Sunday, January 31, 2016

Brokegrove Lads' "An Anxiously Obsessive Desire for the Maintenance of Sameness"

To celebrate Terry Valderas' birthday, here's the first track (actually the last recorded) from our December 23rd session at Cloudland Studios with Britt Robisheaux at the controls. We started out trying to imagine Boris jamming the Move; then things got motorik...

Adios Paul Kantner

1) "For fuck's sake! Are you going to write one of these every time one of these people passes?"

"Listen: For those of us of A Certain Age, 2016 has been the year when the passing of the generation of musos we grew up listening to becomes impossible to ignore, and with it, our own mortality. At this point, I have to say that the idea that my consciousness will one day be extinguished isn't as hard to wrap my head around as the slightly different idea that one day, the memory of everything I've experienced in this life will be gone."

"So that's why you do...all of this?"

"You might say."

2) When the news came through about Paul -- it took a couple of days until we found out that Signe Anderson, whom Grace Slick replaced in the lineup, had left the planet on the same day -- the first thing I wanted to hear was "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon," a song about the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, January 1967, that concluded After Bathing At Baxter's, my pick for the best Jefferson Airplane album, which was released at the end of that year. On Baxter's, you can hear the music changing in more ways than one. The jangly folk-rock group from Takes Off is long gone, and the psychedelic tendencies that de facto (although uncredited) producer Jerry Garcia teased out on Surrealistic Pillow are in full flower. Kantner has assumed leadership from founder Marty Balin on the strength of his songwriting. Besides the climactic track I couldn't wait to hear, Kantner's songs like "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil," "Wild Tyme," and "Watch Her Ride" overflow with the "complexity" and "kinetics" that Paul Williams marveled at in Crawdaddy! (anthologized in his Outlaw Blues in a chapter that taught me how to listen to music actively and contextually). The sweetness in their music turned bitter fast, like the bite of strychnine in bad street acid. Even when the singers' voices are soaring, there's a dark undertow, and not just from Jack Casady's bass.

3) Last night I watched Fly Jefferson Airplane, a documentary recommended by a drummer I play with occasionally, who met Kantner in Portland in the early '90s. It's a useful summation, although their early history -- surely one of the best origin stories in rock: Jorma's blues name was "Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane;" Marty hired non-drummer Skip Spence to play drums because "he looked like a drummer;" etc. -- gets short shrift (the story begins with Signe's departure to be a mom). There are good interviews with all the band members and manager Bill Thompson. I could have done with less "music-video" type footage from TV shows (fellow travelers the Smothers Brothers; Perry Como, who must have wondered what on Earth RCA was forcing on him), but the performance stuff -- a couple of songs from Monterey and a couple from PBS shows (Go Ride the Music and A Night at the Family Dog) I remember seeing broadcast when they were new -- is fine. (Nothing from Woodstock, though, or Ceiling Cat forbid, Altamont, where Marty Balin was, like the medevac pilot who blew the whistle on the My Lai massacre, the only man who did his job that day.) The main impression I had at the end was what a wonderful thing it must have been to be a young person in Haight-Ashbury in the summer of '66 (not '67).

4) While thinking about the casual sexism of the '60s freak scene that also cropped up in the Airplane's music (all those "younger girl" songs: not just "Young Girl Sunday Blues" and "Martha," but also Marty's "Come Up the Years" from Takes Off and, hell, even the Lovin' Spoonful's "Younger Girl" -- I could go on), I also flashed that when I was 13, part of what I dug about the Airplane was the fact that Kantner, the bespectacled sci-fi nerd, was romantically linked with Ice Princess Slick, the sardonic siren who took lyrical cues from Lewis Carroll and Joyce.

5) Back then I dug Volunteers, even though the Airplane's "revolutionary" stance was as suspect as the MC5's. Where the Five's seemed opportunistic, the Airplane always came across as privileged kids, like the draft-deferred college crowd. "We Can Be Together" kind of embodies the best and worst traits of that milieu. I'd like to see Bernie Sanders use that as a jingle: "We must begin, here and now / A new continent of earth and fire / Tear down the walls..." And Kantner's post-apocalyptic song "Wooden Ships," his royalties from which he donated to his friend David Crosby, who'd just been fired from the Byrds, still hits me the same way Cormac McCarthy's The Road does.

6) I suppose Blows Against the Empire is Kantner's masterpiece (using ideas cribbed from Robert E. Heinlein, with the sci-fi author's blessing). Only an idealist or a fool could see having a baby as a revolutionary act. And that's kind of where I lost the thread (although Jefferson Starship was inescapable on New York FM radio in the '70s).

7) "Here's my 'Jefferson Starship' story: In the summer of, I think it was '76, my buddy and I were walking through the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan with our guitar cases. A kid walked up to me and asked, 'Hey, aren't you Craig Chaquico from Jefferson Starship?' -- for back then, my hair was long and still black, and I had a shitty teenage mustache. I told him, 'Yep. We're playing for free at three o'clock this afternoon in Central Park. Go tell all your friends.'"


"I dunno, I thought it was funny."

Friday, January 29, 2016

Fred Frith and Darren Johnston's "Everybody's Somebody's Nobody"

Prolific guitarist-composer Fred Frith has had a highly circuitous career trajectory, from the rigorous political prog-rock of Henry Cow to pioneering solo prepared-guitar experiments, participation in the '80s Lower Manhattan underground (including collaborations with John Zorn and Bill Laswell), composed music for film and dance -- both Field Days (The Amanda Loops) and Propaganda were released on his Fred Records label in 2015 -- and academia (currently on the faculty of Mills College in California). To get a sense of the scope of his musical world, check him out in the 1990 documentary Step Across the Border. This album, released by estimable Portuguese indie Clean Feed, finds him teamed with Canadian trumpeter-composer Darren Johnston for a series of dance-and-film inspired vignettes. (On his own, Johnston's composed song cycles based on interviews with, and letters written by, recent immigrants to the United States.)

Both musicians are known for exploring and extending their instruments' tonal and timbral possibilities, and those approaches are audible here, along with their shared gift for listening and spontaneous composition -- from the incandescent long tones of the opening "Barn Dance" to the percussive dialogue of "Scribble" to the more developed material of the moody "Luminescence." On the title track and "Morning and the Shadow," Frith provides almost orchestral accompaniment to Johnston's themes, the wealth of sonic detail beautifully captured by engineer Myles Boisen's recording. (Could this be the same Boisen that occasionally plays guitar for Mark Growden? Because the performers are based in the Bay Area, I'm guessing it is.) On "Down Time" and "Rising Time," Johnston and Frith take respective solo turns; the guitarist's is reminiscent of his collaboration with percussionist Evelyn Glennie on The Sugar Factory. Non-idiomatic improvisation can be more fun to play than it is to listen to, but Everybody's Somebody's Nobody is as rewarding an auditory experience as you'll have this year.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Things we like: Craig Bell, Paul Kikuchi, Tame Tame & Quiet

1) I don't know much about the '70s-'80s Connecticut music scene, although I grew up on Long Island (just a short ferry ride across the Sound) and lived there until 1978. I do remember a pedal-to-the-metal drive from Bridgeport to Hartford to see Frank Zappa in October of '77. My pint of vodka, cleverly concealed in a female companion's purse, was confiscated at the door, so I had my first experience of what I would later learn is called schadenfraude when I heard of the Civic Center roof's collapse under the weight of snow during the blizzard a couple of months later. I also remember a (Bridgeport?) radio station that played four hours of Ornette Coleman and associates every Sunday, and a Hartford band called Little Village, a Yardbirds-Stones derivation in the manner of Aerosmith, who had a self-released album that got some spins on my local FM station ca. '77.

But it was to the Nutmeg State that Cleveland proto-punk pioneer Craig Bell moved in 1976, to work for the railroad, after being present at the creation as a member of Mirrors and Rocket From the Tombs. In short order, he was back in the band wars, helming a succession of outfits including Saucers, Future Plan, the Plan, and the Bell System. In true DIY fashion, Bell released a few singles for his own or friends' bands on an indie label, Gustav Records, and in 1982, compiled an LP's worth of studio recordings by like-minded Connecticut bands, It Happened...But Nobody Noticed, which was subsequently upgraded to a double CD in 2008. The bands represented here are of surprisingly consistent high quality, all inhabiting the territory roughly delineated by the labels punk/new wave, garage, and power pop, with energy and melody the hallmarks. It's probably my favorite regional comp since ('60s-focused) Michigan Mayhem! Vol. 1, or the Fort Worth Teen Scene series.

As is my habit with comps like this, to avoid giving anyone short shrift, I'm going to provide three-word descriptions of each of the bands/tracks. Here we go:

Poodle Boys - "Pop," not "pot."
Subdueds - Lotsa fast changes.
Scout House - New England Merseybeat.
Hot Bodies - Del Shannon dirge.
The Furies - Count Fivish singer.
Saucers - RFTT/Mirrors re-tread.
The Snotz - Post-Loaded doowop.
TV Neats - Exuberant Farfisa poptune.
International Q - Radio Birdmanish velocity.
Troupe Di Coupe - Horn-driven mysterioso
No Music - Fuzzy Kinkoid aggro.
October Days - Proto-Goth gloom.
The Bats - Surf-punk raver.

And over on the second disc:

Stratford Survivors - Thin Lizzyish pounder.
Disturbance - Twitchy art damage.
The Excerpts - Raspberries-flavored pop.
Epitome - Quavery garage grunt.
Valley of Kings - Dissonant surf-punk.
The Not Quite - Garage psych apocalypse.
The Sabres - Four steps down.
Dada Banks - Cold War Troggs.
Radio Reptiles - The drummer's band?
The Cadavers - Costello meets Who.
The Plan - New wave ambivalence.
Happy Ending - Protest with saxophone.
The Reducers - Ringing closing anthem.

I've saved the best for last. In 2011, Saucers -- which planted Bell in the middle of two Malcolms (Doak on keys and vox, Marsden on guitar and vox) -- reconvened to cut a five-song EP, Second Saucer, that Craig justifiably calls "a hidden gem." The Velvets influence is strong in these tunes, with some '80s keyb flourishes added. Indeed, "Security" sounds nothing less than Doug Yule (OK, Malcolm Marsden) singing a particularly brutal descendant of "Sister Ray." Bell's own best moment here is the Dylanesque "Where Have They Gone," which boasts a tortuously melodic (think mid-'70s Phil Manzanera) Marsden guitar solo. Brisk and bracing. Now, we await release info on Bell's aka Darwin Layne rarities compilation.

2) Seattle-based Paul Kikuchi's a percussionist and composer whose works often have an air of ambient spaciousness, but on Chemical Language, he's teamed with saxophonist Wally Shoup and guitarist Bill Horist for a program of extemporizations characterized by more pulse and grit than we're accustomed to hearing from these men -- approaching Last Exit territory. On the title track, Shoup's alto weeps with the soul cry of the blues, while on "Delusion and Disintegration," he and Horist (who employs a burry, saturated tone throughout) conduct a heated exchange while Kikuchi subdivides time with his deeply-tuned toms. Another installment in an estimable body of work.

3) When Stoogeaphilia played a show with Tame Tame & Quiet a couple of weeks ago, TT&Q frontman Aaron Bartz gave me a quick and dirty walk through his band's discography. Debut CD Tin Can Communicate (2007) predated bassist Paddy Flynn's tenure in the band, and 2009's Fight In Words was recorded to document TT&Q's since-discarded Flynn-era repertoire before the bassist joined the Navy. The band reformed in 2013, with Jeff Williams replacing Flynn on bass last year, and they just released a cassette EP, Peach Hills, which was recorded at Cloudland Studios (also the site of a recent Brokegrove Lads studio encounter), with Britt Robisheaux at the controls. Aaron says they're working on material for a new album. Throughout the band's trajectory, their signature elements have been his slightly distressed vocals, and his and Darren Miller's unconventionally intertwining guitar lines.

The TT&Q boys will be at Shipping and Receiving on Friday, January 29, opening a bill that also includes instrumental surf supergroup Chrome Mags -- who possess massive improv potential since adding master percussionist Eddie Dunlap (Mondo Drummers, Rageout Orchestra, ex-Master Cylinder) and bassist Robert Kramer (my Brokegrove Lads buddy and ex-Tabula Rasa/Gumshoe/Purple Overdose) to their lineup -- and the mighty Me-Thinks, born again hard with new second guitarist Johnny Trashpockets (One Fingered Fist, ex-Elvis Took Acid) and a fresh Matthew Barnhart-produced 7-inch awaiting release that founding Me-Think/"secret weapon" Will Risinger declares (from exile in Arkansas) is "the best thing they've ever done." A bill to conjure with, for sure.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ten things about David Bowie

1) Coincidentally, three days before he died, Stoogeaphilia had practice (where we played through "Silver Machine" for Lemmy). Taking a break, we watched the D.A. Pennebaker Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars DVD, a document of their last-ever show, and marveled at Mick Ronson's guitar tone. Richard Hurley recalled the "Fuck you, Captain Tom" story from when Bowie pinched Adrian Belew from Zappa's band.

2) I'm not a lyrics guy, but when I woke up on Monday to the news, the first thing that went through my head was "The only survivor / Of the National People's Gang" (from "Panic In Detroit"). The next thing was "When all the Earth was very young / And mountain magic heavy hung / The supermen would walk in file / Guardians of a loveless isle / And gloomy browed with superfear / Their tragic endless lives could heave nor sigh / Wondrous beings, chained to life..." (from "The Supermen").

3) Aladdin Sane was the first album of his I bought (on import) when it was brand new (although I'd had Ziggy before that). Unlike the other music I liked (mainly the Who and a bunch of white blues bands), Bowie's music was sexy. In addition to all of his significant achievements, which are too numerous to list here, he gave certain straight guys (including this one) our first inkling that our model of masculinity (not to mention ideas of "authenticity") might be bullshit. It made no difference that he himself bedded an epic (in Wilt Chamberlain's league) number of women. And although I responded more to Quadrophenia -- comparisons, always odious, are the equivalent, at times like this, of going to your grandmother's funeral and announcing, "She wasn't my favorite grandmother" or "I liked Grandpa better" -- I'd be lying if I didn't admit that, to my fucked-up, alienated 15-year-old self, it was comforting to hear this androgyne-from-another-planet singing, "...I'll help you with the pain / You're not alone" ("Rock and Roll Suicide").

4) Like every rockarolla of my vintage, I professed to hate disco. But who among us could claim to have been unaffected by "Fame?" And is there a better evocation of 1975 than Young Americans? I think not. John Lennon might have been a slumming guest, but the secret ingredient was Carlos Alomar, a guitarist Bowie stole from the house band at the Apollo, who stayed in his employ for over a decade.

5) As much as some of the beneficiaries of his sponsorship might have crabbed about him later, he saved the careers of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and Mott the Hoople, all of whom would have shuffled off into oblivion before their greatest success in his absence. And without the cachet of having collaborated with Bowie on the "Berlin trilogy," it's unlikely that NY Times crossword puzzle regular Brian Eno would have become more than a cult figure.

6) Even at the height of his cocaine-fueled megalomania, Bowie -- a man haunted by a family history of mental illness -- managed to create transcendent, cutting edge music (Station To Station, Low). And then had the presence of mind to step back from the abyss.

7) In the '80s, after making arguably his best album (Scary Monsters) and his biggest until the posthumous Blackstar (Let's Dance), he receded into films (to my kids, he was the goblin king from Labyrinth before he was a musician) and his own celebrity (the cringe-worthy duet with Mick Jagger on "Dancing in the Street"), and I lost the thread.

8) It's going to take me weeks to process Blackstar, and then, perhaps, go back and hear some of what I missed in between times. It's going to be a pleasure -- albeit one I never could have anticipated. There is still an air of unreality about his being gone.

9) Bowie did it his way, every step of the way, without a mentor or Svengali (his early stereotypical rock manager, Tony DeFries, got the wheels put under him pretty quickly). He called his own shots, up to stage managing his own death. That last photo, from a couple of days before he checked out, shows him dapper and smiling and seemingly full of life. How fitting that a figure who showed so many of us, the freaks and oddballs, how we might live our own lives should also show us a dignified way to meet death.

10) Our very worst medium for political dialogue, Facebook, proved to be the perfect engine for collective mourning. I got a lot more out of reading some of my FB fwends' remembrances of Bowie than I did, f'rinstance, from Christgau's dismissive assessment (which I refuse to link to here). Instead, I'll quote Charles Shaar Murray from 1977: "David Bowie is the one man in rock whose work will, I suspect, continue to fascinate me for the the rest of my life, which I won't grow out of even if I stop listening to anything else in the rock field. Sometimes I'll love it and sometimes I'll hate it, sometimes I'll find it infuriating and sometimes exhilarating, sometimes riveting and sometimes incomprehensible, but I can think of no other rock artist whose next album is always the one I'm most looking forward to hearing." I'm going to miss having artists like that around. And then, of course, I'll miss us.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Stoogeaphilia @ the 1912 Club, 1.9.2016

Photo by Jeffery Martin

I don't post about all my music gigs anymore because 1) I don't play that many and 2) I realize it's not that innaresting for you to read about 'em. But last Saturday, the li'l Stoogeband played one that was better documented than any we've played in the last three or four years, and I'm pretty happy with the results.

The 1912 is the neighborhood bar across from 1919 Hemphill where Grant Baird has been booking shows for a few months, and when Grant and Robby Rux recently threw a shindig to celebrate the release of new tapes by Tame Tame & Quiet and BULLS on Robby's Dreamy Life label (which I'll review when I get a new cassette-playing ahrn), they invited the li'l Stoogeband to be on the bill (along with Austinites The Crack Pipes) and we weren't otherwise engaged. The spot has a welcoming vibe, and the regs hung around while the rockaroll was going on. It kind of reminded me of Taqueria Pedritos over in Big D. The mirrors around the stage reminded me of service clubs in Asia, and the stage lighting was seizure-inducing, but the sound wasn't bad (although probably better closer to the pool tables than close up for us -- all that glass bounces sound around unmercifully). I'd dig to play there again.

Our friend and Matt Hembree's Goodwin bandmate Daniel Gomez attempted to do some multitrack recording and GoPro video-shooting, some of which was undermined when the sound guys had to replace Ray's mic cords (he didn't actually destroy five SM-58s like I thought, but when the legend beats the truth...), but he was able to do some salvage by using vocals from his room mics (one of which got inadvertently turned toward the wall during the recording). So far he's shared four songs: "Nonalignment Pact," "Future Now," "Johanna," and "TV Eye." For what it's worth, and if I do say so myself, these are the best audio recordings of us in the ten years we've been a band (first gig was 4.9.2006).

Additionally, Richard Hurley's friend Jeffery Martin took some great photos of the gig -- a challenge in that environment -- which we've shared on our Facebook page (and above). He also wrote this:

Stoogeaphilia @ 1912 Club, Ft. Worth 1-9-16. It's been six years since I've seen Stoogeaphilia perform. It's also funny how many cover bands I've seen in the past several years. It's the kind of thing I never thought I would enjoy. However, there's a difference between a cover band and a tribute act. Tribute acts present themselves as an impersonation, taking on the look and mannerisms of their subject. A cover band just plays the songs. There are very few, at least of the ones I've seen, who take the material and put a little of their own personalities into it. The Blackouts, a band I used to DJ with did "60s Garage Rock covers, but as themselves. The Gorehounds do the Cramps, in a very tribute-like fashion, but there's no doubt they bring a huge edge to it via the remarkable musicianship of the players. And the same can be said about Stoogeaphilia. Those who are familiar know they play more than just Stooges covers. Last night they also covered Pere Ubu, MC5, Dead Boys, The Dicks, and Hawkwind. It's a lesson to the secret history of rock 'n' roll (one of the many), translated by a seriously tight, hard rockin' unit. It’s the kind of thing you love to expose someone to it who doesn't know anything about it, and watch their minds be blown. "That was the greatest band I've ever seen", someone would most certainly say. 

It's very flattering when somebody "gets it." Our thanks to Daniel and Jeffery, and to you if you were there.

ADDENDUM: Daniel just shared "Funhouse." Break it down...