Saturday, June 10, 2017

CD Reviews: June 2017

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet
Reviews are in alphabetical order, not by ranking

Against the Grain
Road Warrior
Self-Destructo Records
First of all, I am assuming they’re named after the Bad Religion album. That being said, AtG are an interesting mix between punk and metal, and on their fourth full play release, they keep flipping between the two from song to song. For example, “Til We Die” and “Afraid of Nothing” are nearly hardcore speed with guitar solos, yet “What Happened?” and “Sirens” is total headbanging metal crash of guitars. It’s all very mid-‘80s SoCal, even though they’re actually from Detroit. The band is pretty damn tight; from what I understand, this was recorded after a tour, the best time to hit the recording studio when you’ve got the songs right where you want them (though many bands do it the other way around, to promote the record rather than to practice them). Nice growl, two buzzsaw guitars, and down and dirty licks.

Antique Scream
Two Bad Dudes
Self-Destructo Records / Pyramid
The group sounds like so much more than having only two members: Christopher Rutledge on vox and guitar, and William Fees on drums. Their sound is definitely metal. For example, the opening cuts, “Golden Goddess I” and “Golden Goddess II” have a riff that is reminiscent of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” Come to think of it, “Black Magic I” and “Black Magic II” are reminisce of the bridge to “White Room” (other than a really long drum solo in the first, and a weird effects-laden guitar in the second). In fact, Cream is a really good reference point for much of what they do, if J Mascis replaced Clapton. Basically, it’s two bad dudes bashing out some tunes in a studio instead of on a corner with a hat, except with some decent songs like “Thee Intimidator,” though I wish they had turned the vocal reverb down; then again it does help give it that full-volume 1960s psychedelic blues rock sound. By the end it was feeling a bit tedious, but I’m not sure if that’s because guitar solos tend to wear on me, if the echo was overwhelming when trying to make out the lyrics, that the songs tend to be 4 or 5 minutes long, or that most of the songs are repeated in different versions. It’s not bad, but definitely needs something more. Bet they’re fun live, though.

Audioscam 3
This 4-song EP is by is a fun Aussie band that has a strong early ‘70s pop sound. Picture a cross between the Beach Boys and the Raspberries. The songs are upbeat and what Howard Kaylan once called “Good Time Music.” Songs about attraction, smiles and other upbeat notions wrapped along some catchy riffs makes this a breezy and fun listen.

Dave Nelson & the 32nd Street Quintet
32nd Street
Self-released /
I met Dave through his work with the Oral Fuentes Reggae Band. He stands out as the older white guy on trumpet, but fits in so well. But it did not surprise me when I found out he fronts his own jazz combo. Recently I reviewed his latest release, but this one which is a bit older still deserves some attention and love. Also recorded in my home ‘hood of Brooklyn, this is a mixture of originals and covers, focusing on Nelson’s horn, which especially shines on the title track. It’s easy to tell that John Coltrane is an inspiration, and not just because this group covers his version of “My Favorite Things” here, but the level of experimentation and taking chances carries it beyond the “Easy Listening Jazz” descriptor on the cover. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of “Lite” or “Easy Listening,” but this is much better than that describes, and certainly goes beyond that. Sure, a couple of numbers come close to that (especially the two with vocals), and there are some nice rhythmic riffs in pieces like “20th Century Blues,” but, there is so much interesting stuff going on throughout that you really get a feel for the Quintet (who all get their individual share of the spotlight), especially the pushing of Nelson’s horn envelope. He plays well against Joel Frahm tenor sax, much as Satchmo did with Higginbotham on my favorite Armstrong version of “St. Louis Blues.” 

Feed the Kitty
Westbound & Down
I had a brief moment of country music love in the late 1970s, possibly a reaction to the Nashville soundtrack, but though it was a passing phase that ended with the “pop” influence on the style, I learned to appreciate it as a form. Most of modern country is, well, bland, but every once in a while a musician (such as Angela Easterling or Laura Cantrell) or band catches my attention. This is true of Feed the Kitty. While it’s not all pure country, it mixes a lot of other elements from rock to funky wah-wah guitars to give their songs some power. But it’s the harmonies that I think stand out the most. It’s hardly surprising it’s so tight, considering they play 300 shows a year. Though situated in SoCal, their Tucson background shows in such numbers as “Road Less Traveled,” “California Country Girl,” “Westbound,” “Human Race,” the ballad “I’m to Blame,” and the humorous “Sorry.” Lots more of the cuts are worth listening, with little filler. If you like country or a variation thereof, it’s a smooth listen, like a Jack and cigar.

Jeffland 12
No Condiments, PLEASE
Jeffland is essentially poet Jeff Mastroberti. Much as Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye did in the early ‘70s, Jeff does some newer readings of a dozen of his poems from his book by the same name, which came out in 2012 (the text has about 40 pieces), set to music. Jeff’s a great guy, and I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with him a couple of times, including once when I was kicked out of a Starbucks (but that’s another story). I’ve read the book of poetry, and it’s definitely a mixed bag. Some of it is quite meaningful and touching, and some is, well, okay. Now, I fully admit that I am not a poet nor an English major, so I’m looking at this more as how it affects me, since poetry tends to be more abstract than most writing (especially more than my own). With this CD (or whatever medium you play your music), the poems take on a fuller shade than just on the page. Having the artist read his own material definitely helps. There’s quite a bit of angst in here (e.g., “I will be a clown when my death comes,” or “My brain is cotton candy sitting by the drain”). A couple of songs in a row are lists based on the questions “Why” and “What is Reality?” “Kimberly” is one of the stronger cuts, and even the written version is nicely done with a secondary message. “Post 9/11” is another strong cut and poem. Come to think of it, the whole second half is pretty damn good. Jeff has a good voice for this kind of speak/singing reading, with a voice that’s musical without being too lulling.

Johnny Winter with Dr. John
Live in Sweden 1987
Everything is stripped down on this show, with Winter’s band made up as just a trio, featuring Jon Paris (bass and harmonica) and Tom Compton (drums), with Dr. John jumping in for a few songs. It starts off strong, with them belting out a bluesy version of the zydeco classic “Sound the Bell.” The band has obviously been playing this number a while because they seem quite at ease with it, yet never letting its proverbial throat go throughout. This is also true with Lee Baker Jr.’s “Don’t Take Advantage of Me” where, they add some solid rock into the mix towards the end. They swing into a slide version of J.B. Lenoir’s Son House-meets-Nawleans-style acoustic-gone-electric slow burn boogie Blues of “Mojo Boogie,” which is a perfect way to set up the introduction of Dr. John’s version of the boogie that made him so popular among the Creole set. A few rattling tinkles on the keys, they break into a Dr. John original, “You Lie Too Much.” Even with the mixing of some of styles, Winter and John fit like two gloves with fingers intertwined. John does take the lead on the vocals for these numbers, with Winter and Paris doing back-up. Together yet, they break into the slow burner “Love, Life and Money” (originally recorded by Little Willie John), again sharing duties by alternating the song, split down the middle, growl for growl. There needs to be some kind of rave up after a soul pulling number like that, so to rev it up for the finale they cover “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” I’ve always wondered if Keef was a bit jealous of Winter’s agility on the fretboard. John and Johnny both sing on the chorus and it’s a not always a pretty blending, but they play it so well, it’s easily forgivable. There is also an extended DVD of this show available.

Jonny Manak & the Depressives
Cold Pizza & Warm Beer
Self-Destructo Records / Reach Around Records
Wow, nice throwback to the ‘70s New York Scene. Imagine a possible cross between, say, the Dead Boys, the Ramones, and the Mumps. Yeah, it’s that weird a combination, and then add in a measure of adolescent mentality with songs like “Vegass,” “You Give Me Goosebumps,” “Powder to Blow,” “Monsters” (which has a Ramones’ “Chainsaw” chorus of “Oh no / Oh yeah”), and “Motorpsycho.” Then there’s covers of the likes of GG and the Jabbers’ “Don’t Talk To Me” (done like Manak, not Allin) and the Saints’ “New Race.” Like an LP, this is broken up into two sections (rather than sides). The first, Cold Pizza, are more throwbacks, but it’s the second section, “Warm Beer,” that stands out as more energetic, again more Ramones-like, and more enjoyable (that’s more, not instead of, as both are fun). “Weapons of Mass Destruction” is a good example of how entertaining they can be.

High Water
This is the band’s first release in over a quarter of a century, after being dropped by a major label in the early 1990s. I can understand why they get associated with the band Rhino Bucket (see review below): they follow a similar timeline including their hiatus period, reforming in the new millennium in a revised personnel format, and now they’re both on Acetate. Junkyard tends to be also associated with the sound of Southern Rock. While I can see that to some extent, I think that is exaggerated, since they come across as more metal with just a smidge of punk thrown in. The songs are catchy (and mostly about drinkin’, not surprising considering the CD art), with repeatable choruses, such as “Cut From the Same Cloth,” “Hellbound,” “Hell or High Water,” and “’Til the Wheels Fall Off.” There’s just the right amount of harmonies to fill out David Roach’s razor tenor vocals (which occasionally sounds weirdly like he’s from the Psycotic Pineapple). There is a bit of a dichotomy when it comes to styles. For example, “Styrofoam Cup” and “Don’t’ Give a Damn” can be seen as new Country rock, but then there’s “We Fuck Like we Fight (WFLWF).” I was taken by surprise how much I enjoyed this, especially the hyper “Wallet.” Man, my tastes are adapting, and I’m glad.

Peter Pan Speedrock
Buckle Up and Shove It!
Self-Destructo Records / Steamhammer
A really nice punk metal release from this Dutch band that had been around for two decades. The sound is a bit like a steamroller with a chainsaw on front. Sadly, this was their last album before parting ways last year. It’s no nonsense, though tongue is kept in cheek as far as lyrics go, but they are a powerhouse in sound. Wow. Great stuff that is more than just a reliance on Motörhead, especially with Lemmy-ish vocals. After a meh opening cut, “Get You High,” the bar gets raised and stays there in full thrash mode. Okay, well, I may have to explain that a bit. First, there is a couple of great covers here, including the Damned’s early “New Rose” and a strange version of the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul.” The other point I should note is the title cut is an astoundingly great pop punk piece that puts bands like Blink 182 and Green Day to shame. Even with a couple of silly drinkin’ songs, his is a fun collection and is highly recommended.

Randy Woods Band
Randy Woods Band
Randy used to front a Saskatoon-based band called Absofunkenlutely who were fun, even though they tended to dip a bit into disco territory. His new material is better. In fact I have just come from seeing the band perform less than an hour ago. The RWB is excellent and tight, and this collection is a good representation. The production levels are pretty high, but that’s what Randy does, produces and engineers music (such as the Oral Fuentes Reggae Band). For his new collective, well, it seemed appropriate for him to open with “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard,” because that “chica-chica” and horn sound can give you some idea of what’s on the album (though that song isn’t). In fact, “Charisma Free” feels very similar to “Julio.” But the funk/reggae beat is still there in a few numbers, such as the closer, “Faded American.” There isn’t a bad or filler cut on here. Randy experiments a bit with the sound and effects in the studio, but rather than overdoing it, he keeps just the right amount to enhance the sound rather than override it. This is definitely one I’m likely to listen to again.

Rhino Bucket
The Last Real Rock N’ Roll
The SoCal band has been around in some form since the late 1980s, except for a nearly decade long “hiatus” in the ‘90s that led to some personnel changes. They are described as “hard rock” and yeah, that’s pretty accurate. But they also have a very dated feel, like they’re still on the Wayne’s World soundtrack. That’s not meant as an insult, just an observation for those who are sentimental for that sound. The songs are catch-riddled, with foot-pounding, fist-pumping rock riffs that are perfect for air guitar, such as with “Last Call” and “It’s a Sin” (as well as many others). Despite the changes, vocalist Georg Dolivo remains constant, so there is a consistency through the decades. The heaviest song, “The Devil You Know,” is held for last. The subtle level of pop that runs through most of the riffs between the guitar solos makes this radio-friendly, and really should be there, as they have a very marketable sound, even if they’re getting’ up there in years.

The Supermen
Back with a Gang Bang!
Self-Destructo Records

Do you ever think back and miss those days of punk bands that purposefully tried to offend in as many ways as possible? Some did it in ways that felt like it was a show, but bands like this one seem to come by it naturally, which gives some credence (or at least tolerance) to songs like “Girls Like Sperm,” “White Women in Distress” and “Fitness Model Mother Fucker (FMMF)” Musically, the band plays pretty straight forward punk songs with chantable choruses, especially “Blood, Honor & Pussy,” and “Devious One.” If you’re tolerant, this is actually a pretty decent piece, in some ways reminding me of Motörhead for style – though without Lemmy’s vocals; that being said, Mike Tyson’s vox do just fine for this. It’s kick ass, even though, as someone else once said, he gives the same tone and energy in every song which have very similar feels to them (people have also said that about the Ramones, remember?). That is to say, enjoy it or get the fuck out of the way!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Fanfare for NIKKI AND THE CORVETTES [1980]

Text by Nancy “Suzi Quick Change” Foster / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos © FFanzeen blog, 2017
Images from the Internet

This article was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #6, dated Year-End 1980. It was written by Suzi Quick Change, nee Nancy Foster; today she goes by the moniker Nancy Neon. This appears in a slightly edited form from the original. – RBF, 2017

My fave new rock’n’roll band (along with the Bandstands) is Nikki and the Corvettes. Imagine a cuter, sexier and more rocked out Shangri-Las. Picture the Ramones with two fab female back-up singers/go-go-girls and a marvelous mini-lead singer/rock’n’roll doll, Nikki Corvette.

This is the rock’n’roll band of my dreams. I really believe that Nikki Corvette embodies everything good about rock’n’roll: sweet, petite with a touch of trash, wide-eyed and a not-so-innocent, pouty mouth, disheveled hair, and go-go boots made for dancing all night long!

Nikki has really got it right on the mark. I’d say that she has the perfect image, but it is not just an image – it’s real. Nikki’s personality is all over her songs. She loves boys, rock’n’roll and fun. She writes fan letters to her fave cream dreams (one was Richard Lloyd) and her fanhood is one of the things that makes her rock’n’roll so pure, passionate and authentic.

I’m partial to this combo so much that my ideal band would be very much like Nikki and the Corvettes with only a few minor changes – less covers (though they’re fun) and more vocal arrangements for the back-up singers. Other than that, the Corvettes are perfect pop rock.

Nikki’s obsessions – rock’n’roll, boys, sex and cars – make up the body of her lyrics. This gives the combo a clearly focused direction and a congruity that is all too rare in any band. I think a lot of the songs sound similar, but for me that’s a plus. They are very stylized, but then again, so are my other fave bands: the Clash, Buzzcocks, the Jam, Generation X, the Rockats, and the Bandstands. That is due in part to the fact that Nikki writes most of the lyrics, and guitarist Peter James [of the Romantics – RBF, 2017] writes all the music.

Nikki then
The newer songs, like “Look Out,” “Everyday,” “Heart on the Line,” “Don’t Let Go,” and “What You’re Doing,” do show more variety, with a wide range of emotions, and different lyrical and music tones.

Nikki and the Corvettes currently have a fabo album on Bomp! Records. I have a tape of it that I play in the mornings. Every song makes me dance and almost all of them makes me think of a certain (“What’s his name/I can’t tell ya” – Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders) guy just like a good rock’n’roll girlfriend should. Dancing to Nikki and the Corvettes will remain one of my fondest memories.

So, it is back to the ‘60s and the girl-group mania, when hearing a song conjured a precise emotion and a specific picture. These are songs that lovers will want to call “our song.” Sigh. Most synthetic ‘70s Muzak made you think of polyester leisure suits, not your fave rave dance partner/hot number.

My tape opens up with “He’s a Mover,” and gets me bopping immediately. The music is real hot and agitated. Nikki sings in a cute but cool semi-nasal vocal, a la the Shangri-Las (Patti Palladin, too!). The tough NYC chick voice filtered through Nikki’s from Motor City.

One of my faves is “You’re the One.” The vocals and the accompaniment are sexy and you can get your message across to your dance partner by singing the words along with Nikki:
Come in a little closer now baby, baby
Just keep moving and don’t get lazy
It’s getting so hot baby, baby
My head is spinning
And it’s you that I’m craving

“C’mon” shows off the Peter James’ guitar style that I adore so much. Nikki and Peter make a perfect team – her lyrics sizzle with sex and so does his playing. Plus it has those Searchers/Byrds nuances. These kids have roots and impeccable taste.

“You’re Just What I Needed” really shows off the Corvettes’ tight, throbbing rhythm section. Bassist Larry (bass), like Peter, has a lot of stage presence. The drummer, Brad [Elvis], has a keen, economical, steady and insistent drumming style that is essential to good, danceable pop-rock.

Nikki now
“Boys, Boys, Boys” is a fantabulous anthem. It has that keen surf guitar swing style to it. I never had so much fun seeing or listening to any combo before. “Let’s Go” is a great souped-up, Ramones’ style, manic number – a youth anthem. The percussion is emphatic with grrr-8 Berry guitar riffs.

Still another rave-up is “Shake It Up,” with more surfing guitar and punk momentum. “Backseat Love” is from Nikki’s first single and is an irresistible number. The most telling thing I can add is that this tune inspired me to write a would-be sequel called “Red Hot,” about a teenage couple who can only be alone in their car. Remember the Shangri-La’s “In His Car”? But no way does Miss Nikki want to be “Holding hands 4-ever,” like the Shangs!

“I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” is out to seduce the shy, reticent boy. It has neat Berry licks and Beatles ending. “Summertime Fun” has rowdy reggae overtones. Nikki’s spoken part and yelps are neat-o!

Another one that tops Suzy Q’s hit parade is “Gimme Gimme.” Love that tambourine. On this one, all three girls twist up and down on the stage together. My least fave is “You Make Me Crazy,” because it is negative. No one believes that anyone would give Nikki a hard time (unless that’s an innuendo).

Live, the Corvettes do wonderful covers: Wanda Jackson’s “Honey Bop,” the Beats’ “Walkin’ Out on Love,” the Exciters’ “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” the Shang’s “Boys” and “Great Big Kiss,” the Cookies’ “Chains of Love,” Connie Francis’ “Lipstick on Your Collar,” and the Beatles’ “Please, Please Me.” They also do “Young and Crazy” and “Criminal Element,” from Nikki’s first EP.

Though I dig the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action,” it’s too downbeat for this combo, although they do shake some action, fo’ sho’. When this grr-8 combo plays your city/state, be there or be square.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: Plasmatics Live! 1978-1981 – Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes

Text/live photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Other Image/video from the Internet

Plasmatics Live! 1978-1981: Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes
Directed by Rod Swenson (historical) and Randy Shooter (modern)
Pandemonium Merchandising / Plasmatics Media / MVD Visual
64 minutes, 2017

First of all, and I believe it’s important to state this before the review, I never found Wendy O. Williams attractive, despite the band’s highly charged sexual narrative (and yes, I did see her adult film, Candy Goes to Hollywood). Also never thought she had much of a singing voice as much as a screech, and even her speaking voice was, well, flinty. But man, I so enjoyed the Plasmatics’ live show, and I respect Wendy for all she had accomplished.

I feel lucky to have seen them play in the 1977-78 period, always at CBGBs. They often had a pretty packed house. Never stayed too close to the stage though, as I was usually wont to do, because the chainsaw made me nervous (yeah, I’m a wuss punk, so fuck off). Yet I went back and saw them again a few times, early enough when they had their original bassist, Chosei Funahara, who would do a Dee Dee Ramone-type count off, but in Japanese.

They pre-dated GG Allin’s infamous decent into whatever that was GG was doing at his ending, truly living as the ultimate punk, but even they were not the first to be “shock” punk rock. That right goes to the confrontational and transgressional Suicide and Red Transistor/Von Lmo; but the Plasmatics were definitely something new and something… else. With Wendy O. [d. 1998] out front and greatly underrated guitarist (i.e., those who know, know better) Richie Stotts’ on-stage antics – usually playing in a dress and tutu, with a dyed ‘hawk of changing hues – they were nothing short of a force to be reckoned with, and I both respected and enjoyed that energy.
That is why I was so happy to see that this DVD existed. Rod Swenson was the one who discovered Williams (i.e., put her into Times Square live dominatrix sex shows), and formed/managed the Plasmatics. He was also Williams’ partner for over 20 years, and there is no denying that there was some kind of affection there, from what I’ve heard over the years.

The opening sets on here are at CBGB, and I was most likely there at least for the first show recorded in 1978. One of the interesting aspects on this collection is that even for the early shows, Rod, being a showman, used multiple cameras to shoot the band, even if they were edited together decades later for this collection by Randy Shooter after the tapes were found while moving around Swenson’s memorabilia.

The problem with video tape (be it VHS, beta or ¾”), of course, is at least twofold: first, over time it tends of decompose, get dry, and break; second, compared to modern HD digital quality, well, it looks fuzzy at best, digitally noisy at worst (remember those colored lines going up and down the screen? I don’t miss that). It’s important to acknowledge that even with some remastering, the master tapes were in that condition when viewing this, but as this is a historical document, so unless you’re a dick, you’ll see past it.

It’s also interesting to note how, as each section of venues pass, that in a very short time frame the venues get incrementally larger, from CBGB to the Calderone Theatre on Long Island in May 1980, to Times Square’s Bond’s Casino in May 1981 (where the Clash infamously played during that same month), into Perkin’s Place in Pasadena in June 1981, and finally the infamous open-aired Dr. Pepper Festival in Central Park (what used to be called the Schaeffer Music) in September 1981.

By the third section here and the second venue, the band was starting to really get their stage shit together, even with some new personnel (e.g.., Funahara is gone). In one year they have gone from a band running round a stage in a club doing some arguably weird stuff like sawing a plugged in electric guitar in half with a chainsaw, to bigger and more dynamic activities, given the space, time, and finances. Luckily, this did not reflect on their sound, which remained tight and, arguably, also chainsaw-like. The energy level never dipped, even with ballads like “Sometimes I Feel It,” and the songs remained as mumbled and jumbled as ever. This is meant as a compliment.

The Plasmatics sound, at this stage, sometimes came across to me as a cross between punk, Alice Cooper level theatrics, and the occasional incorporation of the minimalist sounds and distortions of No Wave. This is evident in pieces here like “Dream Lover,” where some electronic equipment employed by Stotts sends waves of static noise over the rest of the band. While not my taste (the Lou Reed-ish electronica stuff), it does fit in well with their whole oeuvre, which set a new level of acceptance for women fronting volatile bands, who were usually led by men before this, though some may argue against the using of sex/the female body to be the focus of the – er – face of it.

The visual and aural quality of the Bond’s Casino show easily the weakest. If you’ve ever listen to a bootleg tape recorded at some arena show, you have some idea of what the auditory part is like. The visuals aren’t much better.

Wendy liked to engage with the audience, which appears to be mostly male, though that seems like not much of stretch to guess. As the venues became bigger, such as with the Dr. Pepper Festival, the stage is too far from the crowd, and too high to jump into it, so there is less contact. Also, by this time, the tone of the band had changed from a form of punk into more leather and metal, hence the final song, “Black Leather Monster,” where they infamously blow up a car onstage.

The ending is a “bonus” of an unreleased and highly low rez quality music video shot by Swenson of “Monkey Suit” from 1980.

From what I understand, Wendy was a strong, kind and giving woman who was political and a devout animal advocate who did not do drugs or alcohol, and yet was trapped (in my opinion) in a masculinist world that had trouble seeing past the stage persona, and refused to accept the band for who they were. Many interviews from the era with Wendy were contentious and on the offensive towards her and the band.

Many saw Wendy and the (lost?) boys as a joke or a menace to the culture. One must remember, this was around the time of Reagan introducing the hyper-religious into a more mainstream sphere, and it was shortly later in 1985 that the Parents Music Resource Center tried and failed miserably to censor music (how is that for an inconvenient truth, Tipper?). Between the PMRC and the Plasmatics, one of the bands at the forefront of the group, it shouldn’t be any wonder that the band were innovative enough to become influential, and even today there are bands that if not model themselves on the Plasmatics, one can see a sisterhood, with such as Colleen Caffeine’s band in Detroit, Choking Susan (though with much less “toys”).

Despite some negatives due to quality of the image and sound in some parts, overall this is a document that is worthwhile for fans of the band, musical historians, and anyone just looking to rock out for some fun music with high energy. Party on, Garth!

Song List:
Want You (Baby)
Tight Black Pants
Dream Lover
Sometimes I Feel It
Butcher Baby
Living Dead
Summer Night
Fast Food Service
Summer Night
Sex Junkie
Black Leather Monster
Monkey Suit [Bonus]

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Live Review/Photo Essay: The Damn Truth / John Lee’s Hooker, Capitol Club: May 20 2017

Text / photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Videos from the Internet
The Damn Truth's soundcheck

On the morning of May 20, 2017, I received a text from musician / poet / promoter / band manager Ralph Alphonso suggesting that I should go check out a band from Montreal that was headlining the Capitol in Saskatoon that night named The Damn Truth. 

When Ralph makes a suggestion, I pay attention. The Damn Truth [TDT] were one of three bands playing that night, including John Lee’s Hookers [JLH] (from Rossland, BC) opening and Soft Cotton  as the swing group. It’s been too long since I’ve seen some new live music, so even after a day of weeding, hoeing and planting, I set off.

I walked into the place, which is run by one of the ex-members of local town heroes The Sheepdogs – one of my fave venues in Saskatoon, I would like to add – as The Damn Truth were finishing their soundcheck. I took a couple of pix, and then settled down to wait for the show, also sitting through the very brief JLH check.

Through the suggestion via text of Ralph, I went over to TDT and introduced myself. We ended up having dinner together in the club (their food is pretty basic hamburger kinda stuff, but well made… I had the chicken bacon burger, in FYI TMI sharing). I explained my history briefly to them, and we all shared Canadian themed topics, like weather, crime statistics, and big vs. small city life. They also explained that while they are technically the headliners, Soft Cotton would go on after them to help keep the hometown crowd there (unspoken for, I am assuming, buying drinks; this a business model choice for which I have no problem).

At some point as I was ending my meal, JLH came on, so I excused myself, and went off to see them play close up. That night it was Brad Mackay on guitar/vocals and Austin Delaye on drums/vocals; I’m not sure who was on bass (Johnny Dudar?); normally there is a fourth member, as well. Gotta say, even as a power trio, they kept it going.

Their sound is a southern rock blues, laying more towards the rock end. Their long hair belays their mode, and they kicked some butt doing it. The place was still sparse, but those who were there were enthusiastic, especially one guy who stood right up front (blocking my camera, I must add) finishing multiple pints that night, and who had on a shirt that had a Toronto Blue Jays log and said, “I (heart) BJs.” Um, yeah.

Anyhoo, Southern Rock not being my oeuvre, I didn’t really have too much of a frame of reference so I couldn’t tell which were originals and which covers (someone behind me wondered if they would cover “Freebird,” which they happily didn’t), but I certainly enjoyed the set. If I get the chance to see them again, odds are they will have a different name though, because apparently three days before the show they were given a cease and desist from the estate of John Lee Hooker about their name, and they are actively looking for another. What about JL’s Hooker?

After TDT set up their extensive amount of equipment, including stage lights, a box that lit up when stood upon, an extra drum, maracas, and a huge peace symbol, they came on full tilt. A solid blues rock band, lead vocalist/guitarist Lee-La Baum took immediate control of the room, and orally blasted the songs at scorching levels. Accompanying her in solid musicianship are Tom Shemer on lead guitar, bassist PY Letellier, and Dave Traina on drums.

Their level of musicianship and stage presence is solid, with no slacking by any member. There have been comparisons with Janis J., but I don’t buy that, but only because there is only one Janis. I’m sure someone will compare them to Heart, but nah: the Wilson sisters are okay, though have no real bite outside of the studio. However, I can imagine a killer bill (if I could scoop through time) of TDT, Minnesota’s Sena Ehrhardt Band, and Brooklyn’s own Flame. But this night, TDT were holding the genre heart high. How much fun is TDT? Well, they covered a U2 song, “Love is Blindness,” and it did not make me think of the original, I’m happy to say.

After the set, I was invited back stage by Dave Traina, and took the opportunity to thank the band for the great set, and for the change to hang out with them a bit. Next time they come to town, if they aren’t playing at a stadium sized venue, (a) that would be a shame, and (b) I will definitely go see them again.

I left at 1 AM, due to physical exhaustion after a day in the garden under a hot sun, just as Soft Cotton was setting up. As I really wanted to see them, my rationalization was that I would hopefully get another chance soon as they are local to Saskatoon. My apologies to the band.

Thank you Ralph for the suggestion (right as always), and to The Damn Truth for being open to dinner talk, and a great show. Videos of the band appear after the photos, which can be enlarged by clicking on them.

 John Lee's Hookers:


The Damn Truth:



Bonus: How they sound (from the Web):