IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF JULY 19-25

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, July 19 2018

SCREENS: John Cleese and the ‘Holy Grail’ at Convention Hall

As a quick scan of the daily headlines could tell you, there are times when current events rival the most surreal and absurd of vintage Monty Python sketches — and such times all but cry out for our historic heroes of the projected image to step out from the screen, put it all into perspective for us, and, if necessary, tell us to go boil our bottoms. From out of the dim dark videotaped past of 1970s British import TV — and the cultiest corners of offbeat cinema — the one and only John Cleese is headed in our general direction; armed with a copy of the 1970s classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as well as a set of bonus-feature backstories that finds the “writer, actor, and tall person” appearing onstage at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall this Friday evening, July 20. The founding Monty member  — also present at the creation of The Goon Show, Fawlty Towers, and A Fish Called Wanda — has been barnstorming his way across America; telling stories, taking questions, and taking no prisoners as he offers some pointedly pithy observations on the curious social mores (and/or sociopathic morons) of his adopted homeland. Making his Asbury Park debut as an encore to his previous pit-stop at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, Cleese takes the stage following a 7:30 pm screening of Grail, the budget burlesque on the legends of King Arthur’s Round Table that spawned a surprise Broadway musical hit (Spamalot), and several generations of movie-quoting geek subculture.

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HONORARY SHORECAT GRUSHECKY MAKES A PITT-STOP, IN HIS HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, July 12 2018. Photos by JOHN CAVANAUGH

If there ever was such a thing as a Mount Rushmore of Honorary Shorecats…you know, those veteran rockers whose long-running careers were nurtured in the same pool of influences as our own Asbury-area aces…and whose wall-of-sound work ethic has allowed them to mix, match and make themselves entirely at home among the stars and bars of the Jersey Shore, despite being rooted in other states/ other scenes…then Joe Grushecky would have to be considered a carved-in-granite cornerstone (our other picks: John Cafferty, John Eddie, and Willie Nile, himself profiled in this space a few weeks back).

A frequent-flyer visitor to all shapes and sizes of Asbury Park venues (plus nearby Monmouth U) for nearly forty years…and a core component of the Light of Day concerts since their inception…the Pittsburgh-based musician and educator has staked a place on our city’s boulevards, beach and boardwalk since the days of the original Iron City Houserockers, the acclaimed late 70s/early 80s band that put a particularly amped-up spin on the “working class rock” template.

“I’ve always felt a strong kinship with Asbury Park,” explains the singer-songwriter-guitarist who made his local debut in 1980, as opening act on a Convention Hall bill with Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson (who would go on to co-produce, with Steve Van Zandt, his band’s acclaimed sophomore release Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive!). It’s a well-traveled road that would carry him numerous times to the old Fast Lane, the Stone Pony (on whose stage he recorded a 2016 live album), the Paramount — and the Wonder Bar, where Joe Grushecky and the rebranded Houserockers return on July 14 for a Saturday night session that looks to be a sell-out as we post these words.

“I’ve played in Asbury at least once each year since 1993…including that era when you could drive a truck down the middle of the sidewalk and not hit anyone,” he says. “I like to think that we’ve been part of the fabric of this scene, and I’m really gratified to see the way it’s rebounded in recent years.”

“Of course, Light of Day had a lot to do with it,” adds Grushecky in reference to the annual slate of concerts — and the foundation for Parkinson’s disease research that they support — established by Joe’s manager Bob Benjamin, himself a person who’s lived with Parkinson’s for many years. “Light of Day played a large part in keeping Asbury Park afloat.”

As a fixture on the program of those big January Light of Day concerts produced by Benjamin and veteran promoter/ executive director Tony Pallagrosi (as well as ancillary L.O.D. events in places like Philadelphia and Niagara Falls), Grushecky has shared the stage with multiple generations of recording artists, in addition to movie stars, TV stars, circus stars — plus a certain Mr. Springsteen; composer of the song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day,” and a guy whose tendency to jam frequently with his Pittsburgh pal has made him not so much Joe’s Big Scary Friend as, quite possibly, Joe’s biggest fan.

“We share a lot of the same roots,” says Grushecky of Springsteen, who famously produced Joe’s 1995 solo album American Babylon — and who added his voice to the timely anthem “That’s What Makes Us Great” last year. “We’re the same age, same working-class background…I come from a family of coal miners…and you can say that our viewpoints are very closely aligned. It’s an easy friendship, and it translates whenever we play music together.” Continue reading

IT’S WHAT’S UP, WEEK OF JULY 12-18

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, July 12 2018

SOUNDS: Tribute Act Troop Movements, Revealed!

Tribute acts! They walk among us — and they’ve been a crucial component of the Jersey Shore scene since well before the dinosaur-days of Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones), Crystal Ship (The Doors), and Yasgur’s Farm (the whole Woodstock catalog). Taking it a step or two beyond the more generalized cover bands, they were the guys who devoted themselves to the legacy (and quite often the look) of a particular band/ artist or subculture scene — and the best of them have earned devoted fanbases of their own; recreating entire concert setlists with scholarly dedication, and stepping up to fill a void when the subjects of their recreations are deceased, retired, or just too plain tired to be anything but a cover-band version of their prime-time selves. For the next seven days and nights, several generations of tributeers bring their spot-on sonic salutes to Asbury area stages, where in recent weeks we’ve seen rocking re-enactments of the best of Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, The Bee Gees, and the most Fab of Fours.

On Thursday, the Stone Pony hosts vocalist James Times and North Carolina-based Michael Jackson homage Who’s Bad, even as the warm-weather anthems of GREASE receive a rocked-up twist, when the Summer Nights band (last seen playing the ‘resistance’ stage response to the Festival of Life in Bradley Park) hits the House of Independents for a sing-along session. Friday finds veteran Dead lifers Splintered Sunlight in a return to the Pony stage, plus the voices of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons captured by The Jersey Four up at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club — while out on 35, the Headliner welcomes the Bon Jovi bonhomie of Slippery When Wet (whose frontman Jason Morey recently contracted to serve as BonJo in the long-running Vegas revue Legends in Concert).

Freddy Mercury lives, as Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium resounds with the sounds of the Ultimate Queen Celebration on Saturday — even as Sopranos alumnus Vince Curatola (pictured) channels the Chairman in a Sinatra salute at McLoone’s.  Yet another Jersey-fresh homegrown is celebrated Pony-side, as Tramps Like Us — taking a page from the Dead scholarship of projects like our own Dead On Live — recreates Springsteen’s legendary Roxy Theatre concert of June 7, 1978; an oft-bootlegged West Coast show that spotlighted a newly re-energized Boss in the summer of Darkness (and served as the basis for portions of his Live 1975-85 box set).

The Supper Club is the site once more on Sunday, when (Christine) Spero Plays (Laura) Nyro in a long-overdue honoring of the late soulful songmistress who gave us “Stoney End” and “Wedding Bell Blues.” Get the details on all these and more, in The Coaster’s weekly rundown — and be here in weeks to come, when the Asbury waterfront welcomes visits by The Band (The Weight), Eric Clapton (Bell Bottom Blues), Billy Joel (We May Be Right), Sublime (Badfish), The Dead (Dark Star Orchestra), The Jerry Garcia Band (Garcia Project), “Bruce Off Broadway” (courtesy of the ukelele stylings of Jim Boggia), and even the “David Byrne-meets-Byrning Spear” reggae mashups of Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dread.

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JOHNNY TAKES IT SOUTHSIDE OF A FOURTH THING, TO A 7-7 PONY PARTY

Santa Claus comes to town but once per “kid year;” Cupid and the Easter Bunny are only as good as the next re-stock of the seasonal aisle, and the Great Pumpkin tends not to show up at all — but when you set your calendar to sync with Southside Johnny Lyon, you roll with the one who represents not one but two great holiday happenings.

No self-respecting year is blessed into being without a champagne benediction by Johnny, during any of the December 31 concerts that he and the Asbury Jukes have hosted for countless times at Red Bank’s Count Basie auditorium. It’s a tradition that should by all rights have allowed the Ocean Grove native to claim the mantle of “Mr. New Year’s Eve” from the long-gone Guy Lombardo and Dick Clark — but the shades-rocking musicologist with the sublime R&B pipes and the sardonic sense of humor has a warm-weather failsafe fallback, and this Saturday, the unofficial Toastmaster General of the Jersey Shore becomes Mr. Fourth of July (give or take a day or three), as he and the 2018 edition of the Jukes take their place once more on the Stone Pony SummerStage.

All of which confirms the fact that O.G.’s original-gangsta rocker and raconteur is all about the season of corn-on-the-cob and sparklers, every bit as much as the season of highballs and noisemakers. And whether it takes place on the Fourth — or, in this case, the Seventh — the Asbury Jukes soiree is a genuine destination attraction; a perfect cross between those Arthur Pryor Band concerts of a hundred years ago, and the sweatiest, most spontaneous session that ever pushed the envelope of an Asbury Park last-call.

It’s a happening that harkens back to those big beach concerts produced by the old WNEW-FM; to the “homecoming” shows that saw the onetime Stone Pony house band graduate to the Paramount and other larger regional venues — and to the era of those early albums on Epic, with their Boss-penned liner notes and their Miami Steve stewardship and their hall-of-fame guest stars and their sonic snapshots of a time when the spotlight shone briefly and bright upon the gritty bars and weathered boards of salty old Asbury town.

‘It’s just a celebration…and everybody is so UP going into it, that we don’t have to hit the stage with an airtight set list,” adds the bandleader, calling in before departing for California to “to help some folks who need cheering up…because I’m Mister Cheer, although my band might dispute that.”

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF JULY 5-11

SOUNDS: James Maddock at Tim McLoone’s

When most recently seen in AP, Brit-born troubador James Maddock lent his sawtooth voice and social-justice sensibility to Willie Nile’s big birthday brobdingnag. Tonight at 8 pm, Maddock pays it forward, extending an invitation at his own headlined gig upside McLoone’s Supper Club to a fellow headliner whose Shoreside showcases have earned him a fervent local following. Best known for a cool cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” (but quite the soulful songsmith in his own write), Jeffrey Gaines joins James at the boardwalk’s landmark roundhouse roadhouse penthouse for an evening that promises to draw from their collective 50-plus(!) years of recorded activity; a river that runs from beloved TV/movie soundtracks to compositions that caught the ear of no less a fan than Bruce Springsteen. Take it to timmcloonessupperclub.com for available seating and ticket info.

SOUNDS: Robert Gordon at the Wonder Bar

“The old suits don’t fit me these days,” Robert Gordon told us in an interview several years back; an admission that the sharp-dressed, impeccably pompadoured, splendid splinter who introduced both Springsteen’s “Fire” and Marshall Crenshaw’s “Someday Someway” was casting a more formidable shadow in the wake of quitting smoking. “But not smoking anymore is what’s allowed me to keep my voice.”

And wotta voice it is; a big baritone instrument uncommon in most modern music, and a thing that’s matured into a smooth fine bourbon as the veteran vocalist (a member of CBGB’s original graduating class, as frontman of the punky combo Tuff Darts) continues his explorations of rockabilly, classic country, the Elvis legacy, and vintage pop artifacts ranging from Bobby Darin and Brenda Lee to The Hollies and (Nancy) Sinatra. Always an interpreter with impeccable taste in backing bands (past guitar lieutenants have included Duke Robillard, Chris Spedding, and the late uber-legends Danny “The Humbler” Gatton and Link Wray), the “Bad Boy” who takes it to the Wonder Bar this Friday, July 6 is “still around…I put a lot of crazy stuff behind me, and I’m up here, singin’ my ass off!” Tight Lipped opens, with doors at 8 pm and tickets ($20 advance, $25 at the door) gettable at wonderbarasburypark.com.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF JUNE 28 – JULY 4

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, June 28 2018

SOUNDS on SCREEN: A Bite at the Opera, at the Crane House

She’s honored as an Asbury Angel, same as Clarence Clemons and a gallery of other late great Circuit rockers — but before she died in 2011, Madame Era Tognoli rocked an altogether different house as the founder of Metro Lyric Opera, the company that staged grand opera classics inside Asbury’s Paramount Theatre for an incredible fifty-one seasons. Each summer since her passing, Frank D’Alessandro of the historic Stephen Crane House has hosted a free series of Opera On Film events in her memory — and TONIGHT, June 28, the series returns for a seventh season; this time on Thursday evenings (a necessary move, given the increasing scarcity of parking on beach-season weekends). It’s a “Bite at the Opera” slate that couples a 5 pm screening inside the Crane’s newly air-conditioned Lecture Room theater, with a home-cooked light dinner following the film.

This Thursday’s feature is the 2003 production of Puccini’s Manon Lescault, starring Kiri Te Kanawa and Plácido Domingo. Doors open at 4:30 pm, with the 129 minute film followed by dinner (refreshments will also be served prior to the screening, which will also be preceded by a brief introductory talk). As always at the Crane House, there is no charge for the film or the food; donations are always appreciated on behalf of the Asbury Park Little League or AP Historical Society, and new friends are welcomed, as a true legendary local is paid tribute at one of the city’s “best kept secret” cultural gems. Follow The Stephen Crane House on Facebook for updates on additional Bite at the Opera events, on July 26 and August 23.

SOUNDS: Lisa Sherman’s Broadway & Beyond at Tim McLoone’s

As versatile as her own encyclopedic repertoire, vocalist Lisa Sherman has made herself at home in settings that have ranged from glamour-gowned cabaret and glittering disco revivals, to big-band bop and blue-jeaned blues jams with harpin’ helper Sandy Mack. She’s equally at home in venues as expansive as the Count Basie auditorium, and as exclusive as private-party patios — and on Friday, June 29, the Shore area native takes it topside to the panoramic penthouse of Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, as the headline attraction for the revue Broadway and Beyond. Keynoting at 8:15 pm, it’s a set that finds the singing/dancing veteran of Broadway ensembles joined by Kristin Cochran (plus the assembled talents of Benny Gramm, Frosty Lawson, John Martin, John Micco, and Ralph Notaro, under the musical direction of Bob Himmelberger) in a guided tour of showtune-land that spans the songbook standards of Tin Pan Alley and the hit anthems of the present-day Theater District. All this, plus some of the most memorable themes from the movies…because, why not?

About that movie thing: it’s an occasion to welcome a very special guest to the proceedings, in the person of Academy Award and Golden Globe winning songwriter Franke Previte. The Jersey-guy frontman of 80s hitmakers Franke and the Knockouts (“Sweetheart”) — and the composer/lyricist best known for Dirty Dancing and its blockbuster anthems “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” and “Hungry Eyes” — joins Ms. Sherman (with whom he’s pictured here) for some potential-dynamite duets that are sure to include at least one of the aforementioned (and besides, when you’re up at Mr. McLoone’s roundhouse roadhouse, nobody but nobody puts Baby in a corner!). Take it to timmcloonessupperclub.com for available seating info and reservations.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF JUNE 21-27

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, June 21 2018

Suddenly THIS Summer rears its head; shows its face (and maybe shows its rear, just for benny-time giggles) — and not a moment too soon, as the season of outdoor entertainments brings the top-down thrills to Asbury town’s boardwalk, beach and boulevards…

SOUNDS: Mihali on the Sand

With the official appearance of The Longest Day comes the return of Jams on the Sand, the salt-air concert series that sets up stage tonight, June 21 on the closest thing to a floating bandstand in the city of sounds: the beach-top enclosure on the north side of Convention Hall’s Anchor’s Bend bar. Boasting spectacular views of surf, seagulls, and sky (and offering a pleasing balcony along the boardwalk rail), the schedule keynotes with a 5 pm set by Bencoolen and a 6 pm headliner by Mihali Savoulidis. Touring behind his debut solo release, the moonlighting frontman of Vermont-based band Twiddle (who sticks around town to open up for Trevor Hall at the Stone Pony on Friday) ups the ante on an Anchor’s Bend season that further features the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival on August 18, as well as an a regular Wednesday evening sway with Shoreggae masters the Predator Dub Assassins.

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MAX WEINBERG is THINKING INSIDE the (Juke)BOX

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, June 14 2018

In a seven-day Asbury interlude that boasts no less than Bruce Springsteen among its headlining musical attractions, why opt to spend Saturday night hovering over a jukebox stocked with very-well-played 1960s and 70s hits?

Why? Because the hit-dispensing device in question is Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, the people-pleasing project personally curated and conducted by Max Weinberg himself. For this raucously retro-rocking (and hyper-currently interactive) touring attraction, the dapper timelord who’s long steered the back of the firetruck for the E Street Hook ‘n Ladder Company has secured the expert services of Messrs. Glen Burtnik, Bob Burger, and John Merjave — together comprising three of The Weeklings (profiled a few weeks back in this space), and collectively joining with Mighty Max to form a Kollege of Musical Kno’ledge whose fab faculty wrote the book when it comes to encyclopedic mastery of the rock, pop ‘n roll canon.

With a setlist determined by the audience’s choices from a video menu of some 300 songs (including a bunch of Springsteen selections, although no “Born to Run”), the act that takes the stage of the Stone Pony on June 16 claims its immediate origins in an idea from Weinberg’s manager Mark Stein — plus a bit of acknowledged inspiration from a 1986 Elvis Costello tour, in which the set was shaped by spinning a giant Wheel of Songs. But its roots draw from every aspect of the drummer’s career; from his singular stewardship of the E Street beat, to his long tenure as a network talk-show bandleader, and (perhaps most importantly) his formative years “growing up as a Jersey musician.”

“As a drummer, playing those 9 pm to 2 am club dates, you had to know how to play everything…Dixieland, cha cha, merengue…and whatever was playing on the radio, which was extraordinary eclectic in those days,” says the North Jersey native who famously honed his chops in contexts that ranged from Broadway pit orchestras, to one of the region’s leading bar mitzvah bands.

“I enjoyed impersonating other drummers…and I had a knack for where if I heard a song just once or twice, I’d learn it.”

With his early pre-Bruce forays into the land of the fast-thinking, hard-working cover bands — and his 40-plus years affiliation with a superstar songsmith who’s never been shy about working some of his own fave record-party oldies into his live sets (“Quarter to Three,” “Twist and Shout,” “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”) — Weinberg bore unique witness to the universal power of a well-placed, generational touchstone tune. And when the “classic Jersey bar band” found itself performing for crowds of more than 100,000 in places like Barcelona, another special bit of dialogue between musicians and audience began to manifest itself. Continue reading