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_boyfriends
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 (http://www.loversarelovers.com/) : “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.

English Beat at Johnny D’s in Somerville — A Review

Antonee First Class (left), and Dave Wakeling of the English Beat
Antonee First Class (left), and Dave Wakeling of the English Beat
The English Beat again graced the stage of Johnny D’s in Somerville. The mellow round tones of Matt Morrish’s (Sax/Vocals) sax and the jangly street sound of steel drums from Kevin Lum’s (Keys/Vocals) Korg predominated the room. They started the night out with a rocksteady version of “Rough Rider,” the Prince Buster cover. Dave Wakeling (Lead vocals/Guitar) commented that the room felt like a submarine.

Yeah, the ceilings are low at Johnny D’s, but it makes for an intimate space and the sound isn’t overpoweringly loud. After all, some people were eating supper. But the dance floor filled up quick for “Hands Off She’s Mine.” Well dressed teds next to punks and regular folks in jeans and tees stomped to “Twist and Crawl.” A shout out to all, and Wakeling waved at the audience. Antonee First Class (Toaster) told us it doesn’t matter who you are or if you remember the 1980’s. The younger ones think they started it. Wakeling added The 1980’s were the best two or three years of his life. He said, if we could help him remember, he’d take us there, and went right into, you guessed it, The Staple Singers cover “I’ll Take You There.”

After that soulful number the band played the seminal “I Confess.” The song turned into a sing along, and Wakeling added a little scat-rap ending with First Class reaching out to the crowd, in the chant “hey.”

As the set progressed, they played hit after hit flawlessly, and First Class called “all the rude boys say yo,” with the audience supplying a mighty call back. Wakeling added, “I’m gonna need fucking heart pills for this,” as First Class called “all the ladies scream!”

The fun banter continued with Wakeling telling us a tale of his boyhood days in Birmingham. Staggering home after pints of Guinness on any given rainy Tuesday dreaming of girls where he wrote “Sooner or Later.” They followed that with “Stand Down Margret,” wonderfully, Wakeling presented the two fingered salute for ‘ol Maggie. Then getting a little less political, they broke into “Best Friend.” The place was jumping. Even this old girl was skanking. They did a terrific rendition of Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” their highest charting single release ever. Which is hard to believe since every tune is practically a pop standard.

Wakeling switched back and forth from his iconic teardrop Vox to his red Fender. The Vox replacement is yellow with a Beat airplane sticker on it. The “real” one, as I understand it, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year and has taken it’s place next to Jimi Hendrix’s axe.

Roger Bueno (Bass/Vocals) asked me to order him a Jack and Coke, and I eventually saw the drink poised and vibrating on the back of the bass rig. They did a new number followed by “Too Nice To Talk To,” in quick secession. The newer material offered a marked change in sound with heavy bass, no sax or reggae steel drums ringing out, but nice harmonies as there are on many a Dave Wakeling tune.

One of our party came back and reported that in the men’s room there was a pissed off guy in a kilt. Seemed fitting that the next tune had First Class calling “a brand new dance called the tolerance,” and showing us how to get ‘er done, dancing up a storm on stage. We hoped Mr. Kilt was listening and dancing.

“Soul Salvation,” had Wakeling saying “life is a miracle, life is a fucking miracle,” and we mellowed out with a taste of piano and whistling as they did the General Public number “Tenderness.” Another killer drum solo by Rhythmm Epkins (Drums/Vocals) followed with a final rap about finding what you need in Somerville, and our evening ended with “Ranking Full Stop,” and “Mirror in the Bathroom.” Two hours of solid playing, no encore, and no opener, and no stopping.

Just in case you want to know who’s who and what’s what: the English Beat’s front man Dave Wakeling (Lead Vocals/Guitar) is the only original member in the US version of the 2-Tone ska band. In the alternate universe of the UK, another version of the same band exists called The Beat fronted by original member Ranking Roger (Toaster). The English Beat is touring the US in a giant bus. Look for it near you.

A new box set called “The Complete Beat,” a five-disc set containing expanded remastered versions of all three of the group’s albums, 1980’s “I Just Can’t Stop It,” 1981’s “Wha’ppen?” and 1982’s “Special Beat Service,” was released plus a two-disc collection of “Bonus Beat” material that contains a CD of 12” mixes and dubs and a disc of recordings from the Peel Sessions and four cuts live from a November 1982 gig in Boston.

English Beat In Somerville, Wednesday, 10/16/13!! Buy Tickets Now!

the_beat

The English Beat return to grace the stage at Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA this coming Wednesday October 16th. Come out and dance to the legendary Two-Tone Ska beat as Dave Wakeling, and Ranking Roger show off their manic struts.

A new release, “Specialized II – Beat Teenage Cancer” is scheduled to drop later this year with all proceeds going to the Teenage Cancer Trust. “Music has always had a healing aspect, and 2-Tone a bit more than most, as it was designed to bring people together,” says Wakeling. “These songs have been a big part of my life, and I am honoured that they could be of use to the Specialized project… a wonderful opportunity to assist a worthy cause, the Teenage Cancer Trust, and remember, when we help others, we help ourselves…one hand washes the other!”

“Specialized II” will include a re-recording of “Mirror In The Bathroom” and more than forty other Beat classics. Helping out are Hunt Emerson, creator of the iconic Beat girl logo, guitarists Dave Steele, Andy Cox, rhythm by Everett Morton on drums and Lionel Martin AKA “Saxa” adds that extra dash of cool on Sax.

Come out and dance the skank with the English Beat next Wednesday at Johnny D’s. Tickets still available.

Ezra Furman & The Boy-Friends New Release on Bar/None and Tour

Erza Furman, Photo by Rosie Wagner.
Erza Furman, Photo by Rosie Wagner.

“My Zero,” the new video for Ezra Furman and his band the Boy-Friends, and one of the cuts from their new album “Day of the Dog,” offers up a crisp poppy sound with overtones of seventies orchestral charm. In a lyric wrapper of knowledgeable worldly ideals, that hint at algorithms and over population, the song is that breed of love song – quirky but honest. Furman strains his voice in a heartfelt nasal whine that’s more early John Lennon than Bob Dylan, but the songs are stories with straightforward composition that’s an easy listen. A good folk-rocker, but with fantastic saxophone Charlie “Bird” Parker-esc solo finishing out the song for the new release on Bar/None Records.

Ezra Furman & The Boy-Friends Tour
Thu 10/10 – Springfield, IL – Donnie’s Homespun
Fri 10/11 – Champaign, IL – Mike & Molly’s
Sat 10/12 – Chicago, IL – Subterranean
Wed 10/16 – Columbus, OH – Ace of Cups
Thu 10/17 – Pittsburgh, PA – Club Cafe
Sat 10/19 – New York, NY (CMJ Showcase) – Living Room
Tue 10/22 – Cambridge, MA – Middle East Upstairs
Wed 10/23 – Brooklyn, NY – Shea Stadium
Thu 10/24 – New Hope, PA – Triumph Brewery
Fri 10/25 – Philadelphia – North Star Bar
Sat 10/26 – Marietta, OH – Adelphia Music Hall
Sun 10/27 – Yellow Springs, OH (Antioch College)
Tue 10/29 – Detroit, MI – The Loving Touch
Wed 10/30 – University Center, MI – Saginaw Valley State University
Thu 10/31 – Cincinnati, OH – MOTR Pub
Fri 11/1 – Indianapolis, IN – Do317 Lounge

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

The Feelies At The Sinclair – Review

The Feelies

Last spring, around the time of the Boston Marathon manhunt for the mad bombers, the Feelies were scheduled to perform at the Paradise. The show was canceled, but the Sinclair and the Feelies, honored those tickets. The Sinclair, as it turned out, may have been a better venue for the Feelies. I’m not dissin’ the ‘dice here, it’s just that the sound levels for the room were so perfectly set. No earplugs required, something I usually need.

The room was overflowing with a polite standing room only crowd. You could actually hold a conversation, but hardly anyone did once the Feelies took the stage. They started at nine, promptly, with no opener. The crowd didn’t dance for the most part, but grooved out nonetheless, because the Feelies were phenomenal with their signature jangly pop rock sound. There was little banter and no hesitation between songs. They started out steady with old favorites like “Original Love,” and “Crazy Rhythms,” interspersed with covers, like “Who Loves The Sun,” by the Velvet Underground, and the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride.” They also hit their more recent material like “Nobody Knows,” and “Away,” their 1988 charting hit, adding in a fantastic rendition of “Dancing Barefoot,” the Patti Smith ballad.

Everything about this concert was well executed, down to the staging, lighting, and if you will, costuming. Whether they have someone color coordinating their plaid shirts, Glenn Mercer (vocals/lead guitar) in red with his green sunglasses, Bill Million (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) in grey-green, and Brenda Sauter (bass, backing vocals) in pink against her fab powder blue bass, or they’re just really, really in tune, sorry bad pun there, the Feelies rocked with precision, grace and a little reverb. Fantabulous. Stan Demeski (drums) and Dave Weckerman (percussion) were fucking machines, and Sauter helped out on percussion on a number or two, as well.

No moody lighting, or lasers in you face – the lighting was clear white and I could see standing in the back by the board, no problem. During the second set, with the lighting, they mixed it up a little – some red and blue washes, and turned up the volume a smidge as Mercer ran amok with some blazing guitar solos with more great songs like Velvet’s “There She Goes,” and originals like “Higher Ground.”

Maybe with the closing of Maxwell’s they’ve taken back their Jersey roots in a new way because they did an incredible version of the Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” wait, the Stooges are from Detroit, oh well – anyway – many a veteran Feelies fan I spoke to had never heard them play that, and they did a great growling version.

End of the evening after almost three hours we got four, count ’em, four encores. Covers included and are not limited to the Stones’ “Paint it Black,” and a bass and percussion heavy “Get Off Of My Cloud,” followed by their volatile version of REM’s “Shaking Through,” with their final selection from Crazy Rhythms “Fa Cé La.”

If I had any criticism at all it would be “more cow bell,” oh wait, I mean wooden block. Kidding. Go see them, and get their new record “Here Before” (Bar/None CD 2011) and Feelie good about helping out an incredible progenitor of the indie rock movement. Re-release’s of “Crazy Rhythms,”(1980), and “The Good Earth,” (1986), the first two LPs by the Feelies are also available this month from Bar/None.