Cloaca Melodia

My life in concerts, by Mike Sauter.


Butthole Surfers/Rev. Horton Heat/The Toadies/Starfish

Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ

More so than any show I've been to in recent memory, this concert was not focused so much on the songs as it was on the performances. Most of the time when you go to a show, you're primarily motivated by an interest in one or many of the artist's songs.

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Concerts by jam-bands like the Grateful Dead or most blues musicians, on the other hand, are more performance oriented. You go to see the performance of the entire show more than simply to hear that song in a live setting. That's why Deadheads could stomach going to umpty-ump shows by the same band.

This evening headlined by the Butthole Surfers at Convention Hall turned out--surprisingly--to be more of a performance show. Although certainly many concertgoers were motivated to go by some individual songs (notably the several popular singles by The Toadies or the Butthole's current hit "Pepper"), the real story was the sheer intensity of the Rev. Horton Heat's rockabilly playing and the psychedelic/Prozac fascination of the Butthole Surfers.

The biggest problem of the night was the shockingly bad sound in Convention Hall, both in volume and quality. The reverberated ambient sound seemed louder than the actual amplified music (due partially to the emptiness of the Hall, no doubt). The result was a muddy shambles.

And the volume was way too loud as well. While it would be hyperbole to suggest that season concert veterans were openly weeping at the ear pain, I think it would be fair to say that the beverage window at Convention Hall did a brisk business in earplugs at a dollar a pop.

Apart from the sound, another drawback to Convention Hall is that it smells like my grandparent's basement--a mixture of ancient dust and mothballs.

As to the music, The Butthole Surfers are an odd band. They record interesting albums, the occasional compelling song, but their shows are sloppy, unpleasant, and utterly fascinating. It's like rubbernecking at a road accident. Not that the Butthole's are untalented musicians, they just seem to be in a whole other world. Frontman Gibby Haynes seemed to pay more attention to his electronic sound equipment than the audience. Guitarist Paul Leary occasionally looked around Convention Hall as if he forgot where he was.

Gibby, who sometimes looks like a prozacked-out cousin of Charles Manson, really loved his electronic sampling gizmo. At one point he said he could play with it forever, and he probably could. He belched into the microphone, then electronically speeded up the sound a repeated chirp. He made maniacal laughing and fed that into his toy. It seemed fun for him, but it didn't do much for the rest of us back on Planet Earth.

But the band's playing was still (even despite the bad sound of the room) interesting to listen to. The band also enhanced their show with visuals; three film projectors put images on a screen behind them, ranging from crash test footage and closeups of bugs, to school health films and medical diagrams. They even had a brief clip of cult TV series The Prisoner and some wildly distorted scenes from the 1985 movie The Breakfast Club. It was a trippy experience.

The Butthole Surfers brought a bunch of fellow Texans with them on tour, and the package was a mixed lot.

The Toadies put on a radically different show than the Buttholes. More raucous than hypnotic, these guys from Fort Worth played a more straightforward set. Mixing radio faves like "Possum Kingdom," "I Come From the Water" (featuring a guest lap steel guitar player), and "Away" with album cuts like "Backslider," "I Burn," "Mister Love," and "Quitter," The Toadies ratcheted up the hardness level of their music for the live setting. Everything was a little bit harder and louder than the album counterparts. The set had its moments, but overall it was a touch repetitious--even though vocalist Todd Lewis tried to liven things up, like when he wondered aloud, "Who's over at the Stone Pony tonight?" or when he prefaced a drum break in the middle of a song by announcing "This is the drum solo part of the evening!"

By far the best moment of the entire night came during the set of psychobilly (e.g., "psycho" + "rockabilly") maven Rev. Horton Heat. Halfway through the Reverend's set, upright bass player Jimbo Wallace leaned his bass over on its side in the middle of a song--while still playing--and frontman Jim "Reverend" Heath stepped up onto the side of the bass and stood atop it, delivering a wickedly good solo on his hollow-body Gretsch guitar high above his bandmate.

The Reverend Horton Heat plays music that's a fifth of rockabilly grooves, a fifth of punk sensibility, a fifth of lounge kitsch, and a fifth of gin (I know that's only four-fifths, but I'm pretty sure there's some more gin in there somewhere). Their music showcases some incredible rock 'n' roll playing--fast, dirty, and extremely fun. Some of the best included "Slow" and the title cut from their current record It's Martini Time, and the wild, twangy rave-up "Marijuana" plus "400 Bucks" (from the album The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat).

The Reverend is also quite a showman in addition to being a good player. He strode out on stage wearing a black formal jacket, white shirt, and black tie--with his close-cropped hair, he looked every bit like a 50's rock 'n' roller. And prior to playing "It's Martini Time," he drawled, "I can tell by looking at you there's a lot of country and western fans out there." I'm sure that after the Reverend's set, he had a few more fans.

Kicking off the festivities was an Austin band called Starfish, a heavy trio which was not very well-received by the crowd. Although they didn't make much of an impression at all, it's hard to judge an unfamiliar band like this one in such a harsh acoustic environment.

The night at Convention Hall was a grab bag from the Lone Star state, and although it was somewhat sparsely attended (the room was only about a fifth full), there was enough of interest--although unfortunately enough not of interest--for anyone.

external fan review

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Everclear/Spacehog/Tracy Bonham/7 Year Bitch

Garden State Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

Here's a contemporaneous review I wrote for

The tour was named "Summerland," after the song of the same name on Everclear's Sparkle and Fade album. It's the song that obviously has a lot of meaning to the band--not only the tour but the album itself gets its name from the song.

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It sure works as a tour name. The lyrics "Let's just leave this place/and go to Summerland/Just a name on the map/sounds like heaven to me" are perfect for the package tour, Everclear's movable feast of music. And doesn't "sparkle and fade" describe any concert? Glittery and dazzling while experienced, but fading into the memory of those who participated...

Opening up the four-band bill was Atlantic Records artist 7 Year Bitch, a female punk foursome. The amphitheater was still fairly empty and the setting sun was still shining brightly as 7 Year Bitch took the stage. Despite the audience apathy in the unenviable opening slot of the bill, the band plowed through their songs with vigor. They played songs like "2nd Hand," "Crying Shame," and "Deep in the Heart" from their Gato Negro record, and "The Scratch" and the fine song "Hip Like Junk" (with its anti-heroin lyrics equating doing smack to bouncing a "rock off your head") from their earlier Viva Zapata indie album.

7 Year Bitch's music are always loud and heavy, and they're frequently a chaotic morass of sound that's difficult to understand. This kind of performance always fares much better with hardcore fans who are already familiar with the songs, so it's understandable that the thin audience had a hard time getting into the spirit of their performance.

Following 7 Year Bitch was a bizarre musical treat one has to experience to believe. As a way of entertaining the audience while the stage crew changes setups, a musician named Arthur Nakane played between bands throughout Summerland. Nakane bills himself as a Japanese one-man band, and he plays mostly old rock 'n' roll covers.

Damned if Nakane didn't play electric guitar, keyboard, cymbals, harmonica, tambourine, and kazoo all at once--in fact, his only external accompaniment was a drum machine. Nakane made lighthearted stage patter in between his various covers of the Beatles and Elvis Presley, plus "(Oh) Pretty Woman," "Secret Agent Man," and an incredible version of "Achy Breaky Heart" sung in Japanese.

Nakane isn't really a good player (of course, how can you tell when he's playing so many different instruments at once?), but that's half the fun. It's like a concert version of karaoke: familiar, singalong songs that you watch mostly to see how bad or awkward the song will be rendered.

The next artist up to bat was Boston's latest contribution to the rock world: Tracy Bonham, touring hot on the heels of her smash single "Mother, Mother" from her premiere album The Burdens of Being Upright. Bonham strolled out on stage solo with only a violin and began "Brain Crack," a thin wedge of a song repeating "that's the sound of your brain cracking" over and over. Her bass player and drummer, and eventually her guitarist, joined her to kick into a cover of the Pavement song "Flux=Rad." The pair of songs was a distinctive and dramatic way to begin her set, and Bonham finished off the final chord of "Flux=Rad" with a triumphant wave of her hand.

She also did versions of "Tell It To the Sky," "Bulldog," and "Sharks Can't Sleep" (which she prefaced by telling the audience "we're going to play a sweet, cuddly number--so cuddle up!"), but most audience members were itching for her to play her MTV favorite, "Mother, Mother." Bonham clearly knew what people wanted--she toyed with the crowd after "Tell It To the Sky" by playing an unfamiliar violin melody, then suddenly screaming out "It's our big hit single, 'Mother, Mother!' " The audience was very enthusiastic, singing along as Bonham waggled her violin bow and belted out the song's oft-repeated cry of "Everything's fine!"

Bonham rounded out her set with another cover, this time paying homage to the goddess of iconoclastic women in modern rock, Polly Jean Harvey. Bonham sawed away on her violin, playing a driving version of PJ Harvey's "50 Foot Queenie" to close the show.

As good as Tracy Bonham was, and as forceful as 7 Year Bitch performed, neither artist had a true handle on how to play to a venue as large as the Garden State Arts Center. Both had done shows that would've been ideal for a bar or club setting. However, Spacehog perfectly understood the necessity of adding some measure of spectacle to the music when in larger venues.

Spacehog, the British rock newcomers, put together a terrific show. Lead singer Royston Langdon came out on stage wearing oversize, Elton John-style sunglasses, a white cowboy hat, and what appeared to be glittery eye shadow. The band launched into their songs with an infectious energy in front of a giant banner of their defiant "spacehog" logo. Langdon performs with a ferocious intensity, his eyes wild with a look similar to Green Day's Billy Joe. Guitarist Antony "Ant" Langdon (Royston's brother) roamed around the stage while playing, mugging to various parts of the audience of during each song.

The band showcased highly entertaining versions of songs from their CD, Resident Alien, including "Cruel to Be Kind," "Spacehog," "Only a Few," "Candyman," "Space is the Place," and the popular single "In the Meantime."

Musically, Spacehog can be as tight as they wanna be--smoothly handling the vocal harmonies of "Only a Few" or the slide lead guitar of "Candyman"--but they also let their hair down for anarchic fun--having the crowd chant a between-song chorus of "fuck you" or drummer Jonny Craig pounding a high school cheerleader beat culminating in a group shout of "Spacehog!"

Following Spacehog wasn't an easy task, but it was Everclear that many in the audience had come to see, so when the house lights when down and searchlights panned the Arts Center as Everclear took the stage playing "Summerland," many leapt to their feet.

The California three-man punk band created a big sound, and their performance was an animated extrapolation of their recorded music. Both singer/guitarist Art Alexakis and bassist Craig Montoya were all over the stage, running around the vast space as if playing the music made them more hyperkinetic.

The stage was decorated with two giant, inflated palm trees (which stagehands sent swaying to the beat when the band played their hit "Santa Monica (Watch the World Die)" for the encore) and the guys in the group wore Hawaiian shirts, lending a fun tropical feel to the show.

Everclear's short and punchy songs allowed for a long set list. They played a wide selection from both their first album, World of Noise, and the recent Sparkle and Fade release. In addition to the songs mentioned above, standout performances included the new single "You Make Me Feel Like a Whore," plus "Heartspark Dollarsign," "My Sexual Life," and "Heroin Girl" from Sparkle and Fade, and "Sick & Tired," "Nervous & Weird," and the excellent "Fire Maple Song" from the first album.

The band concluded their set with "American Girl," a song they contributed to the Tom Petty tribute album from Backyard Records, You Got Lucky, in 1994.

Everclear's performance was enjoyable (if a little too loud to fully appreciate Alexakis' live vocal spin on his lyrics) but not fully successful in creating a show which bridges the gulf between listener and performer in a venue of that size. The larger the room, the greater the loss in audience intimacy, and Everclear wasn't fully able to compensate. They played well and entertained their fans, but the setting wasn't great for a punk band.

Not that there wasn't a good time to be had at Summerland. In an era when Lollapalooza has gotten too big for its britches, when Perry Farrell is getting a little too utopian in his package-tour vision, and the specialized niche tours (like H.O.R.D.E., the Reggae Sunsplash, and the House of Blues caravan) aren't going to be for everyone's taste, The Summerland Tour was a great load of fun for looking for a fleshed-out evening of pop/rock and punk.

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Seven Mary Three/The Refreshments/Brian Kirk

Tradewinds, Sea Bright, NJ

Poe was supposed to perform but she got sick.

Here's a contemporaneous review I wrote for

Seeing a show at The Tradewinds while the summer is in full swing--when everything is open and place is humming with people--is sort of like the Jersey Shore's answer to Disneyland. With the waterfall, fountain and faux rock formations, and the multiple bars, building facades, and all the colors--it gives a show an extra festive dimension.

The crowd was thick at The Tradewinds for the Seven Mary Three concert, and many of the audience members looked ready to get hit with a loud dose of rock 'n' roll. Likely if any band could make the crowd forget the festive environment, Seven Mary Three would be it.

But despite the pumped fans, Seven Mary Three gave an uneven performance which was merely adequate--with high and low points which were both higher and lower than most concerts.

Lead singer Jason Ross has an annoying tendency to scream lyrics, even to the detriment of the material. In some songs (particularly in the singles "Cumbersome" and "Water's Edge"), the aggressively-hoarse style works well; other times (like when the band played the slower "Roderigo") it gives Seven Mary Three's songs a metal-cliche feel that damages the pained introspection of the lyrics. When Ross goes over the top, it makes one long for the restraint he displayed on the album.

The band kicked off their show with the drilling guitar and vocal punch of "My My" (with Ross singing part of the song through a microphone filtered with distortion, as on the album version). Lead guitarist Jason Pollock was playing on a silver-speckled guitar which was dazzling in the spotlights.

The audience was plainly thrilled to see the New Jersey return of the band, and cheered enthusiastically. Ross acknowledged the reception following the song by
proclaiming "Jersey's always been good to us." He teased the crowd by suggesting that the band normally wouldn't play "Cumbersome," but they might perform the hit
single for such a good audience. Instead, though, the band launched into "Water's Edge," which also received a tremendous reaction (particularly to the line "this ain't no fucking game," familiar to many by hearing a censored version on the radio, which received whoops from some in the venue).

After "My My," "Water's Edge," and the above-mentioned version of "Roderigo," Ross
announced that "being the sellouts that we are," they have a song featured on the
soundtrack to the upcoming feature film The Crow: City of Angels. "I haven't seen the movie yet," Ross cautioned, "so I can't vouch for it. But I've heard the soundtrack, and it's pretty good." They then played that song, "Shelf Life."

Seven Mary Three kept the show flowing smoothly with other American Standards album tracks like "Devil Boy" and "Margaret," but the highlight of the show came next when Pollock, bassist Casey Daniel and drummer Giti Khalsa left the stage, leaving Jason Ross alone with his guitar to do a slow, heartfelt cover of U2's "Running to Stand Still." With a rarely-displayed subtlety, Ross did an excellent job handling the words of Bono, right down to the "ha-la-la la-de-day" chorus. Pollock stepped in halfway through to help out on harmonies and some additional guitar. It was an exceptional rendition.

Returning to album material, they eventually did do "Cumbersome," but after that one,
many people started hitting the exit. Though "Cumbersome" was rousing, and was
followed by the terrific song "Punch In Punch Out," the rest of the band's performance was uninspiring. An encore cover of The Doors' "Back Door Man" was
fun, but Seven Mary Three had lost quite a few audience members by then.

Opening for Seven Mary Three was Tempe, Arizona, band The Refreshments (Poe was also scheduled to play, but an extremely last-minute difficulty caused Poe to cancel; local staple Brian Kirk was hastily substituted to begin the evening). The Refreshments, touring in support of their Mercury Records debut album Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, are a great live band, even if you're not wholly familiar with their songs.

The Refreshments are a traditional four-piece rock 'n' roll band with entertaining
lyrics, and you get the impression watching them perform that they're enjoying the hell out of playing. Lead singer Roger Clyne sounds vaguely like Kevn Kinney (of
Drivin' 'n' Cryin'), and he enthusiastically thanked the audience for their
applause after each song. Brian Blush adds a blistering lead guitar to the band's songs (to steal a line from Paul Westerberg, some of his solos were hotter than a urinary infection...). All of the guys in The Refreshments seem very polite and friendly--later in the night, Brian Blush was wandering around the Tradewinds, beer in hand, chatting amiably with whoever noticed him--which wasn't too difficult, since he was still wearing the cool black cowboy hat he wore onstage.

The band tore through pretty much all of the songs on their album, including "Banditos" (the memorable single noteworthy for its narrating criminal use of
"Jean-Luc Picard" as an alias with the non-English-speaking border guard), "Suckerpunch," "Nada," and "Girly." Besides "Banditos," the crowd most seemed to enjoy the band's cover of "867-5309/Jenny." The band apparently also has fun playing this song--during the guitar solo, Roger Clyne pulled out a bottle of soap bubbles and let loose a few.

The Refreshments are definitely a band to watch (just look at the success of
follow Arizona band Gin Blossoms a few years back...). And if you see them live, it's worth your wait to catch their final sliver of a song--an unnamed but great
country-rock instrumental. It's a perfect way for the band to cap off their set.

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The Verve Pipe/Howlin' Maggie

Metro Lounge/Cheers/Hooligans/Gemini Lounge, Long Branch, NJ

sorry, Mike has not yet written about this show... add your own comments if you were also there!

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Surfstock 3

John Easdale/Soul Coughing/The Connells/Mono Puff/Pete Droge/Love in Reverse/Little John/Marry Me Jane/Solution a.d.

Surf Club/Planet Surf, Ortley Beach, NJ

Joan Jett was MC for the show.

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