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Pleased to Meet Me: Tommy Stinson and Pete Donnelly at Valentine’s. Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

Here Come the Regulars
By Erik Hage

Tommy Stinson, the Figgs
Valentine’s, Aug. 24

‘Thank God for the Figgs,” said Tommy Stinson after taking the stage for his solo acoustic set—and the words spoke volumes. The onetime Replacements bassist and current Guns N’ Roses member was having one of those days, a self-described “everything-that-could-go-wrong kind of day” full of travel foul-ups and a late arrival at Valentine’s. (Stinson and the Figgs basically rushed in, set up and plugged in, the road still humming in their ears.) As opening nights go, this was a tough one. Stinson was visibly discombobulated, and his solo set found him switching up guitars and slinging wires around due to technical glitches. He spent a good portion of his solo set looking edgy, exposed and stripped to the bone. At one point, he even asked if the lights could be brought down a bit. Stinson, it seemed, felt downright naked up there.

It makes sense, though. Stinson came of age and made his name in the Replacements, who were not only one of the alt-rock greats, but—let’s face it—a gang. They were the foul-mouthed, dirtbag, miscreant clowns from the wrong side of Minneapolis who brazenly clawed their way to the middle, fueled by booze, guts and a firmly beating poetical heart that spoke to the humanity beneath the snot-punk exterior. Stinson was the kid in the gang; his older brother Bob (who would die from his excesses in ’95) forced Tommy to learn bass and join up before Tommy hit puberty. So when Mike Gent from the Figgs eased himself onto the stage at Valentine’s, and the now not-so-alone Stinson said, “It makes it so much easier to have you up here, man,” you knew it was heartfelt and not just patter. With the rest of the Figgs behind him, Stinson visibly loosened up; for the time being, he had his gang back. Thank God for the Figgs.

Though there were some sloppy moments and kinks to work out, the spirit was dead right; in fact, there were flashes of brilliance. (I’ve seen the much-mythologized Replacements do much looser sets.) It was great to see Stinson, teeth bared at the mike like all those years ago, shooting charismatic grins at his bandmates. He relied on songs from an upcoming album, and also tooled through some of the better songs from his Bash & Pop and perfect days, including the trashy white noise of “Makes Me Happy” and “Friday Night Is Killing Me.” Stinson may not have many kind words to say about former Replacements leader Paul Westerberg, but he’s clearly absorbed some lessons; Stinson’s voice has all the desperate raggedness of Westerberg’s, and a few bruised moans during the acoustic portion sent memory winding back on itself like a lost river.

But the night was just as much about the Figgs as it was about Stinson. It was clear that Stinson (who, inexplicably, played on a Puff Daddy track in 1997) had a hard time relaxing into the club environs that were once his natural habitat; the Figgs, masters of that milieu, showed him the way, and opened the night with their own set full of punchy, soulful rock. The three-piece whipped newer tracks such as “Slow Charm” and “Trench” into storming, hooky rave-ups, with singers Gent and Pete Donnelly in fine throat.

Their opening set was much tighter than the one they did with Stinson. And when the lanky Donnelly steps atop his monitor and the cords stand out on Gent’s neck as he shouts down the mike, in my mind that’s as classic a rock image as Stinson rubbing his bleary eyes on that rooftop on the cover of the Replacements’ Let It Be. The forces of attrition—major-label fall-through, guitarist Guy Lyons leaving, and remaining a largely cult phenomenon—haven’t prevented the Figgs from staying together. And they’re getting more powerful year by year. Like Graham Parker before him, Stinson is no dummy: He’s hooked his wagon to one of the finest punk-pop-rock outfits on the road.

And let’s not forget the fun. With Stinson in their ranks, the Figgs rotated instruments, with drummer Pete Hayes taking a vocal turn while Gent manned the kit. It made a bunch of us 30-somethings feel mighty nostalgic when Stinson strapped on the bass for a couple of songs; the low-slung bass, delinquent smirk and spiky hair were unmistakable. Overall, things were loosey-goosey but felt right, swinging from Georgia Satellites-like barroom squalor to insolently ragged punk. A poignant moment came with a cover of the Kinks’ “Death of a Clown.” There was something about the opening lines “My makeup is dry and it clags on my chin/I’m drowning my sorrows in whisky and gin” that both signaled irony and announced the adulthood of the 36-year-old Stinson, whom most of us have sealed in the amber of memory as the kid on that roof nearly 20 years ago.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Bill

Anthrax, Lacuna Coil
Northern Lights, Aug. 24

Dear Diary: Oh my god! With a tumultuous roar the mighty Anthrax did crush me and my brethren last night, implementing both tried and newly crafted techniques to snap the neck and fizz the ear, to stir the wit and rankle the weak. I threw my wallet on the floor and laughed at it in tribute, because these boys o’ Brooklyn never worried about compromising their street credibility, and why would they? They helped create what is still the single most sustainable genre of hard trade—the patient craft of 1980’s American and British heavy metal. And there I stood, in a now-smokeless venue (I will soon write an essay on how absolutely beautiful this is) almost 20 years since I snuck into the New York City Café II on Fuller Road to see them, witnessing an act every bit as almighty. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry, and almost pulled through.

The pit fight was fierce, diary. What looked like a horde of Irish soccer hooligans karate-chopped one another into goo, whipped into force by the might of opener “What Doesn’t Die.” It occurred to me then that Anthrax design their songs specifically for destruction. I think they rent offices in pre-production and sit around with song structure diagrams saying, “OK, here’s the part in ‘N.F.L.’ where kids will take of their Chuck Taylor’s and club their neighbor into agricultural liming material. And here’s the war-dance bit in ‘Indians’ where half the venue (especially in Germany) will join forces to dislodge the 800-pound oak bar from its foundation and bring it out onto the sidewalk.” These guys have the technology. Singer John Bush is the freakin’ mayor—the Mayor of Metal. And by his side, with gritted teeth and beard-of- science, guitarist Scott Ian; behind, the firestorm of drummer Charlie Benante, whose head never moves, wrists and ankles at incalculable velocities; bassist Frankie Bello with nothing but motion and low end; Rob Caggiano bending strings expressionlessly at stage right. Anthrax is all about paying the bills. On time, too.

The new CD, We’ve Come for You All, is every bit as good as the rest of ’em, and there was no shying away from this stuff live. We got “Black Dahlia,” “Refuse To Be Denied” and the latest single, “Safe Home,” but surprises also abounded—the Brooklyn natives busted out nuggets of pain like “Be All, End All,” “Madhouse,” and the interesting choice of “Black Lodge” from 1993’s The Sound of White Noise. All considered, however, nothing causes a crowd to test a building’s fire-code like the old standards. And diary, as if “Got the Time” “Indians” and “Antisocial” weren’t good enough, “Metal Thrashing Mad” had all the Captain Cavemen in the front row putting down the goat horns and just plain slitting their wrists. Unreal—all hair and fists and eyes. These songs age remarkably well. There’s some kind of process, reverse aging, Beachwood aging, who knows, but it’s a phenomenon that takes lyrics that might have even been a little sophomoric in the first place and infuses them with a more proximal connotation, an ownership. I mean, the song is about driving at top speed, listening to loud music. Sounds a touch puerile on it’s face, but I know what I’m doing tomorrow night.

Milan’s Lacuna Coil got up there and kicked it just prior, a very strange mix. You had two guys on one side that failed the Korn auditions and two hessians on the other. And then you get the relatively goth gal actually singing duet-style with the one guy like a bone-crushing hell version of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Every song was fairly powerful, well written, yadda yadda, but both the tempo and key were pretty much a thin, flat line. If they didn’t stop to come up for air, I figure they could have made their short set into one 40-minute epic. The crowd seemed to dig it. I don’t know what to think about all these bands and all this genre jumping. I mean, how many elements of each can you incorporate before it goes sour? To me, less is more, and even that’s a crapshoot—sometimes you get freedom, sometimes you get . . . Liberia.

Anyway, diary, that’s it for now. Quite deaf and forever yours, Bill.

—Bill Ketzer


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