|Photo by Karen Munze|
By the end of the night, I was hoarse, exhausted, aching. And it had all been worth it, every bit of it. BRIGHT LIGHTS! had been a great success.
BRIGHT LIGHTS! The Syracuse New Wave Rock 'n' Roll Reunion took place on Sunday, July 3rd, at Funk 'N Waffles on South Clinton Street in downtown Syracuse. The location allowed me to quote Petula Clark over 'n' over again in pre-show hype: DOWNTOWN--Where All The Lights Are BRIGHT! Dana and I were the on-stage hosts, presiding over live sets by Tom Kenny, The Flashcubes, Screen Test, The Trend, The Dead Ducks, Maura & the Bright Lights, and a tribute to the late Norm Mattice, performed by his former bandmates in The Richards (with special guest Ronnie Dark filling in for Norm on lead vocals). It was emotional, it was exhilarating, and it was so much razzafrazzin' fun.
The BRIGHT LIGHTS! day began that afternoon, with a touching, heartfelt private memorial for Norm. The memorial at Funk 'N Waffles adjourned at 2:00 pm, with many attendees moving on to Onondaga Lake Park for the dedication of a park bench inscribed in Norm's honor and memory. I returned home to re-charge. With doors set to open at 6 pm, and music set to commence blarin' at 7, Dana and I returned to Funk 'N Waffles around quarter past 5, ready to get ready.
People who spoke with me over the course of the days preceding BRIGHT LIGHTS! have told me I seemed worried about the show. I did have two conflicting concerns prior to showtime: that we wouldn't sell enough tickets to adequately pay the bands, or that we'd be too successful for the venue, and have to turn fans away. I'm happy to say now that neither concern was warranted.
But I never worried much about the show itself. I mean that. Sure, most of the acts wouldn't have much, if any, time to practice, but I knew that was no issue at all. These guys 'n' dolls are pros; they could do another show tonight, tomorrow, next week, next month, whatever, all on just enough advance notice to get 'em to the stage on time. Dana and I never rehearse banter anyway; our one scripted moment was gonna be short, and we'd have the script in front of us. No worries there.
Still, folks saw me pacing around the venue, and presumed (understandably) that I was a nervous wreck. But that wasn't it at all. It was, in fact, exactly the same thing I'd done at the first BRIGHT LIGHTS! show in 2014: after all the planning, all the nudzhing, all the coordinating, and all the hype, I was dyin' to just get on with it already. Waiting is not what a Ramones fan does best. With over an hour and a half to go until showtime, I wanted to just start now.
But there were still things to do before the show. Maura and the Bright Lights had time for a quick run-through of "Syracuse Summer," the only rehearsal that band would get this year. They nailed it, of course. Maura joined Dana and I in a corner of the venue, where Dana was setting up a video camera, and had us recite our spoken part of the opening song, Dress Code's "Something's Really Wrong," while she strummed along, unplugged. Perfunctory, but satisfactory.
I tried to say a quick hello to each of the performers on the bill. The only ones I'd never met before were Steve and Ed Steele, local musicians whose resume includes work with the legendary Alice Cooper, and who would be re-joining The Richards for our little shindig. I was too shy to introduce myself. Yeah, yeah--I know....
I'd met Tom Kenny briefly on a couple of previous occasions. But I had a much greater opportunity to speak with him this time, and he's just a blast to be around. I told him that my daughter Meghan and her friend Nicole were looking forward to meeting him, and were hoping to get an autograph. That was fine with Tom; he gets so much attention (rightly so) for his work as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, and he seemed delighted to hear that Meghan's interest was specifically tied to his work on The PowerPuff Girls. When the time came later for the girls to get their autographs, he sat in a booth with them, telling stories, even doing his PowerPuff Girls voices as The Narrator and The Mayor while signing Meghan's DVD. Tom Kenny is one awesome guy.
Larry Roux of The Trend arrived with commemorative T-shirts. I tried mine on over the Kinks T-shirt I was already wearing; I said it was snug covering the Kinks, but should be fine (and then I told Larry that it probably wasn't the first time he'd covered The Kinks). I went backstage and upstairs to watch Tom Kenny's only rehearsal with The Trend. It's a largely-forgotten fact in local rock 'n' roll history, but Tom Kenny was very briefly a part of The Trend originally, and he sang with that group at their very first gig. Now, he would be singing one song with The Trend at our show, a surprise which I'd been sworn not to divulge beforehand. Upstairs, Tom joined Larry and Ekendra Dasa, their respective guitar and bass guitar unplugged, for a run-through of The Trend's first single "Band Aid." The Trend's drummer Paul Doherty looked on approvingly, and Flashcubes drummer Tommy Allen played along, just for the hell of it. Back downstairs, Tom also went over cues for "Let's Have A Party," the Wanda Jackson classic that would be part of his headlining set with The Flashcubes. This night was gonna be magic.
Inspired by a friend's Jam T-shirt, Tom Kenny called me over to note that he'd just realized that The Jam basically sounded like actor Michael Caine fronting a punk band. "Think about it," Tom said, imitating Caine while singing, "This is the modern world!" I said that would be full circle, since Caine starred in Batman Begins, and the first song I'd ever heard by The Jam was their cover of "The Batman Theme." Tom talked about meeting Neal Nefti, the jazz great who'd written "The Batman Theme," and actually getting him together on a regular basis with legendary (and now departed) voice actor Gary Owens, which is kinda like Batman getting together with Space Ghost, only different. I said, "Yeah, well, I once got a phone call from Joey Ramone!" I think Tom could have easily outdone me, but he let me have my little victory. (Good thing, too; the only rejoinder I woulda had left was "I own a hundred pairs of stretch socks!" And no one's impressed by that.)
At 6:00, the doors opened, and fans started coming in. The house music started--coincidentally, I swear--with "The Modern World" by The Jam. I tried to get around to greet as many people as I could, welcoming them to BRIGHT LIGHTS!, thanking them, and pretty much guaranteeing 'em all a good time. I was pretty confident in that vow. And I had good reason to be.
The clock ticked 7. The house music played Petula Clark. Maura & the Bright Lights were on stage, and Dana and I joined them there. It was time. At long last, it was finally time.
TOMORROW: BRIGHT LIGHTS!