Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What A Weekend! (Part 2 - Rock 'n' Roll Girls On A Saturday Night)

(This is the second of a three-part post. Part one can be read here.)

As fantastic as Friday night's show at The Trocadero in Philly was, the weekend actually picked up steam on Saturday night. My brother and I headed to West Chester, PA, to see The Donnas with Gorevette opening (there was one other band...I'll get to them in a moment). This was the third time The Donnas came within shouting distance of Lancaster, PA in the last two and a half years, and both of the previous times they were here, plans to go see them fell through. I decided I wasn't missing them a third time. Boy am I glad I didn't!

The venue in West Chester was called The Note. It was the first time I had been there - indeed the first time I or any of my friends had ever even heard of it. Of the three places we went this weekend it was the smallest, yet this was the show that had the largest crowd. I estimated there to be about 300 - 325 people there, crammed like sardines into the long, narrow building. When you first walk in, the bar is to your right; to your left is the wall. You've got about a two-person width from that wall to the back of the bar stools (provided the two people considered are very close friends). At the far end of the bar the place widens slightly, and about four steps lead you down to the floor in front of the stage. To the left is the only access I saw to an upstairs area that I never saw. When a band is playing and the floor is packed, going up and down the stairway appears to be no easy task.

Despite the sardine-can accommodations, The Note is not an entirely uncomfortable place, and unlike many places where I have seen shows in my time, it is not in the kind of neighborhood where you take your chances getting to and from your car. We had a good chuckle at the establishment directly across the street, though: it was a barber shop in the kind of storefront that has two full-length window boxes on either side of the door, and both windows were crammed full of KISS memorabilia. Posters, LP jackets, t-shirts, mannequin heads made up like KISS - anything you could think of! So, if you're looking for the Gene Simmons haircut, I know a place...

The KISS barber shop across the street

I mentioned in Part One that first bands are often throwaway acts. The band that first took the stage at The Note Saturday night certainly followed that rule of thumb. The less said about Fatal Flaw, the better, but I feel I should try to describe how bad they were. Picture four guys who looked like they would have been far more at home at a frat party in 1992 than a Donnas show in 2010, playing light-alternative music that makes Toad The Wet Sprocket sound heavy in comparison, and you'd be picturing something better than Fatal Flaw. We couldn't figure out how they got on the bill with The Donnas; in school, The Donnas would have beaten these guys up and stolen their lunch money. They broke out every cliched rock-n-roll move you can name, from rocking the guitars back and forth in unison to the drummer twirling his sticks. My brother summed them up perfectly when he said, "These guys would get booed out of a prom!" The most positive thing I can say about Fatal Flaw is that they eventually stopped playing and left the stage.

From there, though, the evening skyrocketed! Gorevette was up next. I arrived in West Chester not knowing who Gorevette was. I will forever kick myself for not looking them up online before leaving for the show! Gorevette, it turns out, is a collaboration between Amy Gore of The Gore Gore Girls and the legendary Nikki Corvette of the classic Detroit-based bubblegum-punk band Nikki & The Corvettes. Had I realized that, I'd have shown up with a fistful of Nikki & The Corvettes records to be signed!

Amy Gore and Nikki Corvette of Gorevette

Gorevette was awesome. With Lianna Castillo on bass and Al King on drums, Amy Gore and Nikki Corvette ratcheted up the fun and energy in the club exponentially. Gore is an exceedingly talented guitarist, and Nikki Corvette bopped around the stage with her Raggedy-Ann-red hair flying, tearing through a set that included originals as well as covers of classic punk tunes like The Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get?" and The Saints' "Wild About You." Nikki also had the line of the weekend, when she told the crowd that Gorevette's CD would be available for purchase at the merchandise table, and "we'll sign it, we'll hang out, we'll drink, whatever!" What more can you ask for?

While we waited for The Donnas, I happened to overhear a conversation among the three folks directly in front of me. It seemed to be a couple and their friend. The girl asked the friend about the upstairs, and he told her that there was a bar up there, and that there was a rumor circulating that Johnny Knoxville was up there to see the show. Her eyes widened as she turned to her boyfriend and said, "I've got to get up there! Johnny Knoxville might be up there!" As she determinedly began pushing her way toward the stairway, the boyfriend deadpanned, "Oh good. Maybe if you ask him he'll stick something up his ass." OK, so maybe Nikki Corvette didn't have the line of the weekend.

The Donnas did not disappoint. For just over an hour they burned through their set. They stuck mostly to their more recent material, and that combination of punk/metal/hard rock was the perfect tonic for the crowd. Frontwoman Brett Anderson has become quite the performer over the band's sixteen year (!) history, and she worked the crowd to a fever pitch all night. At times she verged awfully close to the paint-by-numbers rock 'n' roll script (mention the town you're playing in after every other song, tell the crowd that tonight is by far the best show of the tour, do the "I wanna hear you make some noise!" routine, etc.), but there was enough of a knowing smirk behind it that you can't fault her for playing the game. And boy did the crowd respond! We all wished they would have gone longer, but this was the last night of four-stop East Coast mini-tour, and they had a 5:00 AM plane to catch.

The Donnas

Still, they came out for their encore, and this was when the "rock 'n' roll" act was completely dropped and The Donnas reverted before our eyes to the Palo Alto high school teens who decided to form a band based around their love of The Ramones and and Motley Crue. After revving the crowd up for their slightly rewritten cover of KISS's "Strutter" (hmmm...did they see the barber shop across the street?), they got through about four bars of the song when guitarist Allison Robertson's amp went silent. It was endearing to see the tough-chick swagger fall away a bit as they determined what happened. The roadie diagnosed a failed cable, hooked Allison up again, and the swagger was back in full force. Once again they launched into "Strutter," and once again, the amp went silent just as they reached the middle of the first verse. Allison could only drop her head in disbelief.

Now the swagger was completely gone, and The Donnas were suddenly four somewhat nervous girls grasping for a way to fill the time while the roadie fixed the guitar. Bassist Maya Ford told jokes, Bret Anderson giggled nervously, drummer Amy Cesari (filling in on this tour for regular drummer Torry Castellano) kept a beat going for the crowd to clap along with. They almost apologetically took their third stab at "Strutter" and this time made it all the way through. Feeling confident, it was time for one last song. They closed with "Take It Off," or at least tried to. Once again, the guitar failed! Determined to finish their set, they soldiered on with a back-up guitar, and tore the house down to close the night. It was a great, great show, technical difficulties notwithstanding.

After The Donnas were done, we made our way back to the merchandise table, where Amy Gore and Nikki Corvette were taking the time to chat with fans. I told Nikki that I wished I had brought my records for her to sign; she promised she would sign them the next time they came through the area. I picked up the Gorevette disc and a solo Nikki Corvette CD, and both Amy and Nikki were happy to sign. Got a laugh out of Amy Gore when she asked if I had put my email address on their mailing list at the table. I said I had, and then signed my name next to it, telling her, "There! Now you have my autograph, too!" They were both very friendly and great to talk with, and for as fantastic as both their set and The Donnas' set were, getting to meet Nikki Corvette and Amy Gore was the high point of the night.

Getting to meet Nikki Corvette

An hour's drive back home and another night's rest...and there was still more music ahead before the weekend would be over! Part Three will be posted tomorrow, so stay tuned...

(Visit That's What I Was Going To Say's Facebook fan page to see more pics from Saturday night's Donnas/Gorevette show. I've opted not to post the video I took Saturday night because the sound was even worse than Friday's video. If you'd like me to post it anyway, leave a comment either here or on the fan page.)

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Recommended Reading: Look Back in Anger

One of my favorite early '80s New Wave acts was the duo of Pal Shazar and Andrew Chinich, Slow Children. Their two albums have remained in mid-to-heavy rotation on the turntable around these parts since my high school years, and when I first began the New Wave for the New Week series over a year ago, Slow Children were among the bands that inspired the concept. They were the 9th entry in the NW4NW series.

While researching links for that blog post, I found Pal Shazar's current website, and through it I was introduced to the wonderousness of Shazar's post-Slow Children creative world. I had not heard her solo music before; now I wanted to find every release (still searching on some!) In addition to music, she has found expression through the written word (Penthouse Magazine published excerpts from her novel, Janitor) and through her paintings and illustrations. On top of it all, I discovered Pal has her own blog, Look Back in Anger. It has become a regular read for me.

Look Back in Anger
focuses on the imagery surrounding great films, and is as much, if not more, a visual blog as a written one. In each post, which often come in spurts of three or four in a day, Pal shares a photograph or maybe two or three and a brief comment. Each presentation pulls you right in and puts you in the picture, in the movie, or in the era. The level of feeling she is able to evoke with a few images and often a relatively stark economy of words is astounding. Shazar's blog is nostalgic without being maudlin. She does not mourn the loss of classic cinema and its icons; rather, she celebrates the fact that the medium in which they shared their talents with the world is one which allows us to continue to enjoy them today, and will afford future generations the same pleasure. She is both curator of history and siren calling you to step through a portal to another time and place, where the greats of the silver screen never age, never fade out, and never fail to entertain.

To say that I was happily surprised and honored when Pal Shazar responded to my request to be a part of this series would be putting it mildly. That is, I suppose, one of the more surreal aspects of the Internet: here is someone whose work I have admired and whose records I bought and loved for years, and here we are communicating not as fan and musician, but as fellow bloggers. Allow me to share Pal's responses to the Five Questions I've asked each blogger (please note that, as seen in her blog, her preferred writing style is reminiscent of e.e. cummings - no capital letters. I have kept that style in presenting her words here):

What or who inspired you to begin blogging?
PS: a friend who has a boutique (kaight shop nyc) told me that she lamented having to rely on others to update her website. she was unable to do it herself but she found that having a blog was much simpler. so, she created one on blogger and showed me how to do it. the very next day i created my film blog. i knew that my passion for films would be a lovely gift for others as interested as myself. plus, i am very visually oriented and there are just countless beautiful stills to share.

some of my least favorites experiences involved standing in a film rental place and looking at all the titles with my head swimming. if my knowledge of great cinema can spare one individual those moments of anxiety i will have made a useful offering.

as i like to write as well as paint, having a blog is a really fun way to be creative without investing that time with any ambitious thoughts! it is simply a gift for anyone who may stumble upon it. believe it or not, there are some people who have yet to see 'camille' or 'love with the proper stranger.'

Is there a story or meaning behind your blog or its name?
PS: the greatest (favorite) performance i have seen on film is richard burton's role as 'jimmy' in 'look back in anger.' what the british term 'kitchen sink drama' is exactly the style of film i adore. these films were made in the 1960's depicting individuals with great passion living in fairly grim circumstances. some of the terrific actors associated with these movies are: alan bates (a kind of loving) richard burton (look back in anger) and tom courtenay (the loneliness of the long distance runner). john schlesinger, joseph losey, and tony richardson are some of the directors who brought these tales to life in their exceptional black and white films.

Which post would you choose from your archives if you had to provide only one that best represents what your blog is all about?
PS: rain/tears: powerful concoction, my blog's namesake

When you first log on to your computer each day, what is the first site you go to? Why?
PS: i like to check into one or two culturally driven information sites and see what's up with the world.i also love to peek in on fashion.

What one other blog would YOU recommend that you read regularly, and why?
PS: there is a guy named tom sutpen who has a blog called 'if charlie parker was a gunslinger, there'd be a whole lot of dead copycats.' if you google his name you can easily find it. he is a culture lover and always posts great images. it is very inspiring to see faces and places that are gone but not forgotten. i am regularly amazed by how many people in their twenties are so passionate about early cinema. of course we all love james dean, but so many people are praising the talent and personality of people such as carole lombard. indeed she was one of the most incredible comedians. it was a blogger in her twenties who brought to my attention the great actor lon chaney.

I hope you will take the time to visit Look Back in Anger and spend some time there. Seldom in today's jaded world do we get the chance to be swept away such as those classic movies could offer. Escape a bit into that world, and you just may find yourself going back to visit again and again.

My most sincere thanks to Pal Shazar for her willingness to be a part of this series and for taking the time to share her thoughts with us!

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5 Opening Day Milestones

The Major League Baseball logo.Image via Wikipedia

With only 5 days remaining in our countdown to Opening Day of the 2010 Major League Baseball season, let's review 5 of the most important milestones achieved on Opening Days past:

1. Opening Day, 1907
Roger Bresnahan, catcher for the New York Giants, takes the field wearing shin guards such as those worn in the British game of Cricket. It is believed that Bresnahan on this day became the first catcher in MLB history to wear such protective equipment. In short order, the rest of the catchers in the league would (probably gratefully!) follow suit.

2. Opening Day, 1910
In Washington, DC, the Washington Senators begin their season at home. President William Howard Taft tosses out a ceremonial first pitch, making him the first President to do so.

3. Opening Day, 1940
One of my favorite baseball trivia questions is, there has been exactly one game in MLB history where an entire team's roster finished the day with the exact same batting averages they had coming into the game - how did it happen? Answer: Bob Feller, on this day, took the mound for the Cleveland Indians and threw the only Opening Day No-Hitter in MLB history. The Chicago White Sox players all began the game with batting averages of .000; when they left the field hitless, those averages were still .000!

4. Opening Day, 1947
Jackie Robinson takes the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Major League Baseball's sixty-plus-year-old color barrier is broken.

5. Opening Day, 1974
Hank Aaron connects for his 714th career homerun, tying Babe Ruth's lifetime total. Four days later, Aaron would pass the Babe, and then go on to finish his career with 755 - a record that would stand until Barry Bonds passed Aaron in a cloud of controversy. Bonds may have the higher total in the record books, but for my generation, Aaron will always be baseball's Home Run King.

Please feel free to share some of your favorite Opening Day moments in the comments below!

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