Archive for Electric Mess

The Electric Mess, “Falling Off The Face of the Earth”

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Music, PLUGS, Rock and Pop with tags , on July 2, 2012 by travsd

Look, I won’t “jive” you, as today’s young people say. I had some trepidation about listening to the Electric Mess’s second album, Falling Off the Face of the Earth. Not because they are the Electric Mess, but because this is the second album. Will it suffer from “second album syndrome?” Will it just offer more of the same? Or worse, less of the same?

Well? Will it? Huh? Huh?

The answer is a resounding, echoey, distorted NO!!!

If anything, the new record sounds more ambitious (and accomplished)  from the stand-points of both songwriting and musicianship than their inaugural effort. At least that’s how it sounds to me. I haven’t listened to their first one The Electric Mess (reviewed here) in a while, but it seems to me that everything has gone up a notch. It sounds like since the last record the whole band has been practicing their scales and rudiments 24/7 and then passed around a bottle of Benzedrine before hitting the “record” button (or whatever one hits at the professional level). Guitarist Dan Crow in particular sounds like his fingers are on fire on just about every tune.

One (among many) of the stand-out tracks is “Tell Me Why”, driven by Oweinama Biu’s relentless organ riff:

Ow only plays organ on some of the songs, which is s shame because when it’s absent, ya miss it. He plays guitar on other songs, and sings lead vocal on  couple, including a call-and-response duet with Chip Fontaine/ Esther Crow called “Nice Guys Finish Last” which is kind of like “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” on uppers.

Half the tracks on the record vie for my favorite, including “Elevator to Later” which evokes the Jimi Hendrix Experience of “Crosstown Traffic” and gives drummer Craig Rogers a chance to shine; “Runaway Daughter” a sweet lament with just a hint of Beach Boys in the backing vocals; and “He Looks Like a Psycho”, the opening track which would be catchy enough to be the single in any kind of rational universe. Bassist Derek Davidson, who penned many of the best tunes, is conspicuously at the fore in the album’s title track (which he also wrote).

There’s much more to be said, but I want to make sure I post this in time to let you know about their two July 4 gigs:

Roberta’s Pizzeria, Brooklyn
Crif Dog Classic!
Independence Day celebration featuring live music, celebrity guests and a Crif Dog eating contest
featuring Kobi and nine of North America’s most talented eaters!!
LIVE MUSIC by The Electric Mess, The Wild Yaks, and Andy Suzuki and The Method
ELECTRIC MESS plays at 12:50- AND you can watch it on the web at!
Where: Roberta’s, 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206
When: July 4, 2012, 11 AM – 3 PM
Tix are only $10 but they will go FAST!


Studio Counts
279 Frost Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
(Graham Avenue Stop on L-Train)
4PM – ?

FREE coconut water from ZICO
BBQ offerings by THE SHOP

Featuring music from:
THE ELECTRIC MESS- *they play around 5:30

Have yourselves a psychedelic Independence Day!

Stars of the AVT #130: Esther Crow

Posted in American Vaudeville Theatre, Comediennes, Comedy, Indie Theatre, Music, Rock and Pop, Women with tags , , on July 21, 2011 by travsd

This post is one of a series profiling the hundreds of performers I’ve presented through my American Vaudeville Theatre in celebration of its 15th anniversary. Don’t miss the American Vaudeville Theatre’s 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza in the New York International Fringe Festival this August!

Esther Crow (nee Silberstein) is a modern day chameleon lady.

She has performed in numerous improv and sketch comedy groups in San Francisco and New York, including  Killing My Lobster, which won  “Best of Fringe” in the 1999  San Francisco Fringe Festival. Her solo show, People Like Us, premiered in the 2001 New York Fringe Festival, and received acclaim in the Village Voice: “…[Crow] writes and performs with charm and compassion.”

She is a co-lead singer in the all-female Devo cover group DEVA (formed 2004), and (in male drag as Chip Fontaine) the lead singer of the Electric Mess (formed 2007), which group I rave about here. It was the Electric Mess that brought her to my attention — several of their members were in the house band for my play Willy Nilly in 2009 and Esther was cast as one of the girls. Later that year, she really shone in my play Kitsch at Theater for the New City. The Electric Mess paid me back by casting me in this terrific video directed and produced by Piper McKenzie:

In June 2010, she premiered her one-woman variety show “Death is a Scream” at the Brick Theater as part of their “Too Soon Festival”. I raved about it here. More recently, I reviewed her in Piper McKenzie’s Bubble of Solace. Perhaps most exciting, she has a great role in this video by the New Pornographers for their song “Moves”:

What’s all this got to do with vaudeville, you ask? I’m glad you asked.

Earlier this year, Esther was in my variety show Trav S.D.’s Bohemian Theme Park at Dixon Place, performing as her crazy character Ethel Goldblatt (see photo above). Esther returned the favor by having me perform a couple of times in her terrific variety show Crow’s Nest at Zora Arts Space in Brooklyn.

Okay, that’s enough crowing about Crow…for today.

To learn more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


The Electric Mess

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Music, Rock and Pop with tags , on January 15, 2010 by travsd

There’s nothing messy – but plenty that’s electric – about the Electric Mess. They came into my life about 7 or 8 months ago, as though heaven-sent, when some of their core members emerged to be the “Five Hoarses” in Willy Nilly. Since then they’ve become friends and collaborators, so I make no claim of objectivity in the rave you’re about to read for their new self-titled CD. (On the other hand, just because they’re my friends doesn’t mean I’ve taken leave of my critical senses either. And, nice as they are, the odds are pretty good if they were, say, a James Taylor cover band, we wouldn’t be having this one-sided conversation).

The Electric Mess is what used to be called a garage band. These were the (mostly) one hit wonders who had their heyday circa 1965-67, and were influenced by the angriest, most primitive-sounding British groups like the early Kinks, Yardbirds, Animals and Rolling Stones (the Who didn’t really smash into the American consciousness until later in the decade). Their American muses included the recently electric Bob Dylan, and countless rockabilly and blues acts which had come before. Most of the garage bands seemed to ape the tinny, echoey sound producer Andrew Loog Oldham gave the early Stones, a crude, unpolished noise that gave the impression the musicians were playing in a garage. This, and the fact, that many of the bands were hatched in the suburbs by bored, angst-ridden middle class kids who literally practiced in the family garage, are the obvious origins of the name of the style. The uninitiated are hereby directed to the compilation album Nuggets, long the sonic Bible of all things garage.

But you no doubt know this already. I bring it up merely to put in relief the rather interesting phenomenon of five distinctly grown up people, with substantial 9-to-5 jobs, (and none of whom have garages) getting together and creating the convincing illusion that they are suburban teenagers from the LBJ era. I’ve given up asking why such miracles happen. The members of the Electric Mess will merely tell you they like this music; for whatever reason, it speaks to them. And that’s a pretty decent answer. After all, who wasn’t an angry teenager once? I often think of the classic garage tune “Just Like Romeo and Juliet”, or the Tommy James and the Shondells song “I Think We’re Alone Now” – numbers clearly inspirational to even such a non-garage artist as Bruce Springsteen. It’s an evergreen theme. Somehow or other, Shakespeare himself put himself into the shoes of Romeo and Juliet when he was already an established, well-fed Elizabethan institution.

The Electric Mess, then, are playing a role. (Viddy their unsmiling faces on the new album cover. “No need to look sullen,” said Ed Sullivan to the Doors, but sullenness, Mr. Sullivan, was their act). The original garage sound emerged organically from a specific time and place. It was a countertrend to the peace and love motif we usually associate with the 60s. And it’s remained with us, underground, ever since. “Proto-punk” is the other name given to the music. It knows no time. It is eternal. Look at Alex Cox’s version of The Revenger’s Tragedy. He didn’t “update” anything. The spirit was already there. And it’s this spirit, above all, that the Electric Mess are invoking. After all, by most measures, rock and roll has been dead for 40 or 50 years. All that has come since has been restatement, a formal exercise in a long dead form, quatrains in Latin, the stuff of Petrarch. There is no “older generation” for rock and roll musicians to rebel against. If Elvis were alive, he’d be 75 (there’s a rock couplet right there). Nowadays the divisions aren’t chronological, they’re philosophical. Half of us aspire to nothing more to making a pile of cash, or at the very least, fitting in. The other half wouldn’t mind making a pile of cash, but not at the cost of selling their souls. The promised rock and roll revolution has proven to be show biz. But so what? The frustration of youth is a legitimate and necessary color in the emotional spectrum. We can revisit it, as Shakespeare did, and activate our old bones in rhythmic sympathy. The Electric Mess is “Now” because their message is timeless.

And what’s the message? The squares were right when they first put it down: it’s one that predates civilization. It’s the sound of Angry Young Men. The message is, “I have hormones! I wanna beat somethin’! Somebody (my boss, the government, my old lady) has been lying to me, and that shit ain’t right!” I firmly believe that if the twenty-somethings of the Middle East were all to form garage bands, al Qaeda would not be a problem in the world today.

And here is where the Electric Mess gets more than interesting. Apart from the excellence of their music, the Electric Mess are also intriguing because their front “man” is actually the drag king Esther Crow, performing as Chip Fontaine. This is a level of theatricality of which Jean Genet would approve. Who can better play a beardless young angry man than a certain kind of woman? This is another turn of the screw. Patti Smith had appropriated Mick Jagger’s act, but she never said she was Mick Jagger. Yet, though Crow is an actress, I’d hesitate mightily to say that she’s an actress playing a rock and roller. The impersonation is too good. No, she is inhabiting that role, just as surely as Brando inhabits Stanley Kowalski. Her performance isn’t the act of a dilletente. She’s more authentic than most men who attempt to play the role. Which is especially ironic given the misogynistic nature of most of the material. It’s the nature of the beast, of course. Outraged bemoanings of betrayal are the fabric from which these tapestries are woven. Yet it’s a brand new kind of experience to hear a biological lady sing songs like “You’ve Become a Witch”, “Trash Talkin’ Woman”, and “Don’t Wanna Be Your Man”.  It would take a commentator far more feminist than me to sort out all the complications of such a multi-layered statement. Besides, I know these guys…so I know that the only statement they’re interested in is – bottom line – “This sounds real cool”.

That’s the essence of formalism, and this is where these guys really shine. When we were seeking musicians for Willy Nilly, I’m fairly confident that I dismayed my producers with my unrealistic insistence that we find musicians who were really authentic. When it comes to this stuff, I really am a ballbreaker. You either “get it”, or you don’t. More often than not, artists purporting to capture the sound of a bygone era inadvertently pollute it with anachronistic techniques. The bass playing and vocals on the soundtrack to the film version of Hair, for example, make me crazy – they are the sounds of the wrong decade. When I was talking to the Electric Mess’s bass player Derek Davidson the other night he volunteered the same example. I hadn’t prompted him. He had merely heard what I had heard and we happen to be among the tiny minority who care. So, not surprisingly, the Electric Mess’s debut CD is authentic to the max, making zero concessions or sops to contemporary taste. It sounds like Nuggets. Pure and simple. The integrity behind it, the fidelity to a certain aesthetic is a joy to behold. “I’m not in this for the money,” Derek told me the other night. He just wants it to sound right. And it absolutely does.

So. If you like the sound of pipe organ fillips, fuzzy guitars, crashing cymbals, and songs with titles like “Mondo Bongo”, don’t bother looking backward. The Big Sound for the Future is Right Now, Baby, But You Gotta Go Right  Here.

Dispatches from the Tribe’s Diaspora

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre, ME, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2009 by travsd


Mere days after the curtain closed on the last performance of Willy Nilly’s premiere run, I sought the company of my compeers wherever they now lurked. I found them scattered throughout the demi-monde, like so many orphans adrift in a theatrical gale, in no less than four separate shows, which I was able to catch in three consecutive days. Here is the madness I encountered:

On Tuesday, I caught Adam Swiderski (a.k.a Beach Nut Barney Carlson) with his musical outfit Supermajor performing the rock opera Viva Evel Knievel at the Brick Theatre. Penned by my compadre Lynn Berg (with music by Miriam Daly), this witty multi-media lark tells the bone crushing story of the All-American motorcycle daredevil, from his early jumps over mere parked cars…to his Quixotic rocket launch into the Snake River Canyon…to the Phoenix-like rebirth of the family franchise in the person of his son Robbie. Dry as the Nevada desert, the piece seems to walk a fine line between pure goof and genuine admiration for this larger-than-life mad man…a line only someone who’d been a kid during Knievel’s heyday could ever fully understand. Me, I fit that bill to a tee. Like Berg himself no doubt, I was one of the thousands who built makeshift ramps in his backyard, popping wheelies on his bike before sailing two or three feet into the stratosphere over piles of toys (and occasionally my sister, when we could catch her). Swiderski was well cast in the role, not strictly because of his white bread persona, but because he and Supermajor pull off these amazing songs (or parodies of songs?) with the assurance of, well, motorcycle jumpers. Ya either have a blast doing numbers about how someday you’re going to leap over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle…or ya flame out. I’m glad to say that in Viva Evel Knievel, no bones were broken. In the lingo of the cyclist, it was a Triumph.

On Wednesday, I went to see Rich Lovejoy (a.k.a talent scout Danny Weiss) do his solo turn in The Dark Heart of Meteorology at Under St. Marks. I’ve come to know Rich as the sort of actor who’ll say yes to everything, including getting naked at the drop of a hat — sometimes before the hat even touches the ground. In this piece (written by Stephen Aubrey, directed by Jess Chayes), he delivers another sort of nakedness, one quite unexpected. Granted the piece contains its fair share of surreal absurdities.  In the play, Rich is a tv weatherman in the throes of a nervous breakdown. Having fled his job and his family he inexplicably now travels around the country telling his story to groups at increasingly sad venues, from a college, to a high school, to a church basement, to a rehab center. The unpredictability of the weather is a metaphor for the senselessness of human tragedy in the monologue, and Rich’s chops, I learned, run the gamut from slapstick to pathos. It surprised me that he has access to sadness, but upon further reflection it shouldn’t have. He has a soulful quality, and we stay with him throughout his weird journey, and want more of it. The actual play needs to percolate some more, I think; it possesses potential yet untapped. But Rich mines what’s there, and it’s a solid performance. For info on tickets etc, go here.

After Rich’s show, I hied me over to Otto’s Shrunken Head to see the Electric Mess do their Yardbirds tribute. The personnel of the Electric Mess contains three members of the Willy Nilly company, Esther Silberstein (Nazi, the Fifth Hoarse), Derek Davidson (bass, musical director), and Oweinama Biu (Farfeesa and electric sitar). Here, they and their cohorts unleashed a string of note-perfect Yardbirds covers, including “Come Tomorrow”, “Heart Full of Soul”, “Evil Hearted You”, “For Your Love”, and 6 or 8 other tunes I didn’t recognize because they weren’t on the greatest hits LP I played as a teenager. Esther is a show-woman non-pareil, literally trotting out her Jaggeresque maneuvers with throat and boots to match. She and the band have done their homework. I was especially impressed by by “Evil Hearted You”, on which she sounded so much like the original I kept looking around to see if there wasn’t a DJ involved. Not be outdone, Ow took over the vocals on a couple of numbers, notably “Heart Full of Soul”, matching his frontwoman in both substance and style (which is really saying something).

Thursday night, I caught Willy Nilly’s star Avery Pearson with his sketch comedy group Really Sketchy at Shetler Studios. Avery began the evening on a high note, impersonating a sex-crazed bonobo wearing nothing but a pair of adult diapers. From here, he became a French Revolutionary during the Great Terror. And so and so. Here we should point out that Avery is a team player in an ensemble that also include Sara Lauren Adler, Duane Cooper, Mark Garkusha, John Calvin Kelly, Dani Faith Leonard and R. Elizabeth Woodard. (But I also espied Willy Nilly’s stage manager Guenivere Pressley in the tech booth. Whore! Whose light cues won’t you call?!) More imaginative and eclectic than your garden variety sketch comedy troupe, Really Sketchy was winningly pleasant until the second act, when they proceeded to dazzle. I thought I had written the mother of all fart sketches, but mine is but a foothill next to the Matterhorn that is Really Sketchy’s fart sketch. No stone is left unturned in this Rabelaisian romp, concerning one Harry Bottom, the “Phantom Farter”. The writing in this epic is top-flight, as are the acting chops of the cast, who are often called on to fake dramatic moments in this rags-to-riches story about a performing flatulist. See it if you dare; smell it if you must.

This little Whitman Sampler accounts for seven of our little Tribe. What can the others be plotting? Ah, my friends, my friends. We’re born, and then we die, all in a heartbeat of time…

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