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Metal is our game: Blackjack Blades rock out at rehearsal.

photo:Leif Zurmuhlen

Sweet Home Colonie
By Bill Ketzer

Eric Baestlein and Blackjack Blades return to their roots—musically and geographically—and find that their brand of metal has life beyond L.A.

It’s just around midnight, and the air at Humpy’s in Colonie is hot and thick with the sour fuel of cheap drafts and well drinks. About the size of a large living room, the place is jammed with straw-haired mutants in cut-off denim, the crescents of their fingernails thick with grease, clasping Bud bottles and bobbing their heads, hands raised in splendor or clasping the waists of their babes. The girls are a little older now, but still swank and swinging it out there on the plank, a hardwood salted lightly with shards of brown glass as they all point into the corner where the heat is, where the noise has landed like a UFO in the glare of two solitary white pots. Where Blackjack Blades are getting down at an impressive volume.

Guitarist Eric “Ike” Baestlein, the band’s tough-as-nails vocalist and figurehead, wields his SG like a flamethrower as his henchmen—bassman Chris Adamson and drummer “Cousin” Vinny Rienzo—nail the backbeat down tight. Rienzo, a burly, hard-fisted Italian with a checkered history that involves New York City law enforcement and motorcycle gangs, effortlessly pummels the kit as Adamson’s thunderous rig spanks the skin like a hot rain. No longer strangers to the local scene, Blackjack Blades have stalked the region with their wares since last summer, to the delight of classic-metal crowds. Tonight, grown men remove their shirts and climb up on tables. The billiards are covered with plywood and stacked with a city of empty bottles. The bartender pours another boilermaker. Nobody leaves.

“Our best shows are still in Colonie. . . . People are just crazy,” the guitarist says later, with a laugh. “They still love their metal, they just, you know, go nuts. I got into music when I went to junior high in South Colonie back in ’79 and we were just apeshit over metal. . . . Everybody in the school was obsessed with it. They had ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ and ‘Ozzy is God’ painted on the back of the school. The kids I looked up to all were in bands, just good metal bands, so we just ran with it. I formed my own band and we took it from there.”

That outfit, Blind Legion, enjoyed a reputation for staying true to their salty roots at a time when other regional acts took a sudden interest in spandex and Aqua Net. But Baestlein left the Albany area for the West Coast in 1987, where he carved his niche in the metal underground with Lost Breed, which originally featured Scott “Wino” Weinrich of Probot/Obsessed/Spirit Caravan fame. In no time, the band produced two well-received CDs for the popular German doom-stoner label Hellhound Records, which released albums for a number of trailblazing acts like the Obsessed, St. Vitus and Pigmy Love Circus. After almost 15 years in Los Angeles, however, Baestlein had enough.

“I had a great time in L.A.,” he explains. “I was only 21 when I left Albany, so I grew up there in a sense. It was a rock & roll wonderland. We would drink beers with Metallica, Axl Rose would be hanging out. You couldn’t beat it, man. Lost Breed was a good band that drew big crowds, but the whole scene was dead after about 1990. My drummer was done with music and I was ready to go. Location used to be important, but nowadays you can become popular from Bumfuck, it doesn’t matter, you can make it as long as you have a good band and you get yourself out there.”

After a short stint in Memphis (“A very short stint,” he says), Baestlein came back to the Capital Region, where he began calling around for new members. He auditioned Adamson in Amsterdam, where Rienzo also expressed an interest, and Blackjack Blades were born. Theirs is an impetuous, seasoned sound with tactical leanings toward monoliths like Black Sabbath and AC/DC and metal underpinnings from influences like Motorhead and Riot. This gives the music a gruff, ballsy urgency that the guitarist attributes to his working-class upbringing.

“I don’t think it could have been any other way,” Baestlein maintains. “I’m still proud of those roots, still influenced by bands like Thin Lizzy, Budgie, Saxon, Frank Marino, [but there are] more obscure bands like Raven and Venom and all the bands from the new wave of metal from Britain as well. I think we are carving our own niche, but we wear our influences on our sleeve. It’s pretty obvious.”

Also clear to Baestlein is the Blades’ ability to hold true to such roots in an era in rock where younger audiences have never even heard of the aforementioned groups. Whether they’re sharing a bill with the eclectic Small Axe, stoner gurus Great Day for Up, nu-metal upstarts BiPolar or glam punks the Erotics, crowds generally love the Blades and their riff-laden tales from the gut.

“I think we just have a sound that goes over good, with just about any crowd,” he says. “It’s been a lot of fun to do shows with those bands. Most of them are really cool and open to good music, no matter what it is. I mean, most of our songs are about kickin’ ass, drinking beer, and picking up girls. Who can’t identify?”

Indeed, with songs like “Banana Christening,” “Lock Up Your Daughters” and “Lumberjack,” there is little left to the imagination, and that’s the way they like it. The band will begin laying such tales to disc in the spring, so for now the straw-haired mutants just have to bang their heads to the trio’s live show. And for only three guys, it’s quite a show. Judging from the crowd at Humpy’s, still chucking them down and sweating it out at closing time, that’s just fine with them.

Blackjack Blades will appear at Tony’s Tavern in Amsterdam (34 Lyon St., 842-9845) on Saturday, Feb. 12. Look for the band’s first full-length release this summer. For a free preview, visit www.blackjack blades.com.

 

ROUGH MIX

To the rescue: (l-r) organizer George Kansas, Mayor Jerry Jennings, organizer Don Dworkin and Palace Theatre general manager Jeff Yule.

photo:John Whipple

LOCAL LIVE AID Last Thursday (Jan. 20), Mayor Jerry Jennings and bands Sirsy, Hair of the Dog, the Burners UK, Doc Scanlon’s All-Star Revue and the Brian Kaplan Band got together at the Palace Theatre for a press conference to announce an upcoming benefit concert, called Rock 2 Rebuild, to raise money to help victims of the unfathomable tsunami that hit Southeast Asia last month. All above-named bands, plus a plethora of others, will be on hand to perform. Organizers promise that in addition to the extensive musical bill, the event will also feature surprise celebrity presenters and entertainers to keep the audience engrossed between sets. Also, additional live music will take place in the Palace lobby by the Delmar Caffeine Crew and others yet to be announced. A correlating art exhibit, the Art of Relief, works by local artists and children on the theme of the tsunami tragedy, will be on display. One hundred percent of ticket-sale proceeds and donations will go to tsunami-relief funds established and administered by Save the Children and Habitat for Humanity. Rock 2 Rebuild will take place on Friday, Feb. 11, at the Palace Theatre (19 Clinton Ave., Albany), from 7:30 PM to 12:30 AM. Tickets for the concert are $10. For more information or to donate to the cause, call 456-6363 or visit www.rock2rebuild.com. To order tickets, call 465-4663 or visit www.palace albany.org.

 

A BAND BY ANY OTHER NAME First there was Sean Rowe, a terrific singer-songwriter with great catchy songs like “A Snake in the Grass” that made his numerous live shows extremely popular. Then Sean Rowe met Marco Haber, a percussionist whose instruments of choice are the djembe and the doumbek—you gotta see this guy in action—and the two like performing together so much that they combined forces to become the Sean Rowe Project. Well, that name stuck for a while, but now the duo have decided to change their name once again. The new name—drumroll, please—is Mudfunk. In addition to their active gig schedule, Rowe and Haber will heed the numerous requests from their fans and hole themselves up in the studio through next month to record a new full-length album. They have yet to come up with a title, but speculation on their Web site is that the CD will be self-titled. They hope to have it ready for public consumption by early summer. In the meantime, you can listen to some live tracks recently recorded for a 104.9 radio show by visiting www.mudfunk.com. Catch Mudfunk at one of their gigs this week: They play tonight (Thursday, Jan. 27) at the Bayou (507 Saratoga Road, Glenville) at 8 PM; tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 28) at the other Bayou (79 N. Pearl St., Albany) at 5 PM; and Saturday (Jan. 29) at O’Callahan’s (14 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) at 8:30 PM.

 

MMM, ERFY Our local piano-tuning, bass-playing darling Jonathan Cohen has announced the completion of the Erftones’ third album, Dispatch. The new CD is chock-full of local talent: Besides Cohen on bass, you’ll hear Chad Ploss (of the Refrigerators) on drums, Keith Yaun on guitar, Brian Patneaude on tenor sax, Tim Williams (of the Refrigerators and Sensemaya) on alto sax, and Ben Acrish (also of the Refrigerators and Sensemaya) on trumpet. The album was recorded in the summer of 2004 by Seamus McNulty (check his business out at www.mumblesound.com) and mixed by John Delahanty (www.scarleteast.com) at Scarlet East studios in Albany. It was mastered by Larry Devivo (www.silvertone mastering.com). It’s available for sale in Albany at Border’s, Barnes & Noble, the Music Shack, Last Vestige and BlueSky Studios, and online at CDBaby.com. For more information on the new CD, visit www.erftones.com/dispatch.

 

WE ARE NOT DEMONIC ANDROIDS Local funk-rock group Honeycreeper’s debut full-length CD, Freakqualizer, was released on Jan. 4 on Planet A Records. Honeycreeper, made up of frontwoman Mandy Beck, Dan Beck, Sean Fortune and Seth Fisher, describe themselves as a “dirty, nasty, sexy, sweaty high-energy rock band that’s funky as hell.” Nasty is right—Mandy Lu says in her bio on the Honeycreeper Web site that she’s a Taurus, and therefore has violent mood swings and paranoia. Freakqualizer can be purchased at the band’s Web site, www.honeycreeper.net, and amazon.com, cdbaby.com, and, of course, at Honeycreeper shows.

 

ALMOST FAMOUS Speaking of new CDs, the Velmas released what they are calling a double EP (half of the songs are previously unreleased tracks and half are tracks recorded from live shows) on Dec. 28. The new CD, called Recess, includes the song “Restless, Restless,” which was selected out of thousands of entries as one of the top 20 finalists on Howard Stern’s much-publicized “Restless, Restless” contest—they even had a clip of their song played on Stern’s radio show last summer. For more information, visit www.thevelmas.com.

 

PARTY AT THE SKATE PARK Albany’s Shelter Skate Park (30 Commerce Ave.) will host an eclectic art show tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 28) at 7 PM. The free event features the works of local artists Greg Dunn, Stain and Tommy McGuire. Also, organizers are encouraging any interested people to bring in their art and display it. The event will also include a record swap, break dancers and local DJs. Contact the Shelter for more information at 438-2234 or e-mail ryan@theshelter.com.

—Kathryn Lurie

 


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