Monday, April 18, 2011

Japan benefit: Fun, funny, helpful

The big Japan benefit concert went off without a hitch yesterday. Unless you count that two — count 'em, two — times  The Fools blew out the power at Ipswich Town Hall, where the hometown heroes first played back in 1946, as the opening act for Teddy and the Pandas. At least that's the story Fools' frontman Mike Girard remembers it. Maybe the story's in  “Psycho Chicken & Other Foolish Tales,” his new book which chronicles the band's 30-year (so far) run, and which he shamelessly flogged from the stage. Available at Amazon, by the way. It's all his fault anyhow. The power went out before he sang a single note. The singer had just asked the tech guy to make the mike sound "more manly." The adjustment proved to be, well, perhaps just a little bit too manly, transforming that special moment into the sonic equivalent of erectile dysfunction. Power was restored a couple of minutes later, only to tank seconds later — again, without a single Foolish note played. Leading the singer to suspect foul play. A conspiracy is how he put it. But a conspiracy that had good consequences for the audience. "We look better in the dark," he said. There's really no arguing with that, is there?

Actually, come to think of it, the Fools weren't even supposed to play as the Fools. They were supposed to back up Willie "Loco" Alexander, and they did — for one song, anyhow. A killer version of the Gloucester rocker's signature song "Mass Ave." Which he had played earlier in the day during his solo set. Well, just him and a drummer, anyhow. Virtually solo. Which is fine. It's a tune worth repeating. And a tune worth repeating. And a tune ... Actually, it fit in nicely with the whole vibe of the show, which was free-form and laid back. The schedule got tossed early in the five-hour benefit concert, which was organized — and kinda dominated — by Ipswich rocker Gary Shane, who played in at least a half-dozen of the bands.

What was originally supposed to be a short set with Asa Brebner and Robin Lane followed by a solo set by Lane, turned out to be a mini-Chartbusters reunion, with the former bandmates belting out old hits like "It'll Only Hurt a Little While" ("and then we'll be gone," Lane joked) and mega-hit "When Things Go Wrong." And while she confessed to being in a bit of a mood and channeling a little anger ("at the powers that be and the powers that don't be," she added cryptically) she clearly got it, that this was a time for community, even for strangers. She passed around typewritten lyric sheets of a tune written by one of her Songbird Sings students — SS is a non-profit group that offers songwriting and recording workshops for trauma survivors — who "wants to try do something to make the world a better place," she said, as she assembled an impromptu chorus that included Shane, Alexander and EJ Ouellette from Crazy Maggy, a surprise guest performer who played fiddle with Alan Laddd and the Abashed and mandolin with the Lane group.  It was the first time in a generation that the Shane Champagne Band had played together since the old "Shadow World" days. It was also the first time we heard Imojah & The Skylight Band
play "Land Down Under," the goofy Men at Work song ("Traveling in a fried-out combie/On a hippie trail, head full of zombie ..." Huh?) and managed to make it real.

The Fools also got into the impromtu, freeform feel of the event, taking their closing number, a tune that they had not played in a quarter-century, from a suggestion from "some guy in the parking lot" outside Town Hall. No, it wasn't "Satisfaction" or "Day Tripper" or, thank God, "Ticket to Ride," possible answers offered musically by guitarist Rich Bartlett when prompted by Girard. Nope, it was " Whipping Post," that uniquely Allman Brothers combination of angst, anger and completely over-the-top self-pity. Which, surprisingly, they played straight. Until after the guitar solos when Girard was supposed to light up the big finish, but was nowhere in sight and the song came to a complete halt, almost as if someone cut the power. Or blew it out. Confusion. Then he came running across the basketball court and vaulted onto the stage. Where was he? Um, he wanted to see if the girls locker room was in the same place as the old days, back during the Roosevelt administration, as you'll recall, when Town Hall was known as Ipswich High School, and cute little bands like Teddy and the Pandas ruled the airwaves, mercifully for weeks at a time. They picked it up, they nailed it down, the knuckleheads. Fabulous cover of a song ripe for parody. Knuckleheads.

Organizers are still figuring out the bottom line, but it looks like the event pulled in a couple grand for relief efforts in Japan. Just a drop in the bucket, of course, but a start. All the dough will be turned over to Global Giving.

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