Category Archives: Music

The Boys No Man Dares Dun

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We had planned to bypass Limerick completely. Irish friends had recommended skipping the historically industrial hub, given the scale of our trip and improbably limited amount of time, in favor of more epic destinations like the Burren and Newgrange.

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Yet one unlikely nook of Limerick still beckoned – a rough, working-class suburb on the city’s eastside called Garryowen. The area’s Irish name, Garraí Eoin, translates to “the garden of John”, a reference to John the Baptist. Indeed, St. John’s Cathedral, built in 1861, towers fortress-like over the heart of Garryowen, and, at 94 meters (or about 308 feet), boasts the tallest spire in all of Ireland.

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However, my interest in Garryowen was not grounded in religious history or its renowned rugby club, but rather an eponymous tune whose origins may be traced back two or three centuries. Today, the song is probably best known in America as a march favored by the U.S. Army, and it often emanates from bagpipes during St. Patrick’s Day parades. But, in fact, “Garryowen” began life purely as a hooligan’s refrain:

[VERSE]

Let Bacchus’s sons be not dismayed

But join with me each jovial blade

Come booze and sing and lend your aid

To help me with the chorus

[CHORUS]

Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale

And pay the reckoning on the nail

For debt no man shall go to jail

From Garryowen in glory

[VERSE]

We are the boys who take delight

In smashing Limerick lamps at night

And through the street like sportsters fight

Tearing all before us

[CHORUS]

[VERSE]

We’ll break windows, we’ll break doors

The watch knock down by threes and fours

Then let the doctors work their cures

And tinker up our bruises

[CHORUS]

[VERSE]

We’ll make the mayor and sheriff run

We’ll beat the bailiffs out of fun

We are the boys no man dares dun

If he regards a whole skin

[CHORUS]

[VERSE]

Our hearts so stout have got us fame

For soon ’tis known from whence we came

Where’er we go they dread the name

Of Garryowen in glory

[CHORUS]

I was about 12 when I first heard “Garryowen”, on an album of Civil War-era music performed by folk musician Jim Taylor. The rowdy, infectious tune appears, ironically, as part of an instrumental medley that includes “Haste to the Wedding” and “St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning”.

“Garryowen” was part of a canon of traditional music that accompanied an unprecedented wave of Irish immigration to America during the mid to late 19th century and, before long, manifested throughout Union Army camps in the War Between the States. It was there, so the story goes, that General George A. Custer first heard “Garryowen”, and favored it so greatly that his Seventh Cavalry took the jaunty air west with them during the Indian Wars, adopting it as its official theme – one which they still play today. Indeed, “Garryowen” (both instrumentally and with lyrics) is ubiquitous throughout the 1941 Errol Flynn vehicle They Died with Their Boots On.

Surely, a rough-and-tumble town with such an inspired musical heritage must merit a brief detour. Hell, for all I knew, Garryowen was now a gentrified hipster haven sporting Thai restaurants and art galleries on every block…

***

IMG_7962We rolled into Garryowen shortly before the local afternoon rush hour, and while I wasn’t sure of the precise whereabouts of St. John’s Cathedral, one thing soon became clear: if 300-year-old lyrics are to be believed, Garryowen has remained true to itself. I’ve lived and worked in Baltimore long enough to recognize a tourist destination…and this certainly is not one. From ubiquitous security cameras and graffiti to ruins both new and ancient, Garryowen bears all the scars and hallmarks of an area still awaiting a ship that is several centuries overdue.

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Yet the towering architecture of Garryowen’s centerpiece, St. John’s Cathedral, remains an awe-inspiring sight for the intrepid (and streetwise) traveler. Garryowen itself stands as a resilient and sobering reminder of the truths that ground the most elaborate mythologies.

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If the Pipes Call, Take a Message

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Our son had called the tune when the singer invited requests. “The Rocky Road to Dublin” was the second of the boy’s picks honored that night (the first, “Galway Races”). The crowd of pensioners packing the small hotel bar in Tuesday-night Donegal took a shine to the wee lad from America with a taste for Irish tradition. It was well past 10, but the boy was fighting sleep – afraid to miss a minute.

When he reached the end of that verbose “Road”, the singer called out for more. An old lady piped up.

“‘Danny Boy’,” said she with a tone of good-natured frustration. “I’ve asked for ‘Danny Boy’ three times now.”

Like Ronald Reagan dodging questions from the press corps at the door of Air Force One, the singer pretended, for the third time, not to hear. Instead, he issued a musical plea to be taken home by way of “Country Roads”.

Go raibh maith agat, I thought, for I share his evident disdain for “Danny Boy”, the go-to anthem for every dyed beer-swilling frat boy in a green plastic derby, the obligatory sendoff for every ward-boss before he’s planted in the ground. Ironically, this insufferably sappy tune – held dear by Irish communities around the world – was, in fact, penned by an Englishman. These traits, when juxtaposed with the infinite canon of fine Irish music new and old (or even the John Denver catalogue), permit no justifiable cause for suffering “Danny Boy”.

Frankly, I just don’t get it.

Though often reduced to drunk and downtrodden caricature, Irish music is, in fact, rife with a kind of exuberance that is at once comic and tragic, and it often employs a dark, inherent brand of humor which, at its best, may be equitably applied to both cirrhosis and the RIC.

“It’s not that the Irish are cynical,” author Brendan Behan once noted. “It’s rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.” Behan certainly fit that bill, as did his brother, Dominic. The latter, himself an author, singer, and songwriter, had a paradoxical sensibility that could at once convey humor and sorrow, loyalty and insolence. It fully manifests in his recording of the jaunty “A Grand Old Country”, written by the Behan boys’ uncle, renowned rebel songwriter Peadar Kearney:

We’ll pray for mother England while I’m waiting on the day
I’ll pray for mother England ’til I’m blind and bald and grey
I’ll pray that I and she may die, and drown that she may drown
And if ever she tries to lift her head I’ll be there to push it down

But Behan is but one voice in a musical oeuvre that includes Planxty, the Dubliners, the Wolf Tones, the Clancys and Tommy Makem (who introduced the world to Irish music), but also Enya, Thin Lizzy, The Cranberries, Van Morrison…to name very few.

Just not U2, who might be the only humorless lot in the bunch.

I don’t know if the old lady’s request was ever fulfilled, as the craic was still going full bore when we retired for the night. But it was not the last we saw of her. The next morning, we crossed paths in the hotel lobby. She and a friend of similar age engaged our son with a few friendly words, and complimented us on his conduct. Many Irish, we observed throughout our travels across the Emerald Isle, seem to have a soft spot for children.

Maybe that explains “Danny Boy”?

Vincent D’Onofrio is the Answer

Sometimes Vincent D’Onofrio is the answer.

Slim Bone Head Volt, feat. Vincent D'Onofrio and Dana Lyn
Slim Bone Head Volt, feat. Vincent D’Onofrio and Dana Lyn

I find that my mood darkens with the shorter days and often by December I’m rather unpleasant to be around. I’ve learned ways to fight it, which are usually only semi-successful. This year I had not only the lack of light to contend with, but also new triggers brought about by events that happened this time last year and a workload that has been more stressful than usual.

Then last week I saw that Vincent D’Onofrio will be releasing a spoken word punk album in the spring. I fell down one of those internet rabbit holes and learned that he would be performing in NYC in a few days and that tickets were just $20. I’ve had a long-standing fascination with Vincent D’Onofrio. I’m pretty sure I watched every episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent when I was pregnant and, more recently, I was so disturbed after watching Chained that I couldn’t sleep. His monologues in The Pawn Shop Chronicles made the movie. He completely inhabits the characters he plays and exudes an intense undercurrent that is compelling to watch.

I mentioned the performance to my family who encouraged me to go. I hemmed and hawed because of the expense. I wondered about my sanity in wanting to go to NYC for a matter of hours to see Vincent D’Onofrio perform spoken-word punk. And then I remembered that my sanity was already questionable and said, fuck it, and ordered tickets and reserved two seats on Megabus.

View of the Susquehanna River from I-95, on the Megabus
View of the Susquehanna River from I-95, on the Megabus

So on Saturday morning WPT and I headed to White Marsh to catch the bus to NYC. We learned that if there is space you can switch buses for a nominal fee, so we boarded an earlier bus and were on our way north.

Peanut and Avocado sushi
Peanut and Avocado sushi

We were early and decided to walk from the bus stop (at 28th) up to Russian Samovar (52nd) where were we meeting a friend. Along the way we stopped at Sushi Osaka because they have one of my favorite rolls ever – avocado and peanut. This was wise, as the rest of the day would only offer vodka, olives, and fried potato products. I’ve written about the Russian Samovar previously and for many reasons it is my favorite bar. My friend arrived and we graduated from shots to carafes of horseradish vodka.

Russian Samovar
Russian Samovar

Somewhere around 6pm we stumbled into a cab. We assume this is where WPT lost his hat. I’ve learned that any trip to NYC takes a little something. At least this time it wasn’t a phone screen or wallet. We arrived at Joe’s Pub and found our seats. Yet more fried potato products were consumed.

Slim Bone Head Volt, feat. Vincent D'Onofrio and Dana Lyn
Slim Bone Head Volt, feat. Vincent D’Onofrio and Dana Lyn

Sitting in the dimly lit theater I realized how light my mood was. A spontaneous trip to NYC with WPT, getting to see a good friend, and now listening Vincent D’Onofrio talk about his imaginary friend and describe a hamster’s world view was exactly what I needed to get past the hump of the darkest days of the year. It wasn’t the answer I expected to find.

Slim Bone Head Volt, feat. Vincent D'Onofrio and Dana Lyn
Slim Bone Head Volt, feat. Vincent D’Onofrio and Dana Lyn
Slim Bone Head Volt, feat. Vincent D'Onofrio and Dana Lyn
Slim Bone Head Volt, feat. Vincent D’Onofrio and Dana Lyn

After the show was over we had a bit of time before we needed to head over to 34th and 11th to catch the bus back to Baltimore. Our first stop was the Little Lebowski Shop (I needed a new t-shirt; five isn’t enough apparently), then onto Generation Records. We boarded a little before 10:30pm and were soon fast asleep, lulled by the road noise and the fulfillment of a perfect, ridiculous quest.

The Little Lebowski Store, East Village
The Little Lebowski Store, East Village
Washington Square Park, East Village
Washington Square Park, East Village

Los Straitjackets and Deke Dickerson at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia (11/2/14)

Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson
Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson

For a quarter-century, the masked men of Los Straitjackets have cemented their self-proclaimed title as the “world’s leading practitioners of the guitar instrumental” through frequent worldwide touring and more than a dozen albums.

Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson
Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson

While the band arguably led the surf instro-revival that followed director Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION (1994), what has always set Los Straitjackets apart from the pack (beside many killer original tunes) is their eclectic taste and ingenuity. In short, Los Straitjackets are not merely a “surf” band, but rather guitar-driven curators of pop culture in the grand tradition of the Ventures. Indeed, Danny Amis, Eddie Angel, Pete Curry, Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague, and Greg Townson can turn Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” (the love theme from the 1997 movie TITANIC) into a sparkling, “Telstar”-inspired opus as adeptly as they hammer forth classic surf tunes such as “Squad Car”.

Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson
Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson

On occasion, the band has teamed up with various singers (including Exene Cervenka, Nick Lowe, and El Vez) on a track-by-track basis. However, their latest album, Los Straitjackets: Deke Dickerson Sings the Great Instrumental Hits, is the band’s most comprehensive vocal effort to date. Backing surf/garage/hotrod kingpin Dickerson (whose own efforts include the primal garage band Untamed Youth), Los Straitjackets summon hitherto wordless classics like “Walk, Don’t Run”, “Pipeline”, and “Apache”, superimposed by Dickerson’s own self-styled lyrics. The results are remarkably enjoyable for an effort that could have easily sunk to novelty status.

Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson
Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson

On November 2, 2014, both band and singer stopped by Philadelphia’s World Café Live as part of a tour in support of the new record. Neither disappointed. Moreover, Los Straitjackets and Deke Dickerson mined a few garage gems and one-hit wonders that I never thought I’d hear live – the Sonics’ “Have Love, Will Travel”, the Swingin’ Medallions “Double Shot”, and “Red River Rock” by Johnny and the Hurricanes, to name a few – their vitality reflecting the perennial quality of the best rock ‘n’ roll. Dickerson, in top form, delivered a bouncy, ska-lounge rendition of Phyllis Dillon’ cover of “Perfidia”, as well as an amazingly spot-on tribute to the late Steve Wahrer’s 50-grit vocals on the Trashmen’s landmark “Surfin’ Bird”.

Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson
Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson

Both Dickerson and Los Straitjackets also stuck around after the show, to sign autographs and mingle with concert-goers, suggesting a deeply-rooted appreciation of their fans only paralleled by that for the music.

Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson
Los Straitjackets with Deke Dickerson

More photos here:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/leekinginc/sets/72157649241257901/

Fleshtones at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia (11/2/14)

The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)
The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)

You won’t find the Fleshtones working the oldies circuit for Bic-toting Boomers looking to rekindle, if just for that moment, the fire of their youth. That’s because “America’s garage band”, contemporaries of the likes of the Cramps and the Ramones, have never stopped going since guitarist Keith Streng struck the band’s first power chord in 1976 New York. Indeed, amidst their endless touring around the world, the Fleshtones – comprised of Streng, drummer Bill Milhizer, bassist Ken Fox, and frontman Peter Zaremba – released their 22nd album, WHEEL OF TALENT, in early 2014.

The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)
The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)

The band still fires on all cylinders, as demonstrated during a November 2, 2014, performance at World Café Live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Fleshtones mined their nearly four-decade-old catalog, turning out crowd-riling gems like “Pretty Pretty Pretty” and “Girl from Baltimore,” but they also played recent songs, such as last year’s “Haunted Hipster” from the Halloween compilation MONDO ZOMBIE BOOGALOO. Fox and Streng, their lean frames poured into impossibly fitted jeans, are as restless onstage as ever, while Milhizer’s ace beats and Zaremba’s signature Farfisa organ and enthusiastic vocals pry loose even the most inert audience member. But perhaps as satisfying as the band’s seemingly boundless energy is their resilient and evident enthusiasm for their craft.

The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)
The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)

Prior to the show, my 8-year-old son and I spied Zaremba lingering about the bar at the back of the venue. We promptly picked up a copy of the band’s 2003 disc, DO YOU SWING?, at their merch table. I handed it to my son.

“Go for it, kiddo,” I said.

We headed back toward the bar, where my son waited for a break in conversation to approach Zaremba, who graciously signed the disc for the boy.

“I’m happy to sign any one of our albums,” Zaremba announced, “and do you know why? Because I’m proud of every one of them.” He then turned and handed the disc to a man at the bar. It was Milhizer, who also signed the CD.

My son, elated, thanked them both. Milhizer smiled.

“Thank you for having us here,” he said.

 

The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)
The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)
The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)
The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)
The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)
The Fleshtones at World Cafe Live (11/2/14)

More photos at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/leekinginc/sets/72157649241257901/

Bomba Estereo

War, some say, is God’s way of teaching Americans geography. And while for many, sadly, that may still hold true, today’s digital technology readily issues passports to foreign landscapes for anyone with a Galilean sense of curiosity and a good wifi connection – particularly in the musical sphere. Indeed, fusions of Western sound as filtered through the experience of foreign cultures – and vice versa – make for some of today’s freshest, most exciting music, and the Internet offers an improbably diverse world of rhythms and melodies for those willing to listen.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

Among my favorite acts of recent years is Bomba Estereo, a Colombian band at the forefront of a style some have dubbed “electrocumbia”, a seamless blend of indigenous rhythms, Latin, reggae, rock, and electronic music. I had longed to experience this monstrously heady fusion in person for the last several years, but the space/time continuum remained steadfastly averse to it; Bomba Estereo never played Baltimore, and driving 45 minutes to Washington, D.C., on a Monday night usually proved problematic.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

That Davida and I finally leapt at the opportunity to instead drive twice as far on a Monday night, to World Café Live in Philadelphia, probably reflects our feelings for D.C. as much as any affinity for Philly. Leaving work an hour early meant our only significant challenge would be the Rush Hour of Brotherly Love.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

Having arrived at our destination about an hour before the doors opened, we enjoyed a delicious Indian buffet dinner at the nearby Sitar India. (Being a buffet, it allowed us to not only eat our fill, but also be as fast or slow in the process as we wished.) Afterward, we enjoyed the mild evening air of mid-September as we wandered back to the venue.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

It was our second trip to World Café Live, the first having taken place a year earlier, when we took our 7-year-old son to his first concert, a Halloween-themed triple bill of the Fleshtones, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Los Straitjackets called “Mondo Zombie Boogaloo” (after a collaborative album of the same name). We’d found both sound and stage favorable, the staff to be most accommodating, and the restrooms quite clean. We bought drinks at the bar, then wandered out to the still-empty floor.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

With their own blend of Latin, jazz, funk, and psychedelia, opening act Los Crema Paraiso proved well-suited to the task. I particularly dug the Venezuelan band’s seven-minute trance-epic called “Shine On You (Crazy Diablo)”, as well as the bouncy jangle of “Petrocumbia”. The next day, in fact, we bought their album, El Debut, online. (Curiously, neither band had a merch table that night.). When their set concluded, Davida and I staked out our places at the foot of the stage.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

Upon taking the stage, Bomba Estereo unleashed a sonic juggernaut, an irresistible melting pot of jungle noise and urban nightlife. I found the lighting – which more often than not cast the band in silhouette (and sometimes total darkness) while at times, in fact, spotlighting the audience instead – to be especially interesting.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

Though diminutive in stature (despite her platform sneakers), vocalist/MC Liliana Saumet commanded the audience with a powerful feminine presence that, amazingly, never detours into either pixie-princess or androgyny. Backed by band-founder Simon Mejia (bass), Julian Salazar (guitar/synthesizer), and Kike Eggurola (drums), Saumet – with her impeccable ability to rile the audience at just the right moments – led the band through dance-inducing numbers like “Fuego” as deftly as more atmospheric tunes, such as “Lo Que Tengo Que Decir”.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

For 90-odd minutes, Bomba Estereo awed concertgoers not with blood and fire, but rather a distinctively reshuffled deck of human experience, demonstrating the notion that, often, travel is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder…

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

And you could dance to it.

BOMBA ESTEREO
Website: http://bombaestereo.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BombaEstereo

LOS CREMA PARAISO
Website
http://loscremaparaiso.bandcamp.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/loscremaparaiso

WORLD CAFÉ LIVE
3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Phone: (215) 222-1400
Website: http://philly.worldcafelive.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wclive

SITAR INDIA
60 South 38th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Phone: (215) 662-0818
Email: sitarindiapa@yahoo.com
Website: http://www.sitarindiacuisine.net/
(DGB comment: they note on the buffet which items are vegan and gluten-free.)

 

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014