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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Seratones and Drive-By Truckers at Bell's Eccentric Cafe, Kalamazoo (July 21, 2017)

It was another long drive to a concert destination, this time one hour and 24 minutes to Kalamazoo. At least Bell's is an easier place to find. It was simply I-69 to I-94, then up Business 94 to Michigan Avenue in downtown K'zoo.

So we arrived, and the place was already packed, probably because it was a Friday night. We found a parking spot right near the railroad track behind Bell's, and were able to shoehorn our tiny Kia Soul into this improbable spot.

We heard the opening band Seratones warming up as we approached Bell's. This was our first time at Bell's, though I have loved their beer for a long time. They are located in an old brick former factory or warehouse--I'm not sure which. We ordered Oberon inside and a pita bread/hummus appetizer to munch on. The doors to the beer garden opened at 7:00. Outdoor concert. I somehow was hoping/thinking that it was an indoor show. The night was warm, humid and threatening rain.

Once we got inside the beer garden, we planted ourselves about ten feet from the stage and shared an Oberon. (The close proximity to the stage, though a good idea at the time, would later prove to practically blow out my ear drums). The crowd was extremely white and tended towards middle-age (what a shock, eh?!?).

Seratones delivered a blistering set. AJ Haynes, the front woman, has a phenomenal voice and is destined for big things. Mark my words.

DBT came on at about 8:00 or so and played at least 2 1/2 hours. This was the first time I'd seen them live. Patterson Hood seems to enjoy himself on stage and basks in the crowd and feeds off the crowd. I liked that his primary guitar is a Gibson SG, just like Angus Young. The other member of the "Dimmer Twins," Mike Cooley, is a bit more reserved, but it's a partnership that works. If it was two guys bouncing around the stage, it'd be ridiculous. Any band has to have one energetic excitable member and one who is the "straight man" (or "straight person"). Cooley is a nose to the grindstone kind of fellow. A wiry cat with longish black hair covering his face. He has a multitude of guitars that he plays throughout the show.

I loved hearing Southern Rock Opera's "Days of Graduation" (in the grand dark tradition of the "teenage car wreck" song) and "Ronnie and Neil" (where Hood first directly presents "the duality of the Southern thing" which is the overarching theme of that brilliant album. Oh, and the songs rock like motherfuckers). It was my happiest, most joyous 10+ minutes of his "July of concerts."
There is no doubt about it.

They closed with "Grand Canyon" from English Oceans. Not until later did I realize that they leave the stage one by one. The last band member remaining is drummer Brad "EZB" Morgan, who plays alone for a few minutes while Hood and Cooley's abandoned electric guitars deliver blistering feedback. It makes for a dramatic conclusion.

The rain held out until about 10:30, when Hood led the crowd into a chant of "Fuck this rain! Fuck this rain! Fuck this rain!" Maybe the band would have played longer if a rain storm was not headed directly to Kalamazoo. (We got hit by the rainstorm as we drove out of Kalamazoo).

Naturally, I hit the merch table after the concert--since I find it nearly impossible to avoid merch tables--and bought one of the "Dance Band of the Resistance" shirts and the Go-Go Boots CD. I could have easily blown more money, but was trying hard to be good. Then we began our long journey home in the pouring rain.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Violent Femmes and Echo & the Bunnymen at Meadow Brook Amphitheater

When I was a freshman at MSU, there were a couple of seniors who lived together in a room a few doors down from me at Shaw Hall. Now, there were plenty of upperclassmen on my dorm room floor, but Ken and Steve were the self-appointed corrupters of the freshmen, and relished the role.

One particular evening, I was in their room drinking their booze. (I can't remember what circumstances brought me to their den on iniquity that night). Also in the room was a girl about my age whom I did not know, and I was unsure as to why she was there or where she was from, but the two of us were in this dark dorm room drinking and listening to their music. (It must be said that in 1980s college life, it was not uncommon to come across people that seemed to wander into the picture like extras on a movie set, only to disappear as soon as they had arrived).

At some point, Violent Femmes' self-titled debut album was the music of choice. The girl's face immediately lit up. She got excited in that uninhibited way one does after they've encountered something they really love--after having consumed a few alcoholic drinks. She had that entire album memorized and sang it front-to-back. She felt every one of those words to the marrow of her bones, to the depth of her soul. I will never forget how amazed I was at how moved she was by that music.

As much as people talk about R.E.M.'s Murmur, the Replacements' Let It Be, the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead,or U2's The Joshua Tree as the '80s college rock touchstones--and a great case can be made for any one of those and others I'm surely forgetting--Violent Femmes' debut album just might be the most beloved "college rock" album of that decade. There is just something about the suburban teen angst and frustration of those songs that appeals to a broad swath of Generation Xers.

I got a feel for that album's impact last night when I wnet to see Violent Femmes and Echo & the Bunnymen at Meadow Brook Amphitheater in Rochester Hills. There were people at this show who were all at least a little north or south of my age of 49. Many of them, primarily women from my observation, who had memorized every single lyric from ever single Femmes song. The Femmes, in turn, delivered a lively and appreciative set. They genuinely appeared to be having a blast on stage, and almost every song was met with explosive cheering, singing, and dancing from the middle-aged fans. These were folks who, for one night, forgot about mortgages, kids, politics, aging, etc. and briefly returned to their teen years.

Echo & the Bunnymen were the co-headliners, and frankly I was more excited to see them than Violent Femmes (who I like but don't love). It was a bit more difficult to tell if Ian McCulloch and company were enjoying themselves. McCulloch has the outward appearance of someone who has resigned himself to the acknowledgement that this is what he has to do to pay the bills. Though he bantered a bit with the crowd in his Scouse mumble, he was difficult for these Midwestern ears to understand. in any case, his singing voice sounds strong and the band, consisting of his longtime partner Will Sergeant and assorted hired guns, were tight and powerful.

Ian McCulloch is, as I wrote on Facebook, "the original Liam Gallagher." He casually sauntered back and forth between the mic stand and the drum riser--he had a lit cigarette by the drums that he took puffs from, plumes of backlit ciggie smoke billowing over his head.

I had the impression that the majority of the crowd was more enthused by Violent Femmes, but then again Echo & the Bunnymen's psychedelia-tinged, dark, impressionistic, sometimes gothy songs aren't exactly singalongs.

Overall, I enjoyed finally seeing these two bands from my misspent youth. Not quite in their heyday, but better late than never.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A poem (?) inspired by a neighborhood walk

I live in the land
Of cracked blacktop
Driveway basketball hoops
Car engine drive by dopplar effect
Gas powered lawnmower steady vibrating hum
Can even hear it from a distance
When not broken up by
Wind tree rustle and bird songs Reminding me of Snail Shell Harbor camp sites
And then the Sunday morning mowing resumes
Fleeting reverie is broken
My walk continues

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My follow up to my Pepper post is gone!

I had written what I thought was a fun follow-up to my Pepper post, but somehow I managed to delete the entire fucking thing. At least three hours of writing completely wasted. If at some point in the future I feel like attempting to replicate it, I will. Right now, however, I am so livid I can barely see straight. It's a goddamned miracle I didn't pitch my laptop through a window.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Ray Wylie Hubbard at Tip-Top Deluxe Bar and Grill, Grand Rapids

We drove to Grand Rapids yesterday to see Ray Wylie Hubbard perform at the Tip-Top Deluxe Bar and Grill.

I am only aware of Ray Wylie Hubbard (hereafter referred to as merely "RWH") through my old college roommate Paul, who is essentially a scholar of Texas music. (He may not like me calling him a scholar, but he is). Paul gave me RWH's memoir A Life...Well, Lived when we had our NADS Shaw Hall dorm room floor reunion back in January 2016. After the book sat in my "to be read" pile for a few months, I finally got through it last summer and enjoyed RWH's colorful tales of his rocky, wild, never dull life. I know more about RWH's life story than I knew about his music until fairly recently. I got around to listening to some of his albums that are available on Amazon Prime streaming.

When the announcement came that RWH would be performing in Grand Rapids, I knew I had to go. By all accounts, he was/is a great live performer, with a funny, engaging, self-deprecating storytelling ability--equally adept at story songs, gut bucket blues, outlaw country, and rousing rock & roll.

So Lynda and I received assurance from our older son that he could be responsible with the house and his 12-year-old kid brother, and younger son (aka kid brother) assured us he would be okay and not anxiety ridden with mom and dad 50-odd miles away in GR. We headed out in the Kia Soul, armed with our cell phones (with which I vowed to text the boys at regular intervals to check up on their well-being).

We arrived at the Tip-Top, best described as a hipster dive bar in southwest Grand Rapids, at about 7:20 PM. The doors opened at 7:00 for the 8:00 show, and the place was already jam-packed. It was so packed that we could not find a seat and stood for the entire show...all 3 1/2 hours of it. Naturally, I wore my least amenable shoes for standing, my 21-year-old Doc Martens. (Style over comfort, man!). My feet felt like raw hamburger when the show ended.

Lynda and I both decided to get drinks from the bar, both deciding on Bell's Oberon drafts. I sucked my beer down before the opening act, John Merchant (and his female singing partner Ashley Youngstrom) went on at 8 o'clock. I drank a Corona in the bottle (only $1 less than the Bell's) and was able to make that one last for about an hour. (Two beers per concert is my limit).

The Tip-Top was sold out. The tiny bar holds 57 people for a show, and I estimate the bar is maybe 1200-1500 square feet (and that might be charitable). It has a fairly nondescript exterior; an older building (age indeterminate) with a shell of steel siding, but the interior features an old tin ceiling, many vintage rock 'n' roll and blues concert posters on the walls, and an ornate wood bar.

The openers, John Merchant and special guest Ashley Youngstrom hit the postage stamp-sized corner stage promptly at 8:00. Merchant looks a bit, or at least reminded me a bit, of what Marshall Crenshaw looked like in, say, the 1990s. He's a bit thin, bald, bespectacled, with a small graying goatee. Dressed in blue jeans, black T-shirt, black vest, army dog tags around his neck. Ashley is blonde, wore a flower print dress. They performed some of Merchant's original songs, plus a Gram Parsons cover, Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos," and an energized rendition of "Gimme Shelter" with Ashley gamely taking on Merry Clayton's "rape! murder! It's just a shot away!"" backing vocals--no small task.

I felt a little bad that I didn't buy Merchant's CD that he was selling for only five dollars, but I was saving my cash for RWH's merch table.

So after the Merchant/Youngstrom set, RWH and his band (son Lucas Hubbard on electric guitar and Kyle Snider on drums) hit the stage at about 9:30.

Where do I start? For one thing, how did I not even know of RWH's existence until Paul gave me that book? How do some great, authentic, talented as all get-out musicians often remain obscure for decades? RWH's music is an amalgamation of gut bucket blues, confessional songwriting (with references to God, the Devil, Stratocaster guitars, and even the MC5--"Live and Die Rock and Roll"-- making appearances in his songs), raucous rock, and shit-kicking outlaw country. Perhaps RWH isn't more widely known simply because he can't be categorized, and the music industry thrives on placing artists into little compartments.

Simply put, RWH brings it. He performs with a warmth and connection to the audience honed by decades on the road. But it's also apparent that his son Lucas and his relatively young drummer Kyle keep him feeling energetic.

The audience at the Tip-Top was loud and enthusiastic. It was a mix of folks: youngish hip punky rockabilly cats in Reverend Horton Heat shirts all the way to grey-haired or grey-bearded and/or balding 50 and 60-somethings, even a few 30's-ish women who seemed to know all or many of the song lyrics. (I kinda thought RWH would be more "dude-oriented," but that wasn't entirely the case). RWH has an intense following, I believe they are referred to as "Snake Farmers" from one of RWH's better-known songs, "Snake Farm"). I felt slightly left out, maybe a little fraudulent, in that I was not as familiar with his music as probably 80 or 90 percent of the people at the show. (Though I'm not sure how many of those folks had read RWH's autobiography, so at least I had that one over them).

Lucas Hubbard is as interesting as his father. Maybe as meditative in his performance style as his father is exuberant and expressive. Lucas looks like he feels the music in his body and soul, often playing with his eyes closed and a Buddha-like grin on his face. Lucas is a slight young man, knit hat on his head, scruffy beard, smooth boyish face, decked out in black T-shirt and dark jeans. RWH is a wizened Texan philosopher, wild unruly grey hair, multiple necklaces, dressed completely in black like his son. Meanwhile Kyle holds the beat on his spartan drum kit.

They played a freewheeling, fire-breathing set and finished up at about 11:30. The three musicians made their way through the adoring crowd to the back room of the Tip-Top, people asking and/or pleading for a few seconds of RWH's time as he slowly made his way to sanctuary.

I decided to leave RWH alone, What would I say, anyway? He looked spent and tired. We had to get home, anyway. I did, however, stop at the merch table on the way out and bought the Snake Farm CD. Despite sore feet, I walked excitedly back to the car, and texted the kids to let them we were on the way home.