Welcome to the Brain Surgeons Gig Reviews page!! Here I'll be gathering together all the Brain Surgeons Gig-related gig reviews, reports, images, clips - anything - that I'm able to get my hands on.
By the way, in case you're wondering why there are no dates for 1999, there appears to have been no Brain Surgeons gigs in that year. Unless you know better?
Anyway - have you got anything to contribute to this page? Reviews, missing gig support band/venue information, ticket stubs, posters, handbills etc etc - if so, let me .
I went with Carl and Tania and we met up with Dave Kuznick, John Swartz and a few others from the BOC-L list. It was a fun night as Al Bouchard and Deb from the Brain Surgeons are on the list and so we got to meet them. They gave us free t-shirts and signed autographs etc..
They only got to play for like 35 minutes but it was great. Only one guitar player at this show, as Billy Hilfiger could not make it.
The set list was:
"Where everybody shrieks your name."
Spirits Tavern in Auburn NY gives me the overall feel of many a small tavern. Its by no means fancy, and by no means a dive, just your neighborhood place where folks might gather in small clusters after a hard days work to maybe tip a glass or three, possibly to chow down a burger, or shoot a game of darts. Just another bar in just another town. I half expected George Wendt to come lumbering through the door.
My friends and I arrived at the bar early enough to catch the Brain Surgeons as they went through the tedious task of setting up instruments and checking sound levels, and I could not help but notice that they seemed to truly be enjoying what they were doing. Here is Albert Bouchard, who once had crews of underlings to do these necessities for him in sold out arenas and massive venues that held more people than the small city I live in, rolling up his sleeves and getting the job done. We watched them set up and then crank out a nice test run of the equipment on and Roll that we were all eager ourselves to have fired at us from point blank range.
"We're gonna try to do 33 songs tonight. Hope we can remember all the words."
We met with Albert and Deb before they took the stage as they hung with Helen Wheels, who has written and co-written many a Blue Oyster Cult and Brain Surgeons tune. The thing that kept going through my head was how much better this was than seeing "Rock Gods" in a huge stadium, where they are so far away and impersonal that it could be anyone up on that stage gyrating to the music and you would not know the difference. Albert is a very (understatement) nice guy who seemed as genuinely excited about meeting fans as we were of meeting him. The same can be said about all the Brain Surgeons, a better bunch of folks you WILL NOT find. Albert told us they were going to try to nail down 33 songs in 3 sets that night, and we got just what he promised. But we got more, we got alot more.....
The band took the stage at 10pm and proceeded to kick off the ballistic marathon evening with a set of 11 songs, featuring several from who probably didn't know who the band was seemed to be getting into the tunes, while a pile of us BOC/Surgeons fans who knew what to expect from the band hooted and thumped from our tables.
Set one consisted of:
The first thing that hit me was how clear and honest the band was. The sound was perfect. It was loud, but not so that you lost your eardrums on the first tune and then heard nothing but rumbling through the rest of the set. Everything seemed to be perfect, from clarity right down to vantage point. I settled into my seat, tapped my foot, and let the band have their way with me. "Gun" opened up the set nicely, a driving rocker that loosened up the bands muscle, and might have shaken a cobweb or two from the rafters. Another highlight of the first set was Billy Hilfiger's champion performance on "Tender was the Night", showing that he is indeed a top notch axe wielder. Deb Frost's vocals, something that either makes or breaks people I turn on to Brain Surgeons music, sounded fantastic, a vocalist that really must be heard live to be appreciated. A gentle screech here, a loving shriek there, this woman shows the crowd no mercy, and when it comes to Deb, we expect none.
But easily the highlight of the set was when the band clawed its way through the BOC classic "Dominance and Submission". Deb lender another guitar to the sound and Albert proved once again what a drumming presence he is, as sticks shattered and hi-hats teetered and wobbled under the onslaught that is Al Bouchard seated in his favorite gunner's seat.
"Second Verse, same as the first."
The second set kicked off after a short break where the band mixed, mingled, and got very friendly with the crowd.
The second set songs were:
This set seemed much more laid back than the first. Perhaps the band used it as a breather from the first assault and saved up reserves for the mountain of tunes that were still to follow in the next set. Peter Bohovesky showed off his sense of humor when he took the vocals on his song "Donkey Show", and Deb & the Boys got funky with a much different and hornless arrangement of "Soul Jive". Tunes like "Hansel & Gretel" and "I'm on Fire" saw the band having fun with the crowd and settling things into a groove for a while. Once rested up, the band used this set to tear into some of their heavier stuff, with the transition from the sometimes soft-spoken "Kiss is a Promise" going nicely into the fire and brimstone of "666 (Devil got your Mother)". Albert once again flexed his drumming muscle on the drum-laden "I Play the Drums", and once again I shook my head in wonder at how the man does it so well.
"Hammering in the final nails"
Another quick break of mixing and chatting with the fans and the band stood, cracked their knuckles and went back to doing what they do best. In a set that leaned heavily towards songs from the first Brain Surgeons album "Eponymous" and some classic well worn BOC material that Albert had stashed away in his bottomless bag of tricks, the band used the last ounces of sweat still in them to finish of the "marathon".
The band didn't seem to lack energy as they ripped through set 3. At this point even the locals seemed to pick up on the vibe of the band (or perhaps their drinks had kicked in enough) and they started to really get into the music. One of the highlights was Deb and Al trading places on stage, with Deb taking over skins duty while Al stood center stage with a guitar as they did a fantastic version of the classic Al-era BOC tune "Death Valley Nights". The show closed up with Deb's voice finding new screaming reserves on the kicking "Name your Monster", and Al took over once again on vocals with a song that all die-hard BOC fans will forever associate with the man, "Cities on Flame". This pounding and thumping version was a perfect closer to a night of both old and new classics meshed together in symmetry.
"One more song.... One more song...."
Well, Albert & crew had accomplished what they had originally set out to do. They promised us 33 songs and unless the official Brain Surgeons abacus is incorrect (they should get that thing calibrated now and and said their goodnights, but the audience was far from ready to let them get away. As the crowd clapped and cheered for one more song, the Surgeons didn't fight it. Sliding back into his cockpit and strapping himself in, Albert led his band through a rocking and rowdy version of "Operation luv" from the latest album. This got the crowd on their feet and jumping like frogs on a battery charger. As the song ended and the band made their way away from the twisted and smoking remains, Billy Hilfiger offered up an impromptu performance of BOC's "Last days of May", with the audience singing along with him.
"Shutting down the machine."
And so after 35 songs in 4 hours, the band said their respects to a still hungry crowd. They closed up the set, wiped off the grease paint, mopped up the blood and entrails and packed up the "Big Hair Rock show" (as Deb called it), and slipped away into the night. Far away and so many years from the sold-out arenas and their impersonal division between band and fans, I felt like I had participated in a rare moment in time that nobody in that room was soon to forget, from either side of the mic stands. I certainly wasn't disappointed. Christ, how could I be?
"A Christmas Wish"
Once upon a time, many many years ago, when I had a bit more hair and less of it was graying, I must have made a wish. I don't remember doing it, but I certainly must have walked out into the cold air late one night and released a wish into the heavens, expecting nothing in return. And on that night I might possibly have wished that there were TWO Blue Oyster Cults, because I loved my favorite band so much that one of them was not nearly enough to keep me satisfied.
Or maybe I just stepped out to take a leak. I don't know, it was so long ago.
But anyway, on December 26th, with my head and belly still full to bursting with Christmas cheer, I popped into a little club in Ithaca NY called "The Haunt" to watch former Blue Oyster Cult drummer Albert Bouchard and THE BRAIN SURGEONS perform live. I had seen The Brain Surgeons live before when they were the sole performers doing several long sets, but I had never seen them perform just one standard set, sharing the stage with other bands.
Two other bands set the mood for The Brain Surgeons and warmed up the crowd. A local band WEEP opened things up, and then HELEN WHEELS took the stage. Helen has written many a Blue Oyster Cult and Brain Surgeons tune, and if you ever get the chance I HIGHLY recommend catching her live, though the diminutive Helen has enough on-stage chutzpah that "catching" her might be a poor way to word it.
The Brain Surgeons are guitarists Billy Hilfiger and Peter Bohovesky, bassist David Hirschberg, drummer/vocalist Albert Bouchard, and vocalist/guitarist (and part-time drummer) Deb Frost, a woman with a voice that can swing effortlessly across many extremes. The five members took the stage last and opened up with "St. Vitus Dance", a severe little rocker that set the mood and got us all up and cavorting. The quality of sound was just perfect, and even at point blank range to the amps the music never became painfully loud as it blew my hair back. The band played 14 songs in total, with a nice mix of Brain Surgeons and Blue Oyster Cult material from BOC's "Albert Era". Although the song order probably isn't even close (I was too busy hooting and howling to write down a proper set list) the set consisted of:
Highlights include "Laura's Plastic Swords", a favorite of mine from the BOX OF HAMMERS album, and a song that is just so much fun live, with the band exaggerating the slow, drawn out pauses in the song's structure. Most Brain Surgeons songs, both in lyrics and overall mood, dive head-first into gloomy and murky depths, and at the very least dangle their toes in it. But on-stage the Brain Surgeons are out to have fun and to make sure the audience does as well. When a band is having a great time, it's very obvious to a crowd cheering them on. Regardless of whether you are a fan of their music or not, you can't possibly come away from a Brain Surgeons show without a smile on your face. It did my heart good to see Guitarist Billy Hilfiger, an incredible performer who is currently battling some health problems, on-stage and just ripping it up. The vibes from the rest of the band and the smile on Billy's face is more proof that someone doing what they do best and enjoying every second of it is the best possible medicine there is.
During the crowd-pleaser "I Play the Drums", Albert Bouchard slapped out an incredible drum solo that was born on his drum kit, and had a long and rhythmic life on every hard object in and around the bar. Table-tops, barstools, glasses, bottles, floors, support beams, and every other item that got in Albert's way came alive with rappings and tappings and poundings. A one-man version of STOMP, there was no stopping Albert as he wandered drumming about the place like a madman possessed, and certainly nobody wanted to see him stop. A bit winded and bubbling with sweat when he finally made it back to his throne, he needed no breaks as he stormed and bashed his way through the rest of the song.
The band showed off a new song "Needle Gun" from their latest album MALPRACTISE, and it was an instant favorite. Loud and thundering enough to crumble sidewalk slabs, "Needle Gun" was intense enough that I'm sure somewhere the late Rob Rudich, whom the latest album it appears on is dedicated to, was tapping his feet and clenching his fists. "Donkey Show" found Guitarists Peter Bohovesky and Billy Hilfiger on vocals doing a wild & crazy version of this hilariously warped little ditty, and they make as good a team comically as they do musically.
And so, standing amidst the other happy fans, I couldn't help but think how wonderful it was to have this band. Blue Oyster Cult was such a powerful force at one time, and now it seems like there are two bands on this planet that can equally please this fan of theirs. Whether I am watching BOC perform "Don't fear the Reaper" or the Brain Surgeons play "Dominance and Submission", I know that a wondrous thing that was born in BOC many years ago is still alive in this universe, and existing in two places at the same time. And with my Christmas wish of long ago having come true, I smile and look forward to my next Brain Surgeons show, which can't come soon enough for me.
Sometimes I am the luckiest kid in the world.
I have spent more years than not on this planet an intensely passionate fan of BLUE OYSTER CULT. They provided most of the background music to the events of my life as they unfolded. So when Albert Bouchard formed THE BRAIN SURGEONS it felt almost as if this force that keeps my musical soul going from day to day had split like an important stock and doubled itself for its investors. So what better way was there to celebrate my 35th birthday than by seeing BLUE OYSTER CULT play live a week before, and THE BRAIN SURGEONS play a few days after.
Like I said, sometimes I am the luckiest kid in the world.
I arrived at THE HAUNT in Ithaca, NY a few hours before the bands really started slapping it around, and was treated to the sounds of the Surgeons (minus guitarist Billy Hilfiger) warming up the equipment and their muscles. Standing there at point blank range listening to them play in a bar that was (not to sound pessimistic) more empty than full, I started feeling like I was being treated to a private gig by one of my favorite bands, something every kid often dreams of. The Surgeons sounded scrubbed, prepped and ready to start slicing, although there was a blatant hole in the sound where Billy Hilfiger's guitar normally would be, and I knew that at full complement they were going to be on fire once again.
10pm saw STATIC CLING take the stage and start things off nicely. STATIC CLING is basically Helen Wheels's band... without Helen. They played an impressive set and were then joined by Helen, who jammed through several of the songs that appeared on her new "Archetype" CD that was being released that night. Helen, a pumped up Mighty Mouse of a presence on stage, set the mood right for what was to follow.
With all five of THE BRAIN SURGEONS in the house, they took the stage and slammed their way through a set that was full of nice surprises. The sound was loud, crisp, and clear with plenty of space between each instrument's sound. Guitarist Billy Hilfiger exploded onto the stage wearing a bizarre looking object over his head, which he later explained was what "they use to hold down your head when you don't want it held down". Looking much like a High Priest from a cult that worships the Nerf basketball hoop, it showed the humorous side of this band that always seems to be having a good time playing for us. When a band has fun, the audience has fun, and the Brain Surgeons were having BIG fun.
The set list, jam-packed with unexpected songs, went roughly like so:
Many BOC/Surgeons fanatics reading this are probably already as surprised by some of these songs as I was when they core-drilled my head with them at the show. Before launching into "Stairway to the Stars" , Albert introduced the song as one of the very first he ever wrote with BOC, which had a special place in his heart. I myself would never have chosen the song as something I thought I might like to hear The Brain Surgeons do, but they did a phenomenal version of it, possibly one of the best versions of it I have ever heard.
The highlight of the show for me was the inclusion of "The Revenge of Vera Gemini". This song, which for a long time now has had to carry the responsibility of being my absolute favorite Blue Oyster Cult song, is one that Brain Surgeons fans have been begging the band to play for a long time. Like the eerie meshing of the voices of Albert Bouchard and Patti Smith on the BOC version, Albert and vocalist Deb Frost sounded, as always, perfect together. Being new to the Surgeons set list, there were of course some minor confusion in the lyrics. This only seemed to heighten the sense of merriment that the Brain Surgeons have while jamming on-stage. In fact, during the thunderous rumblings of "Needle Gun", Deb screwed up a verse so bad that she held out the microphone to a fellow Brain Surgeons fanatic named Jason and suggested that he "probably knew the words alot better than her". A cheer went through the crowd as Jason, without hesitation I might add, grabbed the mic and started singing. This kind of one on one with the people that love their music, both on-stage and off, is what makes the Brain Surgeons such a class act to see live.
During "The Red and the Black", another song that I never expected The Brain Surgeons to have a go at, Albert vaulted from his drummer's perch and grabbed a guitar, joining his bandmates up front. For years BOC had entertained it's fans with it's trademark "5 guitars", and like "The Revenge of Vera Gemini", it was something the Brain Surgeons fans had always wanted to see their band do. Five guitarists lined up on a stage and just wailing away is truly spectacular to behold, and a unique sound altogether. Not thinking the show could get any better than that, I was somewhat awestruck when Albert Bouchard made his way down off the stage with his guitar and tucked into a tight ball of energy and worked it for all it was worth... a mere 10 inches away from me! The floor was pretty opened up and most of the people in the bar were hanging back, so here I was standing center ring in the Surgeon's three ring circus of wonders, watching a guy whose albums I would save up pennies to buy as a kid play guitar like he was possessed by the spirit of Hendrix! The hair stands up on my neck when I think of it now. Whoops, there they go again.
It was towards the end of the set that Helen Wheels returned to the stage to jam with The Brain Surgeons. Helen and Deb seemed to really have a good time together and Helen fit nicely in the Surgeons lineup. Starting off with a song called "Niagara Falls" off her newly released CD, it was a treat to my then throbbing head to hear them slide into the Helen Wheels written BOC classic "Tattoo Vampire". Starting off with it's unique "waka waka waka" guitar that every BOC fan knows so well, Helen jammed and strutted and showed off her own tattoos (and biceps) through a howling rendition of this intense song.
It was the end of the set and the end of the night and the crowd didn't want to see the Surgeons leave yet. As tired and soaked as they were in the overly warm atmosphere, they asked the crowd what they wanted to hear. Several voices rose up (including my own) and called out "I Play the Drums", knowing that what would follow would be more than just a quick tune and a hasty departure. Albert's trademark "drum solo' song snapped and crashed as he did what only he can do on a small drum kit. I guess you could say that the entire world is Albert's drum kit, as he soon leaped from his seat once again and played nearly every "smackable" surface in the bar. At one point he even disappeared out the door only to come back in and towards the stage with his guns a-blazing.
A Brain Surgeons gig is something that no human being with any sense of what is fun and what is lame can not help but have a good time at. They amaze musically, they entertain happily, and they always give 100% of themselves, never holding anything back. This was the third Brain Surgeons show for me, and one that had it's own unique flavor and feel. There were times when I swore that they were doing it all just for me and me alone.
Like I said, sometimes I am the luckiest kid in the world.
I helped move gear in and out for both bands and this was one of the most entertaining evenings I've had in many a year.
tBS were the headliners, so to speak, but the crowd were definitely there to see both the X Bros and tBS. A few fellow onliners from several states attended the show. The place was pretty much packed out wall-to-wall.
There was an opening act ('80's - '90's metal covers), but I didn't take note of their band name. They didn't have much of a following at the club.
I believe the X Bros. had played in Elmira N.Y or somewhere close-by in upstate NY the night before.. not sure though. The X Bros. set list:
The Brain Surgeons followed after a short break... their set was:
There were no tBS encores per se.
Joe played guitar on The Red And The Black and all members of both bands combined participated in the remainder of the set list.
Joe handled lead vox on DFTR, Simple Man, Mississippi Queen and Johnny B. Goode... played guitar (most all of the leads) on all tunes in the combined-bands set.
Andy Hilfiger played bass and David Hirschberg and Deborah Frost played guitar and sang backing vox.
Albert sang lead on TR&TB + CoF, sang backing vox on the remainder, and played guitar, Mandocaster and percussion.
Jimmy Cacala took care of the drumming for the combined jam.
An unknown other party and the bar owner, Dirty Bob also played cowbell.
They had a good pseudo-rendition of the 5 Guitars going on several occasions during this combined jam.
First of all the 31st Street Pub is a strip bar during the day, and at 10 pm, the bands then play where the naked ladies dance during the day!
Anyhow The X Brothers played first and they did some Blue Oyster Cult as well - an excellent version of ETI(Exterrestial Intelligence) stands out in my mind. Joe Bouchard handled lead guitar and lead vocals.
The Brain Surgeons played next and included an awesome acoustic version of Astronomy. The night ended with both brothers and various members of both bands doing a Blue Oyster Cult set.
Highlights were Hot Rails To Hell, Me262, Cities on Flame (With Rock N Roll), Frankenstein (from Imaginos), The Revenge of Vera Gemini, Godzilla (where I got to jump up onstage and shout Godzilla into a microphone!) and closed with Al bringing out a huge cowbell for Don't Fear The Reaper.
Afterwards all members of both bands stuck around and talked to everyone, Joe Bouchard gave me a guitar pick and later when I was talking to Albert, he took a flyer for the show down off the wall, autographed it and gave it to me. Both were very nice and easy to talk to, no rock star attitudes.
An evening of firsts for me. First time seeing the Surgeons as a power trio, first time at the Baggot Inn, first time at a club gig since the NYC smoking ban went into effect, and probably a couple more firsts if I wanted to think about it a bit more.
The Baggot Inn is a cozy little place, and since I don't smoke, made all the more pleasant by the smoke-free atmosphere. Pleasant enough, in fact, that I might make more of an effort to overcome my usual disinclination to go to bars to see bands.
The setlist was nice mix of old and new (and available on the Cellsum website): Dr. Music, Name Your Monster, Cities On Flame , Il Duce, State of Emergency, Time Will Take of You, Language of Love, Godzilla
Overall the show was pretty good. There were a few rocky moments - starting with Dr. Music when Albert's mike stand kept falling over forcing him to grab it and reset it while playing and singing or sing with his chin on his chest. That got sorted out by the end of the song, though.
There was a false start on one song somewhere as well, and in a few places a little rust showed through. Then, of course, there was the anti-climax of what I think was a bass drum-pedal giving way on the intro to Godzilla making the question, "What is it, what does it sound like?" have an answer of a sort of muffled thwack. However, such minor bits of equipment failure pale next to the legendary Pyramid Club gig of '95.
That aside, though, the show was quite good. I was interested in seeing how they worked as a trio, and the answer is very well, thank you very much. Deb turned in a more than creditable job on guitar, no mean feat since she's filling two complete sets of shoes. David was as always a pleasure to hear and Albert remains a joy to watch in action.
One of the high points of the evening was Il Duce, a song which was new to me and which I believe I heard Albert say that BOC had recorded for the Fire of Unknown Origin album, but which wasn't released. Il Duce is a David Roter song, and I was sorry to hear that he was no longer with us - the latest in a list of BOC/BS/Bouchard collaboraters to pass away. Here's hoping the Brain Surgeons record this track for their next album.
This was the first show in the latest tour, and it promises to be a good one. With just another couple shows under their belts, the rust will be knocked away leaving nothing but the steel beneath.
Jeff-Bob says check it out. (tour dates also on www.cellsum.com)
copyright 2003 Jeff Berry
Just got in home from a long, tiring, expensive but excellent weekend in Paris.
Sadly there were quite a few late cry-offs, so the final roll call was myself and Sue, Jack (Gil Blanco), Georg, and Franco (who some will have met on the BOC UK Tour) and his wife Jackie; plus Dom, who was acting as driver, roadie and general dogsbody for the band. For those of you who missed it, for whatever reason, you missed one hell of a weekend!
Saturday night .... the "Tribute Night" was held at a pub-venue just off the Champs Elysees. A good atmosphere, excellent burgers, but for one who hadn't been to Paris for some years, horrendously expensive beer - £5 a pint for Heineken .... There was, though, the added benefit that I learned that Leeds had probably beaten Blackburn - a good omen for the weekend!
The show itself started with some videos shown on a big screen - Black & Blue, the Ricky Browning benefit, and (I think) Live '76. The hinted-at covers band mysteriously evaporated, to be replaced by an impromptu show from the Brains. They played for 75 minutes or so .... and to say that the band had landed at 7am Paris time, and finally got on stage at around 10.45 pm, they were superb!!
The set was geared towards BOC stuff, and after hearing songs like "Cities on Flame" played exactly the same way for 20-odd years, it was refreshing to hear a different take on some of these numbers. Not to mention songs buried in the vaults, as far as BOC are concerned - notable Vera Gemini.
Having read Todd's review of the show he saw a few weeks ago, and having never had the chance to see tBS before, we weren't too sure what to expect. Vocals were rotated between Al, Deborah and David, as were guitars and basses.
And while there was the odd bum note, and I think they got slightly lost once during Godzilla, it was a pretty damn tight show. I'd certainly be happy to travel to Paris (if not much further!) to see the band again!! And all those who were at the BOC Milton Keynes show this year should take note. Jet-lag needn't mean a lacklustre show .....!
As it was, we had to wait just one night, and travel a few miles, to see them again.
Sunday night was at La Locomotive, a rock venue right next door to the Moulin Rouge. Compared with the previous night, the show was a little disappointing. Not because of the band - they were rocking again, and the setting of a "proper" stage seemed to life things somewhat. But the format of the evening (4 bands, all of whom had to be cleared so the venue could reopen for ANOTHER show at 9pm) meant that they were limited to 45 minutes. (And it was quite bizarre coming out of the venue to the remains of a fine day, before 7pm ....)
A shorter set, obviously, than Saturday; nothing different, but missing Vera Gemini, D&S, Red and the Black and Reaper. Good fun, but we were just getting into the swing when it was time for them to go. And if I'd gone all the way to France just for that shorter set, I'd probably have come away feeling somewhat short-changed.
Thanks to all three of the Brain Surgeons for some fine entertainment. Thanks to Deborah for the t-shirt - it more than made up for the verbal abuse!!
Given that on Saturday night they'd been doing much of the gear-shifting themselves, on top of minimal sleep, they showed endless patience - and kindness - in taking the time to talk to us, and to humour the usual requests for photos, autographs etc.
Most of all, thanks to Dom Berard for making it all possible. I hope he enjoyed it as much as we did!!!
Next time around across the Channel perhaps ....?!
Saturday night, and on to CBGBs. It was a strange feeling, knowing how many bands had started out there. It's much smaller than I expected - so small that the stage is set at an angle to the room, to make it a little larger. It's dark, low, the walls covered with aged graffitti and posters for a million bands you've never heard of. We were told by the locals that the whole area was pretty unpleasant back in the 70s and 80s; and that it had been unwise to visit the toilets (in the basement) unless armed. Seriously....
First up were The Shirts, who have apparently been perennial support at CBGB's for over 20 years. Some good stuff, and you could hear elements of Blondie and Talking Heads (amongst others) in what they did. Bass, Guitar, two Keyboards and a female vocalist; although lead vocals were shared around at least four of them, that I can remember.
Then the Brains. I'd only seen them live before as a three-piece, in Paris just over a year ago... and this was a strange contrast to those shows. The first 9 songs were all from the new album; and on first listen, didn't seem to have the variety of, say, Beach Party. And much less memorable, too - although to be fair, that could be due to not having heard any of this stuff before - it always makes a difference to know the things you're listening to.
However... the addition of Ross the Boss is huge. Much as I enjoyed the Brains in Paris, hearing them with him you realised just how much had been missing - it rounds out the whole sound of the band - and he really is a pretty damn good guitarist. And when they did get on to some BOC stuff (Tattoo Vampire, Cities and D&S) it was good to hear a different guitar interpretation - the BOC version of "Cities", in particular, does seem to have got very stale over the years.
Looking to London next week, and it'll be interesting to see if they mix things up a bit more, or whether they follow a similar pattern - if they do, I think one or two people might be a bit disappointed...
All in all, it was a really good night - and we were very impressed that Deborah remembered us!
Roll on the 100 Club...
Saturday night in NYC was simply one of the best I've had in a long time.
Paul called sometime after 4:00 from their hotel, said they were thoroughly knackered (sp?) from a long day of sightseeing all over Manhattan, but would still be up for dinner in a couple of hours. Earlier in the day I'd used that menupages website I'd posted in the BBK's thread to do some research on the East Village restaurants in the CBGB area. Amidst the 23 Indian, 9 Thai, 5 Moroccan, 4 Vietnamese and 80 other restaurants, I zeroed in on a Burmese place, a Tibetan & a Thai place that were all convenient to the club. I had an Indian place as a backup, but I was hoping that the Yorkshire folks would be up for something perhaps a bit more exotic, which they were. I was eager to try the Burmese place again from previous experiences with their food back when NYC was our home, so we settled on Mingala.
Our train from Jersey in to Hoboken ran 12 minutes late, but the PATH train under the Hudson left promptly. We got out at 6th Ave & 9th St and walked eastward on streets I know like the back of my hand; always a good feeling just to be strolling around the Village, be it East, Central or West.
Paul, Sue, Simon & Mhairi were already there & had gotten us a table. The food was very good (young ginger salad, sigh, I could eat that every night), the service was gracious & prompt, but the company was best; it was just great to be able to spend some time with you folks. I hope that you get back for a longer stay, if we don't make it over there first.
Mingala is just a few doors past the much storied McSorley's Ale House, which has been brewing its own ale for decades before anyone ever devised the term "microbrew." It's right across the street from the Ukrainian church where we had the privilege of attending my former boss's wedding; walking into that place is like stepping through a doorway to the old country, the architecture & interior art are stunning.
Memories, everywhere I go now in NYC, always the memories.
We strolled down the Bowery to CBGB. I was struck again by how this neighborhood has gentrified; 30 years ago you'd think twice about making that stroll & be in a state of heightened alert if you did it.
I was shocked to see the club so empty when we arrived. I'd never seen it like that before, not even at a Monday night audition with one of my bands there in the 1980s. (Yes, I actually played CBGB, once.) The scene has moved on, as it always does, but you can just feel the history oozing from the black walls there, covered with the stickers & posters from ten thousand bands that you've never heard of, and pushing up through the uneven floor that always seems to trip you when you try to walk around.
It's a long, narrow room, with a bar on the right wall, some chairs & tables in an elevated area on the left in the back, then an open space down front with a few more tables along the right wall. We grabbed one, had a chat with a fellow from the Poughkeepsie area who'd been at BBK's the night before & decided to stay in town for the Brain Surgeons.
The room is too narrow for the stage to go all the way across, so it's set at an angle, sloping back to the left, giving a little bit of a Caligari Cabinet touch to the view. That was always one of the intriguing things about the place. To get to the bathrooms you have to walk behind the stage to the left, past the dressing rooms & then downstairs. That always encouraged a sense of community back in the day, you never knew when you might have the chance to say "Hey man!" to Johnny Ramone on your way to the can.
Looking out at the room in front of the stage, I could only see it as it used to be, packed with bodies, hot & sweaty, Television or the Ramones or the Heads or Richard Hell on stage wailing away. But this is today, and maybe 40 or 50 people showed up by the time the Shirts took the stage. Still, there was an audience, & they got to play, and it was good.
I probably saw the Shirts more often than I saw any of their more fabled contemporaries, because they always seemed to be on the bill as one of the opening acts. They broke up in 1980, Annie Golden went on to star in the movie of Hair, the rest of them knocked around, some of them in a band called Thin G. They seem to have gotten back together two years ago, without Annie, with Caren Messing taking her place, and keyboardist Kathy McCloskey adding a more ethereal vocal quality to their sound.
They delivered a tight, crackling-with-energy set. The guitarist, the bassist, and Kathy McC each sang lead vocals on separate songs, but Caren's gutsy voice anchored their sound and gave them real power and emotion. They used to be a two-guitar + keys band, and still are according to their website, but Saturday they played with Ron Ardito handling the lead guitar and two sets of keys. They're all great players, and the ensemble delivered a compelling array of textures and harmonies. Really impressive. My view may be colored by nostalgia, but it was great to see them back in action.
Alex, Alma & Bob arrived towards the end of the Shirts' set. I kept looking for them & was trying to project "hurry up, you're missing something!" vibes before they got there, but that doesn't always work.
The Brain Surgeons eventually took the stage, closer to 10:30 than 10:00, I think. The crowd had increased to maybe 200 by then. They would play for a bit over an hour. They opened with an exceptionally dramatic number, but then seemed to settle into a series of songs that sounded kind of samey before they hit the BOC stuff at the end of the show. Just listen to the riffs on some of the new stuff vs. COF and D&S, there's an obvious qualitative difference.
Ross is a monster guitarist & can shred with the best of them, he really kicks the tBS energy level several notches. Deb projects a great attitude that's really infectious. They hit some great two-guitar textures at various points, but those moments seemed to evaporate too quickly; it makes you want to find a way to stop them & say "that was great, do more of that, it's what makes you distinctive."
David was impressive on bass. Albert, of course, is simply one of the best rock drummers out there, so inventive and full of drive, just a joy to watch and hear. And he knows how to construct a drum solo, he goes into it at the end of COF, and it's mesmerizing. If you're bored by drum solos (and I usually am), Albert will turn you right around. After building up to one crescendo, he brings it down, removing one element after another from the mix, until there's absolute silence; pause for effect, then that big grin and the now famous words, "More cowbell!"; then he taps out a new beat on the cowbell, gradually reintroduces more percussion & drums, working them around the cowbell rhythm, and takes it all back up to a second peak before they dive back into the song & Ross takes it home with some worthy shredding.
We hung a bit after the show, I think some of the folks went back to say hello to Albert. The Tuff Jeff Salen Band (former Tuff Darts) set up very quickly & we got to catch a couple of numbers of their idiosyncratic brand of funk surf boogie. Albert came out as soon as they started & just hung down front like one of the crowd, really digging the music; that's one of the things you gotta love about the guy, he just seems so unassuming and down to earth.
The band sounded interesting, I wouldn't have minded hearing their full set, but we were all pretty knackered at that point, and there was a consensus that it was time to leave. Fond farewells were said in front of the club. The uptown crew caught taxis back to their hotels; we had a half hour before we had to be on the PATH train to make the connection with our NJ train, so we strolled back up to the Central Village area, savoring the lingering echoes of another fine night in New York City.
God bless the place, and bless Jack & Alma for creating the bocfans board & bringing us all together to enjoy nights like this one.
At last, Albert returns!! It's been almost a quarter of a century since his last gig on UK soil so Friday's Brain Surgeons gig at the 100 Club was a special occasion. I must admit, my anticipation meter had been pushing well into the red during the preceding weeks but the day arrived at last and I found myself crawling to London on the rather inappropriately named Megabus. I think they should just call it bus, to be honest - after 5 hours on a rock-hard seat I arrived just as it was getting dark and starting to rain. Spiffing!!
I decided to walk to the venue anyway - didn't look far on my A-Z, but ended up taking me the best part of an hour. Part of the way led past Buckingham Palace - I'd never seen it before and it looked pretty crap in real life. Got to Oxford Street in the end and secured a bed for the night in a high-class hostelry - actually, make that high-class youth hostelry - if I'm honest, you can lose the high class bit too. And it wasn't a bed, it was a malodorous bunk.
After getting something to eat, I attempted to find the Ship where I understood a number of onliners would be congregating. What would have helped at this stage would be some idea of it's location - ideally a street name - that sort of thing. But I didn't have a clue and every bastard I stopped to ask was either foreign and didn't know or else just didn't know. Quite by chance I eventually found it but most of the people had set out for the venue already, leaving only an inebriated Capitaine Cousteau, Paul from Wales and Tancer left nursing their drinks. After a short while, we decided to get ourselves off to the club and stake out our places in the Albert zone before it got too full (well, you can hope...)
The 100 Club is a typical small cellarful of noise-type deal with a strong jazz and punk pedigree stretching back to the early 60s. It has a nice wide stage - albeit a bit narrow - along the right-hand wall as you enter, and you can actually stand all around the sides if you want. The only drawback is that it's only 20 foot from the stage to the back wall!! OK, maybe I'm exaggerating - perhaps it was 21 foot - so it was hard to try and find the best place to watch the gig, acoustically-speaking.
First on was Eddie Tudor Pole who proceeded to give his battered old acoustic guitar a damn good thrashing. Those of you who remember Tenpole Tudor will be pleased (or not) to hear that he still has that voice. He was funny enough - I especially enjoyed his "He's got a moustache" song (you had to be there) but he went on a bit too long for an opening act.
Next on was John Otway - without his Wild Willy - I wonder what he's doing now? Anyway, John Otway seemed to have his fan club in tonight and went down pretty well - his version of "Blockbuster" was a laugh, complete with hinged guitar and audience feedback and "Bodytalk" was pretty memorable - and of course, he played his "hit", but I couldn't help feeling that these opening acts were eating into the time left for the Brain Surgeons to play.
Apart from this consideration, I think these acts - whilst on paper looking like a bit of a mismatch - worked well in the context of the gig - they were something a bit different and were pretty entertaining - I remember seeing Albert at the side of the stage checking them out and having a good laugh.
At last, the time had come and the Brain Surgeons trooped onstage after an intro by Eddie Tudor Pole - I looked round and the club was only about half full - surely some of the Otway fans hadn't buggered off home? Oh well...
They launched into a new song "It Lives" sung by Deborah (and chorus with Albert). It had a kind of stuttering beat and went into a sort of boogie chorus but I couldn't hear the vocals very clearly so don't have much of a clue what it was about.
I'd glanced at the setlist in the dressing-room earlier and so I knew that this song was the first of 8 new songs we'd be hearing tonight - when you consider the set - not including encores - was 12 songs long, that's a lot to take in!
Another new song was next - "Jimmy Boots" - again sung by Deborah, this had a menacing looming sound that reminded me - a bit - of "Cherry Bomb" but one thing stood out on this track - a fantastic lead solo by the new secret weapon, Ross "the Boss" Funicello.
Next was a song I actually knew - the ex-BOC song "Gun" from "Box of Hammers" (and "Black Hearts of Soul" too). This is a great song and Deb does it full justice. Funnily enough, the verse on this always makes me think of a slowed-down Tattoo Vampire and that struck me again tonight...
The fourth song tonight was "1864", a fast track sung by Albert. He introduced it as being about his great great grandfather who won the Congressional Medal of Honour so it looks like Albert has been researching his family tree. Again, couldn't really hear the words very clearly but since he said that they'd just recorded this track for their new LP "Denial of Death" I suppose I'll have to wait til then to find out more about it.
"Lonestar" was next and this was very memorable with a great chorus - Deborah certainly has Texas on her mind and she's never sounded better. There was also a knockout blinding solo from Ross on this one.
After this Albert thanked the audience for their enthusiastic applause of the new songs: "Normally when you play new songs people go 'what?'" to which Deborah informed him that "These are sophisticated rock listenees"...
Next was another new one - based on a James Carroll book - called "Constantine's Sword" - sung by Albert, it had a rolling swaggering beat but again, I'll wait for the album to find out more about this one.
After this, there was again a short period of tuning - or as Albert said "Another song, another tuning" - Deb suggested they should "stick to the same three chords - it'd be so much easier". To fill in, she waxed nostalgic: "There's so much history here - I'm probably standing on Sid Vicious's gob - what an honour!!"
"Verboten" was next, sung by Deborah, this track featured some fantastic guitar from the Boss which punctuated Deb's vocals.
"Another new one... we worked on this for a decade with Helen Robbins but never got the music right... then she passed away - well, we got it right now" was how he introduced "Dark Secret" and this was a very memorable song - can't wait to hear this one properly.
After "Plague of Lies" I was starting to get "new song fatigue" - I just couldn't keep up with trying to appreciate and remember them all so it was great to hear a fantastic version of Tattoo Vampire kick off. Now, I'll yield to no-one in my appreciation of Eric Bloom's vocal on this track, but I heard BOC play this in Manchester last year and now I've heard the Brain Surgeons do it, and I have to be honest, I thought Albert's version was the better of the two.
A great "Cities on Flame" followed this with an Albert mini-solo in the middle as the rest of the group gathered round to watch and there was also a nod to "Godzilla"... he really should ask Rick Downey for that mask back...
The last song of the night was another newie, "Change the World Henry", a song about Albert's and Buck's early days at Clarkson and this was bloody good - probably the best of the new ones - at least as far as I was in any position to judge, having, as I say, experienced "new song overload".
Both the encores were from the BOC hymn-book "Dominance and Submission" and "The Red and the Black" - very fast and very very good.
And then it was over...
After the gig, Albert and co made themselves available to any fans who wanted to meet them for autographs etc etc. Gareth made me laugh with his bag of LP/CD sleeves and posters for Albert to autograph - Albert was still signing a large kitchen sink when I left half an hour later...
My overwhelming impression of the gig was not of a particular song but rather the whole performance - I was taking photos during the show and spent sometime in front of each member... David, nice guy off the stage, and nice guy on it, too. I don't think I've ever seen anybody quite so unassuming onstage - he stayed - literally - out of the spotlight in his own little patch of relative darkness (making him bloody hard to photograph - we weren't allowed to use flash) - and wearing an enigmatic Giaconda-like quiet little smile on his lips as he pumped out the bass whilst Deborah, with legs braced apart like a mini-Ramone, lips pursed in concentration whilst she examines the fretboard intently as she sprays her guitar over the front row of the audience as Ross the Boss strides forward to the centrestage and shreds his way through a blistering solo with tortured face to the heavens, occasionally turning to the people at the side of the stage with an astonished look on his face as if to say "F*ck me! Did you hear the sustain on that note??!!".....
Then there was Albert - I spent a good part of the time just staring at him as if mesmerised - I'd never appreciated before just how fecking hard he hits his kit - the whole floor vibrated. And he seemed to having such a bloody good time - the sheer joy of performing was evident to see.... I couldn't help but contrast Albert's performance with Bobby Rondinelli's style of studied casual indifference, toothpick disdainfully perched on bottom lip as he stares out at an excited audience looking as though he'd rather be somewhere else... and now, of course, he is...
After this gig, the realisation that I couldn't go on to France to see the Paris show hit me hard - especially as Les Braunstein was going to be the special guest. There's talk of the Brain Surgeons coming back to do a proper tour later in the year and if this happens, great - I can't wait - but we've definitely got to mobilise more people to come along and support the gigs if they happen because a band this good deserves a much bigger audience. So where the feck are they and how do we contact them?
Answers, please, on a postcard...
At the Brain Surgeons Aug 8 2005 in Nashville, the opening band was "Rufus Fontaine" featuring the former singer of Jackyl - not the one that got famous. The guy before him :)
Found out about this gig on this website. Went to the city and got there real early. Early enough that we got to meet Albert, Debbie, and Joe as they arrived. Got to get their autographs and take pictures with them.
This was the "Save CBGBs with Cowbell" gig - or something like that...BDS was there minus Smith and add Albert and another friend. Great opener...especially since BDS was MY last gig; once again Joe rocked & Dunaway plowed through the bass lines.
The Brain Surgeons with Ross the Boss was unbeatable. The whole band was tight and Albert seemed to be in his glory behind the drum kit.
They really took off when they hit Revenge of Vera Marie & Cities on Flame! Capped off the late evening with an incredible Reaper Jam with mostly everyone on the tiny stage; An awesome time was had by all!