Sunday, October 23, 2005

Another Pretty Face-21st CENTURY ROCK CD (Bummer Tent)

The Magic Tramps-KICKIN' UP MOONLIGHT DUST CD (Moonlight Dust)


The problem with glam/glitter rock (at least in the United States and especially in New York City) was that, for all of the press and accolades it received and all the promise it held for overweight pimple-infested fat tubs o' lard cloistered in their midwestern bedrooms, NOTHING CAME OUT!!! Other'n the New York Dolls that is, but even considering just how much that group could inspire fellow rockers to heights of spandex greatness on one hand and get them all frothing at the mouth rabid on the other (witness their topping both the "Best" and "Worst" new group categories in the 1973 CREEM reader's poll) you'd've thunk that some enterprising label, even a cheap-o upstart like Paramount, would've had the initiative to do a little a&r hunting at the Mercer Arts Center for their own personal Dolls wannabes! But alas, given all the press, hype, attention and promise that the Dolls earned, the big New York Rock Putsch pretty much ended with a fizzle as glam screeched to a halt. And frankly, the same labels that upped their noses at Teenage Lust and Gilded Tramp didn't do that much better when the same En Why Scene morphed into the mid-seventies decidedly NON-glam era of Television and all those groups that seemed so refreshing especially compared with a lotta the disco and prog rock that was goin' on at the time but hardly anybody seemed to care anyway.

It would figure that it's taken well over thirty years for the rest of the New York decadence scene to start getting documented, and while I think we all could've used both of these disques a lot earlier'n now when its time for this stuff to be SCRUTINIZED by effete geeks, at least they're here for our perusal while we still have our wits about us. After all, I'd hate to be 99 years old drooling on my bib listening to stuff I shoulda back when I was twenty, and unfortunately that's gonna be the case when some archival neural-implant label gets around to issuing EVERY NOTE PLAYED IN NEW YORK CITY 1972-1975 well into the future!

Anyway, fans of the En Why sound'll probably get a big kick outta these two platters. The first is by Another Pretty Face whom you, I and everyone on the pretty face of this earth thought were from Metropolis at least until I reviewed their 1980 album FACE FACTS in the latest issue of my fanzine and revealed to you the fact that these glam guys were actually from Philadelphia, a place that doesn't exactly seem like a glitter hotbed unless you want to take the burgh's translated name at face value. Whatever, I kinda wrote off the 1980 variation of Another Pretty Face (not to be confused with the English post-punk act that almost got ME fooled) as just another buncha third-stringers bending with the prevailing underground winds, doing a glam-slam thing in 1974 whilst going the electronic gnu wave highway in '80, kinda making me wonder which route these trendy travelers took in between. Certainly nothing special, especially with all the other electronic fashion-plate electronic new wave groups fighting for your hard-begged money at the time.

As for the 1974 variant, this "real" first album which got ditched back in the day will answer a whole lotta questions. However, I'm not sure that the average reader of this blog'll actually appreciate the answers given, but I'll let you decide that on your lonesome. If you (like I) were expecting a Dolls-styled rush you'll be sadly disappointed, though if your tastes veer towards British Bowie/Spiders glam with just a wee touch of pomp...well, you'll STILL be bummed albeit if you like it a little heavier pomp-wise this should suit'cha just fine.

Yes, after just one listen to 21st CENTURY ROCK you'll know just why lead Face T. Roth and mysterioso glitter alien Jobriath were such good friends. This is pretty much after-hours nightclub schmoozing music, not much on the energy but if you go for something like the deca-sleaze of Nelson Slater's WILD ANGEL album (RCA '76, produced by old pal Lou Reed and yanked off the market by feminists due to the s&m cover snap!) you'll probably get some enjoyment outta it. I must admit that I do at least on that level, though I must confess that I haven't been spinning WILD ANGEL that much lately!

Definitely a professional clean-up spiffy production (courtesy Ed Stasium, his first in fact) loaded with synths and horns (courtesy Randy Brecker etc.), you can't call this disque proto-punk or high energy or ANYTHING that you were expecting outta glam rock, American or otherwise. Still its got a cutesy fun to it whether it be the poofy take of T. Rex's "Bang A Gong" or the even poofier "Da Do Ron Ron" which I'm sure wowed the habituates of the old 82 Club to heights of dance floor frenzy! And even though nothing here can wow you the way the originals (talking influences as well as original artists) have, you can still get a bitta fun outta 21st CENTURY ROCK if you squeeze it hard enough, although the only song here that perked my ears up was this eloquent slab of melodrama entitled "Little Boys" which might be an impassioned gay libber plea or just another "All The Young Dudes"-inspired romp through mixed-up confusion for all I know. Or care for that matter. Y'see, I like the chord changes.

If you wanna do better with regards to what glam slam should've meant to more of those crazy and confused wannabes in Idaho sending their pix into the "New Groups" section of ROCK SCENE magazine then just try the Magic Tramps. A band that perhaps has gotten so little even after producing so much hype and publicity all over the place (thanks to everyone from THE VILLAGE VOICE's Richard Nusser to Lester Bangs in PHONOGRAPH RECORD MAGAZINE), one would've expected the Tramps to've unleashed at least a couple albums before petering off into flea-market heaven. Unfortunately they never even got that far, but thanks to this new release at least a lotta historical inaccuracies and strange mysteries have been cleared up, and not only that but a lotta great music has been unleashed on us starved beggars as well.

Perhaps best known as Warhol Superstar and legendary madman Eric Emerson's early-seventies group (he of the infamous original back cover shot of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO lawsuit fame), in reality the Tramps were a group that preceded and surpassed Emerson's attention-grabbing involvement. Originally an avant-rock trio featuring Lary (no sic) Chaplan on violin, Young Blood on guitar and Sesu Coleman on drums (in the best Maureen Tucker/Scott Asheton THUD tradition), this Los Angeles-based threesome managed to get a residency at some outta-the-radarscope hangout called The Temple of the Rainbow under their original name Messiah while simultaneously working (with a bassist) at a blues joint as the Magic Tramps. After hitching up with Emerson (who was acting in Warhol's LONESOME COWBOYS at the time) the quartet fled Los Angeles after the January '71 earthquake and settled right into a residency at Max's Kansas City where they were thankfully able to kick up a bit of a scene there, and during a rather dry spell in local music as well. (In fact, it was the Dolls who originally opened for the Tramps although the situation would be reversed within a rather short time.) And even after Emerson lost interest in being the group's frontman (wanting to devote more time to his acting career before getting killed in what remains a very peculiar and oft-disputed vehicular accident) Chaplan and Coleman continued on with a new version of the Tramps, more heavy metal perhaps but still of interest to the fans who not only supported bands such as these, but the entire media surrounding them for years on end.

And although proto-punk maniacs like myself hadda wait a good quarter-century for something like this to finally see the light (and it was a painful wait, especially given all the blab that was going on ever since those days about just how primitive and BETTER groups like the Tramps and Ruby and the Rednecks were next to the more professional and COMMERCIAL Dolls!), like I said before I'm glad that the stuff is appearing now 'stead of when I'm even older and more infirmed! Anyway, this CD is more or less divided into three parts representing the three periods in the Tramps' history (the Los Angeles days, the New York days with Emerson and the post-Emerson era when lead vocals were handled by future Joe Perry Project warbler Joe Mala!), and what's really super about all this is that this disque is supposed to be a sampler of FUTURE CDs, each devoted to these particular periods in Tramps history which will make for even more high energy listening as the days progress!

The early Messiah-period tracks are beautifully minimalist, sparse yet pretty much what I would have expected from a violin/guitar/drums trio (with or without a Warhol star on vocals) coming out of an American garage at the dawn of the seventies. Naturally I'm always in the market for obscure proto-punk such as this, and let's just say that these early tunes (recorded circa. '70/'71) certainly don't fail in regards to resensifying my oft-warped musical psyche. There's really nothing that I can compare the early tracks (with titles like "Ode To James Dean" and "Warriors of the Rainbow") to...true you can hear snatches of most other late-sixties/early-seventies groups of similar intent whether they be Alice Cooper or Hackamore Brick for that matter, but then again the Magic Tramps trip was their very own. The instrumental numbers are (as the booklet clearly states) "freeform" yet not noisy or atonal. Rather pleasant yet with an underlying intensity that would have seemed so out-of-place coming out of early-seventies Los Angeles but perhaps not-so if a thorough search of garage, basement and bedroom groups in the vicinity had only been conducted. Kinda tribal, minimal and slightly psychedelic yet definitely not hippie-ish. I'm even thinking of Amon Duul I circa. their Ohr period only even more stripped down, and I must confess that I even hear the drone that originally emanated from the early days of a certain New York "under-the-covers" band I mention way too often as do about a thousand other nimnul rock critics out there! "Hey People" with Emerson on typically teenage-sounding vocals is definitely Stones-inspired, and perhaps about as "Gimme Shelter"-influenced as Roky Erickson's "Two Headed Dog." There are many surprises in these early numbers from the American Indian-esque chant of "Rainbow" to the country blues-ish "Magic in the Moonlight"...if anything, these early tracks prove that the Magic Tramps might have been the ultimate punk promise of the time, and (at the risk of sounding anti-West Coast) their trek to En Why was perhaps the best career move on anybody's part, at least since cartoonist Milt Gross told Ernie Bushmiller to concentrate on the frizzy-haired girl character.

The New York-period material is equally grabbing, showing an energy and power that equals that of scenemongers the Dolls which really makes you wonder just why somebody didn't snatch the Tramps up for their OWN record deal. (Actually, as is explained on the Tramps' own website, the offers were coming but the band held out for an even BETTER one that I guess never did come!) After hearing "Trippin'" you'll be thinking that Bowie himself was hanging out at the Mercer Arts Center in order to rip off the locals just as much as Alice Cooper was...the song does sound pretty much like "Suffragette City" if you ask me, only with more or a New York street dirtiness that Bowie would definitely have washed away! "My Reflection" is hard to describe, a staccato-driven classical-ish number albeit with great "Til The End of the Day"-styled live life lyrics that never fail to stir up the old juices. And there's ONE thing I gotta say about Chaplan's violin playing, and that it certainly fits in with the mode of the music whether it be the freeform avantrock or glam, or even the heavy metal the group eventually ended up performing after Emerson's exit from the rock stage in early '74.

And speaking about those latterday mid-seventies Tramps tracks, well I'm sure the more punk rock-oriented amongst us probably won't cozy up to this version of the band as much as others might, but if yer one of those punks who also straddled the metallic spheres a la the writers at DENIM DELINQUENT and BACK DOOR MAN then these numbahs will get you up and moving more'n prune juice ever could. Lead singer Mala may be your typical hard rock frontman and I gotta admit that the promo snaps of these guys which you can see on the aforementioned site had 'em looking about as dorky as most of these seventies hard rocksters, but given that the band was making a conscious effort to "tighten up" and they didn't sound as wretched as some of these efforts could have, you may actually enjoy giving it a listen or ten while pouring through all your old fanzines. And besides, these guys did their own ode to Max's entitled just that, and it's almost as good as Jayne County's tribute!

And before I forget I gotta re-mention that website. It's a killer, not only with a rather in-depth history of the group but tons of flyers, articles and pix that'll have you roaming the regions for hours on end. And not only that, but they also link you up to a PUNK PLANET online interview with drummer Coleman as well as to a place (CD Baby) where you can even purchase this disque, and if you're a bit wary about this 'un even after all the hype I've bestowed upon it you can hear those wonderful instrumental tracks playing over and over ad infinitum for yourself just by clicking on certain pages...in fact before I received the CD I was occupying myself by listening to these intertwining/engrossing melodies over and over (and for HOURS on end!) whilst doing my obligatory rock & roll/comic nighty-nite pre-sack reading, and the rhythmic pounce of these songs certainly fit the mood just as much as PARADIESWARTS DUUL had been doing over the past few months! And really, could YOU think of a better recommendation than that???

Sorry Chinaboise, but this one just might top you as far as being the best proto-punk archival dig of the year goes. Come December 31, we'll see.

4 comments:

tim ellison said...

"Sorry Chinaboise, but this one just might top you as far as being the best proto-punk archival dig of the year goes."

Don't forget Jungle Rot!

Christopher said...

Or the Ramrods for that matter!!!

rick noll said...

Yeah--tim got it right! Dont forget Jungle Rot!! Give that man a job!! Its certainly the best thing I put out this year, except for the other Brigman CD of course.

the magic tramps are great and they got that look too. Now if only I could find some Queen Elizabeth somewhere....

Anonymous said...

Lightning Strikes, Frankenstein Rises! NELSON SLATER and STEAM AGE TIME GIANT - DON"T CRY THIS AT HOME on AREandBE Records!