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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.

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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.

X Brothers, ASPCA Benefit, Union Square, NYC: Now I wanna be your dog April 10, 2007

Posted by Anton A in American music, X Brothers.
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I got off work at 3:00, sped home, wolfed lunch, hopped a train to Hoboken, took PATH under the Hudson to 14th & 6th, & emerged into the chilly 5:30 April sunlight.  Walked up a block, hung a right & headed east along 15th, a block I’ve walked literally thousands of times – this was part of my daily route to work for 18 years.  But this time it was a little different with Burning For You bouncing off the buildings, faintly at first but louder with every step, until I emerged into Union Square where Joe and the X Brothers were already tearing it up, with Dennis Dunaway filling in for Andy Hilfiger on bass.

The ASPCA event was set up at the south end of the park.  I continued down the path, wound up at stage right and stopped right there. I had a great side view of the band. Since I was in back of the PA speakers, the sound was mostly coming from the amps and the stage monitors, crystal clear at a very comfortable level. Couldn’t have asked for a better spot.

A device in front of the stage that looked like something from a low-budget sci-fi movie proved to be a heater; it blew hot air at the stage, since the day was so chilly.  Unfortunately the varying hot & cold zones on stage gave Joe tuning problems all afternoon, but he handled it all with good humor. 

The band quickly warmed up and Joe’s jacket came off.

Here’s the setlist for Set 1:

Purple Haze, Burning For You, All Along The Watchtower, Come Together, Not Fade Away, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Birthday, I’m Eighteen, Godzilla

Set 2:

Walking The Dog, Back Door Man, Roadhouse Blues, I Wanna Be Your Dog, Honky Tonk Woman, Jumpin Jack Flash, Godzilla, Don’t Fear The Reaper

Towards the end of I Wanna Be Your Dog, I notice a fellow walk up and stand next to me.  I take a second look and realize it is Albert Bouchard.

The song ends and I figure this is a good time to start my traditional yells for Cagey Cretins.  Albert looks over at me and laughs.  I take this as a good opportunity to introduce myself and have a quick chat about a mutual friend, which was cut short because it was Albert’s time to be on stage and whack the cowbell on Honky Tonk Woman.  Albert then took over the drums for a blistering version of Jumpin Jack Flash

They closed out the gig with a glorious dual-cowbell version of Don’t Fear The Reaper, with an ASPCA staffer on second cowbell.

At the end of the first set there were two young black guys standing in front of me.  Jimmy went into his drum solo on Godzilla and they were just bugging on it, yelling and urging him on.  After the point where Jimmy speeds up the tempo, the one guy turned to his friend and said “Whoa!  That is just too fast now!  I can not get my brain around that shit at all!”  Jimmy noticed that they were digging it and would look at them and yell “Yow!” after he finshed a phrase, and they would go “Yow!” right back at him.  This went on for some time.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone have more fun with a drum solo.

What a great afternoon this was!  It was a special treat to see Dennis work out with Joe & Jim on all those classic tunes.  The rendition of I’m Eighteen was right over the top; I loved every second of it.  But every song was great.

X Brothers / Dennis Dunaway Project, Cutting Room, NYC: You can call me Doctor Music March 30, 2007

Posted by Anton A in American music, X Brothers.
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What a great night!  Most fun I’ve had in a long time.  But you know that you have to suffer along with me to get there.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to make this show. Friday is always burnout day of the week for me amd the worst possible night to go out; at this stage of my life I’m generally out of steam by then.  But somehow I got a second wind from the notion of Joe B playing so close to home, at a cool little club I know not far from the Lincoln Tunnel with easy parking.  I mean, it should have all been so smooth.  So I went on line with my credit card at 7:30 and put myself on the will-call list.

An hour or so later I’m eating my roast pork fried rice and watching TV.  One of those little bottom-of-screen banner notices comes on: “Lincoln Tunnel has been closed due to a serious bus accident.”  WTF?  This could blow the whole scheme.

I put on the radio to get the traffic reports.  They say that a bus has split itself on a concrete abutment on the highway leading away from the Jersey side of the tunnel, the highway is closed, there are 60-90 minute delays getting through and gridlock in both Manhattan and the streets of Weehawken and Hoboken.  Traffic at the Holland Tunnel, the usual alternative, is piling up fast.  Traffic at the George Washington Bridge is still moving, but from where I live that’s an extra half-hour drive.

I continue to listen to these reports every 10 minutes.  I gradually realize that it is not at all clear whether they are talking about the highway being closed in both directions, or only the outbound NY-to-Jersey lanes.  I go to the radio station’s online traffic site, which usually has more clear and precise information; it confirms that the closures are outbound only, but that report hasn’t been updated for over an hour.

Finally I decide to call the Shadow Traffic Tips line, which drivers can use to report problems.  The guy answers: “Shadow Traffic, what’s your tip?”  I quickly explain that I don’t have a tip, I’ve been listening to these hysterical radio reports about the bus accident and they’re totally unclear about whether inbound traffic is affected and does he have any info.  The guy immediately understands where I’m coming from; he says, “Inbound is no problem, I’m looking at a camera shot of the tunnel entrance right now and traffic is light and just sailing right in.”  I thank him profusely.  The gig is on!

Just as he said, I fly all the way in to the tunnel area.  I pass the accident scene; there is a bus sitting atop a high concrete exit divider at what looks like a 45-degree angle and all kinds of floodlights and heavy yellow equipment trying to pry the thing off and lift it back down.  Surreal.

On the NYC side I run into a stretch of that gridlocked traffic trying to get into the tunnel.  It takes me 10 minutes to get half a block; then I break free of the gridlock zone and head south.  I get to the club a half hour late and get into the back room not two minutes before Joe and the X Brothers take the stage.  Whew!

Joe is looking natty in a blue blazer, tangerine shirt and black leather slacks.  Andy Hilfiiger has some sort of blue uniform coat over a brown jersey & jeans.  Jimmy Cacala – and I mean this in the best possible way – looks like your classic tattooed shirtless speed freak whose pants won’t stay up.

The coats come off quickly; the room is small & hot.  These guys are all such great players and having so much fun with these songs, it’s absolutely infectious.  Most of the crowd was seated at the comfortably spaced tables, but I couldn’t sit down and just stood at the back of the room rocking out to the great beats they were laying down.

They tore through all of these songs in about an hour:

Dr. Music, Money Machine, Burning For You, Astronomy, Downtown, Dead Man Walking, Do It All For You, Cities On Flame (with special guest Albert Bouchard), Godzilla.

Yes, Albert came up to sing Cities and, after a quick switch during which Jimmy almost lost his pants several more times, finished out the song on drums with those classic machine-gun beats.

It might be a little hard to imagine stripped-down power-trio versions of some of these BOC tunes, but trust me, they work.  Joe’s guitar work is so intelligent and informed, it gives you a new angle on every song.  Andy and Jimmy are clearly having a blast and back it all up with serious kick-ass playing.  It was a great set in every respect.

During the intermission I spotted Joe wandering back towards the bar.  I introduced myself and said thanks for putting himself out there on the BOCFans online boards.  I then asked if we’d ever hear Cagey Cretins live; he just laughed and said he scarcely remembers that one any more, but you know, it might benefit from a remix.

I had to ask whether he remembered anything about the 1973 gig at Gaelic Park up in the Bronx, which was my introduction to BOC.  He said sure, it was a real swampy place up there (that jibes with my memory that it was a particularly humid August night) that was a real breakthrough gig for them, they opened for Jeff Beck, and Flash was there too.  He then mentioned a Central Park gig that had taken place earlier that summer as another breakthrough event.

Now: my memory of the Gaelic Park gig was that, yes, thinking about it, Flash probably was there, but BOC headlined.  I had gone to the gig at the urging of an old college friend, who said we had to go see this band called Blue Oyster Cult: “They’re punks from Long Island!”  I’ve long had this memory of seeing Flash with this same friend, but couldn’t quite place where, so I think this makes sense.

But: I’m pretty sure that I would remember seeing Jeff Beck at that stage of my life, and I have absolutely no memory of seeing him before the mid-1990s.  That isn’t to say absolutely that I didn’t see him at Gaelic Park.  (Subsequent research revealed that Beck was there, arrived late and played a short set; who knows what I was doing or whether I was even still there at the time.)

Back to The Cutting Room: towards the end of the intermission, some friendly Germans at the table I’d been standing behind for the X Brothers invited me to come sit with them.  (The fellow who spoke the best English looked remarkably like new BOC bassist Richie Castellano.)  Turned out they had flown over to NYC for just one night, to see the Heaven & Hell gig at Radio City; someone there had mentioned to them that they should go to the Cutting Room afterwards.  They were flying back to Germany tomorrow.  Ain’t that the life!  Anyway I told my Ronnie Dio & The Prophets / Electric Elves stories and we had a good little chat.

The Dunaway Project came on.  Dennis had this sweet lime-green bass.  Rick Tedesco had a cream-colored Mick Ronson model Les Paul, and did he ever get a range of excellent tones out of that thing.  They have a grey-haired madman on keyboards with a voice not far from Ian Gillan’s.  I thought he was wearing a rug that seemed to need a little more glue, but in retrospect he was probably just adjusting his headset microphone.  I couldn’t see the drummer, but he was good.  They really brought it to that little stage.

I don’t know their material so can’t write a set list.  They did a couple of really epic pieces, including one featuring a belly dancer who emerged from the audience and was rather  mesmerizing.  They played for well over an hour.  The crowd kept dwindling as it got later; towards the end they were playing to around 20 people.  That’s kind of surreal in itself.

I felt myself fading pretty badly as the clock ticked past 1:00; not knowing what kind of traffic nightmare I might still be facing, I left while they were still playing, so I can’t tell you either whether there was a monster jam with both bands at the end.

Emerging from the near-empty back room, I was shocked to find that the bar/lounge area in front, which had been deserted when I’d arrived, was now a meat market, drunken twenty-somethings packed wall to wall.  What a scene that was!  I think I had sex three times squeezing my way across the room, but it might have been four.

I walked the five blocks back to my car, fired it up and clicked on the radio for the traffic report; I wasn’t going to move until I knew which way I needed to go.  Naturally, it was no more edifying than it had been four hours earlier.   I won’t bore you with the details.  I decided to head up to the Lincoln Tunnel area  and case things, and if it looked too bad I hoped to be able to swing past it and take the long way home up across the George Washington Bridge.  Happily, the Tunnel had completely cleared out.  I sailed on home, singing “Call the doctor!” in my fabulous falsetto to keep myself focused.