Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hinder "All American Nightmare"

(Universal/Republic) I was ready to cringe when I put this on...years of rap/rock, NuMetal. shit that sounds like Creed and bad, bad Ozzfest 2nd stage acts made me figure that a new major label rock record wouldn't actually have any rock on it. But this record is completely unoffensive to rock loving ears, as this band mixes Southern rock sensibilities and late Motley Crue production in a way that actually rocks. Sure, there's so missteps (an anti-rap/pro-rock song that starts out like that Everlast hit, and an anti-pop music diva song that is surprisingly pro-Madonna). But as long as they don't protest too much about how they rock harder than rappers and girls these Oklohomers are pretty unhindered.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Syl Johnson “Complete Mythology”

Both the title and voluminous liner notes to “Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology” reflect upon the Chicago soul veteran’s penchants for boasts and fanciful autobiography. However, recently Mr. Johnson has been pushing two points of pride at the expense of others.  Johnson is right to brag that he’s been sampled ad nauseum by rappers, deejays and Michael Jackson, and that he sired R. Kelly muse Syleena Johnson. But those achievements put on the back burner what should be the first fact concerning Syl Johnson: he’s one of the greatest artists in soul music history.
This hefty set makes that argument for him. The 81 tracks here, culled mostly from singles he did before his seventies stint at Memphis’ Hi Records, show that as a 50s bluesman, 60s R&B crooner, and bonafide 60s/70s soul master, Johnson had a profoundly distinctive voice. Floating between Southern rawness and Motown slickness, what really stands out is the way his tone and phrasing make notes seem to start down deep and pass through a mysterious filter before we get to hear them.  Thus, Johnson’s voice never bares his soul naked, but coyly hints he’s holding secret knowledge back, that mystery making every lyric more intriguing.
However much “Complete Mythology” redeems the soulful Syl, it would be disingenuous to say people will buy this just for the music. Following last year’s “Light on the Southside” multimedia set, Numero continues to establish the Coffeetable Record genre with this gorgeous set. A hefty slipcase contains a photo-packed book, a gatefold-LP style CD case holding 4 discs, and six LPs, two being reproductions of real records, the others being ridiculously real-looking imaginary LPs, with period design, vintage fonts, and fabricated liner notes from Chicago soul stalwarts like E. Rodney Jones and Clint Ghent. Between the stellar singing and the ridiculous excess of design, this boxset is far more hit than myth.
Which, if you’ll pardon my shitting on a colleague, made me kind of shocked to see it get a tepid review on Pitchfork, a mere 6.8 out of 10 for one of the best archival releases in years. While almost nothing writer Douglas Wolk says is technically inaccurate – Johnson could certainly be considered an “also ran,” some of the ultra-obscure low budget tracks included don’t feature stellar bands, and obviously Johnson, and no one else, is as good as James Brown (the subject of one of Wolk’s books). Yet to conclude that scores of inventive, funky tracks, dozens of amazing photos, an aesthetic orgasm of product design, and pages and pages of text celebrating a gloriously mad musical juggernaut deserves a mediocre mark falls somewhere between misguided and insane.
Disclosure time: I am a lifelong Chicago southsider, which in addition to loyalty to the White Sox, an aversion to gas grills, and an inborn sense of alternate traffic routes on Southside Irish and Bud Billiken parade days, means that Chicago soul is an intimate, almost familial, part of my world. I’ve been in the bank teller line behind Pops Staples, sat next to Jerry Butler at a restaurant, and saw Otis Clay, in sandals, walking his dog (sadly not the same dog from the “Trying to Live My Life Without You” record cover).
          I’m not making this list to boast (I honestly wish I could un-see Mr. Clay’s feet), but rather as an admission that I likely overinflate the magnitude and magic of Chicago soul stars, certainly feel more loyal to them than musicians from other regions, and realize that I have probably always seen Mr. Johnson as more of a superstar than he probably is. But even putting aside Chicago chauvinism, there are dozens of tracks here that completely confirm Mr. Johnson’s awesomeness. Certainly “Sorry ‘Bout That,” “Try Me,” “Dresses Too Short,” “Different Strokes,” “That Is Why,” “Come On Sock It Too Me,” “Half A Love,” “Don’t Give it Away,” and the other strongest tunes here can constitute 69 minutes of equal or better music than the 68:42 of Kanye West’s new album, which got a perfect Pitchfork 10. Perhaps points are docked for some of the less than thrilling early blues tracks, or for including instrumentals or alternate takes, but it’s a box set! Maybe they docked points because the vinyl and CDs repeated the same material, but taking exception there seems to ignore the joy and loving reverence that went into sequencing a bunch of weird, obscure singles into reasonable recreations of period albums, with enough intricate visual details to justify the collection’s high price.
            Wolk makes clear is that he really sees the weak material as too weak, and also that he feels Johnson was a “hit-chaser” and “trendspotter” rather than an innovator. As far as former stands, I really prefer the big picture one gets when compilations mine the ore and find both unjustly and justly obscure obscurities – especially when all tracks feature with an instrument as fine as Johnson’s voice.
            But as for the latter charge, here is where I think proximity genuinely helps. It’s easy to see how all these dance tunes, namechecks (of James Brown, Johnny Taylor, and others), answer songs, period-mandated protest songs, and musical exploitations of the latest slang seem like trendspotting and hit-chasing, and of, course, that’s totally true. However anyone who has seen Syl Johnson live a few times, had the confounding pleasure of having a circular, disjointed conversation with him, or heard an array of Syl stories (only hinted at in the fine liner notes) would know that Mr. Johnson is the incredibly rare artist that can go through the motions of pandering without ever actually pandering. Even in his full-on, tourist blues club, make-the-white-folks-laugh, audience participation mode Johnson never gives any ground or loses any dignity.  His force of personality, sense of self, and what some might call craziness, never concedes anything, and it’s not really pandering if you don’t care what the audience thinks of you. To my ears, on 45 rpm vinyl Johnson pulls off the same trick, infusing what could come off as hackwork into something weirdly special.
            I’m surprised Wolk (whose James Brown book I like) doesn’t hear this, but so it goes. I don’t own Numero stock, and don’t have any professional stake in the success of the release, so I can only assume my defensiveness here is just my hometown pride being bruised a little. Fortunately I have a couple hundred minutes of magical music at the fingertips to soothe my bruise. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Pee Wee Herman Show

PEE WEE’S SHINY HAPPY BROADWAY PLAYHOUSE (October 27, 2010, Guest Review by Madeline Bocaro)
Surprisingly , there wasn’t a kid in the house under age 30 for this 8pm performance – the 2nd night of Pee Wee’s Broadway run. It was couples night at the Playhouse. Guys escorted their gals. Some went reluctantly and some willingly. In either case, it was infinitely more entertaining than a chick flick. And the guys finally got to witness their rival up close – their wives’ obsession – a ridiculous 6-year-old boy in a grown-up body. Gals whose guys refused to come, rang up their pals with whom they used to watch Pee Wee on TV every 1980s Saturday morning. They hadn’t been in touch for ages, but now they urgently needed a date!
The couple sitting next to me were hardcore fans, clutching Pee Wee dolls and wearing red bow ties. They uttered things like, “Pee Wee is a genius! A national treasure! He could have died since the 80s, and we’d never have gotten to see him at this epic moment in time!” When I mentioned that Pee Wee’s bicycle is now on display at the Hollywood History Museum in Los Angeles, and that it is, in fact NOT at the Alamo, they were nearly drooling! They left their 2-year-old at home. “He is Godzilla, and our home is Tokyo.” Too bad they didn’t give Pee Wee a chance to dazzle their little terror into submission!
I was solo tonight. My dear boyfriend has generously humoured me way too many times. Most recently, he was splattered with fake blood as we sat front row at the Alice Cooper concert. I gave him a break tonight, and sat blood-splattering distance from Pee Wee, alone. Close enough to see his pancake makeup and his insanely twisted facial expressions, and feel like I was actually on a real play-date at the Playhouse!
The blindingly bright, bedazzling and extremely colourful Playhouse was a wonder to behold. Everyone gasped as the curtain rose to reveal it. This was the psychedelic haven where our latent childhood fantasies were taken on an acid trip all those years ago. Under a stunning glittery blue sky, all our favourite shiny, happy characters appeared; Chairry, Clockey, Magic Screen, Conky, Pterri, the Flowers, the Fish, Randy…And there was a knock on the door every two minutes; Cowboy Curtis, Miss Yvonne, the King of Cartoons…
Paul Reubens is on some weird trip. He is really into this crazy little boy character. I think he is actually stuck in it. His mom probably said, “Paulie, if you keep making those silly faces it will stay that way forever!” If he did not have an existing mug shot, we could easily believe that his whole psyche is frozen in time. The New York show runs through January 2nd, 2011 – and will surely be extended. He’s previously performed it in Los Angeles. Reubens’ wacky juvenile alter-ego is still as sincere and genuine as ever. And he looks exactly the same after 30 years!
Most delightful was that the original Jambi the genie (John Paragon) and the real Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), ‘the most beautiful woman in Puppet Land’, were both in the show! Jambi was as camp as ever. His face was painted the shiniest green (eat your heart out wicked Witch of the West!) Miss Yvonne’s hair was bigger and higher than ever – and also full of glitter.
Pterry the pterodactyl was a beautiful shocking neon green whirlwind of prehistoric joy! The smiley Flowers were, vivacious and gorgeous with their googley eyes and smoochy lips. Chairry was sweet, plush and adorable. Globey resembled the original animated character with a long nose and French accent. (There was a latter Globey 2.0 on the TV show that wasn’t as freaky). I did not see the point of the annoying giant pantomime bear – who was obviously there to irritate Pee Wee as well. It only made me miss the Cowntess, Floory and Billy Baloney that much more. And they should have included the bizarre singing food items in Pee Wee’s fridge. 

The dialogue was fast and funny, ridiculous and absurd. Pee Wee was in fine form, with a brilliant unflinching mastery of child-like facial expressions. Lots of nice special effects - but in moderation, maintaining a retro ambience (yes, the 80s are retro these days!) Puppet master Basil Twist - whose recent work with Joey Arias in the show Arias With a Twist was breathtaking - brought all the characters to life, but kept them surreal. Pterri flew around on very visible strings. Magic Screen spewed lots of useful information. Pee Wee sang and danced a touching duet with Chairry. Pee Wee read his pen-pal letters - steeped in the hilarious exaggerated international stereotypes of yore - as Globey pointed out each pen-pal’s locale on his head. A new ShamWow puppet was introduced, who appeared whenever Pee Wee was being ‘shammed’ - Wow! We were treated to a Penny cartoon, and a vintage Coronet instructional film on lunchroom etiquette (Don’t be a Mr. Bungle!)  Random lines from old Hollywood, and infomercials were referenced. Pee Wee had a hilarious elongated moment enjoying a noisily deflating balloon. Latin handyman Sergio wired the Playhouse for the Internet, replacing the old tin-can-on-a-string telephone. Pee Wee nearly burns down the Playhouse in his cooking segment.
Absent were the little kids whom Pee Wee used to entertain on the TV Playhouse. The addition of some kids in the cast would have made it more FUN (the magic word, by the way). Although not enough to make the show too adult-themed, there were several double-entendres. The postman tells Pee Wee that he has a ‘nice package’, and presents him with a shiny pink jeweled box.
There was lots of laughter and screaming. I wonder if kids of today, who are wrapped up in technology and have forgotten how to actually have fun - the main theme of the show - would even understand the joy of a plasticine playhouse with animatrons and puppet friends. There was an innocent time, when ‘I know you are, but what am I’ was a sufficient retort to a name-calling bully. It was really, REALLY nice to visit that wonderful time and place again for one more magical, sparkly evening.
Nice to see you again Pee Wee!
Next stop, Vegas?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Keith Moon - Final 24: His Final Hours

(MVD) (Guest Review by Gary Pig Gold)
Good morning, campers!
It’s your old pal Keith Moon here. You know, “Moonie,” “Moon the Loon” …or, as I very much prefer, The Greatest Rock and Roll Drummer that Ever Was, that is. Or was. I think… But I digress.
Anyroad, we meet today so that I may bring your undivided attention to this marvelous new DVD disc entitled – just a moment here, as I do want to make sure I get this completely correct – ahh, yes. Keith Moon, Final 24: His Final Hours.
Well then! I guess you could call this the, well, final word on the subject, ah-HA-Ha-HaHaHa!
Final 24: His Final Hours. Yes, a tad redundant, I do agree, but nevertheless this splendid disc does promise to, in the very words of its very own press sheet you see, “unlock the hidden secrets, psychological flaws and events that result in the tragic deaths of global icons.” Here here!
“Maps out the final twenty-four hours of a famous person's life,” it goes on. “Weaves the star's back-story with events from their last day, which lays bare the threads of fate that led inextricably from childhood to the moment of death.” I see! “These are no ordinary biographies.” I should hope not… “They're psychological detective stories attempting to uncover the mystery of why the celebrity died.”
You know, I’ve been wondering that myself quite a bit, I must say! ah-HA-Ha-HaHaHa!
MY “final 24” then: Bailing out on Paul McCartney’s Buddy Holly Story premiere party – a dreadful bore, it truly was …and I don’t just mean the movie – then home for a quick cutlet and Dr. Phibes – now THERE’S a movie, mate! – lay it all down beside the missus for a quick kip and then… and then…
To be perfectly honest, things do get a bit, shall we say hazy from this point onwards, as I’m sure you can understand, ah-HA-Ha-HaHaHa! But this disc here really does seem to do a fabulous job at pulling all of the pieces quite properly together, as it were.
For a starter, there’s a lovely little segment spent on my long, long-ago childhood. Even shows one of my old Alperton Secondary School reports: “Retarded artistically”? “Idiotic in other aspects”?? Not by ‘alf, then, ah-HA-Ha-HaHaHa! I mean, it’s simply called ADHD today, innit? But back then, it was just a whack-it upside the be-hind, and “catch us if you can”!
But I reckon, when all was said and sung, I didn’t turn out all that pitifully, now did I?
Nice that they show some marvelous old Gene Krupa footage as well – now THERE’S a drummer! – and before you know it I hook up with Pete and Roger and John and, well …you know, they never did really ask me to join. Nobody ever actually said “You’re in.” They just said “What’re you doin’ on Monday?”
But I took that as a “yes” nevertheless. ah-HA-Ha-HaHaHa!
My, my. And look at all the wonderful people they have interviewed about my Final 24. My almost-biographer Anne Nightingale – how are you, my darling? – and my own Best from the West, Pamela “I’m With The Drummer Tonight” Des Barres, looking as utterly scrumptious as ever. As well as some less, shall we say delectable writers such as Roy Carr and Tony Fletcher. Dear, dear Tony. He really did write a wonderful book on me. And I do appreciate it. Just make sure they don’t let Roger hire Mike Myers to play me in the movie version, Tone – ah-HA-Ha-HaHaHa!  
And there’s Richard Barnes and dear Dougal Butler, speaking of Who books, and Jon Wolff, speaking of Who roadies – ah-HA-Ha-HaHaHa – and Kenney Jones, oh my and, oh! What have we here?
Alice Cooper, talking all about our lost Los Angeles weekend – or in my case, incredibly misplaced twenty-seven months, ah-HA-Ha-HaHaHa – alongside John Lennon and Harry Nilsson and Micky Dolenz and Ringo and even dear old Steve Cropper, shown here trying his damndest to produce one of my, um, recording sessions, quote unquote. ah-HA-Ha-HaHaHa! Sorry about the carpet, dear boy. And the glass. And oh yes, the 16-track…
But who is this now? Legs Larry? Legs Larry Smith? Yes yes, telling all about the night we… we…
Well, there was an accident, you see. These bloody skinheads had surrounded my Bentley when we came out of the pub, getting all stroppy and shaking us and the car every which way. My dear, dear driver Neil Boland got out to chase them away, or at least try to reason with the bastards, as they were frightening my wife Kim.
But just as I took to the wheel to try to save him, they threw Neil under the bloody tires! And I couldn’t see, and I ran… I ran him over. Killed him, I did.
It wasn’t my fucking fault.
NOT my fucking FAULT, alright?
And Amanda? Mandy? Is that you I see now?? Haven’t you grown up all proper and lady-like, just like your mum! I love you, Mandy. I miss you, my little girl.
And Annette? My love? There you are, my sweet! God, it is good to see you again. You look almost… almost real.
Oh, Christ. I must turn this off now. I’m sorry, everybody. I truly am. It’s just that I… I mean, if only I could…
“He made it longer than Hendrix or Joplin or Brian Jones or Jim Morrison,” Miss Pamela says. Damn right I did!
“So that was pretty surprising that he actually lived as long as he did.”
I see, Pamela.
Listen, everybody. Watch Keith Moon, Final 24: His Final Hours. Really, you should.
But when you do, all I ask is that you remember what Alice Cooper says:
“If you take away all the insanity and just listen to the drums, he is irreplaceable.”
You see? Irreplaceable.
Or, if you will, The Greatest Rock and Roll Drummer that Ever Was.
Right. See you all soon then?

Thursday, November 4, 2010


The new issue of Roctober is available! If you have a subscription or are a contributor you will get it by mail sometime this month. If you want to order a copy you can get it from us at roctober.com or from Dusty Groove or Quimbys or ask your fave record store or comix shop to get in touch with us if they want to carry it.
Almost all of the reviews published on this site prior to this appear in the current issue (#48), as well as some amazing interviews, comix, and other craziness. All the reviews posted after this will appear in #49, Spring 2011. If you want to be reviewed in the ish cjeck out the info on the right hand side.

Rock on!