Koffee With Kommie’s own Matt Robert is also on this bill. I’ll be playing two John Sebastian tunes, plus one each by Country Joe and Arlo Guthrie. Peace!
Lovers will get a chance to check out two new things around town this weekend with a special Valentine’s Day show by Dan Burke and the Royal Treatment at Electric Haze, on Millbury Street, on Friday, February 14th.
Dan Burke should need no introduction, as he has been crooning and laying keyboards for years in local clubs with a bevy of acts, from Gamble & Burke and Niki Luparelli and the Gold Diggers to The Orange Ocean, as well as being a regular feature at Nick’s, where he performs solo, guests at shows, such as the Duke Ellington tribute last year, and now appears with his latest outfit, The Royal Treatment.
“My favorite stuff is really chilled out RnB music,” says Burke. “I love singer-songwriter stuff, too.” All this, he says, comes out in The Royal Treatment, but the “main pocket right now is RnB and pop,” both original and covers.
In a world gone roots and vintage, where old is new, what is old is good, and even mainstream acts wield mandolins, banjos, and dusty fedoras, The Royal Treatment is a breed apart.
Burke and company – Jeff Killebrew (drums, backing vocals), Eli Mateo (percussion), Sean Rosati (guitar), and Imer Diaz (bass) – like things just the way they are today.
“We’re not going to be like Amy Winehouse,” Burke says, “trying to record on analog tape or anything like that.”
He says that the band is pretty comfortable with the modern version of RnB, stuff like John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, and, of course, Michael Jackson.
So, while he says band members share a common love of Motown, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson, he adds, “If I had to put us on one side of the spectrum, I would put us on the modern side.”
So, understandably, the band is bright and poppy. Diaz, formerly of local progressive rock act Miars, is a virtuoso, who lays thick but bright six-string bass. (“Imer is an absolutely sick bass player and a super humble sweet guy,” says Burke.) Killebrew, who cut his teeth on the church circuit, playing gospel organ, offers up straight-up RnB grooves that, when combined with Diaz’s smooth bass lines and Rosati’s chorused up skanking rhythm or chunky, fluid jazz lines and Mateo’s latin percussion, should offer plenty to get all but the most sedentary attendees onto the dance floor.
And that’s just what the band wants. The Valentine’s show hopes to get couples moving, and a repertoire of accessible pop tunes (Justin Timberlake’s “Until the End of Time,” Cody Chestnutt’s “Till I Met Thee,” and Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”) as well as some old school material (“disco-y anthems and James Brown,” says Burke), and Electric Haze’s high quality in-house p.a. system, should have the place thumping.
“It’s going to be a dance party,” says Burke.
Add to this a guest appearance by band friend Limaaj, whose presence as a front man adds significant sexuality to the band’s performance, in a manner Burke likens to Andre 3000 and Prince, and you’ve got a formula for driving the chicks wild. Not only can he sing in the upper register style popular in RnB, but he is utterly comfortable before a crowd and engaging the audience.
The Royal Treatment will have recording gear on hand to run the live set direct to Pro Tools for later mixing, and, hopefully, a live release. “I’m psyched about that!” says Burke.
The band has high hopes for this project, about which Burke says it is “the best band [he’s] ever been in.”
“They’re Amazing players!” he says.
Beyond local gigging and recording, the band hopes to get involved in general business, and looks to get hired for functions. Further, returning to the variety show format that gave rise to the band in the first place (they met as session players for the B. Heard showcases held throughout Worcester a few years back), they intend to offer themselves as a band for hire for singers or players needing a backing group for gigs or recordings.
So, treat your special someone (or go stag!) to a night of fresh music in one of Worcester’s latest clubs, and look for the band in coming months for return engagements at Electric Haze, or any one of the band members’ solo shows at local clubs.
To learn more, visit http://www.facebook.com/DanBurkeAndTheRoyalTreatment.
by Matt Robert
The January 2014 release of The Curtis Mayflower’s debut CD, “Everything Beautiful Is Under Attack,” will set a high mark early in the year for best CD, one which will undoubtedly raise the stakes by which area bands play.
The Curtis Mayflower is the combined result of decades of individual work and commitment and an unlikely scene in an unlikely place that provided the centripetal force that eventually brought these five select players together.
Their debut CD, too, is an organic outcropping of this little scene in this little place – Duncan Arsenault’s six-year run of Thursday nights at Green Street’s Dive Bar – where Worcester’s faithful came out in increasing numbers to experience free, varied and exciting music without too much hype.
Fittingly (perhaps coincidentally) in the same spirit that produced The Band’s landmark “Music from Big Pink,” the record was recorded in an out-of-the-way Maine farmhouse in a simple fashion, quickly and without pomp and circumstance.
Great things seem to come of this method.
The band, Pete Aleksi (guitar), Arsenault (drums), Jeremy Curtis (bass), Brooks Milgate (keys), and Craig Rawding (vocals, harmonica), has a resume of individual accomplishments that can’t be topped, including work with The Delta Generators, The Curtain Society, Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck, Booker T. Jones, Levon Helm, Big Eyed Rabbit, Hey Now, Morris Fader and Beg, Scream & Shout, among others. In some cases, this could be a problem.
Curtis calls the formation of The Curtis Mayflower “serendipitous” and says that the five musicians are “all on the same page” and “willing to turn each other on to different stuff.”
In other words, they have chemistry and shared vision. It comes through in spades on the record, where each player tips his hand to personal tastes, but the overall sound lies tantalizingly beyond categorization. Don’t get me wrong. This is, at heart, a blues and soul record, territory more than familiar to each member of the band. (Any soul band would proudly claim songs like “NYCD” and “Last Kiss.”) But the conventions of blues and soul have become mere elements of a larger influence, not genre-specific, but of an approach to music, which, like Big Pink, makes use of influence in the service of something new. So, while the ear continually hears familiar tonalities (Aleksi says it’s all “reminiscent of other music”), the end result is a fresh addition to the rock idiom.
“Clockwork Hearts,” which opens the disc, is melancholy with a menacing lock-step guitar lick that will get your head rocking. The dynamic control is phenomenal and the attention to subtleties exciting. The band can make a lot out of an idea that might simply be beaten to death by a lesser band. Everything you need to know about The Curtis Mayflower is revealed here. These cats have soul, and, man! Can they play!
“Seven Children” is a brooding, tribal mood that might be at home on a Pink Floyd record, but soon gives way to a blues lament: “Meet me where the moon’s on fire and the earth is still. I have seven children in the ground.” The band is confident and dynamic, with no hesitation. The guitar solo is pure Robert Cray blues, crisp and melodic.
The exceptions to this general sound are track two, “Ben the Destroyer,” a wild, light-hearted romp of raging rock pandemonium and a tribute to the hyperbolic abilities of Ben, and the aforementioned “NYCD” and “Last Kiss,” both a bit lighter and more genre-specific. “Everybody definitely brings their own influences,” says Aleksi, “but there’s something different happening as a group.”
A love of ‘70s bleeds through, the album pushing everything in a heavy direction. Guitar riffs are biting and tough, keys are chunky and distorted, the rhythms spare but solid – and deep. A riff hearkens to Traffic, Blind Faith or King Crimson, Stevie Ray Vaughan or Robert Cray, yet it is couched in a context that feels new and fresh.
The players, as it is well known locally, are all masters of their craft. Each is in just the right place at the right time on the record, perfectly complementing the rest with a tasty lick and killer tone. Craig Rawding is a rock monster, somewhere between the smoky growl of vintage Gregg Allman and the rare rock scream of Robert Plant or Ian Gillian.
The record is a wash of textures, too. The arrangements are spare, perfectly layered and full of air. Ear candy abounds, and the players don’t rule out any mode of play that may be useful. The result is surprising sounds throughout. Each time the listener settles in on the tonality of a song, a surprising sound pops up. And it’s always the right sound. Yet, the record isn’t layered with endless effects and overdubs, the downfall of the unlimited tracks of Pro Tools.
In fact, with the exception of a few overdubs of shakers and backing vocals, the cuts are live. No overdubs or patches were used to sweeten or fix the performances. In the true spirit of the Dive series, this is essentially a live record, an old-school capture of a great band.
Curtis says the band just set up in the farmhouse on a Friday night with engineer David Westner, “went over the game plan, and just went for it,” recording through Friday night and all day and night on Saturday. “The arrangements just happened in the studio.” He says they “just put it all on the table” to see “what they came up with.” Band members left with a rough mix on Sunday and the final mixing occurred later.
And this is the gift of Arsenault’s Thursday night series, a local Fillmore or Minton’s, with lots of time and no pressure. Week after week, Arsenault called on friends to come out and make music. After the untimely death of Scott Ricciuti in April 2012, Arsenault had to look harder. The fortunate outcome of a horrible tragedy was a web of musicians that grew exponentially, drawing players from throughout Southern New England, eventually settling into several discrete bands.
The Curtis Mayflower began this way, too. As Aleksi and Curtis explain, they were merely invited down to the Dive, as friends of friends (Aleksi from Western Mass. as a friend of Milgate, and Curtis from Boston). No one was picked from a classified ad (“Singer seeking proto-metal outfit for steady gigs. No amateurs need apply!”) In fact, there was no immediate game plan, except to jam and see what happened. “It was really like, after several of these Thursday nights, there was a lot of cool experimental stuff happening,” says Aleksi. “We wandered into the sound.”
All the songs came out of spontaneous experiments, including vocals. “Craig plays an instrument with his voice,” says Aleksi, “coming up with lyrics out of nowhere.”
And from chaos, comes order. Band members shared the weekly recordings, culling ideas that showed potential for songs, and adding them to a permanent repertoire.
“Due to the nature of the musicians,” says Curtis, “it’s hard not to recognize a theme and say, ‘someone ought to make a song out of this.’” Still, the band likes to keep it loose and hang out on the edge, where the good stuff happens. At a recent show at Atwood’s Tavern, in Cambridge, Curtis says, the band stepped up to begin the second set, when Aleksi said, “try this,” and the band simply stepped into unknown territory before a live audience. Their recent recording, the soundtrack to the film, “American Mongrel,” too, is extemporized. Curtis and Aleksi both say that the music is “easy.” Curtis adding that “it created itself.”
“Organic is the best way to describe it,” he says. “We recognized that we shared a like for a certain kind of music or jams that were happening with each other.”
Curtis says that no discussions ever took place to steer or define the band. They all felt that would be counterproductive and could only limit their “view and scope of what’s possible.” That, he says, “wasn’t on any of our agendas.”
The band has no intention of letting the record stunt any further growth or to impose any restrictions on further projects, either. “The next record might be all acoustic,” says Curtis. “With accordion and a bass.” And while the band has applied for some 2014 festivals, Curtis says they plan to let things develop – how else – organically.
“We want to let the product do the talking. We want to let people absorb [the record], and see what the reactions are.” He says he’d like to see the band play once or twice a month and, perhaps, do the soundtrack to another movie.
The greatest accomplishment here goes well beyond the notes and the sound. The band has found community in a time when community is hard to find. And they have picked up, from the ashes of the 20th century music industry, opportunities, where others have found dead ends. They are reinventing how music can be made, how bands can exist and thrive, and this is the true gift of this band, well beyond the excellence of the music itself.
The Curtis Mayflower plans to host a CD release party early in 2014 either in Cambridge or Worcester.
by Matt Robert
Originally appeared in the November 21, 2013, issue of Worcester Magazine.
It’s Thanksgiving time again and that means reunions: family, friends and high school alums gather to catch up on old times. It’s also time for three old friends to reunite and make some music.
Tony Wilson, Todd Kosiewski and Bret Talbert, who made a pretty big splash in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with a band called Public Works, will reunite for the first time in a decade on Thanksgiving Eve, November 27, at Ralph’s Rock Diner, in Worcester.
In the 10 years that the power-pop band operated, they went from high school pals emulating U2 to dominating the Worcester clubs, releasing 4 EPs, charting in England and touring the US in support of a major British act. The friendships have endured, they all seem pretty excited about the event and they still joke with each other like they might have on one of the interminable and inevitable car rides that form part of the band experience.
The event, which will be headlined by The Public Works, will also feature present-day heavyweights Herra Terra, as well as Ghost Ocean and Ritch Kids. Herra Terra, in fact, is a great contemporary complement to Public Works as a similarly edgy, forward thinking act with national potential. In their day, The Public Works brought a polished, aggressive and serious-faced act to the stage, with a visual style to match their aural sense, initially influenced by U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen, and then by important local acts, like Childhood, The Three Believers and The Pale Nephews, who provided opening slots, became colleagues as Worcester headliners and Boston contenders.
A series of well-recorded EPs landed Public Works slots in Boston clubs, like TT the Bear’s and The Middle East, but it was the band’s third EP, 1988’s “American Electro-Pastel Surge,” recorded by Tom Hamilton (not of Aerosmith) at Boston’s legendary Synchro Sound, that signaled a new direction for the band. Transfixed by the lysergic sounds coming out of Manchester, England, as well as Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and influenced by local compadres The Pale Nephews, the band took the music deeper and infused their songs with more meaning.
Managing to slip the EP into the hands of their heroes, The Wonder Stuff, in the parking lot at The Paradise, the unlikely happened: The wonder Stuff invited the band on tour – eight stops, including New Jersey’s Stone Pony; Washington DC’s 9:30 Club; Atlanta’s Cotton Club; Austin’s Liberty Lunch; and two stops that the band members call the highlight of their time together: Montezuma Hall, at San Diego State University and The Palace, in Los Angeles. On tour, the band enjoyed the challenge of winning over new crowds nightly. The crowd at The Palace – a capacity crowd of about 2,500 – included Brian Setzer, Robbie Grey of Modern English, and (allegedly) Madonna.
The band’s success continued. Upon returning home, they earned an opening slot for rising British act, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, at The Paradise, where they had met The Wonder Stuff before, but had only dreamed of performing. Further, CUSM had asked the band to record a cover song for release as a b-side of one of their singles, fully paid for by the British act; and Robbie Grey, impressed with the act, worked with his own label to get The Public Works signed.
The single reached number 11 on the British charts, and the band felt that they were driving strong, but the gas tank was running low. First, their recently hired manager had walked off with money they had spent on merchandise and other band expenses (Bret estimates $1,000-1,500). Then, the record deal efforts by Grey, as well as their own attempts, failed. Music was changing in the early ‘90s, and record label sweeps of Boston sought heavier bands, like Seattle produced. The band felt like they were spinning their wheels.
A last EP, “Boondoggle,” was eventually completed, but didn’t bring the growth that the band had hoped it might. Tony accepted the offer to play drums on a record and on tour with upcoming Boston act, The Drop Nineteens, which ended as quickly as it began.
Fazed and tired, the band called it quits, finishing in the spring of 1994 with a show at Ralph’s, but not before making their mark and achieving a considerable level of success for a few local kids, cemented with their inclusion in respected local music chronicler, Brian Goslow’s, retrospective of late ‘70s to present Worcester rock.
Come on out to Ralph’s and check out a piece of Worcester’s rock heyday and a few of its promising acts of today on Wednesday, Nov. 27, at 9 p.m.
Written by Matt Robert
From the September 12, 2013 issue of Worcester Magazine.
My Facebook news feed inundates me with an infinite stream of event listings, highinterest news bytes, memes and photos of, well, everything from a friend’s breakfast to a sustained injury to, well, everything. After a while, I stop noticing anything.
Two weeks ago, however, my eye stopped on a post by a local musician, Michael Thibodeau, who sought a few volunteers for an upcoming show.
Nothing unusual, right?
Except, in this case, he needed 12 people to perform on AM/ FM radios.
Ah, John Cage is back in town, I thought.
The late John Cage is on a short list of 20th century composers – or inventor, as he referred to himself – that embodies everything many love or hate about modern art. The piece in question, “Imaginary Landscape no. 4 (March no. 2 for Twelve Radios),” is just one of hundreds that challenges our old-fashioned notions of what music can or should be. It is also one of four Cage pieces being staged for a centennial celebration of the artist by the Cage and Cardew Society, a Clark University group headed by Thibodeau and Clark Music professor, Matthew Malsky, on Wednesday, September 18 at Nick’s Bar and Restaurant.
The Cage and Cardew Society came together about a decade ago, when Thibodeau and Malsky, his advisor, staged the first “Living Room Concert” (named for the Cage piece performed at that first concert) that featured performances of student compositions by other students as well as avant-garde works, in a “supportive” environment in which to present their “‘outside’ musical ideas,” says Malsky.
The teacher and mentor stayed in touch after graduation, often organizing programs. One recent night, over beers at Nick’s, says Thibodeau, the two began imagining Cage’s works in the intimate, ambient room. “Nick’s is a favorite watering hole and a great supporter of local music,” says Malsky. “It offers the kind of laid-back environment we’re looking for.”
The result is a four selection program, consisting of “Living Room Music” (a multi-movement piece for a percussion and speech quartet that involves making instruments of common household objects), the self-explanatory “Music for Amplifi ed Toy Piano,” the aforementioned “Imaginary Landscape no. 4” and the legendary “4’33”,” a work that has been the object of widespread scorn and ridicule and, for some, living proof of the scam that modern art represents. In fact, the audience howled and jeered at Cage after the inaugural performance of the piece in 1952.
I won’t spoil the fun or surprise for the uninitiated by describing the work (or by attempting to defend it). Another Cage piece currently being performed (yes, currently being performed) helps to suggest the creative world he inhabited. The 1985 “Organ 2/ASLSP” (“As Slow As Possible”) is underway in a chapel in Halberstadt, Germany. The performance, begun on September 5, 2001 (Cage’s 89th birthday), will continue for 639 years and is expected to continue until the year 2640. The first 17 months, for example, represented the opening rest prior to the first tone and a website allows the curious to hear the current tone.
It all probably sounds like hokum to the skeptical, but Cage’s work was rooted in his study of Buddhism and the I Ching, and he devoted himself to the revolutionary concept of incorporating chance into musical composition and performance. Further, in the years since his compositions sent classical audiences into fits, tectonic shifts in the scope of even the most mainstream and bland popular music has meant the adopting and embracing of much that was once avant-garde, like making instruments out of things like turntables, water drops, closed and prepared (manipulated) piano, and even elements of silence and sounds inherent in the performance space and among the crowd.
Malsky says that he and Thibodeau will be involved in every performance and “they may have to play a chair or a radio or something,” but, though “they may be challenging for the audience,” the works are “fairly standard for the performer.”
If this all sounds heady and uptight and overly serious, it isn’t. Thibodeau and Malsky are planning on a night of fun. When asked what we might expect from the show, Thibodeau shrugs off the question and says, “I think we’re all wondering that.” Malsky adds that the format, modeled after Cardew’s 1960’s London “Scratch Orchestra,” intends to bring together “‘musicians’ and those who wouldn’t usually call themselves musicians.”
“The personnel is always open,” Malsky adds. “We’ll fi nd a way for anyone who’s interested to participate. Michael and I are merely instigators.”
I clicked “Going.”
See the Cage and Cardew Society performance at Nick’s Bar and Restaurant, 124 Millbury St., Worcester on Wednesday, September 18 at 8 p.m.