Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review of Steve Lieberman's "Bad'lania Is Still Rising"

Although I first posted this yesterday, I've just spent another re-editing it. It's still long, but hopefully now, it's a little less chaotic. I know that some of you who read this blog are at least a little familiar with Gangsta Rabbi, but virtually none of the readers on Sputnik Music are (which is where it was originally posted). Consequently, I really felt the need to try to explain a little of Steve's history to give them the flavor of someone I've always considered both a nice man and a fascinating artist.


Review Summary: "I've been doing this so long/But still they tell me I'm doing it all wrong/I'll do it forever till I'm gone/Then I'm going to write just one more song." -- Steve Lieberman, from "Skinheads in My Yard -- Oy Vey!"

Who is Steve Lieberman? He's the King of Jewish Punk, and the Last of the Jewish Pirates. He's the poor man's Ian Anderson; he's Don Quixote with a flute and a distorted bass. He's Bop Bop Bigger Bab'el, the Bastard Son of Woodstock. He's the founder of the Hebrew sect of Bad'lanim, and the former comptroller of the Long Island village of Freeport. He's a madman. He's a genius. But when he leaves us for good, as sadly one day he must, there's one title in particular he'll best be remembered by: He's The Gangsta Rabbi.

I'm not going to even try to explain all of these titles to you. Many of them come from the names of Lieberman songs, and most of the rest are readily explained by looking him up online. But there are a few things I need to tell you about him before I can tell you about this album. Steve Lieberman has often been classified as an "outsider musician," which Wikipedia defines as one who "ignores standard musical or lyrical conventions" and whose music "often lacks typical structure and may incorporate ... bizarre lyrics and/or melodies." He may be a prophet. He may be a lunatic. He's quite possibly both.

Lieberman is the founder of his own sect of Judaism, and so some of his lyrics incorporate Jewish spiritual themes. He has also fought a lifelong battle with bipolar disorder, and in the past, has produced whole albums on the subject of institutionalization and suicidal ideation. His music is very experimental. In the previous decade, he was known as a kind of one-man band who played a distorted bass as a lead instrument, accompanied by a flute and a drum machine. In more recent years, however, he's begun to experiment with incorporating brass and marching band instruments into punk rock music. So that gives you a little flavor of who he is.

The last thing you need to know is that Lieberman was diagnosed seven years ago with leukemia, which was ultimately appraised as being terminal. As the disease has worn him down, he's had to alter his choice of instruments and method of playing due to the deterioration of his own body. Another man would stop making music. After all, he's had a good run: CD Baby counts this as his 32nd album of CD/digital music, and his 70th recording overall. But Lieberman won't give up, and I suspect he can't. Music is what he does. Consequently, while his previous projects were known for their noise and frequent dissonance, this new album was recorded and produced after he lost 80% of his hearing. So you'd better believe he won't be quieting down here.

Bad'lania Is Still Rising is a double compilation album released in digital format only. It commemorates the 15th anniversary of his first CD, Bad'lania Rising (Bad'lania being the spiritual homeland of his Bad'lanim sect). Part 1, called Third King of Jewish Punk, is the third in a of series of albums wherein Lieberman reworks and rerecords various songs from his back catalog. Part 2, A Protest Against My Own Rebellion, contains a series of remixed, and often instrumental, versions of many of those same songs, but these were initially intended to be a little more mainstream. Somehow, though, in Lieberman's own words, instead they "just got stranger". The album is structured in such a way that Third King of Jewish Punk and A Protest Against My Own Rebellionare imperfect mirror images of one another. Almost every song on Third King has a (usually instrumental) doppelganger on Protest.

In whole, the entirety of the album runs a little more than two-and-a-half hours. The combination of the album length and the discord between many of the instruments throughout makes it a challenging listen, to say the least. But if you're open to hearing music in a different way, it can be a worthwhile one.

I'll give you the negatives of this album and of Lieberman's music in general, as many would perceive them. For bonus points, I'll do it in his own words. These are some of the lyrics of one of the only two new songs on BISR, "I'm Not Good Enough": "I can't play/I can't sing/Production so bad your ears start to ring"; "Don't use .aif/or .wav/I use a cassette and an mp3"; "I got my message/It's in my song/But you can't understand me/I do it all wrong/I'm not good enough". 

These are the criticisms Lieberman has heard over the years. Actually, he can play and sing, although his style might not be to everyone's taste. As for the part about the production, there's some validity to it. I've often wondered how much more popular his music might be with more commercial production values (like pushing the vocals further upfront in the mix), and with a full band behind him (or at least a drummer replacing the beat machines). 

But that would be my vision, not The Gangsta Rabbi's. He's more interested in mixing different instruments together that wouldn't normally go, and in fusing different genres. The Soundcloud files for just this one album use the tags "#Progressive Metal", "#Metalcore", "#Prog", "#Punk Rock" and "#Experimental". The list of instruments used includes guitars, basses, hybrid guitar/bass, flutes, trombones, melodica, pocket synth, talabard, mangal vadya, beat machines and a pocket theremin. The truth is, a more commercial sound would be better for Lieberman's wallet, but it would also lessen his charm and his uniqueness. One of our esteemed Sputnik contributors who first heard Lieberman's music about a month ago commented that he found it "grotesque, but strangely appealing". I'd have to agree.

So let's talk about the actual sounds on this double-comp. Lieberman's style of singing falls somewhere between Ozzy and John Lydon, and his vocal tone is reminiscent of that of Dave Cousins of Strawbs. He often punctuates the ends of his verses with grunts, and/or short laughs, adding to the madman mystique of the music. 

As for the instrumentation on this album, for the first time ever, Lieberman actually uses his electric guitar as the lead instrument, and his bass simply as a bass. And while there's some flute present here, there's not nearly as much as there had been in the past. It's mostly been replaced by other reed instruments (melodica, talabard, etc.). Overall, the album is noisy and sometimes discordant.

The disharmony that so often rears its head on BISR comes from the competition between the stringed instruments (guitars and basses) and the woodwinds and trombones. Some of the reed instruments come across to my non-musician ears as sounding like a sort of electronic kazoo. The effect they have on the guitars is sonically similar to the effect that the drone has on the rest of a bagpipe. Sometimes they're working together. Other times, they're fighting it out like a pair of MMA warriors. And when Lieberman's voice gets thrown into the mix, it becomes a friggin' Battle Royale in which your brain gets thrown down upon the canvass while all of the various musical elements kick and stomp it into submission.

On the whole, I found the Protest half of the album to be the more accessible of the two parts. Some tracks are weird and wonderful, like "Better Than All the Yankees and All the Mets", which sounds like it could be part of the soundtrack for a new Japanese monster movie. I also enjoyed "Staged an Offensive to Save Our Land". This song lets that electric kazoo thingy dominate during the choruses. Then it unleashes the electric guitar to run wild in the verses. At times, the track threatens to tear itself apart and fly in all different directions, only to catch itself at the last minute and regroup back into a cohesive whole. (And by the way, the only reason I'm even sure which part is the chorus and which is the verse is that it's clearer on "For the Children of the Gaza", the vocal version of the same song on the Third King of Jewish Punk half of the album.)

As for the lyrical subject matter of the songs on this magnum opus, they range from topics of grave socio-political importance to those of a more personal (and sometimes frivolous) nature. There are songs about cars, songs about musical instruments, tracks about the troubles on the Gaza strip, and odes to Lieberman's late, beloved dog, Buttons. There are ballads about unjust taxes, songs about so-called music industry professionals, and even one ditty about a Jorge Posada bobblehead doll. No topic is too large or small for the Rabbi's consideration.

As disorienting as BISL can sometimes be, there's definitely some good stuff here. For starters, there are two different variations of perhaps my all-time favorite Gangsta Rabbi song, "Skinheads in My Yard -- Oy Vey!". The first is a re-imagined version of the original on Part 1, and the second is its Bizarro World cousin, "Skinhead With a Stickball Bat" (where the vocals are pushed even further into the background and half-hummed), on Part 2. 

The one other completely new song on the album, "I Am the Arbeiter", is totally different from every other track. Lieberman describes it as his attempt at "elevator jazz". It reminds me more of a Gangsta Rabbi interpretation of Jethro Tull's "Bouree". Other worthy numbers include "MCMT"/"MCMT 25", "Astroland Spring Green 415"/"The Prime Minister of Astroland", and "Israel and Judah United".

At first, I wanted to tell you that it might be worth it to digest the album in small chunks. But then I noticed that when I just put my head down and plowed right into it, I started to hear the music in a different way, and it made more and more sense to me. In the end, it's listener's choice. I'd hate for the sheer length of the album, and the sometimes cacophonous nature of the music, to drive people away from BISR before they give it a chance. But as I said earlier, my experience with the album was that I found it to be like diving into a freezing pool of water -- it was jarring at first, but the more I stayed with it instead of jumping right back out, the more comfortable I got with it. It's the paradox of a Gangsta Rabbi album -- you have to listen in depth to appreciate its value, but the general sense of discord can initially make you want to run the other way.

Steve Lieberman's music is never going to be everyone's favorite flavor. He's so busy creating and exploring his own world, he forgets to meet you halfway. Is he insane? Is he a visionary? Maybe they're the same thing. He would tell you, "I got marbles in my mouth/I got something to say/He's not good enough/But he won't go away/He's not good enough/I'm not good enough." Mr. Lieberman, I respectfully disagree.


Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Little Shop of Horrors and Shot Glass Nickel

Denise and I just had a pretty solid weekend of entertainment. On Saturday night, we saw Little Shop of Horrors at The Gateway Playhouse in Bellport. Then, on Sunday afternoon, we took a drive out east to catch my sister-in-law's band, Shot Glass Nickel at PORT Waterfront Bar and Grill in Greenport.

Usually, I treat my daughter to at least one show over the summer at The Gateway, and this year, the one she picked was Little Shop of Horrors. We made it a double date, my wife and I attending with my daughter and her boyfriend.

I'll be honest, this wouldn't have been my first pick. I don't hate LSoH as a show, but I don't love it either. It's a very campy musical comedy, and camp has never been my thing. For anyone not familiar, LSoH is based on a 1969 Roger Corman black-comedy film that featured a very young Jack Nicholson.

The show definitely has its moments. I'd say it has 3-1/2 strong songs, these being "Somewhere That's Green", sung by the female lead, Audrey, "To Be a Dentist", sung by her abusive sadist boyfriend, Orin, "Suddenly Seymour", sung by Audrey and the lead character, Seymour, and "Suppertime", sung by the killer plant, Audrey II (this last one being the "1/2"). If you've seen the movie, starring Rick Moranis, the play has a few differences, including a completely different ending (which I won't spoil for you), and the absence of the Arthur Denton character, a masochist who visits the Orin the dentist character because he loves being hurt. (These two characters were memorably portrayed by Bill Murray and Steve Martin in the film). It's a short show -- this rendition started at 8:30 PM, and we were in our car by 10:30. And there's a 20-minute-or-so intermission between acts.

So it's a show that can hit or miss, depending on the cast. And happily for the Gateway, the cast for this show is a total winner. Jeremy Greenbaum, who I saw earlier in the season in Rent, once again does a superb job here in the character of Seymour. Having seen this guy twice now, first in a dramatic role and this time in a comedy, I have to say he's a terrific and versatile musical-theater actor. He's had starring roles Off-Broadway, and non-starring roles on Broadway, and it's not at all difficult to picture him taking the next step up and starring in a Broadway role in the near future.

I don't really love the Audrey character. The way it's supposed to be played, with a bleach-blonde wig and a Judy Holliday accent, is kind of annoying, and her relationship with the woman-beating Orin is a little disturbing. But having said that, Crystal Kellogg gets the most out of the part, and demonstrates a beautiful, powerful voice in the process.

John Rochette takes a completely different tack on the Orin character than Steve Martin did in the film, but it's equally successful. His giggling, nitrous-oxide sucking portrayal of the bullying greaser dentist comes close at times to stealing the show. He also plays a variety of over-the-top minor characters, at times leaving the stage on one side only to emerge from the other in a completely different (and equally outrageous) role.

The other actors in the small cast, Trent Armand Kendall as the voice of Audrey II, Ray DeMattis as Mr. Mushnik, and Courtney Daniels, Moeisha McGill and Jerusha Cavazos as the girl group-like street urchins, are also very good. And although there's no bio for them in the playbill, I'm going to guess that young Alexandra Meli and William Russell as the Plant Roots of the fully-grown Audrey II, come from The Gateway's own school for young performers.

To summarize, LSoH is a mediocre show raised to the level of a good show thanks to the efforts of a hard-working and likable cast. This is The Gateway's last show of the 2017 season. It runs until September 9. So this season, I saw Rent at my wife's behest and Little Shop of Horrors at my daughter's behest. I kind of wish, in retrospect, I had caught Mama Mia!, but you can't see everything.

A couple of shows are coming up on Long Island over the next couple of months that I have my eye on: Man of La Mancha (one of my favorite shows) at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center (SPAC), running from September 9 through October 22, and Jekyl & Hyde (which I've never seen) at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale, running from October 14 through November 4. And if I really want to catch Mama Mia!, I see that it's playing at SPAC in March. Meanwhile, hopefully next summer, The Gateway will take my advice and finally put together a production of Chess!

                                                                              ***

As I mentioned earlier, Denise and I saw my sister-in-law Allison's band Shot Glass Nickel at PORT in Greenport.

PORT is a nice place. It features music in an outdoor setting (although I'm sure you can hear the band just fine indoors, too). It sits across the street from the Shelter Island Ferry Station, and down the block from the Greenport Long Island Railroad station. I can testify that their burgers are really good. I seldom drink, so I can't tell you much about their beers, wines, etc. Everybody there looked pretty happy, though, so I'm guessing they're just fine.

This is the first time I saw Allison with Shot Glass Nickel. She sang for many years in a wedding band, Afterglow (in fact, they played our wedding), and she sang jazz for many years. But it's been a while since I saw her rock, and she can still do it with the best of them.

Shot Glass Nickel is a smoking hot band that plays classic rock covers, mostly from the '70s. Today, they played a copious amount of Zeppelin, Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, with some Ozzie, Pink Floyd, Rush, Aerosmith and even Humble Pie, thrown in for good measure. And just for the hell of it, they even jumped forward to the '90s for some Soundgarden. Plus, Allison being Allison, she'll always find a way to throw in at least one song from her favorite band ever, Queen. I'm prejudiced, I admit, but the band had fans from as far as Williston Park who made the drive out east to see them, and there was a lot of dancing and general merrymaking going on throughout their 3-hour set. So if '70s hard rock is your pleasure, you'll definitely enjoy this band.

                                                                               ***

Since I mentioned Ozzy, I'll close on this: One of my kids showed me a cartoon this week. It featured a bat tucking his young son in for the night, and reassuring him, "Don't worry, you're safe. I promise Ozzy isn't under your bed."

Peace.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "4 Way Street"

I posted this review a little while ago on the Sputnik Music website:


Review Summary: This is one of the strongest live albums of the 1970s.

Somewhere along the way, live albums went out of vogue. Yes, bands still make them. But these days, they rarely crack the charts. In the seventies, that wasn't the case. It was an era of album rock, when radio stations didn't only focus on singles, and live LPs were often just as popular as albums put together in a recording studio. And Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 4 Way Street was one of the best live albums of the decade. Recorded during a North American tour in support of their chart-topping studio album Deja Vu, this album found the supergroup at the height of their powers musically, even as various personality clashes between the band members steered them towards their inevitable first breakup.

4 Way Street was released in 1971 as a double album, with the first record focused on acoustic and the second focused on electric performances. The second one has its moments -- it features a pretty smoking hot performance of Neil Young's classic "Southern Man", and an equally impressive (if shorter) performance of "Ohio", another Young song, written in protest of the 1970 National Guard shootings of four student protesters at Kent State University. But it's the first record that contains the most exotic and most gratifying material.

The album opens with an unusual choice -- the tracklist lists the first number as "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes", the song that launched the band into national prominence when they first performed it at the Woodstock Music Festival. But it lies. All you actually get is the last 30 seconds or so of that song, the instantly recognizable vocal harmonies that mark its ending. What comes next is two songs by the full band: a decent but lesser-known Neil Young song called "On the Way Home", and an excellent rendition of one of CSNY's best-loved numbers, "Teach Your Children". This is followed by a surprising decision -- the whole rest of first record is made up of solo material from each of the four members, sometimes performed individually, sometimes by two or more of the members, beginning with a pair of songs by David Crosby. This is followed by two songs apiece from Graham Nash, Neil Young and Stephen Stills.

Most listeners will probably focus on the two Neil Young songs, and they are worth focusing on. His best one is "Cowgirl in the Sand", originally released on the 1969 solo album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. But "Don't Let It Bring You Down", from his 1970 effort After the Goldrush, is pretty terrific too. 

For me, though, the highlight of the album comes from David Crosby. He begins his brief set with "Triad", a song about a three-person love triangle he originally wrote while still a member of The Byrds. He then follows that with a stark and exquisite number called "The Lee Shore". For years I thought that this must be a song about an actual place named The Lee Shore, and Crosby makes it sound breathtaking: "All along the the lee shore, shells lie scattered in the sand/Winking up like shining eyes at me, from the sea". Actually, it turns out that a "lee shore" is a shore that is to the lee side of a ship, which means that the wind is blowing towards the shoreline. No matter. With just a sparse acoustic guitar, Crosby's vocals, and some of the most beautiful harmonies ever sung courtesy of Graham Nash, Crosby paints a picture of an unforgettable tropical paradise, singing in character as a wizened old man of the sea. "From here to Venezuela/There's nothing more to see/Than a hundred thousand islands/Flung like jewels upon the sea/For you and me." More than forty-five years after the original release of this album, the song can still give me chills.

As for the Nash and Stills songs, they're also pretty good. Nash's best number is "Chicago", a protest song written about the 1968 Democratic Convention: "Though your brother's bound and gagged/And they've chained him to a chair/Won't you please come to Chicago just to sing". As for Stills, some will no doubt advocate for his "49 Bye Byes/America's Children" medley, which contains a reworked version of his Buffalo Springfield hit "For What It's Worth". But I much prefer the raw energy and simple sentiments of "Love the One You're With", which sounds like it has most of the band (except, possibly Neil Young) playing on it. 

The electric record is OK, but let's face it -- nobody came to see Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to hear them rock out on electric guitar. The band's strengths were always in their often-folky songwriting, and in their vocal harmonies. And, in fact, one of the album's other high points happens at the very end of the second record, when the band goes back to a soft acoustic guitar for a live version of "Find the Cost of Freedom", which ends with a quiet but stunning a capella verse sung in 4-part harmony. It's classic CSNY.

As best I can tell, 4 Way Street is something of a forgotten album today. I'm hoping that in its own modest way, this review can change that, at least a little. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in their prime brought together the best of sixties folk music with seventies rock. This album does a great job of capturing what they were like as a live act while they were still at the peak of creative powers. It's an album that deserves to be rediscovered.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Blondie Again

I really wanted a better heading for this post, but since Blondie has already used "Once More to the Bleach" and even "Blonde and Beyond", I was stuck.

Yes, after seeing Blondie 3 weeks ago in Bethel, NY, Denise and I did it again. Blondie was playing a free show at Eisenhower Park, and we couldn't resist. (Well, we could have, but we didn't). Denise and I spent five of the last six weekends on the road, but we'll get no pity from Blondie -- according to setlist.fm, they flew in after a show in Santiago, Chile on Friday,  after doing a show in Mexico earlier in the week. They've been on the move like crazy since the Bethel show -- I know my friend Karen caught them in Hollywood, FL on August 8. And yesterday was a pretty hot and humid day for a 72-year-old singer. So they've had much harder than I have.

I'm (hopefully) not going to write a long review of this show. But there are some things that made it great day. Among them:

1) We spent the day with our friend Rich, aka the drummer from Denise's old band The Slant; and while at the concert, we ran into theremin-playing madman Chris Peters, currently very active with Eddie Havoc's band MediaCrime, with his lovely wife Bobbi and their friend Brian, as well as the former owners of the now defunct but much-loved Pisces Cafe, Jeff and Justine. It made for a rollicking good time both at the show, and at the diner afterwards.

2) Had more luck parking and getting a spot in front of the stage than I thought we would. Then again, the concert went off about two hours later than I thought it would, so that could be why.

3) I'm not great at crowd estimating, but I'd guess there might have been close to two thousand people there last night, all of them very enthusiastic.

4) One of the reasons the show went on later than it should have was too many blathering politicians rambling on and on. You guys know that kind of thing just pisses people off and makes them not want to vote for you, right? Also some blathering from Scott Shannon of the radio station that sponsored the show, but it was a little more acceptable from him. At least he seems to be marginally into the music.

5) I was a little bit crushed to see the show was sponsored by an oldies station. Yes, in reality I know the music of the '80s is considered oldies music now, but I like to live in denial, OK? You don't need to rub my face in it.

6) Thanks much for the free hand fans, Miss Saigon Broadway revival show. They were much appreciated.

7) Thanks much, my lovely wife Denise, for packing sandwiches, cold drinks, etc. They were also much appreciated.

8) The band was smoking hot once again last night. These guys still rock.

9) The sound was muddier than it had been at Bethel, but acceptable. Not bad for a free show. Not bad at all.

10) We were further away here than we were in Bethel, so it was hard to see. No less enjoyable, though.

11) Deborah Harry had a few troubles with her voice -- she started a little weaker than she was in Bethel, then eventually warmed up, then had a little trouble again by the end of a long set on a hot, humid night. But she's such a great performer, it didn't make a difference. And as usual, I'm pretty sure the loud, drunk, young guy behind me was hers for the taking if she'd wanted him to pleasure her. She still has more sex appeal than a 72-year-old woman has any right to have.

12) The really special treat was that the band played two extra songs tonight than they did in Bethel, one during their regular set and one during the encore. They also swapped out "Monster" from their new album (which they played in Bethel) for "Gravity" also from Pollinator. And the two additional songs were gems. They added "Maria", which I haven't heard them play in years, then opened the encore with a cover of "My Heart Will Go On", which is actually enjoyable once you subtract Celine Dion from the equation.

So all in all, a totally delightful night of music.

A special shout out to my friend Steve Lieberman, The Gangsta Rabbi, who has been back in the hospital. But even from his hospital bed, he just sent me the link to a digital copy of his new double album, which I'll be reviewing shortly after its official August 27 release date. Feel better, Steve.

But right before that, my next album review will be of a classic live album put out by a great '70s band famous for their vocal harmonies.

See ya then!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review of The Who's "Face Dances"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website last night:


Review Summary: This is an underappreciated classic from perhaps the greatest band in rock history.



When Keith Moon died in 1978, Who Fans were crushed. It shouldn't have been a surprise -- Moon was known for living a mad lifestyle, filled with drugs, excessive drinking and demolished hotel rooms. Yet somehow, it was still a shock. For all of his self-destructive behavior, there was something about him that seemed invincible. Consequently, after his death, no one could agree on what should come next. Should The Who even try to replace him, or should they just call it a day as a band? 

To their credit, they decided to continue, hiring a friend, former Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones as their new percussionist. Many of their fans were thrilled to see the band find a way to go on. Others, however, resented it. They believed that The Who weren't The Who without Keith Moon, and at times, it seemed like the remaining members of the band agreed with them. It didn't help that Jones played drums in a completely different style than Moon. Where Moon was wild and creative, Jones was simply solid and workmanlike. Many fans and critics alike never forgave The Who for moving on without Moon. So when they released Face Dances in 1981, their first LP of new music subsequent to Moon's passing, it was received in an environment less than conducive to a sober, dispassionate assessment of the music. And the album's reputation wasn't helped by the fact that after Moon's death, The Who's fan base mostly wanted to see the band play their greatest hits during their live shows, a desire the band complied with. Even during their 1981 tour, which was theoretically undertaken to support the new album, The Who only performed five of the then-new LP's nine songs. Unfortunately, the result of all this is that through the years, Face Dances has become an almost criminally underrated album.

Now I'm not going to claim that Face Dances is in the same league with The Who's big three of TommyWho's Next and Quadrophenia. But honestly, very few albums are -- they are rightly considered three of the greatest albums in rock history. And I can understand, to a certain extent, why Face Dances is undervalued -- in addition to the emotion involved in being the first Who album released without Keith Moon, and the fact that much of the its material wasn't promoted by the band's live shows, there's also a subtlety to this LP. It's not a great album for in your face rock anthems. The only really driving songs are "You Better You Bet", the album's most enduring track, "The Quiet One", which is an Entwistle number, and "Daily Records", which for some reason has never been performed live. Add to all of this the fact that by 1981, the music scene itself had changed, and arena rock bands such as The Who were considered to be past their shelf lives, and you can see why this album didn't catch on the way it should have.

Nevertheless, if you judge the album solely by the music and the quality of its songs, there's a lot to like here. Daltrey is in superb voice throughhout the album, as is Townshend. And "You Better You Bet" is justly considered one of The Who's better songs. It's the song from this album that received the lion's share of the airplay, and it has almost always been performed in their live shows since the LP's release. But above and beyond that, there are plenty of other reasons to love this album.

"Don't Let Go the Coat" is a quiet song, but it's one of the best from Townshend's post-Quadrophenia era. Written as a tribute to his spiritual guide Meher Baba, who urged his followers to stay on the path by hanging fast to the edge of his robe in the same way that a small child clings to his mother's jacket so as not to get lost in a crowd, the song is both simple and beautiful. 

Another excellent song is "The Quiet One", an autobiograpical gem written and sung by John Entwistle. A fast-paced and energetic number, this one was written to replace his song "My Wife" for the band's live show. The lyrics are filled with examples of the bass player's famous dry sense of humor: "Still waters run deep so be careful I don't drown you/You've got nothing to hear I've got nothing to say". One of the many strengths of The Who is to have a second songwriter of the quality of Entwistle whose self deprecating wit and playfulness contrasts nicely with the serious-mindedness of Townshend, and this song is one of his best.

There are several other treats on Face Dances, including "Did You Steal My Money", which finds Townshend experimenting with a multitude of different ways to ask the same question; the album-ending "Another Tricky Day" ("This is no social crisis/This is you having fun/Getting burned by the sun"); and especially "Daily Records" which might just be the best Who song you've never heard of.

One the strength of all of this, I consider Face Dances to be the strongest Who album post-Quadrophenia. I realize that this is a kind of heresy, rating it higher than several albums that featured Keith Moon, including The Who By Numbers and particularly Who Are You, Moon's last album. But it is what it is. I've always found Who By Numbers to be a little lackluster, and as for Who Are You, I think the emotions surrounding Moon's demise caused it be more highly regarded than it deserved to be. Also, if you give it a really good listen, you can hear that by this time, Moon wasn't Moon anymore anyway -- too many years of hard living took their toll on his playing. I'll take the delicate pleasures of Face Dances any day. It's an underappreciated and understated jewel from perhaps the greatest band in rock history.


Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Monday, August 14, 2017

Six '80s Bands in Search of a Headliner

A few months ago, Denise asked me if I had any interest in seeing The Retro Futura Tour in Atlantic City on Friday, August 11.

"What pray tell, is the Retro Futura Tour?" you ask. Good question.

As it turns out, The Retro Futura Tour is a tour put together by some enterprising booking agent, made up of six '80s bands, all of who had their moments during the Reagan/Bush era, but none of whom is necessarily a huge draw on their own. Or, as I like to call it, Six Bands in Search of a Headliner.

"Who's playing?" I asked. I'm sure you just asked the same question. OK, there's Katrina Leskanich (alias Katrina, sans The Waves). There's The English Beat. Pretty solid band, but I just saw them last year, opening at The Paramount for Squeeze. Paul Young. Who? Turns out he's a new wave guy who had a few hits with cover songs during the Decade of Excess, and played with a few lesser known bands like Q-Tips. OK, so far, not piquing my interest too much.

Next -- Howard Jones. Now I'm getting to point in my life where I'm starting to think Bucket List -- I'm interested in seeing bands that I've always wanted to see and never quite made it out for before. Jones is a solid artist -- certainly his Human's Lib album is a classic, and the follow-up, Dream Into Action had some good stuff on it as well. But I've already seen Jones a couple of times in my life, once during his heyday, and once with Human League (I think) and Culture Club in the '90s at Jones Beach. He was great the first time, a little forgettable the second. Not quite enough to sell me, although not bad.

Then there's Modern English. They're another one hit wonder, but that hit, "I Melt With You" was a classic. The problem is: 1. I think I've seen them before at local club in either Long Beach or Island Park, with Iridesense opening for them; and 2. I definitely saw Ted Mason, who used to be in Modern English, in a band with his brother called The Blue Mocking Birds. He was being billed at the time as "the guy who wrote 'I Melt With You,'" and he did the suckiest solo cover of the song I ever heard. So again, a slight plus, but not enough to totally win me over.

And then came the band that sold me on the show, another one-hit (really, one-and-a-half hits) wonder, but what a hit! Men Without Hats, the Canadian wonder-kids that did one of the most seminal songs of the '80s, "The Safety Dance". Hell, what fan of '80s New Wave wouldn't want to see Men Without Hats do "Safety Dance"?! And if they don't really have enough great material to carry a whole show, who cares, if they're packaged with a bunch of other decent bands. So hell yeah, count me in!

As it turns out, this was one of the most fun shows of the summer. Now Denise and I have been traveling almost every weekend since early July, and at this time of the year, that kind of sucks. Traffic into and out of New York City is torturous, so it took five hours each way to get to Atlantic City and back. But at least the show was worth it.

The show was being held at The Borgota Event Center, so we showed up at the casino an hour early and made our ritual monetary sacrifice to the gambling gods. Then it was up to the Event Center, a reasonably classy venue to see a show. It was a somewhat mixed crowd, mostly old-timers and middle-aged people, with a few young adults thrown in, and the occasional token teen or younger. I'd say the show was about two-thirds sold out, which is still a win for The Borgota, because I'm sure most of this crowd had a few bucks to stay and gamble with.

Up first was Katrina Leskanich. Now before the show, I suggested I might try to stir up some trouble by trying to get a chant of "We want The Waves!" going. But Denise threatened my life, so I thought better of it. As it turns out, Katrina is more of a country girl than I was aware of -- apparently she grew up in Kansas. She did a short 3-song set that got the night started off in style, stirring up the crowd by closing with her big hit, "Walking on Sunshine".

The second set, also three songs long, was performed by Paul Young. I would have referred to Young as an "old guy", but then I looked him up and discovered he was only born the year before I was, so obviously, I would have been mistaken <cough, cough>. Young did a slow but romantic set, swinging his mic stand around, then getting on his knees and looking deeply into the eyes of some of the '80s girls in the front row as he sang directly to them. For a mature gentleman, he really knows how to sex up the ladies. The only song I recognized was his cover of Hall & Oats's "Every Time You Go Away", but Denise knew all three songs. So check, two-for-two as far as good sets go.

Next up -- Modern English. Now a couple of things -- I've since looked it up, and it seems that Ted Mason might have been overselling things when he claimed to be the guy who wrote "I Melt With You." He was, in fact, a member of Modern English, but he wasn't one of the original members of the band. He was probably in the band when they wrote the song, and although I haven't been able to find out for sure, I suspect this was one of those songs where the full band took writing credit, so he may have been somewhat truthful. Anyway, Mason is not part of the current rendition of the band.

Now here are the negatives of The Modern English set: for one thing, they're a little loose as a band. Not bad, by any means, but there were times their timing was just a touch off (as compared, say, to The English Beat, who was deadly tight). And the second thing is that lead singer, Robbie Grey has what I'd call an average voice at this stage of his life. Again, it's not bad, it's not painful in any way. But I just had a feeling that if I picked out any one of the ushers, who were lined up against the wall, at random, chances are, their voice would have been just as good.

But for all that, Modern English still had a really enjoyable set. Their first song, "Ink and Paper" was an OK number from their 1986 album Stop Start. But next, they did a song called "Moonbeam" from their brand new album (the only new song of the night), and it was really good. It had a weird Indian-sounding guitar line that I liked a lot, enough so that after their set, I ran out to the concession area and bought Take Me to the Trees, the new album that contains it. And when they closed with "I Melt With You", it was magic! The whole arena was up and dancing (including all the '80s girls in the audience, plus this one frightening behemoth of a guy throwing his arms around so wildly, I wanted to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart like he was a runaway moose). For me, "I Melt With You" was the second biggest highlight of the whole evening.

As the roadies did a quick set change for the next band, I like to think that somewhere upstairs at The Borgota, in a really nice room, Katrina and Paul Young were having themselves some frenzied, passionate sex. Katrina was really effusive in her intro to Young, and for his part, he seemed like he could have won over any of the ladies in the room, so that's how I'll always imagine the evening went. My disclaimer is I have no idea if either of them are married or with someone else, and it's entirely possible that one or both of them was already alone and fast asleep. But several members of Denise's WLIR Facebook group who were staying at the Borgota reported various Paul Young sightings around the pool and in the elevator throughout the day, so I'm sure they were staying at the hotel. And they were both so good that I like to reward them by seeing them together in my mind's eye, sharing a smooth glass of champagne, then stripping down and pleasuring one another until they both fell apart into an exhausted but restorative sleep.

But enough of my X-rated fantasies. The English Beat (or simply The Beat for any of you who might be reading this from across the pond) were up next. As I mentioned, I saw them last fall, and they are a smoking hot band. Denise likes them a little better than I do, as she's more of a ska fan, but when a band is good they're good, and these guys are good. They opened with "Mirror in the Bathroom," which is one of those songs that other people like better than I do, but they still did an excellent version of it. They followed this up with "Tenderness," a song that's technically a cover of a General Public song (but since General Public is really an offshoot of The Beat, it's not really a cover). They did one other song, then closed it out with my favorite English Beat song, "Sooner or Later," which the crowd danced wildly to as they sang along with the chorus. One of my only regrets about the show is that the sets were shorter here than for some of the other shows on the tour, so they didn't get to do their cover of "Tears of a Clown" like they've been doing at some other venues. But you can't have everything. The stuff they did do was certainly excellent. (And at some point later in the evening, King Schascha, the fellow who replaced Ranking Roger as the band's second vocalist, came out into the audience between sets and shook hands and took pictures with whoever wanted, which was really nice).

After another quick set change, there they were, the legendary Men Without Hats. Lead singer Ivan Doroschuk came out in a sparkling shirt that would have attracted favorable attention from Liberace, and announced that Men Without Hats would now perform their hit single, "Pop Goes the World," their second most popular song. They proceeded to do just that, as Doroschuk bounced back and forth across the stage. I've always liked that song personally, so it was a treat to see them do it live. Next came a lesser known song called "Where Do the Boys Go?," which mostly served to whet the crowd's appetite for the big closer. And as Doroschuk began spelling, "S-S-S-S-A-A-A-A-F-F-F-F ..." the crowd went wild, an interdimensional portal opened up to all of our forgotten youths, and the whole room danced and swayed to "The Safety Dance". It was one of those perfect moments you rarely get during a concert, and everything I'd hoped for.

After the set, everyone sat down and caught their breath, and I commented to Denise that everyone could probably relax and just mellow out now for Howard Jones. As I said, I don't much remember Jones' set from Jones Beach in the '90s. I do remember his set from the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in the '80s, one of my favorite concerts I ever went to. On that night, he played between Martha and the Muffins (or M+M, as they were billing themselves as at that time) and the headliners Eurythmics. All three acts were tremendous that night, and I remember that Jones played as a solo artist, except that he had a mime with him who acted out and danced to his music. I also remember that there were parts of the music which Jones had preprogrammed, so at times he came out from behind his keyboards and danced with the mime. And I especially remember that it rained on and off throughout the evening, and that it was one of those weird shows where Denise and I were both at the same show at the same time, although we didn't yet know one another. And I feel like I remember her -- I think that she and her friends sitting right in front of me. (We had another show like a year or so later, where we both saw The Fixx and The Moody Blues at Radio City Music Hall).

Anyway, Jones surprised me Friday night by coming out with a full band. As the nominal headliner of the evening, he was the only artist who got to play a full set (although again, it was a slightly shorter set than he's been playing at other venues). And there really wasn't much of anything "relaxed" about it at all.

I confess that at the beginning, maybe because I was still recovering from "Safety Dance," I wasn't fully into it. The second song of the set was one I wasn't at all familiar with, and the blue and yellow lights that were flashing into the crowd during the song felt like an assault on my eyes. But about midway through the set, when he did "Everlasting Love", I found myself singing along. And from there on in, it was all gold, as he tore through some of my favorites like "Life in One Day," "What Is Love?" and "New Song" (which he explained was certainly no longer aptly titled). By this time, I was totally won over as he went into his closer, "Things Can Only Get Better". But then he threw us another curve and upped the ante, following this with a newly arranged techno reprise of the same song, and ending the night on a particularly high note.

I found myself singing "What Is Love" softly to myself as I filed out with the rest of the happy crowd.

So, many kudos to whoever had the idea for this tour, and for all six of the performers. (And Katrina and Paul, I just hope you two crazy kids are using protection.) I love my new music, but let's face it -- sometimes, it can be really fun to relive part of your past, at least for one night.

Speaking of which, my next album review will be of a criminally underrated album by perhaps the greatest rock band of all time -- The Who! Plus, I'll have a review of The Gateway Playhouse's Little Shop of Horrors. And still on the schedule, he's known as the King of Jewish Punk -- Steve Lieberman, the one and only Gangsta Rabbi!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review of Ingrid Michaelson's "Be OK"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music site earlier this morning. I was tempted to claim that besides her music, Ingrid Michaelson is best known for helping her vampiric siblings Klaus and Elijah fight off supernatural threats in the city of New Orleans, but somehow it didn't seem appropriate to the tone of the review.


Review Summary: Although this is technically a compilation album, it may be the best LP Ingrid Michaelson ever released.

Ingrid Michaelson's Be OK is one of those album's that's neither fish nor fowl. It's classified as a compilation album, and that's technically correct. However, it's not your typical greatest-hits-plus-one-or-two-new-tracks comp. Released in 2008, in part to raise money for cancer research, it's something completely different. Of the album's 11 songs, it includes 3 live tracks, 2 covers and an acoustic reprise of the album's title track. It also just might be the best album Michaelson ever released.

Be OK is Michaelson's third album. Released approximately two-and-a-half years after 2005's successful Girls and Boys LP, Be OK is a musical portrait of an artist on the way up. It entered the Billboard charts at #15, powered in part by its quirky title track, which in addition to charting as a single, found its way into two feature films, The House Bunny starring Anna Faris and The Decoy Bride which starred Doctor Who's David Tennant. It also made it into episodes of TV shows such as 90210Parenthood and Ugly Betty, and into a number of television commercials as well. As popular as "Be OK" was, however, it's actually one of the album's lesser charms.

Michaelson has several strengths as an artist. The first is that her voice is both distinctive and enjoyable. In an age full of pop divas who like to belt out songs until the veins in their foreheads bulge, and autotuned Disney stars who spend half of their lives lip synching, Michaelson is a relatively rare commodity -- a crooner. Although she's somewhat in the folk tradition, her singing style is more Rickie Lee Jones than Aimee Mann. She's also an excellent songwriter, which is her second strength. And added to these blessings, she seems to know where her talents lie. Consequently, the arrangements on Be OK are quiet and stark, allowing both the vocals and the songs themselves to shine.

There are several highlights on the album. "The Chain" is one of the loveliest songs Michaelson ever wrote. Although she later recorded a studio version for her 2009 album Everybody, its first appearance is here in the form of a live track. A slow, delicate song written to the lover who abandoned her, it's highlighted by a singing-in-the-round chorus, where bandmates Bess Rogers and Allie Moss each echo her as she sings "So glide away on soapy heels/And promise not to promise anymore/And if you come around again/Then I will take the chain from off the door." It's a song of breathtaking beauty, maybe even the best one that Michaelson has ever written.

Only slightly less effective is another slow, delicate number called "Keep Breathing". This one features some graceful piano, as Michaelson laments her inability to effect change in a universe full of horrors: "I want to change the world/Instead I sleep." It's a song tinged with sadness, expressing both frustration and feelings of helplessness that are easy to relate to.

Both of the cover songs on the album are interesting choices. One is a straightforward folk version of "Over the Rainbow", sung in an understated way that would have baffled Judy Garland. The other is a deliberate but earnest live version of the popular ballad "Can't Help Falling in Love". Several other originals are also musical treats. "Lady in Spain" finds her trying on various roles such as that of a Martian who can "unscrew the stars" and a Spanish aristocrat, because "I can be anything that I see." "The Way I Am," on the other hand, is a playful and guileless love song about cherishing the simple things in a relationship: "Cause I love the way you say good morning/And you take me the way I am."

Be OK isn't actually the most popular album Ingrid Michaelson ever put out. Each of her next four albums charted higher, at least in the U.S. I would argue, however, this this album went a long way towards propelling Michaelson to a successful career. And while later releases might have sold more copies, if I was trapped on the proverbial desert island and only allowed to choose one Michaelson LP to pass my lonely days to, this would be the one I'd pick. Almost ten years after its initial release, its straightforwardness and its beauty still continue to give me a great deal of pleasure.


Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Music, Politics and Juliana Hatfield

I first became aware of Juliana Hatfield in the 1990s through a couple of her singles they played on WDRE (the alternative rock station), "My Sister" and "Spin the Bottle". I liked her enough to buy a couple of her albums at the time. Then, probably like many, I lost track of her. In 2015, when I saw that the Juliana Hatfield Three was putting out a new album (Whatever, My Love), I gave it a shot, and it was worth my while. I especially liked the song "If I Could", which made Top 20 Songs of the year. So when I saw she was putting out another album this year (this time as a solo artist), it seemed like a natural idea to pick it up. The album, called Pussycat, features a close up of Hatfield's face, sans makeup, wearing an expression of extreme unhappiness (and maybe a little bit of mental illness). It's a little off putting, but whatever. I liked Whatever My Love enough to consider it a worthwhile risk. Unfortunately for me, what I got is an entire album of hatred towards all things Donald Trump.

Now I get that sometimes an artist has something they want to express, and I can deal with songs I don't agree with. Songs. Not a whole album. Pussycat is filled with anger and disdain for everything and everyone in Trump's life. It's not just about him and his "small hands". There's a song about how much Hatfield wants to see Kellyanne Conway's face melt. There are two songs of disdain for Melania Trump, including one that taunts her for "fucking a whale". I'm sure somewhere there's probably something referring to Ivanka and her husband. I wouldn't know for sure, because one listen was about all I could take. It's not especially creative, there's nothing that really interested me about the music, the whole album is nothing but one huge bile-venting session. All of which would maybe be fine, if she'd called the album something like Fuck Trump. Then I would have known that probably, this wasn't the album for me, and I wouldn't feel totally ripped off.

Now here's the thing -- if you're a musician, you're allowed to write and sing about whatever you want. But you need to understand a couple of things going in. The first is that the minute you start aggressively singing about your personal political and social views, you're probably turning a bunch of people off without even realizing it. Maybe you don't care about that, although certainly on a local level, most of the artists I've met over the years have to fight like dogs to get people interested in their music in the first place. They really don't want to turn people off.

The second thing you ought to know is that you're really not changing anybody's mind. The truth is, I don't care what Juliana Hatfield thinks about Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, or anybody else. I don't begrudge her beliefs, I don't need her to think like me, but her opinion doesn't change my opinions even a little. And I certainly don't want her beliefs shoved down my throat, especially when she hits me with them somewhat dishonestly. Maybe she needs to vent -- from her own statements, it seems like this might be the case. She's distraught over Trump's election, she doesn't understand it, it has her so upset that she has to get those feelings out somehow -- I can sympathize with all of that. But hire yourself a therapist, Juliana. Don't do your therapy on my time, and steal my ten bucks in the process. Now, instead of my being fan (if a casual one), I'll never buy one of her albums again because I don't trust her anymore.

Years ago, I used to run an online Yahoo group called longislandmusicscene. (I still do technically, but it's really been running itself for the last ten years or so. I never closed it because people still use it occasionally, but nowhere near as much as they did before newer and better forums like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever modern sites they're using now came along). When I moderated the list, I had a strict rule against discussing politics on the list, primarily because the list was intended to help people come together and develop ideas as to how to promote local original music, whereas all politic discussion does is get people pissed at one another. And in fact, one of the things that eventually drove me out of the scene was continually going to shows where I came out to enjoy and support a local musician, only to have to sit there and listen to them berate my point of view and the leaders who I respected. Why would I want to buy music and attend shows to hear my beliefs disrespected again and again? So eventually, I just stopped. I moved on and found other things to do with my time and my money.

So that's really all I wanted to say about this issue. Again, I have no problems accepting that people think differently than I do. I've lived long enough to be at peace with the understanding that many good people see the world from a very different perspective than I do. And if you're an artist, it's totally your choice as to whether you want to write and sing about your beliefs, and how you want to do it. But realize that if choose to mix your music and your politics together, you might be gaining some fans who agree with your basic world view, but you're also more likely than not offending some others. And those you offend probably won't even tell you about it. They'll just stop supporting you.

I'm stepping off of my soapbox now. Next post (I think) will be a review of an album by a respected New York folk artist. (That's the only hint you're going to get).




Friday, August 4, 2017

Review of Foster the People's "Sacred Hearts Club"

I posted this review earlier this morning on the Sputnik Music website.


Review Summary: With this, their third album, Foster the People has begun to accumulate an impressive body of work.

Say what you will about Foster the People, this is a band that knows how to write alt-rock pop songs. Their debut album Torches went platinum, largely on the strength of the 2010 hit single, "Pumped Up Kicks". Their 2014 follow-up Supermodel was a step down, but not a huge one. Now comes Sacred Hearts Club, which is roughly equivalent in terms of quality to Supermodel. I prefer Supermodel myself, but it's almost a coin toss. Several other reviews I've seen have considered this to be the superior album of the two. Either way, one thing is clear -- Foster the People has become one of the better bands working within the indie pop genre. With this, their third album, they've begun to accumulate an impressive body of work.

There are 12 songs on Sacred Hearts Club. Two are short, connector-type songs -- they aren't really meant to stand alone, just to provide a bridge between two of the longer tracks. Of the other ten, nine are decent or better. As for the overall sound, it's made up mostly of dreamy electro bits, slow trippy beats and laid back (and sometimes falsetto) vocals, with weird synth and vocal effects sprinkled into the mix throughout. For the most part, the music is in no hurry to get anywhere, which is fine. I saw a comment somewhere that claimed FTP was creating the kind of sounds that The Beach Boys might have forged had they been formed in the 2010s instead of the 1960s. While I don't agree entirely, I can hear where the notion is coming from. Like The Beach Boys, Foster the People creates a lazy, beach-like vibe, minus all the lyrics about sand, sea, cars and girls. And although they're less harmony-driven than The Beach Boys, when they do reach for some blended vocals, the sound is pretty savory indeed. In certain spots, such as the end of "Lotus Eater", you can really hear a similarity between the vocal sounds of the two bands.

Where the comparison, and to a certain extent the album, falls a little short is that Foster the People sometimes experiments with harsher sounds here that I don't think Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys would have gone for. "Pay the Man", the first song on the album, does have an edge to it. But it's the kind of song that feels somewhat formless during the verses, only really coming together for the chorus. The worst offender, however, is a track called "Loyal Like Sid & Nancy". This one is all over the place, and reminds me of some of the more unforgivable excesses of bands like MGMT. I should also confess, though, that I've never been a fan of hip-hop, and these two are the hip-hoppiest tracks on the album, which might help explain why they're my two least favorites. Anyway, while I applaud the band for trying to stretch their sound a little, I don't think they were successful on these two songs (especially on "Sid and Nancy").

On the other hand, most of the other tracks, if not great, are at least pretty good. "Sit Next to Me", a mid-tempo pop song that's right in FTP's wheelhouse, scores nicely here. The vocals are easy on the ears in a Mowgliesque kind of way. (Geez, "hip-hoppiest", "Mowgliesque" -- I'm coining my own words right and left!). Also strong is "Doing It for the Money", which has the best jangly guitar work on the album. Other songs I especially like include "I Love My Friends", a bass-driven ode to the lovable losers who make our lives a better place, "Harden the Paint", a call-and-response song that sounds like it might have been written slightly backwards, and "III", the slow, dreamy song that ends the album.

Foster the People has become one of my favorite bands of the current decade. Their ability to craft quality pop songs and the mellowness of their sound might not make them great artists, but it does make their music really pleasing to listen to. Sacred Hearts Club, while not as strong an album as Torches, is still one of the better albums released in 2017. And I suspect that Brian Wilson himself would agree.


Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Deap Vally, Garbage and Blondie (Part 2: The Actual Show)

So I took you all the way from the NY State Thruway rest stops in 1969 through the sumptuous grounds of modern-day Bethel Woods in about 50,000 words or more (God, I was in a gabby mood the other night), but you want to hear about the actual show, eh? Well why not!

The sun was starting to go down as Deap Vally took the stage. I went to this concert knowing absolutely nothing about this band -- I didn't even know they were playing until the weekend of the show. Deap Vally is the LA-based duo of Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards. They're two attractive young women who play a blues-tinged brand of rock. Troy sings and plays electric guitar, while Edwards sings (less often) and plays drums. Their look catches your attention -- both were wearing brightly colored one-piece tights, Troy in sparkling red and Edwards in a cooler blue/green. They played this show barefoot, and from the photos I've seen, that's their usual thing. I don't have a whole lot more to say about them. They had the task of playing to a bunch of people who weren't familiar with their music, as the venue filled up with people who were there to see Garbage and Blondie. I was going to say "the unenviable task", but when I thought about it, that's actually bullshit. I guarantee that there are a lot of young bands who envy them that they get to play in front of several thousand potential new fans a night while opening for two bands who each have their own large following. They weren't really my cup of tea -- they were a little too bluesy for my taste -- but they played energetically, and seemed likable enough, and I'm sure they've made themselves a decent number of new fans during this tour.

They got me thinking a little about the current wave of two-member bands, though. I noticed that because they have no bass player, in order to get a full sound (which they did successfully), Troy has to spend most of her time on the two bass strings of her guitar. Once in awhile, she sneaks her hand up for some high-end notes to fill in the sound, but mostly, she's playing loud and low. So that's about it -- those are my great thoughts about Deap Vally. One thing I did appreciate, though, which either Shirley Manson or Deborah Harry (or maybe both) pointed out -- it was kind of neat to see three full generations of rocker women sharing the one stage on the same night. Blondie began in the late '70s, Garbage in the mid-'90s, and Deap Vally in the current decade. So they're neatly spaced apart in 20-year intervals.

I wasn't 100% sure who would play next. They're kind of listing Garbage and Blondie as co-headliners of the tour. But from what I'm hearing on Sputnik, it sounds like Garbage is going on first every night, and that's what happened here.

What can I tell you? Garbage played a really strong set. Shirley Manson came out in a glittery orange-red kimono-type thing with long, flowing sleeves that she used to great dramatic effect during the first few songs, before eventually ditching the sleeves and making herself more comfortable. She was in good voice (I've seen recorded concerts where she's been off), although her voice can be just a touch wild. But she mostly sounded really good, and she has a great stage presence. She began by moving slowly, but by the end of the night, she was literally running in circles around the stage. Most of the time, she doesn't so much dance as she stomps around the stage and often into the crowd, almost looking pissed off at times, although I think she's really just intense. Then she'll stop suddenly and strike a dramatic pose. This might sound silly or pretentious to you, but she's compelling to watch. And every time I took my eyes off of her to watch the rest of the band, it was hard to find her again, because she'd marched out into the crowd on one side or the other.

Two things I noticed: 1) Garbage is a really good band. They really know their stuff as musicians, and they fill the house with a wall of sound; and 2) Compared to many of her cohorts, Manson doesn't have a huge vocal range -- if you listen to Garbage's songs, there's not a lot of up or down to the notes -- the bands's stock in trade is repetition with slight variations, and this is partially because they're tailoring the music to Manson's voice. But having said that, Manson does a lot with what she has. Her voice and her personality definitely keep your interest, which I can't say about every front person.

Over the course of the set, Garbage played pretty much all of the hits you'd want to hear, including "Stupid Girl", "I'm Only Happy When It Rains", #1 Crush (the song from Romeo and Juliet) and "Special". They also did "Empty", my favorite song from their most recent album Strange Little Birds. And during the set, Manson gave what seemed to be a heartfelt tribute to Deborah Harry and how she helped to open the door for later generations of female rockers. As I said, I've been wanting to see this band for years, and they didn't let me down.

What I quickly learned, though, is that although Garbage was treated as a headliner by the crowd, Blondie was received as superstars. And God bless them, they earned it. They immediately fired the crowd up by opening with two of their classics, "One Way or Another" and "Hanging on the Telephone", both from their timeless Parallel Lines album. Deborah Harry came out wearing what almost looked like a matador's outfit, complete with a cape that said something to the effect of "Stop Fucking Up the Earth", and sporting these weird antenna-like things on her head that I eventually figured out were large plastic (I guess) bees, in honor of the band's new Pollinator album.

Now when I reviewed Pollinator, I kind of (sadly) trashed Debby a little for the state of her voice. There's no getting around it, you can certainly hear some of the effects of age there. For a 72-year-old woman, though, her voice is still pretty amazing, and she's still a tremendously entertaining singer. If you're a longtime Blondie fan like Denise and I are, it might make you a little sad, but let's face it -- we're all getting older. And in comparison to some other artists of the '70s and '80s, her voice is in better shape than that of many of her contemporaries.

Anyway, Blondie kept the fans' interest throughout, although definitely more so on their older classics like "Rapture", "Call Me" and "Atomic" than on the four songs they played from Pollinator (one of which Denise joked should have been called "Bathroom Break"). They closed their set with the biggest hit single of their career, "Heart of Glass", then came back for an encore of "The Tide Is High" and "Dreaming". Denise and I sang along with Debbie as we scooted back up that hill, because we were pre-warned (threatened, nearly) that the shuttle bus leaves 15 minutes after the show, so we'd better not dawdle. But the sound carried well throughout the ground, and we'd already given the band their well-deserved standing "O" after "Heart of Glass", so were happy (if a little breathless) campers. And singing along with Debby helped to keep us moving.

So that was it, really. For me, it was the highlight show of my summer of music. Garbage was everything I hoped for, and Blondie reminded me again why they're one of my Favorite 20 bands of all time.

My Foster the People album review will probably my next entry here. I thought I might catch Mama Mia! at The Gateway this week, but that probably won't happen now unless I feel really inspired tomorrow night (although I will be seeing their version of Little Shop of Horrors later this month).

So peace out, faithful readers. For now, anyway.