Conniption Fits – A Heaping Helping of Perspective

picture-12When it comes to trios, there’s power and finesse. “A Heaping Help of Perspective” marks the Conniption Fits’ first outing as a three-piece (guitarist Tuck Stocking left after 2006’s “Airplane Rides”), and fortunately, they opted for the latter.

For their second album, the Fairlee-based band eschew crushing chords for tasteful guitar figures and expert singing, while resisting the temptation to overproduce, trusting a well-oiled core unit do its work.

Don’t get me wrong – the record is not without punch and swagger.  You’d expect nothing less from a band that made their bones satiating bar patrons hungry for Foo Fighters and Gin Blossoms covers. Heck, guitarist Stevens Blanchard alone has been at it for half his life.

It just doesn’t need to beat listeners over the head to prove that it rocks.

Examples?  The roiling “Game of Grace,” which opens like a power pop version of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”  Or “Grit Your Teeth,” with a middle bridge evocative of “Synchronicity,” a runaway train of a song done by perhaps the finest finesse trio of them all, the Police.

The best moments come when guitarist Stevens Blanchard, drummer Seth Roya and bass player Erik Von Geldern blend modern angst with Big 80’s gusto.  This Weezer meets Def Leppard formula is evident on the perfectly executed “Get Off.”   The track features reggae-rock interludes mixed with lush three-part harmonies (all the band members sing, and there’s nary an overdub).

The record’s short – just 8 songs total, but it’s 30 minutes of real chemistry, self-produced with no sidemen.  For the most part, it has precision without sounding labored, spontaneity without feeling too loose.  The energy level never flags (there’s only one ballad, the dreamy, disc-ending “Time Remains”), and there’s a constant sense that these guys thoroughly enjoy playing together.

“Willing To Try Again” succeeds where the overly frenetic “(She Just Needs to Go) Away” fails, going from a whisper to a scream with poise and nuance.  Despite somewhat clumsy lyrics (“I need a crutch and one that’s not worn down” – huh?), this is also true on “Come Undone (Only Me to Blame)” – a close contender with “Get Off” for the record’s best track.

The song starts out teasing at being a ballad, then riffs a bit of rock and reggae (the album’s Police homage tendencies becomes clear with the liner notes, which thank Sting and Messrs. Copeland and Summers by name).  In between jazz-tinged drum runs and juicy guitar jangle, it soars into rock and roll heaven.

Whether consumed a la carte or by the whole disc, “A Heaping Helping of Perspective” is a delicious platter of music. The record is available on iTunes, CD Baby and the band’s web site, with select tracks streaming on MySpace.

Upcoming Conniption Fits appearances:

Jun 13 2009      The Woodstock Inn     Woodstock, NH
Jul 11 2009     The Woodstock Inn     Woodstock, NH
Jul 17 2009     Connecticut Valley Fair     Bradford, VT
Sep 4 2009     Derryfield Country Club     Manchester, NH
Oct 10 2009     Shenanigans         White River Junction, VT

Local Rhythms – Shenanigans Supports Local Music

stonewall-sml.jpgA couple of months ago, the Upper Valley music scene’s ubiquity dimmed a bit when Shenanigans switched to a “house band” live music format. The nightclub, located next to the Astrobowl in White River Junction, used to book different performers every Friday and Saturday night.

Fortunately, that’s changing.

“Honestly, from the get-go I couldn’t wait to see it stop,” says Dennis Naylor, who recently took over management responsibilities. “People rely on something new.”

That’s a fresh outlook indeed, and when Naylor took over booking the music, he thought an open audition call of sorts might bring some variety to the venue.

That’s the idea behind the “Shenanigans Battle of the Bands,” which began last week.

“There’s so many bands out there that you don’t get to hear unless you go to one particular bar,” says Naylor. “The CDs you get … have been doctored up in the studio, and this is better than trying out a new band on Saturday night and finding out they’re horrible.”

Some of the area’s best stepped up – Sarvela, an AC/DC-inspired WRJ band won last week, and Stonewall battles D’brotherhood tonight.

Next week Four of Clubs and Reality Check compete.

The three first round winners meet in the finals May 24, and the winner gets a cash prize with a headline slot at Shenanigans on Saturday, May 26.

“We got so many bands that we’re going to do a second one in June,” says Naylor.

In the meantime, house bands are history, and one of Dennis’s favorites plays this Saturday. Conniption Fits features former members of Syd and the veteran area band Motorplant; their fine new CD, “Airplane Rides,” is getting airplay on more than a few area radio stations.

There’s a vibrant area music scene happening, and it’s great to see Shenanigans back on board with it. Where the recent talk was, in Naylor’s words, “want to go to Shenanigans? No, they had the same band last week,” now there’s plans for even more local talent.

Next month, the club is adding live music to the vintage car show they do every year. “It will probably feature one of those small local bands,” Naylor says.

With his novel competitition to pick a Saturday band catching on, there could also be a lot more Thursday night rocking going on in White River.

What else is shaking this weekend?

Thursday: Falcon Ridge “Most Wanted Showcase, Middle Earth – Each year the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival has an all-day New Artist Showcase, where juried performers play three tunes apiece. The well-heeled audience then votes on the top three, who are invited back and are also featured on a pre-festival tour, which stops tonight in Bradford. Red Molly is an all-female three-piece with great harmonies, Ellis plays her own brand of spirited acoustic rock, and Pat Wictor is, simply, worldly wise.

Friday: Pete Merrigan, Sophie & Zeke’s – It’s the long-awaited return of “Three Season Pete,” and can summer be far behind? He’s like “Cheers”with a beret – he knows everybody’s name. A word of advice – make reservations if you want to enjoy Merrigan’s happy-go-lucky blend of picking, singing and banter. Downtown Claremont’s favorite dining spot is sure to be packed for this one.

Saturday: Soak, Heritage – A new band in the box at Charlestown’s favorite music spot, this time a Allman Brothers/Grateful Dead-inspired three piece from Manchester. You can listen to their stuff on MySpace (www.myspace.com/soaknh), but the real fun happens when Soak plays live. Look for a big Memorial Day party in two weeks at the under-new-ownership Heritage, with Sun King, Stonewall and the Highball Heroes – always a great time.

Sunday: James Keelaghan, Boccelli’s – Recently, I failed to give this Juno-nominated songwriter credit for writing “Cold Missouri Waters,” done to perfection by Cry Cry Cry on their album, so I’m righting that wrong. Keelaghan has a great singing voice and a terrific catalog of songs, including “Jenny Brice” and “River Run.” He also did a nice cover on “Beautiful,” a tribute album to fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot released last year.

 

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt Hill – The musical circle in the center of Lebanon’s tavern on the green started and stopped in March. It resumes in earnest with the permanent trio of Chris Stevens on squeeze box, along with Roger Burridge and maestro/mainstay Dave Loney on fiddle. Anyone with a bit o’ talent can stop by and join in. A welcome return of an area tradition.

Wednesday: Michael Civiello, Old Courthouse – The Colby-Sawyer music direction tickles the ivories every Wednesday at this elegant, understated Newport eatery. His sound doesn’t dominate the room, but it always enhances it. A bit of jazz and classical to accompany an inventive menu. Highly recommended.

Local Rhythms – A Year of Highs and Lows

drburmasmall.jpgThis year’s local music scene is best summed up by one of my favorite all-purpose sayings – “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” I believe I heard it first, appropriately enough, in “The Sound of Music.”

There were more opening windows than closing doors in most places this year, but not, sadly, in Bellows Falls. In what seemed like one fell swoop, the Windham closed and Oona’s burned down. Roots on the River won’t be the same next year, but it got a raucous (if damp) sendoff in 2006 with scintillating performances from Crooked Still. Ingrid’s Ruse and James McMurtry – not to mention Fred Eaglesmith, who will definitely be returning next year. As, I hope, will Bellows Falls.

Newport’s short-lived Eagle Tavern shut its doors, but a few months later Josh and Joe Tuohy came to the rescue. Salt Hill Two – Joe confirmed the name last night – will open late next month.

In Springfield, the Royal Flush filled a void left with the closing of Morningstar Café, presenting lots of local talent, and cornering the market on tribute bands.

The aforementioned Ingrid’s Ruse epitomized the ups and downs of 2006. They released their only album and promptly broke up. The displeased gods (or the CD factory, depending on who you believe) held up the disk’s release, forcing the band to do two farewell shows at the Heritage. This year spelled the end of one of my favorite fusion bands, Oshe, but also the emergence of another – Oneside.

Hexerei endured personnel changes, but ended the year on a high note, winning a slot on the Family Values tour and releasing a new album. Stonewall finally put out a record, as did the Conniption Fits. All three bands shone at Rock the Whale, the high point of the summer (and maybe the year).

In Claremont, the new year began with the promise of a new downtown restaurant. Sophie and Zeke’s opened in the space formerly occupied by Café Cubana, and fast became an area magnet. In early summer, they began offering music, first with Thursday jazz (more on that later), then with a varied slate of other live talent.

Performers there included everyone from Pete “Three Season” Merrigan, Josh Parker of Stonewall playing solo, bluegrass from the Spiral Farm Band and Spare Change, and the smooth vocals of Al Alessi (with the stunning piano of Bill Wightman). In one year, “Sophie & Zeke’s” became synonymous with “music,” and is predictably packed most Thursday and Friday nights.

Tomorrow, Sophie and Zeke’s celebrates its first birthday, welcoming Dr. Burma for a raucous dance party. Bandleaders Ted Mortimer and Linda Boudreault are regular Friday night favorites with their blend of jazz and pop standards. During the dinner hour, they’ll stick to that format. Later, however, they’ll clear away a few tables and welcome the rest of the group for some high energy rock and soul.

What a perfect way to celebrate one of the great additions to the local scene. What else awaits in the coming days?

Thursday: New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – The band that started the musical ball rolling. Tom Caselli and Nate Thompson provide steady rhythm; Larry Welker adds guitar spice to the mix. Floating above it all is vocalist Emily Lanier, with an easy style that suits this room perfectly. Of all the versions of “Route 66” played at Sophie & Zeke’s this year (I’ve counted four so far), theirs is the best.

Friday: Gully Boys, Seven Barrels – I took way too long to check this band out, and I won’t make that mistake twice. They borrow from the likes of Widespread Panic, the Grateful Dead, Umphrey’s McGee and Phish. Their sound, however, is distinctive – quite a feat considering the many configurations of the band over the years. They fit nicely into Seven Barrels (no mean feat).

Saturday: Stonewall, The Heritage – One of the best Windham shows of the year, this band continues to be one of my favorites, a veritable three man army. A tip of the hat, while I’m at it, to Martin Hansen, for booking some of the best bands around to this odd-shaped Charlestown room. Here’s to another successful year.

New Year’s Eve: I’m going to switch up a bit and provide multiple picks for Sunday night. You decide. Start with dinner at Bistro Nouveau, then catch Dr. Burma at Salt Hill, where last year’s groovalicious show is still being talked about. Or greet 2007 with the Conniption Fits at Shenanigans; their new, punchy and crunchy CD will win them more fans this year. Yer Mother’s Onion, another shining light on the local scene, light up Seven Barrels. Finally, Jeremy Lyons and the Deltabilly Boys raise the roof at Middle Earth. Happy New Year!