King Crimson… Give em a Kiss?

The progressive rock juggernaut King Crimson brought their seven-man supersonic machine to the Fox Theater in Oakland, California September 5th and 6th 2019 for two highly anticipated concerts.  These were epic shows for anyone seeking a potent, diverse mix of prog, metal, jazz, and classical rock – at times structured, at times improvisational – but all bundled into a challenging mix delivered by this band of expert musicians. This latest tour stop was particularly compelling as we found the band focusing on its most mellow, romantic songs. Tears were shed, arms were raised to the ceiling. It was the best setlist I’ve ever seen the band deliver, and the best performance as well.

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The current Crimson lineup is a ensemble consisting of Robert Fripp (guitar, keys), Jakko Jakszyk (guitars/vocals), Tony Levin (bass), Mel Collins (saxophones/flutes), and up front, three drummers Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey. Before the series of concert tours Crimson has been staging for the last few years, the various collectives of the band have not played much of their early material, other than “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the title tracks to Red and Lark’s Tongues in Aspic. Therefore for instance most of the early songs from In The Court of the Crimson King (1969), Lizard (1970), and Islands (1971) have not seen the bright lights of a concert hall in decades.  The setlist for the shows over the last few years have been spectacular.

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The choices were inspired and balanced – instrumentals and vocals well represented.  On top of that, the band was able to reproduce and reinterpret these pieces with ferocity balanced with delicacy and precision.  In particular, the title track from Islands, the title track from In The Court of the Crimson King and the additional choice to include  “Moonchild” leading into “Epitaph” was awesome to behold live.  “Epitaph” is as relevant today as it was in 1969 when written:

Between the iron gates of fate
The seeds of time were sown

And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known;
Knowledge is a deadly friend
If no one sets the rules
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools

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For this fan, the major moment of the show came when the band played “Cirkus including the Entry of the Chameleons” from Lizard.  Jakko’s vocals were clear and warm, yet with power during the stanzas when that was needed. Mel Collins included the crunchy bass sax, a flute solo (one of many that night) and various other wind interludes. Part time middle drummer Jeremy Stacey spent much of his time on keyboards, which made for a much richer sonic landscape than I’ve ever heard.  Tony Levin held every down with his fantastic skill on the Chapman Stick.

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Fripp’s compositions alternate suddenly between dark and light.  A typical track will contain segments of distorted, dissonant but rhythmic sound creating almost unbearable tension and finally resolve to a peaceful passage made up of quiet beautiful tones.  The black notes vs. the white – the sun and moon, the Larks’ tongue and the Aspic – all part of this yin and yang.  Both were on full display for these two shows. However, this time there was more of the melodic, softer, dare I say romantic version of King Crimson. Readers who know the tracks on the setlist above will see how many compositions selected for the first show are less allegro, more mellow and beautiful.

The front line of three drummers worked miracles with the material, and several times during the concert we were treated to a three-man drum solo where the skills of each were highlighted.  Robert, playing in the light finally, says in an interview video now a couple years old, “I’m in a different place in my life” and it continues to show in his playing and demeanor.  In fact, almost the entire concert was played under plain white lights – only during “Red” did the white lights slowly fade to red – a very effective bit of staging, at least for one song. The final tracks of the main set “Starless and “In the Court…” brought out intense emotions an this fan for one found it hard not to think of ex Crimson members now deceased, Greg Lake and John Wetton, while also absolutely loving every moment of Jakko’s well tuned vocals his fantastic skills as guitarist and his kind presence.

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The first of two nights was an overwhelmingly beautiful display of virtuosity – that fact alone is an amazing achievement for this groundbreaking 50-year-old musical collective.

The Set List:

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Live Photos © King Crimson – Live in Mexico

(no photos are allowed at King Crimson concerts until the bow)

Oingo Boingo Members Only

The members of the 80s band Oingo Boingo bounced into the Saratoga Mountain Winery last weekend on a freezing night with high winds, supported by The Tubes and Dramarama (though it was too cold to see that third act as the sun went down and winds blew fiercely).

They were in a phrase or two, flipping-fantastic and totally bitchin’!

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Oingo Boingo came on the scene in 1979 in the hazy sunny lands of Orange County and Los Angeles, where like a beacon of light in the USA, they shone far outside of London where a potent blend of punk and ska had taken hold. From the first album Only a Lad (1981) through the last Boingo (1994) Danny Elfman, principal composer, crazy orange-haired vocalist and guitar and gourd player stormed across stages mostly in the western US but across the land to thrill, scare and incite young audiences to dance, elbow and generally bash each other in sweaty mosh pits.

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Danny was a singular force in this group, and after he left having lost his “spirit” for the band they just dissolved – a horse without its head. Danny been penning movie soundtracks, the first ones of which were Weird Science (1985) and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) along with others that came before the band split, and were followed by a long series of popular successes – soundtracks for almost all of Tim Burton’s films and other directors. Eventually Danny came to his penultimate expression, the Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), during which as avid musical/movie watchers know he beautifully sang such gems as “What’s This” and “Jack’s Lament.”

So perfectly suited to this work is Danny that he will not go back and redo Oingo Boingo shows (citing potential hearing loss and the fact he considers some of his early work silly), even if he plays “Dead Man’s Party” sometimes at the end of his performance of Nightmare (with cast) for which he brings out partner guitarist Steve Bartek, who it should be said produced the orchestrated scores for most of the Elfman penned film soundtracks as well.

Now so many years later, the band has reunited, sans Danny, but ready to show all and anyone how flipping incredible they were and are in concert. The show was stunning – all the hooks, horns, bass, drums and percussion were there (even if gourds were replaced by a synth patch/sequence on the Korg). They played once again with wild abandon, precision and spirit and rocked our not-so sweaty mosh pit.

But what of the missing Elf-man you say?  Well, in an era when older bands end up with “replacement” singers the Boingo is now no exception. Young turk Brendan McCreary actually inhabits Danny’s spectral presence. He sounds like Danny, yet with his own style, and perfect vibrato – less of a yell for the high notes and actually more of a singer. He bounces across the stage, crouches, and gesticulates in a way I actually loved as much if not sometimes more than Danny, simply because he is not vaguely sinister (!) and he is not stuck for half the time behind a guitar.

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The band who are left were there – trumpet (Brian Swartz) sax (Sam “Sluggo“ Phillips), drums (Johnny Vatos Hernandez), bass (Freddie Hernandez), guitar (Steve Bartek now joined by Mike Glendinning), keys (Carl Graves) alternate bassist (John Avila), percussion, trombone, accordion (Doug Lacy) all still fantastically talented and on display. Who do you want to be today and are you only a lad that wants to have wild sex in the working class? You know you do, so go go go to see them.

p.s. Fee Waybill of the Tubes is still crazy and knows what he wants from life, just like a white punk on dope. Fantastic opener and if as a headliner nears you, that too.

Beck on Point

Beck Colors Album CoverWe’ve seen indie artist Beck several times over the last couple decades and the shows have been a bit uneven; usually presenting a mixed bag of songs that emphasize whatever is most top of mind for this diverse artist, and often with Beck himself seeming a bit disconnected from the proceedings. Not so on this fantastic night July 14th2019 at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California. Beck was in absolute top form, commanding attention as “front man” and master of ceremonies. Beck sang, played his guitars, and danced – yes danced, skillfully and infectiously for the rapturous crowd.

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The core of the set on this night put emphasis on Beck’s upbeat, groovy tunes, including “Girl,” “Mixed Bizness” and “Up All Night.” The latter was one of three songs plucked from 2017’s Colors, a very up-tempo record for Beck, often calling to mind 70s disco music, and it set the celebratory tone for the whole show. A glance through the set list, with albums and dates credited, shows a balanced pick of tracks from “Loser” 1993 to the new single from this year, “Saw Lightning.”  With just this one new song to promote (the next album Hyperspaceis not yet released) this show, though a bit short at 75 minutes, ended up as a sort of mini greatest hits compilation, with 14 of his own songs, and a handful of covers, ranging from the touching The Korgis cover “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” to the Rolling Stones “Miss You,” and Chic’s disco hit “Good Times.” Several of the covers fell at the end of the set; just after Cage The Elephant’s lead singer Matt Schultz joined Beck on stage for their collaboration “Night Running.” Having not been wowed by Cage’s set, or Schultz, these fans found solace in the fact that Beck absolutely nailed just over a dozen of his greatest songs.

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The production was stellar. It included rear projections, and a dazzling, colorful light show, which made ample use of geometric shapes, lasers and rich vibrant tones. One of the clever rear projections included live shots of the musicians from directly above their heads, projected just behind each, and was artfully done. Sound was fantastic – balanced, not over loaded with bass as can happen with this era of music.

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The bands Cage the Elephant, Spoon, and Starcrawler opened for Beck. For these fans, only Spoon was of interest, and they delivered, squinting in the hot sun through a short set that emphasized lead singer/guitarist Britt Daniel’s vocal prowess and riff-driven songs, following a release this year of their greatest hits.

Beck began his career with a long search for something that would set him on a proper course, and lift him from a poverty with which he had learned to cope, playing folk songs on the street for cash. It was clear on this night that Beck is still on that restless journey, one that he has paused along the way, to pay particular attention to various forms of rock, folk, pop and even disco music. We felt lucky to be part of this very upbeat detour, part of the “good times!”

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p.s. it’s worth noting that Beck also recently appeared in a very good documentary film, Echo in the Canyon, which featured Jakob Dylan leading a cast of guest musicians through the L.A. Laurel Canyon songbook from the mid sixties when bands like The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Mama’s and the Poppas, The Beach Boys, and CSN brought folk rock to the masses. Beck performs on several songs in a tribute concert that includes Dylan as bandleader, joined by Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Nora Jones and others. It’s a heartfelt tribute to these bands, and an excellent film in general for any fan of rock and folk music.

Voices of the ’80s

RF_BackstageThe rock music world changed drastically with the explosive introduction of punk music in 1977. Punk was a raw form of popular rock; one that, for a short time, abandoned studied virtuosity in favor of pure aggressive energy, four chords, sneers and volume. For classic and progressive rock bands of the 1970’s, the punk movement threatened to end their time in the spotlight. More importantly, it was the lightening rod to which a great number of new bands drew close, splintering and absorbing the energy into a multitude of unique genre acts.

Suddenly, it seemed that popular music could take nearly any form, go in any direction. A college degree in music theory was not needed. Alongside the punk upstarts, the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, X, The Clash and The Dead Kennedys, there emerged many acts that were difficult to categorize. In the states, the CBGB club crowd included The Talking Heads and Blondie, joined elsewhere by bands like Devo, Oingo Boingo, and the new southern sound out of Georgia from REM and The B-52’s.  Australia/New Zealand produced a few bands, most notably Split Enz, who along with their states-side CBGB peers, paved the way for the kind of quirky music that came out of this era. In England, a major wave of trendy bands, covering both the lighter and darker side of music emerged at light speed. Suddenly, Ska music, originally from Jamaica, sprang forth from bands like The Specials, Madness, and The English Beat. Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow adapted tribal beats and chants as the basis of their unique sound. Gothic music, driven by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and a handful of darker, brooding bands emerged from the darkness. Synth pop and new wave music brought new forms of dance music to the fore, most often draped in layers of synthesizer leads, and the then new sound of drum machines. It seemed all barriers were broken.

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What was so different for those of us who transitioned from classic rock to these new bands, was that many, whether punk, ska, new wave, or gothic were not so much bands you listened to but bands you danced to. Many of these groups became the “new disco” – the groups whose music filled clubs and concert halls. In general these bands called you to the floor, with relentless beats, metronomic precision, deep bass tones, and all manner of vocalists who performed the work and connected to fans. And in each market, somewhere on the radio dial, there emerged stations willing to play this new music, to make it their preferred content, constantly introducing audiences to new bands, a flood of which appeared from 1977 to 1985.

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Since the advent of the pop music form, there has always been “one hit wonders” – singers or bands that had brief success in their own time. The 1980’s had a fair share of these acts, which came and went quickly, whose sound was so unique, fitting into the trend of the year, fading shortly after. For a short time this led to the increasing popularity of singles – the ability to obtain a few songs from an artist on a 45rpm vinyl single, or for some, a single cassette tape. While bands like U2, The Pretenders, Simple Minds and Madonna built lifelong careers, many others faded, some of course undeservedly, others predictable.

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Recently, I’ve noticed a number of travelling 1980’s “showcase” concerts, shows which are somewhat akin to small festivals, that present a number of what are today lesser known 80’s acts alongside one or two who held it all together and who are able to continue today to headline shows, even if in smaller theaters and clubs. One of these traveling circuses is Retro Futura, and this was this show I was drawn to in New York this last July.

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I was there principally to see Annabella Lwin, the lead singer from Bow Wow Wow, a surf-punk-meets-tribal-beats group that lived for a short time in the early 80’s. Bow Wow Wow released two albums before the boys in the band fired Annabella, their lead singer, a disaster of epic proportions for fans of the act. Amazingly, considering the level of talent in the original band, Annabella was at the bottom of the roster at this show. She was only allotted time to do three songs, after which she bolted to catch a plane. Still this was the best part of the lineup for me, made greater after I was able to get backstage to meet Ms. Lwin to express my appreciation to this artist, one of my favorite 80’s personalities. Bow Wow Wow will be prominently featured in my upcoming book, Dancing in Fog City (1977-1989).

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The remaining acts on the roster included Limal (Christopher Hamill) from Kajagoogoo, Tony Lewis, the singer/bassist from The Outfield, four-fifths or the original band Modern English, Belinda Carlisle from the Go-Go’s and headliners ABC. Kajagoogoo was allotted time for four songs, none of which stirred this patron, including the too-coy “Too Shy Shy.” Follow up Outfield singer Tony Lewis strained to hit his notes. Modern English were quite acceptable, and at times a bit fun, as personalities shown through and musicianship was a notch above. This was the one band that featured predominantly original members.

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The best part of the show, long after my favorite Annabella left the stage, was to be sets by Belinda Carlisle and ABC. Belinda was radiant, at 60 years old, still looking fab, and hitting all her marks and high notes with seeming ease. She rolled out a string of her own hits alongside expected highlights from the Go-Go’s first few albums, a small collection that has sustained members of this group, particularly Belinda through to today. ABC was the surprising set for me, as their whole presentation was befitting the headlining spot. Adorned in sharp suits and upbeat attitudes, the band began with “Millionaire,” the first of a number of hits most fans clearly remembered from the day, played with aplomb by the talented hired-hands led by charismatic singer Martin Fry.

Coming into the lineup, it was hard not to tag this tour as a collection of also-rans from the 80s. Indeed, every act other than Modern English was really the lead singer from their bands, each having had one or two albums back in the day, peppered with a few singles, and little follow up solo success. Yet, it was heartwarming to hear their voices again, stepping back in time to witness this singles crowd, harkening back to dancing days now so long ago.

The Fixx is In

The Fixx are one of the most unique bands to emerge during the 1980’s. They did not seem to fit the typical mold of their time, despite lots of great synth, tasty, treated guitar focused on chords rather than solos, and a talented vocalist with a range less commonly found in traditional “rock” music. Today they would be classified more as “rock” or “alternative” music than “new wave” yet back in the day they ultimately they did fit in with their peers and they absolutely excelled at their craft.

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Fixx_2018_RTB_CoverReach The Beach, released in 1983 was this band’s second album, and remains their most popular. It sported hits “One Thing Leads To Another” (their highest charting US Single at number 4) and “Saved By Zero,” accompanied by several other standout tracks and deep cuts that demonstrate the quiet determination of the band as stellar songsmiths and solid musicians. Personnel on this album included Cy Curnin (vocals), Rupert Greenall (keyboards), Jamie West-Oram (guitar), Adam Woods (drums) and a couple of bass players, Alfie Agius and Dan Brown, the latter of whom became the band’s official bassist for the tour and subsequent albums. The album was produced by the talented Rupert Hine. This is a very “listenable” album which flows nicely from track to track, stropping at some of their best ideas and greatest musical passages.

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The intellectual lyrics of this band, delivered by lead vocalist Cy Curnin are a major part of what makes Reach The Beach, and the rest of their music so special and enduring. Cy is a deep thinker who will pose a question and hang on that question, each word counting towards the idea, often suggesting an answer. The lyrics are seldom overtly political yet there are messages, they are not preachy, but there are spiritual lessons within. Songs like “Are We Ourselves” and “Less Cities, More Moving People” always cause me to ponder meaning, messages, and my own reaction to them. Cy delivers all this in concert with occasional asides highlighting his current thinking – all questions that deserve to be asked and answered.

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I first saw this band in 1983 at one of the last “Day On The Green” festivals in Oakland California. Famed producer and production company Bill Graham Presents staged these all-day festivals, and they were impressive lineups featuring multiple bands, who were well chosen to show off both headliners and supporting acts. On this summer day in 1983, headliners The Police was on their final tour, supporting their swan song “Synchronicity.” Behind them was The Fixx, taking that vaulted “2ndact” spot on the strength of their then new release Reach The Beach. Preceding The Fixx were a varied collection of new wave acts, The Thompson Twins, Oingo Boingo and Madness. The Fixx stood out that day, among these contemporaries, as a group of serious, adult musicians, primed for mainstream success yet seemingly comfortable at that vaulted #2 spot on the bill.

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Last week, 35 years after that Day on the Green, the band played at The Independent club in San Francisco, on their Reach The Beach anniversary tour. They played the whole album, but in reverse order, which worked very nicely given the original record kicked off with four exceptional tracks in a row, making the reverse sequencing close the first half of the show with those highlights. The band continued with a collection of hits and deep cuts, including some newer work, as this enduring act continues to record and tour today, with the same lineup from 1983. It was an exceptional show that demonstrated to one and all the talents of the band. Quite a night, and highly recommended should The Fixx come your way.

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The Bow Wow Wow Crush

I have to admit something here – I had a massive crush on Bow Wow Wow’s lead singer, Annabella Lwin, in 1982. And, I was not alone in this. Way back then when this band came to my attention, I learned of the very young Anglo-Burmese singer and her surf-punk-meets Burundi-beat band. I thought it was her band and I thought she was intoxicating. As I discovered our age difference – she was a youthful teenager and me in my 20’s, my short lived crush turned into a life long appreciation of this unique artist, a fondness for her, the best female 80’s performer I’ve ever seen. Period.

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If you were alive in the day, and of age, you would recall the biggest hit this band had, a cover of the song “I Want Candy,” with it’s accompanying video showing Annabella and band Mathew Ashman (guitars), Leigh Gorman (bass), and David Barbarossa (Barbe) (drums) on the beach dancing, playing and mugging for the cameras. There was a feckless joy about this ragtag group, and some seriously bad-ass musicianship and singing. Ashman was a powerhouse on guitars – one of the best users of the tremolo arm, the Chuck Berry pluck, the Dick Dale surfer slide – his work graced every one of the band’s songs, impossible to ignore. The rhythm section, featuring Gorman on bass was unbelievably adept at using bass for melody, but also for percussion and aggressive energy in support of his drummer. The drummer Dave “Barbe” is simply unmatched in the rock world. He has an uncanny ability to calmly lay down a jungle beat, even on a small kit, one that kept perfect time, but also swung a bit, one that drilled it’s way into your hips and kept you moving.

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Annabella is playing as Bow Wow Wow in Long Island July 13, 2018!

All this stellar musicianship, the swing, the tribal beats, kept Annabella moving, as she became the hands-down best dancer in the business, one possessing the sweetest voice, an instrument that could go hard and high if she wanted, but was best in her light and airy range. Just another moment on Annabella’s dancing and it’s supremacy – she could swivel her hips, pogo up into the air, and most importantly, she perfected a sort of tribal dance, or native dance that was almost like watching an American Indian woman around our collective fire. I believe it was simply her own invention, and it was how she moved, but it was spectacular to have such a dancer front the type of music Bow Wow Wow played, a music that could whip a crowd into a frenzy of raw, “off the rails” celebration.

My own appreciation aside, Bow Wow Wow did not achieve the level of widespread success I would have expected in their short time together, though before the plug was pulled by the boys in the band, they were building an impressive following, and the music was quickly maturing after cutting ties with manager Malcolm McLaren. The story has been told many times but let’s recap- Malcolm McLaren is either a genius or a louse AdamAnt2017_KOTWF_72dpidepending on your perspective. While running a sex shop filled with fetish clothing, Malcolm became a society guy and tastemaker. His level of involvement in each band differed but he is credited with being an influencer, supporter or manager of Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and the Sex Pistols to name a few.  Malcolm was told that a 13 year old girl, singing her heart out in a local dry cleaners, was worth meeting, so he did, and he ended up recruiting her to front his 3 piece band of guys who he had influenced to separate from Adam Ant prior to his own breakthrough recording, Kings of the Wild Frontier.

Annabella joined the band and became the lead singer of Bow Wow Wow. Malcolm stirred the pot, and after many singles and an initial album, the exhaustingly titled, See Jungle, See Jungle, Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over Go Ape Crazy, the band left his management, released a second, superior album When the Going Gets Tough… The Tough Get Going, after which they gigged, mugged for the television cameras, and then disbanded.

When the Going…was a revelation. Having established their sound, one that was alternately raw “Chihuahua” and refined, “Fools Rush In” during the first year or so, and releasing many singles and a debut album, the band did something amazing. They sat down, wrote, and recorded what for this patron is one of the greatest albums of all time. Cracking opener Aphrodisiac” mines the same turf as the prior year’s somewhat naughty and breathless “Sexy Eiffel Towers,” but now it seems Annabella’s in charge of the narrative, “Take an Aphrodisiac, don’t do nothing just relax have a heart heart heart heart heart attack, take an aph-ro—-disiac.” A trifle yes, but listen to Annabella with Dave, Matt, Leigh make it something so much more.

AnnabellaLwin_BWW_WhenCoverEarly in the album, the song that should have been promoted better and a hit, ‘Do You Wanna Hold Me?’ (answer is of course ‘yes’ said thousands of fans) is one of their best pop bits. But the example of things to come, or that should have come, are “Man Mountain” and “Love Me.” This pair of slower songs showed the band could calm down, could actually nail a ballad, and could stir the soul after a few dances and a break. “Man Mountain” written by Ashman, is a personal favorite, and became a number 1 hit in the former Yugoslavia!:

He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, he’s my lover and hero to me
He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, Lord, delivers his soul unto me, Lord
Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me
He don’t eat, he don’t sleep, he don’t even wash his feet
He don’t eat, he don’t sleep, he don’t even wash his feet

He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, he’s my lover and hero to me
Oh I love him, my man mountain, Lord, delivers his soul unto me, Lord
Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me

He don’t lie, and I don’t know why
He told me he loved me and that made me cry
He don’t lie, and I don’t know why
He told me he loved me and that made me cry

He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, he’s my lover and hero to me
Oh I love him, my man mountain, Lord, delivers his soul unto me, Lord
Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me

Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me

Note the uses of repetition, as parts of Annabella’s soft lead vocals are almost breathy chants, gently plaintive pearls of love – it’s a beautiful bit of writing and performance. Leigh makes perfect use of a fretless bass here, while Ashman pulls at the acoustic guitar strings beautifully. “Love Me” follows and somehow matches the last though it’s one that challenges Annabella’s upper range, and is adorned by echo-washed lead guitar that would show anyone in one track why Ashman is missed. Dave Barbe just inhabits these pieces – he is as talented on soft numbers as he is on louder more aggressive tracks. This exploration of the more feminine side of the band makes clear where Bow Wow Wow could have travelled, and how they could have snared a much larger audience.

Alas, that was not to be. The boys in the band were restless, and thought they could be a there piece band, without the pesky Lwin on the payroll. It was a disastrous choice, as they went on to obscurity with a band called Chiefs of Relief. Bow Wow Wow reunited many times with various members coming and going, and guitarist Ashman sadly died before the nineties came to a close.

A drummers break: Just to ensure respect for the incredible sound Barbe captured on drums, here is a bit on Burundi: The story of “Burundi Black” and the origin of the “Burundi Beat” and the associated controversy is told in the following excerpt from a 1981 New York Times article by Robert Palmer:

The original source of this tribal rhythm is a recording of 25 drummers, made in a village in the east African nation of Burundi by a team of French anthropologists. The recording was included in an album, Musique du Burundi, issued by the French Ocora label in 1968. It is impressively kinetic, but the rhythm patterns are not as complex as most African drumming; they are a relatively easy mark for pop pirates in search of plunder. During the early 1970s, a British pop musician named Mike Steiphenson grafted an arrangement for guitars and keyboards onto the original recording from Burundi, and the result was Burundi Black, an album that sold more than 125,000 copies and made the British best-seller charts… Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and several other bands have notched up an impressive string of British hits using the Burundi beat as a rhythmic foundation.

Lest anyone come to the conclusion that the band were “pop pirates” of any sort, all music has references and this is just one that Barbe used to incredible, exhausting effect on Bow Wow Wow records – his influences were diverse, and he molded them into something all his own, playing it all while occasionally, calmly chewing gum. There never has been and never will be again a drummer like Dave Barbe in my estimation.

I talked to Annabella Lwin and Dave Barbe about their short-lived band, the legacy and their thoughts now, so many years after the event. In the day they were confident, full of “piss and vinegar” as we say, ready to take on the world. Today they are, and probably were before, gentle, kind, humble people who are seemingly thankful for being remembered so fondly.  I asked them both similar questions in preparation for their next book Dancin’ In Fog City (1977-1989) in which Bow Wow Wow will feature, particularly their 1983 coda, “When The Going Gets Tough….”

These interviews will be part of next week’s post…stay tuned!

Rolling Stones Rock On!

On Wednesday May 23rdwe travelled to Scotland, to Edinburgh to see the band Echo and the Bunnymen perform their most beloved and balladering hits with “orchestra.” Turned out to be a string quartet but lovely anyway. Then we took the train to London and I RollingStonesVenuespent the next day choosing photos from Shutterstock for my next book Dancing in Fog City (1977-1989). While there, I noticed a pop up ad on my phone. It was a last minute offer for tickets to The Rolling Stones, who were playing THAT NIGHT at London’s Olympic Stadium. Was sold out so went to Stubhub (there are ALWAYS tickets to shows, excuse-making people) and they had two excellent tickets third row loge.

Traveling on the tube to the stadium that night, walking the long haul across greens and such to the huge venue, in the company of my beloved neighbors-over-the-pond Britains, made me ponder my heartfelt affections for everything English. I was born in 1960 and grew up on the Stones and the Beatles, had all the arguments as to who was better, etc. RollingStonesCrowdThen I heard Jethro Tull , Genesis, Yes, and Led Zeppelin and I knew who was better – those that came after the 60s to inhabit the 70s. Objectively they took everything started by the Beatles and Stones and made it bigger, badder and better from my point of view, again being only 10 years old in 1970 but therefore thrilling to my formative years. But a strange thing happened with the Stones and then Paul McCartney, both of whom are covered in my book about 1970s rock concerts, Rocking the City of Angels.

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What happened in the 70s was, the Stones and Paul McCartney carried over what they knew from the 60s and did what some might argue was even more exceptional work. I’ll put on the Wings Venus and Mars three times to one over Sgt. Peppers. In the case of the Rolling Stones, I love Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile on Main Street (1972) and their huge “comeback” near the end of the 70s, Some Girls (1978). It was the Stones and The Who, not the Beatles, not the Kinks, who took their craft through the 70s and actually excelled. Same story in my opinion with the 80s. So longevity is on their side.

If you ever needed proof that there may be a Devil, to whom you could sell your soul, you would be convinced of it at London Stadium last month. The Stones came out in a blast of smoke and just nailed their long set with aplomb. Even notorious on-his-last-legs Keith Richards hit his notes, and even he looked surprised when he did. Ronnie could relax a bit, and focus on his blistering solos. Charie Watts, the oldest of the bunch I think, just lays down that basic beat the way he always did, a deceptively catchy rhythm that actually swings – it’s a huge part of the Stones’ legacy.

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And then there is Mick. What can one say about Mick “fn” Jagger that hasn’t been said?  Musical hero, hot dude, great dancer, or just, one of the most exceptional front men ever to rock n roll, and probably the best that ever will be. Sure Daltry is amazing, Plant is magnetic, Collins was funny and imminently watchable, but Jagger, no one is really in his class, he filled it — party of one anyone?  This man, who has no business being this good at this point in his life just killed it once again on the London stage. He is the most entertaining front man in rock – his dance, his chat, his sexy-time with Honky Tonk woman guest, which this time was Florence from FATM – not too shabby Mick. God, I love him and his rag tag bunch of bad boys. To see them all in London on the stage with all the local British people cheering them on at maximum volume was an unmatched experience. Man, I loved the Camel reunion, and Simple Minds 5×5 at the Roundhouse theater, and Hackett doing Genesis at the Royal Albert, etc. but to see these sons of Britain The Rolling Stones, in their home turf in front of almost 70,000 fans, wow. Thank you Mick and guys, thank you. A lifelong dream fulfilled for this unrepentant anglophile.  Brilliant, as you say there, fucking brilliant.

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THE 80s ARE COMING