Wednesday, September 27, 2006

ASIA (late, late - I know....)

I've been busy. Very busy.
So sorry, but just today I want to update you on the most recent show I caught - has it really been a full week already? I was lucky enough to catch a reunion of ASIA on Wednesday night, Sept. 20. It was my first time ever to hit the Vault 350 in Long Beach (Warning, get there late like I did and be prepared to stand).

I am old enough to have caught ASIA when they played in Long Beach (I don't recall where now; it has been 23 years or something) after the release of the band's self-titled 1982 debut. I can tell you while guitarist Steve Howe (of Yes fame), keyboardist Geoff Downes (the Buggles, Yes), singer-bassist John Wetton (King Crimson) and drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson Lake & Palmer) were great that night eons ago, they were magical on the last night of summer '06.

Performing all of the great songs from "Asia" and the sophomore effort "Alpha" with fire would have made the show memorable. But throwing in seminal tracks from their various other projects added to the power of the night.

While "Heat of the Moment" is the song best known to casual listeners and was a great way to cap the night, several of the other songs were delivered showcased the many strengths of the fifty- and sixty-something players. "Sole Survivor" has remained one of the best recordings from the 1980s and its power was increased in the live setting. The complicated arrangements of that song and others worked well, with the melodic hooks and emotive vocals of Wetton clearly hitting their marks. Other highlights of the winning night included "Don't Cry," a sparse "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes," "Only Time Will Tell" and "Roundabout." And the night's most unlikely moment came when the foursome performed a lively "Video Killed the Radio Star" (the first song/video ever aired on MTV).

And while the majority of citics continue to dismiss prog rock, I have to be honest. Far more than a guilty pleasure, songs such as "Cutting It Fine" and "Here Comes the Feeling" just flat out rocked.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Return of The Tickets!

On Friday night, Sept. 15th, I should have been asleep. After all, I had got up at 5 a.m. (East Coast time) to catch a flight to return to Orange County from Washington, D.C. But here I was at Fitzgerald's Pub in Huntington Beach. A lack of sleep was fine, thanks to great sets from Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings (who opened the show with a 45-minute set), and then two-length sets from The Tickets.

It was great to see The Tickets. I hadn't seen them perform since the 1980s when I caught them at a Battle of the Bands show at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley. The good news, the band rocked. And although it was a one-night only show (the band was celebrating the release of a CD collection issued by Brewery Records), it was magic. The band played a number of their best original songs during the opening set, and then returned to play reworked covers of songs from bands such as Led Zep and the Knack later in the night.

Here is a copy of my preview that ran in the Orange County Register on Sept. 15. Get this CD folks!

Orange Pop: Tickets finally make a CD
Special to the Register

One of the most eagerly anticipated power-pop releases of the year is actually a long-lost treasure recorded more than 17 years ago.
"The Tickets Make a Record," a 1990 cassette-only release by Orange County's the Tickets, has been scrupulously remastered by Walter Clevenger and is finally seeing the light of day in 2006. It includes a number of bonus tracks. Moreover, the longest-running lineup of the original band has reunited to perform at a CD release party tonight at Fitzgerald's in Huntington Beach.
Copies of the 14-song "The Tickets" CD will be available at the show. The Tickets featured singer-lead guitarist Bryan Shaddix, singer-rhythm guitarist Brian Martin (who replaced Donald Mabbott in 1988), drummer Marcos De La Cruz (currently a member of the popular Tijuana Dogs) and bassist Andy Winston, and were likely Orange County's most popular and talented unsigned outfit during most of the group's 1985-95 run.
"Walter gave me a call one day (in 2005) and got me interested in making a record," said Shaddix, who moved from his native Washington to Orange County in the mid-1980s to play music, but then moved to Modesto "to relax a little" in 2000.
Shaddix is thrilled with Clevenger's remix and remastering of the album. In addition to cleaning up the overall sound of the original tracks, he removed some of the dated-sounding echo and reverb that were commonly used throughout the 1980s. Clevenger also brought up the lead guitar solo in "Heartland," enhancing one of the standout songs on the disc.
"I think Walter got it. We didn't go overboard," Shaddix said. "It's definitely 'now,' but still has the Tickets feel to it."
The release of "The Tickets" on Brewery Records and the one-time reunion show by the band tonight isn't the end of renewed interest in the group. An alternative version of the song "Dream About Me" (slightly different than the cut included on "The Tickets") will also be featured on a companion CD that is being included with copies of John Borack's "Shake Some Action: The History of Power Pop," a forthcoming published guide to the 200 most essential power-pop CDs being sold by the nation's leading pop-rock label, Not Lame Recordings.
This year may long be recognized as the year that provided the world long-thought-lost recordings. Just last month, the release of YMC Records' "Waylon Sings Hank Williams" showcased a dozen Hank Williams songs recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1985. And Amoeba Records announced earlier this year that the label is preparing an album of unreleased material by the late alt-country pioneer Gram Parsons (who died in 1973) for release. Power-pop fans around the globe that have worn-out copies of the Tickets' vinyl and cassette releases will be amazed by Clevenger's remixing and mastering efforts across the disc.
"Eric (Garten) was surprised anyone contacted him after so many years; the original sessions were in 1989," Clevenger said. "He said Brian (Shaddix) was one of the most talented guys he ever worked with. And he was excited about this getting out on CD."
Garten, who co-produced "The Tickets Make a Record" with Shaddix at his For the Record studio in Anaheim, wasn't sure if he still had the master 24-track tapes. Frequently when artists don't purchase the tapes, they are wiped clean and reused. After a week-long search, Garten phoned Clevenger with the good news that he still had the master tapes with all of the original recordings.
"Eric called and said 'It sounds like it was recorded yesterday,' " Clevenger recalled.
Indeed, "The Tickets" sounds like something from the digital age, with Beatles-styled harmonies layered atop ringing guitars and in-the-pocket rhythms that equal the strong songs themselves.
"We went into it with the sense as if you are in the studio when we were recording the album," Shaddix said.
For Clevenger, imagining that he had traveled back in time to 1989 to participate in the original recording sessions couldn't have been easier.
"I've listened to this album so many times, I had it committed to memory," Clevenger said. "I made it sound as good as I could."
The Tickets' CD release party is at 9 tonight at Fitzgerald's, 19171 Magnolia St., Huntington Beach. Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings will open the show. Admission is $5.

Friday, September 08, 2006

George Fryer Combo rocks, off to NYC

I'm flying off to New York City tomorrow on a vacation and won't be blogging for another week or so. But before I left town I wanted to share with you about this great band I caught last Sunday, Sept. 3.
While the George Fryer Combo is one of Orange County's most talented bands, the group is equally among the most accessible and fan-friendly of music-making outfits.
There is generally never a charge when the quartet performs, and what could be more accommodating than regularly playing both evening and afternoon shows? Whereas Fryer's original songs, such as "You Make Me Happy" and "Still a Pawn," are highlights of any show, the Huntington Beach-based band gladly plays classic and modern-rock covers while making them their own.
That wide-ranging, easygoing approach has been extended into the recording studio and makes the George Fryer Combo's "New American Standards" CD a true gem.
George Fryer (lead vocals, guitar), Phil Vandermost (lead guitar, backing vocals), Dave Felde (bass) and Wolf Scheffler (drums) are uniformly strong, whether performing original material or reinterpreting the varied likes of Van Morrison, X, The Beatles and Herb Alpert.
"I (had) put out four original CDs. Every time we played a gig, I got asked, 'Do you have stuff you play live?' We went to Phil's studio and did it live," Fryer said of tracking the 15 songs on "New American Standards" in June and July of 2005. "All the instruments were live; we overdubbed vocals and guitars to sweeten it."
Vandermost had just started putting together a home studio when the George Fryer Combo was ready to record a follow-up to "Meow" (released at the beginning of 2005).
Fryer noted that "New American Standards" provides a snapshot of what the combo is doing right now. The troupe can play hundreds of songs, and many of the combo's best concert tunes are featured on the new CD. Herb Alpert's "The Lonely Bull (El Solo Toro)," Van Morrison's "Domino" and a strong and innovative medley of The Doors' "Soul Kitchen," Santana's "Evil Ways" and Cream's "Crossroads" are among the formidable classics redone, while seven of Fryer's originals are also showcased.
"We've been playing with this lineup for three years and developed a sound no one else has," Fryer said. The George Fryer Combo is the perfect house band for King Neptune's, a relaxed tavern in Sunset Beach where regulars and visitors can hang out, watch Sunday football and then catch live music.
"If someone comes in with a request, we'll try it even if we don't know it," Fryer admitted. On a recent Sunday afternoon at King Neptune's, the George Fryer Combo performed memorable versions of The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" and "One After 909," Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man," as well as Fryer's own "Teenage Lovesong" and "Goodbye (I Guess This Is)."
But which do they like most?
"My favorite song is everything we play," Vandermost said. "Plus, I like what George is doing with his own songs. I like to add to that."
The George Fryer Combo will perform at King Neptune's, 17115 Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Beach, at 5 p.m. on Sept. 10 and Sept. 17 and 24. Admission to all shows is free.
Orange Slices
Orange County-based post-hard-core outfit Saosin will open for AFI at a string of upcoming area shows, including dates at the Bren Events Center in Irvine on Tuesday and the Long Beach Convention Center on Sept. 15. Saosin will be playing material off the band's self-titled Capitol Records debut, set for release Sept. 26. Several songs from "Saosin" (pronounced say-o-sin) can be heard on the band's MySpace page. Saosin will headline at the Troubadour in Hollywood on Sept. 26 in celebration of the CD release.