Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Weekend of Rock

Just wrapped up a weekend in rock, with three very different definitions therein. Friday night, the Harlan Twins played at the Thunderbird Cafe. A few other bands played too but I just barely made it to see these guys, due to an ill, slightly shaken up child.

The Harlans are in a transition period, having lost original bassist Jules several months ago, and keyboardist Paul more recently. Both of those guys have big personalities and chops to match so it's safe to say they have big shows to fill. Rob, the new bass player, is clearly a really good musician. (Plus I think he was noodling on a section of "It's About That Time" from In a Silent Way as they were starting.) Greg, the new keyboardist also seems like he's a really good player, and he sings back-up a good deal too. But at the same time, this lineup is still coming together, and will change again once Neal the drummer flies the coop in a few months. What it all means is that the Harlan Twins put on a really, really good show. I've seen them and had my faith in music and life restored on a couple of occasions. Friday night wasn't one of those nights, but they were still great. Plus, I got to play tambourine on a song.

The next night was the hotly anticipated (by me at least) Question Mark & the Mysterians show at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. Once again, child duty made me fashionably late, and I completely missed the screening of The TAMI Show. I saw it once during high school, at the good old Pittsburgh Filmmakers screening room on Oakland Avenue. (Let me tell ya kid, those were the days.... But that's another story.) So I wasn't too heartbroken about that.

At about 9:20, the curtain opened and Terry Lee was there to introduce the band. It's always interesting to see what a '60s band looks like all these years later. Do they try to maintain their old look? Do they just stop grooming themselves? Do they just look like old guys who just happen to play music? The answer for the Mysterians was a little bit of all of that. Bobby Baldarrama looked the sharpest - in a suit with his ? t-shirt on under his jacket. He was an amazing guitarist too, playing through a little 12-inch speaker and pulling out strong blues licks like they were nothing. Little Frankie Rodriguez looked kind of like a grandpa, plopped down behind a rack with two keyboards, neither of them a Vox Continental or Farfisa. (One was a Korg.) Frank Lugo (bass) looked older, with a buzz cut, but he had a John Entwistle thing going, barely moving but holding up the sound with his instrument. Drummer Robert Martinez had a banner draped over the front of his drum kit so you couldn't see it. After about four songs, I realized you couldn't see the outline of a kick drum underneath it. Add to that the fact that the drums sounded really ... uh, produced, and I gathered that he was probably being electronic drums, aside from his cymbals and snare.

Then, out came Q. Cowboy hat? Check. Shades? Check - Need you ask? Black shiny slacks? Check. Fringed top, opened all the way down the middle, with gold spangles all over it? Sounds crazy, but yep. That was him. On a lesser person, it'd look like some sort of Vegas get-up, but Q made it work.

And work he did. He worked the crowd up. He got the band working, turning out pretty solid grooves. And he danced. Every song ended with him at the front of the stage, arms aloft.

The thing that messed up the show for a lot of people wasn't the shaky ground in covers like "Be My Baby," where the band wasn't sure which vamp to play. It was the damn strobe light at the back of the stage, which the band's manager was regularly walking backstage to program. That's right, walking back there in plain site, and turning the four-panel light on for some dizzying effect. Maybe fans had better constitutions in the '60s, but everyone I talked to hated that. No wonder Q always wears shades.

The Mysterians took it down a notch with a version of "That's How Strong My Love Is" and it proved that Q knows his way around a ballad. This one was going to be on their third album, which was never released (and included backing vocals by the Raylettes). By and large the best moments of the set came during songs from their original albums. Along with "Be My Baby," "Stand By Me" didn't come off too well, mainly because the drum fills were more hard rock than soul.

When it came time for "96 Tears," everyone in the audience stood. And during a slight reprise as an encore, it could've been a new song, since it sounded so tight.


Sunday night, Mike Watt sold out the Brillobox. In a way, that shouldn't be too surprising since he's been at it for so long, and there are tons of guys who will walk up to him and gush, before and after the show.

He played his new rock opera in its entirety, Hyphenated Man, all 30 songs of it. And it does indeed have the feel of a Minutemen set, all taut and kind of funky, with a little bit of scratchy guitar and divebombing bass. But it's not a throwback. It's just digging into the same thought process.

I'm thinking of posting the entire interview I did with Watt for City Paper since only 250 words of it got into the article. (I need to post a link to the Question Mark article as well.) The bass man had some pretty illuminating thoughts on his career as a musician and his ability to keep it going now.

Back to the show. There's something to be said for playing the same set, night after night. It makes your band incredibly tight. You get comfortable with the music, comfortable with each other, so when you're in a new room, you can just plow ahead and know that everyone's in it together. And Watt and the Missing Men did that on Sunday. Rarely can a guy keep a whole room of people quiet, and he did that during the spoken intro to "Pinned to the Table Man." We all stood there in rapt attention. There wasn't even some loudmouth joker who felt the need to chime in.

Encores: Red Krayola's "The Conspirators," the Pop Group's "Amnesty Report" (they were a big influence on Watt, who covered "We Are Time" on a previous tour), both sung by guitarist Tom Watson (once a member of Slovenly). Plus a slew of Minutemen tunes, done right. "Toadies," "Black Sheep," "The Glory of Man" (with Tom dancing like D. Boon during the drum break) and "Anxious Mo-Fo" with Watt taking vocals back from Tom, who did the others. The last one had a great dynamics drop for the guitar solo. Quiet as a mouse.

After all that, I had to stay home last night.


Anonymous said...

Harlan Twins new bassist is Rob, not Rich. T-Bird was a fun show. Too much cymbals, but new guys brought it.

shanleymusic said...

Sorry about that. Correction has been made since original post.

lulu moolah said...

The T.A.M.I. screening at filmmakers screenery on Oakland . . . was it 1982? . . . that was the last first lineup stick against stone performance . . .

shanleymusic said...

Bob, I might've seen it a year or two later. Or maybe the next night because I didn't see Stick Against Stone there. Unfortunately the only time I saw you was at North Park, before all the power went out. Believe me, it left a big impression on me, budding saxophonist as I was at the time!