Boardman, Ohio loves the arts and gives students amazing opportunities to learn and perform music. Case in point, Boardman High School’s rock orchestra Project Mayhem. Backed by electric and acoustic violins, cellos, bass, drums and more, the band performs rock hits from yesterday and today. Featured artists include Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Kansas, Styx, Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons, Metallica, Bon Jovi, Tom Petty and Pat Benatar. The orchestra keeps gaining in popularity and sold out the 1,600-seat Boardman Performing Arts Center. I photographed the show for the second year, and look forward to doing so again next year. Enjoy!
Under the giant, illuminated Goodyear logo located east of downtown Akron, the polished granite, red brick and concrete exterior in the center of the rubber company’s former corporate campus looks fairly unassuming. But after walking through the doors into the Goodyear Theater, it’s easy to see why it’s attracting a diverse array of artists, including The Cult, Jason Isbell, Primus, Smashing Pumpkins and Dwight Yoakam. The spacious main hall and balcony of the latest addition to Akron’s growing musical culture captures the grandiose allure of a vintage orchestra stage hall. The character of this amazing venue was perfectly suited for one of England’s most enduring modern rock bands, Squeeze.
Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford have toured separately and together as a duo in the past, but this tour marks the return of Squeeze as a full band. Drummer Simon Hanson and keyboardist Steven Large have been performing with Glenn and Chris since the most recent formation took shape in 2007, and the recent additions of Yolanda Charles on bass and Steve Smith (from UK electronic remix outfit Dirty Vegas) on percussion helped keep the upbeat energy going between everyone on stage and in the audience.
Squeeze played a finely curated mix of trademark favorites mingled with cuts spanning their entire career. They started their set with Please Be Upstanding, a song from The Knowledge, their 15th studio album, released in October. The songs from the new album continue to showcase Tilbrook and Difford’s songwriting tandem of new wave British Soul, from upbeat pop tunes to heartfelt ballads. The new material definitely has their unique vibe as much as their past libraries of work, and adds more colors to their musical landscape. The country slide guitar on Patchouli, the operatic vocal solos of Rough Ride, and the bongo beat percussion of Albatross show Squeeze expanding and are not satisfied by standing creatively still.
With the second song of the set, they promptly moved into their classic hit, Pulling Mussels (from the Shell). Their set included a majority of songs from their 2010 album Spot the Difference, where they re-recorded their greatest hits in identical detail to the original recording. Squeeze’s live performance lived up to the same perfection with every song. They haven’t lost an ounce of the energy and vibrancy that has attracted music fans for decades.
Squeeze packed the last leg of their set with an all-star lineup of their biggest hits. The rhythm section took to the front of the stage for a rousing rendition of Take Me I’m Yours, with hand drums, marching snares, and accordion that got the crowd out of their seats. They kept the fans on their feet by bringing the show home with a rally of their best songs, including Tempted, Goodbye Girl and Up the Junction, and ultimately building up to the rapid disco keyboard melody of Slap and Tickle.
After a brief rest from their marathon performance, Squeeze returned to the stage to deliver an encore with two more of their most popular hits, Is That Love? and Black Coffee in Bed. During the final breakdown of Black Coffee in Bed, Glenn and Chris took time to introduce everyone in the band and gave them a moment to shine. The entire crowd stayed on their feet and helped end the night with a bright and soulful call and response of the song’s chorus. With a final gathering at the front of the stage, the band joined together for a final bow to Akron’s appreciative and devoted fans. Squeeze hasn’t lost a step in their stage and songwriting game, and the great response from their new material and their memorable catalog will have an incredible and expanding impact on music fans for a long time.
Until the Grog booked Luna for last night’s show — their first time back to Cleveland in about 12 years — I honestly hadn’t listened to their records since 2009. They were lost in the CD-selling purges of my thirties. But conveniently, Spotify has a Best of Luna playlist to refresh my memory. Side note — they’re playlists now, not albums. That’s not to say they have any record I dislike; it’s just they get filed away in the drawer of really catchy indie rock songs.
Music fans like myself compare and contrast bands against their peers. My favorite game to play as a contrarian is to state the greater band is the one with the better catalog. Yo La Tengo are a better band than My Bloody Valentine. Is Loveless a great album? Sure, why not. But Yo La Tengo have plain old done more and therefore reached greater heights, so they’re the better band. People who worship at the altar of meteoric bands miss true greatness.
This is the point where writing about Luna gets tricky. They are both timeless and of a very specific time. Who exactly are their peers? The depth of music knowledge on stage last night went clear back to the Platters or Duane Eddy or my beloved Beach Boys. I like record collector rock. Dean Wareham seems like the kind of guy who has walls and walls full of obscure but totally great vinyl albums. But comparing Luna to either their own heroes or part of a revival is short sighted. It’s not revivalist; it’s syntheist.
Conversely, trying to place Luna alongside their contemporaries in the 1990s “alt-rock” doesn’t quite line up either. Pavement, Superchunk, Sonic Youth got up at the same time on the same stages, but everyone sounds more like each other than Luna sounds like anyone — a loser contradiction their lyrics often hint at. Luna aimed for a different target and hit it. Their success was on their own terms.
So what happened on stage? For one, the guitars sounded amazing. I’m not a gearhead, but a quick look at the stuff wasn’t complicated, but rather the stack of a band who dialed in their sound. The guitars sounded rich and full, with beautiful overtones and carefully sculpted reverb. The shimmering sound I heard probably sounds identical in every room they play. The economy of sound extended into the playing. The solos were similar to their records, and they were written right the first time, so a brief guitar solo (and one bass solo) kept the songs moving. For a band that prides themselves on the consistent dynamics of the rhythm section, the songs moved great.
When I was bullshitting online the day of the show, my friend Pete posted he found the first grey hairs in his beard, even though he’s been balding for years. I saw him later that night, and at age 32, he was one of the youngest people in the room. Luna are not minting new fans, and their setlist played liked it. Hits like Pup Tent, Chinatown, Bewitched. We joked about waiting around for the Velvet Underground cover, but it never came, although they did throw in a Cure cover. Their catalog is enshrined in the memories of their fans, and their fans know their influences well enough that all they had to do was run through the hits, have fun doing it, and everyone walked away happy. BTW Pete’s single.
Do you know the difference between classic rock and oldies? I do, and I bet you do too. Now, if you happen to be a Luna fan, ask yourself where do they fit in? Not do they sound like The Champs vs The Eagles, but are Luna part of a culture that has endured against the ebb and flow of fashion, or are they part of an emerging industry of keeping musicians employed, on the road and somewhat happy? Luna fans have been waiting a decade to see this show, a reasonable amount of time for side projects and time off, and not subject to the diminishing returns of the Pixies reunion. They walked off the stage happy, and their fans felt the same.
Asking anyone to name five life-changing albums is no small feat, but Shaun Fleming, songwriter and frontman for Psychedelic Motown band Diane Coffee, handles it like he handles everything else: with style and grace. So here’s his list, in no particular order, along with some pictures we made last night before his show at Cleveland’s own Beachland Ballroom and Tavern.
“I don’t know if these are going to by my favorite albums of all time,” says Shaun. “But they will be ones that changed my life.”
Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man
“I was in high school. I wasn’t really into music quite yet. I was just getting into theater and improv comedy, which helped me kind of open up. I was also a big skateboarder and I heard a song in a skate video that was super weird — it was very Donovan — it had a crazy sax solo. I remember, this was right when Limewire and Napster came about, but I didn’t have that because I thought it would ruin my computer. So I had to find the track name and go to Tower Records and ask them about it and they had to look it up. So I got this record, and at this point I only knew stuff that was on the radio. I’d never really heard anything from the ’60s and ’70s or anything like that. It was really bizarre, really new and I just fell in love. I got really obsessed with Donovan and bought every single record I could. I started wearing kimonos around, drinking a lot of tea; I mean, I was that kid in high school. I told my Dad about it and he was just like, ‘Oh, yeah, Donovan. You know, I played with Donovan a couple times.’ So I think that record pushed me into learning about music and discovering what was actually out there.”
4. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon
“I remember the first Pink Floyd song I ever heard was Comfortably Numb. A friend put it on a compilation mix tape, and I was like ‘What is this?! What is this beautiful piece of music I’m hearing?!’ I remember people with Pink Floyd T-shirts walking around high school, so I knew the name before I knew the music, but didn’t really understand what kind of music that was. So I went to Tower Records and picked up my first Floyd album. I saw that (Dark Side) cover and I’d seen people wearing T-shirts of that triangle artwork, so just grabbed that one. Then I put it on it was just— and still, those last few songs— There’s only a couple albums where I actually always cry, and that one still brings me to tears, especially when I hear the whole thing front to back. I put together a cover band in high school, and all we did was Floyd and Beatles almost exclusively. Like, we did all of Dark Side of the Moon, we did all of The Wall front to back, we just were obsessed. That was my first band. So maybe that record started me down the path of being a stage musician.”
3. The Beatles: Abbey Road
“I was touring with Foxygen and it was our first time going to the UK. I was reading a Beatles book at the time and I remember as soon as we started driving around the UK, it felt so different than anything else I’d really seen. I started listening to Abbey Road and I swear to God I listened to nothing but that record on repeat the entire time I was there. I don’t know if it changed my life. There are very few things that really changed my life. But that one holds a special place. All those memories. First time I was ever touring, and it’s England, and when you do that, when you make that sort of leap, it was like, ‘I made it. I’m a rock ‘n’ roll musician now, really doing it.’ And that’s another one of those records that makes me tear up every single time.”
2. Young MC: Stone Cold Rhymin
“That was the first CD I ever bought with my own money. I was, I think, eight years old and my Dad took me to the record shop. I think I just grabbed the first thing that looked like something I might like. Even though there’s very little about that album that’s cool except for Bust a Move. I probably liked Bust a Move and I got the record because of that. It was the first record I ever bought, and I still put that record on all the time. I can rhyme every single verse on every single track. That changed my life just because it was the very first. I started buying CDs after that. That’s a good one. That’ll live forever. Bust a Move will never die. (laughing) Just the rest of the tracks will.”
1. Third Eye Blind: Third Eye Blind
“I really liked that record. It was incredibly melodic. I think when I was just starting to get into music, they were my favorite band at the time because they were what was playing on the radio. That’s all I would listen to was pop radio and stuff like that. I remember when I first started getting into music, when I first got a guitar from my Dad and started learning how to play, that was the first record I broke down and started listening to with the ears of a musician. I started trying to learn everything and figure out ‘How do they get those kinds of sounds?’ This was even before I started recording, and I started to understand how a record is pieced together. ‘Why does this sound the way it does?’ Noticing all of those little details. Plus that record is just amazing. It’s such a good album. I remember spending a lot of time learning how to play Jumper on acoustic guitar. I was that guy at parties. I’d bring my acoustic guitar. There’s a fire pit, and maybe some people have some beers that they took from their Dad, and I’m playing Jumper on guitar. (laughing) I was the epitome of a ’90s high school movie, and that record helped.”
Shaun is currently on tour in support of his new Peel EP. There are a lot of good bands, but not a lot of performers. I’m glad I found Shaun, who satisfies both.
While Shaun Fleming of Diane Coffee began writing songs for his upcoming third full-length, the first two he wrote sounded maybe too much like the last album, Everybody’s a Good Dog. Also, the direction for the album changed, and these two songs no longer fit with the new concept. Not wanting the songs to just fade away, he decided to release them. Enter the new PEEL EP, a one-two punch of funk, soul, pop goodness he calls Psychedelic Motown.
The first song, Poor Man Dan, is based on a true story from Shaun’s childhood. An older kid in their Agoura Hills, CA neighborhood would tell the younger kids stories about the area that became like urban legends of the area.
“We were five or six. He was probably 13. He was just screwing with little kids. He was kind of a bad egg, but he told good stories,” Shaun says.
“One of them was about a guy who lived a block from us,” continues Shaun. The story went that his daughter died and he buried her in the front yard. It’s silly when you actually explain it. Then he would kill kids off the block that would come to his house — like, you could never go Trick or Treating at his house because he’d kill you and he’d bury you in his yard so his daughter would have friends to play with.”
“You know what’s funny too, is every time I drive past that house — if I’m in town sometimes I like to drive past my childhood house — I see that house and I still kind of get weird feelings. Even though I know that it was just some guy who then, for some reason, didn’t have any kids Trick or Treating at his house, but it still weirds me out.”
Song two, Get By, is Shaun’s example of three people who bury their pain and put on a smile through hard times. It’s a warning that we should accept rather than stigmatize or feel shame about the hardships of ourselves or others.
“This is just three examples of people dealing with things, says Shaun. It’s the out-of-work actor, and the person who’s going through mental problems, and the way we can just kind of hide that behind a half-smile and deal with it. Maybe there’s shame about talking about certain issues that you’re going through, even though most people are going through it.”
“We should be more accepting, and not stigmatize people going through certain things, he continues. We should be more open to talking and helping.”
Shaun feels like he might be done with songwriting for the upcoming third LP, but wants to get a producer for the first time, take the demos in, and work the songs out in the studio.
Diane Coffee plays the Beachland Sunday, November 5, where he and the band will play old songs as well as new, including songs from the upcoming album.
“I’m excited to go back to that vintage store,” says Shaun of the Beachland. “And the food is really good. Most times a venue is a venue is a venue. But it’s all the little things that come along with it. Like if you have a sound guy who’s always really fun, or you have a vintage shop connected, or if they serve really good food. It’s these little things you love about certain places. We always get really good crowds at the Beachland, and at the end of the day that’s the most fun. But the first thing I think about when I think about the Beachland is the really good food and the vintage clothing shop.