Monday, August 14, 2017

The Fat Dukes of Fuck's "A Compendium of Desperation, Morality and Dick Jokes"

As Rome burns, I get a record in the mail.

Heavy and funny don't have to be mutually exclusive. Anyone besides me remember Cretin 66, who released the high-larious Demolition Safari on Steel Cage back in 2001? Yeah, I didn't think so. More to the point, think of Turbonegro making the best hard rock record of the '90s with Apocalypse Dudes, on which they dressed up their synthesis of AC/DC-BOC-Dictators in Alice Cooper-cum-Village People drag so out-there that none of their inspirations would have dared imagine (let alone attempt) it.

Which brings us to The Fat Dukes of Fuck, a Vegas-based outfit who have a new elpee (their second full-length) produced by the Deaf Nephews (that being the handle used by the team of Melvins drummer Dale Crover and guitarist-engineer Toshi Kasai). On A Compendium of Desperation, Morality and Dick Jokes, the Fat Dukes' willingness to act the fool can be seen as a sign of supreme self-confidence.

In purely musical terms, these boys are mighty; just take a listen to the scintillating point-to-point fret math of "Whiskey and Bath Water," the pummeling thrash of "Full Metal Jack Off," or the piledriver rifferama that propels "Where Assholes Come To Die" to get a sense of their power. Then, around the third or fourth spin, the lyrics kick in, and they're a hoot. (Having them relatively high in the mix for this kind of thing helps.)

Turn the record over, and "The Monotonous Adventures of a Hopeaholic" details the difficulties of getting laid while driving a mini-van, to music of pseudo-operatic grandeur worthy of Jim Steinman. Oxford comma fans like your humble chronicler o' events get the answer to their question, "What's a morality joke?" on "Promise Keepers," a shot across the bow of fundamentalist extremists that recalls Frank Zappa's on Broadway the Hard Way. These Fat Dukes earn their stripes in the conceptual, comedic, and pure rock power stakes, and the Deaf Nephews make 'em sound real fine on sweet, sweet vinyl (gold translucent, even).

Monday, August 07, 2017

Things we like: Tyshawn Sorey, Dennis Gonzalez, Free, Nazz

1) If you read publications like The New Yorker or the NYT, you don't need my perpetually-swinging-after-the-pitch ass to tell you about Tyshawn Sorey. In the Times article linked to above, no less a personage than Roscoe Mitchell, whose recent album the 37-year-old composer/multi-instrumentalist is all over, acknowledged Sorey as "the next generation of us." Growing up in Newark, Sorey built his own drumkits and played in R&B bands, taught himself piano in his church's basement, and studied trombone at school before beginning academic studies under Mitchell's Chicago contemporaries George Lewis and Anthony Braxton, the latter of whose Wesleyan professorship he's about to assume, then honed his craft under leaders like Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, and Lawrench "Butch" Morris (the latter famed for his conduction of improvising ensembles).

Sorey's multi-instrumental fluency gives him a deep understanding of the nuances of sound production, and he always gets the most out of the tonal and textural palette of whatever ensemble he happens to be writing for. On his latest album, Verisimilitude, he leads his regular trio (pianist Corey Smythe, who also manipulates electronics, and bassist Chris Tordini) into territory staked out by Morton Feldman and Karlheinz Stockhausen as though it's his own neighborhood (a "jazz piano trio" date this is not). The album is available via Sorey's Bandcamp site, as is its predecessor, last year's The Inner Spectrum of Variables, which teams his trio with a string trio. You'll need to go elsewhere to seek out his debut as a leader, the sprawling that/not, and the intriguing guitar-led trio Koan. Sorey's currently at work on Koan II with a different ensemble.

2) Speaking of Bandcamp, the estimable Dallas-based trumpeter-composer Dennis Gonzalez has been making some out-of-print gems from his extensive catalog available digitally there. Most recent to go online is Catechism, a 1988 date cut in London with heavy friends including longtime Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean, pianist Keith Tippett (who played on King Crimson's Lizard and whom Robert Fripp courted to co-lead that band), and drummer Louis Moholo from the legendary South African band the Blue Notes. The music has some of the flavor of South African township jazz, and boasts some of Gonzalez's very finest multi-horn writing.

3) Also in my CD player lately: Free's Tons of Sobs, the '68 debut by the band of teenage British blues-rockers led by future Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers, acclaimed by his peers as the premier British rock singer of his generation (possibly, to these feedback-scorched ears, because he eschewed the histrionics of pretty much all his contemporaries -- not just the proto-metal shriekers, but basically all of 'em save Rod Stewart, whom it turns out was aiming at Entertainment a la Sam Cooke all along). The album is a possible response to Jeff Beck's Truth (speaking of Rod the Mod); Led Zep I was another. Where Page, Plant, et al. made everything bigger and flashier, Free's approach was to make everything simpler, earthier, and more basic. Guitarist Paul Kossoff's wobbly vibrato came from classical training, not Albert King; a very different outcome than where King Fripp's similar studies led. Half-Guyanese bassist Andy Fraser's sound had a Caribbean lope that drank from the same well as Robbie Shakespeare and "Family Man" Barrett, although he'd apprenticed with John Mayall. They'd continue refining their approach, removing every gram of excess from their sound, and score a career-defining hit out of it with "All Right Now" -- written in five minutes in a dressing room -- before perfecting it with 1971's Highway, but Free never sounded more satisfying than where they started.

4) Finally, a wallow in Todd Rundgren's first three solo albums led inexorably back to the Nazz, the band with which he emerged from Philadelphia back in '68. Chris Plavidal's kids correctly identified the primary influences on the Nazz's self-titled debut LP as Cream (Todd had the solo EC perfected on Wheels of Fire's "Those Were the Days" down pat, and drummer Thom Mooney's footroll-happy solo on "She's Going Down" could give Ginger's "Toad" a run for its money) and the Beatles (those vocal harmonies, although the chords Todd was writing had more jazz and uptown R&B in 'em than the Fabs', which generally stayed closer to their Everly Brothers/Motown inspirations). Recent listens to old faves like Talmy-era Who, the first two U.S. Yardbirds LPs, and my beloved Blues Project Projections surprised me -- some of the music sounded almost quaint -- but the Nazz albums, which I'd always thought were uneven (suffering from the second side blahs), held up surprisingly well.

"Open My Eyes" -- which opens Nazz and was supposed to be the A-side of their first single before a DJ turned it over, played "Hello It's Me," et voila -- is a song that has it all: great crunchy mutated "I Can't Explain" intro, great fuzzed-out riff, great chorus, great Electric Flag-sounding instrumental break, and most of all, a great bridge (which the Move, who knew a good song when they heard one, had the decency to repeat, eschewing the instrumental break, when they covered it and the Nazz's other greatest song, "Under the Ice," live on their '69 U.S. tour). On songs like "When I Get My Plane" from the first LP and "Meridian Leeward" from Nazz Nazz, there's even a hint of the 'orrible 'oo back in that lovely moment between Monterey and Tommy when they looked as good as they sounded and produced the magic and wonderful Sell Out.

It's easy to play "spot the influences" with Nazz -- the descending chords on "Under the Ice" are the same as on Traffic's "Paper Sun;" "Rain Rider" on Nazz Nazz borrows from Cream's "White Room;" the blues tracks on side two of Nazz Nazz don't really work, although "Kiddie Boy" would when Todd produced James Cotton -- and by the second LP (originally envisioned as a double album called Fungo Bat), you can hear Todd's Laura Nyro fixation emerging. This would mean trouble: lead singer Stewkey Antoni didn't dig those songs, or the fact that Todd wanted to sing 'em, and Todd was soon out of the band, along with bassist Carson Van Osten. The Nazz played the '69 Texas International Pop Festival with replacements, and the label released the unused Fungo Bat songs with Stewkey's overdubbed vox as Nazz III (including some gooduns: the opening "Some People," the very Laura-ish "Only One Winner," the more rockin' "Magic Me" and "How Can You Call That Beautiful"), but by then, Nazz were done. So there.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

7.29.2017, Fort Worth

It was one of those wish fulfillment nights.

Big Mike Richardson and friends were performing Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow album in its entahrty, then the inimitable Bill Pohl, visiting home from Colorado, would play an Allan Holdsworth tribute set, accompanied by a couple of fiery youngsters. Big Mike's friends included my old bandmate Ron Geida in the leading role, and my old bandleader Lee Allen from two and a half years of Wednesday night jams at the Wreck Room. (Those nights were chronicled on this blog in a series called "the art of the jam," back when I was still affecting that annoying e.e. cummings "no caps" mannerism -- an infantile reaction, it seems in retrospect, to not digging being edited. Mea culpa.) On the day of the event, Big Mike informed me that there'd be a jam after Bill's set, and invited me to participate.

I got to Lola's Saloon, where the event would go down, a little after nine, and was as surprised as I'd been the night of the Transistor Tramps show a few weeks before at the number of cars outside, but I figured it was for the country show outside at the Trailer Park. Back when I was writing for the Fort Worth Weekly 15 years ago, I used to advocate for Bill's prog band the Underground Railroad, but getting people to their performances was like pulling teeth. Inside the venue were assembled the collective prog-fusion freaks and guitar heads within a 50 mile radius, including lots of young folks, which surprised me.

Promptly at 9:30, Big Mike and Co. kicked it off with "You Know What I Mean." On this occasion, Mike was playing second guitar and some keys. Besides Ron and Lee, his friends included Tyrel Choat on talkbox guitar, Steve Hammond on keys, and the phenomenal Christopher "Chill" Hill (about whom more later) on drums. Blow By Blow is the album that, when it was released back in '75, caused my teenage guitar mentor (RIP) and I to believe we needed to learn how to play good. (In my case, this was compounded by reading Robert Fripp's remarks in Guitar Player to the effect that Hendrix "had inefficient technique and misled many young players who tried to emulate him." Guilty.) We were wrong, of course, but anyway...

Blow By Blow was a revelation when it hit, although in retrospect it's more like a continuation (minus the vocals) of the jazz-inflected R&B direction Beck had undertaken with the Rough and Ready band; the secret ingredient was Max Middleton. (Beck has always relied on keyboard players to give him settings to make his unique melodic gifts shine.) I saw him live twice during his fusion period, once from the front row at the Palace Theater in Albany, NY (the sound was an undifferentiated roar, I was deaf for 24 hours afterwards, and Jan Hammer reminded me of Tim Conway), once from the first balcony at the Academy of Music in Manhattan (great view of the whole stage and beautiful, clear sound).

Big Mike and friends gave this challenging music a rougher edge than on Beck's George Martin-produced original, which I found preferable. There was blood on the stage, as there should be. Ron has great chops which have grown even more imposing since we briefly played in a band together 18 years ago, and he soloed with abandon and a brittle attack that put his own stamp on Beck's tunes (his solo on "Freeway Jam" was a particularly memorable scorcher). Lee's a consummate bandleader and interacted effectively with Chris Hill and Steve Hammond to hold things together when onstage monitors were unreliable. The rhythm section cooked on the funk grooves, and the whole band was blindingly amazing on "Scatterbrain" (taken at a furious tempo). It was nice to hear Ron on the unspeakably gorgeous "Diamond Dust," which I once heard him play (sans the head) with Bill Pohl at the Fairmount.

Then Bill got up with Chris Hill and bass virtuoso Canyon Kafer to pay homage to their inspiration, Holdsworth, who passed back in April. I'd heard Kafer's name before when he played with Bill and Eddie Dunlap on a previous visit of Bill's, and I'm sorry to say I missed a solo gig he played down the street from me at the Grackle Gallery. (I'll not repeat that mistake.) I believe he's also in Eddie's Rage-Out Arkestra. They opened with "Proto-Cosmos" from the New Tony Williams Lifetime album Believe It, the album which introduced Holdsworth to the US audience in the same year as Blow By Blow. I saw that band when that record was new, and I'm here to testify: Chris Hill's a polyrhythmic powerhouse, and his toms have the same thunder that Tony's did.

They tore into some material from Holdsworth's '83 Road Games EP, including the title track (sung by Big Mike). It was a jaw-dropper to observe the ferocity with which Cafer attacked his 6-string bass while reading chord charts. Bill showed that the move to Colorado -- where he leads a trio and plays in legendary prog band Thinking Plague -- has been beneficial to his playing. He picks lightning-fast runs with astonishing fluidity, with a smoothness of articulation that I've only ever heard from him, Holdsworth, and Eric Johnson. Watching him interact with these two young cats, it struck me how deeply all three of them had to be into the music, to be able to execute faster than most people can think.

I teared up twice during their set. The first time was when I heard the intro to "Fred" from Believe It, a song I'd seen Holdsworth play with Williams all those years ago (and I'm now really regretting not seeing him when he played the Kessler in Oak Cliff a couple of years back; never take for granted there'll be another opportunity). The second time was when I turned around when they were done and realized: they'd kept the house. Yes, there's an audience for challenging music in Fort Worth -- although Bill played it off, saying "Mike can get people out for anything."

After that, I got up and jammed with Mike, Ron, Lee, Chris, Steve, Tyrel, and a cat from the audience who got up to play guitar. It was my first time to play with Lee in a decade, and I was hyper-aware of being out of practice, although people said kind things later. (There's nothing to compare with playing a half-ass solo, turning around, and seeing Bill Pohl playing rhythm. As Eliot said, "The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.") I need a Stoogeaphilia show to restore my shaky self-esteem, and will get one, at Lola's, on September 16. Meanwhile, Big Mike will be back there on August 25, playing Led Zep III and Houses of the Holy (my favorite!) in their entahrty. I shall endeavor to be there.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Max Johnson's "In the West"

Part of a new generation of composing improvisers, Max Johnson is a young bassist who's made quite a splash since hitting the New York jazz scene not quite a decade ago, working with eminences from Abrams to Zorn and recording half a dozen albums as leader. His discography includes an album with the cooperative trio Big Eyed Rabbit, on which Johnson melds improvised music with his other great enthusiasm: bluegrass. (And this from a guy who grew up in New Jersey.) Beyond that, he has three discs (so far) at the helm of his regular trio with trumpeter Kirk Knufke and drummer Ziv Ravitz, and one (The Prisoner) with a quartet that includes saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, violist Mat Maneri, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.

On In the West, released by the estimable Portuguese label Clean Feed, Johnson leads another quartet, this one including Susan Alcorn -- usually a solo performer, most recently heard on Mary Halvorson's octet date Away From You -- on pedal steel guitar, but it's hardly a Western swing session. Alcorn's molten-silver sound introduces atonal elements to the sonic stew, her swooping glisses recalling Harry Partch's just-intoned instruments.

The opening "Ten Hands" starts out with Johnson and drummer Mike Pride laying down a loping groove, reminiscent of Dave Holland and Jack Dejohnette's early ECM pairings, over which pianist Kris Davis can expound, expand, and elaborate freely, before careening into more impressionistic territory. "Greenwood" opens with a few scattered notes, surrounded by negative space, before Davis introduces the meandering theme. The other instruments join and gradually build to a masterful tension as Davis repeatedly hammers on a single key while Alcorn sprays clouds of notes around her and Pride raises a staccato clatter, the chordal instruments gradually building harmonic density before subsiding back into silence.

"Great Big Fat Person" is the most developed of Johnson's compositions here, wending its way through several contrasting moods. It starts out with a lengthy exposition by Davis, with comments from Alcorn that shimmer like reflections of light in running water. Some hammered chords from Davis send the flow in a different direction, with Alcorn playing sinuous ascending lines. As the piece decelerates, the leader does some of his most expressive playing. Johnson's spacious arrangement of Ennio Morricone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" is an extended and leisurely examination of the theme's melodic and harmonic contours, with plenty of room for the quartet's most spirited interactions. There's much to beguile the ear here, and Max Johnson's a talent to watch.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Obsolete artifacts, or "What's in my CD player"

Doctor Nerve - Every Screaming Ear: Imagine FZ's Waka Jawaka/Grand Wazoo or In NY bands, except there are no stupid "funny" songs to sit through, and all they play is charts that begin where "The Black Page" left off in complexity and mania, occasionally attaining Beefheartian levels of jagged contrapuntal angularity. Yum! Nice non-reverential cover of Don's "When It Blows Its Stacks," too. Doctor Nerve mastermind Nick Didkovsky is also a participant in...

BONE - Uses Wrist Grab: A long distance power trio, one of whose members didn't meet the other two until after this was completed. You wouldn't know it from the way they lock in on these complex and challenging compositions -- for contrary to the image "power trio" suggests, this is a composer's record. Here, Didkovsky covers bases from metallic skree to percussive thunk, while bassist Hugh Hopper reminds us why his era was Soft Machine's most compelling.

Nick Didkovsky - Binky Boy: On which the composer explores -- on his overdubbed lonesome, in tandem with Mark Stewart, and (on the gorgeous Crimsonoid chamber music of "Black Iris") with the other members of the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet -- the myriad musical possibilities of the electric guitar. Comparisons being odious, I'll listen to this as often as I do to Nels Cline's similarly conceived Coward (a lot). Didkovsky's also on...

Henry Kaiser/Robert Musso - Echoes for Sonny: On which the Bay Area avant-gardist and NYC muso-producer render tribute to the letter and spirit of the estimable six-string saxophonist's law, via covers of his tunes from Ask the Ages and Guitar (both of which are essential), as well as collective improvs with Didkovsky, bassist Jesse Krakow, and drummer Weasel Walter. A brisk, bracing free-jazz skronkaroll melee.

Thinking Plague - Hoping Against Hope: Leader-guitarist Mike Johnson comes across more like a modern composer using rock instruments than your typical '70s-reverential progster. One reason is his tonal palette, in which the acoustic sounds of woodwinds and piano carry much thematic weight, although here, Bill Pohl's fleet-fingered guitar replaces the piano. Also, the lyrics Elaine Di Falco sings are attuned to the troubled times in which we live, and the closing "A Dirge for the Unwitting" is simply a masterful achievement.

Soft Machine - Live at the Paradiso: As they shed founding members, their focus shifted from psychedelic whimsy towards jazz. Their second LP represented the best balance of their "song" and "jam" impulses; Robert Wyatt's biographer got my attention by highlighting this good-sounding boot as a more aggressive rendition of many of those songs. It ain't Third, but I didn't miss the horns, either. Jazz-rock improv powerful enough to rival Cream, the Hendrix Experience, and '73-'74 King Crimson. Speaking of which...

King Crimson - Epitaph, The Night Watch, and The Collectable King Crimson Volume One: Got my tickets! While I'm waiting for the show, these comps of live recordings are my favorite way to hear 'em. Epitaph demonstrates that the '69 lineup left more blood on the stage than you could hear in the grooves of In the Court... (they encored with "Mars" from Holst's "The Planets" to show they weren't fooling), while portions of The Night Watch and The Collectable...Volume One wound up on Starless and Bible Black and USA.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Things we like: King Crimson, Bill Pohl

All I ever need is something to look forward to. Now, it looks as though I've got a couple: King Crimson will play a rare Dallas date on October 21 (tickets go on sale July 24 at 10am CDT here, and prog-igal (see what I did there?) son Bill Pohl will be visiting Fort Worth from Colorado at the end of July, and has a couple of shows booked.

The publication of David Weigel's The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Progressive Rock started a lot of teapot tempests, if Facebook comment threads I've read are an indication. Prog's been taking it on the chin since the advent of punk, but its adherents are as fervid as metal's, and equally insular. Myself, I haven't read Weigel yet, and probably won't until my public library gets a copy; I can't see shelling out for a tome that has ELP and Rush among its subjects. But don't take me for a hater. This month, I'm rolling with Crimson and Thinking Plague (the band Bill joined after moving to the Rocky Mountain State, whose new album I finally bought after Bill told me they aren't touring this year) in the car, and spinning Doctor Nerve, Henry Cow, Soft Machine, and Robert Wyatt at la casa.

Back in the day, I might have found ELP's air-spinning drumkit and Rick Wakeman's wizard's cloak over-the-top, but I thought the same thing about Mott the Hoople's marionettes (when I saw them on Broadway). As one who grew up listening to German opera at pain-threshold volume every weekend courtesy of my old man, I was less taken with conservatory cats who brought classical repertory into the rock arena packaged as spectacle (not that there's anything wrong with that) than I was with the sturm und drang of the Who, Hendrix, and the like. That said, I owned all the prog recs that were typical of a rock-obsessed teen of my place and time (Long Island, '70s): The Yes Album and Close To the Edge (which made better architecture inside my "experienced" brain than the Allmans at Fillmore East, even); Thick As A Brick; In the Court of the Crimson King and Red.

Crimson I loved best of all. Even at its most stately and majestic ("In the Court...," "Starless," "Exiles"), their music carried a sense of dread and menace via Robert Fripp's distorto guitar and the spectral sound of the mellotron -- a keyboard-operated tape replay device that the Crims had the audacity to carry on the road in spite of its temperamental character. Fripp himself, a classically-trained former dance orchestra muso who looked for all the world like a small town schoolmaster, was the most thoughtful and philosophical of music-makers, plus a good writer to boot, as anyone who read his '80s scrawl in Musician magazine can attest.

The original '69 Crimson lineup, which exploded out of nowhere and lasted less than a year, was probably the most alchemical; the '73-74 lineup, anchored by the "flying brick wall" (Fripp's words) riddim section of John Wetton and Bill Bruford, was probably the most adept at improvising. Even in the '80s, with Adrian Belew up front "ruining things" (Jon Teague's words), they were capable of something like "Requiem" from 1982's Beat, on which Fripp and Belew came as close as any guitarists have to replicating the sound John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders made together.

In recent days, I've become quite enamored of 2003's The Power To Believe, featuring a better integrated Fripp and Belew, along with a new "flying brick wall" (Trey Gunn and Pat Mastolotto). The current touring octet includes Mastolotto as one of three, count 'em, three drummers along with returning veterans Tony Levin (bass) and Mel Collins (sax). Setlists I've seen span the band's entire trajectory, including some surprises. This is probably my last chance to see them (which I haven't yet). Now all I need is a ticket.

Closer to home, Bill Pohl has an improv gig (billed as "The Art Five Live at Art 5") booked at Arts Fifth Avenue on Friday, July 28. He'll be joined there by Eddie Dunlap on drums and Joe Rogers on keys -- making this a de facto embedded Master Cylinder reunion -- plus Chris White on brass and flute, and estimable youngster Canyon Cafer on 7-string bass. Then on Saturday, July 29, Bill will play an Allan Holdsworth set at Lola's with Cafer and Christopher "Chill" Hill. Headlining that night will be Big Mike Richardson, who'll perform Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow in its entahrty, accompanied by usual suspects like Ron Geida, Lee Allen, Tyrel Choat, Steve Hammond, and the aforementioned C. Hill. (If I make the latter date, as I intend to, it will be my first time hearing Big Mike -- whose name I first heard from Bill and Kurt Rongey, some 15 years ago -- play electric. Shame on me.)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

7.15.2017, Fort Worth

It was a night of singers.

Transistor Tramps played their first show in five years at Lola's Saloon last night, on a bill with Panic Volcanic and Dead Vinyl. Three bands I want to see playing five minutes from mi casa is sufficient cause for me to venture out, so I headed over there a little after nine and was surprised (again, I don't get out much) at the number of cars parked on the street so early. Some of 'em were probably from Lola's Trailer Park (where a big TV screen had the sports on all night, rather than in the saloon -- good move, Brian Forella!), but both of the support bands are big draws, I gather. However it came about, a good house to start out with.

I'd seen Ansley-The Destroyer Doughtery for the first time a few weeks earlier, singing covers with Frank y los Frijoles in the Trailer Park while I was trying to sell records with Carl Pack at the Rock and Roll Rummage Sale. With Panic Volcanic, she was Something Entahrly Other: comparisons being odious, imagine Janis Joplin (minus the rasp, but with lots of power, projection, and presence) fronting the Grand Funk Railroad riddim section. (Offstage, I was surprised to note that she's quite diminutive, rather than the amazon I was expecting.) Behind her, drummer Chris Cole and bassist Zach Tucker (about whom more later) flailed 1970-length hair while kicking up a ruckus like Don and Mel at the Cincinnati Pop Festival. Stirring stuff. They release their second album at Main at South Side on August 4.

Dead Vinyl's trip is also replete with '70s referents, and they get bonus points for opening with Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody" and closing with Elvis' "You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care)." Before he opens his mouth, frontman Hayden Miller comes across like a slacker Everykid, but put him on the mic and he campaign shouts like a Southern diplomat, with showmanship to spare. His band plays sweaty boogie rock with sass and swagger, like a less inhibited Free or post-Smokin' Humble Pie. Guitarist Tyler Vela channels Page and Kossoff with a brittle tone reminiscent of the Red 100s' Raul Mercado, while bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jeremy Diaz of Dead Sexy fame. In the engine room, the aforementioned Zach Tucker is joined by Parker Anderson, with whom he also plays in Animal Spirit and whom I first saw playing with Eddie Dunlap's Mondo Drummers a few seasons back. They're all stupendous.

Transistor Tramps returned to the stage after a lengthy hiatus while frontwoman Elle Hurley battled hepatitis-C (read all about it in Steve Watkins' piece here). The band -- Elle's husband Richard Hurley on guitar, keyboardist David Sebrind, and drummer Jason Sweatt, plus new backup singers Angie Ntavyo and Morgan A'lyse Gardner -- reconvened five months ago at the request of Elle and Richard's daughter Chloe for her 18th birthday. Their streamlined sound, a blend of '80s synth pop and late '70s rock without an ounce of excess to be found, serves as a vehicle for Elle's tough chick persona, and she really inhabits the songs she sings, with the backup vocalists giving the proceedings more of a celebratory air. When Chloe joined Elle to sing "Jackie Boy" at the end of the set, it was clear that she inherited her mother's pipes. I'm going to have to dig out my copy of the EP they released before the hiatus. They should be recording again soon.