MOTION ON THE OCEAN, AT SEA.HEAR.NOW’S CLAMBAKE

Oceanport native Fred Schneider (center) returns Shoreside with The B-52’s, for a 40th anniversary tour spot in the 2019 Sea.Hear.Now Festival.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), September 19, 2019

In that “uncompromisin’, enterprisin’, anything but tranquilizin’” place called Asbury Park — where Local Summer is practically as big a deal as everyone else’s “regular summer,” and it’s never a fashion faux-pas to wear Life after Labor Day — the season of open-air concert activity continues to expand its horizon ever closer to the flat-earth edge of autumn’s threshold. And, even as Fall 2019 officially drops ready-or-not this coming Monday, Summer saves up what’s arguably its biggest finishing-move salvo for the weekend ahead.

Going up for its sophomore edition this Saturday and Sunday, September 21 and 22, the Sea.Hear.Now Festival commandeers an ample slice of the city’s beach, boardwalk, Bradley Park, and briny Atlantic for A Celebration of Live Music, Art and Surf Culture that spills over into several circuit-satellite locales. While the born-big event has been SOLD OUT since right around tax-filing time, there’s still a chance to get in on some of the ancillary action and after-parties taking place at such local landmarks as The Stone Pony, Wonder Bar, House of Independents, and The Saint — and potentially partygoing parties are advised to check into it right now, at seahearnowfestival.com.

Unlike such hyper-local hootenannies as last weekend’s Bond Street Block Party, and next weekend’s Asbury Park Porchfest (or that downtown strolling smorgasbord AP Underground, returning on October 19), Sea.Hear.Now takes much of its cues from the national/ international profile of its founder, photographer, and fellow-traveler musician Danny Clinch. Following up on the 2018 schedule co-headlined by Jack Johnson and Incubus, Clinch’s Between the Sets and producing partners C3 Presents secured a slate of performers topped by one of the most consistently popular concert tour and festival-circuit draws of the past 25 years — the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling Dave Matthews Band — as well as by another, more recently minted (but still precious metal-plated) act: Jersey-bred, Denver-based folkrock/ alt-Americana band The Lumineers.

The rest of the schedule’s no slouch, either, representing a shuffle-mix of Hall of Fame trailblazers (Joan Jett) and punk-electronica upstarts (Matt & Kim); frequent Asbury flyers (Donavon Frankenreiter, Bad Religion, Dropkick Murphys) and occasional returnees (Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Chan “Cat Power” Marshall, St. Paul); world-beat emissaries from other shores (Steel Pulse), and even some able ambassadors from our own big back yard — notably Ken “Stringbean” Sorensen and The Boardwalk Social Club, the blues-roots unit that boasts the distinction of generally being the first and the last band playing out of doors each extended-summer season (the latter courtesy of their still-ongoing stand outside AP Yacht Club/ Langosta Lounge every Monday eve).

Then there’s an internationally renowned act that carries with it a Jersey Shore connection that might still be a surprise to some — The B-52’s., fronted as ever by perennial party-starting toastmaster (and onetime resident of Oceanport, NJ) Fred Schneider.

In the process of gifting the world with perhaps the most epic beach bake anthem of all time in “Rock Lobster,” the alumnus of Shore Regional High School, who found community and delightfully unlikely rock stardom in the fertile music scene of Athens, Georgia, has never exactly exploited his roots in the sandy Shore soil. Drawing instead from elements of Southern culture, gay culture, thrift-shop pop culture, and the benificial-bacteria culture of infctious fun, Schneider and his cohorts Kete Pierson, Cindy Wilson, and Keith Strickland (plus the late Ricky Wilson) created something all their very own; a universal party music that breaks down all resistance in the squarest (and don’t-carest) audiences.

Continue reading

THE RIBEYE BROS. BRING THE MEAT ‘N MORE, TO BLOCK PARTY & BEYOND

The Ribeye Brothers showcase some prime cuts during a prime slot at the Bond Street Block Party on Saturday, September 14…then return to Asbury town for a special “Taint at The Saint” evening on September 19. Photo by William DeVizia for Cool Dad Music

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), September 12, 2019

 They’re the indoor/outdoor carpeting that ties the music-mad ROOM together — connecting the 20th century Shore scene with the hypercurrent hipsterverse; the roots-rock traditionalists with the alt-rock trailblazers; the experience of playing before international stadium-size audiences, with the bump ‘n grind of an old neighborhood go-go bar.

Here in the Local Summer interlude — when many of the season’s busiest bands curtail their activities, and some of the Shore’s most venerable venues up and fold their patio umbrellas for a long winter’s nap — the year-round institution that is The Ribeye Brothers is perhaps more visible and audible than ever; pushing the open-air envelope well into the post-Labor Day afterbirth, seeking out and exploring strange new places to play, and boldly Going There with an all-new, as yet untitled, recorded music project.

Pretty ambitious and confident for a group whose thematic stock in trade has been the musical tale of woe — short and bitterly sweet blasts of “detached garage” rock with titles like “Drinkin’ and Stinkin,” “Swagger Turns to Stagger,” “D.W.I.,” “Disappointment Punch,” “Wrong End of the Leash,” and that crossover crowdpleaser, “Sh*t Car.” Working a side of the street once occupied by classic “tears in my beer” country, the songs of former Monster Magnet men Tim Cronin and Jon Kleiman are vroomed-up vignettes of rejection, recidivism and ruin, narrated by characters whose dreams of grandeur have been curb-jawed by store-brand booze, romantic betrayals, suicidal brooding, and an unerring instinct for the Bad Choice.

Even when Cronin and company channel Andy Griffith’s megalomaniacal Face in the Crowd character in “Lonesome Rhodes” (a purported favorite of no less a public figure than The Boss), or landing songs on the soundtracks of network TV shows (Criminal Minds) and indie features (Let Me Down Hard), there’s a fatalistic (but fun) vein of Eeyore-attitude soaked into every fiber of “the band who hates themselves more than you do.” But, whether the Sons of Mrs. Ribeye are stomping out a brand new number or cutting up on covers of old Black Sabbath (or very old Pink Floyd), the fact remains that, for the band’s devoted audience, a Ribeyes roast is a guaranteed and garage-rested good time — or, as this correspondent has said before, “the most raucously pounding pity party you’ll ever encounter.”

Though still a Red Bank-based band by pedigree, the lineup of Cronin (lead vocals), Brent Sisk (guitar), Kleiman (guitar, vocals), Joe Calandra (bass), and Neil O’Brien (drums) can stake just as much of a claim to the coverage area served by your friendly neighborhood Coaster and Link newsweeklies, with the latter three hanging their hats these days in Neptune, Eatontown, and Asbury Park respectively. In fact, Asbury habitues might better know O’Brien under his alter ego DJ Foggy Notion, with the man and his milk crates remaining a fixture at Anchor’s Bend, Salvation Lounge, AP Yacht Club and numerous other nightspots (in addition to the odd participation in performance-art events like Andrew Demirjian’s Lines in the Sand, presented on the AP beach this past August by DC’s Transformer collective).

This Saturday, September 14, the Brothers (with adopted sibling Sweet Joey filling in on drums) are among the featured acts taking it outside at the 2019 Bond Street Block Party, the annual presentation of the Bond Street Complex venues (about which more momentarily) that commandeers the stretch of Bond between Cookman and Mattison Aves for a festival of bands, beers and BBQ that runs from 1 to 10 pm. Then on the evening of Thursday, September 19, a busy-season Neil rejoins his mates; once more steering the back of the firetruck as the band opens for the satirically satanic stylings of Witch Taint (‘the most extreme Norwegian Black Metal band from Gary, Indiana ever, probably”) at that downtown boxcar berthplace of rock, chief engineer Scotty Stamper’s The Saint..

Continue reading

‘TUCCI’S BAND OF LOVE, IN THE NAME OF PRIDE

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 30, 2019

As Christine Martucci maintains, “the gay community sees beauty in everything…because we have to! You want your world to be filled with love, and I like to be the cup that’s half full at all times.”

A member in excellent standing of that unofficial society of Honorary Shore Rockers — those performers whose fervent local fanbases and frequent-flyer forays to coastal NJ have secured their place in the area’s pantheon — the Tacoma, WA-born singer/ songwriter/ guitarist has staked her claim as a bandleader whose classic-rock swagger and whiskey-belt vocals lend punch to original compositions that often speak of complex and conflicted emotions; of that sense of isolation that sometimes aches its way into even our most raucous tribal rituals.

It’s a “velvet glove inside an iron fist” approach that’s in evidence on signatures like the lonely plaint ”Is Anybody Out There?,” or the returning veteran’s lament “Home Don’t Feel Like Home” — and while the singer allows that “not a lot of cerebral energy goes into too many standard rock songs,” she herself hails from “that school where you write what you know.”

What she’s known, in a life that took her from the Pacific Northwest to New Jersey’s Hunterdon County (and from a bleak moment in which she contemplated closing the book on her own story, to the realization that, as she previously stated, “the repressed, angry, scared Christine died that day”) is that the power of community goes a long way toward illuminating those dark corners of the soul — and that when it comes to stoking that sense of community, few if any things can beat a supercharged rock show inside a packed nightclub.

There was a time when Christine Martucci spent the better part of a decade as an enlistee in the U.S. Army, a significant life experience (during an era that pre-dated “don’t ask, don’t tell”) that saw her rise to the rank of Sergeant, while acquiring an affinity for her fellow folks in uniform that’s manifested itself in her song lyrics, interviews, and regular charitable endeavors. There would also come a time when “Tucci” would find that community within the big, messy, extended family of musicians who worked the stages of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey (she cites a fellow Honorary Shorecat, John Eddie, as the peer who “got me my start in Asbury Park”) — particularly in the famous seaside city where music has danced cheek-to-cheek with its social history, and where the LGBTQ community can rightly be credited with a lead role in its remarkable resurrection.

About a month ago, Christine Martucci took the stage of Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar in an intimate, solo “Pride in Performance” piece as part of the 2019 Music and Film Fest. This Saturday, she and her full-tilt combo The Band of Love return once more to that Circuit-side landmark, for a set that serves as a kick-ass keynote to this coming weekend’s Jersey Pride Festival. Here in the fiftieth anniversary year of the pivotal Stonewall uprising, it’s an occasion that marks a Martucci milestone in its own right — a tenth annual Pride Show for which the headliner has taken an active stance; securing the opening acts (cover-tune specialists The Eclipse Band, R&B singer-songwriter Stephanie Chin, and Asbury returnees Chix Appeal), and choosing the designated charity for this edition’s fundraising component (the NJ chapter of Happy Trails Animal Rescue).

That take-charge attitude is well in keeping with the “Real Christine” who emerged from those days and nights of self-doubt, to face the challenges of life as an out gay person with a fine-tuned confidence and positivity. It’s a quality that’s in evidence on exuberant originals like the “Parkway Southbound” paean “Jersey Style,” as well as on crowd-pleasing covers like the Stones standard “Honky Tonk Women” (or “Head Held High,” a contribution to a Velvet Underground tribute album that we’d love to hear her perform live; hint hint).

As a solid songsmith in her own right, Martucci (who announces that the June 1 gig will mark her first public performance of “Remedy” by the Black Crowes) has a feel for covers upon which she can put her own sonic stamp, be it the unjustly neglected Faces tune “Stay With Me,” or anything from the canonical catalog of Janis Joplin.

In fact, the Wonder Bar show represents a last (for now) and best chance to catch Tucci and company in full-fledged glory, before the singer hits the road with Glen Burtnik to perform as Janis in the 2019 Summer of Love Tour, the revue that makes its only NJ whistlestop at the Hard Rock Atlantic City on August 24.

“Glen really helped catapult me onto the scene,” she says of the Summer impresario. “People here don’t hold you back, or see you as a competitor.”

Noting that “I love the Summer of Love show, because all I have to worry about is to show up and sing,” Martucci is using that not-at-all-”down” time as an opportunity to continue writing, and to fine-tune a couple of ambitious projects — one of which is a fifth album of original songs, a set that finds the singer reunited with producer Anthony Krizan, himself a co-writer (with Cheryl Da Veiga) of “Home Don’t Feel Like Home.”

“I’ve got some songs that I’ve written but never released; ballads that would work well with a pretty voice like Eryn Shewell’s,” she says in reference to the torchy vocalist who performs these days under her married name of Eryn O’Ree, or simply Eryn. “But I’m going back to my rock and roll roots with the new album…with songs that are more suited to my smokin’, drinkin’, partyin’ voice.”

Then there’s her planned one woman show; an autobiographical mix of story and song tentatively titled My Life as a New Soul. Described as “part comedy, part real life” (with the acknowledgment that the two conceptsare hardly mutually exclusive), it’s a work in progress that’s “gonna be colorful, and awesome…we’re going on a trip, me and the audience.”

“When you’re a new soul, like me, everything is NEW to you again,” she explains. “One way to put it is, you go into a new soul’s house, right? And you know those tags that you see on furniture and mattresses…’Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law?’…well, in a new soul’s house they are all there; still attached!”

As Martucci tells it, the two concurrent projects are vying neck-and-neck for her attentions these days, with the latter part of 2019 and early 2020 shaping up to be a launch point for that New Soul performance piece, or an itinerary for promoting that new album. In either case, expect Christine Martucci to return once more to the Shore music scene that has been “such a part of my life…it’s so cool that I can count on Asbury Park to support all that I’m doing.”

“I tell the bar owners, we’re a team…I’m gonna get ‘em rowdy, you get ‘em drunk, and at the end of the night you get paid more,” she says with a laugh. “But the payoff for me is that people come to my shows and leave feeling better about themselves, and about the world.”

************

The Saturday night Wonder Bar event — and its now-traditional Sunday night bookend show featuring the band Kathouse — are part ‘n parcel of an Asbury Park weekend that’s centered around the 28th annual Jersey Pride Festival in Bradley Park and the accompanying AP Pride march. The hi-energy procession makes its way to the park, where between the hours of noon to 7 pm, the statue of Founder Bradley stands watch over a serious celebration that boasts a full slate of live music, a food court, craft and merch vendors, kids’ activities, and informational displays from an array of nonprofit community organizations. The festival stage — always a great showcase for both locally based and internationally renowned acts — is headlined this year by (pictured above) original disco-era diva France Joli (“Come to Me,” “Gonna Get Over You”) and the band BETTY, with comedian/ activist and emcee Sandra Valls introducing soul singer Dezi 5, electro-pop artist JLine, the Green Planet Band, and Virago, with that always-amazing world-music duo (who also appear at the Asbury Hotel on Friday night) augmented for the occasion by the horn section from the Motor City Revue (check the social media postings of the Jersey Gay Pride Festival for updated schedule info).

A new and novel addition to the weekend’s festivities — and a slate of activities that spans the whole three-day interlude — is Paranormal Pride, a multi-faceted event hosted by Paranormal Books and Curiosities proprietor Kathy Kelly (fresh off her recent success with the annual Jersey Devil Festival) with Adam Berry of the Travel Channel’s Kindred Spirits. With the venerable Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel as home base, the program boasts what promises to be the first-ever ghost investigation of that landmark building, along with lectures, gallery readings (with famed psychic medium Chip Coffey), and a Drag Brunch featuring special guest Pissi Myles. Participation is limited, so visit paranormalpride.com for updated info on available tickets.

There’s plenty more of interest to attendees going on around town throughout the weekend, from tea dances and poolside parties at the city’s waterfront hotels, a Friday night Pride Prom event at Asbury Festhalle presided over by the beyond-busy DJ Tyler Valentine (who also works a same-day Super Tea at the Asbury, and a Saturday night WERK dance party at House of Independents), an ABBA/ 70s dancefest at House of Indies, and a Drag Queen Storytime session at the Asbury with Miss Savannah Georgia. Check the music listings in this week’s print editions of The Coaster and The Link for the full rundown.

And in Long Branch, where city officials recently designated June as Pride Month, New Jersey Repertory Company’s West End Arts Center is the nexus for a slate of events that kicks off with Our Way: The Art of Life, Love, and Inclusion, a visual art group show that opens with a 12-4 pm reception inside the gallery space of the reborn primary school building at 132 West End Avenue (corner of Sairs Ave.).

The exhibition curated by Mare Akana remains on display Saturday and Sunday afternoons through June 9, while the Arts Center plays host on Friday, June 7 to a 5 pm screening of the Robin Kampf documentary Love Wins, with a post-film panel featuring the film’s subjects and director.

At 7 pm on that same Friday night, West End Arts goes live with Revenge of the Gays: A Night of LGBTQ+ Comedy hosted by Jess Alaimo (left), who in addition to being a seriously organizational powerhouse behind the Asbury Park Women’s Convention (and numerous other community endeavors), is also the ringmaster of the weekly So You Want to Be a Comedian open mics at the Anchor’s Bend. Admission to both of those Friday evening events is free of charge, although reservations are recommended at 732-229-3166 or njrep@njrep.org.

REG IS MAKIN A GLORIOUS NOISE, AT 4-DAY MUSIC FEST

REG SATANA of Defiance Engine and 19DRT (photo by Judi Hull)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), May 16, 2019

Although there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as a traditionally recommended gift for a 31st anniversary — most sources have it as somewhere between pearl and coral — that’s hardly any excuse for music fans to skip the momentous milestone occasion unfolding on the famous stage of a landmark rock bar this weekend. In fact, the official designation of the first annual Makin Waves Fest can be regarded as a Year One celebration that merits a gift of paper — namely, the legal-tender currency that allows access to one of the must-see events of the season.

The occasion is the latest birthday for the beloved baby of entertainment journalist Bob Makin — which is to say Makin Waves, the long-running, award-winning music column that appears in The Aquarian Weekly, New Jersey Stage and other Jersey-based outlets. The veteran news reporter has staked out a ringside seat for every significant development on the Shore scene throughout the past few decades; interviewing scores of music makers, promoting live shows, and in the process helping to raise many thousands of dollars for children’s charities, arts education, community food banks, and other non-profit entities.

This time out, the designated beneficiary is one that’s unabashedly close to home, as the inaugural Makin Waves Fest is a “Save the Wave” endeavor designed to help the multi-media venture “sustain itself due to a lack of revenue and funds.” To that end, Makin has partnered with a panorama of co-sponsors (including Wave Resort, BlowUpRadio.com, and Tito’s Vodka, facilitator of featured drink specials for the four-day fest) — in addition to primary host venue The Brighton Bar, the Long Branch-based outpost of the innovative and fiercely indie that carried the torch of original music, when other stages had gone dark, or surrendered to the demands of the cover-band dinosaurs and the disco ball. Under the stewardship of co-owner, public schoolteacher and seasoned punk rocker Greg Macolino, the West End wonder at 121 Brighton Avenue soldiers on into our strange new century; staying connected to its own wall-of-fame legacy, even as it nurtures another new generation of bands, off-beat comics, and other vanguard vaudevillians.

Look closer at Makin’s list of event partners and you’ll notice the banner of “Reg Satana Presents,” a name that denotes the (more or less) official entry into the band booking biz for a figure who is herself no stranger to the Brighton stage: thunderdome drummer, record label exec, pop culture authority and supermom Reg “Satana” Hogan.

“Bob suggested that I help him line up bands for the Saturday show,” explains the scene stalwart whose extensive resume includes stints with fondly recalled bands like Dimebag, Solarized, Freak Theater, and the nationally renowned Daisycutter. “I was happy to do it, since I’ve done some occasional shows at The Saint, and I’m glad to be playing it…twice!”

Reg (whose stage name pays tribute to the late great Tura Satana, one-of-a-kind star of the 1960s cinema classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) appears as a member of two distinct power trios, during the May 18 multi-band blitz that kicks off at 3 pm. The surgically jagged noise-rock incursions of Defiance Engine find the drummer teaming with her husband, bassist-vocalist Jim “Rex” Hogan (with whom she co-founded the now-legendary 1980s/90s label Heat Blast Records), as well as with guitarist Rich Walter. It should be noted that, in addition, to their string-throttling skills, the two guys in the band are ace administrators of a pair of must-view Facebook groups for likeminded fans: Rich as curator of NJ Hardcore Reunion, and Rex as all-seeing watcher over the ever-growing online community known as Noise Rock Now!

The drumminatrix returns to the driver’s seat with the more recently minted 19DRT (a semiprivate-joke reference to a person or thing being so old, that they date back to the year “19-dirt”), in which “I play ‘Sammy’ to my fellow Rat Packers, Frank (Burdynski) and Dean (Monjoy).” Flexing her promoter muscles — and tying in to the day’s theme of bands who boast a connection to the fabled history of the Brighton — Reg also brings aboard the five-piece Full On Empty (featuring Keith Ackerman of The Atomic Bitchwax) and Solace (featuring Tommy Southard and Rob Hultz of the high-profile national recording act Godspeed).

Continue reading

GARDEN STATE SONGWRITERS MAKE THE SCENE, FOR YOUR NJ-MENT

L-R: Dean Friedman, James Dalton, and Nikki Briar Shore up their local base of support, in three separate events going on Friday, March 29.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch, NJ) March 28, 2019

SOUNDS: Dean Friedman at McLoone’s Supper Club 

He stood out from the pack of earnest 1970s singer-songwriter types by staking a sonic streetcorner all his own; a place where it was perfectly permissible to name-check fast food franchises, New Jersey shopping malls, New York television stations, and such august institutions as the Saddle River Little League. His wryly  good-humored takes on contemporary life would occasionally land Dean Friedman in the midst of controversy — and that same sense of humor has always served as a “critical survival tool” to the Paramus native whose lone foray into the US Top 40 (“Ariel”) was a reference-packed romance that turned a chance meeting with a peasant-bloused, vegetarian Jewish girl (“I said Hi/ She said  Yeah, I guess I am”) at Paramus Park into the retro-catchiest pop song of 1977.

“I always had an affinity for those kind of details,” observes the composer whose descriptions of dates with the titular Ariel included onion rings at Dairy Queen, a band gig at the American Legion hall, Annette Funicello movies on TV, and a fundraiser for radio station WBAI. “They help to conjure up that time and place.”

Having performed occasionally in Asbury Park since those days — beginning with a  high profile 1977 opening set for Southside Johnny and the Jukes — Friedman makes an encore appearance at McLoone’s Supper Club this Friday night, March 29, with a set of “story songs” drawn from a 40 year recording career. Scheduled for 8 pm, the show that finds Friedman performing solo on guitar and keyboards is described as  “a deep dive” into a catalog that spans eight studio albums and more than 300 released tunes; an “atypical set list” about which the songsmith says “I figured it’s stime to give some of those overlooked songs a chance to shine…but no worries, I’ll always play the fan favorites.” Continue reading

STRICTLY BALLROOM: KEITH ROTH MARKS AN ELECTRIC ANNIVERSARY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 20 2018

“The thing about those years before the internet, is that it was so much more fun seeking out the info instead of finding it online,” observes Keith Roth of the crucial interlude that straddled the heyday of the arena-rock goliaths, and the rise of the scrappy punk bands who dared to topple the big guys to earth.

“You would read CREEM Magazine, you would see what your classmates and your older brother had in their collection…and every Friday, you went to the local Korvettes store, where they had a punk rock wall in their record department!”

“I grew up in the Bronx…I mean, the first album I bought with my own money was The Dictators Go Girl Crazy,” says the 52-year old resident of Tinton Falls, in reference to the 1975 masterpiece of cheerfully offensive outer-boroughs wrestle-punk slobrock. “And when I moved to New Jersey, I kind of assumed that everybody knew who the MC5 was!”

As it turned out, not everyone in the suburban Jersey milieu could automatically name the band who did “Kick Out the Jams” on demand. And so, the aspiring rock star and record mogul Keith Roth became a man on a self-appointed mission; a calling to elucidate, illuminate and educate his new neighbors as to the rich legacy of rock and roll music’s most frantically fertile period — that beyond-the-Beatles/ way-after-Woodstock moment when classic tour-gods traversed the skies in custom jets and landed luxury automobiles in hotel pools; when the glittering stars of “glam” gleefully pushed at every pop-culture boundary of gender roles and sexual identity; when the music’s gigantic tent simultaneously housed symphonically inclined artistes, meat-and-potatoes traditionalists, and those lords and ladies of mischief who wanted nothing more than to see that big top come crashing down.

The vehicle for Roth’s supercharged passions was The Electric Ballroom, a weekly blast of words and wax that marked its twentieth year on the air (Sunday nights on 95.9 WRAT-FM out of Lake Como) this past October — and that celebrates the milestone with a special Anniversary Party next Sunday, December 30; a ringing out of the fast-fading year that finds its brick-and-mortar Ballroom inside the all-purpose auditorium of downtown Asbury’s House of Independents.

Scheduled to get underway at 7 pm, the multi-band blast is a presentation of Pat Schiavino’s Asbury Underground brand, one that represents an expansion of the twice yearly free festival of storefront music and art (returning in January with an edition keyed to Light of Day 2019, about which more to come in this space) into the realm of special concert events. As such, it’s a showcase for Roth, his own band Frankenstein 3000, and some of his favorite regional or international acts — a chance to take stock, before sprinting ahead to the next waltz on the dance card.

“This event is going to be run pretty tightly and quickly,” observes Roth of the live show; contrasting the onstage action with the Sunday-sauce studio affair that, after all these years, “follows no format…we could have (legendary Dolemite star) Rudy Ray Moore one week, and one of the Sex Pistols the next. It’s whatever’s cool; we don’t bother with playlists…so the format is that there is no format!”

All in a night’s work for an endeavor that represented “a baptism of fire” for its host back in the late 1990s; a project in which “we did everything wrong the first night…and for our first guest, we had a vampire. An actual vampire.”

Continue reading

The Strange Case of Dr. Caspi and Mr. Jon

Older, louder, now with 30 percent more Clooney: rockological Ph.D Jon Caspi leaves the classroom for the Brighton barroom on November 19, with the official release party (w/ promised surprises) of his Pete-produced new set with the First Gun, entitled THE LITTLE ONES.

“The older I get, the louder I’m getting,” says the voice at the other end of the line. “I’m definitely bucking the trend.”

It was right there on our Facebook wall the other day — yet another of our friends and contemporaries had transitioned over to the not-so-sweet side of 50; a mortifying milestone that prompted at least one mutual acquaintance to weigh in with a reassurance to the effect of “what’s really pathetic is when you’re 50 and trying to be 25!”

It gave pause, just for a little bit, to your humble correspondent; a 50-something working-world dropout sans car/ career/ credit card who keeps “Lullaby of Broadway” hours; whose TV tastes run to the Tosh/frat/fart humor side of things — and for whom the whole middle class, NJ Transit commuter, family guy deal seems SO eight or nine lives ago by this late stage of the lopsided game.

There’s another perspective to be had on this midlife mire, however, and it’s espoused by a very smart man named Dr. Jonathan Caspi, Ph.D. — professor at Montclair State, licensed therapist, published author and internationally recognized frequent public speaker on the topics of child development and family studies.

Dr. Caspi — who you’re more likely to know as Jon Caspi, singer/songwriter, electrical guitarist, prolific indie recording artist and highly visible gigger up and down the Upper Wet Side of NJ — put it most succinctly in his (1:50) song “Fading Into Gray“: “Wake up/ it’s getting hard to even stay up/ c’mon now put on your makeup/ staying in is not OK.”

“I don’t care how old you are, if you don’t leave the four walls of your house, you don’t live,” says Caspi, who in between his dichotomic existence as educator and entertainer has somehow managed to pen two books in three years — and who, just to make you feel even more like some slackass slug, is also a husband and father of three young kids.

Adds the salt ‘n pepper haired performer who’s had some fun with his storied resemblance to George Clooney, “I get annoyed with other people telling me they’re ‘too tired’ to go out.”

Although he doesn’t stray too far from his homebase on the mean streets of Holmdel, Caspi has been known to walk that talk in recent months; appearing with his rocked-up trio The First Gun in cred-encrusted Shore rocklubs of the sort that would once have brought down a promising academic career simply by association. This Saturday, November the 19th, the professor takes it to the hallowed Home of Original Music on the Jersey Shore, when the Brighton Bar hosts a CD release sale-a-bration for his fifth(!) and latest solo album, a supercharged set known as The Little Ones.

The Good Rats Find a New NJ Nest

Veteran rock frontman (and Long Island legend) Peppi Marchello leads his 21st century edition of The Good Rats back to the Jersey Shore, with a Saturday night gig at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch.

Far be it for us to wallow in nostalgia — and it’s not wallowing in nostalgia if the object of all those nostalgic warm-and-fuzzies is still out there doing strong work, and making new memories fresh daily.

That said, allow us to wallow in nostalgia for the first Jersey Shore rock bar to let our underage ass in the door just as soon’s we could raise a scraggly little ‘stache — the long-gone Giulio’s Rock and Roll South in Asbury Park — and the first band we ever saw in a club setting, The Good Rats.

We knew then and there that we’d be destined to favor the intimacy and quirkitude of the club environment, with few exceptions, over the slow, supervised slaughter of the arena/ festival experience. Good thing, too, since most of the bands we liked couldn’t draw flies to sherbert.

We also knew then and there that we’d established and cemented a bond with the LawnGuyland-based group that’s been called variously “the world’s most famous unknown band;” “everybody’s second-favorite band;” even “the greatest rock band in the world” by one top-selling rocker. We’d already glommed onto great (and often self-released) LPs like Ratcity in Blue and Tasty thanks to some true believers on the New York radio stations, and by the time the 80s got too 80ish we managed to catch the Rats (although, sadly never to catch one of the rubber rats tossed to the crowd) countless times, all up and down the Shore, at at such long-gone haunts as the Trade Winds, Fountain Casino, FastLane and The Chatterbox.

Fronted by singer-songwriter-producer family guy Peppi Marchello since the band’s inception in the late 60’s, this tristate-area institution from way outside the glitzier precincts of the Manhattan media mechanism has seemingly been around the block twenty times and back in its 40 year history — and for a golden-age slice of the 1970s, the band’s second, “original” lineup  (Peppi, his guitarist brother Mickey Marchello, drummer Joe Franco, lead guitarist John Gatto and bassist Lenny Kottke) was forever perched on the cusp of “making it;” building and maintaining a truly phenomenal (and truly regional) following, and riding a rock rollercoaster that took them from stadium-scale shows with the likes of Springsteen, Kiss and the Dead, to scores of one-nighters performing all-original music deep inside the often hostile territory of the tri-state cover-club circuit — a rough ‘n tumble frontier once reigned o’er by carnosaurs with names like Baby Blue and Bystander.

While that classic combo continues to reunite occasionally (most recently for a multi-night April stand at BB King’s in Manhattan), Peppi Marchello continues to craft the legacy of the band for which he’s served — off and on, and in various incarnations — as founding father, lead singer, sole songwriter and designated driver since the 1960s. Now chasing 70 and “still playing in front of 20 year olds,” grandpoppa Peppi made his first Upper Wet Side appearance in a decade last March with a typically marathon gig at The Brighton Bar, to which the 2011 edition of The Good Rats  (featuring son Stefan Marchello on bass, plus guitarist Dan Ratchford, keyboard guy Dan Smeraglia and recently acquired drummer Hugo Lopez) returns on Saturday, June 18.

There were detours into productions for other artists like Fiona and Thor; a project featuring Peppi and sons Stefan and Gene, with the corny-ass name of Popsarocka! (later morphed into the Gene-fronted metal band Marchello); even an alter-ego recording made under the name DUM. And, while the double-guitar attack of the 70s Rats has been replaced by new players, new arrangements (and some fine harmony work the likes of which you’ll encounter on few local stages), Peppi Marchello’s still front and center — stalking the stage with baseball bat in hand; inviting “ladies” of the audience onstage to shake their denim’d derrieres to “Yellow Flower;” skippering the show through ballads and blitzkriegs and bagatelles via his versatile rock-radio wail — delivering in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, til debt do us part.

But the songs! Classic rock songs in the best sense; the Rats songbook is a portfolio of rare intelligence and real insight; shot through with the character skills and observational powers of a genuine writer. It was as if your favorite knucklehead radio- rock band had gobbled a whole roll of Smarties and suddenly found a way to fill in the big gaping spaces between cut-and-dried cliches like “feel like makin’ love” and “movin’ on down the highway.”

The familiar themes of busted-up relationships and the Power of Rock were addressed in grand style (“Fireball Express,” “Taking It To Detroit”), and the singer with the melodically raspy voice was secure enough in his own skin to inhabit a whole gallery of fully fleshed characters — from a violent stalker (“Reason to Kill”) to a lonely math professor (“Advertisement in the Voice”), and from a remorseful wayward son (“Poppa Poppa”) to Hitler in his final moments (“Writing the Pages”).

None of which is to suggest that it’s all “thinking man’s metal” around here. As befits a man who’s acquired a singular expertise in the business of bars (and the people who frequent them), the Marchello songbook is chock full of fun songs celebrating the awkwardness of the dating scene, favorite old movies, football, and — in “Let’s Have Another Beer” — a rousing ode to the healing powers of the hoisted mug, that may yet take its rightful place as a self-proclaimed “world anthem.”

Perhaps Marchello’s most succinct self-salute was delivered when the Good Rats were inducted into the prestigious Long Island Music Hall of Fame — an honor that placed them in the company of everyone from Blue Öyster Cult and Beverly Sills, to Public Enemy and Perry Como.

“You guys may have sold a lot more records than us,” said the good-natured Rat to his platinum-plated peers. “But we sold a lot more beers!”

We talked to Peppi Marchello in front of his previous Long Branch gig (and hung out with the band at length following that satisfying three-hour show); here’s a few snippets from that conversation…

Continue reading