French zanies from Brooklyn
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., April 11, 2002) – Ostensibly a band of Frenchmen transplanted to Brooklyn, there is something very suspicious about Les Sans Culottes, beginning with their name – it means “those without underpants” – and ending with the credits on their latest album, The Ennui and the Ecstasy, which lists band members including Kit Kat LeNoir, Cal D’Hommage, Jean Luc Retard, Pascal Blasé, Beau Pantalon and Celine Dijon, with special guests Gigi Soleil, Anouk Ennui and Joe Camus.
Credit these crazy New Yorkers for playing it to the hilt – they sing all their songs in French, albeit with a very Brooklynese accent. The songs, which include “Non Merci Oncle Sam (No Thanks Uncle Sam),” “Ecole de Merde” (loosely translated as “School of Hard Knocks”), and “Non to Oui” -- which claims that a French magazine called Oui asked the group to pose nude -- are witty, punk-inspired parodies rendered in what the group claims is a throwback to the French-style “ye-ye” rock of the 1960s.
Whatever. As heard on Ennui, Les Sans Culottes definitely play a proto-punk blend of garage-rock and the sort of giddy, international pop you’d likely hear on the soundtrack to Nancy Sinatra or Audrey Hepburn movies. The group is at Club Helsinki tonight at 9.
Old rockers don’t fade away. They either age gracefully and become semi-tragic icons like Eric Clapton, they become cartoon versions of themselves like Ozzy Osbourne, or they take on added duties as advisers to heads of state, like Bono.
A new paradigm, however, is being created by Boston rocker Dan Zanes, frontman of the popular 1980s roots-rock band the Del Fuegos – rock star to the Raffi set.
At its peak, Zanes’s former band had a hit single (“Don’t Run Wild”), was on MTV, toured with Tom Petty and even made a commercial for Miller Beer. After the Del Fuegos broke up in 1989, Zanes tried his hand as a solo performer for a while. He also became a family man and had children. But like many of his former fans who had also grown up into adults without outgrowing their love for rock ‘n’ roll, Zanes couldn’t stomach most of what passed for “kids music.”
So Zanes made a tape of old, child-friendly, folk and rock ‘n’ roll songs and some new ones he wrote for his own use and to share with friends. Before he knew it, he was in demand to do children’s concerts and his tape, Rocket Ship Beach, was a bestseller on the kiddie charts.
Zanes, who brings his Rocket Ship Revue to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield at 2 on Saturday, may even be more successful as a kids performer than as a rock ‘n’ roller. He has been profiled in the New York Times Magazine, People, Martha Stewart Living, Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly. Rocket Ship Beach received the Parents Choice recommended award, and the Children’s Music Web Awards recently named Zanes Best New Artist for Young Children.
One listen to Family Dance, Zanes’s new album, and it’s easy to see why children and parents alike groove to his sound. Zanes knows the secret of good children’s music: don’t patronize your audience and play good songs. His organic, straightforward renditions of favorites like Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line” and “The Hokey Pokey” are just plain infectious. And it doesn’t hurt that the CD comes packaged as a board book.
For reservations call 443-7171.
One of the most unusual hits of the last year was “Clint Eastwood” by a superstar hip-hop collective called Gorillaz, featuring Damon Albarn of Blur, Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto, and Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of Tom Tom Club. The core of the group actually consisted of members of Deltron 3030, including Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Dan Nakamura, and turntablist Kid Koala.
For eight years, Kid Koala has also worked with Canadian funk-groove outfit Bullfrog, co-fronting the group with singer-guitarist Mark Robertson. The group’s relentless acid-jazz sound, witty rapping by James “BluRum 13” Sobers, and eclectic pop sensibility has garnered it acclaim on the dance club circuit and the warmup slot on tour with Maceo Parker and Medeski, Martin and Wood.
Kid Koala – who brings Bullfrog to Mass MoCA in North Adams tomorrow night at 9 – was born Eric San in Vancouver in 1975. A classically-trained pianist, he recently warmed up audiences on Radiohead’s tour.
Call 662-2111 for reservations.
Barely out of their teens (except for bassist Ken Mosher, ex- of Squirrel Nut Zippers), the boys in the B-Sides have apparently spent an awful lot of time locked in their rooms with their parents old LPs. Yes, Indeed, the B-Sides, Quite! (Rock) is a giddy journey through pop history, as experimental as Brazilian cut-up artist Tom Ze on the one hand and as catchy as the Beach Boys. In the course of one song, the group touches down in surf-rock, speed-metal, lounge music and ukulele folk. Often compared to Weezer, the group also variously recalls They Might Be Giants (coming to Mass MoCA on May 11, by the way) and Yo La Tengo. Catch them tonight at Valentines in Albany.
Perhaps nothing was more striking about the Doc Watson concert at the Mahaiwe two weekends ago than the sight of the venerable old theater crammed with 800 people coming to hear a 79-year-old blind man from North Carolina – one who is hardly a household name -- sing and play old folk songs on an acoustic guitar with no spectacle, no hype, no electronic nor fireworks.
The fact that all those people came to hear him – and that many more wanted to (the show was sold out before the major print and electronic media stories advancing the concert hit the day before the show) but couldn’t get tickets – speaks volumes about the enduring appeal of acoustic roots music, the wisdom of the show’s producers, Club Helsinki, in knowing how to promote music in our region, and a Berkshire audience hungry for this sort of programming.
What a shame that there isn’t an 800-seat theater available on a more consistent and workable basis. Perhaps it’s time for the Berkshire Opera Company to read the writing on the wall and invite Club Helsinki to join them in the operation and programming of the Mahaiwe on a more established, fixed basis. Or maybe the opera would enjoy more success at the Colonial Theatre in its former hometown of Pittsfield, and Helsinki could take over the Mahaiwe full time? Presumably the opera could still pay a visit now and then.
Driving Rain (Capitol)
Perhaps his best solo album since the 1970s, “Driving Rain” finds Paul McCartney indulging in Wings-like, epic pop-rock fantasy (“Heather”), dark psychedelia (“She’s Given Up Talking”), giddy pop-soul (“Tiny Bubble”), sappy ballads (“From a Love to a Friend”), silly love songs (“I Do”), sexy funk-rock (“About You”), raga-rock (“Riding Into Jaipur”) and goofy idealism (“Freedom”), with reckless, endearing charm. Most of all, McCartney has rediscovered his rock ‘n’ roll voice and the pop tunesmith inside that has long eluded him. [4/14/02]
Are You Passionate? (Reprise)
Sure, he wrote a song called “Mr. Soul” back in the rock ‘n’ roll dark ages, but nobody ever accused Neil Young of being a soul man. On his latest, with the help of seminal r&b musicians Booker T and some of the MGs, Young sets out to rectify that oversight, recasting himself as a soul singer in the Stax/Volt mode. His whiny tenor doesn’t exactly have the smooth silkiness of Smokey Robinson, but Are You Passionate? is a loving tribute to the genre. Funniest line: “Yes I can hear your young voice calling, differently.” Pun intended? [ 4/14/02 ]
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 12, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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