ELEVATION & OBSESSION: U2 2001—Fans, Bono, the Elevation Tour, and the Miranda Tapes

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Reflections on what it means to be a U2 fan through thick/thin, disillusionment/reaffirmation, and all that you wind up having to leave behind in the process.


April 29, 1985, Atlanta, Georgia: I’m sitting on a dressing-room sofa, somewhere in the bowels of the Omni coliseum, passing a bottle of red wine back and forth with Bono. A few hours earlier, U2 had flawlessly executed a show on the Unforgettable Fire tour; now, the singer is holding forth animatedly on the nature of fan worship. How he remembers what it felt like to be a devoted follower of Patti Smith, Television, the Ramones, the Beatles, Dylan, Hendrix.

“The thing about being a fan,” Bono says between swigs, “is that when you’re into a band, it can be the most important thing in the world to you. The only thing that matters is when you’re in your room listening to the records, or waiting for the band to come out onstage.”

He goes on to agree with me that, yes, U2’s fame is growing exponentially and, no, he can’t go back and talk with every fan one-on-one like he once did. The after-show crowds now sometimes get so big that all the pushing and jockeying for position to “pick off bits of Bono,” as he puts it, can get dangerous.

Point of fact, however, tonight Bono was out by the loading dock again, chatting, signing autographs, and levying his own smooth brand of crowd control. I mention that it was fun watching the looks on the kids’ faces when they got their turn with him, and —

“Don’t call them kids — they’re young adults,” he interrupts me sternly. “Part of my job is to let them know that they are important to me, to the band — they’re fans, they’re regular people, just like you and me.”

Well, of course Bono was right. And wrong. Fans are regular people. Only Bono’s not; he’s a pop star, and in April ’85 he’s headed on a collision course with superstardom. To date, U2’s albums and tours have celebrated and reaffirmed the notion of musical salvation—the purest expressions of rock ‘n’ roll tent revivalism since Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Revue,” Darkness-era Springsteen, or Patti Smith broadcasting from the Radio Ethiopia jungle.

But if U2 is gonna take us higher every night, sooner or later there’s gotta be a crash. This would come in a few years with the Rattle and Hum album and film, which documented the band going mega during the huge world tour for 1987’s The Joshua Tree. While that album was arguably U2 at its most daring during the first phase of its career, Rattle and Hum proved an artistic and aesthetic misstep, disingenuously aiming to portray U2 as “regular people” who just happened to be staring into the maw of mass adulation. Instead, the band came off as sanctimonious, a group hungrily choosing to embrace that adulation just as surely as a televangelist covets his lucre. And if U2’s subsequent so-called self-reinvention in the ’90s resulted in at least one artistic masterpiece (Achtung Baby), it also yielded, claims to irony be damned, an unprecedented amount of bloated, giant lemon excess (the Pop Mart tour).

Sonofabitch. These guys were humans, not gods, after all. Sometimes folks can walk on water, but sometimes they have feet of clay.

At any rate, after the Atlanta concert I wrote up the show and my interview with Bono for U2/USA, the unofficial U2 fanzine I published and co-edited at the time. One of the first American U2 ‘zines, we were well-regarded throughout the decade by fans and the inner ranks of U2 themselves, who routinely granted us interviews and full-access passes whenever the band toured the States. But soon enough I, too, would have my own strange crisis of faith as a result of U2’s massive fame and the Rattle and Hum debacle, eventually concluding that the tent had been dismantled and packed away.

Fast forward to 2000. The Decade of Irony has given way to the New Millennium, and with it brings a new U2 album. All That You Can’t Leave Behind is neither a return-to-’80s-roots album, although it displays a telltale “U2ish” airy ambiance and economy of movement, nor a disavowal of U2’s ’90s dalliance with dance music, despite the tasteful deployment of electronics throughout. The pervasive vibe is a sonically spare, emotionally fluent soulfulness, from the inner-strength anthemism of “Walk On” to the falsetto-flecked love ballad “In a Little While” to the Sly Stone-ish psychedelic funk that drives “Elevation.” Bono himself pointed out, in a SonicNet interview, that while in the recent past bigger may have meant better for U2 (particularly in the multimedia stage extravaganzas), for now, they just wanna take you higher with song and spirit: “To find something extraordinary within yourself . . . emotionally, we got to a place that was very raw. I think that’s what you can call soul music . . . that place where you reveal rather than conceal.”

A few months later, advance reports on U2’s “Elevation Tour 2001” would corroborate his thesis. America got its first look at the kinder/gentler U2 last December when the group put on an intimate, 75-minute club gig at New York’s Irving Plaza. Broadcast live over the radio, it spotlighted a handful of ATYCLB songs plus some vintage material (in particular a boisterous “I Will Follow” and the totally unexpected chestnut “11:00 Tick Tock”) and a couple of surprising covers (a ballad take of the Ramones’ “I Remember You”; an over-the-top encore with the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”). The band was apparently still charged up a few nights later when it appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Not only did Bono serve up impromptu tributes to John Lennon and the then-hospitalized Joey Ramone, in lieu of having a lighting scaffolding to ascend and teeter from, he bolted maniacally through the studio audience and deep into the backstage area, reviving his old break-down-the-band/audience-barrier work ethic in fine fashion.

The Elevation tour proper kicked off on March 24 and 26 in Fort Lauderdale, quickly moving through the South, then up toward the Northwest and Canada, followed by a sweep down into California and throughout the West. (I’m slated to catch the band in Phoenix.)

For the tour, U2’s stage design is consistent with the themes suggested above, its elongated, heart-shaped runway allowing the band to stroll unencumbered into the middle of the audience (general admission on the floor, with concertgoers both flanking and in the middle of the “heart”) and minimalist lighting motifs (silhouettes upon translucent screens; four black-and-white overhead video panels) ensuring the focus remains squarely on the music. From anthemic readings of ATYCLB tunes — “Elevation” is played in-your-face style, full arena lights blazing; “Beautiful Day” is transcendently psychedelic — to vigorous reprises of old-school classics — “Sunday Bloody Sunday” gets the full, stomping Red Rocks-style treatment; a blazing “Bullet the Blue Sky” finds Bono prowling the stage with a hand-held spotlight, casting beams into the crowd — U2 is willing to risk those return-to-basics accusations if in the process it gets to pitch its tent again and draw the audience inside.

Wrote a New Times reviewer, of the March 26 Fort Lauderdale concert, “This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no laser show. The seasoned musicians conjured the spirit — and social conscience — of rock ‘n’ roll. Call U2’s renewed search for meaning a midlife crisis, but it’s more a symptom of a band that’s found a way to keep making plainspoken, plaintive rock music important — for themselves and for others.”

To date, set lists for the two-hour-plus shows have remained fairly consistent: “Elevation,” “Beautiful Day,” “Until the End of the World,” “New Year’s Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Gone,” “Discotheque”/”Staring at the Sun,” “New York,” “I Will Follow,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “The Sweetest Thing,” “In a Little While,” “Desire,” “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” “Bad,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Mysterious Ways,” “The Fly,” (encores) “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “With or Without You,” “Pride,” “One,” “Walk On.” Snippets of covers (Bob Marley, R.E.M., INXS, the Stones, Bowie) also pepper the set, and following Joey Ramone’s death 11 days ago, a tender “I Remember You” began appearing as the next-to-last song.

And it’s likely that other surprises will turn up during the tour. In the current issue of Rolling Stone, Bono notes that the band-audience empathy levels are running high: “The first night we were just kind of floored by the feeling in the room. I woke up after the first night just dreaming of the second night — that has never happened before.”

Flashback to 1988: I abruptly wake up from my own dreams early one morning. On the phone is a female calling long distance, sweet and friendly but with a note of urgency in her voice that I recognize: Over the years, while doing U2/USA, I’ve grown accustomed to taking calls from overly earnest readers desperate for some sense of “contact” with their rock heroes no matter how many steps removed that contact might be. Still, my steadily growing role as a kind of surrogate Bono isn’t my idea of journalism, and U2 essentially turned into the biggest band on the planet last year on the Joshua Tree tour, ensuring that new waves of anxious, and sometimes disturbed, fans will continue to come out of the woodwork.

“I want to play you a tape,” the girl on the phone announces, suggesting that she has some newsworthy information for U2/USA. She sketches out a few preliminaries: It’s taken from the answering machine of a young lady, described as a student and part-time model, from a rich family and attending college in Louisiana, and apparently fond of walking around campus sporting a series of U2 teeshirts. I’m told that on the eight-minute tape I’ll hear a voice, a male professing his devotion to the lady; the voice will be Bono’s.

Wondering if someone’s trying to play a practical joke on ye olde ‘zine editor using edited/doctored interview tapes, I listen closely to the recording.

Well, it’s Bono, that’s for sure; I recognize his distinctive Irish drawl right away. I hastily scratch out notes while listening to the recording. He’s voicing terms of endearment, phrases like “I feel so far away from you,” “I can’t wait to see you,” “When we meet . . .” — general expressions of loneliness and desire, with the occasional aside concerning favorite and recommended books or films.

I’m fascinated, but repelled, too. This isn’t why I started doing U2/USA, which never delved into gossip and personal lives, only the music (well, we did interview The Edge’s mum once). Married or not, Bono’s life at home or on the road is none of my business.

My caller tells me she can let me hear more at our next conversation, and while deliberately vague on certain details (for starters, why and how did she get the tape?), she doesn’t seem like a prankster. There’s a note in her voice that’s part concern, part envy, part look-what-I-discovered. She’s a fan, and this is a matter of sincere importance to her. I tell her I’ll get back to her. But I don’t, nor do I return her subsequent calls.

Not long afterward, I turn over the reins of the magazine to my fellow editors. Rattle and Hum comes out, but it leaves me cold, and besides, my heart’s just not into dealing with U2 fans full-time anymore.

A decade or so later I’m at a newsstand when an article called “The Miranda Obsession” in the December ’99 issue of Vanity Fair stops me cold. It’s a complicated yarn about a woman, supposedly named Miranda Grosvenor, who for about 15 years starting in the late ’70s managed to charm and fascinate some of the pop and film world’s heaviest hitters. Names like Billy Joel. Quincy Jones. Peter Wolf. Bob Dylan. Art Garfunkel. Robert De Niro. Director Paul Schrader. Writer Buck Henry. Super-producer Richard Perry (who fell hard for Miranda). There’s a twist: The woman never actually met her would-be paramours, but instead engaged them in protracted games of phone seduction, somehow keeping them at bay with a mixture of sophistication and intrigue — and the tantalizing suggestion that she was a very rich, very gorgeous young model-student attending Tulane University in New Orleans. Oh, and before she finally dropped out of, um, earshot, “Miranda” (her actual name was Whitney Walton) would also entertain her own friends with tapes of the male voices that crowded her answering machine — long, passionate, often pleading for a face-to-face rendezvous that would never come.

While the U2 vocalist is never mentioned in the Vanity Fair article, I have to wonder: Did I cross paths myself with “Miranda” back during U2/USA days, a girl who dedicated herself to blurring the lines between “fan” and “fantasy” and was able to pluck her own personal “bits of Bono” from the telephone lines? And did I, at the service of some vague code of integrity, unwittingly deep-six a career in celebrity journalism (scandal-sheet division) for myself? Hard to tell; this was long before the age of TMZ.

Of course, had I done the “journalistic” thing back then, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing about rock ‘n’ soul salvation, about crises of faith, and about what it means to be a fan. Upon reflection, I’m pretty happy just to be back under the tent again with U2 and their outstanding new album.

Welcome home, guys — Bono, Edge, Larry, Adam. Look outside, it’s America.


Photo credit: DmolaviOwn work / Via Wikipedia / Photo from the U2 Elevation Tour stop in Philadelphia, PA on 12 June 2001 at the (then) First Union Center (now Wells Fargo Center). The Elevation Tour stage design was stripped down compared to the elaborate stadium sets on the band’s previous two tours. It featured a heart-shaped ramp around the stage.





Steven Drozd (Flaming Lips) and Steve Burns (“Blues Clues”) join forces and make music everyone can enjoy.


Children’s music is often shunned by those who look for sounds of a more “serious” variety. For those who are don’t have kids of their own, or whose kids have matured beyond the early adolescent state, it means music of a specialized nature, great for weaning infants but hardly the kind of thing to share as an everyday pastime.

These days though, that may be an outmoded notion. More and more artists who once provided  the soundtracks for emerging maturity and the everyday challenges of love, life and the consequences of being a grown up in an oppressive world, have now turned their attention to making music for the younger set, achieving respectable results in the process.

Even so, Steven Drozd, best known as Flaming Lips’s multi-instrumentalist — a band that’s built a reputation on being avant-garde experimenters of the decidedly eccentric variety — and Steve Burns, the host of the children’s program “Blues Clues,” have joined forces under the all-too-appropriate handle StevenSteven. Their recently released debut album, Foreverywhere, does the improbable, offering up songs about princesses and unicorns that the kids can enjoy with adroit and intriguing melodies that adults will find immediately accessible as well. This isn’t your parent’s children’s music, or anything like the sounds us adults might have been nurtured on early on. It is instead, remarkably enticing, a set of songs that ought to appeal to Flaming Lips fans, and anyone else that prefers music with a decidedly progressive posture.

BLURT recently spoke with the two Stevens – depending on how one interpret text fonts, the duo could arguably be called Steve N Steven, which in fact is how one of their videos is listed –  and asked them to share the backstory of how their collaboration came about.

BLURT: For starters, how did you guys hit it off so quickly?

DROZD: I think it’s a testament to what a stellar human being Burns is. We met in late 2001 at Tarbox Road Studios in Fredonia, New York, The session was set up by Dave Fridmann, long-time Flaming Lips producer, and I only had a few of Burns’ demos to go on. I didn’t really know of “Blues Clues” (this was before I had kids), and I just had no idea what the vibe would be. Burns disarmed me within fifteen minutes and we were instantly laughing and talking about absurd, stupid, silly things. I knew immediately that we were going to work great together.

BURNS: We share a similar sense of humor — dark, but goofy, Steven is a remarkably unpretentious guy. He’s a very open book. We also shared a surprising amount of musical favorites, and that’s always a trusty barometer of potential friendship. Plus you have to remember that the (Flaming Lips album) The Soft Bulletin was — and still is — my favorite album of all time, so he probably could have poured a glass of chocolate milk over my head and smacked me in the face with a trout and I would have been completely accepting of it.

BLURT: Had either of you tried making kids music individually before this?

DROZD: I had made a couple of silly songs for kinds of my friends, but nothing too substantial.

BURNS: I hadn’t, but recording the songs of “Blue’s Clues” episodes was always my favorite part of the day. I love the process of making and recording music…more than performing it really. I just find it so fascinating.

BLURT: Was this project intimidating at all, knowing you had a very specific young audience you were trying to reach?

DROZD: By the time we decided to make the record, we had received such positive feedback for  our song “I Hog The Ground” that it felt like we were meant to make this music! It was mostly fun — Burns had the kid friendly educational content to consider. But I just got to make music that I was very comfortable making

BURNS: I think children are a very difficult and demanding audience if you’re serious at all about being sincere with them. I’ve always sort of made it my mission not to talk down to kids with the entertainment I provide them, and that’s much easier said than done.

BLURT: What is it about Foreverywhere that finds such appeal with both kids and adults? Is that a difficult divide?

DROZD: I guess it can be difficult, but there really is a long history of music that is loved by both kids and adults that isn’t just kid music. The Beatles, Vince Guaraldi, “Sesame Street,” etc. – I guess we were trying to connect the things we loved as kids to what we could listen to now and also have our kids love. I think it has worked in that way as I hear from a lot of people that specific things on the album remind them of their own childhood.

BURNS: I don’t think there has to be such a division between what makes great music for children and what makes great music for adults. Drozd mentioned Vince Guaraldi, and I think it’s a terrific example of music that is both. There’s plenty of overlapping space to explore.

BLURT: Still, most family friendly music these days seems to be aimed wholly at children. Why do you think that is? Why does it not engage adults as well?

DROZD: There is just so much music in general these days. We are inundated on a very regular basis with so much stuff. It’s like the Onion headline from a few years back — “U.S. children born with 1,000 songs on their iPods!” Haha… it’s true, though. My kids know #so much# music and they’re still very young. So, I think the children-specific idea is to try to make a mark in a sea of new stuff. But, we want the kids and their parents to connect…

BLURT: The kids market has become huge in the last decade…How have you seen it evolve? Was the fact that the market has really embraced it an impetus for the two of you to dive in?

DROZD: We did the song “I Hog The Ground” back in 2006-2007, and it felt like this big wave was happening. I thought the wave would crest, but it seems as though it just flooded and then became a whole new market, which is great timing for us…

BURNS: It does seem like there is an impulse out there to return to children’s entertainment that works on many levels at once. I grew up on the Muppets and Electric Company. I might not have understood all the jokes with actual clarity, but I knew they were inherently “funny,” and all of that informed my sense of humor in a positive way.  I think people are coming back around to multi-level content in general.

BLURT: What is it that each of you brings to this project that was specifically gleaned from what you had done before — specifically “Blue’s Clues” and the Flaming Lips?

DROZD: I just make a lot of music, and I like to make music for different things and with different people and projects. Working with Burns is fun and pretty rewarding. We’re on the same exact plane 95% of the time. I’ve fooled him into thinking I’m a musical genius and he is an actual genius.

BURNS: I feel like the curricular parts of the record are pretty relaxed and from the hip, but Drozd keeps reminding me that I was a total stickler for the details of the content and lyrics. That’s #definitely# a vestige of my time on “Blue’s Clues,” which was so painstakingly researched and considered.

BLURT: How do you think the fans of your previous work will take to this? What’s been the reaction so far?

DROZD: There’s been a lot of great support from so many different people. I think Flaming Lips fans that like certain elements of The Lips hear things that they recognize and respond to.

BURNS: What’s freaking me out, truly, truly blowing my mind, is that fans of my previous work have spawned new fans of my previous work, and that sometimes both present and previous fans of my previous work are fans of our present work at the same time. In the present.

BLURT: What was the overall idea/concept at the heart of this album?

DROZD: Wondering is wonderful. Being excited and having your mind expanded and your heart open at all times is what to strive for.

BURNS: Yup. What he said. That, and never giving up. There is often great beauty in the struggle!

BLURT: How difficult is this to replicate on stage? Is there a lot of storytelling involved? Did you model your touring show after any particular precedent, such as Disney, “Sesame Street,” etc.?

DROZD: We are figuring out the live show literally right now. There is storytelling, puppetry, rock n roll hootchie koo, sadness, epic wonder. All of those things. Hopefully it’s gonna work!

BLURT: So what’s next? Will you continue to work together, and if so, will it be a challenge to balance it against your “day jobs?”

DROZD: We will definitely continue to work together, and, if the upcoming Brooklyn Bowl show goes well, we will definitely find a way to perform together whenever we both have any free time.

BURNS: I want to do a Bing Crosby/David Bowie-esque holiday album that’s part music, part radio theater, full of sound effects and characters from our first album and stuff. That’s my idea, so please don’t steal it if you’re reading this. Thanks.

DANCING BAREFOOT: The Great Waikiki Mai Tai Taste Off

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Let’s head to Hawaii and sample the beverages, shall we? Blurt’s first annual selective guide to Mai Tai watering holes.


A Hawaiian vacation conjures up visions of breathtaking beaches, hula dancing, and fruity cocktails, preferably featuring a paper umbrella and a wedge of pineapple. And no cocktail says “Hawaii” as much as a Mai Tai. It’s a seemingly simple drink, made of rum and fruit juices, but the combinations and embellishments are endless. In Waikiki, you can find a Mai Tai just about everywhere; even the ABC Stores (the fantastic convenience stores you’ll find in every block — literally) have bottles of readymade Mai Tais for sale (though it’s best to avoid them; they’re overly sweet). A cocktail bar — ideally with a view — is the best place to enjoy them of course. Live music also enhances the experience, and most of these venues have live entertainment each evening. Here’s a look at the kind of Mai Tais you’ll find on offer at various Waikiki locales. But first, a dance, live at the House Without a Key.

Beach Bar: The Beach Bar is at Waikiki’s oldest hotel, the Moana Surfrider, dubbed “The First Lady of Waikiki,” which opened on March 11, 1901. The seating is arranged around a massive banyan tree that’s 75 feet high, its limbs spanning 150 feet; in 1979 it was granted the number one spot on Hawaii’s Rare and Exceptional Tree list. On my last visit I opted for the Surfrider Tai, with Pyrat XO Reserve rum, a float of Old Lahaina dark rum from Maui, and the bar’s “handmade signature mix and fresh lime.” The mix is a bit heavy for my tastes; I prefer a Mai Tai with a lighter juice mix. But alcohol is certainly present and accounted for.



Splash Bar & Bento: You’ll find the Splash Bar poolside at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel, and as it’s not a beachfront resort, it’s easier to get a table, though on my last visit it seemed that there were more tables on the restaurant side and fewer tables by the stage. It’s pleasant sitting outside under the stars, especially when there’s live entertainment. The Mai Tai is made of  “Cruzan light rum, tropical juices, and a float of dark rum,” and I’ve always found this drink on the weak side; lots of juice and not much evidence of rum. If you want more bang for the buck, try the Tropical Itch, which is basically a Mai Tai with a shot of bourbon; some places also serve the drink with a wooden backscratcher (to scratch the “itch,” geddit?).

Rock Island Café: You’ll find the Rock Island in King’s Village, a mock Victorian-era mall that was slated for a redevelopment that’s now been put on hold. It’s a ’50s-style diner, complete with soda fountain, and numerous screens throughout the restaurant showing clips of vintage movies and TV shows, as well as rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia for sale. The menu features hamburgers, hot dogs, pizzas, and milk shakes, but there’s no shortage of adult beverages on hand as well; in fact, you’re encouraged to add your favorite spirit to a milk shake (or a “real beer float,” with Bud or Primo instead of root beer). The house Mai Tai features “Tropical juices, layered with light, dark, and coconut rums,” so it’s on the sweet side, but strong enough to bring on a nice mellow mood. There’s also a happy hour and Primo beer on tap, and I can think of no better place to sip a Blue Hawaii than in a booth beneath a movie poster of Elvis’ film Paradise, Hawaiian Style.

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Barefoot Bar: This bar is located at the Hale Koa Hotel. The hotel caters to active and retired military personnel (the name “Hale Koa” means “House of the Warrior”), but civilians are able to access the restaurants. The bar is located next to the walkway between the Outrigger Reef on the Beach and the Hilton Hawaiian Village, with a great view of a less crowded section of the beach. There’s not elaboration on the menu: the listing for the Mai Tai simply reads, “Rums mixed with pineapple juice.” A no frills Mai Tai to be sure, but they don’t stint on the rum. The drinks are also cheaper than at other beach front hotels, and there’s an additional discount with military ID.

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The Edge: At the other side of the Sheraton Waikiki’s infinity pool is the aptly named The Edge, with a counter immediately adjacent to the pool that offers a great view of Diamond Head (with a convenient ledge where you can place your drink, if you’re actually in the pool). The Classic Mai Tai is exactly that: “A timeless blend of Cruzan Aged Light Rum, pineapple juice, and tropical liqueurs with a dark rum float.” It’s the liqueurs that give this drink an extra punch. I was not as impressed by the Blood Orange Sangria: Skyy Blood Orange Vodka, Malibu Passion Fruit Rum, Pino Grigio, passion fruit juice, “and a splash of cranberry and pineapple juice.” It’s the wine that didn’t blend well with the spirits. But considering the view, it’s forgivable.

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RumFire: This is the hippest of the Sheraton Waikiki’s restaurants; they offer an afternoon “Spiked Tea,” which serves up a cocktail and sliders instead of tea and scones, and is packed on weekend evenings. There’s indoor seating, but naturally you’ll want to sit outside, and there are a couple of seats in the ewa — west — section that offer a good view of Diamond Head. The Sunset Mai Tai (Old Lahaina Premium Rum, passion fruit puree, lime and tropical juices) was pleasant and not too sweet, though a bit lacking in pizazz. But there are plenty of other cocktails to explore; I’m partial to Gidget’s Crush: Skyy Infusions Citrus Vodka, Dekuyper Watermelon Liqueur, fresh lime juice, and a splash of sprite.


Barefoot Bar (2): In a place like Hawaii, you’re sure to run into more than one place with the name “Barefoot Bar,” and this particular one is at Duke’s Waikiki, in the Outrigger Waikiki hotel. The bar, and the dining room, are immensely popular; reservations are recommended for the dining room, especially at dinner, while seating in the bar is first come, first served, which can be hard to come by. Both feature Duke’s Mai Tai, their signature cocktail made with two different rums (not specified), fresh Hawaiian juices, and that extra special ingredient, “aloha.” In the dining room, it’s served in a tiki-style glass, which is fun. And they pack a punch too, which is even better. Duke’s also hosts the best party on the beach; most Sundays, a second bar is set up in the pool area just below the restaurant, and guitarist Henry Kapono plays a set from 4 to 6 p.m.

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Mai Tai Bar: Where better to get your Mai Tai on than at a spot named after them? The Mai Tai Bar can be found on the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Waikiki’s second oldest hotel, which opened in 1927, and is known as the “Pink Palace of the Pacific,” due to the light pink paint on what appears to be more a Spanish/Moorish-themed castle than a hotel. On the menu’s first page you’ll find not just one, two, or three different Mai Tais, but a choice of seven Mai Tais to sample. I managed three (not all in one visit). The Royal Mai Tai, with fresh squeezed pineapple and orange juices, orange curacao, orgeat and Old Lahaina rums, is a straight up classic. Being adventurous, I also tried the Choco-Tai (Selva Rey Cacao Infused rum, Kona coffee syrup, Bittermen’s Elemakule Tiki Bitters, pineapple and lemon juices, and a float of Old Lahaina dark rum), but the chocolate-coffee taste definitely wasn’t a good match with fruit juices, at least to my taste. Ah, but the White Wash (below) was a drink I wanted to enjoy again and again. Old Lahaina Silver Rum, Ferrand Dry curacao, orgeat, fresh lime and pineapple juices, and, as the menu boasts, “not one, but two floats!”: Old Lahaina Dark Rum and sweet “coco-loco foam.” I’d like another, please.


House Without a Key: Ah, the crème de la crème, the pièce de résistance. House Without a Key is at the elegant Halekulani hotel. Request cocktail seating, which is outside. If you’re not a hotel guest, there’s a $5 cover charge, but it’s worth it for the view alone, a stunning panoramic sweep from Diamond Head to the east and the sunset in the west; the musicians and dancers also perform with their backs to the ocean, so you get to enjoy the view all night (at the other beachfront properties, the musicians perform with their backs to the hotel, so it’s the hotel you end up looking at). Former Miss Hawaii winners perform hula; I’m partial to Kanoe Miller’s performances (she’s on Friday and Saturdays, and highly popular). The Mai Tai is not only especially attractive (no pineapple or maraschino cherry here; it’s garnished with a slice of lime, a stick of sugar cane, mint, and an orchid), but also very tasty, made of a “blend of fine rums, curacao, lime juice and a hint of almond.” The lime is stronger in this drink, giving it an extra tartness. A waiter here gave me a tip on drinking the Mai Tai; put your straw up in the rum float, so in your first sip the rum hits your tongue straight away, then push the straw down to the bottom of the glass. The Hale Tai is a sweeter variation, made with spiced and coconut rums, and passion fruit and lime juices.

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This is what the world looked like before WordPress, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert Tim “Dagger” Hinely weighs in.


Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! (See Part 5 of this series elsewhere on the Blurt site.) Fall is here, which mean that the baseball season is slowly coming to its conclusion, so with that in mind….


8-Track Mind (#103.1) It had been a few years since San Franciscan (via Chicago) Russ Forster had slapped together a new ish of 8TM. It’s a half-sized rag that’s 40 pages, but it’s quality over quantity here, folks. This ish goes way back over 20 years  where he’s writing about the salad days (“Echoes from the Glory Days” as the cover says). The So Wrong They’re Right tour (from 1995). Yeah, it’s a tour diary and instead of contributors he has a “names dropped” column. Pure genius! Get yours now from

The Big Takeover (#79) If editor Jack Rabid hits issue one hundred I wanna be there for that party. Like clockwork, every June and December comes Jack’s long-running mag (not sure how many times I’ve called it “long running” but it’s a lot). This time around it’s Lush  (cover stars…and unfortunately already broken up, again) Belly, Luna, The Descendents, Eagulls, Kid Congo (part 2), Cheetah Chrome and lots of more including short takes and a holy ton of reviews. For the real deal you need to subscribe. 146 pages.

Casting Couch (#5), Miranda Fisher just keeps cranking out her zine, Casting Couch out of her humble abode in Austin, TX. She’s up to her 5th issue and in this one are interviews with Counter Intuits, Wet Ones, Trampoline Team and Rik & the Pigs plus reviews and the usual much She’s even included a few pin ups this issue but I can’t tell you who they are (don’t wana spoil the surprise.All that and more and everything for you, dear reader. .

Razorcake (#96) This long-running Los Angeles-based punk zine has been at it for a long time now, sorta picking up where Flipside left off. They’re staunchly independent and at $4 per issue you get lots of bang for your buck. This time around is Pedal Strike, Fur Coats, Sharkpact (ok, have not heard of those three band) plus a punks guide to rap music. In additon there’s plenty of columns and a bucketload of reviews too. Subscribe, it’s way worth it (in other words, dive in and don’t come back up unless you really need some air).

Ugly Things (#43) Nothing can slow Mike Stax and his staff down on pumping out issues of Ugly Things. And I mean nothing (hey, Mike’s even a dad). He also told me that they are now publishing three times per year (whoah!). In this latest issue are pieces on Crime (!!!!), Bent Wind, Things to Come, The Turtles, Music Machine and more plus reviews of all formats  (records, cds, dvds, books etc.) and at 146 pages it equals that of the latest issue of the Big Takeover (see above).

Vulcher (#2) Yes! Vulcher #2 came out and it rules more heavily than the debut (believe it). Eddie Flowers, Kelsey Simpson and “Sonic” Sam Murphy are still runing the show here with a mega long list of contributors (including yours truly). It’s a throwback to music mags of the 70’a with all kinda gunk crammed everywhere. Pieces on/by Coley, Meltzer, Bangs, Goner Records, Jan & Dean and way too much more.  I said it last time and I’ll say it again, It’s packed to the gills and excellent. Write Eddie for a copy (or die tryin’) at


Don’t forget Dagger zine, kids.


Report: The 29th Folk Alliance International Conference


“Forbidden Folk” indeed: Held Feb. 15-19, the annual event was a veritable folk frenzy for the residents of and visitors to Kansas City – and a call to musical arms for the legions of Trump opponents as well. Scroll down to view a photo gallery.


Glance back fifty years and the idea of a folk music festival would bring to mind a gathering dominated by tie-dye, Birkenstocks and people who might otherwise find work as stunt doubles for Peter, Paul and Mary. In a sense, that’s still the perception for those unawares, but at the 29th Folk Alliance International conference held in mid-February in Kansas City, there was far more of a modern twist that many might imagine. While the old guard was duly represented, the encroachment of Americana and relevant rockers also dominated the proceedings. Hundreds of artists participated in the confab, both in the exhibition rooms of the Westin, the host hotel, and in three floors of guest rooms where beds were removed, presenters moved in and music performed until the wee hours of the morning. The latter scenario found this new brand of folk music anything but staid, more like a scene out of Animal House, where hotel corridors saw action akin to a college dorm or a frat house, and guitars, partygoers, posters and performers crammed every available nook and celebrated a succession of sounds.

If that cool vibe seemed to moot some of the cerebral sensitivities, the fact that the conference was subtitled “Forbidden Folk” allowed more than a passing nod to folk music’s legacy of protest and populism. Practically every speaker alluded to the need for rallying the masses in support of various causes that were perceived as being undermined by the new administration. Indeed, Donald Trump’s ears must have been burning, because while his name was rarely mentioned, it was all too obvious as to where most of the remarks were aimed. Billy Bragg’s rousing speech at the conclusion of the conference offered less praise for the music and bid more homage for the cause, eventually culminating in a fist pumping rally for union devotees. Those apolitical or of a different mindset might have felt isolated and alone, but there was enough solace to be sought in the music to keep participants applauding.

Indeed, there were plenty of kudos to go around. The first night of the festivities included an award ceremony that saw such luminaries as Sonny Ochs (Phil’s sister), environmental activist Si Kahn, iconic names such as Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Cockburn, Eliza Gilkyson and David Amram, storied singer and storyteller John McCutcheon, once jailed veteran of the Arab Spring Ramy Essam, and sitcom star-turned-singer Megan Mullally take the stage to give or receive awards, and occasionally share a song in-between. It was an inspiring evening, one that affirmed the music’s heritage and continuing trajectory while reaffirming the common bond of community that bound all the participants together. When Gilkyson spoke of the “disbelief and grieving” that seemed to have overtaken the nation in the weeks and months since the election, there wasn’t a soul present who couldn’t identify with the realities she was referencing.

The call to arms, then, was that the folk faithful needed to recommit to a protest purpose, the same mighty mission that prompted people to stand up against the Vietnam War and march en masse for the cause of civil rights. The need is, one speaker noted, more urgent than ever.

Still, for all that earnest intent, it was the music that really mattered. For the 2,600 participants from twenty countries, it took a full measure of devotion to endure hours of stalking hotel hallways in order to catch the scant half hour sets accorded to each of the performers. With showcases that went on until the wee hours of the morning — often until 4 AM and beyond — only the heartiest individuals were able to withstand the desperate need to run from room to room to catch a favorite artist, who often was playing at the same time as two dozen other favorite artists. Nevertheless, the opportunity to catch such stellar talents as Robyn Hitchcock, Tift Merritt, Amelia White, John McCutcheon, the supergroup of sorts Kortchmar, Postell and Navarro, Bobby Rush, Bruce Sudano, Caroline Spence, Cali Shaw, Carrie Elkin, Jonathan Byrd, Tim Easton, ` Chuck Hawthorne, Cory Branan, Dave Gunning, David G. Smith, David Olney, Plainsong, John Fullbright, Darden Smith, Ellis Paul, Beaver Nelson, Freebo, Greg Greenway, Heather Rankin, Kim Richey, Linda McRae, Matt the Electrician, The Once, Oh Susanna, Steel Wheels, Peter Bradley Adams, Ray Bonneville,  Robbie Fulks, Rod Picott, Romantica, Michael Fracasso, SONiA and Disappear Fear, Sara Watkins, Susan Werner, Tret Fure, Tony Furtado, Tom Freund, Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally Band, Tish Hinojosa, or the Wild Ponies, as well as such up-and-comers as Banjo Nickaru & Western Smooches, the Novel Ideas, Beck Warren, Beth Bombara, Ben de la Cour, Anne McCue, Patterson Barrett, Anthony da Costa, Brian Langlinais, Freddy & Francine, Harrow Fair, Kirsty McGee, Karpinka Brothers, Leland Sundries, Luke Jackson, Matt Haeck, Mark Huff, Renee Wahl, Son of Town Hall (with David Berkeley),The Soul of John Black, and Doolin’ made all attempts worthwhile.

(Whew… if you think that was a lot of names to observe, bear in mind it’s only a fraction of the several hundred artists that were there in attendance.)

Indeed, trying to catch every artist was futile, even despite the fact that most of these artists offered repeated performances. No matter. Folk Alliance served its purpose, binding past and present  and looking ahead to the future. Compressed over a mere five days in a single hotel can scarcely do it justice.

Kris Kristofferson @FAI photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry


Ben Kyle of Romantica @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Oh Susanna @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Sara Watkins @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
The Steel Wheels @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Tift Merritt @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Jonathan Byrd @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Jonathan Byrd & the Pickup Cowboy @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Patterson Barrett @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Billy Bragg @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
John McCutcheon @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Son of Town Hall @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Tim Easton @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Karpinka Brothers @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
Robyn Hitchcock @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry


Rod Picott @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry


Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Performing live at Benaroya Hall, the veteran trib outfit covered all the expected bases while giving the Fab Four’s timeless music a unique feel.


You can expect a lot of Sgt. Pepper hoopla this year, as 1967 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. At the time of its release, it was hailed as the greatest album ever made — a claim that’s been constantly picked over ever since, but that’s another story. As a prime artifact that epitomizes the heralded Summer of Love ™, the Sergeant still reigns supreme.

Sgt. Pepper was Paul McCartney’s idea of how the Beatles could reinvent themselves, and make an album without the pressure of being “The Beatles.” Which makes it a bit ironic to have it as the centerpiece of a Beatles tribute show. Rain is the premiere Beatles tribute band (they don’t call them “impersonators” any more) in the U.S., going all the way back to 1975 when they were based in Laguna Beach, California, and called themselves “Reign.” They weren’t a full on tribute band at the time, but did perform a lot of Beatles covers, which landed them a gig providing the Beatle music for the first feature film about the Fab Four, Birth of the Beatles (released in 1979, and for my money still a better film than Backbeat or Nowhere Boy).

Today, Rain is more of a brand than a band; there are various touring line-ups of the group. The band has grown and changed over the years, and I hadn’t seen most of the members of the line-up that played Seattle on February 21: Jimmy Irizarry (John), Paul Curatolo (Paul), and Aaron Chiazza (Ringo). I had seen Alastar McNeil (George) in Fourever Fab, a Beatles tribute act in Hawaii (a Beatle tribute artist can always land a gig somewhere), and I’ve seen Curatolo’s father, Joey, who’s also a member of Rain, playing Paul (like father, like son!). Also on hand was Chris Smallwood, playing keyboards discreetly at the rear of the stage.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Rain’s shows follow a pretty standard format. Open with the group in their Fab Four Mop Top suits performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. A couple of A Hard Day’s Night songs, and then we’re into the Shea Stadium concert and “Yesterday.” Then to the Sgt. Pepper era followed by The Beatles (aka “The “White Album”) and Abbey Road period. But with this show featuring Sgt. Pepper as the centerpiece — Rain performs the album in its entirety — some adjustments had to be made. And this is what made the show especially interesting, for band rejigged the set list to include some songs that Beatles tribute bands don’t normally play.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

The mood was set as you entered the venue; Benaroya Hall, home to the Seattle Symphony, so the acoustics were great. Rain has the best production values of any Beatles tribute band, with an attention to detail evident even before the show begins. There’s a black-and-white backdrop featuring pictures of 1960s signifiers (a peace sign, a lava lamp) and images related to the Beatles’ history (a Cavern Club sign, an Abbey Road street sign). The pre-show music is drawn from the early years of the decade (e.g. “Stand By Me”). There are numerous screens built into the set, with clips showing Rain re-enacting Beatles press conferences, and used to good effect at the show’s start, when a clip showing an Ed Sullivan impersonator introduces the band.

The first sequence emulates the Ed Sullivan shows, right down to “applause” signs flashing at the side of the stage after each song. You get the expected hits: “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Though right handed, Curatolo taught himself to play bass left handed — so important to that visual image of the Fabs (he did swap to a right handed guitar when playing “Yesterday”). By the middle Beatles period, the band had started to loosen up, delivering hard rocking versions of “Ticket to Ride” and “Day Tripper.” The screens flashed images tied in with each song (such as trains when the band sings “A Hard Day’s Night,” reflecting the train trip the Beatles make in the movie of the same name), along with vintage commercials shown during the breaks for costume changes (the one showing Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble taking a cigarette break drew the biggest laugh).

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Then came a melding of the Rubber SoulRevolver and “White Album” period, which brought the first surprises. I’ve never before heard a Beatles tribute band perform “The Word,” and they rarely tackle “Eleanor Rigby,” due to its having no rock instrumentation. Rain did both songs, along with other less expected material like “Drive My Car,” “In My Life,” and, skipping ahead, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” It was refreshing to hear a Beatles tribute band vary the “just play the hits” formula. The Beatles were a band with a fantastic catalogue — why not explore more of it?

McNeil’s star turn in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (a song which invariably brings down the house) brought act one to a dramatic close. The drum head on Chiazza’s bass drum was then changed to one emulating the drum on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, and we were ready for act two, with the band naturally attired in the colorful costumes also featured on the album’s cover. (Below photo by Richard Lovrich; courtesy Rain)

RAIN - A Tribute to the Beatles is a LIVE multi-media spectacular that takes you through the life and times of the world's most celebrated band. Featuring high-definition screens and imagery - this stunning concert event delivers a note-for-note theatrical event that is the next best thing to The Beatles.

Again, it was exciting to hear a Beatles tribute band play songs you never generally hear: “Getting Better,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Good Morning, Good Morning” (complete with animal noises) Also, it was great to hear the entire album, not just the highlights you usually get in a tribute show. The album stands as the Beatles’ most imaginative work, as well as being one of their most musically versatile, and Rain clearly relished the opportunity to dig into the album start to finish. Though it’s a shame they didn’t take advantage of the Sgt. Pepper suits to perform “Hello Goodbye,” a song whose video also featured those iconic outfits.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Then it was back to basics with the late era stuff, including a singalong to “Give Peace a Chance,” “Get Back” and “Revolution,” and an encore singalong of “Hey Jude.” The band was first rate throughout. Curatolo seemed to have the most fun, mugging and pointing at the audience just like the real McCartney, while Irizarry looked increasingly like Lennon as the show progressed. McNeil was suitably laid back as “the Quiet One,” and poor old Chiazza only got one song to sing. Never mind. As a group effort, Rain delivers. And with a crop of new songs in the setlist, even those who’ve seen Rain before will want to check out the new show.

Rain tours the U.S. through April 23, 2017.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall



Act One: “She Loves You,” “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “If I Fell,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Yesterday,” “Ticket to Ride,” “The Night Before,” “I Feel Fine,” “Day Tripper,” “Twist and Shout,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “The Word,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Drive My Care,” “In My Life,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Act Two: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Getting Better,” “Fixing a Hole,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “Within You Without You,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Lovely Rita,” “Good Morning, Good Morning,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise),” “A Day in the Life,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Give Peace a Chance,” “Get Back,” “Revolution,” “The End.”

Encore: “Hey Jude.”


Author contact:, Twitter: @GillianGaar

Photographer contact: (Copyright Peter Dervin)



The UK band may have bum-rushed the charts during the ‘80s and early ‘90s with their powerful brand of R&B-tilting punk, but on the evidence of a new studio album, there’s plenty of fuel remaining in the tank. Following the text, check out some recent live video clips.


Legendary British rockers The Godfathers could easily spend the next couple of decades coasting on Gen X nostalgia, hitting the festival and theater circuit every summer to cycle through an endless greatest hits set from Birth, School, Work, Death and More Songs About Love & Hate. But to quote band founder and front man Peter Coyne “We’re not dusty museum pieces!”

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s The Godfathers churned out one great album after the next, mining a sweet spot between punk rock and classic R&B. They band called it quits for a while, when Coyne tried to walk away from music and simply “just be a human being.” But normal life didn’t take and the band was back to playing music again. godfathers-cd

After a long time away from the recording studio, Coyne has reassembled The Godfathers and recorded their best album since 1991’s Unreal World. The latest, A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is a clarion call to the world of rock, an album crammed with big guitars, strong hooks and soaring vocals.

Coyne, who is currently touring across Europe with the band took some time recently to talk about the

BLURT: It’s been years since you last recorded as The Godfathers. What got you to do it again?

PETER COYNE: Well, we did something in 2000 and took and eight-year break. In between that I didn’t want to be in any other groups and was quite happy just being a human being. So, I got a call from Kris Dollimore, who used to be in The Godfathers and was putting together a band, and I said, “I’m not really interested, to be honest.” I then said, “Well, who’s in it?”

“It’s Rat Scabies on drums and me on guitar.” and I said “I’ll do it. Just like that.” We did that for about a year. We were called The Germans, recorded a bunch of demos and did about eight gigs, but we never made proper recordings which I always thought was a damn shame. Then I got The Godfathers back together to promote (the anniversary of) our debut album, Hit By Hit, in 2008 and that’s how it all started again. (Below: “Rewind Time” from the new album.)

In getting the band back together, and recording that great live record (Shot Live at 100 Club) in 2010, did that show you that there was still an appetite out there for more from The Godfathers?

Definitely, because we were playing gigs all around the world and there was still interest in The Godfathers. There was a lot of love out there for the band. That was quite pleasing to discover, so we started it all again. (Below: classic early hit “Birth, School, Work, Death”)

You guys certainly have a slew of songs that go back decades, which fans still relate to. You could just as easily make a comfortable living, and I’d assume easier, touring solely off playing the hits. Why keep writing new music and record again?

I’m not interested, neither is anyone else in this lineup of the band, in reflective glory or trading on what we’ve done in the past as The Godfathers. I think we’ve made some fantastic records with the band: Hit By Hit, Birth School Work Death, More Songs About Love and Hate, Unreal World, that one’s that’s called “the Orange Album,” they’re the sort of classic Godfather recordings as far as I can work out, but we wanted to do something with this new album that’s a completely different sonic adventure. We didn’t want to do More Songs About Love And Hate, Part Two and Hit By Hit: The Sequel; Unreal World: The Follow Up. Not interested; No, thank you. We’ve done things like that before. Our job right here, right now is to make rock and roll for today and make it sound even better, if it’s possible, then we’ve done with the group in the past. We’ve got high benchmarks in this band, lofty standards and we don’t want to drop the load ever. And I think A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is a fantastic album. It’s a collaboration between everyone in the band, it’s not just me. birth-school

This is the first time you’ve recorded with a lot of the folks that are in the band now. Were there any rules or outlines about writing that you had?

Not really. The only rule was that all of these songs must be great, they must have something special about them. Writing came completely naturally. I’d done a lot of work with Steve (Crittall, guitar) and I’d just show up with a lot of lyrics to his studio in Soho, London and I’d explain what I thought was the best way to approach it. He’d turn around, have a think about it and then start working musically about what fit. We’d bat it about between the pair of us and within half-an-hour to 45 minutes we’d always have a great number we could work with. The same with Mauro (Venegas, guitar).

Over the past 10 years or so, a lot of younger bands have cited The Godfathers as a musical influence. Were there any bands that influenced this album when you were writing it?

Not really. I think we were copying The Godfathers, copying our own sound if you know what I mean. Everyone is influenced by someone. I think A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is influenced a little bit by The Stooges. I think musically “You and Me Against the World,” the finishing track on the album, borrows a little bit from David Bowie. Musically it was inspired by the death of David Bowie and lyrically from the fallout of Brexit and what’s happening at this moment.

It’s very pleasing that bands in the States, and in fact all around the world, are influenced by The Godfathers because we’ve definitely been influenced by the bands that came before us and it’s great to get that feedback from other groups. There’s a couple of American bands, Local H and Spoon have covered Godfather songs on their records and there’s that band Mars Volta that said that whole album (editor’s note: Noctourniquet) that was influenced by The Godfathers. That’s fantastic.


I know you guys have started a tour in Europe. Any chance you’ll be in the U.S. now that the record is out?

I’ll be quite honest with you, we’re seriously looking into it. It is so expensive, you wouldn’t believe it, for British bands coming to America. It’s a lot easier for American bands to come to the UK. It should be no problem to get us to the States, but you’ve got to pay for visas, you’ve got to pay for flights. It’s incredibly expensive. We really want to do it though. We love to play live and with an album like A Big Bad Beautiful Noise you’ve got to hear this live. We’re not dusty museum pieces this is fresh rock and roll music that we want to deliver to people. We want to go back to the Motherland of rock music and deliver this to the yanks.

Top photo credit: Sean Robert Howarth / Live photo: Monty Strikes

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Jazzmenco by La Vienta


The El Paso jazz guitarists were an unlikely highlight of the Lone Star State’s music scene in the ‘90s, and with the album discussed here, they stormed the Billboard charts and nabbed a Grammy nod. Time to revisit—and to catch up, as well.


Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Cynics, From the Heart of Town by Gallon Drunk, Couture, Couture, Couture by Frausdots, Blue Sky Mining by Midnight Oil, and Illuminated by the 360’s. Here’s our latest, a remarkable album, released in ’93, by a remarkable Texas-based jazz outfit that is clearly dear to our “Story Behind…” editor Levitt’s heart. Enjoy.—FM


La Vienta is a jazz group that formed in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. Founded by Mario Otero and Stefan Schyga in the early 90s the band was one of those rare occurrences in a town filled with either metal heads or Freddy Fender wannabes.  This was one of those cases where the right elements for success seemed to just coalesce out of the ether, like a freak thunderstorm in the desert beauty arrives and quickly dissipates from whence it came. Sometimes the right climactic conditions come together and all hell breaks loose, as it did when a young guitarist from Hildesheim, Germany studying music at UTEP of all places became friends with a local El Paso guitarist who together as La Vienta set the jazz scene on fire with their debut album Jazzmenco released back in 1993 for jazz label Telarc records.

With lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” or you’re smile you knew the band could bring the goods.  Here and on the rest of the album you could tell the band was working from a deep fondness for flamenco music. Their collective talent crossed like bridges over a desert wash blending flamenco guitar with a broader jazz sensibility to take the music to somewhere fascinating and uncharted.

“San Miguel” is more straight ahead flamenco with strains of Cuban piano that fuses well. Here drums, congas and palmas (hand claps) sparkle and give the song even greater heft.

“Spanish Invasion” is healthy mix of Pat Metheny and Carlos Santana. I appreciate the shifting of styles on this piece and the delicate fret work in the calmer moments of the song. It’s also a cool moment on the album that despite the dated sounding keyboards shows one of the many strands of creativity flowing through this duo.

“Paco’s Night Out” bolts out of the gate with its galloping beat, here the playfulness of the guitar playing dips and climbs over the pulsing beat, a great track to play as you drive up Transmountain Drive to catch the sunset.

“Skeleton Samfa” is a jazzy number that offers a great back and forth dialogue between Stefan and Mario. The tune which is stretched over a taught drum beat cut with some Jimmy Smith organ virtuosic embellishments will have you tapping your toes, and luxuriating in the positivity.

“Moroccan Face Dance” would have gotten the band in trouble had it been released in Trump’s America with its Mexican and Arabic influences or at least it would have had to been left off the album due to visa issues. Joking aside, this track is worth the price of admission alone, with its deft playing that’s infused with intrigue and romance, sailing in on tendrils of myrrh incense. The song then shifts gears with vocals and palmas and an electric guitar that just rips before ushering the flamenco guitar back into the mix. Stefan says, “[It’s] a song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.”


Despite being a shade too early for internet promotion, Jazzmenco managed to climb to #17 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart and garner a Grammy nod for production. As with many big label debuts this record shows the abundance of talent the group would draw upon for subsequent releases. That said, there’s something vital and electric about this first album that later albums seemed to dampen down a bit, which is why over the last twenty years this record has remained on constant rotation in my life, providing me with a much-needed dip back into the beauty of the southwest, with its sun-bleached edifices and alluring smell of creosote permeating the air after a summer downpour.

I was able to connect with Stefan and Mario to answer a few questions about how Jazzmenco came about. These days besides teaching music, Stefan is busy recording his next solo record that will be out sometime in 2017. Meanwhile Mario is also still involved with making music and running a music school. Both of them still call El Paso home and while they aren’t currently playing together as a duo, the bond of friendship remains deep between the two.


Blurt: How did you guys start playing together?

Stefan Schyga: We met at the UTEP and heard each other play and thought it was cool to play together.  In those days’ lots of people just hung out in the hallways and jammed, it was a really cool situation.


Who came up with the name? What does it mean?

It is from a poem by Doug Adams.  He talks about a girl “and she moves like the wind and he called her La Vienta”.  We just always thought that the name was cool and different, and kind of described our south west style of music.


A German-American is not the first person you think of when it comes to Flamenco, how did you develop a taste for this sort of music?

When I was 16 I found a couple of Flamenco albums and fell in love with the music, even though my teacher later said they were horrible. I won’t mention any names but he was very popular in the US during the 60ies. My teacher then let me listen to some great players such as Ramon Montoya, Mario Escudero, Sabicas and many more. I was just amazed by what these players were able to do on the Guitar.  I also loved Classical Guitar but these Flamenco players were using all these cool and formerly unheard (by me) techniques.


How long after forming La Vienta, did you start to get interest from labels?

Mario had some good friends Keith and Muriel that were kind enough to finance the first album.  It sold like crazy locally, even outselling Michael Jackson during the Christmas Season. We decided to just send it out to some labels and had 2 labels jump on it.

This was pretty crazy, as one label guy told me: “This stuff never happens”. The labels were Higher Octave and Telarc. We decided to [sign] with Telarc. (Below: Stefan’s advance check in 1993 from the label.)


Where did you guys record the album?

We recorded it here in El Paso at El Adobe a really nice 24 track analog studio, but Telarc brought in their Digital recorders.

I think they were Yamaha Digital 8Track recorders that you could chain together, kind of like the first ADATs

I know we did not have quite enough tracks since most of the recordings they used to do were live sets such as Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson.

This presented a big problem during the mix since the Engineer had to bounce some of the audio, such as congas and other percussion onto one track and we could not change those levels later.

Of the 14 tracks on the record, what was the oldest song that had been kicking around? What songs went through the greatest evolution in the studio?

I think the oldest song was “Paco’s Night Out”, a great song that Mario composed.  We added the drums and stuff so it sounded a lot bigger than we were used to with just the 2 guitars.

Also in “Moroccan Face Dance”, we added the Jaleos and Palmas performed by a Flamenco Singer who happened to live in El Paso. Mario also added some cool electric guitar so this song became a lot bigger sounding.


Before you guys entered the studio were the songs 100% ready to go or was there some major tweaking to be done?

We really had rehearsed them well, but there were still slight changes.  Before the session we had opened for Flora Purim and Airto Moreira and we played pretty much all of the songs with the full band.


What was the input of your producer Michael Bishop and what songs went through the greatest changes in studio?

Well, Michael was really not our producer but the Engineer.

The biggest issue that we had was that we were using new digital technology and had very limited tracks. So, some instruments were bounced to a track to save tracks and we could not go back and change individual instruments in the mix.  That was a real problem.  Telarc was used to more “live” recording than studio multi tracking.


How many of the compositions were penned by you and how many by Mario?

From the beginning, we decided to always do a 50/50 split. (Below: La Vienta with fan Billy Gibbons)



How many songs were recorded in total and who made the decision on which songs to cut?

We recorded 14 and fought for all of them, and Telarc worked with us.  There were issues such as string noise, but they did agree to keep all the tracks. I think this really helped the album to be a cohesive listening experience.


Of the tracks on the record who came up with the running order? Was lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” (Your Smile) worked to jazz radio?

Telarc had radio promoters and other people listen to it and they came up with the order.  We really did not know how any of this worked.  When we listened to the final order though we were happy with it.


How did the song Moroccan Face Dance come about?

I just wanted to write a song that combined Rock and Arabic/Flamenco elements with full drums. Can you say “Spinal Tap”? A song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.  I really enjoyed recording that song and Mario really whaled on that electric guitar!


When the record came out how was it received?

It did extremely well, much better than expected.  The album got lots of radio play with stations like KKSF in San Francisco having up to 6 songs on heavy rotation.  We got quite a few concerts out of it and did radio interviews etc.  Telarc promoted it with Sound Warehouse (a record store chain) and it jumped on the Billboard Charts!


When is the last time you listened to Jazzmenco and if you could change one thing about it what would it be?

I’ve been listening to the album for this interview. I don’t really listen to it.  Maybe once every 5 years!  I think we’d like to re-record it, but most artists feel like that.  It is a moment in time and that’s it. Some songs sound great and some songs well, Mario and I might have heard them differently. Sometimes we feel that our first self-produced album captures the feel better than the first Telarc recording, but then again the guitars sounded much better on the Telarc recording.


What formats was the album released on?

Cassette and CD.  I still have a cassette, what a weird thought.


Where did you first hear the final mix?

I think Mario and I got together and listened to it.  It was weird, because the mixes were done sending tapes back and forth to Telarc.  We were not present for the mix, which in the end was probably not a good idea.  We still liked it though, and I remember driving into LA and hearing it on the Wave ([radio] station), [that was the] coolest feeling ever!


What was the feeling when you opened the cd for the first time?

Wow, just pure excitement! All the work has paid off. Let’s see what happens.


Stefan, do you disown that haircut that graces the front cover?

The hair got even worse for the second and third albums!


Will there ever be a reissue?

Mario and I are currently researching what it would take for us to re-release the very first album. I think people might really like it.  We just have to be aware of publishing contracts etc.


When and where do you remember hearing that Jazzmenco was nominated for a Grammy?

We were actually just told after the fact, like yeah you guys were nominated.


Did you guys attend the ceremony?



After the nomination, what sort of venues did you play at and what artists did you perform with? Any Jazz fests?

Nothing much changed but we played gigs with people like Joe Bonamassa, Joe Satriani, Tommy Emmanuel, The Rippingtons the Ike Turner review etc. We did play some wine fests also in northern California. (Below: performing at a jazz festival)


How did the album sell?

I believe it was like 100,000 copies


In terms of sales do you remember your first royalty check you received from Telarc?

Yes, the very first one was actually an advance.  Still have a copy of it! As far as royalties I don’t think we ever recouped, at least to the statements we have seen.  We still have to receive a statement from Concord Jazz, but that has been our fault for not checking up on it.


Seeing as you’re of German extraction (Stefan) did you manage to pick up some coverage in Germany at the time?

We did actually pretty well in Europe.  I remember my former guitar teacher seeing the album in Amsterdam and not buying a copy!!!!  Got lots of radio play.


Did any of this make an impact in El Paso?

I think so, lots of people remember us, and I hope we helped to start some other groups.  We have a very vibrant music scene in our Border Town(s), this includes Juarez. Mexico.


Did the A&R people or other label staff get involved at all with pushing some creative ideas towards the band?

They let us record what we wanted, but then they started to push some of the tracks they thought were [going to] be more successful in radio play.  They also listened to radio promoters to check on the order of the songs.  All that input was really helpful for the project.



What was Telarc’s input on the promotion of this record? Did you have any issues with the publicity for the record?

Well Telarc had all the greats like Joe Pass, Al DiMeola and really did not have to promote them so much since [they’d] sell anyhow?

We kind of felt that Higher Octave might have done a better job breaking a new artist, but hey what do we know?


How soon after the record came out did discussions begin floating around for the next one?

Right away, since it sold so much (for a new artist), but now with a “real producer” etc.  That is a whole different story though.  I think our favorite album will always be Forgotten Romance.


Will La Vienta ever surface again for a new album?

Hey you never know!


Stefan, when will your solo record come out?

It will be released this summer (2017)


Below: Some of the group’s press clippings and billings.











The post-hardcore group, with roots in both the Chapel Hill and Chicago indie scenes, formed in 1997 and powered through eight glorious years before going on hiatus. They briefly re-emerged in 2008, then disappeared again—until now. And we’ve got the scoop on their new album, Overseas, and a whole lot more. The band is currently on tour in the west and then to the midwest this week.


As the millennium unfolded, bands like These Arms Are Snakes and Milemarker felt like redeemers that cracked the egg-dome of punk norms. Emo had taken shelter in pop modes, math rock unleashed charmless vanities, street punk often felt sulking and rodent, but Milemarker felt like an expedition transmitting new frequencies. Their searing coterie of tunes, like “Signal Froze” (with its warped vocals, undulating electro vibes, and crackling rock’n’roll urgency) and dramatic “Shrink To Fit” (imagine Gary Numan meets Atari Teenage Riot), signify their crack post-modernism.

Instead of mustering play-by-numbers angst, thin protest, and soon faded disaffection, the stuff of teenage war cries, the music of Milemarker seems fermented in a nuanced analysis of the sensory-overladen landscape of late-capitalism and the information economy. Plus, they always feel shaped by prescient literary sources: William Burroughs, William Gibson, J.G. Ballard, and more. Hence, nothing in their music, lyrics, or composition is overtly stripped-down or bareboned; they offer no simple recitation of revolt. Instead, they approach tunes in a cyber-fiction way, creating scenarios, news dispatches, and memos from the digital edge, producing music that morphs and transcends.

Roby Newton’s (who also masterminded their light show) moody chromium voice fills tunes like the hypnotic “Food For Worms” as she excavates all the damage done to women in the world of dead, damaged, suicidal heroines and forced silence, when the best minds of a generation starve for their place in intellectual and cultural spaces: “The girl’s heroes have taken their own lives. We’re left with sewn lips and model lines. The place for us: we are seen and not heard.” She urges people not to take shelter in desultory destruction; instead, turn off the ovens, throw out the stones, shut off the gas, she infers, and don’t enact the tragedies all over again, like a vicious interlocked replication of breakdowns. It’s a call to liberate from the dire ends of Sylvia Plath and others, to crush the monocles of madness, and to fight omnipresent confinement, barriers, and censure.

Meanwhile, her tireless tidal waves of dark, distressing keyboard shape the erratic pull and push of “New Lexicon,” a prescient tune examining the idiom of conformity – the recited phrases learned by rote, never questioned or doubted, like pre-programmed, mass-recited Orwellian thought squelching all dissent and difference. Due to so many memes, jargon, and scripts emanating from the political spectrum, the song looks hard at how language can become no more than a glass paperweight dampening the flicker of free thought.

Yet, despite heady preoccupations, Milemarker can still unleash pummeling power and slanted rhythms, like “Sex Jam One: Sexual Machinery” and the holographic punk of “Tundra,” which doesn’t feel a million miles from Kanye West (as does their urban dance-throttled “Idle Hands”) as it gnaws on incandescent keyboard riffs, the drums explode in sudden urges (from jazz-bridged syncopated asides to sheer fist-stomping smackdowns), and the slow, degraded guitar forms a distorted plumage. Newton and crew weigh in on the impending ice age – using the song as stretching harsh light to illuminate the impending eco-cataclysm bound to upset economies, military agendas, populace routines, etc.

Having taken a break since 2005, they have re-emerged, like nomads populated with new band members and up-to-the-minute visions. Overseas (released on the Lovitt label), with Monika Bukowska providing the unflinching internal roil and rhythm on the heaving beats on songs like “Conditional Love” (an electro-punk motif frosted with singalong punk propellants), is dancefloor odored and ordered, an electrifying emblem of punk hybridity.

Al Burian kindly offered to answer questions “haphazardly.” [Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared at the most excellent ‘zine Dagger, which not so coincidentally is helmed by our very own Tim “Dagger” Hinely. Many thanks to him and Mr. Ensminger for allowing us to share it with the BLURT readership.]






DAVID ENSMINGER: No doubt, members of long-lived bands come and go, line-ups change, etc., but now only half of the band remains at the core. Have you essentially re-imagined Milemarker, not just resurrected it … perhaps taken off the guardrails?

AL BURIAN: Milemarker always had a pretty shifty line-up; every record has had some variation in the musicians playing on it. And from the beginning, we always had an agenda of pushing boundaries, at least our own personal boundaries, of getting the people in the band to go places where they are uncomfortable. Dave and I wanted to do some new stuff with the band in 2015, so we found the other two people, Lena and Ezra, and immediately wrote a record with them. The band history gave us some sort of aesthetic range or parameter for writing– I guess in that sense the band as an abstract entity is the guardrails.

Your tune “New Lexicon” (which musically always reminded me a bit of …Trail of the Dead) is so apropos to this volatile era, this immediate strife. Was the song intended as a play on Orwell’s notion of language being an epicenter of control: “We don’t need big brother to enforce the new lexicon … we wrote it for ourselves.” Is the general public, and not just Trump, responsible for the emergence of alternative facts? 

.A lot of the dystopian science fiction elements in the bands’ past lyrics are becoming descriptive of current reality, which is not a very good development. It seems to me that this current administration is fundamentally different from anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime.­ Though to be honest, I have no idea what to expect. I’ve been sitting in my apartment in Berlin, viewing the U.S.A. through the mediated lens of the internet. Of course, we are all responsible in some way for what is happening. With the band, and especially with touring in the U.S. now, I assume everyone in the audience is going to be aware of what’s going on; they don’t need a political analysis from us. Our agenda is to make music. That’s not meant apolitically: if I’m going to be optimistic, I’ll say hopefully that music can serve as a unifying force, maybe even communicate something fundamental and transcendent.


Another changing format that has become the de facto norm is “reality TV” (actually, scripted to the core), which the band presciently recognized on “Make Love to the Camera Obscura.” The line “what’s the point of doing anything if it’s not on camera” is eerie. People have shifted from mere consumers to endless makers of content. Does that appeal to you, in the “become the media” sense punks like Jello Biafra once espoused, but also trouble you?

That line is actually taken from Warren Beatty, spoken derisively to Madonna in the documentary, Truth Or Dare. But yeah, if “new lexicon” is Orwellian 1984, dystopia “make love to the camera obscura” is Huxleyan Brave New Worlddystopia. I think Huxley was closer on the mark in terms of predicting our present situation, although really maybe it’s kind of a gross melange of the two, with an authoritarian Big Brother presiding over a sheep-like hedonistic pleasure-centered society. The worst of both worlds! I think the song still holds up overall, social criticism-wise, although the line “you’re on camera an average of ten times a day” is out-dated: that was the average number of surveillance cameras you’d encounter per day in 1999. The number of cameras that capture you on a daily basis now is undoubtedly exponentially higher.

By the time you cut tracks like “River of Blood” for the last album– over eight minutes in length – had you become restless with post-hardcore routines? The lyrics seem pointedly political – the destructive machinations of government and war, but the song (called “math-core” by Pitchfork), seems restless as hell…searching.

“Rivers of Blood” was a pretty old song when we recorded Ominosity. It was written fairly soon after the songs onAnaesthetic. We were into longer songs at that point. As far as the lyrics, why do you say “but”? You can’t be pointedly political and restless as hell at the same time?


People tend to romanticize the independent networks of labels, indie publicists, and fanzine editors that formed the backbone of punk from the 1970s-2000s, etc., but the longer I chronicle the movement, the less transparent, and even less honest, it all seems. How would you describe dealing with the punk “infrastructure” (for lack of a better term)? Did we create an alternative commerce and ethos, or did we fail?

Punk led me to pretty much everything I know about as far as “alternative” or anti-mainstream ideas. It’s a conduit for all kinds of information and can lead you to all kinds of interesting places. But it’s only one way to get to these points, and it can lead you to some pretty dumb and nihilistic places too. The question of failing depends on what the goals are. We’re all only humans, and we exist in the framework of the current economic system; to feel like a new world didn’t spring out of your efforts is a beautifully idealistic standard to hold yourself up to, but maybe a little unfair to yourself. We’re all doing the best we can, for the most part. One thing I always liked about punk is that it embraces deviance generally. So there are a lot of freaks, a lot of scam artists and schizophrenics, a lot of bad thoughts, bad ideas, experiments gone awry. There are a lot of lonely people just trying to get attention. That’s all part of it, and part of what makes it great. “Succeeding” might be the wrong paradigm for thinking about it.

On the web:

Portraits of a Rock Band on Fire: Parquet Courts

“Fight back!” On February 11, the Artist Sometimes Known as Parkay Quarts stormed the gates of Atlanta’s Terminal West venue, ultimately selling out (the venue, not the band). And we were there.
Photo Gallery By John Boydston















Bigger galleries of this and other curiosities in rock and nature are at