Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spring Show Preview revue: Sweet, Rundgren, Southern Culture on the Skids, Black Joe Lewis, Tragicially Hip

Here are some show previews that I penned in the last few months. Yes, it's too late to see these shows, but maybe you can catch the bands the next time around.

Sweet at House of Blues
While scoring hits in the ’70s with classic rock staples “Ballroom Blitz,” “Little Willy” and “Fox on the Run,” Sweet never garnered the hip cachet of its British rock brethren. T.Rex and Mott the Hoople were cooler; Queen and ELO were more extravagant, and Bowie was Bowie. Sweet’s glam-pop sound came off, well, a little too sweet — and the name undoubtedly fed bubblegum comparisons. However, listening to Sweet’s new Shout! Factory anthology, Action, isn’t an empty-calorie experience. Besides their well-known singles, the fun-packed double-disc set revives big riff rockers like “Action,” “Teenage Rampage” and “The Lies in Your Eyes,” along with curios like “Alexander Graham Bell” and the Caribbean-flavored “Poppa Joe.” With bassist Steve Priest (immortalized in the “Are you ready, Steve?” line from “Ballroom Blitz”) the only remaining original member, there’s always the question of how, exactly, this incarnation will recreate the Sweet sound (and whether they’ll wear those silly knickers), but, still, it should make for a jolly night of “Wig-Wam Bam” rock & roll. (Michael Berick)


If you get lit up by the sounds of James Brown and his Famous Flames, Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays or Wilson Pickett backed by Stax or Muscle Shoals men, then lend an ear to Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. This Austin-based outfit vividly revives the sweet soul music and ribald R&B of their forefathers. Their recently released Lost Highway debut, Tell ’Em What Your Name Is! (produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno), explodes with heated blasts of guitars, organ and horns on the dynamo opener “Gunpowder.” They rip through more garage-soul hip-shakers like “Sugarfoot,” “Boogie” and “Bobby Booshay” while mixing in “oh, baby” pleaders like “Please, Pt. Two” and the country blues excursion “Master Sold My Baby.” While some critics quibble that the band hews too closely to its influences, there’s no denying that the guitar-wielding Lewis and his Honeybears deliver some seriously rockin’ funk. With Redding, Pickett and Brown all long gone, young Lewis has arrived to carry their torch with his hot and sweaty house-party ruckus. Sharing the bill is the twangy, ’Mats-ish Memphis-based bar rockers Lucero. Also at Alex’s Bar, Fri. (Michael Berick)

Todd Rundgren
Philly boy Todd Rundgren has long been one of Cleveland's favorite adopted sons. He headlined a World Series of Rock at the old stadium back in the day, and his 1978 Back to the Bars live album was partly recorded at the Cleveland Agora. Plus, he's a classic-rock staple here. While enjoying mighty success with sublime tunes like "I Saw the Light" and "Hello It's Me," Rundgren has taken a "something/anything" approach to his career. Like David Bowie (another Cleveland fave from way back), he's a rock 'n' roll chameleon. He effortlessly dishes up classic rock, Philly soul, heavy metal, prog-rock, show tunes and ribald ditties — sometimes on the same album, sometimes playing all the instruments too. His eccentric experimentations have resulted in rewarding whims (like his fun 1980 Beatles parody, Deface the Music) as well as some muddy self-indulgence (how many remember his '90s TR-i phrase?). Throughout his career, he's been a sought-after producer, with a résumé that includes Patti Smith, the New York Dolls, Grand Funk Railroad and Meat Loaf. Rundgren recently fronted the New Cars, which helped revitalize his love for guitar rock and led to his latest effort, Arena. While not hitting his heyday's highs, it's a strong rock outing solidified by muscular tracks like "Gun," "The Last Recluse" and the shimmering "Courage." He may not dress up in Egyptian regalia anymore or have flowing, multi-colored hair, but he's still Todd — a dream that goes on forever. Doors opens at 7:30 at the Palace Theatre (1501 Euclid Ave., 216.241.6000, Tickets range from $10-$40. — Michael Berick

5-22: Southern Culture on the Skids/Los Straitjackets

It’s an Americana kitsch party when Southern Culture on the Skids (pictured) and Los Straitjackets pull their doublewide into town tonight. The two veteran groups draw upon a wide range of roots music: rockabilly, country, surf, garage-rock and Tex-Mex — and do so with a heavy slathering of humor. Los Straitjackets perform while wearing colorful Mexican wrestling masks, and SCOTS, who look like country cousins of the B-52s, get duded up in trailer-park chic. But what’s often overlooked among all their corny schtick is just how talented both bands are. On The Further Adventures Of …, Los Straitjackets rumble through their patented surfabilly-noir instrumentals, proving again they’re one of the top instrumental units working these days. SCOTS’ hick antics hide the fact that frontman Rick Miller is a mighty fine guitar picker. On their most recent album, the 2007 covers collection Countrypolitian Favorites, they dish out straightforward and wonderful renditions of Nashville nuggets like Joe South’s “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden” and George Jones’ “Let’s Invite Them Over,” alongside inventively twangy interpretations of the Kinks’ “Muswell Hillbilly,” the Who’s “Happy Jack” and T. Rex’s “Life’s a Gas.” Between SCOTS and Los Straits, this show definitely should be a gas. It’s at 9 p.m. at the Beachland Ballroom (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124). Tickets: $20. — Michael Berick

5-31: Tragically Hip at HOB

There’s probably no bigger “big in Canada” band than the Tragically Hip. Over the past 25 years, they’ve racked up more than a dozen Juno Awards (Canada’s equivalent to the Grammys). They were also inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. The remarkably unchanged quintet remains guided by charismatic frontman Gordon Downie, whose passionate vocals and poetic lyrics make him something like a Maple Leaf Michael Stipe, while dueling guitarists Rob Baker and Paul Langlois fortify the band’s powerful, arena-filling sound. But the Hip’s latest album, We Are the Same, isn’t more of the same. There are a few signature rock thunderbolts (“Frozen in My Track” and “Love Is a First” — curiously, both are tucked in at the disc’s end), but the album’s tone is overall quieter and more subtle. The album’s bookends, “Morning Moon” and “Country Day,” boast wistful, bucolic R.E.M.-like qualities. The group pulls together its soft/hard elements on “Now the Struggle Has a Name,” a six-plus-minute emotional epic that sets the stage for the record’s centerpiece, the nine-and-a-half-minute “The Depression Suite.” This ambitious, three-part orchestral-rock opus should figure prominently onstage since it plays to the Hip’s chief strengths: Downie’s intense rock-poet persona, balanced by the band’s classic-rock dramatics. Showtime is 8 p.m. at House of Blues (308 Euclid Ave., 216.523.2583, It’s sold out. — Michael Berick

No comments: