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ANDREA GILLIS BAND
Plough & Stars, Cambridge MA
As expected, it’s a good size crowd at the Plough tonight—after all, it’s not every year they book the Rumble Finals into such a tiny venue. Arriving late, I manage to miss the other finalists but luckily I’m right on time for Andrea Gillis’s set. The current version of AGB features Charles Hansen and Melissa Gibbs on guitars, Michelle Paulhus on bass and of course drums courtesy of Bruce Caporal. This is probably the third or fourth AGB lineup I’ve seen and it’s a stellar one. Andrea’s got the advantage over the other finalists, as she’s an old hand in these small bar settings. Tonight, as in recent months, the set list doesn’t include her two strongest pieces—“I May Be Wrong” (cover) and “Jar” (original), both showcase her rich emotional vocals. Makes absolutely no sense to me. But what she does choose to sing, she kills with. Adding to the special nature of the occasion, former Red Chord bandmate Emily Grogan joins Andrea for a misery-drenched rendition of RC’s “Yellow Taxi.” It’s spectacular. There’s no question Andrea will win the Rumble—like Barrence Whitfield, Rick Berlin, the Lyres, and other big notables. She will be remembered by scholars and historians as a Boston rock treasure. This is so clear, so obvious and indisputable, that the winner this year is a foregone conclusion. But for the sake of courtesy, we’ll await the judges’ decision.
Are The Neighborhoods on next…? (Frank Strom)
The Middle East, Cambridge, MA
So now I’m holding a shot of tequila and poking my head inside the up stairs door at the Middle East nightclub. With a name like Destruct-o-thon, they better be ready to destroy, right? Destruct-o-thon’s pretty female guitarist is setting up. Behind her sit two menacing guitar amps stacked side by side. Duncan takes the stage with a commanding swagger, counts to four and lets it loose! The band tears into their opening song, “Heart Attack,” and the crowd screams back with delight. Duncan and his fans welcome all into their world of dissatisfaction. Instantly I am in full rock-out mode. They are destroying me with their blend of punk, rock, humor, and hardcore. I head to the bar for a quick beer and notice the vocals are getting real loud. This is because Duncan has leaped off the stage and jumped into the mock window behind the bar. He is screaming directly into my head! Now that’s getting it done! Destruct-o-thon destroys! (Lance Woodward)
The Squat, Cambridge, MA 4/19/08
On this afternoon, somewhere in Cambridge and upstairs in what I’m informed is a loaned space in an off-street commercial building, I find myself in the midst of an electric guitar, a djembe, a glockenspiel, an accordian, a trumpet, a flute, a drum set, a violin, an electric (perhaps Casio?) keyboard, an electric bass, and an acoustic guitar. So, where the fuck am I? A slightly used musical instrument swap meet? A buskers’ convention? Have I died and gone to World Music Hell? Nope on all counts. I am at the most pleasantly surprising show I’ve been to in years. This is the Boston underground debut of Eskalators, an event which I dubiously agreed to attend over a Davis Square dinner earlier today. From the driving opening strains of “The Hit” to the quiet buildup-to-worldpunk fury that is their “Chicken Lollipop,” I am finding myself locked in to utter exhilaration mode by this band’s fresh delivery of…of…umm, well a freshly unique and energetic amalgamation of punk rock, ska, salsa flavored chaos, and sure enough (a surprisingly un-obnoxious inclusion of)… a twinge of world music. This band is serving up a big, spicy plate of delicious musical chaos. Just enough melody to keep one locked in, just enough flying-fist adrenaline to keep one excited, and just enough surprising flavor (hello, djembe, glockenspiel, flute, and violin) to make one wonder what’s coming next. Thank you, Eric, Dan, Pete, Chris, Alex, Janelle, Guia, Amanda, Wenjay, Melissa, Mark, David, and Ben. Having asked after their set, I learned these Eskalators are busy recording an EP and planning their Boston club debut. As of this writing, the former is “in the can” and the latter is soon TBA. Personally, I can’t wait to see them again. (Flipper)
Cantab, Cambridge, MA
Yeah, the band’s name may sound like a porn star’s, but it suits the vibe of Tori Pyne’s music, which is funky, a bit twisted and full of thrusting motions. And on this wet spring night, the group makes its debut with a rough and rowdy set of songs penned mostly by bassist and vocalist Dave Westner. His new band is a scrappy little outfit, combining rock and jazz changes with fierce chops without coming off as fancy or showy. That’s due in large part because they stomp more than they swing. The nine tunes Tori Pyne rip though are, like the four dudes onstage, motley yet distinctive, evoking everything from German drinking songs to prog to the Doors. High point: drummer Ed Arnold steps out front with a ukulele to sing a simple yet gut-wrenching ballad. Encore a sloppy version of Hall & Oate’s “Maneater” kinda leaves you pyning for more. (Eliot Wilder)
The Midway, Jamaica Plain, MA
I hear on WMBR that a Big Dipper tribute band is playing just a couple of blocks from where I live so I head over on my bicycle. I enter the Midway and there is a significant PA system and show lights added to the club’s arsenal—they’re even setting up a built-in video camera. Wow, the band looks a lot like Bill, Gary, Steve, and Jeff, but on closer inspection I can tell they are older, carry a little more paunch—the guy who plays Steve has grey hair and the Bill impersonator is overacting kookiness. They deliver “Faith Healer,” “Mr. Woods,” and “Guitar Named Desire” pretty decently—maybe a little sloppier than real McCoy, but maybe that’s because they are distracted by a number of very young fans that are camping out right in the middle of the Midway’s floor. They continue to knock out the hits—“Mr. Lincoln,” “All Goin’ Out Together,” and “Younger Bums” with Big Dipper intensity. They end and thank everyone for staying out late (it’s 10:10)—maybe they were just talking to the campers on the floor. On the way back to my bicycle I feel like such a fool when I overhear someone saying it was really BIG DIPPER! (T Max)
Atwood’s, Cambridge, MA
For a group named the Smalls, this local outfit has a big bluegrass sound. The Smalls take the stage tonight and Atwoods is transformed into Inman Square’s own version of the Grand Ole Opry. With the one-two punch of banjo extraordinaire Eric Royer and virtuoso guitarist Sam Reid, there are plenty of high lonesome notes whizzing around the room at breakneck speed. Rounding out the sound is Jess Fox on fiddle and Aaron Goff on mandolin, each extremely talented musicians in their own respect. Midweek is an off night for a hoedown but these guys have no problem tearing it up. Atwood’s incredible selection of fine Belgium ales on tap seem to aid the cause, as do their delicious sweet potato fries (that come with the tastiest, and most creative, dipping sauce I’ve ever tried in my life: banana curry mayonnaise). But enough about the food and beer, I got to get back to the music. The Smalls pump out terrific versions of “Salty Dog” and “Wabash Cannonball” amongst the excellent set list of upbeat Appalachian traditionals. Musically, this band is as talented as they come. (Kier Byrnes)
Beyond a Live Review
THE CELLO CHIX
Squawk Coffehouse, Cambridge, MA
9:50 pm (Mass. Ave, North of Harvard Sq.): I have left my comfy Porter Square universe tonight to venture to what I believe will be a unique experience of instrumentation and pop-culture: a trade-off that is looking more and more ominous as Manny Ramirez is currently hitting ropes in Yankee Stadium tonight averaging about 450 feet each and the Sox have a 7-1 lead going against the (Sk)anks. Mass. Ave. is bustling as usual, at least around the corner of Shepard St. where I’m heading out of Starbucks with a grandé to go, the proper choice of beverage tonight as it’s likely to assume that the Squawk doesn’t sell beer—and reeking of fumes will only raise eyebrows. The Lizard Lounge is in view across the street, but that’s not the venue tonight—it’s a little further south to the Harvard Epworth Methodist Church. I’ve driven past this place a thousand times and even had my doubts when going past it on the way home from work today—there was no mention of the Squawk outside, and having the medieval appearance that it does, seems like the last place to be doubling under the guise of coffeehouse. But later confirmation on the web seemed to re-indicate what I’d already known: 1555 Mass. Ave.—the old Methodist church with the round room and stately structure, makes tonight’s show all that more appealing in terms of acoustics served amongst “Olde English” charm (sans the 40 oz.). So, here I am approaching the doorway—the people on the sidewalk outside are not denizens of Cello Chix shows—they are instead waiting for the bus; this really is low key! Once inside, there is a group of about a dozen people sitting in scattered rows listening to a woman speak into a microphone; one sentence combines “Jesus” with “alcohol addiction” and it starts to make sense to me now… the local AA chapter is runnin’ a bit late and although I’d like to stay for more stories—I’ll walk the grounds outside to get some air (and yes, I assure you this is coffee I am holding—no more, no less). Besides, Nancy Delaney’s drum set is clearly set up in the background—it’s now a question of when and not where. I make for the exit and walking out of the foyer, I bump into Nancy—wouldn’tchaknow—who’s on the steps walking in. Astonished to see me at this gig—she states; regarding the other, more orthodox (read: “serves alcohol”) venues. “In terms of acoustics, I’m more than somewhat curious,” I tell her—and learn that she’d been killing time at Chez Henri, and aside from the reputed French cuisine, hadn’t been ordering from the soda fountain—if ya catch my drift.
10:00 pm: By this time, the slated “go” time. I am still not sure what to make of the Squawk; still confident of the Chix performance tonight, I fork over the suggested admission in terms of a “donation.” The same girl is at the microphone, but now she goes between singing like a nightingale and relating a story of personal contact, rapping about some relationship. It’s barely enough to hold my interest (I’m here for some Zep, baby!). After another five minutes, this is coming across as a paperback penned by Mariah Carey—and I don’t want to generate any loud Simon Cowell-like statements that may echo in the room. Besides, I’m paying more attention to the story Nancy is telling me about a past band (name has escaped me, probably for the better)—one of the former members called her this week to say that all their stuff was completely lifted, and plagiarized, from this other band—that existed years before them. Their primary singer/songwriter just took all of this band’s songs and passed them off as his own—now the guy is in therapy somewhere, confessing to the rube he is, and word has gotten out; Nancy apparently sat in on the ride, unaware. So, how do you respond to something like that? The frame of thought is somewhere south of Johnny Rotten addressing the crowd in San Francisco. “Cheated?” That was the whole front of the Sex Pistols—at least everyone knew it was a sham from the get-go. Whatever three-chords Steve Jones could get down, Glen and Paul would hammer into shape; it was their own stuff and however novice, just augmented their motif of “no-future’d”-fuck-ups. Pile on Sid and it was all hype-and-gob from there. Ahh, the illusion of it all—the American way on so many levels. Getting back to the story, I lamely summarize a reply: “You were just a front for this guy, duped the whole time—a façade… and you find out almost a decade later? Sounds like the guy’s got more issues than Sports Illustrated…” I’m biting my tongue not to make metaphors about cheating and past relationships, you know—sardonic, sarcastic reflections from personal experiences—when Becca (lead cellist) enters the hallway. Cool, not much longer to go until showtime, hopefully.
The crowd is sparse; if you go to the Squawk website—there is an image (likely a pastiche) of the regulars here—they make up about 90 percent of the attendance so far. But there will be more time for folks to arrive as there is one more performer to go before the Cello Chix—a man is holding an acoustic guitar, but instead of playing it, he taps the floor in rhythm to start an a capella number. “Gonna make a building/ a holy-ghost building…”—this is the chorus. It is has a bluesy quality, almost soulful, “Amazing Grace”-ish tone as this is a born-again number and our singer has eight couplets interspersed with the chorus, to which he invites the crowd to sing along. We are shy and tacet—especially in back—where, amongst the Cello Chix, we are trying not to rouse too much attention—these girls were sittin’ on “go” 10 minutes ago, Jack, what’s the hold-up? In between the couple of numbers that follow (which did involve playing the guitar), this man asks the crowd “Don’t you just hate it when your born-again friends won’t leave you alone?” And this is tantamount to dumping gasoline on the fire (we are rolling our eyes in back, chuckling to ourselves “oh yeah, all the time buddy—happened to me on the way over here tonight”). I’m sorry but we are out of place here—we are the strange this time. Neitzsche would be proud.
10:30 pm: The “stage” is now cleared and the Chix (Becca and Susanna) are setting up their cellos, amps, etc. Nancy, having prepared her mindset (and bloodstream) for 10:00 is perched behind the kit, still ready to go. This really amounts to a practice for them—something to keep the senses fresh, as the next gig is weeks off, sometime in May. There is a good anticipation lingering—the crowd is small and intimate—as with the room, which is circular and we are at one end facing Mass. Ave. The approaching headlights off the street flash in the stained glass windows like lightning would. The room emits elegance typical of Harvard; there is wainscoting, and a wooden balcony, which is closed off tonight. I’m in the second row and the first is empty in front of me. “Perfect!”I’m thinking as I’d missed the CD release (Underneath the Covers) on February 8—which was five days after the Super Bowl and I was still in a catatonic phase wondering how David Tyree catches that damn ball against his helmet. Don’t even get me going on this, friends… After the basic greeting, the band takes to “Light My Fire”—Susanna on bass cello, Becca on lead—Nancy flaring away to ignite the tempo. Common among the Chix style, they combine both melody-line and solos as if they were their own classical composition. Not unlike Rasputina, although personally, I’m not much of a Metallica head—so, it’s nice to be presented with some form of eclecticism and besides, I think the Chix are secretly Tull fans—but that’s just conjecture and not much to the point right now as Becca is tearing through a Ray Manzarek-styled A minor arpeggio. After applause and recognition by the crowd, we hear the first Jethro Tull song tonight, “Living In The Past.” The band has mastered the 5/4 feel and amongst the charm of the room you’d have thought Ian Anderson himself might prance out with his eyes wide to share some flute riffs with us. Cellos are traded off and Susanna displays her prowess taking the lead on REM’s “Underneath The Bunker.” Next, is the second and final Tull piece, “Bouree”—which sounds like a familiar Bach composition for classical guitar, in E minor. “Come Together,” announced as “a Beatles song,” reigns the crowd back in terms of cultural recognition. A strange effect happens with the instrumental nature—where on one side I hear people singing “hold you in his arm chair you can feel his disease” and on the other side someone sings “got to be good looking cause he’s so hard to see.” By this time, more people have shown up and the room is almost full—the three seats in front of me are now occupied. Continuing on the classic rock theme, we are treated to “The Ocean” and we quickly come to appreciate the Chix’ “Zepp-manship” on this number. Nancy is pounding like Bonham and the syncopation is tight amongst the different tempos. Cellos have gone back and forth a couple of more times and damned if I don’t remember for which particular songs—I guess you’ll just have to make it out to one of their shows and see for yourself! The set ends with “I Wish”—which took me a while to recognize as the bass has more dominance in their version, but the energy is quickly maximized as the Chix close with a Dick Dale song that is somewhere between “Miserlou” and “Diamond Head.” Classic surf motif. I don’t know if Mr. Dale ever imagined surf music arranged for cello—but the qualities to make the “rushing water sound,” as he described it, are physically present—you have the reverberations of the bow against the strings; and this has more natural vibrato than cranking your pick hand. Not to say that the Cello Chix can’t shred—and they don’t pass up the opportunity to finish with a crescendo that is greeted with applause equally as energetic. When told they have time for an encore, they address the crowd’s (read: mine!) request for “Sunshine of Your Love.” I’ve seem ’em do this several times before and know they can tear through this in their sleep, and they don’t disappoint. Becca has some nice leads and the inverted chords sound sharp; this shows once the Chix bring a song to their comfort level they are able to take the notes and add their own conclusions. As T Max describes in the review of Underneath the Covers, the musicianship is top notch—tonight we caught a nice glimpse of that effortlessness—really, what’s not to like? A night that started off with a doubtful curiosity ended as a 45-minute classicly-oriented-classic-rock-block delivered in the settings of Harvard’s Back Pages—you won’t get this at the Abbey, or PA’s, folks. After experiencing what was basically a private rehearsal from about 20 feet, let the word play continue… Chexellence and Chowmanship indeed! (H. Cheese)