Recycled Percussion comes home

It’s September 21, a Monday night, and Goffstown High is buzzing like the Verizon Center.  Guards stand at backstage entrances blocked with crime scene tape.  Only a fortunate few wearing laminated “Grizzlies” passes around their necks are allowed to pass.

Over a thousand lucky fans fill the bleachers, while a couple hundred more stand against the stage.  The show won’t start for another 45 minutes.

A small but eager press corps are stage right, waiting patiently for a word or an on-camera moment with the stars.

Earlier that morning Recycled Percussion, fresh from five weeks on America’s Got Talent, announced plans for a free show to thank their hometown fans.  It was to be held in the place where, 14 years earlier, bandleader Justin Spencer debuted his “junk rock” musical project at a school talent show. The band toyed with doing a bigger venue, but didn’t think they could fill it on such short notice.

That turned out to be false modesty. One to a customer seats were snapped up in 15 minutes.  Some fans started lining up at Shaw’s supermarket three hours ahead of time.  As the show drew near, crowds mobbed the gymnasium entrance, and police were stationed up and down Route 114, shooing away anyone without a ticket.

The can banging, guitar shredding, power tool-wielding band may have begun as local heroes, but now were rock stars that could play the Goffstown gym 10 nights in a row if they chose to.   A humbled Justin Spencer said, “I didn’t realize how massive the support would be in New Hampshire, because we were in L.A. for the past few months and were kind of detached from all the media.”

Prior to the performance, Selectman Scott Gross came on stage and declared it “Recycled Percussion Day” in Goffstown. The City of Manchester did the same thing when the band’s flight landed the previous Friday night.

State representative John Hikel also read a proclamation, on behalf of the New Hampshire state house of representatives.

Then the lights went down and the crowd’s dull roar turned into pandemonium.

Recycled Percussion sprinted on stage and did an hour-plus of the material that’s made them a national sensation.  Within two songs, Spencer’s white untucked dress shirt was completely soaked in sweat.  Fellow drummer Ryan Vezina had done three vertical leaps over his makeshift “drum set” – stacked buckets with cymbal and microphone-festooned steel tubes duct taped to them.

As Todd “DJ Pharaoh” Griffin spun a rock steady backbeat, Spencer prowled the stage like a panther, delighted to have longer than 90 seconds of performing time.  Guitarist Jim Magoon played a psychedelic “Star Spangled Banner” like he’d written it, not Hendrix, and Spencer fist bumped him as he walked back to his drum kit.

After a medley that touched down in multiple musical eras, Spencer walked to the front of the stage to recall the America’s Got Talent experience for the crowd.   He said that after they’d wrangled their way into the New York regional auditions, judge David Hasselhoff declared them “a five dollar band that wouldn’t go anywhere.”  The other judges split – Sharon Osbourne liked them, Piers Morgan didn’t.

So the band packed up, and got halfway through New Jersey when they got a callback – “technical difficulties,” they were told.  After a debate about whether to try again or head to a paying gig – one of 300 the band does each year – they turned the van around.

They barely made it out of the second New York audition – Hasselhoff changed his mind, but so did Osbourne.  Three weeks and one spinning dual drum set later they were on their way.

Then Spencer remembered his first gig at the long-ago high school talent show.  On that night, his band finished in second place.  “How,” he wondered, “did we go from second in Goffstown to third place in the whole country?”

Beginning October 7, Recycled Percussion will be in Las Vegas for the 10-week run of America’s Got Talent Live, headlined by contest winner Kevin Skinner and hosted by Jerry Springer, at Planet Hollywood’s 1,300-seat CHI Showroom.  They perform at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on December 31 and January 1 (tickets $26 – http://www.palacetheatre.org)

Recycled Percussion – Interview with Justin Spencer

RPwithStateProclamRecycled Percussion leader Justin Spencer spoke by phone after a show in Delhi, New York.

You must be excited about America’s Got Talent Live, the showcase opening for a 10 week run at Planet Hollywood October 7.

It’s amazing.  They asked us to do it, and we’re going to be one of the headlining acts on there.  Our intentions are to be in Vegas for not just that show, but for many years to come.

Have you made firm plans beyond that?

I can’t talk about that, but I can assure you that we’re doing everything we can to stay in Las Vegas, that’s for sure.

Given your commitment to an anti-substance lifestyle, it must be interesting to draw your sights on Sin City, U.S.A. if not the world?

(laughs) Yeah, right.  You know, I’ve been around that my whole life.  It’s funny, I never got into drinking, never tried it.  I’ve never really tasted beer before, never tried a cigarette.  Back in the day, when everyone tried smoking dope and shit like that, I tried it and you know what?  This isn’t for me.  I realized that for me to succeed at what I want to do, and where I wanted the band to go, we needed to leverage every edge possible.  Coming from a small town in New Hampshire playing buckets, we had every disadvantage.  We said, listen, this is the way we’re gonna take it.  We’re gonna work out, we’re gonna eat right, we’re gonna be healthy, we’re gonna not only play music but we’re gonna try and inspire kids as well, and that’s what we’re doing.  It brings us to Vegas, and that’s fine too.  Because the message goes wherever we go. Just because you’re going to Vegas doesn’t mean you can’t bring the message with you.

How did it feel to be back in your high school, knowing the tickets had been snapped up in 15 minutes, and having it buzzing like the Verizon?

That’s funny, because originally we were going to do it at the Verizon, and cut it in half and do 4,000 seats.  I didn’t think that many people were going to come out.  I didn’t realize how massive the support would be in New Hampshire, because we were in L.A. for the past few months and were kind of detached from all the media.  Thousands would have come out if we’d been at the Verizon. We gave out 1,200 seats in 15 minutes [for the Goffstown High show] and I can only imagine how many more would have come in the next three to four hours if there were more tickets.  We were turning away hundreds outside the high school, even with the signs.  It was beyond flattering.  It fuels us more to come back sometime during the holidays when we come home to try and give back to the fans who didn’t get a chance to see us.  I mean, to go back in your hometown … when the lights went out it was ear piercing.  It was electric.  It was amazing.

What was it like walking off the plane on Friday, when a pretty big crowd greeted you?

There was a crowd of fans, friends and family.  The mayor’s office was there to give us a proclamation announcing that September 18 is Recycled Percussion Day in Manchester.  Last night, we received one from the state and from Goffstown.  These honors are huge and there’s talk about getting a key to the city, and that’s cool.

What was the moment for you when you realized you really could go all the way?

You know, we knew going into it, the producers told us singers win the show, that’s just how it goes.  America identifies with singers.  We knew that was going to be our toughest competition.  I think we didn’t think we had a shot until the first performance we gave when we looked over and all three judges were giving us standing ovations, and that went into the media. And the media went from ‘who are Recycled Percussion’ to ‘these guys are a Vegas act.’  It surprised us, and it kept getting bigger and bigger and we became a favorite.  Up until even the next morning after the finals were given, Associated Press was saying Recycled Percussion lost, but there was no way … Recycled Percussion was the best show on America’s Got Talent.  It was really cool because Piers said to us afterwards, you guys are the most creative act in the history of this show, and you guys raised the bar for any act that comes after you guys.  Think about how massive these productions were that we built.  From a creative standpoint, it was clearly hard to beat these things.  How could you have any more energy, or build a bigger production, and do all that in 90 seconds?  I think we brought it right to the edge and that’s what kept us up there with the singers.  In the top 5, we looked around us – all singing groups and Recycled Percussion.  And we did it without any sob stories. We didn’t need a sob story.  We just went and flat out blew people away on stage.

The first set, the one that went viral on YouTube, with the rotating stage, how did you get the engineering to make that happen on such short notice?

We came up with that idea and we gave them the specs to work on it.  That was the easiest one to come up with because it was our first performance and we had four weeks to plan that with the engineers and producers and find someone in California that could build a stage like that for us.  We had a week and half to come up with the van idea, then we had three days to come up with the water idea.  You’re writing one show and thinking to move ahead … you’re planning one show ahead, but trying not to think that you’re going to make it.  So it’s like a really, really mentally grueling show, especially for a band like us.  A singing group can just say, we’re going to sing this song.  We have to top what we did last time, every time we come out, and that is really hard to do.  Especially when you open with a performance like the rotating stage, and when we did that. Piers said afterwards in the interview that it was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen.  The good news is that, the bad news is good luck topping that show.

A lot of people may think this is an overnight sensation, but you’ve been at this for 14 years.  How does it feel after all that work, that one television show did so much for you, so fast?

As we’re 14 years of hard work, and it all is trumped by five weeks on that show.  It made us a hundred times bigger, made us celebrities and put a lot of things on our plate.  But if it wasn’t for those 14 years, we never would have finished third, we never would have had the experience to be up there with those guys.  All those years of practice on all those stages that’s why we were so good in the finals.  We were polished showmen.  If we just came out of the gate, if we had done this 8 years ago, we would have gotten laughed off that stage.

So next stop Vegas, after Vegas the world.  As I walked around backstage at Goffstown High on Monday, I noticed the world “perseverance” written on a wall.  Was that there when you were a student?

No, but that is something we always preach to people, it’s funny you say it.  Persistence, man, it’s like we’ve almost given up so many times.  It’s amazing, if we’d given up the five times … every time we almost give, we’re like oh let’s stick around a little more and see what happens, and this happens.  As big as this is, a moment in your life that changes the path your career takes, we know there’s even bigger stuff than that.  Maybe not for TV, but there is a streamline to wealth, fortune and creativity that’s sitting right in front of us.  It’s just a matter of grabbing it. We can see it right now, we’ve never been able to see it before and that just re-kindles the fire.

The thought of going to an engineer with an idea you wanted to in the past but couldn’t afford must be exciting.  Are there things fans are going to see that you always wanted to do but didn’t have the resources to make it happen?

Oh, yeah.  The next time Recycled Percussion performs, in Vegas … let me say never again.  We’ll never be the same ever again.  What we saw in Goffstown last night is going to be the past.  It’s going to be big production, big wows, and just crazy, crazy ideas.  That’s what makes this thing so special for all of us. We finally get to, as an artist, create these ideas that we had, and I’ll tell you, we’ve got some great ones.

This week’s Hippo – Black Brook Band

Switch Hitters – Black Brook Band Best New & Traditional NH Country Band

If versatility is the best measure of a bar band, the Black Brook Band has the country title. On Sunday, September 20, the New Hampshire Country Music Association (NHCMA) named the Manchester six-piece both best traditional and best new country band at their 22nd annual awards show.

With a repertoire of standards from performers like George Jones, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash, they’ve won the NHCMA traditional award before. In 2006, they took the state prize and went on to win the national title.

But this year was Black Brook’s first entering in the new country category.

The NHCMA competition is run, “Country Music Idol” style, with contestants performing for a panel of judges. Black Brook lead singer Marcus Knight says he didn’t expect to beat Jonathan Scott and the Blazing Hearts, who’d won multiple times in past years.

When the award was announced, says Knight, “I was numb. We were stunned that we took the both of them.”

Knight also took home a personal trophy, for best new country vocalist.

The Black Brook Band includes Shorty Champagne on guitar and pedal steel, Ray Ryan on lead guitar and vocals, the Vaillancourt brothers – Dick on bass and Bob on rhythm guitar – and “Puppet” Duperon, so nicknamed for his resemblance to the Muppet character Animal.

They’ve honed their versatility at places like Pelto’s Barn in Troy, where they play Saturday, October 3. When Pelto’s patrons ask for a little Elvis mixed in with “Big River,” the band is easy to oblige. Their set list includes everyone from Toby Keith to the Traveling Wilburys, along with the old school country the band’s members, all but one in their mid-fifties, grew up on.

Knight, born in Goffstown and raised in Manchester, lived with a musical family and started playing instruments at age 5. He learned to read music while in the Muchachos, a Manchester drum corps.

His home was typically filled with music. “My older brother was a DJ back in the days when they had sock hops,” he says. “My mother and father had a stereo and played all the old country songs. We used to get together every Saturday and have a family jam. We’d play all kinds of instruments and sing along to the records.”

Later Knight teamed up with his younger brother, Billy Joe, who sang with the band for a few years before bowing out for health reasons.  These days, Billy Joe serves as Black Brook’s sound engineer and occasional backup vocalist.

The band has released one album of original material, entitled Old 97. There are echoes of Slim Whitman on “Pretty Senorita,” while tracks like “Truck Driver Blues” and “Say Goodbye” have a modern country sound. Old 97 ends with “Tears Keep Falling,” a gospel song that Knight says “deals with things going on in the world today, and why God is crying making rain.”

Knight and the band will head to a New England regional contest in Manchester, Conn. on Oct. 10th. Regardless of how that turns out, they will go to the national competition next March in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – the site of their 2007 victory.

Knight is busy clearing his work schedule for the trip (all of Black Brook’s members hold down regular jobs), but doubts it can top the rush of winning in 2007.

“That was the highest point,” he says. “We performed in front of over 1,500 people. The place was twice as big as the Palace Theater. You could fit the Palace Theater on their stage.”

BOX ME

What: Black Brook Band

When: Saturday, October 3 at 8:30 p.m.

Where: Pelto’s Barn, 161 Bigelow Hill Road, Troy

Tickets: $7.00 a Person $13.00 a Couple, 21+

Additional:  http://www.peltosbarnsite.com

Other upcoming Black Brook Band shows:

Saturday, October 10, 2009 8:30pm – American Legion, 96 Islington Street, Portsmouth
Friday, October 16, 2009 9:00pm – Shenanigans, White River Junction, VT
Saturday, October 31, 2009 8:00pm – Circle 9 Ranch, Epsom
Friday, November 6, 2009 6:00pm – Workman’s Club, 183 Douglas Street, Manchester

Local Rhythms – That’s customer service

Screen shot 2009-10-01 at 9.29.07 AMMusically, summer began early and ended late this year.  But what do you call the damp chilliness that came in between?

Summer for hobbits, perhaps.  I know I felt like a mushroom for most of the last three months.

The words “rain or shine” had a poignant meaning for anyone trying to make or enjoy music. Every ticket purchase was a bet on the weather.  July was a washout, and August wasn’t much better.

For promoters trying to do business in this down economy, things were bleak indeed.  Live Nation lawn seats went unsold by the thousands, even when practically given away.

Of course, after years of sticking it to fans with inflated prices, ridiculous fees and scalping good tickets, their comeuppance was overdue.

Still, it seemed like Mother Nature was piling on.

Taking care of customers can be rewarding, however. Two examples stand out.

In early June, Roots on the River celebrated its 10th year in Bellows Falls with four blissful days of music, most of them rain-free.  It began as a whimsical way to bring Fred Eaglesmith to town for a couple of days, now “Fred Fest” is an institution.

Ray Massucco dubbed this year’s event “Fred X” – an absolutely, positively good time.  “Fredheads,” as Mr. Eaglesmith’s fans are fondly known, responded in force.  Deluxe weekend packages, including goodie bags and other special treats, were close to sold out.

But everyone, courtesy of Ray, got a piece of cake.  That’s taking care of business.

Over in the Lakes Region, Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion presented 25 shows, ranging from classic rock, jazz, indie and a lot of country music.  Unlike many in the business, when their season ended, Meadowbrook’s management was pleased.

Next year will commence Gilford facility’s 15th year.  It began as a portable stage and folding chairs in the middle of a field, now it’s the classiest concert facility in all of New England.  Its’ sightlines, concessions and margaritas are the best around.

What’s amazing to me is that many people barely know it exists.

One trip should change that.

A building is just concrete and steel. The Meadowbrook difference is the smile on every employee’s face and the customer care that’s constantly on display.  Little touches like free parking, same-day ticket deals and letting fans lay away seats matter too.

As Alan Jackson sang “Remember When” on Saturday, I recalled when customer service and live music weren’t mutually exclusive.

Fortunately, such care survives in Bellows Falls and Gilford.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Oct. 1: Acoustic Coalition, Hartness House – Here’s something new. An acoustic open mike series that’s been running for years in Woodstock and Quechee comes to Springfield, Vermont, hosted by Mark Koch.  The Hartness House is a beautiful old mansion with tons of charm, with plans for more music in the weeks to come (like Hungrytown’s Rebecca Hall next Thursday).

Friday, Oct. 2: Bob Marley, Claremont Opera House – One of the funniest people alive, and the hardest working comedian I know is back for another area show.  Unlike many comics, Bob brings a new set of material every time he comes to town.  He can form a bit in his head in the morning and have it audience-ready by the time he walks on stage, riffing on current events, his parents and life in New England.  He’s the essence of Ha!

Saturday, Oct. 3: Christabel & the Jons, Salt hill Pub – A Knoxville, Tenn. band led by a singer with an angelic voice, backed by a band featuring upright bass, violin, accordion and occasionally trumpet.  Their new album, “Custom Made for You,” reminds me of another Knoxville chanteuse, Robinella, mixed with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks.  Another awesomely cool “get” for the Lebanon pub – how do they do it?

Sunday, Oct. 4: Paddle Battle, Herrick’s Cove – Amidst resplendent foliage, canoe enthusiasts of all levels will enjoy the Connecticut River, either by relaxing or pushing themselves to the limit.  There’s a course laid out for the serious racer, while casual paddlers can enter an open class race, or help with river cleanup.  Music provided by Springfield legends the Illusion, a band that’s been at it for over 40 years. More: http://www.ctrpaddlebattle.com

Monday, Oct. 5: This is Our Victory Tour, Hooker-Dunham (Brattleboro) – A metal show with Beneath the Sky, Corpus Christi, A Breath Beyond Broken and two others.  Presented by Graveyard Booking, also doing a 7-band show at Springfield’s newest venue, 802 Music, on Saturday, Oct. 3.

Wednesday, Oct. 7: Emily Lanier, Marshland Farm – I enjoyed her with New Kind of Blue.  After leaving that group, the jazz vocalist formed the Emily Lanier Jazz Ensemble, with a rotating pool of talent playing a steady diet of standards like “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” “Deed I Do” and “Stormy Weather.”

Players – Artist Spotlight

StonewallWho: Stonewall
What: Old school power trio with a metal edge
Sounds like: Stone Temple Pilots, Mountain and Metallica

Stonewall presents an energetic hybrid of metal and melody.  Live, they are one of the hardest rocking outfits around.  For many years, the were quite literally the band to beat, as several “battle of the bands” contestants left in their musical dust could well attest.

Last year, the Vermont band released its first full-length album, “What If?”   It was definitely worth the wait, drawing comparisons to the blues-rock fusion of early Led Zeppelin and the post-millennial angst of Alice in Chains.  Lead guitarist Josh Parker handles the vocals with a moaning baritone, which hovers just above a growl.  Drummer Ryan Young and six-string bassist Philip Chiu provide a brawny rhythm section

If they’re reminiscent of anyone, it’s bands whose heyday came long before anyone in the band was born.  The James Gang, Mountain and Three Man Army – the youngsters in Stonewall may not know these relics by name, but be assured their spirit lives in their music.

“What If?” was several years in the making, but Stonewall reportedly has new songs in the works.  Hopefully, a follow-up won’t take so long.

Upcoming gigs:

Friday, Oct. 2 – Imperial Lounge, Claremont
Friday, Oct. 16 – Blue Shamrock, Lowell, Mass.
Saturday, Oct. 17 – Paingivers Ball, Claremont Moose Lodge
Saturday, Nov. 7 2009 – Shenanigans, White River Junction
Thursday, Nov. 19 – Landmark College, Putney, Vermont
Friday, Dec. 4 – Imperial Lounge, Claremont

Beyond – Worth driving out of town

MichelleMaloneCapitol Center for the Arts
44 South Main Street
Concord, NH

Distance: 59 miles
Why: Michelle Malone opening for the Indigo Girls
When: Sunday, October 4, 7:30 PM
Tickets: $12.50-$42.50
http://www.ccanh.com

How did someone this good stay under the radar for so long? That’s what comes to mind while listening to Debris, Malone’s slide-guitar punctuated collection of reckless youth, stalkers and one-night stands. It’s raw Americana, a fist in the face retort to the Stones’ Some Girls, 30 years on.

The Atlanta, Georgia native has a blues grrrl trifecta going – a howl at the moon voice, harmonica chops and a knack for coaxing killer licks from a vintage Supro Dual Tone guitar (Link Wray’s axe of choice).  With smart songs containing lines like, “the Tennessee river’s just a block away/I could jump in at anytime,” you feel her pain.  Playing live, she stays front and center, backed by just a bass player and a drummer.

Since 1988, Malone’s made 10 solo albums, and worked with some industry heavyweights.  Clive Davis signed her first band, Drag the River, to Arista in 1990, and Walter Yentikoff had her under contract for a time.

She must have learned her lesson – now she runs her own label.