Mississauga

REVIEW: Psycho Circus – Psycho Circus (1992 cassette)

PSYCHO CIRCUS – Psycho Circus (1992 indi cassette EP)

Psycho Circus put out their one and only album in 1993.  They were a talented band who avoided grunge cliches and instead dove into funk-metal and a darker Faith No More sound circa The Real Thing.  The album was split down the middle between the two sides.  Decades later I found an earlier indi cassette, released after they signed with SRO Management, the team behind Rush.

It’s quite clear this band had musical chops.  Opening track “Picky Purple People” is killer.  Faux-horns, massive bass and busy drums are relentless.  This is a goofier side of the band, but well executed.  If the Chili Peppers and Faith No More had a baby, it would sound like “Picky Purple People”.  Next is “Funk in Our Souls”, a track that was re-recorded for the album later.  The cassette version sounds more bass heavy.  It’s more enjoyable for that reason, not to mention the smoking guitar solo.  “Can You Feel It?” was also re-recorded for the album, but this is one of those darker songs that eschew the funk.  Singer Vince Franchi hits unreal notes.  His voice is versatile.  It’s Faith No More without the twisted mind.

The final track didn’t make it onto the CD.  “Psycho Circus” opens with traditional circus music, a full six years before Kiss did the same thing with their own song called “Psycho Circus”.  Maybe they should try suing Kiss?  It would be fun to see!  That’s the only similarity.  This is another funky track, and though the circus music is a bit silly, the chorus rocks.

The tape comes with a nice J-card and full lyrics.  In a way it’s a better listen than the album.  It doesn’t have as many great songs, but it also has less filler.

3/5 stars

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#526: Location, Location, Location

GETTING MORE TALE #526: Location, Location, Location

I worked at many Record Store locations over the years, often temporarily for training and managing.  Some of them I spent a few days at, others were several weeks or months in total.  Each one had its own flavour and clientele.  While experiences and mileage may vary, here are some memories of some favourite locations (all in Ontario, Canada).

 

cambridge1. Cambridge

The store in Cambridge was our first to carry movies, initially in VHS format.  It was a lot of fun working there from time to time, buying and selling used movies.  There was always something I wanted for my collection, and it broke up the monotony of seeing nothing but CDs every day.

Cambridge was also interesting because we used to get a number of people coming in just to ask where the strip club was.  “It used to be around here!”  I don’t know why the dudes looking for the strip club kept stopping in the Record Store (as opposed to the Tim Hortons or a gas station or anywhere else), but they did indeed used to ask.

Some of the customers in Cambridge were…well, let’s just say they were not all our best and brightest.  T-Rev managed that store, and I took over temporarily when he was on road trips elsewhere setting up new stores.  The customers there wore me down more than anywhere else.  Especially when they came in to sell, which was frequently.  Cambridge bought a lot of stock.  If the customer wasn’t happy with my offer, they’d ask when the “regular guy” would be back.  Maddening since I was more generous than a lot of other folks.

There was one customer in Cambridge who hated selling to me, he always asked where “the regular guy” was.  He asked my name and I told him it was Sanchez.  When T-Rev came back, we had a laugh over the employee named “Sanchez” who was apparently low-balling this customer for his dance CDs.

 

hamilton2. Hamilton

The store I worked at in Hamilton was pretty quiet most of the time.  There was a lunch time rush when kids from the nearby highschool would come in to listen to and occasionally buy CDs.  Given Steeltown’s reputation, I was pleasantly surprised to find the kids I dealt with to be polite and friendly, more than I was used to seeing.  The adults weren’t always so friendly, but no more or less than any of the other stores I worked in.  Hamilton was a shitty place to drive (confusing one-way streets), but I didn’t mind working there at all.

 

kitchener3. Kitchener

I worked in three different stores in the Kitchener area.  One of the other guys there used to refer to Kitchener as a “ham & egger” town, a phrase I never heard before.  A lot of blue collar customers.  It was still a step up from Cambridge, depending on which Kitchener location I was working in.

I’ve said many times that my favourite store was the original one, in a small mall in Kitchener.  It was our only mall store ever.  It was a special place to work.  It was tiny and compact.  It could get really busy on the weekends.  There were a lot of regular customers, more than I remember elsewhere, probably due to the fact we were in a mall.  There was a familiarity – I knew them, and they knew me.  When I was eventually given a larger store elsewhere to manager, I missed the faces I would see on a regular basis at the mall.

I also missed the “unique” individuals you’d meet at the mall store.  Malls have a whole ecosystem of life forms, unlike others in the outside world.  There was Johnny Walker, so named because every day he would walk the circuit around the mall, talking to himself, all day.  One day, something peculiar happened.  He came in, stopped talking to himself, and bought a tape.  He paid for his cassette and then resumed walking and talking to himself again.  I only saw that happen once.  There was Butts, the guy who would dig through ashtrays looking for cigarette butts.  Let’s not forget Trevor the Security Guard, and the drunks at the restaurant next door.  It was a blast!  I didn’t care for the mallrats, but they were a minor annoyance.

 

oakville4. Oakville

I did not like working on Oakville, as was discussed in Record Store Tales Part 16: Travelling Man.  Many of those customers were snooty; just too good for you.  They felt entitled to park in the fire lane, because they were more important than you.  Read the Oakville tale for the misery that was working there.

 

mississauga

5. Mississauga

More than any other location, I may have resented Mississauga the most.  It was a shit location.  There was nothing of any value around.  There was a health products store, but nowhere to buy a snack or a lunch.  There was no foot traffic.  Across the street was an empty field.  It was a dead store from the day it opened.  I invested myself deeply in my work.  There are many things in life that can crush your soul.  One of them is working hard at something (training employees, helping set up a store) and seeing it come up to nothing.  That was Mississauga.  In the used CD business, you depend on customers bringing in good stuff for you to re-sell.  Mississauga provided very little good stuff.

 

There were more, all with tales of their own.   These however were five of the most memorable, each for its own reasons.  While a change of scenery is nice once in a while, there is nothing better than working in a location you love.

 

REVIEW: Psycho Circus – Scarred (1993)

This was one of the first, if not the first, discs I bought with my staff discount at the record store!  I wonder if Deke remembers these guys?

SCARRED

PSYCHO CIRCUS – Scarred (Anthem 1993)

20 years ago, Psycho Circus were one of the bands hyped as the “next big thing” out of Canada. They originated in Mississauga, Ontario, just west of Toronto.  They signed with SRO management (Rush, Van Halen, King’s X, Extreme) and producer Terry Brown (also Rush) and released a trendy but still unique goth-rap-funk-metal album called Scarred.  They also released a music video for the excellent “Pulsate”.

These guys were hanging out with old dudes way before Our Lady Peace.

The problem with Psycho Circus is their split personality.  On one hand (roughly half the album) they inhabit this cool, dark land I call Diet Faith No More.  Singer Vince Franchi has the lungs and range to emulate Patton’s style on The Real Thing.  Their cool use of keyboards also reminds me of that band, but without the dementia.  On the other hand, there’s a goofy rap-funk side, which does not appeal to me in the least.  I think funk metal got stale very quickly, and the juvenile lyrics render the rapping limp.  “Acid Monkey Junk”, a song about the testing of cosmetics on animals, is painful at time.  “Monkeys in the ocean and fishes in the trees?”

A M.E.A.T Magazine interview by Karen Bliss, from 1993, reveals that the band had already dropped even more irritating material from their live set.  They name a discarded song called “Picky Purple People” as being particularly notable for its silliness.  Glad I didn’t have to hear that one.

 

I prefer the Diet Faith No More side of the band: hard, melodic and dark songs like “Thru the Backbone” (which also features rapping in a non-annoying way).  “Pulsate” is easily the best song on the album, demonstrating Franchi’s impressive vocal range and power.  I’m also fond of the angry “I Know”, the haunting “Leave Me Alone”, and the closer “Goodbye”.  The rest of the album is unfortunately skip-worthy and occasionally irritating to me.

There was also a CD single made for “I Know” featuring an exclusive “Psylicone Mix”.  Although I don’t enjoy the remix as much as the album version, it’s notable for being remixed by Brown and the band, not some outsider.  I happened upon this single within my first year at the record store, and it surely must be one of the rarest discs I have.

For half a good album:

2.5/5 stars

M.E.A.T Magazine

REVIEW: Slash Puppet – No Strings Attached (aka The Demo, 1989)

SAM_2113

SLASH PUPPET – No Strings Attached (2007 Sun City Records)

Slash Puppet were one of the biggest names of the burgeoning Toronto rock scene of the early 1990’s.  Unfortunately, unlike their competition Sven Gali and I Mother Earth, they never got signed to a major label.  They did, however, manage to sell out 2500 copies of their first recording, The Demo, an independent cassette, via mail order.  They were the darlings of M.E.A.T Magazine and appeared on MuchMusic’s Power Hour.  Slash Puppet signed a management deal with Ray Danniels and SRO (Rush) who later also handled Van Halen, King’s X, and Extreme.

SLASH PUPPET GLOSSY

I was one of the 2500 people who ordered The Demo.  Every mail order was accompanied by a glossy 8 1/2 x 11 autographed photo.  I still have mine, this is especially treasured since their talented lead guitarist, Lou Garscadden, passed away in 2001.   Today, lead vocalist Mif (originally billed as “Tony Terrance Dartanian”, for some weird reason) is a successful actor.   That’s him as the mob boss in Norm McDonald’s hilarious Dirty Work, billed under his real name, Anthony J. Mifsud!

Incredibly, for a band that never put out a major label release and split in 1994, Australia’s Sun City Records reissued The Demo on CD in 2007, as No Strings Attached.  A well-assembled package, it features liner notes, lyrics, and loads of photos.

This ass-kicker starts with a bang:  “Slow Down”.  This was the first video, and it even made a return appearance (in slightly remixed form) on the second Slash Puppet release, a self-titled EP.  “Slow Down” is an infectious hard rocker, a tougher and faster Faster Pussycat with a way, way raspier singer.  It has more integrity than most of the Sunset Strip of the time combined.  And this was from the bad bad streets of Mississauga!

The extremely catchy ‘Squeeze It In” follows, a mid-tempo groover, and my personal favourite song.  This one just drips sleaze with a knack for gritty melody.   Up next is “Hard On Love”.  It’s another concoction of raspy lead vocals, catchy backing gang vocals, and pure sex.  It’s twice as hard as anything Hollywood was producing at the time.  “Bad Girls”, which closed side one of the original cassette, is about the only misstep.  While the song is another adrenaline-filled sex romp, the chorus lacks punch.

It’s here that I think the CD edition of No Strings Attached differs from The Demo.  If memory serves correctly, side two began with “Overload” and closed with “Turn It On”.  On the CD, the track order seems switched.  Unfortunately, my original cassette copy is now lost.

Regardless, “Turn It On” is fast paced, raspy and built for sex.  It’s not an upper-echelon song, it’s more similar to “Bad Girls”, the chorus is a bit thin.  The band compensates with the excellent “Evil Woman”.  Great chorus, great hooks, and it sounds great in the car.  It also has a cool dual guitar solo by Lou Garscadden and Frank “Bart” Bartoletti, proving these guys had the chops.

The dark and slower-paced “Some Kind O’ Lady” provides some variety on an album that is otherwise very party-oriented.  This killer tune was always one of my favourites.  It has some killer soloing and a great riff.  The verses kind of remind me of a Testament ballad like “Return To Serenity”, but before Testament even wrote that song.  Maybe it’s the grit in Mif’s voice that reminds me of Chuck Billy.

“Overload” closes the CD on an upbeat note.  It has a fast, playful riff, sleazy lyrics and plenty of grit.  It’s totally headbang-worthy.  And with that, the CD ends, listener exhausted by half an hour of pure heavy glam rock!

The production values for this album are not the greatest.  Keep in mind this was originally a self-financed demo tape, never meant for wide release, and never intended for CD.  The guitar solos are often buried, and the backing vocals sound a bit thin.  What does come across is the grit of Mif, an underrated singer and frontman (by all contemporary accounts).

As mentioned, Slash Puppet returned with an EP later (released by indi Fringe), amped up, better sounding and more mature without losing an ounce of their street-tough sensibilities.  Look for a review of that ultra-rarity in a future edition of mikeladano.com!

As for No Strings Attached?

4/5 stars, baby!