Saturday, July 28, 2018

Things we like: Tornup, Mean Motor Scooter, Beck/Holdsworth night

Not writing as much these days as I'm staying fairly busy doing political volunteer work (a day spent pounding the pavement beats one spent yelling at my puter; being a verb beats being an adjective) and working weekends and Dan and Ted's days off at Panther City Vinyl (it's like being 16 again, minus the drugs and painful self-consciousness). We had our "grand opening" celebration after having been open six months in the original location and another month in the new one, across Magnolia from Benito's. Vaden Todd Lewis of the Toadies did a solo set, which was fitting and proper, as he and original Toadies bassist Lisa Umbarger (who'll be playing a sort-of reunion show with original guitarist Charles Mooney at the Ridglea Room on August 4th) worked with Dan at Sound Warehouse, and one of Dan's paintings graced the cover of the Rubberneck album (it now hangs in the store). Also on the bill were Mean Motor Scooter and Tornup.

MMS might seem like Next Big Things, but they've been around for close to a decade now (although their Rick Nielsen-ballcapped Dead End Kids look is a relatively recent innovation). The Stooge band (on hiatus now that Richard's in Colorado) played Inauguration Night 2017 on a bill with them, but I didn't get to see them perform that night. Since then, they've added Rebekah Downing on keys and vox, making them the only Fort Worth band I can think of offhand with four singers. Frontman Sammy Kidd, currently sporting hair in that Black Forest cake shade with no highlights, is a veritable songwriting machine -- so much of one, bassist Joe Tacke says, that they just recorded two EPs and haven't even mixed the second LP yet. Their Hindu Flying Machine album (released on Phoenix-based Dirty Water Records) mashes up surf, garage, and punk in a rough and rowdy manner reminiscent of the Fungi Girls, to which their live show adds another level of energy and excitement, propelled by Jeff Friedman's slammin' traps. Good value.

I first set eyes on Torry Finley a decade ago, when Conscientious Projector was still screening documentaries at 1919 Hemphill, and witnessed a couple of sets by his band Spacebeach (whose guitarist, Jake Rothschild, now leads Yaz Mean, an outfit steeped in '70s jazz-rock fusion that just cut an EP featuring guest shots by Oak Cliff trumpet legend Dennis Gonzalez and whirlwind drummer Christopher "Chill" Hill). In his conscious hip-hop incarnation, it was Tornup's misfortune to release a naively upful and Fort Worth-centric album, Utopian Vanguard (Heart of the Funk), that dropped on Election Day 2016 and got buried in the subsequent shit storm. Now he's got a new album in the works dealing with the prison industrial complex, with each track narrated by a different African-American character, and he plans to perform it live and for video with an expanded lineup (although he can also perform the tunes solo, accompanied only by his own bass and samplers). He's a personable and uplifting performer (he wears his Christianity -- which doesn't preclude cussing in his songs -- on his sleeve) who was easily able to get the crowd on his side, and I'll be looking forward to experiencing his new work.

Torry and the Yaz Mean cats were in the house (as were a who's who of local musos-in-the-know) when Lola's hosted a reprise of last year's incredible Jeff Beck/Allan Holdsworth tribute night, featuring a mighty triumverate of axe-slingers -- Big Mike Richardson, Ron Geida, and Tyrel Choat -- recreating Beck's career-defining masterwork Blow By Blow, and the slight return (from Colorado) of Fort Worth guitar-king-in-exile Bill Pohl paying homage to the late master of fleetly fluid fret calculus. Both bands were anchored by keyboard wiz Steve Hammond and the aforementioned "Chill" Hill, with low-end theory covered by my Wreck Room bandleader Lee Allen for the Beck set and the ever-amazing Canyon Kafer for the Holdsworth.

This year's sets were even more stellar than last year's, with the benefit of more rehearsal time, better division of labor among the guitarists, Big Mike digging deep to blow some solos that were pure inspiration, Tyrel's talk box behaving better (and its owner unleashing a shredding solo that was the apex of an astonishing "Cause We've Ended As Lovers"), and the Allen-Hill rhythm section grooving relentlessly. The Holdsworth set was Something Entahrly Other. Bill Pohl has now transcended his influences and is unmistakably His Own Guy, even when playing familiar repertoire; the air in Colorado must agree with him. Kafer and Hill, who play together in guitarist Chet Stevens' band, have a gestalt that has to be heard to be believed, and when bass and keys strolled near the end of the set, Bill and Chill pushed each other onward and upward with the tsunami-like force of Trane and Elvin at the Vanguard. A couple of days earlier, I'd bailed on the Jeff Beck show in Irving to canvas in Como for Vanessa Adia's Congressional campaign, but I do believe I still heard the best music made in North Texas this week.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ralph Carney and Chris Butler's "Songs for Unsung Holidays"

Reviewing Ralph Carney's last album back in 2011, I compared it to "a midwestern Bonzo Dog Band with chops," and indeed Carney -- a titanic multi-instrumentalist and go-to sideman for the likes of Tom Waits, the B-52s, St. Vincent, and his nephew Patrick Carney's band the Black Keys -- came across for all the world like the Bonzos' art school eccentric Roger Ruskin-Spear in a jazz classicist mood. It's fitting, then, that before he died unexpectedly last December, Carney collaborated with his ex-Tin Huey/Waitresses bandmate Chris Butler on this gem of absurdist musical humor, inspired by the likes of the Bonzos, Tom Lehrer, and Randy Newman.

Besides being a fave of your humble chronicler o' events, Butler is the composer of the seasonal perennial "Christmas Wrapping," but Songs for Unsung Holidays -- scheduled for a September 7 release on estimable indie Smog Veil -- is a collection of songs about off-the-wall invented holidays, co-written and recorded by the long-distance collaborators in their respective home studios. In this moment when every day brings social media reminders of holidays for every damn thing under the sun (in between the Russian bot memes and news reports of the latest outrages from the obfuscator in chief), it's apropos to have songs to sing on "Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day," "Bubble Wrap Day," and "Salami Appreciation Day."

"Bald and Free" is both a piss-take on the white guy blues (albeit one with sterling harp and guitar from Carney and Butler) and a wiseass rumination on the, um, lengths some gents will go to, to conceal their male pattern baldness (even in a time when the shaven head is fashionable), while "Cheese Ball Day" is a sonic homage to the era when secret prog rockers Tin Huey attempted to sneak under the radar in new wave clothing. The aforementioned "Engineering Day" conflates robotic synths and vocals with What's Going On sax obbligatos and Butler's earnest-but-unromantic ruminations on engineering careers before the two Ohio natives pay tribute to their roots on "Polka Day."

"Gorilla Suit Day" is an old-timey romp, sung by Carney, that puts me in mind of so many things: Leon Redbone, the Evans Vacuum Cleaner guy (Fort Worth-centric reference), the "shake hands with Gonga" scene in Wise Blood; "Put on the suit" indeed. "Day of the Dead" -- the only legit holiday in the bunch celebrated here -- returns to the concern with mortality that permeated Butler's Got It Togehter! from earlier this year. "Bath Safety Day" is a sequel to Chicago's "An Hour in the Shower" that winds up being a case of mistaken holiday identity (who knew Bath, Maine, had a safety day?). Most poignant moment here comes on "Hippie Day," when Carney and Butler's Dead-'n'-Allman (not to mention Marshall Tucker)-inspahrd jamarama gives way to a good old fashioned protest march call-and-response and themes Butler explored in his coming-of-age-at-Kent State 1970 remembrance Easy Life.

Carney was a one-of-a-kind muso who'll be sorely missed. This record is a nice memorial to his joyful spirit. (Another ex-Huey, Harvey Gold, was about to undertake a collaboration with Carney before he passed; the result is here).