Thursday, May 8, 2008

Teensy Jagger

I have two penciled in events every week on my calendar. Monday night is a gathering of writers called Monday Night Writers Group. Very clever title. Tuesdays @ 9 is a weekly reading series that was started in NY by Naked Angels and has sprung up out here in LA LA land as well.

These two nights have been responsible for a whole slew of great activities, from plays that have come to fruition, to nights of sketch comedy, to musical guests at Tuesdays who have become favorites.

And then there was November 22, 2006.

Word went out to the Monday night crew via email. One of the regular attendees had access to 50, that's right, 50 free tickets to The Rolling Stones at Dodger Stadium.

47 frantic cyber blasts later I was assured that I'd be going along with Melody and cousin Timothy.

For Melody this was almost up there with being in the first row throwing her t-shirt at Eddie Vedder. The Stones are possibly her favorite band. I can still see her pulling up alongside me in her brown Ford Taurus in Carrboro, NC blasting 'Beast of Burden' and a whole new understanding of The Stones' appeal becoming apparent to me. She made them seem sexy to me.

How can you prepare for a monumental experience like seeing The Stones at Dodger Stadium? You really can't, and I suppose it was a good thing that we found out about the tickets the day of the show. This way we couldn't build it up so high in our heads. The spur-of-the-moment nature of it insured that we would take the show at face value.

And what a value it was.

The set was a 5-story luxury hotel facade. Each floor housed several rooms that had been sold as suite tickets. Each appeared to be tricked out like something out of a Hollywood glam fest movie. The entire infield of Dodger Stadium was packed with a screaming crowd. Our free tickets had us in danger of colliding with incoming flights to LAX we were so high. But the giant video screens kept you connected to the action and the sound did the rest.

And oh what a sound. I don't know how they managed to sound tight and intimate in an arena of that size but they pulled it off. Every time they started a song we would all look at each other in amazement...they wrote this one too?

The first three songs?

Jumpin' Jack Flash
It's Only Rock 'n Roll
Let's Spend the Night Together

The last three songs?

Paint it Black
Brown Sugar

COME ON! And for two hours in between they peppered us with Midnight Rambler, All Down the Line, Start Me Up, Honky Tonk Woman, Under My Thumb, Tumblin' Dice...just an endless array of hit after hit after hit.

I spent the first 40 minutes watching the big screens to see Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ron up close. But I then gave that up and trained my natural eye all the way across that expanse to see The Rolling Stones in all their glory.

If I held my finger and thumb up Mick would have fit between the slightest of spaces. But his spirit arced up and away from the stage in all directions, never ceasing to reach out to each and every person in that cavernous club.

The moral of this story? Connect with a group of people to pursue your passions. You might wind up witnessing something awesome. Thanks Monday Night Writers Group!

They played 'Sympathy for the Devil', man! Are you kidding me????????

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Small Motor Mechanic On Rampage

You've probably never heard of Jack Logan. His is a fun story to tell. In Athens, GA, there are many small motors that run things like pool filters, refrigerators, generators, etc. Those motors break down. When they do, they need to be repaired. Jack Logan might have been your man if that was the situation you found yourself in.

On the other hand, Athens, GA is also a hotbed of musical activity. In that case, Jack Logan could also be the man you call on when in need of some musical grease monkey business.

Here's how I understand the Legend of Jack Logan (any errors are only fuel for the fire)...

Back in the early '90's, Peter Buck of R.E.M. told Peter Jesperson about a mechanic in Athens who wrote amazing songs. Peter Jesperson discovered The Replacements, ran Twin/Tone records out of Minnesota, and in so doing was basically the George Martin of the American Underground. Jesperson was intrigued and contacted Logan to ask him to send in some material.

Nothing came across his desk.

He asked again.

More nothing. Time passed. More asking.

Finally a bundle of cassettes arrives. It is a complete archive of his work from 1979 to 1993. Over 600 songs. Jesperson is blown away. He sets about listening to the tapes and from those culls 42 tracks that are released as a double album called 'Bulk'.

Jack Logan may be the only artist who ever debuted with a career retrospective.

Now I've bought several other of his albums and they are all fantastic. But nothing can equal the sheer force of that auspicious beginning. The titles alone are worth pondering...

Female Jesus

The Floating Cowboy

Graves Are Fun To Dig

15 Years In Indiana


New Used Car and a Plate of Bar-B-Que

Shit for Brains

Fuck Everything

The Sweetest Fruit

They veer from Stones-y vamps to country laments to strangled punk anthems. The breadth is incredible. There are polished songs with no sense of being homemade at all and there are songs where percussion is played with a book of matches run against a set of window blinds.

Critical response was immediate and definitive. The album was a minor cult hit and enabled Logan to finance a more unified recording of his next album 'Mood Elevator'. This almost beats 'Bulk' in my book. He toured behind this album, getting a leave of absence from the motor shop where he had worked for over 10 years.

He played The Mercury Lounge in NYC backed by his long time cohorts Liquor Cabinet. It was a good time show that was unafraid to break your heart.

Or get your motor runnin'.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Irving Plaza, Pt. 1: Jon Spencer Blues, Too Much Exploding

Jon Spencer recorded an album called 'Acme'in 1998. To my mind this is one of the sexiest albums ever put down on wax. Or plastic. Or whatever the hell it is that CD's are made out of. Or the ether that the Internet works on.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have been around for a long time. I actually saw an early version of Pussy Galore, his band before he formed Blues Explosion, in Providence at one of the earliest concerts I ever attended. Shithaus headlined and gave one of the more bizarre performances I've seen to this day. They frantically raided the streets surrounding Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel (the original with the black and white tile floor) and gathered up 5 or 6 trash cans to be pounded on underneath the drone of their amplifiers.

That was in 1985. I wouldn't think about Jon Spencer again until 2000. Melody made a mix for me that included the song 'Do You Want to Get Heavy' on it. What a song. I am not even going to try and do it justice by describing it. Do yourself a favor and at least download that one song.

Melody had been living in New York for a few months when we heard that Jon Spencer Blues Explosion would be playing Irving Plaza. I was excited to witness Melody's first trip to Irving Plaza and connect it with the wonderful music she'd turned me onto.

We got all dolled up and rolled into the city from her Williamsburg apartment. It was almost a straight shot on the L to Irving Plaza and the subway clientele looked like a cross section of what we'd witness once we hit the club. Black dye. Aggressive piercing. Crisp shabby clothing. Chains connecting upper and lower body pockets. Cockeyed hats nestled on top of pick-up stix hair.

Compared to this crew I looked squaresville and Melody looked like a supermodel slumming it down with the real junkies. We giggled and babbled in anticipation of grooving out big time to the funky chunk and whirl of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

We were in for a rude awakening.

The album, as hard as it rocks in points, has a laid-back blur to it, with bits of electronic beats cutting the shotgun blast of his electric leads. Small burbles and beeps interrupt, as if someone were mashing up Led Zeppelin, John Lee Hooker, and the Sugarhill Gang.

We anticipated something hard edged, sure, but with some swing to it. Spencer took the stage in a tight pair of black leather pants. I had an immediate negative response to his attitude and demeanor. Even before he played a note. Melody felt the same. The band then proceeded to assault the crowd with volume and speed, leaving all nuance under the boot heel he'd so carefully tucked his shiny pants over.

We left about a half hour in. Neither of us are strangers to volume or speed, but we simply had had enough of his faux messianic turbo bullshit. It was exhausting, to be frank. Sometimes volume and speed can lead to a catharsis for the audience, the sense that the breakneck pace is a thrill ride offered to jolt you out of your quotidian humdrum. But this felt insular, hoarded from you as it was being doled out, a trick bowl that lets your soup drain out into your lap before you take a bite.

Nothing could kill that album for me, though. It comes on the random iPod shuffle and makes me want to light some candles, cook a nice meal, and take the first shuttle to groove town.

Monday, May 5, 2008

You Are A Hot Sketch, JB!

I am unashamed of my musical theater past. Am I afraid that my rock-god status will be altered forever when word gets out that I deftly executed a step-ball-change tap routine in 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'? No. I'm proud to declare my undying love for musical theater and count these among the greatest concerts I've ever given.

Doth the lady protest too much? Probably. All I know is that there is nothing in the world like being part of an ensemble delivering a song in the midst of a musical. If you told me this morning that I would spend the rest of my life as a chorus boy I would celebrate. I only wish I'd taken dance lessons. I can fake it but I don't have dance chops.

In my sophomore year at URI, it was announced that we would be doing 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'. I'd never heard of it. It is a lampoon of the office shenanigans of the 1950's. You know, lots of secretaries in short skirts and winks and nudges and cocktails and SEX.

The show requires a large cast of businessmen and their secretaries. Judith Swift, the director of the piece and a genius, always fills every second of her shows with ridiculous behavior. So although my character 'Jerry Tackaberry' has exactly ONE line, I was always in the middle of the action.

My sister Sheila played one of the secretaries. I don't think we've ever had as much fun in our whole lives together. I was the ass-kissing office outcast who tried WAY too hard to be one of the guys and she was the clumsy awkward girl with glasses who was eternally perplexed by the men in the office.

About three quarters of the way through the story, we shared a moment on stage which we guffaw about regularly to this day, 20 years later.

I'll get to that a bit later. First I want to discuss the shaving scene. The lead character sings a song to himself in the mirror while shaving at work. Judith had a frame built which looked like a series of mirrors. All 8 of us would stand facing the audience looking out from behind this frame. We had blocks of wood which had been fashioned to resemble old time electric razors, big and bulky. Part of the harmony in the song was us making buzzing sounds in unison. We choreographed every motion and did them all simultaneously. So the song is rolling along while 8 guys shave identically while looking in the mirror.

The gimmick is that he is admiring himself in the mirror and all of us HATE him for succeeding so quickly at the firm.

My character was such a suck-up that I was constantly smiling in an unnatural way. Eyebrow raised, lips curled and curled again top and bottom, cheeks pulled back as if I were in an air tunnel.

Jerry Tackaberry's philosophy was that if you laughed at what people said then you were CONNECTED! They would promote you! So even while I was angry in the shaving scene I was still smiling, as if my face had two expressions that were battling each other for control.

At a certain point in the film, the whole staff is called for a meeting. I wound up sitting next to Sheila's character, the two outcasts. Our boss J.B. is telling us a story to explain a point. It isn't that funny. But that is no obstacle to Jerry Tackaberry! He laughs so loud a lung almost pops out and he says, "You are a hot sketch, J.B.!"

Now for whatever reason, Sheila and I locked eyes right after I said this. And my face was in a horrible grimace of false humor. For a brief second we were Sheila and Brendan, not Jerry and Alice Krumholtz. We almost couldn't make it through the rest of the scene. I remember actively trying to kill the laughter that was lurking throughout my entire body.

On a related note, the giant skull splitting smile that I plastered across my face throughout the performance actually HURT. When the show ended my head was exhausted. Try it out and see how you do. Try the most exaggerated smile you can and hold it. FOR 2 HOURS.

That's rock and roll, people.