Not Just the Ticket — #70, Catherine Wheel, August 5, 1993

Catherine Wheel, Roxy

Then-current album: Chrome

Opening act: Slowdive

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, now and forever. If it was still the summer of 1993.

Maybe my comment about how variable the tickets look really should have applied to this one – I had to hold up close, tilt it and squint before I exactly realized what show it was. I almost half wonder if it always looked like that or if the ink in this batch was just utterly useless. Honestly I’m not exactly sure of the date.

Anyway, shoegazing! Starting to mutate, at least.

Not that Catherine Wheel were ever per se shoegaze, they certainly didn’t identify themselves as that – and then again, barely any band at the time that was tagged with the term did either. I’ve already talked about plenty of bands that came through that either then or even more so later were seen as the first wave, and to an extent that applied to Catherine Wheel…kinda. The trick was – and some of the more thoughtful reviewers captured this at the time, as did the band members themselves whenever they got the chance via interviews – that the group really drew on a lot of different things. Pink Floyd, Neil Young, the Chameleons, the Comsat Angels, Talk Talk (the latter especially due to the first album’s production by Tim Friese-Greene)…it was a much different set of reference points for the most part. Maybe the Kitchens of Distinction were one of the closer ones but they were another case of a band kinda lumped in with something that wasn’t quite them.

I had heard plenty about Catherine Wheel first via Melody Maker, once again, but to my surprise they actually ended up having a radio presence out here in California, helped by the fact that MARS-FM, having challenged KROQ’s dominance for a time, leapt all over “Black Metallic,” which got KROQ onto them as well and then from there it got more involved. I remembered picking up the debut album Ferment on import and thinking it would never get released over here and then lo and behold they actually became something of a breakout star. You can still talk about that song to any number of people and they’ll know it, it’s just one of those things that marked a time and place.

In this case that was also 1992 so a year later, the question was, what next and what now? As mentioned a couple of entries back I had run into their lead singer Rob Dickinson at the Cop Shoot Cop/God Machine show and he had seemed pretty jazzed up – and for good reason: turns out the band’s second album Chrome was even better. You’ll get some people disagreeing on that point but it was actually the album I kept coming back to time and again, much as I liked Ferment; if it felt a bit like a clone of Ferment in points, or an analog, then maybe I just liked Gil Norton’s approach more than Friese-Greene’s in the end, at least with these guys. However summed up it was definitely a big part of 1993 for me, along with Suede’s debut, Verve’s A Storm in Heaven…guitar overdrive, and then overdriven once more.

This was another show where I couldn’t really tell you anything about what led up to it, though – who I was with, what we did beforehand. I half assume it was Jen V. and I and maybe some others, it would make sense, due her connections via friend at Polygram, but I can’t be sure. I do know, though, that I was more than thrilled to learn that Slowdive would be opening. After the eternal jumping through hoops that finally resulted in their playing with Ride the previous year it was once again coming through as an opening act for UK compatriots this time, and if there’s one thing that hits me in typing this up it’s how quickly everything seemed to change. The Ride/Slowdive show of the previous year seemed like another triumphant step forward in something; this show almost felt like a sidestep, or a retrenching, like something else might be in the offing instead but nobody was quite sure yet what.

Alan McGee had decided to come out with Slowdive as well – or if not directly with them, to keep a bit of an eye on things, if only because he had come with another band as well, namely, once again, Ride, or at least Mark Gardener and Andy Bell. Sometime around this show, maybe a few days before or after, McGee, Bell and Gardener ended up on Rodney’s KROQ show and did a few live acoustic songs – I could swear they did a Sonic Youth cover of some sort, “Claustrophobia” I think? Maybe I just fever dreamed that, but they did definitely do their own song “Crown of Creation” which ended up getting released the following year.

None of which, admittedly, has much to do directly with the show in question. It was midsummer, I was once again lazy and just wanted to enjoy myself, and a friend told me that McGee was definitely lurking somewhere at one of the tables when Slowdive took the stage to open the set. I was standing at the center but some layers of people back from the stage, and actually had a good view of everyone. Whatever demi-gothed out look the band had initially had was already starting to mutate into a straightforward sixties revival mode – pretty sure Neil Halstead was already sporting Brian Jones style sunglasses or something close – but musically they were more focused on their own recent album Souvlaki, which was either just about out in the UK or would be out shortly thereafter. Small problem was, though, that it wasn’t out over in the US, and wouldn’t be for some months, no thanks to the SBK label clearly not knowing what the hell they were doing, as had been clearly the case for a while. So while Slowdive happily and sweetly chugged away through “Machine Gun” and “Alison” and also a few earlier songs and I drifted happily through it all, I was hampered by not having heard that new album as well as not being in a position to readily drop a lot of money on the import. At least it wasn’t the last time I caught them but I’ll get to that later – suffice to say this was the least of the three times I saw Slowdive, though maybe it was a great show I wasn’t fully able to enjoy as such.

No question about enjoying Catherine Wheel, though – right from the start I quickly understood why they had been coming back to the US for tour after tour in the previous year, and why the audience was pretty pumped up from the get-go. However soothing and sculpted their albums were, the band were also pretty damn aggressive live, and my overriding memory of the start was Rob Dickinson dressed in a white shirt of some sort getting everyone going with “Half Life,” a song from Chrome that starts sort of calmly, if still with heavy drumming, and that completely cuts loose halfway through into huge feedback and stomp. I was near the front and I was surprised to be there simply because the energy level was barely containable – the complete antithesis to the relaxed feeling throughout the Straitjacket Fits show in the same venue just a few days previous – and when that moment arrived in the performance of the song, it was all heads and arms and cheers and more in the audience for that, lights flashing and Brian Futter’s long curled hair whipping around frenetically under the stage lights as he played. Pure showmanship at least.

After that opening things get murkier for me – a strong show without question, I’m just not all that sure what they played, besides the obvious. So that would have meant “Black Metallic” – they couldn’t have not played it at that point – and a few other choices from Ferment but I have to assume it was mostly Chrome, and what I do remember does come from there. “Show Me Mary,” which ended up predicting the more overtly pop/punk/grunge of sorts Happy Days album two years down the road, definitely was performed; I always thought it was kinda their take on Husker Du, who they’d already covered on a single the previous year, so little surprise it went over well. They definitely did the big “Ursa Major Space Station,” stretched out ending and all, though if they did “Fripp” as well I can’t be sure.

No question that they had to have done “Crank” and “Pain,” my own two favorite songs from the album; if “Pain” really was “Black Metallic” part two to a large extent I also thought it was better, with its cut between melancholic, monstrous overload and solitary singing (and back) all that much more abrupt and moving. Meanwhile, “Crank” just made for a hell of a great lead single from the album and I was annoyed it wasn’t getting as much traction as “Black Metallic” had the previous year; the chorus on “Crank”’s a winner to this day and I more sense than fully remember Dickinson really laying into that one, along with everyone else.

Never did see Catherine Wheel again – but I like to think that was a hell of a high water mark.

Not Just the Ticket — #69, Straitjacket Fits, July 19, 1993

Straitjacket Fits, Roxy

Then current album: Blow

Opening acts: The Bats, The Jean Paul Sartre Experience

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo once more. Perhaps they held stock.

The quality of ticket printouts from this year was really all over the place. I can only ascribe it to experimentation with different kinds of stock or something similar – maybe they wanted to figure out just the right way to irritate people down the road. Or at least those people who would care about it at all, like myself. Then again I would think like this.

Meantime, all New Zealand, all the time! Or at least for this one shining moment.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a band from New Zealand, as my entry in the series about the Verlaines demonstrates, and I’ve said much more about New Zealand and their music, or what I knew of it then, in that entry, so I’ll avoid repeating myself this time around. Suffice to say that by 1993 I was starting to get a better sense of what more there was to offer from the country, helped by the discovery of bands I never did see but fell hard for in 1992 and 1993. A classic example would be Bailter Space, whose Robot World might actually be my favorite release on Matador during that whole time period. Sure it was because of the whole ‘shoegaze sorta’ impact of it, but that definitely wasn’t all that was going on on that excellent album.

But what was happening on this show I went to was something else – and it was a total New Zealand fest for sure, in fact specifically a Flying Nun package deal of a kind, for all that all three bands were on different labels in the US. But they’d all started with Flying Nun or were still on it and when I heard about it I knew I just had to get there if I could. Happily there was a fairly big crossover of appreciation when it came to SoCal musical types and New Zealand – or more specifically Inland Empire musical types, people who either recorded for the Shrimper label or knew people who did or otherwise were hanging around and performing on a seemingly constant level. Franklin Bruno, Peter Hughes , John Darnielle, many more besides, and that included KUCI DJ Steve Cronk, who I’m pretty sure I went to see this show with, probably with some other folks as well.

It’s not totally clear to me, the circumstances around this show, simply because it was a bit of an unclear summer in the best way. I actually took the whole summer off, having crunched through a year’s worth of classes that had provided the strongest form of academic challenge I’d yet encountered – no surprise, after all, it was grad school, but throughout the whole year I sure felt better that I wasn’t paying for any of it thanks to that fellowship. So catching my breath and doing next to nothing all day was a hell of a relief and if it was pure selfish laziness…well, why not? It may not be the best defense of myself I’ve ever mustered but hey, the things you do when you’re twenty-two and carefree.

So this like the previous show and more to come were in this blissful time of letting the cross breeze come through the windows and fighting off the ants that seemed to constantly explore new ways of making their way into my apartment, meaning I could also laze around KUCI and explore more music, which is how I started to get a little more familiar with all three bands that played. I’d already heard them by name but the only one I’d actually heard much of was Straitjacket Fits after they’d signed to Arista for Melt back in 1991. It was an okay enough album and they gave some good interviews in 1992 but I can’t say I was a hyperfan for them, though I did like the story lead figure Shayne Carter told about some guy in the (very English) Mighty Lemon Drops mistaking him for an Australian and, upon being corrected, adding “Australia, New Zealand, it’s all the same thing.” Carter in immediate response: “Fuck off you Irish git.” Sounds about right.

In comparison I knew a little more about the Bats due to Robert Scott, though I didn’t fully know about their music aside from the Fear of God album the previous year. The Clean are now a band that deserve all the genuflections they get and they were already getting them pretty well back in 1993, but again in my case I was just still putting two and two together and thinking “Well ‘Tally Ho!’ sure sounds good.” The Jean Paul Sartre Experience were mostly a name but a great name and I hadn’t heard anything by them at all by the time of this show, though you’d’ve thought I’d have dug out some sort of EP in the KUCI holdings by then. Must have been too busy scrounging the world music section given my show at the time (true!).

So with all this under my unsure belt I went up to the Roxy with Steve C. and whoever else. A total blur at this point, I have no idea if we did anything beforehand or just went and hung out – whatever false jaded veteran feelings I was having at this point (having only started regularly going there for shows two years previously!) were as shallow as you might guess.

The Jean Paul Sartre Experience were good – and that’s about all I can say because that’s about all I can remember. I don’t even have a half clear visual in my head of their performance, not the slightest thing, just that they did perform. I have no idea if they played “Flex” or not – possibly my favorite song by them now, not something I even knew about back then. History seems to have done them poorly but then again having to shrink their name down to JPSE after various complaints from France couldn’t have helped. Definitely a set where I would have liked to have gone back in time and smacked myself a bit so I could remember more.

The Bats I do much more clearly remember, as I do Robert Scott. From where I was standing he was over towards the opposite side of the stage from me, that or I was just unable to get any closer to his location. It was hardly a mosh-addled crowd at this show, as one might guess; I suspect most everyone there was in fact like me, a college-radio friendly type who felt happy as heck not to deal with big drunk sweaty guys. Given that Robert himself looked like someone who would be equally happy in that situation, clearly much identification was at work.

I hate to talk about the Bats without reference to the rest of the band, seeing as it was hardly just Mr. Scott himself. The whole performance was a sharp, focused charm and if there was a feeling that the Bats’ albums could tend towards a series of soundalike songs at points there were always great individual moments – “North By North,” “Courage,” “Sighting the Sound,” all of which got played unless I’m totally wrong. “Afternoon in Bed,” perhaps my favorite song still by them, was a couple of years in the future, but no complaints at all about what we did get.

That left the Straitjacket Fits – and this was the era that those in the know still talk about as being when Carter started thinking of himself as a rock star and carried himself accordingly on stage. I didn’t quite see it myself but then again I hadn’t been following the group from the start, and neither had I been surprised by the general idea of that arc, I had already encountered it a number of times in the previous years. I do recall a bit of posing by Carter here and there but in a sort of self-consciously melodramatic and swoony way rather than lighting his tongue on fire or the like. Compared to, say, where Billy Corgan was rapidly headed, he was the very model of restraint.

Not much else remains with me from that show aside from a curious personal epilogue – around this time Melody Maker, which I was still reading assiduously, said something in response to a letter writer that they were always happy to hear from potential writers if they wanted to submit something. Taken with this, and not knowing if this was pro forma politeness or something serious, I gave it a shot and wrote up a review of the show. It wasn’t very good, at most enthusiastic fannishness, or so I figure – I never kept a copy of it for myself and I either sent it off via regular mail or, of all things, fax. While I had my first e-mail accounts by this time I don’t think Melody Maker did, so if I had to get their attention I’d have to go this route. I wasn’t expecting any sort of response, but I figured, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So when a review did run some weeks later of the tour but from a New York date and from one of their regular writers, well, I wasn’t surprised. Doing more than campus newspaper record reviews was still some distance in my future.

Not Just the Ticket — #68, PJ Harvey, July 13, 1993

PJ Harvey, Palladium

Then current album: Rid of Me

Opening acts: Radiohead, Moonshake

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo still not giving up. A siren song easily resisted.

I honestly don’t get what the staple holes to the side of the ticket are from. Maybe I bought this thing directly at the outlet here at UCI and that’s what they did with all tickets. A strange little beauty mark.

Meanwhile, this show! What a triple bill to be at!

It’s perhaps a natural counterpoint to the previous entry, given the nature of the music and the tragic conclusion to the band’s story, that this one provides nothing but warm fuzzies, or something close. Which given some of the music that the bands in question have done over time might seem ridiculous, and yet. This is definitely one of those ground zero shows in ways, something where I’m like, “Wow, I was lucky enough to catch that? How did THAT happen?”

Of course, it wasn’t like it was a small unannounced club show. A lot of what made this show especially memorable wasn’t apparent at all when I saw it (and loved it), and nearly all the attention was focused on one person. PJ Harvey seemed to come out of nowhere when the first singles surfaced on Too Pure in the UK; as with nearly everything at that point it was a Melody Maker article that first made me go “Wait, hold on, who is this?” She had already had a review or two through them by the time of a first big story but what happened was that in early 1992 or so (maybe late 1991?) said magazine ran an issue grouping together four up and coming acts in a typical enough ‘we can’t decide who will be the cover star but maybe it’s everyone’ approach. I think Thousand Yard Stare were the stars as such, featuring one guy stark naked. Great.

The PJ Harvey story was far more interesting and there were soon a slew of stories followed by the release of Dry, ending up out here in the States shortly thereafter. One listen — I picked it up shortly before I left Los Angeles for OC — and I was a pretty committed fan, though to my annoyance I wasn’t able due to that move to attend what was her first LA show, a set opening for David J. Given he’s a musical hero of mine, I’m even more annoyed I missed that set now, what a perfect combination of two inspired and singular figures who love their roots and blues and take them very different directions.

There’s no great secret why PJ Harvey got the attention she did — sometimes quality will just do the business for you. She put together so much so well and so immediately that it still makes you shake your head in admiration all this time down the road; if Dry is only a starting point it’s still one with killer songs and performances on it like “Sheela-Na-Gig” and “Dress” and “Water” and a hell of a lot more besides. So wickedly smart, so knowing, so impassioned, and goddamn did it ever kick out with unbridled energy as much as it was, in its own particular way, art rock.

So come a year later and Steve Albini recording sessions and Beavis and Butthead going on about how she had a crooked mouth and Rid of Me hits and good goddamn was THAT ever a monster. The title track seriously freaked me the hell out when I first heard it, the whole idea of quiet/loud/quiet was already a perceived cliche but there’s something so singular about the title track of Rid of Me, its understated hook, PJ’s cool singing, the twisted falsetto backing and extra treble and then BAM. And that was just the start of a mesmerizing, amazing album. If I talked about it in full I would be going on for quite a while.

Seemed like everyone was a fan around me. I sure as hell hoped everyone was. Meantime having played at the Whiskey the previous year opening for David J she was now scheduled to headline the Palladium in less than a year later, and all this without having actually busted out into massive selling levels yet. She was just already that huge in her own distinct way. So getting a ride to the show was easy — in this case it was with Yen D. and at least a few other friends.

The Palladium was the Palladium, no surprises there, but for some reason I do remember we ended up at a nearby restaurant to eat before the show. It’s not there at all now, at least so I’m guessing, but I have this impression it was a couple of blocks away (perhaps on Vine between Sunset and Hollywood) and was a Thai place. I was just walking down that stretch of road the other day and I know it’s definitely not there now, replaced by one or another of a set of buildings, but still, we had dinner and then over to the show.

I don’t remember too much of anything before the appearance of Moonshake, just that they were on stage and doing their thing in reasonably short order. They were the actual opening act for this tour, Moonshake having jumped from Creation for their first single to Too Pure for everything else since that point, though PJ and crew had already moved on to Island fully by then. But on a larger scope it all made sense, whether it was Dave Callahan’s background in the Wolfhounds or Margaret Fiedler’s own distinct voice and performing sense or the combination of them in early Moonshake or something else that ended up being the connection between them and Ms. Harvey, or just the fact that they all ended up at the same clubs in London for a drink. (Which strikes me as the most logical answer.) In any event, I honestly don’t remember much of the set aside from it being loud, scabrous, and generally causing confusion among the audience. I would have been right there with them if I hadn’t already known about the band, honestly.

And then, oh yeah, Radiohead. The reason I haven’t talked much about them and getting to know about them around 1993 in this entry so far is because I already did that a bit in my (much shorter) blog project back in 2007, Countdown to In Rainbows. So let me refer you to the entry I wrote that started it all, and I’ll copy/paste (and slightly edit) the relevant part about the performance here:

In retrospect the memories are dim. They’re on stage, they’re playing and they seem, well, okay enough to be there. They’re not actually part of the tour, this is a one-off date, part of a series of LA performances including a separate club headlining show, a radio session, and a TV appearance for Arsenio Hall. It’s not a bad initial touchdown in LA, and it helps that they are the in thing.

I remember Thom’s hair. EVERYONE remembers Thom’s hair. It was in all the photos then, he had grown it into this strange…mop. It wasn’t grunge. It wasn’t glam. It wasn’t ANYTHING. It was, just, well, strange. The stage lights glinted off of it, it shook a lot. Some rock people do big hair really well. Thom Yorke didn’t, frankly. But he was happy with it, at least initially, and hey, like I’m one to talk. Still, I think I was doing a touch better than him. However, he was the one on stage and I wasn’t, so enough of that.

I had a promo tape of Pablo Honey at this point; I would have preferred a CD but I only got that bit later. I really loved “Anyone Can Play Guitar,” scattered other songs. The setlist indicates they played that but I only remember “Creep.” Because the place, unsurprisingly, went nuts. And I think the band were already pretty tired of it. But they played it, and they knew why they were there in the first place, why they had a leg up over all the other bands whose first LA appearances were small club showcases and nothing else. It was because of that song.

But they weren’t the reason why everyone was there that evening, of course.

I remember squeezing my way up towards the front — nowhere near it, but much closer than I had been — with Yen and others in a group. Yen kept calling out “Polly wanna cracker!” every so often, and why not? I don’t remember anything untypical about her and the band finally taking the stage, just that there were a hell of a lot of cheers and pent up energy.

The show itself was unsurprisingly great, though there’s not much in the way of specific details that stick with me. I remember PJ herself looking a bit bemused, amused even, at the prospect of playing before such a crowd, but not in an arrogant or distant sense, more like a ‘wow, it’s already come to this — okay then!’ way. Given the Palladium’s notoriously dicey acoustics I am not surprised that no one moment is the moment for me but discovering it was the drummer who could do a very good rip on those falsetto vocals from “Rid of Me” was a bit of a revelation.

The whole point was — it was just a spectacular show with no one highlight per se in my brain, just a great smear of energy and theatrics and getting down in it. Little surprise that she kept getting bigger. Or that she talked about sheep balls with Jay Leno later that year.

Some mid-October AMG reviews

Just linking the most recent batch…

Not Just the Ticket — #67, Cop Shoot Cop, June 17, 1993

Cop Shoot Cop, Whisky a Go Go

Then current album: Ask Questions Later

Opening act (and the real focus of this entry, quite honestly): The God Machine

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo once again asks you to consider their 1/2 off offer. Think about it, won’t you? Thank you.

Another little run of shows here I was at, clearly, given the date — the Sundays/Madder Rose show, the Weenie Roast, then this. I must have really wanted the first year of grad school to be over so I could just do this. (And I did.)

And this, a show of regrets. One I’m glad I caught, though — but in retrospect, so sad.

Not, I should say, because of the headlining act, who I have nothing against. Heck, I reviewed most of their albums for the AMG if I remember correctly. But as time has passed I’m less about Cop Shoot Cop and more about Firewater, the band which Tod A formed after the earlier group had collapsed and which I gather he still oversees, though I should check on that. I had a good time at the show, I will happily note, and their song “10 Dollar Bill” which had become the fluke hit of sorts via their Ask Questions Later album got a good performance as did everything else. I mostly remember Tod’s figure silhouetted against the lights behind him as he busted out on the whistle near the start of said song, and that everything else was agreeably loud and twisted and off. Had I spent my life near NYC instead of LA I suspect I would have seen them a lot more and had more to say about them in the end.

But it was the opening act who I was especially there to see, and who I was very glad to see — and who I never saw again, and who nobody in America could ever see again. Still makes me sad to think about it.

The God Machine were, also in retrospect, a set of hometown heroes for me had I only known they were around. They formed under the name Society Line back in 1985 and so would have been performing around the time I came back with my family to the San Diego area for the rest of my high school days. Somewhere along the line they moved out to New York, minus one member, then after that they eventually ended up in London around the start of the nineties. So the first I heard about them was due to Melody Maker, thanks to some writers happily championing the band any chance they could.

What I had heard of got my interest, certainly. Signed to the Cure’s label, Fiction? Had to be at least a slightly good sign. Opened in London for Swans during a Love of Life tour date in 1992? Even better sign. Also, frankly, a good name, and the more I heard people who didn’t like the band complaining they were too dark or too gothed out that just meant I had to hear them all the more, it couldn’t sound any more up my alley than that, especially when I heard that they had gone right ahead and covered Bauhaus’s “Double Dare” and Echo and the Bunnymen’s “All My Colours” on a single — as well as Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and the KLF’s “What Time is Love?”

Scenes from the Second Storey, the band’s debut, appeared in the spring of 1993, and I imagine I was one of the few people in Southern California outside of their family and friends down south to even know about it. That sounds more precious than it’s meant to be, but while they had at least a slight profile over in the UK via the music press there was nothing at all out here, no KROQ breakthrough or anything similar. Stately and focused and powerful as the single “Home” was it just didn’t quite fit in the Alternative Nation stereotype approach for marketing. It wasn’t grunge, it wasn’t self-consciously quirky or sloppy, and they didn’t look goth (or industrial or what have you).

But they did get the opening spot on this tour and that was all I needed to know. By hook or by crook I was seeing this show and I’m pretty sure Jen V. and I were the ones making the by now very familiar trip up from OC to LA for a Sunset Strip show. The friend of Jen’s over at Polygram who might have hooked us up with tickets — not sure, really — I had met before, friendly dude, an intern like Jen, and I hope he’s doing well wherever he is right now. It was in conversation with him outside the Whisky that I had a bit of an encounter with the famous — with him or showing up soon afterward was Rob Dickinson, lead singer of the Catherine Wheel, whose second album Chrome was due for release or had just been released and who would be performing later that summer. I had become a big fan of theirs in the previous year but hadn’t seen them live yet so I was happily pleased as punch to meet him; he was a cheery sort in turn, all pepped up at catching the show himself. Nice to see, really.

At some point in talking with the dude from Polygram, either some days before the show or on the day itself, the possibility of an interview with the God Machine had been discussed. I have a feeling it was almost an impulse thing since I didn’t have a tape recorder with me, though someone from another college paper or station did and I was able to borrow it later on. More on that in a bit, but mostly I then just remember being in the venue itself and gearing up for a band I really had wondered if I was ever going to be able to see.

Scenes for the Second Storey, you see, had rapidly become one of if not the favorite album of mine that year, and while it’s been a long, long while since I’ve heard it through again, I stand by that judgment. From a distance I can see the connections and roots a bit more clearly — all the bands I’ve mentioned in context with them earlier had their impact on the trio (well, maybe indirectly in Peggy Lee’s case) — and even then I knew they weren’t sui generis. But it was an album of massive, self-conscious ambition that was carried off with skill, focus, style and heart, however shadowed (“Pictures of a Bleeding Boy” perhaps showed that heart most clearly but it wasn’t on the album — in different ways, “It’s All Over” and “Purity” did, and they were among said album’s highlights). It wasn’t the only album like it of its time but even now I see it as something understatedly monumental, if that doesn’t sound contradictory in terms. So many bands and albums later followed that also wanted to scale those heights that in ways I think of the God Machine as prophets without honor. Certainly that Swans opening spot situated them more clearly than most, given all the bands since who worship at Gira’s altar — in their own, quietly allied way, they had already achieved their own sense of the intimate, the high volume and the agog.

As was proven live. I think they would have gone off even more in front of a crowd that was theirs, straight up, as opposed to an opening spot thousands of miles away from the place where they’d made a name for themselves, now near what was home and yet so very far away from it. Pre-Internet, it really was another world — no website to maintain, no tracks to preview, no blog leaks, nothing like that at all.

It was a hell of a great show. “Home” was played, Bulgarian women’s choir sample and all, the monstrous, majestic “Seven,” “Dream Machine,” others that I wish I could remember. They gave it their all, Robin Proper-Sheppard on vocals and guitar, Jimmy Fernandez on bass, Ron Austin on drums, a trio who had stuck through it all and lived the dream and had gotten this far where so many other bands would never have even gotten that far. I wish they had had T-shirts for sale, something with the beautiful and blasted landscape image from the front of the album on it. I’d still be wearing that.

The kicker was after the show — I did indeed get to interview the band upstairs in the lounge or greenroom or whatever it is up in the Whisky artist area. Jimmy and Ron were fairly relaxed, chiming in every so often, but I will always, always remember that interview I did with Robin, because of his focus, his absolutely intense look. It wasn’t unfriendly, but it was serious, man on a mission stuff. You had a sense in talking to him that he was going to see it all through however he could. I really enjoyed it, and I hope he did too (I heard afterward that apparently that was the case, simply because I actually knew something about the band and where they came from).

I don’t have the tape, unfortunately — whoever I was borrowing the recorder from kept it for his own interview and that was that (again, pre-Internet — no easy way to track the guy down). I wish I did, it’d be a slice of history in its own way now. Somehow my other remaining impression is that of Jimmy in particular, smiling, relaxing and laughing. I like having that memory of him, however brief the encounter.

Because I never saw the band again. After that tour, nobody in America did. The following year, when everyone summed up the end of the year talking one way or another about the death of Kurt Cobain, I mentioned the rock tragedy of that year which really affected me instead. During the completion of the sessions of their second album, Jimmy Fernandez was in the studio and suddenly collapsed. He was dead shortly thereafter that day — it turned out an undiagnosed brain cancer tumor was the brutal cause, unknown and unsuspected, until one day was the last day. I only learned about it a couple of weeks later via an issue of Melody Maker, the kind of delayed reaction that seems like forever now, and felt a little crushed.

Nothing as ‘romantic’ as drink or drugs, as harrowing as AIDS, as perversely mythologized as suicide — just the cruel twist of nature’s way. Ron and Robin completed the sessions and released the album, One Last Laugh in a Place of Dying, as a tribute to their friend and musical partner of nearly ten years, and the band was over — no farewell concert, no final tour. Simply an ending because they could not continue on. As simple as that.

Ron, to my knowledge, has concentrated on film musical work since, while Robin took on a new focus via an excellent label, The Flower Shop Recordings, and a new band, Sophia, that reflected different inspirations and directions, something he spoke of in later years as better capturing the space he was in at that point — an honest self-assessment and I’ve always been glad for him for that, someone who has thrived on his own terms all these years later, twenty five years on now from that first Society Line demo and seventeen years on from this show I’ve discussed.

I’m glad I caught it, I’m glad I remember it. Some experiences, however distant they are, remain all the clearer because someone will always be the smiling guy relaxing, enjoying life as he could. Said it back then in a newspaper column for UCI, will say it again — RIP Jimmy. Glad I got to see you.

The garden on Oct. 10, 2010

A rare (for me) Sunday visit but occasioned by a group event, as mentioned in the video:

The event being the laying down of a boundary of mulch on top of pinned-down fabric, to provide an extra little barrier against weeds and, hopefully, burrowing critters — here’s part of what we all did:

Mulch barrier

Overall half the garden area is now covered by this, the remaining half to hopefully be done this Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, as ever, some new photos:



Roses and a new moon

Skillet gnocchi with chard and white beans

Skillet gnocchi with chard and white beans

So this recipe was suggested via my CSA — and it was fun cooking gnocchi this way after mostly going the boil and drain approach all this time. Cooked up very easily and the resultant sauce suited it very well, would have added a few more herbs had I thought of it. Also, great way to use a lot of chard, and I saved half of the end result for dinner at a later date.