo Dominique” and organ. Then some very cool guitars kick in followed by drums and the vocals of Tomas Antona, which are much higher pitched than Gerald’s (whose aren’t?) and very snotty and punk and kinda remind me, as an ex-Philadelphian who saw the Dead Milkmen like 20 times because there was nobody else to see, of Milkman Joe “Joe Jack Talcum” Genaro, the voice of the iconic “Punk Rock Girl.” Like Killdozer’s take on “Conquistador” the Donut plays the song straight, and their cover ends up being better than the original, thanks to the dominating guitars, great drumming, and Antona’s vaguely whining (but winning!) vocals. I especially love it when (and I’m not sure why) Antona sings, “Don’t walk so tall/Before you crawl/For every child/Is thinking of something wild.” And the way the song gets bigger and bigger as it reaches its climax.

I’ll be honest; “Conquistador” is far from my favorite Killdozer cover. Not because they don’t pull it off—they always pull it off—but because I’ve never been a big fan of the Procol Harum song in the first place. They actually do a great version; the guitars of Paul Zagoras and Jeff Ditzenberger perfectly mimic the original’s ornate strings/trumpet opening, and then in comes Gerald, a little guy with the world’s loudest and possibly most grating voice. His vocals are a destructive force of nature, and he goes out of tune when he really bellows but doesn’t give a shit. The guitar solo is to die for, and towards the end Matt Fields’ Hammond organ comes droning in (just like on the Procol Harum version) and joins the guitars in a truly sublime moment of musical bliss. Then the song ends with mock applause, which I’m pretty certain Killdozer filched straight from the version of “Conquistador” on 1972’s Procol Harum Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Great tune, but I can’t but help wish they’d gone with “Indiana Wants Me” or “Hey Jude” or “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

Killdonut’s cover of “Medley: Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In (The Flesh Failures)” is fabulous, fantastic, and funny, thanks largely in part to the contrast in voices between Gerald and Antona, who swap lines. Following a hippie guitar/grinding bass opening, Antona sings, “When the moon is in the seventh house/And Jupiter aligns with Mars,” then Gerald croaks, “Then peace will guide the planets/And love will steer the stars.” Then they both sing the chorus, and continue to swap lines or occasionally sing a line together. It’s hilarious, hearing Gerald sing, “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” and the guitars are feral until some trumpet comes in to mark the shift to “Let the Sunshine In.” After that it seems the whole world’s singing those famous repeated lines, while Gerald follows every one with a shrieked ad lib (“Oh, let it shine!”, “You GOT to GOT to feel it!”, “Ow, ow, ow, ow!) until the song ends with a chaotic trumpet blurt.

You don’t know what you’re missing (for good or bad) until you hear this EP, and my only wish is that the two bands would have Killdonuted on until they had an LP’s worth of covers, like Killdozer’s magnificent For Ladies Only. Until you’ve heard Killdozer’s takes on Bad Company’s “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad” and “One Tin Soldier—The Legend of Billy Jack” you haven’t lived. Then again, whether you want to live with Killdozer’s covers of said songs stuck in your head is debatable. I love and adore and couldn’t live without Killdozer—they gave us “The Pig Is Cool” and “Knuckles the Dog (Who Helps People)”—but then I couldn’t live without lots of psych meds and John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” either.

Alas, it’s unlikely to happen now. Gerald’s an attorney for a large LA law firm—I always told people he was the smartest guy in rock—and while Killdozer has played a few reunion gigs over the years, I can’t see them regrouping long enough to tour or record. Oh well. Michael Gerald’s Party Machine Presents! remains a great slab of music, and Killdonut’s take on “Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” is a must-play song at any shindig, including the birthday party for your 98-year-old grandmother. It may just finish the old gal off, but take this as solace—she’s sure to die with a smile on her face and a laugh in her heart.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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