Indianapolis’ The Late Show regains power-pop mojo

This story was featured in NUVO in August.  Nice little interview piece I did with Don Main, who fronted The Late Show/Recordio/Rockhouse; essentially the same band, with different names.  He and the main lineup is back together and playing shows in Indianapolis.  I first saw them at a 150-person venue in Madison Indiana – I think it was 1989 or 1990 – so was nearing the end of their run.  Best band the club booked in the Electric Lady in the two or three years that I lived down there.  Also saw the Rockhouse version of the band, but my recollection was they were burned out by then, and the Rick Clayton Band (Late Show guitarist) was around in the ashes of the band separation, but not for long.  So it is good to hear they are back and power-popping…and working on a new album.

The Late Show had a shot at national success.

In 1974, the band went to New York City and worked with producer Jack Douglas — known for his work with John Lennon, Aerosmith and, appropriately, The Knack — at the Record Plant. Major labels CBS and Epic offered them record deals.

The band, who created a potent mix of power pop vocals, guitars and reverberating drums, said no. They thought there were better offers to come. But, none came.

So why is their independent debut album Portable Pop now getting acclaim, more than 30 years after its original 1980 release? The band can thank the record label Trashy Creatures Records. They re-released the record in late May, and it picked up airplay on more than 70 radio stations of varying formats and dial positions.

The Late Show is playing a number of Indianapolis shows in 2012 and according to leader Don Main, prepping a new record. NUVO caught up with Main — who went on to own the Puccini’s restaurant chain — to talk about the albums, his other band and how the hell this all happened 40 years after The Late Show got together.

Indiana Album: Mike Reeb – “Breaking”

For a good album to elevate to great, especially for local or undiscovered talent, finding a unique sound while embracing familiar influences becomes important. Some (Lenny Kravitz, Oasis) took that idea to a near-breaking point, while others don’t go far enough, and we are left with music that doesn’t find it’s way into our heart and guts.

Lafayette’s Mike Reeb does a fine job of blending his influences and own sound on his new album Breaking. A record filled with images of melancholy and heartbreak, Reeb casts his bright pop and rock music into the mix to keep it engaging. Continue reading “Indiana Album: Mike Reeb – “Breaking””

Long Player: The Knack – Get the Knack (1979)

Another in the series called “Long Player – Listening to Vinyl”. We pull out an actual vinyl 33 1/3 rpm LP from the sleeve, put it on the JVC turntable and let ‘er rip.  Our opinion, honesty and gut feelings follow….

This edition features the late Doug Fieger’s band
The KnackGet the Knack (1979)

Yeah, it’s gonna be about girls and love and sex. And if you listen to the words, it’s also the story of someone who covers up most of his vulnerability with bravado. Get The Knack was recorded in just 11 days for a miserly $17,000. Isn’t that the way it should be? According to the web, The Knack performed the songs “live” with minimal overdubs, as producer Mike Chapman (who had hit big with Blondie’s disco-fied “Heart of Glass” single) basically slammed the record button and let the band play. He would go on to produce the follow up album that sold significantly fewer copies, so this record was capturing magic – the band would never be bigger than the summer of 1979. Let’s let the record roll….

“Let Me Out” – Keith Moon drums, punk-with-lip gloss vocal shouts and rhythm section that is threatens to push Doug Fieger to keep up. “Tonight! Tonight! Tonight! followed by 25 “Let me Out!” and a scream. It is, really, fucking brilliant. Call to action: we’re gonna hit it hard tonight.

“Your Number or Your Name” – Here’s we get that Beatles influence. (Whooo!) vocals atop a 60s rocker. They beat REO Speedwagon to the sound that would send the Illinois road dog band to a zillion album sales a couple years later with Hi Infidelity. Just a clean, powerful production. Again – flying drums from Bruce Gary.

“Oh Tara” – I love guitars that duel out of each speaker. Georgia Satellites were one of those underrated bands whose albums were so much more than “Hands to Yourself”.  They split dualing rock guitars into one big hairy, raunchy snarl of rock. “Oh Tara”, a lightwight lyric, is saved by a rock and roll band. Nobody ever listens to anything other than “My Sharona”, but dammit, they should.

“(She’s So) Selfish” – Bo Diddley beat. See. They get it. Hiccup vocals ala Buddy Holly. Firmly planted in the Elvis Costello sound, which launched a year or two earlier. This, though, is a part of the misogyny arguement against the band “She’s got you by the short hairs” pops up midway through the tune. Girls ain’t giving the boys the respect – or sex – they want. So Doug shouts “Gimme, Gimme Gimme.”

“Maybe Tonight” – A ballad, in the tradition of Sgt Pepper. As close as they get to psychedelic. Gentle, by band standards. The yearning, shy side comes out of the Knack. They want the girl but haven’t had the courage. Maybe tonight. A counterpoint to the whole misogyny thing.

“Good Girls Don’t” – the other hit from the album. Leering lyrics, from the high school viewpoint, about the  girl who wants “it”. Or so the guy tells himself. Great, angry, wrong-and-right pop song. It’s the tune that critics point to when they want to trash the band, Yes, it’s sophomoric. And it’s a song that sticks in your ear after the album is done. Teen lust hitting us over the head with a backbeat.

“My Sharona” – I think we have a enough distance between the summer of 1979 and now that we can look at the song as a near-perfect slice of American power pop. Did you know there is a raunchy, two-bar quick quitar solo right in the middle? Almost out of place on the glossy cut. That helps to make the song even more of a brilliant pop-rocker. And the band lets loose like a skinny tie freight train near the end of the song. A musical tension build and release (complete with false song ending) that pushes the tune to be more a rock and roll piece than just a slice of radio pop that burned too bright to survive.

Doug Fieger

“Heartbeat” – Buddy Holly again. Really?  A 50’s throwback – lightweight and odd in it’s placement on the record. Why here, after the best song on the album? The production is even a bit muddy. Somebody must have been hungover behind the mixing board.

“Siamese Twins (the Monkey and Me)”
I hear Graham Parker in the grooves. And these boys like to repeat lyrics. They take a line (“he’s on my back”) and chant it, yell it, croon it. Again, the guitars of Fieger and Berton Averre save the day. Sing-song lyrics about escape fall flat. But the guitars are garage.

“Lucinda” – Man, this second side isn’t nearly as good as the first side. The more I listen, the more this side sounds like  early 80’s midwest rock. And I don’t think that is good or bad, only less-than-groundbreaking. Fieger sounds like Kevin Cronin, while the song is about “cutting down” Lucinda, and “it’s going to hurt you”. That’s just not nice. Beatles “Hold Your Hand” ending.

“That’s What the Little Girls Do” – Boy tells girl she’s the one. Girl runs away, because “that’s what little girls do – to you”. Boy begging on his knees. She says she’s sorry. She doesn’t mean it. Guitar solo. Boy dreams of girl. Girl doesn’t give a shit. Music crashes to a cold ending.

“Frustrated” – The last cut of the record. Here’s a book that needs written: analyze the last songs on rock albums. They are usually a different than the other songs on a record. Many are hyper-personal. Somebody usually plays like they are high, and there are assorted screams, clunked notes and odd bits that were put off until the end. Like Fieger chirping, howling and gurgling for the final :45 seconds of “Frustrated”. We hear the fading lyric “I need it, I want it” behind a band banging its way through a loose garage-rock throwaway. A perfect ending.

I will call “Get the Knack” a classic. You arguing?  Listen to it before you do that.  Music worthy of a template called power pop.  And they nearly killed the genre by being so successful. And most of this album (especially side one through “My Sharona”) is as great as that kind of music would get. It was essentially the same sound as Tom Petty was making at the time, until he hit another gear with Damn the Torpedoes, and songs like “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That” toughened up the sound to make the sound inviting to radio again…

Do the Knack deserve slings and arrows?  Were they poison or worthy of Rock Hall of Fame love?   I’d say certainly much closer to the hall (though they will never get in) than the arrow, if only because of side one of this record.

“Good Girls Don’t”

“My Sharona” (Live 2005)

read Doug Fieger NY TIMES obit

Santacular Christmas Song Countdown – #16 – Rusty Bladen

You will notice, if you are a longtime reader, I throw in a fair amount of unsubstantiated opinion on my way to passing along facts. In reality, if you have read the blog posts over the past year, you already know – via these little nuggets of insight that roll out of my brain, into my fingers and onto the computer – what I like. And trust me, this has everything to do with the song at #16.

If you listed the six (I needed six – five wasn’t enough) musical sounds/songs/albums/artists that are the influences behind this here Rockforward site, it would read like this:

1. The trio of Mellencamp albums in the mid 80’s – “Uh-Huh”, “Scarecrow” and “The Lonseome Jubilee”. Anyone who is 35+ that likes the music we do should recognize how much these albums – especially “Scarecrow” – influenced tons of Americana and roots-rock bands and fans.

2. Tom Petty. Anything Tom Petty.

3. Those late 80’s bands that came on the heels of Petty and Mellencamp (including Gear Daddies, Uncle Tupelo, BoDeans, Del Fuegos, Georgia Satellites, Jason & The Scorchers, Lone Justice, and regional/Indiana artists like Larry Crane, Duke Tomatoe, The Hammerheads, and Henry Lee Summer. That is some and there are more ) Alt-country before they called it that. Heartland rock at the time.

4. Springsteen – for the majesty of the rock and roll, the brilliance of the lyrics, and the passion of the live show. And for the lineage to bar band rock and R&B  (like the outstanding J. Geils Band)

5. Power Pop. I think Cheap Trick is woefully underappreciated. Rick Springfield’s “Working Class Dog ” album should be considered great power pop/rock. The Cars debut album is one of the best records in the rock music era. Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend ” record was killer. I saw the Romantics live at a bar in 1989 and they were loud, into the performance, and rocked hard, fast and righteously.

6. The current crop of bands that carry on the sounds: Bottle Rockets, Todd Snider, James McMurtry, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and Will Hoge among many more…

So that’s where I come from. And it leads to #16 on our countdown of 20 Christmas roots-rock songs. Indiana’s Rusty Bladen has been working for the past 20 years in the bars, clubs and parties throughout the state. I’ve known him that long, first meeting him when I was a radio jock down at WORX in Madison, Indiana – I was just out of college and had a Sunday night radio show and eventually did mornings for a couple years. He was just starting his solo career after a few years in cover bands. He now plays mainly solo live shows that are always high energy. His sound hits all of the influences I already cited.  His writing is blue collar.

About a year ago, he released “Feels Like Christmas”, a holiday album of 11 classic Christmas songs and one original – the title cut. That’s the one we have here. Mellencamp drummer Dane Clark produced the effort, and made it all sound really good.  A great country rock/heartland/Americana record. The record is simply my favorite Christmas album of all time. Overstatement? Nah.  Listen to the album.

Here’s the song, with it’s  fun, quaint, and homegrown video.

Concert Review: Will Hoge Brings His Influences to Indianapolis

Will Hoge began the final night of his 2009 tour by sitting in a chair at the front of the stage, playing acoustic guitar. By show’s end Saturday night at Radio Radio, he was in full Pete Townshend windmill, testifying frontman mode. He was sweating, screaming and generally doing what Will Hoge does in a live setting: channeling his inner Petty and Springsteen to create Memphis via Nashville soulful rock and roll. And damn, if he isn’t about the best at what he does.

Ambling on stage in a white dress shirt, back vest, and black tie with an unbuttoned collar, Hoge dotted his 2 hour, 10-minute, 28-song show with songs from his five studio albums, leaning most heavily on his first (“Carousel”) and his latest (“the Wreckage”). Opening with the title cut to the new record – it served as a metaphorical reminder of the nearly year-long battle Hoge fought to recover from a serious scooter accident in August 2008, suffered on his way home from a studio session during the recording of the album.

While the sold-out show (a sign was posted on the front door of Radio Radio just before 8:30pm) pushed showgoers together and created a palpable energy of expectation, Hoge’s initial two songs, played seated, had much of the audience struggling to see the singer and dive into the moment. His voice is gritty, blue-eyed soul when he slows his music down, and his plaintive, tough yet-sensitive lyrics shine.

But with “Highway Wings” from the new record, Hoge stood up, the audience energy came with it, and the rock and roll began. The three song-suite, featuring the ultra-hooky “Secondhand Heart” and the rocker “She Don’t Care”, played to Hoge’s strengths: Petty-esque, anthemic pop/rock, dirtied up with loud Fender Telecaster rhythm and a band that fits nicely and loudly into the mix.

The sound at Radio Radio is always some of the best for any venue in the city, and this night was no exception, treating the audience to clean, crisp instrument separation: just the right thump of Adam Beard’s bass and Sigurdur Birkis’s drums (and they may be the best rhythm section I have seen in 2009), with dueling, jagged guitars, and vocals that rode just atop the mix. Nearly perfect.

Hoge and his band built energy in five or six song bursts, starting with an acoustic song or two before heating up the room with the electric guitars. As the band rocked Hoge would hold his blond Tele above his head, and lean backwards and sideways into the microphone to sing a lyric.

He mentioned how nice it was to have an audience that knew the words, and responded by playing “Heartbreak Avenue”, a song he said the band rarely tries, pulled from the “Carousel” album. “Favorite Waste of Time” had a Smithereens crunch to it, while “Better Off (Now that You’re Gone)” from his underappreciated “Blackbird on a Lonely Wire” album showcased the band’s ability to take a sugary rock song and infuse it with off-the-beaten-Nashville-path twang. Halfway through the show, it was evident Hoge was back. Sure, he sat a few times, either to rest or for effect. Either way was OK, because when he did stand, strap on the electric guitar, and rock, that’s the Will Hoge experience that most seemed to relish.

And you have to be proud of Indy to pack 500 or so into a club for a band whose music doesn’t fit neatly onto the radio in 2009. It’s a shame, a sham, and a pity; Hoge is the guy delivers energy and connection with his rock music, not to mention some great fuckin’ lyrics on top of the guitar snarls and snare snaps.

The staccato riffs of “Your Fool” revved the song and audience up, and the current radio song “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” proved to be anthemic, as expected, singing about the powers of ambition filtered through the radio of a kid. It began a sweep into the back half of the show that found the audience finding their voice, and singing with Hoge.

The crowd knew and sang with “Ms. Williams”, the Elvis Costello-ish “Hard to Love” and laughed along with a story of him breaking into one of the band’s two hotel rooms to find the guitar and bass players on the web, watching video’s of 80’s heavy metal band the Scorpions..

Ending the set by sitting at the piano for “Too Late Too Soon”, Hoge and the band soon came back for a nine-song, end of tour blowout encore, channeling the Georgia Satellites, Todd Snider, The Faces and The Who as they sweated their way through “Just Like Me,” , Long Gone” and a beautiful “Highway’s Home” featuring guitarist Devin Malone on pedal steel.

Near the end. Hoge said the band was going to do a “social experiment” and took them into the back of the room, with only acoustic instruments, and sang and played unamplified, quieting the crowd with harmonies, before he jumped back on stage to perform a sublime, gospel-influenced, “Washed by the Water”. It found Malone moving over to play the keyboard, and eerily emulating a church organ. The audience sang the chorus back to Hoge as the singer waved and walked off the stage.

Will Hoge’s ability to rock and roll with aplomb and walk away with a big smile was a far cry from the days following his accident, after a van driver failed to yield and Hoge smashed into the side of the vehicle. He broke numerous ribs, his sternum, leg, knee cap, shoulder blades, and required more than 100 stitches. So it’s quite a distance traveled for Hoge. Just only once did he quickly mention how “tough it had been” before he fell back into his show, performing like he was glad to be back.

Great, up-close video from the show – November 21, 2009 at Radio Radio