MICKY DOLENZ: CHATTING UP MY FAVORITE MONKEE AT LONG LAST

KEVIN RENICK is one check closer to completing his bucket list.

Micky Dolenz (photo credit: KAY TUOHY)

Micky Dolenz (photo credit: KAY TUOHY)

Micky Dolenz was always my favorite Monkee. They all had their charm, of course, but Micky seemed to me to be the most knowing, the most IN on the joke and the most determined to have as much fun with it as possible. The initial “joke,” of course, was that this quartet of Beatlemania-aping youngsters – three Americans and one Brit – would produce a madcap TV show in the mid-’60s that would hopefully yield a non-stop string of radio hits penned by the likes of Carole King, Neil Diamond, Boyce and Hart and many others. Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider definitely seemed to view the whole thing through the lens of satire, and hired hand music producer Don Kirshner felt it was his job to feed the music through the hit machine he was in charge of, and to NOT let the boys get too cocky or assertive. Let’s have FUN, kooky visuals but slick, well-constructed pop tunes for the ears… that seemed to be the mandate. And Micky was the singer on a majority of the band’s hits… “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and many more. He wasn’t the “cute one,” that distinction went to Davy Jones. And Mike Nesmith was the group’s quirky intellectual, the one who had a discernibly broader agenda and undeniable charisma. Peter Tork was arguably the group’s most polished musician. But Micky Dolenz embodied the spirit of the Monkees thing better than anyone – he delivered his lines with the most sass, he had nonstop energy (throughout the many reunions as well), and, frankly, he had the best voice, one which has probably been underrated through the years. Micky can SING. And his natural ability to be a professional showman, an audience pleaser, has probably been the most anchoring element of this group in its different incarnations. It’s impossible to imagine the later Monkees successes – the ’86 comeback on MTV, the later trio tours, the wildly successful 50th reunion album and tour – without Micky’s boundless energy. You really HAVE to thank him for the band’s durability all these years later; he’s a gamer, plain and simple. And by the way, that “joke” I mentioned above? Well, the real joke – and triumph – was that the Monkees were damn good. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame be damned – these guys showed a staying power that no one could have predicted, thanks to fabulously catchy songs, the early determination to prove they could actually PLAY their instruments (and even write songs!), and a gift for both re-invention AND nostalgia stoking, which meant that every time they “came back” from seeming oblivion, a huge audience was waiting. One that included the rabid older fans and ever curious NEW fans. Hey hey, they’re the Monkees! But they didn’t monkey around when it came to delivering what fans wanted, time after time.

The Monkees (Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones) (screen shot)

The Monkees (Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones) (screen shot)

I realized a long time ago that if you give the audience what they want, which is those hits they like, you can just about do anything else you want,” said Dolenz during a long-awaited phone interview recently. “And in my case, every time I do a show, I liken it to someone throwing me a birthday party. The audience is so excited to hear those songs. It feeds you! It feeds the fire.”

Dolenz was responding to my question about how an artist mostly associated with an “oldies” type act, can keep singing the same songs over and over, and still be engaged. How do you keep the experience fresh for yourself?

I can only speak for myself. I can’t speak for Mike or Peter or David,” he said. “After the Monkees, I sort of bailed out on that part of the business for a while. I moved to England, and for about 15 years I was directing and producing television shows. I did no Monkee business. And when I came back in 1986 for that reunion, it all felt very new to me again! I never really made a major attempt after the Monkees to have a solo career. Not as an artist or writer. I don’t write that much, you know… I had done a couple of little things here and there, but I was never really a writer or anything.”

So for Dolenz, performing those eternally popular songs was not a problem. “Pleasant Valley Sunday?”

Oh, that is definitely one of my favorites. I always favored Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s stuff.”

The concert favorite “Goin’ Down?” “Yeah, that’s a great one.” More on “Goin’ Down” in a moment, but the point is that Dolenz was perfectly happy fulfilling audience expectations.

I wasn’t trying to do all new material,” he said. “I’m not one of those performers who says ‘I’m not gonna do any of my old hits.’ But again, I can only speak for myself.”

I mention that nostalgia is actually a good thing in music, it provides added resonance for listeners who grew up with a certain kind of music. People WANT to relive great moments from their youth, and what’s wrong with that?

Sure. And another reason I have no problem with it is, I have done other things in my life. I’ve done musical theater (his credits include AIDA, PIPPIN and a London stage production of HAIRSPRAY in 2010). I’ve gotten great reviews, and I’ve played great characters. So if I go out and do a Monkees concert or a Mickey Dolenz concert, it’s not the only arrow in my quiver. It’s not the only thing I’ve done. But it’s certainly the thing I’m most remembered for.”

Micky Dolenz and Joyce DeWitt in a 2014 production of COMEDY IS HARD! (uncredited photo)

Micky Dolenz and Joyce DeWitt in a 2014 production of COMEDY IS HARD! (uncredited photo)

Any baby boomer can recite favorite moments from the first phase of Monkee mania: that inescapable theme song from the TV show, the irresistibly catchy early hits like “ …Steppin’ Stone,” “I’m a Believer,” “She” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” the frenzied energy of the show, a pioneering experiment in the concept of music video. Some people may even remember the unlikely, limited tour that featured Jimi Hendrix as an opening act, something I did NOT have a chance to ask Dolenz about. I was more interested in talking about their music, and though I didn’t get to bring up all my favorite songs, I DID ask about “Goin’ Down,” easily one of Dolenz’s finest hours as a vocalist. Over a jazz-laced romping arrangement that expanded the group’s sonic palette rather significantly, Dolenz sings a rapidfire, tempo-challenging lyric that would be far beyond the ability of most vocalists. The case for Dolenz as one of the finest pop singers of the era was made right then and there, and that was way back in 1967. I tell him how extraordinary the track is.

The story is, there was a song that Mose Allison, a jazz singer, had done – it was called ‘Parchman Farm,’” Dolenz begins. “It was an old bluesy/jazzy kind of thing. I don’t even know if he wrote it (Kevin’s note: he didn’t). It was only three chords. And I always wanted to do it. Peter had done it in the Village when he was coming up, he liked it also. So Mike and I and Peter and Davy laid down a track… it had no melody, just basically this three-chord progression. And when we finished, it was so hot, but then Mike said, and rightly so, ‘I love Mose Allison, and I love that song… but why would the Monkees cover Mose Allison? It’s just a three chord progression! Let’s have someone write some WORDS for our track.’ So we gave it to Diane Hildebrand. And she came back with the song… and the first time that I routined it with her, we played the track. And I had the lyrics in front of me. So I sang it, (Dolenz sings a few lines of the song to me first at the familiar rapid tempo, then at the sluggish tempo he employed when first rehearsing it.) And Diane goes ‘No, No, it should be TWICE that fast!’ (he laughs) And I said ‘What?’ So I rehearsed it, obviously, and then laid the vocal down. Yeah, it’s a big one.”

I tell Micky my poignant story about “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” which in a nutshell, is simply that my good friend and musical colleague, Rick Haegg, whom I had a lot of music plans with, died before we could get ourselves on video significantly. The performance of us doing the Monkees song live at Lindberg’s, in Springfield, MO, is destined to be the only YouTube clip of us out there. Micky used my mom’s expression “Oh, wow” in response to this story. But what I had LONG wanted to ask Dolenz about was, of course, Neil Young. Dolenz did a gentle cover of Young’s “Sugar Mountain” on his 1991 collection of pop lullabyes, MICKY DOLENZ PUTS YOU TO SLEEP. But more significant is the fact that it’s still not widely known among casual fans that Neil played on three or four Monkees songs, including “You and I” and the gorgeous “As We Go Along,” from the legendary HEAD soundtrack.

Micky Dolenz, soundchecking on the Monkees' 2014 tour (uncredited photo)

Micky Dolenz, soundchecking on the Monkees’ 2014 tour (uncredited photo)

Oh, God,” Dolenz exclaims at the mention of that song. “Absolutely one of my favorites.” The shimmering acoustic guitars of the track and another stellar Carole King lyric (in collaboration with Toni Stern) propel Dolenz to what might be his most romantic vocal ever. “Give up your secrets/Let down your hair/And sit with me here by the firelight… Why think about/Who’s gonna win out?/We’ll make up our story as we go along.” Those are beautifully evocative lines that, when combined with the exquisite tune and a sweeping performance by Dolenz, can induce genuine chills. And yes, Neil Young plays guitar on it. But just HOW did ol’ Neil get involved?

Well, he was just around, like everybody was at that time,” Dolenz replied. “I think he had a close relationship with Carole King, and so that’s why he might have been on that one. But everybody was around. Stephen Stills, Buddy Miles, Carole. It was a pretty small community. Everybody sort of hung around at everybody else’s house. Neil was around all the time. It could’ve been the producer, Jack (Nicholson, a co-producer of the soundtrack). Or Ry Cooder, he was the other guitar player on that. It’s also well known that not only us, but everyone was using the Wrecking Crew. Have you seen that documentary?”

Dolenz was referring to an acclaimed 2008 documentary about the legendary group of studio musicians who played on countless major recordings in the ‘60s. I felt guilty that I hadn’t seen it and told him I’d make an effort to do so.

You should watch it. Yeah, the Wrecking Crew… it was Tommy Tedesco, Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye, Leon Russell. Glen Campbell. Lots of others. They played on everybody’s stuff. A lot of the Beach Boys stuff. In fact, the story goes that there isn’t one Beach Boy on ‘Good Vibrations’ except for the singing, of course. They played on a lot of early Byrds recordings… the Association… Mamas and Papas. In those days, that’s what you did. Lots of stuff. I’m so glad they are finally getting recognition.”

I asked about Glen Campbell, since he’d died quite recently. What did Micky most remember about him?

Oh, I have lots of memories. We became really good friends. He was in the Wrecking Crew. We kind of just hit it off. We both had families at the same time… in fact, our families hung out. We had barbecues together. One day Glen said, ‘Do you remember your first recording session? Before the Monkees?’ I vaguely remembered it. I was singing around LA at the time. I didn’t know much about recording at all. There were four or five musicians there at the session. I was maybe 19 or 20. So we did the recording, and then the Monkees thing happened. And Glen Campbell said ‘Well, I was your guitar player.’ It was the Wrecking Crew! The song was called ‘Don’t Do It.’ Glen played on it. And Joe Osborn on bass. We did another one called ‘Huff Puff.’ Yeah, Glen was just a great guy.”

Dolenz had also been friends with another legendary songwriter, Harry Nilsson. For the 50th Anniversary of the Monkees, a remarkable set of circumstances came together to spark a new Monkees record, GOOD TIMES, in 2016. It’s a fantastic and surprising recording, which got some help from the discovery of some half-finished Monkees tunes in the vaults, one of which featured Nilsson.

The Monkees (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith) (publicity photo)

The Monkees (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith) (publicity photo)

It all came together pretty quickly when we were discussing what we were gonna do for the 50th anniversary,” Dolenz explained. “We had some unfinished tracks from the ‘60s, songs written by Carole King, Neil Diamond and Harry Nilsson. And there were vocals on some, like ‘Good Times,’ the one that Harry wrote. That was obviously gonna be for me to sing on eventually. Harry had put down a pretty hot vocal as a guide vocal. And I thought, Wow, I could do a duet with my old friend Harry Nilsson! So we ended up calling the album GOOD TIMES, that was my idea. And that was the title track.”

Then all sorts of famous songwriters came out of nowhere to be part of this project, right? You discovered that the Monkees had fans in high places!

What happened was that the record label and producers reached out on their rolodex, and all of a sudden we get songs submitted by Rivers Cuomo, Andy Partridge (from XTC). Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller. Ben Gibbard. It just exploded and took off. I am very grateful and flattered and proud of the album. We got great reviews, too. Even ROLLING STONE gave us a good review, and they were never so into the Monkees before!”

I mention how unprecedented it is for a band to have a top 20 album 50 years after the fact. Compilations or hits collections might make the charts later in an artist’s career, but for that to happen with a NEW album? Truly remarkable!

Yeah, it occurred to me,” Dolenz began with a laugh. “The equivalent in 1966, back when the Beatles, Stones and the Monkees were around, would have been for an act from 1916 to now have a top 20 album. It would have been something by Al Jolson or Enrico Caruso!” We both laughed loudly.

Micky Dolenz, 2014 Monkees tour (uncredited photo)

Micky Dolenz, 2014 Monkees tour (uncredited photo)

But there was something truly remarkable in the strength of the songs on GOOD TIMES. Mike Nesmith sings “Me and Magdalena” with a delicacy that truly elevates the gorgeous melody to a transcendent level (Dolenz provides harmonies). Peter Tork is at his very strongest on “Little Girl” and “Wasn’t Born To Follow.” And no one could have anticipated the luscious psychedelia and beautiful joint vocal performance of Nesmith and Dolenz on the Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller co-write, “Birth of an Accidental Hipster.” Such musical surprises led ULTIMATE CLASSIC ROCK to declare that “the fact that there is a new Monkees album in 2016 is miraculous enough, but that said album, GOOD TIMES!, is nothing short of a masterpiece is astounding.” Fans like yours truly were genuinely amazed.

It’s obviously very gratifying,” said Dolenz. “It took the three of us… well, actually the four of us, because even Davy has a song on there (“Love To Love”). But everything just came together… It had a lot to do with the producer, Adam Schlesinger, who really was enthusiastic. We just kind of caught lightning in a bottle.”

Is there any chance of another Monkees record happening in the future? After all, Micky said that even the notoriously reluctant Mike Nesmith loved making this record.

Well, nothing is in the works right now. We are still riding the crest of the wave off GOOD TIMES. It did pretty well. In my solo show, I even do three songs off that album. The general consensus was that we didn’t want to try to follow that up right away with GOOD TIMES 2. But down the road, you never know.”

Speaking of “the road,” Dolenz performed no less than 60-plus concerts last year, which took him and Peter Tork to four countries. And this summer, he’s been doing the 50 SUMMERS OF LOVE tour with Mark Lindsey (from Paul Revere and the Raiders) and the Beatles tribute band, the Fab Four. Solo, duo or the odd theatre gig, Dolenz seems to never rest. How does he keep up the stamina for so many shows?

To answer your question, I DON’T,” he laughs. “I get beat up pretty hard. There’s a saying we have, ‘You don’t get paid to sing, you get paid to travel.’ The singing is FREE. I don’t travel very well, it’s hard on me. Probably the hardest thing about doing this.”

Micky Dolenz performing at the Davy Jones Memorial show, 2012 (photo credit: CINDY ORD/GETTY IMAGES)

Micky Dolenz performing at the Davy Jones Memorial show, 2012 (photo credit: CINDY ORD/GETTY IMAGES)

Nonetheless, Dolenz is having a good time doing the 50 SUMMERS OF LOVE tour, and I asked him what it’s like performing with his old chum, Lindsey, whose parent band was big around the same time as the Monkees. This show features them performing together.

Yeah, this is not like a typical compilation show, where one act comes out and does 20 minutes, then the next act comes out,” he said. “The unique thing is that we do the whole show together. We’re both on stage the whole time. He sings on some of my songs and I sing on some of his. We talk in between and do some schtick. We open with ‘ …Steppin’ Stone,’ and we talk about it. He recorded the song, and he’ll say, ‘You know, I did it first.’ But I’ll say ‘Yeah, but I had the hit!’ It’s quite interesting. The set list is based on the SONGS, not who is singing them. It’s a little bit like a Rat Pack thing.”

Dolenz talks about how both he and Lindsey were on the ‘60s TV show WHERE THE ACTION IS, which I tell him I remembered watching. We also talk about enthusiasm for the Monkees’ music in England, Australia and Japan. And the participation of his sister Coco in the latest touring Monkees show (vocals and percussion), and how his daughter, Georgia, just graduated from the Groundlings improve comedy school, and how she and her pop run a furniture business together, called Dolenz and Daughters Fine Furniture. It seems there are constant surprises in Micky Dolenz’s career, and nary a dull moment. It’s plenty of work, and not much “monkeying around.” He knows he’s a beloved pop legend, though, and is grateful for his unlikely and diverse career. I had a zillion more questions I would have liked to ask him, and felt like I had barely scratched the surface in our short chat. But he’s a super busy guy, and was nice enough to give me some time despite an illness in his family. I try to express a level of admiration that would cover how I grew up with him, found myself astonished by the many Monkees reunions through the years and by that amazing new album, and how he’d been on my bucket list of desired interviews. I couldn’t say it all. Micky Dolenz! Wow! But even though I am hardly the first to tell him I’m a devoted Monkees fan and that he is truly one of the most underrated singers ever, I am happy to say it to him personally, anyway.

Micky Dolenz in his Dolenz and Daughters workshop, 2014 (uncredited photo)

Micky Dolenz in his Dolenz and Daughters workshop, 2014 (uncredited photo)

Thank you very much,” is his modest reply. And then I went along, with a HEAD full of impressions…


LIARS: TFCF

(Mute Records; 2017)

Liars have managed an unprecedented feat in my music world. The art punk band that, until their new CD was the work of duo Angus Andrew and Aaron Hemphill, have now made 8 albums in a row that I have loved. In the past 30 or so years, no other artist has made that many consecutive albums that knocked me out. Radiohead and Wilco were in the running, but then each made an album that failed to floor me. So Wilco stalled at 7 in a row. That leaves Liars in this unique position… a band I love who have never made an album I didn’t find thrilling. Their debut in 2002, the bizarrely titled THEY THREW US ALL IN A TRENCH AND STUCK A MONUMENT ON TOP, was responsible for one of the most memorable listening experiences I’ve ever had on the road, with a 30-minute closing track that absolutely marked them out as authentic weirdos. The follow-up, THEY WERE WRONG, SO WE DROWNED, was kind of a song cycle about witches and witchcraft, with some seriously spooky stuff on it, and some willfully perverse anti-commercial compositions that dared you to like them. I did, though… something this band was doing sounded like no one else, and seemed to be the product of an aesthetic that was hard to pin down. Their music combined chants, tribal percussive elements, odd fragments that could be haunting for a spell and then disappear, ambient passages and, sometimes, kick-ass driving rockers. Through it all, the voice of Angus Andrew, which sometimes he’d use to actually sing and sometimes he’d employ in the service of controlled atonality or spooky asides, served as a sonic trademark; Liars established their sound early on, one that was never less than intriguing and that featured fascinating stylistic variations each time out. It was weird, hypnotic, rhythmic and mysterious. It wasn’t for everybody, but so what? It was for ME, that’s all that mattered. In just 15 years, this eccentric band have made 8 albums I love. That’s a damn good track record!

LIARS (Angus Andrew) (uncredited photo)

But when I heard that Hemphill had left the band before this new CD, I was seriously worried. My first reaction was anger.… what, Aaron, being in one of the most fascinating bands of the new millennium wasn’t enough for you? Was Angus too controlling? Was your own muse being stifled? Not enough records being sold? I really wanted to know WHAT happened, and in the pre-release publicity, I read that Andrews wasn’t too happy about the departure. He went back to his native Australia after shuffling around multiple locations between the US and Europe, and set about making TFCF on his own. He remarked that he felt like a “bride being left at the altar” or somesuch, and indeed, the unsettling cover photo shows a dejected looking Andrew sitting by himself wearing a bridal gown, an uneaten cake nearby. It’s the most off-putting Liars cover, but in context, it makes sense and it’s quite sad. As a fan, going into this record, you had to be wondering if this was going to be the first Liars album to fall short – if the departure of Hemphill was gonna reveal that Andrew REALLY needed someone else to rein in his weirder artistic impulses, of which there were many. What were we in for, anyway?

The answer, miraculously, is another great Liars record. Here is proof positive that Angus Andrew is a true visionary, a singular composing talent who has enough adventurous ideas and experimental willfulness to keep the Liars sound fresh and flowing. One big surprise is the prevalence of acoustic guitar on this album. “The Grand Delusional” begins right away with a bit of sombre picking… haunting and evocative. “We said we would ride/We said we would take them out to sea,” Andrew sings, and it could be a reference to his ex-bandmate or a metaphor for something else. It doesn’t really matter; it’s lovely and cryptic. There are two songs that have a specific recurring line that must surely have something to do with the pain of Hemphill’s departure. “Staring at Zero” is short but it has a fairly typical ominous Liars rhythm track over which Andrew sings “Why can’t you shoot me through the heart?… We both were broke right from the start.” Sounds like admitted self-pity to me, and when it segues into some singer/songwriter-y acoustic guitar again right away, the effect is not typical Liars at all, and yet startling in that Liars way. Fascinating stuff. On the memorably titled “No Tree No Branch,” one of several songs that has echoes of Radiohead (past albums had even more songs somewhat reminiscent of Thom Yorke and company), the recurring lyric that sticks in your head is “If you listen you’ll hear that sound right there in my mind.” It’s true, we DO hear that sound and the rapid, demented keyboard bit over which it’s sung is captivating. This goes right into “Cred Woes,” possibly the most quintessential Liars track on the album. With a truly insistent simple percussion track and an ascending synth line that is sort of an earworm for those of us into this kind of weirdness, Andrew goes on about something obviously important to him but you won’t necessarily make out all the words. You also may not be able to read them in their tiny white type over green background flora as presented in the CD booklet. No matter; something compelling is being presented here, something dramatic and original. It has never mattered to me personally if I could understand everything Andrew was singing on Liars recordings. Some of the most memorable moments are slow and contemplative here: “Ripe Ripe Rot” is like an Eno-esque, slightly sour ambient track with a subdued Iggy Pop-style vocal. “You don’t remember what I said/And it’s time again to explode your heart/Yeah it’s time again to let go,” Andrew sings, with a resigned sadness. This dissolves into a big slice of ambient drift that would be pure hymn-like afterthought if not for the repeating dissonant machine sound that laces it, but maybe that’s the point. Andrew is still carrying on, still indulging his sense of sonic wonder… but his brain is surely hurting, and he’s up to something more than prettiness. In fact, he’s always been up to something partially inscrutable, something where others may not go gently. Liars albums take WORK, and I’m glad this one is no different. It’s one of the shortest Liars discs, but a worthy successor to 2014’s MESS. Sorry about your bandmate, Angus, but hell… you’ve proved you don’t need ANYONE, right? You’re one of the most interesting guys in rock, and I for one plan to follow you wherever you go.


EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS

(UNIVERSAL MUSIC ENTERPRISES/STUDIOCANAL/APPLE CORPS/IMAGINE ENTERTAINEMNT/WHITE HORSE PICTURE (137 minutes; Unrated); 2016)
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Back in September, I was just back from the theater, having seen EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS. My immediate thoughts were that the film was truly an amazing ride and that director Ron Howard did a fabulous job with all of the archival film footage; cleaned and restored for the big screen, I was definitely taken back to the height of Beatlemania. After the end credits rolled, the audience was treated to a near-thirty minute segment of the Beatles’ 1965 Shea Stadium concert (almost the entire show), which was awesome… with a crisp new “remaster,” it was like being in the front row with that screaming, rabid New York crowd. Unfortunately, that piece of history didn’t make it to the DVD/Blu-Ray releases, as it was used as an “incentive” to get butts in theater seats. Oh, well… maybe someday! The film (and the bonus feature) made me realize, again, how much I miss both John and George; it really was a wonderful night of Rock ‘n’ Roll with, as Ringo said, “The biggest band in the land.”

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (George Harrison, RIngo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, circa 1964) (uncredited photo)

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (George Harrison, RIngo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, circa 1964) (uncredited photo)

So, by this time, who doesn’t know the story of the Beatles’ humble beginnings? Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last six decades, here’s the Cliff Notes version: Paul McCartney meets John Lennon, joins his band, bringing George Harrison along for the ride; then, here comes Ringo Starr, John and Paul start writing songs together, Brian Epstein becomes their manager, the lads meet George Martin, who works with them, molding their sound in the studio… yeah, yeah, yeah! As a lifelong fan of the Fab Four, I still came away amazed by this fabulous new documentary. Seeing and feeling just how wonderful the Beatles and their music were and continue to be today makes me realize just how much they still mean to me, forty years after they went their separate ways. The narrative of EIGHT DAYS A WEEK is presented through, not only vintage interviews of the Liverpudlians, but recent remembrances from Paul and Ringo, plus various other musicians, composers and celebrities. However, the real “star” is the concert footage and the mania surrounding the mop tops. It’s great reliving how the Beatles literally took control of popular culture in the 1960s; one of the things that I enjoyed seeing was how hard Ringo was playing back in the very early live days, displaying an almost punkish verve at times.

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, RIngo Starr, Washington DC 1964) (photo courtesy: APPLE CORPS)

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, RIngo Starr, Washington DC 1964) (photo courtesy: APPLE CORPS)

Personal fan-boy histrionics aside, what sets THIS Beatles documentary above others – first and foremost – is the unbelievable quality of the film itself: Not only the concert footage, but the manic press conferences and even the boys simply caught relaxing, is so clear and crisp that it really just staggers you. It was worth it to hear new concert footage with clean, crisp sound, highlighting how truly hard they rocked… especially Lennon tearing up now-classics like “Twist and Shout” and “Dizzy, Miss Lizzy.” Celebrated fans as disparate as Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello and Sigourney Weaver relate just how hard they fell for the Beatles… Yes, everything from THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW to the Hollywood Bowl performance to their huge world tours and all of the madness that followed, but also because they were funny and talented, met the right people at the right time (manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin would become the two most important people in their professional lives) and had a ton of belief in themselves and in their art. The Fab Four were always ready and more than willing to push the envelope. After seeing this movie, it’s very easy to see how and why these celebrities and, indeed, the world fell in love with them and why that love is still going strong over fifty years later.

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (a 14 year old Sigourney Weaver at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964) (uncredited photo)

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (a 14 year old Sigourney Weaver at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964) (uncredited photo)

To be sure, the Beatles released an astonishing number of great, hit songs and huge, groundbreaking albums between 1962-1970… a mere eight years. It’s still hard to believe! EIGHT DAYS A WEEK tells their story quite well and, seeing it initially in the theater, on the big screen, was a huge benefit (in particular, the restored Shea Stadium footage, with all the madness and screaming, was stunning). The film is nothing short of phenomenal; Howard and his crew did a superb job of presenting another – often overlooked – part of the Beatles’ huge world wide success, aside from the string of hits and the intense madness that surrounded them everywhere they went. Quite frankly, watching them deal with the insanity going on around them all the time, it amazes me how they remained so grounded. That Shea Stadium show in August, 1965 before 56,000 people was a game changer, setting up a future for arena and stadium rock shows; that performance took Rock and Roll music to heights never before (and seldom after) imagined.

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr at Shea Stadium, 1965) (uncredited photo)

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr at Shea Stadium, 1965) (uncredited photo)

Historically, one of the real turning points for the band was when they rejected George Martin’s idea of wanting them to only do other people’s songs; they wanted to write their own music and, so… away they went. The Lennon/McCartney hit-making machine was rolling and wouldn’t stop until outside business affairs jammed the gears. Still, by the time they decided to quit touring in 1966 to focus their creative output into studio work, they were just starting to hit their peak, releasing a string of masterpieces starting with RUBBER SOUL and REVOLVER. Recent interviews with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney and archival clips of George Harrison and John Lennon, commenting on and explaining things along the way, really adds to the story and to the enjoyment of this documentary. The film flows very well.

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (Ringo Starr, Ron Howard, Paul McCartney) (photo courtesy: STUDIOCANAL)

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (Ringo Starr, Ron Howard, Paul McCartney) (photo courtesy: STUDIOCANAL)

I have been a Beatles fan since their first appearance on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, solidified by seeing A HARD DAY’S NIGHT in the theater and they are still as wonderful, their music still honest and positive and still touching new generations of listeners and fans… over fifty years later. As Sigourney Weaver said in the movie, “It was this sense of world music. We were all loving them, all over the world.” The joy of the Beatles’ music is, we can all have our favorite song and our favorite album; from 1962 to 1970, they made music for the ages and, indeed, this film is a must see for fans of all ages. A big “Thank you!” to Ron Howard for bringing us a new look at a very well-known story. He did a fantastic job with this movie, with a little help from some friends… John, Paul, George and Ringo.


DETROIT COBRAS/PUJOL/NIKKI LANE

(June 12, 2014; THE DEMO, Saint Louis, MO)

The Detroit Cobras Saint Louis Poster by James Bratten

This is my first sojourn to the Demo on Manchester Avenue, in the Grove section of the city (which has turned into something of a “Music Row,” with what seems to be a couple dozen live music venues). With a capacity of 200, the Demo is what is known as an “intimate room.” That term also connotes the friendly atmosphere offered by Jake Snyder and his knowledgeable staff. Ben Schulte, the production manager, goes above and beyond to guarantee the best sound possible, insuring a positive experience for both patron and musician. The musicians on this night’s vintage-style anything goes bill is the hard-working rock ‘n’ blues party combo, the Detroit Cobras, the punky Pujol and the real-deal country of Nikki Lane.

Nikki Lane (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Nikki Lane (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Nikki Lane, in the midst of her first headlining tour, opted to open for this show rather than go up against the proven might of the Cobras. I’m glad she did! By doing so, she has insured that the next time she plays the Lou, the fans will turn out for her. Nikki’s set was short, but very sweet: Three tunes from her just-released sophomore album, ALL OR NOTHIN’, a couple from her debut (2011’s WALK OF SHAME) and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Saving Grace.” Her backing band – they’ve dubbed themselves “Team Thunder,” a name that Nikki abhors – are a well-oiled machine… just wish I woulda remembered to get names! The guitar player, in particular, impressed with a myriad of styles, from hardcore country twang to chugging blues riffs to over-the-top psychedelic soloing. And, let’s not forget the lead singer in the band: Nikki, two albums into what should be a very successful career, certainly commands your attention with her singing (thanks in part, I’m sure, to her deft songwriting talents) and her between song quips and intros. A great set that has me counting down to her next Saint Louis date.

Pujol (Daniel Pujol) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Pujol (Daniel Pujol) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Shifting gears completely, Daniel Pujol and his band (the creatively named Pujol) offered an entirely different view of the Nashville music scene. Daniel’s songs and arrangements are a few cuts above the standard punk sound that you’re likely to hear on any given night at just about any club in the country. Aside from Daniel’s (and his guitar cohort, who’s name I didn’t get) continual shredding (and occasional harmonic duets), the set’s focal point was at the back of the stage: Tiffany Minton was a diminutive dynamo, keeping the beat with arms flailing and her kinetic energy driving the songs at an almost breakneck speed. Pujol’s interesting vocals – kinda like Geddy Lee on helium – were, unfortunately, somewhat lost in the mix, causing a few in the crowd to miss the nuances inherent in his lyrics. The power and musical acumen of the group, thankfully, nullified the problem.

The Detroit Cobras (Dale Wilson and Richie Wohlfeil) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Detroit Cobras (Dale Wilson and Richie Wohlfeil) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Rachel Nagy, the Detroit Cobras’ powerhouse vocalist, was ready to rock ‘n’ roll. The band blasted through a long set of classic R and B and rock songs, with Rachel front-and-center and longtime band mate, guitarist Mary Ramirez, holding things down on stage left (right in front of improbable scenester and local pain, Beatle Bob). Stage right was occupied by Mary’s guitar counterpart, Reuben Glazer, and bassist Dale Wilson; holding the beat was Richie Wohlfeil, doing more with a simple kit (and a cut in the palm of his hand) than most can accomplish with a set that would make Neil Peart envious. For some unknown reason, the crowd was slow to warm up to the hard working, hard partying vibes coming from the stage, not really getting into the groove until the fourth song, a rare original, “Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat).” That’s something that I’ll find myself pondering for some time to come… all the while basking in the glow of my very first Detroit Cobras show.


DESERT WIZARDS: RAVENS

(BLACK WIDOW RECORDS; Italian import; 2013)

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I am not enamored with this band’s name. I find it rather odd, kinda like Justin Bieber. Fortunately, unlike the Bieb, the music of Desert Wizards is highly listenable and, ultimately, RAVENS is one of the more enjoyable genre records of the recent past. The Italian quartet (Marco Mambelli, Anna Fabbri, Marco Goti and Silvio Dalla Valle) excel at a style of early 1970s hard rock that is best exemplified by Alice Cooper (when they were a band). Primary singer Mambelli’s vocals are heavily accented, something that may put some off but, may I remind you of a guy named Klaus Meine? For a short period of time in the early ’90s, his band, Scorpions, was one of – if not THE – biggest hard rock bands on the planet. Don’t miss out on some really good music for something that is a minor barrier to overcome.

Freedom Ride” kicks things off in fine style, with riff-heavy psychedelic guitars and a beefy organ sound. The bridge builds from Mambelli’s bass before Fabbri’s churchy organ and Valle’s charging drums lead into the two wildly careening guitarists (Goti and Mambelli) who are seemingly soloing against each other. As the drums slow to a martial beat, the organ and guitars seem to swirl as Mambelli’s spoken word, Jim Morrison trance-like vocal trails to the end of the nearly eight minute track. The next tune, “Babylonia,” starts with a nice guitar part, with single notes. The pace picks up at about the 2:10 mark before exploding into a great solo a half minute later. The male/female vocals seem to break into dark angel/Holy angel parts. It’s kinda hard to tell for sure, though, as some of the lyrics don’t really translate well to English: “Between rivers, there’s a Holy river/Beyond grey and purple sky/Babylonia is so much dizzy/For your heart and for your mind.” Thankfully, the lyrical oddities don’t really detract from the song. There is what sounds like humming voices throughout “Back To Blue,” which seem to be very much at odds with the music. This creates a jarringly discordant dichotomy that is, no doubt, purposeful, as it is not entirely displeasing. The track is a slow burn until almost three minutes in, when everything comes into synch with a muscular guitar solo. A little over two minutes later, the whole thing tries to fall in upon itself. As for the vocals, they a quite dreamy and buried deep in the mix; in this instance, the tune probably would have worked better as an instrumental. “Blackbird” sounds like a continuation of the previous number, though maybe more fully realized. The piano at the beginning reminds me of Alice Cooper’s “Ballad of Dwight Fry” and this is certainly a better attempt at a ballad than “Back To Blue,” though the lyrics are very dark. In fact, the “Ballad of Dwight Fry” comparison continues in the lyrics: “I hear someone screaming/Confusion in my mind.” Fabbri takes the lead on organ during the instrumental before another cool guitar solo. This is probably the most progressive sounding tune on the album.

Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)

Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)

Dick Allen Blues” is the track where everything gels into a perfect miasma of rock ‘n’ roll bliss. The psychedelia-laced hard rock’s heavy organ is very much in the vein of early (Mach I, in fact) Deep Purple. There’s a strong Native American vibe on “Electric Sunshine,” both melodically and lyrically (minimal though they are): “Feed your head/Look at the sunrise/Feed your eyes.” The song also has a hint of Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley with the slightly hypnotic organ, chord progressions and vocals. “Burn Into the Sky” features more forceful vocals, though they’re still muddied in the mix, which has me wondering if this is a compensation for the accent. The chunky riffing turns into a Sabbath-like bass heavy dirge somewhere around 2:50 – a very cool, atmospheric sound. There are also some very impressive wah-wah drenched solos before the song kicks back in at about 5:10. With a Gothic/Damned feel, “Vampire’s Queen” displays what may be the best lyrics on the record during the chorus: “Oh wake up, Lady Vampira/I need your poison as you need my blood/Take me down to the river of madness/Drag me to Hell, give me your bite.” The break comes along at about the three-and-a-half minute mark and, with a grand touch of menace, is head and shoulders above anything else on the album. Quite possibly the most fully realized song here. The Gothic theme continues with “Bad Dreams.” The piece starts with a fever-dream guitar signature, a lot like Alice’s “Halo of Flies.” A buzzing guitar, soloing throughout, adds to the swirling dementia. A cacophony of noise houses Vincent Price’s recitation of Poe’s “The Raven” before a more pastoral bridge that breaks down into a driving, frenzied terminus.

The CD version of the album features a bonus track, a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Childhood’s End” from the ONE OF MY TURNS tribute record. It’s a fairly faithful version that, while enjoyable, seems rather out of place here. Desert Wizards is a good band that could elevate their game – as Scorpions did – by hiring someone to help with English lyrics. You can pick up the CD version of RAVENS (as well as the band’s self-titled debut) from Amazon or from the Italian record company at www.blackwidow.it, but.. it ain’t gonna be cheap!


LAKE STREET DIVE: BAD SELF PORTRAITS

(SIGNATURE SOUNDS; 2014)

lakestreetdive2013

The four-piece Lake Street Dive would be as comfortable on-stage at a big Country show as they would be at a small Jazz club; they would fit in equally well with old-school Soul or Rock ‘n’ Roll and would even find (or gain) ardent fans on a Warped Tour stage. On their latest release, BAD SELF PORTRAITS, the immediate point of distinction – as with everything that has come before – is the voice of Rachel Price. While Price is the obvious focal point, the musicians behind her are responsible for putting words in her mouth: drummer Mike Calabrese; guitarist, trumpeter and founding member Mike “McDuck” Olson; bassist and primary songwriter (at least on this album) Bridget Kearney. The diverse sound of Lake Street Dive can most easily be traced by the geographical history of the four members: Olson hails from Minneapolis (home of Prince and Husker Du); Calabrese calls Philadelphia home (Philly Soul, anyone?); Kearney is from Iowa (as was/is Big Band leader Glenn Miller and metal extremists Slipknot); Price comes from just outside Nashville (the one in Tennessee… you know… “Music City”). This huddled mass melted into the New England Conservatory pot in Boston.

Lake Street Dive (Mike Calabrese, Bridget Kearney, Rachel Price, Mike Olson) (publicity photo)

Lake Street Dive (Mike Calabrese, Bridget Kearney, Rachel Price, Mike Olson) (publicity photo)

BAD SELF PORTRAITS kicks of with the title track, a very cool Motown vibe and vocals that have a throwback appeal – think Norah Jones channeling Ronnie Specter… kinda thick and sultry. “Stop Your Crying” is very much in the same vein: girl group pop for the next century with backing vocals that are best described as… uh-hum!… “Supreme.” The next tune, “Better Than,” has a distinct Buckingham-Nicks/Fleetwood Mac groove, with a syncopated percussion pattern, a medley line and backing vocals that are quite Stevie-esque (Nicks not Wonder, in case you didn’t get the previous reference), and a very churchy sounding organ. Bridget Kearney (who wrote this one, the equally infectious title track and three more of the 11 songs here) also adds a very nice acoustic bass line. “Rabid Animal” is a wicked girl group/Carole King-Brill Building tune with a punchy rhythm and a tack piano driving toward its abrupt end.

Lake Street Dive (Mike Calabrese, Rachel Price, Bridget Kearney, Mike Olson) (photo credit: JARROD MCCABE)

Lake Street Dive (Mike Calabrese, Rachel Price, Bridget Kearney, Mike Olson) (photo credit: JARROD MCCABE)

You Go Down Smooth” is a kind of dirty blues, featuring a standard George Thorogood guitar riff. There’s a great horn chart that gives the number a grand, Big Band feel, which is accentuated by some jazzy, charging drums and excellent backing vocals on the chorus. The funky soul of “Use Me Up” features a snappy percussion pattern but, it’s the slapping bass line, with just enough resonance, bounce and spring in the strings to give it a nifty ’30s Jazz vibe. “Bobby Tanqueray” is a cool mix of modern alternative rock guitar parts, loopy, out-of-left-field bizarro stage production lyrics and an odd sci-fi/fantasy siren (the mythological chicks, not the noisey, wailing warning devices) sound (is it a synthesizer thingy… is it a theremin… is it a human voice?) that really kicks this one up a notch on my “like-o-meter.” Believe it or not, “Just Ask,” reminds me of something from Paice Ashton Lord (a Deep Purple off-shoot), with a heavy organ sound, a beefy guitar sound and a funky groove.

Lake Street Dive (Bridget Kearney, Mike Calabrese, Mike Olson, Rachel Price) (publicity photo)

Lake Street Dive (Bridget Kearney, Mike Calabrese, Mike Olson, Rachel Price) (publicity photo)

Seventeen” is probably the rockin’est track, with a driving, crisp Southern Rock guitar sound and almost tribal drumming from Calabrese. The male/female duet vocals adds another dimension, reminiscent of the sound Dale Krantz and Barry Harwood brought to their duets with the Rossington-Collins Band. The chorus and the rhythm of the track are of the variety that gets stuck in your head, on perpetual rewind. A loose, random feel permeates the percussion heavy “What About Me,” giving it a funky, rollicking late ’60s feel. The church choir chorus and New Orleans-style guitar and drums adds to the almost sloppy party atmosphere, kinda like a Big Easy funeral procession during Mardi Gras. The final track, “Rental Love,” clocking in at just over two-and-a-half minutes, is as close as this record gets to a ballad. The instrumentation is – once again – crisp and imaginative but, Price’s vocal performance raises the track to another level… something more than a standard Rock/Pop/whatever ballad.

BAD SELF PORTRAITS is short by today’s standards, a few seconds shy of 40 minutes. You get so lost, however, in the little nuances (lyrically, vocally and instrumentally) of the album that you don’t realize the brevity… you just know you want to hear more. I’m well aware that we’re barely a quarter of the way through the year, but I’m gonna be hard pressed to find many more deserving releases for a spot in my “Best of 2014” list.


BIG HEAD TODD AND THE MONSTERS

(March 8, 2014; THE PAGEANT, Saint Louis, MO)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Big Head Todd and the Monsters recorded some of the most memorable music of the “alternative rock era.” A lot – “Bittersweet,” “Circle,” “Resignation Superman” – are still personal favorites from that time. And, yet, somehow, this March night in Saint Louis, is the first time I’ve seen them play live. What can I say, except… “Wow!” This is one of the tightest bands it has ever been my pleasure to see play live. And, their fans? Some would call them “rabid,” but that really isn’t right… sounds too animalistic. However, the word “loyal” does come to mind… and, not in a puppy dog kind of way. Speaking to a couple of young ladies before the show, I discovered that one had been following the guys around the country, through some truly horrible weather, like that ancient tribe known as the “Dead-Heads.” The other – even though she, like myself, was attending her first BHTM show – talked about how excited she was because this is the music that got her through some very hard times.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The night was billed as “An Evening With Big Head Todd and the Monsters,” which meant – obviously – no opening act. But, the quartet (Todd Park Mohr, Rob Squires, Brian Nevin and Jeremy Lawton) did bring along a couple of friends to join in on the fun: Guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks (son of legendary Chicago Bluesman, Lonnie Brooks) and vocalist (and former full-time member of the band) Hazel Miller. It was apparent that all six came to play! Todd and the Monsters kicked things off with one of their biggest hits, “Bittersweet,” following that with another, “Resignation Superman.” You just know that you’re in for a special night when the band starts with two of their biggest achievements, chart-wise. A couple of early songs, “Vincent of Jersey” and “The Leaving Song” (the first two tracks from the group’s second album, 1990’s MIDNIGHT RADIO) brought us to the first new tune, the beautifully rendered “Josephina,” which reminds me of some of Phil Lynott’s best Thin Lizzy balladry. Ronnie Baker Brooks joined the band for a fun version of “Twine Time,” a 1964 hit for Saint Louis natives, Alvin Cash and the Crawlers. At the time, I had no idea who the guy playing the mean blues guitar was, but I knew that he had a familiar style. After speaking to him during the break and learning his heritage, that style and sound made perfect sense: His father, Lonnie, was a leading light in bringing the Chicago style of the Blues to prominence in the ’70s. Mohr and Brooks are certainly a formidable guitar tandem. Hazel Miller joined in the fun a few songs later, delivering a mesmerizing “ICU In Everything.” The sextet ended the set with a funky, roiling “Beautiful World” and a great version of “It’s Alright.”

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The second set kicked off with another pair of hits, “Broken Hearted Savior” and “Circle,” before moving into “Please Don’t Tell Her” – a song that prominently features the organ-work of Jeremy Lawton – and its BEAUTIFUL WORLD album-mate, “Caroline.” The next several songs were from the group’s latest, BLACK BEEHIVE: “Everything About You,” “I Get Smooth,” which is sort of a Fats Domino-type stroll with a nice upright bass line from Rob Squires, and the funky slide workout of “Seven State Lines.” “Dirty Juice,” another – harder edged – slide extravaganza breaks up the new music set before the title track ballad, “Black Beehive.” A honkin’, funky take of “Yes We Can” kicked things back up a notch before a solemn “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which was ingeniously coupled with the Staple Singers’ fantastic 1971 hit, “Respect Yourself.” A Brooks song, “Love Me Baby,” from his album, THE TORCH, led into the set closer, the muscular “We Won’t Go Back,” another BLACK BEEHIVE track. The encore featured a rocking cover of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” sandwiched between another pair of new songs, the hauntingly beautiful, acoustic “Travelin’ Light” and the heavy, chugging funk of “Hey Delilah.”

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this evening. What I got were great performances – guitarists Brooks and Mohr and drummer Brian Nevin in particular; a healthy dose of the BLACK BEEHIVE album, as well as classic BHTM tracks and some well-chosen (if occasionally odd) covers. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, this was my first BHTM live experience. It will not be my last!


THOSE DARLINS/DIAHREA PLANET/SPEEDBOATS

(22 February, 2014; OFF BROADWAY, Saint Louis, MO)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

When reviewing a band live, sometimes things work out, sometimes there are a couple of bumps in the road, sometimes things completely fall apart. This review kinda falls into the “bumps in the road” category. Nothing serious, just a matter of… timing. Planning to meet up with some friends, I was at the venue early. It was then that I found out that not only was the door time an hour later than expected, but there was one more band on the bill than anticipated. All of this meant that – besides a 9:10 starting time – I had time to kill… a lot of time to kill! But… you don’t really care about that, do you? You just wanna know about the show. So…

Speedboats (photo credit: DARREN TRACY

Speedboats (photo credit: DARREN TRACY

The “extra” band was Speedboats, a newish hometown group whose sound is borderline pop punk, leaning heavier toward a cool California skater punk/stoner rock vibe. The five-piece has a great sense of self-deprecating humor and energy to burn. There was also a huge case of the nerves on display, as singer Greg Crittenden had some problems with his control. Now, how, you may ask, do I know it was “nerves” and not something else? Well… I watched the boys’ sound-check and he didn’t crack at all. There’s actually so much to like about these guys and this is such a minor complaint that, truthfully, besides the guys on stage, I may have been the only other one to notice. The guitar duo of Sean Gartner (stage right) and Karl Stefanski (stage left… where else?) elevated the music to something way past standard pop punk, particularly on a song so new that it didn’t even have an official name yet. The working title is “Roller SK8 or Die,” which as far as I can tell (what lyrics there were weren’t totally clear to these ears), had absolutely nothing to do with rollerskating or death. Speedboats got the crowd into things early on and set up the evening nicely. I seriously expect great things from these guys in the not too distant future.

Diarrhea Planet (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Diarrhea Planet (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Up next was Diarrhea Planet, a band hand-picked by fellow Nashvillains (?) and headliners, Those Darlins. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got absolutely blew me away. Imagine… oh, let’s say, Dead Kennedys… with… let’s go with Eddie Van Halen and then multiply him by four. That’s right: old school California punk with four guitar players continually soloing, shredding and finger-tapping like mad scientists. Founding member Jordan Smith handles most of the vocals, but the other guitarists (Emmett Miller, Brent Toler and Evan Bird) all have their moments. With the rhythm section (drummer Casey Weissbuch and bassist Mike Boyle) holding everything together – in the very loosest sense – the four front line guys were allowed to entertain the fans (and, occasionally, each other) with some of the hottest playing I’ve ever seen, including two of the guys finger-tapping in harmony. Absolutely amazing! This band managed to do something that I haven’t seen for quite some time: They had the crowd moshing, bouncing and bringing back that old school punk pit vibe. At one point, they brought the “least punk person” to the stage to prove that “anyone can be a punk.” They gave Ty the mic and 35 seconds to rant, vent and be punk. He started out with a truly epic scream, but was soon lost in the swirling guitar overload. What a fun show! However – and, please, don’t hold this against me guys – Diarrhea Planet may just be the fourth worst band name ever – right behind Panic! At the Disco, Vampire Weekend and Justin Bieber. Since I have absolutely no idea where the name came from, I’m gonna go with this: It’s a geo-political statement aimed at the leaders of the world. Thankfully, the band elevates the music to a level that transcends the horrible noises of the Disco Vampire Bieber. There latest release is called I’M RICH BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS and is available at all of the usual places. Don’t let the name scare you!

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

In Nashville, Those Darlins (as well as Diarrhea Planet) are godlike. In fact, they had a large contingent of their hometown fans front and center at the intimate Off Broadway stage. There were also quite a few folk from upstate Illinois: Chicago and, if I heard right, a suburb called Berwyn. People absolutely love the Darlins… with good reason. The quartet took the stage and the crowd by storm, with the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that has people making five hour drives to see them onstage. Jessi Zazu (who handles most of the vocals) and Nikki Kvarnes continued the guitar showcase, with their own brand of sweet leads and tasty solos. Things seemed to kick into a higher gear with the set’s third song, “Red Light Love,” which – even if you had no idea who Those Darlins are – is a tune that you’re gonna recognize, as it was featured in several commercials for Kia Motors over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, this is where the whole time thing came in to bite me on the posterior: About the time that the band was finishing “Red Light Love,” I received a call telling me that I was needed at home. I love the Darlins, but – and I’m sure they’ll agree – family comes first. I am really sorry that I didn’t have the chance to hear the entire set from Those Darlins. If the rest of the set was as hot as the first three or four songs, I certainly missed a great one!

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Before I go, I’ve gotta say something about the venue. Off Broadway is currently one of the best sounding rooms in Saint Louis. The vibe is awesome and laid back, as are the people who work there. Even though Off Broadway is smaller, the closest comparison I can come up with is the late, lamented Mississippi Nights. If you have the chance, get out to Off Broadway for some live music. Check out their schedule here: www.offbroadwaystl.com.