Monday, June 20, 2005

Lots of New Show Reviews!!!

Doug Gillard and Last Burning Embers (Pink Frost/Big Takeover Records night) @ Southpaw 6/18/05

Full disclosure: I am a staff writer for The Big Takeover, the magazine edited and published by Jack Rabid, who is the drummer for Last Burning Embers. Thus, I'm inherently biased in regards to this band. With that said, they're a really good post-punk influenced quartet (formerly a trio) led by Dave Barokas, who sings, plays guitar and writes all of the songs. Ever since their bass player left for work-related reasons (he moved to Japan), they've had 2 of Dave's students (he's a teacher in Newark and he's taught his students songs by The Specials, The Adverts and others; pretty cool to say the least) fill in on bass and lead guitar, respectively. Dave, Jack and the bass player (sorry I don't know his name) were all very comfortable up on stage and all had great presence whereas the 2nd guitar player was a bit more restrained and hiding out a bit in the back. Overall, the set was stronger than their last show, which was opening for New Model Army at Maxwells back in March. Whereas they were a bit rusty at Maxwells, here they sounded a bit better and less tentative, though still not as rockin' and unrestrained as they can be. Jack's drumming was also better on this evening as he's further into recovering from a thumb injury that prevented him from playing drums for a while (and thus preventing Last Burning Embers from playing shows for about 9 months). They played material from their full-length Lessons in Redemption and one song from their Distress Call ep and no covers, unfortunately (they do great versions of Husker Du's "Pink Turns to Blue" and The Wipers' "Nothing Left to Lose"), but it was still a strong set nonetheless.

As for Doug Gillard, well I'm not a particulary big Guided By Voices fan (Doug was the lead guitarist on their last few records), so perhaps I'm not the best person to write this review, but I will say that though I'd only listened to his debut full-length Salamander once before the show (and enjoyed it on 1st listen), I was struck by how much more energetic, upbeat and well rockin' (there's that word again) the songs were as opposed to their studio versions. I was also struck by how good the musicians in his band were, especially the drummer. However, only a few songs really stood out (perhaps the songs will grow on me more as I keep listening to the album). A big surprise was a slowed-down and initially unrecognizable cover of The Smiths' "Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before" (a song I've listened to hundreds of times) and aside from his solo stuff, a few songs from his old band Gem were played and the last song was the Guided By Voices crowd-pleaser "I Am A Tree".

Agent Orange @ The Continental 6/15/05

A very interesting way to spend the Ides of June. I've been a fan of Agent Orange ever since first hearing them on the old hardcore punk radio show "Radio Riot" on WRSU, Rutgers College's radio station, back when I was in high school. I used to stay up late on Monday nights (it was on between 12 AM and 2 AM, so I guess technically it was Tuesday morning) and I would hear amazing music, among which were songs like Agent Orange's stunning skate-video classic "Bloodstains", "Everything Turns Grey" and "A Cry for Help in a World Gone Mad", all from their incredible debut Lp Living in Darkness (a record which isn't standard issue hardcore, but rather a combination of early '80s Cali punk, '70s metal and surf music which had never been attempted before and hasn't really been replicated since).

The first time I saw them perform was at City Gardens back in 1993, when I was a senior in high school. Later I saw them in 1995 at the then just reopened Stone Pony in Asbury Park and the last time I saw them before this show was about 5 years ago at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick (you can teall I'm a Jersey boy, huh?). All of these shows were memorable and enjoyable (especially the last 2), but all were sparsely attended, with Agent Orange never managing to draw more than 50 people or so in good ole New Jersey.

My oh my, was this show a completely different story, though. At The Continental, they drew 200 rabid, screaming mohawked, pierced and shaved-headed punk youth on a Wednesday night. While on one hand, it's great to see Agent Orange draw a good crowd and get somewhat repaid for their efforts and their great music. On the other hand, though, it makes seeing them much more annoying. I mean, this isn't 200 people packed in at the Mercury Lounge or something watching an indie-rock band and generally behaving themselves and not getting in anyone's way. No, I was up front for this one and I don't remember the last time I'd been bumped into, had people land on my head, been pushed from my spot (not easy to do as I'm 6'2" and quite big), etc. as many times as I had on this night. Now all of this was fine when I was 17 or so, but after the age of 20, when I almost completely got out of the hardcore/punk scene (I'm 30 now so it's been about a decade), I just didn't have the stomach for it anymore as I realized the inherent stupidity behind moshing/slam-dancing or whatever you wanna call it. OK, now that my ranting is out of the way, I'll say that Agent Orange, as always, played a terrific and tight set encompassing all of Living in Darkness (including my favorite"No Such Thing") as well as some choice material from their later records like their covers of "Somebody to Love" and "Secret Agent Man", the great hardcore stomper "Breakdown" and the classic should've been a college-radio hit "Fire in the Rain" (from their This is the Voice album). After the show, I got to talk to Mike (Palm, the only original member left and the one who sings, plays incredible surf-guitar and wrote all of their classic material that weren't covers) and he mentioned that they would be coming to either a club in Clifton, NJ or to CBGB's tomorrow night, so be on the lookout. I know if the CBGB's show happens, I may be there to see them again (if I decide I can brave the stupid-ass slamsters)!

Engineers 6/13/05 @ Southpaw

Yes, dear reader, you're reading this correctly. I went to Southpaw 3 times in one week. Definitely a record for me of some sort, though perhaps not because knowing myself, I'm sure it's not unprecedented. :-) Anyhow, Engineers are a terrific UK shoegazer-style band (think My Bloody Valentine and you won't be too far off, though the recorded stuff I've heard reminded me more of Spiritualized's quieter moments) that have a full-length, a mini-Lp and a few singles out. Before they opened for Bloc Party at Webster Hall the following 2 nights, they managed to squeeze this one in and of course, since it was over 90 degrees out and it was on a Monday night, hardly anyone showed up so unfortunately they only played to about 20 people or so. Nevertheless, though they were quite loud, they were quite good and I'm glad that I managed to catch them. Oddly enough, though, they didn't play their 2 singles (including the new one "Home") or replicate the harmonies found on the recorded versions of those songs. I didn't stay for the headliners, The Nein, though they have a former member of '90s noise-rockers Steelpole Bathtub from what I understand.


Anonymous Mark said...

Great synopsis of these shows, Matt! Yes, I believe that Last Burning Embers are still regaining their footing on stage, given Jack's injury, the loss of original bassist Tom, and the long time off, but they still put on a great show. Too bad more people weren't there for their set, but a decent crowd did materialize for Doug Gillard.

I did not see Agent Orange, but still find it funny that we were both at their Court Tavern show about 5 years ago, before we knew each other! The club in Clifton they probably played was Connections; I've seen Dave Smalley play an acoustic show there, and I believe New Model Army played there recently too. I didn't realize AO played there, so I'll have to pay more attention to their (Connections) schedule, as it's only 10-15 minutes from my apt.

6:54 PM


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