Despite author Thomas Wolfe's definitive warning, lots of people regularly try to go home again, only to find that the old place is no longer what it used to be. But not all such journeys end in disaster. Take the Smashing Pumpkins concert on April 19 at the Ogden Theatre--the kind of small hall that the band played prior to its members' admittance to the Millionaires' Club. The gig was hardly an across-the-boards success, but its conclusion suggested that these often-contentious players (Billy Corgan, D'Arcy, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, just back from drug-addiction exile) may have finally loosened up enough to realize that there are worse things than being a rock star--like not being one.
Early on, such an outcome seemed dubious in the extreme. Problems with ticket sales for the show (documented in last week's column) were exacerbated by the kind of demand the musicians had to know would far outstrip the supply. Control-freak behavior on the part of the Pumpkins' camp, which went so far as to ax the guest list of the opening act, Queens of the Stone Age, subsequently made the situation even more untenable. In the end, a great many folks who desperately wanted to get inside the Ogden were unable to do so--and I was nearly one of them. I'd love to tell you how I escaped this fate, but I've been threatened with death and/or emasculation if I do so.
The Queens, who rose from the grave of the now-defunct combo Kyuss, got the sort of shabby treatment that opening acts have grown to expect. The musicians were forced to perform at the very edge of the stage, in front of the Pumpkins' equipment, and the sound was laughably bad, with the bass and drums reduced to undifferentiated sludge. Yet the group's working-class psychedelia and self-deprecating humor (sample song title, as announced by frontman Josh Homme: "I Tried As Hard As I Could, But I Only Got the Bronze") overcame most, if not all, of these obstacles. Songs such as "Regular John" and "If Only," from the Queens' self-titled debut for Loosegroove Records, provoked plenty of drunken head-bobbing from a crowd that should have been eager to be rid of them. The Pumpkins brain trust chose the Stone Agers to open for this mini-tour because of their hipness value, and Homme and company responded by providing a hard act to follow.
The Pumpkins, of course, had plenty of advantages over the Queens, not the least of which was a decent sound check: The acoustics were superb, particularly for the Ogden, a room with notoriously erratic sonics. But while the Pumpkins opened up with a pair of power-chord specials that revved up the throng, torpor soon set in. Much of the fault lay with the material, most of which was brand-new, rather undistinguished and thoroughly unfamiliar to the crowd. During many of the tunes--including "Stand Inside Your Love," the only one Corgan identified by name--attendees were simply too puzzled to get down.
Still, most of the blame fell on the individual musicians, none of whom seemed to realize for the first hour that anyone else was performing alongside them. Drummer Chamberlin, sporting a newly pumped-up frame and a short-cropped coif that made him practically unrecognizable, pounded with authority, but bassist D'Arcy, looking like an inflatable cowgirl love doll in her straw hat, jeans and perpetual pout, seemed to be in a daze, and guitarist Iha spent most of his time staring at his hands, as if he were afraid that Corgan might scream at him for making a mistake--which has happened plenty of times in the past. Corgan, meanwhile, wore an extremely tight Sixties-era brown suit that, in combination with his bald pate, made him a dead ringer for Dr. Evil from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. But guffaws were in extremely short supply. Because Corgan seemed less into the songs than into himself, the concert's first half had the feel of a practice session at which the audience's presence wasn't strictly necessary. Indeed, "Today," the main set's concluding number (and an actual hit), came across so perfunctorily that fans desperate to recognize something/anything sputtered instead of exploding.
The three encores, however, were a completely different story. Freed from the responsibility of introducing fresh compositions, the band ripped through a handful of familiar tracks, including "Muzzle" (from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness), with a startling lack of self-consciousness. Suddenly, Iha and Corgan were not only acknowledging each other, but chuckling and joking together. The final ditty, "Geek U.S.A." (a Siamese Dream chestnut), provided the evening's peak thanks to what felt an awful lot like spontaneity. Corgan became so enraptured by his own solo that Iha actually set his guitar aside, turned off his amplifier and stared at the head Pumpkin with amazement. So, too, did the ticket-buyers, who likely had never before seen this side of Corgan. Suddenly, he wasn't the tantrum-tossing brat who deserved a couple of hours in time-out, but a likably geeky kid enthralled by the power at his command.
There's no telling precisely what accounted for this attitude change, but odds are strong that the Pumpkins' recent struggles had a lot to do with it. After all, Chamberlin had been kicked out of the band; Scratchie Records, an indie imprint co-owned by D'Arcy and Iha, took a bath; Let It Come Down, Iha's solo album, received withering notices; and Adore, the Pumpkins' 1998 disc, under-performed in a big way. That's a lot of bad karma, so it was probably a tonic for the quartet to simply enjoy playing together again. The Pumpkins may never return to what they were, especially since the latest batch of tunes recall the glory days of the mid-Nineties--which is to say that they sound like part of the past, not part of the future. But for these guys, simply having a good time together is a victory of sorts. They'll probably go back to despising each other next week, but for one night in Denver, they actually made Rodney King's dream come true: They all just got along.
In this space circa our September 17, 1998, issue, afternoon talk-show host Jay Marvin, one of the best reasons to tune into KHOW-AM/630 over the past several years, revealed that he was leaving the station to take a similar job at WFLA-AM in Tampa, Florida. But his departure was initially delayed and then canceled altogether after several weeks of what Marvin jokingly referred to as "the world's longest going-away show." Well, start the countdown again: Marvin has told his corporate overseer, KHOW-owner Jacor, that he will not be renewing his contract when it expires in September. At this point, Marvin declines to comment on future plans beyond saying that he hopes to finish a so-called cop novel he's writing. (His previous book, Punk Blood, is still available at amazon.com.) As for his reasons for splitting, he downplays both health concerns (he's been feeling better of late but is still on oxygen when he sleeps) and ratings: "I tripled the numbers from when I first got here and came close to quadrupling them," he says. "And the callers have been great. I just want to try something new." Laughing, he adds, "With the extreme economic boom we're expe-riencing, I think I'll get a job at Carl's Jr."
As if you haven't guessed by now, the Samples are a prolific bunch. Hot on the heels of Here and Somewhere Else, reviewed in this space in December, the band has issued The Tan Mule, a disc available only via e-mail or the Internet. Shipped in a zippered collector's pouch complete with slip sleeves designed for your other Samples CDs, the album starts out strongly with "Take My Heart," an enticing country ditty, but after that, it's pretty much what you'd expect: "Black & White" suggests Crosby, Stills and Nash; "Across the Sea" sounds like an outtake by that single-monikered guy to whom lead vocalist Sean Kelly is always being compared (hint: he used to front the Police); "Inside Out" is a sweet but familiar ballad; and so on. Those of you already on the bus will be thrilled; those who aren't couldn't care less (www.war.com). Keyboardist Al Laughlin, whose departure from the Samples was reportedly due at least in part to a persistent drug problem, has resurfaced as part of Trepanation, a combo that also features former Zuba bassist Sid Greenbud and ex-Thugs guitarist James Hambleton. The combo's self-titled CD covers plenty of territory: The opening track, "Two Face," is a generic ska romp, "Summertime" lifts the MC 900 Foot Jesus style, and "Quatro Veinte" nods to roots reggae. Despite some nice sax work on "Equinox," Trepanation comes across as party music for the collegiate set that's well-played but as overly familiar as that grabby uncle you know to avoid at family reunions (Mountain High Music, P.O. Box 2351, Boulder, CO 80306-2351).
While a Denverite, Shauna Strecker was best known for her work in Western Vogue. These days she's a resident of Nashville and a member of Katoorah Jayne, an act whose self-titled demo falls squarely into the Alanis Morissette camp. "Forgiveness," the first cut, is pure "You Oughta Know," and on "Like a Good Girl Should," "Chromosome Face" and others, Strecker approximates the nasal sauciness of the commercially divine Ms. M. Not that Strecker's doing an impression. It's the same voice she's always had--but it's more marketable these days. Don't be shocked if A&R folks leap to the same conclusion (Rock Your World, 1020 15th Street, #33D, Denver, CO 80202). Don't Drive Away Angry, by On Second Thought, is as slick a local disc as you're likely to find: The art design is clever and professional-looking, and the production values are way above average. The music, though, is not what you'd call bakery-fresh. The average Coloradan has heard the act's hey-dude blend of pop, reggae and jamming approximately a million times already; for me, it's been more like five million. There's nothing inherently wrong with Damon Guerrasio's reedy voice or the brittle playing of compatriots Tage Plantell, Doug Kok and Preston Moxcey, and I know full well there's an audience out there for that-sorta-sounds-like-Dave Matthews ditties such as "Lighthouse" and "Wait Up." But there's no point in denying it: The album bored the holy hell out of me. Call it a personal failing (available in area music stores).
Crackin' Off Beauties, a compilation of material by KRFX-FM/103.5 morning jocks Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax, benefits a good cause: A portion of its proceeds are earmarked for the Denver Police Department's widows and orphans fund. But the disc itself stands as proof that what's sometimes diverting when you're stuck in traffic on I-25 isn't always equally amusing when you're sitting in your living room with nowhere to go. Maybe someone out there will be convulsed with laughter by "N.L.E." (aka "Near Lesbian Experiences"), co-starring Olympian Amy Van Dyken, or a satirical commercial for "Lewinsky Motors," where "built-in jobs keep you pumped up," but I found the experience of listening to them somewhat less humorous than the episode of NYPD Blue in which the Jimmy Smits character died. The realization that millions of Americans went into paroxysms because an actor wanted to leave his TV series broke me up (available at the Virgin Megastore). More alleged yuks can be found on KS107.5 Complaints, another radio-station disc with a charity tie-in: Part of the money goes to an adopt-a-family program called "Feed the Streets." Jocks Rick Stacy, Larry Ulibarri and Jennifer Wilde are even more scattershot than Lewis and Floorwax, and attempts at wackiness like "If Your Girl Only Knew (Monica Mix)" and "Clinton in Deep Shhhh" aren't getting any fresher. Wake me when it's over (available at Tower Records and Best Buy).
Steve Watson--a guitarist, not the former Denver Broncos wide receiver--lives in Colorado now, but during the Eighties he was part of the Other Kids, a Wisconsin power-pop band that was prized in its home state but didn't break through beyond the state line. Neverland, a double-CD set, compiles material from three albums cut between 1985 and 1990--and for the first two (Living in the Mirror and Happy Home), the man behind the boards was Butch Vig, who produced Nirvana's Nevermind prior to starting up his current combo, Garbage. The songs are very much a product of their era, but the sweet hooks, strong melodies, keening singing and exuberant harmonies of rockers like "Livin' Downtown," "Flamin' Drag Queen" and "I Wanna Be Gone" and heartfelt mid-tempo pieces such as "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Is She Being Tortured" sound no worse for wear. The results aren't revelatory, but they're plenty entertaining (Spinolio Records, P.O. Box 1761, Arvada, CO 80001-1761). The title of the latest recording by the irrepressible Garden Weasels--Filler--is a provocation aimed straight at the band's doubters, and so is "Green With Envy," a ditty in which head Weasel Rusty Shears croons, "Well, crankin' tunes is what we do/When no one pays to go see you/You say we suck and we'll agree/But watch us grow just like a tree." In truth, the act's growth isn't all that obvious: "I Don't Wanna Know" is a catchier tune than they've managed to date, but "Speak to Me," "Wrecked" and "Bang" are pretty typical of a group whose brand of punk ska is, um, pretty typical (Rodent Record Company, P.O. Box 748, Arvada, CO 80001).
This is the week for the Roots of the Blues festival, one of the biggest events being put on by the Swallow Hill Music Association in this, its twentieth year of existence. On the evening of Thursday, April 22, Otis Taylor, Mary Flower and Lionel Young appear at the Eulipions Cultural Center, 1770 Sherman, for absolutely nothing--the performance is free to the public. The following night, Friday, April 23, 91-year-old blues fiddler and mandolinist Howard Armstrong and electric bluesman Robert B. Jones can be seen at Swallow Hill Music Hall; and on Saturday, April 24, Henry Townsend, who's a mere ninety years old, is joined by Roy Rogers (the blues musician, not the dead cowboy singer) and Shana Morrison (Van Morrison's daughter) at the same location. For details about any of these shows, dial 303-777-1003.
The Indulgers, a recent Westword profile subject ("Indulge Yourself," January 14), won the Jim Beam's Back Room Band Search contest held at the Hard Rock Cafe earlier this month. The group will compete against the top vote-getters in competitions staged in Boston, New Orleans, Phoenix and Chicago on May 13 at Chicago's Hard Rock Cafe. If the Indulgers emerge victorious there, you'll probably read about it here; if they don't, you probably won't. In the meantime, bands interested in showcasing at the Colorado Springs Music Festival are invited to send audition tapes or CDs to J&B Productions, P.O. Box 4929, Woodland Park, CO 80866, before May 15. Call James Buck at 1-214-823-3966 if these instructions make no sense to you.
Or else just go through life dizzy with confusion. On Thursday, April 22, Space Team Electra flies all the way to the Boulder Theater, with Munly and DeVotchKa; Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts screw around at Cricket on the Hill; and ebb-n-flow washes into Soapy Smith's. On Friday, April 23, DJ Juliette and Jerry Bonham take over the turntables at Boulder's Soma; the Hate Fuck Trio, on the eve of a tour with NOFX, gets together with Koala and King Rat at the 15th Street Tavern; Jux County and the Kalamath Brothers get cozy at the Lion's Lair; Zeut and Turnsol turn up at the Soiled Dove; and Wendy Woo plays for the first of two nights at Jazz@Jacks. On Saturday, April 24, Chupacabra speaks Latin at the Fox Theatre; Big Shark Jackson introduces its new disc at Quixote's; Corruption spreads at the Ogden Theatre, with Rogue; Neil Satterfield, Jill Russell and Dave Evans get Brazilian at the American Lutheran Memorial Church, 501 Raleigh Street (call 303-629-0677 to learn more); and the 32-20 Jug Band, the subject of a Westword article of its own ("The Jug Is Up," March 18), huffs and puffs at the 15th Street Tavern, with the Breezy Porticos. On Sunday, April 25, Rainbow Sugar sweetens a special 2 p.m. appearance at the Bluebird Theatre. And on Wednesday, April 28, at the Boulder Theater, singer-songwriter Marie Bear celebrates the release of a new CD, Cherry Tree. Sorry, beavers: It wouldn't be much use in building dams.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@ westword.comMichael_Roberts@.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.