Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Replacements on Saturday Night Live, 1/18/86.

1/18/86.  The Replacements appeared on Saturday Night Live, their first and only nationally televised appearance in the USA.   I imagine anyone who lived through original Elvis, Beatles, or Rolling Stones (etc. etc. etc.) television performances remembers vividly when these performances occurred.  I do on this one.  I was in college and it was a bitter cold night.  As per usual, we were having a party that was going quite strongly (though truth be told, 6 or 7 additional girls would have helped the gender asymmetry).  At 10:30, Central Time, Saturday Night Live came on.  I halted the party (I am sure in a not altogether suave way) and said (I am sure in a not altogether coherent way) we're watching SNL.

How could it NOT be legendary?  The greatest band in the entire world was going to play AND it was hosted by Harry Dean Stanton, the star of my favorite movie of all time (at that time), Repo Man.  Settling into another Schaefers, me and the remaining party-attendees watched the show.

Honestly, the show SUCKED.  This was a downtime in SNL history and the cast was pretty poor, the writing worse, and the performances stiff and boring.  Sam Kinnison appeared in a stand-up routine.  He was horrifically bad.  Just really, really bad.

But then at the bottom the first hour, Harry Dean Stanton introduces "The Replacements."

Holy Shit.

There they are.

I had seen them a few times before this, but this was NATIONAL TV.  THE BIG TIME.

The initial notes to Bastards of Young were so distorted and somewhat out-of-tune it took a couple of seconds to triangulate.  Once I did, I thought, "oh man."  The pace of the song was fast, loud, and poignant.  Many have noted how drunk the Mats were--and I'm pretty sure they were--but compared to shows I had seen previously, including some a few weeks earlier, they were ON.

Bastards of Young on SNL, 1/18/86

And they were.  Watch the video.  Yeah.  Maybe out-of-tune.  Yeah.  Paul doesn't sing all the lines (find me one song ever where he did).  Yeah.  Bob seems to be playing a slightly different version of the song than Paul, Tommy or Chris. But watch the video.  Listen to the song.  I'm biased (just a little), but I consider it the greatest performance ever on SNL (this is coming from someone who saw the live performances of Elvis Costello and FEAR on SNL).

To me, the greatest moment in the BOY performance is one that no one has ever noted as far as I can tell (which means I may be way off base).  After Paul sings the immortal line "The ones who love us best are the ones we'll lay to rest/ Visit their graves on holidays at best/ The ones who love us least, are the the ones we'll die to please..," he exaggeratedly winks at the camera.  Why did he do that?

In October or November, there was a review of "Tim" in some national magazine (originally I thought it was Rolling Stone but I think it's some other magazine now).   In that review, whoever wrote it noted that that line was emblematic of the genius of PW's songwriting skills.   I think Paul's wink was a way of saying "fuck you" or "c'mon fuckers" or whatever.  But whatever, that moment in the SNL performance sticks with me.

And of course after that line, they launch into Bob's solo, Paul uttering "C'mon Fucker" a line which, legend says, got them banned from SNL.

Fortunately, it didn't get them banned from playing their second song of the night, "Kiss Me on the Bus."

Kiss Me on the Bus on SNL, 1/18/86

Noteworthy here is that Paul, Tommy, and Chris came out cross-dressed.  No, not in bra and panties, but in each others clothes they had worn on their performance of Bastards.  I guess being skinny as a rail has its virtues: if everyone in the band is skinny as a rail and about yay-high, clothing substitution is pretty easy.  Only Bob wore his original attire.

If Lorne Michaels wasn't already shitting large bricks because of "Bastards", he must've transitioned to shitting large buildings when these fuckers came on in each others' clothes and Paul substituting the line "Kiss Me on the Butt" for "Kiss Me on the Bus."  Watch it.  Watch Paul smile each time he says it.  Classic. Epic.

So the Mats were done.  Two songs. Over.  Might as well turn this crappy show off now, right?  For some reason we didn't.  We watched this to the end.

We were not disappointed.  The finishing credits to this episode are not to be missed, especially if you love Chris Mars.  While the cast of SNL, as horrific and lame as it was in those days, is mugging about, our Mats are appearing and disappearing like quarks in a super collider.  As someone once wrote, the cast looked at our fellas as if they were a four-part fart.

Who cares.

That was an iconic night.  One I'll never forget.  Legendary.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Weird Scenes from inside The Mystic ... or The Strange, But Unobservable, Power of Greg Lisher

Captain Bradford (in happier times) and Brad(ford).
With respect to seeing live music, there are few bands I enjoy seeing more than Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker.  Indeed, of all the bands I've ever seen, I've seen these two the most.  Their shows are even more enjoyable during their holiday-period swing through California.  I particularly have, over the years, enjoyed the shows in Petaluma at the Mystic Theater.  All the NorCal CVB and Cracker fans (the diehards, like myself, refer to themselves as "Crumbs") seem to converge on this picturesque Sonoma town. 
 What a thrill it is to reacquaint myself with Big Dave and Kimmy, Steve and Jen, Cynthia, Roxy and Jane, Dave, Curtis, Nancy and Jeff and many, many others.  It is also a time of renewal, a time to branch out and meet new friends.  New friends like ... Captain Bradford. 
When I saw the Captain (whose name I had yet learned), I immediately knew, things are going to get weird.  Mind you, this is a Cracker/CVB show; the bar is pretty f-ing high for something to constitute "weird."  The hearty Captain delivered.
Where do I start with this fella, this crusty swashbuckler? 
Initial appearances matter and so, as he approached the stage during the CVB set--on crutches--he cut a worthy swath in the crowd.  Think God and the Red Sea in the Ten Commandments.  It was *a lot* like that.   
Fair enough.  Dude is on crutches.  People gave way.  
But upon reaching the stage, he removed the crutches from his arms AND...threw them in the trash barrel by the stage. 
It was about this time that Greg Lisher launched into the intro to "Eye of Fatima."  
Artist rendering of St. Vitus' Dance
Dancing like St. Vitus, the Captain occasionally let out guttural groans.  The ferocity of the groans had the pleasing effect of clearing the floor, leaving just me and him in a rather roomy spot in front of Greg Lisher.  The passion of the dance, which included full body contortions and arms enveloping head, induced a rather persistent stream of perspiration.  Oh, and did I mention his neck was covered with bandages and gauze? 
Then it got weird. 
Over the sonic sound of Lisher's guitar, he engaged me in conversation. Why me? Why not?  Why ask? No one ever conquered Wyoming from the left or from the right. 
 I verily transcribe me and the Captain.
CB: "Who is this, Cracker or Beethoven?"
Me: "Uh, this is Beethoven." 
CB: "These guys are [expletive deleted] [inaudible]." 
Me: "Yeah they are (although truth be told, I didn't hear which adjective he chose...but I assume it was a positive one.)." 
CB: [Guttural yell (think Howard Dean in Iowa, 2004)]. 
It is worth noting here that apart from the Captain's sweating, he had the rather annoying tendency to be a close talker. On the good side, he had minty fresh breath.
Then it got weird. 
CB: "Where are these kids from?" 
Me: [As I'm more-or-less the same age as the CVB guys I am amused by the phrase "these kids."] "Well, originally Santa Cruz." 
CB: "SANTA CRUZ!!!!! [Inaudible sentence]. SANTA CRUZ CAL-I-FORNIA???" 
Me: "Yeah, that one."
CB: "NO [expletive deleted] WAY!!"
Me: "Yeah, they were from there. Now they live in different places." 
CB: Inaudible preface leading to the phrase: "BUT THEY SOUND AUSTRALIAN!!!!" 
Me: "Well they were from Santa Cruz." 
CB: [Grabbing my shoulders] "THEY SOUND AUSTRALIAN!!!!" 
Me: "I'm pretty sure they're not from Australia."  
I'm not sure I convinced him CVB is NOT an Australian band.  
Then it got weird. 
Entranced again by Lisher's guitar, he resumed his dancing.  The best way to describe it would be to imagine someone in a straightjacket who just discovered there is a rather randy rodent stuck inside the jacket and wants to get out.  
Thinking my time with Captain was over, I turned to enjoy the CVB set only to be horsetackled by El Capitan.  Arm wrapped firmly around my neck
CB: "What's your name man?" 
Me: "Uh, Brad"
CB: "NO [expletive deleted] WAY!!!!"  
Me: "Yeah, it's Brad." 
CB: "BradLY or BradFORD" 
Me: "Uh, hmmm, Bradford." 
CB: [Guttural Howard Dean] "NO [multiple expletives deleted] WAY!!!!  I AM CAPTAIN BRADFORD!!!!!"
 Me: "Captain??"
Then it got weird. 
The "Captain" next launched into a diatribe, no, dissertation, on who, historically speaking, "Captain Bradford" was.  I learned, as CVB played, that Captain Bradford was at the helm of a whaling ship during the "Pilgrim years."  He was also "responsible" for bringing black people into America and, sadly (apparently), met a foul ending to his life in Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War.  
Me: "So you're named after him?" 
CB: YES!!!!  
And then the Captain disappeared (meaning, he moved to Jonathan Segel's side of the stage.)  Relieved of his command, I resumed my enjoyment of the CVB show, but nonetheless pondered. Pondered OTHER weird moments at The Mystic.  
And then I recalled.  (Insert distorted dream waves.)
My mind went back to the 2007 Petaluma show, CVB playing, me in front of Greg Lisher.  
Next to me stood a withered, crystal meth woman, my wife Arlen next to me trying to avoid the octopus tentacles of the flailing arms of an aging hippie "dancing" to one of the trippy CVB songs.
She turned to me and said she was "David Lowery's neighbor."  I asked her, pointing to DL, "THAT David Lowery?"  
She's says "No.  Him."  And then points to Greg Lisher. 
Throughout the CVB set, she kept calling for them to play "Low."  
They didn't. 
When Cracker came on, by the way, she kept calling for them to play "Skinheads." 
They didn't. 
So whether the Mystic Theater invites the weirdness, or whether the aura of the space in front of Greg Lisher draws this in (admittedly, a perplexing causal argument would need to be established), I can say Captain Bradford most definitely enjoyed whatever world HE was drawn into. 
The Captain, of course, returned to my side, for a time, during the Cracker show.  Sweat-coated and yelling, I lost my desire to find out the reason for the gauze, the bandages, the bandana and whatnot. 
Was he a ghost?  The bandages masking the hangman's rope he escaped?
I will never know.  


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tommy Stinson's "One Man Mutiny" MY REVIEW

About 18 months ago, I heard that Tommy Stinson was recording, in bits and pieces, tracks for a forthcoming solo release, a release that would mark the follow-up to 2004's brilliant "Village Gorilla Head."  I make no secrets and can tell no lies, the news was electrifying.  Anyone who knows me, or, thanks to Facebook, anyone of the hundreds who don't know me but call me "friend" would know that The Replacements (the first band Stinson played in) and the subsequent work of its members  stands at the very pinnacle of what I consider the best rock ever recorded. 

This is particularly the case with the post-'Mats work of Stinson, who, in my opinion, has produced among the most provocative, engaging, honest, and fresh music over the past 20 years.  His records, released in fits and starts, beginning  with Bash and Pop, transitioning to the hard-rocking outfit Perfect, and then his solo effort, the aforementioned "Village Gorilla Head," have captured the guttural essence of the imperfect, flawed, and, sometimes, painful lives most of us live. 

And then the new release, "One Man Mutiny" arrived.

Any real fan of an artist or band will readily admit, there is always some trepidation to listening to the music you have (so impatiently) been waiting to hear.  You know, that feeling, or perhaps rather that fear,  there is "no way" it will live up to expectations.  And we all have expectations, usually unrealistic, often unmet, of the artists we respect.    Or sometimes we take a different tack, and claim something as being "classic" when in fact, it truly is poorly conceived.  A letdown ignored.  Both happen.

Well, here is the short version of this review.  While I'm sure commercial success will elude Stinson, as it usually does with most of the artists I respect (certainly any Mats-affiliated artists), this record is among one of the very best albums I have ever heard.  Yes, I said "album" and yes, I said "very best."  But it is now to the longer review I will turn.  

The opening track, "Don't Deserve You'' sets the tone for this record in much the same way a malfunctioning GPS unit sets the tone for an unexpected, dangerous, and yet imminently fulfilling trip.  You know the story:  you plug in directions from A to Z and it routes you, in turns, through the most risky areas, the most run-down areas, the most beautiful areas, and then, eventually, gets you to your destination.   You have an idea of where Stinson is about to take you, but  you have no idea on how he is going to get there. 

Musically, Stinson takes us on a journey that spans 1950s Texas Swing, 1960s proto-punk, 1970s Faces/Stones blues/rock, modern-era "alternative rock", and drunken saloon songs, sometimes with slide guitar, steel guitar, and even yodeling.  Yes. Yodeling.  All the while, he manages the unimaginable feat of holding it all together in a tight, 10-song set.  Indeed, the sequencing of songs on this record makes it feel as if you have been on a journey, traveling with Stinson and his crew of band mates.

Our journey, our travel with Stinson, however, is fraught with anger, angst, anxiety, and frustration, all pervasive themes on this record.  It's as if the journey, as dictated to us by the fucked-up GPS unit leads to dead ends, down allies and backstreets we don't want to be on, or back to places we've been to but don't want to be at now.

From the start of ``Don't Deserve You'', we are made immediately clear this is not a reprise of "Village Gorilla Head" or, for that matter, anything else Stinson has recorded.   Channeling perfectly 1960s garage rock (think The Standells, Blues Magoos, Count Five), Stinson comes out swinging.  I'll let you decide who the object of his derision is in this song (I have my own ideas) but suffice it to say, I would not want to be that object.   He does not pull punches here.  This is not a polite song.  Lyrics like "You take your life like you take your liquor, cold and hard in a plastic shaker," are all sung in a voice that is truly, eminently angry and bitter.  The song  makes it clear Stinson has some things on his mind, things he's gonna get off his chest. A jailbreak.  Or as The Dead Boys signal in the punk classic "Sonic Reducer":  "I got some news for you, I don't need you too."

From the anger of "Don't Deserve You", Stinson steers us into "It's a Drag," a song one imagines is played in a smoke-filled bar with a loud PA system and an "I don't give a fuck" band playing hard, loud, and drunk. It is on this song when we realize Chip Roberts' slide guitar, first heard on "Don't Deserve You", is going to punctuate this record with undulating urgency.  Roberts' playing beautifully serves as a score to Stinson's travels, a sort-of sidekick along for the ride.  The song itself brings modern sensibility to The Faces or Exile-era Stones without seeming mocking or redundant.  As with all the songs here, Stinson, somehow, figures out a way to make everything current, fresh, and honest. In reference to the band he imagines playing this song, he is explicit: "it's a drag when no one's havin' fun" (slide guitar enter).  

The anger and resentment evinced on the first two tracks abruptly changes on "Meant to Be" a song so deeply longing, one punctuated by thoughts of what should be and, more importantly, what likely will never be--a theme Stinson revisits later.  The couple in the song is hopelessly lost, forever in each others' grasp, but never really able to hold on.    "Baby we're just walkin' hazards, maybe we always knew when to duck" conveys the sentiment.  This particular song may be the most "radio-friendly" song on the album (whatever that means these days) and for good reason.  The play between Stinson's guitar work and Roberts' slide guitar is immaculate and tells as much of the story as the words do.  The backing vocals by Emily Roberts (who sings on every song but one on the record) serves as a perfect counter to Stinson's, giving emotive resonance to the desperation of the situation playing out in this song.  As a side note, Stinson makes two allusions in his lyrics I found compelling.  In one verse, we find a man on a ledge realizing what the "one way down" is, and in the chorus, Stinson makes reference to being in the back of a car.  Whether these allusions were intentionally meant to invoke the The Replacements' "The Ledge" and Big Star's "Back of a Car" (I suspect not), they invoked these songs in me.  I consider that a good thing. 

Following this track, we come to "All This Way for Nothing", a song, self-evident in its title, that evokes a futile journey: "you come all this way for nothing," a trip traveled on a "broken road." Despite the theme Stinson contemplates, the song is a bright exploration of a dark outcome. Indeed "One Man Mutiny" is brilliant on this score.  Stinson can pen the most painful, heartfelt lyrics without ever sounding maudlin, morose, or cliched.

 The broken road of this song leads us to the next track, "Come to Hide," a song that may be the most lyrically and musically complex song on the record. Consider these lines: "Always laughin' 'bout L.A./The trick's to laugh where no one sees you cry/ Always need a good place to lay your gods(?) /Like you need a good place to lie./ Maybe just to stretch the truth ..."  Beautiful.  Brilliant. But the song is really two songs.  The first part is the closest we come to "Village Gorilla Head"-era Stinson: "You're holdin' on for dear life, you're holdin' on too tight" brings to mind "Not a Moment Too Soon."  But the second part of the song, easily identifiable by the one-note piano keys of what sounds like a child's toy piano, takes us far away from VGH.  The child's piano, I think, is important here.   The antagonist of the song is truly looking for a place to hide, like a child looking for shelter in a storm. But sadly, the child never finds that shelter, never finds that place to hide.  And absent that place, he returns to where he was before, naked and exposed.

 After "Come to Hide,"  a brilliant album becomes truly sublime.  I don't have a vinyl version of "One Man Mutiny" but I would guess "side 2" commences with the track "Seize the Moment."  This song, one that propels our journey forward in zig-zag manner, is interestingly titled similarly to  Saul Bellow's 1956 novella "Seize the Day." As with Bellow's character, Wilhelm Adler, the protagonist in "Seize the Moment"  never seizes the moment.  Forever stuck, Stinson almost implores the object of the song to see something larger.  She never does and instead hides insularly.  Stinson tells her to "stick another bandaid on your mood" but she doesn't get the hint.  She never leaves the current:  "You could use a GPS from that old stop sign."  Move on.  She never does.  And she watches "a moment you can't have" wander by, like so many others, perpetually stuck.  Stuck.

But stuck where?

"Zero to Stupid" tells us.  Brilliantly titled, this song co-written with Chip Roberts takes a neck-breaking turn to a fascinating area of "One Man Mutiny."  How Stinson can evoke Lefty Frisell, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and Ernest Tubb  on the same album as The Faces, The Dead Boys, and Big Star is beyond me, as a blogger, to explain.  But he does.  Surely he is assisted by Chip Roberts' yodeling, a necessary addition. Indeed, it seems right.   The protagonist of the song, we imagine, at a bar in Midland, Texas, thinks to himself, "I just can't go from zero to stupid in just one ... in just one ... in just one ... in just one ... ONE DRINNNNNKKKKK."   And as  a side note, I think Stinson (intentionally or not) evokes the Gn'R song "Used to Love Her", the antagonist noting "She used to love me, now she hates me."  Talk about turning a lyric on its head.  Brilliant.

And things get more interesting. 

"Zero to Stupid" transitions to "Match Made in Hell."  Replacements alert: this song is co-written with P. Westerberg.  The musical vibe, underscored by Chip Roberts's guitar and Emily Roberts vocals, resonates with Texas Swing and Hawaiian  country. The song itself provides a punctuation mark to the dysfunctionality evinced on the record: "We're missin' every sign/ It's a matter of fact we're both equally inept./ As a matter of fact it's failure we expect."  And Stinson continues, "As a matter of fact we're both equally to blame/ as a matter of fact we're legally insane."  Replacements fans will love this.

After "Zero to Stupid" the bearings change, heading us for home.  The first stop?  "Destroy Me."  This passionate interplay between Stinson and Emily Roberts' vocals  reprises some themes we've seen before.  "Don't dim the lights baby, I couldn't bear not to see" reminds us  of "Come to Hide".  This song drops the Texas swing and returns to the urgency of "Meant to Be", the heartfelt look of two lovers who (forgive the allusion, but I can think of none better) are aching to be. Stinson writes, he and Roberts sing, "I love the way you look when you destroy me."  Emily Roberts' voice serves equivalently as a musical instrument and  beautiful counter to Stinson's vocals.  There is aching, desire, passion, and love in this song. 

And then this journey comes  to an end with track number 10.  The title track, "One Man Mutiny," is a raw song.  Raw. Live.  Drunken. Evocative.  Raw. Did I say raw?  It counters perfectly the lead track, "Don't Deserve You." Where "Don't Deserve You"   is angry, resentful, and bitter, "One Man Mutiny" is thoughtful, forward, and wistful.  It seems clear Stinson has a lot to say in this song.  Recorded with several band mates from Guns n' Roses, live and raw in the wee hours of a Brussels morning, the song stakes a position:  a polite, yet forceful, fuck you.

Tommy Stinson has had much asked of him.  "Why not a Replacements' reunion?"  "Why be in Guns n' Roses?"  "What do you make of this, that, and the other?" "What about Paul?" "What about Axl?" etc. etc. etc. So when Stinson writes "I can hear everything you say and I just don't give a damn.  Say you got 10 good reasons -- I 'bout got 10 you ain't ever had," you know he hears the cacophony of voices and dosen't really care.  

This underscores the central point of the record.  It is a one man mutiny. 

The playing is brilliant, mostly Tommy and Chip Roberts.  The singing is phenomenal, Tommy and Emily Roberts.  The additional players contribute indelibly  to the record, making "One Man Mutiny" an unforgettable trip. 

Below is a link to "One Man Mutiny."

Tommy Stinson - "One Man Mutiny"