May 312013
 

UPDATED!

Look at what I just stumbled across! This was the moment leading up to the moment detailed in this old post, which originally ran on March 7, 2007. Listen to how excited the crowd was. Listen to all those Philly kids with their distinctive shouts of “Yeah!” You cannot, however, hear my friends and I scratching our heads as this went on (and on and on).

With the recent buzz over the reunited Police, it took me a few seconds to register the news that Genesis had announced a reunion tour. If you’re not old enough to remember the band that preceded Mike + the Mechanics, check out this quote from the press release:

“Genesis is absolutely one of the world’s most exciting bands of all time,” said Michael Cohl, tour promoter. “They have always been an amazing concert experience and I’m thrilled that fans will be able to see them perform again live for the first time in 15 years.”

Absolutely! Townsman Andyr and I saw Genesis’ Light Show at the band’s commercial peak, in 1983, at Philadelphia’s long-gone JFK Stadium. We went to see the opening acts, Elvis Costello & the Attractions (hot off the release of Imperial Bedroom) and Blondie before them. JFK was enormous – a bare-bones, old-school oval football stadium that held 100,000. The place dwarfed Blondie, but not so much that we couldn’t clearly see an ongoing hissy fit between keyboardist Jimmy Destri and drummer Clem Burke escalate until Burke took off a cymbal and flung it at Destri, Frisbie style!
Continue reading »

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Nov 302012
 

Press for the reunited Graham Parker & The Rumour tour (and album) focuses much attention and credit on the band’s appearance in Judd Apatow‘s upcoming movie, This Is 40. I’m sure that played a small part, but longtime members of the Halls of Rock know this 2010 interview with Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont is the main reason the band is back together and playing at Philadelphia’s Theater of the Living Arts tonight. OK, our interview is a distant second to the documentary Belmont discusses in the following interview, but let’s give ourselves credit ahead of Apatow. Next thing you know the Farrelly brothers will be taking credit for exposing Jonathan Richman to a mainstream audience. Go Graham! Go Martin! Go Rumour! I will be at tonight’s show with bells on.

This post initially appeared 3/19/10.

The guitar playing of Martin Belmont has graced recordings and concerts by Graham Parker & The Rumour, Ducks Deluxe, Nick Lowe, Carlene Carter, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, and many more. He continues to keep a busy schedule, playing the music he loves with a reunited Ducks as well as three other Americana-oriented British artists. In 2009 Belmont released The Guest List, a collection of covers sung by most of the singers he’s backed for a significant time over the years. For someone like myself, who grew up listening to Belmont’s work in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s an intimate, low-key way of catching up with the old gang and getting introduced to some Belmont collaborators who are not as well known in the States.

The first sign that Belmont might get into the spirit of a Rock Town Hall interview is when, as we settle into our trans-Atlantic, webcam chat via Skype, he wants to describe his “top-shelf” CD collection lining the walls behind him. There’s a Beatles box set, a Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music, a couple of Elvis Presley box sets. Then he wants to know how we operate in the Halls of Rock. After I basically run him through our mission statement, in which Rock Town Hall serves as a sort of methadone clinic for rock ‘n roll addicts with increasingly busy lives, he says, “I know exactly what you mean.”

I describe my experiences finding out about Graham Parker & The Rumour as a teenager, trying not to come off too much like Chris Farley’s mouth-breathing Paul McCartney fan from Saturday Night Live. Belmont asks if I’ve seen Parker perform solo in recent years – I have. He raves about his old friend’s abilities as a performer and songwriter, and then we get down to talking.

And talk we did. There are a topics we didn’t have time to cover, but as we chatted, rock lover to rock lover, I hope you get a sense of Belmont’s ultimate sideman’s dedication, warmth, and regard toward his collaborators. At one point he talks about the importance of the guitarist serving the song and being able to weave into whatever situation the song and its musicians requires. It was clear to me that these abilities to weave extend well beyond Belmont’s fretboard.

The patented Rock Town Hall Dugout Chatter segment that concludes this interview is presented in audio form. Through my space-age, retro technology for recording this interview, I hope the audio Chatter gives you an added sense of Martin’s enthusiasm and passion for rock ‘n roll. Take it away, Martin!

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Aug 102012
 

"What's your problem now?"

The inclusion of the original web source of this Philly.com article that recently appeared in the print edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer does not do this piece justice. Imagine, if you will, coming home from a long day at the office, being the Elvis Costello fanatic that I am, and seeing Elvis’ face peeking out above the Entertainment section that was loosely buried in the middle of the pile of the day’s newspaper.

“Hmm,” I said to my wife, as she put the finishing touches on dinner, “this looks cool.”

“Yeah, I meant to show you that,” she said, somehow knowing which article I was turning to as she stirred the zucchini and tomatoes from her garden in the saucepan.

The title of the piece was something like, Everyday I Write the Book: Elvis Costello’s Memoirs Are Among the Best by Any Rock Star. There was nothing specifically in the headline about this piece being picked up from Slate. That detail was only listed after the author’s byline, which I did not notice until I had read two thirds through the article and was, regrettably, fairly annoyed.

But good luck finding them. After the Rhino reissue series, Universal Music bought the rights to Costello’s first decade of recordings and reissued them yet again, essay-free, under their Hip-O Select label. Rhino has since stopped releasing even the other ’80s and ’90s records that included Costello’s writings; if you want to own them now, you’ll have to find used copies or pay anywhere from $30 to $80 for new ones on Amazon.

I read the first column of the piece, which ran through the “Books by Eric Clapton, Gil Scott-Heron, Jay-Z and Bob Mould …” paragraph that appears online.

“This thing’s taking a while to develop,” I mumbled across the kitchen as I waited for the piece’s surely buried lead to emerge.

Halfway through the second column I asked, “What is the purpose of this article? What’s the newsworthiness? What’s the commercial angle?”

“I thought it was pretty good,” my wife said, still not realizing the antisocial zone I was entering. “You can buy it now on Amazon.”

“No,” I said as nicely as possible, knowing exactly what antisocial zone I had entered, “the article says you can buy the out-of-print reissues with the liner notes on Amazon.”

I had entered the Rock Nerd Zone, that place where not even sane lovers of music like my wife want to enter.

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Jun 302012
 

I guess as any big Elvis Costello fan might tell you, it’s easy to go back and forth on his great pre-Punch the Clock albums and get fixated on one and then another. I had that moment as a youngin’ with Trust, which for a long time took my number one spot as the BEST Costello disc.

I couldn’t have know how much that album hinted at Imperial Bedroom at the time…but there are a bunch of songs on that which could have been on Imperial and vice versa. But at the time I thought the absolute standout song was “From a Whisper to a Scream”—with Glenn Tilbrook taking up the alternating vocals. [Mod. – Not to mention Friend of the Hall Martin Belmont on lead guitar.]

Wow, how fun I thought—a new wave super duo of sorts! At the time.

Now I listen to that song and kinda cringe. What was Elvis thinking? Why share the spotlight with another dude?? Was this trying for some sort of crossover appeal? Was Squeeze big at the time? Every time I hear it now I wish Elvis woulda sung the whole thing…but it also feels like he was trying to capture some earlier glory (of his faster, angrier days) and it just falls flat to me now.

So 1) … can a I get an Amen? But 2)—the real reason for the post: name me another great new wave singer duo who successfully (or unsuccessfully) pulled of this feat.

Bowie and Freddy Mercury don’t count. Or Jagger with _________.

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Apr 262012
 

Photo by Dan Burn-Forti

Nick Lowe’s 45-year career as a singer-songwriter, record producer, and all-around musical instigator is a one-man Village Green Preservation Society, to quote the Kinks’ 1968 mission statement. After brief spell in a Cream-influenced psychedelic rock band, Kippington Lodge, Lowe and his fellow UK mates, including future standouts in the late-’70s new wave scene, got an early start on “preserving the old ways” in the Americana roots-rock band, Brinsley Schwarz. A big push to launch the band in the States flamed spectacularly, and in the US their records would be left for music nerds to dig out of the far reaches of used record bins for the next decade.

In 1976, following the demise of the Brinsleys, he hooked up with veteran Welsh musician and producer Dave Edmunds and carved out a role for himself “protecting the new ways,” as house producer for fledgling punk/new wave label Stiff Records. His “So It Goes” b/w “Heart of the City” was the first single on Stiff, and it heralded the artist’s devil-may-care approach to writing subversive takes on AM Top 40 hits of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. His solo output at this time peaked with his second album, Labour of Lust, on which he was backed by Edmunds and fellow members of Rockpile. The single from that album, “Cruel to Be Kind,” with the shaggy video including scenes from his wedding to Carlene Carter, is the most vibrant expression of the new wave era’s cheerful sense of fatalism. He must have been a good fit for the June Carter-Johnny Cash clan.

As a producer, Lowe made his mark helping Elvis Costello & The Attractions craft a diverse, high-octane run of 5 straight albums in 5 years, including their unexpectedly sincere take on one of Lowe’s Brinsley Schwarz-era hippie goofs, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Known as “The Basher,” for his no-nonsense approach to both work and play, Lowe wasn’t messing around, although frequently it just seemed that way.

By the mid-’80s, despite a few minor hits and continued successful production work, Lowe was losing his way. His records lost their snap. The jokes were growing stale. The snappiest of that run, 1990’s aptly named Party of One, was nevertheless the end of the line for Nick the Knife.

I suppose with my advancing age I’m not quite so interested in tricks in the studio, sort of wham-bam-thank-you-m’am.

A few years later, financially secure thanks to a Curtis Stigers cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” being included on the soundtrack to Whitney Houston’s schlock smash, The Bodyguard, a mature Nick emerged. He was done chasing pop stardom, done with dick jokes. He embraced his pop classicism on albums like Dig My Mood, The Convincer, and At My Age. His latest album, The Old Magic, goes even further in this vein, skirting the raunch of rock ‘n roll, soul, and country music for something more akin to early ‘60s dinner club pop balladeering. The new album has been a tougher sell for me than his last few gems, but Lowe’s craftsmanship and comfort in his own skin are impressive. Over the phone, Lowe was as warm, open, and engaging as his music might suggest. He made a couple of mentions of the thrill of meeting and playing with one of his own heroes, the recently deceased Levon Helm, and his new musical friends, Wilco. A thrill’s a thrill, whether it’s the thrill of looking backward or the thrill of looking ahead.

RTH: I was looking at your tour schedule and was saddened to see that this coming Saturday you were supposed to play a Midnight Ramble show with Levon Helm. I know you’d appeared with him on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle, which I didn’t get to see. Had you met Levon before, say in the Brinsley Schwarz days?

NICK LOWE: Yes, I sure did. The Brinsleys had a house just outside of London., where we all used to live together. One day some people phoned up and said the Band, who were doing a big show at Wembley, in 1972 or ‘73, needed a place to rehearse. These people said, “Can they come out to your house and rehearse?”

They hadn’t played for a while. We just couldn’t believe it, we were such big fans. Anyway, they all turned up, they played on our equipment, you know, ran once through what they were going to do on the show, and off they went again. I might have said, “Hello.” It was a huge thrill.

RTH: When you played with Levon on Spectacle was that the only time you’d performed with him? Continue reading »

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Mar 172012
 

Sounds of the Hall in roughly 33 1/3 minutes!

In this week’s edition of Saturday Night Shut-In Mr. Moderator reviews some of the underrated strengths of The Attractions and The JBs, our finalists in our long-running tournament to determine—once and for all—rock’s greatest backing band. He also spins some new purchases and wonders what it is that he likes when he likes jazz. Enjoy.

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[Note: You can add Saturday Night Shut-In episodes to your iTunes by clicking here. The Rock Town Hall feed will enable you to easily download Saturday Night Shut-In episodes to your digital music player.]

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Mar 132012
 

The JBs vs The Attractions...Once and for All!

Talk is cheap. This one’s for all the marbles. The JBs vs The Attractions. Cast your vote—once and for all—for rock’s greatest backing band ever!

Once and for all...who is rock's greatest backing band ever, The JBs or The Attractions?

  • The JBs (53%, 25 Votes)
  • The Attractions (47%, 22 Votes)

Total Voters: 47

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Polls are open through Sunday, March 18, at 11:59 pm EST.

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