Three-piece powerhouse Grand Alto doesn’t waste time when it comes to making their musical point. There’s no extra baggage to toss from this stripped down rock and roll presentation as they go through a cool cross blend of bands like The Who, Pavement and The Replacements. Hailing from the exotic locales of Toms River and Asbury Park, the band started up in 2005 and has played with everyone from The Afterbangs to The Obvious as well as several other Shoreworld favorites. Alt rock and roll with emphasis on introspective humor, well-crafted songs and premiere instrumentation is what these guys are all about. Guitar, bass and drums each take a pivotal and sometimes spotlight role in their combo sound.
In a music scene filled with bearded, Grizzly Adams hipsters all smoking Gitanes and thinking that they’re in Blood Sweat And Tears, it’s refreshing to see a standout rock band out there playing loud and energetic stuff. Out in test support of their soon-to-be-released CD entitled Lets Get Corporate, Grand Alto dropped an intense Saint show and I got to hear a few of their new tunes.
Simple and effective gems like “The Reservoir” demonstrate solid backbeat control of Bill Bourke, the driving force who pushes their gritty pop matter straight into the bass and guitar three-chord crunch of Matt and Mike. Utilizing Les Paul-driven power, Grand Alto keep things way more interesting than any three-piece I’ve seen in recent history, switching from straight-ahead chorus blasts to up stroke ska verse flavor before blasting back into Foo Fighters vibed territory. Versatile in their choice of dynamics and structure, even the ending switches up a notch into that “Pavement” reference heavy territory as it disintegrates into the end.
The trippy vibes of Go Alaska! filled the bar with its vintage Elvis Costello-meets-The Faces vibe. This well-written poppy formula is loaded with dynamic rhythm hits, stops, and subtle guitar builds all held up by the Tele bass magic of Matt. Great big choruses and everybody sings—even the drummer—this song is cool textured fun and although I really couldn’t tell you what they were singing about (it sounds like Australian flags, Treaties, global warming or prize fights between Alaska and Antarctica) I can tell you that stylistically it’s a foot stomper—complex and smart in its puzzle-piece construction. Think Presidents Of The United States Of America and you’d be pretty damn close as to what this band is about.
“Kung Fu Battle On A Surf Board” wreaks ominous fun-filled danger. The band demonstrates tongue-in-cheek as it rages turf battle here. Like a bunch of demented finger snapping Dick Dales they gun the motor full bore to the beach. Man or Astroman? Nah, it’s the Grand Alto as only they could pull it off. Drawing the line in the sand, they warn their adversaries, “Nice day for a surf, but I’d rather be alone / Why are you here? Why don’t you go home?” And then of course it escalates as they move in closer with, “Who are you, to tell me where to surf? The Ocean’s just as much mine as it is yours.” Great hodad twang and “dirty deeds” pre-chorus guitar chords mix well with Bourke’s signature thick drum work.
Other noticeables were “Riot Girls And Straight Edge Boys” and “Red Shoes Black Shoes” which are very Wall Of Voodoo with great sonic guitar verbiage zipping in and out all throughout the songs.
This trio plays well together and is comfortable behind the microphone, engaging their people and avoiding “downtime.” Downtime is when guys stand around onstage between songs saying nothing, heads down, tuning and fidgeting while the audience just kind of stares at them like mental patients waiting for the butterfly net.
Grand Alto is a fun band steeped in ‘60s tradition and packing an updated playing aggression that comes across live. I also liked their matching white turtlenecks and awesome vest outfits. Hey, I get it, it’s fucking funny. Grand Alto proves that you can lighten up and still light it up.
Let’s Get Corporate will be available on Saturday, Jan. 30 when they return to the Saint in Asbury for their record release party. Also playing will be Scott Liss and the Sixty Six and The Afterbangs. For more news about Grand Alto surf over to grandalto.com.
Captain James And The Pain—The Stone Pony Dec. 11, 2009—LIVE!
Well shiver me timbers, it’s part play, part performance piece and part barnstorming rock and roll. It features a blazing horn section, several backing vocalists, keys and two guitars that make up this big band sound. The only band I’ve seen that rivals George Clinton’s stage count, Capt. James And The Pain laid out an impressive collective for the good sized Pony crowd. Like some musical cross between Frank Zappa, Falco and Andy Kaufman, Captain James led his band of merry men (and women) through a complex and fun filled gaggle of rock sonnets and compositions such as “Queen Theme,” “Lions” and more. Serious guitar-driven movements came courtesy of Colie Brice and Matt King who helped set the theme for the attempted takeover from the evil queen, who, along with plastic swords, rayguns and simulated death falls were plentiful.
Plus ace vocalist Alyssa Beckerman reminds me of Tasha Yar. Ah, to be out on the sea, or somewhere in space just one more time. If you get a chance, go see this band. It’s fresh and ballsy and just enough over the top to have you saying, “Holy shit, did that really just happen?” Captain James And The Pain is: Capt. James Peacock—lead vox, Ben Feld—piano and backing vox, Mike Smith—bass, Brett Smith—drums, Colie Brice on stage left guitar, Matt King over on the right, Alyssa Beckerman—backing vocals, Matt Lott—sax and some special guests on backing vocals, trumpet, alto sax and percussion. aeriarecords.ning.com.
New Jersey And All That jazz
One of my favorite musical forms is jazz, whether it’s contemporary singer Diana Krall or guitar gold from Jim Hall and Bucky Pizzarelli. There’s nothing like listening to musicians that excel in this art form. And it’s always been something I thought was basically missing from the New Jersey music scene. I recently spoke with songwriter Andy McDonough who runs a little site called NJ Jazz list and I was pleasantly surprised to find there’s quite a lot going on in the Jersey jazz community.
The site is fairly informative and even allows you to sample acts like The Laura Hull Trio or the Jeff Levine “Hammond B3” Organ Trio and the big band sounds of The Jazz Lobsters before deciding where you’re gonna head for the night. The site is still in its infancy and is looking for new blood and fans. It’s a good weather vain for the beginner looking to discover something different down the block or the consummate music pro down on the Hudson.
Go check out Jane Stewart appearing at Winberies Café in Ridgewood this Friday and Al Dimeola on Jan.29 at the Count Basie Theater. For more information check it out njjazzlist.com.