Winterpills – The Light Divides

winterpills2.jpgWinterpills’ sophomore release continues and improves upon the dour psychedelia and multilayered brilliance heard in their 2005 debut. With bits of beautiful sorrow glimpsed just below shimmering pop surfaces, it’s a hypnotic triumph that reveals more with each listen.

The record’s opener, “Lay Your Heartbreak,” is Mamas and the Papas meets Nirvana, with Philip Price and Flora Reed harmonizing like Buckingham/Nicks of the Zoloft set. The richly textured “Handkerchiefs” features Reed singing lead, guitarist Dennis Crommett channeling Revolver-era George Harrison, and gorgeous keyboard work from Price.

Philip Price’s songwriting betrays a greater love of language than poetry. He can be forgiven when his wordplay cloys. Couplets like “pilloried in crushed mint/killing with a push pin” (on “Shameful”) and “blue eyes, June eyes/June eyes fly fly home” (“June Eyes”) are utterly inscrutable, but they sound too lovely in the end to matter.

“Angels Falls” is more about cadences than anything meaningful, where Price’s lyrics are bits of shiny glass in a mosaic of sound and echo. “Broken Arm” is less oblique, an up-tempo number with an infectious chorus. It’s the most radio-ready song on “The Light Divides,” and a cleaned-up version is included as a hidden track.

The ethereal “Eclipse” best sums up the album’s pervasive mood: “how our dreams entrap us,” sing Price/Reed. “I Bear Witness,” the ostensible title cut (it contains the line “I bear witness to how the light I shed divides on you”) is a sweet and sinister slow dance, a landscape seen by a drowning man just before his eyes close.

“July,” a standout track with “Pet Sounds” studio gadgetry and an irresistible chorus, may be the most buoyant song ever written about a nervous breakdown. The still life “A Folded Cloth” gathers up and perfectly distills the elements of this painterly effort. “The Light Divides” is a Mona Lisa smile of a record, cunningly calling listeners back to look and listen again, struggling to find the true secret of its beauty.

Local Rhythms – More Reasons to Hate the Music Biz

 

pageopensnyse.jpgVail, Colorado – I know, that’s a strange dateline for a local music column. However, recent news from the Rocky Mountain State is hitting close to home.

In yet another example of a music business utterly bereft of new ideas, the members of Led Zeppelin and Van Halen are suing the owner of Vail’s 8150 nightclub for hiring bands that play cover versions of their material. They’re looking for more than $30,000 per song in damages.

Publishing organizations like ASCAP and BMI earn their money enforcing copyrights. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this is ridiculous. Worse than that, it’s counterproductive – at least where the musicians are concerned.

There’s a story of Paul McCartney seeing Jimi Hendrix play a teeth-rattling version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in a London club, two days after that album was released.

I doubt Sir Paul was thinking about a performance fee that night.

Yet here are Jimmy Page and Robert Plant doing just that. These are the same guys who tried to rip off Howlin’ Wolf on their second album, by renaming his “Killing Floor” as “The Lemon Song” and trying to pass it off as an original. They were sued, and lost.

Van Halen is just a bad Xerox of Led Zeppelin, a band who spent the years before their big break playing – you guessed it – cover songs in L.A. nightclubs. I’m sure they were diligent about paying Roy Orbison every time they played “Oh Pretty Woman.”

Can’t they make nice long enough to complete a cash-grabbing tour like the Police? It makes absolutely no sense to risk losing their biggest fans (you know, the ones so dedicated they learn all of your songs, note for note).

But the reasons for this are sadly obvious. Neither band has made an even semi-interesting piece of new music in over 25 years. Like everyone else in the industry, they’re reduced to repackaging old work to milk past glory. It’s no longer music; it’s an annuity plan.

They should follow Eric Clapton’s cue; grateful for the success that “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” brought him, he made a record with J.J. Cale last year – a class act.

[A follow-up AlgoRhythms post to the 8150 lawsuit]

Who’s making music this weekend?

Thursday: The Wailin’ Jennys, St. Anselm College – A more rustic Dixie Chicks, this band has won several awards in their native Canada. Sweet three-part harmonies lift their bright, natural sound, which begs a question. Why does so much great Americana music come from north of the border? The Lovell Sisters, winners of a recent “Prairie Home Companion” talent search, open the show.

Friday: Have Blues Will Travel, Salt Hill 2 – Last week I talked about plans for Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day eve. Now comes word of music every Friday and Saturday in Newport’s newest restaurant. Tonight, it’s a well-regarded duo playing traditional, harp-sweetened blues. Tomorrow brings R&B, with Mike Benoit and Jimmy Ruffing. In the coming weeks the Eagle Block eatery welcomes stripped down pop (Rich Thomas & Wally Wysk 3/10) , bluegrass (Spare Change 3/24) and, obviously, Irish sounds. Great news!

Saturday: Chris Whitley Memorial Celebration, Boccelli’s – The hard-living Whitley left us in 2005, but his music continues to inspire. Jeff Lang, who recorded with Chris on “Dislocation Blues,” due for release this month on Rounder, headlines the show. Dan Whitley played an incendiary set at last year’s Roots on the River festival; once again he’s back for this, the second annual tribute to his late brother. Josh Maiocco hosts, Melissa Sheehan also performs.

Sunday: Fogey Mountain Boys, Canoe Club – Authentic bluegrass from a group of locals who love to play it. Since we’re on the subject of royalty fees, I wonder if Woody Guthrie lurked around campfires waiting for someone to play “This Land Is Your Land”? It’s doubtful, and these days all his stuff’s in the public domain. Since it’s Sunday, the Boys play for 3 hours. Sit close if you want to really enjoy the music.

Monday: Gaelic Storm, Iron Horse – This wonderful Irish quintet starts March in style with a long run through the region. They were in New London Tuesday, and play the Capitol in Concord tonight and Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall tomorrow. They have a neo-traditional sound that fits everywhere from the Dublin (Ohio) Irish Festival to the House of Blues (where they recorded a recent live DVD).

Tuesday: Open Mike with Josh Maiocco, PK’s Public House – Josh took the reins from Ezra Veitch last year for this Bellows Falls tradition, and he’s holding things down nicely. Anyone who wants to play can step up to the microphone and join in, but you should be aware that your friends and neighbors may be listening at home on WOOL-FM, which broadcasts everything live.

 

 

Rocking the Moose

transcent2small.jpgYou didn’t have to love heavy metal to appreciate the floor-shaking sounds emanating from Claremont’s Moose Lodge last Sunday. The all-day, eight-band concert was impressive for reasons that had nothing to do with music.

The show drew over 200 customers despite losing its headliner earlier in the week. Show promoters (and local Claremont band) Hexerei quickly enlisted their friends Suicide City, a group they’d toured with last year. They agreed to come up from New Jersey to replace Bobaflex, who’d had to cancel due to a band emergency, and plans didn’t miss a step.

In the so-called hardcore music community (or post-core, or metal-core, or post-grunge; it’s inclusive, but with many names), such challenges are common. A DIY spirit, however, always pervades.

For all the pain, suffering and nihilism running through a lot of their songs – Suicide City’s “F**k Your Dreams” was one good example – this is a very optimistic crowd. It’s reminiscent of the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “let’s put on a show” movies, only with more black eyeliner, metal studs and body piercing.

It’s also much, much louder.

These kids may feel shortchanged by their leaders and cheated out of the opportunities their parents had, but they believe in the power of music to transform their lives. They do so in spite of the fact that few will ever succeed enough to make a full-time job of it, and those that do will probably continue to struggle anyway. Adversity feeds their dream that music will prevail.

This attitude helps explain the almost visceral response that greeted Transcent’s performance Sunday. The Newport band made their first public appearance since losing bassist Justin “Buzzy” Brown to a heroin overdose last July. A huge crowd swarmed around them as they surged through a mix of originals and covers with precision and unrelenting speed, particularly on a version of White Zombie’s “Thunder Kiss ’65.”

Their emotional set hit a high point with “Truth Serum,” which lead singer Mike Boucher dedicated – “to Buzzy, he’s always with us.” The song exemplified the primary musical hurdle confronting those hoping to follow the path of hyperkinetic bands like Pantera, Slayer and Slipknot – the need for a good rhythm section.

Fortunately, drummer Brian Couitt played ferociously, and in time. The talented band followed him capably on a song with plenty of complex tempo and progression changes.

It was powerful moment, and an inspirational set.

Other bands didn’t fare as well, relying on speed and passion when a little control and rehearsal time would have helped more. Stare Fall played like the house band on a runaway train, with Sam Kinison on lead vocals. Of course, to many in Sunday’s audience, that’s a compliment. A City Divide performed solidly, but occasionally let the song run away from them.

The hip-hop duo LoKei was totally out of place, a situation exacerbated by a late arrival (they were supposed to open the show), which forced them to play while Transcent set up their equipment. Regardless, the notion of two lily-white Keene kids rapping about bling, bitches and mean streets is, to put it mildly, a bit dubious.

One of Hexerei’s biggest assets as a band is its discipline. To the untrained (non-fan) eye, what they do onstage may seem like unalloyed rage, fueled by guitar noise and two screaming singers. But the band rehearses several hours a week with militaristic regularity. Their show Sunday featured selections from a forthcoming album, and they also played a few older ones. “We’ll do ‘I’ because this guy asked for it,” said lead singer Travis Pfenning, pointing to a happy fan.

Suicide City followed Hexerei (no easy task) with a short but potent set, during which every band member stayed in constant motion. It was almost exhausting to watch. At one point lead singer Karl Bernholtz was literally bouncing off the walls of the stage, a turbo-charged cross between Marilyn Manson and the Tasmanian Devil.

Several times during the show, the center of the floor opened up for a version of dancing currently in fashion, an anarchistic crowd-shoving match that resembled a street fight without punches. It was mostly harmless, though one young man ran to the bathroom with a bloody nose during Hexerei’s set.

Many adults barely know this scene exists; its members may sleep in the houses and apartments of Newport, Claremont, Charlestown and Springfield, but they congregate in MySpace, communicate via text message and let loose in clubs like Chester’s Underground, Lebanon’s Electra and now at Claremont’s Moose Lodge.

They believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, in a world of their own creation, populated by bands and fans.

They have each other, and they have their music.

That’s all they need.

 

Local Rhythms – New Venues, New Bands

photo_021707_002.jpgThis week, I’m happy to report a few additions to the local arts scene. That’s what makes life exciting for me: new venues, and new bands to discover playing in them.

Last Friday India Queen, tucked behind Hanover’s International DVD and Poster shop on Lebanon Street, emanated curry, saffron, tequila and sweat, as the restaurant made its first venture into live music.

You’d be forgiven if you mistook the entrance for a backstage door. To get a seat at the horseshoe-shaped bar, one had to first tiptoe around Jen De la Osa’s bobbing silver Telecaster, as she and her band Aloud pounded through a high-energy set.

Aloud combined the Pretenders’ sass with U2’s sonic fury on songs like “Battle of Love” and a clever cover of “Baba O’Riley.” Fireflies, a New York City band reminiscent of “Cool Places”-era Sparks, opened the show. Their final number, “It’s A Party, You Can Dance If You Want To,” completely caught the DIY energy of the night and the bar.

India Queen owner Bhavnesh has a try-anything-once approach to entertainment. He pointed out snapshots on the wall of celebrities like Jack White enjoying the food, and talked excitedly about upcoming events – belly dancing (2/23), a “Nice-Up” reggae-tone dance party (3/9) and yes, more live bands.

The place has a great late-70’s punk rock vibe. If IQ continues to get great talent like Aloud and Fireflies (not to mention a decent PA system), there are promising times ahead.

When La Dolce Vita recently opened for dining in New London, owner Charlene Jerome took a cue from former employer Sophie & Zeke’s. The Claremont restaurant she used to manage has had great success with live music – regular guests the Spiral Farm Band have even released a “Live at Sophie & Zeke’s” CD.

Beginning tomorrow night, Kid Pinky and His Restless Nights will belt out the blues at La Dolce Vita on a biweekly basis. Whether this leads to more music on Thursdays and Saturdays remains to be seen.

In any case, it’s gratifying to welcome another home for live music to the area.

Finally, Newport’s Salt Hill also announced some plans the other day. March 16, right before St. Patrick’s Day, the Woodkerne Celtic Band will pluck some Irish cheer as a lead-in to the big day. Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come.

Speaking of which, what’s coming up this weekend?

Thursday: Vieux Farka Toure, Collis Common Ground (Dartmouth) – This week’s eclectic entry. When this Mali singer/guitarist decided to follow in the footsteps of his musician father, he got a lot of resistance. Dad thought he should be a soldier because musicians were so poorly treated. Farka Toure pressed on anyway – “Farka,” after all, means “donkey” in Mali – and ultimately received his father’s blessing.

Friday: The Squids, Gusanoz – Always a crowd-pleasing band, the Squids played their first set at this Woodstock Mexican eatery last month and were immediately asked to return. If you like to dance, you’ll enjoy this band. Speaking of dancing, there’s salsa with Black Beans every other Saturday at Gusanoz, if you like it muy caliente.

Saturday: Kid Pinky, Sophie & Zeke’s – An after-hours dance party starting around 9. S&Z’s celebrated their first birthday at the end of December by clearing away a few tables, and turning up the music energy level a few notches. They liked the results so much they decided to do it again, this time with a Concord-based blues band led by a guy with a 20-year reputation for heating up a room.

Sunday: Suicide City, Claremont Moose – Bobaflex was originally scheduled for this afternoon metal show, but had to cancel. Suicide City toured with Hexerei last summer, so this pairing almost makes more sense. Hexerei will play a set before the headliner; A City Divide, Trancent, Starefall, Soul Octane Burner and Escape to Everything also perform. The show runs from noon till five, so the music (mostly metal) will be packed.

Monday: Jello Biafra, Iron Horse – A spoken word performance by one of punk rock’s most dangerous individuals, at least in the eyes of those who would silence him. “Holiday in Cambodia” is a masterpiece; the opening bars still sound as sinister today as they did in 1980. Nowadays, Biafra combines a street theatre sense of the absurd, using the stage pseudonyms Osama McDonald and Count Ringworm, with a committed progressive political stance.

Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm – Dave Clark recently uploaded an hour’s worth of material from the February 6th installment of this weekly jam session. Check it out on yellowhousemedia.com – there’s some great stride piano from Raphael Gulazzi that sounds like it came out of a 1920s speakeasy, and a nifty bass solo from author/musician Lisa Rojak. Or go see it live; it’s worth the trip.

 

Musicians Band Together for Injured Newport Man

moosebenefit.jpgThe mood at the Newport Moose Club last Saturday night was a combination of church supper and rock festival, as six local bands pitched in to raise over $3,000 for Andy Dickinson. Friends of the Newport man, who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident last Thanksgiving, hugged, milled about selling 50/50 raffle tickets, and enjoyed the music.

Everyone munched pizza, donated by the local Domino’s, along with homemade meatballs, deli plates, baked beans and deviled eggs. In a corner of the stage, Shamus Martin worked the house sound for the entire 13-hour show. “I’m beat,” he said a little after midnight – but he was still smiling

.The benefit show came about through the efforts of Stonewall, one of Dickinson’s favorite bands. “Andy’s a huge Stonewall fan,” said show organizer Tina Warburton. As other musicians heard about the benefit, they stepped up to get involved. “I can’t believe how many bands called and offered their time,” says Warburton. “It’s amazing in this day and age to see so many people willing to help.”

Smoke and Mirrors, a new band that includes Claremont guitarist Brian Devenger, “crammed for weeks to get ready,” said Warburton, who is also Devenger’s niece. Saturday’s show was their first official gig. Local reggae favorites Saylyn played an early afternoon set, as did Sun King. Rutland-based Vision knocked out a solid set of covers, everything from “Rockin’ in the Free World” to “Hot Blooded.” Their performance sat well with the many Harley logo-festooned patrons crowding the dance floor.
D’Brotherhood, an edgy, politically charged three-piece group, dedicated an emotional rendition of an original song, “You Won’t Break Me,” to Andy. Stonewall closed the night, playing a rousing version of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” for absent friend Dickerson.

“It was awesome, we’re very satisfied with the way it all went,” said Warburton, who said that the money raised at the benefit (along with a few dollars raised from bake sales last December) will be used to Dickinson’s home ready for his return from the Boston hospital where he’s currently receiving treatment.

Before the accident, Dickinson lived on the top floor of his Newport cape house, so the entire downstairs will require modifications. “We need to tear off the porch to build a room,” Warburton says. “This is really going to help with the house addition, we made enough money to do all the initial work.”

Dickinson’s sister Dee told Andy about the benefit during a visit Sunday. “He was happy, but also sorry he missed the show,” says Warburton. The good news is that all the bands involved, and some others who weren’t, will do it again when Andy comes home.

Anyone interested in contributing to the effort should contact Tina Warburton at 603-863-0520.

From Live Aid to Live 8 to Live Earth

liveearth.jpgIf you thought the Police reunion tour was going to be the biggest show of the summer, get ready for Live Earth, a one-day, multi-continent event featuring over 100 performers. The concerts are the brainchild of former Vice President Al Gore; money raised will create a foundation to study climate change led by the Alliance for Climate Protection.

The first 25 artists were announced Tuesday. They are: Pharrell, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Snoop Dogg, Lenny Kravitz, Bon Jovi, Paolo Nutini, Sheryl Crow, AFI, Melissa Etheridge, John Mayer, Damien Rice, Corinne Bailey Rae, Duran Duran, Snow Patrol, John Legend, Black Eyed Peas, Akon, Enrique Iglesias, Fall Out Boy, Man, Keane, Kelly Clarkson, Korn, Faith Hill w/ Tim McGraw, and Bloc Party.

Eventually promoter Kevin Wall (who also staged the 2005 Live 8 worldwide concerts) hopes to have over 100 acts performing on stages in London, Paris, New York, Shanghai as well as more exotic locales.  News reports yesterday discussed the first concert in Antarctica, which would undoubtedly star Snow Patrol.  All performances will be broadcast on the Internet via MSN.

The Live Earth announcement came during the launch of Save Our Selves – The Campaign for a Climate in Crisis, an organization headed by Kevin Wall. Participants include Gore, actress Cameron Diaz and corporate sponsor MSN Networks.

The shows themselves will be staged in an environmentally friendly way:

Live Earth will implement a new Green Event Standard that will become the model for carbon neutral concerts and other live events in the future. The Green Event Standard is being developed in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Commission to create a way for venues to be LEED-approved.

Local Rhythms – You Shoulda Been There

tierneysutton3.jpgI wanted to write about the Grammys this week. I was pleased by the Academy’s awkward yet spirited defense of free speech evidenced in the Dixie Chicks sweep of all their nominations. The only thing worse than stealing music, they said, is trying to stop musicians from creating it. They closed ranks around the Chicks – a noble thing.

But I lost interest in the broadcast the moment the Police finished playing “Roxanne.” Don’t feel bad if you missed it.

You should have seen Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda’s set last Saturday at the Heritage, however. Those who did enjoyed an inventive and thoroughly original band.

I’d heard some of their MP3s, but really wasn’t sure what to expect of them live. Their most recent EP, “Happy Song,” is smoother than 20 dollar gin. In particular, “The Myth” blusters with Lucretia McEvil horn charts; Pete Pidgeon holds down the center with wicked guitar triplets and fifth-gear-on-an-icy-road vocals.

On record, they take all that’s great about melting pot Americana music and add a few drops of high-energy hot sauce. But what if it was all overdubs, multitracking and multiple takes? How would they sound in a bar, surrounded by pool tables, milling patrons and NASCAR beer lights?

Turns out I needn’t have worried. My first indication that Arcoda has a knack for pulling musical rabbits out of their hat was their arrangement of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster.” Most everyone does it as a slow growling blues. Arcoda gave it their own stamp by turning it into a booty-shaking jump shuffle.

Pidgeon plays guitar like a roadhouse Pat Metheny, with a dash of prog-rock spiderfingers thrown in, on a big, hollow bodied Gibson six-string more typically seen in the hands of guys working behind monogrammed bandstands.

He has the easy, natural touch of George Benson combined with the frenetic fret-ranging of Yes’s Steve Howe.

My favorite number of the evening was “Funk #49,” a James Gang song from 30 years back. Arcoda gave it their own shape, playing the 4/4 intro as a Jimi Hendrix burlesque, then shifting into blistering solo trade-offs between Pidgeon and talented second guitarist Kurt Schellenberg.

Don’t miss them on their next trip to town. Here are a few more hot choices:

Thursday: A New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – The musical lineup’s been shuffled a bit at this downtown Claremont eatery. Piano man Matt McCabe now alternates Thursdays with New Kind of Blue, who are branching out and playing places like Canoe Club and the Quechee Inn. Coming up at Sophie & Zeke’s next Saturday night (February 24) is a special after hours blues dance show with Kid Pinky and His Restless Knights. There’s no cover, but reservations, I’m told, are recommended.

Friday: Aloud w/ Fireflies, India Queen – A band that’s gotten a lot of attention in their home town of Boston, Aloud combines the slashing wall of sound guitars of early U2 with CBGB’s-era Blondie courtesy of lead singer Jen de la Osa. If Tom Snyder still hosted the Tomorrow show, he’d book this band. Fireflies opens the 9:30 show with moody glam rock – could it be any more 1979? India Queen is on the main drag in Hanover, in case you were wondering.

Saturday: Benefit Rock Show, Newport Moose – Six area bands – Sun King, Saylyn, D’Brotherhood, Smoke & Mirrors, Vision and headliner Stonewall – play to raise money for Andy Dickinson, a Newport man paralyzed in a motorcycle accident last Thanksgiving. Money from this show will be used to equip Dickinson’s house so he can come home from the hospital. The show runs fron noon till way past dark; before six is all ages.

Sunday: Tracy Grammer & Jim Henry, Hooker-Dunham – Grammer is an ace songwriter who’s attracted fans like Mary Chapin Carpenter, who sang backup on her last album, and Richard Shindell. She lost longtime musical partner Dave Carter to a heart attack in 2004, but she seems to have struck the right balance with Jim Henry, a fine guitarist with a long list of his own folk releases.

Tuesday: Tierney Sutton, Iron Horse – A jazz singer with a voice custom-made for a David Lynch movie. Sutton sings “Get Happy” like she’s serenading a jumper on a ledge – eerie and hypnotic. She’s not completely morose, though; Sutton does another version of “Get Happy” that jumps like Jiffy Pop on a stove.

Wednesday: James Cotton, Ascutney Mountain Resort – Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Cotton headlines, but this is a blues summit, with James Montgomery and ex-Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau joining in. Cotton trading harmonica licks with Montgomery, who doesn’t look a day younger than when he burst upon the early 70’s New England scene, should be very special.