April 5, 1995
Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York (Geffen 1994) -- In November, 1993, the late, lamented Kurt Cobain gathered his band and headed to New York to record an unplugged show. The result is this 53-minute set, which was released on CD only after Cobain's death. In many ways, Unplugged in New York casts the band in a new (and more accessible) light, and shows what the future might have held.
Let's set the record straight. I was never a big fan of Nirvana. To me, Nirvana's brand of grunge meant a dense wall of guitar noise that buried obscure (but mostly unfriendly) lyrics. (When my wife saw Nirvana's video for this show, she asked if "grunge" means that the band members don't take baths).
While the three band members (Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl) received loads of acclaim and placed Seattle firmly on the musical landscape, there was always something standoffish about the group. I respected their wishes. If they wanted to remain separate, so be it.
Unplugged in New York shows that, underneath the attitude, there was a ton of talent in this band. Fourteen cuts (six of which are covers) are stripped down and subdued, and feature some great guitarwork among Cobain's solid vocal performances.
The highlight of the disc is a gripping acoustic cover of an old (and largely unknown) David Bowie tune, "The Man Who Sold the World." In addition to covers of three songs by the Meat Puppets (whose last release, Too High to Die, was a terrific punk & rock album), Unplugged in New York also features fine reworkings of Nirvana originals such as "Come as You Are" and "All Apologies."
All told, Unplugged in New York offers an unusual and quieter insight into a band that made it big on a wall of noise. As an additional insight, some critics suggest that Hole's album, Live Through This, was so strongly influenced by Cobain (the husband of Hole's lead singer, Courtney Love) that it might be considered the "last" Nirvana album. Live Through This was released shortly before Kurt's death, and was obscured by the ensuing publicity. Listen for yourself to see if you can find the connection.
In assessing Nirvana's brief career, Jon Bon Jovi had a good point when he said, "If the fame was too much for him, he should have quit. You don't have to do it. You can always write songs and play in a bar in Seattle. You don't have to be in this game." Fans who are looking for answers won't find them here; fans who are looking for a more intimate version of Nirvana will dig Unplugged in New York.
The Rugburns, Mommy, I'm Sorry (Bizarre/Planet Records 1995) -- San Diego favorites, The Rugburns, have captured their warped live act on the 26-minute EP, Mommy, I'm Sorry, which conjures up tales of transvestites, psychopaths, and white trash amidst a solid rock background. With their original, quasi-comic songs, The Rugburns carry on in the vein of the late Frank Zappa. And that's high praise.
The band consists of singer Steve Poltz, guitarist Robert "Doc" Driscoll, bassist Gregory Page, and drummer Jeff "Stinkey" Aafedt. The threesome has happily avoided the insideous San Diego headbanging grunge scene during their ten-year career; instead they rely on tight musicianship, melodic arrangements, and an abnormal sense of humor to produce their singular music.
With their androgynous, crypto-sexual messages, you never know where this San Diego rock/punk combo is coming from. From the hard-rockin' "The Fairies Came" (with its line, "I met a girl on the ferry boat/She had wings and gold dust in her teeth/Then I reached down and felt her magic wand/And I realized that he was just like me") to the more countryish "Lockjaw," a ballad about a man who has trouble saying the "L" word, this disc is filled with strange twists and turns.
The warped highlight of this album is the awesome pop rocker, "Dick's 1969 Camaro," a bizarre seven-minute ode to picnics, Henry Rollins, and baby deer.
This stuff is weird. This stuff is perverted. This stuff is great. Play this disc and you'll be sure to thoroughly offend your parents. Heartily recommended.
Bonepony - Nashville-based Bonepony played a spirited and well-appreciated set as a warmup for the recent Steve Perry show at Warnor's Theater. The band, consisting of singer/songwriter Scott Johnson, guitarist Bryan Ward, and multi-instrumentalist/producer Kenny Mims, had the crowd rocking from the start with their Southern-influenced boogie, including such songs as "Where the Water's Deep" and "Sugar on the Pill."
Johnson hails from Texas, and arrived in Nashville via Baltimore (where he went looking for work and met with Ward). He came across as an energetic chap, and quickly won over the crowd with his open and straightforward delivery. Bonepony played an acoustic set; for their upcoming Capitol Records debut, Stomp Revival, the band also uses a bass player and drummer.
Johnson said Fresno was a "happening place," and genuinely enjoyed the crowd's positive reaction to the group's Crosby, Still, Nash & Young-influenced harmony vocals. Expect good things when Stomp Revival is released.
Screwbalz Comedy Club - Speaking of local venues, I recently spent an evening at Screwbalz Comedy Club on Van Ness Avenue. The wait staff was attentive, the food generous, and the comedy fast and furious. Owner Ray Appleton has worked hard to turn Screwbalz into a top flight comedy club, and his efforts show. The place was packed, and everyone had a good time.
My one complaint is the pre-concert music. Before the show, 70s and 80s disco/dance music was played non-stop. It's not the type of music that bothered me as much as the volume level. It was too loud, and limited our ability to enjoy any pre-show discussions with our guests. Turn it down, folks.
After the show, we went to the new Fulton Bar, which, not surprisingly, is located on Fulton Mall. Everything Don Wright says about this club is correct. It has a neighborhood/college bar feel, and is one of the friendliest music venues you'll find in Fresno.
With a diverse clientele ranging from college students to yupppies to working folks, the Fulton Bar knows how to treat people right. Though it's in an awkward location (the back door opens on to the Fulton Mall; the front door is next to the County Health Department), it has a lot of potential.
-- Randy Krbechek
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