Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fish Karma & The Love Beowulf Alley Theatre (27 March 2011)

The Beowulf Alley Theatre great place to see a band, especially in the middle of the day. This gig took place just before noon, on a Sunday, as part of the Tucson Fringe Festival. The venue is very nice, and is set up for the theater. Great acoustics, comfy seats, and not a bad seat in the house. It looks like it holds about 75 people, and today, it was about half full.
2/5 of the Love Generation, rocking out
I was surprised to see that the Love Generation, this morning, attracted a wide range of people, from punkers, to little kids in diapers, to hippie chicks, to little old ladies. Fun for the whole family; It was actually kind of funny watching Fish (Terry Owen) singing some of his rude and hilarious songs with his lyrics flashing the  large screen in a PowerPoint presentation, while the little old lady in front of me watched with rapt attention. 

Musically, the band can really play:  sometimes heavy metal, sometimes country twang.  Fish was standing center stage, reciting and ranting his lyrics, while dressed for business, wearing matching coat and pants.  The songs are from the bands "Halloween in America" album, and as a whole, they comprise a "rock opera", which were popular in the early 1970's. Come to think of is, that band's sound does make a lot of allusions to rock music from a bygone era.  They're like a hyper-literate garage band, except instead of songs about cars and girls, they sing about existentialism, angst, ennui, despair, and  current events.

At today's show, the band embraced the fave audio-visual tool of the corporate world: the PowerPoint presentation, using it to good effect to help the audience understand the lyrical content (by projecting lyric sheets above Terry's head), and also to add a few visuals (mostly Terry's photos of abandoned storefronts, or other imagery that illustrated his lyrics). I hope that Terry noticed the irony in all of this: while at odds with much of consumer-culture (in his lyrics), he does make an exception for PowerPoint!  Did I mention that Terry is also a great cartoonist? Hey Fish, next time you do a PowerPoint presentation, add some of your drawings!

Fish Karma & The Love Generation & PowerPoint

 On a corner of the side of the stage, local singer/songwriter Al Perry served as narrator. Reading from a script on a music stand, Al read a script that linked together all of the individual songs into a sort of patchwork story.

As a "rock opera" (a very mid-60's, early-'70's thing to do) the approach was pretty straight-forward: each song was separated by a narrative interlude by Al Perry. The lyrics to each song flashed behind Fish in a PowerPoint presentation. I got to thinking about how the "operatic" qualities to this show could be enhanced even more: add a mime? Have sound effects (and thus turn the show into something of a radio play)? Have the band members speak some lines of dialogue, and and thus "act" out some of the script? The idea of a "rock opera" is intriguing, and Terry has a natural theatrical bent. So who knows where Fish Karma & the Love Generation will take take this, should they choose to continue with the rock opera format!

For the last song, (a rousing version of "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies) Terry wrapped himself in a "Snuggie", and lounged on the stage like Roman Emperor (with his "Snuggie" as his toga) as the band cranked it up behind him. When the song ended, he was flat on his back, looking like Darby Crash (of the Germs) on the album cover of "The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization".

Singing "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies

 I'm not sure that this what the little old ladies in the seats in front of me expected when they entered the theatre, but they stayed the for the entire 90-minute concert, and applauded at the end.  Pretty incredible feat for this band, to create politically edgy garage rock music that appeals to such a wide cross-section of people!  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

New Single by Howe Gelb on Fort Lowell Records

Howe Gelb's New Single on Fort Lowell Records
“Spiral” / “Cordoba in Slow Motion”
Release Date: April 16 (Record Store Day)

I really enjoyed this new single by Howe Gelb.  Both sides are different in so many ways, but they are united in having a similar tempo, energy, and feel; they both give a feeling of buoyancy in an overcast world. 
The cover is a black and white photo of a cluster of birds in flight, viewed from within the cluster . Side A features a live version of “Spiral”, recorded with an understated and somber sounding choir. Howe’s even cadence on the piano is the start of “Spiral”, and combined with the background choir, and his hopeful lyric about a “new form of decency” makes a song about despair soar.  “Spiral” is actually good blues: it’s a sad song that makes you feel spiritually uplifted.  Howe’s piano playing is excellent, and played with real feeling.  His piano trills and and accents bring to mind myriad associations, from Bob Dylan, to Billy Joel (early years), to Rachmaninoff.   At the end, though, you’re startled out of your reverie by a rousing ovation from the audience.  Great version. It comes off so easy, that it feels like a hug.
 Side B features Howe’s jazz combo, “Melted Wires” playing a tune called “Cordoba in Slow Motion”, which saunters along at about the same tempo as “Spiral”. This tune is very cool jazz, with lots of brush work up high in the mix, and Howe’s tasteful piano filling out the rest. It sounds very improvisational. About halfway through, we hear the sounds of a trumpet, further back in the mix and with a bit of reverb, so that it sounds like it’s coming from across the room.  It’s great; that trumpet really fills out the group. In my opinion, this song could have gone on for a lot longer, but I guess that means that you’ll just have to play it again! 
I like how both Side A and Side B complement each other.  Both have very different musical approaches, but both have a feeling of joy at their core.
A great single from Howe Gelb, on the Fort Lowell Records label!
--Howard Salmon

Here's some additional info from Fort Lowell Records:
Fort Lowell Records celebrates it’s inaugural year with Record Store Day 2011 and the "godfather of alt-country,” the "elder ambassador of desert rock," Howe Gelb. Combining two of Gelb’s projects onto one 7inch record, ‘Sno Angel + Melted Wires lend a voice of comfort in a time of need. ‘Sno Angel, featuring Gelb with his Canadian based touring band backed by the Voices Of Praise choir, provide encouragement to the listener with their track “Spiral,” recorded in 2006 and taken from their live CD ‘Sno Angel Winging It (OW OM Records, 2009), presented here on vinyl for the very first time. Meanwhile, the previously unreleased track “Cordoba in Slow Motion,” recorded nearly three years later during Gelb’s Melted Wires sessions, tactfully, without lyrics, compliments it’s counterpart by providing the necessary space for meditation.