In the wake of the shooting at Clackamas Town Center here in Portland today think all of our hopes and prayers are with the NRA, and the terrible criticism they’ll have to endure — again — for keeping assault weapons available to hockey mask-wearing citizens who choose to exercise their 2nd amendment rights in shopping malls. I just pray that we all remember that this is no time to talk about gun control, especially since the next mass shooting is probably just days away. Nothing to see here. Keep shopping.
Holy shit, we’re at a rave! Taut bodies half naked and writhing in lasered neon; faces pie-eyed, frothy, glowing with youth, energy and nary a hint of the sadness waiting in the mist outside.
There’s a story going on here…part rom-com, part action-adventure, two parts incipient tragedy. Does any kind of fun come for free? What happens when the sun comes up? What if you backfire at the disco? These are some of the most essential questions in pop music, and our favorite Wombats deliver the goods here with a cavern-full of melody, wit and and sweet poignance. The first selection, just below, is priceless. Plus, the guy plays guitar with a violin bow. To great effect!
“She said I should come over, tho the music’s not my type/Don’t you know I’d chop limb off, just to have a good time?”
The song is called “Techno Fan,” here’s the sweet arrangement from the “Acoustic Glitch” sessions:
You can hear another, funnier version of the same story in “Let’s Dance to Joy Division,” from “…Love, Loss and Desperation” (“Let’s dance to Joy Division, and celebrate the irony/Everything is so wrong, but we’re so happy!”)
And here come the fairies from hell, chased from the woods by Puck his own puckish self, in “Party in the Forest.”
They come from Liverpool. They attended the Liverpool Institute, where Paul McCartney and George Harrison went to high school. Only now that school is called the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts, due in large part to McCartney’s cash and vision. And when the nascent Wombats — Matt Murphy, Dan Haggis and Tord Overland-Knudson — performed for McCartney at the end of their LIPA career he took immediate and overwhelming notice.
This perhaps because the co-chief Beatle instantly recognized how much the bands have in common: The instantly memorable melodies; top-notch harmony singing; the juxtaposition of upbeat songs with lyrics that are as silly as they are smart; as personal as they are universal; as piercingly insightful as they are funny.
“I don’t do much producing now, but I’d be tempted (to work with the Wombats),” McCartney said.
Over the next five days I’m going to try to convince you, my average reader, in all your smart, indie-leaning, old school-rock-loving, perpetual puzzlement for all things dance-y, clubby and youth-y to realize that there’s at least one new train headed exactly where you want to go. It’s called the Wombats. Let’s climb onboard
We’ll start with “Anti-D,” from the Wombats’ latest (2011) album, “The Wombats Proudly Present…the Modern Glitch.” Here, main songwriter/singer Murphy (who goes by Murph), twists a plea for love into a precisely etched portrait of the downside of a chemically-enhanced consciousness. The images are as direct as they are vivid: “We kick back and let the pills do the talking/People hear a distinct rattle when we’re walking…” The chorus as sweet as it is confused and confusing: “Please allow me to be your anti-depressant,” and the concluding bridge/musical digression stirring, sweet and vaguely doomed: “…so I threw away my Citalopram/I need it more than what was in those 40 milligrams/So cast away with the doctor’s plans and please allow me…”
Sweet, sad and just brilliantly performed, “Anti-D” is one of the best new songs I’ve heard this year. I’m particularly fond of this acoustic performance:
Also, here’s the original album take, as set to the official video for the song:
Apparently things got pretty ugly that night outside Portland’s Aladdin Theater.
It was late in the evening, sometime after the taping of that evening’s “Live Wire” radio program. The gang sifted into the bar next door and somewhere between the literary talk, the garrulous host of “The Gong Show” got into some kind of beef with either Grover or the guy who performs as Grover.
Are those different guys?
Anyway, voices grew sharp, then loud. Eyes darkened. Neck hair bristled. Someone suggested that the time had come for Gong Show to meet Sesame Street on the sidewalk to work out the nuances of their disagreement. And this was when I stepped in.
I’m not dreaming. I heard about this from another sensate person on Sunday night at the fundraiser for Red Hook, Brooklyn at the Disjecta arts/culture space on North Interstate. She was recounting the not-long-ago evening for me and a few others, recounting how she and I had known each other for a long time, actually. And we DO know each other. She used to work for my father-in-law during his Outward Bound days. Seems like a really cool person, too. With the steady confidence and wingspan of a
and wingspan of a person who can survive the wild and an artsy event equipped only with a knife and a length of string.
And so she recalled how Barris and Grover got up into one another’s molars, and how momentarily tense it became. Then how I’d stepped between them and led Barris off in another direction, out the door and eventually safe in a car, in which several people piled to drive him back to his hotel, and to a quieter end of the evening. It was, she recalled, an elegant performance on my part.
I have no memory of this evening. I’m 99.9 percent sure I wasn’t at that particular episode of ‘Live Wire,’ and more than 100 percent certain that if I had stumbled into a scene of incipient man v muppet violence I would have been too cowardly and/or curious to do anything to stop it.
Sorry, but it’s true.
More realistically: Had a great day here in Cleveland, Oh. yesterday, making new friends at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Curatorial director Howard Kramer took me deep into the archives to open cabinets holding, say, Eddie Cochrane’s guitar, the Temptations’ matching spangled stage suits and a setlist composed in the hand of Elvis Presley. Also, a couple of Bruce Springsteen’s songwriting notebooks (‘BTR’ and ‘Nebraska/USA’ era), which we flipped through wearing rubber gloves. Wow.
The evening’s presentation, an on-stage interview with the HOF’s education director Dr. Lauren Ontkey, was terrific fun — a big, attentive crowd and Lauren’s intelligent querying and etc. — and so let’s call the whole day dreamy.
When I got back to the hotel I double-locked the door. I hear the muppets in Cleveland can get kind of rowdy.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played in Portland the other night, and I got to take my family to the soundcheck, which was a show unto itself. Starting with an attempt to master Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Hungry,” (“What other bands are from Portland?” Bruce called out over the p.a.) the front line players stood in a circle near Weinberg’s drums. At one point they debated taking on “Louie, Louie,” (another Revere song, though the Kingsmen, who recorded the tune a few days after the Raiders had the hit), but then rejected both of them. More songs, and when the crowd waiting outside started to roar Bruce called out through the microphone — “I can hear you, but I can’t see you! Where are you?” Which only incited more roars, of course. “You sound like a great crowd!” Even more roars. Even from halfway down the floor you could see his eyes sparkling.
Meanwhile. The BRUCE publicity junket moves to Cleveland on Tuesday, December 4, where the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame will host an onstage interview, conducted by Dr. Lauren Onkey, vice president for the hall’s education and public programs. Tickets are free but limited, and all facts and info can be found right here on the Hall of Fame’s website. I’m super-psyched about this one, so if you’re in the area come on out and say hi.
But first, in Portland, Ore. I’m doing a non-BRUCE reading set in my former home borough of Brooklyn, NY for. . .
Sunday, December 2: Defiance: A Benefit to Restore Red Hook, Brooklyn at Disjecta (8371 N Interstate) at 5 pm. It’ll be a huge honor to read along with Karen Karbo, Nancy Rommelmann, Jon Raymond and Courtenay Hameister, and take in musical sets by my good pal Casey Neill and Tim DuRoche & the Kin Trio, who will surely become good pals, too. But wait, there’s more: a raffle for airplane tix to and from NYC, gift certificates to fine local restaurants & pubs; cool prizes (including a signed ‘BRUCE,’ which comes with my hand-picked, very unofficial soundtrack CD) a silent auction and more, more, more.
So that’s that, and there’s more to come so stay tuned.