Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lester Bangs, the singer

Playing right now: Lester Bangs & the Delinquents - Jook Savages on the Brazos

Yes, Lester Bangs was one of the most original voices is music journalism. Many have aped him, but few get to the heart of what made Mr. Bangs unique -- his love for music.

But how did he stand as a performer?

Well, he wasn't Wild Man Fischer, but he wasn't Lou Reed either. The songs on Jook Savages (which came out in 1981) are better than the performances, I think. The one playing right now, "Day of the Dead" is one I've always wanted to cover. Musically, this might be his "Roadrunner," because it has the same chugging perfect-4th interval. ("Legless Bird" kind of sounds like "Run Run Run"; "I Just Want to Be a Movie Star" has a little Neil Young.)

But while the members of the Delinquents all play the music correctly -- i.e. they hit the notes and make the changes all at the same time -- it doesn't always seem like they're playing together. They kind of sound like the late Columbus band Great Plains, only not as tight. "I'm In Love With My Walls" is built around sort of a conga-line beat which the group seems to try to emphasize, which is a bad idea. "Grandma's House" is a cover, possibly by Ronnie Hawkins. Hard to tell if Lester's trying to mock the song or do a sincere delivery on it.

But I'm never going to sell this album. I have a soft spot for it. Maybe it's because I write about music and play it too. Of course I played it before I wrote about it, so maybe this doesn't count.

Nevertheless, it has the charm of most albums on ESP, the indie label that brought us Albert Ayler, the Fugs, Pearls Before Swine and Patty Waters. Wonder what Lester would think of that comparison.

Great song title: Life is Not Worth Living (But Suicide's a Waste of Time).


At a lackluster yard sale a couple weeks ago, I managed to score 7 albums for a buck. One was a budget line album that looks like it's all Louis Prima and is called Italian Favorites. Turns out Louis on one side and some cat named Phil Brito on the other. "The Tops Collectors Series," the cover brags. What - the company that makes baseball cards decided to branch out into cheapo reissues.

Anyhow, it was worth the 17 cents (or whatever 7/$1 breaks into) for the first couple songs. My fave is "Please No Squeeze Da Banana," the song the fruit vendor (probably an Italian) sings to the cop who filches his produce everyday (obviously an Irish cop; we micks are mooches). He also does "Josephine, Please No Lean on the Bell," which isn't as good as Jerry Colonna's version (I have it on 78), but it's still good. So is "Bacciagaloop Makes Love on the Stoop," which is about the umpteenth song that makes reference to some kind of pasta.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I Like ! You Like?

Playing right now: Human Sexual Response - In a Roman Mood

I thought about this album because one of the bands that played at the Repunk Throwdown (i.e. the reunion of the first generation of Pgh. punks) was the Shakes, who played really tight edgy clever pop. And HSR was quite a bit like that. Except that HSR had four singers and played really really tense music, like they were trying to musically capture sexual tension and make you sweat somewhat uncomfortably as you listened.
I can't say for sure because I wasn't there. (They were together in early '80s Boston. That's another Pgh punk connection because HSR guitarist Rich Gilbert later worked with Frank Black who also worked with one-time Pittsburgh punk denizen Reid Paley. He wasn't at the Throwdown since he was played w/the aformentioned Mr. Black that night in Brooklyn.)

So maybe they're nothing like the Shakes. All I know is I love this album and tonight I did something that's a rare thing for me -- I played it twice in a row. And I really loved the Shakes' set the other night.

Repunk was a two-night event. The first installment took place at Quiet Storm, the coffeehouse/BYOB/live music joint. I played with Michael Butscher only 24 hours after seeing him for the first time in about 23 years. On the phone a few weeks prior, we had made tentative plans on covers to play, including one by the Five. We wound up the bills for Friday and Saturday nights, so Friday was going to be mostly Butscher originals, with one by Richard Hell ("Time"). I'm a quick learn so we got them down.
The next day we talked about (well I talked about, I guess) doing the Five, Pere Ubu and the Buzzcocks, and talked Brian from the Five to drum w/us. Turns out we got bumped on Saturday. But it was okay because the night wasn't about me. Besides, by the time things wrapped up, I had played with two other acts.

And another thing, Friday, in addition to getting all those folks together, was about my brother Johnny getting onstage with the Reid-less Five and tearing it up. They reprised their set in a short form the next day, but the power went out 2 verses into "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene." Saturday the Shakes stole the show.


I took off work on Saturday which meant I had more time to traipse over hell's half acre to find estate sales. The first one I went to was in the deep bowels of McKeesport. I got nervous when I drove up and there were hardly any cars there. I had figured the folks would be lined up outside. W/no one there, I thought it was a dud.
Not that I was totally wrong....
The ad for the sale mentioned records and there were a bunch on the front porch. Almost all were beat to crap. Lotta Beatles. I almost picked up a mono Rubber Soul, but it was way too beat, with the cover falling apart. I did get a copy of the album that has the Beatles playing with Tony Sheridan. Thing is, it's not that good. It's beat too.
But I got 7 records for a buck, so I can't really complain. Jerry Colonna was among them, and I'm glad I only paid that much because it's not that good either. Maybe I'll give it to my dad. It's worth it for the song "I Like! You Like?"

From there I drove out to Mt. Lebanon. The ad for the sale I was looking for didn't mention records but I thought, why not check it out anyway. Smart thinking. I found a mono copy of For Your Love by the Yardbirds, a record I had when I was high school. It too is kind of beat. Don't know if it has resell value but when I played it, it took me back. I like it better than I did back then. The real treasure was a copy of an album by The Silhouettes, a Pgh jazz-pop band on Segue records. Those things are kind of coveted by collectors now, and this one's autographed.

Oh, I forgot, I found an original copy of the Mothers' Absolutely Free album at the first sale. That was on the upstairs turntable quite awhile. Now it's stuck in my head.

Well Human Sexual Response is winding down, so I will too.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I'm still here

Playing right now: Mothers of Invention - Absolutely Free

(Found this at a yard sale over the weekend. It was really really beat with what looked like mold growing on the vinyl. It cleaned up okay but I wanted to see how it would play. And now I can't get it off the turntable. I first bought it [I have another copy] when I was in high school.]

If I wanted to give an update on what has happened since the last post, I would take all day. Hmm...maybe I should call in sick and spend the day blogging.......naw, that wouldn't work.

Last week was the Repunk Throwdown, a reunion put together by my brother John, along with Tom and Stephanie from the Deliberate Strangers. It was mostly people who were part of the punk scene from 1978-1982. I didn't know a lot of the people who attended, but I really hit it off with them. Really nice folks. Plus I got to see folks who I hadn't seen in ages: Michael Butscher, John's one-time roommate who took me under his wing and stoked the fires of my music enthusiasm; Laurence Goodby, the guy who made the Five live up to their name before he left the band, and the guy who I was often mistaken for back in the day (Laurence was also a catalyst in what would become Bone of Contention); I also met and played in a musical project organized by poet/author Denise Dee.

I thought I should've encouraged more people my age to come to the thing because for one thing I thought they'd be into it, not having a "you had to be there" feeling, and also so I wouldn't just be sitting on the sidelines while everyone reminisced about such and such a show at the Lion's Walk or Phase III. Turns out these were non-issues. Jennie came with me to the first night's events for one thing and on Saturday I ended up talking to so many people, and sitting in with enough bands (Johnny said I played with more bands than anyone else) that it didn't matter.

More to come.....more estate sale tales.....maybe even a review or two.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sebadoh III First installment -- the show

Playing right now: Nothing, but Francoise Hardy's self-titled Reprise LP is on the turntable. I won it in an auction and it finally arrived today, along with her album Francoise..., which I also won.

Sebadoh's third album, Sebadoh III, is being reissued in a remastered form, along with a bonus disc of music from that band's era. That album came out at a very significant time in my life (fall of 1991), a time which I remember quite vividly in some regards. I plan on writing at least two entries on it. This is the first one.

It chronicles Sebadoh's October '91 performance at the Upstage Lounge, and what it meant to me.

I'm not sure of the show's exact date, but I believe it was October 13. And I recall this not because I'm Rainman or because I looked at a 1991 calendar but because my birthday is October 7 and I know they came to town within a week of me turning 24. I had been dumped in the previous month by a girlfriend to whom I was quite attached. Thus began the worst semester of my college career and any excuse to go to Chief's, the cheap watering hole for the indie rock college crowd (though not limited to that demographic). I started college late so I was somewhere into my second-and-a-half year of full-time studies. The previous semester had proven to me that good grades weren't out of the question if I put a sincere effort to work, reading assignments on time and diving deep into term papers.

Then the dump came and I was directionless yet again.

Sebadoh came to town on a Sunday night. The previous night I broke off a week-old budding relationship with a co-worker who was a really cool friend who had great tastes in music and books and had the sense of humor to tie up the package. She had a cool cat too. It was hard to do but I didn't feel ready go into something that new just yet. (We'll come back to her later).

I worked that Sunday and when I made it to the Upstage I realized that I had drank a LOT of coffee at work and was really really wired. It was the good kind of wired ("WEEE! I'm flyin'!"). All the other bands had played and Sebadoh was just getting up onstage. My timing was perfect. But the audience, perhaps coupled with the caffeine, had me a little nervous: three of my ex-girlfriends were there, including the one who had dumped me. I think I said hi to her and tried to play it off. One ex, two years after the fact, was a little friendlier and when I did talk to ,it was mostly to her. The third ex was at that time engaged to someone else and since we had a bad breakup, I tried to avoid her. She quickly said hi, though, and there was no drama.

This show was one of the loudest --- no, THE LOUDEST -- show I've ever experienced. A few days later, when sitting at home, I realized I wasn't hearing crickets outside my window. The window in fact was closed and what I was hearing was the ringing in my ears. Sebadoh's bass was rattling my nasal cavities and my sternum. It was painful in a way but the music they were playing was worth the loss of hearing. It was loud and overblown, yet it still had a strong sense of melody, not unlike Mission of Burma or the Volcano Suns. Even when Eric Gaffney was screaming his head off, things could still sound hooky. I think they played "As the World Dies The Eyes of God Grow Bigger," a two chord/quiet-to-loud-back-and-forth opus that gets increasingly more chaotic as it progresses. The wilder things got, the more happy I got. I didn't think any new bands were doing music like this. And up until that point, I thought Sebadoh was just an acoustic oddity/homemade tape act that didn't play rock. Turns out they could do both, and they did it better than most.

I didn't own a CD player, so I wasn't well versed in Sebadoh III just yet. (It was released only on CD, a first for Homestead Records, their label.) But when I finally did play the album, songs like "God Told Me" and "Violet Execution" took me back to that night. They were the perfect combination of tight and teetering on the brink of chaos.

The band changed instruments a lot, but to sustain the momentum they kept switching on a tape of goofball introductions of the band that Lou had recorded. (Among them: "SEBADOH! Featuring the guy who used to play bass in Soul Asylum" and mispronounciations of the band name.) The nearly 12-minute tape of this blather wraps up the bonus CD of Sebadoh III and took me back to that night. Clearly you had to be there to appreciate this track, but I was there and I did.

In the liner notes of the disc, Gaffney talks about the guitar he played, a 5-string low drone open-tuned Sigma acoustic, and while I thought it was Lou Barlow that played it, I do remember such an animal being strummed that night because it seemed like it was hell getting that thing miked.

1991 is known as the year punk rock broke, in part because a couple months later a song called "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was all over the place. But '91 was also the year indie rock completed its gestation period. The term was solidified by Sebadoh's song "Gimme Indie Rock" (also included on the new disc), one of the few instances in which indie rockers were able to poke at themselves in a good natured manner. (Usually indie rock humor relies on jokes that only the jokester and his friends get.) When Sebadoh finished playing that night, along with the shattered ear drums, boundaries were shattered between loud rock and quiet introspective music. They weren't mutually exclusive anymore.

At the end of the night, the heartbreaking ex gave me a ride and before I got out of the car, she leaned over and kissed me, thus beginning a few more months of drama and a slightly rekindled relationship.

But when she left town for school at the end of those 2 months, the friend from work made a pass at me and we've been together ever since. (And she even had an appreciation for Sebadoh III when I played it for her.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hey...I'm in a band....

Playing right now: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (see my reply to the last posting)

Old news: The name of the Nothing Painted Blue album mentioned in a previous post is Emotional Discipline.

Recent news: Saturday night was the Amoeba Knievel show that was part of Quiet Storm's Pabst Blue Ribbon party. Normally QS is an all ages coffeehouse where you can byob, but on that night it was an over-21 affair. With free PBR.

The first band was Flotilla Way, who, I realized as they set up, I saw at Modern Formations a few months ago. They're an all-female trio with the guitar/bass/drums lineup. The drummer did a good deal of the singing, which is always good in my book. They kind of reminded me of raw, poppy bands on K. They didn't always sing into the microphones, though, so sometimes their cool harmonies got lost.

We were up next. The last couple Amoeba Knievel shows have been cut short by miscommunications and hassle by the Man, but on Saturday we got through everything! Of course we only put 9 songs in the set, so we planned well. I think we're getting to the point where we're comfortable onstage and we can roll with any spontaneous moments. As we were setting up, Mandee came up to the stage and asked us to vamp so that Tommy could make a grand entrance. The last couple shows started with a song that encouraged that, but the first song in the set was the a cappella "Ballad of Tommy Amoeba." So we played the riff from "I Can't Turn You Loose" (yes, the Otis Redding song; I try to play that any chance I get), and Tommy made his an octopus suit. Mike, Red Bob and I joined Tommy of the choruses of the Ballad, which was a nice touch.

Just remembered: we did 10 songs, because Tommy launched into "Hanky Panky" after "Broken Record" finally fell apart. (For those who don't know, "Broken Record" ends with Tommy repeating the phrase "THis is the way the world ends," ad nauseum. Going into the next song is a tradition from the old lineup's early days.)

The New Alcindors played next and they were totally badass. Harp, baritone sax, trumpet, organ, guitar, bass and drums. Part garage, part soul -- they were a really good time. I always liked the band, but when they were a trio, sometimes my mind would wander because the songs seemed to last just a little too long -- maybe a verse too long -- to keep thing at a high level. Having the horns fills out the arrangments.

Hmm. I don't know if The Umbrellas of Cherboug is something I'll come back to very often. Maybe I need to be following the dialogue in the booklet. Sometimes I worry that record auctions are starting to make me a little dispassionate about albums. Sometimes the feeling of "Hey! It's mono! It's probably really valuable," overrides the feeling of "Wow! Look what I found!" (See, this is a mono copy and I started thinking that if I put it up for get the picture.)

I've been listening to a couple things I bought over the past week. One conclusion I've drawn is that The Beautiful Phyllis Diller is most likely going in the sale pile.

Went to Jerry's today and saw a copy of Try Too Hard for $7. Couldn't do it. Mainly because I'm going away this weekend and I should watch my money. And because the record could really blow. I looked for the other greatest hits album but couldn't find it. SHould've looked for the single w/that song. I bought one of the trilogy of Art Pepper's legendary Village Vanguard albums (Thursday night).