Wednesday, July 08, 2009

David Patrick Kelly-RIP VAN BOY MAN CD (available via. CD Baby)

Many people I'm positive already know of David Patrick Kelly as a modern-day "character" actor, perhaps not one as well recognizable as a Lyle Talbot or a Byron Foulger but one who is probably visible enough to regular attendees of the cinema and avid prime-time television viewers. His resume is quite long, having appeared under the gun of everyone from Clint Eastwood to Spike Lee as well as on a variety of programs such as MOONLIGHTING and TWIN PEAKS. If I'm not mistaken Kelly's probably best known to the chattering classes for his role as the half-crazy gang leader in the 1979 feature THE WARRIORS, a film that had inner city youth tearing up the seats when fights between rival outfits began combusting while the picture was being shown thus garnering the film a little more publicity than it probably could have stood.

Not being a very avid prime-time television watcher since the late-seventies or theatre-goer by any stretch of the imagination, I wasn't aware of who Kelly was or whether or not he was "famous" or just another Hollywood face in that come and go business. The only reason I even knew that the guy even existed was because of a particular review in an old issue of VARIETY that I chanced upon back in the mid-eighties while doing some musical research on the early, pre-documented New York City rock scene days. In typical "while looking for other things" fashion I happened upon a review of a gig Kelly did with his backing band Toivo at CBGB during the spring of 1975, written by VARIETY's chronicler of New York rock affairs Fred Kirby. Twas a writeup which made Kelly/Toivo out to be an act that in some ways seemed totally incongruous with the rising tide of punkism overtaking the city at the time yet on the other hand pretty plugged into some strange mid-seventies underground rock mindset that probably rivaled what many other groups were attempting and maybe even succeeding with, on a much larger scale (and budget) of course.

Kirby described Kelly/Toivo (which is Finnish for "hope" though whether this is the reasoning behind why the group chose this name I do not know) as a "folk-rock" outfit whose leader "showed promise". At this gig they opened with excerpts from something called "The Moorlock Suite", an instrumental where not only did Kelly and a certain Pamela Paluzzi don space helmets (as part of some dance exercise one would think) but somehow or other this particular suite was supposed to be "a probable opener for the fall Emerson Lake and Palmer tour"! Makes me wonder whether it was pegged to be performed by ELP, or if Toivo were slated to open for the three dinos during this barnstorming prog rock excursion but this late in the game I guess we'll never know! Kirby isn't quite clear about this, but he gave great kudos not only to Kelly and his singer/songwriting efforts (as well as made mention of his acoustic guitar playing) but to Toivo, a group including Danny Seidenberg on electric viola and upright piano, John Caruso on bass guitar and Mike Epstein on drums. From the looks of it, Kelly/Toivo seemed like yet another one of those under-the-covers New York City rock groups that had the talent and chops to pull off their particular brand of music, but as usual were going to be washed away in a tide of acts with more shock value and dynamic energy going for 'em, with a ton of gimmicks to help 'em break on into the big time of course.

(And speaking of an upright piano...was there one of 'em stationed at CBGB that a variety of groups were using in lieu of their own gear back then? I ask because of the many reviews I have read from the '74/'75 season at CB's there were a number of bands using an upright in their stage presentations which in retrospect would seem strange for such a "hard rock" club. Besides Toivo I can recall that the Movies, Stingrays, Emilio Cubiero/Edwin's Hot Little Band and perhaps a few others had members playing uprights, so either there was an upright piano trend at CB's or bands used the house's instead of lugging their own set of 88's around. If anyone knows the truth, feel free to keep me in the dark as usual!)

Not that I hate gimmicks and in fact I like 'em, especially if said gimmick is tuned into my personal sense of cheap thrills and rockism aesthetic. But face it, from the looks of it Kelly and Toivo weren't exactly what people were expecting when they thought of New York Rock, and although the group did continue on in fact headlining a few nights at CBGB with the Vanessa Vickers Duo featuring Television drummer Billy Ficca performing with the noted cabaret transvestite pianist (special guest Elda Stiletto on vocals), not to mention an appearance at the infamous CBGB Summer Festival that August, soon Kelly and Toivo vanished from sight, perhaps actually washed aside by the made rush of publicity that the Ramones, Blondie and their minions were getting. Maybe they just split up with members getting real life jobs in or out of music. At least Kelly's post-Toivo career is noted, and I wouldn't be surprised if the rest had played in a variety of underground groups for many years after this mid-seventies brief burst of fame courtesy Kirby and his writeup.

Flash forward to the dull present we know as the early-21st century, and yeah I know that stranger things have happened but what should appear on the scene a good thirty-four/five years after the fact is this Cee-Dee from none other than Kelly himself! Talk about unexpected surprises because I'm sure that if anyone out there was curious enough to want to hear the man it would be me but yeah, there is a disque available that not only features Kelly on some recent recordings but vintage Toivo tracks as well! I mean who woulda believed it, but since groups like the Miamis, Just Water and Rags have archival material readily available now why not Kelly even if there certainly ain't as big an underground hotcha market for this as there would be for, say, a Manster exhumation!

Why Kelly would want to resume his musical "career" at this time is questionable, though I kinda get the feeling that he's suffering from late-fifties crisis and like all of those guys who were in a variety of 60s/70s groups wants to re-live old glories before he gets too geriatric. Maybe not, but it is nice that the man for whatever reason bought all of this new and interesting gear (including mandolin, ukelele, frame drum and computer instruments) and made some recordings that actually sound pleasing enough in a mid-seventies underground fashion. Kelly comes off somewhat like a mixture of solo John Lennon, early Tim Buckley, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brian Sands who should be well-known in this company but isn't because you all had to ignore his brilliant records in the face of some rather pallid and cheap imitations. Writing is sometimes pretty good...a lot better than the Joni Mitchell that seems to get dragged up when describing Kelly and not surprisingly pretty durn good if not that dissimilar to some of the newer folky rock that I used to espy via internet at the CB's 313 Gallery, the stage that Toivo would definitely have been playing if they traipsed across the lower Manhattan environs a good quarter-century later. Kinda slow burn and slightly-intense like a good number of those flashes who graced CBGB's "alternate space" were, and I should admit that when Kelly plays the ukelele and mandolin he does dredge up comparisons to that fabled yodeling astrologer, Mij!

The live (soundboard) tracks recorded at Reno Sweeney's show that Toivo might have gone somewhere if fate had worked a little more in Kelly's favor and perhaps less in Billy Joel's (maybe Kelly was a smarter, grittier NYC antithesis to what Joel was dishing out in the early-seventies, or at least I could never see Kelly turning into an Amerigan Elton John if you know what I mean). Brownie pts. go the the guy for writing yet another song with a Max's Kansas City ref. ("Cupid and the Champ at Max's") which not only has a nice bit of grit to it but a good electric viola solo courtesy Seidenberg which ain't Cale-esque but fits in well like a good psychedelic guitar line with its nice deep and rich tone. Followup "Apologia" ain't that hot and in fact is a bit twee despite some nice lyrical twists and performance, but it's OK. I can't see how Fred Kirby would consider it to be the highlight of the show he reviewed, but then again he was coming at rock from a different perspective than most of us which did make him all the more interesting. "Phillipe Petit" seems even more set in a mid-seventies pop rock mode which makes me think that Kelly could have made a few bucks selling his tunes to some of the hitmongers of the day. Nice but not exactly attention grabbing enough for me.

The following two numbers were taken from a May '75 CBGB gig and considering the quality I wonder why. Actually I know the reason Kelly stuck these on...y'see, now that CBGB has attained this legendary status in mainstream rock circles it's about as hip to say you were "there" as it was to say you were at Newport and didn't boo electric Dylan! Kelly actually overdubbed fresh new vocals over these tracks which results in a strange effect, especially when his new singing and the old don't quite sync resulting in a bizarrely incongruous echo-y pseudo-reverb. "Lautrec In Mudlight" and "Fly Your Kite" remind me of the woefully few better moments of seventies Lennon, at least when the former moptop still seemed to have a snatch of songwriting spirit in him that wasn't washed away by his jadedness at having done it all only to become one of the biggest hasbeens of the day. More cello-esque viola playing coutesy Seidenberg gives the song a nice maudlin feeling with pertinent mid-seventies pop moves you've heard from a variety of biggies, and it sounds good enough in the hands of these relative unknowns as well.

Closing out the disque is a traditional Irish number called "Sally Gardens" with Kelly on a mandolin singing lyrics that might sound pretty familiar to you, since Peter Laughner had set the same buncha words (which he attributed to noted Irish brownshirt William Butler Yeats) to a melody he called "Old Song Re-Sung" with brilliant results. I gotta say that I prefer Laughner's version but that don't mean Kelly's ain't worth lending ear to. It's an ESP-folky, authentic sounding ditty that actually makes a nice cap on an album that despite its various ups and downs shows another side to that still incredibly under-documented era of seventies underground rock which held a lot of promise and toivo (hope) for rock & roll music in general back during those best and worst of times. A definite must-get for seventies NYC scene scholars, and hey the rest of us just might be able to milk a little enjoyment out of it as well.


darwin layne said...

Was this the guy who clinked the mini beer bottles and said "Whaa-ree-aaahs! come out and play! Whaa-ree-aaahs!"?

I like that movie.

Christopher Stigliano said...

Same guy. Never saw that movie despite its "cult" status but I sure remember the hubbub surrounding it back when it was hitting the theatres.

Unknown said...

I like your review and your writing...reminds me of the better brit-critics I used to read back in the day...I put the CD out because I thought our band had some moments and to show there was more going on than most people know about...thanks for the link and great, funny comments...dp kelly