Watch: The Damnwells – The Bell House – Oct. 4, 2019

I’ve seen The Damnwells live more than any other band, with the exception of Warrant but they’ve been around a LOT longer and are still touring. When it was announced a few months ago that the original Damnwells lineup – Alex Dezen (vocals/guitar), Dave Chernis (guitar), Ted Hudson (bass) and Steve Terry (drums) – was reuniting for a show in NYC, I started pricing out flights. Unfortunately, the reunion show coincided with a work conference that I was going to in Seattle and there was no way I could make it NYC. I was thrilled today when I discovered longtime Damnwells fan/friend Gilly had filmed the entire thing and posted on YouTube.

So, here’s the show, in chronological order. If there is a certain song you want to see, click on the “1/13” icon in the top right of the player to navigate to different songs in the set.

Zeppelin vs Cry Wolf

You know that feeling when a certain song winds up playing on repeat in your head? This week, it’s been Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” from 1973’s Houses of the Holy.  It’s surprising to me that the song earned some negative criticism from Rolling Stone. Gordon Fletcher said,

 So it is that “Dancing Days,” “The Rain Song” and “No Quarter” fall flat on their respective faces — the first is filler while the latter two are nothing more than drawn-out vehicles for the further display of Jones’ unknowledgeable use of mellotron and synthesizer.

I often wonder what it was like to be a music fan during the ’60s and ’70s, when bands like the Beatles, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, etc were releasing new albums. There wasn’t MTV, there were no streaming services. There weren’t thousands of bands vying for your attention. Did somebody who bought Houses of the Holy love it on first listen or did they think, “Zeppelin has changed directions. What is this garbage?” the way that we listen – and judge – current releases in 2019?

In-the-moment reviews examined these works among the work of the bands’ peers the way we do today. They didn’t have the foresight that time gifts. The end of Fletcher’s review says,

Beck, Bogert & Appice, Black Sabbath, the Groundhogs, Robin Trower — the list is long and they all fare musically better than the Zep because they stick to what they do best. Page and friends should similarly realize their limitations and get back to playing the blues-rock that moves mountains. Until they do Led Zeppelin will remain Limp Blimp.

In retrospect, I wonder if Fletcher stands by those words or if, having heard Zeppelin’s entire discography and understanding Houses of the Holy‘s place within that discography, he might reconsider? I won’t proclaim that this is the best Zeppelin release, but, on my own discovery of the band, it was the second cassette I bought as I had worn out Led Zeppelin IV and was ready to hear more and when I started transitioning from cassettes to CDs, it was the first one I upgraded.

Having had the song in my head and then listening to it on repeat on both the recording on Spotify and one of the many live versions floating around on YouTube, it reminded me of this band that was barely a blip on the late ’80s/early ’90s hair metal scene, Cry Wolf. The L.A.-based band had released a self-titled album in 1989 that only hit record store shelves in Japan and followed it up, after signing with IRS Records, with 1990’s Crunch which included a handful of songs from the previous release.

Cry Wolf wasn’t into the lipstick and leather look or the party anthem themes. Yeah, they had big hair and may have sported leather pants, but they were a far cry from Poison, Pretty Boy Floyd, Warrant, etc. I saw them headline a show in 1990 at the Akron Agora, the home (at the time) for all things Metal Edge magazine. Looking back, I think they would have been a good tour partner with Kingdom Come – they were sort of rooted in that Zeppelin hard rock sound though, unlike Kingdom Come, didn’t come across as a soundalike … well … except for the song “Pretender” which appeared on both of Cry Wolf’s first two releases.

As I was listening to “The Rain Song”, I kept remembering “Pretender”, a song that, at the time, I really liked and I can see why now as it bears similarity to “The Rain Song”. I’ll let you be the judge to see if you hear what I hear.

Rebranding Atomic Ned launched in 2007 and was my place to wax poetic about bands I liked, post tour dates, provide links to new MP3s, interview artists I was a fan of, etc.

Life got in the way, other websites were launched, and became a site that I kept renewing just so I wouldn’t lose years worth of content.

I find that the radio stations I tend to listen to the most classify themselves as Classic Rock and when digging through record store bins, it’s albums from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s that are the first to catch my attention.

So, because I’m not quite ready to retire the URL and I still want to write about music … albeit older music … I’ve decided to rebrand and make it a blog about my comfort music, from bands that I’m intimately familiar with to bands that I’m just discovering some 20 – 40 years late. Not exactly sure what type of content you’ll find here – probably some album reviews, some band histories, and, if I’m able to pull it off, even some interviews.

Who would have thought that I’d be looking forward by glancing in the rearview mirror?

Thank you, Eliot Sumner

Thank you, Eliot Sumner

Rush, Ozzy and The Police were the first three bands that I ever got into as a kid, probably between the ages of 10 – 12. They shaped my music listening, they are the first bands that I stood in front of the mirror and pretended to be. Although, like most kids’ first listening experiences, I knew songs by those artists that I heard on the radio, not all the deep album cuts. But, then, in 1983, The Police released Synchronicity and it was one of the first albums that I ever bought with my own money. And because I spent my own money on it, I listened to every song, over and over. It didn’t hurt that that album had like 5 singles and was all over the radio.

I’m on some press email list and early this year received a link to download an advance copy of Eliot Sumner’s new album, Information. The Sumner name jumped out at me, if it had come in as “the new album by I Blame Coco”, I may not have even opened the email. I gave the music a listen and it spoke to me. As a lifelong Police fan, I’ve always been looking for bands that are influenced by The Police but am pretty particular and, so far, haven’t really found a band that meets my criteria. I thought, for a little while, that Mutemath might be that band – something about their earlier stuff reminded me of The Police but I don’t hear that in their newer stuff. And, of course, I’ve checked out Fiction Plane in the hopes that Joe Sumner would be like, “If I sound like my dad, I’ll sell millions of records.” I do hear some Police/Sting in Fiction Plane’s music but it feels to me like Joe is trying to forge his own identity.

I don’t think Eliot is coasting on her dad’s name but I think there’s an unavoidable influence that Eliot may not even be conscious aware of. I’ve only seen The Police once, on their reunion tour and I wasn’t in the first row but having seen a lot of videos, a lot of recorded live performances, etc, the way Eliot moves on stage, the way she holds and plays her bass, the way she throws in “ehh” and “ohhh” in the spaces in songs – like just sort of feeling the urge to sing into the mike – that all reminds me of Sting. There’s way she phrases words, ways she sing melodies, even the intense look on her face when performing that makes me think, “Yep, that’s Sting’s daughter for sure.”

I got to spend 15 minutes with Eliot, 10 of which she was doing an interview with my kid. I don’t pretend to know her in the least but in the very short time that I did get to spend with her – in addition to the 10 minutes after the show where I watched her interact with fans – she comes across as very genuine and, frankly, young. I think, because of who her parents are and because I vaguely recognized the “Coco” name, I was thinking she’d be an old, wise soul. She is, but she’s also a kid. She’s soaking up the “on the road” experience. She played in front of probably 25 people at the Big Room Bar (Columbus, Ohio) and, at the start of the set, people were leaving that “safe zone” between the audience and the stage. Two songs into the set, Eliot said, “Come on Columbus, get close.” She didn’t have to ask twice, everybody moved up. She has a presence that commands the audience’s attention. I don’t pay a lot of attention to lyrics but the songs on Eliot’s album seem to be full of heartbreak, desperation, sadness, anger, longing. Even though I couldn’t sing along with every word, these songs seemed very personal and, maybe, even cathartic. I don’t want to say that I think Eliot’s trying to find herself … I think she’s well aware of who she is … but I wonder what her next album will sound like, what topics the lyrics will touch on.

Music touches my soul. Good music gets into my blood and works its way through my body. A great live performance can transport me into another dimension, can make me feel like I’m the only person on the planet and the artist is performing just for me. These are all the feelings and emotions I felt while watching Eliot and her band. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt on the verge of tears at times, I was that moved by the music, by the performance.

Maybe it’s good that I’m nearly 45 years old. It was a perfect evening, from meeting Eliot and band before the show and watching my kid interact with her to seeing one of my favorite concerts of 2016 and, maybe, ever. I walked to my car and pulled up Eliot’s remaining tour dates on my phone. Tonight, there’s a show in Cleveland and the 25-year-old me (the same age Eliot is now) wouldn’t even give it a second thought – I’d be on 71 North by 5pm en route to the Grog Shop. And the 21-year-old me would probably follow Eliot around the Midwest, hitting shows within a 5-hour drive.

As it is, I hope Eliot stays on the road, continues to build a fanbase, is given opportunities to play in front of large crowds; the blessing and the curse of becoming obsessed with a band that you want to be “your band” – seeing Eliot in a small venue with 25 people is something I’ll never forget and having the chance to be close enough to watch her expressions throughout the show was captivating, but I wish her only the best and hope that she has the chance to be playing on much larger stages, where I probably won’t be able to be as close, so that others can experience the same thing I did.

Thank you, Eliot Sumner, for giving me something to write about.


I want to eat huevos rancheros with Donnie Fritts

Lilly Hiatt posted that the Bitter Southerner was premiering a short, behind-the-scenes documentary about her album, Royal Blue. So I clicked. And while on the site, saw something else that caught my eye – “Undeniably Donnie – a film about the Alabama Leaning Man”. I didn’t know exactly what that meant but 20 minutes later had a decent understanding of who Donnie Fritts is and decided that a bucket list item for me would be to eat huevos rancheros with the legendary Southern keyboard player somewhere in Alabama.

Check this out.