Friday, July 29, 2011

Oppressive Heat, They Might Be Giants, and That Guy

When I heard that They Might Giants were kicking off their tour in support of their fantastic new album Join Us right here in Lancaster, PA, at The Chameleon, it was simply a given that I would be there.  This was the third time I've seen the two Johns. First time was in 1986 in Richmond, VA, at a nifty little club called Rockitz; second time was here at The Chameleon in 1996, so I was five years overdue this time around.

Here in the Northeast we've been having an ungodly heatwave, coupled with oppressive humidity which combine to make it feel like we're breaking three digits on the thermometer daily; yesterday was no different.  This made waiting for the doors to open - normally an enjoyable process where you get to meet some folks in line, maybe see old friends who haven't been in town since the last show, etc. - a chore to be despised.  The Chameleon's entrance leads into a small cattle-chute area where, depending on whether you already have your ticket or not, you are herded through mazes to either the ticket booth/will-call window or the main door.  This area fills up fast, and then the lines trail out the door and down the block.  Fairly typical club stuff.

On this night, however, the heat and humidity and crowd of people sent the temperature in the cattle-chute area soaring.  We were all quickly drenched with sweat and the place developed a mild high school gym locker room aroma.  Not too worry, though - it was about 5:45 and doors were announced as opening at 6:00.  Right....

6:00 came and people were still piling in. people began grumbling.  At 6:20 someone pounded on the club door, which opened just a crack.  When someone yelled "When are you letting us in?!?" the meek reply was only, "Soon," as the door slammed shut again.  They finally let us in just before 6:30, and it was good that they did. Had they waited much longer, they may have seriously had a riot on their hands - people were NOT happy.

Thankfully, the club was air conditioned, and at first felt about 20 degrees cooler.  A couple cold beers helped as well, and the space in front of the stage began to fill.  Before long, the body heat from the growing crowd overtook the A/C, and once again The Chameleon lived up to and beyond the nickname friends and I had given it years ago: The Sweatbox.

All was made right again, however, when TMBG hit the stage and launched into "Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head," which not only is one of their classics, but also turned out to be a bit of foreshadowing, as we were actually treated to a puppet show by John & John in the guise of The Avatars of They, two goofy green sock puppets who "covered" TMBG's "Spoiler Alert" (from the new album).

Their set was fantastic, and was a well-balanced diet of material from the new album (including their first-time performance of "When Will You Die?") and fan favorites spanning their 25+ year career ("Doctor Worm," "We're The Replacements," "Birdhouse In Your Soul," etc.)  Flansburgh and Linnell were hilarious as usual in their between-song patter, in turns complaining about the "oppressive lack of oxygen" in the club, musing about appearing on the Jimmy Fallon show with Fran Liebowitz, and wondering aloud whether the crowd would just be randomly screaming at anything they said.  The band sounded great, with only a few missteps here and there (but again, it was the first show of the tour - cut them some slack!).  Marty Beller on drums, who John Flansburgh repeatedly introduced early on, was excellent; Danny Weinkauf and Dan Miller alternated various instruments as did Linnell and Flansburgh, with everyone taking their turn at keyboards ("We're sort of like Genesis - everyone plays keyboards," noted John Linnell).

It seems that every show you go to has a character I have come to refer to as "That Guy."  That Guy is usually there by himself, or maybe one friend.  That Guy is also exponentially drunker than anyone else in the club, but he is not an innocuous drunk.  No, That Guy is an asshole, yet usually oblivious to the fact that he is ruining other people's good times.  Last night, That Guy showed up about two-thirds of the way through the show.  I felt someone bump into me heavily, turned and saw a ratty looking guy with grungy hair, bad tattoos, and a marked inability to stand up straight.  He positioned himself just behind me, and proceeded to randomly yell out song lyrics, curse words, and assorted "yeahs" and "rock ons."  Carrying his beer bottle like a torch and swaying like a madman, he yelled at the band (who mockingly dismissed him) and knocked into anyone around him.  As is usually the case with That Guy, it was only a matter of time before he made his big move.

It came the moment TMBG finished their main set and left the stage.  Suddenly, That Guy threw himself bodily toward the stage, bowling over two young women and yanking a live microphone down on top of himself and others.  Immediately, he was swarmed by people nearest him while others yelled for club security.  Despite having three or four people now holding him, he lunged at the stage again, appearing to try to pull the keyboards down as well.  By now, a very large bouncer was making his way toward the action.  Not to be deterred, That Guy made a final push and grabbed his prize: the set list that John Linnell had been using which was on the keyboard.  In that same moment, the bouncer cinched him into a half-nelson and dragged him out of the crowd to a round of applause.  A moment later, the bouncer returned, and was greeted with more applause, which he shrugged off with a "just doing my job" look on his face.  The applause grew louder when a roadie walked on stage and, with a triumphant flourish, produced the retrieved set list and taped it back onto the keyboard.

The band did three encores, including an outstanding run-through of "Istanbul Not Constantinople," and even noted that That Guy was going to "have one hell of a night ahead of him.  We may not be in New York, but we're from New York," Flansburgh smiled.

All in all, a fantastic show.  Check out our Facebook page later today to see more pics from the show. Head over to via the link below and pick up the new album. If you get a chance to see them on this tour, go - you'll be glad you did.  And let me know if you run into That Guy.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #130

This coming Sunday night/Monday morning at midnight will mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of MTV.  Over the course of three decades, MTV went from a cable television novelty playing music videos 24 hours a day (in stereo! - remember when they would simulcast on cable FM radio?  Hell, do you remember cable FM radio??) to a pop-culture powerhouse that reshaped the music industry to a sad back-of-the-dial reality-show wasteland bearing little if any resemblance to its original intent, and making the "M" ("Music" in "Music Television") utterly meaningless.

In 1981, though, it was a different world.  The very concept of a music video was often scoffed at, and the technology and production values were embryonic at best.  Additionally, MTV did not have a huge warehouse of clips to show when they started out.  Their early playlists, as a result, were a fascinating mish-mash of the well known and the unknown, as a review of the videos shown on MTV's first broadcast day shows. There was The Who, Styx, and Rod Stewart; but there was also Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, Ph.D., and one still unheralded band whose sole contribution to the music video world remains a personal favorite.  Scan down the list to the 40th video played that first day, and there, tucked between REO Speedwagon and Juice Newton, you'll find Pittsburgh, PA's The Silencers.

The Silencers were wholly a product of the era, from their skinny ties and sharkskin jackets to their wrap-around slit sunglasses to their farfisa-driven power-pop with just enough wackiness to keep them out of mundane bar-band territory.  They began playing live in and around their native Pittsburgh in 1978/79, and were good enough to land a record deal with CBS.  Their debut LP, Rock And Roll Enforcers, was issued through the subsidiary Precision label, and the band made a video clip to promote the album.

Their clip differed from most in that they did not make a video for a specific song.  Instead, their clip was a mini-movie clocking in at almost six minutes, featuring a collage of abbreviated edits of three key tracks: "The Peter Gunn Theme," "Remote Control" and "Illlegal."  Their original purpose in creating the clip was to pitch CBS about turning the entire album into a movie, but CBS dismissed that idea and began sending the existing clip out to any outlet that would play it.

The video stayed in MTV's regular rotation for the balance of 1981 before fading away. The album sold well in and around Pittsburgh, with singles like "Shiver And Shake" and the stunning "Head On Collision" seeing local airplay.  A second album, Romanic, followed soon after.  While both records showed a solidly talented band, there just wasn't enough there to make them stand out on a national or international stage.  Rock And Roll Enforcers is the one to get if you must make a choice between the two; it is more consistent and somewhat easier to track down.

In honor of MTV's upcoming anniversary, here in it's entirety is the three-song clip from The Silencers, including their straightforward take on "The Peter Gunn Theme," the clip-clopping "Remote Control," and the simply fantastic "Illegal," which is one of those songs that I'll never understand why no one has yet covered.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #129

It is temptingly easy to write off The Rezillos as simply "the UK's B-52's."  Certainly the similarities are obvious:  fun, kitschy party music; sixties-inspired yet futuristic neon costumes and hair-dos; male/female call-and-response vocals - that they were cut from similar cloth is clear.  But The Rezillos (along with their equivalently-named succesors The Revillos) occupied their own space on the music continuum, saw much greater immediate chart success at home than their American counterparts, and unfortunately disintegrated relatively quickly.

Formed in 1976 by a wonderfully-named contingent of Edinbugh art students (Eugene Reynolds, Fay Fife, Jo Callis,William Mysterious, Angel Patterson, Hi-Fi Harris, Dr. D.K. Smythe, and Gale Warning), The Rezillos set about creating a visual and sonic attack with strong ties to both the early-70s Glam scene and the late-60's girl-group sound.  Though they quickly aligned with the growing Punk movement, their happy outlook and cartoonish presence never quite seemed to fit that categorization.

After making their name on the club circuit, The Rezillos self-released their first single in 1977. "I Can't Stand My Baby" caught the ears of the folks at Sire Records, and after undergoing a minor change in lineup the band was signed and rushed into the studio to record their debut album.  Can't Stand The Rezillos, released in 1978, is one of the most wonderful artifacts of its era.  The lead single, "Top Of The Pops," was a Top 20 hit in the UK; the album itself also reached the Top 20. Zany originals like "(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures" and "Flying Saucer Attack" sit alongside well-chosen covers both known ("Glad All Over") and obscure ("I Like It"), and there ain't a clinker in the pile.  It may surprise more than a few to learn that one of The Rezillos' best-loved tracks from the album, "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight," was not an original, but in fact a cover of an obscure 1969 b-side from - of all bands - Fleetwood Mac (!) goofing as the imaginary Earl Vince and the Valiants.

At the end of 1978, The Rezillos - after yet another change in personnel - issued a non-LP single, "Destination Venus," which charted just under the Top 40.  Internal pressures in the band were too much, however, and The Rezillos blew apart, leaving behind a live LP, Mission Accomplished But The Beat Goes On, which basically recapitulates the album with a few surprises thrown in ("Thunderbirds Are Go!" is worth the price of admission alone; a cover of Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" is both expected and enjoyable).  Both albums and both sides of the "Destination Venus" single, sans one cut from the live LP, are collected on the essential Can't Stand The Rezillos: The (Almost) Complete Rezillos CD.  If you do not own it, you need to.

In 1980, Reynolds, Fife and Harris were back with a new crew and ready to pick up where they left off.  Legal wranglings made it impossible to continue to use the name Rezillos, so they changed a letter and became The Revillos.  The first LP under the new name, Rev Up!, proved that they hadn't lost a step.  The title track, "Scuba Boy Bop," and "Voodoo" all could have fit well on Can't Stand The Rezillos; the concurrent non-album single "Where's The Boy For Me?" copied that sound even more precisely.  Other tracks saw the band moving in a more sixties-pop direction: "Motorbike Beat," "Bobby Come Back To Me" and "Yeah Yeah" evoked memories of AM radio hits of an earlier era.  Another fun, must-have album.

The Revillos then unleashed a string of singles that presaged a second LP: "She's Fallen In Love (With A Monster Man)," "Bitten By A Love Bug" and "Scuba Scuba" (not to be confused with "Scuba Boy Bop," mind you) were all nifty enough, but the album, Attack!, floundered, and again the band went their separate ways.

In the years since, the band's popularity has given them cause to reform and tour on occasion, and in 2008 they released their first new recording in 26 years, "No. 1 Boy."  Another Rezillos album would be quite welcome, but nothing more has been heard from them to date.

For this week's NW4NW entry, here's a collection of clips: The Rezillos performing their hit "Top Of The Pops" on, of course, Top Of The Pops; The Revillos' clip for "Where's The Boy For Me?;" and the newest Rezillos recording, "No. 1 Boy." Enjoy!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Bit of My Hometown's Punk Rock History

Over at the always interesting ...tapewrecks... blog, Tom Quinn has curated an excellent oral history of Lancaster, PA's "First Punk Rock Band," The Bodies.  Better yet, he has rescued a handful of rare recordings of the band, who never released any records during their brief existence. 

The Bodies were essentially a cover band.  They learned Punk Rock from vinyl and snarled through the songs they liked best, spreading the good word to a bunch of misfit kids in the heart of Amish country.  There were very few originals in the mix, but The Bodies were still a band, a Punk Rock band dammit, and right here in Lancaster!  They were the ones who kicked open the door for our scene; they inspired other bands to start playing, and they themselves went on to join other bands through the years.

Get yourself over to ...tapewrecks... and read, listen and learn, my friends.  The story of The Bodies is not a unique one, but it is an important one for those of us who grew up in the scene around these parts.  Those of you who are from other places have your own "First Band" stories - I'd love to read them.  Those were good times...
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