Rock Gods #33: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

You could hear the faces falling Thursday at the Greek Palace when Ben Button finally got around to singing “The Fiend,” and blew the lyrics.

Button, as you know, has two distinct fan bases. There are our grandparents, who followed him from his big band through his lounge LPs, his radio comedy show and his TV variety show. And there are us young whippersnappers who freeze him in time around 1967, his sharkskin period, when in order to get down with the kids, the balding anachronism recorded not just one but two of the most disturbingly insanely brilliant singles of that magnificently myopic pop era: “The Fiend” and “Dice, Brassknuckles & Guitar.”

Both of this misshapen masterpieces appear on Button’s The Freshest Boy album. Ostensibly a love letter to his first grandson, Freshest Boy is anchored by wistful, mature numbers such as “The Bridal Party,” “The Baby Party,” “The Lost Decade” and “A New Leaf.” It’s one of those thematic swing platters so popular at the time, except that “Fiend” and “Dice” stop the whole disc cold—or, more precisely, hot. Illustrating Freshest Boy’s hero’s prior wild ways before he found fatherhood and new grace, they sizzle with cynicism and sozzle with that “atomic martini-mixer sound” that all the young European turks were trying but which few old-school jazz jumpers could get their balding heads around. Not surprisingly, those two errant and evil songs have a different producer than the rest of the album: Jim Powell, later to mold The Camel’s Back, of  “Jumbo’s Got a Bible” fame.

We’ll stop before we get even more obscure. Point is, all our lives we’ve been wanting to ring out the old and ring in the new at the exact same time. We just don’t know how to explain it, but we’ve been thwarted again. Happy next year.

Merch Down Broadway

I am no longer the connoisseur of cloisonné pins I once was, but I do still occasionally buy souvenirs of Broadway-style shows. While kid-theater spectacles such as The Wiggles or the Backyardigans will always have the best range of cool stuff for sale in the lobby, but for years now, the bigger and longer-running shows have made an effort to transcend T-shirts, “special edition” program books and refrigerator magnets with the occasional stuffed animal (Annie’s Sandy, for instance) or other unexpected item.

Top theater tat (British expression I find so much more appealing than “gewgaw” or “tchotchkes”) that tickled my wallet in 2010:

1. A plastic drinking flask from the tour of the Hair revival. The logo’s tricked up to make it look like an old-fashioned bottle of hair tonic. It’s sturdy, made in the U.S., and according to the Hair shop website the show’s co-creator James Rado had a hand in its design.

2. A coffee mug from the Goodspeed Opera House production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Coffee mugs are commonplace at theater concession booths, of course, but the Goodspeed doesn’t always offer them—unless, as in the case of this Loesser/Burrows organization-man opus, it’s intrinsic to the plot. The show’s Act One ensemble showstopper is “Coffee Break,” during which the employees of the World Wide Wicket Company unanimously lament that if they can’t take their coffee break, “something inside me dies.” That’s the legend on this mug, which also bears the classic logo from the show’s original 1961 Broadway run. The Goodspeed usually develops new poster art for its shows, but I’m glad they went with this sexist ‘60s standard-bearer, which shows the back of corporate desk chair with a man’s arm holding a phone jutting out one side, long women’s legs akimbo on the other side.

3. Didn’t actually buy this, but this show’s still in town as I write this, and I’m tempted to wander into the lobby just for the quick purchase:

Spamalot coconut halves (which, I think, might be made of plastic) with which you can mimic the horse-riding noises from the show. An instruction booklet explains that they are “imported exclusicvely by African Swallows.” The brief demonstration I got from the chipper proprietor of the Spamalot souvenir booth at the Shubert Theater in New Haven Thursday night was worth a portion of the show’s admission price by itself.

Rock Gods #32: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Now It Can Be Tolled!

That bell-ringing climax to Namby’s set on New Worth common last weekend? Completely and complicatedly planned, from the fade-out of the local diva’s song “(I’m Your) Belle” to the brief pause and look skyward to the sudden and overwhelming clanging from the Union Street Church bell tower.

The Bonita Dimension Festival has a history of surprises–the Terrake Milk reunion, the debut of the Waterfords in a slot originally meant for the band’s earlier incarnation Gorham—but Namby’s singlehambiedly raised the standard sky-high…

Sissy Spangler has sent a lengthy letter describing a night of passion with a noteworthy modern metal band, an attempt to prove that she is indeed one of the alleged “skankiest groupies” which put our town on the map. We regret we can not publish her exciting tale (or is that tail?) here, but we will be presenting slurred performances of the text for anyone within earshot, nightly at the Bullfinch until we have wreaked maximum enjoyment from it. The Conway Scenics play there next Tuesday, by the way…

And what better ways to ring in a year?

Attention Goodwill Shoppers

Fifty percent off virtually everything in the West Haven Goodwill Store on New Year’s Day. Think they said the sale applies to everything except new stuff (this is one of the Goodwills that also sells dollar-store type things like gloves and socks) and mattresses. (And who wants half off a mattress? Wouldn’t that make sleeping difficult?)

I draw your attention particularly to the two big boxes of comic books near the check-out registers. They were going for a dime apiece on a non-sale day, which means a mere nickel on Saturday. They clearly all spring from the same ‘80s/’90s collection, since there are multiple issues from just a handful of key titles: Fantastic Four, Conan the Barbarian, Doctor Strange and a few other second-tier Marvels; the only real contender from another publisher is Mike Grell’s magnum opus for DC Comics, Warlord, well-represented here with several years worth of loinclothed Skartarisian swashbuckling. (Warlord ran from 1976 to 1989 and has recently been revived by DC with a new warlord.)

Probably should’ve waited a day for the sale, but couldn’t. Here’s the stack of vinyl records I walked out with Friday afternoon for a combined tariff of five bucks, Lps which I’ll convert to mp3s forthwith via a USB turntable:

The Hudson Brothers, Hollywood Situation, a testament to the shortlived TV variety show by Bill, Mark and Brett Hudson, best known now respectively as Kate Hudson’s dad, Ringo Starr’s producer/sideman in the ‘90s, and the other Hudson brother. Priceless due to one superb Beatlesque track, “So You Are a Star.”

The Mancini Touch, with composer Henry Mancini on the cover dangling a couple of well-dressed young dancers as if they were marionettes. The album is mostly covers of jazz non-standards including Illinois Jacquet’s “Robbin’s Nest” and Trummy Young & Jimmy Mundy’s present to Billie Holiday, “Trav’lin’ Light.” There are four Mancini originals—“A Cool Shade of Blue,” “Politely,” “Let’s Walk” and “Mostly for Lovers,” all making their debuts, plus the established Mancini track “Free and Easy” from the film Rock Pretty Baby. The Mancini Touch was recorded in late 1959, placing it neatly between his successes with The Peter Gunn Theme in 1958 and The Pink Panther Theme in 1963.

• Music from the Golden Age of Silent Movies played by Gaylord Carter at the Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ. Pretty self-explanatory, though it would be hard to match exact scenes from the silent-movie titles emblazoned on the album cover to these shortened themes and melodies from the films’ involved scroes. Happily, only a couple of the selections come from D.W. Griffith films (which usually tend to crowd out other dramas scorewise); there’s some James Cruze and Erich von Stroheim love here too. Unhappily, comedy films are barely represented; the liner notes acknowledge that a motif from the Keystone Kops which is titled “The Big Chase” here was also used for such somber if fast-paced fare as the climactic Klansman ride in Birth of a Nation and the cowboy antics of William S. Hart.

• Dionne Warwick On Stage and In the Movies. A title not to be taken literally. These are striking LP-only ‘60s-fied covers of showtunes. In fact, the “movies” angle is meaningless, since all the songs except The Gershwins’ “The Way You Look Tonight” are from stage shows. The stand-out to me, even among such unorthodox choices as “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” (from Kismet) and “I Believe in You” (from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) is “My Ship,” from Kurt Weill & Ira Gershwin’s Lady in the Dark.

• Gaslight Memories—The Happy Music of the Gay Nineties, one of the multi-LP Readers’ Digest sets so prominent at thrift stores. It’ll help me get a handle on the melodies to songs I’ve heard about all my life but have never really heard. I’m sure that when I actually hear someone singing “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nelly,” which I know only as a cliché from the Pogo comic strip, I’ll probably faint from the shock.

Rock Gods #31: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

You’ve heard about the big rock dick who wouldn’t sing at hits daughter’s wedding without a contact (though he didn’t seem to hardware about warbling ad lib and ad nauseum on talk shows).

Well, our scene doesn’t grow jerks nearly that large (poor climate– we’re in the shadow of a bigger city), but here’s a lightweight contender for your consideration:

Guess who won’t appear at the benefit show for cancer survivor Crutch (yeah, we know) unless he gets to do a solo set that’s twice as long as any other band on the bill—and even if he’s granted that aggrandising plum, won’t commit to a measly two- song reunion set with his old bandmates?

Plus he tried to pull that old demand about how he might work for free this one time, but he’d need to charge something so he could pay his sideman. (yes, we just said “solo set,” but Lord high-and-mighty here can’t play a lick, even in his rare sober moments, so never travels without real musicians, whom he apparently insists on retaining for benefits even though, in a brief and surly ‘phone conversation with him last week, he couldn’t remember their names.

Turns out those sidemen guys have telephones too, are pretty to track down, and were shocked when we asked them about the payment plan because they’d agreed all along to play the gig for free. (We’ve got all these conversations on tape, and we’re having them notarized.)

Hope we haven’t screwed the whole reunion deal now with these revelations, but we doubt it would have happened anyway.

Here’s another good place to spend your time and money, with passionate musicians of all stripes:

Turns out that big local Europop/punk festival of sorts at Campbell’s Saturday from 4-8 p.m. (clearing out before the dance party) will be passing the hat for starving refugees somewhere in Eastern Europe. So promises The Bishop, an immigrant from those climes himself, who’ll be sharing the bill with The Trial, Cosette, The Grave and The Barricade. It’s a CD release for the The Bishop’s new disc Between Americans, which is getting national distro on the Gulf Screen label …

Comic Book of the Year 2010

Batgirl swooped back into the cosmic comic consciousness bigtime this year. The entire supporting cast of the various Batman series got a fresh shot at center stage with Bruce Wayne dead for most of 2010. Now the dust has settled, I’d say that Batwoman (who is unrelated to Batgirl—think Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl, not Superman and Superboy; that really should be the basis of an SAT question sometime) is the breakout “new” character while Batgirl is the one who’s truly reaffirmed her place in the Bat universe.

[Will add to this post later. Same bat channel.]

Rock Gods #30: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

We think we drifted out our journalist shell and actually joined the scene in a blood-and-guts way for ten minutes or so the other freezing night. Sharing Top Three lists at the bar with guys whose bands you like is one thing. Being brought into a snowball fight is another.

It started unremarkably when Q (the Bullfinch barback, who truly never makes very many remarks) was escorting us outside the club at closing time. we hadn’t taken the hint, had missed all the signals. We’d stayed to chat (which with Q is strictly a one-way proposition), helped swab the tables, then still didn’t feel like leaving. The remaining staff felt like being polite, and so we hung on. The only other folks about were The Rosebuds, who’d done the last set and were piling their gear in the—well, in about four small car trunks; if they’d had a van, they’d’ve been long gone. Bored by the many trips, they stayed on the corner to smoke and idly began to stockpile a huge stash of frozen-slushballs.

We can tell you the names of every song off of every Christmas album Foster “Candy” Kane ever made—there are twelve—but that’s the extent of our winter sportsmanship; If we hadn’t been with Q, we’d’ve been done for. He took charge immediately, swooshing armfuls of snow off the outside cement window ledge. He might’ve even smiled as he did it.

Back indoors: Wet/Dry Shaver, Pocket Wizard  and Cinch Sack at Hamilton’s hopeless Monday night new band showcase… Ruby & Diamond hold down the new Brandy Snifter Jazz Nights Monday series at the Bullfinch. (We’re told they got the snifter concept from us.) Good vibes. Literally—Ruby (Deals) plays vibes, while (John) Diamond switches between guitar and bass…

Theater Books of the Week #6: Panto Fever

Finishing the Hat can wait—stocking caps and elf hats beckon instead.

Two of my favorite BBC radio shows have both mined the frivolous, frolicsome “holiday pantomime” format for their Christmas-week episodes. (You can download them at the “Radio” site, or iTunes podcasts.)

The Archers is a radio soap opera which has been around for 60 years, and runs six 15-minute episodes a week. For many winters, the show’s agriculturally inclined villagers of the fictitious Ambridge band together to present a community holiday play. For all its rural realism, The Archers, like so many other shows, can’t resist play-within-a-play subplots. Amazingly, the Ambridgians didn’t present a panto last year. Two years ago, the main struggle was how they would convince a safety inspector that a flying effect in the show wasn’t dangerous. (Climactic solution: They lied. Take note, Broadway’s Spider-Man musical.) This year, it’s mostly been about the two lead players harboring secret crushes on each other while being asked to share an onstage kiss—a scenario familiar from a billion teen sitcoms and Archie comic books, but still entrancing nonetheless.

Then there’s The Now Show—a descendant of This Was the Week That Was and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and a spiritual cousin of The Daily Show or Weekend Update, which turns the week’s news events into sketch comedy and stand-up routines. This was how they covered the student riots (over increased tuition fees) a couple of weeks ago:

One of the most flamboyant protesters turned out to be the son of the guitarist from Pink Floyd, though he tried to explain: “It wasn’t my fault. I was being assaulted by the police. And the son of the guitarist from The Police.

This week, The Now Show did a Christmas special in the accustomed panto style, parodying fairy tales while savaging celebrities and powermongers.

Best joke, about Jack of Beanstalk fame having to sell the family cow as an economic austerity measure:

“She don’t produce a very high milk yield.”

“Well, she’s two blokes in a cow suit, so it’s not that surprising. See, there’s one in the head does all the actions, he’s called Front Legg, and the one that follows him with his head up his backside… he’s called Nick Clegg.”

Here, fromconventional panto purveyor, is a list of common panto conceits:

Invariably you have a baddie e.g. a wicked witch or evil queen – who is very bad and the audience will hiss and boo them. If they dont the baddie or one of the other cast will make the audience hiss and boo.

Also you have a ‘goodie’ who the story is usually about e.g. Cinderella, Snow White, Aladdin etc. Often these characters are obviously mentally retarded because they fall for the most ridiculous things usually from the baddie.

Often there will be the goodie’s friend e.g. Buttons who helps the audience understand the story and is friendly with the audience telling them jokes and throwing them sweets etc. Often this character will get some members of the audience on stage (adults and/or children) to do tasks which they will find funny but will be very emabarressed to do on stage which the rest of the audience will laugh at.

They will usually be a man dressed as a middle aged woman (a panto dame) who will be related to or have no relationship at all with the goodie. The dame is usually well over the top in dress, make up, and manner, and usually have a large repetoire of jokes and short amusing sketchs.

The pantomime goodie will often be a woman dressed as a young man (a principal boy) who should have nice legs displayed. Often the goodie will fall in love with another women dressed as a young woman. Nothing is seen as unusual with this

Then there are various other characters/animals etc e.g. pantomime horse, cow, wicked sisters, lords, ladies, dukes or litterally anything thrown in to make up the ‘story’ which must have a happy ending, and good must triumph over evil. Characters will sing for any reason or no reason at all.

There is often a fair amount of innuendo and satire on current events. Innuendo MUST go way over the childrens heads or the adults will feel uncomfortable and the atmosphere destroyed.. E.g. a smutty comment must have an obvious literal meaning e.g. Dick Whittingtons girl friend talking about him “Oh I do love my Dick!” the children will draw nothing except the literal meaning from it, the adults will snigger.

Whenever a cast member says ‘Oh no you cant’ (or variant’ ) or “Oh yes I can” the audience has to bellow back the corresponding reply. (several times) This is encouraged and to be as loud as possible.

As much as possible the audience is encourage to shout, or sing, or anything.

And here, for your playing-at-home enjoyment, is a site where you can read and purchase a wide range of complete panto scripts from a shop supremely devoted to the form, Lazy Bee.

Oh, yes you can!

Rock Gods #29: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw (in case you’d forgotten)

Cover band, but oh, what covers! “Crass Mess” by the Calavolpe Figs! “Blown Over Wells” by the Holland Horns! “Sealskin and Blubber” by Matak & Kiviak!

What, you’re unaware of these seasonal stunners? Well, then, you don’t have Dead Lewis’ record collection. We’ve waxed delirious for DL before, especially the set of British Music Hall songs he disguised as punk classics a few weeks back at the Bullfinch. (We had a little to do with that historic prank happening, so alert the objectivity pixies, but surely we can still print how well it all went over.) Almost all the same bandmates this time. They were hired cut-rate by the club, which has experienced both full and empty houses in past years on this auspicious day. Bullfinch booker Q told Dead Lewis they could play whatever they wanted, as long as they played. And it’s when nobody is challenging him at all that Dead Lewis chooses to rise to a challenge. This is a guy with six albums of material he could pull from. Old news to him. What he can learn new instead, and browbeat his pals into following him along on?

So, complete holiday set, then for the second set a 45-minute jazz jam. Remember we said there was only change in the line-up since last time? Well, it was Cindy Close, who teaches at the college’s music school, on jazz oboe. For the seasonal set she sort of played the bass lines—Dead Lewis, who got his nickname because he never sleeps, had written out charts for her.

Each set was played to small but intent audiences. Strangely, each set was invaded by strangers who wandered into the bar (likely because no place else was open), looked around in hopes that the environment would suit them, then gave up and went home to do their taxes or something. One of these gangs seemed to be farmers out for a night on the town; the others had tuxes on. They wanted to talk, not listen.

For our part, we didn’t want to leave. So didn’t, until the bartenders were all whining to go home. That says as much about our home life and upbringing as it does about how sensational the music was.

After we and Dead Lewis finally egressed, we tooled around in our souped-up sleigh, looking for anywhere, anywhere, open to eat.

Thwarted, we cruised the hospital to see if anyone interesting might have gotten born.

Today, we unpack the coal. Happy to you.


I just had my first Xbox Kinect experience, and as colorful and, uh, kinectic as it is, I couldn’t help thinking…

Could someone use this technology to develop a game where you are Buster Keaton running from the cops? Or Charlie Chaplin roller skating blindfolded along the edge of a sheer drop? Or Harold Lloyd scaling a building and hanging from a clock. Those are my avatars. To stand in their big shoes and baggy pants would be a reel thrill.

Dreaming, I know. But history works in this sphere, not just futures and fantasies. On Xbox, I can be a Beatle. Now why can’t I be a Keystone Kop?