The Mighty Menzingers
How was your Thanksgiving? Mine was good, thanks for asking. But come Saturday night, it was time to step out, skip watching football games, and go see some live music. And luckily the pride of Scranton, the Menzingers, were heading up a triple bill at Union Transfer. Perfect!
For those not in Philly, Saturday night was foul. We got a couple of inches of rain and it was chilly out. But you don’t shovel rain, right? That’s the BRP spirit – always silver lining it – hahaha. But the truly great part was that we drove to Philly in a deluge, but found a close parking space, and then got inside and grabbed a great spot near the front left of the stage, maybe 6 or 7 rows back. I knew this would be a heavy moshing show, and while I used to like to mix it up in the pit, I’m getting too old for that stuff, Getting away from the front/middle of the stage is key to avoiding the worst of the moshing. But there are times when some socially acceptable random violence against strangers is still OK by me, including Saturday night. More on that below.
I told you that this was a triple bill, and the first two bands were both punk acts in line with the Menzingers. The first opener was called Daddy Issues, and was an all-female trio. I thought their name was funny, and they had some catchy, pop-punk songs that made their set enjoyable. The drums and bass could use some more rehearsal time to tighten up – it’s kind of problematic for a rhythm section not to be fully in sync especially when it’s 2/3 of the band – but that’s an issue that can be resolved easily enough. In fact, for me personally, it’s super easy to solve. Here it is: “go practice, ladies!” – and, voila, problem solved for BRP.
The second band was called Tiny Moving Parts. I was not familiar with them, but there was a hard core group of about 75 or so who were not only familiar with TMP, but knew the words to every song. It’s a little unusual for an opener to have such a following, and that made me hopeful. Alas, my hopes were dashed. TMP is nothing if not enthusiastic (the lead singer/guitarist Dylan Mattheisen, is very energetic on stage), and I think that they are all talented musicians, but man, their songs were cacophonic, lacking melody and structure, and seemingly were designed to be three guys each doing their own thing and occasionally circling back to play together. The drummer reminded me of an out-of-control Keith Moon (how’s that for a description?), just pounding away and not really forming the backbeat for the rest of the band. And while their cadre of fans seemed to enjoy the hell out of their set, singing along and moshing, I couldn’t wait for them to get their gear off stage and get the hell out of Philly. Otherwise, they were fine.
Finally, the Menzingers took the stage. Ryan and I had seen them before at the Queen in Wilmington, and we knew what to expect. They are pop-punk in the best sense, playing great tunes that you can sing along with, and interacting positively with the crowd – last time we saw them, they brought up a couple on stage and the dude proposed to his girlfriend. And we knew that they have a very devoted following. I don’t know how hundreds of people find the time to memorize the words to every song, but rest assured that America is not solely the land of overworked puritanical grinds. There are those who devote their full time and attention to drinking beer, smoking weed and memorizing lyrics to songs by the Menzingers. China, beware, you are forewarned.
Anyway, I really like the Menzingers. They are a local band in the sense that they dusted Scranton off their feet about 10 years ago and moved to Philly where they now hang their cleats. So they aren’t Kurt Vile, born and reared within the city limits, but we’ll take them as a positive inflow to the musical scene of Philly.
Being thus local, the place was sold out and hopping. Have you noticed that Union Transfer can move its stage and make for more floor space? Well, it’s true, and on this night, they had the stage pushed back as far as possible to maximize the floor space. There were lots of people ready to party and have a good time.
I already told you that we had a great spot off to the side of the stage. Good sightlines, and close enough to see exactly what was happening up there. We were also close enough to see the large amount of crowd surfing that was taking place about 15 feet from us. I noticed that it was basically the same people going up, over and over again. The crowd shoved them to the front of the stage where three piped bouncers safely caught them and got their feet back on the ground (except for one guy who wasn’t pushed front and center and was basically tossed from head height to the soft concrete floor and emerged about 10 seconds later looking dazed – I don’t know if he was truly hurt, but in the law, this is called “assuming the risk” and my tiny little black heart had zero sympathy for the dude).
Anyway, the crowd surfers all emerged from the front of the stage and came right by Ryan and me before they pushed their way back into the mosh pit. Most just went on by, no biggie, but one dude kept pushing, shoving and elbowing both of us as he went by. Hey, dude, we moved out of the way to avoid that crap! Anyway, we watched for when he came by the next time, and both gave him a socially acceptable random act of violence, aka, we both elbowed and nailed the hell out of him, and then he stopped with that b.s. Problem solved! In the law, that’s called “self-help.”
Oh, and the other great thing about our location was that the parents of the year decided to bring their 6 or 7 year old to the show with them, and stood right by us. In fairness, they did put earphones on him. That being said, the Menzingers didn’t come on stage until after 10, and it was a punk show with copious flows of alcohol, lots of f-bombs coming from the stage, and other “adults only” kinds of things happening. The kid has plenty of times to veer into social deviance when he gets to be a teenager – no need to give him a 10 year head start compared to his peers. I hope he was cranky and a brat the entire next day.
Hey, did I mention that the Menzingers were playing? Yeah, they came out and immediately ripped into After the Party, a crowd-pleaser (and BRP fave) that set the tone: we are going to have fun. The band played a ton of their best tunes, including House on Fire, I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore, Your Wild Years, etc., and they never really slowed the pace down. The crowd loved it. The last song, Telling Lies, could be an arena-rock special, with parts where you can pump your fist and other parts where you can sing “oh oooooh” and we did just that. It was a great way to finish.
The band was clearly enjoying themselves up there. Greg Barnett, the southpaw guitarist and singer, was smiling throughout the show, and Tom May, the other dude on guitars, is like the Energizer bunny bouncing and jamming. Joe Godino on drums and Eric Keen on bass are a tight rhythm section that drive the songs forward. The band played a little over an hour and a half, which ain’t great, but it’s a full-on onslaught and there is a lot of energy expended. Money well spent? Hells yes! In the words of Radnor News, a good time was had by all (except, perhaps, that one crowd surfer).
Onward and upward. Next up, it’s another road trip to see a HUGE act, and then it’s back to Philly to close out the year with some great pre-Christmas extravaganzas. Here at BRP, we’ll also be digging in to the important question of what bands did I wish I had seen, wished I hadn’t seen, or otherwise. Just remember, you’re not too old to go have some fun in the clubs. Rock on, my good friends, and keep checking back for more great stuff. And I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving!
Rockin' Road Trip, Red Rose Style
Welcome back to part two of my recent rock 'n' roll road trip to DC. If you missed the first part, just scroll on down and get caught up. I'll wait for you.
OK, ready? Cool. As you now know, we weren't planning on a second show during the trip, but saw the poster above telling us that Caroline Rose was playing and we were all over it. It's serendipitous in a number of ways. First, we only recently learned of Rose, but really liked what we heard. Next, we found out that she was playing in Philly on Friday night, but we were already heading to DC. To find out she was playing in DC on Saturday and that we could modify our evening plans to accommodate the show, well, it was just fate.
We aren't the only ones just discovering Rose. She had previously released a couple of folk/roots albums, and then changed up her style with her most recent release Loner. The new album is poppy, filled with sarcastic and irreverent songs full of humor, and quickly got notice from the alternative music scene. The songs use a lot of synthesizers, but also a lot of guitar. Trust me on this: she is good.
And the girl is smart. She graduated from Wellesley with an architecture degree. The stage set that was on display in DC was really cool with a lot of interesting touches (I'll come back to this later) and must be inspired by her sense of design. Or maybe that's complete b.s., and she is just funky and funny. Whatever, she put the funk into functional and incorporated a lot of props into her set that instantly told us that she is a different and interesting personality.
I have to tell you a bit more about our adventures before I get into the show details. I hope you don't mind, but if so, just skim this part and head on down to the meat.
As I told you last time, we saw the show advertised at a club along the Wharf in DC. I tried to buy tickets on the spot, but the bouncer told me that the box office was closed, so we took off. Logging on the next morning, I got on TicketFly and cadged our tickets. I was strongly considering driving down to the Wharf to catch the show, but ultimately decided to Uber there. That was a good decision. It turns out that the show was at a completely different theater far from the Wharf, and I would have been one pissed off hombre had I parked the car and found out I was miles from my intended destination.
But it all turned out well because the venue was a recently renovated Miracle Theater in southeast on Capitol Hill. The original Miracle opened about 100 years ago, was primarily a vaudeville and movie house, and appears to have served the African American community (based on the photos around the place).
Anyway, the place was renovated, and now shows movies, has live music, and also has church services. I know, its an interesting mix, sort of like the First Unitarian Church in Philly. I took a couple of photos so you could get a flavor of the place. Check out the RED interior - it impacted Caroline Rose because she usually hangs a big red banner behind the stage, but since it was red, they thought it would blend in too much. Instead, they opened up the curtain, exposed the movie screen and showed a crackling yule fire as the background - hence the pictures of fire in my concert photos.
Enough of the venue and my adventures getting there. How was the show? It was really fun. Opening was the band And The Kids who were quite entertaining and had some really good tracks. I took a number of pictures of them (which is unusual for me - I generally don't waste much time on openers), and you can check them out below.
Finally, it was time for the main event. We pushed our way into the standing room only space before the stage and ended up in the second row center. Does the Kid know how to live or what? This gave us ample time to check out the stage prior to the show. There was a synthesizer with the words "KEY BORE D" on it. A stuff cat sitting on top of the synth. Fake roses twisted up the microphone stand. And lots of other flotsam and jetsam around the stage.
Finally, the band came out. I didn't catch the names of everyone, but her "best friend" Abby plays the guitar and synth (and can move on stage, let me tell you). There is also a female bassist who was totally into the show, bouncing and jumping around the stage. And the only male was the drummer (the "balls of the band" we were told), and he was cool enough to let Caroline tell us he wears shorts while performing and making him show us his legs - pictures below. And Caroline played around a lot. Yes, that's her on her back cranking the guitar, and yes, that's her playing a mean kazoo. Oh, and chugging a beer, too. Fun!
And then there is Caroline, front and center. She is clearly comfortable on stage, and keeps up the red theme with her red track outfit. The band immediately ripped into songs from Loner and had the crowd way into it right from the start. Caroline's humor is evident in her stage demeanor. At one point, she picked up the stuffed cat, and messed around with some mechanical thing on its side until it finally "meowed" for the crowd. That brought a pretty big laugh.
But it's the music that really hit home. Songs like More of the Same, a riff on the lack of individuality among people at a party, Soul No. 5, a bouncy rave up that had the crowd dancing and grooving, and Bikini, a hilarious goof. Other songs, like the power pop of Cry allow Rose to express the torment espoused at women, but in a way that ultimately brushes off the invective. Rose clearly has punk influences (the 70s style stuff from the UK), but also pop influences (think Justin Timberlake or Britney Spears). Her lyrics are witty, wry, urbane, and full of the struggles that haunt us all, such as loneliness, belonging and anxiety. Perfect BRP material.
But the girl also has serious stage chops. This is one fun live show, with all of the band members contributing to the rollicking good vibes flowing toward the crowd. Regular readers know that I love bands that not only play their songs, but also perform. Think Low Cut Connie toned down a bit, and you get Caroline Rose's idiosyncratic show. How unique is it? Well, the only cover song that she played was Britney Spear's Toxic, a song that doesn't normally register on the cool-o-meter of indie rock fans, but that was not only accepted but embraced by the hipster crowd in DC. You gotta have presence and credibility to pull that off.
It was a pretty quick show, clocking in at less than 1.5 hours, but it was a highly entertaining night. Rose thanked everyone for coming out, noting that this was the last show on the band's current tour (and making that two nights in a row for "last shows of the tour" for us), and saying that she had the best job in the world. I think she means it: the road suits her and she seems to have quite a future ahead of her. Let's hope the next musical output from Caroline matches the wall-to-wall quality of Loner and then we'll be off to the races.
Up next for me is a return trip to Union Transfer for a triple bill headlined by the pride of Scranton, the Menzingers. I need a punk/pop fix like you wouldn't believe, and that should be just the ticket. Then I'll close out November with yet another arena show, and you'll be surprised to hear who I'm checking out this time. Come back soon and I'll fill you in.
In the meantime, thanks for reading and keep coming back for more. If you like what you see, tell your friends - and let them know that it's just fun here with no commercials trying to sell you things. Got it? Damn, you're good. See you later.
A Giant Rock Road Trip
I know I told you that I was going to get on the road for a rock 'n' roll road trip. The trip turned out great and was bigger than even I had planned. Yes, Mr. Insufferable turned into Mr. Spontaneous and doubled down on the road. I'll fill you in on the entire trip - all you have to do is check back over the next few days.
Before we get into that, don't you detest writers that start an article with a quote from someone famous, or worse, insert untranslated foreign phrases into the body of the article? It implies that they are more learned or somehow superior to you, the reader, upon whom they fully depend. I guess it's better than writers who are condescending (that means talking down to people), but it's right up there with the person who is listening to you grouse about someone or the other who then says that they don't judge people anymore. Well, you just judged me there, Blackstone. The fact that people do this sans gene makes me want to barf.
Where was I before I headed down this needless path? Oh yeah, a rock 'n' roll road trip, DC style. Say what? DC is a big city, but for a big city, it's not like it has the most dynamic rock scene in the country. But it has been coming on as of late, with a slew of new venues and plenty of solid shows rolling through town. And it's completely overrun with millennials and their beards, tattoos, avocado toast and disposable income (given that they own, well, nothing).
Friends of ours laid down the smack and said that they wanted to go to a show and picked Young the Giant at the Anthem. We responded with our rally cry of "we're there," and we were.
As you know, BRP is originally from the DC area, but I have to tell you that this city has substantially changed since I left. Yes, the crime rate went down (and correspondingly, has risen in Philly), but I'm talking about huge changes. One of them is the waterfront in SW off of Maine Avenue. When I lived there, this was where you went to buy fresh fish from the group of fishmongers who lined the docks. They are still there, off to one side, but the area has been transformed with new condos, hotels, restaurants, bars and the Anthem, a large, well done live music venue that is the heart of the redeveloped area. The entire redevelopment cost something like $2 billion, at least $1 billion of which was spent disposing of the stinking fish soil that underlay the entire area. It's impressive.
Young the Giant was just the latest of the big acts to roll through the Anthem. They filled the place, and brought a solid show with them. It was the last stop on their recent North American tour, and that lead to some fun silliness at the end of the act. They also brought with them a bunch of hits, like My Body and Cough Syrup that had the crowd rocking and partying.
We weren't in normal BRP territory. Nope, no standing room tickets with accompanying pushing and shoving to the front of the stage. This time we sprang for seats, and ended up with unobstructed visuals from the upper deck. I have to tell you: the Anthem is a big place, and the standing room section is huge. It holds up to 6,000 people, which means it's over twice the size of the Fillmore in Philly. But it basically looks a lot like a bigger version of the Fillmore, with seats above the standing room floor, and bars on the sides. Unlike the Fillmore, it does not take cash - cards only - which means that it takes a while to get through those bar lines (and the owners aren't ripped off continually by their staff).
I did move around and get some shots of the band from the side - they are much closer than our seats, not that our seats were bad. The stage is big, and the band had plenty of room to stretch out and strut their stuff. Sameer Gadhia, the lead singer, danced, jumped and strutted around, leading the band through their paces and firing up the crowd. He reminded me of myself when I was about 8 in his high water pants (I at least had the excuse that my hand-be-downs were put on a growing lad), but he has a fine voice and a good touch of showmanship with the crowd.
The band did a good job of rolling through their big songs, keeping the pace of the show managed so that the crowd was satiated, and enjoying themselves at the end of their tour by allowing their manager and stage crew to join them on stage during their last tune. It was fun, and we all came out satisfied with a good night of rock 'n' roll.
So here's the cool part. We head out onto the waterfront promenade and head to another bar to keep the good times rolling. We hear live music playing and find ourselves in the Union Stage. A poster on the wall announces that Caroline Rose is playing the next night in DC, and we go, "whoa, we missed her in Philly, and here's our chance to make amends." Did we do that? Hey, it's BRP, what do you think?
You guys check back soon as I bring you some more on this DC road trip. I think you'll find it entertaining. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and enjoyed time with family and friends. I know that at this point you've probably had enough turkey (and, perhaps, family?) and you need something to bring you back to the trivial and silly things in life that keep you going, like BRP. I'm glad you swung by to check it out, but you'll need to come back again and again because I have to catch you up on Caroline Rose. Oh, and the Menzingers at Union Transfer in Philly. And another road trip coming up this week, this time to see one of the biggest acts ever to come out of the rock era. Phew, it's hard to keep up with the happenings of this biggggg November! See you soon.
“Our lives are defined by opportunities. Even the ones we miss.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
I was recently asked a provocative question: if I could see any band, or go back in time and see any band in their prime, who would it be? Wow. That’s a very hard question. My answer was fumbling and rambling, but first went to Elvis in his black leather days, then to the Beatles anytime, and then David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust tour. Since then, I’ve spent far too much time thinking about this question.
I’ve been around a long time, so I’ve seen a lot of the “great” classic rock, punk and new wave bands, including a number of them in their primes. I could bore you with the list, but that seems egotistical and beside the point. Instead, let’s go through bands that I wish I had seen, and then, tantalizingly, bands I never want to see (some of whom I did see – more on that later). We’ll do it in multiple parts, starting with the wish list.
Here are the rules: (a) Any band/artist is allowed, including ones that are dead or who have said they will never tour again. BRP is nothing if not Lazarus-like in this regard. (b) I’m sticking to the rock genre. If you want to say “what about Lead Belly? What about Sinatra?” you can do so, but I’m not listing them because they aren’t rockers. (c) If they are obvious and are not listed, I probably saw them. You can still comment on my selections, but recognize that I’m old and have been to hundreds of shows, so just by living a lengthy life, I’ve seen a lot of bands. Choose your comments, wisely, young grasshopper. (d) I’ll give a reason why I want/don’t want to see each artist, and you can bitch all you want about my reason. But back it up, baby, because I’ll go right back at ya! (e) I’m a bad boy, a sometime rule follower, and rules are made to be broken, so I might violate my own rules and do whatever I want. So maybe I’ll put Robert Johnson or Earl Scruggs in there anyway just because I want to. (f) I’ll only do ten artists at a time.
You cool with all that? Excellent. You ready to go? Great, hop in, seat belts are optional because I’ve never learned how to buckle one, and yes, you can turn up the volume on the radio when you hear something you like. I’ll try to go slow around the corners so that you don’t spill your beer.
Artists I Wish I Had Seen, Part One
2. Thin Lizzy. Phil Lynott is dead, but I loved TL. I still listen to them, and own a great vinyl live album that proves what strong performers they were. I think they toured when I was low on cash, but I know that they once toured as openers for Graham Parker and the Rumour – now, that double-bill would have been killer. TL was so much more than The Boys Are Back In Town, but I love that song, particularly on a warm early-spring night with the car windows down and the volume up.
3. The Sex Pistols. On their one and only American tour, the Pistols were going to play a show at the Alexandria Roller Rink in Virginia. Why there? Who knows? We were all set to go. But the tour fizzled out somewhere in Texas, and they never played live together again. While I could have missed the spit that was hurled by the crowd at the band, and vice versa, it still would have been great to see this band rip it up. Terrible musicians, they were all attitude and had some seminal punk “hits” that I still love. This was a band that was destined to break up from the minute they were formed, but not before they changed the world. And Sid Vicious is the epitome of Punk. 'Nuff said.
4. Jimi Hendrix. I was too young to have a fighting chance to see Hendrix before he died, but my brother was a big fan, and we listened to a lot of Jimi growing up. A guitarist that is still hailed today as revolutionary, he also had a soulful voice and stage presence that made him super special. The fact that we never got to see him get old or go through an artistic slump only makes the desire worse: we know exactly what his show would have been. It’s a bummer in many ways.
5. James Brown. Why is JB the Godfather of Soul? He is the King of Funk! Could this guy groove and dance or what? His videos are almost too fantastic to believe – how could they not be retouched? And his songs! It would have been an all-night groove-a-thong. JB was hard on the musicians that played with him, drumming into them the quest for musical perfection, and he was accompanied by greats, like Bootsy. Probably a crappy boss, but he made sure that they gave it their best every time out. And a full set of horns, too! My, oh my, would this have been spectacular.
6. The Beatles. I love the Beatles. I would have loved to catch them before Beatlemania completely kicked in. How awesome is it that the first track on their first album, I Saw Her Standing There from Please Please Me, is one of my all-time favorite songs? Can you imagine them playing that song in the Cavern Club in Liverpool before a few hundred people, and you’re one of them? Sure, they never lost their artistic ability and grew by leaps and bounds into the best rock band ever, but catching any band young and on-the-rise is exciting as hell. But truth be told, I would have liked to have seen the Beatles at any time in their career. They toured like crazy for a few years, and must have been pretty damn fine as a live band. Sigh.
7. Cream. I dare you to go listen to any Cream album and not go “damn, these guys were GREAT!” Good songs? Check. Great musicians? Check. Rock legends? Checkmate. You have Clapton in his prime, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker, one of rock’s best drummers ever and a certifiable nut case. I love a number of their songs, but I Feel Free is my favorite. Would’ve been great to see.
8. The Jam. One of my all-time favorite bands, the Jam were part of the new punk movement that blasted out of the UK in 1976-77. They put out a stunning set of albums with many a great tune among them. All of them are still alive, and they could get back together again and tour if they wanted to do so. But Paul Weller refuses, saying that the Jam was a time and place, and he is basically done with that time and place. I respect that he never wants to go back. But then again, I would be most thankful if they did one more show. In Philly. With me in the front row.
9. Sonic Youth. Don’t ask me why I never saw them. I had my chances and blew it. Life is like that, sometimes. I don’t know how great of a live band SY would be, but I really like their studio output. It rocks, uses feedback that is cool but doesn’t detract from the songs themselves, and they explored a lot of territory in their time together. Another band that could, potentially, reunite for another tour, BRP is here to suggest that they do just that.
10. Prince. Another one on the “I could’ve but blew it” list, Prince was an amazing artist. His blend of everything great about popular music, and his embrace of tunefulness and rock/funk mastery, made him a legend. It’s now too late, but his live performances must have been magical. I’ve never met a person who saw him who said anything other than “he was one of the best performers I’ve ever seen.” And yet, I didn’t see him. Poor poor pitiful me.
That’s a pretty good start, right? I wish that I were done, and that I had seen all the other performers that I wanted to see. That just isn’t the case. I’ll be back soon with volume 2.
In the meantime, I’m also coming up with the list of those that I’m glad I never saw. Now, that list is harder because it has to be bands that carry some aura about them – I’m not going to waste time on turds like Supertramp – and that list will be nothing if not controversial. Hold onto your hats because that post (or is it posts?) will be KILLER.
And maybe a list of those I saw and either (a) was pleasantly surprised or (b) was terribly disappointed. Yeah, I’ll get to those ones, too. This is kind of fun.
Have a good one, go see some live music, and keep the rock alive. Don’t miss out – you’ll rue the day.
Why, hello there! I figure you are poking around looking for something different and interesting to read, which makes me wonder why in the heck you stopped at BRP? Well, as long as you are here, I’ll try to entertain you for a bit. Good luck with that, right?
As you know, I occasionally will drift away from traditional rock and go see bands that exemplify a much different type of musical genre. That was the case last Saturday at the Ardmore Music Hall when Yonder Mountain String Band blew into town. Do you know this outfit? They are a modern day “newgrass” band, playing bluegrass with a modern riff, sort of like alt-country except using the bluegrass musical form as their base.
You might remember that I grew up in Virginia and attended college (oops, VT, which is sort of like college without all the smart people) in the Appalachians. Bluegrass is still a part of the fabric of life in non-Northern Virginia, and the closer you get to Tennessee, the more you’re likely to hear it. It’s not the only mountain tradition still thriving as the moonshiners in Franklin County can attest, but it’s legal and less risky to partake in bluegrass than it is in backyard Apple Jack. Anyway, bluegrass has its traditions in Irish and English music, and developed further with the blues and other African musical influences. Put all of that into the hollers of the Appalachians, let it brew and stew for generations, and voila!, you get newgrass.
OK, here are a couple of things to note about bluegrass. First, it ain’t all Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, and if you don’t venture beyond those two guys, you will miss a lot. Nonetheless, they are a good place to start. Second, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys gave its name to the music, and they also defined the style: mandolin, banjo, fiddle, bass, and guitar are the primary elements. Finally, the music is high spirited and a “breakdown” is the name for much of what happens during live shows: each instrumentalist takes a turn playing the melody and improvising, while the others accompany, much like jazz performances. It’s country jam band stuff with banjos.
Enough of the roots. Just let it be said that this is Americana hillbilly music of the best sort, and like my dad’s Thanksgiving turkey stuffing, your love for it is born into you in the southern Appalachians and everyone else struggles to understand what all the fuss is about. I always liked it, and here’s a damn good reason why:
Holy crap, how good is that! If that doesn't make you want to jump up and dance like a crazy person, you need a defibrillator. And what a musical cast! So dance around like this guy in one of the best hillbilly movies ever made:
Let me just clarify that Ned Beatty wasn't at AMH on Saturday.
Your history lesson now completed, let me tell you about Yonder Mountain and try to enlighten you to the experience of seeing them live. I will start by saying that each of the musicians was absolutely top flight. Their riffs were tight, up-tempo, and difficult to play. The guy on the mandolin, in particular, was just spectacular. The accompanying musicians carried on as if they knew exactly what their jamming compatriot was going to do, but also as if they were hearing it for the first time and enjoying it themselves. It was probably a combination of both.
Who is Yonder Mountain? I’m glad you asked. They are Dave Johnston, Ben Kaufmann, Adam Aijala, Allie Kral, and Jacob Joliff, and the band has five studio albums out. Want to know more? Here’s a link to their website:
And finally, their songs were long – I’m thinking about 10 minutes each – which I thought was interesting but which bored my friends/fellow concert goers. Of course, I was right in my firmly held belief that they were interesting and the others were, well, wrong, but I could see how some of the tunes could have been tightened up a bit.
Then again, this was no Phish or Dead concert. They played a number of songs, and it wasn’t the experience of having a slow tune of 20 minutes thrown into the mix with lengthy solos so that the others could take some time off to take a toke. No sir. These tunes moved along briskly, and if the others were just accompanying, well, that required some effort. Toe tapping was the mode of the evening.
I will say that the song selection was interesting. They played a bunch of their own tunes, but also some covers, like America’s Sister Golden Hair (done at warp speed, thank god) and King Harvest’s Dancing In The Moonlight (a true BRP favorite). There were some other covers thrown in where I knew the song but not the title/artist, so apologies all around for that. I will say that I’m not a very big fan of the band America (as pretentious a band name as could ever be found) even though one of its members went to VT.
I can’t leave without mentioning the opener, a dude named Brad Parsons. He played with a band called Starbird, and we all liked them. Alt-country and rock all the way, but some country bro’ music thrown in, too. He’s from Portland but would be right at home in Nashville. Check ‘em out if you get the chance. Here's a couple of pictures, and yes, he looks like every scruffy millennial with that beard:
Up next, I’m doing the rock ‘n’ roll road trip down to DC’s new Anthem club. I’ll fill you in later on the band that has me driving a couple of hours, but suffice to say, I’m looking forward to being in a new venue and getting back to seeing some rock. And then, of course, I’ll chill at home for Thanksgiving before hitting the road again the following week to see one of rock’s biggest stars. Are you keeping up? Life’s for living, as the great band the Lovin’ Spoonful told us.
Did you listen to Rolling Blackouts, Flasher or Caroline Rose? Great, right? You know I’ll never steer you wrong, and if I do, the blame’s on you not me, ok? I remember telling people that there were no bad records in my massive collection, but there were people who listened to those records who didn’t appreciate good music. Hahaha, what a pretentious Mr. Insufferable I’ve become! Thanks for reading and I hope you have a good one. Ya’ll come back soon now, y’hear!?!
Just to Hold You Over
I'm busy writing up my latest live review, and I'll get that posted soon. In the meantime, how about listening to a couple of tracks that have come into my orbit recently? I'm glad you're game.
First up is Franco with Castaway. This song rocks! Franco is a 4 man band playing a mix of alternative, grunge, psychedelia and metal. In other words, they are a rock band. Ready to give them a listen? I thought you would never ask.
Have you ever heard of Caroline Rose? She is FANTASTIC! Caroline has only recently come into my world, and I'm glad for it. She grew up listening to classic British new wave and punk, so you know she's got taste. Here's a fantastic song that has me jumping for joy: Soul Number 5.
If you think Courtney Barnett is the only good thing coming out of Australia lately, you are wrong. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is a great pop band needing to be heard. This music makes me think it's time to fire up the grill, turn up the music and dance around on a warm evening. Oh well, too late for that on the East Coast as we're getting ready to head into winter here, but in Australia? It's time to party! Listen to this song, Talking Straight. Then go buy your plane ticket to Oz.
Surf punk out of DC? Hey, why not? Flasher is perfecting the art in the nation's capital, and it's a good thing for all of us. It's about time that DC delivered the goods, right? Check out Destroy. It's not the best video out there, but far from the worst. And the tune is great. Check out Skim Milk, too. Wonderful! And a great band name, too.
That's enough for now. I need to get the writeup going on last night's show. Talk to you soon. What, sad to see me go so quickly? Keep smiling, it's almost BRP's favorite holiday, Thanksgiving! A big meal with friends and family, football out the ying yang, and 4 days off from the oppressive Man. What could be better? And I'll be back real soon with some tasty treats for everyone. Oooh, la la, the Kid has great things in store for those smart enough to swing by and see what's happening in the land of BRP.
It's post-election, and thankfully we won't be suffering through election ads on TV for the next few months. Robo-calls? Nada, we are free for a bit. Now we can debate something that actually matters: hip hop and rock 'n roll.
I'm a rocker, flat out. I love guitar, melody, big drums and power. Rock is still the king of live music - I know this because that respected musical publication, the Wall Street Journal, told me so - but hip hop rules the dance clubs, airwaves and streaming. Has the nation ever been this divided before? Hell no, never. It’s high time to acknowledge that rock ain’t carrying the day anymore. It’s a hip-hop world now! Does that make you feel better or worse? It just makes me want to lose myself.
I have been noodling on this post for a long time. I first started it months ago when I saw Kendrick Lamar’s halftime show during the college football playoffs. That’s the first time that it really smacked me in the face that I’m a dinosaur because I thought the show was B-O-R-I-N-G. He jumps around, grabs his crotch, and yells/shouts/speaks (sings?) a bunch of indecipherable lyrics over a drum machine heavy hip-hop beat. No guitar heroes. No actual drum kits. No great solos or hooks to the songs. But plenty of people packed into Millenium Park in Atlanta to see the show. And they all seemed to like it.
Did you watch that video? It has 563 MILLION views. Yowza, for that? I haven’t seen that many bald heads since the last time I was at a CLE. How do you explain hip-hop’s popularity? Maybe it’s because hip-hop is more danceable than rock? Maybe, but the new wave scene put out tons of great dance tunes, like this one:
But hip-hop certainly has its moments. There are good songs that have come out of the genre, and the influence on America’s (and the world’s) popular culture is beyond debate. It is here to stay, carried with it by its massive audience hungering for the next Kanye, Eminem, or Drake. Heck, even old-school rappers like Jay-Z, Nelly and Tupac are listened to fondly by middle-aged people at weddings and celebrations. I even will occasionally listen to some rap/hip-hop, and know the “big” songs enough to do the suburban shuffle while at some fund-raiser in my tux.
Maybe hip-hop’s popularity is about the authenticity of speaking today’s culture through the more modern musical form. Hmmm, so how does that explain that hip-hop is primarily an African-American musical genre that is focused on a small sub-set of that community, the one that hails from or lives in the ‘hood. But even rockers lived lives that their audiences didn’t share, you know, completely alcohol-and-drug-filled and outrageously slutty, a lifestyle that led to lots of dysfunction, dissatisfaction and death. So while you can’t see the direct correlation of hip-hop lifestyles to the huge suburban audiences who still primarily live their lives in comfortable neighborhoods and cloister themselves with their phones and internet connections, it’s no more difficult to bridge that gap than it was back in the rock days. Want to hear some true suburban music? OK, you didn’t say no, and yes, it’s rock. Well, sort of:
Of course, hip-hop’s popularity could simply be an alternative to “Big Rock,” a sound that basically has nothing new or compelling to say that hasn’t already been said, or any new compelling songs that attract big audiences. It’s really true that the pre-recorded music mega-sellers these days have few rock acts in the club. U2, Metallica, Springsteen and the Foo Fighters remain, but even those bands are not dominating the charts. And with the death of Tom Petty, we lost one of our most reliable rockers. The charts are full of manufactured pop acts, hip-hop stars, or some poppy-rocky combo some of whom, like Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga or Coldplay, I like considerably but don’t really give me the hard edge that I love so much. Here’s a good one from this era:
But can rock just die for this reason? Country continues to have pretty strong legs after about 100 years of output, and it’s most recent success has been moving more into harder, more rockin’ music. Where are the rockers? Well, they are out there, but now they are on the fringes. And I’m here to argue that that is for the best.
Rock has gone through some bad moments before. I was never a big fan of the highly technical and grossly extravagant music that came out of bands like ELP, Yes, and their cohorts, and don’t get me started on bands like Supertramp, REO Speedwagon and Styx. It took music from the fringes to blow that crap out of the way and get rock back to its roots. Yep, I’m talking the Ramones, Iggy, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, X and the rest of the punk/new wave movement. And it needs to be remembered that those bands remained on the fringe for quite a while and did not sell millions of albums or pack stadiums. They lived in the clubs and on the edges. But their influences were huge and started a rampage that overwhelmed the big money bands of the day. And even that movement got too strung out until Nirvana came along and blew it all up again.
Rap is also having these protestant uprisings. Newer acts keep popping up challenging the orthodoxy, and rappers have the habit of calling each other out by name in their songs. It’s quite remarkable in some ways, but not unprecedented. After all, about 30 years ago, Skynyrd said that they hoped Neil Young remembered that a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow. The point being that rap/hip-hop is probably still in a healthy space with its creative destruction and “in with the new” mentality. It’s very American.
So what to make of rock? The baby boomer classic rock bands still go out and soak up millions from aging fans, but those same fans seem disinclined to look for new rock acts that pump the blood. Why not? Isn’t it boring listening to Led Zeppelin and the Stones over and over and over and over. The Gen Y and Millenials seem like they are satisfied with the classic rock coupled with the new pop and hip-hop stuff. But not all of them. There remain rockers out there and some of the new bands are damn good.
Maybe I’m a dying breed, but I know that rock still lives comfortably alongside of hip-hop. I go see live rock acts all the time. And this is vital and great stuff I’m talking about. They just aren’t getting major airplay, record company support, or front-and-center attention. These nascent acts are keeping the flame alive until the movement spawns another guy like Kurt Cobain who rises and drags the whole rock machinery out of its slumber and jams it back into America’s face, refusing to be ignored any longer.
That's one potential future. Or maybe rock will just live on as one of many genres that attract attention every now and again, but doesn’t dominate like it used to. You know, like jazz. Ugh, I can’t believe that I just wrote that line. It made my bowels watery, a deeply unsatisfying feeling. Jazz? A great American art form for sure, but way on the fringes of the musical scene, except in places like France.
Why is it so important for rock to resume its front and center place in American pop culture? Well, you don’t make records for them not to be heard. While great music will always find its intended audience sooner or later, there is a ton of effort that goes into making records. Writing, arranging, producing and marketing music is WORK, and a lot of it. Read about any rocker that actually does the composing and you’ll see how much effort goes into that exercise. You need ambition, drive, stamina and talent, probably in equal amounts, to succeed. And success still comes down to getting people to listen to and buy your music. Isn’t that the point? If the rewards are no longer there, the incentive to create may also slip away.
Yes, I can listen to and occasionally appreciate a good rap or hip-hop song. But much of it is just blah, blah, blah. For me, I still love great rock ‘n roll. I love the loud guitars, the driving beat, the lights and the show. The sheer energy. You know, the whole “2 minutes 59” blast that blows you away. I’m not nearly as into songs that are all about lyrics: that’s hip-hop territory with its clever use of slang and street to tell the story. I want catchy tunes where, sometimes, it’s about just the music. The story is short and sometimes sweet (and often nasty), but the big solo makes you want to play air guitar and contort your face in a way that would make even your mother cringe and say, “you’re right, he is kind of ugly.” And at the end, you hold up your hand and scream for more. Yeah, that’s it. Here are a couple of new bands that are bringing it:
I’m glad I finally got that off my chest. The division in America is stark, but co-existence works. Hey, rappers, come on in to the rock space and enjoy for a while – it’s accepting over here. And rockers, take some of that street savvy and anthemic lyrical sense and make it your own.
Anyway, I’m doing my part to hunt down and bring to you some great rock that is still happening out there. Now it’s your turn. Go out and see some great rock. And keep coming back to BRP to listen to me whine, cajole, cheer, hoot and holler – you know, have some fun with me. And pass the flame to someone you care about, ok? Perfecto.
Tidbits, November Style
Hey Rockers, it's been a while since I threw out some photos that I collected and tied them into the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Are you ready to get going on one of these again? OK, will you at least tolerate the depredations of a sick mind? Cool, I have that covered in spades. Let's roll.
I saw a picture of this guy and thought "this is what I looked like in college." Seriously, have you ever seen someone this messed up before? Of course you have! You love rock, right? This is what most rockers look like at about 8 in the morning. You're getting up and going to work, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and these guys are coming in from yet another late night of "creativity." Makes me think of a song by BTO - Taking Care of Business.
Remember that post from many months ago when I was trying to identify a great name for a rock band? Well, sometimes you need inspiration from a Buick Riviera. How about this name: Lawyer-Up. Again, a theme of mine from college. Kids, just so you know, there is no good night that ends in the back of a police car, although it can be pretty good up until that point.
Ever been to Amsterdam? It's a cool place. One very interesting thing is the huge variety of bikes that you see. The train station has bikes stacked in "parking" areas, and the stacks go up multiple levels. You see all kinds of crazy bikes, many of them ingenious in design. Here's a sample below. Just think of all the weed you can carry on that platform!
There is just so much wrong with clowns. I don't know where to begin. But I have a song that puts them in there place, and if you think it's Tears of a Clown, well, you're wrong. Guess what it is. No way do you get this one. It's as creepy as any clown trying to get a little kid to sample their wares.
Hot rods and rock 'n' roll go together like summer and fun. You can never go wrong with a song about cars. NRBQ has a ton of fantastic car songs, but when I saw this red T-bird, I knew that I could only go with one track. Can you guess the song? This is the layup of BRP posts - if you don't hit this one, you need to go back to the School of Rock.
I was in the Alps (uh oh, Mr. Unsufferable coming up) and at the top of Mt. Titlis in Switzerland, you can go through a tunnel of ice carved into a glacier. It's waaaay cool. In fact, it's downright cold. They put blue lights in it to make it look even cooler. I highly recommend it. And, no, I'm not putting Tunnel of Love on for the related song. Springsteen lost me with that album. I'm going to insult him with my choice of song, a true gut-buster.
By the way, blue lights on stage make your pictures come out great. Red lights on stage make them come out terrible. And when they pump in the dry ice "smoke," it takes away crisp site lines and makes them hazy, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. The dry ice smoke is funny - it used to be that people could actually smoke tobacco and weed at shows, and that made the venue smoky. Now, they artificially pump the "smoke" in - what's that all about?
Umlaut alert! Ha, that got your attention, right? How do you get away with a stupid bar name that uses a bad word? Umlaut it! Now that I think of it, just about every bar on the planet could use this name. I have a good friend who used to wear a t-shirt to parties. It read "Instant Asshole: Just Add Alcohol" A truer phrase was never spoken.
Yes, I like dogs. Hound dogs. Did you know that dachshunds are in the hound group? It's true, look it up. One question: how come the best dogs NEVER win best in show? The doxies are the cutest and most ill-behaved - that should get them a win every time! BRP is dachshund country in case you didn't know. And for you Badgers out there, I want you to look hard at your mortal enemy.
There are weird vending machines all over the world. On military bases, they dispense beers. Gas station rest rooms dispense condoms because, well, I guess there is no greater need for a condom than in a dirty gas station bathroom. In Japan, they dispense just about anything that you could imagine - I even saw panty hose in one, but I didn't buy them. But the Swiss dispense cheese. Yup, you want to be able to get your cheese jones itched no matter when it hits you. Sehr gut!
Is BRP a style maven? Um, well, maybe not. I try not to wear t-shirts that have writing on them, but other than that, I'm pretty humdrum. But there are times that I can be persuaded to wear truly silly stuff. I used to love polyester suits - you could wear them to a party, and if there was a pool in the back, swim in the suit - no worries, it won't lose it's shape! In fact, it will dry in about 5 minutes. Now, that's what I call style.
If there is one thing that I truly don't care about is the opinion of people that I don't know or those that I do know but dislike. That covers most of the world, but not you, BRP readers, because you know that I love you! Well, I might have a bad rep in some places (and probably well-earned, too), but that's because I am what I am. I'm like Popeye - an everyman who just accepts it. Not an elitist prig full of attitude.
And do you truly believe anything I just wrote?
OK, enough of this Tidbits. Next up for those keeping score at home, it's Yonder Mountain String Band at the Ardmore Music Hall. Bluegrass, baby, and yes, I'm from Virginia and, like the Apple Jack moonshine from Franklin County, that stuff is in my BLOOD.
Hey, have you seen Low Cut Connie yet? If not, fix that issue; that is one great live bar band. I have a couple of other shows teed up for November, too, but I'll keep you in suspense until those get closer. I see you sliding to the edge of your seat!
And I've been working on some other posts that will keep you entertained as the dark days of winter head our way. Just so you know, there is always light here at BRP, probably because you read it on an illuminated screen. Anyway, have a good one, rock your jowls off, and get right with the world.
Metallica. One word, many thoughts. One of the original “big four” thrash metal bands (along with Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth), Metallica has sustained a career that stretches back over 37 years. They still tour with some frequency, and they have a RABID fan base. I remember seeing a movie on Metallica years ago where they were accused of being sell-outs, and the response to that question from Kirk Hemmett (lead guitarist) was, yeah, we’re sellouts, we sell out every venue we hit. Take that, critics!
The band has never shifted from their aggressive, hard driving metal sound. In fact, when you see them live, and if you aren’t a huge fan, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference of one song to the next. But their fans know each song as soon as the first note is struck. And once they bust into song, there is a ton of interaction between the band and their fans.
I have seen Metallica before, but only in a stadium setting, and this show was at the smaller Wells Fargo Center (it “only” holds about 18,000 or so). Good seats? Yeah, for an arena, but nothing compared to what I usually snag at the clubs. You’re right, I don’t usually get ANY seat at a club as it’s standing room only, but I’m close to the stage and able to see facial expressions and the whatnot that occurs during a show. You can tell from the pictures that this was a different environment.
The last time I saw Metallica they had two openers, one of them Avenged Sevenfold. AS is one of the biggest of the “new” metal acts, and they rocked hard. I was expecting something similar here, but was shocked to find that there was no opening act. Instead, they put out some ass-clown to try and huckster the crowd through about an hour of pre-Metallica hype. It was the most bizarre rock show experience. Seriously, they pulled fans from the crowd and had them compete in Metallica trivia contests. One dude in the crowd threw a beer onto the stage, and while that is supremely uncool, it was indicative of the frustration that all shared. C’mon, already, play some music!
You can see from the setlist (generously put together by the cool folks at setlist.fm) that Metallica played a number of their “hits,” songs such as For Whom The Bell Tolls, Master of Puppets and Enter Sandman. They roared through an 18 song set that had the crowd fired up and wanting more. And the distribution across the band’s albums was pretty good – nothing from Load, but plenty of other albums were represented. Check it out:
As with any major arena act, a Metallica show isn’t just about the music. There is the obligatory James Hetfield call-out to the Metallica “family” (um, based on the crowd around us, maybe not the ones you want around your Thanksgiving table), blasts of fire from the set, four drums set up for each member to bang on, and a first for me, a bunch of lighted drones that circled the stage. There were video boards that moved up and down and showed all kinds of cool and revolting things. And the band had a stage-in-the-round set-up that allowed each member to move around and interact with the crowd from every angle – even Lars Ullrich’s drum set rotated. Couple all of that with lots (and lots) of beer, a hyped-up crowd, and heavy metal thrash and you have all the makings of a compelling live show.
Hey, a word about Lars, ok? That guy must burn about 15,000 calories during a show. He gets a damn workout! And is he the human metronome or what? I oftentimes listen to the drummers, and Lars didn’t miss a beat all night. He is the real deal. The other guys are skilled, too. Kirk, who comes across as a bit of a fancy prick in movies about the band, can really play the lead guitar. Hetfield seems like a good guy, and truly enjoys being the lead man and trying to bridge the sizeable gap between the band and its fans.
What gap you say? Well, the band is filthy rich, with lead singer James Hetfield having a net worth estimated at $300 million, and the other original band members also worth hundreds of millions. I don’t think the rest of us combined in the arena met that net worth. I don’t really care – Metallica has earned it and it’s good to see musicians get rewarded – but how do you stay in contact with the everyman (including me, the most salt-of-the-earth person in the crowd) that is your bread and butter fan? Hard to do, yet they pull it off night after night.
Let’s not forget that this band also has a special place in the heart of all Hokies fans. If you ever get to Blacksburg and see the Good Guys come out of the locker room, they do it to Enter Sandman. It’s one of the best traditions in a tradition-laden national college football scene, and it sets the tone for the visiting team: uh oh, this ain’t going to be easy. Take a look and envy those who went to VT:
Metallica spends some dough on their website – it’s worth a look, here’s the link
and they also have some pretty cool videos. I wasn’t stupid enough to film any of their act and post it on YouTube after having Taylor Swift’s copyright goons pounce on me, but I’ll link you to the official stuff so that you can see what the band wants you to see.
So what was the overall experience? Well, the crowd loved it, and went home satisfied. One dude threw a $20 beer on stage and probably spent the night in jail, thus rendering his experience a bit less satisfying than it was for the rest of us. And the BRP crew thought it was good, but that an opening act from the rich boys on stage would have been a nice add to the show. Still, it’s hard to complain about a band that knows exactly what its fan base wants and comes out, night after night, and plays a compelling set that is well-rehearsed and that ROARS. Rock was made for this kind of thing: blasting music, loud as hell, pyrotechnics and other theatrics, and a band that delivers. Metallica. One word, many thoughts.
I’m back soon with a bunch of other cool stuff. Keep checking and enjoy the ride. In the meantime, go find something from a few decades ago, put it on the hi-fi, and turn it up. Loud rock, like BRP, is almost heaven. Keep grinding.
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.