Report: Orange Peels & Flywheels Live SF

 

 

Along with opening act
the Flywheels (making their live debut), the Bay Area popsters make out just fine at San Francisco’s Make-Out Room last week, on
Sept. 10.

 

By
Jud Cost

 

San Francisco’s Make-Out Room, on the
surface a pretty drab joint, had never sparkled with so much musical energy in
the 10 years I’d been hanging around the place. And about 50 people were
lucky/smart enough to witness an unforgettable performance by the Orange Peels
and the Flywheels, yet another example of why rock ‘n’ roll will never die, no
matter how many times the ignorant try to bury it.

 

The
Orange Peels, long-established as the Bay Area’s best (albeit slowest-rising)
pop band, were no surprise to those who love them. Their tight set was a
perfect balance of frontman Allen Clapp’s classic songs (“Mystery
Lawn,” “A Change In The Weather”) and the newer, slightly
noisier stuff from the Peels’ recent album 2020 (Minty Fresh). The boyish Clapp, now sporting a cloth cap to finish off his
buttoned-down look, was once tagged “the lo-fi Lutheran” by respected
indie-rock producer Jeff Saltzman before he moved on to Portland and studio
fame with Stephen Malkmus.

 

The
Orange Peels have finally found the man who may be the best in a long line of
fine guitarists in John Moremen, and all they had to do was move him over from
the drum slot, now filled by Gabe Coan. If you’ve never had the pleasure, Allen
Clapp’s music is a curious blend of the innocent, early electric Modern Lovers
period of Jonathan Richman, with a few shakes of 1977 Talking Heads-style red
pepper flakes.

 

When
the cake comes out of the oven, however, you get an overwhelming sense that if
Clapp had been born 20 years earlier he might have penned a long list of Top 40
radio smashes for British Invasion heroes the Hollies, the Zombies and Herman’s
Hermits. As a preaching-to-the-converted bonus, the Peels reeled off a knockout
version of Jimmy Silva’s “Hand Of Glory,” once a regional hit by New Jersey pop stars the
Smithereens.

 

Tonight
at the Make-Out Room also turned out to be a make-up night for the horrible
sound endured by the Orange Peels recently at San Jose’s Left Coast Live festival. Those
unfortunates who missed them last night are well advised to skip the
trick-or-treating this year and get to the Apples In Stereo’s Halloween show
early at San Jose’s
Blank Club. With both the Apples and Oranges
in a fruit & veg extravaganza, sparks should fly.

 

 

The
X-factor tonight was the maiden voyage of opening act the Flywheels. Lead
singer Kim Wonderley, along with the band’s bassist, Eric Scott, were once
members of the Goats, the last group of much revered songwriter/singer Jimmy
Silva before he, fatefully, moved to Seattle
in 1994. Two days before Christmas, Silva died after contracting chicken pox,
sometimes dangerous to adults. Wonderley, who’d sung a handful of leads for
Silva’s four brilliant studio albums, hadn’t played live in 20 years and
expressed severe doubts about her abilities prior to the Flywheels’ three
rehearsals. She needn’t have worried.

 

Thirty
seconds into the set, it’s obvious that Kim Wonderley is a natural. Her
powerful reading of “Fair Exchange” – a hallmark of this year’s Silva
tribute album, Through A Faraway Window (SteadyBoy) tracked by Seattle
madmen the Young Fresh Fellows – is stunning. It’s easy to see from the
Flywheels’ pair of trib tracks, Wonderley’s voice has that smoky, Chrissie
Hynde thing going on, but who knew she was as tough a cookie as Joan Jett?

 

Decked
out in Carnaby Street
threads kept in mothballs since the ’66 heyday of the Troggs, Wonderley’s got
all the right moves, and her daytime gig as the traffic reporter at SF’s
all-news radio giant KCBS means she knows what to do behind a microphone.
“Jimmy wrote that song for (Get
Smart
heroine) Barbara Feldon, didn’t he?” Wonderley asks of Scott,
before introducing the next Silva opus. “Jimmy was a great lyricist who
wrote a lot of songs that people loved. This wasn’t one of ’em,” she
smirks before launching into “Name That’s A Number.”

 

Something
of a belated record-release party for the Silva tribute, the Flywheels’ set
also sprinkles in a few ringers that include Small Faces chestnut “Sha La
La La Lee,” a fab Mod staple that had shredded Wonderley’s pipes in
rehearsal only three weeks earlier. “I’ve Got Time,” another gem
whose lyrics proved sadly untrue for Jimmy Silva, sounded terrific, even
without the ethereal harmonies added by Christy McWilson (Dave Alvin’s Guilty
Women) to the tribute version. Wonderley and Scott’s simpatico vocal blend and
Moremen’s soaring guitar, along with Gabe Coan’s solid drums and keyboard
flourishes by Paul Whiting give the song everything it needs to bring a smile
to the face of Silva’s boyhood pal, Eddy Irvine.

 

“As
I was driving here for the show tonight, I had this overwhelming feeling I
should turn around and run away,” confesses Wonderley before kicking off
“City Of Sisterly Love,” another Silva tribute highlight, cut by Jon
Auer of the Posies. Wonderley wraps her tonsils around the song’s
tongue-twisting couplet (“Cortez said to Pizarro/’Didja hear about Coronado?’/Pizarro said,
‘Yeah, but tell me again'”) with all the aplomb of someone who’s just
maneuvered her Mini Cooper around a bag of yard clippings dumped onto the
Golden Gate Bridge.

 

The
set was nailed to the wall like a zebra skin in a jungle hut by another
tribute-album veteran, the legendary Roy Loney, onetime Flamin’ Groovies
frontman, who ripped through a rare Silva rocker, “Big House,” like
they’d practiced it for months. In reality, just like the glory days of Chuck
Berry’s one-nighters, Loney shook hands with the Flywheels for the first time
that night and was off to the races.

 

“What
the hell was up with all Kim’s insecurity?” I asked a sweat-drenched Scott
afterwards of Wonderley’s pre-show jitters. All he could do was shake his head
and smile: “Yeah, Kim’s great.” One would hope, after tonight’s
spectacular coming-out party, she finally believes it, herself. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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