By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Those flyers referring to Spell's Friday, August 30, date at the Bluebird Theater (with the Apples, Space Team Electra and Social Joke) as the act's last Denver gig are a bit overstated--but only a bit. The trio, which features drummer Garrett Shavlik, guitarist Tim Beckman and bassist Chanin Floyd, hasn't broken up--but because Shavlik is relocating, these Island Records signees will have a lower profile in Colorado, at least in the short run.
Shavlik insists that a fortunate happenstance, rather than any dissatisfaction with this area, persuaded him to leave the state he's in. "My wife's parents own a house in Seattle, and they're going to let us live there while we fix it up," he says. "So we sold our house here for a good profit, and the weekend after the show, I'm gone. We're packing up the truck and moving out."
Beckman and Floyd don't have any immediate plans to follow Shavlik to the Pacific Northwest. "We haven't sold our house," Beckman points out. But, he adds, the real home base for the members of Spell during the next year or two "will be Motel 8." The reason? The bandmates are finally ready to begin work on the followup to their Island debut, the modest-selling Mississippi.
"We might be back in the studio as soon as mid-September," Shavlik reveals. At press time, the players were completing negotiations with a name producer eager to oversee the new platter (watch this space for more information); once the paperwork is finalized, the players will determine where and when they'll cut their latest batch of material. Notes Shavlik, "We have over 25 songs we're ready to record, and we're not going to cut any corners when we get into the studio. We've really progressed as writers, and we're going to try some new things. We want to use Herb Alpert-style horns on some stuff, and some marimbas. There's even places where what we're doing may remind people of My Bloody Valentine. But in the end, we'll still sound like Spell."
Current plans call for an early 1997 release for the latest album, as well as a national tour. (Several well-known combos have invited Spell to join their bills, but no contracts have been inked.) According to Shavlik, "We want to get on the road as soon as we can, and get people realizing that we're still around." Denver, no doubt, will be part of Spell's itinerary, but nothing after the Bluebird date is scheduled. Still, Shavlik insists, "It's not like we're abandoning Denver. We all like it here, and we're looking forward to playing some of the new stuff on the 30th."
Aging in rock and roll can be tricky, and not everyone can do it gracefully. Based on visits last weekend, Patti Smith is passing the test of time. As for Elvis Costello and Paul Westerberg, they should be sent to study hall.
Costello, who headlined at the Paramount Theatre on August 23, began his career as an angry young man, but lately he's been trying to present himself in a VH1-friendly mode. He was in good voice, and his band, the Attractions, proved to be a supple and flexible ensemble. But new arrangements consistently poured cold water on many of the singer's most fiery compositions. For instance, "Pump It Up" featured instrumentation, including maracas and an accordion, that made it sound more like something by the Neville Brothers than a new wave classic.
Only once did Costello's old bile seem to surface. The band concluded the set's main body with "Riot Act"; then, for an encore, Costello launched into..."Riot Act"--played precisely as it had been three minutes earlier. But what at first came across like a cynical commentary on the tired rituals of rock performance revealed itself to be nothing of the sort. After the first encore, Costello came back for five more--so many that a considerable percentage of the audience had filtered out before he was sated. In the end, he suggested Laurence Olivier's portrayal of the pathetic Archie Rice character at the center of 1960's The Entertainer: a music-hall veteran so desperately needy that he doesn't realize that he's overstayed his welcome. It was sad to see.
The following night at Boulder's Fox Theater, Smith and Westerberg headlined a date that concluded the A3 Summit, a radio-industry confab sponsored by Gavin, a powerful tip-sheet for insiders. The first two performers on the bill--Patti Rothberg and Keb' Mo'--definitely aimed their approaches at the big shots, with predictable results. Rothberg suggested an actress playing a rocker in a tampon commercial ("Tonight's the big concert, so she can't slow down--even though it's one of her heavy days..."), while Mo' followed up two acoustic-blues numbers with crossover bids that sounded like, of all people, Bruce Hornsby. It was as if Mo' were saying, "Sure, I'm an authentic blues artist--but I can be inauthentic, too. And here's proof."
You'd think onetime Replacements leader Westerberg would be immune to such instincts, but you'd be wrong. He remained on his best behavior while playing; the closest he came to rebelling was when he chose to go beyond his scheduled time. (Security hustled him offstage as if he were a stage diver who'd gotten too close to the equipment.) The attempt to find a middle ground between his raucous musical past and his much more cautious present (exemplified by his pair of okay-but-not-great solo albums) made the entire presentation feel like the compromise it was.
Unlike Westerberg, Smith gave not a fig that she was in the presence of people who would determine whether or not she got radio airplay. Although accompanists Oliver Ray and Lenny Kaye were armed with acoustic guitars, the appearance was less "Patti Smith Unplugged" than "Patti Smith--Not Plugged In." Smith was completely discombobulated, forgetting lyrics, admitting that she barely knew how to play a new composition (she borrowed a handkerchief from an audience member to wipe off her sweaty fingers), and otherwise acting as if she'd just awakened. (At one point, she unselfconsciously unbuttoned her jeans to readjust her underwear in full view of the packed house.) It may have been the single least professional show I've ever seen by a major artist--but it was also initimate and hugely enjoyable. Smith is so singular and magnetic a personality that she makes even her less-inspired material worth hearing. Just as important, she has a vision, and she's not going to alter it for anyone. At the Fox, she insisted upon playing drones about death and transcendence that will never be programmed between, say, Jewel and the Gin Blossoms, and even made a speech about today's radio in which she admitted that, in her view, it isn't very good. As a career move, these choices seem moronic, but they're actually why people still care about her. Smith has lasted because of, rather than in spite of, her bravery--a lesson Costello and Westerberg would do well to learn.
By the end of this week, you should be able to find "Jukebox," the Backbeat home page, in the "web extras" section of Westword online (www.westword.com). Look for mini reviews, film clips, trivia contests (complete with prizes), pop-culture flotsam and more, more, more!
An addendum to this week's Al Green profile (page 65): The folks at Jazz Aspen want you to know that lodging packages for the three-day event, begin at $67 per person. Call 1-800-SNOWMASS for more information. Operators are standing by.
Closer to home. On Friday, August 30, Liquid Chicken clucks at the Asylum Gallery; the Girls get together at Ziggie's Saloon; My Blind Alley begins a two-night run at the Rock Bottom Brewery; the Smashing Pumpkins get smashed at McNichols Arena, with Grant Lee Buffalo; and Baldo Rex and the Snatchers get a grip at Seven South. On Saturday, August 31, Loudon Wainwright III joins Wendy Woo at the Fox, and Westfest, featuring Merle Haggard and others, gets underway at Copper Mountain (to learn more, call 1-800-458-8386, ext. 7885). On Sunday, September 1, Martha's Wake, Zeut and Book of Runes turn the page at the Ogden Theater. And on Wednesday, September 4, the Isley Brothers drop by Mammoth Gardens to promote Mission to Please, a sensual comeback album. Remember those condoms, folks.
Backbeat's e-mail address is Michael_Roberts@ westword.comMichael_Roberts@