Kids, Lets Put On a Show
Save the Sound System
It was one of those fitting ironies that, on the first night
of the Valentines’ Save the Sound System benefit, a whole
bunch of Capital Region bands pushed the old system, and a
few tympanic membranes, to their outer limits. The eve drew
a diverse cross section of loud local bands to both levels
of the Valentine’s multiplex—from the bleak, cathartic complexity
of eN~DoR~PHiN to the melodic, guitar-fueled love rock of
Brian Bassett. Those were the poles; filling out all the spaces
in between were the Erotics, the Sixfifteens, 5 Alpha Beatdown,
Tolmantown and Crookshank.
Which points to the great thing about these shows: You can
catch a wide swath of very different local groups. But,
the Stairmaster-worthy burn of running up and down the stairs
all night aside, the overlapping sets mean you’re bound to
miss something. (I wasn’t able to catch enough of Tolmantown
and Crookshank to put words to them. I also wish I had caught
a whole lot more of eN~DoR~PHiN, whose dense atmosphere of
organic and programmed sounds and whirling rumpus of a performance
Bassett made a rare appearance with a full band to roll out
a bunch of numbers from his remarkable CD Rock and Roll.
Ryan Barnum (formerly of the Wait), whose production touches
and musicianship were all over that album, joined Bassett
on guitar. The two musicians have great chemistry, and their
guitar interplay—a roiling, melodic wall of crunch, snarl
and grumble—was a highlight. (They’re both really nice guys
too.) The Swiss Army-like John Brodeur (he does it all) sat
in on drums. He should have “the ubiquitous” before his name;
this cat is everywhere. Bassett and company offered up a moving
set of welling, straight-up rock, particularly shining on
“Grow Up,” “NYC” and a new balls-out rocker that may or may
not be called “Damage Control.”
The Sixfifteens followed, and simply killed (with abandon),
throwing their collective shoulder into a powerful set of
tweaked-out, art-damaged, guitar-ringing thunder that dwelled
in a noise-meets-melody region somewhere in the neighborhood
of Mission of Burma, . . . Trail of Dead and Daydream Nation-era
Sonic Youth. Bob Carlton was a dynamo, attacking it like Frank
(not Jack) Black on guitar and vocals, while his old Dryer
bandmate Joel Lilley threw fierce drum batteries up against
Carlton’s and Jeff Fox’s guitar onslaught. They are a band
to watch . . . and watch again. (Carlton says their debut
album will be out in April.)
The end of the night saw 5 Alpha Beatdown from, um, Iceland
sharing time with their upstairs counterparts the Erotics.
(Eager to see both the Erotics and this new, supposedly Icelandic
group, I went anaerobic on the Valentine’s stairs.) The Erotics
were as glorious as ever: sleazed-out, decadent and dead cool.
Mike Trash took a shot from a plastic cup, pulled on a beer
and muttered offhandishly, “Who wants to hear a song?” Other
times, he put on the guitar heroics, sometimes laying deep
into the wah-wah. A goddamned rock star, I tell you, poised
somewhere in the tentative abyss between Johnny Thunders (the
dead) and Nikki Sixx (the kinda living).
As for 5 Alpha Beatdown, from, er, Iceland: They pulled off
a fun, loud set of guitar-fueled quirk. Apparently, Luke Wilson’s
sweat-banded, sunglassed tennis garb in The Royal Tenenbaums
is all the rage in this band’s “homeland.” But it would be
journalistically irresponsible not to point out that, when
their leader announced, “This solo’s for you” before laying
one down, his accent came off less Icelandic than . . . Capital
Regionish. As for the mystery drummer (with winged mask,
a la Los Straitjackets), he certainly hit them in a distinctly
ubiquitous Albany style. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more
of this fun, great group—despite our distance from Iceland.
Kate & Anna McGarrigle
Egg, March 14
Let’s see if I got the story straight. A guy in the Egg audience
brought some 29-year-old pictures of Kate & Anna McGarrigle
to the show. The pictures, the sisters deduced, must have
been taken the same day the photos were taken for their first
album cover—they were wearing the same clothes. The package
of photos were apparently left in the glove compartment of
Kate’s Audi, which, after the divorce, became Loudon’s Audi
(as in Wainwright III). Loudon sold the car at some point,
and the photos passed to another person, who passed them to
“Greg,” who returned them to the McGarrigles Sunday night.
A common cliché regarding the Egg’s Swyer Theater is its “living-room
intimacy.” Kate & Anna McGarrigle really made it seem
like we were just hanging out with them at home as they told
stories—like the one just related—and played. This had some
great advantages, and some weird, slightly annoying disadvantages.
The McGarrigles made beautiful music with their five-piece
ensemble. Their Quebecois-flavored rock-folk-blues hybrid
was consistently haunting, whether the undertone was mournful
(“La Vache Qui Pleure,” about a cow mourning its lost calves)
or wry (“Petite Annonce Amoureuse,” in which a woman advertises
for a 5-foot-3-inch man but settles for a fellow who is 5-foot-2).
A traditional blues they’ve decided to call “Red Rocking Chair”
(others call it “Honey Babe”) had a bracing hint of bitterness,
and a cover of “All My Trials” was quietly powerful.
The adept McGarrigles changed instruments from song to song,
playing guitar(s), banjo, piano and three or four different
accordions, while the three guys alternately handled the fiddle,
guitar, bass and drums. Of course, this meant that the guitars
and, especially, the (goat-skin) banjo kept going out of tune.
This necessitated a lot of long, between-song tuning. While
this gave the sisters a chance to be funny, by the second
half of the show—they played two sets, with no opening act—even
they seemed to be tiring of it.
That said, if you want to see a completely seamless folk-rock
show, with a roadie preparing a properly tuned guitar for
each song, you have see some millionaire doofuses like Crosby,
Stills and Nash. And I wouldn’t trade 5 seconds of one McGarrigle
sister for that.
Straight from the heart: Bryan Adams at the Palace.
Photo by: Joe Putrock
Do It for Albany
Theatre, March 10
Despite the fact that I have never owned a Bryan Adams album,
I often find myself in the seemingly indefensible position
(from a “hip” perspective) of defending my admiration for
his music. Truth be told, I have always liked Bryan Adams.
He’s always been there, and has always been solid, like a
peanut-butter sandwich and cold glass of milk when you’re
a kid. (Not your favorite, but it sure goes down right when
you reach for it.) He’s a Canadian whose muse seems sprung
from some wistfully unsophisticated American heartland rock
tradition, like Bruce Springsteen or John Fogerty without
the barbed edges—an earnest purveyor of populist rock, offering
up endlessly melodic sketches about being young, being in
love and getting laid. (Who else could sell the sentiment
“It’s so damn easy making love to you” without a touch of
My old boss and friend, rock critic Ira Robbins—whose “cool”
credentials as one of the prime chroniclers of the ’70s punk
explosion in NYC are impeccable—has a much more burning love
for the music of Bryan Adams. A Psychedelic Fur accompanied
Ira’s nuptials with a lounge version of “Heaven.” (This is
the same wedding at which Yo La Tengo was the reception band.)
A few years ago, he defended his stance in a CMJ article:
“The music editor at Rolling Stone thought I was kidding
when I pitched a cover story on [Bryan Adams]. The guy at
the Sunday New York Times sneered and said they wouldn’t
spill their august ink on such an inconsequential pop figure,
not when there was another Mesopotamian flute quartet to chronicle.
My writer friends think it’s willful perversion, like my lack
of love for Gram Parsons. . . . My co-workers won’t stop teasing
me. You’d think I picked Karen Carpenter over Keith Moon as
rock’s greatest drummer.”
My own editor, God bless her, had a similar reaction when
I pitched the idea. (To quote her e-mail warmly and accurately:
“Heheheeeeeeeeee.”) But Ira’s unabashed love for Adams, despite
slings and arrows, struck a chord with me—gave me the courage
to come out as a fan. So the only thing left to do was to
see Adams live, to stand in the second freaking row of the
Palace Theatre with my wife (not our assigned seats mind you),
pump my fist in the air and lose my voice to the “na-na-nas”
of “Cuts Like a Knife.” I did that, and, man, I loved it.
Adams’ performance last Wednesday did nothing to dampen my
admiration: He was a class act, and an attentive and rocking
performer. He put on a great, great show.
Adams is a little guy; at the Palace he looked thin and ultra-fit,
decked out in a tight black T, baggy jeans and workboots.
He carried himself like an athlete, back ramrod-straight and
always kind of on the balls of his feet—springing off to receive
another guitar here, running to the opposite stage end to
please a new pocket of fans there. In fact, with his short
blonde crop and slightly scarred face, he came off like an
Irish bantamweight boxing champ.
He tailored much of his show to Albany, remembering that back
in ’81 he played his first stateside show at the late J.B.
Scott’s. At one point, after an impromptu huddle in the middle
of the stage with his band, Adams explained, “I was just thinkin’
I should do a song from back in the day when I first played
here.” Then he tore into “Lonely Nights,” from his debut album
(a song that, in a different context, could be a power-pop
anthem to rival Big Star’s “September Gurls”). And in truth,
the best songs were his rockers. His bread and butter in the
United States has been the schmaltzy ballads, but the concert
sailed on the weight of his upbeat fare. Surprisingly, one
of the best songs of the evening was “Only Love,” which you’ll
probably remember as a duet with Tina Turner. Sans Turner,
and on the strength of Keith Scott’s primal guitar crunch
and wah-wah, it was a thunderclap.
Another highlight came when Adams, by way of tradition, pulled
a fan from the pit to sing Sporty Spice’s part on 1998’s “When
You’re Gone.” He’s done this during most shows over the past
couple of years, but I don’t think he was quite ready for
how prepared Sarah from Glens Falls was. She waved
off an offer of the lyric sheet (“You sure you know the words,
girl?” asked Adams) and then pretty much threw herself into
her part with beguiling commitment, rubbing asses with Adams
and singing her off-key heart out to the beautiful Palace
rafters with the commitment of an American Idol finalist.
(Throughout, Adams exchanged incredulous looks with his drummer
and beamed uncontrollably; seems not every fan makes the most
of the opportunity.) Sarah charmed Adams and the whole Palace.
Afterwards, when Adams asked her who she had come with, she
replied, “My friend Christy. She’s pregnant, but not as pregnant
as the woman next to her.” (Audience members say the darndest
The only misstep seemed a rushed version of “Heaven.” Otherwise
the show was a great, great time, with a lengthy, multisong
encore capped off with a solo acoustic version of Adams’ early
hit “Straight From the Heart.” Before the tune, Adams thanked
Albany and pointed out that, when he started the night, a
lot of people were still sitting. “Now look at you,” he said
to the standing, cheering crowd. Then most of the audience
sang every damn word in unison, something they’d been doing
all night. (You could just hear them better now.) Adams was
a class act. The whole night he made it clear that he knew
he wasn’t in just another city. He was in Albany.