Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Real Thing from the Real Kids

John Felice. happy just to be alive
DOWN AT THE ROCK & ROLL CLUB—The Real Kids played some stirring rock and roll at the HoZac BLACKOUT Fest before a packed crowd at the Empty Bottle last night, running through a clutch of songs from their eponymous 1978 debut and their most recent album, 2014's Shake...Outta Control, which Felice has described as their "follow-up." (He announced a song from "our new album," and smiled.) These songs— "All Kindsa Girls," "Do The Boob," "My Baby's Book," "Tell Me (What You Want Me To Do)," "All Night Boppin'," "She Don't Take It," "Common At Noon"—remind us how riff-y three-chord songs about girls, loneliness, kicks, and desperation will always have currency. Founding member John Felice plays his Fender like an old pal, occasionally thumping it with his hand to keep it in line. With his mop of blonde-white hair and his ample, building-super's body, Felice is all stolid presence, and he howls like it's 1977. His guitar playing is still terrific—muscular and choppy, never showy but always galvanizing. Cherubic-faced Billy Cole, a Felice co-hort since the early 1980s, traded licks with Felice, swapping out for a 12-string Rickenbacker a few times. The band was having monitor problems, but they forged on, one indelible tune and Hamm Beer after another. They threw in a couple of covers—crunchy rips through the Beatles' "You Can't Do That" and Badfinger's "Baby Blue"—but the emphasis was on Felice's originals, which tell stories of anxiety and ennui and solitude and elevate them to beery anthems.

"As far as trying anything new, I ain't sure who said it but it goes something like '...stick with what you're good at'," Felice said to David Laing a couple years ago. "That don't mean I wanna just keep making the same record over and over. But our fans are hard core, and if we tried to go all 'Sgt Pepper' on them they would rise up and kill us. No, we just keep doing what we do." Before playing the affecting, cinematic "Common At Noon" last night, Felice cracked, "Someone told me today that if I'd only written this song and it'd been a hit, I'd still be remembered." He paused, adjusting his guitar, looked up at the dusty disco ball hanging from the ceiling, and said, "I could've killed myself, like, forty years ago." Despite Felice's years—or because of them—his songs resonated with a young, buzzed crowd nodding their collective head to life's romantic messiness.


Of the three other bands on the bill, I liked Minneapolis's Cozy the best. They arrived on stage in matching denim overalls and light blue t-shirts and mock-huddled at the drum set before kicking off a great set of glam pop. Their songs are hook-y and fun. When the bass player looks like Emmit Rhodes, the guitarist like a scrubbed-clean, stayed-in-school twin to Angus Young (complete with Gibson SG), and the songs would make any Slade fan grin, then you're in luck. By the end of the set the singer was stripped down to his drawers—he complained about pants a lot during the show—and gratefully accepted shots from the audience only to pour them over his head. It was that kind of night. I picked up their album on the way out.

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