Rolling in Dover

 

0Comedy Central standup comes to Brickhouse

It’s a boom time for standup comedy, and many Seacoast venues are getting in on the action. A couple of years ago, the Dover Brickhouse began a monthly event. Initially run as an open mic night by local hip-hop artist Eyenine, it got more structured when Boston comic Justin P. Drew took over. 

Drew spent a long weekend making the case for a “real show,” he said in a recent phone interview. “The dirty secret is that most comics hate Friday night open mic nights.” A long string of aspirants working out their first five minutes of standup is better suited for the middle of the week, not weekends.

Soon, it became a showcase that had a name – It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Dover – and was regularly packed with comedy fans. A typical night has a headliner with four or more comics on the undercard. Admission is free, though there are exceptions, like a June 2 event starring Mike Recine, which costs $10.

The ticketed show is “an experiment,” Drew said, reflecting Recine’s stature. His resume includes a Comedy Central half hour special and appearances on Conan. He’s written for the MTV Video Music Awards, has a popular podcasts, and he’s performed at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival, along with most of the rooms in his New York City home base. “One of the only guys Brooklyn hipsters and Jersey slobs can agree on,” one writer opined.

As with most of the monthly events, Drew will host. The main motivator for getting involved at the Brickhouse was stage time. As a booker, he makes friends who give him gigs, creating a happy circle of work. He also likes the room’s intimacy. “You can fit a lot of people in there but it still feels personal,” he said. “I’m a VHI Storytellers kind of guy.”

The reason Drew does standup is a bit complex. Basically, it satisfies his need to navigate a strange tightrope between craving attention and chronic insecurity. “A comedian is narcissistic at heart,” he said. “They look at a room full of people and think, ‘nobody should be talking but me.’ Anyone who does this is secretly a monster.”

Getting up in front of a crowd is weirdly effective way to deal with social anxiety, he continued. “If I’m going up, I know these people are going to see that I have a secret superpower. If I’m around them and they won’t see me on stage, then I feel terrified; because they don’t know I have an ability. If you look at me, you just think, he’s a fat POS.”

Drew’s comedy heroes share this tic. “My patron saint has to be Patton Oswalt … Werewolves and Lollipops was like my White Album back in the day,” he said. Recently disgraced comic Aziz Ansari helped convince him to pursue the craft. “I remember hearing Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening and thinking, ‘I could do this’ … it’s like a blueprint.” 

Think of a young rocker hearing Bon Jovi for the first time and taking up guitar. “It was shortly after that album that I went on stage,” Drew said. “Of course, I bombed the first two or three times.” 

Coming this summer are free shows from Reece Cotton in July, and J Smitty in August. Kevin Hart interviewed both comics last December for his Comedy Central show Hart of the City, but the two aren’t household names yet, so the event will revert to no cover charge. 

If the Recine event does well, Drew hopes to do similar shows down the road. “This is the first time we’re bringing in a real headliner,” Drew said. “If this is successful, it will open the gate into bringing even more big name people into this space.”

MORE

  • Comedian Mike Recine
  • When: Saturday, June 2, 9 p.m. (doors at 8)
  • Where: Dover Brickhouse, 2 Orchard St., Dover
  • Tickets: $10 at ticketf.ly/2KM5cmU
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Listen To Hunter Release Party

HunterAppeared in Hippo Press 12 April 2018

Three years ago, Hunter was a young,  hungry band  looking to conquer the world. They’re older now, but still determined. They are wiser, however. The precociousness of their eponymous debut has morphed into maturity on Listen to Hunter, a new album to be released April 13. 

Sheeny three part harmonies and complex rhythm structures served on a pop platter mark the album. “Anchor (I Refuse to Sink)” opens the 10-track collection, and reflects the resolve of band members Hunter Stamas, Connor Coburn and Cameron Gilhooly. It dares any force, be it a harsh music business or natural disaster, to deter their quest.

“I think we’re pushing even harder now,” Stamas said in a recent group interview. “We definitely still have spunk.”

Yes – despite the slog of sleeping in vans and driving for hours between clubs, a planned summer tour will be Hunter’s most ambitious yet. “Coast to coast, thirty dates, all along the Midwest into California, even the West Coast of Canada, then down into the South and back to New England,” Coburn said. “It will be a big, juicy loop.”

The Listen To Hunter release party, happening at Nashua’s Bounty Room, is also set to be a pull out the stops affair. “It’s like a wedding for pretty much all of us,” Stamas said. “We’ve put so much work into writing it,and the artwork itself took so long, along with the videos that are going to be released … this one will be celebrated.”

The trio will be rounded out by the latest in a series of itinerant bassists; he joined earlier this year. The group goes through bass players like Spinal Tap drummers, though fortunately not for the same reason. 

“We knew that from day one it was the three of us,” Stamas explained. “Every bassist was a hired gun after the first two; the were friends, and that didn’t work out – we needed someone to play better and be able to travel. But the writing has always been us. We knew that from the day we formed in 2014.”

It’s often said that a band has a lifetime to come up with its first record, but the second is a sprint. Not so with Hunter, who   began writing songs soon after its debut, then frequently got waylaid. “We’re serial procrastinators,” Coburn said. “I think the first album came together relatively quickly. This new one we wanted to focus on making it more consistent.”

Gilhooly echoed those sentiments. “Everything we’ve done is a lot more intentional and thought out,” he said. “The last album was good, but it just came together on its own.”

Thematically, it toggle between Sixties pop influences – “Beach Party” sounds just like its title – and 90s alt-rock, on cuts like “Queen of the Tree Streets,” which evokes Alanis Morissette when Stamas croons, “you’re all I ever wanted/I’m sorry I used to be such a bitch.” 

For the first time, Stamas yields lead vocals to her mates. Connor sings the moody, harmony-rich “Too Many Seasons” and Gilhooly is in front on the power pop romp, “Good Deed of the Day.”

Indicative of the new disc’s long gestation is the the final track, “Ballad of An Enigma.” Stamas wrote it immediately in the wake of their debut, and it grew from there. Collectively driven by a mutual infatuation with the first King Crimson album, the three shaped it into a six-minute epic.  

Coburn introduced them to the 60s prog-rock masters. “He brought the album around and I was like, ‘we suck’ – how can we do that?” Stamas said. “They jammed on it after a while, and they’re geniuses. They created the instrumental section.”

As Stamas sings, “I always knew that I’d be different, be different,” before wrapping the record back around to the start  with a line from track one, Gilhooly does double duty on guitar and bass (as he did on the entire album). It’s Coburn’s drumming, however, that takes “Enigma” into the far reaches, to a place they  could not have gone as teenagers.  

“I never stop flying,” Coburn said. “It’s just an endless fill.”

BOX ME

Hunter CD Release Show

When: Friday, April 13, 7:30 p.m.

Where: The Bounty, 9 Northeastern Blvd., Nashua

Tickets: $5 – facebook.com/HunterBandOfficial

Kim Richey – From The Edge

0Critically lauded yet commercially neglected, Kim Richey emerged in the early 1990s as similar singer songwriters were perplexing the musical public. Richey’s genre, whose Patient Zero was the 70s fan who found Linda Ronstadt before she teamed with Peter Asher and stuck with her after, would ultimately acquire a name – Americana. 

The moniker helped artists like Shawn Colvin and Sheryl Crow become headliners, with record sales to match.  Richey  forever bubbled under, but based on her body of work, she’s arguably she was the best of the bunch. Bitter Sweet, released in  1996, is a masterpiece, from the Beatlesque twang of “I Know” to the pure gem “Believe Me Baby (I Lied)” – the latter a big hit for Trisha Yearwood.

Five more albums made over the following two decades were equally stellar, featuring production from the likes of XTC’s Hugh Padgham and rock royal Giles Martin. Making a case for her as a musician’s musician, 2013’s Thorn in My Heart included a Jason Isbell co-lead vocal (with her old pal Yearwood on harmony) on the brilliant track, “Breakaway Speed.”

Richey’s latest, Edgeland, is among her best. The title alludes to the confusion that’s dogged her career. “For me, it’s the place or spaces in between where the country kind of meets the city,” she said in a recent phone interview. “Places where I have always been the most comfortable, and where my music lands. No one knows what to do with me. Is it country?  Folk? Pop?  And I think as a person I am more comfortable in those middle places, too.”

“Your Dear John Letter” is a love song wrapped in a working man’s lament that Bruce Springsteen might have penned had he lived in 1930s. It’s one of new record’s standouts. Another is “Not For Money or Love” – it was written about Richey’s father, who died when she was four. 

The song’s evocative opening lines – “I was a young man the day that I drowned, I was married with one on the way” – came to her during a co-writing session with Harry Hoke. “I never wrote about my Dad,” she said.  “It just came into my head and I said, ‘well okay, I guess I am writing about this now.’” 

She built the song’s story around a newspaper clipping given to her by a cousin. “It was mysterious;  they could not figure out what had happened,” she said. “He had been out on a boat with a bunch of other people … one guy decided to swim back to shore, and my dad did the same.   One guy made it; my dad never did.  Lot of questions about that … once I started, it was just really easy to write.”  

Richey grew up in Ohio, and has traveled the world. In a press release for Edgeland, she described having her belongings in  storage, her life a “state of constant motion.” During the interview, she was in Vancouver; the week before was spent at an artist colony in Banff.  She’s lived in England, California, Nashville, Australia, and other far flung places. But her  spirit of wanderlust wasn’t about leaving the Midwest. 

“Ohio has never been a place for me to get out of, but I always knew there was more out there,” she said. “I think that came from reading.   I was the first person to go to college in my family and of course that opened up a lot of doors.   I was a reluctant traveler at first, because I remember when I was a kid, somebody new would come to the school and I always thought that would be the worst thing in the world …  go someplace where you didn’t know anyone.”

An accidental trip to Europe was the spark; a group of her friends applied to work in a Swedish summer camp; only she got accepted.  When the stint ended a few weeks early, she hung around because she didn’t know how to change her  flight reservation. “I had never been on a plane before,” she said. “I ended up hitchhiking around for a month on my own … as scary as that was, I thought, ‘well, I can do just about anything.’ Now, the more places I see, the more I want to see.” 

At an upcoming show in Portsmouth, Richey will perform with a trio. “It’s usually me and a guitar player and now we have someone coming along to pay bass,” she said. “He’s a really beautiful singer, so you have three of us singing …  I try to play new and old songs.”

More:

Kim Richey

When: Sunday, April 15, 7 p.m.

Where: The Music Hall Loft, 131 Congress St., Portsmouth

Tickets: $22 at themusichall.org

Unbroken

nitty-gritty-dirt-band-david-mcclister-billboard-650Over a 50-year career, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band made its mark with hits from “Mr. Bojangles” to “Voila (An American Dream).” Beyond that, the Southern California band helped others find audiences – first, by recording early songs by important songwriters. Later, they introduced a generation of rock fans to the music that inspired them via the seminal 1971 album, Will The Circle Be Unbroken. The three record set featured a who’s who of Americana music – before it was given the name. Two more volumes followed in the ensuing decades. In 2015, the group celebrated its 50th anniversary with a star-studded PBS special.

Founding member Jimmie Fadden shared some of his memories with the Hippo in a recent phone interview.

The mid-1960s were a momentous time in Southern California music

It felt like things were very creative, that there was a lot of music being played by a lot of people that was very interesting and it had a life that was different from other things go on … we had the Seeds and Steppenwolf and the Byrds, there were a lot of cool rock bands in LA, but there was a lot of variety and I think everybody was having a lot of fun with it. There was a lot of hanging out and camaraderie; not exactly what you would call a cafe scene, but it was like that.

The wealth of creativity upped everyone’s game

Absolutely! It’s like when you were skiing, you were following somebody down the hill – you had to do better or you’re out running and trying to tag along with somebody to keep up.

Band member John McEuen and his brother Bill’s love of bluegrass led to a landmark album

Bill was a huge fan of the Grand Ole Opry and John being a banjo player becomes that, and is ultimately fascinated with the life of Earl Scruggs and every great banjo player that ever was. He translates that enthusiasm into our group. Bill comes up with the idea that maybe we could make a record. There are steps along the way that need explaining. It’s kind of complex and everybody has their own remembrances of it, but as it was, we opened a show for Merle Travis at the Ash Grove … then Earl Scruggs was playing at Tulagi’s in Boulder, Colorado. John went to see him and asked him about the idea of maybe playing on one of our records, and then this thing grew and grew.

Earl Scruggs and his wife/manager Louise Scruggs helped recruit other legends to the project

Earl and Louise managed to generate enthusiasm [and] everybody was excited about the idea of us and them. Randy and Gary and Stevie Scruggs had a lot to do with the interface to us. Earl listened to his sons and embraced the interest in newer music that they had. He saw there may be some reason to do this … there are some obvious rootsy little bookmarks in our music that the Scruggs boys really got a hold of and showed Earl. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand it, but they more or less said “Dad, this is cool, we really like this,” and Earl said, “Yeah – okay!”

Steve Martin was briefly a member of the group.

Steve and John worked together early on; Steve is the really funny banjo player and John’s the great banjo player that is pretty funny … We used to goof on him. He had this Chinese Bogota Mystery Box of the Dead, this cheap magic trick thing, and he would keep stuff in there to juggle like oranges. Some nights we would put honey on the oranges just to mess with him. We put pizza dough in there one night. He pulled it out and said, “ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to do an impression of myself,” and smashed it on his face. He had a quick wit.

The NGDB 50th anniversary show had many ‘best moments’

It’s great to have the people that are a part of this family … we’re like a school of fish, sometimes swimming together, but sometimes apart; never together but close sometimes. So it’s really nice to have those musical moments; there’s something warm and fuzzy about them. It’s like “Wow, if this gets any better, I’m going to fall off the stage.”

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

When: Thursday, May 18, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester

Tickets: $35.50-$107.50 at palacetheatre.org

This story originally appeared in the 11 May 2017 issue of Hippo Press

Ex-pat pop

KurtBaker2When Kurt Baker toured with his punk pop band The Leftovers, and as a solo act beginning in 2010, one luxury he always allowed was satellite radio in the rental van. It stayed locked on a single station,Underground Garage, packed with bands  that inspired them like Ramones, Blondie and The Plimsouls, along with up and coming acts.

“For us it was awesome,” Baker said in a recent Skype interview from his home in Madrid, Spain. “There were great DJs on there and great garage rock, both new and old stuff.”

His bandmate Geoff Palmer one day decided to send the station a single by his band, The Connection. To his delight, their cover of the 1956 Moon Mullican hit “Seven Nights to Rock” was named a weekly Coolest Song in the World. When Underground Garage creator Steven Van Zandt asked Palmer if he knew any other good bands, he pointed them to Baker.

Baker subsequently racked up multiple Coolest Song wins, on his own and with The New Trocaderos, his side project with Palmer and  Brad Marino, also of The Connection. Last year, Van Zandt signed him to Wicked Cool Records and released Baker’s latest album, In Orbit.

Inconveniently, satellite success happened right around the time Baker moved overseas. He’d grown weary of the withering punk pop scene in his home base of Portland, Maine, and its sharp contrast to to the energy he’d found in Europe. “It was a buzzkill to come back; finally, I decided to see about living in Spain, see if I could do it.,” Baker said. “I had enough money for a few months, but it really worked out …  there are a lot more opportunities for my style of music, and a culture for it that feels really comfortable.”

Initially, Baker was a troubadour, accompanying himself on guitar. Then offers to play summer festivals started to arrive, and he recruited three natives and has kept busy ever since. For a guy whose motto is “have a good time, all the time,” it’s a perfect situation. There’s something about Spain,” he said. “There’s just a huge appreciation for rock and roll, power pop and garage rock.”

He’s returned home to visit family and play an occasional solo gig, but the new record has given Baker the chance to tour with a full band for the first time since 2013. A March 23 show at Dover Brickhouse includes his band Kurt Baker Combo, The Connection, label mate Soraia, and 90s legends Watts, now with Tim McCoy of Heavens to Murgatroid’s on bass.

“Tim has helped us out many times back when I was living in Portland; he helped set up shows and we’d go down,” Baker said “We’re friends, and we’ve had a lot of fun together in the past, so I’m really looking forward to playing with him and seeing those guys.”

What promises to be one of best rock shows to hit the region in years is the second stop on a tour that stops in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee (home to Baker’s favorite basketball team) and Washington, D.C. The two-week run wraps up in Boston on April 7, with a show at Allston’s O’Brien’s Pub.

The busy schedule leaves Baker little room for other work, so studio time with The New Trocaderos will have to wait for another visit. “There is word of maybe doing a new record in the future, so who knows? It’s a fun project,” he said. “We’re kind of like this New England Rockpile – Geoff, Brad, Kris Rogers and I have always played together, and we’re always in each other’s bands.”

Conceived by Los Angeles songwriter and producer Mike Chaney, the supergroup has released one album – 2015’s Thrills & Chills – and three EPs and the single that launched the project, “Money Talks” backed with “The Kids” – both written by Chaney. Along with longtime Seacoast cohort Rogers, the band includes drummer Rick Orcutt.

What keeps it fun for Baker? “I really love playing live and seeing the expressions on people’s faces when they’re listening to rock and roll and having a good time, also meeting people and visiting new places,” he said. “The Combo’s been touring a lot this year, we’ve been to Sweden, Austria, Germany … that’s what keeps interesting, to be able to tour and play. I feel fortunate to be able to do this. As long as I can still do it, I will.”

Kurt Baker Combo, Soraia, The Connection and Watts

Where: Dover Brickhouse, 2 Orchard St., Dover

When: Thursday, March. 23, 7 p.m.

Tickets: $7/cover – see bit.ly/2nqwJzl

Heavy hitters – Cactus brings muscular rock to Tupelo

cactus

Drummer Carmine Appice believes the roots of heavy music — the bruising rock that predated Led Zeppelin — boil down to four bands: Cream, The Who, Jimi Hendrix Experience and his first band, Vanilla Fudge.

“Fudge set the precedent for American bands,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Hendrix was considered English even though he was from here.”
At the core of each group was a solid rhythm section. Vanilla Fudge had Appice and bassist Tim Bogert. Their slowed down, throbbing cover of the Surpremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” hit the pop charts in summer 1967. When the group broke up in 1970, Appice and Bogert formed Cactus, and later played in Beck, Bogert & Appice with guitar hero Jeff Beck.
Complications from a motorcycle accident forced Bogert to retire from music in 2010, but Appice continues to tour with versions of both Cactus and Vanilla Fudge. The latter perform Sept. 22 at Tupelo Music Hall; the reconstituted Fudge appears at Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury, Mass., Oct. 14.

Read more here.

Big in Bangor

James McMurtry plays Prescott Park

Originally published in Seacoast Scene 25 August 2016

Every September, James McMurtry and his band spend a long weekend in Maine. The tradition began when WKIT, a Bangor classic rock radio station owned by Stephen King, added McMurtry’s album Childish Things to its playlist. “They  put ‘Choctaw Bingo’ on, which is like nine minutes long and crazy for radio, “ McMurtry said recently. “But they had the  nerve; then we put out ‘We Can’t Make It Here.’” 

The latter, a searing indictment of modern economic marginalization, was named song of the decade by several critics. It particularly resonated in Bangor. “For awhile, that was our best market anywhere,” McMurtry said. “Maine at that time had lost about 30,000 jobs to outsourcing, which is mainly what that song was about. It lit up the phones pretty good … we  could sell out a 500-seat theatre five nights in a row.” 

This year, McMurtry added an outdoor show at Portsmouth’s Prescott Park to gigs at the Blue Hill Fair in Bangor and Savage Oakes Winery in Union, Maine. “We’re just going to fly into Manchester, rent a car and drive around for three days and then fly home,” he said. 

Some of the songs in McMurtry’s set will be drawn from his most recent LP, 2015’s Complicated Game. His first new disc in six years, it’s a strong effort, balancing hard luck story songs – “South Dakota,” “Carlisle’s Haul” – with aching tenderness on tracks like “She Loves Me” and “You Got to Me.”  

One of the best is “Long Island Sound,” with a wry optimism that recalls “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp (an early McMurtry booster). The song’s narrator is an Oklahoman who’s transplanted his family to New York and the American  dream. “A bay boat and a 401k/two cars in the driveway, two boys and a girl” is atypical subject matter for McMurtry.  

Hearing him explain the song’s beginnings provides an enlightening glimpse into his creative process.

“I was stuck on the Whitestone Bridge after my son’s college graduation – Google Maps pointed me across it instead of the Throg’s Neck,” McMurtry said. “I realized that’s the way of life for a lot of people. So I started playing around with words and came up with the notion of writing the anti- ‘stuck up here with Dixie on my mind’ song [about] a Southerner working in the north that likes it.” 

McMurtry quashes the notion that the mood of the new record signals a personal mellowing. “I write songs one line at a
time,”he said. “I’m not really thinking in a certain vein, just trying to follow the melody and the chord structure.” 

He has strong views on the current political landscape. “I’s not Trump himself that we have to worry about, if he wasn’t running there would be somebody like him,” he said, adding, “I don’t understand why anybody’s surprised by any of this.  

Timothy McVeigh blew the side off a building, killed a bunch of kids because he didn’t like the government … long before Obama. There was a groundswell of support for David Koresh in Waco, so it surprises us that there’s a groundswell of  support for Cliven Bundy? It’s the same thing.” 

However, McMurtry needs a story before any of these observations become lyrics. “I don’t write songs as an act of will … I need a character,” he said. “Very rarely do I write a song where I get my point across. I got really lucky with ‘We Can’t Make it Here.’” 

On the album, “Long Island Sound” morphed into a Celtic drinking song, with heavy layers of Irish penny-whistle and mandolin. “I don’t know where they came up with that idea,” McMurtry said with chagrin. “They emailed the song to Ireland; the Irish guys put their stuff on and sent it back.”

Much about how producer C.C. Adcock finished Complicated Game is also a mystery to McMurtry, who toured a lot during its making. “I was there for awhile for Ivan Neville’s vocal sessions, he was pretty cool,” he said, “but I’m not really sure how
Benmont Tench wound up on that record … I think they just found out he was in New Orleans, dragged him into the studio and made him play keyboards.”

On the other hand, McMurtry was quite pleased with the version of “She Loves Me” that ended up on the album. It sounds
enough like one of Randy Newman’s best songs that they toyed with the notion of asking him to add a vocal. “None of us knew how,” McMurtry said. “I did not know when I wrote the song, but later when we listened to it, I said it’d be perfect for Randy Newman.”

James McMurtry  

When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Prescott Park, Portsmouth

Tickets: $10 suggested donation