CAMERA OBSCURA #9
by Mark S. Tucker
"This PSF column is named after my 50-issue samizdat from the '80's (some of which were issued as cassettes), titled for the actual camera obscura precursor to photography. I merely twisted the parlance to mean "focus on the obscure." At any rate, I'm starting with LP's that not much of anyone would argue are obscure (and if you're one of the those who would, write yer mother instead; she needs to hear from you, bubbaleh, and I could care less about your objections to my selections, yo)."
MICHAEL QUATRO JAM BAND / MICHAEL QUATRO Paintings (1972) / Look Deeply into the Mirror (1973) / In Collaboration with the Gods (1975) / Dancers, Romancers, Dreamers, & Schemers (1975)
I suppose one could say Michael Quatro was an object lesson in progrock rotting the brain. He tried his best to be Rod Argent but couldn't help going Romanelli and eventually Meco until losing his mind completely, going later into disco before following Phil Keaggy into goopy Christianity.
In the only time Quatro adopted the Jam Band' sobriquet, the debut LP's title cut was a classicalist wanker's paradise, "Paintings," stealing from rudimentary classical stuctures, swiping from Argent, and horking Dick Hyman into the mix, the resulting mish-mosh so all over the place that the listener lost all sense of thematics... if there were any. Sure, pot smokers would be eating it up with spoon and fork "Hey, man, I can see Mozart in a tutu!!" but anyone of discernment was arching an eyebrow and muttering "Hmmm..."
"Time Spent in Dreams" links right into that, then "Circus (What I Am)" presents a minor Sly Stone reading, "Each Day I Want You More" ending out side 1 in a standard chart song attempt. Side 2 commences with the Upper Harlem "Life," a soulful plaint sung by John Finley, before the LP slid back into funked-up classicalism with "Rachmaninoff's Prelude," a cut not written by ol' Sergei but by Quatro, or so the credits claim, pleasant but unlikely to elicit overly much excitement since every prog band had done the same thing 100 times over by now.
What did sell the slab, besides the sloppy blowsy Brad Johannsen cover painting, was the take on King Crimson's "Court of the Crimson King" featuring none other than Ted Nugent on guitar. Michael could play keys, though nowhere nearly as well as he imagined, but he did the Crimso cut justice. Starting as a partita, a mellotron soon blows that out of the water, and so the track goes, switching back and forth. Nugent's contributions are minor but spike the cut up. Oh, and Ted's also said to sit in on "Super Jam" ...except no such song appears on the slab.
The Rare Earth-y "We'll be Together" kicks off Look Deeply into the Mirror and then oscillates back and forth like Paintings. With "Gypsy Caravan, Pts. 1 & 2," we can tell Quatro's working towards an extended magnum opus... which will finally kinda manifest on "In Collaboration with the Gods." Except for Nugent again popping up for a cut, sister Patti (from the band Fanny) plays all guitars in Mirror... to little effect. Even Nugent doesn't achieve much, playing behind her, save for a Bloodrocky atmosphere. Johannsen again contributes a canvas... but it's even worse than his piece for Paintings. Garish.
I guess the side-long song "In Collaboration with the Gods," from the LP of the same name, could be said to represent Quatro in his powers, at least I've heard it put that way, except that "Ancient Ones" would ace it on the next LP. And the fact that guitarist Teddy Hale tends to steal the show doesn't help. Ostensibly a segmented ode to Zeus, Loki, Bachus and other mythological figures, it's actually a chance to show Keith Emerson that Quatro could cop ancient riffs too. Except that he couldn't, nowhere near nimble enough to manhandle the estimables.
Rick Derringer appears on one cut, as do Flo & Eddie on various "special voices," but there's not much here. Only with "Ancient Ones," on Dancers, Romancers, Dreamers, and Schemers, does Quatro attain to something akin to glory, except that it's not him but the presence of the inimitable David Surkamo (Pavlov's Dog, Hi-Fi) accounting for the honors. The cut goes through unnecessary artificial tempo changes and almost falls into a canal, but Surkamp saves the day... just barely.
No one gets credits on this disc save for Surkamp and Quatro, and Mike by now was desperate for a little respect, so I've no inkling who the sessioneeers are. Mike finally gives a nod to ripping off the old masters (Bach, Chopin) without directly crediting and then horking "Adagio" as his own (it ain't, but, at the moment I'm a tad too drunk to cite whether it's Albinoni or not; I know it ain't Barber).
And that's where I'll leave this slamfest I woulda cut it short, but I haven't been vituperative for quite some time; gotta flex them muscles!! and warn the reader against Getting Ready and Bottom Line, one of which photos his wife with her ass falling out of her dress... or something like that; been too long and I'm trying hard to erase both discs from memory. I gave the wax to the Salvation Army decades ago.
THE UPPER CRUST Let Them Eat Rock (1995 / Upstart)
Not a whole lot of bands could render credible versions of AC/DC: Rhinobucket, Krokus, and, well, I can't think of another except these cats, The Upper Crust... but... powdered wigs, pancaked faces, Elizabethan regalia? Well, Angus could carry off the schoolboy gig (hilariously), so, hell, why not?
The first track, the titular "Let Them Eat Rock," gives a little hint of the satire at work: "They say there's people starving, dropping down dead in the streets / The lazy slobs, they ain't got a job, they say they ain't got enough to eat / Let them eat rock!," underwritten by a three-guitar attack: Lord Bendover and Lord Rockingham with the Duc d'Istortion on lead (the Marquis de Roque on bass and Jackie Kickassis on drums).
Nearly every cut on this 11-cut extravaganza is tight, head-bangin', and often funnier than hell, if, that is, you can keep away from pogoing around the living room and getting the spindizzies. This particular disc is their debut and I've never seen another anywhere but these faux aristo Upper Crust bastards are still around and kicking out the jams wth not only 7 releases to their credit but also a rock doc DVD, Let Them Eat Rock (2004).
You know as well as me that we drop an ear to AC/DC because we want that raucous hi-energy buttkickery, and, if the songs sound similar, all the better! The Crust is much the same... although I hafta remark that "RSVP" sounds like the Ramones pal-ing up to the Stooges while ushering Brownsville Station in through the back door. "Little Rickshaw Boy," on the other hand, comes off like Sparks in their Bearsville days after digesting a menu of Alice Cooper. The closer, "Opera Glasses," is even Electric Prunes/Red Krayola psychedelic.
And that's it for this one, as, if the above doesn't grab ya, nothing will. On the other hand, there are a number of YouTube videos from these cats, one of which, the first one here, is hilarious while the second lets you view The Upper Crust in action live:
also see an interview with the Upper Crust
HOT ONE Vaccine (2006 / Modern Imperial)
A one-off CD basically the result of wide-ranging discontent from guitarist/singer Nathan Larson, who'd spent the '90's as lead guitarist for Shudder to Think, then moved on to score films (Boys Don't Cry, etc.) before tiring of that gig, in 2005 forming this combo, Hot One, recruiting Emm Gryner, a bass player and a Canadian singer-songwriter who'd released several albums and toured David Bowie. She imported guitarist Jordan Kern of Escalate into the line-up along with her.
Larson's ex-bandmate in Shudder To Think and Mind Science Of The Mind, drummer Kevin March, who'd also worked with Guided By Voices, moved into the combo, and things proceeded. In a scant 3 months, Vaccine was written and then documented in early 2006 nearly entirely by the band... with a little help from a stray hand or two. The sound is rockin' post-punk with heavy dollops of glam and pop. The lyrical mindset is anarchistically political and sardonically socio-critical in cuts like "Get Your Priest On!," "Fuckin'," "Do the Coup D'Etat!" and "Pistol Whip Me!"
"Waiting for the Rapture," track 10, is actually the bottom line in the 11-cut collective, so heavily T. Rexed that one can't help but go back and see composer Larson as a bulletproof Marc Bolan in field marshall boots and swagger stick. Curiously, in the sloppy-ass cover photo collage, all members are garbed in not-so-vaguely Nazi regalia leavened with Che offsets here and there. Don't know what to say, but, regardless, Larson and Kern make an xlnt twin guitar assault, metal but not overpowering, not thrashy, and the harmony vocals are sometimes almost eerily Flo & Eddie-ish.
Larson obviously surgically dissected the later T. Rex LP's to a fare-thee-well and subsumed the insouciant attitudes and nearly foppish side decorations so damn well that he could get away with anything and still come away smelling like roses. Guitars crash all over the place (solos discouraged) with Larson's vocals commanding the foreground battlements. The ever-dimwitted Wikipedia lists only two references for this ensemble: 1) a website which is, as of 6/17, still under construction and appears to have nothing to do with the band, indefinable in any sense, and 2) a MySpace page about as useful as tits on a boar hog. The band is, in other words, d-e-a-d and not even memorialized. Nice while they lasted, though... which wasn't even two years.
Also see Camera Obscura 1
Camera Obscura 2
Camera Obscura 3
Camera Obscura 4
Camera Obscura 5
Camera Obscura 6
Camera Obscura 7
Camera Obscura 8
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