Sunday, September 30, 2018

The LIMF, The Bulldog Grill, and the Sad Death of Rich Hughes

I promised you guys this one a couple of weeks ago, after hearing on News 12 that the Bulldog Grill in Amityville had burned down. However, work has been so heavy, and I've had so many shows that needed to be written up, that this is the first chance I've had to write about this.

Back in 1996, Denise's band The Slant played in the Long Island Music Festival, run by Good Times Magazine. This was years before I wrote for Good Times, and also before I had started the longislandmusicscene e-mail group or the Long Island Music Coalition. It was also before I managed either Blue Abyss or Chris Peters. My sole connection to the local music scene at the time was I had become The Slant's manager.

The Slant got into the LIMF at the last minute that year, as a substitute for another band that dropped out. (It was actually Holli of The Basals who got us in. When Rich Branciforte was frustrated that he had an open slot, Holli vouched that if he gave The Slant the entry, she knew they'd promote the show as hard as they could, and play with everything they had.)

The way the LIMF worked was that there were three rounds. At first-round shows, three bands competed, playing a full 40-50 minute set each. The winner was chosen by a combination of audience votes and judge's scores. But the way things were weighed, in practical terms, most of the time, the audience vote was what decided the contest. The judge's scores only really meant anything if the audience score was close. So, in effect, if you could drag enough of your friends and fans out, you were going to win the round. This put a band like The Slant at a disadvantage, insomuch as we were already in our '40s. We had friends, and by and large, they liked our music. But they were at a point in life where they were mostly married, with children they had to take care of, jobs they had to get up for, etc. Their club days were long over.

Here's what I remember about that year's festival. The Slant were assigned to play at Crawdadddy's in Amityville on a Thursday night. (This is the club that is currently known as Revolutions.) I don't remember who either of the bands were they were supposed to compete against. I do remember that one of them never showed up. I also remember it was scorching hot in the club. (I think the show was in the middle of July.) I think the other band played first, and The Slant played second. Joe Grandwilliams was the host (and maybe one of the judges? I'm not sure. In later years, to save on volunteers who were already spread thin, hosts also judged. But for some reason, I think in those early years, they did not.) One of the judges was local blues musician Kerry Kearney (who complimented the band after the show, and had a brief discussion about possibly covering their song "Junk Mail.")

I also remember that The Slant lost. I have a feeling they never had a chance, based on crowd vote anyway. I think we had a little more than 20 people there, but the other band had twice that much. And as it was, while the band played hard, it wasn't their best performance ever. Denise's monitor wasn't working well, I think, and Bill's voice was just flying out of his control because of the heat inside the club. But overall, it wasn't a bad experience. We'd proved we belonged there, and had at least made a respectable showing of ourselves.

So come 1997, armed with a much better idea of how the festival worked, I somehow talked the band into entering again. My hope was this time to at least take one round, and get to a semi-final show, which typically was performed in front of a few hundred people.

By this time, I'd made myself known to Rich B., even though I wasn't writing for him yet. And the week of the festival, I spoke to him on the phone, to learn where we'd be playing and when.

Rich was in upbeat mood. "I have hooked you up, my man!" he told me happily.

"Great!" I responded. "What have we got?"

"You'll be playing at The Bulldog Grill in Amityville. That's one of my best clubs." I'd never been there before, but OK.

"When?" I asked him.

"Wednesday night at 9 o'clock."

My heart sank. How in the hell were we going to get our 40-year-old peer group out to a club in Amityville at 9 o'clock on a Wednesday night? Friday night, maybe. Saturday, even better. But the middle of the week? We hadn't even played the first note, but already we were in big trouble.

It got worse. "Who are we playing with?"

"Nylon & Steel and The Soul Poets".

Thud! I heard the sound of my heart hitting the floor.

Nylon & Steel was also an older band. Not as old as we were, but maybe in their thirties. Old enough to at least have some of the same problems we were going to have getting their crowd out on a Wednesday night. I'd never actually heard them play, although I was familiar with them because they played on campus at Stony Brook all the time. I was pretty sure they were a jam band. (And Ian Wilder from the band was very active in the local Green Party, as was his wife.) I felt that we at least had a chance to compete with them.

But The Soul Poets were another story. The Soul Poets were a band in their twenties who had made it to the final round of the LIMF the year before. The finals themselves were all based on judge's scores, but the semi-finals were like Round 1, but even more so. In order to make it past the other bands and get to the finals, a band had to have a fairly massive audience draw. So they were going to draw a good crowd. And while I wasn't really into their brand of funk rock, they were a musically proficient band as well,  with a good stage presence that was bound to score high with the judges. (I seem to remember the lead singer sporting sunglasses and a tall Cat-in-the-Hat kind of headpiece.

You know how they say, "Never say die!"? Well I said it. Die. I hadn't even gotten off of the phone yet, but I pretty much knew my plans of helping The Slant get to the second round were doomed.

Awhile back, in my review of a local performance of Man of La Mancha on this blog, I spoke about Norse mythology, and how my understanding of it was that the gods knew from the beginning they were doomed, but the nobility was in trying anyway. It's not the most upbeat philosophy, but it works for me. So I figured if we most likely weren't going to win our round, I might as well have some fun with it.

Now in 1997, the Internet still wasn't that prevalent, at least not for me and people like me. (I think I was up and running on the net, and creating the longislandmusicscene list, by '99.) I promoted our shows the old fashioned way, sometimes with flyers hung around the area, but mostly with a mailing list of physical addresses, to which I sent out monthly mailers listing our upcoming shows. And sometimes, when necessary, instead of just listing a bunch of dates, I'd try to write something to catch people's attention and get them interested in a show. And if ever there was a show that needed all the creativity I could muster, it was this one. So I came up with the best promo I'd ever written.

I wrote it up like a mini-newspaper, under the heading Slant News. (I'd done one or two mailers like that before).

And the headline of my mini-newspaper was an eye-grabber. It said, in big, bold letters, "Hughes Offs Self."

What followed was one of my favorite things I've ever written, either before or after, and it was certainly the one that got me in the most trouble. Somewhere around the house, I still have a pack of these mailers left, and I looked around for them this week so that I could reproduce them for you here. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful, so I'll have to just describe it for you.

The gist of my "article" was that after speaking to Rich Branciforte and learning of The Slant's position in the Long Island Music Festival, I'd killed myself in a fit of despair. (Believe me, I thought about it. The best fiction always has a germ of truth to it.) The article described my method of suicide (by overdosing on Prozak), and my last words, which were quoted as, "Arghhhh!"

It included a mock interview with Rich Branciforte, the last person to hear me alive, who was baffled. He explained that I'd seemed so excited that he'd "hooked me up" that I was babbling and not making much sense. I quoted him: "Then he said something about 'ripping off my tentacles.' At least, I think he said 'tentacles'."

The article then went on to quote our drummer Rich, who used the occasion of my death to make a series of painful puns around words like "stiff" and "late". (And if you know Rich, puns are among his favorite things to create.)

It closed off by explaining that my wake was going to occur during The Slant's set this coming Wednesday night at the Bulldog Grill in Amityville, and quoted Denise as encouraging people to come out, hear the band play and pay their last respects to me. "And while you're here, don't forget yo buy a copy of our new CD, Try This. It's what Rich would have wanted," it quoted her as saying.

I felt great. I knew it probably wouldn't make a huge difference in our chances to win. In the end, our friends still had to work the next day. But at least I knew in my heart that I was promoting the show to the best of my ability. And I figured it would at least give our friends a laugh.

I showed it to the band, and they loved it. Well, most of them anyway.

When I showed it to Denise, she laughed. But she also warned, "You should really say somewhere on here that this is only a joke."

"Sweetie," I said, in my wisest, and most patronizing voice. "No one could possibly take this seriously. It's totally absurd. It says I died by an overdose of Prozak. It quotes my last words as 'Arghh,' for God's sake. Who could possibly believe it?"

She sighed, and said, "OK," in that tone that says, "It's your funeral."

And it was. Literally. I sent the mailers out without another thought.

Now, if I didn't know it before, this event solidified it for me -- Denise is basically one entire hemisphere of my brain, the one with the actual sense. Since that day, I've always paid extra careful attention to her advice.

I'd wanted to take the joke even further. There was a song in the band's repertoire called "Armadillo Road Pizza" on which I used to join the band to sing background vocals. (It was one of Bill's twisted little ditties.) I wanted to include the song in our setlist for the night. My plan was to wear a suit to the show, and lie flat on my back with my eyes closed and my hands folded over my chest, while the band played. Then, when the point came in the set for "Armadillo," I would jump up triumphantly and join them for a rousing rendition song. It would be great!

Denise, however, put her foot down for this one, and told me in no uncertain terms that if I did that, the band would be playing without its lead singer for the evening. Spoil sport! So reluctantly, I gave that idea up. (Just as well. I wasn't sure I could lie still for that long anyway.)

In those days, my day job was to be the house manager for a group of high-functioning developmentally disabled adults. I worked at a small agency in Queens that ran two group homes (of which my house was one) and two independent living programs for clients who were able to live in apartments with a minimum of supervision. I had taken the week of the LIMF off, probably in part to have the freedom to do what I needed to do for the festival.

On Wednesday, the day of the show, I'd scheduled a light day for myself. I did a couple of chores in the morning, then took a nice afternoon nap, looking forward to the night ahead.

At about five o'clock, the phone rang. Denise picked it up, said "Just a minute," and handed me the phone. It was Claudine, a lovely woman from the islands who was my assistant manager at the house. She was great at her job, so I had no fears about the taking the week off.

"Hello," I said.

"Richard?" she answered.

"Oh, hi Claudine," I responded, still somewhat sleepy.

"Richard?" she repeated.

"Yeah, it's me. What's up?"

"Richard?" she stammered, for a third time.

"Yes, it's me Claudine. Can you hear me?" I thought maybe we had a bad connection.

Her response stopped my heart cold. "They told me you were dead!"

I felt my stomach twist. "What?" I asked, but already I was starting to realize the implications of her words.

What had happened was this. The Slant had played at least one free show for our agency, and it was probably the best audience we ever had. There were also times when co-workers came out to Slant shows. And at least one of them was on our mailing list.

What I had failed to grasp was that English isn't everyone's first language. Most of our friends got the mailer, and understood it was a goof. Most of them laughed, although a few of them shook their heads a little at my sense of humor. But for someone who grew up speaking a different language, things like irony and absurdity don't always translate.

One person who worked at our agency (for whom English was not their first language) had received the mailer, and had taken it seriously. And what happened after that horrified me.

Claudine informed me that she and another co-worker had stayed up crying on the phone with each other the entire night last night, trying to understand what made me do it. They thought that Denise was a despicable person for using my death to sell her latest album, and theorized that I'd probably done it because she was cheating on me.

It got even worse. Claudine told me that Caroline, the woman who ran my agency, had been informed of my death. The agency had announced my sad passing over the loudspeaker of the main office, and they had held a moment of silence of me. At this very moment, Caroline was trying to arrange a babysitter for her children, so she could attend my wake at The Bulldog Grill in Amityville. (And unbeknownst to me, the Bulldog Grill was confusedly dealing with a series of phone calls asking them if there was a wake taking place there tonight. They calmly explained to people that they were a restaurant, and that the Department of Health frowned on restaurants hosting dead bodies in a place where you sold food.

Sitting on the bed behind me, Denise roared with laughter. At this point, all she could hear was my side of conversation with Claudine, which went something like, "Oh no!" "Oh God, no!" "Please don't tell me that." But that was enough.

I reassured Claudine that I was OK, and apologized profusely for putting her through so much pain. I then had to immediately phone my boss, before she left the house for my "wake". I was damned lucky I wasn't fired for my stupidity. I was also lucky about one more thing -- the agency didn't announce my death to my house residents right away. The story of my death had circulated throughout the agency's staff, but they had taken an extra day or so to think about they were going to break it to the clients.

By this time, I didn't even want to go to the show. I was terrified that I'd missed someone, and was going to run into some poor person who had rearranged their lives in order to come out and pay their respects to me.

"Why don't you just drop me off at Crawdaddy's, and pick me up after the show?" I asked Denise.

"Oh no," she told me emphatically. "You're coming."

As it turned out, the night went OK. Between myself, Claudine and Caroline, we had caught everyone in time before people started turning out for the wake. The show went pretty much the way I thought it would -- The Slant played well, as did Nylon & Steel, but The Soul Poets won the night. The club was pretty full, so they were happy, which meant that Rich Branciforte was happy.

I did later hear from one friend, another person for whom English was not their first language, who had also taken the mailer seriously, and who was a little miffed at me for my strange sense of humor. But she was living in Los Angeles at the time, so although I accidentally upset her, at least she hadn't tried to attend my funeral.

I really did learn a lesson. A couple of them, actually. The first was to always listen to Denise. She has way more common sense than I do. The second was to never just assume that people understood that something is a joke.

But an a-hole is still an a-hole. So the next month, I dutifully sent out a copy of The Slant News, apologizing to anyone who hadn't understood that my "death" was all in jest, and promising never to make up an absurd story like that again.

However, below the apology, in National Enquirer style, I ran a second story, describing the birth in a local hospital of a healthy three-headed Elvis baby. And Tom, our keyboard player, did some Photoshop magic to create a lovely picture of a newborn baby's body with three Elvis Presley heads superimposed on it.

So like I said, an a-hole is an a-hole.

But really, I don't think I've ever done anything quite that stupid again.

Shot Glass Nickel

Last night, our kids were both doing an overnight at a friend's house. So, for Denise and I, the possibilities were endless. I wouldn't have been surprised if we'd have just decided to sleep. But instead, because her sister Allison's band was playing nearby, we decided to go out for a night of music.

We last saw Shot Glass Nickel, Allison's band, about a year ago. That time was a late afternoon performance. This time was a night show, at a bar/restaurant in Yaphank called the Red River Inn.

We got there a little before 9PM, and settled into a comfortable table with a soft booth seat right in front of the stage. We managed to order a couple of burgers before the music started (which were actually quite tasty). We then watched the band play three full sets of music, which lasted until about 1AM. And throughout the course of the night, various friendly guest musicians/singers joined them.

Although they play sprinklings of songs from other eras, the main strength of Shot Glass Nickel is late '60s and early '70s hard rock. Over the course of the night, they covered (among others) Humble Pie, Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aerosmith, The Allman Brothers, Alice in Chains, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Pink Floyd, Ozzy, Rush and Blind Faith. And Zeppelin. Plenty of Zeppelin. (And Ali being Ali, they also covered her favorite band, Queen.)

The highlight of the night, though, was probably their cover of Deep Purple's "Highway Star." The band was firing on all cylinders for this one, so much so that one of the girls dancing in the stage area kind of careened out of control to knock over a table and break a glass. (Luckily, that was the worst of the damage. A little earlier, a happily inebriated birthday girl was having so much fun playing air guitar with one of those light-bulb changers on a stick that I was afraid she was going to accidentally lobotomize me or someone else.)

In any event, the crowd here was certainly a good match for the band -- they knew all of the songs, and even out on the (huge) back deck, I could often see the smoking crowd dancing along. (Except for the black and white cat -- he mostly seemed to be concentrating on the food the bar maid put out for him.)

Shot Glass Nickel features Allison Paris on vocals, Jeff Michaels on guitar, Kevin Malone on bass and Joe Crocilla on drums. You can keep up with their schedule at

(Now that I'm getting out again once in awhile for music, stay tuned. I've got upcoming dates on my calendar for several old friends, including The Kevin McLeod Band and the mighty Jones Crusher!)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Review of Justin Hayward and John Lodge's "Blue Jays"

I just posted this review on the Sputnik Music website earlier this afternoon:

Review Summary: Calling all Moody Blues fans.

People tend to see The Moody Blues' career as having several distinct periods. Their first album, The Magnificent Moodies in 1965, was an outlier -- it has different personnel than the band had during their best-known period, and an entirely different style. And, in fact, for many years, the band themselves didn't recognize this LP as part of their discography, which is why their eighthalbum is called Seventh Sojourn and their ninth album is named Octave -- they were just pretending that The Magnificent Moodies didn't exist. 

Then, in 1966, vocalist/guitarist Denny Laine left the group (he would eventually go on to a successful career with Paul McCartney and Wings), as did bass player/vocalist Clint Warwick (who quit the music business entirely, and became a carpenter). They were eventually replaced by vocalist/guitarist Justin Hayward and bass player John Lodge. This led to the golden era of the band's existence, the seven-album period beginning with 1967's Days of Future Passed and ending with 1972's Seventh Sojourn. Gone were the R&B aspirations of The Magnificent Moodies, forever replaced by the gentle progressive rock style The Moody Blues came to be famous for. After this period, the band went on hiatus for six years, Pinder left the group entirely, and while the Moody's had their moments after that, I think it would be fair to say that they never again reached the same heights that they hit during this era.

But if those albums were ranked #'s 1-7 in the Moody Blues' career, then there's a #7a that modern music fans seem to have forgotten about. That would be the album Blue Jays, released in 1975 by Moody members Justin Hayward & John Lodge. 

What happened was that by the time Seventh Sojourn was released, there was enough tension happening within the Moodys that everyone agreed they needed a break. During the period that followed, Mike Pinder moved to America, and invited Justin Hayward to work on a project with him. Soon thereafter, John Lodge and Moodys' producer Tony Clarke got involved, and Pinder decided to drop out and make a solo album (which resulted in 1976 LP The Promise, not a bad bit of work itself). Hayward, Lodge and Clarke continued working together, and the result was the 1975 Blue Jays album.

Blue Jays was in many ways a worthy successor to Seventh Sojourn -- in fact, a Moody's fan could be forgiven if upon first listen, they just assumed it was an actual Moody Blues LP. This is especially so thanks to Clarke's production. The only things that give the game away are the absence of the occasional Ray Thomas vocal, and the replacement of Mike Pinder's keyboards (especially his sweeping mellotron) by various classical musical instruments such as violins, violas, cellos, pianos and a little bit of French horn. The seven-piece band that recorded the album included Hayward and Lodge, plus several members of Providence (The Moodys' Threshold Records label mates), and Graham Deakin, the drummer for John Entwistle's band Ox. Of the ten tracks on the original LP, Hayward sings the majority of the lead vocals. As for the songwriting, Hayward is credited with five of the tracks, and Lodge with three. The two claim dual writing credit for the other two. As was typical for the Moodys, the lyrics for the album tend to be pretty optimistic, with most touching on the topics of friendship and brotherhood.

Blue Jays did pretty well on the charts, coming in at #4 on the UK Albums Chart, and # 16 on the American Billboard 200. The Hayward-penned song "I Dreamed Last Night" also reached # 47 on the Billboard singles chart. I can't speak for the UK, but the album (and the single) certainly got its fair share of airplay on American FM radio. Other highlights from it include a quiet, pretty Hayward number called "Who Are You Now", and "Remember Me (My Friend)" one of the songs co-written by Hayward and Lodge. Lodge's best track on the LP is probably "Saved By the Music", which features some exciting classical orchestration on the intro and choruses, interspersed with delicate piano and acoustic guitar on the verses. Another Hayward number, "Nights, Winters, Years", might be a little overblown, but it's also classic Moodys -- both graceful and lovely. As the last song on Side 1 of the original vinyl, it ends that side in appropriately grand fashion.

Although I like some of the work The Moody Blues did later in their career, Blue Jays is probably a better album overall than any LP the Moodys released post-Seventh Sojourn. As such, it's must listening for any Moody Blues fan.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Review of Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman's "Live at the Apollo"

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

Review Summary: A thoroughly enjoyable listen for any Yes fan who doesn't out-and-out loath the Rabin era.

This year is the 50th Anniversary for Yes, but for longtime fans, it's a little like being the child of an ugly divorce. For the second time in their history, Yes has split itself into two competing versions of the band. And unfortunately, there seems to be some bad blood between them, which has caused some fans to feel they have to choose one or the other.

The Steve Howe version, which simply calls itself "Yes", is a continuation of the band that Chris Squire left behind when he passed. It includes Howe on guitar, Alan White on drums (in a limited role, due to health reasons), Geoff Downes on keyboards, Squire protege Billy Sherwood on bass, and Jon Davison on vocals. They put out a pretty good live album in 2017, Topographic Drama - Live Across America, which mostly focused on a pair of albums from Yes' back catalog, Tales of Topographic Oceans and Drama.

The second version of the band consists of original Yes lead singer Jon Anderson on vocals, Trevor Rabin on guitar and Rick Wakeman on keyboards. It bills itself as "Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman", which doesn't exactly flow effortlessly off of the tongue. Prior to Squire's death, they were calling themselves "Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman", or" ARW", which is a lot easier to say, but doesn't contain the golden "Yes" name. (I'm going to give these guys the benefit of the doubt and assume the name change was more about pride and feeling they have a legitimate claim to the "Yes" name than it is about money.) Live at the Apollo is their new release, a live double album recorded from a March 2017 performance in Manchester, England. They've also released a DVD of the concert under the same name.

Live at the Apollo has two major things going for it. The first is the proficiency and energy level of the band. At the time this show was recorded, ARW had been touring for nine months, so all of the kinks were worked out, and the band was firing on all cylinders. This is a high-energy performance where it feels as though the band is really having fun.

The second major plus is the choice of material. Many of the band's most popular songs are here, so you'll get to hear this lineup's takes on such classics as "And You and I", "Roundabout", "Owner of a Lonely Heart", "Heart of the Sunrise" and "I've Seen All Good People". What makes the album special for me, though, is the inclusion of live versions of some Yes material you don't always get to hear. So they've included "Hold On" and "Changes" from 90125, "Rhythm of Love" from Big Generator, and a particularly nice version of "Lift Me Up" from Union

This isn't the perfect Yes live album. They're translating a lot of the material in their own way, and while the changes aren't drastic, odds are you'll appreciate some of the musical choices more than others. And like a lot of Yes fans, happy as I am to hear Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman again, I'm just not that big a fan of Trevor Rabin. I give him his due -- he was a driving force for the 90125album, which completely revitalized Yes' career. Without his contributions, there might not be any version of Yes still active today. But as proficient a guitarist as he is, Rabin isn't Steve Howe. I find him to be a much more conventional musician. Nevertheless, while the Trevor Rabin years weren't my favorite era of the band's existence, I still found a lot of the music they put out at that time enjoyable.

So which of the two Yes lineups put out the better live album in 2017-2018? I'm not going to choose. I don't really see a reason to. I enjoyed both LPs for different reasons. The main thing to know is that Live at the Apollo will be a thoroughly pleasurable listen for any Yes fan who appreciates the positives of the Rabin era. And if you really have to choose which lineup is better, I'll let you choose for yourself.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Amilia K Spicer and John Gorka

Sometimes, the way I learn about new artists is through entering new artist pages on the Sputnik Music website. I've entered a bunch of local Long Island artist web pages there, and other pages as well. I  often tend to add pages for artists who perform in genres that are under-represented on the site. Metal music, in all of its manifestations tends, to be over-represented. (Just as the Inuit have many different words to describe different kinds of snowflakes, so do Sputnik Music users have many different words to describe the various sub-genres of metal.) '70s rock and progressive rock bands tend to be reasonably well represented, although once in awhile, a pretty well-known artist that you would think would be there isn't. So, for example, Loggins and Messina fell through the cracks, and I had to create a page for them. Now that their page is up, a number of people have begun to rate their various albums. But they couldn't before, because the page didn't exist.

By and large, '80s new-wave bands tend to be reasonably well represented (under the genre tag "post punk"). However, some of the more obscure bands seem to fall through the cracks. So, for example, I created the pages for Limahl (and I think for Kajagoo), Haircut 100 and Killer Pussy (among others). There also seem to be a lot more new wave bands that have pages but no reviews on the site than there are for 70s bands. I was the first to ever do Sputnik reviews for either Eurythmics or The Fixx, which is a little mind-boggling.

Then there are some genres that are extremely under-represented. Some of these are Celtic and Celtic Rock (they don't even have their own genre tags -- I have to use things like "folk" and "classical" to describe them; Country (which tends to have a page for some of the best-known artists, but be missing the secondary artists); and Folk, (which likewise has pages for artists like Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, but not for artists like Dar Williams, Richard Shindell and Eliza Gilkyson. So sometimes, I'll add an artist, like Gilkyson, and links I find for her under "Similar Artists" on a site like Last.FM will lead me to other artists of similar stature. This is how I first discovered John Gorka.

Gorka is one of those artists who is known throughout folk circles, but largely unknown to the general population of music fans. I picked up his latest album, True in Time a few months ago, and it's mostly pretty good. (It's on my long-term list of albums to review, but that's a pretty long list.) Actually, a lot of the LP is very good, but ... well, I'll get into it when I get into it.

Anyway, a couple of months back, I was up on Gorka's website, and much to my surprise, I discovered he was playing on Long Island on September 23, and it was an early evening show. So I figured why not, and bought myself a ticket, even though I knew I'd be in the city for Gary Numan the night before. The show listed Amilia K Spicer as an opening act, so I researched her a little, and made a Sputnik page for her, too.

I was almost tardy for the show. After the late night and the show at Irving Plaza, my energy level was pretty low, and my back was screaming at me all day. For some reason, I had in my head that the Gorka show was a 6PM start. But at the last possible moment, I double-checked myself and saw it was starting at 5. So I got myself together quickly, and luckily enough, had a traffic-free ride to Stony Brook.

One of the things I learned from creating the longislandmusicscene list all those years back, and from forming the Long Island Music Coalition, is that there isn't really a Long Island music scene, there are a bunch of different little scenes. Sometimes they overlap, often they don't. And this particular show was put together by parts of the scene that I haven't really been in touch with in years, including The University of Stony Brook and the WUSB radio station, and the northern Suffolk County folk scene. It was actually part of a series of concerts that Charlie Backfish of WUSB has had running for years, "Sunday Street Concerts" (named after his long-running Sunday morning radio show on WUSB). The concert was being held in a room in the Long Island Musuem, where his daughter Emma is now the Public Programs Coordinator. I don't know Charlie, except from occasionally e-mailing with him when I had my own local music show on WUSB, but I remember Emma because for a very brief while, our shifts at the station overlapped. I even had the honor of helping her to set up for her first-ever show. (By this time, I had hit the big time with a midnight to 3AM shift, and she was taking over my old 3-6:30AM slot. I think I probably doubled my listening audience when I made that move, from five listeners to about ten!)

I've been typing for about eight paragraphs now, so I guess I ought to talk about the show soon, huh? After saying my hellos to Emma, Norm Prusslin (the former WUSB director LIMHoF Board member, and a truly terrific person) and Amy Tuttle (who I'd just run into a couple of weeks ago at the He-Bird, She-Bird show), I found myself a comfortable seat on the end of an aisle and settled in. (And the seats were comfortable, about ten times more so than those crippling almost-backless chairs at Irving Plaza from the night before.) The room, which looks like it holds about 70-75 people, was nearly sold out. The game plan that Mr. Backfish announced was that Spicer and Gorka would split the first set, then Gorka would come back after the break for a longer second set.

As promised, Amilia K Spicer was up first. She's a Los Angeles resident who grew up in rural Pennsylvania (who admitted that the way she deals with living in L.A. is by very rarely being home.) She did a short 5-song set, most of which featured material from her latest album, Wow and Flutter. I would have posted her setlist on, but unfortunately they don't have her in the database for some reason. And it's easier to build a rocketship than it is to figure how to enter a new artist on that site.

Spicer has a good voice, and is a clever songwriter. I'd classify her as mostly a folk singer, with some pop and country leanings. She did the first three songs on guitar, then moved over to the piano for the last two. (Her guitar playing was good, but pretty basic. Her piano playing is a little more sophisticated.) I learned over the course of the evening that she's something of a protegee of the late folk legend Bill Morrissey. Her material was strong throughout, but my favorite number of those she performed tonight was the sultry title track of an older album of hers, "Like an Engine." I'd have happily listened to a set twice as long from her, although at least she promised she'd be back later to sing with Gorka on some of his songs. I hope she works her way back to the area sometime. I'd like to see her perform more. (I picked up her Like an Engine album between sets.)

As promised, John Gorka was up next. He turned out to be tremendously entertaining in both his music and his stage patter. His first (half-) set included my two favorite tracks off of his latest LP, the title track "True in Time", and an excellent number called "Tattoed". This last one contains my favorite lyric line of the entire album: "Losing hurts worse/Than winning feels good." (I think that's the story of my life.) He also did a funny autobiographical song early in the set, to "introduce" himself to new listeners, called "I''m From New Jersey". (Which he is. Apparently he was born in and grew up in Jersey, lived for a couple of decades in Pennsylvania, and eventually wound up in St. Paul, Minnesota, because, as he explained, he "couldn't take the brutal Pennsylvania winters anymore".) Towards the end of the set, he performed another of my favorites from the True in Time album, "Nazarean Guitar", before inviting Spicer to join him for the last song, "Branching Out".

After a short break that gave me a chance to do some schmoozing, it was time for the second set. This time, Mr. Gorka played a 13-song set (not the 11-song set indicated in my notes, because I liked the numbers "7" and "8" so much that I used them twice.) Highlights of this one included an amusing, but bittersweet, song about the voluptuous, big-haired girls that kept him eternally in the friend zone throughout his teens and young adulthood, "Italian Girls"; a tense, dark number about the gentrification he saw going on around him in PA, "Where the Bottles Break"; and another pair of strong songs from the new album, called "Arroyo Seco" and "Mennonite Girl".

On the downside, the set also (sort of) included my least favorite John Gorka song. Gorka declared it was time to do a "ridiculous" song, and even before he could throw out the two possibilities he was considering, someone did the unthinkable and screamed out, "Do the 'Body Song'!" And before I could yell, "Don't do it, it's a trap!" it was too late.

Now this is a song that Mr. Gorka explained he'd played around with for years, and never thought he'd record. I wish he'd followed his instinct. What he told us was that to him, when you have a song in you, you have to get it out. It's like songwriting goes through a long thin tube, and if you don't finish a song, even if it's a bad one, it could get stuck in the tube, and block all the good ones you have left inside from ever breaking free. I sympathize with the sentiment, but as he began playing this one, I wanted to run. (Mind you, it could just be me. While he sang this ditty, a number of people were laughing and enjoying themselves, so maybe it's a great song, and I just don't get it. ... Nah!)

Anyway, the dreaded number began, "I like my feet/They're very neat/None can compete/With the meat/In my feet". "Noooooooo! Make it stop! Make it stop!" I screamed (in my head). He continued: "I like my toes/We're very close/I should compose/Epic prose/For my toes."

But sometime shortly after the part where his legs help him to shop for eggs, something amazing happened -- my negative vibes blanketed the stage! All of a sudden, when he got to the verse about his thighs, he flubbed a line. Then he flubbed it a second, then a third time. I concentrated harder ... "These aren't the droids you're looking for," I whispered. "These aren't the droids we're looking for," he repeated back. He laughed, and started the song again. (He seems like a very nice, and self-effacing, guy. I really hated having to use my Jedi mind power on him.) "I like my feet," he sang. But this time, he couldn't even get past his toes before he started forgetting the words. Finally, he just gave up. Somewhere, a Death Star exploded. Ewoks rejoiced. He announced that he was going to do his other ridiculous song instead. I was triumphant! (Hmm. Maybe losing doesn't actually hurt worse than winning feels good.)

Anyway, he replaced "The Body Parts Medley" with a really good song (and one that I sadly relate to all too much), called "People My Age". This one is about how bad people his (our) age are looking these days. In between verses, he assured us all that any eye contact he made during the song was purely accidental. But I swear, he was looking directly at me.

Near the end of the set, Ms. Spicer joined him again, for a Gospel-like anthem called "Good Noise" and a love song named "Love Is Our Cross to Bear". Then Spicer scooted off the stage, and after a good bit of applause, Gorka did a one-number encore about some of the folk singers he met at Godfrey Daniels, the Bethlehem, PA coffeehouse where he got his start, entitled "That's How Legends Are Made".

It was actually a great show, in spite of the mean things I said about that one song. ('Cause let's face it ... mean is who I am. It's what I do.) I promised myself to make it back to support this series in the future. (Kate Campbell, another of the artists I recently added to the Sputnik database, is going to be there in a couple of weeks, and I understand it's the first time she's ever played in the area. I'm hoping to make it to that one.) Anyway, nice job by Gorka, Spicer, and all of the people who worked the show and helped to put it together.

(Gorka's setlist for the night can be found at Spicer's setlist was: 1. Train Wreck; 2. This Town; 3. Shotgun; 4. Like an Engine; 5. Windchill.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Nightmare Air and Gary Numan

Earlier in the year, when all things still seemed possible, Denise asked me if I had any interest in seeing Gary Numan with her in the city. Truthfully, I didn't. The only song I even knew by Gary Numan was "Cars", and even that is a song I've always thought was just OK. (I had to check right now to see if I even had it on my iPod, and I currently have almost 32,000 songs on my iPod.) And I've certainly kvetched enough on these pages about how much of a hassle it feels like to drag myself into the city.

But I could tell that Denise really wanted to go, so just for the hell of it, I did a little research into the opening act to see if they would sweeten the pot a little bit. They sounded right up my alley -- an alternative pop band with a good female lead singer, definitely worth exploring further. So based on that, I told her to go for it, with the stipulation that we had to get in there in time to see the opening act (I'm still haunted by the Erasure debacle), and also had to make sure that this was at a club that at least had handicap seating (which we did).

It was kind of a dicey proposition -- right up until the last minute, I wasn't sure if things in the house were such that we'd be able to risk both of us going out together for a night (especially to a location we couldn't get back home quickly from if we needed to), or if I was going to have to ask her to give my ticket to a friend (like I did when she went on the Depeche Mode-themed night cruise). But it was a reasonably quiet week, and my daughter was going to be home to provide some kind of supervision (even though I knew she was going to torture me by joking about cocaine and strippers), so we went for it.

I listened to the latest album by the opening band all week leading up to the show. It's a 2018 album, so it will be in contention for my end-of-the-year best-of lists. And I even grabbed the opportunity to listen to Gary Numan's latest album once on Thursday or Friday. Much to my surprise, I found that I liked it. I'll describe his sound more when I talk about the concert, but suffice it to say that I've always just seen him as a less interesting version of Howard Jones or Thomas Dolby. I'm happy to say that there's more to him than that.

We got into the city pretty easily for once, with just the barest trace of traffic. Then we found our way downtown to Irving Plaza, a club I've never been to before. Denise had reserved parking beforehand, so that was also pretty easy -- we were parked right around the corner from the club.

The tickets said 7PM, so were on line before six. We hit a minor snag when Denise discovered that the tickets, which she thought were of the show-your-phone variety, were actually supposed to have been printed out at home. But a quick talk with the box office resolved that, as they printed them out for us. We asked about handicapped seating, and they told us to be there a half an hour before the doors were supposed to open, and they'd seat us early. Unfortunately, they also told us that 7PM was when the doors opened, not when the show started, so we had time to kill.

We walked up to the corner, and found a Chinese restaurant that wasn't at all crowded. It had a big sign in the window that said "GRADE PENDING", which made Denise a little nervous. But I figured what the heck, Manhattan has some of the best hospitals in the world, so we went for it. I'd eaten a sandwich on the way in to keep my blood sugar level up, so I wasn't that hungry. I just ordered some dumplings, and (at Denise's invitation), picked a little the chicken on her dish. It wasn't bad. I hope they get a good grade.

We went back out to the club at 6:40, twenty minutes before the door was supposed to open. At this point, they told us they'd have to get someone from security to come out and seat us. By the time they got us up and sitting (we were passed back and forth through about four different people, and there was a snafu with an elevator that I won't even get into), we'd been standing for about 30 minutes, which is about as much as I can handle, and way more than I'd have liked to have handled -- my legs were numb. We were seated in a (very) small handicapped area in the left corner of the balcony, where there was room for maybe five chairs tops. (Maybe if more people had requested handicapped seating, they'd have set another row behind us, I don't know.) The bottom line is I think the club wants to be able to tell the city they're handicap-accessible, so they don't get hassled, but they really kind of hope people who need handicapped seating don't show up. The staff was polite enough, and we had an excellent view. But because of how long I wound up standing, and how the seats, while better than nothing, had no back support and left me sore all night and the next day, I don't think I'd go back there. (I'd be more likely to try Terminal 5 again, where we saw OMD back during the winter.)

The venue felt pretty small to me. Wikipedia lists the capacity as 1,200. And although the show wasn't a sellout, by the time Gary Numan took the stage, the entire dance floor below us was packed, so that the odds were if you passed out, you wouldn't fall over until the crowd disbursed at the end of the show. (At one point during the show, when an annoying old hippie kept clinging to the back of my chair and screaming "Play that guitar, Gary!", I fantasized about my dream club. There would be soft reclining chairs, spread at least six feet apart from one another, with maybe a few scattered love seats for the couples. No standing in between chairs would be allowed. Yes, we'd probably have to charge about six hundred bucks a ticket to make up for the smaller crowds, but oh, the comfort! I'd name it after myself: "Curmudgeon's - the club for people who like their personal space".)

Prior to the show, we chatted with a very pleasant New Jersey woman named Vicki who was about our age, and goes to shows at least as often as we do. (She'd actually been at Irving Plaza earlier in the week for Killing Joke.) We also met up with our friend Tim, from Denise's WLIR Facebook group. He had spent the day in the city with his daughter, before randomly running into Larry the Duck on a Manhattan subway platform.

The opening band, Nightmare Air, took the stage at precisely 8PM. They're a 3-piece from Los Angeles, who employed a keyboard track on at least one song, and had a guest keyboardist join them for another. They have a female lead singer with a very pretty, ethereal voice (named Swaan Miller) who sings most of the leads. However, their guitarist Dave Dupuis sings also, and seems to do most of the talking for the band. They released their most recent album, Fade Out, this past March. They've been opening for Numan all over Europe, and seemed stoked to be playing for a New York crowd. They played most of my favorite songs from the new album, including "Who's Your Lover" (which I'm guessing is the main single). As opposed to Reed & Caroline, who I really like, but who seem to have left most of the Erasure crowd mystified back in July, these guys really went over well with the Gary Numan crowd. Tim and Vicki both enjoyed them too, as did Denise.

Numan and his band went on right about 9PM. Again, because my only familiarity with Numan was the heavily-synthesized "Cars", I'd always thought Numan was a keyboard player, a la Howard Jones. But he played with four other musicians, including a keyboard player, while he mostly just sang or occasionally played a little guitar. In addition to Numan, two of the other musicians were mic'd for vocals.

Numan and his band, have a heavy, gothic sound, utilizing the kind of dark, distorted keyboard sounds that I usually associate with Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, except that I actually like what Numan does with it a lot better. He had an excellent light show (although it became a little oppressive during the encore.) In the notes I jotted on my cell phone, I wrote, "Sweeping goth synths, with traces of Middle Eastern influences," and "daggers of light going up and down." Numan didn't talk much -- Tim commented that he's known for being a shy person, and according to Wikipedia, he's actually been diagnosed with a mild case of Asperger's Syndrome. But he let his music speak for him.

Honestly, I wish I'd been a lot more familiar with the material. It's always hard to fully get into a band when the music isn't known to you. As it was, I enjoyed the show a lot, but I think if I'd have known the songs better, it would have been one of the concerts of the year. The best song of the night was a number from the new album called "My Name Is Ruin" that Numan performs with his 11-year-old daughter. You should hear the voice on this kid. They made an official video for the song, but it doesn't really give you a full idea of how her voice fills the room in between his verses. Instead, look for the live version they have posted on YouTube. Ironically, I thought "Cars" was one of the lesser songs of the night. He did one or two other older ones too, but I liked the newer material much better.

As the crowd was disbursing, we ran into Denise and Tim's friend Veronica, from their WLIR group, and who was with Sean and Dan Crusher from the mighty Long Island punk rock band Jones Crusher. I made plans to hopefully catch up with Crusher when they play a pre-Thanksgiving show at Beery's in November. Then everyone headed home.

You can find the setlist for Gary Numan at Gary Numan's setlist, and the setlist for Nightmare Air at Nightmare Air's setlist.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Mark Newman and Midge Ure

Denise and I had tickets to see Midge Ure at the Paramount in Huntington back in June. We're both fans of Ultravox. However, my son's godawful school screwed us one last time on his way out the door by scheduling his graduation ceremony on the same night. And he was all, "Wahh! You're going to a concert instead of my graduation!" So we had to relent and give up our tickets. OK, I'm kidding. about the "wahh" part, but not about his school being godawful. We were going to try to go to his graduation, then sneak off to the concert afterwards, but he wanted us to go out with him and his buddies to celebrate, so we gave the tickets away to a friend. Not that I hold a grudge. Anymore than I hold a grudge about my daughter making me miss the first 15 minutes of Iron Man 3 in 2013 so I could wait with her to find her dopey boyfriend in the movie theater lobby. I'm not the kind of parent to hold these things over my children's heads for the rest of their lives. Of course I'm not. (Cough! Cough!)

In any event, I was kind of bummed, because I'm not sure how often Ure comes to the U.S., and I wasn't certain I'd have the chance to see him again. But as luck would have it, in late July or early August, I learned that not only was he coming back to the U.S. in September, he was also coming back to Long Island, to the new My Father's Place at the Roslyn Hotel. Because it was a weeknight, and because there are things going on at home that sometimes make it difficult for both of us to get out of the house at the same time, Denise decided to stay home for this one. I, on the other hand, jumped on the opportunity, and immediately bought myself a ticket. It was scheduled to be a solo acoustic show, which sounded pretty interesting.

So on Monday night, I ventured out to the new My Father's Place. As most Long Islander's know, the original My Father's Place was a historic site in Long Island music history. A small supper club in a building that used to be a bowling alley, owner Mike "Eppy" Epstein had all of the best bands there in its 15-plus years of its existence. For myself, its primary importance was that it was the first place I ever saw The Good Rats, one of my favorite groups of all time, live. (It was also the place where the Rats recorded their live album Live at Last. In fact, quite a few bands recorded live albums there, and even more had bootleg albums recorded there, with or without the bands' permissions.) After the town succeeded in closing it down (Boo! Roslyn), they tried to reopen in other locations, including a place on Bell Blvd. in Bayside (at the site of what later became The Crocodile Club), but it was never the same. A few months ago, Eppy reached a deal to create a new version of the club right near its original location, in a large room inside of what used to be the Roslyn Claremont Hotel.

I found the entrance to the parking garage on a side street, and entered what looked like a great place to hide a few bodies. Luckily, by the time I reached the third level of the garage, the Christmas-tree-style lights and seated smoking area made it clear that I had found the club.

The new My Father's Place refers to itself as a "Supper Club". All of the seats are at tables, and the way it works is that you buy the tickets, which seem to be relatively inexpensive, but you also have to purchase a minimum of $25 of food and/or drinks during your time there. Which isn't really a bad deal.

I arrived at about 6:20 for the 8PM show, so I'd be able to get a comfortable seat, and so I could eat before the show started. I was parked right outside the club, so after a couple of steps, I was led inside to a small table. I thought I'd have to try to get the end seat at one of the long tables, like they used to have in the old club. Instead, they had comfortable one- and two-person tables along the side of the club, with soft, booth-style seats. I was set up at the left side of the small stage, about eight steps away from where Midge would be playing. Not bad.

I ordered my dinner, then stepped back out of the door to hit the Men's room and see if I could find a copy of Good Times. The friendly young woman at the door directed me upstairs to the hotel lobby, where, sure enough, I found a stack of the music paper. I quickly perused the merch table back downstairs, then headed back into the club. I happily read through my Good Times while I waited for my food.

As I waited, the club started to fill up a little. I talked a little to one of the waitresses, who affirmed what I had heard outside, that the club wasn't going to sell out tonight. She told me it's hit and miss there. There hadn't been a huge crowd for Jill Sobule the night before, nor had Sophie B. Hawkins sold that well (although I heard she was terrific). But Barnaby Bye had sold the place out for three nights, and especially on weekend nights, it's often packed.

I had a tasty chicken salad for dinner. So by the time the show started, I was fed, I was comfortable, and I was happy.

The opening act was a local musician named  Mark Newman. I thought I might have seen him a number of years back in the Long Island Music Festival, but it turns out I was thinking of someone else. I don't know Mark, but a number of musicians I do know are friendly with him, including Robin Eve and Patti Morrone. (I know this because I saw it on Mark's Facebook page.) I do remember his old band, Tao Jones, from the old LIMF days, though. Mark is also a touring musician, who has toured with various national acts, including Sam Moore, Willy Deville and Sam the Sham.

I wound up seated next to another local musician, Maag, from a band called The Other Shoe, who I heard tell the waitress she was friends with Mark. It turned out she's also a friend of Robyn Eve's. At various times throughout the night, we chatted, as she caught me up a little on the local acoustic scene I've been so out of since Denise and I adopted our children.

This was one of those nights where I didn't actually see anyone I knew, but I saw a bunch of people who knew people I knew. I was seated directly behind Gwen (from WUSB) and her mom, who is a member of Denise's WLIR Facebook page. Hahn (aka, Hanzie Doodle) was also in the audience, seated in the middle of the room. Eppy was there, of course, circulating around the room, as was Larry the Duck, who did the intro for Midge Ure.

As I mentioned, Mark Newman opened the show. His music falls somewhere in the folk/Americana range, sort of what I'd call dark rural. His voice isn't gravelly, like, say, Preacher Boy. But his style reminded me of artists like Preacher Boy and Dave Isaacs.

Newman performed as a solo artist, and did a seven-song set. He has a new album coming out soon called Empirical Evidence, which I'll be keeping an eye out for. Highlights of his set included a song about Orpheus freeing Eurydice, which I thought was entitled "Until the Moon Comes", although I could be mistaken about that. (I see that he has a song called "Until the Morning Comes" on his Walls of Jericho album, so it could have been that. As it is, my handwriting is so bad that when I glanced at my notes to write this blog entry, I thought it said that the song was about orphans in Europe until I remembered he'd referenced Orpheus and Eurydice.) I also especially liked a song called "Mean Season", another about the old underground railroad that helped escaped slaves, called "Goin' Underground", and a song called "Dead Man's Shoes", all of which are on his Must Be a Pony LP.

At roughly 9PM, Midge Ure took the stage. Ure is one of these guys I could just listen to talk all night -- he has a delightful Scottish burr. He played for two full hours, performing a 24-song set (including the encore) that mixed together his solo material and Ultravox material, plus "Fade to Grey" from his Visage days, a pair of Bowie covers ("The Man Who Sold the World" and "Lady Stardust"), a Schiller cover ("Let It Rise"), and a Tom Rush cover that Ure had previously recorded, "No Regrets" (which served as his encore).

His stage personality was laid back but personable, as he gently joked with the crowd. He's been mostly touring North America for last nine months or so (much of it with Paul Young as his opener), and tonight was the very last night of the tour. (He joked that he knew what he was going to get his agent for Christmas -- "a map" -- as his travels recently took him from Vancouver to Florida to Long Island.)

My favorite part of the night was a slow acoustic version of the Ultravox song "Lament", which was so beautiful that it actually sent a chill down my back. I also enjoyed "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes", although he scared the crap out of me by suddenly going from a slow, quietly picked acoustic intro to a loud vocal in his highest range. (He explained to the crowd that if he could go back in a time machine to give his younger self one piece of advise, it would be "Don't write so many songs in your highest range, because you're going to wind up singing them for the next 35 years or so.")

I also especially enjoyed his solo hit "Dear God," a slow, somber song called "Light in Your Eyes", another solo single named "Breathe", and his Ultravox classic "Vienna". At times, he took requests from the audience, but he warned us ahead of time that he was going to have to veto certain requests, because they were too heavily synthesized to try to perform solo. (I wanted to ask for "White China", but I was pretty sure this was going to fall into that "no" category.)

Denise tells me that Ure is actually supposed to come back to the states in December, and I'd love to see him again, maybe in a full-band setting next time. Meanwhile, I'm really looking forward to bringing Denise back to this venue for a show. We were eyeing a date by Mike Peters of The Alarm in October (since that was another show that Denise had to give up because of family commitments this past summer), but it turns out we have a conflict with that date, so it will have to be something else.

In any event, it was a really enjoyable night of music. Kudos to Eppy of My Father's Place, Mark Newman and Midge Ure. Ure's setlist from the night can be found at:

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cave People, The Sidekicks and Tigers Jaw

Although I see a lot of '80s bands live with Denise, and a sprinkling of '70s bands (usually on my own), every once in awhile, I need to get out to see some more contemporary bands, just to see that I still have a pulse. Denise and I caught Walk the Moon (with Company of Thieves) opening for them earlier this year, and that was a great show. I also saw an acoustic rendition of Looming this past January at The Amityville Music Hall, and that was fun too, especially because I got to spend a little time with the band before they hit the stage.

Last weekend, I was supposed to go into the city to see 888 at The Mercury Lounge. At the last minute, though, 888 cancelled the show, and a show in Albany the next night as well. This was unfortunate, as I was looking forward to hearing "Critical Mistakes", one of my favorite songs over the last few years, live. In the end, it was probably just as well for me that they cancelled, as I had a dental thing going on the day of the show, and it wouldn't have been fun dragging myself into the city while I was in that much pain.

Unfortunately, I had to spend the first half of the week pressuring to get a refund, because the Mercury Lounge and Ticket Fly (the ticket agency), instead of just issuing refunds, tried to do a bait-and-switch thing. When I originally bought the ticket, it was just 888 playing an early show by themselves, and some other band whose name I forget was supposed to headline an entirely separate show later that night. Then, the later band must have cancelled their show, so next thing I knew, 888 had an opening act, SCR, a Long Island pop fusion band. When 888 cancelled the show, I got an e-mail saying "Good News!" and proclaiming SCR was now the headliner. But I could get a refund if I really wanted to by emailing them back. Now nothing against SCR, but I'm completely unfamiliar with them, and these days, it has to be something pretty special to motivate me to haul my butt into the city. (I'm pretty sure I can catch SCR out here on the Island if I want to.) I immediately answered the e-mail and said that yes, I definitely wanted a  refund. They completely ignored it. I e-mailed again two days later, and again they ignored it. Finally, after several days, and after waiting on the phone for 25 minutes, I got through to someone at Ticketfly who said my e-mails had come through with weird coding, but she would make sure I got my refund. Good, but way too much work.

So this past Thursday was my second attempt to see a contemporary band that I like this week, since Tigers Jaw was playing at Revolutions in Amityville. I actually kind of credit Jessica and Brandon from Looming for putting this show in my head. When I spoke with them last January, they were telling me they were just about to go out on tour opening for Tigers Jaw. It sounded like a great show, and I looked into going. However, the closest they were coming to New York was Rhode Island and New Hampshire, so I didn't get to go. But I've been keeping my eye on Tigers Jaws' schedule ever since, and when I saw they were coming to Amityville, I immediately bought a ticket. I also listened a little to both Cave People and The Sidekicks, the two opening bands, just to familiarize myself with them both. They both seemed like decent bands.

As I drove towards Revolutions Thursday night, my mind was awash with memories. This venue was known as Crawdaddy's back in the mid-'90s, and it's had at least two or three different names and owners since then. My primary memory of Crawdaddy's is that Denise's old band, The Slant, played the Long Island Music Festival there back in 1996. This got me reminiscing about The Bulldog Bar and Grill in Amityville, where The Slant played the LIMF the following year (which apparently burnt almost to the ground last week). And that led me to remembering the sad story of own death and wake for that LIMF show at The Bulldog in '97. I know that reference makes absolutely no sense to you now, but I promised myself that sometime later this week, I will post that story here in this blog. It's a good one, much too good to be lost to posterity.

The tickets said the doors would open at 6PM. I didn't want to get there too early and wait around forever. I also didn't want to get there too late to grab a seat, though, as there was no reserved reserved seating, and I'm way too old to stand. As it turned out, I got there at about 6:20, only to find a short line waiting outside in the drizzle, and a sign on the door that said "Doors Open at 6:30". Grr!

I got a spot under an awning to stay dry, and watched the kids with their multi-colored hair showing up to get in line behind me. (This was a 16-and-older show.) The doors finally opened at 6:35 or so.

As it turns out, though, that's about the only bad thing I have to say about the venue. The club looks nice on the inside -- wood paneled bars, etc. (unsurprisingly, it's been completely remodeled since its Crawdaddy's days) -- and throughout the night, I found everyone from the doorman to the bartenders to be very friendly and pleasant. I also have to mention that I also liked that this place isn't trying to kill you on their prices. The food and soda was certainly reasonably priced. I wasn't drinking, so I can't tell you about the alcohol prices. And they had a Gatorade bucket full of free water on the bar, with plastic cups next to it, which they kept constantly full so the hard-dancing club kids didn't pass out from dehydration on the dance floor. I really appreciated that, and thought it was a classy thing for the club to do.

I surveyed the club quickly upon entering. I knew I probably didn't have long to pick a spot for the evening. When you walk in the door, the narrow part of a long, rectangular bar is right in front of you. The stage is to your left, up against the curtained-off windows that run along Main St./Montauk Hwy. It obviously faces away from the street, towards a big, open area in front of it. There was a curtained off area to the left of the stage, which I'm sure is for the bands and their guests, and a boxed-off area with seats and wooden benches in front of the stage. I would have sat there, but I was afraid it was intended as some sort of VIP area, and I didn't want togete thrown out of there after the club filled up and not be able to sit anywhere else.

I could have easily grabbed a seat at the bar at this point -- in fact, I almost did -- but when I started to situate myself there, I saw a small room at the opposite side of the bar from the front door, with couches and soft comfy chairs. It was strategically situated next the rest rooms and the merch table. I grabbed the one chair in the room with an unobstructed view of the stage (knowing full well the view would be obstructed by people sitting at the bar, standing, etc., when the room got more crowded), and set up there for the night.

Clubbing by yourself is never an easy thing, especially if the club owner doesn't know you from Adam (it was nice being treated like royalty back in the Long Island Music Coalition days), and if you're there by yourself (without a friend or partner to save your seat). This is doubly true when, like me, you're too damned old and out of shape to stand if you lose your chair.There's always somebody who'll steal your seat the moment you step away from it. So you want to set yourself up where you'll rarely have to leave your seat, and if you do, you can get back quickly.

I took advantage of the club's emptiness to take a quick bathroom break, and to order food at the bar (which was only maybe three or four steps away) before returning to my home away from home. (If only it reclined!) My burger came pretty quickly, and by 7:30, I was settled and fed for what was supposed to be a 7:45 start.

Now I had a notebook with me for this show, and I wound up taking extensive notes, stream-of-consciousness style. I thought it might be a good experiment to just copy my notes exactly for this blog entry, so I recorded my thoughts about the food, the crowd, the venue and all three bands. Unfortunately, I took so many notes throughout the night that this blog entry would have wound up being about 20 pages long if I translated them all here. Also, my handwriting is so terrible that I'm sure I would have wound up with some interesting translations. So I had to abandon that plan, in favor of writing up way more abbreviated impressions.

A couple of words about the room I was in, which I came to think of as the Ozzy Room. It featured posters for Black Sabbath, Motorhead and various other '70s and '80s metal bands on the wall. It also featured a love seat (next to my chair), a couch along the wall to my right, a soft armless chair across from the love seat (which was big enough to usually be shared by one or another of the young couples that wandered into the room over the course of the night), and a soft (but much less plushy than mine) chair directly across from me. Once I was situated, the rest of the room filled up quickly, and only the chair opposite me was empty for most of the rest of the night (primarily because its location sucked -- it faced away from the stage, and had the added handicap of being tucked next a wall that blocked the view of the stage entirely.) I did have to beat back one young, umm, gentleman, who tried to sneak my bag off of my chair when I stepped up to the bar to grab my food. He had one of those smirky faces you really want to slap, and two adoring female friends with him who looked on with that "you're such a bad boy" expression on their faces.

Cave People was up first. By this time, I couldn't really see the band unless I stood up. They're kind of a low-key band, sort of lo-fi. So I could hear their music, but not super clearly. And when the singer spoke between songs, I could hear him, but usually couldn't make out what he was saying (Although I could hear enough to tell he was pleasant and endearingly self-deprecating.)

Cave People played as a four-piece -- two guitars, a bass and drums (with the singer manning one of the guitars.) I vaguely recognized at least two of the songs from an EP they put out earlier this year (Kingfisher), although they put out a new one about a week ago called Salt which I haven't familiarized myself with yet. Their set was decent, although I have to admit that the strongest impression I had of it was that a lot of their songs end suddenly and kind of awkwardly.
I must have liked them more than not, though, because they only played an eight-song set, and I remember wishing it had been longer.

The Sidekicks played second. This is also a four-piece band, but their music is much rockier and more upbeat than Cave People's (basically alternative rock with some pop tendencies), and I could hear them clear as a bell. I couldn't make up my kind if I liked them or not. The lead singer had kind of a high-pitched voice which could get whiny at times. But they also had a second vocalist who helped level it out, and they sounded pretty good when they sang together. None of the songs really stood out to me, but it's always hard when you hear a band for the first time -- sometimes it takes a while for a band's music to grow on you. They did have an album they put out last year that I had listened to once. But they also had a brand new album out which I didn't know existed before tonight, and I imagine most of their 10-song set was drawn from that. They took the stage at precisely 8:45, and ended by 9:30. The one distinctive thing I can tell you about them is that several of their numbers had surprising mid-song time changes.

I was excited to see Tigers Jaw, but I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm familiar with them through their two most recent albums, Charmer (2014) and Spin (2017). (They stylize it as spin, but homey don't play dat lower-case sh*t. 'Cause I'm a rebel.) They have a number of songs I really like, including a driving number called "Cool", which came in #7 on my Top 20 Songs of 2014 list, and a slow, dreamy song called "Escape Plan" which was #7 on my Top 20 Songs of 2017 list. However, earlier in the day, I saw a poster online that said that this show was the first show of a tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of their self-titled Tigers Jaw album, which they were going to play in its entirety. And I didn't know a single song from that album. So I was hoping I was going to recognize at least some of what they played tonight.

Tigers Jaw took the stage at 9:50, and my little Ozzy room immediately emptied out, as everyone tried to get close to the stage. I had asked myself if I thought I could move closer and stand for the whole set, and my honest answer was no. (Although the room emptying out did give me the freedom to move up once in awhile to see them better, and still feel confident my chair would be there when I got back.) And I wasn't even certain if they were going to do an extended set, or only go about ten songs or so.

I'll give you the biggest negative for their performance right off the bat. While the sound was generally pretty good for them throughout (and they had a decent light show, too), the vocals were too low in the mix for the whole night. It wasn't too bad for lead singer Ben Walsh -- his vocals were a little lower than I'd have liked them, but you could hear him clearly all of the time. But backup singer Brianna Collins' mic was turned so low that I could hardly hear her at all. They turned her up just a tad on the couple of songs that she sings lead on, but it was still way too low. And there were times on Walsh's songs where I couldn't hear her at all. (And it wasn't just in the Ozzy room. At one point, when the band took a brief break, three very sweaty young guys who had just been dancing and stage diving in the pit in front of the stage sat down for a minute to get their energy back, and they also said they could only hear her "a little bit".) This was a shame, as one of my favorite things about this band is the vocal harmonies from Ben and Brianna.

Everything else about their show was really good. They performed as a 5-piece, doing an 11-song set of material mostly from Charmer and Spin, including favorites of mine like "Escape Plan" and "June". (They didn't play "Cool", but that album is four years old now). They then announced they were going backstage for a few minutes just to get themselves "together," after which they'd be back to play the Tiger's Jaw album from beginning to end.

Here are two major things I noticed about their second set. The first is that older Tigers Jaw sounded a lot more emo than more recent stuff. There were times when the material they played (none of which I was familiar with) reminded me a lot of Bayside's music. The second thing is that although I don't know the Tigers Jaw album at all, this is one of those albums that obviously really meant a lot to the people in the crowd (who were mostly twenty-somethings). On most of the songs, the crowd knew all of the words, and sang them along with the band. This made me a little sad, as they were sharing something that I obviously wasn't a part of, although it was nice to see how passionate these now-young-adults were about an album that had probably helped many of them to make it through the hard times in their teen years.

I promised myself to pick up a copy of this album soon. (I could have bought it at the merch table, but they were selling the vinyl for $20, and I think the CDs might have been $20 too, so I can get it cheaper online.)

Anyway, I moved up near the front door to watch the last song of what was definitely an emotional night for both the band and the crowd.

All in all, I'd tell you that Revolutions is a pretty good club in which to see a show if you're a teen or twenty-something. If you're a geezer like me, there are always compromises you have to make anytime you go somewhere where there isn't reserved seating. But although I wish I'd been able to get up close to see and hear the bands better, I'm still glad I went. I definitely ended the evening a bigger fan of Tigers Jaw than I was when I first got there, and the other bands showed me enough that I'll be checking out more of their stuff as well. (I actually just downloaded the latest Cave People album, and ordered the new Sidekicks LP on CD.) And I'm looking forward to getting more familiar with the self-titled Tigers Jaw album as well. Good show by all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review of Matt and Kim's "Almost Everyday"

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

Review Summary: "You Have Sunk My Battleship!" -- Death, after losing at "Battleship" to Bill & Ted

When I first heard Matt and Kim's "Daylight" back in 2009, I thought I was listening to the musical version of Beavis and Butt-head, or maybe even to Bill & Ted's Great Musical Adventure. I pictured them as two slackers, or maybe as a pair of California surfer dudes. Later, when I learned that Kim was a woman, I felt a little unchivalrous for this, but that was my first impression. (I was tricked by Matt's vocals, which featured him playing call and response with himself -- I thought "Kim" was the other guy.) In any event, I thought their songs were pretty catchy and kind of fun, but they weren't a band I expected would be around for a long time.

Here we are almost a decade later, and I have to admit, my respect for them has grown. I wasn't a big fan of their Sidewalks LP (2009). However, with the release of 2012's Lightning, they started to make sense to me. I was especially impressed with "It's Alright", the last single from that album, which had a hook you could reel in Jaws with. (And although it didn't do anything on the singles charts, the ad agency for Buick obviously agreed with me -- it's been the centerpiece music for their TV commercials since 2014.) Following this, I liked the duo's New Glow LP (2015) and their We Were the Weirdos EP (2016) even better.

Now comes their newest album, Almost Everyday, which is a slightly new animal for this band. It's a little more experimental musically for them -- not groundbreaking, certainly, but it expands their sound just bit from some of their previous efforts. There are also a number of guest musicians involved here -- of the ten tracks on this LP, six of them feature appearances by two or more musical friends. This list includes Mark Hoppus, Flosstradamus, Travis Hawley of Night Riots and Santigold.

But the thing that most disinguishes this LP from the pair's earlier albums is that it's way more thematically contemplative than Matt and Kim's usual fare. I'm not saying we're dealing with Descartes or Nietzsche here -- more like Jeff Spicoli at the end of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, when he realizes, to his own amazement, that he actually has learned some history from Mr. Hand. 

Almost Everyday was written and recorded in 2017 while Kim Schifino was recovering from a painful ACL injury, so maybe this is what put them in a more philosophical mood. Regardless, the LP finds Matt and Kim thinking a lot about their own mortality. Sometimes they seem to embrace the idea of death ("Don't want to live forever in this world of shit" -- from "Forever"). Sometimes they seem amazed by the simple realization that they're growing older. ("Today's the youngest I will be in my life" from "Youngest I Will Be"; and "Back when I was still alive/Thought I was old at 25" -- from "Glad I Tried"). In the end, they seem to come out in favor of living as long as you can, and living life to the fullest ("I'd rather be standing on the grass than lying under it" and "I'd rather be making memories/Than reminiscing of the past, you see" from "I'd Rather").

The pace of the music seldom gets faster than mid-tempo throughout, which is fine, given the more pensive mood and subject matter. And while some of the songs have bits that are brash and raucous (such as "All in My Head" and "Glad I Tried"), there are some nice, quieter moments here, too (including "Youngest I Will Be", and the a capella "Happy If You're Happy").

All in all, this is a fine album of electro-pop music, with an emphasis on the "pop" part. It might not be the deepest thing ever made, but these guys do what they do really well. They've never been a popular band here on Sputnik, but they've been making music and entertaining alt-rock fans for more than a decade now. And just like Beavis and Butt-head, Bill & Ted, and even Jeff Spicoli (who the postscript for Fast Times at Ridgemont High tells us went on to become a hero by rescuing Brooke Shields from drowning, and spending the reward money to hire Van Halen to play at his birthday party), they kind of make the world a better place.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars