Monthly Archives: August 2011

Screen Test

As more and more obscure pop bands from the 70s and 80s resurface and issue CD anthologies, I’ve started to realize that it wasn’t just a few or us who watched a couple of great local bands wither and die in our area code while corporate rock radio kept belching out the same overhyped crap. Sure, there were a slew of one and two hit wonders in the post-punk and new wave eras, but that was when labels still had a gazillion dollars to toss around. Soon, when things got tighter, labels would just descend on a city with a buzz (i.e. Seattle) and milk it dry; a precision military attack as opposed to the carpet bombing they were used to.

The Flashcubes fell victim to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when guitarist Paul Armstrong left to form The Most and 1.4.5, the three remaining members carried on as Screen Test. While more of an overt pop band that the ‘Cubes, they were still a powerful presence. Drummer Tommy Allen – as good as there is then or now – locked in with Gary Frenay’s flavorful bass playing to free Arty Lenin to be an absolute alchemist on guitar. Bolstered by two strong songwriters, Screen Test seemed even more primed for success than the Flashcubes and even landed a video on MTV’s Basement Tapes, but alas, it was not to be. After a few years Allen moved to Manhattan and found success as a producer and a touring drummer; Frenay and Lenin remained in Syracuse where they still perform together (in groups and as a duo) to this day.

But a Japanese market hungry for the lost magic found The Flashcubes a decade ago, and the reunited band got to live out what should have happened the first time – screaming crowds, a performance at Budokan and eventually the album they never got to make. So if the incredible three-set gauntlet that Screen Test threw down last weekend – their first performance in six years – maybe fate will smile kindly upon them as well and give them the exposure and respect beyond their local following and cassette EPs.

Obviously words don’t conjure sound, but the band had a treasure trove of should-been hit singles that still sound fresh and vital today. “Anytime”, “Nothing Really Matters When You’re Young”, “Sound of The Radio”, “Restless”, “Suellen”, “Make Something Happen”, “It’s No Secret“…any of these and more should have been blasting out of radios in the early 80s. I still feel the same way after hearing them launched from the stage of a neighborhood bar over a quarter century later. If YouTube was around in the early 80s, I wouldn’t have to tell you about the band because you would already have their albums.

Like The Flashcubes, Screen Test’s first full-length was an anthology of singles and EP tracks, an instant collector’s item. So perhaps the band will follow suit, feed off the energy of that Friday night in August and decide to record again. After three long sets of originals and choice powerpop chestnuts, I know I wasn’t the only one who saw a band far too vital to limit itself to reunions. aybe you know a band like this, too. Maybe your band already took the plunge.

Here’s hoping Screen Test gets that long-overdue callback.

Video: “Anytime

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T.G.I.F. – Ten For IPO!

From the ashes of the Poptopia festival in the late 90s came International Pop Overthrow, a multi-night multi-band powerpop showcase named in honor of the Material Issue album. David Bash has brought that festival into a global limelight on the years since, from coast-to-coast in America and in the hallowed halls of The Cavern in Liverpool England. And every year there is a multi-disc souvenir featuring many of the bands who take the stage, a tradition that Not Lame Recordings was (ahem) instrumental in perpetuating.

David is still out there bashing, and while Not Lame is no more, Bruce Brodeen is still involved with the CDs. The latest – Volume 14is now on sale at the Pop Geek Heaven site that Bruce now manages.

So this week’s TGIF is Ten For IPO – ten artists who can be found on this latest version of pop nirvana. Get your powerpop on!

(01) – Dave Rave, “Ann Marie

(02) – Lannie Flowers, “Looking For You

(03) – The Dirty Royals, “CIA

(04) – Bastards of Melody, “Dead Soldiers

(05) – The Dahlmanns, “I Love You Baby But I Hate Your Friends

(06) – Longplayer, “I Won’t Let You Down

(07) – Jeremy Morris, “Hurry Up And Wait

(08) – The Pondhawks, “Midnight Howl

(09) – All Day Sucker, “The Picture That Took Me

(10) – Cosmo Topper, “For The Time Being

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Louie

Shameless? More like fearless.

So I’ve been catching up on life after the sabbatical, and given the need to lift the spirits I opted to start with the saved episodes of Louie and Wilfred. There is too much to see and not enough time, and since I had been fairly current with both shows before the departure, they seemed like the logical places to start. Wilfred, of course, did not disappoint – still riotously funny and as black a comedy as we’re likely to get on television this year.

But Louie is playing at another level.

Where last year’s shows had been irreverent and original, the second season of Louie is exponentially greater. Not only has Louis CK become a better actor – partially because his character is so much richer – but the writing has been sharper, darker, and yes, fearless. He’s always been able to write himself as the central figure in uncomfortable situations, but now he is not only scripting extended guest roles into the mix, he’s getting compelling performances from fellow comedians.

Doug Stanhope’s recent turn as a bitter and despondent road comic was outstanding, as he skewered the celebrity of mass appeal comedians while reaching some poignant conclusions about his own life. So too was the performance from Joan Rivers, playing herself, chastising Louie on his lack of work ethic and his inability to overcome insecurity. Although Stanhope’s “Eddie” was a fictional character, he inhabited it with much of his own persona; he was the yang to Rivers’ yin as polar opposites on the comedy hierarchy.

But the jaw-dropping moment had to be Dane Cook, who Louis humbles himself to meet backstage at a gig hoping to score some Lady Gaga tickets for his daughters (the logic is that Gaga and Cook share an agent). In the scene, Cook – who has long been accused of ripping off jokes from Louis CK in real life – is bitter towards TV Louie for not coming out in his defense. Louie explains that although he didn’t think Cook stole the jokes on purpose, he likely knew that they had come from somewhere else and didn’t really stop himself, either. TV Cook is clearly angered by the lingering accusations, and amazed that Louie would still put himself through the humiliation just to get the tickets, but both men get to speak their piece without either really backing down.

About halfway through this exchange, I realized that I was watching two people who didn’t want to have this conversation in public actually have this conversation in public, albeit within the framework of a script. As clever as it was for Louis the writer, it was an equally ballsy move by Cook to participate.

And that’s just one part of one episode. Louie will not likely win the award for best comedy or best drama, but right now it just might be both.

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The Eagle Has (Crash) Landed

Sure, “Heaven and Hell” came out in 2008, but as a guy who wouldn’t run out and grab a new Eagles album the day of release, I’m not jumping to read the stories behind the band, either. But I will admit that there is a damaged chromosome in my DNA that does surface on occasion; it causes me to scan the Enquirer cover in the check out line or occasionally tune in to an episode of Behind The Music. On this day when the fever peaked, I wanted to see if Don Felder thought Glenn Frey and Don Henley were the dicks that everyone else seems to think they are.

Yep.

Felder’s tenure in the band spanned the magical embryonic years with Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner and the arena rock days with Joe Walsh and Timmy Schmitt, so he was there when it all went down as well as when it all fell apart. It’s a pretty unflinching look at how money changes everything, and for all the indignities he suffered at the hands of “The Gods” (his nickname for Frey and Henley), he’s honest about the times he let himself be swayed into participating in the madness. Like most bands of the time, drugs and women flowed with wild abandon, and like many rockers, that cost him his family and (for a while) his sanity.

Felder seems like a decent man despite the madness, and his affection and respect for Leadon and Meisner is almost apologetic. Then again, watching your friends be excised in power struggles without taking a stand is not behavior to be proud of. Oddly enough, when Walsh and Schmitt basically do the same thing years later, Felder seems stunned that they wouldn’t stand up with him against the tyrants. Felder basically bailed on principle when his one-fifth share was reduced to one-seventh; manager Irving Azoff backed the power play of Frey and Henley doubling their take. Of course, having the same guy that represents you also represent the band is a big mistake, but no one ever accused 70s rockers of smarts. Azoff comes off like a weasel, but in fact he’s just another person who knows how to make money from other people’s labors; he’s not alone as a practitioner of the black arts.

As much as I enjoyed the tale, I didn’t feel like I got the insider’s view that I was expecting. Walsh and Schmitt don’t get much play, and even famous people whose paths he crossed (from Duane Allman to Tom Petty) seem to be underdeveloped relationships. Sometimes he namedrops someone who later became famous (i.e. Season Hubley) for almost no reason. Even Henley seems like an enigma; a man whose work Felder respects but who almost seems observed through an opaque screen. Felder saves most of his venom for Frey, who comes off classless, vapid and egomaniacal.

The Eagles went to great pains to protect their brand from tarnish by controlling every aspect of their career like micromanagers. Many feel the same way about their later albums; soulless slabs of precision recordings with all of the blemishes excised. I’m certain that any stain this book cast upon the band’s legacy was rinsed from their hard shell coating without a second thought…or at least comment.

Perhaps the title of the book should have been “I Wish I Took That One-Seventh Eagle Money Deal“, because despite regrets for infidelity and lost friendships, it’s being an Eagle that Felder seems to miss the most. I suppose those “Hotel California” royalty checks ease the pain, though.

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Almost Romantic

Tell it to Carrie…

Like many cities, mine sponsors a series of events during the Summer season to get people out of their houses and hopefully expose them to the wonders of downtown. Like many cities, there aren’t many wonders downtown, but for two dollars you can enter a section of city pavement boasting a temporary stage and beer tents and catch some music on a Thursday night. Last week I headed out of the office at 6:30 (or as I lately refer to it, lunchtime) to catch The Romantics.

I hadn’t seen the band in years – a short set maybe a decade ago – but when they were in their prime they used to roam the NorthEast club circuit. I’ve seen them in snappy red leather (like the latter-day New York Dolls sans commie flag) and often they’d pair up with local legends The Flashcubes. Met them all at one point, they were nice guys catching a good break and taking advantage of it. In the 80s, when they started to split, Jimmy Marinos formed The Motor City Rockers and they were referred to the management company where I was working. They played a great demo, but despite my pleading, I was outvoted 2-1 and they went elsewhere. Had I realized who Robert Gillespie was at the time, I might have followed them out the door.

Video: “What I Like About You

The band now boasts five members, and while I initially assumed as many as three might be replacement members, I think that drummer Brad Elvis might be the only one with a recent pedigree. Wally Palmar was still up front, Mike Skill (still boasting that mop of hair) stage left, and I’m pretty certain that was indeed both Rich Cole and Coz Canler on guitars. That would mean that the first three guitar players in the band  – all of whom replaced each other in the lineup at some point – were sharing the stage. Naturally one of them now handled bass guitar duties, although for the life or me I don’t understand why a few of the songs featured one guitar and two basses. None of them are John Entwistle, so I can only assume that the five dollar Newcastle drafts blurred the set list. I’d hate to think that they were trying to bring the thunder on purpose.

Things started off swimmingly with a robust “Rock You Up“, classic chunky power chords that make you wonder where you last left the guitar so you can bash it out when you get home. But after another kinetic rocker, Wally told the crowd they were going to take it down for a minute. I know the wandering mass of city workers, mullet heads and bikers might not have been jumping up on stage, but give us credit for the ability to withstand more than seven minutes of upbeat tunes without having to lay down. I started to get the feeling that what was set to be a ninety minute set might have a little padding in it.

They sprinkled the more recognizable songs through the set – “When I Look In Your Eyes“, “Stone Pony“, a majestic “Tell It To Carrie” – but at these gigs the crowd only snaps to attention when the big hit records are played. Fortunately The Romantics have two, so “Talking In Your Sleep” and especially “What I Like About You” got everyone’s attention. Even if that meant a few Bic lighters while daylight was still present plus the bane of any reunion gig – some of the worst no-rhythm soccer mom gyrations ever seen, a sad attempt at dancing. (Lady, there are kids here. Get back in your minivan.)

The band played with energy, and Brad Elvis is a showman as well as a keen timekeeper, but there was something lacking. In fairness, the sound at times was atrocious, and powerpop needs to be crisp and clean (although they extended several songs to remind us they are rockers from Detroit, not pansies). My friends wondered whether a shorter, tighter set might have been better, as momentum was occasionally lacking. The strong finish did include the requisite Kinks cover and audience participation, but as my friend Bill aptly put it, we were neither overwhelmed or underwhelmed. Just…whelmed.

The band is supposed to be working on a new album, and they certainly have the chops to pull it off, plus Palmar’s voice is in fine form. Maybe Jack White or Jim Diamond will work their magic and rekindle this flame? If so, Do Me Any Way You Wanna, guys – I’m on board.

The official Romantics website

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Ninety-Nine And A Half Won’t Do

When I started The Prescription, my goal was to write every day for one year.

Hell, I didn’t even know if that was possible. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to get into the blog game, it’s that I wanted to get my writing chops back. Sure, a well placed snarky email on a mailing list might give a moment’s satisfaction, but those are wisps of thought quickly gone and leaving no footprint. So I gave myself a challenge, and like most challenges, it is a lot different from the way you initially envision it.

But I made it. So I figured what the hell…how about another year?

The truth was that the release was gratifying, as was the steadily growing stream of emails and comments (written and in person) from those who enjoyed a piece or disagreed with a take or were inspired to write something of their own (my favorite reaction, bar none). Some days it was a little more difficult to carve out the time, but I pounded away and was proud of the fact that I was churning out some decent copy day after day. People got confused by the sidebar calendar – aren’t some of the dates supposed to look different from the others?

So after two years were in the books and I saw the number of posts climbing, I set my sights on one thousand consecutive posts. I didn’t even calculate what date that would be, but I figured a lottery ticket purchase – maybe even a palm reading – wouldn’t be a bad way to tempt fate on that celebratory day.

But sometimes life bites you in the ass.

Now before I seem like an alarmist, let me tell you that I’m a blessed man. I have a wonderful family, great friends, good health and have never wondered where my next meal was going to come from. There have been tough times, sure, and there were periods of my life when I was flat broke or worse, but I have never been hopeless. And yeah, I’ve had dark days; anyone who hasn’t just isn’t paying attention. So when things happen – and they always have – I’m pretty good at juggling them and getting on with the daily grind, including pounding out an essay on this or that in this very space.

What started three weeks ago as a sudden and involved work committment morphed into an insane number of working hours that found me working from early morning until damned near the next morning, bleeding into the weekends and snaring my thoughts if and when I slept. Add in family issues and other obligations and suddenly I was not only juggling the balls, but spinning the plates, tap dancing and probably throwing in jazz hands just to keep the attention of the hard-to-please. Lack of sleep became fever dreams. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be my family or my obligations.

At first I hoped it might be a day or two, but days turned into a week and then another. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am on email several times a day and have replied at all hours of the night, but recently days have passed between log ins. Haven’t seen a TV show during prime time; hard to do when you are still in the office at midnight. I had jotted thoughts on this book and that album and these comics but was stretched so thin that I would often fall asleep in the chair with a pencil in my hand, too tired to even make it to the keyboard.

Sure, I could have probably tossed up a couple of quick thoughts, but that’s not my style. I want to shoot for one hundred percent. Ninety-nine and a half just won’t do. So the streak stopped at 934 posts, not 1000.

And today, another begins.

Thanks to all of those who shot a note over asking about me; I’m slowly working my way through a mountain of emails so don’t take my lack of response as anything other than what it is. Looks like things have settled down (from insane to very busy), but my mind is clear (some say blank) and it looks like my schedule will once again permit breathing room for this labor of love. Have a lot to write about, a lot to listen to, a lot to enjoy. Life is good. Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

See you tomorrow, and hopefully every day after that.

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The Doctor is In

I wish I could say it was a vacation…

It was the antithesis of one. But the Doc is back in the office.

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