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REMEMBERING THE BOSS: The Sonics, Phawker and me

Saturday, September 18th, 2021

The Sonics Gig Poster

MIKE WALSH SIZEDBY MIKE WALSH  Back in April 2015, proto-punk garage gods The Sonics were making a Philly stop at the TLA and I knew it would be my only chance to see them. They had released a new record that year, their first in nearly a half century. Even though only three of the original members would appear on the tour, and even though they were nearly 80 years old, they were legends and it was a show that I couldn’t miss.

As a contributor to Phawker, I had a lot of conversations about music with Jonathan. It must have been during one of those conversations that he learned about my love of The Sonics, because a couple of days before the show he messaged that a ticket would be waiting for me at the box office. I was jazzed. The show was great, of course.

After the show, Jonathan asked if I wanted to go backstage to meet them. Of course I did! I followed Jonathan to the cramped dressing room, and there I found myself with three of the original members of The Sonics, who were sweaty and exhausted from their performance. I was stunned, but I did manage to chat with them a bit and got them to autograph my two Sonics LP covers. I also told them that their recent release had gotten a great review in Rolling Stone, which they hadn’t seen. They were delighted and thanked me.

During the next week, I contacted various friends in other parts of the country who were Sonics fans and excitedly relayed my improbable story.  To this day, just thinking about meeting The Sonics makes me giddy. I thanked Jonathan profusely, but I’m not sure he knew how much that meant to me.* It was something that he didn’t have to do, and he had gone out of his way to hook me up. As many people have noted since his passing last Saturday, Jonathan was a special guy.

(*Eds note: He knew. As his trusty sidekick that evening, we both remarked that you were positively beaming in that tiny dressing room, crammed on a couch and happily chatting with a bunch of smiling, sweaty Sonics. It meant the world to him to see you so thrilled … we quietly said our goodbyes and left you there engaged in conversation with the band, all of you clearly enjoying every second.)


After the jump, Jonathan’s beautiful piece on The Sonics for BuzzFeed. Read it. And weep.


EARLY WORD: The British Invasion (Of South Philly)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009


[Click flyer to activate Internets]

Reportedly, Shep Fairey will be striking a blow for us Yanks with an 8 X 8 wheatpaste installation outside the T&P. Not sure exactly what that means, but you can check it out for yourself and let us know.

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CONCERT REVIEW: Titanic Love Affair

Monday, September 8th, 2008


MEcropped2.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Every now and then a voice comes along so strong, so clear, so seemingly inexhaustible that it is heard all the way around world by the Great Middle — the middle-aged, the middle class, and, by and large, those midway between mom jeans and menopause. This voice contains multitudes: the stormy weather of Hallmarkian heartache; the soaring melodrama of airport romance novellas; the soft soothing ‘happy places’ of aromatherapy;  and the soap operatic narrative arc of not just one, but two Hollywood blockbusters. That voice belongs to Celine Dion, of course, but just about every woman of a certain age thinks its speaks for them. Friday night, there was an entire sold out Wachovia Center worth of these ladies — thick in packs of gal pals or trailed by skulking, omega males — on hand when Celine performed her first Philly concert in 10 years.

By all appearances, Celine seems to have taken her just-closed Vegas show on the road: a four sided in-the-round stage, half a football field across, equipped with all manner of trapdoors, hydraulic lifts, moving sidewalks, giant flat screen TVs, and two side ramps bridging the divide between the diva and her people; a band worthy of a top-rated late night talk show; a troupe of eight fleet-footed dancers; and an industrial-sized vaporizer steam-heating the chill out of the arena air and keeping the star’s voice moist during those notes she holds from here to eternity.

“Can you believe its been 10 years?” Celine asked during the first of many between-song heart-to-hearts with 50,000 of her closest girlfriends.

Been a long time, and Celine did not disappoint. From the moment Celine made her entrance (in a strapless burgundy mini-dress and sky-high heels) to the urgent, boy-are-my-arms-tired strains of “I Drove All Night” to her show-ending second encore two hours later — belting out “My Heart Will Go On” in candlelit brown chiffon while sugarplum visions of of Leo and Kate’s Titanic love affair danced on the Jumbotron — there was never any doubt. They came for a night of bombastic balladeering and big box, relaxed-fit entertainment, and Celine, as always, gave her people what they wanted.

My mom loved it.

But skeptics like me? Not so much. Celine’s voice is a remarkable instrument, she can hit notes to the rafters and trill like a rare songbird, but she simply cannot make her songs feel lived in. Her taste in other people’s songs is suspect at best (such as Freddie Mercury’s treacly deathbed hit “The Show Must Go On” during the well-intended but ill-advised Queen tribute) and the what-was-she-thinking soul music medley was stuff of Superbowl half times. And even her own hits — nipped and tucked by some of the best song doctors money can buy — evoked nothing so much as the show home for a new subdivision of suburban Mcmansions: manicured, immaculate, and pretty vacant.


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THE CONCRETES: Can’t Hurry Love

Monday, April 2nd, 2007
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We Know It’s Only Rock N’ Roll But We Like It

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

DAYDREAM HIBERNATION: Grizzly Bear, Johnny Brendas, February 1, 2007 [FLICKR]

evacartoon.jpgEVA SAYS: When Grizzly Bear took stage at Johnny Brendas, they had all odds working against them- their stupid band name, the pretentiously hip crowd (spotting a member of Man Man in the mass, my friend swooned over the time the two of them used to spend together at the Last Drop. GAG!), and most distractingly, the suffocating veil of hype generated from Pitchfork. But last night they faced an even greater challenge, otherwise known as The Dirty Projectors, who had just finished playing one of the best live sets Ive seen all year. Dave Longstreth, lead singer of DP, stretched and contorted his otherwise saccharine vocals into knots and pitches so abrasive the resulting tickle in my eardrum turned into a shiver down my spine. Now, that’s hot! Accompanying Longsthreth were two beautiful back up vocalists, both taking turns yodeling and harmonizing between the pauses and pinches of Longstreths dexterously picked guitar. As quoted from some guy creaming his pants in front of me the band was like Hendrix meets Kraftwerk meets CocoRosie. I couldnt agree more and needless to say, Grizzly Bear didnt win the spot for best band of the night. But in all fairness, the foursome still managed to impress and even replace some of the hype with legitimacy. With a familiar Crimson and Clover 60s style vibe, they combine just enough experimentalism to intrigue. Live, their sound is densely layered with elements of free jazz and electronica well accompanied with the melancholic Joy-Division-necktie-party vocals of Edward Droste and Christopher Bear. Not to be discounted is Daniel Rossens fearless, childlike energy on drums, who despite being boxed in by the folds of Johnny Brendas small stage, managed to evoke a heavier aura of intensity than the rest of the band members combined.

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WRECKLESS ERIC: Whole Wide World LIVE 1977

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007
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FROM: Wreckless Eric
Subject: Beretta 76
Date: Jan 26, 2007 8:32 AM
What is it about Philly? First the Jukebox Zeroes, now you lot. Everything sounds great. I particularly like Pretty Baby where you actually sound just like Blondie without sounding at all like them, if that makes sense. I meant that as a compliment by the way.

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Saturday, January 27th, 2007


NOW PLAYING ON PHAWKER RADIO/REVIEW BY ED KING At 30 songs long 30 songs! it’s a wonder anyone will hear the end of this album, but that’s why I’m here. Never say never, Sloan. It feels like only last week that I came home from high school — having made a quick stop at the Sam Goody at Roosevelt Mall — with Elvis Costello & the Attractions’ latest, Get Happy!!, in sweaty hand. Oh baby! Through the wonders of a hitherto described process of “groove cramming,” the band and producer Nick Lowe managed to pack 20 soulful, fractured, slightly psychedelic would-be hits into 40 minutes of standard-issue vinyl. My friends and I didn’t need no stinking gatefold sleeves and Roger Dean art to get high; we got as high and happy as could be from those crammed grooves.

These days it’s not grooves that get crammed, it’s bytes. Like the nice, good Canadians they are, Sloan bypassed the double CD/increased price route for 30 nonstop, concise, mostly rocking numbers. In fact, I was able to download the tracks from Yep Roc for not much more than I paid for the packed, triple-album Sandinista the day of its release. Now that’s good bang for the buck. All the Sloan sonic trademarks that have emerged since Navy Blues are accounted for: the Paul McCartney and Wings-style melodies; the stomping, Kiss Army-style choruses; and the occasional, whimsical piano-based romp. There’s that overall vibe that Greg Brady is holding two choice tickets for “the big rock show” this Saturday night. (more…)

REM: Wolves, Lower

Thursday, January 25th, 2007
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CRADLE WILL ROCK, AGAIN: Original Van Halen Reunites For Summer Tour, Philly Date Inevitable

Thursday, January 25th, 2007


PEREZHILTON:Is pleased to exclusively confirm – sources tell us – that Van Halen is 100% reuniting for a massive comeback tour this summer with original lead singer, David Lee Roth.The tour will kick off in May and travel through amphitheaters across America.’

ROLLINGSTONE: ‘The reunion that Van Halen fans have been awaiting for twenty-two years began in December, when David Lee Roth walked into Eddie Van Halens Hollywood home studio. There he rejoined the band for a rehearsal, singing fourteen Van Halen classics. They totally got along on a personal level, a source close to the reunion says. And it sounded great. At press time, Roth and the band were negotiating a deal for a major summer tour, which would be Van Halens first Roth-fronted tour since 1984. Along with a possible Police reunion, it would likely be among the years biggest box-office draws.’

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Wednesday, January 24th, 2007


The best rock show this week in Philadelphia happened 29 years ago in Toronto, which either means the winter doldrums are officially upon us or we’re just feeling especially knock-kneed, pissed-off, bespectacled and amphetamined for no particular reason other than it just seems right and natural. Either way, we’re amusing ourselves imagining the punch-up that will invariably ensue when we master time travel (muahahahaha!) and send circa 1978 Elvis Costello to the doorstep of circa 2007 Elvis Costello (a guy who seems more like a Declan MacManus these days, though isn’t that as it should be?). Imagine the mutual looks of loathing and distrust as the two square off on the front porch. Middle-aged Elvis is probably wearing a bathrobe and a pork pie hat.elviscostelloliveatmocambo.jpg Young Elvis is probably in a skinny tie and blazer and speeding his tits off — he will invariably throw the first punch upon learning that it’s only a matter of time before he’s warbling standards with Burt Bachrach and shacking up with Diana Krall (mazel tov on the twins, you two!). And so we give you Live at the El Mocambo – recorded on a raw and blustery winter night — kinda like tonight — where people are just itching to shout and sweat and smoke-and-drink and shake shit up. By winter 1978, Elvis had only released My Aim is True and was about to drop This Year’s Model, so the hits feel like sleet on your cheek — raw, sting-y and they just keep coming. Dig it. We do.

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Lost Album Of Local-ish Theremin Virtuoso Found

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

In 1927 The New York Times reported from Berlin about an astounding recent invention: a box with a brass rod and ring that, when the inventor moved his hands around them, produced a violinlikeclararockmore.jpg sound of extraordinary beauty and fullness of tone.

He created music out of nothing but motions in the air, the article said.

The inventor was Leon Theremin (born Lev Termen), a young Russian scientist whose fascinating life would later include spying for Soviet intelligence, serving time in a Siberian labor camp and inventing a host of things, including electronic bugs, an early television and an electronic security system at the Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y. But his legacy lives on principally in the device named after him: the theremin, which introduced the age of electronic music.

Though it bombed as an instrument for the masses, partly because it is so difficult to play, Hollywood embraced it. The theremin, with its otherworldly, sliding woo-woo sound, was prominent in science fiction movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and in other films, notably Alfred Hitchcocks Spellbound and Billy Wilders Lost Weekend.

It captivated Robert Moog, who began building theremins before inventing his pioneering synthesizer in 1954. A well-received 1994 documentary, Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, revived interest, and the theremin has since had renewed popularity in pop and rock bands.

But early on, the theremin also had a life in concert halls, thanks mostly to the woman considered its greatest virtuoso, Clara Rockmore, who died in 1998 at 88. Ms. Rockmore, a former violin prodigy, created a whole technique of playing. She performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, played Town Hall, had works written for her, toured with Paul Robeson and gave recitals many with her sister, the noted pianist and teacher Nadia Reisenberg.

Mr. Moog persuaded Ms. Rockmore to put her artistry on record. A recording session in 1975 led to her first album, The Art of the Theremin, released on LP in 1977 and containing 12 numbers. Three decades later 13 previously unheard cuts from that session are available in a new release on the Bridge label, Clara Rockmores Lost Theremin Album.

NEW YORK TIMES: Good Vibrations
BRIDGE RECORDS: Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin Recordings
MYSPACE: Friends Of Clara Rockmore

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REM: Talk About The Passion

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

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State Of The Union: Same As It Ever Was

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ALL THE LEAVES ARE BROWN: Denny Doherty, Last Papa Of The MAMAS AND PAPAS, Dead At 66

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

They were the first pop group, after The Beatles and the so-called British invasion, to include women (and a Canadian) as equal partners and to showcase tuneful and harmoniously sophisticated songs. As a group, they produced five albums and sold an estimated 20 million records. Behind themamaspapas.jpg scenes, though, the group was wasting its talent and its energy because they were all especially Mr. Doherty in thrall to sex, drugs and alcohol.

One of five children of a hard-drinking Halifax pipe fitter, Mr. Doherty began his singing career there with a local rock band, The Hepsters, while working in a pawn shop. He had started singing in public at age 15, on a dare, performing Love Letters In The Sand in a skating rink-turned-dance-hall with Peter Power’s dance band. In 1959, he formed his first folk trio, The Colonials, and, after changing its name to The Halifax Three, signed a recording contract with Columbia Records in New York.

They had a minor hit, The Man Who Wouldn’t Sing Along With Mitch, released an album, San Francisco Bay Blues, in 1963 on the Epic label, and performed in eastern Canada and in the United States. While on tour with The Halifax Three, Mr. Doherty met musician John Phillips and his wife, a model named Michelle Gilliam.

Separately, he also became friends with Cass Elliot, a singer with a band called The Big Three that also featured Tim Rose. A few months later, Mr. Doherty’s band broke up, ironically in a hotel called The Colonial, also the name of one of his own ill-fated groups. He and his accompanist, fellow Canadian Zal Yanovsky (who would later become the lead guitarist with The Lovin’ Spoonful) were destitute in New York City.

After hearing about their troubles, Cass Elliot convinced her manager to hire them. So Mr. Doherty and Mr. Yanovsky joined her group and enjoyed some success in Greenwich Village. More players were added and the group changed its name to The Mugwumps. They also broke up, as so many groups did in these fluid times, and for the usual reason: insolvency.

mamaspapas2.jpgAbout this time, John Phillips’s band, The New Journeymen, needed a replacement for tenor Marshall Brickman, who had left to pursue a career as a writer for television. Mr. Doherty, needing a job, filled the opening. After the New Journeymen called it quits as a band in early 1965, Mr. Denny’s stalwart friend Cass Elliot was invited into the formation of a new band that became The Magic Circle. And so it was that Mr. Doherty brought all the members of the group together.

Six months later, in September of 1965, the group signed a recording contract with ABC/Dunhill Records. Changing their name to The Mamas and the Papas, the band soon began to record their debut album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. In those drug-soaked, sexually liberated and naive post-Pill, pre-Aids times, Mr. Doherty and Ms. Phillips began a love affair. They tried to keep it secret, especially from Mr. Phillips, which was difficult considering all three lived in the same house. (more…)

Cost of the War in Iraq
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