Friday, August 23, 2019

Roger Silverberg

Organizing my thoughts for this one is going to be a little like trying to reign in a rope tornado with my hands, but I'll give it a shot. (I was going to say "give it a whirl", but that's beneath even me.)

We'll start with Roger. Roger Silverberg, aka "The Silver Bird" (I don't remember who gave him that nickname, but I've always liked it --Roger's had silver hair since I first met him, and I have to grudgingly admit he wears it better than I do) is a local Long Island musician I first met about 15 years ago (or maybe more). I might have met him first at one of Dave Isaacs' open mics, and he got involved with the LIMC, and the scene around The Pisces Cafe shortly thereafter.

I haven't seen Roger perform in more than a decade -- as I've related previously in this blog, fatherhood took up most of my spare time in this last decade -- but now that my children are both young adults, I've been taking something of a grand reunion tour, and catching up with various LIMC musicians and bands when I can. (I'm pretty sure the last time I saw him play was at the Conklin Barn a little while after his Sketches & Footprints album came out, although I did run into him once at a Deborah Lombardi show at a little coffee house in Patchogue Village maybe five or six years ago.)

Cut to Todd Evans -- Todd and I have been looking for a local music show to meet up at for awhile. And I'm 99% sure that Todd is also the person who first told me about The Michael Braceland Art Gallery. Somewhere along the way, he mentioned either playing at, or seeing a show at, a little place near me, "right near the McDonald's" in Patchogue. Now I've been up and down Route 101 about a million times since moving to Patchogue 20 years ago (and I and my family have almost personally kept that particular McDonald's in business), and I never saw anything resembling a music venue anywhere near that area.

But after further discussion, I realized where it must be. Down the block from Mickey D's (as the kids seem to like to call it), and across the street from the Lowe's, is a tiny little shopping area. I'm not even sure it's big enough to be called a strip mall. There's a hero place in the front, closest to the street, and a pizza place (or maybe the hero place and the pizza place are attached? I think they're two separate stores, but I could be wrong), and there's a little beer distributor (that never has the kind of beer I'm looking for) that's also kind of a bodega, and even serves as a kind of half-ass Fed-Ex (as I found out when I had my work laptop crashed and I had to Fed-Ex it back upstate to my boss to have him reload all of the programs onto it last October -- they weren't able to help). And although I never noticed it before, in between the pizza shop and the beer distributor is an art gallery, which also hosts live music and poetry nights and all kinds of interesting things. This is the Michael Braceland Art Gallery.

(As an aside -- which you know I love to do -- Patchogue has always seems to have some atypical music venues. When The Slant was still playing, for awhile we booked monthly gigs at a venue that was alternately called Harry's Bruncheonette and The Rooster Cafe. Harry, the proprietor, was a lovely man who was a recovering alcoholic, and much of his clientele were people who must have known him from AA Meetings. And like many recovering alcoholics, they replaced their drinking addiction with an addiction that made their lives more manageable -- smoking. I've never seen so many heavy smokers in one tiny brunch place. Patchogue also features a delicatessen a little further west on Montauk highway that covers up the deli shelves on weekend nights and hosts live bands. It's an arts-loving community.)

So bringing it all together, a few weeks ago, I got an email from Roger saying that his band, The Roger Silverberg Trio, would be playing at the Michael Braceland Art Gallery on Thursday night, August 22. I immediately put it on my calendar, and finally, about a week or so ago, remembered to contact Todd. (He was already aware of it, and planning on going. The so-and-so always knows about shows before I do.)

My plans were thrown a little up in the air earlier in the week. My daughter, who works for a pet grooming place, was scheduled to go into a special training program somewhere in Huntington sometime this summer. I knew that she might need me to drive some or all of the time she was doing her training. But she's the kind of a person who probably should have been a spy instead of an animal groomer. Because no one could ever torture information out of her. I've been asking her for months about when the training was starting, how many days a week, what hours, etc. No luck. Even the psycho dentist from The Marathon Man couldn't have made her tell. So suddenly this week, she popped in on and woke me (after four hours sleep) to tell me she'd need me to drive her on Wednesday. And for awhile, there was a question as to whether she'd also need me to pick her up from her training on Thursday night. But it all ended OK, as she got a ride from a friend who's training with her, and I got to go to the show.

I arrived early, just loving the idea of going out for music at a place like five minutes from my house. I've been enjoying seeing shows at The Patchogue Theatre and 89 North lately. But this place makes going to those venues seem like driving up to Syracuse. (OK, I'm totally exaggerating, but you know what I mean.)

I entered the gallery to find a fairly intimate room with a few rows of chairs set up in kind of a semi-circle around the performing area. Roger and his band were setting up. So after saying hello, I started talking to Michael about the place. It was nicely lit, and understandably festooned with paintings and other works of art hanging off of the walls. (I stole that word "festooned" from Michael. I didn't think I'd ever heard the word before when I heard him say it, but when I got home and saw it written, it looked more familiar.) I couldn't see the paintings that well -- I'll have to check them out at a later date -- but I liked what I saw, which was a lot of nature (tree) paintings with some pretty vibrant colors.

As we talked, and the band warmed up, a number of familiar faces walked in, including Hank Stone (who had come home from a weekend up in the Woodstock area), Todd, and Bob Westcott (who had also spent last weekend up at Woodstock).

A short while later, Roger and his band started playing. The band consisted of Roger on lead vocals, fluctuating between guitar and keyboard; Steve Blatt on bass; and Steve Cafarelli on drums and backing vocals.

They played two full sets. They did a nice job musically, and I have to say that the sets themselves were very well constructed. They mixed older songs with stuff from Roger's most recent album (2016's The Old Dog), plus a single from last year ("Build Your Own Road"), a few covers (of Dylan and The Hollies), and some new material, most of which I think they just recorded recently, presumably for an upcoming album. They also did one of Steve Cafferelli's songs, which I think was called "Another Heartbreak Coming Down", that was also quite good.

Roger has always been a fine songwriter, and it was crystal clear that he was enjoying himself, playing in such a nice venue where all the attention was focused on the music. A few songs that I especially enjoyed hearing were "I Wait for April" (which was my favorite song off of his first album), a new song called "Remembering Walter Becker" (which led Hank to suggest that he and Roger should do a tribute to dead rock stars album together, as Hank has several songs that fit into that category), "Feet Don't Fry" from Sketches, and "My Number One" from The Old Dog. The clear highlight of the night, though, was the band's rendition of Roger's song "The Sound of Rain" near the end of the second set, which occurred just as the rain was falling outside of the gallery. (I know that Michael was recording with his phone, and he stepped outside for just a moment midway through so the rain appeared in the shot as the song played. Hopefully he'll post it on his Facebook page.) The concert ended appropriately, with the band playing the title track from the album, "The Old Dog".

The show also featured some delights that were non-musical in nature. At some point during near the end of the first set, Todd disappeared for a moment and came back with a delicious bag of piping hot zeppoles from the pizza parlor next door, which he was kind enough to pass down the row. I suggested that the band change its name to "Led Zeppole" to commemorate the moment, but the idea seemed to be a nonstarter. But just like the coincidence with the rain that happened later, just as the zeppoles were being passed around, Roger and the band were performing "Love in the Kitchen". Then later in the night, a woman whom I didn't know (but most of the others did) came in with a box of oatmeal cookies that she had Hank distribute around the room. All of this food just made me want to slap Bryan Ferry all over again!

So all told, it was a very satisfying night. It was fun to see Roger playing again after all of this time. And to hear him in such a pleasant setting with good company and even some tasty desserts, and so close to my house -- well let me put it this way: This was the first show of a musical trifecta I'm seeing this weekend. And The Alarm and Santana are going to have to do some serious work to catch up -- the bar has been set pretty high.

Friday, August 16, 2019

July 2019 Song of the Day

Recently, I've joined the crew who put together the Sputnik Music website's monthly Song of the Day (SOTD) charts. Every month, the person hosting it announces a theme, and the various members suggest different songs, which get allotted, on song per day, for the month.

I joined up in July. (I'd give you the August chart, but it's not quite complete yet. That's because at any given time, there are from 8 to 12 of involved, so we're all making multiple picks over the course of the month.)

So anywhere, here's July. The theme for the month was recs made for specific other Sputnik users. The month's playlist went like this:

July 2019

Artist/song/link/overall rating given by Sput users (out of 5)/my rating (X=I rec'd it)

 1. Zounds - Can't Cheat Karma - - 3.40 - 3.5
 2. Xinlissupreme -Fatal Sisters Opened Umbrella - - 2.97 - 3.1
 3. Pagan Alter - The Rising of the Dark Lord - - 3.34 - 3.2
 4. Husker Du - Something I Learned Today - - 3.57 - 3.8
 5. Elza Soares - Pra Fuder - - 3.49 - 3.2
 6. Enisum - Snow Storm - - 3.47 - 2.9
 7. Foxygen - Make It Known - - 3.38 - 2.7
 8. Neighborhood Brats - 50 Shades of Fuck You - - 3.30 - 3.5
 9. Red Fang - Wires - - 3.35 - 2.5
10. Kamsky Led - Celestial - - 2.75 - 3.5
11. Lights - ...And Counting - - 2.81 - 3.1
12. Saiko - Express - (the first song) - 3.02 - 2.1
13. Future Bible Heroes - Memories of Love - - 3.12 - X
14. The Good Rats - Papa Poppa - - 3.14 - X
15. Nanowar of Steel - Norwegian Reggaeton - - 3.23 - 3.6
16. Scatterbrain - Don't Call Me Dude - - 2.85 - 2.1
17. Crass - Do They Owe Us a Living? - - 2.90 - 2.3
18. Emiliana Torrini - Fingertips - - 3.30 - 2.5
19. The Burning of Rome - Terrible Tales from Tocqueville - - 3.35 - 3.1
20. The Decemberists - The Queen's Rebuke - - 3.38 - 2.9
21. Loney, Dear - Sum - - 2.90 - 3.1
22. Teen Daze - Four More Years - - 3.17 - 3.0
23. The Sea and Cake - Sound and Vision - - 3.23 - 3.3
24. The Last Sighs of the Wind - Bird's Song - - 2.92 - 3.1
25. Bowery Electric - Fear of Flying - - 2.86 - 3.0
26. Eurythmics - This City Never Sleeps - - 3.26 - X
27. Frank Zappa - Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station - - 3.12 - 2.3
28. King Krule - Dum Surfer - - 2.90 - 2.0
29. Frustration - Electric Heat - - 2.57 - 3.0
30. Illuminati Hotties - Pressed 2 Death - 3.27 - 2.4
31. Shawn Colvin - The Facts About Jimmy - - 3.33 - 3.2

As you can, my recs for the month were on the 13th, the 14th and the 26th (Future Bible Heroes, The Good Rats and Eurythmics. 

The highest rated song for the month by both the group and myself (since we aren't allowed to rate our own recs) was the Husker Du song "Something I Learned Today". The lowest rated song by the group was Frustration's "Electric Heats", while the song I rated the lowest for the month was King Krule's "Dum Surfer".

I think the links are all working, so if you like, give them a listen and see what you think. I'll be back with some more live show stuff in a week or so.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Femme Schmidt, Bryan Ferry

In the past, some of you have accused me of being just a tad ... grumpy? ... in some of my live show reviews. Spoiler Alert: You ain't seen nuthin' yet!

So, Bryan Ferry. Where to begin? I guess the best place would be in the beginning, a few months back, when Denise came home and happily announced that Bryan Ferry was playing in the city this summer, and that she'd just bought us some tickets. Regular readers of this blog can tell you that when I hear about shows in Manhattan these days, my first emotion is usually one of caution instead of one of excitement. But OK. I like Bryan Ferry. Could be fun.

The next thing she related was that she'd been able to score some great tickets, in the first row of the balcony. I felt a twist in my stomach. "Sweetie," I said slowly, knowing I was about to be in a world of trouble. "You know I can't sit in the first row of the balcony."

I talked a little about this in my Jon Anderson write-up two weeks ago. I suffer from really bad acrophobia. Or rather, I very rarely suffer from it, as I usually manage to never put myself in the position to have to deal with it. But I can't handle any kind of heights, especially anything that's going to put me close to a rail. I get an actual physical reaction from it, like an electrical jolt that starts in the soles of my feet and shoots up my entire body. And this is just from seeing anyone else get close to a rail they could fall over. Sometimes, I even get it from watching a film or a TV show, if they show a camera shot of someone looking down from a height. Second row of a balcony? Not my favorite place to be, but if worse comes to worse, I can handle it. But first row? Absolutely undoable for me. (I once had to exchange a great seat at the Metropolitan Opera for a metal folding chair in the last row of the orchestra because it was too close to the front of one of those side boxes. And, in fact, the first apartment Denise and I ever lived in together had a balcony, and the only way I could go out on it at all was to position my chair so I could literally feel my back against the wall of the building.)

So I started the Ferry show in trouble.

A day or so later, Denise came home and told me rather unhappily that she'd managed to exchange our balcony tickets for much crappier seats on the floor. I thanked her. When Denise was a teenager, as the oldest of four children, she was often asked to babysit for her siblings. And when they got out of line, she would threaten them with the ultimate of punishments -- she would put them on "the list". This would elicit immediate fear and remorse from the offender, as going on "the list" would mean she'd tell her parents who had dared to misbehave on their night out, and woe betide them! ("No! Please! I'll be good! Don't put me on the list!") As some of you have probably already guessed, I live much of my life on the list. (By the time we were driving to this show, I hadn't actually remembered that this was the show I'd made Denise trade in her good balcony tickets for. But Denise reminded me. So goes life on the list.)

There were also some other aspects of the show that also made me uneasy. Instead of it being in one of the more familiar clubs in midtown Manhattan (or even a little uptown at the Beacon Theater), it was set at someplace all the way uptown in Washington Heights, near Columbia University. And the venue, the United Palace Theatre, didn't make it easy to find information about the show. I couldn't find anything about an opening band, I couldn't find a start time for the show, etc. Eventually, I found something online that said it was a 7PM showtime. Since there was no info anywhere about an opening act, I figured probably there was none.

I did my due diligence before the show -- I looked up the setlist Ferry was playing a few days earlier, printed it out, and even made a YouTube playlist out of it so I'd be more familiar with some of the more obscure songs. (I'm a fairly casual fan of Bryan Ferry. I always felt that if I owned a copy of Avalon, and owned a Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music Greatest Hits album, that was pretty much all I needed.)

By the day of the show, I was pretty psyched. I'm always a little uneasy heading into the city, especially if I'm going to a venue I'm not familiar with, but this time, I wasn't too worried about arriving late. Even with no opening act, the first song he was playing that I really felt I couldn't miss didn't happen until six songs into the set, where he was playing "Slave to Love".

Unfortunately, I made one key error in my show prep. I didn't eat lunch. And much of what happened thereafter stemmed from that poor decision. But in my defense, I had my reasons, as you'll see. (Well, I'll explain it, anyway. You might still think I was a moron, and it's a fair point.)

Here's the deal. I'm a diabetic. I'm not on insulin, but my blood sugar isn't very well controlled these days, and I'm trying to bring it down with diet, exercise and oral medications. (And also a weekly injectable.) When I'm hungry, and my blood sugar gets low, I'm not much fun to be around. (Whereas normally, I'm a barrel of laughs. Ask Denise!) However, the other side of the coin is that at age 62, I also often get stomach and digestion problems. And I've found if I eat too much before a show, it puts me in the uncomfortable position of having to use a bathroom that might not be the most pleasant (or most private) at the venue, a situation I hate to be in. So I didn't really really eat before Denise and I left the house because my stomach had been bothering me earlier. My plan was to eat a protein bar as were leaving (to hold me over for the drive into the city), then grab a frank or something from a street vendor outside before I went into the theater. And if worse came to worst, I figured I'd just grab a small bag of chips or a candy bar inside the theater, then eat dinner after the show.

We left the house a little before four. Instead of using her regular car GPS, which doesn't always account for traffic, Denise decided to use this new app she'd downloaded on her phone that everyone had been raving about. As we reached the corner, an unfamiliar male voice with a somewhat effeminate British accent ordered us to "Go left". (Sounded sort of northern England, like Christopher Eccleston. I only know that because of the Doctor Who episode where someone called him on his accent and he explained, "Lots of planets have a north.").

"What the hell was that?" I asked. I'd been looking down at my setlist, and the voice had made me jump. That's when Denise told me about the app. I promptly named him Percy.

Before long, we were on the LIE, and as you'd expect for a summer Friday in the late afternoon, there was traffic. However, we were able to beat it for a while by driving in the HOV lane. It was fun driving past all the people stuck in the regular lanes and waving as we zipped by. At least it was until the HOV lane got bogged down, too.

"Police presence has been reported ahead," Percy the GPS informed us helpfully. (I thought this was a pretty great feature, until we passed several other hidden police cars that the GPS hadn't informed us about. It seems that you'd better not rely on the app too much, as it only bothers to mention about one out of every three speed traps.)

Before long, the GPS instructed us, "Exit the highway in one quarter mile."

"How the hell are we supposed to do that?" I asked. By this time we were in bumper to bumper traffic in the far left line, and even if there had been room to go right, we weren't legally allowed to exit the HOV lane for another two miles.

All in all, Percy seemed to be very confused, trying route after route as the accidents piled up along various possible paths into the city. He also seemed a little flustered that we kept ignoring his (illegal) attempts to change our choice of routes.

We wound up following his original plan, which involved taking the Clearview to the Whitestone Bridge, then guiding us into upper Manhattan though the Bronx.

But the route was a nightmare. Every time we were stuck in the right lane, he inevitably wanted us to make the next left, and when we were in the left lane, it was all "Go right." I could see that Denise, who was driving (as is usual for us) was starting to get flustered, as several times, we had no choice but to circle back to a turn that he'd told us to make too late. I mostly kept quiet, as I didn't want to be in any further trouble. (There are different levels of "the list", much like the different circles of hell in Dante's Inferno.)

We had quite a little sightseeing expedition, as Percy led us around in circles on blocks that wouldn't have been out of place in Beirut. At one point, we stopped dead for several minutes in front of a seedy topless bar that I'm certain employed some of the sexiest toothless, one-armed dancers you could possibly find. For a long while, I had no idea where we were. But eventually, I realized that we must have passed through the Bronx and into upper Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Percy took us on the most circuitous, Monty Python-type route you could ask for. He'd order us to make a left off of a given street, then make a few more turns, and a minute later, we'd be back on the street we'd started on in the first place. I swear it had us on St. Nicholas Avenue three or four different times. I was sure that somewhere in Northern England, there was a table full of men sitting around and laughing their asses off that we kept doing what they told us.

Miraculously, even after all of the winds and turns (and after Percy had tried to talk us into getting onto the Bruckner Expressway which was overhead while we were stuck on the service row below!), we still made it to the theater in plenty of time. We eventually parked at the world's slowest parking garage, paid the extra fee for an oversized vehicle (even though Denise was fairly sure she had already paid for it online), and walked the block over to the theater, making it onto the line by 6:45PM.

By this time I was starving. I also had to pee something fierce. Unfortunately, although I could smell the aroma of meat cooking somewhere in the distance, there were no street vendors anywhere to be found. There were some tables selling things over to the side of the theater, but the only food items that were available were various raw fruits, which I really never eat.

Screw it, I figured. I know most of these Manhattan theaters don't sell actual food. But there's generally some kind of junk for sale -- chips, candy, something like that. And right at that moment, the need to relieve myself overrode the need to eat.

As we passed the front of the theater, we were waved around all the way to the other side of the block, to stand in a (very short) line. At this point, it started to slowly sink in to my dim, famished little brain that it couldn't be a 7PM start time. It was after 6:30, they still weren't letting people in, and the line was way too short for it to be less than a half hour until show time. I was a little panicky that they weren't going to let us in until 7, as I wasn't sure my bladder would make it. But at about 6:45, they started moving things out of the way, and we made our way back around the block and into the theater. As we trudged back towards the front door, a recorded voice warned us over and over that were not allowed to bring outside food or beverages into the theater. This reassured me that there must be, in fact, inside food and beverages.

There were metal detectors to go through, but the entry process was still pretty quick, because there were still so few people there. I vaguely noticed that the workers looked more church members than ushers and the like, but at the time I was too focused on the pangs in my stomach and the pressure in my bladder to think about it. I also notice the words "Spiritual Center" somewhere or other, and as we entered, I saw a big poster promoting an appearance by Deepak Chopra in October.

The inside of the (fairly large) building was all faded red carpets, and I later learned that this was one of those old, lavish movie theaters from the 1930's that had been refurbished and turned into a venue for religious leaders, and occasionally musical artists. (The theater was bought out by the TV evangelist Reverend Ike in 1969, and it's his church that still owns it today.)

As we entered, the young woman who took out tickets tried to show us where to enter the auditorium. "Where are your bathrooms?" I asked, completely ignoring the info about the seats.

"Upstairs," she answered. Of course.

We made our way up the huge flight of stairs, as there were no elevators in sight. (Denise found one later, but it didn't seem to have any buttons to make the doors open, so it was basically useless to us anyway.) After mountain climbing up the stairs, I headed down the hallway to the Men's Room, stepped up to the full-sized urinal, and did my business. Ahhhh! Sweet relief.

I stepped out into the hall. Denise was still in the Ladies' Room. I walked up to the completely empty bar, ordered us two bottles of water, and asked what they had to eat.

"Nothing, I'm afraid," the girl said with a smile, shattering my spirit with a single word. "Plenty of drinks, though."

"No chips or anything? Anywhere in the building?" I asked incredulously. She checked with the man working next to her, who verified that they weren't selling a single scrap of food in the whole building. My spirits dropped below the floor.

Denise was sympathetic, but there wasn't much she could do. I didn't think they'd let us leave the building and get back in again, and I didn't think I'd be able to do much if they did. I wasn't going to go wondering all over Washington Heights. I might have chanced it by myself if I'd have had a ticket stub. But our "tickets" where on Denise's phone. (And it probably won't surprise you to learn that I have as much of a chance of successfully landing the space shuttle as I would of figuring out how to work Denise's Smartphone.)

They showed us to our seats, which were typically tight, hip-hugging old movie theater seats with wooden armrests. (As I write this two days later, my legs are still a little sore where the sides of the chair pressed into me, and I have a big bruise on one hip. Thanks, blood thinning meds.) I did have leg room, at least, as there was no chair in front of me. Nevertheless, I sat there feeling miserable, and completely sorry for myself. All I could think of was with an eight o'clock start, Ferry would play until 10 or 10:30, so it was going to be over three hours before I could put some food in my stomach.

So I sat there in the still-mostly-empty theater, all gloomy and mean. The workers all seemed to be volunteers for the church that owned the building. They were all happy, and exceedingly polite. (And a little bit insane cultish.) I just wanted to slap them. I killed the time by texting bitterly with my son, telling him what had happened.

"Where are you?" he asked.

I told him. I asked if he thought he could find a way to deliver a pizza to me. He stopped responding.

Over the next hour, from time to time, I texted him the random thoughts that popped into my head. "I'd hack up my grandmother for a Fig Newton," I told him. He continued to ignore me.

Next to me, Denise whiled away the time by texting with friends from her WLIR Facebook group who were on their way to the show. "Tim and Mandy are stuck in traffic," she informed me.

"Tell them to bring food!" I begged. I might as well have been a ghost.

"Oh, Mandy said there is an opening act tonight."

Swell, I thought. That's another half hour between me and some food.

"They probably have good seats right up front," Denise speculated, doubtlessly brooding over the good balcony seats she'd given up that would have allowed her see the stage clearly without being blocked by the crowd.

A moment later she corrected herself. "Oh, they're sitting in the balcony tonight."

"Ask them to lower down a Snickerdoodle on a rope," I pleaded hopefully. "Does Tim have a fishing pole in his trunk?"

That's pretty much the way it went, as the theater filled out.

By the time it was almost eight, even though I was still pretty dejected, I had started to feel a little better physically, probably because I hadn't been walking all over the place expending energy. Still, I was in a pretty lousy mood for an opening band I didn't know, and I'd have loved to have slapped Bryan Ferry silly for picking such a dipsy doodle venue to play in.

"The Paramount sells food," I thought, sourly, thinking about all of the other places I go to see live music shows. "The Space sells food. Jones Beach sells food. I can't afford any of it, but they do sell food."

The canned music wasn't making my mood any better. For some reason, Manhattan venues play the worst music before shows.

At the front of the stage, there was a sign made up of red lights. Denise asked if I could read it, but the middle of it was blocked. She stood up, and discovered that it said "Femme Schmidt." We both guessed (correctly) that that must be the name of the opening act.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, the lights went out, and a young looking duo took the stage. (At first, I thought it was a trio. But Bryan Ferry had his drummer surrounded by what looked like Maxwell Smart's "Cone of Silence", and what I thought was a third band member was actually the guitarist's reflection off of the fiberglass.

Sure enough, the woman announced that they were Femme Schmidt, and they were there from Berlin. They were thrilled to be playing their first ever show in the United States, and even more thrilled to be opening for the great Bryan Ferry. ("Eff Bryan Ferry!" I thought viciously.)

They then began playing. I think I can sum them up for you in three words: "German Mazzy Star". They played a very low-key set along to canned bass and canned percussion.

Now I've been seeing this phenomenon lately of opening acts that feature one or two musicians playing over backing tracks, and here's my message to promoters: "Stop it! (Hitting them with a rolled up newspaper:) Bad! Bad! What did you do?"

Seriously. This is a godawful trend. If you're too damned cheap to pay for the whole band to be there, then don't even bother. I guarantee there are hundreds of local bands who'd be thrilled to show up and play at a show like this with the whole band. I don't blame the artist. It's expensive to fly your bass player and drummer over from Germany. I blame the promoter. Just cut it out!

Anyway, Femme Scmidt, who I really think should change their name to "Frau Blucher" if they want to make it in the States ("Brrrrr!"), were OK, but kind of boring. They played a bunch of original songs off of a new forthcoming album, plus a somewhat mediocre cover of "Landslide". As I listened to them, these were the thoughts that floated through my head: "Bratwurst!" "Black Forest Ham!" "Strudel!"

They got an OK reaction from the crowd. Not exuberant, but not totally indifferent either.

By this point, the building was pretty filled out. The people sitting next to Denise arrived and squeezed in, and both Denise and the lady sitting next to her were squashed. Got to love those old theaters. (We didn't buy the extra seat for this particular show, as we sometimes do, because these were expensive tickets).

As we waited between sets, a huge man who seemed like he might have been developmentally disabled came along without an usher, and hesitantly told the group of four sitting in front of us that he thought the two innermost seats they were sitting in belonged to him and his friend. After some confusion, they left. Denise thought they'd probably come back with an usher just in time to stand in our way at the beginning of Bryan Ferry's set, but we never saw them again. The fellow's friend, a much shorter man in a David Bowie shirt, sat in the inner seat. As soon as there was some stirring on he stage, the shorter man let out with a "Wooo!"

"Uh oh," Denise said to me. "He's a 'woo' guy."

"He won't be when these lights go out and I jab him through the temple with my pen," I thought, darkly.

Linda from the WLIR group briefly stopped over to say hello. This was her last show in the U.S. before she'd be flying home to Israel. She was sitting in the balcony near Tim and Mandy.

A moment later, the lights did go out. Immediately, the couple next to Denise moved over one seat, as there was an unclaimed seat on the other side of them. At the same time, the huge man in the row in front moved over one chair (to a seat that wasn't his), completely blocking Denise's view, and eclipsing most of the known universe. Denise frowned, and then moved a seat over to her left, which I'm sure didn't thrill the lady sitting next to her. But without me on her other side, Denise was now able to lean to her right, so everybody looked considerably more comfortable than they previously had been.

Bryan Ferry and his 9-piece backing band then took the stage, to much applause, as the instrumental song "India" from the Avalon album played over the speakers. The theme for the tour was some sort of anniversary or other of Avalon (I'm not really sure how that worked, as the album was released in 1982), and the intention was to play every song from that LP over the course of the night, as well as most of Ferry's solo and Roxy Music's best songs.

The whole crowd stood for Ferry's first song, "The Main Thing." When it was over, everyone sat. Everyone except for the young girl two rows in front of me, who stood there happily recording on her phone, as if to say, "I'm a millennial! I'm made of glass! Aren't I cute?" Luckily, she settled down after a song or so (I swear, that blow dart didn't come from me!), and I was able to see the show.

So what do I want to tell you about this concert? Well, several things. Firstly, about Ferry himself. On the way there, Denise asked me if I'd watched any recent YouTube videos of Ferry, and I admitted I hadn't. This can be a little risky with some of these older musicians (he's 73 years old). Some of them can still sing, and some of them, not so much.

I'd say for the most part, Bryan Ferry's voice has held up pretty well. It might be just a tad weaker than it used to be, and there were a few songs (unfortunately, some of his best) that he had some trouble with later in the night. These included "Dance Away", "Take a Chance on Me", "To Turn You On", and "More Than This". Maybe he was just getting tired by then.

It's also possible that some of this could have been due to difficulties hearing his own voice on the stage. At several points, I noticed him pressing on his headphones, as if he was trying to hear more clearly. The plexiglass surrounding the drummer makes me suspect that he's probably suffered some hearing loss over the years, and that the Cone of Silence was there so he could better hear himself over the percussion.

Nevertheless, he still sounds like Bryan Ferry, and that's a good thing. I always thought that he had one of the more romantic croons in all of rock music. If I wasn't a married man, and I was trying to seduce a young lady, I might well enlist some Bryan Ferry music to help me in my quest.

The other thing I'll say is that Ferry doesn't waste a lot of time on stage patter. He introduced the band at one point, and said a few Thank You's here and there. But by and large, he kept the show all about the music, which I appreciated. (And even more so because less talk meant I'd get some food sooner.)

And speaking of the band, they were just excellent, maybe one of the best touring bands I've heard ever. As I said earlier, there were nine of them, plus Ferry himself. But if I compare this concert to the Jon Anderson show I saw a few weeks ago, where at times there was too much sound on the stage and his band kind of played over one another, here the sound was crystal clear throughout the night. I was particularly impressed with the older guitarist, whose name I think was Chris Spedding (I had to pull that up from another Ferry review by a guy from New Zealand, but fortunately, he was impressed with the same musicians that I was); with the little female sax player Jorja Chalmers (who looked like she would have been right at home on the old Saturday Night Live skit, "Sprockets"); and with the female backup singer Hannah, who blew the crowd away with her solo at the end of "Avalon". Also, I have no idea who the drummer was, but Ferry always has interesting percussion on his music, and this guy played it all to a tee. But as I said, the whole band was top notch.

I was a little bummed that the setlist didn't include "Virginia Plain". They had been playing it up until a few days earlier, but then they dropped it out of the setlist for some reason or other. (It might just be that they play it when they have a little extra  time near the end of the set, and for the last few nights they haven't. Who knows?) I can't say it's my favorite Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music song. But it has a sentimental attachment, as it was the first Ferry song I ever heard, on WNEW-FM's Friday afternoon Things From England show with Scott Muni. But overall, I couldn't complain. He played almost anything I could have hoped for.

By the time the show let out, I had to use the facilities again, but I wasn't about to climb back up those stairs. (Denise had run up there during two of the weaker songs of the set. I won't say what they were, because guaranteed some of you will say they're your favorite songs, and give me a thumbs down. Bastards!)

I also knew that it was going to be slower than Heinz ketchup getting our car back from that bush-league parking garage. So instead, we ducked into the Mexican restaurant down the block, a place called Rincon Mexicano, which was almost, but not quite, ready to close. I emptied my pathetic bladder once again (in their rest room, of course, you barbarians!) and ordered some steak tacos. The angels blew trumpets from on high, as I enjoyed some amazingly good Mexican food.

Tim and Mandy joined us briefly as our food was delivered. The conversation went something like this:

Tim: I thought he sounded great tonight.

Me: (Munch, munch, slobber, chomp chomp!) Me too! (Crunch, crunch, slurp!)

But by the time Gwen from WUSB showed up, they had already locked the doors of the restaurant, so Tim, Mandy and Gwen left to try to find someplace to get a drink together.

Denise and I finished up and left shortly thereafter (but not before I had also gobbled down Denise's ridiculously tasty beans and rice). There was still a pretty long line for the car. But having eaten and answered nature's other call, I was in much better shape to deal with it. The car came out more quickly than I expected (and I think ahead of some the cars of some other people who had been waiting longer. Tough break, suckers!), and we headed home.

Obviously, I would have enjoyed the show more if I'd been in better physical shape for it. But actually, it was still one of the better concerts I've seen this year.

You can find Bryan Ferry's full setlist at

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Asia Featuring John Payne

SO let's talk about Asia. Back in the early 1980s, it was pretty obvious the international music scene was changing. Rock ruled the roost through the '60s and '70s, and that was just fine with me. But there were other forces at work here, and it was clear to me that many of my favorite bands were soon going to be falling by the wayside. (If you'd have told me I'd still be seeing bands like Yes and The Who playing live in the year 2019, I'd have had you committed.)

I've always tried to keep up with new music though. I never wanted to be that guy who insists that every band after 1975 sucks. And besides, there were some trends going on that I liked. Much as I loved progressive rock, it was clear, even to me, that there were times it had gotten kind of silly and pretentious, and I thought a move back to shorter, poppier stuff might be a healthy thing. And I liked some of the trends going on at the time -- synthesizer music you could dance to (not that I ever dance), experiments with Celtic rock, bands that had a sense of dress style, etc. So I picked about five bands who were somewhat successful around 1982-1983, and predicted that these would be some of the bands that would carry music forward, and maybe even become the new Who's, Pink Floyd's, Jethro Tull's, etc. I later added a sixth.

The bands I chose were Eurythmics, A Flock of Seagulls, Dexys Midnight Runners, Quarterflash and Asia. (I later added Echo & The Bunnymen). These were the artists I had forecast to be the coming superstars. Of course, it didn't quite work out that way. And The Amazing Kreskin, Miss Cleo and all of my other fellow psychics have been teasing me about it ever since.

I put Asia in there, thinking this could be the band to carry the flag of prog rock through the next decade. I loved their self-titled debut album, and you couldn't deny their pedigree! John Wetton, Steve Howe, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer -- these were men who had accomplished something in the world of music. Unfortunately, there was a huge drop off in quality -- and sales -- with their second album, Alpha. If you listen to it today, you'll find there are a few decent songs on there, but it sounds really dated. And by the third album, Astra, they had already started playing musical chairs with the band members, and the band went straight down the tubes.

I lost track of them after that. Hell, who wants to be reminded of embarrassing predictions. (I also thought Kirsten Gillibrand would be the next Democratic Presidential nominee, and you can see how well that one's going, too.) And there was nothing I was hearing about their music that was compelling enough to make me give them another shot. I'm sure they were touring during all of those years, but it never even entered my head to go and see them.

Then, a weird thing happened. About two-and-a-half years ago, John Wetton passed away. And not too long after that, I started thinking about my bucket list bands. Perversely enough, now that Wetton was gone, I regretted not seeing him with Asia, and I started thinking that if I got the chance, even without Wetton, I'd go see this band. (I even picked up a couple of their albums I'd never heard before. And one of them, 2012's XXX was actually pretty good.)

Now Denise is going on an '80s cruise early next year. And originally, I was going to go with her. And Asia will be one of the bands playing the cruise. (Well, one of the Asia's. Hang on, I'll explain shortly.) So when me going with her fell through, I was kind of bummed.

Then, early in 2019, I learned that Asia featuring John Payne would be appearing at The Patchogue Theatre. I hadn't followed Asia closely over the years, and I'd never heard of John Payne. But I figured he must be the guy they'd taken on once Wetton had died. Then I looked into it a little, and discovered that Payne had been in the band as early as 1991, and later had been replaced again by Wetton in 2004. A little wheeling and a little dealing later, (as I eventually learned), and Payne and Geoff Downes had come to an agreement that Downes would keep the name "Asia," but Payne would have the legal right to continue on as "Asia featuring John Payne".

(These double band things are confusing. Yes has done it more than once, and as I detailed on this blog last year, Styx has done it, too. In fact, of all bands, even Gene Loves Jezebel, who I'm going to be seeing in a couple of weeks, did it because the two effing twin brothers who founded the band together couldn't get along, and nobody was kind enough to bang their fool heads together, and say, "Now listen up, you two knuckleheads!")

In any event, if this was all the Asia I was going to see, I'd take it. I fully planned to buy a ticket. (Although ticket sales were pretty sluggish early on. A few weeks after the show had been announced, they were lucky if they'd sold ten tickets. I told you last week how The Patchogue Theatre burned me once by cancelling that Runa show. So I started to bet with myself that this show would be cancelled, too.)

A few weeks later, it was announced that the other Asia, the one with Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood and Carl Palmer, would be coming to Long Island as part of Yes's Royal Affair Tour. They had added Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal as their vocalist and guitarist.

I bought tickets to that show right away, and this made me uncertain as to whether I wanted to catch this alternate version of Asia at the Patchogue Theatre. I went up on YouTube and listened to Payne sing a couple of Asia's biggest songs. And I'll be honest with you. I was not impressed. (In fact, I did another one of those Beavis and Butt-head takes: "Uh oh. What's this?" Payne sounded kind of gravelly to me -- he's got a rock voice, but it has none of the beauty of Wetton's vox. So I really wasn't sure if I should bother.

So I didn't go. OK everyone, thanks for reading. ...

Ah ha ha ha! Geez, how funny would that have been?! Of course I went. In the end, what decided me was that the venue is so close to my house. I can be at the Patchogue Theatre in less than 15 minutes. And also, it wasn't that expensive a ticket. While I chose to sit upstairs last week and save a few bucks to see Jon Anderson, here I could indulge myself and sit in the second row without breaking my bank account. (As you can see, tickets still weren't exactly flying out to the public. In fact, last week at the Jon Anderson show, they announced that everyone in attendance that night could buy tickets to Asia at half price. I was a little chagrined, since I'd already bought my ticket, but not too much so, since, like I said, my full-price ticket was for the second row.)

So on to the show! (At this point, I'm picturing all of my readers as a bunch of dusty old skeletons crouched over their laptops, like the poor little old lady sitting next to Stryker in the Airplane! movie.)

I left the house a few minutes earlier tonight, in hopes that this time, I'd have time to buy a bottle of water before the show started. I hit the area near the theater a few minutes later, and despite my prediction Friday night, this time, there was no need to park in my ophthalmologist's parking lot. Partially because the show wasn't as crowded as last week's Jon Anderson show, and partly because this show was on a Sunday night instead of a Saturday, I was easily able to find a spot in the Theatre's parking lot. (Downtown Patchogue has become the place to be on a Saturday night. At least, that's what the parking situation suggests.)

There was no line at the box office, so on the way in, I purchased one more ticket to Wednesday night's showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (I'd picked some up last week for my daughter, her boyfriend and myself, but later learned that my son would like to go, too.)

As I had last week, I breezed into the lobby with no one to stop me, although this time, I saw there were ticket takers there for the admission into the main auditorium. (However, they weren't letting people in yet, even though it was 7:35.)

There was a merch table in the lobby that had some kind of a sign that mentioned John Payne and Lou Gramm of Foreigner. So I started thinking maybe Lou Gramm was in this version of Asia, which would be pretty cool. (When I saw Hank Stone last week, and mentioned I was coming back this week for the Asia show, Hank asked me who else was playing in the band, then kind of laughed at me when I did a Jackie Gleason "Homina, homina, homina!" I had no idea who else was in the band.)

I waited on a very short line this week, and bought my bottle of water. Then I hit the Men's Room, did what I had to do, and grabbed a seat in the lobby. A few minutes later, they started letting people into the theater proper.

Now I have to tell you that the Patchogue Theatre's seating chart lies. If you look on the seating chart, it appears that the second row juts out one seat longer than the first row, meaning there would be open leg room in front of the aisle seat in the second row. It tweren't so. It wasn't really that big a deal -- unlike some venues, the leg room isn't too tight normally. (And as it happened, the six seats to my left were all empty, so it's not like I was in a very tight space.) But it was mildly annoying, since I'd bought that particular seat due to the imaginary extra leg room, and I'll be sitting in the exact same seat for another show later in the year. (Unless that pull a Runa on me and cancel it!) (Do you guys get the idea that I never forget?)

Anyway, I settled comfortably into my seat and waited for the show to start, wondering idly to myself if Lou Gramm was in the band tonight. (Spoiler Alert: He wasn't!)

Before too long, the Executive something-or-other of The Patchogue Theatre came out to make some announcements, and to introduce the band. I looked around, and the attendance was better than I had expected. The balcony looked pretty empty. (And I didn't even want to know what kind of wildlife was up there this week, as it had been a strange enough crowd last week for the more popular Jon Anderson show.) But in all, I'd say the theater was somewhere between one-half to two-thirds full, and was probably closer to the upper estimate than the lower one. (Yes, I'm pretty sure they did outdraw Supergenius' Friday night crowd, although it looked for awhile like maybe they wouldn't.) And the crowd that was there was pretty into it. They weren't as out-of-their minds psyched as they had been for Anderson, but they were certainly a warm and open-to-be-entertained audience.

The drummer and the keyboard player came out together, and started playing an instrumental intro. The keyboard sound was kind of chunky and cool. Shortly thereafter, the guitarist and John Payne himself came out, and joined in on the guitar and bass. Payne was fairly dapper, in a royal blue Captain Hook coat, with red-and-black velvet-looking pants and curly-toed black shoes. If they ever make a movie about him, I suspect he'll be played by Russell Brand. (This led my mind to picture him breaking into a cover of Aldous Snow's "African Child".) Lou Gramm was nowhere to be found.

You're probably expecting me to trash these guys. (I don't know how you could ever think I'm the kind of person who would do a such a thing. I'm hurt. I really am.) But if you were, then you're wrong.

I still don't love Payne's voice, although I think it was better seeing him live than sitting home and watching a YouTube video. But it's a little growly, a little gruff, certainly not in John Wetton's style (or class). However, Ron Thal's voice isn't really in that class either, and his version of Asia was quite enjoyable. Likewise for Mr. Payne's band.

Musically, they're really quite a good little four-piece. Beside's Payne's bass, you have Moni Scaria on lead guitar (and backing vocals), Jamie Hosmer on keyboards (and backing vocals), and Johnny Fedevich on drums. I was particularly impressed with Hosmer, but I don't want to short the other guys. They were all excellent.

Also, Payne himself is quite a good frontman, amiable in spite of his English reserve. Throughout the night, he told little anecdotes, and exhibited a dry, but never mean, sense of humor. Also, he was clearly quite happy to be playing a nice looking venue in front of a decent-sized audience who appreciated the kind of music that he likes to play. He even said as much.

Now seated in front of me were two young women. (Actually, I'd put them in their late 20's or early 30's, but still young for the audience who attends these kinds of shows.) They were both kind of pretty, and were clearly into the concert, smiling and moving to the music. And although the theater had made an announcement that videotaping was strictly prohibited, at various times in the evening, one or the other of these women would take some footage with her cell phone. And every time Payne saw this, instead of getting cranky about it, he would totally light up with a big, happy smile, and start mugging for the phone-cam. Something about this was very human, and really made me like him.

As is my habit lately, I had printed out a couple of sample playlists for the band, although they weren't exact because this version of Asia seemingly likes to mix it up a little. The songs were mostly the same, but the order was different. They certainly played all the ones you'd expect, though. I could list them out for you, but I'm a lazy bastard, so here's a link: www.toobadtheydidn' (And actually, I'm not really that lazy, because who do you think put the playlist up on in the first place?)

In any event, the band did one full set and a one-song encore (which of course was "Heat of the Moment"), and then the show was done. All in all, it was a pretty short night. I'd have suggested they start the show at 7 and include an opening act. I know prog rock bands are pretty sparse around Long Island (unless you go with a cover band like Wondrous Stories, which wouldn't have been a terrible idea.) But I'm thinking they could have found some local original band, one that wouldn't be a terrible fit. A band that could have filled out the evening a little more, and maybe even helped with the attendance. A band like ... I don't know, stay with me here ... Supergenius?!!!! In all honesty, though, I won't really say I felt cheated, and most of the crowd seemed content enough as well.

Mr. Payne promised to be out to meet people by the merch table shortly after the show, as he put it, after he'd had a chance to "change his socks".

I scooted up the aisle, and of course, hit the Men's Room on the way out. Now over the years, I've become something of a Ninja Master at the quick, one-handed pee (because I'm usually holding my program and my bottle of water in my right hand). There was no crowd, so I was in in a flash, a quick zip, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, flush, a fast one-hand wash in the sink, and I was done. After exiting the Men's Room, I saw people milling around the merch table, and sure enough, Payne was there already, seated and talking to be people, looking as though he'd been there all night. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with his speed, and with his fan-friendliness.

Anyway, I was home in ten minutes, and already filling out my setlist online. All in all, it was a perfectly pleasant evening. It wasn't the best concert I've seen all year, but it was also far from the worst.

So who's the better Asia? I'd still have to lean towards the Geoff Downes guys, because they can throw in a few wrinkles that these guys can't -- a Buggles tune for Geoff Downes, an ELP song for Carl Palmer, etc. But it's a tighter battle than you would think. If you're in the mood for some Asia music, Asia featuring John Payne will give you a perfectly entertaining evening. They did it for me. So good on them!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Dylan Hensley, Supergenius

Denise and I went off in opposite directions tonight. She headed out to Coney Island with  a bunch of her friends from the WLIR Facebook Group to see the Lost '80s show, with Flock of Seagulls headlining, and a bunch of other acts like Boys Don't Cry, Real Life, Martha Davis (of The Motels), When in Rome's Farrington and Mann, Dramarama, and maybe Bow Wow Wow. (They're listed on the event poster, but Denise hasn't texted about them yet.) I don't go places where I'm unsure about the parking, so I passed on this one. (Although I wouldn't have minded seeing The Motels and The Vapors, and I've always loved Flock, even though I've seen them before.)

But it worked out for me, because tonight, I had the chance to travel back to the late '90s instead. That's because a few weeks back, Denise mentioned that she'd seen on Facebook that Supergenius was doing a reunion show right here in Patchogue, at 89 North. I put it on my calendar, and to tell the truth, I've been pretty psyched about it. Over the last two days, I've been listening to my old Supergenius EPs, Product3 and We.

They were scheduled as part of a weekly Friday night event held at the club called the Sceneless Scene Showcase. They feature tables with arts and crafts for sale, face and body painting, tarot readings, and live original music.They're hosted by a fellow named Maxwell Peters of Planet of Sound Promotions. They remind me of some of the events held back in the LIMC Days at that club in Levittown whose name I'm blanking on, which I'll doubtlessly remember in my sleep tonight at about 3AM. In any event, the man is doing the work of the angels, and I completely approve. (Editor's Note: Got it, and it only took an hour! The Munchaba Lounge!)

I headed out late, at about 8:30, as Supergenius was scheduled to go on at 9PM. I parked in the exact same spot I'd parked in last weekend for the Jon Anderson concert (which will very possibly be the same spot I park in Sunday night for the Asia show), and headed into the club.

They gave me one of those annoying wristbands when I walked in, even though I promised I wouldn't be drinking alcohol. It lasted all of about 5 minutes before I tore it off. (I hate those damned things! They always rip out clumps of my wrist hair.)

When I entered, the bar was pretty packed, but the showroom itself had some open seats. I worked my over to the bar, despite the crowd, and picked up a bottle of water. Only 3 bucks. Not bad!

Now this is only the third time I've ever been in the club, mostly, I think, because they usually don't offer reserved seating. (And if I don't know for sure I'm getting a seat, I'm usually not going). My daughter and I saw Andy Black there about two years ago. And a few months back, one of the kids whose adoption I had worked on in my day job was performing there on a Sunday afternoon School of Rock kind of deal.

It's a really nice club. It's small enough to be intimate, but nice enough that a band wouldn't feel funny inviting their parents there.

I entered the show room, and headed up to the balcony (or whatever the hell they call it. It's a raised area in the back of the club with tables.) I grabbed a table dead center stage, and settled in.

As I entered, I caught the last few songs of a 3-piece playing under the name of Dylan Hensley. At first, I kind of classified them in my head as a jam band, but I think that was just because of the drummer's hippyish kind of look. I caught them playing a cover of Sublime's "Santeria", then closing with a somewhat loungy/trippy original. There were some people dancing at the back of the room, and they seemed to go over pretty well. I honestly didn't get to hear enough of them to tell you more about them.

Supergenius was next up. I watched them set up, Gina in a tight, black sequined body suit, Craig wearing black, Chris with head shaven (and at some point, sporting a pair of devil horns), and curly-haired Steve on the drums. It took me back to all of the shows I'd seen them play in the late '90s and early 2000s. Countless shows at The Spot on the campus of SUNY Stony Brook. That big club in Northport where they'd play'd the Long Island Musical Festival (a few months before the place got shut down by the cops for hosting Monday Night Football Parties with plentiful hookers). The night Gina wore a saran wrap top to the finals of the LIMF. And the infamous time they played a Long Island Music Coalition show for me at the Wrong Way Inn in Amityville, where Gina's somewhat loose top fell off, and she couldn't catch it in time because both of her hands were on the guitar. Good times. Good times.

In the years since, Gina has had some success as a solo artist, hitting the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream chart with her single "Keep On", and Craig went on to play for awhile in the fine local band Half Circle Drive. I'm not sure what the rest of the band has been up to, but it was nice to see them back together again.

By the time they were ready to go on, the main room had filled out. I'd say there between 60 and 80 people there, a nice crowd, but not so packed that it was uncomfortable.

A News 12 personality whose name I unfortunately didn't catch (but who was obviously a big fan of the band back in the day) introduced them, and off they went, tearing into one of their faster, rockier tunes, "Once Charmed". They played a number of their older songs, such as "Three" (which Gina said was the first song that Craig wrote that she'd ever written lyrics for), and a song called "Dramatic", which I think she said was the first song she'd ever written when she was first learning to play guitar. They also played a few of my favorites, "Shh", and "The Moon". By the next-to-last song, Gina was stage diving (and good work to the guys who successfully caught her). They closed out their set with another fast-paced song that I've always liked (which I think is called "Lock and Key", but unfortunately, it's not on one of the EPs that I have, so I'm not 100% sure of the title.)

In the old days, I would have hung out and caught another band or two. But tomorrow is the one Saturday a month I have to be at a meeting for work in Queens at 9AM, so I decided I'd better not. I made my way up to the side of the stage just to say a quick hello to Craig. Then I made my way out of the room and across the parking lot back to my car. I was home before 10:30PM, pulling into the driveway just as Denise was texting me that Flock of Seagulls was going on next.

All in all, it was great to see Supergenius back together again. I hope they don't wait 20 years the next time -- I'll be 82!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Prog Contest Winner

The Wobbler album went into these finals as the heavy favorite, considering how easy it had coasted to victory over the last two rounds.

The actual contest, though, was much closer than had been anticipated. I was one of those who voted for Wobbler early on. However, for most of the week, the two albums were neck and neck, and it looked for awhile as though Pulsar was actually going to pull off the upset.

All of the late voting went to Wobbler, though, so in the end, it was the Wobbler album that prevailed.

The final vote count: Pulsar 7 votes, Wobbler 10 votes.

The winner of the 2019 Prog On Tourny: Wobbler - From Silence to Somewhere

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Favorite Artists, Part 6: About Procol Harum

Of all of the bands and artists that I write about in this series, I'm pretty sure that Procol Harum is the one I experienced first.

I've written before about my grammar school friend Bob, and how I learned a lot about music from him and (by extension) his two older brothers. Procol Harum was probably the first band they taught me about. And the first track they taught me about was the masterful suite, "In Held 'Twas in I".

I was probably in 5th or 6th grade at the time, still into The Monkees and AM radio. But that was about to change.

"In Held 'Twas in I" is basically a mini epic fantasy. I'm not sure of exactly what story the band was trying to tell with the song. The one I learned was made up by one of Bob's older brothers. I don't remember all of it, but it involved a daring hero with a magic carpet who rescues a beautiful woman from a one-eyed giant, only to discover that she is, in fact, a hideous shape-shifting demon. In the end, the hero does penance in the land of the dead for his pride and his arrogance.

I never knew that music could tell a story like that. Soon thereafter, I'd be exposed to The Who's Tommy, and I would really learn just how full a story rock music could actually tell. I'd also be exposed to another epic (albeit shorter) Procol musical saga, "Whaling Stories".

Procol Harum was the perfect  band for me at that time of my life, for a variety of reasons. They featured a vocalist with a distinctive and (for me, anyway) engaging voice, in Gary Brooker. They also featured a lot of piano (again, thanks to Brooker), an instrument I've always found especially beautiful. They showcased one of the best guitarists in the business, who later went on to have a pretty distinguished solo career of his own, Robin Trower. They featured a second vocalist that I liked who regularly took the lead on one or two songs an album, in Matthew Fisher. And possibly most importantly, they included as a regular band member a poet whose imaginative lyrics featured daring adventures taking place in strange and exotic places, in Keith Reid. Is it any wonder they quickly became my favorite band for the next five or so years, or that they still hold a special place in my heart today?

Procol Harum originally formed in the early 1960s in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England. They played mostly covers of blues, soul and pop songs, and had a hit with their version of the Leiber and Stoller classic, "Poison Ivy". Brooker, Trower and drummer B.J. Wilson then recruited Reid, Fisher and bass player David Knight to form Procol Harum. In 1967, they had a huge international hit with the iconic "A Whiter Shade of Pale", and followed it up with a more modest hit, "Homburg". They released their eponymous first album in 1967, and followed it up with a more adventurous second effort, Shine on Brightly. This one featured the title track, which seemed to be the fever dreamed ramblings of a psychotic baby Jesus (or maybe it was just somebody who thought they were baby Jesus), as well as their aforementioned 17-plus-minute opus "In Held 'Twas in Eye".

Reid's lyrics were amazing. Whether it was the deranged revenge fantasy "Still There'll Be More", (wherein the singer threatens to blacken his enemy's Christmas and piss on his door, and that's not nearly the worst of it), the fanciful sea tale "A Salty Dog" (which seems to have been inspired in equal part by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", and any number of pirate stories), or the deranged tale of gleeful sibling spite "Simple Sister", Reid's lyrics could always be counted on to take you to another world. There were tales of ancient gods, anecdotes of maggots who dreamed they were men, conquered slave women who compared stories of which one's husband had died the most horrific death, and later, songs about grand hotels, fallen idols and winged horses. This was so far beyond "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" that my adolescent brain could barely wrap itself around it.

Procol recorded regularly between 1967 and 1977, by which time I'd moved on somewhat to more musically complex bands like The Who and Jethro Tull. They later reunited to record new studio albums in 1991, 2003 and 2017. The later albums have some worthwhile tunes, although by 1991, Reid had put aside his more fanciful material to write lyrics about social ills and other more mundane topics. (And for 2017's Novum, Reid was blasphemously replaced by lyricist Pete Brown.)

I still consider Procol Harum to be one of my favorite bands. I admire Trower's guitar, and although he only lasted for the first five albums, then reunited with the band in 1991 for The Prodigal Stranger, Procol has always had strong Trower-like guitarists to replace him. I like Fisher's organ, his few vocals, the songs that he wrote, and his spoken word appearance on "In Held 'Twas in I". ("Held close by that which some despise..."). I love Brooker, for his songwriting, his distinctive voice, and that often-exquisite piano. But if I'm honest with myself, I think the Procol member I admire the most is Keith Reid. He sparked my imagination as a teenager, and prepared me for literary works such as Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which became important in my life.

So while I can't say that they're still my absolute favorite band, for me, Procol Harum is still right up there.