ROSCOE MITCHELL – Bells For the South Side

Album: Bells For the South Side

Artist: Roscoe Mitchell

Label: ECM

Release Date: June 16, 2017

The Upshot: To ears unaccustomed to madness, this may all sound like unstructured falderal. But listen close, and you’ll find a master and his musicians at their best.


As co-founder of both the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, reedsman and composer Roscoe Mitchell has a long history of leading jazz into the bushes of the avant garde – and back. In celebration of his long career and the work of the AACM, he was invited to create a new work for his hometown’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Gathering up a gang of likeminded souls, including maverick pianist Craig Taborn, that make up his various trios, Mitchell recorded Bells For the South Side in both the museum’s theater and in the exhibition space itself.

The Art Ensemble was known for its extensive use of percussion, so “Spatial Aspects of the Sound,” the first track on Bells, serves as a reminder. Chimes, bells and atonal piano rattle about like ambient music made by bees, before Mitchell’s flute rises up from the clatter for a quiet but compelling theme. “EP 7849” bashes away on cymbals and blocks before introducing Jaribu Shahid’s bowel-loosening bass tones.“Six Gongs and Two Woodblocks” isn’t what’s advertised, but certainly bangs the cans frequently under James Fei’s clarinet honks and Mitchell’s soprano squeals. The sonorous title track is basically a duet between Mitchell’s piercing sax work and the group’s forest of rattles and clangs. As with the original band, whose set-ups get used here, percussion is the through line for these pieces, and most of them are introduced, interrupted or accompanied by various jangles, tinkles, clatters and clunks.

That’s the easy part, however – once the ensemble gets to “Prelude to a Rose,” the horns take over, playfully hopping, skipping and jumping around the minimal melody, as trumpeter Hugh Ragin and trombonist Tyshawn Sorey dance giddily around Mitchell’s rumbling bass sax. “Dancing in the Canyon” switches out the bass for alto, and brings in Taborn’s battering keyboard runs and Kikanju Baku’s furious drumming for a ten-minute storm of improvisation. “The Last Chord” conjures a sense of play with giddy kit bashing, aggressive piano ripples and squonking horns. But Mitchell’s visions truly comes together on a pair of epics in the second half of the program. “Prelude to the Card Game, Cards for Drums, and The Final Hand” swirls around percussion and honking saxophone, while the massive “Red Moon in the Sky/Odwalla” moves from ambient to agitated, placid to pissed off, through a near half-hour of squeaks, squonks, clashes, rattles and actual melody, bent into more than just cacophony by sheer force of Mitchell’s will. It’s probably the most challenging piece in an album full of them. To ears unaccustomed to madness, this may all sound like unstructured falderal. But few have the experience in shaping art out of chaos that Mitchell does, and Bells For the South Side finds a master and his musicians at their best.

DOWNLOAD: “Red Moon in the Sky/Odwalla,” “Dancing in the Canyon,” “Prelude to a Rose”


MARK MULCAHY- The Possum in the Driveway

Album: The Possum in the Driveway

Artist: Mark Mulcahy

Label: Mezzotint

Release Date: April 16, 2017


Mark Mulcahy’s resume might not have qualified him for entry into the big leagues — not yet anyway — but his work with the band Miracle Legion, along with his side project, Polaris (essentially the house band for an obscure television series called “The Adventures of Peter & Pete”) do affirm the fact that he is indeed a credible pop pro whose artistic indulgence has reaped some remarkable results. That skill has also been ably demonstrated on a series of solo albums, of which Smilesunset (2001), In Pursuit of Your Happiness (2005) and Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You offer the most shining examples of his remarkable wit and mesmerizing melodic prowess. It was a sound celebrated on an unlikely tribute album in 2009, Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy, an homage that was well deserved.

Happily then, The Possum in the Driveway lives up to those singularly high standards. A slightly sardonic set, it starts out with a measured amount of reserve but quickly picks up the pace three songs in. “Catching Mice” and “Hollywood Never Forgives” are unabashedly perky and the considered pace of “Catching Mice” finds Mulcahy’s tongue planted firmly in cheek. “Jimmy” is the brightest of the bunch, and if the sound is kaleidoscopic at times, it adds enough edge and spontaneity to keep listeners enthralled. As always, Mulcahy’s pastoral pop stirs up a delightful brew, both easily accessible and undeniably irrepressible all at the same time.

DOWNLOAD: “Jimmy,” “Catching Mice,” “Hollywood Never Forgives”


Album: Passin’ Thru

Artist: Charles Lloyd New Quartet

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: July 14, 2017


The Upshot: Masterful stylistic survey of the saxman’s history from the beginning to the present, as a reminder not only of how long he has served the cause of jazz, but also how well he does it now and will continue to do in the future.


Legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd has explored his distinctive vision of jazz as spiritual sacrament in a variety of contexts over the decades, but none more masterfully than in the format of the classic quartet. Though the 79-year-old hasn’t worked in that context in a while, he reconvened his New Quartet (pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Eric Harland) in 2015 for its first tour in several years – the results of which are documented on Passin’ Thru.

Appropriately, Lloyd opens the album with the first song of the first performance on the tour. “Dream Weaver,” first recorded fifty years ago with his first quartet, was the opening number for the band’s reunion show at the 2016 Montreux Jazz Festival. Upbeat, melodic and full of improvisatory fire, the tune zooms forward for nearly eighteen minutes, making its postbop sound fresh for a new century. The rest of the songs come from a 2016 show in Santa Fe, but are no less notable for not being taped at a major music festival. “Nu Blues” buzzes through traditional changes with a finger-popping rhythm and standout solos from Rogers and Harland, while “Tagore On the Delta” refreshes the form as Moran strums the strings inside his piano, Lloyd winds through the chords with earthy flute and Rogers grooves like a motherfucker. “How Can I Tell You” floats on a cloud of romantic balladry, fueled by the dreamy interplay between Lloyd and Moran. “Part 5 Ruminations,” an unused tune from the suite documented on 2015’s Wild Man’s Dance, connects Lloyd’s postbop foundation with the avant-garde leanings of his late 60s work.

Lloyd ends the album contrasting the old and the new. The title track first appeared on the same-titled 1962 album from drummer Chico Hamilton, for whom Lloyd served not only as saxist but also chief composer. The song’s insistent, danceable rhythm drives Moran to new heights of fleet-fingered keyboard runs, while Rogers and Harland once again prove why they’re the most vital rhythm section in jazz. Closing number “Shiva Prayer” is a brand new piece that pays tribute to a recently passed family friend, gently but passionately exploring a zone between meditative ballad and free jazz exploration. That one-two punch at the end summarizes the album’s purpose: to survey Lloyd’s history from the beginning to the present, as a reminder not only of how long Lloyd has served the cause of jazz, but also how well he does it now and will continue to do in the future.

DOWNLOAD: “Passin’ Thru,” “Tagore On the Delta,” “Dream Weaver”

THE PINEAPPLES – Twice On the Pipe

Album: Twice On the Pipe

Artist: The Pineapples

Label: Wicked Ape

Release Date: July 14, 2017

The Upshot: Downtown NYC heaviosity like they useta make in the early ‘90s. Guess what? They still do.


“… after which they took a long hiatus.” Talk about a band bio understatement—we’re talking nearly a quarter-century’s layoff between releases for this downtown Big Apple outfit, last heard from on 1993’s Kramer-produced She Brings Me Down EP. And, admittedly, you’d be forgiven for not having clamored for a reunion—or, hell, even remembering the name, unless you were either on the Amerindie ‘zine scene back in those admittedly pre-goldrush alt-rock daze, or a regular consumer of the UK weeklies, which momentarily championed the Pineapples. And not without cause, either—this was a heavy, Prog/punk noize as cool as it got, deservingly aligned by the critics with the likes of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. But alas, things have a way of coming to abrupt endings.

Now, though, Sirs Howard Rappaport (gtr, vox), Kevin Neenan (gtr), Michael Delanni (bs) and Thomas Dwyer (dr) have decided to pen a coda that promises to open an entire new volume. Amazingly, there’s still an enticingly familiar early ‘90s vibe here, with angular leads bolstered by brutal power chords, vocals that slip easily between yearning reverie, loutish growls, and heavenly harmonies, and a rhythmic assault that could power its way through any stylistic decade you’d care to name. From the post-grunge glissandos of “Red King” and part-dreamscape/part-overdrive alt-pop that is “Summergreen,” to the anthemic, immeasurably hookish power pop of “Reason to Live” and shuddery, wah-wah-powered, psychedelic anthem “Please Don’t Kill Doctor Strange” (yes, there are at least a few unapologetic comics fans in the band), there’s a lot going on with this slab o’ heaviness.

Did someone mention “slab”? We’ve got a shiny black 180-gram piece o’ 12” wax in hand, with a neon-tinted inner sleeve and a nude pineapple-bearer gracing the outer sleeve, so really, what are you waiting for, a goddam jpeg or something?

DOWNLOAD: “Reason to Live,” “Summergreen”

Bonnaroo Music Festival 2017

Dates: June 8-11, 2017

Location: Manchester, Tennessee

This year’s event took place June 8th-11th in Manchester, TN, and featured, among many changes, an expanded Other stage.


The great music festival known as Bonnaroo took place Thursday June 8th thru Sunday night the 12th on “The Farm” in Manchester, TN. Bonnaroo turned Sixteen this year and it defiantly was a sweet sixteen! Bonnaroo has always been known and praised for its ability to put together a diverse lineup. This year might have been its most diverse year yet, and the attendance numbers – over sixty five thousand – seems to show the people approve.

This year they took the Other tent and turned it into a full-on open air stage just like the Which stage and the What stage. This new stage may have been part of the reason the festival attendance was up over last year as this stage catered to the electronic crowd. With such acts as Nghtmre, Herobust (below), and Marshmello Man (below), this stage keep the EDM crowd engaged and dancing with the most intense light shows and l.e.d. light boards that I have ever witnessed.

This year’s headliners included U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chance the Rapper, and The Weeknd. This in itself is a very diverse lineup, but now add in the EDM acts, a ton of new and up and coming acts, and a little country just for good measure and you have yourself one hell of a good weekend.

Bonnaroo also has a ton of vendors of all types of food including vegan food, lots of drink options with Miller Lite (Cherokee Distributing) and Bacardi being huge sponsors this year. There were also lots of vendors of all types of goods such as earrings, festival wear and casual clothing, paintings, hammocks, and air capture loungers that seemed to be all the rage this year.

The weather was the best it has been in the last three years that I have been attending the festival, with the first three days being sunny and in the mid-80s during the day and around 60 at night. Sunday rose to the lower 90s but was bearable as I ducked in and out of the shade and was able to stay hydrated with lots of water filling station across the farm. Many people took advantage of the water fountain mushroom, as it was a great place to cool off each day.

The people are the main reason this is one if not the best festival of the year. You will see all kinds of unique characters as you venture across the grounds.

Once Centeroo opens on Thursday afternoon it doesn’t shut down, going twenty four hours a day until late Sunday night. The Silent Disco is an all out dance party where everyone wears headphones while the DJ plays the tunes goes on until 4 a.m., and The Jake and Snake Christmas Club Barn featured DJs all day until 6 a.m. The motto is “radiate positivity” and the people live it through out the festival. It is common for random people walking by to be high fiving everyone they pass by. What other festival could you step on someone’s foot and them apologize to you.

There were so many great bands this year, but a couple of standouts for me this year were Wilderado, Boyfriend, July Talk, and Tove Lo, plus Marshmello Man. (All are pictured below.)

This is just my guess, but I suspect that you will see Bonnaroo become two festivals in one next year and going forward. I say this because of the layout of the land, being so large and the spacing of the stages, as it is you could have an upscale of this years EDM lineup. The Other stage is now large enough to handle the large EMD crowds that it drew this year and could easily draw even more big names.

If they either built or converted one of the other tents in place and expanded the Christmas barn, this end would be a huge draw and be little to no reason for these festivalgoers to venture to the other end. I also heard rumors that there might be a Country Music Festival in the works. Why not? You have everything in place, so why not take advantage of the facilities for more than the one week a year. Being so close to Nashville, this could easily become a huge deal, but again this is just a rumor.

We will have to wait and see what happens with Bonnaroo, but either way I can’t wait until next year the dates have been set for June 7th-10th in 2018.

Follow my concert photography on Instagram @markjacksonphotography1


Big Gigantic

Big Jesus

Charlotte Cardin

Cold War Kids

Deap Vally




Lukas Nelson

Luke Combs

Milky Chance

Preservation Hall Jazz Band w/Flint Eastwood

Head and the Heart

Tory Lanez

Travis Scott

Tucker Beathard

… plus the crowd!





THE MAGIC OF MONTREAL: The Festival De Jazz De Montreal

Dates: June 28 - July 8, 2017

Location: Montreal, Canada

After 38 years, the annual music event has yet to disappoint. This year it took place June 28 through July 8. Following the review, scroll down to see a gallery from the festival.


There are any number of reasons why the Montreal Jazz Festival stands out above all others. The first has to do with the music, which is world class, eclectic and marked by the kind and calibre of performance that’s rarely heard elsewhere. The other cause for why it’s so special is …well, that it’s held in Montreal. The host city alone ought to provide enough allure to draw those who are willing to succumb to the mystique, aura and allure that makes Montreal the closest thing to a European metropolis in the whole of North America, Quebec being the only exception. The singular line-ups featured each year provide added incentive, but even those like myself who have a limited knowledge of many of the musicians involved can find reason enough to trust that the setting alone will make it an exceptional event nonetheless.

To be sure, there is something of a risk that comes with peering at a roster that I find for me consists of mostly unfamiliar names. Even my husband’s reassurances that there’s much to enjoy still leaves me wondering if, in this adventurous array of cutting-edge artists, I’ll still find sounds that will easily find their way into my brain and later leave me humming a few catchy refrains. While I love jazz of the classic variety — big band, swing, contemporary conceits and the like — much of the music demands a willing ear and a willingness in general to venture deeply into experimental realms.

Mind you, that’s a concept that I’m generally comfortable with. The first time I agreed to go with my hubby to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, I had to wonder how I’d relate to a plethora of fiddles and banjos. I was a cosmopolitan girl from up north after all, and the lure of back porch jams and arcane Americana had me convinced that I’d be settling in for a series of hillbilly hoedowns, albeit in the lovely setting of Colorado’s magnificent mountains. Yet by the end of the festival I was totally hooked, having become enamoured by the likes of the Avett Brothers, Sam Bush and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Would I get the same feeling of satisfaction from The Souljazz Orchestra, Bill Frisell and Christian McBride? Clearly, it remained to be seen.

Granted, there were also artists who lured me in. The opportunity to see Bob Dylan on the day we arrived provided a sense of satisfaction, even though I knew that Dylan himself was hardly what one would call a predictable performer. Yet at the same time, he provided a perfect segue way for some jazzier designs, his current fascination with the music of his early idol, Frank Sinatra, and the Great American Songbook providing a cultural tie to the musical mantra that the Montreal Jazz Festival has always drawn upon for the past 38 years. Dylan’s designs were so concrete and coherent, in fact, that even when his own classic songs seemed inexplicably altered to the point where they were practically beyond recognition, his reverent renditions of “Stormy Weather,” “That Old Black Magic” and “Autumn Leaves” consoled me and made me believe that I could find connections even in the most unlikely circumstances.

That sense of calm was further amplified the following day when we took in a performance by the Bad Plus, a melodic jazz trio that chose to supplement their sets with an array of special guests. On this particular eventing, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel was sitting in, adding an extra texture to the group’s sooting sounds and seemingly extemporaneous improvisation. At times it seemed a bit too sedate, but after a whirlwind day taking in the sights and sounds of the festival — among them, the plethora of free outdoor performances, street shows and the general buzz that gave Rue Sainte- Catherine its festival-like atmosphere — a mellow mood seemed to play well into the evening’s fare.

That said, the next concert we took in changed my perception dramatically. The grand Festival a la Maison Symphonique is a spectacular setting for any concert, given its remarkable acoustics and a multi-tiered auditorium that brings to mind the regal opera houses found in many a great European city, London’s Albert Hall in particular. However, witnessing the performance of Colin Stetson on his saxophones, accompanied only by some strange sampling and unusual aural effects made me think that instead of being in a magnificent concert hall, I was actually in the belly of a beast. Suffice it to say, Stetson creates sounds like no other, strange, dissident and outlandishly obtrusive. It was left to Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan to restore my sense of calm and allow some reassurance that even the most avant garde experimentation was simply a matter of individual taste.

At this juncture I have to say that indeed, there were plenty of established artists at the festival who had earned their place in the pantheon by breaking boundaries and take their artistry to places that were unexpected and often divine. The Charles Lloyd Quartet, blues greats Buddy Guy and Charles Musselwhite, and Hudson — a new quartet featuring Jack DeJohnette (the recipient of a prestigious award of accomplishment the next day), John Scofield, John Medeski and Larry Grenadier — all proved that experimentation could be both adventurous and enticing all at the same time.

Nevertheless, our third day at the festival was all about reassurance as far as I was concerned. A soothing set of perfectly tuneful and melodic songs from Canada’s own Ron Sexsmith set the pace that evening, allowing the chance to admire and observe a singer/songwriter who, nearly 30 years on in his career, still makes music that comes complete with cascading choruses, willowy melodies and a soothing sense of wistful reflection. Ater Sexsmith’s set, we made a shift in our settings, from the intimate environs of Club Soda where Sexsmith had performed to Evenements Speciaux, another magnificent auditorium where we would view the film “La La Land” with the accompaniment of a full symphony orchestra. Having seen the film, I couldn’t imagine how the live symphonic sounds could effectively integrate into the musical segments on screen. And yet, it worked out seamlessly, giving a cinematic experience that was as uniquely charming as it was wonderfully romantic.

As if we hadn’t experienced enough diversity that evening, we braved through our hunger pains and made our way back to Club Soda for what may have been the most unlikely concert of the whole festival, a performance by the ‘80s pop/new wave/electronica band Men Without Hats. While the bulk of the band are new to the fold — and without hats, I might add — original singer Ivan Doroschuk still retains his distinctive baritone and, for a man of senior status (he turns 60 this year) some remarkably agile dance steps. Naturally, the group’s worldwide hit “Safety Dance” proved the highlight of the set, performed no less than three times throughout the evening, the first marred by technical difficulties involving one of the keyboards, the second by way of a make-up and the third to close out the show prior to the band taking an encore. Clearly, the nudge of nostalgia is a hard habit to break.

After the nonstop bombardment of both the proven and the provocative, our final evening of the festival couldn’t have provided us with a better way to say our farewells. It offered ample amounts of both. King Crimson was one of those weird yet wondrous outfits I remember seeing at the Fillmore at the end of the psychedelic ‘60s, when progressive rock brought strange new sounds to an audience that clamoured for the unconventional. Their signature song “In the Court of the Crimson King” offered a wonderful ride into an unexplored dimension, but ever since then, the ever-evolving nature of the band left me behind and unfamiliar with all but that earlier era. So much to my surprise, I found myself fascinated by the band’s current incarnation, particularly the three drummers that lined the front of the stage and seemed so in synch when it came to exacting the band’s rhythms. No jam band, this; each of the percussionists took solo turns, picking up with the others left off and pounding different drums while colleagues took their solos with sole original stalwart Robert Fripp playing out his unique guitar style and also tending to keyboards, the entire ensemble dazzled the audience with varying tones, textures and an ethereal ambiance that was as mesmerizing as it was magical. The end of the performance paid off with songs I could recall — the aforementioned “Court of the Crimson King, a soaring version of David Bowie’s “Heroes” and the electrifying verve of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the latter of which seems more appropriate than ever.

It was an extraordinary end to an extraordinary festival, one that stands alone in its unique musical draw. Even the fact that we had to awaken at 4:30 AM the next day to catch a flight back to the States on the 4th of July proved well worth the effort. Montreal is amazing, and its soundtrack couldn’t be more enchanting.


Colin Stetson

Tigran Hamasyan

Ron Sexsmith with Lee Zimmerman interview

Montreal Jazz Fest 2017 – Street scene

Street Performers @ Montreal Jazz Fest

Ron Sexsmith

La La Land in Concert

Men Without Hats

Jakko Jakszyk & Mel Collins of King Crimson -interviewed by Lee Zimmerman

Jakko Jakszyk, Lee Zimmerman, Mel Collins

Street Performers

Negative Approach + Bloodclot 8/1/17, Denver

Dates: August 1, 2017

Location: Marquis Theatre, Denver CO

The Marquis Theatre was the scene of the crime, as singer John Brannon might put it… and our resident yuppie scum was there to document it.


I’m not a raw power kind of guy, at least not most the time, though there was a long-past era in my life when I lived and breathed hardcore music. That younger hardcore me would have absolutely lost his shit when all kinds of punk/oi!/thrash godfathers showed up via the bands Negative Approach and Bloodclot last Tuesday at Denver’s Marquis Theater. It was a lot like taking a time machine to 1985, but a fucked up one that let 2017 seep through the cracks during the trip. The skinheads were there, just like every Oi! show, but I saw a guy in a Fred Perry and Nikes, for instance. But because I am now yuppie scum and definitively not hardcore, I had to do my people watching furtively. Suffice it to say there was a lot of stuff like that; a lot of very retro-but-fuck-it-everything-changes moments scattered throughout the scene.

Bloodclot, touring in support of their new album Up In Arms, were loud and brutal, just as you’d expect from a group of veterans of their particular pedigree. That veteran lineup happens to include Nick Oliveri of QOTSA and more. Frontman and way-back-when Cro Mags singer John Joseph regularly spouted some pat antichrist philosophy between songs, as well as some rastafari shit but I couldn’t make out if he was for it or against it (the smart money is on “for,” considering how far he goes back with HR/Bad Brains and since the dude is the most jacked, wilded-out vegan you’ll ever come across). They played a song about Monsanto, which got me to thinking how unique this whole thing was; even if you don’t like the music, which for me is more just fascination than actually being into it, you have to appreciate how much of a community there is in this trying-to-get-to-the-post-apocolypse group of misfits, where a hare krishna vegan is singing thrash metal odes to destroying the masters of war. The set was like an AA meeting with no rules and lots of beer (or not, in John’s case) and everybody calling bullshit on everything.

“There should be some threat in rock ‘n’ roll … that’s what rock ‘n’ roll’s all about.” That’s a quote from Negative Approach and storied pisser John Brannon that gets about as close to the heart of this hardcore thing as you’re likely to find. Threatening as ever and completely true to form, John commanded the show from start to finish with his trademark visage, which begs a little something in the way of explanation: Anyone that says John Brannon has a scowl on his face when he performs has completely missed the fucking point. The man is exorcising all kinds of shit-sucking, flesh-destroying demons up there, and not just his own; every single person in the room gets to share in the glare. Before the show, I read that he will occasionally pick someone out in the audience and stare them down … like, for a while. I have to admit that for a few seconds mid-set I though that poor bastard was going to be me, until I realized that a few seconds feels like an hour when John Brannon is staring into your cerebrospinal fluid. The songs are simply John’s countenance expressed in furious two minute musical bursts. The songs mostly sound the same to my old guy ears, though I recognized the absolutely spot-fucking-on cover of Sham 69’s “Borstal Breakout.” (BTW “borstal” is like “juvie” but for United Kingdomonians. The more you know, right?)

NA was as hardcore on a random Tuesday in 2017 as any hardcore band could ever have hoped to be in 1985, and for that reason, if you’re lucky enough for them to come through your town, they should never be missed.


The Descendents 7/21/17, Denver

Dates: July 21, 2017

Location: The Fillmore, Denver CO

Live at Denver’s Fillmore venue, the gang plowed through 40 years of hits, touching on all eras of the band.


The last time the Descendents played this venue was in late January 2012. I remember because we had moved to Denver a week later, Feb, 4th, 2012 and I was beyond bummed that I missed it by a week. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get a chance to see ‘em again, but alas, they have played Two of the four Denver Riot Fests here and having two of the guys in nearby Ft. Collins, well, they’re almost like a local band here (almost).

It’s funny how after all these years, I still think of guitarist Stephen Egerton and bassist Karl Alvarez as “the new guys” (these days both of ‘em sporting the Mr. Clean look).  None of the other early lineups lasted more than a few years so this is easily the longest lineup of the band (and in their alter ego, All, too having Chad Price on vocals). So no, they’re not the  new guys , but the first time I saw them, Summer of ’86, Ray Cooper and Doug Carrion were still in the band so that strange thought is still in my head.

The band (with original members Milo Aukerman on vocals and drummer Bill Stevenson in addition to the two above-mentioned “new” guys) rarely disappoint though. At this point they’re a well-oiled machine, running through nearly 40 years of hits (hits in my mind, anyway).

They opened with “Everything Sux” (from their 1996 album of the same name) which seems to be their requisite opener these days and plowed through an hour and a half of melodic, gritty punk. For some of the old classics we heard “Hope,” “My Dad Sucks,” (written by original guitarist Frank Navetta who apparently had a very difficult relationship with his dad), “Coolidge,” “Suburban Home” (first Descendents tune I ever heard and the one that made me a fan), “Silly Girl,” “Pervert,” “Get the Time” and too many more.

They came out for not one but two encores as the first one included “I’m the One” (also off ‘96’s Everything Sux) and “Bikeage” off the classic Milo Goes to College). For the second encore we heard “Sour Grapes” (off Enjoy) and they ended it with an elongated version of Catalina” and called it a night.

After decades of obscurity its great to finally see these guys getting the respect they deserve (something that has eluded their alter-ego, All, thus far).

I’ll go ahead and say it. These guys are welcome back to Denver anytime.

Photo credit: 2014 by IllaZilla – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,



Album: Bad Girl

Artist: Reese McHenry w/Spider Bags

Label: Sophomoe Lounge

Release Date: July 14, 2017

The Upshot: Vinyl alert! Twangy garage and off-kilter country as wielded by an utterly original voice who’s backed by a fearless group of musicians.


An album that gets better and more riotously fun with each successive spin, Bad Girl teams Chapel Hill singer-songwriter Reese McHenry (formerly of Dirty Little Heaters) with Tarheel garage-skronksters the Spider Bags for a sonic summit that not only plays to the respective strengths of all the players, it also finds them pushing one another outside their comfort zones and discovering new skills. It’s a collaboration in the truest sense of the word, too, with some songs written by McHenry, some by the Bags’ Dan McGee, some jointly by the pair, and some by other writers. (McGee also acts as the project’s producer, and the ever-talented Wesley Wolfe handles engineering duties.)

Opening track “Bad Girl” is explosive enough and sets the stage perfectly. Penned by Lee Moses, it serves as a personal manifesto for McHenry, who croons, moans, and wails her titular self-assessment with enough vim ‘n’ vigor that you quickly learn to believe her. The band, abetted by Clarque Blomquist on piano and Ben Riseling on sax, initially conjures a vintage ‘50s vibe that gradually turns rowdy, like a libation-fueled gathering that progresses well into the wee hours. Twangy garageabilly raveup “On the 45” follows, boasting a kind of Panther Burns-meets-Southern Culture on the Skids ambiance. And the hits just keep coming—the careening romp that is “Mexico City”; the pedal steel-powered, straight-up country-tonk ballad “Painter Man’s Blues” (one of four tunes featuring Caitlin Cary on backing vocals); a sassy shuffle, “Bomb,” that revs and roars until you can practically see the stage collapsing from the collective impact of all the stomping feet; and closing number “The Rose of Monmouth County” that lets all assembled let loose in a noise orgy that somehow manages to retain a tender edge—testimony, no doubt, to McHenry’s utterly convincing skills at the mic.

She’s one part Lucinda Williams (in her unusual phrasing-drawl), one part Frazey Ford (in her signature high-range warble), and several parts tent revival preacher in the throes of a laying-on-of-hands possession. And Bad Girl just might be the most unique musical artifact you’ll hear out of North Carolina all year.

DOWNLOAD: “Mexico City,” “On the 45,” “The Rose of Monmouth County”

SAINT ETIENNE — Home Counties

Album: Home Counties

Artist: Saint Etienne

Label: Heavenly

Release Date: June 02, 2017

The Upshot: Dance-pop turns Franco-pop via well-honed and played arrangements – synth pop, girl group, northern soul, dream pop, every variety of comfort food music. Pressed on 2LP heavy black vinyl, of course.


Very little remains of Saint Etienne’s dance pop origins in this ninth full-length, which celebrates suburbia in radiant Franco-pop terms. You could flash a strobe to disco-ish “Dive” or plot diva-esque personal empowerment to “Out of My Mind,” but the most arresting tracks on this 19-track album are more ruminative. The very best, indeed, may be “Sweet Arcadia,” a limpidly beautiful seven-minute epic whose lyrics consist almost entirely of place names and whose music is a banked glow of slow keyboard tones mixed with birdsong.

The home counties are London’s equivalent to Westchester and Bergen County and certain verdant quarters of Long Island, places that are pleasant enough from a train window, but stultifying over long periods, especially during adolescence. (So close and yet so far!)  So, perhaps, the hemmed in prettiness of the songs matches the manicured green-ness of these environs, the sly sense of humor matches a thinking person’s impatience with the non-eventfulness of village life. Saint Etienne interleaves a gem-like succession of pop songs with odd little radio recordings — a sports score broadcast, a pop quiz — to reinforce the sense of stodgy place.  And yet, perhaps the best, most vivid daydreams occur in straight-laced neighborhoods, like “Train Drivers in Eyeliner” with its sly, subversive advocacy for gender equity in public transportation or tinkly “Whyteleafe”’s dreams of Paris in the 1960s, Berlin in 1970s.

None of this would matter if the music weren’t so good, elevating wispy whimsies into bright, infectious clarity. Throughout, the warm honey velvet of Sarah Cracknell’s voice flows over well-honed and played arrangements – synth pop, girl group, northern soul, dream pop, every variety of comfort food music. The basslines are consistently superior, giving spine and urgency to spun sugar ephemera, and extended instrumentation – a harpsichord-ish synth, a brass band — mix things up. It is very good, as vanilla ice cream or macaroni and cheese can be very good, any lingering embarrassment about the blandness you’re enjoying offset by how delicious it is.

DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Arcadia,” “Train Drivers in Eyeliner”