Sure, you might know Mighty High guitarist/vocalist Chris “Woody High” MacDermott from the periodic “Spine of Overkill” columns he writes for this site, or maybe from his posts on the forum (he’s Woody, duh), but here’s something you probably didn’t know about him. He is a man with a very specific ability. Where some are engineers and others painters and still others painting engineers, our friend Woody has a unique gift. He can turn anything you say – literally anything – into a pun about weed. Now, that might not sound that impressive, but imagine how far away some of the shit you say on a daily basis is from being about weed. Phrases like, “I have to get my oil changed,” and, “Have you seen that shipping invoice?” are just as subject to his individual skillset as something like, “Do you have any cookie dough because I’m bombed off my ass?” might be. Not only is he a master of the weedy pun, but he’s actually clever about it. Aside from being funny because they’re about weed and because he makes them so quickly and so constantly, they’re good puns. And I like puns whether they’re good or bad, so good ones are like a bonus.
Mighty High’s Legalize Tre Bags plays out like the wholesale embodiment of this ethic: Take your life, make it about weed. Joining Woody in his mission are drummer Jesse D’Stills, bassist Matt “Labatts” Santoro and guitarist Kevin Overdose, the latter two having come aboard following the release of the band’s last full-length, …In Drug City (review here). The album is a joint issue (get it?) between Ripple Music and the band’s own Mint Deluxe Tapes (“tapes” being another sort of running gag Woody has going), and basically what you’re getting when you pop it on either in download, CD or gorgeous deluxe gatefold vinyl form is 33 minutes of stoner punk charm. The band offers no quarter for their influences – Motörhead, The Stooges, Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Slayer, etc. – and right from the start of the 1:16 opener “I Don’t Wanna Listen to Yes,” they are a striking reminder of just how far the rest of the world has its head up its own ass and how everyone else who claims to not take themselves too seriously still does. If they didn’t, they’d be Mighty High, ripping through the 11 tracks of Legalize Tre Bags (think a dime bag, but smaller) like the salve to soothe an infection of self-indulgent hipster Brooklones.
They show their native borough some love in “Come on! I’m Holdin’,” and cuts like “Mooche,” “Cheap Beer, Dirt Weed,” “Tokin’ and Strokin’” and “Loaded Loaded” all deal with the various sides of drug culture – mostly the side that likes to get fucked up. “Drug War” manipulates samples of Ronald Reagan à la Ministry to make it seem like the former president is calling out George Bush for smoking pot, and album highlight “Chemical Warpigs” is not only the best pun on the record, but the kind of innate genius that has you wondering why no one before was able to put those two ideas together – the references seem obvious, but I’ll say anyway it’s Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare” and Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” and the song takes musical parts from both like an organic mashup that, unlike every mashup I’ve ever heard, doesn’t suck. At a ranging 4:16, “Chemical Warpigs” is the longest song on Legalize Tre Bags, but Mighty High offer no letup on charm, which is pretty much what lets them get away with this level of musical shenanigans without completely falling on their face.
When it comes down to it, though, you’re either going to get it or you’re not, and if you can appreciate the humor and the nods at obscure heavy rock that coincide with the more upfront affronts, you might just find yourself aligned to the peculiarly regressive brilliance Mighty High hide within the sleeveless denim jacket of their well-purposed idiocy. Legalize Tre Bags, after fighting its drug war with “your weed against mine,” disparaging those who get high on your supply and then split with “Mooche,” and offering a glimpse of what life might be like if they actually were a stoner rock band instead of a punk band with the earlier “The Ram,” caps off with the curiously complex “High on the Cross,” which features a thunderstorm sample – they say “No ballads, no keyboards, no acoustic guitars” in their bio, and it’s true, but I guess samplers made it through anyway – and goes into a Southern-style vocal that’s got to be a reference I’m not getting (though I really want it to be Megadeth) before its guitar lead ushers in a break after about two minutes in to a more characteristically punked finish, Woody taking on those who’d replace drugs with religion – “Salvation at any cost/Can’t get higher than high on the cross” providing a catchy closing sentiment that shows the band has more to talk about than just getting high, not that that isn’t enough to carry across their appeal otherwise.
I’ll say this once, and just because I consider Woody a friend, I don’t think I’m being overly partial in saying so: There’s only one Mighty High. Legalize Tre Bags is a lot of fun to listen to, and particularly with the lighthearted nature of the band and their lyrics, it would be easy to write it off as a throwaway, but it would be a mistake, because no one else out there in the heavy underground gives the spirited interpretation they do of classic punk, honing in on musical ideas without limiting them to genre while also toying directly with a host of tropes, and not just doing what’s expected of them, but effectively drawing a caricature of the idea that that expectation exists in the first place. Its attention to detail in that regard is almost maddening, right down to the note on the inside of the vinyl gatefold for where you should de-seed your weed. Like all their work, Legalize Tre Bags is a litmus test for your ability to have a good time, and for the sheer sonic improvement it is over …In Drug City (Jason LaFarge recorded in New York, Tony Reed mastered), it’s that much more able to get its message across. That message? “Yes sucks. Fuck you.”
Well played, gentlemen.Brooklyn, Mighty High, Mint Deluxe Tapes, New York, Ripple Music