Author Archives: Roger Catlin

TVD Video Premiere:
Eric Bazilian, “Sarah When She’s Sleeping”

Awaking from a nap to someone staring at you can be a little creepy. But it’s all benevolence and love in Eric Bazilian’s jangly new single “Sarah When She’s Sleeping,” getting its video premiere today at The Vinyl District.

The co-founder of The Hooters, whose songwriting has included Joan Osborne’s enduring “One of Us,” Bazilian says the new song is meant to be “a shameless declaration of love and redemption, for and by a good and kind woman. He says he’s trying to convey “the sense of home that I get when I see my partner peacefully at rest and hear the sweet sounds she makes when she’s there.”

That explains the bit of soft snoring at the beginning and end of the succinct single, but it’s all catchy power pop in-between, with Bazilian on guitars, bass, keyboards, and the mandolin-adjacent mandola. Drums are from Roman Ratej, recorded in Slovenia by Martin Stibernik.

It’s the fourth in a series of singles that precede Bazilian’s new solo album expected later this hear—his first since 2002’s A Very Dull Boy. (He released What Shall Become of the Baby with Swedish collaborator Mats Wester in 2012.)

Bazilian still lives in Pennsylvania, where the Hooters once sprang and notably played Live Aid in 1985. But he often records in Sweden, where he has a basement studio. It’s been in Stockholm where he’s been riding out the pandemic while working with developing artists like Slovenia’s Manu and Philly’s Alexis and the Medicine.

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Mark Farner,
The TVD Interview

Mark Farner, the long-haired, bare-chested frontman of Grand Funk Railroad, keeps chugging along at 72, releasing a new DVD From Chile with Love this month with the band he fronts, which takes the name of one of Grand Funk’s most popular songs, Mark Farner’s American Band.

He’s also among the Michigan rockers asked to join in on Alice Cooper’s current album, Detroit Stories. And in a Covid-era that has otherwise wiped out touring schedules, Farner was one of the performers at the partisan, largely maskless New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago.

Farner still remembers the vinyl that has most inspired him, back when he was in The Pack, the Michigan-based, pre-Grand Funk group that had broken off from regional rockers Terry Knight and the Pack. “We were coming back from Nashville, Tennessee,” he tells The Vinyl District. “We had just recorded a record in this guy’s garage.” They were excited about their cover version of Bob & Earl’s “The Harlem Shuffle” and wanted to get it into the hands of Flint disc jockey Bob Dell at WTAC as soon as possible.

“We were driving fast, breaking the speed limit, trying to get to WTAC before Bob Dell went off the air, so we could hand him this acetate and see if he could play it,” Farner says. “So we come screaming into the parking lot, we all jump out and run inside the station. We say, ‘Bob, we just recorded this record, man, will you spin it?’ And he put it on the spindle and he spun our record. That’s how things got done back then.”

But as they were leaving, the disc jockey pointed to a pile of LPs by the door. “If there’s anything you want, take it, because all that stuff is going in the dumpster today,” Dell told them. Farner was taken by the striking turquoise and purple cover of Get It While You Can by someone he didn’t know, Howard Tate. “Out of all that vinyl that he was going to pitch out, that’s the only one that really caught my attention, I don’t know why. I thought, this one looks cool. I took it. And when I got home, holy crap, dude, I found out why.

“This is the guy I tried to pattern my vocals after: Howard Tate. And if you listen to that album Get it While You Can, that influenced so many people. Janis Joplin, it influenced her. It influenced Aretha Franklin. It influenced Little Stevie Wonder. The people, after years had gone by, and I had been developing my style you hear all this people in different articles, they would mention Howard Tate.

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TVD Premiere:
Jon Klages, “1133 Ave.
of the Americas
(For Enoch Light)”

Let us now praise Enoch Light.

A violinist and dance band leader from the 1920s to the ’40s, his name became associated with an avalanche of instrumental albums in the late ’50s and ’60s, hit sound effects records that demonstrated the possibilities of stereo, and a string of albums of light, jazzy vocalese groups that became influential. Altogether, Light released 25 albums from 1959 to 1971, with two reaching Number 1; he held the record for having the most charting LPs without a single Top 40 single.

But to his grandson, Jon Light Klages, it mostly meant a whole lot of work, hauling boxes of records from the main offices of the label Project 3 to the post office, a moment of time he encapsulates in a new track “1133 Ave. of the Americas (For Enoch Light)” that’s getting its premiere today at The Vinyl District.

“Every day, I would grab as many packaged LPs as my scrawny teenaged arms could carry and head to the post office on 42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues,” Klages recalls. He’d grow from those teen years to become a founding member in the influential Hoboken outfit The Individuals with Glenn Morrow, Doug and Janet Wygal, and would later record his own solo album for Hoboken’s Coyote Records that included the recording debut of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo. After touring with Richard Lloyd of Television, Klages moved to Los Angeles, where he’s worked with various bands of its Paisley Underground.

The blissed-out bossa nova of his new album Fabulous Twilight might seem incongruous with his past, unless one begins digging back into the Enoch Light history. In addition to canny symphonic versions of popular music and a Number 1 album, Persuasive Percussion, Light helped introduce the harmony groups like The Free Design, whose work has gone on to influence Stereolab, Beck, and the High Llamas.

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Sergio Mendes: Bringing ‘Joy’ to Screens and Vinyl

Celebrating Sergio Mendes on his 80th birthday with a look back at our conversation from last year with the boss nova superstar.Ed.

Six decades after the rise of bossa nova, and more than a half century since the heyday of Brasil ’66, the music of Sergio Mendes is poised for another serge in popularity with the release of a new documentary and album.

John Scheinfeld’s new documentary Sergio Mendes: In the Key of Joy premieres Saturday, January 18 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Next month it will be accompanied by a new album of the same name, In the Key of Joy on Concord Records, with a slate of new songs with guests stars that include Common, Hermeto Pascoal, and Joe Pizzulo among others.

“One aspect of Sergio’s long and impressive career that has impressed me is how he has successfully navigated the career peaks and valleys encountered by most artists,” says Scheinfeld, whose previous films include The U.S. vs. John Lennon, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? and Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary. “Amazingly, he has found a way to push the envelope and transform his sound from decade to decade while always remaining relevant and staying true to his musical roots.”

A three-time Grammy winner, Mendes has released dozens of albums over the years, had some top 10 singles with remakes of “The Look of Love” and “The Fool on the Hill” in 1968, and returned with a hit 15 years later with another Top 5 hit, “Never Gonna Let You Go.” He remade his “Mas Que Nada” with Black Eyed Peas in 2006 and earned an Oscar nomination for a song in the 2012 animated Rio. We caught up with Mendes, 78, this week over the phone in a call from his home in Woodland Hills, California.

How long did it take to put the documentary together?

Two years. John Scheinfeld did the John Coltrane documentary and Harry Nilsson. He’s a great guy, very musical. We went to Brazil, we interviewed a lot of people down there, we got a lot of old, great footage. And it’s just great. I’m very, very happy about it.

And you recorded a new album to come about the same time?

Yes, It’s got a lot of young artists—newcomers—and a lot of new songs, no covers. And of course vinyl, which I love. I have a 26-year-old, he buys two records a week. And his deck, you know, the turntables…the other day I had dinner with my friend, the great engineer Bernie Grundman, and he was talking all about the resurgence of vinyl. We are all very happy about it.

It’s part of your legacy too, with those great albums of the ’60s and their great artwork. You don’t get that impact in smaller formats.

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Or streaming—you hear one thing and throw it away. It’s kind of weird for me.

You’ve never taken a break, have you? You’ve been performing pretty consistently for six decades?

As long as God allows me to do it and gives me the health, I’m there and ready.

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TVD Video Premiere: Spizzenergi,
“Valentine’s Day”

Save the flowers and candy hearts. The new video from Spizzenergi, a crunching cover of David Bowie’s “Valentine’s Day,” addresses much darker concerns.

The hard-charging adaptation of the rocker from Bowie’s 2013 album The Next Day gets its premiere here on The Vinyl District today with the growling vocals of the frontman and band mainstay Spizz. At 62, Spizz looks like a better aged Johnny Rotten, backed by the guitars of Luca Comencini and Phil Ross with bassist Ben Lawson and drummer Alan Galaxy.

Adding to its authenticity is the mix by longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti, who played bass on Bowie’s original. “The reason for covering ‘Valentine’s Day’ was initially for a Bowie festival we were booked to appear at,” Spizz says. He had gotten tickets for his birthday to see Bowie’s acclaimed Lazarus at Kings Cross Theatre in 2017 and went with Comencini, and says they “were both knocked out by ‘Valentine’s Day,’ which featured prominently in the performance.”

The song may have been overlooked, Spizz says. “At the time I checked on YouTube and couldn’t recall finding any [cover] versions so that was another good reason” to do it. They added it to their roster for BowieCon and it stood out, he says. “As a performer you get a feel from an audience and when we performed it live we felt their surprise and afterwards their applause which indicated we’d made a good choice.”

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Richard Hell,
The TVD Interview

PHOTO: ROBERTA BAYLEY | First released in 1982, Destiny Street was the second of only two albums ever issued by Richard Hell and the Voidoids. After starting the Neon Boys with Tom Verlaine and helping form Television, Hell helped define punk by being one of the first with spiky hair, ripped tight clothes and safety pins—fashion trends quickly picked up by England’s forming punk scene. But mostly he influenced through his music and the anthemic 1977 Blank Generation that helped define the moment.

Voidoids Ivan Julien and Marc Bell left the band after British tours with The Clash and Elvis Costello. Only guitarist Robert Quine remained for the second album, alongside drummer Fred Maher (who, like Quine, would go on to famously work with Lou Reed). Also added to the band was guitarist Juan Maciel, whose stage name was Naux.

While Destiny Street had the material Hell wanted, he was never happy with the production, and having been told that the master tapes were lost, he gave up the idea of a remix, until he ran across a cassette for with the basic rhythm tracks in the early 2000s. He was about to have Julian and Quine come in to re-record their parts when the guitarist died in 2004 at 61. Faux died soon after. So Hell brought in two other acclaimed guitarists with original styles, Marc Ribot and Bill Frissell to join Julian for a remade album called Destiny Street Repaired in 2009.

A decade later, the original 24-track master tapes were found after all, so he embarked on a remix of the original with Nick Zinner, the producer and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist. Rather than decide which was best, Omnivore Recordings is releasing all three—plus some leftover live tracks and demos—in a two CD deluxe set, Destiny Street Complete on January 22. (A stand-alone vinyl edition of Destiny Street Remixed is also on its way.)

We talked to Hell, who has been a writer the past few decades, about the project, the pandemic and his poetry. He assesses his future in music (dim), names the three records that formed him, and dismisses a longstanding myth about his punk legacy.

How are you handling the pandemic?

I was about mentally prepared for it to be winding down by now, so it is dreadful, literally. It fills one with dread to picture the coming months. It’s a good thing about the vaccinations.

But the thing is, for me, as it turned out, I kind of thrived on the isolation. The outside things I was doing, the assignments that I was accepting, the journalism and that kind of thing that I had been doing pretty regularly over the last 20 years or so just kind of dried-up, and I didn’t make any attempt to solicit that kind of work, so I literally had nothing to do all day except what I had my own initiative to do. I’ve been doing a lot of writing in a way that I hadn’t really since my teens and early 20s, so even though It’s been a really anxiety-filled and horror-filled period, for me it’s also been productive. So I have mixed feelings about it.

The thing I was describing kind of got interrupted by the big push for this music release. For the past couple of months, that’s been a full time job. And I’m kind of glad that I can go back to what it was before, where I just get up and have nothing in particular to do, so I start writing in a way that has no other purpose except to meet my needs instead of anybody else’s needs. So, yeah. It’s been mixed.

Is it poetry?

It’s funny you say that because people are always asking me about poetry. I have to remind them I’m not a poet. As a young man I had that ambition for a few years, and then it kind of got replaced by music. Then I started doing other kind of writing—fiction and journalism, non-fiction. Just because I had that couple of three years in my late teens, people focus on that and I always try to correct them about that, because it’s not really accurate. But all that being said, you’re right. It is poetry. And that’s what’s been fun. And it’s weird to call it fun because the writing itself is very work-intensive and takes a lot of focus.

It’s not confessional but I try not to hold anything back. So it’s intense. The actual act of doing it can be really exhausting. But it is fun in the sense that it’s very fulfilling for me. It’s weird, for the last eight months, up until I had to work on the Destiny Street Complete thing, I feel like it is the first time I’ve actually been a poet. At the age of 71, I hit this situation where it’s my identity, it’s what I was doing. It’d be, like, a poem or two a week, which is a big output—way larger than I’ve ever done before. So yeah, as long as you ask, that is what I’ve been doing for the first time since I was 19.

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Making Vinyl Conference Ready to Go Online

A year that began with a devastating fire at a California manufacturing plant and then moved into a pandemic looked like it would be a bleak one for the vinyl industry. But though Covid-19 caused a slowdown of production, and threw Record Store Day into initial disarray, the cursed year 2020 also became one of the biggest for vinyl sales in decades. Even so, continued travel restrictions and mass gathering shutdowns requires that gatherings like the 4th annual Making Vinyl conference December 8-9 is an online event.

“It’s definitely not what we intended to do at the beginning of this year,” says conference president and co-founder Bryan Ekus. Still there are hundreds signed up for the event which will take place on a snazzy, custom designed platform designed in the Netherlands. And plenty to talk about.

“In looking for the correct platform to host the event virtually, I tried to find something that could replicate the experience of what we had physically,” Ekus says. In the past, there has been a main conference center, spaces for workshops, and places to meet with suppliers in the industry.

“On the virtual side, there will be those virtual booths that people can meet with the people that are providing the actual services or products and set appointments, and even meet with them directly on the spot,” he says. “So it’s as close as you can get to a physical event.”

Though not set in Detroit, Hollywood, or Berlin as past conferences have been, the fourth Making Vinyl will again gather experts from the industry in a business-to-business conference “dedicated to the rebirth of the global vinyl manufacturing business.”

Among the panelists will be Duncan Stewart of Deloitte Global who in 2017, during the first Making Vinyl event, called the return of vinyl a billion dollar business. “That has come to pass,” says conference director and co-founder Larry Jaffee. “It’s probably greater than a billion dollars right now in terms of all the associated activities surrounding vinyl. I think we surprised them all in terms of how it’s grown. I think he was thinking it was a bit of a fad and the traction I think has flabbergasted him.”

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TVD Premiere: Kelly Finnigan, “Santa’s Watching You”

Kelly Finnigan has always added classic soul to his sound and does so in his original new Christmas release next month, A Joyful Sound on Colemine Records. But he brings a whole new menace to the holiday with his second single from the set, which amplifies the familiar warning, “You better watch out, you better not cry” into the sizzling “Santa’s Watching You,” which we’re happy to premiere today at The Vinyl District.

“This song came to me like all good ideas, by accident,” Finnigan tells us. “I was deep in making this record and thinking a lot about Christmas music pretty consistently. I was sitting around, hanging out listening to some different records. A great gospel tune by The Sacred Four came on called ‘Somebody’s Watching You.’ In that instant, I realized that somebody else watches people too.” So the jolly North Pole denizen turns into somewhat of an NSA super spy in the hands of the soulful Bay Area singer, producer and songwriter.

If the funky feel of “Santa’s Watching You” has the easy camaraderie of an office Christmas party, it’s because he’s enlisted musicians from the esteemed Ohio label, headquartered upstairs from the Plaid Room Records in downtown Loveland, a shop definitely worth a stop to vinyl lovers in the Cincinnati area.

Backing Finnigan alongside label head Terry Cole is Plaid Room Records employee Henry Allen. It also features Jimmy James, guitarist for the Delvon Lamar Organ Trio, and no less than the Harlem Gospel Travelers on backing vocals. That meant some widespread geographic contributions to the album, Finnigan says, with “drums and bass in Ohio, guitar in Seattle, organ, percussion and vocals at my place with some additional background vocals by the Harlem Gospel Travelers in New York.”

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Rat Scabies,
The TVD Interview

PHOTO: JASON BRIDGES | One of the best-named drummers of the original punk wave, Rat Scabies remains busy with a handful of projects these days, including the new one from The Professor and the Madman, Séance, due out November 13 on Fullertone Records. The band combines Alfie Agnew of the Adolescents and Sean Elliott of Mind Over Four (who was also in D.I. with Agnew), with Scabies and a bandmate he had in The Damned on a series of albums, bassist Paul Gray. Scabies, who is also in the instrumental duo The Sinclairs and plays with the psychobilly band 69 Cats and the goth Nosferatu, also makes the occasional solo album.

No longer the shirtless maniac of his youth, the former Christopher John Millar is a more thoughtful but no less passionate player at 65, though he speaks of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Drummer. We spoke to him via Zoom from the attic of his home in the Brentford district of London, and talked about days in The Damned, how perfection is overrated, his work with Joe Strummer and Ginger Baker, and how good things can come out of a Bad Christmas Sweater Party.

With the pandemic shutting everything down, has it been a long time since you’ve played out live?

I haven’t been on a big tour for a long time. The last tour I did was with The Members which was a lot of small bars in Europe and was pretty good. I have to say, touring Europe as opposed to England—where the band that shows up to play that evening is regarded as a pain in the ass and something that makes the stalls life a little more difficult—in Europe, France, Germany and like that, they’re actually quite pleased to see you and make you tea and chocolate when you arrive. You feel much more appreciated. But now nobody’s getting to go on the road at all.

In actual fact, it’s turned into quite a blessing because most of my work is studio-based, so during lockdown, I regard myself incredibly lucky that I can still function and work and make music without being dependent on going on the road, whereas most of my friends have absolutely been killed by the whole thing. It’s tragic. It is what it is, but I just really hope we can get some kind of recovery from it. Everything public, not just this business but football, rugby, cricket.

This album was recorded much the same way with previous albums by Professor and the Madmen. How does that work?

Well, apart from the distances and the problems with work visas, it’s one of those things where actually technology, as much as I am a Luddite—“No the old ways are by far the best!”—works well. I like being able to send the drum takes from the studio and by the time I get home by train they’ve got them in California and they’ve already emailed me to say yeah, these are OK, that’s pretty good. So I have to say I really enjoy that.

And the recording process is generally always been one of laying the drums and then everybody else kind of works around that. Dropping and overdubbing. So the process is actually for me very much the same it’s always been. I guess the thing I really miss is having a band there—people in the background making comments and farting. That kind of thing where you can tell when you walk into a room whether you’ve done a good take or not, whether people are happy.

I’m turning into my catchphrase this year: the Loneliness of the Long Distance Drummer. I’ve done a couple of albums like that this year. And it’s kind of weird, because they’re turning me into an engineer. The judgmental call of whether it sounds right, or whether it sounds good, that suddenly all gets thrown on me, when I’m used to being the drunk guy who says, “I’m going to go out for a cigarette while you listen to this and tell me if you want me to do this again.” It’s shifted the whole way I think about what I do.

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Chris Hillman,
The TVD Interview

PHOTO: LORI STOLL | The first book from Chris Hillman has the same title as the first song he wrote as a founding member of The Byrds, Time Between.

Subtitled “My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond,” the volume, due out November 17 on BMG Books, chronicles the nearly 60 years of music he’s made as a member of a handful of potent musical units that combined bluegrass and country into folk and rock, from The Byrds to The Flying Burrito Brothers to Manassas and the Desert Rose Band, not to mention a trio of amalgamations that sounded more like law firms from Souther-Hillman-Furay to McGuinn, Clark & Hillman.

His intent in writing, he says over the phone from his home in Ventura, California, is “to leave some kind of record, a story of me, for my kids,” that includes two grandkids so far. But also he adds, “ I’d read so many inaccurate stories, inaccuracies on The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers,” that it made him think, “Wait a minute, I was there! Let me clarify this a bit!”

Setting the record straight means dousing the notion that, say, The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which celebrated a 50th anniversary tour in 2018, was not in fact either the first country-rock record nor the first hint of Americana. “We were doing country stuff way before Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” says Hillman, 75. The band’s second album Turn! Turn! Turn! in 1965, with the hit title song and two Bob Dylan covers, included the track “Satisfied Mind.”

“I had heard that song by Porter Wagoner when he had the hit on it, and loved it. I loved the lyric. It was great. It was perfect for The Byrds. And I talked the guys into doing it,” Hillman says. “It was the first time we had really done a country song,” he says. But he adds, “It wasn’t a stretch for us. It never was. Because we were basically folk musicians, you know. I was more bluegrass, but we did not come from a garage rock band background. I would say we literally plugged our amps into the wall, and started to transpose, going from acoustic to electric.”’

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TVD SLR30 Premieres: Flowers, “Erik” and Neutrals, “Personal Computing”

Slumberland Records winds up its 18-month, 30th anniversary series, offering a baker’s dozen of SLR30 singles with a pair of 45s getting their debut here at The Vinyl District.

From England comes the trio Flowers, who have cited the Slumberland ethic as an influence since the noisy indie pop band formed in London eight years ago. “Flowers always wanted to release a record on Slumberland,” the band says.

“Erik” is the band’s first single since 2017, and concerns the antics of a wayward pet hamster, with Rachel Kennedy’s ethereal voice rising over Sam Ayres guitar and Jordan Hockley’s drums. When issued to subscribers November 13, “Candour” will be the B-side.

The trio Neutrals are out of San Francisco, who issued an album in 2019 on Emotional Response Records and an EP earlier this year on Domestic Departure. The jagged guitar pop of “Personal Computing,” the final entry in the SLR30 Singles Series, looks back to the intersection of pop music and home computing, back in the days when you could “buy dodgy bootleg Spectrum games like Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, etc, from the same stall at Barras in Glasgow where you could buy illicit recordings of the gigs that went on there at night,” says the band’s Allan McNaughton, who moved from Scotland to the Bay Area decades ago.

“‘Personal Computing’ takes nostalgia for that simpler time—typing BASIC into your ZX81 from a printed magazine, buzzing tape head cleaner to get high—to the point of obsession or even fetish.” Recorded just before COVID-19 locked down the world, “In the Future” continues the theme on the flip, also out on November 13.

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David Johansen tries to right a ‘Sinking Ship’

PHOTO: SIKELIA PRODUCTIONS | Nearly 40 years ago, when an inept politician took control in Trinidad and Tobago after the first prime minister leader died suddenly, the calypso singer Gypsy recorded a call to action. Not only was “Sinking Ship” a hit, it preceded both the worst ever electoral defeat of George Chambers’ party in 1986 and the rise of Gypsy, also known as Winston Peters, to his own political career, as member of Parliament. Now, David Johansen, onetime lead singer of The New York Dolls and the Harry Smiths, as well as accomplished solo artist, has taken up the call for his own country.

Johansen, 70, has released his own version of “Sinking Ship,” needing to only tweak a few lyrics to have it apply to America’s political condition. “I’ve always liked the song,” Johansen told The Vinyl District over the phone recently. Having recently played it on his own wide-ranging Mansion of Fun radio show on Sirius XM, it struck him, he said. “I should sing this song and make it about the U.S.”

Out now on streaming services, “Sinking Ship” doesn’t have to provide a lot of background on its target. “He’s unhinged! He’s gonna kill us all!” he begins. “This is an S.O.S. from the U.S.A.” He substitutes Barack Obama for Trinidad’s Eric Williams as a beloved and competent former leader and adds just a few key details: “Locking children up in cages / Dog-whistling your racists / How low can we go?” The solution to righting the ship, as it was in Trinidad, is up to the citizenry. “It’s up to you, it’s up to me,” Johansen sings, as Gypsy once did.

And where there is a soundbite from a Trinidadian politician on the original, a couple of quotes from Trump appear in the new one from “You should ask China” to “It’s going to disappear one day, it’s like a miracle,” as the singer puts on a face mask.

“Sinking Ship” returns Johansen to the island sounds that fueled his biggest hit under the name Buster Poindexter, his 1987 cover of Arrow’s soca “Hot Hot Hot.” Calypso musicians are especially known for their topical songs, which helped fuel the independence movement in Trinidad and Tobago in the mid-1950s and later grew to comment on world events from artists such as Lord Kitchener to Mighty Sparrow.

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The Go-Go’s Reborn in Showtime Documentary

They weren’t the first all female rock band. Nor were they the first female band to write their own songs or play their own instruments. Rather, the very specific superlative accomplishment of The Go-Go’s is that they were the first all-female rock band who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments to become so successful—when their indelible 1981 debut album Beauty and the Beat went to No. 1.

Their seemingly swift rise, coupled with their own glamor and spunk, was followed by the inevitable slump and backlashes afforded such a band. By 1985, they had broken up. But many of their songs remain vibrant and sturdy all these years later, and were most recently featured in a 2018 Broadway production Head Over Heels. The band’s occasional reunions over the past few decades never fail to spark New Wave nostalgia among their fans.

Now their story is being told in perhaps the most complete way in Alison Ellwood’s new documentary The Go-Go’s, premiering Saturday, August 1 at 9PM on Showtime. Ellwood is becoming something of the queen of rockumentaries of late, following the big two part Laurel Canyon earlier this summer for Epix, and The History of the Eagles.

Here, it’s bracing to whip from early footage of teenage fans Belinda Carlisle or Jane Wiedlin ringing stages at early LA punk shows to seeing them today with the other band members—all in their early to mid 60s, with at least one of them already eligible for Medicare. As strange as it might seem to see a grey-haired Wiedlin, emulating the sharpest mom at PTA, or the impossibly sleek Carlisle, looking (and sounding) like Gloria Steinem, telling their remarkable tale, they also share a kind of sisterhood that means that even if they didn’t speak for five years following their bitter breakup, the bond would eventually bring them back together.

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Save Our Stages: David Byrne and Benjamin Clementine at the Anthem in Washington, DC, 5/12/18

During this period of historic uncertainty, the fight for the survival of our independent record stores is directly mirrored by the dark stages of our local independent theatres, clubs, and performance spaces which have been shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been cited as well that 90% of these concert venues may never, ever return.

Enter the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) whose #SaveOurStages campaign has provided a spotlight on this perilous predicament with a unique mission to “preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States.” Without help from Congress the predictions are indeed quite dire and TVD encourages you support the S. 3814/H.R. 7481, the RESTART Act, by telling your legislators to save independent music venues via the form that can be filled out and forwarded right here.

This week as we did last week, we’re turning our own spotlight onto previous live concert coverage as a reminder of the need to preserve the vitality of live music venues across the country—and indeed across the globe—and while we’re at it to celebrate the work of the fine photographers and writers at TVD who are all itching to get back into the pit. 

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNSDavid Byrne has always been as interested in visual art as in music. So his tours with the Taking Heads became increasingly more creative performance pieces with the herky, jerky music, big suits, and band movements to accompany his spiky, polyrthmic sounds. His solo tours were often just as arresting, and for the current “American Utopia” tour accompanying his first solo album in 16 years, he is breaking new ground.

On the vast, completely empty stage at the Anthem Saturday, ringed only by a curtain of chains, he appeared at a table and chair and picked up the life-sized model of a brain as he pointed out hemispheres of the organ and sang, “Here is a region of abundant details, here is a region that is seldom used…” It was just about the last stage props put on the stage. When joined by his musicians—nine all dressed in similar grey suits and two singers—they were all fully portable.

With wireless microphones, a wireless bass, wireless guitar, and wireless keyboard (which provided a lot of the sound), fully half of the musicians were assigned to parts of what would be a traditional drum set—toms, snare, timbale, other percussion—as if they were ready to be a marching band. Instead of striding into the crowd in formation though, they moved in planned patterns, stood 12-people across, or in two six-person lines, in a circle or a pinwheel in what must be the most choreographed rock concert for musicians ever devised.

So unusual did it seem, with nary a snaking wire, microphone stand, effects box, amp, or drum set in sight that it almost seemed like an all-dancing, little-playing track show. Byrne had to stop in the middle of the show to point out that it was not the case. Indeed, the dozen could have marched down the aisles and into the boxes, wifi willing, but chose to stay on the well-lit set, which changed hue or intensity with every song.

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Save Our Stages: Ex
Hex and The Messthetics at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, 5/10/19

During this period of historic uncertainty, the fight for the survival of our independent record stores is directly mirrored by the dark stages of our local independent theatres, clubs, and performance spaces which have been shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been cited as well that 90% of these concert venues may never, ever return.

Enter the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) whose #SaveOurStages campaign has provided a spotlight on this perilous predicament with a unique mission to “preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States.” Without help from Congress the predictions are indeed quite dire and TVD encourages you support the S. 3814/H.R. 7481, the RESTART Act, by telling your legislators to save independent music venues via the form that can be filled out and forwarded right here.

This week and next we’ll be turning our own spotlight onto previous live concert coverage as a reminder of the need to preserve the vitality of live music venues across the country—and indeed across the globe—and while we’re at it to celebrate the work of the fine photographers and writers at TVD who are all itching to get back into the pit. 

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Mixed amid the sheer exhilaration of an Ex Hex gig at the 9:30 Club is the added pride of a hometown date. The DC rockers led by Mary Timony, once of Helium, Wild Flag, and Autoclave, quite rightfully nearly sold out the place, but I’m wondering why the trio isn’t selling out everywhere they go.

The songs are catchy, the guitars rock out, the female harmonies alternately bracing and empowering. Female-led bands aren’t the novelty they once were, thankfully, and the trio has moved into trying to recreate the crunching, double-guitar attack of arena rock. But they’re better than that, with catchier songs that are smarter and more fun. One quietly has to be happy they aren’t bigger than they are, or they’d be in some cavernous theater or arena instead of a cozier rock club.

Closing out a six-week US tour to boost their newest release on Merge, It’s Real, the band seemed as fresh as if starting it, a big neon logo behind them underscoring their determination to glow. Topping a bill that also boasted the best of DC rock, particularly The Messthetics, the instrumental power trio of guitar whiz Anthony Pirog with the Fugazi rhythm section of Brendan Canty on drums and Joe Lally on bass, the night seemed to make a case of the health of rock in the Nation’s Capital.

Ex Hex is almost sunny compared to their darker sound, but there’s every indication that Timony wants to stretch things out on guitar as well, even if her songs seem best suited to be short and exuberantly punchy as anything from the Ramones. She means to get more textures and aggressive sharpness with every release, though, with a couple of the tracks on It’s Real clocking in at over five minutes.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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