ELI REED & THE TRUE LOVES,
THE DIAMOND MINES, THE MULES
Central Square VFW, Cambridge MA 1/28/06
A sampling of hipsters, rude boys and girls, art-noise kids, college students and townies fill up the basement of the Central Sq. VFW to give witness to the last True Loves show. The show is scheduled to start at 9:00; it is now 9:35. I grab a $2 Budweiser can from the bar on the other side of the swinging doors and make my way back to the stage area.
After a fair amount of waiting and refusing to play with the lights on, The Mules tear into their first song. Blending a volatile mix of fast beats, spastic keyboard runs, airy psychedelic guitar lines and sexed-up triple vocals, The Mules sound like something Boy George might listen to after a six day coke binge. The art kids in the audience are totally into it and dancing like folding chairs. And no, that is NOT Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on guitar. They rifle through the rest of their set with compound energy that works the crowd up until they totally sweaty and ready for the rest of the show. Ride on, Mules, ride on.
After a brief equipment change, local favorites The Diamond Mines take the stage. Surprisingly, they open up with a few songs not featured on the recently released 12345 EP. The sound is a little off for the first track, but luckily by the second verse, sound tech extraordinaire Blake from The Thungs leveled out the EQ. Saxophonist Ben Jaffe is really on tonight, ripping through complex arpeggios and wails, especially in the high energy numbers like “Another.” The band is tighter than usual, and Ben Wiser’s vocals, particularly in the new songs sound more moody and introspective. It is really great to see a band play punk that incorporates soul again, and with such energy and sincerity. The high point of the entire evening comes when Jaffe takes the microphone. With a corner of girls screaming his name, he counts off into a cover of “Science Gone too Far” by The Dictators. Two circle pits opened up momentarily and at the end of the set, a heavy-set kid in a Street Dogs T-shirt crushed a Bud can on his head—just the dot on the exclamation point.
When Eli starts playing, the townies crowd in towards the outhouse style women’s bathroom as if they cannot believe their eyes and ears. Could a Jewish kid from Brookline really sing like that? The truth is, yes. The True Loves are quite possibly the best “band” in Boston right now; every musician is absolutely top notch. Formally, Eli’s songs stay true to the roots of ’60s soul. Though at moments somewhat affected and playing up the part (especially in the James Brown-style introduction for Reed), Eli brings an authentic voice and style to the music he is clearly passionate about. After thanking his band about eight times, the most poignant moment of the night is The True Love’s tribute to the recently deceased Wilson Picket whom Reed acknowledges that he would not be there without. The cover of “I Found a Love” gets the kids dancing, which they continue to do until well after the T stops running.
HUMANWINE T.T. the Bear’s, Cambridge, MA, 1/26/06
Humanwine is lead by the husband and wife team of Matt and Holly Brewer. Holly has the biggest voice (for such a tiny girl) this side of Sinead O’Connor. Matt plays guitar sitting down along with a harmonium/ accordion/ trumpet player, a drummer, and a keyboardist. Tonight’s special guest musician who fills in on banjo and guitar is Reverand Glasseye. Holly asks the crowd to describe Humanwine’s music. I’d call it cabaret punk. They don’t hit you over the head as they merrily burrow their way into your soul. Their music slowly moves you until to the point where on this particular night a friendly mosh pit break out, with lots of pogoing and the occasional stage dive. Humanwine’s lyrics are intelligent, political and personal. Members of Beat Circus join them for a rousing finale. The crowd is a great mix of goths, hippies (the guy with the French flag painted in his beard was most amusing) carnies, and a middle-aged punker like myself. Audience participation is a must (the Ogre song has my throat is still sore). I left T.T.’s walking on air. (Don Locke)
LIGHTS, AMOROSO, BAKULA
Great Scott, Allston, MA 1/29/06
Bakula is playing their first show ever. Since two thirds of this band was half of Clickers, I think it would be impossible for me to see them and not make the comparison, at least in my mind. Fortunately, they stand up to it well, which is pretty high praise. They start out with a relaxed, jazzy pinging on one cymbal and a meandering bass line, but when the guitar and vocals come in it quickly gets serious. There are the profusion of quick, jarring time and tempo changes that draw the Clickers comparisons, and the sudden, elusive snatches of melody that keep the whole thing from sounding wanky and pointless. The drummer struggles a bit on the first song, but only on the calm parts—he’s rock solid on the fast, wild sections, and by the second song he’s just plain rock solid. They only play three songs, but each one is so long and involved that it feels like a respectable set, and a pretty stunning achievement for a first show.
Amoroso has some similarities; they’re also a three-piece whose sets comprise small numbers of very long, very complicated compositions. They lack vocals, though. Their set tonight accretes more than it starts, with spacey guitar noises joined by gentle, shimmery drums, and the bass coming in very quietly underneath it. Eventually a melody breaks out, the guitar and bass playing it together in octaves, and this becomes a sort of symphonic theme, repeating faster before dissolving into something else and then cropping up again later. There’s a lot of that sort of thing, the dissolves often leading off into quieter psychedelia before things come blasting back, perfectly together, with powerful rhythms and rapid metal riffage. After a while, Joe from Exultation Of Larks jumps onstage and starts playing a couple of extra floor toms that they have set up, and with two drummers they are insanely powerful. Even when he leaves, they thank him but don’t stop playing; the entire set is stitched together with quiet, contemplative segues into one long piece.
Lights are from Western Mass. They are a four-piece, and their guitarists sing on alternate songs. After all that, they sound almost conventional, but only by contrast—the songs may be short and have fairly melodic vocals, but they have lots of spazzy transitions and weird, jagged guitar lines. They also have some tricky sections where just about everyone in the band seems to be playing a different rhythm that nevertheless wrap around each other to form a complicated, wonderful whole. Some of the songs could even be catchy on repeated listening. (Steve Gisselbrecht)
BIG BEAR, FRANK SMITH,
DIRTY PROJECTORS, STU WALKER
The Middle East, Cambridge, MA 1/27/06
This strange lineup starts out very promising with the amazing Stu Walker. No Middle East crowd can resist this band’s bizarre beauty. It’s windowpane-fried Question Mark (from the Mysterians) loaded on plonk and trying to evade his Martian pursuers, having wandered into a Hitchcock-directed Duke Ellington production number (with an amputee orchestra and Bizarro-world Andrews Sisters on vocals) set amid a prison riot. The jazzy basslines and Bernard Hermann organ effects are the perfect film-noir setting for Stu’s manic growls and Ethyl Bourbon’s theatrical shrieks. This isn’t the same tremendous performance the band put on here in November, but they’re having a ball romping through faves like “Theft, Arson, Vice, Murder, and Death” and their unspeakably sinister cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Prey.” After his usual mid-song foray through the crowd, Nick takes a break to discuss Vatican history before getting back into his rock-reptile Stu persona and leading the band through more nocturnal delights.
Dirty Projectors are up next, and I’m interested to see who will be backing the unpredictable Dave Longstreth at this show. To my dismay, he has decided to do a solo show. His is a musical personality that benefits tremendously from the support of like-minded musicians like the Orchestral Society for the Preservation of the Orchestra. Without them (or backing tracks), Dave seems merely mad, crooning aimlessly while twanging his electric guitar. He plays the situation for laughs, at least: bereft of musicians to direct, he “conducts” the remarkably attentive crowd in chanting and clapping along with him on songs like “Fucked For Life.”
More momentum is lost by the conventional roots-rock of Frank Smith. The stage strains under the weight of no less than seven musicians who create a Southern Gothic atmosphere without any Atlanta fire. Their banjo and pedal steel inaudible in the mix, the band lacks any rural touches that might give their music an element of spontaneity. Their twangy renditions of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” have all the morphine-country moodiness but no irreverence.
Fortunately for those of us that remain from the sell-out crowd, Big Bear decides to deliver an explosive set of their violent noise-rock. Despite a bandaged thigh, lead singer Jordyn Bonds leaps around the stage, her corrosive vocals shredding through the unbelievably loud racket. John McWilliams (who breaks his usual stage silence to thank a friend for the loan of an amp) locks horns with Joel Roston to produce a pummeling twin-guitar barrage. Their monolithic riffs frequently crack open with atonal twin-guitar figures that reveal the jagged steel skeleton within. Bassist David Altman and maniacal drummer Jonathan Sparks navigate the breakneck turns in the Big Bear song structure, demonstrating how painstakingly composed the band’s chaos is. Though Jordyn humbly touts the following night’s Middle East show, the crowd knows their patience has more than paid off. Anyone who hasn’t seen Big Bear live doesn’t know the meaning of glorious noise. (Steve Farrell)
RICK BERLIN (CD release)
The Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA 1/28/06
The jam-packed Lizard Lounge is surreal. Lanky emo boys and pale goth chicks, plaid flanneled hippies and fish-netted she-males, local rock newcomers and wizened local heroes. And at the apex, igniting the very air with a shimmering, palpable sense of community, is Rick Berlin. It’s the second of a two-night party in celebration of Me and Van Gogh, Rick Berlin’s first solo release, and both nights feature an eclectic collection of musicians performing interpretations from his extensive discography, all the way back to Orchestra Luna. Each act plays one song, and in the middle of the night Rick performs a typically poignant set.
A head-spinning twenty-act rotation (too numerous to detail!) begins with Jaime d’Almeida (Five Dollar Milkshake) and Steve Chaggaris (Ken Clark Organ Trio) doing “Bad Day.” Highlights are Asa Brebner, in whose hands “Hit in the Face” becomes a Tom Waits-like howler. The crowd is thrilled when Bo Barringer, with original Shelley band members, picks the same tune and totally owns it, writhing while a gyrating dancer grinds.
Original Luna member Bobby Brandon really throws the light of perspective on things when he does a duet with his teenaged daughter Alissa, a natural performer with a sweet voice. The ubiquitous Betty Widerski, with her electric violin, leads a stellar string ensemble through a spectacular arrangement of “Nice Butt.” Leah Callahan (The Glass Set) croons a solo a capella “Who’s That Yr With?” Bill and Paul Hough of GarageDogs each sing a song, but it’s Bill’s tumultuous Berlin-imitating “One Night Only” that raises the roof. The guy is just fantastic.
The Neighborhoods do “Baseball Park,” David Minehan deftly filling time (while awaiting bassist Lee Harrington’s tardy arrival) by reading the lyrics aloud first and telling an anecdote or two from the Woolly Mammoth recording sessions. Holly and Mat of Humanwine pull out a wild cabaret rendition of “Hopefully” that just about causes Rick to jump up and down with joy. In fact, Rick’s reactions to the interpretation of his life’s work is as much fun to watch as the performers. Sparks just about fly from the man, especially during last act, The Dresden Dolls.
Brian and Amanda choose the title track from “I Hate Everything But You,” the Shelley album released post break-up. And they nail it. Staccato drums, stomping piano and throaty, shredding vocals are exactly the thing for the grandiose, dramatic tune. Afterwards Amanda silences the din of the ecstatic audience to say, eloquently, how much Rick Berlin means to the Dolls and to so many members of the local music community. Her words echo what most of the performers have said all night long. Then she calls Rick back to play an encore, and if there is a dry eye in the house, I can’t see it through my own watery blur.
“This is special,” a total stranger says to me. “Yeah,” is all I can think to say. (Lexi Kahn)
The Center for the Arts, Natick, MA 1/27/06
You can feel the warmth and lighthearted spirit of The Center for the Arts as Pandafied, sans shoes, takes the stage. The band’s love for music shines brilliantly—every rock-reggae rhythm hitting true with a rejuvenated audience—a group of local kids, killing for a good beat on a Friday night. Pandafied is happy getting down and dirty with a smiling crowd; the band and the crowd inspire each other, and Pandafied works the show into a beautiful climax, every person moving furiously. Proving to be a crowd-centric band, their CD, albeit free, doesn’t quite capture the spark of tonight. Though what can you expect? The audiences rarely dance and cheer in recording studios. (Elise Largesse)
The Reel Bar, Allston, MA 1/22/06
Suddenly I’m not in Kansas anymore. For a few fleeting hours one cold night in Allston, Sir Loins takes over the Reel Bar for his new Hot Lunch night. I am mostly looking for a few Arrogant Bastards (beer which they had unfortunately run out of that night) and am not quite expecting the fun that ensues. Hot Lunch has three of my favorite things: gay men, (someone wearing) gold lamé hot pants and great music. The DJ is truly amazing. I mean when’s the last time you heard The Undertones in a bar? And I don’t expect a live band that night but the two person sex-synth band Angela perform and the crowd is mesmerized. I am not sure if we are worshipping sex, gay sex, or just having the guilty pleasure of hearing all these dirty, flirty words but whatever it is, it’s working for me tonight. (Leah Callahan)
T.T. The Bear’s, Cambridge, MA 2/11/06
September Twilight’s first Boston show in months is hardly off to a good start. Two other bands on the bill cancel due to the snow. September Twilight decides to soldier on.
I like them already from their stage setup. Drummer Kevin Gallagher perches off to the side with bassist Neil Taylor settling to his left. They proceed to demonstrate that they’re one of the best rhythm sections in Boston.
Guitarists Joe Cusella and Luke Del Cid flank singer Bill Bloom who stands center stage. For a band whose singer has a clear, soaring voice, they make a ballsy move and open with a prog-metal-style instrumental.
The door guy tells me there are 140 people here, and by my count, that means 140 people are going wild. The guitars are heavy and sonic. The grooves are driving, and Gallagher is hitting the skins harder than anyone I’ve ever seen around here.
Simply put, these guys are damn good. (Stoich)
KALVIN KOOLIDGE, EL GRINGO
The Rack, Boston, MA 11/20/05
What the hell am I doing on a Sunday night at The Rack, one of the cheesiest bars in Faneuil Hall, an area already guilty of having suspiciously high levels of cheddar? No, I haven’t been kidnapped by big men in tight shirts from the suburbs, I’m actually going to check out a show organized by a new promotion/ booking agency called Anthem Events. They have been putting together a string of showcases over the past few months, creating a neat little niche of music in an area otherwise unfriendly to local rock. Though the shows don’t give bands much more than a place to play and a glimmer of hope for fame and fortune, El Gringo takes the stage and tears it up like old pros with their brand of self proclaimed “Cactus Rock.” Drummer/ vocalist Greg Moon has the crowd under his thumb with some high octane vocals and high tempo fills. There’s a slick blend of country, pop, and rock but it’s the twangy numbers that really get people on the dance floor doing the old two-step.
The next act is Kalvin Koolidge. These guys have won me over already with their first song, “Thirsty in the Morning,” where spirited lead singer, Tom Jewett accidentally pulls out a bag of coke and a bag of weed while lining up a drug deal on his cell phone during the middle of his solo. I haven’t seen such outlandish stage antics since Robby Roadsteamer at the Hempfest. Luckily, no cops were around and Kalvin Koolidge dives right into their next few songs, ranging in topics from Spanish bull fighters to Fox’s TV’s King of the Hill. The crowd is totally into it and hanging on the band’s every move. Some people went so far as removing their shirts and bowing in front of the stage. Unfortunately they were all dudes; the girls were with me cutting it up the dance floor. Viva la rock baby! Kalvin Koolidge has got it! (Kier Byrnes)
MOBIUS BAND, TAXPAYER, REPORTS
Great Scott, Allston, MA 12/1/05
Reports start off tonight in their “noisy psychedelia” mode, with spacey, weird guitar lines over a swirling, driving rhythm section. It’s beautiful stuff. Then, their second song is in their “English music hall” mode, with the stilted rhythms and pop melodies of that style. It’s good to put their range up front, and better when, as the set progresses, they get into the songs that fuse the two impulses. These creations tend to start out poppy and then get deranged around the bridge. The interaction between the guitars is great, and the mix is excellent; I can hear absolutely everything coming off the stage.
Taxpayer does the majestic Britpop thing—big, epic songs, largely moody and mid-tempo, with rich vocals and lush, washy guitars. The guitars can be overly strummy, but when they do play melody lines they are very good—so they should play more of them. This style of music would lend itself very well to some harmonies, but their singer has a gorgeous voice; maybe they don’t want to mess with that. They have some quality, catchy songwriting, and it’s “Dial Zero For Assistance” that I’ll be whistling as I walk home tonight.
Mobius Band is a three-piece that play very gentle pop, heavy on electronics. The drummer plays a mixture of real and synth drums, in varying proportions, and naturally I like the songs better that are heavier on the real drums. The guitarist and bassist both play a lot of keyboards as well as their stringed instruments, and take turns singing lead. They use a lot of really synthy, ’80s-sounding keyboard patches; this really isn’t calculated to appeal to me. What is nice is the bassist’s voice, which has a wonderfully warm, inviting tone. That, plus the mellow, gentle songs, make me feel pleasantly soothed. Still, after about half a dozen songs I start to get a little bored, and the synth drums are really wearing on me, so I head out. (Steve Gisselbrecht)
Baby Strange, Six Day Slide
The Paradise, Allston, MA 2/04/06
Six Day Slide plays well-performed but disappointingly generic set of droning, down-tempo radio rock. The sound is good but the songwriting lacks, more resembling Matchbox Twenty’s discarded B-sides than anything I’d ever pay to listen to.
A tall guy in a black suit with a paisley shirt saunters onstage and picks up a guitar. The sound coming out of his vintage Vox amp is mind-blowing. His band has yet to join him. He stops playing. What the hell is going on?
The lights at the bars are off, and someone says the power is out. The crowd, now in the 500s, begins chanting “Baby Strange.” This is so rock ’n’ roll. Anticipation fills the room. The Paradise finally powers back up and the five members of Baby Strange hit the stage with swagger. They’ve got guttural rock ’n’ roll dancing with classic R&B, and it’s getting dirty. The guitars are big and loud, the guitarists thrash about, and the people in the crowd who know the words are trying their best to match singer Eric Deneen’s powerful delivery. It can’t be done. (Stoich)