Video Fridays: Rock&Roll Is In A Coma, And Rhett Miller Should Be HUGE!

Rhett_Miller_2013Two weeks ago tonight, while I was in Los Angeles for my mini-vacation, I had the great pleasure to see a music performance that both totally satisfied and baffled at the same time.

Rhett Miller is the frontman and primary songwriter for a band I love a lot, Old 97’s, and he appeared at Largo, a very intimate space, for a show he called Wheels Off: The Rhett Miller Show, described thusly:

Modeled after an old-school variety show, Wheels Off will feature music, comedy, a little bit of discussion, and maybe even a skit here and there.

It.Was.A.Blast!

Rhett started off playing a handful of solo-acoustic songs, a fiddler joined him for a few songs, a comedian did a brief set, Rhett and the fiddler did a few more songs, Rhett and some gal did a humorous skit based off Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip, with Rhett as Charlie Brown and the gal as Lucy, Rhett returned by himself for a few songs, the bass player from Old 97’s, Murry Hammond, joined him for a handful of songs, and finally they were both joined by the fiddler and Largo fixture, songwriter and film score composer Jon Brion.

So, like I said, the show was totally satisfying, but the baffling part can be summed up by what my friend said to me when the lights came up for intermission:

How the HELL is this guy not HUGE?!!

It’s a valid question.

On paper, Rhett Miller seems to have it all. He’s a natural frontman, a highly charismatic, likeable entertainer; he’s got killer, youthful good looks; he’s a rock-solid rhythm guitarist; his voice is strong, with good range; he can summon quintessential Rock&Roll snarls, shouts, and screams; his lyrics are loaded with witty wordplay and vivid visuals, with themes running the Rock&Roll gamut, from sweet and romantic to rowdy and raunchy.

Oh, and he’s constantly writing new music and touring! Old 97’s have released 10 full-length LPs since their debut in 1994, and Rhett has four solo albums under his belt.

The only explanation I can come up with for why Rhett and Old 97’s are not HUGELY successful is a sad one that impacts me personally.

Straightforward, guitar-centric, American roots-based Rock&Roll, I’m afraid, is in a coma. I’m not prepared to declare it dead, because there’s no telling whether or not there will be any significant renaissance in the future, but right now Pop and Hip-Hop rule, and right here in Bellingham, Washington the most popular genres in the bars and other music venues are Funk, Classic Rock, and acoustic Americana.

The band in which I play rhythm guitar and sing lead vocals has a hard time getting gigs, because we play straightforward, guitar-centric, American roots-based Rock&Roll covers, and we intentionally do NOT play radio hits. It’s a matter of principles. Many of the bands we cover can be heard on the radio, but I, personally, can’t bear to listen to Classic Rock radio, where the same hits are played over and over and over again. You’d never know that these bands put out albums with 10-12 songs on them!

I hear over and over again that bar patrons like bands to play songs that they know well and can sing along with, but I don’t want to be a human jukebox! Why pay me and my band to play when you could just turn on the radio or play a Pandora station? What happened to going out to see music performed that you may have never heard before?!

Anyway, fortunately, Rhett and Old 97’s have a devoted cult following, I proudly count myself among their numbers, and I’ll wrap things up here singing their praises and presenting two clips for this week’s Video Fridays installment. The first has Rhett performing a solo-acoustic version of a song, Out of Love, from his 2012 album The Dreamer, and the second features Old 97’s playing a song that my band covers, Barrier Reef, from their 1997 album, Too Far To Care.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Fish & Bicycles Takes A Mini-Vacation!

basscycle2Well folks, it’s time for me to take a little break!

I’m flying down to Los Angeles, CA today, a city I lived in from 1988 to 1993, a city that, as I discovered, was not a good fit for me, but a city where I lived with a buddy I’ve been friends with since grade school back in New Jersey, a friend who was the best man at my wedding, a friend who still lives there, and I’m way overdue to pay him a visit.

Icing on the cake, two other New Jersey friends we’ve kept in touch with all these years, friends we hung out with through high school and college, will be joining us, one flying in from Maine, the other driving up from San Diego.

It’s a strange, and I’d say unfortunate, thing that it is so commonplace in our culture to move away from close friends with whom we spent such formative years, chasing careers and some vague and non-guaranteed future happiness. It’s like an amputation. Those friends were a part of me, and there’s a part of me that doesn’t seem to exist when I’m not with them.

Oh, we get on with our lives, and the phantom pains subside, and if we don’t make an effort the friendships die and fade away. We four, and a handful of other friends of that vintage, haven’t let that happen, but it seems an awful shame that for many it does.

I’m SO looking forward to seeing these people who are so dear to me, and feeling whole again.

I’ll be back here at Fish & Bicycles on Tuesday, March 10th. In the meantime, if you’re so inclined, please feel free to browse around here in any of the following ways:

  • Tags: In the sidebar, under Stuff About…, you can click on any of the Tags and see all the posts I’ve done that have at least something to do with those topics.
  • Recurring Series: At the top of the page, hover over the Recurring Series drop-down menu and select from options like Celebrating Progress, which applauds businesses adopting sustainable practices; Eyecatchers, a collection of photos, graphics, and videos that have, well, caught my eye; Video Fridays, my favorite video of the week pick; and more.
  • Archives: Towards the bottom of the sidebar, select a specific month to see everything I posted in that time period.

Cheers!