Archive for the ‘Rock’ Category

Kitchen Boombox Dance Party

July 23, 2008

Okay, you just read about the unexpected health benefits for your brain that dancing delivers at WTF? Random food for thought. Now here are some tunes to get you dancing, courtesy of YouTube. I love the Internets.

First, I’ve got to start with fellow St. Louisan Chuck Berry and his seminal 1958 rock & roll tune Johnny B. Goode. The oddly bad dancing by the girls on the raised platform is entertaining. The rest of the dancers are much better, and Chuck even does the duck walk for us.

Next, the Rolling Stones mix danceable with dark in perhaps my favorite song of theirs, Gimme Shelter.

A little known fact about this next song. The group’s name was originally Two Tons of Fun. But after the huge hit of It’s Raining Men, they changed their name to the Weather Girls.

Cameo gives us Word Up, another big ’80s hit. They also give us a decidedly weird music video, complete with a cameo appearance by Levar Burton as a dancing detective.

And finally, Talking Heads and Burning Down the House. We used to follow a very cool cover band in St. Louis, The Heaters. They did this song one night at the Broadway Oyster Bar and pretty much burned down the house. Later, they disavowed all knowledge of the event.

There you go. If none of these songs got you dancing, I want a note from your doctor.

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Smash it up: Punk rock Swedish style

June 25, 2008

The [International] Noise Conspiracy: Survival Sickness

For most people, when you say Swedish rock band, they say The Hives—unless, of course, they say, “Hunh?” Even Newsweek, who proclaimed them the the biggest rock band out of Sweden likened that to being the strongest person in your house. And while their punkish, garage-rock sound is a lot of fun, it turns out it’s also pre-packaged. The band claims that their songs are written by an honorary “sixth Hive”, Randy Fitzsimmons. Another version I’ve heard is that songwriter Fitzsimmons put together a band to perform his music.

For the real, radical deal, the band you need is The [International] Noise Conspiracy. Amazon named Survival Sickness one of the Best of 2000. Here’s what their reviewer S. Duda so eloquently said about the band: “The trailblazing American feminist Emma Goldman loved to say, ‘If I can’t dance, I want no part in your revolution.’ Emma Goldman would love the [International] Noise Conspiracy. Combining radical anarchist politics and punk-mod-soul sounds, the [International] Noise Conspiracy’s debut, Survival Sickness, reads like a manifesto but moves like a triple-bill featuring the Small Faces, Booker T and the MGs, and Fugazi.”

I’ve seen the band a couple of times, most notably at the legendarily cramped Fireside Bowl [which I used to call the scummiest place I ever paid money to get into and now miss terribly since it no longer has rock shows on a regular basis]. In that tiny, shabby space, it was pretty much impossible to be more than 50 feet from the stage as the band ripped through its set, charging around the postage stamp stage and sweating through their white shirts and suit coats [what is it with Swedish rock bands and dressing for success?]. The music and energy were transcendent.

And much of it was radically political. Between songs on that night in 2000, the lead singer began talking about politics. When the audience grew restless and obviously disinterested, he warned that Bush was going to be our next president. Those of us paying attention scoffed at the notion that the American public would be so stupid as to let that happen. And here we are, eight years later, with the revolutionary anger of songs like Smash It Up in the excellent music video below sounding more relevant, more necessary than ever.

I’m happy to say this all translates perfectly to this CD. There’s no escaping the radical messages, but they’re delivered in smart lyrics with a darkly energetic punk rock sound that is more a call to arms than a tedious, strident harangue. And unlike many punk bands, they exhibit plenty of musicianship and variety to keep the music interesting from beginning to end.

So if you like the Hives [and even if you’ve never heard of them], give this Swedish garage-rock/punk band a listen. This is the real thing.

A gift for you, from Nine Inch Nails

May 14, 2008

Nine Inch Nails: The Slip

Before Dolly Parton ditched duet partner and old school country star Porter Wagoner for a successful solo career, she used to be a pitch woman for Duz detergent. At some point in the commercial, she would pull a towel out of the detergent box. It was a free premium that came with the detergent, and Dolly would announce, “You cain’t buy these towels in any store. But you can get them free in boxes of Duz!”

Well, you cain’t buy the new Nine Inch Nails album The Slip in any store either. But you can download it for free at the Nine Inch Nails website. Yeah, let other bands offer up a measly song or two—this is an entire album. Ten songs, nearly 45 minutes, absolutely free. What’s more, the slip is licensed under a creative commons attribution non-commercial share alike license. And the band encourages you to “remix it, share it with your friends, post it on your blog, play it on your podcast, give it to strangers, etc.”

So that’s what I’m doing here. Just click on the album cover art or title above and you’ll be taken to the Nine Inch Nails site where you can download it. For free. No tricks. As Trent Reznor, the band’s only permanent member says, “As a thank you to our fans for your continued support, we are giving away the new Nine Inch Nails album one hundred percent free, exclusively via nin.com.”

And what do you get for free? Despite the often true old adage you get what you pay for, this is one fine album. Reznor’s hugely influential industrial rock sound comes through loud and clear on this latest album. From the opening track, the music is dark and insistent. He builds textures and layers with guitars, percussion, electronica and, on one track, an old, out-of-tune piano. One reviewer refers to some of the music as “Eraserhead industrial noise.” I can see that, especially on some of the instrumental tracks or passages. And honestly, that’s some of the stuff that intrigues me most on this disk. That said, the straightahead rock numbers rock in a most satisfying way.

There’s a thematic consistency to this album that really works—it feels of a piece. But there’s also plenty of variety, especially impressive when you consider that Reznor writes, sings, plays and produces all of the music on it. [He hires a back-up band for his tours.] Equally impressive for me, the more I listen to it, the more it works. So do yourself a favor. Download The Slip. You can’t beat the price—or the music.

More than three chords, but plenty raw.

April 2, 2008

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Old Time Relijun: Catharsis In Crisis

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A great live show does not always a great studio album make, though. I’ve been disappointed by more than my share of CDs purchased after an electrifying live performance. For some reason, producers and musicians have a real penchant for producing, polishing and tweaking the life right out of the music.

Happily, such is not the case with Catharsis In Crisis. Granted, I don’t have the live concert experience to compare it with, but the music on this disk is plenty live and raw. The corners have not been knocked off. And even though the music is multi-layered and satisfyingly complex, there is an artful artlessness to it. The basic, at times almost crude, instrumentation and over the top passionate vocals seem calculated to push the limits—and to push the listener’s buttons. What they don’t do is fade into the background. If you are listening, you are listening actively.

For comparison’s sake, YouTube comes through once again. Here’s a bit of a live performance at Bear’s Place in Bloomington, Indiana. It shows me that their live performances are a little more raw and low-fi than the album. It also shows me that I need to be getting out for more live music.

Matt compared their sound a bit to the Talking Heads—and to jam bands. I can see that. But I can also see other influences. The saxophone music in particular seems to borrow heavily from Middle Eastern music. In fact, the opening track on this album, Indestructible Life!, conjures up a Muslim call to prayer issuing forth from some minaret, both in the vocals and the sax. And occasional reverbed guitar riffs and saxophone passages sound like nothing so much as bits of incidental music in TV shows that indicate that the main character has suddenly traveled to some exotic locale.

The 14 tracks of Catharsis In Crisis take up less than 40 minutes. But you’re just getting started. Some CDs add on a bonus track or two. This disk contains an absurdly generous 26 additional tracks, more than two hours of bits and pieces of music, including several extended jams. The idea, I think, is to give you a glimpse into the process of making music. It does this beautifully. The “bonusy-stuff” as it’s called on the disk also includes a music video, a beautifully disturbing, graphic novelesque piece.

For me, Catharsis In Crisis shows me that rock still has a lot of interesting places to go. And that the next time Old Time Relijun comes to town, I need to be there.

Inventive, smart rock from CAKE. Sweet.

March 5, 2008

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CAKE: Fashion Nugget

If you visit the kitchen boombox much at all, you know it’s often Old Releases Wednesday around here. Today’s pick is no exception—but it is an exceptional disk. Since the early ’90s, CAKE [the band insists on the all caps, not me] has created inventive rock music that defies categorization and ventures all over the map stylistically, but hangs together as unmistakably CAKE.

The track Frank Sinatra is typical of CAKE’s adventurous, inventive music.

The fabulous 1996 release Fashion Nugget does this in spades. The music flows seamlessly from white boy rap to pedal steel to a cha-cha beat cover of a song originally written in Spanish in the 1940s as Quizás, Quizás, Quizás, then rerecorded in English as Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps by, among others, Doris Day. There is also a standout cover of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.

In their original tunes, the band casts a glib gimlet eye on life, love and pretense. Italian Leather Sofa beautifully tells the story of a financially successful but morally bankrupt man and woman who totally deserve each other. Here is how her ability to get what she wants is described:

She’s got a serrated edge
that she moves back and forth.
It’s such a simple machine,
she doesn’t have to use force.

Many rock and pop bands have included or worked with horn sections. CAKE’s horn section is trumpeter Vince DiFiore. His talented horn moves as effortlessly from style to style as does the rest of the music. And it is as much a part of the signature sound of CAKE as John McCrea’s vocals.

There are some albums I’ve bought for a single song. And with most albums, there’s at least a song or two you skip, every time you play it. Not this one. Anytime I pop Fashion Nugget into the boombox—or into the car’s CD player or dial it up on the iPod—I’m there for all 14 amazing songs.

Books and dogs and rock & roll

February 20, 2008

The bookish, slightly geeky and very fun Harry and the Potters play for an appreciative crowd.

You know how parents and kids rarely see eye-to-eye on music? How parents are usually the ones yelling, “Turn that [insert desired expletive here—or not] down!”? Not so much in our household. I’ve been known to ask the girls to turn it up, more often than not. And as often as not, when I’ve gotten in the car after Marion’s been driving alone, the music will be cranked when I start the engine.

Still, we’ve gone through cycles of overlap and divergence with the girls and their music. For a long time, influenced by local bands we saw when we went out, mainly in St. Louis, Marion and I gravitated to roots rock and roadhouse music. But as first Claire and then Laurel got into going out for music [which usually entailed one or both of us taking them to shows], we got exposed to garage, punk, art rock and various other iterations often involving power chords [never more than three], screaming and plentiful F-bombs. Eyes [and ears] were opened. This stuff was loud, raw and even dangerous—you know, what rock is supposed to be.

So of course, as we were really getting into this, the girls veered off into an area we couldn’t follow. I’m not sure what the technical term is, but the layman’s term is whiney singer/songwriter. You know. Rufus Wainwright. Conor Oberst. There were seriously times I would drop them at one venue for a show of nice, sensitive, introspective music and would drive to another for a screaming punk show.

Younger daughter Laurel has gotten into more rock music again, some of it pretty interesting. It’s not the primal stuff I crave [someone recently loaned me a Sonic Youth disk and, while it’s all right, it feels a little too commercial to me], but, well, interesting.

And perhaps no band she’s following is more interesting than Harry and the Potters. To get the most out of them, it helps to be a fan of the Harry Potter franchise of books and films. I’m not. But what this Boston duo—brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge—has done with it, both musically and how they choose to perform, is fun, off-center and apparently genuine. I’ll let their website tell you their story.

The idea is that the Harry Potter from Year 7 and the Harry Potter from Year 4 started a rock band. And now, no one can stop the wizard rock.

Paul and Joe are brothers. They started this band in the summer of 2002. The legendary tale of their origin goes like this:

Joe was planning to have a rock show in the shed in the backyard. People had been invited. But then all the bands cancelled. So that morning, the time was finally appropriate to bust out an idea that had been incubating in Paul’s head for some time: Harry and the Potters. That morning, over the course of an hour, Paul and Joe wrote 7 songs. Then, they went out to the shed and practiced them for half an hour. And then, later in the day, they performed them for about 6 people. It was awesome. The place went nuts.

“The place went nuts.” Six people. How can you not smile at that?

Another thing I like about them is the venues they choose to play. Libraries. Bookstores. Art galleries. Oh, and a hot dog jamboree. Which is how they made it onto the Kitchen Boombox, where they will be seen by ten men and a dog, as we like to say in the advertising business.

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A few days ago, Laurel sent me a link to the blog I am an American and I Eat Hot Dogs. She knows I write a food blog, of course. And that I like hot dogs. But why she thought I might find this particular blog interesting is that it is by one of the Harrys, brother Paul. In his blog, he reviews hot dogs eaten in his travels. Or as he puts it on his home page, “Paul chronicles the inseparable adventures of everyday life and hot dogs.”

Like the band and its music, the blog is fun and unexpected. And with the decidedly punkish performance below, Harry and the Potters just may have found another fan.

Music to go

November 21, 2007

What music gets you going when you’re driving? Makes you tend to push the speed limit on the open road? Makes you dance in your seat at stoplights? Maybe even makes you, God forbid, sing along? Join the discussion in the comments below.

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We always overpack for road trips, especially when it comes to music. And since we were flying to San Francisco before actually hitting the road, that meant cramming stacks of CDs—jazz [of course—including West Coast Jazz icon Stan Getz], classical, opera, rock, blues… And this mix CD.

I used to obsess over mix tapes for parties we’d throw, recording, erasing, rerecording until I got them just right. This CD was much more haphazard than that, thrown together last minute from our iTunes library, a spectacularly eclectic collection of music styles, tastes and sources, including music burned from our equally catholic vinyl collection.

A touch of the obsession remains, though. I bought one tune the night before we left that had to go on the disk. Had to.

So here it is, tune by tune, the first disk we popped into the rental car sound system as we left San Francisco. And it worked. When it started playing through a second time, we just let it.

1. On The Road Again, Canned Heat. This was the tune I had to buy, perhaps the ultimate road anthem by the ’60s California blues/rock band, with its harmonica-driven boogie over a drone borrowed from Eastern music for a perfect mystical touch. Not to be confused with the very different Willie Nelson hit. This YouTube video will give you a taste of their music—and of some of the dreadful psychedelic camera effects of the time.

2. Don’t Dream It’s Over, Crowded House. I don’t even remember how this ’80s tune found its way back into our consciousness this year, but its dreamy quality makes it a perfect track to follow Canned Heat.

3. Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones. Probably my favorite Stones song—nice and dark and dangerous, as much of the best rock & roll is.

4. Mystery Girl, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Sexy punk from this New York band fronted by the alternately tough and girly Karen Oh.

5. Right About Now, The Mooney Suzuki. More New York music from this reliably fun garage punk band—almost as much energy as they deliver live.

6. Rehab, Amy Winehouse. Yeah, I know—I’ll bet she wishes any of her other songs had been her breakout hit. But even if her personal life is a trainwreck, there’s no denying the power of her voice. The song is also a great example of how Brits are keeping 60s-style American soul music alive, long after our own country has turned its back on it.

7. Bang The Drum All Day, Todd Rundgren. The only decent thing Rundgren ever recorded, but it is soooo good. Whenever it comes on, we always crank the volume.

8. I Only Have Eyes For You, The Flamingos. Okay, this is the one unabashedly, uncomplicatedly romantic tune on the whole disk. We love it.

9. When The Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin. Another gift from the Brits: They gave us back blues music, yet another uniquely American art form we’d walked away from.

10. Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Bauhaus. Call them goth, glam, post-punk or whatever, this dark epic [almost 10 minutes long] would be an impressive debut for any band.

11. Breakdown, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. One critic called Petty’s debut album “tuneful jangle balanced by a tough garage swagger.” This song is what that sounds like.

12. Let’s Work Together, Canned Heat. When I was buying On The Road Again, I saw this one. I couldn’t resist.

13. Ex-Lion Tamer, Wire. I’m always a sucker for Brit punk, and these guys do it right, fast and loud. This is a track from their 1977 album Pink Flag—it blasts through 22 songs in less than 37 minutes.

14. Ecstasy, Rusted Root. More trippy hippie music, perfect for a California road trip, by way of… Pittsburgh?

15. Chains, The Cookies. Any good mix CD can always be made a little better with some ’60s girl group music.

16. Bye Bye Blackbird, Joe Cocker. Leave it to Mr. Cocker to turn a bouncy 1920s pop tune into a soulful, melancholy love song. Beautiful.

17. Sweet Dreams, Roy Buchanan. A wonderfully haunting solo guitar version of the Patsy Cline standard. We first came across it playing over the closing credits of the Scorsese film The Departed.

 

Okay, your turn. What are your favorite tunes to go? Music only, please. No talk radio, not even [and perhaps especially not] NPR.

Punk done good and LOUD

October 31, 2007

The Tyrades: Tyrades

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Bands like the Tyrades are why I wish I went to more rock shows than I do these days. Not big stadium rock events, but loud, raw shows in small venues like Empty Bottle, Metro or the much missed Fireside Bowl. Places where how close you get to the band is determined by how much you’re willing to push through the crowd. And where, even if you dutifully wear earplugs, your ears will probably ring for a few days after.

I only saw the Tyrades a handful of times—in getting ready to write this piece, I was sorry to learn that they’ve broken up—but they blew me away every single time. Their live performances were filled with the explosive energy and hint of danger that makes punk so exciting to me. Jumping, spazzing and careening around often tiny stages, they seemed perpetually ready to crash into one another or just fly apart right there in front of you.

The video below is actually made up of still photos, but it captures a lot of that explosive energy. It was shot, edited and produced by Chicago-based punk rocker and photographer Canderson.

Energy is one thing, though. The music has to deliver too. And it does. It’s been dubbed garage rock and old-school California punk. Whatever you call it, it’s what I look for these days in rock music: fast and LOUD. Short, punchy songs that get in, get out and don’t pull any punches—the nine songs on the self-titled album clock in at under 23 minutes. Lead singer Jenny reminds me a bit of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, but with any girly tendencies stripped away. The guitar, bass and drums are tight, but not so locked down that you don’t get the sense that they could veer out of control at any moment. And that’s a good thing. The album’s songs are stylistically cohesive as a group, but not repetitive—not a given in punk music. There’s real musicianship here, also not a given.

The video below suffers from the same maladies that affect most amateur concert videos: poor sound quality [particularly in Jenny’s vocals] and a single point of view, for the most part. But it’s worth watching just for getting a sense of their live performances. Including how they dispensed with the “onetwothreefour” or drumstick hits to count off songs—the bass player would just shout “Go!”

The Tyrades may not have been “Chicago’s first and only punk band” as they were dubbed by their onetime label Big Neck Records, but they came damned close to living up to that charming bit of rock hyperbole.

On the road with the Spanic Boys

October 10, 2007

The Spanic Boys: Strange World

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To hear a description of the Spanic Boys—a father and son duo from Milwaukee, two guys who have probably shopped in the husky department all their lives—does not necessarily inspire rock ‘n roll confidence. To hear them play is a whole other matter.

We saw them on Letterman back when Strange World came out in 1991. We immediately went out and bought the album. Had it been vinyl, we would have worn it out—that’s how much we played it.

But as with anything you play that much, sooner or later you stop. You start passing it by as you scan the CD rack. Then you just kind of stop seeing it. Lucky for me, Marion did see it when we took a quick road trip this weekend. We were somewhere in Indiana or Michigan when she popped it into the car’s CD slot unannounced, and this amazing music came flooding back into our lives.

It was perfect road music. Twangy guitars, tight vocal harmonies and lyrics about life, love and loss and working it out. Only not as cornball as that may or may not sound—it all felt and sounded real. Like in the song I’m All You Need, we hear someone trying to break through the walls we all build in self defense:
You’ve had to do it on your own for, oh, so many years.
I’ve come along, I did my best at beating back your fears.

For all the hints of rockabilly, the Everly Brothers and the Byrds and a bunch of other influences [and despite the fact that the disk is now 16 years old], it sounded as timely and timeless as when we’d first heard it. None of the looking back, ironically or otherwise, you get with the Stray Cats, say, or Chris Isaak.This is American roots music at its most original and best.

For a change, I seem to be on the same page as the critics. Vintage Guitar Magazine said of their music, “…as rootsy as their sound is, the Spanics are nothing if not original and contemporary.” David Wild at Rolling Stone magazine went further, saying, “Their songs are not museum pieces, they are startling, infectious pieces of contemporary rock that show just how much can be accomplished with just two voices, two guitars and a crack rhythm section.”

In case you’re wondering how a father and son teamed up to make such impressive music, their website tells the entire sometimes quirky story.

spanic-boys_sunshine.jpgFather Tom and son Ian are not exactly what you’d call prolific albumwise. Admittedly, they’d kind of fallen off our radar screens, but as we listened to them this weekend we were worried that they were no longer playing music. So I was delighted to find a brand new album at Amazon, Sunshine. From the samples I heard, it may come along on some future road trip.

By the way, you can now download entire albums or individual tracks at Amazon [individual songs from this disk are just 89¢]. Am I the last person to figure this out?

Sad days for opera and punk music

September 12, 2007

Legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti died last week. The New York Times called him “the great male operatic voice of his generation” in their thoughtful obituary. Quite simply, he set the standard for male operatic singers with his clear, ringing voice—his nickname was “King of the High Cs.”

More than that, though, he is credited with bringing opera to the masses, as some have put it. I think more accurately, he made many, many people who might not have otherwise, care about opera.

Partly he did this with a winning personality and natural charm. Partly he did it because he felt it was important to do so. Not everyone approved of how he went about it, least of all music critics. In the 1980s he began his Three Tenors projects with fellow tenors Plácido Domingo and José Carreras, a wildly successful franchise that sold millions of recordings. Later, he performed with a bewildering array of rock and pop stars—Jon Bon Jovi, Lou Reed, the Spice Girls, Barry White, Celine Dion and even the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown. It didn’t matter to critics that many of these rock performances were charity concerts—he was still seen as cheapening his talents. Of course, his rock starlike fame also brought tabloid journalists out, with tales of missed concerts, his ongoing weight loss struggles and his dietary extremes when he failed.

Many wrote him off with the kind of dismissal that the apparent “wasting” of such a great talent often inspires. I’m afraid I bought into it—well, as much as I paid attention to opera at the time.

Thinking about it now, I realize that Pavarotti’s rock star adventures and popularity were key to his bringing so many unlikely candidates to opera. He made opera approachable, made it likable, by being that himself.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to that amazing, singular voice. Without that, nothing else would have come together. As I said, by the time I got around to embracing opera [thanks largely to following Marion’s lead], I had already dismissed Pavarotti as someone who had pissed away a considerable gift. Imagine, then, how humbled I was to hear the incredible recordings that have filled the airwaves since his death. Currently on his website is a quote of his, both in Italian and English: “I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent and this is what I have devoted my life to.” It was a life beautifully spent indeed.

 

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The music world lost another great recently, although this passing occurred with much less fanfare. Hilly Kristal, the founder and owner of the legendary New York Bowery punk rock venue CBGB, died August 28 of complications of lung cancer. He was 75.

He started the club in 1973 as a country, bluegrass and blues club called CBGB & OMFUG—“Country, Bluegrass and Blues” and “Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandisers.” The name stuck but the music format didn’t. Instead, it became the birthplace and epicenter of the mid-1970s punk movement. The band Television persuaded Kristal to let them play the club and thus became the first rock band to do so. CBGB went on to serve as a launching pad for the Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, the Talking Heads and so many others.

Kristal was a folk music fan at heart and pretended not to care for some of the bands he booked, but in the New York Times’ excellent obituary, Patti Smith remembers it differently. “There was no real venue in 1973 for people like us. We didn’t fit into the cabarets or the folk clubs. Hilly wanted the people that nobody else wanted. He wanted us.”

Indeed, his musician-friendly approach to running his club served as the model for countless venues around the country. Here in Chicago, two venues that spring immediately to mind are Empty Bottle and the Fireside Bowl back when it booked all-ages shows.

In doing this, Kristal shaped rock music as much as any musician who graced his stage. Perhaps even more so. Some might say it was him being at the right place at the right time. But it was more than that. Despite his protestations, he understood that this music was important. And as a business owner, he knew that there was money to be made. Crowds poured in, drawn by punk’s irresistible energy. Record label execs soon followed. Careers and fortunes were made. Music changed.

By the time I finally made it to CBGB for the first time, it’s time had passed. They still had music every night, but the scene had moved on to other clubs. But you could still feel the energy, the history, the ghosts in this long, narrow, divey joint that had remained as resolutely scruffy as its now gentrifying Bowery neighborhood had been when it opened. And that was as it should be. Rock music needs to feel subversive and at least a little bit dangerous. So do its venues.

Thank you, Hilly. Rest in peace.

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