WATT and THE SECONDMEN
ZZ TOP/TED NUGENT
ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS
Various venues in Philadelphia and Hoboken in June 2003
By GEOFF GINSBERG of Real O Mind Records
Live Rocket from the Tombs photos by
RUSSELL BEYNON of the Killer Crows Fan Site
OK, here comes Part 2 of my nightlife report from Philly. I suppose this could
be called "Geoff needs to get a life." However, in my own defense,
I could have a life if I wanted one - I have decided to pass!
Seriously though, spending almost every day in the woods listening to the wind in the trees and a flowing creek is great preparation for going out at night, getting fucked up and hearing great music. So that has been the routine for the last couple of months. There was no major city-hopping like the last report - thank doG - I was too exhausted for that.
After the Stooges I was toast. It was simply the best music I've ever heard in my life. It was going to be hard to get back in the swing of things. What better way to get started than by seeing Stooge bassman Mike Watt and the Secondmen (get it?) a mere five days after Watt had rocked Coachella with said Stooges. So I went over to the Khyber and prepared for the rock.
The Secondmen is a three-piece with organ, bass and drums. The organ player
kind of holds things together with a little melody here and color there while
Watt and the drummer just go off. The drummer in the band, whatever his name
is, is absolutely phenomenal. As I said, more soloist than pocket drummer, the
guy is a blinding whirlwind behind his kit. Watt was back to his usual aggressive,
somewhat intimidating self, spitting out the words with venomous fury and pounding
out the basslines. Cool covers included (Im pretty sure - I was a little
far gone by the end of the night!) "Little Johnny Jewel," "Little
Doll," and an earth-shattering "The Red and The Black."
The next night the guys and I were watching our beloved 76ers playing in the playoffs on TV. Our boys made a spectacular last-second play to go ahead and seemingly win the game. But no. A less than last second play won it for the other team. We were left staring at the TV in stunned silence. After reminding ourselves that it's only a game we went off to Chinatown for some grub.
When we were finishing up dinner it occurred to us that the highly touted Greenhornes were playing just two blocks away from where we were eating. Although none of us were dying to go to a rock show it seemed like it would be stupid not to go over and check them out. They played a bluesy garage rock. Slower than the usual garage bands, it didn't seem overly influenced by punk. The fact was that we were tired and a little bummed from the shocking loss in the ballgame. Pretty soon we all kind of came to the same question/conclusion: "What the hell are we doing here?" So we left in mid-set.
I would definitely give the Greenhornes another chance. It's important to factor
in your own bullshit when evaluating a performance. When you are on angel dust
and you thought the Ramones played kinda slow that night, chances are it was
you and the dust, not the Ramones. So the Greenhornes will get another chance
to catch me in a better frame of mind.
Back at our beloved little Khyber Pass Pub the self-proclaimed best rock band in the world, The Supersuckers, were up next with The 45's. The 45's are a really good group from Atlanta. I don't have their records but have seen them live and enjoyed them a couple of times now. They play rock and roll - no surprise since they come from the city that gave us Drivin' 'N' Cryin', The Georgia Satellites and the Black Crowes. The Supersuckers, while obviously not the best rock band on the planet, are pretty fucking good. I've seen them a bunch of times, but this migh've been the best one. It was just a great balls-out fun rock show, nothing more, nothing less. Their new tune "Rock and Roll Records Ain't Selling This Year" completely blew me away. As a small label guy the lyrics hit home, but it's more than that - it is one kickass song. Go find.
ZZ Top and Ted Nugent were doing a gig at our local shed venue. This was the quintessential gig that you wanna get free tickets to. Big ticket item. The Nuge is a hateful right-winger, and the Top, being from Houston are pals with George W. Bush going back to his days as a party animal.
I would be pleased not to have to fork out for this. So I called a friend who works for the big concert promoter in town a few weeks before the show. I left a message "Hey, if you find yourself with a whole row of ZZ Top tickets like last time, please feel free to give me a call!" I didn't hear back from him and didn't think much about it again till the show was the next day. My feeling is that if you covet something for free (which is different from not really caring, but figuring that "if someone hands me a free ticket I'll go") you should be ready to ante up for it (if you have the scratch). If you really want something and won't pay for it you, being a cheap bastard, are part of the problem.
So I called a friend to see if he wanted to go see the Top. He was game, so we planned on meeting up in town to head across the river to the E-Center (the place isnt called the E-Center anymore but I refuse to call it by its new name). Just before I left the house at about 5 o'clock I got a call from Bryan, the guy I had called about freebies. He had tix!! Talk about a last-second righteous surprise. So we missed Kenny Wayne Sheppard and Double Trouble but got there in time for the Nuge.
Now before you go calling me names for even wanting to see Ted, let me at least
say that by the time I was 17 I was leaving his shows before he even came on
(AC/DC and Scorpions opened). That's how fast I got sick of his bullshit. But,
as hateful as he is, and he is, I have to admit to loving some of his music.
So he came on and played a set of songs mostly from his first and best solo
album. His arena-rock ready drummer kicked ass on a giant riser and after a
while I realized that he is the guy Robert Gillespie broke in a couple of years
earlier. While Ted was playing the incredibly stupid song, "Kiss My Ass,"
they raised an effigy of Saddam Hussein high behind the stage. Ol' Saddam was
all smiles, at least until Ted took off his guitar in favor of the bow and arrow.
From about 50 paces Ted released the arrow. Bullseye! Shot him in the heart.
Maybe you had to be there but it was hilarious. At another point with the crowd cheering Ted sheepishly said, "Aw, you just love me for my guns..." Me and Ted may be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but I know a good joke when I hear one.
When ZZ came on there was a collective gasp from the crowd. They were wearing these amazing Mexican ponchos and adorned cowboy hats. The sight was literally breathtaking and the sound was reminiscent of the "giant sucking sound" H. Ross Perot used to refer to (tho he was talking about jobs going to Mexico, not ponchos coming from Mexico). Nevertheless, everyone went "whoooaaa" when they laid eyes on Bill, Frank, and Dusty (BFD).
The playing was sensational and the choice of material excellent. They did
most of the "Tres Hombres" album, and some new stuff thats not
on any record, which is really unusual for this kind of show. Those types of
audiences would usually rather hear "Sharp Dressed Man" twice than
something they don't know. While the Nugent drummer was about 15 feet up on
a riser, Frank Beard played about six inches off the floor. On an enormous stage,
Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill (the Yosemite Sam of Rand R) had their mikes set
up about five feet apart. How fucking cool is that?! On "Beer Drinkers
and Hellraisers" they traded vocal lines and it was very badass. I wish
they'd sing more songs together. It really works when they do.
Next up, was the Cramps and the SicKidz, the latter a Philly institution. These bands played many gigs together in the late '70s and early '80s and Lux and Ivy produced the SicKidz' 12" in 1984.
SicKidz were wonderful. Their singer, Mick Cancer, Esq. Is one of the truly great frontmen in rock and roll. Taking cues from the likes of Lux and Iggy he is a true madman on stage. Plus I love the guy dearly - he is a fuckin-A great guy!
The Cramps in their latest incarnation.
I go kind of hot and cold on the Cramps. They are always spectacular to watch, but I have seen them where it kind of fell apart musically. For this tour they had a real bass player and it seemed like it made a big difference from that Slim Chance creature.
The show was at the Trocadero, and old burlesque hall - perfect for the Cramps.
It was packed too. I took a 10mg V, had a beer or three and headed for the middle
of the dance floor. I had a perfect buzz, and the Cramps really kicked ass.
Poison Ivy must've sold her soul to the devil (old news, I know), because if
possible, she seems to get even better looking with age. She had on a mini-something
or other, and man, those legs rock. Her playing was outstanding too, maybe the
best I've heard her. They did a lot of newer stuff, but delivered some classics
as well. During "You Got Good Taste" the desire to perform acts with
Ivy was a little overwhelming. Oh well...
As I mentioned in my previous rant the Dictators are back out after paternity leave for HDM. They played in Philly one weekend and the following weekend at Maxwells in Hoboken, NJ, which is within eyeshot of Manhattan. Maxwells used to be a huge part of my life. We used to go there all the time. The list of bands Ive seen there would make your eyes bug out. Its a tiny room, and always has a cool clientele. Unfortunately, they rarely have anything for me there anymore. The shows were similar to the first one I saw a few weeks earlier including, for the first time in decades, "Teengenerate."
The Philly show was really fun and I was surrounded by cool girls that I know.
They did a nice job of keeping the total psychopaths that are drawn to me at
a distance. Yeah, it's tough when you are a freak-magnet.
At Maxwells they changed the set a little, but it's just great no matter what they do. There is no stage of my life from pre-adolescence to the present that the Dictators were not a part of. This is music that speaks to me. In this case it said "Go to Benny Tudinos for a slice of pizza before the show." So we did. If you are ever in Hoboken you gotta go to Benny's. Awesome pie.
Cobra Verde played at the Khyber and I was really looking forward to seeing
them. I'd heard great things about their new record, had met the bass player
(Ed) when I was in Cleveland for the Powertrane gig (he works at the Beachland),
and J. Mascis was guesting on guitar. Having said that, I was totally unprepared
for it. They were completely awesome. The material (really catchy and blazing
rock at the same time) was superb and they kicked it out on stage. I was REALLY
blown away. I was unfamiliar with the songs (other than the Undertones
"Teenage Kicks" and "TV Eye"), but by the time the songs
ended they were indelibly imprinted in my psyche. This is genuine, bona fide
unhyphenated rock. I picked up the CD ("Easy Listening" on Muscletone
Records) on the way out and have been listening to it just about every day
since. This is the album of the year so far. Get it now, thank me later. It's
Now here's where the pace really picks up. It was a nine-night run with eight shows. First it was some guy named Lou Reed at the Tower Theater.
Lou Reed and latest band.
I first saw Lou there in 1978 so it was like a homecoming of sorts. I was a little put off by the ads for the show which listed the personnel as Lou, bassist Fernando Saunders, cellist Jane Scarpentoni, and Antony (a singer). With the new album being a spoken word thing this show could have gone either way. When I woke up the morning of the show I realized that Lou is wouldnt tour with a cellist and NOT play "Street Hassle." This might be cool.
Well, my fears of an acoustic gig were not realized. Lou and Mike Rathke (who
was not listed in the ad) both played electric guitars the whole night. There
was just no drummer. The lack of "Thunder" (pun intended) only shifted
the focus a little more onto the songs and guess what? Lou Reed can write some
really good songs! The material was very well chosen and fit in with the instrumental
set-up they had. After using "Sweet Jane" as a vehicle to get warmed
up and introduce the band, Lou set about blowing minds. When he broke into "Men
Of Good Fortune" I was freaking. I love Berlin and this is one of Lou's
best lyrics ever. Plus I'd never heard him perform it live. Man, it did not
disappoint. Then the next song was "How Do You Think It Feels." I
was beside myself! I couldnt fucking believe it! Two of the all-time best
- in a row.
Other awesome moments were "The Day John Kennedy Died," "Street Hassle," "The Bed," and a trio from the first Velvets LP - "Venus In Furs" which featured an insane, tortured cello solo that John Cale wouldve been proud of, "Sunday Morning" and "All Tomorrows Parties" which featured Lou's most outrageous solo of the night. On the encore they did "Candy Says" with Antony on vocals. It was beautiful. Lou knows his limitations (he couldnt sing this song to save his life), thus, the Antony factor. Then "The Last Shot" and "Perfect Day." This show way exceeded my expectations. It was different, the material was filled with surprises, and most importantly, LOU REED RULES.
A couple of nights later the Fleshtones were playing at this bar in my neighborhood. It was part of an attempt to bring rock out the hinterlands. I thought it would be a disaster and it would have been had the Fleshtones not played like it was a full arena and not an empty old folks club. They just get better all the time. The band spent as much time off the stage as on and Peter Zaremba, upon seeing my Screaming Tribesmen shirt as he passed by me started singing "Igloo" in my ear, while the band was playing another song! It was hilarious, and the song they were playing "Im Not A Sissy" was kicking my ass.
They shimmied back to the dressing room with the crowd singing "Im
not a sissy anymore!!!" over and over. While I truly hate the venue (North
By Northwest) I did have a good time.
Next night was Detroits Easy Action who I had not seen before, but had
wanted to for quite some time. They were definitely really good, and very aggressive,
but somehow I wasn't really loving it. I thought John Brannon's guitar playing
was excellent, but then he took it off and didnt play it again for the
last two-thirds of the show. Basically it reminded me of the Laughing Hyenas
(Brannon's old band) more than I was expecting. I didn't really like the Laughing
Hyenas - what can I say. But like I said, it was good. It's important to be
able to distinguish between that which you dont like and that which isn't
good. Often one means the other, but not always. This is a really good band,
just not my cup of tea.
Saturday night and Garland Jeffreys is playing at NXNW. Garland basically stopped playing out around 1982, but he's back. For those not familiar with him, Garland is a contemporary of Lou Reed from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. He wrote the song "Wild In The Streets." He has nothing to do with punk rock, tho'. Think of him more in the Van Morrison category, even though he sounds nothing like Van.
He had played and packed NXNW a few months earlier, with his superb band that includes his childhood friend and longtime guitarist Alan Freedman and the Rumour's rhythm section, Steve Goulding and Brian Stanley. I was as close to blowing it off at the last minute as you can get, but at showtime I just decided to put on my shoes and get over there.
I arrived just before they came on and the place was empty. Bizarre. I took the one spot in front of the stage where I wouldnt be in the way of the sitting old folks. After the amazing first song "Fist Full Of Dollars" the people with the best table in the house got up and left. The idiots were just there for dinner. So I grabbed the best seat in the house just as Garland came down and grabbed the other seat!
On "We The People," a reggae number originally recorded with the
amazing Dennis Bovell and the Dub band, Steve Goulding blew my doors off. He
had the Sly Dunbar hi- hat thing completely down. I was loving it. When the
song ended I leaped to my feet and gave Goulding the thumbs up. Most of the
set was taken from Garland's two best LPs, Ghostwriter and Escape Artist. The
whole show was great - Garland's voice is exquisite as always and hes
just really cool. I was sooo glad I got off my ass and went over there.
Richard Lloyd, Craig Bell and David Thomas.
Sunday night: Wish Fulfilment. Rocket From The Fucking Tombs were coming thru for the first time ever.
It was only a mini-tour and Richard Lloyd would be sitting in for the late Peter Laughner. I really didnt know what to expect, though it seemed a safe bet that it would be very cool. Well, they came out and burned. Cheetah Chrome and David Thomas have a creative tension between them that is palpable.
David Thomas reminded me of Orson Wells, with cane, chair and flask in hand. His vocals are pure emotion.
Cheetah is the master of the James Williamson "Open Up And Bleed" guitar style. He has the most sorrowful guitar tone I have ever heard. It is the core of this band. You can hear the pain both in the singing and playing. On tunes like "So Cold," and "Aint It Fun" Richard Lloyd would go off spewing leads while the Chromium one played the agonized rhythm. I think a lot of people were surprised by just what a great guitarist Chrome is. He is the REAL DEAL.
Cheetah Chrome takes the mic.
Bassist Craig Bell impressed my basically by being as good as the other guys in the band, no easy task! He looked a bit like the evil republican senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, but fortunately did not make any anti-campaign finance reform speeches between songs.
They played for a furious 55 minutes and did all the hits: "What Love Is," "Down In Flames," "Final Solution" a mindblowing "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," and an encore of "Life Stinks." Everyone agreed this was the real thing and it easily met expectations.
My friend Nancy and I decided to do Hoboken the next night as well. We cruised up, hit Benny Tudinos, parked by the Maxwell House factory and went into the friendly confines of Maxwells. The shows in NYC on the previous Friday and Saturday had sold out, but across the river on a Monday night there was breathing-room. I was pleasantly surprised to bump into my old friends Steve Wynn and (the Godlike) Linda Pitmon in front of the stage. Ive bumped into Steve at other peoples shows before but I have never seen him "up front." That kind of shows just how psyched people were about Rocket.
They played the same set of songs, but with a different energy, just as intense,
but different. It took a couple of songs before they got the sound right, but
it was more immediate than the night before - the Maxwells vibe. David Thomas
was very crabby. He actually fired the audience before they started to play
for not clapping loud enough when the band hit the stage. He also gave Cheetah
a few good cane shots to the shins. Dude is CRAZY. They ripped again and after
a full-on free jazz version of "Final Solution, we rode home on air.
The Lou Reed show had been so good I convinced a friend to go up to the NYC
show with me that Tuesday for the show at Town Hall. We stopped by the box office
to get our tickets on the early side and then went for a walk. When we got back
I spotted Garland Jeffreys' guitarist Alan Freedman by the stage door and who
was next to him but Garland hisself. I had to go over and say hi. So I said,
"Hey - just wanted to let you guys know I saw your show in Philly the other
night and it was amazing!" Garland was like "Oh yeah, you were the
guy in the front. Thanks a lot etc. etc.) Pretty amazing that he remembered
me even if it was only a few nights before.
The show itself was a real eye-opener. Lou played the same batch of tunes but really different arrangements. For example, in Philly his big solo was on "All Tomorrows Parties." At the NYC show he didn't even play a solo on that, but stuck to choppy rhythm playing while this Tae Kwon Do master did ballet-like movements followed by the most vicious death-blows you could imagine. His big solos were on "Ecstasy" and "How Do You Think It Feels" this night. He did three songs from the Raven and showed a real sense of humor about the whole thing. "Edgar Allen Poe didnt ask me to do this and hes dead so he cant even defend himself." If Lou wants to spend 15 minutes of a two-hour and 20 minute show on his new record I dont have a problem with that. Plus, it was pretty engaging.
Once again, my mind was blown by the sheer genius of this man. And it rocked.
You don't need drums to rock if you have two electric guitars, bass and cello.
And on the songs that really needed some percussion ("How Do You Think
It Feels" "Dirty Blvd.") Fernando played drums. Syndrums, but
By the next day, as you can imagine, I was pretty burned out. Enough was enough,
at least for that week. On the other hand, how often does Syl Sylvain come around?
He was doing a gig that night so I decided to suck it up after hiking all day
and get down there. While it was a fun show, and he played a good bit of the
first Dolls LP, Criminals stuff, and several Thunders solo tunes (!), after
seeing Lou Reed and Rocket the three previous nights it could only be a little
bit of a letdown. As I said it was good and I enjoyed it, but it just wasnt
a "you are now witnessing greatness" moment.
Cobra Verde was making a quick return to town, this time opening up for J. Mascis' buddy Evan Dando. I could go off about how much I loathe Dando, about how he ruined it when he sang with Mike Watt, Ron Asheton, and Mascis, about what a pathetic junkie is, about how totally pretentious he is, but I won't.
Cobra Verde: Coming to a discount store near you.
We did elect to go over and check out Cobra Verde even though theyd be
doing a short set. Well, there was less people in this 1200 capacity room (the
Troc) for Dando and Cobra than there had been in the 150 capacity Khyber for
just Cobra. This pleased me. It was good to see Dando fall on his face figuratively
instead of literally for a change. Cobra kicked ass and by this time I knew
all the songs. They threatened to play a song by arguably one of the worst bands
this city ever produced, The Dead Milkmen, but did the Undertones cover. "Ooops,
we forgot the Dead Milkmen song." Thank doG. As I said earlier - album
of the year.
And lastly (finally - I getting really tired of typing!) We get to the end of this edition. The original X were playing on South Street (where the hippies used to meet, but is now populated by people whose faces look like a tackle-box). Also on the bill were the unfortunately named The Fags.
Now, The Queers is a cool band name, and Pansy Division is a good name, but The Fags might be one of the worst band names ever. When we got there they were on and they had a beautiful black female singer and the rest of the band looked pretty bad-ass too. OK, I thought, if you look like this you can call yourself The Fags, thats cool. Well, The Fags finished up and when they put up a big banner that said THE FAGS we realized that we had just seen someone else and The Fags were up next. Fuck! So they come on and its my worst nightmare: a powerpop band with matching outfits called The Fags. It's not that the music was terrible - it wasn't. It's just that I've heard 100 other bands just like them only better. Plus the 100 other bands were't called The Fags! I couldnt help thinking "they could be the next Interpreters." The fact that you have never heard of the Interpreters says it all.
Anyway, X came on and blew me the fuck away. I had loved going to see them in the early '80s and this was it to a T.
To me there are two kinds of guys appearance wise: regular guys, and total fucking dorks. Generally, regular guy is about as good as you can do and what we should all aspire to. Having said that, there is another category: really cool guys. It's just that that category is so small as to be statistically insignificant. The reason I mention this is that guitarist Billy Zoom is in that third category. Hes just fucking cool. Like James Dean. And man can he play. He literally blasts riffs right into the stratosphere without even seeming to try hard.
The entire show was taken from the first four LPs (with a cover of "Bad Boy" thrown in for good measure). No problem there. Whatever your favorite is - they played it.
Exene kind of reminded me of David Thomas in that she seemed to be a real grouch,
but in a cool way. She and John Doe were like the way they were in the early
days of X, as opposed to the fairly boring solo artists (OK, John Doe is TOTALLY
boring as a solo artist) they became. They just let loose, played over 20 classics,
and drove the crowd, which included a surprising number of kids, into a frenzy.
Just like old times.
And then I took a nap....
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