Joe Moss Band at Smoken Joe’s BBQ – A Last Bastion Of The Blues In New England

Joe Moss Band Plays The Heart Of The Blues – Smoken Joe’s Brighton, MA

Joe Moss plays Smoken Joe's BBQ, Brighton, MA
Joe Moss plays Smoken Joe’s BBQ, Brighton, MA
The night started out with Joe noodling on the guitar signaling the rest of the band to fall into place. They did effortlessly, playing a Memphis shuffle. Greg Sefner, (keys), offered up a screaming solo, right out of the gate, but after the first song, Moss needed to halt things for a moment because he couldn’t hear himself. Wendy, the owner, came to the rescue to set the monitor right and there was a lot more guitar and reverb in the room. They hit it nice and funky with “Freedom.”

The band played through some originals and standards – numbers that appear on their recordings, like “Cold Hearted,” “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” and “Black Boots.” Later on, Moss said that the home of the blues may be Chicago, but the heart of the blues was in New England, and charged us with helping keep the blues alive by writing to the new mayor of Boston. Smoken Joe’s Barbeque in Brighton is in danger of closing, and needs help. He wanted us to know that venues like this were few and far between and this is one of the only one’s in Boston.

With his custom flying-V guitar, Moss offered up incredible runs then settled into a nice soulful number that reminded me of Sam Cooke. Followed by “Ain’t Got No Money,” featuring the rhythm-section of Dana Thompson (drums) and Mike Zabrin (bass). Zabrin got fancy with some slappy stuff that sounded like seventies sexplotation movie music, his head bobbing back and forth to the beat, and Thompson was phenomenal taking it from a slow shuffle into a high fevered pitch and then bring it back down again and handing it back to Moss and Sefner for a slow walk with high runs that ended abruptly. Suddenly, they were into a groovy cover of “Dirty Low Down.”

Moss walked out into the audience and played his guitar suggestively for beautiful women in the club. Singing, “the first time I met you baby, I knew you were the one for me.” Moss did his trick of playing the guitar behind his neck a la Jimi Hendricks and again reminded the audience to write to the mayor on Joe and Wendy’s behalf to keep Smoken Joe’s open. Friends of the band passed a tip jar making it feel like a down home revival with Thompson’s gospel drumming. They ended the set with a terrific version of Freddie King’s “Hideaway.” Buddy Guy has called Moss “Energetic, a strong guitarist, and always a crowd pleaser.” And he’s not wrong.

Catch them touring while you can.

Elf Power Opens At The Orpheum, Boston, MA

Neutral Milk Hotel shows are sold out almost everywhere. The Orpheum Theatre in Boston was no exception. I was lucky enough to take in the second show on January 17th, 2014. Elf Power opened for NMH, and within a few songs Andrew Reiger (guitar-vocals) engaged the audience. When someone jokingly called out “Freebird,” the band looked a little more comfortable for the banter. Reiger ventured further telling a story about one of their better known tunes, “Walking With The Beggar Boys,” the title track off their 2004 album by the same name. Reiger composed the song in Warsaw Poland where he befriended beggar-kids that kept him up all night running outside his hotel. It’s a tune that has some heft and seemed to center the band locking in their groove.

Elf Power Open for Neutral Milk Hotel at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA
Elf Power Open for Neutral Milk Hotel at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA

Laura Carter is a multi-instrumentalist indeed, on one song playing a Moog while holding an electric guitar ready to strum and singing. Their material is heady — it can travel from heavy bass and Moog rattling the rafters to whispers of electronic sax or the brashness of real brass and accordion. They fit well with Neutral Milk Hotel and they’re part of the Elephant 6 collective.

Reiger, impressively, was on a twelve string electric for most of the set. Thematically, songs are often dark, about dread and lust, phantom limbs and social complexities. Their sound wanders through sixties territory falling into the genre of psych-rock with heavy fuzz coming out of the Vox as Bryan Poole aka The Late B.P. Helium lays down fine runs on lead guitar. He handled back-up vocals with aplomb, and I just gotta say -never shave those Wolverine lamb chops – never.

Elf Power’s rhythm-section comprised of James Huggins (bass) and Peter Alvanos (drums) kept the band on course. Down home progressions cascade in layers cresting into sonic tapestries evocative of the late sixties Beatles Yellow Submarine at times. Elf Power is a band you can submerge into and wake up dreamy. They’re currently touring to support their new release Sunlight On The Moon (2013) from Orange Twin/Darla. The album was an NPR pick of the year.

Neutral Milk Hotel’s Sensational Comeback

Neutral Milk Hotel played to a sold out Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA
Neutral Milk Hotel played to a sold out Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA

The audience was on their feet before the stage was lit. Jeff Mangum (vocals-guitar) walked out to the mic, slung on his old acoustic guitar, and strummed the first chords of “King of Carrot Flowers.” The audience roared as the lights went up, let the hoedown stomp begin.

It’s been fifteen years since Neutral Milk Hotel has toured. Where once they would play small clubs whose’s stages could barely fit all the players, now they’re selling out theaters that hold nearly three thousand people. This was true in Boston at the Orpheum Theatre for two shows in January. They’ve been sorely missed.

Mangum, bearded, shielding his eyes with a plain grey Castro military cap, wearing jeans,work boots and plaid shirt is the epitome of the working man. Casually, he acknowledged each band member as the audience screamed. Julian Koster added accordion to the song, and the crowd went nuts. Scott Spillane was forced to wave as he took position on stage with his horn. The crowd was ecstatically pleased to see the big man with the bristly white beard and mop-top hair.

The concert followed the song list of Neutral Milk Hotel’s last album, the highly acclaimed 1998 In An Aeroplane Over The Sea. Mangum’s was in great voice and his hollar was clear and striking. The band adds character and an uplifting energy when it’s the whole crew of up to seven on stage.

Koster, the youngest, I’d wager, looked cute as a button in a knit Angry Birds cap, as he jumped, danced and thumped his red bass with paper snowflakes taped to it on “Holland, 1945.” Jeremy Barnes added electronic bag pipes during the set, cementing the haunting melodies into the roots of Scottish Appalachia. But hints of punk, New Orleans Zydeco and brass dirges meld into an eclectic and layered sound. Driving drums, Moog that pulsed through your being, a bow with no rosin tearing up the banjo and the ever present accordion, sometimes two, builds an absolutely relentless sound, energetic and engaging.

The audience would deliver rebel yells and Indian war cries between songs as Mangum sucked down water bottle after water bottle. Before “Comely,” the man in front of me yelled “we love you,” and Mangum, nodded and tapped his chest. It was a love fest. The title track had Mangum letting the audience sing with with him as he plaintively sang the lyric “soft and sweet, let me hold it close and keep it here,” with Koster’s etherial saw and Spillane’s horn added wonderfully to the cacophonous tune. Laura Carter from Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel’s opener, also played guitar, brass and sax on various songs sporting giant Elvis glasses and a red kerchief looking right at home between Spillane and Koster. Unkept and profound as the New York Times has said, indeed.

The Pixies Dust The Orpheum Theatre In Boston, MA

The Pixies at the Orpheum Boston, MA
The Pixies at the Orpheum Boston, MA

First, a little history. The Orpheum was already sold out when word got out that the Pixies didn’t have a bassist. People were worried. Black Francis, the Pixies original guitarist-singer, and Kim Deal, the Pixies original bassist-singer, were known to have a contentious relationship, and Deal quit the band during recording sessions in Wales in the summer of 2013. That was it, she’d had enough, and left abruptly. The band finished the first of two Eps and for the fall tour selected Kim Shattuck (Muffs/Pandoras) as the new Bassist. “We definitely want someone who can just be a personality, I think, and especially on the feminine side. Just the same formula that we’ve used.” David Lovering, (drums) told BrooklynVegan in an interview. But by November, she was out, unceremoniously fired. In December, Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle/Zwan, Billy Corgan’s post-Smashing Pumpkins band) steps in. Where does she get to play first? That’s right, Northampton followed by Boston. Talk about a trial by fire.
The Pixies formed in the mid 80s, and Boston is home. A show for the homies, no matter how you slice it, was going to be extreme. At the Orpheum, anticipation was high as the Pixies took the stage. Paz thumped out the first notes of “Bone Machine” and held her own at the mic. When she sang the lyric “Your bone’s got a little machine,” – the crowd went totally nuts. Right out of the gate, she was in – the crowd loved her. Even Frank Black seemed relaxed. No banter, no tension, just a solid hour and a half of Pixies. They did crowd pleasers like “Wave of Mutilation” and “U-Mass” and sing-a-longs like “Where Is My Mind” and of course “Here Comes Your Man.” During “La La Love You,” drummer David Lovering had fun with the crowd doffing his cap in a “Sim Sala Bim” type wave, as the Magician conferred a thousand thanks. Completely fitting since Lovering was a Magician before the reuniting of the band. They played raw and ruckus fun ones like “Monkey Gone To Heaven,” and my throat was burning from singing at the top of my lungs through most of the show. The light show over the background of shimmering plastic cathode-ray style television screens was incredible. Missing were some of the songs that Deal dominates vocally like “Into The White,” “Gigantic” and “Debaser” but new material took its place with “Bag Boy” and “Blue Eyed Hexe” meeting with approval. This was a stratospheric event, showcasing a wealth of new material, revitalized energy, and a new bass player. Rather than an oldies show, the Pixies seem reborn into a new edgy but comfortable band. Welcome back Pixies. We missed you.

The Pixies are touring to support the release of EP-1 and EP-2 available for download or on CD.

The New Year, A New Moon, And A New Venue For Patti Smith

Patti Smith at Hynes Convention Center, Boston,  First Night, 12/31/2014
Patti Smith at Hynes Convention Center, Boston, First Night, 12/31/2014

First Night 2014

The city really sent Mayor Thomas “Mumbles” Menino out with a bang. As it should be. He served as Boston’s mayor for over twenty years and saw us through the likes of 9/11 and the Marathon bombings.
So, for the 2014 First Night, New Year’s Eve celebration, the fireworks were extreme, the party was hardy, and for any Patti Smith fan, it was epic. The godmother of punk herself was headlining at Hynes Auditorium with opener Dean Wearham for the mere cost of a First Night button.

Patti New Year

PYN was a thing for years. Patti Smith’s birthday falls near New Year’s Eve. It was legend to take in one of her annual birthday shows at CBGB’s in New York which closed in October of 2006. She played the last concert there, to close out the club, and subsequently continued shows at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom on an annual basis for years.

Hynes Auditorium

Our show was scheduled to begin around 8:30. The queue ran half a city block, but at least it was inside because it was bitter cold outside.We waited and hoped that we’d get seats. If you had the dough, you could sit up front and even meet the band afterwards. They had a couple of tables set up with merch, and we manged seats with the hoi polloi and sat through Dean Wearham. I didn’t think he was that bad, kind of reminded me of the Dbs, I mean, he was in Galaxie 500, but my peeps complained hardily. By the time Smith hit the stage we were surly. But that changed quickly.

be strong, be happy and don’t be afraid

At 67 years old Smith remains a force, yet her smile is as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa’s. Her ferocity seems to come from a mother’s need to protect her babies, her people, her world. Her voice soared, growled, snarled and roared, and Lenny Kaye and his band were tight and beautiful, providing a musical match made in heaven.

She dedicated “Capital Letter” her Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack number to Jennifer Lawrence, as a beautiful strong woman, saying “there’s nothing like a girl with a bow and arrow.” “Perfect Day” brought tears to my eyes, as Smith with no extraneous explanation sang a lovely heart felt rendition of one of Lou Reed’s touching songs. While Lenny Kaye and his band played, Smith walked the floor of the auditorium. I was thrilled to get a handshake. I have my right hand mounted under glass on the wall, well, in my mind I do.

Smith took the stage again with “Beautiful Boy,” by John Lennon, for her grandson, then asked people gathered at the foot of the stage if they played guitar. One lucky woman got to go up and play on stage. The show was difficult to photograph because they had such a hot spotlight on Smith, or maybe she just glows.

Patti Smith Calls For Revolution For The Year Of The Horse

Smith spoke of 2013’s losses and people’s resiliency citing the Marathon bombings, and how Boston hung together, and our need to do that worldwide. The audience literally howled their approval. As the beat incited people to dance, Smith called for revolution invoking the names Edward Snowden, Pussy Riot, John Walker Lindh, and Ralph Nader. She quipped about speaking to Nader on the phone, and how he wouldn’t say fucking, but that they agree “People Have The Power.” Smith ended with Horses and Gloria blessing us commanding us — be strong, be happy and don’t be afraid. Have a great year, year of the horse.

Kathleen Hanna Is Back

Kathleen Hanna is back on the circuit with a film,The Punk Singer, and a new Julie Ruin album. The film takes an intimate look at Hanna’s rise to fame as a third-wave feminist icon in the Riot Grrl movement and her departure because of late-stage Lyme disease.

Director Sini Anderson uses concert footage, stills, posters and interviews with Hanna, her husband, Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) from the Beastie Boys, and other punk women icons like Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Corin Tucker, to craft the image of a natural born leader. Hanna emerges as a spokeswoman for the Riot Grrl movement that came from the same place as the Grunge scene in Washington state. Colorful vignettes tell the story of a powerful woman. It was Hanna who came up with the title for Nirvana’s first hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” – spray painting it on Kurt Cobain’s bedroom wall. Friends who knew what was good for her keep pushing her towards Ad-Rock. A love story surfaces that includes initial struggles with her attraction to her husband because of his (now reformed ) misogynistic tendencies.

Even the punk artistic movement dedicated to free expression and equality, really wasn’t. Hanna and her friends were sick of playing second fiddle to the boys. They were allowed to be girlfriends, but not allowed in the mosh pit. They were allowed to manage the band and put up posters, but not play in the band. That all changed when Bikini Kill, Hanna’s first band, started making the rounds. Hanna would call for all the girls to come up front, and the boys to stand back or mosh on the sides at the underground clubs.
Hanna said in a Rolling Stone interview that “I just didn’t want any male authorities telling people what good music was. I didn’t want men to validate me.”

“I just didn’t want any male authorities telling people what good music was. I didn’t want men to validate me.”

Which is interesting, since Hanna is a former stripper. The motivation to take on punk culture and push back seems to have come from a desire to put the spot light on sexual abuse, rape and male oppression. Hanna openly challenged sexual expectations and found a way to break the limitations that even the punk subculture maintained. “I kind of based myself in opposition to what I perceived as being Second Wave feminism, which was really ignorant, and based on all of the stereotypes. Like that they have hairy legs and they are anti-sex and so on,” Hanna said in a written interview with Celina Hex during the Riot Grrl days. Burning bras and suffragette authority gave way fun, ferocious frivolity and putting the sexy back in feminism.

Hanna is still seeking an inclusive culture that honors women, not as objects, or supporters, but as artists. She says we’re in the fourth wave of feminism, and poverty is the biggest challenge for women. Hanna remains a leader with a cause.

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A Good Bar Band: The English Beat Hit Johnny D’s — A Review

English Beat at Johnny D's in Somerville on a snowy night.
English Beat at Johnny D’s in Somerville on a snowy night.


For the English Beat at Johnny D’s in Somerville, it was all work, but nothing will stop these musicians from making their appointed rounds. From the back of the bar, where we sat finishing supper, Matt Morrish’s (Sax/Vocals) sax sounded like dinner jazz as the set began. The band offered up songs mostly from the albums Special Beat Service and I Just Can’t Stop It, with tunes by General Public thrown in for good measure, like “Never You Done That.” Surprisingly, the house was packed, despite the snow on a Sunday night.

Although the energy wasn’t as rockus as at past gigs, the Red Bull kicked in and the band found their mojo. Banter between Dave Wakeling (Lead vocals/Guitar) and Antonee First Class (Vocals) was fun as usual, but the smiles felt forced. Perhaps, the road and the snow took it’s toll. I suppose it’s a testament to their professionalism and on-with-the-show giddy-up-go, but all in all this felt like an oldies show at the county fair. Using phrases like “this old chestnut” and asking “does anybody remember the ’80s?” only served to emphasize the oldies aspect. They sound like a good bar band, as my friend said, and I’d add a good bar band that found their mojo in a can of Red Bull. Nonetheless, just like the postman, they delivered the necessary goods in a timely manner and put on a decent show.

Missing Lou Reed

Lou Reed and Nico from the Velvet Underground.
Lou Reed and Nico from the Velvet Underground.

I found The Velvet Underground & Nico at the thrift store. I couldn’t afford new records, except from the cut-out bin at the Woolworth, but the thrift store yielded some early treasures. While my friends were learning “Stairway to Heaven” and “Free Bird,” I was trying to play the lead for “Sister Ray,” off of White Light/White Heat. Few girls played electric guitar amongst us, and I think that was why I was considered one of the guys. I had a white hollow body, no name, no markings, truss rod wasn’t quite right, so it went out of tune easily, but that made it easier to bend strings. I loved that thing, and I have no idea how I got it.

At the time, I had a friend that drove a cab. He and I had the same last name and wore the same sized jeans, so we were going to get married. He claimed American Indian heritage, and everything we did was spiritual. Especially listening to records at his apartment and getting wasted. I was a latchkey kid extraordinaire. My friend would come and pick me up in his cab after his shift. When I scored a record we’d listen to it over and over, taking turns on the guitar. The action was pretty awful on that guitar and he’d complain that I had to get it fixed. He disappeared after awhile, as did the white hollow body electric guitar. Lou Reed remained.

Years later I dated a nice guy who looked like Lou, and like Lou was adjusting to methadone clinic. His brother was a famous painter in NYC and we were going to hang with him in the Village. It never happened. But I heard stories about his brother and the loft parties and how Lou Reed would show up, and I’d listened attentively. We played with a sixties reel to reel I found in the trash in Somerville, and I’d study the photos from Lou’s Transformer days from an old French magazine that my friend had given me. He had Lou’s black leather and wraparounds down cold and rode a motorcycle. I dyed my pixie cut yellow and wore glam makeup claiming one of Lou’s looks for my own. Lou Reed had moved on from both of us. He was somewhere between “Metal Machine Music” and Honda commercials, and still a dark blue flame on the horizon.

All the same, Lou Reed gave me permission to experiment in a world absent of meaning except obliteration of feeling. He gave voice to hostility and rage that I felt. His alienation was my own and he made it cool. His heartbreaking anger was really love and I knew it. He didn’t want followers, but I, like so many others, followed. I continue to try to learn the lessons from a master who remains on the horizon – a “Satellite of Love”.

To quote Lester Bangs, “Lou Reed is my own hero principally because he stands for all the most fucked up things that I could ever possibly conceive of. Which probably only shows the limits of my imagination.”

Ezra Furman & The Boy-friends At The Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, MA — Live Review

Ezra Furman and the Boy-Friends

The Boston trio Krill is fronted by Ezra Furman’s brother. He wore a red baseball cap with a hoodie over it, effectively hiding before getting into their set. Vocally, he had a higher range than expected, with a bit of a Hank William whine going on. The lyrics were clever if not a bit infantile, as subjects ranged from turds in the bowl to a dumb-ass in a pair of shorts. This song in retrospect must have been for his brother, Ezra, who was sporting a blue and white culotte romper under his leather.

Ezra and his brother both talked about working at the Fresh Pond Theatre, and both thanked Spirit Kid who opened. Ezra said of Krill that they were the best band in Boston in his opinion, but he is biologically biased. Krill have a record of their own coming out in February. Complex guitar runs in quirky pop-punk make for catchy tunes, but the subjects head towards the intentionally obscure or obscene.

Ezra has talent, I’ll give you that, as do his boyfriends. But he also sports a bit of pretentious smart-ass wit and a dollop of smarmy sycophantic fawning. A penchant for the plaintive, vocally, Ezra still comes off as smirking even when the subject is self-loathing. He has been compared to the likes of Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, but I found myself thinking of the New York Dolls and early Lou Reed. Maybe it was the dress. They also tend towards a bit of quirky casbah craziness like They Might Be Giants, and if you throw in a little Green Day for looks, ie, Billie Joe Armstrong and Ezra have a similar look, you’re getting close. They’re good, no doubt – drums, sax, bass, guitar and keys work together to keep the sound swinging from jumpin’ jive to punk rockabilly, and they’re hard working, barely taking a breath between songs for most of the set. Ezra got into his Dylan-esque persona as the set progressed breaking out the acoustics guitars and the harp. An androgynous hispster hero in the making if he can only live down his own internal legend.

“Day of the Dog,” Ezra Furman and his band the Boy-Friends. Available now on Bar/None Records.

The Lovers At The Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, MA – Live Review

The Lovers
The Lovers

We came in at the tail end of Shepherdess performing a wacky little ditty called “Fries.” They finished out their set with a couple more tunes before leaving us, upstairs at the Middle East. My date and I headed to the back of the room to the “make out couch” and contented ourselves with watching the crowd while we waited for The Lovers to set up. The crowd was definitely more female than male and younger white students for the most part. Not being that familiar with the lez rock scene or it’s music, or Lovers, a queer outfit from Portland, OR, I was afraid I’d be uncomfortable, but I was glad to find that the audience was reasonably diverse given the conditions. There were some oldsters hither and yon, including a couple that looked like parents and a number of middle aged men, but mostly small clusters of mixed gender or women. The androgynous trio all sport short mop tops, and wear plaid – grunge or simply cause their from Oregon, don’t know, but their cute, and good-natured.

The Lovers started right in with “Purple Sage,” off their new record, A Friend In The World. Interesting, there were no guitars in their performance, though there are on the record. Instead, they used a synth and two drum kits, one regular handled expertly by Emily Kingan and one small electronic kit that Kerby Ferris (Keys) played. Carolyn Berk (Vocals) used hand gestures like a DJ emphasizing her message and the emotional journey of each song. She waved goodbye on “Modern Art Museum Of The Modern Kiss,”and thus began the dancing to the heavy bass riff that grounded the groove and shaped the space like a womb. They didn’t announce that the first songs of the set were off the new record until “Oh, Yeah.” Berk’s yips and growls were fun and the chorus was resplendent with harmonies. As the set progressed, they pulled out all the stops on “Boxer.” The song lending itself to Berk’s hand gestures and the double drums from Ferris and Kingan. With Kingan at the kit pounding out the beats, an overdub of synth riff and Ferris on her own small kit, it killed – and the place smashed forward.

When they broke out the old familiars everyone was grooving to the heavy sound. Heading into the stratosphere with electronica that sounds like a space probe the audience head bobbed along. On “Don’t You Want It,” Berk offered a nice growl to accompany the soaring harmonies with all three voices singing different lines at some points. A small break and the ladies were offered shots on stage. Berk and Ferris warned not to try this at home saying they were “Olympians in their thirties.” The young guy next to me with his female date, asked if this was the last act for the evening. I found it amusing that he’d whoop like he meant it, but had no clue he was watching the headliner. I think he may have had other things on his mind, as a watched him curl his fingers through his dainty date’s hand.

Throughout, I kept hearing shades of Nina Hagan, Romeo Void and Au Pairs, wrapped in heartfelt stories of love and loss in a danceable synth sound. Their sound consisted of layers galore that could take even more overdubbing. They took us out with two more danceable numbers from their new record, “Sweet Lavender” and a less breathy, heavier version of their own “Wild Horses,” song, not the Rolling Stones cover.

Check out The Lovers on tour and grab a copy of their newest work. From their website ( : “With their seventh album, A Friend in the World, Lovers fuse intimacy and empowerment into a modern atmosphere of honesty, new feminist humor, and rhythmic complexity.”

The Lovers New Release: A Friend In The World on Badman Records.
The Lovers New Release: A Friend In The World on Badman Records.