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Month: March 2016

The Sporting Bachelors: Vol. II (Live, Drunk and No Excuses)

The Sporting Bachelors: Vol. II (Live, Drunk and No Excuses)

PERSONNEL:
Paul Nero: Lead vocals, tambourine, harmonica
John Battaglia: Lead guitar, background vocals
Joe “Killer” Kowalski: Bass, background vocals, suds
Bill “Wee Willy” Smallcombe: Rhythm guitar
Glen Roan: Drums

Recorded “live” at the Bachelor Pad
May 7, 1988

Photographs by Chris Gillen

TRACK LISTING
Side A
Lies Lies
Forward
Chatter
Artificial
She’s Changed
Some Somnabulist
Burning Barn
Lovers But Not Friends
Cry In The Night
Bloodhound
.38 Caliber Kiss
Nervous Breakdown

Side B
Never Again
Roses Are Red
I’m Goin’ Home
How Long Will It Take
Look But Don’t Touch

It doesn’t happen to me so much anymore, but when I would find myself in the presence of an Actual Rock n Roll Band — not a mere gathering of future assistant managers and dentists, nah, a Group with No Future, baby — there was no mistaking the vibe: The clothes, the guitars, the booze, the sex, the drugs, the hustle, the hair, the beat the beat the beat. Guitars slash and burn the girls burn and slash.

The Sporting Bachelors were an Actual Rock n Roll Band. From Long Island, a place rather good at spawning such beasts. They played a raunchy brew of Stooges, Seeds, and Cramps, and found their home in the adult film industry, making Music To Fuck To.

sporting-bachelors-vol-II-drunk-and-no-excuses

I don’t know who the young lady is on the front of the j-card. Is it Joanna Storm, of Love Letters fame? Or just some random stripper? The handy fellow is also unknown to me. Any help would be appreciated.

The Sporting Bachelors, being an Actual Rock n Roll Band, were doomed. Much drugs was done, much sex was had, the ’80s became the ’90s, and Paul died young. Rest In Punk

sporting-bachelors-vol-II-drunk-and-no-excuses-02

I got a few of their tapes here, so if you want to hear more, gimme some FB luv. And leave some comments, will ya? Sheesh.

Johnny Skilsaw, S/T, 9 songs, 1991

Johnny Skilsaw, S/T, 9 songs, 1991

PERSONNEL:
Mike Pain: Vocals
Jay Wasco: Swiss Army Bass, vocals
Rev. Peter Führy: Pyrotechnics/A.C. repair/more vocals
Karen Carpenter: Drums

Overproduced by Jay Wasco

TRACK LIST:
Side A
Hair Colour And Witchcraft
Spaghetti Western
Absolution Row
Last Stop

Side B:
Treadmill For Two
Black And Green
Fat Of The Land
Necrowphest
One Heartbeat Away

Jay Wasco is among the more memorable characters I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Musical wizard, inventor of instruments bizarre, post-punk circus master, manic-expressive nutzoid — heck, spend some time in Jay’s Museum to catch my drift, or just listen to this. This self-titled cassette from 1991 was my first exposure to Johnny Skilsaw, a few years before Jenifer Convertible and Philco Bendyx shared a bill with them at Brownies that will live forever in my memory — mainly because Skilsaw destroyed that night. I swear, it was like ELP turning up for a small town battle of the bands!

Other than Jay, the line-up on this self-titled cassette is entirely different from the gents I came to know in person; I suspect it’s mainly the amazing Mike “Pain” Patterson on lead vocals (man, I wish I’d seen this guy perform!), with Jay doing everything else with a drum machine (although Karen Carpenter would have been awesome. Also dead.) and his bloody mad bass/keyboard hybrid, the Swiss Army Bass.

“Treadmill for Two” is the killer tune on this ribbon, remaining a centerpiece of their set up to and throughout an ill-fated singing to Atlantic, and tragic ending, of which more later.

The Skels: Sucks To Be Us + Be With That (Side A)

The Skels: Sucks To Be Us + Be With That (Side A)

PERSONNEL:
Mike “Sport” Murphy: Vocals
Bill Hafener: Guitar, vocals
Will Liguori: Guitar, vocals
John Boghardt: Bass
John Phillips: Bass
Jimmy Colford: Drums

TRACK LISTING:

Side A:
Mary’s Grave *^
Green Eyes
I Call It Home
Train Song #
Pterydactyl
Mighty Sun *^
John Leslie ^
Cheryl *#
Knucklehead *

Side B:
You’re Too Cool
Jutt Butt
I’ll Read You Stories
[instrumental interlude]
John Leslie [whip it good mix]
Mary’s Grave [dig it mix]

Side A of Be With That:
You Can’t Stand Up
Trouble In The House
The Big Parade
Helen Rose
July

* Evidence Of A Struggle CD
^ I’ll Take The Low Road cassette
# 8 Pages cassette

Anyone who knows me knows the place this band holds in my heart. I will go the grave singing their praises. Their two “official” LPs, How Do You Like It Here Now and Be With That, are both classics that you need to hear (and will, stick around) — but my favorite Skels album was never released. I’m talking about Sucks To Be Us: the Smile of ’90s indie-rock: brilliant, ambitious, flawed, joyous, victim of circumstance, revealed incompletely. Until now, the number of people who have heard this album would neither fill my kitchen nor block my fridge. Actually, can I get a beer? Thanks. As a bonus, side B of this cassette includes side A of Be With That. Ain’t life grand?

I asked Bill Hafener for the story behind Sucks To Be Us. Here’s his reply:

“John [Boghardt] quit the band in the summer of 1990, just like he said he would, which was why we hastily recorded Be With That in our rehearsal space that February with Joe Chinnici. We wanted to get those songs recorded with John before he left but we were broke, so we did that and it turned out pretty well, even though we could only afford to have cassettes duplicated.

“We had a hard time finding a replacement bassist, as you know, because you and Chinnici sat in at various gigs through the end of 1990. We finally stumbled across a young woman named Sherri. She did alright on the bass, she could copy John’s parts from the recordings and she didn’t seem to mind hanging around with us. However she couldn’t contribute anything original when it came time to work on new material, so when she just stopped showing up one day we didn’t make any effort to go look for her.

“I don’t recall how John Phillips, aka ‘NuJohn’ came our way, but he could play ok and we started working on new songs. So now that we felt we had an acceptable bass player, we were ready to get back to recording. This was some point in 1991. So Joe Jed, who owned the Recordamatt studio where we did How Do You Like It Here Now, told us we could record there any time it was available and we only had to pay the engineer. So we went to town and recorded the songs for Sucks and pulled out all the stops with sorts of sound effects, overdubs, horns, piano and whatever other production ideas we could think of. But once it was all done the situation with NUJohn had reached its breaking point and he was dismissed and John B came back.

“So now we had a fully finished album, with bass parts we didn’t like (he turned out to be too noodly) and still no money to have anything pressed. We had John B go back and redo some the bass on a few of the songs (‘Cheryl’ and ‘Mary’s Grave’ for sure, maybe more. but I don’t remember from here), but we still didn’t do anything with them. Then in 1992 Jimmy quit and Al [Criscuolo] joined and that just put the final nail in the coffin for Sucks. We had an entire album, with a fired bass player on some songs and a drummer that quit on all of them. We just wanted to get on with something new with Al because we started gigging like crazy with him and the gigs were mostly great and we didn’t want to deal with this albatross of an album.

“We used a few of the songs on those two cassettes we put out, I’ll Take The Low Road and 8 Pages, but that was it. Some of the other tracks were used when Willy [Liguori], Diane [Campbell] and Sport put together the Evidence Of A Struggle compilation CD. We recorded a few more songs at Recordamatt before it imploded for good, two while we were between drummers that were supposed to be for the first Sport solo album, and a few others like ‘Tomorrow’ and the songs we used for our last release, the ‘Then We’ll See’ 7″. We also recorded four songs at Kramer’s studio in NJ one rainy day in early 1994 that turned out really, really nicely but… you guessed it, we didn’t do anything with them.”

Mystery Friday Episode One: It Came From The Basement

Mystery Friday Episode One: It Came From The Basement

Today surfaced a cardboard Eddie Bauer boot box, marked “Unknown,” in which was about three dozen cassettes, half lacking jewel boxes, most if not all unmarked. The sort of thing any sane man would have tossed out years ago.

But I can’t help wondering: What’s on these tapes? I’ll bet you’re wondering too.

Welcome to Episode One of Mystery Friday! Every week I will grab a tape from the Unknown Box, play it for you, and attempt to describe it. Here’s the first one:

Skels Unplugged

This is a Maxell XLII 46-minute cassette — an unusual length. When looking at side A, there is a small piece of transparent tape covering a missing recording tab on the left side (thus allowing recording to occur on Side B, right?). Someone, possibly me, has scrawled on the transparent portion of side A, in red marker, something that looks like “SKELS LIVE AT CBGB,” or possibly, “SKELS LIVE AT GCBD” or equally likely, “SKELS LIVPUSGCOO.”

UPDATE 3/25/2016: Upon further study, I have discerned The One True Title: SKELS UNPLUGGED. This is, of course, a regrettable reference to the long-running MTV series.
UPDATE 3/26/2016: Sport Murphy responds: “Interesting find. I’m guessing this was prep for a show that happened downtown probably at one of those Thom Jack rooms with maybe just us 3, circa 93 or so. It was near, but prior to the band’s end. You did play guitar.”

Let’s listen:

1) Sport Murphy on vocals and harmonium, Willy Liguori on acoustic guitar, and yours truly(!) on second acoustic guitar, perform “The Big Parade.” Sounds like a one-mic recording. Definitely not CBGB.

2) Same line-up, “Mighty Sun.” This evidently is a tape I made of a rehearsal for a show that, as far as I can recall, never happened. I’ve played bass and dulcimer on gigs, but not guitar — again, as far as I can remember, which is a stone’s throw. Nice harmonies on this.

3) “Unbecoming” – Good, strong version.

4) “She’s The One” – Arrangement notes, deliberately spoken close to the mic, are the only “flaw” here. Spirited and joyful. What’s with the crickets?

5) We work for a while on a cover of Scott Walker’s “The Bridge.” Starts to come together just before the tape runs out (here’s a cruelly unfair comparison that you will doubtless thank me for).

Well, well. I wonder what’s on Side B?

1) “Weeping Icon” – Did we really not play this show? Did we play this show? My mind is gone. It is impossible to play this song without smiling. That’ll show them Jews!

2) “Lord Help My Poor Soul” – Late period Skels song, inspired by Poe’s dying words. Fittingly it was released posthumously. I will love this song until my dying day.

3) “Pterydactyl” – thanks to Sport for reminding me of this title of this seldom-heard gem.

4) “Boy In The Sky” – Man, we are digging deep into the Skels’ repertoire. Nothing yet from Willoughby. When was this tape made?

5) Whoops! Suddenly cuts to the middle of “Ghosts Of New York,” the B-side of the first “7 by Time Or Dirt!

6) “Ghosts Of New York” again. Alternate mix? This song was inspired by Luc Sante’s Low Life — a book every New Yorker should read.

And…end.

Dating this tape is tricky. It seems post-Skels, but it’s definitely pre-Willoughby; only the Walker cover hints at ambitions greater than the Skels Greatest Hits we recorded that day. So, sometime between 1994 and 1999 — more likely earlier than later.

According to Sport (see update above) this was recorded shortly before The Skels split, circa 1993. Since “Ghosts” was not finally mixed until October 30 of that year, this would have to be late ’93 or early ’94. We did play the gog, according to Sport, but I have no memory of it.

Where was it recorded? I’ve no clue.

So ends the first episode of Mystery Friday! I look forward to doing more in the weeks and months to come. I hope this inspires some of you to dig out your old tapes — you never know what you’ll find!

Squirrels From Hell: 7 songs + Live at Nightingales, 09.28.1996

Squirrels From Hell: 7 songs + Live at Nightingales, 09.28.1996

PERSONNEL:
WILL: Bass, vocals
Joe Con: Guitar, vocals
Roger Morrison: Guitar, vocals on “So Happy”
Darian Minnick: drums

TRACK LISTING:
Side A:
Hat
Sleep Disturbance
Things We Had
Pen
So Happy
Doorbell
Every Day

Side B:
Live at Nightingales, 09.28.1996

UPDATE 3/25/2016: Side A is SFH’s 1996 demo cassette Evil Genus, which is probably around here somewhere. Thanks to Roger for this info!

“The Band New York Couldn’t Kill” reminds us why on this astounding document of the band’s classic mid-’90s line-up. Side A is a seven-song set of studio recordings; on the flip, a scorching, punishing set at the inescapable Nightingales. “I beat my dreams to death” howls WILL. “Seems our dreams are disappearing,” wails Joe Con. “Never gonna happen” they chant, as the band smolders, catches fire, and detonates. Bleak Despair! Lethal Art Rock! Holy Hamsters, this tape is Hot.

The B set list is not recorded, but I’m sure WILL will help us out in the comments if we ask nicely, especially if I mention the skull-splitting version of “Elevator” that rips up the room mid-set. Righteous. R.I.P. Joe Con

UPDATE 3/25/2016: Here’s the set list, as recorded by Roger 20 years later:

Squirrels From Hell 1996 set list

If anyone can identify song #10 in the live set, that’d be great.

Airlines: S/T, 4 songs, 1992

Airlines: S/T, 4 songs, 1992

PERSONNEL:
Tom Kelley: Drums, bells
John Tanzer: Guitars, bass, vocals
John Neilson: Guitars, synth
Joe Arcidiacono: Guitars, bass, vocals

TRACK LISTING
Steady Goes
No.2
Talking About Talking
10,000 Days

Here we have a rare, possibly one-off, cassette double-single from New York’s Airlines. Not listed in the band’s official discography, this tape brings together the band’s first two singles for Quixotic: “Steady Goes” b/w “No.2” and “Talking About Talking” b/w “10,000 Days”, with colorful, surrealist-orientalist artwork on the j-card by Liisa McCloy-Kelley. This is “the relatively stable Airlines MkII” line-up — minus Dave Roby on bass.

I didn’t know these guys personally when I got this tape (possibly through association with Debby Schwartz from The Aquanettas) but I adored their sound: a swirly mix of Television-meets-Wire guitar heroism and blurry, alienated Eno-like vocals. (“10,000 Days” — in which airlines become warm jets — is my fave.) In time, through a gradual accumulation of connections to be detailed later, I stepped into Wharton Tiers Ensemble following the departure of Neilson (and earlier, Tanzer), where I’ve been since 2008. John and I became good friends, and most recently, musical partners in TORCHY.

Read more about Airlines on The Airlines Home Page.

Phantom Tollbooth: S/T, six songs, 1986

Phantom Tollbooth: S/T, six songs, 1986

Gerard “Jerry” Smith is Carole’s first cousin. I’ve known him since he was a fucked up teenface and I was a fucked up twentyjerk. We’ve grown to be great friends. He is a superb bass player, as you will hear in tapes to come. I’ve been a fan of the great Dave Rick since the first of many times I caught the Tollbooth live. I have not seen Jon Coats in person in many years, but his precise, punishing drumming is in my minds’s eye.

The Tollbooth were a ferocious band. But for a 28-year-old Long Islander who thought he knew what was going on in music — hey, I was into The Monochrome Set! — they were much more. Jerry introduced me to Psychic… Powerless… Another Man’s Sac, OK? That’s a debt you can’t repay.

Anyway.

This is a pre-release version of Phantom Tollbooth’s self-titled first EP. The cassette has no track listing. If somebody will post it in the comments, that would be awesome., but Jerry added it in the comments. It’s an entirely unique collection of songs! The only text — “Phantom Tollbooth EP”, on the spine and a sticker on the cassette — is in Carole’s hand. Most likely she listened to this for inspiration while designing the 12″ cover art for the Homestead Records release. My wife is so cool!

The Hungry Dutchmen: S/T, 6 songs, 1988

The Hungry Dutchmen: S/T, 6 songs, 1988

PERSONNEL:
Tony Faske: Vocals
Alec Cumming: Bass, backing vocals, teeth
Paul Rose: Guitars
Cynthia Harden: Keyboards
Mike Bowman: Drums

Produced by The Hungry Dutchmen
Engineer: John Rosenberg
Recorded & mixed at Water Music, Hoboken

TRACK LISTING:

Fancy Songbird
Quiet Times
Goin’ Crazee
Give It To Me!
Caught Unprepared
Whenever We Reminisce

The Hungry Dutchmen was the first band I ever reviewed; I need to check to see if this is the first tape. Let’s assume that’s true. What a great start!

This is exciting, polished power-pop, influenced by The Kinks, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Beatles, and such. “Quiet Times” is anything but, Alec’s thrumming bass contrasting nicely against Cynthia’s twinkling keys. (Alec and Cynthia were married for a while; their daughter Julia sings and plays bass for Sunflower Bean.) “Goin’ Crazee” is swingin’ fun, with a snappy vocal from Tony, but “Give It To Me!” does it one better. This is power pop!

I can still picture the Dutchmen onstage at little McGovern’s Bar on Spring Street, the night Eric Neher brought me to see his friend Tony’s band. What a thrill that was!

Alec went on to start Bite The Wax Godhead with Cynthia; played bass for The Sharp Things for a few years, appearing on Foxes & Hounds; and more recently, tore space and time asunder my band, TORCHY. Mike Bowman, who did the great cover art on this cassette, and who as MJB became a key figure in cassette culture, no longer makes music, preferring to focus exclusively on his spectacular paintings. You’ll be hearing more from both of them in the weeks to come!

Perry’s Demos 199?

Perry’s Demos 199?

PERSONNEL:
Perry Serpa: Vocals, all instruments

For someone who’s been in The Sharp Things from the beginning, and indeed for any fan of the band, this recording is nothing short of extraordinary. Perry may not remember when this collection of home (and elsewhere?) recorded demos was assembled, but judging from the songs, I’m going to take a wild guess and say 1998. I’m basing this on the presence of “Mrs. Mesch,” which was a very early part of our repertoire, and the unusual medley of “Lament/Right”; long ago, “Lament” become permanently conjoined to “A Million Things” as “Right” went on to deservedly revered solo status.

But the true wonder of this cassette is the embryonic versions of songs that would appear on albums recorded years later — as well as antecedents, lyrically and musically, to songs we’ve only just released only recently! Taken together with the central songs to our first years as a little band that denied it was a band, Perry’s Demos is not only an irreplaceable artifact of THe Sharp Things’ earliest years, but also a glimpse into Perry’s creative process: the gradual accumulation of ideas that emerge in their own time, or not at all.

Here it is, track by track:

Dense
Honestly, this one is kind of a mess, LOL! But remember: it’s just a demo, for the band to learn. Which we did. Fairly sure this was in the set at some point. Hang in there, and note the signature Serpa song structure.

Yearbook
This song’s been lurking in the shadows forever. Similar in sentiment to “Boys Club,” it was in the early sets. Synth string arrangements, which we at that time could not pull off live, foretell the future. Sounds like Steve on the drums. Where was this recorded?

Effington Regrets
Another foundational track, and a personal favorite from those years. Perry, Steve, and I did this one in 2007 to celebrate our 10th anniversary at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. Hardly anyone came, and I lost my E-bow, but it was a good night.

Mrs. Mesch
Every Sharp Things epoch has an epic. In the immediate post-9/11 period, it was “Vacationing”; today it’s the medley at the heart of EverybodyEverybody. “Mrs. Mesch” started it all. Dig the flutes!

Missing The Days
What can I say? We closed with this countless times, to the point where I couldn’t stand it. But Steve always loved it, and I’ll admit, it was a reliably killer closer! I bet we never play it again, now. Fuck.

She Left With The Sun
An enduringly popular track from 2005’s Foxes & Hounds in it’s earliest form, with horn samples taking the string parts, and my guitar line yet unborn.

The Valley Of The Dolls
I think this made it into the set. Might be the only recording of it. “It’s a shame.”

You’re Losing Me
This song is so central to TST history, it’s beyond belief it was never properly recorded and released. An early expression of Perry’s Dylan influence. Motherfuck.

Precious
A highlight of our 2003 debut LP, in demo form. Not too different from the released version.

Lament/Right
So strange to hear these two songs segued. “Lament” is similar to the Here Comes original, then there’s this odd little stompy beat, followed by a big synth swell, and then we’re dropped into a lovely demo of “Right.” Just weird to me.

Midas
Mind, blown, again: Here is the verse of “Sport’s Drinking Again” from the new album, recorded nearly 20 years ago. The verse lyrics are different, but the melody’s intact. The “everything must change” chorus is in the wilderness for now.

Television Haze
Surreal! The hooky horn break from “Flowers For My Girl” (released about 15 years later on Green Is Good), appears stitched onto a different, forgotten song.

Home Is Where You Hang Your Head
Insane! The chorus of Foxes & Hounds‘ “95 St Mark’s Place” is the verse here. The title reappears in the lyrics to “Lights,” my co-write with Perry on Green.

Gospel interlude: “Love Is The Greatest Flame”

Feed For Fate
A sweet, forgotten little song. We never performed this, as far as I remember.

Danny Valentine Says
We played this one a lot in the waning days of the 20th century. Not far from what it was live.

Oh, Emily
A favorite of mine from the early sets. So nice to hear it again.

Exit: Christian radio

Lifehouse: S/T, 3 songs, 1990

Lifehouse: S/T, 3 songs, 1990

PERSONNEL:
Tony Taylor: Guitar
Perry Serpa: Vocals
Ron Rossnick: Bass
Steve Gonzalez: Drums

Produced by Jim Sabella at Sabella Recording Studios
Engineered by Chris Albert

TRACK LISTING:
Tempered And Tortured
Goodbye, Superman
Trevor

Long before The Sharp Things strings and glockenspiels, Perry Serpa was a long-haired, leaping gnome, fronting a Queens-based melodic hard-rock band named Lifehouse. (The name was taken from an unfinished Pete Townshend rock opera; many years later another band would do much better with it.) Serpa’s powerful pipes are instantly recognizable, as are his gift for melody and inventive lyrics, most vividly demonstrated on the indelible “Trevor.” Props also to guitarist Tony Taylor, who turns in a stellar performance, and to the solid, heavy groove of Ron Rossnick on bass. The late Steve Gonzalez kicks off this excellent tape, and is a dominant presence throughout. I wish he was still around to hear this one more time.