Tag Archives: Tommy

Having A Wild Weekend

A very fab foursome

No, not the Dave Clark Five movie. But even more fun.

Jumped in the car with my friend Bill and drove through Pennsyltucky to the wild plains of Northern New Jersey to visit pop bands in their natural habitat. Enjoyed Pat DiNizio’s Fifth Annual Halloween Party and Smithereens Fan Fest, which this year featured a long day of great music and all the food and drink you could ingest (which is a good thing, since you can’t get a beer in Jersey after midnight if your life depended on it!).

“It’s my fervent wish and desire to help you feel better for a few hours,” DiNizio said. “All of us need to get away from the six-foot plasma television, shut off our phones and start talking to each other with our breaths, smiles and laughing, and enjoy some rock ‘n’ roll music.”

Mission accomplished, sir.

I’ll tag the full magazine feature I’m writing when it posts online. For now let’s just say that I had more than my moneys’ worth by the time The Scotch Plainsmen (DiNizio fronting a band of eight wonderful musicians) finished playing their Beatles set, which was Let It Be in its entirety –  including dialogue from the movie and cuts from the sessions. Two other bands had already performed, and a wonderful steak and pasta dinner accompanied by open bar was in full swing. Had that been it, I would have been satisfied that the drive and expense was well worth it.

But then The Grip Weeds blasted an explosive set featuring their new album (and Best of 2010 contender) Strange Change Machine.

And then the inimitable Graham Parker – voice, guitar playing and wit all in top form – played a career-spanning yet eclectic set that brought the packed house to its feet.

And then The Smithereens – sounding fresh and vital – played a selction of their hits, a medley from their Tommy tribute album and a brand new song from the upcoming record before inviting Parker back onstage to recreate one of my favorite collaborative musical moments – “Behind The Wall of Sleep“. The evening was capped by a jam session with various group members jumping in and out.

Eight hours of great fun. Met one of the DJs from KFOG in San Francisco who was headed home to get his station manager to add a couple of these artists to their playlist. Ran into Reigning Sound organist Dave Amels who tipped me to the new project he and Greg Cartwright worked on, The Parting Gifts. And then Bill and I laughed our asses off all the way home listening to great comedy albums, none funnier than Jim Jefferies.

Pete Townsend was wrong. I’m glad I’m still here.

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Under The Radar: The Pretty Things

Yeah, I know. The Pretty Things aren’t exactly unknown.

Well, to you, maybe, if you’re feigning surprise at the title. Hell, they were The Rolling Stones before the Stones were, and although they never got the press that Mick and the boys got in later life, they were still a significant part of the transition of rock’n’roll way back when. They were unmistakeably cool. They probably created the first concept album, even though Tommy by The Who is what most people will nominate when asked that question.

But even many of those who nod approvingly about Dick Taylor and Phil May and the boys from the 60s assume that it all ended a long time ago. So I’m writing today for those people.

To the amazement of many, in 1999 they came off the mat with a new album almost a quarter century past their zenith. Eight years later they released another (Balboa Island), but I prefer Rage Before Beauty. Here are my words from eleven years ago as they appeared in Consumable Online (including references to cloth-covered speakers and an amazement that men can rock in their fifties!)

Rage Before Beauty. And if you think that’s a great title, consider that the original was Fuck Oasis, and Fuck You!

Yessirree, these geezers haven’t lost one iota of vinegar over thirty five years, and now there’s a recorded document to prove it. Snapper Music has recently released the classic older titles by The Pretty Things along with this collection of material recorded during the mid and late nineties. The original band is as intact as it possibly can be in 1999, and that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “boys to men” now, doesn’t it?

For those unfamiliar with the band, they were contemporaries of The Rolling Stones (guitarist Dick Taylor was an original Stone), but their behavior and attitude made the Stones look like decent lads. When your drummer is widely considered the inspiration for Keith Moon‘s loutish lifestyle, well…that’s saying a mouthful.

It’s also pretty widely accepted that their S.F.Sorrow was the first rock opera, although Tommy certainly got the accolades and the airplay. They were the first signing to Led Zeppelin‘s flagship label Swan Song, but snafus let Bad Company get theirs out first. Whatever! It seems that The Pretty Things were snakebitten from the start, so why not channel that aggression into your life as well as your music? And so they did.

Rage Before Beauty is a telegram from a shipload of survivors, serving notice that although they’re old, they’re not in the way. Shit, Phil May‘s voice has a rasp that only pain could season. On “Love Keeps Hanging On”, May’s autobiographical tale of a relationship that’s been battered over time, his heart almost bleeds through the speaker cloth. What starts like “Wild Horses” soon increases intensity and by the finish is a full blown Pink Floyd anthem, with David Gilmour providing the type of emotional guitar solo he has built a career upon. Listen to the intensity of “Not Givin’ In”, which dares to drape garage punk with acoustic guitars (!), and it’s hard to believe that this is a band of men in their fifties. Ditto the opening cut “Passion Of Love”, very uptempo (for the Pretties) and a challenge to bands half their age.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

Guitarists Dick Taylor and Frank Holland simply shine throughout the record, but perhaps these two are great examples of less being more. “Everlasting Flame” recalls “19th Nervous Breakdown”; Skip Alan‘s drumming and the keyboard’s duel with the guitar leaving May no choice but to use the same cadence. And speaking of Bo Diddley, the tribute to their loon of a drummer, “Vivian Prince”, is another winner.

Making the record was reportedly as easy as passing a stone, though, and in spots it shows. Songs like “Blue Turns To Red” and “Going Downhill” (their single from 1989) sound like unfinished ideas when compared to some of the others already mentioned. And although they were probably a gas to record, three covers (“Eve Of Destruction”, “Mony Mony” and “Play With Fire”) are a large percentage to have when you’ve had so much time on your hands. “Fire” does have an interestingly seamy arrangement, and “Mony Mony” does feature Ronnie Spector, but they would have been better saved for live shows or buried as bonus cuts. I’d rather have seen the band add more rave ups or even songs like the frail, acoustic “Fly Away” instead, but I say that just to amuse myself. I know that the band would just tell me to piss off if I really suggested it to them.

Had the band not issued Rage Before Beauty at all, their legacy would have still been assured. They just wanted you to know that they’re not going out quietly, and they just might kick a few more asses before they do. By all means grab their earlier works,  especially S.F. Sorrow and Silk Torpedo, and then savor the great moments captured here, which far outweigh the ordinary ones.

Pretty Things Wiki page

I played the snot out of “Come Home Momma” when I was a DJ

One of my favorite mags was inspired by the Pretties – Ugly Things

The great old days are much like the new ones

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Under The Radar: UHF

A Winner!

Before it became easy to plop entire digital albums on your website, long before Facebook and MySpace were staples of every band’s toolbox, there were a few MP3 sites floating around that were less than organized. Few sites beyond CD Baby provided a local band the platform they needed to get their music heard.

As a lifelong tune troller, I thought it would be a good idea to write a column spotlighting five bands I came across on late night tangents. So with a thumbs up from the Editor at the late great Cosmik Debris magazine, The MP3 Files was born. One of the first groups I highlighted was a Portland Oregon band called UHF. Here’s my review of their second album Lottery from 2001…

Wow! Not only a band who obviously find their roots in classic British bands like The Pretty Things, Kinks and The Who, but a concept album to boot! That was a tough enough chore to attempt when they were in fashion, but to slip out a record like this in the days of preening teenybopper wedge dancers and pretentious wank rockers takes big balls.

The Everyman storyline in Lotterygrowing up in innocence and struggling as “money changes everything” – is right out of Ray Davies’ scrapbook. But UHF put in a lot of hard work to create something original in the spirit of the above-mentioned artists. (And if they just wanted to mimic the past, they could have – I’ve heard their cover of a Pretty Things track and it’s massive!)

And let’s not punish the quality of the individual songs by insinuating that they only work within the concept. Although Jeremy and Jordan Leff’s vocals on “Best Friends” sound eerily like Daltrey and Townshend melting together at the microphone during Tommy, it’s a great song regardless. Ditto the majestic “Whatever The Weather,” whose lyrics could fit in anywhere from Village Green Preservation Society to Soap Opera.

What impressed me most was the diverse instrumentation and song structure throughout the record; slap on the headphones and savor the sonic touches that embellish almost every track. With Jeff Nelson (guitars and bass) and drummer Matt Johnson, the Leff brothers have nailed a very ambitious target. I can’t wait to hear what they try next.

***

Well, it looks like I have some catching up to do.

Not only did I miss two later releases, but as fate would have it they have a brand new one coming out called Here Come The Ghosts. The clips sound great! Excerpt from their press release below:

It’s been four years since Portland, Oregon’s psychpop quartet UHF has released an album, but they’ve more than made up for it with Here Come The Ghosts, a genre-bending journey of 21 tracks on both double vinyl and double CD. From driving psychpop mood pieces to intimate and melancholy character sketches, it’s an album full of devious lyrical turns, subtle sonic shifts, and solid psychpop songcraft. Ghosts has UHF stretching themselves like never before.

Straying from the psychedelic soundscapes of their previous (and critically acclaimed) releases, Ghosts is more stark, more relaxed, more live (much of the album was recorded live in the studio) than any of UHF’s previous studio records. Thematically, the album is about relationships: past, present, living, dead… and undead. The journey is at times disturbing, uplifting, humorous, desperate, romantic, angry, confused, and reckless but always infused with an emotional honesty and musicality that evokes bands like Secret Machines, The The and Stone Roses, while venturing side trips into territory reminiscent of early 70’s AM radio.

UHF website  and MySpace site – now go check ’em out!

(Damn, I miss Cosmik Debris.  D.J., if you’re out there, send up a flare!)

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Music Flicks

After writing about The Boat That Rocked the other day, I thought about other music-related movies that I really enjoyed and found that I had several favorites that I could watch over and over again and enjoy almost as much as the first time. These aren’t concert films – those are obvious repeat performers – but movies about pop music. I’m also focusing on the more modern era (forgive me, Sal Mineo). Plus the movie has to be good (sorry, Tommy) . A few are obvious commercial favorites (is there anyone who doesn’t quote Spinal Tap?) but a couple of these must be off the path; I find most people have never heard of them, let alone seen them.

But hey, that’s a large part of why I do this, to share information about what knocks me out and hopefully expose people to a great band, film or book they might have missed. I highly recommend every single one of these, and hopefully there’s at least one you haven’t seen that you will take a chance on. Enjoy some great movies with great music, whether it’s a library rental, a used copy on Amazon or circling the listing in TV Guide when you see it. Without further ado (you’ve had just the right amount of ado so far, right?) and with apologies to The Committments and The Rutles, here they are in alphabetical order…

Almost Famous : Cameron Crowe drew upon his own story to craft this brilliant peek behind rock’s curtain, from the groupies (sorry…Band-Aids) to the roadies and the madness that is rock’n’roll. Great music and wonderful performances from the leads and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s great turn as Lester Bangs.

A Hard Day’s Night : The Beatles. Need I say more? “I’m a Mocker”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch : Absolutely the best rock opera ever. John Cameron Mitchell’s brilliant performance and Stephen Trask’s music are a perfect match, and both the musical and the movie soundtracks could stand on their own as great music. But the film is phenomenal.

The Idolmaker : Ray Sharkey should have won the Academy Award for his performance as a teen idol Svengali. Great performances from Paul Land, Joe Pantoliano and Peter Gallagher.

A Mighty Wind : The Spinal Tap of folk music and another perfect movie from Christopher Guest. Tremendous performances from everyone, but Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as “Mitch and Mickey” were brilliant. How did this song not win the Academy Award?

Rock and Roll High School : The Ramones. Need I say more? “Things sure have changed since I got kicked out of high school”.

Spinal Tap : Absolutely hilarious, with pitch perfect performances from the three leads and an amazing array of bit parts and cameo roles, like Paul Shaffer as Artie Fufkin and Bruno Kirby as the Sinatra-loving limo driver (the extended deleted scenes are priceless). Here’s a song so good I like it even though it’s parody.

Still Crazy : I think the common thread in all these movies is perfect casting. Bill Nighy is wonderful as the fragile lead singer and you can’t go wrong with comic geniuses Billy Connolly and Timothy Spall. But the story is as heartwarming as it is funny and the music is phenomenal.

That Thing You Do : Tom Hanks nailed the screenplay about a one-hit-wonder band and even wrote many of the songs that the other acts in the “galaxy of stars” performed. The main songs benefitted from pop wizards like Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) and Mike Viola, but the perfect casting was only exceeded by the movie’s heart. One of my favorite films of all time in any genre.

Velvet Goldmine : Glam fans will lap this up – an Eddie and The Cruisers type plot in the world of glitter and decadence, with Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as thinly disguised Iggy Pop and David Bowie plus great performances from Christian Bale and Eddie Izzard.

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NEW ALBUM! Smithereens: Tommy

More than Only A Memory

More than Only A Memory

I must preface the comments about the latest Smithereens homage by telling you that no, they haven’t abandoned the concept of original music. Matter of fact, there’s a new studio album due out later this year and reportedly the band is rehearsing the twelve tracks as I type this. (Really – call them and ask!).

But it’s a fair question to ask about a group whose most recent recorded output is the pure musical homage of Meet The Smithereens and B-Sides The Beatles (a very clever title…come on, say it out loud…). If you discount the Christmas album, the last true Smithereens album was released ten years ago – and that was after a five year hiatus.

Count me among those who are thrilled to hear The Smithereens record anything, so the fact that there is both a Tommy album now and a new original album later is twice the good news.

Forty years afterwards, it still sounds great

Forty years afterwards, it still sounds great

Because The Smithereens are a bonafide powerpop band that grew from the seeds of The Beatles, The Kinks and The Who, tackling Tommy is as symbiotic a pairing as their takes on the Fab Four.  While Pat DiNizio can’t replicate the sheer brute force of Roger Daltrey, who can? The lead vocals are solid, as expected, and most of the selected tracks here feature great harmonies, where the trio of Pat, guitarist Jim Babjak and drummer Dennis Diken pull off the Daltrey and Townshend parts exceptionally well.

There are no musical interpretations here – the thirteen tracks are performed in a straightforward manner but with an obvious familiarity and respect. I’m not certain why a tribute to the classic rock opera isn’t a complete libretto, but then again “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” and “Cousin Kevin” don’t lend themselves to powerpop as much as the fat chords of “Amazing Journey”, “I’m Free” and “Sensation”. They did pick a solid set of tracks, although I miss “1921”.

No press release comes without a dose of hyperbole, and this one claims that after a few listens you might never listen to any of The Who’s versions of Tommy the same way again. Well…that might be stretching it a bit. Forty years later, I still get goosebumps when the coda of “See Me Feel Me” kicks in. But I can promise you that this is no watery attempt to swing a few familiar songs your way for the ease of being recognisable. One listen to Diken’s muscular workout during the second half of “Amazing Journey” should be proof enough of that – I guarantee you, Keith Moon is tipping his top hat from God’s bar. (Or from a car submerged in God’s pool…)

Kudos to fellow Jersey boy Kurt Reil (The Grip Weeds) for tasty engineering and production, along with his work on keyboards; bass chores are handled by Severo Jornacion (Cockeyed Ghost, among others). And although I don’t have the full booklet yet, I must also give a shout-out to William Stout for the excellent cover art.

The Smithereens Play Tommy will be available May 5th from E1 Entertainment (formerly Koch Records).

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