Tag Archives: Arty Lenin

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 Mac

Ooh La La

I saw Ian McLagan perform last night, and as always, it was magical.

Mac performed in a beautiful little theatre in Cazenovia, NY, to an appreciative throng of fans old and new. Pretty hard not to be converted by this genuine article, who shares stories and jokes in-between renditions of songs from his solo albums and those of two of the best bands in history, The Small Faces and The Faces. On this evening he focused more on solo material, especially his latest release Never Say Never and a couple of songs from his upcoming record. Accompanying Mac was Jon Notarthomas, who weaved on and off the set adding bass lines and harmony vocals; Jon is the bass player in The Bump Band and Mac’s trusted partner on his solo gigs.

Ian McLagan is a very talented songwriter and performer, an astute writer and an accomplished painter. But his greatest quality might be his friendship. Every night Mac makes music, he tells the audience about the late great Ronnie Lane and performs one or more of Lane’s songs. Ronnie Lane might be underappreciated, but as long as Mac walks the earth, he and his music will not be forgotten. (Slim Chance is now carrying the torch again as well).

Fame changes a lot of people, but it’s obvious that Mac’s love for his friend is genuine and pure. When I leave this mortal coil, I would be blessed to have someone speak for my legacy only half as well. Of course, Mac did more than speak – Spiritual Boy is a real gem.

Opening the show were Gary Frenay and Arty Lenin, longtime pop legends from their work in The Flashcubes and Screen Test. Their work as a duo – at one time under the moniker of The Neverly Brothers – is airtight and a songwriter’s showcase. Lenin excels on any style of guitar playing, but as Gary usually plays bass, I forgot how good a guitar player he is as well. Seeing them on a stage in a first-rate theatre with an excellent sound man was a reminder of how lucky I have been to see them so many times. 

Gary, Arty and Jon are all from the Syracuse area and have known each other for decades, and seeing Jon sing lead with them on a cover of “This Boy” was a real treat. And in the interest of editorial fairness, I’ve known them all for years and we’re friends…but that does not diminish the reality of how good they are.

So for this boy, Thursday night was an honor. I saw many old friends I hadn’t seen in years and listened to a couple of hours of great music by favorite performers. Mac is off shortly to play with a reunited Faces, then more overseas solo gigs and the release of another book. If you haven’t seen Ian McLagan, there’s a hole in your life.

So for this week’s TGIF, may I present Ten For Mac!

(01) – “Glad And Sorry

(02) – “Never Say Never

(03) – “Get Yourself Together

(04) – “Little Girl

(05) – “Kuschty Rye

(06) – “Debris

(07) – “All Or Nothing

(08) – “You’re So Rude

(09) – “Little Troublemaker

(10) – “Cindy Incidentally

macspages

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Paying Tribute: Men In Plaid

Someone tagged a comment on an old post of mine chastising me for mentioning that Kyle Vincent sang lead forThe Bay City Rollers – insisting that there were only two lead singers and he wasn’t one of them. After correcting my non-fan (and posting a video link to prove my point) I was reminded of how back in their day, fans of The Rollers were constantly scorned but very resilient. Nothing has changed.

I was not a fan of the band at the time; for I (1) was not a teenager anymore, (2) wasn’t female (still not one) and (3) thought Tartan plaid looked bad enough on Rod Stewart, who at least had the songwriting and performance chops to overcome the ridiculous look. (Then again, I didn’t expect his brilliant early 70s run to be followed up by thirty-five years of underwhelming records. But I digress…)

As you might know, I have a weakness for tribute albums. For every gem there are ten clunkers, although there are usually one or two tracks worth excising and preserving. If you want to do it right, you need access to a group of good bands, a smart label, a certain sense of levity and material that is at least recognizable if not worthwhile. One rule of thumb is that great bands can often overcome lackluster material. Case in point – Men In Plaid. Bullseye Records, a Canadian pop label, had previously succeeded with a Klaatu tribute and did another nice job on this Rollers collection. Of course, having first-rate pop artists like The Flashcubes, Anton Barbeau and The Squires of the Subterrain doesn’t hurt, either.

I’m trying to get away from the concept of guilty pleasures, which infers a level of secrecy and/or embarrassment. Either you like something or you don’t, and if you don’t have the courage of your convictions for some things, then your opinion on anything else is worthless. I didn’t like the band much in their heyday and I wouldn’t have worn those asinine plaid clamdiggers at gunpoint. But is “Saturday Night” a great pop song? Hell yes, it is.

My original review ran in Comsumable Online ten years ago. Looks like an extended version of the CD came out a few years later.

Bullseye follows up last year’s excellent Klaatu tribute with another winner, once again featuring a Who’s Who of Contemporary Pop Bands. Rollermaniacs, having seen their heroes suffer the torture of VH-1’s Behind The Music, can now revel in a newly issued Greatest Hits collection and this enthusiastic homage. But even if you hated the Rollers – and I just know many of you did – you’ll be surprised at how many great songs are buried beneath the plaid exterior. Maybe “S-S-S-Saturday Night” doesn’t carry the same cultural weight as “My G-G-G-Generation” to you, but for millions of fans across the world, The Bay City Rollers were their Beatles.

To say that The Flashcubes launch this record like a rocket would be an understatement; Paul Armstrong and Arty Lenin rip into “Wouldn’t You Like It” like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor circa “Brown Sugar”. Although no one else blows the roof off quite like that opening track, there are several other solid contributions. Gary “Pig” Gold sounds like he’s been a closet Grip Weed for years; this “Rock And Roll Love Letter” can stand proudly alongside The Records’ version. There are two versions of “Saturday Night”; Anton Barbeau adds his trademark left-of-the-dial approach while The Dipsomaniacs attack the song with a fever pitch. Tom Davis and Jeremy handle the mellower cuts equally well, while the appropriately named Squires Of The Subterrain dial in from the basement.

Other highlights include Ed James’ one-man-band take on “You Make Me Believe In Magic”; this performance will have people running to the store for his record. And both Reptopia and Fudge chose to take some liberties with the bubblegum pop songs, and their arrangements result in two of the standout cuts. Of course, not every cut bears repeated listening – for me, The Bobbies‘ version of “Let’s Go” was devoid of energy – but beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

Men In Plaid features a solid collection of bands who treat the songs with some reverence, but also have a lot of fun with them. That’s the way music used to be in the Rollers days. Some of these bands are old enough to remember, but the others probably had to be told. And the little girls still understand.

The Original Wardrobe Malfunction

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New Album! The Flashcubes

We want YOU...to want US!

We want YOU...to want US!

Let me get the caveat out of the way right up front. I know all four of the guys in the band, I watched their career happen right before my eyes, I wrote about them at the time, and I even booked them to play at a couple of clubs I was managing. So I’m not exactly impartial.

That said, I’d recuse myself in a heartbeat if I had written the liner notes, recorded the music, remastered the tracks or was any way involved with the release of their material. My only advantage coming in to A Cellar Full Of Boys is the anticipation based upon knowing the material. But if you aren’t familiar with The Flashcubes, I’m not feeling superior – I’m feeling a bit envious. Because you get to hear one of the great lost pop bands of the 70s fresh and new.

In brief, The Flashcubes were a punk and power pop band from Syracuse, New York who almost grabbed the brass ring. Despite wowing the local community, opening shows for virtually every famous name who came through town and having heavyweights like Greg Shaw and The Ramones among their advocates, it just didn’t happen. Well…until twenty-five years later when half a planet away, the Japanese pop community determined that a band this good deserved better. What had been a couple of reunions and the occasional tribute album track exploded into a full-blown renaissance.

Gary was always taping, thankfully. Now these Basement Tapes breathe new fire into the Flashcube legend. You can read my full review of the new album at BLURT.

Flashcube button

The Flashcube Story in 3 1/2 minutes.

Listen for yourself at their MySpace site.

Bright Lights (the anthology)

Brilliant (the new material)

Air Mail Recordings.

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