New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: green on red

A Couple of Crazed Vinyl Curios From the 80s

One of the 80s bands whose concerts were most widely chronicled by field recordings was the Gun Club. Which makes sense: when they were at the top of their game, they were one of the era’s most unpredictably explosive live acts. Frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce went to the great whiskey bar in the sky in 1996, but the group remain a foundational influence on the scores of gutter blues bands who’ve followed in their wake.

What’s new is that there’s a Gun Club reissue, two choice tracks just out as a 45 RPM vinyl single ,from the band’s 1984 album Miami. With its with its layers of trebly Telecaster, the stomping Fire of Love – a Jody Reynolds cover – still sizzles. The flip side, Bad Indian is even treblier and closer to straight-up garage rock.

For Gun Club diehards, there’s also a new vinyl album, Soulsuckers on Parade which hasn’t hit the web yet. In this off-the-cuff, live-in-the-studio 1984 session, Pierce is backed by most of the Blasters – guitarist Dave Alvin, pianist Gene Taylor and drummer Bill Bateman, plus Green on Red bassist Jack Waterson. This stuff has been circulating in the cassette underground and then on the web for close to forty years.

Side A is the haphazard seventeen-minute jam Walking Down the Street Doing My Thing, which comes across as a Stooges ripoff, right down to Pierce’s X-rated trash-talking, the “take it down you-all” and the tinkling piano. It’s impossible to think that Pierce hadn’t heard the Metallic KO album and thought to himself, “I can do this too.” The Violent Femmes’ first album and the Doors are also obvious reference points.

The B-side has two blues tunes, the second being two takes of Willie Nelson’s Not Supposed to Be That Way. For someone who was as sloshed as Alvin has admitted to being here, he fires off some memorably unhinged Chicago blues riffage in each of them. It’s a tantalizing hint of the talent that could have made him one of the greatest lead guitarists of his era if he’d stuck with it instead of going the singer-songwriter route. Pierce, who sounds wall-hugging drunk, has the nerve to harsh on his bandmates for emulating a Detroit sound. There are also a couple of throwaway rock covers here as well.

80s Psychedelic Rock Cult Hero Russ Tolman at the Top of His Uneasy Game at Pete’s Last Week

It feels so good to be alive.

That’s the punchline of a song called Shot You Down. In context, it’s one of the most vengefully delicious lyrics ever written. It’s arguably the best track on True West’s 1982 cult classic Drifters album. In his Pete’s Candy Store debut Thursday night, such that it was, True West bandleader Russ Tolman didn’t play that one. But he did play Hollywood Holiday. That’s the title track of the group’s first ep, a snarling mashup of post-Velvets rock, Americana and psychedelia.

The music media at the time called that stuff “paisley underground.” It’s a horribly inaccurate term. True West and their contemporaries the Dream Syndicate, Long Ryders, Green on Red and a whole bunch of other great bands weren’t exactly underground. As the mergers and acquisitions of the deregulated Reagan 80s devastated the radio waves, college radio suddenly was the closest thing to Spotify available at the time. All those bands ruled the college charts. 

And fashion had nothing to do with it. While most kids of the era were bopping to the cheesy sounds of DX7 synthesizers, these groups clanged out a gritty, sometimes trippy sound with the volume and fearlessness of punk but also a country twang and a willingness to go beyond punk’s three-minute marker.

The original incarnation of True West didn’t last long – they broke up in 1985. Tolman reunited the band for a memorable couple of  tours in the late zeros, and most auspiciously, joined forced with his old guitar sparring partner Richard McGrath and a series of collaborators for a well-received west coast tour last year.

Tolman’s a band guy – solo acoustic isn’t his default setting. But with one anthem after another, he reaffirmed that if anything, he’s an even better songwriter than he was thirty-plus years ago. On the surface, Hollywood Holiday is about a sleazy hookup. But it also might be about a murder. In very few words, Tolman built a series of scenarios which could have gone any number of ways: it’s up to the listener to figure out how they resolve, if at all.

And the tunesmithing was sublime. As with his lyrics, an unease and a frequent gallows humor pervade his music. The breakup tune Marla Jane and the wryly boisterous Something About a Rowboat – which as it turns out recounts a thwarted booze-fueled pickup scenario – were among the catchiest. Several others, notably the surrealistically apt Two Drinks From Genius brought to mind Tolman’s old college bandmate Steve Wynn, who was in the house. Was Tolman going to go up the fretboard for those two evil little chordlets as the chorus of Hollywood Holiday turned around? Yesssssss! He closed with a vicious, 60-style garage-psych number: That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It: “You can sign my name to the story, because I won’t,” he intoned over its minor-key changes.

Shows like this you walk away from thinking to yourself, damn, after all these years, it still feels so good to be alive. Not to give anything away, but we may be seeing a lot more of Tolman in New York in the coming months: watch this space!

A Gorgeously Jangly Paisley Underground Rock Masterpiece from Girls on Grass

The first thing that hits you right off the bat about Girls on Grass‘ debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – is the guitars. Two Telecasters, one in the left channel, one in the right, with multitracks in various places. Barbara Endes and Sean Eden’s playing is judicious, wickedly smart, purist and catchy as hell. There’s fifty years of Americana and tasteful, jangly rock in those matter-of-factly measured changes, and long crescendos, and solos that could go on for twice as long and you’d still want more. Girls on Grass know to always leave you wanting something else.

Girls on Grass play what was called “paisley underground” back in the 80s. Blending the twang of Bakersfield country, the insistent chordal pulse of the Velvet Underground and the electric blaze of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, bands like Steve Wynn‘s Dream Syndicate, True West and Green on Red earned a devoted fan base on college radio and in sweaty clubs across the country, and, soon after, around the world. Girls on Grass work that turf with a tightness and tersely imaginative ferocity that would have made them stars in that demimonde. Who knows, if we’re lucky other bands will hear them and we’ll get a paisley underground revival. They’re playing February 19 at Matchless in Williamsburg at 10 PM; cover is $10

The album’s opening track, Father Says Why is a plainspoken young rocker’s escape anthem with a spiraling, hair-raising solo filled with eerie bends over a a tight rhythm section. Too Pretty bounces along on an altered Bo Diddley beat before it straightens out at the chorus, Endes’ narrator broke and brooding over a girl she’s got a crush on…but that girl’s from New York, and gorgeous, and probably out of reach.

What They Wrought looks at the sheer force it takes to build a city…and that the talent and energy that went into building this one will probably never be repeated. The clanging, spiraling solos and contrast between the guitars in each channel has a similar craft and majesty. The band slows it down a little with Fair, a swaying C&W ballad: “I’ll take what comfort I can get, real or imagined,” the sad girl in the story admits.

Drowning in Ego opens and closes with a scampering Tex-Mex flair over drummer Nancy Polstein’s hard-hitting 2/4 stomp and another searing guitar solo midway through. The vindictive When the Pleasure Ends is a dead ringer for the Dream Syndicate (with a woman out front); the way the unhinged lead line slowly pulls away from the center is nothing short of delicious. The twin solo after that’s as tasty as it is intricate, too.

Pissin’ Down a Road starts off as a chain gang song and then hits a gorgeously hypnotic post-Velvets groove, spiced with lingering guitar flickers; it doesn’t even change chords til the turnaround into the second chorus. The way the second guitar echoes the first is an especially neat trick. The nonchalantly savage Return to Earth is another Dream Syndicate soundalike with its multi-channeled jangle and clang, Dave Mandl’s bass finally bubbling over the roar and crash as the song winds up to a mighty peak.

Karen Waltuch’s spare viola enhances the country sway of How Does It Feel. Dave We Love You sends a brisk electric bluegrass shout-out to a guy who “carries twenty film critic books under his arm….someday you’ll teach at NYU.” The final track, with its hints of Hendrix and gospel, is the 6/8 ballad One of the Guys, a fond nod back at someone who was a needed, steadying influence on a rugged individualist during her confused adolescence. There hasn’t been an album in this style of music this good since another band with girls in their name, Girls Guns & Glory, put out theirs in 2014. Like that one a couple of years ago, this is an early contender for best rock record of 2016.

The Plastic Pals Put Their Edgy Spin on Classic New Wave Era Sounds

The Plastic Pals‘ name is a dead giveaway for their sound: ferocious, wickedly tuneful late 70s/early 80s-style new wave and garage-punk. If the Stockholm rockers had recorded their latest album Turn the Tide in 1979 and then had been forgottten, it would be regarded as a lost classic today. The whole thing is streaming at their Soundcloud page, along with their other excellent albums. Yet what they do isn’t purely retro: they add their own guitar-fueled edge and sardonic worldview to well-loved, edgy styles from the late 70s and early 80s. Frontman Håkan “Hawk” Soold sings in good English, with a dry sense of humor that often recalls a classic European band from the new wave era, Holland’s Gruppo Sportivo. Ex-Green on Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas’ production is purist and period-perfect: the growling guitars of Soold and Anders Sahlin in each channel, terse and catchy with no wasted notes, Bengt Alm’s bass and Olov Öqvist’s drums in back, vocals up front where they should be.

One thing that sets the Plastic Pals apart from most of the original new wave bands is that their songs are a lot longer. One of the album’s most spine-tingling tracks, A Couple of Minutes is a good example, a cruelly vengeful, wickedly catchy account of a battered wife. The album’s title track works a bouncy, soul-tinged vintage Elvis Costello vein, a cynical look at how the current global depression hits you between the eyes. Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea nicks the tune from the late 80s Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne hit Runinng Down a Dream and takes it to the next level, with some neat clean/dirty guitar contrasts and a wry Rolling Stones quote at the end. And they go into swaying 6/8 groove for the junkie blues ballad Caramel, She Said, with a hard-hitting, anthemic guitar solo midway through.

Cards sets a biting, bluesy lead over marching multitracked guitars: there are echoes of early Squeeze, the Larch and Radio Birdman in there. Leave It Til Tomorrow has a funky, Stonesy vibe: “Stuck in this tragic sitcom – hey, write me out of the script,” Soold asserts. Miracles follows a slowly ominous, jangly, psychedelic soul-tinged tangent that brings to mind Golden Earring at their most focused. The most memorable song here is the bittersweetly anthemic Providence: with its surreal, nocturnal storyline and blend of country and Memphis soul, it could be the great lost Wallflowers hit. Close behind it is the richly anthemic, soaringly triumphant yet apprehensive All the Way.

The Final Remedy works a late-70s powerpop radio vibe but with better production values. The Sweet Spot again brings to mind Gruppo Sportivo, with its tongue-in-cheek story of a clandestine hookup, half sarcastic, half dead-serious, with some seriously catchy major/minor changes. Traveling completely rips the Radio Birdman classic Man with Golden Helmet, but with its fiery, bluesy guitars and alienated lyrics, it’s a killer song anyway. And Wouldn’t Change a Thing brings to mind Willie Nile at his anthemic best, burning, blues-infused guitars fueling a creepy, phantasmagorical tale. It’s one of the best albums of the year and makes you wonder who else in Stockholm might be making music this good.

Earlier this fall, the Plastic Pals did a brief Dives of New York tour with their pals Band of Outsiders, so it’s not unrealistic to expect them back at some point: watch this space.

Brilliant, Menacing Americana Rock from Mud Blood & Beer

Mud Blood & Beer were one of the best bands in NYC’s late, lamented Lakeside Lounge scene. They play what’s essentially an update on the 80s “paisley underground” sound that was rabidly popular on college radio, a darkly psychedelic, lyrically-driven blend of country twang, electric Neil Young rasp and Velvets stomp. They’ve got a new album, The Sweet Life just out and an album release show on April 13 at 8 PM at the Bitter End. The band has two first-rate songwriters and brilliant lead guitarists in Jon Glover and Jess Hoeffner, who share share an edgy, restless unease. Anger, danger and black humor pervade this album. They make a good team, Glover playing menacing southwestern gothic Steve Wynn to Hoeffner’s somewhat more eclectic, straight-up rocking Dan Stuart. With layer after layer of jangle, clang and roar, guitars and vocals up front, Stephen Swalsky’s bass and Stephen Sperber’s drums up just enough to keep everything rolling, the album’s sonics are better than most vinyl records made these days. Count this as one of the best of 2013 by a mile.

Glover’s Nasturtiums opens the album and sets the tone, a grimly bitter, minor-key, backbeat-driven desert rock anthem that builds to a savage guitar solo, like the Dream Syndicate’s Karl Precoda in especially focused mode. “Silence like an echo from a tomb…for forty days I wandered in the wilderness, returned to find nasturtiums in bloom,” Glove intones. Lost, by Hoeffner is a briskly catchy tune that evokes 80s legends True West, gleaming new wave blended with  luscious layers of Americana guitars. Another Hoeffner tune, You Wanted to Be Misunderstood, evokes the Long Ryders with its galloping, electrified bluegrass vibe and an all-too-brief, blistering Glover solo.

A couple of Glover tunes come next. Little Black Heart takes a spiraling hook that Tobin Sprout could have written and sets it to snarling, twangy rock, totally late-period Dream Syndicate, a band these guys evoke even more savagely on the slow, creepy Corner of His Eye. Hoeffner’s smoldering fuzztone ambience and then a feral, jagged solo highlight this sinister tale of dirty dealing and its potential consequences.

Matches & Gasoline – a Hoeffner number- evokes a steady Green on Red feel, followed by Glover’s snarling title track, which with its offhandedly brutal, bluesy solo wouldn’t be out of place on the Dream Syndicate’s classic Medicine Show album. Hoeffner’s See the Light could be an early True West song, while Glover’s briskly shuffling Be Still amps up the rocking Bakersfield country vibe.

One of Those Days – another Glover tune – returns to a savage Steve Wynn/Neil Young ambience with its menacing midtempo sway, cruel minor-key bridge and dismissive lyrics. Tell Me I’m Wrong, by Hoeffner, could be the Replacements, while Break Your Heart, with its shivery vibroslap sonics, is the most psychedelic track here. The album closes with Testimony, a murder ballad, opening with a tongue-in-cheek ELO reference and snaking its way through a series of increasingly agitated Glover solos to its doomed ending. More bands should be making music like this. In addition to this album, Mud Blood & Beer has their 2009 debut and also the album by Hoeffner’s side project Crooked Highway available as free downloads.