Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Is Basement Life the best Punk band in America? Yes!

Not bragging, it was pure happenstance that I found myself covering the emerging downtown LA punk scene just as Social Distortion, Los Lobos, Perry Farrell, Red Hot Chili Peppers and a whole host of bands no one had heard of then, but are legendary today, were thrashing their way through clubs no bigger than New York Pizza. Flea and Anthony still owe me 5 bucks.

What made those performers so remarkable, transcendent, was an unmistakable authenticity. 

Basement Life ignites a joy of rediscovery in those who believe Punk should remain preserved in amethyst, surrendered to another time and temperament. How is anyone going to improve upon, build on, what came before given the inherent limitations? A conundrum for sure, until a rare combo like Basement Life sonically Boom Tubes into our atmosphere. 

On the bill with Bit Brigade at The Blind Tiger this month, Basement Life drew a large and attentive crowd for an opening act, practically everyone in the place facing the stage from the opening cords on.

Lead singer Gavan Holden’s volcanic vocals and atramentous lyrics fuse mercilessly, resulting in a mesmerizing stage presence, an inexplicably attractive ferociousness rooted in vulnerability and conflicted emotions. A musical force unreckoned-with for a decade, Gavan is one of those committed young rock warriors brave enough to tour the East Coast with bare pockets in tattered chariots when he was fronting the band Funny Like a Funeral some years back.

It was a raw, evicerating performance. Basement Life guitarist Eric Mann weaves and wails with an uplifting swagger while drummer Caleb Gross’ rat-a-tat-tat beats, sticks like Tommy guns, hammering it all home. Caleb’s banging on a custom-made, solid maple drum kit with 1960’s hi-hats that he claims, “Sound better because of the weights and the shakes of the cones.” 

I caught up with Gavan Holden at Legitimate Business studio in Glenwood where Basement Life has been recording their second album, DEVOUR, over the course of 8 consecutive 8-hour days. “It’s going really great,” he confided. “Kris [Hilbert] is an amazing producer, I don’t think we could have made a better decision.”

As for the tone of this new album Gavan reveals, “It’s a little darker. Lyrically it’s more introspective than the first one. Musically, we wrote it more like jam sessions rather than anybody just bringing stuff in.” 

For someone so nakedly agro onstage, this singer / bassist is disarmingly low-key off. “It just kinda came together with us in a room playing. I think that adds a much different vibe to the songs and the structure.” 

These guys have been playing around for a while. My first band was a Christian punk band and we were awful,” drummer Caleb Gross admits. “I was like 16, sleeping on the carpet my drums were on. I had a backpack I used for a pillow and all of my clothes were my blanket. [Bandmate] Nick worked at Taco Bell, he’d bring home all the leftovers and that was our dinner every night. It was so stupid.”

Today, Caleb bangs away on a Dave Conaway custom, “This was my first real drum kit. Played a lot of shows on it, spilled a lot of beer on it, sweat.” He eventually stripped all the hardwood off, hand stained it, then recut the bearing edge with a router, “The hardware I coated with a gun coating, Ceracote, it’s like a ceramic essentially. It’s very fine but indestructible.”

Everyone involved was pleased with the results as recording for DEVOUR wrapped up, “I enjoy the creative process,” Gavan says. “I feel like everybody contributes a lot. One thing I like about writing with Eric, our taste in music is very similar but our influences are way different. It took a little time for us to mesh but I think it sounds cool the way he plays guitar, it’s different from what I'm used to.”

DEVOUR has been released digitally, on CD and vinyl, check out the sample track Mendenhall. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Flip Wilson Show

Thursday nights at 8:00 was ruled (briefly) by The Flip Wilson Show on NBC from September 17, 1970 until June 27, 1974. It was the rare variety show that had no returning supporting players; considering the high calibre talent he attracted none were needed.

Flip Wilson was one of the greatest storytellers of all time, his monologues were nothing short of hilarious week after week. Most of the action took place on a circular stage surrounded by audience members with only the barest scenery, giving the program an intimate feeling, placing the focus entirely on the talent.

Guest starts included John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and almost every other major entertainer.

The Flip Wilson Show was the only primetime series showcasing musical guests like Issac Hayes, James Brown and The Temptations.

TVparty! has an extensive section on 1970s variety shows!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

I Watched Netflix's Lost in Space So You Don't Have To... But You Should!

I was, and still am, a huge fan of the 1966 series Lost in Space, perhaps because I was 9 years old when it debuted. I'd never seen anything so exciting as those first 5 episodes; they hold up well today, with a healthy suspension of disbelief at times.

Truthfully, there aren't more than maybe half a dozen episodes from seasons 2 and 3 that are worthwhile but there's something about the way the cast clicked so well and Irwin Allen's disaster prone sensibility that worked for me then, and now when I'm feeling nostalgic.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached Netflix's LIS reboot and I'm happy to say this is one terrific ride. The first 2 episodes are especially exciting before the series settles into a more leisurely pace, sometimes too much so.

I won't give anything away but similarities to the first series include: the planet has an unstable orbit, the robot runs amuck, there are allusions to 'My Friend Mr. Nobody' and 'Attack of the Monster Plants,' the robot and Will have a special bond, weather is volatile, fuel is gone, a monster afoot, one of the Robinsons goes up in a balloon, they have a chariot, and there's a Debby but it's no Bloop. In the very last shot of the first episode, note the color explosion looks just like the special effect of the Jupiter 2 going back in time (and other examples) during season 3.

Because of particular plot points, two episodes are credited as being adapted from 'No Place to Hide,' the 1966 pilot that was recut to add Dr. Smith then spread out over 4 episodes. If you haven't seen it you should.

Even the turbo-charged third season theme by John Williams is incorporated into the new series. They'd be crazy not to.

But in almost every other way the show is the exact opposite of the original series and that's what makes this reboot so clever.

Judy is biracial, she and Penny are smart and brave, Maureen is the head of the Robinson expedition, she and John Robinson are estranged, Major West and Dr. Smith (who's now a woman) were not on the Jupiter 2 when it crashes (that's no spoiler, it wouldn't BE Lost in Space without the ship crash landing), West is out for a buck in the way Dr. Smith was, the robot doesn't speak much more than "Danger Will Robinson,"

Like Guardians of the Galaxy there's a '70s soundtrack - I sorta feel sorry for folks in the future, apparently there will never be any memorable tunes created henceforth. Which is pretty much coming true already, if you think about it.

Some characters share original cast member's actual names - Maureen, Angela, June Harris for instance.

It's a bit like Lost in that there are other colonists who crash land on the planet, back stories are told in flashbacks, and there are numerous "Oh shit!" moments in these 10 episodes.

What a brilliant move making Dr. Smith a woman, as portrayed by Parker Posey she's insanely devious, murderous, in that way only a woman could get away with. Perhaps why Jonathan Harris played the character so fey, basing his portrayal, he said, on actress Tallulah Bankhead. He had to be silly or the audience would never accept that the Robinsons didn't just shove him out of the air lock and be done with his weekly attempts to sell them out or get everyone killed in order to enrich himself.

Maureen Robinson is played by one of my fave actors from Deadwood, Molly Parker. On that HBO western series she played a drug addicted society woman, her emotional range is amazing. I didn't recognize any other cast members, you may, but they mesh beautifully.

At the end of the first episode we meet Dr. Smith for the first time, check out who Billy Mumy, the original Will Robinson, portrays in that scene. Oh the pain! I hope we'll get to see other original cast members going forward.

Lost in Space is stellar. Well done Netflix!

TVparty! is Classic TV!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The official trailer for Netflix’s reboot of Lost in Space has just dropped!

The official trailer for Netflix’s reboot of Lost in Space has just dropped and it looks incredible! Debuts on April 13th.