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)

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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.