Marble Bar Redux @ 2012 SoWeBo Festival
It's just not SoWeBo without the Motor Morons!
"I had a great time at the Sowebo festival yesterday! The Redux stage proved that it doesn't matter how old you are, you can still rock out! I got there just in time for the Pleasant Livers, and then watched Thee Katatonix, Motor Morons and Ben Watson's World Media War and everyone was fantastic. So good to see so many of you there!"
- Amy Linthicum, Girl Reporter (via Facebook post)
As usual, Amy Linthicum says best what I can only flail at with my forked tongue. But my tongue must flail, so here goes...Yes, SoWeBohemian Festival 2012 was a blast - and a true blast from the past for those 80's Punk/New Wave relics like us who still fondly remember the Marble Bar (which closed its doors in 1985), the Galaxy Ballroom and its associated renegade musical spirit. The Marble/Galaxy contingent were treated to their own "old timey sounds" area, the "Marble Bar Retrospective" on the Redux Stage - where co-stage managers Sam Fitzsimmons (Motor Morons) and Fred Collins (Motor Morons, Pleasant Livers) oversaw the day's entertainment. They were ably assisted by emcee Robyn Webb, who introduced the day's numerous acts and kept the rock rolling smoothly.
Steptoe T. Magnificent & MC Robyn Webb schmooze backstage
Before making our way down to the Way-Back Machine Stage, we ran into a number of librarians - you see, the SoWeBo Festival brings out all sorts of oddballs, not just crazy artists and musicians!
Oddballs of every stripe abound at SoWeBo!
Street-walking librarians we encountered included my fellow long-suffering Pratt pal Mike Rios...
Mike Rios and Amy Linthicum rock the green Earthtones look
...and ertswhile Pratt staffer and current award-winning Library Technician Layne Bosserman.
Tom hugs Layne, hoping her award-winning library skills will be absorbed via osmosis
By the time Amy and I weaved our way through a hot and sweaty crowd of badly tattooed freaks, hat-and-beard bearing hipsters, blotto redneck locals in wifebeaters and baseball caps (who make Hampden's indigenous inbred community look positively upscale), and scamming street panhandlers ("Scuse me mister, my car broke down and I need 50 cent..."), we were able to catch the tail end of the excellent instro-rock trio The Tritons (whose past members have included the illustrious 'n' industrious Balto Arts power couple Jenny Keith and Chris "Batworth" Ciattei). (And how appropriate that a band called the Tritons features a three-pronged lineup!)
The Tritons' surf-rock made waves at the SoWeBo Festival
Watch The Tritons play "Everybody Up."
Looking around, I immediately spotted Canary Man (aka "Bowtie" Bob Nelson, "Baltimore's Oldest Hipster") - a splendiferously attired middle-aged man who looks like Truman Capote after a Tom Wolfe fashion makeover.
Canary Man: I love this guy!
We usually spot this eye-catching character at the Friday night Belvedere Square soirees, where he's always sports spiffy neon-bright sneakers and a matching jacket. Today's ensemble featuring bright yellow kicks, matching jacket, and a bowtie (the tied kind, not the clip-on variety retards like me have to buy!) - but the true capper was his pair of blue searsucker shorts. This guy leaped straight off the pages of a P.G. Wodehouse novel, and I would not be a bit surprised if his nickname was Tweetie (second choice: Bertie). Color me jealous - and yellow with envy!
The Beatoes ("I'm Too Ugly for MTV") were supposed to be up next, but apparently there was a last-minute cancellation, and in their place we got The Pleasant Livers. The Pleasant Livers did, however, feature a Beatoes member in their ranks - guitarist Charlie Chadwick - so there was a tenuous connection, although a lot of melody was lost in the translation.
Fred Collins preheats his Easy-Bake Oven during Pleasant Livers set
The Pleasant Livers are kind of like the Motor Morons without the industrial tools, but with the same Red Room/High Zero cacaphony-is-fun musical aesthetic. And both bands feature the maniacal singing and stage energy of Fred Collins, who pointed out during his intro that in case people hadn't heard of the band, they should - after all, they were voted "Best Live Band" in 2008 by the Baltimore City Paper. I don't know everybody in the band, but besides Chadwick and Collins (who not only sings but also bangs an Easy-Bake Oven over his head), I spotted Jason Willett from True Vine Records plucking the bass and my fellow St. Paul's School for Boys alumnus Bob Wagner banging away on the drums.
The Pleasant Livers come from the "Land of Pleasant Living"
For some reason, a group of local inbred white trash rednecks gathered stage front to wave their annoying Pirate flag, spill beer, and show off their unimaginative Skater/Yo Boy fashion (wifebeaters, caps, spiked belts, and Prison-grade tattoos).
Unfortunately, these inbred local yokels came from the Land of Peasant Living
I suspect it's part of their mating ritual, wherein they hope to attract impressionable young females who find the allure of a heterosexual beer-drinker with a Pirate flag to be simply irresistable. (I wonder if the boys know that those all-male Pirate crews engaged in a (w)hole lot of friggin'-in-the-riggin'?) Then they can have unprotected sex, breed little stoop-squatting rugrats, and start the whole minimum wage slave cycle all over again. Idiocracy in action!
And, speaking of overgrown babies, the Pleasant Livers opened with a song called "Big Headed Baby," which you can watch below.
Watch Pleasant Livers play "Big Headed Baby."
Thee Katatonix: Straight Outta Howard & Franklin, Yo!
Kool Kats Trio: Charlie, Andy & Adolf
The highlight of the day for Amy and I was seeing my old band Thee Katatonix, who totally rocked the block. I don't recall ever hearing them sound better, though Charlie Gatewood swears he never got his guitar in tune (what do I know about being in tune - I was a drummer!). Full disclosure: I was a Katatonic from 1979-1980, when the band was a joke; the band on display today was three-quarters of their best edition - Adolf Kowalski (guitar & vocals), Charlie "Mr. Urbanity" Gatewood (lead guitar & vocals), and Big Andy Small (drums) - the group that recorded their finest-ever platter, 1984's Divine Mission LP (on the UK Spud label). They were well-augmented by latter-day bassist Ed Linton, who ably filled the shoes of those who preceded him (Danimal, Rockin' Saint Anthony, Beautiful Tony Belle) while playing a mean (and cool-looking) Hofner bass guitar.
Adolf K. strummed tunage from Back in the Day (photo by MultiElvi)
Thee Katatonix were a big deal in the mid-'80s, getting regular airplay on the local radio stations and gigging everywhere from New York to San Francisco and even crossing the pond to tour the UK. And they're still (for some reason) kind of a big deal in Germany. Starting with the (now out-of-print) Divine Mission LP, the Kats embarked on a succession of critically-applauded tours and released a string of great neo-psychrock singles and compilation LP tracks, none better than Mr. Urbanity's "Daisy Chain" and "Ordinary Sunday" or Adolf's "Walking Home Alone." These tunes, and most of the tracks on Divine Mission - "Fungus" (a much-improved holdover from my days in the band), "Beltway Beat," "Shake Shake," "Maison Le Rock," "Formula for Our Happiness," "Divine Mission" - were pulled out of storage for the grateful ears of the fans in the audience, many of whom remembered first hearing them being tried out on the Marble Bar and Galaxy Ballroom stages.
And with the words, "What a drag it is getting old," the Kats even played a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper" (with Adolf's guitar fills quite nicely mimicking Brian Jones's sitar-sounding 12-string electric slide on the original).
Watch Thee Katatonix play "Mother's Little Helper"
Though dedicated to the soon-to-be septugenerian Mick Jagger (and, tongue-in-cheekily, to local musician Mark O'Connor), it could just as easily have been dedicated to the aging former Marble Bar cronies in the crowd - whose faces this day included Mindi Siegel, Rod Misey, Bob North, Carol Underwood, Jon Pinder, Rob Weadon, Billy McConnell, Joe Goldsborough, Robin Linton & Patti Jensen (both former Marble Bar bartenders), and so on and so on.
SoWeBo Peeps @ Redux Stage (photo by Ed Linton)
Another face in the crowd belonged to Dave "Steptoe T. Magnificent" Wilcox, whose right arm belonged to Bill Dawson. I'd be remiss not to show off Steptoe's new tattoo which he got courtesy of Mr. Dawson when the former Null Set singer was in town for the Baltimore Tattoo Convention.
Steptoe takes up arms for ink
But enough talk. MC Robyn introduced the band with the words, "All the way from Howard & Franklin...you know 'em, you love'em, you can't live without 'em...Thee Katatonix!" And then they were off on a journey through the past, with travel accomodations for stops along the way booked far in advance courtesy of the Congress Hotel. I taped their whole set; following are some of the videos I've uploaded so far.
Watch Thee Katatonix play "Fungus."
Now somebody named zydanny (with a much better camera, I must add) also videotaped "Fungus," as shown below. I like this version because the cameraman actually used the right white balance, plus it has lots of crowd shots.
Watch zydanny's version of "Fungus."
The second song the Katatonix played was called, appropriately enough, "Second Chance."
Watch Thee Katatonix play "Second Chance."
"Second Chance" is a Charlie Gatewood song dating from his days in Dark Carnival (not to be confused with Detroit's Dark Carnival, a band featuring ex-Destroy All Monsters singer Niagra and ex-Stooges guitarist Ron Ashton), a trio featuring Big Andy Small on drums and Ken Malecki on bass. I believe it was originally released as the B-side of the 1989 Merkin Records single, "Book of Love" (another song incorporated into the Katatonix setlist).
Dark Carnival 45 (Merkin, 1989)
Next up, the boys performed "Maison Le Rock," my favorite song from their out-of-print 1984 LP Divine Mission. Adolf advised the crowd to scarf up any copies of this album they find on eBay or in used records stores, because legal entanglements prevent the possibility of any further pressings or a CD release.
Watch Thee Katatonix play "Maison Le Rock."
And speaking of Divine Mission, the band followed "Maison Le Rock" with a medley of Charlie's "Shake Shake" and Adolf's "Beltway Beat" - the first two tracks from that album.
Watch Thee Katatonix play "Shake Shake/Beltway Beat."
Then Charlie sang "Ordinary Sunday," his outstanding tune that originally appeared on the Baltimore indie rock band compilation 8 Essential Attitudes (Frantic Records, 1985).
"8 Essential Attitudes" LP
I remember seeing the band - then featuring "Beautiful" Tony Belle on bass - play this song back in 1985 on the late-night local dance show Shakedown, highlighted by cheesy "psychedelic" solarization overlays. (Click here to see that TV clip.)
Thee Katatonix on TV dance show "Shakedown" (1985)
Time may fly, but it still holds up as a stellar song 27 years later!
Watch Thee Katatonix play "Ordinary Sunday" at SoWeBo.
Charlie followed that up with perhaps his finest moment, "Daisy Chain," which was the A-side of Thee Kats' critically-lauded 1985 single on UK Spud (Adolf's "Home Alone" was the flipside - both tunes are available on 2009's Thanks Hon: 30th Anniversary CD).
"Daisy Chain" 45 (UK Spud, 1985)
Though this live rendition lacked the single's signature keyboard ending, it was still pretty grand.
Watch Thee Katatonix play "Daisy Chain."
Thee Katatonix wound down their Divine Mission timewarp hit parade with, appropriately enough, the title song "Divine Mission." Suffice it say, Mission accomplished!
Watch Thee Katatonix play "Divine Mission."
Oh, and before they concluded their set, Adolf dug out an old romantic ballad, "The Adventures of Cindy on I-95"...
Watch Thee Katatonix play "The Adventures of Cindy on I-95."
...and another quickie from Divine Mission, "Formula for Our Happiness," which Charlie co-wrote with German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche (who once quipped, "A formula for my happiness: A yes, a no, a straight line, a goal.").
Watch Thee Katatonix play "Formula for Our Happiness."
It Just Wouldn't Be SoWeBo Without the Motor Morons...
It really wouldn't, would it?
The Motor Morons find the right tools for the job
As dusk approached, the Motor Morons took their rightful place on the Redux stage. The usual suspects were all on hand - singer/industrial tools-player Fred Collins, steampunk-firestarter Blade, drummer Craig Stitchcombe, bassist Sam Fitzsimmons - plus Ben Watson, filling in for usual Moron guitarist Tommy Tucker (Tom DiVenti).
Hail, hail - the gang's all here!
Watch Motor Morons play "6 Simple Words".
The Motor Morons music may be somewhat abrasive (sparks will fly!), but their shows are always marked by at least one outburst of beauty: Sam Fitzsimmons always pay tribute to Mark Harp - the late great local guitar hero (and former Motor Moron) who tragically passed away in 2004. Fitzsimmons slips off his bass, straps on Mark Harp's guitar and plays "I Couldn't Get High," pointing upwards as he concludes, a reference to the fact that his departed friend got high in the sky in Rock & Roll Heaven. Motors Morons always pay a little respect to the Big Man.
Watch Motor Morons play "I Couldn't Get High."
Like most musicians who were around in the '80s and '90s, Ben Watson played in one of Mark Harp's innumerable bands. So Amy made sure we showed our props to Big Ben and his latest musical ensemble, World Media War.
Ben Watson's World Media War
Got Blues? As Sherlock Holmes would say, "It's elementary, Watson!" As the frolicking hot chicks and gay guy in too-skinny jeans in the video clip below attest, this trio's blues-rock is truly dance-a-rific!
Watch Ben Watson's World Media War kick out the jams.
Sure, it's nothing new or avante-garde, just good ole blues-boogie jamming (a la Cream, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Jimi Hendrix) from a band tighter than the mod pants I just split on Saturday at work. But it works for me and even the video I shot of the band came out tinted blue somehow Coincidence? I'm just sayin...
Rod Misey (shadowed by Canary Man)
As the night neared its close, Rod Misey handed me two CDs of radio interviews he conducted on WCVT back in 1979 and 1980 with Baltimore's two "Ick" bands - Da Moronics and Thee Katatonix. I gave him one of Johnny Thunder's infamously brief (abortive?) 1980 show at the Marble Bar, which ended when a "fan" hit Johnny in the head with a beer can. I couldn't wait to get home and listen to Rod's CDs. God, how great would the day have been if Da Moronics could've reformed to play on the Redux Stage! (After all, they were the band that inspired us when we formed the original Kats at Towson State College back in 1979.) And with that we were off - Amy to get some sleep before getting up early for work the next day, me to listen to some more audio blasts from the past.
Goodnight SoWeBo, and thank you! You truly rocked our socks off!
See also these Katatonix/Marble Bar Links:
Katatonix.com (Official site)
Thee Katatonix videos on YouTube
Still Katatonic After All These Years
Thee Katatonix - Thee Basement Tapes (1979)
Cover Your Ears! (Katatonix cover songs)
Glory Hole - The Marble Bar (City Paper)
Marble Bar Poster Art