Monday, June 25, 2012

Beating the Summer Heat with Freezepop

After experiencing the first official heat wave of the summer around these parts, I was happy the temperature (and more so, the humidity!) broke somewhat this weekend. That pleasant change in weather came just in time for a Saturday night in Philadelphia that turned out to be one of the coolest nights in a long time - as measured on the fun meter, not the thermometer.

As advertised a few weeks back on this blog, Saturday night saw Boston-based electronic band Freezepop headline a three-band show at Kung Fu Necktie on North Front Street in Philly.  This was my first Philly show in a little over two years, since seeing Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine at The Trocadero in March of 2010, and it put Philly right back on my musical radar map after it had been bumped off by Baltimore, MD, as the place to go.

A lot of that had to do with my official tour guide for the evening.  Sue and I have been friends since high school, but fell out of touch as people do over time when Life takes you different directions.  Facebook reconnected us, at least in the online universe, us a couple years back, and we've kept trying to find the time to get together and see each other after 15+ years.  Something always seemed to come up - work, family, whatever.  As soon as I first started talking about the Freezepop show on Facebook, Sue and I started planning our mini-reunion - this time, no excuses!  There are friends you have who, if you reunite after a long absence, you find much to your chagrin you no longer have much in common.  But there are those special Friends-with-a-capital-F who you can go for years without seeing, but when you finally have the chance it's just as if no time had passed.  Sue is definitely a "capital F" Friend, and I was so glad to get to see her again.

When my brother Marc and I got into Philly, our first order of business was finding eats.  On Sue's advice we wound up at Johnny Brenda's, a hip little brewpub on the corner of Frankford and Girard.  Good beer and good food (I had the best Cubano sandwich I've had in quite awhile!) at decent prices - can't beat it.  Shortly after we finished eating, Sue met up with us and, after a bit of catching up with each other, it was off to the evening's venue.

Kung Fu Necktie turns out to be a tiny little place on a corner in a basically residential neighborhood: bar in the front, stage in the back, maybe capable of holding 150 - 200 people all told. There is, apparently, an upstairs area with video games and pool tables, which Sue and Marc discovered, and there is a downstairs which serves as a backstage area/dressing room for the bands.  The staff is friendly and the drinks are served up quickly, and even when the place reached full crowd level for the evening we never felt packed in like sardines like you can at some shows.  Live music has an 11:00 PM curfew there because of the neighborhood (a DJ takes over until 2:00 AM), and on this night doors opened at 8:00 PM for a three-band show.  Three bands in three hours meant shorter sets, but that probably worked in Freezepop founding member Sean Drinkwater's favor given that he pulled double duty, singing lead with his other band, Lifestyle, as one of the opening acts.  He was exhausted (but happily so) by the end of the night.

When we got there, the first band, a local electronic duo called Crozet (there is an interesting story on how they came to be named after a group of islands in the Indian Ocean), had just taken the stage. We took seats at the bar to continue our "how have the last 15 years treated you" conversations, and Crozet's swooping, swirling, almost ethereal music provided a fine background. Think of the sort of lush, ambient, keyboard-based soundtrack music you heard in every mid-to-late eighties teen angst movie, and you'll have a pretty good idea of Crozet's sound.

Lifestyle was up next, and  that was our cue to find our spots up front, stage center.  Our time machine to the '80s revved into high gear as Lifestyle's nine-song set had the band sounding at times like prime-era Simple Minds, Human League, early Pulp, and a little bit of ABC.  They were simply fantastic.  Their between-song goofing indicated a band at ease and having fun, but the music was tight, on point, and excellent. Despite Lifestyle predating Freezepop, a fact I did not know until talking with Sean that night, there are unfortunately no proper Lifestyle releases available for purchase.  However, a trip to their website will be rewarded with almost two CDs worth of material: an online LP and a series of demo recordings.  Go and get them; your ears will thank you.  And don't forget to donate a little something to Lifestyle for providing those tunes; Sean will thank you.

Finally, Freezepop took the stage, opening with "Harebrained Scheme," and launching into an outstanding set that combined classic early Freezepop like "Parlez-Vous Freezepop" and "Stakeout" with more recent vintage material, including "Doppleganger" and a killer run-through of "Brainpower."  I was honored when they played a song I had personally requested, their wonderful "Science Genius Girl," allowing me to check off another item on my live band bucket list: the first time a band has ever mentioned me by name onstage.  (Thank you again, Freezepop!)  Through it all, they had the crowd dancing and singing along.  At one point, Liz Enthusiasm and Christmas Disco-Marie Sagan challenged the crowd to jazzercise, and then demonstrated proper technique.

Of course, they weren't getting away without an encore.  They came back onstage to play "Special Effects," and then - after checking that they had time for one more song - asked what everyone wanted to hear.  Naturally, the cry went up for their anthemic "Less Talk More Rokk," but Sean dismissed that request, saying that it was "too complicated - pick something easier to play."  Someone in the crowd yelled out "Hot Cross Buns" (presumably meaning the childhood rhyme), which caused John "Bananas" Foster to grab his keytar and intro "our newest song, 'Hot Cross Buns!'" followed by a hysterical "come on guys" look while the rest of the band stood motionless.  Finally, it was revealed that Sean's refusal of "Less Talk More Rokk" was all a ruse, and they launched into a truly fantastic performance of the song, complete with Drinkwater taking his keytar and jumping into the crowd in full-on rockstar mode, and Liz Enthusiasm following suit to dance with the crowd.  It was a great, great show.

All four members of Freezepop then hung out in the bar area, being very gracious to those of us who bombarded them with requests for signatures and pictures, clearly enjoying the interaction with their fans.  All four were very easy to talk with and eager to say hello.  I know I say this constantly in my posts, but it so nice to be able to see a band who is so connected to their fan base, and so willing to interact both in performance and afterward.  This old punk really loves seeing the current crop of bands who are embracing that sort of grassroots approach.

This show was part of weekend mini-tour in celebration of Liz Enthusiasm's birthday - I hope she had as much fun celebrating as we all did seeing her and her band perform! As always, more pics will up on the That's What I Was Going To Say Facebook page.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #155

The Bongos were, originally, a trio from Hoboken, NJ, who found their signature sound in a mix of '60s coffee shop folkiness and late-'70s jangly power pop with angular, mildly off-center arrangements.

Richard Barone, Rob Norris, and Frank Giannini debuted with a fantastic 1980 single, "Telephoto Lens" b/w "Glow In The Dark," on the independent Fetish Records label.  With that signature sound already fully formed, both songs are instantly memorable and insidiously catchy.  They would follow that a year later with another killer single, "The Bulrushes" b/w "Automatic Doors."  Here the A-side was clearly the star; "Doors" tries a bit too hard to be consciously offbeat.  But how can you complain about three solid sides out of a band's first four?

These singles, as well as a few other early indie releases, were compiled into a handy full-length LP, Drums Along The Hudson, in 1982.  Within a year, The Bongos signed with RCA.

Around the same time, the band expanded to a quartet with the addition of guitarist James Mastro.  The foursome made a bit of a splash with their first major-label release, the five-song Numbers With Wings EP (1983).  The title track was issued as a video clip that received a decent push in MTV's playlist; "Tiger Nights," "Barbarella," and "Sweet Blue Cage" continued the band's string of pop gems.  Noticeably better production polished those gems to positively gleaming, highlighting The Bongos' shimmering harmonies without removing their occasional eccentricities - a rarity when a major-label production team gets their mitts on such a band.  This is a must-have record, no question.

The followed with their first (and, as it would turn out, only) all-new full-length album, 1985's Beat Hotel. Lead by yet another winning single, "Brave New World (True Love Is Ordinary)," the record has many wonderful moments, but also made it clear that The Bongos powers were strained when it came to filling out an album's worth of material. This is not to say it's a bad record; however, it does get a bit samey-sounding about halfway through side 2.

Barone and Mastro issued a side-project album along the way, and Barone released a series of solo records in the late '80s.  The Bongos' material is all available on CD and well worth picking up.  For this week's NW4NW entry, here are a pair of The Bongos' best: "The Bulrushes" and "Numbers With Wings."  Enjoy!

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Got an email awhile back from an old high school buddy, Tom, that put a big old grin on my face.

Senior year, Tom and I were classmates in AP English. Our teacher, Mrs. Fellenbaum, was a fine teacher if a bit stuffy at times. Of course, we studied Shakespeare, and Mrs. Fellenbaum was notorious for throwing pop “Quote Quizzes” at us in which she would list several important lines from whichever play we were studying at the time, and we had to respond with the name of the character whose line it was. I should say, usually they were important lines. On occasion she would throw in a quote that verged on the obscure, often as an extra-credit question at the end.

Being seniors, and therefore being smart-asses, Tom and I seized on the obscure and set about creating the most impossible Quote Quiz we could create, with the intention of challenging Mrs. Fellenbaum to complete it. The play of the moment was MacBeth, which lent itself very well to our purposes. Mrs. Fellenbaum loved what we created, and in a rare moment of teacher-student collusion, decided that she would run off copies and hand it out at the beginning of the next class as though it were just another Quote Quiz. Even though we had quite clearly titled the thing “A Quiet, Quaint, Quick, Quippy Quote Quiz (MacBeth, Acts I & II),” and further noted that it had been created by “Bryan and Tom's Quiet, Quaint, Quick, Quippy Quote Quizzes and Salad Bar,” (yes, we were geeks – funny geeks, but geeks nonetheless), looks of panic still immediately crossed the faces of our classmates upon receiving the quiz. It only took a moment for a few perceptive folk to catch on, but those few seconds of sheer terror on everyone's faces were so worth it.

Tom's email arrived about a week ago, with the subject line “Remember This?” It contained only a photo of what must be one of the only remaining copies of the 5-Q Quiz (I'm not typing that out again!), but it brought me a laugh once again, a quarter century later. (Old. I'm OLD I tell you.) Tom tells me he still has the answer key as well, and so I challenge those of you who think you know your Shakespeare to see how many you can actually answer. They are all actual lines from the Acts I and II of MacBeth – no fakes here. No cheating now...

A Quiet, Quaint, Quick, Quippy Quote Quiz (MacBeth, Acts I & II)
©1985, Bryan & Tom's Quiet, Quaint, Quick, Quippy Quote Quizzes and Salad Bar
Who said these quotes from Acts I & II of MacBeth?
  1. Well contented.” ____________________
  2. Donalbain.” ____________________
  3. When?” ____________________
  4. And so do I.” ____________________
  5. Very gladly.” ____________________
  6. Woe, alas!” ____________________
  7. And I another.” ____________________
  8. What's the matter?” ____________________
  9. Welcome hither.” ____________________
  10. Now.” ____________________
BONUS! - In Act II, Banquo, in his third line, says, “Take thee that too!” Explain in full detail what he means, to whom he said it, and what the implications would have been had he said it in Chapter 7 of Dickens' David Copperfield. Limit your response to 46 words. Points will be deducted for use of slide rules, magnetic compasses, plumbing tools, or the Oracle at Delphi.

Submit your answers in the comments field below; once Tom digs up the answer key I'll let you know how you did. There might even be a prize for the person who gets the most correct answers. Probably not, but maybe!

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Monday, June 4, 2012


NW4NW is being canceled this week due to unforeseen circumstances, but will return next Monday! Thanks for your patience.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Freezepop Is Coming To Philly!

I am very psyched that Boston-based electronic/synthpop band Freezepop is including Philadelphia in their weekend-long three-stop mini-tour celebrating founding member Liz Enthusiasm's birthday this month!  Even cooler, the opening act is Lifestyle, a band that features Freezepop's own The Other Sean T. Drinkwater. So, it's almost like Freezepop opening for Freezepop...or something...

The mini-tour begins Friday, June 22, in Brooklyn, NY and ends Sunday, June 24, in Rochester, NY, but those are just a bit outside my travel radius.  But on Saturday night, June 23, they'll be playing at Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia - less then two hours from my front door!

This will be my first chance to see Freezepop live, though I've been a fan since first hearing "Science Genius Girl" almost ten years ago (where does the time go?)  For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they started out as a trio: Liz Enthusiasm, The Other Sean T. Drinkwater, and The Duke of Pannekoeken started plinking away at synths and other electronica in 1999.  Sounding something like a 1980's video arcade set to a dance beat, the band quickly demonstrated a skewering wit in their lyrics and an uncanny ability to transport listeners back to early-80s New Wave sounds.  They sang about love in a shopping mall ("Chess King"), being a contestant on Wheel Of Fortune ("Shark Attack"), and celeb crushes ("Tracey Gold").

As they progressed, their sound filled out from plinky electronic minimalism to full-bodied synthpop, without losing any of the song quality, creativity, or humor that made them so awesome.  "Less Talk More Rokk" became one of their best-known songs after appearing in the video game Guitar Hero; it still remains one of my favorites.

In 2009, The Duke of Pannekoeken left the band and was replaced by Robert John "Bananas" Foster and Christmas Disco-Marie Sagan.  This quartet remains the band's current lineup, and delivered the album Imaginary Friends, which made this blog's Records of the Year list this past December.

If you are in the Philly area or can be there, I urge you to come out for this show!  It promises to be a bunch of fun, and advance tickets can be had for only $10!  Here are a few clips to give you a sense of Freezepop's joyful noise; if you like what you hear, you need to be in Philly on the 23rd.  See you there!

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