The joys of discovering Semi-Precious Weapons

Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2010

Do you remember Hedwig? Like many other Juneauites, I was seduced by Rory Stitt's performance as the washed-up transsexual glam rocker at the heart of "Hedwig & the Angry Inch," the rock opera named after the (fictional) singer and her band. So imagine my sheer joy upon discovering Semi-Precious Weapons and their lead singer, Justin Trantner, New York's newest ambisexual rock darlings.

On the cover of their self-titled debut album, Justin is the spitting image of Hedwig. He stands over seven feet tall in his custom, 10-inch Weitzman stilettos and a platinum blonde faux-hawk that would put Tegan and Sarah to shame. Nude tights and a blousy white tank top complete the look. His blue eyes sparkle icily, fringed by dark eyeshadow and huge lashes. He's a bombshell, basically. And he knows it.

The self-titled first track kicks off with a bang-"I can't pay the rent, but I'm f------ gorgeous," howls Trantner as the band drops in on a riff drawing equally from Led Zeppelin and Bowie. Trantner is snotty with his delivery, but his vocal technique is impeccable. It's a little Robert Plant and a little Bon Scott and a little Johnny Rotten, and he draws on a love of female country singers like Patty Larkin when he hits the ballads (of which there are only two, in case you're dubious). But OK. He's awesome. You get it. Let's move on.

Along with being the perfect foil to showcase Trantner, the band is similarly talented. They were all classmates (as well as Trantner) at Berklee College of Music prior to the birth of Semi-Precious Weapons. Normally, this fact would mean that you'd never hear about them because they'd spend their careers playing atonal, experimental jazz in Iceland, but because they're sticking to power chords and not flaunting their chops, they're headlining with Lady Gaga on her Monster Ball tour this summer.

As a fellow guitar player, I'd be lax if I didn't note that I'm impressed with Steve Pyne. He's fantastic. His riffs are hook heavy, with hat-tips to classic Zeppelin and AC/DC riffs that sound less like tribute and more like evolution. I can hear some noise rock influence as well; he definitely isn't a showboat, preferring blasts of feedback to the traditional hard rock neck-strangler solo. Along with the thunderous rhythm section, composed of Cole Whittle on bass and Dan Creane on drums, their trio sound is big, full and rocking. Everything you need and nothing you don't.

The standout tracks are "Semi-Precious Weapons," "Put a Diamond In It," "Magnetic Baby" and "Rock and Roll Never Looked So Beautiful." Of course, I'm always for buying the whole album myself, but with the proliferation of the iTunes culture (you dern kids and yer iPods), I recognize that that isn't what most people do. So do yourself a favor, skip a latte and start your day with these tracks instead. You will not regret it. Trust me.

In summary, I am completely in love with Semi-Precious Weapons and I have a huge crush on Justin Trantner. And on a completely unrelated note, I'm wondering what I should write about for my next article. If you have an opinion on either or both of these subjects, please drop me a line; I'd love to hear from you. Until next time, rock on, my fellow peace and love makers!

Tyler Preston is a local guitar slinger and soapbox preacher with his band, the Thundercats, and an avid audio aficionado. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @tyler_preston.

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