Monthly Archives: May 2009

Changing of the Guard

If the show sucks, it's HIS fault

If the show sucks, it's HIS fault

Tomorrow we turn another page on the calendar; May turns into June. But June 1st will also see another auspicious pop culture moment as one of the most revered seats on television gets a new as…um, as Conan O’Brien takes over for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.

Jay, of course, took over that seat seventeen years ago (remember the Leno-Letterman competition?) and although he is no Brett Favre, it appears he had second thoughts about his initial decision to step down. NBC couldn’t back out of what was a very public transition (and who knows – maybe they want to skew younger?) but Jay landed quite nicely, thanks, now set to eat up five hours of prime time from 10-11pm Monday through Friday.

The optimist in me says that Leno, always a supporter of stand-up comedy, will do even more to bring that to the forefront. The pessimist in me says that if cutting edge comics were censored after 11:30pm…hoo-boy, are they going to get the scissors out now!

The pessimist in me also realizes that you can say good-bye to adult drama or comedy programming as 1/3 of the schedule – 50% if you discount the 8-9PM “family hour” – is now unavailable for the next Hill Street Blues or Arrested Development. But the optimist in me realizes that they just would have filled the schedule with variations of MILF Island, anyway.

As for Conan…how can he possibly be nervous? Rarely was anyone as unilaterally hounded as when his original talk show debuted. But Conan is sharp, smart and a survivor. He’s going to come out blazing. Besides, if anyone is nervous and worried, it should be Jimmy Fallon.

Maybe this Leno/O’Brien thing will be a win-win situation. Tune in tomorrow and start finding out.

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Under The Radar: The Downbeat 5

No smoke, no mirrors. Just IN YOUR FACE rock'n'roll

No smoke, no mirrors. Just IN YOUR FACE rock'n'roll!

The Downbeat 5 was formed a decade ago by legendary Boston rocker J.J.Rassler, whom many of you might know from the band DMZ (along with future Lyres member Jeff Connolly). Rassler’s then-wife Jen shared a love for all things Dolls, Stooges and garage, tempered with a melodic pulse yet a fiery pace, and her prowling, howling vocals were the perfect complement to the piston engine that drove most of the songs in their repetoire.

Smoke and Mirrors was recorded live in a studio full of friends and guests, and the band proved it doesn’t know any speed but full. Plowing through some well chosen covers from The Kinks, The Yardbirds and The Velvet Underground along with a few of their own songs, The Downbeat 5 sound like The Detroit Cobras on a Red Bull buzz. I would have loved to have had my ears pinned back that night at Q Division studios!

Jen – now called Jen D’Angora – has the same gutteral yelp as The MuffsKim Shattuck, while Rassler plays the Johnny Ramone role by thrashing out infectious power chords and stinging guitar fills. But the band wouldn’t be half as much fun without the piledriving rhythm section of bassist Mike Yocco and drummer extraordinaire Eric Almquist (a monster player). Plus you have to love a band that thanks Ed Koch, Ratso Rizzo and the Olsen Twins in their liner notes…

The band’s 2005 release Victory Motel is sadly out of print (ping me if you have it!) but Ism is still available, and with a cut on the latest Little Steven Coolest Songs collection getting attention, hopefully there will be more albums to come. You’d be hard pressed to top this one for pure adreneline, though. 

The Downbeat 5 website.

The Downbeat 5 MySpace page..

The Downbeat 5 rip the stuffing out of “Shake“.

A rousing  “Dum Dum Ditty“, now rocking the Underground Garage.

downbeat 5 live

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Song Phil Spector Edition

Lawyer Tip #1: Always Look Normal

Lawyer Tip #1: Always Look Normal

Guns N’ Roses

The Clash

Elvis Presley

Frank Zappa and Sting

Bee Gees

Johnny Cash

The Kingston Trio

John Mayall

Alice Cooper

Cher

Please Don't Make Me Be Your Baby

Please Don't Make Me Be Your Baby

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NEW ALBUM! Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels

An offer you should not refuse

An offer you should not refuse

It’s only appropriate that the band plays the theme from The Godfather before Mitch Ryder takes the stage. After all, Mitch is the Godfather of Detroit Rock’n’Roll. On this new live album, Ryder and the current version of the Detroit Wheels prove that Ryder is still a vital force forty years after smashing through transistor radio speakers with hits like “Sock It To Me”, “Jenny Take a Ride”, Little Latin Lupe Lu” and “Devil With a Blue Dress On”.

The Mitch Ryder experience that America gets these days is a lot different from what the Eurpoean audiences enjoy. Across the pond Ryder is still viewed as a creative force and he’s released several albums. He usually tours with a different band (most recently Engerling) and plays a more diverse setlist that features newer music. Here in America, thanks to clueless radio programming, there’s no room to enjoy these treasures, so the set is mostly recognizable hits. To his credit, Ryder does not shortchange the fans just because the media doesn’t respect him. He always has a great band, plays a lengthy set, and will slip in a couple of great non-hits inbetween the ringers.

This set was recorded in Las Vegas in 2008 and the sound is phenomenal; editing mixes the audience down and trims the between song pauses to a minimum. The 2008 version of The Detroit Wheels are mostly younger Michigan guys – some played with Uncle Kracker – but the band is airtight and Ryder is in great voice. In addition to the aforementioned major Wheels hits, highlights include the Prince cover “When You Were Mine”, an extended version of “Gimme Shelter” (featuring a tasty Stones medley intro on piano by Patrick Harwood), and a swinging version of “C’est La Vie”.  And, of course, his version of Lou Reed‘s Rock And Roll has been the definitive arrangement since he cut it with the band Detroit in 1970.

Ryder not only has another live album coming out in Germany (Air Harmonie, on the BuschFunk label) but also has recently completed The Promise with producer Don Was, which will hopefully be his first American release since 1983’s Never Kick A Sleeping Dog. Ryder just turned 64 years old but sounds like a man half that age; he’s still one of the very best vocalists in the history of rock’n’roll.

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Stand Up Wit…Dov Davidoff

Winging it, sorta

Winging it, sorta

Dov Davidoff doesn’t walk out onto the stage in a conventional manner. Tumbling and shuffling in from a side angle, he looks like a guy who’s opened the wrong door but instead of panicking and going back, he  says “what the hell, let’s do this!”. He rambles and paces, makes abrupt turns, stutters and segues in and out of his own material. Generally he comes off like a stoner with comedy Tourettes, a patient on the couch with the audience as psychiatrist.

In lesser hands, it would be annoying as hell. For Davidoff, it’s the perfect character. And most of the time, he nails it.

Last year’s debut album is called The Point Is, after the phrase that he uses to bring you back to the main joke after dancing your brain about like an eggbeater for a couple of minutes. I’ve heard a lot of the same material in his talk show appearances and his Comedy Central special. But I laughed almost as hard as I did the first time I saw the bits because I buy into what he’s doing – a harmless guy who could be the target of his own barbs mocking the idiocy and frustrations he sees in others. And while his stream-of-consciousness delivery might be a bit unorthodox, once you finally get onto his wavelength, it’s easy to enjoy the ride.

Although he’s a very physical comic, you can appreciate the album on its own merits, although I would advise at least seeing a clip or two first just to lock that mental image in your brain. However, I’m not certain how long you want to keep that image up there – just sayin’

Besides being a staple on the club circuit and the late night talk shows, Davidoff is also a good actor; although he’s had minor roles to date, his charisma is undeniable. I hope he lands a few meaty parts, but not at the expense of what is hopefully a bright future making me laugh.

Dov Davidoff’s MySpace page and official website.

A clip from his Comedy Central special.

Dov’s Cringe Humor page.

Davidoff on Jimmy Kimmel

Two crazy people cancel each other out

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R.I.P. Jay Bennett

Gone in a puff of smoke
Gone in a puff of smoke

Goddamn.

It’s difficult enough to lose people when they are elderly; to have someone suddenly pass away at 45 is shocking and unfair. But on May 24th, we lost another one. It goes without saying that heartfelt sympathies go out to family and close friends, but Jay Bennett also had a profound impact on a lot of people in the extended music community as well. Even a cursory observer could see that he pushed buttons in Jeff Tweedy that few others could reach, and his tenure in Wilco was my favorite. He also left an indelible mark on countless other bands who have benefited from his production, his musicianship, his guidance and his friendship.

Like everything else in his life, all was not rosy. He was thrilled about getting closure on his newest album yet three weeks ago he filed a lawsuit against Tweedy seeking compensation for back royalties from Wilco and fees for his appearance in the film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. This was less than two weeks after penning a lengthy blog on MySpace where he disclosed that health issues had kept him from pursuing life at full speed, but he had recently come to terms with what lied ahead and actually embraced the challenge. He sounded positive, peaceful, and grateful, a man on a mission to not only climb that mountain but to plant the flag and look for the next one. And although there would certainly be obstacles, the journey would move forward.

“All in all, I’m “in a really good place” right now; I’m just waiting until I can make it all happen. Thanks so much to all of you for downloading “Whatever happened I Apologize,” I really hope that you enjoyed it. I greatly appreciated all of the feedback you all gave me—keep it coming on the new stuff, if you feel like it. Again, apologies for my absence, I honestly do care about staying true to my promise to maintain open and interactive relationships with all of you “out there,” wherever you may be…Peace, Love, and Understanding, Jay Walter Bennett”

I guess that journey now continues elsewhere, Jay. Thanks for everything you generously shared.

Read the entire “Hip Replacement” blog here.

To download Whatever Happened I Apologize” free, click here.

Jay Bennett’s solo discography

Jay’s MySpace page and Wikipedia entry

Jim DeRogatis’ blog at the Chicago Sun-Times; comments from fans and Wilco.

 

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Happy Memorial Day – and Thanks!

iwo jima memorial

Because of you, I continue to enjoy a life of freedom.

Call a veteran today and let them know you appreciate what they have done. Thank them for serving and protecting our country.

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