Off The Beaten Track: Music Reviews & Musings by Mary Leary
Some Old Sounds from Some Old & Young Geezers (& No Frank Zappa)
First, to help ward off disappointed Frank Zappa fans, a spoiler: This installment may end up being a bit of a letdown. Although his name appears here several times, there’s nothing specifically about the art of this influential, prolific prodigy. He did play a part in the formation of one of the bands I’ll be considering. And he’s cited by The OGeeZ, a San Jose-based duo that promises, with some objective charm, “A new sound from some old guys.” Per the band’s promotional proclamations, “Our sound has been compared to Frank Zappa.” They go on to say, “We’re more like Frank Zappa meets Tower of Power, with some blues mixed in for seasoning.”
I want to be able to answer The OGeeZ’s good-humored hopes with big, fat kudos. However, at least where they’re concerned, kudo production is at a standstill at Off The Beaten Track. Can they play? Yes, certainly. Their debut, The Seven Deadly Sins, opens with the straight-ahead funk-rock of “Green With Envy.” But my interest is quickly withered by didactic lyrics that go on… and on… “You can feel her presence/’cause she lives in you and me./She’s a goddess so cunning she can dominate your life/ She lives on through the ages, often dressing in disguise/Pretending to be innocent while there’s evil in her eyes.”
Meanwhile, the music, while tight, riffs away redundantly, with nary a bridge to re-spark my attention. And there are still six sins to go. While The OGeeZ say the tracks are meant to have “unique moods and tones” and “musical diversity,” I just hear repetitive, funky rock burdened by heavy-handed wordage. The overall effect is like being stuck in a practice space with some hard rockers who’ve smoked enough ganga to be sure they’re ingenious. Other than some guitar tones and an occasional timbral accent, the proselytizing lyrics are the sole reminders of what for me was Zappa at his occasional worst (post-Apostrophe or so — my favorite era being from the original Mothers of Invention through Hot Rats). www.myspace.com/theogeezz
To my ears, a Starve Theater (the poetry/performance series I put on with James Watts at El Campo Ruse and other locations) cohort, Abel Ashes, copped more innovative mileage from riffing on his idol (and Captain Beefheart). Having swapped music for activism in 2001, he’s apparently back to music. From his older work, here’s “The CEO.”
Although Ashes ( http://www.reverbnation.com/abelashes) helped me refocus after the OGeeZ experience, I’m still feeling hazy from being in that practice room. Let’s brush off some of the second-hand bong ash and move on to the next party. Since I hear Little Feat will be there, it’s probably gonna be a blow-out.
Some Old (& Dead) Geezers Who’ll Boogie Your Sneakers Away
The way Little Feat started: restless, gifted pianist/keyboardist Bill Payne heard the Mothers of Invention, which, toward the end of its first incarnation, included charismatic singer/songwriter/slide guitar master Lowell George — and felt he’d found his new direction. Meanwhile, George was on his way out of the Mothers. This Wikipedia passage is priceless:
“There are three legends about the genesis of Little Feat. One has it that George showed Zappa his song “Willin’,” and that Zappa fired him from The MOV because he felt that George was too talented to merely be a member of his band, and told him he ought to go away and form his own band. The second version has Zappa firing him for playing a 15-minute guitar solo—with his amplifier off. The third version says that Zappa fired him because “Willin'” contains drug references.”
To me, two of those explanations sound pretty romantic. The likeliest motive: Zappa’s well-known disapprobation for druggies (especially when their habits interfered with his work). George had quite the cocaine relationship, among others – which may have helped hasten his early demise (at the age of 34, in 1979). In any case, Payne and George, along with drummer Richie Hayward and former Mothers’ bassist Roy Estrada, formed the powerful organism that Bonnie Raitt and Jimmy Page came to count among their favorites. And Zappa helped the band net its first recording contract.
The most successful music from this seminal LF period (the band reformed eight years after George’s death, and continues to this day) was a hot stew of country, rock, funk, and N’awlins sounds, as epitomized on albums like Dixie Chicken and Sailin’ Shoes. Along with its casually fierce intensity, LF distinguished itself from a slew of heartland-celebrating/originating long-hairs with the persistent presence of a playful Dada element (especially in the band’s graphics, which were done by Neon Park, who also created the Mothers’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh cover.
Even without Park’s wacky graphics, Eagle Rock’s newly reissued, remastered
Feat DVD is noteworthy. Skin It Back reveals a 1977 Rockpalast (Essen, Germany) concert that showcased the group at its George-era peak. Highlighting the set list : “Willin’,” “Oh, Atlanta,” “Dixie Chicken,” “Tripe Face Boogie,” “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Day at the Dog Races,” “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” and “Rocket in my Pocket.”
Excepting the older (2,000 release), SIB is the only available George-inclusive Feat video. Among the extras are 30 minutes of rehearsal footage, including an exuberant delivery of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor” (which didn’t end up in the show). Remastering helps live dynamics shine through more than they could on the previous edition. The liner notes feature show producer Peter Ruechel’s impressions and a collection of previously unreleased photos.
All of that aside, the rubber burnt on a joyful tear through “Tripe Face Boogie” is by itself worth the price of admission.
Some Young Geezers Who’ll Make You Finger-Pop
Now: a party for the kids in all of us – and it’s being thrown by a soulful Dutch garage band, The Responders, who started performing in early 2009. So far, OTBT has mostly kudos for this quintet. First, instead of grudgingly sending a CD (‘cause I tend to eschew reviews-via-download), they airmail a 7” vinyl EP (from a limited pressing of 250). To boot, the outer sleeve of the EP has a three-dimensional relief of lead vox Lola’s face, the lips of which someone has painstakingly smeared with Chanel Red-level paint. I’ll admit the lipstick’s a little sloppy (looks like this girl’s been sucking on a lot of beers, or sodas…) – that’s just in keeping with this group’s cheerfully messy M.O., which includes posting a video of the members grooving along with a recording of mid-late ‘60s, finger-poppin’ soul (without identifying the artist – and I can’t either, although there seems to be a Stax/Volt presence).
The 7″ froths over with energy, including the catchy “Boom Chacka” and an apparent Robert Johnson tribute,“King of the Delta.” “King” is a frugable, genre-mushing headshaker, which is just the sort of thing done by wild, sincere artists. “Sonic Waves” and “No Shadow” are more post-punk maniacal, with Lola screaming like she was separated at birth from the GOP (R.I.P.)/Dum Dum Girls’ Kristin Gundred. Want a copy? The Responders maintain their retro leanings by requesting an email through their website, which is one of the most bargain-basement-creative I’ve seen from a (non-label) band in some time: http://www.theresponders.nl/responders.asp (hint: turn the UHF knob). If that’s too confusing, you’re probably in the wrong music column, but you can find them on Myspace – although you may run into a wall there, too, as they request promo orders from their profile page via letter.
In case you’re staring at your screen, still wondering what the hell “frugable” means, here’s Runfang Cheng doing a great demo (with some extras), based on a number from Bob Fosse’s musical, Sweet Charity. Hey, if a 16-year-old could do it in 2007, so can I–I mean, you.
For those who crave but lack the bucks for hallucinogenics, or who are now jones-ing for some Zappa, I share (surprise!) one of my all-time faves, “Peaches en Regalia” (from Hot Rats). The uber-eccentrics in the house can stop saying OTBT has gone all conventional lately. One of my favorite phrases is, “Ya never know.”