Jan 292015

“What is that?!?!” my wife said across the kitchen table one evening last week, as we each picked away at some work on our laptops. I was playing an album by Clinic in the background.

“I should have known you wouldn’t like them,” I said, “They appeal to my love of ’70s Satan movies.”

“Yeah,” she said, “it sounds like the Cure doing the soundtrack for a Satan movie.”

My wife shares a lot of my music tastes, but she doesn’t like creepy music. Or creepy movies or books or paintings, for that matter. She couldn’t believe how excited I was, recently, to tear through a new book on Charles Manson. The rare times she makes the mistake of being in a room with me while I’m watching a movie like The Omen and cackling with laughter she’s shocked at my ability to a) enjoy such schlock and b) laugh at the scary bits.

You know what Beatles song she doesn’t like, a song I assume all Beatles fans (which she is) likes? “Come Together,” because she says it creeps her out. I love the cult vibe behind that song. I love what I call Satan Movie Rock: Clinic, Psychic TV, individual songs like “Come Together” and “Season of the Witch”… I’m not talking about stupid songs about Satan, but songs that Satan might hum in a private moment.

How do you get your Satan on?

Dec 232014

I just bought tickets to go see The Pat Travers Band at our little suburban club in Vienna, VA. As teenager, I was into this stuff for a short period of time, and it will be a fun retro trip back for me and my fellow-Midwestern buddy. I remember buying his albums, other than his big live album, in the cutouts. He was on Polydor records in the late ’70s, and for some reason a lot of their artists ended up in the $2.99 bin as I recall.

Most of Pat’s music strikes me as just missing the hard rock mark for some reason I can’t put my finger on. Is it because it wasn’t drilled into my head on what became Classic Rock radio?

It’s “off-brand” rock—not quite up to Bad Company or Aerosmith at their best, and probably more than a few notches below. It reminds me of Tommy Bolin solo records or Robin Trower or UFO. Of course, I am probably  thinking about this the wrong way—because these folks have their diehard fans,  I just grew out of it. Anyway, I am kind of looking forward to seeing what Pat is up to at age 61.

Do you have any “off-brand” rock in your stacks that you listen to?

Dec 112014

My close, personal friend Townsman Andyr and I were talking yesterday about what makes a satisfying show for our band, from our perspective (the hell with the audience!). Beside decent sound on stage, an engaged audience (oh, you know we love you!), a sectioned-off band room and moderately clean bathroom, and no more than a reasonable amount of mistakes, we agreed on the following under-acknowledged elements of a satisfying show—for our band, not every artist:

  • Songs are performed faster than they are on record
  • There’s a minimum of time between songs
  • Any song breaking the 3-minute mark is justified by a solo
  • We’re breaking a serious sweat

This led to comparisons between our approach to playing live and the visionary football strategies of Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly. We both like to work fast, get the plays in at the line of scrimmage, etc. Unlike Kelly, we’ve yet to develop visionary approaches to health and nutrition, what we will call “rock science” when we get around to developing these things. We’re not bothered by bills requiring us to play short sets. We’re not about “time of possession.” We can get in more “plays,” or songs, than most bands can in a 4o-minute set, with the soundman breathing down our backs. When we’re running on all cylinders, we could put our 40-minute set against one of Bruce Springsteen‘s 4-hour sets and give Him and His band a run for its money. Yeah, Andyr and I were talking some serious shit!

Then we talked about a certain segment of the local music scene that will never be turned onto what we do, not necessarily because they don’t like our music or us (either or both of which could surely be the case), but because we’re…”too macho” is not quite the right term for what we are, because if you know us we’re really not macho. That’s where the discussion took a turn into levels of shit so deep you may want to put on a protective suit before wading any further.

May 222014

Was Fear‘s 1981 performance on Saturday Night Live the first example of the Made for TV Pit Audience phenomenon, which has become de rigueur for VH1 spectacles, the Super Bowl halftime show, and the like? You know what I mean by Made for TV Pit Audience, right? It’s the elite group of “insiders” of an artist’s fanbase who are strategically encouraged to rush the otherwise guarded pit area so they can show the rest of us how the featured artist truly deserves to be admired and adored.
I suspect something’s missing in the story of this “anarchic” Fear performance on SNL. The hardcore kids slam dancing and stage diving didn’t just happen to get tickets to that night’s performance, did they? They didn’t just happen to be standing at a cleared-out spot at the foot of the stage. They were audience props. They were actually the reason for booking Fear, despite whatever story has long been told about Belushi wanting them on, which may in itself have been true. Fear’s appearance on SNL would have added up to nothing without those hardcore kids placed in the pit to show the rest of America how it was done.
Nov 132013

I had been a fan of all the Coen Brothers movies leading up to Miller’s Crossing, the brothers’ Irish mob genre-bender. The first time I watched that movie I sat there for over an hour thinking, “When the fuck is this thing going to go anywhere?!?!” Suddenly, one thing happened, then all hell broke lose. In the final 20 to 30 minutes I was dazzled. I walked away saying, “That movie was excellent!” My close, personal friend E. Pluribus Gergely, who I believe was sitting alongside me that night, couldn’t believe I was able to change my mind so quickly, so definitively. He still teases me about my ability to “do a Miller’s Crossing.”

I had a similar experience with the movie Lost in Translation. It was a total waste of my time until the party scene, with Bill Murray singing along to “More Than This.” From that point on the movie clicked, and I did a Miller’s Crossing. Patience has its virtues.

Sometimes the opposite occurs for me: I’ll be enraptured by a movie only to have it crash and burn in the final 20 to 30 minutes. The other night I found myself in this enraptured state as I watched the first hour-plus of a 1946 ghost-love story, A Matter of Life and Death (originally released in the US as Stairway to Heaven). I’d long heard about one of the co-directors, Michael Powell, who is name-checked by my favorite director, Martin Scorsese, at every opportunity, but I’d never actually seen any of his movies. This movie got off to a fantastic start! It simply looked amazing, like The Wizard of Oz‘s reverse twin sister, with earth scenes in color and heaven scenes in a pearly B&W/sepia tone. I’m a sucker for sepia tone. Plus it’s a ghost-love story, a genre I am a huge sucker for: all variations on Here Comes Mr. Jordan/Heaven Can Wait, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, even Ghost itself… (I know, hard to believe considering how damn manly I am.) Anyhow, the movie was fantastic until the final act, which I don’t want to spoil but which worried me as soon as it got underway, introducing a device I’m highly skeptical of in movie storytelling. The movie crashed and burned over the final 25 minutes. It went from being one of the most spectacular pieces of futuristic film-making I’d ever seen to merely a brilliantly executed concept that ultimately fell apart and left me highly disappointed.

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Feb 112013

It’s become commonplace now at giant events like Super Bowl halftime shows and awards shows to see an artist perform to an audience of a couple hundred beautiful, enthusiastic, coordinated fans-for-hire doing what I call cheer-syncing (or crowd-syncing), a term I propose adding to our RTH Glossary. Sometimes the camera pulls back to show the crowd rushing the stage as they are set free from their holding pen. In the case of The Rolling Stones’ 2006 halftime show the cheer-syncing professionals were actually enclosed in a pen within the band’s stage. Talk about a captive audience.

Everyone is beautiful. Everyone’s got their hand raised to the heavens, like they’re in a Pentecostal church. There can’t be that many Pentecostal churchgoers at televised rock performances, can there?

How far back does this practice of hiring an audience to crowd the foot of the stage and essentially pee their pants in unison does this practice go? Was this idea spawned after choreographed rock performances in Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy? No one really cheers like that do they? How often does an audience actually rally around a performer the way they do on these televised spectacles?

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Nov 192012

When was the last time you caught a live performance where the band was working it so hard, was so focused as a unit, that it was like witnessing a steam engine with the throttle open wide? A performance that induced in you a giant shit-eating grin? I’ve seen a lot of great performances, and many great recent one’s to boot, but I have to go back a-ways to land on a show that meets this criteria. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.


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