Sunday, September 21, 2014

Balto Band Bash 2014: You're With the Band!

Or: Bravo, Balto Weirdos!

[Note: This is a salvaged draft of an earlier post (June 9, 2014 to be exact), most of which was lost in the Blogosphere thanks to Blogger's deficiencies, which are too many to go into; but now, like a moth drawn to the flame, I go cautiously once more into the fray...]

It was a trip down Memory Lane - not to mention The Marble Bar, Oddfellows Hall, Maxwells, Spirits, the 8x10, and so on and so on...

(May 24, 2014) - Tonight's the night! I made the Double-A List (thanks Bob, thanks Mindi!) of invitees to a private party called Band Bash 2014: "You're With the Band!" (Mission Statement: "We are paying tribute to our friends, families and others who have suffered through the hardships of repititous rehearsals, frightening feedback and decor-destroying equipment. This party is for you!") at Heritage Parkville Gardens Hall in the Parkville Shopping Center.

It was an offer no one could refuse: free hot and cold buffet (the cinnamon cake desert alone was worth the price of admission - if there was one!), free beer and wine, and free musical performances by a lineup of luminous local legends. History may have relegated them to being rumors in their own time and legends in their own rooms, but on this night in this room, they were beheld as rock avatars in the collective minds of everyone there with two ears and a taste for good, smart music.

Yes, in the age of Smart Food, Smart Drinks, Smart TVs and Smart Phones (not to mention Smart Asses, who are mostly found at comic book conventions and nightly on Fox News), there is such a thing as Smart Music, and it was made on this night by three bands with, as they say in Kentucky horse-breeding country, impeccable best-in-class "bloodlines": the bossa nova-and-a-more-a Trio Novo (keyboardist Bob Tiefenwerth, bassist Paul Rieger, and drummer Tim Taormino)...

"Kick out the jams, mofos!: MC Rod Misey introduces Trio Novo

...venerable rock vets OHO (featuring guitarist Jay Grabowski and drummer Dave Reeve, with guest vocals on a Kinks cover courtesy of Dave "Steptoe T. Magnificent" Wilcox), and the "progressive rock for the contemporary absurdist" stylings of Buck Subtle & The Little Planets (keyboard-vocalist mastermind Mark O'Connor, his singer-guitarist wife Mary Lis, sax player Mindi Siegel (with her signature "Coltrane on the Moon" sound), and a former Da Moronics rhythm section of bassist Charles Freeman and drummer Jaimie Wilson, Sr.).

Buck Subtle & The Little Planets

Mary Lis and Chuck Freeman of The Little Planets

Jamie Wilson & Mindi Siegel

Saxy Mindi Siegel toots her own horn while savy Mark O'Connor sings

Monkey To Man: Jamie Wilson's drumming has really evolved from Da Moronics days

Buck Subtle's set was highlighted by "Pluto's Not a Planet Anymore" (renamed "Poor Pluto" and appearing with seven more tracks on their new CD Lowdown, recorded at Baltimore's Invisible Sound recording studio and available from CD Baby, CD Universe and

Buck Subtle gives listeners the "Lowdown" (2014)

...and O'Connor's homage to Moby Grape singer-songwriter-drummer Don Stevenson's infamous middle finger salute on the cover of Moby Grape's 1967 debut album (which was airbrushed off on subsequent reissues).

Don Stevenson makes a point for Moby Grape

Basically, most of the musicians gathered in Parkville on this night could trace their roots to the "OHO-GOHOG Revue," a multi-tentacled assortment of like-minded bands including the original OHO (named after the initials of O'Connor, bassist Steve Heck & guitarist Joe O'Sullivan, with guitarist Jay Grabowski & drummer Jeff Grabowski bookmarking them as GOHOG), Dark Side, Trixy & The Testones, Food For Worms, Klangfarb, U.S.E. (United States of Existence - a neo-psych group featuring Trio Novo's Paul Rieger and Bob Tiefenwerth and former Ebeneezer & The Bludgeons singer Dennis Davison), Little Hans, and BLAMMO (Beleaguered League of Artists Meeting Mass Opposition).

Best of Baltimore's Buried (1980)

Their output over the years dominates the two Best of Baltimore's Buried records (the 1980 LP Best of Baltimore's Buried and 2003's Best of Baltimore Buried, Vol. 2 CD), which, far from sounding dated, hold up well compared to current professional recording standrads - damned well, in fact!

Best of Baltimore's Buried Bands, Vol. 2 (2003)

Note that the "Great OHO Schism" eventually split the band into Jay Grabowski and Mark O'Connor camps, with Grabowski carrying on the brand name and O'Connor branching off into new, Not OHO (NOHO?) ensembles like Blammo and now Buck Subtle & The Little Planets.

In a just world where the cream always rises to the top, Outrageous, OHO, Food For Worms, or Blammo would have been not just the Best of Baltimore but recognized as among the best in the world at what they do: creating funny, melodic, danceable rock songs, with the added heft of actually being thought-provoking (that's what you get with a bunch of artists and Philosophy majors - it's almost a categorical imperative!).

Remember, these were the pre-Punk days when "Prog" wasn't just another four-letter curse word (one described by The Rock Snob's Dictionary as "the single most deplored genre of postwar pop music, inhabited by young musicians who, entranced by the eclecticism, elaborate arrangements, and ostentatious filigrees of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper era, distorted their enthusiasm into a seventies morass of eternal song suites with multiple time signatures, ponderous space-cadet or medievalist lyrics, ridiculous capes and headpieces...and an overall wretched bigness of sound, staging, and hair") but a sign of intelligence like Roxy Music, Eno, or Van Der Graf Generator. Always self-effacing, Mark O'Connor would later write "Prog Man" for Blammo, which both celebrated and lampooned the Prog Rock Era: "I'm a Prog Man, with my synthesizer/I'm a Prog Man, I'm your tranquilizer.")

Probably what held the GOHOG pack back is the fact that they were just a bunch of ordinary looking guys more concerned with making music than projecting image, unlike the majority of today's hair-today-gone-tomorrow flash-in-the-pans and glammd-up American Idol prima donnas.

Gyro J. Scope in FFW's "It Needs a Haircut" music video

And, other than "singing human lightning rod"  Gyro J. Scope (Ed Barker) - whose OHO-inspired Outrageous may have been the best (albeit outrageously short-lived and unheralded) local prog rock group to emerge from the '70s and whose "Who Am I? Where Am I?" is the hands-down highlight of the Best of Baltimore Buried LP (narrowly eclipsing OHO's "We'll Be Famous When We're Dead") -  there was no truly charismatic frontman leading these various lineups. (Gyro would go on to play with both Food For Worms and Blammo.)

Listen to Outrageous play "Who Am I? Where Am I?"

These well-schooled rockers weren't concerned with window dressing and they never took themselves that seriously - they were funny, clever, and self-deprecating. Indeed, Food For Worms - with O'Connor, Grabowski, Barker, and Reeve all contributing songs - may very well have been Baltimore's answer to 10cc, another too-clever-for-their-own-good band blessed with multiple songwriters but without that shining star frontman or easy-to-peg identity.

The folks at Hyped 2 Death Records (a great singles compilation resource) called FFW's sound "good guitar-and-wheezy keyboards Human Switchboard Velvet Monkeys garagewave" and sell copies of the group's 1981 single "I Don't Wanna Be President/Another Crack in the Jaw" at the rare collectible price of $19!

Food For Worms 1981 single: Collectible "Garage-wave"

But I prefer the band's own characterization of their sound as "Gothic Pop, Slavic Funk & Balkan Bop at its best!"

Food For Worms: Gothic Pop, Slavic Funk & Balkan Bop at its best!

Food For Worms was notable also for being one of the few local bands to not only make a video, but to have it air on MTV, back in the days when the fledgling 24/7 cable TV network actually played (and was desperate for)  music videos. In fact, my girlfriend Amy Linthicum and her friend Liz Crain had cameos in the crypt-rocking video for 1983's "It Needs A Haircut, (about a long-haired corpse getting a posthumous makeover) as shown below.

Watch "It Needs a Haircut."

The FFW tradition of smart and smart-ass rock carried over into O'Connor's next musical venture, Blammo (whose ranks included Gyro J. Scope and Bob Tiefenwerth), as witnessed in his amusing anthem "Sweet Home Balt-amore" - another in a long line of songs about his hometown (e.g., "Horrible Place" about the then-new downtown showcase Harborplace and "Fun In Nicaragua" with its topical lines during the Iran-Contra Scandal about a certain Orioles pitcher: "Dennis Martinez, your home is where the heat is!").

Listen to Blammo play "Sweet Home Balt-amore."

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: along with Randall Peck (Boatniks) and David Cawley (Berserk, Garage Sale), Mark O'Connor is one of the few area artists whose songs make me laugh out loud.

What a treat this night was! It was like going to a wedding reception except the band(s) didn't suck and the DJ wasn't obnoxious (indeed, the evening's MC was none other than former WCVT psych-rock jock Rod "The Mod" Misey!). And this wedding, marking the marriage of classic '70s-on-up Local Prog Rock to Baltimore Weirdos (AARP Edition), was thrown and paid for by the largesse of Paul Rieger, Esq.

Host Paul Rieger (Trio Novo) and MC Rod Misey

Apparently Mr. Rieger is doing quite well, thankyou, as a lawyer! As Bob Tiefenwerth remarked later to me, "You see, you should have stayed in law school!" (Bob's right about that - as he was when he also told Mark O'Connor that he never should have sold his Mellotron, as later lamented in the Blammo song "You Never Should have Sold Your Mellotron"! O'Connor's Mellotron melancholia also surfaced in another Blammo song, the Gyro J. Scope-sung "Prog Man": "I'm a Prog Man/I would never sell my Mellotron!" Both songs are available on Best of Baltimore's Buried, Vol, 2.) By the way, Tiefenwerth's impressive art was also on display this night, along with other paintings and art by Connell Byrne, Maureen Nolan, and David Wilcox.

I thoroughly enjoyed Paul's latest collaboration with Bob, but I hope that someday he might coax Dennis Davison back to Charm City so that he and Bob could once again don their love beads and Nehru jackets and revive, if only for one night, their trippy cult '90s neo-psych band United States of Existence.

Listen to U.S.E. play "Anything Goes" with The Association.

Before we arrived, Amy remarked that she wouldn't know anyone there except for Mark O'Connor and Dave Wilcox (The Alcoholics, Problems Pets, Grand Poobah Subway, Chelsea Graveyard & the Screams At Midnight, et al), but the minute we walked in she was immediately greeted by her good friend Mark Silvestri! (This being Smalltimore, Mark's brother Matt is good friends with Paul Reiger's wife and...there ya go!) And I ran into my old pals Alexandra Doumani and Jay Ludwig (Jay and I were in The Boatniks, whose ranks also included Katie Katatonic, Randall Peck, and Rick and Stephanie Eeney).

The Boatniks: Tom Warner, Randall Peck, Jay Ludwig, Katie Katatonic

It was a great night to catch up with countless old friends of both symbiotic camps - musicians and fans - alike. Folks like "Mrs. Steptoe" Alice Wilcox, the always affable Chuck Gross (The Beaters) (who in the midst of all the music couldn't stop raving about Svengooli and Me TV's Saturday night lineup), and my long-time-no-see college pal Mary "Myrtle May" Crivello, who grew up in Hamilton and thus was well-aquainted with the GOHOG Revue, especially Outrageous and the many Mark O'Connor ensembles from the '70s and '80s. Myrt reminisced about hanging out with the Barker boys during Outrageous practices in Hamilton, and I promised her I'd make her a copy of the four-song Outrageous suite appearing on Best of Baltimore's Buried Bands, Vol. 2.

Mary "Myrt" Crivello & Tom Warner reunite

Speaking of which, I think I stumbled onto Gyro's Outrageously obscure web site, ("Electric Music for the Wilted Mind"), where one can listen to all four Outrageous songs on that CD sampler - "A Letter From Kevin," "Faggy Goats at the Neck of the Woods," "Madman Serenade," and "The Laughing Man" - as well as capsule reviews of them.

I love the description of "Faggy Goats": ""A decade before Spinal Tap did Stonehenge with dwarves, Gyro J. Scope wrote this masterpiece about elves, bowling (again, ahead of the curve) and Goats of an alternative persuasion" with what may be the first bass solo run through a Fuzz box and ending vocals inspired by Ethel Merman. A masterpiece indeed! And the chicken solo in "Madman Serenade" is wonderful as well!

"Be kind in your evaluation," Gyro asks on the fast Elder web site.  "This was the 70's. The effects available at the time came in two flavors - Fuzz & Wah...Double tracking was done with two tracks" and "Loops were pieces of tape splice together, and a flanger was somebody's thumb on the rim of a tape reel (hence the name!)"

All the more's the glory that Outrageous, like its other like-minded "avante-fringe" peers in the GOHOG Revue, made such fantastic sounds over the years - sounds that were recalled and celebrated anew this very night.

But I digress...back to the party!

In summary: Thanks Paul and thanks all ye bands for an evening bash that was a bona fide smash!

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Blogger Unknown said...

Great blog Tom, It WAS a great night and I was so happy to see old friends and meet new ones ! Iwas feeling like an old biddy but this night brought me back to life ! Those were the good daze. I've pleaded with Ron Barker to put together an Outrageous reunion but he just won't get on board. I think we should all gang up on him and Gyro to make it happen. Loved the reincarnated and altered bands that night, all were great and many thanks to the generous Paul Reiger !

6:11 PM  
Blogger dannycia said...

I remember seeing the It Just Needs A Haircut video back in the day and wondering what the hell I just watched. Had no idea they were local boys. Glad to see them still around in one form or another!

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I´m choppa whit of the late and great outrageous...hahahaha. I live in Spain now but if Gyro and Top (ronnie) were up for it I´d come back for a reunion. But no ones mentioned the Professor. I´ve written some songs that can only be done by outrageous and would love to see if we´re still in the bubble

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Anonymous Chris Richardson said...

Hey Tom,

Jeff Krulik suggested that I send you a link to my supercool list of songs that feature 'Baltimore' in the title - it's pretty extensive and goes back to 1921 (or 1915):

A real labor of love - enjoy!

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It seems the Professor is still alive and well and living under the nom de plume of FastElder. I haven't updated the web site in years, but if anyone wants to contact me they can Still playing Guitar, Bass & Synth Guitar at the newly re-opened Squirrel Court Studio.

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