I’m not really digging the electric troubadour movement that has been parading through Philly of late. Wednesday night, it was Wreckless Eric’s turn to do a solo gig at the venerable Johnny Brenda’s, and save for the opener, the Improbables, it was another disappointing show. Let’s get one thing straight right now: trying to use your fuzzbox and guitar pedal tricks to elicit feedback and reverb to make it sound like there is more than one person on stage does not work. Yes, it’s loud, no, it’s not musical, and yes, it shows you’re (a) either cheap and/or can’t afford a band, or (b) you are very self-indulgent.
Phew, I feel better. Truthfully, Wreckless Eric was less of a disappointment than the recent Titus Andronicus “acoustic” show as Wreckless Eric doesn’t live by the punk sword. I expected him to show up, guitar in hand and no backing band, to sing his songs. And he did a credible job with a couple of great oldies, like Whole Wide World, Reconnez Cherie, and Semaphore Signals. There were even some newer tracks thrown in that were good and worth hearing. And Eric certainly has a lot of attitude and is funny, like when he was chastising the bar flies who kept talking during his set, concluding that they should just “shut the f*ck up.”
Who is Wreckless Eric? His real name is Eric Goulden, and he is a new wave artist. His best known song, Whole Wide World, came out in 1977 on the Stiff Records label. Stiff signed up a bunch of great musicians at the time, like Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Larry Wallis. Wreckless Eric was among this group of artists, and given the company that he kept, it was inevitable that I would soon enter his musical orbit. I still have vinyl copies of a few Wreckless Eric albums – one of them has him on the cover in a leopard suit with a pin that says “I’m a Mess,” and I remember Ira Robbins from the Trouser Press saying “one drop of the needle on the record proved the point.” Nonetheless, the loose and fun nature of the music was infectious, and he was popular among my crew in college.
The last time I saw Wreckless Eric was when I lived in the DC area. It was at the old 9:30 Club, and he was the last act on a three-band lineup. First up was Enrique, a glam revival band that was just amazingly hilarious to watch - think two "twin" lead singers in electric green jump suits, 5 inch platform shoes and huge afro wigs. I searched hard for an old video of them but came up dry. Then, it was DC fave Date Bait, who literally trashed the place and had male and female go go dancers. Date Bait was Kim Wilson’s follow-up group to the Slickee Boys, who were as much of an institution in DC as Congress and the Supreme Court. I found this great video of them at the old DC Space Club:
When Date Bait left the stage, about 2/3 of the crowd left the venue. A bit later, out strolls Wreckless Eric, solo, and he goes through a set of his best stuff from the Stiff Records days. We were talking to him on stage and suggesting songs, and he was playing or rejecting them, all in good humor and with snappy repartee. It was … fun.
This time? Yeah, some fun was still there. But he had no need to crank up the volume and crouch on the floor in front of his electronic guitar gizmos to try and coax more feedback out of his guitar. No one wanted to hear that crap (other than Wreckless Eric), and it detracted from an otherwise good effort. I looked around the crowd when WE was playing his old stuff, and people were smiling, singing, grooving. When he was doing the feedback thing, people were staring stone-faced. You want feedback, Wreckless Eric? Well, look at the expressions on people’s faces and you’ll get tons of it.
I did get a couple of great videos. Well, one great one and one BRP special. I captured “Reconnez Cherie” cover to cover, and man, did it ever come out well. Take a look:
And then I struggled to get going for “Whole Wide World”, fumbling with the camera before I settled in for a great video. Watch this one with the aforementioned grain of salt re the beginning, and then sit back and enjoy a great tune:
I captured one more video last night, and it was of the opening act, the Improbables. The band’s name sounds like the latest movie from Pixar, but these guys, more fondly known as the Imps, rocked the joint. Their bio on the Johnny Brenda’s site notes that the trio is from South Jersey, played together in the 90s before splitting up, and recently reformed and cut their first LP. I would classify their music in the garage rock genre, but their bassist plays great riffs that were both lead guitar solo-worthy and back beat rhythmic to keep the songs going – really good stuff. Regardless of how you classify them, they were tight, had good original songs, and rocked a half hour set that was really enjoyable. And like I said, I was so caught up in the act that I actually shot video of one of their songs (which I don’t know the title of) and you can see it here:
Onward and upward. I’m jonesing to see some great live music that sets me right. The Imps were a good start, Wreckless Eric let me know that there are jewels to be found in the ore, and that capturing the quicksilver of great rock ‘n roll ain’t that hard – you just gotta wanna. I’m off to see They Might Be Giants tonight at the TLA. Oh, and I saw a fantastic comedian at Helium the other night, Brad Williams. He’ll make you laugh until your gut busts. Hey, if you want to see two great bands back-to-back, go see The Weeks at Underground Arts next Friday, and then Marah at 118 North on Saturday. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed with either. And for the penultimate Philly live experience, BRP’s beloved Low Cut Connie is back in Philly for a mid-May gig. These guys are a GREAT live act – don’t be a fool and miss out.
With that, I’m out of here. You have a good one, keep spinning the discs, and thank God that 8-tracks are not our favored mode of technology for enjoying pre-recorded music. Keep the faith, rockers – summer is almost here, and that means lots and lots of great rock. Catch you on the flip side.
Return of the Titus
Underground Arts is a funky space, but they get great bands and I’ve been there quite a few times. It has two rooms, a larger one in the front, and a smaller room in the back that is now called the Black Box. Most bands I have seen at UA have been in the front room, but Protomartyr played the Black Box. I was a bit surprised to read that Titus Andronicus would be playing the Black Box, but figured, hey, that’s cool, it’s intimate and we’ll have a good spot to see the show right under the stage lighting. I should have known better.
Titus is the brainchild of Patrick Stickles, a New Jersey dude who loves punk and Springsteen, and who writes some of the most intellectual rock music out there today. Ryan turned me on to Titus a few years back as he knows that, despite my mature age, I’m still a punk rocker at my core. This was our third opportunity to see Titus together. The first time was at Union Transfer following the release of Titus’s magnificent 3-disc set, The Most Lamentable Tragedy. That show just kicked ass, one of the best I’ve seen the past few years. Titus showed up with a 3 guitar attack, a keyboardist (unusual for a punk band) and a fantastic rhythm section. It was an amazing wall of sound that enhanced the great setlist that drew heavily from The Monitor, Local Business and The Most Lamentable Tragedy.
So when Titus returned later to the TLA, Ryan and I were there for that show, too. It was good, but the band had been slimmed down and wasn’t as tight as the previous iteration. Nonetheless, there were few complaints and we had another good night of punk rock entertainment.
Flash forward to Saturday night and the Black Box. The opener was Rick Maguire from Pile, who did the electric troubadour thing, you know, one guy and one electric guitar. That’s a challenge for even the most immensely talented. Rick’s voice and his song selection, however, left something to be desired, and we were all happy when he finally said the magic words of all opening acts: “this is my last song.” After Rick bailed, we moved up and had a great spot right in front of the stage. It was then that we noticed that there was no drum set, no bass guitar, and only two electrics and a keyboard. Oh well, we’ll see what this is like.
Here’s what it was like: a coin toss between Titus and Yo La Tengo for biggest disappointment of 2018. Patrick comes out on stage and welcomes us to the 2018 Titus Acoustic Tour, words which were mysteriously missing from all the posters and ads for the show. On stage was Patrick and a keyboardist and that was it. Worse, Titus’s new album isn’t that strong, and the show featured a number of tunes from it, along with slower versions of older (and better) Titus tracks.
I was never a big fan of the MTV Unplugged series, especially for heavy rockers like Nirvana, and Titus is another band that should never strip down the songs. They are best with high energy, high volume aural assaults that drive home the lyrics and tunefulness. Is it so hard to bring along a band and simply rock it on a Saturday night? Give the fans what they want – an AC/DC signature that bands should emulate. I know there were four dudes in the audience at this show that came away unsatisfied and disappointed. And 3 of us are core fans who will likely think twice about buying tickets the next time Titus rolls into town.
Despite the disappointing show, I did get some great pictures of Patrick. He is a good entertainer, and has a great wit and an easy way with the crowd. But he also gave me a rock ‘n roll first: I was close enough to the stage that Patrick was maybe 5 or 7 seven feet from me most of the time. That proximity was remarkable because I could smell his body odor from where I stood. From the first song, too, so he came up on stage like that. Say what? Dude, this isn’t Europe in the 60’s man, c’mon, take a shower and show some respect for your fellow human. For you in the cyber world, enjoy the pictures and be thankful that they don’t come with a scratch and sniff card.
I brought the Go Pro, but in true dumb-ass BRP fashion, I didn’t charge the thing after the last show. Unlike other cameras that only burn through the batteries when you turn the thing on, the Go Pro is basically always on, and if you don’t charge it you end up like me last Saturday night, carrying the thing around and not being able to use it. Apologies to all of you – I’ll try to remember where I left my brain next time, too. Oh, but here’s big news: the BRP YouTube channel got its first subscriber! I better send that dude a t-shirt. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you don’t know how cool it is, so wander over there and check out the content.
I need to look at my calendar and see what is up next. I know that Low Cut Connie is back in Philly in mid-May, and I’ve already got a pretty sizeable crew lined up for that one. King Tuff is going to tear up the First Unitarian Church that same week, and I’ll be there, too. I’ll likely catch former Stiff Records rock hero Wreckless Eric at Johnny Brenda’s the end of April, and Sheer Mag at UT. I’m a HUGE Sheer Mag fan – if you like to rock, check them out. If I’m around, I will want to see Parquet Courts again, too.
And lots of other shows have just been announced – it’s all calendar-dependent if you know what I mean. I’m getting to the point that I want bands to perform during the week because my weekends are already chock-full of stuff. Do you have that same problem? It’s a fabulous life we lead here in the USA, and oftentimes the choice is between two (or sometimes three) great options. I know that I’m going to be in the Hudson Valley checking out all the Hyde Park historical stuff the same night that the Weeks are playing at UA and that Marah is doing their thing at 118 North. Bummer to miss both of those fantastic acts, but it’s not like I won’t be having a great time doing something else way fun and cool. Nice problem to have, right?
Oh, and don’t forget that Wayne is going to hold their early summer music festival in June. I’ll give you fair warning on that one, but last year’s was really good. And did I mention it is FREE? Music played on a summer weekend in a relatively small outside space that naturally limits the crowd is wonderful. To have it be offered for FREE is a sure sign that the deity loves us humans.
I’m also trying to find a show in DC that would make for a compatible weekend road trip with the Cezanne exhibition going on at the National Gallery of Art. I love Cezanne’s work and was lucky enough to visit his former studio in Aix a few years ago. If I can combine that trip with a ripping night of rock, well, that’s a bonus, akin to having the Eagles win the Super Bowl and then Villanova win the NCAA tourney a month later.
Let me know if you have any shows you are going to see and I’ll try to accompany you – the benefits of hanging with a minor rock blogger are truly astounding. You’ll need to hang with me to find out the size and scale of these extras, so tell me about a show you are attending and I’ll be there. But please, no more unplugged shows, ok? Check you later.
Last Friday was an early taste of summer in Philly. Temperatures soared into the low 80s, and shorts and t-shirts were the norm. Summer is big-time in the live music world as many bands load up the vans and go on tour. Friday was a taste of that, too, as Franz Ferdinand was in town for a show at the Fillmore. After a long week, it was time to rock ‘n roll. Yay!
We kicked off the evening by hanging out with friends who were joining us at the show. They fired up the grill, put on the steaks, filled up the cold beverages, and we had a great time pre-gaming, eating outside and enjoying the warm breezes. There is a danger in getting too relaxed, however, and we had to pull away from the chill environment and pile into the concert car for the drive to the Fillmore and the show.
The Fillmore is a good venue despite its large size. It has good sightlines, excellent acoustics, and a solid house lighting system. While large, it has enough space to move around a bit without completely annoying your neighbor. I don’t care for its location in the fast-gentrifying NoLib section of the city – it’s about as far as you can get from the Main Line and not be in New Jersey, and there are close sections of the city that are still waiting for that gentrification second-life – and the parking situation blows. You always have to pay unless you arrive way early, and it’s a rip-off for the club goer as it costs $20. So be it, it’s these trials and tribulations of the rock fan that are all worth it if the band comes out and melts your face off. But the Fillmore also takes their security role seriously, which is good given how many clubs have been shot up – I’m always appreciative of a venue that tries to limit the potential of a night spinning to the deep darkside.
Franz Ferdinand has been around for a pretty long time, and they have a sizeable catalog to sample from. They played a solid set of 1:45, and kept the on-stage banter to a minimum. There was one odd riff between songs about the wonders of the British National Health System (a healthcare provider usually used as a cautionary tale about the poor quality of single payer systems), but other than that, the band came out and jammed.
You know it’s a good show when even those not familiar with the band’s music have a good time, and that was the experience with one of our companions. FF is very professional, well-rehearsed, and they have a lot of rocking songs that they play with vigor and showmanship. Alex Kapranos is the front-man, and he is really good. His voice is distinctive, and it really works well and gives the band a signature sound. But he also knows how to connect with the crowd, enhancing the music by engaging with the fans and providing a great visual presence. In other words, the band remembers their role as entertainers, too, and they provide a great show.
Highlights were the best-known songs, like The Dark of the Matinee, This Fire, The Fallen, Do You Want To, and of course, Take Me Out. The crowd responded well to the entire set, but these songs provided an extra kick. And then there was Michael. That song has a driving beat and a demanding drum track. For my second time in a month, a person right up front in the crowd showed up with a sign for the band that the band actually read and responded to. This one asked whether the individual could play drums with the band during Michael. The band quickly debated it and brought up someone named Chaz to play the skins with the band. This picture shows Chaz playing with FF:
After the show, we debated whether Chaz was a male or female. I thought a male, the others a female. I quickly consulted two people walking behind us who definitively agreed with me, thus instantly making them authorities and BRP legends. Helen then said maybe the person was “them,” and in this gender-definition challenged world, we all agreed with this possibility. Regardless, Chaz came up on stage, and tore the damn drums up. It was a super credible job, and the band was appreciative of the effort. And Paul Thomson, the FF drummer, was cool about the entire thing, hanging out by the drums and dancing around while the band played the song. That earned points among all of us.
We missed the opening act, but given the pre-show experience, that was cool with all of us. In fact, we timed it perfectly, arriving just in time to grab a drink and move up to a space maybe 10 rows back from the stage with no tall dudes blocking the view. (Hey, tall guys, we know you can’t do anything about your height, but the added baseball cap is taking it just too far. Leave it at home – no one can see the chrome dome anyway because most of us are shorter than you, so please quit blocking the view with the damn bill of the cap.) The band came out about 5 minutes after we got situated, and then put on a great show. That doesn’t happen too often.
I didn’t bring the GoPro with me because we were with a crowd and I knew that the desire to push to the front would not be there. I got some good pictures, however, and hope you enjoy them. FF was the start to a big weekend of music for me, and Saturday was promising yet another early taste of summer and then a show at Underground Arts featuring Titus Andronicus. Yum! Check back soon for that review. Ciao for now.
In Buenos Aires, they do the tango. In Philly (well, and in Hoboken, NJ), they do the Yo La Tengo. I’ve now seen both. Do yourself a favor: go to BA.
Ouch! No rock band wants to be compared to the tango and found wanting. Alas, when the band basically invites that comparison with their name, it’s too bad, so sad. I checked out Yo La Tengo at Union Transfer on Saturday, and came back with very mixed emotions.
Some positive observations: this band is skilled and goes about their business like old world craftsmen. They play two hours. The songs are taken from their entire catalog, and with some great covers thrown in. There isn’t much wasted time between songs. The band is really well-rehearsed and tight. Each musician is multi-faceted and play all kinds of different instruments.
The negatives: they played two sets, the first of which was slow and trippy and laden in feedback and reverb, like a bad Phish song, but it was many songs. The best songs they played were covers. Feedback and reverb is basically used as an opener for every song. On a Saturday night with a sold out venue, people want to party – opening with an hour long funeral dirge and ending with two very slow songs is a downer.
There you have it. The show had its moments, including this very interesting cover of the Cure’s Friday, I’m In Love, which included a guest appearance by Kurt Vile. Check it out - another BRP exclusive video:
And this lengthy version of Five Cornered Drone (Crispy Duck) was also worth watching.
But man, this was a standing show, and if you aren’t moving and grooving, the bones begin to hurt. I was never so happy as to get into my car at the end of a show just to sit down.
If you aren’t familiar with Yo La Tengo, here is the quick bio: the band was formed in Hoboken in 1984, and since 1992, the lineup has been consistent. Each band member is very skilled, and plays multiple instruments, but the primaries are Ira Kaplan on guitars, keys, and vocals); Georgia Hubley on drums, keys and vocals (she has a really beautiful voice), and James McNew on bass, keys and vocals. They have a ton of equipment on stage and use it all. They are probably best described as indie rock, but noise pop fits them, too. They have a lot of albums out – I think about 15, which is daunting for the new fan, but a couple of them have great names, like Fakebook and I Am Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass. I can testify that their recorded output is all over the place, but they can rock and they can ballad. They are good enough that I dropped some bucks and took some time to see them.
Here’s the setlist from our friends over at setlist.com:
I think the photos are pretty good, but you can tell that I was off to one side of the stage. I was close because you demand good pictures and videos. Still, they aren’t my best work. I’ll try better next time.
And next time is very soon. I have two shows this weekend, both of which should rip, and I’ll write them up in due time. I’m also working on some other things that I hope you’ll find interesting. I hope you are doing ok in your world, working hard and being productive and not slacking off. But make sure you still have fun! Later on Rockeros!
I’ve been following music for a long time. In high school and college, I thought it was easy to keep up with the scene. As I grew older, I began to struggle with finding and listening to new music, but figured that it was easier when I was younger because I had all that free time on my hands. Well, maybe. But I read a recent article by Neil Shah in that great music publication, the Wall Street Journal, that got me thinking very differently.
It turns out that the amount of music being produced globally has skyrocketed. There is, believe it or not, an overabundance of music these days. When I was in college in the 80s, the number of global music releases numbered around 100,000. In 2016, there were 250,000 physical albums, singles and other music released. And for albums alone, check out these numbers: nearly 150,000 albums came out in 2017, but in 2000 that number was only 36,000. According to Shah’s article, the amount of music released in 2017 is roughly 7 times the amount released in 1960. Holy crap!
I guess that helps to explain why a lot of us are drowning. I like finding new bands, but damn, who can keep up with this output and still lead a normal life? OK, point taken that I could never lead a normal life because I’m just not normal, but you get the drift. It’s both good and bad.
Part of the issue is the relative ease in which a person can produce and release music – an instrument, a computer and a solid piece of software is about all you need, and then you just upload it and hope that you become Justin Bieber. And part of it is that music streaming has led artists to push out more and more music so that they can tour behind it and make a living. Some band named King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released FIVE albums last year. And streaming makes it virtually unnecessary to own music in the traditional sense, and therefore record labels don’t have to manufacture, package and distribute physical product, making it much cheaper for them to push out new product.
Of course, much of this product is crap. But that was also true back in the day, as Barry Manilow haters will attest. One byproduct of all this music is the need for the mega-stars to always be in the spotlight, and for labels to push out reissues to capture the tried and true markets. That means that we are overindulged in other ways: the constant onslaught of the “big” money bands, and the competition for our attention from bands that haven’t put out a new album in decades. New bands are having a hard time breaking through the noise to reach us. But there are still some great old bands out there that do deserve our attention, like the Ramones and AC/DC (who also purvey wine?).
I’ll keep trying to get you tuned in to bands that I think are worthwhile (both big-time and up-and-comers) as well as directing you away from bands that should get lost in the shuffle. If you find someone worth listening to, let us all in on the news, but do it with a thick skin. We’ll either agree with your astute observation or toss your suggestion onto the large musical rubbish heap that we all have.
Hey rockers, I saw a great documentary on an illustrator named Christoph Neimann. Here’s a link to his website:
He’s done over 20 covers for the New Yorker and his illustrations and graphics are all around us. This guy is just remarkably creative, and what he comes up with is really interesting, thought-provoking, and fun. Just check out his website if you don't believe me. The documentary is Episode 1 of the Netflix series entitled Abstract: The Art of Design. It’s worth the time.
Oh, and speaking of Netflix, be sure to watch Wild Wild Country about guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (also called Osho) and how he and his followers descended upon the tiny town of Antelope, Oregon to set up a new community called Rajneeshpurum. It’s all happy commune b.s. for a while, but ultimately turns into attempted murder, poisonings, massive amounts of money and Rolls Royces, and AK-47s. Osho is one of those guys who use the cultist technique of hypnotic induction to seduce young and wealthy westerners who find him profound. It’s a six-part series, but will keep you interested throughout.
Do you like the pictures I sprinkled throughout? They’re all royalty and copyright free from pixabay.com/ It’s a fun site to waste some time on while you’re at the office pretending to work.
I’m off to see some great live music this weekend in the City of Brotherly Love. I hope you do something fun, and if our paths cross, give me a shout. Thanks for reading, and check back soon.
Springtime in Philly
It's April 5. It's springtime. My garden has some flowers popping out. But it's freezing outside here in Philly. It feels like winter. Worse, come this weekend, it's going to be winter again - snow on Saturday and again on Monday.
If you're like me, you dig the warm weather. Where the hell is the climate change? Bring it on! But alas, BRP faithful, I don't want to be labeled as a whiner. So here are some videos to make you think "yummy, Summer is here."
Let's start with some surfing, ok? Kelly Slater is to surfing what Michael Jordan is to basketball: the greatest ever. Take a look at this montage, and ask yourself how a guy who grew up in Cocoa Beach, Florida ever became so comfortable on big waves. That J-Bay ride is amazing, as is the Backdoors one at Pipeline. But that last barrel - how did he pull that off? Regardless, surfing still inspires thoughts of summer here, and this helps to make me feel warm.
How about some music? I thought you would never ask. I'm just going to throw a couple of the best summer songs out there, and hope that they stick on you. Ready? Here goes:
Sly and the Family Stone, "Hot Fun in the Summertime". Do I need to say more? This song is slow-grooving but great, and always makes me think of warm, breezy days hanging out with family and friends. And I dress just like Sly himself, haha.
How about some Wilco? "Heavy Metal Drummer" is a good one. These guys are great live, but never, and I mean never, listen to an interview with Jeff Tweedy. You've been warned.
I'm hardly an Eagles fan (band, not football team), but Don Henley cut a great summertime track called "Boys of Summer." You got your wayfarer's on, baby?
One last song, and then I'm gone. Dick Dale is one messed up dude now, but he invented surf rock, and "Let's Go Trippin'" is the best of the best. Listen to it while watching Kelly Slater tear up those waves and you will be stoked forever. And hey, if you followed the Grateful Dead you were known as a Dead Head. If you follow Dick Dale, what are you known as? Bingo!
Well, that worked for me. I'm warm and kicking off my shoes now. Where did I leave those flip flops?
Think warm thoughts and we'll get there. I'm off to see some ska on Friday and then Yo La Tango on Saturday. That should be hot, hot, hot! Enjoy yourselves!
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.