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January 25, 2012

THE GARY PIG GOLD REPORT, Vol. 45

BOXES FULL OF MONKEES

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If you were born anywhere between 1955 and 1960, and consequently were just a tad too young to teethe your ears upon Pet Sounds or Revolver, like me you tuned into your local NBC-TV affiliate on the evening of Sept. 12, 1966, sat transfixed for the next 30 minutes, and then told yourself, "Hey! So THAT'S what a rock 'n' roll band really lives, looks, sounds and acts like!" Eating communal Rice Krispies at the break of noon, practicing in front of the patio window every day instead of going to school or work, yet always making sure to keep too busy singing to put anybody (under the age of 25) down.

But even more importantly — and, as it turns out, much more slyly and cleverly — what Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith of The Monkees really did during their 58 half-hours on NBC was, for the very first time, bring the counter-culture boldly into the North American entertainment mainstream.

Really.

You must understand that prior to 1966, longhaired kids were only seen on television getting into no good down some dark, garbage-strewn alley. That is until Sergeant Joe Friday rounded them up while giving a stern lecture on morality into the nearest camera.

Suddenly though, here were four seemingly happy-go-lucky kids with hair over their ears and guitars over their shoulders, without any apparent "adult supervision" such as parents or bosses in sight, living for all intents and purposes the same kind of wholesome apple-pie life as those over in Mayberry or My Three Sons. Indeed, at the end of each broadcast day, Jones always got the girl, the villains always got what they deserved and the small-screen sun inevitably set to the accompaniment of yet another ultra-groovy new Harry Nilsson or Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart tune.

Which reminds me: Long before "Penny Lane" or even D.A. Pennebaker, The Monkees damn well invented MTV, too (please, try not to hold it against them).

And now, many thanks to our heroes at Eagle Rock Entertainment, you need no longer roam the nether regions of your satellite dish or settle for dicey VHS-generation YouTube uploads to hear and see what all the fuss was truly about. For once again, the entire series of Monkees shows, along with their even-seeing-isn't-quite-believing 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee television spectacular — plus a slew of Kellogg's cereal commercials just to put everything in their proper hysterical perspective — have all been lovingly packaged anew into two (count 'em!) deluxe DVD boxed sets.

Once again we can watch Nesmith trading places — and prosthetic noses — with Frank Zappa before running for mayor (and issuing forth a most somber soliloquy that seems even more relevant to today's socio-political atmosphere). We can see Tork bargaining to regain his musical soul from a metaphorically steeped record-biz Beelzebub, and Dolenz battling the evil Wizard Glick and his far-from-subliminal television brainwash machine (in an episode the fuzzy-headed Monkee, by the way, also directed).

And Jones? He gets the girl(s). And also taught Axl Rose how to dance, need I remind anyone.

It's all wacky and definitely wild throughout, you bet. But it's particularly surprising how extremely fast-paced and ingeniously edited these half-hours are — and in series two, especially, with each episode doing and saying (and showing) things on the family tube that were absolutely unseen and unheard of across the pre-Monty Python/Saturday Night Live landscape.

Plus, the music throughout is top-notch, it should go without mentioning — even the sequences where Liberace takes a sledgehammer to a grand piano.

Come 1968, though, all that was left for The Monkees was to star in the greatest rock 'n' roll film ever made (it's called Head, by the way) before paving the TV way for that Partridge Family, those Banana Splits and even their old nemesis Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. Lest we never forget Nesmith's landmark Elephant and Television Parts series as well, full of the visionary and pioneering work he continues to this very date right there on his own Videoranch.com.

But for now, you better get ready to take a giant step back. Back to the very beginning. To 7:30 p.m., Sept. 12, 1966. Disc 1, episode 1 of season 1 of The Monkees.

Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M'Lou Music label.

January 19, 2012

SONG SCRUTINY — 'EASY COME EASY GO'

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Originally a solo project for singer/songwriter/guitarist Tony Dekker, Great Lake Swimmers eventually morphed into a full-fledged band. And while the Toronto group's lineup has changed over the course of its recording career, what has stayed the same is the commitment by Dekker and company to playing acoustic instruments.

The recently released "Easy Come Easy Go," which can be found on the fifth Great Lake Swimmers album, Near Wild Everywhere (due April 3), follows a similar path. That ought to please NBC news anchor, music blogger and GLS fan Brian Williams, but how much appeal is there for those unfamiliar with the folk-flavored band?

Lyrics: The song opens with the chorus, which may or may not be poking fun at powerful multinational corporations but certainly has lines that are tailor-made for Occupy Wall Streeters to sing ("Easy come and easy go/That's what they say/When they're about to go broke/So try not to choke"). Giving the chorus (which repeats three more times) an extra boost is relative newcomer Miranda Mulholland’s harmony vocals at the end of the last line ("Put your arms around me and don't ever let go"). The verses continue with the theme of calling out individuals whose mouths and minds fail them ("Call it chance/call it choice/Words escape/on the breath of your voice").

Music/arrangement: Nettwerk Music Group, which handles the band's label, is not exaggerating when it describes "Easy Come Easy Go" as "the most upbeat and up-tempo song ever penned by Dekker" (the next closest thing, at least in terms of beats per minute, might be "Palmistry" or "She Comes to Me in Dreams," both from 2009's Lost Channels). The strum of a bright-sounding, (probably) capoed acoustic guitar kicks things off, then one by one, the rest of the band members enter and settle into a straightforward, steady groove that doesn't pause or waver. By and large it’s a team performance, with violinist Mulholland taking a few extended lead breaks that manage to keep things moving along without being too flashy.

Production: In the past, Great Lake Swimmers have used unconventional venues to record their albums (including an abandoned silo), but this time around, they mostly used Toronto's Revolution Recording studio. As a result, "Easy Come Easy Go" sounds much more compact than cavernous (and is much better suited for radio airplay).

The verdict: Crank it (figuratively speaking, that is — it certainly rocks but doesn't rawk). "Easy Come Easy Go" is an honest-to-goodness toe-tapper with solid hooks, and the instrumental earthiness only adds to its appeal.

— By Chris M. Junior

January 09, 2012

MONDAY NIGHT MAINSTAY

Liam Finn books January run at Brooklyn's Rock Shop

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"Spontaneity and danger" — that's what attracts singer/songwriter Liam Finn to doing a club residency.

Finn should be able to satisfy that performance jones during Murmation, his Monday-night residency throughout January at the Rock Shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. His basic strategy will be to mix a casual attitude and anything-goes approach with craft and creativity. That said, it's quite possible he'll perform material from his acclaimed Yep Roc solo albums I'll Be Lightning and FOMO, a few songs by his former band Betchadupa, a choice cover or two and maybe something brand new — all in the same night.

Finn checked in a few days prior to his first scheduled Rock Shop show to talk about Murmation, as well as his plans for a follow-up to FOMO and more.

Medleyville.us: Aside from developing a comfort level with the acoustics — and maybe the minimal travel involved — what appeals to you most about doing a residency?
Liam Finn: "I like the idea of creating a happening. I would like it to feel more like an informal show at a house party than a big statement: 'This is me, and these are my songs I am trying to sell you.' It gives me a chance to try stuff out that I've only touched on in previous years touring my records but something that has played a huge part in my shows. … something that holds a bit of mystery, but you can be sure it will entertain.

"By doing a residency, I can try things out, see what works, see what doesn't — and it also gives me the chance to involve some friends old and new to collaborate, whether it be rehearsed or unrehearsed. I feel like that rawness is missing a lot in today's live music, and I think people still enjoy not knowing where the hell they're being taken."

With a residency, even one that's weekly like yours, it's as though the artist is taking over a venue for a while. What kind of personal touches do you have in store for the stage and lighting at the Rock Shop?
Finn: "I guess I'll see what it needs. It's not like I have a huge budget to make this a Flaming Lips show or anything —one day, maybe. To be honest, I have so much gear to just do my one-man band system that I'm hoping that will decorate the stage sufficiently."

Will you be playing solo at the Rock Shop, or will you have a backing band with you at any of the four shows? And are the special guests already lined up, or will they be determined closer to each show?
Finn: "I will be breaking it into two sets. I'll start with a bit of 'one man' action — some stuff I've worked out, old Betchadupa songs, sneaky covers, improvised fuzz jams. And in the second half, [I'll] introduce some band members. This is the part where things should get interesting and different, but if you're a wuss and too tired on a Monday night, you can go home after the first set and be left wondering who got up to play the spoons on my backside later in the evening."

FOMO is still relatively new, but what's your timetable for making your third album? And how much unreleased or in-progress material do you expect to play at the Rock Shop?
Finn: "I have already [started] the process of writing the new record. I am still figuring out what exactly that will be, but I am excited to have my band here in New York that I have been touring FOMO with for the past year. I’ll be trying the odd new thing out, but I'm also hoping to gain a lot of new material and inspiration from what happens at these shows."

What are you touring plans for the rest of 2012?
Finn: "No touring plans as of yet. I am more interested in hunkering down in my new environment and making as much new music as I can. I have exciting plans of podcasts and a few different recording projects to embark on. I feel it's going to be a very creative year. Ultimately, I'd love to be able to do a residency the whole time — I need my fix!"

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

January 06, 2012

BRIGHT BEGINNING

Starlight Girls hit the road to support debut EP

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Is Brooklyn, N.Y., the unofficial indie-rock capital of America? It sure appears that way, with scores of musicians relocating there and/or bands coming together in the hipster borough on a regular basis.

One of the more recent groups to emerge from Brooklyn is the female/male foursome Starlight Girls (the name coming from the 1980s animated TV series Jem). Guitarist Shaw Walters and drummer/singer Karys Rhea attended the same grade school and high school in California's Marin County and became friends years later when they reconnected in New York. About a year ago, they teamed up with singer/songwriter/keyboardist Christina B., who had been working on a solo project, to form Starlight Girls, then added a bassist from Seattle known as Tyson a few months ago to round out the current lineup of the garage-rock band.

Starlight Girls literally started off 2012 with the Jan. 1 digital release of their self-titled five-song debut EP, which includes the song "Gossip" (click here to see the fun, groovy video). A vinyl version of the self-produced EP is planned for Feb. 1. Also in store for this year is a Starlight Girls single produced by Jamie Stewart of the band Xiu Xiu, plus a full-length album that Christina B. says will be "full of surprises."

Here's what the band had to say while on its current winter tour:

Medleyville.us: As you rang in 2012, were you thinking "Happy new year!" or "Happy EP release day"? And by any chance did you express both of these sentiments to the audience at your Dec. 31 gig in St. Louis?
Shaw Walters: "I was thinking, 'Holy crap, these kids know how to get down!' "
Christina B.: "We were all 'Happy new year!' and 'Woo!' "

How supportive of each other are Brooklyn-based bands? And do newer groups have to pay any dues, so to speak, before they're fully embraced by the longtime musicians and clubs?
Christina B.: "Yeah, there's a real hazing problem among Brooklyn bands (laughs)."
Walters: "It's really hard to speak for Brooklyn; there's soooo much music and so many parallel music scenes and a lot of crossover and overlap. You tend to make a lot of friends who are in bands if you're playing out a lot, and those relationships happen really naturally. Being nice and humble to every person you meet, not being a flake and making good music will, in that order, get you everything."

Describe your band's sound in five words.
Karys Rhea: " '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s."

What are the best and worst things about touring in the winter months? And has anything especially memorable or unusual happened — onstage or offstage — over the last few weeks?
Walters: "This is our first winter tour venture; the weather this year has been ridiculously nice to us. It [was] downright hot in Texas [when we were there]. I think it rained for an hour back in Illinois. Last year there were tornadoes and snowstorms in Brooklyn. When we left [for this tour], right after Christmas, you could walk around in a sweatshirt."

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Starlight Girls on tour (schedule subject to change):

* Jan. 6: Funny World — Phoenix

* Jan. 7: The Trunk Space — Phoenix

* Jan. 8: TRiP — Santa Monica, Calif.

* Jan. 9: The Kreuzberg — San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Photo by John Kester