About Me

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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

BRIGHT LIGHTS! Part 2

Continuing the story of BRIGHT LIGHTS! The Syracuse New Wave Rock 'n' Roll Reunion, which took place on Sunday, July 3rd, at Funk 'N Waffles in Syracuse.  Read the preamble here, all about the sweet anticipation here, and Part 1 of the show recap here.  Caught up now?  Then let's GO!!

The Trend:  Larry Roux, Ekendra Dasa, Paul Doherty, Josh Coy.  Photo by Diane Brooks
Perhaps our scene's first notable tragedy, The Trend have emerged as a defiant rock 'n' roll phoenix. The Trend were originally three teenaged pals, high on zinc tablets and The Ramones.  They gigged and recorded, released a 45, released an LP (the latter produced by Paul Armstrong of The Flashcubes), embraced the thrill of being a rock 'n' roll band, and lived.  The death of guitarist and lead singer J. Marc Patenaude in a 1985 car accident was a vicious punch in the gut to everyone. The surviving members had no interest in continuing as The Trend...nor even in continuing with music, really.  I don't believe drummer Paul Doherty even sat behind a kit again for nearly three decades. Paul, guitarist Larry Roux, and bassist Ekendra Dasa resisted any notion of reforming The Trend until the planning stages of our 2014 BRIGHT LIGHTS! show, when intrepid This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio co-host Dana Bonn hit Paul Doherty with the two-word question that's always been the starting point for everything cool that has ever happened:

"What if?"

What if.  What if The Trend could reunite for BRIGHT LIGHTS?  Paul responded:  What if Marc's teenaged niece were to sing in Marc's place, channeling the spirit of the uncle she never knew?  What if...well, screw the ifs--book the band, you're playin'.  Chloe, Paul, Larry, Ekendra, and guitarist Josh Coy ruled as The Trend, reborn at BRIGHT LIGHTS! (as evidenced on Bright Lights Live), and we were eager to have 'em back this year.  Chloe has opted out, leaving the bulk of lead vocal chores to Ekendra, and man, did he deliver!  The Trend were freaking lethal live, performing an incandescent set of punk, spunk, and pure, unbridled joy.  Zink Tabletz.  Peer Pressure.  Where Is Batman (Now That We Need Him). Covers of "California Sun" and "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight" (the latter with guest vocals from David Doherty, Paul's brother).  I wish this band were an ongoing outfit, because there ain't a combo across the globe that could ace 'em.  Icing on the electric cake was the surprise climactic appearance of Tom Kenny, himself a former member of The Trend, joining his old friends to shut things down with a rip-roarin' rendition of The Trend's lone single, "Band Aid."  I looked at the crowd.  Hell, I looked over at my wife and daughter.  Everyone was rockin' out, having the time of their lives.  I was, too.

(Although the project is still at a very early stage, Dana has begun work on a Trend documentary, which should be a very good thing indeed.  And consider this an open invitation for The Trend to appear again at the next BRIGHT LIGHTS! show.  And at every subsequent BRIGHT LIGHTS! show.)

The Flashcubes:  Arty Lenin, Gary Frenay, Paul Armstrong, Tommy Allen
I've spent most of my so-called adult life writing about The Flashcubes.  Man, these guys is good. The Flashcubes weren't quite the first punk or new wave group in Syracuse, but this Bright Lights scene traces its birth from September 1, 1977 onward, when the 'Cubes played their first-ever gig. Ground friggin' zero, my friends. I apologize once again for using the same superlatives and the same phrasing on an endless loop, but I'm afraid the lines are long since carved in stone:  Dave Frisina called them "Syracuse's own power pop powerhouse;" I just list my favorite bands:  The Beatles, The Ramones, and The Flashcubes!

Girl From Germany.  The 'Cubes opened their set with Arty Lenin's pulsatin' paean to an international lover, originally inspired by then-girlfriend Meegan Voss of The Poptarts. Although long a staple of The Flashcubes' live repertoire, and a fan fave since the '70s, it's not a song that gets a lot of attention beyond the Flashcubes Faithful (i.e., us).  In the perfect pop world of my imagination, this would be a staple of rockin' pop radio, played in regular rotation alongside Shoes, Prince, Chuck Berry, Joan Jett, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Sweet, Dusty Springfield, 20/20, The Drifters, and everything else that's ever been good.

You're Not The Police.  Man, take everything I just said about perfect pop radio, and apply it to the entire Flashcubes Cavalcade O' Gems. That would certainly include the cathartic frustration of "You're Not The Police," Gary Frenay's put-upon warning for a too-possessive paramour.

Muscle Beach.  Yow!  I don't know why I was surprised to hear Paul Armstrong's surf-punk Cubic classic in the set--it really ain't all that unusual for the 'Cubes to perform this at live shows--but it was a pleasant surprise, for sure.  If Dana and I are the faces of BRIGHT LIGHTS!, and Maura Kennedy is the event's personification, then Paul Armstrong is undeniably its spark.  The whole damned thing was his idea to begin with! And that's appropriate, since Paul deserves eternal credit as the individual most responsible for bringing punk and new wave music to the Syracuse scene in the first place.

Before we continue recapping The Flashcubes' set, let's pause for just a second.  We've mentioned the songwritin' front line--Arty, Gary, and Paul--but we'd be remiss if we didn't also point out that Tommy Allen is one of the greatest power pop drummers in the universe.  Yeah, that means Tommy's in the same league as Dennis Diken of The Smithereens, Kurt Reil of The Grip Weeds, Clem Burke, Brad Elvis, and a mere handful of others.  If The Who had a choice between hiring Tommy or a reincarnated Keith Moon, I'd say they should at least consider Tommy--much less wear 'n' tear on hotel rooms that way. At one point later in the evening, I was standing in the midst of a whole bunch of drummers--Paul Doherty, Cathy LaManna, Jim Spagnola of The Dead Ducks, Ed Steele was probably nearby, and Tommy certainly wasn't far--and I just rejoiced at the wealth of great drummers this scene has produced.  This beat goes on!

Boogie City.  The new Flashcubes single!  About damned time, too--we've been waiting for the 'Cubes to release their third single for over 37 years.  We tune because we care. On stage, Gary told us about the circumstances that prompted them to record new covers of two Chris Spedding songs (this and "Hey Miss Betty"):  The Flashcubes were playing a private party, in a garage, and whipped out old live fave "Boogie City" for the hell of it.  Betcha it sounded great!  Tommy must have thought so, because he immediately suggested that the 'Cubes should record it as a single.  Wait--it's that easy..?!  Hey, kids--let's put on a show!

Natalie.  When We Close Our Eyes.  Pathetic.  Three great songs from The Flashcubes' self-reviewing 2003 album Brilliant were next on the set list.  Because the whole night was becoming a blur of buzz and delight, I can't swear that they actually did these songs.  I know I was having a good time, but details are hazy!  Yeah, just like the old days....

No Promise.  Ah, but no doubt at all about this one!  My favorite power pop song, the greatest evocation of the Raspberries sound this (or any) side of Cleveland, and, y'know, not a bad little ditty. A couple of decades ago, when the only sonic souvenirs we had of The Flashcubes totaled two 45s and a handful of unreleased cassette tapes, "No Promise" was Exhibit A in my argument that The Flashcubes should be considered alongside The Raspberries, Romantics, Plimsouls, et al. as Power Pop Elite.  I think I convinced of few folks along the way.  This is the redemptive power of faith!

I Need Glue.  An early live staple, dating back to the days when the 'Cubes were considered a punk band, and it's still a frequent fixture of Flashcubes shows today. Coulda been a Dead Boys tune, but it's all Armstrong, all the way!  After the song, Gary remarked on stage that Paul liked to use false endings in his songs--both "Muscle Beach" and "I Need Glue" stop before starting again--presumably just to mess with people.  Blame it on the glue.

Cherry's World.  Believe it or not, The Flashcubes have never released a studio version of this Arty Lenin fave rave.  It's on the live album, Raw Powerpop--Live In Japan, and it's on Arty's solo album A Life Of Ease, but it's still waiting anxiously but patiently for full-on professional Cubic attention.

With that, The Flashcubes were done for the time being.  We all wanted more--I, for one, would be perfectly fine with a six-hour Flashcubes set--but Gary and Arty had already played in three of the first four sets, and all four Flashcubes still had a lot more musical duties remaining before the night was through.  No one could complain or claim they didn't give us every damned thing.  God save The Flashcubes!

The Dead Ducks:  Paul Stevenson, Dan Bonn, and Jim Spagnola.  Photo by Karen Munze

The Dead Ducks closed down Part One of BRIGHT LIGHTS!  Introducing the Ducks, I repeated a line I've been using a lot lately to describe them:  I've been fortunate enough to see a lot of great live acts--The Ramones, The Kinks, Regis Philbin--but I've never seen another act that just plain believed in rock 'n' roll like The Dead Ducks believe in rock 'n' roll.  It may seem a disservice to refer to 'em as a garage band, but I mean it as a sincere compliment; The Dead Ducks have always been a great garage band in the best of ways.  They play their hearts out.  They play well--people think of garage bands as lacking chops or proficiency, but the Ducks can throw down with any muthuh, or any other. They don't take themselves seriously, but they're deadly serious about what they do.  And what do they do?  They rock.  With authority! Originals.  Covers.  It's all Ducks to me.

There was a video kicking around somewhere, footage of The Dead Ducks live at Poor House North in the summer of 1980.  I was at that show, but unwanted complications (don't ask) forced me to arrive too late--TOO LATE, damn it!--to see the Ducks.  That would have been my last-ever opportunity to see The Dead Ducks just one more time during their original run, and I blew it.

And it sucked, because I loved the Ducks.  Guitarist Dan Bonn, bassist Paul Stevenson, and drummer Jim Spagnola clearly wanted to be The Who, The Kinks, and The Ramones, all at the same time, and they pretty much succeeded in that effort. At this year's BRIGHT LIGHTS!, Dana (Dan Bonn's cousin--we encourage nepotism) pointed out that the Ducks were the only band on the bill that didn't have any merchandise for sale.  Well, yeah, Tom Kenny didn't either, but...never mind. And that's a shame, because they did record a few cool demos, and it would be nice to have those available for the fans.

As it is, the mighty Ducks certainly didn't disappoint with their live set at BRIGHT LIGHTS!  A rock 'n' roll band that opens with "Ready, Steady, Go" by Generation X has nothing to prove, yet the Ducks went ahead and proved themselves--again!--anyway. It's what they do.  I regret the omission of my favorite Dead Ducks tune--the awesome, awesome "No Direction"--but still exulted in the defiantly grungy splendor of Ducks originals like "Summer In The Suburbs" and "Why Can't I Violate You?," plus a bonus cover of The Jam's "Life From A Window."  Belief is infectious. Infection is fun!

The Dead Ducks left the stage, applause ringing in their ears, guitars ringing like buzzing bells in all of our ears.  We were ahead of schedule--like, way, way ahead of schedule--so we announced an intermission, allowing folks a chance to catch their breath and catch up with old friends.  The "reunion" part of this event's title is literal; many, maybe most BRIGHT LIGHTS! attendees used to hang together all the time, but now rarely have the opportunity to see each other.  These are the happiest punk shows on Earth.  Lovely wife Brenda and I split a delectable Funk 'N Waffles dessert treat, my daughter Meghan had her chance to meet and chat with Tom Kenny, and Fab Five Paul Davie complimented me for including The Monkees' great new song "Birth Of An Accidental Hipster" in the evening's house music.  There was more time to schmooze and gladhand, in a night that was already a dizzying, blissful blur of greetings and salutations.

A long break in the middle of a rock 'n' roll show is deadly.  People get bored.  People leave.  But hardly anyone was gonna leave BRIGHT LIGHTS! now.  No freakin' way. There was too much more yet to come.

WHEN WE RETURN:  The Thrilling Conclusion Of BRIGHT LIGHTS!