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We like the downstairs stage, too: Blackjack Blades rocks out at Valentine’s.

photo:Joe Putrock

Say It Loud
By Bill Ketzer

Blackjack Blades, the Other Two
Valentine’s, April 30

Ah, hatred. As Bukowski used to say, it’s the only thing that lasts. A number of years have passed since I’ve been physically threatened by a drug-addled gasbag, but Saturday night’s Blackjack Blades show appeared ripe for such shenanigans. The man spoke of kicking my ass. He called me a piece of shit. He blamed me for everything from the Hindenburg disaster in Jersey to General Mills’ decision to eliminate Fruit Brute from their monster cereal lineup in 1983. It looked fairly grim, because the idea of actually getting all Jersey Joe Walcott with someone in my favorite Albany haunt was about as appealing as a liver transplant, but thankfully, when called upon, nay, commanded to kick this stark, knocking- satellites-out-of-the-sky-white ass, he failed to deliver. The bands, however, delivered in abundance.

The gig brought former Heinous Brother guitarist John Bleichert back to Albany from Binghamton with true henchmen in tow, and the Other Two proceeded to plug in and turn it up proper. Bleichert, now also at the vocal helm for the first time, has finally found musicians of his technical caliber out there in the Southern Tier; it’s especially evident in the licentious funk diction of bassist Dan Austin, who galloped over drummer Brant Bromberg’s solid ball of rock like a mad bestial warthog with seven-tone scales pumped from its arse. Bromberg has almost jazzy wrists, which lends an interesting flair to songs like “Abide” and “Last Call” off their debut disc Lie to the World.

It could be that neither of these gents has ever indulged in much heavy sport, yet it meshed beautifully with JB’s obnoxious, overdriven invective on the excellent CD title track and the gasket-melting “Trainwreck.” The man has never been afraid of vertigo, deafness or making some other poor bastard deaf for that matter, and that night saw the culmination of a few year’s worth of honing a punishing musical style that falls somewhere between Megadeth and King’s X. His style, perpetually influenced by strange bedfellows like David Gilmour and Tony Iommi, shone brightly (but stinky, like Limburger on rye), and hopefully he can keep this nut-tight unit together. He is still a touch green handling all the vocals himself, but that should fade quickly. I expect good things in the future from these fellows.

It was business as usual for headliners Blackjack Blades, the work-booted Ike Baestlein and company matching the Other Two’s penchant for volume pound for pound as they plowed through a haughty pile of standards like “Lumberjack” and “Banana Christening.” Tonight was a night for loud trios with questionable morals and a detestable hatred for public health, which is just fine with me. These guys are just a real fun lot, scrappy, generous and tweaked-out into the hills.

These truths are self-evident in the latest batch of goodies from the band, whether it be the catgut pint-hoister “Broke or Dead” or the plain lovely “Police Car.” Baestlein, his scruffy voice a beacon to beer drinkers and highwaymen everywhere, kicked hard at the air and his men sat down hard on the beat, the inglorious 4/4 that makes life better. With little to say between songs, a nod to bass man Chris Adamson brought thunder at every turn, whiffs of dirt and fog and gasoline, wet hair spun, the fantastic crippling preservation of rock & roll for this new hopeless generation of pale-hearted upstarts who never owned a Motorhead album, who don’t know what an “album” is. Bukowski also said that genius “might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way,” and BJB hit that mark consistently. As a complete aside, I’m slowly beginning to enjoy Howe Glassman’s downstairs stage much more than upstairs. You can get closer. To the music. To the heartbeat. To drug-addled gasbags. It’s a living. It’s a life. I guess.

Country and Then Some

Chris Scruggs, The Lonesome Brothers

Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, Mass., April 30

Like they say, in Nashville there’s two kinds of music. You got yer country, and you got yer western. And there’s something very special about a 22-year-old bookish kid, the grandson of one of the most influential country musicians ever, who can mix it all together and spit it out in the plaintive Grand Ole Opry roadhouse tradition.

Chris Scruggs, grandson of Earl Scruggs, took a full house on a trip of high and lonesome, country & western, Texas swing, cowpunk, and everything in between, aided only by a Telecaster through a Vibralux turned up to 10 and a couple of crack Nashville sidemen with bad-ass sideburns. He’s launching a solo career after a couple years on the road with Nashville roots heroes BR5-49, a relationship that ended a few months ago. He’s not wasting any time.

With oversized glasses and a nerdy demeanor, Scruggs looked and acted like a grown-up version of Sherman getting ready to get in the way-back machine, but once the songs are counted off, he becomes transformed. He becomes the songs. Scruggs sang with a clear bell-toned tenor, throwing in the occasional yodel or rasp when the material needed some heat. And he played a mean guitar, spinning solo after solo with attitude, structure, and fire. Judging by how the bassist and drummer were watching Scruggs’ every move, it was clear these guys were winging it, no set list, no rehearsal, no net.

There were plenty of standards, like “Rock Island Line,” “L’il Queenie,” and “Rip It Up,” and plenty of songs that probably only a CW archivist would recognize: sweet shuffles and swing tunes that recalled late-night country radio from the ’40s and ’50s. He played a tribute to rockabilly eccentric Hasil Atkins, who’d passed away the day before. And then he’d turn it on a dime into a full-bore punkfest—one original screamer stole the guitar riff from the Who’s “Can’t Explain,” causing whitecaps in the beers sitting on the bar. Scruggs has the great ability to be loving and reverent to all the styles he played without losing the soul, the dirt and the fun of the stuff.

Western Mass. institution the Lonesome Brothers closed the night with a set of crunchy geezer rock, bouyed by the sweet vocals of Roy Mason and the confident guitar-playing of Jim Armenti.

—Paul Rapp

Our Situation’s Laughable

Dave Lippman

Caffe Lena, May 3

Dave Lippman has targeted the Capital Region with the deftness of a CIA strike, with four performances throughout the area. It began Tuesday night with a Caffe Lena show that brought together Lippman and alter ego George Shrub for an evening of keen social commentary and wry, devastatingly funny songs.

Lippman has a deft way with a lyric, almost making it sound easy as he skewers the social and political scene. It’s not enough to say that the Bush administration has simplified matters for satirists, although there’s no question that in terms of fantastic behavior, this gang in the White House (and Congress!) has all past administrations beat.

Tom Lehrer claimed to have given up when Henry Kissinger was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, but Lippman lopes along, grabbing up the Lehrer legacy, adding a measure of performance art in his impersonation of a hawkish soothsayer for the first half of the show.

That’s when George Shrub takes to the stage, in sunglasses, suit and tie, the latter clamped in place by fist-sized warplane. He’s your classic Cold War spook, gleefully updated to a 21st-century oil-obsessed, power-mad keeper of the enemies list.

“For those of you who don’t know me,” he began, “I know you.” What followed was a madcap monologue, punctuated with songs, justifying the U.S. government’s need to manipulate other countries while oppressing its own citizens. He noted that our actions in the “Meddle” East are misunderstood: “We don’t just go in there because of oil. If it was just oil we’d bomb Texas.”

And then he asked, “Why do the people over there hate us? Well, our manipulation of their economies and access to their resources, and stationing our troops in their holy sites and overthrowing their governments—these things they’re ambivalent about. Our freedom—this is what they hate. As a result of this, we’ve had to hide it from them. And I apologize that we had to destroy the Bill of Rights in order to save it.”

Unveiling a map of the world, Mr. Shrub gave us a tongue-twister of a social studies lesson, eventually asking the audience to shout out names of “countries we’re concerned about,” each of which he was able to describe in some hilarious way.

Shedding the fancy duds, Lippman took to the stage for the second half for a more music-intensive set. “The Twelve Days of Bushmas” reminded us that every day is a holiday to the current administration.

Although he cloaks it in humor, Lippman’s passion summoned the spirit of Phil Ochs with the song “I Don’t Fight for Congress,” a pacifist’s answer to “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore.” And I particularly enjoyed “My Favorite Songs,” a medley of rebellious anthems from our formative years that are now used to sell products, beginning with Dylan: “Come gather round people wherever you advertise/And admit that the ’60s sells Chryslers and fries.”

Behind the incisive songs and stand-up comedy is a dedicated human who happens to play a mean guitar and writes very affecting original material. Such are Lippman’s passions that he’ll never be a friend of the mainstream, but he’s an important voice in that most important stream: the one that cares for people and seeks to effect change.

—B.A. Nilsson


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