Progressive Kinda Rhymes With Caribbean

15 May

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Apologies for the lack of action round the Pig State lately – been on vacation the past couple weeks, adrift in warm Caribbean breezes of the US Virgin Islands. No indigenous rock and roll was heard during my travels, but at least two separate versions of Buster Poindexter’s manic “Hot, Hot, Hot” were noted – the first rendered on cheap solo gtr & rhythm track by a Hound Dog Taylor-looking gentleman outside the St. John airport, the second on steel drum in a restaurant we dined in too frequently (belch).

When not snorkeling, drinking, burning, or sleeping, I could invariably be found listening to progressive rock on my I-Pod – and, inexplicably, only that prog that grew outta the neck of the woods I happened to grow up in. Now this was a somewhat new development in my musical maturation – even as an adult, prog hasn’t been something I’m always enamored by – and it sure irked the hell outta my wife. But as I’ve blogged about the music of the South Bay many, many times here before, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d eventually write about prog sounds from my old stomping grounds too. So here goes:

146021. AMBROSIA – “Time Waits For No One” (Ambrosia, 20th Century Fox Records, 1975) – There was this short lived Redondo Beach record store for a couple years in the 80’s called Round Sounds that seemingly made it their sole mission to revive classic 70’s prog rock. ELP gatefold albums were displayed with pride on the walls; GENTLE GIANT listening parties were arranged but sparsely attended; and yep the owner sported exactly the frizzy mullet and soccer jersey you might imagine he did. Here, all this amazing post punk/hardcore underground rock was unfolding all around us, and this dude’s trying to sell me my first ALAN PARSONS PROJECT record.

But I do not doubt that this shop owner held AMBROSIA dear to his heart. Hell, I’m starting to myself. All these AMBROSIA fellas grew up in the South Bay, they claimed San Pedro as their home years before that town became most-closely associated with THE MINUTEMEN, and they concocted at least one great if totally commercial LP in 1975 that you should check out before you die. Yes they sound PABLO CRUISE/DOOBIE BROTHERS slick (how could you not if you were a hotshit SoCal career musician in the mid 70’s?), but this also sounds like 4 dudes still totally excited to be allowed to leap through ambitious, progressive rock hoops for the rest of us to marvel at. The story goes these guys were diehard CROSBY, STILLS, NASH, AND YOUNG fans, until they had a spiritual moment at a KING CRIMSON gig on the Sunset Strip and went for it. In turns West Coast breezy, fusionoid complex, and dorkily escapist – at one point they’re playing beneath a hammy reading of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky – this was the result, and a thing of beauty it is. You punkers will forever deride em but that’s just cause mullets and soccer jerseys are an easy target. The harder thing to do is find the balls to give this a listen. AMBROSIA might just surprise you like they did me.

chakraTachika2. CHAKRA – “Keys to the Kingdom” (Chakra, 1979) – I don’t kid myself: this ain’t “somewhere in between bands like RUSH, YES, ZAZU, and GENTLE GIANT” as every other prog website says about this thing. No, this will never be anything but a muted, local prog rock relic from a smelly bedroom in Torrance, ca. ’79. Earnest in it’s love of sprightly keyboard figures and overly-arranged song structure, these guys at least display a DIY enthusiasm missing from pros like AMBROSIA. It might’ve even accidentally got CHAKRA opening slots for THE LAST at their early, more out-of-the-way suburban gigs . . . OK I too could’ve done without the Christian lyrics, but hey if I ditched all the records in my cabinet by avowed Xian types I’d be staring at one jaundiced collection, that’s fr sure. My wife laughs at me when I play it, and I rarely play it all the way through. But dammit I’m still happy that it’s 2009 and I got a CHAKRA record to spin if I wanna tap my foot to regular joes playing in odd time meters. Me I can follow CHAKRA’s kinda convoluted, suburban musical logic, even when I’m blushing.

816933. 5UU’S – “Roan” (Hunger’s Teeth, ReR Megacorp, 1994) – This is actually well past their South Bay phase, after they’d become world explorers/ex-pats not unlike Yours Truly. 5UU drummer & leader Dave Kerman hates the prog label, but how can a band that started as a KING CRIMSON cover band ever ditch that tag completely? While these guys became known as the American wing of HENRY COW’s Rock In Opposition (RIO) movement, I prefer to remember them as The Band That Confused The Heck Outta Me The Most whenever Splat Winger would spin em on KXLU’s Brain Cookies radio show – this was frequently. Their musicality was always scary, lemme tell ya – in ambition, scope, and execution. Upon reflection stinky RIO socks are jammed in lotsa hidden corners of their sound, particularly in their ZAPPAesque integration of Schoenberg’s 12-Tone Technique in composition. But it’s the sheer intensity and determined angst of the sound/conviction they exhibit that really pins me to the wall. Why didn’t Greg and Chuck ever get these guys to record something for SST Records back when they were still trapped in the South Bay? They seemed a natural to Blast a few choice Concepts back in mid-80’s Torrance.

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6 Responses to “Progressive Kinda Rhymes With Caribbean”

  1. mark May 16, 2009 at 3:30 pm #

    I MUST find a copy of Chakra. Wow, major pony tail-ed action. Nice. Thanks, Michael. Glad to see you had a cool vacation!

  2. mrowster May 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

    Mark! Your recent silence got me wondering if you’d entered a monastery or something. Good to have you back. Yes an Italian label called Great Dane reissued CHAKRA recently; I think Forced Exposure sells it.

  3. mark May 16, 2009 at 11:42 pm #

    AWESOME! I’m on it! I’ve been in school, trying to up my pay grade, so have not had a lot of time. That, and my manager at work told me that there are other things I could be doing on the company dime beside blogging. Doh!

  4. Jimmy May 21, 2009 at 6:02 am #

    Nice legs Pig State Recon man!

  5. Steve June 17, 2009 at 10:53 pm #

    There’s a great 5UUs song on the Taste Test comp on New Alliance, so they *were* at least kind of in the SST orbit…

  6. Phil Hepple August 11, 2009 at 12:25 am #

    Yeah the first and second Ambrosia albums are Classics! Two of the best albums ever recorded! Check out Ambrosia playing The Brunt and Drink Of Water Live on YouTube from last years Rosfest
    progressive music festival.

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