the BLACK SWANS, A VERY SPECIAL LIE, SLOAN ARMITAGE 1/11/11 Low Spirits
Ten years ago Jerry DeCicca--guitarist and vocalist for Columbus Ohio’s Black Swans -- managed Relapse Records, a short-lived UNM area shop sandwiched between McDonald’s and the Yale Blood Plasma donor center. I spent many hours rifling through the exceptionally priced vinyl selection. No matter how much money I tried to spend in hopes of keeping the faltering business alive, he insisted on giving me spontaneous discounts and piles of free stuff. Staff from the hipper-than-thou Bow Wow Records even stocked up on cheap deals, selling it back at their Nob Hill shop with a substantial markup. It bothered me, but Jerry just laughed it off. That was my first clue that his goal is spreading music and its passion. Period.
“I don’t know that I would’ve thought at age 36 I’d still be driving around the country in a van,” he recently told me. That remark is not uncommon for many musicians, but for Jerry it’s not a declaration of fulfilling some adolescent rock-star dream. Despite the accidental death of founding member and violinist Noel Sayre in 2008, the Swans carry on. DeCicca allowed that it’s precisely why he still pursues the band. “Not that anyone needs another reminder that life is short … ” he trailed off, hinting that loss is a reason to continue rather than stop. The new album Don’t Blame the Stars completes ideas left behind by Sayre. As admirable as this post-mortem collaboration is (and certainly a fine tribute to, and celebration of, a missing comrade) it seems that loss has always been central to the Black Swans.
Loss is not always breakups or tragedy, and neither is it necessarily sorrowful. There’s loss in making decisions and moving forward-- it means that something has to be let go or left behind. DeCicca demonstrates all of this. He sings about sex with the frankness of a nameless Saturday night hookup in he parking lot, which is as much about loss as it is about gain: losing inhibitions, personal standards and often self-respect. He compares us all--and not quite as colorfully--to characters from the Sunday comics page. Losing self-consciousness and concern for what people think, DeCicca’s songs are punctuated with his rooster crows and ape calls. His one-note baritone lacks range, but there’s something comforting in his voice because it merely is, with no attempt to be anything but. Damn the vocoder, full speed ahead.
Usually a five-piece, this tour is a duo with DeCicca on acoustic guitar and the talented Tyler Evans on banjo and electric guitar. They don’t play grand folk ballads of triumph over adversity and the strength of “the people” but songs of quietly overwhelming stark emotion with fine, if understated, picking.
A Very Special Lie-- self-described as “playing sweet/nasty songs about what we do that ain’t right.” -- features Stue Trory on guitar, Chris O on keys and the dapper Demarcus Sumter on drums, along with the great Billy Bellmont (Bellemah) on sweet and stirring vocals. Despite his own opinion I like the few numbers Stue sings in his froggy voice, a sheer contrast to Billy’s. Many of the songs are his but most sung by Mr Bellmont.
Sloan Armitage opened the show. You could call him a singer/songwriter but it’s not the folky or wimpy James Taylor stuff people associate with that tag. More like indie singer/songwriter, stuff that works either solo or I think would sound terrific with a crunchy backing band.
VENUS DE MARS, VERTIGO VENUS, SUICIDE LANES 1/14/11 Burt’s
Too many people think Glam Rock means platform heels, shiny costumes hair teased out to here. This tells me all they know is Ziggy Stardust. But Bowie, Bolan, the Sweet, Slade and even idiot Gary Glitter understood that musically speaking Glam is a sound: the prepunk return to plain ol’ rocknroll with pop hooks and -- particularly in British Glam -- a little show biz schmaltz à la the English Music Hall tradition.
That’s why I’m bugged when hack writers call Minnesota’s Venus de Mars “Glam”. A genderbending guitar player/ singer for All the Pretty Horses, s/he is all about hard and heavy flying-V rawk complete with sparks flying figuratively (from the leads) and literally (from a power grinder held to her mail-like body armor). I’m not one for solo guitar players or even for the proliferating guitar/drum duos (for which we have the overrated White Stripes to thank) but with the added elements of putting on a show (lasers; a dangerous stage strut; an outfit leaving little to the imagination which serves to confuse the self-professed straight boys in the audience, myself included), Venus rocked us out tonight. Plus it was just plain fun. A little heavier than I prefer but decidedly un-metal. DeMars will be returning this summer with the entire band which promises to be even more umm balls out rawk.
I’m not certain if poppunk Vertigo Venus arranged to play this gig or if the booker decided it would be “clever” to add another Venus act but no matter. VV also puts on a show with a capital S. Their fans are devoted as hell and always turn out en masse, which further feeds the fun frolickin’ frenzy of a band that always delivers for their audience.
Suicide Lanes’ not quite lazy low-key rock n’ country honk rounded out a nice bill of bands that sounded little like one another, always a plus in my book.
the SCRAMS, YA YA BOOM, BIRD LIPS 1/21/11 Blackbird Buvette
Sometimes I can really enjoy a show at the Blackbird, other times I get to feeling a little claustrophobic. Tonight I was somewhere in between. Given the Friday night Buvette crowd that never seems to quiet down regardless of who’s playing it was tough to give due attention to Bird Lips, Virginia’s sweetly quiet psych/folk duo of Lindsay Pitts (vocals, ukulele, keys, percussion) and Cliff Usher (vocals, guitars, clarinet, percussion). They deserved more concentrated listening.
Ya Ya Boom gives you no choice but to hear their muscular yet musically astute set that could be heard over a phalanx of jackhammers. Too, los Scrams roll in like a few barrels full of rabid macaque monkeys, foaming at the mouth and messin’ up the joint. I mean that in a good way.
LOUSY ROBOT, KIMO, JENNY INVERT 1/28/11 Low Spirits
This was one of the last shows of Jenny Invert before they move lock, stock and musical barrel to Seattle. Crunchy guitars, skyrocketing trumpet, jangley keys, electric piano (yay!) and clever but never stupid songwriting with a Queen-like sweeping production except not as overblown and certainly not as tongue-in-cheek -- except for their brilliant cover of the National American University commercial jingle. A superior set with great vocals by Sam Miller.
Solo acousti-punk songstress Kimo always draws an enthusiastic group of listeners. I kind of picture her running through the streets of town chased by screaming fans tearing at her clothes just like in A Hard Day’s Night.
Me, I’d be more likely to do that to one of my local faves, Lousy Robot except that I don’t really wanna see any of these guys naked. But I would buy a copy of Sixteen magazine if they were on the cover.
PORTLAND OREGON 2/10/11
Quite a shame to be in Portland for work a few days and not find any outstanding shows. The company I kept however was outstanding. No not the work colleagues . Well, they’re pretty outstanding in our field (there’s only a hundred of us in the country, if that) and although there was a stalwart crew of post-training folks getting hammered in the hotel bar, few if any of ‘em would even consider going out into the humid night except for fancy organic meals. You know, the ones with a sprig of rosemary sticking upright in the food and some candyass sauce drizzled along the edge of the plate with a squeeze bottle? I hate that shit.
The free trains in and around the downtown area are a first-rate service. It’s nice they run long enough that one can stay out late and still catch a ride before the rails shut down for the night. What little of Chinatown I saw was commercialized so I picked the ugliest hole in the wall restaurant I could find and was rewarded with a huge steaming bowl of congee and pickled vegetables. It was the second best meal I had in Portland. More on meals later.
Anyway the company I kept in Portland were ‘burque ex-pats. Westin Glass (now drumming with the Thermals) showed me a few cool hole in the wall places. There was a local band whose name escaped me at a place whose name also was lost in the whiskey mist. Pretty decent but also pretty typical northwest girl/boy indie pop . Not bad at all mind you. Actually it was kinda cool to see a “Portland” band in Portland, kinda like making sure you see a trashy rocknroll band in Detroit or grab some barbeque in Kansas City.
We weren’t actually planning on seeing the show but as we planned to call it a night, I heard the braaaannngg of an electric guitar being tuned and starved all week for music (no ipods or mobile music for me, thanks), I knew I was done for despite an early wake up call.
Westin also showed me a great pizza joint where one can order at the corner window and in seconds be handed a steaming sloppy giant thin-crust slice. It reminded me of being a kid and going to terrific closet-sized family pizzerias in Manhattan that had no seats or stools, just long counters. The vibe was eat yer slice and drink your coke and get the fuck out …which is quite endearing for New York.
Sad to say I didn’t get to see Mr Glass again on the trip but I couldn’t have asked for a nicer ambassador especially since we’d never really hung out when he resided in the ‘burque. Thanks, man!
There’s about eight billion record shops in the city that are worth throwing away your life savings at but I chose just one to lessen the fiscal damage. Second Avenue Records was recommended ‘cause of the huge vinyl bins and I wasn’t disappointed. Well, just a little ‘cause there were more reissues than used stuff. I usually don’t bother ‘cause of the price tags but what reissues! I picked up the Creation, Ike & Tina Turner, Townes Van Zandt, my country blues hero of all time Mr. Lightnin’ Hopkins and one enlightening disc of a Charley Patton multi-volume set. In the used section I mostly went country: Ray Price, Cowboy Copas, George Jones and Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton. Throw in a nice double LP of Earl Hines Orchestra off the 1920’s/30s Bluebird label, the soulful Percy Sledge, the rockin’ Reigning Sound and Archie Bell & the Drells and I was/am a happy boy.
The trip highlight was catching up with Lorca and CJ (ex-Drags) and Anna (ex- All New Low) who I’d not seen for a decade. That summer a truckload of people moved away from ‘burque and I count maybe thirty musicians, artists and creative folk that I still miss. Can’t blame ‘em though. All those godamn emo bands around here in 2000 were enough to drive anyone batty. Suicide was considered.
Sadly, there was nothing booked during my stay for Lorca’s outfit Hungry Ghost (with Sara Lund from Unwound and Andrew Price from Irving Klaw Trio) nor Anna’s latest twang project. We did however meet up in not one but two brew pubs. Lightweight that I am I’d had enough after one and a half pints but due to overwhelming peer pressure from these devastating party animals -- naw! just caught up in the auld lang syne -- I had a few more and was pretty lucky that these folks deposited me safely back at the hotel.
Pre-pub, Lorca motored me and her cute kids to Pok Pok, a fantastic Thai place where I had one of the top five meals I’ve ever had: a variation on Cha Ca La Vong, a Hanoi-style turmeric marinated catfish. It was incredible. Lightly grilled and simply seasoned but with complex flavors. I still think about it way too much and wish for another helping. Wonder if they deliver...
Great food, cool records and nice people. I gotta go back sometime when work won’t interfere with my social life.
YA YA BOOM, RED LIGHT CAMERAS, FIVE STAR MOTELLES 2/12/11 Burt’s
This was the first Motelles show sans Bonbon von Bonbon who has stepped aside to pursue her growing photography career. Sad for Five Star fans but happy for her. Knock ‘em dead (photographically speaking), Miss Minie!
Lucky for us the lovely and talented Muffin von Bonbon stepped up to ably fill Min’s lovely and talented shoes. That is, when’s she’s not gigging with Animals In the Dark, Glass Menageries and Milch de Maquina (among others I’m sure). Muffin/Mauro’s vocals are more than up to par. Thanks for checking in to the Motelles, Mauro. There’s a chocolate on your pillow and fluffy towels by the tub. Call room service if you need anything.
I like the mp3s I’ve heard from the indie poprock outfit Red Light Cameras but live they haven’t really clobbered me over the head yet. But they have a vociferous bunch of fans so maybe I’m missing something. Frontwoman Amanda has a powerful voice that can cut through the noise of brawl in a biker bar and maybe that’s part of my uncertainty. To me her vox and the band’s indie aesthetic seem a little at odds. I could actually envision her cracking biker heads with a pool cue if they fucked with her performance. Something about Amanda’s phrasing reminds me of a badass tattooed Neko Case although she hasn’t the same range or style but then again, who does except Neko? She and drummer Kristen pull off some nice harmonies aided by Barney (bass) and Chris (guitar) on the quieter numbers that could satisfy an introspective crowd in a lounge bar. They’re all good and I expect nothing but better.
Ya Ya Boom have the jazz-inflected rock power of a subway train pulling through a crowded platform, strong enough to blow off your hat and whip your hair into disarray. And then they can turn around and deliver soulful vocals that have the harmonics of a venerable pair of church bells pealing from a distant hillside. YYB is unmatched in controlled might during a live show and you can’t go wrong by attending.
SILENT COMEDY, PORTER DUO, UP THE HOLLER 2/26/11 Low Spirits
Holy smokes why have I never made it out to hear Up the Holler before? I deserve an ass-beating. Pat Bova (ex-Bovine) and Laura M. (Gracchi, Five Star Motelles) perform stellar folk duets while trading instruments and vocals. Besides guitar, Pat adds a little banjo, not breakneck bluegrass breakdowns and not simple clawhammer licks either but a nice easy hybrid. He also tosses a little mandolin into the mix with good results.
Laura was a revelation for two reasons. One, I had no idea this rock and rollin’ punk/thrasher chick could play such a sweet lazy slide --and on such a beauteous big bodied blond-wooded guitar to boot. And, two, although I’ve heard her countless times screaming out Gracchi vocals like a nastier Kim Shattuck or harmonizing daintily as a Five Star Motelle I was astounded by the quiet power of her solo voice. It’s not easy to sing folk stuff in such a commanding but unobtrusive way. I was floored over and over but just picked myself up and dusted myself off .
Up the Holler’s repertoire ranges from sad to really sad with wistful chestnuts like Red River Valley (always loved that one) to classic murder ballad medleys. After tonight, I won’t be missing many of their shows not only because they’re damn good but because this duo understands folk-rooted music in a way that few of the latest onslaught of hairy-faced hipster twang bands can touch. Marvelous.
The Porter Draw was reduced tonight to the Porter Duo of ace guitar picker and singer Russell Pyle and banjoman Ben Woods, trading nice vocals and clean licks. These days everybody who can string an acoustic instrument thinks they too should form an American band. And they do, most unfortunately for true twang lovers, snobs like me who were listening to Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys when you were swooning over Robert Smith and his black fingernailed ilk.
Strumming an acoustic guitar is one thing. Most musicians can pull that off. But clean picking? Inventive licks? Few of these born-again folkies have even the remotest understanding of what that means or implies.
Its kinda like the early eighties when any dickhead figured that being an anti-social moron screaming offensive lyrics was punk. At least with an amplified instrument one can hide lack of talent or originality behind the squall but with an acoustic you’re naked as a jaybird up there and sorry, not many people want to see your bare ass. Don’ t even get me started with guys who pick up a secondhand Harmony banjo and think they’re Earl fucking Scruggs. Even the no-account John McCuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) can pick circles around these guys and McCuen sucks for the most part.
I’m spewing this vitriol because the Porter Draw can actually pick as well as sing spot-on harmonies, the latter of which is sorely overlooked by pawnshop banjo bands. Whether it’s the duo or the whole ensemble, the Porter Draw boys are among the best of the bunch and I’d say that even if they weren’t hometown heroes.
From San Diego, Silent Comedy have the questionable Prohibition clothes aesthetic ( period clothes do not make the vintage man, especially the bass player with dreads) and have an able picker or two but thankfully aren’t trying to pass themselves off as a twang band. Not with that heavy drumming and bass guitar. The crowd loved ‘em. I didn’t. They started out strong and even had a few good licks here and there but what I walked away with was this: bandwagon countryish hybrid but way too heavy on blues rock for my catholic taste. Electric blues kills my enthusiasm for most any band. The why-won’t-they-die Rolling Stones ripped off Muddy Waters fifty years ago and you still can’t think of anything new to do with that guitar? Please.
TEENAGE WEREWOLVES 2/27/11 Blackbird Buvette
It was almost midnight on a Sunday. Last call had come and gone and as ordinary citizens were shown the door a few of us lucky bastards got to see an afterhours set by the Teenage Werewolves, a skin-tastic Cramps cover outfit. Call it a dress rehearsal or a sneak preview, whatever, it was a blast and a half. Jack Atlantis Lux-ed it up and though Kenta Henmi looked nothing like Ivy Rorschach, I never complain when the man’s got an axe in his hands especially while Brian Keith is also manhandling his own guitar. The lovely Constance Moss drummed, keeping this crew as, uh, constant as possible amidst the debauch n’ roll. Mandi Hinojos & Aubrie Peters coolly strutted while thumping a couple of tom drums, the skins of which would probably have covered more than the outfits they were wearing. Outside, people kept walking up to the locked doors wondering why they too weren’t admitted entry to this soiree. Noses just about pressed to the glass, they looked as hapless --if not as tearful -- as your seven year old when you lock him out of the house ‘cause you’ve had enough of his bullshit. Tough luck, kid.
the BLACK APPLES, the SCRAMS, A VERY SPECIAL LIE 3/3/11 Kosmos
Another fine set from A Very Special Lie was a treat followed by the rockin’ body blows of the Scrams. A great prelude to what was next.
On their self titled self-released LP, the Black Apples--with elements of surf, soul and garage-- have the ability to bring a Nuggets feel to the fore in a creative way unlike retro psych bands that merely riff on Psychotic Reaction or Dirty Water over and over. What that says to me is that Fort Collins bandmates Andrew H. Scarborough, Campbell Scarborough, Nick Murray and Dameon (Lowlights) Lee know their rock and roll history but use it as an inspiration rather than a template.
The Apples can pull a rockin’ freak-out as good as anyone (Buffalo) but have enough reserve for a slow burning high desert surf epic complete with Scarborough’s superb and melancholic vocals (Suzanne). His range is wide. Witness the elegant falsetto of Coming Home, reminiscent of early Motown before that label’s hits were polished to a blinding sheen. 20 Years At Sea is somewhere between Tommy James & the Shondells and the melodic guitar riffing of Built To Spill. On the LP you’ll hear a sitar minus the Indian drone that was overdone by acid-frying hippies in the ‘60s. In other words, the instrument is gently folded into the song and used for its own sake rather than a misguided tribute to Ravi Shankar. Live they weren’t quite as subtle but the dexterity of their stuff survived the rock n’ squall they blew into the Kosmos tonight.
FOLLOW THAT BIRD, FIVE STAR MOTELLES 3/4/11 Blackbird Buvette
See 1/21 above for my preliminary claustro comments. Couldn’t pay as much attention to the Motelles as I’d have liked while I heard nothing from Austin’s Follow That Bird I cared for but I blame that on not listening closely. This was unfortunate since the online stuff sounds pretty ok even though i’m immediately scared off by any band that describes themselves as “southern rock”. I would not tag them that way nor break my neck to catch them again. But I wouldn’t ignore ‘em if they came back to town, seeing as how they seemed like such nice and talented folk at the afterparty where drinks and brass & reed instruments changed hands like stock options on October 28,1929.
BUD & JESSICA, UP THE HOLLER, BILLY BELMONT, COREY VAN MINIFEE 3/18/11 Low Spirits
This was a formal occasion for some damn reason or another. I never did find out why but it was a good excuse to put on my best thrift score threads (read: worn-out crap) and slip into a hired Caddy with my lovely escort. Hopping into any vehicle with this disarming lass could lead to most anything: drink; more drink; Communist bloc tobacco products; partying with people you’ve never heard of; bank robberies -- sometimes all of the above -- but she never fails for fun and general jackassery. Between the pointed banter, libations and barman Lucky’s giant size cigarette lighter that’s bigger than my toaster, I missed all but a few acts that just happened to be favorites of this night or most any other.
I can’t recall which moniker Bud & Jessica were performing under tonight but does it really matter? It’s always first class (emphasis on class) banjo & fiddle duets with virtuous vocals and never ever any misplaced hoedown idiocy.
Next, Up the Holler treated us once again to a round of traditional and traditional-sounding tunes. I was rapt.
Although Billy Belmont wasn’t on the bill a bunch of us shamelessly cajoled him to uncover his Ibanez cutaway for an impromptu set on the patio. He reached into his never-ending grab bag for some choice originals and some childhood eighties covers, accompanied on the latter by the talented Laura Gracchus.
My best-of-show tonight however went to Mr Corey Van Minifee (Saltine Ramblers) who took the stage early for a fantastic solo voice & guitar set. I could not have been more impressed even if he’d pulled out a roll of fifties in a diamond encrusted 24-karat money clip with a sequined Amazon showgirl on either arm. Outstanding. More, please.
Later our driver reappeared and we disappeared into the night as we had entered, in style. Well, a wee bit more unsteady but I expected no less.
PHANTOM LAKE 3/24/11 Blackbird Buvette
Speaking of hers and husband Bud Melvin’s latest band (in addition to Grave of Nobody’s Darling, Lionhead Bunny and The Blue Rose Ramblers) Jessica Billey described it as a surf band. That was quite understated, much like everything else the pair does. With Grave members Clifford Grindstaff (Shoulder Voices) and Roger Apodaca (Black Tie, GoMotorCar) the entire group trades off on guitars dripping with lazy reverb on unassuming originals. Phantom Lake isn’t Dick Dale in-the-tube surf rock. Think Sergio Leone hanging ten in the sand under a searing desert sun that’s just setting, in time for things to get a bit drone-y just before the Carlos Castañeda weirdness sets in after dark.
SUICIDE LANES 3/24/11 Low Spirits
I like the lazy cowpunk of Suicide Lanes a bunch but am waiting for some louder and more obnoxious numbers which I know well they are more than capable of producing.
TACOCAT, the GLASS MENAGERIES, FIVE STAR MOTELLES 3/30/11 R.B. Winning Coffee
There aren’t as many shows here as there used to be but this was a damn good one. I realize the place was open for business slinging triple-frappe mocha-chino monstrosities but it’d be nice if the lights were lowered a bit. Otherwise, no complaints.
The Five Stars opened dressed in juvenile delinquent outfits like Sharks and Jets girlfriends but bad girls with good hearts, breaking into sweet song while strutting down these mean streets.
In style and melody, the ‘60s girl group sound surpassed its origins of the doo wop corners of the Bronx, Philly and Newark. While some of the Crystals and Dixie Cups and Cookies songs might sound as if they were just silly high school girls primping and pining for their careless boyfriends, those girls were really looking for a way out of the urban renewal “projects”, wondering why the hell the boys were wasting time stealing hubcaps and rumbling in the alley instead of getting jobs to support their baby mamas.
Speaking of criminal activity, pre-show the eagle-eyed Harry Brown (Downtown Scooters) spotted a scoot parked outside the joint that was recently stolen from Crystal Sims (Evolution Inc. Body Piercing). The cops were called (and took their sweet time getting there I might add) but finally Ms. Sims was reunited with her transport. Homeboy --who claimed he got it from his girlfriend’s dad junkyard (even though he didn’t know where it was) --was hauled away. And Harry ducked back into a nearby phone booth to change out of his superhero costume.
I don’t know how many favorite bands one is allowed to have but you can add the Glass Menageries to my local list. Ethereal reverb-y vocals from Mauro and Gena, deep bass by Mauro’s bro Brahm and never obtrusive drums by master stickman Christian. There’s lots of cool time signature changes in songs that range from poppy to brooding and back again. The harmony vocals are like indie-hymns from cloistered evening vespers sung to the deity of your choice. All I can say is thankya lord! And it was a sweet touch to see a bunch of Gena’s tween students digging on seeing their teach wax musically. Let’s hope they’re inspired to pick a real guitar or keyboard instead of that Guitar Hero garbage.
Seattle’s Tacocat is four ladies that sounded like a Muffs/ Ramones-esque hybrid with a little northwest cutsie-pie thrown in for good measure. The drummer had lots of big rollin’ tom action. It was a great funtime set but I’m wondering why the LP I bought from their merch table sounds more riotgrrrl. To be sure it’s a decent enough record but sadly doesn’t sound much like what I heard tonight.
the PARKINSONS, SIN SERENADE 4/9/11 Low Spirits
Festivities began in the late afternoon with a benefit car wash featuring rollerskatin’ bikini-girls. No complaints overheard about that. Sin Serenade took the stage a couple of hours after the intended start time which was just fine although it was too bad Lucky’s mom had to leave before she could witness her son do his twangy trashy thang. Your topnotch server Antonia slapped her bull fiddle like she would an unruly customer. The highlight was new drummer Heath who I haven’t heard play since Little Kiss Records went on the skids. He’s never flashy, never showboats and never misses a beat with any band of any genre he’s ever played with. Tonight was no exception despite his pulling double duty as sound guy. He’s the perfect addition to a band I never get to see enough.
The Parkinsons opened the regularly scheduled evening show with a distinguished mix of music that reminds of late ‘80s punk with the intelligence of early ‘90s indie when indie was still indie if ya know what I mean. By the time their set was over I realized I’d had my quota of Jameson for the evening and headed out. Rocked out and back home by about nine o’ clock? Works for me.
TEENAGE WEREWOLVES, BLACK MARIA, PHANTOM LAKE 4/10/11 Launchpad
Phantom Lake: I respect Dick Dale and all that but he’s never been top of my list. In fact no surf band has ever received that dubious honor (the Surfaris come close because of the cheese factor). But after seeing only two shows, Phantom Lake is my favorite surf band ever partly because they allow all their talented members to showcase their reverb chops besides their individual weirdness. Bud’s leads especially veer into uncharted tsunami waters. Great stuff tonight despite a couple of early missed cues but ya can’t get in the tube at every try, right?
Black Maria: two words – skullfuck rock.
Teenage Werewolves: Due to a warp in my space-time continuum I’ve never listened to the Cramps much so I can enjoy the Wolves on their own merits which are estimable. Not sure why anyone would try to launch such a cover band in Albuquerque ‘cause I’m guessing they’d draw bigger crowds in bigger cities but no matter. There’s more trashy garage bands in town than in many a year and that makes me idiotically happy.
NEW PORNOGRAPHERS, MENOMENA 4/14/11 Sunshine Theater
I used to think that Mister Mister opening for Tina Turner in 1986 was the worst thing I’d ever seen. Portland’s Menomena proved me wrong.
Take the most vile band you recall from the days of “alternative rock” (Sponge? Ned’s Atomic Dustbin? ), slash the talent by three quarters and you’d still have something a cut above this useless outfit. Apparently Menomena have been around awhile but only god knows why. I really hope it was the tour management company that picked this band and not the New Pornographers themselves. If A.C. Newman likes these guys it would seriously erode my respect for him on all counts.
Half the time three of the four band members just held their instruments rather than playing them. The true crime was leadsingerdude just holding that luscious looking baritone sax between a few misplaced skronks. The drummer was the only one working the entire time and even that was nothing to write home about because the songs (I’m using that word generously here) meandered in the same half-time tempo throughout and went exactly nowhere . An utter waste of time and now with this review an utter waste of paper.
The New Pornographers on the other hand became an all-time favorite of mine when in 2000 when I wandered into the Middle East in Boston to hear them on the strength of the “featuring Neko Case” blurb in the paper. That was their first US tour (they’re a sort of Canadian supergroup culled from the best of that country’s indie scene of the 90s). Never has one band been able to pack as many catchy hooks into one song and still keep it engaging. Over the years they’ve cut back on the frenetically overstuffed structure which has only strengthened the compositions.
Case’s robust voice is always a treat. She still manages to draw the crowd since she has the biggest name out of the group but since her killer 1997 twang-filled The Virginian she’s gone for downtempo releases --moving perhaps into a more artistic vein but decidedly less varied. Simply put, she rarely punches it out that like that as a solo act anymore. Her voice is as strong as ever and Case has mastered control of it but aside from her voice, her solo work seems to me somewhat lackluster anymore.
I’ve heard of people who decline to see the Pornographers when she isn’t touring with them. There’s no doubt her pipes add a lot to the band but sorry, folks, she isn’t the star here and has little to do with the Pornographers’ songwriting.
Frontman A.C . (ex -Zumpano, ex -Superconductor) is a genius both in melody and lyrics. He’s got the pop sensibility of a McCartney and the downtrodden woe-is-us lyrical outlook of a Lennon but almost always with an upbeat tempo and a little crunch. Throw in the hooks of three Brian Wilsons and you’ll only scratch the surface of Newman’s depth and breadth.
It might be heresy to some but I’d much rather see the New Pornographers Neko Case-less than sans Dan Bejar (Destroyer, Swan Lake). He’s an extra treat like a cool free toy buried in a box of sugary sweet cereal . With a thin spidery voice and cryptic lyrics, Bejar fronts his own few songs on each of the band’s releases. He also plays a small role on tour where he’s gone half the time until his numbers come up. I wouldn’t call him exactly equal to Newman but he comes close in his own way. So it was sad that Bejar was absent this leg of the tour. On stage and on CD his work provides a respite from Newman’s (which can just knock the wind out of you with its brilliance).
Less than stellar sound hurts an outfit like the New Pornographers because there are so many subtle (and dare I say delicate) changes, nuances and perspectives in the songs that if you’ve never heard the band before you may have no idea what all the shouting is about. Sadly, the Sunshine will never win any awards for sonic excellence. Since I’ve played all their CDs to death, I ably filled in the blanks and sonic blurs in my head. Overall however it was a fantastic set and leaned more towards their rockin’ numbers.
As for that opening act, someone ought to put them out of
their our misery. “They shoot horses don’t they?”
the GATHERERS 4/21/11 Launchpad
The penultimate Gatherers show with Leigh. The band may continue in some form or another but with Nathan and James heading off to Canada to avoid the draft --oops I mean--to farm (and presumably chase farmers’ daughters) who knows what will happen next. This was actually the re-scheduled Octopus Project show and despite the hefty cover I bailed soon after the Gatherers set, feeling un poco triste over my favorite local electro band winding down. It was a good set but lacked the punch I’d expected, maybe in part due to the sound. I was looking forward to hearing this band through the ‘pad’s stacks but despite the soundguy’s best intentions, something was lacking. A band with lots of changes and subtlety gets lost in a larger room and that is what sort of happened here. But I still got my money’s worth ‘cause I love them so much.
MONSTER PAWS Launchpad
the GATHERERS Outer Space
A dizzying night of club/venue hopping from an all-ages venue to a members-only gay club and everywhere in between courtesy of my fabulous escort Miss Rita, the unstoppable Dancing Queen.
Outer Space is a new (to me) all-ages spot about as big as a king-size broom closet complete with freshly tagged walls still reeking of spray paint. Huffing those fumes, washing ‘em down with PBR while shaking butts cheek to cheek with perfumed girls & sweaty shirtless boys only added to the altered state of olfactory consciousness.
But this gig was not be missed as it was the Gatherers’ final show with Leigh who is moving on to other musical endeavor. Although short and sweet (the set I mean although it applies to Leigh as well ), it rocked, it wailed, it popped like a box of Cracker Jacks. In other words, decidedly one of the best Gatherers sets ever.
In our mad dashes for cabs and social obligations we missed the other acts playing here including the unfortunate Vacation Dad whose van got emptied the night before of thousands of dollars of equipment and personal possessions. Welcome to Albuquerque.
The Alibi Spring Social at the ‘pad was in full zoological effect, packed with all kinds of scenesters, club-goers, dancers and hangers-on. Multi-colored balloons, streamers and myriad flavors of Ecco gelato were every damn place and when combined with the party atmosphere it was like sloshing around in the stomach of a ninth grader who just ate a family size pack of skittles before downing a couple of dad’s beers snuck out of the fridge on a school night .
Although I hadn’t heard them yet, I’d heard a bazillion good things about Monster Paws featuring Nate Santa Maria (Oktober People/Excalico), Isaac Kappy (ex-Prime Certified) and Mario Rivera (Left Unsaid, Your Name in Lights). I wasn’t steered wrong. For only being around a few months, the Paws have a legion of fans singing along like thirteen year old girls lip syncing to Miley Cyrus in their bedrooms, hairbrush “microphone” in hand. A mix of beats, hooks, f/x and hips & hops, I couldn’t help but dance along with the crowd.
I also couldn’t help comparing the two acts I saw tonight. Both start with dance beats. The Gatherers take these to a higher realm of electro-pop while Monster Paws keeps piling on more layers of catchy beats and audio tricks. Although appearing at first to be lightweight, Monster Paws takes what they do seriously even they’re goofing around alot. Though its more complicated than a first listen would suggest, their stuff is like candy-coated candy. In other words, I’ll go listen live and dance along with the Monster Paws fan club for fun but it’s not something I’d press “play” on much on at home. On the other hand, the Gatherers bear repeated and serious listening on my stereo.
BEKE DRAGOSTE, SLIK 50 5/13/11 Cellar Door
This is a cheater review because I only watched a few numbers from Beke Dragoste and barely overheard Slik 50 while waiting in line with a friend for a $13 tattoo (hers, not mine. I stopped drawing on myself when I was six ). This was part of the Nob Hill Underground Merchants Association Friday the Thirteenth block party featuring all things thirteen: 13% sales, thirteen dollar specials, etcetera.
Beke Dragoste plays psycho-gypsy somewhat in the vein of Gogol Bordello but a little more punky and a bit too much like a novelty act. From what I could see, they looked like a trio of local guys with big moustaches making lame vodka jokes. Slik 50 were good ol’ dependable rockabilly but I’m waiting to say more until I see them at the Press Club monthly ‘billy night.
the ELEVATOR BOYS 5/14/11 Blackbird Buvette
I suck for missing the Elevator Boys’ debut and Pablo’s cumpleaños bash but I was birthday-ed out. I started in the South Valley in the early afternoon at a three year old’s party complete with a castle jumper-thing, cotton candy machine, eleven trays of homemade enchiladas, refritos, Spanish rice y mas and the family WBA Featherweight boxing champ bringing out his dad’s horses for the kids. At seven o’ clock it was off to Music-Go-Round Dave’s big 4-0 where the Jameson was flowing freely. By nine I realized I wasn’t gonna make it to the Blackbird but later got this stellar report on the show from Miss Meanette:
“ I’d rather put cigarettes out in my eyes than admit how good it was.”
FIVE STAR MOTELLES, the GLASS MENAGERIES, JULIE D. 5/19/11 Launchpad
Another Thursday Night Girlfight at the ‘pad. No it’s not locas with razor blades stashed in their hair or burley-Q gals slashing fishnets with sharp red nails. Neither is it Battle of the Bands crap, just good music fronted by femmes.
Armed with an acoustic guitar Julie D. (sister of Motelles’ keyboardist Nastia Von Bonbon) played some low key covers and an original or two, sounding like half of the Indigo Girls.
It’s always a toss-up how a “quiet” subtle band -- like the Glass Menageries -- will sound amped up on the Launchpad stage. Sometimes its brilliant, sometimes it’s merely good. Tonight was very good but I missed the nuances of Mauro’s and Gena’s pleasing voices. That’s not to say their vocals are too delicate to withstand amplification. They sounded mighty fine. I shouldn’t complain ‘cause this set showed the Menageries can rock it and gave ace drummer Christian a chance to slam without drowning anyone out. As well, Brahm’s basslines got a chance to spread out and reverberate off the brick walls. New Menagerist Harry added lots of unobtrusive flourishes on electric guitar that were quite agreeable. No up the neck bullshit, just well-placed accentuation. Keep an eye on this band. They’re good.
The Five Star Motelles were in killer form tonight, just extra hunky dory. Besides the Detroit Cobras this is the only cover band I adore. I used to think I loved these ladies ‘cause of the classic girl group songs. That’s partly true because I know that stuff inside and out but I finally snapped that the real star of the show is their vocal prowess. They really belted ‘em out tonight. They’re a vox powerhouse, from robust to raucous to sweet to (p)operatic depending on which Von Bonbon is at the mic. The crowd was appreciative, comprised of all kinds of people: various friends & well-wishers, Mauro’s kindergarten buddy, total strangers and a few old men dancing around in front of the stage.
The best musical news tonight was from the
classy sassy Coco Von Bonbon who told me the Motelles are working on -- and I quote -- a shit-ton of originals. Woo-hoo!
DEATH CONVENTION SINGERS “DRUM GRID” 5/21/11 Nob Hill
I didn’t actually attend but on my way to the library and food co-op I passed someone with a drum or two every block in all directions. In honor of the rapture (are we there yet? ) Death Convention was doing a sort of call-and-response thing in sequence from one drummer to the next. Not a hippie drum circle (thank ghod) but more like “natives” communicating by beating on hollow logs like in old Bugs Bunny cartoons. Packing my box of groceries into the truck it was kinda cool to hear advancing and receding beats echoing through the hood portending …something.
the GATHERERS, CANYONLANDS, CLOUD LANTERN 5/21/11 Burt’s
Only caught the very beginning of Cloud Lantern and the very end of Canyonlands because me and my “lovely wife” (nevermind, it’s a long story) went around the corner for a pint and got lost in conversation, family stories and making fun of everyone in our path.
Cloud Lantern didn’t really grab me, it just seemed a little too busy up there. Canyonlands was building up to the raucous blowout ending complete with two drummers but I missed the preliminaries so I’m downloading the free release right now so I can hear what I missed.
I can’t recall how many “last shows” I’ve seen or heard about from Small Flightless Birds. Since there’s a flock of them in the Gatherers I’m not taking any bets on this being the absolute final never-again one. But I was taking no chances. It was the first sans Leigh (¡que triste! ) but James soloed like a boss, turning up the vocal knobs to “robotic”. My sole grievance is that it was a short set. Hell, they could play for an hour and a half and I’d still feel the same way.
KIMO, JIM PHILLIPS 5/29/11 Blackbird Buvette
Awake, showered and shaved by eleven a.m. On a weekend? Unheard of ! But this was a special brunchy occasion: some original acoustic music at the Buvette by some talented people. Mr Jim Phillips is one of my favorite local songwriters and hearing his stuff stripped down sans Lousy Robot is an extracurricular pleasure. And Kimo’s powerful and satisfying voice never fails to knock socks off although she may’ve been disappointed since she kept asking for a shirtless audience. There was no drunken nakedness. It was only 1pm on a Sunday after all. Since all I managed to down before I left the house was toast, the random slice of someone’s birthday cake hit the spot despite the electric blue frosting. Sadly I rolled out before Ben Woods’ set since I had a couple more social engagements that didn’t end until midnight. That’s earlier than normal but twelve hours of daylight to midnight festivities were enough for this viejo.
the DEADTOWN LOVERS, WOODS OF YPRES 5/30/11 Burt’s
Two bands on the bill, as different as an Icelandic midnight ice storm and an afternoon boozey rocknroll party in a musty garage.
Woods of Ypres was billed as some sort of Scandinavian black metal. Umm, come again? I’ve always pictured Nordic heshers as a bunch of bare-chested Vikings with guitars made from bear skeletons & wolf sinew and a drummer wielding bloody reindeer haunches instead of sticks whilst growling lyrics about glorious death in battle as a prelude to tankards of mead soon to come in Valhalla, served by lusty Valkryies. These guys from Ontario were much nicer (no pillaging, raping or smiting) and even had melody lurking beneath the rock. Metal has never held any appeal for me on any level (unless one counts crustcore which I like for some reason, especially those Roñoso guys) but I liked this band more than expected.
Too sad about their pals who drove all the way from freakin’ Farmington and were denied entrance because they had those vertical I.D.’s despite the fact they were all over twenty-one. I have no idea what the problem is there but I expect it can be laid at the feet of our city fathers’ downtown vendetta. I’ve seen underage girls with laughably inept fakes still warm from Kinkos’ copy machines admitted to bars so I must be missing something here.
Anyway the Farmington contingent didn’t raise any ruckus but stood on the sidewalk at the window, head-banging and fist-pumping their heroes on. More than once, Woods of Ypres were gentlemanly enough to turn and play towards their road weary buddies who responded with vigorous cheers. Those hairy guys out front and their sheer enjoyment were in fact my favorite part of the set.
As Pablo Novelas observed it was like Abba up there when the Deadtown Lovers took the stage. No, not musically but because two couples make up this new quartet. Seeing them in prom attire watching the metal band was poetically beautiful.
I’ve known all these folks for a long time but would’ve enjoyed the set even minus the nepotism factor. Years ago (along with ‘burque ex-pat Zac of the Foxx) Deadtown’s Soni (choppy guitar; ex-Phase) and Lincoln (thumpy bass; ex-Wheelers) were kind enough to adopt an old man and make sure I heard what the fuck was worth hearing after I’d missed punk while raising kids and acres of vegetables. They were liberty-spiked and leather-jacketed college sophomores and I was a recovering hippie, wide-eyed and taking it all in like a rock and roll ShamWow.
I’ve only recently really met drummer Mary but saw her back in those same days as a horn player for ska goofballs Three Ball Combo at places like the UNM Fiestas when the organizers still had presence of mind to offer keg beer. It was good to see her on stage for the first time in fifteen years.
My man mixmaster Rudi (Clocklife) played some of the loveliest and most unobtrusive guitar I’ve heard since Mike left the now disbanded Mindy Set. I knew the man could ably spin, mix and slice & dice his way around soundboards, keyboards and all manner of inscrutable little black boxes but had never heard him sling an axe before. I think he’s the Lovers’ secret weapon.
All four share vocals and none are what you’d call golden-throated but in the scheme of things -- a mix of garage and old school (read: intelligent) punk with selected covers of bands like Wire -- it works just fine.
It was a pretty good toe-tappin’ debut show despite the low attendance on a Monday night. I want second helpings but will have to be patient as Soni & Rudi are traipsing all over Europe at present, spending the big bucks that we all know schoolteachers rake in by the fistful.
GUITAR WOLF, CHEAP TIME, the SCRAMS 6/1/11 Launchpad
American-influenced rockn'roll bands from Japan get it. They get the essence of a frenzied and frenetic sonic wail awash in feedback and Budweiser, drenched in sweat and secretions. Guitar Wolf’s aural assault so distorted and fuzzed that the soundboard meter needle has jumped past the red and onto another plane of ultraviolet color entirely is barely even a punk attitude but one of rip it up, trash it out and blow the stateside rocknroll “revival” bands right outta the water like it was Pearl Harbor all over again.
The Guitar Wolf himself, Seiji, hammers his guitar into submission like Chuck Berry meets Joan Jett (his hero). He garners most of the attention but Guitar Wolf is a band. Toru (Drum Wolf ) drives them relentlessly. “New” member (since 2005) U.G. capably took over after the untimely death of Billy, the original Bass Wolf.
Their first Launchpad show in about a decade, the Wolf didn’t do anything new or break any ground. Who gives a shit. They could play the same damn stuff for the next ten years and still smoke any American rocker, punk or metal.
I haven’t seen so many smiles at a show in forever. The highly anticipated GW set piece is when Seiji pulls someone at random from the crowd and hands over his guitar for one song, regardless of the capability or interest of the victim. The guy that was sacrificed tonight seem to sorta know his way around a guitar but was haplessly about three and a half steps behind as Seiji tried to instruct him. A fun time was had by all.
Toward set’s end Seiji dragged ten or so people onstage and made them form a human pyramid, a second stage on which he could climb while singing his lungs out. The construction didn’t last long and tumbled into a tangled heap of arms, legs and torsos that next day I’m sure were covered with blacks, blues and every color of minor body injury there is.
Openers included Nashville, Tennessee’s raw power pop heroes Cheap Time, highly recommended by none other than the late Jay Reatard. Cheap Time were pretty good if a bit restrained compared to the rest of the night but I won’t apologize for enjoying our homeboys more. The Scrams don’t let finesse get in the way of the music. They also “get it”.
One of my prayers went unanswered tonight since Kenta Henmi wasn’t the guy to which Seiji handed his guitar . Henmi does a great job bassing it up in the Scrams but I can’t help but feel it’s a tiny bit of a waste as he is the purest rocknroll guitar player in this town.