Thursday, September 29, 2005

Heavy Metal Redux: Summer Of 2004

Glens Falls - In the summer of 2004, rock 'n' roll became dangerous again. At leasi in the small upstate city of Glens Falls for a few weeks in July. It was fun while it lasted.

Long before rap music raised the hackles of 'concerned citizens,' before the efforts of
Tipper Gore begat parental advisory warnings and before Alice Cooper stuck his head
in a guillotine and sang 'Dead Babies' while a snake slithered around his torso, there was
Dean Martin.

'Wham, bam, thank you ma'am/ I hope you're satisfied,' sang the dapper Dino as he clinked
his champagne glass in 1951. Some thought the song's carnal suggestiveness would bring
an end to civilization. Radio stations banned the song.

Fast-forward a half-century to the small upstate community of Glens Falls - founded in 1763, incorporated as a village in 1839 and - according to a group of its concerned citizens -
the whole thing will go straight to hell in a handbasket this weekend when The Aggressive
Music Festival plays Saturday and Sunday at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

'Do you want to idlely (sic) stand by and watch the Moral Decay of our community?'
asked a flier distributed in hopes of canceling the concert.
'Help Us,' it pleaded, 'Just say NO to the Aggressive Music Festival.'

The survival of the community itself is at stake, apparently in the community
'where kids can safely play in the parks and neighbors can sit on their front porches
and not live in fear,
' the flier says.

The threat to the area's parks and porches, the group warned, was in the lyrics, which encourage, in dutiful order:
hatred, murder, suicide, violence, deviant sex and satanic worship.

According to Glens Falls Police Capt. Joseph W. Bethel, there will be an increased police presence outside the arena 'for the duration,' although he said more officers on duty is
not unusual for events in the area.

That corporate heavy weights MTV, Molson and Clear Channel Communications,
each has a hand in this weekend's show was apparently lost on the concerned group.
(Clear Channel, by the way, are the folks who are also bringing underground scourge
Carole King to SPAC over the weekend. )

The controversy, of course, has only helped boost ticket sales for the show at the Civic Center, which has a capacity of 6,000. In any case, efforts to cancel the concert is moot at this point.

'They had gathered a number of petitions expressing concerns of the content of some
of the lyrics,' says Mike Mender, assistant to the mayor of Glens Falls.

A “few hundred” signatures were presented at the common council meeting on June 10.
After the meeting, the council approved the contract for the concert to go on as planned.
The line-up includes Hatebreed, Slayer, Slipknot, Killswitch Engage, Agnostic Front,
area band Skinless and a number of others.

It is unknown whether any of the bands will be covering Dean Martin's
'Wham, bam, thank you ma'am ' as part of their set.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
originally published in The Saratogian, July 2004.

Dough Boy by Day, Heavy Metal Rocker by Night

On a gray, rain-filled afternoon when many in the local musical community were buzzing
about the upcoming Aggressive Music Festival in Glens Falls this weekend, Noah Carpenter
was pre-occupied with other things.

The guitarist for Skinless - the lone area band appearing at the big two-day music festival -
was busy making pizza. A lot of pizza.

'I'm part-time rocker, part-time dough boy,' says Carpenter, whose 11 years in Skinless has been supplemented by eight years of tossing dough into the air and painting it with cheese
and tomato sauce at D'Andrea's Pizza.
The footnote does not go unnoticed on the band's Web site in a posting that reads:
'I swear the pizza business keeps Death Metal alive.' The sometimes surrealistic duality
of Carpenter's two jobs doesn't go unnoticed either.

'One day I'm here making pizza and the next I'm rocking out in front of thousands of people
on stage in Japan,' he says.
'When I stop to think that we've been all over Europe and to Japan and through the U.S.
a half-dozen times, I really appreciate the opportunity the music has given me,' says Carpenter, who makes his home in Saratoga Springs.
'We started out by playing in a small basement in South Glens Falls, and last month we played at a festival in France for 10,000 people.'

Carpenter grew up in South Glens Falls, where he started playing in a band he formed with some high school buddies. In 1993, Skinless made its debut.

'The first place we played was Freddy's on Elm Street (in Glens Falls), a bar right around the corner from the civic center. I don't think it's even there anymore,' he says.
Attending the show was Sherwood Webber, who grew up in rural Argyle.
Within a year, Webber would join up as the band's lead singer and Carpenter's co-writing partner. Troy native Joe Keyser was brought in on bass guitar and drummer Bob Beaulac rounds out the quartet's current lineup.

'The first couple of years, we would play around Glens Falls and places like the QE2 in Albany. After a few years, we started climbing that ladder, playing out of state and then out of the country,' Carpenter says.

After issuing their debut, 'Progression From Evil,' independently in 1998, Skinless hooked up with Relapse Records for the release of their second album, 'Foreshadowing Our Demise.' Then they hit the road with Hatebreed and Six Feet Under on a tour that eventually led to an appearance at the massive 2002 Beast Feast in Japan, where they were on a bill with Slayer and Pantera.

The group's latest release, 'From Sacrifice to Survival,' came out in 2003, and elevated the
band to a higher status among the extreme music movement. Describing their sound as an 'annihilating combo of gargantuan grooves and high-tension breakdowns,' the band's recent appearances have included headlining New York City club dates and a high-profile slot
at June's two-day Fury Fest in Le Mans, France.

Despite its popularity, death metal fans know they won't be hearing their favorite bands
on rock radio stations, and have always had to seek alternate ways of keeping up with
the goings on in the world of their music.

The coming of the Internet age has made communication easier for the bands and their followers alike, Carpenter says. The days of blindly mailing concert flyers and demo tapes
across the country in search of a sympathetic ear have been positively affected by the click
of a mouse and firing off an e-mail.

While a busy tour schedule has brought Skinless around the world and inspired new fans, it
has also kept the band far from home, and limited the amount of time of working on new projects. It is one of the things they're looking forward to doing after this weekend's local
festival appearance.

'We're trying to settle in and focus on writing new material,' Carpenter says. 'When we're rehearsing (for a show) we're pretty much working on the songs we'll be playing on stage.
We want to take some time and focus specifically on new songs."

In the meantime, some of their earlier work has been re-issued with extra added tracks like 'Milk and Innards' and 'Pool in the Stool.'

Ask Carpenter what's behind the imagery of some of the song titles as well as an insight to
some of the graphic monikers used by fellow bands, and he will tell you that Death Metal
is about both being grotesque as well as about being a little silly.
This weekend's concerts have all the makings of both.

'The Civic Center is where I saw my first concert; Rainbow and Iron Maiden were playing.
I was 8-years old, and now that we have gone and played all over the world, we're coming
all the way back and returning to the civic center,' says Carpenter, marveling at the full
circle of it all and perhaps, the dreams of an 8-year-old boy delivered. He was probably one
of those kids that was pretty fond of pizza growing up, as well.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
originally published in The Saratogian, July, 2004.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Commander Cody: You Don't Know Lincoln

He has been one of Saratoga's more illustrious characters since moving to the region
a few years ago.

You may know him as the painter George Frayne, or by his more popular rock 'n' roll name: Commander Cody.

Just how well do you think you know The Commander?
The answers follow below. And no peeking - or I'll have to sick The Commander on ya.

1. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen are:

A. Retired members of the Blue Angels Flying Squadron
B. The title of a new sitcom slated for FOX-TV’s fall schedule
C. The pseudonym of Spa City singer and nationally renowned musician George Frayne
and his legendary bandmates.

2. “Hot Rod Lincoln” is:

A. A vehicle on exhibition in the Saratoga Automobile Museum’s “East of Detroit” Showroom.
B. The nickname used by rapper Rod Lincoln, who also happens to be
the only living descendant of American legend, Abraham Lincoln.
C. A top ten hit by Commander Cody in the 1970s.

3. In the fall of 1963, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor students John Tichy and George Frayne first met as part of the kitchen crew of the school’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
Tichy, a guitarist, and Frayne, a keyboard player, formed a musical alliance that would eventually become the band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
Where is John Tichy today?

A. A Nashville-based record producer who recently worked on Travis Tritt’s
album “Down the Road I Go.”
B. Chair of Aeronautical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at RPI in Troy.
C. Dead.

4. Commander Cody has regularly performed at fabled Saratoga horse racing hot spot
Siro’s during the summer racing meet.
What occurred at the venue one jam-packed summer night when The Commander
was performing.

A. Ex-Monkees Davey Jones and Mickey Dolenz were in attendance, and jumped on stage to join the Commander in an impromptu version of “Last Train to Clarksville.”
B. Barbara Eden, who was in attendance, folded her arms, blinked her eyes and made the whole room disappear.
C. While attempting to fix a PA wiring problem, the Commander got in a “discussion” with a waitress and ended up being thrown out of his own gig by a bouncer.

5. More problems. While getting ready to perform aboard a boat in the Albany harbor
during the Monday Night Summer Music Cruise Series, the Commander discovered there
was no PA system on the premises.
With a large contingent of fans on hand and ready to board the musical cruise, what did
the Commander do?

A. Throw a hissy fit of Hollywood-esque prima donna-like proportions and flatly refuse to do the gig.
B. Scrap the music altogether and perform cupped-hands-around-mouth a cappella versions of songs “Lost in the Ozone,” and Tex Ritter’s “Smoke Smoke Smoke,” until the ship returned to shore.
C. Bribe, err, pay off the other band on the bill to allow the Commander the use of their PA system, then performing as scheduled, returning to dock with a boat full of happy humans dancing on the tables.

6. In his own words, George Frayne, aka Commander Cody:

A. “Has been gassed by the cops in the summer of 1968 while performing during the Berkeley Riots.”
B. “Was invited by Fidel Castro to perform in Cuba.”
C. “Worked as a lifeguard at New York’s Jones Beach for 10 years.”
D. “Used to drive a black hearse with a surfboard mounted on its top.”
E. All of the above

by Thomas Dimopoulos
originally published in The Saratogian July, 2002.

Cody Sez

1. (C)
2. (C)
3. (B)
4. (C)
5. (C)
6. (E)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Jack Nemier: In an ARC of light, rolling away the stone

What's the first job you ever had?
For songwriter Jack Nemier, the first was the worst.

''Picking stones. It was awful,'' the singer says, his face scrunching up at the memory. .

Nemier, frontman for the rock 'n' roll quartet ARC, grew up in the North Country.
Home was a farm near Malone, just inside the American/Canadian border.
Standing in the long, flat fields behind the family home, he remembers being able to make
out the big city lights of Montreal in the distance.

For the young boy with a head full of dreams, music was a way to get off the farm and closer
to those bright lights. Buying a guitar became his first priority.
That's where the stone picking job came in.
It didn't last long, but it was enough to earn him a few bucks as well as the memories
that remain nearly 20 years later.

''I was working with a crew picking up these stones from a dry riverbed. Some of them
were real large, and you would have to attach a chain to them and drag them up onto a truck,'' Nemier remembers.

''One day, while I was picking these stones up, I found this one great-looking rock.
It stood out from all of the others. It was just beautiful,'' he says.

With a keen eye for detail, Nemier has the ability to hone in on an object like a laser,
separate it from all the background clutter and render it immortal by turning it into a song.

With ARC, the music treads the inspirational trails of an entire rock 'n' roll empire:
Think Neil Young-style guitarists and the songwriting of Tom Petty; a grandiose presence reminiscent of U2 and a vocal style that seems like the natural descendant of Ziggy Stardust.

Throw in some Alice Cooper-meets-The Pixies' sonic angst, and you start to get an idea of the band’s diversity.
ARC formed in 1996, its self-titled debut release shortly followed. The band's earliest work teeters between the heartbreaking balladeering surrealism of ''Never Be Forgiven'' and ''Need Want Take,'' and the slow-burning fuse of the erotically charged ''Cracked Diamond.''

The band's follow-up CD, ''Raised on Social Posture,'' ventures into deeper territory, from nervous angst-riddled rockers like ''Obsession'' to catchy dance-crazy, stuck-in-your-mind anthems like ''When the Night is Young.''

ARC’s third album, “Name the Day,” was issued in 2004 and part of the legacy of Nemier’s tunes, a songwriter whose high caliber of works trace a strong line through the landscape of area music since the early 1990s.
From his solo work to his releases with bX7 21 and now, nearly a decade into ARC,
Nemier is one of a handful of independent musicians in any scene who could pull together
a collection of his songs in a volume all its own.

The songwriter’s secret?
“You know, it's not the number of chords you use,” he says.
“It's how you put them together.''

As for Nemier's stone-picking days, they seem to be a thing of the past, although the
memory will always stay with him.
Ever wonder whatever happened to that stone?

''That particular rock? While I was out there looking at it, one of the guys on the truck yells, 'What the hell are you doing?'
I said, 'Dude, check it out, look at this beautiful rock.'
He looked at me like I was crazy.
So he looks at the rock.
He looks back at me.
Then his face gets all twisted up and he yells 'What the ….?!?
Just throw that back on the truck with the rest of them kid; It's a rock just like all the others.'

“But really,’ says Nemier “I knew that it was different.''

by Thomas Dimopoulos
originally published in The Saratogian, May 2003.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Paddy Kilrain : All my pants are held up by the integrity of the thread I use

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Paddy Kilrain walks onstage wearing a pair of green checker-board pants, a sky-blue bandanna and brown shoes.
A hand emerges out from one of the sleeve of her white blouse with burgundy-colored leaves and swipes across her bony frame.

''Is that in tune?'' Kilrain asks, plucking a few strings on her guitar.
The full house who have assembled at Caffe Lena lets her know that everything is in order.

Strapping a capo across her fretboard, she bursts into song - and already, a few bars in, she's already won the crowd over: ''Hi, I'm Paddy, and I'm from Schenectady, New York!''

Kilrain cut her stage teeth at the Electric City's Cafe Dolce, hosting a monthly open mic series that granted public exposure, as well as inspiring a confidence in her songwriting abilities.
Capturing her songs on tape, Kilrain issued ''Between Ego and Fear'' in 1995. It was followed
by the ''Sweet Talkin' Jive'' CD two years later. ''Anointed to the Hilt,'' was issued in 2000.

''I finally got a good guitar about two years ago,'' she said, relaxing in her Albany apartment. ''After struggling with the instrument for such a long time, I didn't realize it was just a matter
of getting a decent guitar, so when I got this guitar, I started playing it and it was like
'Oh! Oh!'...that's the way it's supposed to sound.''

Ask what type of guitar is the object of her affection and she launches into a stream of consciousness that is pure Paddyism: ''It's a Martin guitar, ah Martin, oh Martin, I love my Martin, because I love the name - I once had a dear, dear friend named Martin, it was long ago and far away...''

Onstage, she flows in and out of verse with a spontaneous demeanor bordering on recklessness. The songs start, stop, re-start and often veer off wildly on a tangent when a new thought
strikes her mind's eye.

When she's forgotten the words - which happens from time to time - she'll maintain a rhythmic continuity, strumming her guitar, and eyeballing the ceiling in search of the elusive verse.

''It's too bad I can't remember the words,'' she informs the audience. ''There was some good stuff in there you guys are missing!''

The obligatory folk sing-along is encouraged, although the piece she's chosen is so absurdly complicated that she has to break it down into small, palatable fragments. ''Your part starts
with the line about 'candles,' that'll bring you into the part about 'wind,' like candles flicker because of the wind, see?''
And everyone does see, because Kilrain takes you so deep inside of her head, not only are
you chanting along as part of the grand human chorus, but you've somehow become part of the entire creative process as well.

In her poetic moments, her guitar dangles while she jams one hand into the back pocket of her green slacks, while the other is upturned and extended, as if giving flight to her prose:
''I've stripped my walls of all my cards and concert tickets/nothing left but dried flowers, broken strings/and messages that seem so cryptic...''

Kilrain was born in Binghamton. The Kilrains relocated to Schenectady in the early 80s when Paddy (then known as Patty) was a child.
''When I was a little kid, every weekend me and my sister would be up at dawn playing or fighting,'' she laughs, ''doing things that kids do on Saturday mornings. When my Dad would wake up, he'd come in and put on the Clancy Brothers and we'd all listen.

''I got to thinking that when I did grow up, I wanted to be just like that - off-the-cuff, fun, political,'' she says. ''Of all the things I've listened to - to this day that's the music that's totally in my heart.''

Kilrain's regional base of fan support has expanded to include performances throughout the Northeast, as well as in the southern states of North Carolina and Georgia. Touring can be a lonely experience, yet there is a positive trade-off.

''All over, if people are listening to what I'm playing, there's a certain beauty in the words
that they can hopefully hear and relate to and find comfort in,'' Kilrain says.

Her songs vary with all the rhythmic intensity her hands can muster, zooming up and down the fretboard's neck. They start on a solid foundation, then break open mid-verse, cracking like a million lime-colored coils that ignite the darkness with neon rays falling out and shooting everywhere at once.

''People come up to me and say, 'you're so upbeat and full of energy,' but really,'' she says,
''I think that I just have an anxiety disorder.''

Her voice scales a tightwire, running counter to the music's pulse, blasting through aggressively, or tuneful and so gentle you can hear the breaths in between the beats, alternating with a spontaneous onstage banter that fills the audience with adoration.

Like a wandering sage, she encourages a world of endless possibilities.

''Instead of trying to live in this tiny dot wondering: 'Is there enough to go around for me?''
Kilrain offers, “We should realize that when people do things from a loving perspective,
there is an infinite well of inspiration.''

by Thomas Dimopoulos
originally published in The Saratogian, Feb. 2002

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Seven Stories Falling: The Road the CBGB's

by Thomas Dimopoulos

Adam Dragland peeked out the bus window and saw it was snowing.

The bus rumbled on the long the stretch of connecting highways from Saratoga Springs to lower Manhattan. It is a 170-mile journey that has been both a road to riches and the road to ruin for travelers since the days of traders hundreds of years ago.

Inside the bus, a sing-a-long was in full swing.

'My loneliness is killing me, hey now, I must confess I still believe, still be-lieve' they sang on the long journey, miles from home and several layers of crunching guitar noise removed from the sounds that riders were more generally accustomed to.

'We have a song called 'Loaded' that's a fan favorite, so we called the ride the 'Loaded' bus trip,' said Dragland, guitar player of the Saratoga-based band Seven Stories Falling. The band organized the bus trip to Manhattan, accompanied by a number of friends and fans, for a performance at CBGB's Gallery.

Dragland is one of the band's two Adams. He began playing with bass player Adam Finkin during their school days at Saratoga High in the late 1990s.

Drummer Joey Clark joined in 2003 and the band issued its debut CD, 'Man of 1,000 Skies,' a year later. Keyboardist Levi Morgan and singer Mike Carney round out the group's sound.

Saturday's journey was one of the band's most ambitious. They boarded the bus with fans in Wilton at 3:45 in the afternoon and began what would become a 14-hour journey. By 7:15 Saturday night, the bus reached Manhattan, and pulled up on the Bowery, letting everybody off in front of the white umbrella-shaped canopy with the red letters that reads: CBGB.

'We moved our equipment in, the doors opened at 8, and we started playing at 9:30, doing a double set until 11:45,' recounted Finkin.

'The place was packed,' he said. 'We have a pretty dedicated fan base, and this weekend we found out just how strong that support is.'

A spokeswoman for CB's 313 Gallery, the venue adjacent to the legendary Bowery punk club where the band appeared, said there was a full house to hear the band from Saratoga. 'It was a very good night,' she said.

Back home, things are not as easily cut-and-dry for Seven Stories Falling and other rock 'n' roll bands like them.

'For people our age, this town doesn't have too much to offer,' said Dragland, who is 23 years old.

'People like going to clubs and dancing to music from a DJ. There are a few places for punk and hardcore and jam bands, but other than that, the local music scene is weak,' he said.

On their home town turf, the band has appeared at venues like Caffé Lena, King's Tavern and Club Caroline. But whatever 'scene' was developing around places like E. O'Dwyer's seems to be disappearing with the closing of that venue, joining the shut-down list of other scenes for live original music, like Revolution Hall in Troy, and Bogie's and the QE2 in Albany.

Is there hope for a rock 'n' roll band in the 21st century? Dragland said the Internet, with popular sites like CD Baby and My Space, may be the saving grace for independent bands looking to make a name for themselves.

'The marketing potential is there. If you're working hard enough, you can network very successfully,' he said of his band, who wear musical influences of groups like the Smashing Pumpkins, Motley Crue and the Beastie Boys on their sleeves.

In the near future, Seven Stories Falling will be issuing its second album, 'Wake Up and Dream,' then hit the road in the spring for a tour of the South.

Further down the road, Dragland said they may be relocating to the West Coast, where a more vibrant live scene has enticed a number of other bands before them.

For a group of high school buddies from Saratoga who have been working on their sound for the past six years, however, nothing was getting settled late Saturday night.

Success was measured by a performance in a New York City nightclub with a busload of friends singing into the wee hours of the following morning.

'Just give me a si-i-ign,' they sang, 'Hit me baby one more time.'
For one night, it was enough.

published in The Saratogian, Jan. 20, 2006.