Thursday, September 27, 2007

Magic In The Air

I am standing on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, the once and future diamond of the New Jersey coastline and I can literally feel the sands shifting beneath my feet. I don't visit here often, but in the past decade I have traveled here with some regularity. Unfortunately, I never visited during the town's glory days - instead I have only seen the ghosts of it's well-sung past. It has always puzzled me that how a stretch of beautiful ocean front property could fall into such disrepair, especially when it seems as if it would be able generate considerable revenue if kept up.

This year however, change is in the air. The crumbling buildings that gave the area a sense of gloom have been knocked to the ground. New construction is taking place, as are renovations of some classic buildings. The Stone Pony and The Wonder Bar still stand, however the Wonder Bar will close this week, not to return. As far as the Pony, I am not sure of its fate.

Last year, when I was here to see Bruce Springsteen rehearse the Seeger Sessions Band, I ducked into the old Hojo's for a beer while my sister waited on the general admission line. I don't even know if the place had a name, but it was a pretty sad affair. Now it is a very upscale restaurant, with outdoor seating on the boardwalk. I'm pretty sure the beer cost me a bit more this year, but the upgrade was worth it. There are other new additions to the boardwalk - a few galleries and t-shirt shops. Madam Marie is still standing if you want to get a peak into the future, but for all intents and purposes, things are looking up for Asbury Park.

All things considered it still must take a leap of faith to be among the first to open while the city slowly rebuilds around you. I wish them well. I hope that someday soon I will get a chance to walk down the boardwalk, grab a beer and hear the sounds of rock and roll bands blasting out of the clubs along the strip and perhaps see, feel and hear a few ghosts of the past.

There was no leap of faith in what brought me to Asbury Park on Tuesday night. Once again, for the third tour in a row, I was lucky to get tickets to see Bruce Springsteen warm up his band for the upcoming tour.

What can I say? The band and the Boss sounded great. The new songs are fantastic. There were no major surprises in regards to older songs - he did do "Thundercrack" in the encore and the night before performed "Something In The Night." I thought the pacing was a little off, but that's what these shows are all about.

It has been 34 years since my first Bruce Springsteen concert. That is a lot of water under the bridge. At 58, the days of jumping off the piano and the classic knee slide across the stage are behind him. No matter. There have been a lot of changes along the way and in the past few years I have seem some incredible shows.

Of course I am a die hard, biased fan. Was a time when if you told me that you didn't care for Springsteen I would take it as a personal challenge to show you the error of your ways. Sometimes I made a conversion, sometimes not. Now I just smile and let it pass. Who needs another fool in front of me on line. Like Bruce, there are some things that I am just getting too old to deal with.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Once A King ....

It was a pleasure hanging out with my old friend Mark Gamsjager and his band The Lustre Kings at Matty T's this past Saturday night. It had been way too long since I had seen Mark and it was great to catch up, talk about the kids, and play some rock and roll music.

No matter what you think of Matty T's you have to admit that there is no place else like it - at least not for a few hundred miles. Maybe the vibe comes from the location which can best described as somewhere between desolate and creepy. Certainly the honky tonk hardwood floor and the split rail fence that surrounds it adds a bit of flavor, as does the washtubs behind the bar that hold that evening's beer specials. But it's the mix of people who show up that really make Matty's special. Well maybe not special, but definitely different. Ok, weird - but weird in a good way.

What a mix of people it is! There are the dancers, of course. This is their joint, their dance floor and rightfully so. Even within that group there are different flavors - you have your urban cowboys and cowgirls, doing it right from the heels of their boots to the tops of their Stetson's. Add to that a few biker types, a few soccer moms, a couple of guys who are barely out of their PJs and you have quite an eclectic bunch.

Then you have the folks who come down to see the bands, which in this case were people like my friends and you know what kind of people they are.

But the most confusing group are these younger guys and gals who look like this is the last place on earth they would want to be - yet there they are. Maybe they come for the $2 beers or perhaps they thought that Spike - the mechanical bull - was scheduled for that night. Who knows.

The Blaggards were first up and we did our thing, mostly without incident. I had forgotten to print out set lists and all we had was a printed email of the set. Since we are a bunch of vain bastards and don't wear our glasses on stage, none of us could read it, making for some comical moments. I also forgot to pull the capo off and started a song in the wrong key while the band scrambled - and quite adeptly made the change. The dancers came on and off the dance floor as they always do, depending on the BPM of the song. It's such a strange situation - you don't really want to cater to them, but you feel good when the dance floor is filled - that is until you realize that they are not really listening to the music, but counting the beats, most of them concentrating so hard on the steps and turns that they have this vacant look on their face making you feel as if you are playing to a bunch of carousel ponies spinning around, going up and down.

The Lustre Kings took the stage and rocked. Mark, as always, is a great entertainer and band leader - and a terrific guitar player no matter how he tries to downplay his talents. As always he surrounds himself with terrific musicians and pulls off the very rare feat of sounding both authentically rootsy and modern at the same time. The set included tunes from the band's latest CD including the great title track, "Way Out There."

The night ended with Mark bringing up guests including a surprise call to the bouncer who sang a couple of Elvis tunes - and did a great job. It was like old times - when Mark was living on Long Island, this was Saturday night - rockin' out at the PI or Costello's, passing around the Gretsch, taking turns at the mic, closing the joint down and heading to the nearest diner for cheeseburgers and french fries with gravy.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Another Summer Gone

Last weekend The Blaggards filled in for our good friends The Lone Sharks at Nick's in Montauk. It was big time fun. The weather was great, if a bit cold, but that didn't stop folks from coming by having a few cocktails and listening to the band. The staff at Nick's could not be any cooler and I think we will be a part of their line up come next summer.

Our summer was mostly spent on the East End this year. We had some great gigs on Shelter Island - the Fireman's annual event, always a treat, and a swinging night at the Dory a few weekend's ago after Joe Lauro's annual Beach Blast. A big highlight for us was being asked to take part in the legendary Barge Party - a floating event for the aquatically inclined. The weather was stunning, the beer plentiful and Mick's boat sea-worthy.

There were a few shows at the Talkhouse this summer and that's always a good time if only to play on that stage aside from the god-awful single-coil buzz. We had a spot after Sonny Landreth which turned out to be a great night due mainly to the incredible support of a few very nice looking fans. We are lucky to have a small, but good-looking fan base.

This weekend we are hooking up with The Lustre Kings for a swingin' Saturday night at Matty T's in Deer Park. It's been a while since I've seen Mark and the boys and I'm really looking forward to hanging out. It's going to be a lot of fun, so come on down if you're in the area.