Monday, June 30, 2008

Just say...CHEESE!

L to R: Bobby Ricotta (keyboards), Richard Cheese (vocals and vodka), Frank Feta (drums), Charlie Limburger (bass)


Apologies to all interested parties regarding the untimely delay for this entry, too...

June was a busy month for shows. And where better to close it out than among a crowd of friends for a night on the town at the illustrious 9:30 Club? That's where the relentless 2/3 of the 1600 team (yep, Steve's still under the weather, but getting better) waited expectantly for an unusual seated show and for an act that defies categorization, part stand-up, part jazz virtuosity, and all 100% cheese. That's Richard Cheese, and Lounge Against the Machine, a primarily west coast act that has been on a favorite with talk shows like Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla, to sold out performances in Vegas, New York and across the country. And naturally we were there, ready to dig the cheesy goodness and sing along.

In their first Washington appearance, the band (musical director Bobby Ricotta on keyboards, Frank Feta on the drums, and latest member Charlie Limberger on bass) played nearly all their hits with great gusto and the skillful proficiency you'd expect from these lounge lizards par excellence, backing crooner Richard Cheese's melodic murmurs to the max, and making fun of all your favorite alternative rock, hip hop, metal and pop tunes with great glee. No target was spared the patented Cheese treatment, "swankifying" beloved songs from Radiohead (both Airbag and Creep were recast as Vegas lounge numbers), Snoop Dog's classic Gin and Juice (a hilarious video of this can be found at the band's My Space page,, the Beastie Boys' Brass Monkey, Nena's 99 Luftballoons, and Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, and dozens of other "lounge standards of the future."

In addition to the favorites that Richard Cheese and LATM have become famous for, there were also some new tunes in the repertoire that night. Buckcherry's Crazy Bitch was perfect fodder for the band's lounge treatment as well as AC/DC's You Shook Me. He also introduced a L'il Wayne song "the band just learned," holding up a supposed sheet of lyrics and incoherently mumbling his way through them, except for the occasionally-audible F-bomb or other slang. No doubt L'il Wayne would have been proud! But the song that brought down the house for our entire mad crew was Nine Inch Nails' Closer, Mr. Cheese's romantic delivery only accentuating the risque lyrics even more.

The rowdy, raucous show was a real crowd pleaser, whether for the newcomers in the audience, or the hardcore fans (like myself) that rushed to get tickets the moment they went on sale. And even though this was an all-ages show, they didn't spare us a single filthy word, nor a salacious aside. At one point, after gathering up a group of women to sit in the front row to provide him "inspiration," Cheese made smalltalk with a younger-than-average lady in the audience, who eventually said she was there with her Dad. "Nice parenting," he observed. Clad in a series of quality tuxedo jackets, including his signature tiger striped coat, RC came through loud and clear, his dulcet tones punctuated by many four letter words and other scandalous phrases that kept the audience on its toes. Whether high-kicking with a group of spirited attendees in the back of the house, or making overtures to any (and all) women who crossed his path as he worked the room, RC was a true lounge lizard unleashed, unashamed, and unrepentant.

The many quick retorts and ready repartee contrasted with the serious bona fides of Lounge Against The Machine as impressively-skilled jazz musicians. The intro to Chop Suey was one of many spots where the band, and pianist Bobby Ricotta in particular, showed that they could keep up with pretty much any "serious" jazz combo touring today. The band had no trouble keeping everyone's attention even as RC wandered through the crowd, causing no delays in the bouncing, fast-paced set.

1600's enthusiastic entourage included the triple Italian onslaught of muscle for hire Luca Brazzi, Consigliare Galluch, and our illustrious benefactor Pimp Daddy G, he who first told us of RC & LATM, and many of our other twisted friends who were on hand for an evening of familiar melodies and R rated punchlines. Seeing several of these characters as he proceeded through their row, RC remarked "All dudes. I'm outta here," as he spun on his heel and reversed his course. It was a truly ribald and randy event, and the gang all seemed to enjoy the hijinx, including new converts to the Cheese legacy like Pinky and Ellen, Sheryl, and co-host Jerry, who guffawed with great vigor as the show wore on...We were also gratified to have the high turnout from the legal profession by music mavens Dynamo Dave and the elusive Texas Stu (making his first 9:30 Club show and first live music event in many moons!), which assured merrymakers that at least someone would be able to come up with a bail bondsman if things got really out of hand. And just in case, Mike had Jen on speed-dial to bail us out in case the barristers were all dragged in, too...

But fortunately, the call never came. And we retain our perfect convictions.

An email from the fan club revealed yesterday that RC will have 3 new CDs out next year, "Lavapalooza," "Viva La Vodka," and "OK, Bartender." Check in with the Man Himself at to find out how you can pick them up before they are released to stores!

He said they'd be back here again. And with the reception they received, I have no doubts they'll return. Maybe next time, we can get them in for that interview!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Peter Hammill Rocks the House

And in the midst of the busy summer concert season, yet another venue hosted a great show by an amazing performer and longtime singer/songwriter, Peter Hammill. At the last minute, about 2 1/2 weeks before the show, I finally noticed that he was coming, and emailed him on the slim chance he might have time to talk with us. I could hardly contain my glee, when Mr. Hammill emailed back to me, and agreed to an interview with the 1600 team in the familiar red room at Jammin' Java last Sunday!

And you can see that interview in 2 installments over 2 ALL NEW weeks of 1600 in July! It will also be available right here after it airs on Channel 10, so keep your eyes peeled for a very intimate and thoughtful conversation with one of the most prolific musicians of the progressive rock scene for the last 40 years!

Peter Hammill is a rarity in the world of music: an auteur, who has experimented with opera (The Fall of the House of Usher) and prose; a writer, illustrator, and musical visionary, to whom bands as diverse as the Sex Pistols to Nine Inch Nails acknowledge their debt. An incomparable singer-songwriter and storyteller whose style is distinctive, unique, thoughtful, inspired, uninhibited, and imaginative. His band Van der Graaf Generator, critical favorites at the dawn of progressive rock era in 1968, have reunited in recent years for several successful and highly- acclaimed recordings (the most recent of which, the outstanding "Trisector," features three of the four founding members- Hammill, drummer Guy Evans, bassist and keyboardist Hugh Banton, but without saxophone and flautist David Jackson). He has been a frequent contributor on projects with other noteworthy artists including Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp, David Thomas, and Stuart Gordon, among others. A multifaceted musician that plays guitar and piano with equal skill, on "Singularity," his most recent (2006) solo album, Hammill plays all of the instruments, in addition to writing, producing, and providing the vocals on each of its tracks.

But its the lyrics, and the voice that brings them to life, which are the key elements that set him apart from his contemporaries. With unrestrained, electrifying emotion, and an unflinching glimpse into his bared soul, Hammill's work is often challenging stuff, not for casual listening over dinner, but demanding the listener's active attention. The audience that evening came from far and wide- Seattle, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia, New York- eager to attend Hammill's first American date in nine years, in the cozy, intimate atmosphere offered by Jammin' Java. And all of us sat riveted, as this modest, genial artist graced us his insights, and spun some true to life stories in the classic Hammill manner.

An offhand comment I made during the interview about "not doing a lot of (mundane) songs about cars and girls" earned an animated gleam from Peter's eye, and his response that "I've actually done quite a few songs about cars and girls." Not knowing what would follow, I was mildly embarrassed and then heartily amused when he announced to the audience that he reorganized his set to devote at least half of it to songs about cars, girls, and songs about cars and girls. But his warm smile throughout the show assured me that his good-natured nudges and winks were all well-intended.

So, I'll take credit for "helping" Pete select a great set! He led off the festivities with The Siren Song, reaching waaaay back, from Van der Graaf Generator's 1977 release "The Quiet Zone, the Pleasure Dome." Too Many of My Yesterdays, from "As Close As This," and Time Heals followed, the latter an solo early track of melancholy and regret about love never quite realized. But the anguish never gives way to self pity, only self realization, and allowed us all to share the sentiment of the moment. (I find many of his most introspective and personal songs, like this one, certainly apply to my own experiences. In that way, Hammill's work is refreshingly cathartic as he succinctly captures sometimes vague and unresolved feelings with a few well-chosen words.)

Hammill also offered Friday Afternoon, a song about tragically losing a friend to a drunk driver; His Best Girl, from 1991's "Fireships," a song about the uncertainty of love; Comfortable, examining faith and hypocrisy; and Shingle Song from 1975's "Nadir's Big Chance" (the Ricky Nadir persona Hammill put on a la his contemporaries David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" or Peter Gabriel's Rael in "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway").

As the evening went on, we were treated to many more great, raw, emotional performances of songs from throughout his career. Driven, from his all acoustic 2002 release "Clutch" (yet another car reference) was next. It was followed in short order by Sitting Targets, from the album of the same name, another all-time favorite. And it still sounded as good as it did when I first heard it, nearly thirty years ago. (Note: since Caroline Records wasn't one of the distributors I could get when I was working at Kemp Mill Records, I special ordered it from Tower....before I even owned a CD player!) Happy Hour was also outstanding, an ironic story about acting out under the excuse of intoxication, not a mindless drinking song. But what else would you expect from him? And Meanwhile My Mother, from his latest solo release "Singularity," evinced the introspective nature of an artist who has the rare honesty and confidence to look at himself and the world around him without ever sugar-coating what's there.

Chatting and playing to the crowd, who had responded they preferred him to finish the show on guitar, he gave us Faculty X, from another of his earlier solo releases, 1979's "pH7." He also played A Way Out, and doubled up on two more great selections from "Sitting Targets," closing with Stranger Still, and an encore of one of his finest ballads, Ophelia. (For those seeking to replace their well-worn vinyl copies, most of these albums are newly remastered and available directly from the artist at

Finally, some regrets: I wish we'd been able to stick around and thank Peter again for delivering such an inspired performance after the show. No doubt, those who stayed were treated to a rare opportunity to speak to an intense, personable, and thoughtful gentleman who has been at the center of some of the finest progressive rock music being made over the last 40 years. And I am equally sorry that it took so long to get this review to the blog. I plead overcommitment and exhaustion! And my sincere apologies for the delay!!

However, some good news- 9 more North American dates have been announced on this tour! So, beginning on September 30th in San Francisco, with other dates in several US cities and Canada already booked and more to come, you still have a second chance to catch Pete's one man show as he comes back for a second round! I'll see ya at the Club Cafe in Pittsburgh on October 11th (for more dates and cities, go to and click the "touring" tab). And the interview will be on the air soon!

So ciao for now, see ya in the funny papers, or on the road, again.........

Suddenly....the Smithereens!

Summer is festival season in Washington. People come for miles around to eat, drink, and celebrate the season at the Smithsonian mall, Wolf Trap, all the sheds, and of course, in scenic Old Town Alexandria. That's where the Red Cross recently celebrated the 25th Waterfront Festival, an annual gala which featured rides, food, and live music. Saturday, June 14th featured local faves Virginia Coalition, The Smithereens, and Toad the Wet Sprocket.

And like last year's Memorial Day visit, the 'Reens seem to have developed a nearly Radiohead-like capacity for bringing the rain along with them when playing at outdoor venues (I understand that the same thing also occurred at a show this spring in Virginia Beach, as well). But the crowd was well- prepared this time, sporting slickers and umbrellas, and the band played a solid 90+ minute set before several hundred soggy fans who braved the weather to hear them perform the many hits featured on their recently released CD, "The Smithereens Live in Concert- Greatest Hits and More!" And even under less than ideal conditions, I think everyone was satisfied with the end result.

Pat, Jim, Thrilla, and Dennis took the stage pretty much as scheduled, but blowing wind and rain delayed their start for a few minutes while they worked out sound with the folks manning the board. The band immediately launched into one of their signature tunes, Behind the Wall of Sleep, from their 1986 debut "Especially For You." Largely following the track list from the new album, the band delivered solid performances of Drown In My Own Tears, Miles From Nowhere, Room Without A View, Only a Memory, and House We Used to Live In, getting the crowd into it and inviting them to sing along with the band. Spellbound, from the second album "Green Thoughts," was featured next, a long overlooked but great song that has recently crept back into the band's live sets. Another new addition and personal favorite that has been revived in recent live dates is She's got A Way, a gorgeous ballad Pat wrote for his daughter, from their 1999 set, "God Save the Smithereens."

The band also mixed in a couple of tracks from Pat's recent solo release (which featured both Jim Babjak and Thrilla), and his resonant tenor voice crooned with characteristic aplomb on Since You Went Away, and Any Other Way. Throughout the show, Pat and Thrilla joked with the audience, remarking about the unforgiving weather, reminding the audience to give generously to the Red Cross, and talking up their new label "Koch Records. Doesn't have the same kind of panache as Capitol or RCA Victor, does it?"

Still, the weather and occasional technical difficulties notwithstanding, the boys played another typically inspired show. After Pat broke a string about halfway through the set, the band relied on Jim Babjak's guitar to carry them the rest of the night, and as always, his Strat rang true and delivered with flying colors. In fact, he laid down some of the best leads I've ever heard him play live, prompting me to think that he should be turned up a little more in the mix generally. Thrilla and drummer Dennis Diken were solid as always, and though Pat seemed a little disappointed at not being able to jam along, he channeled his focus into vocals and sounded none the worse for the experience.

By the time the band finished Blood and Roses, the rain finally relented, and the crowd was then entertained by Toad the Wet Sprocket. They performed some of their better known tunes, including All I Want, Come Back Down, and Walk on the Ocean, which is largely what the area in front of the stage resembled by then. Good but languid, while I've always enjoyed the band, it was definitely sleepy and low key after the Smithereens' buoyant performance. However, by that time, I had more than enough, and I was drier than most! Once the Smithereens finished signing autographs and renewing acquaintances with some diehard fans, I tagged along to Bilbo Baggins' Pub in Old Town with Thrilla for a few cold microbeers (I strongly recommend their fine pale ale) and some good conversation with some of his friends.

The good news is that the band will be BACK in VA on August 22nd, playing a FREE, ALL AGES SHOW at the 46th Annual Surfing Championship in Virginia Beach! Be there or be square...and just in case, bring an umbrella!

The Smithereens: Dennis, Jim, Pat and Thrilla- Please consult with the local meteorologist before the next show!

Adrian Belew Power Trio- Got Live If You Want It!

A ride to beautiful Annapolis during rush hour from the 'burbs of Northern Virginia can make for a daunting (and protracted) trip- but not without its rewards. As good as the entertainment in metro DC always is, sometimes ya just have to think outside the box.

So, off we went to the Ram's Head On Stage, a cozy little club with good chow, some fresh micro brews, and comfortable seating, for another opportunity to hear some cutting edge improvisational rock n' roll music by one of the world's finest touring bands, the Adrian Belew Power Trio. As usual, Adrian, Julie and Eric made it a special evening, performing a smoking set, and premiering two new songs (E and Planet E) before an enthusiastic audience.

After two years of seemingly non-stop touring, writing, and recording together, the Power Trio is in fine form. Tighter than ever but equally capable of sudden changes in directions, spontaneous solos, and jamming out a song in a unique and fluid style every night, Eric, Julie, and Adrian never lose track of each other. Constantly looking, anticipating, and subtly alternating leads, the band is amazing to watch in its non-stop action, as they share the stage without any pretension or self consciousness: it's all about the music.

And what music they play (or perhaps, plays them?)! Opening up with an inspired reading of Writing on the Wall, the trio played with a vengeance, romping through a set which included Ampersand, Young Lions, Beatbox Guitar, Matchless Man, A Little Madness, Big Electric Cat, Dinosaur, and a host of other songs from the band's outstanding live release, "Side Four."

As always, Adrian's solo medley was characteristically excellent. Flavored with an Eastern sound, and filled with nuance, sometimes gentle at others more abrasive, Mr. B's guitar took the audience on a dizzying ride across time and space, the club silent as the awestruck audience watched in admiration. Eric and Julie soon rejoined them after their brief break, turning up the amps and building momentum to a fever pitch for an encore of familiar tunes, including Crimson era compositions, Three of a Perfect Pair, Neurotica and Thela Hun Ginjeet. And after the last echoes of feedback died out, and the three had sufficiently recovered from an exhaustive set, the band stuck around to greet old and new friends and sign autographs.

Adrian mentioned that the trio had already recorded a number of tunes for a new record, and would be returning to the studio (probably the one at his home in Tennessee) to work on more arrangements and produce the rest of the disc ("Side 5?"). He said that when you listen to "Side Four," the band has already matured beyond that material, in less than a year. And it's true- the Adrian Belew Power Trio is constantly stretching its wings to discover emerging creative challenges and to develop the budding compositions that have grown out of their intense, dynamic pursuit of new musical frontiers.

If anyone can take musical possibilities to the next level, and explore what's over a distant sonic horizon with the ardor of astronomers finding new stars in faraway constellations, it's these guys. And we'll be watching when they bring life to new songs, still undreamt but continually taking shape in their wild, inventive, and prolific imaginations!

The Wild 'n Wooly WACO BROTHERS!

It was a fine Thursday evening that found 2/3 of the intrepid 1600 team (Steve was temporarily missing in action- but that's a story for another day!) back at the Rock 'n Roll Hotel in downtown DC for an evening with the fabulous Waco Brothers! We soon found ourselves in the midst of a deep and enjoyable conversation with several of the Brothers- Jon Langford, Deano Schlabawske, Tracey Dear, and Joe Camarillo, who spoke with great candor about the band's roots, history, influences, politics, and opinions about the country music establishment and the state of the recording industry in general.

The Brothers, and the kind folks at their label, Bloodshot Records, were also so generous with us to allow us to record their show that evening IN IT'S ENTIRETY! So look for yet another EXCLUSIVE 1600 CONCERT SPECIAL to be broadcast soon on channel 10 in scenic Fairfax, and surrounding areas, with airtimes to be announced as soon as we have the schedule nailed down...

Of course, the show itself was also a gas. While we unfortunately missed local country band the Starlingtons while we gulped down some of the Rock N' Roll Hotel's tasty bar cuisine, we were downstairs in time to catch Chris Mills, who performed solo (he mentioned he usually has a band) but his singing and guitar playing did not seem to lose anything in the translation. Chris looked every bit a seasoned entertainer, and was joined onstage by Wacos Langford and Camarillo, as well as Waco bassist Alan Doughty for a grand finale. Keep an ear out for his next visit to the DC area, it will be time well spent!

The Wacos give you raw, high energy, no-hold-barred rock n' roll with a twang, and get the audience singing and bouncing along in unison. From the opening chords of Waco Express, from their excellent, newly released live document "Live and Kickin' At Schuba's Tavern," to revved up yet faithful renditions of seminal country selections including George Jones' Girl at the End of the Bar, and White Lightning, and the immortal Johnny Cash's classic Big River, the Waco Bros. exuded their earnest respect and dedication to what country music was before becoming co-opted by corporate radio and the ham-fisted, profit-obsessed recording industry.

For Jon Langford's art and commentary on the Death of Country Music, see his labor of love, "Nashville Radio" available from better bookstores now!

The Wacos fired several pointed volleys at those culprits, as well as at the current administration, with songs like Cowboy in Flames, Do What I Say (Not What I Do), and Blink of an Eye, featuring the line "The President's just half a man/Riding in some giant's hand/He's gone in the blink of an eye." That couldn't happen soon enough for me! Other standouts that night included Too Sweet to Die, Hell's Roof, Fox River, and Revolution Blues, performed in a balls-out, freewheeling and high octane style that erupts in equal parts perceptiveness, amusement, and rebellion.

The Waco Bros. lyrics are a throwback to a day of outspoken, raucous gusto, deftly skewering modern complacency with the Langford's old outfit, the Mekons, and the blue collar populism of a Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, or perhaps a 21st century Woody Guthrie. Brother Mark Durante added yet more inspired mayhem to the mix with his familiar pedal steel sound, as did guest fiddler and sometime-Waco sister Jean Cook, further augmenting the old school country meets folk/punk sound.
Also highly recommended: Live and Kickin' at Schuba's- captures the band in all their loud and lively glory!

All in all, it made for one hell of a show, filled with onstage hijinx (at different moments, the Wacos appeared to have been in a temporary time warp, moving in faux slow motion a la Keanu Reaves as Neo in the Matrix, or high-kicking in joyous precision like the Radio City Rockettes fuelled by Guinness and Jamesons at the OK Corral. Our gratitude once again to the Brothers and Bloodshot for their cooperation and courtesy, and our hosts Fritz Wood and the staff at the Rock N' Roll Hotel for a most enjoyable evening. We'll be looking you up again, and soon!