Rock Gods #124: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

We’re going to day something now which will have you attending every tribute band show which remotely interests you for the rest of your life, and looking extra closely at everyone involved:

It was really them.

The band at that big game weekend gig at Dollaire’s last week was pretending to be themselves.

The drummer has a daughter in the college on the hill, who was graduating. The band is so tight that they all attended the ceremony. But since they weren’t dressed up in scarves and top hats and, like, a quarter mile away from where you were sitting, they weren’t recognized. Not even when they played their own songs the night before graduation at Dollaire’s

There were actually boos when they announced over the PA in the middle of an already band-packed evening that another act had been added. Some cheers to, to be fair– this was an overwhelmingly gracious crowd which fully deserved the bragging rights they now have earned.

Alas, we weren’t among the lucky ones. We were on the block, engaging in a long conversation about beards with a little girl of our acquaintance. You can’t be at everything. But some people can apparently be in two places at once, posing as their own cover band.

Astonishing. Almost as astonishing as the fact that no local journalists got tipped to the gig before it happened, not even by pals inside the club. As far as we know, we’ve got the scoop.


No international celebs expected, but you don’t need a reason like that to turn up at an inspired bill such as Soak ’em for Crutchy, Lousy with Stature and High Times Hard Times, all at the Bullfinch… Newsies  at Hamilton’s, with at least one TBA… Grounds of Brooklyn grinds and funks up D’ollaires; two sets, no slacking….

Listening to…

He’s My Brother She’s My Sister

Appearing live June 1 at BAR.

Their band name has both a frank literalness (the combo is co-fronted by singer-songwriter siblings Rob and Rachel Kolar) and a surprise-hiding humility (the sextet also features a stand-up bass, a cellist, a lap-slide guitar and a tap dancer, with an accordion in there somewhere too). Interestingly, their publicist’s business name is He’s My Manager Entertainment.

All this fingerpointing and identifying can be terrific fun. There’s individuality galore, but also no fear of covering a distinctive classic like Bowie’s Moonage Daydream (with vocal harmonies standing in for the studio pomp instrumental fade-out of the record). He’s My Brother She’s My Sister did both “Moonage” and their poppy original “Escape Tonight” on  NPR’s World Café broadcast this week, but it’s instructive to also check out the live video for HMBSMB’s slow, dreamy, strummy ballad “Wake Your Heart,” which demonstrates that this band, whose showy reputation has preceded it, also has a tranquil side. The band name, and the giddy interplay on a lot of their material, might come off as childlike, but HMBSMB aren’t as young as they sound, and there’s a real maturity in there too.

The L.A.-based band hasn’t toured the East Coast yet, and they crack New England for the first time on Wednesday, June 1 headlining the free weekly Wednesday series of fast-rising national acts at the downtown New Haven nightspot and pizza joint BAR.

The Pleasant Sting of Stornoway

Does Connecticut take its live music opportunities for granted? Hartford just hosted one of the most impressive festival line-ups of the season at the B.O.M.B. Fest, a slate as progressive as it was popular.

In  a few weeks, Yo Yo Ma will be playing live on New Haven Green thanks to the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. The classical scene here is already well sated due to those world-class players who serve on the Yale faculty.

It wasn’t the case 15 years ago, but since the rise of the casinos, and the Webster in Hartford, and The Kate in Old Saybrook, and the expansion of the Oakdale in Wallingford, and the increasing willingness of old-school theaters like the Shubert and the Garde and the Waterbury Palace to host pop and rock and country concerts, there’s a potential venue for every size and shape of music act that comes down the pike. And since Connecticut is conveniently located between Boston and New York City, they all have occasion to come down that pike.

So, jaded much? I felt that way when I brought my nearly 7-year-old daughter Sally to the Peabody Museum on Saturday afternoon. Not only was there a brand-new exhibit about bloodsucking insects, the much-hyped British band Stornoway was performing a full set of their original British folk-pop tunes in the museum’s Great Hall—where the dinosaur skeletons are.

Not only was Stornoway playing the Peabody for the second time in under six months, the UK-based band (named for a small island in Scotland) had been persuaded to debut a brand new song at the gig.

Incredulity can be tempered by facts. Stornoway frontman Brian Briggs is a local-boy-made-international-scholar who started the band while getting degrees in ornithology and zoology from Oxford University. His father is a Yale-based paleontologist who is currently serving as Museum Director of the Peabody.

There was an attentive crowd for Saturday’s show, which was free with museum admission. It was an older audience than one imagines the band usually gets, and there were clearly a lot of Briggs family and friends present. Attendance was probably as strong as at the clubs the band plays in Europe, where their debut album Beachcomber’s Windwosill (released on the formidable 4AD label) reached number 14 on the UK pop charts (and number 3 on the indie chart). But in New Haven it was a more casual crowd, with many seeing the concert as a bonus museum weekend attraction rather than a destination in itself.

As for that debut tune, Brian Briggs introduced it jokingly by saying he wrote it in the van on the day before the museum gig because his dad’s staffers had promoted it in a press release. It was, as the introduction forewarned, a minor work. Yet thesimple, under-rehearsed blues riff, albeit one easily livened up by the band’s fiddle, trumpet and wooden-crate percussion.

And the lyrics for “Bloodsucker Blues”—which equated the stinging insects of the adjacent exhibit Invasion of the Bloodsuckers: Bedbugs and Beyond with the emotional suffering inflicted by a demanding wife—made up for its central sexist cliché with an inspired rhyme that fit in beautifully alongside the often scientifically detailed lyrics of other Stornoway songs:

She drinks me down with anticoagulation

A constant flow of mutual flagellation

This parasitical position’s getting critical

Spare me those bloodsucking blues


The song’s chorus:

Bloodsucking blues, doctor won’t you set me free?

Looks like a case of acute matrimony

This lousy spouse has got her mandibles in me

And I’ve got those bloodsucking blues


Briggs sang “lousy” as if it rhymed with “spouse-y” (rather than “drowsy”), emphasizing the buggishness of the word.

For a handful of us, this was a real “I was there” moment to exploit when next conversing with intense nu-folk enthusiasts—a jokey, lighter side of an oft-maudlin band. For others, “Bloodsucking Blues” was a catchy theme song to hum while wandering the Peabody on a Saturday afternoon. Honestly, around here, we treat the constant stream of internationally known pop acts as casually as we treat bugs in the wilderness.

Rock Gods #123: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Revenge was sweet for the Old Shorts when they found themselves on the same bill as their nemeses Jam Like a Mother last week. You’ll recall that JAMLAM wedgied The Shorts right out of a gig a few weeks ago by jamming for hours on some insipid pop hit.

How could JLaM have forgotten that imbroglio? Short-term memory loss brought on by mysterious clouds of a suspicious smoke, we wager.

We surely didn’t forget about (or understate) the jam-band’s unforgiveable set-stealing maneuver; we wrote about it here. The event certainly didn’t leave the minds of The Old Shorts; the band’s been seeking some pop payback for the indignity for weeks, plotting their moves carefully. But JLaM didn’t seem to suspect a thing. Not that we’re sympathetic, mind you; back when they delivered the umbrage they were the biggest smarmy creeps we’d seen on a local stage, well, for that whole week. All the more annoying for being oblivious. Unknowing. Wide open.

“We thought about it way too much. It We got nothing done in rehearsals,” says a member of The Old Shorts who prefers not to be identified (except as a member of The Old Shorts). The distraction’s what made the band realize they couldn’t pull off the most obvious plan—the tedious choice of simply doing the same thing back to JLaM at the earliest opportunity, playing so long and hard that the long-haired freaks couldn’t get a note in edgewise. “We’re not good enough to play that long. We don’t know enough songs. Besides, if we did that, we’d lose our own fans.” Short and sweet has its drawbacks.

“Anyway,” pipes up a friend of The Old Shorts who’s sometimes in the band (and who doesn’t want to be identified either), “that just seemed too obvious and boring. We’re all gamers. We’re into strategy.”

So ground rules were set:

1. The comeuppance would have to come on the playing field. No “gotcha!s on the sidewalk, or visiting JLaM’s members’ homes or dayjobs.

2. The punishment would have to fit the crime. The crime, you’ll recall, was that JLaM chose to stay “in the groove” and extend a song interminably at the expense of another band’s entire set.

3. It would have to be cool.

Setting the stage for the rematch was the easy part. The Suburban Arts street festival about ten miles out of town had asked both acts to play. They were among literally dozens of other acts lining miles of bike path, alongside artisan’s galleries (card tables, really), kettle-corn vendors and area residents who were still going to walk their dogs, damn it, along this suddenly bustling thoroughfare no matter what.

What we have left out of this story so far is that Jam Like a Mother are mama’s boys with big trust funds and big allowances. They have nice equipment. They don’t need or know how to use half the gear they willingly pay so much for, except for one gimmick they take full advantage of: Everything’s wireless. The guitarist, the bassist, the singer, even the keyboardist, can wander off on the mildest whim.

That was a known fact. That helped.

Old Shorts aren’t just gamers, they’re hackers. And they know other hackers even cleverer than them. These are the kinds of guys who win at robotics fairs, then relax with punk rock afterwards. While they may not claim to play music well, they can take their guitars apart and put them back together.

It was child’s play to work up a wonder box that could interrupt and overtake the frequencies of the JLaM’s wireless guitar transmitters. A little more difficult, but worth it, to rig a cheap guitar tuner so that it could hear a note, duplicate it, and keep playing it as long as needed. A tech whiz from a local prog-rock outfit, that prefers not to be named, helped.

There’d even been a back-up plan, which itself constituted a more impressive scheme than most vengeful local bands would be capable of. Hidden speaker in a fake sculpture. Seriously. And nobody ever knew.

The main plan was better though, because of the way it totally messed with the heads of Jam Like a Mother (and when we say “heads”…). It happened live. It was as creative and awe-inspiring an involuntary collaboration as you could ever hope to witness.

Brief sound check. Set starts, goes on for a couple of minutes so that JLaM can be lulled into a sense of security and find a groove. Then the madness starts. A low-level buzz, which the band obviously believes is just its own technology glitching a bit due to the outdoor gig.

Then the lead guitar is shanghaied. First, it’s just overladen with soft effects that the band doesn’t even notice. But when the notes start coming faster than the guitarist’s fingers seem to be moving, everyone freaks. A guy in the crowd shouts “Backing tapes!” Somebody else yells “Eric! Come out of there,” which we took as a joke meaning they thought another musician was lurking in the bushes. Little did they know. The guitarist, whose stringy-haired visage had been stuck in that insidious jam-face goon grin since the set started, suddenly grew face muscles—his jaw dropped and his eyes popped as if he’d been possessed. Which he had.

Meanwhile that bothersome feedback buzz has grown into a disco throb, eventually adding a hooligan chant of “Jam Like a Mother, Fucker! Fucker! Fucker!” Parents are covering their children’s ears. Teens are dancing and laughing. Ceramic artworks are quivering from the decibels. The guitarist drops his enchanted axe and it keeps playing.

This is life-changing art at a freaking street festival.

As often happens in times of mid-set crisis, most of the band was either unaware of what was happening to the guitar or too “professional” to stop playing without a signal. The guitarist (forgive us for calling him that over and over; we just don’t want to learn his name) finally was screaming and tossing his instrument on the stage. Yet it played on, and so did the hexed frontman’s bandmates, partly because they weren’t hearing through the monitors much of what the audience was hearing. Their diligence and obliviousness (a real consistent trait with Jam Like a Mother) only added to the chaos and amusement.

How can we reveal so much? Are we sacrificing our pals in Old Shorts just so we can write a fun story? Unfortunately, while some of our info is exclusive, we weren’t the first out of the gate with this info. It was released first in a police report. Luckily, that report was just a $25 ticket dutifully presented to members of Old Shorts for some sort of public disruption. Any attempt at an arrest or a hearing was laughed away before it could even get any further. Old Shorts has paid the fine, apologized for the foul language, and a chastened JLaM urged their parents not to press charges.

Not only was justice done, The Old Shorts got a gig at this weekend’s Underground Arts fair, as a performance art exhibit. Don’t expect it to be a double-bill with JLaM; they’re laying low. It may be true or just a snarky joke, but some say the band has gone acoustic.

Listening to…

Anchorless, Anchorless (6-song EP on Ponyrec)

There are so many great Danish pop bands, if you’re willing to excuse how they sound exactly like great American pop bands of five or ten years earlier. Derivative is too cold a description: a band like Anchorless has taken the studio jangle and twang you associate with a thousand acts from Athens, Boston, Bloomington or Seattle and have codified it into the essence of contemporary pop. What you lose in spontaneity and progressive spirit, you gain in refinement. And sometimes that’s just how you want your pop: refined.

…and amiable. There are lots of cheery new-wave “wo-ee-o”s and climactic harmonies on this six-song EP, but it’s even more gracious than that. All six songs have been put out as a free download from the Copenhagen-based PonyRec label and are also all available at Anchorless’ MySpace. They’re worth paying for, but you don’t have to.

I’m finding these tracks irresistible. They remind me of the sort of a singles I’d seek out due to back-pages reviews in mags like Trouser Press in the first throes of the indie revolution. There’s a steady, studied confidence in the grooves. The English language vocals are crisply enunciated, bending to American rock accents the same way The Beatles did. Upbeat with frisky basslines, yet nervy enough to matter. Nostalgia yet new to me. As they bleat so delightfully in “Alignments Bend”: “I like what you do.”

The Universe Less Andre Ness

In my quarter-century as a New Haven downtowner, I’ve gotten to know oodles of larger-than-life characters—the kind whom, when I nod to them on the street, others marvel, “You KNOW them?”

Nobody earned me more “You KNOW him?!!” double-takes than Andre Ness. First off, Andre was hard to miss—about twelve feet tall with Rip Van Winkle’s facial hair and a voice like five megaphones. And in case you wanted to miss him (I never did), he wouldn’t let you, bellowing your name from blocks away, or honking at you from his lowslung convertible antique roadster.

Andre used to live in an abandoned school bus in a junk yard, an urban Paul Bunyan. Everything about him had the air of legend. Some people likened him to Lurch from the Addams Family, others to Bigfoot. But unlike Lurch, Andre talked a lot. Unlike Bigfoot, he’d stop and chat. And unlike both of them, he was real. For all his supernatural or cartoon-fantasy escapades, Andre also had a reputation as a devoted father, a loyal friend, a guy who was nice to dogs.

The first I heard of Andre was around 1988, when he was pointed out to me by someone I worked with at Book World on Chapel Street. “That’s Andre across the street. Do you know him? He once hit a man so hard that the guy flew out of his shoes.”

That was some introduction. I couldn’t wait to get to know this true-life Bluto from the Popeye chronicles. I’m an experienced Gilligan-esque “little buddy” type from way back, and have always got along with large dangerous men.

When I became Book World’s manager, I encouraged Andre to hang around at night so he could scare away shoplifters. He was happy to oblige. We’d talk for hours—or rather, he’d talk and I’d listen. His tales were unstoppable, even when I’d want them to stop because they were so scary.

Once night while I was in the Book World basement trying to do some bookkeeping, Andre sat on the steps, which reminded him of another time he’d sat on steps: When he was a kid, he said, he’d been minding his own business on a fire escape when there was gunfire above him. “Blood rained down” is how he described it.

Then there were the alien abductions. He talked about them as matter-of-factly as any other encounter in his life. “Saw the aliens again,” he’d mention in passing. His visits with extraterrestrials had informed Andre’s whole worldview.

He shared the alien stories not just with me but in his book The Real Truth About Alien Abductions. I’m privileged to own both the original photocopied edition and the vanity-press  reprint which Andre got Barnes & Noble bookstores to carry in 2002. (I can only imagine his promotional techniques.) According to the book, the abductions started while Andre was in his late 30s, though he came to relate them to experiences he’d had a child in Vermont, when he had a vision of Bambi the Disney deer and a random dinosaur holding his hand; he awoke holding a carrot.

The Real Truth includes a section dedicated to:

the law enforcement officers of the cities of New Haven and Branford CT. you have been told to let me slide unless I do something real bad. The reason for this is that the military has told you hands off. It is a matter of national security. Do you really know why? I doubt it. Your higher-ups know. They have given you a line of bull. Here is the reason In the late 1980s I started to smoke crack. Nothing was any different for the first five months. Then one day I saw something in a tree on Park Street, New Haven. It was an invisible man. He was watching the people dealing coke on the first floor. I was on the third floor sitting on the couch watching TV. As I was watching TV, I kept seeing something move in the tree outside the window. I could see this with my peripheral vision. When I would look straight at it there was nothing there. This happened about six times. It was winter. There were no leaves, birds or squirrels in the tree. So I knew something was wrong, because air can’t be seen. I focused it in. I sat looking at the TV straight on, with my peripheral vision I focused what was moving outside the window in the tree. What I saw, I thought was a hallucination at first. There was a man in a black skintight outfit. There were sparkles, all the colors of the rainbow moving around him in the air not more than three to four inches away. When I started to turn to look at him, he disappeared, so I turned back. I could see him again. I went to the window and looked very hard at what was in the tree. I could see nothing at first. So I turned my head so I could see him with my peripheral vision again. When I saw him I turned very slowly and looked right where he was. After a while I noticed a distortion about the size of a man on the branch. This distortion looked like heat rising from the ground (what you see on the streets in the summer) but fainter. As I looked at it I could see the outline of a man inside of it. I opened the window and said “I can see you. What the hell are you?” That was when he started to look at me.

For the next few weeks everywhere I went I would see military personnel following me. In cars, in the stores, walking down the street. If I lived in a town that had a military base, I could see. But New Haven, you are lucky if you see three military people in two months. I must have seen 300 in two short weeks.

This went on for a while. Then one night I woke up, on a spaceship. With military people telling the grays what to do to me. What a big mistake. I should have just sat and watched TV. But my big mouth got me into it again. Now because I can see through this Metamorphic Camouflage you let the government and the grays abduct and experiment on me.

I quote The Real Truth at such length in order to share a burst of Andre’s prose as tribute to his rich life and sad passing. That passage is pure Andre. He came to believe that he was being protected and persecuted at the same time, just as he came to believe that aliens and the U.S. government were in cahoots, and that the invisibility technology he’d witnessed was being used not just for voyeurs in residential neighborhoods but for covert warplanes which kept tabs on the citizenry. He offered to share video footage of the invisible planes with me on umpteen occasions, but when he finally got a DVD to me, it was unplayable.

He was also open about his drug use. Once, when I complimented him on looking so healthy, and how he’d clearly lost a lot  of weight, he smiled grandly and loudly grunted his secret: “Heh! Cocaine!”

He felt he could distinguish his drug highs from his other out-of-body experiences, and I had no cause to doubt him. He was eager to find outside proof of the alien persecution he’d undergone. The Real Truth ends with an offer to “split a lawsuit down the middle with whoever comes forward with proof of what is happening to me. Just think of it, this would be a very, very large sum.” The end section of his book also includes a dedication to his late brother Claude and this upper-case confession:

This I know for sure. By writing this I am putting myself in the bull’s eye.


Andre’s writing took other forms. He spent years fashioning, and memorizing, an epic poem about (among other things) world peace. He let me publish part of it in the New Haven Advocate, then later transformed the text into a rap song which he videoed himself performing atop West Rock. He could deliver dozens of lines from the poem at the drop of a hat.

The recitations and abductions and entreaties and catching-up conversations of Andre Ness made me late for work countless times. I think he was to me what the grays must have been to him—a nuisance sometimes, hard to explain to one’s friends, but fascinating and mind-expanding and impossible to ignore. The idea that Andre Ness is gone—invisible—is something I’m going to have trouble believing.

Rock Gods #122: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

They took a song and they threw it into the sea.

“It had been dogging us for years, that submit tune. We used to jam on it, then it destroyed us. We tried to turn it into like a dozen different songs. It was the theme for some idiot rock opera we tried to write.

“This thing consumed us. It was ‘our song,’ the way couples in love have a song. It grew until it was bigger than all of us. And it nearly destroyed us.”

The only recourse for the band was to divorce the song, erase it, evaporate it, put out a hit on it. They couldn’t give it away—bad luck for all.

So in a van on a three-show tour of one-state-over, they scientifically eviscerated and disembowelled the song. They declared key parts of it off limits forever. Then they each wrote separate parts of it down.

Then they ripped the pieces, put them all in a bag, tied a rock to the bag, and tossed it the ocean.

When they got back to town, they felt a curse had been lifted.

We’re not mentioning the band, or the song, because our readers are cretins who like nothing more than to shout out a request for this devil song the next time the band plays. Part of us wants to protect the world from inevitable doom by keeping the specifics to ourself. Another part of us wants to shout out the request ourself.

Coming to the Bullfinch within 40 hours of now: Horn of the Hunter, I Didn’t Know It was Loaded (with former members of Use Enough Gun) and The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older… At Hamilton’s: The Lost Classics, One for the Road and Something of Value… At D’ollaire’s: an indie incursion of The Honey Badger and the not-as-metal-as-they-sound Grenadine’s Spawan…