Hammer of the Gazas

Chicago's Gaza Strippers take it all off and show their scars on a high-powered sophomore album

It ought to be one of those "Where were you when?" questions. You know, like "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" "Where were you when the Bronco chase was under way?"

So, "Where were you when you heard the Gaza Strippers for the first time?" Well, where were ya, punk?

For me, it was a cold, rainy Thursday night this past March in Austin, Texas, site of the annual South by Southwest music conference. In an effort to escape the torrential downpour, I found refuge three doors down at Emo's, the site of the Man's Ruin label showcase. The walls of the dark club were teeming with character and X-rated murals of the Flintstones. Now I'll never be able to separate the unforgettable sound of the Gaza Strippers with images of Wilma and Betty dolled up as whip-wielding dominatrixes. Minutes after I made the unholy realization that Fred's gargantuan head could service several Bedrock orifices at the same time, the Gazas took the stage like a schoolyard bully with a new set of freshmen to torment.

The Gaza Strippers: From left, Mike Hodgkiss, Mark Allen, Darren Hooper and Rick Sims.
The Gaza Strippers: From left, Mike Hodgkiss, Mark Allen, Darren Hooper and Rick Sims.
Rick Sims (foreground): "Once you [buy into] the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, you sorta sold your soul to the devil."
Rick Sims (foreground): "Once you [buy into] the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, you sorta sold your soul to the devil."

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Scheduled to perform on Tuesday, December 12, with Caustic Resin. Showtime is 9 p.m.
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Within seconds, I was thunderstruck. After two nights of seeing DJs more interested in their headphones than a head count, once-great superstars on the way down and indie bands trying to make high-concept music without any concept of stage presence, the Gaza Strippers were a godsend to these jaded ears. They punctuated their savage dual-guitar arena rock with shouts, stage gestures and hyperkinetic energy, capping every song with a genial "Thank you, motherfuckers."

The Gazas worked up the as-yet-unconverted crowd like a band that had no use for college radio reps, music dot-com companies, journalists or major labels. By the time they bashed out the final chords to "As Long As It Feels Good," they had the lemmings up front mouthing the words to its repetitive choruses along with them. The band left the stage to the sound of cheers and two minutes of fuck-you feedback. In the foggy mist of memory, I can swear it was group leader Rick Sims overturning two full bottles of beer over some hippie dude at the foot of the stage. But eight months later, chilling in his Champaign, Illinois, home and about to tour behind a second Gaza Strippers album, 1000 Watt Confessions, Dr. Jekyll isn't about to fess up to any Mr. Hyde antics.

"That might've been our guitar player. I don't think I did that. But I wouldn't be surprised if that happened," says Sims.

"We've had our problems, our confrontations," he continues, several octaves lower than his high-register singing. "Especially in Baltimore. We've had two separate altercations. I jumped off the stage and went after [some guy]."

Pressed for details, he demurs because "I don't want to give the people that read this any ideas. I just don't like people that interfere with us putting on a good show. People come up and fuck with my shit and make it impossible for me to continue playing. And I just wasn't in a good mood. My fuse was short and someone lit it. That was a crazy night. We got our tires slashed and everything."

Usually, that sort of tar-and-feather reception happens to an opening band mismatched with the headliner. But it was a Gazas show, and a near sellout, too. "It was a mismatched bill in that the bands that opened up for us were horrible and we're good," Sims adds, laughing.

It's hard to see how any lover of boisterous power-chord rock could not get the Gaza Strippers' latest effort, and first for Berkeley, California-based pop 'n' punk label Lookout! Records. The Gazas left Man's Ruin not long after the SXSW showcase, finding more in common with a roster that includes the Donnas and the Groovie Ghoulies than one with acts like High on Fire and Alabama Thunderpussy. "Man's Ruin -- it's not as big as Lookout!," Sims says. "It's kind of a stoner-rock label, for lack of a worse term."

The best way to characterize the Gaza Strippers is a band that adheres to the '70s hard-rock theater of KISS and the New York Dolls, while filtering its sound through the amphetamine rush of hard-core punk.

"The first concert I ever went to was KISS, '75 or '76, for the Hotter Than Hell tour," confirms Sims of his arena-rock roots.

"With the [Gaza Strippers] it's all about the kitsch, all about the shtick. I guess I'm an ironic guy, and doing arena-rock moves in a nightclub is pretty ironic," he says. "Our music's certainly none of that math rock shit. We're not trying to be geniuses here and reinvent the wheel. We're just trying to play the same good rock 'n' roll that I grew up listening to.

"You can compare us to KISS and the Dolls for our attack, but we're way more fucked up. Our music is way weirder. As straightforward as it is, there's a fucked-up evil twist in there. Like a family that keeps up really good appearances on the outside; they're all born-again Christians, but the honor-school son is shooting up dope or there's some incest or sexual abuse going on."

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