Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Strange Attractors at The Basement Bar

Humble Pie's "Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore"

Last weekend, when I was checking out some fuzz pedals (thanks, Frank!), my hands were inexorably drawn to the harmonized guitar line from "Four Day Creep," the opening song from Humble Pie's Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore. When I was 17, it was my signature "warming up noise" in the same way that the intro to the Rationals' "Guitar Army" has been for the past five years or so.

If you have any propensity at all for playing air guitar, "I Don't Need No Doctor," the climactic song from that album, will bring it out of you.

8-Track Museum curator Bucks Burnett says it, and I believe it: "Best live album ever."

Rockin' the Fillmore arrived in the fall of '71, as I was starting high school, and soon supplanted Live At Leeds as the album I had to listen to four times a day. (I never had that kind of relationship with Who's Next, which seemed fussy compared to its feral predecessor.)

I drove my father up the wall trying to learn the signature riff from "I Don't Need No Doctor" -- and I didn't even own an electric guitar yet.

My best friend from middle school, whose own tastes had shifted on a dime from Roger Miller and Peter, Paul and Mary to Neil Young and Steppenwolf (and later, on acid, the Doors -- I shudder to think), had looked on in befuddlement when I tried to turn him onto the Yardbirds, MC5, and Stooges. His comment on his first exposure to Humble Pie's tonsil-tearing frontman Steve Marriott (when I played him, if my shaky memory serves, the first Small Faces album): "He sounds like a peanut."

Back in those days, when teenage boys would argue over favorite guitar players the way they argued over favorite cars or baseball players, Marriott was my first favorite singer. (I was too young to appreciate the subtlety and finer songcraft on the early Rod Stewart records, and I thought Robert Plant sounded like an hysterical banshee.) Before that, I only cared about lead guitarists.

True, Humble Pie did have a lead guitarist: Peter Frampton, a prettyboy pop star in the UK when Marriott bolted the Small Faces and invited him to make a band. Frampton was different, less blues-based than most of the axe-slingers of the time. Instead, he played a melodic style that drew from Django Reinhardt (at high volume) at a time when "jazz-rock" meant blaring horn bands or, soon, Mahavishnu. It was the most idiosyncratic style I'd heard since Ritchie Blackmore first scorched my ears when I was 11. I wasn't facile enough to copy it, but it made me listen for different things on the axe, and perhaps was a gateway drug of sorts into other musics.

In due time, Frampton left, and I actually witnessed his performance on his first US solo tour, sandwiched in between Slade and the J. Geils Band. The electric piano broke during his first or second song, and while it was being repaired, he sat on the edge of the stage, talking to the audience. I thought to myself at the time, "This guy is gonna be huge," and indeed, in the fullness of time, he was -- pink hair and all.

Steve Marriott supposedly called their mutual manager, Dee Anthony, out about using the proceeds from Humble Pie's tours to launch Frampton's solo career, and (the story goes) was told to shut up or wind up sleeping with the fishes. After that, the former stage kid (he'd replaced Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger in Oliver! in the West End) slunk back to the UK and reverted to playing the pubs, and wound up dying in a fire in 1991 after falling asleep smoking in bed. Late-period recordings I've heard indicate he could have had an interesting maturity. He deserved a better end.

Back in the day, though, Marriott could roar with the best of 'em: a cockney pipsqueak's overwrought impersonation of a soul singer. He had a freak voice with a vibrato-laden scream that was less controlled but more exciting than Paul Rodgers'. His primitive guitar playing got better as he went, and he penned some great riffs, often grafting them on top of blues and R&B classics like Willie Dixon's "I'm Ready" or Ray Charles' "Hallelujah, I Love Her So." "Stone Cold Fever" is another one I never get tired of playing during breaks in Stoogeaphilia practice.

Humble Pie's real forte, downplayed at Anthony's insistence in favor of the full-tilt boogie, was slow, moody, bluesy pieces like "Live With Me" from their eponymous third album, or "Strange Days" from Rock On (the album they were touring when they taped Rockin' the Fillmore). Two extended examples exist on the live album: an Uber-raunchy version of Muddy Waters' "Rollin' Stone," and most sublime, the Pie's take on Dr. John's "I Walk On Gilded Splinters."

Town and Country was widely reckoned to be the Pie's best record, largely owing to its US rarity (until A&M released it on a twofer with their first album), and Smokin', the album that followed Rockin' the Fillmore, was their biggest success, and contained three of their best songs ever ("Hot 'n' Nasty," Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody," and "30 Days in the Hole"). But Rockin' the Fillmore remains their magnum opus, a true artifact of its time that's still able, 40 years on, to get asses out of seats (if the asses in question have any affinity whatsoever with rock 'n' roll, which is hardly a guarantee these days).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Tom Waits alb

Just preordered the new Tom Waits album Bad As Me, out 10.25.2011 on limited edition deluxe CD (with three bonus songs), CD, and LP (all of which come with digital download cards). Title track is streamable via Soundcloud now. Hooray!

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Strange Attractors' "Midnight at Zochil's"

Since the last Strange Attractors release, 2009's Sleep and You Will See, there have been a few changes made, most significant of which is the departure of frontman Kevin Pearce.

Absent Pearce, his longtime collaborator Jeremy Diaz steps up to the mic. From his Dead Sexy glam-punk daze (I remember one particular occasion at Rubber Gloves when I observed a couple of garage-rock Nazis hissing, "He's using a wah-wah pedal!") through stints in A Capital Affair and This Damn Town (bands where I felt he was underutilized), into the messy morass of shoegazy psych that was the early Attractors, Jeremy's always had great chops and taste. As a longtime fan, I find it heartening to see him feeling assured enough in his singing and writing to finally lead the band.

New guitarist Dan Wilcox, who's also a member of Austin garage-rock supremos the Ugly Beats (who'll visit Lola's this Saturday), plays Sterling Morrison to Jeremy's Uncle Lou, providing a lighter, almost surf-like reverb-and-tremelo-drenched sound that contrasts well with the Attractors' trademark bed of drone, distortion and feedback. Drummer Jillian Jerk, a crisp and propulsive trap-kicker, joins another ex-Dead Sexyite, bassist Jen Tran (sadly absent on a recent Fort Worth jaunt) in the riddim section.

All of which is in service of a new found emphasis on songwriting. While Diaz and Co. aren't exactly penning pop hits, the newest set of Attractors songs are noteworthy for the presence of memorable bits and structural elements, rather than just serving as the sonic bath that much of their earlier material did. "Black and Mild" opens the proceedings with the kind of fuzzy thump-and-drone we've come to expect from the Attractors. Then Wilcox throws in a Morricone-esque guitar figure before the song proper commences, a hallucinatory tale of a trip from Texas to Memphis, sounding like something approximating Hawkwind playing the blooze.

On "Holy Scene," Wilcox adds some nice flourishes to the song's relentless forward motion. Jeremy's a limited singer who makes good use of spacey 'verb and F/X on his voice. The crunchy guitar-and-organ riff on the brief "Irator" is punctuated by some snazzy breaks. The modified boogie "Premonition Equinox" has a snaky organ riff reminiscent of the Shocking Blue's "Venus." "Pretty Boom Boom" is a surprise: a slow ballad, with Joe Mauldin-esque tub-thumping, a nicely lilting guitar line and a solo that almost gets into Richard Thompson territory.

The clean-toned guitars that open "Psycho Babel" are another surprise; the song itself is a straight-ahead rocker that's downright catchy, with a touch of twang in Wilcox's expansive solo. "Rock n Roll Pt. 10" isn't a Gary Glitter update like you might think; rather, it's a slice of almost-poppy garage rock with a classic chord progression and girl-group backing voxxx.

The Attractors saved their best for last, starting with the slow and stately "Shiny Beat," which pits Farfisa and piano ornamentation against a gnarly fuzzed-out riff. Jeremy dedicated "Sweet 17" to Stoogeaphilia when we recently shared a stage, and you can hear why: the intro's a cousin of the Stooges' "Real Cool Time," before the Attractors get down to business, with Wilcox riffing against the drone until Jeremy cuts loose with a Stooge-esque ride. "Walking with Jesus" is a twisted hymn from the artist formerly known as Jesus de la Cruz. (Actually, it's a Spacemen 3 cover. Duh.)

Midnight at Zochil's shows the Strange Attractors broadening their sonic palette and crafting ever-more-compelling song structures. For my two cents, it's the best thing they've done yet. Cop via Past/Futures Records on sweet, sweet vinyl or download.

8.27.2011, FTW

How on Earth does Mike Watt manage to churn out a novella after every single gig he plays? Mystery to me. After the other night's show, which coincided with my sinuses turning shitty for the first time in four months, I felt like I'd been thrown down a flight of stairs twice, then I had to work in the morning, which explains the tardiness of this missive.

The li'l Stoogeband hadn't played at the Basement Bar since it was still Lola's Stockyards. That was almost two years ago, a memorable night when the Dangits saved our asses from multiple guitar and drum malfunctions. (We'll be playing there again with them and Dixie Witch on September 16th, hint hint.)

Our friend Jamie, who used to book us in Arlington, now works for the booking agency Overtone, who surprised me by sending me an email enumerating the go-times for each band, our comps, our guests, parking instructions (with promise of reimbursement, a nice thing in the Stockyards, which isn't as expensive as Dallas but is up there with the curmudgeon zone here in FTW), a request for stage plots and an 8:30 check-in with Thomas, the sound man.

The Strange Attractors, the band led by old FTW ally Jeremy Diaz (ex-Dead Sexy/A Capital Affair/This Damn Town), was driving in from Austin, as was the opening band, The Wolf, who'd signed on at the last minute when the Fungi Girls had to back out due to some post-tour turbulence. (Skyler Salinas from the Girls was in the house and let me know that they're back in action, so I'm looking forward to doing a show with 'em at a later date.)

I talked to Thomas the sound guy and we agreed to have the Attractors load in to the stage and backline their shit so The Wolf could set up in front of them and the li'l Stoogeband would stash its gear in the offstage area. I waited to see somebody I knew (Hembree) to pass the word along before my sweetie 'n' I went upstairs to the Star Cafe to get something to eat. (I'd forgotten about Stockyards prices; $14 for a chicken fried steak, a la carte?)

By the time we got back, the Attractors had arrived. It was good to see Jeremy and his dad Ruben again, and to meet his wife Susan. Jeremy said he'd been planning to use Ruben's goldtop Les Paul to play the show, but had forgotten it when they went out to eat dinner. I told him no worries; he could use my Squier Tele. (Later, Susan Diaz told me he'd be delighted to do so, since it was the only type of guitar he likes that he doesn't own.)

The Attractors' drummer, Jillian Jerk, had been planning to use The Wolf's drums, but when it developed that they'd been having van trouble and might be late, we decided to switch the running order. The Attractors would lead off, with Jillian using Jon Teague's drums, and The Wolf could play a 30-minute set after Stoogeaphilia finished at 1am.

The Attractors set up their gear, and when Jon arrived, he set up his drums onstage. Hembree made a deal with the Attractors' fill-in bassplayer (whose name I can't recall; I suck) to use her amp, to minimize the time we'd need for set change. (Jeremy offered me the use of his Marshall Plexi, but I told him I've gotten used to playing "amp du jour" at Inches of Mercury and look forward to oppos to play through my Twin.)

The Wolf showed up as the Attractors were getting ready to take the stage and proceeded to load their gear into the area where Stoogeaphilia's was already stashed, blocking it in. Jeremy coaxed the crowd of his family and friends that was assembled in the far corner of the room up to the stage, and the Attractors were off, playing a more song-oriented set than I'd heard them play before, with some Byrdsian jangle 'n' twang added to the mix of psych, shoegaze, and rawk, all on a bed of nasty distortion and feedback. Jeremy's grown confident enough to front the band, with Daniel Wilcox as a worthy onstage foil, and their new album Midnight at Zochil's is the best thing the Attractors have recorded yet (review to follow).

When Jeremy announced the Attractors' last song, Hembree jumped over the barrier to our gear and handed Richard's and my amps and all of our guitars over to me. He warned that we'd need to watch our stage volumes, a message which was reinforced by Thomas the soundguy when we checked. As a result, I couldn't get the tone I usually like from my Twin. Luckily, Frank Cervantez had let me borrow his one-knob fuzzbox for the gig, so I compensated by leaving the Bluesbreaker I got from Sir Steffin on for pretty much everything but the "quiet" songs ("Ain't It Fun" and "30 Seconds Over Tokyo") and used the fuzz for all of my solos.

It's always unpredictable how new devices are going to function on the set, but Frank's fuzzbox seemed to integrate well, without the wild oscillation I was fearing. I'd anticipated having to back off my volume when it was on, but in fact, it tended to attenuate the highs the way a Fuzz Face or Big Muff does, so I wound up running it with the gain a little higher than I'd planned to. I was particularly pleased with the way it sounded on "Looking At You," on which my high freqs had sounded really thin at practice after the "fuzz shootout" last weekend.

We got a good response and I was happy to see Quincy Holloway and Will Kapinos from Dove Hunter in the crowd. (Will's doing his John Lee Hooker one-man-blues-band thing as Dim Locator at Lola's this Saturday on the Justin Robertson-promoted show along with Austin's Ugly Beats and Daniel Huffman's New Fumes.)

Lots of folks I'd never seen before said nice things about the Stoogeband after we were done, and Todd Osborne, the owner, seemed pleased. Todd had worked a deal with Facebook whereby folks who mentioned the social media site got their cover comped. He said that 52 people did, so the site kicked in $500, which made for good payouts for all three bands.

The Wolf followed us with a mix of early-Kinks energy and doowop chord progressions, sporting three guitars (Kay, Tele, and SG) and a penchant for fancy headdresses. By that time, though, I was more focused on loading out and trying to get a couple of hours' sleep before work in the morning. A fun night that I'd spend the next couple of days paying for. At least the ragweed seems to have settled down a little.

ADDENDUM: Hembree sez his recording of our set sounds "FIERCE." Should be online in the next couple of days at Katboy's Stoogeaphilia archive.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pics of The Strange Attractors, Stoogeaphilia, and The Wolf @

My sweetie posted some of her pics of The Strange Attractors, Stoogeaphilia, and The Wolf at the Basement Bar last night on her photo blog. Click on 'em to make 'em big and leave her a comment why doncha?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Stoogeaphilia/The Strange Attractors/The Wolf @ The Basement Bar, 8.27.2011

It's on! The Basement Bar is at 105 W. Exchange St. -- downstairs from Star Cafe, one block west of N. Main St. Cover is $5. Advance tickets at Prekindle (for a $.99 service fee).

9:30p The Wolf
10:30p The Strange Attractors
11:45p Stoogeaphilia

I'm borrowing a fuzzbox from Frank Cervantez. This is going to be fun.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

kurosawa haikus (part 2)

stray dog
young cop loses gun
old cop helps him retrieve it
from the pickpocket

odd capra homage
mifune as cary grant
shyster redeems self

three views of a crime
who tells the truth? who's lying?
none sees his own face

the idiot
dostoyevsky's tale
somehow doesn't ring true set
in modern japan

dying bureaucrat
seizes the day and makes one
beautiful gesture

seven samurai
an action flick that
gets its impact from the strength
of its characters

i live in fear
a patriarch fears
nuclear oblivion
alas, still timely

throne of blood
japanese macbeth
ambition lays a lord low
a tale of hubris

Mo' VU

Scouring Olivier Landemaine's estimable Velvet Underground Web Page, I believe I've stumbled upon the god-king of Velvet Underground bootlegs. The Wild Side of the Street includes the complete Velvet set from the Hilltop Pop Festival in Rindge, New Hampshire, 8.2.1969, along with the version of "Sister Ray" from the infamous "guitar amp tape," recorded in proximity to Lou's amp onstage at the Boston Tea Party, 3.15.1969, that I've been listening to all week (see video in earlier post).

While I haven't been able to get a sniff of thatun, I did manage to download a copy of the almost-as-cosmic Ostrich/Hilltop, which has the Hilltop set and a different "Sister Ray" -- the one from La Cave in Cleveland, 1.29.1969, that includes some of the lyrics that wound up in "The Murder Mystery" on the third album and was on the Sweet Sister Ray's Murder Mystery CD I had that rotted from the inside out. I also see the "Sister Ray"-less Hilltop set has been reissued on bootleg vinyl, which makes my heart glad.

Frank Cervantez requested a mix of my fave Velvets stuff, so today I burned him a disc including the following:

All Tomorrow's Parties: The intro, St. Lester wrote, "is like watching dawn break over a bank of buildings through the windows of these elegantly hermetic cages," and I'm certainly not gonna argue with him.

Run Run Run: From the aforementioned Hilltop Pop Festival, an even better guitar workout than the Boston Tea Party version on Praise Ye the Lord.

I'll Be Your Mirror: I used to sing this to my kids when they were little, but more like Lou (flat croak, Noo Yawk accent) than Nico.

Sister Ray: The version from the "guitar amp tape." The feedback meltdown on this is, as Frank points out, sick. I think this is the tone I want from a fuzzbox.

Candy Says: Another one I used to sing to my kids. First song on the self-titled third album. I believe this is about Candy Darling, of "...came from out on the Island" fame. That's right, I used to sing my kids a song about a transvestite.

What Goes On: Another from the Hilltop Pop Festival. Sure, by '69 they weren't as innovative as they started out, but Jayzus, what a live band they were.

I'm Set Free: Underrated song from the third album. "I'm set free to find another illusion." Nice.

Head Held High: A rocker from Loaded, with teenage Lawn Guylander Billy Yule subbing for Mo on drums. I actually used to sing this in a band with Nicholas Girgenti that (thankfully) never got out of my living room.

I Found A Reason: Lou shows his doowop roots. In 10th grade, I used to recite these lyrics to Donald Harrison to try and prove to him that Lou was a better songwriter than, uh, John Denver.

Train Round the Bend: Lou takes the piss out of the "gettin' it together out in the country" fad that was in vogue in 1970. His most hi-larious vocal evah.

I'm Sticking With You: Late in the day, Lou wrote a couple of songs for Mo Tucker to sing. This is one.

After Hours: And this is another.

ADDENDUM: Wouldn't ya know, Sweet Sister Ray on vinyl now sells for hundreds of dollars, but I just found a sweet, sweet download, so my life's good.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Underground Railroad @ Lola's, 7.30.2010

Bill Pohl (gtr), Kurt Rongey (pno, ds), and Matt Hembree (bs), one of the delights to be sampled at the "Cavalcade of Unpopular Musics" show at Doc's Records on October 7th.

VU - "Sister Ray," Boston Tea Party, 3.15.1969

This is the first version on the bootleg I downloaded, from the infamous "guitar amp tape," here speed-corrected. I could wallow in this morass of noise for days. (In fact, have been.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cavalcade of Unpopular Musics @ Doc's Records, 10.7.2011

It's on!

5:00 Hentai Improvising Orchestra
5:45 Darrin Kobetich
6:30 The Panic Basket
7:15 Strung, Drawn & Quartered
8:00 The Underground Railroad


Vote for HIO!

In what must surely be one of the most peculiar turns of events in recent years, Hentai Improvising Orchestra was nominated for a Dallas Observer music award in the "Jazz Act" category, among such luminaries as Damon K. Clark, Paul Slavens, and Yells At Eels. While the phrase "snowball's chance in hell" seems applicable, go ahead and vote for us if it floats your boat.

New Tom Waits? Yes, please.

Watch this space today.

Monday, August 22, 2011

kurosawa haikus (part 1)

sanshiro sugata
young disciple learns
the path of judo is hard
to follow truly

the most beautiful
all together now
girls sacrifice for country
and their families

sanshiro sugata part two
the proud and vain one
discovers himself to be
a truly good man

the men who tread on the tiger's tail
adapted noh play
rubberfaced kenomoto
runs away with it

no regrets for our youth
a bit of fluff finds
the iron in her spine and
achieves transcendence

one wonderful sunday
aftermath of war
what can two young lovers do?
hope for happiness

drunken angel
doctor tries to save
a dying yakuza thug
hope versus despair

"Cavalcade of Unpopular Music" @ Doc's Records in October

T. Horn even designed this spiffy flyer. (That's Hickey's costume for the event; Terry's going to wear the gold lame Elvis suit and Hickey's going to chase him around.) Now all we need is a date.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Darrin Kobetich - "Playing in the Hedges"

My favorite song by my favorite acoustic solo guitarist on Earth. He'll perform solo, as part of Strung, Drawn & Quartered with Bill Pohl and Kavin Allenson, and in The Panic Basket with Darryl Wood as part of the "Cavalcade of Unpopular Music," hosted by HIO at Doc's Records on an October date TBD. You don't wanna miss this!

Thinking about the VU

In the middle of three days off from work, spent this morning listening to the Velvets and Richard Thompson and reading Clinton Heylin's All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground In Print 1966-1971. Heylin, of course, authored one of the most essential tomes on the punk development (From the Velvets to the Voidoids) and one of the most unnecessary (Babylon's Burning, in which he attempted to connect all dots from the Velvets to Nirvana and only managed to prove that 600 pages of scene gossip can be a real tough slog).

This 2005 anthology, while not as essential as Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga's Uptight (still pretty much the final word, although the Johan Kugelberg-curated coffee table book The Velvet Underground: New York Art does a nice job and is unparalleled visually), is a lot more of a fun read than, say, Albin Zak's Velvet Underground Companion: Four Decades of Commentary, which I never bothered replacing after one of my cats brought up a hairball on my copy a few years back (everyone's a critic).

In All Yesterday's Parties, there's a dramatic difference in the pieces written between '66 and '68 and the ones from '69 and '70. Most of the earlier pieces take the form of pro journo descriptions of a Warhol freak show. The worm starts to turn with future BOC manager/Clash producer Sandy Pearlman and proto-fanzine-snotnose Wayne McGuire's '68 scrawl from Crawdaddy, the daddy of all rock zines. By '69, rockcrit as a genre was off and running, and the commentary (from the likes of Crawdaddy founder Paul Williams, St. Lester, and Lenny Kaye) is more informed -- and more reverential. It's interesting how many of the Loaded reviews take a retrospective tone. Already back then, folks were trying to capture that lightning bolt in a bottle and historicize it.

I remember when my middle daughter, who lived with me when she was in high school, started to co-opt my music, I was surprised at some of the choices she made: Bobby Bland's Two Steps from the Blues, Coltrane, the Kinks, and the third Velvets album. It's really not so surprising in the last two cases -- you can hear echoes of Ray and Uncle Lou in the melancholy music that she in turn pulled my coat to, like Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes, and M. Ward.

It also surprised me today to realize how similarly the Velvets and Thompson's melancholy registered with me. And when I speak of the Velvets, it's the latter-day lineup with Doug Yule replacing John Cale of which I speak. Sure, I recognize the historical importance of the Cale-era VU, but when I wanna hear the Velvets, it's the self-titled third album or Loaded I reach for. (My favorite Cale albums are Vintage Violence and Paris 1919. That's right: I'm a closet wimp.) Maybe it's a function of when I came in: I first heard of Loaded when it was still a new release (although the band that produced it had already sundered).

Although in his maturity, Uncle Lou still makes noise with John Zorn and reprises Metal Machine Music with a Euro ensemble, it's as a songwriter that he'll be remembered. The Velvet Underground is the first time his public was confronted with his songwriting as _the thing itself_, stripped of Warhol's cachet and the novelty of mixed-media shows and sound experiments (mainly playing very loudly and cacophonously). Much has been made by Heylin and others of "Sister Ray's" impact on the Stooges, and while Ron Asheton was certainly aware of the Velvets (for chrissakes, Nico even stayed with Iggy at the band's house in Ann Arbor for a spell), he was more of a Hendrix man. Lou claimed to prefer Roger McGuinn, but that didn't stop him from kicking on the fuzz and going after Ayler and Ornette; a more audacious guitarist would be hard to imagine.

I once wrote a "jam review" of the Velvets' Quine Tapes archival release with my friend Phil Overeem. A couple of years later, Phil and his wife came to see me busking on the street in his Missouri town with Nathan Brown and yelled for VU songs, even though we were playing Nathan's Prince and Stevie Wonder imitations and "Sister Ray" just wouldn't have fit in with what we were doing. (Phil bought us a pizza anyway, bless him.)

When Stoogeaphilia was first contemplating the addition of non-Stooge material to our repertoire, I figured we might do a couple of VU tunes, but it wasn't to be; Hembree's college roommate had put him off the Velvets for life, not just by listening to them to the exclusion of all else, but in insisting that Matt listen to his endless explanations of their Importance. Consequently, I don't really think of any VU songs as _playing forms_, aside from a couple ("Candy Says," "I'll Be Your Mirror") that I used to sing to my kids when they were little.

I had to divest myself of The Quine Tapes, with its three long versions of "Sister Ray," a few years back when I was scuffling for cash, but I recently downloaded a bootleg with four different versions (two from '69, one each from '68 and '70). I'm glad I have it, for the cathartic fury of the first '69 version's band jams, which recall the pilled-up Bo Diddley-derived trance music of Five Live Yardbirds; the dynamic ebb-and-flow of the '68 and '70 versions; and the surprisingly sedate, almost Grateful Dead-like approach of the organ-heavy second '69 version, before it revs up into hyperdrive.

The bootleg I _really_ wish I still had, though, is Sweet Sister Ray's Murder Mystery, which includes the 39-minute prelude to "Sister Ray" recorded at La Cave in Cleveland in '68. It's gentle and quiet and as little happens during its course as happens in, say, Les Rallizes Denudes' "Smokin' Cigarette Blues" (which is half as long), but the net effect is similar to Miles' '73 "He Loved Him Madly" from Get Up With It, the only recording of such sustained mood of which I'm aware. After a few months, the CD actually _corroded from the inside out_, like a '70s Chrysler with moisture underneath the paint job.

The one VU bootleg I still own in corporeal form is Praise Ye the Lord, a vinyl artifact adorned with pics of Mo Tucker on the front cover and both labels (a Christmas card I received from her the year I interviewed her for an article that was never published is one of my most treasured pieces of memorabilia). It's worthwhile for the opportunity to hear some of the Loaded songs the way they were evolving in performance before the band hit the studio for their terminal run of sessions, with Lou's amp tremelo establishing the tempo for a "Train 'Round the Bend"/"Oh Sweet Nuthin'" medley.

Speaking of Loaded, I've always found Sterling Morrison's description of those days (from Uptight, if my shaky memory serves) to be almost idyllic: reading Vanity Fair all day (for Sterl was working on his master's back then), shooting some baskets, riding his bike over to Max's Kansas City to play two sets with the Velvets, enjoying a cheeseburger and an ale before riding his bike home. By then, of course, manager Steve Sesnick was actively working to squeeze Lou out of the band and install pretty boy Doug Yule in his place; yeah, right, as if.

But Loaded was the album I connected with when I was 14, and it remains my fave from the Velvet canon to this day. By that time, Lou was trying to paint the VU as "a Long Island rock and roll band," and maybe that's part of what I was responding to -- teenage drummer Billy Yule (Doug's brother, in for Mo while she was having her first kid) sounded a lot like the cat from my middle school that I used to call "The Happy Drummer," who liked the fill from Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" so much that he played it on every song.

Atypically for me, as much of a vinyl junkie and as disdainful of CD-bonus-track maximalism as I generally am, it's the '97 Rhino Fully Loaded Edition that's my preferred version of Loaded. Perhaps it's a sequencing thing: You get to hear the whole album in its original form, only restoring a few bars that were stupidly edited from "Sweet Jane" and "New Age" the first time around, then a complete alternate version of the album that's different enough not to make you feel like you've been brainwashed if you listen to 'em back to back, with appended bonus tracks of songs that'd later appear on the first Lou solo album and Berlin.

Heylin's comprehensive listing of every recorded version of every song ever played by the VU -- perhaps his way of shaking his fist at the gods when the Velvets scuppered their own "legit bootleg" series by asking Polygram for more money -- makes All Yesterday's Parties an even more valuable resource for trainspotters like your humble chronicler o' events, who'll doubtless be amused to note that the author mistakenly writes that "Men of Good Fortune" appeared on Transformer, rather than Berlin. In the end, of course, it isn't the minutiae that matters; it's the Sturm und Drang, the pulse and drone, and the well-observed humanity in those songs that resonates across the years.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fulltone Octafuzz II

Fuzz shootout complete (thanks, Frank and Jeff!), now Apache 5's Joshua Loewen chimes in with yet another fuzz option.

Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets

My sister reminded me of our parents taking us to see the Japanese rock musical Golden Bat by the Tokyo Kid Brothers at La Mama Theater off Broadway in the fall of '70 (Hendrix had just passed and I bought my first copy of Rolling Stone with his mug on the cover in the Village that night). I forgot about them until they (and avant-garde poet/dramatist/filmmaker Shuji Terayama) were mentioned in Julian Cope's Japrocksampler. Today I stumbled on a couple of Youtube clips from Terayama's 1971 film Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets. It'd be interesting to see this if it were possible to lay hands on a copy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I asked for a show, and for my sins they gave me...a couple, at least

8.27 Stoogeaphilia @ Basement Bar (moved from Wild Rooster) w/The Strange Attractors and The Wolf (Fungi Girls out)

9.16 Stoogeaphilia @ Basement Bar w/Dixie Witch and The Dangits (Matturday)

The li'l Stoogeband may play a show in early November with The Black Dotz and the Mike Haskins Experience at the Bryan Street Tavern in Dallas. And HIO may play at Doc's Records in October with the "Cavalcade of Unpopular Musics": The Underground Railroad, The Panic Basket, Strung Drawn & Quartered, and Darrin Kobetich solo. Film, as they say, at 11.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cecil Taylor

Reading Bob Dylan's autobiography last weekend in Houston, I was amused to read Bob's comment on jamming with Cecil Taylor in Greenwich Village ca. 1960. He wrote something like, "Cecil can play regular piano when he wants to."

My friend Phil Overeem got me thinking about Cecil again by sending me his extra copy of Dark To Themselves, an album I hadn't heard since 1989, when movers broke my turntable and my future ex-wife subsequently donated all of my records to Goodwill. It's a document of a 1976 live performance by a little-heard Unit that included David S. Ware on tenor sax -- who'd soon depart, taking drummer Marc Edwards with him, to form what just might be the last great free jazz ensemble -- in the front line alongside trumpeter Raphe Malik and Cecil's longtime alter ego, altoist Jimmy Lyons.

The 1992 Enja CD reish that Phil generously sent restores material that was originally cut to make the performance fit on two LP sides, and while it's not as colossal as Hat Hut's One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye (another marathon concert restored to full length for CD release, with violinist Ramsey Ameen in place of Ware and Ronald Shannon Jackson flattening mountains and redirecting rivers in place of Edwards), it's still a titanic listen.

Now 83, Taylor continues to perform (although he's recently canceled a couple of dates). Greatest muso of his generation? Greatest living American muso? Well, there's still Ornette, but that's the field. I saw him once, in a suboptimal context: "embraced" (more like "horns locked") with Mary Lou Williams and her tradition-bound trio at Avery Fisher Hall in 1977. People were standing up screaming in the balconies, but the two pianists' distinctly different thangs never cohered; they played _at_, rather than _with_ each other.

To hear Cecil live is to be confronted by a force of nature. Any doubts you might have about the intentionality of his pianistics will be dispelled by seeing him alternately caress and attack the keys, moving with the physicality and elegance of a dancer. Make no mistake, he's a master of his instrument; just one that applies himself to unbridled expression rather than empty displays of virtuosity.

As great as his solo recitals are (my fave: 1974's Silent Tongues), it's his Units that really float my boat. He teaches his men the scores using non-literary means, by singing them phrases and having them copy them, which gives his ensembles a more organic feel than crisply swinging sight-readers would have rendered. He refuses to comp behind soloists, pushing them forward with the challenge of his torrential idea-stream.

His earliest sides, where he still dallied with Tin Pan Alley song forms, and even the groundbreaking 1962 Cafe Montmartre sessions, with Sunny Murray breaking free from the constraints of metric time and Lyons mixing it up with Taylor like no one else could, all sound like rehearsals for his later work. His apotheosis came in 1966 with Unit Structures and Conquistador!, large ensemble dates he waxed for Blue Note that have the heft and gravitas of symphonies.

The two albums for New World with Shannon Jackson (who only took the gig because Ornette's Prime Time wasn't gigging enough; fathom _that_!) are epochal, but the Brit Tony Oxley -- a preternaturally alert and responsive percussionist -- proved to be a better accompanist for CT. (I've only experienced their interplay on the Burning Poles VHS tape; if I ever hit the lottery, I'm springing for the 11-disc In Berlin box on FMP.) Also worthwhile: Momentum Space, the 1998 meeting of Cecil, Coltrane's drummer Elvin Jones, and Ornette's foil Dewey Redman, a summit meeting, if you will, of the three founding streams of free jazz.

Uncle Lou meets O.C.

Well, it's high time. Or maybe make that prime time. Lou Reed, who used to host a jazz radio show in college and more recently has performed with John Zorn, just recorded seven takes of his song "Guilty" with Ornette Coleman on saxophone, playing against a different instrument each time. Go to Uncle Lou's website to hear 'em all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ugly Beats/New Fumes/Dim Locator + DJ Diamond Age @ Lola's, 9.3.2011

While he has little name recognition and isn't associated with any particular venue, Uberfan Justin Robertson sure books some intelligently-curated shows. Austin garage rockers The Ugly Beats, Daniel Huffman (Ghostcar/Flaming Lips)'s ambient/electronica/anything goes project New Fumes, and Will Kapinos' one-man-bluesband Dim Locator (see vid below): sounds like the show o' the month to me.

Enter...The Wolf

The Fungi Girls have regrettably bowed out of the 8.27.2011 Wild Rooster extravaganza with Stoogeaphilia and The Strange Attractors. In their place, Austin psych-doowop rawkers The Wolf have been added to the bill. Looking forward to hearing these guys, and hope the Girls are back in action soon.

Aloha from Houston via Satellite

Hickey strikes again. Can For Digital Download Fans Only be far behind?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

JoCo's "WIsh to Be Nautical"

Wish to Be Nautical is the third album by JoCo, and JoCo is the brainchild of one Jonathan O'Connor, a Fort Worth cat who also plays in a dubwise band called Drift Era. When I reviewed JoCo's previous release, A Troubling Noise, for the FW Weekly, I closed my spiel with what might have been construed as a rather backhanded comparison to Pink Floyd. And no fooling, this shiny silver disc will still elicit comparisons to Ummagumma or Meddle-era Floyd from listeners of a certain age, just as I'm sure it'll evoke Radiohead in the mind's eyes of listeners from Mr. O'Connor's own age cohort. But these are not bad things.

As it happens, I really like this music. Sub Oslo or Top Secret...Shhh it ain't, but this is more than the sound of some basement (or garage -- they don't build basements in North Central Texas) brats aping their influences; there's a palpable musical intelligence at work here. JoCo's use of lugubrious tempos, found sounds, static, keyboard drones, crunchy guitars, and feedback creates a heady ambience that's the perfect soundtrack for cogitating, contemplating 'n' philosophizing, or cleaning the house. In that regard, it's not unlike Brian Eno's work from back when he was still "rock" enough to employ badass axe-slingers like Robert Fripp and Phil Manzanera to decorate his soundscapes.

Downloadable for free via Soundcloud (link above), or in corporeal form at Doc's Records in the Fort.

Benefit show for Lance Yocom @ Lola's this Saturday

The Italian kid sends:

Fort Worth Weekly and Lola's Saloon present The Green Eye Project, a benefit concert for Spune Productions' Lance Yocom, who has been hospitalized since late July with a severe mystery illness and is in need of money to be transported from Arizona, where he fell ill while vacationing with family, to Fort Worth, his home. The event is on Sat, Aug 20, at Lola's and will feature acoustic performances by Calhoun, Doug Burr, Kevin Aldridge, Luke Wade, and The Cush, all leading up to the evening's show (scheduled weeks beforehand) with headliners Telegraph Canyon and Seryn. A $15 donation at the door is requested (though more money won't be turned down). Doors open at 4pm; first band at 5pm.

I say let's help bring him home.

Retro Channel Fuzz Zep Tribute

Frank Cervantez chimes in with yet another fuzz option. Thanks, buddy!

Monday, August 15, 2011

HIO gets some (anonymous) ink in the Houston Press

While we're not mentioned by name, the Houston Press's Abby Koenig has some nice things to say about our performance accompanying Sarah Gamblin's "Drift: with Trio" here.

ADDENDUM: The ever-gracious Sarah added a comment identifying us, and even spelling our names correctly. Bless her.

La Teatrista

Claudia Acosta, dramatist of Fort Worth, now living and working in New York, has some recordings of her own verse on Soundcloud. Strong and beautiful stuff. Some day, I'm gonna be proud to say I knew her when...

Six or Seven HIO Fans Might Not Be Wrong

So Hentai Improvising Orchestra, that li'l ol' improvising orchestra from Texas (Fort Worth, to be exact) got invited to accompany dancer/choreographer Sarah Gamblin at the Houston Fringe Festival, performing her piece "Drift: with Trio," which she'd previously performed with another ensemble. For this trip, HIO consisted of:

Matt Hickey: electric gopichand, recorder, navigator, backup driver.
Terry Horn: conceptualist, laptop, recorder, percussion, documentation, driver.
Ken Shimamoto: autoharp, kalimba, erhu, tabletop guitar, recorder, percussion, loadmaster.

8.12.2011, FTW/Houston: "Death to the squares, smoking LSD are swell"

Up at 5am to await Hickey's 6am arrival. My sweetie provided enough dry-good snackage to feed a small (three-man) army. Hickey was a little late departing Weatherford due to goat issues, but we were on our way to Terry's within 30 minutes of our planned departure. Terry's wife Jo informed us that it was T.'s birthday -- number 37. He's still on lifting from his hernia surgery, so Hickey and I will hump all the gear this weekend.

Since we were unsure how big the rental vehicle would be, we elected to pare down our equipment load to leave room for luggage and provisions. This meant that we had to forego bringing the percussion rig that Terry wanted to play, but allowed us to bring everything we used at rehearsal last week. This proved to be a fortuitous choice, as everything we'd brought _just_ fit in the rented Jeep SUV.

We'd discussed having Hickey drive if Terry wasn't sufficiently recovered, but T. wound up driving all but the last three hours of the trip. Traffic was smooth the whole way downI-45, and we wound up making the journey to Houston in under five hours. We rolled up at the Frenetic Theater and found a space that reminded us of several Fort Worth venues. The exterior was graffiti-covered, like 1919 Hemphill, with an adjacent area that was missing a couple of walls that put one in mind of the gutted-out half of the Wherehouse. The performance space, on the other hand, was similar to the Scott Theater's, and the joint was managed by a couple (Robert and Rebecca) who lived on-site.

We grabbed a lunch of tortas and tacos at a bakery around the corner and made it to the home of our hosts, Ryan Supak and Sara Vanbuskirk. Ryan's an engineer and freelance programmer who deejays around Houston and used to play improv with Terry and Mark Cook. Sara is a muso in her own right: a singer with muy impressive pipes who, her husband said, is in the process of moving from a folk bag into a more R&B-influenced one, which sounds like a good idea to me. I checked out some of her stuff online and came away impressed. I bet she'd go over really well at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff if she was ever motivated to venture up this way.

Ryan and Sara share their home with a rescued menagerie that includes Neil aka USA, a pit bull mix; Lawson, a sheepdog (shave a sheepdog, find a terrier underneath); Little, a black cat who's allergic to human dander and makes noises like Darth Vader when he sleeps; and Myrtle, a smaller black cat who's the hunter of the pack. Nice to see an interspecies family, and Ryan and Sara are moving toward self-sufficiency with a rainbarrel system, square-foot gardens, and a studio in back. Great hosts with whom we had some stimulating convos over the course of the weekend. Second Ward, the south side neighborhood where they make their home, has a nice vibe. It's mostly populated by Hispanic working-class families (Houston is a majority Hispanic city); Ryan and Sara feel safe enough to never lock their doors.

At Ryan's suggestion, we headed downtown to a soda shop which was recently opened by a 22-year-old cat who'd been fired from all the best coffee bars in Houston for being critical of the way they did things. Nice to see someone so passionate about what they do. His strawberry phosphates and chocolate egg creams were ace.

Rolled up to the Frenetic Theater to check sound and lights with Sarah Gamblin. I broke the string on the erhu, necessitating a trip to a guitar store on Saturday, but that was fine, although it circumscribed my options a little. The crowd at the Frenetic was surprisingly diverse in age and ethnicity. You'd never see older folks or folks of color at a 1919 show. The burlesque show that preceded us was actually sold out, but by the time of our performance, the audience had dwindled to maybe five paying customers, one of whom was an ex-student of Sarah's from Texas Women's University.

The act that preceded us was a one-woman show from Minnesota that wasn't really performance art, but more of a powerpoint presentation about a 60 Minutes piece in which Jon Krakauer sought to discredit Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson. It took a minute to figure out what she was talking about, and then there wasn't a lot of logical support to her talk, with a lot of slides of reader's comments to blogs and her own comments along the lines of "I don't think so." A puzzling inclusion in this festival.

By the time we hit, Terry and Hickey were both drained from our 18-hour day, but we tried to power back with some energy. The high point of the performance was probably Sarah swinging the hand-held light she used in her dance. Unfortunately, the positioning of Terry's camera didn't catch the action. We loaded out all our gear in spite of the theater managers' assurance that they lived on-site and owned a shotgun.

Back at Ryan and Sara's, Hickey and I shared a futon with Little, while Terry shared the bed in the guest room with Lawson.

8.13.2011 Houston/Galveston: Molten Sulfur

Greeted the day on Ryan and Sara's balcony with Little and Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Vol. 1. Cat can write; might have to finish reading that someday. Since we weren't playing until 8:30p (we shared the 10:30p slot on Friday and 6:30p on Sunday), we drove down to Galveston, since it's only an hour south of Houston. I hadn't been in that city in 32 years. We spent an hour walking along the seawall, enough time for Terry and Hickey to pick up nasty sunburns.

Ate lunch at Gaido's, a high-buck seafood restaurant where I briefly worked during my second sojourn in Galveston back in '78. I'd quit my job in Dallas when a couple of friends from New York came through on their way west. We slept on the beach in our cars, left after a few days for Corpus Christi, and parted ways when I ran out of money, they for Wyoming to see Devil's Tower, me to head back to Dallas to beg for my job back -- which is how I wound up in Fort Worth. I was surprised to see the name of the chef I'd worked for on a couple of items on the menu. When I asked our server, she informed me that he's still living, although he's no longer working at the restaurant. It would have been nice to have spent more time on the beach and maybe flown some kites, but we needed to load in again at the Frenetic before the first house arrived. We did, however, stop at a graveyard so Terry could take photographs of some of the distressed 19th century tombs.

Hung out in the dance studio behind the theater while Sarah warmed up. She's a great dancer and thinker about bodies and movement. There were maybe ten payers in the house, but this proved to be our most in-sync performance of "Drift: with Trio." Sarah "cleansed" the room while we were warming up, and everyone's energy and focus were really on. I mainly remember dripping sweat onto the instruments on my table. Unfortunately, Terry's camera failed to capture any of it. It wouldn't be HIO unless some piece of equipment failed. So, it's vapor now. If you weren't there, you just missed it. We elected to leave our stuff (except for Hickey's gopichand and my amp, wah, and tuner) set up on tables to facilitate the next evening's transition.

Beer and talk at the Moon Tower Inn (a Fred's-like spot with a beer garden worthy of the name and a menu of exotic gourmet hot dogs) afterward.

8.14.2011 Houston, FTW: Denouement

Walked around the neighborhood with Terry while he took more photographs, then once everyone was up, we took Ryan and Sara out for brunch at another good Mexican place, since the "archetypal greasy spoon" that was Ryan's first choice was too crowded for us to sit together. After massive breakfast tacos and cinnamon twists, everybody settled down to nap for a couple of hours before we loaded out our luggage and said thanks and so long to our hosts.

It was threatening to rain when we arrived at the theater. All of us were ready to unass. We'd talked about leaving more sonic space in the piece the previous night, and this time we actually did, owing in part to the fact that the li'l Strat clone emitted squawks of feedback that I didn't have time to troubleshoot when I turned it on, so I used the erhu in its place on this occasion -- a practical example of failure being part of our process, as I'd told Sarah the night before. She ended the piece a minute or two earlier than I expected, by collapsing on the stage and pulling the light toward her. It seemed to have gone by in an instant, and I felt dissatisfied. After we were done, Sarah said the piece still felt "incomplete," but Hickey reminded us that such is the nature of improvisation. Terry had two cameras set up onstage, so we'll see how it really went when he posts his video.

Maybe five people in the audience, including a cat who took posed photos of us the night before and Sarah's two-year-old son and babysitter. In retrospect, we probably could have done more to promote this. In particular, I should have asked the Italian kid who to reach out to at the Houston Press (where a generic festival ad appeared, along with a more specific one for the other venue, Super Happy Fun Land, but nada for Frenetic and no calendar mention). Then again, an over-the-transom press release from an out-of-town artist would probably have gotten lost in the shuffle there anyway.

Overall, a good trip that we're glad we made. We left some Sustrepo CD-Rs with Ryan in the hope that he can use them to try and help hustle some more shows for us in H-Town. It felt good to break the seal on playing out of town. Hoping for more collaborations with Sarah and Big Rig Dance Collective. For now, our focus shifts to booking and promoting a show in October with The Underground Railroad, The Panic Basket, and Strung Drawn & Quartered, and doing a show or home recording with trombonist Patrick Crossland when he visits the area from Germany again this winter.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New JoCo album

Speaking of instrumental music from Fort Worth, I'm taking the new JoCo ceedee Wish to Be Nautical (downloadable via Soundcloud or available in physical form at Doc's Records) on the road with HIO this weekend. Review to follow.

The Underground Railroad live

Prog fans take note: The three-piece Underground Railroad -- that'd be Bill Pohl, Kurt Rongey, and Matt Hembree -- recently resumed gigging, and Katboy's UR archive includes a recent performnce from a sportsbar on the west side, including this medley of toons from Bill's 1991 album Solid Earth. Sounding pretty solid indeed to these feedback-scorched ears.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Woodeye redux?

Beloved Fort Worth cowpunks Woodeye posted on their Facebook page to "save the date" November 19th. If I was a wagering person like Pete Rose, I'd say at Lola's. Film, as they say, at 11.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rehearsals for Houston Fringe Festival

Here's a short excerpt and a remix from last week's HIO rehearsal with Sarah Gamblin. If you're in Houston, we'll be at the Frenetic Theater (5102 Navigation Blvd.) at 10:30p on Friday, 8:30p on Saturday, and 6:30p on Sunday. C'mon!

Rehearsals for Houston Fringe Festival 2011 (excerpt) from HIO on Vimeo.

Throwing Blocks from HIO on Vimeo.

A bunch of good jazz records

On Consort in Motion, a new release on the Swiss Kind of Blue label, trombonist Samuel Blaser reimagines Baroque works by Monteverdi, Frescobaldi, and Marini in a contemporary jazz vein. Before you get the idea that this is some awkward shoehorn job (anybody remember Jazz Guitar Bach from the '60s?), be not afraid. While less gregarious than his illustrious forebears Rudd and Mangelsdorf, Blaser has an expressive voice on the unwieldy horn. His take on these venerable compositions is original and impressionistic, and his accomplices -- particularly pianist Russ Lossing and that most sensitive of trap-kickers, Paul Motian (who made his mark accompanying cerebral ivory-tinklers Bill Evans, Paul Bley, and Keith Jarrett) -- are equally attuned to each other's thought-streams.

More visceral is Boundless, due on Hat Hut in October, which documents a 2010 tour by that year's edition of Blaser's quartet. Abercrombie-esque guitarist Marc Ducret occasionally attacks his axe in the atonal manner of Derek Bailey or Fred Frith, while drummer Gerald Cleaver splatters his skins with polyrhythmic fury and Banz Oester proves himself an alert and nimble bassist. In this company, Blaser can be more playful, employing a burry, vocalized sound on "Boundless Suite, part 2" before Ducret solos with great fluidity over a restless rhythm. Metric time is abandoned in "Part 3." Ducret cranks up to Mahavishnu velocity before Blaser joins the dialogue, bringing his mastery of multiphonics to the fore. "Part 4" churns and roils like a whirlpool at first, then settles down to a stoner rock tempo before Blaser surprises with scratching deejay imitations. Overall, Boundless is a good example of the kind of communication and interplay musicians can achieve when they're living in each other's pockets.

Speaking of 'bone players, Michael Dessen has a unique approach, incorporating the use of a laptop for live processing and sampling into performances by his trio. He's also a scholar and scribe, and has written an article on "Asian Americans and Creative Music Legacies" that I need to read. On his latest Clean Feed release, Forget the Pixel, some of the music is programmatic in intent. The opening "Fossils and Flows" is a response to the 2010 BP oil spill that blighted the Gulf coast of Louisiana and Texas. One piece was titled after a poem, another after a series of paintings. The electronics are used sparingly (I kind of wanted to hear them more), and the trio isn't afraid to use silence and space. Well wrought, if not exactly fiery.

When last heard from, Canadian-born/New York-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt was fronting a quintet, Canada Day, that evoked comparisons to classic '60s Blue Note sides like Dolphy's Out To Lunch and Andrew Hill's Point of Departure. Now he returns at the helm of a bassless September Trio, with pianist Angelica Sanchez (whose solo A Little House employed acoustic and toy pianos in interesting ways) and saxophonist Ellery Eskelin (a familiar of Dennis Gonzalez whose latest project, an organ trio, just garnered some New York Times ink). Their new Clean Feed release is a record of lush, romantic beauty, with ruminative, orchestral richness from Sanchez and a brawny, big-hearted Ben Webster tone from Eskelin. As a leader, Eisenstadt is confident enough to put himself in the background.

Eisenstadt's also present on another Clean Feed release, Nate Wooley Quintet's (Put Your) Hands Together, a happening post-bop date that can't quite escape the echoes of Miles Smiles in trumpeter Woley's tunes, or Out To Lunch in Josh Sinton's burbling bass clarinet and Matt Moran's vibes. Wooley and Moran also appear on Organic Modernism by the Daniel Levin Quartet, a drummerless outfit led by a cellist; it's an engagingly impressionistic outing. Finally, I'm always a sucker for a good piano record, of which Julio Resende Trio's You Taste Like a Song is certainly one. Resende's a Portugese pianist in the contemplating mold of Evans and Jarrett. Here, with unobtrusively supportive accompaniment from two different rhythm sections, he creates a spiritual space similar to the one Don Pullen conjured on his Healing Force solo album, and covers Radiohead as well as Monk. Worthwhile.

A coupla new gooduns from Saustex Media

Jeff Smith's San Antonio-based label Saustex Media has released some of my fave platters of the last coupla years, including slabs by ace pop rockers The Service Industry, beloved Mission City institution Snowbyrd, and Jeff's own band the Hickoids. So a package with his postmark gets my attention.

First out of the bag was The Rock Garage Texas Live Concert Series, a compilation put together by The Rock Garage, a mainly-but-not-exclusively Austin-centric recording project helmed by photojournalist Michael Crawford. It's a rough 'n' rowdy set, encompassing 15 stompin' selections by the likes of Honky, whose singer-bassist/ex-Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus sounds like David Lee Roth fronting the Melvins on "Just a Man;" Nashville Pussy, Atlanta hotsoes who put redneck rawk together with Detroit-via-Scandinavia ramalama and then shake, rather than stirring on "Good Night for a Heart Attack;" PONG, who perform an amusing burlesque of dance music on "Click Off;" Churchwood, who reprise "Vendide Fumar," a bit of brawny Beefheartismo from their worthy full-length; and "Screaming Out" by Lions, who demoed every move from the GIG magazine compendium of stagecraft when I saw 'em open for Mike Watt in Dallas a couple of years ago. Play it loud and piss off your local equivalent of the yuppies that live around Sixth Street and Red River.

Glambilly's White BBQ Sauce is the brainchild of Appalachian-born dramatist and 10 City Run frontman Hans Frank. The band name puts me in mind of the late Robin Sylar's Surfabilly project, while their music puts me in mind of the few months I lived in Austin at the ass-end of the '70s, before genre nazism became the norm, when the same people would often show up at shows by Asleep at the Wheel and the Huns. While it's not camp enough to fit this jaded listener's definition of glam, it has the same spirit as ex-Nervebreaker T. Tex Edwards singing murder ballads, especially when Frank throws away a classic line like "I've got my memories, he's got you" on "Memories." Frank can be creepy, as on the answering machine message-poem "Pablo," or haunting, as in the lower-depths vignette "Apt. 7902." Either way, you get the impression he's not fooling. Guitarist Danny Aaron (Dangerous Toys) provides the requisite crunch and twang.

Maximum R&B

The 'oo at the 90 Wardour Street Marquee in '65. Thanks 'n' a tip o' the hat to Barry Kooda for the link.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Chasin' the tone

Once and future Nervebreaker and all-the-time Big Gun Mike Haskins asked for some blog blather on "the ultimate fuzz tone." (That's right, this is the shitty coverband of music blogs; we take _requests_!)

Mike sez the noise Jeff Beck made running his Fender Esquire through a Sola Sound Tonebender on the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul" is what made him wanna pick up a guitar in the first place. My ultimate fuzz tone noise would probably be the one Ron Asheton got on the Stooges' "No Fun" -- both the ugly, clotted chords and the Turkish taffy-like leads that Ron wrestled out of his Stratocaster.

Being a Hendrix man, Ron used a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, which you can actually see in the iconic vid of the Stooges' 1970 Cincinnati Pop Festival appearance -- it's the round thing on the stage when Iggy's on his hands and knees at the beginning of "1970." (Of course he did; otherwise, he'd have sounded as lame as Townshend at Monterey without the fuzztone. Realize that Hendrix's sound was really just the sound of a clean Strat at max volume with effects; otherwise, those otherworldly arpeggios and triple-stop chordal riffs would have sounded like mud.)

As a novice electric guitarist at age 15, I was totally geeked on the Who, the Yardbirds, and Hendrix, so of course I _had_ to try to get feedback out of my crummy 10-watt solid state amp, which had _no_ tone whatsoever, sitting on the floor of my room in my parents' house. Somehow back then, I knew that Hendrix used a Fuzz Face, so I went out and got one.

Because I was timid, I tended to keep the "fuzz" control set too low, which meant that I usually got the constipated-sounding effect with very rapid decay that you hear on a lot of records from the '60s (think: Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction"). If you turned it up high enough, the thing would sustain for days (think: future Lynyrd Skynyrd Strat operator Ed King on Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense and Peppermints"). It was only later that I'd learn you could dial in the "fuzz" and "volume" settings to approximate something like a nice, "natural" tube amp distortion. But where's the fun in that?

(Other good example: Michael Knust with Houston psychsters Fever Tree.)

When I started working in the hipi record store, I got a recording of Hendrix's performance at the Isle of Wight, when things weren't really working for him and his Fuzz Face was actually broadcasting the security radio band through his stacks of Marshalls. Wouldn't you know, the same thing happened to me whenever my Fuzz Face was on: I'd get transmissions, inexplicably in Spanish from a Canadian radio station called "Radio Canada Internacional" through my amp. I was _just like Hendrix_!

When I finally joined a little funk band, a couple of months after getting my first electric guitar, there was really no opportunity to use the Fuzz Face, although they did give me a Univox wah that you couldn't lock in position like a Crybaby or Vox, so I'd just shove a wadded up handkerchief under the pedal in the position that gave you the most midrange and imagine I sounded like Jimmy Page on the first Led Zeppelin album.

Eventually, I became a sort of protege of the hotshot guitarist in my neighborhood, who eschewed the use of all pedals (except a Vox wah, which I soon adopted) and believed the best way to get a good tone (like his idol, Johnny Winter) was to simply dime all of the tone controls on your amp (or, if you wanted to emulate Leslie West -- who was as influential in my neck of the woods ca. '73-'74 as SRV was in Texas in the '90s -- just roll off all the treble and hit the string with the pick _just so_ to get that squealing harmonic).

When I started playing out again in the '90s, after putting down when I came back from Korea in '83 (my future ex-wife would get testy if I played an unplugged electric guitar on the other side of the house with all the doors closed), I was mainly playing in blues bands where a clean tone was desirable. I did, however, get a SansAmp from an ex-bandmate in NYC who was gradually divesting himself of all his analog gear. I believe that Kurt Cobain used one of those; it gave a fairly disgusting tone, but I didn't have to pay for it.

It was around that time that I got introduced to Ibanez Tube Screamers, which would give you a nice volume boost for solos without making it sound too nasty. (Once upon a time I used to be able to regulate volume from the guitar, but now I tend to knock all the knobs into the full-on position with my right hand.) When I saw Ron Asheton play with J. Mascis and Mike Watt at SXSW, I was surprised that he was using a black Squier Strat with a maple neck just like I was, with a TS-9 and Vox wah that his girlfriend Dara set up for him.

I bought a reissue Fuzz Face (red, where my old one was blue) to go on the road with Nathan Brown in 2003. I liked the sound of it fine, but was befuddled to discover that when it was on, my Vox wah wouldn't work, no matter where I placed the two stompboxes in my effects chain. So the Fuzz Face had to go; I traded it to Jim Crye for a Boss Super Over Drive (the yellow box) that I used for two and a half years of Wednesday nights with Lee Allen at the Wreck Room (RIP). The Boss had a kind of nondescript sound, but it was sure reliable.

In Stoogeaphilia, where we have the luxury of "amp du jour" rehearsing in the mighty Me-Thinks' practice pad at Inches of Mercury in Haltom City, I got to try a couple of Electro-Harmonix Big Muffs, which gave a totally over-the-top, end-of-the-world sound that Jon Teague loved. The thing was, the ones I borrowed from Jon and the Me-Thinks were New York models; when I got a Russian one from Guitar Center, it tended to decrease my volume when it was activated the same way my '95 Twin Reverb used to when I really dug in, before I had Craig's Music in Weatherford fix it. (I'm too techno-illiterate to tell you why.) I returned one, got another, and wound up trading it to Sir Steffin Ratliff for the Marshall Bluesbreaker I'm using now. In the Stoogeband and PFFFFT! ca. 2008, I'd sometimes use _two_ distortion pedals, but that's just silly, isn't it?

So the jury's still out. I have to admit that I'm pretty much a dumb ape when it comes to tone, these days. I just plug in and turn up until I feel my sternum vibrating. Not like Marlin and Bandy in the Me-Thinks, or their former songwriting secret weapon Will, with whom I recorded a track a couple of years ago for a compilation that's apparently never coming out and had the distinct pleasure of playing his Les Paul through his perfectly-tweaked Fender amp. But someday before I die, I will play through a Sola Sound Tonebender (Beck and Page's Yardbird weapon of choice, which Beck also used on Truth, which is still a guitar touchstone of mine). And maybe I'll break down and get another Big Muff, or play this mythical fuzzbox that Teague's got (if it's working).

ADDENDUM: Frank Cervantez suggests the Throbak Stone Bender.

Darrin Kobetich

My Lawn Guyland homeboy who went to Weatherford High School. (That's right, he's a Blue Kangaroo.) His mastery of solo guitar art never ceases to amaze me, and he's adding new tricks to his trick bag all the time.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of which, here's a Led Zep III cover he just posted today.

8.7.2011, Denton/FTW

The merry lads of HIO traipsed up to Denton to rehearse with Sarah Gamblin for next weekend's three-night stand at the Houston Fringe Festival. (I'm taking a notebook and will blog some blather when we're back.)

Things we like about Denton:

1) Recycled Books.
2) The modern dance scene centered around TWU.
3) Hooligan's Pub.
4) Observing people in the courthouse square. Yesterday we saw a bunch of kids pelting each other with water balloons. This time, however, Terry did _not_ reach out on Facebook to find folks to do a water-balloon-pelting flashmob at an HIO show.

Trying to put together another show at Doc's Records in the fall with The Underground Railroad, The Panic Basket, Strung Drawn & Quartered, and Darrin Kobetich solo. Film, as they say, at 11.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

8.6.2011, FTW

Went to an auction of Jesse Sierra Hernandez's paintings at his Studio 5 in south Fort Worth. The event was put together by Christopher Blay of Thrift Art Show fame to help Jesse clear out some space in his digs (the studio is also a residence) and raise some coin for his wedding next May. A couple dozen local art aficionados showed up, many of whom remembered seeing Jesse's work hanging in the late, lamented Wreck Room (with which his previous workspace, Studio 4, shared a building for awhile).

Chris made the point that in the years to come, the Amon Carter and the Kimbell (where Jesse works as a preparator when he's not slinging paint) will be looking to collect the works of living American artists like Jesse, if they're true to their stated missions. (Local art eminence Nancy Lamb sent a surrogate, who bid successfully on a couple of pieces.) "Who decides what art is worth?" Blay asked rhetorically, echoing his Thrift Art alter ego Frank Artsmarter. "Tonight, the people in this room, not billionaires" -- although those of us who bid did so knowing that the prices we wound up paying were way below the true value of Jesse's art.

Jesse's best known for his nudes and musicians, and there were certainly plenty of those in the show's catalog, along with some stunning surprises, like the Sistine Chapel ceiling homage Libyan Sybil After Michelangelo 1997. His "floating" figures from ca. 2006, which use negative space to show the bodies free of context, were highly impactful, but my favorite of his works are in the more personal and political vein he adopted around the time the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. War. What's it good for? was painted the night of the invasion and has a ghostly, spectral air. Mexican American, American Mexican shows a young man with Aztec tattoos standing before U.S. and Mexican flags, with a conquistador helmet and spear and a GI's helmet and M-16 at his feet.

Now Swim Back and Get the Fuck Out are angry responses to the ordinance passed by the city of Farmer's Branch, Texas, in 2007, which made it illegal to rent or lease living space to illegal aliens or non-U.S. citizens. Cortes the Killer, which appeared on the catalog's cover, was a Caravaggio-inspired depiction of the conquest of the New World. I was half-ass hoping that the original Cortes the Killer, an extreme and striking departure that was part of a solo show Jesse had at Gallery 414 in 2003, would magically re-appear for the auction, but Jesse says that it was really lost in transit from San Antonio not long after that show. Now _that_ would be something to find.

8.5.2011, FTW

It was Jon Teague's birthday, so we went to the Wild Rooster to catch him playing with Pinkish Black on the occasion of the release of the Great Tyrant record, and scope out the room, since the li'l Stoogeband is playing there August 27th. Also on the bill were Greg Ginn & The Royal We and Cinema Cinema.

When we arrived, Mr. Ginn was already playing. It was kind of weird seeing him in a sports bar, but the audience was probably different than the regular crowd that frequents the joint (on the site of the old Asel Art). It's a good sounding room, where wizard o' sound Andre Edmonson has been helping out with the sound system. Greg controlled his own sound from the stage, though. These days, he's doing the one-man-band thing, playing guitar and theremin over sequenced tracks with a drum machine.

While the sound of that instrument, and the simple repetitive figures Ginn played much of the time, reminded me (uncomfortably) of playing with Nathan Brown, the stuff Greg played was seductively hypnotic, proving the hypothesis that you can take any musical fragment and make a song out of it by layering and orchestrating it. And when he dug in and pealed off one of his patented chaos-solos, it was damn near wish fulfillment time.

At this point in his career, ex-B**** F***/SST Records honcho Ginn can do pretty much whatever he wants, and I got the definite impression that he's just building tracks he can groove to. The performance could probably have gone on longer than it did; you got the feeling he could do this stuff for hours. When the music really transported him, you could see his right leg sliding back into his iconic stance.

But some of the audience members didn't appear to know what to make of it, which suggests to me that what a lot of punters dig about live music is the interaction between the dudes. Ginn having found the final solution to the lead singer-bassplayer-drummer problem is no longer encumbered by that, but it definitely seemed to diminish some folks' enjoyment (although I bet at least some of 'em would have dug it on record). I was just happy when he turned up his guitar at the Cinema Cinema cats' request. And offstage, he just seemed like a nice, down-to-earth fella.

Cinema Cinema are a coupla cousins from Brooklyn that rip it up on guitar and drums. By now we've seen loads of bassless duos, my all-time faves being the Immortal Lee County Killers and Local H. Dese Brooklyn brats' music is a lot more varied, dynamically and texturally, than most similarly-configured crews'. They can go from sparse to dense, kicking up enough racket for four or five instruments, with singer-guitarist Ev Gold rocking a distinctive shaved-head-with-full-beard look, along with the biggest pedal board I've seen since Michio Kurihara visited Rubber Gloves with Boris. (Of course, Michio had two.) The octave pedal as the final solution to the bassplayer problem? _You_ decide!

Ev and his cousin Paul Claro -- a trap-kicker who's as technically adept as he is aggressively abandoned -- lock it tight in the pocket and drive on relentlessly with punk fury and arena rock grandeur. Then at the end, Ev breaks it down with feedback squalls as if to remind you they're from Brooklyn. Their new EP, Shoot the Freak, was produced by Don Zientara, who famously did the duties for lotsa now-legendary D.C. hardcore outfits, and does a good job of documenting their strengths, while The 57 EP captures them on their home turf, playing their 57th show, and is bracingly raw.

Pinkish Black continues to expand their range, and remains one of the most prolific bands on the local set. They'll have their debut disc released by Dada Drumming in 2012, but on this particular night, they were unleashing the first full-length from their previous incarnation, The Great Tyrant. Listening to the Tyrant record, which I reviewed for the FW Weekly, I was reminded of how thoroughly these cats and their late bassplayer, Tommy Atkins, had digested and transcended their influences (Magma, Scott Walker, Suicide) and what a powerful unit they were onstage. Got to dig 'em on vinyl now, because you'll never hear that music live again.

Pinkish Black's music is as much a refinement and focusing of the Tyrant's strengths as the Tyrant was of Yeti's: an amalgam of gothic, prog, experimental, heavy, and even twisted pop influences; Daron Beck's an expressive but underrated singer and composer, while Teague's a drummer of singular intensity and force who also has interesting electronic ideas. For my money, they're the most imaginative and diverting thing on the boards in DFW today. Individually, too, they've been busy of late: Daron vocalizing with Britt Robisheaux's local underground supergroup Most Efficient Women, Jon playing in a Monster Magnet coverband with Ray Liberio, Frank Cervantez, and Linc Campbell.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Greg Ginn & The Royal We, Cinema Cinema and Pinkish Black pics @

My sweetie posted some of her pics of Greg Ginn & The Royal We, Cinema Cinema, and Pinkish Black from last night's extravaganza at the Wild Rooster. Click on 'em to make 'em big and leave her a comment, why doncha? My two cents in a bit.

Friday, August 05, 2011

HIO @ Doc's Records, 7.30.2011

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see A Tribe Called Quest doco in Fort Worth?

That's right: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is playing at Magnolia at the Modern (3200 Darnell St.) tonight at 6 and 8p, Saturday at 5p, and Sunday at noon, 2 and 4p. Yeah!

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna download a new Mark Growden single for free?

It's "The Old Lady from Brewster," a song from the Georgia Sea Islands that Mark's been playing with his San Francisco band for years, recently recorded live to two-track in New Orleans for his forthcoming album In Velvet. Dig the rollicking R&B feel of the NOLA musos and Mark's duet partner LaTosha Brown. Here's the link:

Thursday, August 04, 2011


T. Tex Edwards got me thinking about the Yardbirds again. They were the second band I went totally apeshit over when I was 13. (First was the 'oo.) I've owned their catalog now more times and in more different configurations than I care to count, as it went in and out of print and I periodically divested myself of possessions for various reasons (mainly needing money). I'm in the process of collecting 'em all again because my sweetie thankfully believes, as I do, that _music is food_ and is remarkably tolerant of my crate-digging forays. Bless her.

They started out as a raucous R&B band, taking over the Rolling Stones' residency at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey. In hot, sweaty, beer-fueled sessions there, they developed a style of instrumental crescendo they called the "rave up," in which the guitarists played rapidly choke-strummed chords while the bass zoomed manically up and down the neck. Budding virtuoso Eric Clapton was folded into the lineup when their original underage lead guitarist was forced out by parental disapproval and so there wasn't the kind of chemistry that Keef and Brian had in the early Stones, the result of many late nights spent working out interlocking parts.

Listening to their earliest recordings (from the Crawdaddy with and without Sonny Boy Williamson; their demos for EMI), you can hear a band playing blues almost without inflection. Asthmatic Keith Relf sang in a nasal whine that Brit journo Charles Shaar-Murray once charitably characterized as "punk-rock" (talk about yer revisionist history). But by the time they recorded their debut LP Five Live Yardbirds at London's Marquee Club, they'd gained confidence and crude energy. It's unfortunate that the tracks had to be sped up slightly to make 'em all fit on LP. To these feedback-scorched ears, Rhino's CD that purported to restore them to original speed sounded no different than the myriad other versions that have been released over the years.

Once they were signed, their original manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, who's presumably made a tidy living off the innumerable reissues of their recordings to which he holds the rights, immediately set about trying to secure them a pop hit single. (A nadir of sorts was achieved when he had them record two songs for the 1966 San Remo Song Festival.) It was the Yardbirds' misfortune to come along at a transitional moment, between early '60s pop commercialism and the later focus on experimentation and expression that they'd help spark. So in 1965, hired gun songwriter Graham Gouldman (of Mindbenders and later, 10cc fame) would try to do for the Yardbirds what Brill Building tunesmiths Mann/Weil and Atkins/D'Errico did for the Animals -- to wit, get them on the charts in the States.

Their first Gouldman-penned single, "For Your Love," featured the sounds of harpsichord and bongos. On the follow-up, "Heart Full of Soul," new guitarist Jeff Beck used a fuzz-tone to simulate the sound of a sitar (Clapton having quit in a huff over the band's commercial direction and an Indian session muso having failed to cut the mustard). "Evil Hearted You," which charted in the U.K. but wasn't even a single in the States, might just be the best of the three, featuring a Morricone-esque minor key melody, nifty rave-up bridge, and melodic slide solo.

The Yardbirds spent most of their existence touring extensively rather than meticulously crafting recordings for the ages. In fairness, they weren't really writers; a hectic touring schedule certainly didn't prevent the Stones' Jagger and Richards from penning plenty of toonage in 1965-66. One side benefit of spending so much time in the States was getting the opportunity to record at historic Sun Studios in Memphis and Chess Studios in Chicago, where much of the music that influenced them originated.

Their Sun session produced two tracks that were muy influential on U.S. teen-snot garage bands, the rockabilly cover "Train Kept A-Rollin'" and the ghostwritten protest anthem "You're a Better Man Than I." Their visits to Chess produced two of their most earth-shattering tracks: a breakneck romp through Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," which ended in a frantic call-and-response episode that exploded into in their wildest-ever rave up, and the band original "Shapes of Things," a fuzz-and-feedback laden monster that featured socially conscious lyrics and an Indian-influenced Beck solo, played entirely on the G string.

Some of the early Brit single and EP tracks included on their debut U.S. LP For Your Love are good representations of their "rave up" style, while others seem to have been aimed at an Archie comics/malt shop U.S. teen audience that was on its way out in '65. An uncredited Clapton soloed on "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," "I Ain't Got You," and the instrumental "Got To Hurry" with a brighter tone and more presence than Beck's solos on the album, but a version of Mose Allison's "I'm Not Talking" with Beck pointed toward a heavier overall sound. A second thrown-together album, Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds, boasting a classic title and cover art, consisted of one side of ace studio tracks featuring Beck and one side of live ramalama recycled from Five Live Yardbirds.

An abortive attempt was made to record a bona fide Yardbirds studio long-player at the end of March 1966. The surviving bits are mostly just riffs and sketches of songs, without vocals; they've been released numerous times since the early '70s. Following those sessions, they broke with manager Gomelsky and got Simon Napier-Bell, described by Nik Cohn as "an outrageous cosmic talker, a true mouth," in his place. At the end of May, they went back in the studio and recorded the album Yardbirds, aka Roger the Engineer (Over Under Sideways Down in the States, minus a couple of blues songs) -- in a week. Sure, the Beatles did their first album in a day, and Mark I Deep Purple never spent more than a week on an album, but they weren't writing all the material in the studio.

While it was no Pet Sounds or Revolver, Roger the Engineer's still an underrated gem from a time when bands were starting to focus more on albums than singles. "Lost Woman" -- based on a Snooky Pryor number Clapton hipped them to before he unassed and previously attempted at the scuttled March sessions as "Someone To Love" -- is a masterpiece of controlled tension-building, like a pot that simmers, threatening to boil over, but never does. "Over Under Sideways Down" was supposedly based on "Rock Around the Clock," but you'd never prove it by me; the lyrics describe a dissolute Swinging London rake like the one David Hemmings played in Blow-Up. "I Can't Make Your Way" sounds like nothing more than a Japanese children's song, while "Farewell" is a brief Relf suicide note with simple piano and vocal backing. "Hot House of Omagarashid" is a fun bit of percussion-and-wobble-board silliness; the mono version includes a killer Beck guitar solo that didn't make it onto the stereo for some reason.

"Jeff's Boogie" is a reverb-drenched tribute to Beck's idol Les Paul that he'd started playing in his pre-Yardbird band, the Tridents. "He's Always There" works off a thumping four-on-the-floor kick and a menacing, four-note descending fuzz bass line. "Turn Into Earth" is a jazz waltz with more pensive lyrics from Relf, the patented Yardbirds "Still I'm Sad" Gregorian chant backing vocals, and a Beck solo that's buried so deep in the mix that it sounds like gypsy fiddle heard through mists of time. "What Do You Want" is another retread from the March sessions, a two-chord basher with more socially conscious lyrics and another flashy (but brief) solo from Beck. "Ever Since the World Began" sounds to these feedback-scorched ears like, no fooling, the roots of Black Sabbath -- structurally, anyway, minus the heaviness.

Before the album was released, however, bassist/musical director Paul Samwell-Smith quit to become a producer, paving the way for busy session muso Jimmy Page (who'd originally passed on the guitarist gig and recommended his pal Beck when Clapton quit) to join the band...on bass. That lasted about as long as you'd figure, with rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja moving over to the four-stringed instrument and making way for Page to play lead along with (and sometimes without) the increasingly unreliable Beck.

It was during this period that they recorded "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," which went even further than "Shapes of Things" into realms of sound experiment and is probably their psych-rock pinnacle. They also appeared in Antonioni's aforementioned Swinging London exploitation flick Blow-Up in lieu of the Who (Beck broke a guitar), playing a modified "Train Kept A-Rollin'" entitled "Stroll On" that's probably their single most exciting recorded moment. It wasn't meant to last, and it didn't. The B-side to "Happenings," "Psycho Daisies," chronicled Beck's infatuation with a Hollywood starlet, and upon the completion of their U.S. tour in December, he was informed that his services were no longer required.

As 1967 dawned, Napier-Bell relinquished his duties as manager to Peter Grant (yep, _that one_) and as producer to Mickey Most (of Animals/Donovan/Lulu fame). By this time, Relf and drummer Jim McCarty had discovered the joys of psychedelics, so the live show was getting freakier, with numbers getting extended and Page adding new toys like a wah-wah pedal and violin bow (the latter probably inspired by the Creation's Eddie Phillips) to his bag of tricks. Recording sessions for an album took place intermittently from March to May, while the release of an increasingly lousy series of ghostwritten flop singles commenced. The LP, Little Games, was okay but uneven; it wasn't even released in the U.K. The Yardbirds were running out of steam.

At the end of March 1968, they recorded a live album at the Anderson Theater in New York. When it was released (with fake audience applause added) in 1971, Page moved swiftly to have it withdrawn, probably because he didn't want Led Zeppelin's fans to know how much of that band's early repertoire -- especially the song "Dazed and Confused," itself a steal from Greenwich Village singer-songwriter Jake Holmes -- was cribbed from the Yardbirds. In early April, the band recorded a few tracks that wouldn't see the light of day until the '90s (as Cumular Limit). In June, at the end of their sixth U.S. tour, Relf and McCarty called it quits, and the Yardbirds were effectively finished (although the embryonic Led Zep played dates as the "New Yardbirds" until after sessions for their first album were complete).

Before the CD age of maximalism -- when Charly in the U.K. released a 4CD box of all the Gomelsky recordings; Rhino put out a 2CD that included all of the "legit" recordings from the Gomelsky, Napier-Bell, and Most eras; and EMI even got into the act with a 2CD Little Games that included all the outtakes -- the Yardbirds' catalog has had a very convoluted history. The original albums were all out of catalog by the end of the '60s, with only the '67 Greatest Hits still available. (Not a bad place to start, actually; that's where I did.)

In 1970, their American label Epic released a 2LP compilation, Yardbirds Featuring Performances by Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page that culled non-single highlights from all their U.S. albums to cash in on the popularity of their latter-day bands. It included five tracks from For Your Love, two from Rave Up, seven (appropriately) from Over Under Sideways Down, and six from Little Games -- a fairly representative selection, with nothing the contemporary rock audience would reject. (Only the original aficionados and dedicated crate-diggers like your humble chronicler o' events got to hear those other ones.) In the late '70s, Canadian label Bomb released Shapes of Things, a judicious culling of Gomelsky-era sides, including some from the aborted March '66 album sessions.

When their BBC sessions finally became available on disc in the '90s, they were a revelation, since no live Beck-era recordings save "Stroll On" had been released up till then. (Not only that, you could hear a '65 version of "Smokestack Lightning" with Beck that revealed where Zep got the riff that powered "How Many More Times" on their first album.) Another candygram from the gods was the aforementioned Cumular Limit, a Y2K release the brought together some of the best bits from Little Games, the previously-unheard April '68 sessions, and some hot live performances from German TV -- in toto, probably the best representation of the Page-era Yardbirds extant. Now Carlton Sandercock, the Brit Uberfan who was instrumental in releasing both the BBC sessions and Cumular Limit, has a 5CD box, Glimpses 1963-1968, due out any day on his Easy Action label. Looks like a corker.

Perhaps the Yardbirds' legacy has lost a little luster over the years. In Rock and the Pop Narcotic, Joe Carducci wrote, "They burned a path; they didn't build a bridge." Myself, I still find the noise those malnourished Brit war babies made more resonant than the heavier crews like Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath that followed in their wake. I respect the noise that bands like Sleep and their progeny make; it just doesn't move me.

As for the Yardbirds' triumverate of hotshot guitarists, Clapton's apex probably came with his tenure in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, when he adopted the Les Paul-Marshall combination that's defined heavy rock ever since. With Cream, he went on to new heights in self-indulgence, wowing the hipi ballroom audiences with endless monochordal jams until Rolling Stone said they didn't like it. After that, he started chasing the Band and hasn't stopped since. Hasn't caught up with 'em yet, either. (In fairness, to some folks who aren't me, his name is synonymous with blues guitar. Just not my taste, is all.)

Of the three, Beck is my guy. I think the 1968 Jeff Beck Group was one of the greatest rock bands ever, and have the stack of audience recordings to prove it. In the '70s, he went on to reinvent himself as a fusion demigod, playing what St. Lester charmingly referred to as "Mahaherbiehancockorea." Since the late '80s, he's become a sort of Zen master of the electric guitar. No one can touch him, although he still defers to Clapton, in the way you'd expect from a samurai.

Page is the most problematic. Sure, he stole from everybody, but in the end, isn't it all folk music anyway? (Just ask an attorney.) In the fullness of time, he and Percy Plant crafted something that was uniquely theirs (and uniquely English) from an amalgam of Howlin' Wolf, Bert Jansch, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Aleister Crowley. By the time Zep hit the States, the political economy of rock promotion had changed (from clubs to ballrooms to theaters to arenas to stadiums), and so had rock management. No more connoisseurs like Gomelsky or dandified dilletantes like Napier-Bell; for the era of Bill Graham and Frank Barsalona, only a hard-nose like Peter Grant, a graduate of the Don Arden school of management-by-intimidation, would do.

For their part, Zep took their borrowings and blew them up into a sound big enough to fill the sheds. As a producer, Page figured out how to use ambient miking to make bass and drums sound _huge_. And only a fool would argue that the Yardbirds had a better singer and drummer than Plant and Bonham. (So did the Jeff Beck Group, but back in those days, Beck was too mercurial to see where his advantage lay -- he even passed on playing Woodstock. Living well is the best revenge.)

Ask Keith Relf and he'd tell you that his favorite days were early on, with Eric. But what band isn't the most fun near its inception, the first time you see a crowd of people going apeshit over the guys on the stage, and one of the guys on the stage is you? He died in 1976, electrocuted while playing guitar at home. Patti Smith said it at the time, and I believe it now: It doesn't matter if Keith Relf ever did anything wrong in his life.