Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Super week

As you'd expect by now, the New England Patriots will be the center of attention Sunday in the Coppertop, so no band will have to compete with the drubbing the team delivers to the New York Giants during the Super Bowl.

But there's plenty of music leading up to the Big Game, starting Thursday with Rainy Day Activities. The young North County band has a good ear for classic rock,  which comes across in some interesting covers (the Rolling Stones' "Angie"....nice!) and  solid originals.

On Friday night, Brian & Captain return to the Coppertop with their acoustic show.

And Fred Ellsworth is back in the room with his House Shakers on Saturday. Ellsworth, pictured above with bassist Mike Sisto, definitely keeps his band rooted in the blues, but the guitarist can throw a few curves too. He delivered a pretty infectious  "Last Train to Clarksville" last time he brought the band to the Coppertop.

All three shows start at 8 p.m.

So getting back to the Bowl, in honor of the Pats' QB Tom Brady, Sunday afternoon lift tix are $12 for those arriving in a Patriots jersey. And if the Patriots' defense crushes the Giants, we all benefit Monday. Day time lift tickets on Monday will cost whatever the Giants score _ which should be zero, right? Those Monday day tickets will not exceed their normal costs should the Giants somehow score that many points _ but really, what are the odds of that happening?

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Friday" arrives Sunday

Getting back into the music scene after a few years away, Josh Briggs learned a couple of things. First, a repertoire of indie-rock tunes drawn from his personal tastes was not enough to entertain most audiences at the places he was playing.

"After getting so many requests to play Jimmy Buffett and Zac Brown songs, I decided I better learn some. Thing is, after all the years I spent scoffing at that stuff, I realized there was more to those songs than I was giving them credit for," says Briggs.

The storytelling and simple, catchy chord progressions were not far afield from the punk rock that Briggs grew up on. And as he worked on a batch of original songs, that country and roots-music influence started showing up in his own work.

"I didn't plan it that way," says Briggs of his recently released "Back to Bliss." "I wrote a bunch of songs over the past couple of years and when I pulled together the ones I liked best for the CD, a lot of them had that country twang thing going on."

Briggs will air some of those tunes with the band Five on Friday when it plays Sunday in the Coppertop starting at 4 p.m. Guitarist Dave Rotondo and percussionist "Bongo" Mike Sheehan join Briggs in Five on Friday, and the trio covers a swath of classic to contemporary tunes alongside the original material. Briggs, who was a member of the popular alt-rock bands Popgun Picnic and Flat Stanley,  returns to the Coppertop with a solo gig on Feb. 26.

Briggs used a Kickstarter campaign to finance his CD. He raised enough money to also produce a nice video for the single "What I'm Drinking," above, which has drawn  more than 14,000 views on YouTube.

"The Kickstarter worked really well. It was like having a bunch of pre-sales," says Briggs of the funding mechanism that lets fans support musicians, filmmakers and the like with donations and then reap a CD or some other incentive.

"Things are a lot different from the old days," says Briggs. "I don't know 14,000 people, and to have that many people see the video and to get emails from all over the place about my music is great."

What hasn't changed from the old days is knowing how to make a connection with an audience from the stage. Briggs says that Five on Friday typically plays smaller rooms, so it doesn't want to blow away its listeners with anything overly loud. Though "Bongo" has been building his battery.

"When we started, he had a conga and bongos. Now we're up to a kick drum, a snare and other percussion," says Briggs. "His kit looks like it's from the island of misfit toys."

But Briggs knows as well as anyone that you learn what you need to do as you go along.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hoodoo blues how-to

Hoodoo Revelator singer Kevin Haney wasn't all that surprised when a fan in his 20s approached him to point out how the new Black Keys album sounds like old Howlin' Wolf records.

"It always comes full circle," Haney says of today's hit makers echoing a blues legend who rose to fame in the 1950s.

Haney practically lived the circle, developing a taste for the blues after becoming a fan of classic rock.  An older brother and sister had Haney listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath before he ever thought about being a musician himself.

Haney first backtracked from classic rock singing with a funky horn-driven 10-piece band. From there he pared down, moving toward a more traditional classic blues sound.  It was four years ago that the current incarnation of Hoodoo Revelator formed with Haney on vocals,  Willie Moss on bass, Robert Palumbo on drums, Dan "Moe" Moriarty on guitar, and Glen Assaro on harmonica.

Hoodoo Revelator brings the blues to the Coppertop Saturday night starting at 8.

Hoodoo Revelator can dig into a bit of Muddy Waters then hop over to a Rolling Stones song. The format is similar to what the early J. Geils Band did, so it's no surprise that Hoodoo Revelator does a little Geils in its show as well.

Haney says it's a pretty good time for the blues right now, no doubt as a younger audience is finding its way into the music through some currently popular bands.

"We're getting 21-year-olds to 60-year-olds at the shows. It's a style of music that will never go away," Haney says.

It helps too that Hoodoo Revelator is hitting its stride now that it has a few years together.

"We're tearing it up when we're on," Haney says.  "And lately we've been on a lot." 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Morning guy at night

Greg Byrne is pretty well known for playing songs _  on the radio, as host of the WSRS-FM morning show, where he spins Top 40 and pop tracks and provides running commentary in between.

But Byrne, pictured at right, is a musician in his own right. Last year he joined the band Shaky Ground as one of its guitarists. Then he and Shaky Ground's other ax slinger, Ron Stacy, put together the acoustic duo Second Base, which they will bring to the Coppertop Friday for an 8 p.m. show.

"With the blues stuff of Shaky Ground, we're playing to one audience, and with the acoustic shows more people are listening for songs they know, so we'll make sure to get in, say, something by Jimmy Buffett, but we can also stretch out a bit and maybe do Simon and Garfunkel too," Byrne says. "The blue-collar rock thing is aimed at getting people to dance and sweat. The duo is aimed at people who want to sit back and listen. I mean, they can dance and sweat if they want."

Those who've heard Byrne on the radio won't be surprised to know he sings in the bass register, which makes him a different vocal partner for Stacy, who typically teams with fellow tenors in his other acoustic settings.

"We can bring in some interesting material, like Johnny Cash songs. Or we have fun with some things. We'll do a Beatles song and where you expect that nice Paul McCartney vocal, I'll come booming in instead," Byrne says.

Byrne's work at WSRS keeps him plugged into the latest popular songs, so Second Base is as apt to tackle a new Coldplay song as a classic cut.

"Oh yeah we cycle in new songs as I notice them," Byrne says. "You gotta hear me sing Adele."

We'll hold off on requesting the basso profondo arrangement of "Someone Like You," but we did have to ask how Byrne manages to play in bands by night when his regular job requires him to be up by 3:30 a.m. and on air by 5.

"Naps are the secret," he shares.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Between the games

OK, so at first I was bummed that the Patriots' march to the Super Bowl kept derailing music in the Coppertop; I mean, I was looking forward to hearing Glenn Stewart on Sunday. But I have to admit, it was pretty cool being in the company of ski-bum Pats fans surrounded by TV screens as Baltimore Ravens kicker  Billy Cundiff turned an easy field goal into a ticket to the Big Game for New England.

So now we have a couple of weeks before the big New England-New York rematch AND full snow coverage on the mountain. So, yeah, it's a good week to check out things, starting Thursday with Grand National Championships playing at 8 p.m. in the Coppertop.

On Friday night, the acoustic duo Second Base is at the mountain. WSRS-FM  morning host Greg Byrne and Ron Stacy formed Second Base alongside their duties as guitarists in the band Shaky Ground . Byrne and Stacy cover tunes that feature their vocal harmonies and guitar fretwork, hitting classic and contemporary material alike.

It's a blue Saturday  in the Coppertop with Hoodoo Revelator, the band featured in the video above. These North County guys also like to pull from different eras. Their sets draw on the blues' foundations and move into the rock 'n' roll era, though putting a traditional spin on things.

Five on Friday helms the Coppertop's afternoon show at 4 Sunday. The band features Josh Briggs and Dave Rotondo on guitars and "Bongo" Mike Sheehan on percussion. While Five on Friday can cover artists as diverse as Cee Lo and Stephen Stills, it's nice to see that Briggs recently released a CD of his own material.

 All in all, not a bad run of  pre-game shows.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"You gotta see this guy"

Andy Cummings is so good at what he does that fans tell the singer and guitarist that he needs to broaden his horizons _ "Go to New York,"  "Go to Los Angeles," they say.

"I take it as a compliment," says Cummings, who won Best Solo Artist honors in last year's Worcester Music Awards. "But I like being here. I like being the guy that people tell visitors,  'You gotta see this guy play before you go.' I'm a booster for Worcester."

A fleet-fingered guitar player and supple-voiced singer, Cummings performs from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday in the Coppertop.

Though he has been in and out of various bands over the years_ most recently playing in a ''50s-leaning rockabilly trio_ Cummings is at home as a solo performer. He enjoys a wide array of music and is as natural an entertainer as he is musician.

"I've seen a lot of guys end up playing songs for themselves. If I tailored the set list for me, it would be full of lesser-known songs. But I'm not ashamed to say I tailor a set list for the audience. It's still a challenge to find material that I like, will be known in a crowd, and suits my voice," he says.

Since hitting the coffeehouse circuit 15 years ago, Cummings has amassed a thick catalog of tunes, some of which are still staples in his show.

"'Pinball Wizard,' " Cummings says without hesitation when asked to mention a song he's been playing forever. "I wouldn't call it my favorite Who song, but I love playing it. It's got a great guitar part and lends itself to showmanship."

Cummings also teaches guitar, which he believes has stepped up his game as a performer.

"Joe Satriani said that teaching guitar teaches you how to get your own (act) together," Cummings says. "You have to be ready when the students arrive and know what you're talking about."

Cummings says he was the class clown in school and the one to unabashedly perform at family events as a kid. Yet, he never thought he'd actually be able to turn his talents and passions into a sustainable career.

"I'm teaching and playing, and all along kind of laughing on the inside thinking, "I can't believe I get to do this for a living,'" he says.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Frankly, something different

Brian Chaffe is probably best known around these parts as frontman for the Franks, a funky rock troupe that puts a hard edge on its jams. But Chaffee is also at work on his first solo CD and not opposed to the occasional scaled-down gig, such as the one he has Friday at the Coppertop with drummer Adam Sausville.

Performing as Brian & AJ, the pair will dip into Chaffees originals and covers spanning Beatles to Radiohead. Show time is 8 p.m.

Sausville and Chaffee were both in the band Krakow, which drew a good following among the Central Mass jam-band scene in the '90s. After Krakow disbanded, Chaffee helped launch the Franks and Sausville took his drumming skills into a variety of projects ranging from rock to country (he also is part of the crew that makes sure the lifts are running properly at Wachusett).

The two only team a couple of times in a year, and each sees it as a chance to craft a loose, freewheeling set.

 "He can send me a songlist the night before and we know each other well enough that we'll know how to work through the songs in the show," Sausville says. "It's fun to let it unfold as it happens."

Chaffee likewise sees this kind of show as a chance to stretch out, and he'll come armed with keys, guitars, and probably a ukulele.

"I don't care if it's a song by T.I. or the Foo Fighters, I like playing in a jazz setting, improvising," he says. "I like going by the seat of my pants."

Work is under way on a new Franks CD, and Chaffee says he also started his solo project, which will contain some songs that are brand new and some that just didn't fit into the band.

"It's a blessing and curse," Chaffee says of working on his own. "I do get to do everything exactly my way. But with the band, you do get that benefit some times of extra sets of ears."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jacques of all trades

By the time a song makes it into Bruce Jacques set list, it has transcended genre and entered the broadest musical style of all: Bar Music.

Jacques is a master of connecting musical dots, linking Neil Diamond to Lady Gaga; Journey to Train; "American Pie" to "Red Solo Cup." And he does it with a big dollop of humor, spoofing pop music's finer moments, from Axl to Britney.

"I don't pay attention to pop radio," says Jacques who has been performing since 1977. "The songs come to me when people start talking about them."

Once a song or an artist hits mainstream critical mass_ that point where young and old alike know the tune or its singer_ Jacques then decides what to do about it .

He can play it straight; he can deliver it in costume with a comedic twist; he can stream the lyrics on the LED  sign he has on stage and create a singalong; or he can roll it into a medley. Using synths and computers for backing tracks as he plays guitar and sings, Jacques is the modern version of the one-man band (combined with a human jukebox).

Jacques returns to the Coppertop Thursday with an 8 p.m. show.

"I just make it all entertaining. There are many great songs I could play, but I stick to songs people know. If I just played 'Piano Man' and then a song they didn't know, that's when everyone would go for a bathroom break," he says.

Jacques says that with the explosion of country crossover hits such as "Toes" and "Chicken Fried" and a recent crop of frothy Top 40 hits along the lines of "Hey, Soul Sister" and "I Gotta Feeling," he's rarely seen it better in terms of adding tunes to his repertoire.

Interestingly, songs rarely ever die off completely once a part of the Bar Music canon.

"It's weird," Jacques says. "I play so many different kinds of places that I can usually find the right setting for a song once it's part of the show. Certain songs work in Boston on a Saturday night, and others are better for a show with kids."

Jacques assures, though, that whatever the occasion_ wedding, party, kids show, or ski-lodge concert_ he has the tunes to fit the mood.

"That's a huge part of what I do," he says. "Figuring out what the crowd is feeling."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ones, twos, and blues...plus a question

This week the Coppertop welcomes two of the region's premier solo acts; a duo that reunites former members of North County band Krakow; and a veteran blues man. The Patriots' march to the Super Bowl is upending the music scene a bit; Glenn Stewart's show Sunday is being postponed to allow full attention be paid to the Pats-Ravens playoff game.

Bruce Jacques returns to the mountain Thursday night. Jacques is a frenetic showman, mixing hit songs with wry humor. Andy Cummings is another standout playing this week. Cummings, who won the Worcester Music Award last year for Best Solo Artist, is playing Saturday afternoon from 3 to 5.

On Friday night, Brian Chaffee and Adam Sausville, who were both in Krakow, reunite for a duo show, mixing up Chaffee's originals and covers.

Then Saturday night, starting at 8, Chris Stovall Brown gets the room grooving to his brand of blues. Stovall Brown (featured in the video) is a dean of the New England blues scene, having led bands and jams since the 1970s.

And finally, last week I once again fell into the discussion about iPods and skiing. My ski buddy last Friday is a firm believer in having earbuds in place while on the slopes; he spends the drive up making playlists, even. I, after skiing and riding a few times with an iPod, bagged the tunes and still just prefer the natural ambient sounds of the experience. Feel free to weigh in through the comments section.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Schedule shifts

Quick note: The lousy weather Thursday forced the Gosling's Dark n' Stormy bash with Island Breeze to be moved to Feb. 16. Joe Macey's show is moving from Saturday to 4 p.m.March 11. The Saturday night show is also off, but the Pats-Broncos game will be on in the Coppertop.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hitting new Heights

Tall Heights has been a work in progress for its founders, Tim Harrington and Paul Wright.

"That's an understatement," assures Harrington. "It's been more like a long journey."

Guitarist Harrington and cello player Wright both grew up in Sturbridge and knew each other as kids. The pair reconnected a few year ago and began work on an acoustic-pop musical project. In the summer of 2010 when Tall Heights landed a coveted busking gig at Boston's Faneuil Hall, Harrington and Wright realized they had been on the wrong path in trying to shape their sound into a traditional "bass and drums to be added" format.

Playing four hours every day outside that summer, they honed a sound that better reflected both the pop leanings of the songwriting and ethereal dynamics of the instrumentation. This discovery occurred around the time that such bands as Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes popularized the chamber-folk sound.

"We found our way into a scene we didn't see coming," Harrington says.

Tall Heights plays from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Coppertop (hey, it's a holiday Monday, so come out) and returns Feb. 12. Tip: check these guys out now as they are on a roll that very well may have them outgrowing intimate gigs such as these.

Tall Heights recorded the EP "Rafters" to document its solidified sound. The home-studio production captures the raw essence of the the tunes' gentle tones and incisive lyrics. Harrington says Tall Heights is planning a trek down to the buzz-building South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin and laying the groundwork for a full-length recording. The duo has also landed recent high-profile gigs with Ryan Montbleau and Ana Egge.

"Each time we took a step, it felt natural," Harrington says. "We had no idea what kind of reaction to expect. But people are loving this music."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Macey apres

Joe Macey loves to read a room.  The veteran singer and guitarist says he has a knack for quickly determining what tunes will get his audience engaged.

"Roping them in is the part  I love," Macey says, and he's been loving it for 37 years.

Macey performs from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday in the first afternoon apres-ski music event of the season. It's also his first appearance in the Copppertop, and Macey says he's combing through his song book for "mountain music," thus far tucking away nuggets by James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and (natch') John Denver.

Early in his career, Macey went headlong into country music and had a great run through the region before heading to Nashville to work on an album in the mid-90s. His single from the record, "Lonesome Rider," sold well and recently had a sales bump when it was placed on several digital music services.

"We sold another 3,000 copies of the song, with the single biggest sales coming from China, followed by Mexico," Macey notes (you can hear the song and  few others by clicking the link beneath Macey's photo).

When Macey returned from Nashville to Sturbridge, many of the venues that supported local country music no longer did. So out of necessity, he expanded his repertoire, and teamed for several years with an old musical ally from his youth, Tim Hart. Those two parted ways about a year ago, and Macey developed his current solo show. He does have a new duo in the works with singer Liz Hartmann, and that project will debut in April.

"When the local country scene dried up, I decided to do whatever I had to to stay working. I learned songs in every genre. I kept my country roots, but I have the ability to play rock and roll," he says.

Macey says he doesn't like to take breaks once his set gets going, so settle in once he starts strumming.

"There's definitely a rhythm to my shows," he says. "I like to keep going and going so the show peaks when it should peak. I like to work hard. Maybe that's not the best for my vocal cords."

But that work ethic has seen this full-time musician through so many changing times and styles that there's no stopping him now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Caribbean cool

 Plan on hitting the beach Thursday after making your runs. At least it will feel like the beach in the Coppertop that night, as Island Breeze will be playing the calypso and Gosling's rum will be serving the dark 'n' stormies.

Island Breeze features Kelley B. from long-running reggae faves Hot Like Fire on keyboards, trumpet and vocals, Charleston Sarjean on steel pan, and Ron Butler on guitar.

Kelley B. formed this project while she was working as a chef at the Meridian hotel.

"They were doing a clam bake and I told them they should be using a steel pan band instead of a jazz group for the clam bakes," she says. Kelley B. had been playing reggae and Caribbean music in the area long enough to pull together such a project.

While attending Berklee College of Music, Kelley B. had dreams of being the first woman trumpet player in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. But a trip to Barbados when she was 18 changed everything. She learned the island's music and played in island bands.

Back home in Boston, Kelley B. formed Hot Like Fire which remains one of the region's leading reggae acts.

The attention to detail and authenticity Kelley B. puts into Hot Like Fire is also found in Island Breeze. Sarjean created the Pan United steel orchestra in 2001 and has been playing the resonant percussion instrument since he was 12 years old. Today, Sarjean also teaches steel pan to public school students in Boston.

Island Breeze recently added Butler, a Jamaican guitarist who has performed with Israel Vibration and toured with Steel Pulse. Butler's addition is sure to have Island Breeze pushing beyond the boundaries of traditional calypso. Though, Kelley B. was already having some fun mixing hot reggae into the traditional calypso mix (as well as some natural popular number such as "Mambo No. 5").

"New England has a diverse population of people of African, Haitian, and Caribbean descent," Kelley B. says. "There is a lot of love for this music, and always a niche for a band like this."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Calypso to cello this week

OK, first I owe an apology to one of my guitar-playing buddies whom I told to go check out the Coppertop as a possible venue for his band. His report back from the trip: "Dude, nice room, but we have two drummers! We'd never fit."

OK, so I get ahead of myself sometimes, and he's right: the Coppertop stage is tiny; the crowd is close. In other words, it's the proverbial "good things in small packages" sort of place. And did Trebek  ever understand that last week when it pared down to  an acoustic trio and still rocked the lounge with its originals and inspired covers of songs by Cheap Trick, Bob Marley and others.

The music scene at the mountain has gotten pretty popular, so the Wah is offering two shows on some days, sort of a traditional apres-ski session set starting at 3 p.m. before the 8 p.m. night show. Joe Macey is doing  the first apres set this Saturday. Macey, who produced a CD of country originals, is a regular on the singer-songwriter circuit and opened for many country greats playing at Indian Ranch.

Andy Cummings helms the afternoon show on Jan. 21, and Fern & Rita handle the apres-ski duties Feb. 18.

This week also ushers in Island Breeze, the calypso trio offshoot of long-running reggae band Hot Like Fire. Island Breeze plays Thursday night for a Goslings Dark n' Stormy party. More on Island Breeze tomorrow.

Wah favorite Sean Fullerton (shown in video) is back  for an 8 p.m. show Friday, while the Alan Stone Project is on tap for Saturday night. The guitar-and-cello duo Tall Heights plays Sunday at 4 p.m. to wrap up this week's Coppertop offerings.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Hole story

Checking out the song list that Five Hole draws from only tells part of the band's story. Most of the tunes will look familiar_ radio faves, some classic rock, and party standards (c'mon, who doesn't like "What I Like About You"?). But over its six years together, Five Hole has worked up arrangements to make even the most familiar songs sound fresh.

"Sometimes I can't even listen to a song on the radio that we do because it just sounds so different to me now," says Five Hole singer Ken Berry.

A prime example is Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." Five Hole has taken that rap gem and reworked it with a heavy rock groove into one of its more popular concert numbers.

Five Hole made its Wah debut last fall in a pre-season party at the mountain. The band returns Saturday playing in the Coppertop starting at 8 p.m. This show will be a little different as the group will be playing acoustic guitars and focusing on mellower tunes from the repertoire.

"We'll tone it down, and I like that, that's my style," Berry says. The band hasn't done a gig like this before so it is anxious to dust off some tunes it let fall from the play list or doesn't get to perform when a more rocking, electric set is in order.

 Berry mentions such tunes as Radiohead's "Creep" and Incubus's "Drive" as things he is looking forward to singing in the "unplugged" setting.

Guitarists Rick Brown and Cedric Mollet, bassist Bill Nelson, and drummer John St. Jean round out the Five Hole lineup. Berry says his band mates are more likely to tune into hard-rocking WAAF while he spins the dial to mellower WBOS. Yet the band fuses the members' different tastes into one entertaining package.

"They brought that Drowning Pool song 'Bodies,'" Berry recalls of a tune he never thought he'd enjoy singing. "It's super heavy, but it has legitimate vocals. We usually use it to end with, when I'm spent. But I have to hit real notes. Even though there's a lot of screaming, there is some real singing in there. The first time I heard that song, I couldn't imagine singing it."

Berry says Five Hole has found its niche as a show band, one that can get a crowd moving to both Blink 182 and Rage Against the Machine.

"We offer a lot of variety," Berry says. "We like being a little all over the place."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Guitar'n uncle

For just two guys with acoustic guitars, the Drunken Uncles create a big sound. Robin Steiger has a lot to do with that.

Before joining singer Tom Hurley in the Drunken Uncles, Steiger was performing in Ron Stone's Milestones Big Band and with the Worcester Light Opera Company, as well as in his own bands that ran from rock to blues. Steiger studied for many years with jazz master Rich Falco and eventually began teaching at the same school, Clemente Music Studio, in Worcester. Steiger even learned a few licks and tricks from Worcester-bred guitar great Duke Levine ("My biggest influence," Steiger says).

The Drunken Uncles play Thursday night in the Coppertop.

"My training was in classical and jazz, but I always loved rock," Steiger says. "I just always tried to blend it all together."

To that end, Steiger never plays a song the same way twice. Even as the Drunken Uncles cover popular songs from several eras, Steiger says he does not try and recreate a song note-for-note.

"The way I was taught by Rich Falco was don't try and copy a song, but instead try and capture its essence in your playing. I try and create a feeling," Steiger says.

Playing for as long as he has in such a variety of settings, Steiger knows a lot of songs and is game to try almost anything.

"I made Tom sing 'Dancing Queen' one night after someone requested it. It was a train wreck but it was fun to try," Steiger says. "Tom and I can be polar opposites sometimes. He'll want to make sure something works; I'll just want to go for it. It can create a tension, like Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey."

 Which brings us to the video clip. It's not a flashy production, but check out Steiger's burst of notes about a minute-and-a-half into the Who gem.

Though he'd like to toss some numbers by  blues and jazz player Robben Ford into the set, and would be happy covering Steely Dan songs all night, Steiger says just about any tune can become an interesting piece of guitar work.

"I remember Duke (Levine) playing a Michael Jackson song_ 'I Want You Back'_ and he made it sound amazing, even without the vocals," Steiger says. "There's no reason you can't do that with every song."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Trebek back in action

Trebek's "In the Dark" is built to move you. Not with heartbreaking ballads or inspirational insights. No, Trebek will physically move you.

"With this album we attempted to put a dance beat into every song," explains Trebek bassist Mike Kelly.

But "In the Dark" isn't a dance record in the classic sense; it's a dance record in the AC/DC "Back in Black" sense or Rolling Stones "Some Girls" sense. Like those beloved rock records, "In the Dark" has a clear, clean drive to its sound.

Trebek's Kelly, singer Matt Dionne, and guitarist Jesse Boudreau will be together in the Coppertop Friday starting at 8 (the full band also includes drummer Jeff Pitts).

 Trebek's roots go back to the Fitchburg band Naked Vinyl. As the band transformed, it dropped a rap-rock influence (though Dionne can still deliver a mile-a-minute verse when he feels like it) and picked up a cleaner pop edge to its rock foundation.

The band released its self-titled debut CD in 2006 and won "Best Live Act" honors in the 2007 and '08 Worcester Music Awards.

After some time off, Trebek returned last year with the summer release of "In the Dark." Dionne is a strong singer with a versatile voice who can deliver a catchy performance without resorting to pop formula, resulting in a wide range of influences on the new CD.

"We all are creative in our own ways, and we try and bring all of that into the band," Kelly says. So you may find bits of reggae or harder rock in the mix.

Trebek is spending the early part of the this year honing its live show.

"We have these new songs, but are looking for the best way to put them together as a show," Kelly says.

And the work starts anew Friday in the Coppertop.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Make way for Uncles

Nobody has as much fun as a drunken uncle, right? At least that's the impression left when Tom Hurley and Robin Steiger come together as the acoustic duo, the Drunken Uncles.

As the Drunken Uncles, Hurley and Steiger tap a thick songbook of tunes, stuff ranging from classic rock staples to singer-songwriter chestnuts to fan suggestions; these guys can get you from Pete Townshend to Kenny Chesney in the course of a night's work.

"If people suggest something to us that is popular right now, most often we'll check it out, see what it's like to play," Hurley says. "But we still have to like it to play it."

The Drunken Uncles bring their "All Your Favorite Songs" show to the Coppertop Thursday, starting at 8. The duo kicks off this week's entertainment schedule which also includes Trebek on Friday, Five Hole on Saturday, and Brian & Captain on Sunday afternoon.

Hurley and Steiger began Drunken Uncles while both were in the band Joe Rockhead. Hurley formed Joe Rockehead as a vehicle for his original  songs, and Steiger was the band's lead guitar player during its final years together.

The Uncles click as performers, as Hurley's husky vocals can play off of Steiger's fleet guitar picking that at goes bluesy, jazzy and funky at turns. They also take advantage of their broad musical tastes to bring in material that spans songs from Toad the Wet Sprocket to Bruce Springsteen. 

The two first played together in the late-80s rock band Blynd Dryve (Hurley still getting a kick out of the utter 80-ness of using "y" in place of "i" in the band's name). The two dabbled in a couple of other projects before Hurley headed off to form Joe Rockhead and concentrate on his songwriting.

Joe Rockhead produced four albums between 1995 and 2002, each a well-received blast of surging, melodic rock.

When Drunken Uncles went from side gig to routine booking for Hurley and Steiger, they incorporated some of Hurley's original material into the set. Hurley also says he finally just snapped a dry spell of writing and has new originals in the works. Who knows, maybe one of those will become your very own new favorite song.