Local Rhythms – Comcast News

anyplay-p-dvr-docked-small.jpgThere’s nothing like healthy competition to motivate a company to do better. For proof, look no further than Comcast.

These days, the one-time cable monopoly faces relentless encroachment by satellite providers. Verizon’s sale of their New England properties to FairPoint Communications will likely be approved, which promises to add Internet-based television to the mix.

So, at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Comcast unveiled a flurry of moves designed to attract new customers – and keep old ones.

How about a cable-powered video iPod? With a 60 GB hard drive, the Comcast AnyPlay Portable DVR is a nifty hybrid of a digital video recorder (DVR) and a portable DVD player. The device allows for on-the-go viewing of shows recorded off the Comcast cable system. Made by Panasonic, it should be available next year.

Expected in stores a bit sooner are Panasonic high definition televisions equipped with “tru2way” technology. The sets allow plug and play access to the full range of Comcast services – no box required.

Comcast also announced plans for tru2way set top boxes. This equipment, manufactured by Samsung and Panasonic, leverages DOCSIS (data over cable) technology that will ultimately pave the way for direct viewing of content from web sites like YouTube, as well as downloading of movies and other programming.

The long-awaited Comcast/TiVo marriage was finally consummated recently in Boston. Area customers with Scientific Atlanta boxes, however, will have to wait until later this year for the bugs to be worked out of the software update before the ubiquitous DVR technology becomes available here.

That’s one of the problems of living in a so-called “outer market” like northern New England. You have to wait forever for the good stuff.

Sometimes, it’s lonely in the sticks.

If we’re not complaining about dropped cell phone calls, we’re wondering when we can get our hands of all the cool technology that’s shown on the G4 Channel.

I’m beginning to think that my children’s children will see high definition local channels on the Dish Network before I ever do.

Heck, I can’t even buy an iPhone unless I lie about my address. How fair is that?

Forget about clean air and water. Who cares about low traffic density? Give me gadgets!

Oh, well, we have a great live music scene to enjoy. To wit:

Thursday: Draa Hobbs & Peter Concilio, Elixir – Hobbs gigged with a long list of jazz luminaries, did a stint in Al Alessi’s band, held forth at Oona’s before the fire, and most recently helped singer-songwriter Lisa McCormick with her newest album. His soft touch reminds me of Wes Montgomery or George Benson. Bassist Concilio is a fixture in several area combos, including the Emily Lanier Jazz Ensemble (the singer’s post-New Kind of Blue band).

Friday: Iron Box, Imperial Lounge – A Claremont band in the mold of Television or Smashing Pumpkins, Iron Box did well at last summer’s Whaleback show (some of that performance is up on their MySpace page). I’m impressed by their commitment to playing original material. Songs like “Leave the Day” and “Stop the World” possess an edgy mid-90’s melodic quality that you can both dance to and drown in.

Saturday: Saxton’s River Smackdown, Boccelli’s – One year ago, Bellows Falls’ renaissance began as Josh Maiocco and Jesse Peters shared the stage in this auction hall reconfigured for music. Since that time, the restaurant by the canal has upped the ante with many great performers like Nashville chanteuse Diana Jones, who plays next week. Tonight’s show is an anniversary celebration by two of the area’s best original voices.

Sunday: Super Bowl, Arizona – Let’s face it, if anyone’s going to be paying attention to music today it will be during Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers halftime show. It’s all about football – for the majority, Tom Brady is the man, and the Patriots are the team. To those few who grew up watching Phil Simms and the Giants on Vermont’s Channel 3, I offer early condolences. The song of the day is, naturally, Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” Go Pats!

Tuesday: Irish Traditional Sessions, Salt Hill Pub – This is the perfect after work destination, with a 6:30 start and the always interesting improvisations of Chris Stevens, Roger Burridge, and Dave Loney. An occasional top notch guest can up the talent quotient, turning the weekly session into a cross between open mike night and a Celtic hard court basketball game (with fiddles and bodhráns).

Wednesday: Chris O’Brien, Langdon Street Café – This singer-songwriter is worth the long drive to Montpelier, with talent to match his pedigree (Dar Williams, a family friend, taught him his first guitar chords). O’Brien’s gift for wordplay brings a smile, his easygoing, Steve Forbert-like voice is smooth as a cold pint in August – and he can charm a crowd. Chris is definitely one to watch.

Boston Rocks – “The Sound of Our Town”

soundofourtown.jpgA Review of “The Sound of Our Town” by Brett Milano

Boston music doesn’t begin and end with the J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, the Cars or the “More Than a Feeling” arena rockers named after the city.

In “The Sound of Our Town,” a thorough look at the highs and lows of rock music in the region, Boston journalist Brett Milano reports that it all started with the G-Clefs. The Roxbury doo-wop band won over the tough audience at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, and had a minor hit (“Ka-Ding Dong”) in 1956.

The canon includes Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park,” and “Gangwar,” a dark rockabilly tune from New Hampshire native Gene Maltais. There’s also an early precursor to teen idols New Kids on the Block and n’Sync.

Teddy & the Pandas began as a Beatles-era boy band. Later, along with Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union and Eden’s Children, they were part of the forgettable “Bosstown Sound” – a record company executive’s misguided attempt to package the countercultural music of the time.

The town’s most famous song didn’t even come from Boston. The Standells recorded “Dirty Water” in their hometown of Los Angeles, as a tribute to a band member’s Boston-born girlfriend.

These and other interesting anecdotes pepper Milano’s well-researched book. It’s widely assumed, for example, that guitarist Tom Scholtz grew Boston like mushrooms in his basement. The band actually paid dues playing area bars for more than four years, evolving the songs from their multi-platinum debut album along the way.

A Kenmore Square music club, arguably more famous than the bands that played there, also features prominently. The Rathskeller, known to all who cared simply as “the Rat,” hosted early shows by the Police, the Cars and Tom Petty, as well as the “Rock and Roll Rumble” – an annual talent show known as much for the bands that didn’t make it past the first round (Morphine, Mission of Burma) as those who won the competition.

For much of rock’s early history, New England performers followed more trends than they set. Bands like Mission of Burma, Throwing Muses and Morphine started to change that in the early 80’s. But being a visionary didn’t guarantee success; quite the opposite. Though the Pixies are often cited as one of rock’s most influential groups, they didn’t sell many records until they reunited in 2005.

One singer’s career ranges across most of the period covered in the book. “If the Boston scene has a single godfather, Willie Alexander is it,” writes Milano. In the early Sixties, a Rolling Stones appearance on the Mike Douglas Show inspired Alexander to quit Vermont’s Godard College, move to Boston and form the Lost.

Over a long career, Alexander briefly played keyboards in the Velvet Underground, fronted the punk rock Boom Boom Band in the 70’s, and worked as a spoken word artist. He turned 65 this month, and shows no signs of letting up.

Alexander also lent Milano his extensive memorabilia collection for the book.

Though subtitled “a History of Boston Rock & Roll,” the city is really a focal point for the entire New England scene. The Shaggs, four Fremont, New Hampshire sisters who were browbeaten into performing by their overbearing father, are perhaps the strangest band of all. Most everyone agrees they couldn’t play or sing a note, but that doesn’t make them any less loved.

G.G. Allin was both weird and dangerous. Milano calls the Lancaster, New Hampshire native “the most extreme rock monster who ever lived.” Allin died of a heroin overdose in 1993, after a career of shows that typically would only last as long as it took the police to shut them down.

Rather than weave a narrative around his story, Milano’s book often reads like a long series of Wikipedia entries. This chronological, band-by-band approach drains some of the spark from “The Sound of Our Town.” But the book is still an essential reference for anyone looking to understand Boston’s contribution to the world of pop music.