Photo gallery and review of Condo Fucks with The Bevis Frond and Sleepyhead at TT the Bear’s in Cambridge MA (Sunday, June 21, 2009)
How do three bands who barely ever play out (asterisk needed for the Condo Fucks) these days get together for a night of raw rock, insightful songs informed with a British sensibility, and the kind of clever indie guitar rock which was the standard bearer in the ’90s? Oh, and theremin solos? The common link is Jon Bernhardt, who organized this wonderful evening in honor of his 25th anniversary of spinning records for MIT’s WMBR, and proceeds from tonight went directly to the operating budget of the station. The bands were chosen in large part as a function of who Jon has played substantially during his two and half-decade run (well, Condo Fucks qualified under their usual name as Yo La Tengo), and they brought out a packed house on a drizzly, cold (so much for the start of summer) Sunday night; limited tickets for part 2 including Buffalo Tom, Versus and Rebecca Gates at Church this Saturday are still available.
With a different perspective taken from 1990’s Fakebook, Fuckbook has Ira, Georgia and James funneling a pure garage rock sensibility which would curl the ends of Billy Childish’s mustache and reach out to Lester Bangs and Greg Shaw in whatever form they presently inhabit. You could practically smell the musty stacks of newspapers and see the iridescent slick of an long-standing oil stain as raw nuggets of primal rock were blasted out. Befitting an ex-music scribe, Ira expanded their setlist to not only include the two and half-chords/cloud of dust classics like “Dog Meat” (Flamin’ Groovies) and “What’cha Gonna Do About It” (Small Faces), but also customized their set to include more than a local nod with blistering takes on “”1 + 1 > 2” (Classic Ruins), “Long Gone” (Lyres) and the McNew-led “Ben Wa Baby” (Pep Lester and Friends). After a brief and new YLT song (their only one of the evening, though Sleepyhead did a really sweet version of “Bitter End” as well as “That’s Why You Need Us” from The Bevis Frond!) Ira called all hands on deck for a rousing cover of Tall Dwarfs’ “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” with Ira wading through the crowd and eventually standing on the bar in the other room before making his way back to the stage for the end. It was an especially apt selection, since not only did YLT play with their good friends Tall Dwarfs in this very venue in 1992 (a show that I was at), but Chris recently suffered a stroke and his condition is serious. Here’s to a speedy and full recovery.
The Bevis Frond is the nom de guitar of Nick Saloman, who has successfully bridged the two distinct territories of classic UK pop compositions such as The Hollies, Zombies or Kinks and the guitar-fuelled psychedelic explorations of Hendrix, Randy California, and Hawkwind. In a self-deprecating manner which the English have crafted into an art form, he quickly won over the unfamiliar from his seated position with brilliant ballads like “This Corner of England,” “Coming Round” and “Portobello Road.” To close down the acoustic set, he introduced the last two songs as his ‘greatest hits’ which could be issued in the 7″ format, the b side being “He’d Be A Diamond” and the A side of “Lights Are Changing” augmented on stage by Mary Lou Lord, who covered the song and gave it far more coverage than Nick’s original version. Harnessing the power of an electric guitar with wah-wah pedal in close proximity, Nick was much more comfortable rocking out, his long gray hair sweeping constantly across his face as the rhythm section of Scarce provided the punch to “Stoned Train Driver” and “Downtime.” Sleepyhead started the evening out with a well-crafted batch of guitar-driven songs that reminded me of a punchier Unrest with immaculate vocal harmonies.