Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hartford Comic Con 2014: Weird Tales From Cons Gone By

For the inaugural year of Hartford Comic Con, it was certainly packed with geeky goodness - so much so that my Q & A over at Strange Kids Club was bursting at the seams and had to be split into two pieces! I'm proud to present the second part of that here on my dusty ol' blog, where guests from the Con recount...weird tales of Cons gone by:

Rich Woodall - Artist Alley Comics (Kyrra: Alien Jungle Girl, Johnny Raygun)

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Rich: Best Con Experience: The first year I was doing Johnny Raygun with my Partner in Comics, Matt Talbot, we set up at Wizard World Chicago. We had a great time, but the highlight of the show was hanging out with Erik Larsen until 3 or 4 in the morning talking about Jack Kirby and comics in general… and then we drove him to the airport and he told us about the next 2 years worth of Savage Dragon story lines.

Worst Con Experience: Man, it's hard to pick a worst… I generally love going to cons, and don't see the negative in much, but if I had to pick a worst, I think it would have to be sitting next to a guy selling a book called Jacques Da-Cock and screaming the title every time someone walked by… trying to sell an all ages book next to that was kinda rough.

Weirdest Con Experience: I once complimented a Buffy shirt as someone walked by. The couple took that as a sign to stop and pitch Matt and I their Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Scooby Doo Fan Fict. This might not have been so bad if they took turns pitching, but both were very excited and pitched at the exact same time. So, for 5 minutes all we heard was high pitched noise with the random character name thrown in there. After the pitch Matt looked over at me and said "don't EVER complement anyone again!"

Jack Purcell - Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Jack: My best con story was in NYC where I sold a beautiful splash page before the show started, got to be part of a project announcement with Stan Lee and got offered a part time job teaching at RISD CE (*Rhode Island School of Design Continuing Education). An amazing weekend!

Mark Frankel - Wayward Raven Media (Signed C: The Missing, Horsemen)

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Mark: Let me preface my answer with the statement that I truly enjoy talking to the all the folks who go to cons, no matter who they are or what they are into. I'm a little unusual, as are the other guys in Wayward Raven, so I love attending conventions and hanging out with folks who are as passionate, nerdy and excited about comics and the conventions as I am. I'm there to sell, but I'm also there to have fun. Without the awesome people we meet at these things, I can't imagine I would still be doing it. Every now and again, however, there is that one person you just can't reach.

The first time I exhibited, we had a guy come up to us and ask if we wanted to buy his novel. Not buy it to publish it, but just buy a copy. I think he was asking $30 or $40 bucks for it. I don't think it was bound normally either (although I'm sure any number of places would have done it for him. Kinkos or Staples for example), just a general stapled together manifesto. I only recall ever seeing the one copy too. I tried to politely decline, explaining that we were there to sell books, not buy them. He visited us off an on for the next couple days, still with the one copy. I guess no one else was buying either. Maybe if he only wanted five or ten bucks someone would have taken it off his hands. Or not, who knows. I have not seen him since, I hope that with some guidance it has worked out for him.

Joey Esposito - Footprints

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Joey: The worst, and coincidentally weirdest, con story to date is from Comikaze Expo a few years back in LA. It was the first day of the show, still early in the morning, and a gentlemen came over to my table to browse my wares; specifically Footprints, a black-and-white noir comic that was feature prominently in my setup. He flipped through it a bit, thought for a moment, and then looked me in the eye and said, "This is exactly the kind of book I wouldn't order for my store." He walked away after that. So that was pretty weird. 

Ken Kristensen - Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth, Indestructible
Todd The Ugliest Kid Facebook Page

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Ken: The thing that always amazes me at cons is when hardcore Superman fans come up and ask me to sign Superman Returns movie posters. I was in graduate school when I served as location manager on that movie --and I worked my ass off. So it feels good to be recognized years later, but it still blows my mind because it's not like I'm the writer or director. That's one of the great things about fandom -- getting recognized even if you were only a small part of something.

Slade Wilson - Cosplayer (Deathstroke & Chameleon)

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Slade: Well at Free Comic Book Day, a Ghostbuster used my kali sticks in a not so nice pose behind me.

Ryan Browne - ZombiePETZ

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Ryan: Probably the best was last year at NYCC, getting the chance to meet Stan Lee. He's the reason most of us do what we do. He is a great man, humble beyond belief! One of the weirdest experiences so far isn't really weird as much as it was surreal - getting to meet The Crow comic creator James O'Barr, who is one of my biggest influences. I spent a solid 45 minutes talking with him while discussing everything from his past writing stories to how he doesn't tend to do sketches anymore at conventions. While chatting with him he was doodling in his book and when he finished he had a huge 11x17 crow sketch that he gave me as a gift. I am still to this day speechless. As far as bad experiences I haven't really had any yet (fingers crossed). Hopefully I won't ever have anything bad happen at a con.

Jason Deeble - Monster Haiku

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Jason: My first time selling my books was at a dog park. It was some kind of dog parade or dog festival. I can't exactly remember. I know I had a table out in a field and it started snowing like crazy. I think I may have sold two books that day. I felt like a rock star.

Alex Cormack - Oxymoron

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Alex: I’ve had a lot of good times at cons to really nail down one. Meeting people, seeing friends, traveling, but one of my favorite things is to meet people face to face for the first time who I have been working with through emails.

The worst, well... hmmm... I’m not sure if I have a worst story yet, there’s been a bunch of things that people would do to get on my nerves but nothing too terrible and nothing too interesting.

But weirdest, well that’s another story! One time I was drawing sketches for people in books we were selling of your basic characters - Spider-Man, Batman, etc. - and this one guy asked me to draw a self portrait in his book. And as I was drawing myself, he started to criticize the drawing telling me that my eyebrows were thicker, or that my nose was bigger and so on. Another time I was at a show with, at the time my girlfriend now my wife, and a guy came up and asked us to sign pictures of ourselves that he found somewhere on the internet. The last one I’ll mention is a guy I met on a Free Comic Book Day and I asked if he would like to see a book I was selling, and he began to yell at me that God is dead and that his no good ex-wife did not understand that and that’s why they are separated, then stormed off swearing. But anyways it’s all a part of the fun.

Adam Miller - ZombieBomb, Hartford Comic Con Coordinator

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Adam: A couple years ago we were working on a book called ZombieBomb. It was a horror anthology and ended up being a pretty good ride for a bit. At the time we were selling books and having fun and had gained a little real world notice for it. A filmmaker named Tom Bennett took interest in us and started documenting our adventures for a web series. At a convention in Philadelphia, Norman Reedus (of Walking Dead and Boondock Saints fame) showed up at our table very excited about the artwork he saw. He payed us a nice compliment and quickly returned to his booth. It happened so fast we were all caught a little flat-footed and never got footage of him visiting us. We regrouped and found Reedus again a short time after. We asked him if we wouldn't mind appearing on our show in support of the book, and he said he'd happy to do it. Once turning the camera on, Tom asked him to say a few words - the catch being that Tom thought his name was Sean Patrick Flannery (his Boondock Saints cast mate). Upon us confusing their names, Sean Patrick Flannery, who was standing just feet away, caught wind of it all and ambushed us. He jumped in and began making fun of the whole situation, and all on tape no less. Both actors were amazingly good sports about it all and despite having a little egg on our face, we landed on our feet and got a great segment out of it. It eventually become our most watched video (YouTube link) and is still one of my all-time favorite con stories.

Frank Malec - Mashups, Designs and Tees

Juano's Addiction: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Frank: My best con story is that I've pretty much perfected the art of getting into any panel I want to see at NYCC with out having to wait in line. It doesn't work for main hall though...

Matthew Fletcher - Station Studios

Surfin' Dead: What's your best/worst/weirdest Con story to date?

Matthew: Weirdest Con story?  Haha, that's an easy one!  Early in my career, when I first starting doing sketches at shows (but still didn't know any better), a college-age kid comes up to our table and asks if I do commissions.  "Of course" I said "What are you looking for?".  Mind you, I wasn't getting nearly as many opportunities to sketch at shows back then so I was eager to draw and make some cash in the process.  As he starts pulling out an incredibly thick manila folder from his backpack, he excitedly answers "Well, I was hoping you could do a drawing of John Mayer!"…...All I can remember is my brain tripping and falling on its face.  

Of the list of hundreds of possible superheroes, villains, or pop culture icons that could have come out of his mouth, this was definitely not one of them.  

Am I a fan of John Mayer's music?  Hell, no.  But, I'm relatively familiar with who he is and what he looks like.  Am I thinking it's a little weird that this kid wants a John Mayer sketch?  100%!  But who am I to judge? 

I figured I'm decent with likenesses anyway, how bad could it be?  So, my brain picks itself up off the floor and I say "Sure, why not."  

What happens next is where the nightmare begins. 

He of course is ecstatic (My guess later was that no one else was stupid enough to take this on).  

He asks if I know the song "Waiting on the World to Change".  I tell him that I had heard of it.  He then goes on, AT LENGTH, telling me how much this song means to him and how this song changed his life.  How the world is a terrible place with so many awful things happening for no reason and that we can all change the world.  Now, don't get me wrong, this is a wonderful sentiment that I think many people share, and I very much appreciate how special this song is to him.  HOWEVER!  This conversation just went from weird to creepy in a matter of seconds and I'm starting to feel a little uncomfortable with the personal information being shared with me.  

Next, as he hands over the incredibly large manila folder filled with reference photos of John Mayer, he tells me exactly how the piece should be laid out.  "I want John to be sitting in a throne.  With rockets on it.  In outer space.  And for him to be floating in front of the Earth.  And I want the Earth to be cracking open and exploding, with the words 'Waiting on the World to Change' written below the exploding Earth."


We've just gone plaid people!

This is literally the worst commission idea I've ever heard!  Every ounce of my body is screaming for me to say "NO" to this, but for some reason my head keeps nodding, and the word "yes" keeps coming out of my mouth.  The kid finally walks away and I'm left staring blankly into the crowd with drool coming out of my mouth.  My buddy is looking at me dumbfounded and asks, "Did you agree to do that?".  With a look of horror, I turned to him and nodded.

I then spent the rest of that day at the show, that night in our room, and most of the next day at the show, drawing and coloring that piece.  

In the end, I charged way less than I should have for a piece that complicated, and passed up at least 5 other sketches that weekend while working on it.  On top of all of that, because he wanted to save money, he opted for me to do the piece on 9x12 instead of 11x15 which is incredibly small for a piece of that description.  Especially considering that I was expected to capture someone's likeness.  In all honesty, telling him "No thank you" really would have been better for both of us; because what he asked for was a sketch of John Mayer floating on a rocket throne, in space, in front of an exploding Earth with the phrase "Waiting on the World to Change", but, what he got was a sketch of a man that kind of looks like David Boreanaz floating on a rocket throne, in space, in front of an exploding Earth with the phrase "Waiting for the World to Change".

The moral of this story:  Thank god "Your Body is a Wonderland" wasn't his favorite John Mayer song.

A big thanks goes out to all who participated! Here's hoping next year is even bigger and weirder...

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blood & Gourd: Bringing The Fun Back To Horror Comics

You know what has always been at the top of my comic pull list to read every week? Not the big superhero spectacle, not an artsy black & white crime noir book, not the smartly written sci-fi epic. No, it's usually a ridiculous horror romp. You know the one - with monsters rampaging and people running in terror. It reminds me of simpler times, of the eighties... where the hair was big, the movies were craptastic and men in rubber suits created our nightmares.

And now I've found a book that promises to return horror to a time when it was still fun - Blood & Gourd. These guys have a tale of terror that they've been dying to tell for years now, and it's very close to becoming a reality. Their Indiegogo campaign to fund the book ends tomorrow (Jan. 19th) at midnight PST , and they're OH so close to their goal. The writers (Jenz Lund and DH Shultis) took time out of their schedule to bring their inspiration - the monstrous Gourdfather himself - here for ol' Doc Curdle to interview. This can only end let's get this circus underway:

Doctor Curdle/Zombie Zone News: So, what're you - some kind of Pumpkin King? I'm pretty sure I've made pies out of your minions before.

The Gourdfather/Blood & Gourd: When in sorrow you think of dark autumn days, full of rain, you think of me. I walk the sodden pasture lane and am the bareness of a withered blood-slicked tree. I, desolate and linen grey, clinging with mist and rot, carry the light of hell in my face while the hatred of damned souls writhes within my vines.  The sturdy seedling with arched body comes, shouldering its way past crumbling wet earth.  I move in savage shade and darkness with bitterness and dread.

DC/ZZN: Ooookay (Doc pulls the pumpkin guts and seeds that were released from the Gourdfather during his rant off of his face)...seriously, though - why should I care about a pumpkin deity who could probably be taken down by Linus and his wooby? I mean, I bet they're in your patch waiting for you right now...

GF/BaG: The leaves are all dead, the scraping and creeping of my vines is un-ending.  The wall, unmended, has broken down at last. I seek the aching drift of all things within the tillings of your city’s razing. I whisper from the lowest chambers and open your hearts to doubt. Those of you not asleep will mark the creeping cold and shed the hope of day. You will dress your fear in blood and have your death by gourd.

DC/ZZN: Okay, RELAX...let's talk about your book. Why are Jenz, DH and Dave the ones to tell your tale?

GF/BaG: I told them so, at last, to beg and be beholden. I spoke to them of horror and those asleep in pretty dreams of zombie money and shimmering faces. I looked for them in scarce times and fixed thier gazes to my creation. Things aren’t what they used to be, nothing else would do to quell the entropic boredom death of all things horror. I needed vessels who could shun the bland sameness behind the wallowing corporate art of sparkling vampires and pornographic gore. I demanded servants who could brush aside the dirt of dull zombies. Jenz K. Lund and DH Shultis heard my call and drew me from my seed to hasten your fiery end.

DC/ZZN:  .....
I can't work with this guy. Ask a simple question, get a villainous monologue. Squee, get Surfin' Dead in here! Maybe he can get something out of the writer nerds.

Surfin' Dead/Zombie Zone News: What the f... Doc! You said you could handle this on your own!

DC/ZZN: To be fair, I wasn't expecting to be covered in pumpkin sputum. Which I am. Would you like me to share some with you so you can get a feel for what the interview has been like so far?

SD/ZZN: Ugh, get that slime away from me! Sorry guys, let's hit the reset button here. Jenz, DH - where did the original concept come from, and how did it evolve?

Jenz Lund/Blood & Gourd: The story seemed to come to life on its own. It started as a short, low budget movie script about kids on skateboards fighting off pumpkin headed people with baseball bats. It wasn’t long until we realized we didn’t have the time or the budget to pull it off. I thought I came up with a simple solution: let’s make it a comic book! Here we are three years later.

DH Shultis/Blood & Gourd: The concept started on two fronts: the characters and the monsters. After Jenz told me his idea for the pumpkin monsters, we had a ton of fun developing the concept into a rich lore and a whole new world of horror. The characters came to life in a similar way. We knew we wanted to make our characters real, three dimensional people who were up against something horrible and shocking. The interplay of diverse real people and otherworldly nightmarish creatures became, for me, the heart of the script. 

SD/ZZN: How did you come together, and where has your artist - Dave Acosta - been hiding?

JL/BaG: DH and I met in graduate school. I remember being on a big John Waters kick at the time and striking up a conversation about him. It turned out that we shared an appreciation for good horror and smart, satirical, junkfood cinema. We attended an annual hororr film festival in Olympia called All Freakin’ Night, and by sunrise, we knew we wanted to work together. I have no idea where Dave Acosta’s been hiding, we’re just lucky he let us find him.

DH/BaG: When Jenz and I started working together it was a way to keep writing and to keep our artistic blood flowing.  The project helped us create and sustain a meaningful friendship. It was the fun of it all that kept us working together and kept the project going. Our writing sessions were part work and part good fun. We take pleasure in making each other laugh and cringe at the same time.  Acosta was a real gem of a find. We have only started working with him recently, and hope to continue to do so. We’ve been impressed with his art- and with his ability to interpret the script into some stunning art.

SD/ZZN: How grand of a scope is there for the story of B & G? Is there one definitive beginning and end, or is there wiggle room for some offshoots along the way?

JL/BaG: We’ve always loved the Marvel and DC universe concept. We have the story written in three acts, but there’s a ton of room for growth. Not for the sake of milking it like The Hobbit movies, but to branch out the world. We don’t want to give too much away, but perpetual Samhain stops time itself, leaving everybody trapped in night that never seems to end. Time really isn’t an issue at that point.

DH/BaG: The story we want to tell with Blood and Gourd has a definite three act structure.  It’s fast, wild, and comes to an epic conclusion. That being said, we’ve created a rich and full universe around the story- one that could be harvested for all kinds of offshoots and spin-offs. We wanted to tell an exciting story that leaves the reader wanting more. We’d love to be able to tell more tales from this universe, and we think readers would like those stories as well.

SD/ZZN: Do you see this becoming a print book, or could there at least be a collection down the road if things take off?

JL/BaG: It’s been our dream since day one to hold a print copy of Blood & Gourd in our hands. We want something a kid can read under the covers with a flashlight. We’ll be doing a limited run of promotional, printed comics sometime in May. A signed copy is one of the funding perks on our Indiegogo campaign. We hope to have a collection together by next Halloween.

DH/BaG: Yes. Oh, yes. Blood & Gourd will be a printed comic book someday soon.

SD/ZZN: What are a few pieces of classic horror that really spoke to you and influenced the creation of B & G?

JL/BaG: EC Comics, Eerie and Creepy magazines, Mars Attacks trading cards, movies like Creepshow, The Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps, and (the original) Dawn of the Dead. Of course, Stephen King and HP Lovecraft have their slime-dripping, bloody tendrils all over this thing too. It also stems from a dissatisfaction with the state of modern horror. Horror needs more than torture-porn, monster romance, and the grim, grey world of survival zombie stories.

DH/BaG: Tales from the Crypt, The Twilight Zone, MST3K, and some creepy flicks like Psycho, not to mention the real classics of horror with Bella Lugosi and Vincent Price. Along with the movies and writers Jenz mentions, a lot of my writing queues come from the sci-fi greats: Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, Heilein, and H.G Wells.  Comic book wise, I’m a huge Batman fan and love Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.    

SD/ZZN: Are there any current comics, or particular writers and artists, that you follow and draw inspiration from?

JL/BaG: Eric Powell is a national treasure and I love Neil Gaiman to death.

DH/BaG: Robert Kirkman is a must mention. I have recently started following Dirk Manning, and really like his approach to writing comic books.

SD/ZZN: As new comic creators, what have been some of your learning curve moments so far?

JL/BaG: Somebody once told me that you may get those first, five pages done, but good luck with the last five. A great, dependable artist is hard to find and worth every penny. Also, I was more of a control freak intitally. Now I let the artist draw from the script their own interpretation, we make some tweaks collaboratively, and we’re good to go. It seems to work really well. Promotion is a pain in the ass! There’s a sea of really loud people out there and it takes all your energy to keep pounding away. You better really love what you're doing or you’ll run away screaming. Hell, you might anyway.

DH/BaG: Dude. I feel like I’m working on a graduate degree in comic book creation.  The last five months have been especially full of learning moments.  Successfully taking a product from cradle to market is not an easy task. My clearest learning moments have happened while talking with comic book store owners. These guys had seen their share of would-be creators fail and stall out mid-project. Jenz and I have managed to make sure our project survived long enough to get past the stage where most people seem to give up.  

SD/ZZN: With some great penciled pages and new art coming at a quick pace now, do you see yourselves hitting the convention circuit this year?

JL/BaG: That’s the plan. Our stretch goals on the Indiegogo campaign will focus on coloring the first 30 pages and getting us on our way.

DH/BaG: One of my life goals is to sit at a comic book convention with some posters and a few print copies of this comic book.  I feel like we’ll hit a few conventions this year, and may be real tour rats in 2015. 

SD/ZZN: What would be the band/song/album to provide the soundtrack for your Gourdpocalypse?

JL/BaG: I write characters and scenes based on certain songs and/or bands I love. If Blood & Gourd were a movie, the title sequences would kick off with Cecilia Ann by The Pixies. I’d definitely throw some Zero Boys, Bad Brains, Stooges, CSS, Cramps, Black Flag, Fugazi, Melvins, Minor Threat, The Replacements, Young Evils, The Blow, Santigold, Sonics, and since it takes place in Olympia, WA – some K and Kill Rockstars shit too. Blood & Gourd is very much an angsty, fun, punk rock comic book.

DH/BaG: The Venn Diagram of Jenz’s and my musical taste would have some overlap- and some non-overlap. For me, the soundtrack is The Misfits (Glenn Danzig), Whorehouse of Representatives, "Zulu Death Mask" by Deadbolt, with some Mojo Nixon for travelling music.  The Reverend Horton Heat might be playing at the farm when it all starts happening. The dark moments of the night would be set to Metallica’s “Call of Cthulu” or some weird droning Mogwai track.

SD/ZZN: Thanks so much for answering our questions!

And be sure to check out the Blood & Gourd Indiegogo page soon, 'cause tomorrow at midnight PST *poof* you're out of time!
Blood & Gourd Indiegogo page
Blood & Gourd on Facebook
Blood & Gourd on Twitter

And if you want to check out more of my insanity:
My posts as "Surfin' Dead" on Zombie Zone News
Surfin' Dead on Facebook
Surfin' Dead on Twitter

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio was NOT taken down by stomach cancer. Here's how I know:

Dio was the only one with the iron sac to take the vocal reins of Black Sabbath after Ozzy departed. The rumors that Mr. Osbourne only left Sabbath because of a "mystical bitchslap" laid down by RJD's personal wizard only makes it more impressive.

Not only did he popularize the infamous "devil horns" hand gesture that is a heavy metal staple, he also beat the devil's ass and told him that he was taking HIS horns away. That's how he rolled.

RJD consorted with witches, slew dragons and fought off hordes of demons with little more than his own voice...and possibly a giant sword. Don't believe me? Check out this video, and you may change your mind:

That's how I know it couldn't have been stomach cancer, an evil that couldn't be fought on the fields of battle. He deserved to go out in a glorious fight, making the landscape quake with his thundering voice before meeting his equals in Valhalla. And that's the end I choose to remember...

R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010). You will be remembered well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's True Kids...Daddy's Been Moonlighting For Zombies

You may have heard rumors that I've been writing for some crazy zombie web site. I'm here to tell you...that it's true. I know, you're wondering why I would stop fighting the hordes of the undead and start creating fluff pieces to promote them.

Rest easy kids - it's called "deep cover".

I've set myself up as a zombiephile with the handle of "Surfin' Dead" on the Zombie Zone News web site. I've even written my first piece about the Top 10 Zombie Comics To Rot Your Brain. They've begun to trust me.

And that's how we'll win. Pretty soon, I'll have the locations for all their undead tea parties or curling matches or...y'know, whatever evil things these revenant bastards like to do. And then...kablooie! No more nasty yellow teeth trying to gnaw on your giblets!

Don't worry, I'll be back soon with more craziness on Juano's Addiction. I might even tell you about all the crazy dreams I've been having...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Big Night Out: The Hold Steady - Pearl Street - April 6

I’ve been listening to The Hold Steady for a few years now, and I always had a pretty clear picture in my head of what the singer would look like. Let me fill you in on how this came to be: the “I’ve been smoking cigarettes since I was in a crib” voice brought a bit of Tom Waits imagery, while the vibrant storytelling style made me think of a Bob Dylan/Bruce Springsteen hybrid. Add a dash of Johhny Rotten with all the allusions to partying and drugs in their lyrical landscape, and let your mental View-Master work out THAT rough-and-tumble fella.

So just imagine how blown my mind might have been when I first laid eyes on Craig Finn, the actual owner of that voice. The mashup we were looking for bore a closer resemblance to the possible love child of Elvis Costello and Pee Wee Herman. (And yes, I know how unlikely it seems that I had never seen a picture of the man on the intertubes, but I swear it’s true!) Preconceived notions and first impressions set aside, he’s one of the most visually enthralling leading men I’ve ever seen. With a shimmy and swagger dance style that brought him back and forth to the mic, he spit out the lyrics to some 23 songs during their 90 minute set.

And lest we forget, there was a whole band on stage with him…who went largely unintroduced over the course of the evening. So who are the Hold Steady players? Rounding out the rest of the original lineup, we have Tad Kubler on lead guitar, Galen Polivka on bass and Bobby Drake on drums. Joining them, we also saw fine additions in Dan Neustadt on keyboards (taking over for Franz Nicolay, who’s gone on to solo projects) and new guitarist Steve Selvidge (formerly of Lucero). Selvidge brings the guitar attack to a total of 2.5 (we can’t really count Craig Finn, considering his axe remains mainly ornamental, slung around his back for most of the set except for a few punctuating strums).

So, what can one expect for the highlights of a Hold Steady show? Well, you might very well see the rebirth of the great American rock’n’roll experience. The guitars are ferocious, both evoking a classic rock sound and creating a newly minted crunch of their own. And it’s not just background noise – there’s a craft to the six-string sound that makes you yearn for an old-fashioned spotlight solo. And when Kubler broke out a double-necked beauty during “Lord, I’m discouraged”…it’s almost like I was seeing Cheap Trick at Budokan (that’s a GOOD thing, for you young’ns). And for anyone who may have doubted that anyone could follow Franz’s keyboard work, Mr. Neustadt did just fine on “Stevie Nix”, adding his own nuances to a classic HS song. Making the evening even more intimate, Craig Finn stopped to tell us he had family in the audience, and that he’d been baptized in the beautiful (and sadly, now closed) St. Mary's church down the road. Overall, an extraordinary set, peppered with a handful of songs from the new disc (Heaven Is Whenever, due out May 4th). Thanks, guys - it was a great night out...

Set List

1. Hornets! Hornets!
2. Hurricane J (new)
3. The Swish
4. Magazines
5. The Weekenders (new)
6. Navy Sheets
7. Banging Camp
8. Massive Nights
9. Soft In The Center (new)
10. Chips Ahoy!
11. Constructive Summer
12. Multitude of Casualties
13. Rock Problems (new)
14. Lord, I’m Discouraged
15. You Can Make Him Like You
16. Stevie Nix
17. Hot Soft Light
18. Stuck Between Stations
19. Sequestered In Memphis
20. Slapped Actress

Encore Set

21. Barely Breathing (new)
22. Stay Positive
23. Your Little Hoodrat Friend

For more info on The Hold Steady, check out their web site. And if they're going to be in your area, GO SEE THEM!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lefty's Brewing Company - Grand Opening This Weekend

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – Benjamin Franklin

“Mmmmm…beer!” – Homer Simpson

Clearly, some of the greatest minds in the history of the world are in agreement that beer is both a great unifying force…and a good way of bringing us all to the same level once the tap starts flowing. Tomorrow, a new local brewery will unite us with its weekend-long grand opening celebration.

Lefty’s Brewing Company of Bernardston, MA has already opened its doors to the public, but this weekend’s extravaganza will allow us to taste some of their fine new craft brews. Each sample will be paired with an appetizer from a local bakery or restaurant. And really, beyond great beer and food, what more could you ask for?

Looking for more info? Check out the Lefty’s web site or go to their Facebook page. Most importantly, though, come check out their grand opening this weekend – the festivities will be going strong from 12-8pm both days…

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

First Ladies Of Rock

Much like everything else in the Juanoverse, we wouldn’t want to give you anything without the proper amount of procrastination attached. Letting my Women’s History Month piece simmer on the backburner ‘til the final moments of the final day might be overkill, you say? Touché. But I still wanted to give you a glimpse of some of the coolest ladies in the music biz, so cool your jets. And I’m not talking about a history lesson, trotting out the foremothers of rock. No Janis, no Aretha, no Patti. Of COURSE they were amazing. And granted, the Runaways movie may have been an inspiration for this list - but I wanted a list of women inspiring new generations to pick up a guitar and rock. And if some of these ladies rocked any harder, they might actually break through the fabric of this universe and into a new reality. So let’s jump in, kids…

1. The Donnas – Adopting the Donna moniker much like Joey and co. took on the Ramones name, these ladies have been known to rock a party and then steal all your beer. Luckily, you don’t mind being robbed and roofied by this crew – they leave you sonically satisfied like no others. Having cut their teeth learning Ace Frehley’s guitar licks and earning an advanced degree in punk and metal debauchery, The Donnas could teach you how to hotwire a car AND escape from the police. Valuable life lessons, people!
Recommended Listening: Spend The Night

2. Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer – A friend once described the Dresden Dolls’ live set by simply saying “They’re telepathic. Seriously.” When I finally got around to seeing the duo, I had to marvel at finding out he was right. Amanda and Brian (Viglione) could just give each other a sideways glance, no words, and effortlessly shift from song to song. Their sound is like the soundtrack to a fractured fairy tale transcribed by someone in an opium den – but it works. They call it “Brechtian Punk Cabaret”, and the fact that their painted faces are a cross between a crazed mime and a fractured porcelain doll – well, it just completes the package. These are two of the most enthralling live performers I have ever seen - and Palmer’s solo work is equally (wonderfully) deranged.
Recommended Listening: The Dresden Dolls and Ms. Palmer’s solo effort (produced by Ben Folds) Who Killed Amanda Palmer

3. The Stone Coyotes – For Barbara Keith (vocals/guitar), her band is her family – literally. With her husband (Doug Tibbles on drums) and her stepson (John Tibbles on bass) rounding out the trio, this is one hell of an impressive lineage. Keith crafted the oft-covered folk classic “The Bramble and the Rose” in her early career, and now we’re witnessing the creation of new rock treasures with every Coyotes album (nine to date, and counting). Those of us from Western Mass should consider ourselves lucky to have such phenomenal talent calling Greenfield their home.
Recommended Listening: Born To Howl

4. Lady Sovereign – Pint-sized poet. Midget MC. Shorty songstress. These are all terms I’d use if I wanted to get punched in the crotch by this ultra-feisty English rapper. She’s got all the attitude of Eminem and Dre, and equal amounts of talent under that hoody.
Recommended Listening: Public Warning

5. Distillers/Spinnerette (Brody Dalle) – So many snarling punk testaments to badassery were written in such a short career as The Distillers that it’s hard to believe they only released three albums. When they disappeared after dropping their major label debut (2003’s Coral Fang), that was it. But never fear, kids – Spinnerette rose from the ashes of The Distillers in 2007 (featuring Dalle and Distillers guitarist Tony Bradley (aka Tony Bevilacqua)), and is going strong. The growling and grunting has been tempered with a more accessible sound, but the ‘tude remains strong…
Recommended listening: The Distillers’ Sing Sing Death House and Spinnerette’s self-titled debut.

6. Aimee Allen – I was obsessed with this particular chanteuse for a while after she scored a title song for a short-lived TV series called Birds of Prey. But her album got squelched by the record company before she got any real accolades. Luckily, the tracks leaked into the interwebs…which is when most of us REALLY fell in love with her. At a time when Evanescence was using industrial techno as a backdrop for depressing faux goth, Aimee was using it to accentuate her sultry powerhouse vocals. The star potential was obvious – music with utterly danceable hooks, screaming guitar and a decidedly “Explicit Lyrics” stamp of approval. Later releases featured revamped versions of some of the songs, but that raw power was never recaptured.
Recommended Listening: I’d Start A Revolution (If I Could Get Up In The Morning) is the original, unreleased disc. You can still find it floating around on the web if you know your way around a search engine – it’s worth the effort…

7. Bif Naked - This Canadian singer has most of what I’m looking for in a bad girl: Lots of ink, an incredible set of pipes and a fine balance of FU attitude and wide-eyed wonder. And of course, having a gig at Buffy’s legendary faux night club (The Bronze) helped her gain a special place in my heart. A most impressive recent fact about Bif: she kicked the crap out of cancer and came back with a new album called The Promise. The title refers to the pledge she made to her fans while in the middle of her chemo – that she would be back to kick more ass than ever. It just doesn’t get much more punk rock than that…
Recommended Listening: I, Bificus

8. The Noisettes (Shingai Shoniwa)
Their first disc was a retro garage rock masterpiece, with Ms. Shoniwa’s electric vocals crackling through the guitar crunch. So, when the second disc largely departed into a more soulful, hand-clapping kind of danceability, it took some getting used to. But, damn if that wasn’t a great sound too!
Recommended Listening: What’s The Time Mr. Wolf?

9. HorrorPops (Patricia Day) – Patricia Day is the voice behind this punky little slice of psychobilly. Their story began when Day’s former group (Peanut Pump Gun) was opening for the Nekromantix, and she struck up a conversation with Kim Nekroman (of the aforementioned band) about how limiting their genres could be. They both felt a need to explore more of their musical longings, and that spark was what would later fuel the creation of the HorrorPops. Add a few more band members, a couple of go-go dancers and an astoundingly fun mixture of punk-tinged horror stories and pop accessibility and I think you’ve got the basic recipe down…
Recommended Listening: Bring It On

10. Hole – For those of you thinking that Courtney Love is a has-been who is probably more in need of rehab than a comeback – well, I’m not necessarily arguing that point. But it’s hard to deny that Hole made some pretty tasty pop-punk classics. And judging by the excellent reviews of their live set at SXSW this year, it may be time to cut Courtney some slack…until the next time she passes out and falls off stage.
Recommended Listening: Live Through This

Yes, there are about a thousand other bands I could have showcased - but there simply isn't enough room for all the tremendous talent out there. So, who would you have picked? Comment away, folks!...