The Grip Weeds
Strange Change Machine
The Grip Weeds are a sneak attack. The Al Pacino quote from The Devil’s Advocate comes to mind when describing these New Jersey psych rockers. “I’m the hand up Mona Lisa’s skirt, I’m a surprise, and they’ll never see me coming.” That’s pretty much how I sum up the low profile attack of The Grip Weeds and their long, successful history.
The Grip Weeds formed in 1988 in New Brunswick by brothers Rick Reil (guitar) and Kurt Reil (drums). The band is named after the fictional character of Musketeer Gripweed, played by John Lennon in Richard Lester’s 1967 motion picture How I Won The War. The Reil brothers enlisted guitarist Kristin Pinell and bassist Michael Kelly from New York City band The Rooks.
The have put in years of national and international touring and released several records, beginning with their home-produced EP in 1992 and going through a string of single releases on German-based Twang!, as well as their first full-length before moving on to Rainbow Quartz Records for several more recordings. Then in 2008, “Little” Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool label released the compilation CD Infinite Soul: The Best Of The Grip Weeds. Van Zandt remains a vocal supporter of the band to this day. The band’s latest CD sees them back with Rainbow Quartz International.
Even though The Grip Weeds are with a good label, they still retain all the DIY practices that got them where they are. They actually bought a house and built their own private Grip Weeds studio called House Of Vibes, which also has become a successful commercial enterprise. Through House of Vibes Productions they have recorded and produced many artists besides the Grip Weeds, such as Buzzed Meg, Swinging Neckbreakers, Evelyn Forever and Danny Alderman.
The Grip Weeds have pursued a very high standard of originality in both their live presentation and their recorded sound and it doesn’t surprise me to see large amounts of praise from some of the biggest magazines known to mankind on their media page.
Their latest band project is titled, Strange Change Machine and it is a two-fisted delivery of offbeat excellence, boasting over 24 songs in the two-disc set. An Eclectic treasure box filled with pop sensibilities and arabesque journeys through style, Strange Change Machine is music for people who care about what they put into their brains.
“Speed Of Life” blows right out of the gate and brings you back to heady English days of The Who as well as the curious back road progressions of Gentle Giant or even Yes. Plenty of tasteful dissonance puts this right into the psychedelic sights of The Amboy Dukes as well. All of these are just suggested influences for a song that is an absolute thoroughbred.
The knack beat of “Don’t You Believe It” pounds four on the floor rhythmic pop with its farfisa and vox magic. The Grip Weeds are all lifelong singers, which means that they really pack a significant signature live and in the studio. Guitar lines and wah-wah whines tear the seams all over this tight tune.
“Be Here Now” mixes jungles of jangling guitar, pristine layers of backing vocals and vibrant electric pianos. Recollections of the early ‘70s and the Carpenters, Bread, as well as the late model vibe of Third Eye Blind put this song deep in the AOR top ten.
“You’re Not Walking Away” showcases the vocal talents of Kristen Pinell who belts in the vein of Kim Deal or Kate Pierson and allows the band to rage heavy, proving that these guys can rock as loud as anything Jersey has to offer, including the Smithereens. Great compositional job on this, solid, eerie and gritty as hell.
The Ambient, meditative glint of “Sun Shower” mixes lush mystery of The Walker Brothers with the airy, psychedelic spray of the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Varied and hard to pin down, the Grip Weeds manage to pack their songs with influential sounds without getting lost in clone sauce.
Disc two has over eleven more tunes to explore and I’m just plumb out of space here. I didn’t do an actual top ten list this year, but I’ll state right now that this is definitely one of the smartest, most varied records I’ve heard all year. The Grip Weeds embrace their vast idiosyncrasies and use them to take the listener on vast, musical journeys to the center of our minds. For more information on this highly underrated New Jersey band, please head over to gripweeds.com.
The Paramount Theatre Goes Hollywood Babylon- January 1, 2011
As I write this column, I’m progressing several weeks into the future for the event you will read about today. Heading into a different direction, the Paramount folks are actually turning the clock back to the golden past and resurrecting a time frame where, in 1930, they presented a movie called Wings. Starring Hollywood icon Clara Bow, Wings was a landmark for many, including newcomer Gary Cooper, who launched his career and took the world by storm. The movie was so well received that it became the first film to win the Academy Award for Best PictureHYPERLINK \l “cite_note-variety-1” and the only silent film ever to win Best Picture.
The showing on January 1, 1930 was the very first public event held in the Paramount Theatre’s spacious hall. Originally presented as a silent film, Wings will be presented exactly 81 years to the day of the original viewing, in the same theater with one very big difference. The film will feature a live scored performance by three of the Garden State’s most qualified bands, making for an artistic and modern spin on an age-old classic. The movie has been edited into three sets, and each band will play live behind the film as it shows. The specially selected area acts include The American Dollar, Chemtrail and The Obvious.
The Obvious and Chemtrail are two popular area groups that fit this eclectic bill perfectly. Blending instrumental soundscape with Pulp Fiction sensibilities, it is enhanced by the addition of The American Dollar, a New York-based duo that blends the vibrant complications of electronica, guitar and ambient-layered vision. And while this lends a modern twist to an otherwise old art form, the act of playing music behind movies has been going on since the birth of film itself, as pianists were generally employed to score along live as the audience watched.
This screening is special for at least two reasons. First, this theater is as beautiful and regal as it was almost a century ago. The fact that the Paramount has weathered a tumultuous past and still survives to tell its historic tale today is amazing. This return to the golden age and showing this film is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the true historian, film enthusiast or fan and should not be missed. Second, our ongoing musical heritage continues to shape New Jersey’s musical soundscapes. Our musicians are responsible for securing a place in history for Asbury Park and the Garden State in general, making the Shoreworld a contender in the arena of rock and roll.
The Paramount viewing of Wings will take place on New Years Day: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 8 p.m. Tickets will be a mere $5, with partial proceeds from every ticket sale benefiting The Asbury Park Film Initiative. For further information on this cool idea or to see what else the Paramount wizards might be mixing up next, head over to apboardwalk.com and take a look at all the fun.