BUT FIRST, I DIGRESS
It is the 13th of July. 2013 is the year. I have been back on the West Coast with my wife and new puppy for about two weeks now. I had been in NYC for two weeks, and while of course no one moves to New York for the weather, my second week back home in the city of my birth, was an example of what I miss least about Fun City. It was a week where the humidity is so fucking high that the weathermen and weatherwomen can just stay home and safely predict 50% chance of thunderstorms from the air-conditioned splendor of their tiny overpriced apartments. My Weather Channel app showed ten consecutive such days (little clouds with rain and lightning bolts coming out of them – with high temps in the mid-90s!) ahead – and that was just because it only forecasts up to ten days ahead. Yes, it was Vietnam all over again, for those who, for some reason, might miss it, or for those of us who (barely, in my case) missed it ourselves the first time.
In perfect New York symmetry, however, my second week had followed a full week of the kind of weather that you pray for once it starts hitting mid-June, and the concrete turns into an EZ-Bake Oven (ask your older sister), and you are as the dough, as the heat and humidity soar.
They say more murders are committed when it’s 92 degrees than at any other temperature – not so hot as to deter you, yet hot enough to REALLY piss you the fuck off. Just a passing NYC summertime thought!
My wife remembers there being about ten great weather days a year back home. Well, this was at least five straight. Just beautiful blue skies, low humidity, warm days, cool nights. It really set me up. Like a bowling pin. Then, that second week just knocked me right back down. Like stepping out of the apartment into a hot shower.
OK, I KNOW I HAVE COMMITTED A LITERARY-JOURNALISTIC FAUX PAS
I realize I have begun this “blog” (I still hate that word) with a digression. Maybe I should have taken English class more seriously back in high school – or at least taken college more seriously. For in my infinite lack of training in this writing racket, I have ignorantly led off with a digression. Sue me! Hey, I also failed Music. Sue me twice. This is true! Yes, a real slam bang, one-year college career I had, I tells ya!
OK, HERE WE GO – FOR REAL THIS TIME!
That first week back in town began with band rehearsals in earnest. We jumped right into preparation for our first full-on shows in a long long while. There were three shows booked for this first two-week period, with the last one being Bowery Electric in NYC, our hometown. It was gonna be three rehearsals, and three shows. Sounds simple, except these were gonna be the first three rehearsals and shows with our new guy, Steve Almaas, on bass and vocals. Steve’s great, but a new guy is a new guy, and you never actually know until you actually know, ya know? So it was, I motored on out to Brooklyn for three four-hour rehearsals, two the first week, one the second. Then, three consecutive shows – the last our first significant NYC show in 23 years!
Well, simply put, rehearsals went great! Steve fit like the proverbial glove, and we were off and running, putting together a show – well, a set at least – career encompassing, but also highlighting ELVIS CLUB, our new record. I was experiencing a brand-new, familiar old feeling! I was nervous. I admit it. NYC means: our hometown, our friends, our fans, OUR town – and we will have but a mere two shows to warm up for it. I was nervous, and I fretted, then I worried – AND repeat.
I’m gonna tell you a little something about Steve Almaas. I know a lot of you know Steve, his history, dig his music, and probably have for some time. This next part is probably not gonna be news to you – well, maybe some of it. But, to our fans and friends who might not be as familiar with Steve – here’s the skinny.
First off, Steve and I met a very long time ago, on a very memorable night. It was the 70’s – the era was that of the Punk! Steve was doin’ it to ‘em from a home base of Minneapolis, in a band called The Suicide Commandos. From the Bronx, I too was punking it up – or at least as much as we ever punked it up (not much, if you ask me) in the Dictators. The Suicide Commandos and The Dictators shared a bill in Minneapolis on the night of August 16th, 1977. Yes, the night Elvis Presley died. It was Mark The Animal who came banging on my door to tell me the news. He was freaked, as he knew I would be, as well. Mark knew I loved E! (Yet another aside: August 16th is also the death date of Robert Johnson, AND Babe Ruth!) So, the meeting and the night itself have proven indelible to say the least.
Then, it wasn’t until the 80’s that I became aware of Steve again. I remember that “BEAT RODEO” EP Steve made with Mitch Easter and Richard Barone, a really cool record that, at the time, I was surprised and confused by. That’s because by the time I heard it, Steve had already put together a band called Beat Rodeo, and was out playing. But, neither Richard Barone, nor Mitch Easter were in the band, Beat Rodeo. I did finally figure it out, though. The band was a new, and separate (from the record) entity based around Steve’s songs. Great band, too. Got it!
Then, in the 90’s, a mutual friend – a Swedish promoter/ record store owner/poet/great guy, named Ingemar Johansson told me about Steve’s solo records, and I began to check them out. I liked what I heard. Around this time, Steve had a little side operation goin’ on tending bar at this touristy Mexican restaurant in the West Village, while at the same time, I was living right up the street a bit. Sometimes I would drop in on occasion, pound back a couple, chew the fat with Steve, before heading home. Steve was like a recurring character in the sitcom that was my life at that time – I’m thinkin’ I probably provided that exact same function in his life, too.
Cut to 2012, and the band is in the midst of recording “ELVIS CLUB”, and with no steady bass player since Manny’s departure, we are using a handful of great bass players, each of which was known personally by at least one of us beforehand. Steve came down and played on “EVERYDAY”. He was supposed to play on more, but was on his way back to the Midwest to a serious family situation right after the session. Steve was understandably a little distracted, anxious, and needed to call it a day after nailing the one song.
As recording went on we found Duke. Duke was a great player, enough of a wise-ass to hang with us, and we quickly asked Duke if he wanted the permanent spot. We asked, Duke said yes. Eventually, Duke and the band came to the realization that perhaps we all jumped the gun just a bit, thought better of things and perhaps a little more realistically, too. We shook hands and Duke left.
I instantly thought of Steve. Eric and Frank agreed that talking to Steve about the job was well worth a shot. Fate played a role here, too, because that very day Steve was producing a record out at Cowboy Technical Services, Eric’s studio. Eric mentioned that Steve had said to him on more than one occasion that if things ended up not working out with Duke, he would love to give it a shot. So………….
OK, BACK TO THE FUTURE
The week of Monday, June 24th. We have had three rehearsals. They went fine, but while rehearsals are, of course, necessary, rehearsals are most certainly NOT shows. Tuesday night, the 25th of June, 2013, there is an actual show. We are booked at Drew’s house concert out in Ringwood, NJ. Haven’t heard of Ringwood? Well, don’t bother asking your GPS because three different GPS’s got three carloads of Del-Lords nice and lost on the way home. The wild goose was chased! But, Drew does have directions on his website, and THEY are recommended.
Drew’s is the most well-known house concert going in the region, as far as I know. He has had many great artists in his log cabin-vibe house out there in the Jersey woods. He can hold about 100 or so, and the “artist gets the door” is the simple enough deal. It sounds great in there, too. The setting is quite intimate. People bring food and stuff – like a party. It’s really cool. Great vibe. And, an audience of unadulterated, un-hyphenated ”serious” music fans awaits you.
LET ME STATE UNEQUIVICALLY
There will ALWAYS be something to be said for playing rock’n’roll to a standing, drinking audience. An audience ALREADY STANDING is a big leg-up for a band. It is a time honored, and most combustible combination, indeed. We have always thrived in these classic situations. We are very comfortable in them, and things usually work out well for us in that setting.
But, there is also something to be said for playing for un-hyphenated “serious” music fans, seated and sober though they may be. You get to go right back to the source of why you started playing music to begin with. It is that great joy of simply playing music – as the trappings of a “show”, as well as the idea of this being a job, all but fade in the combination of “serious” music fans, and the music itself. Serious fans demand serious music, too. It can be funny, even ridiculous, but be seriously ridiculous, not merely casually ridiculous. You can do it at a pace that is less urgent but still exciting – exciting in a different way. It’s solely about the communication. The situation breaks down the (un?)natural barrier between performer and audience. In the end, it’s ALL about the communication – and the music is how we communicate. I love it, the band thrives in this situation, too, and I want both experiences – standing/drinking vs. seated/sober – to continue. I don’t wanna choose between them. They each carry their own reward.
The show at Drew’s was a resounding success. The band was great – better than we were in any of the rehearsals. It all came together to form a clenched fist. It was no open-handed slap, I can tell you that. It sounded strong and clear, the songs sounded fully formed, Steve was locked into it all, and Frank, Eric and I were, of course, joined at the hip. Together, the future felt wide open AGAIN!
The second show was one where we had just scrambled at the last minute to find a stage that would have us. We found one in New Haven, CT, Small, awkwardly configured, no monitors, no dressing room, and very few people. It was what we call “paid rehearsal”, although the pay was slight that night, as well. Tough night but we persevered, and those in attendance seemed to like it just fine.
Thursday was Bowery Electric on the Bowery. One of the owners is Jesse Malin, an old friend and a great singer-songwriter whom you probably know. We had booked the show, even though the club was none too sure anyone would come to see us. We wondered the same thing ourselves. But, the Bowery Electric is not huge, and we thought it was the right room for us to play – to essentially re-introduce the Del-Lords to the world – well, to NYC anyway. We asked Spanking Charlene, whom I love, to open the show. Eric produces them, and occasionally sits in with them – as he did this night, too. Great band, great people. A perfect match, I thought. I think it was a couple of weeks later, or so, that the club asked us if they could add The Planets to bolster the bill and calm their own nerves a bit, perhaps. At least, that is how I remember this coming together. I got a message from Eric about adding The Planets. I was fine with it. I’ve known Binky a long time, and had seen (and loved) the band back in the early 70s a bunch of times too. So, welcome aboard Planets. But, we did want to keep our original 9PM slot. That put Spanking Charlene on at 8, us at 9, and The Planets at 10. For a lot of our audience, on a school night, being able to get home before midnight is a big plus. Half a lifetime of waking up for work on not enough sleep does eventually wear you down, as well as it wear out its own charm, as it did to most of us when we were in our twenties. So, we face the facts that more of our fans will be able to come see us if we get on and off, and have them home by midnight or so – if it’s on a weeknight. Hey, I can relate.
The show itself came and went in a blur. It was one of the best – if not THE best – show we ever played in NYC. Considering how much we felt we had riding on this one night, how we essentially had our pink slips in the pot, all on our third gig, WITH A NEW GUY, plus all the shit over which you/we have NO control, we – I dare say – killed. We really did, if I do say so myself. From the first song to the last, it just powered forward on its own momentum. I talked to the audience a lot it seemed, but even that worked out just fine. We played real well, we sang real well, and, most of all, we put across that thing, Our thing, our Cosa Nostra, that makes us us. Steve managed to effortlessly, almost unconsciously find IT, and there we all were from DRUG DEAL all the way through The Neil’s SOUTHERN PACIFIC. We even telepathically achieved actual tribal rock formation during that one – ala Neil and the Horse. Our own little homage. Then, bang, it was over. We were done. We knew we had done good. We knew we had meant every note. Nothing left in the locker room, nothing left on the playing field.
We also found out we still mean something to our friends and fans. They sure let us know. Blessed are the faithful, indeed.
And so it begins anew. We have about thirty or so shows booked so far for the rest of the year, with more being added every few days. We have a West Coast run from late September through early October, which follows some Mid-West shows, including the Americana Conference in Nashville. We are doing three nights of the CBGB Festival in NYC, and then off to Europe for a few weeks. I can honestly say that things have not only never been better, but things have never been quite this good. That seems like a good place to sign off.
BUT FIRST, I DIGRESS – the Conclusion!
…… I did finally go on – by the way – to one, and only one, year of college, where, as I already mentioned, appropriately enough, I failed music. Yes, rock’n’roll beckoned. My parents wept. I quit school, and left home to start a rock’n’roll band. I never looked back.
ONE FINAL DIGRESSION! (a coda):
I did meet Ace (Paul) Frehley in college, though. Well, in the college cafeteria, anyway, where he would hang out from morn until late afternoon when I guess he went home. I never saw him attend even one class. Paul (Ace) would show up every morning with two quarts of Colt .45 “malt liquor”. (I still don’t know what the fuck “malt liquor” is, but please, if you do, spare me this knowledge. I know I am better off without it.) Someone always had a guitar so he would play this and that – Stones, Kinks, Who, Led Zep (he taught me how to play BLACK DOG early one Monday morning), and he was a real nice guy. Funny, in his speech and in his movements. But, a nice guy.
Ok, one last digressive thought: Ace had to, and did carry me to the bathroom – three flights up!! – on the occasion of my first (of a total of two) failed attempt(s) at enjoying qualludes (we also called them sopors). I was sick as a dog. Never could handle the pill scene. Thanx again, Ace (Paul).