Quick Cuts
Commentary and concert photos by Jeff Rey
© Copyright 2004 NEON, blue door productions
All rights reserved
April/May 2004
An end-page review &
preview of things
current & cool
BONA ROBA - This Is Your Brain (Demo)
You can hit just about any of the downtown clubs in this town and hear what is now being defined as "garage-rock," or you can get a dose of the genuine thing from a band like Bona Roba. And while announcing you’re from Queens during cocktail hour may not score you the social points of being from the Lower East Side, Williamsburg or even the neo-now Bronx (Staten Island’s in a different state, isn’t it?) - it might be wise to toss those images of Camaros, big-haired girls and muscle shirts and remember that the Ramones also hailed from that somewhat musically forgotten borough. All that band did was forever change the face of music. We don’t think Bona Roba is out to change the world, but they are keeping alive the tradition of four guys banging out three-chord rock ‘n roll just ‘cause it feels so damn good. Neal LaFanta is certainly caught up in the spirit of things as he leads Bona Roba through a song like “In The Cut.”  With the energy of the early Stones and the camp bravado of the New York Dolls, the tune is also representational of the band’s live performance. The set I caught at the Luna Lounge was loose, loud and no less stimulating for being a bit off-kilter. If you’re looking for slick poseurs with just the right coif and cut of clothes, you won’t find ‘em here. Just honest, down ‘n dirty, hot ‘n horny rock ‘n roll. LaFanta’s vocals and guitar is joined by Louis Abbracciamento also on guitar and Phillip Sesso on bass. Recently departed is Bona Roba’s long-time drummer who’s moved to Italy to manage his newly acquired winery.  If you give a listen closely to the band’s “Welcome To Williamsburg” you might get a take on what Bona Roba thinks of the downtown scene. Meanwhile, they should be content in knowing they're the real deal.
Bona Roba - Real garage rock ...
down 'n dirty, hot 'n horny rock 'n roll
AM - Francophiles & Skinny Ties (Advance)
We’d heard that Brooklyn’s AM was a power pop band at one time in their history, but from the start of Scott Cleveland’s funky bass line that begins Francophiles & Skinny Ties title track it’s evident that they’ve at the very least taken a bit of a detour. This is still a catchy 8-song collection, but the punk grittiness of the second song “Inthecity (NYC)” really sets the pace here and the heavy metal approach to “Sex N Drugs” showcases that AM’s got a few tricks up their sleeves. James Jones’ urgent vocals and crunchy guitar lead the trio through a fast paced set of very distinct and clever songs. Each stand as unique compositions displaying the group’s versatility. A highlight is the dynamic “Quiet & Dayglo” - from its quiet Led Zeppelin like intro to a point where the powerhouse drums of Jarrod Ruby kick in – a very potent tune. That song and AM the band were just as impressive when we caught a recent set at Pianos. Ruby told us they were still cleaning up some of the bits and pieces of Francophiles & Skinny Ties in the studio at that time but that it’s due out imminently.
Photo - Jeff Rey
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THE VINES - Winning Days (Capitol)
In the spirit of full journalistic disclosure, I gotta tell you I got a thing for Australian rock bands. Part of that is ‘cause a lot of groups from Down Under have an enviable knack for taking the wildest and best elements of American rock and fusing it into their own unique perspective. Maybe it’s also got something to do with our shared history of the frontier, maverick spirit (that whole Outback and Wild West thing), or maybe over the years only the coolest of our records got sent over there. I don’t know. But I do know there was a period of time when hardly an Aussie rock band could come through this town without co-conspiring with NEON’s own debauched ways. To protect the incoherent, I ain’t namin’ names, but whether it was a formal record company sit-down or a casual backstage post-show chat, our get-togethers usually wound up turning into late night/early morning drinking marathons fueled by our mutual interest in wild music and even wilder story telling. These things happen. But, I don’t think the Vine’s frontman Craig Nichols would make much of a drinking mate. By most accounts, he’s a pot-smoking paranoid, bordering on the schizophrenic. That all sounds way too depressing for a party atmosphere. But the Vines’ new album,
Winning Days, does kind of rock – or, at least some of it does.
This follow-up to 2002’s Highly Evolved was recorded in the idyllic surroundings of the legendary Bearsville Studios up in Woodstock, NY, again with Rob Schnapf at the helm. Maybe the trip to that hippie enclave resulted in the Peter Max-rip psychedelic cover art. It may also be why the rare doses of “angry raw energy” on Winning Days come off sounding forced, if not false. '"Ride With Me," the lead-off track echoes the Highly Evolved hit single "Get Free" and sets a nice groove, but from there the album fails to deliver the free -spirited punch that we've been set up for. And when you name a song “Fuck the World,” perhaps there should be some ...  you know ... balls behind it instead of just a frantic hissy fit of shouting. When they first hit the music scene the Vines were viewed as fresh young, very aggressive – and very in vogue - followers of retro-garage rock. The blush is very much off the flower for this latest outing. It all makes you wonder about some of the Vine's highly publicized "spontaneous" outbursts of craziness when performing in front of a camera. The band came through NYC just before the official release date of Winning Days. No, we didn't hook up for a brew or two. Besides, Craig Nichols seems like the type that would barf on your boots before the night was over.
The Vines ... the raw energy of hippie angst?
DAY OF INFAMY - Red Autumn (Advance)
Day Of Infamy is a young band out of Florida that’s starting to make waves. And we don’t use that ‘young band’ description loosely. Lead singer/bass player Jeremy Morris is the senior member of the group at 19, while drummer King van den Berg is the foursome’s junior member at 11. In between is King’s 16 year old brother Michael on lead guitar and Jeff McMahan, 15, on rhythm guitar. And though based in Orlando, this is no Up With People, Mickey Mouse operation – so don’t expect any bubble-gum sing-a-longs
ala Hanson. Day Of Infamy’s debut single, “Red Autumn,” deals with the dark subject of mental and physical abuse. Such serious reflections coming from someone still going through the hellish emotions of growing up has genuine integrity and stark impact. But, this is a band that rocks, too. “Moment’s End” and “Drowning” show the group’s ability to get heavy and hard – and have fun with their music.  The influences are from the classic-rock school – you’ll hear quotes now and then from Metallica to Led Zeppelin – with blues-based rock being the main thread that runs through their sound.
            And although these guys are talented enough on their instruments, you won’t find any young prodigies here (except perhaps for the subtly powerful King behind the drum kit – time will tell), but it is refreshing to hear this stuff played seemingly for the sheer joy of it - without the inhibitions or career-move hang-ups that musicians seem to develop so quickly.
            Day Of Infamy have assembled a strong support group around them that have some pretty impressive credentials within the music industry. So there’s a real good chance you’ll be hearing more about them real soon. To help push that along, Day Of Infamy recently showcased their talents at the Whisky A-Go-Go in L.A. and here in New York at S.I.R. Studios. A Summer 2004 tour is planned. Music samples and the chilling video for “Red Autumn” can be found at
Day Of Infamy
photos: www.dayofinfamymusic.com
AM's James Jones
See more AM photos in the HOTNitesCOOLNites section
There are two ways to view the self-titled debut from Ambulance LTD. One way is to look at it as pure entertainment – because they are a pop band – and just groove to the lush production of the instrumentation and airy vocals. The other way is to look at it with an intellectual eye and view it
in toto as an artistic work – much in the same way that critics and fans examined the concept albums of the 60s and early 70s. You’re left with these two choices because that’s the way the album is presented. The CD booklet itself displays these two sides with a none-too-subtle impact. The four minimalist photographs of John Wilkes (printed on high-gloss paper like gallery pieces) are highly tactile close-ups of ordinary surfaces that suggest the astrophotography of distant planetary landscapes leading you to believe there is deeper meaning to what you’re seeing. Yet the two-page, extreme close-up of the group’s members that follows is the money-shot of a fashion ad. Bedroom eyes, morning after stubble, the hair mussed in just the coolest way. Didn’t we see this image, or one just like it, painted on an entire building side on Houston Street?

The music continues these two themes. Album opener “Yoga Means Union” is a sprawling instrumental that has as an antecedent (even in its title) the early works of Pink Floyd and their disciples – suggesting that something important, even cosmic is being said. Or – it is just a mood setter for what is to come. Take your choice. Either works, because “Primative (The Way I Treat You)” that follows (reworked from their critically acclaimed EP) is most definitely a pop song – from its Lou Reed-like street swagger to its lilting interludes, as is the country/folk-flavored “Anecdote” with its references to
White Album era Beatles. “Heavy Lifting” can be interpreted as power-pop until its gently guitar-picked, extended outro reminds you that this may be more serious than that. That overall feeling continues through to “Stay Where You Are.” The lengthy instrumental beginning hinting that something profound may be coming. Yet lyrically the composition can easily be read as a simple love song. At times teetering dangerously close to the edge of pretension, Ambulance LTD pulls it all off (on a musical level, at any rate) because of the solid melodic content of the material and because they know their instruments so well, especially vocalist Marcus Congleton – all this helped along by the very slick and involved production.  The music is mature, but this is a young band and at times their attempts at taking this recording beyond pop music seem a bit naïve – recall that the Beatles were road-tested media icons, with a long string of top-ten hits, a history of Magic Mushrooms, Transcendental Meditation and other muse-expanding experiences in their tote bags long before they attempted to turn pop music into high art – so they may have a way to go to fully realize their apparent goal. None-the-less, this is a very strong and satisfying album when listened to purely for its groove value. And as a work of art, Ambulance LTD show promise that they have something more to say and the ambition to find a way for us to hear it.