Kristin Hersh at Bottom of the Hill – Sunday, September 29, 2019

Kristin Hersh electric trio at BOTH

Kristin Hersh electric trio at BOTH

I discovered Kristin Hersh in the mid 90s. The first time I saw her perform was a solo performance in San Francisco. Hersh had just released her first solo album, Hips and Makers. That first Kristin Hersh concert was unforgettable – just Hersh on a stool with an acoustic guitar, swaying and singing those brilliant tunes.

I retroactively became a fan of Throwing Muses, too, and mentally kicked myself for missing their explosive, early period. But I’ve been a fan of Hersh’s music for 25 years, and have followed her steady output of solo albums, Throwing Muses releases as well as 50 Foot Wave, her punk band. Hersh is a stunning author as well. I highly recommend her memoir Rat Girl, which I just spent the last hour skimming to find this quote:

Some music is healthy, anyway. I know a lot of bands who’re candy. Or beer. Fun and bad for you in a way that makes you feel good. For a minute. My band is … spinach, I guess. We’re ragged and bitter. But I swear to god, we’re good for you.

Her last few records have kind of blended together for me, though I can appreciate that each one was created by a remarkable artist who’s songwriting, musicianship and production are in peak form. Her most recent album, Possible Dust Clouds, is full of compelling songwriting, from the driving LAX to the folksy Lady Godiva.

The recent performance by the Kristin Hersh electric trio at Bottom of the Hill falls into the spinach category. It was not a “fun” show, but it was good to be there. Hersh was accompanied by longtime Throwing Muses bassist Fred Abong and drummer Rob Ahlers of 50 Foot Wave. Hersh and band laid into the songs with a fierce intensity.

I was blown away by Hersh’s guitar playing which was technically on point, muscular and emotional. Hersh moved effortlessly between rhythm and lead, and her solos were searing, psychedelic, wah-drenched romps. Memorable songs included a rocking Mississippi Kite from the Crooked album, and a crisp, god-like Cuckoo from her first album.

The warmup bands were Dizzy Twin and Fred Abong (also the bassist in Kristin’s band). About Dizzy Twin I can say I loved the rhythm section. However I found the singer to be massively annoying, to be honest, which kind of blemished the experience. The style of music was kind of metallic, operatic, steampunk. The singer had on a metallic vest, and bowler hat. I focused on the guitarist on right of stage, who was very good, and mining a sort of of Led Zep/Ozzy groove.

Fred Abong played next. Just Fred on vocals and guitar. Looks like Kristin loaned him one of her fancy thin, hollow body electrics which sounded gorgeous. Abong had a nice clear voice with effective, hoarse edge to it. Abong’s themes were stark and his sound was spare.

Kristin Hersh electric trio at BOTH set list

Kristin Hersh electric trio at BOTH set list

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Elvis Costello and Blondie at Concord Pavillion

Blondie at Concord Pavillion

Blondie at Concord Pavillion


Thursday, August 8, 2019 – Elvis Costello & Blondie at Concord Pavillion.

Today’s review is Elvis Costello and Blondie at the Concord Pavillion. The occasion was my cousin Terry’s birthday. I probably wouldn’t have made the trek up to Concord for an arena-type show if Terry hadn’t invited me, but I was definitely down for it.

I guess I’m thinking about nostalgia and how we relate to music as we get older. I mean, you’re not hoping to be surprised when you see a couple of artists you listened to in high school or college – and now you’re in your 60’s. At the same time, if I see an act that’s been around for decades, I don’t want a tired performance of their greatest hits – I want to feel like they’re having fun, maybe they have a new album out, and do a few interesting covers or whatever. I am pleased to report that this performance hit all those bases.

Terry and I got to the venue around 5:30pm, before things got too crowded. Parking and getting in were easy. We got burgers and fries at the concession stand and went to find our seats. We were in the semicircular zone behind the orchestra. We were pretty close to the stage, but we had a little elevation which afforded a decent view.

I was pretty stoked about seeing Blondie. I was a big fan of their music back in the day but never saw them live. I was also a little nervous that they might be over the hill, but I could have put my worries aside.

Debbie Harry was very cute, warm and real. Chris Stein was seated, but great. Newer guitarist Tommy Kessler was also great. I was always a huge fan of drummer Clem Burke. Burke’s solid and tasteful drumming was always a big component of Blondie’s sound. And tonight’s performance was god-like. Besides, um, playing the drums he did all kinds of flashy moves, gesturing with arms extended like Poseidon, tossing his sticks into the air and catching em, and so forth. Bass player Leigh Foxx has been with the band for 20 the last 20 years and is still killing it. Keyboard player Matt Katz-Bohen was also great. Katz-Bohen did a couple of amazing solos on keytar which was fun.

Blondie did not play any of my favorite early, early songs like Look Good in Blue or X Offender. But they played so many great tunes like Sunday Girl, Dreaming, Heart of Glass, Rapture, Call Me, Hanging on the Telephone, a couple new ones – maybe Doom or Destiny, The Tide is High, and Atomic. They covered “Groove Is In the Heart” by Dee Lite. They did a sly political thing which I greatly appreciated – they segued into From Russia with Love while the Presidential seal was projected on the giant screens above.

Elvis Costello at Concord Pavillion

Elvis Costello at Concord Pavillion

I had less energy around the headliner, Elvis Costello. I mean, I had a couple of his early albums, but I was not as much of an Elvis fan as I was a Blondie fan. Nevertheless Costello and band delivered a fun and completely satisfying set. The lineup consisted of Costello on guitar (of course), bass, keyboards and drums. They had a really big sound for just 4 players. There were also two backup singers, Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee.

Guess it should not have been a surprise, but Elvis is a fantastic guitar player. I really enjoyed watching his mastery of the instrument. Costello’s set pretty much covered the bases from chronologically as well as stylistically. There were plenty of rocking numbers, as well as ballads. Some of the songs included Pump It Up, Watching the Detectives, Alison, Peace, Love & Understanding, Everyday I Write the Book.

Terry and I both had a great time, which was the main thing, right? Terry, who was more excited about Elvis coming in to the evening, was really impressed with Debby Harry and Blondie. Especially when she Googled Harry and discovered that she’s 73 years old, and still sounds great and full of energy.

See you next time!

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Dressy Bessy, Potty Mouth and Colleen Green at the Ivy Room

Potty Mouth at Ivy Room

Potty Mouth at Ivy Room

Saturday, July 20, 2019 – Dressy Bessy, Potty Mouth, Colleen Green at the Ivy Room, Albany, CA

Friends, I am getting old! Sixty years and still going to punk shows. So old that I debated about driving up to the East Bay from Santa Cruz on a Saturday night to see a show. On the one hand Potty Mouth – a pop punk trio from Massachusetts (now Los Angeles) that I truly love – was on the bill. On the other hand, I had seen Potty Mouth play just about six months ago in Santa Cruz. In the end I voted to support a band I love and make the trek. It turned out to be the right call for a number of reasons.

I got to the East Bay around 6:30pm. I had a whole itinerary planned which started at the Berkeley Melo Melo kava bar on University Ave. I sat at the end of the bar and drank 3 shells (coconut shells of pleasantly euphoric kava tea) and a CBD drink. From there I drove down Shattuck through the tunnel to Solano drive. I found a funky neighborhood restaurant run by two Middle Eastern guys called Jerusalem Market and Burgers (the restaurant, not they guys!), where I had a totally satisfying burger, fries and a diet coke. I was feeling good, and ready to head to the venue.

When I got to the Ivy Room there was a guy out front with an extra ticket. The ticket was mine for the price of a beer, which was a good deal. His name was Chris and he became my club buddy for the night, which was nice. Chris was a fan of headliner Dressy Bessy, and did not know anything about Colleen Green or Potty Mouth.

I had checked out a few videos of Colleen Green before the show and I was definitely intrigued. She calls her genre “stoner pop” which is of course pop music that’s good to listen to when stoned. Her Twitter handle is @ColleenGreen420. She came out in a leather jacket over a short black dress. Colleen was low-key brilliant. With her sunglasses and straight dark hair she was channeling Joey Ramone. One of the songs she played in fact was “I Wanna be Degraded,” sung to the tune of “I Wanna be Sedated.”

Green’s music is pretty minimal (taped bass/drum tracks and Green on electric guitar and vocals). Nevertheless, I felt in the presence of real art. Green uses her minimalism to the best possible effect. Sometimes she comes off as snarky and worldly wise, but in other songs there’s an honesty and vulnerability which is compelling. I spoke to her after the show and she was very cool. I bought a couple of her recordings which have been in heavy rotation.

Potty Mouth was up next. The had a new (just 3 days) touring guitar player. She may have been a little rough, but her attitude was great. Abby, the lead singer, has black hair now and looks very Joan Jett, glowering at the audience with dark-rimmed eyes. Actually I was thinking how blond Abby is like Samantha from Bewitched, and black haired Abby is like Serena – a little wicked.

In fact Abby and the whole band were on fire. It was the most raw and intense Potty Mouth set I’ve seen. They ripped through following songs, plus probably a couple more that I forgot:

  • Smash Hit
  • Cherry Picking
  • 22
  • Do it again
  • Fencewalker
  • Bottom Feeder
  • I Wanna

Potty Mouth has great songs, and a great rock-n-roll attitude. I encourage my readers to check them out!

Dressy Bessy was the headliner. They were formed by singer/songwriter/guitarist Tammy Ealom and some guys in 1999. I actually own their fourth album Electrified which came out in 2005. I think I liked the song “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” but when I tried listening to the album to prepare for the show I honestly didn’t connect with it at all. Ealom does have a pretty good voice, but the songs just really don’t do anything for me. Nevertheless, I stuck out their entire set at the Ivy Room. I will say that the band was having a good time, and seemed really appreciative of the good turnout. They played a decent set and then wrapped up. But wait – Tammy came out onto the floor with an acoustic guitar, and played an intimate mini set with 20 of us standing around in a circle. There were clearly a number of dedicated fans in attendance, and it was nice to see that kind of genuine feeling between artist and audience.

I headed back home with some new music, and having made a new friend. All in all a good night out for this old fart.

Colleen Green at Ivy Room

Colleen Green at Ivy Room

Dressy Bessy at Ivy Room

Dressy Bessy at Ivy Room

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