Saturday, November 18, 2017

He-Bird, She-Bird, and some quick thoughts on LI Americana

Finally got to catch my friends He-Bird, She-Bird live last night at the Bellport Library. I reviewed their CD on this blog a few months ago, and I was supposed to catch them live at the Bellport Bandshell one night near the end of the summer. Unfortunately, on that night, it rained buckets, and I stupidly didn't notice that they had an alternate indoor site listed for the concert in case of bad weather. So on that night, the show went on, but I didn't.

Anyway, last night, I finally caught up with them, and it was a pretty triumphant show. The normally 3-piece He-Bird, She-Bird played as a 6-piece band last night, which included Bill Ayasse from the mighty Long Island prog rock band Frogg Cafe sitting in on mandolin (and occasionally on violin).

Earlier in the evening, the library had hosted a community dinner. And while I passed on the food and went straight for the music, there were still some tasty aromas and the sound of people happily munching going on as the show began.

The band showcased their excellent 3-part vocal harmonies throughout the night, on a bill that included some country, bluegrass, folk, Americana, and even a touch of Gospel music. The band played a variety of covers, including their version of Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" and a slow, waltz-like version of the old classic, "You Are  My Sunshine". However, most of the program was concentrated on He-Bird, She-Bird originals, including numbers from their eponymous debut album such as "Once I Called You Mine," "Don't Tempt Me" and "Little Muse O'Mine", plus some newer and as-yet-unrecorded material.

It would be fair to say that a good time was had by all.

I have to say that I've found 2017 to be a good year for music, and for local music, in general. And for whatever reason, it's been a particularly strong year on Long Island for new albums in that folk/Americana/country range. In addition to the He-Bird, She-Bird album, there have been strong entries from Pete Mancini, the lead singer/songwriter of Butchers Blind (Foothill Freeway) and The Nancy Atlas Project (Cut and Run) on the country/Americana front, and a strong folk offering from The Hank Stone Band (Painting Tomorrow's Sky Blue). And a number of former Long Islanders have mined the same territories with new 2017 albums, including The Kenn Morr Band (Along the Way), Dave Isaacs and his new band, Renfree Isaacs (Renfree Isaacs), and former Mother Freedom front woman Leslie Mendelson (Love and Murder). I'm going to put this in list form at the bottom of the column today, in case anyone wants to copy it for easy holiday shopping.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

He-Bird, She-Bird - He-Bird, She-Bird
Pete Mancini - Foothill Freeway
The Nancy Atlas Project - Cut and Run
The Hank Stone Band - Painting Tomorrow's Sky Blue
The Kenn Morr Band - Along the Way
Renfree Isaacs - Renfree Isaacs (Digital only)
Leslie Mendelson - Love and Murder

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review of Best Ex's "Ice Cream Antisocial"

I dropped this review onto the Sputnik Music website just a few minutes ago. Kudos to another strong (formerly) Long Island band.

Review Summary: The band formerly known as Candy Hearts drops a new EP filled with some fine, fine ditz-rock.

I've always liked these guys. It's hard to say exactly why. I think it's because there's something both genuine and kind of charming about them.

Best Ex is the band formerly known as Candy Hearts. They haven't changed their personnel, or even their style (with the possible exception that they're maybe a little more "pop" and a little less "punk" than they used to be). And they still play their Candy Hearts material when they're on tour. So why the name change? According to lead singer Mariel Loveland, "The truth is, I just don't identify with being called 'Candy Hearts' anymore." She goes on to explain that she feels like she's coming from a completely different place than she was when she first created the band. OK.

Anyway, Ice Cream Antisocial is their first EP of new music since the name change, and it pretty much picks up where Candy Hearts left off. There are six songs here, mostly mining the same territory that the band has always mined -- catchy songs about dysfunctional relationships, songs that are happy on the outside but sad on the inside, all sung from the persona of the likable but kind of zany and irresponsible girl next door. Yourdictionarycom defines "ditz" as being "Slang for a person considered flighty, eccentric, silly, etc." I like to think of this genre of music as "ditz-rock".

Loveland is another one of those vocalists you either like or you don't. Her voice isn't as strident as, say, Looming's Jessica Knight. But it's untrained, and almost (but not quite) a little flat. She describes it herself as being "high" and "small", which is one of the reasons for moving away from the "Candy Hearts" name -- she's a woman now, albeit one with a teen girl's voice, as she's looking to be perceived as such. Personally, I've always liked her voice -- it's the voice of a real person, not an image. And while she might not be writing songs about the grave issues of the day, when I listen to her, I never have any doubt that she's projecting her actual self and singing about the things that are important in her life.

"Girlfriend", the first track on the EP, is also the most fetching. It's got a hook of sharp stainless steel, as the song's protagonist extols a male friend in whom she has more than a platonic interest, "Kiss me like you don't want it to end/'Cause I don't really care about your girlfriend". This is a song written from the opposite perspective of Hayley William's "Misery Business", as this one gives voice to the would-be femme fatale, who pleads, "Baby I'm bad news/But I am good for you." 

"Lonely Life" features a happy tune that somewhat belies the song's sad, confessional lyrics, wherein Loveland admits "My cat is my best friend", and laments, "Oh, it's a lonely life/We're just doing the best we can". It's another one of those songs that makes it clear you're listening to a real human being here, with all of the flaws and imperfections implied therein.

I don't know if changing the band name of an already nationally-known band was a great business decision, but I hope it works out for these guys. I'm wishing that this EP is just the first of many successful Best Ex projects to come. They've never put out an album I haven't enjoyed, and Ice Cream Antisocial is no exception. On the chorus of the song "Someday", Loveland declares, "Someday we're gonna get it.../Someday we're gonna get it right". I'd argue that they already have.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thursday, November 16, 2017

King Crimson

This was my first live show since the Howard Jones massacre, and ironically enough, it was back at The Paramount. (Say what you will, but there's no arguing with the fact that that particular venues books more strong and interesting national shows than any other venue on Long Island.)

King Crimson was a very important band in my musical development. As I've mentioned in the past, while I was the oldest of two boys in my family (I didn't meet or become aware that I even had a younger sister until many years later), I had to rely on my peers to learn about music. And as luck would have it, my closest friend through the grammar school years, Bob, had two older brothers who happened to have pretty sophisticated musical taste.

I don't remember for sure what the first album that Bob and his family exposed me too. I suspect that it was Procol Harum's Shine on Brightly, which featured their 17-minute-plus opus "In Held 'Twas in I". But among those early forays into a completely different kind of rock music, along with Tommy by The Who and We're Only In It For The Money by Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention was an album whose cover art featured a painting of a horrific screaming face: King Crimson's In the Court of The Crimson King. It soon became one of my first albums.

There were so many amazing things about this album. Up until this period, I always thought that rock had to be about guitars -- many of my peers were just getting into Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. But here was something completely different, chock full of flutes and mellotrons, and songs with epic and/or science fiction themes. As for Greg Lake, sometimes people forget that before there was an Emerson, Lake & Palmer, he was King Crimson's original singer. And for my money, the late lamented Mr. Lake always had one of the most beautiful voices in rock.

I won't lie -- I didn't know what to make of "21st Century Schizoid Man". Many people consider this their most beloved song, but I'm not a jazz guy, and I never have been. And as beautiful as the first two minutes of "Moonchild" are, I could have lived without the 10 minutes of chimes and acoustic guitar noodling that followed it. But if nothing else, King Crimson exposed me to a whole new style of music. I went on to purchase Lizard and Islands, and eventually went back for In the Wake of Poseidon. Then in the '80s, I got into them again during the period when Adrian Belew was their lead singer. But there were other progressive rock bands such as Jethro Tull and Yes whose music I found to be more consistently to my taste, so for long periods of time, I never even thought about them.

Lately, though, since I've been involved with the Sputnik Music site, I've run into a nice little pocket of progressive rock fans who've inspired me to get back into prog rock as a genre. I've been listening to modern prog rock bands like Mostly Autumn and Ayreon, and prog rock bands from other countries like Quarteto 1111, Universal Totem Orchestra and Ingranaggi Della Valle. And all of this has renewed my interest in bands such as King Crimson. In the last year, I've picked up their albums Lark's Tongue in Aspic and Red, and I've got albums such as Starless and Bible Black, Discipline and Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind on my radar. So when I saw that King Crimson was playing at The Paramount, I had to jump on the opportunity to see them.

The first thing I noticed when entering the main part of the auditorium was three drum kits in the front of the stage, along with a pair of signs asking people not to take pictures or to videotape the performance. As the crowd filtered in, a recording of strange chimes ringing at a low volume could be heard.

I was seated upstairs, in the back section, to the far right side of the stage, which is a slightly obstructed view area. It's not too bad, but there's a luxury box in front of you. What this meant to me in practical terms was that when someone was standing in the luxury box, it blocked my view of Robert Fripp, who was positioned in the back of the stage on the same side where I was. It wasn't that big a deal though, as this concert was much more of a listening experience than a visual one.

As the band filed in, I could see that they were dressed formally in jackets and ties. Now Wikipedia lists this modern version of King Crimson as a 9-piece band, but on this night, I only counted eight. So unless one of them was blocked from my line of vision (which isn't completely impossible), they're playing one player shorter than they have been recently. [Addendum: Wikipedia has since updated their page to mention that Chris Gibson, one of the keyboard players, has recently left the band.] The only band members other than Robert Fripp whose work I'm much familiar with are the bass player/Chapman Stick player Tony Levin, who I saw live many years ago playing with Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, and saxophone/flute player Mel Collins, who has been a band member on and off for many years.

As for the show itself, it was awesome. The band played for almost three-and-a-half hours, including two full sets and an encore. They played most of the songs I most wanted to hear, including the title track from Islands, "Cirkus" from Lizard, and "The Court of the Crimson King", "Epitaph" and (surprisingly) "Moonchild" (with a brief bass solo at the end instead of the 10 minutes of noodling) from In the Court of the Crimson King.

And two highlights of the night included the beautiful "Starless" from Red, and a smoking hot version of, yes, "21st Century of Schizoid Man" as the closer to the second set. (Even I have to admit it was  great). They probably played more from Monkey Mind than I'd have liked (since I'm not familiar with that album yet), but then again, even though it's a live album, it's also their most recent album of original music, so that was understandable. And while I'd have loved to have heard "In the Wake of Poseidon", " Talk to the Wind" and "Waiting Man", I'm quibbling. The tickets, though a little pricier than some, were a bargain compared to the strength of the show. (You can find a full setlist, courtesy of our friends at, at I left the theater fully satisfied.

So that's it for my concert tickets for this year, at least as far as national shows go (although I'm planning to finally catch He-Bird, She-Bird locally this weekend). But I do have my eyes on a couple of tours scheduled for the early part of 2018, so we'll see what happens. In the meantime, King Crimson is playing in the city this weekend, both Friday and Saturday nights at The Beacon Theater. So if you happen to be in the area, you might want to catch them. Who knows when (or if) they'll be around these parts again.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dare to Be Different -- WLIR: The Voice of a Generation

A few months ago, Denise asked me if I had any interest in seeing a new documentary film that had been made about the former Long Island radio station WLIR. I'm normally not a big documentary guy -- I'd rather watch a comic book superhero extravaganza, a bloody horror flick or even a musical. But in this case, I thought, "Why not?"

As I think this blog has made clear, I've been around for a few years, and been through several generations worth of music. When I got my first transistor radio when I was nine years old, I immediately hooked into 770 WABC (AM) radio. It had brash, loud DJ's like Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow), Ron Lundy and Harry Harrison. The #1 song when I got this treasure was The Monkees' "I'm a Believer"; #2 was "Georgy Girl" by The Seekers, and #3 was "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" by The Royal Guardsmen.

Then I got older, my tastes matured, and I got my first FM radio. And like many music lovers from the New York metro area, I was drawn to 102.7 WNEW-FM. The vibe was mellow, the DJ's were allowed to program their own music, and my favorite, Alison Steele, aka "The Night Bird" even read poetry at the opening of each show. Scott Muni gave me "Things From England" every Friday. Jonathan Schwartz snuck Frank Sinatra into the rock and folk rotation. And weekend host Vin Scelsa played his own eclectic mix on his "Idiot's Delight" show.

But somewhere along the way, the station began to decline. Schwartz was gone by 1976. Steele left in 1979. When new wave hit, it tried to keep up, but honestly, I think they were baffled by many of these strange new synth-pop-heavy artists. Slowly, they started to suck. So I was adrift. I tried WPLJ for awhile, but their format felt too limited. I even tried K-ROQ (WXRK), but again, compared to what WNEW used to be, the station felt stale and limited. They were all playing the same old artists and the same narrow range of songs by those artists. Radio was boring.

Then, sometime in about 1986, I found WLIR. I was late to this particular party -- the station had changed to their New Music in 1982 -- but better late than never. I was living in Flushing at the time, going back to school during the day and working overnights in Manhattan. And here was a station that was playing cutting edge music compared to the stale "classic rock" stations. I started listening to DJ's like Larry "The Duck", Malibu Sue, Donna Donna and Denis McNamara. And it was good.

WLIR lost their license in a battle with the FCC in 1987, but when the station was bought out by Jarad Broadcasting and changed to WDRE, they kept a similar format and most of the WLIR DJ's, so I stayed. And in fact, in 1993, I answered a personals ad in the Village Voice by a woman that referenced her love for cats (I loved my dog, so close enough), WDRE (my station!) and long walks on the beach (well two out of three isn't bad). And that's how I met my wife Denise.

But while I may have been late to the WLIR party, Denise was there from the beginning. She's a veteran of '80s dance clubs like Malibu, Spit and 007, and WLIR was her station from the get-go.
And Ellen Goldfarb the director of Dare to Be Different - WLIR: The Voice of a Generation is a like-minded soul.

The film was playing this past weekend at Soundview Cinemas in Port Washington as part of the Gold Coast Film Festival, and clearly, for this director, it was a labor of love. It tells the story of how program director Denis McNamara talked WLIR owner Elton Spitzer into a change in format in 1982, moving from classic rock to New Music, and how the tiny station, operating on a minuscule budget and practically broadcasting with two bottles and a string, became the most influential station in the country for breaking bands like U2, The Police, The Cure and The Clash. In fact, at one point, the film even features sound footage of a post-Joshoa-Tree Bonno thanking WLIR in front of a huge, screaming crowd at The Nassau Coliseum for its part in helping U2 gain their first foothold in the States.

The film features footage of McNamara, Larry the Duck, Malibu Sue, Donna Donna and the gang, as well as various artists such as Billy Idol, extolling the virtues of the beloved station. It even features cameos by unexpected people, such as Mickey Marchello of The Good Rats (who along with one of the members of Blue Oyster Cult, lamented the format change that shut local rockers like The Rats and BOC out), Gary Dell'Abate of The Howard Stern Show (who apparently was a WLIR intern in his pre-Stern days), and Carol Silva of News 12 Long Island, who was a former WLIR news person.

In spite of its 2-hour length, the film moved along quickly, and was never boring. And throughout, as various new wave artists were featured or on-air personalities were interviewed, little hoots of pleasure erupted out of the crowd of the sold-out afternoon show, which was obviously filled with former WLIR listeners who remembered the station fondly. Denise acknowledged afterwards that she almost teared up a few times. It was a chance to remember some of the happiest times of her youth.

Afterwards, there a question-and-answer session that included Goldfarb, McNamara, Larry The Duck, Donna Donna and The Mighty Maximizer, among others.

I recommend the film highly for all former fans of WLIR/WDRE, for students of radio history, or just for music fans in general who would enjoy a story of how a small-but-dedicated group of people were able to make a real impact on the US music scene for the better part of a decade. Dare to Be Different will be making the rounds at various film festivals over the months to come, and according to the director, there's a good chance it will be available on DVD in the early part of 2018. I'd suggest you give it a watch if you get the chance.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review of The Fixx's "Reach the Beach"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website a few moments ago:

Review Summary: I'm still not convinced that The Fixx is a great album band, but damn, they have some great songs.

The Fixx is one new wave band that has been almost criminally ignored on this site. While they're certainly still popular today on '80s-music podcasts and radio stations, they're not the kind of band that made their fame through danceable synthpop love songs. Although their music certainly makes use of synthesizers, they're more guitar-driven than the typical band of the era, and the themes of their songs are often serious and rather bleak.

Reach the Beach (1983) was The Fixx's most popular album, particularly in North America. The album got as high as #8 on both the U.S. and Canadian music charts, driven by prominent singles such as "One Thing Leads to Another", "Saved By Zero" and "The Sign of Fire". It also made the charts in the band's native UK, although the album was less successful there than the band's debut album, Shuttered Room (1982) had been.

The band is best-known for their noteworthy singles, so in tackling their most successful album, I was curious to investigate how proficient they were as an album band -- were they capable of putting together an LP that was consistently entertaining, or are the songs they're best known for all there really is to them?

First, a few words about their style of music. As I said earlier, The Fixx tends to be guitar-dominated. But a quick comparison with other groups of the era for whom this was also true reveals that this band very much has their own unique style. Where a band such as The Police are known for Andy Summers' jangly, often reggae-driven riffs, and groups like U2 and A Flock of Seagulls are famous for the driving guitars of The Edge and Paul Reynolds, The Fixx's Jamie West-Oram has a jerky style dominated by quickly-strummed electric guitar chords. 

Another distinguishing feature of their music is the way the little electric jolts of bass intertwine with those guitar pulses, which sometimes makes the experience of listening to this music similar to receiving a series of small electric shocks. (Some of the bass on Reach the Beach is handled by their former bass player Alfie Argus, while some was played by Dan K. Brown, who would be elevated to the status of full group member by the band's next album, 1984's Phantoms.) As for the lead vocals of Cy Curnin, while they're maybe not extraordinary, they're certainly competent, and his voice does have an immediately recognizable quality to it. On the whole, he's more of a plus than a minus.

So what about the songs themselves? While "One Thing Leads to Another" and "Saved By Zero" are both familiar '80s classics, and the first in particular is a song you can't help but move along with (even if you're not a dancer), "The Sign of Fire" has a desperate quality about it that gives the band a little bit of edge. However, a quick listen to Reach the Beach makes it obvious that there's more here than just the three singles. The title track is a slow, intense number that gives a little more prominence to the keyboards. It's about getting sidetracked by all of life's distractions, and how difficult it can be to focus on the things that are truly important, such as your relationships with those you love. "Liner", a song with a particularly interesting bass line on the verses, and an unusual chorus that drives home the lyric, "All aboard before the storm," also features imagery of being adrift in an ocean and making your way towards land. And the last track, "Outside", presents us with an interesting and deliberate guitar riff/vocal combo that is supported by a tense bass line and a light sprinkling of synth.

On the other hand, a number of the other songs are fairly forgettable. "Opinions" has a bit of a paranoid feel going for it, but not much else, and "Privilege," "Changing" and "Running" are all pretty uninteresting. 

So is The Fixx a great album band? It depends on your definition of "great album". If we're talking about an LP that is strong on every track, then no. But if you define it as an album that has enough interesting and high-quality numbers to make the whole package a must for your music collection, then maybe. The truth is, I don't know if Reach the Beach is great album or not. But damn, does it have its share of excellent songs! And that's enough for me to recommend it to all new wave music fans.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Monday, November 6, 2017

Review of Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie's "Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie"

I posted this review this morning on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: A solid, if unspectacular, effort by the second and third best songwriters in Fleetwood Mac.

This should have been a new Fleetwood Mac album. It almost was. As of 2015, Stevie Nicks was supposed to hook up with the other four members of the classic Fleetwood Mac lineup in the studio, where Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie were already working together on new material. Instead, she decided to tour in support of her 24 Karat Gold: Songs From the Vault solo album, and Buckingham and McVie said, "Eff that b-word, we ain't waiting." Or something to that effect. Why they decided not to call it a Fleetwood Mac album anyway, I can't say. They released Behind the Mask without Buckingham in the lineup in 1990, and they released the much-reviled Time album without either Buckingham or Nicks in 1995. Then again, look at the ratings for those two LPs on Sputnik's Fleetwood Mac page, and maybe that explains it. (Even the 2003 Say You Willalbum, which fared much better with the critics, was missing Christine McVie for all but three of the tracks, and she wasn't listed as an official band member for that project).

So what we have with Lindsay Buckingham/Christine McVie is a 10-track project with Buckingham and McVie trading lead vocals. Buckingham is listed as the songwriter for all five of his tracks, while three of McVie's give McVie and Buckingham co-songwriting credits and the other two are solely credited to McVie. Buckingham obviously does all of the guitar work here (and even percussion for some tracks), while McVie contributes many of the keyboards throughout. The album also lists John McVie on bass, Mick Fleetwood on drums and percussion and Mitchell Froom on keyboards, although some numbers were recorded solely by Buckingham and Ms. McVie.

It's definitely not a bad album. It doesn't necessarily reach out and grab you by the giggleberries on first listen (or it didn't for me, anyway), but it grows on you with repeated listens. There's nothing on it that really matches Fleetwood Mac's best work, but most of it is at least respectable -- there are only a couple of disposable tracks.

The first single from the LP, and also the best song, is a Buckingham track called "In My World". It's a catchy tune that features some somber guitar riffs on the verses, then lightens up on the chorus. It didn't exactly burn up the charts, but then again, Buckingham and McVie are both in their late-60's-to-early-70's, and we all know that rock/pop music is mostly a young artist's game, especially as far as record sales go. 

McVie's best number is the second track on the album, a song called "Feel About You". It's a love song with a Caribbean feel to it. She's also got two other worthy efforts here: "Carnival Begin", a slow, dreamlike track that features some sparse but romantic guitar on the choruses, and "Red Sun", a song that looks back on a lost relationship with some regret. As for Buckingham, his strongest tracks other than "In My World" include "Love Is Here to Stay", which features a soulful vocal and some of his trademark finger-picked guitar work, and "Sleeping Around the Corner", a reworked version of a song that was previously released as a bonus track on one of his solo albums.

As I said earlier, Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie is a solid album of light rock music that's definitely worth a listen, especially for Fleetwood Mac fans. But as one Sputnik User lamented in a soundoff, you can't listen to it without thinking about what could have been -- what if a couple of the less interesting tracks on here were replaced by two or three good Stevie Nicks songs? But you know what Stevie says about "Dreams": "Like a heartbeat ... drives you mad/In the stillness of remembering what you had ...." So instead, I'll try to appreciate what we do have with this LP -- an enjoyable, if unspectacular, album of sort-of Fleetwood Mac music. And that's still pretty good.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Friday, November 3, 2017

Review of Mostly Autumn's "Sight of Day"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website just a little earlier this morning:

Review Summary: Savory modern prog rock that would make the legends of the seventies proud.

Most of my favorite artists of all time tend to be bands from the 1970s who were either straight-out progressive rock groups, or artists whose music at least touched on prog rock some of the time. Some are well-known on this site -- bands like Jethro Tull, The Who, Pink Floyd and Yes. Others are less familiar to many of the site's users, such as Procol Harum or The Good Rats. I've never lost my love for these bands. But when music changed, I moved on too, to genres such as new wave and alternative. It's not that I lost my fondness for prog rock. It's just that no one seemed to be making it any more, at least not in forms that I recognized as such. Yes, there were bands out there, even bands from my own hometown of Long Island, NY, such as Dream Theater and Frogg Cafe, who have made solid reputations in modern prog rock circles. But the first sounds a little closer to metal than prog rock to my ears, and the second is closer to jazz. Even Nightwish, whose Endless Forms Most Beautiful album is one of my favorites from the last few years, doesn't consistently have that blend of rock with classical, folk or pop that I craved from my heroes of old.

But a funny thing happened when I joined Sputnik -- although the site is still largely about all things metal, I discovered little sub-pockets of enthusiasts of many different styles of music, including punk fans, folk fans, new wave fans, and yes, fans of my beloved prog rock. And they turned me on to a whole variety of artists from all different countries who keep the fires of prog rock burning even today. You won't see these bands written about in the mainstream music press, or hear them on the radio (if anyone even still listens to the radio anymore). But they're out there, making the music they love, signing to genre-specific labels or financing their albums through crowdsourcing and other creative means. One of these is Mostly Autumn.

Mostly Autumn is a British band that has been around since 1995. They've gone through various lineup changes over the years, although two of their founding members remain: Guitarist/vocalist Bryan Josh and keyboard player Iain Jennings (even if Jennings did briefly leave the band in the mid-2000s). Whatever their lineup has been, however, one thing that has remained constant is that they've always relied on both male and female lead vocals. Josh's wife, Olivia Sparnnen-Josh, joined the band in 2004, became the female lead vocalist in 2010, and the couple has carried the lead-vocal load ever since. The band's sound has been said to draw on groups such as Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Genesis and Camel, with various Celtic and folk influences also apparent.

Sight of Day is Mostly Autumn's twelfth studio album, and it's a powerful one. There are ten tracks on the general-release version of the LP, although there was also a limited run of a double-disc version that included seven extra songs. No matter, though, because the general-release version packs more than enough tasty prog-rock goodness to satisfy even the greediest of music lovers. 

I find Josh's guitar style reminds me of a cross between David Gilmour and Robin Trower -- he's got some of Gilmour's ability to say a lot with his instrument without always playing it in hyper-speed mode, and some of Trower's talent for creating passages that are sweeping and majestic. Jennings, meanwhile, is often at his best on slow, elegant piano pieces. There are also some flavorful bits of woodwind and violin sprinkled throughout.

Songs I highly recommend from the LP include "Once Around the Sun," which has a little bit of a Kansas flavor (the band, not the state); "Only the Brave," a tale of warriors past and present that lets Mostly Autumn cut loose and rock out; "Tomorrow Dies," a mid-tempo guitar-based number that gives Olivia Josh a chance to exercise her pipes; and "Raindown", a slow, delicate track that also happens to be exquisitely beautiful.

Sight of Day has definitely inspired me to investigate this band's back-discography. It's one of my Top Five albums of 2017.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Bohemians, Howard Jones and the Drunk D-head

I waited for a few days to write about this show. Tonight, I have the time, and I'm ready to do so. So here's my review of The Boehemians and Howard Jones at The Paramount in Huntington last Saturday night.

Today there was a terrorist attack in New York City. There was also a shooting at a rave in London. Compared to horrible events like this, my experience at this show is is a speck of ash on the Antarctic snow. Nevertheless, this was actually the worst concert experience I've ever had. It wasn't Howard Jones' or the Bohemians fault, for sure, and I mostly don't blame the venue, although I think they could have handled it better.

Now this is the fourth time I've seen Howard Jones, and while I like him OK, that isn't because I'm a huge fan -- it's just the way it happened. The first time was at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens many years ago, sandwiched between Martha and the Muffins and Eurythmics, and that concert might possibly be my favorite one that I ever attended. The second time was at Jones Beach, and I can't even remember who else he performed with -- could have been Culture Club, could have been Human League or The Psychedelic Furs -- regardless, it was a harmless but forgettable performance. The third time was just a few months ago, at the highly entertaining Retro Futura show at The Borgata that I wrote about in this blog. And this was the fourth.

I wouldn't have gotten tickets to this one on my own -- I enjoyed him a lot at the Borgata, but I just saw him, so I wouldn't have gone out of my way to see him again, especially not so soon. But Denise really really enjoyed him at the Borgata, so I told her I'd go with her if she got the tickets. As it turned out, she bought 4 tickets up in our usual area -- one for our friend Rich the drummer, who is a big Howard Jones fan, and one as an extra seat so I had enough room and she didn't have to listen to me complain all night. (Living with me can be just a bundle of fun sometimes).

We met Rich in Huntington, and had a nice dinner at a place up the block. Then we settled in for the show.

The opening band was a young local band called Bohemians, who come from Manorville. They were obviously very happy to be playing a nice stage and opening for a national act, and actually I really liked them. If they'd have had a CD for sale that night, I'd definitely have bought it. Unfortunately, when I finally find their beleaguered merch girl, who was buried so deep in a corner of the bar area under a TV showing the World Series game that I couldn't even see her at first, she told me they didn't have one yet (although she did give me a free download card). I didn't catch the name of the track they opened the set with, but it was really good. Their Facebook page listed bands like The Bravery, The Killers, The Clash and Coldplay as among their favorites, and their sound matched these preferences. Honestly, I liked them better than I liked Bash & Pop, who had opened for The Psychedelic Furs the week before.

The way we were seated, Denise was on the inside of the row, Rich was next (so we could both talk to him, since we don't get to see him that often), the empty seat was next, and I was on the outside, on the aisle seat.

At some point between sets, three guys who looked to be in their 40s or so settled into the row behind us. They had a rather loud conversation that sounded to me like they were talking about hitting the Men's room and describing the various activities they were going to partake in there, although I was only half listening, and I remember giving Rich a grin when they headed right back down the stairs a few minutes later.

After a relatively long break between sets, Howard Jones and his band hit the stage, and opened with "I'd Like to Get to Know You Well," and these three were back in their seats, fresh drinks in hand.

At that point, as I'm somewhat wont to do, I drifted off into my musical happy place. It's where I go at a concert like this, where I'm familiar with most of the material, but not familiar enough to sing along every word. If it had been The Who, or Jethro Tull, for example, I'd have been very involved in the show, and singing along (probably loudly enough to have a throat ache later). But for Jones, I was just pleasantly drifting, as he played material, some of which I knew and some of which I didn't. I was thinking about my next CD review, that I expect to drop in a day or two. I was thinking about how this was the fourth time I was seeing Jones, and how I wish I could somehow trade two of those shows in for two Thomas Dolby concerts, whom I've never seen. In any event, I was in a pleasant musical haze.

At this point, Rich tapped me to get out of the row, and I noticed that Denise was following him. I thought at first they were going down to use the bathrooms, although I figured they'd have to be needing to go pretty badly to go during the concert. But Rich told me they were going to move down, and they quickly slid into two empty seats in front of me. Since the three guys had been pretty loud between sets, I surmised (correctly, as it turned out) that they had probably been talking loudly and drowning out the show for Denise and Rich. I had been oblivious to it, but like I said, I was a few seats away. (I later learned that Denise had asked the loudest of the three if he could talk a little quietly, and he had told her in a miffed voice, "I'll try." But after a few moments, he forgot, and he was loud as ever. So Denise decided the easiest thing to do was to move herself. I also learned that Rich also moved because the guy kept waving his beer back and forth somewhat precariously over Rich's head, and Rich thought that at any minute, the guy, who was at least moderately drunk, was going to spill it on him).

About five or ten minutes passed, Jones ended a song, and the drunk guy started screaming and whistling wildly, then screamed "I don't even care about this show! I just want to ruin this woman's night. Woooo!" He kept on screaming, similar things. Denise told me later that he in the process, he had also referred to her as a "bitch," although I swear I never heard that. At this point, I turned around, caught his eye, and gave him what Jeff from The Pisces Cafe likes to refer to as "the look." After a moment of making sure the guy saw me, he started glaring back, then threatening me I'd "better turn around." Then the guy sitting behind me (who wasn't with him), who was there with his wife asked him to settle down, and the guy started yelling at him.

Truthfully, it's hard to know what to do in a situation like that. The grown-up in you says don't get into a fist fight, but I can tell you that I could have happily killed the guy and slept that night without even a tinge of guilt -- in too many ways, I'm a very angry person.

After a moment of arguing, the other guy went down the stairs, and came back a moment later with one male and one young female security guard. The security guard told d-head, "What's going on up here? I'm hearing you're bothering people," to which d-head responded that he wasn't bothering anybody. At this point, I told the guard he had also been harassing my wife, which Denise verified for him. D-head then insisted that he wasn't bothering anybody, we were bothering him. He went on to tell the guard he was there with a group of six people, and seemed to be challenging him did he really want to get into it and try to throw out six people. (I only saw him with those two other guys, but it's possible that the people on the other side of them might also have been part of his party).

The guard then admonished him not to bother people, and he and the female guard headed back down the stairs. The female guard stayed at the bottom of the stairs, watching our area, as the other guard headed inside. I was hoping he went down to get a larger group to evict the guy, and if needed, the rest of his party. After a few moments, d-head and his two buddies headed down the stairs also. I wasn't sure at first if they were getting out while the getting was good, or just going down to buy another round. (As it turned out, it was the latter).

Right after that, the male guard came out again, and after a quick report from the female guard, he came up and asked our party, plus the other guy and his wife, if we'd like to move to a VIP box and get two free rounds apiece courtesy of the venue. It was obvious that they weren't going to throw the troublemaker out, so I accepted, and they led us down to a roped off box at the back of the floor. A few moments later, a waitress arrived and verified we could have our first two drinks for free on the house. We watched the rest of the show uneventfully, although at times, even down on the floor area, I could hear the drunken d-head's voice screaming from somewhere above me, "Whoooo!"

Now Denise is better than I am at letting things go, and I think Rich is too. Denise danced, sang, and enjoyed the rest of the show, as did Rich. She also said that she felt happy they moved us to "better" seats, although both Rich and I thought the seats were actually worse -- they were closer, but on the floor level, so you couldn't easily see over the people on the dance floor. They weren't elevated like our old seats had been.

As for me, for the rest of the night, Jones might as well have not even been on the stage. I tried to get into it, especially when Jones played "Hide & Seek," a song I like a lot that he hadn't played at the Retro Futura show. But I was so angry that my night was ruined, and honestly, I've still been fuming about it for the last three days. What's particularly aggravating is you don't expect this kind of behavior at a happy little '80s music show. It wasn't heavy metal, it wasn't hip-hop, it was freaking '80s new wave.

As for the venue's reaction, in a way I understand. But in a way I don't. I understand because 1. They didn't actually witness the behavior first-hand; 2. Because it was a happy little '80s show, and I don't think they had as much security present as I've seen them have for some other shows. Much like myself, I don't think they were expecting this kind of thing for a show like this; and 3. They were trying to both do right by us and to avoid a violent confrontation.

But as nice as their offer was, #1, neither Denise nor I really drink, so we each had one free Diet Coke. And Rich did take them up and have a mixed drink, but only one. And like I said, two of the three of us actually liked our original seats better. (To be honest, when I accepted the offer, I thought they were putting us in one of the upstairs VIP boxes, but I guess those were all full -- it was a pretty packed house.)

Again, I understand it rationally. But it wasn't really right. They really should have thrown the provocateur out. As best I can tell, they didn't even cut him off at the bar.

I have tickets for another show at The Paramount within the next few weeks, but now I'm not looking forward to it like I was. This show soured me. Once I use my tickets, I don't think I'll be going back there for awhile, even though I admit it's the kind of thing that could have happened just as easily at a lot of other venues.