by Jonathan Marty (@gradepending_)
For a certain segment of the population, the Uranium Club are a phenomenon. Arriving from the same midwestern punk scene that has spawned fellow cult bands like The Coneheads and Lumpy and the Dumpers, the Uranium Club play fast, engaging music for those who like their punk with a curled lip and a snotty nose.
Much like their peers, the Uranium Club tend to keep a low profile. Aside from rarely touring, they released both their debut record Human Exploration and their breakout LP All of Them Naturals on the British label Static Shock, making physical copies of the two fantastic albums nearly impossible to find in most American record stores. Speaking as someone who unsuccessfully bounced around the many record shops in the Uranium Club’s native Minneapolis looking for a copy of either one, I regret to inform you that you’ll have to eat the expensive international shipping fee to get their songs on vinyl. Another option is finding one of the bootleg tapes of the two records that have spread throughout the DIY punk circuit.
Given their quiet mystique, the news of a live album excited many fans of their rowdy, smartass brand of rock and roll. Thankfully, The Minneapolis Uranium Club LIVE at Arci TAUN!, a document of the band playing a compact 40-minute set in the small town of Fidenza in Northern Italy, perfectly showcases what makes Uranium Club such a unique group.
One of the Uranium Club’s most immediately distinctive features is their airtight rhythm section. Take for instance the second song here, “Vanishing Point,” a rip-roaring cut from the band’s debut. Performed with an impressive gusto, the band’s drummer maintains the song’s dizzyingly fast tempo and throws in several laborious, energetic drum fills with machine-like precision. Alongside the throbbing, bouncy bassline that defines the song’s verses, these chaotic, yet meticulous performances show the Uranium Club as a band who clearly practice a lot yet don’t care to make a big deal out of it. A sort of, “Yeah, we’re amazing at this. So what?”
The stage banter following this track, wherein the group’s lead singer gives a comically long, repetitive, and sarcastic introduction (“We’re the Uranium Club from Minneapolis! The Minneapolis Uranium Club band! The Uranium Club Band! Uranium Club! The Uranium Club! The Minneapolis, Minneapolis Band!”) to an Italian-speaking audience is a hilarious introduction to the band’s second defining characteristic: their razor sharp wit.
Speaking with an acerbic and oftentimes mean-spirited sense of humor, the Uranium Club’s two vocalists tell stories of violent bank robberies, miserable lottery winners with “ungrateful little shit” children, and premonitions of a 21st century wherein they “only drink communist Coke” and “get high on video weed.”
One of the strongest aspects of this live album is how the band extends many of the tight-knit, tension-filled grooves they often employ, allowing their vocalists to prosaically amend their darkly comic vignettes with even more snark. This is best exemplified on the closer here, “Sun Belt,” a track about a man who settles down in Las Vegas after choosing it as the location of his brother’s bachelor party. After extolling the many superficial virtues of his new city in the chorus (“Bright lights! Cool pools! The strip! Hot chicks!), his story abruptly ends with his newborn child being diagnosed with a “new kind of cancer.”
While the studio version of “Sun Belt” is relatively compact, the live version goes on for several more bars, allowing the band’s lead vocalist to go on a stream-of-consciousness rant about how kids get sick (“When you’re a kid you get sick all of the time! It’s like your body doesn’t know how to keep up with the world!... It’s like you’re in there and not ready to come out! Kids get sick! It happens! You get the chickenpox! You get the flu! You get the cold! You get food poisoning! You break your arm!... You’re not really thinking about physics because you’re a fucking kid!”)
Like many of their fans who live outside of the midwest, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to experience the energy of a Uranium Club show without having to travel to Minnesota. While that remains to be seen, The Minneapolis Uranium Club Band LIVE at Arci TAUN! arrives as the next best thing; a document of a great band that preserves their striking musicianship and chemistry while showcasing their idiosyncratic brand of black comedy and wit.