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.
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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.