Monthly Archives: August 2010

WALKING THE TIGHTROPE Budos Band

The Daptone Recs’
ten-piece branches out while retaining its signature sound.

 

BY ANDY TENNILLE

 

“It’s sorta Afrobeat, it’s sorta soul, it’s sorta funk, and
it’s sorta rock,” Jared Tankel says, pausing for a few seconds to consider his
back-of-the-tour-bus assessment of the Budos Band en route to a gig in Quebec.
“Shit, I don’t really even know what music we’re playing at this point. It’s
just us.”

 

Tankel is right, of course. With the release earlier this
month of Budos Band III, their third
full-length since debuting on Brooklyn-based Daptone Records in 2005, the
Staten Island ten-piece have cranked out authentic Afro-soul music that deftly
walks the artistic tightrope of paying homage to their musical forbearers while
simultaneously charting a course decidedly their own.

 

“We started out writing and wanting to play 10-minute-plus
arranged Afrobeat songs, but after a while, we found ourselves getting bored
playing these long songs without a vocalist, so we cut the songs down some and
found a more Afro-funk sound,” says Tankel, the band’s baritone saxophonist.
“That was really what you hear on our first record. After that came out, we got
into a really heavy listening diet of Ethiopian jazz. We also listened to a lot
of American soul. Both of those come through strong on our second album, I
think.”

 

Both slabs won widespread praise as fans and critics alike
compared the young upstarts to the likes of the legendary Fela Kuti and
Ethiopian jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke. For Daptone label chief Gabe Roth, who
produced and engineered all three Budos Band albums, all the lofty comparisons
missed the point.

 

“None of them sound anything like Fela to me,” Roth says,
“and none of them sound really Ethiopian at all, but they’re influenced by all
that stuff. If you listen to any of their music, you can hear the influences,
but none of their records sound anything like that to me. They all sound like
Budos records to me, man.”

 

For Budos Band III,
Tankel and company began writing shortly after the release of their 2007
sophomore effort and spent the subsequent two years road-testing the new songs
in front of audiences across the country and around the world. “We really used
the time on the road to hone them down, so the songs aren’t really that new to
any of us,” he explains. “But I think they really benefited from that
experience because we were able to play them out and see what worked.”

 

In January, Roth summoned the band to Daptone’s House of
Soul studio in Bushwick just as the group ended a long tour. “Those guys were
fresh off the road, so they’d fleshed out most of the songs pretty good and had
their arrangements together,” Roth remembers. “We cut it in three days. I think
we did one day to get sounds and two days of recording and overdubs. That’s
it.”

 

“Went in on a Friday night and finished Sunday afternoon,”
Tankel recalls. “That’s kinda been our style the past couple of albums.
Everyone was on point. On a couple of songs, we did only two takes and chose
between the two. It went super smooth.”

 

Roth – who normally takes charge of both the production and
songwriting for Daptone’s flagship artist, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings –
says his role changes when working with the Budos Band.

 

“Those guys know what they’re doing, so I mainly just stay
out of the way,” Roth says about the session. “I weigh in here and there on
which takes to keep, and I’ll throw out a small idea every once in a while on a
new intro or a different beat. I probably contribute a little bit of the
psychedelic stuff to it, throwing delays and other stuff in.”

 

In a lot of ways, Budos
Band III
picks up where its predecessor left off. The band’s trademark
sound remains intact, but the whole affair has a heftier feel that Tankel
credits to the band’s current listening habits. “It’s funny,” Tankel says, “we
drive around in our van, and all that the guys ever want to listen to these
days is rock music. I don’t think you could ever say a Budos Band album is a
rock record, but the drumming and bass parts on this record are definitely more
rockin’.

 

“Unbroken, Unshaven” may be the best example of the more
rockin’ Budos sound. A super heavy song with fairly straightforward guitar and
horns parts, the song is one of the simplest tunes on the record and is
indicative of where the band’s next album might fall. “When we wrote that, I
think we all recognized the emergence of a new voice,” Tankel says. “It was
like a light was turned on, and we all saw a new direction for the band to head
in.”

 

“What I like about the Budos Band is that they’ve got their
sound: they know what it is, and I know what it is,” Roth says. “It’s pretty
clear what we’re gonna do when we get together. Not that we don’t experiment
and explore when we’re in the studio, but for the most part, everyone heads in
the same direction.”

 

[Photo Credit: Kisha Bari]

 

 

The Budos Band is
currently on tour in the U.S.
Go to the official website for dates.

 

BLURT’S BEST KEPT SECRET #12: Alice Austin

Steamytwangysexycool
Beantown rocker kicks up her heels like nobody’s business.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

The BLURT staff put our heads – and ears – together and we
have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids Best Kept Secret”: it’s Alice Austin, from Boston
(and soon to be from Los Angeles).

 

She describes herself as “indie-rock with
spurs,” and that’s an apt phrase – in her compelling vocals we hear a little
bit of Neko Case, a little bit of Jenny Lewis, hints of P.J. Harvey and Holly
Golightly, all wrapped up in a steamytwangysexycool package. Meanwhile, Austin also plays some
stomping electric and slide guitar while incorporating stylophone lo-fi drum
loops, so random comparisons to White Stripes, Black Keys and the Pack A.D. are
not totally offbase, either.

 

Last year Austin released her album To A Star in the Yard, which she
performed, recorded and produced by herself. Prior to doing the solo thing she
played with Boston
outfits The Stark Raving Mad and the Lavas (one critically acclaimed album,
2007’s Wall To Wall). Before that she was based in
Burlington, VT, where she played with Zola Turn, issuing 1999’s Ninja Jane and landing a short-lived
deal with L.A.’s Brick Red Records (a subsidiary of Gold Circle Entertainment)
before myriad band pressures and industry vicissitudes ultimately prompted a
name change, to Queen Tangerine, which cut the 2002 album Queen Tangerine with famed producer Keith Cleversley.

 

She therefore brings over two decades’
worth of experience to the table, and while Austin may essentially be a “new”
act operating under her own name, she’s clearly got the hunger and the savvy to
make things happen for herself as she prepares to make the big move to the West
Coast. Based on the strength of the material showcased on To A Star in the Yard – which includes such gems as the whooping,
avant-Delta blooze “Graveyard Before Dark” and the barrelhouse punk of “Sharp
Side of the Knife” – we wouldn’t expect anything less from her.

 

Check out Austin’s
MySpace page and official website for info, tour dates, song samples, links to
videos, and more.

 

***

 

BLURT: What got you
into music initially?

 

AUSTIN:
My mother is a singer in a jazz band, and my father was a guitar player and
recording engineer. As a kid, I suffered through many a sleepless night while
my mom and dad (in bands together, and separately) had band practice. I also
went to just about every gig, since career musicians don’t really get paid well
enough to afford fancy (or safe, for that matter) babysitters. I think I
learned how to sing with my mom when she had me pausing and restarting the
turntable as she was trying to decipher lyrics to Motown songs and jazz
standards. We sang along the whole time, and I learned the harmonies.

 

 

You hail from Burlington, Vermont
– Phish, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Who else is from there? What was
the music scene like when you were starting out?

 

I was playing in bands in Vermont a long time ago. Probably 12 years
ago was when I first started… I loved Club Toast, and Club Metronome. They
both got lots of fantastic touring acts en route to Montreal. I remember seeing Pavement, the
Throwing Muses, Frank Black, Superdrag, Dandy Warhols, and great local bands
like the Pants, the Chrome Cowboys, Envy, Lindy Pear, The Red Telephone, Chin
Ho!, the Fags, Wide Wail, Invisible Jet, and so many others that were probably
not known outside of Vermont. It was a pretty good time for Vermont… and there are loads of incredibly
talented musicians and artists there who just live to play and keep it real.

 

 

Zola Turn and your
frustrating big label experience with Brick Red Records: the band had already
amassed a decent national rep, so is this a cautionary tale, or just another
story of an indie artist getting the shaft?

 

The ugly and honest answer is that I completely sabotaged
the opportunity. They set us up really well. Two records, the full budget that
all bands dream of, complete with van, gear, touring, stylists, etc. I was more
of a punk than I had a right to be. I would give the world for that now, but I
was young and dumb. Brick Red signed an all-female band. That was what they
were marketing, it was an angle for them. However, I felt like we were seen as
a novelty act and no one would ever take us seriously as musicians. I was so
sick of the gender identity, so I brought a couple of dudes on board for our
label showcase at SXSW. Brick Red was visibly mortified, which wasn’t really my
intention, but that was the beginning of the end. They really didn’t give us
the shaft, they were just trying to find an angle for us and it wasn’t working
for me. Hence, all the name changes. Just looking for a new identity.

 

 

How did you wind up
in Boston? It
has a rep for having a highly competitive scene…

 

Boston…
I love the Middle East and TT’s, and lots of
great bands here. I needed to get out of Vermont
because my attitude sucked and I felt like an idiot for blowing the whole
record deal. I moved to Boston
with Jeff Moxley, who was a guitar player in Zola Turn and Queen Tangerine. We
started a new band called the Lavas, which was refreshing and I had high hopes
for. We barely existed outside of the home recording studio, due to typical
health and personality dysfunctions, but wrote a great record. Since then, I’ve
been playing solo and met lots of awesome folks who have been encouraging and
helpful. I have to say, though, there aren’t enough venues for all of the
bands, and that is why Boston
has a bit of a back-stabbing reputation amongst scenesters. I have never been
cool enough to hang with the cool kids, so it hasn’t bothered me… well, I AM
moving to Los Angeles
in a couple of weeks… but music is only part of that. Sunshine in the winter
doesn’t suck much, either.

 

 

Tell us a little more
about the Lavas and your other Boston band, the Stark Raving Mad.

 

The Stark Raving Mad was a band I played with for not even a
year, but a cool one nonetheless. One of our rehearsal recordings came on my
mp3 shuffle the other day… funny. We sounded pretty garagey, Velvet
Underground-y. The guitar player, Sean Toohey, and the bass player, Julia Austin
– sister – now live back in Vermont,
so it was impossible to progress. The Lavas I would love to do again, and may
try to write a record in LA. It will satisfy my riffrock needs. Jeff Moxley is
there, and if we can be in the same room without throwing instruments at each
other I’m sure we can do a rocking record. On another spectrum in LA, I have an
emerging band called Grand Isle (name of a town in Vermont where we met) I’ve been writing with
over the past year, which has more of a psychedelic country feel to it. There
are 2 singers, myself and Craig Gurwich of Summer at Shatter Creek and now Gold
Bug.

 

 

Why did you decide to
go the solo route? On your website you mention that you like the spontaneity
aspect of it.

 

No, it’s actually not my favorite thing, but it seemed more
positive to put it that way. In Boston,
it seems like all of the really great players have been around the block and
have a full plate… kids, houses, higher education, you know, jobs and stuff.
All that stuff makes a great musician, in a way – it’s real life experience,
feeling. Sure is hard to have a band practice, though.

 

 

How did the To A
Star in the Yard
album come together?

 

That was one of those survival records. I needed the
distraction of learning how to record myself and fake it on the drums. I was
homeless for a year and spent most of my time recording on my laptop, which
would have made me want to vomit a few years back… but oh-sooo-convenient. I had
a bad home life situation and had to start from scratch. I got rid of all of my
gear except for what I could fit in my car, got rid of that thing too, and with
a little help from my friends, landed on my feet. That’s a decent record, and
I’m proud of it. As far as promoting it, I played a lot of shows around Boston
and the Northeast US, did a tour down to Austin, TX for SXSW last March, and
I’m going to keep working it when I get to California.

 

 

You call your solo
gigs “a one-woman rock show” – does that mean you’re playing multiple
instruments onstage?

 

The “one woman rock-show” is just to differentiate from
being a folkie. I have nothing against folkies, I rather like them, but my
music is edgy and electric for the most part. A lot of people just assume that
solo shows are acoustic singer-songwriter folk, so it’s a very basic
description. Some of my tunes are garage-bluesy and countrified, but the
intention is to blow off a little steam.

 

 

Lastly, with all the
changes that have gone down in the music industry since you were starting out,
what would you tell a young girl who’s thinking about getting into music?

 

I would tell young musicians of any gender to live a life
that is not all about playing gigs and being self-absorbed. Poke your head up
out of the gopher hole for some perspective and you will make glorious music
and a live a life with some meaning. The world doesn’t owe you anything.

        Oh, and
definitely find a job that you can learn to love or at least appreciate.

 

HIS BENEVOLENT REIGN Paul Collins

Things come full
circle for the once-future, and now firmly established, King of Power Pop.

 

BY MARY LEARY

 

“Power pop is a genre that draws from
1960s British and American Pop and Rock. It typically incorporates strong
melodies, crisp vocal harmonies, economical arrangements, and prominent guitar
riffs. Instrumental solos are usually kept to a minimum, and blues elements
tend to be downplayed. Recordings tend to lean toward compression and a
forceful drum beat. While its cultural impact has waxed and waned, Power Pop is
among Rock’s most enduring subgenres.” –
 (A compressed, economical rewrite of a Wiki
definition that omits any mention of skinny shoes ‘n’ ties.)

 

The headache starts when I hit a YouTube gridlock. The
pay-out jingling in after typing Paul Collins’ name into a search box is much
more complex than the innocent pleasure of slamming a couple quarters into a
jukebox. Instead of slurping a shake and pouring catsup while snapping the
fingers of my other hand to “Don’t Wait Up For Me,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl,” or
“When You Find Out” (ooh, those
Beatlesque/Zombiesque harmonies – yeah, this is a dream juke; maybe a reality
in L.A. circa 1979
), I’m overwhelmed by choices. There’s footage of The
Beat, Paul Collins Beat, the more folk/country-skewed Paul Collins Band (which,
to my ears, still sounds mostly like Power Pop), Paul Collins solo, and the
short-lived Breakaways, which helped him ford the dissolution of The Nerves…
which helped sculpt Power Pop’s second coming.

 

The media lode provides some answers to the question
plaguing anyone who hasn’t kept up: What happened to the originators of a song
with which the Nerves will always be associated? Okay, for $10,000… yes, it’s “Hangin’ on the Telephone” (a pole
which Blondie subsequently grabbed for a vault closer to the top). Whatever
happened to Paul Collins is, as it happens, a LOT. The world’s fickle, at times
lukewarm response to his plaintive cries and fulsome bounce has been answered
by solutions like moving from drums to guitar, and his idealistic Beat Army
booking/networking project. Dogged performing has built a sprawling fan base
including Spain, his second home since the ‘80s. He’s penned two fictional
autobiographies, Mi Madre, Mi Mentor y Yo and 8 Million Stories: Pete the Fly. He’s
produced Spanish pop bands. And he runs a few record labels. What the heck is this guy on?

 

Evidenced by the smokin’-new, Jim Diamond-produced King of Power Pop! (released,
appropriately enough by Bomp! sister label Alive, given that Bomp!’s founder,
the late Greg Shaw, was one of the earliest and most vocal champions of Power Pop; the record sleeve is also a nod to the cover of the now-classic Bomp! magazine Power Pop issue from
’78), he’s fueled by an addiction to ringing guitar chords, danceable beats,
and mid-‘60s forms via the late ‘70s. As much as evolving into a Power Pop
despot, Paul seems to rule that shaky cliff where adolescent joy and anguish
intersect – as long as every vignette’s resolved within three minutes, tops. At
the mic, like he’s studied every nuance, he still cocks his head right and left,
a la Paul McCartney. Anyone got a problem with that? 

 

I had the uncertain luck of contacting Paul right before he
started the Canadian leg of his tour. His cheery, enthusiastic responses have
compensated for the truncated nature of our discourse.

 

***

 

BLURT: Are the “we
could not tune our guitars” and “they couldn’t really play so they started
writing songs” lines on the track “Kings of Power Pop” true of you and the
other Nerves, or do they just convey the DIY sensibility of so much seminal New
Wave?  

COLLINS: Both. When we started playing we didn’t even have
tuners. So sometimes it was hard to get our guitars in tune. And we were just
beginning, so we spent hours and hours practicing to get our sound right. There
were a lot of bands like us in L.A. who were just starting. Maybe we didn’t
play that great, but the songs were amazing! Jack Lee was a great guitar player
– you just have to listen to The Nerves to see that. And Peter Case was also a
fantastic guitarist and vocalist. They knew a lot about music theory, which is
evident from the harmonies we had. But tuning guitars by ear is difficult, and
the rows they had over who was flat and who was sharp have always stayed with
me! Since we could not get any industry acceptance, we were able to make our
own rules. By music business standards, they didn’t think we were even
musicians. More often than not, they would throw us out of their music stores
and record shops!

 

What’s the first
music you remember? Did anything make you so excited, you didn’t know what to
do?

My dad’s Hank Williams and Ray Charles records… then in Long Island, as I lay in bed listening to WABC Radio
every night. What I loved about the music was how it seemed to just get right
inside of me, like these guys knew me and everything I felt. I feel lucky that
I grew up in the time period that I did. As I listened to song after song of
great pop music it just floored me…it was like one big hit single,
back-to-back: You had The Buckinghams, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Glenn
Campbell, Mitch Ryder, The Beatles, The Monkees, The Supremes, The Rascals, The
Kinks, The Stones, and Elvis — and on and on! 
It was the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll, everything from The Beach Boys
to the Memphis sound and the British Invasion – it was my school of rock ‘n’
roll! I would listen in awe, not
knowing how they did it.

 

I heard “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in a taxi cab in Vietnam and it
drove me wild! Something about how the melodies blended together really drove
me nuts… that’s what really got me in pop music – the way the vocal harmonies
and the music and the words all melted together into one big ball of sound.

 

 King of
Power Pop
has a cover of The Box Tops’ “The Letter.” And it closes with The
Flamin’ Groovies’ “You Tore Me Down.” Assuming you like Wayne Carson and Cyril
Jordan, can you name some other fave songwriters?

There are a lot, but the main ones are The Beatles; Lennon and
McCartney. I have loved that band ever since I was a kid, but I am a huge fan
of the music of the 60’s — Jagger/Richards; Chuck Berry. Actually, I think he
is my favorite. His use of words and melody is unparalleled: “Moving down the sidewalk like a mounted
cavalier…Nadine!  Honey, is that you?”
It doesn’t get much better than that. I never thought that I could do this. When
I was a kid I would listen to the music in awe – I couldn’t understand how
these bands could make the sounds that they did. When I joined The Nerves, I
started to understand.

 

When the New Wave
started, it felt like those of us who’d been too young to dive into the Mod and
Merseybeat scenes got to experience some of that, in a way. For one thing, it
was a fresh, grassroots movement. And a lot of bands – The Nerves, Tina Peel,
Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds, The Jam, The Real Kids, The Romantics — were basically
reworking ‘60s sounds. On King of Power Pop you still have that “We’re doing this!” joy. After 30 years, with stints of
not playing much, poverty, and sucky jobs, how do you do it?

I love music! When things got really bad for me and I wasn’t
sure what I could do, and it seemed like my career was over, and I couldn’t
even get a normal job, and I was looking right into the mouth of poverty and
starvation again, I decided to pick up my guitar and make this happen. A friend
told me once that there is nothing sweeter then taking a lifetime of failures
and turning it into a success. I just could not give up. Something inside me
has driven me to do this ever since I was 17 and I left New York to come to
California to join a rock band. I didn’t have a clue how I would do it – I just
knew that I had to.

 

 Some of the material on KOPP is from older releases – can you do some of my homework? 

I am proud of this record because it has songs from all the
periods of my career. “Do You Wanna Love Me,” “Don’t Blame Your Troubles on Me,”
and “Many Roads to Follow” are from right after The Nerves broke up. “Losing
Your Cool” is from the early 80’s when I was back in New York. “I Go Black” and
“This is America” are a few years old, from when I was living in Madrid. What
makes it important to me is that it connects the dots to my entire career. I’m so
happy that “Don’t Blame your Troubles on Me” has finally come out. I always
thought it was a great song; it just kinda got swept under the carpet until now.
In a way, I’m glad it was, because all the older songs on this record play an
important part on the recording, so it was good timing! Sometimes it seems like
songs are just hanging out waiting for the right moment to come out — same
thing on the last record, Ribbon of Gold.
“Hey DJ” was an outtake from The Beat’s second LP. It sat around for some 20
years before it got recorded, and now it’s one of our big live numbers!

 

 Anything particularly cool or weird about the Canadian tour, so far? 

We’ve had a ton of adventures, starting with the very first
moment we got on the road. Twenty minutes on the highway, and the van broke
down. We had to get it towed, unload all the gear, get a car and a van and get
back on the road…we made the show, though, and it was five hours away! I love
touring in Canada. The bands we’re working with are so cool, we have all become
good friends – it’s what makes playing music so very special. We get to hang
out with these guys and see their country in a way no one else can.

 

It’s the same thing that has been happening all over the
world – we have all these new friends from touring:  Radio Days in Italy, The Yum Yums in Norway,
Los Chicos in Spain. As I am writing this to you, our new buddy Dan from
Zebrassieres is cooking us up a mess of bacon and eggs in his lovely home in
Ottawa! Canada is incredible and the drives have been exquisite — lovely green
countryside and trees, all kinds of different trees everywhere! The Girls!
Canadian women are very, very pretty! Yesterday we went swimming in a river in
a small town called Wakefield. It was amazing, with an old wooden train trestle
bridge. It was delightful to swim in the cool clear water…then we had burgers
and poutain (Quebec-style fries and gravy).

 

  Do you listen to the radio or your mixes on the road?

Today we are listening to Barbara Manning, plus a ton of
other stuff – we have very eclectic taste. It can be anything from Thin Lizzy
or Motorhead to The Real Kids or Tom T. Hall or NRBQ – or stuff I have
never heard of!

 

 Your lyrics often focus on the details of women. That quality of attention
seems, in a way, delightfully romantic; almost chivalrous. Are there a lot of
women at your shows? What’s the audience percentage, more or less?

Nowadays there are a lot more women, thank God. There was a
time not too long ago when the only people who came to these kinds of shows
were record collectors, and they were mainly guys. Now, thanks to the Internet
and all these new bands that play power pop, there are a lot of girls again. And
I for one am very happy about that. Power Pop is still a vibrant form of music,
and it is growing all the time… I am excited to be part of it this second
time around.

 

 A lot of your stuff feels like it’s driven by
a sort of innocent longing. How do you keep writing this stuff, now that you’ve
been married and have a son?

I am twice divorced, and my heart has been broken a number
of times. And I am a romantic. Hopefully some day I will find my
princess/queen/rock ‘n’ roll girl! I have a son, and being a parent is one of
the best things that have happened to me. I have learned so much about life and
about what it is to really be a man by raising my son. This year he is on tour
with me and it is an experience of a lifetime for both of us! I think having a
kid and playing music has kept me young. If you were to ask my two ex wives,
they’d say I act like a child!

 

 Are you ever tempted to do one-night stands,
easy sex, etc., on the road? Does either giving in, or, if not, the inevitable
fantasies, help your songwriting?

I take being intimate with someone very personal, as I have
had my fair share of one-night stands. I am really more interested in falling
in love with someone…that being said, I adore women and the thought of being
up close and personal with a lot of the ones I see or meet is a great fantasy.
But nothing beats being in love with someone who loves you back….nothing. Of
course, thinking about girls or the things that happen with them, both good and
bad, is fuel for great songs! I am crazy about girls…especially their smiles
and sparkly eyes, their necks, and legs and thighs and… mmmmmm… I would like to be able to settle down one of these days
with the woman of my dreams…I hope she comes to me soon!

 

“King of Power Pop” is
quite a claim – why are you the king?

Because I am pretty much the only one still standing from
back in the day that actively plays this kind of music. And after investing my
entire adult life in doing this, some 35 years, I said to myself, “What the
hell  – I am the king of Power Pop!!!” I
know it’s ballsy, but what the hell? As the guy at my record label said, “In
marketing you have to have balls.”

 

 In the late ‘70s you said, “We’re just
four guys playing music – no trickery, no bullshit, just rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a
whole new ball game now. All of a sudden, people who had their fingers on the
pulse of what was going on – no longer do. All of a sudden, groups that were
the definition of the times – no longer are… What we’re doing is no big deal to
us, we’re doing what comes to us naturally… the difference is that we’re not
trying to be the stuff that’s going on now. We think we are what should be now.”  Do you still think you are what should be
now?

Yes, I do. In a weird way, things have come full circle. The
mainstream radio sucks. A lot of new bands play homogenized music that has no
originality. We are playing music that is vital and real and based on solid
musical principals. Fortunately, it’s not just us; it’s most of these new bands
we are playing with. They are young and vital and right at the core of what
rock ‘n’ roll is all about!

 

Paul Collins’ Beat is
on tour during August and September throughout the Midwest
and West Coast. Tour dates can be found as his official website.

 


THE MOST FUCKED UP THING I’VE EVER SEEN Paul Manousos

In which the
singer-songwriter talks shit.

 

BY PAUL MANOUSOS

 

As a touring musician, I’ve seen my share of fucked up
scenes. Bar fights, almost everything in
flagrante
, anger management issues in the Harris Teeter supermarket and
some pretty serious personality disorders brought on by the abuse of energy
beverages. But one incident in particular comes to mind. It’s fucked up for
sure, but in a funny way…well, sort of funny… Well, at least nobody died.
 

In the early 1990s, I was playing piano and singing backup
with a band called Field Trip. We had just done an album Headgear for Slash records and were out on the road for a short
tour down the West Coast to support it. We rolled into Los Angeles at sundown
after a long day’s drive, made that much longer due to the tour kick-off party
the night before. We were playing at Raji’s on Sunset. L.A. was warm, our
Winnebago was a sauna and everyone was edgy.

 

We were set to open for Olivia Barash, an actress probably
best known for playing Leila in Repo Man,
but she fronted a band then too. There was a lot of inconsiderate jackassery
going around: her band was late, they took forever with soundcheck, wanted to
leave all their gear on stage – the usual crap. Us, we were hot, tired and in
need of showers and restorative beers and it was coming quickly to light that,
thanks to this band of jokers, no relief was possible before we had to play.

 

Our drummer hit a wall. All out of patience, he plotted
revenge. Earlier, during load-in, he spied a man taking a dump on the sidewalk
around the corner. So while Olivia’s band “check one, two, three’d” for the
80th time, he sneaked out with a paper cup and makeshift scoop. He slunk back
in to the club looking very up to something. When pressed, he covertly showed
us his “booty”. Our quizzical and disgusted looks were met with nothing but a
big toothy grin. Not a shit-eating grin, but close.

 

Grimy and cranky, we still played a great set. There was a
good crowd that night. We got our gear loaded off the stage and Olivia’s band
got ready to go. Their equipment looked great up there all shiny and new. Oh to
be the cool kids. As they got their beers and took care of other last minute
business, our drummer, cup in hand, pretended to forget something up on stage.
Crouching down behind Olivia’s drummer’s kit, he gently placed the steamy pile
o’ brown into the kick drum’s sound hole. Once the rest of us figured out what
he had done, we nearly trampled each other trying to get as far from that stage
as possible.

 

The band launched into their set, and – oh, the look on the
drummer’s face! The corner of his mouth curled curiously, his nose twitched, his
eyes watered, but he gritted his teeth and kept playing. With every beat, the stench
got worse. Soon the whole band was shooting accusatory looks at each other and
pretty much falling apart. It’s a shame there was no YouTube then.

 

It didn’t take long for the stink to slink out into the
audience. Needless to say that band played a very short set – and no one in the
packed house seemed to mind. We hurled ourselves through the swarming crowd to
escape the now completely befouled club, hopped back into our Winnie and burned
rubber – laughing like hyenas.

 

After we’d gone about a mile down Sunset we realized it was
awfully breezy in the van. Someone noticed that a window had been smashed. We
scurried to find the duffels and backpacks and guitar cases and came up with
air. Day one of the tour, and we were left with nothing but the grubby clothes
on our backs. But that’s another fucked up story…

 

 

Singer-songwriter Paul
Manousos was a member of the bands Field Trip and Power 13. His latest solo
album,
C’mon C’mon, is out now on the
Shock & Fall Recordings label. You can order it directly from his website.

 

 

SON OF THE FREAK Dweezil Zappa

“Frank’s music sounded
the way it sounded because he
wrote it that way”: the son reprises, and in places even expands upon, the late
composer’s genius.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Frank Zappa’s 1966 debut Freak
Out!
was presciently titled, as first listens to Zappa’s music evoke a
range of reactions, almost all of them some form of freak-out. A Surgeon
General’s warning, if music was a concern to them, might caution listeners that
Zappa music could cause them to crack up – fall into fits of laughter or go
hopelessly bonkers – or get good and pissed off: ‘What is this shit?!’

 

Hyperbolic, you say? Only if you’ve never really listened to
Zappa. Or perhaps you’re one of the weirdoes for whom Zappa is as catchy as
bubblegum pop; you ‘get it’ as if Zappa’s odd tuplets and freewheeling lyrical
themes are bundled into your DNA,
and your own introduction to his music made you as nutty as a Beatles groupie
in 1964. Fact is, Zappa – whom straight-laced folks regarded as a freak – is
tough to wrap one’s head around. Just ask his boy, Dweezil.

 

Yeah, that dude. The name is familiar to most people,
usually because FZ became famous circa 1982 when his crossover hit/novelty song
“Valley Girl” showcased the vocal stylings of his daughter Moon Unit. The
hubbub over her name exposed Dweezil’s own unusual moniker and thus was written
another note in the fast-food popular perception of Frank Zappa, the crazy
composer that gave his kids seemingly embarrassing names. A few years later,
Dweezil began to make a name for himself with shred guitar albums and stints on
MTV, playing guitar for Donny Osmond, composing theme music for The Ben Stiller Show and doing voiceover
work (see Duckman).

 

Although he’d carved his own niche in the music world and
kept busy helping mom Gail run the Zappa Family Trust after Frank died in 1993,
Dweezil wanted to ensure his father’s music lived on beyond simple reissue
campaigns. To that end, he tried on his father’s shoes and formed Zappa Plays
Zappa, a band dedicated to taking Zappa’s music to a younger, larger audience
and put it in context for them.

 

“The impetus for me to get involved in this was to educate
the audience,” says Dweezil. He laments the fact that the average person’s
exposure to Zappa’s music has been the comedic material like “Valley Girl” and
“Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” and as such, they’ve missed the point entirely:
“You really don’t have any idea of what Frank’s music is about.” So instead of
writing a book or going on the lecture circuit, Dweezil took two years to learn
enough of his pop’s catalog to take ZPZ on tour and commence an effort to “give
people a broader perspective.”

 

Little did Dweezil know his horizons would be first to
expand. Beyond some rudimentary first lessons from guitar virtuoso and one-time
member of FZ’s band the Mothers of Invention, Steve Vai, Dweezil was a
self-taught “rock” guitarist with a taste for high-octane solos a la Eddie Van
Halen. Although he’d grown up watching his dad from the wings, heard more than
his share of the records, and developed a hefty musical vocabulary of his own,
Dweezil had to become a “musician.” What’s more, he had to contend with his
father’s devout fan base, who would approach Dweezil’s take on FZ with
skepticism, and a desire to do right by his dad.

 

He started in the most logical place: guitar. FZ was a
guitar hero – albeit not like the Van Halens of the world. His six-string
acrobatics came from a composer’s perspective, and involved an improvisational
sensibility that paired a jazzman’s improvisational skills with the most open
of minds. Getting into that headspace, recreating that towering musical
presence, was job one. “I needed to learn some of the other impossible guitar
parts and take it to extremes,” says Dweezil.

 

One of the first compositions he tackled was the notorious
“Black Page,” a piece of music FZ wrote as a drum solo and was so named due to
the myriad black notes crammed onto the sheet music. With no shortage of hard
labor, Dweezil adapted it to guitar and included it on ZPZ’s eponymous 2007
debut live CD and DVD, which found
the band – a group of Zappa neophytes – winning over crowds around the country
with their note-perfect renditions of Zappa’s greatest works, including “Zomby
Woof” and “Peaches En Regalia.”   

 

Not that it was so easy. At first the band met with the
expected skeptics and critics. Some self-appointed huge Zappa fans even thought
rarities like “Imaginary Diseases” and “Regyptian Strut” were Dweezil originals
and complained. Some even called ZPZ a glorified cover band. But that only
proved Dweezil’s point: Even if you think you know Frank Zappa, there are
layers yet to be exposed. Ultimately, ZPZ’s enthusiasm and reverence for the
music won out. The band won a Grammy for their performance of “Peaches” on Zappa Plays Zappa and his father’s
audience has accepted ZPZ, seeing them multiple times on a single tour and even
asking when they’ll record original music. “I never expected that,” marvels
Dweezil, who says they may even comply this year.

 

For now, ZPZ is touring behind their sophomore release, The Return of the Son of…, a live 2-CD
set on which they resurrect more of FZ’s greatest material. Mainly they perform
the recorded arrangements, which are more familiar than the umpteen live
bootleg versions, but they’re known to cough up hybrid arrangements that merge
recordings with noteworthy live takes. Special to this release, however, are
the guitar solos, which Dweezil decided to take into the stratosphere just like
his dad would do if he was still alive.

 

Although he says “Frank’s music sounded the way it sounded
because he wrote it that way and he
made people play it that way,” Dweezil notes that it’s a way to feel close to
his father, whom he often watched play from the wings. Sharing his father’s
music and helping expand on it creates a feeling of closeness that transcends death.
“Ultimately my goal was to create a band that could play this music with
respect and really give people and authentic experience.” And that’s something
to freak out about.

 

[NOTE: An abridged version of this story appeared in the
June 3, 2010 edition of Salt Lake City
Weekly
.]

 

 

 

 

SWEETER THAN SUGAR Dead Confederate

Or,
how the southern-fried hard rockers learned to stop worrying and love the jam.

 

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

 

When Athens, Georgia’s Dead Confederate burst on
to the scene in 2008 with its debut album Wrecking
Ball
, the first sound people heard was singer Hardy Morris shredding his
vocal chords as what seemed like an avalanche of guitars built behind him. It’s
a sound that earned them a growing fan base, as well as the unfortunate label
of “southern-fried grunge.”

 

Dead Confederate’s second album, Sugar, should put that label to rest, with the band adding pop
hooks to its arsenal without abandoning its power. We talked with bassist
Brantley Senn, who splits songwriting duties with Morris.

 

***

 

BLURT:
You’ve said you intentionally set out to write shorter, poppier songs for Sugar. Why was that important to you?

SENN:
That was a tongue in cheek joke. It’s not really poppy. We did set out to write
shorter songs. We wanted to cut the fat out. We always appreciate bands that
can do three-minute songs that feel like six minutes because they have a lot of
changes going on.

 

What bands
do you think do that well?

Radiohead
is a good example. It’s amazing how short they keep their songs. They feel so
much longer because they cram so much into such a short time span.

 

You road
tested a lot of Wrecking Ball before
recording. Why didn’t you do that with these songs?

When
we started working on the new songs, we thought we might learn them by touring
on them, but we decided we wanted to give everyone a brand new record they
hadn’t heard before. That was the original inspiration. It turned out that it
worked to our benefit because it created an atmosphere where the songs were
malleable. When we got to studio and worked with [producer] John Agnello, we
were able to change the songs around and not just play them the way they were
written.

 

How have you
and Hardy changed as songwriters since Wrecking
Ball
?

We
were in a different place in life then. That was about four years ago, since we
learned the songs two years before we recorded them. It has to do with time and
growing older. Those things affect everything you do in life. It’s about your
state of mind. A lot of times, when you write songs, they kind of write you.
We’re in a different place now; we’re happier and more confident.

 

You were
compared a lot to Nirvana. Did you want to get away from that?

That
doesn’t bother us. People will compare you to whatever they want. A lot of it
has to with Hardy’s stage presence and vocal timbre rather than actual songs.
They were definitely an influence, but we’re not trying to be the grunge
revival band people make us out to be. I think people will see we have a
broader range than that.

 

Even though Sugar has less of a grunge feel, it
still seems very influenced by the music of the ‘90s. How important was that
music to you?

That’s
my generation. I was listening to whatever was on the radio until I discovered heavy
‘90s rock. Then I started digging deeper. If you’re talking about Nirvana, Bleach was the album that inspired me,
not Nevermind. I also got really into
the Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr.

 

What did you
like about those bands?

Distortion.
It was pretty much as simple as that. It wasn’t polished or clean. It felt like
they didn’t give a shit. That’s an attitude I can sympathize with

 

You got to
tour with Dinosaur and the Meat Puppets. What did you learn from them?

That
guitar solos are pretty freakin’ awesome and not to be scared of them. We used
to be scared of improvisation. After touring with those guys, I learned “jam”
is not a bad word.

 

Now that you’ve expanded your sound, where do you go
next? Are you working on new songs?

The songs I’m writing now are
more bittersweet and dark than what I wrote for Sugar. We’re going back to that a bit. They’re catchier but at the
same time darker.

 

Early on, your
name drew almost as much attention as your music. Were you surprised by that?

I
was. I thought it was a cool name that Hardy came up with. There’s no meaning
behind it. The name just sounded like what our band sounded like. It got
attention and that’s what it’s supposed to do. We don’t really worry about
album titles or song titles. The real meaning is inside the song or the band. It’s
not in the name.

 

[Photo
Credit: Jason Thrasher]

 

 

 

 

LEST WE FORGET John Martyn

Paying our respects once more to the late folksinger and guitar maestro,
who passed away in 2009.

 

BY ROB PATTERSON

 

With news
arriving of a Martyn tribute album
featuring the likes of Beck, Devendra
Banhart, the Cure’s Robert Smith, Vashti Bunyan, Beth Orton and the Blind Boys
of Alabama (!) being assembled, we thought we’d revisit this Martyn
appreciation we published last year in our first print issue, as it’s never
before appeared online. For additional information on Martyn, check our original
obituary
as well as the gentleman’s official website. – Ed.

 

 

Who? English folkie of Scottish origins who emerged in 1968
and soon added jazz brush strokes to his style before cutting two albums with
wife Beverly Martyn contemporaneous with (and equal to) Richard & Linda
Thompson. Back solo with 1971’s Bless The Weather, he recorded a
number of astonishing albums of mind-blowing progressive folk with a global
musical reach throughout that decade and beyond.

 

 

Why? Martyn mixed blues and jazz inflected atmospherics,
stratospheric guitar explorations, steppin’ razor rock steady, piquant Celtic
folk, Eastern modal harmonics and more as if it was all one music.

 

 

What Gives? His peers and running buddies Richard Thompson
and Nick Drake – who, also like Martyn, were produced by Joe Boyd for Island
Records – have both found high favor with the American musical cognoscente. But
Martyn remains little known on these shores despite the fact that he’s a
songwriter to rival both, as original, inventive, stunningly adept and
adventurous a guitar player as Thompson. And his loamy voice – like a be-bop
saxophone blown with whiskey breath from a maw chewing on Scottish thistles –
is even richer and more seductive than the singing of both his iconic mates.

 

 

Prime Ingredients: British folkies Hamish Imlach, Davey
Graham and Clive Palmer (Incredible String Band), plus Skip James, Lee
“Scratch” Perry, Robert Johnson, John Coltrane, Terry Riley, Debussy.

 

 

Must Have Discs: Solid Air, Sunday’s Child (albums); Sweet Little Mysteries (compilation); The Man Upstairs (DVD).

 

 

Signature Songs: “May You Never,” “Head And
Heart,” “One Day Without You,” “Spencer The Rover,”
“Couldn’t Love You More,” “Sweet Little Mystery,”
“John The Baptist.”

 

 

Star Support: Eric Clapton (recorded Martyn’s “May You
Never” on his Slowhand album and took him on tour as an opener),
Phil Collins (produced Martyn’s 1980 album Grace & Danger), Levon
Helm (played on John & Beverly’s majestically moody Stormbringer),
film director Anthony Minghella (who commissioned Martyn to record the song
“You Don’t Know What Love Is” for the soundtrack to The Talented
Mr. Ripley
).

 

 

Will Take Your Breath Away: His Echoplexed acoustic guitar
workout on “Glistening Glyndebourne,” the heartwarming sentiment and
fecund folk simplicity of “May You Never,” and his downright
dangerous high-wattage folkie dub take on “Johnny Too Bad.”

 

 

Acolytes: Richard Buckner, Beth Orton, Judie Tzuke, Cocteau
Twins, Everything But The Girl.

 

 

For Those Who Love… Thompson, Drake, highly evolved folk,
utterly original guitar wizardry, and everything from Jamaican dub to trip-hop.

 

 

One Way Not Forgotten: Less than a month before his death
on January 29, 2009, was honored as an Officer of The Order of the British
Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to music.

 

MOVING BEYOND TROUSER PRESS Ira Robbins

“When all you write
about is records, it’s like, ‘ok, you know, it’s records…'”: the famed music
journalist serves up a ‘60s/politics-themed novel.

 

BY A. WATT

 

Having chronicled the rise of punk and New Wave as the
editor of Trouser Press, a massively influential
rock mag (1974-84) based in New York City that would spin off several record
guides and, finally, a website, Ira Robbins knew exactly what he didn’t want his first effort at writing
a novel to be.

 

“I wanted to make sure that no one could say, ‘Oh, you wrote
a rock and roll novel, huh?’,” Robbins says. “I just thought, I’m not gonna put
myself through the effort of grinding out what was ultimately probably 250,000
words of fiction in order to make up the stuff I’d been writing about my entire
life. It seemed like that would be the dumbest thing imaginable.”

 

Instead, Robbins drew on an earlier chapter in his life for
inspiration, taking stock in the radical movements of the 1960s, as a former
radical himself, in a tale of intersecting lives  called Kick
It Till It Breaks: A Belated Novel of the 1960s
.

 

“I was very politically involved as a kid,” Robbins says. “I
was not a Weatherman but I was around a lot of organizations that did things. I
mean, I was never around the people who did bombings or anything like that. But
I was involved with organizations that believed in armed struggle. And so my
familiarity with the milieu was high.”

 

There’s a futility at play in Kick it Till It Breaks that might suggest the writings of a
disillusioned former radical, but Robbins isn’t sure that’s how he looks back
on that time.

 

“I realized when I finished,” he says, “that this was going
to be taken very much as a negative appraisal of that era because the results
are bad. However, that’s not really how I look at it. I’m kind of at a loss to
explain the contradiction between how I feel and how I have expressed myself. I
think when I sat back and really considered what I’d done, it’s not so much
that I’ve been negative about the era as unresolved about it. I’m kind of
adding, I would say, a mature viewpoint to experiences that I had as a
teenager, not rejecting them or dismissing them or even necessarily criticizing
them so much as opening a door to thinking about them in a new way.”

 

There’s a pivotal moment in the novel, set in 1991, when
Ydina, a blow-up-bridges-first, ask-questions later revolutionary, has a heated
conversation with her boyfriend, Felix, who – it should be noted – lost an arm to
one of her impulsive ‘60s bombings, about what would have happened if they’d
won the revolution.

 

“It completely floored me,” Robbins says, “to realize that
that thought had never occurred to me through, I don’t know, probably 10 years
of serious political activity. Then, I had to reconsider what did that mean
that I had never thought about the possibility that we would actually prevail.
Did it mean that we never actually expected to prevail? Did it mean that we
were just really irresponsible in not considering the next step? Or did we
figure there was some greater power out there, that the Cubans would come in and
show us how to run our government?”

 

It’s tempting to view the Felix character as Robbins with a
blown-off limb, to which the author says that Felix, in a sense, be “an idealized
version” of himself.

 

“I wanted there to be somebody,” he says, “who wasn’t swept
up in the giddiness of it, somebody who actually stopped and thought about it.
He has reservations at the time things are happening. And I don’t know that I
did. I don’t recall feeling that way, although I certainly had an independent
view. And Felix has to be the sort of good guy in this, not that I’m
necessarily pretending that I was the good guy. But Felix has to counterbalance
Ydina’s irresponsibility. That’s why he’s there. In a sense, he’s voicing at
least what I think is the idealized, sensible view of it, taking the academic, empirical
tone rather than the emotional, prejudicial sort of dogmatic view.”

 

Despite his reluctance to write a rock book, Robbins’ novel
was not written in a rock-free vacuum. This was, after all, the ’60s. Chapter
headings range from “A Walk on the Drab Side” to “Let It Bleed” and Accidents
Will Happen.” In one scene, a character carefully places the turntable’s tone
arm on Side Two of Revolver and grins
as the joyous “Good Day Sunshine” begins. Ydina runs into a ghost from her past
at a Canned Heat concert at the Fillmore. There’s even a smile-inducing passing
reference to Lothar and the Hand People.

 

“I was tempted at a bunch of opportunities here to include
more music stuff,” the author admits, “and shied away from it, cut a bunch of
it out. I put the chapter headings in because I thought it was funny. I just
kind of liked the idea that people could read this and never know that those are
song titles. But yeah, I put in some musical stuff because the milieu was
musical. I thought having Ydina run into Husk at a Canned Heat show would be
fine. That made sense to me. But I did go to the trouble of finding a Fillmore
schedule and finding out when there was a show on a Saturday in whatever year
it was and making sure that that was a bill.”

 

He’s been thinking of setting his next book in the glam rock
era, which actually provides a classic line in Kick It Till It Breaks. (“Between the escalating strife in Ireland
and a crippling miners strike, rising inflation and unemployment and the
ubiquity of glam rock, Britain was a nation sliding out of the grip of modern
civilization in early 1972.”) “I think that’s another interesting time,” he
says, “and one full of cultural pregnancy.”

 

So would that be a
rock and roll novel?

 

“I’m thinking it would probably be more so than this one,”
he says. “But I’m also trying to think how it could not be a rock and roll
novel, how the era and the culture and the people could be a backdrop for
something without it being about them, particularly. I’ve got notes but it’s a
very long road because I don’t know what it’s about yet.”

 

Robbins self-published his novel on the Trouser Press Books imprint
after hearing from too many publishers who wondered why it wasn’t more… well, rock and roll.

 

“The funny thing,” he says, “was people saying, ‘Well, why
didn’t you write about music?’ It’s like ‘How would that be interesting?’ I
don’t know. Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here, but it just seemed
to me that for somebody like me to write a rock and roll novel is like to say
well, OK, I can’t really think of anything else to do so I’m just gonna do
that.”

 

If anything, he adds, he’s kind of over music writing. Robbins
hasn’t put much effort into updating the Trouser
Press
site lately, saying, “It would be a huge amount of work to keep it up
to date like the All Music Guide and
I just don’t have the time and the energy. Or even the inclination. I’ve
written about records since I was, you know, 16 years old or 17 years old. So
I’ve written about a lot of records and I don’t know that I have a lot of new
things to say about them, which is why writing fiction just felt like a much
more satisfying achievement because I had created something that was different
than all the other stuff I have written in my life.

 

“When all you write about is records, it’s like, ‘ok, you know, it’s records...'” I mean,
I’m very proud to have done it – but I don’t know that I have a lot more I want
to say about popular music.”

 

 

 

 

 

UNDER THE VALLEY OF THE PROG Emerson, Lake & Palmer

So you think you know all about synthesizers?
Got your MoogFest tickets yet? A massive new ELP box set will set you off in
the right direction…

 

 BY REV.
KEITH A. GORDON

 

Formed in
1970 by keyboardist Keith Emerson (The Nice), guitarist/vocalist Greg Lake
(King Crimson), and drummer Carl Palmer (Atomic Rooster), the trio known
worldwide as Emerson, Lake & Palmer wasn’t the “supergroup” that
it was heralded as at the time so much as a collaboration of disgruntled
musicians looking for new artistic opportunities.

 

Commercially,
ELP exploded onto the U.S. charts with a 1970 self-titled debut album that
cleverly fused classically-oriented art-rock with the growing progressive rock
trend to create a genre-smashing set of songs. Displaying a heretofore
“Gothic” edge to their music that reminded (some) listeners of Atomic
Rooster’s darkest hues, and easily displaying the instrumental virtuosity of
rivals like King Crimson, Yes, or the Moody Blues, the album showcased the
three members’ talents in the best possible light.

 

Subsequent
albums would tumble quickly from the band’s creative efforts: 1971’s Tarkus, 1972’s live Pictures At An Exhibition and Trilogy,
and 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery
considered by many fans to be the band’s best – would propel ELP to worldwide
superstar status. The band burned too brightly, perhaps, and by the end of the
1970s, ELP experienced an acrimonious break-up that kept the three musicians
from performing together until the early 1990s… and make no mistake, it was the
band’s raucous live performances that fueled its record sales.

 

While
Palmer would flail at his drum kit like he was bludgeoning it into submission,
Emerson’s impressive array of electronics gear allowed the musician to stab
recklessly at piano, keyboards, or synthesizers with the tact and subtlety of a
rabid badger. In turn, Lake’s six-string gymnastics were positively sane when
compared to the instrumental madness of his band mates. The band released three
live albums during its first decade together, but even the several hours of
music represented by those multiple-disc sets pales next to the band’s total
commitment to live performances. The recently-released four-CD box set A Time And A Place (Shout! Factory_ balances
out the band’s too-brief catalog, presenting a career-spanning oversight of the
best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer live.

 

A Time And A Place is divided neatly into
three distinct eras, the first representing the band’s early 1970s origins. The
first CD in the set opens with “The Barbarian,” a lengthy piece
adapted by the band from Bela Bartak’s “Allegro Barbaro.” While not
quite as involved as some of their other performances here, “The
Barbarian” manages to cram a lot into its five-plus minutes nonetheless.
Recorded at ELP’s first major concert performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight
Festival in the UK, the band rages across the sonic landscape with fierce
determination, seemingly wedging classical piano, psychedelic guitar, bombastic
drumplay, and proggish keyboard riffs into the mix with a figurative crowbar.
It’s a chaotic, powerful performance made all the more impressive by the band’s
instrumental virtuosity and total lack of guile.

 

You’ll
find several ELP fan favorites midst the 72-minutes-and-change worth of music
on disc one. Emerson’s “High Level Fugue” brings the band indoors to
London’s Lyceum Ballroom in late 1970 for a spirited romp. Fueled by the
pianist’s manic pounding of the 88s, Emerson solos for approximately 2/3s of
the song before Palmer’s jazzy drumbeats come crashing in, and Lake’s
serpentine fretwork weaves its way through the maddening syncopation. The
band’s re-imagining of composer Aaron Copeland’s “Hoedown,” captured
live at the legendary 1972 Mar Y Sol Festival in Puerto Rico, is an energetic,
measured performance that strays very little from the recorded version familiar
to many in attendance, tho’ Emerson manages to wrangle a little space-noise
from his trusty Moog synthesizer.

 

Performances
of two of ELP’s best-known and beloved songs, “Still…You Turn Me On”
and “Lucky Man,” are taken from a 1974 show at the Civic Center in
Tulsa, Oklahoma. Both songs were written by Greg Lake, and both are fine
examples of the best that progressive rock has to offer. The former is a moody,
provocative tone poem with whimsical lyrics and imaginative instrumentation
that perfectly melds each of the three musician’s strengths in the creation of
a magical moment. The latter features a fine vocal performance by Lake,
accompanied by folkish guitar-strum that places an emphasis on the lyrics.
Shorn of its studio trappings, offering just Lake and his instrument, the song takes
on a different vibe altogether. Disc one finishes up with a bang, a thirty-four
minute jam on “Karn Evil 9” from 1974 that features more prog-rock
raging at the machine than you may care to swallow in one sitting.

 

The second
CD of A Time And A Place documents
the band’s late 1970s work, basically 1977 and ’78, really, before the big
break-up that would send the band members in different directions for over a
decade. Cranking to a stylish opening with a lively, synth-driven cover of the
classic, menacing “Peter Gunn Theme,” the disc jumps immediately into
the extended madness that was “Pictures At An Exhibition.” Performed
here in a severely-condensed sixteen-minute version taken from a Memphis 1977
show, the song loses none of its power due to brevity, the band’s melding of
the work of composer Modest Mussorgsky with mid-‘70s prog-rock instrumentation audacious
even by ELP standards, a breathless roller-coaster ride across an art-rock
horizon.

 

Although
featuring few songs as well known as those on the first disc, tunes like
“Tank” (from the self-titled 1970 debut LP) and “Tarkus”
(from the 1971 album of the same name) are important entries in the ELP canon.
This 1978 performance of “Tank” is a frenetic, nearly breathtaking
tightrope sprint that condenses the original six-minute song into a two-minute
race against time that provides urgency to Palmer’s drumbeats and an
electrifying shock to Emerson’s stabbing synthesizer riffs, eventually leading
into a lengthy and explosive drum solo. On the other hand, “Tarkus”
is afforded an only slightly reduced running time, although the pace is no less
frantic as the band plays its lines with alarming madness, the listener
wondering what sort of hellhounds were on their trail.  

 

Still,
it’s with their more obscure material that ELP often surprises. The band was
never afraid to kick up a bit of kitsch now and then, and their breakneck take
on Scott Joplin’s 1899 ragtime hit “Maple Leaf Rag” is no exception.
A 1978 performance of Prokofiev’s “The Enemy God Dances With The Black
Spirits” is exhilarating and illuminating in its fusion of the classical
and progressive worlds, while Lake’s beautiful
“Watching Over You,” from Works,
Vol. 2
, is as close as the band ever came to creating a conventional
British folk-rock ballad. Emerson’s inspired, jazzy piano play is perfectly
married to Lake’s fluid vocals on the 1920s British
folk standard “Show Me The Way To Go Home.” Not surprisingly, there’s
nothing on the second CD from ELP’s ill-fated “break up” album,
1978’s Love Beach, which is for the better,
really. [One look at that LP’s sleeve,
all tans and chest hair, should convince the readers. – Photo Editor
]

 

By 1979,
the rigors of the road and the pitfalls of the business had clearly gotten to Emerson,
Lake and Palmer, and the trio was at creative odds with each other after cranking
out seven studio and two live albums in a mere eight years. More than the
result of mere artistic fatigue, hundreds of nights on the road in close
proximity to one another had created tensions beyond ego, and the band broke up
at the end of the decade with the member’s allegedly unable to stand one
another.

 

Lake would
forge a moderately successful solo career during the 1980s, and Palmer would
fall into the accidental goldmine that was the supergroup Asia, while Emerson
wrote film scores. Lake and Emerson would briefly reunite for an album and tour
in 1985, recruiting journeyman drummer Cozy Powell (Rainbow, Whitesnake) to
replace the hesitant Palmer (who was making bank with Asia). This new
“ELP” trio recorded a single unremarkable album that somehow still
managed to place in the Top 40 in America, showing that a lot of original ELP
nostalgia remained among the band’s fans. Suspecting that he had been chosen
for the drum seat because his name began with a ‘P’, the prickly Powell scooted
out of the ELP universe before the end of ’86, leaving his bandmates high and
dry. Things would pick up in 1991, however, as Asia met its inevitable end and
Palmer rejoined his mates in a properly-reunited Emerson, Lake
and Palmer.      

 

The third
CD in A Time And A Place documents
the ’90s-era Emerson, Lake and Palmer reunion with performances taken from 1993
through 1997. While not quite as bombastic as their 1970s-era shows could
become, the 1990s version of ELP shows a talented, mature band that hasn’t lost
a step, merely learned that you don’t have to end every musical sentence with
exclamation marks. The band’s 1992 Black
Moon
album, its first collection of new material in over a decade, is
represented here by three inspired performances.

 

While Greg
Lake’s voice shows a distinct lessening of it warmth and richness a couple of
decades on, his vocals on this 1993 performance of “Paper Blood” take
on a timbre closer to Dave Cousins’ of Strawbs than his old ELP work. Backed by
harmony vocals, the song is a stampeding rocker that benefits from Emerson’s
heavy hand on the keyboards and Palmer’s heavier sticks on the drums.
“Black Moon” sounds like vintage King Crimson, but with nastier
six-string work, a heavier-than-lead bass line, imploding drumbeats, and
lightning-bolts of synthesizer. The third song here from Black Moon, the album’s first single “Affairs Of The
Heart,” is an engaging ballad with a warm vocal track and intricate
fretwork by Lake and some nice keyboard
flourishes by Emerson.

 

Sadly,
disc three includes nothing from the band’s ill-fated and final (so far) studio
album, 1994’s In The Hot Seat, an
under-recorded and unsympathetic recording whose songs may have fared better in
the live setting. Instead, we get a smattering of old-school ELP (an acoustic
guitar-oriented reading of “From The Beginning” from Trilogy with some fine, nuanced Palmer
drumwork; a full-bore prog assault on “A Time And A Place,” from Tarkus) mixed with rare odds ‘n’ sods
like the surprising ragtime-styled piano instrumental “Honky Tonk Train
Blues,” or the edgy art-rock instrumental “Creole Dance.” A 1993
performance of the dark-hued “Knife Edge,” from ELP’s long-ago debut,
stands out for its malevolent voodoo vibe, Emerson’s restrained
keyboard-bashing, and some great drumming by Palmer alongside Lake’s
mesmerizing vocals.

 

The fourth
and final disc of A Time And A Place takes a surprising and welcome tack, providing listeners with a collection of a
dozen tracks culled from various fan-recorded bootlegs that span the entire
20-year career of the band. Admittedly, the sound quality lessens considerably
on these covertly-recorded performances, but they stand out in contrast mostly
because the rest of the live material in the box set sounds so damn good.
Still, designed with the fan in mind, what true ELP follower is going to
quibble with a 1972 performance of the art-rock/space-rock epic “The
Endless Enigma” or a romp through “Abaddon’s Bolero” from the
same year? ELP fanatics can sink their teeth into a haunting version of
“Jerusalem” from 1974, or an enchanting reading of the hit “I
Believe In Father Christmas” from 1993.                

 

If it
seems like A Time And A Place is
geared towards the ELP fanatic, well, yeah, it is. While much of the material here
was previously released on various collections, many long out-of-print, this
four-disc set is a cost-effective way for the collector to gather up a 43 fine
and entertaining performances by one of prog-rock’s most exciting and dynamic live
bands. While the success of Emerson, Lake and Palmer never matched that of
contemporaries Yes or Genesis, and they seldom received the critical acclaim
afforded King Crimson, their place in the prog-rock galaxy is safe and secure,
ELP one of the most influential and ground-breaking bands in the genre.

 

THE MOST FUCKED UP THING I’VE EVER SEEN: Jon Glaser

So very: in which the
comedian and Adult Swim (“
Delocated”)
star ponders pricking babies and campers.

 

BY JON GLASER

 

When I was asked to write this, nothing immediately popped
to mind. My first thought was to be thankful that a lot of seriously fucked up
things weren’t flooding my memory bank. My second thought was slight envy that
I hadn’t experienced at least a few more profoundly fucked up – and thus,
probably cool – events that would stand out. But as they say, you can’t choose
your parents, you can’t choose your children, and you can’t choose the fucked
up things that happen to you.

 

Any-hoozies, I took a look at some of the fucked up things
that have been written about in this magazine. I read stories that involved
death, blood, fire, guts, or a combo of those things. I thought of going the
other way with it and writing about the birth of my son. Not the obvious bloody
part where my bloody son came out of my wife’s bloody vagina. I’m talking about
the part where he had to have his heel pricked a few times to draw blood to put
on a piece of paper that went to the New York Department of Health. The part
where the nurse took his one day old foot and his one day old shin in her hand,
pricked his heel, and squeezed the foot and shin together. As in, the foot was
pulled back towards the leg so the toes
were touching the shin
(or pretty close, I can’t remember exactly since I
was in shock). Try doing that right now. You can’t. I understand babies are
very flexible, but it was a horrible thing to witness. It was also horrible to
stand helpless as my son screamed and cried. I watched in horror as the nurse
did this several times. It was like she was trying to break him. I tried to
control my tears (I’m trying to control them right now just writing this and
thinking about it) and trust that this was something nurses did every day with
every baby. It was next to impossible to stay composed. I had to call our
midwife for reassurance. Finally, the nurse finished. My son stopped crying as
soon she stopped squeezing. It was one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever
seen. But it’s not what I’m going to write about today.

 

I’m going to write about something I saw when I was a camp
counselor for 9 year old boys. I was a junior counselor, actually. Which meant
that I wasn’t in charge of my own group of kids. I would rotate from bunk to
bunk, taking over when a counselor either had a day or hour off. Before I
proceed, I need to explain a TV commercial that was airing at the time. It was
for a lotion called Keri. The commercial had a husky male voice-over say “Keri,
is so very…” It would then cut to a woman gardening. She’d finish his sentence,
“…concentrated”, and then say a few more nice things about Keri. Then it would
cut back to the man’s voice, “Keri, is so very…”, and then cut to another
woman, this one in her photography studio, and she’d have another word to
describe Keri, and have other nice things to say about it. Several women in all
would describe how very (insert description) Keri was during each ad. But the
best part was the guy saying “Keri, is so very…”

 

Back to the story. There was one kid, Evan, in one of the
bunks, who was really mean and really funny. There was another kid, Cary, who
would be otherwise unmemorable except for the fact that he happened to have a
name that coincided with the airing of a TV commercial for a woman’s lotion
that sounded exactly like his name even thought it was spelled differently.
Evan, being the 9 year old hilarious asshole he was born to be, would
constantly ask Cary if he was so very. I would have to pretend to be mad when I
asked Evan to stop saying that. But to this day, it is one of the funniest things
I have ever heard.

 

God or karma or whoever didn’t find it so funny, because
that summer, Evan was stung in the face by a bee. Which brings us to the most
fucked up thing I’ve ever seen. Skin pink and puffy, cheeks, chin, forehead,
all bloated, Evan’s entire face swelled up like a balloon. You could barely see
his eyes they were so swollen over. It was completely grotesque and utterly
fascinating. He looked like a freak. It was hard to look at, yet impossible to
look away. This was in the days before the internet and millions of images at
your finger tips. I had never seen anything like it. In short, it was so very.

 

 

Comedian Jon Glaser’s
hit Adult Swim show
Delocated returns
for a second season on August 22. Also check out reruns of his other A/S show,
Stroker
and Hoop
, airing now.