Down the Rabbit Hole with The Bellwethers

Once upon a time, in another life, I was a teacher.  One of the things that made me a particularly good one, is my love of intellectual games.  Discovering the hidden elements of a piece once you knew its context, its history, perhaps some personal details about the artist.  In that sense, deciphering the meaning of a piece of literature became this academic riddle, a mystery you had to dig and ponder to unearth and interpret.  I loved everything about the process.  I loved the learning of the information myself; I found it exciting.  And I loved teaching the connections, ie helping students with the clues needed to make those connections, in the classroom.

fb_img_1564163728002664649786062241727.jpg

That love, that academic, nerdy excitement that comes with the expectation of getting to experience something totally new, and trying to discern what it means on a larger, or a metaphorical scale, never went away.  In fact, I apply that level of academic, critique to almost everything, from books, to movies, to albums, and to bands.  I enjoy that mental exercise, and I enjoy writing about it.  Hence… writing reviews and stories in the first place.

I tell you this, because the depth of my style of review is unique.  Bands and artists around Arizona are starting to take notice.  If you are expecting a 500-1000 word blurb that vaguely tries to give readers the gist of a record so as to hopefully help them on their decision whether or not to buy it, then you are probably reading the wrong blog.  Not that there is not a place for those quick read articles, by all means, they are a staple in the way we relay information.  However, they are not what I particularly enjoy.  So when Kim Dangerous of The Bellwethers handed me a signed copy of Schizophrenic Zen at their debut show at The Spirit Room in Jerome, Az she knew exactly what she was doing.

  “It’s a concept album, and I know that’s your thing.  It is told through the lens of two characters, and uses literary allusions.  I would love to hear your thoughts.”

fb_img_15641637704999079423684663737255.jpg

She was singing all of my languages.  I love this kind of thing!

So I approached my listening to The Bellwethers new album like a riddle.  I was a detective, a teacher, a student, digging through the lyrics, writing down the connections, and looking for the clues. I asked one question, “May I have a list of the songs and which ones you and/ or Fran wrote?”  Kim sent the list, and it included the clue I needed to start my deciphering listen.  “Masquerade – we actually wrote our own parts for this one from the perspective of the characters.”

advice from a caterpillar141414900854340877..jpg

I was on the case.

So…. suspend reality for just a moment, it is fitting, after all, and become a student again.

Down the Rabbit Hole with The Bellwethers:

The Ghost Writer Review of Schizophrenic Zen

Definitions.  We have to have an idea of what the heck we are dealing with.  So the first stop is making sure we are coming at the topic from the same direction.  What is a concept album?  A quick Google search reveals the following definition:

“A concept album is an album in which its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively then they do individually. This is typically achieved through a single central narrative or theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, or lyrical.”

I would add to that, that all albums are unified by some device, that is what caused those songs to be collected as an album in the first place – but that device must transcend being a simple grouping of singles and define the complete work as a larger concept above that.  Moving forward, finding this unifying device becomes integral to the understanding of the album.

img_20190721_144054_2783798689984894242750.jpg

Album Title/ Art Design.  A good place to at least start in any critical analysis is title.  Schizophrenic Zen.  A Venn diagram of the word schizophrenic might lead to the following ideas.  Split.  Fragmented.  Multiple Personalities.  Bi Polar.  Mood Swings.  Extreme Highs and Lows.  Finding Zen is all about trusting direct intuition gained through meditation and thought.  So fragmented intuitions?  Fragmented insights.  Or insights gained through fragments and meditations on moods and changing emotions.

img_20190726_130642_6913928596908721783545.jpg

Looking at art design defines some of these fragments and provides clues on themes to look for in the lyrics and music of the songs.  The cover is of a chic woman, she is only half in frame, dressed in a black form fitting dress, black boots, and holding a mask, almost as if she is in the process of dropping it.  Furthest away from her is a mirror, that she has turned her back on and is walking away from.  Within the mirror is a dark, sable expanse and a tall hill or butte with a shock of light peeking across the top.  Littered between the mirror and the lady in black are discarded cards, one of them is the Queen of Hearts, and a page of a newspaper or magazine that seems to be from the culture/ review section.  The reverse of the record is a map of the world, covered with crystals, time pieces, pictures of the band, old playbills, keyholes, gears and insects.  There are two tarot cards: The Fool and The Tower, and an Oracle Card, The Cosmos.

“Note: In the Grand Arcana of the Tarot, The Fool is the symbol of innocence, youthful, idyllic joy and inexperience.  Naivety.  The Tower is unforeseen change.  Interesting side note, is that most old ways must be swept away, or struck down, to make way for something new.  The Cosmos is a unifying Oracle that seeks to focus and influence the exchange of consciousness influencing all living things, their creative energy, and the success of those creative endeavors.”

Two characters and literary allusions?  Kim’s clue sticks in my mind, as I place the record on the turntable, allow the vinyl to spin for a few rotations, and gently place the needle arm down on the gleaming reflection of white noise at the edge of the spinning black.

30f90a28cacd6a798f4ba2074ca0f0615595738768531359614.jpg

For the sake of research, I chose to start with the track that provided a direct clue.  “Masquerade” was written collaboratively by both Kim and Fran, they wrote their own parts from the perspectives of the two characters.  Stands to reason, that to be able to define those two voices speaking through the songs on the record, I would need to start there.  Lyrically, the song is easy.  The first verse is the first voice.  A character of confidence.  A character who is at piece among the bar patrons and revelers.  A character who is at home here.  The second verse is the second voice.  A character of anxiety.  A character of fear.  A character of mistrust and second guessing.  But these two characters want to know each other, want to exchange their masks, meditate on the possibility of who they can be outside of these confines.  Using that tool as a key, we can try to decipher the speakers on the record.

Tracks/ Lyrics. 

Schizophrenic Zen.  The title track of the record starts out with jangling acoustic chords and a chanted dirge.  Both Fran and Kim shout out the short bursts of phrases, “No rest for the wicked, no peace for the cursed.  No sense in crying over the way things were.  I’ve got a head full of my own pain”, but after the song kicks in with the electric guitars and a pounding guitar riff that  unifies the rest of the song, there is another sense in the lyrics.  “Bottles of pills change my brain.  My therapist says I’m okay.  Fix my heart.  Fix my head.”  The song is rockous, and easy to pound your foot along to like a kick-drum, but there is no escaping that underlying idea.  Fragmented meditations.  Two characters.  One feels pain and loss, and seems to be battling something exterior, whereas the other seems tormented by something internal, something mental.

All I See. The second voice tells this story.  The voice alone in the night.  The voice that is fearful of falling.  The voice that resides in stillness studying stones.  The voice that is calling out for a rescue.  As with many of The Bellwethers songs, this song is a solid bar jam.  It is a boot stompin’, hand clappin’, sing along that will get any bar rockin’ and rollin’ and ready for a good time

The Tower. Almost as in answer, the first voice comes at us from atop the battlements of this song.  The voice that suggests that pain comes in life and we build up walls to seal it away: to seal ourselves away.  We take our fears and our secrets and we wall them up,  but “the tower will fall.  Everything you love.  Tower will fall“.  But because of the clues laid out, we are forced to read these lyrics like a Tarot reading, and The Tower does not always mean crisis.  Often, it means an unexpected change that needs to happen, to knock out the old and make way for the new.  But it is scary to let those walls fall down, even if that destruction might lead to a better place.  How can one progress through the infinite cosmos, if they are shackled by their own barricaded hate?

1b1bd0c7e1f8700aff3fd7bafb386c8c6416133661011888741.jpg

Alice On Fire. Welcome to Wonderland!  Here is where the second of Kim’s clues, the one about literary allusions, comes in.  And as a literature teacher, a fiction author, and a blogger who loves to dig deep, the fact that it is Lewis Carroll is fantastic and wonderful!  Critics for ages have been unable to completely agree on the many facets and variables possible within the metaphors and rich allegories in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  Additionally, as I have quoted on this blog before, I, like Tolkien, am much more fond of applicable allegory as it puts its trust, and responsibility of comprehension, on the reader and the reader’s experience.

j-r-r-tolkien-4504403334239205230952222.jpg

This is important because immediately, Kim’s heart-felt and poignant lyrics hit us with references to exactly what kind of maze we have been taken into.  She awakens soaked from another dream.  Alice on fire floats on a sea of green.  Most interpretations of Alice in Wonderland have her falling asleep by the brook in the beginning, and heading down the rabbit hole, and awakening from this dream at the end.  In Carroll’s book he describes her as seeing her reality as floating in an ocean, bobbing between reason and emotion in a body that you do not recognize.  In the sequel, when Alice steps through the looking glass, she steps into a sea of green flowers.  Or, our character, voice number two, may be just dreaming and awakening on green sheets.  Such is the power of applicability.  Let’s continue our listen.

fb_img_15641637018913559932839842012976.jpg
Photo Credit:  Blushing Cactus Photography

Hours at the looking glass/ Euphoric madness ripped to shreds/ Alice on fire grasping for a thread/ Fields of forget-me-nots.  Not only are these lyrics prime with Lewis Carroll references, but they also prompt a rather cool inner question.  This song is most certainly voice 2, the voice of inner conflict – who is dreaming and grasping at threads of sanity and looking in mirrors.  So either our character, our narrator number 2 is Alice, or a connection is being made to the meaning underneath of Alice.  Most critics of the novel agree that Alice is allegorical for innocence, the frustrations of youth, and the loss of wonder as we age and change, and the awakening to just out of control the systems of the world are.  ie Alice is a version, or a reading, of The Fool.  Again, set this in your notepad for now, and let’s continue on.

steadman_alice15138877093205987729.jpg

Still a third layer of the song however is what to do with the lines: Screams of ecstasy escape her lips/ Alice on fire passion hidden in/ Seems like forever since her last kiss.  All the metaphor could simply be a layer of smokescreen over a song about a women who has been hurt, and is alone, but has a lover who makes her wake in fiery sweats.  And all of this, like a good solid chunk of the record is over solid, 70s rock and blues infused rhythms, hard kicking drums, and just good, fun, rock n roll.  It should be noted all of these songs are rockin’, and all of them can make me just lose myself to the groove and the asphalt and just cruise on down the highway…. but if I wanna go down the rabbit hole…….

House of Cards.   You may feel at times, reading these in depth reviews, that you are reading a bit of an academic research paper.  Good.  Moving on.  One of the ways I can see to interpret the story of this record, is two lovers.  Both torn, one from pain and loss and the other from inner conflicts, anxiety, and fear.  One is almost adrift in that world, and the other has sealed himself from it.  And somehow… they are coming together: a Tower and a Fool, both lost in a dream, fumbling down a rabbit hole.  Under this reading, this song is Voice 1, trying to tell his ‘Alice’ that he is just a simple mind, toeing the line, looking to survive, and justify the lies he hides.  But, he would try to be the king of her house of cards if she would be the queen of his heart…. and the Alice in Wonderland references are not necessarily subtle.  Additionally, House of Cards could be interpreted as Voice 1’s song to his love when she is not with him, in answer to her waking from a dream in Alice on Fire.  Both are applicable, both are justifiable by the text.  Man, I really miss the classroom sometimes!

DSC100575455.gif

Masquerade. Returning now to the midpoint of the album, knowing the map of speakers who have been telling us the pieces of their story, and knowing that Alice in Wonderland infuses its message, then the end of the song holds a special place.  “I’m free of the bonds of time.  Maybe I’m a poet, maybe a thief.  Maybe a father who knows no grief.  Maybe I’m a dream out of control.  Maybe I’m too far down the rabbit hole?”  But the entire song is about weaving in that masquerade ball, about being comfortable in it, or fearful of it.  About embracing it, or resisting it.  About freeing the person you are hiding beneath the masks you wear.  About fearing who that might be.  But needing that tower to fall to have anything good at all.

Our characters are in that rabbit hole, they are descending through those wonderlands of dream, they are questioning their realities, and having tea and Unbirthday parties with chaotic individuals who have lost the meaning of time.  Time.  As in the clock faces all over the record album.  And everything that is, isn’t and everything that should not be, is.

Fractured. In a tune that comes out of the gate like a power rock anthem with grinding guitars and building crescendo drums the grove can have you dancing all over the story teller’s pain.  Perhaps more than any other song on the record, this is a dark song, a painful song, a cry from a voice that is lonely, lost, and who can’t feel anything anymore.  A voice that is just the remnants and dust of a once shooting star.  This speaker is heartbroken.  Their dreams have been lost.  Ashes to ashes we all fall down.  But the song will have you stompin’ like a free wheeling Janis inspired rock goddess….. just don’t think too much.

Born Red. This song threw me for a while, I was pretty sure I wanted to attribute it to Voice 1, but the girl that was being cast away just didn’t fit.  There was no way that was ‘Alice’ or Voice 2.  But several lines stuck with me through the blues and traditional country inspired guitar lics of the jammin’ rock song.  “The past a cage full of ghosts/ Born red from broken hearts/ A million tiny cuts make a million tiny scars/ This is my world/ You’re uninvited little girl”.  But the clue to it is the line just before the end, just before off with their heads.  “Born bad I understand the Queen is a card in my hand”.

Back to Lewis Carroll.  When Alice finally reaches the garden at the end of Alice in Wonderland, and realizes that all of the power, all of the nobility, all of the things that are supposed to make sense are just cards….. she awakens to the fact that in reality she has the power.  The beauty of the garden is this awakening and self awareness.  The queen… can be discarded.  The queen…. can be Uninvited.  The queen, and her fear, and her…. off with their heads!….. is just a face in a deck of playing cards.

steadman_alice20336633967813082879.jpg

Tomorrow. This song is sheer heartbreak.  It tells the pain that forced the building of the tower.  Lines from earlier a father with no pain… resonate very deeply here with lines like I want to drink when I think of you….. I would have liked to know you so you could see that I’m more….  This song could make you cry…. but for the fact that we are left, almost believing… that tomorrow will indeed come, and tomorrow we can build a new life for ourselves.… and tomorrow…. lightning might crash into the top of that tower…. and bring it all shaking to the ground.

Longest Heartbeat and From the Ashes are both fantastic songs, intensely personal, and fitting to the two established voices on the record.  Both are worthy of mention, but are not included on the vinyl record of Schizophrenic Zen.  They are bonus digital tracks.  As I tried to center this review on the record as a Concept Album, I stuck to the vinyl itself.

The Concept.  This is a long, thoughtful, and hopefully thought provoking review.  I approached it like a literary research paper, something I may have written in college.  But the root.  This is a rocking, solid, front to back, top to bottom rock and blues album.  It has great lyrics, haunting melodies, guitar riffs that make you swoon, and a pounding rhythm section.  But, if you dig, it has layers like an onion, and this paper is actually just a scraping of the surface of the analysis and comparison that could be done on this stellar body of Arizona Music.  But perhaps it is sufficient to say this:

“Under this beautiful sky, in this amazing, magical universe, we are all stumbling fools, and walls against our scars.  We are all Alice, wandering in a world of dream and reality, wishing we could be bigger, but being sorry when we lose the magic of being small.  We are all chained with pain, and fearing against hope that maybe one day we will learn to be thankful.  Maybe that we will learn to love again.  To remember what a kiss feels like.  To remember a loved one lost.  And hear that heartbeat. And when we wake up from that dream, after the shock of lightning has brought the tower of our own limitations down, and it is tomorrow.  We are free to build that new life for ourselves at any time.”

fb_img_15641636771481584968587203462517.jpg
Photo Credit: Blushing Cactus Photography

But if all that thinking is too much…. you can still just turn it up to 11 and dance all night!

Keep the Greasy Side Down my Friends!

cropped-ghostwriter-final.png

 

Advertisements

Decades: a Time Capsule Interview with Banana Gun, Decker, and Wyves.

Perhaps it is the midlife event that leads a person to contemplate time as an increasingly interesting meditation. How it constricts. How it seems to pass so much faster, the further one goes on. And although we have all been told that so often that it has become cliche, there is nothing cliche about experiencing it. We think of everything in terms of ‘The Decade’: CNN documentary series that break down American history, by decade; music stations that play the hits, by decade; fashion fun days during homecoming week, by decade. The decade is a big deal, and it kinda always has been. We hold that concept of Ten Years on a pretty high pedestal in terms of attainability, sustainability, tenacity. But, I guess with age comes the realization that ten years can pass in the blink of an eye, and that realization, that scary dawning really real feeling of it, makes every part of the journey significant. If there has been a highlight to this writer’s, music lover’s life, it has been a continual reaffirmation of that concept. That fact. None of this is about the “Where do you see yourself in ten years….” goal at a self help seminar. This is about the journey…. the life…. that living…… that happens over a continuous decade as Indie staples of the Arizona music scene.

 

Decades:

A Time Capsule Interview with Kevin Loyd {Banana Gun} and Brandon Decker {.decker} with special guest Corey Gloden {Wyves}

The beginnings of Banana Gun, 2009, came at the tale end of a drought. A lot of these guys had seen the legendary “Long Wong’s on Mill” Scene, but by the time they had come up, formed bands, and were ready to go… the music scene had changed, and become a parking lot. Kevin Loyd was working as an Assistant Manager at Kinkos, were he would eventually be let go for giving too many flyer discounts to his band friends. “Yeah it was that Kinkos over on University, I remember Mikel and Meridith of Sugar Thieves coming in one time, and I would always handle the bands that would come in. I would hook em up, and yeah, that’s probably why I got fired.” He laughs his throaty raspy laugh. “Yeah, lots of band discounts.” Thus the birth of Banana Gun.”So, you are here, in Phoenix, giving away free fliers at Kinkos,” I ask with a smile, “but why Phoenix? Why did you come, and why do you stay?””I moved here with my original band because I had heard that Phoenix had a great music scene.” Kevin’s answer is to the point, almost obvious.I follow it up with a quick, “Were they right?””I think it had sorta died by the time I got here,” Kevin laughs. “There has been a resurgence, obviously, but the scene that was kinda legendary, had closed down, or moved on.”

IMG_20190705_153552_192.jpg

Corey, who hitherto was hanging out in wing-man position had come for moral support for Kevin, who is pretty shy in interviews, incidentally. It was kinda cool, because I was pretty nervous too. Within a few minutes, it was just hanging out with a couple of buddies. That is the kind of people these guys are. Just cool cats. Kids you would want at the barbecue. So, looking to get Corey involved, I turned to him and asked, “When did you get to Arizona, and what was the scene like?””I arrived in just about 2000, and I was underage. Back then I was doing my gnarly rock n roll in coffee houses, restaurants, house parties. All sorts of sketchy places. I didn’t really know anybody who could get me in to these places underage. Incidentally, Corey’s timing to Phoenix is very similar to Josh Kennedy of The Black Moods. A lot of these guys came to Phoenix together. They had heard the legends that had come out of Mill Avenue, and they wanted to be the next generation. It took time for the scene to come back, embolden, and once again surge forward, but these guys were here. Playing where they could play. Forming bands. Lurking, like surfers on polished boards watching the swells, knowing the big one is on the way, and doing everything they could to practice, tighten their chops, and be ready.”By the time we came up, Wong’s wasn’t really doing music anymore. We were struggling, scrapping around, trying to find places to play,” Corey added. “We got the Friday and Saturdays going again back at Yucca. At the time, Yucca was only doing live music on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.””No shit?” Kevin piped in.

IMG_20190703_211754_987.jpg

“There was a scene. The scene still existed. There were still people here and going to shows during that era,” Corey continued as we talked about the decade that brought them to Phoenix, and the decade in which I left. But everyone I talked to talks about a void, a bit of a black hole left in that era after the 90s were gone…. but the current exposition had not yet lit. “They were following bands like Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, Pistoleros, and so was I. We could see them in really big venues, really big stages around town, like Tempe Town Lake, sold out rooms. And I was just a kid, I think I still had braces, standing in the back. But, once we came up, and were really ready, there were just not the places anymore to really go, you know, do it.”As our discussion progressed, you get the sense that the music scene of a city goes through transitions. When live music is booming, like the heyday of Mill of legend, or what we see happening right now in downtown Phoenix and Tucson, you see less reliance on DJs to fill venues. Less reliance on dance parties to get people to come out. When that shift has gone the other way, venues are reluctant to trust the draw of live bands, so they find new places to play. “We still want to get that young audience, so we start playing Bars & Grills, restaurants, coffee shops and happy hour spots, waiting for that scene to take a breath and get going again,” Corey concluded.His perspective on this early formative time was really interesting, because although Wyves did not officially form until 2014, Corey was here in Phoenix, with guys like Josh Kennedy, Chico Diaz, Kevin Michael Prier, Bob Hoag, Kevin Loyd who would all go on to be members at the ground level of this new resurgence that we feel now.

FB_IMG_1564081088902.jpg
Photo Credit: Valerie Luxicon

Brandon Decker, who joined our interview via phone and messages after the fact, has nothing but praise for Arizona. “Arizona is special to me because it is home. It is where my heart it, and where my loves reside. I have deeply enjoyed my time in California, but Arizona, Sedona in particular, is me at a cellular level.”From a musicians point of view, there is a momentum in Phoenix. What can be done to kind of propel it, how do we keep that stone rolling?Kevin thought for a moment, and then answered easily. “Putting together a good show. We work together. We try to make that happen. And by working together we are able to prove to people that when they come out they are going to get consistently great shows.”Corey Gloden added, “To the point now, that you know, we have been friends for what, 12 years now, and you guys are playing this great show, and we get to back you up across Arizona. That’s pretty cool. I mean we haven’t written songs together, but we write songs together, we share and collaborate ideas. We even call each other, we might be in the middle of a recording session, and we call and just kind of run over stuff. It doesn’t mean that we are writing together, we own our own stuff, but we are looking for that last minute green light, that compass. These guys, Kevin Loyd and Brandon too, are two of my compasses.”

Looking to connect the Tempe scene I remembered from the 90s boom with what I could feel happening, I offered, “One of the things I really enjoy about those 90s Tempe legends, Roger, Dead Hot, Pistoleros, Satellite, is all of the inner references and nods to each other and the inspiration they derive from each other. Its almost like what you are describing between the three of you reminds me of that.”Corey was nodding assent before I finished the question. “Absolutely. Absolutely. Kevin, Josh, Kevin Michael Prier, Brandon, these are the guys you are calling at all hours. These are the confidants that you turn to. These are the guys, you know, we came up together, we jammed together, we wrote so many unreleased little things that led to who we are, together….. so yes, absolutely.””We all have such a deep appreciation for each other’s stuff, each other’s work,” Kevin concluded.Speaking of the depth of these friendships, both singers got a bit candid, and their genuine friendship was quite obvious. “These friendships really pervade our writing, and the shows that we try to provide. These are the things that make this life really, really fulfilling,” Corey began.

“We don’t really create… new friendships. We are gigging, we are working, we are meeting so many people…. but these deep, formative friendships, become our litmus. We help each other get better. We push each other.”Kevin said, “It say a lot that we are still here. Still pushing each other. These friendships just get deeper, and they show in the music that we record and the gigs that we play.”Corey added a really interesting perspective, which I feel is key to building community. “When we were coming up, we were going out like almost every night. Playing shows. Seeing shows. And we saw those great Tempe bands playing those big shows, but we didn’t sound like them. When we were going out, seeing these new bands, there can be a tendency in the old guard to surround yourself with the familiar, rather than reaching out and including the new. It is important to come back into town, go to some of these smaller venues, put together a killer show, and keep supporting that growing scene. Reach out to some of these newer, younger bands. Try to cultivate that scene.””We always try to do that,” Kevin added. “I hate going to see five bands that all sound the same. It is about reaching out, building new and different shows, and building that consistency.”

FB_IMG_1564080993495.jpg
August 9 Phoenix

Brandon Decker, had this to say about the upcoming Decade Show at Crescent Ballroom, and his reminiscing of Phoenix.

“I remember tending bar in Sedona one day, while still very much trying to wrap my head around *all-the-things* of music – having a strong & consistent band, writing better songs, making better albums, delivering a compelling performance, reaching people, finding larger stages, booking better shows, and so on – and I saw that one of my favorite bands of the time, Blind Pilot, was playing a show at a place in Phoenix called Crescent Ballroom. I’d never heard of the place. I looked at their calendar and it turned out it was the venue’s inaugural concert. It also turned out that my very favorite band of the time, Deer Tick, was playing there soon after.  I bought tickets to both of the shows.When I arrived at the Blind Pilot concert, it was easily one of the most striking, cozy, classy music venues I had ever encountered. I remember watching the band deliver a masterful performance and thinking, “I want to play here someday.” I was eager to return for Deer Tick.A few weeks later, in what was truly an unbelievable turn of events, especially for the reality of where our little rag tag Sedona band was both geographically and otherwise, I got a call the night before the show asking if we’d like to open it, which we of course did, and I’d like to think we kicked ass on a level appropriate to open for a band like Deer Tick.A new standard had been set. I know that any band around in Phoenix back then felt the same way and furthermore felt great pride in being able to be on that stage. And that has never changed.It is a fitting and special honor to bring our 10 year Phoenix celebration to Crescent with fellow decader’s Banana Gun plus OG homies Wyves and New G Homies Ali A and the Agency.  Join us.”

img_20190809_004228_6656943412618414160828.jpg

In ten years, really, what I have I learned? I have learned that making music is expensive.” Brandon adds via Messenger. “But, in earnest, making music for me is all about creating that space for it to come through. I’ve not known it to work any other way than to make myself the soil for the seeds to grow. And they seem to grow very much on their own. So, it’s about getting there, which can be hard in a life that is so demanding. And I mean demanding for all of us, not just those making music or making art.”It’s an interesting perspective, and gets back to what I was trying to allude to a bit in the beginning. It is easy to sound cliche when you talk about just enjoying a journey, but it really is all about that. Business concerns, selling art, selling music, selling books, streaming royalties, all of these concerns alter the ocean in which we all swim in, but it does not change the fact that we would still choose to swim in that ocean. It happens very much on its own, in many way, and capturing it and selling it almost become completely separate, mutually exclusive things.

FB_IMG_1564081064126.jpg
Photo Credit: Valerie Luxicon

Brandon Decker continued, when discussing the business side of music over the last decade.

“As far as business, I’m thinking less and less about business. I don’t like business. I like connection. I like emotion. I like creation. Business is some other thing that is less sincere and less meaningful. What drives me to keep doing it? I do not know the answer to that in a succinct and defined way. It’s some amalgamation of magic, possession, fear, desire, love, my son, pride. I couldn’t quit if I wanted to and I don’t think that I want to. Like Angel Olsen said, “I just want to be alive, make something real.”

So when we talk about building that Phoenix scene, that community of music that says that we are a destination, how does Phoenix compare to other cities you have played. Wyves just played Austin around and during South by Southwest for example. Is Phoenix on that map, are we even in that conversation? Is Phoenix a music town?”I definitely get that sense. Phoenix has that sense, but in comparison to an Austin, it is more about continuous longevity. Austin experienced this southern rock, blues boom, decades ago, and it has just never really stopped. You can just see so many great, legendary musicians there, all of the time, and the town has sustained it, and the music has stayed. Here you get a sense of that, and of that history, but on a much smaller level.” That said, Phoenix also has its own crop of festivals and events that are creating large draws for the Valley. Innings Festival, McDowell Mountain, Scottsdale Culinary Arts Festival, to say nothing of the Decade of Apache Lake Music Festival, are not small endeavors and are gaining massive attention with each year they return.”As Phoenix continues to grow, what are some of the biggest challenges faces bands?”

IMG_20190705_154027_266.jpg

“Driving,” Kevin answered quickly. “Everything is just so spread out, I mean other than that triangle of places downtown, everything is pretty far flung across the Valley.””My wife loves to throw odd questions at me for my band interviews. When I interviewed The Black Moods, Josh talking about Hair of the Dog playing during his presidential acceptance speech came from a Karla question. If you could play on, or write a song on, a famous person’s instrument, who would it be and what instrument?”Kevin answered first, “Willie Nelson. It’s gotta be Willie and his guitar.” Corey’s answer, which involved a trip to LA, and duets sung with other dudes over a white piano, was much more interesting, but it lead to the answer of, “well, it was Prince‘s piano. So there is that.” I will chalk that up to the biggest surprise of the evening, the Wyves front man would write a song on Prince’s piano; how cool is that!

IMG_20190705_153818_209.jpg

Both decker. and Banana Gun are celebrating their first completed decade as bands. Each has recorded that milestone in ways perfect to their persona and mystique as bands and identities. decker. celebrated ten years by recording a live musical experience back in May at Last Exit Live. “In my view, Friday, May 10 is one of the most meaningful decker. engagements to date, and I have not looked forward to a performance quite so much,” Brandon wrote on the band’s Facebook page. “Simply put, we’re looking to imbue 10 years of decker. performance, energy, love, and intensity into one night and capture it all on film and tape.” After the event, Brandon tied to sum up his depth of overwhelming emotions.

“Friday night was easily the most powerful and memorable occasion of my life apart from the birth of my son. For nearly three hours non-stop, we experienced exactly what the band and I had hoped for – electric, authentic connection and elevation. Sincere tanks to each of the beautiful people that were a part of Friday’s show – the musicians, the production, the venue, the attendees. You all were a part of the magic. Can’t wait to hear what we created together.”

I have no word on whether decker. is releasing a recording of that live performance this August or not, but the intensity, the beauty, and the passion of a decade recording the sounds of their souls will be repeated on their ten year anniversary AZ mini tour with Banana Gun and Wyves.

FB_IMG_1564080986248.jpg
August 8 Tucson

Speaking of milestones, Brandon said this to the city of Tucson when announcing this series of shows. “10 Years Tucson. There was a time when we were fortunate enough to make a record with Craig Schumacher and company at Tucson’s WaveLab Recording Studio, responsible for so many albums which influenced and inspired me. We posted up in the studio for some extended chunks, sleeping on its floors, and gathered a formidable cast of Tucson’s finest to touch and infuse the record with the genuine spirit of the land. Our album Patsy remains one of my proudest endeavors and an authentic snapshot of my fierce hunger of that time. I will always cherish my time in downtown Tucson, at that studio and with those talented people as further evidence of the rich gifts I have been able to receive through making music. And I am always eager to return.

“On Thursday, August 8 we will make our way to the hallowed, haunted halls of Club Congress to kick off our 10 Year Celebration run across Arizona with our buds Banana Gun and Wyves. Hope to see you there, Tucson!”

Turning back to Kevin, I continued, “So for this Ten Year Retrospective album that you are releasing on this mini Arizona tour, Banana Gun went up to Curtis Grippe’s cabin outside of Flagstaff in Mund’s Park to record. How did you guys decide what songs were going to be on this special collection?”Yeah it was awesome. For this celebration of ten years, we wanted to record not a best of album, but a re-imagining a recording that showed that growth and that change and that journey. It’s us a celebration our ten years and showing appreciation for Banana Gun still being here and still doing it. We had a heated debate on what songs would be included, and in the end we all just kind of made our own lists of songs we wanted to show changes to, or maybe we had developed along the way into something different, and then when we diplomatically compared those lists, songs that popped up multiple times made it deeper into the conversation. We also provide a new song, Born to Lose, which is kinda a little debut for that single.”

FB_IMG_1564080999076.jpg
August 10 Flagstaff

“At the end of June, we spent a weekend in Mund’s Park recording live and new versions of 10 of our favorite Banana Gun songs from our back catalog. This includes new versions of May June July, Not Dead Yet, and Screen Time. We’re gonna have a limited run of CDs available for super cheap at our anniversary shows Aug 8th at Club Congress Tucson, Aug 9th at Crescent Ballroom and Aug 10th at Monte Vista in Flagstaff. Hope to see you there.”

“So we went up to Curtis’s cabin, and I walk in, and it looked just like Curtis’s studio over Stem Recording moved up to the mountains. It was awesome, I was walked in and it was a singer’s paradise.””So the memes are true…. about singers?”

“Well…. I had a gig,” Kevin laughs as he defends himself. “But we had a great couple of days, had a celebration, and recorded that milestone with our friends. Whatever we captured… we captured. “Kevin… Banana Gun is on many many shortlists of one of the best bands in town. To many happy returns sir. To decades.”

Via Facebook…. Brandon has added a ten year message for each town on the mini tour.  Here is what he had to say about Flagstaff and Sedona.

img_20190809_074039_5616806166168779851458.jpg

“15 years ago this summer I moved from Corona, CA to Flagstaff, AZ to finish my degree at Northern Arizona University. I was 24 and studying Philosophy. Completing my undergrad meant vastly more to me than an education. It represented redemption to a decade of drug addiction and seeming failed attempts at recovery; a decade of wreckage, depression, hopelessness, the darkest depths and so on.  I soon found myself again in a tailspin. The reality that I did not die, end up in a serious jail scenario or getting rolled is itself a miracle. The anecdotes from this time reveal a sad, desperate boy lost and on the brink of personal catastrophe. As I was moving back to Arizona last week I came across journals going back to this time and I felt such compassion for that person. While I can no longer identify, I can very clearly recall the anger and futility of such hopelessness. I experienced nothing short of a divine intervention – in no way a testament to my will or character but rather a gift of mercy.I left Flagstaff for the summer of 2005, regrouped and then returned. I was humbled and rattled; embarrassed for who I had been. I finished college and did what any Philosophy major does – went immediately to work at PF Chang’s in Scottsdale as a server, two years later moving back north, this time to Sedona, where so much of my process of rebirth has occurred.So what’s the point? I’ve always made music from the place of acknowledging the shame, regret and hurt which I’ve experienced and as a way of acknowledging that we all have these processes and wounds, in hopes that together we might shine a light into those dark places, so that that light might begin to penetrate the deepest depths of our beings and we may begin to find ourselves, not alone but together, in relief, release, and, with any luck, in joy, hope and laughter.My time in Flagstaff has always encapsulated that process for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to wrap up our 10 Year Anniversary shows next week in the city that is not only mine, but also Amber Johnson and Dante LoPresti‘s alma mater and a place that, to me, is so full of tangible, living evidence that we can change.Join us Saturday, Aug 10 at MonteVista CocktailLounge along with Banana Gun & Wyves for the final show of our AZ weekend.”

IMG_20190703_211702_405.jpg

“We have a bunch of new material we are excited to get into the studio and start working out as soon as possible, this milestone of a celebration just has us hungry to keep doing what we do!”What I got from these guys in the end… was a conversation that was much less about where do you see yourself in x number of years, and much more about what story does your journey share. I was reminded that we collectively write our history, we collectively build our community, and we collectively bask in the scene that it creates. It becomes so much less about getting somewhere…. and so much more about staying vibrant.And isn’t that the best answer to where do you see yourself in a decade?Burning bright. Staying vibrant.Yes. Yes it is.

cropped-ghostwriter-final.png

Keep the Greasy Side Down, my Friends.

Not All Of Us Are Human: the Ghost Writer Review

When I am asked to review an album, I often think about what makes my job as a blogger different from say Ed Masely’s job as a music critic over at the Arizona Republic. The first thing that comes to mind? A paycheck that does not depend on shares and likes {IE he gets paid regardless of people liking what he writes}. That may seem silly, but it is perfectly relevant. Why would a blogger, especially one who is relatively new, more of a fan than a journalist, and using the blog to also get his/ her own work and name out in the world….. why would this person write a negative review? Why would the requesting band share it? The reason I bring this up, is because as a writer, and one who is trying to maintain legitimacy, integrity, and build a viable audience through having that respected opinion – this creates a bit of a Catch – 22. If all of my reviews are glowing…. well, wasn’t it The Incredibles that tried to teach us that if everybody is incredible, eventually nobody is? Yeah…. I think we missed that lesson on a whole bunch of levels.

Anyway, the point is…. I want to maintain integrity as an opinion writer. I also need to please the folks that are asking for my review, if I want that review to be shared and put out into the world. I tell you this, so that you can see that for me, it is much easier to simply not review what I do not like, rather than spend time away from writing fiction to write a review that will not have any legs.

 

 

 

So…. finally…. onto the review of I Am Hologram‘s new record, Not All Of Us Are Human. Which incidentally, I really enjoy… and thus would love to spend some time writing about it. See how this works?
Track 1 Frequency 972

There are several instrumental sonic interludes on this record, and they showcase one of the things I like the most about it: the variety of influences and stylistic allusions that come to mind while listening to it.

This song brings a lot of those highlights together in a short introduction. Richard Nihil {aka Hologram} layers Eastern and Middle Eastern tones and rhythms with overlapping guitars and indistinguishable space radio traffic, to create a mood, a head-space that ushers you into the themes and sounds of the experience.
Track 2

FB_IMG_1563631483812.jpg

With lots of reverb and echo and guitar riffs that shoot back into space like a Star Wars Introduction crawl, this song comes at you full of Rush, Coheed and Cambria, and Pink Floyd. And when we discover a wormhole, just to launch into the powerful heart of the song “I think about you often” the song takes us down that black hole of thought in space, which is exactly the point of this kind of sonic journey. With clear, crisp rock lyrics, that are not heavy, not metal, not industrial growl, but also not necessarily perfectly on pitch, Richard/ Hologram creates songs that feel passionate, emotionally honest, and provocative that are delivered almost as an understatement to the accompanying vocal of his guitar. Definitely my favorite track on the record.
Track 3 The Architect

Another short instrumental interlude with beautiful clear acoustic guitar tones. This song feels very Mystic River or The Trees speaking of Rush…. but with a title like The Architect, I was already headed down that progressive path of delights anyway. The cool thing about these kind of songs mixed into an album like this is that it creates a relationship between the title and our imagination, in a way that allows us to create and dream that lyrics and spoken themes do not. I Am Hologram is very good at creating this mental space.

FB_IMG_1563631544023.jpg
Photo Credit: Bill Goodman

Track 4 Once I Was

I often think about comparisons as a reviewer/ critic. As an artist myself, I understand the frustration of always being compared to someone else rather than being able to stand on your own merits. However, that said, the first question anymore, ever, people ask me when I get talking about music is, “Who do they sound like?” So… I think the magic is using the comparison as a valid way to bridge into talking about the artist in question. It makes sense to start from a place of common ground before plunging onward into something unknown.

Vocally, Richard Nihil is true. The human voice is powerful. It is raw. It is emotional and provocative. What it is NOT is controlled when it is channeling these energies. That control comes from the studio, often, and it is one of the most magical things about live music. Watching someone get as close to that studio version without the help of anything… but the crowd and their instrument and their band. But corporate radio and auto-tune have made us all afraid of the beauty that comes with that transparency.

This second lyric track brings to mind the vocal range, and imperfections, of Jared Leto, lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars. If one listens to a selection of that bands music, across their discography, one gets a sense of what Leto is trying to achieve, and capable of, with his voice as an instrument, or as a weapon, to add to the arsenal of his message. That comparison rings true with Richard as well.

As I listened to this track, I found myself waiting, and wanting, the song to rip wide open like an 80s rock anthem. This desire, might I even say scripting of expectation, colored my first impression of the song. I found myself underwhelmed at times, or might I even say disappointed. But…tonally as the song shifts down a gear at these points rather than exploding forward with my expectations – I think, I like this more. I find myself digging my teeth and nails into the building layers of guitars waiting to see if he is going to take me where I expect to go or keep veering to a slightly parallel side road at the very last minute. This game… of where are we goingwhich way will you take me…. kept me engaged with the song. Even when I found myself slightly disappointed against my expectations, I am even more interested in listening to the song again without those expectations.

I really liked this one…. but I had to keep thinking about it. And that is never a bad thing.
Track 5

FB_IMG_1563631487763.jpg

When you first listen to Not All Of Us Are Human each track is a bit of a guessing game. The record feels unified, sonically, but each song blends different inspirations, tones, and influences. For instance, this track starts off feeling pop. Then, is it going to be rock? For a minute Michael Jackson even danced into my mind as a possible inspiration, but as the song finds its grove at about 45 seconds in, and that guitar comes in with a beautiful clarion purity that takes me to a place that I very much like to go, I found myself once again leaping into those thoughts of… who does this guy remind me of? Hologram’s voice takes me back to 80s rock, but not the hair of it. Back to the rawness of the 90s, but not the grunge of it. He resonates Bob Seger, Billy Joel, Billy Squier, maybe even a little Elton John, and harmonizes with that voice with guitar lics that are a bit Santana, a bit Bonamassa, a bit David Gilmore.

A lot of what I love about music right now is this incredible nostalgia that immediately makes comparisons come to mind… but once you settle on one. Okay, this guy is Bob Seger with Santana guitar work….. but then maybe he is a bit Lenny Kravitz…. but wait… there is that undercurrent of Pink Floyd…. but the mixture of it…. the Ninja Blending if you will…. is what makes it so fresh and modern.
Track 6 Not All of Us Are Human

Before SteamPunk {well, not really, but before it was a thing in Pop Culture} there was Young Guns II: a western with a rock n roll {well, okay, Bon Jovi} soundtrack. This blending of expectations, Westerns and Rock, Space and Bowie, Dance-able Darkness ala Harper & the Moths, Paper Foxes and Fairy Bones, is one of the things that makes the journey of this album exciting.

I love that Hologram does not disguise a lack of guitar skill with his use of the petals and distortion knobs on the board. They are an enhancement. In this way it is very much like Pink Floyd. Nobody would argue Gilmore couldn’t play and needed the sonic pulses to disguise lack of talent. The same is true here. And what begins as a spacey sojourn reminiscent of that earlier wormhole, leads to a dark place. We are transported as travelers from a place of dreamy beauty to a place of nightmarish shadows. Once again, the song leaves us haunted by the meaning of its title and its importance to our exploration.

IMG_20190719_101739_429.jpg
Photo Credit: Ghost Writer

Track 7 Paul is Dead

The laugh track, a sampling of an interesting comedy sketch….. and the shredding over it… forces a juxtaposition. Our voyage takes a twist towards the surreal. A listener is forced to think about these elements separately, but it is difficult to do so as they inform each other.

 

 

 

“Paul Horner was a local comedian. I dressed up like a giant dolphin on stage that night during his performance. He’s passed away, and he was a very close friend of mine. This was the hardest track to make on the record. – Hologram”

We ask questions such as, “what is that guitar’s commentary on that particular joke or reference? what is the comedy’s satirical response to the darkness and echo of that sonic explosion?” All while simultaneously asserting, I am going to leave everything out here. There is no gimmick under this facade. Just a dream. Just a vision. “What you see is what you get.”
Track 8 Null Void

Lyrically I like this song a lot, but unlike the other songs with lyrics on the record I find myself distracted from them by the music. At least until the last 30 seconds of the song where the tension of being Null and Void seems to be turned up, but the song leaves me wishing it had been more compelling. It is in a field of heavy thinking songs…. this song feels like the Journey cover on a Floyd record, and because of that, it doesn’t engage as much as the preceding tracks.


Track 9 I Beg To Differ

This song, with an undercurrent of sampled material and industrial techno grind, almost lights our way with a My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult flashlight. If there is a track on this record screaming, “DJ, Please Remix Me!” It is this one.
Track 10 Silentium Na’Ah

Back at the start, I mentioned influences. This is another short, sonic interlude of a track: a rest stop on our highway, but its variety and range from the others, while still obviously showcasing the same guitar talent, is what brings this example to mind.

FB_IMG_1563631534428.jpg
Photo Credit: Bill Goodman

My father listens to music all of the time. Four artists pretty much. Loreena McKennitt, Chet Atkins, John Michael Talbot, and R. Carlos Nakai. He loves the ambiance they create. He becomes distracted by lyrics and trying to focus on hearing the words over the emotional mindscape the music paints. So…. everything from Nature, to Christian Acoustic Folk, to Old Country, to Native Flutes…. and I think he would add this album to the rotation.
Track 11 The Ghost Who Breathed

This track comes in heavy with thick drums, but they exude tribal rhythms, heartbeats, hurrying pulse, and there is something about it that reminds me of something that would be on an early Beggars Banquet album. It’s a bit Love & Rockets, a bit Southern Death Cult, a bit The Three Shadows but more Parts I and II, certainly not III.

Album-Release-Party.jpg

For a guitar driven sonic highway of an album, this is much more of a progressive blending of styles rather than a slug fest from an ax wielder. As I listened to it, I was continually reminded of bands that I love, but who are not necessarily remembered for a lot of their heavier, atmospheric, instrumental work. Songs like Carnage Visors, Fear of Ghosts, or The Kiss from The Cure or Phantom by Sisters of Mercy come to mind as neighbors on an I Am Hologram playlist.
Track 12 God Speed John Glenn

Probably my least favorite track on the album, but the reasons why I think make the entire reason we do this crazy art thing obvious. Pardon the aside. When I sit down and read some of my previously released work, sometimes I cringe wondering what ever possessed me to release that on the world. But, then I rethink, every piece of work we release is a step on our evolution, and the beauty of being independent is that we are free to write that experimental song or story that nobody else would take a chance on. There is validity in that.

This track is long, it is instrumentally repetitive and not altogether interesting for the songs length. Vocally, if there is a negative to be said about the vocals on this record or that some keys and pitches are missed, or slip…. that is probably the most pronounced on this song. BUT…. where this song may fail as a single on a recorded record, I can see it being a very cool first or last song on a live setlist. It has huge areas for sweeping, live, improvisations on the guitar, and the song could be lengthened or shortened depending on venue and crowd. Its screaming, raw, edgy vocal would work well live, especially at the end of a show where the crowd is driving that finale energy and the guitars are surging and there is nothing left of the night but to leave it all on stage.

In that scenario… this song excels in potential.

Final Takeaways

Buy it. Stream it. Not All Of Us Are Human is a great experience. It will set the mood to your evening. And really, that is what I was trying to bring to fore here. Once upon a time, sitting around a table in a dimly lit room with dice and candles and goth friends, we wove the tales of supernatural creatures in a fantastical world. We created mix tapes to set the mood, and make our dream worlds real.

ZomboMeme 22062019094809.jpg

I Am Hologram would be on that mix-tape.

Keep the Greasy Side Down, my friends.

cropped-ghostwriter-final.png

Summer Of Sizzle: An Arizona Indie Review Part I

I have been proclaiming it from the rooftops!  I have been writing about it across platforms!  I have invited my friends to experience what I am seeing and feeling!  Keep the Greasy Side Down launched you into summer with The Runner Up EP Release show, and then, we sweated into July, and the music scene is so dense I feel like I have not stopped!

So, what is the point of The #SummerofSizzle?  The point is to try to keep you in the know of some of the best live music events happening here in Arizona.  If you are new to our state, Welcome!  If you love music, even more so!  You have come to the right place.

IMG_20190706_163928_121.jpg

This last week I have covered 814 miles on my 2016 Indian Dark Horse Motorcycle.  I have kept the greasy side down all over the great state of Arizona to show you exactly what kind of awesome is right here, all of the time, almost any night of the week.

So… let’s get to it!

Tuesday July 2

The Arizona Arts and Entertainment Rock n Roll Hall of Fame 2019 Induction.  This year, if you were a college adult of the 90s, in Tempe, and find yourself lamenting and reminiscing for one of the best live music eras in the Valley, then this year was for you!  Arizona legends: Dead Hot Workshop, The Pistoleros, and Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers were inducted along with Long Wong’s on Mill Avenue.  It was a night of epic proportions, and definitely THE IT PLACE TO BE to start The Summer of Sizzle.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you missed any of these articles, you best remedy that immediately.

20 Years of Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers

The 90s Music Scene

The Illusion of a Meaningless Exchange: the Brent Babb Interview

Wednesday July 3

Robin Wilson / Banana Gun/ Dead Hot Workshop at Valley Bar.  It was almost a secret show.  In classic Dead Hot fashion, the event didn’t drop on social media with a whole lot of notice, and although Robin did mention it several times at the induction, that was a rather select group of folks.  So… pulling into Valley Bar for this show almost felt like being in on the down low.  Robin played a beautiful set of deep covers and favorites, with zero focus on Gin Blossoms music.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But, it came across as an evening of sharing old favorites, almost VH1 Storytellers style, and it was very cool.  Banana Gun, even without the antics of their lead guitarist who was recovering from a surgery, brought the party as they always do.  They are one of the very best live acts in town, and any chance to see Banana Gun should be taken.  They were sandwiched by legends, folks… and held their own.  #NuffSaid  Dead Hot Workshop then blew the roof off of a mostly packed house, and fresh off their induction to the Hall of Fame, the night felt like one for the ages!

Thursday July 4

New Chums perform at Flagstaff Summerfest 2019.  I had a three day weekend.  It was a whole lot cooler up the mountain that down in the Valley.  And my chums were playing in the pines!  Seemed likes a great day for a ride.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Matt Lloyd tried out some new arrangements on the guitar for several songs, and the Chums brought some of that feel good vibe to a northern 4th of July celebration!

New Chums will be supporting Jane n the Jungle at their album release at the end of the month!  Do not miss that show!

Friday July 5

Harper & the Moths deliver as they return with Dark Enough to Dance.  I told you so, and man o man was this show lights out fantastic!  First, The Sugar Skulls (an ensemble group from the local School of Rock locations Gilbert, Scottsdale, Awatukee) absolutely blew me away!

These are kids, all of whom graduate from School of Rock when they graduate high school!  Covering Bowie!  I loved it, and the crowd at Crescent Ballroom did too.

Next came New Heat and WHSTLE (the later will be joining New Chums and MRCH to help Jane n the Jungle release their first full length LP “Concrete Jungle” at the end of the month) brought wonderful, energetic performances.  This show showcased a lot of talent from a wide range of artists, to say nothing of Harper surprising everyone in the room with a few of his covers.  It was all around great night, and these two bands brought high energy to a packed party.

Then came El West.  I was mesmerized.  I had heard the band’s music, but seeing it performed, that voice…. that you can see, visually, coming from all the way down in Bryant Powell’s toes as he channels it through his diaphragm and out into the world.  He is operatic.  And it is amazing.

El West will be performing a benefit for Cancer Benefit Concert for Dear Family Member, Kim Trocki this Saturday.  Get there!  It is a great cause, and I guarantee you this band will blow you away! Watch!

Then, the man himself brought his band, and their new music back to Phoenix.  Dark Enough to Dance is one helluva album, as my review shows, but man can this band BRING IT to a live show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

They covered INXS, Miami Sound Machine, almost the entirety of their new album, as well as several awesome deep cuts like Chemicals and Walking Through Fire.  It was all around a magical event, and one you should definitely not have missed!

I am beyond stoked to have them headlining my show for the Ghost Songs Book Release in September.  Harper & the Moths are the real deal, my friends.

Saturday July 6

The Bellwethers made their Spirit Room debut in my special home away from home, the Ghost City, Jerome, Arizona.  First, it should go without saying, but I love Jerome, Arizona.  It is where I go to chase my muse… when the words will not come.  Never underestimate the magical properties of a seemingly ordinary place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This show was Lights Out!  Kimberly Dangerous was all over the place, ruling the bar, courting the crowd, dragging people in through the open doors!  It was hard for me to not imagine Old Necktie having a killer day slinging the beverages to the apparitions…. just…. almost …. out…. of view.  As The Bellwethers definitively proved they can rule The Spirit Room…. and I am fully looking forward to their next performance there.

Also…. guess who has a brand new, signed vinyl of the new album???  Review…. soon.

Summer of Sizzle Part II PREVIEW !

Thursday July 11

The Dollyrots / The Darts / Shovel at Yucca

Saturday July 13

Kim’s Benefit with El West at Angel’s Trumpet Ale House, Arcadia

Wednesday July 17

Snailmate Tour Kickoff w/ Ghost Cat Attack/ WHSTLE/ The Woodworks at Crescent Ballroom

Thursday July 18

Locals Only Showcase w/ The Real Fakes at Yucca

Saturday July 27

Paper Foxes Vinyl Release Show at The Rebel Lounge

Wednesday July 31

Jane n the Jungle Album Release Show at Crescent Ballroom

GET OUT !!!  SUPPORT some live music !  None of these shows will disappoint… GET THERE !

IMG_20190706_170827_208.jpg

And Keep the Greasy Side Down !!!  (I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts….)

The Vibe is ALIVE in Phoenix, AZ: The Runner Up EP Release Show Review

Psst…. come here.  Do you feel it?  That electricity?  That pulse?  That vibe.  If you have gotten out, at all, to any local establishments, festivals, or shows then you know what I am talking about.

IMG_20190629_232142_651.jpg
Photo Credit: Ghost Writer

Something is happening in Phoenix, Arizona.

My friend, and lead man of The Real Fakes, Kevin Michael Prier, and I just talked about it.  We are all talking about it.  The quality of music right now in the Valley of the Sun is off the charts.  Name your genre.  We have it.  And we have a lot of GREAT of it.  But this article is about one thing.  VIBE.  It is that word that has a very nebulous definition, but you know it when you feel it.

IMG_20190629_232326_205.jpg
Photo Credit: Ghost Writer

And if you missed the extravaganza at Valley Bar in downtown Phoenix that was The Runner Up EP Release Party, then let me tell you Phoenix…. that Vibe was on display that night.  Everything we love about live music: a great crowd, friendly people, no fights, wonderful musicianship, talent and skill, and just raw, transferable, contagious ENERGY was on display that night.  And that one show screamed out to this writer…. This, this right here, right now, is WHY you do this!

IMG_20190701_180744_108.jpg
Photo Credit: Ghost Writer

Paper Foxes opened the night, and, because the Phoenix music scene is HOT AF…. I was at the Marquee seeing the debut of my beloved Wyves at that venue warming up the crowd for Wade Cota.  Wyves played a great set, and did everything we know that band is capable of in warming up a Phoenix crowd, but.. I missed most of Paper Foxes.  (That’s okay though… because guess who has you covered for the bands epic Vinyl Release Show!!!!)  That said, I know they opened with Dance of the Dead and Devil on My Shoulder back to back and closed out with Pop Confessions.  My God this band is good!!!! Get your damn tickets to their show!!!!!

I had never previously seen The Hourglass Cats.  I have seen Killa Mouse with Scattered Melodies, and I love them; I have listened to his single tracks, I dig em.  But this guy… is unreal on the keys.  What a show this band brings!!!!  Paper Foxes got everybody ready to dance, and these guys said… yeah, dial that shit to eleven!  At one point I got a fistful of CDs from Cori Rios and I passed them through the crowd, and although I am nothing of the showman that Jesse Morrison is, they even had me up and bouncin!  Wow!  Cats, I know I am late to the party… but as aforementioned… the Phoenix talent is DEEP.  Consider me on board!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then… we get to The Runner Up.

Friends, if you are performing live art, and you want to be at the top of your game, you absolutely must see The Runner Up Live !  Rusty is one of the most charismatic and charming front men in town, and his stage presence is FIRE… literally and figuratively.  Like a dancing leprachaun gone pop/ rock/ disco Rusty comes on like the energizer bunny and he does ….. not….. stop.  He channels energy to the crowd in a way that you would expect from a Major front man, it is contagious.  And it is just about damn near impossible to not get into the party when you have Rusty Bringing It !

Another thing I really love about The Runner Up… is they bridge a gap in the current Phoenix scene.  They are pop.  Yes.  They are rock.  Yes.  They can jam it up with a retro dark disco band like Paper Foxes, and absolutely have the energy to follow The Hourglass Cats.  Folks…. that is saying something.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As far as the EP.  Buy it.  Buy it right now.  Represented by 80/20 Records, in my opinion this is the best, hit song after hit song of original music EP that the label has released to date.  It is six songs of pure bliss.  The Ep showcases their raw energy, their amazing musical skill, fantastic, tightly written and thoughtful songs, and souring guitar solos.  Folks… they are like something new…. but mixes with a bit of The Cars…. and some Billy Idol…. and some Imagine Dragons….. and some awesome sauce I can’t really put my finger on.  I Came to Play opens the EP, and like I said, listen to this song, experience them live…. this band is not messing around.  And they announce it in a way that will get you dancing right from note one.  Melanie starts out very differently from the first song, but the musical talent in this track is fantastic.  I lose myself in the guitar riffs this band has captured.  Somebody is hands down, lights out, a great pop rock tune that needs to be on the radio.  LISTEN TO IT RIGHT NOW.

IMG_20190629_213146_804.jpg

Over it and Because you Lie are just great songs.  And Pillz, is by far a local favorite.  It is poppy.  It is fun.  It is bittersweet.

This is an EP you can just listen to on repeat for hours.  I have.  It was wonderful.

IMG_20190629_223716_606.jpg

But the takeaway, besides releasing a great record, is the VIBE.  Folks, make your shows electric.  Make the night an experience.  Tonight, I will be watching some of my all time favorites get inducted into the Arizona Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.  Let me tell you my friends, my life…. has been defined by musical memories.  Think of the power you have.  Think of the responsibility.

cropped-ghostwriter-final.png

Keep the Greasy Side Down my Friends.