Saturday, August 24, 2019

Jay Aston's Gene Loves Jezebel, Modern English, The Alarm

Having been up pretty late Thursday night writing about the Roger Silverberg show, I took a fairly mellow day yesterday. I got up late, and knocked out a couple of kids' notes for my job. Then, Denise and I headed into Huntington.

We arrived at about 6PM, and found parking right away (for once.) Then we hooked up with Mandy and Tim from Denise's WLIR Facebook group for dinner at Meehan's, a place right across the street from the Paramount. We chatted mostly about music: past shows (including last year's Gary Numan show, which Tim and I agreed had been the most pleasant surprises of the year); tonight's show, which we were all looking forward to; and future shows, which included Saturday's Squeeze show in the city, which Mandy and Tim will be attending, and Sunday's Santana/Doobie Brothers show at Jones Beach, which I'm going to with Rich Da Drumma.

After dinner (which for me was a delicious cheeseburger on a pretzel bun), we headed briefly over by the bar, where Anne Marie and Tom from the Facebook group were hanging, and the whole lot of us strolled across the street to the theater.

Anne Marie and Tom were down on the floor, so we didn't see them again. Mandy and Tim had tickets upstairs two rows in front of us, but they headed down to the floor for the first two sets, to catch the action up close. Denise and I went straight up to our seats, which were in the back middle section. We had seats on the right aisle in the third row. And because this wasn't too expensive a show, Denise bought us the extra seat for this one, so we had a seat in between us.

I had printed out the setlists from setlist.fm, and except for one song by Gene Loves Jezebel, they turned out to be entirely accurate. (This makes life easy for me, as I can just check off the songs as they play them, and enter them later on setlist.fm if no one else already has.)

Jay Aston's Gene Loves Jezebel was up first. I was pretty psyched to see them, as they were the only band on the bill I hadn't seen previously. So first, I have to tell you the story of how they became Jay Aston's Gene Loves Jezebel.

It seems the band was first formed in 1980 as a project of two identical twin brothers, Jay and Michael Aston. This was news to me, as the two Gene Loves Jezebel songs I knew best, "Motion of Love" and "Desire", both made me believe that the lead vocalist of the band was a woman. (Denise was surprised that I'd thought this, but the Aston's brothers' voices are just high enough that they sound to me as though they could have been sung by a high-voiced man, or a low-voiced woman.)

So these two twin brothers formed this band. They had a series of modest hits. At some point, the two brothers each went solo, then reunited the band in the early '90s (and even shared a house together), until things started to get a little hinky. They went out on a tour together in 1997, and these two identical twin brothers had a falling out. They were in the middle of recording an album together, but Jay and the other guys even removed Michael's vocals before releasing the album. You can see where this is going, right?

At some point, Michael puts together his own version of the band, tours America, and calls it Gene Loves Jezebel. Jay sues him for the name. And eventually, they work out a deal in court -- Jay's band can call itself "Gene Loves Jezebel" in the UK, but has to use the name "Jay Aston's Gene Loves Jezebel" in the US; and Michael Aston's band can call itself "Gene Loves Jezebel" in the US, can only refer to themselves as "Michael Aston's Gene Loves Jezebel" in the UK. And I can't emphasize enough that the two guys who can't get along here are identical twin brothers! I mean, it's bad enough when the guys from Yes or Styx or Asia fight among themselves and split into two different units. But these two nitwits have the same genes! This is why humankind is doomed.

Anyway, I was still looking forward to seeing them, and so was Denise. At 8PM, the lights went down, and some Welsh guy with a heavy accent came out and started blathering. I could only understand about every third word. Apparently, he's been buds with Mike Peters of The Alarm forever, and he's going to be the emcee for the evening. I would say the house was still only about a third full at that point. He babbled something, which was presumably an intro to the bands (although it could just have easily been something along the lines of, "You American hedgehogs will soon know the wrath of Wales!") And we were off.

Gene Loves Jezebel then took the stage. They played as a four-piece, in a basic guitar-bass-drums setup with Jay Aston on vocals. (Later in the set, Aston took up a second guitar.) Aston, wore a big, floppy hat. I think he wore it to shield his head a little, because in a recent blog entry, I suggested that should somebody smack his and his brother's heads together. Regardless, he sounded good, and seemed very happy to be there. I'm not really sure which of the Aston brothers sang lead vocals on which songs in the '80s, since Wikipedia lists them both as having been lead singers. But in any event, this is the voice I recognized from the records. (Of course, his identical twin brother probably has an identical voice.)

One side comment -- this guy has very skinny legs!

Anyway, they did a nice, albeit short (8-song), set. It included most of their best-known songs, such as "Motion of Love", "Jealous", "Heartache" and "Desire (Come and Get It)". They got a nice reaction from the WLIR-loving crowd, and seemed genuinely appreciative to receive such a nice reception. By the end of their set, the room was mostly full. (There were some empty seats in some of the side balconies, bit overall, it was a pretty big crowd.) So they got to play in front of quite a few people.

Gene Loves Jezebel's setlist is listed at www.makeupwithyourbrotheryoustupidskinnybastard.com.

In between sets, the room continued to fill out. Now a couple of words about the seats. The seats we were in felt a little tight, and the row didn't provide for much leg room. I thought maybe I'd just put on a few pounds since the last time I was there, which is still a possibility. But I also learned last night that the seats aren't all an equal width -- later in the night, we moved into the section to my right, and the seats were a little wider. (More on that move later.) But in any event, I was feeling a little squeezed, and was happy we'd purchased the extra seat for the night.

As people filed in, the people in the four seats in front on us took their places. Among them were a couple of about our age. And the husband must be the romantic sort, because he kept slipping his arm around his wife and banging his elbow into my leg. This was annoying. Low-level annoying, but still annoying. And right as Modern English was going on, the two women sitting to the left of Denise filed in. "You're late!" I growled in my mind, but OK, whatever. I stood up, and let them file past me. They lasted for five, maybe six songs, then filed out, making us get up again. Great. Seat gypsies!

The Marble-mouthed Welsh guy took the stage again, and muttered an intro of sorts. Modern English then took their place on the stage.

I've seen Modern English a few times over the last few years. They did a 3-song set on the Retro Futura Tour at Atlantic City in 2017, which I liked enough to buy their most recent album, 2017's Take Me to the Trees. (There are some decent songs on there, but overall, I thought it was pretty average.) Then Denise and I saw them again on the 2018 Retro Futura Tour at the Westbury Music Fair, where they played a 5-song set.

I'll be honest -- of the three bands, Modern English had the least to do with us buying tickets for this show. I hadn't seen The Alarm for 20 years, and I remember really liking them when I did see them. And as I mentioned, I'd never seen Gene Loves Jezebel (either rendition of them) before, which was extra sweetener enough for me to say, when Denise asked, "Yes, buy the tickets." Modern English didn't detract from me wanting to go to show. But they weren't that much of an inducement either, considering we'd seen them twice in the last few years.

Nevertheless, we hadn't seen them do a full set before, so I was curious to see what they'd bring to the table.

They took the stage as a six-piece, which seemed larger than I remember. (But when I looked up my 2018 review, I saw that they had played as a six-piece that night, too. So the memory is the first -- or tenth, or twelfth -- thing to go.)

They started out playing some of their '80s material, including songs like "Swans on Glass", "Someone's Calling" and "After the Snow". The band was tight, filling the hall with sound, and I started to just let the music carry me away. Then the lead singer, Robbie Gray, did something you should never do, which took me out of my happy place -- he started complaining to the crowd. Yes, people were more standing and gently swaying on the dance floor instead of dancing, etc., but my impression was that the crowd was enjoying it just fine. But Gray became flustered, because he obviously wasn't getting the kind of reaction he'd hoped for. He started waving his hands wildly for people to stand and/or move, and at one point between songs, he called out, "Is anyone alive in here?"

"We're into it," someone yelled from the back, obviously having the same reaction to Gray's entreaties that I was having.

Guys, if you're a lead singer, never do this. You're only going to get one of three reactions: 1. People will move more just because you nagged them. (And the New York area isn't famous for being a locale full of people pleasers); 2. The crowd will turn on you. Maybe you think this is better than indifference, but it's probably not. There are more of us than there is of you; or 3. The crowd will mostly ignore you and do their own thing anyway, which is how most of tonight's audience handled it. But complaining lessens the show for your audience. Instead of going home at the end of the night saying, "Modern English was pretty good tonight," they're going home saying, "What a whiny little bitch!"

Anyway, musically, the set was quite good. After a song or two, I got back into my peaceful head space (at least when the seat gypsies next to us weren't harshing my mellow). The band played ten songs, that included mostly older material along with a pair of songs from the Trees album. Then, Mr. Gray, resigned but a little chagrined, announced, "OK. It's time for us to play that song." The crowd erupted, and the band blasted into one of the most iconic tracks of the '80s, "I Melt With You."

I want to say, on one level I get it. You're out there night after night, busting your chops, even writing new material, but for 99% of the crowd, it's all about that one song. Maybe it's not even a song you thought twice about when you wrote it. I'm always hearing stories from artists about how their one big hit was something they wrote on the back of a cocktail napkin in about ten minutes, and it frustrates the heck out of them that their other hundred songs, many of which were carefully crafted, draw little more than indifference.

But there's another way to look at it. How great is it to have written even one song like that? And how many other musicians would cut off their left dumplings to have even written one song that means so much to so many people? How many '80s couples remember dancing to that song, maybe even making love for the first time to "I Melt With You"? I hang out all the time with local musicians who beat their brains out writing music for decades on end, some of which is actually damned good, and they're happy just to have a small room of people actually give their songs an hour or two of listening respect.

Be happy, Robbie Gray! You get to make a living making music. And no matter what else happens, you've at least got that one impactful number that brightened up a lot of people's lives, and no one can ever take that away from you. Maybe The Alarm gets a bigger overall reaction. But I'd argue that even The Alarm, great as they are, doesn't have any one single song that as recognizable as your big one.

Anyway, as expected, the crowd went crazy, and deservedly so, for Modern English's big closer. You'll find their full setlist for the night at www.stopgripingandjustsingyouannoyingbastard.com.

Now I was hoping that the irritating seat gypsies had gone to the dance floor for the rest of the night. It was obvious that The Alarm was the band they were there to see, as every time Colin Farrell, or Gavin McLeod, , or whatever the hell his name is, muttered the words "Mike Peters", they'd erupt in high-pitched shrieks. But unfortunately, by the end of Modern English's set, they were there to stay.

I used the break between sets to run down to the Men's Room, pausing only to see what the Mets' score was on the TVs near the bar. (And may I just say, Eff the Atlanta Braves! For some reason, the Mets always play like total crap against them.)

When I got back, Denise told me that Mandy and Tim had been by. They had tried to take their seats, but for some reason, Mandy's view was blocked (I think by the soundboard.) They were exhausted from being out on the dance floor for the first few sets, and had hiked it up to the Sky Bar to see if there were some seats available up there. (They were trying to save something in the tank for Saturday's Squeeze Show, which was taking place at a Manhattan standing-only venue.) I told Denise to text them, and tell if they wanted, they could sit in my seat and our extra seat, and I'd sit in theirs. I'm tall enough to see over whatever was in front of them there, and as much as I like sitting with Denise, once the music starts, it's too loud to talk or anything anyway -- the best we can do is hold hands.

Denise texted them, but Mandy texted back that they were fine where they were, thanks. They had found some seats. It's just as well. Because if they'd have taken me up on my offer, they'd have cursed me forever after for making them sit near the Screeching Scream Sisters!

Colin Powell (or whatever his name was) came out to introduce The Alarm, but before he did, he wanted to say a few words about cancer. Two of the members of The Alarm, Mike Peters and his wife, Jules Jones Peters, have survived bouts with cancer. They now have some sort an affiliation with a cancer-related group. It was hard to hear exactly what he was saying, though, because after every sentence, the two harpies next to us let go with another round of howls. At one point, I think they were cheering for the cancer.

In any event, a moment or two later, Hughen McTeagle (or whatever his name was) introduced The Alarm, and the crowd went wild. (Especially you know who).

As I mentioned earlier, Denise and I saw The Alarm play with Patti Smith about 20 years ago at the Vanderbilt in Plainview. I went mostly for Patti, but when The Alarm played, I had one of those experiences where every song they played, I was like, "I know that one. Oh, I know that one too. I love that song."

The Alarm had released a new album earlier this year which the current tour is named after, Sigma. I'm a little so-so on it -- there are songs I like, there are others I'm indifferent to -- but Denise has been more positive about it than I have. They crashed onto the stage with a lot of energy, opening with a song from the new album, "Blood Red, Viral Black". They immediately followed this with my favorite Alarm song (possibly because it's based on the Stephen King book), "The Stand".

If you've never seen them, you'll find that The Alarm is fairly raucous for a WLIR band. Although they have a keyboard, the music is more guitar (and sometimes harmonica) driven. And Peters himself is a high-energy performer, so much so that they had three mics on the stage for him, one on the far left, one on the far right, and one in the middle. This way, he could run back and forth all night, and sing into whichever mic he happened to be closest to. He also worked his way into the crowd at one point, walking around the packed dance floor and singing the chorus of "Neutral" along with a bunch of bright-eyed and happy-looking fans.

Now those of us who frequent the top section of The Paramount are often a comfort-loving bunch. It's not that we're not enjoying the music -- we are. But we're enjoying it by sitting there, swaying a little, singing along, and not bothering anybody. This is how it was last night. Except for two of us.

The two women next to Denise never sat for a moment during The Alarm's set. This might not have been so bad, except that they were the only two people in the entire back section standing. I felt really sorry for the luckless couple who had bought the seats behind them, as I'm sure they were the only two people in the seated area who couldn't see the band for the whole show.

What's worse, the Pigeon Sisters never stopped squealing for the whole night. It was, "Wooo! Wooo! Mike Peters! Mike Peters! Mike Peters! Mike Peters!" And at various points, the smaller one would turn around towards the crowd behind her, and angrily wave her hands up, trying to get the whole crowd to stand. They completely ignored her.

The truth is, I'm not really sure that these two weren't employees of the band, a couple of ringers thrown into the crowd to try to artificially create some excitement. Because at one point, The Alarm's sound guy (who was the next most animated person in the section aside from these two numbskulls) stepped into the row in front of them and handed them a paper (presumably the setlist?).

Maybe they're just super fans who follow the band from city to city, and the whole crew knows them. Maybe they're groupies. Or maybe they're just a couple of hired shills, because for all of the screaming, something seemed phony about them. (If they were really that into the band, I think they'd have gone down to dance floor and tried to get close to them.) In any event, they certainly diminished the concert for those around them, especially the people sitting behind them.

Back to The Alarm. (Remember them?) They continued to work their way through their set, playing some of their best stuff. "Rescue Me", "Sold Me Down the River", "Strength", "Rain in the Summerime", the hits just kept coming. The crowd downstairs was dancing up a storm, doubtlessly the reaction poor Robbie Gray had been pining for.

Where we were, things were getting ridiculous. Denise was leaning hard in my direction, over the empty seat, while the obnoxious girl close to her kept yelling "Mike Peters! Mike Peters!" and bumping into her. I finally leaned over and suggested that D. move over into the empty seat between us. I still had free room on the aisle. She took me up on this. However, a song or two later I looked over, and this odious woman had now moved in front of the seat that Denise had just vacated, and was bumping into her again.

At this point, I had two choices. I strongly considered tapping her and telling her to move back over in front of her own seat. And if she'd have given me a hard time about, this time, I would have moved into that seat myself, and it would have been unpleasant for all of us. The other choice, and the one less likely to have resulted in me winding up the evening with a lifetime ban to the Paramount, was that across the aisle, some seats had opened up. It was pretty late in the set by this point, so I figured that the people who had been sitting there had either gone home, or would ride out the rest of the show on the dance floor. If they'd have come back, we could just go back to the seats we had paid for anyway. So I gave Denise a little wave, and the two of scooted across the aisle to more comfortable (and quieter) environs.

A short while later, Mandy and Tim waved as they headed down the stairway in front of us. I'm not sure if they hit the road early, or just decided to end the evening on the dance floor. As The Alarm wound down their set, the couple who had been sitting behind Patsy and Edina walked by. As they descended the stairway, I saw the woman lean over and say something to Denise (who was now sitting on the left aisle seat.) She told me afterwards that the woman had said something to effect of "I'm sorry those other two chased you out of your seats."

The Alarm finished up their set with "Spirit of '76" (after Mike Peters had told a story of separate meetings with Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer that had been inspirational to him). They danced off the stage for a few minutes, and came right back for an encore that included a three-song medley, followed by "Sixty Eight Guns". They finished up with one of the songs from the new album, "Two Rivers", to allow the two banshees to bellow their last high-pitched wails of the night. Then the show ended.

You'll find The Alarm's setlist for the night at www.donthireshriekyshillsyouratbastards.com.

One last aggravation occurred on the way home, as we discovered that Huntington's finest had blocked off Route 110 for a sobriety check. There wasn't any point saying anything to any of the (many) cops involved in this, as I'm sure they had about as much say in the matter of setting up this roadblock as we did. But to whoever did order it, I'd like to say a nice hot, steamy "F-you".

With all of the shootings and other crime you hear about all the time taking place over by the Huntington railroad station, you thought it would be a good use of police resources to hassle the people who had just come into and spent money in the community? (And I'm talking as a guy who drinks water all night.) You see someone bobbing and weaving on the road, by all means, pull him over, and if he's drunk, book him. But these sobriety checks inconvenience the hell out of a lot of people who haven't done anything wrong just so you can find a couple who have.

I've finally run through all of the events that Denise and I had bought tickets for at the Paramount. They just added a show to the schedule that includes Motionless in White and New Years Day that I was kind of on the fence about buying tickets for. The sobriety check just made up my mind to skip it. It's enough of a pain in the ass to drive all the way to Huntington and find some kind of parking, without getting hassled like this when all you want to do is get home.

Anyway, that's enough ranting for tonight. It was still a very good show, However, I'd like to point out that in comparison to the Roger Silverberg show the night before, no one at The Paramount handed me even one hot zepole. And Todd Evans, Hank Stone and Bob Westcott never once jumped up and bellowed "Wooo! Woooo! Woooo! Roger Silverberg!" in my ear all night long on Thursday night. So Roger's show might still have the advantage. We'll see what Santana has in store for me on Sunday night.