Tag Archives: The Flashcubes

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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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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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

official website

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It’s A Complex World

I don’t even remember how I got the tape.

But back in the late 70s, back in my Syracuse days, someone got me a cassette copy of a radio broadcast of The Young Adults performing a set at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. I had never heard of the band, but was knocked out by the combination of bizarre stage comedy and first-rate musicianship. It sounded like a guy riffing on a Catskills comic fronting The Tubes.

Video: “Kill Yourself

Of course, not seeing the band and never having been to Lupo’s, my vivid imagination ran wild. Lupo sounded like he would resemble Captain Lou Albano (one stage comment said “Lupo is a nice guy – he’d give you the hair off his back!”). I pictured lead singer Rudy Cheeks to be a Fee Waybill type, with second vocalist Sport Fisher more of a normal looking guy. Of course, it turned out I was reversed on the singers (see Sport above); Cheeks more closely resembled William Conrad on a bender.

But it was the songs – “Christmas In Japan In July“, “Complex World“, “A Power Tool Is Not A Toy” and others – that had me playing the tape over and over again. In one bit the singer proclaims “we were asked if we can play any Irish songs. Well, this next one is about a firebombing and we hope that will do...” The song, “Fallen Arches“, is about a McDonald’s going up in flames.

Video: “A Power Tool Is Not A Toy

In Syracuse, we had a club that served the same purpose for the same kind of audience, The Firebarn Tavern. For a few years, that was the place to be no matter who was playing. Stories from that late 70s era are so incredible that even if I wrote the book it would have to be placed in both the fiction and non-fiction aisles just to avoid lawsuits.

For the Lupos crowd, The Young Adults were gods. Our gods were The Flashcubes.  And I’m sure there are some label guys who could have done both these bands right, but they were more interested in finding the next same thing.

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Of course, I never thought to Google the band last month or I would have known about their reunion gigs on Memorial Day weekend. (I’m sure there are some Rhode Islanders kicking themselves that they missed the Flashcubes reunion two weeks ago.) I’m sure I could have bumped moving day for Eli and scooted over to Lupos’s for the magic. It definitely got filmed, so hopefully someone will release a DVD for posterity.

But not only did I discover the reunion…but that they made a movie!

Video:It’s A Complex World Trailer

Of course I’m crushed that I missed the chance to see the band in person. But this just proves once and for all that if you wait long enough, you can find anything on the Internet.

Hey Sport and Rudy – see you at the next one!

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Mixtape: She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

 Mixtape time again!

This one, She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not – was from my monthly mixtape swaps back in 1997. Here’s what I wrote back then as an introduction:

Love comes in spurts, says Richard Hell. Love comes in cycles, sez me. The wonder of a crush, the rush of recognition that affection is mutual, the delicate jab and parry of getting to know someone, that first kiss, the first mistake, the uneasy first fight, the first break up (and the wonderful first make-up), the second mistake and third, the wandering eye, being taken for granted, being misunderstood, falling apart, getting sad, getting bitter, getting haunted, that smile-on-the-surface but acid-in-your-stomach feeling of seeing them with someone else, the greens and blues, the depression, the worthlessness and then just when you think you’ll jump…that new person who sends a thousand volts through your spine and into your heart. Another chance, and you drag your still smoldering carcass through the whole mess again.

So here’s the yang and yin; the L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E tattoos that Robert Mitchum wore on his knuckles are now on your heart.

(This one’s for you, Eli.)

SHE LOVES ME side

DANIELLES MOUTH – Crush

Sweet, saucy, sexy – is there anything better than a crush? Can be innocent, but I know what Danielle wants!

JONNY POLONSKY – Love Lovely Love

I know Jonny isn’t sixteen, but it’s that bubbly optimism that gets me. Great pop record, except it was only 30 minutes long…

BIG STAR – Thirteen

One of my favorite songs, ever! Alex Chilton perfectly captures that frustration of being a (sorry, Dion) “teenager in love”

MARSHALL CRENSHAW – I’ll Do Anything

From maybe the best debut record ever….love makes you do funny things!

DWIGHT TWILLEY – Please Say Please

This Beatle-esque rocker a bonus track on the reissue of the great “Sincerely” record. Self-explanatory!

THE REPLACEMENTS – Kiss Me On The Bus

Maybe the same couple from “Thirteen”? Forget what’s proper and KISS ME, baby!

PHIL SEYMOUR – Baby It’s You

The late, great Phil with what has to be one of the most perfect pop records ever made! Sing it LOUD!

ADAM SCHMITT – Garden of Love

So you’re afraid, baby, been hurt before? Trust me! From what might be the best record of the 1990’s

LOU CHRISTIE – Lightning Strikes

I remember this from when I was a young pup, having my heart yo-yo’d for one of the first of many times. A classic!

BEN VAUGHN – Words Can’t Say What I Want To Say

Yeah, I’ve felt like this. That ga-ga, mouth-open, please-god-don’t-let-me-say-something-stupid moment

RICHARD X HEYMAN – When She Arrives

I can’t wait until “Cornerstone” comes out so you can all see what a great record this is. A love cycle in itself!

THE FACES – Tell Everyone

A Ronnie Lane tune, but Rod sings it…true love settles in for the long haul?

CROWDED HOUSE – Fall At Your Feet

An adult version of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There”, with music so pretty I’d love it even without the words! Uh-oh, side’s over….

SHE LOVES ME NOT side

JOHAN – Easy

Swedish pop rules! A 1997 record that almost slipped by sees the chink in the armour…

THE FLASHCUBES – You’re Not The Police

Things are starting to fall apart..we can’t go on together, with suspicious minds. GREAT 1997 reissue!

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS – Bored Of You

Uh-oh….nice guys finish last. Why do women want to be treated like queens and then fall for rude assholes? Moe knows…

THE RUBINOOS – Over You

Where I start lying to myself, saying that it doesn’t hurt…all the while my heart is bleeding…

THE MONTGOMERY CLIFFS – Tonight

More bravado, and two can play that game, baby…this time when you put the cheese in the trap, I’m not buying.

JEN TRYNIN – I Resign

I think Jen is the best female songwriter around. I love the way her mind works!

THE RASCALS – You Better Run

Pat Benetar, eat your heart out. Oh yeah – I ain’t gonna eat out my heart anymore……

THE BEAT – I Will Say No

Go on, get out of my life, and let me make a new start. Maybe the longest fade out in pop history

KENNY HOWES – Somebody

Not sure if she’s still trying to come back or whether I’m fooling myself, but I feel better. Get lost!

THE KINKS – Set Me Free

It’s frightening to think just how many great songs Ray Davies wrote in about three years time. Bye Bye Baby!

DWIGHT TWILLEY – Release Me

I never put an artist on a tape twice, but have to here. SINCERELY is a Desert Island Disk! Heartbreak!

TOMMY KEENE – Nothing Happened Yesterday

More self-denial from one of the great pop unknowns. I am man, hear me roar!

TONIO K – Stay

Oh shit….two damaged people see that spark and circle each other – should I try to fall in love again? Flip the tape over, honey, ’cause here we go again!

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