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Musicals by Mike Baron

MUSICALS


I love musicals. I credit musicals with my interest in music, because the songs must have audience appeal. That means chord changes, bridges, and hooks. When you think of the great musicals, you think of the songs. My Fair Lady: “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Carousel: “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over.” Singin’ in the Rain: “Good Morning.” Gigi: “Thank Heaven For Little Girls.” And the greatest musical of all, The Band Wagon: “That’s Entertainment.” Musicals peaked in the fifties and sixties. The nation was younger, more hopeful and more naive in those days, and musicals were for everybody.


Throughout the Great Depression, movie studios understood their primary job was to entertain. People didn’t go to the theater to be lectured or wallow in misery, although, God knows, there were plenty of movies that did that. Lost Weekend. The Grapes of Wrath. High Sierra.


Musicals have fallen out of favor, but never completely. In the seventies, we had Hair, God Spell, A Chorus Line, GiGi, Saturday Night Fever and Evita. In the eighties we had Little Shop of Horrors, The Best Little Whorehouse, Grease, Fame, and A Chorus Line. In the nineties we had The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Hugh Jackman’s Oklahoma. In fact, Hugh Jackman is a one-man musical revival, having starred in Les Mis and The Greatest Showman as well.


More recently, we have La La Land, The Greatest Showman, Mama Mia, and Pitch Perfect. The modern musical abandons the artifice of ordinary people bursting into song, putting the story in a musical context. A struggling band or singer. I miss the old days when ordinary people burst into song, but I’ll take what I can get. Britain produces some of the best. The Commitments. Hear My Song. Sing Street. If you haven’t seen these, I urge you to check them out. They will send you out of the home theater singing.

More Music by Mike Baron

MORE MUSIC

There’s more free music in Fort Collins then there is in my hometown Madison, Wisconsin, which is three times FC’s size. There’s something in the water here that breeds musicians, and we have been going out night after night to hear new bands.

At Odells, Dog City Disco stunned us with their dynamics. They’re a jam band in the wake of the Grateful Dead and Leftover Salmon, but there’s nothing fuzzy in their playing. Calling themselves psychedelic funk rock, the six-piece includes sax and trumpet as it marches through changes that whip your head around, with one foot in prog rock. Now, whenever we see a band that fails to grab us by the ears, we say, “They’re no Dog City Disco.”

Saw Crescent City Connection at Odells too. This six piece, also with trumpet and sax, effortlessly invokes the music of New Orleans as members walk through the audience like the Second Line at Mardi Gras. Can’t find their names, but the bass player is the leader and he puts a lot of body creole into every note.

https://www.crescentcityband.com/home

Sugar Britches are everywhere this summer. The duo, consisting of guitarist Josh Long and guitarist/singer Brian Johanson sing original material. Long is a born showman who works the audience like an experienced carny. He also leads his own group, Josh and the Long Haul, mostly country, but one of these days Josh is just going to bust loose and form a rockabilly band, which every twitch in his body demands.

Larry and the Pourboys at the Maxline Brewery. Four huge guys who like Elvis, Van Halen, Tesla, Boston, Steve Vai, Satriani, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dokken, White Lion, and Zeppelin. They opened with “Hello There!” instantly winning the crowd, and grooved through some Neil Diamond, Rick Springfield, Wild Cherry, Def Leppard, but they write original material too, which is outstanding.

https://larryandthepourboys.com/home

We’ve only seen The Burroughs once this summer, but we hope to correct that.

The Music Scene by Mike Baron

THE MUSIC SCENE

When I moved to Fort Collins from Madison years ago, I never dreamed that Fort Collins was a music powerhouse to rival the much bigger city, yet throughout the summer, we have gone out night after night to witness one great musical act after another. Odells Brewery is our favorite venue, and outdoor patio hung with flowers with a raised stage. You never know who you’re going to get. Our season started out with a jaw-dropping performance from Dog City Disco, a six piece jam band from Boulder with super dynamics, rhythm shifts, brilliant chord progressions and musicianship.

We saw the Burroughs at Bohemian Nights presents Concerts in Old Town. I have raved before about this nine piece soul band from Greeley whose lead singer, Johnny Burroughs, is a ginger version of James Brown, with the voice and the moves. The whole band dances. The all original music showcases superb dynamics with bridges and hooks that whip your head around. Johnny’s conversion to Kid Creole by way of Cab Calloway is now complete.

http://www.theburroughssoul.com/

My old buddy Bill Delaney came to visit. The first night we saw Johnny Johnston at the Red Truck Brewery and he blew us away with his slide delta-style guitar, accompanied by one-man rhythm machine Danny Crecco.

We kept running into guitarist Josh Long—at the Red Truck, Odells, and the Foothills Mall. Josh Long is a guitar monster with one foot in rockabilly and the other in jazz. Josh is in Sugar Britches and Josh and the Long Haul.

Crescent City Connection blew us away at Odells, with booty-shakin’ New Orleans music. They have that rhythm down cold, and the two horns, sax and trumpet, summoned whiffs of both Chicago and Dreams, when they weren’t blasting trad New Orleans music like “Hey Pocky Way” and “Iko Iko.”

https://www.crescentcityband.com/

Last night were our old friends All About The Brass, and while they played the odious “Love Shack,” which is in the repertoire of every band, they also played three songs by Chicago and kilt it.

Burroughs, by Mike Baron

BURROUGHS

Saw the Burroughs last night in Old Town Square. Probably have seen them more than any other band. The Burroughs are an eleven piece soul band from Greeley with a four man horn section. They blew everybody out of the water. Lead singer Johnny Burroughs’ transition to Cab Calloway by way of Kid Creole is now complete. He wears the hat. He’s got the moves. He’s a pale ginger James Brown with an enormous voice. The latest lineup featured a few surprises, notably drummer Mary Claxton adding her hair-raising voice like the devil at the crossroads, and the new keyboard player, another enormous voice.

Hayden Farr’s baritone cuts like a foghorn. Briana Harris’ alto dances like Sonny Criss.

In addition to Burroughs’ standards such as “Solid Gold” and “Get Down On It,” they sang a hair-raising version of “Jolene,” and “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Music VS Muzik by Mike Baron

MUSIC VS MUZIK

There is music, and there is muzik. You know music when you hear it. The Beatles. Beethoven. The Beat. Melody, harmony, and rhythm arranged in a way to create joy, sorrow, excitement. A dynamic arrangement of sounds that provide not only entertainment, but catharsis and often trigger introspection about all aspects of life.

Then there is muzik, a commercial product that serves as aural wallpaper at best, and an irritant at worst. Anyone who logs into Comcast’s On Demand knows what I’m talking about. Insidious little phrases, sometimes riffs, that repeat endlessly and go nowhere. Some elevators still use them. Their commercial name is Muzak. But it is not music. It it is to music what the zombies in a Bela Lugosi movie are to real human beings. Moving but lifeless. Television theme songs are mostly real music, but the background sounds they play are not.

Many people collect film soundtracks and play them while they work, because the soundtracks remind them of the emotions they experienced while watching the film. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with it. Some of those soundtracks, like American Graffiti or Guardians of the Galaxy are rife with real music. Popular music is just as vital and important as the classics. But when you hear Bernard Herrmann’s groaning soundtracks to Hitchock, or Taxi Driver, those are mostly sounds designed to evoke a feeling, often a feeling of dread. Herrmann does it with ominous chords. Is it music? Music is in the ear of the behearer. I would rather listen to the Beatles.

New Music, Mike Baron

NEW MUSIC

Mark Roebuck, the driving force behind the power pop band The Deal, whose only album is from Not Lame, and rotsa ruck finding it, releases his second Roebuck CD, Kingdom of Mustang. Roebuck has a unique melodic sense, laden with pastoral bridges and hooks. Like Marshall Crenshaw, Michael Brown or John San Juan of the Hushdrops, his songs are instantly identifiable and contain a generosity of spirit, even sans lyrics. But the lyrics are feckin’ bril. “Sister Sledgehammer” showcases his elegant chords, deft guitar, exquisite bridge. “Brand New Day” is a homage to Buddy Holly. You can hear Holly singing it, while “Undone” is something Tim Buckley would have proudly claimed with its sweet and rueful shoulda, coulda, woulda lyrics. Mark rocks too. He is Brian Wilson’s soul brother.

Chris Richards is a made member of the Michigan Mafia, which includes Keith Klingensmith, Andy Reed, Donnie Brown, and Nick Piunti. They constitute a power pop powerhouse that just keeps releasing one great record after another, and Peaks and Valleys is no exception with its Red Kross power chords and embarrassment of guitar riches. They expertly massage major/minor chord changes on “Just Another Season.” Every song is filled with jewel-like guitar riffs tickling the occipital lobe with laser precision. I hear a little Byrds in “Wrapped In A Riddle’s” jangle, and again in “The End of Me.” Unstoppable and irresistible.

David Myhr of the Merrymakers second album, Lucky Day, is as sunny and hook-laden as his first, melodic pop in the vein of The Cyrcle, We Five, and The Cowsills, with Beatlesque dazzle. “Negative Friend” bounces along with McCartneyesque effervescence. “Room To Grow” has a bridge right out of a sixties TV theme or fifties musical, which is to say, a massive, unforgettable hook. The title track swoons in on a bent chord with a bittersweet melody like the sun peeking through clouds. A blast of west coast sunshine from Sweden.

Astral Drive, a prog rock love letter to seventies, is reminiscent of Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, and “Hello It’s Me” in particular. Crank it to eleven. This isn’t just Rundgren on steroids. It’s Rundgren on acid and steroids, a swirling, psychedelic, wall of sound time machine. “Summer of ‘76” will make millennials wish they’d been born earlier. The title track is epic and symphonic prog rock. “Child of the Universe” has a swelling space chord that expands to fill the room.

Ron Bonfiglio’s Trouble Again is an instant classic, trailing more hooks than The Deadliest Catch. Bonfigli, who is musical director of Wilson Phillips, is part of Wanderlust, the seminal nineties power pop group that also includes Scott Sax. Trouble Again scores on every song with superb dynamics and lethal hooks.
“Passenger Seat,” the opening track, is a giddy juggernaut of Springsteen ower chords, Raspberry refrains, and Jellyfish orchestration. I could say the same for every song. There are traces of the Shazam in “Love Over Hurt, and “Astral Drive” in the key-driven “Gone.” “Mr. No One” has an Explorers Club vibe and perhaps the greatest hook over. Best thing I’ve heard this year.

Mad Pop Science by Mike Baron

MAD POP SCIENCE

It’s been a long time since I built a model car. It’s taking a long time. In my salad days I was an avid builder and won several trophies. I was in a variety store looking at a plastic ray gun one day and I thought I could turn that into a hot rod. Why? I don’t know. I’ve always loved hot rods and customs. My favorites are the wild customs, the bubble tops, the Beatnik Bandit, Silhouette, and Intruder. Ed Roth, Dean Jeffries, Daryl Starbird. Crazy shit with double engines, mismatched wheels, and elegant, originalbody work.

Fifties and sixties customs that wore too much body putty, like aging actresses with too much makeup, were called lead sleds. If you build a four thousand pound vehicle that only carries two people, you’ve failed. It lacks elegance. A custom should be graceful in form and movement.

I see very few radical customs these days, and they seldom hit the cover of the few remaining model car magazines. The emphasis is on low riders, rat rods, and trucks. Having grown up in the era of the elegant custom, I never cottoned to rat rods, vehicles designed to look as decrepit as possible, rusting,
cancerous suffering from leprosy.

I love power pop. The bands I love the most, like the Beatles, Jellyfish, or XTC, employ what Icall mad pop science. Instead of the hoary but beloved three chord progression, usually one, four, five, as found in much of the Rolling Stones or Chuck Berry, mad pop science uses unexpected chords and harmonies in elegant ways. The music is always surprising, but always makes sense, in the way that the end of a great story should come as both a complete surprise, and perfectly natural.

This is what I seek in music and models.

 

Pop Geek Heaven by Mike Baron

POP GEEK HEAVEN CALLS IT QUITS

I first learned of Not Lame Records in Madison, WI, when I stumbled across their website. The brainchild of Bruce Brodeen, Not Lame was a power pop clearing house and label that released over a hundred albums of original music, many of them brilliant. Bands included The Shazam, The Deal, Hawks, The Rooks, Sun Sawed in ½, Myracle Brah, and many others. Powerpopaholic called them “The World’s Greatest Record Label,” and a case can be made.

I was such a devotee, I moved to Fort Collins to pick up my records in person. But Bruce could never make a go of it. There just weren’t enough power poppers to make it successful. The music industry has been in free-fall since the advent of the Internet. They don’t know whether to shit or go blind. Bruce hung it up in 2010, concentrating his power pop efforts on his website, www.popgeekheaven.com, for which I wrote. I love power pop and have sung its praises from every platform. Unfortunately, Bruce has too much on his plate right now to devote any more time to popgeekheaven, and so another one bites the dust.

Every year I say it, and every year it’s true. This is one of the greatest years for power pop in history. But you’d never know it following the dinosaur press, rags such as Rolling Stone, Spin, Under the Radar, et al, that are mostly dedicated to legacy acts, and rarely, if ever, cover the burgeoning underground power pop scene. This year will see releases by The Foreign Films, Duncan Maitland, and The Blood Rush Hour among others. These bands are beyond great. They are timeless.

What is power pop? It’s rhythmically driving, dynamic rock with bridges, hooks and soaring harmonies. It’s the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Big Star, Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Marshall Crenshaw, Fountains of Wayne, Sloan, XTC, the Police and a thousand other bands.

Now where will people go to keep up on the latest power pop? I recommend www.powerpopaholic.com, which has links to many other outstanding power pop sites. You support independent comics. Support independent bands.

The Burroughs music group by Mike Baron

THE BURROUGHS

The Burroughs are a nine-piece soul band out of Greeley. Bandleader Johnny Burroughs has a voice the size of North America with a growl that would make James Brown proud, and a yowls like a cat with perfect pitch. He roars. He purrs. He slithers on his belly like a reptile. The band jukes and jives like The Temptations or The Four Tops, sounding at times like Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Dexys’ Midnight Runners, and the Famous Flames. The four man horn section is tighter than a gravity lock and the rhythm section moves the mothership. Johnny struts and glides like Cab Calloway, and the four horns dance in unison.

Playing mostly original material riven with sudden tempo and chord shifts that slap you around like a drill instructor, it’s all about dynamics, shifts in tone, tempo, and key that keep the audience craving more. They tease a chord until you’re hypnotized, then snap you out of it with a change up. The Burroughs are pure crack. Burroughs’ own songs such as “Introduction/Turn It Loose,” “Dance Now,” and “Tighter” have you out of your seat before the message reaches the medulla.

We saw them at the CSU lagoon series. A week later, we saw them at the mid-town mall. Two weeks later we saw them at New West Fest. They are the most exciting band in Northern Colorado right now.

Their first album, Sweaty Greeley Soul, was recorded live at the Moxi Theater. This winter they are going into the studio to record their next.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwjl8KfS9m8

The Burroughs

Elvis and Me by Mike Baron

ELVIS AND ME

 

My second wife and I were married at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Vegas. Elvis

sang at the ceremony. My third wife and I were married in Sonia Immasch’s house. Elvis sang at the ceremony. This second Elvis was George Gray, one of the most accomplished Elvis impersonators in the country. George usually appears with a ten piece band including five back­up singers. He sounds a lot like Elvis.

 

Last week I visited my old pal Russ in Boynton Beach. “Guess what, Mikey! We’re going to see an Elvis impersonator!” He and his lovely wife Andy took me to the Lemon Cafe where one David Morin, born in France, was holding forth. Boynton Beach is retirement country and the café was packed to gridlock with senior citizens. I myself am a senior citizen. There was barely enough room to maneuver between tables. This Elvis appears with a pre­recorded soundtrack and his wife adding harmony. Amid the clamor and clatter of hard­of­hearing seniors, we were hard­pressed to understand David clearly, but the songs were utterly recognizable from “The Peppermint Twist” to “My Way.” After a brief intermission, David returned in spangled white jumpsuit splendor to sing “All Shook Up,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’” (written by Elvis’ cousin Jerry Lee,) and “Blue Suede Shoes.” He was okay but he was no George Gray.

 

When Elvis played Madison, he broke up a street fight.

 

June 23­24, 1977 – Madison, WI

 

Elvis arrived at the old Four Lakes Aviation around midnight. He was in town to do what would be his last show in Madison (He died less then two months later), at the Dane County Coliseum. He got into the waiting limousine and the headed south on highway 51. When they reached the traffic lights at East Washington Avenue Elvis saw Keith Lowry Jr. on the ground being beaten up by two teens at the Skyland Service Station. Wearing his trademark aviator sunglasses and “DEA Agent” navy blue jumpsuit over his sparkling stage outfit Elvis went flying out the door of the limo. When he reached the scene of the fight he said “I’ll take you on”. The two boys looked up at him and just stopped, Lowry ran into the gas station. Elvis got back into the limo and headed for his hotel room at the Sheraton.

 

(http://www.surroundedbyreality.com/misc/Famous/Elvis.asp)Rudelvis