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Pipeline celebrates live music -- on CD and on stageby Brett Milano
Nearly every good local outfit that's ever existed has played live-on-air at one time or another -- most likely for WMBR, WERS, WZBC, or WMFO, or for occasional live broadcasts on WBCN or WFNX. And most of those tapes exist somewhere. They're just don't exist in your collection, unless you remembered to stay home with a tape machine the night your favorite was on.
With last week's release of the double-CD Pipeline! (on Kimchee/Slow River) -- tying in with the live-music show of the same name that's been running for six years and can now be heard Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. -- WMBR 88.1 FM gives up some of the goods. Compiled by current Pipeline host Bob DuBrow, the set makes the best local-music crash course since Ace of Hearts' Wasted Years compilation, and it's twice as long, with 39 bands in 150 minutes.
Rather than slant the discs toward local hits, DuBrow has pulled some of the most obscure songs from each band's sets. With few exceptions, the tracks here are rare or unreleased songs, unlikely covers (Anastasia Screamed doing Television's "Marquee Moon"), or, in the Dambuilders' case, a song made up on the spot. The only true local hits are the Cavedogs' "Leave Me Alone" and Sebadoh's "Skull," the latter appearing in a Lou Barlow solo version. At times the value is more for collectors; Big Dipper's "Extraordinary Worm" isn't one of their best numbers, but it's the only thing available from their last year together.
There's not a whole lot to complain about. I went through the two discs in one sitting last week and got a few glimpses of local history (man, the Zulus sound good), discovered a few good songs I didn't know about (the Queers' "I Met Her at the Rat" is a local anthem waiting to happen, and the Dirt Merchants' "W" sounds more grabbing than most of their CD, Scarified), and heard excerpts from a few studio shows I wish I'd been at. In particular, the conceptual segue of Buffalo Tom's "Larry" into Helium's "Lucy" (the latter a remake of a rare single) is a jarring, angry 12 minutes that's worth the proverbial price of admission.
Think of Pipeline! as DuBrow's personal mix tape, one that draws from his fannish enthusiasm and knowledge of local-band history. Faced with 250-odd hours of tapes to reduce to two discs, DuBrow (with help from Andy Hong of WMBR) approached the task the old-fashioned way: he got buzzed and cranked it up. "I basically had a weekend before the deadline, and that afternoon I'd talked to Rick Harte and asked him how long the Wasted Years took to sequence. He said, `Two months.' I didn't have that so I squeezed it out in one evening -- five hours, on black Russians." And he's glad to defend any obscure song that made it to the final cut. "If there was an unreleased song that the band was willing to put out and it was passable, I'd go for it. Besides the smattering of older bands, I wanted to have the heavy hitters of today -- the ones that will sell CDs outside Boston. But there were a few I personally liked who haven't got the recognition outside Boston: the Vehicle Birth, Pie, Cordelia's Dad."
The best way to celebrate local music is with more local music, and Pipeline had a mess of it on tap last weekend, with a dozen bands who appear on the CD spread over two nights packing the Middle East and T.T. the Bear's Place. Since a few local headliners are currently in transition, the weekend provided a chance to catch up. Most surprising was the Gigolo Aunts' set, which amounted to a debut by a new band. Intact and seemingly inseparable for the past 10 years, the Aunts have split in half since January, with only guitarist/singer Dave Gibbs and bassist Steve Hurley remaining from the original quartet. (My guess is that they'd be changing their name if a new Gigolo Aunts album, recorded with the original line-up, weren't about to come out on RCA.)
Last Saturday was the first local gig for new lead guitarist John Skibic, late of 6L6, whose metallish style is a long way from the departed Phil Hurley's. For starters, Hurley seldom used a wah-wah, and Skibic was all over his. A few growing pains (and no older songs) were evident, but the Aunts are on the right track: still pop but with a harder edge, bigger riffs, and fewer harmonies. The Posies-ish "Fade Away" was the best of the new songs, but "Super Ultra Wicked Mega Love" may be their most obvious single to date.
Along with a handful of new tunes including the Kiss-esque "Boudoir," the Upper Crust's set offered, shall we say, a new dimension in audience participation: a bout of fisticuffs between Nat "Lord Bendover" Freedberg and some audience members. A repentant Freedberg declined comment last week, but the Upper Crust's label reports that he's apologized to all concerned and promises not to beat up any more audience members.
A different kind of punch was offered by the Dambuilders, who began their T.T.'s set with a seemingly improvised disco instrumental (likely played in honor of the mirror ball that mysteriously appeared at T.T.'s). Although their sound has grown more textured on disc, it keeps getting more abrasive on stage, even with new touches (notably more vocal harmonies from Joan Wasser) added to the arrangements. Likewise, the Dirt Merchants have come through the relatively subtle phase captured on Scarified and are onto something more interesting and more challenging. At times their guitar sound approached Sonic Youth territory; sometimes it got still more abstract (notably on a non-country number using a banjo-like sound). Gravel Pit bassist Ed Valauskas, who saw the set, summed things up nicely: "The Dirt Merchants -- they're just so musical."
Smackmelon, in contrast, are always Smackmelon: same dynamics, same precision, same power. Same songs, too, which could be a problem if Duke Roth doesn't cough up some new ones. But after their solid Blue Hour album got buried by Relativity, one can't blame them for flogging the material.
In the end, however, the weekend belonged to one band. The Bags were one of six groups DuBrow approached for reunion sets (the others were the Zulus, the Cavedogs, Orangutang, Big Dipper, and Christmas, all of whom declined); on Saturday they played their first official gig (a one-shot, according to guitarist Crispin Wood) in five years. The Bags had a big influence on the current scene, reviving hard rock -- not quite heavy metal, but hard, chunky, fist-wavin' Rock -- and making it hip again. They also have something that a lot of their successors lack: a three-word phrase beginning with "sense" and ending with "humor." Although never a joke band, the Bags always had a tongue-in-cheek, Spinal Tap-informed sensibility -- an undertone of "Yeah, we know this is ridiculous, but isn't it cool?"
This was the band who wrote "Waiting for Moloney" (from their second album, Night of the Corn People), a 25-minute rock opera about a guy commuting from Allston to jam with his band. Wood now draws "Rockschool," a local-scene send-up published in the Noise. He's planning to develop it for an animated CD-ROM. (Drummer Jim Janota, alias Jackie Kickassis of Upper Crust, is the only Bag still playing regularly; Wood does commercial artwork and bassist Jon Hardy is about to open his own bakery.)
They didn't do "Moloney" last Saturday but otherwise hit most of the peaks from the two Bags albums. And on the subject of peaks, they also did "Mount Rockmore," a song written in 1990 but performed only once before. Call it the quintessential Bags song; it's got a shout-along chorus, a chunky riff suitable for hair-shaking, and a wonderfully ludicrous power-of-rock analogy ("In the morning we'll be frozen! Inside our lederhosen!"). "We were never into that comedy-rock shit," Hardy noted afterward; with that the Bags mounted up and rocked more.
COMING UPAlthough a little twee for my taste, much-hyped popsters Semisonic deserve credit for opening their last local set (supporting Aimee Mann) with the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe"; they're back at the Paradise with Dog's Eye View tonight (Thursday). It's also the first night of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lansdowne Street Playhouse. Ex-Raindog Mark Cutler plays the Phoenix Landing; eternal popster Ray Mason has a disc-release party at Johnny D's; and Superfly, who look a lot like Cliffs of Dooneen, play their first gig as a new band at T.T.'s . . . Roadsaw are at the Linwood Grill tomorrow (Friday), Trona play the Middle East, Barrence Whitfield's at Johnny D's, Matt Guitar Murphy's at House of Blues, and All Mod Cons kick out the Jams at the Rat.
Buffalo Tomster Chris Colbourn plays solo at the Middle East upstairs Saturday while Jawbreaker appear downstairs; 6L6 and Jocobono are at the Rat, Quivvver play the Kirkland, and 7 Year Bitch play T.T.'s . . . Jasper & the Prodigal Suns play the Middle East Sunday . . . A band whose name David Letterman made fun of last week, No Doubt, are at Mama Kin Tuesday, and Pentangle founder Bert Jansch makes a rare appearance at Johnny D's . . . And coming back from tragedy, Florida's For Squirrels hit the Middle East Wednesday.
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