Friday, May 12, 2023

My latest for The Normal School

In my latest for The Normal School: A Literary Magazine, I take a look at the early-70's RNR revival era, Dick Clark's ubiquitous face, and my personal connections to 20 YEARS OF ROCK N’ ROLL, a compilation album released fifty years ago Buddah Records.

A reminder that you can read my other Normal School music essays in full here!

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

We all turned on

With decades behind them, Hoodoo Gurus rock New York City. A local band opens.

DOWN AT THE ROCK AND ROLL CLUB—I hadn't seen Hoodoo Gurus live since the early 1990s, and in truth the only thing absent on this U.S. tour—rescheduled twice because of Covid—was big hair. Everything else was vintage Gurus.

My moment of Zen was gifted during a four-song sequence in their fantastic show at a packed Webster Hall in New York City last Friday night. After opening with "(Let's All) Turn On" and "Answered Prayers," songs from their first (1984) and most recent (2022) albums, sandwiching the pop gem "Another World" in between, the band played "Out That Door," "Be My Guru," "Night Must Fall," and "The Right Time." I was struck, yet again, at the range in Dave Faulkner's powerful songs, the way he can move from a non-ironic power ballad and ironic rock and roll to a nakedly honest treatise on loss and a head-banging carpe diem anthem. That the Gurus never scored massive hits in this country is a tired lament, one countless artists and bands are deserving of hearing, but watching this band play songs from a nearly forty-year long career really brought home to me what a criminally underrated songwriter Faulkner really is, and how his great band—longtime pal guitarist and pal Brad Shepherd, bassist Rick Grossman, and drummer Nik Rieth (a new addition)—has kept up with him, riding his emotional dynamics with both elegance and grit.

I wrote last year about how renewing their latest album Chariot of the Gods felt, It's easy to trace a line though Faulkner's songs down the decades, as his best are sharply witty, without sacrificing empathy or a heartfelt appreciation for human foibles, and impatient with phoniness and hypocrisy, moving between bouncy, hooky pop and crunchy, riff-y rock and roll (with a lot of fun genre-mixing in between). Those four songs at Webster really hit me, in part because the issues Faulkner was singing about in "Out That Door" were urgently important to me in my twenties when the song came out, and I was struck at how absurdly moving the tune still is even though I happily resolved those pesky issues long ago—the magic trick of art and time, how a song can matter in different phases of one's life and in different ways, never sounding dated or merely nostalgic. "Night Must Fall," a brutally honest yet tender song abut mortality and loss, didn't slow things down in the set as much as add dimension. In between, the band roared through the riotous "Be My Guru," a statement-of-purpose originally released as a b-side in 1983:
We make no bones at all, we're making a dint
And in no time at all, your hearts we will win
It's a gift we offer you, our music
Be polite, accept it, don't refuse it
and the place was absolutely jumping, primed for "The Right Time," another clarion call to rock action that grinningly pushed its way out of the despair of "Night Must Fall." Quite an emotional journey, and one Faulkner's taken consistently since the early 1980s.

The Gurus play with style, confidence, and ear-ringing aplomb. Grossman and Rieth's rhythm playing is both bedrock and supple, and Faulkner's a charming frontman, ingratiating and a little devilish. The band members all wear a bit of the long road now, which is inevitable, and indeed they wear it well, and Faulner's still in great voice. Shepherd gives the impression of a hip tenured math professor the students still crush on, studying his guitar during his solos as if he's worrying out an equation. And though his smiles may be rare, he's clearly having the time of his life. He's always been Cool Personified in my book.

Dave Faulkner is writing songs these days that are as strong and memorable, and as meaningful, as any he's written, and the band is tight, together, and in great shape. Catch them if you can.


An area band, the Fleshtones, kicked things off with a brief, high-octane set—the only opening act the Gurus have on the tour, as Faulkner claims to have "worshiped" the band since he first heard them back in the late 1970s. They were a blast, and had a blast, as intent on crossing the silly "moat" in front of the stage separating them from the crowd as they were in playing their chords right or getting to their mics in time to sing. They all smiled a lot, and they've been around forever. Somebody ought to write a book about them.