Here are ten of my favorite power pop performers who visit New York now and then:
ABOVE: NINE YEARS LATER, THE RUBINOOS IN SAN FRANCISCO JUNE 21, 2008
There's a joke that's older than dust about two shopkeepers discussing their business strategies. The first has an interesting strategy - he buys stuff
for, say, $1.00, and sells it for 95 cents. The second businessman asks, "Aren't you going to go out of business with such a plan? You lose money on
each sale" And the first answers , "What do you know about business - you dunce? I'll make it up with the increased volume!"
Well, the Rubinoos must have relied on that shopkeeper for business advice when they flew across the country from their Californian homes to play two
planned concerts in the New York area last weekend. It had to be a financial loss for them to play in a small club like Maxwell's before about fifty
devoted fans. This is how Jon Rubin explained it from the stage - He got a phone call from a friend in Brooklyn who said that he heard
"Pursuit of Happiness" on WFMU-FM, a New Jersey listener-supported radio station. Jon marveled that they were not only playing a cut from the
hard-to-find 1998 release "Paleophonic", but a *deep* cut at that! "You gotta call the guys from the radio station", his friend said. And the radio
guys said - "come to our area, we're supporting your new record, you can play a couple of clubs, it'll be so cool."
So the Rubes packed up and gave their New York fans an illogically unexpected treat in the form of a most amazingly good concert.
Well, not to denigrate the Rubinoos' achievement of being in heavy rotation on WFMU, but according to an article by Jim Beckerman in the Bergen Record
the following is the range of music that gets play on that free-form station:
"A 1898 Edison cylinder to Fifties rockabilly, to lo-fi bedroom recordings made by nobodies in New Hampshire, to experimental music, to lectures on
Zen, to barnyard noises. Death metal, Sixties lounge music, mambo, garage rock, mariachi bands, rockabilly, interviews with atomic physicists, and
Beckerman adds, "What wouldn't we do?" asks Ken Freedman, deejay and station manager. "Other than stuff that was blatantly illegal, there's probably nothing
we wouldn't do," he says."
Life works in funny ways:
When I saw the 'Noos at the San Francisco Keystone while I was on vacation in August 1981, I fully expected to see them in the near future. They played
the great new stuff that later surfaced on the "Basement Tapes", the club was packed, they were on a roll. They signed with major labels, I had no
reason to suspect their coming disappearance.
And then I read about last year's L.A. appearance. Improbably, the Rubes were back. I was wondering how I could time one of my trips to the West
coast to coincide with one of their concerts. Little did I suspect, that after an absence of twenty years, the Rubes would return to New Jersey,
headlining for the first time in the area? I could listen to their music with a new perspective, with eighteen more years of radio listening and CD
buying to guide me. And I could learn more about how the band constructs their sound, reminding myself of forgotten details. So enough rambling
here's the review:
The Rubinoos sounded fantastic. At times (such as Boyfriend) the live sound was a perfect reproduction of the recording. Other times, I swear, the sound
was even better than the recording! If the voices were affected by illness, it would take instruments more delicate than the human ear to detect. Jon's
unique lead vocals soared. The harmonies were interesting. Sometimes two-part, sometimes three or four-part. Different combinations of vocalists
producing subtly different sounds. Tommy, I think, changed some guitar lines on a few of the songs to improve their sound from the originals. Donn, Al
and Alex excelled as well in their important foundation roles. I always remembered that Jon did almost all the lead vocals for the
Rubinoos, but listening to the Basement Tapes and Paleophonic, I heard that Tommy and Al got a larger share of leads. So I thought that they would get
an increased lead vocal role at the recent concert. Not so, but Al's version of "Tonight" kicked, and I learned that Tommy takes the first verse of
I mentioned in a previous post that I listened to an old live tape of the Rubinoos, and marvelled at the lengthy in-between-song chatter. Well, I
thought that the talking really added to last weeks gig. Jon has a great wit, and Tom is always ready for a snappy comeback. The falling safe joke is
the driest joke ever composed - more of a social commentary than a joke.
The Rosenbergs, a New York area power pop band, were one of the opening acts on the bill. Their E.P., "Ameripop" is outstanding. The songs on it have
hooks that will stay in your brain for eternity. They opened their set with their three best songs in rapid succession. They played some unreleased
stuff such as the "Puff Daddy isn't Kosher" and "Silverstone" and an amazing cover of "B.B.C." by Ming Tea. They played with great energy and adeptness.
They love to play loud. Loud is good, hey I saw the Who and my eardrums were ringing for days, no complaints, but I don't personally enjoy the music when
it's so over-amplified that it is sometimes distorted, as was the case that night.
In conclusion, in these days where it seems like the industry believes that melody is a minus rather than a plus in a song, it was a pleasure to hear
melodic pop played by true believers. I hope that the interest in pop music in California revitalizes my favorite music style.
The John Faye Power Trip, January 16, 2000, WNEW-FM Studios, New York, NY
The John Faye Power Trip with your webmaster, photo by Sean Cleary
(l-r, Dave Anthony, webmaster Sherman Boim, Joann Schmidt, John Faye, Cliff Hillis)
On January 16th, The John Faye Power Trip were the in the studio guests on the Idiot's Delight radio show on 102.7 in New York, hosted by Vin Scelsa. Vin is the only host in New York's dismal commercial radio scene who is permitted to have a free-form show, playing whatever he feels like spinning. He usually has an artist perform live, and last night the Power Trip gave a perfect performance. Dave Anthony, the band's drummer, was kind enough to invite me to the studio to watch the band perform, so I had a ring-side seat for the appearance.
Vin had seen the band open for Matthew Sweet at the Bottom Line last fall and was so taken by their performance that he started to play a song of theirs on each of his weekly shows. It was fun to watch Vin dance as he listened to the band play on his show. He even lit candles to set the atmosphere. Vin is the master of the segue, he likes to blend a song set together thematically, so he followed "If You Can See Me Now" with the Grass Roots' "Let's Live for Today" and "Good Year for the Girls" with George Jones' "Good Year for the Roses."
Here's what the Trip played:
Hand Me Down
Whisper at the Top of My Lungs
Dancing in Your Shadow
Good Year for the Girls
If You Can See Me Now
Cry Like a Man
Three quarters of the album. In addition all four band members participated in the interview. Vin really couldn't contain his admiration for their music. He even played their version of "Coming Up" which will be on the McCartney tribute album to be released later this year. Their stint started late, since they had to wait until Vin finished with his first guest, the actor and director Tim Robbins. But the band was on the air for almost two hours.
What can I add about this band? John Faye has such a great voice and the songs and his bandmates really complement it.
On November 6th after reviewing the Matthew Sweet show on this list I said,
"John Faye has an excellent voice. But mostly I couldn't get into the songs he and the band played. They were all from his new album and were on the mellow side."
I'm into the songs, baby!
Splitsville, November 27, 1999, Fletcher's, Baltimore, MD
Hi everybody. Well just wanted to say something about the last Splitsville concert of 1999 held at Fletcher's. For most people on the list going to a Splitsville concert is easy, just drive a short distance and you're there. But living in New York, it's not been easy to catch the band. I saw them twice in Manhattan, once with their then label-mates at Coney Island High for a short show, and once in a dungeon at Wetlands for a short show last year I'd rather forget, due to the worst sound problems any band ever had to endure. I thought it would be a while before the band travelled to NYC again.
I was in Philly this past weekend and my Saturday nite plans unraveled. So I figured I was already halfway to Baltimore, what's another hundred miles to get a chance to see a proper Splitsville concert in their home city. Boy, I'm glad I made the trip - the show was really good.
The covers of the Who and the Psychedelic Furs were a treat. They even played an old GBW song, "Adieu". Such neat vocal harmonies. Matt's voice was in good shape, real warbly, Brandt worked hard on the drum kit, and Paul got to play keyboards on a few songs. I guess "Yearbook" showed off all sides of the band the best, alternating between ballad and rock anthem. The most exciting song was "The Kids Who Kill for Sugar," since it's the only song I ever heard with the words "power pop" in it and also has a neat sing-along part. "I Concentrate On You" might have been the hardest song for Matt to sing, since there are no pauses between the lines of the song.
The band was bathed in red lights, and wore matching insignia red suits with black tees. Must be more comfortable to play in jumpsuits as opposed to business suits and ties. They repeatedly called their songs "crap" and made humorous but sarcastic comments on stage.
This band is a treasure.