Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Lottie Collins (Chiba, Japan) & the Evaporators (Vancouver) -Tempe, AZ-March 29, 2001

Just got in from the Evaporators and the Lottie Collins show that took place at Cannery Row on the edge of the Arizona State U. campus in Tempe.  At Cannery Row, the bands play on a small second level fenced-in loft stage. (It reminded me of some ski chalet scene from a '60 AIP movie.) The bands had to slice through the sometimes deeply rooted crowds on the ground floor to haul their equipment up and down the stairs.

After a hardcore band finished, the Lottie Collins took the stage above. They were full of that rising sun moving energy similar to what I saw last summer in Las Vegas with Jackie & the Cedrics.  They played a frantic ocean crossing wave of rock & roll which brought in cracked shells of surf-pogo, the Smugglers, beat-pogo, and the Ramones. After the show, I bought their "Electric Surfer Girl" 7" and it sounds like Leonard Phillips (of the Dickies) singing on the Barracudas' "Subway Surfin'" demo!

The Evaporators were up next.  After one song, I got caught up in the convincing fun of their performance.  Being that the beyond hyper-active Naudwaur likes to be in the crowd (more than on stage) made for some interesting transition scenes.  He had to drop the microphone down to the ground level (like a rescue rope) and run down & up a flight of stairs (to change shirts). He also sang from the stair-railing like he was some sort of prima-Madonna-diva!!  The crowd hoisted him up and he sang his songs about "buddies" and after school "block parents" while his (un-watched) band churned away above.  By the end, he was wearing an Exploited t-shirt and he was all over the place like some sort of foil to Henry Rollins. He then sprinted through the open front door to bring in more milling people to join in the fun and turn their frowns into smiles.  The grand finale was "Oh Happy Day" which had the Lottie Collins and everyone else dancing in unhindered sheer joy. At one point, in the night, I thought Rob Halford (of Judas Priest and Phoenix-area resident) would walk through the door complete with leather and spikes.  (Naudwaur has interviewed Halford.) After the show, I spoke with a very amicable Naudwaur in "the punk rock parking lot" and he said that Rob Halford was on the guest list and he was disappointed he didn't show.  I said good-bye to Naudwaur (next stop San Diego) and the Lottie Collins (next stop Texas) and took off down the I 10--driving behind the illuminated fleets of semis doing their regular retail hauls to Tucson on this happy spring rock & roll overnight.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Greg Shaw

Just want to say thank you to Greg for all of his inspiration over the years.  I first came across Bomp via Domenic Priore's mindblowing Smile book in an East Lansing, MI bookstore back in 1991.  I remember seeing the "Bomp! is Back" ad with "Magic Still Exists" by the Leopards and "Highs in the Mid-Sixties: Riot on Sunset Strip" albums depicted and saying to myself, "This looks like the coolest label...I can''t believe bands are still playing in the mid-sixties style and there's a label for them...maybe magic still does exist!"   Later that spring, I remember blowing off my work at MSU and becoming engrossed in his New Wave on Record book in the reference section.  In the early '90s, I was able to to pick up almost all the late '70s issues of Bomp Magazine and read about the sounds and musicians that mattered to me (and still do) like Brian Wilson, Joey Ramone and Power Pop (Except for Trouser Press, the Big Takeover (to some extent) and some smaller zines (e.g., Yellow Pills), these sounds were not really covered anywhere else in that pre-internet-grunge dominated era.)  Greg's writing really connected to me because it contained the promise and hope of something better. It was factual and informative, but also very relatable because of large traces of passion and humanity in it. It was through its pages, I discovered some of the musicians and bands that continue to influence me to this day & night--the Last, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers and the Barracudas. I'm thankful he believed in these bands and helped others discover and hear them. Through his writing, labels and the Bomp list he did bring something better.

He Put the Bomp! In the Bomp
I recall meeting him at the Las Vegas Grind II and how he treated everyone with much respect and dignity. Here was a man who was clairvoyant, insightful and influential on music that was more exciting and timeless than what the major labels (outside of Sire and Stiff) would even consider.  I liked how he was easy going, a bit shy and very approachable. It was a pleasure to talk about the Barracudas with him as Blair B. and I walked out in the glaring sun between the Rio and the Gold Coast for an unforgettable 3 hour afternoon show from the Black Diamonds.  The last time I saw him was at a Last show in Feb. 2002.  He remembered me and we talked about some email exchanges we had regarding the 1967 KFRC Fantasy Fair and the San Francisco Oracle for a sidebar article I put together for Scram Magazine.  We also talked about the then slated to reissued ''LAX'' CD and how LA Explosion (the single) should be on the album of the same title.  He seemed always willing to help and encourage other people with their projects. He provided his vast information and first-hand accounts which frequently connected to the larger perspectives on life.  In 2004, I finally read his article on surf music found in a 1973 issue of Stereo Review.  He was so insightful connecting music to the cultural circumstances of Southern Cal in the early to mid-sixties and so truly beyond 1973 and the current predictable patterns.

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Silver Seas-High Society

One recent Saturday afternoon, I was in a local Tuesday Morning store and immediately after George Benson’s decent live version of “On Broadway,” a song followed that stopped me in my tracks.  What I heard between the knick-knacks was what I thought was certified early ‘70s AM radio gold that missed my radar or some bubbling under “Round Wonder” that was deftly included in the store’s subscription music service.  I located the nearest overhead speaker and locked into the lyrics, in order to backtrack later. While making sure the kids were not breaking the many breakables, I thought I was hearing something in the same mystical realms of Curt Boettcher, Ron Elliott of the Beau Brummels or even Mark Eric with the uncluttered couplet: “Now as the summer starts to fade/Into the gold of autumn shade.”  Outside the air-conditioned store, temperatures were still toasty, but at least the mornings & evenings offered a contrasting reprieve and hope of a much needed tilt away from the Arizona sun. This buoyant yet reflective song perfectly encapsulates those elusive sparkling moments of golden sunlight through the crimson shadows.  The song turned out to be “We’ll Go Walking” by a Nashville band known as the Silver Seas and led by one Daniel Tashian, the son of Barry Tashian of the Remains.  (His dad once asked me if I could lend him a hand transporting some of his musical gear, while he was checking out of the Gold Coast Hotel in Las Vegas.  I was more than glad to assist.) I was furthered surprised that the album, High Society, containing this lilting gem was over a decade old-as the era of release was delightfully indeterminate upon initial exposure.  While the Bacharachian “We’ll Go Walking” is the clear standout on the album, the other songs reveal themselves to be competent Chamber pop along the gold rush routes of the Thrills and the Heavy Blinkers.  The Silver Seas' own harmonic detectors seem particularly attuned to Jimmy Webb, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Paul Simon and to the piano man himself-Roger Williams.  While this band of prospectors have yet to strike it anywhere close to commercial success, they have already evoked the soft-focused tints of autumn inside a Tuesday Morning store. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Bobkat'65-This Lonely Road


You gotta love debut releases like this 2017 one from Get Hip, one of my long-time favorite record labels. This trio, from Asturias in Northern Spain, is deeply immersed in the mid-sixties American garage rock girl group sound. On the surface, the sights and sounds are so immediately striking that they could crossover to the Burger, Lolipop, and/or Hardly Arts sets-not adverse to twang and reverb. Underneath, the roots are so buried that this record will have ardent acolytes reaching for their TeenBeat Mayhem! book, discovering a mostly hidden Hamtramck poet and reconsidering forgotten garage compilations. In other words, they are a contemporary combo playing genuine garage rarities and doing it well.  In the process, they forge their own sound that allows them to set themselves apart from others who have traveled along this midnight road.  To mention specifics, they sound in the vicinity like the recent past (Denise James, cub, Dreamdate) peeled away to reveal the golden past (Luv'd Ones, the Chymes, the Continental Co-ets).



The album sets forth with some "For Your Love" Yardbird-ian chords and continues crackling along until the fuzz comes storming in.  The exuberant "Try" is a cover of a '66 curio from the Cobras of Danville, IL.  This is Ernie Douglas rock 'n' roll at its epicenter and Bobkat'65 push their own brimming harmonies to the fore. This song in particular conveys their ability to use these records as starting points towards shaping their own sounds through the mists of time. "Gone Gone Gone" was devised by Hamtramck Renaissance poet Richard Wohlfeil and comes across like the kind of mean-street-lore that would snake charm the Detroit Cobras. Two originals ("Hey You Boy (Stay Away)," "I Don't Care") appear around the mid-point mark and have the raucous sound of the Pleasure Seekers denting into the Smears in the Garage. "Loneliness is Mine" was sourced from the Esquires of Irving, TX and the trio emphasizes the twang along with crashing reverb tanks to convey a sense of Dallas town dramatics.  Ana & Paula's voices, in unison, build to take the song into brooding Shangri-Las Land. "To Be Like You" was originally done by the Missing Lynx a folk-rock outfit from Great Falls, Montana.  The down, down, up, up, down is not only the standard folk-rock strum pattern, but also signifies the overall moodiness as well.  Their aligned voices and mid-tempo pacing express the sense of equilibrium, harmony, and hard-fought wisdom found along This Lonesome Road.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Flamin' Groovies - Fantastic Plastic


It has been 25 years since the legendary Flamin’ Groovies released their last studio album Rock Juice.  While the band resumed actively touring around the rock ‘n’ roll world in 2013 (Japan, Australia, Europe, U.S.A., Canada), fans have been clamoring for a new full length.  They have selectively introduced many of these songs in their recent live repertoire and now have delivered the recorded goods on Fantastic Plastic. Initially I had my doubts as things get off to a pretty shaky start (vs. a shakin’ one).  The album opens up with “What the Hell is Going On” that sounds too much like the “Honky Tonk Women” done by a local bar band inspired by the Fabulous Thunderbirds or the Georgia Satellites.  “End of the World” is too derivative with its reformulation of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by BÖC hinged upon the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.”



However, things truly click into place when the recording reaches the showcase third and fourth positions.  The Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk to Strangers” has been a long-time favorite and here the Groovies, place their truly distinctive style on it.  With “Let Me Rock,” Chris Wilson is in his element and in full command.   I can envision him on the other side of the stage, adorned with his scarf like Snoopy vs. Red Baron, and belting out this exuberant new classic in full rocking mode.  Within is an instrumental passage that highlights the power & glory of the rhythm section comprised of Victor Penalosa (the Phantoms, the Quarter After, the Zeros) on drums and original member George Alexander on bass (both who were in this “new classic” lineup from 2013-2016).  Additionally, the song reveals the clear influence the Groovies had on their guitar-driven followers ranging from the Dictators and the Barracudas through the Hoodoo Gurus.  The “good timey” backing vocals place a smile on the face that reminds me of one their original influences and once label mates-the Lovin’ Spoonful.



As mentioned, the band has always had a knack for well-chosen covers and for making them their own (e.g., “There’s a Place” by the Beatles).  Still, it's really surprising to hear them give a 12-string Byrds-ian treatment to the recorded version of “I Want You Bad” by NRBQ.  When they unleashed this song in Arizona on the 2016 Labor Day Weekend they played it pretty straight-up, but the emphasis on jangle here takes it to another level. The yearning “She Loves Me,” with its layered harmonies and stacked guitars, takes us back to their yin & yang sound of their Sire & Bomp years -which was all about sonically and visually evoking much needed mid-‘60s majesty in the mid-to-late‘70s. It is an unexpected delight to hear the instrumental “I’d Rather Spend My Time with You.” Instros are somewhat anomalous
 in their world and they cast it out in a continental Shadows style that lifts off the ground with its jet streamlined sound.  “Cryin’ Shame” rolls over the odometer and brings everything back home by encapsulating everything wonderful (lavish harmonies, jingle-jangle guitars and underlying rhythmic propulsion) about this resounding California born and bred band who have been dashing past forward for over 50 years.



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ted Leo-The Hanged Man

One night in fall 1993 I turned on WVFI-640 AM (then “broadcasting” through a carrier current system to the residence halls at Notre Dame via electrical outlets). Right after the Ventures' cover of "Sukiyaki," Ted Leo expounded upon "The Show” by Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s vocals on the B-side, where Slick Rick covers Taste of Honey's 1981 version of “Sukiyaki."  Later, Leo mentions Ludella Black of Thee Headcoatees before he plays the Smugglers' version of “Miss Ludella Black” by Thee Mighty Caesars.  Through his commentary, references, humor and music, it was like that “New York station” both cosmopolitan and subterranean- way beyond the realm of the typical student and/or college radio DJ in '93.  Later in his show, he would spin more Ventures and April March’s “Voodoo Doll” single.

Lookout Mountain Rock
Outside of his legendary work in Chisel, I consider his trio of Lookout Records albums his strongest and most immediate, not only for their Big Star riffs, but also for the mod and Moby Grape moves as well.   It all came together in 2004’s “Shake the Sheets” which matched up succinct stripped-down songs with graduate school idealism, street-level politics and a heart extended towards the disenfranchised, the discounted and the downtrodden. Playing the album in a context of a Southwestern college town, with its atmosphere somewhat already attuned to the consideration of the common good, this stack of songs naturally fit in like the mountains on the horizon.

This all brings us to this year 17 solo album The Hanged Man. The muffled production sounds, at times, like it’s already in need of remastering and the front cover art is too much like the sideshow art previously employed on Attack of the Smithereens way back in 1995.  Before it reaches its midway point, the album starts to drag and plod with overwrought songs like “William Weld in the 21st Century” and “The Nazarene.” Musical traction is lost within the overextended length and weight of these back-to-back songs.  (If this was Lou Reed in an experimental mood, we would just give him a hall pass and go on to praise his pierced together sheet metal guitars in the next sentence.)

However, who am I to criticize as Leo has suffered through some truly disturbing life circumstances and there are way more serious matters to attend to in life than subjective opinions regarding the production and packaging of recorded sounds. By confronting his confusion, internal strife and past circumstances beyond control through his gift of music, Leo's encouraging others with similar experiences towards possible healing and reconciliation.  It takes an artist of a certain elevated & noble level to take his/her own pain and suffering and transform/transcend it through art and actually make life better for others-- it all leads to the definition of soul.
Wednesday Week
“Used to Believe” sounds like Falkner (Jason that is) in which the chorus rides those immersive aquatic 1001 strings from “You Only Live Twice.”  There is also a stunning moment that is flecked by one of those spinning out, coiled and braided guitar solos before going back into this song already in progress. Also surging forward is “The Future (Is Learning To...)” where Leo reaches the summits of his Lookout years with a rousing chorus buttressed by verses of Century 21 Joycean word play that wraps around to hold up the towering melodies. With its jaunty marching cadence, “Run to the City” covers the attraction (work & culture) and repulsion (unaffordable housing & damaging commutes) of coastal cities with a switch of a preposition.

While he is quite the enigma, Leo has been consistently “small-c” catholic in scope and “small-m" methodist in his adherence to noble DC DIY tenants. Yet, I don’t understand his incessant Twittering which seemingly goes against his discerning denouncements of our current culture’s desire to (over) document everything and miss the moment or his frequent plugs to read the writings of Jaron Lanier (where the computer scientist states the obvious about the blatant misuse of technology). There have been shows where too much talk broke up the continuity of the rock.  Other times, he’s ridden the edges of a guitar sound propelled by his fluid fretboard power that satisfyingly clanged and spiraled up to the stratosphere.  Still, he has more than earned his platform and has the right to believe that the ordinary working person has much more agency than what is seemingly possible-especially in these current conditions where unchecked power pretty much rides roughshod or gets easily pardoned.

What if We Give it Away?
While critics will rightfully cite that Leo is "Steppin’ Out" in full-on Sophisti-pop mode and dress—most directly on the deceptively simple, swank and sanguine “Can’t Go Back."  Leo, himself, might mention tragic figures like the late- Scott Miller again or conflicted souls like Emitt Rhodes among his seemingly infinite continuum of musical influences.  For the most part, The Hanged Man reminds me of This Sounds Like Goodbye by Ken Stringfellow and other moments hearken back to his experimental first post-Chisel solo album tej leo(?), Rx / pharmacists, which has also stood the test of time.

With the Clash as his North Star, Leo has never been afraid of breaking form in order to stay away from formula.  Sure, he has had his share of missteps and misfires, but he has continually pushed his limits, challenged listeners and diversified. His back catalog features several stylistic ventures into disputed musical territories-especially when he signaling the schisms and conveying distress. The remarkable guitar tones and crackling production of “Little Smug Supper Club” is actually reminiscent of Don Gehman-produced Scarecrow-era John Mellencamp.  This mini-epic not only questions the level of devotion to beliefs, but also the beliefs themselves by those who live the lifestyle.  Or in other words the dangers of repetitively reconfirming predisposed assumptions and beliefs.

Like a Phil Ochs for the lost Generation X, Leo has long been attuned to deciphering shifting atmospheres and  the evolving present. He can also be sagacious about the past, which he amplifies in the twangy form of “Lonsdale Avenue.” This standout song masks displacement and the ultimate loss of life on earth, but rings to remind us to use life’s challenges as catalysts to both deepen our understanding and continually evolve. The Hanged Man presents a circling back to his experimental first solo album, some semblance of home, and Leo's continued quest for the impossible dream. In short, he's beginning to see the light, that can only be brighter after all the darkness.
                                          
It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World-1993 mix tape by Ted Leo

Monday, September 04, 2017

Rufus Harley-Re-Creation of the Gods

His jazzy spaced-out bagpipes rendition of the groundbreaking "Eight Miles High" by the Byrds was my first encounter with the music of Rufus Harley.  Intrigued by further releases like his spiraling cover of "Windy," (which was reported to have brought audiences to their feet) I recently plunged into the 2006 Rhino collection Courage which offers his complete works (comprised of four albums) for Atlantic Records. This set is packed with that pervasive snaking, stinging and buzzing sound created by the inherent sustain of the bagpipes. Harley is able to express the melody via the chanter while delivering true distinction through the three drones. During his most active period of 1965-1970, he was reviled by old guard critics, embraced by listeners and respected and championed by fellow musicians like Coltrane, Herbie Mann and Sonny Rollins. This adventurous, idiosyncratic and frequently incandescent music also features strong elements of Latin jazz percussion (think Willie Bobo) which add additional dynamics and propel these songs forward. As an aside, these '60s recordings have taken me on a round trip from my first cassette The Crossing by Big Country in 1983 to now. To think all this would begin with Big Country's guitar emulations of the bagpipe!  

This brings us to 1972's Re-Creation of the Gods, which many hail as his crowning achievement with its nods to the triangular power of community, church and cosmic consciousness as expressed by his quartet. While embraced by the crate diggers for incorporating funk, hard bop and ground level storefront production, initial listens left me ambivalent and unmoved. The stacked strands of bagpipes, B-3 organ, bass, drums and desperate baby cries act as overlapping obstacles in that they cancel out much of the surging momentum or sense of melodic wholeness found on his previous works. It took some repeated listens to sense and begin to appreciate the looseness and density that some listeners will instantly embrace. Still, I gravitate towards his previous Atlantic releases and would first reach for his 1970 album King/Queens (presented in its remastered entirety on Courage) and includes the aforementioned soaring "Eight Miles High" and "Windy." On this final album for Atlantic, Harley taps into upper echelon Pacific Coast pop while offering promise land possibilities.