Tag Archives: music

The Blarg No. 54: The SunPunchers

Guys, things are stressful out there. Unless you’re in a coma—then you might be able to relax. Maybe not. I don’t know, I’ve never been in a coma. Perhaps being in a coma is very stressful. For those of us relegated to a life of horrifying consciousness, though, it’s a real shit show—especially if you are compassionate, or have something like a conscience. Whether it’s a natural disaster (which I firmly believe we are experiencing at a much higher rate due to all the man-induced damage, because science, and really, when it seems like each successive event is the worst of its kind, how can you argue against?), or the daily, often hourly what-the-fuck moments handed down from governments regional, national, and international, it seems impossible to complete one reflection on how to positively impact/change/resist one situation before being forced to react to the next.

How do you cope?

Sometimes, you have to shut the world off, or risk being overwhelmed. Sometimes, you need a little break. Sometimes, despite the heat, you need a warm blanket of an album to soothe your frayed and frazzled nerves. For me, one of those albums is Some Fantastic Place. Released by Squeeze in 1993 (nearly 25 years ago!), Some Fantastic Place came at a time in the band’s career where they were being largely ignored commercially, and only about five years out from calling it quits for a second time (the first being back in 1982—I could go on and on about this band if anyone’s curious…anyone?), which is a shame, because they were making some of the best music of their career, and SFP is often considered by fans (myself included) to be the third in a trio of albums (preceded by Frank (1989) and Play (1991)) that showcase the band at the height of their abilities both in the lyrics of Chris Difford and the music (and voice and guitar) of Glenn Tilbrook. The album that followed, Ridiculous (1995), is pretty good, though not as consistent in my opinion, and the last album of Squeeze’s second coming, Domino (1998), has some great moments, but is one I really only suggest to completists. If you’re still with me at this point, there is a third act to Squeeze, and the first album to come out of it, Cradle to the Grave (2015), is a very fine return (essentially a soundtrack to a TV show for the BBC that I have not seen, the album reminds me a lot of Kinks albums like Arthur or Lola Versus Powerman that had a very definite throughline—an almost Broadway musical-like quality), and their new album, The Knowledge, is due out this fall (if you couldn’t guess, I’m very excited).

Why am I going on and on about Squeeze right now? Especially recommending an album that came out roughly a quarter century ago? Do I need a reason? This is what I do in times of stress that isn’t drinking excessively (thankfully something I’ve managed to break the habit of), compulsive eating, or just checking out completely. We’ve got to stay engaged, and for me, this means taking a step back every once in awhile, listening to a favorite album, and trying to play along to and master Glenn Tilbrook’s riff on “Third Rail” (read: cursing and failing). What do you do? How do you manage? I’m genuinely curious.

This week’s Limited Engagement features four of the five members of The SunPunchers: Betsy Ganz, Jon Rauhouse, Serena Fonze, and Dominic Armstrong (Lindsay Cates was not in attendance). These four fantastic musicians crammed their gear into our front room, played two gorgeous songs (“Hold You Now” and “Sodium Pentothal Blues”), then sat and talked to me for about an hour or so. Have I ever mentioned how much I love having musicians on the show? If I haven’t, you should know that it is a tremendous amount. You can get The SunPuncher’s EP, Honey, on their website, and their first full length album, Levity (which is one of my favorite albums of 2017 thus far), is available on Bandcamp, or you can pick up a copy locally over at Stinkweeds.


Listen to LE 54 – The SunPunchers


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The Blarg No. 42: Mike Pfister

Behold! The forty-second edition of Limited Engagement. 42. The answer which, after seven and a half million years, the greatest computer ever built, Deep Thought, supplied as the ultimate answer to the great question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. That’s right, folks: I am a huge dork. I think that this has been well-established, though, and it shouldn’t come as a great shock to anyone.

We went and saw a little bit of the Emancipation Marathon over at the Phoenix Changing Hands location, and while we were only able to stay for about an hour or so, I’m glad we went. The event, which has taken place for twenty years, is run by Clottee Hammons (LE 40), and features community members reading work to commemorate the victims of American Chattel Slavery. It was great to see the inclusion of children among the readers at the event, as it will be up to them to carry on the legacy, and given Clotte’s work in educational outreach, I know this is no accident. Check out Clottee’s organization, Emancipation Arts, on Facebook, and please support her work.

This week, I talk to ASU professor and drummer extraordinaire, Mike Pfister. Mike was an early supporter of this show, originally as part of the audience, and then as an integral part of the live show, performing opening sets with PressPlay, and more recently the experimental jazz quartet, Klee. I’ve known Mike for years and have worked on a number of projects with him, but I found I didn’t know much about him personally, so I learned a lot through our conversation.



Listen to LE 42 – Mike Pfister

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This Week: Jon Rauhouse! Plus, We did it!

Well, we did it. It’s done. The Arg in Blarg: Limited Engagement, The First Two Years is in the can and off to the printer. Nothing to do now but wait. I hate waiting—gives me indigestion. I’m really proud of the finished product, which is due in large part, as is the case with most things, really, to Janell Hughes, who not only did the layout and design, but the lion’s share of the transcriptions as well, whilst I fretted over writing all the various bits and pieces connecting the damned thing together. I’m so glad it’s over. I did mention that I was proud of it right?

The Arg in Blarg features a section devoted to each episode from the first show with Bill Campana on May 20th, 2015, all the way through the 34th show with Sally K. Lehman and Jessica Standifird, which was posted just last week. There are also a few other odds and ends, including a gallery featuring all of the promotional flyers. The book is being published through Four Chambers Press, and we’re launching it at our second anniversary show on May 19th, please join us if you can. Failing that, the book will be available on our website. I’m looking to partner with a few local establishments as well. If you’re interested, hit me up.

On the show this week, we have local music legend Jon Rauhouse. Rauhouse came to prominence in the band Grievous Angels, has worked with Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann, Jakob Dylan, Kelly Hogan, Sally Timms, and many are no doubt familiar with Jon’s work as a part of Neko Case’s amazing band. We had a great conversation about the life of a professional musician, his work with Neko Case (who might be my favorite singer of all time), and his beautiful playing bookends the show. On May 20th, you can check out the Jon Rauhouse Combo at the Sun Punchers album release show at The Newton on May 20th at 7:30 pm.

Listen to LE 35 – Jon Rauhouse

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A Review of Robyn Hitchcock at the MIM, Phoenix, AZ, 3.3.16

“I’m Not Fully Reconditioned Yet”
Among the reasons for going to a Robyn Hitchcock concert—of which there are more than you might think, and only one of which is the high quality of the music performed—is Robyn’s stage banter. Though he tends to mine similar themes, there is no hearing the same story twice—unless you follow his entire tour, then maybe you’ll hear some retreads, but as most of the banter evolves from his sense of the place he’s in, it seems terribly unlikely, and perhaps it was that the show fell on the occasion of his 63rd birthday, perhaps it was the fact that the size of the audience in attendance was much more robust than the pathetic number that turned out for his last concert at the MIM over three years previously, but RH appeared to be in an altogether more relaxed, less cynical mood, and not at all concerned with the fact that he was playing in a museum (something that seemed to stick in his craw the last time).

This time, Robyn’s banter centered on the dryness of the air; the idea of preconceived notions (and how they can’t apply to Phoenix); something about flies that seemed quite funny at the time; a free-form story about how he hasn’t been fully reconditioned yet, and how when you’re not fully reconditioned bits of you move five seconds behind the other bits; and occasional requests to “Bob,” such as, “Could you make this guitar sound like a 12-string, and also make it sound like I play really well.”  In other words, he was in fine form.

Hitchcock’s set featured a couple of new tunes that are most likely for the forthcoming album he’s spoken of in recent interviews. One might be called “I Pray When I’m Drunk,” and the other might be “I’m a Loser”—these titles are solely speculation based on choruses, and they were quite good. There were plenty of what some might call “standards” or “hits”: “Madonna of the Wasps,” “Balloon Man,” “Raymond Chandler Evening,” and “Queen Elvis”; the classic Soft Boys tune, “I Got the Hots for You”; the requested “A Skull, a Suitcase, and a Long Red Bottle of Wine.” My favorite songs of the evening though were the deeper catalogue and rare cuts such as “Man with a Woman’s Shadow,” “Nietzsche’s Way,” “Sometimes a Blonde,” “Trams of Old London,” and “Glass Hotel.” The encore, as appears to now be the standard for Hitchcock, consisted of a group of covers, the first a solo rendition of his favorite song—which he claimed as his birthday indulgence—Dylan’s gorgeously meandering “Sade Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” then The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” and Neil Young’s “Motion Pictures” joined by Emma Swift on harmonies.

The setlist is by no means complete, and not at all in order. For a complete setlist in the order played, please consult someone with a better memory for that sort of thing.

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A Review of Wild Stab by The I Don’t Cares

I carefully avoided any press/advance reviews for Wild Stab, the new Paul Westerberg album, because I think that critics tend to be inadvertently dismissive, and I didn’t want my initial impressions to be influenced in any way. Yes, I said “Paul Westerberg album,” even though it is billed as The I Don’t Cares—a collaboration between Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield. I like Juliana Hatfield (her presence here, whether in the background or at the fore on songs like “Dance to the Fight” is a welcome counterweight), and I don’t intend to discount or diminish whatever contribution she made to the record, but having listened to quite a lot of work from both parties, what I hear in Wild Stab is a Paul Westerberg album, and one of the best of his career at that.

Who knows, I could be completely wrong, and the ragged nature of the body of work of both artists could point to an enmeshed, deeply rooted collaboration and partnership. However, after many listens to the subtle layers—the occasional horn stab, the deft keyboard riff, the drums that sound like a man trying to beat out all the rhythm inherent in them in a joyous crash that speaks more to innate ability and sheer bloody mindedness than any actual training—are all the hallmarks of every Westerberg release since his final major label outing, Suicaine Gratification—an album ironically prescient with the reprisal of the punched up, yet still gorgeous “Born for Me.”

Almost casually, haphazardly tossed in among the loose, party atmosphere that permeates and buoys the album throughout, with its lighter, easily tossed off moments (see the endearingly childlike and catchy “½ 2P” and just shy of saccharine “Kissing Break”) are moments of genius songwriting. It’s as though Westerberg is taunting us with his “yeah, I just had these old things lying around” hands in pockets embarrassed shrug moments that most songwriters would give a favorite piece of anatomy to write and Westerberg drops like spare change in a cup. I’m talking about the trio of gems “Back,” “King of America,” and “Hands Together.” These three songs alone are worth the price of admission.

“Back” has a fairly simple lyric that could be interpreted a surface level as Westerberg’s long overdue return to the realm of recorded music, or in a plaintively romantic context—either one with the understanding that he’s only “back if you’ll have [him] just as [he is].” The song chugs along in sonically familiar Westerberg-ian territory, but that seems to be the point, and it’s possibly his best album opener since Suicaine Gratification‘s (there’s that album again) “It’s a Wonderful Lie.”

“King of America” should be a hit single, but it won’t be. To fit the radio pallet, it would need to be run through the studio mill to emerge with a glossy sheen. However, all the elements are there, and as it stands, it’s a fantastic working class anthem, as well as one of Westerberg’s finest recorded moments, topped on this album only by its closing epic.

When I arrived at “Hands Together,” Wild Stab’s final track, during my first run through, I got goosebumps. The riff is simple, but it rings out with a gorgeous arpeggio picking the likes of which any long-suffering (that’s right, I said “suffering”) ‘Mats/Westerberg fans have known since songs like “Unsatisfied” and “Skyway” signifies the arrival of an important, cherished track. As such, from the opening lyrics about attending Ty Cobb’s funeral and dancing with Miss Garbo to the closing choral fade, “Hands Together” is most assuredly one of those tracks, one that—even at nearly seven minutes in length—feels as though it’s over too quickly.

Others will doubtless argue to the contrary, but this is a perfect Westerberg album. Perfect not in the traditional sense of perfection, but in the Westerberg sense—an unmatched alchemy of imperfect, half-baked, yet enjoyable tracks and songs that are easily placed alongside the best in his cannon. Anyone who has listened to him from the first Replacements album on up knows that Westerberg needs the freedom to stab wildly and that, given the room, he will hit the mark more often than not.

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How to Play Guitar with Your Idol

First of all, we’re gonna skip right over the fact that I haven’t written on here since July of 2013.

Instead, we’re going to launch into why Glenn Tilbrook–on top of being a vocalist of amazing skill and range–is a musician of the highest order, and one of the most underrated guitarists in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Mr. Tilbrook is the musical half of the songwriting partnership (the lyrical half being Chris Difford) behind the band Squeeze who are–in keeping with the theme–one of the most underrated bands in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Squeeze is best known for the singles “Tempted” (which has appeared in approximately a thousand commercials and has been covered by everyone and their grandmother) and “Up the Junction” (the song’s most recent notable use is in a pivotal scene of the show Breaking Bad, one of my all-time favorite shows, and so you can only imagine when I heard a song by Squeeze being used in the background of the scene where Hank, but that’s way the hell off topic). They had some success stateside in the ’80s, sold out Madison Square Garden, had some top 40 singles, blah, blah, blech. You interested in Squeeze? Find these albums and listen to them: ArgybargyEast Side Story, and Play.  Mind you, they’re all good, but those are three of my favorites, and so why shouldn’t you start there?

Anyway, I could (and do) go on at great length about how amazing Squeeze is, but this particular ramble is focused on the nimble fretwork of Glenn Tilbrook (and how I got to play guitar with him).  For recorded examples of Tilbrook’s genius, listen to the following Squeeze songs: “It’s So Dirty,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “When the Hangover Strikes,” “Slaughtered, Gutted, and Heartbroken,” “Letting Go,” “Some Fantastic Place,” just to name a few; all of his various solo endeavors; the Aimee Mann album I’m with Stupid–he’s all over that one.

However, to truly understand the genius of Glenn Tilbrook, one must experience him live, solo, unencumbered by a band.  The solo stage is where Glenn spreads his fingers and lets them sail up and down the frets in a way that cannot be accurately described, it must be experienced, and I have done so on 5 occasions over the past 13 years. Next time you should go with me, he’s brilliant.

During solo shows, Tilbrook is known for his stage antics–stepping out into the audience, playing the final encore on top of the bar, taking the crowd out into the streets, and even inviting some lucky soul up onto the stage to play with the master.  I had never personally witnessed this last one, but on the night of Wednesday, October 8th, 2014, I not only witnessed, but actually was that lucky soul.  Just before launching into a blistering solo for “Take Me, I’m Yours” (another one of the songs you should listen to), the man asks if there are any guitarists in the audience, a few of us, including myself tentatively raise their hands, he wants one of us on stage.  Absolutely no one is going.  Glenn’s just hanging out on stage keeping rhythm on G minor, and the offer is almost gone.  Before my mind can comprehend what I’m doing (which is probably a really good thing), I am rushing towards the stage and mounting the stairs.

Here’s the blow by blow best I can remember it: Glenn asks if I want to play acoustic or electric (I’m pretty sure I just mumbled something and pointed to his beautiful, black Stratocaster), he helps me with the knobs so the thing makes sound (because I have suddenly forgotten how to do anything), at some point in this I let him know that I don’t know all the chords (one of the few Squeeze songs that I did not know all the chords to), he tells me the chords, he asks me my name, he introduces me to the crowd, and then we’re off and going.  I’m playing “Take Me, I’m Yours” with the GlennmotherfuckingTilbrook, and I did not totally embarrass myself.  Towards the end of the song, he asked me if I wanted a solo, and there was no way that was happening, but, urged on, I did mess around a little bit.  Song finished, the man gives me a hug, a shout out to the crowd, I put the amazing guitar back (I didn’t take the guitar pick–why didn’t I take the pick?), and back into the audience I go.

Down there in audience land, the disbelief sets in.  Did that actually happen?  It did.  My friends took photos, my girl shot video, fellow audience members accosted me and gave me pats on the back.

With all due respect to my friends and loved ones, and not to discount any other achievements I might have amassed along the way, this was probably the single greatest moment in my life.

Oh, and the chords? Verse: Gm Cm; Chorus: Eb D Gm Cm back to Gm; all solos played over Gm.  I will never forget those chord changes.

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