Ah, The Bottom Dollars. I love them like a brother, the one who’s in prison for robbing an all-you-can-eat joint, then sitting down in a booth in the same all-you-can-eat joint and using the proceeds of his robbery to order dinner. He’s always been a feckless character, my brother–he once found a way to lock himself in the trunk of a stolen car, then had to wait for the police to get him out.
Anyway, I recently brought him a copy of The Bottom Dollars’ Loud As Fuck, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t do what all great rock’n’roll is designed to do—inspire him to escape. Granted it was a minimal security prison, and all he had to do was stroll out the door, but still. Afterwards I received an e-mail that read, “I’m free as a bird, man! Prison is great if you like watching America’s Top Model while the serial rapist sitting next to you shouts, “Pick me! Pick me!” I swear there were days when the only thing that kept me going was that great story where Billy Joel decides to kill himself. He sees some chlorine bleach and says, ‘Nah, that’s gonna taste bad.’ So he takes the Pledge. And all he ends up doing is farting furniture polish.”
Brooklyn, NY’s The Bottom Dollars may not inspire many prison escapes, but their rabble-rousing live shows could just start a riot or two. Nostradamus Jr. that I am, I predict big things for this band. Their songwriting is excellent; their vocals are alternately frantic and soulful with a country lilt, and they’re crack players who are as adept at rocking out as they are at putting paid to a sweet soul standard. They also happen to crank out more sizzling guitar solos than anybody this side of J. Mascis, and they don’t need three 5,000-foot-high Marshall stacks to do it.
The Bottom Dollars—they’re Evan on drums and vocals, Brian on guitar and vocals, Chris on bass and vocals, Dan on guitar and vocals, and Owen, the band’s man about town, on multiple instruments–have released two full lengths (2011’s powerful live debut Loud As Fuck and 2012’s excellent Good News, Everyone!) as well as a four-song EP (2011’s stellar “Halcyon Days.”) They’ve also released five singles, every last one of them, I kid you not dear reader, a bona fide wonder.
The band calls what they play “Rock’n’Soul,” although there’s no ignoring a strong country element that one member described to me as “an accidental by-product of the soul and rock. What most people call ‘Country,’ we call good songwriting.” I’m not the type to quibble, but I was raised in the country, wore bib overalls until I was in my 20s, and once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, and I know country music when I hear it. It’s what came out of the 1938 Zenith Baby Stratosphere of my sweet old grandma, who whored around in honky tonks until she was in her sixties, always carried a stocking pistol and a flask of shine, and is generally credited with inventing the three-way. So “accidental by-product” my hillbilly keister. The Bottom Dollars have some country in them, or my name is Liberace.
If I prefer Loud as Fuck over Good News, Everyone!, it has nothing to do with any shortcomings in the latter. Rather, it’s because Loud As Fuck features some of the most snaggle-toothed extended guitar solos this side of the Mason-Dixon line from the Drive-by Truckers, not to mention two show-stopping soul covers—Sam Cooke’s “Don’t Do It” (which was famously covered by The Band) and Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher).” Then there’s the nine-minute-plus “Fall Into Arms,” which chugs along like the proverbial Mystery Train with the band throwing in lots of forlorn “Woooo-hoooos” (which if they aren’t country, what are they? Wallaby mating calls?) before the whole shebang goes ecstatic on your ass and breaks into an extended guitar jam that is almost as good as my all-time favorite rock anecdote, the one where Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Artimus Pyle runs for help after the band’s infamous plane crash only to find himself at the farm of one Johnny Mote, who seeing a blood-drenched long hair running his way shows him some proper Southern hospitality and shoots him.
Loud As Fuck also boasts the Wunderbar “Peace and Anarchy,” a mid-tempo number that boasts frantic vocals, some chaotic guitar-slinging, and (surprise of surprises) a burly rap by guest Dyalekt (aka WMD DuBois) of the wonderfully named Deathrow Tull, with whom Evan and Brian also play under the aliases “Endo Kalrissian” and “Every Part Of The Buffalo.” Dyalekt, whose gruff bellow reminds me a bit of Handsome Dick Manitoba, begins his rap, “Ever since I said bye-bye to Miss American Pie/And got Shook All Night by those American thighs/Mental slavery defined my American pride/This is just another slice of This American Life/Very disguised/ Don’t you know Americans lie?”
As for their latest release, Good News, Everyone!, it includes the catchy and guitar-heavy opener “Job in the City [Part 1],” the slow and beautiful “Anne Marie,” and “Pieces,” which boasts some hardcore drum thumping and a great axe solo that inexplicably reminds me simultaneously of St. Francis of Assisi delivering the gospel to some bored sparrows and the skeletal remains of a gutshot hippie sitting in a beanbag chair in the dilapidated living room of an isolated farm-house in Minnesota while his phonograph plays Johnny Winter’s They Only Come Out at Night over and over again, forever. (Don’t ask.) Unfortunately Good News, Everyone! also includes four tunes that appear on Loud As Fuck, and the versions of said songs are better on the latter, so if you’re the kind of penny-pinching miser who would begrudge a couple of Brooklyn boys an honest buck, I would recommend purchasing the live one.
When I asked the band about its influences, Brian named Sam Cooke, The Clash, My Morning Jacket, The Band, David Bowie, Muddy Waters, Son House, Elmore James, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and TV on the Radio. That’s quite the eclectic list, and if it were up to me I’d dispense with the old dead blues guys, not to mention TV on the Radio, which liking them, or so I’ve been told, is a symptom of rickets. But any band that loves both Bowie and The Band has to be cool, because I love both bands and I’m cool, despite anything my two ex-wives, my mother, and my shrink (who habitually greets me by saying, “Come on in, putz”) may say. In any event, I’d join the Tea Party to hear The Bottom Dollars do the “total blam blam” on “Suffragette City,” and as luck would have it they’ve done exactly that at live shows in the past. So who knows, I thought before the show; maybe I’d finally be able to fulfill my lifelong dream of making out with Grover Norquist. That said, if they played “Let’s Dance” or “Modern Love” I fully intended to drink a bottle of Pledge, and fart them off the stage in a lemony manner.
Anyway, I couldn’t wait to hit DC9 on Thursday, July 11 to hear The Bottom Dollars do their thing. Unfortunately, I missed the opening act due to an unavoidable coincidence—namely, I was accosted by my escapee brother, who leaped out of a Chinese restaurant dumpster as I passed, still wearing his prison orange and smelling distinctly of 4-day-old Kung Pao chicken.
I can’t say I was thrilled to see him, but he is my brother, so I bought him some cheap jeans, a t-shirt bearing the legend These Colors Don’t Run, They Just Jog Backwards Very Quickly, and three dozen Chicken McNuggets. I asked him why he skedaddled when he only had two weeks to serve on his sentence, and he said he just had to see The Bottom Dollars, post-haste. It was another in a long line of dumbass moves–he once burgled a pharmacy for opiates, only to end up with 40 bottles of some pill that did nothing but cause his long hair to stand on end–but I had to admire his chutzpah.
Anyway, I enjoyed the show, but not quite as much as I thought I would. And this despite the fact that lead vocalist Brian was in great voice, the percussion unit was as tight as a phalanx of storm troopers, the vocal harmonies were spot on, and lead guitarist Dan (aka Shappy the Zebra Cake addict) played so hard and fast it was a miracle his hands didn’t burst into flames. Turns out The Bottom Dollars, despite the fact they’re a great live band, are one of those bands I prefer to listen to in the privacy of my own hovel. There’s no explaining it: some things are simply inexplicable, like the time at the Grammys (don’t ask me to go into details) John Denver stabbed me in the hand with a shrimp fork. I haven’t listened to “Sunshine on My Shoulders” (well, maybe just once or twice) since.
What I did enjoy, a lot, was the band’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” a great song that was only improved by Shappy’s razor-edged guitar solos and an extended ending that featured three-part harmonies repeating the phrase, “I said meet me tonight in Atlantic City.” Also great was “Pieces,” with its lovely chorus, dueling guitars, and Brian’s increasingly urgent vocals. “Six Twenty Six” was also white-hot, with Shappy playing some off-the-hook licks before the band kicked it up a notch and then another notch, while new one “Devil’s Night” opened with a bluesy riff by Brian and some nice vocal harmonies before taking off like a rocket sled on the Bonneville Salt Flats, with both guitarists kicking out the jams (Shappy’s hand was a blur) while Brian repeated the phrase “I see no light.”
“Dias,” a subtly south-of-the-border number off the “Halcyon Days” EP, showed off Brian’s powerful vocals, the band’s knack for vocal harmonies, and Shappy’s ability to play like he signed a pact with the Devil at the pinnacle of Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel. “Oh no, I made out like a bandit,” sang Brian, while the pace picked up and Shappy’s guitar hand once again became a blur. “Jameson,” also off “Halcyon Days,” was a woeful, whisky-soaked number that boasted five-part-harmonies (like the Beach Boys, only without the Manson Family living in Dennis’ house!). It opened with just Brian’s vocals and Shappy’s delicate picking. Then the drums kicked in, Owen shook a psychedelic-painted water cooler bottle, and Brian and Shappy commenced to swapping vocal lines, just like they were Levon Helm and Richard Manuel.
As for “Fall Into Arms,” it opened with the bassist singing those forlorn “Wooo-hooos” before the drums kicked in and the song took off, with Shappy playing two extended solos and Brian frantically barking out the lyrics. Another new one, “Snakes,” opened with some titanic drumming and featured Shappy playing lots of sharp-as-knives guitar licks (not to mention a long solo) while Brian sang, “You’re all a bunch of snakes,” which if he was referring to me all I can say is he’s got a lot of shit wichoo. As for crowd-pleaser “Peace and Anarchy,” it featured Brian singing “God made you/What does that make me?” before turning the mike over to Brooklyn rapper Coldstone Steve Awesome, a skinny white guy whose rap, I’m sincerely sorry to report, wasn’t nearly as good as the one Dyalekt delivers on Loud As Fuck.
The brand new “Erleichda,” whose title The Bottom Dollars snatched from Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume, started slow before kicking into a lively groove featuring frenetic vocals and buzzsaw guitar, while “Morning Thunder” was a real joy, almost power pop, what with its great beat, Brian’s ragged vocals, and a guitar solo that made me want to dance except I don’t dance, unless I find myself in a Western and I’m the town drunk and there’s a sadistic bad man emptying his revolver at my feet. The band finally closed the show with Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me,” which I’ve never liked and will never like, which is the reason the police sweated me extensively (“You think this is a goof, pal? You’re facing the hot seat, weisenheimer. Fucking music critics are all psychos.”) after Cooke was shot and killed.
As for my brother, he vanished after the show. Rumor has it he’s the new roadie for The Bottom Dollars. It’s the ideal job for him; he loves rock’n'roll, and after a lifetime spent boosting supersized televisions, hauling amplifiers is a walk in the park. Just yesterday I got an e-mail from him reading, “Little brother, Life is good. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” I hope he makes it. Stranger things have happened. And he is my brother. As the immortal philosopher Tom Petty once said, “Even the losers get lucky sometimes.”