Friday, March 23, 2012

Spiritualized "Hey Jane"

The new album drops next month, and if the video is any indication, it's gonna be awesome.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

About A Girl

It’s been a long day.

This morning I woke up and learned that an old friend had passed.

Technically, she was more than just an old friend. About twenty years ago, we were in a relationship together. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment for a few years, both of us broke but happy, working at a small market radio station together.

During our time, we discovered new things and we learned more about ourselves. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do, but in the end, the more we learned about ourselves the more we understood that we weren’t meant to be with each other.

I stayed in Iowa and she moved to Minneapolis, thinking that such a move would eventually draw me into the city with her.

She was wrong.

The last time we were together was during the Hole show in Minneapolis, the same year that Cobain killed himself. By the time I drove through Albert Lea heading south, I knew that our relationship was over.

I fell in with one of her best friends back home and she quickly discovered that she wasn’t really one of her best friends for obvious reasons. She fell back into a relationship with the guitarist from a moderately successful hair metal band, the same dude that I was competing with when we had just started dating.

The fact that one of the members was in a relationship with my new girlfriend bugged me a little bit, but their music is what really what made me despise them. They had their success, the grunge movement killed it, and the guitarist suddenly died in an automobile crash a few years after the band’s moment had come and gone.

When my relationship with her former best friend ended, we reconnected. I was finally able to apologize for the way I passively aggressive broke up with her and she was finally able to tell me “Fuck you!” for doing just that.

She also took great delight in psychoanalyzing me, accurately confirming that Yes, I had issues to resolve with my father and that, Yes, I had a pattern of getting into relationships with women that I work with and that, Yes, I always had to be in a relationship with someone, which explained why I was always dating co-workers.

All true, except for the part where she described herself as “a good catch.” I’m not debating this, but I cannot admit that she was the catch for me. That’s why we didn’t stay together.

I’m grateful for the chance to make things right with her, especially now that she’s passed away.

But I’m having a hard time dealing with it, as I do with death in general, because out of all the people I’ve known in my life, she was one of the few that could be counted on to be the most optimistic about it.

We need more people like that.

Knowing this, I struggle with why she was taken.

I began to cry in the shower and the sadness followed me to work. I became worried that my wife would get angry with me for getting so emotional over an old girlfriend. She wasn’t, but you can understand how I would feel awkward about it.

Ironically, most of my grief had nothing to do with our combined experience together, but it had everything to do with losing someone who valued life so much.

After the guitar player died, one of her girl friends died at the hands of the St. Paul Minnesota police department. The murder-and that’s what it was-was quickly cleaned up as justifiable, and the incident became the only time I could hear a bit of negativity creep into her voice.

But with each bereavement, she would handle it with a new bit of appreciation of life.

When her body began to fail her in her 30’s, she arrive home from the hospital with incredible grace and poise, appreciating the little things and finding a reason to stay positive even when her body was in pain.

She had another surgery a week or so ago, and she would post her progress on her Facebook page. She admitted her pain-almost eerily, as I read it now-but then would turn her attention on such seemingly trivial things, like how mild the weather has been here in the Midwest this year, and how blessed we are to experience it.

I speak as if she was a religious person, but that’s not the right word. While she was spiritual, it probably wasn’t in the same realm as I am with traditional Anglican worship. During the time we were together, she tended to favor crystals and other New Age items as her spiritual connection, and I probably teased her about it.

I sincerely hope that it brought her peace as she passed through, because it seemed to provide her with an enormous amount of it during her conscious time on this planet.

The pain in her passing is also fueled by selfish reasons. She was my first “adult” relationship, the first one where you pair up and live together. Like I said previously, we were broke most of the time, but we seemed to get along well with no cash, staying in on the weekends with Saturday Night Live, 120 Minutes (we'd make fun of Dave Kendall), and The Simpsons (when it was good) finding space on the VHS tapes, next to her never-ending recordings of All My Children, which she'd watch every night when she got home from work after midnight.

We’d save up money and go see shows. I can recall looking back at her from the front of a stage as I passed David Yow over the top of me, smiling brightly as this sweaty, drunk man made his way back to the soundboard. She was no dummy: her smile came from watching me bask in the glory that was the Jesus Lizard and from the fact that she had secured a table in the back at a safe distance to watch the entire spectacle. There she was, smiling at me ‘n Mr. Yow while she nursed a soda and took big, dramatic puffs of her Montclair cigarette.

We traveled to Davenport, Iowa and saw Nirvana play in a basketball auditorium. We both noticed that Cobain seemed depressed from our vantage point in the bleachers. The band was incredible, and our location provided us with a unique perspective as we could see the stage, the crowd, and an unrestricted view of the backstage area all at once.

When the set ended, Cobain went backstage-by himself-and sat down in a metal folding chair directly behind his amp and cabinet. We could see him clearly, as he reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a Camel Ultra Light cigarette and lit up while the crowd roared on the other side of his stack. He was alone and spoke to no one as he smoked his cigarette with a blank stare until a guitar tech brought a freshly tuned Fender for the encore.

Kurt rose, stomped out his cigarette, let the tech place the guitar strap over his head and obediently went out back on stage for a final song.

He was dead less than six months later.

By that time, she had moved out. It seemed that the band had about the same life span as our relationship. I drove up to Minneapolis to see that aforementioned Hole show with her in First Avenue, but aside from providing some strange closure from Cobain’s death, it didn’t save our relationship.

There was another time when she let me have it, years later right around the time that we reconnected. She had gotten mad at me for writing something on Glam-Racket concerning Nirvana, more specifically the death of Kurt Cobain.

You’ll remember that she was very much into commercial metal, and I was quite harsh on her for listening to it. Most of it was garbage, but I don’t think I ever admitted to her that I actually did like that Skid Row Slave To The Grind album and that first Faster Pussycat album that she played all the time.

I also will publically admit that buying Madonna’s Sex book was a good decision, even though I criticized her for being too expensive.

The Cobain piece bothered her because I brought up the time when I first brought Nevermind home and before a note was played, she offered up some criticism of the band. The inside photo shows Cobain giving the bird and she felt that was a slight of his fans. She was into a very self-righteous phase at that time, suggesting to me that her tastes in music were more worthy than mine because the bands that I liked didn’t seem to give a shit. Meanwhile, her favorite bands seemed to do more for their fans and were, therefore, more friendly to their supporters.

Eventually, she began to like some of the bands that I did, occasionally sending me pictures of her with Kim Deal of the Pixies and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth after we had separated, kind of an early attempt at a visual “fuck you.”

Like, “Fuck you! I’m hanging out with Sonic Youth while you’re stuck in Iowa!” kind of thing.

I know that wasn’t her intent, but envy is a motherfucker.

Anyway, I pointed out in my post that she originally didn’t like Nirvana and that rubbed her the wrong way. She had completely blocked out this incident, but for my own benefit, I confirmed her reaction from another source who was there as a witness.

I considered removing the offending post for her benefit, but then I remembered that this blog is for me. I don’t try to hide my past and it would be disingenuous of me to lie about anything that comes out of these writings. I have been known to simply avoid topics-and believe me: there are things regarding this very topic that I have chosen not to address-but on that particular incident, I felt that the impact of Cobain’s death on me trumped her concerns of harshness on our combined rock and roll history.

Now the impact of her death trumps everything now. She rebounded from those words, probably mad at herself from getting all worked up over someone who had no real power on her current life.

And good thing too: I noticed how fully she lived after we parted, reconnecting with an old flame, scoring good tickets for Madonna shows, and rebuilding relationships with her family. She even expanded that family with her beloved pets, who provided her with even more reasons to live life to the fullest.

In short, she was one of those people who deserved to stay here longer, and her death brings the inevitable amount of cynicism to me in between all of these tears. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And it’s not easy imagining this life without her wisdom and positive outlook.

I didn’t think about her all that much the past few years, probably because I shut off her update feed as it was filled with daily affirmations and cute postings of pets, angels, and funny pictures. Every once in a while, I’d check her profile to see if everything was ok.

A few weeks ago, she turned 42. I sent her a birthday message with a video to Concrete Blonde’s “Happy Birthday.” It was an appropriate gesture, I thought, and I’m sure she enjoyed it as she probably remembered all the times I told the story of when I got a phone call from Johnette Napolitano.

She replied back a thank you, and I tucked her away for another season.

But something-was it her spirit?-coaxed me back to her profile today. It was filled with comments of the many people she touched-and there were many-while I read in disbelief.

I struggled to get ready for work. I sheepishly explained to my wife why I was upset, concerned for her reaction. I made my way through work without much of a word except for those who approached, seeing that I was visibly shaken. I thought about what we do here in Iowa: buy flowers. The funeral is tomorrow, but then I remembered what a drag it is clearing out all the plants and flowers after the service is over. I lamented that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the funeral and questioned my place there anyway.

Who wants to see the guy she lived with a few decades ago?

So I’m staying home, trying to find time to adequately bereave while I write about a girl.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Milo Goes To College And Turns Into A Bobblehead

I wasn't much of a Descendents fan, but I get tons of hits on this blog whenever I post something about bobbleheads.

That tells me the readership of Glam-Racket is socially awkward middle aged white dudes who collect dolls under the pretense of "action figures."

But hey, I collect toy cars like Matchbox, particularly muscle car models if you're into the Lenten season of giving.

Here's the poop:

"At long last, Milo - the charismatic frontman of The Descendents - is once again available in Throbblehead form.

Milo V2 is limited to 2000 numbered units, stands at 7 inches tall, and is made of a lightweight polyresin. Accurately sculpted right down to the signature glasses, and new Descendents tee with bitchin' pant-grabbin' stage stance, Milo V2 is no joke.

"You can blame me for the V1 selling out," said Milo. "I told Aggronautix to only make 1000, and that they'd be lucky to unload a few hundred."

Milo is the fourteenth person to be polyresinated by Aggronautix. In May of 2009, the company launched with a highly popular G.G. Allin "1991" figure, which was limited to 2000 numbered units."

Monday, March 19, 2012

J Mascis and Jake Phelps Remember Boston Hardcore Scene

Not as good as the infamous "Maureen" interview, but still plenty revealing.

Like this bit from the aforementioned Maureen bit.

Maureen: I know how you like hats.

J: Yup...and hardcore.

In this interview, J. talks about those old hardcore days and how Dinosaur (who weren't Jr. at that time) would try to be a part of those shows, only to be slagged by the crowd.

Even the sound dude gave an opinion when he heaved a bottle towards J's head.

Here's Thrasher's Jake Phelps sitting down with his old Mass Mate.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fastway Leash New Album Release For Eat Dog, Eat

Fastway has always been one of those bands that could have been bigger than they actually became. I remember a few of my peers that carried around their debut and even the second record saw some traction around Southeast Iowa, but from there, who knows.

I'd even venture to say that there were more Fastway fans than Motorhead in my neck of the woods. It's probably because my peers enjoyed Fastway's more commercial approach and because they didn't trust anything over a Phil Rudd tempo until Metallica came and played in Burlington during the Ride The Lightening tour.

Not that anyone cares anymore, but Fastway has evidently reformed and after a quick listen of the lead-off single, "Leave The Lights On," it's not half bad.

The cover art is bloody awful, but then again, it's not like there's a bunch of record stores around the country that are going to put this thing in the "New Releases" endcap.

The scripted stuff follows:

"MVD AUDIO will be relasing the long awaited Fastway album Eat Dog, Eat on April 10 (US). This is the first Fastway album in over 20 years.

After the shows of 2007, Fast Eddie Clarke (ex-Motorhead) and Toby Jepson (ex-Little Angels) began casually working on ideas and over time managed to gather enough for a full blown record. Toby took on the role of producer and also played bass and sang all the main vocals. Eddie and Toby were joined on the drums by Matt Eldridge whom has long been Toby's drummer of choice.

The record was created at Chapel Studios with Ewan Davies as the engineer and mixer.

Toby says: "We have collaborated closely on all aspects of the recording, specifically wanting to create a performance based, un-apologetically raw album that was song driven and above all made with passion. This we did, eschewing multi layered, heavily edited recording in favour of the simple 'warts and all' dynamics. I think the results are real. We hope you do to."

Formed in 1983, Fastway's self-titled debut album entered the U.K. charts at No. 43 and received very good reviews. One year later, "All Fired Up" was released and was a great success, thanks in no small part to high-profile support tours in the U.S. with Scorpions and Rush. In 1985 Waiting For The Roar saw the light of day and was followed by dates with AC/DC on the Fly On The Wall tour. In 1986 Fastway wrote the soundtrack to the horror movie Trick Or Treat starring Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons.

After 1986, Fastway released two more studio albums with a different lineup and issued several live and best-of LPs."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Alice Cooper - Love It To Death

Thanks to the recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I pulled out my old vinyl copy of Alice Cooper’s Love It To Death and confirmed: it’s about fucking time.

I’m one of those “Alice Cooper is a band” supporters, the kind of fan who understands that theatrics is only half of the equation. The other half is a raw outfit of musicians who made those theatrics frightening.

But the scare-tactics were pretty badassed. On one occasion, I used the gatefold sleeve of Love It To Death in a “haunted house” me and my cousins made in my bedroom circa ’77. The picture was just close-up of Alice’s eyes in that spider leg mascara-but it gave the room a frightening feel along with my scientifically accurate plastic skull with removable skullcap.

We made a dollar in quarters that night at my parent’s house, so thank you Alice Cooper for making my amateur haunted house a financial success.

And thank you for making Love It To Death, the album that finally put the morbid spin on the entire Alice Cooper band after two records of uncomfortable weirdness. Alice’s third hones in on the aggression while a young Bob Ezrin places everything in its place within the mix, including instruments that weren’t prevalent on those previous records.

But even though there’s a piano in the back of it, “I’m Eighteen” is nothing but raw, irrational angst, you’ll swear you never heard a trace of them. So associated with those three syllabic power chord bursts of boy-into-man birthday, “I’m Eighteen” would become the first song you ever learned on a guitar, if “Smoke On The Water” had never been written.

Love It To Death is the reason I hate Kiss. The moment I learned of them, this record had been in my youthful heavy rotation long enough that I knew that Alice Cooper had started the entire heavy, theatrical rock thing a few years earlier. I also knew, at that young age, that Alice Cooper had done it much, much better.

And Ezrin-producer of Kiss’ Dynasty-did his best work with Alice Cooper too. The camaraderie began here, and it’s his efforts that help make the creep factor obvious, even without a visual guide. He brings the weird out during “The Ballad of Dwight Fry,” particularly when Alice promises to bring back all of the playthings to his little girl-the moment he gets out of the loony bin-“even the ones I stole!”

I also think Ezrin is responsible for the ironic Theremin on “Sun Arise,” a cheeky nod to “Good Vibrations.”

But the best one is “Black Juju,” where Ezrin directs Alice (the man) to damn-near stop the entire track to silence, before jamming a hot poker up his to make him scream “Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!” before the end reprise.

It was the most terrifying thing that this young boy had ever heard at the time, and it’s still creepy enough to give me a few more chills some four decades later.

And Love It To Death is still good enough to wonder why Alice Cooper hadn’t made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a bit sooner.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Friday, March 16, 2012

From Straight To Bizarre: , Beefheart, Alice Cooper and LA’s Lunatic Fringe

Going back to the first time I ever heard Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, I remember wondering, “What is going on here?”

The second thought immediately following this was “Who on Earth would release this.”

Even today, Trout Mask Replica stands out as a left-field landmark, an impressive opus that may not sound like a masterpiece upon first listen, but its creative seeds begin to plant themselves immediately afterwards causing each subsequent listen to reveal an additional layer of complete brilliance.

So it goes without saying that the record company that had the impossible foresight to allow such a document to grow to fruition must most certainly be run by a special person.

The label was originally called Bizarre and it eventually transformed into Straight records. The men responsible for these forward-looking labels were Frank Zappa and his manager Herb Cohen. Together, they drew up a contract with Warner Brothers for Zappa’s material, and they secured a vanity label with the company so that Frank and Herb could offer artists an outlet for their creativity.

From Straight To Bizarre: Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and LA’s Lunatic Fringe chronicles the origins of Zappa and Cohen’s record company all the way to its ultimate collapse amid bad feelings and obligatory lawsuits. It’s recommended to any fan of Zappa or Beefhearts that’s interested in learning more about this very creative time for both of them and the strange business plan that Zappa hatched in turning documents of L.A.’s self-described freaks into recording stars.

What’s striking is how patient Zappa seems to be with these people, some of whom have clear mental issues that far outweigh any attempt at assisting their artistic endeavors. Others are just plain opportunistic, part of the scene because they invited themselves and invented a second-life persona that was either hiding their real history because of how awful it was or how bland it looked on paper.

For some reason not explained on film, (none of the interviews presented in this feature Zappa) Frank felt these enigmatic characters deserved documenting. He began on a quest to transform a paranoid schizophrenic named Wild Man Fischer who spent his days selling his stream-of-questionable-consciousness songs for a dime, essentially panhandling his lunacy for tourists and passer-bys.

For most of us, these characters are minor annoyances on our way to work, but to Frank, Fischer was part of the landscape of this social freak culture he was attempting to document. Fischer thought he’d sound like the Beatles when Frank finished, but when Zappa presented an album with not only Fischer’s primitive compositions, but his crazed existence in the form of field recordings, he got mad.

The Wild Man-true to his name-flung a flower pot too close for comfort at the head of a very young Moon Unit Zappa, trying to process how An Evening With Wild Man Fischer wasn’t as big as Meet The Beatles.

After that event, Fischer was never allowed in the Zappa house again and his debut record has never been re-released to this day because of bad feelings. I verified this online where the lowest priced copy of An Evening With I found on a recent scan of EBay (VG rating) had a starting price of $20 with better quality copies ranging from $50-$100.

The GTO’s get ample screen time on From Straight To Bizarre with Pamela Des Barres and Miss Mercy spouting on about meaningless stories of getting high with the Magic Band and defining what exactly constitutes being a groupie. Out of all of the label’s releases, the GTO’s Permanent Damage may stand as the most unnecessary record ever made, but according to the film, Zappa tolerated their limit talents and unprofessional behavior in the studio.

Thankfully, a great deal of time is spend on Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and the power that he exerted over the band during this period. It’s clear from Magic Band members John French (Drumbo) and Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo) that the Captain initiated a regime of cultdom that French later referred to as “Masonesque.”

You get the sense that Zappa himself was aware of this treatment, yet gave a wide birth between being concerned with their welfare and allowing his old friend Don Van Vliet to have what he wanted most: total creative freedom. In his defense, Zappa did give the Magic Band a hot meal every so often out of pity.

During the period where they were considered a band, Alice Cooper also maneuvered into a contract with the label based on an audition that Vince Furnier misheard to take place at nine in the morning at the Zappa cabin in Laurel Canyon instead of Frank’s preferred time of nine in the evening.

Frank also caught an Alice Cooper gig that witnessed half the audience leaving in disgust, which meant that Zappa simply had to agree to sign them based on principle alone. By the time of their third album Love It To Death, the band had finally found a new producer who captured their essence into a palatable offering, led by the enormously successful “I’m Eighteen.”

With that record in 1971, the logo of Straight Records was all that was left before the Zappa/Cohen project was phased out of discussion along with Zappa’s own contract with Warners.

I haven’t even touched on signings like the A cappella gospel vocal group The Persuasions, Tim Buckley’s Starsailor release, as well as Mother’s member Jeff Simmons’s solo album. They’re all included in the discussions during From Straight To Bizarre, which makes the film a bit heavy at over two-and-a-half hours in length.

You may get a bit winded by all of the talking heads throughout the feature, helping to assist in the film’s girth and you may get very sick of the original musical music they use each time the conversation focuses on Beefheart. There are samples of some of the label’s artists, but as a matter to save money, the producers must have bargained a lower number to someone familiar with Beefheart’s repertoire to come up with a cheesy facsimile.

Cheap tactics aside, the film does prove to be a good reference point for any up-and-coming Zappa fan looking to see how far his influence extended into the late sixties. It’s also a nice document of one of the most successful avant-garde record companies that ever benefited from a major record label and a reminder of how different the system was when it came to harvesting talent beyond the pool of commercial ambition.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Frank Zappa - The Torture Never Stops

A friend once told me “Every town’s got a Frank Zappa nut.” which is true and probably why I never ventured too far into Zappadom. Most of what I’ve heard or actually own, however, has been received well.

Out of those, I have a fond recollection of Frank’s late 70’s/early 80’s routine, which probably has every town’s Frank Zappa nut in a tizzy.

At the time, it was because this period was Zappa’s most heaviest (Steve Vai is one of the guitarists) and dudes in high school relate to heavy rock more than Ice Cream For Crow.

It’s also his most bawdy, progressive, and jazzy-but we tolerated all of those intricate excursions just to get to “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes” or to hear Zappa solo while sitting on a stool.

Believe me, it sounded like a good idea at the time, but the Zappa Trust’s latest DVD concert release The Torture Never Stops shows the band in precise form while Zappa looks like he’s growing weary of the entire comedy rock shtick.

Filmed on Halloween, 1981 at the Palladium in New York City for a MTV broadcast, Zappa and his band tackle a set heavy on You Are What You Is and other R-rated shenanigans from the aforementioned era.

Also from that era: Zappa in red jumpsuit, Vai in a leopard-skin shirt, band members in various states of funny headdress (it was Halloween, after all), xylophone solos, and lots of overplaying.

Zappa “conducts” the members on occasion, not seeming to notice that nobody in the band is using the maestro for a time signature. Sometimes he’ll pull out his guitar and solo, all of which possess the same tone and some really long phasing that’s present each time his pick hits the string.

The video itself is awash in color saturation with pointless quick editing at some moments, one of them a headache-inducing jump between Zappa singing into a mic while percussionist Ed Mann bashes together a pair of cymbals.

Again, the performances are note-perfect, but from start to finish, Zappa looks disinterested. He only cracks a smile during the encore after a rare mistake occurs when a band member forgets their vocal cue.

The Torture Never Stops is hardly revelatory-something in which the late icon needs in terms of turning on new devotees-but it will most certainly entertain fans of this period of Zappa’s discography and the Zappa nuts who want to steer them to more fulfilling efforts.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Frank Zappa - Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch

Known for the novelty hit “Valley Girl,” Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch would be awesome even if there wasn’t a Frank Zappa record inside the cover.

The cover itself is so awesome that you’re probably safe to knock a whole star off the rating above to get a better idea of the true quality of this record.

I’m mean, honestly, there’s like six songs on this thing and Frank’s such a genius that he probably farted the tunes out in one take before copying and pasting the shit on different tracks using razor blades and splicing tape.

And then he played the tape backwards while mixing it.

Opener “No Not Now” is a nice bit of quirky Frank, but when the funniest line is “string beans for you” it becomes apparent that Frank isn’t trying terribly hard.

My wife likes to point out how old I am by telling me how she was just 3 when “Valley Girl” was a hit, but then she laughs whenever I play it. I think it’s safe to say that the novelty hasn’t worn off on this Top 40 gem that was originally played so much that you wanted to rip out Moon Unit’s voice box as punishment for overexposure.

The title track is probably the most impossible musical piece of all time, but it’s over twelve-minutes long so you’ll probably find yourself leaving the room to go see if there anymore blueberry Toaster Strudels in the freezer right around the seven minute mark.

While I may not come from nowhere, I do come from a time where A Ship Arriving Too Late could be found on the cassette tape format. That meant you listened to “Side A” and “Side B” completely while avoiding the fast forward and reverse, tape snapping buttons. After a while, you begin to notice and appreciate the complexity of Zappa’s work.

At barely a half-dozen tunes, it’s quick to the auto-reverse and all of that repetitive listening probably makes it a personal favorite when it probably shouldn’t be.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Bears - The Bears

Out of nowhere in the late 80’s came a group of power pop affectionatos who released a gem of such quality that the only story befitting of such an achievement is one of another tale of criminal oversight and record company troubles.

That group was the Bears, a band most famous for one of the members-Adrian Belew-who cut his guitar neck with such luminaries as Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and even a brief stint in the Talking Heads’ touring band.

The label was the Primitive Man Recording Company (better known by its clever acronym P.M.R.C.), a small label with impeccable chops and a deal with (then) power house indie I.R.S. records. Unfortunately, the name and distribution deal weren’t enough to keep the label afloat for any significant amount of time, rendering The Bears’ output as helplessly out of print and hopelessly expensive to anyone wanting to discover the band’s impressive take on smartly executed power pop.

The Bears also had an ace or two up their sleeve that came from the ashes of Cincinnati favorites The Raisins. Their history was based firmly in that power pop ear candy, but when success eluded them, they took the only step they could-disbanding into obscurity-until Belew rang them up as a fellow fan and musician, imploring them to give it another go with him in the line-up.

An impressive debut came from that great decision, only to be followed by a relatively dumb one: having an illustrator from Mad magazine come up with the art work to that decent record.

With a cover that bad it’s no wonder that most record buyers shied away from the product, leaving behind one of the best power pop records of that decade to collect dust and reach the cutout bins. And when those bins got empty, the fortunate ones still holding a copy gouged the price so high that The Bears became one of those records too expensive for most to appreciate.

Had they held on to a decently priced copy, they would have found the Bears fully capable in bringing some new quirks and tones to an admittedly restrictive genre.

Within the opener, “None Of The Above,” Belew brings his zoo animal guitars into the mix for an appreciation to the common man,.

By the second tune, The Bears bring an old Raisins tune out of retirement, “Fear Is Never Boring,” on the sheer fact that it’s so tightly wound with indulgent goodness it simply couldn’t be left in the closet as another forgotten entry.

The one/two punch of the album’s opening sequence makes the rest of the material hard to stand up to it, but The Bears never falls below a point of above average songs with a complete appreciation of how much of a treasure it came to be the moment it became such a treasure hunt to find.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Listful Thinking: The Best David Lee Roth Era Van Halen Albums

Why an entire weekend of Van Halen?

Because they rule.

And because my review of 5150 is shaping up to be one of the most read reviews on this site, for reasons that are beyond me. Particularly because I am a fan of the David Lee Roth era Van Halen and was not particularly glowing in my assessment of Sammy Hagar's first entry as Van Halen's lead vocalist.

With the recent addition to A Different Kind Of Truth into the DLR catalog, and with the added surprise that it's pretty freakin' good, I sat down and did a list of the best Van Halen records from the David Lee Roth period.

Feel free to comment on your own list while realizing that the correct list is as follows:

1.) Van Halen
You really do need to start at the beginning with Van Halen’s catalog. Not only does it remain as the band’s best offering, it’s really something you need to hear from start-to-finish to get a better grasp at how the record blew minds when it was first issued. Of course, it’ll be hard to do since the guitar as we know it ultimately changed when Van Halen’s debut was released, but just imagine how every tone, note and solo on that left anyone with even a minor interest with the instrument scratching their heads in amazement. Even the covers are vital as it doesn’t hide from the fact that Van Halen cut their teeth on the club circuit and filled out the gaps with a plethora of cover songs, occasionally rivaling the originals.

2.) Women & Children First
For most bands, the third record typically stands as the make or break effort. It’s a release that demonstrates their creative mettle, an opportunity to build upon the first two records (generally, one in the same) while pointing the way for future endeavors. Van Halen could have easily taken the easy road with Women & Children First, playing down their heavier elements in favor for more commercial pastures like they did with “Dance The Night Away” from II. Thankfully, they didn’t. Instead, they brought out songs that were aggressive, clever, and anything but safe.

3.) Fair Warning
Even darker than Women & Children First, Fair Warning remains as the overlooked gem in Van Halen’s cannon. Exposing the soft white underbelly that decadence afforded them, Fair Warning combines massive riffs with naughty subject matter and if the stories of inner-band turmoil are true, at least they were going out on fire.

4.) 1984
For all the drama it create and for all the success it garnered, 1984 straddles a fine line of commercial appeal while sounding like a legitimate step ahead. How they would have followed this record is anyone’s guess, but methinks Eddie would have held a bigger role since 1984 is a big “fuck you” to Dave’s logical assumption that nobody wants to hear keyboards from rock’s greatest living guitar player. Guitar Player subscribers don’t, but fans of Top 40 radio sure did. Thankfully, 1984 is incredibly consistent-maybe the most consistent V.H. album since the debut-and it still plays like the same kegger party soundtrack that it was when first released.

5.) A Different Kind Of Truth
Ranked high not only for the fact that it has more good to great tracks than either II or Diver Down, it also came after an improbable delay. I mean, no one should release albums this good after such a layoff and after so much drama has transpired. Yet here we are, looking at a record that begs to be played now as well as a decade later-which is probably when people will begin to realize how good Truth really is.

6.) II
How do you follow up a debut record that changes the face of the rock and roll guitar and introduces an entirely new genre in the rock ‘n roll landscape? You can’t. Instead, the members of Van Halen rushed back into the studio and cherry-picked the best remaining songs from their club days and released them as the follow up to Van Halen. II isn’t a bad album, it just isn’t a great album like the debut. While the debut sounded like it was created by a band of otherworldly talent, II sounds like the work of a really good rock band with songs that cater to the beer ‘n cigarette days of the Sunset Strip. A while there are a few awesome tracks, there’s also garbage like the opening cover “You’re No Good,” which sounds just as weak today as it did thirty years ago.

7.) Diver Down
I can remember how excited I was at the news of the Diver Down release as a freshman in high school. Immediately after purchasing it, I remember how disappointed I was with the results. 31 minutes, almost half the songs are cover versions, 3 tunes are instrumentals with one of them nothing more than filler music for a fucking video. The sad thing is that Diver Down contains three must have originals (“Hang ‘Em High”, “Little Guitars,” and “The Full Bug”) which means that most fans ended up shelling out hard earned cash for an album that the band didn’t seem to put much work into beforehand.

Honorable Mentions:

“Me Wise Magic” and “Can’t Get That Stuff No More”

A pair of tracks from the band’s first greatest hits compilation, when the band was toying with the notion of joining forces with Dave again. Given the band’s DLR catalog, these tracks probably rank towards the bottom. But when compared to their entire output, including their tenure with Sammy Hagar, the songs are a much tolerable affair, providing hints as to what Van Halen might have sounded like if Roth had remained the frontman and followed Eddie’s increasing dominance in song arrangement and structure.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Van Halen - A Different Kind Of Truth

“Told you I was coming back” deadpans David Lee Roth on “Blood And Fire,” one of the thirteen new tracks from A Different Kind of Truth, the band’s first album in 28 years. Thank God, Van Halen fans deserve this moment for all they have been through and-more importantly-they deserve a decent moment, not something slopped together as icing for the cash cow that will be their 2012 tour.

And decent it is. In fact, it is better than anyone expected, even those of little faith who spoke disparagingly of the leadoff single “Tattoo.”

The reality is, “Tattoo” is probably the worst song on the album, and if you can make it through “Stay Frosty” without smiling-the improbably awesome reprise to “Ice Cream Man”-then there is no saving you from your own jaded pretention. The reality is that something special happens when the atomic explosion of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work and Diamond David Lee Roth’s front man jive collide. It is a thing of beauty and A Different Kind Of Truth only confirms that.

For me, it is clear that all the closet cleaning that people were so freaked out about, served as a benchmark for this reunion. The selections they chosen were a reminder of those club days before they became successful. They represent a time when they were hungry, before the drama set in and they could all agree on working together on one common goal.

A Different Kind Of Truth finds every member just doing their fucking job. Each one of ‘em-including Wolfie-seems intent on making sure they weren’t to blame if this whole idea ended up in the shitter. Every member delivers, and the venue they chose to display their hard work is an aggressive one. There are few moments that I remember hearing a keyboard, and there is no room in their arrangements that allow for an “I’ll Wait” power ballad. It’s unadulterated hard rock music, and every one seems nimble, chomping at the bit to knock the chip off our collective shoulders.

If you want comparisons, A Different Kind Of Truth tries hard to reach the punchy deep tracks of Women and Children First while delivering more consistent winners than II or Diver Down. It’s about three songs too many from ranking alongside their classics with one of the only reasons preventing them from reaching that plateau is because our heads are no longer blown away like they were when Eddie was fingertapping his way through our earholes the very first time around.

Yeah, you miss the high harmonies of Michael Anthony and, yeah, Diamond Dave’s lost a high note or two, but if you approach this album expecting an embarrassing money grab you will immediately discover that Van Halen is actually trying to add something to their catalog.

Roth sounds a bit more humbled, older and wiser at times. He uses that low gruff voice a bit too much, something that he started with “Me Wise Magic” during the brief mid-90’s reunion, and Eddie carries his ass when it gets a tad bit creepy on “Honeybabysweetiedoll.” But in the end, there’s an exuberance in his performance that hasn’t been heard in years.

Same with Eddie, who seems hell-bent throughout A Different Kind Of Truth on getting back on top of those guitar magazine polls by pulling out mind-blowing solos in every nook and cranny available.

Even Alex, particularly on the intro to “As Is,” channels the best Ginger Baker his old balls can muster and even gives nephew more cowbell while he unleashes some nice fuzz bass guitar on the terrific closer “Beats Workin’”

As a matter of fact, the last three tracks on A Different Kind Of Truth are just as good as anything in the band’s original cannon, and it’s totally obvious that some of these songs actually are part of the original black powder.

They’ve done something very impressive with it, namely adding to the band’s winning streak instead of further tarnishing the band’s legacy. Equally important, it validates the fact that this band has chemistry with this particular vocalist and that we now have a chance to look forward to watching Van Halen fulfill their unrealized potential.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Van Halen - Fair Warning

After three albums, similarly themed on the glories of women, partying, and the joys of being dudes in a rock band, the underbelly of Van Halen’s debauchery began to show itself on their fourth, the impeccable and often overlooked Fair Warning.

There were signs of trouble on the third, Women & Children First, but they were hidden in teenage character studies (“Have you seen junior’s grades?”) and in the women they had no trouble bedding (“Yeah, that’s it. A little more to the right.”). But after enjoying the fruits of their labors, Van Halen suddenly began to notice that when you’re provided with the keys to the kingdom, you also get a better understanding of why the doors were locked in the first place.

Diamond Dave, as foxy as he thought of himself, could still relate to the teenage boys through songs that reflected the ups and downs (pun intended) of the pursuit of women. By Fair Warning, Dave is tired of the chase (“Now we’re wastin’ time/Same old pick-up line”) and just wants to get down to fucking (“Come back to your senses, baby/We can come to terms/ I can almost t-t-taste it/It burns…”-“Sinners Swing!”). It’s easy for him now, because the broads he’s banging are porno stars (“Do you remember when that girl was prom queen?”-“Dirty Movies”) and gold diggers (“But you never missed me until I got a fat-city address”-“Unchained”).

The decadence and easy of addiction wasn’t, apparently, restricted to the frontman, either. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen does the impossible and turns up his infamous “brown sound” up a notch on both rhythm parts and solo’s alike. There were rumors that his alcohol intake was fairly rampant during this time and living on the road with David Lee Roth had created some tensions between the two creative forces. Rather than let the discontent spill over into the creative process, Eddie takes his issues out on the guitar and delivers perhaps the most gritty guitar tones ever produced in the V.H. catalog.

It’s apparent from the get-go, the opener “Mean Streets,” that the tone of Fair Warning will be darker and more forbearing than what fans were accustomed to in the past. Eddie delivers a chaotic bit of rambling shredding before unleashing the memorable power chords to that song about a half-a-minute into. Roth observes a world of mob rules and, without knowing it or not, foreshadows a nation where the gulf between the haves and have-nots growing increasingly wider. “The poor folks play for keeps down here” he exalts, before empathizing with the ways in which they address their plight. With the simple acquisition of a gun, the downtrodden are turned from “hunted into hunter” and anyone who questions the reaction to their suppression are encouraged to succumb to a swift and simple execution (“Lord strike that poor boy down!”). Eddie gives that last statement with his own exclamation point, perhaps the most perfect bullet-from-a-gun guitar sound since Hendrix’s rapid-fire trajectory on “Machine Gun.”

There are no celebratory anthems here, there are no good time moments or reaches towards commercial acceptance. Is it of any surprise that Fair Warning did not turn out to be the success that Van Halen was used to and, ironically, rebelling against. They followed it with the more commercial Diver Down and then with the even more commercial album, 1984, the album that would place them as superstars and, ironically, become the original line-up’s undoing. Success, it seems, fits better in moderation with Van Halen. But on one occasion, the spoils of success provided V.H. with a creative spark that remains both unheralded and unmatched.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Singles 45's and Under: Shellac - The Rude Gesture

It starts off like a dirge.

Hang on. I forgot to switch the speed to 45.”

It starts off like some early history math rock gem, which is funny because Steve Albini looks like an analytical guy.

I’m speaking to Shellac’s Rude Gesture e.p., a three-song single that I’d count more as a single than an e.p. But why cause trouble?

I gotta believe that-from a singles perspective-“Billiard Song” counts as the “hit” side, or at least the emphasis track. I mean, you’d think the “emphasis” track would be “side A,” of which I’m guessing as The Rude Gesture leaves a lot to be desired in terms of information.

What it does have, and I specifically remember this when I did a mail order purchase-remember those?-with Touch & Go records back in the day. I used to think Touch & Go was the shit back when you actually could think of record labels as “the shit.”

“And company? You can’t buy company!” goes Albini on that track. It’s a stallion of dry-sounding guitar work with a bit of tempo change shenanigans after bits of ratta-tat-tat staccato jabs. It’s a bit long-winded, with bits of big chord statements about…a dude that “cursed like a billiard player.”

Now that I look at the liner notes, it tells me that “The Billiard Player” was the last song on this e.p. Side B.

“Rambler Song” is more of my style, engaging and snotty.

It’s the package itself that’s the draw, though I hardly see why. My limited edition screenprint, reportedly made from root beer concentrate, has faded into a yellowy hue from its original color of brown.

Actually, that is kind of cool.

And rare too. I noticed like copies with asking prices as high as $75.

The songs may not be worth that much-and they’re not, if purchased digitally-but the memories sure might be, with this post-punk blast from an era when you could still buy things on faith from both the bands and the label they were signed to.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Montrose - Montrose

Growing up in Southeast Iowa, one of the most ubiquitous hard rock albums you could find on Saturday night was the debut album from Montrose. I’d only heard bits and pieces of the album on the stray FM signals that worked their way up the banks of Mississippi river from St. Louis or down from the Quad Cities.

Those signals were few and far between, so much of the Montrose legend came from rock and roll uncles and older brothers. And it only one listen of it before you understood why it was so revered.

I think the only reason Montrose isn’t noted more is because it came during a time, 1973, in which everyone seemed to be releasing albums of incredible consistency. Montrose was a just another band from Southern California with Sunset Strip chops and a young unknown Sammy Hagar fronting an upstart guitarist as its namesake.

This album would turn out to be the best record that either one of them would do in what stands as pretty lengthy careers for both.

Ronnie Montrose was best know as one of the guitarists of the Edgar Winter Group’s They Only Come Out At Night release. Montrose also worked his way into the Herbie Hancock band previously, and he counts Tupelo Honey as one of his credits.

Warner Brothers records viewed Montrose as a potential star and put him together with producer Ted Templeton for the major label debut.

Clocking in with eight songs in just over a half-hour, Montrose is the perfect training manual for future SoCal hard rockers, including Van Halen, who mirrored much of the record for their own debut.

It is here where Sammy Hagar introduces some of the first entries of his endlessly questionable lyrical choices, and it is here where another guitarist of enormous talent saves his ass again.

Montrose possesses none of the flash of a Eddie Van Halen, but he comes from a school of hard working guitarist who starts with a few blues chords and ends up with otherworldly talent.

“Space Station No. 5” should be required listening for any self-serving bar band thinking of introducing their own material into the set. And if that band is of any merit, it should sound just as convincing as Montrose’s version of Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” that’s found on side two.

“Rock The Nation,” “Bad Motor Scooter,” and the closer “Make It Last” also feature memorable riffs and themes that qualify for rock and roll’s most anthemic performances of all time. Why Montrose-and even Hagar, to some extent-couldn’t move beyond this benchmark is one of the hard rock’s biggest mysteries while becoming the pair’s own fuel for future disappointment.

Ronnie Montrose R.I.P.

Ronnie Montrose died today at the age of 64.

Growing up, we’d joke around that his band Montrose was actually named for the town of Montrose, Iowa. It’s an odd town nestled on the bank of the Mississippi river where the chief export is crystal meth.

I’m being mean, but you get the idea of the kind of weird I’m talking about when I drawn these kind of examples to this town of a thousand or so residents.

But I’m being honest when I tell you that Montrose (the band) found their initial audience not with Ronnie’s previous work, or even in the talent of then unknown Sammy Hagar, but instead with a name recognition with the small town of the same name and some awesome music found within Montrose’s debut.

The real shit of Ronnie’s passing today is that you never heard of him. I think that debut album did go gold, which means that it did game some bit of notoriety during its time, but it was never the success that it should have been and not as much credit for Ronnie Montrose is given as it should have been.

You could even go on to suggest that a band like Van Halen wouldn’t have been possible without Montrose paving the way. The two were obviously different and Montrose may not have been able to achieve the same kind of success that V.H. had, but there are linear similarities aside from the Sammy Hagar connect and the use of producer Ted Templeman.

It’s unclear how he died at this point-most outlets are suggesting that he succumbed to prostate cancer-but some of them are also hinting at other things, referencing things like “personal demons” and the nature of how his life ended.

There are hints that Ronnie was more of a right-winger than most typical rock and rollers and even Hagar has suggested that Montrose could have been a lot bigger than they were had Ronnie been easier to work with.

Regardless of all of this, he left us with a perfect hard rock debut and a catalog of unrealized potential. But more than anything, he left us with another chance to explore his body of work and grant him the credit he deserves.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Screamers - Live In San Francisco 1978

The other evening, I spent a charming couple of hours with two guys that are probably half my age. I encourage everyone to spend time with younger people. You get a sense that shit’s going to be ok when you’re dead and gone and it balances out the external forces-like, say the Republican party-that suggest the whole shithouse is gonna go up in flames at some point.

Maybe someday, but not in the near future if the right wing hasn’t dismantled the communication networks these youthful tomorrow makers are utilizing.

Back in the 70’s, a decade that I’m only vaguely reminded of and barely capable of speaking towards, people didn’t have such tools. Yet underneath the suggestion of compromised thinking and suburban entitlement was a group of kids who transferred their disenchantment into music, following a close blueprint from The Ramones and the Sex Pistols and building their own version of punk rock in the states.

I thought I was aware of most of them, but those younger companions I spoke to earlier, actually pointed out a band that I was completely oblivious to, confusing them with another band from the same period.

The Screamers were a synthpunk band from Los Angeles that took shape in the late 70’s. I confused them with the band The Stranglers for some reason, actively suggesting to the younger listeners that their output was not worth further examination.

I will stand by my word that The Stranglers weren’t my cup of tea, but to confuse them with The Screamers-a band that I wasn’t at all familiar with-is simply inexcusable.

One of them went ahead and ordered the Target Video of a Screamers performance while another later advised me that its quality was such that I needed to see it in order to confirm my earlier opinion.

It became clear as the video barely captured the manic performance of Tumata du Plenty as he owned the stage while keyboardist Tommy Gear eeks out massive blasts of noise that’s just as aggressive as any six stringed counterparts are.

Not only do The Screamers count as one of America’s first punk rock bands, they do so with such uniqueness that they ended up creating another genre in the process: synthpunk.

The Screamers Live In San Francisco, September 2nd, 1978 is an accidental document of what be one of punk rock’s greatest performances, it’s one of the band’s few documents available. This was not a band with a substantial recorded output, so the fact that we have one available that covers both their musical and visual prowess.

Tumata is simply eye-catching in what appears to be a bright yellow overalls normally used for work of the wet variety. And while du Plenty certainly generates enough sweat to make such attire needed, it points to his ability to bring theatrics, stagecraft and costumes to a genre that was beginning to suggest conformity in the clothing of its members. Du Plenty suggests that punk rock is wet and potentially dangerous work as he stalks the stage giving audience members a hint of instability.

His eyes lock directly with the crowd, occasionally giving way to a big grin. I’m a big fan of Jello Biafra, but I must tell you that I now know where he got probably 90% of his shtick. As a result, I feel kind of silly taking Biafra’s intimidation tactics seriously as he battled with the Dead Kennedy’s crowd. Now I know that the real threat was with du Plenty and he did battle during a time when most people didn’t even have a name for the shit they were doing.

The other members of the Screamers look helplessly out of place when considering the visual dynamic of what we later would think of as punk fashion. These are young men bound together from a strange bit of faith, knowing that what they are doing may not pay off in commercial or financial gain. Instead, this was music that would probably not be recognized for decades to come.

Even then, there’s no guarantee it would even be fully appreciated. So much time has passed and the Screamers output so small and hard to find that the odds are still stacked firmly against them just as they were in 1978.

Live In San Francisco is not only a bit of divine intervention that someone had the good sense to record the event, but the real blessing is what’s on the tape. It’s a brief document of a band that still sounds like nothing else today, true innovation forged from the basic building blocks of rock music during a time when the genre had become top heavy.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Jo Dee Messina Agrees To The Dumbest Promotional Idea Of All Time

How long ago has it been since Jo Dee Messina had a hit?

I don’t normally follow country music that much, so my perception of time and how it relates to a country hit is not the best. For all I know, a song like Messina’s hit “Heads Carolina, Tails California” was a hit just a few weeks ago, when the reality is that the song just missed the top of the Country charts way back in 1996.

At that time, Messina looked like a small town redhead with a bit of unique beauty and a big voice that easily disguised the fact that she was a Nashville carpetbagger, originally hailing from the un-country state of Massachusetts.

By the end of the 90’s, the Nashville industry had advised Messina to dye her hair darker, make her clothes more revealing, and tweak her sound to become more poppier.

The hits dried up as a result, and you’re likely to find Messina touring the country’s casinos, playing “Heads Carolina” and “I’m Alright” for the thousandth time for the people who only came to hear those two songs anyway.

Messina is still making records, and she might even think that she still has a legitimate chance at returning to the top of the charts again, with just that right song, sound, or budget.

Occasionally, a little nudge from a good promotional tie in can do the trick, and Messina is no stranger to this having secured screen time for shows like Nash Bridges and Touched By An Angel. She even appeared on The Real Housewives of Atlanta recently, helping one of their cast members prep for a country music song.

That probably been the first sign of help, announcing to the world that Messina is in more need of a decent paycheck than a creative renewal. The idea at this point in her management’s eye is to get their client in front of as many people as possible, and if cameo time on cable shows isn’t an option, then perhaps other marketing opportunities can be negotiated.

The other night I was shopping a K-Mart for some household items. There in the bathroom aisle is where I first notice it: a box of 2000 Flushes with a picture of Jo Dee Messina right next to the promise “Kills 99.9% of bacteria!”

I’ve never used 2000 Flushes before, and to be honest, the idea that my toilet water can turn into an unnatural shade of blue with every flush kind of creeps me out. I don’t go to the bathroom on planes for this same reason, choosing instead to suppress my bladder and bowels into the depth of pain before relinquishing my waste to a blue raspberry liquid that probably also serves as the machine’s anti-freeze.

I was so transfixed by Jo Dee Messina’s image on this box of toilet bowel cleaner that I bought it. On the back of the sticker, customers are given an opportunity to download a free Jo Dee Messina “cd” in the popular mp3 format.
I don’t know how this promotion came to fruition and I don’t claim to know any details of the arrangement, but I’m pretty sure that I would fire any manager that agreed to put such a promotion in front of me as some kind of benefit to my career.

Who in their right mind would consider a promotional tie in with a toilet bowl cleaner?
To be fair, it does appear that this promotion is also found on other items, but none of them are much better than a toilet bowl cleaner. It looks like 2000 Flushes is owned by the WD-40 company, which means that she can also be found on cans of lubricant. Messina’s mug is also on X-14 (a cleaner, I think), Spot Shot (no idea) and Carpet Fresh (a spray that covers up the smell of cat piss).

But surely, nothing can be more offensive to your music career than tying in your talent with a product used to clean the water that flushes your feces and urine into your community’s sewage.

And if it was approved by Messina herself, then it probably explains why her career ended up in the toilet too.