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December 25 - January 1, 1998

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The year in music

No longer a town that loves metal, metal, cover bands, and metal. A look at how sweet 1998 was to Wormtown

by John O'Neill

Tremble It was a year of tremendous output on behalf of local bands; and if last year's Worcester Phoenix Best Music Poll is any indication, there's an ingredient of fellowship that hasn't existed in some time. Watching the guys from NE Hostility dig Toni Ballard was great, and watching Ballard buy their CD in return was even better. It turned out that we all had more in common than we first thought.

The Espresso Bar, Sir Morgan's Cove, Tammany Club, Gilrein's, and Above Club each had banner years in producing quality music, and with the advent of the Commercial Street Cafe (new venture for Mezzoman owners Dick and Judith Pilotte) and Lucky Dog Music Hall (a/k/a the Cove), things will only be better for music lovers. There's plenty of room on this bandwagon for everyone, and 1999 promises to be a coming-out party for the Wormtown scene. Stay tuned, kiddies.

Below is a quick look at the news, names, and general stuff that floated our entertainment boat this past year. For the record, all national releases listed below passed over our desk and the bands played town. Which explains why Mariah's new one isn't represented.

East Coast Audio Entertainment -- From the fertile mind of Erick Godin came '98's most interesting story. Band together a dozen groups, fly their CDs under the ECAE flag, get better distro and better gigs, and land Wormtown on the map. A work in progress.

Wormtown Noise Webring -- Sean Coomey pulled an ECAE on the Internet and offered this fine page (www.ultranet.com/~ scoomey/webring/worm.htm) that links lots of Worcester's bands. Paco, Woodgrain Theory, 7 Hill Psychos, Pathetics, Sticker, and Coomey's own Bison Bison are but a few listed.

Angry Johnny and the Killbillies -- Outcasts in their home, Northampton, Angry and the boys struck pay dirt with the outstanding What's So Funny? (Tar Hut). Truly demented and worth every penny.

Huck -- Worcester's popsters came back strong in '98 with a flock of shows and a great album, Honeywagon (Orcaphat). It don't get much better than these guys. Alas, nineteen ninety-eight could prove a turningpoint for the band as bassist Dave Robinson leaves for Vancouver. We hope Scott Riccuiti has more tricks up his sleeve.

Lyres reissues -- The entire Ace of Hearts back catalogue was re-released on Matador Records; and the music is as great now as the first time it blasted out of the stereo. There's no doubting Jeff Conolly's genius, now a new generation gets to learn. (Having Courtney Love berate a capacity crowd at the Orpheum for not knowing them is one of our favorite moments.)

Crumb -- California's emo-poppers delivered a remarkable album with seconds>minutes> hours (Red Ant) that has caught the attention of everyone who's heard it. They also backed it up with a super show at the EBar.

Clutch Grabwell Tom Russell at Gilrein's -- One of the land's finest songwriters dropped by for a Wednesday-night gig that was pure magic. Great stories, passionate delivery, and stellar musicianship, not to mention a great song about cockfighting and getting even with Pancho Villa.

Nashville Pussy -- Equal parts redneck garage rock, guitar antics, and circus sideshow. The album, Let Them Eat Pussy (Amphetamine Reptile), won them a major-label deal, and their show at the Cove was a spectacle.

Frank Sinatra -- One of the all-time great singers who subsequently became one of the most annoying and lazy. It shoulda happened sooner, but at least we got Ocean's 11. Next, Satan should be looking to square up with legendary "talent" Bob Hope.

Ray Mason -- A Pioneer Valley fixture, Ray has been writing quality songs as long and as good as anyone. Old Soul's Day (Wormco) was yet another example of how good this guy's music is. Honest and refreshing, Ray's like a walking, singing "feel-good" flick.

Vincent's -- Without doubt the coolest and friendliest place to kick back and relax in the city. Great jukebox, cheap beer, Chris Manzello's out-of-this-world meatballs, surprise music guests, local hot-shot sightings, and a congenial host. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, either.

WCUW -- Worcester's long-running community gag still, despite in-fighting and a total lack of vision on behalf of yhe board of directors, offers the finest radio experience in Central Mass. The majority of programmers are as knowledgeable as anyone in the world and their shows reflect this. Support it.

Troy Gonyea Fleshtones -- The Kings of "Super Rock" returned to Wormtown for the first time since a gig at the X-it some 15 years previously. Sporting their best album in that same amount of time, More Than Skin Deep, the lads showed why they're still considered a legendary live act.

Bob Jordan -- Everyone's favorite iconoclast came through with his first CD, Four Corners. He also got in some time busking in Europe, continued his assault on the coffeehouse circuit, and started a new band, the Outcats.

Dan Hart -- Hey, look! Political folk music that doesn't suck! Danny boy really pulled a gem out of his songbook with Armageddon Now and Then. Weighty topics covered by clever lyrics and a dry wit. Certainly a guy to root for in a genre that could use a jump-start.

Great New Bands -- There are many groups to keep an eye on. The Magnificent Ambersons, Sticker, Pathetics, Garrison, Outcats, Crybabies, Dedlift, God Stands Still, Junk Sculpture, Boys Attic, Paco, and Woodgrain Theory all made some significant noise in '98. As did Halobox and Aurora, now dearly departed.

Wormtown 20th Anniversary -- Two nights of nostalgia by a bunch of paunchy old farts turned into a whole lot more. The Commandos, Blue Moon Band, Aggressions, and Time Beings turned in great sets; the Prefab Messiahs finally released a CD; and J.J. Rassler dropped 20 years in front of our eyes, while reminding us why the Odds will never be topped.

Enemy Squad at the Cove -- Featuring the drummer from P-Funk, the nephew of 24-7 Spyz guitarist Jimi Hazel, and double bass, the Bomb Squad destroyed a capacity crowd, as well as blowing the headliner H.R. (ex-Bad Brains) off the stage. You'll never look at the Red Hot Chili Peppers again without laughing.

Rolling Stones -- Mick and the Walking Dead once again cashed in with the years biggest money- maker tour. And, of course, released another tepid live album to go along with it. Just what is the fascination of seeing some old geezer in football pants wiggle his tushy and (literally) croak a few tunes that would induce normally rational people into paying outrageous amounts of money to view such a sorry spectacle? Drop us a line.

Sonic Explorers -- Without doubt, Worcester's most underrated and probably best jazz band -- at least in our humble (and generally correct) opinion. Jerry Sabatini and his lads produced a second great CD this past year, Beatnik Oblivion, and continue to make inroads throughout New England.

Troy Gonyea -- All those raves finally paid-off for young Mr. Gonyea, who won the prestigious Harper's Ferry Blues Competition, was hired as a sideman for Sugar Ray Norcia, started a new outfit (the Premiers), and graduated from Thursdays at Gilrein's to Saturdays.

Reality -- Live In Peace -- This CD sponsored by the Worcester Police featured local rap, hip-hop, and R&B artists. A positive-message piece, the disc is also important as a recorded document of a genre that exists entirely outside of the city's music mainstream.

SK8:98 -- This throwdown featured, among others, Vision of Disorder, Earth Crisis, Corey Glover, H2O, dayinthelife, Tree, Murphy's Law, Scissorfight, 7 Hill Psychos, Eastcide, and Forced Fed Shovelhead. Everybody who attended received a great CD comp, and the skateboarding outside of the Palladium was a blast -- to witness.

Chuck and Mud -- After 19 years, the Demers finally released a CD, It's About Time. Another example of decent folk by a couple of very decent folk.

Adios Cove -- Neil Newman decided to bail out of Sir Morgan's Cove; though the name is gone, the space will carry on as the Lucky Dog Music Hall.

Jason James Clutch Grabwell -- A long-awaited CD from local faves that turned out to be worth it. Big horns, big guitar, big vocals, and big fun. Their release party at the Plantation Club was a hoot. (It's also amazing what people will do and say for free T-shirts!)

Fuzbrains -- The reborn fanzine that's worth reading if only because they allow Captain P.J. to write.

Walter and Valerie Crockett -- In a true case of getting older equals getting better, this duo released a second CD, Moonbone. When they stick to the bluegrass-flavored numbers, they're world-class. We just have to convince Walter to lay off the more rockin' fare.

Jason James and the Bay State Houserockers -- Finding a better bar band would be tough, these cats can do it all. The James Boys made considerable headway into Worcester, playing the Above Club, Espresso Bar, and Gilrein's regularly, and recently got a private party shut down.

Blazers at the Plantation Club -- LA's Tex-Mex veterans stopped by for a Sunday gig that Ray Silva decided not to promote. Too bad, it was one of '98's Top 5 shows. Three days later they were on the Jenny Jones Show. Go figure.

Marc Barnicle -- Local boy almost makes good. After a botched tour with Mary Lou Lord (Sung to Everly Brothers tune: "Hello Mary Lou, good bye job . . ."), Barnicle is shopping himself to the majors, and they're listening. His demo CD is a well-rounded slice of commercial potential, look for him to sign a deal soon.

Mary Lou Lord -- ". . . her dance with Mr. Brownstone got too rough," again! It's a shame because her major-label debut, Got No Shadow (Work), was nothing less than outstanding, so the home office is pulling for her to get it together.

Patrick Swayze -- Okay, so this has nothing to do with music. But 1999 marks the 10th anniversary for Road House. If Dirty Dancing got re-released on its 10th, you can imagine what's in store for this modern American classic! Swayze (playing his most demanding role as a bouncer/philosopher) gets the nod over Brian Bosworth's almost-as-awesome Stone Cold for uttering the immortal phrase "Pain don't hurt."Rent it today to avoid the rush.

7 Hill Psychos -- Wormtown is starting to turn away from the rap-core sound that defined the mid-'90s, and it's time to weed out the crap. 7HP stand tall in this genre and put out a decent CD titled, Inner Psycho. They also work their nuts off and are nice guys.

Tremble -- The brunt of a few jokes and responsible for the term Trembleland (a term we use here at HQ referring to where bad bands are banished), they've given us a lot of entertainment. And even though Deprived of Silence is a horrible CD, we've really grown quite fond of it. Now that they're gone, we're actually going to miss not having them around.

Dennis Brennan -- Boston-based but Worcester-prone, D.B. has really come on as a great songwriter. The new material he's been working on is wonderful; we can't wait for the CD. If you haven't seen him yet, try to make a point of it in '99.

Overcast French Connection Karaoke -- Though generally a loathsome pastime, singing Sunday nights at the French Connection is different. One guy is a dead ringer for Waylon Jennings; another gal sounds too much like Tammy Wynette. And the heavy-metal kid gets so into it he puts on a stage show complete with spins, splits, and extra Satan-yowls. It must be seen to be fully appreciated.

Brian Wilson -- The man on everyone's list as an influence in '98. From commercial pea brains like Bare Naked Ladies, to future obscurity Sean Lennon, Wilson was the buzz word for hip credibility. We love Bri; Pet Sounds is unmatched. However, if one more person babbles on at how great the aborted Smile sessions were, we just may climb a steeple and open fire. Often there are good reasons why things remain unreleased.

David Ritchie's Radio Show -- WICN deejay (and Worcester Phoenix contributing writer) David Ritchie's installment of Against the Grain (Friday night, 9 p.m. to midnight) is hands-down the best roots-based show our ears have heard. Former 'CUW jock Rob Silverberg was a close second; but David's knowledge is immense, and he almost never picks a clunker. Tune in, drop out, get depressed.

The Palladium -- Depending on who you listen to, either they're going great guns, or the joint could be a parking lot by the time you finish this sentence. Björk, Portishead, Rancid, Reel Big Fish, Sonic Youth, Slayer, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Misfits, Vision of Disorder, Deftones, Mr. T Experience, and Brian Setzer Orchestra were just a few of '98's highlights. The thought that this magnificent theater could conceivably be demolished brings to mind two simple words: EMINENT DOMAIN. Hello city council, here's your chance to make up for the Medical Mart fiasco.

Swing Music -- The big fad here (well, mostly there but some in-town activity) was the return of swing music, which should have been a good thing. It wasn't. Half-baked dreck like the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Royal Crown Revue, and Brian Setzer Orchestra hogged the spotlight with material that would have induced even Ol' Blue Eyes to hoist a martini into your puss. Just like '97 with Manson, and '96 with Morissette, record folk shoved crap down the throats of the masses, and they replied, "Yummy!" The only really positive things that came out of this were Buddy Greco making a new album and newly recruited swing chicks wearing swing-appropriate clothing that covered up those tribal arm bands.

Overboard -- The second full-length CD from Boston's instro-nuts, the Fathoms. These Wormtown faves are the best traditional sounding surf band since the early-'60s heyday.

Tammany Club -- This joint has come on strong since devoting most of its evenings to jam bands, carving out a niche for both locals and visiting national acts. John Maywalt is a class act.

Dick Curless -- Former North Brookfield native who went on to become a premier singer of trucker music. Nineteen ninety-eight gave us a long-overdue hits package, The Drag 'Em Off The Interstate, Sock It to 'Em Hits of Dick Curless (Razor & Tie). A winner from start to finish. Hopefully '99 will see rig-rock becoming the next fad!

CDs galore -- It was an outstanding year for locally recorded music. From the sweet, radio-friendly pop of Lee Totten, to the exploratory metal of Overcast, to Junk Sculpture's funk on a shoestring, Wormtown had product to sell! Already 1999 promises stuff from Garrison, Pathetics, Fearless Leaders, Special 79, Paco, Thinner, Little Big Wheel and Huck. The Bob and Cathy Peters watch continues into year number 20.

Espresso Bar -- Eric Spencer and his crew continued to put on quality shows this past year; and many of the performers who hit the EBar stage went on to much bigger venues. Just one suggestion -- some kind of diet-type beverage for us older folk who like to go to the shows but whose systems can no longer handle Jolt Cola.

Opie and Anthony -- The ax fell on WAAF's drive-time troglodytes after they floated a rumor that Boston's Mayor Menino had died.

Dick and Judy Pilotte -- The Pilottes appeared out of nowhere and promptly set the scene on its ear with the start of Mezzoman. The idea of a company producing music that actually likes musicians was original enough, then they went the extra mile and found a home for city skaters, and held the huge (and hugely successful) SK8:98. Now they're ready to take the scene to the next level with the Commercial Street Cafe.

The Real Kids -- Boston's legendary John Felice reunited this seminal band (that had a huge impact on the original Wormtown scene, as well as many Phoenix scribes, past and present), played a gig in New York, blew a young writers mind, and ended up on the cover of this month's Maximum RockandRoll! Now that's punk! It's also stories like this that make us love music so much.

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