WALTER SICKERT & THE ARMY OF BROKEN TOY
Abbey Lounge, Somerville, MA 2/15/07
Edvard Munch said, “Illness and madness and death were the black angels that stood by my cradle.” These same black angels inhabit Walter’s phantasmagorical microcosm. Wearing a black top hat festooned with feathers, he’s Svengali with a palette of colorations-samples, radio static, and experimental electronics. The ethereal Edrie kneels on the stage surrounded by a beautiful, bizarre menagerie of toys including antique dolls, a parrot, a child’s phonograph, a wind-up cymbal-slapping monkey, and a miniature piano. Edrie is an absinthe-imbibing Snow White as employed in a Parisian brothel circa 1883—jet black hair adorned with a cardinal, alabaster skin, ruby lips, wearing beaded red gloves and reinventing the word décolletage. Sickert’s vocals are maniacal; Edrie's are soothing. Is this Walter’s dream come to life? Is Edrie dreaming or frozen in Walter’s dream? Either way, their performance confounds the mind as much as it delights the senses. (Nancy Neon)
THREE DAY THRESHOLD, KALVIN KOOLIDGE, GIRLS, GUNS & GLORY, CASSAVETTES, BEAGLE PUSS
The Paradise, Boston, MA 1/19/2007
I venture into the Paradise to check out Rodfest, wary as usual when the word “fest” is used to describe any event, based on the idea that it might just ramble self-indulgently on. But the sold out crowd is wonderful and warm, more like a family reunion than an anonymous rock show. The money goes for a great cause in memory of a guy, Rod, who simply must have been amazing judging from the throng of friendly folks who have turned out to rock in his honor.
Three men in ski masks storm the stage. Joining them by way of somersault is a wild shirtless frontman, his booming voice meshing hypnotically with the heavy-as-shit sound. The visual and audio assault is perversely pleasing. I find my self-riveted to the spot, like when the pious have to stare at the sinful. But not being a saint, I am unsure of how I can find anything debaucherous. Maybe it is because the Beagle Puss singer, Mr. Classy, is holding a largish dildo instead of a traditional microphone, or maybe it is the lyrics that somehow convey that it just makes sense to skip the dating scene and hit the cemetery, because dead girls can't say no. Beagle Puss combines stunts, innuendo, hard rock, danger, and death into a package that I would pay ten bucks to see any day of the week.
When Cassavettes hit the stage, I can see that this group has a strong following: their fans are very enthusiastic. Their songs have a nice craftsmanship; they’re well constructed, tight, and pleasing. They choose a couple of tunes in their set that are a tad low on energy but they are completely capable of rocking out. Maybe it's a lesson to be learned: put a great deal of thought into the set list, especially if, like Cassevettes, you actually have talent.
Next up is Girls, Guns & Glory, a polished ensemble whose talented singer has a definite country twang. I wasn't sure it could happen, but eventually I totally embrace the rockin’ banjo solo. I find myself in sudden appreciation of what my ignorant mind can only describe as a hoedown.
Kalvin Koolidge hits the scene fresh from their European tour. I already really like their album, Kill the Precedent, and not just because of its clever title. The mix is ever so slightly off. Singer Tommy, who really has a beautiful voice, is a little bit low in the sound representation. Kalvin Koolidge is super charismatic, and puts the power in power trio. They deliver an arresting show and at one point, actually show some gratuitous levels of skin. While there are great rewards associated with removing ones shirt and pants, it can, however, result in some guitar strap chafing.
Three Day Threshold, the headliner, is up next. Now this is a band to aspire to be: tight and southern-flavored but with enough rock to be universal. The crowd swoons to the feel-good and cathartic sounds. There is something about superior musicianship that transcends mere stage performance; it’s tight and highly energetic. It just clicks. There is even some stage diving. A strong heavy end keeps one in synch, in tune, and in the groove. A crossover bagpipe solo seems the perfect extension to their festivity. Although it’s supremely danceable, I hate to describe the thrashing attempt even I made at dancing—jerky movements that would have been more suitable for Beagle Puss. Next year, when you hear the word RodFest, think, don't miss. (Stace)
PETER C. JOHNSON
Hi-N-Dry, Cambridge MA 2/2/07
On entering Hi-N-Dry, I can tell this is no ordinary gig. Spirits fill this old building of massive wooden beams framed by brick walls. Mark Sandman’s famous two-string Premier bass hangs on the center vertical post. There’s a creative makeshift stage (a postmodern cave) of curtains draped to umbrella and area with a string of small white lights, a few sculptures of crows, and a row of old fashioned oil lamps along the top. The ever-cool Billy Conway (Twinemen) gently rings a school bell and welcomes the crowd of 50 or so comfortably sitting on couches and chairs randomly set up around the cave. Two musicians on electric piano and pedal steel station themselves on either side of the cave and play along with prerecorded tracks to create a laid back yet poignant musical backdrop. Peter C. Johnson enters with a blinking light atop his head and speaks his pain. His deep raspy voice hypnotizes all—his eyes are young; they peer out from the deep creases in his face, topped by his grey hair—long and thin. His energy is purposeful and alive. Every word is beheld. John Lennon was shot. (T Max)
FACES ON FILM, KEYS TO THE STREETS OF FEAR, THE BEAT AWFULS, BABA YAGA
PA's Lounge, Somerville, MA 2/4/07
Baba Yaga is apparently playing their first show ever. There are three of them: two sing and play various stringed instruments (acoustic and electric guitar, autoharp, and I think that might be a lute) and one provides intermittent hand percussion. Musically, it's all a little too Renaissance Faire for my tastes. Okay, maybe a lot. The snows beneath the linden boughs and suchlike. And there are kind of a lot of first-show-type bugs to work out. But their voices are achingly lovely, and the mellow, mostly seated crowd turns raucously supportive and approving after every song.
The Beat Awfuls are beginning a week-long residency here at PA's along with Keys to the Streets of Fear. They are much more the sort of thing you expect to find in a rock club. You could call it garage rock, I suppose, if you happened to have an unusually high-quality garage. The playing is all really good and mostly stays the hell out of the way of these very short, very catchy little songs. But the focus in this band is on the bizarre singer and occasional manic tambourine player, Dave Cave. He has a weird, cracked, lyrical vocal style that really pulls in my attention and guides it to the songs. Plus there's his oddly charismatic stage presence: also weird, cracked, and lyrical.
Keys to the Streets of Fear have an equally freaky front man, with a little bit of that is-he-some-kind-of-musical-genius -or-a-homeless-guy -that-wandered-in-off-the-street -and-joined-the-band-because-it's-warm-in-here edgy vibe going on. His oft-obscene bellowing and whomping rhythm guitar combine with a twisted, oddly melodic, and feedback-drenched two-string lead guitar and a kick-ass, rock-solid rhythm section that ground the whole mess and give it enough song-iness to make it all work. One half of that rhythm section is a borrowed bassist, Dave from Faces on Film, who has apparently just picked up several dozens songs on the fly so that he can join the band temporarily for a week-long residency. That's chutzpah, but he's more than up to the task.
And now he's going to play again with his own band. Faces on Film is a favorite of mine for their brilliant combination of sweet, engaging tunefulness and interesting, engaging (but in a different, complementary way) weirdness. Their new songs, which they stick to tonight, veer more toward the tuneful (while remaining tricky enough to stay interesting). Dave is becoming a multi-instrumentalist, and plays additional drums, tambourine, and melodica on some songs, and the keyboards that they used early on have been replaced by harmonica. It makes for a well-rounded, very fully arranged sound for a four-piece. And it gets even more so when Elio from Keys joins in on keyboard for a couple of songs. This is the sort of cross-pollination that a residency like this should ideally spawn. I can't hear the keyboard as well as I'd like, but when I can it contributes a warm, lovely fullness. I'm going to give the final word on them to Brian from Hallelujah the Hills, who has never seen them before and who says, if I’m not misremembering the quote, “Holy crap!” (Steve Gisselbrecht)
THE PRIME MOVERS, DOWNBEAT 5
T.T. The Bear's, Cambridge, MA 2/3/07
When I arrive, Jen D’Angora is onstage tuning up, exhibiting pure star style in a curve-hugging red dress with spaghetti straps, and blonde hair framing her doll-like face. Since November 2000, Jen has evolved impressively as a vocalist and as a guitarist. Jen has always had that sweet/tough duality nailed. Yet I have never seen her come across as confident and sexy as she does tonight. The Downbeat Five opens with the Kinks’ “Come On Now.” Jen's growl energizes this number. “Number One” takes me back to 2000 when the band’s sound was much more poppy. Currently with songs like “Army Of One,” their sound is more gritty and soulful. Bass player Mike Yocco and drummer Eric Almquist lay down a solid, primal foundation for JJ’s incendiary leads. Jen’s fierce snarl threatens to steal your heart right before she stomps that sucker flat! Jen evokes total teen Jezebel as her black slip strap falls off her shoulder. Jen pays homage to Steve Marriott as the band fires up The Small Faces’ arrangement of “Shake.”
The Prime Movers open with The Easybeats’ “Sorry,” a brilliant number from a brilliant albeit underrated band. “Left In The Dark” follows: an impeccable rendition of the Vertebrats’ gem. Like a melodic behemoth, the Movers deliver three-part harmonies that shimmer whereas the rhythm section of Jeff Sugarmen and Dennis McCarthy welcome you with a sonic wallop. “Start!” has a beautiful anthemic even hymnic feel. Throughout, Cam Ackland belts it out with a passionate amalgam of rock and soul. McCarthy hits the skins with a mixture of rhythmic finesse and unrelenting fury. “Shake Some Action” is an epiphany—a rock ’n’ roll baptism. Dick Tate executes a gorgeous guitar solo that inspires whistles and screams. On the Small Faces’ “What’cha Gonna Do About It,” the Movers expose their sensual side as they slowly slide into “The Last Time.” Without a musical misstep, the Movers are poised to win hearts and reap big Euros this year. (Nancy Neon)
CD release party
Harpers Ferry, Brighton, MA 1/25/07
Some bands have that crazed/super-focused look in their eyes as they take the stage. Forgetful Jones has it tonight—they’re hungry to rock. If this show was a televised football game, you may hear John Madden, or some other color commentator say something like “These guys are playing in the zone” or “It’s evident they really brought their ‘A’ game tonight.” It’s true; tonight, Forgetful Jones is unstoppable. The fans crowd the stage and make it really hard to get in close to the action. Their music is a little metal, a little funk, even a little bit of jazz, but what it all adds up to is a whole lot of rock. There are a few cover songs thrown in which help display the band’s influences: The Police, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix. To make the night even more special, Forgetful Jones raffles off some prizes including a guitar and an autographed photo from their friends in 311. Everybody seems pretty happy. Good night. (Kier Byrnes)
GUILLERMO SEXO, ROOSEVELT JONES & THE HARD FEELINGS
The Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, MA 2/11/07
The crowd’s a little sparse tonight, although that’s to be expected on a frigid Sunday night. Roosevelt Jones & the Hard Feelings take the stage energetically, prompting one or two of us leaning against the walls to bob our heads in appreciation—one man is even moved to dance exuberantly by himself in the corner. The sound is hard to place: vocals are a little Huey Lewis, the bass and drums are straight up classic rock, and the guitar is leaning towards funk in places. I’m all for it…until the band says, “We’re gonna do a little heavy metal for you,” then proceeds to play a distinctly un-metal song. When they’re done, they dedicate the tune to Iron Maiden.
Guillermo Sexo attacks us so hard with sound that the frontman/guitarist immediately snaps a string. To remedy the problem, they turn the intro of their second song into a three-minute jam session while he attempts to restring. I'm sad because I checked out their myspace page before I came and they sounded really interesting; all I’m getting right now, though, is noise, sort of like Arcade Fire gone awry. I can tell they have the potential for something really great, but it definitely hasn’t gelled yet. They’re having fun—kind of a private dance party happening onstage—but it appears as if the audience wasn’t invited. (Danielle Cotter)
LADY KENSINGTON & THE BEATLORDS, THE CRYBABIES, THE TIME BEINGS
The Skybar, Somerville, MA 2/10/07
Tonight has a magic patina—the only negative is missing Ghouls Night Out. I have such perfect memories of Thee Psych-O-Daisies rocking with Ed Gein & the Graverobbers at the Midway in July 2001. Cool ghoul Myra ruled on and offstage! When I arrive, The Time Beings are already tearing it up. Jay Martorano, who plays bass, has the quintessential garage rock snotty snarl. Preston Wayne a.k.a. Whammy Bar King a.k.a. the white Hendrix enthralls the crowd. Rhythm guitarist, Chris Lillyman pays tribute to no-nonsense rock ’n’ roll both sonically and sartorially with his Classic Ruins T-shirt. The ever-smiling drummer, Dave Kowalcek pounds the skins with a vengeance yet captures a rhythmic sophistication. From their crowd pleasing covers like “Matter Of Time,” “Read Your Mind” and “Journey To Tyme” to their originals which pay homage to the ’60s, these guys are the REAL DEAL!
The Crybabies are the love children of Gram Parsons and Cyril Jordan. They open with “Fool Of Me.” “Lonely Weekend” follows and delivers their version of Charlie Rich done in a Barry & the Remains arrangement. Bob Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now…” is a cool choice—a charming song about a lusty male who tries to seduce a desirable female with humor. “A Man With Money” perfectly bookends the set with the encore “I'll Cry Alone.” Cheryle Crane (bass, harmonies) calls Chris Horne and me onstage for “Love Me Like I Know You Can” and “Shame.” Steve Aquino joins in on vocals and maracas for “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby.” When the crowd yells for an encore, the Crybabies say farewell with “I'll Cry Alone.”
In Don’t Look Back, I discovered the coolest male on earth—Bob Dylan. Chris Horne is his female counterpart. Before the Beatlords’ set, Horne and I do the monkey and the jerk together, like we were plucked directly from a Hullabaloo episode. Around 11:30, she takes the stage as leader of Lady Kensington & the Beatlords, a perfect stripped-down three piece with Matt Cannell (bass) and Scott Bates (drums). You may remember Horne from garage goddesses The Brood. There is such a beauty and purity in seeing someone doing perfectly what they were created to do. I don't know why the club pulled the plug halfway through the set, but Horne wittily handles it and says, “Come to the Kirkland next Saturday to see the other half of our set!” Between Cheryle Crane’s “wardrobe malfunction” (her red bra was a sexy harbinger of St. Valentine’s Day) and the garage rock royalty in attendance including Pokemono Jeff, as DJ Matthew Griffin, party-making phenom of Seconds (a monthly show at Skybar) fame jokes “Lady Di had less photogs at her wedding!” (Nancy Neon)
The Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge MA 1/28/07
I notice the media is here (’BCN jocks and a Globe reporter) to check out this young split-gender four-piece. The cute gals, Karen Barnicle and Rebekka Takamizu (Eyes Like Knives), handle most of the guitar/singing duties while Kevin R and Lucian Garro (Piebald) man the bass and drums respectively and respectably. Playful Karen is fun to watch with her cuffed white hi-heel boots and nerdy eyeglasses. Her lead singing is full of youthful vitality that encourages me to ignore the whiny quality of her voice and less-than-accurate pitch at times. Her bottom-end barre chords have a tendency to bury Rebecca’s infrequent guitar solos. Despite these minor inadequacies, Karen puts life into the song and the fans appreciate it. Barnicle ends with “Take Me to Your Room” showing off their most effective hook when Karen sustains the last note of the title line while the bass line ascends. With time I’d expect this band to up the average quality of their songwriting. (T Max)
The Bullfinch Yacht Club, Boston, MA 2/8/07
It may be bitterly cold outside, but in this intimate North Station club I’m hoping to find some warmth from Ellis Ashbrook. They’re a newer band in the psychedelic hard rock vein. Their tunes are melodic, with influences of Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins. The set is highlighted by the three-part harmonies of John Barber (lead guitar), Ryan Gildea (rhythm guitar), and Natalie Lowe (keys). The tight rhythm section of bassist Jonathan Granoff and drummer Alex Major reach near Zeppelin-esque heights with their power and inventiveness. In most songs the formula is simple: the rhythm section finds the groove and then the guitars propel the songs into overdrive. Then they start to jam. These musicians have a big sound for such a relatively small group. The tunes are driven by the unpredictability of where the music is heading. The bottom line is they get the feet moving and then get the head thinking. (A.J. Rocktel)
JABE, DEARBORN VALLEY, SAM REID & THE RIOT ACT, JIMMY RYAN
T.T. the Bears, Cambridge, MA 2/8/07
I am astonished at how some things just don’t add up in this world. The universe just doesn’t make sense sometimes, like tonight for instance. This is one of the best bills I have seen in a while yet there is almost no one here. It may be because this is the coldest night we’ve had in years. With that said, Jimmy Ryan is alone on the stage singing tunes from his last album, Gospel Shirt. He’s playing mandocello, which is basically a mandolin on steroids. It’s got eight strings like a mandolin but has a ton of low end, making it sound like a hybrid between a bass and a twelve string acoustic guitar. The songs are cool and hearing them on a mandocello blows my mind. His set ends too soon.
Sam Reid & the Riot Act is up next. T.T.’s is about as cold as a meat locker but it doesn’t stop Sammy from burning up the fretboard. Sammy’s acoustic guitar and high lonesome vocals match well with John Ransom’s solid bass playing and baritone harmonies. The highlight of the set is when drummer, JC Campbell’s snare stand collapses, and without missing a beat, grabs the snare, flips it up on his lap and saves the song. It’s always fun to watch exciting musical acrobatics. I wonder how they’ll work that into the next show.
Dearborn Valley is playing solid working class drinking tunes. It’s solid country influenced rock ’n’ roll with a hint of twang and a shot of whiskey. A cover of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” is thrown in for good measure. The band is lively and fun. They sound great; every one of them has good chops and it shows. In addition, tonight, sound engineer Joel Simches is working the soundboard, creating the perfect mix of warm, robust sounds that are neither too loud nor too soft. T.T.’s is one of the hardest rooms to navigate sound with, so I have to raise my glass to him—a job well done.
Jabe is up last and while the room is still really cold, outside it’s even colder. I am not looking forward to the trek home. Even under the warmth of the stage lights, the band is wearing wool hats. I feel really bad for the cute girl at the door in charge of tickets. She gets a gust of cold air every time the door opens. She seems to be smiling but there is a chance she’s already frozen and her face is just stuck in that position. Jabe puts forth a good effort in heating up the room with a flurry of new exciting rock songs. Jabe is playing tonight as a threesome and once again shows how versatile these they are. There has been so much talent on stage tonight; I’m looking forward to seeing all the bands again—but hopefully it will be a little bit warmer. (Kier Byrnes)
Model Cafe, Allston, MA 1/24/07
This is the third of the single-band Model Café Wednesdays. The usual faces are there, and it’s a decent turnout for mid-week. Hackman has set up in the back room where DJ Unger is spinning. I’m cranky this late on a weekday, so I’m glad they start by 11:30. They’re playing longish songs with serious hooks and practically no vocals. A few are faster; the one starting with a Hendrix-y riff cooks nicely. It’s tough to see this sludgy three-piece through the fans bunched up front. Most of the tunes are solid but hypnotic in that I really try to focus on them, but my mind wanders while my body holds the groove and does the familiar foot-shuffle/head-bob dance. The mix doesn’t have enough top-end, so I can’t hear all I that can see: the guitarist playing and the drummer’s variations. Regardless, I leave satisfied. (Seth Cohen)
LEISURE SCREAM, THE SILVER LINING
The Milky Way Lounge, Jamaica Plain, MA 1/19/07
The Silver Lining immediately impresses me with their sophisticated light poppy rock. They have a great duo of voices in Anna Price and Matt Rhodes. The first song is filled with “bapa bop bops” like the Turtles in “Happy Together.” The band’s compositions are well thought out and contain many chords—and every chord makes sense. There are a lot of interesting chord progressions, melody, and harmony. There’s a nice saloon type honky tonk piano solo from Ted Collins. Doug Fuller never overpowers the band with his drums. Matt Rhodes does a Brian May (Queen)-type solo in one song. And Bassist Greg Radawich reminds me of American Idols’ Simon Cowell. What I like about this band is their willingness to not overpower their audience. They dabble in the blues—but this should be kept to their rehearsal space. They start wrapping up the set with a heavy-handed guitar that crushes some of the charm they earned earlier. They end with “The Seeker” by The Who, but to tell you the truth, their own material is more impressive.
Leisure Scream is releasing their CD, Color of Danger, tonight. They’re a five-piece with most, but not all, of their songs derivative of a Grateful Dead sound. Acoustic guitarist Johnny Saco quickly gets labeled the band clown with his “Czech Czechoslovakia, test testicles” mic check. The CD title track has guitarist John Daly’s vocals sounding like David Bowie, with Nancy Lancy (keys) and Mr. Saco providing Beatle background vocals, and the overall sound of the Grateful Dead lingering nearby. One song, “Tree,” totally breaks the mold with Nancy grabbing the spotlight in this cute simple pop song. I’d like to hear more songs in this vein. “The Screens” also breaks the Dead mold with Saco switching to electric guitar for bizarre rhythm changes and a car crash cacophonous ending. Basically, there’s strangeness about this band—they have a personality imbalance—too much from Johnny Saco and not enough from the rest. But their fans still love them like the child who is a little “different.” (T Max)