Traffic was bumper to bumper on the parkway. By the time I had navigated my way thru the land of "The Boss", passed Carlo's Bakery and arrived at Sinatra's boyhood home, I was ready for whatever musical surprises these unknown local bands could deliver.
It was IPO 2001 I believe, and each band performed a short set of glorious, jangly, melodic guitar pop, New Jersey style. Anderson Counsel, Copperpot, and Evelyn Forever all brought their "A" game. One would expect nothing less when performing in Hoboken, the birthplace of baseball.
Ten years later I was headed for Los Angeles and the first night of International Pop Overthrow LA. I was traveling from the land of silent films (most films in the 20's and 30's were shot in Ft. Lee, NJ) to the land of today's reality shows and porn flicks. The irony wasn't lost on me.
Sitting in the bar after the the opening night of IPO 2011, I contemplated why a middle aged guy like me with a wife, kids, and responsibilities would fly all the way across the country to see a rock n roll show.
I scribbled these three reasons on my cocktail napkin:
1) The Bands
King Washington was a band I had never heard of but they immediately piqued my curiosity. All harmonies and hooks, someone standing next to me described them as almost "nilssonesque". One doesn't get a bigger compliment than that. King Washington is a throwback to Lennon, Nilson, and the energetic, sunny guitar pop of the late 70's and early 80's. And as good as they were (and they were good!) things were about to get even better.
Many of these shows have an epiphany moment, and this year would be no different. Lannie Flowers and his band blew me away. Live, I'd describe his roots tinged power pop as half Tom Petty, half Cheap Trick, and half Badfinger (there's a reason why my wife helps the kids with their math homework). Starting with Give Me A Chance from his first LP, Same Old Story, they launched into some great guitar driven numbers from Circles, one of last year's best LPs. Lyrically my favorite from that LP, Around the World, is about an insomniac's late night companion (TV) and was a high water mark to that point. Turn Up Your Radio would wind up a set truly memorable set.
The biggest name on the bill, The Records, had perhaps the most impressive and satisfying set of the evening. Making sure to play a couple of their hits, Starry Eyes and Teenerama, while offering up something new for the younger fans, they were a tour de force (that was forced to tour?). Liverpool 6512 and That Girl Is Emily (a song about Syd Barrett) are examples of how Wicks and company have matured lyrically while retaining the energy we've come to expect from this classic powerpop band. All hooks and new looks, they've cultivated an edgier, more substantive live sound that makes even the most grizzled veteran of IPO sit up and notice.
2) The Camaraderie
Whenever I've attended an IPO show I've run into people I know (or know of) but hadn't expected. This year it was John Borack, author of one of my favorite books from 2007, Shake Some Action, The Ultimate Powerpop Guide. Musicians often hang out in the rear of the venue waiting their turn to hit the stage, giving fans the opportunity to exchange pleasantries or, if they're lucky, have a brief chat with a favorite songwriter or guitar hero, maybe get their free IPO CD autographed.
And then there's the mysterious one, David Bash.
3) The Characters
The Grand Pubah of IPO and it's creator, David Bash, acts as your host for these shows. Dressed in all black, he is Johnny Cash on steroids, both friendly and frenetic. He's everywhere. I've often wondered what's under that ever present big black hat. He wears it indoors or out, night or day. Maybe there's a turntable under there...or the data recorders from the planes that hit the World Trade Center. Is his "do" more Don King or Dwight Youkum? The world may never know.
While sitting at the bar after the show, I had decided, after taking stock of the evening, that it had been well worth the extraordinary travel distance. In the morning I would board a plane back to the east coast knowing that the Boss (That's my wife, not that guy from Asbury Park) would be waiting for me with an extensive list of household items to fix. The dreaded "Honey do" list.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Don't tell my wife I said that.
Years ago while attending art school Rich spent many hours listening to XTC, The Records, The Heats, Plimsouls and other powerpop bands of that time. Many children's books, greeting cards and website designs later he finds himself (quite by accident) in the employ of a few powerpop artists. I'm not name dropping but they include, John Wicks, Paul Collins and many more.
Life has come full circle. You can find Rich at www.rossibook.com if your so inclined.
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