KATE BUSH LIVE 1980-2014 (or lack thereof)

With news of Kate Bush’s upcoming performances this September, her first since 1979, I was curious what other onstage appearances she’s made.  Well, with Youtube’s help, I started looking them up and thought I’d share.  Text c/o Wiki.

In 1982, Bush participated in the first benefit concert in aid of The Prince’s Trust alongside artists such as Madness, Midge Ure, Phil Collins, Mick Karn and Pete Townshend.

On 25 April 1986 Bush performed live for British charity event Comic Relief, singing “Do Bears… ?”, a humorous duet with Rowan Atkinson, and a rendition of “Breathing”.

On 28 June 1987, she made a guest appearance to duet with Peter Gabriel on “Don’t Give Up” at Earl’s Court, London as part of his “So” tour.

In March 1987, Bush sang “Running Up that Hill” at The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball, accompanied by David Gilmour.

On 17 January 2002, Bush appeared with her long-time champion, David Gilmour, singing the part of the doctor in “Comfortably Numb” at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

From our 91X countdown…..
kate n bush

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belly-track-by-logoJellyfish’s debut album, Bellybutton (one of many suggested band names), was released on August 7, 1990 by Charisma Records to press praise and grumblings about grand theft. To gauge its critical response, you can check out all of the articles that Chris Bray has collected on his website or just read this one sentence: they sound like Queen and the Beatles but they’re not as good as Redd Kross.  As far as debut albums go, it’s pretty damn ambitious, though songwriting, not kitchen-sink production is spotlighted more on this album than the second. Clever lyrics, colorful wordplay, not-so-obvious metaphors and brilliant bridges abound.jellyfish fold out My good friend from high school, Jim Cathcart, taped me a copy of Bellybutton in October or November of 1990 during our sophmore year of college, while he was at UC Santa Barbara and I was at Cal State Northridge.  He’d seen the video for “The King Is Half Undressed” on MTV and fell for them immediately.  Without artwork, I had no idea what to expect.  Wow.  I won a CD copy at the employee Christmas party for the folks at the Clairemont Square Wherehouse Records in San Diego a month or two later. I warned everyone that I would destroy them in the trivia/promo grab-bag contest our store manager James organized, but, they didn’t believe me. Five or six free CD’s later they said I wasn’t allowed to play anymore.

Bellybutton japanese

1999 Japanese vinyl reissue

As obsessed as I was with the band back then, I rarely listen to it nowadays, probably due to overexposure. It gets a spin for nostalgia’s sake once every year or two when I’m writing about them. At least that way I never tire of it like I did when they were still active and even moreso when I traded bootlegs of the same 20 songs for a few years. After going to the live shows, I’d want to get that same excitement when I came home and put on the album and it was never the same. They got a little closer to capturing the boom of their live sound on the second album, but, the personality, fun and crunchiness of the live shows couldn’t be pressed onto a disc. That said, I love hearing it after some time away.  Still timeless.
belly cassette

Cd longbox rom the Pablo Melons UK collection.

From the Pablo Melons UK collection.

The album was originally released on CD and cassette in the US. Only promotional vinyl copies were made. It’s been recently re-released on vinyl by Omnivore Recordings but is still out-of-print on cd. The cover shows something resembling a human covered in kids Crest gel toothpaste designs. When you unfold it, it reveals the band members standing on or around what is now obviously a torso, like a Mad magazine back cover in reverse.  The Manning brothers are wearing the same outfits they wear in the “King is Half Undressed” video.  The band once joked that Steve from Redd Kross was the covermodel, but it was a girl named MeShell, hired by the cover art photographer. Not much is known about her other than the fact that her personal checks had shell designs on them (she wrote a check to Chris at the photo shoot so he could buy her some hippy beads when he went back to Humboldt). The cover of the CD long box is simply a large photo of a bare (presumably female) midriff, which ended up on the front of one of the band’s early t-shirts.  I kept the longbox front cover but it’s vanished over the years.  I couldn’t find it anywhere online until mega-collector Pablo Melons came to my rescue and made me feel very, VERY sane by comparison. bellybutton shirt

Bellybutton promo LPThe album got quite a bit of exposure upon its release and reportedly sold 250,000 copies. MTV played all three of the album’s videos (“King Is Half Undressed”, “That Is Why”, and “Baby’s Coming Back”) in regular Buzz Bin rotation and those songs along with “I Wanna Stay Home” (which Charisma actually released as a single) and “All I Want Is Everything” got some national radio airplay.  Still, it remains a cult classic that’s dear to fans and worth overanalyzing song by song, if only because there’s just ten of them.  Under forty minutes?!  Let’s do it.

SIDE ONEbb lp sticker

“This song really is the true birth of Jellyfish.  This was the moment when we saw the light of our own vision and never looked back.  This vocal was my first attempt.  At the end of it, I had tears in my eyes.  Then I didn’t know why; now I do… A milestone in Jellyfishdom.”
-Andy Sturmer, Fanclub liner notes

“Ever had the feeling that you knew more about a person through their work than through knowing them?  Somehow this song spoke more to me about Andy than any other – not so much as a literal image in the story of the song but as an emotional insight to his take on things.  Musically, it was the most fun for me as we approached the ever-dangerous ‘Jazz Orbit.’” -Tim Smith, Fanclub liner notes

A heavy emotional opener for such an upbeat record and, appropriately, one of the first Jellyfish songs written. This album was my introduction to the band, so this was the very first song I ever heard by them. The demo done at Andy’s house that appears on the “New Mistake” UK single is very close to the finished song, minus a cheesy-sounding keyboard harmonica solo. Still, the recording is surprisingly complete for a home demo.  Guess who’s got two thumbs and just listened to it for the first time on headphones? I need to do this more often. Can’t believe I never noticed the stand up bass, so that’s John Patitucci. The harmonica solo on the album is played by Tommy Morgan, who played on the Rockford Files theme, “Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters, and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. Andy has said in interviews that they wanted famed harmonica player Toots Thielmans to record some tracks, but, he was unavailable and most of the songs they thought Toots had played on were actually played by Morgan. Toots was brought in for some studio work for Spilt Milk (“Russian Hill”) but, it was scrapped.

On the band’s first headlining tour, the song was usually the first song of their encore. It’s a heavy enough song as it is, but, the first time I saw them was also the first night of the ground war during the Gulf crisis in 1991. One of them said, “This’ll send a scud missle straight to your heart.” “Into battle…” was horribly timely. On the second tour, the last notes of “Ghost At Number One” slowed down and segued right into the opening part of this song.  It’s Jason’s favorite song on the album and he liked it so much that he started playing it at his solo acoustic shows. It was one of several Jellyfish songs that he and Roger did when opening for Cheap Trick as a duo in 2010.


That+Is+Why+-+Glitter+pack+-+Little+liquid!+-+5%22+CD+SINGLE-189674Although Charisma didn’t release this commercially as a single, it was probably their biggest radio hit in America. LA’s KROQ played the hell out of it while I was in college. There is a radio promo single that was sent out in a soft clear plastic case filled with clear goo (that eventually dried up) and variously shaped glitter (supposedly they’re all different). I lucked out and found it at Record Trader in Reseda, crammed in the used bins with hundreds of current modern rock rejects. It was the band’s second video, filmed at the same LA studio where Lenny Kravitz filmed “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”.  THE Dan Buczaczer worked as a PA on the Lenny video and said there was a wall that people who’d filmed there had signed and in the middle was a huge handdrawn Jellyfish logo.lenny-n-jf

bb back cover otutake that is y

Another back cover photo outtake from a German single.

“This is my favorite live track of all – an honest performance, a clean mix.  I think we all respect Paul McCartney beyond words.  You can hear that in the way we play this song.  The transition into ‘That Is Why’ flows smoothly…” -Chris ManningFanclub liner notes

Jellyfish+Comes+Alive+jcaOn the first tour, the band played a bit of Wings’ “Let ‘Em In” as an intro to the song as part of their encore.  That leads to the very cool songwriting credit of “P. McCartney/A. Sturmer/R. Manning” on the UK “Scary Go Round” EP. Jason snuck the riff from Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do?” onto the end at shows but it was chopped off (poorly) from the recording that appears on the ironically titled US promo EP Jellyfish Comes Alive. On the second tour, they finally did the spacy ending from the album.  In 2008, Jason joined Roger and his band onstage to play this at Fuji Rock in Japan for the only full-band performance of a Jellyfish song with two actual Fishermen in the last 20 years.  
The two also played the song two years later as a duo on the Cheap Trick tour and Roger also played it in an all-star pop band with Mike Viola, Bleu and members of Rooney called MOGUL. Second tour guitarist Eric Dover’s band Sextus recorded it for the 2007 Jellyfish tribute album, Sensory Lullabies.
It should be noted that when my friends and I saw Jellyfish on Halloween in 1993, our group costume was the nerdiest and possibly only Jellyfish themed costume ever. Sam had a large letter Y on his chest so it only worked if we all stood together and could say “…and that is Y.” He was the only one who didn’t get pulled onstage that night, faking anger and ripping up the Y in disgust at night’s end. Way to take one for the team, Sam.


"We Nine Kings" from the Pablo Melons collection.

“We Nine Kings” from the Pablo Melons collection.

“One of the first ones to include Jason’s great contributions.  Hey Rog – great chorus, brother…” -Andy Sturmer, Fanclub liner notes

“‘The King Is Half-Undressed’ is the song that made me want to join Jellyfish…and we pulled off the a cappella breakdown every night perfectly.” -Chris Manning, Fanclub liner notes

“Tomorrow Never Knows” drums and Queen vocals. Let the ripoff accusations begin!  The song was not released as a single commercially in America but it was the band’s first video and was in regular rotation on MTV before the album came out. It was released as a single in the UK where it snuck into the top 40 charts.  I wish I still had the tape my friend Jim sent me where he was trying to tell me how great they were by singing bits of “King” before I’d ever heard them.  It’s another song that Jason and Roger did as a duo opening for Cheap Trick.

When the original lineup did this song acoustically, you could really appreciate their singing and arranging. The middle part was always a cheer-inducing highlight. Their performance of this on 91X in San Diego in 1991 (possibly that lineup’s only acoustic performance) is my favorite Jellyfish recording ever. I had my friend Erin record it while I went down to the studio to say hi and it ended up getting used on the band’s Fanclub boxed set.  I finally uploaded the entire interview.

usd setlistI’m quite partial to this song because, as I’ll ramble on about in fuller detail later, I was once the King is Half Undressed. On Halloween, 1993 I sang this song with them onstage dressed only in a Burger King crown, boxer shorts, a robe and a smile. They gave me a tambourine to shake on the next song (“No Matter What”) but if I had had it for “King”, I would’ve dropped it at the end, like on the album. I was always wanted Roger to do it like a rapper droppin a mic but no such luck.


The homes of Pablo Melons.

The homes of Pablo Melons.

“An oldie.  I remember first playing this for Roger when he’d come home from USC for a visit up north.  Jason’s acoustic additions and flourishes really helped this become a song and not just an idea.” -Andy Stumer, Fanclub liner notes

OTIS-DAYCredited to Andy alone, though the guitar parts are mostly Jason’s doing.  An acoustic solo so purdy, it regularly got cheers. Animal House fans: please note that it sounds like Andy sings, “I’m Otis Day,” through most of the song.  The song was released as a cassette single in America but they didn’t make a video for it. In the UK, it was released as a 10″ record with a gatefold/pop-up and a 3-D CD single that came with glasses (the only two singles I haven’t given away….yet).

3d store display from the Pablo Melons collection.  Off the Record in San Diego had one.

3d store display from the Pablo Melons collection. Off the Record in San Diego had one.

rod album coverThe song was also somewhat featured in the movie Career Opportunities starring Jennifer Connoly’s tanktop and is on the soundtrack too. Plus, songwriter Francis Anthony “Eg” White (who’s written many UK hits including “Chasing Pavements” for Adele) covered the song on his lone solo album, 1996′s “Turn Me On, I’m A Rocket Man”, released on WEA Records in the UK. It was released as a single under the title “Stay Home” but failed to chart. In 2009 White started his own label and named it Spilt Milk Records. I’d heard that Rod Stewart recorded a version, but, it wasn’t released until Rhino Records put out a 2009 four-disc boxed set called The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998 full of rarities.  I was surprised it wasn’t anywhere online so I’ve uploaded it here but with its generic 90′s ballad production, it’s no surprise that this is definitely not a fave with Jellyfish fans.  Around this time, Rod was rumoured to be doing a whole album of Paul Westerberg songs.  Yes, please!

“The classic lyrical formula for pop songs – the bridging of domestic violence and The Newlywed Game.” -Andy Strumer, Fanclub liner notes

“Fuck, Jason is one badass guitar player.” -Chris Manning, Fanclub liner notes

Consistently their hardest rockin’ song live. On the first tour, it segued in from “Bye, Bye, Bye” (without the piano intro, which I never heard them play) and was usually an encore on the second tour. The solo was recorded during a heated argument between Andy and Jason. Andy didn’t want Jason to record in the middle of an argument, but Jason insisted, did the solo staring right at Andy, and then slammed his guitar down. That’s the take you hear on the album. He was particularly stoked that two notes matched perfectly with Andy’s drums, which was unplanned. Picture that next time you hear it.


“Was it Picasso who said ‘Good artists borrow, great artists steal?’  Whatever the case…we needed more fast numbers, so I grafted an Aztec Camera song to Cheap Trick, and this was he result.” -Andy Strumer, Fanclub liner notes

“Our tribute to Cheap Trick…who later became fans of Jellyfish!  This one was fun to bash out live.” -Chris Manning, Fanclub liner notes

As reported in Billboard, Tom & Robin stop for a backstage visit in 1991.  From the Chris Manning archives.

As reported in Billboard, Tom & Robin stop for a backstage visit in 1991. From the Chris Manning archives.

Another one that Andy takes sole songwriting credit for. This is the first of three songs that Steve McDonald from Redd Kross plays bass on. It wasn’t released as a single but it was the last song to get regular radio airplay in San Diego when 91X started to play it towards the end of Summer, 1991. The song fittingly played while students arrived for the first day of school on the very first episode of Beverly Hills 90210 and the band performed it on “Late Night with David Letterman” (their only network talk show appearance).  Since it was standard practice to have the musical guest play with the house band, many acts could only have one or two key members represent on national television.  It was probably one of the only times there was a lead singer playing drums, so Anton Figg played along as Paul Schaffer made pained expressions playing the trumpet lines on a keyboard.  Since they used Letterman’s bass player, Andy looked right into the camera and changed a line to dedicate the song to Chris.

The band ended up hanging out with Cheap Trick all night at a 1991 Chicago stop and years later, Jason and Roger opened a series of CT shows on the east coast as a duo and then backed Robin & Crew for their set.  Roger continues to do occasional shows with the band, including an episode of Austin City Limits.

“This is probably my favorite Roger bridge.  The way it falls apart at the end is pure Manning magic.” -Andy Sturmer, Fanclub liner notes

“This was my favorite bass part to play – a creative masterpiece in my book.  Thanks, Steve.” -Chris Manning, Fanclub liner notes

scary frontAlthough it’s titled The Scary Go Round EP, this song was actually their third UK single and there was a live (lipsynced) video edited together for it.  Because the keyboard intro sounds like “One” by Three Dog Night, Andy would occasionally tease the crowd by singing a little of it. It’s the second song in a row featuring Steve McDonald from Redd Kross’ bass playing. While I worked at Wherehouse Records in Northridge, we were listening to the album (AGAIN) and I heard someone whistle along with Jason’s little lick after the first verse. I just about broke my neck looking around to see who it was.  On the other side of a wall of, I dunno, cassettes(?), I saw the new guy, Raymy Krumrei, a CSUN music major. Of course, we became fast friends, despite his unhealthy Billy Joel fixation and disgustingly superior singing voice.scary back

“The twin of the earlier milestone ‘Man…’ The ‘two’ of our ‘one-two punch.’  The original idea started because a hairdresser friend asked me to write a song about her.  She was neither a junkie nor a murderer, but there’s still time… Hang on to your dreams, kids!” -Andy Sturmer, Fanclub liner notes

“…a song about beds, springs and the kisses there-in. It gives the guys a chance to kick back that beat meter and let those cooler tones mop the listeners tired brow.”
-Scary Go Round EP

c/o 45cat.com

c/o 45cat.com

This was one of the very first songs written for what would become Jellyfish.  Again, Andy and Roger did a very complete demo of this groovy song before taking it into the studio. The cheesy sounding flute solo in the demo was replaced in the studio version by a Scooby Doo/theremin/chimes break. Luis Conte and Lenny Castro play percussion on it. Tommy Morgan’s harmonica was so good on “The Man I Used To Be” that they asked if he’d play on one more and what he did on the first take was so great that they used it.  It was also used in an episode from the first season of 90210, the perfect soundtrack for a botched perm. 

The band never played the song live but I once read a songwriting article in BAM that asked different songwriters to name a favorite cover version of one of their songs.  Andy and Roger’s answer was “Bedspring Kiss” by the Black Crowes. When I finally remembered to ask them about it, one of them told me that the Crowes used to play it acoustically before they went onstage during their 1991 tour together.


Pablo Melons' babies

Pablo Melons’ babies

Written in 10 minutes and 36 seconds.  Does it show?” -Andy Sturmer, Fanclub liner notes

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 5.41.14 PMAs poppy as they come.  Another early “Jellyfish” song, even though Andy takes sole songwriting credit. They recorded an early demo at Dancing Dog Studios, run by Dave Bryson of Counting Crows, whose management I used to work for. Somehow, Jellyfish came up in conversation once and he told me that they recorded several songs there, the only of which he remembered was “Baby’s Coming Back”.  Andy later told Dave that the band (with Steve from Redd Kross on bass) was listening to this original version while they were recording Bellybutton and were frustrated that they couldn’t get it to sound the same. Later, Counting Crows would open for Jellyfish in the Bay Area and lead singer Adam Duritz would don the much sought after “Love Jellyfish Style” shirt in the “Mr. Jones” video.

Original video sketches recently auctioned on eBay by animation director Allen Battino.

Original video sketches recently auctioned on eBay by animation director Allen Battino.

Babys-Coming-Back diaperThough the song was the first single released commercially in America (cassette only plus a one-song promo cd for radio), it only reached #62 on the Billboard charts.  It was the last of three videos from the album, featuring animation by some Hanna Barbara animators.  Outtakes from the blue screen footage have found its way onto Youtube.  In the UK, the single came wrapped in a cloth baby’s diaper which was hard to keep from disintegrating.  The song was, as far as I know, their only song to have a “remix”. I bought the cassette single expecting it to be different and, to my ears, it wasn’t.  Chris told me they’d added some flanging and that was about it.

baby video cell Milhan Gorkey-Fishman

“Baby’s Coming Back” animation cell c/o Milhan Gorkey-Fishman

For a very short time (mostly during Jason’s broken arm absence), they played a bit of Player’s “Baby Come Back” before they played this song. Because there is a long part before the bass kicks in, Chris would sometimes do something goofy during the intro.  I can still picture him frisbeeing as many stickers into the crowd as he could in rapid fire fashion before he had to start playing. They didn’t have quite enough arms to do the handclaps, but, later in the first tour, Roger started doing fake ones with a button on his keyboard. In 2007, the British band McFly had a #1 UK hit with a cover of the song.

“I recall being very taken by the Waterboys song ‘A Girl Called Johnny.’  This was my attempt at larceny.” -Andy Sturmer, Fanclub liner notes

“I still love this song today.  Another reason I joined the band… Actually, I just saw Sarah the other day, and she is doing fine.” -Chris Manning, Fanclub liner notes

Great two-part bridge and Jason’s best electric solo on the album. Interesting about the Waterboys song, one of my first favorite new wave songs I taped off of the radio.  Watching Mike Scott ape fellow Dubliner Bob Geldof in the above video, I’m not sure how I missed that influence. Andy’s longtime girlfriend at the time was named Sarah. Years later, she was given a co-writing credit for their song “Ignorance Is Bliss”. On the first tour, this was the first song they’d play off of the album coming right out of the unreleased gem “Hello”. On the Spilt Milk tour it was usually played as an encore.

The trailing-off ending always felt like another song was coming, so it never seemed like a perfect closer to me. The afforementioned music major Raymy agreed and came up with an alternate song order that he would use whenever he listened to the album or taped it for anyone. I’ve done it a few times and the songs really flow into each other nicely. It’s hard to break the habit of your brain already hearing the next song, but, give this a try:
1. 1. “The Man I Used To Be”
2. 6. “All I Want Is Everything”
3. 7. “Now She Knows She’s Wrong”
(the similar keyboard sound makes a good segue here)
4. 3. “The King Is Half Undressed”
5. 2. “That Is Why”
(the end part fits in well with the haunted house feel of….)
6. 8. “Bedspring Kiss”
7. 9. “Baby’s Coming Back”
8. 10. “Calling Sarah”
(keyboard fades out, piano fades in)
9. 5. “She Still Loves Him”
(these 2 fit together kinda nice too)
10. 4. “I Wanna Stay Home”
(the end riff is a nice way to go out)

Speaking of going out on such a geeky note……THE END

Bellies galore from the Pablo Melons archives.

Bellies galore from the Pablo Melons archives.

Thanks again to Pablo Melons for laying his collection on his bed, taking pictures and waiting until afterwards to roll around.  His band TOXIC MELONS are definitely influenced by the ‘Fish and even features guitaring by Eric Dover on recent recordings.  Check ‘em out!

Also, check out
JELLYFISH TALE II:  NEWBORN JELLYFISH The band gets together and records their first album.

It might be awhile before the next tale gets updated, so get tapped on the shoulder when something gets added here by “liking” Yer Doin’ Great on Facebook.



ABC-ROCK-banner STRAIGHT A’S (Spotify playlist)

A few good posts
Posts part 1part 2part 3
THE GREATEST OF E’S Posts part 1, part 2

THE SHOWS Cover Me Badd’s alphabetically themed shows

My obsession with alphabetizing stuff started as a youth when I methodically put my baseball cards in alphabetical order by team.  I can still rattle off the 26 teams in order and even did so in Rookie Card’s traffic anthem “Got No Time (For Expansion Teams)”. No mp3 link available yet (drop me a note and I’ll send it to you) but you can watch us working it into an entry for a San Diego Padres themesong contest here: ”All I Want Is Padres Baseball”.  I’m not sure I started alphabetizing my music when I had cassettes and LP’s but I distinctly remember alphabetizing my first three compact discs when my family first bought a cd player.  Even more ridiculous was the fact that two of them were Beatles albums, which I put in chronological order.  So it begins…

Thanks to a couple of jobs at record stores and music biz sweatshops, I had a good little collection going in college and it made practical sense to alphabetize them just to find anything. I hate to use the word “collection” though because I’ve never been remotely interested in the collectability of music.  I don’t care how much it’s worth.  I just want to hear it.  Yes, alphabetical by artist and chronological within.  Solo singers by last names, not first, like they are in ALL record stores, iTunes be damned, though I did have a girlfriend who would alphabetize certain singers by their first name if she usually referred to them ONLY by their first name.  In tribute, that’s why Ella Fitzgerald is in my E’s, but only her. One must have standards.

At my last LA music job in 1995, I decided to bring one cd into work every day alphabetically and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s a good way of making sure nothing NEVER gets listened to, even if it’s once every few years, which is about how long it takes to go from A to Z, then comps and soundtracks.  Plus, it’s a reminder to get rid of stuff that doesn’t move me anymore. Once I discovered email signatures in the late 90′s, I’d write a little about the cd of the day every day and friends would email me just to see what it was. I stopped doing it after a few years but a few years ago, I decided to post on my personal Facebook page about whatever band I’d brought to work.  People seemed to like it but, to spare the people that didn’t care, I decided to finally start the music blog I’d always wanted to, if only for myself.  Now you’re reading too.

I don’t want to think about adding up how much time it takes to post daily.  It’d be nice to have all the Facebook posts archived here too but…that sounds like work. I started to but….meh. At one point, I decided to make a cd of faves when I got to the end of each letter.  So, on this pass through, I’ll put them here, though I’m usually a little behind.  Please share your favorites too.  Like the song says “Next time won’t you sing with me?”


CONCERT SCRAPBOOK: KROQ’s first ever Acoustic Christmas concert, 1990

The daily posting of pages from my concert scrapbook to our Facebook page screeched to a halt when I got to this one.  Having recently found my 11 page handwritten report, I procrastinated for months on tackling it.  I finally sat down on a Saturday night (PARTY!), trimmed it by about 90% and made it readable.  I am SO disappointed in my 19 year old writer self.  Almost all of it is too embarassing/boring to share, so enjoy this much edited account….

90-kroq-xmasKROQ, LA’s equivelant to 91X announced their first-ever acoustic Xmas show at Universal Ampitheater and it seemed like a good idea. Their lineup was filled with bands I liked but none of them were actually on my shelves. But when two of my best friends, Jim & Dan, decided to go, I decided to turn around and go back to LA from San Diego on my first day of winter break. Jim and I drove up from SD listening to Jellyfish, the new McCullochless Echo & The Bunnymen, Trash Can Sinatras & the Darling Buds. After a few hours of driving and a quick dinner, we parked and met Dan at Universal Studios, where they had huge topiary dinosaurs and monsters from Edward Scissorhands.

It was an unusually cold night for California (35F) so we took turns braving the scalpers for the sold out show while the others waited in the warm souvenir shop. I went to my car to get a hat and when I got back, the two were in line. They’d just heard that the ticket taker would take $20 to let us sneak in, which seemed iffy at best. Right when we got to the front, I realized that Dan had my $20 bill and tried to remain calm. “Dan, you have my money. Dan you have my money! I NEED A TWENTY!” At that moment, Jim reached back and handed me the ticket they’d just bought. Got me….damnit.

They’d built a MASSIVE fake fireplace as a backdrop and using lights, a blower and some crate paper had quite a roaring fake fire going. We never did figure out how the flames appeared to rise. There was a couch behind the soundboard that they’d set up for the DJ’s to MC the show. Each one was welcomed by huge cheers which quickly turned to bored chatter once the on-air personalities tried to be entertaining. The Havalinas started off the show with a rockabilly bang. They only played a few songs since they went on crazy standup bass slapping jams with the singer even going into the audience like a preacher. At one point, the bassist was playing on his back, the singer stood on top of his bass and the drummer came out and thwacked away on that big ol’ piece of wood. It was probably the highlight of the whole show. Richard Blade later mentioned that the band was most of the Rockats with Tim Scott (of super serious synth MTV hit “Swear” fame) singing. Huh.

Jon Auer & Ken Stringfellow a few weeks later at Off The Record in San Diego.  Photo by Katie Shanks

Jon Auer & Ken Stringfellow a few weeks later at Off The Record in San Diego. Photo by Katie Shanks

Up next were the Posies who I’d see two more times in the next few weeks and quickly became one of my favorite band of all-time. That night, I didn’t even know that they were more than an acoustic duo. Jon & Ken charmed us with witicisms like “All I want for Christmas is two D strings” when both of them started breaking them. Most of the crowd wasn’t having it, one lunkhead yelling “You suck” with a lot of the audience audibly agreeing. They mostly played Dear 23 songs, though I didn’t know it at the time, plus a nice cover of the Beatles “Two of Us” and, like the Fabs, messed up the lyrics plenty. They closed with “Golden Blunders” which KROQ was playing so it got a big reaction that Jon replied to with “Oh you know this one?”

Kevin & Bean, the station’s morning show hosts, managed to be the only funny staffers of the night. They introduced a man who asked his girlfriend to marrry him and proceeded to tongue her in front of 6500 people. Up next was Soho, a UK band making their US debut. They appeared to keep with the acoustic theme of the night but with a drummer, electric bassist and a guitarist using pedals with his acoustic guitar, it sounded electric. When he did the “How Soon Is Now?” riff from their KROQ hit “Hippychick”, one of the energetic singers looked over and said, “Sounds just like Johnny!”

As the DJ’s announced that Jane’s Addiction was doing a four night stand at the Universal Ampitheater with Nine Inch Nails opening, Dan was struck in the back of the head with something. We never figured out who did it or what it was but the people around us didn’t seem to care. Nice crowd. The Trash Can Sinatras came on to mild hysteria but were the least memorable group of the night. But that didn’t stop me from loving the chimy, purdy riffs their guitarist was churning out.  Having never seen the Housemartins or the Smiths, this was as close as I’d ever get.

The DJ’s came back and said they’d give away tshirts and calendars to anyone who had a KROQ concert ticket stub, which had people jumping over seats to get there first. When they asked who people wanted to come to town, lots of folks yelled for Morrissey. We yelled for Stone Roses and when Richard Blade repeated it, crickets chirped. Chris Isaak came on and opened with “Wicked Game” and then bored the crowd, doing slower Spanish songs & a Roy Orbison cover. When he and his band finally let loose on a rocker and invited girls onstage, it was immediately filled. Fun finale.

Ex-MTV VJ Marc Goodman, the singer from the Polecats and other station employees made visits to the DJ couch, where it was revealed that Social Distortion were going to cheat and “kick a little ass” instead of going acoustic. This whipped up the crowd, many of whom were in SD shirts and jackets. Not sure why they didn’t headline. I thought they looked and sounded great by my notes but within a few years of hearing them play the same song, I was way over them (read my cringeworthy transcription here). But on that night, there was no denying the roar of everyone singing along with the first line of “Ball & Chain”. It was hard to not end on that note but Mike Ness mentioned seeing the Stones on that stage and then closed with a gruff version of “The Last Time”.

After that, they gave Rodney Bingenheimer a big self-congratulatory intro for helping KROQ be the first station to play any band you can think of, including the headliners, Dramarama, who thanked him during their set. They did a Faces cover and a brand new song about Earth Day, which was a radio hit a year or two later. Their songs seemed to lose a lot of umph on acoustics but John Easdale did make us smile when he tried to light a cigarette in the big, fake fireplace during “Last Cigarette”. The crowd erupted for “Anything Anything” and once again, the singalong on the first line was unreal.

They tried to do a big finale with DJ’s and bandfolks doing “Jingle Bell Rock” but it was a trainwreck. Fun to watch though with the Posies in drag, Chris Isaak chasing his drummer who had a huge marching band bass drum and Mike Ness trying to leave repeatedly. There was a mad rush to get special Social D acoustic “Ball & Chain” 45′s outside but we were too late and were handed a card with details on how to get one sent by mail. When we got back to the car, I opened a piece of gum to find it was frozen and nearly choked on it. After a quick stop for gas and food, we did the long drive back to San Diego that music fans in the southland know so well.

Not a bad start to a long radio concert tradition. The LA Times summed it up nicely: “It was a merry night for all involved, with more than $20,000 raised for the inner-city California Medical Center. Now if only it had come without KROQ jock Richard Blade’s inane, self-congratulatory patter between the sets. . . .”


LAST WALTZ (#3) memories of Elliott Smith, written the day I heard…

With some very interesting things being done and posted on the tenth anniversary of Elliott’s passing, I thought I’d dig up what I wrote the day that I heard the news. I put it up on my band’s website the day after and haven’t seen it since (thanks, Archive.org!).  I usually cringe reading things I wrote that long ago but I’ll try not to play editor much. Not sure where I got those photos ten years ago but feel free to let me know if you can help give credit where credit is due.

Adam’s memories of Elliott Smith

I’m getting over bronchitis. I was about to go to work for the first time in 5 days when I heard the news. Luckily, I was sitting down. Was it a surprise? Not really. He’d looked like death for years, sang the saddest songs ever and canceling shows because of “health reasons” didn’t leave much to the imagination anymore. It’d been going on for so many years and he’d been so out of the spotlight, I’d almost forgotten about him. Almost begun not to care. Kurt Cobain had NOTHING on Elliott when it came to how obvious it was that he didn’t want to be a big rockstar and how hard a time he was dealing with it. “Everybody wants me to ride into the sun but I ain’t gonna go down.”

My introduction to Elliott was one of the saddest moments of my life. He’d been recommended to me by a lot of friends and he was close with many of my favorite LA singers but I’d never gotten around to checking him out. On the night of the Oscars in 1998, my girlfriend, Summer, was living her last days, suffering from kidney cancer and a terrible headache while a biker-neighbor across the alley that looked like he was born with a shotgun by his side was working a powersaw during primetime. We were both beyond miserable but cried tears of joy watching Elliott perform “Miss Misery” and then take a bow hand in hand with Celine Dion. It was the strangest sight but it seemed like such a huge victory for our little world. Of course, it put him into a place that he was never meant to be. With his talent, he DESERVED to be far more well-known, but this man was just not equipped to live that life. Didn’t seem to want it remotely.

It was only a few weeks later that Summer passed away and almost all music sounded awful or just reminded me too much… I decided to rent a movie one night to try to forget a little, thought of Elliott and grabbed Good Will Hunting, which I’d never bothered to see. I’ll never forget standing on my couch, screaming at the TV, “WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME WHAT THIS WAS ABOUT?!?!” Ok, maybe Robin Williams’ character (a man who can’t get over his wife dying of cancer) wasn’t the main focus of the movie but NO ONE told me to avoid it!? It reminded me how a few people recommended that I rent Titanic while Summer was sick, which made it all the more strange to see Elliott standing up there with Celine that night. The movie wrecked me but it also introduced me to other great Elliott songs.

I went out and bought Either/Or and the Good Will Hunting soundtrack right away and had all of his albums soon thereafter. I was always so happy that I’m so bad at remembering lyrics because I could enjoy his words over and over. It helped that he wrote hopelessly catchy melodies but rarely repeated choruses. I’d never really wanted to play albums repeatedly before this. I couldn’t stop listening to the point that I almost listened to nothing else for months. Then XO came out. The Beatles influence was more pronounced, the arrangements were much more lush and the songs were AMAZING. I remember visiting San Francisco and spending a rainy day listening to it on headphones but it was so hard to concentrate on anything but the piano riff from “Waltz 2″ that I had to keep going back to listen to it. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It might be the prettiest thing ever written and it’s so damn SIMPLE. A few weeks later, I was going through withdrawls in Seattle without any Elliott to listen to and feeling the most amazing wave of calmness come over me when I walked into a thrift store and XO was playing.

As somber as a lot of the songs were, there was a new melodic pop sheen that added more hope to the mix that was really comforting at a time that I really needed it. When he came to San Diego in October 1998 at Brick By Brick, I decided to write him a letter thanking him for getting me through my worst days. I figured I’d just give it to someone to give to him or just hand it to him because I didn’t think I’d even be able to talk without losing it but he was so incredibly nice that I ended up being able to tell him most of what I’d written. I mentioned the charity record I was doing and he actually told me I should contact his label about using one of his songs. We talked a little about Big Star (he’d heard me yell out for “13″ amidst a million requests and played it that night) and I actually walked away smiling. I went online today and read about a ton of really great fan exchanges that people wrote about. Just reassures me that deep down, he was a very nice guy.

The next time I saw him a few months later was amazing but a bit hard to watch at the same time. It was a last minute solo show at the Troubadour up in Los Angeles. I’d always wanted to see him play by himself and me & a friend lucked out with tickets. The show was completely packed but you could hear a pin drop while he played. To see and hear the fragility of those songs performed was unreal. The response after each song was like Beatlemania. People yelled out for all kinds of things in between songs and he just didn’t know what to say. He looked so scared and sad at the center of it all, playing a beat-up acoustic guitar on a folding chair. I wondered if I was the only one that was worried for him.

If that made me worried, the next time I saw him flat-out SCARED me. 15,000 screaming fans doing the wave before he came onstage at the fairly full Key Arena at Seattle’s Bumbershoot (holds 17,000 people). I almost left before he came out. This was more than a case of someone bitching about their favorite band getting too big. In a lot of ways, I couldn’t be happier that there was somewhere I could go where this many people wanted to listen to him. All I could see was a very fragile guy being forced out to rock in front of the masses. He was great but it just didn’t work and drunk idiots around me made me worry for his sanity, not mine. I almost wanted him to retire to avoid it all. I think it’d be fun as hell to play for that many people but I was worried the whole thing might scare him to death.

He put out one last amazing record, Figure 8, and finally came back to San Diego to play. I’ve never seen so many friends at one show. We were all excited and planned to watch the new Elliott short film “Strange Parallel” afterwards. After the show, we weren’t really up for it. He’d looked pretty bad and kept apologizing for forgetting words and chords. A few of us went back to a nearby friend’s but even the beautiful rendition of “Waltz 2″ that he did on an acoustic guitar that he literally digs out of the ground in the film wasn’t enough to erase the memory of the night.

I wondered what his future would be. It seemed predictable that he’d only get worse. Every time I saw him in a magazine, he looked more gaunt and tragic. Talking about his drug use was a matter of fact instead of conjecture with fans and people who knew him. It was nice to hear that he was working on new material and had done a brilliant LA show (covering Oasis’ “Supersonic” even), but then he cancelled a San Diego show due to “health reasons”. It was rescheduled and those who’d never seen him before thought it was great but most longtime fans said it was depressing to see. I needed a pick me up that night so I chose to go see Rhett Miller of the Old 97′s instead. I’d seen him share a stage with Elliott, Jon Brion and Fiona Apple one night at Elliott’s favorite LA club, Largo. There hadn’t really been any planned collaborating that night and everyone, including Rhett, was surprised to see Elliott whip out a harmonica and start playing on Rhett’s brand new song, “Rollerskate Skinny”. Of course, it was fantastic.

Some of my friends didn’t know I was so close to his music. I guess it’s been awhile since he was on my mind so much. It reminds me of how mad I’d get every time I referred to him as my favorite singer and people would roll their eyes because they were sure I’d said it about countless others. I’d never been attracted to solo singer/songwriter types but the man was simply a genius, playing almost all of the instruments himself and going far beyond his last record with each one he put out. I couldn’t wait to see what he would do next.

His next move I could’ve done without but, again, it’s no huge surprise to anyone who knows of him. The way he did it is shocking but I can’t pretend to know what state of mind he was in when he did it. Probably fueled by any number of substances but DEFINITELY not himself. Would he have been too sad about himself to go on living even if he hadn’t gone through “a bout of overexposure”? Quite possibly. I can’t begin to understand it. In some ways, I’m glad it’s over even though I was never close enough to him to pretend that I was constantly worrying about it. Some people’s lives become so sad that they really feel better off without life. I’m sure Elliott knew how much he meant to so many people but the man who wrote the beautiful song “Happiness” was singing about something he couldn’t find. It’s selfish, sad but totally understandable. I don’t judge him. I’m just sad that his life was so sad and hope he’s happy now.

Then again, without his sadness, would we love his music so much? Or Nick Drake’s? Or Morrissey? Or, um…Deborah Gibson? But seriously, that’s part of what made his music such a guilty pleasure. I’ve been listening nonstop for almost six hours. It’s bringing me the same comfort it did years ago.

“Help me kill my time/
’cause I’ll never be fine.”

(A.G. October 22, 2003)

LAST WALTZ #3 by Rookie Card
I wrote this song shortly after, trying to use some of the things he’d taught me without actually sounding like him. I could not figure out what song the middle section reminded me of and it’s driven me crazy ever since.  Out of nowhere, a few weeks ago, it hit me: the end of “Breathless” by Adorable.  I wish I hadn’t made the Bon Jovi reference but I still like how it came out all these years later.

I sure like your untitled songs.
That’s sure one way to not get it wrong.
Shot through the heart & you’re to blame.
You should call all of your songs “No Name”.

Repeating yourself just might bore us.
‘Specially in the chorus.
What are you wearing to the Oscars this year?
You look an angel in white, my dear.

Woe is you singin’ your favorite ditties.
“Don’t Fear The Reaper” & “Isn’t It A Pity”?
Come over here, you big lug
I don’t want your fucking hug

You cut the power on me and yourself.
It came back on the clocks all flashed 12 12 12 12
Now everything here just screams your name.
I wish that it could be quiet again.

This is the last waltz of the year.
These things happen in 3′s so I hear.
Sorry you wanted to leave so fast.
This waltz is the last.

The Last: words on the Replacements at Denver RiotFest

The Replacements blew me away so much that it took me almost two weeks to finish writing this. I was going to write about my trip to Denver and the other bands that played RiotFest but it quickly became all about “the ‘Mats”.  Their fans are funny that way. Luckily, TItus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles’ recent 9000 word inside joke on the subject for Spin is making me feel downright sane by comparison.  So here’s part one of three of my late report, all about the main reason I hopped on a plane to stand in a field on a farm with my jaw wide open.

c/o Ribshots, Greg Jacobs Photography

Old folks don’t like going to big rock festivals?  You don’t say!  I’d rather people hear whine about how punk/indie/alternative isn’t punk/indie/alternative anymore than listen to them moan about the dust and the kids and having to stand so far away.  It is what it is.  Let the kids have their fun.  More importantly, give a HUGE amount of credit to RiotFest organizers for building bills in Toronto, Chicago and Denver this year that got thousands of elder rock and punk fans to lower their heads in defeat and travel hundreds of miles for lineups they just could NOT miss….even at our age.

There had been talks of some kind of ‘Mats reunion for years, the best idea being their threat to complete the tour that Buddy Holly and his posse never finished. When they decided to actually use the Replacements name earlier this year to release a couple of covers to benefit fallen guitarist/saint Slim Dunlap and promised that they “rocked like murder”, I allowed myself to get excited. Despite the worthy cause, the clean studio recordings just didn’t live up to the hype.  Their new songs for a 2006 Rhino best-of compilation rocked harder and even those weren’t any better than the songs Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson did for a damn cartoon that same year.  Ok, maybe I teared up a little at the end

Still, the thought of HOW they’d ever do it was hard to shake.  Who would be the replacement replacements and how could it be anyone to get REALLY excited about if it wasn’t original drummer Chris Mars and, I dunno, a miraculously recovered Slim or a rock and roll ghost?  Mars had recorded Slim Dunlap’s “Radio Hook” for the Songs For Slim fundraising and didn’t help with “the Replacements” even though his artwork graced their single’s cover.  This led to a frustrating photo of Paul & Chris signing copies of the record, peacefully sitting right next to each other. I found myself yelling at my computer screen, “WHO PUT A PEN IN HIS HAND INSTEAD OF DRUMSTYX?!”  Ah well.paul w n chrisriotfest posterAfter dozens of “never say never” press quotes and their recent recordings, it was not completely out of left field when the “????????????????????” on the already stellar RiotFest lineup in Chicago was replaced with those magic words and thankfully Fall Out Boy-less dates were announced for Denver and Toronto. My initial reaction was like so many purist Shruggs Buzzkills I’d seen and heard: “Well, it’s not REALLY them.”  They all meant too much to me to have it be about just any two of them. After awhile, I figured that no matter who they got to be in the band, it’d probably be great to just see them play those songs and there’s no way they’d be predictible.  I just loved them too much to not go.

In the weeks that followed, I did plenty of detective work and guessing to see who they’d get as sidemen. It was only after the winners had been disclosed that I thought of rallying behind 16-year old Waylon Rector, whose decidely un-Replacementsy band Kitten was already playing two of the three Riotfests. Raised by his father on the Mats, the School of Rock star would’ve been an amazing choice.  How Replacements of a move would it have been to draft some hotshot kid no one’s heard of?  Ah well.  We’ll always have this video of him singing for the first time onstage two years ago…..

In the end, it was a pair that had previously backed Paul that many had hoped for.  Dave Minehan (the Neighborhoods and one-time Ric Ocasek sideman) and Josh Freese (from everyone else) had already proved their worth via a 1993 video of an insane free show here in nearby Oceanside put on by local radio station 91X. I’ve never seen Westerberg and a crowd more into it.  It’d do but it wasn’t until the reunited band posted a brief video on Facebook of them tearing through a rehearsal of  “Favorite Thing” that it occurred to me that, holy hell, they really were going to rock like murder.  

As the King of No Spoilers, I vowed to not watch any videos or spy any setlists of their shows in Toronto and Chicago.  But I had them on the brain something fierce, even going so far as to light up the Matsignal and plan a Replacement Replacements reunion of a one-off I did with friends ten(!) years ago. I found myself going through embarassingly long spells of searching the net for the latest info, listening to their albums in order and passive-aggressively pestering their tight-lipped webmaster for information. The two of us had just spent months putting together a website for my own Grandpaboy-styled band, so it was a strange honor to have him working on the (temporarily) minimal web presence of one of my favorite bands of all-time right afterwards. He did his job well and I got no big secrets in advance….damnit.

In the end, I caved. During their Toronto set, I scoured the web for quotes, photos, videos and tweets to share on our Facebook page. As a result, Mats fans upped our following by 10% in just one day.  For their next set in Chicago, the city where they ended it “for good” back in 1991, it was no surprise that there were….surprises.  New songs, improvs, screw-ups and a stage timer got hurt.  A proud midwestern band, Illinois residents and Minneapolis travellers hailed it as the greatest thing ever, making it what should’ve been the best of the three shows.  My webmaster friend made the trip out and sent me a photo from behind the stage. He was going to go to Denver too but said there was no way it could’ve been better.  Thank god he was wrong.mats from behindI was too busy during the week leading up to the show to maintain teenage-levels of excitement. All of the stress of getting out the door had me questioning whether the trip would be worth it.  Even spotting fellow fans once I got there (old men in Twins uniforms) didn’t seem to reassure me, though I got a HUGE kick out of seeing people wearing so many Mats and Songs For Slim shirts that my friend had designed.  The olde man anti-festival mentality had set in.  It had been a LONG day.  For a few seconds there, I thought I just wanted to go home.

After tearing myself away from the shit-hot Stooges set just a few songs in to jockey for position, I found a crowd of like-minded folks already in front of the far stage where the Replacments would be playing.  I walked up from the back and stood behind the last clump of people about 100 feet back.  Another friend of mine who saw them in Chicago said I’d either need armour or end up “watching television”.  There were no monitors for us to watch and I could see fine, even with my bad eyes.  This would do.  I’d be alone but I was surrounded by people who were there for the same reason I was.

But then I got a text from my old roommate, Sam, a Colorado resident who was there with his teenage daughters.  They were just a few feet away, so I joined them and it suddenly dawned on me that Sam was the first person that tried to convert me into a Mats fan.  As a kid, a friend’s older brother had played me their punk stuff when it was new. I’d heard all of their singles thanks to a darn decent local altrock station. I owned their last album and had even seen them in San Francisco on their last tour but I’d never fallen for them full-on.  Sam had slipped some lesser known songs onto mixtapes for me and talked them up but it wasn’t until years later that an online trader insisted on sending me some live tapes. I was hooked immediately.

So, even if I was too tired to enjoy the Mats, I could share a cool moment with an old friend, right?  I was completely unprepared for what was about to bound onstage as Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” blared over the PA.  We all were. At first, I thought they were all dressed as identical rodeo clowns and found myself gasping, “Oh god, tell me they’re not wearing clown makeup” out loud. Paul and Tommy were wearing matching red and black cowboy shirts with pink and red skirts while the replacement replacements had similar black and white checkered shirts, making Dave look even MORE like John Fogerty. All four were wearing bright Bronco orange hats. These are men that were not afraid to be silly AND melt our faces off with songs they recorded as teens.  Only the ghost of Bob Stinson was smiling harder than we were.

Like the other two reunion shows, they fittingly tore into the first song on their debut album and blasted us all a step or two back. Even having already watched videos and knowing they’d open with it, I was reeling at how amazing they sounded.  Maybe it was because I’d taken out my earplugs but, that combined with this hilarious visual meant that we had hit the jackpot of the three shows. As Sam and I jumped and screamed “TURN THAT SHIT OFF!” in unison, I pictured his girls rolling their eyes. In the break after the first chorus, Paul and Tommy slammed into each other, back to back, for a quick pose. Less than a minute into the set and the entire trip was worth it.

Photo by Chris Shary

Photo by Chris Shary

They came out with their punk guns blazing for a festival that’s been heavy on that kind of rebel music for years. Their set was stuffed with more early two-minute burners than they’d done in years, 22 year hiatus or not.  Even their first off the script moment was an impromptu but tight “Shiftless When Idle” from their first LP.  “I think we need to play one we haven’t played,” Paul announced.  “In fact, one we don’t know….it’s in F#.”

A few songs later, he gave us the quote of the night: “What’s that? You’re in the jungle baby?” “Ohhh, I knew it was coming,” Guns n Roses longest enduring bassist replied. “Far be it from me to give you shit for being in Van Halen….bus driving,” Paul deadpanned as they neatly seguewayed into a song about kisses on buses.  As I’m typing this, I’m listening to their last Chicago show in 1991 and he says “See my Axl Rose impression?” You can’t make this stuff up…much.

They didn’t stray far from the sets they’d recently played, but, it didn’t matter.  Just as I’d hoped, they could’ve played anything and I would’ve ate it up. It was the perfect mix of early punk shit, randoms and anthems, plenty of detours and an obvious absence of their biggest chart hit (“I’ll Be You”).  The original members had their game faces on but smiles did appear on several occasions.  The subs grinned plenty. Witnessing it filled me up with energy I didn’t think I had left. My legs were not happy later. Too bad.

Photo by THE Matt Page

Photo by THE Matt Page

On and on they rocked until they’d played longer than they had at either RiotFest.  Closing with a glorious “Bastards of Young” and not returning would’ve been fine with any of us but they’d been doing short encores.  Sure enough, they came back on just to end with the kind of chaos that they were so notorious for.  Paul headed straight for the drums, which meant they were about to recreate the musical chairs of “Hootenanny” with Josh Freese trying to make due on Tommy’s bass as Stinson switched to guitar. Figuring the interlude wasn’t going to go beyond one song, Freese started to take off the bass but Paul stopped him. “What else do you know?  Hang on to that fuckin’ thing!  I got a chance to sit down. I ain’t leavin’ it.”  Tommy played the “Detroit Rock City” opening lick and they made a fun go of it for a verse and a chorus but then stopped to laughter and cheers.

In trying to come up with something to finish with that would “send them away happy”, Tommy started into a closer fitting for a somewhat reunited band called the Replacements: “Substitute” by the Who.  Paul had suggested they name the band the Substitutes shortly after he joined the band some 35 years ago.  It looked like he was gonna kick in along but instead did a hilarious half-second Keith Moon impression that sent drumsticks flying.  Tommy cackled away laughing, pointed at Paul and sang “You think we look pretty good together…”  As Westerberg went to get his Daltrey on, the mic unplugged, leaving him just twirling the cord.  After finding the mic and underhanding it into the crowd, he patted Josh on the ass and ambled offstage, leaving the others to awkwardly follow. Perfect anticlimax.

Photo by Sam O'Daniel, YourOlderBrother.com

Photo by Sam O’Daniel, YourOlderBrother.com

But they still had one tiny little joke for people expecting them to come back and finish properly.  The odd rows of lights thrusting up behind the drumkit that barely came on during their set, slowly started to brighten. They became so blinding that you couldn’t look right at them, until you squinted and noticed that they were formed to make a huge hand holding up a middle finger.  That gesture is so tired by now but the fact that they told someone to build it with part of their huge, overdue paycheck and it sat there for over an hour without anyone noticing was….beautiful.

Photo by Sam O'Daniel from  YourOlderBrother.com's RiotFest report

Photo by Sam O’Daniel from YourOlderBrother.com’s RiotFest report

How could I ever have doubted?  Probably because it was the first time they’d ever been “into it” three times in a row. Will there be more shows? I heard a rumor or two. Hopefully I’ll be all healed up by then.
“And if I don’t see you for a long, long while….”
P.S.  Was curious enough to hear what it might’ve sounded like if they’d really done “Substitute” to track it down at the amazing Replacements Live Archive Project.  Found a drunk one and a more together one and uploaded them here…..

Also, see Get Well Soon, Slim Dunlap.


Elvis Costello on Saturday Night Live: The most overrated “punk” moment in TV history.

Much has been made of Elvis Costello & the Attractions’ infamous 1977 appearance on Saturday Night Live, when he stopped mid-song on live television in front of millions of people, started the band into a “scathing” condemnation of corporate control of the airwaves and got himself banned from the show.  It’s been hailed as the ultimate anti-establishment move ever since.  The punkest move ever.  Well, apparently, part of it was…bratiness.

It’s true that the Sex Pistols were originally slated to be the show’s musical guest on December 17, 1977 but, due to some visa screw-ups or prior drug offenses or their manager wanting to keep them out of the public eye, their American visit would be postponed until the following year, when it became their swansong. Contrary to popular belief, Costello was not the show’s first choice to pinch hit. Wanting to replace them with someone else punk, the show didn’t look very far at all: Queens, in fact.  According to Joey Ramone’s autobiography, Commando, the Ramones said no because “We don’t substitute for anybody.” Being on the rise, they figured they’d get asked some other time.  They figured wrong.  The Attractions were on tour in the area, so they got the gig.  Drummer Pete Thomas gave props to Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s poor visa management skills by wearing a shirt that said “THANKS, MALC”.Stopping the show

According to Costello, his record label Columbia Records was claiming to understand the American market better than him and insisted on choosing what two songs he should play, eventually deciding on his recent single “Watching the Detectives” and an odd choice, “Less Than Zero”. The song was the first of Costello’s first three British singles, none of which had charted there. In the US, it was an obscure album track.  Costello was well-aware the song’s Oswald reference would get lost on American audiences and so he actually rewrote the song on this first US visit to refer to Lee Harvey Oswald instead of Oswald Mosley, the former leader of the British Union of Fascists. That’s possibly why on the show, EC said “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there’s no reason to do this song here,” Most importantly, as great as it is, it’s just not THAT catchy as far as pop singles go. Remember, this was a man who’d already written and recorded some seriously hooky songs (“Allison”, “Welcome To the Working Week”, “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”).  You’d think that a record label wouldn’t want him to play one of those weird new wave songs.

Years ago, I read an article that casually mentioned a rather important bit of information (if it’s true).  I can’t remember where it was or exactly what or who said it so if there are some archivist/experts out there, please let me know. I thought it was the 1987 book Saturday Night but no dice. Apparently what really set Costello off was that some of the cast members were goofing on him.  What  might’ve happened backstage at 30 Rock?  Did Belushi get a KICK ME sign on old Declan?  Noogies from Billy Murray? Roseanne Rosannadanna call him four-eyes, perhaps?  The SNL cast were huge fans and friends of Monty Python and Lorne Michaels had just offered the Beatles an incredibly low sum to reunite, so there shouldn’t have been anti-British sentiments left over from 1776.hendrix lulu

In frustration, Elvis told his bandmates that he wanted to do what Hendrix had done on the Lulu show in 1969.  They’d been asked to play their recent hit version of “Hey Joe” and Lulu would join them to sing in the end. After accidentally dropping their hash down the sink and getting a BBC janitor to dismantle and save it, the stoned Experience decided to play the song’s first two minutes, stop and then do “Sunshine Of Your Love”, in tribute to the recently disbanded Cream. It was legendary in British rock/TV folklore.

It was definitely a punk move, though Costello would never call himself such. Essentially a garage pop band, the Attractions were still inspired by punk and its attitude, though Costello said he hated the first Clash album when he first heard it.  Then he gave it another chance and was so knocked out that he wrote “Watching The Detectives”.

I’ll never forget what a doorman at San Diego’s famed Casbah club once told me.  I asked him what bands were the worst to deal with and he said that the worst are British bands that are hugely popular at home and have to come to America and play small clubs.  It’s humbling and sometimes makes them really hard to deal with. Maybe there was a bit of that going on in New York that night. Being told what to do by label executives on a show that required extensive rehearsing and down-to-the-second camera blocking was probably not the band’s cup of tea. Put a bunch of annoyed musicians in a studio with a group of notorious pranksters and maybe you get a misplaced “I’ll show YOU.”

How did he show them? By playing a song that’s far catchier than the one he was supposed to play (click to watch the famous clip that doesn’t want to embed here). Yes it was unreleased and would be until the following year but it’s still light years better than “Less Than Zero”.  Was it an obvious attempt to bite the hand that feeds?  Yep but was the sentiment of the song lost on most people hearing it for the first time?  Probably. The genius rapid fire lyrics come quick and it’s easy to mistake it for a celebration of the radio’s golden age without catching digs that contain big words like “anaesthetise”.

If it sounds like a love letter to radio (those are SARCASTIC wonderful/marvelous radios!) that might be because it actually started that way.  In 1974, Elvis’ then-band Flip City recorded a song “Radio Soul”.  A few years later, he kept the music, gave the lyrics more bite when British radio wouldn’t play him initially and a classic tune was born. Just a few days ago, he gave the song its first pubic performance in 35 years at an UBER-punk Apple media event (note: sarcasm). 

One thing I will definitely give Elvis: as comedy goes, the first years of Saturday Night Live are overrated.  As he states in the liner notes of This Year’s Model….

“Maybe something got lost in translation, but none of the humour seemed nearly as “dangerous” or funny as they seemed to think it was, or perhaps they were just having a bad show.”

The format was so new that, for years, they couldn’t get it right. There were lots of great moments in those years but there are so many ridiculously bad and unfunny sketches, it’s almost hard to believe.  We’ve seen the highlights so many times that it’s strange, when you catch a FULL episode, how much of it feels like that last, bad sketch before 1am.  Don’t watch the very first episode.  Just don’t. Plus, the music they booked was horribly hit and miss.  As great as it is to watch the Specials or Replacments make their American television debuts, some of the acts they got for those early years are god awful. Not like now (rolls eyes at Ashlee Simpson).

So was it just that somebody didn’t have much of a sense of humor about themselves?  If you watch any early Costello footage, he’s intense and serious and fantastic.  On SNL, you can definitely tell he’s not a happy man.  During “Watching the Detectives”, the band is completely on FIRE and Elvis is all over the place, to the frustration of the camerapeople (no video link I can find currently, damnit). It’s great television but once I read that it was maybe because someone couldn’t take a joke, it tainted the legend of the event. When Fear played SNL in 1981 at John Belushi’s insistance, stage divers did thousands of dollars worth of damage. THAT was probably the punkest thing that ever happened on the show.

Unbanned in 1989 singing "Veronica"

Unbanned in 1989 singing “Veronica”

Legend has it that producer Lorne Michaels held up his middle finger at the Attractions for the entirety of “Radio Radio”.  He banned Costello from the show but Elvis was interviewed by Tom Snyder on NBC a few years later. Luckily for everyone involved, they got over themselves.  Elvis lightened up in a big way. Given one song to play at Live Aid, he led Wembley in an “All You Need Is Love” singalong.  He had a cameo in Spice World.  He dueted with Elmo. In 1989, after twelve years, both parties laughed it off enough for him to perform on SNL and was invited back just two years later in his rabbi phase. “The Other Side Of Summer” (SNL rehearsal 1991)

The ultimate olive branch happened on the show’s 25th anniversary special n 1999.  I’ll never forget Beastie Boys being introduced and them launching into “Sabotage”, which was five years old at the time. I slumped and thought “Really?”  But before I could switch the channel, out bounds our boy to remind us how good of a sport he was.  Look how carefully the guys who rapped “I’ve got attractions like I’m Elvis Costello” are getting it right.  Keep in mind that Adrock wanted to be Paul Weller before he ever heard Run DMC.  Look at that smile…and Mike D’s THANKS MALC shirt!  I can still picture myself standing in front of the tv with my arms triumphantly over my head, thinking this was the greatest thing I’d ever seen on tv.

It just may have been. 
(permalink for when Youtube deletes it…again)

P.S. Just because I think it was overrated doesn’t mean I don’t love that song….or disrupting a network television show. Hell, when my band played the local NBC affiliate’s morning show and we knew no one would be watching, what the hell do you think I insistsed we play!?

This article has been on the Yer Doin’ Great to-do list for years.  In fact, it was promised to the fantastic Treblezine.com before this page was ever created. Oops.  Thanks to John Losavio for posting a link to today’s AV Club article With “Radio, Radio,” an Angry Young Man turned SNL on its ear for inspiring me to finally get to it….