Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sly and the Family Stone - the Essential Sly and the Family Stone

You would have to have been stranded on a desert island for the last 4 decades or so to not be familiar with this incredible, ground-breaking band. This multi-racial, multi-gender group merged rock, soul and r’n’b into a fantastic, danceable stew that forces you to groove along with them.

Sylvester Stewart was a San Francisco-area DJ and record producer who worked with hit bands such as the Beau Brummels before deciding to shake things up by putting together this assemblage. The first album, the aptly titled A Whole New Thing, was widely ignored, but this changed dramatically with the release of the 2nd record, Dance to the Music. The title song started a huge string of hits that rivals just about any other performer.

Sly’s classic albums have now been reissued with bonus tracks and excellent packaging, but I went the economical route and got this 2 CD compilation. Every album is well worth the price, but this is a super selection of his best tunes and is a perfect starting place for the novice or for those who simply want a CD to take with them while leaving their vinyl at home!

Check out Sly's official web site and My Space page

The Hellacopters - Goodnight Cleveland DVD

I resisted buying this DVD because I had heard that it wasn’t a live show, which is where these maniacs shine as the world’s best r’n’r band living today. But, I just found a copy at a discounted price and I’m just sorry that I didn’t get this earlier!

It’s true that this is not a document of a complete gig – though since there are many, many bootlegs floating around it is kinda surprising that they haven’t “officially” released anything – but it is still a great r’n’r film!

A film crew followed the Hellacopters on their 2002 tour of the States and we get to see what a reasonably upscale indie band tour is really like. The band had already scored a couple of gold records and a Grammy in Sweden, but that doesn’t matter much in America, where they still carried their own equipment and played in clubs. Big clubs, yes, but smaller events than they were used to back home.

This really isn’t “roughing it” compared to what most indie bands go through – they have a nice van, decent hotel rooms (instead of someone’s floor), food, per diems, etc. But it is fun to see the other side of their gigs – them doing laundry (and trying to understand American washing machines), sound checks, dealing with drunken fans, getting wasted, doing radio interviews, and on & on.

The tedium and the sameness of the cities comes through, but they obviously forget it all once they get on stage and blast it all away! The gig footage is limited in the main film but there are enough snippets to remind you why you love this band! Their final show of the tour has them jamming on a number of songs with the Gaza Strippers (who played some of the shows with them) and you can tell they are having the time of their lives!

These cats love r’n’r and they don’t mind showing it!

The bonus footage has tons more live stuff, including shows as early as their 2nd gig ever – which is just too damn good! There’s also lots more from the tour footage and it’s all fun and all rockin’!

Don’t get this expecting a gig DVD, but there is plenty of excellent live footage to keep you happy and lots of interesting behind-the-scenes moments.

Definitely pick this up if you want to know more about the r’n’r experience!

(But I do hope that they eventually put out some kind of performance DVD – a compilation of their videos and TV appearances would be fantastic and/or one of their phenomenal gigs in its entirety.)

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Black Hollies – Crimson Reflections (Ernest Jennings Record Co.)

As I’ve said in the past, modern garage bands are often disappointing as some purveyors now equate “garage” with “sloppy” and “I don’t have to learn how to play my instrument”. Sometimes this style works, but more often it just sounds like what it is.

Luckily, the Black Hollies believe in good songwriting, solid playing and an imagination to explore the boundaries of a genre. And they’re snappy dressers, too!

I got their record Crimson Reflections (I believe it is their debut) last year – thanks Lutz! – but for some reason it got pushed aside and I haven’t really listened to it much until now, which was a mistake!

Starting out sounding like they’re gonna do a twist on Link Wray, the band then kicks into high gear with the vocals on “No Need To Be Rude” and you get a blast of fuzz guitars mixed with white boy soul, ala the Small Faces or the Spencer Davis Group.

Herbert Joseph Wiley V has an excellent lead guitar tone and plays cool riffs with his SG that intertwines with the tune and becomes part of the song, not just a “solo”. The rest of the band – Jon Gonnelli on rhythm guitar, drummer Scott Thomas Bolasci and singer/bassist Justin Angelo Morey - lays down the grooves and turns on the energy!

This is chock-full of rockin’ tunes, so I’m not gonna run through the list, but just mention a couple. “You’ve Been Gone Too Long” is a wild 2 guitar riff rocker that’s gotta be explosive live! But, they’re also not afraid to play with dynamics and show that they can build tension when they need to as well as shout in your face! In “Eyes of Mermaide” they sound like a more psychedelic version of the Jeff Beck Group, which makes for an interesting and different ending to the record and shows that they dig a wide variety of 60’s sounds! Funnily enough, as the last song fades out, they stick in a snippet of the first tune so that you will want to start all over!

With nods to the Jam (“Get Yourself Together, Girl”) and an overall sound similar to early Mooney Suzuki, these Jersey City cats have what it takes to take over the current mod/garage scene! Their My Space page doesn’t list any current shows, but hopefully they’ll do some touring and give the rest of the country a taste of their tones!

Check out the Black Hollies My Space page here.

Frijid Pink

As I was going through my records and pulled out the Frost album, the Frijid Pink’s first record was right next to it, so I grabbed that one, as well! Somewhat ironic as FP is another Detroit area, guitar-heavy, late-60’s band that had some success, but again, never quite broke past one hit single.

This opens with “God Gave Me You”, which is a catchy tune that feels pretty late-60’s in style, but while it’s a little laid back, still has some nice guitar playing by Gary Ray Thompson and a memorable chorus.

“Crying Shame” is a lot more representative of this band and this area – very heavy, distorted (re: excellent sounding!) guitars drench this tune, but singer Kelly Green still cuts through with his melodies.

This is followed by a pretty pedestrian blues-boogie, “I’m On My Way” and “Drivin’ Blues” is a little more successful due to Thompson’s playing, though again, it is a pretty basic tune.

They head into almost Blue Cheer territory with “Tell Me Why” and “End of the Line”, with drummer Richard Stevers pounding away behind some psychotic guitar noise!

Their hit was a heavy-metal interpretation of “House of the Rising Sun”, which actually made it into the Top Twenty and the single sold over a million copies! Kinda crazy even for the time, as this song – supposedly recorded off the cuff only because they had some extra studio time – is truly drowning in distortion! I love this due to this fact and it is a great bookend to the Frost’s version of “We Got To Get Out Of This Place”.

Again, not a perfect album, but another worthwhile addition to anyone’s late-60’s Detroit collection!

For more info, check out Wikipedia's listing for Frijid Pink.
There are also cool articles on FP and the Detroit scene by someone who was there - located here and here.

You Tube also has a couple of videos by the Frijid Pink:
Sing a Song For Freedom and House of the Rising Sun

(despite the official story in the article linked above, does anyone think that their name actually refers to a cold woman?)

The Frost - Rock and Roll Music

I’m always looking for something different to listen to and lately I’ve been getting back into the late 60’s/early 70’s sounds of my youth. I still love big, loud guitars and this era was a great time for those! PA’s and amplifiers were improving and musicians wanted to make the biggest statement possible – and Detroit was one of the centers of the biggest sounds of the country!

Quite a lot of the Detroit bands of this time became hugely popular – either at the time or in retrospect – such as Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Grand Funk Railroad, the MC5, the Stooges and many, many more. Some bands didn’t quite hit as big, but have still left a legacy and the Frost is one of those.

Led by guitarist Dick Wagner, who later became a legendary studio musician in the 70’s (often partnering with Steve Hunter), playing with such superstars as Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith and plenty more, the Frost was a popular local band who put out several records, but never quite hit on a major level.

I’ve had this record, their second album, since I was a teenager (thanks, Kenne!), who was then just learning about the Detroit scene and the wild guitarists coming from that area. It’s not a masterpiece and I don’t pull it out all the time, but it is a good, rockin' record.

Opening with their sing-a-long anthem “Rock and Roll Music”, they set the tone for the record – fairly simple r’n’r played by real musicians. These cats aren’t nearly as psycho as some of the previously mentioned acts (as their very quiet acoustic ballad, “Linda” attests to), but they are a fine rock band.

“Help Me Baby” is a high-energy blues rocker that really shows off Dick’s terrific guitar playing in a live setting at the Grande Ballroom (the MC5’s home-away-from-home, where they recorded their Kick Out The Jams album).

For me, the highlight of the record is their extended take on the Animals, “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place”. This is a live extravaganza, also recorded at the Grande, with the rhythm section pounding through the instantly recognizable riff, while Wagner and second guitarist Don Hartman duel it out. There is an obligatory drum solo, which is one of the late 60’s traditions that thankfully has faded away, but Bob Rigg keeps the energy going and keeps it reasonably interesting and engages and includes the crowd. The full band blasts back in with a wall of sound before finally bringing it back down to the riff and starting the vocals! They tear through the rest of the song with a mania that is palpable! This is a monster and shows off the group at its finest. Amazing stuff!

I’m not familiar with their other albums (but I’m going to be looking for them after listening to this again!), but this is definitely recommended to anyone who digs late 60’s guitar rock!

Check out Wikipedia's listing for the Frost and Dick Wagner and Dick has his own site here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Love Me Nots - Double Down Saloon, Las Vegas, July 21, 2007

I saw these cats and kittens last fall in LA and had to get their CD shortly afterwards. After raving about how good they were live and playing the record repeatedly, my wife couldn’t wait for a chance to experience them as well. Since few smaller touring bands make Las Vegas a stop, we weren’t sure if we ever would see them again, but then we saw that they were booked for this Ruckusfest, put on by local band, the Vermin.

The Double Down has often been described as the Al’s Bar of Las Vegas, since it is the dive-iest of local dive bars and is hot, sweaty, ultra-smoky and has a fairly mediocre PA system. It can be a fun place to see a live band, but you can’t really see or hear a band at its best here.

In typical Vegas tradition, no one had any idea when any of the bands were going on, and after running around during the day, we knew that we couldn’t handle spending the entire night here. So we took a stab at it and aimed for arriving around midnight. Parking around the Saloon is not the easiest and after encountering a meth-head who was emphatic that our windows would get broken if we didn’t give him $5, we magically found a space in the Double Down’s parking lot! This is pretty unheard of, and our car was not damaged by the end of the night, so we were thrilled!

We arrived just in time for the last 2 songs from the Wooly Bandits (not to be confused with the 80’s garage band, the Wooly Mammoths!), another multi-gender, stylish garage combo. What we heard sounded great and I’m sorry we didn’t see more of them, but they will be returning with the LMN’s over Labor Day weekend, so we’ll be sure to catch them then.

The Love Me Nots went on to a packed crowd who rocked with them right from the beginning! The sound here was not very good this night, but the band roared and writhed and danced and slammed their way through most, if not all, of their super CD, “In Black and White”, as well as a few newer numbers. I found out that the first time I saw them was only their 3rd or 4th show – and that was better that 98% of any band gigs that I have seen in recent years – and now that they have had almost a year more to play, they seem even wilder on stage. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – drummer Jay is a monster, Christina and Michael practically throw their instruments around while wrestling riffs outta them and Nicole mangles her Farfisa, wrestles it to the ground, plays it backwards and still manages to dance and thrash around while singing, crooning and seducing! Absolutely an amazing live band with great tunes and an incredible style – the guys still wore their suits in the 100+ degree weather and the girls looked sharp and fashionable to the extreme in their (non-matching, for a change!) mini-dresses and boots.

The crowd loved them, but for some reason, Vegas audiences seem even more reluctant to give bands encores than LA audiences, which is mind-boggling! But they definitely won over this diverse group of druggies, punks, garage-rockers and barflys!

The press seems be flipping over the Love Me Nots and they are knockin’ ‘em dead everywhere they play so expect big things from this band. See ‘em while they’re still playing clubs!

Check out the Love Me Nots My Space page here

See the Double Down Saloon's website here

Friday, July 20, 2007

one of the strangest headlines I have seen

Do fish suffer from exposure to Uriah Heep?
Doesn't everyone?

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Golden Gods / The Fixers - the Dive Bar, Las Vegas July 14, 2007

The Dive Bar is fast becoming our favorite local place to see music, especially since the Celebrity Theater no longer seems to be booking live music. This truly is a dive bar - which is not a detriment in our eyes! - but is has a surprisingly good sound system, good drink prices, plenty of parking, a/c that works, and nice employees. They’ve been on a roll booking good bands, so we’re hoping that they keep it up!

Unfortunately, one problem in Vegas is finding out band orders and set times, so when we arrived, we discovered that we had yet again missed local faves, the Black Jets. We did see Suckerstar, and all-female combo which featured members of the Blair Bitch Project and a kick-ass lead guitarist who even used a voice-box on her guitar! After them was the Neon Nights, who were all great players, but no real songs and whose singer screamed throughout the set instead of singing anything. Just not my style.

Then it was time for the Golden Gods! I picked up their CD on a whim and loved it and was disappointed to find out that they had already broken up by the time I bought it. So, I was thrilled to find out that they were playing Las Vegas, of all places, for a couple of reunion shows (they played on Friday night, as well, but I couldn’t get out both nights). Their hair was all much shorter than on the record and they had some technical problems right at the start of the set, but they dressed like they raided my closet circa 1975 or so and they still rocked like wildmen!

Simon Scott has one of the best r’n’r voices I have heard in years and he can play terrific licks on his SG while wailing away! A super frontman! “Dynamite” Dan Trilk refused to wear his trademark fur coat since it was probably still over 100 degrees out when they went on, but he made up for it with his excellent bass playing, backup vocals and mutton chops and mustache! Drummer Richard Shelton Davis was sporting a bleach blond buzz cut instead of his flowing brown locks, yet his bashed the hell out of his drums and cowbell and added more great backing vocals.

These cats played most, if not all of “The Thorny Crown of R’n’R” (sorry – I was too busy drinkin’ and rockin’ to take notes!) and put on a fabulous show! Hopefully, they will all continue to do some musical project cuz there’s a helluva lotta talent in these 3 gents. (and they all seemed like nice guys, too!)

I didn’t know how anyone would follow the Gods, but Humble Pie tribute band, the Fixers managed to do so by being a wild party band! Made up of members of the Supersuckers, Fastbacks, and Presidents of the United States (among others), these characters actually had the licks needed to cover HP. No one could belt ‘em out quite like Steve Marriot (but who could?), but they certainly could rock!

They did the “hits” – “30 Days in the Hole”, “Four Day Creep”, “The Fixer” (of course!) and “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, as well as many more and even threw in a Mountain song (“Never In My Life”) just cuz!

Obviously, the Fixers are pals of the GG’s, as most of the Fixers’ set had members of the Gods on stage with them! The night turned into a massive party fueled by alcohol and great r’n’r! It reminded me of some of the wilder nights at LA’s Al’s Bar, which is high praise indeed!

The Gods may be gone, but it is apparent that you can never tell where or when they will resurrect themselves! (Actually, they announced that they will be playing in San Francisco this coming friday!) In the meantime, if you want to have a r’n’r party, go see the Fixers!

Check out the Fixers My Space page here and the Golden Gods My Space page here and the Dive Bar My Space page here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Andre Williams / The Flash Express – Beauty Bar, Las Vegas 7-1-07

A Sunday night gig in Las Vegas is a tough one for us – especially when a show runs in Las Vegas time!

We left our house around 11:00pm, made a stop along the way, and by the time we got across town to the Beauty Bar, we found out that only one of the four bands had gone on and we waited probably another ½ hour before the second band played. I’m not sure what the logic behind this practice of incredibly late shows is, but everyone that we talked to – audience and band members – complained about this. Though everyone that we know is older, so that might have something to do with it! On the other hand, a good portion of the audience left long before the headliner went on, which seems self-defeating for the club.

In any case, we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived and found Jimmy James (ex-Hangmen, Eagle, Comatones) in the crowd and found out that he has reunited with fellow-ex-Comatone guitarist Brian Waters in the mighty Flash Express!

It’s been several years now since we’ve seen the Express, but they are still as powerful as ever and the addition of Jimmy on second guitar adds another dimension! I can never argue with 2 super lead guitarists!

Drummer Lance Porter is a monster driver and a blast to watch! Brian is still a wildman leading the band with shouts, leaps and dance moves! They blast through a set of rock’n’soul, with hints of James Chance, Billy Childish, high-energy blues and the MC5, though, unlike many current bands referencing these influences, these cats are all amazing players.

The set consisted of a number of songs from their CD, “Introducing the Dynamite Sound of the Flash Express”, like “Ride the Flash Express” and “Who Stole the Soul”. If you haven’t seen this combo on any of their many tours, check ‘em out the next time they’re nearby! You won’t be sorry!
Andre Williams is another wildman who has been making records since the 1950’s and is showing no sign of stopping! His great early tunes like “Bacon Fat” and “Greasy Chicken” were revived by the Cramps and he now tours the world with young r’n’r bands backing him up – as the Flash Express did this night. His voice is a little rough these days but he still puts on a dynamic show and looks amazing while doing it! He is still sex-obsessed and will flirt with every lady in the house, but does it with class and style. He seemed willing and happy to talk with any fan that came up to him, as well.

He is slowing down now – and at 70, I can’t blame him as he is doing more than I can these days! I don’t expect him to keep doing this for long, so see this legend while you can! You won’t be sorry!
Check out the Flash Express's My Space page here and Andre Williams' page here.
(Photo by Melanie Coffee)