Brian vs. Mike: Showdown of the Century!

Brian-Wilson-Photo (ultimateclassicrock.com)     boxing-gloves-crushing (istockphoto.com)     Mike-Love-Photo (ultimateclassicrock.com)

56 years after forming, the Beach Boys are still in existence, though as two separate groups – one led by Brian Wilson (performing as “Brian Wilson”) and one led by Mike Love (performing as “The Beach Boys”).

BeachBoys-atBeacon (twitter.com)

In this corner!

On August 17, the Mike Love faction took over NYC’s Beacon Theatre on their “2017 Wild Honey World Tour.” Mr. Love (sporting an orange Beach Boys logo baseball cap), along with long-time Beach Boy Bruce Johnston (wearing a navy blue one) and their since-1998, six-piece touring band featuring Jeff Foskett on guitar and vocals, let loose with an evening of California-themed showmanship and nostalgia. Entertainment was the name of the game, complete with a distracting video backdrop. And talk about audience participation – as soon as we took our seats there was annoyance behind, in front, and all around. Luckily there were empty seats (in fact an entire empty row) in a better section, so after intermission – and an overpriced cocktail at the bare-bones bar – it was time to move on down.

BeachBoys-WildHoney-cover (en.wikipedia.org)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wild Honey album, the show featured “Darlin’,” “Aren’t You Glad,” and, kicking off the encore, the lively, theremin-driven title track – with the stage bathed in honey-orange light. But that was it for Wild Honey. The rest of the 40-song performance hit the waves and the drag strips, fell for pretty girls, sailed ships, and, as expected, ended up in Kokomo. Along the voyage were the requisite collection of covers and even a few highlights from Pet Sounds, including “Caroline No” (didn’t expect that one without Brian around) and an eerie “God Only Knows” sung by the late Carl Wilson, his recorded voice dubbed over instead of Foskett, who sang most of Carl’s parts. The miracle of modern technology or just a macabre attempt to inject extra meaning into the song? Either way, both numbers came off kind of empty Brian-less.

Johnston offered up his composition from 1971’s Surf’s Up, “Disney Girls” (woulda rather heard anything else from that record, but Mike and Bruce were calling the shots). Love’s tribute to George Harrison, “Pisces Brothers,” with its accompanying visuals, seemed a bit overindulgent…and in the quietest moment of the night (yawn), an a cappella rendition of “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring,” originally by Beach Boys idols the Four Freshmen, showcased some proficient harmonies while the rest of the band took five. Okay, a concert can have its low points but…hey, at least we were spared the hokey “Transcendental Meditation” that closes 1968’s Friends album.

Mike-Love's-Beach-Boys-2017 (mikelove.com)                             Oh these dudes are just too cool

And of course the greatest hits, the crowd-pleasers, the sing-alongs, with special guest burst-of-energy Mark McGrath (of late-90s band Sugar Ray) stirring up the audience at the beginning on “Do It Again” and at the end on “Barbara Ann” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” And what would a Beach Boys show be without a spot-on rendition of their biggest, “Good Vibrations.” With cheesy slideshow of course.

Spot-on renditions. Entertainment. Nostalgia. Nothing wrong with that, but…

Brian-Wilson-stage (twitter.com:brianwilsonlive)

And in this corner!

On September 23, the Brian Wilson show lit up NYC’s elegant Radio City Music Hall in style with “Pet Sounds: The Final Performances.” Mr. Wilson, seated front-and-center at his white piano, with blue-suited original Beach Boy Al Jardine, flamboyant guitarist-vocalist Blondie Chaplin, and a nine-piece veritable rock ‘n’ roll orchestra, offered a heartfelt helping of hits, not-so-hits, and of course the iconic Pet Sounds in its entirety. And we got to witness it all just a few rows from the stage, thanks to Brian’s preference that, since the show was not a sell-out, those with nosebleed seats should be closer to him and take the empty orchestra seats.

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Marking another 50th anniversary, that of Pet Sounds (the worldwide tour actually kicked off in 2016), the performance revolved – musically and physically – around the 75-year-old steadfast-yet-fragile heart and soul known as Brian Wilson. Beginning in the warm West Coast sun with “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” and the hot-rod hit singles, the first set featured a visibly emotional Brian singing “In My Room” and “Surfer Girl.” A bunch from the recent remix compilation 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow including “Let the Wind Blow” and “I’d Love Just Once to See You,” gorgeous lead vocals by Jardine’s son Matt on “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Let Him Run Wild” (and by Wondermint/keyboardist Darian Sahanaja on “Darlin’”), then it was time for life-of-the-party Blondie Chaplin’s entrance and a fun, fun, fun finish to set number one: “Feel Flows” from Surf’s Up (a pleasant surprise), “Wild Honey” (extended dance mix with Chaplin going punk-rock on guitar), and what’s become Chaplin’s signature Beach Boys lead vocal, “Sail On Sailor.”

A short intermission in the beautiful Radio City lobby sipping prosecco and admiring the grand staircase, and then…the main attraction. From the sparkling opening of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” to Brian’s unintentionally humorous intro to the instrumental “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” as a song with “no words or music” (what?), to – in many opinions – the greatest Beach Boys song ever, “God Only Knows” (in my opinion, one of the greatest songs period), in a genuinely tear-inducing interpretation miles above Mike Love’s resurrection of Carl Wilson. From Paul Von Mertens’ buzzing bass harmonica on “I Know There’s an Answer,” to more of Brian’s emotion surfacing on “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” to an extended percussion jam on “Pet Sounds” the song, to “Caroline No” which saw Brian get up and shuffle quickly offstage as the original album-ending dog and train sound effects plowed through the speakers, the stage dramatically backlit in sunset-red.

Brian-Wilson-and-Al-Jardine (kennethinthe212.com)                             Radio City in Blue

Now the inevitable encores: “Good Vibrations” with a real artistic element adding to the original sound (and minus unnecessary eye candy in the background) – straight into a non-stop barrage of get-up-and-dance favorites culminating with “Fun, Fun, Fun” and a “Rhapsody in Blue” ending. How Brian is that. Finally, all was summed up by twelve voices and a piano with “Love and Mercy” from Wilson’s 1988 solo album. A hand-holding band bow, initiated by Brian, and the lights were up. For all of Mike Love’s purported transcendentalism, the Brian Wilson evening transcended just about everything.

And the winner! I don’t know, you decide.

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images courtesy ultimateclassicrock.com, istockphoto.com, twitter.com, en.wikipedia.org, mikelove.com, brianwilson.com, kennethinthe212.com, gaming-awards.com

Brian Wilson YouTube videos courtesy tonyrx93 and Rick Malecz; Mike Love YouTube video courtesy rangersdcfan (from Vienna, VA 8/20/17, not NYC – but you get the picture)

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Aja turns 40…and remembering Walter Becker

Steely-Dan-aja (ultimateclassicrock.com)

Spring 1978. To show off their stunning new stereo system, the guys in the next room in Beecher dorm at the University of Hartford usually crank up The Motors, but if it’s a little early in the day for cranking, the album of choice is Steely Dan’s masterpiece Aja. And the song of choice is “Deacon Blues.” What does that line mean, about “the day of the expanding man”? Who knows, the song just sounds good, all cool and jazzy. Other Aja moments from the classic Side 1 threesome: Waking up late on a weekend morning to the backbeat of opener “Black Cow” in the next room. Grooving to the eight minutes of exotic, enigmatic jazz-rock that’s the title track, the band’s longest track to this day. On Side 2, two women (“Peg” and “Josie”) bookend two rarely-heard songs, “Home at Last” and “I Got the News.”

The sound of Steely Dan first enters my ears through crackly, lo-fi radio in late 1973 as WABC plays their Top 100 of that year – “Reelin’ In the Years” at number 78 with its rockin’ and reelin’ guitar riffs. The following summer brings the cryptic lyrics of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” – and another great guitar solo. Later into the 1970s, as crystal-clear FM radio and album tracks infiltrate the airwaves (no static at all!), it’s all the rest – “Do It Again,” “Midnite Cruiser,” “Bodhisattva,” “My Old School,” “Any Major Dude Will Tell You,” “Black Friday,” “Bad Sneakers,” “Kid Charlemagne,” “The Fez,” “FM,” and of course Aja, released 40 years ago this week, September 23, 1977…and as I already rambled on about, a hit at my old school (which I’m never going back to – well, not right this second).

Steely-Dan-old-band (musicmusingsandsuch.wordpress.com)

Eventually I realize they are a band, not a guy named Steely Dan, and that the band is essentially two rock recluses named Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (and that they are named after a dildo in William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch). And eventually they settle into the soft-rock-smooth-jazz genre with stuff like “Hey Nineteen,” featuring soft-rock specialist Michael McDonald on backing vocals…and those lines that sound like an ad for Cuervo Gold tequila but are more likely an ad for the smokable variety of Cuervo Gold.

steely-dan-becker-fagen-then (rollingstone.com)A distinctive Steely Dan ingredient, besides vocalist-keyboardist Fagen’s tales of assorted sordid characters delivered in his slightly marble-mouthed but soulful style, is always a tasteful guitar solo. Okay, if all the songs are composed by Becker and Fagen, then Becker must be that amazing guitarist, right? Uh, not always. He’s the bassist more than anything else. The Steely Dan guitar sound is the work of numerous musicians including Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Denny Dias, Elliott Randall (the driving force on “Reelin’ In the Years”), Dean Parks, Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour (both prominent on Aja), as well as Becker on occasional later tracks. But Mr. Becker was always fifty-percent of Steely Dan as far as songwriting credits on those black-and-silver ABC record labels of the ’70s. And all the record labels since. In 1994 he released a solo record, 11 Tracks of Whack, produced by Fagen and himself (so kind of Dan-like). Check it out here.

Walter Becker passed away earlier this month. May he rest in peace, and when he’s not resting may he reel in the years jamming with all those other luminaries up in the great rock ‘n’ roll attic.

steely-dan-walter-becker (guitarandmusicinstitute.com)


images courtesy ultimateclassicrock.com, musicmusingsandsuch.wordpress.com, rollingstone.com, guitarandmusicinstitute.com

YouTube videos courtesy mirrorro77, vzqk50CL, CabinFeverReliever, Steely Dan – Topic / Universal Music Group International

Time for that most hated three-word phrase…

Johnny Koury (45cat.com)Bobby Denton (discogs.com)Timmie Oh Yeah! Rogers (vinyl45s.com)

…if you’re a kid anyway, or a teacher who just had the whole summer off. Yeah, BACK…TO…SCHOOL. So here at Schizomusica let’s have a big back-to-school bash with some cool September music releases!

Arrica Rose & The …’s – Low as the Moon (9/8)

cover-ArricaRose (highwiredaze.com)Boy, it musta finally happened: ALL the band names in the world have been taken. So poor Arrica Rose has to name her backing group The …’s (pronounced the “dot dot dots” – ok, I guess it’s still an actual name). So on to the music…(dot dot dot). As soon as the gorgeous, atmospheric guitars and Arrica’s haunting, hard-to-make-out-exactly vocals take off on first single “Whole Lotta Lows,” there’s no doubt this will be an early fall classic. A “Suddenly Last Summer” feel with the sensuous guitars of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” swirling around it – plus a bit of the Cowboy Junkies’ 1998 classic, Miles from Our Home. That air continues on the lovely “Glitter Gold” and the Spector/Springsteen-ish “Bobby.” The rest of Low as the Moon is hit-or-miss, but be sure not to miss the rockin’, almost-Heart “When You’re Gone” and the mysterious, pseudo-Bond theme “So Many Ways to Die.” Arrica Rose & The …’s hail from Southern California and perform primarily in the Golden State, but here’s hoping they head east at some point!

Double Naught Spy Car – MOOF (9/8)

Actually Double Naught Spy Car & friends, the friends being 13 musicians who cover-Moof-Front2 (doublenaughtspycar.com)collaborated with the main band of guitarist/steel guitarist Paul Lacques, bassist/keyboardist Marc Doten, percussionist Joe Berardi, and guitarist Marcus Watkins. The friend list includes a few familiar names (Mike Watt, Ben Vaughn), a lot of not-so-familiar ones, and an abundance of guest guitarists. Yes, MOOF is a guitar album. Eerie slide guitar (“Tale of the Comet,” “Criminal Luminosity”), lonesome, Hawaiian-y slide guitar (“Men Without Steel”), Byrds-style, 12-string guitar (“Rhymes of Chimney,” a play on “Bells of Rhymney”?), oblique, Zappa-esque explorations (“Hairsuit”), dark, watery guitar (“Like Standing Water” – indeed), wah-wah workouts a la Hendrix (“Marginalia”). And it’s an instrumental album. Besides the all-encompassing guitars, there are keyboards (“Peaches Sans Herbes” featuring Danny McGough on spaghetti-western organ) and horns (Vince Meghrouni’s sax and Carlos Alvidrez’ trombone make “Loose Cannons in Tight Quarters” sound like something straight out of an Otto Preminger film score, accompanying a damp, dimly-lit chase scene). Formed in L.A. by a bunch of session players/composers, Double Naught Spy Car has been “making people nervous since 1994,” according to their website.

Ω▽ (Ohmslice) – Conduit (9/8)

cover-Ohmslice (amazon.com)If experimental sound-collages with free-form female poetry are your thing, then this group is your homeslice! Ohmslice! Stylized as Ω▽! From Brooklyn! Weird! Hip! The main instrument here, played by the main guy, Bradford Reed, is “drums through modular synthesizer and echoes.” There are regular drums, by Josh Matthews, on about half the tracks, horns courtesy of Daniel Carter on a few, Bill Bronson’s guitar on one, and Jane LeCroy’s voice – all at once spacey, tantalizing, and annoying (uh, in a good way?) – on most. Think of Grace Slick possessed by Björk if you like. For those who feel the need to skip around stuff like this looking for the better moments, then skip around to the engaging-but-still-weird opening track, “Crying on a Train” (the one with guitar), the spooky wordplayground “Get Matter,” the even more spooky – no, scary – sax-infused mayhem of “Gravity,” and the wittily-titled “Paint by Numbered Days” which runs like spilled paint into the industrial-strength love song “Machine of You.” Ω▽ will be celebrating Conduit’s release with a show at Halyards in Brooklyn on September 9, so get that dreaded weekend homework done!

Gene Loves Jezebel – Dance Underwater (9/15)

cover-gene_loves_jezebel_dancing_underwater (ghostcultmag.com)This one’s been out for a few months as a UK import…but it sees the light of day here in the States on September 15. And for anyone who was club-age during the club-heyday of the 1980s-90s, the name Gene Loves Jezebel will probably trigger something like “I remember them!” or “Oh no, that band’s back?” Actually they never left – in fact there are now two Gene Loves Jezebels, each led by an Aston brother. As might be expected, lawsuits were flying, and today the band on Dance Underwater, known as Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel in the US, consists of Jay Aston (guitar and vocals), Chris Bell (drums), Peter Rizzo (bass), and James Stevenson (guitar). The other GLJ, led by Jay’s twin Michael, is apparently a whole ’nother animal. Suffice to say Dance Underwater is everything the dear old GLJ was: upbeat guitar pop with a gothy edge, catchy choruses, and Jay Aston’s just-affected-enough vocals. Sing along to the sunny choruses of “Summertime” and “IZITME”! Dance like you’re at Danceteria to opening track “Charmed Life (Never Give In)” and the apt “World’s Gone Crazy”! Pretend you’re watching videos on MTV for “Cry 4 U” and “Chase the Sun”! And it’s all packaged in a very dark, very stylish cover.

Class dismissed!

chuck-berry-school-days (45cat.com)Bo Diddley (amazon.com)andy-quinn-back-to-school-again-blues (45cat.com)

 

images courtesy 45cat.com, amazon.com, discogs.com, doublenaughtspycar.com, ghostcultmag.com, highwiredaze.com, vinyl45s.com