Listening to… Pearl and the Beard

Pearl and the Beard, Killing the Darlings. This quirky harmony vocal multi-frontperson assemblage, with eclectic small classical/rock combo backing immediately had me thinking of Human Sexual Response, the incredible Boston-based new wave act of the ‘90s. But ultimately Pearl and the Beard are closer to The Roches or The Nylons—infectious energy and clever arrangements, lulling rather than transcendent. That’s not to say that “The Lament of Coronado Brown” and “Black Hole of Calcutta” don’t kill with their slow-burn multi-layered bluesy build-ups.

Literary Up: Revisionist Music History from Will Hermes

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire—Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever
By Will Hermes (2011, Faber & Faber)
Considering the amount of attitude, punk elitism, creative prioritizing and idle boasting that’s stuffed into its pages, this is not an offensive book. Yes, it’s by a Rolling Stone “Senior Critic” who subscribes to many of that magazine’s quaint habits and values, that sense of validating some acts as crucial while others can simply languish.

But this book’s chronological, historical, minutiae-minded style keeps it free from what I’ve always detested in Rolling Stone: the premature anointing of certain mainstream, mostly white, rock gods right out of the gate while overlooking others, equally deserving, until they’ve achieved a million-selling record and are unignorable.

If you’d read Rolling Stone, or most music magazines, during the years that this book chronicles—1973 through 1977—you’d find an absolute cluelessness, in many cases a willful ignorance, as to what factions and genres in the recording industry would wreak the greatest changes. Will Hermes doesn’t base his narrative on contemporary coverage and reviews, wisely realizing that very little of it had value. He injects his own thoughts as someone whirled into the maelstrom as a young and impressionable music journalist. But mostly he just lays out raw data: who met who when, and how they came to start a band. The anecdotes live briefly, then the names can fade and not be heard again until hundreds of pages later, with no warning or annotation. (Thankfully, the book has an index, footnotes, a discography and even a filmography.)
As if to make up for the fact that few at the time were realizing how many musical movements were being born or reborn in a single city in such a short time, Hermes parcels them out evenly and democratically. Punk, yes, and Springsteen’s stadium bar rock, but also the minimalist movement and the birth of East Coast hip-hop. If anyone is shortchanged, it’s the superstars of the time, those who made the cover of Rolling Stone throughout the ‘70s: Fleetwood Mac, for instance, gets a single mention, and that’s a backhanded comment about the band’s cocaine use. Tom Petty’s sole appearance is due to his purloining the name Heartbreakers for his back-up band, a blow to Johnny Thunders.
It plays like a culturally diverse 20th century soap opera, the characters crossing paths in ways which can seem forced or fanciful. Landmarks like CBGB’s or the gay cruising corner of 53rd and 3rd start seeming like theater backdrops.
There is a cascade these days of memoirs and histories concerning the early years of punk, new wave, neo-classical, hip-hop, rap and other musical scenes.
This one has context, detail, purpose, even suspense. It’s the Russian novel of the musical revolution.

For Our Connecticut Readers: Daniel Street? Somehow, I never went.

One of the most eclectic large-scale music venues in the state is slated to close at the end of this year. Press coverage has been spotty, but a New Haven Register story says that the new owners envision the site as a brick oven pizzeria. The sound equipment is being removed, so there goes a six-year legacy of top indie acts, cult faves and even a few big mainstream names.
If I’m not mistaken, the long-running “Beatles A to Z” acoustic duo series began at that club. Daniel Street also fostered several local band scenes and movements, including some progressive and openly experimental ones which many other clubs would not have encouraged. Programming changed over the years from largely cover bands to predominantly original acts.
Losing any club is a loss, even for those (like me) who never visited it and only read or heard about it. Fifteen years ago there were a lot of music venues, and a general sense that Connecticut was a welcoming state for touring bands who were only just getting their names out there. Now, those clubs have dwindled to a precious few, and Daniel Street was the biggest of them.
The shuttering of Daniel Street will mean that a lot of important bands may not find a decent place to play in Connecticut. Hopefully it won’t keep such bands from bypassing the state entirely. Local promoters and clubowners have their work cut out for them if they want to keep the music scene vibrant in the state.

Kitbashed Creche

We got our Christmas on Sunday. In preparation, we set up our crèche on the top of the living room bureau Saturday night.
We have the most diverse, democratic crèche in Christendom, cobbled together from years of hand-me-downs and gifts. The pieces mingle merrily:
Half a dozen Marys
Slightly fewer Josephs
And Four Jesuses.
At least seven wise men
Not nearly so many shepherds
Even less sheep
Two nutcrackers
Two dogs (one of them Snoopy)
Three Santas
A lion
…and neither a partridge nor a pear tree.

Rock Gods #235: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

Staircasing the Joint got their (not so great) name from playing a club two towns from here where the stage was a stairway to nowhere. “The second floor has been condemned or something,” recalls Pablo Pillock, the self-styled “SpanBrit Bandit” who runs this band like a drill squad sergeant. “This stairway was the stage. You stood on the steps and played.” And lest you’re imagining Newportian grandeur, “it was only maybe six feet wide, with a wall on each side. Cosy. Cool, I guess, but really…. Enclosed. Scary.”
Especially when he heard a sound on the other side of the door to nowhere. A knocking. “If someone, or something, wanted to be let in,” says Pillock, “ I wasn’t going to let that happen. I was full of justifications: It was an echo from the drums or bass in that small area. It was a storage closet for the bar up there. It was a demon from hell.”
“That’s when my hair started turning white. It happened right there.”
Adds a little depth to the band responsible for “Poptasticolorfuxplosion,” don’t it?

Pritty Ser Secco and Neuss Pastore at the Bullfinch; world music from scholars at the college on the hill.. Spring Up and The Cunningtons at Hamilton’s… The McSars and PipeLime, underground from down under, at D’ollaire’s for a reasonable price…

Listening to… Poor Boy’s Soul

Poor Boy’s Soul, Burn Down (early November)
Poor Boy’s Soul bills itself as a “one man foot stomp’n band.” Its sole member’s name is Trever Jones. He’s just been arrested (not for the first time, apparently) for hopping a freight train. Yet his is not what I think of as “railroad blues”—that chugging locomotive rhythm often punctuated with harmonica. No, this album starts more in the chain-gang blues mode. “Burn Down That House” is slow and pessimistic, with a singalong chorus. “Moving to the City” is much sprightlier—is that a tambourine there? With his petulant poetry of the moment, Poor Boy’s Soul is as reminiscent of post-Expressionist European singer-songwriters like Kevin Coyne as it is of trad blues. That said, Trever Jones has certainly got his guitar slides and vocal growls down pat.

Literary Up:

Ugly Things magazine, for many, could seem as unwelcomingly obscure as a bad acid trip. There’s no easy entry for some into an annual periodical which devotes a ten-page feature to the ‘60s freakbeat band Wimple Winch, and then leaves you hanging because that’s only Part One. Wimple Winch’s reputation is based on three singles, released within an eight-month span of time 45 years ago.
The other way to look at this, of course, is to praise such obsessive scholarship to the tangerine-colored skies. Bands such as Wimple Winch seldom got the coverage they deserved, and the most popular bands mentioned in Ugly Things were chronicled in their heyday only by fan mags such as 16 and Tiger Beat. A lot of wild stories never got told. Ugly Things pulls musicians out of decades of hibernation and grills them about the specifics of things which the artists, given the tenor of the ‘60s, have no right even to remember.
Twice in this issue, it’s mentioned how unfair it is that Paul Revere & the Raiders haven’t been seriously considered for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the presumption being that the band’s tricorner hats and other Revolutionary War comically undercut their otherwise superbly rocking manner. I am in full agreement—if Jimi Hendrix could dress the way he sometimes did, the Raiders (whose ruffled shirts and piped jackets weren’t that different than Stones and Beatles uniforms of the time) have nothing to be ashamed of. But the greater argument is the attention Ugly Things gives to the Raiders in the final years of the band’s time with Columbia Records, when the band rebounded from a dive into obscurity by delivering “Indian Reservation” (the biggest selling single in the label’s history, its sales record not to be broken until Michael Jackson a decade later), then back into obscurity due to Columbia’s disinterest.
Massive international hit records such as “Indian Reservation” aside, Ugly Things is more about also-rans and alternate histories than it is about the victors. The new issue chronicles an underappreciated Raiders era, but also profiles Brotherhood, a band formed by several defectors from The Raiders. It also has an unconnected article on Don Fardon of The Sorrows, who happened to have the bigger European hit with “Indian Reservation.”
Some intentional, many not, coincidences of time, place and sound swirl about every issue of Ugly Things. The magazine uncorks a spirit that I could use more often than once a year. Luckily, when I’m done reading this phone book of a freak beat periodical, there’s always its soundtrack—all those cool old records they write about—to rediscover.

For Our Connecticut Readers:

The annual Christmas Tree Lighting on New Haven Green last Thursday. We walked over after school, but not soon enough. The lines were so long that even Sally wasn’t going to endure them just to ride a mechanical yak around a flagpole. Make that halfway around a flagpole—the lines remained long, but the actual ride had been drastically shortened. The carousel would’ve been a better bet, but we didn’t even do that, let alone troop through Santa’s cottage.

It was nice to see electric candles glowing in the windows of United Church on the Green. This is the church we have belonged to for over six years, so in our case the lights in the window were not attracting our wandering souls as much as they were reminding our parched throats that hot cocoa and peppermint candy canes could be had in the narthex.

More Occupy songs

1. “Gimme a Little Sign,” Brenton Wood. For all the occupiers carrying little signs.
2. “In the Pines.” AKA “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” You could read this as an adultery blues, but it’s more open-ended than that. Leadbelly popularized it in the 1940s, and Nirvana taught it to Leadbelly’s listeners’ grandchildren half a century later.
3. We 51 Say You 49, The Furors. New Haven’s frenzied yet friendly alt-rock duo deals with the fine lines of democracy and mob rule.
4. “It’s a Liberty Walk.” Miley Cyrus stretches into rap and Madonna styles, to preach the value of integrity and nonconformity. The video consists of footage from Occupy movements nationwide, including disheartening scenes of tear-gassing and shoving.
5. Stick to the Status Quo, High School Musical soundtrack. Disney rockers have written activist movements anthems before. A song about how hard it can be to stand up for your rights and tastes in a classist society, which ends up showing a lot of communal support for the notion of independent thought.

I was in Boston twice last month, and both times took a quick stroll through the impressive Occupy encampment at the foot of the financial district. A civilized and upbeat bunch, despite being hammered with court challenges and eviction threats. Lots of music, debate and information.
Occupy Boston even have their own newsprint newspaper, The Boston Occupier. Front-page stories on the four-page Nov. 18 edition were “Survey Reveals Occupiers’ Values,” “Occupy Wall Street Evicted by the NYPD” and “Gandhi Statue Finds Home at Occupy Boston.”
Occupy Boston is getting good play in the city’s newspapers, especially in the Boston Phoenix, which seems positively reenergized by this youthful insurgence. The movement has attracted old media and created its own media. That, to me, is the best thing about Occupy—whether or not people have trouble parsing or detecting its often vague messages and edicts, it has created an entire new platform for expression.