Looks like this will be our twenty-first year as a band. It still seems brand new but here’s the proof, this Bug Jar ad for the “Loosest Happy Hour on Earth.” That’s probably Bug Jar Bob’s copywriting. I can still see Steve Brown behind the bar in his white shirt, wanting to talk about investing during our break while Casey did all the work.
Twenty one years and we still haven’t had a practice. That would spoil the whole thing. That’s why I got such a kick out of Frank De Blase’s article in City, “Too Much Practice Is Bad For You.” “If you see a band on stage smiling all of a sudden, then you probably just witnessed a mistake that was handled quickly, with the intuition left intact and unsoiled by too much rehearsal.” I would add, If you see a band with their eyes closed they are probably all listening to one another wondering where the song is gonna go because they have never played it before.
Margaret Explosion plays the Little Theatre Café Wednesday 7-9. Here’s a song from twenty years ago.
Many years ago we found a book of matches from Lucia’s Supper Club, a restaurant in Olean, New York. I don’t remember where we found them but they made an impression. We wrote a song about Lucia’s as we imagined it. If it was a supper club, there surely was more to it than the food, so we came up with a fictional band that took the stage after dinner. We recorded a song, “Lucia’s Supper Club,” for the album “It’s Different Out There” I did a drawing for the cover of the lp picturing what we imagined Lucia’s Supper Club looked like .
In 2002, on my birthday, we decided to track the place down. We weren’t even sure where Olean was but thought it was closer to Rochester than it turned out to be. The restaurant was still in business but but it was not as glamorous as we had pictured it. We had dinner there and when the waitress pronounced the name of the place she said “Loo-chia’s” instead of “Loo-cha’s”. Oh well, too late for that detail. I posted a piece about our visit in the Refrigerator and Lucia’s granddaughter spotted it and sent us this note.
“Hi, I was browsing the Internet this week and came across your info on the web. What prompted me to write to you is that I am Lucia Bardenett’s great-granddaughter. She was the “Lucia” of Lucia’s Supper Club in Olean. Oddly, this weekend we are celebrating my grandfather’s (Lucia’a son) 87th birthday. Nonna (as we called her) died in 1986, so my grandfather is really the last of the restaurant’s founding immediate family. My grandfather was her only child. He had 6 children who gave him 15 grandchildren and 2 of those have given him 3 great-grandchildren. I am the oldest of the 15.
So there’s a little info for you. I didn’t want to go on and on, but anyone who would be so intrigued by a pack of matches to write a song, design an album cover, and make a trip to Olean would probably be interested.
I am forwarding the link to your website to all of my family members (as you can tell from the above is quite a few). Could you tell me how to get a copy of that song? The mp3 version on your site won’t work for me. If you have a chance, could you even send me a copy of the lyrics. We’d be interested to see what you imagined about our family’s old restaurant.
By the way, I can guarantee Nonna would have gotten a kick out of your album cover; she was such a character!”
-Marie Rakus, Olean, NY
Here’s a ratty live version of Personal Effects “Lucia’s Supper Club” from Idol’s in Rochester, New York. Bob Martin plays guitar, Paul Dodd plays percussion, Peggi Fournier sings and plays keyboard, Robin Goldblatt Mills plays bass.
Does anyone remember that gag gift store on Clinton Avenue, right next door to Jay’s Record Ranch? Probably not. They used to sell things like garlic gum and fake puke. Record Archive sells all that stuff today in addition to records. Thank god. I found some cool 45s over there yesterday, KC, Get Down Tonight, Elton John, Bennie & the Jets, Peggy Lee, Fever, a couple bucks each all while sipping The Kind from 3 Heads. We also caught a couple of bands.
Morgxn, that’s how he spells what sounds like Morgan, did a special afternoon in-store at Record Archive in conjunction with 94.1. All we knew about him was what Spevak wrote and that he was on the same label as Rochester’s Joywave. We assumed he would sing to backing tracks but he performed with only a keyboardist and minimal electronic drums. To our ears he sounded better than anything we heard on the Grammys. After his show Alayna told the crowd that “Morgxn is about to explode.”
Frank De Blase, performing with the Busted Valentines has a very different “idea of what a man is for the twenty first century.” – to quote Spevak. But then Frank wears so many different hats. Music reviewer, non-pareil, for City, pulp-noir author of several books featuring Frankie Valentine, pin-up photographer, the chief Frantic Flattop and puts all this together masterfully when he performs live with Busted Valentines.
Back on our living room couch we cued up Chasing Trane, the next item in our Netflix queue. Coltrane sounds so good he could fix all that is wrong with this world.
FFThe only bobblehead doll we have is Barry Bonds, back from before the controversy, when he was chasing Hank Aaron’s homer record. I’m not counting the plastic, solar-powered, Trump bobblehead that someone gave us for Christmas. I plan to throw that away. I was thinking about bobbleheads long before the article in Sunday’s paper on the bobblehead museum in Milwaukee. Amy Rigby’s “Bobblehead Doll,” from Eric and Amy’s 2009 double A side single, has been stuck in my head for weeks. The 45 has been on heavy rotation our house.
I still visit “So Many Records, So Little Time,” even though it is not getting the attention it deserves – from its owner. Kevin called around New Year’s and Peggi helped him reclaim the domain name after it had expired. The website is still a goldmine. If there is nothing new on the front page I just scroll down the long list of artists in the right hand column, like I did this morning, and get lost in Kevin’s spin on Bootsy, Alan Vega and Heart.
I’ve been cleaning house myself and am in the process of moving the Margaret Explosion site to PopWars where all the content now flows from the database. I’m re-building the virtual 45 page with live tracks from our performances. In honor of Peggi’s birthday here is a song from those vaults. That’s a photo of Peggi on the cover.
I put this video up last night and then reconsidered it. It was too easy.
We walked Horseshoe Road in Durand Eastman with the camera on. I stuck the video, with no edits, on a song that we played last year at the Little. The song was slightly longer than the walk so I slowed the video down and they end together. It was far from a steady cam so I stabilized it 100%, a move similar to going overboard with auto tune.
I remember riding in our family car when my dad drove this road. It is still just as magical but it’s been closed to car traffic for over forty years now. There are so many weeds growing up through the pavement that the park workers mow it. And there aren’t many park workers left.
I took the song down and even though it is all one take I put some splices in and added color filters to the various sections. The beginning and end are still as they were. I jacked up the transition time as far as it would let me go. I’m happy with it now.
These elements just fell together, a dreamy, hypnotic Margaret Explosion song from a performance at the Little Theatre Café last year and some blurry photos I took a few years apart on train rides from New York to Rochester.
Peggi Fournier plays soprano sax, Ken Frank plays bass, Phil Marshall plays guitar and I play drums.
I played drums with both of the bands on the poster above. I made this poster for a gig at Scorgie’s. I’m not sure how it works today but in the early eighties bands were given the door and if the club owner didn’t make enough over the bar you were not asked back to play. So bands made posters, had them copied or printed, and then plastered them all over town. You had to watch out for cops and it was sort of a nasty job, wrestling with tape in the freezing cold, but a good poster paid off.
It wasn’t always like that. When New Math started playing in the late seventies we were booked through management companies. I remember someone named Jim Armstrong who got us into the Orange Monkey and the Penny Arcade and some gig at a college. There was someone named Howie who booked us into a club on the river. He went on to manage Poison in LA. Somehow we got into the Electric Circus and Big Daddy’s. But the music scene was changing. And so were the clubs. Everything, even the song writing, was DIY.
I wish I had a copy of every poster I made in those days. I tried to keep a copy of each. The Hi-Techs came together at the very end of the seventies and we broke up in the middle of 1981 so it was a short ride. Three of us went on to form Personal Effects and we played gigs from ’81 to ’86 before falling apart and then getting back together for the Planetarium gigs and a few reunions. We took cell phone shots of the posters we have and Bob sent us scans of the ones he has.
Working with Duane Sherwood in 1984, Personal Effects started planning a multi-media show for the Community Playhouse on South Avenue where Swillburger is now. We had seen Emmy Lou Harris perform there and a few other shows and the small playhouse with the big deep stage was perfect for back-projecting on a scrim. From up in the balcony to way back behind the stage Duane worked both sides of the band with dramatic lights, psychedelic liquid light and projections, silhouettes thrown on the scrim from the front and the back where Jeanne Taylor was dancing behind the scrim. There is a photo of Jeanne on this 80’s Polaroids page. As creative and production manager, Duane had a brilliant idea for every song even dropping an overstuffed man from the ceiling for our song “Big Man.” Don Scorgie brought his bar to the lobby. Russ Lunn videoed the show and Duane took Polaroid stills of the video. We used them on the back cover of the album we recorded later that year titled “This Is It.”
Which brings me to the behind the scenes documentary of Michael Jackson’s rehearsals for what was to be his last tour. We watched “This Is It” last night with the sound jacked up. The band, an orchestra, sounded incredible. The production of this thing is mind-blowing and you get to see quite a bit of that along with the performances. Where other performers hire dancers to make them look good, Michael Jackson hired the best dancers and still danced better than all of them. You can’t take your eyes off him. Still transitioning at the end, he appeared to be in great shape. “This Is It” is exhilarating and sad.
Fall is still out there but it was rudely interrupted with this snow.
Speaking of interruptions, We just learned of Mike Kaplan‘s circumstances. I didn’t know him, he was a good friend of our bass player’s and we were asked to play at his memorial this afternoon. We did it as a three piece and played incidental music at four points in the service. The sound in the room was just perfect and we were able to push our minimal sound to the furthest extremes, somewhere close to pristine emptiness. It was an honor to play for his family friends.
It seems a little cruel that these decorative squash are called “Lunch Ladies.” I don’t make the rules, I just look at the signs.
Peggi made a couple of cherry pies the other day and brought one down to our neighbor, Sue, who just celebrated a big birthday. Today Sue brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers, all from her garden, up to us. We will never be even.
I swallowed an olive pit. I usually have a few olives with a boiled egg, toast and olive oil in the morning and I wasn’t quite awake. It felt like it was stuck in my esophagus but that may have just been the sensation. I’m hoping it doesn’t get stuck in some crevice of my intestines colon.
I bummed that we missed the one night premiere of the Joan Jett movie. We were playing in the cafe that night. Here is a song recorded at that gig.
Lee Friedlander called Henry Wessel the “Photo Buddha.” Wessel died recently and in addition to his body of work he left us this beautiful quote. “The process of photographing is a pleasure: eyes open, receptive, sensing, and at some point, connecting. It’s thrilling to be outside of your mind, your eyes far ahead of your thoughts.”
Our yoga teacher talks through the entire class. I like this but he told us one of his former students complained about it. He mostly talks about the pose and I find it helps me to work toward the proper position. Otherwise I would be daydreaming. Sometimes he goes off on a tangent. Last night he told us about a book he was reading on telomeres, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA. He described them as the plastic wraps on the end of shoelaces. His manner of talking is part of the meditation and the class flies by.
Pete LaBonne joins Margaret Explosion on the grand piano Wednesday night. This will be our last performance until November.
Last year when we were working on Civilization Arpad played us a few tracks that he had recorded at Nod’s rehearsal space. We were finishing mixes for our cd and they were just starting work on a new album. The tracks we heard were rough. Nod is rough. I was anxious to hear the final results and asked about it whenever I saw one on them. I learned Joe Tunis was going to release it on his Carbon Records so I preordered it. The vinyl arrived this afternoon.
Nod has been around for twenty five years or so and this is their best album yet. Most bands go in the opposite direction. Think how good the first Talking Heads lp was and how each album after that got worse and worse. Nod is a three piece. They’ve sometimes worked with other musicians but no matter how good they are they take the edge off of Nod. Three letters, three players, Joe Sorriero, Tim Poland and Brian Shafer.
No one sounds like Nod; rhymes with odd. Imagine “No New York” with Can, an underground sound. Live, they are loud, they get the party started, but mostly because they are raw like the Stooges. And angular so you want to dance like an idiot. My favorite song on “So Much Tonight” is “Go For a Ride,” a classic Nod piece. “Rollin Around” nods to Exile on “Main Street” and “Whatchya Doin” is sweet. Nod is in good form.
“Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda” played last night at the Little and it will be shown one more time, on Saturday afternoon at 3pm before it leaves town. It is a slow, beautiful movie. Slow only in the sense that you must stop talking, walking, texting to observe, to see, to listen and to hear. Like Tarkovsky, whose movies were highly influential to Sakamoto and are excerpted in this film, Sakamoto is focused on the yin and yang of equilibrium. He confronts the nuclear disaster in Japan in work, he says because if we were able to damage the earth we are able to fix it. While thumbing through a book of Tarkovsky Polaroids he says Tarkovsky was a musician because of the way he uses sound, rain, wind, footsteps, movement.
The creative process is beautifully laid out in this film as we see Ryuichi in early settings with his Yellow Magic Orchestra and in the studio working on soundtracks for “The Sheltering Sky,” “The Last Emperor,” “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,” and “The Revenant.” He battles cancer in the film and when pushed to explain how he felt when he received the diagnosis he says it feels like it is a joke. He says Bernardo Bertolucci asked him to rewrite some music on the spot. He said it would be impossible and Bertolucci told him, “Ennio Morricone would do it.” So he did it and an orchestra performed it a half hour later.
In a nod to the Fringe Fest, which will start tonight and be happening all around us, Margaret Explosion will be performing without a setlist! Wednesdays Little Theatre Café 7-9pm
Cheryl Laurro, the former Godiva’s shop owner, restauranteur, singer and spiritual advisor, was in town. She held court over at Radio Social, the old Stromberg Carlson plant. It was the first time we had been in the place even though I grew up on the street, on the other side of Humboldt. We used to play in the parking lot. Bob Henrie and the Goners were playing there so it was a double draw. They sounded better than ever. Bobby is a dynamo with a wealth of songs he can call on. He keeps the band on their toes as they play two long sets with no setlist. I had the opportunity to video the same two dancers as caught eight years ago at another Goners’ show. They are still the best band in the city.
I don’t usually read the food section but I do look at it. I found myself pretty deep into an article about some guy, about our age, who really like the food at a particular restaurant but couldn’t stand the music that they played. He asked the owners if he could do a set list for them and they said yes. Turns out the guy, Ryuichi Sakamoto, was in Yellow Magic Orchestra, a group we followed in the late seventies.
I recreated his playlist in Apple Music and added one at the end, a Philip Glass piece that I stumbled on it while mistyping a song title. The playlist might not work for you but here is the link. I was unfamiliar with most of the music but instantly feel in love with this Bill Evans track called “Peace Piece.”
We offered to let Eric stay at our place. He had played in Cleveland the night before and got held up fulfilling the checkout list at his Airbnb so he arrived just as we were heading out for dinner at Kerry and Claire’s. When we returned near midnight Eric was playing his Alvarez on the couch. He showed us the wafer thin spot above the F hole that he had worn down on this tour. Rochester was his last stop.
Peggi and I intended to watch the last half hour of the England-Croatia match before going to bed. We had recorded the game and then the two shows in the time slots after the game in the event that the match went into overtime. It did but something went awry. Judge Judy, the first show we recorded after regulation time, started at the 117th minute and Croatia had already scored the go ahead goal. Eric isn’t much of a football fan but he told us his friends in England were all bummed out.
I had a premonition that Amy would show up and sure enough she walked in minutes before Wreckless Eric took the stage at the Bop Shop. Eric’s set was sublime, a sonic adventure where new and old songs were supercharged, interrupted and amended and footnoted like a David Foster Wallace novel. Eric looks a bit like a priest with his white hair, black sport shirt and bolo, black jeans and shoes, a priest who can get a monstrously crunchy sound from an acoustic guitar. Between songs he went off on a hunch that his guitar wanted to do a solo album without him and his fuzz tone and boxes were just conspiring to get him to drive them around. I loved the rich contrast between his old songs, pop anthems really, and his wry, world weary new ones.
Chuck Prophet was playing at the same time, downtown at the Party in the Park, on a bill with G Love. Rumor had it that he would also do a late set on the deck out back at Abilene so we headed downtown. We had heard him with the band when they opened for Sharon Jones a few years back and we weren’t really buying it but it was such a beautiful night.
A five dollar cover, a seven dollar beer and we found a spot up front just as they started. Prophet has a great band and he is a really good entertainer in a charming, sort of goofy way. His first few songs were ok but then came the covers, one carefully chosen song after another. They all sounded great. Pipeline, Telstar, KC’s Boogie Shoes, Shake Some Action with Amy and Eric on backups and then Tom Petty’s American Girl with Amy Rigby doing the middle section, a rip-roaring version. Of course they did an encore, Alex Chilton’s Bangkok. It was a perfect night.
Soccer, like music, is a shared international marvel, a phenomenon. The World Cup puts all the nations though a big funnel. The first round, which ended yesterday, culled the top thirty two teams to sixteen. The mash-ups, Germany vs. Mexico, Senegal v. Colombia, Iceland vs. Croatia were monumental. I was thinking about how the the World Cup is constructed, and the possible permutations that will produce a winner from the last eight matches, as we sat down for Pilc Moutin Hoenig’s set.
Finally. We heard our favorite band of this jazz festival. The band was introduced, the bass player plucked a few notes and the drummer answered with a few strategically placed taps. Were they just checking their levels? No, they were starting a dialog, one that turned into a cat and mouse game before taking on the form of a fully developed piece. But just as we were digesting that development the piano player stood up and walked away. The bass and drums were revealed in a dramatic new light. He sat back down and piece evolved into something else.
Was their set all improvised? Surely they revisit favorite themes. The three were great players but their greatest strength was their arranging. They fearlessly deconstructed their music in the same way they constructed it. The trio was confident enough to explore smaller configurations. Just think of the possible combinations. Piano and bass, bass and drums, bass and piano. Just piano, just bass, just drums. And when it came down to just one instrument wasn’t so much a solo as it was music, played on one instrument. Pilc whistled a tune while accompanying himself with a one note piano repetition. It was brilliant.
They continually let things gracefully fall apart. One of them would duck out of the arrangement and the song immediately took on a new shape. They did this over and over again through the whole night. About thirty minutes into their set they found themselves all playing an ending and they went with it. There was applause. And they went back to work.
We started the night at Montage without knowing anything about the band. The room was packed, standing room only, and it was about thirty degrees warmer than outside. Their air conditioning was not up to the task so they had the back door open and a large fan whirling away. Christian Sands Trio, piano, bass and drums, was tearing it up with a big back beat and showman-like piano swells that had the crowd cheering. They brought it way down for “Deep Purple” and still had the room in the palm of their hands as they had us with the melody. Sands does two solo piano sets at Hatch Recital Hall tonight.
Sonidos Unidos, the popular local Latin music band, had twelve people on the small RG&E tent stage and I counted seven strings on the bass player’s instrument. They always sound good.
It wasn’t until the third song that I realized there was no bass player in the trio at the Lutheran Church. Kuala Trio held themselves together with the space around their perfectly placed parts. Mostly slow, even mournful at times, and always pretty in a sad sort of way. They mixed European folk with classical and jazz and played like a chamber ensemble, at times just sax or sax and drums or long stretches of piano and drums. They were each such great players they made their instruments sound like a million bucks.
We pushed our earplugs in and stepped into the big tent for a few songs by Moon Hooch. Two tenor sax players darting around the stage like professional wrestlers with a great dancehall drummer. They augmented this sound with some keyboard programming and got the party going on a Sunday night.
These two street musicians had switched instruments tonight and they sounded great.
The line for the Bad Plus went around the corner to Franklin Street but we weren’t worried, we’d been in this venue, now called Temple Theater, back in the eighties to see Yellowman, Grace Jones and The Replacements and we knew there was plenty of space. I was excited to see the Bad Plus with their new pianist, Orrin Evans. I found him just as melodic but more angular and impactful. The band has carved out their own space with a sound that is hard to pin down. One attribute is a constant. The group playing, one player’s part hanging on the other, creates the sound. I especially liked “Savages,” a hypnotic groove of a song from their new record.
Saxophonist, Sigurdur Flosason, left Iceland to study with David Baker at Indiana University in Bloomington. Peggi Fournier also went to Indiana University but she studied saxophone with Rich Stim. His band was a perfect fit with the Lutheran Church where we sat in the pews contemplating the setting sun through the stained glass windows. He finished with with “Serenading the Moon,” a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael (a Bloomington native)/Johnny Mercer song, “Skylark.” We talked to Flosason after the performance and never mentioned Iceland’s 2-0 World Cup loss to Nigeria.
Django Bates’ Beloved Trio has a new record produced by Manfred Eicher at ECM. Funny how a record label, Impulse, Blue Note, ECM, informs the sound. To my ears ECM leaves the blues out of jazz. A huge generalization. Bates’s free flowing piano melodies hardly needed the adornment of the rest of the beloved trio.
Melissa Aldana, the Chilean tenor saxophonist at Kilbourn works in a moody, blue territory, steeped in the right parts of the tradition but the band seemed oddly disconnected from the songs. We only heard a few songs but I kept waiting for them to dig in. I might have missed that part. We went home to watch Germany score in the last minute of stoppage time.
These guys, performing on the street near Hatch Hall, posed for me while they were playing. The drums were about five times louder than the keyboard.
We didn’t know the names so we listened to the samples and were left with only a few choices for the opening night of the Jazz Fest. More time to watch the three World Cup matches we had time shifted.
Seventeen years in and we are still able to find free parking downtown. We walked by the old Milestones, what was once a venue for the festival, James Blood Ulmer comes to mind, and a solo guitarist was playing in the parking lot patio. He had a foot pedal rigged to play a tamborine and an old suitcase that played like a bass drum. Can’t even remember what he sounded like. We were on our way to the Xerox Auditorium and we were drawn into the Rhythm Dogs performance in front of the Inn on Broadway. Drawn that is by the rock solid R&B drummer, Laris Ashford. Anybody could have played anything in front of that guy. We only lasted a few minutes because it was painfully loud.
Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez at Xerox Auditorium were a pure joy to hear. We had heard both at past festivals in completely different settings, Rodriguez with his trio at Kilbourn and Martinez leading Cuban dance/pop ensembles. They played fast and furious and then slow and pretty. The classically trained pianist’s free flowing melodies worked magic with the rhythms of the Cuban streets. We were tempted to return for the second set but the World Cup called.
Marius Neset at the Lutheran Church went from dreamy pretty to frenetic in the same song. Their material was richly orchestrated and executed with near precision. We sat between the piano and vibraphone and those two instruments sounded especially good in stereo harmony. Their arrangements were mostly joyous and the band was clearly having fun so the progressive tendencies remained infectious.