ROB ZOMBIE: THE ELECTRIC WARLOCK ACID WITCH SATANIC ORGY CELEBRATION DISPENSER

(ZODIAC SWAN RECORDS/T-BOY RECORDS/UNIVERSAL MUSIC ENTERPRISES; 2016)

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For whatever it’s worth, I was one of those people who could either take it or leave it as far as the wildly, improbably popular band White Zombie were concerned. Why? I don’t know… wrong time, wrong place? Maybe it was the demonic over-saturation at Alternative Radio (you seemingly couldn’t swing a severed head without hitting a DJ playing, having just played or getting ready to play “Thunder Kiss ’65” or “More Human Than Human” between 1992 and 1997 or so). Whatever, I was just never that into the band; however, fast forward a year or two and the release of vocalist/visionary Rob Zombie’s solo debut, HELLBILLY DELUXE, and I was hooked. In the ensuing years, the erstwhile banner-waver for low-rent, science-fiction based shock rock has expanded his influence, taking his playfully bent visions into other media… most successfully in the realms of indie comic books and movies. He’s also become quite the live draw, as well as an in-demand producer and co-writer in certain musical circles, as well as a professional “guest vocalist,” having made appearances on several Alice Cooper albums. When the Coopers were (finally!) inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rob did the honors.

Rob Zombie (John Five, Rob Zombie, Piggy D, Ginger Fish) (publicity photo)

Rob Zombie (John Five, Rob Zombie, Piggy D, Ginger Fish) (publicity photo)

THE ELECTRIC WARLOCK ACID WITCH SATANIC ORGY CELEBRATION DISPENSER (say that three times fast… heck, say that once without messing it up!) marks Zombie’s sixth solo release of twisted boogie metal, and though it would be easy to dismiss this record as just more of the same, it would appear that the living dead man still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Does it sound like Rob Zombie? Well… duh! You see, the thing about an artist like Rob is this: No matter how much someone complains about everything sounding the same, the first time Zombie and his band deviate one iota from the accepted sound and formula, the fans are gonna yell that he doesn’t care about his REAL fans and he has – DUNH, DUNH, DUNH! – sold out. So, THE ELECTRIC WARLOCK… sticks to what has worked in the past, while adding just enough “different” to be subversive. “The Last of the Demons Defeated” is a 90-second introduction with Rob chanting/intoning “Electric warlock… electric warlock… electric warlock acid witch” over a massive tribal stomp. The second track begins with a cartoon voice delivering a well-known mantra of those uptight traveling tent revival preachers from the ’50s through the ’80s, decrying rock music as “Satanic cyanide” before erupting with a from-the-bowels Death Metal vocal over a Sabbath-worthy riff before a murderous Zombie relates his story of how rock turned him into a depraved maniac over a swirling cacophony of guitars (courtesy of this record’s secret weapon, John Five); the song’s title, obviously, is “Satanic Cyanide! The Killer Rocks On!” plus… bonus points for fitting the phrase “mohair coffin” into the lyrics. Continuing the insanely long titles, “The Life and Times of a Teenage Rock God” is more to form, with Zombie’s rumbling, staccato vocal delivery; there is a cool “Spaghetti Western” synth break toward the end of the track, provided by Zeuss. “Well, Everybody’s Fucking In a UFO” follows, a weird metal hoedown filled with allusions of getting high (either by smoking some weed or breathing some swamp gas), being abducted by aliens and being… uh… probed. Rob’s whacked-out backwoods voice is hilarious and definitely adds to the silliness. The exquisitely named interlude, “A Hears Overturns With the Coffin Bursting Open,” starts off with a voice repeating “So revolting and yet so interesting” over and over before giving way to a quite pretty acoustic guitar, disturbing in its elegance. The final tune on Side One of the vinyl version of THE ELECTRIC WARLOCK… is “The Hideous Exhibitions of a Gore Whore,” is kind of a ’60s-style Farfisa-heavy garage homage to THE MUNSTERS and bad horror movies, featuring such genre-worthy lyrics as “She got Vincent Price tattooed on her thigh/Below a devil bat with a crazy eye” and “So much blood everywhere/And all she wants is more.” The images this number evokes makes it one of my favorites of this release.

Rob Zombie, OZZFEST (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Rob Zombie, OZZFEST (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Side Two” of the record stays the course set by the first half, with “Medication For the Melancholy” playing up the misconception that celebrities have lives far-and-above those of “ordinary people,” steamrolling the more listener-friendly lyric put forth by Mark Knopfler more than thirty years ago with Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing.” John Five once more delivers a trippy, effects-laden solo and suitably like-minded leads; Ginger Fish’s drumming is… BIG, as always. It would seem that “subtle” is something Ginger doesn’t do well, nor would we want him to. “In the Age of the Consecrated Vampire We All Get High” is more like White Zombie’s syncopated stomp than anything else on THE ELECTRIC WARLOCK… , with an incredible backward solo from John. And, I don’t know if it’s the mix or the playback systems I’ve been listening on but, this is the first time on the album that Piggy D’s bass stands out, a wicked thump and rumble that perfectly fits this song. “Super-Doom-Hex-Gloom Part One” is another short (relatively speaking) interlude with a short spoken-word introduction before evolving into a series of computer blips and a throbbing synth bass, a weird piece of soundtrack music to an even weirder, cheaply produced early 1970s horror movie. With guitars set to stun and effects a-plenty from Zeuss’ keyboard and Piggy’s bass and Zombie’s processed voice delivering a litany recounting his reasons for being (“Well – I was born a rotten freak/Slicking back a widows peak,” “Well – I was born on Hullabaloo/Mind control is what I do”), “In the Bone Pile” is one of the more satisfying tracks on the record. Plus… ya gotta love the images that title conjures in your mind. “Get Your Boots On! That’s the End of Rock and Roll” is truly the only full-tilt rock and roll song here, with pummeling rhythms from Ginger and Piggy and a vicious solo from John Five. The record clocks in at 31 minutes, more or less, with each of the first eleven tracks running an economical 2:58 or less, which makes the final cut, “Wurdalak,” somewhat of an anomaly with a run time of five-and-a-half minutes. It’s all Rob’s phased voice spitting out Lovecraftian lyrics over some spooky music and noises until the final couple of minutes, which turns into a creepy piano coda that sounds right out of THE EXORCIST… somehow a fitting end to the insanity of the last half hour. So, is this the greatest record ever made? Is it the greatest Rob Zombie record ever made? Will it change lives? Will it make the world a better place? The answer to all four questions is, “No.” But, if you ask me if it’s fun, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.” And… what more can you ask from a rock and roll record?


ALL THEM WITCHES/RANCH GHOST

(January 16, 2016; THE DEMO, Saint Louis MO)

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Walking to the Demo before this show, I ran into my young friends from the recent Koa show. First Koa, now All Them Witches… maybe – just maybe – there is hope for us as a civilization; I asked these young men and ladies if they shouldn’t be listening to the Bieb or One Direction or Kanye and was heartened by their answer: “Who? That’s not music.” A tear of happiness rolled down my cheek. So, we know that the kids’ allegiance to Koa is well-earned but, will All Them Witches live up to expectations? We’ll answer that question shortly but, first…

Ranch Ghost (Joshua Meadors; Matt Sharer; Andy Ferro) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Ranch Ghost (Joshua Meadors; Matt Sharer; Andy Ferro) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Opening the show were All Them Witches’ Nashville neighbors and kindred spirits, the not-spooky-at-all (well, hardly-even-spooky) Ranch Ghost. The four-piece – augmented by a keyboardist for this show – offered up a rich rock stew, cooked up in a Nashville garage, with ample amounts of Surf and psychedelic flavoring, alongside a pinch of Folk and Country for extra seasoning. Joshua Meadors’ high, nasally voice (think Jello Biafra or Johnny Thunders or, perhaps, a more apt comparison would be Hank, Senior) lent itself well to the reverb-drenched chaos, while he and fellow guitarist Andy Ferro reveled in their Dick Dale/Link Wray sonic blasts. Matt Sharer’s bass, Tanner Lunn’s drums and Mitch Jones’ “atmospherics” added a perfect sludgyiness to Ranch Ghost classics like “Nahla” and “New News,” as well as tunes from the band’s forthcoming Rough Beast album. More than a simple chameleon-like morphing of musical styles from song to song, each tune’s genre-bending sound was an amalgam of the last hundred years of popular music, creating something that is wholly… Ranch Ghost. Even the physical appearance of these Ghosts seemed to hit on some well-known stylistic pop reference points: Ferro’s facial hair and wool cap put me in mind of Cheech Marin, with Sharer filling in for the larger-than-life beard of Tommy Chong; Meadors’ blonde mane and the music’s heavy Surf vibe virtually screamed (to no one but me, I’m sure) “Al Jardine,” one of the original Beach Boys. Just to bring this line of observation full circle, Lunn reminded me of actor Jason Mewes (the “Jay” half of “ …and Silent Bob”), while Jones could be the younger brother of actor/musician Billy Mumy (LOST IN SPACE, Barnes and Barnes). As random as those comparisons are, the music of Ranch Ghost is just as random… hard to pin down, but definitely something worth checking out.

All Them Witches (Michael Parks, Junior; Robby Staebler; Ben McLeod) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

All Them Witches (Michael Parks, Junior; Robby Staebler; Ben McLeod) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

While Ranch Ghost sort of dumps everything into a giant blender to get their musical point across, All Them Witches sticks pretty close to a Psychedelic Blues, played in a heavier-than-gravity style that evokes Hawkwindian space jams alongside the acoustic-metal slam of Jimmy Page’s New Yardbirds (check your history books if that one baffles you, children). Kicking the set off with “Call Me Star,” the opening track from their excellent new record, DYING SURFER MEETS HIS MAKER, the quartet quickly makes known their musical manifesto; the tune charges into a mesmeric approximation of “El Centro,” an extended instrumental jam that also features on DYING SURFER… that rather put me in mind of “No Quarter” from HOUSES OF THE HOLY. Frontman Michael Parks, Junior’s voice seemed more an ethereal entity unto itself, adding an other-worldly quality to the already dense instrumental wall-of-sound, a wall constructed by guitarist Ben McLeod, keyboardist Allan Van Cleave, drummer Robby Staebler and Parks’ bass. The fact that these four young men are capable of delivering such a massive sound in a seemingly effortless fashion belies the complexities of the arrangements and the music itself; it’s almost like watching the early ’70s version of the Mothers of Invention performing “My Bonnie” or some other rudimentary campfire song… child’s play.

All Them Witches (Ben McLeod; Allan Van Cleave; Ben McLeod, Michael Parks, Junior, Robby Staebler) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

All Them Witches (Ben McLeod; Allan Van Cleave; Ben McLeod, Michael Parks, Junior, Robby Staebler) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The set was nearly equally divided between newer material and stuff from 2013‘s LIGHTNING AT THE DOOR, with each song melting into the next, forming what could best be described as a sort of Native American suite. Following the hypnotic swirl of “Open Passageways” and an extended jam on the instrumental, “Welcome To the Caveman Future,” the next six numbers were from the earlier album, beginning with a shamanistic, Doors-likeDeath of Coyote Woman,” which featured a raging solo from McLeod. At times, Van Cleave’s Fender Rhodes sliced through the atmospheric desert grooves (as on the monolithic “Mountain”), at others, his electric piano added a perfect texture (especially on bluesy numbers like “Marriage of Coyote Woman”). The rhythm section delivered their parts with a devastatingly brutal precision that added to the roiling mysticism throughout, but the throbbing, tribal pulse laid down by Parks and Staebler on “Talisman” was a thing of dark and disturbing beauty. How many times has professional wrestling promoter Billy Corgan declared guitar-driven rock “dead?” Well, it would seem that bands like All Them Witches are here to prove you wrong, Billy… given the amount (and diversity) of new rock and roll spewing forth from the Country Music Capital of the World, it would seem that the medium is alive and getting better every day. For a taste of All Them Witches live, check out their album, AT THE GARAGE, or, better yet, catch ’em on tour at a venue near you.


ACID KING/LICH/MELURSUS

(October 30, 2015; FIREBIRD, Saint Louis MO)

An Osbourne Family Reunion (Joey's Mom is in red) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

An Osbourne Family Reunion (Joey’s Mom is in red) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

So, I had a couple of things that I needed to take care of in the city before heading to the Firebird for a night of metal mayhem. Problem was, those things had to be taken care of before five PM; that meant that I was at the club a little after five, which is usually a good thing… it gives me time to check in with the headliners to ensure that their publicist or manager or whoever got all of my information to them and I was good to go to review the show. However, on this day, the headliners (Acid King) were still two hours away, a flat tire having slowed them down. All of this meant that I had time to kill, so I asked someone from the club if there was a decent place to eat in the area, preferably within walking distance; he pointed down the street and told me there was a barbecue place about four blocks away called Pappy’s. All I can say is, “Bless you, my child, for sending me to the best barbecue joint that I’ve been to in a couple of years.” Returning to the Firebird, there was still no sign of Acid King. I was eventually joined by a few other folks who were there to see their son/brother/nephew/cousin, who played drums in one of the bands; when they asked who I was there to see, I told them I really didn’t know anything about the opening acts and I was really looking forward to the mighty Acid King. “Oh, that’s who my son plays with. We’re going to find somewhere to have a belt or two… if Joey gets here before we get back, tell him that it was his aunt’s idea to go get blasted.” Osbourne’s mother would later tell me that this is the first time she’s seen him onstage since he joined the band.

Melursus (Chris Barr; Kyle Deckert; Lauren Gornik) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Melursus (Chris Barr; Kyle Deckert; Lauren Gornik) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

I relayed the message, which Joey Osbourne thought was hilarious… “Yep. That sounds like Mom. They’re all lushes.” I did have time to get a couple of shots of the family reunion before the first band, a local five piece called Melursus (which, apparently, is named after a Sri Lankan sloth bear). Their set was short, as they only had the four songs available here in their repertoire. Those four songs were highlighted by some fairly inventive guitar work from both Dalton Moore and Lauren Gornik and the exceptional bass playing of Chris Barr, who – like most bassists who call Saint Louis home – managed to be funky and melodic while maintaining the inherent heaviness dictated by the band’s doom-laden metal. Drummer Kyle Deckert seemed to do more with less, driving the ship with a steady, forceful hand (and foot) that occasionally steered the music into more of a thrash arena. Even though Chuck Scones’ vocals tended to be buried in the mix (at least, at the front of the stage), what managed to get through sounded a whole lot better than what ended up on the URSA MINOR EP. If super-heavy melodicism is your thing, Melursus is definitely a band worth checking out.

Lich (Ben, the Bass God; Colin Apache; Sid Liberty) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Lich (Ben, the Bass God; Colin Apache; Sid Liberty) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Throughout Melursus’ set, I was aware of an intense, burly mountain man wandering around the venue; to my surprise (and eventual delight), this bull of an individual turned out to be a gentleman named Sid Liberty, a guitar player turned drummer from Columbia, Missouri who is now doing time in a trio called Lich. Sid turned out to be even more of a madman once the music started, pounding his head as hard as he attacked his kit; more than once, we locked eyes, as he tried to bore a hole into my soul with his Charles Manson, wild-eyed glare. Liberty set his kit up facing the other two members of the group because, as he explained, he hadn’t been playing drums too long and it was easier for him to follow if he could see what Ben and Colin were doing. Ben (or, more accurately, Ben, the Bass God) is the type of player that could give Terry (Geezer) Butler a run for his money, with a deep, almost gutteral style that virtually screams “doom.” Colin Apache is the mastermind behind Lich, his concept including a complex, layered back story that he hopes to one day turn into a comic book to offer at future shows; he is also a master of Iommi-like riffage, occasionally mirroring what Ben plays for an even heavier sound. Colin and Ben added their voices to the metal melee. Like Melursus before them, Lich played a very short set, running about a half hour and, though their tunes are fully realized, even at this early stage, they are merely titled with Roman numerals (I-IV, with another loose jam tacked on to extend their set). As much as I liked Melursus, given what I heard and saw from Lich, these guys are the real deal and I certainly look forward to following their metamorphosis into an elite metal outfit, akin to riff-monsters like Sabbath and, of course, Acid King.

Acid King (Lori S) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Acid King (Lori S) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

More than a few people have asked me to describe the music of Acid King. This is what I tell ’em: Acid King is like a heavier version of early, doom-laden Black Sabbath, except the guitar player and the singer are the same person and she isn’t a guy. This is the first time the three-piece has toured for nearly a decade, in support of their first album in ten years, MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, CENTER OF EVERYWHERE, and the Firebird show was my first live taste of the riff-mongering trio. The group has made a career out of playing long, plodding, occasionally droning pieces of improbably heavy, feedback-drenched music, punctuated with minimal vocals from guitarist/songwriter Lori S; their set on this Friday night was no different, with seven songs in about an hour, five of them from the new record. Mark Lamb’s sludgy, fuzzed-out bass work and Osbourne’s powerful, rapid-fire drumming offered a solid underpinning for Lori’s masterful riffing and fluid soloing.

Acid King (Mark Lamb) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Acid King (Mark Lamb) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

I quickly realized that Acid King was the epitome of the indie, “DIY” outfit, as Lori plugged her phone into the sound system to deliver the intro music from MIDDLE OF NOWHERE… , before adding atmospheric drones from her guitar. Mark and Joey came crashing in as Lori’s sludge-fueled droning turned into the opening of “Red River,” a song that, like most Acid King tunes, was slow in developing into any noticeable groove or melody; while there was plenty to be amazed by, including a cool solo (or two), the tune flowed like molasses or – to be more accurate – blood from an opened vein coagulating as the life oozes down an arm. Like Sabbath’s highly underrated Bill Ward, Osbourne’s playing is deceptively complex, a fact that is driven home with his work on the evening’s third song, “Infinite Skies,” a number that, with its murky, muddy mix, would not have been out of place on the first Black Sabbath record. Kicking things up to what, I suppose, would be considered “mid-tempo,” the band launched into “Laser Headlights,” which added a bit of a Hawkwind vibe to the proceedings with another wicked solo from Lori.

Acid King (Joey Osbourne) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Acid King (Joey Osbourne) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

It wasn’t until the fifth song of their set that we were offered a dose of older material with the beautiful bikers’ sludge of “2 Wheel Nation,” a favorite track from the band’s last album, 2005’s III. This was quickly followed by another paean to riders and their machines, “Electric Machine,” from the BUSSE WOODS album, before returning to MIDDLE OF NOWHERE… for one final dose of hyper-drive Hawkwindian science-fiction with “Coming Down From Outer Space.” As mentioned above, regarding Joey Osbourne, the sometimes ponderous pace of Acid King’s music can belie the true extent of Mark Lamb’s bass playing talents; the fact that he manages to shine through, even when his bass and Lori’s guitar seem to be one instrument, on the slower songs, is a testament to the man’s rhythmic acumen. As the final number ended with droning feedback, technology once more took over, with the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE… outro track played from Lori’s phone. After a short respite, the group returned for an encore of another song from III, “War of the Mind,” which is heavier than a sack of bricks. What a great way to end the night! I just hope it isn’t another nine years before they come back around.


CHUI WAN/BUG CHASER/TONE RODENT

(May 11, 2015; OFF BROADWAY, Saint Louis MO)

Chui Wan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Chui Wan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

To say that I was stoked to see Chui Wan, a young psychedelic band from Beijing, China, is something akin to an understatement. All it took was hearing one song from their self-titled second album and, I was hooked. The fact that some old friends, Tone Rodent, were on the bill, alongside the belligerently unhinged octet, Bug Chaser, was merely icing on an already perfect cake. Though, as a touring band, Chui Wan were the de facto headliner, the decision was made to slot them between the two local acts (a choice precipitated by the fact that drummer Li Zichao was using Tone Rodent Adam Dick’s kit; plus, bassist Matty Coonfield was pulling double duty, playing in both Saint Louis bands); to maintain a certain “you were there” sense of continuity, this review will start with Tone Rodent and end with Bug Chaser.

Tone Rodent (Matty Coonfield, Adam Watkins) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Tone Rodent (Matty Coonfield, Adam Watkins) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

At some point in the last decade and a half, I reviewed a Tone Rodent show (give me a break if I can’t remember specifics, huh? I’m old!). Here’s what I do remember: I liked them. So, now, all these years (or months or days or hours… whatever) later, I can unequivocally tell you this: I still like them. At this point, Adam Watkins (vocals and guitar) and Matty Coonfield (bass) are the only original members from that band I saw way back when; the current version – with guitarist Jeff Robtoy, keyboard player Mark Early and drummer Adam Dick – were playing what may have been their final show, as Adam Dick is calling it a day and Coonfield is leaving to direct his energies toward Bug Chaser. The band lumbered, rather than tore, through a shambolic 35 minute set that, aside from some minor technical issues was, nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyable. Watkins and Robtoy complimented and played against each other (as the situation dictated) quite well and Early’s ambient drone added a depth that isn’t usually found in the noisy, hard-edged psychedelia at which Tone Rodent excel. Dick proved himself to be much more than a timekeeper, with precise fills and unexpected flourishes. And, as I’ve said too many times to count, there’s just something in the water supply that lifts Saint Louis bass players to another level; the style of music being played is irrelevant… once I hear that deep-in-the-pocket groove of the bass, I can almost always tell that the player has Saint Louis roots. Matty is no exception and is as solid and as funky as any bassist to come out of the Lou in the past three decades. Six songs into the set, Watkins said, “We have two more. After sixteen years, we’re down to two songs… and we plan to fuck both of ’em up.” The next tune sounded great but, as the group started “Amen,” Jeff’s guitar cord shorted out but, after much chiding from his bandmates and a save from a Bug Chaser, the final song from the current line-up of Tone Rodent was over, the notes ringing in the ears of the Monday night denizens of Off Broadway.

Chui Wan (Liu Xinyu; Yan Yulong) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Chui Wan (Liu Xinyu; Yan Yulong) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Okay… so this is where a little learnin’ may come in handy. To understand the importance of a group like Chui Wan, I think we should first understand a bit about where they come from. Beijing’s history traces back more than three millennia – under different names – and boasts such cultural and historic sites as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. As the cultural and political center of the People’s Republic of China, it has also been the scene of political unrest, revolution and protest: The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the infamous Gang of Four and, perhaps, the most famous societal event in recent history, the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. Beijing is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with more than 20 million citizens packed into an area a little over 6,300 square miles (that comes out to something like 3,400 people per square mile… to paraphrase Cheap Trick, “That’s tight!”). That’s the background – the culture and the history – that informs the music and lives of Chui Wan, alongside a diverse musical landscape that includes, individually, Classical and traditional Chinese music, avant garde pioneer John Cage (himself influenced by Eastern music and the philosophy of the I CHING) and, the one major influence that all four members cite: The Velvet Underground. Now, imagine these four young musicians venturing forth into a very different Western culture… a culture where, especially in the United States, celebrity and money are more important than history and tradition; a culture that claims superiority and looks down upon the cultural and societal mores of someone – anyone – who doesn’t share our culture and beliefs… even when we’re on their home turf. Let’s face it… we are arrogant and shallow. So, it’s with that backdrop of major culture shock (not to mention the language barrier… WE expect these young people to be conversant in our language because… “Hey, we’re Americans. What makes you so special that you can’t even learn our language?”) that Chui Wan made their third appearance in the USA (Visa problems caused them a delay of about ten days and seven shows). And what an appearance it was!

Chui Wan (Wu Qiong; Li Zichao) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Chui Wan (Wu Qiong; Li Zichao) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As bassist Wu Qiong began an intro riff that would make Tony Levin proud, all of those cultural differences didn’t matter anymore; all that mattered was the music. Though their sound is seemingly tight and structured, there is also a sense of the adventurous, the experimental. I immediately heard an Adrian Belew-era King Crimson influence (though I was assured that reference would have been lost on the quartet) – or to be more accurate, Fripp’s other, more improvisational group of the same period, the League of Gentlemen – as well the free-wheeling feel of some of the early 1970s (mostly) instrumental offerings from Zappa’s Mothers of Invention; there were also moments that had me nodding my head, thinking, “Now I get the John Cage reference.” Though many of the band’s compositions border on free-form jazz, it’s Liu Xinyu’s effects-heavy guitar and Li Zichao’s progressive drumming that garners the group its psychedelic label; the sounds Liu coaxes out of his instrument can best be described as “otherworldly,” and isn’t that a prime definition of psychedelic music? Yan Yulong adds atmospheric soundscapes on, not only guitar, but keyboard and – briefly (and very effectively) – viola, as well. Yan, who also supplies the majority of what vocals there are, delivers them in a nearly inaudible drone that further feeds the psychedelic miasma; Wu Qiong has one vocal, a quiet and – dare I say – humble performance that seems a much more comfortable match for her demeanor than is her spirited, funky bass playing. Maybe the most amazing aspect of the inspired (and inspiring) performance is the fact that the four are – literally – wunderkinds… all are in their very early 20s (drummer Li is barely 20) and have been playing – individually and collectively – since an early age (the band’s debut album, WHITE NIGHT, was released in 2012). Even if most of the Monday night denizens were unfamiliar with Chui Wan when they took the stage, after their set, I heard nothing but terms of reverential awe regarding what will long be remembered as a triumphal Saint Louis debut.

Bug Chaser (Pat Grosch; Kevin Insinna) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Bug Chaser (Pat Grosch; Kevin Insinna) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

After a prolonged delay, the eight-headed beast known as Bug Chaser took the stage. If Tone Rodent’s set was shambolic, then Bug Chaser’s could only be labeled chaotic, with Matty Coonfield reveling in the unbridled insanity. There were actual songs played but, naming them would merely be an exercise in futility… all you really need to know is that the band and the crowd were having too much fun to worry about things like song titles. The group was occasionally augmented and exhorted by a gentleman who originally appeared to be a drunken, overzealous fan but, as the set proceeded, seemed to be more of a well-placed prop, dancing and prancing behind the group one minute and playing the role of cocktail waitress the next. The tunes (noises?) ranged from boisterous boogie to raging rock to furious funk (see what I did there?), all delivered with a reckless abandon reminiscent of George Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars at their most debauched. The percussive unit of Kevin Insinna and Taylor Huff (for I believe it was they of whom I speak) laid down a solid groove, where the notes they didn’t play were as important as the ones they did; their rhythm section inmate, Coonfield, pumped out bass riffs dense enough to caulk a large-scale bathroom at the Mall of America. Zeng Zengerling and Jake Jones are potent forces of guitar showmanship, sharing frantic leads and trading querulous solos over the expansive bottom end, which also included keyboard and effects work from Jake Bremler and Jeff White. Standing over all is the strutting vocal peacock, Pat Grosch, who reminds me of a younger, more boisterous Weird Al Yankovic… but with better hair. For a full-on sonic assault, you’ve gotta see these guys live… until then, check out some tunes at Bandcamp.


WHAT’S IT TO ME, ANYWAY?: THE 25 ALBUMS THAT MOST INFLUENCED MY LIFE, PART 1

(Ruminations of a music junkie, by KEVIN RENICK)

Hey everyone, it’s 2015! Didja notice? Yep, it’s a symmetrical year three fourths of the way through the first fifth of the new millennium! I find that this is making me, and plenty of other people I’ve spoken to, think about numbers, halfway points, anniversaries, etc. For me, this year marks the major anniversary of a lot of key things in my life and career, and I plan to write about some of those right here at the Mule. It’s gonna be fun, so saddle up and take this trip with me, through the past, smartly! Not that I feel like acknowledging my age or anything, but I would say I have been a true “music fan” for 50 years now. As a bonafide baby boomer, I grew up in the ’60s listening to all that classic stuff that makes the “Best Ever” lists these days. Sometime in 1965, probably after the Beatles’ RUBBER SOUL album came out, I became aware of music in a bigger way than before. It was no longer just the radio hits my sisters were listening to incessantly on AM, now they were buying albums (mostly the Beatles at first), and the repeated playing of these began to affect my young ears with increasing intensity. I love melodies and good singing, and everyone at the time was into the Beatles. A new era was upon us, and it was exhilarating.

What I thought I would do to celebrate my 50 years of being an active listener, is pick the 25 albums that influenced me the most. Here at the Mule, we like to take things personally, that’s why a conventional list of “Best of All Time” or “Best of the Decade,” that kinda thing, is not much fun to do. Stuff like that is all over the web or in your latest issue of ROLLING STONE. And though fun, that kind of clinical exercise can get tedious. But if I tell you I’m going to make a list of 25 albums that truly affected my life, that either set something in motion, changed me or altered my musical taste in some way, well, I get all tingly just thinking about that. The list could be much longer, of course, but it’s important to have parameters. And I like the symmetry of “25 in 50,” ie: The 25 recordings that had the greatest personal impact in 50 years of listening. You will encounter some of the great classics in here, and you’ll also read about stuff you never heard of. Maybe you’ll be shocked that there are no Dylan, Rolling Stones or Beach Boys albums on my list. I’ll say it again, this is NOT a list of the most influential albums, period. It’s a list of what most influenced ME, and made my musical life what it is. This is a thoughtful, personal exercise, and I hope you’ll enjoy sharing it with me. Maybe it will encourage some of you to think about what music most made a difference to YOU, and affected your personality the most. Fun, right? Making something all about YOU is more honest and real than those tedious “Best of” lists. So, here we go. These albums will roughly be listed in the order that I encountered them, although I can’t absolutely swear to that. But… all of these works helped make me whatever and whoever the heck I am today. Enjoy!

1. THE BEATLES: REVOLVER

REVOLVER (CAPITOL RECORDS, 1966)

REVOLVER (CAPITOL RECORDS, 1966)

Although SERGEANT PEPPER… is usually cited as the greatest Beatles album, the 1966 classic REVOLVER had a bigger impact on me. It was the Fabs entering their psychedelic period, and my sisters, Therese and Pam, played this album all the time. I was fascinated by the unusual sounds on it (“Tomorrow Never Knows” was utterly hypnotic, as were the strings on “Eleanor Rigby”), and classic gems of songcraft like “Good Day Sunshine,” “I Want To Tell You” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” became lodged firmly in my young mind. I feel sad for people who never know the experience of growing up with a classic album like this.

How it influenced me: Gave me perhaps my first experience of enjoying an album all the way through, with melodies and sounds that seeped deep into my brain.

2. THE BEATLES: THE BEATLES (WHITE ALBUM)

THE BEATLES (APPLE RECORDS, 1968)

THE BEATLES (APPLE RECORDS, 1968)

Barely two years after REVOLVER, the Beatles had evolved so much that it was almost dizzying to a budding music fan at the time. By 1968, only my sister Therese was still home among my siblings, and this album got constant play. It was a weird, unsettling, enthralling experience to listen to it back then. I vividly remember a couple of times when I fell asleep on the extra bed in Therese’s room absorbing the strange, diverse tracks on this album. Each side had a unique flow; some songs rocked out (“Back in the USSR,” “Glass Onion”), some songs were folksy and pretty (“Mother Nature’s Son,” “Julia”) and some were scary and from a place I yearned to know more about (“Long Long Long,” “Revolution 9”) What a remarkable sonic journey this double album took fans on! Nobody at the time talked about the “divisions” within the Beatles, or how “self-indulgent” the album was. We simply ate it up, listened with fascination, and marveled at the new age of rock that was now dawning.

How it influenced me: The first massive song collection I ever lost myself in, with unforgettable moments across the musical spectrum, including the first moments on record to scare the crap out of me (the moaning sounds at the end of “Long Long Long” and the entire “Revolution 9”). Hearing dark, weird sounds on a record began for me, oddly, with the Fab Four.

3. THE MONKEES: PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED

PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED (COLGEMS RECORDS, 1967)

PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED (COLGEMS RECORDS, 1967)

In the late 60s, the Monkees were the OTHER band that captured the lion’s share of attention in my circles. We all knew the hits like we knew the shrubs in our front yard, and we watched the MONKEES TV show faithfully. This 1967 album was a superb collection of tunes that got constant play in my neighborhood. The previous Monkees albums seemed more like collections of big hits, but this one headed into some new territory. “Star Collector” was downright psychedelic, and Davy Jones sang it! “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was simply one of the best songs ever, ever, ever, one of the first songs to become a solid favorite for me. And many others stood out, like the minor-key laden “Words,” the Nesmith classic “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round” and the Nilsson gem “Cuddly Toy,” which, decades later, would become a song I would sometimes perform live when I became a musician myself.

How it influenced me: A solid soundtrack to my childhood, full of innocence, whimsy and suburban dreams.

4. TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS: THE BEST OF…

THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS (ROULETTE RECORDS, 1969)

THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS (ROULETTE RECORDS, 1969)

From 1967 to 1970, Tommy James was a fixture on radio, with classic hit after classic hit. They were often in the summer, becoming wondrous summer classics like “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Crimson and Clover.” At every swimming pool where radio was in the background, Tommy James was a part of the atmosphere. And the first song I ever declared to be my personal favorite, was “Sweet Cherry Wine.” This song absolutely captivated me, and I would sometimes wait for it to come on the radio, getting very emotional when it did. It was a beautifully produced song, with background vocals that got under my skin and never left my memory. THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS was, I believe, the first album I bought with my own money. It’s possible a Monkees album preceded it in that regard; memory can be sketchy. But it was unquestionably the first hits collection I ever bought, and the first non Beatles or Monkees music to get repeat play in my life. A soundtrack for the year 1969 in particular.

How it influenced me: The sound of the last year before I became a teenager. The first record to actively make me aware of the magic of background vocals. A collection of songs I truly, truly could listen to over and over.

5. SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: BOOKENDS and BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (tie)

BOOKENDS (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1968); BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1970)

BOOKENDS (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1968); BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1970)

If you become a musician, some influences don’t become apparent to you right away; you might have to work on developing your style and think about the kinds of songs you want to do, before the stylistic touchstones become obvious. I grew up with Simon and Garfunkel, and all but their first album were regular spins at our home in Kirkwood. Most of their songs struck me as sad, intimate and evocative, and the musical personality they presented… the tight harmonies, the sometimes quirky lyrics… was vivid and powerful. These two albums affected me about equally, the former for its melancholy musings on the passing of time (“Old Friends,” “Bookends”) and quirky sing-alongs (“Hazy Shade of Winter,” “At the Zoo”), the latter for its epic production and exhilarating musical dramas (“Cecilia,” “El Condor Pasa,” “The Boxer,” the title track). This was one of a clutch of albums I listened to a great deal with an early girlfriend in 1972; such things stay with you. Years later, I fell in love with a girl actually NAMED Cecilia, and that song became significant in a very personal way. More importantly, Paul Simon’s songwriting stood out for me as artful, impactful stuff, and he is one of the composers I always mention as an influence on my own music and aesthetic.

6. CROSBY, STILLS, NASH AND YOUNG: DEJA VU

DEJA VU (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1970)

DEJA VU (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1970)

They were called the “first big supergroup,” “the American Beatles” and more. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were not destined to sustain the kind of impact such lofty labels created expectations for, but they made this one incredible studio album as a foursome. It was a 1970 classic, and that year they were omnipresent. Every song was amazing, and the potency of their musical personalities was overwhelming if you were a fan of singer/songwriters. I was, and this album, plus the live album FOUR WAY STREET, essentially planted the seeds of my own desire to write songs. From the iconic cover photo to the peerless harmonies to the counterculture sass, this was an unmissable classic of its time. And that guy Neil…

How it influenced me: The songwriting. The personalities. The times!

7. NEIL YOUNG: HARVEST

HARVEST (REPRISE RECORDS, 1972)

HARVEST (REPRISE RECORDS, 1972)

It’s really not easy picking one Neil Young album for my list. Considering that Neil Young is one of the two most important and influential musicians in my entire life, it seems inadequate to talk about one album. It actually could have been ANY of his first four: the NEIL YOUNG debut, the epic Crazy Horse workout EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE in 1969, the popular fan favorite AFTER THE GOLDRUSH from 1970. All had an impact, but HARVEST was one of my high school soundtracks. I listened to it with my first real girlfriend. I was profoundly affected by Neil’s singing and arrangements throughout, and, quite simply, I was a different person by the time I fully absorbed this album. Neil Young was the first singer/songwriter I claimed as my own, the first to pervade my life and shift my understanding of the craft of songwriting. I memorized everything on this album; it became a huge soundtrack for me. I even liked the orchestration on “There’s a World,” which some reviewers lambasted. Everything in my music life changed after Neil Young; he’s even the artist that got me interested in reading reviews, which then led to my writing career. His influence was profound.

8. PINK FLOYD: MEDDLE

MEDDLE (HARVEST RECORDS, 1971)

MEDDLE (HARVEST RECORDS, 1971)

If you were in high school in the early to mid-’70s, Pink Floyd were a staple. FM radio played them all the time, and the longhairs and tokers were ALWAYS talking about them. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON was one of the first albums to become a genuine phenomenon, and it was absolutely everywhere when I was in high school. I was intrigued enough by the band to research all their earlier work, and I found their 1971 classic MEDDLE. That’s the one that burrowed into my brain. The trilogy of atmospheric gems on side one: “A Pillow of Winds,” “Fearless” and “San Tropez” stirred me with their smooth vocals, melancholy arrangements and haunted romanticism. I found these tracks more than a little compelling. And, as for “Echoes,” the spacey side-long excursion that graced side two, well, it was the first immersive space rock spectacle I had encountered, a headphone extravaganza for many of us buying our first stereo systems at the time. Progressive rock had arrived, and so had a plethora of mysterious sounds we’d never heard the likes of before, us teens.

How it influenced me: The dawn of headphones-ready space rock, David Gilmour and Rick Wright creating a perfect sonic template to serve Roger Waters’ lyrical ideas, and the important notion that something could be epic and intimate at the same time in music.

9. YES: CLOSE TO THE EDGE

CLOSE TO THE EDGE (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1972)

CLOSE TO THE EDGE (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1972)

And they WERE, too. Close to the edge of sonic possibilities at the time, as evidenced by the side-long title track that pretty much blew everyone’s mind. I didn’t truly listen to Yes with any depth until 1973, but CLOSE TO THE EDGE became a staple. Progressive rock was becoming one of the most popular genres, with Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and others dominating the talk among hardcore music fans at the time. With musicianship on a scale hardly imagined before, Jon Anderson’s soaring voice and “out there” lyrics, and passages of music that were so hypnotic and evocative that they could be said to represent the beginning of the power of “ambient sound” (which would transform my life a few years later), Yes were unrvaveling layers of new possibilities in music. I ate it all up, shared it with friends, and even began trying to memorize some of the more interesting lyrics.

How it influenced me: The mystical, far-reaching “subjects,” the compelling lyrics, the incredible purity of Jon Anderson’s voice, the early ambient sounds.

10. BLACK SABBATH: SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH (WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS, 1974)

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH (WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS, 1974)

I was never much into what was called “heavy metal,” although both Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were huge during my teen years. I have no idea what first got me into Black Sabbath, but I listened to MASTER OF REALITY pretty often with the same girlfriend I mentioned in an early paragraph, and it had a lot of mystery about it. The heaviness of the riffs and the darker themes were quite compelling to me. I started reading some of the reviews of Black Sabbath, and by the time their fifth album came out, I was a senior in high school and a budding amateur musician. There seemed to be something of real substance to SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH to my ears at the time, and I even liked Ozzy Osbourne’s shrill voice. The oddest thing that happened, though, is that I began trying to play a couple of the songs on piano. I’d had a year or so of lessons, and I would occasionally try to just “pick out” chords or melodies from popular songs. Came up with my own versions of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and, inexplicably, “Sabbra Cadabra” from the Black Sabbath album. I was playing controlled double octaves, and I was doing it with all the energy I possessed. I had the structure of this song down pretty well! It got to the point where this was pretty impressive, I suppose, because I played it at a couple of parties and for a number of friends, who always seemed to clap. Inadvertently, Black Sabbath had given me my first taste of what it might be like to be a musician. That’s influential, ain’t it?

11. BRIAN ENO: DISCREET MUSIC

DISCREET MUSIC (ANTILLES RECORDS, 1975)

DISCREET MUSIC (ANTILLES RECORDS, 1975)

In a month or two, I’ll be doing a piece on Brian Eno for this site, so I don’t want to go into undue detail right now. But… people who know me, know that Eno is the single most influential musical artist of my life, just a shade more than Neil Young because of the differing STREAMS of influence he had. This 1975 album was a game changer, to say the least, and of earthshaking importance in my life. Try to imagine what it would be like to have your actual dreams and subconscious memories represented in musical terms. That’s what Eno’s first true “ambient” recording did for me. Consisting of wispy, ethereal, repeating and interweaving synth melodies, what Eno came up with was so new and different that no one really knew what to do with it at the time. I did, though. I listened to it late at night both through headphones and without. I played it any time I had a hangover, and the hangover would miraculously go away. I listened to it when I felt depressed, and I felt that, somehow, there was a force out there that understood me. “Miracle music,” I began to call this stuff, and it launched my lifetime love affair with ambient music. How did it influence me? In every possible way as a music listener. It asked questions that many people are STILL trying to answer. And a whole new world had opened up that I walked into with an open mind and open ears…

12. JONI MITCHELL: HEJIRA

HEJIRA (ASYLUM RECORDS, 1976)

HEJIRA (ASYLUM RECORDS, 1976)

By 1976, the legendary Joni Mitchell was exploring jazz stylings more and more in her music, and she was well past the stage of having conventional “hits” (1974’s COURT AND SPARK was her last album to feature anything like that). I’d been a fan, but HEJIRA was more than just a new album by a songwriter I loved; it was a restless travelogue by an artist at the peak of her powers. Songs such as “Amelia” (which referenced ill-fated pilot Amelia Earhart), “Song for Sharon” and “Refuge of the Road” really stirred me with their ruminations on life, memories and uncertainty, and furthered a growing desire I had to write meaningful things myself. If that weren’t enough, I fell in love with a girl not long after this that looked very much LIKE Joni Mitchell, and kind of worshipped her. So, me with my Neil Young obsession and this girl with her Joni fixation, began comparing notes and trading insights on our idols. It was heady stuff, and although it ended badly, this Joni Mitchell album in particular captured something emotionally potent that was not only on the recording itself, but echoed through my own personal life. And the lyrics of that “Refuge of the Roads” song are brilliant and sobering.

13. TELEVISION: MARQUEE MOON

MARQUEE MOON (ELEKTRA RECORDS, 1977)

MARQUEE MOON (ELEKTRA RECORDS, 1977)

Something strange and mysterious was going on in New York City in the mid ’70s, and my cousin Roxanne, who lived there, started talking to me about it. There were a lot of new bands playing at a club called CBGB’s, and Roxanne and I, who were already close partially due to shared letters and phone calls about relationships and the music we loved, began going to that club and others in NYC, regularly. A band called Television was getting a great deal of attention, and I didn’t think too much about this until I went to New York myself in 1977 and got to see them, with my cousin and my brother Kyle along for the experience. There’s a thing that happens when you see a band that sounds like nothing else you’ve ever heard. You get transported, you have your mind blown, and it expands your reference points for the old sonic vocabulary. Television had two incredible guitarists, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, and the mesmerizing interplay of the two lead guitars, coupled with bizarre, evocative lyrics and Verlaine’s charisma on stage, was unforgettable for anyone who saw the band. The term “new wave” was created to try to label bands like this; “punk” just wasn’t cutting it. These guys were musicians, and they were reaching for something out there that the punk bands couldn’t care less about. Roxanne sang me her favorite lyrics from the band over and over, even my snobby brother was affected, and I was left reeling by yet another brand new rock sound. The MARQUEE MOON album came out later in 1977 and took the indie music scene by storm. Some of the best guitar work ever played was on this album.

How it influenced me: By generating understanding of the far-reaching drama that two electric guitars could generate, seeing the experience of people getting swept away by music in the dingiest of dingy Bowery clubs (at a legendary time in rock music history), and by raising the stakes for underground music, which was also to generate so much press that the mere READING of reviews and articles at this time became an experience unto itself.


GARDEN MUSIC PROECT: INSPIRED BY SYD BARRETT’S ARTWORK

(AR GARDEN RECORDS/CHERRY RED RECORDS; 2014)

The-Garden-med-res

Writer/artist/songwriter Adriana Rubio is gifted with (or, suffers from, depending on your personal impressions) a cognitive anomaly called synesthesia; basically, it means that a sound or a smell or a texture may evoke a strong visualization of a specific color. She wrote the material for this new project by using the artwork (visual stimulation) to “color” the music (aural realization) as a tribute to the life and works of Pink Floyd’s original voice. The results are, in my opinion, stunning. Whether it comes from having Syd’s music ingrained in her mind from an early age or from synesthesia, this album could, in fact, be the missing link between the Floyd’s Barrett and Gilmour eras and even Syd’s solo excursions before he drifted further into madness and seclusion. Rubio’s concepts were fleshed out by a quartet of extremely talented musicians, the five adopting the name Garden Music Project, even though Adriana doesn’t actually perform on the record.

Unnamed painting (SYD BARRETT)

Untitled painting (SYD BARRETT)

The album starts with “Garden,” a song that, having that transcendent mid-’60s shimmery English pop feel, could have been a B-side for one of Pink Floyd’s first few (Barrett written) singles. Alexander Ditzend’s voice and guitar are both extremely evocative of Syd and the playful music and lyrics are very much in the vein of those early singles. “Squares, Lines and Polygons” has a heavier, more staccato sound. It’s almost like late ’70s English punk fused with the arena rock that still dominated in the States during that same period; here, Ditzend’s voice reminds me of Gary Numan, but without that famous detached snarl. Track number three, “Isolation,” is a bit more in line with the psychedelic meanderings of SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS, Floyd’s second album (and first to feature Syd’s eventual replacement, David Gilmour). “Transformation” is a nightmare soundscape, with throbbing bass and lunatic sax bleats (from Stefan Ditzend), atmospheric keyboards (courtesy of Fabrizio Gamba) and stinging guitar. The musical chaos may very well have been what Syd was experiencing, as the spoken word lyrics are indicative of a crumbling, fragile mind.

Garden Music Project (Adriana Rubio) (publicity photo)

Garden Music Project (Adriana Rubio) (publicity photo)

Bullying” is a flat-out rocker, with great, layered guitar drenched in echo and reverb. As the sound shifts ever-so-slightly, the song melds into “My Ladies,” an acoustic number with a spacey slide guitar used for accent. The number could be an outtake from Barrett’s first solo record, THE MADCAP LAUGHS, without the lyrical lunatic ravings. “Leaving Home” is an amalgam of Syd’s acoustic psychedelia, MEDDLE, DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, WISH YOU WERE HERE and, inexplicably, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Alexander offers up another Gilmour-esque slide performance. The darker tonal qualities and spiraling guitar and melody of “Crime Scene” features a sing-song Barrett-like vocal. Overall, the tune is quite disturbing, rather like a mind spiraling down into an abyss of total madness.

Garden Music Project (Fabrizio Gamba, Stefan Ditzend, Nicolas Saganias, Alexander Ditzend) (publicity photo)

Garden Music Project (Fabrizio Gamba, Stefan Ditzend, Nicolas Saganias, Alexander Ditzend) (publicity photo)

Coliseum” sounds exactly like the name implies. It’s an epic, hypnotic Middle-Eastern “throw ’em to the lions” SPARTACUS warrior movie soundtrack kinda thing that meanders toward a very Floydian progressive rock before winding its way back to Ancient Rome. The entire song’s success lies primarily with percussionist Nicolas Saganias, who’s work is flawless thorughout the whole of the album. The ebb and surge of the electric piano-led “Tour Bus” is in the vein of DARK SIDE… era Floyd, but with Syd-style vocal whimsey. “Bridge” comes on like a cross between “Sheep” (from the Floyd record, ANIMALS) and “Welcome To the Machine” (from WISH YOU WERE HERE). That combination gives the tune a dismally cool feel that I thoroughly enjoy. The final cut, “Self Portrait,” is a little bit of everything Syd. There’s psychedelic pop, space psych, British Invasion pop, a taste of “Jugband Blues” (the only Barrett credit on SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS) and schizoid solo acoustic stuff. It’s a fitting end to fine tribute to one of the true musical geniuses of the psychedelic and progressive eras.

As odd as the genesis of this group and INSPIRED BY SYD BARRETT’S ARTWORK sounds, I will definitely be interested in hearing future activity from the Garden Music Project. Maybe Rubio should check out the artwork of Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) or Miles Davis or John Lennon. I’m thinking that those three would certainly elicit some very colorful musical pictures.


STEVE HILLAGE: RAINBOW 1977

(GONZO MULTIMEDIA; 2014)

5060230863771

I gotta be honest: I wasn’t into the whole Canterbury scene (odd, jazzy pop groups like Caravan, Soft Machine and Gong, the band Steve Hillage was in immediately prior to launching his solo career with 1975’s FISH RISING) or anything (other than Frank Zappa) that sounded even remotely like THAT kind of music. For a couple of years there (probably about 1975 through 1978 or so), I was all about one thing musically: Hard rock with screaming guitars, heavy rhythms and – above all – absolutely no keyboards (unless they were provided by people named Hensley, Emerson or Lord) or horns; to be blunt, I was an idjit. Once I finally got all of that “musical snobbery” out of my system, I started to realize that I had missed some amazing music along the way. I was still a few years removed from “discovering” Steve Hillage, via his 1982 double release, FOR TO NEXT/AND NOT OR, so I was totally unfamiliar with the music here, aside from the two covers. Of the eleven tracks, six are from the just-released MOTIVATION RADIO (the album Hillage was touring behind); I certainly remember seeing the record in the bins back in ’77 but, being totally unimpressed with the cover, I didn’t give it a second thought (more idjitry). Thankfully, most of the music I overlooked (for whatever dumb reason) through the years tends to be reissued on a fairly regular basis. Likewise, stuff like RAINBOW 1977 crops up upon occasion.

Steve Hillage during his time in Gong (uncredited photo)

Steve Hillage during his time in Gong (uncredited photo)

Before we get into the particulars of this release, let’s get into a little bit of history about the band, the show and how RAINBOW 1977 came to be. Steve and long-time partner, Miquette Giraudy, went bare bones for this tour, using only bassist Curtis Robertson and drummer Joe Blocker (both coming from the jazz funk group Karma… Blocker was also in the final version of Love for the REEL TO REAL album) to augment their sound, rather than additional guitar and keyboard players. The decidedly funky American rhythm section gives the music a much heavier bottom-end than Hillage bands had offered before (or after, for that matter). The Rainbow show was the final date of the MOTIVATION RADIO TOUR on November 3. Some of the show had appeared on a bootleg called GGGONG-GO-LONG which, after hearing it, prompted Hillage to find the original tapes and release the full concert – or as much of it as was usable, at least (more about that later).

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

The set opens with “Octave Doctors,” an instrumental intro with a funky bass groove and powerful drumming underpinning the layers of synthesized textures and an awesome, phased guitar solo from Hillage. The track leads directly into an absolutely stunning version of George Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much,” which is fueled by what can only be called “majestic” keyboard work from Giraudy. A couple more MOTIVATION RADIO tracks are up next (“Octave Doctors” being the first). A weird, psychedelic introduction from Steve leads into “Light In the Sky,” a weird, psychedelic number with sci-fi lyrics and a spacey Hawkwind vibe. The song features another in a long line of great Hillage solos, as well as an odd, little kids voice (it’s either Miquette or Hillage) reciting the line, “Oh, me! Oh, my!/There’s a light in the sky.” “Radio” is a mostly instrumental piece, with a nice Hillage solo guitar (sounds like a hollow body, kinda like Steve Howe, but with more balls) over a funky bottom by Blocker and Robertson. The minimal lyrics are about – incredibly – radio. They’re really rather unnecessary, but rather unobtrusive.

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

Electrick Gypsies,” from the Todd Rundgren produced L, is probably the purest example of rock ‘n’ roll here. The synthesizer embellishment adds the prerequisite spacey feel, while everybody else gets funky, including a funked-up guitar from Steve. The tune segues into a movement from “The Salmon Song,” which features a cool sounding solo from Hillage and the return of that little kid voice. The piece moves into another FISH RISING number, listed as “Solar Musick Suite (Part 2).” If I’m reading things correctly, that would be the section of the song sub-titled “Canterbury Sunrise.” The tune features Robertson’s three-minute-plus bass solo, with guitar and synth adding some echoey texture before the drums kick things into overdrive.

Steve Hillage, Rockpalast 1977 (video still)

Steve Hillage, Rockpalast 1977 (video still)

And, so, we’re back to the final three songs from MOTIVATION… , starting with “Motivation,” which features more groove-oriented guitar. The tune has probably the best vocal performance of the entire set; Hillage’s voice was made for this funkier style. Of course, better lyrics help, too. There’s a crazed solo at the end of the song, while the drums are particularly impressive. The vibe and music of “Saucer Surfing” reminds me more of Hawkwind than anything else, with lyrics like: “We’re real reality gypsies/Surfing on vibrations with our minds.” Miquette has a heavily processed spoken word section toward the end, sounding vaguely like a computer (which, obviously, was the intent). Things remain trippy and spacey on “Searching For the Spark,” which is highlighted by a long solo from Joe Blocker. With his jazz background, Blocker’s solo is anything but boring. The final number is an impressive cover of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” This version features ethereal keyboard and vocal work. Now… remember when I mentioned that I had my doubts about this being the entire concert? Here’s where that question comes to mind; just about every live Hillage version I’ve heard of “Hurdy Gurdy Man” has a long guitar solo. This one doesn’t. I can’t tell if the solo has been edited out or if, for some reason, Steve just didn’t play one at the Rainbow that night. It really doesn’t matter… it’s a minor complaint; RAINBOW 1977 is one of those records that grows on you with each listen, never sounding boring or pretentious.


AMON DUUL II: DUULIRIUM

(PURPLE PYRAMID RECORDS/CLEOPATRA RECORDS; reissue 2014, original digital release 2010)

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Approximately a decade-and-a-half after their last true record (new material, rather than collected works or decades-old live tapes), and even longer since the involvement of a majority of the original driving forces within the group, Amon Duul II returned in 2010 with BEE AS SUCH, a self-released downloadable album harkening back to the beginning… experimental and trippy sound pastiches with transcendently hippie-chic lyricism. The original plans for the album included a physical release shortly after the digital files were posted; that scenario never materialized… until now, as the Purple Pyramid arm of Cleopatra Records has finally released the retitled DUULIRIUM on vinyl and CD. Rather like the debut of their forebears (the communal-minded Amon Duul), BEE AS SUCH seemed to be recorded as one long jam session and then edited and cut down into four separate and highly distinct tunes. I mention that because the individual tracks tend to start and end either in the middle of a note or a piece of lyric; even if it appears that the splices fit together seamlessly (as with the first two cuts), when you try to edit the two songs together, it just doesn’t work.

Amon Duul II, circa 2009 (Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz, Jan Kahlert, Chris Karrer, John Weinzierl, Gerard Carbonell, Lothar Meid) (uncredited photo)

Amon Duul II, circa 2009 (Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz, Jan Kahlert, Chris Karrer, John Weinzierl, Gerard Carbonell, Lothar Meid) (uncredited photo)

The disjointedness starts at point zero of the first track, “On the Highway” (originally called “Mambo La Libertad”), as the track seems to pick up right in the middle of a lyric. The song itself is all weird, hippie redux, but is not unappealing in the least. The vocals, which I assume are by Chris Karrer and Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz, comes across as a rather sloppy (though, again, not unappealing) duet between Don Van Vliet and Edith Bunker (the character, not Jean Stapleton, who actually had a great voice). As off-kilter as this assessment makes it sound, “Mambo La Libertad” gets the record off to a great start. The track ends mid-drumbeat, with the second cut picking up somewhere later in the same beat; “Du Kommst Ins Heim” is total mind-warping Krautrock of the highest order. Continuing to mine a plethora of vocal styles, the (again, an assumption on my part) male part comes across as David Byrne, circa early Talking Heads. The same vocals that sounded like Edith are here, too, but much more… in tune, while spastic yodeling, operatic yowls and squalling cat mewls mingle with the odd violin scrape. We actually dig this one muchly as it totally epitomizes the word “trippy.”

Standing In the Shadow” finds Nina Hagen and Mac Rebennack vamping their way through a wicked, groove-based improvisation, fronting a Germanic Funkadelic with Lothar Meid (in the role of Bootsy) funkin’ things up on the bass guitar, while John Weinzierl adds some insane Bernie Worrell style synthesizer effects. At less than eight-and-a-half minutes, “Stil Standing” (the cut’s original title) is the shortest track on DUULIRIUM/BEE AS SUCH. In contrast, the final piece clocks in at nearly thirty minutes; listed on DUULIRIUM as two separate entities, “Back To the Rules” and “Walking To the Park,” the songs were presented under the title “Psychedelic Suite” on the original digital files of BEE AS SUCH. A mindnumbing crawl of a slow tune, “Back To the Rules” occupies the first ten-and-a-half minutes of this musical beast. Standing as a stark example of gaunt minimalism, the oddly languid pace manifests itself as a definite plus rather than a minus; the musicians almost break free at the 8:45 mark only to be reined back in by the burdensome art-damage of the whole thing. The final minutes of the piece does pick up the pace, though not much, as bassist Meid and percussionists Danny Fichelscher and Jan Kahlert drive the tune toward a real psychedelic work-out leading into a bizarre little interlude before heading full-bore into “Walking To the Park” at around the 18:30 mark. Suddenly, a leisurely stroll (a virtual Thorazine shuffle) becomes a frenzied run, perhaps as the couple in the narrative realizes that the park may not be the safest place to be. There are some great guitar runs during this section of the track, really the first time either Weinzierl or Karrer have exploited the instrument to its fullest extent on the entire record. Likewise, Knaup-Krotenschwanz delivers the album’s best performance here, falling somewhere between early Toyah Willcox, mid-period Kate Bush and latter day Marianne Faithfull. Twenty-six minutes may seem a tad like overkill but, if you’re patient, you’ll be rewarded with what is an epic masterpiece of the genre that has come to be known as “Krautrock.”


SONS OF HIPPIES: GRIFFONS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN

(CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

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Sons of Hippies are exactly what they sound like… sorta. First off, I’m fairly certain that one of ’em ain’t. I’ll go out on a limb and call it now: Katherine Kelly was never anyone’s son. Second, they borrow from the early psychedelia of the ’60s, the hard rock of the ’70s, the New Wave of the ’80s and everything that came before and after and in between. By my estimation, that’s around 60 years of rock and roll to draw from and, while the Sons’ songs can be said to sound like a certain band from a certain period in time, they have a sound that can best be described as… well, Sons of Hippies. I kinda like bands that sound familiar and, at the same time, completely new and original. So, for purposes of this review, I’m gonna give you as many musical reference points as I can to convince you that this trio is the real deal.

The album kicks off with “Forward,” a swirling piece of mid-tempo, mind-melting Hawkwind-ish spacey psychedelic goodness. “Mirrorball” features a peppy little guitar signature that continually threatens to explode into a ravaging solo. The only things that ever really explode are the multi-layered vocals on the chorus. That’s okay, though, because those vocals add a quirky vibe to what would otherwise be a rather pedestrian attempt at a Widowspeak type pop tune.

SONS OF HIPPIES (Katherine Kelly, Jonas Canales, David Daly) (publicity photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (Katherine Kelly, Jonas Canales, David Daly) (publicity photo)

Dark Daisies” kinda sounds like a Sabbath tune for the very latest century – if Sabbath hadn’t already given us a number one album full of those things – with an ominously heavier-than-thou guitar riff and equally heavy (steady, never showy) drumming. As the song progresses, the heaviness morphs into an Ian Kilmister-era Hawkind sorta space groove. Now, that’s cool! Ms Kelly’s voice has a Susannah-Hoff-filtered-through-Siouxsie-Sioux quality through-out the album, a comparison that immediately jumps out on the next track. “Rose” is a trippy Bangles style power pop tune and the album’s second single, with a bloody, awesome video to accompany it (it’s sure a shame that MTV isn’t any longer because this one would play great there). GRIFFONS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN doesn’t get much better than “Rose.” It may be the perfect Sons song.

Sounding a bit like classic Dick Dale surf tunage, “Spaceship Ride” adds solid vocals and a crunchy-sounding chorus leading into an echo-laden guitar solo, the first time that any musician really busts out of the quasi-laid back late ’60s vibe. “Man Or Moon” continues to kick-up (and mix up) the tempo with another solid drumming job from Jonas Canales and a nifty descending bass line from David Daly. Again, Katherine Kelly adds a nice solo and some cool Annabella Lwin like vocals. “Magnets” is another fine – if rather unimaginative – tune. The vocals are, as always, top notch but, overall, this may be the weak link in an otherwise highly enjoyable album.

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

Blood In the Water” wanders through all of the musical territory mentioned before, adding a sweet Monster Magnet heavy space feel to the proceedings. Canales and, especially, Daly have seemingly found the muscle that’s been missing from some of the other tracks. Of course, Kelly adds another great solo. “Whatever We Spend” has a neat New Wave-y sound with a very Siousxie-esque vocal performance from Katherine. Odd – dare I say – hippie lyrics add to the strange, circular vibe of the music. “Minute x Minute” brings the chunky, heavy leads of “Dark Daisies” back into play. Solid vocal and drum performances help propel the song toward its raucous end, 2:40 later.

A snaky, sinewy sitar lead features on “Animal Battle” before slamming headfirst into a wickedly arrogant guitar. The song plays out as another killer slice of Hawkwind/Monster Magnet space rock. The final track is “Cautionary Tale.” It is, I suppose, the album’s power ballad. It features another strong vocal performance, underpinned by great guitar work and solid backing from the rhythm section.

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

In the late ’90s, there was a band called Medicine. The more I consider it, I’m kinda reminded of them as much as anybody when I listen to Sons of Hippies. The one thing that I remember about that band was how awesome they were live. I’ve never seen the Sons play, but I have a feeling that the songs from GRIFFONS… would be absolutely killer in a live setting! I can’t wait to find out.


BRAINTICKET: COTTONWOODHILL

(PURPLE PYRAMID RECORDS/CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

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A couple of interesting things about Brainticket’s debut album: First, upon its original release in 1971, it was banned in several countries including, incomprehensibely, the United States (where hippie, drugged-out psychedelic music of this variety was born); second, it came with a label warning that you should “Only listen once a day to this record” because “Your brain might be destroyed.” The record’s good, but I’m not sure of the validity of that statement (of course, everybody and their dog – well,at least Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone – will tell you how unbelievably awesome Springsteen is and I know that’s an outright lie). That warning label must be close to the truth, though, because I played COTTONWOODHILL twice a few days back and had to rest for awhile. So, I’m guessing that you guys wanna know what prompted the warning and the bans and why the album still sounds so good today, right?

Okay… let’s start at the beginning then, shall we? “Black Sand” comes off as a funky Yes hoedown with Santana-like leads and a heavier-than-thou Hammond (provided by band leader, Joel Vandroogembroeck) pounding away throughout. At a mere 4 minutes, “Black Sand” is like the preliminary bout before the main event. That remark will make a lot more sense a little further down the page… trust me. “Places of Light,” another prelim (again clocking in around 4 minutes), isn’t as killer heavy as the first tune, but with Vandroo… uh… Joel offering a jazzy flute signature throughout and the introduction of some way trippy processed vocals by Dawn Muir, it still ranks high on the psychedelic Krautrock meter.

Joel Vandroogenbroeck of Brainticket (uncredited photo)

Joel Vandroogenbroeck of Brainticket (uncredited photo)

Now, like most albums of the type back in the embryonic phase of what we’ve come to know as “Krautrock” and the waning years of the psychedelic movement, this album takes a cue from Iron Butterfly and IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA: a few (or in this case, a couple) short songs on one side (we’re talkin’ original vinyl release now, children) with a much longer track of the more experimental variety filling the second half. Brainticket goes the Butterfly one better (well, actually, a half better) as the tune “Brainticket” is broken up into three parts. Finishing out Side One of the album is “Brainticket I (Part 1),” over eight minutes of odd noises (credited to Hillmuth Klobe utilizing “potentiometers, generators and sound effects”), more vocal acrobatics from Dawn Muir, as she whispers, screams, orgasms and talks her way through a seemingly (derailed) train-of-thought set of lyrics and a percussive, rhythmic organ pattern that repeats through the entire song (which includes another four-and-a-half minutes of “Brainticket I (Part 2)” and nearly 13 minutes of “Brainticket II”). This is, indeed, the main event that we were hoping for! As we are discussing a CD reissue here, it should be noted that the fade out/fade in of the original vinyl is not present on “Brainticket I,” which is presented as it was recorded, as one solid 13 minute piece of brain-damaging tunage. My one complaint – and it’s a minor one – is that the two pieces of the 26 minute suite should be presented as one track. There’s a definite end to “Brainticket I” and a definite beginning to “Brainticket II,” but they don’t present (at least to me) as two separate entities… the one should start immediately after the other ends but, on this reissue, there is a several seconds pause which is somewhat distracting to me. COTTONWOODHILL was, for many years, a lost jewel at the crossroads of psychedelia and Krautrock. Now, thanks to the fine folk at Purple Pyramid and Cleopatra Records, it has taken its rightful place in the pantheon of mind-bendingly great albums, something to be revered and listened to over and over again. My sole request of you is this: “Please – listen responsibly!”