Friday, November 27, 2009

Canyon of Dreams by Harvey Kubernik (Sterling)

HARVEY KUBERNIK in his CANYON OF DREAMS (Sterling Publishing) (GUEST REVIEW by Gary Pig Gold)
I certainly tend to agree that, in the infamous words of no less an authority on all things Laurel Canyon, California as Frank Zappa, most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read.
True, in a market already too glutted with Fortieth Anniversary re-servicings of everything from Woodstock to the Stones’ Altamont misadventures, one would hardly be blamed in passing by yet another study of Los Angeles pop culture from its equally distant, if Golden age. Somehow though, veteran SoCal rock historian Harvey Kubernik’s bountiful new Canyon Of Dreams book is the joyous exception to the patchouli-drenched rule: It is both lush in layout and deep in detail, of not only the musicians, but the arrangers, club owners, publicists and even architecture behind an era roughly stretching from Art Laboe to Slash. Or, as the author himself tells me, “We needed a print ride from 1914 to 2009. I took the challenge.”
“I knew my highly passionate writing style and implementation of the oral history structure could really bring readers into a real/reel world from my native viewpoint.” And Kubernik’s approach, like a spin off the Strip itself, is one perfectly chaotic, wildly colorful concoction wherein Donovan rubs coffee table-sized pages with the Firesign Theatre and Eric Burdon, only to find Glen Campbell bumping lazily into Andrew Loog Oldham by way of Rick Rubin and the Mamas and Papas.
Then, just a thumbnail away, hitherto unimaginable L.A. links between the Mothers and the Monkees are irrevocably connected as never before in print, while unsung musical heroes aplenty – from Three Dog Night’s Danny Hutton to original Canyon Queen Jackie DeShannon (as opposed to Joni Mitchell) – are not only illuminated, but speak at gorgeous length in their very own words throughout these twenty-full chapters. Myths are dispelled (such as the real origins behind Messrs. Crosby, Stills and Nash’s much-debated initial meet-up) while just as many legendary Hollywood stories remain as unconfirmable as ever …and most fascinatingly so, I must just add.
Meanwhile, besides all the obvious Cast of Characters along the way, we’re finally introduced to such seminal figurines as Nurit Wilde, a Canadian expatriate who parlayed a lighting booth gig at the Whisky A Go Go into life as a sometimes intimately-involved photographer-to-the-stars. But, as Kubernik confidante Ray Manzarek writes in his most knowing Foreword, “all soft and bejeweled and feathered and wrapped in their soft garments from antique clothing stores,” these, yes, L.A. Women play an intrical part in the proceedings, above and far, far beyond simply providing horizontal pleasures for the myriad curly guitar strummers they, and now we, encounter along the way.
And capturing this all is none other than the truly gifted Henry Diltz, whose photographs of all things Laurel are lovingly reproduced throughout Canyon Of Dreams in stunning, revelatory glory. To cite but one example, his somehow innocent yet simultaneously striking image of a young, unguarded Linda Ronstadt on page 163 more than lives up to its caption (“Barefoot and Breathtaking with Killer Pipes”) while at the same time showing more behind two brown eyes than with the proverbial thousand words, no matter how well chosen they may indeed be.
Yes, that is precisely the kind of book Kubernik has produced. And like the people, the places, and most absolutely the music of which he and his assembled multitude speak, the editorial approach and even layout itself remains as flippantly sun-baked as one would expect when grappling with the reminiscences of Kim Fowley, Pamela Des Barres and Micky Dolenz.
“My roots go back to the mid-Fifties in this town,” Kubernik explains. “I was born at Queen of Angeles Hospital, overlooking the Hollywood 101 Freeway at the border of Los Angeles and East Hollywood. I graduated from Fairfax High School. Do I have to even say anything else?”
Well, as the above-mentioned Danny Hutton exclaimed, "Harvey, you did a book about forty years, not four years. You did a book not about the same seven people or bands, but seventy people!" And somehow, so much more as well.
Read Canyon Of Dreams today, and read it often.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

CoCoComa "Things Are Not All Right" (Goner) "Ask Don't Tell" b/w "The Anchor" (Trouble In Mind)

Halloween 2008 CoCOComa played what I foolishly thought was their last show, as bassist/keyboardist Mike Fitzpatrick already had his bags packed to leave town. But apparently the band eked out some recordings before Fitzpatrick took off, and while power couple Lisa and Bill Roe (guitar and drum, respectively) took a maternity leave from rock 'n' roll, they were secretly doing some kind of anti-Brian Wilson magic on these tapes, somehow layering on a year of post-production to make their tracks sound more raw and spare. A huge step forward from their 2007 debut, this hard driving gem somehow presents infectious hook after infectious hook without ever falling into the powerpop/pop punk ghetto. This is in great part because the band never sounds like they are pretending to be teenagers. Bill's nasal-free vocals, with phrasing and timbre falling somewhere between David Byrne and Johnny Thunders, sound thoroughly grown up. And Lisa's chunky bursts of classic punk guitar solos, and the layers of ragged but right backup harmonies, are clearly the products of adult musicians with seasoned record collections. This is definitely a disc you can play seven zillion times and never get sick of. While the classic Fitzpatrick-lineup of the band followed the Chicago garage rock tradition of members looking like they should be drinking Old Style on third base at a neighborhood 16-inch softball game, CoCoComa has embraced the post-Smith-Westerns local landscape by recruiting a couple of Tiger Beat-pinups to round out the lineup. Bassist Tyler Brock and guitarist/organ player Anthony Cozzi debut on the band's self-released single (the launch of their new 45 label) and the quartet manages to pack 50 years of garage rock history in five minutes or so, invoking the Dolls, the Hollies, the Sonics, Sun Records, Estrus Records, and throwing up, while laughing, by the dumpster behind the Empty Bottle.

The Sunstreak "Once Upon A Lie" (MRV)

I wish this thoroughly slick, commercial, pop/emo/middle of the road rock CD was on a major label and these kids had received a nice advance or something so I wouldn't have to feel bad about slamming guys who self-released and labored over something that means the world to them, putting their sweat, heart, and soul into every note. But so it goes. While one could apply the word "inoffensive" to this, I'm going the other way. This is so bland it offends me profoundly -- maybe not to a declare-a-fatwa level of offended, but certainly to angry book burning-level offended. And apparently burning plastic releases some kind of toxic fumes that get you kind of goofy headed. Thus, I did ultimately get some pleasure from this CD. Though I suspect most of the fumes came from the jewel case.

Mott The Hoople - Live - Hammersmith Apollo (October 1, 2 & 3, 5, 6, 2009)

BOOGALOO DUDES!  RETURN OF THE HOOPLE (Guest Review by Madeline Bocaro) Mott The Hoople’s fans were two miles from heaven! Young dudes, old dudes, Hott Motts, and glam girls were in for a treat. After 35 years of failed attempts and false rumours, the reunion was finally on - five nights at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon (or whatever it’s called now)! This was the site of Mott’s infamous live album recording in 1973, and the same venue where they played two shows on the same day due to overwhelming ticket demand, to a ravenous crowd resulting in the headline, ”Mott Riot!” As far as we know, they are still banned from the Royal Albert Hall.
Tickets for the fantasy went on sale nine months in advance, giving us plenty of time to excitedly anticipate which songs they might perform, and how great it would be. Despite the unnerving response of ‘Mott the What?” whenever I’d cite them to anyone who asked what my favourite band was, the first two scheduled shows sold out in just a few hours, and three more gigs were added - the ultimate testament to my venerable good taste! Any truly worthy and inspiring band will get its deserved accolades. It’s only a matter of time.
Back then, it was wild - all flash and then crash. Mott’s live gigs always outsold and out-did their albums. They broke up in 1975, when I was sixteen. Seeing all five gigs now would perhaps make up for that. We all know that the band was not reuniting just for themselves – but also for us kids – us BIG OLD KIDS! Mott had a unique solidarity with their fans. They even wrote rockers, ballads and hymns to, for and about us. On their quest to become superstars, they never looked down upon us. They came from the same places that we did, and hated the same things we hated. Mott fans were an extremely loyal bunch, traveling far and wide to all the gigs. Mott gave their fans equal credit for their success. Now, after thirty-five years, this was the biggest ‘thank you’ that they could ever give us.
 The front stalls were filled with the old Sea Divers (Mott fan club members) who cried upon hearing the goodbyes in the fadeout of the Hooples’ final single, ‘Saturday Gigs’ in 1975, which heralded the band’s breakup. Here we sat, as if in a dream, at our own long awaited Saturday gig - which followed up the Thursday and Friday gigs! The five original guys; Verden (Phally) Allen, with his vintage Hammond organ, Ian Hunter with a brand new Maltese Cross guitar (a gift from Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott), Mick Ralphs and Pete Overend Watts, with his Thunderbird bass, stood before us like a strange hallucination. The Pretenders’ Martin Chambers handled the drums for the frail Dale (Buffin) Griffin, whom despite his ill health, played on the encores to wild and loving cheers. The reunion was now complete. Another reality check - was this really happening?!
 After the traditional ‘Jupiter’ intro music played, and a few more pinches to confirm that we were really here in this actual, unbelievable moment, Mott The Hoople launched into ‘Hymn For The Dudes’. Gone were ‘the suits and the platform boots’ but otherwise, it was business as usual! Alternating between ballads and mad rockers, as always, Mott persevered for two full hours! The crowd remained standing throughout, and Hunter remarked that this was the first time Mott had a standing ovation for their entire show! There is truly something special about Mott The Hoople!
 Ian Hunter was no longer a solo artist. He was a Dude once again – glowing from the inspirational camaraderie of his dear old mates – acting as the superstar he’s always been. As he shook hands with fans in the front row, he remarked to the band, “I know all of them!” He even dedicated a song to a UK fan Andy Sibson, who recently passed away.
 Mott The Hoople re-lived their former glory, as each member’s personality and chops fully emerged. Overend (after a 20 year musical hiatus, due to a passion for fishing and cross-country walks) stomped, prowled and stalked the stage, physically interacting with the fanatically chuffed crowd. His bass playing was incredible, and he almost stole the show – especially during “Born Late ‘58’! Mick Ralphs played some really sweet licks, and came alive onstage much more than expected. Phally propelled the whole thing with his vintage Hammond organ, the signature sound of Mott. It was amazing to see the big old cabinet up there with the Leslie speakers – just like old times! Drummer Martin Chambers powered the band throughout, and supported Buffin during the encores. Buffin got better and stronger each night, and he was as happy to be there, as we were honoured to see him.
 Two large video screens simultaneously illustrated old photos and news clippings of the band, and the iconic imagery of The Hoople album cover, bearing the face of model Kari-Ann with all the Hooples in her hair, which served as a fantastic backdrop.
 Hunter broke into some old Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis and Hank Williams songs on the keyboard. The backing choir grew as the nights went on, to include several Mott kids; Ian Hunter’s son and daughter Jesse and Tracie, Mick Ralphs’ son Jim, Mick Ronson’s daughter Lisa, and another old pal, the original singer of Mott The Hoople whom Hunter replaced ages ago, Stan Tippins. Mott superfan Joe Elliott appeared on “All The Young Dudes”.
 The bittersweet finale was ‘Saturday Gigs’, the Hooples’ 1975 farewell single chronicling the history of the band, from the 1969 Roundhouse gigs to their final 1974 Broadway shows in New York City. Video screens showed nostalgic slides of rare Mott gig posters and handbills. The band poignantly put down their instruments at the song’s end, chanting the ‘goodbye’ coda acapella, as the lights went down. Mott exited the stage, as the joyful yet tearful crowd carried on chanting ‘goo-ood byyye’, echoing through the hall.
 That was it - victorious, happy and glorious. Their mentor, Guy Stevens would have been proud. Mott’s STILL got it!
 Backstage visitors included Jimmy Page, Brian May, Mick Jones of the Clash, members of Duran Duran, Mott’s latter day keyboardist Morgan Fisher, and the original Mott fan club president, Kris Needs, who recently revealed that a young Benazir Bhutto had been a member when she was a young student at Oxford.
 Set List: Hymn for the Dudes / Rock n Roll Queen / Sweet Jane / One Of The Boys / Sucker / The Moon Upstairs / The Original Mixed Up Kid / I Wish I Was Your Mother / Ready For Love / Born Late '58 / Ballad of Mott The Hoople /  Angeline / Walking With A Mountain / The Journey / The Golden Age Of Rock 'n' Roll / Honaloochie Boogie / All The Way From Memphis / Roll Away The Stone / All The Young Dudes / Keep A Knocking / Saturday Gigs
 …Playing some goodies And some newies And some oldies And some filthies And some weirdies And some queeries Just for you!

KISS "Sonic Boom (Kiss/Universal)

KISS hasn't released a studio album in over ten years, and hasn't recorded memorable material in almost twenty. In those decades Gene Simmons flexed his creative muscles by figuring out non-musical ways to exploit the brand, branching out into reality TV, coffeeshop, and coffins (Dimebag Darrell was reportedly buried in an official Kiss Kasket). This crass commerce risked turning one of the band's greatest assets into a dirty word. “Shameless” shouldn't mean disgracefully commercial. It should mean the ability to boldly bellow awesome lyrics like, “Danger you, danger me, danger US” without a hint of irony. On “Sonic Boom” KISS reclaims its crown of shamelessness, and subsequently deliver one of the most absurdly joyous rock records in years: a true guiltless pleasure.
KISS pledged that this CD would be a return to the sound of it's early LPs and that promise is delivered, quite literally, with some recycled instrumental and vocal phrases sure to get the tongues of KISS Army vets' wagging Pavlov-style. But more importantly, this hard rocking effort avoids the three instincts that have worked against the band's best musical interests in the past: they aren't trying to be artistic (a la '81's Lou Reed-assisted concept album “The Elder”), they're not following trends ('97's stillborn post-Grunge “Carnival of Souls”) and they aren't putting marketing over music ('98's comic book/3-D themed “Psycho Circus”).
Instead almost every song on this record is a triumphant rock anthem, with half climaxing in chants. The material sounds fun to play (KISS cover bands should be delighted), and were clearly written for the pyrotechnic-powered live arena. The lyrics are profoundly un-profound, a glorious goulash of mixed metaphors (“this is Russian Roulette...the deck is loaded”), stock rock phrases (“let your backbone slip,” “out on the street”) and the classic rock equivalents of moon/June rhymes ( “desire/fire,” “street/heat,” “knees/please”). Gene Simmons sings tune after tune about being an arrogant sexual beast, and Paul Stanley (who produced and wrote most songs) unleashes numerous bombastic hymns about living a glorious rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Most impressive is that, despite being unquestionably pandering, horny, and simplistic, this is utterly truthful. Simmons is genuinely lustful and egocentric, and when Stanley sings, “Let me hear you say 'YEAH'” he wants to you hear you say YEAH from the bottom of his hirsute heart. The Dylans and Radioheads may be more artful, but they've never been this honest.
A classy development on this record is the elevation of the new guys. Drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer earned their greasepaint by filling in over the years in the studio and onstage when original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley made themselves unavailable (Singer also served time in the 90s after Criss' original replacement, Eric Carr, died of cancer). Though both are wearing their predecessors' costumes and makeup, efforts are made to spotlight them as individuals, including having the current lineup re-record their hits for a Japanese CD (included as a bonus disc), eschewing vintage photos so that their faces appear in all publicity (including on tiny KISS M&Ms), and most significantly, giving them vocal solos. While this won't make fans forget their predecessors (especially because Singer's raspy voice recalls Criss', and Thayer's “When Lightning Strikes” mirrors Frehley's signature “Shock Me”), they turn in solid performances. Also, their instrumental contributions, crunchy solos and subdued drum fills, make the album feel both classic and undated.
If there's any nod to contemporary pop on this album it's Simmons variation on Fergie's “London Bridge”/”My Humps” practice of putting a bunch of common euphemisms together until you're not sure what the hell's going on. On “Yes I Know” the Family Jeweler croons, “Is it heads or tails tonight/You can't bring this boy to his needs/I guess I'm guilty baby, if you please/If I'm going down in flames, baby I'm going in style.” As best I can figure, he either engaged in coerced reciprocal cunnilingus, or he followed up anal with some elegant immolation. Then again, maybe Simmons pioneered this cryptic technique. KISS fans have been trying to figure out what a “Deuce” is since 1974.