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VIDEO REVIEW: Blotto – Tonight at Toad’s (1982)

BLOTTO – Tonight at Toad’s (1982 television broadcast)

Since finally “discovering” Blotto this summer, I’ve already viewed their concert Tonight at Toad’s (3/25/82) numerous times, so much that I know the whole broadcast by heart.  The comedic rock band took the stage at Toad’s Place (New Haven, CT) for a TV broadcast.  The amicable, well-rehearsed group kept things at all times entertaining.

Blotto opened with the satirical “(We Are) The Nowtones)”, an oldies-style advertisement for a band who’ll play anything you want; and they’ll say “thank you” at the end of every song!  It’s a clever little pastiche with even the stage lighting being part of the story.

The second broadcast song, “It’s Not You” was from their then-forthcoming album debut, Combo Akimbo.  Guitarist Bowtie Blotto has to tell his girl that it’s all over, but it’s not her fault.  “It’s not you, it’s your family that I can’t stand.”  With a catchy guitar lick, Bowtie tells it how it is.  As soon as Bow takes the girl home, her family goes right into him.  “I try, and I try to be cool when they start.  But girl, they’re the ones who are tearing us apart!”

Your mother wants to know if I am on drugs,
Your brother shows me his collection of bugs,
Your aunts don’t like me and your uncles are a bunch of thugs.
Your father coughs and blows smoke in my face,
He still believes in the superior race,
He says if he was president, the world would be a better place.

Dear God, that sounds like a nightmare.  But it gets worse!

Don’t take it personally,
It’s just all those little things,
Like when I come over and your father tells me, “don’t park in the driveway ’cause your car drips oil on the new white pebbles!” And then when I come inside, the cat jumps all over my lap, and gets hair all over my shirt and pants! And your grandmother sits on the newspaper and gets it all wrinkled and balled up, I can’t even read it. And your sister brings out her scrap book, she wants me to look at all of her old prom pictures. I mean, who cares! And your brother wants me to help him with his science project, dissecting frogs! Oh, what a mess! And then when I go in the bathroom, and wash my hands, and all they have is soft soap, and my hands smell like coconuts, and I can’t dry ’em on those little guest towels, so I gotta dry ’em on my shirt, which is already covered with cat hair!

What a great little pop rock tune, though.  That’s the thing about Blotto.  Even if mixing comedy and rock (a dicey proposition to be sure) isn’t your bag, there’s no denying Blotto were top-notch.  The musicianship and especially their singing was always spot-on.  They could tackle multiple styles easily, and had an arsenal of three lead singers (Bowtie, Broadway and Sergeant Blotto) to harmonize.  They also just wrote good songs.

Broadway goes next with “Occupational Hazard”, also from the forthcoming album.  Enjoy this decent rock n’ roll track about the dangers of being in a band.  Another good tune:  if the songs were not good enough, the lyrics wouldn’t carry the show alone.

Blotto’s big hit was 1979’s “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” from their debut EP.  Sergeant Blotto leads the charge to the beach in this surf-rock new-wave anthem.  Poor Sarge, stuck working in a shoe store all summer.  His dream job?  Being a lifeguard of course!  “I want an ocean, and some sunscreen lotion.  Take me to the beach with a thousand pretty girls in reach!”  Sounds awesome Sarge, sign us up.

The show takes a break for an interview with the five Blotto members, including bassist Cheese and drummer Lee Harvey.  They talk about the still-untitled album and banter about naturally.  Why were Blotto not huge?  Watching this video, it’s easy to imagine Blotto appealing to many.  The legend goes that they were once offered a major label deal but would have lost creative control.  They chose to put out their album on Blotto Records instead.  Maybe if they had signed with the label…?  Who knows.  Watch this interview yourself and see a band that coulda woulda shoulda.

 

Back to the music.  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” is sung by the evil villain “Dr. Bow”.  Any Bond fan will take delight in this spy adventure.  Will Bond escape this time?  “I could kill you right now, but no!  There’s a better way…”  That usually doesn’t go well for the villain, but the song goes on the verge of progressive rock during an instrumental breakdown.  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” flows seamlessly into a cover of “Secret  Agent Man” with Sarge on lead vocals.

Kids of the 80s remember Blotto for one song:  “Metal Head”.  Sergeant Blotto’s friends are gettin’ worried.  He’s turning into a heavy metal head!  It has all the necessary ingredients for a metal song:  Solid riff, howlin’ vocals, ripping guitar solos, thunderous drum fills, and screams aplenty.

This great little show is a wonderful way for you to enjoy the next 45 minutes of your life. Get Blotto.

4/5 stars

 

    1. (We Are) The Nowtones (from 1979’s EP Hello! My Name Is Blotto. What’s Yours?)
    2. It’s Not You (from 1982’s Combo Akimbo)
    3. Occupational Hazard (from Combo Akimbo)
    4. I Wanna Be a Lifeguard (from Hello! My Name Is Blotto. What’s Yours?)
    5. Interview
    6. Goodbye, Mr. Bond (from Combo Akimbo)
    7. Secret Agent Man (Johnny Rivers cover)
    8. Metal Head (from Combo Akimbo)

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Blotto – Combo Akimbo (1982)

BLOTTO – Combo Akimbo (1982 Blotto Records)

Blotto were just too much fun!  A variety of rocking styles and amusing lyrics makes Combo Akimbo, their only studio album, a blast to listen to front to back.

Singer Sergeant Blotto takes lead vocals on “Too Much Fun”, a punky vintage Alice Cooper rock and roll romp, powered through a particle accelerator.  For track two, guitarist Bowtie Blotto leads.  “It’s Only Money” is just pure and simple rock and roll:  Kiss with a hint of early Beatles.  Broadway Blotto (guitar) takes over lead vocals on “Scream”.  It’s a pleasantly New Wave 80s-sounding rock song with a great chorus, aided and abetted by Sarge and Bowtie.  “I Quit” (vocals by Broadway) is a perfect rock anthem for those who wanna take this job and shove it.  Sassy, fun rock and roll.

The most legendary of the songs is of course “Metal Head”, lead vocals by Sarge.  It’s a funny and uncomplicated story of what could happen if you too inadvertently become a metal head.  Done in the metal style, Sarge complains that “suddenly there’s an endless void where I used to keep my brain”.  It plays on the 80s brain-dead metalhead stereotype, but for a comedy song it works.  “Wanna customize my van, and I don’t even own one.”  That’s Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult on lead guitar (and in the video).  Dig those four (count ‘em!) false endings.

Side two is just as much fun as side one.  “It’s Not You” boasts chiming, jangly guitars and catchy everything.  Bowtie proclaims that “It’s not you, it’s your family I can’t stand!”  It’s just a quick blast of gleeful complaining.  “Occupational Hazard” sounds, strangely enough, like an outtake from Peter Criss’ first solo album…if it was the best song on the album.  It has that old-timey style that Pete was so good at back then…but better.  Then the very New Wave rock-styled “When the Second Feature Starts” is a memento of the old drive-in days.  Kissing through the cartoons, fogging up the windows…remember what it was like?

Possibly the most intriguing and entertaining song on the album is closer “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”.  From the perspective of the villain who has just captured 007, it’s a brilliant homage to the greatest spy of all time.  “We’ve been expecting you, monsieur Bond.”  The bad guy invites him to sit and chat before discussing how Bond should die.  “This is your last interference.  I could shoot you right now, but NO!  Hahahaha, there’s a better way!”  We all know how it goes from there!  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” is a treat whether you like the super spy or not.  The music captures the Bond essence and the lyrics pay tribute to both the good and bad Bond clichés.

What a blast Combo Akimbo is.  It’s not an outstanding classic album by any stretch, but it’s fun, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and every song is good.  Worth tracking down if only for “Metal Head” and “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Virtual XI (plus singles, 1998)

Part 26 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Virtual XI (1998)

For the first time in a long time, there was this vibe of, “new Maiden?  Meh.”

I recall seeing this listed in our distributor’s catalogue and ordering one for myself.  We didn’t even order it in for the store.  Think about that!  The catalog had the title listed as Vartual Xi, which made me wonder what the hell I was buying.

Virtual XI is the 11’th studio album by Iron Maiden.  It is the second with Blaze Bayley on lead vocals and second to be co-produced by Nigel Green.  It is also the second to feature cover art by Melvyn Grant, this time an improvement on his Fear of the Dark work (but only barely).

You’ll notice the Iron Maiden logo was changed — the jagged bits lopped off!  It is this logo that Maiden used almost exclusively going forward.  I prefer the original.

I was living with T-Rev when the album came out, early ’98, and both of us were heavily into the Nintendo 64 classic Goldeneye.  One Saturday night when he was out working his second job at the Waterloo Inn, I stayed home with Virtual XI, Goldeneye, and enough junk food to last the weekend.  I was set.  And my feelings on Virtual XI largely go back to that night and the great fun it was to play the Statue Park level whilst rocking out to “When Two Worlds Collide”.

As highly as I rate the two Blaze albums, I will be the first to admit that he was the wrong singer for this band. His voice lacks the range.   As I argued in my review for The X Factor, I think Blaze’s voice suited the mid-90’s and the darker tones that Maiden were taking.  I remember cranking Best of the Beast in my store, Dickinson wailing away, and two kids laughing.  Context is important!  In the 90’s, tastes had drifted and so had Maiden.  And don’t lie to me — you owned one of these five albums:  Ten, Nevermind, Superunknown, Purple or Dirt.  I know you did!

I personally enjoy the dreadfully-titled Virtual XI. I bet Steve Harris wishes he could take that title back. It is not as strong as the powerfully dark X Factor album. This is Iron Maiden trying to relax a little more, be more comfortable in their new sound, and trying to lighten up a bit after an entire album of dark thoughts and suicidal tendencies. Witness “The Angel And The Gambler” which is as close to a good-time rocker as Iron Maiden get.  Its problem (and the problem with a few songs on the album) is length:  At 10 minutes, it’s not an epic, it’s too repetitive.  I could also do without Steve’s boppy keyboard line.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The album kicks off with “Futureal”, a short fast rocker akin to “Man On The Edge” or “Be Quick Or Be Dead”, but with plenty of melody to spare.  Harris wrote this one with Blaze.

Up next is “The Angel And the Gambler” which I guess Steve was hoping would sound like 70’s UFO or something like that.  A classic Davey guitar solo keeps it in Maiden territory.  It had a good video, very Star Wars cantina, funny with dated CG!  The video however doesn’t do much to make Blaze Bayley’s case as a frontman.

Then, back to the darkness that marked the last album. “Lightning Strikes Twice” is a decent song with quiet verses and a powerful chorus.  It takes a while to build unfortunately, since it’s only 5 minutes long.

Side one ended with “The Clansman”, continuing the Maiden tradition of basing songs on movies and historical events!  This was the epic of the album, and one that they performed into the Dance of Death tour.  You’ll be chanting, “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” by the end. This one sounds very traditional Iron Maiden, especially the fast parts.

Side two kicked off with a personal favourite, “When Two Worlds Collide”. Here’s Maiden’s take on the whole Deep Impact/Armageddon thing:

Now I can’t believe its true
and I don’t know what to do
For the hundredth time
I check the declination
Now the fear starts to grow
even my computer shows
There are no errors in the calculations

Kinda cheesy, kinda nerdy-cool at the same time.  Have you ever seen the word “declination” in a heavy metal lyric before?   This is the first and only collaboration between Steve, Blaze and Dave Murray.

Another dark and moody one is up next, “The Educated Fool”, another one I like quite a bit due to its delicate guitars.  At this point Maiden were no longer trying to simply assault you aurally, now they were introduced in a smoother sounding guitar sound.  But the song does kick in soon.  There’s a line reflecting some of Steve’s personal inner pain, “I want to see my father beyond.”

This is followed by “Don’t Look To The Eyes Of A Stranger”. These songs are good tunes, but by this time we’ve already had several dark and moody ones with repeated choruses. The repetition was getting a bit much.  Even the previous song, “The Educated Fool” suffers from repetitive chorus syndrome.

Last up is the closer “Como Estais Amigos”, translated as “How are you my friends”.  It was written by Blaze and Janick.  This one has an epic vibe to it as well, with its anthemic chorus of  “No more tears, no more tears. If we live for a hundred years, amigo no more tears.” It is as if Maiden are saying, “We have been through some rough patches but better times are up ahead.” And yes, Maiden really did go through rough times, Steve Harris in particular.

And that is it, a mere 8 songs.  Brevity this time unlike the previous two albums.  No B-sides were recorded, either.  The only B-sides were live.  Let’s have a look at ’em!

 

“The Angel And the Gambler” was released in two parts, one with cover art by Derek Riggs, one from the forthcoming new Maiden video game, Ed Hunter.  They wisely included a single edit on the second one.   The B-sides were live takes of “Blood On the World’s Hands” and “The Aftermath”, which if you recall are two of the songs I ranked poorly on The X Factor.

“Futureal” was the second single, with more Ed Hunter cover art.  Inside, a poster featuring Derek Riggs’ far superior artwork.  The live tracks were were “Man On the Edge” (another one I’m not fond of) and “The Evil That Men Do”, from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son!  This is one of the few official versions available of Blaze doing a Bruce song.  My take?  His “Come on!  Come on!  Come on!” intro fails to inspire me, but the band is playing it fast and great.  Vocally this one is well suited to Blaze’s voice.  He does an excellent job.  (He does screw up the lyrics in the same place that Bruce used to, too!)  It was recorded in 1995, which makes sense.  Everything I’ve heard from that tour sounds great.  Everything I’ve heard from the Virtual XI tour, however…

Well, see for yourself.

I think after this album the vibe was generally one of “Who cares what Maiden do next?”  I still would have loyally bought it.  I had just given up on the idea of Maiden being a huge band that mattered again.  I didn’t expect albums that would impact me the way that Piece of Mind or Powerslave or even The X Factor did.  Maiden seemed to be coasting, at a time that Bruce Dickinson was forging forward with superior solo albums.  In general though, it seemed metal was done, Maiden pretty much with it, and all that was left were unremarkable studio albums and tours.

Oh, how wrong I was.

3.5/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (aka: KISS in Attack of the Phantoms)

You know what I forgot to review? KISS Meets the Phantom! So, belatedly: Part 29 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

“I will destroy you!  All of you!  You, Kiss, will be my instrument!”

KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (NBC, 1978)

Context:  In 1978 Kiss were arguably the biggest band in the world.  Like the Beatles before them, they sought to conquer movies as they prepared to do their solo albums.  They did it…much less successfully than the Beatles.

I’ll try not to shoot ducks in a barrel here.  This made for TV movie is now available in its superior international version on the KISStory II DVD set.  It’s marginally better than the version we’ve had to endure here.  It had more Kiss music (17 songs) and a different cut to the film.

However if you want campiness at its 1970’s worst, watch the regular version.  Bad acting, no budget, bad dubbing (even Peter Criss was dubbed, by Michael Bell!), hell the special effects from the 1967 season of Star Trek are vastly, incalculably superior.  The familiar North American version excises much of Kiss’ original music and replaces it with disco funk!  Chicka-chicka-chicka guitars and hilarious horns.  Oh, and on top of it, Ace has hardly any lines beyond “Ack”!

Phantom stars classic Bond villain Anthony Zerbe as the insane Abner Devereaux, the mastermind behind the amusement park’s “amazing” robots!  (Incidentally that’s two actors who later appeared in Star Trek:  Bell and Zerbe.)  And of course Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter headline as well, even though they don’t even appear in the movie for what seems like an hour.

Plot?  Fuck it.  Who cares.  Madman in theme park is insanely jealous of Kiss.  Kiss have super powers.  Madman sends robots after them.  The end.

The movie is notable on the positive side for some exclusive music:  An acoustic version of “Beth”, and something called “Rip and Destroy” which was “Hotter Than Hell” with new (evil) lyrics.  I don’t know who plays the guitar on “Beth”, but it’s not someone from Kiss.  Paul mimes it in the video.  “Rip And Destroy” basically consists of one verse and one chorus repeated ad nauseum.  Having said that, fans have been begging for years for an official release of these songs.  Maybe on a future box set?  That would be cool.

For the film, 1/5 stars.