Monthly Archives: October 2015

WHEN GODS WALKED THE EARTH: Ork Records

Terry Ork

As the new box set released by Numero Group amply illustrates, the tiny/short-lived but influential New York label of the late ‘70s helped set the standard by which all subsequent indies would be judged. Above: Terry Ork wheeling and dealing.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

From 1975 to 1980, New York’s Ork Records released just 13 records. The most commercially successful of these sold just 6000 copies. And yet, during a spectacularly fertile period for NYC punk, Ork was involved in nearly every band that mattered — from Television (whose first-ever single “Little Johnny Jewel” came out on Ork in 1975), to Richard Hell and the Voidoids, to post-Big Star Alex Chilton, to the Feelies, to pre-dBs Chris Stamey.

Cut to 2015, and Numero Group’s vast box set (two CDs or four LPs) Ork Records: New York, New York collects everything that Ork ever released, as well as a fair amount that, because of financial constraints, it never got around to pressing.

ork-records-new-york-new-york-2

The music comes packaged with a book-length oral history of the label and its artists, which weaves dozens of interviews into a dark but fascinating narrative about American punk’s infancy; the fat, nearly 200-page book displays lots of equally riveting archival photos along with poster and record sleeve reproductions. And for those who want to order direct from the Numero site and pony up an extra $10, you get a bonus 45 of two previously unreleased Feelies tracks which, by all accounts, rock.

The story starts in the early 1970s when Terry Ork (born William Terry Collins) turns up in New York City in the thrall of Andy Warhol’s factory scene. Drawn in at first more by film than music, he ends up working at a Cinemabilia, a Greenwich Village bookshop focused on movies, and there meets lanky, ambitious Richard Meyers (soon to be known as Richard Hell) and through him Tom Miller (later Verlaine). The two are working out songs as Neon Boys, which later turns into Television with the addition of Richard Lloyd, Fred Smith and Billy Ficca, and Ork arranges their first show at the Townhouse Theater in 1974. A year later, they record “Little Johnny Jewel” for a label that doesn’t even exist yet, naming it Ork Records, after the guy who had helped them out.

The single, a sprawling, loose-jointed, guitar noodling, seven-minute jam breaks nearly every rule in the as-yet-unwritten punk rock rule book. Lloyd, pictured below in a photo taken from the box set’s book, threatened to quit if it were released. It sounds, even now, like a dystopian fever dream, the drumming abstract and jazz-like, the guitar parts barely touching each other, and yet within it, that spiraling guitar mayhem that would define Television. The disc was sold only by mail and at shows, but it sold, and Ork Records was off and running.

Lloyd

Richard Hell was an odd fit with the musicianly Television, and he split almost as soon as the band started first for the Heartbreakers and later for his own Richard Hell & the Voidoids (picking up Robert Quine in the process). Stiff Records released Hell’s Another World in the U.K. but Ork got the U.S. rights. Like the Television track, it sounds jagged and primitive and hyper-modern all at once; tracks like “Blank Generation” and, especially, the sparse, bass-led “(I Could Live With You) In Another World” stutter in asynchronous angst, a shriek of hysteria masked by primitive cool.

Ork Records caught Alex Chilton on the long slide from Big Star, maybe not punk rock in sound, but certainly in lifestyle. The box includes eight songs from this inebriated era. A radiant Big Star-esque “All of the Time,” a loosely anthemic cover of the Stones’ “Singer Not the Song” and a geographically confused but charming “Bangkok,” are the highlights; a ridiculous, British-accented “Summertime Blues” is the nadir.

The other big name, snared early on and then lost, was the Feelies, then still in their twitchy, punk rock phase. The box offers blistering, hair-on-fire renditions of “Fa Ce La” and “Forces at Work,” kicking in an early studio cut of “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness” and a cover of Bacharach and David’s “My Little Red Book,” as a bonus cut for premium buyers. Judging by the rawness of the two non-45 tracks, the bonus materials would be well worth having. Let me know, when you get them, how they sound.

It is probably also worth noting that the Ork box includes the song that reportedly gave BLURT magazine its name, Lester Bangs’ sprawling, Robert Quine-assisted “Let It Blurt,” which is as free associatively unbounded and vitriolic as the man’s record reviews. “Bitch bitch bitch bitch,” indeed.

In among the luminaries are a lot of bands that people have forgotten: The Erasures, churning a jittery state-side cousin of the U.K. female centric bands like Delta Five and Kleenex/Lilliput, Prix sounding very Big Star-ish at times (and also TFC-esque; their “Everytime I Close My Eyes” featured Chilton on backing vocals as well), the Marbles, the Idols, the Revelons. It’s an era on a couple of discs, famous and not famous, good and not so good, as sticky with god-knows-what as the floor of CBGB’s.

The whole enterprise came to a halt in 1980 when Ork came under investigation for criminal fraud and disappeared. First wave punk was pretty much over by then. A new line of Our Band Could Be Your Life post-punkers were starting to break through, though not in New York, and indeed, not anywhere in that same concentrated way. Ork Records: New York, New York opens a window to the past that you can’t go through or even really see through, but it is just wide enough to let the music in and that is a very good thing indeed.

 

Below, listen to a couple of BLURT faves, Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple (of the dB’s, natch) who are both included on the Ork box.

DESPERATELY SEEKING SAL: The Yawpers

Yawpers

Dice, drugs, booze and rock ‘n’ roll: On the road and eventually landing in Denver, our correspondent finds an evening with the band’s frontman to be fraught in more ways than one. But he did locate the titular Sal…

BY RAYMOND LEE

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. —W. Whitman

The job was simple enough: Interview Denver musician Nate Cook of the breaking rock band The Yawpers for a music publication. I’ve accomplished similar articles countless times, but God laughs at the best laid plans of mice and men. What made this particular assignment unique was the fact I wasn’t thwarted in my attempts to get at the heart of the story from the usual barriers erected by editors, the family friendly prerequisite demands of labels and PR folk, or the delicate sensibilities of the ‘artist.’ You see, whether an artist interview or an armed invasion, politics are paramount. But instead of bureaucracy, I found myself frustrated by the very excess I intended to document.

As a nation, Americans have to face the fact there’s no authenticity left to our rock n’ roll. The rise of indie over the past decade means the guitar oriented lot have been dominated by the same asking-before-acting lyrical introspection found in lousy breakup poetry. Death Cab for Cutie—or, say, Conor Oberst—were refreshing for their time, but the legion of penny ante poets and posers they and others have inspired has reduced the mainstream market to a losing proposition. Much like our nation’s politicians who try too hard to sell themselves to too many, we’re left with a crisis of choice between two pathetic, polarized camps. The illegitimate children of the last 20 years of pop culture have taken rock music right back to its innocent, innocuous beginning. Mainstream rock, like mainstream politics, leaves very little to believe in. When the local station’s most rotated artist is either The Lumineers or Lincoln Park, do we really have a choice?

Whatever happened to the “Give me crack and anal sex,” or the “Look on the bright side, suicide,” socio-lyrical outlook of rock’s more heady days? Time was musicians testified before courts to defend the validity of their artistic contributions. These days, it doesn’t feel like mainstream musicians take those hard fought battles for granted so much as take pains to avoid any type of material controversy.

Since 2011 Denver three piece The Yawpers have been simmering just below the radar of popular media. There’s much liberty in having nothing to lose. Without a national label to nitpick his output Cook’s been free to explore the white boy blues found in topics like heartache, hangovers and huffing gasoline. His frenetic, possessed showmanship and The Yawper’s bluesy, boozy alternative to the typical radio fare has attracted a cult following. That combined with a left-for-dead capacity showcase at 2015’s SXSW landed The Yawpers a deal with Chicago’s legendary independent Bloodshot Records. Press quickly followed with endorsements from Rolling Stone and Consequence of Sound replacing the clamor from the zines and blogs that previously trumpeted their music to a limited audience.

For The Yawpers, the pressure to perform is intense. It’s not unfair to say their entire career rests on the success of their new record, American Man, released this week (Oct.3) by Bloodshot. But instead of relying on methods that have worked so well for the group up to this point, Cook’s lyrical penchant for the old electric evil has taken a dive off the deep end. Perhaps informed by years of kicking out at a transparent industry and the musical personalities that endorse it, Cook is attempting during the herd mentality frenzy of the election cycle to define America’s most at risk minority: the individual.

As it stands, America is the world’s largest exporter of both art and war. Unfortunately we haven’t done well at either in quite some time. We are a society characterized by strife and creativity. Our whorehouse roots, the dirty Delta Blues and sinister Dixieland jazz perfected by those from the bottom of society have been hijacked by the very mediums they popularized. As well, the record companies and radio empires that popular music long ago built have turned against the culture that originally sold its adspace. Those luminaries who once forsook the conventional wisdom of toil, education, and savings for the slum life plucking six strings stretched across a hollowed box couldn’t get signed today even after selling their souls at the crossroads. Instead of musicians we find anymore our airwaves saturated by personalities massaged from the very cradle to generate maximum returns. Satan isn’t as evil or as influential as iHeartRadio.

Our culture suffers for it. Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre famously said, “The only thing in the middle of the road is dead animals and dumb fucking Americans.” This wisdom has never been truer. American media has been dumbed down so intensely and for so long, the aftershocks register across all mediums of popular consumption. A single glance at the nightly news registers this fact better than any. Trend coverage and groupthink editorials have unequivocally replaced anything resembling journalism or analytical thought. Worse yet, our greatest contender for President—the most powerful position on earth—is a former reality television star.

“E Pluribus Unum”: so the national motto goes, but of one we are also many. Still, there is fault in the lines dividing our country, in the rumbling of political majorities at fundamental odds, pushing against each other to form insurmountable peaks and gaping chasms over the topic of what our cherished liberty really means. Republocrats and Democrans, do the voters really have a choice? Since the millennium we’ve pursued policies based on generic, outdated concepts, wars on ideologies. Our basic fundamental problem is that along with technology our culture has evolved beyond our own understanding. We don’t know who we are anymore.

But that itself is nothing new; as with other critical points in our history, one may look to the individuals who forge paths against the national grain—the poets, writers and musicians—for that sense of identity. The Beats, led by Jack Kerouac, helped form an image of the new American when we emerged as the world’s driving force after the second Great War. But further back, after our darkest hour in the Civil War revealed a new dawn, we had Walt Whitman. He would become the unofficial poet laureate of the national consciousness. Little read in his time, Whitman’s radical verses contrasting democracy against individualism would come to dominate the craft. And from Whitman’s lyrics, Cook pulled the name of The Yawpers. But more than that, to match Whitman’s ambition with their first labelled album, Cook equally attempts to articulate the good fight against the status quo across American Man.

As far as music’s concerned, blame Brooklyn, Nashville, Seattle or Silver Lake. Any economist will tell you the best returns come from growth, not the established giants. If you want to find something truly exciting you must travel outside the bright city lights of the cultivated scene. In place of those washed out trend-sitters try Louisville, Davenport or Muscle Shoals. Or much like Kerouac in On the Road, get to Denver.

Life is good there. One of the fastest growing cities in the nation, Denver has plenty of promise whether you’re a working man or in a working band. The recent legalization of marijuana means one will find like-minded, forward thinking young people and a wealth of options for the day job until the record deal comes through or else America’s Got Talent finally returns that call. In a northbound escape from the 3.2 hinterlands of Oklahoma I searched the roadside for the face of Sal Paradise. None of the day-drunk crust-punk hitchhikers I picked up along the way proved to be Sal, but I was certain, come Denver, he could again be found.

Via text I asked Cook for a floor, possibly a broken pallet and some shards of glass or else rusty nails to sleep on if at all possible. I was assured it wasn’t a problem, then no less than an hour from Denver I received an addendum to the reply. “My wife just threw me out of the house, you can sleep in the van with me tho.” And then moments later. “It’s as good a place to wallow in despair as any.”

Despite the misfortune I was pleased. I would have unfettered access, insight into a recent tragedy and a unique setting to spark some life into the usual humdrum interview. While the proposition seemed dubious I had a trick up my sleeve. From youthful days of cross continental trips and foreign city drunken rips I’d learned simply to pay to park overnight in any garage. It costs little and provides good practice for the future when I’ll doubtlessly exchange housing in cheap motels for the same in my car. With the invite to a tour van camp-out acting as a safety net I stepped confidently into the Denver night amongst the foot traffic of the well-heeled young professionals on 16th street.

Sometime later I found myself outside the rendezvous point at [name redacted by artist’s request]. I expected to find Nate Cook leaning against the bar inside, milking a pint to gloom in the face of his deteriorating relationship and recent homelessness. Instead, obscenities from the rear rang out over the modest crowd of weeknight drunks. He was dressed like a transgendered red-neck, boots and faded jeans topped off by an armless t-shirt of questionable cleanliness, his hair a sea-swell froth of disorder and neglect. It was night and he was wearing rose tinted glasses. Shaking his hand I asked how he was. For a moment I imagined his frivolity a disguise for tumult welling just beneath the surface.

“You got any money?” he asks in return, displaying a wad of singles along with a sinister smile.

“A little…” I nod cautiously.

“Then put it on the bar!”

Cee-Low

Cee-lo is a game of three dice. A dollar a round, high scores take the progressive bet to leave the victor clutching at a fistful of crumpled dollars with all the pride of a sorority sister being crowned winner at a strip club’s amateur night. I have to break a twenty, a goddamn fortune to any writer just to get in. I offered to buy the round but Cook insisted all drinks were on him. In on the action is a collection of local degenerates to include Asheville, NC, thrill-rock throwbacks the Dirty Soul Revival. Singer Abraham Drinkin’ looks a little the worse for wear.

It would turn out the Denver native was brought home by death. His brother Hank Anderson had been riding in the backseat of an SUV that left the road. He was not wearing his seatbelt. To spite every self-righteous member of MADD, alcohol was not involved. Abraham, Cook and an assortment of close friends would, however, drink to his memory between rounds of dice. The boisterous crowd remained stoic, tipping back glasses and bringing up stories of the good times, laughing along as if he were just out the room. When asked about the topic the group of friends understandably closed ranks, but in a rare moment of vulnerability Cook ventured, “Tragic would be too trite a word. He was honestly the most generous person I’d ever met, the one with the most integrity.” It was touching considering there’s a fierceness to Cook, the desperation of a junkyard dog that bares its teeth to any stranger, but his demeanor softened as he continued, “I wish you could have met him. He was one of us and the best of us.”

We return to the riotous game which now involves passing randos and the bar staff alike. Weak scores illicit a barrage of insults, strong rolls, threats. Cook acts as both referee and top challenger. To roll he takes on an exaggerated pose, shaking the dice with the bravado windup of a major league pitcher, all the while screaming in the faces of his opponents, “C’mon Cookie Tate with that 4 5 6!” It’s a ploy to intimidate the competitors. And it works. If he rolled that 4 5 6 train once, he did it a dozen times, forcing his will and energy into the dice in the same way he conjures so much from a simple six string acoustic on stage.

Between rounds of both Cee-lo and well whiskey I clutch at Cook’s shoulder. I’m on a mission. Drunkenly, I divulge how I want to contrast the success of his artistic work against the trials of his personal life for the interview. He laughs it away, calls me unprintable names to insult both my masculinity and the poor ethics of a staged interview. “There’s plenty of time.” He keeps repeating. [Below: the drinking crew]

Degenerates

The drink has enlivened him and there’s a gleam to his eye when the drugs arrive. We’ve had perhaps a dozen apiece. Half the bar’s patrons ring our little corner with ominous smiles, throwing out bills and screaming in comradery at the dice’s outcome as if it were a Tijuana cock fight. The game is highly illegal, but what we’re about to do after slipping silently away to pile five deep into the single toilet bathroom is nothing short of felonious.

“I don’t do this very often.” I weakly protest but it matters little and I allow the spirit of the night to carry me along. Neither the violence of film nor the pornography of pop music captures debauchery in quite the same excessive way as rock ‘n’ roll. Of sex, of drug abuse and violence, we live in a world where these things are increasingly frowned upon. The appetite remains. Film and radio tell us relationships are the highest goals. Facebook ‘likes’ encourage the sophomore’s illusion that this world can be a better place if we all just attempt a little more understanding or practice compassion. But for those of us born poor, who take up fights that cannot be won, who kick out at the world in all its false sincerity there is a craving for darker thrills. Self-destruction is a piss poor path to enlightenment and its lessons are learned the hard way. There are few second chances and the margin for error falls within the scope of the razor’s edge. Is it evil? Yes, yes it is. But it’s also about the last honest thing in this increasingly veiled existence. The high, whether the flying be from the glorious incoherence of a splendid drunk, the narcotic blasting through the bloodstream, peaking arousal of the sexual encounter, or standing up for what you believe in and throwing a fist at the nose of another requires you to take a stand, to act as an individual in this increasingly homogenized society, and then to deal with the repercussions whether good or ill. And while these acts may not be good, they are honest. They are true.

We shuffle out to the register of aggressive knocking against the bathroom door. “What’s going on in there?” Asks a man the bartender would later identify as the club owner. Cook’s face screws up in consternation. “What do you think five guys do together in a bathroom?” The question seems so obvious as to insult him, and Cook brushes by the man as if he were never there. [Below: Cook with a fan]

Cook and Fan

With the game broken up the night slips by measured in increments of Lonestar, well whiskey and Marlboro Reds. Despite the rush of intoxicants the energy dips. Hank’s name surfaces between all the usual musician talk filling up the air. Stories abound of closing for such and such a national act, back when no-one knew their names and they were awful. Exaggerated tales are spread like contagion of venues in cities across the American empire, half-truths of police run-ins and long stretches of harsh poverty. Flat out lies are hashed out about one night stands, friendships with big dick company so and so’s, and the possibilities imagined that became possibilities lost. It’s a collective chorus, that old drunken poet’s dream of bigger venues, national exposure and peer respect—all viewed from the murky depths at the bottom of a well.

“Obscurity’s hip these days, right?” Cook asks. “You think any of them kids with shitty haircuts are sleeping on the floor tonight?”

I imagine some of them are, but I say nothing. The bar closes but it is not yet time for sleep. We pile into cars and weave across the city to The Space, a recording and rehearsal studio for what I’m told will be the interview.

In the studio’s control room amidst snaking coils of amplifier chords and towering speaker stacks Cook proudly displays his prized work: the master copy of the new Yawpers album American Man. There are revelers in the background, The Dirty Soul Revival and others. Studio owner and operator Nick Daniluk nervously eyes anyone who approaches the equipment. The air is smoky with the state’s recent economic development, as Cook, jabber-jawing on the cusp of catharsis, carefully places his masterpiece into the CD input. With the first few bars Cook searches my face for a response. I give none. The music hasn’t yet begun and I feel naked save for my beer bottle. He wipes a film of sweat from his face as his eyes roll around in his skull. He’s lost to the music, explaining to me the intricacies of the songs, what they mean, how they were recorded. I nod along, but like interventions, snap judgements are meaningless. He might have been looking for encouragement, but under an impartial guise I remain mute. The truth is I didn’t yet know if it would all work, and I suspect neither does Cook.

The Yawpers are at a crossroads. It’s the most pivotal time in any young band’s career. A record deal with Bloodshot means the good old days are over. They no longer need worry about booking shows or scraping together enough gas money to get to that next gig. Instead, with the Halloween release of their first non-self-released record, The Yawpers are faced with the harsh realities of the music business. And make no mistake, like politics it is a business: one with continually diminishing returns. A group can forge a path, go their own way in the face of an industry when they’ve got nothing to lose, but there’s very little room for failure on the national stage.

For the moment Cook is lost in thought, pulled under by the 12 ounce onslaught of a weeknight in his chosen profession. His eyes are half closed slits and he slurs something about a split 7-inch with Deertick. Though he’s collapsed like a puppet, when I say of that band’s last album, “Fuck Negativity!”, the strings pull taught and he pops from his chair with the fury of a bare knuckle boxer.

It happens so quickly the swinging doesn’t register. The next thing I know I’m on the ground with his hands around my throat. But I’m no stranger to such situations, and after flipping him onto his back I gently urge him to tap out while watching his face turn oxblood from the stranglehold I’ve put him in. He becomes a metaphor in real time. Completely finished, he refuses to tap out. He struggles, flailing about like a fish that’s been landed. He goes for my eyes as the period since his last breath stretches out past the half minute mark. Finally, for Nate Cook, it all goes dark.

Thankfully, America is in the midst of a new age. The wars are over, our recession has rebounded, and the time is incredibly ripe for radicals. A look to the election year hopefuls shows us as much. The obvious choices, Clinton and Bush, are crumbling under their excessive fears of anything that will lessen their appeal. Meanwhile firebrands like Cook, many of them previously unknown, attract the masses. The public has become fed up with business as usual, the murder in our streets by police who increasingly resemble state sponsored brown shirts, lack of medical access for those of us who commit the crime of being born poor, and the endless purgatory endured by people with the audacity to demand rights while displaying skin tones in colors off-white. It seems that after a deep, deep sleep America is finally addressing the issue of who we really are, and by degrees who we want to be.

The Space

Waking up mid-afternoon on the floor of The Space’s studio, Cook and cohorts the Dirty Soul Revival have gone. Daniluk [pictured above, in his facility] enters all smiles. He’s a quiet man, courteous and well-spoken, obviously accustomed to the bedlam. On the ride back to the garage in the city he tells me how the rent is on the rise. How the complexes under construction in every direction to house the estimated 1,000 new daily arrivals are pushing out the people who’ve lived there since Denver’s days of faded grandeur as a washed up gold rush mountain town.

The money comes in and the individuals move out. Indeed, the spirit of the West, of all America, suffers from the suburban destruction left behind by the scorched earth policy of our twentieth century culture wars. Heading north for another story, another glorious drunk in a Pacific city that is not my own, I survey the deterioration as the Denver skyline recedes in my rearview. I am Congress in that I haven’t done the simplest of jobs. There was no interview with Nate Cook, no concert to cover and nothing to show my editors. But I did find Sal Paradise. I console myself with the idea he isn’t just a figment of the imagination, the ecstatic form of youth and beauty and liberty from a time as dim to our collective memory as the future is to our collective imagination.

If liberty in Denver ever did exist, it is now buried beneath towers of steel and glass, but they make the perfect rooftop platform for a new generation’s Whitman to sing our untamed poetry.

Y

The Yawpers’ American Man is out Oct. 30 on Bloodshot, and the band will be starting a national tour the following week. Full details HERE.

 

 

JUST WANTED TO SEE THEM SO BAD: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

E and R by David McLister

At the penultimate show of their The Traveling Kind tour, the two veteran singer-songwriters were brilliant, breathless, and beautiful. Below, following the review, watch a particularly intimate video of the pair.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

After an extraordinary concert, it’s often tempting to call it the greatest performance one’s ever witnessed. There’s that feeling of afterglow which can linger awhile, maybe even for a week or two before it slowly dissipates and thoughts come back into focus. It’s hard to say if that will be the case with the concert performed by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell last weekend, on Saturday night (Oct. 17), at Maryville, Tennessee’s magnificent Clayton Center for the Arts on the next-to-last date of their The Traveling Kind (Nonesuch) tour, but I’d willing to wager it will resonate for awhile, and perhaps even forever.

For starters, the setting was magnificent. Clayton Center offers superb acoustics, and its location on the idyllic tree-covered campus of Maryville College couldn’t have been better. Having just relocated to the area less than three months ago, we found it a tremendous treat to see these two iconic individuals performing together in such a serene setting a mere fifteen minutes from our new home. [Welcome to the area, Lee and Alisa! – Travel Ed.] At one point Emmylou commented that Rodney could have been in Nashville that night for the premier of the Hank Williams biopic he scored, but he chose to be in Maryville instead. Crowell acknowledged the hometown crowd by gamely attempting the town’s correct pronunciation (“MUR-vuhl” as opposed to “Mary ville”), and he almost got it right (as well he should, since his daughter was in attendance), but it really mattered little how close he came. As soon as the duo walked out on stage, the sold out crowd was smitten.

Still, if they felt they had to work especially hard to charm their audience, they couldn’t have picked better songs to get the set started. From the emphatic opening notes of “Just Want To See You So Bad,” and then onwards through such archival classics as “Wheels,” “Poncho & Lefty,” “Ooh Las Vegas,” “Love Hurts” and “Till I Gain Control,” the show hit one resounding peak after another. Truth be told, they could have reprised “Poncho & Lefty” the entire evening and many of us would have probably been satisfied. Still, there was a wealth of other great songs yet to come — selections culled from their individual catalogues (Harris’ Gram Parsons-penned “Grievous Angel,” “Luxury Liner” and “Red Dirt Girl,” Crowell’s “Ain’t Living Long Like This,” “Till I Gain Control”) and many songs shared between them, the title tracks of their two recent albums together (“Old Yellow Moon,” “The Travelling Kind”) and Crowell’s aforementioned compositions which Harris claimed she first heard on cassette in 1974 and immediately fell in love with. She marvelled at the fact that it took them 38 years to record their first duet album, the Grammy winning Old Yellow Moon, but also mentioned when it came time to do their second, the recently released The Traveling Kind, it took them barely a week to do it.

Rodney Emmyloou

Granted, 26 songs in just over two hours is a lot of ground to cover, but the fact they were able to mine so much material from careers spread well over four decade is a credit to both taste and tenacity. Credit also is due their band, one that includes Hot Band alumnus Steve Fishell on pedal steel, veteran bassist Byron House who subbed at the last minute and their tasteful guitarist Jedd Hughes, who, Harris noted, looks better in their tour cap than anyone else in the band. The band swung, shuffled, rock and relaxed as the songs dictated, making the music seamless and absolutely transfixing, and whether swaying through a tender ballad like “”Back When We Were Beautiful” or lighting up a groove as on “Memphis,” they couldn’t have been tighter or tauter.

After the three song encore, Harris brought her rescue dog to the stage and gave an impassioned talk about why folks should go to their local shelter to find a pet. “They’ll give your life such joy,” she promised, and as if to prove the point she walked her four legged companion to the edge of the stage and then across to give those in the first row a chance to pet it. It was a touching and remarkably human — and humane — way to end such a glorious program, one that resonated well into the evening and will likely continue to do so for some time to come. Then again, when two legends join forces, what other results could there possibly be? Brilliant, breathless, and beautiful.

Live photo by Alisa Cherry; promotional photo by David McLister

NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST: The Zombies

The-Zombies-High-Res

Not only are these denizens of the ‘60s British Invasion touring behind another album of all-new material, they are performing acknowledged classic Odessey and Oracle in its entirety with four of the original five members participating. Longtime fans—like our archival expert Dr. Steinfeld—are no doubt pinching themselves. Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone get on the couch with BLURT…

BY DAVE STEINFELD

The Zombies formed in 1961 while still in their teens, in the London suburb of St. Albans. A year later, the band’s lineup solidified, consisting of Colin Blunstone on lead vocals; Rod Argent on keyboards and vocals; Paul Atkinson on guitar; Chris White on bass; and Hugh Grundy on drums. Like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones, this quintet was part of the original British Invasion — but they differed from those other bands in several significant ways.

Firstly, The Zombies’ sound was always centered musically around Argent’s keyboards whereas the other bands were all guitar based. Second, although they did eventually make a terrific long-player (1968’s Odessey and Oracle), The Zombies were generally more of a singles band than an album band. Third — and perhaps most significantly — they never achieved the same degree of commercial success as those other bands did, especially in their native England, for reasons that many of us still don’t really understand.

Zombies clean up their act

The Zombies did get off to a strong start. “She’s Not There,” their debut single, went all the way to number two on the US charts in 1964. But with the exception of the following year’s “Tell Her No” — a great song that owed as much to jazz as to rock — they would never manage another big hit while they were together. Ironically, the band scored its biggest smash after it had already broken up! In 1967, disappointed both by their lack of commercial success and by the way their previous records had been produced, The Zombies entered Abbey Road Studios to create their swan song, Odessey and Oracle. This time around, the band decided they would helm the recording sessions on their own. ”Chris and I desperately wanted to produce an album ourselves,” Argent told me. “We kept making demos that we thought were great and then the final produced singles would leave us disappointed.”

Released in early 1968, Odessey and Oracle didn’t make much of an impact commercially when it first came out and the band split up. Argent and Chris White — who was the other main writer in The Zombies — had done okay because of their songwriting royalties. But incredibly, the other three members of the band had to get “real jobs!” Blunstone worked for a while in a London insurance office while Grundy reportedly did some construction work. Paul Atkinson eventually wound up having a very successful career in music, albeit behind the scenes. As an A&R man, he signed Bruce Hornsby and ABBA, among other artists. (Atkinson passed away in 2004.)

But a funny thing happened after the fact. Odessey and Oracle slowly but surely became more popular. In fact, as early as the winter of 1968-1969, “Time of the Season” (the album’s final track) became a massive worldwide hit. It still gets a ton of airplay on Oldies and Classic Rock stations and has been covered many times. In addition, the album itself has belatedly earned a lot of recognition. Many musicians cite it as an influence and Rolling Stone even ranked it number-100 on their list of the top 500 albums of all time. And for good reason. In addition to “Time of the Season,” — which manages to evoke the late 60s and remain timeless all at once — Odessey includes beautiful songs like “A Rose for Emily” and “Maybe After He’s Gone”; the anti-war “A Butcher’s Tale” (the only Zombies tune sung by White); and “Care of Cell 44,” a jaunty love letter to a woman who is in prison!

All that said, The Zombies would not regroup for many years, even though they worked together in various combos during the ’70s. Blunstone left the insurance business and embarked on a sporadic but critically acclaimed solo career while Argent formed the band that bore his name and earned more commercial success with arena-rock anthems like “Hold Your Head Up” and “God Gave Rock and Roll to You.” Chris White stayed busy writing and producing but preferred not to perform and largely stayed out of the limelight.

Around the start of the millennium, Argent and Blunstone got together and launched a new version of The Zombies rounded out by bassist Jim Rodford, who had played not only with Argent but also with The Kinks; his son Steve on drums; and guitarist Keith Airey (who was succeeded several years ago by Tom Toomey). They have since released several albums of new material and toured around the world to positive reviews. Between their renewed enthusiasm in the present — and the fact that their past music has belatedly gotten more attention — this really is the time of The Zombies! Considering that other bands from the British beat era have either lost central members (The Beatles, The Who), are mired in endless sibling rivalry (The Kinks) or are just going through the motions (let’s be honest, The Stones), it’s incredibly refreshing to see The Zombies doing so well. Here’s a group of guys in their early ’70s, with four of the five members still alive, arguably sounding better than ever, finally getting the recognition they should have gotten decades ago. Rock and roll needs more stories like this.

Still Got That Hunger, The Zombies’ sixth and latest studio disc, arrived October 9 via The End Records. Despite the somewhat corny title, it’s an excellent effort. To these ears, highlights of Hunger include the rousing opener, “Moving On”; the jazzy ballad “And We were Young Again”; “Edge of the Rainbow,” which is almost a torch song; and a joyous track called “New York,” which was triggered by Argent’s memories of the first time the band visited The Big Apple (see below). Throughout the album, there is a sense of both looking back and moving forward. And at 10 songs, Hunger never outstays its welcome.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent recently when they were passing through Manhattan right before kicking off their latest tour. Talking with them was a pleasure. [Below: tracks from the new album. Go HERE to read a review of one of the band’s recent concerts in Glenside, PA.]

BLURT” I’ll start by asking you about the new album, Still Got That Hunger. Give me a little background on when and where you guys recorded the new album.

 COLIN BLUNSTONE: We recorded it in the spring of this year, 2015, [in two] independent studios in and around London. The first one was called State Of The Ark which is in Richmond. It’s owned by Terry Britten, one of the writers of “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” It’s a really lovely studio. The second one was called Sugarcane. That’s in Wormsworth.

Our idea [was] to extensively rehearse before we recorded it, the same way as we recorded Odessey and Oracle. With [that album] we had to rehearse really thoroughly before we went in because we had such a limited budget in Abbey Road. We thought it would be a good idea to go back to that. Not particularly because of the budget — but why should we be working on arrangements in the studio when we can do that in a rehearsal room? [So] we rehearsed extensively and then went into State Of The Ark. In a way, it’s a live album that was recorded in a studio environment. We were all in a big room; it was divided up and of course it had glass so that we could see one another. But the band played live. In fact, they asked me to sing some guide vocals to help them while they were playing. But when we listened to the guide vocals, we decided that we would use them! So all the vocals were recorded live.

ROD ARGENT: We really wanted to do it with everybody playing together, so we could get back to that old idea of capturing a performance — rather than building something up gradually. I think it worked brilliantly. And we had a great producer, Chris Potter. If you’re gonna do things that way, and you’re gonna be ensconced in this live room, you need someone you trust in the other room. [Someone] that you know has got things right when he says, “We haven’t quite it yet. I think we should work more” or when he says, “That sounded great.”

 

Rod, I want to ask you about one specific track. I don’t know whether I like it because I live here or just because it’s a good song. But [it’s] “New York!” Take me back in time [to] when you were first here, and the genesis of writing that song.

 RA: Well, it was a magic time. The guy that turned me onto rock and roll, as with many people, was Elvis Presley. When I heard him sing “Hound Dog,” it changed my whole feeling about music. I’d only really listened to classical music up to that time — and then I [fell] in love with rock and roll. Little Richard and Elvis in particular. I still think his voice is transcendent on those very early records.

And just eight years later, this magical land that seemed so far away was a place that we were going to. Not only going [to] but we’d recorded a number one song! And we were going to play with our heroes: Ben E. King and The Drifters, Patti LaBelle, The Shirelles. You know, these were magic figures. [But] the black R&B figures we felt very apprehensive about performing in front of. Yet they took us to their hearts, which was so lovely. I remember thinking about that one day, in my car. And the lines of the second verse, the one that you’re talking about, just came to me in the car.

(recites):

“I walked into The Brooklyn Fox that snowy Christmas day

And Patti and her Bluebelles simply stole my heart away

She took me to Aretha Franklin, showed me so much soul

And helped us join the party with our English rock and roll.”

Absolutely true! I remember having long chats with Patti and her saying, “There’s this wonderful singer you’ve got to check out called Aretha Franklin.” That was before she did her soul stuff, when she was really just [singing] cabaret material.

That just came to me, with the melody of the verse, when I was in the car, and then I built the song up around that. I think it really captures what we all felt at the time. [Below: Argent & Blunstone]

M_TheZombiesArgentBlunstone630_051713

Colin, you wrote “Now I Know I’ll Never Get Over You.”

 CB: That’s right… I actually recorded that song four or five years ago with a string quartet. So it’s totally different! It’s done in a very modern-classical way… I play guitar and write on guitar and that’s how that was written. A lyric is about whatever the listener decides it’s about — but this is what triggered it in my mind. When people in a band are on the road and they come back, having been on the road for a long time, they’re dying to get home. You know, that’s what keeps then going. [But] when you get home, it can be a little bit stressful because you’ve been away for such a long time. There can be a distance with people that you weren’t expecting. That happened to me once, after a long tour, and it felt quite strange. And that’s what triggered the lyrical idea of that song.

 

With this tour coming up, what can we look forward to? Do you have it set up as two distinct sections? My understanding is that the current band, with the Rodfords, is gonna play but also that you’re bringing Chris [White] and Hugh Grundy out for part of it.

 CB: That’s correct. The first half will be the new band. I think we’re gonna play five songs from the new album. And I’m sure we’ll play some hits as well. Then in the second half, we’ll play Odessey and Oracle in its entirety, with Chris White and Hugh Grundy. But we’ll also include the current band [in that half] as well. And Darian Sahanaja, from the Brian Wilson band, will play second keyboard. We [did] this before, in the U.K. in 2008 and 2009. Darian came over and played and the really interesting thing was that [he] knew the album better than we did! (laughter) He’s a superb player.

The idea is that absolutely everything that was on Odessey and Oracle will be covered. The only thing that we might not be able to do — on “This Will Be Our Year,” there’s a brass section. It’s a strange brass section in that it’s three trombones and a trumpet. We managed to have a brass section in the UK but I’m not sure if we’ll be able to do it here. [Below: recent live photo of the band onstage]

Zombies live 2

Tell me about the first time you met.

 CB: I remember our first rehearsal in St. Albans in 1961. It was Rod’s idea to put a band together and he knew four of the people in the band; he didn’t know me. I went to a different school and a friend of Rod’s asked me to come along. I used to play a lot of sport and I had a broken nose and two black eyes and I had strapping right across my face! So they were all a little bit wary of me. Actually, I looked like a zombie! (laughter)

 

Can I ask you about a couple of [older] songs? I love “Care of Cell 44.” What inspired that?

 RA: It was just a story-song. It wasn’t based on anything real. I just thought it would be a really nice twist. It’s a love song but [the message is] “I can’t wait for you to get back from prison!” I just wrote a little story-song around it.

CB: I always felt that was the most commercial track on [Odessey and Oracle]. Personally, I prefer it to “Time of the Season.” This may be one of the reasons I didn’t become an A&R man! (laughter) “Time of the Season” went on to sell two or three million copies and “Care of Cell 44” really didn’t sell many copies at all.

 

Tell me about “Tell Her No,” which was a big hit.

RA: I’d been really enjoying Burt Bacharach. I loved the way that he was using major seventh and major ninth chords. And I thought, “I want to write a song that has [that] feeling.” I mean, it doesn’t sound anything like a Bacharach song but it has some of those chords. It’s quite jazzy.

 

I know you’ve been asked about it a million times but I have to ask you about “Time of the Season.” What inspired that song?

 RA: Well, it was written against a whole feeling of what was going on at the time. This huge youth culture that was suddenly aware of what was happening, particularly in Vietnam and the reality of the violence. Up to that time, I don’t think any war had been reported in any sort of detail. And the images were pretty horrifying. They’re not as graphic as what we see now on the news but at the time, it was a huge break. That had the result of a whole youth culture saying, “We don’t espouse these ways anymore.” And not only [that] but it made a difference! It actually changed what happened. Now, we were never naive about the love and peace thing; we always thought some of it was incredibly naive and crude in a way. But there was no denying that that was a powerful feeling. When you can have something like Woodstock going on — with so many people there and no violence — it’s quite extraordinary. You had births and deaths there but no real violence.

So that was a backdrop to that song. And just a tiny detail was that I’d always loved the song “Summertime” by George Gershwin. [So] I sort of gave an affectionate nod to George Gershwin! When it says, “You’re daddy’s rich/And your mama’s good-looking,” in “Summertime” — you know, I said, “What’s your name? Who’s your Daddy? Is he rich like me?” When I said rich, I meant it in the current mood of the time. Is he rich in what he’s able to give you, rather than money? Rich in saying, “Look. You’ve gotta espouse the right values,” and things like that. It was a juxtaposition of songs and an affectionate nod in the direction of “Summertime.”


Going back to the first incarnation of The Zombies, most of the [songs] were written either by yourself or by Chris White. How were you guys different as writers and what did each of you bring that maybe the other guy didn’t?

 RA: I think that Chris was perhaps more naturally romantic in his writing. I think I was perhaps more informed by what I loved within different forms of music like jazz and R&B. I mean, even ‘She’s Not There” — it’s got that jazzy, improvised thing in the middle. Chris was more romantic [and] terribly inventive. Chris particularly flowered, in my opinion, in the period leading up to Odessey and Oracle. I think what he was writing on Odessey was absolutely fabulous.

 

Colin, when The Zombies first broke up, is it true that you initially went to work in an insurance office?

 CB: I did, yeah! Rod and Chris had done very well, out of writing. But we weren’t managed particularly well. And although we played extensively, we never made any serious income from playing live. I mean, there is a story there. In effect, we did make a lot of money — but it never filtered through to us. So when the band ended, the three non-writers — Paul, Hugh and myself — had to get jobs. We didn’t have a choice. I didn’t feel a great calling for insurance but I phoned up an employment agency. They said, “There’s a job [open].” And I said, “I’ll take it.” So I worked there for nearly a year and then gradually came back into the music business. It was an interesting experience. It was in the center of London, this office. The phones were ringing all the time.

You know, I was really sad when the band finished… I didn’t know anything about insurance! But it was a busy office, and I didn’t have time to dwell on what had happened. So in a way, I think it was quite good for me. [Below: the original members caught recently at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame]

the-Zombies-Rock-Hall

Interesting. The Zombies’ story is happier than many. First of all, four of the five of you are still alive; you’re not drug casualties; and belatedly, you’ve gotten the respect that you deserve. Does success feel a bit sweeter because it’s hard-earned?

 CB: Well, in a way, the answer is absolutely yes. People sometimes say the biggest thrill in [their] life was having a hit record. [But] I say the most exciting thing in my working life is that Rod and I just through touring — [with] no hit record [and] no big record company behind us — we started out playing rooms behind pubs in 1999 and we built the band [back] up, to a point where we’re playing quite big venues now. That’s a huge thrill. And I would hope that it will give hope to other bands as well, to know that it can be done.

 

It’s nice to see it happen to people who deserve it.

 CB: Thank you. But I must emphasize that we don’t have any false illusions about our position in the music industry. You know, there are bands that are really miles away from us.

 

Two years or so ago, I spoke with Nick Lowe and one of the last things he said was something like, “I’m very happy with this new album but I don’t think Beyoncé has to look over her shoulder.”

 CB: (laughs heartily) Well, it’s true, isn’t it? For Rod and I and the other guys in the band, it’s always been about the music. Always trying to write and record the absolute best we can rather than try to mirror what’s in the charts at [that] moment. It’s not commercial success that’s been our main driving force, you know? It’s trying to achieve something musically and artistically. Something that moves us. And then we hope that if it moves us, it’s gonna move other people.

Below, watch an hour-long concert of The Zombies in which they perform the Odessey and Oracle album in its entirety. While the synching is a bit off in places, the audio is uniformly superb, with “Time of the Season” (around the 39-min. mark) being particularly captivating.

 

BALD NO MORE: DC’s Chris Bald

The Faith 2

A virtual Zelig of the original DC punk scene—he played in Embrace, Ignition and of course The Faith (above), and shared stages with virtually every other significant outfit the city ever produced—the musician now resides happily in his original hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Our resident Dischord expert Dr. Hinely investigates.

BY TIM HINELY

I’ve never met Chris Bald before but would always see his name on many of my favorite Dischord records. I knew he has been a member of The Faith, Embrace and Ignition just to name A few but as you read below you’ll see that he was in many more bands than that (for example, I had no idea that he spent time briefly in Royal Trux).

All of the photos of videos I had seen of Chris Bald seemed like he was all over the stage and looked like an exciting performer. As far as the Dischord scene in concerned, we’ve all read and enjoyed many interviews with folks like Ian MacKaye, Brian Baker, etc but I had not ever seen an interview with Bald and I like to dig for musicians/bands that were more on the edge and not necessarily in the middle of it all.

I emailed Bald out of the blue and he was more than happy to answer some questions. Please read on folks.

BLURT: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

CHRIS BALD: Born in Louisville KY, lived in Chicago for two years when I was really little, then back to Louisville, then moved to DC.

What was your first exposure to music?

My father reviewed music for the Louisville newspaper so we always had different music around when I was growing up, 70’s radio got me into things like Fleetwood Mac, ABBA and Elton John, Eventually into hard rock, Kiss, Aerosmith, AC/DC etc.

At what age did you pick up your first instrument?

My mother had an acoustic guitar that was always around and always out of tune, but it enabled me to get a crude understanding of how to play. I was probably 12 years old when I really started to want to play, my best friend at the time was taking lessons and was a natural talent so I was envious of his ability and self motivated myself to learn. I took lessons around 14 years old but retained only the rudiments.

When/why did you move to Washington, DC?

My family moved to DC because my father was working for Kentucky Congressman Romano Mazzoli, when he got elected we moved to the capitol.

What was your introduction to the punk scene there?

My introduction to punk rock was through the music press, magazines like Creem and Circus, I went to see Elvis Costello in 1978, I was 14, from there my friends and I delved in to the new wave! Ray Hare who sang in Deadline, was one of best friends at that age and we were huge into Cheap Trick. I met Brendan Canty and Monica Richards at school, we dressed similar, Ramones hair, big Blondie pins, Chuck Taylors, When we got to Wilson High School we met Eddie Janney, Bert Quieroz, Alec and Ian MacKaye, Rich Moore, Jeff Nelson and I knew John Hanson from the neighborhood. I found out about a show those guys were playing (Teen Idles, Zones, Untouchables) and went to check it out. It was in a bar and we had to sneak in, but to my amazement the bartender served us drinks. I had never seen music up this close and was pretty much blown away! I remember the back of the stage was a mirror wall and I could see myself dancing in the crowd wishing I had shorter hair!

Was Faith the first band you were in there?

Haircuts followed soon as well as attempts to start a band, Brendan, Ray, Terry Scanlon, Ken Murray, tried to form a band but it was not really working out due to lack of equipment and lack of knowing how to be a band and write tunes. Through becoming friends with Alec MacKaye, I ended up in the right place at the right time, specifically when Henry joined Black Flag and approached Alec about replacing him in S.O.A. We got in touch with Mike Hampton and found out he and Ivor wanted to start something new. Thus was born FAITH [below]

The Faith

What was the tenure of that band like? How did it end?

The Faith was really a great band to be in, we were very democratic in our decision making, very dedicated to being a good band in the burgeoning scene. We of course had some differences of opinion, and sense of humor, but for the most part we all really liked each other. I was learning so much from Mike about playing music and the shows were amazing, I can’t think of a bad Faith show. Even the last show was a cataclysmic event. Ivor had to give in to the parental pressure of going to college and thus it came to a close. At the time Mike and I were not on the same page and so we went our separate ways. Or so we thought.

Embrace

Was Embrace [above] next? Was that weird being with Ian and then the rest of Faith?

After the split I started playing with Jeff and Ian since Minor Threat had also disbanded. This lasted a few months until Ian & Jeff went to England for Dischord business and recorded some of the material as Egg Hunt with Tos on bass, and then decide to part ways musically. I continued to play with Ian and trying to find a drummer, Colin Sears played with us a few times but Dag Nasty was forming and so we ended up playing with Ivor while he was on a break from school. This became a very protracted arrangement as we were at the mercy of Ivor’s free time away from school.

At some point in the slow progress Mike Hampton called Ian and indicated he was interested in the project. Ian had been the guitarist so it was a big change of style and dynamic, not to mention some hatchet burial, somehow things started to meld. Mike was writing some of his best songs, Ian was writing his best lyrics and Ivor decided to take another year off from college. We had also expanded our influences and gotten better as musicians. Was it weird being in the same band again with Mike and Ivor with Ian singing? Yes and no; the dynamic was different. In Faith everything felt unanimous as far as the decision making process. In Embrace, Ian would make decisions without asking the rest of us and expect us to agree, this was not always the case. In the end it probably had something to do with Ian’s decision to leave the band, but there were many other complications.

I was no longer straightedge, and was less involved with writing music and lyrics, and kind of unhappy with the trend in the scene towards more melodic post hardcore punk. I was also a guitar smasher so my stage manners were in question. Ian actually kicked me in the ass off the stage at our last show because I had smashed my bass in a very rash fit, I think knowing another band was biting the dust. Three of my close friends got hurt with pieces of the flying bass. It was a low point in my life.

Was Ignition next?

At some point I auditioned for 9353 but nothing came of this as they too were in a state of flux. Ironically, at least in word play, Faith No More broke an axle and got stuck in DC for a week and stayed with me and my roommate GI bassist Mitch Parker. When Embrace ended I was devastated, I really believed that was the band that could have made it big. Thus another leap in reality, trying to make a life in music. I moved to San Francisco and stayed with Mike Bordin from FNM, and helping lug their gear to shows.

After a month or so I moved into Maximum Rocknroll house. I worked at Rough Trade warehouse and was a shitworker for MRR. Was at all the early Gilman St, meetings and early shows. I auditioned for Sister Double Happiness with Gary Floyd and Lynn Perko from the Dicks, but as fate would have it I was with them when they ran into Mikey Offender on the street! At some point Dante Ferrando was on a motorcycle cross country trip, and stayed with me at MRR for a couple days. We had been great friends through the DC scene and Food For Thought restaurant which his father owned and we both worked. He mentioned that Alec was still not doing a band.

Ignition

Ignition 2

That was the spark that started the fire. Ignition [above]  is the band I am proudest to have been in. We did the most work,100 shows in 2 years, toured the states and Europe, put out our own singles, put out two great records on Dischord. College for Chris Thomson and business opportunity for Dante ultimately pulled it apart. Alec and I briefly tried to continue with Mitchell from Lungfish on drums and our great friend Spyche on bass, she had been in a speed metal band called Parasite and singer for Press Mob. After a couple of confusing practices, Alec and I decide not to go on.

What else?

I started a band called 96 or Chrisbald 96, on a prompt from Cynthia Connolly who was organizing a music festival at DC Space. The suggestion of calling my band the Chris Bald Experience brought my favorite Hendrix tune ” If 6 were 9″ to mind and thus 96 was the new 69 and I had a band name and since I was tired of bands that split as soon as one person left, I created it as an open door line up. I would invite different friends to play as shows became available.

My brother Jon K. (Rain, Gray Matter, Special K) was a pretty regular member. He and I were able to go to Munich and record an album for Glitterhouse with my good friends Julian Weber and Ralf Nemetchek as our rhythm section. We played two shows in Germany one opening for Scream. Eventually my drinking problem and disillusion with the music scene made it hard to motivate recruiting people; we had some line ups with great potential, and some great shows with friends from successful bands (Christina Billotte, J.Robbins, Adam Wade, Craig Wedren among many others). I had no luck releasing the album stateside, so it was always an overpriced import.

I had another short lived band called Lucky 13 with Myra Power, Kathy Cashell, Jerry Busher and Tom Allnut, But it imploded after two shows. I got on stage with Nation of Ulysses a couple times playing tin whistle and saxophone. I went on a few short trips with Bikini Kill as a roadie. Joined Chicago band D.O.G. for a short tour with Bratmobile. Joined Royal Trux for what was supposed to be a long tour, we opened for Sonic Youth the first five nights and I became completely depressed, I was playing on the biggest stages in my life with packed audiences, but I was playing music I didn’t have any passion for with a band that had a really bad reputation with many of my friends. I became completely disillusioned trying to record a song in the studio with them and quit the band then and there. Got stranded in Chicago for a few months. Which was great!

What were some of your favorite bands/records from that era?

A list of favorite bands is probably too hard a task to complete but as far as DC bands go I loved Rites Of Spring the most. 9353 were also an amazing band that never got their due. Bikini Kill restored some much needed faith in punk rock for me, Babes In Toyland, Ruin, Honor Role, I could list a hundred more, music was peaking all over the world.

 

As an insider who was part of it, how would you sum up those “classic” years as part of the DC punk scene? How do you look back on it?

I think the musical education we all got from sharing our music collections with each other, and the feeling of unity and equality at shows in the beginning of the scene, plus the newness of it all was the true reward for all of us involved. It is sad how quickly back biting and in fighting, and jealousy of others’ success moved in and compartmentalized the scene. Dischord rose to the top and bands who weren’t on Dischord were unfairly seen as lesser, as were the other record labels that were struggling to put out the many great bands popping up everywhere. In many ways the success of Dischord really limited the perception of the DC music scene and also created a lot of dissent in the scene. DC is really a dysfunctional music city; as it was, Bad Brains moved to NY to “make it.” Most of the success stories of DC musicians involve moving to another city.

CHRISBALD3

When/why did you leave DC? When did you go back to Kentucky?

I left DC for almost a year in 85-86 following the split of Embrace, I left for good in ‘97 when my first daughter was born. I had been mugged and beaten in a reverse Rodney King attack, the kids really said “get on the ground, we’re the cops now”! I was having trouble with my landlord and housemates, people didn’t think I was going to be able to raise a child, as they had gotten used to me being a drunk and out of control friend. I moved to Louisville and have been here since, raising my two daughters and son. It was the best choice I ever made. I was too intensely involved with the DC music/social scene, too emotional about my own personal disappointments and the watered down reality of the music being made. I have been able to move on in music and art without any pressure to conform to any taste or style.

Are you still playing music?

I am currently playing in a band called Dubious/Obvious with Gary Bromley from the English post punk band Dif Juz. I have had some other bands, but playing live was all they achieved. I am more into the moment than worrying about archiving or recording. I have a radio show and play a broad spectrum of styles.

Who are some of your favorite current bands?

Bands I listen to now are Stand High Patrol, Mungo’s HiFi, Burial, to mention a few, but I still listen to all my old collection and give it airplay, Ruts DC, UK Subs, Damned, Tricky, Massive Attack, Black Uhuru, Gladiators… like I said the list is huge.

Any final thoughts? Closing comments? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?

Obviously nostalgia for the DC scene is at an all time high with the documentaries that are popping up. I went back two summers ago to do an interview for one of them. As is the way of documentation, the angle of questioning is really up to the agenda of the document makers. I felt Mark Anderson was always leading me towards the answer he wanted to hear when I interviewed for his book [Dance of Days; 2003, Akashic Books] and as result I think the book overlooks a lot of what DC was really about. Likewise I found the questions and tactics of the film I was interviewed for [presumably either Salad Days, 2014, or Punk the Capital, still being completed] leaning towards painting a prettier picture of how things happened than the not as flattering truths that I personally lived through. But that is the product the people want.

CHRISBALD6

 

Tim “Loudfastrules” Hinely is the editor and publisher of Dagger zine, where this interview originally appeared.

Photo credits: The Faith (top): Rebecca Hamell; (middle) Tiffany Pruitt

Ignition: Cynthia Connolly

Embrace: Joe

FUNKYSOULFULJAZZYCOOL: Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” Tour

Stevie Wonder

Onstage for nearly three hours October 7 at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, the soul legend performed Songs in the Key of Life in its entirety along with a string and horn section, backing vocalists and gospel choir. Below, watch a video of him performing “As” at the concert.

BY STEVE KLINGE

Is Songs in the Key of Life Stevie Wonder’s best album? Probably not. Its double-album-plus-EP length leaves room for sprawl and diversion that its immediate predecessors Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973) and Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974) avoid. But its combination of breadth and depth make it the best example of Wonder’s genius, and it was his last truly great album (although 1980’s Hotter Than July still sounds great).

Last fall, Wonder returned to the stage after a long absence to perform Songs in its entirety, and he rounded out a year of touring the world with a victory lap of return performances in DC, Philadelphia and New York. The Oct. 7 Philly show, at the big Wells Fargo Center, was fantastic.

When he had the full complement of a string section (from the Philadelphia Orchestra), horns, backing vocalists and gospel choir join in, the stage held upwards of thirty musicians. Although occasionally the mix seemed jumbled—too much bass here, some crackles and pops there—the arrangements never seemed busy or grandiose. The core band, led by bassist Nate Watts (who played on the original album), was funky and soulful and jazzy and everything else Wonder required.

The three-hour show began with Wonder greeting the audience with a casual but emphatic speech. He reminisced about his history in Philly, including a sixteenth birthday party that he implied turned wild (although he joked that he couldn’t see it). Songs in the Key of Life is in part a work of social realism—at one point, it was going to be called Let’s See Life the Way It Is—and Wonder told the multi-racial audience, “If this is the City of Brotherly Love, I’m going to challenge you to fix the problems in this country and the rest of the world,” and that “We need to deal with the gun situation in this country” (the shooting at Umpqua Community College occurred just a few days earlier, but Wonder also alluded to the Black Lives Matter movement).

Those comments were fitting introductions to the album’s first track, “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” and the need for love was a constant theme throughout the evening, whether in the songs or in Wonder’s comments. From the start, Wonder showed that he wasn’t interested in a straight re-enactment of the album: he signaled to the band to bring it down so he could stretch “Love’s in Need of Love” with some improvisational scat singing. Although he had a few hoarse moments in the next song, “Have a Talk with God,” Wonder’s voice is still marvelously flexible and expressive at age 65.

The setlist followed the album, with a few diversions. Wonder inserted the EP tracks “Ebony Eyes” into the first set and “All Day Sucker” into the second, and he threw in a few covers: an extended version of the O’Jays’ “Family Reunion” became a showcase for each of the six backing vocalists (Wayna Wondwossen was the standout) and also an opportunity for Wonder to reiterate his plea for unity and for opposition to gun violence; and Wonder began “Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing” as a duet with backing vocalist Jazmin Cruz, but then turned it into an extended solo on the harpejji, a finger-tapped string instrument, that gradually turned into Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”—it was magical. That moment was one of many that showed that Wonder was eager to enjoy himself on stage, that he wasn’t resting on past glories (the harpejji is a new instrument, developed less than a decade ago), and that he wanted to share his magnanimous spirit.

There were a few soft spots: a perfunctory “Ordinary Pain,” an overlong sax-and-two-harmonica blowing session during “All Day Sucker,” a bit of clumsy pre-recorded voices in an otherwise funky “Black Man.” Hits such as the big band tribute “Sir Duke” and the funk workout “I Wish” brought the crowd to its feet, but some other songs were surprise highlights: “Village Ghettoland” with only the string section; a stirring gospel version of “Joy Inside My Tears.” Only the instrumental “Contusion,” with its prog-jazz guitars, seemed dated.

After finishing the album with “Another Star,” Wonder almost derailed the evening by returning to the stage and saying that he was now another person, DJ Tick Tick Boom Boom. He acted as if he wanted to start disc jockeying a dance party, playing snippets of “I Can’t Feel My Face” and “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” but interrupting them abruptly by telling the crowd “Y’all not serious!” Then, with the band following his lead, he sat at the keyboard and played snippets of his own hits—“Do I Do,” “All I Do,” “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”—but cut each of them off after a few lines. It was frustrating and baffling until he redeemed it all by settling into rousing renditions of “Living for the City” and “Superstition.”

“Genius” is a word that is too often used loosely and indiscriminately. It’s still the right one for Stevie Wonder, though.

Steview poster

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE FRANCOPHILES: Françoise Hardy

Hardy 1965

Que voulez-vous? Five key albums from the biggest chanteuse of ‘60s French pop culture resurface via those astute arbiters of cool, Light in the Attic. And yes, we want ‘em.

BY BILL KOPP

Looking back on the 1960s, it’s easy to understand why certain countries didn’t get whipped up in the era’s rock and pop revolution quite to the extent that we did in the USA and Great Britain. Spain, for example, was still under the fascist dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, and would remain so until the middle of the following decade. And there was always the issue of a language barrier (though British groups like The Who were massively popular throughout Scandinavia).

No country in Western Europe had a more insular pop culture scene in those days than France. Even The Beatles got a (relatively) tepid response when they played at the Paris Olympia in January 1964, a time when they were the biggest thing ever a mere 200 miles away in London. The French marketplace always preferred their pop stars home grown, so much that they minted their own ersatz Elvis Presley, Johnny Hallyday. The acts who succeeded in France were ones with a distinctively French sensibility, like Serge Gainsbourg. And the biggest chanteuse in French pop culture was Françoise Hardy.

Her magazine-model good looks coupled with a somewhat shy persona suggested a deep, inward-looking character. Hardy was a sensation not only on the strength of her music, but because she wrote her own songs. It’s worth remembering that recording acts coming up with their own material were virtually unheard of until The Beatles started doing it: Frank Sinatra wasn’t a songwriter, nor was Elvis (some suspect co-credits notwithstanding), and even The Rolling Stones were primarily a cover band until 1966’s Aftermath, their fourth album.

In those days in France, the format du jour (sorry!) (You’re excused. – Social Manners Ed.) or perhaps de rigueur (apologies again!) (Ditto. – SME) was the Super 45, a seven-inch disc known pretty much elsewhere as an EP (extended play). Hardy released a long string of these, each with its own color picture sleeve. And as was – or became – standard practice, every time she accumulated three of these Super 45s, French label Vogue would compile and release a long-playing twelve-inch record, eponymously titled. Five of these albums are being reissued by Light in the Attic.

 hardy01

Tous Les Garçons et les Filles (aka Françoise Hardy) (1962)
When Hardy released her debut album in November 1962, she was a couple months shy of her nineteenth birthday. For the disc’s twelve tracks, Hardy penned the lyrics (and co-composed the music) for all but two. Though the arrangements for most of the songs featured orchestral backing (Roger Samyn and His Orchestra), the music was spare and straightforward, a sort of polite, pop-leaning version of folk.

But not American folk: from its very start, Hardy’s music displayed the influence of French chanson, the Gallic equivalent of English music hall. Hardy sang completely in her native language, and the music followed the cadences of French (as opposed to shoehorning lyrics into a song written in English, the practice followed by most every other non-English-speaking pop act of the era).

Hardy’s deadpan delivery has a cool, aloof air about it, an approach that one suspects influenced German vocalist Nico as she began her own recording career later in the decade.

Some of the music on the record has the character of café jazz; the spare “Ça a raté” (“It Missed”) has little going on beyond Hardy’s vocal, a bit of woodblock percussion, and hollow-body electric guitar. The minimalistic approach of this and the other cuts on Tous Les Garçons et les Filles are effective in their simplicity, placing Hardy’s voice front and center.

“Oh oh chéri” (“Uh oh”), the record’s sole cover (“Le temps de l’amour” was written for Hardy) has a vaguely country-and-western feel, filtered through French sensibility. “Le temps de l’amour” has hints of surf-n-spy textures, with its reverberated guitar and out-front electric bass; it’s representative of the sort of music one of its authors, Jacques Dutronc, would make once he scored a record deal of his own in 1966. (Long a pair, Hardy and Dutronc legally married in 1981.) “Le temps” is as close as the record ever comes to anglophone ideas about rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, the arrangement and instrumentation on the disc sounds to American ears like nothing so much as the incidental music on the United Artists soundtrack LP for A Hard Day’s Night.

“On se plaît” (“It Delights”) has a stiff, clip-clop arrangement that once again harkens back to chanson/music hall traditions. The bouncy “”Il est parti un jour” (“He Left One Day”) puts a good deal more echo on Hardy’s voice, and uses a more ambitious arrangement that changes tempo and key, and gives the solo instrumentals more prominence. Jacques Wolfsohn‘s production on the album is crystalline, and the recording is either monaural or (very unimaginative) stereo, which seems about right for an early 1960s recording.

Françoise Hardy was retitled after its single Tous Les Garçons et les Filles for its UK release in 1964, and The “Yeh Yeh” Girl From Paris for its US release some three years later; the disc reached #36 on the UK album chart, and the single “Tous les garçons et les filles” (“All the Boys and Girls”) charted there similarly. For the 2015 CD reissue (and its vinyl counterpart to follow in early 2016), the album goes with Tous Les Garçons et les Filles as its title.

 hardy02

Le Premier Bonheur du Jour (aka Françoise Hardy) (1963)
A critical and commercial success at home (and modestly so beyond France’s borders), Hardy’s debut led quickly to a follow-up album. Released in October 1963 and again featuring only the artist’s face and name on the cover, not unlike a fashion magazine (so that’s where Peter Gabriel got the idea!), the album is now known (and titled on the new Light in the Attic reissues) as Le Premier Bonheur du Jour (“The First Day Happiness”) after its single. (In the UK the record was released 1964 as In Vogue.)

Nearly half of the record’s twelve tunes are solo Hardy compositions (both music and lyrics). The arrangement approach expands in many directions from the relatively monochromatic character of the debut. More ambitious and prominent orchestration are hallmarks of the single and “Va pas prendre un tambour,” another Dutronc number.

Hardy and producer Jacques Wolfsohn seem to have absorbed some influences from outside France for both their musical approach (“Va pas” sounds a bit like a Ricky Nelson track) and the songs themselves. Both Paul Anka (his “Think About It” rewritten here as “Avant de t’en aller” [“Before You Go Away”]) and Burt Bacharach/Hal David (Timi Yuro‘s 1962 hit “The Love of a Boy” translated to “L’Amour d’un garçon”) are drawn upon for material. Anka’s tune features prominent backing vocals (likely overdubbed by Hardy), something rarely found on previous Hardy tracks.

The Françoise Hardy original, “Comme tant d’autres” (“Like Many Others”) is peppered with some well-placed jazzy organ fills reminiscent of Brian Auger. Another original, the gentle “J’aurais voulu” (“I Would Have Liked”) makes effective use of nylon-string guitar; the arrangement conjures visions of Hardy strolling contemplatively through a field while she sings.

The exceedingly brief (1:43) “Nous tous” (“All of Us”) displays some peppy drum work that threatens to – but never quite does – rock out. Hardy’s trademark delivery keeps things firmly in check. “L’Amour d’un garçon” features brass, horns and soulful girl-group styled backing vocals (definitely not Hardy), and while on paper that description suggests an arrangement that could overwhelm the singer, such a thing never happens. On the outro, Hardy comes closest yet to singing in English with a couple of “woah-oh” vocalizations.

The melodramatic “L’Amour ne dure pas toujours” (“Love Does Not Always Last,” another original) is like nothing in Hardy’s previous work. Assertive organ work all but duets with the vocalist; even when other instruments and wordless backing vocals join in, the song is all about the dialogue between Hardy and the haunted-house keyboard. A French adaptation – by Hardy – of the Connie Francis hit “It’s Gonna Take Me Some Time,” “On dit de lui” (“It is Said of Him”) features some out-front twangy guitar (with wah-wah pedal!) and wop-dat-doo-wop backing vocals that suggest a French Jordanaires.

A few months after her second album’s release, Françoise Hardy cut and released an Italian-language album, appropriately titled Françoise Hardy canta per voi in italiano. Not included in Light in the Attic’s new reissue series, the album featured re-recordings of selections from Hardy’s first two long players.

 hardy03

Mon Amie la Rose (aka Françoise Hardy) (1964)
Hardy kept up both her release schedule and her practice of self-titling all of her albums with this October 1964 disc. Again recording with Jacques Wolfsohn as producer, this disc – her most varied yet — found Hardy working with the Charles Blackwell Orchestra. What she did change was the recording studio; leaving for the first time (at least for her francophone releases) the confines of Studio Vogue, Hardy crossed la Manche and landed at Pye Studios in London, the same place that The Kinks cut their records in those days.

Again featuring a mix of originals and outside compositions, Mon Amie la Rose relies more on French composers for the latter. Released stateside with different cover art in 1966 as Maid in Paris (and elsewhere as Fantastic Françoise), the disc features the hit “Dans le monde entier.” An English-language version of the song (“All Over the World”; hear it below) became a hit in English-speaking countries including the UK, where it went Top 20 in the spring of 1965.

The record’s sound moves closer to a sort of Gallic folk-rock; the shimmering, insistent acoustic guitars and soaring massed vocals of “Je veux qu’il revienne” (“I Want Him Back”) aren’t radically different from The Seekers or even The Mamas and The Papas. With its country and western feel – including syrupy strings and moaning chorus vocals – Hardy’s original “Tu ne dis rien” (“You Say Nothing”) feels like a Marty Robbins tune. And “Et même” (“And Even”) unabashedly horns into Phil Spector‘s wall of sound territory, with rumbling tympani and perhaps more instrumentation than is found on any other Hardy song. Hardy remains calm and controlled and above it all, somehow. The sexy go-go ambience of “Pourtant tu m’aimes” (“Yet You Love Me”) traffics further in girl-group sound, and its arrangement seems custom-made for a film soundtrack.

“Pars” (“Leave Off”) is an understated, acoustic number that leaves the modern-day listener wholly unprepared for the next track (on the original record, this is the point at which listeners had to flip the disc). “Je n’attends plus personne” (“I Expect Nobody”) is Hardy’s French adaptation of an Italian tune, “Non aspetto nessuno” (a slightly different translation yields “Not Expecting Anyone”). Featuring some shockingly nasty fuzz guitar riffage, it starts out sounding like some sort of French blues. But as the tune unfolds, it heads in a completely different adult-pop direction, albeit with that fuzz guitar, buried as it is under strings. But then the guitar solo hits – courtesy of a studio musician called Jimmy Page — and it’s a crazed, amped-up, hard rocking thing that must have knocked Hardy’s longtime fans out of their chairs. The drums swing pretty hard, too. The sounds on “Je n’attends plus personne” are nothing short of radical for 1964.

The remainder of Mon Amie la Rose lets listeners catch their breath after that stylistic left-turn. Pizzicato strings and a folk rock approach not unlike Lulu are hallmarks of “Nous étions amies” (“We Were Friends”). A Spanish flavor pervades the title track, which closes the album.

Predating the multiple-language release strategy that Apple Records would employ for Mary Hopkin, Hardy followed up Mon Amie la Rose with yet another foreign-language disc, this time singing in German: In Deutschland was released in September 1965. Unlike Françoise Hardy canta per voi in italiano, this record featured new songs alongside German-language versions of earlier material. (The Light in the Attic series focuses strictly on Hardy’s French releases of the era, so In Deutschland is not part of that set, and is not covered in detail here.)

 hardy04

L’Amitié (yet again aka Françoise Hardy) (1965)
By all accounts, the half-originals/half-covers approach was working well for Françoise Hardy. So was the idea of having twelve – not eleven, never thirteen — songs on each album. And the idea of mixing musical exploration with more traditional arrangements had been serving her well. So it’s little surprise that in those respects, L’Amitié follows the path laid out on previous discs, right down to the returning Charles Blackwell Orchestra.

The record opens with “Ce petit cœur” (“This Little Heart,”) and finds Hardy’s musical backing sounding very much like The Stone Poneys backing Linda Ronstadt on Mike Nesmith‘s “Different Drum.” Notably, the Stone Poneys record was released some twenty months after this record.

“Tout ce qu’on dit” (“Every Word”) doesn’t rock as hard as “Je n’attends plus personne,” and the electric guitar parts are, for most of the tune, put deeper into the mix, but this new tune doesn’t sport all of the traditional pop trappings of the earlier tune, either. Furthermore, this song marks one of the earliest instances of the singer breaking out of a limited range of notes; she starts low and quiet, and lets her voice soar – albeit briefly — as she heads into upper registers: it’s the sound of an artist maturing.

But as with earlier albums, Hardy seems to want it both ways; the title track may feature twelve-string guitar, but it’s otherwise very much a piece with her more subdued, rainy-day melacholy balladeering. And it’s that very quality – not her occasional forays into folk-rock and rock — that international labels sought to market. That explains the international title of this disc, The Warm Romantic Voice of Françoise Hardy (for the USA it would be titled Françoise…Françoise Hardy).

Still, the occasional rock flourishes continued to creep into Hardy’s work. “Je t’aime” (“I Love You”) was an early composition by Mick Jones (later of Spooky Tooth and later still of Foreigner), with lyrics by Hardy. The song is standard-mode Hardy, but with brief flashes of fuzz guitar here and there. Wide-screen production is the most remarkable thing about “Ce n’est pas un rêve” (“This is No Dream”). The arrangement swells and recedes repeatedly, and features prominent orchestration and female chorus vocals.

The chipper arrangement of “Quel mal y a-t-il à ça?” (“What Harm Did He?”) is pure sixties pop, and in retrospect seems a good candidate for inclusion on Hardy’s next album, a — you guessed it — collection of her songs in (finally!) English, the not-so-imaginatively titled Françoise Hardy Sings in English. Alas, no. But that May 1966 LP would deliver the English-language hit “All Over the World.”

P.J. Proby‘s “Just Call And I’ll Be There” (written by Charles Blackwell, he of the selfsame orchestra) is transformed into “Le temps des souvenirs” (“The Time for Memories”) and a characteristically sentimental arrangement for Hardy. The record ends with “Dis-lui non” (“Tell Him No”), another understated tune with bits of twangy electric guitar scattered about.

 hardy05

La maison où j’ai grandi (aka Françoise Hardy) (1966)
In October 1966, Hardy released this, the last of five LP titles officially bearing only her name. Still recording at Pye, this time she enlisted the services of the Johnny Harris Orchestra; once again Claude Wolfsohn produced the sessions. The English translation of the disc’s most popular track — the one providing its unofficial/alternate title – is “The House Where I Grew Up.”

Ennio Morricone‘s exhilirating “Se Telefonando” is recast as “I Change My Mind,” and though it’s a bit slower than Mina‘s version from earlier in the same year, it’s still possessed of grandeur. Hardy’s increased use of a wider vocal range stands up well to the fluttering harps and strings. And on her original “Si c’est ça” (“If This Is”), she displays more emotional range – occasional pauses for emphasis and such – than is typical of her earlier work.

“Rendez-vous d’automne” (“Autumn Rendezvous”) sounds very much like its title suggests: melancholy and, well, autumnal. Its arrangement is faintly reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” recorded more than three years later. With its plucky harps, “Je serai là pour toi” (“I’ll Be There For You”) seems loosely based upon – or at least influenced by – Johann Pachelbel‘s “Canon in D Major.”

Throughout the disc, Hardy does seem to have retreated from any and all of the rock-leaning tendencies she might have displayed a mere two years earlier on Mon Amie la Rose. Electric guitars are largely absent, and even the brass is scaled back in favor of strings and tinkling harpsichords, both of which seem to be all over the soft-baroque pop of La maison où j’ai grandi. “Surtout ne vous retournez pas” is typical of the record’s many tunes in 3/4 time featuring heavenly vocal choirs. It’s all pleasant enough, but something of a letdown after the adventurous-by-comparison albums that came before.

The disc closes with the (unofficial) title track, a French adaptation of the Italian tune “Il ragazzo della via Gluck” (“The Boy of Gluck Street”). While the twelve-string opening flourish suggests listeners might be in for something adventurous, it’s a traditional pop song with a singalong feel and lots of strings.

La maison où j’ai grandi would be released worldwide with its double-exposure cover art intact, the first time one of her records wouldn’t be repackaged for international distribution. (Below, watch a classic live clip.)

***

Françoise Hardy would go on to release more than two dozen studio albums (not even counting compilations), and maintained a regular release schedule for many years; her most recent album of new music is 2012’s L’Amour fou (in English, Crazy Love), and features all original music. These days, Hardy, now age 71, does not tour, and – as ever — gives very few interviews. Fortunately for those interested in going deeper than merely appreciating the music, each of the five new Light in the Attic reissues feature informative essays based not only on Hardy’s two(!) autobiographies — 1991’s Notes Secrètes and 2008’s La Désespoire Des singes Et Autres Bagatelles (loosely translated in English as Despair Monkeys and Other Things of Little Importance) — and her 1986 authorized biography, but also upon a rare interview with liner notes essayist Kieron Tyler in November 2014. (Hey! Kieron’s an old buddy of mine! –Social Media Ed.]

The Light in the Attic CDs of these five francophone albums were released on October 16; vinyl reissues will follow in late January 2016. Details: http://lightintheattic.net/artists/1184-francoise-hardy

Franse zangeres-actrice Francoise Hardy in Amsterdam *16 december 1969

Franse zangeres-actrice Francoise Hardy in Amsterdam
*16 december 1969

 

 

RAGING BEAST: Protomartyr

Proto 2

Out this week on Hardly Art, is it the rock record of the year? 9 ½ months in, quite possibly so. Taut-yet-twitchy aggression amid a pulsing sonic vortex translates into a five-out-of-five stars triumph.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Detroit-based postpunks Protomartyr—Joe Casey on vocals, Greg Ahee on guitar, Alex Leonard on drums, Scott Davidson on bass—formed in 2008 following a stint as a Leonard-Ahee duo, the tastefully-named Butt Babies. The addition of singer Casey and bassist Davidson (who replaced temporary bassist Kevin Boyer, from Tyvek) made all the difference in the world, however, including the fresh moniker choice. They debuted with 2012’s No Passion All Technique and the critical kudos have been mounting ever since.

Third full-length The Agent Intellect, on Hardly Art, is a raging beast of an album, raining firestorms of guitar over blasted dystopian terrain, rampaging unchecked and unshaven through desolate memory palaces, considering family, home and art before concluding ruefully that, “That’s not going to save you, man.” Since last year’s Under Color of Official Right, the foursome has been on nearly constant tour, honing a louder, more dissonant fury that lights a fire under this third full-length.

The music press sometimes acts as if Casey is the only member of Protomartyr, and with his blunt working man’s poetry, his casual self-lacerations, his rumpled black suit (even in the warmest weather), he is, indeed, a focal point. Yet part of what made Under Color work so well, and which is even more relevant in The Agent Intellect is the taut aggression of Protomartyr’s instrumentals. The last album had a sweetening ray of new wave in its guitar parts, as if the Flock of Seagulls guitarist had been kidnapped and tortured by the Fall, but this one has burned all that out in a white hot heat of discordant fury. The bass is masterfully twitchy and forward-pushing, like a hot wind at your back, and the drums ramble boisterously, ready for a fight anywhere around the curve.

Agent Intellect is, no question, a somber piece of work. Songs dive into dark corners of Casey’s past and present, memories of rioting Detroit (“Pontiak 87”), dangerous relatives (“Uncle Mother”) and a disaffected childhood (“Devil in His Youth”) pushing up through the chaotic textures of the songs. There’s less of the distorted, stream-of-consciousness humor of Under Color, and more of a survivor’s ruminations, tough, still there, but damaged.

A couple of the songs are about Casey’s mother, who has Alzheimer’s (you could hear her voice at the end of “I’ll Take that Applause” in Under Color). The first “Why Does It Shake” is a bleak evocation of existential frailty, an obliterating beat underlining the title phrase, repeated, and its echo “the body, the body, the body.” It is a remarkable piece, a kind of vortex that pulls you in and fills you with dread, even as it forces your own body to move.

The second, rather more uplifting, is called “Ellen.” It is told, I think, from the perspective of Casey’s father, who died shortly before the mother was diagnosed. Casey is as close as he comes to singing on this one, infusing his voice with a gruff tenderness as he says, “Beneath the shade I will wait for Ellen/though I have gone before, I will wait for Ellen/ I’ll pass the time with our memories forever/ I took them all and then I kept them safe for Ellen.” It’s heartbreaking…and beautiful.

The final cut on the album, “Feast of Stephen” considers the first Christian martyr (or, you know, the proto-martyr). It is warmer, more contemplative in tone than the other cuts, but perhaps the album’s most desolate track (Casey asks at one point if it would be possible to send all the babies back). “They can’t stone me until I fall asleep,” mutters Casey. He’s maybe a martyr to the fucked up world we live in, maimed by it, hopeless, but still punching through until the dark falls.

This album is a triumph, and with it, Protomartyr has pulled off the unlikely feat of making the rock record of the year, twice in a row.

Photo credit: Zak Bratto. Below, watch the band live on KEXP from last July.

LOUDER THAN GOD: Blurt’s Concert Memories

TOP PHOTO GG Grave

When have you gotten your mind blown by a band? What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever witnessed at a concert? Did you ever get to see a group early on before anyone realized they would one day be superstars? Did you ever MISS seeing a group, even though you had the chance, before they became superstars? Herein read some of our collective concert memories, from Jimi Hendrix, White Stripes, U2, Nirvana, Joe Strummer and the Who to Jeff Buckley, El-P, Rocket From the Tombs, GWAR and, er, GG Allin (whose eternal memory is enshrined, above… fecal matter optional).

BY THE BLURT GANG

From the Editor: The inspiration for this article was a series of three decades’ worth of remembrances that veteran Austin-based journalist Michael Corcoran published at SXSW.com all last month, SXSW: 30 Years. Each day during September he posted a selection of musical memories and anecdotes, either his own or submitted from attendees, stretching back to the very first SXSW in 1987 (a month or so earlier he had solicited people’s comments), with the general framework being along the lines of “when did you get your mind totally blown?” Now, anyone who has ever gone to SXSW in Austin in March can attest to having been blown away at least once—typically, at least once each year. You can go to the SXSW Wikipedia page if you want to review the basic details of the festival’s storied background; suffice to say that in 30 years there’s been a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on. (It probably goes without saying that since South By Southwest about to turn 30, the long-running music industry confab—rumor has it that’s biz talk for “fabulous conference,” but let’s just translate it as “conference and festival” seeing as how “confest” connotes something entirely different, like an assembly of pickpockets, hackers and pyramid scheme aficionados—will no doubt mark the 2016 event with a slew of themed celebrations aimed at blowing minds.)

Corcoran wound up publishing one of yours truly’s musical memories, about the time at SXSW in 2007 when I walked into a venue to see a local Austin act, Future Clouds & Radar, which was Robert Harrison’s (of Cotton Mather fame) new orchestral pop project, and exited sufficiently shattered and gingerly holding my jaw from it scraping the floor during the set.

So— as I’ve never been loathe to steal a good idea when it comes to drumming up content for BLURT, I thought it might be fun to keep Corcoran’s party going just a little longer by publishing our own little variation—in this instance, elaborating upon while not specifically limiting the concert experiences to SXSW.

Ergo, what you about to read has as its basic parameters the following: What was your Biggest Mind Blower (self-explanatory); your Closest Brush with a Pre-Deification God (say, you saw Nirvana pre-Nevermind, or, hell, Jimi Hendrix opening for the Monkees); your Closest Brush with a Post-Deification God (semi-self-explanatory); Biggest Regret, aka “Regrets, I Have a Few” (over missing a particular show or tour, such as having the chance—as I did, but declined—to see Nirvana pre-Nevermind and for whatever reason you blew it off; in my case it was because I was more of a Mudhoney kinda guy and didn’t feel like I needed to see every Sub Pop band that came through town); and Most Outrageous Event you witnessed (also self-explanatory—and I have to say that mine is, according to everyone I’ve ever related it to, a doozy, particularly if you treasure punk rock, public masturbation, and the tossing of shit, term used literally—so keep reading).

Several of our contributors combed their memory banks for some remarkably stand-out moments, while others stuck with the SXSW theme. Which makes sense because memories are truly made in Austin each March. To a large extent the festival is freeform, anarchic even, a place where schedules are made to be broken, itineraries inevitably dumped, and agendas pretty much pointless unless you’re an attractive young lady in hot pants and roller skates scooting around distributing handbills to horny drunk guys. While I along with many others have been guilty of occasionally muttering frustrated comments along the lines of “jumped the shark” and “not keeping Austin weird anymore” with the arrival of such non-Austinesque personalities as Perez Hilton and Rachael Ray aiming to put their own mainstream brand on what’s essentially un-brandable, in truth, SXSW has managed to keep its essential Lone Star weirdness intact alongside the inevitable blips of commercialization.

Speaking for myself, I have to confess that as I have been attending concerts since the Seventies—my very first show as a teenager was seeing Led Zeppelin at the Charlotte Coliseum in 1970—some of those memories are justifiably hazy, others are simply AWOL, and others cannot be disclosed in a public forum such as this because (cough) certain statutes of limitations have not yet expired. Once in awhile, though, the flashbacks come fast ‘n’ furious, and I have not above trying to capture that lightning in a bottle for BLURT, such as writing about this particular brush with a pre-deification God in which I saw the Replacements in 1985 just as they were starting to break nationally and I wound up being Bob Stinson’s appointed “babysitter” for the evening. Go figure. I know that many of my peers have had similar experiences. Maybe we all need to create and contribute to a “greatest roccrits moments” wiki or something? Get in touch, fellow journos.

Bottom line: it’s always a fun mental exercise, dredging up and holding forth on one’s own rock ‘n’ roll war stories. And I would even propose that if you, gentle readers, have some of your own that you would like to see published, feel free to post ‘em my way (BlurtEditor@gmail.com). If it turns out we get a decent-sized cache o’ comments, we just might do a Part Two. For the time being, though, enjoy.

***

Bad Seeds

MICHAEL TOLAND, Austin, Texas

 Biggest Mind Blower: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Austin, TX, 2002. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have long been one of my favorites since I fell in love with the Henry’s Dream album back in the early ‘90s. So why was I so pensive about this show at outdoor venue Stubbs, for which I’d bought a ticket months prior? Because I foolishly allowed the press to fill my head with notions. Cave hated interviews, it was said, and hated talking to the American press. He hated touring America. He much preferred to spend his time in Europe, where he was a genuine rock star, then in the States, where he and the Bad Seeds were a cult act at best. (A cult act able to sell out the mid-sized Stubb’s, but still.) I bought into all that negativity and assumed that he and the Seeds were going to phone it in, delivering on their obligations but with as little effort as possible. That it was a makeup show, rescheduled after Sept. 11 discouraged some international acts from touring the States, and the second-to-last show of the tour, didn’t help – I figured the band had to be ready to go home. But I bought my ticket anyway, since I wasn’t going to miss a chance to see one of the artists who’d become one of my major musical totems.

It’ll come as no shock to anyone who’s seen the Bad Seeds play in the last decade or so that all of my expectations of a rote performance were happily dashed. Riding high on the (artistic) success of No More Shall We Part, Cave and the Seeds gave a magnificent performance, ripping through the rockers and dancing soulfully through the ballads. (Setlist here.) Cave inhabited his characters like a master actor, and the Seeds provided perfectly sympathetic backup. It was astonishing, easily one of my top 5 shows of all time, maybe at the top. I suspect the rest of the audience felt the same. Everybody left the venue with stunned, often ecstatic looks on their faces. Just goes to show that one should never believe the hype. (Note: according to Setlist.fm, this was Blixa Bargeld’s final show with the Seeds. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, what a way to go.)

Closest Brush With a pre-Deification God : White Stripes, SXSW 2001. As I exited a club one night during SXSW 2001 in Austin, I ran into the BellRays, a band I’d discovered during South By a few years prior and had championed and kept in touch with ever since. “Are you coming tomorrow night?” they asked me in reference to their SXSW showcase. “Of course!” I said. “You should get there early,” they said. “This band we’ve been touring with called the White Stripes is playing right before us, and they’re great!”

Keep in mind that I tend to ignore the buzz bands during SX – those shows are always a hassle to get into, badge or no badge, and they’re rarely worth the time, trouble and hype. So I genuinely had no idea who the White Stripes were. But I trusted the ‘Rays, so I showed up about five minutes before the Stripes’ showtime at the Room 710 venue. Unsurprisingly, there was a line out the door, and the tiny club, which normally hosted punk and stoner metal bands, was enforcing a one-in/one-out policy. I got nervous, not because of the Stripes, but because I was afraid I’d be shut out of the ‘Rays’ performance. (I figured that most of the crowd would stick around for their show.) But I got in line anyway, and was the last person in just as the band started to play.

I have pretty mixed feelings about the White Stripes – some of their songs I really like, some I really loathe, and most of them I’m pretty indifferent to. But seeing them in that tiny, tiny club, when they had only two albums out on an indie label, well before they became superstars, was pretty amazing. When they tore into Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Jack White singing it like he was tearing his own heart out as he did, I completely understood why so many folks were crammed into that small room. I never saw the White Stripes play again, and I’ve never regretted it.

Closest Brush With a post-Deification God: Helmet, SXSW 2005. I was walking down 6th Street one afternoon, having just come from a daytime show and contemplating dinner before the evening showcases started, when I was accosted by a clean-cut young man who poked his head out of a dance club and said (and I’m quoting here): “Dude, free Helmet show!” I was skeptical of this, since the band was not scheduled to do any SXSW showcases, and at that time big name bands doing free daytime performances wasn’t as common as it is now. But I gamely followed the kid into through the door and around the corner to the stage, and sure enough: there was Helmet, blazing away at stunning volume in front of a rabid crowd of kids who’d apparently gotten a memo I never saw. I’d never seen them during their initial wave of early’ 90s popularity – odd, since I was definitely a fan – so I was happy to bang my head.

Then-guitarist Chris Traynor gave his guitar to a young lady up front; it was taken away by a roadie and given back to Traynor, but the moment said roadie disappeared back into the bowels of backstage, a smiling Traynor passed it on to her again, and this time urged her to scoot out the door right then, which she did. Then the show ended in a hail of feedback and I went back on my merry way, not sure if I’d actually seen what I just saw.

Most Outrageous Scene: Rocket From the Tombs Get Doused: Austin, 2003. Following a typically raucous set of roadhouse punk from the Riverboat Gamblers, Rocket From the Tombs – the edition featuring original members David Thomas, Cheetah Chrome and Craig Bell, plus Television guitarist Richard Lloyd and Pere Ubu drummer Steve Melman standing in for the late Peter Laughner and the absent Johnny Madansky – took the stage in the main room at Emo’s to thunderous applause. This was, after all, one of the Bands Who Started It All when it came to punk rock – almost more a legend than a reality, yet standing before us in the flesh.

So naturally some asshole had to go and nearly ruin it. The band had barely commenced “What Love Is” when a cup of liquid went flying onstage and struck Thomas right in the chest. The band stopped the show immediately and left the stage, ensuring us that we’d done this (lost out on a show we’d paid for) to ourselves. The audience stood restlessly for a few minutes, unsure what to do, when RTFF suddenly came back out. Chrome announced they’d continue the show if we behaved ourselves, as “we’re not gonna perform if we don’t feel safe.” Having thus put us on notice, they relaunched “What Love Is” and proceeded to play one of the most burningly intense rock & roll shows I’ve ever witnessed. Then some punter (the same guy?) tried to throw a cup of gunk at the band again. He was practically tackled by the crowd around him. No way were we gonna mess up the momentum of what we were experiencing, especially since RFTT seemed intent on mowing us down to bare earth. I guess anger and tension fuel the rock machine better than adulation.

I figured Thomas, in particular, would exit the stage as fast as possible once the show was over. Instead he sat down on the lip of the stage, the stain on his suit still clearly visible, and personally sold t-shirts and copies of The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs and the then-tour only CD Rocket Redux (released nationally the next year). Despite his earlier antagonism, he was quite gracious to everyone. The legend was reality after all.

Regrets, I Have a Few: Paul Westerberg. For my birthday in 1993, a buddy of mine purchased me a ticket to an Eric Johnson show at a club called La Zona Rosa. While my ardor had cooled somewhat by then, I still considered myself a fan of the guitar slinger, as the two records he’d released by that time were still in regular rotation for me. That night, however, was also the night that Paul Westerberg was coming to town to play Liberty Lunch. I wasn’t a particularly big fan of 14 Songs, the solo LP he was supporting with the tour, but it had a few tracks I liked and I figured he’d lean heavily on the Replacements catalog. And it turned out that his show was going to start after the Johnson show concluded. Add in the fact that La Zona Rosa was just a couple of blocks away from the Lunch, and that the manager of the record store I worked at got me on the guest list, and it was clearly meant to be.

Except that I got lazy. After the Johnson show, I decided I was tired and that I’d blow the Westerberg show off. As I said, I wasn’t that into the new record, and I’d seen the ‘Mats, so it wasn’t like this would be my first chance to hear him do “Bastards of Young” live. The next day I spoke to co-workers who did go and found out that Bob Mould, one of my musical heroes and an Austin resident at the time, had jumped onstage with his old Minneapolis buddy and they’d done several songs together. If only I had been double-jointed – I would have spent the rest of the day kicking myself in the ass. Lazy fuck.

***

Strummer

JOHN SCHACHT, Charlotte NC

Biggest Mind Blower: Joe Strummer, San Francisco 1989. On a crisp 1989 November night [11/17/89] in San Francisco, I went to go see Strummer at the I-Beam, a small (40×60 feet) room that doubled as a rock music and gay club in the Haight-Ashbury. This was post-Clash Strummer, not long after the 2/4-Clash’s Cut the Crap and Strummer’s solo debut, 1989’s Earthquake Weather, had both essentially fizzled. At the time, Big Audio Dynamite, the band Clash co-founder Mick Jones established after getting kicked out of the Clash in 1983, had a much higher profile, and frankly Clash faithful wondered what kind of future was left for the former front-man for what was once the world’s best rock band. I’d seen the Clash (post Topper Headon, sadly) opening for the Who in the early ‘80s, but an abbreviated set seen from distance in an oversized Los Angeles Coliseum wasn’t going to replicate seeing the Clash in their rock-club heyday.

So my expectations were not all that high when I staked out a patch of space on the side of the sound-board riser so that, at a non-NBA-like 5-foot-9, I could at least fucking see. After an opening act whose names and music were to be shortly rendered immaterial, Strummer and band—a crack outfit featuring Zander Schloss (ex-Circle Jerks and Thelonious Monster guitarist), Jack Irons (ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer) and bassist Lonnie Mitchell—came out to a rousing welcome. And as the setlist flashed back and forth between songs from Strummer’s solo record (goosed up and shorn of their shitty production) and a lengthening list of Clash favorites, something absolutely magical happened at the I-Beam that night.

Through the power of his charisma and total commitment to the music, Strummer transported us back to the Paladium and Bonds in New York or London’s Hammersmith Palais and the 100 Club in the ‘70s. Strummer and band went deep catalog that night, too, throwing down magnificent skanking versions of “Bankrobber,” “Armagideon Time” and “Pressure Drop.” When they rolled out the big guns from London Calling and The Clash, the place went into an ecstatic frenzy more typically associated with whirling dervishes and speaking-in-tongues revivals. We pogoed as one for hours, spurred furiously by Strummer’s jackhammer leg—at one point I briefly wondered whether the whole second floor venue would wind up at ground level, and then decided it would be just about the best possible way to slip this mortal coil.

After nearly three hours, the night ended in a suitably punk rock moment. From years of battling with its residential neighbors, the I-Beam had a strict 1 a.m. noise curfew—gleefully ignored by Strummer and band. Soon enough, though, the law arrived to make it official, and the last we saw of Strummer he was being firmly escorted from the stage, arguing until the last that the show wasn’t properly over because whatever he’d tapped into that night hadn’t yet run its energizing course. I walked out —or levitated, to be more accurate—into the cold night air and could muster up no coherent summation; the words proved inadequate and ultimately unnecessary; a series of muttered “Jesus Christs” and “Holy Fucks” that might as well have been the contended grunts of sated cavemen. It was primal and spiritual and above all goddamn good fun.

In 40 years of live music, I’ve attended dozens of gigs before and since then that left me joyously drained or emotionally stunned by what I’d witnessed. But what happened that night in that intimate venue was, for me, the ultimate validation of the collective power of rock & roll—in suitably brilliant hands, of course—to move us through time and place and tie us to this simple proposition the man himself once stated: “music exists to remind us of this one essential proposition: It is fun to be alive. It’s a hell of a lot better than being dead.”

***

Beatles

JUD COST, Santa Clara CA

Regrets, I Have a Few: Beatles ’66. Believe it or not, in August of 1966, I entered the ticket office of a large hotel in San Jose to buy two tickets to see the Beatles later that month at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. When they told me the bottom line would be $11.00 for the pair of tickets, I suddenly realized I couldn’t afford such a large sum, and it was a large sum in those days. Not knowing that would be their last live show ever, I reckoned I’d see them sometime later, so I didn’t buy the tickets. I’ve been making up for that huge mistake and have missed very little since then.

***

RH

RON HART, Lincoln Park NJ

Closest Brush with a Post-Deification God: Radiohead, NYC 1997. The other night I was watching my old VHS copy of Meeting People Is Easy, and I had forgotten they had filmed the show at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom I was at for the film. It’s strange watching the movie now, because for me Radiohead seem like a whole other band entirely. But to watch their dazed, confused and annoyed reactions to the parade of numbskull music journalists placed before them by our favorite PR firm, you can tell from the movie where they exactly began to go cold, which inadvertently led to a creative renaissance that established the band as perhaps the single most influential act of the 21st century in rock. And while many, in fact, cite OK Computer as the group’s breakthrough LP, the last 18 years have clearly indicated they didn’t even scratch the surface of their adventurous potential back in 1997.  However, seeing them perform that night at the Hammerstein, as I was reminded during my random viewing of Meeting People, the seeds that would eventually grow to become such masterpieces as Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief, In Rainbows and The King of Limbs were successfully sown.

***

Mc_Cartney_002.tif

LEE ZIMMERMAN, Maryville TN

Closest Brush With a Pre-Deification God: Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1968. I’d have to say the most historic concert I ever saw – and one before they gained fame — was the Jimi Hendrix concert I caught while attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas Texas in 1968. I still have vivid memories of that show, especially the moment when, in the midst of “Purple Haze” Hendrix pointed to a guy in the audience and sang, “’Scuse me, while I kiss this GUY.”

The opening act, Chicago – then known as Chicago Transit Authority — was still months away from releasing their debut album, but it was a fiery read of “I’m A Man” that they offered that night, leaving little doubt why it became one of their signature songs. The second band on the bill was Fat Mattress, a side project of Noel Redding’s, and indeed it offered The Experience bassist two slots on the bill that evening.

***

TV

MIKE SHANLEY , Pittsburgh PA

 Biggest Mind Blower: Television, Pittsburgh 2015. Television’s September 25, 2015 appearance in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Music Hall could have gone either way, I figured. A friend who saw them a few years prior in San Francisco was disappointed. Tom Verlaine’s appearance at the 2006 Pittsburgh Arts Festival was good but not mindblowing. Add to that a mediocre email interview that Mr. Verlaine sent me prior to the show, and my expectations were wide open.

From the opening riff of “See No Evil,” I started wondering if my friend at the San Francisco show was gravely mistaken. Seven songs into the set, I realized that they were actually playing Marquee Moon in a different running order, until all that was left was the title track. Verlaine and guitarist Jimmy Rip retuned, and then that plinkety intro started. When it came time for the triumphant Verlaine guitar solo after the third verse, things got really insane. He started low, reaching across his guitar for the volume knobs with his left hand while plucking with the right. Then he started pulling out some wild harmonics. What happened next was a combination of beautiful fretwork and excitement, building on the dynamics of the original solo, touching me like nothing I’ve ever heard in 34 years of concert going. The tearducts started opening.

Normally I would never text during a moment like this. But my brother, who saw Television in New York during their initial run, had to know. “Television is playing ‘Marquee Moon.’ I think I’m seeing God. Or Coltrane.”

 ***

 V Suns

BARRY ST. VITUS, Berkeley CA

Biggest Mind Blower: Oakley Hall, San Francisco 2006. I had been into Brooklyn band Oakley Hall for about a year and finally got to check them out live in Oct. of ‘06 at the Bottom of the Hill in San Fran. Their live show by far transcended their recordings. The brilliant musicianship of the players and the fantastic vocals provided by Rachel Cox made for an electrifying performance. I was so overwhelmed by the show that I recall telling my wife afterwards that I felt like I was going to melt through the floor. They were regarded as the best live act in the N.Y. area at that time.

Closest Brush With a pre-Deification God: Grateful Dead, Nov. 1968 in Columbus and Athens, OH. There were only a couple of hundred attendees, as not many were familiar with them at that point and their second album had just come out not long before. The concerts consisted of material from Anthem To the Sun and Live Dead songs like “Dark Star.” It was percussionist Tom Constanten’s first gigs with the band. Honorary mention: I saw a pre-Nevermind Nirvana when they opened for Dinosaur Jr. in San Fran.

Ravi

Most Outrageous Scene: Ravi Shankar’s Shoes Get Nicked. I remember attending a Ravi Shankar concert in Athens, OH in the mid ‘70’s and, like everyone, especially Shankar, was agog when a very stoned looking hippy went up the steps to the stage, approached him, picked up his shoes and walked away with them. The footwear absconder was quicker nabbed and the shoes returned.

Regrets, I Have a Few: Volcano Suns. Mid-’80s in San Fran. I loved Mission of Burma, Kustomized and Volcano Suns [pictured at top above] and had Volcano Sun leader, Peter Prescott on my radio show on KALX one afternoon, followed later by the Celibate Rifles. I don’t quite remember why I passed on the VS show, but it was probably because it was in the City. Also, the Rifles were buddies of ours, always hanging around Berkeley when in the area, and may have been playing on this side of the Bay. I regret missing the Suns because they were pretty amazing. One caveat, at least, I caught M.O.B. on their first reunion tour, a band I never thought I’d ever see live. (The same with the Soft Boys.)

***

The band on the set of the Celebration video at Gardiner Street in Dublin. october album. Horses coming up from the rear.

STEVE KLINGE, Wilmington DE

Closest Brush with a Pre-Deification God: U2, Norwich England, 1981. I spent my junior college year at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, in 1980-81. It was a great time to be a music-obsessed young person in England: the heyday of post-punk, the dawn of new wave and of Scotland’s Postcard Records. The college brought bands to the student union building often. On one exceptional weekend, I saw Elvis Costello and the Attractions, the Fall and the Jam on successive nights—or maybe it was Madness and the Jam was some other time? The venue held maybe five hundred people. I also saw a young U2 there, not long after Boy came out. “I Will Follow” was a cool single then, and folks turned out to check them out, although among my crowd, Echo & the Bunnymen was a more exciting new band. U2 had a huge sound and presence from the start: the Edge’s guitar sound was cool and startling, and the band was confident and powerful. Maybe too confident: Bono seemed cocky. Who is this guy prancing around like he owns the world? It was a bit too much for us post-punks who were skeptical of the whole rock star thing. But he still sold it, and over the next few years, he would earn it.

***

Buckley

STEPHEN JUDGE, Durham NC

Biggest Mind Blower: U2, Hampton VA, 1987. The Joshua Tree tour, in the 13th row, December 11th, 1987.  When the lights went off and you heard the organ of “Where The Streets Have No Name” come in, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, and you couldn’t hear the first minute and a half of the song because the crowd was going so crazy and so loud. Amazing experience seeing a band at the top. It was also almost two years to the day of my father’s death so it was a personal experience for me that I will never forget. Honorable Mention: I have to also say seeing Nirvana at the Cat’s Cradle, Oct 4th, 1991. They blew thru a vicious set, and destroyed their instruments at the end. Six weeks later they were the biggest band in the world. Incredible.

Closest Brush with a Pre-Deification God: Jeff Buckley, Raleigh NC, 1994. There were less than 50 people there, at the Brewery club, I would say. Almost the entire crowd was standing slack jawed in awe of Buckley’s band and vocals. You could hear a pin drop in the room and the only word I heard afterwards that described the experience we all had that night was “religious”.

Most Outrageous Event: Ministry at Lollapalooza ’91. It had been raining in Raleigh for days prior to the show, so the lawn was full of mud. During their set (right at dusk) the crowd was good and worked up/drunk/soggy to the point where no one cared anymore. They started to throw the beer cups full of mud at the reserved section, who in turn threw it back. An all out war started between the two sections—the cups flying through the air looked like missles over Iraq. Security was freaking out, tackling people who were so muddy you couldn’t even make out their faces. Three songs into the set Ministry was pulled from the stage as the security was worried about a riot breaking out.

Meanwhile, the night before Al Jourgensen had been arrested for getting into a fight with some staff people at the Fallout Shelter in Raleigh. So it was not a good 24 hour stay in town for the band. And as they were pulled off the Lollapalooza stage, with the huge effect vocals on, walking off the stage, guitars still ringing in everyone’s ears, Al says “Thanks a lot Raleigh, you guys fucking SUCK!” Brilliant.

Regrets, I Have a Few: There are a lot, but surprisingly I would say seeing Pearl Jam at the Cat’s Cradle shortly after seeing Nirvana in Oct 1991. They played a few days later, but I was not really a fan of their music so I blew it off. I really wish I had gone to see that show.  I will always regret not seeing The Clash or The Smiths. I have seen Johnny Marr three times though, but I never got to see Joe Strummer live in any fashion, that’s one of my biggest regrets, no doubt.

***

Webb

STEVEN ROSEN, Cincinnati

Biggest Mind Blower: Karl Wallinger, SXSW 1997. I attended SXSW for three years in the mid-1990s, 1995-1997 (I think), as a sort of unofficial back-up reporter to the music critic at The Denver Post. One of my best memories is from 1997, when I attended an afternoon press party at a barbecue restaurant for Karl Wallinger of World Party, on the occasion of him releasing the then-new album Egyptology. Dallying by the food too long, I didn’t look around to get a seat soon enough and almost all were taken when the set was supposed to start. The hosts found me one seat at a table right in front of Wallinger, who played a fine, relaxed show. As I looked to the person sitting next to me to nod hello, I saw it was Woody Harrelson. He just sat there transfixed and smiling the whole time.

Closest Brush with a Post-Deification God: Jimmy Webb, SXSW 1997. That same week there was a panel session at Austin Convention Center called “Well, How Did I Get Here? Artists Discuss Their Creative Development” that featured quite a line-up of talent — Wallinger, Jimmy Webb and Swamp Dogg among many others. Webb was just starting to reemerge into the public eye then — his Ten Easy Pieces had been released the previous fall — and I had been lucky enough to get into a ballroom at the Driskill Hotel and stand right by him as he played his hits on piano while people crowded around.  [Webb is pictured at the top, above]

But at the panel discussion, he was strangely, almost painfully dismissive of his early work like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman.” Wallinger couldn’t believe Webb was being so hard of himself, telling him those songs were like postcards from America when he was growing up. It was a pretty compelling moment.

Postscript: Afterward, I went up to meet Swamp Dogg and I took his makeshift name plate from the panel-discussion table when he left it. Still have it somewhere. Should I get the chance, I’ll get it autographed.

***

Haynes

KRISTA F. NORSTOG LEONARD, Raleigh NC

Regrets, I Have a Few: 2008 Warren Haynes Christmas Jam. To this day, I wish my friend Richie Mullins (formerly of Karma To Burn and Year Long Disaster, now of The Broken Harvest) would have bitch-slapped me ala Cher in “Moonstruck” and yelled “SNAP OUT OF IT!” in mid-December 2008. After his gig opening  for The Sword at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh I told him that I wouldn’t make it to see him play at the 20th Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam in Asheville, NC. I still remember the look of disappointment on his face. Maybe it was for him, maybe it for me. I think it was for both of us.

A bit frazzled and anxious after a recent fender-bender followed by a case of pink eye caused me to bow out of a trip where I would have met John Paul Jones.  John Paul Jones – my favorite member of Led Zeppelin. It was around the time that Dave Grohl was forming Them Crooked Vultures with Jones. It was also around the time that Richie’s band, Year Long Disaster, was up and coming and slated for a coveted spot at the Jam’s daytime events playing at Stella Blue. Not only did I miss Richie actually playing with Jones, I missed seeing the Friday night jam that lasted until 5:00 am or so. I missed Joan Osborne, Ben Harper and Relentless 7, Steve Earle, Dumpstaphunk, Johnny Winter, and local heroes Audley Freed and Robert Kearns (formerly of Cry of Love) and Jen Gunderman (formerly of Dag). [Setlist is HERE]

Winter, I’ll never see. Osborne, I’ve now met and seen perform twice. Harper, Earle, and Dumpstaphunk I hope to see within my lifetime. Jones – when will I ever have the chance to stand and talk with him, my friend Richie, AND Joan Osborne at the same time? When will I ever have the chance to even see Jones perform? To top it off, it snowed in Asheville for the Christmas Jam. Snow. And yes, I missed Them Crooked Vultures when they swung through Charlotte. Regrets, yes. One other that makes me particularly sad: missing Mother Love Bone in Seattle before Andy Wood’s death. Now don’t get me started on missing Frank Sinatra at the Azalea Festival in Wilmington, NC, in 1994.

***

A Fire

HAL BIENSTOCK, New York

Closest Brush with a Pre-Deification God: Arcade Fire, NYC, 2003. One memorable early brush with a soon to be famous band came in 2003 after I interviewed the great and sadly obscure New Jersey rock band The Wrens. One of the things we talked about was the band’s hard luck history. In the ‘90s, The Wrens famously turned down a big money contract with the label that would become Wind-up Records. That contract went to Creed instead. They also spent time talking with a high profile A&R team at a major label. That didn’t work out. Instead, the A&R team later signed The Strokes. So it was only fitting that when I went to The Wrens’ New York concert celebrating the release of their masterpiece The Meadowlands that the opening act would be a little known band from Montreal that blew everyone away. Yes, Arcade Fire.

Regrets, I Have a Few: Metallica, SXSW 2009. My biggest miss is Metallica’s not-so-secret “secret” show during SXSW in Austin in 2009. Not because I’m a huge Metallica fan (I think they’re fine, but they’re not a band I listen to regularly) but because it epitomized my cluelessness as a first time attendee. I knew they were playing a small venue show at Stubb’s, but had no idea how to go about getting in. It turns out the answer was simple. All I had to do was line up early instead of sitting in a Mexican restaurant directly across the street eating burritos and watching the NCAA tournament with a friend. Live and learn.

***

Killer Mike

DANIEL MATTI, Raleigh NC

Biggest Mind Blower: Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten on the SMV tour, 2008. Seeing three bass players of the stature on the same stage together was insane. I feel like that they will never get back together sadly.

Closest Brush with a Pre-Deification God: El-P, 2103-14. He handed me a glass of champagne on New Years Eve at midnight right before Run the Jewels blew up. He was already god in my opini0n.

Closest Brush with Post-Deification God: Killer Mike, Raleigh NC, 2014. Run The Jewels were playing in Chapel Hill Nov. 3 and we had an in-store signing event at Schoolkids Records in Raleigh [Mike is pictured above w/Matti on the right; we are not sure who the clown on the left is] where I work. So I picked him up and was driving to Schoolkids and back. I ran a red light. He called me out. We then went on to talk about the movie Belly:
Sincere: “Yo, did you not see that fucking red light, man?”
Buns: “Man, you think I give a fuck about a montherfucking red light?
Fucking cops can’t touch me. I’m out here smoking weed, speeding, all that, dawg. Fuck that. That’s me. Untouchable.”

Most Outrageous Event: Melt Banana with Daughters, Cambridge MA, 2005, Middle East Downstairs – mostly because of Daughters! The lead singer was drunk spitting vodka on himself while reaching down his pants and masturbating himself while the room was in total chaos. Standing next to the stage, I almost got hit by the bass players’ headstock throughout the whole show. Also Melt Banana played with a drummer that night so that was pretty special.

Regrets, I Have a Few: Not going to see Fantomas open for Tool in 2001.

***

Sonics

CARL HANNI, Tucson AZ

Biggest Mind Blower: Peelander-Z, SXSW 2009. The other was later that night (or maybe the night before, actually) when 1:30 a.m. suddenly rolled around, I was adrift and decided to walk into the first club I came to. That turned out to be Headhunters, and the band was the super-hero costumed Japanese trio Peelander-Z. I’d never heard of them, had zero expectations, and found my way into one of the most insanely fun shows I’ve ever seen (yea, I was probably a little boozy by then). The show had already started and the energy in the room was a completely elevated level of bedlam, with the tightly packed crowd slithering around on the floor and bouncing off the walls. Strange things ensued; the band moved from the corner of the room into the middle of the room in a slight-of-hand sort of way; all of a sudden there were three new/different band members (from the audience); this turned out to be a precursor to a round of human bowling by the band. This was a right time/right place energy convergence that musicians and audiences alike always seek but only occasionally find. You can see some of it HERE.

Closest Brush with a Post-Deification God: The Sonics, SXSW 2009. I was fortunate to be able to attend SXSW 6-7 times between 2006 and 2013, courtesy of Tucson Weekly.  Two shows from 2009 stand out. The first was an early reunion show of 1960s garage rock kingpins and proto-punk pioneers The Sonics, playing a late afternoon set at Emo’s on March 20. Having no idea what to expect after several decades off the stage, and not wanting to be disappointed by a band I basically worshipped in their original time-frame, I dropped my expectations into the basement as I walked into Emo’s with BLURT editor Fred Mills. (Er, who? –Ed.) What erupted was 45 minutes of some of the most primal, back-to-basics garage rock I’ve ever witnessed. They weren’t fat, they weren’t bald, they looked great in black and not only did they not suck, they were stupendous! They sounded so much like the 1964-65 band that, eyes-closed, you could have been at one of their legendary Battle of the Bands with The Wailers or The Kingsmen back in the day. In the immortal words of Mr. Mills as we stumbled out, ’That was the most punk rock thing I’ve ever seen!’ (Check out video of the show HERE.]

***

Alex Harvey

FRED MILLS, Asheville NC (and yes, I do ramble on quite a bit below, but hey, I’m the doggone editor, so…)

Biggest Mind Blower (Pt. 1): (tie) Led Zeppelin, Charlotte NC, 1970; The Who, Charlotte NC, 1971. Who would deny that attending their first-ever concert as a kid or teen didn’t blow their mind—or, for that matter, set the mental stage for all that was to come? You can read my April 7, 1970 Zeppelin tale HERE at our site. I have to admit, though, that having no prior reference points at the time means that I probably didn’t process the experience as much as I could’ve. Ergo, it ties with one of my subsequent earliest concerts, The Who, touring the states in ’71 to support Who’s Next, and as documented at Setlist.fm, arriving Nov. 20 at the Charlotte Coliseum. By this point a massive Who fan, I’d never seen them before. A bunch of us carpooled from my hometown to Charlotte; pre-concert, we ingested the perfect amount of, er, “encouragement” so we were cocked and loaded, so to speak. My abiding memory is of cold: because the local hockey team also played at the Coliseum in the winter the ice was still on the floor and they had simply covered it up with thick black rubber matting, which I suppose protected the feet and ice but definitely didn’t block the chill. Everyone wound up pulling their feet up in their chairs, and of course by concert’s end we were all standing on the chairs. More than a few hippies were observed toppling over during the encores….

Biggest Mind Blower (Pt.2): Jethro Tull & Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Greensboro NC, 1975. As documented at the Tull concert archive, the second North American leg of the War Child tour was a genuine barn-stormer of a trek, the band arguably at the peak of its post-Aqualung U.S. popularity, a solid mix of eclectic musicality (Martin Barre was a brilliant hard rock guitarist) and Python-esque droll British humor (only Ian Anderson could get a laugh out of a schlocky joke involving two people dressed up in a zebra suit and popping tennis balls out the “ass”: at that point Anderson deadpanned, “Zebra shit”). I had already seen them earlier in the year, on January 17 for the actual tour-opener in Asheville, NC, where the group had rehearsed for a week prior. The Greensboro show took place Aug. 9, and it was every bit as good—even better, because the opening act was theatrical rocking Scotsmen The Sensational Alex Harvey Band [pictured above] and we had something like 4th row seats. This was when Alex was in his full Vambo/West Side Story-esque mode and the group was clearly aiming to win over Stateside audiences, although in truth I think much of the crowd, eager for Tull, regarded the stage show a bit inscrutably over-the-top for an opening act. But when Alex did his street rumble bit wherein he busted through a fake brick façade (anticipating Pink Floyd’s The Wall by a full seven years) and also stuffing hosiery in his mouth to give him a mush-mouthed “gangster” vocal effect, I was hooked. Guitarist Zal Cleminson’s garish harlequin/mime makeup didn’t hurt the group visually, either. I was so knocked out that I immediately bought tickets for the Aug. 16 show a week later in Charlotte which would feature SAHB again as openers.

Closest Brush with a Pre-Deification God (Pt.1): U2, Chapel Hill, 1983. The first date of the Irish band’s North American War tour took place April 23, 1983, as part of an annual spring outdoor multi-band concert at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan Stadium, featuring headliner Todd Rundgren along with the Producers and—get this—Grandmaster Flash. (Full details can be found HERE at the U2 setlists archive.) What’s interesting is that U2 was booked relatively late, so late in fact that the listing did not make it onto the official U2 tour teeshirts, which meant that in certain quarters for a long time, fans thought that the War tour actually kicked off the following night in Norfolk, VA.

Indeed my gal and I were so blown away by U2’s performance—we didn’t even stick around for Todd’s set— that we jumped in the car early the next morning to drive to Norfolk. In Chapel Hill it started raining during the band’s set and a bunch of us, oblivious to the rain, ran down to the track that circled the football field in front of the stage to dance while Bono himself danced out on the catwalk extending from the stage to the track perimeter. He also climbed the lighting scaffolding for what would be the very first time in the States, en route to becoming a Bono tradition (see: the May 1983 US Festival videos of U2’s set). This was during the aforementioned rain, and as roadies very worriedly stood below him, he perched on the scaffolding warbling a few lines from “Singin’ In the Rain.”

Fun fact: I taped the show, and the subsequent bootlegs of it that have circulated come from my tape. You can identify it pretty easily: at one juncture a male voice next to the mic blurts out, “Unreal!” That’s yours truly, in the process of being blown away. The show would additionally spawn a fanzine called U2/USA which lasted through the end of the decade, ultimately allowing me to have a one-on-one summit with Bono in Atlanta several years later, interviewing the singer and passing a bottle of wine back and forth with him.

Closest Brush with a Pre-Deification God (Pt.2): Arcade Fire, Asheville NC, 2005. As detailed in my BLURT story “Before the Flood,” I had arranged to hook up with Arcade Fire at Asheville’s Orange Peel club on Jan. 27 in order to do a profile for Magnet magazine. Funeral was in the process of blowing up, Pitchfork-prompted style, and as this show had been booked some time earlier, attendees who’d already bought their tickets were feeling lucky while hundreds more were left stranded outside begging for tickets, digits aimed towards heaven, Grateful Dead-style. I met the band at soundcheck, helped them fold CD sleeves, sat in during a radio interview, and went next door to a Mexican restaurant with them to grab a quick supper. During the meal I spotted a number of kids outside peering in, noses pressed up against the window. As we left, Win Butler got buttonholed several times by folks wanting autographs. “That wasn’t happening before,” he remarked to me, softly, shaking his head in semi-disbelief, when I asked him if it happened a lot.

The next morning I went with them to find a place to get breakfast/brunch and do the official interview, which turned out to be a bit more logistically dicey than I had expected due to the number of people—at least a dozen of them, counting some crew members. In fact, the first place we went, a modest-sized downtown restaurant called Mayfels, actually refused service to the band, flatly stating that there were too many of us. Years later I would be dining with some friends at Mayfels and recounting the story to them when the waitress overheard me and called over the on-staff manager to have me repeat it for him. Both were absolutely mortified to learn that their restaurant had turned away a group of Grammy-winning artists.

Patti

Closest Brush with a Post-Deification God (Pt. 1): Patti Smith, Chapel Hill, 1977. On January 21, 1977—I’m sure of the date, because I still have a poster, autographed, announcing the show—the Patti Smith Group came to the University Of North Carolina’s Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill, NC. That afternoon I went down to the venue in order to sign on as a student free-roadie-for-the-day, which was fairly common for concerts on the campus. (I had done the same thing previously when the Kinks brought their “Soap Opera” tour to UNC; read about it HERE.) I got to hump cables and boxes, observe the soundcheck, talk with guitarist Lenny Kaye for 10 or 15 minutes about “Nuggets” and American garage rock, get autographs from the entire band, and observe Patti Smith letting in about 15 or 20 fans who had been clustered out by the stage door, bearing flowers and gifts. (“Don’t kick them out,” she firmly instructed the stagehands. “They can stay in here.” We all secured 1st and 2nd row seats.) And the concert was riveting, firming up my belief in Patti as one of America’s genuine treasures. Many years later, while interviewing her for a story about 1997’s Peace and Noise, I recalled the scene and she noted that taking care of the fans had always been paramount for her.

Closest Brush with a Post-Deification God (Pt.2): John Cale, Chapel Hill, 1979. A couple of years later I was contributing to a fanzine called Biohazard Informae, which had been started by members of the Chapel Hill group The H-Bombs, which included a pre-dB’s Peter Holsapple and a pre-Let’s Active Mitch Easter. A friend, the pre-dB’s Will Rigby who also wrote for the zine, found out that John Cale was coming to the Chapel Hill club Mad Hatter and, as he was acquainted with Cale’s bassist George Scott (R.I.P.), he suggested that I conduct an interview with Cale for the zine. Scott could set it up for us, so I accepted the “assignment.” Only trouble was, I had never done an interview before… can you guess what’s coming?

Afternoon of the show: I meet Scott at the venue and he ushers me upstairs to the dressing room where Cale is ensconced. A rather large (not fat) and imposing chap, he is dressed in combat fatigues, smoking a big cigar, and has copies of “Soldier of Fortune” scattered around the table and floor. We settle in for the interview, I turn on the tape recorder, he scowls at me, and it’s all downhill from there. In my nervousness I stammered and fumbled through my lame questions (“So, John, Lou Reed’s career really took off after the Velvets broke up. How do you gauge YOUR career success?” [Cale, stiffly] “One day at a time.”). Then, after about 15 minutes, my batteries start to fail, and of course I did not bring extras.

The interview never saw formal publication—I was too embarrassed to even transcribe it until years later—but it did teach me some very important lessons about what one needs to be a journalist, namely, extra batteries. Oh, and perhaps a pint of whiskey to calm the nerves. I think I spent the next 10 years conducting interviews by phone, so gun-shy had I become.

Closest Brush with a Post-Deification God (Pt.3): Joe Strummer, NYC 2001. In October of 2001 I found myself sitting in the upstairs dressing room of Irving Plaza in New York, interviewing Joe Strummer (R.I.P.), who was touring with his band The Mescaleros. I had actually already talked to him once via phone from England, and ironically, this face to face conversation might never have taken place had it not been for 9/11: I was planning to head to NYC that week in September for the annual CMJ Convention, but it got postponed for a month because of the World Trade Center attacks, and Strummer’s tour itinerary wound up placing him in New York the same week as the adjusted CMJ schedule. Talking to him for “Magnet” magazine—and also having our interview filmed by Dick Rude for the Strummer documentary Let’s Rock Again!; yes, you can see me, or at least my knee, hand and notepad, in the film—I found him to be as gregarious, thoughtful and, yes, intermittently cranky as I’d heard him to be. We talked about heroes and role models and career highs and career lows and “the only band that matters,” Strummer consistently deflecting my comments any time he detected even a hint of fanboy praise, instead making sure that all his Mescaleros were singled out for their contributions while referring to himself as merely a “hack” who was lucky to work with talented people.

It was an incident prior to the interview, though, that sticks with me the most, and is emblematic of the man’s character and all around genuineness. Earlier, during the photoshoot for the article, we were downstairs, and in the main room the opening band, NYC rocksteady combo The Slackers, was soundchecking. Apparently the club soundman was growing impatient and informed the group it needed to finish the hell up. Strummer heard this and went out to inform the soundman in no uncertain terms that The Slackers were to be given as much time as they needed. As he told me after the show when I queried him about it, he remembered what it had been like when he had been in the opening band and had no truck with that sort of treatment.

GG 45

Most Outrageous (Pt. 1): G.G. Allin Masturbates, Shits and Dry-Humps Onstage. As documented on the subsequent 1990 4-song 7” EP Live… Carolina In My Ass and released by the gentlemen of Charlotte “destructo rockers” Antiseen, this June 13, 1987, Charlotte, NC, concert—term used loosely; it only lasted a couple of songs beyond the four on the EP—heralded the official return to the performing stage by self-styled scum-rock artist Allin. He’d only recently been released from prison and, invited by Antiseen’s Jeff Clayton and Joe Young to furlough in the Queen City, agreed to appear at the all-ages punk club The Church of Musical Awareness (the short-lived venue had been previously used as, per its moniker, an African-American storefront church), with his opening act and backing band being The Primates from Athens, GA.

The day arrived and I found myself positioned in the packed CoMA near the front and slightly to the left of the stage as GG and the gang started their set. Clad in naught but cowboy boots, mirror shades and a jockstrap, GG quickly began with the theatrics—if reaching inside one’s jockstrap and fondling one’s somewhat diminutive member could be called “theatrical”—and then proceeded to retreat to the rear of the stage and, as we shortly learned, gave himself an enema. One and a half songs later, the enema began taking effect, so GG moved to the edge of the stage, still clutching his mic, and proceeded to squat and take a big watery, greasy crap on it. The stench very rapidly spread through the (relatively small) former room of worship. Not content to merely tweak our olfactory senses, GG then reached over, scooped up a big handful of the runny poop, reared back like a Cy Young Award winner, and flung it in a long arcing motion across the room. I can honestly say I have never witnessed, before or after, people walking backwards up the walls of a room. They looked like characters in a cartoon, defying gravity. Me, I was generally out of firing range, but others were not so lucky. Chaos ensued.

GG smeared shit across his chest like Iggy smearing peanut butter, but that did not satisfy him. Hopping off the stage, the band still cranking away, GG decided to run through the shrieking crowd, eventually zeroing in on one young lady and grabbing her by her teeshirt to drag her over to the right-hand side of the stage. He pushed her onto the stage then mounted her and began mock-humping. This did not sit well at all with two of her male friends. They set upon GG, punching and kicking him until he rolled off, falling on the floor. At this point Young and Clayton smartly divined that the gig was probably done for, so one of them ran outside and fired up the car while the other grabbed GG and hustled him out the CoMA side door and onto the back seat of the automobile. Cue up the crunch of gravel, the screech of tires, the two white knights running behind it and shouting obscenities, and most of the concertgoers bolting outside to watch the parking lot action. The Primates, who apparently had not been informed what being GG Allin’s backing band might entail, simply stopped playing and stood there dumbly, holding their instruments and surveying the scene from the stage. Looking at one another, they shrugged, then casually began breaking down their gear.

As I knew what nearby motel GG was staying at, I decided to drive over there after a little while to see what was going on. When I arrived I spotted several people I knew standing around outside the room on the breezeway. I walked up and poked my head in the room, and eventually GG himself came out of the bathroom, his hair wet from a shower and wearing fresh jeans and a teeshirt. I introduced myself as a friend of the Antiseen guys (I had also written about him in the local weekly paper, Creative Loafing), shook his hand and tactfully declined his offer of a swig from the Jack Daniels bottle he was sucking on. (From a strictly hygienic point of view, I deemed it unwise to drink fluids after GG Allin.) We chatted a bit about mutual friends, I collected some autographs, and then I headed home.

Postscript: One afternoon not long afterwards, I walked over to Jeff Clayton’s house (he lived in my neighborhood) to talk about some records. He wasn’t home at the time. Babysitting his little 1-year old daughter, however, was none other than GG Allin, who had her with a bottle perched on his knee, and watching cartoons on TV, both of them laughing merrily. It was and still is one of the most incongruous sights I have ever witnessed.

Most Outrageous (Pt. 2): GWAR Busted for Obscenity. In September of 1990 GWAR came to Charlotte, NC, venue the 4808 Club. I was, naturally, going to cover the show for the Creative Loafing weekly newspaper, having already previewed it for the paper in my capacity as Music Editor. (I have written about this and related matters at BLURT in an article called “Kill the Music: ‘90s Censorship.”) It was the night that GWAR fell afoul of the prevailing Bible Belt mentality and the looming PMRC/parental warning stickers/war on metal & hip-hop era, at which vocalist Oderus Urungus was arrested for obscenity. (According to the charges he depicted “anal intercourse, masturbation, and excretory functions.”) The band would later turn the incident into a movie and an album, but meanwhile there was a near riot; the club owner was also arrested for being part of the melee; and I not only covered the scene for the paper but also wound up writing about it for Billboard magazine and being interviewed by MTV News and Rolling Stone as I was the only “journalist” to be at the club. [Photo below, taken by my friend Kerry McCaskill, from the actual show]

Gwar

Regrets, I Have a Few: (tie) The Byrds & Flamin’ Groovies. I’ve had the privilege to see almost all my favorite artists over the years (and in their salad days to boot), among them The Who, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, the Ramones, the Clash, R.E.M., Dream Syndicate and Neil Young (whom I almost wound up standing next to in a men’s bathroom in Vegas were it not for a fateful twist). But I’ve never seen the Byrds or the Groovies, both artists in my all-time Top 10. As I’ve interviewed both Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson and the Groovies are actually still touring, I’m particularly ashamed over missing them—my all-time favorite song is “Shake Some Action”—and I even passed up a chance to go down to Atlanta a few months back to catch ‘em play. But there’s still hope. Not so for the Byrds, and it is particularly aggravating to me knowing that I could have seen them several times in North Carolina 1970-72 during the Clarence White era, as they regularly played the college circuit in those days, including both Duke and UNC (as detailed at the Byrds Flyght archival page listing all the concerts over the years). One particular show at that time is apparently so obscure that it doesn’t even show up on Byrds lists: it was at the homecoming party for Wingate College, probably in ’71. Wingate was only a 20 minute drive from my home, and I even had a friend attending Wingate then who did go and could have gotten me a ticket. “Man, you missed a great show,” he later informed me. “Clarence was on fuckin’ fire.” Thanks a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

RAMBLE ON: Glen Hansard

Glen Hansard Danny Clinch 1

 

The Irish troubadour—and Frames frontman/erstwhile Swell Season co-collaborator—wants to make albums for people to listen to and live with: “The job of a songwriter is to be of use. A record needs to be something special.”

BY KELLY DEARMORE

On a recent morning, Glen Hansard enjoyed a cup of coffee from his home in Kildare, Ireland, as he talked about just how swell things are for him these days, and on that morning, in specific.

“It’s just awesome here in Ireland today, I tell ‘ya.”

With a fantastic new solo LP out, Didn’t He Ramble, co-produced by Thomas Bartlett (aka eclectic experimentalist Doveman) and the official follow-up to his 2012 debut full-length Rhythm and Repose, Hansard has reason to be in great spirits, as he will be presenting over two decades’ worth of songs to crowds across Europe and the United States as 2015 winds down. Just as any other artist, the Oscar-winning Hansard is certainly proud of his most recent effort, his new baby, but those who catch one of his upcoming shows should expect anything at any time.

“I would be bored out of my mind if I only played Glen Hansard solo stuff,” he admits, in the unmistakable brogue film audiences came to know when he starred in the 2006 indie-gem Once. “Or only Swell Season songs, or only Frames songs. I play what I feel. Different nights will bring different feelings, and when things are going great, I’ll just walk onto the stage, present and prepared for anything.”

Of course, attendees will have individual requests, and tunes they’ve waited to hear for many years, perhaps, but should Hansard decide to go heavy on material from Didn’t He Ramble on a given night, all will not be lost. While the record is, at times, moody and atmospheric, and joyful and exuberant in other moments, the record is a full and complete work. And that’s no small victory as the songs here were written over several years and recorded in Dublin, France, Chicago, and New York.

“I do feel like it came out cohesively,” he says. “And I’m glad for that because it was a hard one for me to let go of. The creation of things is something we don’t have much control over, but the finishing of things is the bit that really requires you bringing energy and concentration to it. It took me a while to really get this record together, but I do feel proud of all the songs individually. I wouldn’t disown any of them; they are each like little children to me.”

Among the individual tracks, a few manage to stand above the pack for various reasons. On the record’s striking opening number, “Grace,” Hansard’s vocals and lyrics hold center-stage above the familiar folk-rock or Van Morison-esque arrangements he’s excelled at producing in the past. From a sonic perspective, “Grace” took a while for Hansard to figure out, but figure it out, he did.

“It came to me as an a capella, originally,” he says, proceeding to sing a few bars from the song to hammer his point home. “For me, it seems like a song one would sing without music, almost in a spiritual sense, like in a church. When I took the song to the band, the chords felt really dumb, and I couldn’t get the dumb chords out of my head. I felt like I was belittling the song, and I was ready to give up on the song completely, then [co-producer] Thomas Bartlett came up with the idea of trying it as a drone with my melody over it. It gave the song a new feeling and it really worked.”

The free-flowing, electric guitar breezer “Paying My Way,” written while Hansard recovered from a hangover, and “Lowly Deserter,” a bouncing, raw, horn-infused boot-stomper, adds more variety to the folk and smooth sounds winding through the rest of the record. Hansard didn’t want each of the album’s songs to be too similar in sound or theme, but he very much wants for people to see this record as an individual work that is set apart from anything else he’s done thus far.

“What is the job of a songwriter?” Hansard asks rhetorically. “It’s to be of use, almost like a piece of furniture. It’s got to be beautiful, but most important, more so than the beauty, it that it has to be useful. A record needs to be something that will fit a specific mood more than anything else can possibly fit it at a given point. A record can be a key that unlocks something for a person, something special.”

The drive to provide the listener with something memorable and to do his self-defined job as a songwriter properly is noble. Ultimately, as Hansard sees it, the goal of his job sounds simple, but is profound in this virtual age where immediate single downloads and lighting fast streaming dominate the musical conversation.

“I believe in a beginning, middle, and an end to records,” he says. “I love the idea of making something that people can just sit and live with for a little while.”

Glen Hansard Danny Clinch 2

***

Didn’t He Ramble was released on CD via Anti- on September 18; it arrives on vinyl October 9. Glen Hansard kicks off his US tour in early November—tour dates below (*supported by Aoife O’Donovan).

November 9 /// Los Angeles, CA /// Walt Disney Concert Hall*
November 10 /// San Francisco, CA /// The Masonic*
November 12 /// Vancouver, BC /// Orpheum Theatre*
November 13 /// Portland, OR /// Crystal Ballroom*
November 14 /// Seattle, WA /// Moore Theatre*
November 16 /// Denver, CO /// Paramount Theatre*
November 17 /// Kansas City, MO /// Uptown Theater*
November 19 /// Madison, WI /// Orpheum Theatre*
November 20 /// Minneapolis, MN /// State Theatre*
November 21 /// Chicago, IL /// Chicago Theatre*
November 23 /// St. Louis, MO /// The Pageant*
November 24 /// Cincinnati, OH /// Taft Theatre*
November 25 /// Atlanta, GA /// Buckhead Theatre*
November 27 /// Durham, NC /// Durham Performing Arts Center
November 28 /// Washington, DC /// DAR Constitution Hall
November 30 /// Brooklyn, NY /// Kings Theatre
December 1 /// New York, NY /// Beacon Theatre

Photos credit: Danny Clinch