Tag Archives: Pete Thomas

Elvis (Costello) Is King

As I walk through
this wicked world
searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
is all hope gone?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside, there’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny about peace love and understanding?

Nick Lowe wrote it, and in the 1970s, to boot. But it’s Elvis’ song. And it should be our goddamned National Anthem.

My friend Bill has seen Elvis Costello live about twenty times over the years. After witnessing his three-hour performance at Rochester’s Jazz Festival (yes, I know…) earlier this month, he proclaimed it the finest show he had ever seen Elvis perform…ever. I do not take comments like that from Bill lightly; he’s not prone to hyperbole.

I missed that show; by the time I was available to get seats there were a few nosebleeders left for $95 (plus Ticketbastard charges), and $250 seemed a bit steep. Fortunately I discovered that two short weeks later he was performing in a beautiful outdoor setting at the Buffalo Harbor…for ten dollars. That’s like time-travel prices, folks! It’s also a magnificent place to see a show; I saw Crowded House there last summer.

There were two openers as the sun set over the water. A game Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers did their best and sported some catchy songs, albeit monitor troubles were likely the cause of some flat vocals. Then Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers came on – great band instrumentally, great concept and even very entertaining on occasion…like when lead singer Shilpa didn’t howl like a banshee impaled on a fiery pole.

With curfew, I knew Elvis now had only two hours, not three. But damned if he didn’t hit the stage en fuegofive straight classics without a breath between them – and wrung every second of time for all it was worth without so much as a momentary lapse of energy. I wish every young band who think they are the shit could watch and learn how to create, sustain and leverage momentum. This was a master class.

The band was phenomenal. Consider that had Bruce Thomas not left the fold for personal reasons, this was the same quartet that changed lives thirty-five years ago. But Davey Faragher – veteran of Cracker, John Hiatt and others – has been the perfect foil for Elvis both musically and vocally for years. And while the other two might not sit atop people’s lists of best drummer and best keyboard player, I cannot think of anyone else manning those chairs better.

Pete Thomas is still a dynamo of hands and feet, as steadily adept and pulsating as he was when The Attractions were at their peak. Unassuming but rock solid, he and Faragher are telepathic.

And Steve Nieve – is that the greatest rock’n’roll name ever? Not only was his mad scientist act on banks of keyboards as good as ever, but I have never seen anyone play a theremin with such impeccable pitch and control.

Elvis is no spring chicken, but someone forgot to tell him. His vocals were superb, whether artfully crooning “Shipbuilding” or spitting out the fast paced venom of “Mystery Dance” and “Radio Radio“. He paced the stage restlessly, played guitar god whenever the Gibsons were strapped around his neck, and damned if he didn’t do a little dancing, too.

The set list tilted heavily to the early years, but some of the obvious crowd-pleasers (“Oliver’s Army”, “No Action“) were skipped in favor of deeper dives like “Green Shirt” and “Clubland“. He even threw in spirited covers of  “Heart Of The City” and “Substitute” pleasing the old guard among us.

He did finally pull out “Alison“, and as couples hugged and swayed and the crowd sang along I couldn’t help wondering if he felt compelled to play it just because it was such a touchstone. But as he headed for the home stretch, the band’s volume ebbed and flowed as he stepped to the microphone and started to weave in other artist’s lyrics as if they were simply bonus verses. Hank Williams. Jimi Hendrix. Smokey Robinson. Not covering the songs, mind you – weaving them into his own melody and chord changes, and each fit like hand in glove. With dignity and subtlety the man was giving a goddamned rock history lesson from the pulpit, and we were renewed in our faith.

And as he wailed about infidelity to draw the song to its conclusion, and thousands of people already on their feet tried to stand even taller in appreciation, he lit off the cherrybomb that has become his signature song, and we were all one explosive beacon in one of rock’s finest moments.

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony, sweet harmony?

Right here, Elvis. Forever and always.

Elvis Costello

The Buffalo set list will eventually be here.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Classic Costello Cuts

As I mentioned on his birthday earlier this week, Elvis Costello entered my life with a bag and has hung around ever since. I do admit that I find his earlier work superior, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at his transcendence from faux angry young man to elder statesman. Not that I don’t punch a hole through the ceiling anytime I hear “Radio Radio“…

And for a man who once called Ray Charles a “blind ignorant nigger” in a drunken stupor, I think his track record has borne out that he’s a musical historian who is truly color blind.

As with many good artists, listing ten great songs – or even albums for some – is going to leave something out. But these weekly lists aren’t meant to be the definitive inclusive barometers of taste. Sometimes they’re just ten great things. Today, that is most certainly the case.

Listen to a wealth of Elvis Costello clips here.

So as you prepare to enjoy your weekend, may I offer Ten Classic Costello Cuts for your dining and dancing pleasure? And my God, if you have any doubt that Elvis is King, please play clip number one…

01) “What’s So Funny ’bout Peace Love and Understanding?”  Seeing double lately?

02) “High FidelitySome things you never get used to

03) “No ActionEvery time I phone you I just want to put you down

04) “Everyday I Write The BookWhen your dreamboat turns out to be a footnote.

05) “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling DownThe vow that we made, you broke it in two.

06) “Pump It Up”  She’s been a bad girl, she’s like a chemical

07) “Oliver’s ArmyNo there’s no danger, it’s a professional career

08) “Watching The DetectivesShe looks so good that he gets down and begs

09) “VeronicaDid you wake from your dream with a wolf at the door

10) “Alison”…segueing into “Suspicious Minds“! I heard you let that little friend of mine take off your party dress

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Happy Birthday, Elvis Costello

Miracle Man.

Today we celebrate the birthday of one Declan MacManus, better known to the world as Elvis Costello, among other aliases over the years. Bursting onto the scene with what is arguably the best ever 1-2-3 punch of albums (My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model and Armed Forces), Elvis quickly grabbed your attention with short catchy songs, a rapier wit and his secret weapon, The Attractions.

For as good as this sneering, scrawny Buddy Holly caricature was – and he was great – Steve Nieve on keys, Bruce Thomas on bass and Pete Thomas (no relation) on drums were as formidable a rock band as you could hope for. They weren’t as spacial as The Police would become, nor were they thunderous like the then-still powerful Who, but they were so tight you couldn’t slip an ant’s ass hair through them.

But before Elvis Costello and The Attractions became one, it all started with an iconic debut; tracks laid down with session musicians who weren’t initially credited, total recording time adding up to less than one day.

People listen to records differently these days, especially if they are digital downloads. No tactile sensation of an album cover, liner notes, lyric sheets. Earbuds instead of walls of speakers. Sigh.

I remember the day my friend Phil showed up at my house with My Aim Is True; import version, of course. My roommate Larry and another friend were already hanging in the living room, music on as always. We had heard about the album coming out that day and planned to go grab it in a couple of hours. Phil was no procrastinator; he snagged it and came over where he knew there would be other willing participants to share the magic with. (Yet another earbud problem – isolation instead of the communal experience).

It was astonishing.

Two of the songs didn’t even hit the two-minute mark. The opening rocker “Welcome To The Working Week” somehow jammed a boatload of hooks, wry lyrics and choruses into a minute in a half; “Mystery Dance” sputtered and tumbled much like the clumsy lover the narrative depicted. There was fury and sarcasm, and there was great wit and wordplay, and the band (preAttractions musicians from Clover and The Rumour, among others) snapped everything to attention.

And maybe it was because it stood out with its winsome melody and broken heart, but “Alison” was an instant classic. The chink in the armor was there for all to see; this snarling wise-ass had feelings after all. When not long after I heard him nail this live it sent chills up my spine.

We were gobsmacked; I can’t tell you how many times we played this album over and over and over that day. It was all we would talk about with friends for days after, and whenever someone came over that album would come out and they would get indoctrinated. Not long afterwards some friends in a band worked up three of his songs so that I could duck out from tending bar and play lead singer for ten minutes. (We were the first Syracuse band to play Elvis Costello songs, and yes, I’m proud of that!)

Of course, Costello continued to floor us with one great album after another, and thanks to him and Rockpile and Graham Parker and Joe Jackson there was a new, fresh volley of literate songwriters serving up an alchemic stew of influences and flushing the distaste of disco and flaccid pop out of our ears. 

The trend wouldn’t last of course – none do – but the music proved timeless. On Friday I’ll celebrate Costello’s career with an Elvis-themed TGIF.

And yes, I know that today is also the birthday of Gene Simmons, Ruby Keeler, Tim Burton, Rob Halford, Wayne Shorter, Walt Kelly (Pogo), Regis Philbin and several others…as well as the tenth anniversary of Jack Nitzsche‘s death and the first for Ted Kennedy. But today, I must honor the Elvis who has been a part of my musical life for over three decades.

No offense, Mr. Presley.

Elvis Costello  wiki page

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Today also marks the 35th anniversary of Born To Run, when a talented performer, a crack band, a savvy manager and an all-too-eager mainstream press joined hands to crown the new King of rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen has since earned every jewel in that crown and then some, but it’s yet another reminder of how fractured the entertainment industry has become. It’s no longer possible to make the stars align on that kind of scale, and with very few exceptions, those things never happened organically.

But that can’t and won’t tarnish the memory of a time when it seemed like a blue-collar bar room rocker grabbed the brass ring and pulled down the whole damned curtain with it. Rock concerts would never be the same.

Could that really have been thirty-five years ago?

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Graham Parker Film!

 

Well, it’s about damned time! 

Don’t Ask Me Questions is a new documentary film about Graham Parker being brought to life by Michael Gramaglia, who co-produced and co-directed the wonderful Ramones film End of the Century

I doubt I have to explain to the regulars here who Graham Parker is…how he burst upon the US scene in 1976 with not one but two five-star albums (Howlin’ Wind and Heat Treatment). Or how three years later Squeezing Out Sparks was lauded by most critics as the best rock album of the year. How thirty-five years after his first splash he continues to write, record and perform some of the most intelligent, passionate, and literate rock’n’roll on the planet. 

But for the sake of convenience, here’s a link to a couple of hundred song clips that should seal the deal for any of you scratching your head. There are enough collections and best-ofs to fill a shelf, but don’t sell yourself short. Start at the beginning if you must, but work your way through his incredible catalogue and hear the albums in their entirety. You’ll find wonderment galore, from classics like  “Soul Shoes“, “Discovering Japan” and “Temporary Beauty” to recent gems like “She Swallows It” and “You’re Not Where You Think You Are“. 

I was angry too, back then.

I’ve seen Graham Parker perform many times over the years and have had the great pleasure of interviewing him for a magazine feature. He’s as powerful a presence with an acoustic guitar and his sardonic wit as he is backed by the fire of The Rumour and The Figgs. Once he was lumped together with Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson (and for some of us, John Hiatt) as one of rock’n’roll’s “Angry Young Men“. Now, older and wiser, he’s aged like fine wine. Here indeed is a man who spent a career putting art before commerce, passion before trend and substance before flavor. 

Now, finally, the Graham Parker story…on film

 

From the website“A modern troubadour, Graham releases new music almost on a yearly basis, while touring small clubs around the country to a die hard fan base…The film documents the history of his independent spirit and defiant optimism, celebrates the sincerity of his music and delights in his self-deprecating wit.” 

Interviewed in the film are Martin Belmont, Steve Goulding, Bob Andrews, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson, Dave Robinson, Ian Hunter, Pete Thomas, Black Francis, Jesse Malin, The Figgs, Meg Griffin and Alan Pepper, among others. 

The project has been in the works for four years and is available for the general public to financially participate in the production at varying levels through the Kickstarter website. This is the same method that enabled the recent Kinks film Do It Again to get off the ground, and as a proud participant in both efforts I can vouch for the process. 

It’s not cheap to assemble a quality documentary film, especially when you have to secure rights to footage and audio and do it the right way. A project like this really hits home for me; it’s the type of thing I would do if I had the time and the money…and the guts

But someone is doing it. And he needs a hand. The pledge drive continues through the Summer; there’s a long way to go but a very reasonable target to aim for. Contribute if you can, but at least spread the word far and wide

Don’t Ask Me Questions official site . Great promo clip!

Graham Parker official website. Mecca!

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