KhadijahMohammedCOLORIn-demand singer, songwriter and proud Asbury Parker Khadijah Mohammed teams with brother Talib at the front of The F.L.O.W. Show, the musical force that’s seducing new fans through a monthly residency at The Saint. (Photo by King Joseph Photography)

(Expanded from article originally published in the Asbury Park Press on June 19, 2015)

She’s performed at Giants Stadium with P. Diddy; sang before a London audience of 100,000 people with Lenny Kravitz; toured internationally with Dave Matthews, and shared a recording booth with Cissy Houston at the invitation of Luther Vandross. But even if Khadijah Mohammed has spent much of the past 25 years as a sought-after backup singer for some of the biggest arena-scale acts in the business, there’s no venue as important as anywhere she performs in any given moment…no song more exciting than the original music that she’s now sharing with the world…and no place like Asbury Park, the music-mad city where she and younger brother Talib grew up and eventually assembled the band known as The F.L.O.W. Show.

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Sonics_2_by_Merri_SuttonThey were covered by Bruce; coveted by Little Steven — and for the first time in nearly 50 years, the legendary band of 1960s Northwest stompers THE SONICS hits the East Coast for a tour that takes them to NYC’s Irving Plaza (April 8) and Asbury Park’s Stone Pony (April 9). (photo by Merri Sutton)

“Strychnine.” “Psycho.” “He’s Waiting.” “The Witch.” You won’t find a one of these stomping, screaming Sixties seethers in your directory of Billboard chart-toppers, but if you hail from any of the generations of proto/post-punks and detached-garage revivalists who made them gospel chapter ‘n verse — or if you’re, say, Bruce Springsteen, who made “Have Love Will Travel” a centerpiece of his 1988 tour — The Sonics are pure pantheon.

Blasting their way out of Tacoma’s working-class/ working-band scene in the early half of the 1960s, the fivesome fronted by soul-soaked shouter and organist Jerry Roslie — and fortified by brothers Larry and Andy Parypas on guitar and bass; Bob Bennett on bash, and supersonic secret weapon Rob Lind on honking, gargling, quackety sax — delivered a take-no-prisoners brand of band-battle rock ‘n soul that was born and bred in unglamorous three-sets-a-night reality. It was also preserved for posterity on a pair of sought-after long players, Here Are the Sonics and Boom — albums that encapsulated their raw-power mix of originals and hard-earned bar band essentials like “Louie Louie,” “Money,” “Do You Love Me,” and even “Since I Fell for You,” the slow-dance blockbuster best known from Asbury Park’s Lenny Welch.

The Sonics went their separate ways by 1967, completely skirting that whole Summer of Love/ Woodstock thing — but fast forwarding to the strange new world of 2015, we find the septuagenarian core of the band (Jerry, Larry and Rob) — reinforced by Kingsmen bassist Freddie Dennis and Agent Orange drummer Dusty Watson — back in business with a tour that takes them back east big-time, with dates at NYC’s Irving Plaza (April 8) and Asbury’s Stone Pony (April 9).

It’s an incredible journey that began with a popular-demand reunion gig in 2007; led to a first-ever Euro-tour the next year, and culminated in the self-release of This is the Sonics, a relentlessly rocking self-release (on Revox USA) that mixes originals like advance track “Bad Betty” and the screamer “Livin’ in Chaos” with caterwauling classics from the likes of Hank Ballard, Willie Dixon, Ray Davies and Ray Charles; all “recorded in earth-shaking Mono” by producer Jim Diamond (White Stripes, Dirtbombs). Make no mistake: The Sonics have been summoned back into being to “Save the Planet” (“it’s the only one with beer!”).

Your upperWETside Control Voice rang up Rob Lind on the eve of the album drop marked with a big Seattle show that paired the boys with their spiritual progeny in Mudhoney. Flip that record over for more…

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The legendary NYC band Television (left to right: Billy Ficca, Fred Smith, Tom Verlaine, Jimmy Rip) brings music both classic and coalescing to the stage of the Stone Pony on Tuesday, December 30.

(Originally published in the Asbury Park Press on December 26, 2014)

To be clear about it, the group known as Television maintains no band-sanctioned social media presence. There’s no official website, no online store, no publicity team on retainer; not even any real connection to the jam-band community that could conceivably welcome the guitar-centric masters of live music into the fold.

And as you might have deduced, Television — in the words of their booking agent — “does not do interviews.”

While all of the above might suggest a needlessly prickly, contrarian, even Luddite attitude toward the fast-morphing millennial music scene — think Jonathan Richman without the warmth — it merely represents a remarkably consistent approach to the art and commerce of the rock-band template from Tom Verlaine, the “Guiding Light” whose intricately breathtaking lead guitar, poetically complex compositions and quirky, acquired-taste vocals have long spoken for an entity that, despite the name, has never aspired to mass-media status.

When Television makes a first-ever appearance at Asbury Park’s Stone Pony on Tuesday, December 30, it will mark another milestone in what for this particular band has been a “big” couple of years — keynoted by their dramatized representation in the 2013 feature film “CBGB,” and preceded in short order by gigs at NYC’s Irving Plaza (December 28) and Philly’s Theatre of Living Arts (December 29). There’s even an album, the first in over 20 years, rumored to be in the pipeline — although veteran Television watchers have learned to assume a Zen attitude as regards such talk.

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Guided_by_Voices_01_rtg_2014_PPIndie icons Guided By Voices, featuring Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout (third and fourth from left), bring their road-tested rock show and massive setlist to the Stone Pony on Saturday, August 23.

(Expanded from story originally published in the Asbury Park Press August 22, 2014)

Their discography alone Wins Show Business, just in terms of sheer volume, with close to fifty LPs, EPs, box sets, comps and curiosities — seven of them since 2011, when a supposedly one-off reunion turned into a full-tilt frenzy of creativity. Add in all the non-LP singles, splits, solos, side bands and postal projects and you’ll easily pass 250 unique releases — an intimidating listening pile for which you’ll probably need to buy a bigger “desert island.”

As garage-rock elder statesmen and Jedi masters of the two-minute pop song, Guided By Voices have staked their unique place on the scene through quality even more than quantity. This, after all, is the band of middle-aged, working-dude family guys from Dayton, Ohio who first achieved national notice in the 1990s with a string of homegrown indie recordings (including “Bee Thousand,” “Alien Lanes” and “Vampire on Titus”) — lo-fi, four-track masterpieces recorded on the cheap in laundry rooms; burning with pent-up energy and bursting with surprising hooks that emerged from the sonic muck like the next evolutionary step of a band that was in it for the long term.

Those records were the work of what came to be known as the “classic” lineup of GBV — a configuration that teamed Robert Pollard (the founder, frontman and former public school teacher who’s been the band’s one constant through the years) with guitarist Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos, drummer Kevin Fennell, and a singer-songwriter-guitarist and visual artist by name of Tobin Sprout.

It’s that lineup (with Kevin March returning to replace the departed Fennell) that takes it inside The Stone Pony on Saturday, August 23 — a rare Jersey Shore jaunt for Guided By Voices; part of an itinerary that finds the pushing-sixty rockers competing on a youth-oriented playing field, and touring behind not one but two 2014 album releases.

Following hot on the heels of February’s “Motivational Jumpsuit,” the band’s most recent self-issued long player “Cool Planet” stands as something of a return to a rawer vibe; eighteen tracks that find Sprout continuing to step up his vocal and songwriting contributions to the mix — a set that, the guitarist concedes, carries an after-chill of the polar-vortex winter in which it was recorded.

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MarshallCrenshawMarshall Crenshaw joins a couple of Jersey Joes, a David Jo’ and MO’ in a new edition of Songwriters by the Sea, March 29 at Monmouth University.

Originally published on Speak Into My Good Eye, 3/24/14

With a pro music career that goes back more than 30 years — a career keynoted by a stint as John Lennon in the touring company of Beatlemania, and further bookmarked by his portrayal of Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba — Marshall Crenshaw has assembled the kind of catalog that most singer-songwriters would give the right side of their brain for (“Someday Someway,” “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time”); attracting interpreters that range from Ronnie Spector to Bette Midler, and writing or co-writing standout stuff for the Gin Blossoms (“Til I Hear It From You”) and the one and only John C. Reilly (“Walk Hard”). The Detroit native has done it all with a relaxed and unpretentious delivery, an understated (and underrated) rock guitar style, a self-effacing sense of humor and a fairly awesome passion for pop music — a set of skills that he’ll be bringing to the stage of the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University this Saturday, March 29.

The latest in a series of Songwriters by the Sea events hosted by Jersey scene veterans Joe D’Urso and Joe Rapolla, the 8 p.m. concert marks another Shore encore for the guy who recorded a live DVD at The Stone Pony in 2003, who played a memorably intimate show at a neighborhood church in Atlantic Highlands a few years back, and who chose to record his contribution to the La Bamba soundtrack at a downtown Long Branch studio. It’s a natural forum for an artist whose spontaneous ear for a fun cover song (MC5! Jo Stafford! Left Banke! ABBA!), ability to rethink a familiar catalog favorite, and seemingly effortless flair for new and perfect pop songs are very much in evidence on a new series of subscription-only vinyl EPs, merched from his official website.

Crenshaw’s also found another outlet for his encyclopaedic mastery of popular music in The Bottomless Pit, the radio program he’s hosted on WFUV out of New York — a sideline gig that he shares in common with his contemporary and co-star in the March 29 Songwriters session: David Johansen, curator and caretaker of The Mansion of Fun on Sirius XM Radio. From his supercharged takes on Sonny Boy Williamson and Archie Bell during his Doll’d-up days as a proto-punk godfather, to his folk-blues field excursions into Memphis Minnie and more with The Harry Smiths, and his retro-rocketing career trajectory as alter ego Buster Poindexter (an act that he’s returned to with some highly regarded small-combo sets at NYC’s Cafe Carlyle), David Jo has always been the man with the song for every occasion. His 1980s sets at such long-gone Central Jersey joints as the Fast Lane, Royal Manor and Fountain Casino reinforced his acumen as a natural entertainer, and cut his anthemic guitar-driven originals like “Funky But Chic” and “Personality Crisis” with raucous and exhilarating whirls with oldies from The Animals, The Foundations and The Four Tops. A frequent “Evening With” attraction at the Brighton Bar and other regional rooms, the Staten Island stalwart makes an encore trip to the Songwriters circle in the company of his longtime guitarist Brian Koonin.

The two Joes and their two 60-something guests will be joined by a third singer-songwriter who’s been known to play very well with others: Allison Moorer, the NY-based alt-country vocalist whose classic voice is fortified by her covertune acumen (Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” among others), collaborations (everyone from Buddy Miller to Kid Rock), credentials (both an Oscar and a Grammy nom), and familial connections (she’s the wife of Steve Earle, and the sister of Shelby Lynne). The 8 p.m. program is rounded out by three homegrown talents from Monmouth U — Bryan Haring, Erin Holmes and Natalie Zeller. Your upperWETside Control Voice rang up Marshall Crenshaw to talk about casual concerts, covertune conundrums, and corporate cubbyholes.

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A Stonesy-y Birthday, for Keith ‘n Keys

BobbyKeysGimme the Keys: Tenor sax ace (and longtime Rolling Stones lieutenant) Bobby Keys celebrates his 70th birthday — a milestone shared by none other than Keith Richards — with an appearance at the Count Basie Theatre’s FIFTY LICKS concert.

The first time that Marc Ribler assembled the All-Shore project known as The Fifty Licks Band, it was the eve of a pretty momentous occasion — the 50th anniversary of the debut gig, by a group then going under the name The Rollin’ Stones.

When the Billboard-charting songsmith, commercial jingle composer, and benefit-bash bandleader re-convenes his jukebox Justice League this Wednesday, it will be in honor of a milestone that might conceivably call for twenty more licks. December 18 not only marks the 70th birthday of the irrepressible Keith Richards, but a big Number 70 as well for a man who’s been a cornerstone of the band’s extended family since 1969 — tenor saxophone ace Bobby Keys.

The Texas-born Keys, who’s maintained his end of a forty-year “ax and sax” dialogue with partner (in music and, occasionally, mayhem) Richards, will be spending his special day at the Count Basie Theatre. He’ll be appearing with Ribler and company as the very special guest in an 8 pm event that producer Tony Pallagrosi sums up as “a much different experience than seeing a bar band do a bunch of Stones covers…this really is Stones music, played the way that the Stones play it.”

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7/24: Playing the Nines, One More Time

BrittNinesLadies of the 80s, Call Home…Britt Savage reunites for one night only with her classic new-wave cover band The Nines, and returns to the Jersey Shore circuit for some saturday night sets at The Wonder Bar.

It was an era when titans ruled the land — mega-barbands with names like Bystander, NRG, The Passions, Prophet, and The Watch, to name but a few. Bands with truckloads of high-tech equipment, slick light shows and pre-internet mailing lists that boasted thousands of fervent followers. Giants who commanded the prime weekend slots at the most glittering of the “grittering” working-class dance clubs, even as the original music makers of the Jersey Shore skittered furtively like the first small mammals in the path of the mighty dinos.

To those who weren’t there, it’s almost impossible to describe that 1980s interlude when the drinking age was 18 and the closing time in many Shore towns was 3 a.m. — and when a huge generational clot of boomers escaped their houses and took to the dance floors nightly for 75 cent ‘kazis til midnight, Michelob specials and roses for the ladies, while supplies last. Even many of the fortress-like clubs that contained them — from Close Encounters, Royal Manor and Fountain Casino, to the Trade Winds, Club Xanadu and Baby-O’s — have since vanished like the towers of Atlantis.

The best of the big-shot cover bands drew together a broad-based audience, furnished the soundtrack for countless personal memories, and filled a need that couldn’t be met by paleozoic video games and local cable systems that were still left wanting for MTV. On Saturday night, July 27, one of the top-tier bands of the Reagan years returns for the first time in more than 25 years, when the classic lineup of The Nines reunites for a one-off “Back in the Day” gig at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park.

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7/16: Big Star, High Priest, Dalai Lama

AlexChiltonAlex Chilton, pictured in later years fronting the millennial version of Big Star. The twisted history of “The Greatest Band That Never Made It” is encapsulated in BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME, the doc feature that opens this Thursday as part of the Summer Music Film Series at The ShowRoom.

It was during those still-smoldering weeks in the wake of September 11, 2001. While Bruce Springsteen began work on the big important album that America expected, nay demanded him to produce, Alex Chilton took the stage of a small downtown club for one of the neighborhood’s first sets of live music since the attacks. What he offered up to the modestly scaled crowd managed to sum it all up better than anything that wound up on The Rising.

“Let’s twist again,” he sang. “Like we did last summer.”

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