The three paramount British bands of 1977 stood out among one another by emphasizing an individual aspect of the punk movement more than its peers did. The Sex Pistols focused on anger to a greater extent than politics. The Clash put politics just a notch above anger. The Jam, meanwhile, incorporated pop and R&B–i.e., mod–elements into its social and political commentary.
In the City is the least revered of the debut albums by these groups. However, it established its creators’ punk credentials every bit as much as Never Mind the Bullocks and The Clash’s debut did for their creators. The Jam was not as angry or overtly political as the Pistols or The Clash, but were enough of each such that, when it stirred in sharp pop hooks and R&B grooves, the result was just as much of a tinderbox.
The Jam (l-r): Bruce Foxton, Rick Buckler, Paul Weller
Among the dozen songs on The Jam’s debut are 10 originals by the still 18-year-old Paul Weller, who was two years younger than Johnny Rotten and six years Joe Strummer’s junior. His youth manifests itself mostly for better throughout the record. People who might compare In the City unfavorably to other punk albums cannot legitimately reduce its alleged inferiority to the fact that Weller was a mere pup at the time.
The songs on In the City can be grouped three or four at a time into the categories of punk, mod, and rock. An example of each of these is presented on the first “side” of the album. “Art School” kicks down the door with as much brains, brawn, and urgency as can be found on a late 70s punk album. It is driven by Pete Townshend-inspired riffs that define The Jam’s early sound. “I’ve Changed My Address,” however, emphasizes a mod-loving R&B groove made punky by Rick Buckler’s steady drum beats and Bruce Foxton’s funky bass lines. It kind of sounds like a lost R&B nugget, and lyrically recalls The Who’s “A Legal Matter.” “Away From the Numbers” is a more straight-ahead rocker with thoughtful if not profound lyrics. The tempo is slower on this catchy tune, which has an almost Beach Boys-like “oooh-oooh” interlude.
“In The City” is the album’s literal and figurative centerpiece. While it stands out because it was The Jam’s first single, it is really just another one of many great songs on the album. An equally proportional pop/punk mix and an infectious riff stolen by The Sex Pistols make it a worthy inclusion among the defining songs of the punk era.
The second half of the record–including the title track and its B-side, “Time For Truth”–reinforces the elements introduced in first half. “Sounds From the Street” is the album’s catchiest rock song, and includes a shout out to the band’s hometown: “I know I come from Woking/And you say I’m a fraud/But my heart’s in the city/Where it belongs.”
In addition to Weller’s 10 originals, In the City includes two covers. The first is a punked-up version of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down,” which had also been done by The Beatles. The second is “Batman Theme,” which accounts for the album’s one truly unforgivable dud. This is the earliest instance in which Weller’s love of The Who counts against him a bit. It is one of a few songs that were covered by The Who and then by The Jam, in addition to the Who originals that The Jam covered. Plus, The Who had a song called “In The City,” which I cannot say for sure was the source this album’s title.
Part of me wants to think that The Jam’s lack of success in America can be explained by a sentiment expressed in “Art School”: “Fools only laugh `cause they envy you.” This probably isn’t fair. The fact is that The Jam was simply not marketed effectively in the States. That they were the opening act for Blue Oyster Cult on an early American tour suffices to make that obvious.
No worries though, as The Jam was the most popular band in England during its six-year existence. Unlike The Sex Pistols, Paul Weller’s band was able to survive for long enough to record more than one album. Unlike Joe Strummer or Mick Jones, Paul Weller knew that it was time to hang it up before his band began to look ridiculous.
(“Look ridiculous is exactly what he did in The Style Council,” you say? Maybe, but that is an argument for another review.)
Yesterday–April 12, 2018–was the 35th anniversary of the release of R.E.M.’s debut LP. I wrote a review of it for Amazon.com on December 11, 2005. Here it is. [As with all of my Friday Flashbacks, it has been edited for spelling, grammar, punctuation, factual accuracy etc., but the content is unchanged.]
Murmur is arguably the most important American record of the 1980s. It is seen by many as the birth of alternative rock. I can’t quite agree with this assessment, but R.E.M.’s debut was literally music to the ears of music fans who couldn’t quite relate to post-punk, new wave, and the MTV pop of the early 80s. Seemingly out of nowhere came a record with a rustic, acoustic feel, at a time when electric guitars were wiry and robotic, and synthesizers were on the verge of becoming a lead instrument. One might say that Murmur was to the early 80s was The Band’s first LP was to the late 60s. And the fact that Murmur reached #36 on the Billboard Top 200 is a testament to the size of the market that R.E.M. was able to tap (not that that was their intention).
Photo by Chris Walter
At the risk of making a potentially politically incorrect statement–a concern that I am sensitive to–I would say that R.E.M. were the founders of alternative rock in the same way that Columbus was the one who discovered America. While Murmur certainly sounded different than anything released in well over a decade, I still cannot help but give The Feelies’ debut Crazy Rhythms [click for my Amazon.com review] the distinction of being the first alternative record. To me, Crazy Rhythms sounds different enough than what came before it, but enough like what came after it to merit this distinction. In other words, alternative rock was already there, but not many people knew about it. This is where R.E.M. comes in. As I said before, although Murmur had no apparent target audience and practically no commercial viability, it still reached the Top 40. Hence, the importance of Murmur–like that of Christopher Columbus–is immeasurable.
Murmur is a fascinating listen. It sounds like something unearthed from a spot where such a thing has no earthly business being. R.E.M. was influenced by artists from across the punk (The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Television) and pop (The Byrds, Big Star, The Soft Boys) spectrums, but managed to avoid sounding too much like any of them. This is a case of so many influences perfecting the sound. Like the best albums by the bands they loved, Murmur marks a point when music starts to sound different. Perhaps the most obvious case of this is that after this album, lyrics could be not only be cryptic, but the vocals themselves unintelligible. The songs on Murmur–like the songs on Crazy Rhythms–do not seem to be about anything. “Perfect Circle,” for example, is a fine case of how R.E.M.’s lyrics are more significant in terms of how they are said rather than what the actual words are (e.g., “Standing too soon/Shoulders high in the room”). And while R.E.M. was a minimalist band at heart, producers Mitch Easter and Don Dixon [click for the 2017 interview that I did with him and Marti Jones] succeeded in adorning the songs without swallowing them whole, such as in the waltz-like feel of “We Walk.”
The disparate styles and sounds that merge to create the mural that Murmur is reflects the disparate backgrounds of the the band’s members. Stipe was born in Decatur, GA, but formed his first band while in high school in St. Louis. Meanwhile, Peter Buck was born in northern California, Mike Mills in southern California, and Bill Berry in Deluth, Minnesota. Yet somehow, they were all able to come together at a party in Athens, GA, and henceforth be forever shrouded in the mythology of the American South. And of course, the irony is never lost on critics that the band’s name refers to the state of sleep in which dreaming occurs, and thus their music and lyrics would forever be compared to the opaque, symbolic, non-linear images of dreamland.
Musically, Murmur delivers on the promise of the Chronic Town EP, with many of their trademarks firmly in place on the first single, “Radio Free Europe.” Michael Stipe’s voice isn’t quite a drawl, but it has a nasally twang about it that gives it its edge. The arpeggios are invincibly crisp on “Talk About the Passion,” and equally slinky on the rocking “Catapult” and “Sitting Still.” On “9-9,” the guitar richochets in between verses of Velvet Underground-like narration. And the rhythm section is nothing to sneeze at, either. Witness the thumping bass lines on “Laughing,” and the footstomping beats of “Pilgrimage” and “Moral Kiosk.” Then there is “Shaking Through,” which is just beautiful, and “West of the Fields,” a forceful closer to an almost flawless record.
R.E.M.’s debut LP was enough to convince skeptics and believers alike that there was probably nothing that the band couldn’t do. Within five years, Rolling Stone would deem them “America’s Best Rock ‘n Roll Band,” and few who were in the know would dispute the claim. Five years after that, R.E.M. would be America’s biggest rock ‘n roll band. Whether this was poetic justice or a travesty depends on your point of view. Either way, the band would always have its first half-dozen or so records to justify their worshipping audience and critical raves. With Murmur, they hit the ground running, and have kept moving, albeit a bit more slowly, for over 20 years since.
Before I had the honor of writing about music and nonfiction for actual publications, I posted reviews of my favorite albums on Amazon.com. I have reposted some of them on this sadly negelected blog in the categories of Amazon Flashback and Amazon Reviews. Inspired by Pitchfork’s Sunday review feature, I have decided to begin reposting my Amazon reviews on a regular basis. Since Pitchfork’s selection was Something Else by The Kinks this past Sunday, I figured that I would make it mine today. (Save for edits for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and factual accuracy, the pieces will appear exactly as they originally did.)
Britpop Ground Zero
In late 1960s, rock ‘n roll began to outgrow “Satisfaction,” “Love Me Do,” and “You Really Got Me.” Not only did bands become more socially and politically aware, they became more ambitious and eager to experiment. For their trouble, many of the great bands from this era–such as The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, and The Beach Boys–were rewarded with not only a secure musical legacy, but healthy financial benefits as well. The Kinks, who were banned from the US between the crucial years of 1965 and 1969, received neither. They had a handful of successful singles, but their LPs went almost completely unnoticed by record buyers.
Fortunately, the pendulum has swung, and The Kinks are now recognized as a major influence on subsequent generations of British rockers. To quote Mick Jones of The Clash, “As far as The Beatles, The Stones, and The Who are concerned, we don’t really hear that much about The Kinks. But they’re just as important, you know.”While the influence of The Beatles and The Stones spreads across the entire spectrum of popular music, that of The Kinks and The Who is most obvious in the punk (British and American) of the late 70s and the Britpop of the early 90s. Like Newton and Leibniz’s independent but nearly simultaneous invention of calculus, the fuzzy power chords of these bands’ 1964-5 singles laid the groundwork for punk, while assertions like Pete Townshend’s “hope I die before I get old” and Ray Davies’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”–a B-side that appeared 10 years before The Ramones’ debut–were philosophical proto-punk manifestos.
In the late 60s and early 70s, both bands turned toward catchy, melodic pop songs whose influence would be heard in everyone from The Jam and XTC to Blur and Pulp. And the career trajectory similarities don’t stop there: The Kinks and The Who could also be credited–or, if you prefer, blamed–for inventing the rock opera/concept album with their 1969 releases Arthur and Tommy (although The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow was released a year earlier than both). In the late 70s and early 90s, British groups would be inspired to sound like these British bands who had influenced them, rather than like the American artists who had influenced the British bands of the 60s.
Something Else by The Kinks was arguably the first full-length instance of what would be called Britpop a quarter-century later. (Or maybe it was Face To Face. Take your pick.) The proto-punk and American R&B elements of their first records were less salient on this record, having been replaced by a “distinctly British” blend of marching drums, slow to mid-tempo rockers and ballads, and primarily acoustic–but nonetheless rocking– guitars. Furthermore, the themes moved beyond boy loves girl to musical snapshots of schoolyard jealousy, sibling rivalry, disappointed in-laws, bittersweet solitude and, of course, underachieving circus folk.
It is one thing for a record to culminate in a one-two punch or trio of great songs, but quite another for it to start off with a right, left, and uppercut. That is what we get on Something Else. With the Stonesy thump of “David Watts” (later covered in a faithful if perfunctory manner by The Jam), the quirky, melancholy folk of “Death of a Clown,” and the thinly veiled allegory “Two Sisters,” this record wastes no time getting started. And it is hardly on cruise control before closing with “Waterloo Sunset,” a feather in the cap–if not jewel in the crown–of 60s British pop.
After the 1-2-3 punch that opens the record, things slow down a bit with “No Return,” which, like the similarly hazy and dreamlike “Lazy Old Sun,” shows that while the Kinks were not a psychedelic band or a bunch of hippies, they were clearly not impervious to the atmosphere of Swinging London. The same can be said of the hilarious “Harry Rag,” which humorously mocks the idea that anything is bearable if you’ve got the right stuff to take your mind off of it. “End of the Season,” sung by Ray in a mock lounge singer voice, is another highlight, and the music hall ditties “Tin Soldier Man” and “Situation Vacant” contribute significant personality to the record.
Then there are Dave Davies’ songs. I am a great fan of underdogs and unsung heroes, and I think that it can be said that Dave wrote at least one great song for every dozen or so that Ray did (see Dave’s The Album That Never Was for examples). The absurd folk of “Death of a Clown,” which reached #3 in the UK, is proof enough: “The trainer of insects is crouched on his knees/And frantically looking for runaway fleas.”
But Dave also contributes the steady rockers “Love Me Till the Sun Shines” and “Funny Face.” Hence, Something Else was for Dave what Revolver was for George Harrison. (The weakest track on the record is probably Ray’s “Afternoon Tea.” While its subject is quintessentially English, it hardly makes for compelling listening in this case.) And it would be a travesty to not give props to Nicky Hopkins for his superb piano and harpsichord work.
The bonus tracks on the 2000 reissue are far from the throwaways meant to entice completists that such tracks often are. First of all, Dave rears his underrated head with “Lincoln County” and the excellent “Susannah’s Still Alive,” which was a hit single in its own right. And Ray’s songs–especially “Autumn Almanac,” “Wonderboy,” “Polly,” and “There’s No Life Without Love”–are as good as anything to be found on this or any other Kinks record of the era.
It may be a bit unfortunate that this rerelease is in mono, for it is tempting to say that the stereo version packs more punch. But that is ultimately a matter of taste, and the fact is that this is a fascinating collection of songs, sounding very much like a product of its time–perhaps somewhat charmingly dated–and yet still unlike albums by the band’s peers. These elements combine to create a precious gem of the British Invasion, one which would itself spawn the gems of future British Invasions.
Peter Hook & The Light will be at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA, on Saturday, November 26. Here is the interview that I did with him following the publication of his book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. (Originally published on DigBoston.com, February 4, 2013)
“The Joy Division book is about boys chasing a dream, you know, coming from punk, not sullied by money or excess, drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll.”
As a member of the English bands Joy Division in the 1970s and New Order in the 1980s, bassist Peter Hook helped to – in his words – “change the world of music not once but twice.” Now 56 years old, he tours with his new band The Light, delighting audiences with performances of his previous bands’ songs. Having first become a published author in 2010, he is currently appearing in bookstores across the US to promote his second book, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, which was published by It Books (a division of HarperCollins) on January 29.
“Hooky” recently spoke to me by phone from his room at the Prescott Hotel in San Francisco.
Do you still really not care if you, as you write on page 203, “piss off any journalist”?
(laughs) I’ve had journalists be wonderful and I’ve had journalists be awful. It doesn’t stop you really. You do have to learn to cope with that. You’ve got to trust what you’re doing, and believe in what you’re doing yourself.
As long as enough people like it so that you can carry on performing, that’s all that matters.
I was surprised to read that you and Bernard Sumner (Joy Division and New Order’s guitarist) had Santana stickers on your scooters when you were teenagers.
I’m still a great fan of Santana. I think you realize that there’s a place for everything in your head, isn’t there? Santana and that album in particular [1970′s Abraxas] reminds me of being 16-17 and just discovering life. I still have a great love for it, a great fondness.
I did love Deep Purple, you know. That idea of getting rid of all the old musicians and sweeping them away like sort of to create a new world was such a young and naïve way of thinking. It was actually quite weird because as a 56-year-old old fart, I wanted to get rid of myself, which is quite scary. I’m so glad I didn’t, because I enjoy being a musician just as much now as I did when I was 21, so I’m very glad I didn’t get my own way, to say the least.
Did you interact with Morrissey or Mark E. Smith (later of The Fall) at the Sex Pistols show in Manchester on June 4, 1976?
No. They were all strangers to us. There were very few people there, only about forty. The venue must have held three or four hundred. Once the The Sex Pistols came on…you were literally in awe. It wasn’t the magnificence of it. It wasn’t like seeing Led Zeppelin do “Stairway To Heaven” or anything like that. It touched a raw nerve in your body.
I walked into that Sex Pistols gig a normal kid, 9-to-5 job, and walked out a musician. It changed a lot of people’s lives who were in that room at the time.
Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook
After that gig, you said that the the band that you were starting would have two rules: “Act like The Sex Pistols [and] look like The Sex Pistols.” However, Joy Division never sounded like The Sex Pistols.
Never. Within six months we were writing songs that you’re going to be proud of all of your life. Bernard and I, while we didn’t sound like The Sex Pistols, we still felt like The Sex Pistols. But the songs we were writing were nothing like them. They were much more adult. They were much more mature, much more long-lasting, much classier songs.
The art is picking an inspiration, using it, and then not sounding like it. We were very good at that. There were a lot of bands that weren’t that great at it.
Throughout the book, you make it clear that you were very proud of Joy Division’s music as well as the fact that you “managed to stay cool, credible, and independent.” Were there any bands that you considered to be worthy adversaries in terms of creativity and integrity?
Psychedelic Furs, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Gang of Four. They all made fantastic, fantastic first records. Siouxsie were to me the closest thing to Joy Division. On the second album, when they got the proper guitarist and the proper bass player, to me they went a bit more normal, shall we say.
What about The Fall?
I’ve always had a very, very strange relationship with [Fall lead singer and songwriter] Mark E. Smith. I am so competitive. Because he was in Manchester, he was sort of too close and too much in competition to ever be friends. Whilst I like some of The Fall’s music, I think he’s a really clever geezer, [we] don’t have great relationship.
It took me years, actually, to admit to liking The Smiths. Until [their 1986 album] The Queen is Dead, I fucking hated them, for no other reason than that they were in competition with New Order. Morrissey was always very outspoken in his distaste for Joy Division. He thought they were miserable and gloomy, and shit basically. You sort of learn to live together. When I got to The Queen Is Dead, I heard that LP, I thought, ‘Ah shit, I can’t pretend I don’t like ‘em anymore!’ I had to give in. It’s a great record.
You name your favorite Joy Division song in the book. I won’t give it away, but I will quote you as writing, “I mean, it might change tomorrow.” Have you changed your mind since the book came out?
I did! (laughs)
New Order: Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert
Do you plan to write a book about New Order specifically, or do you consider The Hacienda, your previous work, to be that book?
I’m going to write a New Order book specifically. The Joy Division book is about boys chasing a dream, you know, coming from punk, not sullied by money or excess, drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll. Once we got to New Order…it was a lot about sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, so it’s a completely different story.
Bedrosian was classically trained as a child by his mother and father, each of whom were honors music graduates of Lowell State College (now UMass Lowell). As a teenager, he would travel throughout New England to see P-Funk perform, meeting Clinton and giving him recordings of his playing at every opportunity. He got his first paid assignment for the band at age 19, officially joined at age 22, and is now in his 13th year of service.
Coming from a family of Armenian extraction, Bedrosian studied Middle Eastern history at the University of New Hampshire and is something of an expert in Armenian history and ethnomusicology. In addition to his work with P-Funk and several other projects, he fronts the band Secret Army, which released a new album called The Clock this year. He is also the father of a four-month old daughter.
I spoke to Bedrosian by phone from his home studio in Tallahassee, Florida, before he travels to New England for a mini-tour that will include a stop at Opus Underground on Sunday, December 20. (Show up early to check out the spectacularly talented Sarah Seminski and her band The Wild Versitile.)
Q: How did you first meet George Clinton and was it in any way the first step toward your joining P-Funk?
A: There was a contest in ’97, ’98, back when George was wearing those big bedsheets. He’d cut a hole in a bedsheet and wear it over his head. That was like his costume. He was doing a contest where fans could make the bedsheet and the best ones would win a chance to meet him. I put together a bedsheet, made with all the different lyrics and stuff, pictures of different characters from the mythology of P-Funk. [It was] very carefully planned and executed, and he loved it and he wore it at the show in Providence, Rhode Island. And I got to meet him and the band, and that was when I first started dropping off my music. I thought that if I could just meet him, I was sure there was a chance I could let him hear something, and if he heard it, I knew he’d like it. That’s how I went about it.
Q: Are you the youngest member of the line-up?
A: I’m the second-youngest musician in the band. The youngest is our first-line drummer Benzel [Benjamin “Benzel Baltimore” Cowan, Jr.], who’s also the drummer for my band Secret Army. He’s also the son of the longtime trumpet player for the band, who’s been playing for 37 years, Bennie Cowan. Other than him, I’m the youngest musician in the band, but I’ve been there for a longer time than a lot of guys that are even older than me.
Q: Does having studied the Middle East at the University of New Hampshire come in handy nowadays?
A: It comes in handy for my touring life in that P-Funk plays all six livable continents all year round. I meet people from the Middle East all over the world. It doesn’t matter if they’re Arab or Iranian or Armenian, if they’re Sunni or Christian or anything, there’s always a connection there. And that connection always helps me with reaching out to people, potential fans, also friends and just connections in general in this world of social networking.
Q: Did you take any music classes in college?
A: Yeah. At UNH, we studied directly under Clark Terry, the great jazz trumpet player. He was a very important honorary professor there. I took a number of American music classes on jazz and things like that. When I had first gone to college, I realized that a music major for me was not the move because I’d already done 18 years of fairly strict classical training under the tutelage of my parents in a very prestigious piano and music school. I knew that the music major for me was going to be review.
Q: How may shows would you say that you play in a typical year?
A: In a typical year, it’s anywhere between 240 and 320. It could be anywhere between 120 and 180 shows just with George. I play with about six to 10 different bands a year, give or take, but P-Funk is my main gig. I like to play. I like to work. I’ve got two of my own bands, plus my piano shows, plus I play in a ska band, I play in a jazz group, I play in an Armenian ensemble.
Q:What is your most recent musical project and what can people expect at your Opus show?
A: I just put out a new album calledThe Clock this year. It just came out in September. Secret Army is going to do stuff from basically every album that we’ve put out. We’re working on our eighth album now and next year will be our tenth anniversary as a band. We definitely going to do a lot of stuff from all the different albums and were going to do a little Funkadelic stuff, too, and maybe even surprise ourselves and do some brand brand new stuff.
Q: How would the young you react to being told that he would one day be a permanent full-time member of P-Funk?
A: “I told you so!” (laughs)
Danny Bedrosian & Secret Army with Sarah & The Wild Versitile at Opus Underground (97 Washington St., Salem, MA). Sunday, December 20, 7 p.m./$15/21+.
Family Affair: Among those who graced the Wilbur stage were a husband and wife on bass and backing vocals and a father-and-son rhythm section
With an old album to celebrate and a new one to promote, there is no stopping The Zombies.
No one with the slightest inclination to read a review of a Zombies concert needs to be told that the band’s 1968 release Odessey & Oracle is one of the top-tier nobody-heard-it-at-the-time-but-now-only-the-most-wretched-among-those-who-have-heard-it-don’t-like-it albums. Therefore, it was only a matter of time until the band decided to perform it on tour in its entirety.
Although The Zombies were a bit late to this particular party, no one at The Wilbur on Tuesday night was complaining. It turned out, moreover, that they probably had a good reason for having not having done so until this year. As keyboardist and founding member Rod Argent(click for my interview with him) explained toward the end of the show, the current tour would not have happened if any given performer on the stage that night had been unable to take part. This seemed only fair, as bassist Chris White—who, Argent noted, had not been on stage with the band since 1966—wrote seven of the 12 songs on Odessey & Oracle, credit for the release of which should go largely to Columbia Records A&R man and longtime Somerville resident Al Kooper.
Despite having an ample back catalog that could attract a decent-sized audience any time they wanted to tour, Argent and fellow founder/vocalist Colin Blunstone are clearly committed to having new material to perform. Their 2013 U.S. tour(click for my review of their July 2013 show in Arlington, MA), their most extensive stateside trek in many years, served as a somewhat belated opportunity to promote the 2011 album Breathe Out, Breathe In.
This time around, the band was out to not only show off their 47-year-old masterpiece, but to foster interest what was on Tuesday night the not yet officially released Still Got That Hunger.
The attention paid to the new material was far from perfunctory. Six of the 13 songs that made up the evening’s first set were from Still Got That Hunger. Although “I Want You Back Again” is a rerecording of a song from the pre-Odessey & Oracle days, the lyrics to “Moving On” (“What doesn’t kill me will fill me with life”) and “Chasing the Past” (“I will take tomorrow and give it hell”) made it unmistakably evident that these guys who would otherwise qualify as old age pensioners are living in the present and look forward to a fruitful future. (“Maybe Tomorrow,” another new song, includes a quoted Beatles lyric that, according to Argent, Sony Publishing insisted they remove but Paul McCartney personally approved.)
Of course, a band with as much history as The Zombies certainly has every right to fondly reflect up on its past. However, they did so somewhat mawkishly—but also somewhat touchingly—on the new song “New York,” in which Argent recalls the band’s first trip to the United States in December 1964, the highlight of which was a Christmas Day visit to Brooklyn’s Fox Theatre, where Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles “simply took [his] breath away.”
Other celebratory nods to times gone by included “Caroline Goodbye” from Blunstone’s 1971 solo debut, “Hold Your Head Up,” the 1972 number by Rod’s classic rock band Argent, and the timeless Zombies singles “Tell Her No” (which came off as an interesting Beach Boys-yacht rock mixture) and “She’s Not There.”
When the band reconvened after an intermission, it was with drummer Hugh Grundy, who was a member of the 1961-1967 Zombies line-up, and bassist Chris White, who came aboard in 1962. (Original guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004.) Also lending his talents was Darian Sahanaja, who has been a permanent fixture of Brian Wilson’s backing band since 1999.
Members of the Odessey & Oracle line-up (L-R): Rod Argent, Chris White, Hugh Grundy, Colin Blunstone
Together, they presented Odessey & Oracle—which made up the whole of the second set—without any of the fanfare or embellishment that would have been superfluous for an album of such innate splendor. Instead, the band simply played each song back-to-back, with each member reprising his respective vocal roles, so as to not dilute the cumulative impact. Particularly striking was the physically imposing Chris White’s execution of the evocative “The Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914).” Alone at the mic with Argent by his side on the organ, White masterfully captured the terror felt by a young man trapped in the throes of World War I.
With their voices and chops still in prime shape, their enthusiasm clearly undiminished, and a new album that dropped three days after this show, The Zombies are somehow—after more than 50 years—still in it for the long haul.
(Originally published in the Beverly Citizen on April 23, 2015.)
As prodigious session musicians, Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett probably have closer to 1,000 than 100 credits between them. To the extent that either is particularly well known, however, it is as members of the influential and enduring rock band Little Feat, whom Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page called his favorite American group in a 1975 Rolling Stone interview.
Barrere joined the band after the 1972 release of Sailin’ Shoes and first appeared on 1973’s Dixie Chicken, which was one of several albums on which Tackett played without being an actual member. He officially joined Little Feat for the 1988 reunion album Let It Roll.
Little Feat’s early 1970s line-up.
While the résumés of Barrere and Tackett include some of the most noteworthy and popular artists of the past five decades, members of New Orleans Suspects can boast of having contributed to the indelible sounds of a handful of the Crescent City’s greatest music legends, including The Neville Brothers (drummer “Mean” Willie Green), the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (guitarist Jake Eckert), and The Radiators (bassist Reggie Scanlan), not to mention Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, and Professor Longhair.
Saxophonist Jeff Watkins cannot claim such Nola pedigree, but having spent a dozen years as the leader of James Brown’s band more than makes up for that. CR Gruver, meanwhile, is merely an extremely talented classically trained piano player who has the sound of The Big Easy down pat.
An occasion on which these two musical powers ended up in the same place would seem to be an instance of the proverbial meeting of an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
Well, this occasion happened on Saturday night, when Barrere, Tackett, and New Orleans Suspects converged on The Larcom Theatre.
The crowd was age-appropriate considering that the main selling point was the presence of members of a band whose first record came out in 1970. A few early arrivers reminisced of having seen Little Feat with founder Lowell George, who died in 1979 and who would have turned 70 this past Monday.
A woman wearing a T-shirt of the English band Blur’s 22-year old album Modern Life Is Rubbish may have qualified as representative of the younger contingent.
Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett took the stage together shortly after 8 p.m. with only a couple of Stratocaster guitars and a mandolin in tow.
Paul Barrere (left) and Fred Tackett
Their hour-long opening set consisted primarily of Little Feat songs that one or the other composed, including “Down On the Farm,” “All That You Dream,” “Clownin’,” and “Church Falling Down,” which Tackett wrote, sang, and played mandolin on.
They did not neglect Lowell George’s classics, however, tossing in “Sailin’ Shoes” – which Barrere said was his favorite Little Feat song – and “Willin’” back-to-back in the middle of the set.
Before closing with Barrere’s “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” they sang a bit of “Don’t Bogart Me” (aka, “Don’t Bogart That Joint”), which is best-known for its appearance in the 1969 film Easy Rider, and a medley of The Band’s “Long Black Veil” and “The Weight.”
After a 20-minute intermission, it was time for New Orleans Suspects. The quintet immediately shifted into high gear for the lengthy instrumental “Blackbird Special.” Most of the group’s songs included at least two solos, be they guitar and sax, keyboards and sax, or drums and guitar. (I do not seem to remember one by the modest but busy-fingered bassist.)
New Orleans Suspects
Each member received applause for his demonstrations of musical prowess before the songs were over. After the New Orleans Suspects captivated the Larcom crowd for almost an hour, Barrere and Tackett joined them for a 45-minute set of Little Feat numbers such as Barrere’s “Old Folks Boogie,” the Tackett-George composition “Honest Man,” and George’s “Fat Man In the Bathtub,” into which New Orleans Suspects expertly inserted a portion of Dr. John’s immortal “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” as the stage was bathed in the glow of red light.
The second set – during which focusing on any given performer would have provided an entire evening’s worth of entertainment – closed with the obligatory “Dixie Chicken,” after which all seven musicians returned for a two-song encore that showcased Fred Tackett’s trumpet-playing talents.
Overall, the performance was a labor of love for all of the players and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the audience. Those who infrequently attend live concerts will find nourishment enough in this one to hold them over until at least their next outing.