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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.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Our First Guest-Blogger: "The Flashcubes At 40--Bright Lights Diary" by John Tierney

This blog is usually all about me. So the notion of a Guest Blogger violates our Prime Directive or something, but I don't care. I want everyone to read what True Believer John Tierney had to say about The Flashcubes' recent 40th anniversary show. This appeared September 6th, 2017 on John's own swell blog Long-Winded--Short Attention Span (which you should be reading regularly), and is reprinted here with John's permission. I'll eventually share my own thoughts on that night, too. For now, suffice it to say that John's right. John is often right.

THE FLASHCUBES AT 40--BRIGHT LIGHTS DIARY
by John Tierney
Photo: Jeanne Chu
Lovely.

That’s what it was, lovely.  In every imaginable way it was truly lovely.
It was a lot of things, rocking, professional, masterful, loud, brash, all the usual, glowing  adjectives used in rock writing apply.
But for me, none more than the word “lovely”.
A night of congratulations for the band that Trend drummer Paul Doherty once aptly said, “paved the road that we all drive on”
Truer words were never spoken about the band that refused to go away.
A band that was occasionally, dare I say pathetically, derided by the hometown press.
A band that although everyone was sure they would be signed to a major label, never was.
A band that had an unfortunate schism which probably lead to their demise, followed by their resurrection as legends.
The Flashcubes, whether they know it or not, created a community, a tribe.  My tribe
September 1, 2017 was the 40th anniversary of the Flashcubes first gig and although I was not old enough to be able to see them in ’77 that night at the Brookside, I was lucky enough to see them a bunch of times, and luckier still that  I was able to see them Friday night when they delivered a performance that validated every single word of the legend that surrounds this band and then some.
In short, they burned the fucking house down.
And it was lovely.  The whole night was.
There are a lot of bands playing in lots of places in this world.  You can go out there and check out, U2, The Stones, Guns N Roses, all the big tours. Bands that bring with them iconic status, deep repertoire, and amazing live spectacle.
But last Friday, there was NO better show, that checked all those boxes, in the world than the one I saw at Funk n Waffles in Syracuse, if you doubt that, well, then you weren’t there and you just don’t know  daddy-o.
In Syracuse, where the summer doesn’t last forever, it seems like sacrilege to wish the days of summer  away looking for Labor Day weekend and the rock n roll reunion that is Bright Lights but that’s exactly what I did.   I was counting the days until I would walk through the door at Funk n Waffles on September 1st for this celebration and a reunion of a scene that meant, and still means the world to me.  It’s hard being a bit of an introvert and at the same time a highly emotional people person, but every friend I saw I wanted to hug. It was a homecoming for all, the bat signal was out and the true believers knew it was time to gather once again.
The minute I hit the door I was greeted by such warm friendship from every corner.  The guys I used to run with to these shows back in the day, my neighborhood crew were there, staking our claim to spots near the stages just like we did in long closed clubs around town, sometimes after walking miles through snow covered streets fueled by illicitly acquired cans of PBR.  Folks I have met at these events even relatively recently, offering hugs and handshakes.   This was no ordinary rock show.
I mentioned to one of these friends, Dana Bonn, he of the essential radio program This is Rock N Roll Radio with Dana & Carl and one of our emcees for the evening, that what struck me about all these reunion events is just how damn NICE everyone is.  He said “and to think everyone was afraid of us mean old punk rockers back then”
Dana’s words  reminded me of that song “Tickets on the Weekend”   by Oh Susanna (a song I gushed over elsewhere on this site):
Down at the oddfellows hall with the big and the small
We’ll be slamming away
Baby spike up your hair
Raise your fist in the air nothing stands in our way
Hobnob there with the poor
Sneaking in the back door
Sister she never pays
Baby punks at the scene
We’re pretending we’re mean its just a part that we play.
Gabba Gabba Hey
Just like actors in a play
And once in a while, if the musicians we adored “got the band back together” the people we love will gather to see it again, as we together march through middle age with a hearty “Oi Oi OI” and a pumped fist.  Dana and Carl Cafarelli will be there to master the ceremonies as only they can.   Maybe summer CAN last forever as many of us look toward our own personal Septembers, if not forever, at least we can go into those Septembers kicking and screaming.
The tribe gathered again this past Friday  and this time we celebrated 40 years of the Flashcubes with The Trend, and Maura & The Bright Lights.  Everything I love about rock n roll music was on that stage that night, and everything I love about people was contained in the faithful  gathered to honor it all.

Photo: Jeanne Chu

Can you think of a better kick off to the festivities that Maura & The Bright Lights? You would think they have been playing together for years, an all-star supergroup formed to play songs by Syracuse bands not on the bill that night.  Wonderful players and you can just see the love on the stage, a band fronted by Maura Kennedy joined by her amazing in so many ways husband Pete, along with Gary Frenay on bass, Arty Lenin on Guitar and Cathy LaManna on drums.  I was thinking that even if you didn’t know any of these songs as originals, you would have to be blown away by the quality of them and knowing that all of them were from Syracuse bands.  They got me dancing with particular vigor as “Glad She’s Gone” by The PopTarts, the local all female band that predated the Go-Gos and the Bangles.  The band knocked that one out of the park, but who am I kidding?  Every song in the set was a home run, every note played with enthusiasm and, there’s that word again, played with love.
When I heard that the Ohms, a band originally scheduled to be on the bill wasn’t going to make it, my first thought was disappointment.  My second thought was “Yay!  Maura can play “Chain Letter” again!”  I’ll put that song up there with anyones and the  Ohms classic will MORE than hold it’s own.  It’s very hard not to sing along with “Chain Letter”, although for the sake of all someone really should stop me from singing anything.Can you think of a better kick off to the festivities that Maura & The Bright Lights?         You would think they have been playing together for years, an all-star supergroup formed to play songs by Syracuse bands not on the bill that night.  Wonderful players and you can just see the love on the stage, a band fronted by Maura Kennedy joined by her amazing in so many ways husband Pete, along with Gary Frenay on bass, Arty Lenin on Guitar and Cathy LaManna on drums.  I was thinking that even if you didn’t know any of these songs as originals, you would have to be blown away by the quality of them and knowing that all of them were from Syracuse bands.  They got me dancing with particular vigor as “Glad She’s Gone” by The PopTarts, the local all female band that predated the Go-Gos and the Bangles.  The band knocked that one out of the park, but who am I kidding?  Every song in the set was a home run, every note played with enthusiasm and, there’s that word again, played with love.
Perfect in every single way.
Photo: Jeanne Chu
I know Maura Kennedy a little bit, so when the band ended the set with the Ramones classic “The KKK Took My Baby Away” and  she dedicated it to Joe Arpaio, I can’t tell you I was surprised, delighted is  more the word, I let out a little fist pump of solidarity and sang my ass of along with the band. (Fuck that guy.  Resist!)
It’s so easy to think of that time, that scene back then as lightning in a bottle, but you would be so wrong.  This isn’t some nostalgia thing, even though it’s been so many years gone by.    This is a living, breathing community of creativity, appreciation and so much friendship and love that goes on.    Maura & The Bright Lights kicking off these shows brings all these songs back to life in an amazing way, honoring the talent and reminding those who don’t know, or may have forgotten that there was an active, creative, SUPPORTIVE  scene here.   The high energy and enthusiasm hits you right in the face and travels down to your dancing shoes, dancing shoes with good arch support hopefully.  We aren’t kids anymore. (Thank God.)
I think Maura & The Bright Lights should hit the studio for a compilation CD with all these songs.  If for no other reason than to have a release party.
Next up was the Trend, in what I think was only their third performance since reforming after 27 years for Bright Lights #1.  This band, who seemingly ended after tragedy reformed triumphantly that night and have been a Bright Lights staple, no, a major highlight every once since.  I cant imagine the event without them,  and they just keep getting better.
You want energy?  These guys are MY AGE and had I been on that stage I would have needed to sit down between songs and have a glass of water and maybe some kind of a low fat snack, like an energy bar maybe.  It was a perpetual motion machine while not missing a single beat.  The Trend play it  the way it was meant to be played and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
The Trend don’t take the stage, they explode all over it.
Photo: Neil Daley
You know from elsewhere on this site how much The Trend means to me, especially when I was the skinny awkward geek looking to fit in.  Every time I see them now I think my God I am really seeing this band again when I thought they were gone forever.   But here they were, and again, not in some old timers night serving nostalgia, but in a full on, full throttle reclamation of their own legacy.  Punk Rock kids take notice, THIS is how it’s done.
Ekendra Dasa taking the bulk of the vocals is the perfect front man with manic energy, enthusiasm and that guy can make some faces!   Larry Roux, with his VanGogh painted guitar, covers ground faster than Usain Bolt as he runs over to trade licks with Josh Coy on the other side of the stage while Paul Doherty pounds the drums like cross between Keith Moon and Animal from the Muppets   Paul’s brother David even joining in for a MENACING  version of the classic “Someone’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight”
A furious set that seemed to be over too fast, with the Funk n Waffles faithful mouthing a collective “wow” to one another.
Photo: Jeanne Chu
I don’t think I am going out on too much of a limb when I say that I think The Trend of the 21st century would undoubtedly meet with his approval, and somewhere up there in that great Squires East in the sky, I suspect he is proud beyond words.  The Trend do it the right way.I was lucky enough to have had a few conversations with the late Trend front man J Marc Patenaude back in the day.  Losing him tragically was believed to be the end of the Trend.  J Marc had some very specific ways he believed rock n roll was to be played, loud, fast and fun.
There was just about enough time for a drink of water, and to tell anyone who would listen, “There is only one band who could possibly follow what the Trend just did and we are about to see them.”
Rock n roll history is full of bands whose particular alchemy transcends the individual members.  Bands that when they get together, magic happens.  The Flashcubes are one of those bands, and seeing the four members take the stage is to know you are about to see something special, be it a quick hit at a record store on record store day, or a slot on previous Bright Lights showcases.   But this time it was even more so as they took their places in front of their 40th anniversary banner.
Photo: Jeanne Chu
The Flashcubes ripped into their set with “It’s You Tonight” which I’ve always loved as their opener because of how Tommy Allen starts it off with that tasty little drum intro.  Performed live, the song comes at you like a steam train.  Paul Armstrong, the sweatiest man in rock n roll, was rocking a Neru jacket which I think lasted a song and a half before it found the back of an amp exposing a classic Syracuse Chiefs tee.   Paul is the undisputed minister of rock n roll attitude in the band, and I mean that in the best possible sense, it’s Paul’s party and we are all invited(accent on ALL).  I’m still wondering how Paul’s shoe missed Dana’s head who was documenting the event during one of those rock and roll kicks Paul does.
If there is a harder hitting drummer than Tommy Allen, I sure don’t know who that would be.  HAMMERING the beat and yelling out the between song 1,2,3,4’s.  My God  it was thunder back there.  Every living thing has a heart beat and Tommy provides it in spades.   One of the most entertaining drummers I have ever had the fortune to see perform.The Flashcubes ripped into their set with “It’s You Tonight” which I’ve always loved as their opener because of how Tommy Allen starts it off with that tasty little drum intro.  Performed live, the song comes at you like a steam train.  Paul Armstrong, the sweatiest man in rock n roll, was rocking a Neru jacket which I think lasted a song and a half before it found the back of an amp exposing a classic Syracuse Chiefs tee.   Paul is the undisputed minister of rock n roll attitude in the band, and I mean that in the best possible sense, it’s Paul’s party and we are all invited(accent on ALL).  I’m still wondering how Paul’s shoe missed Dana’s head who was documenting the event during one of those rock and roll kicks Paul does.
Arty Lenin makes playing the guitar look easy,  I think sometimes with all the well deserved adoration of the sonic majesty of the Flashcubes that it’s easy to overlook what a great guitar player Arty is, delivering riffs and solos with such casual proficiency that he hardly breaks a sweat as he makes it look effortless as his fingers roam the fretboard as he looks around at the crowd from the stage.  Whether his is taking a great solo or playing along with his own exceptional vocals, Arty can make it rock and he can make it jangle like few others can.
To call bassist Gary Frenay a master craftsman of songwriting is an understatement.  To me, this guy is up there with Brian Wilson, Marshall Crenshaw, or Ray Davies even.  Gary has a voice to support the songs he writes too, especially the sweeter pop songs on the set list.  In a band with three excellent singers that’s saying something.   With every performance, every piece of recorded output, in whatever band he is performing with or on his solo work, Gary provides a master class in songwriting.
Are you starting to get the idea on how good these guys are?
The band rolled through their high energy set list like their lives depended on it.  Songs like Chirsti Girl, No Promise, Pathetic, these may not have been certified hits, but to me these are among the basic  canon of rock n roll, spoken in the same context as the work of  more universally celebrated bands, these songs, and it IS about the songs, stand up with any other tracks you can put them up with.  Like I said, if you don’t know….
It was one great song after another and the lads didn’t let up for a minute.  Flashcubes originals with a few well chosen covers that the band made their own. Gary wanted to send their version of The Move classic “Hello Susie” out to someone named Susie, so he asked if  anyone in the crowd was named Susie, so I raised my hand.  For the Flashcubes, for three minutes, sure, I’ll be Susie.  The second set  featured a bunch of older songs that haven’t been played in decades, Paul Armstrong would joke earlier “we are going to play some songs we don’t even know“.
That second set started out with the first song they played live 40 years ago to the day, Hold Me Tight by the Beatles.  I can admit to some slavering fanboy adoration, but I think if you waved a wand and conjured up the Fab Four in their prime, they wouldn’t have been able to pull off the song as well, not that night anyway.
What I need from music is energy, integrity, and hooks-a-plenty.  It’s what I have always looked for.  It was what I got from my first ever show (Ian Hunter, a legend) and what I got from the last show I saw, a band that in  my mind is just as significant.  Maybe, even more significant, because they are ours, we share them with the lucky few, some in Japan even, who found out what we already know.  The Flashcubes are one of the world’s best bands. If you don’t know that, you just aren’t paying attention.
The energy on the stage was returned from the adoring crowd in front of it, smiling faces all around, signing and bopping along with the band.   It was one of the best experiences I have ever had at a show, and I have been to plenty of them, too many to count although maybe someday before my memory fades.  Maybe someday.
Rock n roll is a two way communication medium.  It’s not like jazz or classical music, where we, the audience sit and quietly take in the performance.   Rock n roll is a two way street, the performers throw it out there and we, the audience, are expected to return it.  We participate in it.  It becomes almost a living organism of energy.  You can feel it.  That shared experience is the definition of community.
On that night, there was no better place to be, there was no band rocking harder, there was no crowd loving them  more.  The general feeling of happiness and celebration was palpable.
If you weren’t there, you should have been.  To steal a phrase from Paul Westerberg, they “rocked like murder”.
And it was lovely.
Flashcubes forever.

(Photographs used by gracious permission of Jeanne Chu except for the one I flat out STOLE from the Flashcubes & the stage shot of The Trend by Neil Daley)