Do you have any songs that, for some reason known only to you, seem to be aggregated so that they capture a time and place in your life? I do. Whenever I hear Madonna's Borderline, I think of being in Miami during the summer of '84. Deneice Williams Let's Hear For The Boy goes with Borderline because it was all over FM radio in Miami during '84. Weird, huh?
How about this? When I hear the Beach Boys Fun Fun Fun, I'm transported back to driving around in a bright blue Ford Maverick Grabber with a 302 V8 during my teenage years. I did some stuff in that car, let me tell you, and I'm pretty much transported back to that time whenever that song comes on. I don't know why that particular song evokes that memory because it was kind of old by the time I got my license, but no matter. That's what happens.
How about these tunes? They go together for me to catch my late middle-school years. I actually had a pretty good experience during that particular period in my life. Here they are: Steve Miller's The Joker and Steelers Wheel with Stuck In The Middle. I don't know how Steve Miller got into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, but maybe it's because he made up a word - pompetus - in that song. But it's pretty clear why Steelers Wheel were one hit wonders after watching this strange video.
Two more songs that go together in my memory are Eric Burden and War's Spill The Wine and Tommy James and the Shondells Mony Mony. I have no idea why these two are grouped in my pea brain, but they are. They remind me of early high school years during the summer. I always liked summer, but I didn't care much for high school. Still, I love both of these songs.
Yeah, I know that Billy Idol remade Mony Mony and did it credibly. I like that version, too, but that particular track reminds me of being in meat market bars in DC during my college years watching people fall in "love" for one night. Tommy James was cool, trippy and this song is fantastic. What's that? Crimson and Clover? Yup, I love that song, too, and it was also remade by Joan Jett, and again with a very credible cover that was good.
Speaking of summer, I remember being in the waves in Ocean City, MD with my nephew (who was an adult). For some reason, between riding waves, one of us started singing Weezer's Beverly Hills, and every time I hear that tune, I always think of that day. Weezer is a terrific band with a lot of very worthy songs. Getting Hef to be in the video, however, was a major high coup.
But here's the weird part. The other song that reminds me of summer is the Bottle Rockets Kit Cat Clock. My best friend had one of those clocks in his house when we were kids, but for some reason, when I look back and think about that clock, it's always summer. I love summer. In fact, I've been thinking a lot about summer recently. And I've been thinking about the Bottle Rockets, one of the best bar bands ever. We saw them at the old North Star Bar in Philly, and they were great.
One last summer song, and this one reminds me of summers in college. Yeah, it's Little Feat with Dixie Chicken. I found a great version that features not only the band, but also Bonnie Raitt and the beautiful Emmylou Harris. This song also reminds me of getting drunk. Oops, I better not head down that path, hahaha.
Time to run. Let me know about songs that evoke memories for you or that are linked inextricably together for a reason you might not quite understand. I love hearing that stuff. Talk to you soon!
I was a pretty big Replacements fan in the '90s. There are a lot of people who now claim to have liked them back then, but if that were true, why were they playing the tiny little 9:30 Club in DC? Nah, there weren't all that many fans back in the day.
I've got 5 'Mats CDs in my CD collection. What's a CD collection? Exactly. I was into this band back when dinosaurs walked the Earth. But I saw them at the 9:30 Club and … it was one of the worst performances ever witnessed by your loveable blogger. They were beyond drunk, playing songs for a minute and then stopping, yelling at each other and the crowd, and all at the most extreme volume. It could have been great. But it wasn't. Far from it. It was everything I dislike about rockers not understanding that they are also performers and that people took their valuable time and treasure to see them perform, not show us how drunk they could get.
But that was decades ago, and I thought, well, let bygones be bygones. I was still interested enough in the band to read Trouble Boys, the biographical book by Paul Mehr. It is a well written book with the tale of the band from their childhoods through the present day. I was stoked to begin to read it because I wanted to know more and to rekindle my relationship with the band.
Unfortunately, I came away a bit disgusted with these guys, particularly Paul Westerberg. This band had massive talent and could have driven rock to another level. Instead, they did everything possible to prevent themselves from being successful, drank themselves to oblivion, treated those close to them horribly, and crashed and burned into a minor footnote in the rock story. How can a group of guys that love NRBQ and Alex Chilton/Big Star end up being such obnoxious jerks? Hard to explain, but Mehr does it in about 400 pages of cringe-worthy detail. He gives details like how Westerberg and Tommy Stinson would sometimes set their tour advance money on fire and the like. Really?
Westerberg comes across particularly bad. Yes, he's a great songwriter. But he seems like a crappy guy - firing people right and left, sabotaging career success whenever possible, drunk and disorderly, terrible to those close to him (or those that just wanted to be close to him), and unapologetic about all of it. Tommy Stinson is no saint, but at least he appeared to want to succeed - plus, he was a great musician. Bob Stinson is a sad dude who led a terrible life through no fault of his own, but was deeply disturbed. Only Chris Mars seems to be a decent guy, someone you might like to hang out with for a bit.
The result is that after reading the book, I kind of lost some of my old flame for this band. It's too bad, because they truly were a seminal alternative band who turned out some truly memorable tunes that influenced the next generation of rockers. But they faded fast, almost forgotten now, and ended up in a biography that made me kind of dislike them.
Oh well, such is the rock 'n' roll life. People are people and just because they catch magic together in a band doesn't mean that they aren't still just people at bottom, and when given a modicum of fame and fortune, they can develop into horrible people. I've never understood those that want to chum up with celebrities just because they're famous. They might be a genius at one aspect of life, but suck at the rest.
And with that, I'm moving on to other subjects. RIP Bob Stinson. It was your band back in the day. Why couldn't they give it their all like, say, Iggy?
Holy Toledo! What a night at the Fillmore!
Emily set this one up, and it was just the two of us who went. How cool is that? Very cool.
The Interrupters were in town, bringing their California ska/punk act to the stage. How fun is that? Very fun.
Oh, and yes, I scored a free parking spot right on Columbus Avenue about 100 feet from the damn club. How good of an omen was that? Very good.
Because the Interrupters brought two warmup bands, both of which turned out to be keepers. First up was Sharp Shock:
Sharp Shock, an LA punk trio that reaches back to influential punk bands from the 80s and 90s to craft their own punk tunes was up first. We walked in and the show had just started. There they were, up on stage and blazing through the Damned’s Neat Neat Neat, a very choice song to start off the evening.
The lead guitarist, playing a cherry red Rickenbacker, was effusive and cool, giving quick and funny intros to their tunes and then the band ripped into them. I didn’t know their music, but it was above-average punk. And near the end of the show, they did the Pete Shelley homage, and did a very nice cover of the Buzzcocks Ever Fallen in Love. And there I was, not knowing anything about this band 30 minutes before, but singing along and remembering the times I had seen the Buzzcocks crank this tune. RIP, Mr. Shelley! So we were off to a fine start.
Up next was Skinny Lister, a London punk/folk outfit. Say what? You got it right. Combine the Pogues, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Frank Turner, the Decemberists, and a bunch of other bands and you get a sense of this outfit. Think punky and rollicking, jug-band-meets-jig-and-reel-meets-traditional-sea-chanties and that’s them.
I’m not going to lie to you, they were great. In fact, they are now on the BRP list of super fun live bands that I am going to drag all of my friends (not hard, I don’t have any) to see the next time they roll into Philly. Heck, they’re worth climbing on a plane and flying to London to see. Any band that has a crazy accordion player right up front, and where the dude playing the stand-up bass is swinging it over his head, while the most fun female lead singer you’ve ever seen bops around stage - all while pregnant - has got to have their act together. I loved them. I’ve been listening to them on Spotify ever since.
Listen to this tune and then check out the many pictures I have of Skinny Lister:
Phew, I need to catch my breath.
OK, I’m better now. Skinny Lister leaves the stage, and I’m thinking, how good can the Interrupters be to top THAT? Well, they didn’t top them, but the Interrupters were fantastic.
The crowd was super eclectic, including multiple little kids (I’m talking like 7 and 8 year olds, including one with a homemade "I'm Your Number One Fan" t-shirt) out late on school night, old-school punkers (including a guy sporting a huge multi-colored Mohawk), lots of “date night” types, etc. And they were all super pumped by the hard edged but light hearted Interrupters brand of ska/punk. You can’t help but bop along, and there was a very large but pretty polite mosh pit going on with a lot of crowd surfing.
Here are some pics of the action:
You don’t need to know the Interrupters songs beforehand in order to sing along. Yeah, they’re pretty simple and catchy, and by the middle of the song you can sing the chorus. And the band was in a great mood, playing with the crowd and egging them on.
At one point, they split the audience into two halves and then had them rush together into a big mosh. It was cool. And I’ve never seen this before, but near the end of the show, the pit spontaneously started chanting “you’re amazing” over and over to the band. They were really touched by this, saying it was a first for them and that they loved Philly and need to come back more often. It was cool.
This was clearly one of the best triple-bills I’ve seen in a long time. And I’ve seen a lot of them. It was a great night of rock ‘n’ roll, the kind of night that rekindles your spirit and makes you believe in the power of music. And it was so fundamentally different than Elton John, and I mean that in a good way.
I’ve gotta run now. Peace.
Let me be clear right up front: I’m not a big Elton John fan.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t go see the man play live on his farewell tour. And after sitting through a lengthy show (which is a good thing), I concluded that I like two of his ballads, Tiny Dancer and Your Song, but I really don’t care for the rest of the slow stuff. But I do like most of the more rocking tracks. Thus, I can have a good time at the show.
I was in Florida anyway and simply dropped by Tampa to see the show. It’s what I do. As is typical with “big” acts, this show was in a hockey arena that holds about 20,000 people. It’s a new facility and pretty nice as far as hockey arenas go. The size, alas, means that “good” seats are quite a distance from the stage, and the immediate intimacy of being in a small club is kaput. However, there are seats - in fact nice cushioned seats with cup holders - and there is food and beverage galore. Given that I wasn’t planning on being up and grooving to the tunes, seats were nice.
And I have to say that this was an aging crowd of boomers and it was Florida – got the picture? – so seats were very welcome to this demographic. I don’t think that Tampa has much of a club scene, and this is the type of show that rolls into town with some frequency. That would drive me crazy since so many of the bands that I really like could never fill an arena, which means that this part of the country is pretty barren musically. It has other attributes, like fabulous weather, water everywhere you look and a boomtown culture that is infectious. But give me Philly’s rock scene any day of the week.
Elton has been at this a long time. He and Bernie Taupin have written a large songbook that is famous worldwide. Elton had the outrageous stagemanship to project himself into rock stardom with all that goes with it: the huge ride up, the grotesquely excessive and terrible lifestyle, the big drug-fueled fall, the redemption through love and sobriety, and the triumphant return to sellout crowds and critical acclaim. You’ve seen all this time and again on Behind the Music.
Still, EJ is unique. He’s not a guitar hero but rather sits behind a huge piano – his days of running all over the stage and being a physical performer are over (see more on this below). He has a good voice that hasn’t lost it’s range through the all the years and abuse. He reveled in the glam side of rock, and was known for his outrageous costumes and stage props. And the man is gay, and so he has suffered from the abuse that gay people have to endure daily.
There was no opening act. Since Elton plays almost for 3 hours, that’s cool by me. The stage is massive, backed with a huge video board that was used throughout the show. Sometimes there were videos, other times just close up shots of Elton (not many of the band – the boy doesn’t like to share the limelight too much, but they did use the dry-ice-smoke-around-the-knees-effect which I haven’t seen in decades). What’s that you say? How were the videos? Well, uh, weird mostly. Sometimes so weird that they were distracting from the song that was being played. In fairness, even the really odd ones were at least interesting. It gets a little boring to watch a little dude sit in front of a piano from a distance of 100 yards, so the video distraction was welcome.
Elton started out the show with one of my favorites, Bennie and the Jets. As soon as you hear that beginning piano refrain, you know the tune, and everyone immediately got into the show. Nothing like a well-known upbeat track to get a concert off on the right foot. And this is one of those concerts that has so many familiar songs that the lyrics are on everyone’s lips all night long.
I don’t quite know how to describe Elton and capture him aptly. He’s little, a bit pudgy with sausage fingers, but still looks pretty good for a guy in his seventh decade. Unfortunately, it appears that his mobility is limited these days. That big piano he was sitting behind was actually the world’s largest Wal-Mart scooter – it moved across the stage when it was time for EJ to depart, and it allowed him to minimize his steps. It’s sort of sad that he didn’t have the physical mobility to walk across the stage and down the steps, but that’s the reality of it. To end the show, he got on a little lift with railings he could hold onto, and it moved back through a “door” in the rear of the stage – poof! Elton is gone – but it was yet another reality check.
Elton wore some over-the-top sequined jackets and something that looked like, well, pajamas. And he would stand up after some songs and exhort the crowd to roar, which they obligingly did. At times, he would slam the key cover of his piano and shout at the crowd, sort of like Maximus screaming “are you not entertained” in Gladiator. It was surprising the first time he did it, then it was funny thereafter. Yeah, you bang those keys there, Elton! We’ll applaud for you!!
Like I said, he played lots of ballads, and I liked two of them. I was never a big Goodbye Yellow Brick Road fan, but he played it and it made me think of when I was 12 years old. Shudder. He also played I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Someone Save My Life Tonight, Candle In The Wind, Daniel, Sad Songs, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. The crowd seemed to like this stuff. I didn’t. Occasionally he would kick it up a notch, but he really got going for the last ½ hour of the show, playing Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighten’, Crocodile Rock (a bit sappy, that one), The Bitch Is Back and Rocketman.
There wasn’t a lot of talking by Elton, but what there was was good. He told how he composed songs, which still seemed like a mystery to him. Taupin would give him a lyric sheet, and Elton would then go and sit in front of his piano. A tune would just pop into his head while he perused the lyrics, and voila, a song was born. How cool is that? I’m sure he’s not the only one with that innate talent, but he sure did good with what he was given.
The other memorable sidebar was a discussion about the AIDS epidemic that swept savagely through the country in the 80s. Remember that huge quilt that covered the grounds of the Washington monument? I sure do. Anyway, he lamented the loss of life, but celebrated the fact that HIV positive people can now live lengthy lives. In other words, AIDS, at least in the western world, is no longer a death sentence but a manageable illness. Elton has done a lot to combat the disease in the developing world, and hey, I think that’s pretty darn badass. You go, man!
Did we get our money’s worth? Yeah, but that would have been easy because those tickets were comped. Isn’t it cool being a rock blogger? Regardless of the price, the dude puts on a good show, plays what the crowd wants to hear, and has a tight backup band that brings it. What more can you ask for? Don’t answer that, but you get the drift. As they say on TV, a good time was had by all.
So what’s next? Another show? Oh yes, indeed, and one that brought a huge and wonderful surprise. I’ll be back with that very soon. I also need to do a book review – how diversified is this site, my god! It’s a rock book, of course, about the Replacements. I was a pretty big fan back in the day, but I have to tell you that this book didn’t make me like them more. In fact, the opposite. I’ll be sure to give you the details on that soon.
I hope you’re in good spirits, getting ready to enjoy the world’s greatest holiday (Thanksgiving) and then gearing up for the craziness that travels under the name “December.” I’ve already got tickets to see Marah’s annual Christmas show at Underground Arts that is rapidly eclipsing The Nutcracker as the most important holiday arts tradition. And can you say Low Cut Connie? I thought you could. Tantalizing, ain’t it? See you soon, hotcakes.
How do you like that blast of winter? Are you dressed for the weather?
You know, every year I'm a bigger baby about the cold weather than the previous year. But truth be told, it's the dark this time of year that is the worst. I get home and it's pitch black outside. All I want to do is eat dinner and then crawl into bed.
But you know what they're doing in Florida?
Yup, they're getting baptized. I'm serious - take a look at that banner. People getting dunked and soaked. I don't know about all that, but I think it's kind of fun to watch it. At least from a distance.
You know what else they're doing in Florida? Yes, checking out the warm sunshine, the blue ocean and the green tropical foliage.
Not to fret, all is not lost here in Pennsylvania. No sir, we have cool stuff, too, like the Lehigh River up by Jim Thorpe. It's pretty darn nice and as soon as you set foot on a path, about 90% of the other people around you disappear. It's the oddest thing. Mind you, the same reduction in force doesn't happen if there is lunch being served, but if you're willing to hike a bit, you'll enjoy nature and pretty much have it to yourself.
Do you like this? If not, and you're beginning to talk behind my back, that's not so good. They make dish towels that tell you why, and they're pretty funny, too. What am I talking about? Take a look:
Yes, of course that is being sold south of the Mason-Dixon line, where else? The world is going to the dogs, that's for sure. And if you like your canines, I have just the place to take them. And if they're a touch overweight, I have that covered, too.
Here's a weird thing. I went to NYC recently. I had never been to the Guggenheim and wanted to see it. The building is fantastic - Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius. A scoundrel, too, but here's a guy that never went to college who becomes the most famous and influential architect of the 20th Century. Take that, Harvard!
The building itself is amazing and worth visiting. The art inside? I like art. I didn't care for what was hanging on the walls there. But the building! Well worth the visit.
Clowns kind of freak me out. I remember going to the circus as a kid (my dad loved the circus and we went every year). From a distance, the clowns are sort of cool, but when they get close, you realize that their costumes are dirty and smell, and that the people under that grease paint are freaky. Someone in my office brought this thing in, and it gave me the heebie-jeebies:
Alright, I've got to split. I know what you're thinking: thank you for all I've done. Yeah, haha, something like that. How about this:
When I last saw DIIV, they were playing at the 714 Club on Girard. I had never heard of the 714 Club, but it did have a Vitamin Q angle to it that I kinda liked. I knew the Girard was not the nicest of cross-town streets in Philly. Nonetheless, I loved DIIV’s debut album, Oshin, and Brian and I went for it.
We passed by the club a few times before locating it. It wasn’t marked outside at all. Hmmm, sketchy area, sketchy club? We also didn’t notice the side entrance because it was partway down 7th street and didn’t front Girard. Hmmm, that’s oddly disconcerting, too. Oh well, in we went. The club was divided into a few rooms, and there wasn’t much of a stage - It was about 1 foot above the floor. But the place was packed, and when DIIV got up on stage and started to play, we stayed back as the crowd devolved into one of the most active mosh units I’ve ever witnessed. Bouncers stood on the outside of the pit just to toss people out of it, and the action was furious, but fun to witness.
DIIV was great, playing tons of stuff off of Oshin, but the 714 Club basically sucked. It had lousy sound and you could barely see the band given the limited rise of the stage. We left that night thinking that if we got the chance to see DIIV in a real venue with good acoustics that we would go for it.
Flash forward a few years, and DIIV was playing Underground Arts. Cool! We bought our tix day of the show, and headed to see them. Of course, the show wasn’t very pricey, so the less you pay, the more bands you have on the bill.
Here’s an issue. The first warm up was one dude with an electric guitar playing and singing the same song (not really but it sure sounded that way) for ½ hour. While earnest, he simply wasn’t very good. Ouch, what did we do to deserve this treatment? C’mon, openers should be people that have a shot, not some kind of amateur hour that resembles a bad open mic night.
We struggled through that, and then out came a real rock band named Chastity. Not the band Chastity Belt, which would have been great, but simply Chastity. I didn’t think that they were that good, but compared to guitar boy, they seemed like the Beatles. Or at least Nirvana. Still, after the moment of relief passed that we weren’t going to sit through yet another ½ hour of schlock, we hunkered down to ½ hour of average rock.
Finally, DIIV took the stage. DIIV has a new album out, Deceiver, and, shockingly, it’s about addiction and recovery. That’s a first for a rock band. Unfortunately, I had only heard a couple of tracks off of that new effort, and thought “they’re ok, but they’re not Oshin.” Also unfortunately, DIIV decided to play a lot of songs from Deceiver.
What I like about the DIIV of old is the dreamy, shoe-gaze-meets-jangly-Byrds/REM-guitar-thing with driving, catchy tunes. Like early REM, you can’t understand a word of the lyrics, but also like REM, the tunes are so good you don’t really care. You put this stuff on the car stereo and you simply want to keep on driving. Want a sample? Of course you do, so check this out:
It’s not that DIIV didn’t play stuff from their previous 2 albums, but the new stuff is more grungy with slower tracks building into a heavy drum freakout near the end. They’re good, but the move away from the earlier sound was a bit disappointing to both Brian and me. However, given that the show was at Underground Arts, the sound quality was far superior, the staging was much better, and the crowd (which included many more women) was not moshing at all. That’s perfect stuff for me to move close to the action so that I can get you some good pictures.
Here's something I haven't seen before. Both guitarists (Zachary Cole Smith and Andrew Bailey) were very much into fiddling with their footboards between songs. I noticed that each had a notebook, and they would adjust the various reverbs, etc, for each song that they were about to play. It was cool to see the craft and the thought and effort that went into making the guitar on each song unique to that particular tune.
But while the show had its moments, it was not the musical equivalent of the 714 Club performance. In my opinion, that was an opportunity missed. There is still no better way to take the wind out of a crowd than for the band to announce that they are going to play something from their new album. When they do it about 6 times, it begins to wear on you. Still, the show ended with a bang, and we left satisfied if not fulfilled.
Hey, on the bright side, I found a parking lot about a block away from the club that only charges $6 and you can get out super fast. There is the lot directly across the street from the club, but it has a very clumsy way of processing payments at the end of the show that leads you to think that somehow you ended up in the Linc’s parking lot after an Eagles game. I’ve been able to snatch a street spot only 1 time in this fast-gentrifying neighborhood. There are some other bars around, and maybe their patrons have the skinny on how to get those coveted freebies? I don’t know, but the lot down the block was a bit of a revelation.
Up next, it’s off to sunny and warm Florida to catch Elton John. He announced that the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour would be his swan song so that he could spend more time with his kids. Fair enough, but when that tour started in Allentown on September 8, 2018 and I’m going to see him over a year later (and with two more years of shows still to come), maybe the kids aren’t such a factor after all. Regardless, you’ll soon read about my experience … assuming you come back for more.
I was on a plane, I was listening to tunes, and I jumped around and around with the songs. It’s odd how your mood can change so quickly from song to song. The tracks below were ones that I thought you might enjoy. Isn’t it nice to share?
La Roux, Bulletproof. People criticize me that I’m stuck in time, and not bopping to the relevant beat of today. Hey, I love the Justins (Timberlake and Beiber), Gaga, and many others. Here’s yet another example, La Roux. This is pure synth pop, but it’s a grooving song that gets the Kid up and embarrassing himself on the dance floor.
Brownsville Station, Smoking in the Boys Room and Sweet, Barroom Blitz. Don’t ask me why I think these songs are bookends, but I think they’re bookends. They came out about the same time, they both rock, and they’re both one-hit wonders. I saw a really great cover band at Acme Feed and Seed in Nashville this summer that just completely ripped on Barroom Blitz, and it reminded me of what a marvelous song it is. Remember them using it in Wayne’s World? Smoking in the Boys Room reminds of me of many days in high school when I went into a men’s (boy’s?) room in school only to find it completely filled with cigarette smoke. I guess now they would simply use a vape, but back then it was the real thing.
Gregg Allman, I’m No Angel. I miss Gregg Allman. I saw him a few times right before he died. One time was pretty average, but the other show was phenomenal. He didn’t live an angelic life, but he certainly did entertain us and give us much to discuss. This song reminds me what a great blues voice he had, and how he could carry a tune and give it meaning beyond the mere words of the track.
Graham Parker and the Rumour, Discovering Japan. Wow, what a track. The signature guitar riff that begins the tremendous Squeezing Out Sparks LP just promises great things to follow, and boy, did that album deliver. It’s sad that GP didn’t become a huge star, but in my mind, he’s one of the most influential of the “new wave/angry young men” artists to have arisen in the late 70s and early 80s. This song packs a wallop, both sonically and lyrically, and allows the Rumour to stretch themselves to deliver a pure rocker that is ingrained deep inside of my brain.
Rush, The Spirit of the Radio. Well, that was a quick change, right? I’m not a prog rocker, never was, never will be. That being said, I’m a closet Rush fan. They have enough tracks to fill a nice set that I would enjoy immensely. Last July 14, I put on their song Bastille Day and forgot how long that particular track is – and I loved every minute of it. But I think my all-time favorite Rush song is The Spirit of the Radio. Radio is less important today than it was, but homage’s to the delivery device of my youth is still welcome. How can you not like a lyric about being a rock star that says: “But glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah.” Yup, sure enough.
Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly. I was just hanging out with a neighbor who is from Detroit. Too bad about his Tigers and Lions (let’s not mention his Red Wings or Pistons), but he was going on a bit about all the bands he had seen in Detroit. Seger, a bunch of the Motowners. He didn’t mention Mitch Ryder, Iggy Pop or the MC5, but hey, Detroit is one of America’s great music towns. Mitch Ryder was completely full of himself, but if you listen to this tandem of songs, you’ll come away saying, well, he had every right to be. Imagine what this would sound like with modern production techniques? Like touching an electric fence? Yeah, something like that.
Rufus, Tell Me Something Good. Funky, funky, funky. I remember about 15 years ago I was hanging out with a dude who could drink more beer than anyone I’ve ever met in my life, and he loved putting this song on the juke. Every time I hear it I think of him and wonder where he is now. I still remember being in a bar with him in some backwoods town in Kentucky, and he told me he was going to be a father. He kept asking me what it was like, and I told him it was great and he would love it. He wasn’t satisfied with that answer and kept pressing as we kept drinking. Finally, I told him it was the biggest damn fool mistake of his life, and he burst out and said “I knew it! I’m screwed!” Hahahahaha. Put on some funk, my man, and remember when you didn’t have no babies.
Haim, Summer Girl. I’m not a very big Haim fan. The sisters have a big buzz, but when I listen to them, I hear boring singer-songwriter stuff. However, I’m nothing if not flexible, and when a good song comes along, I’m into it regardless of who puts it out. I heard this song a few times recently, and it got under my skin. It’s pretty cool.
Fang Fang, I’ve Got A Good Feeling. Philly’s singles machine, Fang Fang is the new “it” band in the Delaware Valley. I’ve only heard a few of their tracks, but I’ve pretty much liked them all. Here’s another one – this is a band to watch, just like Philly’s RFA.
The Menziners, After the Party. This song rocks, and it rocks hard. Can you imagine seeing the Menzingers in a basement? I saw a lot of bands in basements in college – I remember one band was made up of English Department grad students, and they weren’t playing your typical b.s. cover stuff. They were playing songs like Nick Lowe’s Let’s Eat and Devo’s Whip It. Anyway, the Menzingers rock it, their live shows are stuff of legend, and this video is a relationship-in-3-minutes that is pretty well done.
OK, the plane is landing. Why do I want to hear the B-52s now? And maybe a track by the Clash? Or KC and the Sunshine Band? I want to shake my booty for sure. I haven’t been feeling good of late, but am now way on the road to recovery. It’s easy to forget how much we take our good health for granted – take care of yourself, and make sure you eat plenty of processed foods, sit and watch TV on the couch, and avoid fresh fruits and vegetables like the plague. A big slovenly “later” to you!
If you know me, you understand that I’m really an uncouth redneck. I attended a hillbilly school in Appalachia reached by dirt roads in pickup trucks. It’s where I picked up an affinity for cheap beer, bottle rockets, college football, and long road trips to see loud rock bands. I speak only one language (and not very well), and was a delinquent before that word was used to describe scruffy, trouble-making youth. I was a mediocre student who cared more about chemistry outside of the classroom than inside of it.
So what the heck was I doing last weekend at the ballet and the Barnes Foundation?
I have no idea. All I know is that you get stared at a lot if you laugh at Soutine paintings. And men in tights are kind of interesting to watch, but women in tights are a revelation.
Breathe deep and go with me, ok? I’m not good at writing about highbrow culture because it’s such unfamiliar ground. So for your safety, make sure the seat guard is in place and don’t put your hands outside of the car while it’s moving. Ready? Here we go:
The ballet. Years ago, I was invited to see a ballet in DC, and my host had acquired extremely expensive seats – front and center. I fell asleep. That’s a true story. I had to move from DC to Philly because of that one incident. But I’ve mellowed with age, and there I was last weekend watching Don Quixote. And I liked it. And I stayed awake!
Now, let’s qualify that, ok? The Stones didn’t write It’s Only Don Quixote But I Like It. I’m not going back to the ballet every week like I do to rock clubs. But that was one good ballet. The principal male dancers – I don’t know what you call a male ballerina – are great athletes that make it look easy when it’s actually hard as hell. And the ballerinas, doing all kinds of crazy stuff in toe shoes and making it look graceful and elegant, well, that’s incredible!
Plus, as you can see, Don Quixote is a dancing marathon. There aren’t a lot of breaks and it’s nonstop action. Sure, the story is dumb, but so am I, so we make a good pair. Best of all, you get to watch all of this in one of Philly’s architectural treasures, the restored and fabulous Academy of Music. Sure, there are insufferable bores in the seats all around you, but how is that different from being at a Billy Joel concert?
They actually had the temerity to stare at me suspiciously because someone yelled out “I smell Hokie,” but they couldn’t decide if that scent was actually coming from me since I wasn’t dressed fully in camouflage and I had the good sense not to put a pinch of Copenhagen between my cheek and gum this one time. Yes, I was a fish out of water, but didn’t mammals evolve from fish who developed the capacity to obtain oxygen from air? That’s me, Mr. Evolution.
As if that feint toward civilization wasn’t enough for BRP, the next day I found myself at the Barnes Foundation, Philly’s stunning pocket museum of impressionist and modern paintings. I got off to a rocky start because of that damn Soutine. I mean, what was that guy thinking? His portraits are hideous, ugly, dreadful renderings of poor souls who probably thought that they were getting a portrait that they could hang in the hallway of their home, not a poster featuring them as the villain in the next slasher film coming out of Hollywood. Soutine inadvertently outdid Heironymus Bosch.
One painting, probably of a wealthy friend of Soutine, looks like a revolting portrait of Porky Pig, as if you took that pop cartoon icon and deliberately turned him into a monstrous criminal. It’s freakin’ true. You go from room to room at the Barnes, and if you’re an undereducated roughian like me, all you see is another gruesome Soutine painting that makes you laugh, point and then look for a puke bucket. Then red lights begin to flash, uniformed guards start circling, and the universal Hokie Hooligan Alert starts to roar. Hey, officer, I was just laughing at this crap, ok? Take a look and tell me I’m not right. Yup, I thought you might agree!
And then you spy the Cezanne’s, the Modigliani’s and, best of all, the Matisse’s. And when staring at those babies, you decide, then and there, that the redneck life is overrated and taking a shower every day is maybe a nice social touch (but hey, let’s not get carried away with the tooth brushing).
Yes, the Barnes is stuffed with Renoirs, and some of them are even great, but for me, I’ll take the aforementioned trio. I know, I know, there are some fantastic Van Gogh’s in there, and who doesn’t like Vincent (answer: Idiots!). But for me, the highlights of the Barnes are really the massive collection of paintings by Cezanne, Modigliani and Matisse.
Let’s start with Cezanne. I didn’t take a picture of every Cezanne painting in the joint, but here are some excellent examples of his greatness:
What do I like? First, I love the subjects. Cezanne must have been the character study for the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You remember, right? He keeps constructing the same monolith (which turns out to be Devil’s Tower) over and over. Cezanne had the same obsession with Mt. Sainte Victoire just outside of Aix in Provence. He painted that mountain so many times it’s ridiculous. But he also painted the woods and allees of trees in southern France. If you’ve ever been to that part of the world, and you should go if you haven’t, these paintings take you right back there. Moreover, they’re challenging works of art, sort of like Bach or Mahler are for classical music lovers. Well worth the challenge, they show intriguing combinations of light, color, perspective and even precursors of later art movements like cubism. Yet, they still remain pictures of familiar objects that you can look at and immediately grasp what they are. I really love these Cezanne’s.
Then there is Modigliani. When you’re strolling the Barnes, they aren’t all clustered together, but I did you a favor and put a bunch in the same space. Look at them: the elongated necks and heads, stretched out like those fun-house mirrors, but spooky with the mostly gray eyes. The eyes! They always intrigue me and freak me out, too. Eyes say so much in non-verbal human communication. They emote, they sparkle, they fire, they seduce, they weep, they smile. When you see a face that has nothing but gray blank spaces for the eyes, what are you supposed to think? I don’t know, but I realize that I start to put my own interpretations on the various portraits. And then, just when I’m beginning to say, OK Modigliani, show me these crazy humans, he goes and messes with trees. Phew, that’s heavy.
Matisse. Ridiculed in his day like he was Protomartyr, he is one of my very favorite artists ever. I love the color palette he uses, the leap from traditional painting to the modern and interpretive, the introspective subject matters, and the familiar subjects of art turned on their heads. The color palette is fantastic – bright colors that pop jumping out from heavy black outlines around eyes and facial features. They still look fresh to me as though they were just created this year rather than 100 years ago. What’s that? You’re right, I didn’t include the big, attention grabbing Matisse’s for which the Barnes is rightly known for. I wanted you to look at something not as big and splashy but, in my mind, every bit as compelling. I love these paintings.
So there you have it. A hillbilly goes to the big city and actually appreciates it. You know what I want to see next? An opera! Hahaha, that’s b.s., I had you going with that right? Actually, I’ve been to the opera a few times and while I’m supposed to say that the human instrument is the most expressive of all, I’m not gonna say it because I don’t agree. And the stories are Pinhead dumb – and like the Ramones, I don’t wanna be a pinhead no more. But I will say that if you get to see the Pavaroti documentary that it’s worth a couple hours of your life – a very captivating story indeed.
I’ll be back to the rock in sweaty beer-soaked bars soon. Thanks for suffering with me through this one. And I promise: no opera.
For a guy who grew up with 70's punk and rock, it's hard to find a reason not to love Sheer Mag. You want punk ethos? Check. You want hard rockin' power pop tunes? Check. You want a three guitar blitzkrieg wall of sound? Check mate.
Sheer Mag formed in Philly in 2014. Tina Halladay is the presence up front. She has tons of attitude, prancing around the stage with a snarl as she growls out the lyrics. She is a commanding presence.
Like the rest of the band, she went to SUNY Purchase, and rather than move to NYC, she used her education and made a better decision: Philly! The others eventually followed and here they are. Two rough and tumble albums out, and a hard edged sound that reminds me of bands like Thin Lizzy. Did I ever tell you that I love Thin LIzzy? It's true. Anyway, take a look and listen and see if you don't agree.
The band headlined Union Transfer recently. There was a decent crowd there, but not so large that they had to move the stage back. That worked out fine for me as I wanted to be outside the mosh area and ended up on one of the two "wings" above the floor. I was right by the lead guitarist, Matt Palmer, who co-writes the tunes with Tina. Matt is sure to keep his riffs hot and heavy, and I enjoy the heavy guitar licks as much as anything about this band. Lots of guitar, but also lots of hooks and drive. Perfecto.
Tina is the clear stage presence of the band. The others pretty much stay in their allotted spots and jam heavy. Palmer plays the flying V guitar seen in the pictures. While the rest of the band lets Tina dominate, they are tight and professional. I'm always glad to see a band coming home after a nice tour because they have rehearsed and performed enough that they are just kicking it.
Sheer Mag has two albums out. Need to Feel Your Love is awesome, and has many of my favorite tracks, but the new album A Distant Call (which came out in June) is a fine sophomore effort. The band played healthy doses of songs from both and the crowd ate it up. I particularly loved hearing Need to Feel Your Love, Just Can't Get Enough, Expect the Bayonet, and Suffer Me. Need to Feel Your Love was a critical smash, one of the best albums of 2017. Pop it on and it immediately smacks you with high energy tracks that give energy, socially and sexually suggestive lyrics, and the coolness that any great rock band has to have.
Another great track is What You Want off of their pre-album EPs. It has that same hard edged sound, but Tina's bluesy, low-fi vocal styling make it an instant classic. When you combine that with the catchy guitar hooks that power the tune, it just grabs you by the throat and won't let go.
There were a couple of forgettable punk bands that opened up the show. If you google it, you can find out their names, but since they were forgettable, why would you do that? I just saved you some time.
I'm a pretty big proponent of getting to a show early so that you can see the warm up acts, but also so that you can snag a great spot at the venue. Sometimes, the warm up acts are great - Exhibit A is the Weeks - but sometimes they suck. Can I just go on record right now to say that a solo guitarist singing songs that all sound alike is a bad start to a show where the headliner is a hard-rockin' band? I don't like people being rude when someone is performing, but hey, sometimes they deserve rude. Like when they suck. And pretty much every solo guitarist who is the opener for a three band bill is almost guaranteed to suck.
Sheer Mag most definitely did not suck. I"ve seen them a couple of times and would go again in a heartbeat. They're in Europe now, which seems like a good reason to go to the Old World. But I won't be doing that because I have a couple of other shows to see right here in the USA. Yup, I"m still on a roll, and have plenty more to catch you up on.
Next up it's DIIV at Underground Arts, then Elton John (ha! Can you believe it? I can't), And maybe a few others just for kicks and grins. I haven't decided yet on who to see, but the Interruptors and Steely Dan are high probables.
I've gotta split now, but I'll be back very soon. It's hard to find the time to write when I'm going to all these shows, the World Series is on, and college football and the NFL are in the meat of their schedules. Oh, hey, I just read that book about the Replacements called Trouble Boys. I'll write about them, too. I don't consider myself a huge 'Mats fan but compared to most of the world, I probably was (I own 4 of their CDs). Anyway, there's much to do and I'll be back soon with more.
So long, BRP readers!
The death of rock ‘n’ roll is overrated. I don’t know much, but I do realize that the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of most performers is not that of the private jet and suite at the Four Seasons. Nope. It’s long road hours spent crammed into a used van stuffed with equipment and stinky bandmates going from city to city trying to garner a following to pursue performance dreams. Why would anyone do that if they thought rock was dead?
There are bands that get to stay in the Four Seasons, but this article isn’t about those bands. Nope, this is about two bands that spend a lot of time in vans. Let’s go with the first band, who I love: Screaming Females. This trio from New Brunswick, NJ packs a tremendous wallop from just three instruments.
The band's lead guitarist and singer is Marissa Paternoster. That name is a mouthful, right? But can she play guitar? Hey, Marissa was named the 77th greatest guitarist of all time by Spin magazine in 2012! I have no idea how you do rankings of this sort, but as Americans we always feel compelled to rank everything. I have no idea whether or not she is the 77th greatest guitarist of all time (I’m thinking 87th), but I do know that if you made the “top 100” list that you can blister the paint off of the wall when you pick up the axe. All you have to do is listen to Screaming Females recorded output and you’ll know that Marissa can flat out play. Still, seeing her live and doing her thing is a revelation.
Take a look at some of these pictures. Marissa is not selling the usual “woman in rock” stuff. No sexy attire or crazy front-woman stuff. Nope, she shows up in a brown dress and tights, picks up her guitar, and then proceeds to tear the place apart. Not a lot of banter on stage. The music does the talking. Make that, the music SCREAMS.
The rest of the band is tight, too. Jarrett Dougherty is on the drums and Mike "King Mike" Abbate plays bass. I don’t know why Mike is King Mike, but I do know that the dude is every bit the match for Marissa.
Screaming Females torched a modest 45 minute set. They were “co-headliners” with Team Dresch (see below) and played first. What sucks about that is they get a much shorter time in which to play. I was hoping to see more SF than Dresch, but it was not to be. But unlike Dresch, SF wasted no time at all – it was a pure music play by a very hot band, and for that, I thank them. Here’s a nice video of a song that they crushed at Union Transfer: I’ll Make You Sorry.
And here’s a link to the band’s website:
Now let’s talk about Team Dresch. I had never heard of them before this show, and I only went because SF was playing. Here’s what I learned.
As part of the punk genre, there is a subset called Queercore. Team Dresch is apparently a leader in this movement. Donna Dresch is the leader of the band, and they have been around, off and on, since 1993. All of the bands members are openly lesbian, and that is only important because their music is part of the entire LBGT scene and is designed to be such. It’s not just a band, therefore, but part of a movement.
That certainly explains the crowd that attended and why I sort of stood out from the typical patron on this particular evening. It was a good crowd, and they were totally into the music of TD, but it was also clear that there was something else happening besides the music.
And that’s a good thing, too, because the music was, frankly, pretty average punk. And pretty average punk is, well, boring. Whereas Screaming Females had rocked and played engaging music that was indie/punky, TD played the same song about 12 times in a row. Or maybe it just felt that way. You could bop to it and mosh if you were so inclined, but there wasn’t a lot of catchy hooks or crafty musical arrangements that caught your ears. The band was visually appealing in that they moved and grooved, but I found the delivery exceeded the product. Oh, and they took forever to tune their instruments between songs and talked about some pretty silly stuff for far too long before playing the same song again.
Oh well, it was still a good night out. I’m hoping that SF decides to headline on their next stop in Philly so that we can get a nice long set. But I was pretty satisfied with the output and came home feeling pretty good about how things had transpired.
Next up, it’s Sheer Mag. Oh baby, are they ever a handful. And I’ve got a rock ‘n’ roll detour coming up, too. And yet another show! It’s been a good fall thus far here at BRP. I hope you’re enjoying it, too. See ya soon.
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.