STILL THE KING: BURGER GETS BUSY, BY NIGHT ‘N LIGHT OF DAY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 10 2019

For a self-described “working musician with a day job,” Bob Burger has always seemed a bit devil-may-care about the impact on his workaday grind, from those many long weekends, out-of-town jaunts, and late nights spent in the company of  folks who like to raise a glass and have themselves a rocking good time.

But as a special counsel in the Newark offices of the prestigious law firm McCarter & English, the Eatontown resident is all business; an award winning attorney with go-to specialties in the fields of intellectual property/ copyright law, NDAs, and software-related issues.

That same scrupulous attention to detail is evident in Burger’s myriad musical projects and live gigs, whether he’s performing in solo, duo, or combo contexts at any of a number of favorite watering holes up and down the Shore — or even jetting off across the pond with The Weeklings, that sublime salute to The Beatles co-founded by Burger with fellow paladin of the pop playbook (and original Beatlemania cast member) Glen Burtnik. And for validation, look no further than that time that Paul McCartney himself hit the dance floor to Bob’s rendition of “Back in the USSR” at a star-studded private party.

If anything, the bespectacled Burger has long stood as a “thinking man’s” version of the stereotypical Guy in the Corner with a Guitar; an impression based not so much on those signature specs (or on the fact that he was valedictorian of his class at Penn State), as it is on his very evident knowledge of and facility with a panorama of pop music styles — an encylopedic, but never dryly academic, mastery of the music that shook the world in the latter half of the last century.

“I do know a lot of songs,” says Burger in what might prove to be one of the understatements of the current millennium. “But you have to be really versatile to survive in the music business these days.”

That quality of versatility has been the special sauce that’s set apart such Burger projects as a full-length Fleetwood Mac tribute show, as well as a heartfelt homage to the One Hit Wonders that defined the 1970s — and it’s a big part of the reason that, when it came time for Max Weinberg to recruit a band for his crowd-pleasingly interactive Jukebox live shows, he called upon Burger and his Weekling mates Burtnik and John Merjave.

Max Weinberg’s Jukebox plays Schenectady, NY this Friday, January 11, as one of the affiliated events in Light of Day XIX Winterfest, the  annual slate of benefit concerts for Parkinson’s Disease research that has burst the borders of its Jersey origins; expanding into satellite events at venues in NYC, Philadelphia and other North American cities, as well as several well-received whistlestops in Australia and Europe. On Saturday the 12th, The Weeklings reconvene for a set of Beatles deep cuts and inner grooves (as well as some celebrated Burtnik/ Burger-penned originals) in another Light of Day barnstormer, this time at the World Cafe in Philly.

Then on Sunday, January 13, Bob Burger switches fab gears once more, as he returns to Asbury Park to perform the music of Tom Petty in a special Light of Day “Cover Me” program at the Stone Pony.

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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.”

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A HAPPENIN’ HALLO-WEEK, IN AND AROUND ASCARY PARK

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, October 25 2018

Let other towns lay claim to being the area’s capital of Christmas cheer; home to the longest running St. Patrick’s Day celebration; scene of the most star-spangled July Fourth display. With dozens of venues in which to dance the witching hour away — and plenty of world renowned boardwalk and boulevards on which to strut one’s carefully costumed stuff — Asbury Park has a lock on the days and nights leading up to the Eve of All Hallows, making the seaside city that so famously “came back from the dead” the undisputed headquarters of Halloween festivity.

It’s an interlude that sounds an early-October keynote with the Asbury Park Zombie Walk, the annual lurch previewed in these pages a few weeks back. And in between there are events like this past Saturday’s Haunted Carousel Dance Party, the gala-ghoul benefit for local charities from which images can be seen at ahauntedcarousel.com. But from the moment the sun goes down tonight, October 25 — and on through the moment the clock strikes midnight on November 1, the Day of the Dead — both the legendary haunted landmarks and the shiny new haunts of the greater Asbury area are where the sights, the sounds, and the seriously fun cosplay can be found.

CONCERTS

On the Asbury boards, the major concert event in the season of the witch is Convention Hell — and in this year’s edition of the Hall-rocking happening, the venerable venue welcomes the jam-circuit juggernaut Pink Talking Fish, a band that — as the name implies — triangulates a tribute to the collected works of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and Phish. On Saturday night, the four-piece group and friends will be saluting Floyd’s epic album Dark Side of the Moon in sound and light — and joining in the spirit of dress-up fun are three local favorites portraying acts who appeared at Convention Hall in summers past: Wild Adriatic (as Led Zeppelin), Waiting For Mongo (as James Brown and his Famous Flames), and The Burns (as Jim Morrison and The Doors). Doors open at 7 pm, with tickets ($20 advance; $25 d.o.s.)  at the box office or via apboardwalk.com.

While the Convention Hell show is open only to concertgoers age 21 and up, fans of all ages can take it over to the headquarters of the Asbury Park Music Foundation (in the Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue) on Saturday night, where from 7 to 11 pm the annual Diamond Concerts Halloween Show presents a bill headlined by the up-and-coming Brick Township-based band The Ones You Forgot. Continue reading

SEA.HEAR.NOW MUSIC/ART/SURF FEST PUSHES THE SUMMER ENVELOPE

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, September 27 2018

If you somehow thought that the season of the top-down, open-air entertainment event ended when the calendar flipped to Fall…if you assumed that the era of sprawling music festivals was a thing of the past here in a bustling, busy, ever-evolving Asbury Park…and if you’re adamant that parents and teens would NEVER share a minivan ride to the same destination concert attraction, then “See here now, buddy” — a certain Music, Art and Surf Festival is primed to prove you wrong on all counts.

Going up this Saturday and Sunday on three outdoor stages (two by the sea; one beneath the watchful gaze of the Founder’s statue in Bradley Park), as well as the northern stretch of Asbury Park’s boardwalk and the September swells of the Atlantic Ocean, the inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival aims to summon a level of excitement that evokes the WNEW beach concerts of decades past, or the Warped Tours and the Bamboozles of more recent memory — in a way that’s a lot more in sync with the community, a lick less crazy/crowded, and in the words of co-producer Danny Clinch, “a little more family.”

“Family” in this case is an acknowledgment of the generation that grew up on those legendary festivals, and a nod to the fact that many of these young old-timers are still dedicated concertgoers, even as the next generation stakes out some sonic turf of its own. With an eclectic bill headlined by pro surfer turned soft rocker Jack Johnson, and emo-ey California alt-rockers Incubus, it’s a rain-or-shine affair that spotlights a sampling of some of the Asbury area’s standout performers (including Neptune City-to-Nashville native Nicole Atkins), alongside veterans like Blondie (still a great live act, thanks to the core of Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and super drummer Clem Burke) and Social Distortion — and, as Clinch touts it, such hyper-currently hot bands as Highly Suspect and The Menzingers.

For Clinch — the photographer, artist and blues harpist whose images of Bruce Springsteen, Tupac and other music legends have shown a deeply rooted affinity for the American creative spirit — the ambitious event represents an increased commitment to Asbury Park that exploded in recent seasons with the opening of his Transparent Gallery; the exhibit space (and merch/music shop, and intimate venue for small-room concerts, book signings, lectures, or what-have-you) that beckons from the Kingsley Street side of the Asbury Hotel.

It’s also a major expansion of the Sea.Hear.Now brand for Danny and his local producing partner Tim Donnelly, whose previous presentations in Asbury Park included a smaller-scale surf-centric event in 2011, as well as a 2012 followup that took place a week before an even bigger event named Sandy (the pair also produced a post-Sandy “On the Beach” benefit at the Paramount, headlined by My Morning Jacket). For this weekend’s festivities, Clinch and Donnelly joined forces with C3 Presents, the Texas-based nationwide promoter whose major endeavors have included the Austin City Limits Festival and Lollapalooza.

“We’ve made a lot of friends in the industry, and we got to the point where we thought that we could produce something really special for Asbury Park,” says Clinch. “The city really embraced it, too…we’re coming in with a specifically curated rock and roll event that’s a good manageable size, and we’ve worked very well together with Mayor Moor and his crew.”

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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

THE SUMMER OF TUNES STARTS NOW!

Adam Ant makes a not-at-all-desperate and very-much-indeed serious July 21 stop on his summer Singles tour; just one of many high-profile happenings at Asbury Park’s venerable venue the Paramount Theatre.

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, May 24 2018

From the days of Arthur Pryor’s long-running seaside serenades, to the syncopated incubations of the legendary Springwood Avenue nightspots…and from those amplified guitarslingers who plugged into the Circuit during its 1960s-70s heyday, to the new generations of dreamers who seek their fortunes on our boardwalk, boulevards, barrooms and bowling alleys…Asbury Park has long been that unique little town that comes equipped with a soundtrack.

Granted, it’s a pulsebeat that emanates year-‘round from venues located throughout the downtown and waterfront…but the coming of summer turns up the volume and ups the ante on all that, as open-air bandstands, festival stages, and suitably flat surfaces transform parks, plazas, and prime portions of beachfront real estate into vehicles for musicians of all stylistic stripes to do their thing. It all begins in earnest this Memorial Day weekend…so here’s to every maker of sweet sounds who ever turned their sandcastle dreams into concrete reality in this city of summers (plus every awesome out-of-towner who ever made Asbury Park a must-play whistlestop on the never-ending tour), and here’s a round-up preview of all the sounds coming your way. Continue reading

MEET…AND GREET…THE WEEKLINGS

L-R: John “Rocky Weekling” Merjave, Glen “Lefty Weekling” Burtnik, Joe “Smokestack Weekling” Bellio and Bob “Zeek Weekling” Burger ARE The Weeklings, kicking off a Summer of (Labors of) Love with a Friday night show at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.

Expanded from an article published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, May 17 2018

To dispense with the walrus in the room, right from the get-go: The Weeklings are nobody’s “Beatlemania” act. Their brand has nothing to do with brushing/ pressing/ shining their wigs and suits and boots — and everything to do with channeling the musically adventurous spirit of the original Fab Four. Their sonic signature isn’t so much a “greatest hits” gurgitation, but an exploration of the intriguing “inner groove” between the best-known works of Lennon and McCartney. And their canvas isn’t the county fair circuit, but the bigger wider world that extends from the premier clubs of Asbury Park, to the biggest international fan fests, symphony stages, and even the sacred soundboards of the one and only Abbey Road Studios.

Besides, when it comes to Beatle-booted bona fides, the Weeklings’ co-frontman Glen Burtnik has been there first, and done that finest; having played countless performances as Paul McCartney in the original Broadway production of Beatlemania. It’s a credit that the gold record recipient singer-songwriter-guitarist, who performs under the stage name Lefty Weekling, might be able to hold over his bandmate Bob (“Zeek Weekling”) Burger — were it not for the fact that attorney-by-day Bob can boast of having shared the stage with Sir Paul himself (as well as Jon Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters) during a very memorable impromptu concert in 2007.

Having collaborated in years past on various tribute projects — and on several original songs that Burtnik brought to his two tenures in the platinum-plated classic rock band Styx — the two members in good standing of the Shore music scene entered into an official musical marriage in 2015; the same year that Glen married Christina Shafer on the stage of Asbury’s Paramount Theater in the middle of a marathon “Love Concert” benefit show (the newly minted spouses reportedly “walked the boardwalk in their suit and gown, and got boardwalk food” following the very public ceremony).

Completing their fab foursome with the addition of rhythm section aces John “Rocky Weekling” Merjave and Joe “Smokestack Weekling” Bellia — all veterans of Burtnik-organized Beatle Bash events at New Brunswick’s State Theater — the guys made their debut in a novel setting: performing on a moving trailer during the Asbury Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade. From there, the road would find the enthusiastic young band of seasoned cats appearing everywhere from outdoor summer freebies, to venerable theater-sized venues, to the Abbey Road on the River Festival in Jeffersonville, Indiana — an annual high-profile “Beatles-inspired five day music festival” to which the Weeklings return once more on May 25.

The injection of original material into the Beatle-centric repertoire is a big part of what sets The Weeklings apart from the pack — that, and the fact that the band’s core mission was to explore the largely uncharted territory beyond the more obvious signature songs of John, Paul and George; both the “songs they gave away” to other artists, and the “lost” compositions that they never got around to recording in the first place.

Along the way, the savvy songsmiths deduced that theirs was an ideal framework in which to cultivate a set of new (or newly re-imagined) originals; this in a music-biz landscape that isn’t always accommodating to songwriterly singers — even one like Burtnik,

Before all that, however, the brothers Weekling play one for the hometown fans, when they take it topside to Tim McLoone’s Supper Club this Friday, May 18. Scheduled for 8:15 pm, it’s a classy affair — complete with VIP meet-and-greet option — that’s being pitched by Lefty as something of a summer kickoff event. And what a summer it promises to be, too; one that, among many other things,  finds the core four backed by the Nashville Symphony at that city’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center on July 22 (they’ll also be playing for fabulously FREE in the Downtown Freehold music series on June 7, and at Sayreville’s Independence Day celebration on June 30).

And then there’s The Orchestra, the tirelessly touring juggernaut assembled by Electric Light Orchestra violinist Mik Kaminski, and dedicated to lushly live recreations of classic ELO hits. Burtnik sees a lot of the world as bass player and co-lead vocalist of the big band — that is, when he’s not performing as a member of the Weeklings, the Beatles tribute Liverpool, or with Burger and Merjave in Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, the fun E Street sidebar that hitches up to the Stone Pony on June 16.

While he understandably spends a good deal of his year in have-guitar-will-travel mode, the composer (whose most recent drops include the Weeklings single “In the Moment,” and the band’s full lengther Live at Daryl’s House Club, Volume 1) brings it on home these days to Asbury Park; the musically minded town to which the celebrated and self-styled “Slave of New Brunswick” relocated about a decade ago.

Of course, it’s all in a hard day’s night for the rhythm ringmaster, whose catalog includes the chart-topping “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” (a Grammy-nominated record by Patty Smyth and Don Henley), the Randy Travis country hit “Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man,” the regional breakout “Here Comes Sally” (introduced by Burtnik as a member of Richie Rosenberg’s big-band brouhaha La Bamba and the Hubcaps), and the top-ten Styx hit “Love is the Ritual.”  And who, on May 6, returned to the Paramount stage for the fourth time as musical director of the annual New Jersey Hall of Fame Gala — an awesomely star-studded occasion that found Burtnik breathing the same air as Bruce, Steven, moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, NASA twins Mark and Scott Kelly, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Whoopi Goldberg, Debbie Harry, Gloria Gaynor, Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, and our own Village Person Felipe Rose.

Your upperWETside Control Voice managed to get marvelously musical moving-target Glen Burtnik to sit still for a few Q’s ‘n A’s, on the eve of what promises to be another Summer of (Labors of) Love. Here’s how THAT played out…

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Asbury Park’s a Candy Store of M&M (Music & Movies) during APMFF

Danny De Vito’s at the center of an Asbury Park Music and Film Festival weekend that also brings to town such luminaries as (clockwise from top left) Sublime with Rome, Michael Front  Wyclef Jean, and John Densmore of The Doors.

Published in The Coaster, April 26 2018

It’s another multi-day convergence of sights/ sounds/ scenemaking in a town that’s never been shy about hosting them — from Lollapalooza, Skate & Surf and ATP, to this fall’s much-anticipated inaugural edition of See.Hear.Now. But if the weekend wingding known as the Asbury Park Music & Film Festival truly distinguishes itself from the pack, it’s in the variety of vaudevilles and venues involved; in the commitment to its concept and mission — and in the fact that it keeps itself equally grounded on the hometown turf, as well as the greater entertainment universe beyond.

Now in its fourth annual edition, the ever-evolving keynote to the pre-summer season commandeers the city’s concert halls, hotels, and Circuit landmark nightspots for an a-la-carte experience that runs between Friday, April 27 and Sunday, April 29. And you’re not imagining things if you recall that the event was originally branded the Music IN Film Festival — a name that ties in to the festival’s founding as one which “explores the role of music in film,” with a core mission “to benefit underserved youth in Asbury Park.”

That mission is accomplished through funding raised for the programs of the Asbury Park Music Foundation, the education-oriented nonprofit that relocated recently to the expanded Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue. Proceeds from the Music & Film Fest benefit the APMF’s partnerships with such city-based entities as the Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County and Hope Academy Charter School — a range of activities that introduce kids to a love of music through its playing, its recording, and its rich local legacy.

Established in 2015 by then-APMF executive director (and drummer for the alterna-pop band Dentist) Matt Hockenjos, these days the festival is guided by principals that include Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, Grammy nominated photographer-filmmaker Danny Clinch, and Asbury Park Press publisher Tom Donovan. The board of directors, an august group of music biz pros, filmmakers and philanthropists, boasts such names as the Grammy Museum’s Bob Santelli, Batman franchise producer Michael Uslan, and NJ Devils great Jim Dowd.

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