Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Theater Review: Somewhere, Saskatchewan

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

Somewhere, Saskatchewan
Written by Kelly Jo Burke
Music by Carrie Catherine
Direction and design by Angus Ferguson
Dancing Sky Theatre (Meacham, SK)
Dancing Sky Theatre.com

Have you ever driven through some small village and wondered who would live there, and why? A spankin’ new play, Somewhere, Saskatchewan, addresses that very topic.

Before the show, as the audience drives out to the Dancing Sky Theatre in Meacham, SK, population 90, a lot of this minimalist production experience resonates though the very walls, both literally and figuratively. The story is of a musician who arrives in what at first appears a nearly deserted, crumbling Podunk in eastern Saskatchewan, and learns important life lessons that are passed on to the audience.

The process of how this tale was mounted is interesting in its own right. Saskatoon-based singer-songwriter and powerhouse Carrie Catherine, who is a fascinating activist in the cultural life of the city, decided she wanted to expand her horizons even further by asked award-winning playwright Kelly Jo Burke to write dialog for her to link some new songs she was composing (she is always writing). From that, and with the help of Carrie’s musical collaborator and stage-mate, percussionist Hal Shrenk – also a multiple winner of awards – Carrie put on her crowdfunding hat, made some promotional videos (available on YouTube), and raised enough backing to make her idea a reality.

With the help of the Dancing Sky Theatre team out in Meacham (45 minutes west of Saskatoon), which is in the middle of, well, somewhere, Carrie, Kelley and Hal have brought their story and music to life.

Arriving at the theater alone is a perfect prelude to the story about to be unfolded. When you turn off Highway 2, there are no signs in the 9-block municipality to direct you (the showcase is on the other side of town), but driving around town to find it certainly doesn’t take long: just look for where all the cars are parked, we were informed over the phone when ordering the tickets. We were also warned to wear boots, and right fully so, as the streets around the playhouse are dirt, or in the case of the melting snow, mud.

While Carrie (who also has won awards for her music)  is a powerful singer and songwriter, this is her acting debut. Well, unless you want to count the numerous videos she’s made for her songs, most of which are introduced by her. She is certainly high energy when called for, and does well to express the subtler emotions of her character, Ezzie. As the show starts, Ez is in a rock band in T’ronno (that Toronto to you uninitiated), and for reasons explained early on in frantic style, she ends up in this supposedly desolate place. How she adapts both spiritually and musically is the crux of the dramady. Comedrama? Anyway…

There are actually two performers in this show, as I noted above. The first is Carrie, whom I will get back to in a mo. The second is Hal, who’s role, according to the literature (what we in the big city call a playbill), is the Rhythmatist. This is both accurate and an understatement. Hal never verbally utters a word, but he is every single sound not uttered by Carrie (and also moves some of the set design, well-thought out by Angus Ferguson, who also ably directed the show). Along with accompanying Carrie’s guitar during the songs, he’s also the wind, the car, construction noises, and every incidental necessary jangle and clatter using various instruments, including those which are made by him. The man is incredibly talented, but his past work already belies that.

Musically, beyond this particular stage, Carrie is quite versatile, moving from rock to country and Roots, but also sweeter material. That helps her character be more expressive, as we see the evolution of Ez’s songwriting as the show progresses. Usually we see how the seeds of the songs germinate, and sometimes we get Carrie/Ez on both acoustic and electric guitars (no, not at the same time…) singing at full tilt. Nearly all the tunes are complete, rather than snippets, so this is occasionally like a concert of sorts. That alone makes the trek out to Meacham worthwhile, but I digress…

Other than verbally mute Hal, Carrie is alone on the stage with the entire dialog. Fortunately, she does not do the whole one-person-playing-many-characters, but rather it’s more like what Bob Newhart used to do on the phone during his routines: she’s say back what the other person is saying. Other times, though, it is just the audience hearing her part of the conversation, sometimes with just one or two words, but it’s never confusing about what the other invisible person is saying. It’s nice to see a play where the dialog doesn’t talk down to the audience, but rightfully knows that they can follow the thread.

Much of the rest of the talking is the verbalization of Ez’s thought processes. This way we hear the maturing of her experiences that resonate so well with the very surroundings.

There is a lot to echo what is happening on the stage with real life. For example, Carrie came back to the Prairies to find her dreams, like Ez. Also, the venue was once the town community centre, only to be refurbished as the Living Sky Theatre, much like an incident in the story.

There is a lot to be enjoyed by this production in its zeitgeist. Carrie’s singing, Hal’s rhythm and foley contributions, Kelley’s words, each individually would make an enjoyable experience. Altogether, it is a fun night of indie theater.

Now through May 12, 2013.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Reviews: Conversations with Greil Marcus, Ed. by Joe Bonomo

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

Conversations with Greil Marcus
Edited by Joe Bonomo
University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS)
Literary Conversations Series
217 pages; 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61703-623-1

Greil Marcus is… well, if you don’t know who he is, and you regularly read blogs like this, you should be ashamed of yourself. His wide-ranged knowledge of history and culture fueled through music as a foundation is unique and inspiring, whether or not you agree with his conclusions. I have read three or four of his books, which still remain on my shelf, and I even had the pleasure to see the off-off-Broadway mounting of the play, Lipstick Traces, based on his tome of the same title.

I picture Marcus as sort of the anti-Lester Bangs. The work of Bangs was intelligent, but his stream of consciousness reviews – a large share of which I am going to posit were foisted by an indulgence of mind-altering substances – were of the moment and full of instantaneous fervor. Marcus, on the other hand, is an author of careful measure and import, even when he starts in one place and meanders through time and space, as he does in most of his books, covering diverse topics and managing to tie them into a larger picture. Ironically, Marcus also edited the works of Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic (1988). Another polar difference between the two writers is that Bangs would always include himself as part of nearly any story, whereas Marcus prides himself as keeping his work and personal life as two separate entities. But more about this later.

Joe Bonomo
As Marcus did with Bang’s work, this one is edited by music scholar Joe Bonomo, who has also written books on such diverse subjects as the Fleshtones, Jerry Lee Lewis and AC/DC. Here, we are introduced to a collection of interviews conducted over decades of Marcus rather than by him. The sources vary from printed works, on-line questions from various music fans, and Canadian radio (transcribed by Bonomo). Each interview chapter is listed chronologically over three decades, done in Q&A fashion.

One of the many reasons this book is important is that Marcus has pride, as he states in this book’s prologue written by Bonomo, in that he keeps himself and his non-music life as separate entities. Of course, there actually is no such thing as objectivity, as all observations are filtered through our own experiences (in the same way that all films and novels about the past and future are actually about the present). In fact, Marcus states, …I think there’s a tremendous amount of showing off that goes on, a lot of self-promotion. I think that if you want to use the word “I” in a piece, you have to earn the right. I don’t mean that you have to be around a long time. I mean that in terms of the writing of a given piece, you have to justify leaping out, and you have to see that somehow the authority is backed up. You can’t just assume that the reader ought to give a shit about you or anyone else. You have to earn the reader’s attention, you can’t take it for granted. (42; 1988) Of course, the “I” was one of Lester Bang’s fortes. But I digress…

Part of what makes this collection so important is that Marcus is the interviewee, rather than the topic originator, so he gets to go beyond the academic and can discuss his personal drives and motivations. He explains, I’ve lived a very conventional life. I was never a hippie, I was never into drugs. I was married when I was twenty-on and I’m still married. I have two kids, I live in a house, I’ve made my own career. I don’t work for a company, I’m an independent writer. I’ve been really lucky…. (26; 1984) I don’t waste my time writing about why I hate Journey, or why the Jefferson Starship is beneath contempt, or why I haven’t listened to a Grateful Dead album for God knows how many years. There’s just so much interesting stuff to write about … Kenny Rogers might be interesting in a sociological sense, he’s not interesting musically. I have to have both: If can’t write about music in a purely aesthetic manner. It doesn’t intrigue me. (5; 1981) …I know there’s all kinds of stuff there I never really caught. I never really heard. Well, I’d rather spend three or four weeks listening to Pere Ubu, and missing being knowledgeable about a whole load of stuff that wouldn’t matter to me. It would mean eventually I’d be able to write something interesting about Pere Ubu, rather than something that is ultimately meaningless about a whole lot of other stuff. (95; 1994)

Marcus further posits: My role as a critic is to intensify the experience other people might have with a given incident or object. That’s not how all critics see their roles. My role is not to tell people what’s good and what’s bad. I don’t want to make too big a claim for it. (27; 1984) I know that I have always worked on the assumption that I have no power. I don’t want any power. I just want to figure out what it is I have to say, and find a good way to say it. (30; 1988) I’ve basically always said that if I have any concrete role at all, or goal, it’s to expand the context or dimension in which people listen music, so that music can be understood as an integral part of any person’s life, rather than as a sideshow, or compartmentalized aspect, or just as symbols, or meanings of sounds. (33; 1988) … You make a fool of yourself when you say, “Mick Jagger wrote ‘Gimme Shelter’ he meant…” Who cares what he meant? The point is, what’s happening to that song when it is out there in the world being heard? (33; 1988)

There is no denying that Marcus has a sharp mind funneled through a life experience out of San Francisco in the 1960s, and writing about some of the most revolutionary music in modern history, from Dylan to the psychedelic, to his own pet topic, the rise of punk rock in England. His specialty is what Marshall McLuhan referred to as viewing life through an extreme rear view mirror. He finds the connections of diverse and seeming disengaged movements from the further past that meld into what we now know as modern culture. Some of it is reporting how Malcolm McLaren was influenced by the Situationalists, leading to the Sex Pistols, and others are wild and imaginative intellectual jumps, such as seeing a correlation between Elvis and Bill Clinton.

Likewise, this book casts a wide net over topics. One, in particular, has Marcus discussing what it was like to go to college as protests and riots occurred regularly around him, while he fulminates elsewhere on the phoniness of some of its leaders, such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. But just as he describes that all of his work, no matter how diverse, originates from the music, that is where much of the direction of conversations touch on, if not directly focused, throughout the many Q&As in this book. It’s clear that as much as he is a music critic, he is also a social analyst and historian, easily flowing through all the topics and tying them together in a unique way that is the core of Greil Marcus’s work.

Apparently, much of his writing is split into two time periods, seemingly separated in the mid-1970s. For the 1950s and ‘60s, his focus was on the origins of rock and roll, and a fondness for Bob Dylan. But in the mid-1970s, his focus (much like fellow critic Robert Christgau) turned to Europe and especially the British Isles. He states, I first heard about punk turning on the television one Sunday afternoon, it must have been in January of 1977, maybe it was late ’76, and there was a little news feature and the essence of it was, Teenagers do even weirder new things in London, and it showed pictures of kids with strange hair and safety pins through their cheeks, and stuff like that, and said [adopts a newscaster voice], “This is a new cult known as Punk, the leaders are called the Sex Pistols.” And so I said, “Oh that looks pretty strange.” And I forgot all about it, until “Anarchy in the U.K.” arrived in my local record shop a week or so later for five dollars a single, and I said, “Why is that so expensive?” and they said, “It’s been banned in England,” and I said, “Oh, it’s been banned. I better hear it.” (79; 1993)

This is the point where I disagree with him wholeheartedly, in both an academic and emotional way. He claims that I always found the British stuff, and some of the European stuff, a lot more gripping, more interesting than the American stuff. In fact, it took me a number of years to get over my anti-American prejudice, and appreciate groups like X for what they really were. …But in general, I found the New York stuff a tremendous bore. Whether it was the Ramones, or Television, or Richard Hell, or Talking Heads – their early records were of no interest to me whatsoever – the New York Scene had nothing to do with what went on with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, X-Ray Spex, the Adverts, the Slits, and all the other groups I love. I still don’t find it all that interesting. They had the same name, and I suppose they shared a certain minimalist back-to-basics attitude, but I think they came from a very different direction. I never heard anyone say, “I heard Tom Verlaine and Television, and suddenly I knew that I could play too.” (37; 1988) In plain fact, what he refers to as punk (British) would never have existed in the both literal and figurative fashion if it were not for what the English bands heard coming over from New York, and Malcolm McLauren’s “borrowing” the styles from Richard Hell (safety pins) and the Ramones (ripped clothes), not to mention Tish and Snooky Bellomo from the Manic Panic store and Natasha with her outlet on St. Mark’s Place (hair dye, clothes, etc.). My belief is that the Pistols would have been just another failed noise band if they hadn’t built on the foundation of what was going on in New York.

But I also believe it is okay to disagree with even the strongest of critics, including those with the solid and vast credentials of Marcus. This come across in that somehow, I get the feeling that he has a very keen sense of humor, which is very dry (perhaps that’s why he has such a strong affinity with the British?) and subtle. Two chapters are a collection of questions sent to him on the Internet, and I found many of his answer quite amusing, sometimes in their handling, and other times in the brevity (for example, after a paragraph question about why no one talks about the band The Fall, his entire response is They never did anything for me.. For a man who goes to amazing lengths to explain the Situationalists and Dadaists in relation to the Sex Pistols, this is quite a commentary in a mere six words.

One of the things I respect about Marcus, even when I don’t agree, is that he is confident in what he believes, and holds nothing back. For example, when discussing the projections of the mentality of rock and roll singers through the years, he theorizes that: …the original figureheads weren’t supposed to act very smart. They were supposed to be extraordinary polite, as both Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis were, or they were supposed to be extremely circumspect, as Chuck Berry was. If Berry, as a black man, said half of what he was thinking at any given moment, he might have been lynched…The Beatles were the first group of people to come along who didn’t pretend to be stupid. They acted and talked as intelligently as they actually were. They allowed the Rolling Stones to come along and then be as cool, as obnoxious, as bohemian, as “fuck you,” as in-your-face as they wanted to be. (110; 1997) Johnny Rotten was someone who really schooled himself on James Joyce and Graham Greene and his sense of being an outsider because he was Irish and being just astonishingly smart and vehement and impatient. (112; 1997) I don’t think there’s any question that for over twenty years the Ramones have inspired countless people to do all kinds of things. They inspired the Sex Pistols and the Clash. I didn’t like them. I always thought they were a bunch of twits…Television as an arty version of the Grateful Dead. To me, it was just a new form of rock and roll. It was all just a downtown New York bohemian scene. It was a local story. I still believe that. This was local must as far as I was concerned. I don’t believe that the reason that punk came to life again and again all over the world is due to anything that happened in New York. (114; 1998)

Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems he contradicts himself in that last piece. First he says that New York was not important to the music scene in England, and then he states elsewhere that the Ramones had an influence on the Pistols and Clash. But here is the thing, if you bear with me. Social critic Neil Postman once told me that the problem with being published is that people will reference a theory that “Postman says that…” Neil stated that over time, ideas changed, but the book doesn’t, so even if the idea has evolved, the writer is still locked into that printed page. And this from a man who firmly believed in the published word.

Likewise, this collection covers nearly 30 years, and in that time, new thoughts may see their way through. For example, at some point Marcus discusses how it wasn’t until his teenage daughter pointed out what was great about the band X that he started to appreciate it, many years later.

That’s not to say that I am always opposed to what Marcus is stating, and in fact I agree with him quite often, such as with his explaining that, When punk began playing with the swastika, first here [England], and then picked up as an imitation in the United States, the first explanation of it that I read was that these kids were too young to know what the swastika really meant, and they just knew it was a sort of bad symbol, and so they used it to show they were bad, and that they didn’t respect the pieties of society and art. I didn’t believe that for a minute. Everybody knows what the swastika is. It means Hitler, it means extermination, it means mass murder. There’s no secret about what the swastika means, and no one is too young to know that. (99; 1994).

My belief is that part of the reason the New York scene is a black hole to Marcus is because he is from San Francisco, and did not get the opportunity to have the scene grow and evolve around him. It took a mediated television program after the nascent beginnings to bring the Pistols to his attention, and who knows if he would have been attracted to it at all if it had not crossed his path that way (fate? coincidence?). As he states above, I know there’s all kinds of stuff there I never really caught. I never really heard. How would his world be different if it had not come to him on the telly, or if the shop he mentioned didn’t bring in the “Anarchy” single? A modern kōan, if ever there was one.

Bonomo does an excellent job collecting (and occasionally transcribing) both the familiar and unfamiliar topics to the readers that have been covered in the books by Marcus. It’s fascinating to hear him take off his supposed (and I say that with a twinkle in my eye) objectivity, and place himself in the role of the subject.
While it’s true, as Bonomo states in the introduction, that Little of Marcus’s personal life is revealed in these wide-ranging discussions,(ix), there is a lot revealed about how he thinks, the processes he takes, and the effect of what he is doing (and to what he is listening) has an effect on his life. I’m going to posit that the reader is probably not really going to care what he was doing the day Kennedy was killed (pick one), but rather why he chooses what he does, and in that way he opens himself up. Sure, he can be a clinical writer, but Marcus is a fascinating scholar (though he might balk at the word), and whether or not you agree, he is a worthy read.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: Amphetamine Heart, by Liz Worth

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet


Amphetamine Heart
First Poets Series 10

Written by Liz Worth
Illustrations by Amanda Flynn (diamandatattoo.com)

Guernica (Toronto / Buffalo / Lancaster, UK)
60 pages; 2011
ISBN: 978-1-55071-343-5

I usually don’t cover much in the poetry field. But we’re talking about Liz Worth, so that gets my attention. One only needs to check out her wise-beyond-her-years non-fiction tome Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond (reviewed HERE) http://ffanzeen.blogspot.ca/2010/04/book-review-treat-me-like-dirt-oral.html to know there is a lot more going on that is – er – worth the notice.

Sure, it’s a short book, in similar ways to punk poet laureate Patti Smith’s many releases, such as Wītt, but there is a lot hiding under the covers. Like Smith (I’m guessing an influence), and possibly Richard Hell, Worth digs deep and uncovers some beauty in several not very pretty places. For example, in “Second Guessing,” she posts:
From this side of the door
the sounds of dry heaves
are the same as orgasms:
There’s no room between gasps
for second guessing;
it’s all about the volatility
of involuntary reactions.

Liz Worth
The book is both directly and subtly full of – if you’ll pardon the cliché – sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. But even more so, it’s about the post-period, of awakening with both the physical and emotional aches and pains, and occasional scars that result from previous actions. In other words, the focus is not on the glamorous side of the party, but when you awake the next day.

The book title could have also been called Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart, because while the prose is not necessarily conducive to the usual stanza / stanza / chorus / stanza / chorus framework, there is a core to it that bends in relation to the harder sounds of that movement. The book jacket mentions punk and heavy metal. I may argue with the latter, as metal is generally a bit too modulated and structured, but it certainly could co-exist with the former in a jarring way, as with the punk poets I mentioned earlier.

This book can arguably be summed up in one word, actually, and that is attitude. It’s cranky, painfully self-aware, and a bit desperate in its craggy lineage. Right from the first lines of the opening poem, “Definitions,”
We shared cigarettes swapped in time with the circular motions of cats about to pounce with backs up like blades, protecting against plagiarized emotions.
we are introduced into an underworld that is soaked in a substance too stained to sustain a healthy relationship with either another or the present world. Like A Clockwork Orange, it’s a culture where emotional violence is the norm, but not accepted by the zeitgeist.

Even when she gets so personal that she’s cryptic in her pining, we familiar with the punk and rock world can associate the emotion that bursts from the chest, such as with “In No State”:
Light in the eyes
bring the head into
the minute the
body becomes fluid.
Through sugared dissonance
comes the phrase Six Two Eight
6 to 8
6 2 8.
Your detriment is imminent.
Wrists itch, sticky.

Liz Worth is a poet on the rise, and these indie books are going to be a sure collectors’ item, for good reason. While she may be too young to be considered part of the “Blank Generation,” the book does not whimper as much as scream out Punk rock!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

DVD Review: THE DAMNED Tiki Nightmare: Live Live Live in London 2002

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

THE DAMNED Tiki Nightmare: Live Live Live in London 2002
Directed by Robin Dextor
Weinerworld Productions.
86 minutes, 2012

In 1977, I saw the Damned a number of times at CBGB on two separate tours, usually with the Dead Boys opening. Each night was magical (it was also the first shows that I found you needed a reservation to get into the club). Hey, once I co-interviewed guitarist Capt. Sensible between sets, with Bernie Kugel for the Buffalo-based ‘zine Big Star. Hell, vocalist Dave Vanian even smacked me on the back of the head in the dressing room for saying something obnoxious. Then, they were a group to be reckoned with, a forceful British punk band who would pioneer the Goth movement. Ironically, it was the Goth stuff that made me lose touch with their sound.

Gratefully, I have now had the chance to see this July 31, 2002 performance at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire club in London, and catch up a bit.

Dave and Sensible still front the band, with the addition of others including the Gun Club / Sisters of Mercy's buxom bassist (and future Vanian spouse) Patricia Morrison.

Dave’s voice in 2002 was still solid. He’s gained some weight, but the slicked-back ‘50s-ish hair, wrap-around sunglasses and attitude remain. Damn (pun intended), he actually is a good singer. Better than many of the post-psychedelic sound (as it was called in the 1980s, for some reason). But I also see why I lost interest in the band. Their first few singles and LP (Damned Damned Damned) were fast and furious, with a tone of anger and angst that was refreshing. Over time, they became more and more theatric and, well, another well-played melodic rock band. While this DVD shows them at their finest post-beginning sound, it also left me a bit cold. It’s sort of like a cover band. Take “Disco Man,” for example. There is nothing wrong with the song, but it would fit perfectly on American Idol. I can’t imagine anyone on that show doing “New Rose.”

What I’m trying to say is that they sound kind of mainstream, with no sense of the scary. For example, no matter what stage you saw the Cramps, there was always an atmosphere of danger. While the Cramps’ sound changed over time, they still stayed true to their beginnings (for example, compare “Garbageman” with “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns”). The Damned changed markedly, becoming more flamboyant in sound and style. It’s no surprise to me they retained a level of mass fame in Jolly Olde.

Of course, the banter between tunes is mostly by Vanian (mockingly calling Britney Spears the new disco, for example) and the ever jovial (but less noxious onstage) Capt., who openly promotes their then-new release, Grave Disorder. The Captain also shows beyond a doubt he knows his way around a fretboard, being the prog fan he admits to being.

Actually, my only real complaint about the DVD is the camerawork and direction. When the editing isn’t annoyingly active, the cameras are in nearly constant physical motion. It’s hard to enjoy, for example, any of the musicians’ playing when you can’t watch more than one or two bars at a time. Most of the camera is given to the Captain and Dave, with the rest of the band relegated to quick shots. Like many “found footage” film, I found myself having to turn away from the screen to keep from getting queasy.

I will fully admit I was living in the past watching this, and while I sat through the whole thing, I was waiting for their early material, like “Neat Neat Neat” (cut 13) and “New Rose” (cut 15). And these songs are covered strongly, but then again, as in the case of “Neat Neat Neat,” Dave’s doing it sort of like ’77 Elvis singing “Blue Suede Shoes.” And Sensible’s behind-the-back-of-the-neck guitarplay during the song with extended wah-wah sound was like watching the prog version.

There are some interesting touches here. One is a semi-raucous cover of Dylan’s “She,” and when the band leaves the stage for one-song break, the Captain stays and sings his bizarre British hit, “Happy Talk” (from South Pacific), complete with “island” dancers (personally, I’d rather have had him do “Wot”). I also found “New Rose” to be a pretty accurate to the original. Actually, from the point they return, they suddenly turn into a powerhouse group again (with drummer Pinch dressed in a full gorilla outfit for a few songs, and yet still drumming), including “Eloise,” “Smash It Up” (and Vanian sounds especially Elvis-ish here) albeit more in a lite metal way than punk (or Goth), and “Feel Alright.” I wish they had this energy throughout the whole concert. I would still be a convert. Makes me wonder what Stiv Bators would be like today.

Extras include lengthy and interesting interviews with the individual members of the band, lasting a total of 37 minutes. The rest is some small photos, DVD credits and songwriting acknowledgements.

Dave Vanian: Vocals
Captain Sensible: Guitar
Patricia Morrison: Bass
Monty Oxy Moron: Keyboards
Andy “Pinch” Pinching: Drums

Song List:
Street of Dreams
Plan 9 Channel 7
Wait for the Blackout
I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
Would You Be So Hot
Disco Man
Under the Floor Again
Neat Neat Neat
Happy Talk
New Rose
Smash It Up
Feel Alright
It’s a Long Song

As I remember them:

Monday, April 1, 2013

DVD Review: Charlie Daniels Band: Live at Rockpalast 1980

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

Charlie Daniels Band 1980
Directed by Christian Wagner
76 min, 1980 / 2012

I only saw the Charlie Daniels Band once, at Carnegie Hall in 1973. It was one of the first of many concerts I went to with Bernie Kugel after we became friends in high school. Why the Charlie Daniels Band, of all things, for a then-folkie (me) and a garage rock fan (Bernie)? They were opening for – and I kid you not – comic Robert Klein.

Back then, the only song of theirs I knew was “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Okay, it’s pretty much the same now, except for a couple more. The difference is that I’m at an age when I can appreciate them now. I went through a country phase in the late ‘70s (yes, even as I was punking out; how much more punk could Hank Williams be, as he was arguably the Johnny Thunders of his day).

The CDB tends to be lumped together in the “Southern Rock” genre, but that’s not really fair. Most southern rock bands, like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Oak Arkansas (both of whom I interviewed in the mid-‘70s), were more Blues based, while the Tennessee-bred CDB is firmly country rock. Not the modern, crappy country of Shania Twain or Carrie Underwood (both of whom can truly sing, but are boring in their modernist style), but rather they are closer to the Grand Ole Opry than those who are appearing on particular that stage these days.

Essentially CDB is C&W with some rockin’ guitarwork, though their songs are varied in style. For example, some are quite reflective, such as, well, “Reflections,” in which Daniels remembers some close friends who are gone, such as his pal Ronnie van Zandt of the aforementioned Skynyrd. But he’s most famous for his story songs, such as “Legend of Wooley Swamp” (which sounds very similar to “Devil”), “Blindman,” another hit with “Uneasy Rider” (this has a similar patter to Charlie Ryan’s 1955 “Hot Rod Lincoln”), and of course, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

There definitely is some blues here, though, such as “No Potion for the Pain” (powerfully sung by Taz DiGregorio), but country is more prevailing.

Daniels has a strong voice, both literally and figuratively, showing why the CDB has so much clout in the country market. It makes me ponder how strange it must have been in the audience of Westfalenhalle Dortmund in Germany, on that November 28, 1980 night, and hear their jingoistic “In America.” I mean this tune is directly in Toby Keith territory. The audience seemed to enjoy it.

How country are they? Just listen to “Long Haired Country Boy.” Tom Crain’s guitar wails just right. In fact, Crain is pretty formidable, as is Daniel’s actually. The entire band is solid from beginning to end. He even takes the lead vocals on “Cumberland Mountain No. 9.” I did note, however, that it is strange there’s no slide guitar in the group.

And what better way to end the set with a long, particularly raucous and upbeat version of the bluegrass classic instrumental, “Orange Blossom Special” (with a bit of others such as “Dixie” thrown in), showcasing their heritage and bringing a bit of Americana to the Rhineland.

For a video recording from 1980, the image is quite clear, and the sound is excellent, as is usually true from the Rockpalast series. From beginning to end, this is a classic C&W lover’s dream. It certainly made me smile. And that’s even without Robert Klein.

Charlie Daniels: Vocals/guitar/violin
Tom Crain: Guitar/vocals
Taz DiGregorio: Keyboards/vocals
Charlie Hayward: Bass
Fred Edwards: Drums
James W. Marshall: Drums

Set List:
Funky Junky
Legend of Wooley Swamp
El Toreador
No Potion for the Pain
In America
Long Haired Country Boy
Uneasy Rider
Cumberland Mountain No. 9
Devil Went Down to Georgia

The South’s Gonna Do It Again
Orange Blossom Special