Live At The LaurelThirst
Just in time for Christmas and a mere six months in the wake of their April studio release Leap Year, the Tree Frogs return with an eight-song, seventy minute set recorded live at the LaurelThirst. And given the fact that the band couldn’t be more comfortable in the club if they were all to wear slippers, the recording reflects a warm, friendly atmosphere, nicely captured by Brian Jones and Randy Givens.
Vocalist/rhythm guitarist John Henry Bourke leads the band through “Broken Finger,” a tune that sounds as if the Spin Doctors were doing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” His guitar melds seamlessly with Jeff Haigerty’s electric piano as the rest of the band add tasty, New Riders-ish harmonies.
Bassist Sean Nowland funks up the intro to his tune “Earl Of Sandwich,” a number wherein lead guitarist Fred Stephenson and sax man Rob Matthew’s stretch out for some slick solos, as the arrangement permutates beneath them.
Bourke’s “Hard To Believe” relies on a strong chord progression and a pretty melody, calling to mind The Rembrandts doing a Counting Crows song.
Bourke’s “Sheep,” changes gears with a nice descending chromatic line intro shared between Matthews’ sax and Haigerty’s harmonica, before resolving into a characteristic Dead-like jam. The band then slips into Stephenson’s funky-hybrid instrumental “Jusofoc,” showcasing his solo skills as well as those of Matthews and Nowland.
Hank Williams would seem to be the inspiration for the Cajun stomp of Bourke’s “A Brief History Of A Good Time.” With a jaunty wail, Haigerty’s trainwhistle harmonica rides the rails the rhythm section lays down. Stephenson’s “Leavin’ Town” brings to mind Neil Young, the Outlaws, and Wilco with the addition of Matthew’s somewhat incongruent flute floating through. Matthew’s might reconsider his decision not to use a sax on this one.
The Tree Frogs sum up the set with one of their staples (check out the reference to President Bush), “Tear The House Down.” Crunching through a hard-hitting soul riff, the band offer up some very tight and essential work; Matthews especially, cutting loose with a majestic solo. Nowland follows with a clever rap and some pretty spectacular solo work of his own. Even drummer Jeff Duffy is given room for a solo spot, just before the band unveils a very unique sound in its slide bass (played with drumsticks
With the release of Live At The LaurelThirst, the Tree Frogs dispel any fears that they may have lost their touch as a jam band. For, over the years (and through countless live gigs), the Frogs have developed into a tightly wrapped ensemble, capable of instrumental depth and prowess— without having sacrificed the spontaneity which made them popular in the first place.
Each Frog contributes to the band sound without stepping on his mate’s part. This is no mean task in a band of the Tree Frog’s nature. Their versatility allows for a rich variety of styles and instrumental combinations. This is all transmitted quite clearly in a stellar live performance, fortuitously recorded for all posterity.
Batten down the hatches, because here comes the best new local band of 1996. Tight, sophisticated and well-schooled in the nuances of Metal, Bombay incorporate the tremendous vocal versatility of Mark Langley Williams with the positively awe-inspiring guitar work of Troy Williver— through a dazzling display of hard hitting numbers mixed with tunes of a softer edge. If college degrees were given for proficiency in Rock music, these two guys would be PHDs.
The band bursts forth from the very first track, “Black Ink Pool.” Over Williver’s tough, “Peter Gunn” tinged riff, Williams cuts loose with a ruggedly pure vocal. Not mannered (álà most singers of the Seattle ilk) with a lot of histrionics, but rooted deeply at the source (Roger Daltry, Brian Johnson of AC-DC, the Seattle exception Chris Cornell of Soundgarden), Williams is availed of a supple and articulate vocal instrument.
“Shallow Grave” is a good example of Williams’ vocal scope. Over the endless sustain of Williver’s chunky chords, matched nicely by bassist Alan Crouch and underscored by the syncopated snap of drummer Jared Stowell’s snare, Williams sings compellingly, without ever raising his voice. Williver’s searing, Jimi-esque wah-wah solo in the middle seals the sense of disillusionment and doom.
“Steal Your Soul” and “White Lightning” could easily be mistaken for AC-DC tunes, except they’re too fast. On the former, Williams shreds his voice with the best of them; while on the latter, Williver serves up a fine imitation of the distinctive guitar figure found on Focus’ “Hocus Pocus.”
Even on the more pedestrian material, such as “Leave Me Alone,” “Twilight Sunrise” and “Shangri-La,” Williams and Williver ooze stylistic chops— offering up something of distinctive musical value to make each track worth hearing. Still, after eight straight tracks of harder edged material, when the band makes a sharp turn into softer, acoustic flavored ballads, Williams and Williver have something new and varied to contribute.
Mark shows great vocal technique on the Zepish “Desire” demonstrating eloquent command, while Williver devises elegant guitar filigrees beneath a simple melodic framework. “Baby Jane” is more of a swamped out vamp, lazy in its approach; Williams recalling Paul Rodgers in his pre-Bad Company days with Free. Williver interjects a weird-assed blues colored solo of some significance in the middle break.
Williver intimates Jimi’s tone on the pretty “Ocean,” maneuvering through several clever passages before breaking into a tricky solo in the middle; pushing the laid back beat before resolving into the high arcing signature riff into the chorus. The hit of the set.
“Sunday Afternoon” is nearly a Latin version of “Ocean.” But “Cold” allows Williams and Williver one final shot to go for the gusto and neither waste the opportunity. Williver storms the tune with two fiery solos— exhibiting exemplary flash and depth of character.
Without a doubt, Bombay are the most exciting new local band to come down the pike in quite sometime. They are certainly not a Grunge band; nor in any way similar to Everclear, the Dandy Warhols, Heatmiser, Pond, Skiploader or any of their more successful predecessors. They have a sound all their own, firmly based in Heavy Metal, from Steppenwolf and Jethro Tull to Meatloaf, Motorhead and Quiet Riot. Echoes of them all reverberate through Bombay’s music.
Dennis Carter of Falcon Studios is to be commended for producing with Bombay a striking piece of work. If the band shows any weakness, it’s that the songs are not quite as great as the hooks and riffs that surround them; the lyrics not as strong as the voice singing them. But there is every reason to expect that Bombay will improve in the area of songwriting. They have so much to work with.
2 Cool 4 School
2 Cool 4 School is the irrepressibly youthful work of the brothers Bechtolt: Jona on drums, Joel on vocals, guitar and bass— neither of whom could possibly be anywhere near twenty years of age. (Photos of Jona in the CD insert indicate that he is still in the process of undergoing orthodontia.) Be that as it may, the boys make up with energy and joie de vivre what they may lack in years honing their chops.
Joel’s well-crafted songs tend to deal with typical teenage problems such as kissing off the girl who won’t shave her armpits on “Kitty Pits.” “Incense and peppermints never went together/Kinda like vegetarians wearin’ Birkenstocks made of leather/If I told you this, I’m sure you’d have a fit/Maybe that’s cause hippy is short for hippocrite (sic).” Other topics seem to be fulfilling creative writing assignments, such as “Penny:” “A simile is like or maybe as/I shot, I scored, I razzle dazzed……./A metaphor is and that is all/My dream is at the door and I’m about to take the fall;” or the Cobainesque “Like Elves:” “Like Gladstone/Like Two-Tone/Like Pit stain/Like Membrane/Like Jack and Jill/Like Window Sill/Like Happy Hour/Like Eisenhour(sic).”
Most of these songs are accompanied by a procession of chainsaw guitars, rather expertly wielded (as is the case with Jona’s drumming), given that the boys’ cumulative age is probably less than that of Thurston Moore. The songs are typically addressed with a straight ahead four-chord progression through the verses with perhaps two new chords introduced in the chorus or bridge. Nothing snazzy, but generally offered with unbounding exuberance and a glib sense of humor and a wry sense of the absurd.
And when everything clicks, as in the case of “Timeagain,” Joel makes a forceful statement about the world in which he lives— “You know, there’s gotta be something better/Than SoulAsylumand Eddie Vedder…./Gonna be a mondo rockstar/Gonna prove everybody wrong/A big, fat, lazy MTV cockstar/Make a million of a number one song…./Gonna marry a big supermodel/Take up drugs, go back on the bottle/Get a big bodyguard to beat up my fans/Shit on the floor, just cause I can.”
“For Sale” gives rise to a certain affiliation with Green Day, owing to the use of that curious form of West Coast cockney; but Jona’s explosive drumwork distinguishes the tune all the same. Similarly, “TAG” owes a nod to Green Day as well. But the short appendage “Funk As Puck 2” illuminates the hypocrisy in the arena of Rock with which Joel wrestles: “Now that Pepsi is my sponsor/I’m a sellout, just like my concerts/Everything’s fine, everything’s great/Except I’m everything I used to hate.”
Allegro are an ingenuously ingenious duo with a lot of talent and very bright prospects. That their songwriting lacks maturity is only natural and certainly no barrier to the Bechtolt boys’ eventual success in the business for which they harbor such ambivalence and suspicion. There is little doubt that will be heard from for a very long time to come.
Shit No One Wants To Hear
Safari In A Living Graveyard
Blood Red Vinyl And Discs
While musically, The Surf Trio and Apartment 3G have little in common, the thread that runs between these two releases is that both are collections of somewhat dated material. Safari In A Living Graveyard was originally released in 1989, but rereleased (with a few newer tracks added in), in part, to capitalize on the Surf revival instigated by Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Apartment 3G’s motivation was somewhat different. As most followers of local music know, the band was formerly known as Mule until a few years back, when some band from Michigan sent our boys a letter containing the old cease and desist. Shit No One Wants To Hear is a compendium of, in the words of guitarist Ian Miller, “all our outtakes, alternate versions, some cover songs, Mule singles, comp tracks, etc. In short, everything not committed to compact disc or previously unheard.”
The recording quality is uneven, owing to the employment of all sorts of formats ranging from eight to twenty-four track applications, but fails to diminish Ian’s stature as one of the better shred guitarists in town. Check out the grueling riff he applies to the scorching “Control Freak” or the lightning quick fills he adds to “Doorbell.”
The covers range from a fairly faithful take on the Deadboys’ “All This And More,” to a rousing version of a seldom heard gem by 60s unknowns the Knaves, and balls out renditions of two Germs compositions— “Golden Boys,” wherein Ian quickly cooks the surface of the tune, like an onion on a hot grill, with a blazing intensity; and a smoldering take of “Land Of Treason.”
Other cuts of note are a twisted take, entitled “Killer,” culled from an EP; and a meltdown version of “Porno Shroud.” a spiritedly twangy rendition of Johnny Thunders’ dirge to Sid Vicious, “Sad Vacation.” Their demonically deranged renderings of Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” and the Beatles’ “Mister Kite” breathe fresh air into those stale old warhorses.
“Uncle Fuck” is funny and slightly attenuated from A3G’s usual tempo of 160 beats per minute— a momentous achievement in its own right, rightly retrieved for this collection. And the gothy flavor of the intro to “What’s Up Chuck” separates it from the rest of the material included here.
SNOWTH is decidedly a collectors edition of twenty-five obscure tracks. The fidelity is passable, for the most part mono, but far from “spectral.” Still, the components which make of Apartment 3G an exciting band are clearly evident in every cut. For this reason, this compilation serves as an excellent introduction, as well as a summation of their formative years.
The Surf Trio (they are actually a quartet of course) are decidedly retro in their approach, faithful to a sound that developed over forty-five years ago. At times their original tunes are indistinguishable from the covers they serve up. Guitarist Ron Kleim’s “Girl With No Name” could easily be a followup to the Castaways’ “Liar Liar” or the Blues Magoos’ “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet.” His instrumentals “Gold Beach,” “Walking To Florida” and “Mile Zero” could easily be the work of the Tornadoes, the Ventures, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones or the Chantays.
Lead guitarist Pete Weinberger contributes his own instrumental, an obvious nod to “Apache,” called “Starlight Place.” Their rendition of the Marketts’ “Out Of Limits” sounds more like the Pyramids’ “Penetration.”
Most of the other original songs are penned by bassist Jeff Martin and fall outside the Surf realm in some alternate time zone where all banal and mediocre copyrights dwell.
It’s unlikely that Safari In A Living Graveyard will win the Surf Trio a huge new fan base. Their sound is authentic enough, sort of like the Rutles for the Surf Age. And if a recording could change history, the Surf Trio’s name would appear next to the other great Surf bands of those bygone days of yore. But in this generation of disposable heroes and a band in every basement, the Surf Trio truly have very little to say.
Guitarist Jo Haemer and woodwin/domra player Jim Cuomo team up to perform Windham Hillish New Wave/Jazz, sometimes reminiscent of Linda Cohen’s work in the early 70s, other times sounding like Joni Mitchell songs without Joni Mitchell (or anyone else, for that matter) singing; still other times sounding like a flipped out flamenco klezmer duo.
What their music lacks in personality is more than compensated for by the inclusion of interesting ethnic motifs and picturesque solo excursions. Cuomo’s eastern inflected woodwork over the open chords of “Ma Fleur, Ta Fleur” has a transportive effect. Similarly, “Sirene Cybele” treads equally foreign musical turf, recalling the work of guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grapelli. Other pieces, such as “Virtual Reduction” sound as if Zamfir is jamming on the pan flute with guitarist Ralph Towner of Oregon.
“A Pocket Full Of Cash” is probably the most melodic number of the set, while “Minimum Rage showcases Cuomo’s abilities on a clarinet-like Middle Eastern sounding instrument (presumably the domra) with an otherworldly glissade.
Duoglide cruise the stratosphere with nary crosswind to slow them down. While their music is somewhat challenging in construction, it is rarely more than Muzak for the Attention Deficit Disorder generation: Kenny G. meets Larry Coryell. Soothing musical morphine for the masses.
Flying Heart Records
Celt has been kicking around Portland for the past fifteen years, as mastermind of the blues revue the Esquires and as the man behind Flying Heart Records— a label which has produced recordings by artists as varied as Napalm Beach and Eddie Harris. Jan weighs in at the blusier end of the spectrum, singing and playing guitar and bass over deftly programmed drums.
“Got What I Wanted” showcases Jan’s soulful voice and masterful guitar work over a slow, bluesy framework, perhaps vaguely related to “Black Magic Woman.” “Holding Something Back” could be a middle period Cat Stevens song, with a charming middle section, cradled in the ticking clock rimshot drum machine.
“Stinson Beach” could pass for something Zappa left behind; Janice Scroggins lending orchestral major sevenths to the celestial atmosphere. Celt takes the tune through several permutations, the most interesting is a swinging jazz solo near the end.
“Molalla Doodle” is a Fahey-esque piece of Cotton picking, as down home as the locale which serves as the namesake. “Doobie Do” calls to mind the soft latin shuffles of the late Tim Hardin in his “Misty Roses” period. And “Gregory Heights” is a piece of straight flat-picking, as short as it is sweet.
Jan Celt wins points for a pleasing, unforced vocal style, a variety songwriting modes, and a succinct sense of guitar phrasing. While his songwriting is not likely to rank him up with Rodgers and Hammerstein, he is capable of writing pleasant, upbeat tunes and delivering them with good-natured aplomb.
BEST OF 96
Best Five Local Recordings in 96:
Freewheel – New Bad Things
Black Top Open Road – Thrillbilly
Thrillcrazed Space Kids – Sweaty Nipples
Your Word Against Fire – Torcher
Bombay – Bombay
Mic City Sons – Heatmiser
Safety – Richmond Fontaine
Best New Bands Of 96:
Red Footed Genius
Sweet Baby Onion
Classiest Band Of 96:
Best Compilation of 96:
The Church Of The Northwest Volume 1 – KBOO’s Church Of The Northwest