Big Ears Festival Ropes in Monk [and Wife] With Harold Budd Residency

Big Ears 2019 was a must-see festival due to Harold Budd

We have attended three of the last five Big Ears Festivals since they have an eye for the sort of artists that we will definitely capitulate for. A-list non-rock artists like Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, and Harold Budd. The festival has been going for ten years now and it’s Ashley Capp’s little petri dish of a festival where commercial concerns are not really paramount. The same promoter puts on Bonnaroo every year for that. So Big Ears is more likely to have artists from the left-field of music, and not really popular music at that. Rock and pop are marginalized here. There’s a smattering, but it is more than matched by the type of sounds that are more challenging to the audience. It’s far more likely to host avant-garde, jazz, folk, and classical luminaries than your typical festival bands.

Harold Budd

We have enjoyed Big Ears but passed on the last two years. One of the first time’s we attended was specifically to see a Harold Budd performance at the Knoxville Museum Of Art. We were waiting for the show and saw Bing + Ruth setting up where we were expecting Budd, only to find that the artist had fallen and broken a rib days before the convert and had to cancel. As Budd was in his late 70s at the time, this was nothing to sneeze at! Fortunately, Bing + Ruth made equally beautiful music and were working in a similar zone to Budd’s area of piano ambience.

Last year, we were gearing up for Simple Minds in Atlanta with our friends the Ware’s and Echorich when we saw on Harold Budd’s website that he was appearing in Toledo Ohio the week prior at the Toledo Museum of Art. We could not attend, but we asked Terrence Budd [Harold’s son who mans the email] if there were any chance he would ever perform at Big Ears. Terrence hinted that they were trying to swing a make-up for that lost concert and when the festival lineup was announced last fall, we saw that he was not blowing smoke. Budd would be performing throughout the entire festival. This resulted in a massive buy-in from us, who for the first time, bought full weekend passes to the festival. In the past we focused on the main event we were interested in and only bought a day pass.

At 82 years of age, Budd carefully picks and chooses his concert schedule. Usually racking up no more than one or two concerts every few years or so out of his native California desert environs. This will be a feast of Budd with new works debuted at the festival as well as solo and collaborative endeavors. But there are many more musical and artistic events scheduled to fill out our days in Knoxville starting next week.

Next: …What Else Is On Our Schedule?


Posted in Core Collection, Tourdates | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Funky Justice: ACR get BSOG

The gentlemen of ACR celebrate 40 years of funk in May

No sooner have I finally gotten some of A Certain Ratio into my Record Cell [finally] last year than I see that the band will be celebrating their 40 years span with the sort of boxed set that makes me stand up and take notice. Releasing on May 3rd is an ideal collection called “ACR:BOX” that stands as a sop to hardcore fans wanting to fill out their collections with rarities, and yet it would also function beautifully as a larger introduction for chastened Johnny-come-latelys like myself. It’s broken equally into single mixes and B-sides with half of the material being unreleased material.

Mute | UK | 4xCD | 2019

A Certain Ratio: ACR:BOX 4xCD UK [2019]

  1. All Night Party
  2. The Thin Boys
  3. Blown Away
  4. Son And Heir
  5. Waterline
  6. Funaezekea
  7. Abracadubra
  8. Sommadub
  9. Guess Who? (12″ version)
  10. Tumba Rumba
  11. Knife Slits Water (12″ version)
  12. Kether Hot Knives (Mix In Special)
  13. I Need Someone Tonight
  14. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
  15. Life’s a Scream
  16. There’s Only This
  17. Si Fermir O Grido (Touch Cassette Version)
  18. Brazilia 6.10
  19. Sounds Like Something Dirty
  20. The Runner (Greetings Four Version)
  21. Inside (Greetings Four Version)
  22. Bootsy (Greetings Four Version)
  23. Fever 103 (Greetings Four Version)
  24. Loosen Up Your Mind
  25. The Planet
  26. Forever (Jon Dasilva’s Testimonial Mix)
  27. Turn Me on (7″ Edit)
  28. Shack up (Electronic Radio Edit)
  29. Houses In Motion (Demo Version 1)
  30. Houses In Motion (Demo Version 2)
  31. And Then Again (Another version)
  32. Piu Lento (John Peel Session)
  33. Nostromo A Go Go (Demo)
  34. Force (Demo)
  35. Backs to The Wall (Demo)
  36. The Big E (Demo)
  37. Every Pleasure (Demo)
  38. Rivers Edge (Demo)
  39. Stadium (Demo)
  40. Thin Grey Line (Demo)
  41. Repercussions (African Mix)
  42. BTTW 90 (Demo)
  43. Spirit Dance (Demo)
  44. Bitter Pill (Never Released)
  45. It’s Trippin When I’m Fine (Previously Unreleased)
  46. Mello (JD 800 Perc Mix)
  47. Tekno 4 an Answer (120bpm)
  48. Samba 123 (Demo)
  49. Some Day (ACR rework)
  50. Happy Meal (Working Title)
  51. Flight Won’t Stop (Unfinished Demo)
  52. Fruit Song (Unfinished Demo)
  53. Say What You Mean (Unfinished Demo)
  54. W.S.L.U.

click 4 bigger

Not only will this point to historical eras of the band for me to further investigate, but care was taken so that there was no overlap with the “ACR:SET” compilation of last year at left. Which was a single disc singles/mixes groove thang of its own. Nor was any reissue bonus material doubled up. So all of this ACR bounty exists as discrete packages to collect without fear. Of particular interest was the cover version of TVLKING HEVDS “Houses In Motion” begun as a session with Grace Jones where she never finished her time in the studio. There’s a beautiful symmetry there since David Byrne cites the influence of seeing ACR open for TVLKING HEVDS in moving that band towards the artfunk goal line.

The CDs are egalitarian. The vinyl will co$t you…

The box is released on CD/LP/Digital on May 3rd and the CDs are priced attractively at £27/$40 for 4xCDs. CD preorders are here for the UK and US, respectively. I can’t find any details on the CD set but the LP set as shown above shows a 12″x12″ box with book and seven colored vinyl LPs in a tight looking set. That bad boy will set you back £100/$132.30, so you’ve got to really want it! Vote appropriately with your money and conscience.

I’m pleased that this set exists to bolster the re-issue program that Mute had been undertaking of the albums with the albums intact but the extras in a discrete whole like this. It’s how I like to have artist albums with a fat boxed set of god I make that wraps up all of the loose ends into one mighty package like this.

It’s interesting being born at roughly the same time as The Rolling Stones. It was unusual seeing the band become the first rock band to stay together 20 years by the time I was in college. I remember them looking so old in Saturday Night Live in 1978! 40 years later, there’s now a plethora of bands celebrating 40 years together…including many of my favorites from the Post-Punk era who were the antithesis to bands like The Rolling Stones. And yet The Stones are now pointing to their 60th anniversary. Sigh.

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Posted in BSOG, Want List | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Apostille + Molly Nilsson @ Mothlight 3-7-19 [part 2]

Molly Nilsson

Molly Nilsson was making a more confident pop six years later…

[…continued from last post]

It was soon time for Molly Nilsson to sing to the then nearly packed house. This was a different sort of vibe for me since I don’t think I’ve seen a Mothlight show that was sold out before. Moving around in the tight club was challenging. Being tall, I tried to get about halfway back from the stage for ladies to get a better view. Once I saw Ms. Nilsson onstage, it seemed as though she may have been the tall woman on the floor to my right in a cloak watching Apostille during his set. Maybe. Onstage, she was sans cloak in an indigo velour dress. As usual, she got down to business with little ado.

Molly Nilsson is a supremely D.I.Y. musician. She had made six albums by herself completely [writing, recording, producing, designing, releasing] before asking for two guest performers to grace her last two albums beginning in 2017. She has always sang over her MacBook playing back the song. This is the essence of her gig. It’s as straightforward as she can make it and still be responsible for only herself. Nevertheless, I see that there’s differing opinion on the wisdom of her performance style. The top reviews at Songkick have a lot of scorn for what they call “karaoke.” But I think they are missing the point. When Molly Nilsson makes music it is a largely solitary thing for her. If she had a band playing behind her it would then be a production far and away from her D.I.Y. ideals. And that would be a compromise from where I’m standing. I think the solitude of her touring style compliments her music rather well.

That said, the hints of gothic melancholy that powered her earlier music have receded a bit to allow a more confident pop style emerge with a tiny concession to entertainment values in the shape of a red sequin “beauty mark” under her left eye and a completely new to me palette of tunes that have definitely moved on a bit from the introspective melancholy of old to allow shards of pop euphoria to pierce the music. Molly has even loosened up enough to dance along to some of her more [dare we say] anthemic new songs. She’s no longer the shrinking violet of old while still being a far cry from this business called “show.” After years of circling the globe, she’s shedding a little of the introversion that defined her persona early on.

I think all of the songs she sang this evening came from her last three albums. They all seemed new to me with the bulk of them coming from last year’s “20/20,” now that I have a copy. Since her setup is so simple, all she really has to do is get the right coloration on her vocal PA that matches her penchant for a Cocteau Twins-like fascination with reverb. She has a body of work that is coherent and unified as she is making her way personally and artistically through the minefield of the 21st century. Referring obliquely to the miasma of the now through the body of songs like “Every Night Is New” or “1995” from the “Zenith” album.

Thankfully, she still performed her usual hour long headlining set in spite of being relegated to the middle position in the lineup. I had been afraid that she might have a 30 minute slot, but that was not the case. The full house at The Mothlight, perhaps ostensibly, to see Deerhunter, treated her well. I found it touching when at the end of her set, she bowed stiffly and blew kisses to the receptive audience. It was very different seeing Ms. Nilsson with so many others. The shows I caught in 2012-2013 were in a much smaller venue with as many as 60-80 people there. She has written a steady stream of insightful songs that no longer just flirt with pop from the shadows. They show that she may fully embrace it while retaining all of the beguiling charm of her songbook. I just hope it’s not six more years before I see her sing again.

Here’s further itinerary taking her from tonight in Philadelphia to Sweden in May.

Molly Nilsson | North America | 2019

12 Mar. | Philadelphia, PA | PhiMoca
13 Mar. | Brooklyn, NY | Elswewhere Hall
15 Mar. | Boston, MA | Lilypad
16 Mar. | Montreal, QC | Théâtre Fairmount
19 Mar. | Toronto, ON | The Horseshoe Tavern
20 Mar. | Chicago, IL | The Empty Bottle
21 Mar. | Milwaukee, WI | he Ivy House
24 Mar. | Columbus, OH | Ace of Cups
25 Mar. | Bloomington, IN | The Blockhouse
26 Mar. | Nashville, TN | Exit/In
27 Mar. | Memphis, TN | Artemisia Studios
29 Mar. | San Antonio, TX | Rathskeller
31 Mar. | New Orleans, LA | Gasa Gasa

Molly Nilsson | Europe | 2019

03 May | San Sebastian, Spain | Dabadaba
04 May | Barcelona, Spain | Apolo 2
08 May | Zürich, Switzerland | Zukunft
09 May | Geneva, Switzerland | Le Rez
11 May | Paris, France | La Maroquinerie
18 May | Umea, Sweden | Sub
21 May | Stockholm, Sweden | Fasching
22 May | Oslo, Norway | Ingensteds
24 May | Copenhagen, Denmark | Vega
25 May | Malmö, Sweden | Babel

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Apostille + Molly Nilsson @ Mothlight 3-7-19 [part 1]

Deerhunter muscled in on my Molly Nilsson show!

I was very happy to have noted earlier that Molly Nilsson had finally made it back to Asheville for the first time in six years.  That was a lot of water under the bridge, especially considering that the artist is fairly prolific with three further albums released in the last six years that I had not seen her live. So I bought my ticket a few weeks ago only to get an email from The Mothlight not 12 hours later informing me that the headliner on March 7th had changed and now Atlanta band Deerhunter were headlining. Thankfully Molly Nilsson and her support act Apostille were still playing. Now perhaps earlier but that’s all I was worried about in any case. The ticket cost of the show was now doubled but my ticket would still be honored. That was great since I had never heard of Deerhunter in any case and could not be bothered to care one way or another. In any case, the addition of this new headliner caused the show to sell out. This would maybe be the first time I was in The Mothlight in a full house. Ulp!

I arrived at the club only to find that what was once free parking in a church lot across the street from the venue was now a paid lot @ $2.00/hour. Welcome to Asheville! It was one of those cheapie pay-through-slot parking lots, and all I had was $20.00 bills so I quickly made a bee-line to the nearby grocery store to buy something inexpensive to break the bill into change. By the time I got back to the club, it was a few minutes past the 8:30 showtime.


Michael Kasparis was the one-man electro-punk dervish Apostille captured here in the dim Mothlight hunched over his modules in a rare still moment

Apostille were already underway with a loud, vibrant program of electrotwitch punk that was like an old friend to my ears. Apostille is Michael Kasparis and his set featured his earnest vocals singing some fascinating lyrics while thrashing to and fro and patching small modular units. He laid the occasional lead line down on a keyboard. For a one man operation, he was burning quite a few calories by sheer necessity! His voice was very familiar to me… who did he remind me of? It took me a minute or two, but eventually I realized that his voice had a lot in common with Bruce Wooley.

Michael Kasparis of Appostille, au naturel

How I loved the juxtaposition of that clean vocal tone with the wildly buzzing electroshock synths. The music immediately had the same kind of presence and aggression as early Fad Gadget. In short, this guy was riveting. His performance style wasn’t as far-gone as Frank Tovey [who could do that today?] but was nevertheless in the audience’s face; on occasion jumping off of the low stage into the front of the audience and singing just inches away from their faces. I was impressed at how he vibrated his whole body on the floor of the club for effect. Who needs FX boxes when there are muscles always there and free besides?

The Mothlight run a tight ship, so Kasparis had to cut his last song a little short. I enjoyed watching the mental wheels turn as he figured out how to trim “Thirteen Minutes” to about half of its 4:46 length. Which loops to use… which loops to discard.  How I loved seeing machine driven music rendered so chaotic and alive. The crowd had been building during the set and by its end, the club was about 30-40% full. Like many performers today, Kasparis tended to segue numbers together live to make long collages of sound and as an audient, this confuses me as to when it is appropriate to clap and show enthusiasm for the artist. Especially, in cases like this where I am encountering the music for the first time. When there was a pause, I jumped on the applause where appropriate. I think this might be the influence of DJ culture on live performance; which can often be just a hair’s breadth from a DJ set in any case.

After his gig concluded I made a bee line for the merch table and there was Mr. Kasparis manning the goods. I gave him compliments on his fantastic set and remarked that it was reminiscent of Fad Gadget, whom he certainly knew. It was treat for me to hear that sort of aggressive electronic attack live in 2019. Though it referenced music nearly 40 years old, I never heard things like Apostille live in 1982! But it seems like there is a will to perform such Post-Punk music live in the modern era, which may be down to the viability of today’s electronics in a live setting. In any case, he had won me over big time. I had planned to buy as much Molly Nilsson music as I could since she had reissues of her early CD-Rs and three new albums, but I had to buy the Apostille album, “Choose Life.”

I had saved up $42 to buy merch if possible that evening, but the parking hit me for cash I had not planned on spending, and I bought some food to break my bills to pay for the parking, so my cash was down. I was musing on the Molly Nilsson merch and decided that I should get her new album, “20/20.” Mr. Kasparis helpfully offered to give his opinion on what Nilsson CDs I should buy since he revealed that he was the head of her label, Glasgow’s Night School Records! Wow! This was literally a case of label tour support. Had I been a bit sharper mentally, I would have thanked him then and there for reissuing Rose MacDowell’s “Cut With The Cake Knife” as soon as he had said that.

Miffed at not having enough for three CDs, I found myself running off the the nearby grocery store and buying a food item so I could get $5.00 in cash back in the transaction. I made my way back to the merch table and decided to get a copy of Ms. Nilsson’s 2010 album, “Follow The Light.” When I first saw her in 2012 the 500 numbered CD-Rs of that were long gone by that time. The 2017 glass mastered CD would be much more durable, in any case. I popped off to the car to leave my purchases before Molly began her set. With her minimal setup [plug laptop into PA] it would not take long for her to take to the stage.

Next: …The REAL Headliner


Posted in Concert Review, Scots Rock | 1 Comment

Mark Hollis: 1955-2019 [part 2]

Mark Hollis in full flight at Montreaux Jazz Festival 1986 © photo edouard curchod

[…continued from last post]

A few years later while watching the MTV “New Video Hour,” I saw the next move that Talk Talk had made. Their third album, “The Colour Of Spring,” had been released and the lead single was the piano, bass, and acoustic drum [no more synthetic drums for this band…] led single “Life’s What You Make It.” The mesmerising rondo was remarkably similar to Tears For Fears’ megahit “Shout.” In fact, you can easily sing that song over the intro, which is at just the right tempo and vibe to do so. The Tim Pope video had the band playing the song at night in the woods with the keys of the piano damp with dew and every manner of insect and nocturnal animal becoming active.

The sound owed little to the synth rock of the band’s early days. I also saw the “Living In Another World Clip” later on and I noted that the band were moving on to a more acoustic sound. But I didn’t bite for some reason. Had I known that David Rhodes of Random Hold and Morris Pert of Brand X [both peter gabriel vets] were on the album it might have clued me in to where they were now going. Following that point in 1986, I can’t say that I ever heard another Talk Talk song until the 21st century. The last two albums by the band before breaking up went unheard by my ears.

<fast forward at least 20 years>

I really didn’t think about Talk Talk much in the ensuing years, but one of the first DVDs my wife got when we made the leap to the DVD format in 2000 or so was the film “Night Shift.” There’s a scene where Michael Keaton is in a dance club ca. 1982 where “Talk Talk” was playing. I suspect that might have been the impetus for my wife to pick up the CD of “Natural History” at Manifest Discs in Charlotte on a trip there in the early 21st century. Hearing the band again after decades of not having the debut album was interesting. I got to hear quite a lot of the band after their second album. The sound owed a lot to the similar excursions into acoustic jazz territory that David Sylvian had begun making at around the same time.

Over time, I read about how Mark Hollis had made a similar shift in his own writing. Their fourth album also used double bass player Danny Thompson who had added so much to Sylvian’s “Brilliant Trees” back in 1984. I became aware of how much further out Hollis’ vision had become over time with his output, with the last two Talk Talk albums being almost legendary affairs of many musicians improvising over many months before the results were carefully collaged into “Spirit Of Eden” and “Laughing Stock.”

It was 2011 when visiting Atlanta to see Sparks for the first time since their reformation, that a shopping trip to Criminal Records yielded the lone Mark Hollis solo album in their used bins. Given what I had read about it at that time, I unhesitatingly bought it. It’s not the sort of album one sees out in the wilds very often. The definitely abstract music on it was dramatically left field from anything I’d ever heard Hollis perform before. The minimal aesthetic had huge chunks of pregnant silence forming much of the music. It was as if Hollis was seeing how much he could pare away and still have a composition left. I swear that the last song ends with at least two minutes of silence. I need to pull that track into my wave editor to determine as such.

What does it say when a musician includes two minutes of silence within their composition? It means that he thinks there’s not enough silence in this world. And he won’t be responsible for breaking any further silences by his actions. Well, no one could accuse Hollis of making noise for its own sake. His careful and mindful approach to the power of silence not only informed his making of music, but also his not making of any music at all once he had released that solos album in 1998.

In 2003, No Doubt recorded a cover of “It’s My Life” that was the top ten worldwide smash that the original should have been in the first place. I have actually heard this song in the gym where I work out on the sound system. It’s the only No Doubt I can point to ever hearing to my knowledge. It is the essence of perfunctory. The band don’t do too much to the song except render it with some faithfulness. That’s because it was a winner from the start. The royalties from that cover version probably gave Hollis the financial security to remain out of the limelight until his untimely death last week. If so, then it was worth it.

As we careen towards 2020 there are two other musicians who seek to venture unafraid into the darkness ahead. David Sylvian, who has remained fairly active throughout his solo career, continues to release increasingly abstract albums informed by avant garde jazz. I have to admit that I have struggled with 2003’s “Blemish” but recent listening have begun to maybe crack that case. On the other hand, when thinking of Hollis, I am most reminded of Scott Walker, who was content to sit out the period of 1983-94 before returning dramatically in 1995 with the incredible paradigm shift that was “Tilt.”

Unlike Hollis and Sylvian, Walker seems to have looked towards classical music as a way forward. The last 25 years have seen a feast of seven releases by the formerly reclusive Walker, who has as high a profile as he’s had since the 70s. He’s had a documentary filmed about his career [“30th Century Man”] where he actually participated. He seemed tolerant of all of the fuss. He’s curated London’s Meltdown Festival and has grown into an elder statesman artist who is known and celebrated for his uncompromising approach to music. His story is having a final act worthy of King Lear, but Mark Hollis has left us on his own terms and that story has all wrapped up. It stopped being told over 20 years ago.

The reaction: Mark Hollis [2nd from L]

But Hollis’ story has a beginning that few might have heard. He was the younger brother of Ed Hollis, the manager/producer of Eddie + The Hot Rods, one of the early bands to sit on the razor’s edge that defined British Punk ca. 1976. Ed also managed his little brother’s band The Reaction and got them also signed to Island Records in 1978, just in time for New Wave. They had a single 7″ to their name: “I Can’t Resist,” but the band also had a loose track show up on a Beggar’s Banquet 1977 Punk/New Wave compilation called “Streets,” with a track produced by Steve Lillywhite. The band will now rip through the song “Talk Talk Talk Talk” which, yes, Mark’s band Talk Talk revisited five years later under radically different circumstances. All you have to do is press “play” below.

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Posted in obituary | Tagged , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Mark Hollis: 1955-2019 [part 1]

Mark Hollis from the “Such A Shame Video” by Tim Pope

I have to admit that I was never a card-carrying Talk Talk megafan, but when I heard that Mark Hollis had died last Monday at just 64 it struck a chord with me. Not the least of which was how Hollis had last released an album, his one solo recording in 1998, then he calmly receded into the shadows of his own volition. How rare it is for a musician to resist the limelight’s beckoning call. But it became readily apparent that Hollis marched to the beat of his own drummer as Talk Talk emerged from the freshly popped balloon of New Romanticism in 1982 to quickly mutate and develop into the sort of artist who can legitimately get put on the same shelf along with fellow rough travelers like Scott Walker and David Sylvian. Gents who could have had the world that pop offered in the palms of their hands but chose instead to make their own path off the comfort of the main thoroughfares of rock.

I first encountered the band when I first got MTV in September of 1982 on my cable system. The band’s hat trick eponymous single [“Talk Talk” by Talk Talk from their EMI America EP “Talk Talk!”] was getting steady play on the new channel and I couldn’t help but be interested in what I heard. Ultravoxian synth-rock with a heavy sense of melodrama. I know that’s a redundancy. After having gotten burned on the US EP by A Flock Of Seagulls earlier that year, I held off on buying the four track EP and was richly rewarded when later that year the band’s debut album, “The Party’s Over” was released with, yes, all four songs from the EP.

I liked the debut album fine enough, but it was a bit also ran. Sub-Ultravox in 1982 was a well-plowed furrow. The song that always stuck with me from this album was the deep cut “Hate.” I was a sucker for the Simmons tom-tom beats that had a relentless quality I enjoyed. But the album was strictly B-list stuff for me in 1982. I ended up selling it off in the Great Vinyl Purge with no regrets.

1984 brought a new album and I recall seeing three videos for the singles “It’s My Life,” Such A Shame” and “Dum Dum Girl” on MTV. “It’s My Life” was a classy upgrade from the sound of the debut album. Looking back now, I am shocked that this superb song got to number seven in Italy but basically got stuck in the 30-s to 60s in other national charts. What were they smoking back then? This song was sheer top ten material worldwide. Even Germany [33] let us down here! In America it almost scraped into the Top 30, but most shameful of all was the lowly 46 placing in their own UK.

I had always intended to buy this album but with the format switch from LP to CD in ‘-84-’85 for me, I always dawdled and ultimately only ever bought the album on CD in the 21st century! I was shocked at how fine it was. The cruder synth cartoons of the debut album were much more polished this time in a post-Roxy Music sort of vibe. The album was bullish on sampling keyboards but they at least used them with a modicum of taste. No “8-bit orchestra hit” for new keyboardist Tim Friese-Greene! The latter drifted towards the band after producing the hit “She Blinded Me With Science” for Thomas Dolby earlier for EMI and found himself co-writing most of the material with Mark Hollis going forward. The Tim Pope videos for the album were also high quality goods.

Next: …Jettisoning Booster Stages

Posted in New Romantic, obituary | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Sara Romweber: 1964-2019

Sara Romweber doing what she did best

I was all ready to remember a different fallen musician for today’s post, but I just got wind of the loss of Sara Romweber yesterday, and since this was a fresh wound, it’s getting my thoughts today.

Like most old-timers, I suspect some of you reading this probably encountered Sara Romweber in the same way. Via her drum seat in Mitch Easter’s art-pop combo Let’s Active. The band were so named after seeing a tag in broken English on some Japanese activewear. I think I first heard Let’s Active during MTV’s monthly oasis of college radio cool, “IRS’s The Cutting Edge.” IRS was not shy about plugging its own acts on the hourly special broadcast. As soon as I heard the jangling hooks and winsome harmonies of “Every Word Means No” I don’t think it was longer than two weeks before we marched into the newly opened Murmur Records and scored the “Afoot” EP. This was pure pop with an intriguing left field edge to it that mitigated the sugary goodness with undercurrents of dark complexity. I was an immediate fan of this band but alas, it would be some years before I got a chance to see them live.

The classic Let’s Active lineup: L-R Sara Romweber, Faye Hunter, Mitch Easter outside of his famed Drive-In Studio from the back cover of “Cypress”

By the next year, the band had moved forward on their much more mature sophomore album, “Cypress.” This one had an amazing Southern Gothic edge to it that left the eager to please puppy-pop completely in the dust. I could hardly wait to see what this band did next. Unfortunately, this “classic” lineup imploded, when Sara Romweber and bassist Faye Hunter left Mitch Easter to his own devices going forward. I would not see Let’s Active until the second lineup of the band were touring behind “Big Plans For Everybody” in 1986.

Sara [L] next spent two decades in Snatches Of Pink/Clarissa

Sara Romweber then moved underground for me. I think I might have been aware back then that she was in Chapel Hill’s Snatches Of Pink. Their reputed Dolls/Stones raunch was not exactly my cup of meat, which is why I have yet to hear the band. Sara was on albums with the band for 20 years until the mid-noughts. Even counting their two albums [with the exact same lineup] on Mammoth Records as the less alarmingly named Clarissa. Maybe it’s time to give these albums a try if I see them?

Sara and her younger brother Dex

My story with Sara picked up again by 2009 when she united with her brother in the Dexter Romweber Duo. I have been following Dexter Romweber ever since 1985, really. It was on an episode of IRS’s The Cutting Edge” that looked at the Chapel Hill, NC “scene” that he was introduced to the world as “Sara Romweber’s younger brother.” I immediately pegged Dex as a living Rock & Roll savant. The living embodiment of Rock & Roll a quarter century after it had died. I have seen Dex with his band Flat Duo Jets or so countless times. He simply IS Rock & Roll. An old soul in a no longer young body living and breathing Rock & Roll effortlessly.

When Dex joined up with his sister it was one of those “meant to be” situations. Dex had pioneered the now common guitar-drums duo format in the modern age that everyone else has pilfered quite successfully. This time he was working with kin so the ups and downs that plagued his partnership with drummer “Crow” in Flat Duo Jets were not there. I still need a copy of their debut album but I have their other four albums safely in the Record Cell.

It was when the Dexter Romweber Duo played Asheville in late 2012 that I finally got to see Sara playing live for the first, and only time. Sara was a stone-cold drummer in the Keith Moon style. She could play a loud, clattering mess without breaking a sweat. Always keeping her attention to the drums while Dexter careened through the sheets of guitar noise he generated without so much as a pedal onstage. Like all transcendental experiences, it seemed as though they were in a trance while making the music. Afterward it was casual.

Sara had died at 55 on Monday from a brain tumor. She left behind over a dozen albums that are probably worth your time and effort. My thoughts and condolences go out the Romweber family for their loss and especially to Dexter who has lost more than a sister. He’s lost a great drummer, too.

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