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All dressed up and nobody showed: Nikki Sudden at Valentine’s. Photo by: Joe Putrock

Nonsense and Sensibility
By Kirsten Ferguson

You’ve Got Your Orders Vol. 2 CD Release Party
Valentine’s, May 14

Chrome Peeler Records founder Jason Ziemniak did earn some bragging rights for this one: The Latham music-lover convinced a load of his favorite underground rock bands to write original material for two You’ve Got Your Orders CD compilations, wherein Ziemniak penned the song titles while the musicians recorded tracks to bring his absurdist titles to life. The first volume of You’ve Got Your Orders was released last year with some pretty big names involved, including Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Mark Arm of Mudhoney and former Minuteman Mike Watt. It’s not hard to see why participating bands were drawn to Ziemniak’s game of musical Mad Lib. With titles like “Molotov Cocktail Hour,” “Sign Language Tourettes” and “Hot Licks for Shredders,” the guy could give Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices a run for his money in a non sequitur writing contest.

Although a tad more obscure than the first volume, the recently released You’ve Got Your Orders Vol. 2 has a track listing that is just as appealing, with well-regarded underground rock bands appearing alongside seminal rock figures Nikki Sudden (Swell Maps) and Simeon Coxe (Silver Apples). Ziemniak’s uncanny ability to get all these musicians to write and record for him is a testament to the sheer novelty of his idea, the creativity of his song titles and the persistence of his letter/e-mail writing campaign. Most likely, there was a bit of luck involved as well.

Unfortunately, luck was sorely absent from Valentine’s on Friday night when Chrome Peeler put on a release party for You’ve Got Your Orders Vol. 2. Guitarist J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame was listed as a special guest in pre-event publicity but didn’t show, apparently due to family concerns. Co- headliner Jesse “the Devil” Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal failed to show up at Valentine’s entirely. No one had heard from him, and organizers postulated that he may have gotten the show dates confused, since another You’ve Got Your Orders release party was taking place the next night in Brooklyn. Hughes’ nonappearance was the most disappointing to me since his band, who feature Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme on drums, have a highly enjoyable new album, Peace Love Death Metal. Onstage, Hughes reportedly fronts like a debauched trailer-park yahoo with a leather-bar fetish. His set would have been entertaining at least.

All was not a total wash, however. Earlier in the week, headliner Nikki Sudden had successfully made the cross-Atlantic trip from Berlin, where he now resides. Sudden is a legend of rock (granted, obscure rock), having formed Britain’s experimental art-punk band the Swell Maps with his brother Epic Soundtracks in the early 1970s. With songs like “Full Moon in My Pocket” and “Collision With a Frogman,” the Swell Maps had a nonsensical streak that could be considered a direct precursor to the literary ludicrousness found on You’ve Got Your Orders and in the music of ’90s indie-rock bands like Sonic Youth and Pavement, who have cited the Swell Maps as an influence. The Swell Maps dissolved in the early ’80s, and Sudden’s solo work since has been far more straightforward, minus much of the chaos and experimentation that drove his earlier work.

Sudden took the stage at Valentine’s dressed in pinstripe pants and a velvet blazer, shin-length scarves wrapped around his neck, the rings on his fingers glinting in the light as he held his acoustic guitar. Now in his late 40s, Sudden has an admitted Rolling Stones jones that informs his loose songwriting and Keith Richards-swashbuckling-swinger style. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m Nikki Sudden,” he said in crisp British accent before playing “The Road of Broken Dreams,” a track from his second solo album circa 1983. Musically, Sudden sounded a bit like a British Steve Wynn—jangle guitar, gothic lyrics, flat Dylan growl. At the song’s finish, Sudden asked for a Jack and Coke and blew kisses to the three people in the room who were actually watching. The failure of the majority of the crowd to pay attention wasn’t Sudden’s fault. With all the cancellations on the bill, Sudden began his set early, around 10:30. I wasn’t sure if people even knew he was the headliner. Still, for the people who carried on loud conversations within earshot of the stage: That’s rude, regardless of who is up there.

Sudden soldiered on, even after the band downstairs (Two Cow Garage) began a set that resounded louder than I’d ever heard a band bleed through upstairs. When Suzanne Thorpe of Mercury Rev joined Sudden onstage for “Where the Rivers End,” Sudden gave a futile shrug as the band rumble from downstairs kicked in just in time to drown out Thorpe’s delicate flute playing. “Keith Richards went to a pub on Silver Street to celebrate getting busted,” Sudden said, introducing one of the night’s best tracks, “Silver Street” from his post-Maps band the Jacobites. Although unfailingly polite throughout the show (and talking to him after, he turned out to be one of the nicest people you could ever meet), Sudden closed his set early with “Fortune of Fame,” after the distraction of the downstairs band proved too great.

Openers Thee Heinous Brothers could have played on an airport tarmac without being drowned out. Lead singer (and Metroland music scribe) Bill Ketzer turned in a vein-popping performance (I think I even saw his eyes roll into the back of his head a few times), as he yelped, growled and trilled in true metal falsetto through a set of songs that plundered the best sort of metal- related humor. Most songs, you could only make out lyrics in batches—to hilarious effect. (In one tune, all you could make out was “Jumping Jesus” and the equally incongruous shout-out chorus of “baked potato.”) Ketzer’s four scraggly bandmates, members of the local Headbangers Union for sure, sweated it out on feel-good songs like “I Don’t Want to Go to Your Funeral,” a worthy bluegrass-metal sing-along.

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