HARDY HAR, an unpublished piece on laughing in San Diego

Back in 2008, I wrote an article for San Diego CityBeat about places to laugh in San Diego.  I’m not sure whose idea it was but somehow I ended up seeing how many I could do in one night…and the following morning.  It was a fun concept but there wasn’t enough room to do a good job of describing all of them, so the piece went unpublished and we never did them separately, even though the Mystery Cafe Dinner Theater at Imperial House gave us two free tickets and dinners for a possible article (again, unpublished). All of the venues were nice enough to let me take a complimentary peek inside their establishments so I always meant to put this up somewhere as thanks. So….thanks.

Hardy har by Adam Gimbel

There’s quite a variety of places to get laughs in San Diego.  In addition to the unintentional hilarity of open-mic nights, drunk karaoke singers or your local DMV, there are quite a few clubs that feature comedy on a regular basis.  Places like Lestats, Winstons, Moondoggies, Bamboo Lounge and the new Jon Lovitz Comedy Club at Aubergine all play host to regular stand-up comedy nights.  On a Saturday night, however, there are three places you can always go to get some laughs.  If you plan well, you can do all three in one night.

A good starting place is The National Comedy Theater (3717 India St, NationalComedy.com), which specializes in improvised comedy, something that many famous comedians don’t dare try.  For two decades, the NCTs here and in New York have been doing unscripted shows that come completely from audience suggestions.  Modern improv dates back to the 1940’s but most Americans got their first taste of it via the US version of British television program Whose Line Is It Anyways?  This local chapter has done so well over the years that it has its own versatile theater near Little Italy and teaches improv classes of its own.

Every Friday and Saturday night, performers are matched in a mock-competition with two three-player teams switching off doing short sketches that are moderated by a referee.  There are a few hundred improv comedy games that the NCT troupe uses to incorporate the crowd’s ideas and sometimes the spectators themselves end up onstage.   It’s a family-friendly affair (teams are actually penalized for inappropriate material) with the teams wearing matching bowling shirts that are a little hokey. However, the second they get started, there’s nothing to distract from how incredibly fast the comedians come up with material.  Whether it’s a rapid-fire charades session acting out “insipid oscillating elephant”, a series of recreations of an audience member’s recent charity walk or a rhyming exercise disguised as a rap battle, the cast members are all mind-blowingly quick-witted.

Comedian Robert Lariviere at the Comedy Palace

Comedian Robert Lariviere at the Comedy Palace

Up in Kearny Mesa, a very different night of comedy takes place every weekend.  Local comedian Tarrell Wright starts out the late show at the Comedy Palace (8878 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, TheComedyPalace.com) with a simple question: “Where my weed smokers at?” The crowd erupts at the surprising ceremonial first joke.  San Diego has long been a breeding ground for up-and-coming comedians like Jamie Foxx, Whoopie Goldberg, Bobby Lee, Rene Sandoval, Darren Carter, Bobby Lee, Dante and many more.  Our proximity to Los Angeles, long considered THE place to get noticed in comedy, means new talent can get good without the pressure of Hollywood looming too large.  Plus, there’s something hysterically familiar about watching local comedians deliver material about Santee, surfing, the Chargers, and Asian UCSD students.har2 In a town where it’s hard to keep any kind of entertainment club open, comedians are usually left to find a music venue or other unconventional establishments to host a night or two a week.  The Comedy Palace is no exception.  The shows take place in a Mediterranean restaurant that local comedian Sean Kelly approached a couple of years ago.  The large room works surprisingly well as a comedy setting and, three nights a week, you can catch some stand-up AND a buffet.  Trying to keep down gyros can be a challenge when someone like Dangerous Dick talks about his experience with an interracial relationship:  “You know what they say.  Once you go white….you go back to black.”har1 Just a few minutes away, you can catch a late set at the only full-time comedy club in town, the Comedy Store in La Jolla (916 Pearl St, TheComedyStore.com).  Since 1977, the more southern version of the famous Los Angeles club has played host to everyone from David Letterman to Robin Williams.  The town’s best locals perform here and Sunday’s open mic allows newbies to perform at the best joint in town.  The club’s iconic motif is “none more black”. Black walls, floors and tables feature caricatures of greats like Abbott & Costello, Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy while a huge stained glass design lights up the ceiling.  Of course, the big draw is that the country’s biggest comedy stars perform here regularly since it’s only a short freeway ride away from Hollywood.

On a recent Saturday, Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garln headlined two hysterical sets of storytelling from his long career.  While young comics have to hone short bits and keep things moving, a veteran star like Garlin can just tell true tales about his life and keep a large audience’s attention for an entire set.  Of course, it helps if you were once saved from a dildo-wielding psycho at 3am by WWF star King Kong Bundy at an all-night disco with porn being projected above your head.  This kind of respect allows Garlin to go off on tangents, talk about distracting breasts in the front row at length and even have a pianist onstage to accompany a strange song repeatedly sung in French gibberish.  In Garlin’s case, you can even afford to retire from “the road” this year and be in your car and back to LA before your audience is.

If you wake up Sunday morning and want to keep laughing, you might try heading down to Mission Bay Park and join a group that meets to stretch, breathe deep and laugh like maniacs.  The group is one of 5000 worldwide “laughter yoga” clubs (LaughterYoga.org).  It’s a global movement started by Indian doctor Madan Kataria in 1995 that takes laughter being the best medicine quite literally. There’s no question that it’s good for your oxygen intake, breathing passages and lungs but there are many that believe it helps reduce stress, blood pressure and depression.  Whether you believe in its healing qualities or not, there’s one thing for sure: any decent stand-up comedian would have a field day with a bunch of earthy looking folks clapping and forcing themselves to laugh while chanting “Very good, very good YAYYYYYY!” in unison.

WHO YOU CALLIN’ YER DOIN’ GREAT?

tonyWhen I was deciding on a name for this page, I didn’t want to reference any one song or band because I knew my writing would be all over the place.  I liked the idea of calling it something fairly random and turned to some of my favorite phrases for inspiration.  I’m not sure when I started saying “Yer doin’ great.”  For years, when a conversation would get too depressing, I’d say “I saw the cutest puppy today” and faces would light up. “Awwww, what kind of puppy was it?!” someone would ask.  I’d reply, “I didn’t see a puppy” and we’d talk about something else. After awhile, friends in the know could simply say “cute puppy” or I would hold up a picture of a beagle puppy I kept on my first flip phone to lighten the mood.

ydg shirtAt some point, I started saying “Yer doin’ great” to cheer people up instead. It somehow had a calming effect on people stressing out by making them self-aware. I work at a lot of events, setting up gear at meetings, weddings and shows and there’s always someone losing their mind.  Telling them that they’re doing great seems to give them pause and realize that things aren’t so bad.  I was only doing a music page to put a smile on people’s faces so it seemed like an appropriate moniker.  I added the words “muzak clickclack” so it wouldn’t look too vague out of context and broke a bottle of champagne over my laptop.

hang in thereI love hearing from friends that they too now use it to calm people down or cheer them up. The phrase has come to mean different things. Sometimes it ends up being sarcastic more than caring.  At our charity anti-karaoke night, if someone I didn’t know was singing terrible, I could tell them that they were doing great and they’d take it as encouragement, while my friends knew I was taking the piss.  At my music trivia night, as people got frustrated, I’d get on the mic to say they’re doing great to make everyone angrier. One of my bandmates in Geezer forbid me from saying it when he missed a note because it would piss him off and make him mess up more.  Teehee.

I don’t do much of anything to spread the word about the page, so it’s strange to see it anywhere other than a computer screen. But, when I wanted to send a get-well note to a friend last New Years Eve, I decided to send him the biggest Yer Doin’ Great ever.   ydg1ydg2ydg3

ydg4Visitors had fun playing with the balloons and spelling all kinds of things.  That’s his granddaughter Audrey spelling her name. They stayed inflated and floating for months, so they started giving them away as gifts to spread the love.  Great!

Feel free to use it yourself. If anyone can remember how or why I started saying it, please let me know.  Until then, we’ll just pretend it was Ferris at 2:08….

JONATHAN RICHMAN, SUMMER & FEELINGS

I once read a woman write about how she couldn’t completely judge someone from the music they listen to but she also couldn’t imagine dating someone who didn’t love Jonathan Richman.  I understand.  I’m surprised I wasn’t converted sooner. Hearing his songs covered by the Sex Pistols and on the Repo Man soundtrack didn’t make me want to dig deeper as a teen. But when I saw him during the Conan O’Brien’s first week hosting Late Night, years later I was ready. 

When he came through town a few years later in 1997, I primed myself with a best of the Modern Lovers cd and was instantly sold. So was my girlfriend, Summer, but she was a few months shy of getting into the Casbah, so I went alone.  I was literally in tears, loving it so much.  When I got home, I insisted that we go see him up in Long Beach at the all-ages Blue Cafe.  Jason Falkner had told us that he was opening up but it was in the middle of the week so we weren’t going to go. After seeing Jonathan, there was no way I’d let her miss it.

We braved traffic up from San Diego to meet our friend Mike Byer. Summer, sporting Flashdance shoulder that night, had started to bring a notebook to shows to draw and tell tales, which is good because I don’t remember much about that night.  Jason played a solo acoustic set and then Jojo transfixed her so much that she couldn’t bother with a pen.

jojo by sb1jojo-by-sb2jojo by sb3jojo by sb4We sat on the floor, looking up at Joantahan and drummer Tommy Larkins, along with 147 or so entranced, cheering people.  Hearing all of those songs for the first time was just magical.  So much sweetness and hilarity within seconds of each other.  When he was moved enough, he’d lay his guitar down on a pillow and take a dance solo.  I watched out of the corner of my eye to see Summer falling for him just as hard.  I couldn’t wait to see him again.

The show ended late and it seemed even later after a full day’s work and a 100 mile drive. We both had work again in the morning and another drive ahead of us. Half-awake, we looked around to say goodbye to Jason and when we found him, he smiled and said, “Look who it is!” pointing to a large, bespecatacled man. We both looked at him unknowingly and Drew Carey looked genuinely offended that we didn’t know who he was. “Sorry,” I sarcastically offered. “We don’t have a tv.” He rolled his eyes. “Are you college students?  I hate college students.”  Normally I live to argue with assholes but I was way too tired.

A year later, Summer was battling cancer and I was doing my damndest to cheer her up any chance that I could.  Jojo was coming through town and, before his show he agreed to let me film him singing to her.  After the show, he sat at the front of the stage with the PA playing music and a still-full room of people talking and asked me to come in close until I was almost on top of him. I assumed he would want to sing “That Summer Feeling” but insisted on singing a new song called “There’s Something About Mary”.  He looked right into the camera, wished her well and softly sang a sad tale about a man who can’t seem to let the memory of a past love go.summer feelingShe loved the video, of course, and Richman’s merch man insisted on giving me a “That Summer Feeling” t-shirt, which she wore throughout her last days. Jonathan called to see how she was doing afterwards. Somewhere I have the saved message he started to leave before I picked up to tell him the sad news.  When we decided to make Songs For Summer, an album full of her favorite artists for charity, Jonathan and Rounder Records let us use “That Summer Feeling”, which seemed like a fitting closer.  It was.  It is.

That Summer feeling, that Summer feeling….

Thanks, Jojo.

sfs artworkPlenty of copies of Songs For Summer to be found on Amazon

More Summer tales here.

AMERICAN ANGLOPHILE INVADES 1999 READING FESTIVAL

99 reading posterI recently came across some handwritten notes I wrote about going to the 1999 Reading Festival in England and thought it might be fun to share.  MIGHT be. The notes were scrawled in a daily planner a few days after the festival while I was in Scotland.  Looks like there’s quite a bit missing. Let’s see how my memory is….

In 1999, I was looking for any excuse to get out to the east coast, as I’d started dating Katie, who I met online while she was attending Columbia University in New York City.  She came to visit San Diego first and soon we were trading off turns visiting each other in between long phone sessions.  As a lifelong Anglophile, I’d always wanted to go to a British festival and be in a sea of people who knew how to jump and sing in unison to bands most people in America didn’t know or care about. While the lineup wasn’t as amazing as it had been through most of the decade, there were still plenty of favorites on the bill plus bands I’d never heard of with names like Doves, Orgy and Coldplay that I might learn to love….or not. So I finally planned a trip to England and Scotland with stops in NYC on the way to and from.

tom'sJudging by the few photos I took in New York, it appears that we went cd shopping, ate at Tom’s Diner and saw Detroit Rock City.  It was summer so it definitely wasn’t the trip there where I saw snow fall for the first time at age 28. Off I went to London, where I stayed in Hampstead Heath with olde highschool friend Vivienne and her husband Josh. We went out to dinner my first night there and Josh excused himself to make a phonecall, then proceeded to go to a corner and talk to himself.  I’d never seen a hands-free phone device before and I thought he was nuts for a quick second. 99-reading-matt-lotions-shirtsI’d been to London a few days back in 1993 but this time, I had more time to see some sights, hang out with Comes With A Smile‘s Matt Dornan (above), meet Pat Fish and Max Eider after a fantastic Jazz Butcher duo show (click for JBC tale) and wander a bit.  My surviving notes begin the day before the festival…

Pat Fish, Max Eider, chins, Lotion shirt.  12 Bar, London

Pat Fish, Max Eider, chins, Lotion shirt. 12 Bar, London

I slept late, walked round Hampstead for awhile then went off to the outskirts of London to visit Minus Zero Records, home of all things pop.  It’s a great little shop crammed with cool stuff and the main man, Bill, was nice enough to give me some goodies in exchange for the hush-hush cd’s and videos I’d brought them.  In a story straight out of a movie, the two owners of the shop had got in a row years ago and split the shop right down the middle, both doing business separately in the same room.  Unreal. I’m sure I could’ve stayed all day with them, trading stories of various concerts and (Jason) Falknerdom.  Finally ended up back in Hampstead and went off to meet up with Viv, Josh and internet friend Julia to have dinner.

Julia’s wonderfully mad, definitely a rocker.  Jason Falkner is her one concession to pop.  We found a place in Chinatown for us to have a great Chinese meal, all of us sharing a variety of dishes and gabbing away.  Julia saw a friend of hers on the way back to the train station and we left her to club hop the night away.  I was off to Paddington Station where I took a train to Reading, about a half hour away.  My hotel was a 15 pound taxi ride away and plenty posh.  A bit useless with me and two beds.

I channel surfed awhile, watching “soccer” programs and a not-to-be-believed game show called Naked Elvis.  A host asks random trivia questions to two teams while a bloke dressed as the King takes off clothing after every round until he’s fully naked, shaking his little Prince Charles for all the world to see.  Unreal.  They really use sex more here than in America.  Adverts use scantily clad women like it’s going out of style, no matter what the product.  Also, saw a clip of a ridiculous song called “Mambo #5” and laughed at the stupid stuff that becomes popular in Europe and never reaches American ears.  Wrong again, Yankee.99-reading-train199-reading-train299-reading-train3

The next morning, I’m up and out to an unmanned (meaning free) train station into Reading proper. Quite a bit cheaper than another 15 pound cab ride. Loads of kids to follow to the festival site, just on the edge of their beautiful, small town.  Bootleg tees are quite good and I nab one with all of the bands on a shiny soccer style jersey for just five pounds. People are buying cases of beer from huge trucks parked along the side of the road.  You can bring in almost ANYTHING to the festival except glass bottles.
99-reading-charlatans-sign99-reading1a-crowd-entering99-reading-beer

99-AG-at-ReadingPast the main entrance is a SEA of tents where people camp for the festival.  It’s a little muddy  from recent rains and already lined with trash.  I tossed up my camera to a guy in a tower to take a picture of the view.  He was nice enough to return it.
99-reading-from-above

Right away, I recognize the main stage that I’ve seen so many times on the telly.  Black backdrop, huge banners and tv screens on either side.  The grounds are huge with food, clothing and whatnot throughout.  There is a main stage, a BBC1 tent, a stage for lesser known groups sponsored by Carling beer, a dance music tent and a comedy tent.  They’re packed for almost every act.
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I spent most of the first day by myself.  I broke down and paid six pounds for a program which came with a series of laminates with set times for all of the bands playing for the whole fest.  I took a few seconds each day to write down every band I’d like to see so I could have a loose schedule. I arrived just in time to watch bratty all-girl Cali band the Donnas open the mainstage activities.  5000 miles just to see Bay Area girls start the show.  The crowd didn’t know quite what to make of them but they were great as always.99-reading-donnas-far 99-reading-donnas-stage

Photo from musewiki.org

Photo from musewiki.org

The day previous, I talked briefly to producer John Leckie (Pink Floyd, Stone Roses, Radiohead), who I do an extremely lo-fi website about.  He was very nice and we made plans to meet up at the festival, which we did after seeing a very good new semi-Radioheadesque group called Muse that he recently produced.  He took me back to meet the band who were as nice as everyone else he ran into. We spent a couple of hours walking around, seeing bands and talking to people he knew, some of whom had heard about or even seen my site.  I  felt like a disappointment by not being a raving obsessed fan but did manage to ask him a few questions without being too crazed.  He was full of stories and was more than generous.

Gene

Gene

I’ve already written about most of this part of the day, seeing bands like Guided By Voices and Echo & The Bunnymen with John, in “My afternoon at Reading Festival with an invisible rock legend”.  Me giving him a real rockstar moment right as the Fall was writing a legendary Reading tale backstage was maybe the highlight of the whole trip, so do give it a read. After John left, I caught Gene and Stereolab and got ready for the nighttime festivities. Watching a popular British act in a massive crowd was high on my to-do list but I still skipped seeing the headlining Charlatans, who I’d been missing for eight years to see Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Elastica absolutely destroy in the big tent.  It’s still my favorite concert crowd I’ve ever been in the middle of.  Absolute insanity.  I ran over to the mainstage just in time to see the Charlatans encore with “Sprongston Green” too.

justine-overbite Reading Festival from NME Sept 9th 199999-reading-charlatans Reading Festival from NME Sept 9th 199999-reading-jsbx Reading Festival from NME Sept 9th 1999

Phoning Katie in America on hard to hear phone.  Marginal Prophets shirt by Keith Knight. One guy stopped me and asked "Sheep in a toilet?" I nodded.  "Right," he said and walked away.

Phoning Katie in America on hard to hear phone. Marginal Prophets shirt by Keith Knight. One guy stopped me and asked “Sheep in a toilet?” I nodded. “Right,” he said and walked away.

The other highlight of the day came in the Melody Maker tent, where bands signed autographs for masses of fans all day long.  Afterwards, they did indie-karaoke, which I’d read about last year.  I’d always dreamed of getting up at a UK festival and singing something quintiscentially British, namely Pulp’s “Common People” but, unfortunately, someone had already chosen it. I picked Blur’s “Country House” off of their list and watched as person after person ruined song after song.  They handed out thumbs up/thumbs down cards to the hundred or so people watching and after the first verse, the hilarious MC would let the crowd decide if they should continue or not.  Most everyone got the big buzzer, including the people who got up and did “Common People”, who were AWFUL.

This guy was hilariously not having it as hundreds exited a tent around him.

This guy was hilariously not having it as hundreds exited a tent around him.

When my name was finally called, I walked onstage and said how I’d always dreamed of getting up at a festival to sing in a British accent.  The crowd was instantly against me and the thumbs down signs went up.  I knew it didn’t matter because I was ON and, after the first verse, I was greeted with a sea of thumbs up.  Unfortunately, the guy manning the karaoke machine misunderstood the MC and cut me off during the big “IN THE COUNTRY!” buildup, leaving everyone screaming at him.  All the people running the thing were apologizing to me, shaking my hand and making sure I got my prize (a free beer).  A couple in the train station reognized me on the way home and told me how great I was.  My best review ever.  Praise from real life Brits!!! I vowed to return the next day and get it right.

Another night in my posh hotel was enough for me to decide to cut short my stay there by two days. $100 a night to sleep nearby just wasn’t worth it, as tired as I was by day’s end. I left my bag at the train station the next morning and planned on going back to London at the end of day two.  I met up with Julia and her boyfriend Ray at the festival and they had an extra backstage pass for me, which meant nicer toilets with shorter lines, rock stars everywhere and actual places to sit (chairs and tables or grass, which by this point was hard to find on the trash strewn festival site).  It also meant meeting Julia and Ray’s rockset friends.  I assumed I’d be surrounded by the pageboy haircut wimps but here I was hanging with the leather/stud clad mob, all of whom were funny and nice as anything.

On the train from London to Reading for day 3.  One of the worst pictures ever taken of me.  Yer welcome.

On the train from London to Reading for day 3. One of the worst pictures ever taken of me. Yer welcome.

Wouldn't you insist on getting your picture taken with this car too?

Julia & The Pink 1. Wouldn’t you insist on getting your picture taken with this car too?

Claudia Schiffer lookalike, Julia, Ray

Harry, Julia, Ray

No sooner had we arranged my backstage access than it was time to go see Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s fame.  He’d been making headlines lately, taking out an ad of himself in a dress in some prominent music paper.  Sure enough, he came out in drag and, joined by two lingerie clad stripper types, did a few Vegas style classics (“Concrete & Clay” and “Greatest Love of All”) on a bare stage.  At one point he got underneath and licked the bum of one of the girls with a full close up showing on the screens.  The water bottles rained down upon him as he held his ground in all too hilarious seriousness.  He lasted about four songs. 99-reading-rowland-1 Reading Festival from NME Sept 9th 1999

Julia and Ray joined me on my return trip to the karaoke tent only to find that AGAIN “Common People” was already taken.  I spied “Alright” by Supergrass and when it was my turn, the Saturday crowd was MUCH bigger than it’d been the day before.  I got up and noted that I’d been listening to these British people ruining American songs (crowd: “Rar!”), that they should show some respect when singing songs from another country (“RAR!”)  and then asked them who’d won the war in 1776 (“RAAARRRRRRR!!!”).  Again, I knew I could antagonize because I could actually sing a little and proceeded to produce a dead-on Gaz, including some loverly falsettos that wowed them.  Even *I* was surprised by their reaction until I realized that the sound guy was pumping in a festival crowd’s roar over the speakers.  Still, I finished in fine form, holding the last note forever and doing a Johnny Rottenesque finale (“Aaaaaaal-RRRRight!”).  People yelled “SUPERGRASS!” at me all day.  Heaven.
99-reading-karaoke The British concertgoers are great.  Massively appreciative, huge singalongs and all jumping up and down in unison if you’ve got a good, punchy chorus.  I spend a lot of time hoping to engage in conversations but only have a few good ones for most of my time there. They’re all pretty amused I want to take pictures of their shirts. Very few recognize me as American right away because it’s so noisy and I’m lapsing into Britishisms anyways.
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RFTC!

RFTC!

There is an incredible mix of people at the festival.  Lots of freshly dyed hair, goths in full black attire, LOADS of tshirts displaying American bands and folks of all shapes and sizes, some 30-40,000 strong. This year, the same acts travel to Leeds in northern England and stage the exact same show the following day but it hasn’t seemed to lessen the size of the crowd here at Reading (Leeds had around 20k folks, so I hear).

 

 


99-reading-random-couple99-reading-lotion-
99-reading-softee99-reading-me-w-ic

99-reading-beth

Beth the Orton, Sebastian Steinberg from Soul Coughing on bass

The Pavements by me and NME

The Pavements by me and NME

99-reading-bluh-x3

Coffee and watching TVs from far away

Left Bluh to watch Cinerama for a bit!? Yep.

Left Bluh to watch Cinerama for a bit!? Yep.

I only have vague memories of seeing Pavement, Beth Orton and Cinerama during that day, thanks to some pictures.  I’d already seen Bluh do a set of entirely new songs that year and there were worries that the same would happen here when they opened with “Tender” but when they went into “End Of A Century”, we all breathed a sigh of relief.  After a night at Julia and Ray’s, we returned for Sunday, traditionally more of a “Rock Day”, which started out in fine fashion with their friends the Backyard Babies, who didn’t disappoint.  After that, it’s all a bluh of seeing Cornelius, Hepcat, Fountains of Wayne and a brilliant Flaming Lips, early in their blood and video days.

Backyard Babies, adverts.  Offspring played that day.  I made sure to be elsewhere.

Backyard Babies, adverts. Offspring played that day. I made sure to be elsewhere.

Fountains of Wayne

Fountains of Wayne

Cornelius.  Projected 1 from "Count Five Or Six"

Cornelius. Projected 1 from “Count Five Or Six”

Flaming -lips Reading Festival from NME Sept 9th 199999-reading-sunset1

Couple dutifully posing with our 1998 year end list, "Stuff".

Couple dutifully posing with our 1998 year end list, “Stuff”.

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99-reading-jarvis cocker Reading Festival from NME Sept 9th 1999

Jarvis sang one with All Seeing I at Reading and I missed it. Oooops. It only took me another 15 years to finally see them again.

I didn’t get the traditional British festival downpour, more closely associated with Glastonbury, but it was still everything I’d hoped for. I departed the next day, by train, for Scotland where I hit the three main cities, taking a bus tour upon arrival in each one, all owned by the same company.  I was mortified to see I’d missed seeing Pulp in Edinburgh by a day so I could stay in London an extra night to go to the Garage and see Fountains of Wayne, who I’d just seen twice. I saw Pulp were playing a festival in Ireland with Cornelius the next night and almost cut Scotland short to go there.  I’m glad I didn’t or I would’ve missed beautiful green landscapes, olde buildings, quaint bed-and-breakfasts and ridiculously hard-to-decipher tour guides.  I turned to some British tourists behind me for a translation at one point and they shrugged, as lost as me.  I took loads of pretty pictures of forests and olde castles but you can see those anywhere.  You’re probably here because I’m the kind of guy who takes a picture of Kelvin Hall in Glasgow because the Kinks recorded a live album there.

Because Superdrag.

Because Superdrag.

Because I Could Be Happy.

Because I Could Be Happy.

Because…..I'd never seen a cricket game before.  That's the ₤5 bootleg Reading shirt.

Because…..I’d never seen a cricket game before. That’s the ₤5 bootleg Reading shirt.

Because Sultans of Ping.

Because Sultans of Ping.

One of the train stations in Scotland was having a Thomas the Tank Engine Day and cute little kids were losing their minds.

One of the train stations in Scotland was having a Thomas the Tank Engine Day and cute little kids were losing their minds.

Yes was definitely slumming it in the Scottish countryside.  Surpisingly inexpensive if I remember right.

Yes, I was definitely slumming it in the Scottish countryside. Surpisingly inexpensive actually.

Just know it was this pretty almost everywhere there.

Just know it was this pretty almost everywhere there.

I hadn’t been able to see online friend Richie Merrett with his band Mercedes playing Reading the week before but our schedules synced up when I got back to London for one last night.  He and his girlfriend Talia met up with me near Hyde Park and we spent HOURS talking pop culture of all kinds until we were all hoarse and peeing into the London fog at 3am.  I still quote his disapproval of Episode One: The Phantom Menace: “Fart jokes in Star Wars?  FAHT JOKES IN STAH WAHS?!” Unquestionably one of my favorite conversations of all-time and a great way to end the trip.

If I had a brain, I’d have never left.  Stupid American.

CHILDREN BY THE HUNDREDS SAW THE MATS WITH CHILTON

For the ABC’s of Rock, I finally tracked down some shows that the Replacements played with ol’ William Alexander Chilton. In an interview for Rock Band’s website, Paul talked about recording the namesake song about one of his songwriting heroes… He was hanging out. He was there. I mean, uh…well, s**t, did he play on it? He played on “Can’t Hardly Wait” – he played a little guitar on that. But he, you know, we went down to record in Memphis with Jim Dickinson. That’s where Al was then. When we first laid the song on him the engineers kind of looked at me like, you know, are you serious? You’re gonna call this song “Alex Chilton”? I was like, “Yeah, you know.” So the word got out that there’s some kids down here in the studio that wrote a song about you and he sort of made his way down. ac12 On January 19, 1985, around the time Chilton produced Replacements demos of “Can’t Hardly Wait” (acoustic and rocked) and “Nowhere Is My Home“, the two played together at the Uptown Bar & Grill in Minneapolis, MN. A recording of the show became the Merv Griffin presents the Replacements bootleg. In their set, they covered “September Gurls” and “I’m In Love With A Girl” before Alex got up and joined them at the end of the night (Youtube audio links below).
25. Takin’ Care Of Business (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) * https://youtu.be/1ezXNwJlc8Y
26. Help Me Rhonda (Beach Boys) * https://youtu.be/2kpn9Jj3Ags
27. Little GTO (Ronnie & The Daytonas) * https://youtu.be/S4bK59SAEOA
28. Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love (Bad Company) * https://youtu.be/B3hu6A71VYI
29. I’ll Be There (Jackson 5) * https://youtu.be/SU1SH2BkO04
30. Hitchin’ A Ride (Vanity Fair) * https://youtu.be/9VNoQsz1Iwc http://replacementslivearchive.blogspot.com/2013/10/january-19-1985-uptown-bar-grill.html (entire show link)

There were back to back Texas shows in November of 1985. The Houston show at the Lawndale Art Annex was a drunken riot (click for an account of the craziness) but Pat Blashill took a slew of great black and white photos from the Austin show the next night that look like a blast.

℅ Jagmo.com

℅ Jagmo.com

65_Tommy-on-top-of-Chris-Gates_web

℅ Pat Blashill, check his site for more great shots from that night

Liberty Lunch in Austin ℅ Pat Blashill, check his site for more great shots from that night

Then they did two shows together in April of 1987, the same month that Pleased To Meet Me, with its infamous namesake song, was released.  Both shows are up on the Replacments Live Archive and at the second show in Ybor City, Alex joined them again.

℅ Replacements Live Archive

℅ Replacements Live Archive

http://replacementslivearchive.blogspot.com/2013/09/01.html (entire Miami show link)

A recollection and a preview of Ybor City. http://replacementslivearchive.blogspot.com/2013/12/april-25-1987-cuban-club-ybor-city.html (entire show link)
23. – messing around > Alex Chilton
24. Route 66 (Ray Charles/Rolling Stones)*
25. Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love (Bad Company)*
26. The Last Time (Rolling Stones)*
27. September Gurls (Big Star)*
28. Substitute (The Who)*
29. I Wanna Be Your Dog (Stooges)*
30. Duke Of Earl (Gene Chandler)*
31. Left Of The Dial*

In 1987 after one of their two NYC Beacon Theater shows, the band went to Maxwell’s in Hoboken NJ afterwards to see Alex play and Paul got up to join him on “Little GTO”.  Photos by Ted Barron below.  Read his recollections from that night at Rockin-Pneumonia. 35blogchilton pwac2 copyThe Replacements song is definitely where I first heard the name Alex Chilton.  My own band, Rookie Card, did exactly what you shouldn’t do when you open for Tommy Stinson and played it when he came to san Diego in 2004 and again when we opened for Soul Asylum a few years later, replacing the They Might Be Giants intro with Prince’s “Kiss” for more MInneapolis content.  When Alex passed away in 2010, some friends and I did a set of his songs as A Little Big Star and closed with it. As far as the best performance of the song that never was, Jon Auer told me how when the allstar Big Star Third production played Bumbershoot last year, they learned the song in case they could lure one of the Replacements over before their set.  Could you imagine Paul singing it with Jody Stephens on drums? Sadly, it didn’t happen. So here’s a beautiful rendition of “Nighttime” with Tommy Stinson singing with Big Star Third at SXSW in 2012.

ALSO SEE/HEAR…
Paul sings “A.C.” live in NYC 1999

Paul’s 2010 A.C. eulogy in the New York Times
2008 Paul interview about the song being in the Rock Band video game
J
on Auer covering “Swingin’ Party” which he’s been doin’ since his teens

JASON FALKNER@LUNA PARK 1996

It occurred to me that there might be some old Jason show tales worth resurrecting from when I did his webpage in the mid to late 90’s.  After some editing, I’m almost willing to admit someone might want to read this….

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 9.44.22 PMJASON FALKNER
@LUNA PARK
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA 1996

Far be it from me to turn down an invitation to an industry event in Los Angeles, where one can almost hear the music above the din of people talking. After talking to Elektra Records about this website, they sent me an advance copy of his upcoming solo debut album and put me on “the list” for this show, Jason’s second as a solo man. So, up I drove from San Diego to Los Angeles (2 1/2 hour drive with traffic) to see Jason’s big introduction to the music biz. I listened to recently acquired trade booty (XTC’s Andy Partridge’s demos & ex-Jellyfisher Tim Smith’s awful old band, the Producers, thanks Brian!) on the way up and tested the boundaries of man’s ability to retain liquids while waiting for my friend Dan to come home from work.

Off we went to Luna Park, a hip little club in West Hollywood where the LA Weekly had listed tonight’s show as “A bunch of damn songwriters”.  We walk in and it’s quite the industry event. I could tell that this crowd was going to soon be drowning out the reason I drove 125 miles. As the PA music started into “He’s Frank” by the Monachrome Set, a song that the Grays used to cover, I spotted Buddy Judge from the very same band. I walked up to him and inquired, “Didn’t you write this song?” He said, “No, but I used to play it.” As usual, he was really nice to talk to and I got the latest scoop on the band. First, despite a recent rumor, the Grays are not going to keep going without Jason. Jon Brion has been playing Cafe Largo on a weekly basis and Dan once played drums with him. Dan plays on Michael Penn’s new album and will probably tour with him soon. Dan was also Lloyd Cole’s old touring drummer and Lloyd once toured with, you guessed it, Michael Penn (even though he didn’t play the classic “Sean Penn Blues” on that tour). Buddy recorded an album, which he said is really weird and has lots of tubas. “Tubas are good,” I said. He agreed. He also produced an album for a woman whose name I can’t remember, that is coming out on Columbia.

We talked about the Grays a little. He still talks to Dan and Jason but only occasionally sees Jon.  I saw the breakup from the get go. No way were two guys (Jason & Jon) who can play every instrument going to work well in a group situation like that. Bringing completely finished demos they did by themselves to a band to play doesn’t leave much room for collaboration. Plus, watching the faces of the rest of the band waiting for Jon to complete mammoth guitar solos was a good clue. It’s too bad, because, they sounded great live. Don’t let the album fool ya. I told him how many people on the net dig the Grays just as much as Jellyfish and he said that it’s weird, but cool how people dig that whole group of pop bands. Agreed.Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 9.43.50 PM
We were towards the front as Jason came out wearing shiny silver almost Bonoesque type pants. He had a three-piece backing band. The bassist was wearin’ a hip suit, the bassist sported big red felt looking red bellbottoms and the drummer Jeremy was a big Brit wearing a big ol’ black & white shirt. Who am I Mary Hart? What is with this lame fashion report?

Anyways, for only being together a couple of weeks, they were a good, solid backing band. The guitarist is a gas to watch, he kinda reminds me of the bassist for No Doubt as far as his facial expressions and looks a bit like him too. Jason had a little keyboard set up so he could play a few moogy type keyboard lines. The one thing that was lacking was any backing vocals. Doing your own harmonies on your album leads to Matthew Sweetesque disappointments when it comes to the live show, so they didn’t even try. Jason said they don’t sound like him timbrewise, but, they will be singing in the future.

Jason-Falkner-I-Live-73786It was really fucking loud and his vocals weren’t anywhere near as loud as they should’ve been, but they sounded great. All but two of the songs they played were from the upcoming album. They opened with “Don’t Show Me Heaven” and it sounded great. They then did the catchy single “I Live”, which has already been getting some radio play, and the rocker “Miracle Medicine”. They went out of tune during “I Go Astray” (my fave), so Jason stopped it halfway through and started over. But, like always, he looked like he was having a blast.

The rest of the set went ahn with “She Goes To Bed”, “Hectified”, and a great solo acoustic performance of the shoulda-been-in-a-Broadway-musical-torch-song-type-thing “Before My Heart Attacks” (there are strings accompanying it on the album but this performance was accompanied by several hundred people simultaneously not listening to a great lil’ tune). The band came back out and Jason introduced the next song, a cover of a Magazine song called “Song From The Floorboards”. He mentioned that another Magazine tune was on the tape that he made that we’d been listening to before the show. Figures. He actually made a tape for an old girlfriend which she played at work that a certain Jon Brion heard and freaked out. That’s how they met, honest.

So then came “Afraid Himself To Be” and the spooky “Nobody Knows” from the album which went right into an amazing rocker temporarily titled “New Song” (which turned out to be “Already Know”). “Miss Understanding” was followed by the show (and album) closer “Untitled”, for which they rocked the ending instead of taking the album’s quiet route to the end. Everyone must’ve noticed that he was done because they cheered wildly, but, there was no encore because they haven’t rehearsed anything else.

Presents_Author_UnknownWhile waiting for the place to thin out a bit, Dan and I talked to a guy named Wick who I’d seen working at Black Market Music, a very cool vintage music shop in town, the week before. I’d met him before when he was playing guitar for the last incarnation of the Spent Poets. He formed Slider with Poets guitarist Matt Winegar, who he said has been getting himself together physically for the past few months and might be getting Slider back together. Even though I hadn’t bought the guitar that I was looking at, he was nice enough to slip me a copy of the second (unreleased) Poets album, Steve, that happened to be lying around the shop. Like Jason’s recent album, Matt Winegar played all of the instruments on it and it’s quite a piece of work.

It was kinda tough to get a word with Jason because it’s his hometown and he’s so damn nice that everyone wanted to chat. So, I finally walked up and only then did he recognize me. The last time he saw me I had much longer hair and wasn’t wearing glasses. He laughed because he thought I was someone else when he was onstage and couldn’t believe that this guy who doesn’t get excited about anything was getting so into the music. The first thing he said was something I’d told his label that an internet fan said when he found out about Jason’s album: “Chomping at the motherfucking bit!”

We talked to someone from Spacehog for awhile, who happened to be in town and had played pool with Jason in England while he was with Jellyfish. He was saying how he’d like to maybe tour with him. Not that I’m a fan, but, hey, that’s not a bad first opening slot to get. Consider Jason’s luck with opening slots: Jellyfish with World Party, Jellyfish with the Black Crowes, the Grays with the Smithereens, the Grays with Toad, the Three O’Clock with, er, Adam Ant (wait, I dunno if he was in the band yet). We’ll see….

In short bursts of conversation in between people grabbing him to say goodbye, we actually talked for awhile. We talked about the lack of backing vocals, his show the very next night in New York(!), my new guitar, how he’d never seen the internet, and about the Jellyfish videos I’ve been trading, which he definitely wanted. I told him I’d copy anything he wanted and if there was any weird demos he wanted his fans to hear that his record company wouldn’t release, that I was his man. The reports of him recording an album of covers are actually true. Elektra will be releasing it and it’ll include “Wicked Annabella” by the Kinks, a Pistolsesque “Both Sides Now”, and a Tom Waits cover.

He had to run, so he said I could grill him when he got back from New York. Anyone with decent questions, try me. We stopped by Headlines in Westwood (highly recommended fries) and I drove home listening to the Beasties’ “Licensed To Ill” for the first time in way too long. There’s just something about Jewish kids named Adam…

FIRST…SHOW…EVER: THE RENTALS at The Casbah, San Diego 11/2/95

In the summer of 1995, I was working in West Hollywood for Direct Management, whose roster included Counting Crows. One day, Crows singer Adam Duritz walked in and said, “C’mere Max, you’ve gotta see this.” My dad wanted to name me Max, so I went by it while I worked there since, you know, it was getting confusing with two Adams around. He was great to talk music with, whether it was Lloyd Cole, Jellyfish or Big Star. We walked into the main managers’ office and he popped a VHS tape into a player, explaining that it was DGC labelmate Matt Sharp’s new band, the Rentals. On came this amazing fuzzed-out song with stoic black and white musicians looking emotionless. Russian subtitles, Weezer bandmate Pat Wilson and DGCer Petra Haden from that dog. completed the coldwar look. We both sat there, nodding our heads and grinning when one of the two main managers moaned “That keyboard riff is TERRIBLE!”  Two Jewish Adams turned and screamed in unison, “NO, IT’S GREAT!!!!!” We were right.
95 Luna RoxyIt was a fun summer working there, going to tons of shows and having my new girlfriend Summer take the train up from San Diego, my hometown.  The week of October 16th was typical for me.  I saw my friends’ band Getting Red on Monday then went to see Ben Folds Five open for Heather Nova at the Roxy the next night.  On Thursday before returning to the Roxy to see Luna, my bosses pulled me into their office and told me that as much as they liked me, I just wasn’t a good front deskperson. I’m surprised it took them three months to break it to me. Still, they really felt I should stay in the music business and started telling me about friends they’d like to refer me to because I actually love music and would probably make a great A&R person. All I could think was, “Can I please leave and go see Luna? Can I please leave and go see Luna? Can I please leave and go see Luna?” 
I’d had enough of getting my foot in the door in every part of the music business for years.  I was tired and just wanted to go home and be with my new gal. I moved back to San Diego, where I ran my own small publishing company for 11 years. Not a bad run for a guy who couldn’t hack it as a secretary. I’m pretty sure that I stayed the rest of the month in my Hollywood guesthouse to take it easy and go to a few more concerts, including Oingo Boingo’s farewell show. Five days after I was let go, the Rentals’ debut album, Return Of The Rentals, was released and Summer and I immediately fell for it.  It was around this time that I spotted this Pizza Hut in Redondo Beach (below) and we both had to pose for pictures with it.  When I heard that the band was playng their very first show at a tiny club in San Diego, I ditched my plans to finally see Spiritualized and headed south.

pizza

Down with P. Redondo Beach 1995

Blurry Casbah ad in the San Diego Reader from their online archives

Blurry Casbah ad in the San Diego Reader from their online archives

The show was a kick-off party for San Diego’s fourth Independent Music Seminar, which turned out to be its last year.  The indie-centric event was spearheaded by future documentarian Gary Hustwit (Wilco’s I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Helvetica) and local musician Kevin Chanel, who I became friends with years later after reading his genius baseball/rock magazine Chin Music. There wasn’t originally supposed to be an IMS show that night but when the Rentals were looking for a showcase, they were added to a bill at the Casbah with Magic Hour (featuring Damon and Naomi from Galaxie 500) and Chanel’s band Fern Trio. “We made it into an IMS kickoff thing,” Chanel recalls. “It was a real party atmosphere, much more so than a regular Casbah show.”

Going to college in LA and then moving up to the Bay Area meant I’d missed the glory years of the San Diego indie scene, so this was actually the first time I’d ever been to the Casbah. Like most clubs I’d heard about for years, I was surprised at how small it was. Summer was still underage but I saw some friends there and made a few more that night. It felt exciting to be around a cool scene of nice folks and it made me feel all the more sure about leaving LA behind. It’s been the center of my musical life ever since. I’ve seen and played hundreds of shows there in the last two decades.  I was even the first person to ever play “Rock The Casbah” there, if you can believe that.
I don’t remember anything about the first two bands. I just remember being pretty excited to see the Rentals and making sure I was up front.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and thought they’d stick with their fake backstory and look of being a reunited 80’s synth act from Prague. Instead we got a soft-spoken, nervous looking band of teeshirt wearing indiekids. We definitely didn’t know we were in the presence of two future TV stars, future Saturday Night Live cast member Maya Rudolph and Cherielynn Westrich from Overhaulin.  95 rentals
I was surprised that Kevin remembered the party atmosphere because I definitely remember my first taste of the awkward Casbah arms-crossed silence.  Despite the packed house, it was drop dead quiet in between songs and the band wasn’t saying a word which didn’t help ease the band’s obvious nervousness of doing their very first live show nine days after their album was released.  At one point, I finally yelled “Where are yer accents?!” to try to ease the tension. Matt let out a huge, sarcastic “HA!” and everyone breathed a little easier before they went into the next tune.  They might’ve barely moved but they sounded incredible. I was right up front and remember Rod Cervera’s guitar being so ridiculously loud that when the songs went from quiet to loud, it practically tore my head off.
One song from that night ended up on Youtube and it shows them destroying “So Soon”, the “Friends of P” b-side that became “The Cruise” on their second album.  Matt also alluded to the first show in an interview with SingingBassist.com and sent them a photo from that night (below) with him sporting a shirt he no doubt got when Weezer played the Jon Stewart Show in 1994.
℅ Matt Sharp & SingingBassist.com

℅ Matt Sharp & SingingBassist.com

SingingBassist: Was it daunting to play the first time lead and bass, without an issue, or you just did it? Matt Sharp: Ah, Well, I think less so at that point because like, I was doing back-ups and I have vivid memories of that show, but I don’t have any sort of vivid nervous memories of that show though I’m sure I must have had some. But I had already been playing with Weezer, and, I was already singing back-ups and honestly, past a few kind of weird little moments in the beginning of performing, I’ve never been somebody to get nervous when performing.

Another blurry scan from the San Diego Reader online archives

Another blurry scan from the San Diego Reader online archives

Above: “Friends of P” two nights later in San Jose

With their first show under their belt, they proceeded to do 18 shows in their first month.  When they rolled back through town just six weeks later for 91X-FM’s A-Caustic Christmas show at Golden Hall downtown, they were like a different band.  The two girls who had barely moved an inch at the Casbah were jumping and dancing through their entire set.  This time, Summer could be there and you couldn’t not be excited for the band with the huge reaction they got.

This ticket stub is now the only proof online that this show happened.  Starring Rocket From The Crypt, Love & Rockets, the Rentals, Tripping Daisy, Mike Peters from the Alarm and Dave Wakeling from the Beat.

This ticket stub is now the only proof online that this show happened. Starring Rocket From The Crypt, Love & Rockets, the Rentals, Tripping Daisy, Mike Peters from the Alarm and Dave Wakeling from the Beat.

06-Rentals-x2The band only lasted a few more years but when they decided to play again in 2006 with Rachel Haden on bass, they chose the San Diego area again for their first show, playing at the Belly Up in Solana Beach.  Watching them do “I Just Threw Out The Love Of My Dreams” and a seamless “Walk On The Wild Side” into “P” sure was something. Just last year on the 20th anniversary of Weezer’s Blue Album, Matt returned to the Casbah to play several bluish songs and “Friends of P” with We Are Scientists.  Their new album, Return To Alphaville, is my favorite thing in years.  They’re back in San Diego this Thursday night, two decades after their debut. 20 YEARS?! Eek. Can’t wait. In an interview to plug the show with the San Diego Reader, Matt recalled the first show….

“The first Rentals show ever was at the Casbah…. Weezer had a very traditional way that you go about being in a band. We started in clubs. There was nobody there. We played for five people a certain amount of times, and eventually it got to ten people, and then 15 people. Rivers [Cuomo] and I went out and flyered every show, every night. We didn’t have a car, so we got on a bus and passed out flyers every night…and nobody would show up. The Rentals, on the other hand…‘Friends of P’ was already on MTV before we ever played together. Our first show with Maya [Rudolph] and everybody else was at the Casbah, and we were already in a bus…and we paid no dues. We didn’t have very many songs. We were headlining. We didn’t know how to play a real show. We were trying to stretch stuff out; it was just weird. I think our shows were, like, 11 songs long, so our set, with encores, was probably, like, 40 minutes,” Sharp said.

BACK TO BEST…DEBUT…FAREWELL…REUNION…SHOW…EVER ALSO SEE CONCERT SCRAPBOOK (1984-94) SHOW MEMORIES 1994 TO SEMI-RECENTLY TOO OLDE FOR SHOWS GEEZER My grandpa’s band who recently recorded “Friends of Pee” and “Baby’s Got Depends” for a successful adult diaper ad campaign