Friday, November 8, 2013

Following Cults

Pick a review of Cults , any review, and you’ll find references to Girl Groups and walls of sound. Umm…no. Comments like that tell me that the reviewer has given only a cursory listen to, oh, fifteen second clips on Last FM. The craft (let’s not say art please) of music crit has taken a nose dive. A few clicks avails a cursory listen to any music, any artist. Since there’s no longer any real time invested in digging through brick and mortar stores or mail ordering rare B-sides from obscure European P.O. boxes,  it’s become simple -- almost de rigueur -- to flit from song to song, site to site. It’s the modern equivalent of channel surfing. If you don’t like the first half minute of a song or --even worse-- you think you know just where it’s heading from hearing a brief intro, you may as well stick to posting reviews at bastions of critical expertise, like maybe Amazon.
Sure there’s a relation to the Girl Group sound but it’s the same influence that informed the Phil Spectors and Shadow Mortons: post-fifties pop when only a few shredded vestiges of doo wop lingered. Cults could just as easily garner comparison to ABBA, The Jesus & Mary Chain and, sadly, a little bit of Fleetwood Mac. I realize it’s hip to love Fleetwood Mac nowadays but please remember that -- to quote John Huston in the  Polanski classic Chinatown  -- Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

It may sound like I’m working up to a slag on Cults. Far from it. From Manhattan (not Brooklyn as they are quick to point out) Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion might have gathered their influences purposefully but I’m thinking it’s more a sort of music culture osmosis. For example, Molly Hamilton of  Widowspeak says she’d never heard Mazzy Star until every music critic hauled out that (quite accurate) comparison.

With two releases under their belts, Cults’ music has an interesting range even within a somewhat narrow confine.  There’s a galloping pop sound heading towards Raveonettes territory in “Abducted”. “Bad Things” sounds like stripped down ABBA. An up-to-date Little Peggy March on a psychoanalyst’s couch in “You Know What IMean” or an echo of The pre-hit Shirelles with “Go Outside”. In “High Road” there’s  even a little smooth funk, like Gamble & Huff mellowed into an opiated pre-Madonna on the dancefloor. What I’m getting at with all these odd comparisons is that we listeners can read any of our  influences into what we hear. If it’s a happy comparison so much the better, the hell with the critics (your narrator included).

Much of Cults’ work is simultaneously bass heavy and treble heavy. I’m curious if the band can reproduce its heavily-processed sound faithfully onstage but since the music industry has been steadily heading away from actual musical instruments towards sample-driven touch-of -a-button production,  I’m betting there will be few if any sonic issues. 

Opening is Mood Rings whose “Year of Dreams” evokes a Girl Group lonelyhearts sound far more than any Cults composition.  They also head straight for the gut with driving static reverb in songs like “Washer”, bookended by breathy and languid shoegaze. Also on the bill, SAACO goes for a fuller sound, sort of ambient dark psych with a big backbeat.

Cults, SACCO, Mood Rings
Friday  November 8, 2013
Launchpad 618 central SE
Doors 8pm  $17.00 All-ages ( 13+)

this originally appeared in slightly different form in Weekly Alibi 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Return of the 5 Star Motelles

I hate cover bands. Or more accurately, I hate the demand for cover bands, the unimaginative audience that is only too happy to hear a ubiquitous song covered by some anonymous bar band, a song that they just heard on the radio while parking the car outside the club. Then there are Tribute Bands whose whole shtick is recreate bands that usually aren’t that great to begin with ( AC/DC, Def Leppard) or to pander to aging fans (Beatles, Ramones ). These are  musicians with failed careers who justify their existence by mistaking simpleton fans’ misplaced worship for appreciation of their own miserable talent. Did you know that there’s even a Guided By Voices tribute band?  For god’s sake, let Robert Pollard drink himself to death in peace!

Of course like any opinionated bastard, I make exceptions based on whim and my own skewed code of ethics. There are two cover bands I adore. First, the Detroit Cobras who play trashy  and many times improved (sacrilege!) covers of  obscure ‘60s R&B. Their success is in completely making the songs their own and not slavish recreation. And second, from right here in the Dirt City  it’s the fabulous Five Star Motelles, harmonizing on scads of 60s Girl Group chart-toppers. I’ve been wanting to profile the band in these pages since their 2009 inception but it was always shot down as a conflict of interest since half of the group were then Alibi personnel. That’s no longer the case so I am now finally free to gush with impunity. 

It’s said that you never really outgrow the music you loved in your formative years. Most Motelles shows, it’s a safe bet I’m the only one in the room who was alive when their repertoire was originally on the charts and all over the radio. The Crystals’  Then He Kissed Me and Da Doo Ron Ron , both penned in 1963 by Phil Spector and Brill Building trailblazers Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich. Money (That’s What I Want) co-written in 1960 by Motown Records founder Berry Gordy for singer Barrett Strong. “Unchained Melody” was originally recorded in 1955 but  became a hit ten years later when Spector produced the definitive Righteous Brothers version. Eighteen year old Leslie Gore’s You Don’t Own Me from 1964. Never gals to be in rut, the Motelles also offer a few fine originals, a Depeche Mode hit and a  stellar version of The Passenger that has just as much in common with Siouxsie’s cover as Iggy Pop’s original. A cover of a cover? The mind boggles. 

Please don’t call any of the old girl group stuff doo-wop because it isn’t. Culturally, every decade’s pop sensibilities take a few years to completely slough off the previous ten years’ worth. The girl group was no exception, what with a few shang-a-lang’s and shoop --shoop’s thrown into the mix  but  for authentic doo wop (which originated as vocals only on the Black and Puerto Rican street corners of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens), check out the 1950s’ Penguins, Five Satins or Del Vikings.

Producers like Spector, Shadow Morton and Leiber & Stoller embellished their hits with symphonic layers of voices, instrumentation and sound effects. This meant that onstage the Ronettes or Shangri-La’s or the Dixie Cups never had a live band but sang along to an instrumental track. The Motelles replace those luxuriant sonic layers with a five -piece pop combo . In their capable hands (and voices), the heart  and foundation   -- the lyrics and melody -- of the originals are front and center. It’s a testament to the Brill writers that their songs still shine without the ten or fifteen studio musicians of the original sessions.  It’s also a testament to the Motelles that they can pull off these sometimes weary chestnuts without a hint of irony. They’re darn good pop songs that stand the test of time, played by a multitalented and fun band.

The five stars of the Five Stars are the lovely and talented von Bonbon sisters who all share vocals. On electric guitar , the coquettish Coco von Bonbon (Laura Marrich: The Gracchi, Up The Holler ) who, with her fancy fingernails, shreds the strings and possibly your face if you misbehave. The multifarious Muffin von Bonbon (Mauro Woody: Lady Uranium and Glass Menageries ) handily works both acoustic and electric guitars. Frolicsome Frau von Bonbon (Gio Anderson: Hit By A Bus) keeps a frisky  back beat . The giocoso Gigi von Bonbon (Marisa De Marco; Ya Ya Boom, Bigawatt) thumps the bottom end on bass and her deep vocals. And the nimble Nastia von Bonbon (black belt babe Amy Dalness) tickles the keys and your fancy. They’re a vox powerhouse, from robust to raucous, from sweet to (p)operatic depending on which Von Bonbon is at  the mic. To add to the fun, the ladies vary their not-inconsiderable wardrobe and wiggage from gig to gig. One show, the theme could be juvenile delinquents strutting down these mean streets with razor blades in their hair, another it might be  sweet –sixteen party girls at Carrie-stage meltdown.

Due to maternity, crusading journalism, commitments to other bands and stunt-womaning, they rarely gig these days so you best see the show when you have a chance and that means this coming Tuesday at Low Spirits. Please plan on stopping at The 5 Star Motelles. No need to call ahead for reservations.  There will be metaphorical fluffy clean linen and a tasty mint on your pillow.

Headlining is spaghetti-western psychedelia of Spindrift. Also on deck are the Klondykes,  a new local act self-described as “all-girl psych surf rock dance freak out!” To which I’d add “with maybe a hint of riot grrrl.”

this originally appeared in the Weekly Alibi in a slightly different form

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Friday, Saturday , Sunday ;  June 7- 9th, 2013
Tucumcari Convention Center, Lizard Lounge, Tri Star Lounge and Highway 66 itself in


With all of the events planned for the inaugural Rockabilly on the Route weekender (the Classic Car Show & Burn Out, Gilded Cage Burlesk, Miss Rockabilly Route 66 Pin-Up Contest, Gospel Brunch Bowling and more, bracketed with plenty tats and enough pomade to start a grease fire) it may seem a shame to focus on the music here. But that’s no more outré than capital-R Rockabilly itself . Seen from the outside, it may seem an unlikely holdover from the early days of rock and roll but there have always been Rockabilly holdouts, just as there have always been Doo-Wop holdouts or Rocker holdouts (eg. the infamous Mods Vs Rockers debacle of early Swinging London).

A celebration of those holdouts, Rockabilly on the Route has been in the works since last November according to Miss Loca Linda (editrix of La Loca Magazine), one of the event organizers who has been working with the local Chamber of Commerce,  the Wheels on 66 Rally and the New Mexico Route 66 Association Motor Tour. Proceeds from the weekender benefit Tucumcari’s  under-construction New Mexico Route 66 Museum.

More than any other rock genre, Rockabilly has retained a strong take on fashion,  form and old fashioned values. Don’t misunderstand. Rockabilly is not just appearance. The music is the heartbeat, the centerpiece over which the rest of the culture is draped. Witness the couples at any Rockabilly show swinging each other all over the floor or the cats standing by the stage carefully assessing the vintage amps.

Which brings us back to the Saturday night headliner of Rockabilly on the Route, the fabulous Miss Wanda Jackson. First things first. She was not just a “ female Elvis” ( as Jackson and her contemporary , the great Janis Martin were often billed). Presley may have introduced Rockabilly to the masses but don’t forget he took most of those masses right along to Vegas with him while Jackson stayed true to her country roots. Some of her earliest mid-fifties recordings  were straight up country at a time when the genre was moving well away from front porch picking to the more urban concerns of a swiftly modernizing countryside. Like Patsy Cline, in the hands of record producers who believed that “Girls don’t sell records” , Jackson was often saddled with maudlin weepers, strings and pop choruses behind her.

It wasn’t long though before songs with a heavy bass backbeat and Jackson’s  growling lioness voice and glamorous fashion sense (spiked heels, bangle earrings, tight-fitting midriff- baring dresses) made her stand out from the conservative Country & Western crowd. A select group of top sidemen didn’t hurt either: pianist Big Al Downing, pedal steel player Ralph Mooney and guitarist Vernon Sandusky.

Although often called The First Lady of Rockabilly, Jackson’s later country career was much more successful and lucrative, capped by a turning toward Christianity that produced some wonderful but lesser known gospel recordings. Jackson in fact has always been uncomfortable with the rock lifestyle,  saying in 1987, “I got thrown into the rock and roll scene and I didn’t understand these people. I was just country folk, you know?”

But don’t fret. Jackson is still known for playing the full range of her material and it’s a goldmine with over fifty years worth of recordings. And yes I know what you’re thinking: can a 76 year old performer still deliver onstage? Trust me. Unlike many “oldies” acts that tour the lucrative but embarrassing casino circuit, Miss Jackson has taken care of her voice and health and still knows how to perform. There’s nary another in her age bracket that can boast the same.




Of notable bands on the bill --including the all-fem Danger Cakes (Austin TX  ) or The Chop Tops (Santa Cruz, CA) -- we’re happy to see a couple of Albuquerque’s newest rockabilly  acts. Mr Right and The Leftovers veer toward the punk side of the scale while the formidable Shadowmen are deep on the trad end.

The Shadowmen win my curmudgeonly heart with statements like , “ [The ’ 50s ] studio musicians that never got any recognition for their hard work is who we really cherish!” Nowhere is that more evident than in the masterful guitar playing of Shadowman Tom Sanderson (Hi-Lo Tones, ex -Long Gone Trio). Recognized throughout the national rockabilly scene, his playing is pure class. There’s never a missed note or wasted movement. Sanderson is all about musical economy, placing each lick exactly where it needs to be and for exactly the right reason and for exactly the right duration. No more and no less. Keep your eyes but especially your ears on him.
The Line up:

Wanda Jackson
The Chop Tops

Danger Cakes

The Shadowmen

Mr Right & The Leftovers


 this orignally appeared in Weekly Alibi in slighty a different format

Thursday, May 9, 2013

captain america's GARAGE & WAX NIGHT VII

 the return of the Impatients! 
( voted drunkest band alive in 1996 by Rebel Radio)
pump n' roll with Pumpin'For Jill
smooth rock n' billy of The Hi -Lo Tones
spins by DJ Bea and the Huron Valley Listening Club 

2823 2nd Street Northwest

Albuquerque, NM 

 Doors 8pm


Schwervon !

The Blackout Disciples

Get Action


Wednesday May 15th
Blackbird Buvette
509 Central NW

Albuquerque , New Mexico
no cover

It’s that time of year: the Blackbird is serving up an inaugural springtime rock and roll bash. On the back porch, “stage” is a euphemism ‘cause it’s barely bigger than a king-size bed. It’s pretty cramped back there but with great loud music bouncing off the high brick walls it’s as close as you can get to a DIY basement show and still have drinks served to you.

This show is a hell of a who’s who of the best of the ‘Burque’s garage rockers who are still standing ( i.e. no overdoses or wheelchairs). Local drum legend Joe Bolt is debuting The Blackout Disciples, dark and dirty rock n’ roll minus any silly evil posturing. Joining him are a couple’ other Dirty Novels alums -- Dandee Fleming and Brian Keith -- and  Demarcus  Sumter (St. Petersburg)  Billy Miles Brooke (Pan!c, Tragic Romance) and Ben Woods (Lousy Robot, Porter Draw). The punk n’ roll outfit Get Action (formerly Riley Switch) features Bad Boy Bill Bunting (Ten Seconds to Liftoff), Scott Brown (Song Thing) and Ashley Floyd and Jeff Jones (both ex -Gracchi). Newcomers Hoverbourd tag themselves as surf -indie –dance- rock. Works for me, especially with a horn thrown into the mix.

                                                                                                                            photo by by Trevor Highres

Despite all the local talent I’m most excited about Schwervon! from Shawnee, Kansas by way of New York City (it’s complicated). Now in their thirteenth year, guitarist Major Matt Mason and drummer Nan Turner’s music ranges from sweet jangle pop to an ear shattering racket,  what they call “an expression of imperfect love through jagged rock minimalism.” Despite a tongue often firmly planted in cheek, the pair’s feet are always firmly planted on the ground, musically speaking. Make sure you keep a few bucks stashed in your wallet to pick up Schwervon! merch including the brilliant new CD/LP Courage and 2009’s sweet and lilting Low Blow.

this appeared originally on The Weekly Alibi in a slighty different form

Friday, May 3, 2013


Friday  MAY 3, 2013

2823 2nd Street Northwest
Albuquerque , NM
doors 8pm

No, I’m not going there. Sad Baby Wolf has garnered a lot of ink because two of its members were in the most successful band to come out of the ‘burque but this doesn’t mean they should be forever defined by that.

And yet, Sad Baby Wolf’s premiere LP Electric Sounds does remind me of guitarists Marty Crandall’s and Neal Langford’s earlier band, one that garnered acclaim and made its mark on the scene. Okay. I’ll say it once and once only. Flake. Flake had many of the pop sensibilities of that… other.. band but also was a product of its time.

Also known as Flake Music -- depending on whether one heard them in 1993 or 1997 -- Flake dispensed with the trashy punk aesthetic of local contemporaries like Scared of Chaka and helped usher in what we then called emo. In those days emo didn’t mean your sad bastard whining or the über-sensitive suicide fodder of your Elliot Smiths. We used it (somewhat disparagingly I’ll admit) to denote a musical style more than a subject matter. Lots of minor chords, turn-on-a-dime changes from soft to loud and back again and emotive vocals that were not snarled à la The Drags but could be every bit as biting. On the national stage, bands like Samiam and Discount brought emo wide recognition although its fans took offense at that label. By 2000, the “punk” revival was dead and emo --or whatever you want to call it -- was the predominant form, barely edging out math rock . Many of us had had enough and local glam aficionado Zed Stardust famously threatened to publicly hang himself from the decrepit heater hanging over the Golden West stage if yet another touring emo band showed up.  

Still, there were a few local outfits that did justice to the form. For my money, Pilot To Bombardier was at the top of that heap. Consider this a cheap foreshadowing trick of a cheaper journalist but its noteworthy that Sad Baby Wolf’s bassist Sean McCullough was their guitar slinger. McCullough was armed with an heroic array of pedals, the most I’d ever seen (a feature he later brought with him to The Oktober People). Concurrently , third Sad Baby Wolf guitarist Jason Ward was rocking local stages with with Starsky’s workingman’s-core indie rock.

So here we are a decade and half on and Sad Baby Wolf is cited as being influenced by everyone from  Arcade Fire to Promise Ring when in fact they’ve been in on the deal from the get go. My memory of those days is a bit dim but there were shared stages and bills between any number of bands boasting Crandall, Ward, McCullough and Langford. A bit later, drummer Maury Crandall made his mark with his wife Connie in the fine and powerful pop of Giranimals who are sorely missed but are valiantly raising a brood of Cowsill-like musically knowledgeable kids.

Competing some sort of circle, Sad Baby Wolf is hosting their official Electric Sounds release show at Low Spirits,  owned by Starsky-alum Joe Anderson. Featuring Marty’s and Neal’s vocals, this limited pressing of 300 records (with free download) is not stuck in the past by any means but moves forward with a bit of swirl, a bit of jangle, a bit of pop and a bit of soaring emo when that word meant more than it does now. Capably engineered by McCullough, I hear in it snatches of Pavement and even Pete Townshend but especially  “old” emo’s hallmark: intricate and deliberate progressions, here backed with Maury’s pop-styled drums. And if you think there’s no such thing as pop drums you haven’t been listening. Pay attention to his beats and you’ll see.

No one escapes their past I suppose. But I see no reason to focus on only one past accomplishment when this band has a collective body of work of which to be quite proud. From this point on I hope that Sad Baby Wolf’s worth is measured by their considerable prowess and not by past laurels. If we can do that locally, it can be done in the national press as well.

 Not to dwell on the past but supporting act Edith is particularly intriguing based on  its members’ histories. It is fronted by one of our  most able and earnest songwriters Billy Belmont (Bellemah,  The Bellmont). In a recent five-way Facebook message fest,  he described the band  as “Melodic doom drone rock, A little southerny at times.” Singer/guitar player Ella Brown ( Mother Death Queen, I Is For Ida, Unit 7 Drain) claims “We are Black Maria's illegitimate and unloved step child. The kind of music a shipping dock would make, if it made music.” Bassist Joshua Williams (St. Petersburg, Mindy Set, Mei Long) and drummer Ben Levine ( Lousy Robot, 2bers, A Very Special Lie) kept mostly quiet as Billy and Ella exchanged quips and pointed little love barbs.