Thursday, December 27, 2007

30,000 Feet in December of 2007

All photos © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen
It’s an very early morning, and I’m more than 30,000 feet in the air, I’m guessing somewhere over Manitoba, flying home after the past two weeks visiting my partner . I’m on my way to Minneapolis before heading off to NYC. The sun is just beginning to rise in the distance, and the snow-covered patchwork plains begin to lay open before the light. My customs card is all filled in, and it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful morning.

Here are some of the highlights of my trip:

The first week, the weather was, let’s just say brisk. It was, on average, between –5F and –9F, and that doesn’t count the wind chill. I was clearing the walk just about every day from an inch or two of snow that would fall from squalls. Fortunately, there was no real snowstorm that had any kind of weight. Snow is dry and fluffy, and most of the time and all that is needed is a broom rather than a shovel, and some quick back and forth swishes. I got the hang of it pretty fast (hey, even for a city boy, it’s not rocket science).

Last week, we took a long drive to Regina, Saskatchewan. While my partner was in a meeting, I wandered down Albert Street, heading south from 11th Avenue. It was butt-numbing cold, and a steady snow was falling, without much accumulation (probably totaled 1-2 inches). I was in an industrial part of town, with run down transient hotels (rent by month, week, day or hour), tattoo parlors (or parlours, in the vernacular), car repair shops, and lots of Viet-Chinese restaurants. I was on my way to the MacKenzie Art Gallery, which I heard was supposed to be spectacular. Little did I know it would be about 2 miles down the road. But as usual I jump ahead.

One of the first things I saw was a huge mural for cultural diversity; it was a painting of a globe with different colored hands holding it up and children of various hues. Right next to it was billboard for the local casino.

As I walked down Albert, with the Downtown area to my left (it seems Albert is the border of downtown), the neighborhood started to decrease in seediness. Family houses started popping up. As I reach the lower end of the downtown area, it was the start of a huge park, and I came across the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (the Museum of Natural History). It didn’t take too long to go through it, and I have to confess I was grateful for the opportunity to use the bathroom and find something with which to blow my nose…. did I mention it was friggin’ cold and I was walking into the wind?

The museum is two floors, with the upper one being dioramas of animals, birds, reptiles, etc., that are native to the province. It was well laid out, and for the relatively small space, it was quite thorough. I was very impressed. There were sound effects of birds and animals, and places to sit and hear recorded descriptions. The lower floor was broken up into two sections. The first was a geological history of the province, with cutaways, models, and dinosaur bones that were found locally. I learned that 1.5 million years ago, that part of Canada was an equatorial zone. This section led into a First Nations (Canadian for Native Americans) history, which was also interesting. Finally on this floor, there was a very short exhibit of Inuit art. On the other side of the lobby, there was a small room with a robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex peeking through a forest that was both cool and cheesy.

Going out the back entrance, I continued on my way down Albert, until I came to what I believe was Queen Victoria Bridge, near the Wascana Centre. There were lots of images of her (Regina was named for her) and buffalos, but the main theme seemed to be Egyptian-style painted columns that lined the road. It was quite well done. The river, of course, was frozen solid, and more snow accumulated even as I walked and the downfall became heavier. Then, as I was taking pictures of the bridge structure, a car full of teen boys (it’s always teen boys) passed, and one actually opened his door, leaned out, and screamed something at me. I couldn’t make out what he said, and quite honestly, I didn’t care. I just looked at him and thought, “What fools these mortals be”.

It was colder on the bridge, obviously, so I continued on my walk. I was hoping that the gallery would be coming up soon, because I was getting tired and my sinuses were burning fierce. First though, I had to pass the Saskatchewan Legislature Building (which looks like any other colonial-period Canadian legislature building). It was still quite a walk down a park lane, and finally I got there.

The world-famous MacKenzie Art Gallery is basically one floor and looks - and is laid out - like a museum. The main focus is a local revered artist named Joe Fafard. The first part was life-sized buffalo and horses, either 3D or cut outs of metal and other materials. After that, it was mainly 2” high detailed sculptures of people, from some known to the artist (friends, family, etc.), to those of more renown (such as national politicians). There was also a small exhibition of other artists, mostly of modern art that was, well, beyond my ken and appreciation.

Then came the walk back. Along the way, I came across a restaurant called La Bodega, which had an outdoor bar made entirely of chiseled ice. This was some pretty amazing work, and as impressive and artistic as what I saw in the gallery. I also stopped by another gallery that was recommended to me at a library that was across the street from Regina City Hall. It was a bit disappointing, being a video installation that basically consisted of a half dozen video monitors. So I headed over to my meeting place.

* * *
Minneapolis

Back in the air now, watching the smoke-stacks somewhere between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The sky is mostly clear with little patches of clouds.

On Dec 6, we attended a ceremony for the National Day of Remem-brance and Action on Violence Against Women, commem-orating the anniversary of the day when 14 women were shot for being “feminists” by a man in a classroom in Montreal in 1989. It was a short ceremony where all the names were read and a rose laid out and a candle lit. There was also a PowerPoint slide show with photos of the women that looked really familiar. My partner reminded me that I was the one who created it last year. There were also speakers talking about violence against women (by a survivor), and a male representative of an organization of men promoting non-violence and other women’s issues. There were also booths for information about resources, including child sexual abuse and women’s shelters and counseling.

On another night, a group of us headed over to a barn about 20 miles out of town that has been converted a dinner community theatre (and craft store) to see a show called “Christmas Belles”. We rode over with a family friend, and one of the actors, also a friend of my partner. We three (sans actor) handed out the playbills for our admission (no dinner), and they gave us front row slightly off-center seats. I was expecting some hackneyed Christmas story with questionable acting (this is community theater, remember), but the fun of the experience of the actors definitely was alive in the play, which was also well written, and we definitely had our favorite moments (“Listen up people!”). It turned out to be worth the drive in that sub-zero weather.

Two nights later, after lighting a candle to mark the first anniversary of my dad’s death and dinner with the lovely artist/musician landlady, we headed out again, this time not for dinner theater but rather dessert theater (I kid you not; they gave out cupcakes and coffee during intermission). The daughter of our friend was in her Grade 8 class show, and it was a hoot. Yeah, there were some flubbed lines, some off-kilter line readings and the like, but the show was pretty well written and the kids seem to be having a blast. And, I might add, our friend’s daughter was among the best that night. No, seriously, she’s a natural. I see Drama School in her future.

Then, all too soon, it’s time to go. A brief night's sleep and at the airport by 5:30 AM. Just another short time in a life filled with interesting events during a smile-inducing deep and dark December.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A co-interview with writer-musician JD Glass, Pt I

(l-r: Shane, JD Glass)
I’ve known JD Glass nearly a decade. We met and bonded over discussions of music and comics. She told me of her own comic book story, and how she was starting to write a novel. That novel turned into “Punk Like Me”, the flashback story of a punk musician and how she came to empowerment. Powerful stuff, while still an amazing and sometimes shocking read (I recently finished it and couldn’t put it down). Since then, she has sequels out (that I’m also determined to read) called “Punk and Zen” and “Red Light”. Soon to be published is “American Goth.” And through all this, she is also a musician in a (sometimes) duo called Life Underwater, with her wonderful partner Shane. Their sound is sort of a mix of Joan Jett and Melissa Etheridge, but a big dose of humor thrown in.

JD recently told me that she wanted to interview me for her blog, and I told her I wanted to do the same for MY blog. So with a smile and MySpace in hand, we starting shooting questions and answers toward each other though the Internet. Here is the result. It is long, so will be in more than one part. To see JD’s blog, go here:

And now, Part I of the JD Glass/Robert Barry Francos co-interview:

RBF: I know you were knee-deep in writing a comic book series about the time I first met you in the late '90s. What happened with that, and how did that lead into "Punk Like Me"?

JDG: After being told by a major house that they loved the concept, but wanted a "straight" character and to outright buy the story (keeping all the rights) I shelved it for a little while.

"Punk Like Me" started as an exercise: what would happen if I made the same character more "real world," replaced fantastical situations with real ones on the one hand, and the other was could I write a series of short stories that would form chapters of a book - each chapter could stand on its own, but together, tell an overarching story.

Ironically, the book now coming out in January is based on that comic/character, and a comic publisher (small house) is interested in doing a story in an anthology for that character.

At the same time we met, you were working on your manuscript of the years and the bands you've seen over the years. How did you first get into this aspect of the music scene? And what about it speaks to you the most?

RBF: The first question sounds like two-parts: How did I get into the music, and how did I come about writing about it. I believe the question about what speaks to me can be addressed by answering the previous ones.

I grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, which at the time was not exactly known for its diversity, either ethnically, socially, or its habits. In 1985, Yusef Hawkins was shot not far from where I lived, and Al Sharpton would march up and down in front of our abode. This neighborhood conformity was kind of boring to me even in the '70s.

My good pal, Bernie Kugel (who became a ground-breaking musician in Buffalo in the late '70s), was heavily into music, and he dragged -- and I do mean dragged -- me to CBGBs for the first time on June 20, 1975. There were about 20 people in the audience. Talking Heads opening for the Ramones. I was instantly hooked (especially by the Ramones). Before the Pistols, there was more of an angst than anger in the music, which touched me for both it's '60s-based popness, it's harder edge (without being boring metal) and outrageousness (for example, Suicide was very confrontational with the audience, and then there was Wayne County who was amazing, even to a straight boy like me).

I had been more of a folkie before this, into musicians like Simon & Garfunkel, Phil Ochs, and the like, rather than many of my punk contemporaries who had liked KISS and Alice Cooper. To me, this was a new form of protest music, and as time wore on, I found that a lot of the anger (post-Pistols) was really just sped up folk in spirit (much as rock'n'roll was sped up/electrified R&B). And today, many early punkers, such as Joey Shithead of D.O.A., are putting out singer-songwriter style releases.

In 1977, I started a fanzine, named FFanzeen, which ran until 1988. I covered many of the larger and smaller bands, and also had a lot of firsts and lasts (such as being the last person to interview the Cramps with Miriam Linna, and then the first to interview the Nervus Rex with Mirian Linna). While it never became a super hit, it was well known in the community, and I was always getting recordings by bands.

One day in the 1990s, I was at a friend's birthday party, and one of the guests was Mariah Aguier, whom I had known in the day (I drove her and her sister Allison home more than once, and we'd go out for Chinese; also I was there the night Stiv Bators ripped off her dress on CBGB's stage). She said to me, "I always took pictures, and one day I realized what I had was a body of work". I'd been taking pictures at shows, mostly to remember the bands -- there were so many -- since 1977, and I realized that was true for me, as well. I took a year to organize my photos, and recently had some published in a book called "The Encyclopedia of Punk Music and Culture" by Brian Cogan.

I also had a bit of a revelation after reading "Please Kill Me." An excellent effort, but I realized that most books about punk or the New York Scene, tend to deal with the same bands, like the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, Heartbreakers, Patti Smith, Dictators (DFFD), Sex Pistol and the Clash); and yet, there are so many other bands from that time, like the Marbles, Mong, Willie Alexander, and the Cramps, who were deserving more discussion than they were getting. That got me started on writing some of my own memories and collecting interviews I did with some of those bands. Next thing I knew, I had 400 pages in Word.

What drew YOU to the whole downtown scene all the way from your place of choice and birth, Staten Island, and how did the Greenwich Village scene influence your writing and especially your music? And how did the Ferry schedule affect your choices of who to see (i.e., there were many times I came home in the '70s and '80s as the sun was rising, at a time I'm sure the Ferry schedule was not at it's peak)?


JDG: It's sort of a long story (oh, and I was born in Brooklyn and dragged to Staten Island as a young'n ). Towards the end of Jr. High, my mother worked downtown Manhattan and had to work on weekends. Occasionally, I'd go with her, or she'd have my brother and I travel together to visit her, and we'd all go together to the Village, walking around, just enjoying the atmosphere.

When I graduated to start high school, I got into comics, my friend, Mike Cuttita, invited me to a party where I met his older brother and their friends and...they were all into the whole underground scene - this was a great relief and safe haven for me, because the suburbia that surrounded me I found deadening, soul killing, and horribly narrow in every aspect - horrible bigotries about everything, and not only a fear, but an absolute refusal to even attempt to learn about anything. My brother and I sarcastically (but accurately at the time) referred to the Mall as Staten Island's cultural mecca.

I wasn't allowed to stay out late, but I was allowed my day and early evening trips to the Village, so I went almost every Saturday and Sunday with my brother and then eventually, our friends. So that's how I got started. Yes, the ferry schedule was of utmost importance - if I was in the least bit late getting home, I wouldn't be allowed to go again!

Once I moved out, though, it was a different story - and there were plenty of mornings I watched the sunrise of the bow and walked back to my place from the train station with the sun fully up.

As to who to see...in the early days, I saw whatever I could catch. When I had more independence, I saw whatever caught my eye and ear, and I was lucky enough to work at a night club that featured acts such as Johnny Thunders, Cheetah Chrome (we shared nail polish ) and many more, and I got into DJing what at the time was "alternative" music - which embraced punk and punk sensibility.

All of it influenced me in ways I don't think I can really pull apart to describe, or ascribe in a "this came from here" sort of way. But having said that, I know that the entire experience, the philosphy I absorbed, left me with the conviction that the individual matters to the whole, and that whatever I do, I had to be honest, and real, about it - not the "best" - but unflinchinly honest with myself, with everyone - and I think that comes out in everything I do.

It's still amazing to me that there's so much talent out there that's so under recognized - and even more amazing to me that you undertook and maintained FFanzeen for so long. I know you have a saying about it - would you share the origin of that? What 'zines are you working with now? And (since I've been lucky enough to read as well as view some of your work) do you think you'll one day once more publish a 'zine of your own again? How would you say the art, both then and now, influenced your own work and outlook?

RBF: Don't know why I find this funny, but: JD the DJ. Yeah, I'm a punk nerd.

JDG: I get that a lot - and I love that you're a punk nerd :-) 'cos it's what makes you completely cool.

RBF: The expression and subtitle I had for my fanzine and its philosophy (and I'm hoping to be the name of my book, though many of my friends don't like it...is "Rock'n'Roll With Integrity".

JDG: Your philosophy has also influenced me - truly.

RBF: I found some of the bigger fanzines, like "The New York Crapper"...I mean "Rocker" was that all they did was complain about the scene; how the scene was dead (please note I mean this as post-Alan Betrock, who remained a defender of the scene until his untimely death). And the "Village Voice," once a baston of punk, turned it's back on it: Robert Christigau, its most influencial critic, turned his back on it and would only review anglofile and R&B music positively (I had a friend who wore a button that said "Christigau: D-"). I swore that if I started to feel that way about the things I was publishing, I would stop rather than whine. Sometime in 1988, after my 15th issue in 11 years, I started to find myself a bit bored...and was also broke (it was expensive publishing a print fanzine, with no or minimal advertising). I knew it was time, and I stopped. Also, quite amusingly, I paid attention to all the people who were such good friends when I published and suddenly disappeared when they didn't have an outlet any more.

JDG: It's funny who you find out is on your side for you and on your side for them when things change. Happens to bands, too - when people think you're on the rise, whoa, the attention and favor. When you do something different...

RBF: Still, I kept many good friends from that period to this day, including Joe Viglione ("The Count"), Nancy Foster (aka Nancy New Age, Suzy Q, and Nancy Neon, depending on the decade), and Gary Pig Gold, to name just a few.

Art wise, I must may I was not very well influenced by fanzines. It was more the content than the production. I was a college newspaper editor and I liked the tabloid style of lots of text and pictures in a recognizable format. I used to get mad at fanzines that tried to be too artistic for their own good, like having a page with 10 words on it, or a wide blank border. I believed in (and this is another of my philosophical statements for the time) "More rock'n'roll per square inch". Yeah, I got reviews that were sometimes nasty, like my favorite (and I quote it often, because I love it so much) was from one of the bigger California hardcore 'zines (honestly, can't remember which one) whose entire review of my mag was "Boring newsprint tabloid". Well, I must add that I got more response and requests for issues from those three words than any other review. I didn't expect everyone to like me or my work, and still don't. It's not punk to base yourself on what others think, e.g., Fonzie wasn't cool because he was always afraid of not been seen as cool...if you are worried about it, you're not.

JDG: I'm with you on that - I don't expect everyone to like what I do - and that's cool, free will and all that. And I have to laugh with you about the Fonzie comparison - I think I did a rant on poseurs in Punk Like Me .

RBF: Meanwhile, when FFanzeen ended, I sort of went into life mode, and just did what I had to do to get some money and live my life. By the early 1990s, I was starting to get the squeemies (yes, I am aware that's not a word, but it says it best) about the music that was around me and needed to listen to something new that wasn't Top 10 crap or die. I wrote to about a dozen fanzines about wanting to review CDs, etc., and a couple wrote back interested. I started writing for excellent mags, but they kept falling away and closing, like "Shredding Paper" and "Oculus".

JDG: I remember both of those - you know, I never really did get to catch them when I wanted to, and they always sold out of the issues I wanted .

RBF: One day around 2001, I was at a show and took a picture of a band called Miracle of 86 (lead singer Kevin Devine), and saw someone taking pictures of the band who I thought was Kevin's dad, and sent it off to Kevin. He wrote back and said, "Why did you send me a picture of Jim Testa?" I had read "Jerey Beat", and other writings of his, but didn't know what Jim looked like. I sent the photo to him and described myself, and he said he had seen me too, but thought that I was a band dad, as well. Since then, I have been writing for "Jersey Beat", and even have my own column, which is called "The Quiet Corner", which deals with all music technically non-punk, but of course I also review punk CDs for themain review section, and have done a few interviews. "Jersey Beat" went away for about 2 years, but it's coming back strong as a Web-zine, and my column and reviews will continue.

JDG: So the beat goes on, so to speak.

RBF: As for my own 'zine, well, I honestly don't have the time or funds to get that up and running again, and I also don't have the computer acumen to keep it up consistently as a Web-zine. So, what I have done instead is start my own blog (this one), otherwise known as the 21 Century fanzine. I cover CD reviews of all types, photos, live reviews, and the like. And now, it will include interviews.

JDG: This is awesome, because you always bring high standards and amazing new material to the board with what you do - you really get the art "out there."

To be continued....JD's blog can be found at her MySpace space: www.myspace.com/jdglass

Rockwood Music Hall: November 18, 2007

All performance photos in this blog by Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen

A while back, I was at the diminutive yet intimate Rockwood Music Hall on Allen Street (on the “Side of the Lower East”) to hear a singer I’m fond of (but is not the focus here). My pal Gittar and I decided to stay and see what the next singer would be like, and then head out; a couple of songs, we figured. When Tamara Hey came on, we silently stayed the whole set. Obtaining her CD, it became one of my favorites over the past year or so.

Sunday, November 18, 2007, found me back at the Rockwood, waiting for Tamara to play again, where she plays semi-regularly. She was third on the bill, so with camera in hand, I ordered my drink (which, as usual, I nursed through the night), and waited.

First up was JOCELYN MEDINA, who was backed by piano, stand-up bass, and drum. The stage at Rockwood is so small that the majority of it is taken up by the grand piano, so the drum is set up off the stage, against the wall between the stage and door. Jocelyn is solid jazz, with some Brazilian influence thrown in. Some songs she wrote herself, and others she wrote the lyrics which are put to other instrumentals by jazz greats. The band was obviously new to the material, and Jocelyn helped them along with directions between songs, and they quite competently kept up. Jocelyn herself took a couple of songs to get into the groove, but once she did, her voice layered over the backing group in a fine soup of sounds. When she sang a couple of numbers in Portuguese that she seemed especially to let herself go with the music. I was glad for the opportunity to see her.

Next up was LEAHA BOSCHEN, in this occasion a solo artist playing either guitar or piano. Originating from the West Coast, she still filled the place with fans, many of whom she apparently knew personally. This made for a very personal, and informal performance that was relaxed and totally enjoyable. She dedicated songs to people who were sitting there, making it feel as much a living room as a performance space. Leaha has a strong voice that carries it through her songs. It cradles, it beckons, and it storms the castle with sheer force, as she touches on relationships and the human condition. What’s more, she looked like she was having such fun with all this. When she found out she could be on for nearly an hour, she was quite happy. The audience didn’t want to let her go when she was done.

TAMARA HEY was third up. Again the place filled with her fans. She plays acoustic guitar, and she was backed by electric guitar and piano. Tamara is another performer who looks like she is having a blast up there. One of the aspects I admire about her is that her topics are not typical. For example this night, songs included missing someone (“Right This Minute”, one of my favorites of her work), realizing a relationship is ending during a boring flight (“Up in the Air”), or working a really crappy temp job (“Part Time Help Me”, which she announced was a true story). There were many other songs off her CD I was hoping she would do, like the incredibly sad “More Like Melanie” or the toe-tapping “Pebble in My Shoe”, but I certainly would not say I was disappointed by the selection. I enjoyed hearing material that’s new to me. Tamara’s voice is on a higher register, but has a bite to it. Her music has just the slight hint of Nashville, but not so much one would want to shout “yee-haw”, if you get my drift. I recommend getting her CD and seeing her perform. She plays around often, and I may even see you there.

Official Tamara Hey Song List For the Night:
1. You Wear Me Out
2. Up in the Air
3. Round Peg
4. Right This Minute
5. October Sun
6. Somebody’s Girl
7. Drive
8. Part Time Help Me
9; Long Dog Day


There were more bands to play, as is the custom at the Rockwood, but I knew it was time for me to go. And have a sandwich at Katz's.

Here is a link to more photos from the show: http://community.webshots.com/user/ffranzos2006v1

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Up For Nothing 5th Birthday, Knitting Factory, 11/9/2007

I had been trying to hook up with JERSEY BEAT’s publisher Jim Testa for a while, when he recommended we go see Racing Exit 13 at the Knitting Factory on November 9, 2007. My schedule had been quite tight, and Jim basically said, with a whimsical sense of sarcasm, that hopefully he had given me enough time to open some space…this was in September, I believe. RE13’s singer, Dov, had invited Jim, and since I casually knew the band, I was wing-man (a position I’ve never minded).
* www.jerseybeat.com

To add to the pleasure, this show was Brooklyn-based trio Up For Nothing’s fifth birthday party. Five years…I remember seeing them at the much belated Brooklyn venue The Punk Temple, and more than once at Peggy O’Neill’s in Coney Island at showcases put on by The Nerve!

When I left work to head to the Knitting Factory in the desolate TriBeCa (aka DeNiroville), it was pouring. And, of course, once I got off the subway at Franklin Street, I went in the wrong direction. By the time I showed up at the KF, I was pretty drenched. Luckily, I found Jim pretty quickly, and we headed down to the lowest basement.

On the way down, I asked Jim if he wanted me to introduce him to Dov, lead singer of Racing Exit 13. He was in the middle of saying probably after the set, when I looked up and saw Dov literally standing right in from of us. So I did a quick intro, hoping I hadn’t done a faux pas. It seemed to be okay. I also had the opportunity to say hello to Barrie, someone I hadn’t seen in a long time, and was happy to visage.

When I entered the tight venue I stayed near the bar trying to pick “my spot”. I looked down near one of the numerous merch tables (each band had their own) and saw a totally not just smashed but shattered guitar. Ends up being from the band we missed, When Distance Fails. Pete Townsend may say, “Now, that is one broken instrument.”

(Bek, Dov)
RACING EXIT 13 is made up of members of other deceased bands (as is common in any scene, in this case Staten Island). For example, Dov had been the voice in the punk ska Washington Riot, guitarist Bek had been in one of my favorite bands, Monty Love, and drummer Phil D. was (and I think may still be) bassist in the screamo Quantice Never Crashed. They hit the stage, and before starting, Bek gave me a shout-out. Always appreciated.

RE13 are pretty much a young outfit, and their energy was solid post-punk, a mixture of hardcore and pop. Luckily, this conglom of variant backgrounds came together as a unit. While they still need to grow a bit more, their past experience showed. Mainly, their show is high energy, and amazingly enough, Dov kept his shirt on, though short pants and bare feet abounded. I am looking forward to hearing their recording output and seeing them perform again.
* www.myspace.com/racingexit13

After RE13, there was a severe paradigm shift as I noticed that the crowd had seriously aged. Where the average age for RE13 was early ‘20s, suddenly I saw that most of the people were in their late ‘20s to early ‘30s. And as I held in my spot against the right wall, these three big guys and one gal stood RIGHT IN FRONT of me, blocking my view/camera angle. They were down from Yonkers to see the Dimwits.

THE DIMWITS hail from Boston. They’ve been around a while now, and are solid Beantown, home of some of the better hardcore bands like GangGreen and pioneers The Dogmatics. But baseball season is over, so Boston folks are welcome here. Lead singer Bad Luck Brett was fluid and chatty between songs, tongue loosed by drink, fer sher, but it was mostly self-depreciating and entertaining as hell. As was the music, which is, too say the least, sophomoric. Songs about sex, booze, more sex, and just about anything else that makes one laugh while going wah? (for example one song is called “God’s Turd”). Brett paced the audience who made room for him to meander, talking and singing, often with members of the audience, including said Yonkers crowd. He also mentioned that he was an Od’ Dirty Bastard fan, and said he always wanted to be able to shout (and did) “Is Brooklyn in the house!”
* www.myspace.com/thedimwits

(Marc, Ernie)
Between sets, the aging continued. The high 20s-low 30s crowd phased out and it seemed there were a lot of people closer to my age, as New York legends THE ARSONS came to the fore. They are in the New Yorker-style of Black Flag mode of old skool hardcore. Glad to see they’re still around (and recording…new one just out). Lead singer Marc seems to have had more than one and he sang well as he stumbled around a bit. As (strait-edge) Tony Petrozza of SQNS may have said, “Now this is punk rock!” Still, it seemed to piss off the bassist, Alex (wearing a shirt that said “I Hate People”), who I heard say to Marc, “How are you getting home? You’re not coming with me!” Still, guitarist and vocalist Ernie seemed to be the backbone of the group and kept them going. It was all very entertaining and most importantly, they put on a good show…even when Ernie accidentally broke his guitar, and later when Justin of Up For Nothing jumped up and helped Marc with his guitar strap. And as with the Dimwits, Marc and Ernie spent as much time in the audience as they did on the miniscule stage, which was appreciated by all.
* www.myspace.com/thearsons

(Vlad-o-Rama, Jimmy Dukes)
While waiting for Up for Nothing, I was happy to see a couple of my old Temple-days (and beyond) pals Vlad-o-Rama and Jimmy Dukes. I’ve known them since they were like 15 years old, and even went on a photo expedition shoot with Vlad this summer around Red Hook (that’s Brooklyn), which was a blast. These two guys host one of the better punk/hardcore/metal shows on the radio today called NYC Throwdown, which comes out of Kingsborough Community College (one of my alma maters) on Wednesdays at 8-10 PM. You can hear it at 90.3 FM (though odds are better you’ll hear it through wkrb.org). What is also important is that they interview some great local and not-so-local bands.
* www.myspace.com/nycthrowdown

There were others I recognized from the Brooklyn and Staten Island scenes, and one Temple-days fan came over to say hello. It took me a second to recognize him. Hell, the Temple’s been closed for, what, four years now? There were others I was viddying for but didn’t see, like Vonny and the Temple Ladies. Still, there was definitely a nice sized crowed for the space, which had once again become younger.

While on stage, Justin, singer/guitarist for UP FOR NOTHING, commented how their first gig was on the stage of the Punk Temple. Jezz, I was there that night, not realizing it was their cherry-busting show. I have pictures of that somewhere… Anyway, Up For Nothing is a power trio pretty much centered around Justin (as the bassist and drummer have changed over the 5 years, the former having joined this incarnation of the group recently), but all are attuned and well rehearsed. Justin’s newer songs are stronger than the older ones, and yet it was good to hear some of those as well (with Justin saying, more than once, “Well this is probably the last time we will ever be playing this one”). Though refurbished, I’ve seen the guys now in the group around the Brooklyn scene (where Up For Nothing originate…in fact, Justin lives quite close to me, and more than once I’ve seen him on my subway stop) for years, and they are obviously close friends. While this has certainly been quite a ride of 5 years for the group, I’m hoping they stick to this line-up long enough to help solidify their sound and produce some magic.
* www.myspace.com/upfornothing1

Having had 4 hours sleep the night before thanks to seeing the International Pop Overthrow show (see blog below), I was shot by this time, so before DarkBuster came on stage, I bid my adieu to Jim Testa, Vlad-o-Rama, and Jimmy Dukes, and headed back out into the rain, thinking I was heading north towards Canal, but of course, was heading south. By the time I reached the Canal Street station, I was once again soaked. But it was okay because, as Tuff Darts once sang, “It’s all for the love of rock’n’roll”.

All band pics © RBF
Other pictures from this night: http://community.webshots.com/user/ffranzos2006v1

Friday, November 16, 2007

International Pop Overthrow, Baggot Inn 11/8/07

I’ve known Gary Pig Gold since the late 1970s, when he used to write for my magazine, FFanzeen, while publishing his own fanzine at the same time, the Pig Paper; I saw him play in his country roots inspired band, The Ghost Rockets. Shane Faubert I met in the early ‘80s when he fronted the band the Cheepskates, all of us hanging out playing pool in the bar attached to Irving Plaza, while the Super Bowl played on the television on the wall. Dave Rave, I met in the mid-‘80s, when he first came to New York, but he’d been in my magazine in an article written for me by Hamilton (The Hammer), Ontario, music historian Bruce “Mole” Mowat. In various modes, I’ve seen him play as lead in Teenage Head, projects with Lauren Agnelli, and recent solo projects. Yes, I’ve seen this trio of pals all perform individually, but never together. That changed on the opening night at the International Pop Overthrow (IPO) Festival (www.internationalpopoverthrow.com/), the New York branch held at the Baggot Inn on W3 Street in New York.

But I jump ahead of myself here.

The Baggot Inn (www.thebaggotinn.com) is a very cozy place with a bar in the back, and then a lower area towards the back with tables and a low stage (either that, or the band may have to crouch). Through various incarnations, the bar has been there for about 100 years. I’d been there twice before, once for a Dawn Eden birthday party, and once to see Contraband (based around the Bowler brothers, David & Howard).

This opening night, a number of bands played, and THAT is what I’m here to talk about, actually.

Thanks to our “lovely” MTA transit system, by the time I showed up – and I was only traveling from Midtown, mind you – I had missed most of the first set by THE VOYCES. From what I heard, I was sorry I didn’t get to hear more. Singers Brian Wurschum and Jude Kastle have a lush sound and harmonize quite velvety on their ballads-based style. What makes them even more enjoyable is that the songs aren’t mopey, but actually have an edge to their sweetness. But after three songs, there was Mr. IPO (aka the very nice David Bash) to thank them and introduce the next band.
* www.thevoyces.net/

Next up, in a solo fashion, was singer-songwriter and rocker, BIBI FARBER. She has worked with Richard Lloyd (Television) a number of times, and he produced her first CD. She is tall, stately, and willowy, with an expressive demeanor and a self-demeaning character that was charming rather than cloying, she explained how her voice was going, but she was going to try her best. Actually, it kept her performance to an amiable low key that enhance the songs in a sultry way, and her guitar work (on a guitar borrowed from The Voyces, thanks to technical problems) showed there was a second texture there. Her song topics included someone talking too much, and a brief love during an affair. I’m interested in hearing her CD with a full on performance. Meanwhile, this evening she was quite satisfying. After she finished, she sat down next to me at the communal table (similar to the late Max’s KC and the Bottom Line). After a few more performances, she left, leaving behind her pick, which I took with me. If anyone is interested, it’s a Fender Medium.
* www.bibifarber.com/

I’ll come right out and say it now, and get it over with… The singer of the eponymous JESSE BRYSON is the son of Wally, of the Raspberries. Jesse was also in Qwasi Qwa and Rosavelt. Okay, now that we got that out of the way, Jesse’s moved from Cleveland to Brooklyn, and now he’s using his genes to further the pop rock sound, bringing it up to date, while mixing other sounds, including Mersey and a touch of country. With his Shemp hair flying, he bounces around while he plays in front of the group, with good hooks and melodies, and strong vocals. I could certainly appreciate what they were doing.
* www.myspace.com/thebrysongroup

The night was about to rev up a few notches with JAKE STIGERS AND THE VELVET ROOTS. At the forefront of the band is guitarist/producer Nunzio Signore, and singer/guitarist Jake Stigers. It’s pretty obvious from the way they play and interact that they are tight enough to enjoy what they’re doing without worrying about the other. Jake has a very large personality that makes his a showman in the best of ways. Whether it’s the banter betwixt tunes or the hair flailing during the more upbeat numbers, he keeps the stage presence. I can see this band going onward and upward. Sound-wise, they remind me of T-Rex, with that rolling guitar, sharp melody, and assessable and hook-laden sound. After the set, Jake gave me his latest CD, “I Do No Want What I Haven’t Got”, which I will be reviewing at another time, but I will say it’s worth seeking out. Meanwhile, according to their own list, here is their set:
1. Miss Reality
2. End World
3. Girl
4. Love is Spoken
5. Do Not Want
* http://www.jakestigers.com/

Another highlight of the evening was THE DUKES JETTY, who came all the way from Rugby, Midlands, UK. David Bash explained they played at the UK version of the IPO, and were so well received they were invited over. And they came, just for this gig, amazingly enough. Welcome, guys. The five fellas who make up this band are solid post-Mersey Beat. Even their clothes could have been Twiggy era Carnaby Street. The Dukes Jetty sound could easily fit besides the Searches, the Chad & Jeremy, the Zombies (sans organ), and the like. There are lots of lush harmonies, perky melodies, and strong musicianship and songwriting. All string players sing, with the other two sharing mics, very Paul and George. They’re young, and they’re in touch with the ‘60s.
* www.myspace.com/dukesjetty

Hailing from California, cult idol Phil Rosenthal brought most of his band, TWENTY CENT CRUSH. The exception was the wonderful Nancy Heyman on bass (when she was still Nancy Street in the ‘70s, she was a member of pre-grrrl rockers Cheap Perfume. This time I’ve seen her perform since 1977. Also hanging around, but not playing, was her husband, Richard X. Heyman (another cult legend). I’m not familiar with TCC’s material, but was happy to bop my head to their mildly quirky melody lines and lyrics. Phil’s voice sounded a little rough, but hey, that’s what cult legendry is usually about. And as a person with little practice time, Nancy kept right up. About two-thirds through their set, they brought up a guest, ex-Rooks’ Michael Mazzarella. Dressed in black, with a black pork-pie-ish hat, he sat down at a keyboard and joined right in, also keeping up. He played for a couple of songs. After the set, I had the chance to get momentarily reacquainted with Nancy, who remembered me.
* www.myspace.com/twentycentcrush

A young band, THE ATTORNEYS have a pretty large and growing following. While, they were the least enjoyable band this evening for me, I could also tell that it was much more my taste than it was their talent. Their style is very ‘80s, being keyboards focused, and just reminds me of bands like Duran Duran and A Flock of Seagulls. Vocalist and said keyboardist William Ryan George has a very sweet voice a la Boy George and a cross-face Peter Zaremba-style hairstyle; he emoted constantly, moping over the keys, throwing his shoulders as in sorrow, and at some point, he put on goggles. Okay… Again, the whole band is talented, just not my cup of wax (he said, mixing metaphors). I do have to say, though, that their drummer, Ken Weisbach, was amazing.
* www.theattorneysband.com/

Last up was the band I was waiting for, THE NEXT BIG RAVE. The aforementioned Dave Rave, Shane Faubert, and Gary Pig Gold hit the stage, with Gary’s wife Doreen watching from room center. From left to right, Gary was on a plugged in acoustic guitar, Dave’s was a hollow body electric, and Shane was on a solid body. Just three guitars. And when they started, what a treat. They did songs across all their careers, including one of my favorites of Dave’s “When Patti Rocks”, and a slowed down and thoroughly enjoyable version of Shane’s “Run Better Run”. His voice is as smooth as ever. While this is the first time I have seen Dave play without Lauren Agnelli joining in (it was Thursday, literally a school night, as Lauren is a schoolteacher these days), this all boys night rocked just like Patti. It was a very loose ensemble of songs, which seemed to be mostly picked on the spot and covered all periods of their careers. And because these guys have known each other for so long, they all were able to play anything of any of their songs that came up.
Again, MICHAEL MAZZARELLA came up, drink in hand, this time to sing a couple of his own numbers. Also joining at the end were first drummer Chris Mehos (who was in the Ghost Rockets with Gary), and then Chris Peck (formerly of Oral Groove and (Joe) Mannix). It was easy for the audience to be having fun watching, because it was pretty obvious the musicians on stage were having a blast.
* www.dave-rave.com
* www.garypiggold.com
* tinyurl.com/34rnyv
* tomlou.com/nextbigthing.html
* www.earcandymag.com/michaelmazzarella-2005.htm


After the set, I stayed and said my hellos to Gary and Dave, though I somehow lost track of Shane, with whom I was hoping to get reacquainted. Eventually, I headed to the subway, where, of course, I just missed my train, which led to a 20-minute wait, resulting in a nice 4-hour sleep workday. Well damn worth it, too.

My photos of that night: http://community.webshots.com/user/ffranzos2006v1
All band photos (c) Robert Barry Francos

Friday, October 19, 2007

Theater Reviews: SLAMMER / The Shadowbox

Every once in a while, I get to see some good theater, which is all the more special when a friend is involved.

SLAMMER: A New Women-in-Prison Musical, New York Fringe Festival, Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, September 2007
Previously, I had never attended the New York Fringe Festival. For those who don’t know, it’s the chance for independent playwrights to have a forum to get their works staged and noticed. My interest was definitely piqued when I had learned that “SLAMMER”, was one of the entrants.

While I haven’t met co-author Chan Chandler, the other half of the co-, Steve Adams, has been a good friend for over a decade. Hey, I even had the pleasure of reading a very early draft.

At the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, part of the NYU complex, I waited on line next to a couple of theater “critics” who were, at best, obnoxious, saying things like, “They BETTER have my tickets ready,” and sighing “This is the X Fringe show I’ve seen, and I STILL have to see X more.” Generally they were loud (“Look at me, I’m privileged.”) and abhorrent. I’ve been a performance reviewer for years, and have always taken it with graditude, acknowledging the graciousness of a free entrance. But I digress…

It was a Monday in September, opening night for the show. The theater was surprisingly large, with a good crowd; the stage was filled with bunk beds and moveable “bars”, on which held the “SLAMMER” logo on a banner.

Considering they had about two weeks to mount the play, the stage setting looked sparse, and very professional. As it was basically set in a women’s prison, a sparse set was intended and appropriate.

The initial set up of Tabitha (Merrill Grant), the main character, being wrongly sent to prison is summarily set during the early moments, so the action can get started. From this point, the play is like a sandwich; on one side, there is a vicious warden, a rapacious guard, and various levels of prisoner tension, and the other is the corporation and sponsorship of the privatized prison, and Tabitha is the fresh meat between.

Now, women-in-prison is a sub-genre of exploitation films popular in the ‘60s (e.g., “The Big Bird Cage”, “Terminal Island”, “Red Head”, “Reform School Girls”), and anyone familiar with the style knows that there are going to be fights, death, lesbians, and shower scenes. Yes, SLAMMER Has them all, though the shower scene is more implied than gratuitous.

From the start, we’re introduced to the key players, such as the uncaring, hard-nosed and sexually ambiguously warden, Eva Danka (Lannyl Stephens) and avaricious guard, Smiley the Screw (Saverio Guerra, aka Bob, lately of the TV show “Becker”). Then there is the protective Reverend Mama (the excellent Sandra Reaves-Phillips), her helper/protégé Caramel (Tammi Cubiette) who plays tough but with a heart-o-gold while doing what she can to survive, rival Cat (Tess Paras, who I’m guessing has some serious dance training), and lovers Tina (Courtney Wissinger) and Spike (Ariela Morgenstern). Of course, it will take newbie fish Tabitha to bring them all to the same side.

I know Steve and Chan have been writing for years, both together and individually, but musicals are something that is somewhat unfamiliar territory. However, one would never know that listening to the memorable tunes played here, such as “I Refuse to Live Without Love”, the powerful “What Country Is This?” (which could be a powerhouse with the right singer), “Different on the Inside”, and especially Reverend Mama’s moment to shine: “Along the Road,” which is a solid gospel raver.

Reverend Mama’s Sandra Reaves-Phillips is a gem, and a real coup for this production. She has a long history of performing at the likes of the Cotton Club, the Supper Club, the Village Gate, and other highly touted venues. Courtney Wissinger and Ariela Morgenstern are also standouts as inmates who start out being scary, but end up being a touching and heartbreaking focal point.

I’m not going to go deeply into the story because it is such sheer fun (and at times scary) so I am hoping the play gets into a regular theater run (perfect for Off-Broadway) once it is out of workshop mode.

* * *

The Shadowbox, Matthew Corozine Theatre, October 2007
Not too many years ago, my friend Joe, a Boston-based music publicist, sent me a CD of chanteuse/Broadway-flavored songs by actress Ingrid Saxon. I wrote a favorable review of it, and somehow, we ended up seeing Lesley Gore at Joe’s Pub together (my photos of the show: http://entertainment.webshots.com/album/545717660UbijPa). Recently, I saw on her MySpace page (www.myspace.com/ingridsaxonmusic) that she was going to be appearing Off-Off- in Michael Cristofer’s “The Shadowbox” at the Michael Corozine Theatre, on 8 Avenue and 43rd Street, NYC. An invite soon followed.

In a nutshell, the play takes place in a hospice on the West Coast, with three concurrent stories that take place in three cottages in 1977. Interestingly, the cause of dying is never discussed.

In one story, Maggie (Ingrid Saxon) is a wife who comes to visit her dying husband, Joe (Jacob Mirer). She is in denial, and refuses to enter the cottage because it would mean acceptance. Ingrid give a sensitive, strong and textured performance, howling against the darkness, sometimes literally, in contrast to Joe, who has an almost meditative quiet, though Mirer aptly conveys a fear and anger beneath the surface. They both play their roles as a dance between trying to maintain normalcy and what is lurking. JD Brookshire plays their young, guitar-playing son.

A second story concerns Brian (Lee Barton), his lover Mark (Ryan Link) and his high-strung/-maintenance party-girl ex-wife, Beverly (Robyn Kay Pilarski). Brian is close to both, but Mark and Beverly because, in their own way, they both love the dying Brian. And you know that there is going to be an explosion, and then some understanding between Mark & Bev, with some respect growing in the process. Barton plays the emotionally frail artist type with assurance, bouncing back and forth between trying to accommodate the two most important people in his life, and his own egocentricity. Link plays ex-hustler Mark as smoldering, torn between his distaste/jealously of Bev and his own feelings toward Brian. His slow emotional breakdown is played well with great restraint. Equally, Pilarski could easily let her character turn to caricature, but she admirably makes Bev into a sympathetic full-flushed person. Her training in comedy gives an additional inflection.

The final story focuses on a semi-senile elderly woman, Felicity (Heidi Zenz) and her overburdened caretaker daughter, Agnes (Jillian Prefach), who is pretty much ignored by her mom, who is waiting for a visit from her prodigal daughter. Zenz doesn’t have much to do in the play other than call out for her other child, but Zenz does convey hope and fear mostly through her eyes, thereby giving more substance and depth to her role. At first, the role of Agnes is subdued, much as is her character, but as the play progresses, her part becomes one of the strongest, including a powerful centerpiece monologue that Prefach absolutely nails.

The lynchpin to the three stories is an interviewer/therapist (David Lipman, who is also known as the arraignment judge on “Law and Order” – Ta-DEM), who at various times talks to the various characters. All of this is from the back of the theater, but his presence is also strong to the events.

Showcases can be iffy as actors try (and sometimes over-try) to impress, but none of that happened here, as every single member of the large cast in the small, cramped – yet intimate – theater was in top form. Much credit for this should be given to the director, Matthew Corozine (who employs the Meisner Technique, FYI) for getting such strong work out of his group, ably helped by AD Mark J. Paynter.

After the show, I stayed around to congratulate Ingrid for her fine performance, and had the opportunity to say hello to a number of the actors, including Ryan Link. He gave me a CD of his band, Kill the Camera, which will be reviewed at another time. Also Jacob Mirer and director Mathew Corozine were quite generous with their time and were gracious with their company.

Now, let’s see this play make it from Off-Off- to Off-.

Monday, October 8, 2007

CD REVIEWS: Deadlier Than the Male

[ffoto: Tony WofMann, Donna SheWolf at Hanks in Brooklyn]
Anyone expecting a replay of the SHE WOLVES’ first release are in for a surprise. On 13 Deadly Sins (shewolves.com), they have added bad-ass bassist Gyda Gash, and they have mutated into a grinding metal machine. Listening to this is like trying to hold onto a handful of ball bearings: it slides around, screeching metal-against-metal to an ear-piercing degree. This is powerful shit, with titles like “Vicious Tit”, “Ghost Boyfriend”, “Kill Something”, and the song-title-of-the-year “I Kill With My C*nt” (asterisk theirs). One of the heaviest metal power trios I’ve heard, it is sort of a cross between walking in a sandbag and getting hit by one. Donna She Wolf’s vocals grind and growl more than ever, and is pure scary. Gyda’s near-lead bass-work pushes them further, and Tony WolfMann’s drumming sums up all those years of his work with the likes of Dee Dee Ramone and G.G. Allin. This was recorded live on stage (sans audience) at some ungodly early hour at CBGB. Do not listen unless you are strapped in, because you’re in for a ride. – Robert Barry Francos

I love the SHE WOLVES, both their music and as people. Funny thing is, I’ve never been a metalhead, but they touch a place that wants to rock, much as Slade did, I guess. Sadly, I’m missing them play at one of their “homes,” Otto’s Shrunken Head, even as I write this. Get me my hairshirt! Anyway, they have this release of early material called “Mach One: The Early Years”. Hmm, actually, I would think this should be called “Mach One-point-Five”. Before evolving into the chrome melting metal goddesses (and god…haven’t forgotten you, Tony), the band was a heavy punk outfit with Laura Sativa on bass. After her departure, the ever-eloquent Gyda Gash took over and enabled the metal-tude. Most of the material here is post-Laura, hence the “1.5”, as I would consider Laura the “1.0”. Either way, the music sometimes smolders, other times grinds, but it always grabs the listener by the scruff of the neck to say “pay attention!” There are self-covers of some fun songs like the killer “Art of War” and Ramonesesque “Hundred Bucks” and other originals (happily, including drummer Tony WolfMann’s very fun/strong “Chainsaw”. Thing about the She Wolves is that they are musician’s musicians. They usually have some kickass guests at their shows, ranging from Thin Lizzy to Love Pirates, and onward. Here, they do numbers with powerhouses such as Sylvain Sylvain (“Sheena is a Punk Rocker”), Jayne County (Dead Kennedy’s “California Uber Alles"), and the Fuzztone’s luscious Deb O’Nair (yes, Rudi, you’re luscious, too). From one end to the other, this will not only tear out your heart with it’s buzzsaw sound, but it will heal you back with it’s solid rhythm. (poptownrecords.com). – Robert Barry Francos

I came across vocalist Sarah Paolini on My Space, which led to me getting the opportunity to hear this CD, "Despite the Battle" (1661 La Presa Ave, Spring Valley, CA 91977), by her band, COLPORTER. I was already impressed by their clever name. Rather than Tin Pan Alley, Sarah fronts and plays bass for this metal trio who are more Iron Skillet Over the Head Highway. Unlike the standard guitar-fueled studio-clear sound of hair metal bands, Colporter are not afraid to get down and dirty as they sludge and grind out their sound, like humans rubbing rather than hitting. The only ting really “crisp” is Sarah’s vocals, as she strides the metal monster. The song topics range from warriors (“Despite the Battle”) to emotional angst (“My Darkest Hour”). Definitely a sound that works for them. – Robert Barry Francos

Last time I reviewed THE MARIANNE PILLSBURYS, I was mistaken to put them under singer-songwriter genre. I had the pleasure to see them play in Brooklyn on their home turf, and they were so much fun pop rock’n’roll. They continue to show a “girls” perspective on The Hot EP (Average White Girl, c/o mariannepillsbury.com), but the music is rougher, and yet retains its charming pop rock oeuvre with incredibly catchy songs. This is highly recommended. All three cuts are killer, dealing with disingenuous friends (“Girls Night Out”), being pressured by /trying to change the person she loves (“Fixer-Upper Lover”), and a girl-power cover of Cyndi Lauper/Prince’s “When U Were Mine.” – Robert Barry Francos
My photos of the show with the Marianne Pillsburys: http://entertainment.webshots.com/album/544794675WCPomm


On “Batten the Hatches” (jennyowenyoungs.com), JENNY OWEN YOUNGS has a style that’s somewhere between Rickki Lee Jones and Martha Wainwright. It’s a little bit jazzy, a little bit rock, and full-on complex singer-songwriter. Her voice alternates between a whisper and a soaring creak with a flinty element has is both idiosyncratic and lovely to hear. Whether she’s second-guessing past dalliances (“Fuck Was I”) or wondering what to do next (“There’s no one I can think of I can stand less than you/Don’t you want to touch my hand before you go/I think I’m confused” from “Coyote”), there’s a spirit of honesty always present. Sometimes the lyrics are somewhat cryptic, but still the overall sound is quite accessible. “Keys Out Lights On” reminds me a bit of kd lang’s “Constant Cravings” (melody line, not vocals). This finishes up with a “child-friendly” version of “Fuck Was I”, which I find more humorous, like a kid isn’t gonna know what those blank spots are. Certainly an admirable effort. – Robert Barry Francos


Knowing it’s a cliché, judging a book – or in this case an artist – by her “cover” is a pleasant surprise. LAURA CHEADLE is a young white woman with a big guitar, and on her self-released “Falling In” (lauracheadle.com) she shows that she has just a big a voice, with a solid R&B, bluesy, jazzy, soulful sound. She applies her voice well, in a way that would makes the likes of Bill Withers or the Reverend Al Green smile. Very ‘70s blue eyed soul with sexy inflections, soaring from a blast on one cut to a breathy whisper in another. Now that the cover has been removed, I now think, of course, Laura is playing what is natural to her, and a pleasure to listen. – Robert Barry Francos

Friday, September 28, 2007

CD REVIEWS: Gulcher Records special

Gulcher Records, originally out of Bloomington, IN, produced some of the more important work of Midwest Artists in the '70s, such as the Gizmos, MX-80, and even John Cougar (Mellencamp). Label owner Bob Richert has, since the CD revolution, been releasing lost works by many of the artists that appeared on the label, or leased out to him through connections. Here is a recent batch of material Bob sent me to review.

Gulcher Records is determined to release just about every possible show of Indiana’s own indie rock band, THE GIZMOS, and may even eventually match Pearl Jam’s releases show for show. “Live In Bloomington 1977/1978
(www.gulcher.gemm.com/) is the latest Gizmos 2-disker, with over 2 hours of material. And while the first disk is recorded only a year before the second, the difference is a river’s width. The ’77 version is the classic Ted Niemiec, Kenne Highland, Rich Coffee, Eddie Flowers, et. al (Gizmos are one of the largest populated bands in underground rock history), a loose conglomeration who modeled themselves more along the lines of the MC5 and Sonics than the Ramones. Their songs could run from the sublime (“That’s Cool”) to the ridiculous (“Human Garbage Disposal”, “Pumpin’ to Playboy”). All this is evident in the two shows represented from 1977 (one of which introduced by Gulcher label-mate, John Mellencamp, then known as John Cougar). The ’78 version, represented by five shows, is the phase two Gizmos (the one I saw play at Max’s Kansas City). Ted also fronted it, but the rest of band was mostly new. They continued playing some of the classics of the old phase (e.g.,“Gimme Back My Foreskin”, “Ballad of the Gizmos”), but there are also a bunch of new tunes, and some covers (like Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” and the Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me”). While missing the high-end personalities, this band could hold their own as they are much tighter. There was something to the absolute weird charm of Gv.1, and the development of Gv.2. Actually, I wonder if Gv.2 should have even been called the Gizmos, but whatever, this is a fun document. Lots to listen to and lots to enjoy. – Robert Barry Francos

Keeping up the Gizmos ethos into the modern era is MYKAL XUL with “Gizmo My Way” (www.gulcher.gemm.com/). Mykal covers 12 songs by Kenne Highland (with other Gizmos of the period, such as Solomon Gruberger, Ken Kaiser, and yes, Mykal Xul). So, if you’re unfamiliar with the Gizmos, these names here and above may not mean much to you, but how many people could name members of the Sonics these days? Recorded from 2004-06 in the Hoosier territory of Whiteland, Mykal does a good, if barebones honor to the early Gizmos with songs like “Juvenile Delinquent”, “Refrigerator Rappin’”, “”Nobody’s Girl”, a tribute to Andy Shernoff of the Dictators, “Ode to Adny’s Dics”, and I’m guessing more recently, “Webzine Pussy”. Mykal definitely has the Gizmos methodology down, but with a whole lot less musicians floating around. Plain, simple, and to the point. Midwestern, funky rock’n’roll based on two chords and I-IV-V, a Kenne canon. Kenne definitely deserves as much a tribute album as the Fuzztones, and for now, I guess this is it. – Robert Barry Francos

CRAWLSPACE is a power trio led by ex-Gizmo (see a trend here?) Eddie Flowers, whom I had always thought as cool (along with Kenne and Rich C). I’m not sure when they recorded “The Spirit of ’76 (www.gulcher.gemm.com/), whether this reflects to ’76 or that when they taped it, but it’s an bizarre little document. Basically, it sounds like they went into a room with a cheap tape recorder, plugged into their amps, and recorded it live. The sound is muddled and way over-modulated, and the band performs more like they are making up the playing together as they’re, well, playing together. There are a few original songs (including the noise-fest “Theme For a Wet T-Shirt Contest”) and a lot of covers, like the Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil” (at over 8-minutes plus 3 minutes of what sounds like a beach, gunfire and helicopters….hell yeah, I listened to the whole damn thing), Mark Lindsay’s “Just Seventeen”, Gizmos “Califawnia Gurls”, the classic “Hey Joe” (via Patti Smith), and even Allan Sherman’s take on “Rat Fink”. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to listen to, but it also sounds like they were having a lot of fun jamming away. – Robert Barry Francos

The JOSHUA JUG BAND 5 (www.gulcher.gemm.com/) CD is a compilation of two separate previous releases, an eponymous one, and another called “Damascus Doldrum”. I’m not sure what to make of this, or more importantly at the moment, how to describe it. JJB5 play the kind of music you may find in some of the trendier New Age bookstores. It’s a bit dissonant, but at the same time the sound is very chant-worthy. Mind you, with exception of a couple of chants here and there, this is solid instrumental with lots of esoteric sounds and echo effecting – thereby affecting – the whole zigheist of the tone (and sometimes it’s atonal). The pieces (I don’t know if I’d use the term song) are about 10 minutes each, are nearly psychedelic, and run into each other. At over an hour long, there is a lot to digest, even when the melody is a round, repeating with variations. It is well recorded, and reaches what it attempts. It’s a bit too harsh to be used during massages, but it’s not far away from having an oil lamp projected onto a screen at the old Fillmore. – Robert Barry Francos

Well, on the “Warp Sessions 1972/1973” (www.gulcher.gemm.com/), THE SCREAMIN’ MEE-MEES & HOT SCOTT FISCHER has proven something I have felt for a while: Not everything that is recorded is needed to be added to the musical historical document. I know I’ve made tapes as bad as this of bands and no one is ever going to hear them. The first of the two disks is recorded on a balcony in 1972. Basically, it sounds like shit for so many different reasons. First, the recording itself is terrible; it’s like listening to it on a distorted cell phone. Because it is a free-form rave-up taped onto crappy equipment, it just sounds bad. I get the feeling they were trying to achieve what the Velvet Underground did on some of their more out there material, like “European Son” (they supposedly do a cover of “Sister Ray” here, but it’s unrecognizable), and I respect that, but perhaps under other circumstances it may have been successful. Disc two (Lou Reed help us) is two sessions recorded in a basement. The sound quality is much better, but I can’t say the same for the style. Still nose, still off key, continually abrasive. Thing is, while I am not trying to say DON’T do this, I’m asking why. This is what’s below lo-fi…lower-fi? – Robert Barry Francos

Thursday, September 20, 2007

CD Reviews in a Singer-Songwriter Vein

Despite an impressive body of work that, with the release of “Folk is the New Black” (Rude Girl, c/o cookingvinyl.com), includes twenty albums, JANIS IAN is still basically known for two songs from early in her career. This is an injustice. Ian’s guitar playing is strong and her vocals just keep getting better with time. This CD starts off strong with a couple of lefty political pieces, “Danger Danger” (about closed-minded citizens) and “The Great Divide” (focusing on power structures, such as politics and religion). Most of the rest of her songs look at life, from love to daily living, from the downtrodden to the look for hope. It’s all done tastefully and never preachy when that road could have been easily taken (“Life Is Never Wrong”, for example). There’s even some humor with the final and title cut (“We’ll be singing hootenanny songs/Long after rock ad roll is gone”), which is almost a poking-yet-positive answer to the sarcastic and snide vision of Phranc’s “Folksinger”. There’s also a humorous poke at her own future with “My Autobiography”, as Ian is taking this year off to write hers. – Robert Barry Francos

Every once in a while when I get a new pile of review CDs, I’ll give a woo-hoo, which is how I reacted when I saw “Departure”, by THE MAMMALS (signaturesounds.com). I thoroughly enjoyed their last release, “Rock That Babe.” On this, their sophomore issue, they see as a move away from their reliance on traditional folk sounds and more on a rock feel. Well, Marshall McLuhan said that the medium is the message, and part of what he meant by that is that the form has a strong influence on the content. True here, as well. There are banjos and fiddles (occasionally made to sound like a cello), ukes, harmonicas, as well as the traditional rock instruments, which definitely effects – and affects – the outcome of sound. Yeah, there is a bit less twee sound, but the folk and Americana syle comes through quite strong, especially on cuts like “Kiss the Break of Day.” I’m saying all this as complementary, as the Mammals are an amazing group, and have been since they formed In 2001. The quality and wide swath of their choice of covers shows their originally Vermont liberal bearings (they’re based in Woodstock, NY these days), such as Morphine’s “Do Not Go Quietly Unto Your Grave” (the centerpiece of a trilogy of anti-Iraq sentiments, along with “Follow Me to Carthage” and “Alone on the Homestead”), “Satisfied Minds” popularized by Dylan, and Nirvana’s “Come as You Are”. They make them all their own. Of course, they also show their dry brand of humor with “Tryin’ to Remember What City I Know You’re From”. – Robert Barry Francos

Her song, “Hurricane”, was one of my favorites of a previous release, so I was excited to receive the newest by KRIS DELMHORST, “Strange Conversation” (signaturesounds.com). Brooklyn raised/New England-based Kris is one of those singer-songwriter types who refused to be two-dimensional. She sings from both her heart and soul, and also a determined bucket of brains. What she has done here, on her fourth full release, is taken some classic poetry and either put music to it, or used it as an influence for a piece (in this case, both the "influencer" and "influencee" works are given in the booklet). The poems include the likes of Robert Browning, Walt Whitman, James Weldon Johnson, George Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, e.e. cummings, John Masefield, and the only one not from the 20 century, Jalaluddin Rumi (1250s). Her melody choices are as interesting as the poems, including Dixie Jazz (Eliot), country (cummings), and blues (Millay). Kris has a strong, honey voice, and her backing by the likes of Kevin Barry’s guitar only helps to compliment her voice. – Robert Barry Francos

With a beautiful voice, STACIE ROSE has released her sophomore “Shadow & Splendor” (Enchanted Records c/o stacierose.com). It makes me both happy and sad to listen to this collection of adult contemporary pop rock. The happiness comes from the beauty of her voice, how well written and intelligent are her songs, and for the musicianship that backs her up. Her songs are strong, as is her voice, which is lush, complex, and better than anything that’s been on the charts for the past I-don’t-know-how-long. And here is where the sad part comes in. Her producer, high roller Robert Smith, guides the production with a heavy hand, overproducing the tracks with a glass-like sheen, geared for top-ten-ability. I don’t blame them for wanting her to have hits, really, her voice is an instrument of beauty. I’m just into more of a simple, lo-fi beauty. I want to hear a guitar and a singer, or even a band. I don’t want to be made conscious of the production, but rather have it organic and invisible. The enhanced CD also includes a video of her possibly (and rightfully so) breaker, “Consider Me”, and a six-minute video called, well, “Six Minutes with Stacie Rose” (my computer couldn’t read it, unfortunately). I’m looking forward to hearing her stripped; that is without all the “goo”, just musicians grooving the sound. – Robert Barry Francos

BUFFY is Buffy Hobelbank, a Boston-based singer-songwriter, whose release, “Highs & Lows” (buffygirl.com), presents notice for the listener not to try to pigeonhole her into one genre. Her vocal dexterity is very adaptable to the styles she showcases here, including blues, jazz and soft rock, though one gets the clear impression that if she wanted to rock out, she damn well could. Her songs tend to focus on sour relationships – both inter- and intra- – with drug use being a common theme; one could even say threat. This woman pulls no punches, and yet these songs could be just about all played on the radio. Her melodies also hold up, such as on “Lock Stock”. She is backed up by some fine musicianship as well, with some of the special treats thrown in (e.g., melodia, didgeridoo, and even some Jamaican barking dogs), all of which are done appropriately (meaning, not hitting the listener on the head with “look what I got”-ism). Includes a cover of Phish's “Strange Design”. – Robert Barry Francos

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A visit to Boston, 9/07: Lyres, My Own Worst Enemy, JoJo Laine

I really needed to get away this past weekend (9/15-16/07), and figured to take a quick run up to Boston, using the opportunity to visit a 30-year pal, Joe Viglione (aka The Count). It was certainly event-filled.

After a decent supper at a buffet restaurant filled with families zoned out on carbs, we headed off to Club Bohemia at the Cantab Lounge, in Cambridge. Mickey Bliss runs the shows at the Lounge, and this particular evening was hosted by another one of my oldest friends, Nancy Neon (affectionately known as NanSuzy to me). We used to hang out almost nightly at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s in the day.

At the Cantab, Nancy introduced me to a few people, including Joey Boy, of the band Red Invasion. He was DJ-ing that night, pulling up some new sounds and some old classics, like Televisions “See No Evil” and the Pistol’s “No Feeling”. I look forward to checking out his band.

I was too late to see the opening act, Corolla Deville, but got there just in time for another band I didn’t know, MY OWN WORST ENEMY(MOWE). Sharing the lead are partners Sue and Steve on guitars, and AJ on drums (yep, no bass). The camaraderie between Sue and Steve is obvious, and they play off each other well. The songs are spirited, and well written with sharp melody lines and biting lyrics. Sue stomps her foot for emphasis every once in a while, and it sure does look like they’re having fun up there. Definitely an indie sound (yeah, I know that’s a cliché term, but they possess what made it important in the first place), going along with other quirky college radio friendly intones like the Pixies, the Neighborhoods, and Salem 66 (though not as quirky). Less morose than most indie bands of the style, they tend towards uptempos and less dissonance. They did a great cover of Patti Smith’s “Redendo Beach”, to which I danced with Nancy…nothing like dancing to a song about suicide. I’m glad I got to see them, and hope I get to see MOWE on a New York stage.

Next up was the classic Boston band, the LYRES, fronted by Jeff “Monoman” Conolly on vox and Vox, and tambourine, while being backed by the standard guitar/bass/drum set-up. I’ve seen the Lyres a few times now in New York, including during the garage revival hey-day of the ‘80s and at a Cave-Stomp around the Fin-de-Siecle. I also may have seen them once at the Rat, but I’m not sure. But this show was pure classic Lyres, so I'm glad I had the opportunity to see them play this night.

It’s amusing to me that Jeff has his set list on a two-sided sheet of paper with a list of the songs he plays, and then he picks and chooses (see on my photo page, the link below). And his picks were, of course, great as always. These garage-tinged songs included a cover of the Stoic’s “Enough of What I Need” (though for me it’s more a cover of the Mystic Eyes, which I find to be the definitive version).

[ffoto: Nancy and Sue] During this tune, while I was taking pictures, Nancy and I caught eyes as we both sang along. It was a cool moment. To me, the Lyres are more than just a collection of old vinyl (or CDs), they epitomize a sound and a certain style and sound, as do the Chesterfield Kings with a bluesy garage and the A-Bones with rockabilly garage (in fact, I kept looking around, almost expecting to see Billy and Miriam).

Joe and I left after the Lyres, which turned out to be fine as the last band, Lady Kensington & the Beatlords, were a no-show.

Soon as I got back to Joe’s place, my head hit the couch and I was out.

[In ffoto left to right: Larry, Doug, Ernie, Joe] The next day, Sunday, Joe drove us up to Salem, where we made an appearance at a local Boston music-related radio show on WMWM-FM, at Salem State College. We got there toward the end of the show, and the DJ, Ernie Lang, included me into the show, along with his pals Doug Mascott and Larry Oak (who gave me his CD, “Tuesday’s At Al’s”), along with Joe, of course. They started off by challenging me, asking who I thought was going to win the game that night, the Red Sox or the Yankees. I pleaded by fifth by saying something that was approved, but actually makes no sense: “I go with the team that has the best opening band.” We all shot the breeze, discussing Boston bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s, a topic inspired in part by local “scene-ster” Brent Milano’s recent book “The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock and Roll”, which some like for its content and others don’t for its omissions. I haven’t read it. As I have a lot of Beantown bands I like, from Willie Alexander to Dogmatics to Boys Life to City Thrills, to name just a few (all of which I’ve seen), it was easy to keep up with the topic.

Oh, and the Yankees won that night.

Before heading back to Boston, Joe drove us to St. Mary’s Cemetery to pay our respects to the late, great, JOJO LAINE (nee Joanne Patrie). She was the ex-wife of Brit phenom Denny Laine, a lover of Rolling Stones’ (etc.) producer Jimmy Miller (among others), a legend all her own in New England, and a good friend of Joe’s.

Back in Boston, Joe taught me how to add pictures to this blog, and I’m certainly grateful to him for that. And soon after that, I was on my way back to New York, with fresh CDs in my bag, photos in my camera, and stories to tell.

All the rest of the photos: http://community.webshots.com/user/ffranzos2006v1