Monday, June 17, 2019

Review: Rolling Stones-'Bridges to Bremen'

Only the most deluded fan would argue that The Rolling Stones’ were at their most vital in 1998, or that their most recent album—Bridges to Babylon—was one for the ages. Still, there’s always something to be said for catching a band of the Stone’s magnitude live, and they certainly put on a polished show. Granted, polished rock isn’t too electrifying, but the band still had their moments even at the end of the fifth leg of their Bridges to Babylon tour. Just when I was ready to nod off while watching the new Bridges to Bremen DVD, the Stones slammed into a vital version of “Paint It Black” that woke me right up.  

Friday, June 14, 2019

Review: 'Retro Fan' Issue #5

Next month will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and this month marks the first anniversary of Retro Fan magazine. To commemorate both events, Retro Fan is devoting much of its fifth issue to all things spacey. Yes, the pop cultural legacy of the actual Apollo 11 crew gets its own two-page article, but the big draw of issue 5 is undoubtedly its cover boy. Mark Hamill sat down with Glen Greenberg for a 15-page interview—well, maybe interview is the wrong word since Greenberg rarely gets to do much more than slip in the occasional “Right, right” or “[laughs].” Mostly he just steps aside to let the always-delightful Hamill expound on his work and legacy as Luke Skywalker. Before you start drooling for big revelations about Episode IX, be aware that the interview was actually conducted back in the summer of 2017 before The Last Jedi had even been released. Though bits of it were apparently included in an article Greenberg wrote for TIME Magazine for Kids, this is the first time the unabridged interview is being published. Fortunately, it is being published in Retro Fan, which means that a slew of boffo color photos of Hamill-centric memorabilia accompany the interview.

Other spacernalia featured in issue 5 includes a feature on astronaut-toy line Major Matt Mason, an article about the alien-abetted Greatest American Hero and an interview with star William Katt (who was also a frontrunner for the role of Skywalker), and a groovy12-page history of seventies sci-fi series Jason of Star Commander that got a pretty big squeal of “Hey…I totally forgot about that... I used to love that!” from yours truly. You know an issue of Retro Fan is worth its salt when it elicits that reaction.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Review: 'Five Years Ahead of My Time: Garage Rock from the 1950s to the Present'

While solo artists and swinging groups ruled fifties rock radio, bands took over in the sixties. All across America and elsewhere, quartets of pimply kids gathered in basements and garages to bash out two or three chords. This new home grown-rock movement was underway well before The Beatles arrived.

Seth Bovey traces the origin of the garage band phenomenon so crucial to the development of Rock & Roll in his new book Five Years Ahead of My Time: Garage Rock from the 1950s to the Present. His approach is original, eschewing usual suspects such as Chuck Berry and Elvis to argue that the grungy guitars of Link Wray and Duanne Eddy—and factors such as the exposure TV gave such artists, a new wave of cheap guitars imported from Japan, and the general DIY spirit of mid-century America—set the stage for garage bands.

Bovey then traces the genre’s evolution starting with The Fabulous Wailers before touching on everyone from The Kingsmen to Paul Revere and the Raiders to The Sonics to Dick Dale to The Knickerbockers to The Chocolate Watchband to The 13th Floor Elevators, while also looking beyond the usual American boys to discuss all-female groups such as The Pleasure Seekers and The What Four and international combos such as Los Bravos, Q65, and The Spiders.

As his book’s subtitle indicates, Bovey also strides beyond the garage band golden era of the sixties to see how the movement subsequently remained active with the rise of garage-focused ’zines such as Who Put the Bomp, the Nuggets and Pebbles comps, punk, the much publicized garage revival of the early ’00s that gave us The White Stripes and Strokes, and most importantly, the fact that contemporary bands such as The Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees, and The Incredible Staggers are keeping the garage lights on—though with very little influence in America, where Rock & Roll is dead as Dillinger.

The only trouble with Bovey’s format is that garage rock is a cornerstone of six decades of Rock & Roll, but his book is only 170-pages long. So his storytelling is a bit too fleet footed, and the fact that he skims over several of the quintessential garage bands—particularly Question Mark and the Mysterians, The Seeds, and The Standells (who grace this book’s cover but aren’t even mentioned in its pages!) means that Five Years Ahead of My Time can’t really be called “definitive.” Yet because Bovey is more concerned with following the origins and evolution of garage rock than name-checking important bands, his book remains a satisfying pocket history of a crucial strain of Rock & Roll.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Review: Miles Davis's 'The Complete Birth of Cool' on Vinyl

Two years before releasing his debut LP, Miles Davis participated in the first of three sessions that would ultimately be compiled onto Birth of the Cool in 1957. These sessions were groundbreaking both because they featured Davis at such an early stage of his career and because of the way his nonet (which included such luminaries as Max Roach, Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, and John Lewis) reimagined bop with the kind of classically-tinged polyphony that would be key to Davis’s work moving forward. A big-band sensibility that would not always be evident in that extremely varied work is also apparent.

The recordings still sound like the product of a fully-realized, completely seasoned, utterly forward thinking artist. Davis’s signature, smoldering sunset sound that would beat in the heart of future projects such as Porgy and Bess and Sketches in Spain is already evident in pieces such as “Moon Dreams” and “Darn That Dream” (featuring vocalist Kenny Hagood). That Davis was just 22 when these sessions began is unimaginable.

Before the 1957 release of the eleven-track Birth of the Cool, eight numbers from the nonet’s sessions were released as 78rpm singles and then on a 10” LP called Classics in Jazz: Miles Davis in 1954. In 1998, Capitol further expanded the 1957 album with thirteen live numbers from a couple of gigs at NYC’s Royal Roost recorded for radio broadcast in September 1948 with primitive audio quality but somewhat hotter playing than the sublimely cool and controlled studio sessions. 21 years later, that double-CD set is making its double-vinyl debut via Universal Music with excellent liner notes and nice sound culled from the original session tapes.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review: 'Blue Velvet' Blu-ray

Having begun his career as a pure avant gardist with challenging yet emotionally rich films such as The Grandmother and Eraserhead, David Lynch took an unexpected turn into the mainstream when he made the historical melodrama The Elephant Man and the space opera Dune. With his next feature, Lynch found the perfect balance between his most outrĂ© ideas and the more traditional storytelling that would make him America’s most popular surrealist. Nevertheless, Blue Velvet still split audiences, with some finding his S&M noir deeply compelling while others finding its extreme scenes of sexual sadism repelling.

As is usually the case with Lynch’s films, plot is secondary to style, world-building, and unfiltered emotion, but Blue Velvet is one of his more traditionally sensible stories despite odd elements such as the severed ear that draws clean cut college boy Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) into the seedy underworld in which repulsive thug Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) kidnaps the husband and child of nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) as leverage for forcing her into humiliating and violent sex acts.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Review: 'Swamp Monsters'

Swamps are nature’s haunted houses. They are oozing, rank, shadowy spots, and who knows what lurks beneath their black, algae-shrouded waters. A cottonmouth? An alligator? Or something worse?

Because of their superficial creepiness, swamps have been among the favorite alfresco settings for horror-comics creators since the form’s inception. IDW’s latest pre-code horror comics anthology collects tales of frogmen, alligator women, and other beasts and blobs that emerge from bogs to scare and devour folks. Like all horror comics devoid of vault and crypt keepers and old witches, the tales in Swamp Monsters are pretty second rate (and it doesn’t help that I just finished rereading all my old EC comics before plunging into Steve Banes and Craig Yoe’s latest compilation), but as is always the case with these collections, there’s still a lot of fun to be had.

The stories in Swamp Monsters stand out most when they differ radically from the kinds of things EC published… and that difference is not a lack of quality. Basil Wolverton’s “Swamp Monster” (Weird Mysteries #5) has the look of an Underground Comix comic published 15 years ahead of schedule. The genuinely sad “I Am a Thing” (Out of the Night #12) takes the novel tack of seeing things from the misunderstood monsters POV. EC’s tightly plotted tales sharply contrast whimsically weird and delightfully meandering stuff like “It Won’t Come Back Until Midnight” (Web of Mystery #16), “Demons of the Swamp” (Mysteries #3), “Nightmare Flight” (Baffling Mysteries #10), and “The Winged Spectres of Dismal Swamp” (The Beyond #5), which features demonically possessed people trapped inside of butterfly wings or something. At their worst, the stories in Swamp Monsters are outrageously amateurish, such as the mercifully brief “The Evil Eye” (Adventures into the Unknown #39). At their best, they are as intoxicatingly strange as a midnight trudge through the bayou.

All written content of is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.