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Bright future in pop: Fountains of Wayne frontman Chris Collingwood.

Grumpy to Be Here
By Kirsten Ferguson

Fountains of Wayne, C. Jane Run, the Suggestions
The Egg, July 14

‘Sorry we couldn’t do this outside,” apologized dark-haired bassist Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne during the band’s free Empire State Plaza show, which had been moved indoors to the Convention Center due to the night’s heavy thundershowers. “The good part about doing it in here is we can really see this Subway sign,” Schlesinger cracked, waving at the fast-food banners that had been tacked up behind them over the stage.

Fountains of Wayne had just polished off “Red Dragon Tattoo” and “No Better Place” to an appreciative crowd, but still they didn’t seem too thrilled about their Convention Center gig. Frontman Chris Collingwood, looking overly scrawny and wearing a Hustler T-shirt, appeared vaguely unhappy. His songwriting partner Schlesinger, despite the wry quips, looked resigned and didn’t crack a half-smile until midway through the set. (It might have been the preteens pogoing during “Stacy’s Mom” that amused him.)

Maybe the band were annoyed by the corporate advertisements (Schlesinger took a dig at sponsor Pepsi Edge later in the night). Or perhaps the cheesy preset introduction, courtesy of local radio DJs, got on their nerves. (“Who do you want to hear now?” the hosts asked repeatedly, priming the teeny-bopper crowd down front to shriek the band’s name.) Or maybe it was the space itself, which had all the ambiance of a windowless conference room at the Sheraton. No fault of the organizers, who undoubtedly did the best they could to keep the event going despite the rain. On the other hand, the show’s pretty awful sound possibly could have been alleviated by easing off on the ear-shredding volume to better suit the poor acoustics of the space.

Since I’ve never seen Fountains of Wayne live before, it’s also possible that the group of 30-somethings have a perpetually disaffected look about them. This is a band who filled their most recent album, the excellent Welcome Interstate Managers, with tales of frustration and dissatisfaction, courtesy of mean bosses with bad toupees and jammed traffic on the Tappan Zee. The band’s songs, however catchy, tend to be about adult themes. That made it seem all the more surreal that they had so many extremely young fans at the Convention Center, thanks in part to the success of their monster single “Stacy’s Mom.” There aren’t many opportunities for young kids to go to free all-ages shows that finish before bedtime on a school night, so all the power to them for being there.

FOW sounded best on a trio of mellower songs from Welcome Interstate Managers: the wistful “Hackensack,” in which the narrator contemplates the success of a high-school crush while his own life stays stuck in the gutter; the insistent “Hey Julie,” on which Collingwood and guitarist Jody Porter adopted acoustic instruments; and the impossibly beautiful “Valley Winter Song,” which name-checked the now-defunct Bay State club in Northampton. By the upbeat drinking song “Mexican Wine,” the band finally started to look like they were enjoying themselves. A series of punchy rockers closed out the set: “Bright Future in Sales,” “Leave the Biker” and “Radiation Vibe,” which contained an entertaining midsong medley of various classic-rock riffs from the likes of Joe Walsh, Foreigner, Steve Miller, Kansas and the Cars.

“There are a lot of confused young people up here right now,” Schlesinger commented after the band’s ’70s rock revisitation, while he looked out over the crowd.

Local four-piece the Suggestions, led by guitarist-songwriter John Brodeur, kicked off the show with a professional-sounding set of big, bright pop tunes. It was a much more appropriate opening for Fountains of Wayne than C. Jane Run provided. Second on the bill, C. Jane Run grated with their interminable set, overreliance on covers and patronizing patter.

No Mercy

Slipknot, Slayer, Hatebreed, God Forbid
Glen Falls Civic Center, July 17

Glens Falls Civic Center. Bane and beauty of my youth, where scores of metal caravans sullied the small white city of 14,000 with legions of faithful who arrived in droves to poop in McDonald’s trash cans and badger the elderly as they sat on South Street benches. I’ll wager that the last time I was here was in 1986, either to watch Metallica kick the fright wig off Ozzy’s rapidly collapsing wits on the Master of Puppets Tour or to witness those final, wuthering coke-bath days of Aerosmith before the interventions occurred. Soon after that, however, it appeared the city had enough of booze-crippled youth and streets of shattered glass, bringing in mostly safe stuff like Boston, Styx and other brontosaurs that attract a different human, one that makes all efforts to park legally, dine quietly and be home by 11 PM.

This is why I was in awe that the city let Step Up Presents move forward with this Aggressive Music Festival thing. As a hilarious aside, local resident Susan Balfour tried to get the gig canceled due to lyrical content, as if she hadn’t already figured out that press like that is exactly what Step Up needed to further its cause. These are dark times, quite possibly the dawn of the fall of the American Age, and she’s worried about eight guys who dress up in evil clown makeup and mechanic’s outfits. This is especially absurd given that the average kid sees about 8,000 murders on TV before junior high.

Anyway, with more than 4,000 mutants in attendance on this first night of two, the potential for the venue to become engulfed in flames by 8 PM was distinct. From the first dimming of the lights, the place went absolutely bonkers, with openers God Forbid whipping bare-chested hopefuls into several large human whirlpools, with all the bleeding, the karate, the “dry-mouthed fear-purged purging ecstasy of battle,” as Hemingway put it. I was surprised at the band’s low rumble, the gaping, deciduous breakdowns breaking tradition somewhat with their original thrash-metal sound. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with Century Media’s involvement or if it was just where the band were headed, but the results were self-evident. Very intense and rewarding.

Hatebreed performed their usual pumped set of sports-page hardcore, but I’ve had a bit of a change of heart about the band. Their most recent CD, The Rise of Brutality, is a searing slab o’ death that is a touch more genuine than 2002’s Perseverance, and songs like “Live for This” and “Tear It Down” really destroy live. Frontman Jamey Jasta has always had a good rapport with crowds, and that evening was no exception. His energy becomes their energy as EMTs waited in the wings, looking nervous but strangely amused. It was refreshing, this bruising exuberance on behalf of the audience. It was more like seeing a metal show somewhere in Northern Europe, where grime and gnashing teeth are the norm and jackbooted scumbags climb onto your shoulders without asking. And it is good.

When Slayer took the stage, my attorney and I descended the steep arena stairs and hopped onto the floor with neither tickets nor resistance. Just like old times. The youthful behatted Charles Atlases backed into the perimeter of the arena to make way for the awful, shuffling Hessians of yore, who are fearsome at any hour. Even Nazi skinheads fear them, their beards and their eyes. No pit action for Slayer as they flattened the field with an unbelievable set that included (aside from all the standards) “Hallowed Point,” the unthinkable “Necrophiliac” and the entire Reign in Blood CD in all its horrific elegance. Just unadulterated, psychotic headbanging, with the occasional elder literally jumping for joy, and some crowd surfing. I was burned with cigarettes, and my glasses were mercilessly crushed to powder in the din as they flew far, far off my head (cheers to the two kids who tried to help me find the frames—they found no less than six crumpled pair, none of which were mine). These guys will always be the soundtrack for industrial wrecking services, a title that will be theirs for years to come, when they will assume the countenance of the very demons they entertain in fiction. And by the way, they remain the best songwriters of the genre.

Having his fill, my counsel then retired to Davidson Brothers for a frothy pint or two while I stuck it out for Slipknot, who not only had the unenviable chore of following up such goat-lord veterans but also the meaty challenge of making their over-the-top yet intricately assembled music sound good in that bowl of soup. It is a local metal axiom that one must strive for floor seats, lest all you hear for the entire evening is a very low-end MMMMUUUUMMMBBBBAAAARRRRRMM (hence our pilgrimage to said floor). Surprisingly, this concern was vanquished immediately. Despite the more melodic sounding choruses of the latest collection of soundscapes, Slipknot are still all about crushing, impeccable precision. And here’s something else: They are pretty fucking scary. With maniacal aplomb, the nine-piece outfit leapt gorilla-style about the stage to their own thundering drum corps and pretty much blew the crowd wide open. The word “apeshit” comes to mind. I own only the latest CD (Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses), so stuff like “Duality” and “Three Nil” ruled the night for me. Clearly no pale imitation, Slipknot build macabre theater in deadpan and do so without looking stupid. Somehow. It was a long drive home without specs, the taillights on the Northway nothing but a kaleidoscope of color. What to do but drive faster? Looking forward to next year.

—Bill Ketzer

King of Americana

Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men, No Outlet
Revolution Hall, July 14

Dave Alvin’s performance last week in Troy offered a perfect view of what makes his songs and their presentation with his Guilty Men such a powerful force. Though I can’t verify this, I think it’s safe to say that most people in the audience had not heard his latest album, Ashgrove, released just weeks prior. Alvin and his five-piece band played a 90-minute set that drew heavily from the new album. There were familiar songs sprinkled throughout the night (“King of California,” “Haley’s Comet,” “Abilene,” “Fourth of July”), but what was most remarkable was the rapturous response that embraced each of the new numbers. Songs like “Out of Control,” “Sinful Daughter,” “Black Sky,” and “Somewhere in Time” (Alvin also recorded this with Los Lobos on their latest) are made of sturdy, simple and elegant parts: chordal structures that invite with their relative familiarity, folkish melodies that allow a narrative to unfurl, and lyrics that detail the scuttled dreams and undying hope of common people.

The Guilty Men, all of whom, with the exception of newcomer Chris Miller on electric and steel guitars, have worked with Alvin for years, play with a supple and interlocked cohesion that’s a pure marvel. When the six of them would hunker down into the groove of a song, it was incredible to behold. They’d roar like an engine, barreling along on a single chord. That this is possible is a mark of their skill as players, as well as the resiliency of Alvin’s material. Being both a songwriter and a bandleader, he creates songs that draw attention to their own construction only when necessary. The rest of the time, they’re the simple frame structure that lets the half-dozen musicians be under the same roof at the same time, celebrating the night away. On “Ashgrove,” a song paying tribute to Alvin’s musical forebears at the club he’d see them perform in as a young man, the band effectively rebuilt the burned-down venue around the plainspoken remembrance. When that song is playing, the Ashgrove lives on.

Like a classic revue, the Guilty Men started the set with three songs fronted by guitarist-accordion player Chris Gaffney. Their version of “Cowboys to Girls” elevated the number to new heights. And at the other end of the show, in the last song of the encore pair, Alvin bid thanks and goodnight, unplugged his guitar, and left the stage, letting the band bring it all to a rousing close.

Openers No Outlet are Kevin Maul’s trio with drummer (one drum, actually) Dale Haskell and bass player Tony Markellis. Drawing from a range of blues, country and rock near-standards, they eschew flash (none of the three are flash-type individuals, thankfully) for thoughtful playing—and all on instruments that will practically fit in the trunk of one car. They turned heads with the surprise leap into a version of “The Word” by the Beatles. I can picture a series of shows: “No Outlet Play the Songs of Ray Davies,” “No Outlet Play the Songs of Jonathan Richman”—ah, the possibilities. More surprises, please.

—David Greenberger

Breaking the Mold

The Paladins, the Lustre Kings
The Ale House, July 18

As a music writer, you can wallow through a lot of shows looking for that one experience that really transports you—that renders the usual wordplay and aphorisms insufficient. The Paladins at the Ale House was, quite simply, the best show I’ve seen all year. And it’s hardly a surprise: The San Diego group (who, against their will, often have “legendary” appended to their moniker) have been a roots-rock force of nature since the late ’80s, throwing rockabilly, blues, surf and Latin influences into their furiously tight three-piece attack. (They’ve been championed by Los Lobos for years—in fact, three Lobos members have produced albums for them.)

Tucked into the corner in the Ale House’s tight backroom with (yet another) packed and vocal Sunday night crowd practically on top of them, the trio whipped up a furiously sweltering set of retro blasts. (This, I thought, must have been what it was like to see the Blasters in the early ’80s.) In between songs, the members chatted about faith in music and friends with the subdued, appreciative nature of pastors. But, then, launching into a number, leader Dave Gonzalez (who has the same ferret-like, boyish good looks as The Sopranos’ Christopher) would hunch over his hollow-body Gretsch with a demonic gleam, pomaded hair strands falling from behind his ears and the sweat stain on his workshirt expanding while he threw down soulful vocals and coaxed throaty rumbles, glistening silvertones and dynamic blues accents from his guitar.

Bassist-vocalist Thomas Yearsley was basically a maniac: His suburban-dad mellowness gave way in midsong flight to demonic cackles and screams, locking audience members with a psychotic, supervillain stare and brandishing his stand-up bass into the crowd (when not playing it behind his back). Drummer Brian Fahey was the palette cleanser, the accent-by-way-of-contrast, chomping on gum with Gene-Krupa-cool beneath his newsboy cap and making subtle nudges and adjustments—the sticks starting to go a little bit sideways on the swing numbers and delivering casually offhanded cymbal splashes in the blink of an eye.

But these are just highlights, flavorings—some performances have enough depth to warrant a bookfull of writing (The triumph of good over evil! Man versus nature!). So let’s just say this: When the Paladins fired into their first 45, Titus Turner’s bluesy “Going Down to Big Mary’s,” they simply torched the crowd, with guitarist Gonzalez catching some kind of flow to just another place. (In my notebook is scrawled UNBELIE and beneath it BBBABLE. “Unbelievable,” I assume—but they had knocked me senseless at that point.) At set’s end they pulled some of the Lustre Kings onstage for a Troy-meets-SoCal rave-up.

As for the Kings, they launched an amphetamine-laced opening set that included Graham Tichy’s dizzying instrumental calling card “Graham Cracker Boogie.” Tichy and Mark Gamsjager are developing even more chemistry, tossing solo sections back and forth so smoothly that you sometimes can’t tell who’s holding the ball. Graham’s dad, John, celebrating his 61st birthday, also got up for a few numbers. He’s still got those remarkably soulful vocal tones he had back in the day with Commander Cody, delivering, among others, a shining version of Buck Owens’ “Cryin’ Time” (which he sang memorably on Cody’s Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas in ’74). The department chair and esteemed RPI professor is likely the most soulful engineering genius you’ll ever encounter. This is one Sunday show that had me (and a packed crowd) climbing the walls with enthusiasm.

—Erik Hage

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