Ciao Anita Pallenberg. A rock and roll spellmaker armed with good hair and a magic holy water shaker. May you rest in a Nellcôte daze. #deadblondegang
I swore I caught a whiff of a clove cigarette. But since you can’t smoke anywhere anymore, the scent must have been part of the punk rock flashback brought on by being in a room full of fans waiting for the band X to play their unique blend of gritty Los Angeles rapid fire rock & roll tempered with a rockabilly soul. The demographics skewed heavily towards representatives from Houston’s Montrose neighborhood circa 1980s – a group consisting of former garage apartment dwellers, former garage band members, their ex-girlfriends, and the critter in the tie-dyed shirt who was always front row at all the good shows.
Upon taking the stage, even the former power-punk couple, John Doe and Exene, reminisced of their early days playing Houston, noting the significant upgrade in venue for the band’s 40th anniversary. The Heights Theater, a proper performance space on a street known more for antiquing than live music was opposite in every way from the bunker-like, disco ball spinning atmosphere of Numbers where the band played in 1982. However, the crowd, in a standing room only formation, responded just the same as they did back in the day, albeit without a mosh pit as no one in this 40 + years fan base was taking a chance on breaking a hip.
This was an audience singing along to every song – songs that rarely went over the three-minute mark but provided a generous pour of indignation and desolation and a really badass cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’s Breathless. Four decades later, X’s music, much like the resurgence of The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, remains totally on point as it was in the Reagan era. We chanted the chorus “I must not think bad thoughts” like a mantra for modern times. Despite the musical message reminding us “that the world’s a mess,” cathartic exhilaration bounced back and forth from the floor to the band members: grizzly ringleader John Doe, Exene, clutching the mike in her happy homemaker on a bender ensemble, the super cool DJ Bonebrake on drums and everywhere else, and guitarist Billy Zoom who maintained an unnerving perma-grin and used his forehead as a resting spot for his guitar pick while playing the the saxophone.
Fans quickly and unobtrusively snapped photos during the brief breaks between songs but otherwise kept their electronic devices in their pockets. A scene devoid of the constant chatter dominating many recent concert experiences. This crowd’s attention remained focused on listening to music they loved played by a band who still clearly loved playing the music. A punk rock show ironically turned master class in concert-going etiquette best summed up by the t-shirt worn by a mature music fan: Polite as Fuck.
Ain’t music grand!
Note: All photos taken quickly and unobtrusively by @j.hall.yall
Grace Jones turns 69 today (May 19th). My mother listened to Grace’s cover of La Vie en Rose and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive throughout my childhood. Dueling love songs – one of undying affection and the other one about moving on. Both served as anthems of the 70’s in my household. I later fell hard for the original version of La Vie en Rose, penned and sung by Edith Piaf. A favorite of my mother-in-law especially when heard on an old school jukebox over a glass of wine in a New Orleans bar.
My riff on Jon Landau’s seminal 1974 concert review, Growing Young with Rock and Roll, in which the jaded music critic finds the fountain of youth in the sight and sound of Bruce Springsteen.
Last Friday night, at the Civic Theatre in New Orleans, I saw rock and roll future and it is female and her name is Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff. And on a night when I needed to feel something, I heard music that made me want to be something for the first time in a very long time.
Rock and roll past didn’t flash before my eyes. Rock and roll was reborn in the form of a boxcar jumping, guitar strumming, soul igniting spiritual adviser, a balladeer from the Bronx with New Orleans chops, a Puerto Rican truth teller paired with a punk rock heart of gold who gave her all to a crowd hungry for the return of their small town heroes.
A night beginning with Nina Simone’s, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, served up as a pre-show prelude to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s catalog of coming of age, rage, immigrant stories and love stories before culminating in a consciousness-raising, rock and roll rally of two covers: John Lennon’s Bring on the Lucie (Freda Peeple) and CCR’s Fortunate Son with an assist from Ron Gallo.
Ruminating on the powerful performance I had witnessed and the empowerment that continues to stay with me, I can testify that there is nothing more rock and roll at this moment in time than to be a woman, who now by definition is a pre-existing condition, and not back down but grab back, and not turn away but move forward, and motivate others from the stage to do the same in a single phrase turned refrain: Pa’lante.
Friday, July 3, 2015. Chicago.
I was the solo no show for a trio of Grateful Dead concerts marking the band’s golden anniversary. A holdout in a town hosting a tie-dye takeover. I bid my husband fare thee well on the first night as he joined the army of Grateful dads making their way to Soldier Field. I wasn’t being insolent. I meant no disrespect. The music that came so easily to so many ears had long eluded mine.
I was a late bloomer whose first exposure to the Grateful Dead was decidedly mainstream. I heard them on the radio when Touch of Grey hit the FM airwaves in 1987. It was catchy but so was Walk Like an Egyptian. Two years later, my college roommate’s copy of Skeletons from the Closet served as my Grateful Dead 101. In return, I schooled her in German punk high priestess, Nina Hagen, and the proper application of red lipstick. But I still stumbled, labeling the band’s colorful lineup of bears dancing on a dude’s backpack as a “fashion don’t” after mistaking them for the rainbow bright Care Bears crew. The closest to a live performance was a night of Ratdog where Bob Weir’s attempt at lounge classic, Play Misty for Me, was cut short with a heckler’s shout: “Go back to Vegas Bobby!” Damn, I knew that song.
Radio again intervened when we moved to Houston from New Orleans where the community radio content shifted from brass bands to singer-songwriter Americana, including a major dose of Grateful Dead. The playlists went beyond the standards of Casey Jones and Sugar Magnolia and dug deeper with songs featuring shout-outs to Shakespeare, Mary Shelley and the Chateau Marmont embedded in the lyrics. Not all the songs sounded like folky campfire jams either with ragtime-y Ramble on Rose and Shakedown Street’s disco beat bringing me into their musical fold. My husband quickly diagnosed me as a fan of first set songs, almost exclusively penned by Jerry Garcia and his songwriting partner, Robert Hunter. I had found my Grateful Dead groove.
However, my non-traditional conversion via recordings versus live shows meant I lacked the listening prowess to withstand the 3 + hour commitment of a typical Grateful Dead concert. In addition, my limited dance moves were more shake it than spin. Most worrisome was my impatience with the band’s signature improvisation – all that plucking and picking, riffing and ripping. Would I turn into that heckler demanding Bobby get back to the chorus? The preservation of my newfound appreciation for the Grateful Dead compelled me to stay away and not commit an act of musical heresy in front of thousands of Deadheads.
So I remain an outsider, enthusiastically unraveling each song’s layers of symbolism and imagining the cast of characters from Billy Sunday to sweet Anne Marie. Contemplating the parallels between Bowie’s Space Oddity, Elton John’s Rocket Man, and the Dead’s Standing on the Moon. Giving Althea’s advice to her man to my own man, “Ain’t nobody messing with you but you.” To thine own ears be true.