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:

Basil!

roses

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.

Not Just the Ticket — #66, KROQ’s 1st Weenie Roast, June 12, 1993

KROQ's 1st Weenie Roast

Lineup (not in specific order) — Terence Trent D’Arby, Dramarama, Gin Blossoms, The Lemonheads, Suede, The Posies, Rocket from the Crypt, Bettie Serveert, Stone Temple Pilots, The The, X — the last two definitely closed the show but beyond that it’s all up in the air a bit.

Back of ticket ad — …whoops, forgot to check this. But doubtless generic.

I like the hubris of them just flat out calling it their first one with the assumption that there would be more — not too hard a thing to conclude, admittedly, but even so. The ‘sing-a-long concert’ subtitle seems to have been forgotten by history.

And there’s apparently tons I don’t remember about this show — but there’s a lot of it that I do.

So, KROQ. I’ve talked about them before plenty of times and all but maybe not in the full detail it deserves at this stage of the game. Once I started working at KLA in 1989 I had a different kind of radio home, but in the half year up until that point I had been occasionally listening to KROQ in my freshman year of college — but never to the point of completely following along with it. It was always this sporadic thing, and something about the station or the approach or more never quite worked for me. So from that point forward I encountered it more by accident or as part of a larger group, going somewhere to a show or just hanging out. It was enough, but sometimes it was more than enough.

The whole idea of the Weenie Roast, as mentioned in the previous entry in the series, was pretty obvious — the Acoustic Christmas concert/broadcast had been established for some years at this point, as well as being copied out by the incipient national network-as-such of alt rock, and of course the idea of radio station concerts featuring bands on its playlist was hardly an old one. But the impact of Lollapalooza was clear as well, and you could pretty easily sense both station and labels going “Well we don’t need to be kissing Perry Farrell’s ass each time, do we?” Okay so maybe not entirely like that, but close.

Coachella was also some years off so as with many things in life this was a case of fortuitous timing, opportunity and the chance to invent a tradition. Which is now is — a lot of attendees this year weren’t born when the 1993 version occurred — and while like the station itself it pretty much has long since devolved into a ‘dudes with guitars’ model over and again, for the first few years there were attempts…vague attempts…to work around that model. But only pretty vague. Thus the lineup, which is mostly dudes with guitars to be sure but with some noteworthy exceptions.

I actually missed one of them by the time I got to Irvine Meadows, two actually. The Posies would have been fun to see — Frosting on the Beater‘s opening three songs remain a trio of ‘okay NOW I get why everyone goes on about Big Star’ perfection — but such is life. Bettie Serveert is my greater regret, if only because the combination of an understated Dutch quartet and the KROQ audience hordes was doubtless a little mindboggling. But I heard that they actually did a pretty good job under the circumstances, and I’m still a little surprised at this remove that “Palomine” and “Tomboy” received the airplay it did.

So whenever I finally got to the show with Jen V. and whoever else was in our group, I had the good luck of knowing I got to be in the seats this time at Irvine Meadows rather than the grass section — a minor detail perhaps but I always enjoy the exceptions to experiences like that. I think we were about two thirds of the way up from the stage off to the right a bit, clear enough view, and all I had to do was hang, occasionally get some food and see how it all unfolded.

Since I don’t remember the exact order of the bands, things are a bit jumbled in my head. I’ll start with the Lemonheads, who were one of those bands that were crazy huge for a lot of my radio station and friends peer groups but which I was pretty indifferent towards. It was pleasant and all but it was only that, and I had been hearing about them for a few years thanks to earlier releases, it wasn’t like they were out of nowhere at that point, not after the success of It’s a Shame About Ray and the “Mrs. Robinson” cover and all. The title track of the album is actually all I remember from the show, Evan Dando singing along pleasantly enough on the big stage with the other two band members set up wherever they were. (In fact I want to say this was the first time I saw a rotating stage set but I can’t be sure — seems right, though.)

I’ll talk about the Gin Blossoms next because I don’t remember them. In fact, this kinda bugs me a bit — it’s not that I’m a huge fan, I’m essentially indifferent to them entirely outside of the chorus of “Found Out About You.” But the Posies and Bettie Serveert were always the two I remembered specifically missing that day, as friends were telling me about them when they arrived. Which meant I saw everything else…but I have no memory, not a single visual smear or impression, of their set. This might say something about them in the end.

Rocket from the Crypt I definitely do remember, as that was the first time I had directly encountered the glory that was and is John Reis. I first heard of Rocket thanks to the Paint As a Fragrance album a couple of years before but Circa: Now! is what made everything click for me and I figured they would put on a show. And so they did, having by this point embraced the unified fashion sense approach that would define the rest of their days together, John in full, complete flow as both singer and absolutely hilarious between song MC. My favorite moment — him pointing at the stage backdrop, where video of the performance was interspersed in between songs with footage of grilling hot dogs, in keeping with the putative theme of the show, and half shouting, “Now I don’t know about you all but I just gotta say that those things look fucking foul!” Hero.

Dramarama are one of those bands I totally adored at one point and now regard a bit askance now — some groups fill a void or just scratch an itch you have there and then that disappears with time. Funny thing is that I didn’t even think “Anything Anything” was their best song, or even the song I wanted to see the most at this show, the only time I’ve ever seen them after all these years though John Easdale keeps plugging away as he does. Clem Burke from Blondie had joined on drums at this point, nothing wrong with that, and I remember the set being okay enough, but the real reason I was interested was for their then recent single “Work for Food,” which actually might be my favorite of all their singles in the end. You couldn’t help but feel that they, more than the rest of the bands, were already shifting into yesterday’s-men mode as you watched. But they weren’t the only ones on the day.

At one point Rodney ambled out and therefore that could only mean Suede. So coming off the previously discussed lunch I was all amped up to see what the show would be like, though given Mat’s comment it sounded like he was aiming to chill a bit through it all to beat his nerves. Whatever slightly fractious air was at work between Brett and Bernard wasn’t immediately apparent on stage, though given its size and given that the amount of primed Anglophiles in the audience (and they WERE there — they were sure audible) was still swamped by the crowd at large, it was probably a bit of a losing effort in the end. Still, Brett did his best to shake his moneymaker and swan about, as well as being in pretty good voice to my memory, and the whole thing was okay enough. I am glad I saw them a number of other times after that, though.

Stone Temple Pilots…yeah. There’s some critical kool-aid that’s been drunk about these guys since then, though I do understand there’s probably something generational, just, going on (if I was in high school rather than grad school in 1993 I might well have thought differently). But I failed to hear anything in them at the time other than post-Pearl Jam yarl and by the time they supposedly became enjoyably trashy glam I couldn’t care either way. At the time, though, they were definitely the one band at the show that I could feel an actual sense of anticipation for — the place was essentially packed the whole day but it seemed even more so at this point, and I remember talking with a couple of dudes in a concession stand line who were clearly there for them above all else. (One guy was this friendly dude in his forties with his wife comparing them to what he loved as a seventies teen so hey, more power to him.) But aside from “I’m Half The Man I Used to Be” and “Sex Type Thing” and Weiland flailing all over the place…yeah, never mind.

Terence Trent D’arby, now that name I didn’t expect. That was high school come back with a vengeance for me for sure, though in an indirect sense — my sis was the one who had picked up his album and played it quite a bit, though “Sign My Name” and “If You Let Me Stay” had been played often enough in general on the radio/MTV/etc that I remembered them well and enjoyed without being greatest-thing-ever about either. His follow-up album I barely noticed and by the time of whatever it was he’d released this year I was all “Wait, what?” when he was announced as playing so high up on the bill (and he was — I think he was one of the last three or four acts). I actually remember it being a pretty good performance by him and his band, though, not least because his evident Sly and the Family Stone jones (and, yeah, Prince too) gave so many different reference points than most of the performers that day. Oddly enough Suede might have been the one closest to them — or maybe not so oddly seeing as D’Arby and Brett Anderson later did a TV performance together. So credit to him for throwing down with a good show, the performance of “She Kissed Me” was a highlight of the day and my general ‘hmm, you know, maybe there’s more there than I thought’ impression of him started that day.

The The’s appearance was even more of a surprise to me, and like so many of the earlier performers helped underscore the stop-start nature of the entire day — the station that had gone on about being the rock of the 90s in the 80s was now in the 90s with an actual legacy now from the 80s, and you could keep seeing the join throughout the day. I remember wondering how many people in the audience even really knew or cared about The The, and to be honest I felt the same way — Matt Johnson’s work in general has always been scattershot to me (and sometimes given to shock value for its own sake; my friend Dan P. has always had it in for him on that front), and it was only with his 45 RPM compilation years later that I received the best sense of his strengths.

So it has to be said that his performance, while really only containing two truly best moments, were both firecrackers. By this time the sun was pretty much down or almost down, the stage lights were on, another warm June night in SoCal and another view across Irvine towards Mt. Saddleback, seeing the occasional planes land at El Toro as the freeway traffic continued, all silent but seen in the distance. With a rumbling punch, Johnson and his band took the stage to “Infected,” but as a slow, evil grind, with all the best red-lit impact you could want. Equally impressive later in the set was “Love is Stronger Than Death,” a single that year and performed pretty much as a solo number from what I remember, vocals and acoustic guitar only under a spotlight to the crowd. In its own way, quite moving, and for a glimpse I got a sense of what was claimed for the guy.

Which left X. I still like the fact that it was X which headlined — sure they had a new album out, Hey Zeus!, and “Country at War” had been played quite a bit that year on KROQ from what I could tell, but they didn’t strike me as a natural headliner by any stretch of the imagination. It was definitely a legacy performance, even more so than The The’s, but it was one that made perfect sense, after all — they had been played on the station pretty much from the get-go and the fact that the place was pretty well still packed, or at least majorly so, indicated that it wasn’t like they had been written off. It’s another thing to chalk up for 1993 being this strange little year, this interregnum previously mentioned, where — at least in the world of rock-as-such — nobody quite knew what was going on or what was going to happen.

So X charged on into their set with “In This House That I Call Home” and it was all good times from there, in a seasoned ‘hey we’re still at it!’ sense — it wasn’t the return of Billy Zoom, that was a few years to come, but it was Exene and John and company and they were all fired up nicely. A nostalgic set in large part, though “Country at War” and some other new songs were played, but it was “Los Angeles” and “Nausea” and more which which got everyone really going. It was a fun way to end, really — for all that it was a different kind of agenda at work it was still different from Lollapalooza, and if it’s a case of a narcissism of small differences (and it is) it still had its points.

All that and it was an easy ride home.

Not Just the Ticket — a prologue to entry #66: my Chinese lunch with Suede

Even though this is not really a story of a Suede show, or rather just a Suede show. But in getting ready to type up what will be the next entry I realized a little more that this was a story of its own, so why not a separate post about it? After all, it was partially my choice — or my fault, depending.

So, Suede. The story for me goes back to early 1992 when I was picking up the latest issue of Melody Maker at UCLA and noticed a still-infamous cover, or at least still-infamous among those who noticed or cared at the time. ‘Best New Band in Britain’? Well, they photographed well, or so I thought. Turns out that there had already been a variety of reviews and even a small profile courtesy of Simon Price in earlier issues, and that the band had already been kicking around for some time before that — years later, when the whole story about Brett, Justine Frischmann and Damon Albarn came out in greater detail, a lot of things made a LOT more sense.

I heard snatches of their songs here and there over the next few months — I remember really wanting to snag a copy of “The Drowners” when I was over in the UK in August 1992 but either it was sold out or just impossible to find at that point, and “Metal Mickey” had yet to be released, so probably the first song of theirs I actually owned was the cover of “Brass in Pocket” on the Ruby Trax compilation released by the NME just around the time I arrived at UCI. I do remember snagging a copy of it at Peer Records when it was still open across from UCI and amid all the fairly random assortment of remakes “Brass in Pocket” did stand out, both gentle and melodramatic at the same time.

Eventually I did start snagging the singles and got a better sense of what the potential hysteria was all about, and pretty rapidly became an all out fan. The constant coverage in Melody Maker certainly didn’t hurt, so every week I seemed to know at least something was up. TV appearances, radio sessions, none of it could either be seen or heard given where I was and given what technology allowed, it was all down to print and recordings, so who knew what it was all really like live. As per usual I did have a few folks I could talk with at KUCI and on campus who knew about them but that was about it — everything else was down to waiting and hoping they would tour.

Which they did — inevitably, they were a UK band with press attention and then a major label deal as well, of course they were going to tour, nothing about that was any different from a lot of shows I’d seen previously. However, this time would be a bit different because of what I’ll be talking about in full in my next entry, KROQ’s own attempt at a Lollapalooza crossed with their Acoustic Christmas pseudo-festival shows. The Weenie Roast has been running strong since then and from the vantage point of history, knowing what station and show turned into over time, the idea of Suede being on the bill both makes sense (hey, loud guitar rock by guys and all) and absolutely NO sense at all.

But of course nobody knew that in 1993, the interregnum year of alternative aesthetics — and more on it all next time. Suede were due to play a separate small show up in Hollywood — not to mention a earlier Tonight Show appearance that still leaves me going ‘wait, did that happen?’ — but the big thing was going to be the Weenie Roast appearance. And as it happened, I had a hell of an in to something associated with that.

My friend Jen V., UCI show booker extraordinaire, had as mentioned previously in the series also been doing college intern/promo work at Sony. One day, she called me up and asked for my advice on something — a small event was being planned for the band, a typical enough journalism meet-and-greet thing that’s part of the whole rounds that groups have to go through, especially newish groups from the UK on a label looking for a return on investment. It was aimed at the college media level so that helped in terms of me being able to be part of it, but the question was a larger one.

Namely, where to hold it? The idea of the lunch would be that it was going to be on the day of the Weenie Roast itself, so from there the band would then head off to freshen up and then go over to Irvine Meadows for the show with the rest of the hordes. Now, Jen knows and loves good food, as do I — when we last met up with some friends earlier this year it was at a pretty great French Provencal place in New York — but take us back seventeen years and it’s a classic case of unsureness about options and no simple way to make a good decision without good word of mouth and some experience under one’s belt.

However, there was a Chinese place across from UCI I’d been meaning to at least try and explore, called, but of course, Chinatown. Now in retrospect I recognize it for what it is, a combination of tourist trap and fake authenticness, but hey, they’re gone now and I’ve seen even worse places in the interim. So partially because I could just walk over there and partially because it would an excuse to see what it was like on someone else’s dime — and also because it was in the same city as where the show was going to be, no small consideration as noted above — Chinatown it was.

I don’t have much memory of the buildup to the lunch aside from the fact that my friend Eric R. was also part of the crew that ended up there, but came the day and I walked over there for lunch. We ended up in a biggish room that could hold something like fifteen people — I really don’t remember who arrived first or when, but I think most of us were there before the band were, and then there they were with their PA folks or whoever else was minding the store, Brett, Bernard, Mat and Simon. Kinda cool.

Now, part of me geeked out over all this — hard. (I was 22 and I make no apologies.) I had brought single and album sleeves for signing, which they did, but I also brought that Melody Maker issue that had helped kick start it all. I think Mat was the one who circled the headline and went ‘Who?’ on it but I’ll have to check the cover tonight. I gather I broke protocol by circulating that before the meal was over but hell, I was impatient. And somewhat gauche.

But setting all that aside (and noting I was with some fellow Suede geeks here as well, folks from various local radio stations and publications on the college level), it was an interesting observation of a band doing the promo rounds, and sensing dynamics. Suede sat near but not next to me, on the other side of a larger table. Brett I remember looking at the menu a bit with a very, very considered air. He looked…not totally unapproachable but definitely knowing that yes, he was the star, or at least a star. We chatted for a short bit after the meal was over and I remember him adding a drawing of his cat Fluffington to the promo photo of him sitting in his flat, so that’s a nice touch.

Bernard was definitely the most withdrawn. Given his eventual departure and the emotional extremes he was dealing with that year, who could blame him — he was the only band member accompanied by, I presume, his girlfriend, and the two of them spent most of their time in deep conversation. I sensed he wanted to be left alone and almost certainly wished to not be there at all, probably not even in America at all. Sitting next to Brett probably didn’t help, really.

In contrast Mat and Simon were incredibly gregarious, not loud and strident but very chatty and friendly, taking it all very easy. I still think they were a really sharp rhythm section all around and given Simon’s own years-long career drumming in bands until suddenly hitting the jackpot, he probably couldn’t believe he’d gotten that far. I talked a bit with them both but Eric R. sat nearer to them, right next to Mat I think. As he told me later, Eric asked Mat about the Weenie Roast — Mat’s memorable response: “Well, it’s one of the first shows we’ve ever played in America, it’s the first show we’ve ever done in broad daylight and it’s supposed to be the biggest crowd we’ve played for yet. I’d be a little more nervous if I wasn’t stoned right now.” Hero.

The meal was nothing to write home about but we were fed, and after saying our goodbyes I found myself with Jen V. and the Sony promo crew taking the band over to their hotel near John Wayne Airport, so that was kinda fun if a bit brief; we exchanged polite farewells and that was that. Off to the show itself, which I’ll talk about next time.

One additional note, though — since then I’ve had a chance to talk various band members over the moons, an interview with Mat here, a brief chat with Simon at a later Suede show there and so forth. Each time I introduced myself by saying, “You won’t remember me at all but I met you guys at this promo lunch right before you did the Weenie Roast back in 1993” and without fail they’d each go “Oh yeah, I remember that! The Chinese place!” So maybe I made the right call in the end.

(At a certain point I could also have mentioned me running a little mailing list called wild-ones but that’s a whole other story…)

A brief School of Seven Bells roundup

Aly of School of Seven Bells

Occasioned by their really wonderful show the other night at the Detroit Bar. It’s the third time I’ve seen them in a year and a half and each time has been great as well as engagingly different. In this case it was partially because Claudia Deheza couldn’t make the performance — I gather she was ill — but Aly did the solo turn more than well.

My OC Weekly feature article revolved around my interview with Ben Curtis while my latest Foxy Digitalis piece is a bit of a review of the show, talking about both them and the excellent openers Active Child.

All that and I admit to being a bit tickled when Ben noted between songs at one point that they had performed at Detroit before (and quite the show that was), saying how great it was, then pausing and wondering if it was that great. I said something like “Yes it was!” and he looked over, paused a second, stepped up to the mike again and went “Ned?” What can I say.

Ben of School of Seven Bells

The garden on October 1, 2010

Into a new month, into another update:

Plus more photos:

Roses

Basil

Shiso

Not Just the Ticket — #65, The Sundays, June 5, 1993

Sundays, Crawford Hall

Then-current album: Blind

Opening act: Madder Rose

Back of ticket ad: “Superco — So. Ca.’s Electronics Lifestyle Superstore.” Are you now.

I just realized in looking at this ticket that I obviously didn’t have to pay for it, seeing as how there’s no price listed on it. It must have been either through my friend Jen V. or someone at the label but I honestly don’t ever remember talking to Geffen folks at that time…though no, I take it back, I remember some promo tapes. Hmm.

Anyway, this show, another review for the New University which isn’t online to my knowledge, and the alternate 1990s continuing in the era of alternative. And all that.

Shows that are local are always up my alley by default — I say this just having been at School of Seven Bells over at the Detroit Bar elsewhere in Costa Mesa last night, which ran late but which only took me a few minutes to get home in thanks to friend Brian E. And as had been mentioned in the Helmet entry as well as other related ones by now I was used to good shows happening at UCI, so this end-of-the-school year one was a real treat.

But even better, it was the Sundays. And I’m still glad to this day I caught them at least once.

The Sundays, in retrospect, are and remain one of the best bands of its time and place, something that just simply, seemingly effortlessly worked and, even more to the point, lasted. When they first made the big splash in the US thanks to Reading, Writing and Arithmetic back in 1990, along with the initial couple of singles before that, I don’t know if anyone would have thought about it that far down the road — for some, however much it was immediately loved, it seemed too obvious a fusion of styles, Smiths meets Cocteau Twins etc. But the real Rough Trade antecedent would have been Young Marble Giants, less in exact sound than in perfect self-contained focus on the engagements of the everyday. If the earlier band were even more delicate and understated on first blush the songs captured a perfect sense of the subtle, the quiet, the reflective, the internal debate. The Sundays were in contrast more immediate and soaring but even so, it wasn’t that far removed — I remember someone dismissing it at the time as ‘music for librarians’ and, well, given where I ended up and all, perhaps it was right.

But the slam contained a hidden truth in that the Sundays were about the undemonstrative, the seemingly effortless, the ‘this is what it is and this is all we need.’ Harriet Wheeler could have fully let loose but only did so in bursts, in moments, right when it worked, and her partner in music and life David Gavurin was similarly right on the money almost note for note, shimmering then punching it up, the rhythm section no less perfectly balanced. It seems almost insulting to label it ‘classic indie’ or ‘indie pop,’ it’s more a set of perfect sketches on how the day to day can soar and cascade, done via the medium of a rock band lineup that never sounded like it ever wanted to be in a bar or be engagingly sloppy.

The album still works for me to this day, it’s a go-to album that if ever I want to hear something and I just don’t know what in the heck to play, Reading Writing and Arithmetic is there and seems to grow a little richer each time. By the time I saw them, Blind had been released as the followup, and both it and their final album years later are definitely enjoyable even if they don’t dig anywhere as deep for me. Still, Blind gave them a bit more of an American profile in parts, and given that it was still a few more months away before the Cranberries rode their take on it all to American fame, catching them on this tour meant doing so at a high point, bigger than their first go round, with an audience that was completely in love with them.

Which is important to note in more detail — the early nineties are obviously not the stereotypes that history and collective memory creates and enforces, no period is ever like that. This whole series hopefully shows as much, but 1993 seems to linger in the general musical memory as a bit of an interregnum, a tiny one, between perceived phases. It seems only right that a show right in the middle of the year like this should happen as a result, it’s something that doesn’t fit the bill somehow. This wasn’t a club show, Crawford Hall was the same location where the Helmet show I’d mentioned in a recent entry had taken place, it can hold some thousands of folks — and as it turned out, the place was pretty well packed, if not sold out.

As mentioned I reviewed this for the New University and one thing I remember from that review was commenting on the weather, and how it was just perfect. It was too — not in a ‘welcome to summer’ sense, but in a June gloom way, but even more so. It wasn’t just that the marine layer of offshore clouds coming in as it does at that time of year, but a little rain as well, just enough of a minor storm I think — the memory may play tricks, but I do remember walking across campus and thinking how perfect it was that a band so suggestive (musically if not always lyrically) of relaxing at home on gray afternoons and taking stock of life would be playing on a day like that. It just felt right.

Madder Rose was the opening band — the only time I’d see them, as with the Sundays, and I’m also glad to have caught them at least the once. One of the many bands that just seemed to be happily and naturally releasing a great little album right around that time — their debut, Bring It Down, is a little more rocked up and out than the Sundays were, but the pairing of the two bands was inspired, Mary Lorson’s singing and lyrics not that of Wheeler’s either but with a similar ear and eye for life as it stands, engaging and memorable. I can still sing “Swim” to myself pretty much at the drop of a hat and they did that, of course, as well as a great cover medley of a Cars song (as distinct from their own “Car Song,” I should note) and one other song completely escaping me. In fact it’s bugging me I don’t remember which Cars song, “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” I think, but they did it in their own engaging slow burn style and damn if it didn’t work well. Given all the hoohah about bands of the time and place now — the Matador at 21 thing is going on this weekend as I type — it’d be nice to see them get some more credit, really.

And then the Sundays. It’s actually a set I don’t remember much of, which is a pity of course, and yet what I do remember really sticks. As with Madder Rose I was watching a little more from the side more than from front and center, standing nearer to the doors about a third of the way back from the stage front. It’s not that there was a moshpit at the show — and given the time I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone tried it for the hell of it — but I think I didn’t want to have to deal with the crush up front. It was a very ‘cool’ show in terms of its lighting and the performance, not in the sense of putting on airs, but more that, like their recorded work, this was being done with a minimum of fuss — no sloppiness, no drum solos or whatever, no cheery exhortations to the crowd. In fact if Wheeler had done anything like that we probably would have all wondered what planet we were on.

But it wasn’t that they were shy and retiring, or that they didn’t look like they wanted to be there. It was more that they seemed to know they were in a good spot, had captured hearts and attentions just enough while not simply recreating the album recordings either. It was all good spirited, for lack of a better word, a sense of feeling that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else other than there. A community, if not per se communal — not a rare thing to happen at a show, maybe, but here was a good example of it in action.

The one moment I will always remember, though, comes from the song “Goodbye” — at one point in the song there’s a guitar break from Gavurin that’s one of his flashier moments, just a really sharp, beautiful little solo. I distinctly remember that we he did that part live the whole place cheered — a spontaneous burst, something that surprised me so much that I remember it now. But it felt right, it was uplifting and melancholy all at once, the band was all into it and everything seemed in sync beyond what words could say.

I like the fact that Wheeler and Gavurin decided to just take it easy, raise their children and make their way in life, really. It seems exactly them.