Friday, January 25, 2008

A Comprehensive List

I am now going to attempt the almost impossible. I am going to reach back into my memory and try to remember every live show I've ever seen.

Some of these names are well known. Others you will have to trust me that they exist and that I've seen them perform.

The 1980's list is primarily from Rhode Island clubs and the outdoor arena Great Woods in Massachusetts. The 1990's is that list as well plus 6 years of NYC showgoing. I will keep coming back to this list and adding names. If you've been to a show with me that I've forgotten, please let me know.

Time Period: 1980's

The Fixx
The Outfield
Romeo Void
Steveie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Pussy Galore
That'll Learn Ya
Two Guys and Another Guy
Circle Jerks
Verbal Assault
Violent Femmes
The Replacements
Husker Du
The Ramones
The B-52's
Del Amitri
Stevie Nicks
Jungle Dogs
Neutral Nation
Elvis Costello
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Oingo Boingo
Blues Traveler
The Goats
G. Love and Special Sauce
Bob Mould
59 Teeth
Billy Bragg
Coat of Arms
Plan 9
Neil Finn
Simply Red
Level 42
Indigo Girls
The Hooters

Time Period: 1990's

Sonic Youth
Neo 90's Dance Band
Jeff Buckley
Paul Westerberg
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Henry Rollins Band
Guns 'n Roses
Faith No More
The Saints
The Blake Babies
Buffalo Tom
Emmitt Swimming
King's X
Combustible Edison
Barnyard Playboys
The Candy Butchers
The Samples
Andre Williams
Pat McCurdy
Mono Puff
They Might Be Giants
David Gray
Beastie Boys
Smashing Pumpkins
A Tribe Called Quest
Alice In Chains
Dr. Mars
Jack Logan and Liquor Cabinet
The Cure
Luscious Jackson
Sister Hazel
Rev. Horton Heat
Doc Watson
CoCo Cohen
The October Project
Jim Farmer
Dinosaur Jr.
Arrested Development
George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic
The Breeders
American Music Club
Medicine Ball
The Two Dollar Pistols
The Smoking Jackets


Big Mondays
Rolling Stones
The Lemonheads
Rufus Wainwright
Tori Amos
The Roots
The Klaxons
Willie Nelson
Rage Against the Machine
Rob Wasserman
10th Planet
Queens of the Stone Age
The Pixies
The National
Broken Remotes
Cold War Kids
Eyes Adrift
Throwing Muses
Liz Phair
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Barenaked Ladies
Guided by Voices
Fun Lovin' Criminals
Dance Hall Crashers
Dan Zanes
The Goodies
John Williams
Rachel Sage
The Realistics
Jen DeMartino Fugazi Tribute Band
Joe Firstman
The Bennett Cale Project
Jay Nash
Neurotic City
Reign for Rent
Manu Chao
Paul McCartney

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Robert DeNiro Movies

From the title of this post, you might think a discussion of 'Raging Bull' vs. 'Midnight Run' was about to follow. Sorry! Another time, another blog. (For the record I would choose 'Midnight Run' if I had to show someone one piece of work to define DeNiro...don't even argue, I'm right.)

No, this post is far more obscure than the title suggests. Once again, I must go back into the murky depths of my past.

Somewhere, out there in this enclosed space we call Earth, a cassete tape or LP sits. On it, a song called 'Robert DeNiro Movies' rests, unplayed. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.

I spent 4 years of high school and 5 years of college in Kingston, RI. Music then, as it is now, was my passion, my escape, my obsession. From the moment I got my driver's license I made constant road trips to Providence to see punk bands in the various shitholes that presented all-ages shows. I scoured the local and national newspapers for any story that vaguely mentioned this underground world I'd become a part of.

A local URI band seemed to be gaining quite a bit of popularity and notoriety. Called That'll Learn Ya, they were comprised of 5 guys. 2 guitars, bass, drums, singer. This would have been 1984 or so. I think the guitarists were brothers. They had entered some Snickers songwriting contest and a record contract seemed quite possible.

I saw them play at the Student Union on the URI campus while I was still in high school. Occasionally I'd be on campus to visit my dad in the library, or go shopping in the record store that had the strange stuff I was into. Quite often in the afternoons That'll Learn Ya would be rocking away on a small stage. People wandered in and out, it seemed more like a public rehearsal than an actual concert.

I'd also seen them play an outdoor show on the Quadrangle and I think I'd seen them open up for a traveling punk band at a club in Providence. I bought the 45 they put out that had a great REM jangly number called 'Pulling Up the Night' on it. Think REM with a more growly Eddie Vedder type on vocals. I remember them being quite good live and I thought the few songs I heard on the 45 were okay.

But they had a masterpiece. I bought a small hand made cassette of theirs. Red construction paper insert with strange little cartoons on it...4 songs or so on each side. I think I paid $4.99 for it, or something like that.

I remember nothing of 7 of these songs. But one has stuck in my head for the last 20 some years. 'Robert DeNiro Movies'. I can hear the damn thing in my head. Unfortunately, I lost the cassette somewhere along the way. It is the only piece of music that I wish I had access to that I cannot get access to.

The snippet of lyric that comes back is as follows:

God, are you the one who rents me Robert DeNiro movies?
When you get drunk do things mean more than they should?

I can sing those two lines.

I'm putting it out into the ether right here and now. Anyone know the dudes in that band? That'll Learn Ya. I think the singer was named Terry Fallon.

In my mind it is like a pebble thrown out over a lake that will never drop into the water, creating the preordained ripple. I want that ripple.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Open Letter to Prince

Yo Prince!

Let me preface this whole thing by saying that I am a gigantic fan. I vividly remember hearing 'Little Red Corvette' for the first time...I was in Junior High and hormones were laying waste to my sanity. That song let me know that I wasn't crazy, and the sound gave voice to what I could not articulate. Mainly that I needed a love slave.

I was already on the bandwagon when 'Purple Rain' came out, I still count 'Under the Cherry Moon' as a sadly overlooked masterpiece (the album, not the movie...if you'd performed the songs live in the movie it would be a camp classic instead of a heinous vanity project), and I saw 'Sign o' the Times' in the theater. OK? I ordered 'Crystal Ball' on the internet. I am a true believer!

I dug it when you shaved 'Slave' into your facial hair. I cheered when you shook off the corporate puppeteers and reclaimed your name.

Here's what I've been missing from you...ROCK. All capital letters blistering guitar solo cock of the walk ROCK. I feel like you lost all your old Hendrix records and are stuck listening to Al Green and Joni Mitchell. Now, don't get me wrong. I love these influences and how they play out in your music, but we have so few guitar gods these days. You are one of them. With great power comes great responsibility. That's a line from 'Spiderman' but i thought invoking a strange guy in tight clothes with a mysterious identity might inspire you.

Now that you know that we are pining away for some ROCK, I have the perfect solution. And it can be just another facet of your diamond lake of personalities...

I have three words for you...

Are you ready? (Those aren't the three words, I'm just building suspense!)


You need to put out an album by the New Power Trio. An Are You Prince-perienced phallus of soaring guitar solos and howling electric blues ROCK. And then you need to tour with that band. Strip away the keyboards, the horns, the lutes, the samples, the back-up singers, the choreography, the instrument shifting, the strings, all that shit. Strip it all away until it is just you, a bass player, and a drummer.


You've done the Sgt. Pepper psychedelia thing, the Parliament thing, the hip-hop thing...what about the time honored tradition of the power trio? Check out the following list...

The Jimi Hendrix Experience...need I say more? We all know you spent hours as a teen hopping around your bedroom wearing scarves and learning these songs note for note. Turn that private obsession out, oh Purple One!

The Who...I know, they had Daltrey, but whenever Pete sang they were a power trio. Unstoppable.

Cream...terrible production, lame singing, stupid lyrics. But holy macaroni, what a noise! 'Disraeli Gears'??? That's almost as pretentious as 'Graffiti Bridge', are you gonna take that lying down?

Husker Du...not so well known as the above triumvirates, but these guys came from your hometown, they exploded all over each other over the course of several amazingly diverse albums, and they somehow managed to be a huge punk success without anyone catching on that the two main songwriters in the band were gay. Their gay-ness only fueled their ROCK. I know you love the ladies, but your androgynous history has to respect a dirty gay punk power trio. Check out 'Zen Arcade' for sheer insane scope of vision.

The Minutemen...c'mon, don't tell me you don't know The Minutemen, P. Rog Nelson! These three guys tore the country apart for a few years before their hefty lead singer died in a van crash. Political, absurd, breakneck, hilarious, ultimately tragic. Listen to 'Double Nickels On The Dime' and try not to be inspired.

King's X...more gay music! And Christian, too! These guys clearly listened to you a good bit so you have to return the favor. Their Wizard of Oz homage is titled 'Gretchen Goes to Nebraska' and it is a killer. Take ZZ Top and throw them into a blender with the Chili Peppers with a dash of Judy Garland worship and voila! King's X.

Speaking of ZZ Top...ZZ Top! 'She's got legs. And she knows how to use 'em'. Imagine yourself covering that song in some Texas amphitheater. Wouldn't that go a long way towards healing the divide between North and South in this country?

Nirvana...sure, they added Pat Smear at the end, there, but that was only three for the most part. And the noise? Immense! Aren't you challenged by the punk rock pop tart 'About a Girl'? Don't you think Kurt Cobain was trying to bait you into answering with a gender bending punk riff 'About a Boy'? Just sayin'...

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble...pure blues madness. Think of all the old blues chestnuts you could wail on. And your teeth aren't as fucked up as his. And you're still alive.

G. Love and Special Sauce...a bit soft to be considered a power trio, but this guy got all funky for a few minutes there back in the 1800's. You could crush him with your Prinky. (That's Prince's little pinky, by the way).

Morphine...these guys really messed with the power trio formula, substituting a saxophone for the guitar and taking two of the strings on the bass away. I include them to show you that this formula doesn't have to limit the scope of the band. Check out 'Super Sex' for a jolt of weirdness. A two string bass? Genius.

Green Day...they went from bratty poop obsessed stoners to hard hitting pundits. Doesn't the epic sprawl of 'American Idiot' make you want to revisit your political oddity 'Ronnie Talk to Russia'? Don't you think you could write a punk musical about the illicit lesbian relationship between Condi Rice and Valerie Plame? Just a thought.

Kings of Leon...the new breed! The only one who could ever reach you were these sons of a preacher man! If you haven't bobbed your perfectly coiffed head to these dirtbags, you are really missing out. Creedence crossed with Radiohead or some shit. Get on it, Your Lavender-osity!

Neil Young & Crazy Horse...I know, he can't really sing, and he writes the same song OVER AND OVER AND OVER, and all the critical acclaim is a bit nauseating, but honestly, check out 'Ragged Glory'. That's three dudes in a barn.

Primus...ok, these freaks are led by a bass player, not a guitar slinger, but that should just incite your six-string ire. 'Pork Soda' has songs about murder, fishing, and the battle of Wounded Knee, for chrissakes. (Oops, sorry about the Lord's name in vain thing). Don't copy the Penguin suit gimmick that Claypool did. It wouldn't work for you. And for pure pop culture cred, they wrote the theme to 'South Park'. That alone puts them in the pantheon.

Finally, perhaps the original, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. The only rock star geekier than you.

Please, Prince. Read this. Get into Paisley Park with the rhythm section of your choice and get crackin'. We need Prince and the New Power Trio. There are so few talents able to write the great song, sing the great song, and then shred insane guitar licks all over the great song. Are you going to let John Mayer corner this market???

I didn't think so.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Quelle Chanson, Non?

My fifth year of college (!) was spent abroad in Orleans, France at L’Universite d’Orleans. Up until that point, I’d lived in Rhode Island all my life. From the time I was 15 until that year my main contact with the world outside of Little Rhody was through various punk rock bands.

This is what ’83 to ’91 looked like for me…

7Seconds were from out West and toured relentlessly, singing melodic breakneck hardcore punk that thematically took on ‘important’ issues like racism, sexism, and ‘the-world-doesn’t-understand-our-mohawks-ism’.

Minor Threat were from D.C. and not as upbeat as 7Seconds. They were more attuned to the forces that lay behind the ills of society and therefore less inclined to sing passionately about being able to change it. They later morphed into Fugazi, another of my all-time favs.
The Midwest was represented by a two-headed hydra of searing punk rock, The Replacements and Husker Du. The Replacements were the ill-advised Thursday night booze-off before a big test and Husker Du was the all-night study session for a political science exam that devolves into a meth-fueled rage against some machine.

All these bands were connected to other lesser lights. Before the internet, there was DIY (Do It Yourself) punk rock. They started their own record labels, they printed their own LP’s, they drew their own posters. They toured the country in vans sleeping on the couches of their biggest fans.

Rolling Stone didn’t write about them, radio wouldn’t touch them with an any length foot pole, MTV was already in the business of creating megastars, and the majority of the public winced at anything that was LOUD. I vividly remember playing a Replacements song for a friend of mine in high school. This guy was a musician, a guitar player who liked heavy metal for Pete’s sake, but he simply COULD NOT HEAR THE SONG. All he heard was noise.

This scene would be replayed throughout the late ‘80’s for me, both in high school and in my first few years in college. I had my circle of like-minded friends. There were four of us. Tom, Justin, Joe, moi. We were occasionally a band, but more often than not we were intense spectators. To be a fan of this music meant a certain level of danger. Concerts were rag-tag affairs in which the crowd threw itself against itself as ferociously as possible. There were violent elements who were attracted to this kind of freedom and we often found ourselves rescuing punk maidens from slam-dance circles and avenging uncalled for elbows with punches. Skinheads, completely missing the point, weren’t dancing so much as they were trolling for conflict. Depending on our mood, we either gave it to them or didn’t.

Outside the shows this underground element would collide with ‘normal’ American life. The leeriness of capitalism was astounding. The feeling of ‘us vs. them’ was overwhelming. Restaurants would refuse to serve you. Store owners would deny you their products. Business owners would REFUSE YOUR MONEY. I could romanticize that whole aspect as having added some level of enjoyment, but to be honest, it just sucked. I had thousands of ‘what is the deal with THAT’ conversations with my co-conspirators. The justifications we concocted on behalf of our oppressors could never quite be pinned down into any certain set of criteria. Suffice it to say, we were, by definition, outsiders.

Did this status affect my view of said mainstream? In other words, was I as much of a douchebag to the world as the world was a douchebag to me? Of course not. I bought ‘Thriller’ like everyone else. I rocked out to Van Halen’s ‘Runnin’ With The Devil’. I lusted over Sade. I never cared for Madonna, but I didn’t SPIT at people who did. I even had some classic rock in the collection. My tastes ran towards punk rock but I could appreciate Duran Duran, perhaps the weirdest boy band ever. And Prince was from Minneapolis like my other two favorite bands. What wasn’t there to like about Prince?

But my open-mindedness was definitely not reciprocated. For some reason the music that meant the most to me was not just disliked, it was seen as a threat.

So, college happened in there somewhere. In between punk rock concerts, I did a ton of plays at the wonderful University of Rhode Island theater department. I had a series of disastrous relationships and abused alcohol. I HAD A BLAST.

I kept three majors. Theater, English, and French. My youthful enjoyment of Inspector Clouseau had improbably turned into a major. Thus everything about my French studies seemed vaguely comedic to me. The opportunity to live in France for a year was going to be a laugh riot. I’d completed 4 full years of college and only needed 9 credits to graduate. 5 classes per semester equals 15 credits, so you do the math. Over the course of my two semesters in France, I only needed to do less than one semester of work. France was in trouble, people.

That summer wasn’t exactly a victory lap of an exit. I got Lyme’s Disease and went through a horrific breakup. I left the country an emotional wreck and very unhealthy. In fact, I took the last of my antibiotics right before I got on the plane, hoping they’d done their work. I invested in an expensive CD Walkman and a small set of speakers. I brought two notebooks of CD’s with me, perhaps 20 of my favorites.

My first couple of months in France were primarily recuperative. I went to classes with my other Foreign Exchange students, I ate pleasant dinners with my host family, I went to every movie in town to get used to listening to French when I didn’t have to respond. I read in my little dorm room. I ate the same meal twice a day at the cafeteria. Slowly the language unfurled itself to me and social situations became bearable.

Two of my American friends had joined a local American football team and made some French friends. This was what I was after. Instead of hanging out with my classmates, other non-French speaking foreigners, I began hanging out primarily with French people. But America was about to reach out to me.

The campus of L’Universite d’Orleans is a 20 minute bus ride outside of the city of Orleans. We all began to spend far more time in the city and very little on campus. On one of these excursions, we stopped in at FNAC. FNAC (said as one word by the French, hilarious) was the French version of Tower Records. In a ‘holy shit I feel old’ side note, Tower recently disappeared off of the face of the planet.

I’d been in France a couple of months and I’d yet to buy any music, preferring instead to start smoking. So I wasn’t all that into going to FNAC, to be honest. I loitered, looking at French chicks. A song came on over the in-store stereo system. I AM NOT EXAGGERATING ANYTHING THAT FOLLOWS.

My memory of this moment is like one of those long unbroken movie shots…the camera starts up in the very highest corner of the store. The song begins and slowly the camera begins to swoop, capturing the silly French fashions, the funny haircuts, the multi colored crazily buttoned jackets, the pointy shoes, late ‘80’s American culture reappropriated back to Europe and funneled inappropriately into Mass Appeal. The focus of the shot narrows in on the face of an obviously American post-teen. As the music builds, the camera nears his face as his mouth opens, his toes tap, his head bounces. He is obviously AMAZED at this sound. The sound obliterates everything else.

The camera stays in close up. The song ends. The next voice you hear you have to try to imagine a little bit. Do you remember the morning rock DJ in your town? Do you remember the inherent utter hyperbole in their speech? Now cross that with Inspector Clouseau…

‘Eh, mes amis, quelle chanson, non? C’etait le Number One des Etats Unis, la nouvelle son de…”

Interjection: Did I just hear him say that was the Number One song in the United States? When I flew out of Logan Airport, the number one song was ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’ by Bryan Adams. It had just replaced ‘Rush Rush’ by Paula Abdul. Those were the big hits of the summer. Think about that for a second.
Cut back to gape-mouthed post-teen…

“…la nouvelle son de Nirvana! Smells Like Teen Spirit de l’album Nevermind.”

Dropping the camera metaphor, I could barely believe what I’d been hearing. I tore over to the Rock section and found Nirvana. Sold out. I had heard of them after they put out their ‘Bleach’ album in 1989 but I hadn’t bought the album and knew very little about them. I was almost angry. That song was Number One??? What the hell was going on back there???? I turn my back for one second and all of a sudden everyone can handle loud music??? Not only can they handle it, but it is THE MOST POPULAR SONG IN THE COUNTRY????

I seriously thought about getting on a plane and flying back to the States.

Imagine you work for a political candidate, Mr. So-and-so. You’ve been tirelessly campaigning for years. You’ve poured your heart and soul into a race that people seem ambivalent about at best. By some fluke, you are on a deserted island when the actual voting takes place. Your isolation makes you wonder what ever compelled you to get involved in politics in the first place. A plane flies overhead. Instead of rescuing you, it drops a newspaper on your head. The headline says, “So-and-So Elected in a Landslide!”

I’d spent the better part of ten years catching flak for how loud and out of control my tastes were, how what I liked was actually an affront to decent American consumerism, and that such a horrific assault on art and sound was everything that was wrong with the youth of today.

Bryan Adams was considered a ROCK STAR. Huey Lewis (god love ‘im) was a ROCK STAR. Now, I have nothing against either of these guys, but…come on. ROCK STARS? I don’t think so. Rock stars scare people. David Bowie is a ROCK STAR. Mick Jagger is a ROCK STAR. They scared people! They might even have slept together just to show the world they could do whatever they wanted! ROCK STARS change how people view the world.

I have never felt such a sensation of vertigo as I did that day in that French record store. One listen of that song and I knew that NOTHING would be the same when I got back to America. Name another song that could truthfully make such a claim.

One final note. I only got 8 credits and had to take another class when I got back Stateside. C’est la vie!