BEST OF 2014: The Capital Land Crate Digger’s Cultural Top 10
By Ross Marvin
Photograph by Greg Haymes
Whenever the Mothership lands in Capital Land, I am on board. Though admittedly more of a rocker than a motherfunker, I couldn’t help from shuffling my feet in unison with my fellow funk abductees, as the Top Gun-flight-suit-wearing Bootsy band tore through P-funk classics that still resonate today in the samples of a thousand rap hits. Besides holding down the badass bass-end of the ship, Bootsy reminded the crowd that William Earl Collins is also the co-writer (with George Clinton) of so many funk classics. You might say Clinton/Collins are the Lennon/MaCartney of funk.
Anyone who thinks that punk is dead in Capital Land doesn’t know Chris Lawrence. A longtime member of the Albany punk scene, Lawrence was a regular presence behind the bar at Valentine’s and the register at Last Vestige before opening the doors of his own record store this past spring. The shop joins Last Vestige on Quail Street and stocks loads of punk and indie rock reissues along with some rare punk lps and a great selection 7-inch records. Lawrence’s own Loud Punk label also features prominently.
Though still dressed like a Ramone (c’mon, that’s gotta be a wig, Marky), the one-time replacement stick-man for Tommy Erdelyi spent a very non-punk two hours giving a PowerPoint presentation at Saratoga’s esteemed liberal arts college to a bunch of undergraduates and a few star struck local punks. It was a jean jacket-meets-corduroy jacket crowd. Marky traced his massively underestimated contribution to bands at the cutting edge of metal (DUST), transgender punk (Wayne County), and, of course, the Ramones. He dropped a lot of names, but I imagined that these were the stories Marky must have told over beers at CBGB’s years ago. Of course, he’s clean now and coming to a Rock and Roll High School near you!
Sure we miss the piss trough and the graffiti on the bathroom walls. We miss hearing the blend of hardcore and Grateful Dead covers that you could only hear halfway down the staircase. It was nearly criminal how Valentine’s ended, being pushed out of the schoolyard by corporate bullies. But, sometimes change is good. The bathrooms are clean, for one. The bands (both local and touring) are eclectic. The No Pepper stage is smaller, but more communal. The brunch is damn good. And, with a move to Central Avenue, the Low Beat joins Noise Annoys, Last Vestige and Pauly’s Hotel in what might be Albany’s cultural epicenter. I can’t wait to see what Howard Glassman does next in his perpetual pursuit to save DIY rock and roll.
It was the height of July. My beloved Baltimore Orioles were still looking like potential World Series champs, the Mets were already out of it, and the Yankees were trying to figure out any loophole that might prevent them from paying A-Roid $20 million per year to DH in 2015. It was a time of hope, when the current reality of warming my hands by the dim warmth of the hot stove, hoping to get ‘em next year was merely a glimmer in my eye. Anyway, indie-rock hall of famers Mike Mills, Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey rolled into Hudson in late July like an old barnstorming squad, performing their numbers about Lenny Dykestra and the Oakland A’s with professional ease and Dad-rock charm. Though the show never rose to a frenzied climax, it was a beautiful thing to watch the veteran band play a small room and to think that Mike Mills probably likes playing Club Helsinki better than he ever liked playing stadiums with R.E.M. It was like watching Derek Jeter come by your local little league for the sheer love of the game.
5. LAST VESTIGE 25th ANNIVERSARY, ALBANY – October 31
There aren’t many places I feel more at home than Jim Furlong’s Last Vestige. But, too often I take the Albany record giant for granted. Then I go to New York City. Many of the great used record stores are closed in the Big Apple and in the place of crate digging, hipsters go to reissue giants like Rough Trade in Williamsburg where you can drop $35 on a single slice of new wax. While Furlong does peddle new vinyl (and typically has an especially great selection of Coxsackie’s Sundazed label), Last Vestige is a vintage buyer’s paradise. The vast used selection in nearly every genre is nearly overwhelming and you could easily spend a full day digging in each of the store’s three rooms. It’s a place to get your fingers dirty in what I have come to call the “in-between” sections. If you’ve been to Last Vestige (and get thee to Quail Street if you haven’t) you know that it’s impeccably organized. There are stock cards for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan and so on, where you can find your favorite bands, which is a given. But, if you want to be a seeker— if you are truly dedicated to discovering something new (the true purpose of a record store in my opinion) – then dig in-between. Find that little card marked “M” at the end of the “M’s” and before the “N’s” start, or “B” between the “B’s” and “C’s.” There you will find something you haven’t seen before. You’ll find wild cover art. You’ll find groups of men with killer mustaches posing for the back-of-the-lp promo photo in matching leather fringe. You’ll see a side project of an important musician or a find a disc on a label from the golden age of college radio (Twin/Tone or Homestead are my personal favorites). Because the prices are so good, you can take a chance. This is how you learn, how you grow, and what will keep me coming back for 25 more years. Sure, Led Zeppelin reissues are great, but dig in the “F’s” and find the Feelies. That’s what happened to me, and I’m the better listener for it.
Okay—truth be told this show wasn’t great. The bar was ridiculously hot, and I think Hurley was physically uncomfortable under the lights. The crowd was obnoxious; most of the people there were talking loudly while consuming PBRs, and Ole Snock had to scold the youngsters a couple of times about how to behave at a folk concert. Hurley had come off of a big show in Brooklyn, and it felt like he was going through the motions to make some cash. Still, it was a joy to hear Hurley pontificate about the best beers in Portland, Oregon, and to bring his voice to a warbling lilt as his left hand made a run up the neck of his old guitar. It reminded me of how young, white traveling folk singers in the ’60s must have felt when they rediscovered the old blues legends playing in some basement. I felt strangely compelled to stand up and scream, “You’re a legend,” but maintained my composure. Hurley, though unremarkable on this night, was remarkable for his workmanship, for his blue collar lifestyle of simply throwing a guitar over his shoulder, plugging into a local bar’s PA system and playing another show in a life that has been made up of thousands.
Jimmy Barrett is the man in Troy. No, seriously, the affable River Street Beat Shop owner won Citizen of the Year in Troy in 2014. Though I doubt the only reason he won this award was the fact that he brought Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby to Troy on Record Store Day, I like to think that there were a few Stiff Records fans on the voting committee. Other stores might have gotten more exclusive releases, but only in Barrett’s store could you hear a live version of “Whole Wide World,” which still gets my vote for best two-chord rock song (with Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” coming in a close second). At one point, the couple was rocking so hard that a bottle of water fell off of the booming loudspeaker and spilled all over Amy’s pedal board. A quick thinking customer faced electrocution head on and spent what felt like the entire set cleaning up the mess. Amy and Eric kept making harmonies, never skipping a beat.
It was a family affair. Jeff and Spencer Tweedy together on stage; My brother Chad and me in the audience. Perhaps more than sports, TV sitcoms, eating unhealthy food, or our parents, music is the most common thread in the conversations between my brother and me, the glue that keeps us together. The first real rock concert I ever took my brother to was a Wilco show at Skidmore College when I was about 19. He’d never heard of them, and I felt pretty good about myself when I could tell he was hooked after a killer version of “Handshake Drugs” off the newly released A Ghost is Born. I was getting older, and it was becoming less and less likely that my brother would emulate the things I did. He was becoming a young man in his own right, a high school sophomore, and I think he finally realized I wasn’t as cool as he thought I was back when he was a little kid. In fact, it was clear — he was the cooler brother, the more socially at ease, and popular. So, I was pretty much ecstatic that he loved this band I was into. It was the start of his education as I passed along my Pavement, Byrds and Bob Dylan albums. It was start of trips to record stores together, and even a failed attempt to form a band. We even liked that Jeff Tweedy didn’t have a voice that was too rangy — we could hit the notes within his limited baritone. As life goes on, and we continue to grow up, I keep waiting for Wilco or Tweedy to make a misstep, to release an album that breaks the spell his music has cast over us. Every album a new conversation. Each song a topic for debate, dissection and highway sing-alongs. I’m glad to say Tweedy continued to please the Marvin brothers with Sukierae, his first solo album, which features Jeff’s teenage son Spencer Tweedy on drums. The show at the Calvin Theater was a great one, partly because of the music, but mainly because Chad and I were together. It was only a few days after the release of the album, but my bro and I already knew all of the lyrics to all of the songs.
The stuff of legends. Wussy gets delayed because of a traffic-turned-drug bust. Norton Records recording artist Bloodshot Bill has to fill time and does his best Tazmanian Devil-meets-Elvis Presley impression for more than an hour, spitting and stomping his way through one-man-band psychobilly. Wussy finally shows just before midnight and the entire crowd helps them carry their instruments in from the parking lot. The band was tired, pissed at the fuzz, and ready for revenge. They were also comfortable at the Low Beat after a well-received show in March and knew they had the support of a loyal crowd. It showed. What followed was the best rock show of the year, roaring late into the night. When Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker joined together to sing the grand chorus of “Beautiful,” I scribbled something in my notebook that I couldn’t make out back when I wrote my original review, probably because chills were shooting up and down my spine as my body was ringing with guitar drone. Looking at the notebook today, I’m sure the word I wrote was “ECSTACY.” Until they return to Capital Land, do yourself a favor and pick up the November-released black and red vinyl limited edition of their album Attica on Shake It Records. It gets my vote for the album of 2014.