THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Go Dog Go: Old Enough and Good Enough!

Go Dog Go
Old Enough
(GDG Music, 2018)

Go Dog Go - Old Enough (GDG Music 74718, 2018). Cover and all GDG graphics by Smith Design (smithdesignbalto.com)

On their debut album, Baltimore garage rock quartet Go Dog Go take a page from Stuart Smiley and prove not only that they are Old Enough, but good enough, smart enough and - doggone it - people like them! Though their social media tagline is "This is not your parent's garage rock," in a way this mostly middle-aged band really is "your dad's garage band" - at least as far as bassist Greg Breazeale and guitarist Tom Cohan are concerned. Both are "cool dads" and, in Greg's case, his son Brandon is the band's drummer. And that's what makes this totally unpretentious band so good; they look forward into the past (or as one song puts it: they "Take It All Back.") These are Songs of Experience - not tales of innocence, passing fancy or this month's flavor.

Julie Smith, Greg Breazeale, Tom Cohan, Brandon Breazeale 

With the exception of young Brandon (a Joe Flacco lookalike who is clearly the band's heart-throb and a drummer of effortless stamina, not to mention precision timing), Go Dog Go is a Who's Who of seasoned rockers who've learned to "walk the dog" of various genres, treading the bumpy Nuggets and Pebbles-strewn pathways of 1960s Garage Rock, cutting their teeth on the Raspberries-flavored sugar rush of Powerpop and Glam, and riding the crest of the New Wave and all the backwater Punk/Post-Punk grunge that washed up at the Marble Bar and other venues in the '70s and '80s.

Go Dog Go perform at the 2018 Hampden Festival
Go Dog Go play the 2017 Hampden Festival

Greg Breazeale (Beaver's Cleavers, Pennyless & The Loafers), Tom Cohan (Zehn Archar, Square One, Big As a House) and keyboardist Julie Smith (Elements of Design, Social Skill, DelMarvas) have seen it all, heard it all and played it all. And they have come full circle back to their roots, to the music they were weaned on: classic 3-minute pop songs with clever lyrics, pleasing melodies and solid guitar and keyboard-driven riffs (the latter combo recalling the glory days of The Zombies, Doors, Animals, Dave Clark Five, Spencer Davis Group, Vanilla Fudge, ELP, et al, when piano ticklers and organ grinders were front and center on the bandstand).

This is not "message" rock. There are no mentions of the #MeToo Movement, the political divide or race relations. This is irreverent, fun-filled rock that takes your mind away from the pressing concerns of adulthood, work and children. It name-checks the kind of ordinary, everyday, universally-relatable issues that everyone experiences: boys, girls, infatuation, love, loss, even encroaching middle-age (the downward spiral that is a "Slippery Slope"). And rock and roll, the great savior. (We all got a home in dat dere Rock!) Don't forget, the band takes its name from P.D. Eastman's playful 1961 children's book Go Dog Go!, whose grand finale features all the dogs going to a party.

Though Greg Breazeale is the main songwriter (he wrote nine of the 12 originals on the album, with Julie Smith penning the title track "Old Enough," "Dig You," and "Take It All Back"), the vocals are equally divided. Everyone sings, and sings well. Greg has the greatest range and sings the higher octaves, Julie hits the lower registers with her pleasing (shades of Julie London?) smoky timbre, and Tom handles the down-and-dirty screamers (he could easily be in The Hives - whose "Hate To Say I Told You So" routinely graces Go Dog Go's live set), augmented by his equally gritty guitar chords and blistering solos.

Speaking of guitarists, Go Dog Go initially planned to have a two-guitar line-up, with Greg and Tom plucking the 6-strings and Dave Cawley on bass, but Dave (already playing in Garage Sale) opted out and Greg switched over to bass. (Later still another Tom, former Boy Meets Girl guitarist Tom McNickle, jammed with the band, but he too dropped out after a few practices, spoiling a potential reunion with Cohan, his one-time bandmate in The Flip 5, aka The Retrievers.)

Guitarist Tom Cohan embarks on another blistering solo

Probably GDG's vocals are so evenly distributed because this is a fairly laid-back, ego-less group of musicians who tend to shy away from the spotlight. They've certainly been there before, but this is far from their first rodeo and - meh - it's no big deal to them. Affable and unflappable, Greg Breazeale is only the frontman because, as he once said, "No one else wanted to be." There are no I's in team Go Dog Go.
  • Go Baby Go (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • Old Enough (Lead vocal: Julie)
  • Long Way Home (Lead vocal: Tom) 
  • I Dig You (Lead  vocal: Julie)
  • I Tried (To Get Over You) (Lead vocal: Tom)
  • We Threw It All Away (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • No Looking Back (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • Stop and Think It Over (Lead vocal: Julie)
  • Slippery Slope (Lead vocal: Tom)
  • Take It All Back (Lead vocal: Julie)
  • Get Up! (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • There Is Something We Can Hold Onto (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • Time Is Running Out (Lead vocal: Greg)
  • Don't Look Back (Lead vocal: Tom)

Greg Breazeale: "Ego? We Threw It All Away!"

Two of Old Enough's 14 tracks are covers: The Remains' hard-driving 1966 single "Don't Look Back" (sung with appropriately raucous energy by Tom Cohan) and "Stop and Think It Over," an early '90s song by Memphis-based garage band The Compulsive Gamblers that Julie Smith makes sound like a classic '60s Girl Group hit.

OK, here's a track-by-track breakdown:

1. Opener "Go Baby Go" is GDG's "Monkees Theme," their signature song that typically opens their live shows and here sets the tone for what's to follow. When I hear the exhortation "Go, baby, go!" it instantly makes me think of the Swinging '60s (specifically, for me, the opening go-go bar scene in Russ Meyers' Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), which I don't think is coincidental. The irresistable beat and Julie's flying keyboard runs capture a long-lost era of ring-a-ding swingdom.

2. "Old Enough" finds Julie lamenting lapses of judgment at a party (hmmm, kegger?) and lamenting that while her choices (and senses) should be better, she's "old enough to know better." Yes I got an invitation and there is an explanation/Some things are better left unsaid and there's a thousand voices racing through my head now...Yes my my choices should be better, it's not my fault she took a header, ha!" This was the first song Julie wrote for Go Dog Go and its quality more than justifies its status as the album's title track.

Julie Smith: Old Enough to know better (Photo by David A. Wright)

3. "Long Way Home" opens with a grungy guitar riff before sequeing into a delightful Love American Style chorus of Pa...Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa's reminiscent of The Cowsills (or by entension, The Partridge Family) as Tom sings "I've said it before and I'll say it again/I wish you were my friend." Sick and tired of being alone, he resolves to meet up with the object of his heart's desire, taking the long way home (like Supertramp!) for some quality time. There are no shortcuts on the road to true love - but there will be pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa's!

4. "I Dig You" - Julie Smith's lyrics are quite brilliant in a finger-snapping tune that could have fit nicely in a Combustible Edison setlist or on the soundtrack of a Swinging '60s movie. The song addresses the single gal's plight in the dating world, one in which, once again, she realizes she's "Old Enough" to know better about acting on an infatuation.

"Fell in a well, under a spell, I gotta hope you are, too/Don't overthink, don't oversell/Try not to yell, oh what the hell...This is all so scary and new/What do I wear? Where do I stand?"

The song concludes with Julie realizing the guy's a jerk: "Why did I say I dig you?/I'm in dismay, please go away/Nothing you said rings true now."

Hey, we've all been there: love is a rose and, when you pick it, you sometimes cut yourself on a thorn.

5. "I Tried (To Get Over You)" - This funky blues-rocker set to a "Stepping Stone" beat sounds like a lost Standells tune, with Greg Breazeale's bass slithering along like a coiled cobra alongside Tom's crunchy power chords and Julie's keyboard flavorings.

6. "We Threw It All Away" finds Greg himself auditioning for a place in The Hives in this break-neck rocker about youthful folly and moving on to the next good thang.

"Hey, we had a good thing now/But you, you wanted a ring now/Time they say will tell, but that's just a wishing well/All this talk, talk, talk, with nothing to say/And so we threw it all away....Time they say will tell/But damned we're better off today/Everything is so much better today because we threw it all away."

7. "No Looking Back" - Time out for a downbeat ballad, nice and smooth, that finds Greg alone in his tower, moping that nothing lasts in his hour of darkness: "Am I afraid of the shadows out of the past? Am I finally turning the corner? Is there no looking back?" Maybe not, but "leaning forward" (in today's MSNBC parlance) he catches up with a new friend. They talk all night, and he finds someone who finally "brights the night." Acoustic guitar and Julie's stately keyboard accompaniment carry the song and lend it poignancy.

8. "Stop and Think It Over" (written by Greg Cartwright) - Originally sung by guitarist Greg Cartwright of The Compulsive Gamblers, here Julie Smith flips the pronouns (gender fluidity - how contemporary!) to make it her own, plus Tom takes a slick little solo (short and sweet) on the bridge. Classic and transcendent!

Fave lines: "Now all your friends, they say I'm bad/I ain't no different from any other girl you've had before/Except I'll love you more/You'd better stop and think it over...Think it over boy - you've got a big decision..."...and, as Julie's vocals advise, you'd better be "all in," boy!

9. "Slippery Slope" - This is my favorite GDG song because it's about being middle-aged, something me and GDG can certainly relate to! Tom Cohan sings that there's a party on the corner where everyone is packed into the kitchen..."The veggie platter is delivered/Moms are pounding their white wine/We are all in bed by 9/I've been down this road before/That slippery slope that leads to BORED. Welcome to my life, at 54!" He flashes back to a "TBT" (Throwback Thursday, in Facebook Speak) moment from 1983, back when "our family were all free." But it's a slippery slope down going Memory Lane because that was then, and 54 is now. Or, as author Tana French says, "Nostalgia is laziness with prettier accessories."

10. "Take It All Back" - Julie's third poppy GDG tune uses the metaphor of a speeding train to chronicle a bumpy relationship that's gotten "off  track" and looks like it may derail.

"I know what you're thinking/Not the words that you're speaking/That train is rolling faster, heading straight for disaster/You've gotten my attention, with the things you didn't mention/It's really not too late/The choice is yours, don't hesitate." 

Slowing down, the singer hits the brakes -  and a note of reconciliation - to add:

We're done with all the fighting/Our story we'll just be writing
I'd take it all back/Everything's been said
I took it all back/Full steam ahead

The optimistic change in outlook is mirrored by Tom's extended soloing that takes the song into the station, where it expertly stops on a dime.

11. "Get Up!" - In a serious toe-tapper, Greg and sonny boy Brandon implore listeners to "Get up, we're knocking you down!" Is it a call to resistance or to hit the dance floor? The lyrics are simplistic, like a fist-pumping Slade stadium rocker - We're still spinning around, get up we're knocking you down - making it a perfect crowd-pleaser. A highlight of their live set, needless to say.

Brandon says: "Get up! We're knocking you down!"

Joe says: "Now that's a good-looking kid!"

12. "There Is Something We Can Hold Onto" -  In a radical change of pace, Greg starkly intones over Julie's eerie synth fills and Tom's dark minor chording in this moody ballad from the '80s New Wave playbook. A little bit Goth, a little bit neo-psychedlic, all-brooding.

13. "Time Is Running Out" - Not to be confused with the Steve Winwood song, here the foursome gets back on the pop bandwagon in a rollicking toe-tapper as time, and the album's tracks, are running out. An over-the-hill, there's-no-turning-the-clock-back middle-aged reality check, Greg nevertheless is resigned to it because, as Larry Vega puts it: What the Hell Ya Gonna Do (WTHYGD)? "Time is running out/I'll see you on the other side/I don't think there's another side/Time is running out, over and out...Good luck and goodbye!

14. "Don't Look Back" (written by Billy Vera) - Get your kicks on U.S. Nostalgia Route '66! Tom Cohan, a veteran of American Garage Rock (from his days playing with R&B Roots master Richard Taylor and Zehn Archar), is firmly in his element essaying this 1966 Billy Vera classic Nugget from The Remains' back catalog. Chunky bad-ass guitar riffs, Julie's swirling organ runs, Tom's snarling lead and the band's call-and-response chorus do Vera's original verily well. Props to Tops of the Garage Pops!

Two years since forming, Go Dog Go have already recorded 14 songs and Greg and Julie have even more in store, so stayed tuned to the usual social media sites for updates.

Good enough as Old Enough is, it's still no substitute for seeing the band live, where the energy is infectious and you never know what cover song will grace that night's set, like garage revivalists Jarvis Humby's "We Say Yeah," which opened their set at the 2017 Hampdenfest. (See Richard Taylor's video for "We Say Yeah" here.) Besides the Hives, I also recall hearing some Sonics and even a Replacements tune - the latter no doubt at 'Mats fanatic Cohan's prompting! - at GDG shows. But if you can't catch a show around town, Old is more than Enough to start with!

Go Fetch!: Old Enough is available for download, streaming or old-school CD purchase (for those of us who still like to fill rubbish dumps with our detritus) at bandcamp.com. You can also stream the album on Spotify. Additionally, "I Tried (To Get Over You" and "I Dig You" are available for free listening at SoundCloud. The album was recorded at Reggie Bladder Studios (aka Greg's basement) in Ellicott City, where it was produced by Greg Breazeale and mixed by Brandon Breazeale.

Go Dog Go are:
Greg Breazeale (bass &vocals)
Brandon Breazeale (drums & vocals)
Tom Cohan (guitar & vocals)
Julie Smith (keyboards & vocals)

Related Links:
Go Dog Go official site (godog-go.com)
Go Dog Go (Facebook)
Go Dog Go (Bandcamp)
Go Dog Go (YouTube)

Monday, October 29, 2018

WOWD's "Forbidden Alliance" Halloween Show (10-28-2018)

Special Guests: Chick Veditz, LesLee Anderson and Kim Kane

Kim Kane, Chick Veditz and LesLee Anderson with Robbie White and Weasel

"Forbidden Alliance" is Robbie White and Weasel's 9 a.m-to-noon Sunday morning retro rock program on Takoma Park's WOWD-LP (94.3 FM) radio station. These two DJs are music historians who know a thing or two because they've heard a thing or two, especially when it comes to the DC music scene. (The program title itself is taken from a Slickee Boys song on their 1979 Limp Records EP.)

"Forbidden Alliance," from the Slickee Boys 3rd EP (Limp Records, 1979)

But one of the things they also know all too well is the legacy of Baltimore's Marble Bar, which is lovingly celebrated whenever LesLee Anderson and Chick Veditz make the trek down to 7014 Westmoreland Drive in Takoma Park, and the October 28, 2018 program was no exception. This Halloween Weekend show was all Treat, though there were some Trix (Trixy & The Testones, to be specific).

Fordbidden Alliance - Halloween Show (10-28-2018)

Robbie White & Weasel hosted former Marble Bar empress LesLee Anderson and Slickee Boy Kim Kane (whose DC band played the Marble enough times to be considered honorary locals) live in studio, while Baltimore's Legendary Records maestro Chick Veditz "curated" (as the Millennials so love to say) a customized playlist for the occasion. Following an opening 90 minutes of timely horror-themed Halloween music, Chick spent the next half of the show spinning the indie punk-pop platters that mattered to those who lost their marbles at The Marble during its glory years from 1977-1987. It was great to hear Chick, LesLee and Kim reminisce about the Marble and DC bands and respective club circuits - and to hear that LesLee is writing a memoir! (As The Replacements sing, "I'll buy, buy, buy, buy, buy!") The fundraiser show also raised over $11,000 dollars, including a donation from Dundalk philanthropist Adolf Kowalski.

Amy and I tuned in just as Robbie played The Accused's "Time Out" back-to-back with Trixy & the Testones' cover of "Palisades Park." Chick pointed out that both bands featured Kraig "Trixy" Krixer, whom he characterized as "the best or one of the best" guitarists to come out of Charm City during this era.

Kraig Krixer with his custom KT Teardrop guitar,  modeled after Brian Jones' Vox Mark III (photo: Jay Grabowski)

Agreed, but I'd have to add that B-more's Guitar God was a three-headed deity, like King Ghidorah, that also included the noggins of Mark Harp (Mark "Harpo" Linthicum of Null Set, Cabal, Beatoes, etc., etc.) and Charlie Gatewood (Mr. Urbanity of Thee Katatonix and Dark Carnival). Alas, only Gatewood is still with us, Krixer having passed in 2011 and Harp in 2004. (On the DC side, that triumvirate of six-stringed samarais would have to include Tommy Keene, Slickee Boy Marshall Keith and Danny Gatton, natch.)

Mark Harp with Null Set

Charlie Gatewood (Mr. Urbanity) with Thee Katatonix

It was so fun to hear Baltimore bands get their due, among them Dave Wilcox's Pooba ("Poison," featuring Kraig Krixer), Lambs Eat Ivy ("Serpentine"), Judie's Fixation ("Martyr Me"), Thee Katatonix ("Ordinary Sunday), Da Moronics ("Mr. President), Food for Worms ("Pink Dishes"), The Dark Side ("Fun in Nicaragua"), The Raisinets ("Stay Limp" - FYI, Chuck Stephens and Bob Greenberg of The Raisinets were one of four bands that played at Chick's inaugural Anniversary Party in July 1978, along with The Reason, Loose Shoes Rhythm Band and, of course, The Slickee Boys), Elements of Design ("I Love a Man with Rhythm," from Merkin Record's 1989 Seedy Sampler record) and Braver Noise, featuring former members of The Bollocks and Law and Order, and whose "The Smiths Have Gone To Heaven" (also from Merkin's Seedy Sampler) I had never heard before. How could I have missed this classic, replete with signature Johnny Marr guitar riffs? Thanks Chick!

And it was great to hear LesLee give props to the gals of the Marble Bar, notably Rosie Wampler (she of a million bands - including Elements of Design - all of them great), Cindy Borchardt (The Beaters, The Monuments, Judie's Fixation)...

Cindy Borchardt

Rosalie Wampler

...and former John Waters star Edith Massey ("Punks, Get Off the Grass").

Edith Massey - "Punks, Get Off the Grass" (Egg Records, 1982)

LesLee reminded listeners that Edie Massey used to celebrate her birthday with an "extravaganza" at the Marble Bar during her "punk" phase. All agreed that Edie was a sweetheart, somebody who brushed off a heckler at a 9:30 Club show by saying, "Oh, I don't mind. That fella's just having a bad day."

Speaking of Mr. Waters' Dreamlander stars, Chick also had Robbie & Wease play "Born To Be Cheap" by erstwhile pop diva Divine ("Born To Be Cheap," from his 1982 appearance Live on David Letterman).

Divine - "Born To Be Cheap" single (Situation Two, 1981)

People sometimes forget that Edie wasn't the only Waters pop star. Mark Harp, for one, was a big fan of Divine's records - he even asked Divine about his success on the UK Pop Charts when he was in the audience during a 1984 Divine-Waters appearance on WJZ-TV's "People Are Talking"!

And LesLee revealed that she went to school with another Waters alumnus, Cookie Mueller! (I really want to read LesLee's memoirs now!). She then asked if anyone had seen  the new "I'm So Beautiful" Divine mural, painted by Gaia, on the side of the Earl Court Apartments on E. Preston Streets between St. Paul and Calvert Streets (as shown below).

Divine: "I'm So Beautiful" mural by Gaia

On the DC damsels side, The Dynettes' Cheri Grasso and Ruthie Logsdon of Ruthie and The Wranglers got shout-outs as well, and even stopped by the studio to help with the pledge drive. (Needless to say, Cheri's bandmates Martha Hull - the only female Slickee Boy - and Diana "Tru Fax" Quinn deserve shout-outs as well!). I hope this Forbidden Alliance (of Balto-DC bands as well as Baltimore-Montgomery County DJs - don't forget, Weasel's Wild Weekend starts on Fridays and Saturdays up in Towson on WTMD 89.7 FM) continues to be a regular format and that WOWD continues to WOW and D-light.

Related Links:
Forbidden Alliance WOWD FM (Facebook)
Forbidden Alliance 10-28-2018 Show (MixCloud)
"Forbidden Alliance" (archived radio programs)
Marble Bar (Baltimore) (Facebook)
Kraig Krixer, R.I.P. (Baltimore Or Less)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

French Ticklers

Author: Tana French

As part of my library's Adult Summer Reading Challenge, I started reading Irish mystery writer Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. Here's my summer reading report:

I picked up the last two Tana French Dublin Murder Squad series books (THE SECRET PLACE #5 and THE TRESPASSER #6) at a used bookstore and the Rehoboth Beach Public Library, respectively. I was instantly hooked by the poetry of the writing, the author's eye for descriptive details, and the intelligence of the ever-twisty plots. But the real hook here was the depth of the characters (especially the women, to wit: Cassie Maddox and Antoinette Conway) and the skill with which French gives a revolving cast of narrators their changing point of view in the narratives. You get equal parts whodunit and psychological study.

THE SECRET PLACE and THE TRESPASSER team feisty chip-on-her-shoulder Antoinette Conway with the more socially fluent Stephen Moran. THE SECRET PLACE is told from Moran's POV, as the young detective seizes an opportunity to join the Murder Squad by solving a case with the contrarian Conway. The plot involves a murder of a popular young Romeo at an Irish high school that points at the involvement of two rival cliques at a nearby girl's school. In THE TRESPASSER, the voices are reversed, with Antoinette narrating a story about the murder of a pretty young blonde that on its surface looks to be an open-and-shut case against a jilted boyfriend - but that is rife with office politics and potential corruption at the Murder Squad. I hope the next Murder Squad installment continues the adventures of Conway and Moran, though French likes to move on with her narrators, like a relay race runner passing the baton.

By the time I went back to read her debut, IN THE WOODS, I was rewarded with another guy-gal pair of detectives, but instead of the walking-on-glass tension of Conway and Moran's relationship, the team of Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan are almost like a married couple. Both are thoroughly likable, though with mysterious backstories that will come back to haunt this narrative about a murdered child from a troubled family in a troubled town. By the time the case is resolved, more than just a child’s life is lost. The collateral damage is significant and will affect the Murder Squad in unforetold ways.

IN THE WOODS is told from the point of view of Rob Ryan, a man on a secret quest. Ryan lays it all out in the first chapter when he confesses, "What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this - two things. I crave truth. And I lie." Beware, reader. All is not what it seems, nor is it headed where you think. But it's too late to turn back; as with all French's stories, you've already bought your ticket. As you buckle in for the adventure, get ready to enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

BritFest 2018: God Save the Queen!

A Celebration of All Things British

June 9, 2018
Maryland Polo Club
Jarrettsville, MD

On Saturday, June 9, we ventured north to the green and pleasant grounds of the Maryland Polo Club in Jarrettsville, MD, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's official 92nd birthday and "all things British" at BritFest 2018. Now in its second year, organizer Hugh Anderson's "Anglophile Woodstock" gives Limey-leaning fans in the Mid-Atlantic region an opportunity to toast Britain's longest reigning monarch while enjoying a full day of events celebrating Old Blighty.

Tottenham Tommy congratulated "Lizzie" (Her Highness to youse) at BritFest 2017

In addition to the day's big sporting event, a polo match pitting the US of A against England (whose team quartet included the veddy English-named Lolly Stanhope-White), attendees got to enjoy sampling British food (fish & chips, sausage rolls, meat pies, haggis, bridies, Welsh Cakes!), beers (stouts, lagers, IPAs and the creatively named Orkney Skull Splitter!) and spirits (Pimm's Cup, Gin & Tonic!), crafts, and British rock music courtesy of Mrs. Thatcher and Shag the Band.

Newlyweds Harry and Meghan apologize for not inviting Amy to their nuptials. "It's OK," Amy said. "I was having brunch at the diner with my parents in Dundalk anyway!"

While my wife may boast that she is more English than me (41% to 38%, according to our Ancestry.com DNA results), my name alone makes me an honorary "Tommy," and together we form a powerful alliance dedicated to celebrating all things British - except, perhaps, their dental hygiene. The weather report called for thundershowers throughout the afternoon - I guess it wouldn't be a truly British experience without a downpour (and unreliable weather is the reason why Queen Elizabeth's actual April 21 birthday is celebrated in the summer, usually the second Saturday in June)  - but when we arrived shortly after 11 a.m., the sun had put the nip to any thoughts of precip: it was bright and cheery in this pastoral stretch of Harford County.

"I say old chap, fancy a cuppa?"

Actually, Bob WAS my uncle! (Robert Soulsby to youse!)

Wearing my Go Brit! t-shirt (from the famous Rehoboth Beach fish & chips restaurant) while Amy donned her classic Beatles tee (and toted her showin'-her-dad's-roots Welsh dragon purse), we proceeded to get our Brit on.

First up was listening to the Swinging '60s it's-trad-dad British rock sounds of Mrs. Thatcher, whose set list included the usual suspects - Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks - as well as a much-appreciated mini Faces homage (hearing "Oo-la-la" and "Maggie May" back-to-back made my day!) as Amy sampled Welsh cakes and sausage rolls and I tried a Pimm's Cup. I had always heard of this English cocktail (my well-traveled brother had brought a bottle back from one his many trips across the Pond) and wanted to try one; sad to say, this traditional thirst-quencher for cricket matches was too sweet for me (though I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more last year, when the inaugural BritFest was unforgivably hot and humid).

Q: And 'oo's Mrs. Thatcher when she's at home? A: Rockers who're conservative in name only

As we walked past the various vendors (including the annoying hard-sell home improvement tent - the answer's still "No, thanks! Ta!"), we enjoyed meeting many Brits from all over the Isle (London, Berkshire, Essex, Wales), including Birmingham Brummies "Barry" (who told us his name was Celtic for "spear chucker" - alas, he left his spear back home in Reston, VA) and BCPL librarian John (a former Bookmobile driver - it doesn't get cooler in the library field than these guys!).

'Sup Holmes? Tom dons his deerstalker as he tries to deduce whether rain is imminent

Following a bagpipe and drums musical prelude (courtesy of the John F. Nicoll Pipe Band), we lifted our cups to toast the Queen on her official 92nd birthday with British consulate rep David Hunt (who guaranteed another English World Cup victory - erm, wonder what was he was drinking?). Speaking of footy, Britfest presenter Hugh Anderson is a Man U supporter and their kits were the most frequently spotted, along with 2 Man City, 2 Arsenal, and a lone West Ham supporter, not to mention several England national football and rugby jerseys. (Though no one sported a Tottenham jersey, every Brit I talked football with had kind words for my Spurs; could it be that, except for Arsenal supporters, Spurs are the beloved "Ringo's" of the English Premier League that no one has a harsh word for? Hmmm, a theory...)

Amy loves a man in uniform - and certainly had no beefs with the Beefeaters at BritFest 2017

As the day progressed, the rains that were forecast duly came, not once but twice, turning the fields into muddy marshes and curtailing the polo match (the US was ahead 3-1 last time I looked). (Mental note: next year wear "Wellies" like the polo riders!) Good thing Amy came prepared with her emergency rain poncho and Mod English polka-dot rain cap!

"I say old chap, did you happen to bring a brolly?"

As the rain poured down with a fury, like the opening scene of Kurosowa's Rashomon, we sought refuge under a nearby tent and ravenously ate not one, but two meaty-beaty-big-and-tasty "Bridies" (meat pies). Props to the Loyola University Rugby Football Club (2018 Mid-Atlantic Cup Champions!), whose rain-soaked players braved the muddy plains to take carry-out orders and return with ice-cold beers for the grateful imbibers under the big top.

We waited out the deluge while Hugh Anderson took to the stage and urged attendees to stay the course, like Churchill's "We Can Take It" retort to Herr Hitler during the London Blitz. "Don't leave yet," he pleaded. "I still need another $5 from every one of you here to break even." He went on to promise sunshine and good times by 4 o'clock, when the day's final musical act, Shag the Band, were set to perform. I must say, Hugh was true to his word, as the rain dried up and the sun reemerged on the dot of 4.

"Sun's back," Old Bill bobby Amy advises the rain-soaked crowd. "Keep dry and carry on!"

We were then once again treated to the note-perfect Post-punk/Britpop stylings (Cure, Verve, Jam, Oasis, Depeche Mode, et al) of Shag the Band (who had previously performed, along with the Beatles tribute band Beatlemania Again, at the inaugural BritFest 2017). Where opening band Mrs Thatcher left off in the '70s, Shag picked up in the '80s and '90s and their backing tape loops enabled them to replicate the keys and synths on those Verve and Depeche Mode covers.

Shag the Band revived '80s and '90s Britpop

Over the (oft times muddy) course of the day, we ran into our friends John Rose and his son, Kelly Corin Burkhead and, natch, fellow Anglophile Karen Karen & her crew; Amy especially enjoyed trading "crazy mom" stories with Karen's half-Japanese friend Margaret, who regaled us with a tale about her mom sneaking a Japanese plant back to the States concealed in her underwear! And Detectorists fans take note: I think Lance was there, as an Inca yellow Triumph TR7 was spotted among the classic British cars on display. All in all it was, as Wallace and Gromit would put it, A Grand Day Out!

Let's see, did I leave anything out? Oh, yes, yada yada yada - and Bob's your uncle!

Tom strikes an avuncular chin-wag pose (or is he having an heart attack from eating all those meat pies?)

Related Links:
BritFest 2018 (Facebook)
Shag the Band
Beatlemania Again

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Vintage Underground (*****)

205 Second Street
Lewes, Delaware
Web: undergroundlewes.com
Facebook: undergroundlewes

The Vintage Underground is literally underground!

On our way to Rehoboth Beach for a much-needed break from work and home-repair stress, my wife Amy and I stopped in Lewes to visit the wonderful Biblion (meaning "little book" in Greek) used bookstore on the corner of Second and Market Streets. Since discovering this treasure trove of contemporary and antiquarian books (not to mention the best greeting cards and buttons) in the heart of historic downtown Lewes, it has become a regular stop on our Lower Shore getaways. Once inside, we noticed a sign that said a record store was around the corner. Cool, we thought, let's check it out, for we love records as much as we love books. (Yes, we are from the pre-digital streaming Physical Media Era.)

Biblion Books: Home of used books & rare finds 

Walking around the corner to Market Street, we descended the stairs and immediately heard a familiar-sounding "non-Kansas" Kansas accent. "Hey, that lady sounds just like the Biblion owner," I commented. "That's because it is her," observant Amy observed.

Yes, it's true! Biblion owner Jen Mason now also runs The Vintage Underground, where her finely curated "Inventory of Cool" features vintage vinyl and CDs, groovy vintage clothes, eccentric cards (Simon Drew! Edward Gorey!), snarky buttons, hip vintage rock mags like UGLY THINGS, miscellaneous tchotchkes and geegaws and, yes, even more books (and even more by Edward Gorey!).

Vintage Underground is split into two rooms. On the left, before you enter the record store proper, is a room full of men and women's clothing ranging from mid-century to the 1990s, with selected vintage pieces mixed in. As Mason explained to Cape Gazette writer Nick Roth ("Vintage Underground is hip new Lewes Shop," May 31, 2018), Vintage Underground is not a thrift or secondhand shop; she picks out all the clothing and music herself. And, sign-o'-the times, clothing is not separated by gender: "It's wear what you like. We have tops and tops."

Given my wife's flair for fashion, needless to say it took a good 30 minutes before she was able to pull herself away from the clothing racks to the music racks, where the collection includes a mix of new vinyl records from independent labels (like Jack Black's outstanding Detroit-based Third Man Records) and a carefully curated selection of used records. Mason takes pride in the shop's collection of jazz, blues, funk and soul - as well she should. Her Blue Note/Verve Jazz selection alone was worth the trip, and Anglophile Amy naturally managed to uncover a British Invasion compilation CD of bands appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. And as an Elvis Costello Completist, Amy also had to pick up the soundtrack to Wim Wenders 1991 film Until the End of the World because it had an Elvis song she didn't think she had (Elvis covering Ray Davies' "Days").

I went hog wild when I discovered a CD cache of Rhino's long-out-of-print New Wave Hits of the '80s because, well, where else am I gonna find digitized versions of oddball singles like The Normal's "Warm Leatherette" or Flying Lizards' "Money (That's What I Want)"? But the real find for me was scoring The Flashcubes' Bright Lights, an anthology of  21 punk-powerpop tunes by this classic '70s Syracuse rock group, who I had previously only heard one song by ("It's You Tonight" on Yellow Pills Vol. 1). All of these CDs were steals at $5 a pop.

Vintage Underground's decor is creative, the vibe is fun, the hip factor is off the hook, and the owner is genuinely warm and engaging. And in honor of Miles Davis's Memorial Weekend birthday, Jen told me that if I said "Happy Birthday, Miles!", she would give me one CD for half-off - I did (I chose a Dexter Gordon CD - I think both Miles and my dad would approve) and she did. Hey, that's swell!

Vintage Underground proprietess Jen Mason

So if, like us, you like to get physical with your media (books and records and CDs, oh my!), then Biblion and The Vintage Underground are not to be missed! You can spend hours in these shops - and we certainly did! Oh, and let the record show: I bought The Velvet Underground at The Vintage Underground! How's that for poetic justice?

Related Links:
"Vintage Underground a hip new Lewes Shop" (Cape Gazette)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Under the Big Top

@ Naughty Dogs Restuarant Pub & Grill
306 E Churchville Rd, Bel Air, MD
Saturday, April 28, 2018

On Saturday night we ventured far north past the deep suburban sprawl of Bel Air into the hinterlands of Churchville to witness the debut performance of Under the Big Top at a roadhouse pub & grill called Naughty Dogs (formerly Bull On the Beach).

Big Top reunited longtime friends Mark O'Connor (keyboards, vocals), Chuck Gross (bass, vocals) and Bruce Crawford (guitar, keys, vocals) from '70s Parkville popsters The Toys, with the addition of young-gun beardo Korey Hershberger - a hard-pounding drummer who also played with opening R&R covers duo Russ & Korey, featuring singer-guitarist Russ May.

Big Top's Bruce Crawford, Chuck Gross and Korey Hershberger

Russ May introduced the band as purveyors of "'60s psychedelic rock" and the quartet proceeded to play over an hour's worth of all-original rock 'n' roll that got greater Bel Air shaking its collective ass. The teeming standing-room-only crowd (apparently featuring a lot of Chuck Gross' workmates) was really supportive, enthusiastically dancing and hooting their approval. Which was a welcome surprise to O'Connor.

Mark O'Connor dials up the keys on "Rotary Phone"

After openers Russ & Korey finished their Great American Songbook set of popular Classic Rock to a rousing sing-along reception from the roadhouse crowd, a nervous Mark was worried that Big Top's unfamiliar original music would go over like the Sex Pistols playing to Texas cowpokes in 1977. "I just hope we don't get run out of town," he joked. He needn't have worried. Both crowd and performers were great.

Big Top's Bruce Crawford, strummin' and a-hummin'

According to Mark, all of Big Top's songs - with the exception of his "Lost and Found Ring" and "Valerie" (a solo electronics-heavy effort he recorded for the Fellow Commoner album) - were new, with about half of them written since the band got together this year. And, according to ertswhile Western High math teacher Bruce Crawford (whose open-air noggin was the exception-to-the-rule of the otherwise all-behatted Toppers), the songwriting was pretty evenly distributed, with each composer singing their tunes. "I think we did about four of my songs, four of Chuck's and four of Mark's," he said afterwards. Even drummer Korey chimed in, singing while keeping the beat on his own psychedelic-sounding original.

Though I didn't know any of these songs, and hadn't seen O'Connor and Gross play together since their days in the legendary Marble Bar all-star group The Beaters (featuring Joe Manfre and Mikel Gehl from Neige and vocalist Cindy Borchardt, later of the Monuments), nothing was lost in translation: the poppy tunes - always melodic, always well-played, invariably clever - were easily accessible and the hard-driving beat hard to resist. These guys are pros, well-seasoned with years of experience and with hundreds of songs in their repertoire.

Amy and I, along with former Towson University WCVT DJ (and current WVUD-University of Delaware jock) Rod Misey, were the lone representatives of the Marble Bar fanbase who might recall The Beaters. Rod Misey even has a recollection of Bruce Crawford getting up on stage with the Beaters once to play a Beatles song (which would make sense since the Toys used to dress up in Sgt. Pepper's outfits to do a Fab Four revue). But no one else remembered this, for, as I said, these guys have played a lot of songs in a lot of bands over a lot of years!

I shouted out a few requests for songs from Chuck's days playing with Mark in the synth-and-drum machine dominated Laff Clinic (nee Mad Habits) - like "Career Girls" (Chuck's Mid-Atlantic Song Contest winner from the early '80s) and "Monkey On His Back" - but they were surplus to needs, like bringing sand to the beach. Big Top already had plenty of new tunes to unveil, without needing to reach into their back catalog. Some of Chuck's newbies included "Jaundiced Judy," "Lava Lamp," "Mr. In Mezzo," "Gravity Hill," "Photograph" and "I Know You Left Me."

In a set full of memorable tunes, highlights included rock-opera-in-the-making "Rotary Phone" (chronicling, in Mark's words, "the tragic consequences when lovers can't reconcile the repercussions of one's attachment to outmoded technologies"), Chuck's scorching  "Lava Lamp," and Mark's rousing set-closer "Basement Revolution." Russ May even strapped on his acoustic guitar to get up and jam along with the band during the big finale.

This KORG is a Weapon: Mark O'Connor plots his "Basement Revolution"

Listen to Under the Big Top dial-up "Rotary Phone" (a partial recording, as my phone battery died!):

Listen to Under the Big Top play "Lava Lamp":

I didn't know the name of the following song, but Chuck sang something about everyone wanting to be happy (after all, "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" as Buzzcocks once observed) and as far as Big Top's debut, everyone here tonight was indeed happy - so "Mission Accomplished!" [Addendum: Subsequent to this gig, Mark texted me that this ditty is actually entitled "Jaundice Judy," yet another fine song about gals named Judith - see "Judy Is a Punk," "Mad Mad Judy," "Judy in Disguise," "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Judy's Turn To Cry," et. al.]

And here's more good news! Under the Big Top will be back at Naughty Dogs for an encore performance sometime in late June 2018. Happy now?

Related Links:
Mad Habits (Media Maxi-Pad)
Balto Band Bash 2014 (Accelerated Decrepitude)