Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Me-Thinks' "Mr. Dude" b/w "Rock Deaf"

We've been playing these shitty songs
Way too loud, way too long...
If you're into deafness,
We'll put you on the guest list.

The mighty Me-Thinks -- for whom I have shilled merchandise, and will again -- have always been more than they appeared.

While Ray Liberio -- with whom I've played recreationally in a "proto-punk repertory band" since 2006, and will again -- is the consummate frontman, personable to a fault, and a multi-instrumental triple-threat who also kicks the traps with Vorvon and FTW, it's hardly his show alone. Much of the Me-Thinks' concept -- their droll, self-deprecating humor (including the fake interview transcript they supplied me with after my first encounter with them, way back in 2002), stage presentation (a smoke machine! capes!), as well as their somewhat skewed marketing -- originates with guitarist/smoke machine operator/Cheap Trick fan Marlin Von Bungy. (I finally realized why Marlin doesn't use a wah-wah pedal: You can't, while standing on one leg.) And back in the early days, their secret songwriting weapon was drummer Will "Boyo" Risinger (now in exile in Arkansas), who penned lyrics and provided Brian Wilson-esque "spiritual guidance" for this new 7-incher.

The secret ingredient in the current Me-Thinks lineup, however, is Johnny Trashpockets, ex-E.T.A., who joined two years ago after his predecessor on second guitar, Mike Bandy (ex-Dragworms and Ray's original guitar teacher), departed due to health issues. (Mike's recently been back on the boards with Groom Lake Racers.) It was a move that just made sense, since Trashpockets -- a somewhat menacing rockaroll Predator onstage, as smart and funny as the rest of the cats offstage -- was a longtime friend and fan, and was already playing with Me-Thinks drummer Trucker Jon Simpson in One Fingered Fist. Stoked by his energy and enthusiasm, Fort Worth's self-styled "shittiest band" have stepped up the pace of their live activity, and produced what Boyo insists (and I concur) is their finest recorded artifact yet.

At least some of the credit here goes to Jorts Richardson (Son of Stan), who insisted on keeping the Me-Thinks away from the booth during mixing, as a result of which Ray's barrel-chested, leather-lunged vocals -- a signature strength -- are up high in the mix for the first time evah. Instrumentally, their sound has never been so well captured: hard-edged and streamlined, with a relentless forward motion worthy of Motorhead, Radio Birdman, or Machine Head-era Deep Purple.

"Mr. Dude" is a tale of high school hi-jinks that winds its way through several sections and takes its title from the nom de plume of Calvin Abucejo, Ray's fellow "art criminal" in Pussyhouse Propaganda, creators of the picture sleeve artwork (a Kiss Destroyer homage on one side, 3D wonderment on the flip) for this manhole cover-like slab of turquoise vinyl. "Rock Deaf" -- the source of the inspirational couplets up top -- is an anthem to excess in the manner of The Make Mine a Double E.P.'s "Party Boy." While that 2007 release remains the "classic" Me-Thinks, this latest document distills their essence better than any other recording.

But don't take my word for it. The release show (with the Hickoids and Duell) is skedded for Saturday, September 10th, at Lola's. You know what to do.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Josh Alan's "Sixty, Goddammit"

I feel like Josh Alan Friedman is my slightly older, way cooler brother from another mother. Both Lawn Guyland expats living in Tejas (he from more cosmopolitan Nassau County, me from bumfuck backwater Suffolk County), both got our rockaroll baptisms in Noo Yawk (he at the Fillmore East, me via radio and rekkids), both muso-scribes (it's always humbling to encounter folks who do what you do better than you do). His "autobiographical novel" Black Cracker captures very well the time and place we grew up in, when he was the only white kid in Long Island's last segregated school, and I remember an Italo-American kid, when we were on the verge of getting bused out of the neighborhood, telling me that "The niggizz is gonna stab you through the seats on the bus." His Tell the Truth Until They Bleed contains some of the very best music writing of which I am personally aware, including an epic interview with Tin Pan Alley songwriting genius Jerry Leiber and profiles of Tommy Shannon and the late Keith Ferguson that'll make you weep, if you've any heart at all.

So the arrival in my mailbox this week of a package with Josh's name in the return address was quite welcome. Sixty, Goddammit is his first album of "atomic acoustic blues-funk-rock" in 15 years, and it's a corker. (For my two cents, the best of its four predecessors is 1997's Blacks 'n' Jews, out of print on CD but digitally available from the usual places since 2009.) Mostly recorded at home with surprisingly pristine clarity and juiced in post-production by ace Austin engineer David Rosenblad, Sixty, Goddammit is chock full of flashy flatpicking, sardonic wiseguy vocalismo, lyrical wit, and only the finest blues and R&B root sources, run through the aforementioned Fillmore East filter. Which means that as acoustic bluesmen go, Josh Alan's a rocker. Think Steve Stills back when he was good; Josh's live-wire act has the same kind of built-in tension.

The tunes include several I've enjoyed at Josh's live performances for years -- in particular, "Down Home Girl," the slow, sultry Leiber and Stoller chestnut first waxed by Alvin "Shine" Robinson, and more famously on The Rolling Stones, Now!; and "Cat's Squirrel," which Dr. Isaiah Ross wouldn't have recognized once Eric Clapton (and Mick Abrahams!) got their hands on it, and which Josh manhandles in the same way he used to do Mr. Beck's Yardbirds-era showpiece, "Jeff's Boogie." (That is to say, with a degree of humor as well as flash.) Josh also essays an arrangement of Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" (the 'riginal of which my ex-wife probably still doesn't believe I want played at my funeral), and Doc Watson's "Deep River Blues," which shows just how closely related were bluegrass and Piedmont-style blues.

Josh's originals here -- "This Radio Don't Play Nothin' But the Blues," "I'm Blacker Than You," and "Street Fight" -- show a continuing interest in blues, race, and the seamy side of city life (which their author knows very well from the days he spent covering Times Square for Screw magazine in the years before it got Giulianified, Disneyfied, and North Dallas outdoor mall-ified). He also tackles cover material associated with Ray Charles ("What'd I Say"), Albert King and Cream ("Born Under A Bad Sign"), ZZ Top ("Tush"), and even Elvis Himself ("Mystery Train"). Next time I'm of a mind to hear white boy acoustic blues, instead of reaching for Sun Elvis or Dion on World Cafe, I might just throw Sixty, Goddammit on the box instead. So there.

Half Cleveland Live at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Once again, through the marvels of the intarweb, I was able to vicariously attend a gig by Akron, OH-based geezer hipsters Half Cleveland, in real time, this time via the Facebook page of Dolli Quattrocchi Gold, tech savvy bride of HC tunesmith-singer-guitarist-keyboardist Harvey Gold (who points out that her maiden name means "four eyes" in Italian). The occasion was an event curated by Devo founder/visual artist Mark Mothersbaugh, featuring Half Cleveland and their Rubber City homeskis the Numbers Band and Bizarros, at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (Never been there, but I once ate lunch with a cat who was, at the time, one of the top people in that organization, at a Thai place where the server helpfully provided me with chopsticks while bringing the two Jewish guys at the table silverware. Fun fact: Thais don't use chopsticks. Was I being profiled?)

As is their wont, the boys in Half Cleveland -- the current vehicle for Harvey and his former Tin Huey bandmate Chris Butler -- opened their historically-minded set with a cover: in this case, Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" (which I once played in a band in Colorado in the winter of '79-'80; what were we thinking?), complete with Devonian headgear (Harvey gets extra points for knocking his own off at the end of the song) and a guest appearance from Booji Boy (or his twin). They continued with a couple of as-yet-unrecorded numbers, and had Numbers Band saxophonist Jack Kidney join them on Harvey's "Your Side of the Room." (My note says "Roxy meets Diddley." You get the idea.) Chris took the mic for his newie ("Thief") as well as "This Isn't Just A Car" from his '97 outing I Feel A Bit Normal Today.

Biz was gotten down to with a Tin Huey mini-set that revealed the Hueys as the prog band hiding in the new wave bin, and included "Squirm You Worm" (which Harvey dedicated to Muhammad Ali) and their epochal cover of Robert Wyatt's cover of the Monkees' "I'm A Believer" (whew!). Half Cleveland next tipped their collective fedora to Chris' post-Huey successful (for a minute) pop band, the Waitresses. A long-service Rock Hall employee, Meredith Rutledge-Borger, stood in for the late Patty Donahue, singing "No Guilt (It Wasn't the End of the World)" and "I Know What Boys Like." She did 'em up fine, too. For Half Cleveland's final encore, Chris took the oppo to chide the Rock Hall (why is it that hearing this appellation always makes me think of Gang of Four?) for not having yet inducted the quirky Brit pop-rockers XTC, by way of introducing HC's cover of XTC's "Towers of London."

As one with limited opportunity to get out and see bands, this live streaming stuff is the best thing to happen to my eyes since VHS. Hopefully Dolli will continue to beam Half Cleveland into my living room until such time as they have another recorded artifact available.