Local Rhythms – Led Zeppelin “Idol”

The latest news for the Zeppelin-obsessed came last week, when Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford revealed that Steven Tyler recently jammed with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham in a London studio.

Don’t read too much into it, though.

Tyler idolized bands like the Yardbirds, Cream and Zeppelin back in his Sunapee Barn days, so I’m sure he had a fantastic time. But Whitford says Page’s high-powered invite was really designed to goad Robert Plant into touring.

“He was trying to light a fire under Robert,” Whitford told a British TV host. “Come on! Come on, Robert, let’s go!”

God bless him, Plant didn’t bite. A statement on the singer’s web site called the rumors “both frustrating and ridiculous.”

For that, he’s still my hero.

Jones, however, who seethed when Page/Plant made “Unledded” in the mid-90’s without him, is fixated on a classic rock payday. “But we don’t want to be our own tribute band,” the bassist told the BBC.

To which I reply, why not?  Boston plucked their new lead singer from a karaoke bar; Journey found Steve Perry’s doppelganger on YouTube.

More recently, Yes replaced the ailing Jon Anderson with Benoit David, who until the call came had been fronting – you guessed it – a Yes tribute band.

This could make for great reality television. I know, INXS did it on “Rock Star,” but their lead singer was dead.

Robert Plant is very much alive, and apparently doesn’t have any plans for the next couple of years beyond a possible follow-up to “Raising Sand,” the album he made with Allison Krauss.

Though he may not be interested in playing with Led Zeppelin, perhaps Plant could be coaxed into helping pick his replacement.

Picture it – with dreams of stadium shows filling their heads, cover bands count off “Whole Lotta Love” with renewed vigor.

Aging rockers clear out garage practice space, and once again squeeze into ripped old bell bottomed jeans – all for a chance at the top.

High drama ensues when Plant, weary of these Golden God wannabes, says, “sod it all, I’ll do it myself,” and then demurs.

As each hopeful takes a shot, real time ticket price estimates crawl across the screen like a Dow Jones report.  That, after all, is the reason for the exercise.  How much will fans pay to see this farce?

I’ve got a better idea – save your money, and check out some local talent:

Thursday: Jason Cann, Casa del Sol – When this newly opened Ascutney restaurant was known as Moguls in the 1980s, it hosted bands like Foghat and Marshall Tucker. The live music tradition continues weekly with Cann, one of my favorite local singer-songwriters, and in January, Wise Rokobili will perform Saturdays.   There are plans to present even bigger names in the future – good news indeed.

Friday: Red Molly, Boccelli’s – This trio, who met around a Falcon Ridge campfire a few years back, has built an avid area following since playing the Roots on the River festival in 2007.  Their gorgeous harmonies can take your breath away. I could watch them for hours.  Upper Valley fans got a taste of them last summer. If you like smooth, elegant folk music, you’ll love Red Molly.

Saturday: 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 (who must love the exposure), and life in New England -the essence of Ha!

Sunday: Nine Inch Nails, Worcester Centrum – I don’t typically plug many arena shows, but it’s worth noting that as the music business implodes, NIN (who play in Manchester Saturday) is thriving.  Why?  Leader Trent Reznor does right by the fans.   He gives away entire albums on the band’s web site, has no label and kowtows to no bosses.  He keeps things interesting and never forgets the reason for his success – and NIN sells out everywhere they appear.

Tuesday: Dartmouth Wind Symphony, Spaulding Auditorium – Highbrow music from an ensemble celebrating its 25th year with founder/director Max Culpepper.  This show features selections from Aida, Carmen, Madame Butterfly, the Marriage of Figaro and other masterpieces, arranged for flute, clarinet, trumpet and other wind instruments.

Wednesday: Off the Beaten Path, Woodstock Town Hall Theatre – Subtitled “A Jazz Tap Odyssey,” this program joins a jazz quartet consisting of piano, bass, drums and woodwinds with a company of six tap dancers.  They perform a program inspired by proto-environmentalist author Rachel Carson.  There’s a special “Arts In Education” program for school kids at 12:30, and a public performance at 7:30.

Local Rhythms – Salt hill Delivers For MDA

A few expressions come to mind when I think of Salt hill Pub. “If you’re drinking to forget, please pay first” is a favorite. “Work is the curse of the drinking class” is another.  The Oscar Wilde quote is printed on the back of the staff’s t-shirts.

“Next time, bring your wife” is written in a frame at the bar.  That’s now much easier for recently married proprietor Josh Tuohy.

My congratulations go out to Josh and his new bride, Meggin.

But there’s one saying that particularly stands out for an inveterate music fan like me – “never a cover charge” for live bands playing 4 nights a week.

This includes regular visits from out of town performers like Oneside, Sirsy and the Churchills, not to mention many local talents – like Pete Merrigan and Dr. Burma, who grace the Pub’s stage this Friday and Saturday.

Once or twice a year, however, there’s a cost to get in – for a good cause.

On Sunday, October 19, Salt hill Pub will host a show to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Hampshire.

Wherehouse, a rock trio led by one of my favorite songwriters, Jason Cann, will count off at 6 PM.  All ticket proceeds with go to MDA-NH, as will 20 percent of pub receipts collected after 5 PM.

“We’re always excited to host Wherehouse at Salt hill Pub,” Josh said in a recent press release publicizing the show.  “Jason, Scott and Shane are gracious to donate their talents to support this great cause.”

He also remarked on the band’s “innate ability to keep an entire crowd dancing all night long,” something I can definitely attest to.

The suggested donation for the show is $8.00 – feel free to give more if you like to this worthy charity.

MD affects all ages and all races.  Money raised will help support efforts like the Dartmouth-Hitchcock MDA Clinic, which provides care and treatment for MD patients.

Donations also support research into cures for the degenerative disease.

The MDA relies primarily on private donations, seeking no government funding, United Way money or fees from those it serves.  It’s efforts like this one that keep it going.

The music community is second to none in its’ support of worthy causes.

Salt hill is a great supporter of music, and with this effort, the two camps are teaming up to make a difference.

They deserve your support.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday: Samirah Evans, Elixir – After Hurricane Katrina, this talented jazz singer moved to Brattleboro with her husband.  Staying in New Orleans became untenable.  The Crescent City’s loss is our gain.  Tonight, former Roomful of Blues piano player Matt McCabe and bassist David Westphalen join Evans.  The evening of song featuring selections from her debut CD, Give Me a Moment, and her soon-to-be released My Little Bodhisattva.

Friday: Roadhouse, Imperial Lounge – A working class band that’s been kicking it for over 15 years – I guess because, like the song, they love rock and roll.  With a Joplin-esque lead singer in front, the band also covers the Joan Jett hit, along with less well known tunes by bands like Drivin’ & Cryin’ (very cool) and Sass Jordan.  They also cover Foghat’s “I Just Wanna Make Love To You,” but I’d like to hear them do Cold Blood’s slow and steamy version sometime.

Saturday: Brand New Sin, Claremont Moose – A band familiar to WWE fans, Brand New Sin recently welcomed Joe Sweet (formerly of Nine Ball) as their lead singer.  They’ve recorded a pair of new songs, which are available on the band’s MySpace page.  The five-band show also features Stonewall, Spectris, Skulltoboggan and Misery.  The all-ages show starts at 5:30, and tickets are 10 dollars.

Sunday: Vermont Fiddle Contests (Lecture), Bethel Middle Grange Hall – Adam Boyce’s presentation, “Old-Time Rules will Prevail: The Fiddle Contest in Vermont,” looks at this homegrown phenomenon.  Fiddle contests have evolved over the years from endurance events to talent contests. According to a press release, the program will include rare recordings of past competitions, as well as some live fiddling by the presenter.

Tuesday: Arturo Sandoval, Spaulding Auditorium – This amazing trumpet player can’t be pinned down to a single genre, playing Afro-Cuban grooves, bebop rhythms and seductive ballads.  One thing is constant, however.  Sandoval does incredible things with his horn, playing impossible to chart runs with staggering speed and precision.  The late Dizzy Gillespie called him “one of the best,” and that’s saying a lot.

Wednesday: Donavon Frankenreiter/Sara Watkins, Higher Ground –
The surfer/songwriter just released “Pass It Around,” which easily moves from coffeehouse folk to SoCal pop.  Fiddler Watkins is on hiatus from Nickel Creek.  The Scrolls, the supergroup that includes Sara’s brother Sean, Glenn Phillips, Benmont Tench and Pete Thomas, have an album due next year.

Local Rhythms – Business May Suck, But Music Is Fine

As the New Year dawns, it’s safe to say that the music business is nursing a big 2007 hangover. 

It’s not just the declining compact disc market, which has dropped steadily since Napster arrived on the scene in 1999.  Nor is it simply the perceived cost of illegal downloading, which can’t be sued out of existence.

Even the concert business took it on the chin last year, down almost 17 percent from 2006.  This despite big tours by the Police, Justin Timberlake and Hannah Montana 

The industry, when it wasn’t launching lawsuits or layoffs, responded with a grudging acknowledgement of the inevitable.  EMI stripped copy protection from its iTunes songs, and last week Warner Brothers did the same with web partner Amazon.

Now even Led Zeppelin can be bought on the Net and played on any portable player – but it may be too little, too late. 

So the business is hurting – does that mean music itself is doomed?  Hardly.

Bands like Radiohead and the Eagles made headlines by taking business matters into their own hands, self-releasing albums or crafting lucrative independent deals.  But for every superstar like Madonna (who formed what may turn out to be a dubious alliance with promoter Live Nation) there were hundreds, if not thousands of artists bypassing the historic control of record companies to do it, by varying degrees, their way. 

All the while, they quietly and tenaciously reshaped the world.   With computers, music is easier to make; with the Internet it’s simpler to share.

As David Byrne points out in an excellent piece he wrote for this month’s Wired: “the future of music as a career is wide open.” 

To Byrne, who knows the business both as a performer (Talking Heads) and label honcho (Luka Bop), the record companies aren’t good for much more than up-front money.  Packaging, marketing, distribution and the overhead required to maintain them represent more than half the cost of a CD.

In these days of digital delivery, such services are unnecessary.  The businesses that provide them are worse than in trouble – they’re irrelevant.   

More to the point, with bands no longer paying for jewel cases, warehouses and shelf space, making music is cheap enough that giving it away isn’t crazy, it’s shrewd.

Case in point: many bands mentioned in Local Rhythms offer free songs on MySpace and the web. You listen and, curiosity piqued, go see them play live – no record label required.  

Here are just a few:

Thursday: Bang Camaro, Pickle Barrel – Winners of this year’s Boston Music Award for best band and song, this group strips away the excess from hard rock.  No, wait – they remove everything BUT the excess, and the results make Queen, Skid Row and G n’ R fans quiver.  Often accompanied by a 10-plus member “choir,” theirs is a big sound indeed – positively monstrous.  How ever will they cram themselves onto the tiny Killington stage? 

Friday: Jason Cann, Bistro Nouveau at Eastman – A talented troubadour with a fine collection of covers by the likes of James Taylor, Van Morrison and even Tracy Chapman (his surprising take of “Fast Car”).  I’m most impressed with his many original songs – none of which, alas, is posted on his web page.  If the world knew about Jason Cann’s talents, he’d be much more than a mainstay at local clubs like Elixir, Skunk Hollow and Bistro Nouveau.  Check him out.

Saturday: Squids, Salt Hill Two – Brian Kennell’s band of merry men (and women – vocalist Leslee Glidden) are the ultimate party band.   Every song they cue up is a favorite, and they play with love and affection.  That’s the reason anyone should make music, and it surely explains why Brian lends a hand with a few other area bands when he’s not thumping bass for the Squids.  Salt Hill Two, I should add, is a local treasure as well as a great bar. 

Sunday:  Fogey Mountain Boys, Canoe Club – When it comes to side projects, this one is definitely the topper.  Every musician in this outstanding roots/bluegrass band – Mike Gareau on fiddle, mandolin player John Currie, Pete Gould singing and playing guitar, bassist Lisa Rogak, Ford Daley on dobro & Steve Hennig picking the banjo – works solo or spends time with at least one (usually more) other area band.  We have a rich local music scene, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.  I love this stuff.

Wednesday: Mars Volta, Higher Ground – Pushing the musical envelope, this is not for those craving melodies.  They’re at times near industrial, reminiscent of Pere Ubu, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, then veering off into a hybrid of speed metal and Captain Beefheart.  But what do I know?  Their uncompromising approach, which can be equally punishing and rewarding, has a huge, international following. 

Local Rhythms – Live Free Or Die

lrnewsmall.jpgAdapted from a previous post

There’s nothing like seeing your town on the big screen, and for many in attendance at the “Live Free Or Die” premiere Monday night at the Claremont Cinema, that was the main draw.  It isn’t for all tastes; there are more F-bombs in the film’s 90 minutes than a lot of the audience had probably heard their entire lives.

But seeing Shirley’s Donut Shop and Lambert Supply on the big screen made it all worthwhile.

The film’s profanity may be shocking, but that’s the way a real guy like fast-talking loser John “Rugged” Rudgate would operate.   To their credit, co-directors (and former “Seinfeld” writers) Greg Kavet and Andy Robin didn’t flinch when creating him, and Aaron Stanford’s star turn as Rugged is, to use the character’s favorite phrase, “shit hot.”

The small-time criminal blusters with every breath, plotting low-margin scams and paying his rent with ill-gotten rebate checks. All the while, a real crime wave grows around him in a seemingly parallel universe; it’s a neighborhood that Rugged will, of course, ultimately stumble into – and at just the wrong time.

Stanford’s good, but Paul Schneider (”Family Stone,” “Elizabethtown”) is even better, quietly stealing scene after scene as Lagrand, Rugged’s dimwitted sidekick.  With each toss of his hair, Schneider gives the film a “Napoleon Dynamite” meets “Blood Simple” charm.  It has the Coen Brothers’ sensibilities, but without the wood chipper that turned happy-go-lucky “Fargo” into Midwestern Gothic.

Contributions from top-notch character actors like Judah Friedlander (”American Splendor”), who has a memorable turn as a foul-mouthed hardware store owner, and Ultimate Fight Club wannabe Alex Gazaniga, played with equal parts stupid and sinister by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (”Mona Lisa Smile”), could well lift “Live Free or Die” from a cult sensation (it won Best Narrative at the last years SXSW) to a solid smash on a par with “Clerks” or “Garden State.” The writing’s certainly good enough, and the performances are dead-on.

I only wish Zooey Deschanel (”Elf,” “Failure to Launch”) had gotten more on-screen time as Lagrand’s sister Cheryl.  She’s apparently the only competent adult who isn’t a police officer in the fictional town of Rutland, New Hampshire (Rutland? THAT bit of dramatic license sure drew some chortles Monday night).

What I’m ultimately saying is that you should go see “Live Free or Die” when it opens tomorrow – not just because it was filmed in Claremont.

See it because it’s a shit hot funny movie.  Now, what else is going on this weekend?

Thursday: Jason Cann, Brown’s Tavern – Sadly, this in-demand singer/guitarist’s busy schedule precluded him from playing a farewell set at Claremont’s Bistro Nouveau.  He’ll be performing at the new locations in Springfield and Eastman later in the month.  Jason’s built quite an Ascutney following with his easy on the ears catalog of songs that include the Dead, Dave Matthews and Dan Loggins.

Friday: Roland Yamaguchi Band, Sophie & Zeke’s – The music lineup at downtown Claremont’s favorite dinner spot changes a bit in the coming weeks.  Tonight, it’s a reconfigured New Kind of Blue, sans vocalist Emily Lanier.  There are some new faces in April, including upcoming Thursday dinner sets from the Norm Wolfe/Peter Concilio duo, and Draa Hobbs with sax player Michael Zsoldos.

Saturday:  George’s Back Pocket, Boccelli’s on the Canal – Listening to Rutland singer/guitarist George “G.V.” Nostrand’s music on his web site, I’m reminded of bluegrass skiffle bands like Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks or Asleep at the Wheel.  Nostrand played and recorded a well-received set at the Windham before it closed last year.   Tonight, he’s at Bellows Falls’ newest music venue.

Sunday: Green Mountain Shuffle, Middle Earth Music Hall – Since we’re discussing indie films, it’s worth mentioning the first movie from Vermont musician and writer Michael T. Hahn, which gets a 2 PM screening today.  Starring Heather Fitch, Adam Desautels and Derek Campbell, “Green Mountain Shuffle” is described as “an unforgettable tale of passion, deceit and redemption.”  It also features performances by Hahn’s eponymous band.

Tuesday: Taylor Hicks/Toby Lightman, Avalon (Boston) – As the current “American Idol” circus lurches through another season, last year’s winner proves there’s no guarantee of success beyond the title.  He’s no Carrie Underwood in the record sales department, and the Avalon isn’t the EnormoDome either.  The best thing about this show is Toby Lightman, the Philly chanteuse who could have been an Idol if she’d wanted to.

Wednesday: Lunasa, Chandler Music Hall – Randolph, Vermont’s jewel of an opera house was born from, of all things, a church merger in 1907.  Renovated in the 1970s, it’s hosted both local and international talent. Tonight, it’s a fine Celtic band, rich in tradition but with state of the art playing skills.  It features members of the Waterboys, Donal Lunny’s Coolfin and the Riverdance band.

Weekend Review

boccellis.JPGIt felt like a fall evening in Bellow Falls last Friday, with a smattering of rain and overflowing cheer at Boccelli’s on the Canal. As Josh Maiocco took the stage, I was reminded why the scene there is so compelling. Josh played a couple of his original songs, then remarked, “it’s great to have an … audience.” Guys like Josh (and co-headliner Jesse Peters, and Colin McCaffrey, Jason Cann, Chris Kleeman) play songs which deserve to be heard, yet too often suffer the indignity of being background music. Not in BF, where Boccelli’s fans sat and paid attention.

Charlie Hunter, who came out of retirement to present shows for Boccelli’s, introduced the performers and also confirmed that the tentative Dave Alvin & the Lonely Men show is now confirmed for February 1. I haven’t seen Charlie looking so chuffed in a long time.

Also in attendance was Ezra Veitch, who had plans to leave the area for Arkansas last fall that “fell through.” Ezra’s been out of action due to a hand injury that’s fortunately now on the mend. He told me he’s mixing a Mr. Burns album; he also said it won’t be heard on MySpace. “I don’t like their policies,” he said, referring to the social networking site’s willingness to allow pages from “artists” who are really fans. This situation is benign sometimes – Shana Morrisonwas “surprised” to find out she had a MySpace page neither she nor her management set up, but professed that it stayed up to date and was basically a good tool for her fans. Not so in Ezra’s case.

I was only able to stick around for Josh’s set, but I did see a Josh/Jesse duet that was pretty good. Josh is s very talented songwriter, and line from one of his songs sort of summed up the night for me:

“It’s winter then it’s spring and now it’s winter/there should be a name for the season in between”

That’s the way the weather is, and that’s the way Bellows Falls has been, never letting the twin devastation of a big venue’s closing and the fire at Oona’s kill their spirit. A mostly packed house helped celebrate the return of spring to one of the area’s vital musical homes.

Later, I headed back to Claremont to catch Al Alessi and Bill Wightman’s second set at Sophie & Zeke’s. Bill’s looking forward to the next JOSA show, and both he and Al are exicited about January 20 at the Newport Opera House. Though the show’s being advertised as the Al Alessi Band, it’s really a full-band version of what Al and Bill do the first Monday of every month in Claremont – a dip into the Great American Songbook with a healthy dose of jazz. It’s a huge hit at Sophie & Zeke’s, and I’m sure it will wow the crowd in Newport.

I wasn’t able to get to Bistro Nouveau for Jason Cann’s Saturday set, but I assure you that he was a crowd pleaser. I took some guests to the Shana Morrison show December 29; Jason opened, and at least two of the women there wanted more Jason. Mr. Cann’s original songs are quite good. “Inside Information,” in particular, is timely, topical and soulful. He also does some clever covers – he re-worked Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” in a different key with a slowed down tempo and exposed a part of the song I’d not seen before.

Jason plays open mike at the cramped and often indifferent Skunk Hollow every Wednesday, and most every Friday in Ascutney.

Speaking of Ascutney, the next big show there is the duo of Barry Goudreau (Boston) and James Montgomery. I hope they do it in a different room than the Crow’s Nest, which is IMHO unsuitable for concerts. Background music, maybe, but if you actually want to concentrate on the band, there’s nary a good vantage point anywhere.

I also heard a rumor that there may be an outdoor CSN show in the summer. We’ll wait and see on that one.