Saturday, February 06, 2016

John Cale's "Music for a New Society/M:FANS"

I know people who have structured their entahr lives around going to rockaroll shows, but I am not one of them. So when I say I've seen John Cale more times than any other touring entertainer but Zappa (whom I think I've seen six times, a reflection of my state of mind in the late '70s), it only means I've seen him four times (I've seen the 'orrible 'oo thrice). The first time was at Mother Blues on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, probably the spring of '79. I was the asshole that yelled for "Waiting for the Man" all night. Imagine my surprise when he played it!

The next time, a few months later, my roommate/coworker and I took one of the Fort Worth cops who worked security in the record store where we worked to see Cale at the Palladium on Northwest Highway. Cale was at the height of his "scary crazy guy" mock dementia phase, best exemplified on record by "Leaving It Up To You" and his cover of "Heartbreak Hotel." The svelte proto-goth of Velvet Underground daze had given way to something approximating a malevolent comeback-TV-special Elvis, and he'd finish up the night writhing on the floor, a microphone cord wrapped around his neck. The cop loved it.

The time after that, in '80, Cale had replaced the band from the first two times (for whom his song "Dirtyass Rock 'n' Roll" could have served as theme song and organizing principle) with one that was blaringly loud, slick and pro. (My buddy who worked at Manny's on 48th Street in Manhattan said that Cale was such an asshole that nobody good would work with him.) Sacrificial locals the Telefones (my future ex-wife's favorite band o' the time) cleaned his clock the same way Joan Jett wiped the floor with Iggy at the Palladium around the same time. Cale retaliated by blowing up their PA.

The last time was ca. '95 at Caravan of Dreams, where Cale appeared backed by the Soldier String Quartet and steel guitarist B.J. Cole. It was a great show, but I wasn't motivated to pick up Cale's current album of the time (Walking On Locusts), and the next night, I heard that he declined to get off the tour bus in Denton because the venue couldn't make his guarantee, and a local muso was arrested for standing outside yelling "LOU WOULD HAVE PLAYED!" (which was patent horseshit).

What those four shows taught me was that Cale -- unlike his Velvet Underground collaborator/adversary Lou Reed -- isn't a rockarolla at heart. A classically-trained Welshman who came to the States under the auspices of Aaron Copland (before the populist composer recoiled from what he perceived as the "destructiveness" of his protege's music), Cale went on to collaborate with the cream of the early '60s classical avant-garde (John Cage, Terry Riley, LaMonte Young) before meeting Reed and forming the Velvets in '65.

I'll admit to a preference for the post-Cale VU, the result of an unfortunate experience involving my parents' house, a psychotropic substance, and the first side of the Velvets' White Light/White Heat LP. But the first two VU albums with Cale were undeniably their most groundbreaking and experimental. Reed wanted control and fired Cale from the VU at the end of '68. In later years, they'd reconnect for a sublime Warhol tribute (1990's Songs for Drella) and a curiously unsatisfying and wholly retrospective Velvet reunion. The old wounds still festered.

On his own, Cale spread the Velvet virus as producer of debut albums by the Stooges, Modern Lovers, and Patti Smith. He broke the seal on a prolific solo career with 1970's exploratory pop-rock foray Vintage Violence, on which he was backed by Reed protege Garland Jeffreys' Woodstock band Grinder's Switch (not to be confused with Southern rockers Grinderswitch). Austin journo Margaret Moser has called Vintage Violence the template for all of Cale's subsequent work, and I'm inclined to agree with her. I love the bridge that starts at 2:10 into "Charlemagne," the first song on the second side of the LP, so much so that I recently spent an entire afternoon playing it over and over (you have to be paying close attention or you'll miss it).

My own favorite Cale album is 1973's beautifully orchestrated Paris 1919, produced by Chris Thomas of subsequent Sex Pistols/Pretenders fame, with backing by musicians from Little Feat. On songs like "Child's Christmas in Wales" and "Paris 1919" itself, gorgeous melodies carry inscrutable lyrics. ("The cattle graze bold uprightly / Seducing down the door" indeed.)

Among folks I know, Cale's most revered for the hard-edged triptych of albums he cut for Island in '74-'75. On those albums, Roxy Music refugee Phil Manzanera and free-lancer Chris Spedding laid down some of the most advanced rock guitar of the time, anticipating Television and the Voidoids, as well as Robert Quine's work on Reed's The Blue Mask. The most extreme, and my favorite, is the last, Helen of Troy, on which you can hear Cale intoning the somber "Cable Hogue" and the aforementioned "Leaving It Up To You" in a teeth-gnashing snarl of escalating mania, loaded with menace. Apparently, the secret ingredient was cocaine. US Island declined to release Helen, sticking a paltry three tracks on the '77 compilation Guts, but not Cale's finest song, "I Keep A Close Watch" (which he re-recorded in a stripped-down version for 1982's Music for a New Society).

By the time Music for a New Society originally appeared, I had already lost the thread, turned off by the skewed geopolitical ranting of Sabotage/Live. Recorded in 1981, after the mainstream had subsumed the "new wave" he'd helped foster, it's the sound of Cale trying anything and everything to write his way out of a personal and creative slump, over ten days alone in the studio, very much influenced by the procedures he'd followed on the two studio albums he'd produced for his VU bandmate Nico -- in particular, separating the vocals from the backing and surrounding them with "floating" sounds to create a sense of dislocation. (Zappa attempted the same effect by dubbing guitar solos over rhythm tracks from different events.) The result is as stark and close-to-the-bone a pop record as exists in the canon. (Pristine versions of a couple of songs are appended to the remastered original album for comparison.)

In 2013, requests from European festival organizers for a concert performance of the complete album led him to re-record the material instead, under the rubric M:FANS. By crafting new settings for the songs, he recontextualizes them in the same way that, say, Bill Laswell did with his remixes of Miles Davis and Bob Marley. (And Panthalassa is now my preferred way to hear "In A Silent Way" and "He Loved Him Madly.") Borrowing from hip-hop and electronica, Cale reimagines entahrly the harmonic frameworks of songs like "Thoughtless Kind," "Chinese Envoy," and the token "commercial" song "Changes Made," proving himself to be less attached to his forms than most musos of his generation.

The reboot loses a couple of songs from the original -- "Damn Life," with its Beethoven borrowings, and "Rise, Sam and Rimsky-Korsakov," a vocal vehicle for Cale's now ex-wife -- and includes two versions of "If You Were Still Around," a song that took on added significance when Reed died while the M:FANS sessions were in progress. My favorite topic o' the moment, mortality, also shows up in a new "Prelude," an electronically-treated phone call between Cale and his parents (he speaks to his father in English, his mother in Welsh, the language he was raised to speak).

Being the last man standing has got to be tough. Which is why I want to hear Cale produce Iggy again, before one or both of 'em shuffles off this mortal coil.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Half Cleveland Live in Akron, OH

I don't make pilgrimages to hear bands anymore, but tonight, from the comfort of my own sweet bedroom in Fort Worth, Texas, Where the West Begins, I was able (through the wonder of the intarweb and Periscope, a streaming video app) to watch Half Cleveland, the current performing incarnation of ex-Tin Huey bandmates Chris Butler (also of Waitresses fame) and Harvey Gold. They've been doing this on an occasional basis for years, and when Chris moved back to Ohio from New Joisey last year, they resumed live activity in earnest. Tonight's gig, at Musica in Akron, was a benefit for a free clinic and will be streamable for a little less than 24 hours from now, right here.

Harvey had promised a special set, and these geezer hipsters delivered, with new songs -- Harvey's "From Your Side of the Room" and Chris' "Thief" -- along with a selection of surprise covers (opening with XTC's "Towers of London," segueing from the Hollies' "Pay You Back With Interest" into Syd's "See Emily Play," closing with a stage invasion/singalong "All the Young Dudes" chorus that hopefully made the Thin White Duke chuckle in whatever plane of existence he's now occupying).

In between, we were treated to Chris' "Physics" (which I'd listened to on HC's Live @ the Wi-fi Cafe while vibing up this arvo), and two songs from his masterwork Easy Life (title track and "My Hometown"), which I'd love to hear in its entahrty as a stage piece sometime. Chris is a great writer/storyteller, as he demonstrated with a reading of some of his prose in the middle of "I Lie the Truth" from his I Feel A Bit Normal Today.

I even got a shout-out at the beginning of Harvey's "Lazy Boy" (which hopefully wasn't the reason he had sampler pedal problems immediately after). "Starts with art and ends with pain" indeed. All in all, it was a gas watching these guys do their thing in real time (and then of course immediately watch it again). Thanks to the fellas and Harvey's wife, Dolli, who handled the tech stuff. Seriously, man -- my wife says c'mon down to Texas. We'll make y'all feel welcome. "Hey, you with the glasses...I want you in the front. NOW."

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Brokegrove Lads' "An Anxiously Obsessive Desire for the Maintenance of Sameness"

To celebrate Terry Valderas' birthday, here's the first track (actually the last recorded) from our December 23rd session at Cloudland Studios with Britt Robisheaux at the controls. We started out trying to imagine Boris jamming the Move; then things got motorik...

Adios Paul Kantner

1) "For fuck's sake! Are you going to write one of these every time one of these people passes?"

"Listen: For those of us of A Certain Age, 2016 has been the year when the passing of the generation of musos we grew up listening to becomes impossible to ignore, and with it, our own mortality. At this point, I have to say that the idea that my consciousness will one day be extinguished isn't as hard to wrap my head around as the slightly different idea that one day, the memory of everything I've experienced in this life will be gone."

"So that's why you do...all of this?"

"You might say."

2) When the news came through about Paul -- it took a couple of days until we found out that Signe Anderson, whom Grace Slick replaced in the lineup, had left the planet on the same day -- the first thing I wanted to hear was "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon," a song about the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, January 1967, that concluded After Bathing At Baxter's, my pick for the best Jefferson Airplane album, which was released at the end of that year. On Baxter's, you can hear the music changing in more ways than one. The jangly folk-rock group from Takes Off is long gone, and the psychedelic tendencies that de facto (although uncredited) producer Jerry Garcia teased out on Surrealistic Pillow are in full flower. Kantner has assumed leadership from founder Marty Balin on the strength of his songwriting. Besides the climactic track I couldn't wait to hear, Kantner's songs like "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil," "Wild Tyme," and "Watch Her Ride" overflow with the "complexity" and "kinetics" that Paul Williams marveled at in Crawdaddy! (anthologized in his Outlaw Blues in a chapter that taught me how to listen to music actively and contextually). The sweetness in their music turned bitter fast, like the bite of strychnine in bad street acid. Even when the singers' voices are soaring, there's a dark undertow, and not just from Jack Casady's bass.

3) Last night I watched Fly Jefferson Airplane, a documentary recommended by a drummer I play with occasionally, who met Kantner in Portland in the early '90s. It's a useful summation, although their early history -- surely one of the best origin stories in rock: Jorma's blues name was "Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane;" Marty hired non-drummer Skip Spence to play drums because "he looked like a drummer;" etc. -- gets short shrift (the story begins with Signe's departure to be a mom). There are good interviews with all the band members and manager Bill Thompson. I could have done with less "music-video" type footage from TV shows (fellow travelers the Smothers Brothers; Perry Como, who must have wondered what on Earth RCA was forcing on him), but the performance stuff -- a couple of songs from Monterey and a couple from PBS shows (Go Ride the Music and A Night at the Family Dog) I remember seeing broadcast when they were new -- is fine. (Nothing from Woodstock, though, or Ceiling Cat forbid, Altamont, where Marty Balin was, like the medevac pilot who blew the whistle on the My Lai massacre, the only man who did his job that day.) The main impression I had at the end was what a wonderful thing it must have been to be a young person in Haight-Ashbury in the summer of '66 (not '67).

4) While thinking about the casual sexism of the '60s freak scene that also cropped up in the Airplane's music (all those "younger girl" songs: not just "Young Girl Sunday Blues" and "Martha," but also Marty's "Come Up the Years" from Takes Off and, hell, even the Lovin' Spoonful's "Younger Girl" -- I could go on), I also flashed that when I was 13, part of what I dug about the Airplane was the fact that Kantner, the bespectacled sci-fi nerd, was romantically linked with Ice Princess Slick, the sardonic siren who took lyrical cues from Lewis Carroll and Joyce.

5) Back then I dug Volunteers, even though the Airplane's "revolutionary" stance was as suspect as the MC5's. Where the Five's seemed opportunistic, the Airplane always came across as privileged kids, like the draft-deferred college crowd. "We Can Be Together" kind of embodies the best and worst traits of that milieu. I'd like to see Bernie Sanders use that as a jingle: "We must begin, here and now / A new continent of earth and fire / Tear down the walls..." And Kantner's post-apocalyptic song "Wooden Ships," his royalties from which he donated to his friend David Crosby, who'd just been fired from the Byrds, still hits me the same way Cormac McCarthy's The Road does.

6) I suppose Blows Against the Empire is Kantner's masterpiece (using ideas cribbed from Robert E. Heinlein, with the sci-fi author's blessing). Only an idealist or a fool could see having a baby as a revolutionary act. And that's kind of where I lost the thread (although Jefferson Starship was inescapable on New York FM radio in the '70s).

7) "Here's my 'Jefferson Starship' story: In the summer of, I think it was '76, my buddy and I were walking through the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan with our guitar cases. A kid walked up to me and asked, 'Hey, aren't you Craig Chaquico from Jefferson Starship?' -- for back then, my hair was long and still black, and I had a shitty teenage mustache. I told him, 'Yep. We're playing for free at three o'clock this afternoon in Central Park. Go tell all your friends.'"


"I dunno, I thought it was funny."

Friday, January 29, 2016

Fred Frith and Darren Johnston's "Everybody's Somebody's Nobody"

Prolific guitarist-composer Fred Frith has had a highly circuitous career trajectory, from the rigorous political prog-rock of Henry Cow to pioneering solo prepared-guitar experiments, participation in the '80s Lower Manhattan underground (including collaborations with John Zorn and Bill Laswell), composed music for film and dance -- both Field Days (The Amanda Loops) and Propaganda were released on his Fred Records label in 2015 -- and academia (currently on the faculty of Mills College in California). To get a sense of the scope of his musical world, check him out in the 1990 documentary Step Across the Border. This album, released by estimable Portuguese indie Clean Feed, finds him teamed with Canadian trumpeter-composer Darren Johnston for a series of dance-and-film inspired vignettes. (On his own, Johnston's composed song cycles based on interviews with, and letters written by, recent immigrants to the United States.)

Both musicians are known for exploring and extending their instruments' tonal and timbral possibilities, and those approaches are audible here, along with their shared gift for listening and spontaneous composition -- from the incandescent long tones of the opening "Barn Dance" to the percussive dialogue of "Scribble" to the more developed material of the moody "Luminescence." On the title track and "Morning and the Shadow," Frith provides almost orchestral accompaniment to Johnston's themes, the wealth of sonic detail beautifully captured by engineer Myles Boisen's recording. (Could this be the same Boisen that occasionally plays guitar for Mark Growden? Because the performers are based in the Bay Area, I'm guessing it is.) On "Down Time" and "Rising Time," Johnston and Frith take respective solo turns; the guitarist's is reminiscent of his collaboration with percussionist Evelyn Glennie on The Sugar Factory. Non-idiomatic improvisation can be more fun to play than it is to listen to, but Everybody's Somebody's Nobody is as rewarding an auditory experience as you'll have this year.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Things we like: Craig Bell, Paul Kikuchi, Tame Tame & Quiet

1) I don't know much about the '70s-'80s Connecticut music scene, although I grew up on Long Island (just a short ferry ride across the Sound) and lived there until 1978. I do remember a pedal-to-the-metal drive from Bridgeport to Hartford to see Frank Zappa in October of '77. My pint of vodka, cleverly concealed in a female companion's purse, was confiscated at the door, so I had my first experience of what I would later learn is called schadenfraude when I heard of the Civic Center roof's collapse under the weight of snow during the blizzard a couple of months later. I also remember a (Bridgeport?) radio station that played four hours of Ornette Coleman and associates every Sunday, and a Hartford band called Little Village, a Yardbirds-Stones derivation in the manner of Aerosmith, who had a self-released album that got some spins on my local FM station ca. '77.

But it was to the Nutmeg State that Cleveland proto-punk pioneer Craig Bell moved in 1976, to work for the railroad, after being present at the creation as a member of Mirrors and Rocket From the Tombs. In short order, he was back in the band wars, helming a succession of outfits including Saucers, Future Plan, the Plan, and the Bell System. In true DIY fashion, Bell released a few singles for his own or friends' bands on an indie label, Gustav Records, and in 1982, compiled an LP's worth of studio recordings by like-minded Connecticut bands, It Happened...But Nobody Noticed, which was subsequently upgraded to a double CD in 2008. The bands represented here are of surprisingly consistent high quality, all inhabiting the territory roughly delineated by the labels punk/new wave, garage, and power pop, with energy and melody the hallmarks. It's probably my favorite regional comp since ('60s-focused) Michigan Mayhem! Vol. 1, or the Fort Worth Teen Scene series.

As is my habit with comps like this, to avoid giving anyone short shrift, I'm going to provide three-word descriptions of each of the bands/tracks. Here we go:

Poodle Boys - "Pop," not "pot."
Subdueds - Lotsa fast changes.
Scout House - New England Merseybeat.
Hot Bodies - Del Shannon dirge.
The Furies - Count Fivish singer.
Saucers - RFTT/Mirrors re-tread.
The Snotz - Post-Loaded doowop.
TV Neats - Exuberant Farfisa poptune.
International Q - Radio Birdmanish velocity.
Troupe Di Coupe - Horn-driven mysterioso
No Music - Fuzzy Kinkoid aggro.
October Days - Proto-Goth gloom.
The Bats - Surf-punk raver.

And over on the second disc:

Stratford Survivors - Thin Lizzyish pounder.
Disturbance - Twitchy art damage.
The Excerpts - Raspberries-flavored pop.
Epitome - Quavery garage grunt.
Valley of Kings - Dissonant surf-punk.
The Not Quite - Garage psych apocalypse.
The Sabres - Four steps down.
Dada Banks - Cold War Troggs.
Radio Reptiles - The drummer's band?
The Cadavers - Costello meets Who.
The Plan - New wave ambivalence.
Happy Ending - Protest with saxophone.
The Reducers - Ringing closing anthem.

I've saved the best for last. In 2011, Saucers -- which planted Bell in the middle of two Malcolms (Doak on keys and vox, Marsden on guitar and vox) -- reconvened to cut a five-song EP, Second Saucer, that Craig justifiably calls "a hidden gem." The Velvets influence is strong in these tunes, with some '80s keyb flourishes added. Indeed, "Security" sounds nothing less than Doug Yule (OK, Malcolm Marsden) singing a particularly brutal descendant of "Sister Ray." Bell's own best moment here is the Dylanesque "Where Have They Gone," which boasts a tortuously melodic (think mid-'70s Phil Manzanera) Marsden guitar solo. Brisk and bracing. Now, we await release info on Bell's aka Darwin Layne rarities compilation.

2) Seattle-based Paul Kikuchi's a percussionist and composer whose works often have an air of ambient spaciousness, but on Chemical Language, he's teamed with saxophonist Wally Shoup and guitarist Bill Horist for a program of extemporizations characterized by more pulse and grit than we're accustomed to hearing from these men -- approaching Last Exit territory. On the title track, Shoup's alto weeps with the soul cry of the blues, while on "Delusion and Disintegration," he and Horist (who employs a burry, saturated tone throughout) conduct a heated exchange while Kikuchi subdivides time with his deeply-tuned toms. Another installment in an estimable body of work.

3) When Stoogeaphilia played a show with Tame Tame & Quiet a couple of weeks ago, TT&Q frontman Aaron Bartz gave me a quick and dirty walk through his band's discography. Debut CD Tin Can Communicate (2007) predated bassist Paddy Flynn's tenure in the band, and 2009's Fight In Words was recorded to document TT&Q's since-discarded Flynn-era repertoire before the bassist joined the Navy. The band reformed in 2013, with Jeff Williams replacing Flynn on bass last year, and they just released a cassette EP, Peach Hills, which was recorded at Cloudland Studios (also the site of a recent Brokegrove Lads studio encounter), with Britt Robisheaux at the controls. Aaron says they're working on material for a new album. Throughout the band's trajectory, their signature elements have been his slightly distressed vocals, and his and Darren Miller's unconventionally intertwining guitar lines.

The TT&Q boys will be at Shipping and Receiving on Friday, January 29, opening a bill that also includes instrumental surf supergroup Chrome Mags -- who possess massive improv potential since adding master percussionist Eddie Dunlap (Mondo Drummers, Rageout Orchestra, ex-Master Cylinder) and bassist Robert Kramer (my Brokegrove Lads buddy and ex-Tabula Rasa/Gumshoe/Purple Overdose) to their lineup -- and the mighty Me-Thinks, born again hard with new second guitarist Johnny Trashpockets (One Fingered Fist, ex-Elvis Took Acid) and a fresh Matthew Barnhart-produced 7-inch awaiting release that founding Me-Think/"secret weapon" Will Risinger declares (from exile in Arkansas) is "the best thing they've ever done." A bill to conjure with, for sure.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Things we like: Denton, 1.20.2016 edition

Photo by Craig Bell.

These days I never go out, even to shows I've been anticipating for months. (When Thinking Plague played at the Kessler, f'rinstance, I was still recovering from playing with Stoogeaphilia the night before -- a process that wound up taking a full week. I just hope they come back when the new record is out.) But I had to make an exception when X___X and Obnox brought their "Blowtorch Tour 2016" to Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio in Denton last night.

It had been a good minute since I'd been to a show at RGRS -- can it really have been when Boris played there, the day before my birthday in 2008? Possibly. Since then, they've built a light rail station and apartments near the club -- a sure sign of gentri-/yuppification to come. It was also in the back of my mind that 2016 in li'l d started with a road raging active duty Marine shooting a sorority girl to death. Happily, no bad vibes marred this particular visit to Dentron.

I'd been meaning to take a stack of jazz CDs to sell at Recycled, and going forward, I'll make sure to do so there instead of at HPB. I also found a vinyl copy of Material's Memory Serves (since I'm all Laswell-ed out right now), a Dennis Gonzalez CD I didn't have (Hymn for the Perfect Heart of a Pearl; I also saw Idlewild, for which I wrote liner notes, but I already have a copy of thatun), and one by Muhal Richard Abrams (Hearinga Suite; Recycled is Your Go-To Store for Black Saint CDs -- and now, for a minute at least, for Clean Feeds). Then walked over to J&J's Pizza to grab a couple of slices before heading over to Rubber Gloves, way too early. After checking out the vehicles in the parking lot (all Texas plates), I took a walk around the block and, as I was returning, saw a white van with Indiana plates and thought, "Ah. This must be they."

It was quite a moment, finally getting to meet X___X/Rocket From the Tombs/Down-fi bassist/vocalizer Craig Bell, with whom I'd been corresponding online, and John D. Morton, the X___X frontman and former Electric Eels "art terrorist." Both men, as every Velvets To Voidoids reader knows, are cats who were present at the creation of the remarkably persistent phenomenon we call punk rock, out touring the provinces DIY-fashion in support of last year's Albert Ayler's Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto album on Smog Veil. I helped them load their gear in (not trying to circumvent the door lady; I bought my ticket online) and, after timely pause, took Craig, John, and guitarist Andrew Klimeyk to dinner at Dix Coney Island, the 24-hour diner on the square that's another new Denton addition.

Coincidentally, I'd been listening to the Velvet Underground Complete Matrix Tapes in the car (nothing better for a boring drive than a little "singalonga Lou"), and it occurred to me on the way back to RGRS that I was in the company of three cats who had the living memory of having seen the Velvet Underground in 1969. Klimeyk's brother Jamie Klimek, who Craig played with in Mirrors back in the day, was the guy who recorded the famous and muy influential VU shows at La Cave in Cleveland.

Another "Whoa!" moment was the realization that, with the exception of the guys in the band and a couple of 30somethings, I'm old enough to be the grandfather of most of the people in attendance last night. The booking cat said he was 22. "It looks like the Children's Crusade," I thought. "How the fuck did this happen?" Then I remembered: "Oh yeah. I didn't die. A good problem to have."

Bukkake Moms were onstage when we got back, splitting the dissonance between two guitarists, two bassists, and -- a novel touch -- a bassoonist, with two drummers to double up the crash 'n' thump. They were followed onstage by Obnox, the solo project of This Moment In Black History drummer Lamont "Bim" Thomas, who's also performing drum duties for X___X on this tour. Thomas is almost ridiculously prolific, releasing three, count 'em, three albums last year (that'd be Boogalou Reed on 12XU and Wiglet and Know America, both on Ever/Never), and he seesaws between fierce hip-hop and minimalist garage rock (putting me in mind of my old faves, the Immortal Lee County Killers), with Thomas on heavily-distorted, open-tuned guitar and Steve Mehlman (Pere Ubu, Rocket From the Tombs) kicking the traps ferociously.

X___X's set was wish fulfillment at its best. As much as I dug the Yellow Ghetto record, nothing could have prepared me for the mighty tones Morton and Klimeyk wrestled from their guitars -- Klimeyk splintering jagged shards of sound from his Jazzmaster, Morton conjuring aleatoric lines that flowed like molten silver from his reverse Firebird. Morton opened the set by fashioning himself a tinfoil helmet and declaiming Sun Ra poetry while accompanying himself on an electric sitar. Later, he'd slice bamboo with an electric saw (a scaled-down version of "Tool Jazz") and coax spectral sounds from a theremin. Their cover of Albert Ayler's free jazz classic "Ghosts" was nothing short of majestic, their ragged melodic unisons echoing the ones Ayler's bands would achieve, proof positive that skronk and beauty are not mutually exclusive -- in fact, far from it. Bell and Klimeyk both took vocal turns, and X___X even dipped back into the Electric Eels catalog, with "No Nonsense" and a Bell-sung "Jaguar Ride" serving as particularly welcome surprises.

Craig sent me on my way with a handful of swag -- 7-inches by his Indianapolis band the Down-fi, his 2CD compilation of the '80s New Haven scene, It Happened...But Nobody Noticed, and Second Saucer, the 2011 EP by his New Haven band Saucers -- and the welcome news that a label has expressed interest in releasing aka Darwin Layne, the wide-ranging compilation of Bell recordings I wrote about here last year. Film, as they say, at 11.

The "Blowtorch Tour" moves on, to Austin at Barracuda (formerly Red 7) tonight, Memphis at Murphy's Friday, and Cincinnati at MOTR Saturday. Were I in one of those cities, I'd make it a point to go see 'em. I finished up the night in my driveway at 3am, putting my car seat back in. How fucking rockaroll is that?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ten things about David Bowie

1) Coincidentally, three days before he died, Stoogeaphilia had practice (where we played through "Silver Machine" for Lemmy). Taking a break, we watched the D.A. Pennebaker Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars DVD, a document of their last-ever show, and marveled at Mick Ronson's guitar tone. Richard Hurley recalled the "Fuck you, Captain Tom" story from when Bowie pinched Adrian Belew from Zappa's band.

2) I'm not a lyrics guy, but when I woke up on Monday to the news, the first thing that went through my head was "The only survivor / Of the National People's Gang" (from "Panic In Detroit"). The next thing was "When all the Earth was very young / And mountain magic heavy hung / The supermen would walk in file / Guardians of a loveless isle / And gloomy browed with superfear / Their tragic endless lives could heave nor sigh / Wondrous beings, chained to life..." (from "The Supermen").

3) Aladdin Sane was the first album of his I bought (on import) when it was brand new (although I'd had Ziggy before that). Unlike the other music I liked (mainly the Who and a bunch of white blues bands), Bowie's music was sexy. In addition to all of his significant achievements, which are too numerous to list here, he gave certain straight guys (including this one) our first inkling that our model of masculinity (not to mention ideas of "authenticity") might be bullshit. It made no difference that he himself bedded an epic (in Wilt Chamberlain's league) number of women. And although I responded more to Quadrophenia -- comparisons, always odious, are the equivalent, at times like this, of going to your grandmother's funeral and announcing, "She wasn't my favorite grandmother" or "I liked Grandpa better" -- I'd be lying if I didn't admit that, to my fucked-up, alienated 15-year-old self, it was comforting to hear this androgyne-from-another-planet singing, "...I'll help you with the pain / You're not alone" ("Rock and Roll Suicide").

4) Like every rockarolla of my vintage, I professed to hate disco. But who among us could claim to have been unaffected by "Fame?" And is there a better evocation of 1975 than Young Americans? I think not. John Lennon might have been a slumming guest, but the secret ingredient was Carlos Alomar, a guitarist Bowie stole from the house band at the Apollo, who stayed in his employ for over a decade.

5) As much as some of the beneficiaries of his sponsorship might have crabbed about him later, he saved the careers of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and Mott the Hoople, all of whom would have shuffled off into oblivion before their greatest success in his absence. And without the cachet of having collaborated with Bowie on the "Berlin trilogy," it's unlikely that NY Times crossword puzzle regular Brian Eno would have become more than a cult figure.

6) Even at the height of his cocaine-fueled megalomania, Bowie -- a man haunted by a family history of mental illness -- managed to create transcendent, cutting edge music (Station To Station, Low). And then had the presence of mind to step back from the abyss.

7) In the '80s, after making arguably his best album (Scary Monsters) and his biggest until the posthumous Blackstar (Let's Dance), he receded into films (to my kids, he was the goblin king from Labyrinth before he was a musician) and his own celebrity (the cringe-worthy duet with Mick Jagger on "Dancing in the Street"), and I lost the thread.

8) It's going to take me weeks to process Blackstar, and then, perhaps, go back and hear some of what I missed in between times. It's going to be a pleasure -- albeit one I never could have anticipated. There is still an air of unreality about his being gone.

9) Bowie did it his way, every step of the way, without a mentor or Svengali (his early stereotypical rock manager, Tony DeFries, got the wheels put under him pretty quickly). He called his own shots, up to stage managing his own death. That last photo, from a couple of days before he checked out, shows him dapper and smiling and seemingly full of life. How fitting that a figure who showed so many of us, the freaks and oddballs, how we might live our own lives should also show us a dignified way to meet death.

10) Our very worst medium for political dialogue, Facebook, proved to be the perfect engine for collective mourning. I got a lot more out of reading some of my FB fwends' remembrances of Bowie than I did, f'rinstance, from Christgau's dismissive assessment (which I refuse to link to here). Instead, I'll quote Charles Shaar Murray from 1977: "David Bowie is the one man in rock whose work will, I suspect, continue to fascinate me for the the rest of my life, which I won't grow out of even if I stop listening to anything else in the rock field. Sometimes I'll love it and sometimes I'll hate it, sometimes I'll find it infuriating and sometimes exhilarating, sometimes riveting and sometimes incomprehensible, but I can think of no other rock artist whose next album is always the one I'm most looking forward to hearing." I'm going to miss having artists like that around. And then, of course, I'll miss us.