Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Guitars of All Sorts Invade Pittsburgh


Lately, the writing assignments for Pittsburgh Current have been coming at such a rate, it almost feels like an actual full-time job. That's not a complaint in the least, but with the real job too, that doesn't leave much focus for things like blog entries. Then when I do have the time, I spent most of wondering if there's something else I should be doing. 

I turned 51 last weekend (October 7, for anyone who's keeping track) and while I didn't get the full day off from work, at least I didn't have to work the closing shift. After dinner with Mum and the family, I made it to Brillobox to catch the Major Stars, as well as local openers Terry & the Cops. (Dinner precluded getting to see the other opener, Ancient Skvlls [not a typo]). Major Stars are led by guitarists Wayne Rogers and Kate Village. For more background on the band, click here to see my preview on the show. 

Most bands have their personalities shaped by their singer. Not necessarily the case with Major Stars. Originally Rogers handled the vocals. But once he decided to devote all his attention to his guitar, three women have filled the slot, each bringing a dynamic set of pipes to the band. Noell Dorsey has been the vocalist for a couple years now and she has a voice that can hold its own when combined with the three-guitar onslaught of Rogers, Village and Tom Leonard. When the guitar solos were going - which was a major chunk of the set - she spent a good deal of time doing some impressionistic dancing/swaying to the music or, towards the end of the set, banging on a tambourine. She didn't seem to mind playing second fiddle to the guitars.


Some people might run screaming at the idea of three guitars, beaucoup solos and excessive volume. On paper it may seem like a dude thing, in the worst way possible. But Major Stars poked holes in that idea. For obvious starters, there's Village, who came off as the most physical player of the three. Armed with a hollowbody guitar, she ravaged it during the set, leaping offstage (almost colliding into several audience members) and working the feedback through it, with amazing and taste. Rogers also jumped towards us several times, in addition to stalking around the stage like a man with a mission. But he played with a sense of lifting the bandstand, not merely showing off. Leonard, who stayed back comparatively, had the tough task of maintaining himself between these two, and complementing Rogers' lines at times. He pulled that off in spades too. As far as volume, well, you can't have three guitars up there and expect to be polite and quiet.



Guitar music of a very different type was happening at Club Cafe this past Saturday. Bill MacKay grew up in Pittsburgh but moved away and calls Chicago his home. A couple years ago I wrote about an album he released with his band Darts and Arrows. More info about his recent work can be found here, in a piece I did for Pittsburgh Current

MacKay took the stage at a show that could have used at least a couple dozen more people. It was just him and an Epiphone, plus a few pedals and a glass slide. Something really peaceful and spellbinding happens when people play music this pure and honest. It's rich in melody, and filled with technique, which probably adds to the quality of it. But MacKay made it look easy to squeeze these harmonic fragments together with a little bit of fret noodling and a lot of focus. The show was so uplifting that the next morning, I took to social media in hopes of getting some friends out to see him play a free show at the Carnegie Library in Oakland. I'm not sure if anyone took me up on the idea of the 2 p.m. show, but one good friend bought some music online based on my tip, so I was glad to hear that.

I got there towards the end of a set by the local duo Pairdown, but liked what I heard. Most compelling was "70s Bert," a song inspired by guitarist Bert Jansch and another story about mystery and intrigue (I think), which they delivered with some gorgeous picking that was a direct link to Bert.




On the previous night, I was back at Brillobox for the album release by locals Mariage Blanc. (Read all about them here. See, I told you PC has become like a part-time job, rather than just freelance stuff here and there.) I realize I throw the word "dreamy" around quite a bit when talking about pop music, but the way guitarists Matt Ceraso and Josh Kretzmer play together, picking out complementing melodies, did sound pretty dreamy. Having listened intensively to Mirror Phrase, their new album, it was exciting to hear the music coming to life onstage. Not that the album lacks any humanity. But it is produced to sound like a complete work, whereas on Friday, I was watching four guys playing that music.

The only frustrating thing was the large contingent of people talking at loud volumes during the set. Unlike Major Stars, Mariage Blanc's music doesn't mow you down so much as pull you in. If you want to talk, people, go downstairs to that bar. You're not doing the band any favors. And you're missing out.

Mariage Blanc took what I like to call "the coveted second slot," between openers Andre Costello and the Cool Minors and headliners delicious pastries. I got there late (it was my first night not closing in several days, so I had family time) and I only caught the tail end of Costello's set. By the time delicious pastries went on, I was beat, bur I couldn't leave. These guys hardly ever play out and when they do, they make it Happening, combining the best of vintage psychedelic pop of the past and of the newer strain that comes from bands like Olivia Tremor Control. I caught myself nodding off while standing on my feet, and I still couldn't leave until they were done.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

CD Review: Geof Bradfield- Yes, and... Music for Nine Improvisers


Geof Bradfield
Yes, and... Music for Nine Improvisers
(Delmark) www.delmark.com

Considering this album comes from Delmark, which for decades has championed generations of free improvisers in Chicago, the title of Geof Bradfield's debut on the label gave the impression that this was going to be a session that might get pretty rowdy. Nine improvisers together can create a good ruckus. The opening "Prelude,"where Bradfield's tenor blows over a jerky vamp provided by bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall, didn't dispel the preconception either. Things never boil over but Bradfield takes some great intervallic leaps and the rhythm section gradually gets freer.

But the ensemble passages in "In Flux," which immediately follows "Prelude," take a different turn. They feature an airy, colorful blend of flute, bass clarinet, trumpets and trombone. Scott Hesse's guitar solos might toy with bar lines, but there isn't a trace of skronk to what he does. Then, if things seem to light, alto saxophonist Greg Ward changes all that in his all-too-brief solo, before one of the trumpets brings it back down. Something else is afoot here.

The Yes, and... part of the title is derived from an improvisational game used by the Compass Players. This theater group that originated in 1950s Chicago and has connections to comedy legend Shelley Berman (a personal hero), Second City (a successor) and Sun Ra (who was hired once to improvise behind the actors). In the "Yes...and" game, an actor would improvise a bit and the actor that followed them would use this phrase as a springboard to what they would then say, much like improvisation.

Bradfield used this concept for the whole album, which he wrote as a suite. "Prelude" and other short tracks like "Chorale" and "Ostinato" serve as quick breakout pieces for trios of the group. The remaining pieces present the whole group working together. The 14-minute "Anamneses" is the most successful of the longer ones. The ensemble moves in and out, sounding like they're agreeing with the soloists' thoughts. Hall's recurring woodblock hits act like a bonding agent to the setting. Anna Webber's bass flute gives the first section some rich color, followed by bigger dynamics and squawks from Russ Johnson's trumpet. Bradfield wraps it up with solo marked by some gruff vibrato.

Games of "Yes...and" probably went in directions that the players never expected. It was built on that sense of the unknown. In that same way, this album has a bit of a random quality that can be both engaging and disjointed. "Impossible Charms" leans closer to modern big band swing, with solos from trombonist Joel Adams and trumpeter Marquis Hill. The album concludes with "Forro Hermeto," a salute to the festive music of Hermeto Pascoal. It's a worthy ending, especially in the final minutes where the rhythm shifts into a highly-charged dance party. But on the basic listening level, it almost seems out of place considering all that has preceded it.

At this point, jazz music is open to all manner of composition approaches. Geof Bradfield has drawn on one from another artform that lends itself to the music. Although the results might be a bit far flung this time around, there are plenty of moments where the soloists and the ensemble passages bring it to life.

Monday, October 01, 2018

John Vanderslice Returned to Pittsburgh!



As a scrawny kid growing up in the part of Squirrel Hill, a Pittsburgh neighborhood, that bordered the Greenfield neighborhood, there were certain things you watched out for. Well, one thing in particular. If you made eye contact with certain types of dudes from Greenfield, you were likely to get a chest pumped in your face and accusations of "being bad." All because of eye contact. I was once accused of trying to be bad by a tough dude who stole a hat I was wearing. The threat came because I had the audacity to try and grab it back from him. And that didn't even happened on the streets of Greenfield. It was right before a CCD class at church.

But that was long ago. Greenfield is a different place now. Not only are those kinds of threats (hopefully) gone, but now there's a chance that a house on Greenfield Avenue might host one of your favorite singers when he plays an intimate set for about 35 people. That's just what happened this past Wednesday, when John Vanderslice set up shop for an evening.

I have to admit I had some apprehensions about the set-up. Vanderslice's songs of conspiracy theorists, dark threats, strange love and generally unwound narrators seem to draw people who really like his music a lot. (I fall into that category but my obsession has been in remission as of late.) These Vanderslice fans could be the type of people that consider an intimate living room concert the place where they can have one-on-one conversations with him between songs. These kinds of things happen at indie rock shows, so why not here.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The night was nothing like that. Clark, the host of the evening, was a gracious, enthusiastic host, as was his wife, whose name escapes me. (Sorry.) Their daughter Ada had a concession stand on the front porch, which several visitors patronized too.

And then there was John. He was in the midst of a living room tour because in 2014 he decided he was through with playing rock clubs. His song "Dear Sarah Shu," he said, is a metaphorical announcement that he was over with touring and was leaving an elaborate set of warnings for future acts that want to engage in this foolish task. (We'll overlook for a minute that the song came out in 2005 on Pixel Revolt.)



The Living Room Tour solved every problem Vanderslice had with the typical tour grind that can drive indie rock performers crazy. The audience, in exchange, got to get up close and personal with him for a more time than one normally gets at a club show too. For two solid hours, he played 20 songs and told us stories between them. He even opened with "The Dream is Over," a song by his old band MK Ultra, which Clark requested.

At first the stories between songs went on as long as the actual songs, with Vanderslice's sharp wit and warmth making them worthwhile. Anyone who thinks that his lyrics are all a reflection of himself as an anxious, paranoid theorist would be relieved to discover how together he actually is. "I'm crazy, but a good crazy," he said. The guitarist continually asked if everyone was comfortable, or if they needed to get a drink. He also plugged Ada's concession stand as well. He even invited questions, which were politely asked about some of the lyrics.

After a few songs, John seemed really comfortable with the scene and didn't always stop to talk after every song. "My song-to-story ratio is high," he later said, and he was right. He struck a good balance between songs and talk. So when he needed help remembering the lyrics to "Fiend in a Cloud," it didn't upset the flow of the evening. "Exodus Damage," with lyrics that read like a letter from a co-dependent narrator to either a lover or role model, became even more suspenseful when Vanderslice stopped strumming the guitar and sang most of it a capella. It was even more impressive since he started the song lightheartedly by trying to get Clark's wife (who requested it) to sing it along with him.

Vanderslice sang so many songs that night, with vivid tales populated by all sorts of characters, that I felt like I needed to go home and listen to all of his albums, and all the MK Ultra albums, again and remember all the words and song titles. The whole performance got me that excited about it.

Afterwards, he urged everyone to hang around for a dance party. "Well, if you have to go, that's okay," he assured us. The party never really took off but after working the merch tables and bestowing genuine thanks to everyone who came, he expounded to us hangers-on about the creativity and production in modern hip hop music, cranking up his Spotify playlist to offer examples. He laid out a whole elaborate set of reasons, but that's better suited for another blog post some other time.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

CD Review: Steve Coleman & Five Elements- Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets)


Steve Coleman and Five Elements
Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets)
(Pi Recordings) www.pirecordings.com

A few weeks ago, Kevin Whitehead reviewed this double-CD live Steve Coleman set on an installment of the NPR show Fresh Air. It served as a nice place to potentially lure some listeners who might dig Coleman's music. (Whitehead also reviewed the Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp CD Seraphic Light a few weeks prior to that, which was a major coup for their unique work.) I broke my cardinal rule of avoiding contact with a critique of something that I planned to review, and I listened to the whole piece.

I'm glad I did because by listening to the track excerpts played between Whitehead's comments, the music took on a unique characteristic: It sounded like bebop. Not modern day, retrogressive bop, but first generation bebop - like the kind Charlie Parker did on Dial. And not because Coleman is playing anything like "Scrapple from the Apple" or "Relaxing at Camarillo." (Maybe the fact that he plays alto has something to do with my perception, which came around 11:00 pm, driving home from work.) The similarity came in the way this quintet delivered the music. There was fire in it, and a strong dose of self-assurance, even as they were making their way through all manner of rhythmic shifts, sometimes in direct contrast with one another. Calling Coleman's music rhythmically complex is putting it mildly. But hearing those bits again (I had been listening to the CD at home already), it played up how his melodies are accessible and engaging if one takes the time to really check them out.

A fair number of more adventurous jazz musicians have been performing at the Village Vanguard recently, but Coleman and the fabled nightclub go way back. Five Elements has had annual engagements there since 2015. Even before that occurred, Coleman became well acquainted with the Vanguard as a member of the Mel Lewis Orchestra from 1978 to 1980. The band, which initially featured Thad Jones' name in the marquee with Lewis, played there every Monday night, and it continues as the Vanguard Orchestra. Coleman moved to New York at age 21 in part to join that band.

The two sets contain virtually the same compositions but set order and combinations of tracks in medleys guarantee that they never seem like a rehash. Of course, Coleman's writing being what it is, there is never any fear of overlap anyway. "Horda," which opens disc one and first appeared on his Morphogenesis album, is built on cyclical riffs where the repeat comes in odd, unexpected places. When trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson joins the saxophonist line, he sounds right at home playing a counterline. While the whole group has an amazing rapport, Sean Rickman's skill at adding choice accents amidst his tempo work is particularly jaw-dropping. Towards the end of "Horda," both horns reach a climax by hitting just one note over a complex rhythm, while the rest of the band swirls around them. In the version on disc two, guitarist Miles Okazaki takes a solo that feels as restrained as the drums and horns sound wild.

A series of new compositions were created in a process that Coleman explains as "chains of tonal dyads that are strung together to create certain embedded melodic structures." He titled them using words from the ancient Egyptian writing system usually known as hieroglyphics. Some of the melodies have a bit of a folk-like quality, while a track like "Djw" has a visceral feel more like a progressive rock tune, thanks in part to the driving rhythm section of Okazaki, Rickman and bassist Anthony Tidd.

In case anyone might think Coleman's music is too serious, both sets end with stage announcements from the bandleader, who throws a different bon mot in each one as he introduces the band (making doubly sure he doesn't miss anyone). The liner to the cover also features a candid group photo which catches Coleman mid-laugh. Hopefully some Fresh Air listeners took the initiative to find this album since it features some of the most provocative music to come out this year. And the Vol. 1 in the title indicates there's more to come!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

LP Review: Matthew Lux's Communication Arts Quartet



Matthew Lux's Communication Arts Quartet
Contra/Fact
(Astral Spirits/Mofonus) monofonuspress.com/store/matthew-luxs-communication-arts-quartet-2

Contra/Fact originally came out on cassette last fall. This edition commits bassist Matthew Lux's debut as a leader to vinyl, trimming a couple tracks from the original album and changing the running order a bit. Lux has been described as the Kevin Bacon of Chicago, due to his close connection to the Windy City's various music scenes. He could easily play straight or free jazz but his name has appeared on numerous albums by Isotope 217, various Rob Mazurek projects and albums by indie-related artists like Azita, Smog and Iron & Wine. If anything has kept him from leading his own session, it probably relates to a busy calendar.

Lux doesn't attempt to make for lost time by putting his instrument front and center on Contra/Fact. In fact, he acts more like a designer, creating scenes for his quartet comrades to flesh out, which he embellishes with effects and editing techniques later. Joining him are Ben Lamar Gay (cornet), Mikel Patrick Avery (drums) and Jayve Montgomery (tenor sax, "clarinumpet," flute). All four of them also add percussion, along with samplers and brief bits of guitars to the mix.

The new running order ensures that Contra/Fact never stays in one place for too long, easing from a rhythmic groove to a sample-heavy bit of electro-acoustic noise to a blend of dub and solid horn solos. If the group created everything spontaneously in the studio, they were clearly having a ball by taking raw ideas and seeing where they would lead. However, moments like the harmonized horn line toward the end of "Israels'" indicate that some preparation went into it. The tight groove that Avery and Lux sustain during this track makes it one of the standouts. Earlier in the album, Lux evokes the warmth of Charlie Haden in the rubato "Ninna Nanna," accompanied with Mongomery's smoky tenor and Gay's muted cornet, before everyone starts to move freely and the entire quartet gets bathed in distortion.

If the noisier tracks don't hold up quite as well as the rest, they continue to change shape as they proceed. The sounds early in "Mercury Lights" evoke both turntable scratching and car radio transmissions that fade in and out, before buzzing samples overtake it. At 10 minutes, the choppy "C.G.L.W." gets a little long, but it wants to go back to Miles Davis' On the Corner, pondering what remains on that corner all these years later.

Considering Matthew Lux's extensive list of credits, it should probably come as no surprise that his own outing would cross several sorts of musical terrain. In this case, the lack of a definite focus works in his favor.


Friday, September 14, 2018

CD Reviews on Intakt: Angelika Niescier, Joey Baron/Robyn Schulkowsky, Vandermark/Wooley/Courvoisier/Rainey

Keeping up with Intakt Records feels like an insurmountable effort. While U.S. labels wring their hands and wonder how to sustain themselves, this Swiss label continues to release, on average, two new albums a month. Whereas many labels and promoters have resorted to sending promotion downloads to writers, Intakt, bless their hearts, continues to mail out hard copies of each release across the ocean. 

The quality of the music is fairly consistent as well. Even with an album that doesn't really move me, I come away at least come away with an appreciation for what the performer was going for, which is a pretty good standard to maintain as well. As far as getting a chance to dig deep into the music and come up with ways to talk about it in depth, therein lies the challenge. It is one of many.

With that in mind, I've pulled out a few albums that they've released either this month or sometime within the past six months and decided to focus on them.




Angelika Niescier
The Berlin Concert

My laptop disc drive listed The Berlin Concert as an EP, an ironic assessment since the four tracks come out to about 40 minutes, the standard length for a vinyl album. But these days, that can be considered short for a jazz album.

Alto saxophonist Niescier was born in Poland but has spent much of her life in Germany, with trips to the US, where she started a trio with Christopher Tordini (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). She also performed in areas with heavy political tension like the Gaza Strip and Egypt. For reasons like that, she received the Albert Mangelsdorff Prize (German Jazz Award) at the time that this November 2017 performance occurred, during Jazzfest Berlin

The communication level between the trio members clearly runs deep. Tordini works as an anchor during "Kundry." Niescier produces fast torrents of notes but she still ends her phrases with a great deal of clarity. While that goes on, Sorey sounds like he's playing countermelodies on his snare. After holding things together, Tordini gets a chance for an unaccompanied solo.

After the bowed bass and alto duet "Like Sheep, Looking Up" (the title a variation on a John Brunner novel about environmental destruction), Niescier almost sounds Monk-like in "The Surge" because of the way she wraps around variations of the melody, except she's moving five times faster than usual. The freest track of the four, its musical ideas come fast and furiously. It confirms a quote from Niescier that opens the liner notes: "All three of us were at peak levels of communication and awareness, and in a state of maximum openness toward the music."


Joey Baron & Robyn Schulkowsky
Now You Hear Me

Solo instrument albums require some extra commitment from listeners. An album by two drummers/percussionist goes even further. Of course when the prolific Joey Baron (to narrow his c.v. to two names, all you need to know is John Zorn and Carmen McRae) teams up with Robyn Schulkowsky (who has worked with Cage, Xenakis and Feldman to drop just a few avant-garde composers), the program is not going to consist of mere grooves played ad nauseum.

The dynamic level on Now You Hear Me doesn't vary too much. But even when a track totals 32 minutes, these two get into some deep sound conversations. Both are credited with only drums and percussion, so it's possible that electronics don't factor into the music. But there are moments during "Passage" when a static noise blends perfectly with the closed snare and toms, sounding like sampling is occurring. Cymbal rolls imitate the surge of a tide or, later in "The Gaze," they approximate feedback. The tuned percussion in the latter track sounds like Harry Partch instruments which, repetitive as they are, create a trance feel.

Now Your Hear Me might not be something that's pulled off the shelf often, but Baron and Schulkowsky take some enthralling risks - such as playing on either metal pipes or bells before one of them eases over to the trap kit. With music this spare, it's best to realize how each tap on a drum has a greater significance.



Vandermark/Wooley/Courvoisier/Rainey
Noise of Our Time

The quartet on Noise of Our Time consists of musicians all coming together for the first time although several of them had worked together in different capacities. Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley have performed extensively as a duo and in the group Shelter. Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier is part of Wooley's Battle Pieces group and has improvised with drummer Tom Rainey.

Wooley, Vandermark and Courvoisier each composed three tracks for this album. Each player creates settings that allow their bandmates to reveal their full personality, to the extent that it's often surprising who wrote the tune, considering who leaves the biggest impression. The level of communication between the horns in Courvoisier's "Sparks" is jaw-dropping, as they volley honks and tweets back and forth between each other. The actual composition approximates a Monk theme that has smashed to pieces on the floor, with some remnants still held together by threads.

Wooley likes to use pregnant pauses for suspense, which can be heard in both "Truth Through Mass Indivduation" and the tone poem "The Space Between the Teeth." The trumpeter gives off some vicious noise in "VWCR" with some vocal grunts underneath that almost sound violent.

After the frenzy that comes with much of the album, it ends on a reflective note with Vandermark's "Simple Cut." This one has the melancholia of a memorial song with a rich texture that also sounds a bit foreboding. It makes an interesting contrast to what preceded it - a unit that is clearly working well together and will hopefully return to the studio again.

More info on these albums at the whole Intakt catalog can be found at www.intaktrec.ch.




Friday, August 31, 2018

Remembering Pitch-A-Tent Records - Ten Foot Faces, Spot 1019, Wrestling Worms

This has been the year for me to reconnect with music from my past. At the start of the year, I fell into a Charlie Parker kick, which included getting my beloved Complete Savoy & Dial set stolen out of my car, along with a smashed window in sub-freezing weather. (I found another copy shortly thereafter, at a reasonable price.) Then I got the Parker Dean Benedetti Mosaic box out of the library. Then, with Mosaic on my mind, I set out to find copies of all of the Bud Shank albums that were reissued the box Mosaic devoted to the saxophonist.

At some point during all of that, I pulled out the compilation At Dianne's Place, which I received in 1988 when I was doing the zine Discourse. The compilation featured bands that had played in a club in Santa Cruz. Despite the fact that Dianne's Place existed for a mere six months in 1986, it hosted bands that you might have know (Camper Van Beethoven, Vomit Launch) and others that you should have known (keep reading). At the time it probably felt like a place where people were doing what they had to do to get their music out there. In retrospect - which I'll admit is filtered through a wistful set of glasses - it was probably pretty magical.

A few crazy connections floated to the surface as I listened to the record and waxed nostalgically. For one thing, it was exactly 30 years ago that I first heard it, a few months before I (finally) turned 21. Also, four bands on the album would eventually put out albums on CVB's Pitch-A-Tent label., all in 1988.  One was the Donner Party, which included future Quasi member Sam Coomes. (At the time I was wearing out their debut album, also self-titled, on Cryptovision, which helped me make it through a trying summer of heat, irresponsible roommates and mice.) I'd eventually pick up the second Donner Party album but I never got around to the other three bands - Ten Foot Faces, Spot 1019 and Wrestling Worms. 

For a few months this year I hit all the local record stores in hopes of finding them. I can recall seeing them around fairly frequently back in the day. Now, no luck. The two record stores I visited in Denver didn't have them either. At this point, they fall into the category of :not as easy to come by, but not really "rare" in the big dollar sense." For months I had been eyeing up copies on Discogs wondering which one and which seller would offer the best deal. I finally took the plunge and have this report on them.


Ten Foot Faces
Daze of Corndogs and Yo-Yos

Of all three groups, these guys probably should've gone somewhere. Maybe they did. Maybe they're still at it. Maybe there is another half dozen beret-wearing bloggers talking about how great this slab of melodic garage punk is too. "You're Blowin' My High" was also on At Dianne's Place, a song with one of the greatest transitions from the bridge to the final verse. But even before that, they open the album with Henry Mancini's "The Party" and "Run for Tin" in which singer Rod Barker can barely spew out the words about his set of wheels, but still does.

This album recalls an era when bands could be funny or clever without hitting you over the head with it. "Back to Bedrock" begins with a Hanna-Barbera sound effect, but the novelty ends there. It just becomes a great song. "I'm In Your Mind" moves beyond their edgy semi-snotty sound and plays up the band's ability to do an overdriven Byrds sound too. A song like this could fit in nicely on Little Steven's Underground Garage show. If any more evidence of their power was needed, they close the album with a cover of MC5's "Rocked Reducer No. 65 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)." Barker's illustrations throughout the lyric sheet and record label remind me of the zany quality in the work of Gideon Kendall, late of Fake Brain.

Spot 1019
This Word Owes Me a Buzz

The title of this album was a recurring phrase that some friends and I would use whenever we were feeling frustration with anything in the world. Ironic considering the fact that I didn't really know the album until about two weeks ago. Spot 1019, who had already released one album on Pitch-A-Tent prior to Buzz, was one of those bands that I had heard good things about but that I never got around to hearing. Moreso than Ten Foot Faces, they seemed poised for bigger things around that time. By 1990 they were on Frontier Records, an indie label that might have been a step or two about Pitch-A-Tent but that was the last I heard from them.

I decided to go out of order and buy this before getting the self-titled debut, in part because I wanted to hear the record that I had referenced all the time. The four-piece is definitely darker than Ten Foot Faces, a little more punk rock. Vocalist Joe Sloan is a little nasal and more of a belter, but he sounds pretty theatrical too. One has to wonder what kind of performance they unleashed on an audience at Dianne's.

Spot 1019 could've been right at home on a bill with Death of Samantha. Sloan is just as literate as John Petkovic too. The album opens with the line, "My memory takes me back in time to the pillory of lovers lost." Later on the same side, Sloan (with help from bassist Jimb Lyons) sings, "I try to drop a hint/but all I drop is my drink/God give me strength." This same song, "Think and Grow Thin," also contains a satire on Jim Morrison's infamous "Dawn's Highway" story, which Sloan fires off at rapid-fire speed.

Despite their near-hardcore tempos on a few songs, a country music background can be felt in the melodies here, and in Greg Winter's galloping beats on a few songs. The album is a really great balance of elaborate tracks ("Bucket of Blood") and the more basic punk stuff ("Peace War," "Free Men Bear Arms"). The latter also presents a sarcastic take on the gun issue that probably wouldn't float these days.

Wrestling Worms
Wrestling Worms

The rather lo-fi Wrestling Worms track on At Dianne's Place ("Vegetable Tune") recalled Pittsburgh's Stick Against Stone to my ears, and those of anyone who remembered that local group and heard the Worms. Funky bassline, a bunch of horns all taking turns soloing quickly over a vamp, and a vocalist who had a flair for the theatrical delivery - we had that too!

Aside from the lack of disposable income, I never picked up the Wrestling Worms album because my friends at WPTS (where I would DJ about six months later) said they didn't really dig it. 30 years later, I figured time might make any lackluster moments a little easier to take. Maybe even enjoyable. Plus the 11X17 foldout/lyric sheet reveal the Wrestling Worms had grown ELEVEN members, six of them playing horns, with one of the drummers doubling on French horn. What could go wrong?

Truth be told, the album is growing on me. They are some great horn charts on the album, which involve trumpet, trombone, and saxophones ranging from soprano to tenor, with clarinets added occasionally. But percussionist Andrew Bigler does the majority of the lead vocals, in a thin voice that sounds like he's heard a lot of Frank Zappa. What he sings gets clever and surreal, but his delivery starts to sound the same after awhile.

The fact that 11 people could pull off in the studio is commendable and for that reason alone, Wrestling Worms is worth a good rediscovery.

Of course the big question now becomes - where are all these folks now? Who has continued to play music and who did it for awhile until it was time to move onto something else? These are the things I need to know. While I could very easily go onto Facebook and type in the names of a select few, it would be more exciting if we made a connection here. There you go, bands.

Finally, if anyone reading this has the sole album/cassette by Dianne's Place contributors Barnacle Choir, I'd sure love to get a copy.

Now I'm off to get a copy of the first Spot 1019. And you should pick up At Dianne's Place, but make sure it has the booklet.