Monthly Archives: November 2011

Worcester Shows for Thanksgiving 2011

This is an article I wrote for Worcester Magazine’s 11/17/2011 edition with additions made after deadline and right up until the shows.


The holidays are a great time for reuniting with friends and family, and Thanksgiving is the king of them all. Widely considered the best club weekend of the year, bands and owners look forward to packed houses and reconnecting with old friends. What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of area shows (see Worcester Magazine’s club listings), but a sampling that suggests the range of opportunities.

Thanksgiving weekend is a great opportunity for both artists, owners, and music fans, as so many venues – from palatial rock halls to humble neighborhood watering holes – feature live music.

Thanksgiving Eve

Helen Beaumont, Worcester’s gospel-influenced, modern-day Patsy Cline, sees Thanksgiving Eve as the perfect occasion for a good show. “Thanksgiving Eve is such a great night – because people travel home to visit their friends and families, and Thanksgiving day is usually spent with your close family – so the night before is for fun with your friends.” She also sees it as a time for “benefiting others on a day we are thankful for.”
Helen and fellow roots stylist James Keyes have teamed up to bring what might be the banner event in Worcester on this Thanksgiving Eve, a two-stage event (with overlapping 1-hour sets starting every 30 minutes) at Kelley Square’s Hotel Vernon, featuring bands and artists. Called the 2nd Annual Festival of Sight and Sound, the $7 show ($5 if you bring a canned or non-perishable canned good) includes several local powerhouses, like Whalebone Farmhouse (reunited with longtime vocalist Keri Anderson); Helen’s traditional Americana band, Farmer’s Union Players; the “neo-traditionalist punk” of James Keyes’ The Numbskulls; and Stu Esty’s Leon Russell-meets-Tom Waits, Roadkill Orchestra, among others; and, from Maine, The Mallett Brothers, who Helen assures “with their banjos and great sound…will be a new sound to the elements of the night for Worcester people.” In addition to a night of music, local artists Scott Holloway, Annie Libertini, and Rose LeBeau, will display their art.
For those with a flavor for Phish and a good-time jam, Mocha Java, who’ve re-emerged in recent years on the Worcester scene, play at Worcester’s new home for jam bands, Beatnik’s, on Park Avenue. This four-piece are sure to take their high-energy approach to the stratosphere on at least a few numbers, and it should be a great opportunity for the dancers in town.
Save the money for Guns ‘n’ Roses tickets for the DCU and, instead, check out Worcester’s “’80s glam slam kings,” Mullethead, who celebrate the raunch and roll of the Sunset Strip’s unabashed libido and all things ‘80s hard rock, from 8:00-2:00, at the Lucky Dog Music Hall, on Green Street.
If you like things wild, wild wild, but maybe from a different era, Jerkus Circus (an offshoot of The Steamy Bohemians, featuring local chanteuse, Niki Luperelli) will perform a “Spanksgiving” show, of the “neo-Vaudeville” musical improv cabaret stage act that they’ve performed throughout the northeast, at Ralph’s from 9:00-2:00.

If you like something more laid-back, a little less edgy, “Human Jukebox” Andy Cummings will strum his Guild and provide the smoky vocals for the Swingabilly Lounge at the quaint Nick’s, on Millbury Street, starting at 9:00.
Dig jazz? Then check out Three Works, led by local 7-string jazz guitarist Charles Ketter, backed by Jim Allard, on sax and flute, and George Dellomo, on drums, as they play “jazz-inspired Motown” at Sahara, on Highland Street, from 10:00-1:00.

If you like hip-hop and Wu Tang Clan, stop by The Raven, on Pleasant Street, in Worcester, for the “dubstep/hipstep” stylings of Elijah Devine, whose “Divine Intervention” LP-release northeast tour stops in Worcester, with support acts Dizzy Disasta, Tom Brown, Billy Gunna, and DJ’s Yohon Di and Treeman.

Huck will play acoustic power pop, featuring tunes from throughout their long, multi-CD history, from 9-close at Vincent’s, on Suffolk St., in Worcester, as a warm-up to their set on Saturday at Ralph’s, a 50th birthday bash for soundman Steve Merrow, during which they have decided to perform their 2002 CD “Motorbike Fire Lovesong in its entirety.

Thanksgiving Night

Your holidays are the musicians’ working dates and so the music making continues on Thanksgiving night, with several theme acts. Flock of Assholes plays its weekly show of the best pop of the ‘80s on its home turf at the Lucky Dog Music Hall, on Green Street (and again on Friday night at Jillian’s, on Grove Street). Meanwhile, The Gardner Ale House, on Parker Street, in Gardner, hosts Audio Wasabi, an aggregate of musicians who come together each week with a different musical theme.

If acoustic music is your thing, then there are a few offerings, both in and out of town. For singer-songwriter, vocal based tunes, there’s Jay Graham (of Soulstice, Craig, and Arthur Dent Foundation) playing his weekly solo acoustic slot at Funky Murphy’s, on Shrewsbury Street, from 9:30-1:30; and Sam James playing his acoustic tunes on Belmont Street, in Northborough, at the Celtic Tavern, 8:00-1:00.

For another type of acoustic show, check out Chris Reddy’s “acoustic loops from hell,” which features complex original songs layered live with a digital delay, at The Mill, on West Boylston Street, in West Boylston.

Local drummer and impresario, Duncan Arsenault, always provides a night of great music in his rotating weekly lineup at The Dive Bar, on Green Street, in Worcester, whether it’s rootsy acoustic originals or covers, soul, or hill country blues.

The Weekend

On Friday, head over to Nick’s for a reuben and some rockabilly with Worcester’s Leon Redbone-esque, pre-war songsmith, Clayton Willoughby and his Claytones, from 9:00-2:00.

And on Saturday, Worcester’s “Home of the Blues,” Gilrein’s, on Main Street, hosts a great blues fundraiser for community radio station WCUW, from 8:00-1:00, with Shakey Jake and the Blue Vibrations, Charley Dee and The Blues Doctrine, Shakey Ground with Rick Percuoco, and an All Star Jam to close the show (plus a buffet and 50/50 raffle). ($10 minimum donation)

If you live north of the city, head over to Athol and Twohey’s Tavern at the King Phillip Restaurant, on State Rd, to hear acoustic tunes by longtime area musician (of Beatles for Sale fame) Dan Kirouac, with bassist Al Dusoe.
Critical darlings, Little Big Wheel, bring their rootsy, multi-genre barroom rock to Sahara Restaurant, on Highland Street, 10:00-1:20.

And what better way to wrap up this reunion weekend than with a big homecoming show by Boston’s up and comers, The Wanda’s, to close the loop on their northeast mini-tour in support of their alternative-pop, critically acclaimed self-titled CD, at Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner, on Grove Street, Worcester, with support acts, Radio America, Aloud, and Blackboard Nails, 9:00-2:00.

As you can see, there are a lot of shows to choose from, and more than a few reasons to give thanks this Thanksgiving. So, pick one or two, grab some friends, and get out on the scene!


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XM: No Static at All

Matt Robert

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

In August, on a 110-degree afternoon in Scottsdale, Arizona, I trudged across a vast parking lot, wading through the thick air, feeling the immense heat radiating from the barren black parking lot of the Hertz Rent-a-Car, and over to the gleaming silver 2010 Chrysler Town and Country van in which I would log well over 1,000 miles during the next two weeks.

            The first thing I noticed was the hellish temperature that met me upon entering the hermetically sealed, exposed van, and the second, a moment later, was the Christian talk show emanating from the radio.

If I hadn’t recognized it before, it was plain now: I really was in Arizona.

My first concern was the radio, and I dealt with it swiftly, scrolling off the Christian Network to something – anything – more suitable. First, I discovered a CD left behind by a previous renter, or an employee, a disc of near-hilarious, vapid R’n’B/Rap that provided much comic relief during the trip, a “chill” slow jam-type with a lot of “baby, now that we’re down, let’s get down and do each other, baby, the way we do, baby” kind of stuff. A moment later, more importantly, I discovered that the car was outfitted with Sirius/XM satellite radio.

            I wasn’t so much excited as intrigued. I had seen and heard ads about satellite radio for years, and I had followed some online threads in which users often squealed with delight over the range and quality of programming, and the reliable reception.

On the maiden voyage, a ten-to-fifteen-minute drive from the Scottsdale Airport to my sister-in-law’s condo, I scanned the available stations and familiarized myself with the radio’s functions. I quickly located well known stations like E Street Radio (24/7 Bruce Springsteen), Grateful Dead Radio (24/7 Dead), Radio Margaritaville (24/7 Jimmy Buffet), The Coffee House (24/7 light acoustic adult contemporary rock), Hair Nation (24/7 ‘80s glam metal), Deep Cuts (24/7 album-oriented rock), stations devoted to each decade of the twentieth century, NPR, BBC, Comedy, MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA, Oprah (Oprah!), Howard Stern (yuk!) and on and on. There are, of course, stations for just about every category and sub-category you can think of. (And even a Willie Nelson channel!)

            Sirius’s motto that “everything worth listening to is on Sirius” seems genuine enough when you first glimpse the lengthy channel listing. But that motto notwithstanding, I don’t see myself subscribing to Sirius anytime soon.

            It all started off well. Within minutes of leaving the parking lot I had located Deep Cuts and was listening to Hendrix’ Band of Gypsies’ recording “Who Knows,” sufficiently impressed by a cut that it seemed even classic-rock-format FM stations wouldn’t touch. Then – being a Deadhead since my early teens in the early ‘80s – and unable to resist, I dialed up Grateful Dead Radio and listened to a couple of live cuts culled from some show of a bygone era, a stunning soundboard right from the Grateful Dead vault.

This satellite stuff could be interesting, I thought.

            My kids caught the bug, too, once they discovered this new toy, and petitioned me to locate a top-40 channel, where they heard a playlist nearly identical to the top-40 FM station back in Central Massachusetts and its sister FM station right here in Arizona. (We also found it in Californiaa few days later.) They were happy and, in consolation, I thought, at least there aren’t any commercials.

            My wife liked The Coffee House, an endless parade of acoustic mainstream pop, which sounded, after a while, like one continuous banal song by Jack Johnson, John Mayer, or Norah Jones.

            Personally I took the opportunity more as reconnaissance than entertainment, exploring what the system offered and how. Skipping talk, sports, and religious radio altogether, I extensively sampled three or four stations. I’m a lifelong listener to Bruce Springsteen with the distinction that I’ve never been an ardent fan, but having recently read a Greil Marcus book about punk rock, in which he liberally praised Bruce (don’t worry, he never confused him with the punk movement), I felt my curiosity piqued. I heard lots of Bruce’s great material, but also a lot of second-rate bootleg tracks, with DJ banter to make the selections intelligible. The worst of it was when one self-indulgent DJ showed his true Bruce stripes by playing audio of him singing “Jersey Girl” with a wedding band at his own wedding. It was horrendous, about the quality of a karaoke performance.

            Some might say that, if I were a real fan, I’d have really dug all that deep Bruce material. To that I’d respond that I’m a huge Grateful Dead fan. I’ve collected thousands of bootleg tapes, LPs, CDs and MP3s over three decades, attended dozens of Dead, Garcia, Bob Weir, and Further concerts (and even Dead On, a band that recreates their albums note for note), and read several books about them. I’ve even performed an array of their songs in bands over the past decades.

I’m a big fan, okay?

Well, even the Dead channel grew tiring pretty fast. I initially enjoyed the high quality sound of the live cuts (especially when the highlights of a live show were strung together each day to provide a near-complete show) and the radio display that named the song, the date, and the venue, so that I could locate a copy of any promising show.

Less enjoyable were any but the most obscure album tracks. Why? Not because of the common misconception among non-heads that the Dead make bad albums, but the simple fact that every Deadhead has heard these tracks enough times already. In fact, most of the Dead’s official releases were long ago deleted from my MP3 player to make room for more live stuff. But because Grateful Dead Radio needs to attract the casual fan as well as the diehard, they play a lot of greatest hits cuts. After hearing the studio take of “Friend of the Devil” ten times over a few days, I had to bail out.

On the other hand, a few obscure cuts, like Keith Godchaux’s “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away,” from 1973’s Wake of the Flood had me reconsidering a once maligned tune with new ears.

Even love, though, has its limits. On the six- or seven-hour drive across mountains and desert from San Diego to Scottsdale – mostly solo, because we traveled at night, and my family slept in the back – I listened to a long, uninterrupted run of Grateful Dead (actually Grateful Dead, Garcia Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Bobby and the Midnites, Further – well, you get the idea), and enjoyed a few surprising album tracks and a handful of inspired live cuts, but, unfortunately, no spirited or informed DJ banter. And after some time, it all grew stale and I couldn’t hear it anymore. I had to turn it off.

See, though I have deep feelings for a number of bands and artists, I’m not one to listen continuously to any one artist or band. I guess I suffer from a form of audio A.D.D. and need to mix things up. I listen to whole CDs, and even entire shows by an artist, but I can’t listen to a radio station whose playlist is limited to one artist or genre. I just can’t.

And this is what leads me to my biggest complaint about satellite radio. In an industry that continues to design its programming according to marketing, and not musical, tenets, even FM radio has become too restrictive for me. Gone is the late ‘60s ethos of variety as the spice of life, when a bill at the Fillmore might include acid jazz, funk, blues, soul, or folk, and pioneer stations likeBoston’s WBCN, who followed Hendrix with Beethoven. FM radio has instead modified the format to attract a slim demographic – all the easier to cater advertising to. XM, which would seem immune to this impulse, because it has no ads (instead it charges subscription rates from about $13 to $17 per month, if you already own the radio), nevertheless squeezes the niche to its narrowest proportions.

So, as the weeks wore on, I grew really tired of satellite radio, finding it harder and harder to dial in any variety, except by constantly changing stations, which we did. In general, though, my wife and kids’ tastes were so specific that each delighted in one very narrow station or another, so we simply took turns, until the others in the car couldn’t take the monotony any longer and we’d dial in another station for awhile. Eventually, we simply switched over to FM and tried to locate something else altogether. I found that the mainstream southwestern stations featured near identical playlists to the ones my kids listened to at home (making them happy and me upset), but, if I searched long enough (much like we did to find locally owned restaurants when on the highway), I might find an AM station with some local flavor, and I’d dig that for a time.

So, at the end of our two weeks I took the solo ride back to the local airport’s car rental store and had my last listen to XM Radio. I pulled into the same sere asphalt lot, and into the very space I had left two weeks earlier. I turned off the radio, clicked the ignition and exited the car for the last time.

And I have never heard XM Radio since.

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The Insistence of Memory

This is an essay I wrote after an episode I witnessed near Washington Square Park, in New York City, on Columbus Day weekend 2007 with my wife and another couple that included a wirter friend of mine. He and I had decided that we would each write our perspective of the event, and then we’d somehow pair them for publication. That never happened. Here, anyway, is my take on the incident. 

“Memory itself is an internal rumour.” – George Santayana

“Every man’s memory is his private literature.” – Aldous Huxley

Walking the streets of New York Cityon a perfect autumn Saturday midday, we glide past shop windows. Thousands of every demographic shop, jog, and ride, darting about like microscopic life. Contentedly bored, we spare moments to wonder where a fellow being is headed. We discuss dinner plans, or a parched throat, or the success of a shop’s window dressings.

Then, all heads within fifty feet snap to a single focal point. The moment passes before the eyes can lock, but memory stores the image: Yellow cab, hood pressed to the ground as brakes are stomped to the floor; cyclist hurled onto the hood and thrown hard to the pavement; twin faces – the cab’s driver and passenger – reared forward, eyes and mouths agape; bicycle punished, tossed aside, bent into scrap metal.

Then, sound, and dizzying activity, all centered on the incident. A thousand to-do lists scrapped. Mental triage: this matter takes precedent. Everybody takes a role; everybody inches closer to the action. A middle-aged man in a tank top pushes voyeurs aside, shouting: “I’m a first responder. Out of the way! I’m a first responder.” Onlookers bemoan the incident, like a Greek chorus, making a refrain of their sorrow and concern. A female vigilante in Che’ Guevara drabs – bottle black hair pulled back, silver piercings on eyelid and lip, a solid blue tattoo over the entire forearm – leaps from her bike with purpose, marches through the crowd, and silently positions herself against the cab’s hood, where she remains for the duration. Another – a Florence Nightingale – moves to the side of the now wailing cab passenger, who expresses guilt about her proximity to the event. Anonymous voices shout instructions from the outer circle, like at a boxing match.

“Don’t move him, don’t move him.”

“Get that Cabbie’s number.”

“Yeah, don’t let him leave.”

“Call 911. Somebody call.”

Of course, everybody is calling. People standing elbow to elbow are yelling identical information into their cellphones.

“Yes, it’s Fifth and…and….What street is this?”

“The woman next to me is reporting this, too, operator. Should I hang up?”

Others are already getting word out to friends and family – in sincere, but salacious tones.

“Hi, it’s me. Yeah, I was coming out of _____ and I just saw this guy….Oh, yes, it’s very bad.”

The rest of us, futilely scanning our minds for some role we might play in this catastrophe, stand awkward and useless, trying to make sense of the scene, to validate our presence. We eye passersby with disdain, as from a funeral procession, wondering why they march forward without respect to our matter.

We put words to that search for purpose, connection.

“I was looking at that sign, when I heard ‘bam’ and I looked over to see the man being hit.”

“You saw him hit? I looked after that, when he hit the ground.”

“Oh, yes, I looked before that. I saw the contact.”

Another person: “I looked, too. Did you see when he hit the windshield?”

“Yes. I saw it all.”

The victim feels this most of all. Face pressed to the dirty street, arm twisted behind and under his body with no regard to bone and joint structure, his one exposed eye scans the scene, looking for someone with a renderable service, puzzled, frantic. He is alert and in tremendous pain. Does he remember the errand that shot him into the busyFifth Avenue intersection? Does he remember what distracted him from the red light? What day it is? His name?

With the assistance of the first responder, who puts the victim’s cell phone to his ear, he, too, makes a call – to a loved one, no doubt.

In time, feeling increasingly awkward, unable to suspend the illusion of altruism and validate purpose, and sensing the atrophying core of the event, one of us nudges the other and our little group moves on.

We piece together the memory – the truth – from our disparate versions, the stories growing more consistent with each retelling, until we each relate the event in basically the same way. Then, the memory is cast, like a bronze statue, to withstand the ages.

Slowly – in direct proportion to our distance from the event – we regain our smiles and move back into the chaotic streams of isolated individuals returned once again to their lists, once again able to complain about bad manicures and the rotten state of the world.

A few moments later, we will resume our discussion of dinner plans and get swept into a new vortex, a more joyous one. A black man with a gold mouth entertains us inWashington Square Park, with comedy, breakdancing, and acrobatics. We fight the smiles. Looking at one another in guilt, we try not to belittle the seriousness of the passing moment, just as we try not to be the first to crack a joke at a funeral reception or a wake.

But the smiles do return as the thoughts and each member of the cast disperses to another place in the vast city. There are new roles to play, new memories to forge.

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