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Prisoners Of Second Avenue, Hiro Ballroom, NYC: I know where I’m gonna go January 20, 2012

Posted by Anton A in American music, Prisoners Of Second Avenue.
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Are Prisoners Of Second Avenue the best 1960s cover band on the planet? They’re certainly contenders in my book. Their repertoire is wide: Hendrix, Blind Faith, The Who, Buffalo Springfield, The Band, Mountain, Moody Blues – you name the band, chances are they’ve got a song or two up their sleeves. On Friday they played for hours to a packed Hiro Ballroom, on the lower level of the stylish Maritime Hotel.

The band are:

guitarist Jimmy Vivino, currently with the Max Weinberg Seven and, in the rest of his spare time, the top-notch Beatles cover band Fab Faux;

 

 

John Conte, bassist with Southside Johnny And the Asbury Jukes, also with Early Elton, an eclectic band that pays tribute to Elton John’s “power trio” days;

 

 

and Rich Pagano, drummer for Ian Hunter, Patti Smith and many others as well as Fab Faux and Early Elton.

 

 

The Prisoners got a boost last night from Catherine Russell, who added fiery vocals to Wang Dang Doodle, among others. Highlights from the core trio included an inspired version of Theme From An Imaginary Western; the Who’s Love Ain’t For Keeping segueing into Won’t Get Fooled Again, with Jimmy cleverly mimicing the synth part with adroit use of his wah pedal; and a rollicking rendition of Cripple Creek.

Prisoners Of Second Avenue don’t simply replicate the songs we know and love; they put their own spin on many of the tunes, shifting the tempo so that you aren’t quite sure if those often-familiar chords are actually going to lead where you think. They deliver a passionate, rousing tribute to the music that was in the air when I came of age. It’s nostalgia the way it oughta be. I hope that they play New York again soon.

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Blue Coupe, R Bar, NYC: On flame with rock & roll March 17, 2011

Posted by Anton A in American music, Blue Coupe.
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On Thursday I had the chance to see three original founding members of Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper rock the back room of a small bar on the Bowery for $10. How could anyone pass that up? What an outrageously wonderful St. Patrick’s Day treat!

Albert Bouchard, Joe Bouchard and Dennis Dunaway have been playing music together in various permutations for a couple of decades now. (Albert and Joe go back much further, of course, and all three have been friends since the 1972 Alice Cooper/Blue Oyster Cult tour that put both bands on the national map.) Joe performed with the Dennis Dunaway Project, was part of BDS (Joe,& Dennis plus original AC drummer Neal Smith}; Albert and Dennis sat in at various times with Joe’s first post-BOC band, the X Brothers.

For three years in the last decade this loose collective of musicians played a free springtime show in Union Square as part of the annual New York ASPCA Benefit. Last spring the Benefit went in another direction. This year, as Blue Coupe, Joe, Albert and Dennis het up the R Bar something fierce. I hope this marks a new spring tradition. Is it any coincidence that the next day was the warmest day of the year so far?

I arrived at the R Bar just before 9:00, which enabled me to catch the Blue Coupe sound check. The small crowd was treated to truncated versions of BOC classics I Ain’t Got You and Hot Rails To Hell, while the sound guy struggled with repeated power failures to half of the stage. Eventually he got everything working.

Low Society, a Texas blues-rooted outfit fronted by the strong, gritty voice of Mandy Lemons (close your eyes and you may be reminded of Big Mama Thornton or Koko Taylor), steamed up the room with a half-hour opening set.

A fairly efficient equipment change followed; Blue Coupe came on just after 10:00 and launched with the Alice Cooper hit Be My Lover. They played for nearly two hours, mixing up five songs from their excellent new album, Tornado On The Tracks, four classic BOC tunes and six AC songs. It was a blissful ride back and forth through four decades of music. Some of BOC’s best material was written by Joe and Albert; Dennis is a great songwriter as well. It’s no surprise that their new songs mesh seamlessly with the familiar AC and BOC tunes.

I’ve been a BOC fan since August 1972, when I went to an outdoor show in the Bronx on a whim, knowing nothing about them, and came away hugely impressed with how well they played their instruments. Joe and Albert have only gotten better over the years, with Joe returning to his original guitar playing after leaving BOC. From the years they’ve spent playing with Dennis, they’re all on a wavelength where they can take songs in unexpected directions, shifting gears and running off into bridges that come out of nowhere and always lead to interesting places. Imaginative chord progessions and striking tempo changes are their forte; it’s a thrill to see them bring their craft alive.

Lisa Winn, from Bouchard’s Outrageous Canadians (another of Albert’s projects), did a lovely job with her haunting vocals on Waiting For My Ship and rocking choruses on School’s Out.

 

 

There was also a pole dancer who enhanced a few select songs. I had the sense that she came with the venue rather than the band but I’m not entirely sure.

 

 

On Monday, Dennis Dunaway was playing to a glittering crowd at the Waldorf to celebrate the Alice Cooper band’s induction into the R&R Hall Of Fame. Three nights later he’s in a tny bar on the Lower East Side and I have the privilege of standing right by the stage, not six feet away, watching him play with two other master musicians.

These guys have still got the passion for what they’re doing. It shows in the devilishly catchy chords and melody in the Grammy-nominated You (Like Vampires), the intelligent arrangements of the new songs, and the fire they put into every performance. This is the kind of night that leaves me grinning and wanting to run through the streets shouting “I love New York!”

The main set list: Be My Lover, Burnin’ For You, Cities On Flame, Is It My Body?, Angel’s Well, Fallen Angel, Black Juju, Tornado Warning, You (Like Vampires), I’m 18, Waiting For My Ship, School’s Out, Don’t Fear The Reaper, Godzilla

Encore: Under My Wheels.

More photos are available here on my photobucket page.

Joe Hurley’s 12th Annual Irish Rock Revue, Highline Ballroom, NYC: Stoned me to my soul March 12, 2011

Posted by Anton A in Irish music, Joe Hurley.
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Joe Hurley, a London-born Irish fellow, has become fixture of New York’s East Village rock community over the last two decades. For the past dozen years, he’s organized and staged an annual Irish Rock Revue where a cavalcade of musicians, writers, poets and artists spend four hours or so performing a wide variety of Irish (loosely defined at times) songs, with maybe a couple of non-Irish tunes thrown in for good measure. I became aware of this event only two years ago; this was the first year I managed to attend. I regret that it took me so long; the night left me with a huge grin on my face. There’s no better way to celebrate the imminent arrival of springtime.

The show was anchored by the rock-solid Revue band. From Joe’s comments during the evening, I gather that guitarist / keyboardist Jon Spurney serves as the show’s musical director, as well as delivering some fine onstage chops. Mark Bosch, the lead guitarist in Ian Hunter’s Rant Band and a musician I’ve long admired, held up his end with his usual combination of style, aplomb and taste. Sal Maida was superb on bass, as was Steve Goulding on drums. Kenny Margolis had a deft touch on keys and accordion. Megan Weeder wove the lovely lilting sound of her fiddle through the night’s performances, adding that essential texture that let you know you were at an IRISH rock show.

A long parade of stars delivered splendid individual performances. My three sentimental favorites:

1) Dennis Dunaway (original Alice Cooper bassist) and Albert Bouchard (former Blue Oyster Cult drummer), who now form 2/3 of the fine hard rock band Blue Coupe (with Albert’s brother Joe, also a BOC alum, on guitar) took over the rhythm section for two songs with the Revue Band. The fabulous Tish & Snooky, who delivered backup vocals & dance moves from the front of the stage all night, made sure to give Blue Coupe a shoutout.  The ensemble  performed a stirring rendition of U2’s Hands That Built America, with Marni Rice & Charlene McPherson sharing the vocals, and then went into a ripping School’s Out, with Joe Hurley taking over the lead vocal. (Joe didn’t forget to remind us, twice, that Dennis D. was born in Arizona, but of Irish parentage.)

2) Jeff Kazee, keyboardist and vocalist in Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes, played keys on a couple of tunes, and worked the stage as front man on an extended Van Morrison’s Domino, energizing the night with his fiery tenor voice and lithe soul-man moves.

3) Gene Cornish, from the Rascals, gave the room a lesson in how to play rock & roll Strat; his performance of Good Lovin’, sharing vocals with the energetic Victoria Levy, stripped away the decades and got everyone shaking & moving. When Gene announced that The Rascals are back together for the first time in 40 years, I felt excited. Yes, there’s some nostalgia there; they headlined my first rock & roll show, back when they were known as The Young Rascals; but based on this performance, I bet that they will still deliver the goods.

There were so many other fine moments. Tami Lynn gave a soulful peformance of another Van Morrison tune. Someone, somehow, had got their hands on the recently passed Gary Moore’s turquoise-colored Les Paul; Ricky Byrd, from Joan Jett’s band, played it, starting out with a series of solo blues lines which segued into Thin Lizzy’s Cowboy Song. The classic The Boys Are Back In Town followed, with Mark Bosch & Jon Spurney evoking Lizzy’s signature harmonized lead guitar sound in splendid fashion.

Niamh Hyland sang a haunting solo a capella version of the folk song, Greenfields, which almost completely hushed the room. Michael Fornatale gave an energetic rendition of Come On Eileen that had the whole room dancing.

At break time for the Revue Band, we were treated to a fine set of Joe singing several of his own songs with his band, The Gents, who have the estimable Tony Garnier on bass when he’s not on the road with Bob Dylan; we were lucky that Tony had this month off.

There were 46 songs in all; I’m obviously glossing over a lot of songs and artists. There’s more detail on Joe’s website and the Revue’s Facebook page. The grand finale had virtually everyone on stage for the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen – as Joe pointed out, John Lydon’s parents were born in the same village in Ireland that his own family came from. That’s what Joe said, anyway. There’s always that Irish connection if you look hard enough.

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Wellmont Theater, Montclair, NJ: All my cares just drift right into space February 26, 2011

Posted by Anton A in American music, Southside Johnny.
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Southside and the Jukes returned to the Wellmont tonight for another rousing, rollicking evening. Like last year, they played a terrific 2 & 1/2 hour show. By somewhere past the midpoint they had most of the crowd on their feet, dancing their shoes off in their seats or down front by the stage. 

  

I can’t pretend to be a dispassionate critic here. After six years of not seeing this band – I have no idea how that happened but it did – last May’s Wellmont show made me a born-again fan. I saw the light that night and caught the Jukes six more times in 2010. I’m hoping at least to equal that this year. No matter what kind of trials and tribulations you’re going through, if you have a taste for the Jukes’ blend of soul-drenched horn-heavy R&B, they’ll leave you feeling exhilarated and glad to be alive when the night is over.

 

You won’t catch these guys playing the same show twice; regardless of who might wander in and out of the band on a given night, Johnny changes the set list every time. These musicians know each other’s moves so well, they can turn on a dime and respond to Johnny’s on-the-fly song choices at the drop-kick of a hat. You never know what you’re going to hear next at a Jukes show; one night’s encore may be the next night’s opener. That is such a rare thing.

 

The Jukes were traveling with one guitarist last night, the talented Glenn Alexander. I’d gotten used to their two-guitar attack last year, with Andy York and then Billy Walton adding more of a hard rock edge to their sound. Last night’s performance was no less of a careening thrill ride for having one fewer of the crew on board. They revved it up and dialed it down in response to Johnny’s cues, taking the audience on an energized trip through the sounds and melodies of several generations, some now starting to fade into history. Bless the Jukes for keeping those tunes alive.


 

The band benefitted from the usual excellent sound mix at the Wellmont, with each instrument and voice ringing clear and distinct. Glenn’s solo guitar allowed John Conte’s fine bass work, Jeff Kazee’s keys and Tom “The Goose” Seguso’s percussion to stand out a bit more, not to mention the amazing horn section.



 

 

Johnny seemed in rare form; his voice was as rich and strrong as I’ve ever heard it, his vibrato didn’t waver. Maybe it was the month off, or maybe Jeff Kazee has found him some new voodoo potion to soothe the vocal cords; whatever it was, Johnny fired it up early and stoked the coals all night.

 

I’ll note a few personal highlights; you can find the full set list here at the wonderful Jukes web site. Johnny’s cover of Walk Away Renee, as always, was an emotional stroll down Memory Street. Why Is Love Such A Sacrifice?, written by early Jukes guitarist Billy Rush, was strong and passionate. Cover versions of Nothing But A Heartache, spiced with Jeff’s fiery Farfisa-toned keyboard riffs, and You’re My Girl with blazing vocals from both Johnny & Jeff, left an almost painful grin on my face.

 

Johnny & Jeff did one of their patented comedy routines. Johnny: “Who are all those peoople standing offstage behind you? There are like 30 people back there.” Jeff, “I don’t know. I’ve never seen them before.” Johnny, “Are they your cousins or something? It’s like playing at Grand Ole Opry up here. Hmmm….. Oh Shenandoah….” And they were off into an impromptu version of the folk classic, which flowed seamlessly into a soulful rendition of Up On The Roof. The song took me back five decades to summer nights in Missouri, listening to the Drifters on my tinny transistor radio when I was a kid in 1962. I love the way that Johnny and the Jukes can stir up memories with an old song like that.

 

There were ripping versions of Johnny’s newest tunes from the Pills & Ammo album. You Can’t Bury Me and One More Night To Rock were full-tilt foot-stompers.

 

 

 All Night Long, their most Stones-like original tune, from the superb Better Days album, was outstanding, with Johnny wailing one great blues lick after another on the harmonica and Glenn matching him line for line.



 

 

A few songs later they played their versions of Happy and Loving Cup, just in case we hadn’t had enough Stones flavor for one night. We’re Having A Party marked the end of the main set; Mark Masefield, from Outside The Box, joined Jeff at the keys to add an extra layer of rocking piano to the first finale. 

 

You know you’re at a Jukes show when the Lead Singer yells, “Play me a surf tune!” in the middle of the encores and the band immediately breaks into a sonic tsunami of Wipe Out.

 

 

 

What a blast it all was. The Jukes know how to have fun and take you along for the ride. They’re the best tonic for whatever might ail you. I look forward to my next dose.

The Church, B.B. King’s & Highline Ballroom, NYC: Wish I knew what you were looking for February 17, 2011

Posted by Anton A in Australian music, Church.
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Textures. Beyond the brilliant songwriting, it’s the sonic textures that make The Church my favorite band on the planet. You can tell how much attention they pay to getting the right sound for every song. A dazzling blend of guitar tones from Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper, astute drumming by Tim Powles and sharp bass playing from Steve Kilbey waxes and wanes from melodic to dissonant to ethereal and back again; it’s stunning ensemble work that frames Kilbey’s distinctive baritone voice as he intones a rush of imaginative lyrics that wander from wry to surreal: The Church sound like no other band, and create a memorable flow of music that resonates deep in my brain.

Thirty years on, the Australian band (though as Marty will tell you, there’s only one Aussie in the group) is still reaching new peaks of recording and performance. They are at their best on their current Future Past Perfect tour, which crossed the U.S. this month and came to New York for two nights. As on their previous Intimate Space tour, the show marches deliberately backwards through time, this year with performances of three full albums: Untitled #23, their latest neo-psych gem; Priest=Aura, a masteripiece of surrealism from 1992 with dark currents running through it; and Starfish from 1988, one of their most accessible and melodic albums, which catapulted them out of Australia and put them onto the world pop charts with the single Under The Milky Way.

The Church gave their enthusiastic New York fans three full hours of music in a nearly four-hour evening, with two short intermissions. It’s a fascinating way to stage a show: if you’re a serious fan, you walk into the evening knowing exactly what the setlist will be; there are no surprises there, though you know you’re going to hear songs that the band has never performed in concert. Everything hinges on the performance itself, and they brought it off spectacularly.

Steve, Peter, Marty and keyboardist Craig Wilson are all multi-instrrumentalists; the stage manager and another hand were constantly handing off Rickenbackers, Fenders, other guitars, basses and a mandolin, sometimes in mid-song so that someone could add the right texture at the necessary moment. On Anchorage, towards the end of the first set, both Peter and stage manager Wes Gregorace played bass, with the other three on guitars, each playing a distinctive part to build a huge work of sonic architecture, with “the divine Tiare Helberg,” per Steve’s introduction, adding a whispery female voice to the complex textures for just that one song. She is also the band’s tour manager; The Church is an ongoing effort where everyone plays multiple roles.

Marty handles the bass on a number of the songs, with Steve either playing guitar or simply declaiming the songs and working the stage. He’s developed a unique style of gesture, maybe a blend of modern dance and what seem to be a sorcerer’s incantatory passes, that paints an appropriate mood for the lyrics when he works the stage. As front man, he also delivered bits of amusing patter (“The strength of your New York charisma has made my instrument go out of tune!”) in between songs.

There were new approaches to many of the songs. From Starfish, Peter played a softer version of the burn-into-your-brain riff that underpins Destination. Milky Way was more driving and authoritative than the recorded version, Reptile hissed and slithered, propelled by Marty’s sparkling high-note arpeggios on a black Rickenbacker. Hotel Womb was made heavy and dramatic, reimagined to be a great show closer with passionate vocals from Steve.

Peter’s fluid, intelligent playing shone all night, but seemed particularly to come to the fore in the Starfish set. Tim Powles’ drumming was wonderfully crisp, a model of playing to enhance every song. As on their last tour, Craig Wilson filled out the sound on keys, guitar and occasional percussion.

There were so many highlights, I’ll never get them all. Steve’s dramatic front-man intepretation of The Disullusionist, from Priest=Aura, gave the song a new edge that was sharpened by the ferocity of the band. Ripple, a fan favorite, was sublime, with Marty giving the crowd a wicked dose of lead guitar. Chaos is a ten-minute epic that shows that the Church can do art/damage/noise with the best of them; the live version was intense, with Steve acting out the song, crouching, stumbling and covering his ears as if the sounds of dissonant feedback were driving him mad during the instrumental sections..

A note for musicians: the entire Priest=Aura album performance on this tour featured a six-string bass that looked like a customized purple Fender Broadcaster. Steve played it using a pick, occasionally wandering into the high notes to get distinctive tones for certain passages. He handed this special instrument off to Craig Wilson for The Disillusionist and a couple of other songs.

These were epic performances of deeply rich music, inspiringly conceived and executed by a band and a crew with a rare sense of focus. For my money, we won’t see anything better until the next time The Church returns to our shores.

Hot Tuna, Beacon Theatre, NYC: Happy 70th, Jorma! December 4, 2010

Posted by Anton A in American music, Hot Tuna.
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Hot Tuna took over the Beacon Theatre for two nights this weekend to stage a gala celebration of Jorma Kaukonen’s 70th birthday. Both nights featured over three hours of music, two sets split by a 35-40 minute intermission, from some of the best players on the planet. Jack Casady was in top form on the bass, with Barry Mitterhoff on his remarkable array of eclectic stringed instruments and Skoota Warner on drums rounding out the current band. This was the first time I’d seen Skoota in the lineup; his playing is crisp; he seems to add a new layer of energy to the ensemble.

Each night featured a different array of guest artists from Jorma’s and Tuna’s past, present and future. Friday saw Larry Campbell on fiddle and guitar, Warren Haynes on guitar, Bruce Hornsby on dulcimer and keys, Byron House on standup bass, Bill Kirchen (from the legendary Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen) on guitar, all joining the band in various confirgurations. (Specifics are posted on Jorma’s blog, no need for me to repeat them.) Happy Traum, John Hammond and Chris Smither also played and performed some of their own songs.

Every song was a highlight. John Hammond shone with blazing performances of I Can Tell and You Know That’s Cold. Bill Kirchen’s rockabilly playing was a real treat. Jack’s and Byron House’s bass duets on Water Song and 99 Year Blues were mesmerising, full of rich, deep tones you’ll never hear anywhere else. It was truly a special stretch of music that will remain at the top of my jumble of Tuna memories.

Everyone stood out on the twelve-minute rendition of Funky #7, particularly Warren Haynes and Larry Campbell, who punctuated the long jam in the middle with a stunning duelling-guitars conversation that evolved into a sweet stretch of Allman-style harmonizing riffs.

Saturday’s guests were Tuna alumni Pete Sears on keys, Michael Falzarano on guitar and Bob Steeler on drums. Oteil Burbridge brought his bass wizardry to the mix, while Bob Weir peppered the evening with that old San Francisco vibe. Steve Earle added real fire with peformances of Nothing Brings You Down Like Your Home Town and Brand New Companion, and then some tasty guitar work on the last two songs of the night. I don’t think of Earle primarily as a guitarist, but I really enjoyed his approach to playing the electric.

The Burbridge-Casady interplay on Bowlegged Woman, Walking Blues and 99 Year Blues was astounding. The Steeler-Warner drumming duo cranked up the energy at the end of the first set and for the last seven songs in the second. The real showstopper, though, was Bob Weir singing When I Paint My Masterpiece, with Pete Sears on accordion adding just the right accents to bring out the full flavor of that historic song.

What a pair of shows it was. Every time I think of moving away from this area, I remember so many special nights like these and wonder how I could live without them. There’s still no place like New York City.

Ian Hunter in New York and New Jersey: It’s a bloody long way November 13, 2010

Posted by Anton A in British music, Ian Hunter.
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Of all the songwriters I’ve grown to admire over the years who are still giving inspiring performances and writing stirring new songs, only Bob Dylan has been at it longer than Ian Hunter. I’ve always felt a very personal connection to Ian’s words and music. Nobody can write lyrics about family, friends and lovers and pull on your heartstrings like Ian. Add his sense of humor, feeling for rock & roll bombast and gift for melody, and you’ve got a combination that for me is irresistible.

I’ve been a fan for forty years. In concert or on record, Ian can still nail your heart to the wall with one quick phrase. Let me try to explain. Yes, we’re in for another long ramble.

I became aware of Ian’s band, the legendary Mott The Hoople, in 1969. (Technically it wasn’t Ian’s band then, but it’s not my intent to write a detailed history here.)  The M.C. Escher image on the cover of their eponymous first album was a stroke of marketing genius; as the psychedelic Sixties were winding down, a lot of kids on college campuses bought the record just to have that mind-warping picture around. We weren’t really prepared for the album itself. It opened with an instrumental cover of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me; driven by Mick Ralphs’ crunching guitar sound, the rendition was blazing but made no conceptual sense as the first song on a debut album. An odd mixture of other cover tunes and originals followed. The singer, distinctively unlike most of his UK contemporaries, didn’t adopt an American accent; his voice was unmistakeably English. The effect was intriguing. A epic eleven-minute ballad, Half Moon Bay, featured haunting organ work from Verden Allen; the song had early flashes of Ian’s lyrical genius that would blossom so brilliantly in the years ahead. The standout track was Rock & Roll Queen, a catchy, driving song that made you want to hear more from this band.

I had only intermittent contact with Mott’s next three albums due to my peripatetic life then. Mad Shadows had two irresistibly driving rock songs in Thunderbuck Ram and Walking With A Mountain, plus another ballad, No Wheels To Ride, and the raw stream-of-consciousness song, When My Mind’s Gone, that made you know Ian was a songwriting talent to watch. The Wlidlife album was an excursion into Dylanesque territory; Ian could make himself sound like a British Dylan when he wanted. I didn’t quite know what to make of it; apparently most of the band’s fans didn’t either. A ballad from that album, Waterlow, was particularly haunting; looking back, I think it marked the first full expression of Ian’s genius at combining lyrical flow and melody.

I completely missed Brain Capers and lost track of the band for a year or so. I found them again in the fall of 1972, when I took a little trip to England. Mott’s fifth album, All The Young Dudes, with the Bowie-penned title track a hit single, had catapulted the band to stardom. They were all over the British musical press. More significant to me, there were Mott tunes on the pub jukeboxes where I was becoming a frequent patron. Ian’s voice was penetrating as ever, and Mick Ralphs had found one of the sweetest guitar tones in the business. Their sound at that point drew me right in; I repeatedly plinked my pence and shillings into the machines and sipped the fine English beer that I’d loved at first taste.

Mott would form the core of the soundtrack to my travels in the UK during the 1970s. I made four trips around the Scepter’d Isle in that decade. It seemed that Mott songs, and then a track from Ian’s first solo album, were always on the pub jukeboxes wherever I went – London, Wiltshire, Wales, Cumbria, Inverness. I spent many pleasant nights quaffing pints of bitter and feeding the jukeboxes. Sometimes my musical choices would lead to chance encounters and chats with other Mott fans. I knew I’d never see them again in this life but it was nice to have those fleeting connections.

To this day, an old Mott track can conjure up images of autumn-colored hills, back roads, ridge walks on the Lake District fells, damp misty nights, cozy pubs, the tastes and scents of Real Ale, and the faces of people I met more than thirty years ago. There’s magic in that music for me; it still runs through all of the solo work that Ian would create in the years to come.

(Fell-walking interlude: there’s a Verden Allen tune on the Dudes album with the chorus, “Walking on soft ground.” I’d heard the phrase for years, of course, but had never really walked on soft ground till I got up top a certain fell above Ambleside. Many Mott fans consider the song to be a minor work; for me it always brings back a bright afternoon on a fell summit, walking, almost bouncing along over a grassy, spongy surface that made me feel lighter than air. It’s the opposite of what the lyrics mean but the association is fixed in my mind. I’ve never found another place like that.)

May 1974 saw the fabled Broadway shows, five nights at New York’s Uris theatre, the only time I saw the band perform. Verden Allen and Mick Ralphs had already left the band by then. You could sense things continuing to fragment; Ian would leave the group at the end of the year.

Ian began his solo career, collaborating with Mick Ronson, who’d briefly been Mott’s guitarist at the end. I still view Ian’s first solo album as a high water mark for an artist setting out on his own after the band falls apart. That first tour brought Ian and band, including Ronno, to the Felt Forum in New York on May Day of 1975. I wish someone had filmed that show; it was one for the ages. The late glam outfits and platform boots were a hoot, but they didn’t stop Ronno from wailing on The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothing But The Truth. That was a rock & roll moment I’ve never forgotten.

Let’s fast-forward through the next twenty-odd years, Ian’s work with a slew of fine musicians on various solo recordings and tours, his move to the U.S., his lifelong friendship with Mick Ronson who would pass from this world too soon at age 46. Ian continued to write and record great songs after that, even though he was no longer as prominent in the public eye as before. It’s telling that the only record label he could find for perhaps his best album from the 1990s, Artful Dodger, was in Norway. Dodger contains Ian’s achingly painful tribute to Ronno, Michael Picasso, and a wry yet heartfelt song about his own youth, 23A Swanhill. Both songs have been staples in Ian’s concerts ever since.

We’ll hit “Play” at the next significant date in my life, September 11, 2001. I worked in downtown Manhattan then, commuted through the World Trade Center and was perilously close to the horrifying events of that dreadful day. I was shell-shocked for several months after. An Ian Hunter show in The Village at the end of November, with a particularly timely performance of Central Park ‘n’ West, snapped me out of it and set me back on the road to sanity. You can read the full story here in my blog archives. I’ll never forget that moment either.

I followed Ian’s work through the first decade of this new century. He began working with a new group of musicians that became The Rant Band; they recorded three more superb solo albums. I caught Ian’s shows whenever I could. I enjoyed the way he interacts with his fans in the Horse’s Mouth section of his website. I knew that I was in for a treat when three area shows were announced for the second week in November even though the second night, out in Pennsylvania, was beyond my reach.

Thursday’s show at the Highline Ballroom in NYC was full-tilt electric. Ian switched up the setlist to include such rarities as Life After Death and Shallow Crystals. He gave us a glimpse of Mott’s glory days when he brought out the fabled Maltese Cross guitar. It’s not my favorite club when it’s packed, since the stage is low and visibility isn’t great, but the sound was good and the band was tight; the night crackled with electricity.

Saturday night at The Tabernacle in Mt. Tabor, NJ was very different. (I’d first visited this unique structure for last year’s Hot Tuna show.)

David Johansen opened the show, accompanied on acoustic guitar and high-hat by Brian Koonin. He kept the crowd engaged with a mixture of songs from throughout his long career and an old blues tune or two. His distinctive voice resounded in that remarkable concert space.

 

Ian and company dialed back the volume for the venue, with more acoustic instrumentation and softer electric sounds than usual. Ian changed the setlist again for this particular night, replacing some of his standard rockers with a generous dose of back-catalog rarities. The result was pure magic. The band found new nuances and subtleties in the arrangements; Ships, Man Overboard, Angel of 8th Ave, Wash Us Away, Boy, 23A Swanhill and Michael Picasso were stunning.

 

Waterlow was a particular highlight of the night; Andy Burton found some gorgeous synth textures to accompany the song.  Every word seemed to float in the air after Ian sang it.

 

 

I hung around the little Victorian square in front of the Tabernacle after the show, waiting in the cold misty air with a few other diehard fans, hoping to say hello and thanks to Ian in person, but it wasn’t to happen.

On my way out, I walked through the merchandise tent and did a double-take; yes, that was Ian’s longtime sideman and bandleader James Mastro helping to break down the table, putting away CDs, counting T-shirts and stuffing them into sacks. I asked how he’d gotten roped into that; he grinned and said that one of the usual merchandise guys was MIA that night so he’d been pressed into service. The glamorous life of a rocker! We had a brief chat; James was very affable and gracious. Would Ian have any other sort in his band? It was the perfect note to end a rare evening.

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes in Jersey and New York: Two more nights to rock September 25, 2010

Posted by Anton A in American music, Southside Johnny.
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This was Southside Johnny weekend here in the NJ/NYC area. Last night Johnny & The Jukes inaugurated the bandshell and amphitheater at the new section of Overpeck County Park,  up in the town of Ridgefield Park. The park was a quick ten-mile drive from my house, couldn’t have been more convenient. I plotted my route through the apparent maze of roads & highways around the park with the help of Google Maps; it proved to be easy to follow and, wonder of wonders, the signage along the way was excellent.

They’ve done nice earthworks at the amphitheater, building a genuine bowl-shaped area so that the lawn-chair-&-blanket people can see over each other. A little flat area immediately in front of the stage was roped off for the ardent fans who wanted to stand and rock. I was able to walk right down and hang a dozen feet from the stage. That was a treat.

Johnny and the band brought the goods, as always. New bassist Skip Ward was on the job in place of John Conte. It never seems to matter; Johnny has a group of seasoned, skilled players to draw on. They’re tight when they need to be and loose when you want ’em that way. They always put a grin on my face.

Unfortunately I was not prepared, map-wise, for the trip home. The cops had closed off the south entrance to the park after the show, so I could not retrace my route. I asked a cop how to get where I needed to go, but he gave me bad directions such I that wound up driving in a huge 7-mile circle through darkest Englewood, only to find myself right back where I started. Found my way at that point, thankfully.

 
Tonight the band and the fans took over BB King’s, on 42nd Street, for a couple of hours. It was a general admission / standing room show; they’d cleared the floor of the usual jammed-in tables and chairs, which was a welcome change. This place is such a contradiction, coupling what may be the best sound system in an NYC club with practices and attitudes that scream “CLIP JOINT!” in every other respect. I won’t go into the litany of aggravations I’ve had at previous shows there.

Tonight’s scam was an unadvertised midnight rap event that slapped a 10:00 curfew on Johnny’s show. Maddening. You go onto the club’s website, see that Johnny starts at 8:00, you’re thinking you might get another sweet 2 & 1/2-hour show, but nope, that’s not gonna happen at BB King’s when they have a chance to turn the room over twice. Bastards.

Anyway, that aside, I’ve never heard any band sound better than they do in this miserable place, and that held true for the Jukes. The 2-hours-flat show was a blast. Bobby Lynch was sitting in on the keys for Jukes stalwart Jeff Kazee; Johnny said something about Jeff being down in Baltimore earning a lot of money at that moment.

A choice piece of audience interaction: Johnny kept asking the crowd what they wanted to hear and sometimes played what they wanted. At one point he walked over to a particualrly loud guy and said, “We’ve already played two songs you asked for, if you ask for one more, I’m gonna make you move to the back to the room. Or else you’re gonna buy beers for everybody here,” drawing a circle with his arm.

After the next song tbe guy was back at it. “OK, that’s it. Waitress! 20 beers, right down here!” He wasn’t joking. A waitress showed up with a bucket of beers & Johnny made the guy pay, though not without adding some bills from his own pocket.  Relenting a bit as they settled the tab, Johnny asked the guy, “How much did you pay? Eighty bucks? OK, I’ve gotta give you some more.” Reached into his pocket, pulled out a couple more bills, handed them down.

Then, with that wry grin of his: “Damn! That’s all I’ve got? That’s the way it happens every time. You come into New York with a pocketful of money and leave with nothing but a pocketful of memories.”

Love that guy.

Seriously, for my money, Johnny and The Jukes are the most inspiring live act out there right now. The setlists below (my thanks to the fans at the Southside Forum for these) will give you an idea of how they shake things up from night to night. Don’t be surprised to see me at their show up in Westchester in two weeks. I’ve got a fever and the only cure is MORE SOUTHSIDE!

9/24/2010
The NEW Overpeck Park
Ridgefield Park, NJ

Forever
You Can’t Bury Me
Passion Street
I Played the Fool
Walk away Renee
Woke up This Morning
Coming Back
Got to Get You off of My Mind
Talk to Me
Lost
Harder Than It Looks
Love on the Wrong Side of Town
Hearts of Stone
Tango Till They’re Sore
All Night Long
This Time It’s for Real
You’re My Girl
Lead Me On
Fever
Trapped Again
I Don’t Want to Go Home

First Encore:
One More Night to Rock

Second Encore:
We’re Having a Party

Band Lineup:
Vocals, Southside Johnny
Keyboards, Jeff Kazee
Guitar, Billy Walton
Bass, Skip Ward
Drums, Tom Seguso
Guitar, Glenn Alexander
Baritone Sax, Ed Manion
Trombone and Guitar, Neal Pawley
Trumpet, Chris Anderson
Sax, Joey Stann

9/25/2010
B.B. Kings Blues Club & Grill
New York, NY

Happy
I Played the Fool
Love on the Wrong Side of Town
Lead Me On
Harder Than It Looks
Take It Inside
Gin Soaked Boy
Paris
Woke up This Morning
Cadillac Jack
Better Days
Talk to Me
Into the Harbour
Cross That Line
All Night Long
Tango Till They’re Sore
One More Night to Rock
Without Love
I Don’t Want to Go Home
Fever
Trapped Again

Encore:
Forever
We’re Having a Party

Band Lineup:
Vocals, Southside Johnny
Keyboards, Bobby Lynch
Guitar, Billy Walton
Bass, Skip Ward
Drums, Tom Seguso
Guitar, Glenn Alexander
Baritone Sax, Ed Manion
Trombone and Guitar, Neal Pawley
Trumpet, Chris Anderson
Sax, Joey Stann