OK, I'm all in. Finally watched the first episode (on demand) of AMC's new sci-fi series Humans last night and I'm hooked.
I say new, but this Anglo-American co-production (that's AMC-Channel 4) is actually an English-language adaptation of yet another groundbreaking Nordic TV series, Sweden's Real Humans (Akta Manniskor, 2012-2014), which is as yet unavailable to see unless you have an all-region DVD player.
So why am I in? Well, first off it's a British production filled with a mostly Brit cast (save for William Hurt). Then it's got two Doc Martin alumni in Katherine Parkinson (receptionist "Pauline Lamb," 2005-2009) and Tom Goodman-Hall (Portwenn bartender "Mark Ridge," 2011; Goodman-Hall also had a prominent role in last year's Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game), who play a middle-class professional couple, Joe and Laura Hawkins, with three kids and a need for some help around the house - though Parkinson would prefer a less attractive housekeeper than "Anita." Anita, you see, is a "Synth," a flesh-and-bolts all-too-human-on-the-surface A.I. machine played by the sexy Gemma Chan (who I last saw as a touchy-feely archeology student in Shetland). As you can see in the pics below, she's quite an upgrade from the space-age Rosie the Robot model I grew up watching on The Jetsons.
Rosie the Robot from "The Jetsons"
Gemma Chan cleaning up as "Anita"
Gemma Chan is green with humanoid envy as "Anita"
Her counterpart in Real Humans, Lisette Pagler, is perhaps even sexier, albeit with brown eyes:
Real Humans' "Anita," Lisette Pagler
Synths can be distinguished from humans by their sparkling blueish-green eyes (whoever is providing the colored contact lenses for this series must be making a mint!) and, well, by their politeness (Abe Sherman and Donald Trump would not pass as Synths). But certain Synths are more similar to humans than meets their blue-green eyes; some can actually feel and dream. They are self-aware and start to think of themselves existentially (Cogita ergo sum, anyone?) - but as limited-time-only mortal coils. Yes, they are emo bots.
Seeing as Blade Runner is my all-time favorite movie, you can see where I'm going with this. Yes, these Synths are basically updates on Philip K. Dick's Androids-dreaming-of-electric-sheep, of Ridley Scott's memory-longing "Replicants" who want freedom from their artificial enslavement. They want "more life, fucker." You can make the argument that these robotic wage slaves are metaphors for today's exploited immigrant labor force that toils in sweatshops and farm fields. These are servants that get recharged instead of fed and paid.
In place of Harrison Ford's "Blade Runner" Rick Dekard, we have Hobb (played by Danny Webb, who you might remember as prisoner colony leader Morse in Aliens 3) out to involuntarily "retire" the renegade robots.
Naturally, men being men, when Daddy brings home a sexy skin-job (to use a Bladerunner vulgarism), it's just a matter of time before temptation rears its ugly head. I love the scene where Goodman-Hall looks over his operator's manual and spies an "Adult Options 18+," which he quickly and furtively slips into his back pocket so the family won't see it. Everything in this Brave New World is apparently On Demand. There's already a emo Synth, Niska, who is hiding out in a brothel and looks to be an update on Blade Runner's ass-kicking "pleasure unit" Pris (as portaryed by the athletic Darry Hannah).
William Hurt's character is an aging engineer who may at one time have worked on the technology that led to creating these Synths. He has become paternally-attached to a similarly aging, outmoded Synth, one who retains many of the memories Hurt's character, Dr. George Millican, is slowly starting to lose to dementia. He kind of reminds me of Blade Runner's Tyrell, the father figure inventor whose creations have run wild and out of control.
The show makes a statement about a future that's not all that far away. Don't we already have GPS, computers, and smart phones that talk to us? Robotic voice mail messengers? (You've come a long way, Speak and Spell!). Recent movies like Ex Machina and Her also have trod this familiar ground.
Maybe the novelty will pass. But so far, I am intrigued by the issues and the characters in Humans.
The Last Trio Novo Show
July 14, 2015
@ Chateau Rieger, Towson, MD
Trio Novo's farewell gig at Chateau Rieger
Trio Novo is: Paul Rieger: Rickenbacker bass guitar Robert "Bob" Tiefenwerth: Yamaha keyboards Tim Taormino: drums
Sunday, July 14th marked the last live performance of Trio Novo. The trio's swan song concert took place at Chateau Rieger in Towson, where friends and family gathered to say farewell to the genre-defying band that may have been Baltimore's Best Kept Musical Secret over the past decade. With keyboard whiz Robert Tiefenwerth and his wife relocating to Houston, Texas, two days later, Trio Novo is no more. To paraphrase Monty Python and a certain dead parrot, Trio Novo has ceased to exist, ceased to be, expired, kicked the bucket, shuffled off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible. This is an ex-Trio Novo.
Departing keyboardist Robert Tiefenwerth is already fading from view in this picture
But, hope springs eternal that the band will utilize the borderless Internet to collaborate on future projects virtually. So, as King of Bling Liberace once sang, "Never Say Goodbye, Say Ciao!"
Formed in 2006, Trio Novo - keyboardist Robert Tiefenwerth,
bassist Paul Rieger, and ex-BLAMMO drummer Tim Tourmino - played a variety of what
they called "classic jazz" and featured the music of such composers
as bossa nova legend Antonio Jobim, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and
Herbie Hancock, among
others. But as the band progressed, their setlist reflected an even more
eclectic repetoire, adding Martin Denny exotica ("Quiet Village"),
'60s psychedelia (after all, Tiefenwerth and Rieger were veterans of the '80s neo-psych band The United States of Existence), '70s Prog
Rock (The Nice's still-epic "America"), secret agent TV theme songs (Edwin Astley's "High Wire,"
aka "The Danger Man Theme" - the UK series predecessor to Secret Agent Man), and straight up rock & roll (Small Faces, "Barefoot in
Baltimore" by Strawberry Alarm Clock, et al).
Paul Rieger (far left) and Robert Tiefenwerth (far right) in U.S.E.
Trio Novo's Dynamic Duo today: Bob Tiefenwerth and Paul Rieger
At Paul Rieger's stately West Towson manor, Chateau Rieger, the trio played all of the above and more to an appreciative crowd of family and music friend fans whose ranks included Dave Wilcox (Chelsea Graveyard), Mark O'Connor (Buck Subtle, OHO, Food For Worms, et al), and WCVT/WVUD DJ Rod Misey (incidentally, Misey's liner notes for The United States of Existence's 1994 CD The Collection provide the definitive history of that band and are worthy of publication in Ugly Things magazine).
A highlight of Trio Novo's farewell performance was their rendition of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," a snippet of which is shown below.
Over the years, the trio had
enjoyed supporting the local arts (Tiefenewerth is an accomplished artist, as well as musician, and even sold a greeting card on FineArtAmerica.com) and non-profit communities by
providing music for events held at Center Stage, Gallery G, the
Visionary Art Museum, and the HACbox. And they were supposed to play at the Hamilton Arts Collective this past May, but had to cancel due to the city curfew imposed following the death, in police custody, of Freddie Gray. (But a gig's a gig, and trouper Tiefenwerth posted on social media that he would be playing piano at home alone that night, just as the Baltimore Orioles would be playing the Chicago White Sox in an empty Camden Yards.)
"How's this thing work again?" Robert Tiefenwerth keys off with Trio Novo
Unfortunately, few Trio Novo performances have been captured on video. A Google search turns up only a September 2014 Trio Novo performance at the Hamilton Gallery (5502 Harford Rd, Baltimore, MD 21214) in Northeast Baltimore - that is, they provide the soundtrack to a clip showing highlights from that night's gallery show.
Trio Novo at Hamilton Gallery
And Paul Rieger, Esq., recorded their May 24, 2014 performance for Band Bash 2014: "You're With the Band!", (a private party for "friends, families and
others who have suffered through the hardships of repetitive rehearsals,
frightening feedback and decor-destroying equipment" over the years with the GOHOG-Toys bands)atHeritage Parkville Gardens Hall in the Parkville Shopping Center. So, there is archival footage of this great band out there (hint, hint, Paul!)
Paul Rieger paints a pretty picture on his Rickenbacker
There may not be a lot of video footage of Trio Novo, but they did
record two CDs, one of which (Tribute) you can check out of the Enoch Pratt Free
Library's "Local Music" collection (wonder how that happened?).
So while the Novo we all know is no more, the Trio's legacy lives on. Remember: Never Say Goodbye, Say Ciao!
Buzzcocks is my favorite punk band, and has been since I first heard them back in 1979 - back when I was blown away by the symphonic earwig that is Side 2 of A Different Kind of Tension, which remains my all-time favorite Buzzcocks LP to this day. (Reviewing ADKOT, Robert Christgau famously characterized the sound as being "as bright and abrasive as new steel wool," which I think perfectly describes the band's pop-punk aesthetic.) I share this musical adulation with my fiancee, Amy Linthicum, and good friend Dave Cawley, the only other people I would characterize as hardcore Buzzcocks fanatics. For we love Buzzcocks in all their manifestations - past, present, and future. In fact, our feelings for this band of brothers is summed up in the opening lyrics to founding 'cock Pete Shelley's song "Reconciliation":
Been contemplating lately what you mean to me You are the one I care about, the only one I love And though we remain separated by the sea It's still you I'm dreaming of, you must believe me
Buzzcocks broke up in 1981, with founding guitarists Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle pursuing solo careers throughout the 1980s. (Original vocalist Howard Devoto had already jumped ship in 1977 to form the art-rock band Magazine.) Shelley went on to record two great synth-pop records, Homosapien (1981)and XL1 (1983) before his electronic music career stalled, while Diggle spent the decade playing with Buzzcocks drummer John Maher and others under the aegis of Flag of Convenience. (Diggle would later release three impressive solo albums in the 2000s.)
And then in 1989, the original "Golden Era" lineup of Shelley, Diggle, bassist Steve Garvey, and drummer John Maher - the players that appear on the four Buzzcocks albums released between 1978 and 1979 (Music from Another Kitchen, Love Bites, A Different Kind of Tension, Singles Going Steady) - reunited for a world tour. But it was a short-lived reunion (with ex-Smiths drummer Mike Joyce eventually replacing Maher), and by 1992 Shelley and Diggle were backed by the new rhythm section of bassist-producer Tony Barber and drummer Phil Barker. This was the dawn of the era of the "Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks" (aka "New Buzzcocks," "Post-Prime Buzzcocks" or "Buzzcocks 2.0"). The Shelley-Diggle-Barber-Barker lineup continued intact through 2006, touring extensively and recording five albums (Trade Test Transmissions, All Set, Modern, Buzzcocks, and Flat-Pack Philosophy). Barker was replaced by Danny Farrant in 2006, and bassist Chris Remington joined the group in 2008. This Buzzcocks 3.0 line-up has been the face of the brand from April 2008 up until the present, recording two full-length albums, 2011'sA Different Compilation (re-recordings of previously released Buzzcocks songs) and 2014's The Way.
It is a cruel irony that despite our boundless love for this band, none of us ever saw the original quartet in their late '70s prime; we've only seen the two post-breakup renditions led by Shelley and Diggle. Dave Cawley has seen them the most (I foolishly passed up Dave's impassioned entreaty to see their first visit to Baltimore's Ottobar back in July 2003 when Tony Barber and Phil Barker were in the band), but we all count ourselves lucky to have seen their subsequent transatlantic stops here and in D.C. in 2010, 2014, and 2015. Amy even got to see Pete Shelley at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., back in the day.
And while there's no point trying to measure the "new Buzzcocks" tunes recorded in the Nineties and Naughties to "Golden Era" Buzzcocks songs from the late Seventies (which remain Shelley and Diggle's essential Holy Scriptures), taken on their own merits, there are a number of gems to be heard from The Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks Era, which now spans six studio albums (Trade Test Transmissions, All Set, Modern, Buzzcocks, A Different Compilation, The Way) over the last 22 years. Everyone has their own personal favorite album from this period:
Dave Cawley insists that the first release from the reformed Buzzcocks, 1993's Trade Test Transmissions, is their finest hour (and it's hard to argue with songs like "Do It," "Isolation," "When Love Turns Around," "369," "Alive Tonight," and "Unthinkable");
Amy prefers 2003's self-titled Buzzcocks (impressively produced by Tony Barber and featuring two songs written by Spiral Scratch-era 'cocks Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley - "Stars" and the Lester Bangs riposte "Lester Sands" - not to mention her faves "Jerk," "Sick City Sometimes," "Friends," "Driving You Insane," and "Wake Up Call");
I find myself preferring 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy (also produced by Tony Barber), which may be far from perfect but boasts at least six good tunes ("Reconciliation," "I Don't Exist," "Wish I Never Loved You," "Sell You Everything," "Credit," "Big Brother Wheels") out of 14 tracks. (I find it amusing that some naff on Amazon criticized the album thusly: "Steve Shelley's infamous high-pitched vocals sound more like a strange
old geezer than a hyperactive kid, but that should not come as much of a
surprise." WTF???) It's also the mostly attractively packaged Buzzcocks album in ages, with Paul Terrence Madden's design aesthetic recalling the glory days of those gorgeous Malcolm Garnett and Linder Sterling album and 45 record sleeves (especially true of the CD Singles that accompanied FPP's release).
FPP narrowly edges out 1999's Modern, a much under-appreciated album which, true to its title, attempts to merge the Buzzcocks formula of buzzsaw guitars-with-clever lyrics with more "modern" contemporary rock trends such as hip-hop (Diggle's regrettable "Doesn't Mean Anything"), electronica (synths pepper the mix all over the place), and even (unfortunately) drum machines. Still, at least half the songs on Modern are worth a listen, with Shelley's "Rendevous" and "Thunder of Hearts" and Diggle's "Speed of Life" standouts; "Soul of a Rock," "Sneaky," and "Choices" have good bits but the sum of the parts fall somewhat short of the mark, while Diggle's "Turn of the Screw" continues to be included in Buzzcocks live shows.
Note: Speaking of which, to hear what the Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks sound like live, I recommend listening to 1995's French and Encore Du Pain (same '95 Paris concert featuring Shelley & Diggle backed by Tony Barber & Phil Barker) and 2007's 30 (London Forum show featuring Shelley & Diggle backed by Tony Barber & Danny Farrant). Both live albums are heavy on the back catalog, but mix in songs from the post-prime albums ("Isolation," "Reconciliation," "Unthinkable," "Innocent," "Speed of Life") that hold up surprisingly well standing alongside the greatest hits.
That said, I think we all can agree on the tunes that make up my fantasy listening guide to the best of the Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks, including many tracks from those Pete Shelley solo LPs (for Diggle's solo output, see my extensive - exhaustive? - blog posting, "Digging Da Diggle"). This list started out as a mix CD I burned, but I ran out of space after 74 minutes; thanks to the unlimited space of the Internet, I can now expand it to include even more bonus tracks! As far as the quality of this list, well, as Mr. Shelley sings in "Friends,"
It's a mixed up world
These are mixed up times
And the recipe of life is mixed up too
But if it's the quality of ingredients that matter
I would award myself a cordon bleu
The Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks Listening Guide: An Operator's Manual
1. "Here Come the Nice" (Marriott/Lane) - from Long Agos and World's Apart: A Tribute to the Small Faces (1996).
Long Agos and Worlds Apart: A Tribute to the Small Faces (1996)
Steve Diggle is perfectly suited to handle Steve Marriott's howling vocals that praise the drug-peddling Dr. Feelgood, while Pete Shelley (he of those "high-pitched/strange old geezer" vocals, as one clueless detractor described Shelley's delightful upper registers) takes over on the alternate verses to great effect. As the song says, "You don't need money to be wise," and this is a very wise inclusion on this tribute to the Mod's Mod Group, perfectly essayed by Great Modfather Diggle, he of the ever-present polka-dot shirt and white jeans wardrobe.
Watch Steve Diggle play "Here Comes the Nice" at the Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert (Royal Albert Hall, London, April 8, 2004):
2. "Jerk" (Shelley) - from Buzzcocks (2003).
It was my fault, you're not to blame, it's me who is in the wrong
That's why I wrote this song just to explain
Amy's favorite song from her favorite later-years Buzzcocks album. Along with Flat-Pack Philosophy's "Reconciliation," it's one of the great pleas for romantic forgiveness:
I'm a jerk, you're right to tell me so
Forgive me - I beg you
You know I only love you
Wish I hadn't told you where to go
Having passed up the chance to see Buzzcocks play Baltimore in 2003, I totally relate to a song called "Jerk." Perhaps this song also inspired Dave Cawley's own tail-between-legs plea for atonement, "Forgive Me," with his band Garage Sale?)
3. "Sick City Sometimes" (Diggle) - from Buzzcocks (2003)
I only recently learned that this was a song about 9/11. At least, that's how Steve Diggle introduced it when Buzzcocks played The Black Cat in Washington, D.C. in April of 2014. Now it all starts to make sense:
Now the buildings take a fall/And it tries to kill us all
In the name of something zero in your mind
Prior to that, I just assumed it was a great rocker with a hooky chorus about urban decay ("...the paper and the trash, all the needles and the cash"). An energetic tune that continues to be a staple of Buzzcocks live shows.
4. "When Love Turns Around" (Diggle) - from Trade Test Transmissions (1993)
What do you do when love turns around you, when hate is just a state in your mind? So asks Steve Diggle on this highlight track, arguably the best song on TTT. The answer, unlike love, is not so hard to find: you press play and put this tune on infinite repeat! Amy likes the coda, "And you and you and you - and you and you!," which is always a high point in concert when Diggle plays to the crowd.
Yield when love turns around you
Another version, featuring drummer Danny Farrant and bassist Chris Remington, appears on A Different Compilation. 5. "Wallpaper World" (Diggle) - from Steve Diggle's Serious Contender (2005)
The best song from Diggle's debut solo effort, an album that also boasts the cracking good "Starbucks Around the World," "See Through You" (later recorded by Buzzcocks with a different arrangement), and "Terminal."
Steve Diggle, "Serious Contender" (EMI Europe Generic, 2005)
People can say anything to you What in the world would it take to wake up you? Can you see me, can you hear me? Can you see me, in this Wallpaper World?
This is perhaps Diggle's best-ever song, a beautiful mixture of acoustic and electric guitars, great chorus, and lovely guitar solo. And Professor Diggle of the Ministry of Truth once again drops a literary reference, this time to the Everyman protagonist of George Orwell's dystopian future classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. "They got a bucket of paste to put on your face/And disappear behind a wall/And if my name wasn't Winston Smith, I could laugh about it all."
Who's laughing now?
6. "Reconciliation" (Shelley) - from the Flat-Pack Philosophy "Reconcilation" CD Single (2006)
"Reconciliation" CD Single (2006)
What I want is reconciliation This separation's more than I can bear Don't wanna be alone, my love is guaranteed I want to know that you still care
"Renconcilition" is a great word and a great song, and boasts more clever wordplay by pop-polyglot Pete (author of such "Parlez Vous Francais" songs as "Raison d'etre" and "Qu'est-ce Que C'est Que Ça"), this time dropping some Espanol into the mix:
And so I'll tell you something you already know Para siempre means forever
And I intend to keep that promise, you know
7. "Wish I Never Loved You" - from the Flat-Pack Philosophy "Wish I Never Loved You" CD Single (2006)
"Wish I Never Loved You" CD Single (2006)
Now I know how it feels to have loved and lost because of pride
To be deserted so that hurt is all that's left inside
I'm ashamed, I've been blamed so much I wanted to die
Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why, tell me why
Wish I never loved you but I just can't let go
Though Dave Cawley considers Modern a mostly an ill-advised and forgettable foray into electronica (Pitchfork agreed, calling it "a weak attempt by a once-great band to simply sound 'current,' whatever that means"), Shelley's song about a memorable bus trip remains one of its shining moments, if only for its unusual vocal approach. Amy likes the love-on-a-double-decker-bus imagery: "I'd overslept so I caught the bus; it's the only thing I could do/I went upstairs, took a vacant seat, and found I'd sat next to you."
And then comes the memorable singalong chorus:
I'm on a cloud I must be in a dream
This can't be real this can't be happening
What are the odds against this rendezvous?
It's worth the gamble when the prize is you
And, as an added riposte to Mr. Cawley, I must note that Modern is the only Buzzcocks album released on Go-Kart Records - the same label as Cawley's pop-punk band of the early '90s, Berserk. Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls, DC!
10. "Thunder of Hearts" (Shelley) - from Modern (1999)
You live what you learn
I'll beg, steal and borrow
The thunder of hearts
Will echo tomorrow
This was the official single for Modern. Amy thinks "Rendezvous" should should have been the single, but this straightforward pop-by-the-numbers tune is very radio friendly, though the lame video recalls the worst of those MTV "story" videos...and is perhaps a little over-produced.
Pete Shelley remarked that the line "sometimes even monkeys fall from trees" was inspired by Japanese culture. "I buy a lots of Japanese books," he told Earcandy magazine in a1999 interview. "There was one that was Japanese proverbs. And that was actually the title of the book, Even Monkeys Fall from Trees. It means even the most skillful people can make mistakes."
Japanese Proverbs: More fun than a barrel of monkeys
Pete must have been reading a lot of Japanese books during the recording of Modern, for he name-checks Nippon again on the randy album track "Why Compromise": "I've been a bad boy, so do what you please/Talking of pleasure, speak in Japanese." (Turning Japanese? I really think so!)
11. ""Isolation" (Diggle) - from Trade Test Transmissions (1993)
A definite highlight of TTT with that trademark Buzzcock lead guitar sound. Wonder what Diggs means by "living under two nations," though? Is this a UK reference, like being Scots or Welsh and part of the United Kingdom? This from the guy who once flew the Flag of Convenience.
Living my life in a separate way
Living on my own from day to day
I'm living in a world of isolation Oh yeah, living under two nations
"You're living at the Speed of Life/On the edge of a razor knife"
As usual, nothing too deep lyrically from Diggle, who cuts straight to the chase with this hook-happy rocker, that sounds like glossy AM pop straight out of the '80s, especially the guitar solo. And that's not a bad thing - not at all.
13. "Credit" (Shelley) - from Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)
My favorite song from FPP is an anti-debt manifesto (and as one who has only recently gotten out of debt, I totally relate to its theme!): "Credit, in love with the never never/Wish I could get something I really need."
In fact, the very title of the album Flat-Pack Philosophy refers to Pete and Steve's anti-consumerist world view, a world in which even love "is a cashed-in check," as Pete sang in the early Buzzcocks B-side "Whatever Happened To?" That song, written by Shelley and Alan Dial, also contained the bon mots: "Your pasteurized life so fit for consumption/Ooh those undressing eyes so strictly commercial."
AssemblyRequired: That's Flat-Pack Philosophy!
OK, while the album's title song takes on deeper existentialissues - Why am I here? What are we living for?/All of my hopes, dreams and desires: Assembly required/That's flat-pack philosophy - I think FPP is really all about how one buys and sells those "hopes dreams, and desires." Like an earlier Buzzcocks CD box set's title, it's all about Product.For inthe UK, "Flat-pack" refers to a piece of furniture that sold in parts, which consumers must then fit together and reassemble. In other words, it's the IKEA-ification of Britain by cheap, affordable goods, (under)class warfare fought against the economy by armchair generals and sofa warriors. It's cheap goods on offer for purchase with cheap plastic credit. When the first IKEA opened in London in 2005, greed-frenzied shoppers stampeded for bargains, with 20 customers rushed to hospital in its aftermath. (Stateside, we call this phenomena "Black Friday.")
Paradise is a platinum card Behind the wheel of your car, with your new pair of trainers Designer clothes: Go on, I'll have seven of those And go to ski where it snows/Its bounty sustains us Videophones, with all the latest ringtones
You buy-to-let your new home
Don't care what you're spending
Then just like that, reminders under the mat
Of your flat full of tat
The pile of debts never ending
Diggle also addresses crass commercialism and the global homogenization of culture in his song "Starbucks Around the World" from 2005's Serious Contender, as well as in "Sell You Everything" from 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy.
14. "Big Brother Wheels" (Diggle) - from Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)
Big Brother is watching YOU!
A tune about 1984 hitting a tad later than expected. Yes, Big Brother is watching and his jack-booted "line of blue" will make "you believe what you receive". Shouts from the crowd? Not allowed.
"And if you walk into walls, you'll get a kick in the balls and see how
the mighty fall," Diggle warns. If his name wasn't Winston Smith, he
could laugh about it all. Instead, he offsets the dire straits with this
finger-snapping pop melody that at least one reviewer compared to the
late '70s sound of The Motors. Buzzcocks made a music video for the song, but the record company passed on releasing it as a single, much to Diggle's disappointment.
Big Brother Wheels gonna stamp it out of you in time Big Brother Wheels gonna make you jump and walk the line...
Jackboot stamp all over your face Jackboot stamp all over the place
15. "See Through You" (Diggle) - from the Flat-Pack Philosophy "Reconcilation" CD Single (2006)
If I could see through you/Through what you want to do/But you ain't got a clue If I could find a way just to make you say/But you don't play that way... Look into your life like a mirror/Backs against the wall - it's a never-ending story
Diggle originally recorded this on his 2005 solo album Serious Contender, but this slower Buzzcocks version is more stop-start/herky-jerky, its thick-and-chunky layered guitars and backing vocals creating a '70s powerpop vibe not unlike a Badfinger song - specifically "No Matter What."
I especially love the hand-claps that are added on (a Tony Barber suggestion? A shout-out to Badfinger's "No Matter What"?).
16. "Keep On Believing" (Shelley) - from The Way (2014)
"The Way" (2014)
Let’s give it up for rock and roll
If you feel it in your heart and soulThen you’re in control Keep on believing... What’s the use complaining that it’s forever raining
After all, that’s what they make umbrellas for
The obvious single, and opening track, from 2014's The Way. Nothing spectacular, just a solid pop song and concert pleaser.
18. "People Are Strange Machines" (Diggle) - from The Way (2014)
Steve's best song from the latest album, and one of the best in his 'cocks catalog. No idea what it's about (as usual), but another strong melody makes this one a keeper.
When you're stuck in a room with a mouthful of headspace
A mechanical zoom and a smile wide across your face... Looking for life, counting the cost Nothing's been gained and nothing's lost People are strange machines
19. "Totally from the Heart" (Shelley) - from All Set (1996)
"All Set" (1996)
I'm to you like the mountain to Mohammed
But these roles could be juxtaposed, it's up to you now
Made it plain from the start
Totally from the heart
Amy and I rarely ever listen to All Set, despite it being a pretty solid rock album that would appeal to fans of Green Day's sound. No surprise there, the record was produced by Dookie engineer Neill King and recorded in Green Day's hometown of Berkeley, CA. "Totally from the Heart" opens the album and sands of one of Shelley's best driving pop songs: crisp and soaring guitars, an infectious chorus, and a typically compact arrangement. That's our Pete!
20. "Telephone Operator" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's XL1 (1983)
Pete Shelley, "XL1" (Island Records, 1983)
Pete's irresistable single release from his second solo album is pure '80s electronic dance-club joy, married as always to his clever wordplay. Once again produced by Martin Rushent, the album itself was notable for including a computer program for the ZX Spectrum which displayed lyrics and graphics synced in time to the music - a precursor to the visuals of today's media players.
Telephone operator/You're my aural stimulator
Telephone operator/Ne c'est pas la raison d'etre
21. "Yesterday's Not Here" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's Homosapien (1981)
Pete Shelley, "Homosapien" (Island Records, 1981)
Several of the songs on Homosapien started out as tracks intended for the abortive fourth Buzzcocks album. But after the group convened at Manchester Pluto Studios in early 1981 and troubles continued, Shelley and producer Martin Rushent decided they loved the synth-and-drum machine experiments enough to jump ship on Buzzcocks and launch Pete's solo electronics career. Listening to "Yesterday's Not Here," I can easily imagine it as a guitar-driven Buzzcocks tune.
22. "I Don't Know What It Is" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's Homosapien (1981)
The second single from Homosapien is another tune I can see working as a Buzzcocks song from that post-1980 period when Pete was coming up with such Martin Rushent sound experiments as "Strange Thing," "Are Everything," and "What Do You Know?" (from the Parts 1, 2, and 3 final Buzzcocks singles releases).
23. "Homosapien" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's Homosapien (1981)
Pete Shelley, "Homosapien" (Island, 1981)
Shamefully banned by the "Homo Superior"-with-heads-up-their-posterior BBC, the title track to Pete's solo "coming out" career is unashamedly infectious, working as a fun sing-along pop song as well as a (not-so-thinly-veiled) gay rights manifesto. And yes, it's the most Buzzcocks readymade of the songs here, with still a lot of guitar (acoustic and electric) between the synth-pop production by Martin Rushent.
The Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks even performed "Homosapien" at the 2012 Coachella music festival, as shown below:
And here's the as-it-sounded-then original from 1981's music video:
The next two songs are from a limited edition maxi-single and represent more guitar-based music that could easily have ended up on that abortive final Buzzcocks album.
24. "In Love with Somebody Else" (Shelley) - bonus single from Pete Shelley's I Don't Know What It Is Limited Edition 2x7" Single (1981)
I Don't Know What It Is EP (Genetic/Island Records, 1981)
Another in the line of great Shelley songs with "love" in the title, a list whose ranks also included "Ever Fallen in Love" (Etc.), "Love You More," and "You Say You Don't Love Me." And, lyrically, Pete could be talking about his "all booked up" post-Buzzcocks career at the time ("Homosapien" rose as high as number 14 on the Club Play Singles chart, and hit number 6 in Canada).
Everyone's coming to me For some love, oh yeah I'm popular since you left me, you see All booked up, oh yeah But half of what I want I don't need Cos you see I'm in love with somebody else With a dream whose passion is a dare And I'm always so unaware
Move over, "Mad Mad Judy," there's another gal name-checked in Buzzcocks discography. The acoustic guitar, subject matter, and arrangement lend the tune an early Beatles vibe (think McCartney's "Michelle"), while the drum machine and production keep it modernized enough to include with Pete's Homosapien CD reissue.
This song actually dates back to the late '70s, with Pete previously demoing it on Picadelly Radio in February 1979, as shown below.
26. "Every Day and Every Night" (Diggle) - from Flat-Pack Philosophy "Sell You Everything" CD Single (2006)
Cross the bridge and you will find/That it's only in your mind
Steve Diggle stays calm and carries on, in this pretty acoustic number found only on this FPP CD single.
This 1996 demo recording was originally intended for the Modern album. And, yes, multi-talented bassist-producer Tony Barber plays synth on it. Starts off real Windham Hilly with acoustic guitar strumming complementing Barber's airy synth line, but then really kicks in with a hooky bridge as Diggle sings, "Across your mind you find that time is only time and time again" and adds a restrained, economical electric guitar solo.
27. "Twilight" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's XL1 (1983)
Amy and Dave Cawley consider this to be the prettiest song Pete Shelley ever wrote, which makes it the perfect cool-down coda to this fantasy mix tape. Plus you get the sound of birdies merrily chirping away.
Watching the twilight, I saw it flicker Feel that I might as well give up and go On the horizon, are distant reminders Twilight is the only love I know
28. "Alive Tonight" (Diggle) - from various recordings.
"Alice Tonight" EP (1991)
The earliest version was recorded during the 1991 demo sessions for what became the Trade Test Transmissions album and featured 3/4 of the original Buzzcocks (Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, and Steve Garvey) with Mike Joyce of the The Smiths sitting in on drums. It was released as the title track of the 1991 Alice Tonight EP. A great, rare music video of this lineup performing the song in Beatlesque matching suits appears below (Amy adds, "Steve appears to be making McCartney faces at times!"): Watch 1991 Buzzcocks play "Alive Tonight."
Seems the video was shown on a television program called Videowave, excerpted from an awkward-looking interview in which the female interviewer straddled Diggle's lap (not that the shag-loving author of "You Know You Can't Help It" was complaining!).
Touring in support of their latest release, The Way (Pledge
Music, 2014) - their ninth album over the course of a celebrated 40-year
career (1976-81, 1989-present) and the first featuring new material
since 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy - Buzzcocks stopped in Baltimore on April 18 for their first show here in four years (though they did visit Washington, D.C.'s Black Cat just last September). This was a real treat because Baltimore was one
of only three East Coast stops for the fab foursome, who played New
York's Irving Plaza on April 16 and Asbury Park, NJ's Stone Pony on
April 17, before closing out their tour at the Baltimore Soundstage. (I suspect Buzzcocks fanboy Dave Cawley is responsible for Charm City's inclusion on this brief tour, thanks to his overtures at the Black Cat club to Buzzcocks drummer Danny Farrant to "please come back to Baltimore.")
Banksy-inspired cover of Buzzcocks' "The Way" CD (2014)
They came, they rocked, and they conquered the crowd, among whom I spotted friends like Jim Moon, theace rock photographer; Mike and Gail Maxwell; Donna Honneman and Larry Doering (enjoying a "Senior Rockers" night out); Sharon Rudolf (splitting her time between Buzzcocks and, next door at Ram's Head Live, The Ravens);Tim Finnerty (The Krudz); media maven Greg Brazeale and his pal Joe Maravi; model-scenester MaryAnne Tom; nouveau riche punk philanthropist Adolf
Kowalski, vintage Fiat sportscar-lover Charlie Gatewood, and Ed Linton - all of Thee Katatonix fame; artist-rocker Alex Fine (Garage Sale, Thee Lexington Arrows, alexfine.com)
and his lovely wife, who were on hand to sell AF's spectacular Buzzcocks posters (which Baltimore Soundstage used on their web site). Chick Veditz (of Chick's Legendary Records fame) was also rumored to be there, but I must have missed him.
Buzzcocks poster by Alex Fine (alexfine.com)
I had never been to the Baltimore Soundstage and didn't know what to expect. In fact, I don't know most local venues other than my familiars, the Ottobar (or "Ahh-toe bah" in Buzzcocks drummer Darry Farrant's patois) and the Metro Gallery, because I don't really like going to see live music save for a few select artists.
Machine-Gun Etiquette in Clubland
You see, though I used to play in bands and go to a lot of shows in my (wasted) youth, I am not what one would call a "rock guy." Truth be told, I'd rather be in the SkyBox Suite sipping Merlot than down rubbing elbows with the sweaty, beer-soaked drones that inhabit the mosh pit. Comfort appeals to me much more than Street Cred. Slam-dancing especially does not appeal to me, given my brittle build and knack for attracting spilled drinks all over my wardrobe (I only like rugby when it's on TV!). Besides, you have to wear earphones to hear anything (an irony seemingly lost on concert lovers - that one goes to hear loud, live music and ends up blocking most of it out!) and run the risk of getting a sore throat from screaming over the din of music to converse with your friends. And, in the old days, one had to also contend with drunken idiots burning your clothes with their ciggies - an "analog tobacco" problem solved by the emergence of e-cigarette "vaping."
Tonight was no exception to my exceptions. I literally couldn't understand one word said to me when I walked in and saw various friends and acquaintances at the show, who came up and made gestures while I feigned comprehension and smiled. In other words, it was kind of like being on the reference desk at the library fielding questions (and the occasional threat) from John (and Johanna) Q. Public. It didn't help that the Baltimore Soundstage - a cavernous (albeit comfortable) arena comparable to an urban cow palace (in fact, it reminded me of this year's StanStock Music Festival, which was held at the Timonium Fairgrounds Exhibition Hall) - was sonically challenged, with music bouncing and reverbing off the walls.
But, after I put my ear plugs in and my lobes adjusted to the din, I was pleasantly surprised by the sound of the opening band. They didn't suck! In fact, neither of the two opening bands sucked - a rarity at recent Buzzcocks shows stateside.
Expert Alterations: Fashionable indie-pop
The jingly-jangly Expert Alterations, a local indie-pop trio, dressed and sounded great. One guy had a nice nest of hair that reminded me of a cross between Echo & The Bunnymen's Ian McCullough and the high-coiffed guy in the Jesus and Mary Chain. Their duds were polka-dot friendly and the drummer had his kit set up in the front of the stage, which you rarely see. (As a former drummer, I like to see that; though as a former suck-ass drummer, I preferred to sit as far back from the audience as possible - the better to dodge the tomatoes hurled my way!). They cite The Fall, TV Personalities and The Wedding Present as influences, which count as impressive references on anybody's Rock Resume.
Besides their retro-rock group influences, these guys also like retro-music formats. Both they and The Residuels had only cassette tapes of their music for sale, a trend I've noticed has replaced the previous fad of local groups releasing singles on vinyl (which seems to be almost passe now, except on Record Store Day). (I personally don't understand this trend - don't bands want people to be able to easily access their songs? Isn't a CD or .mp3 going to reach a wider audience than the select few who still have boom boxes and record players? What's next - 8-track releases? A 78 rpm revival?) But I quibble about technicalities...these guys are worth checking out on Facebook and at Bandcamp. (OK, if you purchase their cassette at Bandcamp, it includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC, and more. I still think it's easier to plop a CD in the car stereo or laptop, though!)
The Residuels (photo by Adela Loconte for imposemagazine,com)
The Residuels were a hard-rocking trio whose lead singer-guitarist wore a black hat and reminded me of the pre-Delicious Pies Rodney from The Glenmont Popes.The Man in the Black Hat also wears cool t-shirts of retro West Coast punk bands like Crime and The Wipers. The bass player was a tall, sullen study hunched over his Fender bass with an inertia that seemed to cry "Oh, bother," while the energetic drummer had perfect hair that bobbed and weaved across his face like Ringo merrily banging away with The Fab Four. Even Alex Fine commented that the drummer's hair reminded him of the pompadour he created for his Buzzcocks Fine-art poster (which in turn was inspired by his own jet black mane). They too sold cassettes of their tunes, but I was most impressed by their Simpsonized t-shirts (as shown below).
Simpsons-style Residuels t-shirts
The Residuels sound - which they characterize as garage punk -was thick and heavy, like a Philly cheesesteak. Check 'em out at residuels.com, Bandcamp, and Facebook.
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, or: Into the Heart of Darkness
Though I hung in the back for the opening acts (looking
through Charlie Gatewood's car-porn pics of his '60s Fiat convertible on
his cell phone), I moved up as the Buzzcocks set loomed. My beloved, Amy Linthicum, is a Front Row Seeker (I'm much more an "In the Back" fan), and that's where she and our companions Dave Cawley and (his beloved) Gina Houten had cut a path through the ground-level clusterfuck.
"I like to be where the action is!" says Amy Linthicum
A hyperactive Dave Cawley (is there any other kind?) bounced up and down in the heart of the crowd gatherered around the stage front, excitedly singing along with Billy Idol as the P.A. played selections from the first Generation X album ("They were great, kinda poppy like Buzzcocks, which is why the press slagged them," Dave explained), one hand holding his sweetie Gina, the other clutching a filled-to-the-brim Rum-and-Coke that swirled precariously 'round the rim but did not spill or splatter. I only knew Gen X's "Girls," "Dancing with Myself," and "Ready, Steady, Go," but Dave knew every word of every song. (Like every band Dave and I love, we agreed that Gen X were "criminally neglected," much like Dave's old bands The Lumpies, The Nu-Beats, and The Young Prufrock Alliance - alas, the YPA's sure-fire educational hit "Study Group" has still yet to be released, much less recorded, or even much less remembered!)
On her way to the front, Amy almost didn't recognize a long-haired, bespectacled Tim Finnerty who was at Baltimore Soundstage to represent Essex and the Greater Middle River Community. Tim explained he was merely growing his hair out to fit in at an upcoming Saxon "Hair Metal" show.
Though he loves comic books and Heavy Metal music, Tim Finnerty is no East Bawmer waterbilly - quite the opposite, in fact. He made quite a few astute observations about the Baltimore Soundstage audience, including my favorite: "What is it with all the studded vests here? I've never seen so many in one setting."
Studs have a vested interest in rock & roll
Sleeveless shirts and vests were certainly de rigueur for the The Stereotypical "I'm a Rock & Roller" Club Look (available for purchase at any Hot Topic store in any mall in America), all the better to show off the tattoo sleeves many attendees had. These, in turn, were complimented by studded belts and bracelet accessories, just in case anyone would mistake the wearer for a corporate salaryman.
When I told him that I was gonna shop for studded vests at Hot Topic, Tim insisted that a true rocker always takes a "virgin denim vest" and adds their own studs to it. It's what separates the poseurs from the real deal. 'Nuff said, I'm down with East Bawmer cred for studded threads!
Look What the Kats Dragged In
Later, I spotted Adolf Kowalski and Patti Jensen Vucci in the back of the stage floor, where they were joined by Adolf's Katatonix bandmates, Charlie Gatewood and Ed Linton, showing solidarity in arms (hey, he did buy their tickets, after all!). Adolf had seen Buzzcocks back in their 1979 heyday (yes, I'm still very jealous) when the lineup included drummer par excellence John Maher and bassist Steve "Paddy" Garvey.
Adolf, Charlie and Ed of Thee Katatonix
"Peek-a-boo, I see you," says Adolf K.
Setlists Going Steady:
At last, Buzzcocks - founding fathers Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, and new boys Danny Farrant and Chris Remington - took the stage to a packed house and opened with "Boredom," the best-known song (along with "Orgasm Addict") from their 1977 self-produced EP Spiral Scratch. This signature tune dates from the days when Steve Diggle was the bass player and Howard Devoto sang, and still delights with its minimalist guitar solo (two notes repeated 66 times).
Of course, though we (Amy, me, Dave, Gina) had staked out a primo spot just two rows back of the stage, we were soon invaded by beer-sloshing slam-dancers the minute the song started. I do not like them. (And yes, my jacket sleeve got soaked and I almost dropped my cell phone mid-photosnap!). I bid Amy adieu, exchanging places with Charlie Gatewood as I moved to the back of the pack to wait until things settled down, all the better to see and hear the band without being crushed.
Charlie Gatewood protects Amy in the mosh pit
Tonight's set pretty much duplicated the one they played last September at DC's Black Cat, with the notable absence of Diggle's "When Love Turns Around" (from 1993's superlative Trade Test Transmissions) and Shelley's "Oh Shit!," and the addition of the great jam "Why Can't I Touch It?" (the group-written flip of the 1979 single "Everybody's Happy Nowadays). This existential lament should be the official theme song for every strip club in the world.
"Why Can't I Touch It?" B-side (United Artists, 2 March 1979)
In fact, other than Diggle's "Sick City Sometimes" (from 2003's Buzzcocks), all songs were pretty much taken from their hits collection Singles Going Steady (1979) and The Way, with the remainder filled out by selections from 1976's Spiral Scratch EP ("Boredom," "Orgasm Addict"), 1978's Another Music in a Different Kitchen ("Fast Cars," "Autonomy") and Love Bites ("Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't 've)), 1980's A Different Kind of Tension ("You Say You Don't Love Me," "I Believe"), and Diggle's late 1980 single "Why She's a Girl From the Chainstore" (which Dave Cawley still insists is "the dumbest music video of all time!").
I enjoyed the selections, though I am still mystified why Diggle's "Third Dimension" continues to be selected, other than as a psychedelic guitar workout. It's an average tune that goes on way too long; I'd much rather have Shelley's new (and timely) social media song, "Virtually Real" included, or even Diggle's "Love Turns Around" return to the setlist. Likewise, Diggle's "Chasing Rainbows/Modern Times" may be a surefire rocker, but as
Katatonix guitarist Charlie Gatewood so astutely pointed out (mere
seconds after hearing it played for the first time), it's basically just
a variation on The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," just with the
trademark Buzzcocks buzzsaw guitars this time around.
Diggle's waiting, anticipating...
...in the Third Dimension
That said, Diggle's "Sick City Sometimes" and the new "People Are Strange Machines" were performance highlights, along with Shelley's "I Don't Mind," "You Say You Don't Love Me," and a spirited "Love You More."
Buzzcocks closed their set with Shelley's masterpiece "I Believe," the
last great single from the Buzzcocks Golden Era" (1978-1980) - and my
fave track from 1980's third (and last) original 'cocks album, A Different Kind of Tension.
"I Believe" (I.R.S. Records, 1980)
I "Keep on Believing" that "I Believe" is timeless and never dated, a great tune matched by thought-provoking lyrics ("It's the aim of existence to offer resistance to the flow of time"), including its coda, "I believe in, it's time to be leavin'." It was a great note on which to end A Different Kind of Tension, as well as tonight's regular set.
Pete Shelley states his case in "I Believe"
A fourth Buzzcocks album was in the works before Pete Shelley called it a day in 1981. Diggle, Maher, and Garvey carried on briefly minus Pete and recorded Steve's "In the Back"; though it remained unreleased until 1988, when it turned up on the Diggle/Flag of Convenience (FOC) War on the Wireless Set collection, the new 'cocks (rightly) deemed it worthy of reconsideration and re-recording on The Way. Coming on the heels of the set-ending "I Believe," it was a fitting choice of first encore song.
This was followed by Diggle's "Harmony in My Head," an energetic workout in which Steve-o pulled out all the stops and got quite emotional.
Diggle hits a windmill power chord
Diggle sends a shout out from the harmony in his head
Then it was on to three Shelley-penned encores: starting with "What Do I Get?"; followed by that hit-of-hits "Ever Fallen in Love"...
...before bringing the show full circle, back to its Spiral Scratch origins with the happiest of Happy Endings, "Orgasm Addict."
"Was it good for you too?!" Diggle asks, post-"Orgasm Addict"
Basking in the Afterglow
"The essence of being, these feelings I'm feeling, I just want them to last"
Afterwards, basking in the afterglow of another 'cocks show, friends caught up and compared notes on the evening's festivities. Amy, Gina, and MaryAnne Tom made a beeline to the vendor tables to snatch up their Buzzcocks posters, where Alex Fine exclaimed, "Steve Diggle is my guitar hero!"
Patti Vucci, Adolf K., MaryAnne Tom and Amy Linthicum
TSU alums Dave, Greg and MaryAnne outside Baltimore Soundstage
Dave, Greg, Joe and MaryAnne cavort outside
Greg Breazeale, Joe Maravi and MaryAnne Tom clinch outside
Some of us speculated on whether any future Buzzcocks shows would incorporate Steve Diggle or Pete Shelley solo material outside the 'cocks canon. I know Amy and I wouldn't mind hearing "Wallpaper World" or some other tunes from Diggle's Revolution of Sound band (whose ranks include Buzzcocks bassist - and long-time Diggle collaborator - Chris Remington); and I'm sure Dave Cawley wouldn't mind hearing Shelley's early solo hits "Homosapien" and "Telephone Operator." Oh, and Amy, Dave and I agreed that Buzzcocks should consider playing the entire A Different Kind of Tension album on their next tour, though Amy added that she thought of it first (ha!). Admittedly, singing the complex lyrics to the title song would be challenging, but it would rekindle memories of their last visit to Baltimore during 2010's "Another Bites Tour," in which they played their first two albums (Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites, both from 1978) in their entirety. We can only hope.
It was a fun and entertaining night, and fortuitous timing, as well - I can only imagine what havoc might have ensued had Buzzcocks played here the following Saturday, April 25, when Freddie Gray protesters brought downtown Baltimore to a standstill.
48 hours later, Buzzcocks returned to New York on Monday, April 20, to perform two songs on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Both were Pete Shelley songs (hope Diggle wasn't miffed!): "Keep On Believing" from their latest CD, The Way (Pledge Music, 2014), and the timeless classic "Ever Fallen in Love" from Love Bites (United Artists, 1978).
And with that, Buzzcocks bid the States farewell, crossing the pond to continue touring the UK the whole merry month of May. Alas, their next American visit isn't until July 2015, and then only a lone gig in Portland.