Major Concert

Johnny Marr at the Wellmont Theatre, May 1, 2019

Prolific singer-songwriter Johnny Marr was born and raised in Manchester, England, where he began his musical career at the age of 13. The area surrounding Manchester is dotted with numerous American and British Army and Air Force bases that were established during and active after the Second World War. The exposure to American blues, rock, and country & western music had an intense influence on the young people growing up in that vicinity, and the number of world-renowned bands coming from the area is legion. Besides Marr’s famous work with Morrisey and the Smiths, he has played and collaborated with such well-known bands as The Pretenders, the Cribs, Modest Mouse and the supergroup, 7 Worlds Collide. Marr’s jangly and unique guitar style has had incalculable influence in the alternative music scene.

Opening with the unbelievably rousing anthem,  “Tracers,” from his third solo album Call the Comet, Marr set the stage for an emotionally intense and enthusiastic show. He followed up with the Smiths’ “Big Mouth Strikes Again.” Next came the brand new single “Armatopia” before returning to Call the Comet for “Day In and Day Out,” which Marr described as a song about dealing with the issue of obsession. Several more tracks from that new album were interspersed with Smiths songs, most especially the revered “How Soon Is Now?” And so it went, alternating between more from Call the Comet and iconic Smiths songs, right through the encores, which were represented by two from each category, concluding with the powerful “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet.”

Museums

“Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: Punk Graphics, 1976 – 1986”

The Museum of Arts and Design

NYC

The Museum of Arts and Design, located at 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan, has had an ongoing exhibit since early April of this year that examines the impact that punk music and the underground scenes of New York and London have had on the mainstream culture. The exhibition also continues examining the post-punk era with items that are directly descended from—and sometimes indistinguishable from—original punk.

It contains over 400 items, including posters, album covers, and original issues of fanzines that not only epitomize the era of punk, but which demonstrate the influence that such examples of low-budget, minimalist design and shameless appropriation shaped the aesthetic of the culture to this day. Those with fond memories will enjoy viewing band promotional buttons, stickers, and a collection of do-it-yourself flyers from CBGB’s. Interestingly, the exhibit takes note of the substrate of sci-fi and horror cinema that informed much of punk’s art and design.

The documentary, Please Kill Me: Voices from the Archive, plays in the museum’s theater, plus there are scheduled screenings of international punk films from Mexico, Japan, and Cameroon.

What this exhibition drives home is the self-evident thesis that punk rock was and is a binary phenomenon that is as much visual, graphic art as it is a style of music.

The exhibition runs until Aug 18.

Cinema

Her Smell

Written and Directed by Alex Ross Parry

Starring Elisabeth Moss

This film is a harsh, cinema verité look at the fall-and-rise of a semi-“riot grrrl” grunge rocker during ten years of progressive personal collapse. It starts with the period when her career has taken a slide due to the decline of popularity of the genre, plus the disruptive and accumulated effects of drug use and finally the distraction of motherhood and a custodial ex-husband.

The cinematic style is rough, chaotic, disorienting. Dialogue is near-impossible to follow, whispered or half-spoken against the din of the loud yet muffled background noise of rock performance spaces, but also the peculiar percussive and atonal soundtrack of composer Keegan DeWitt. Characters proliferate without sufficient introductory identification. Action moves confusingly into and out of doorways, hallways, the inside and outside of studio spaces. Scenes are shot through recording studio glass barriers with the reflected images of those on this side of the barrier laid over those of the characters on the other side of the glass. Loose, wild hand-held camera technique may give the feeling of actually being there in the action but may also leave some viewers with motion sickness.

All this lends to the anarchic pandemonium that suggest the drug-besotted world of a rock star in decline, trying desperately, but ineffectively to reverse or deny the slope of the curve. The poisonous ego-inflating effect of former stardom proves as destructive as the drugs and alcohol.

Nico, reviewed in these pages last August, tell a similar story, but with greater clarity and with reference to real historical characters and events. Her Smell, while capturing the feel of this tumultuous situation falls short in the function of storytelling, jumbled as it is and lacking a coherent narrative. Its most disappointing feature is, however, the objectionable shortage of the music, which is hardly heard at all except in the final scene (spoiler alert). Moss’s masterful performance, and that of the other major characters—particularly the convincing portrayal of her daughter by Daisy Pugh-Weiss—does, however, salvage the motion picture as cinema art, making Her Smell worth the viewer’s time and the price of admission.

Recordings

It Can’t Be Undone —The Final Sound (Putnam Valley Recording Company)

This new musical project showcases the collaborative songwriting abilities of three scene veterans to produce an ultimately listenable,11-track album that spans the best-liked genres from rock to shoe gaze to Goth. Pablo and Gonzo, formerly of the band Fragile, have recruited tech wizard and bass player George Grant to provide stylish vocals that capture the disconsolate, plaintive feel associated with The Cure and other 80s icons.

Lyrics and melody prevail over rhythm in dreamy hymns. The stress is on grief-stricken feelings masterfully vocalized by George Grant and skillfully supported by guitar accompaniment and decidedly purposeful percussion. Some tracks are somber and carefully slow-paced, whereas there are also sufficient examples that rock the house with rousing anthems.

This album packs an emotional reward to lovers of melancholy music aimed at protesting life’s predicaments. It captures that theme with skilled composition, instrumentation and vocalization making it a pleasure to listen to.  The fourth track, “Rainmaker” and the penultimate, tenth track, “The River” have been released and are already available as videos on Youtube. The whole album will be available on all major streaming platforms and distributed by CD Baby.

A/X —Agent Side Grinder (Metropolis Records)

This is the fifth album by Swedish electro/post-punk band Agent Side-Grinder. It contains nine predominantly rhythm-based tracks which feature rich, minor-key melodies, evocative male and female vocals with moody synthesizer accompaniment. Most are fairly rapidly paced, although the last, ninth track, a spooky trip hop entry, might be too slow for actual dance. 

There are menacing and enigmatic spoken word samples with the feel of urgent news reports intermingled with sung vocals.

Jittery, repetitive cadences and mantra-like phrases create and eerie yet appealing mood that prevails through most tracks. The unexpected and happy intervention of a saxophone blends in surprisingly well within the electro-industrial mix, adding a human touch to the otherwise pitiless, mechanistic mood.

Some of the musical phrasing is sufficiently familiar to those steeped in 80s Gothrock to be pleasingly reminiscent of their favorite style without being imitative. More modern, up-to-date can be found that echo such relatively new bands like Boy Harsher. There is in fact no lack of originality, and all nine tracks have an appeal that is all their own and that will grow with each with each listening.

The album, titled “A/X” is newly available for download now, and hard-copy vinyl and CDs will become available in June.

Candy — <PIG> (Armalyte Industries)

Raymond Watts of <PIG> has released an album of covers of originally cheery or sentimental songs from the pre-millenium on which he has put a dark spin . The covers comprising “Candy” are reworked with a cynical, post-modern touch that substitutes Watts’s sometimes growling, sometimes hissing vocals for the originals on these familiar pieces.

On these pages, back in October, we reviewed the <PIG> EP “Risen,” containing the video single “That’s the Way I Like It,” featuring Sasha Grey. “Candy” is the full-length EP pivoting off that effort.

On “Candy,” the rhythm often is slowed down from the chirpy, upbeat original to a slithering crawl as <PIG> does with Kris Kristofferson’s relaxed, country & western “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Substituting for Olivia Newton-John’s saccharine-sweet “Hopelessly Devoted to You” – from the original film version of “Grease” – Watts renders the lyrics in a slowed-down, furtive croak.

A hyper masculine, deep, deep bass voice takes the place of Prince’s funky, falsetto. Damien Rice’s ultra-sincere, “The Blower’s Daughter” with folksy guitar strumming gets reworked as a somber piano-backed anthem.

Elvis and Frankie Goes to Hollywood get the <PIG> versions of their hits. The CD version has 14 tracks with such famous hits as “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” – which gets full-orchestral treatment and female vocal backup – to such oddballs as “Wand’rin’ Star” by movie cowboy Lee Marvin and “If He Swing By” by chanteuse Marlene Dietrich.

There will be four collectible vinyl editions, variously numbered and signed with special sleeves and inserts. The deluxe, vinyl issue has 18 tracks and contains all 14 tracks on the CD plus 4 more such tracks such as a cover of the Spice Girls’ “Two Becomes One” which is definitely not their satin-soft version, but rather spotlights Watts’s deep baritone and Barry White-like orchestration.

Overall, it was a creative challenge for industrial musician Raymond Watts and <PIG> to undertake the task of updating these generally upbeat, earnest songs from recent history and converting them to pieces with quite opposite sensibility.  It was a huge project – taking down the old order – and I’m not certain it was worth it. As with all covers, some fans will reject the proposition, while discerning critics may find it infinitely fascinating and invaluable.

Check with Armalyte on Bandcamp for CDs or downloads; and with armalyte.com/candy_vinyl for details on the vinyl.

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