Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Potatomen - Live at Dalloway's

The Potatomen: Friends of the Bend

An Interview with Larry Livermore by Ted Liebler

It all started a couple of weeks before when I passed out flyers for WVFI’s upcoming Potatomen/cub band-a-rama at the Riverdales, Gaunt, Fastbacks show at the Lounge Ax in Chicago. Out of the blue and a few weeks later, Ben Weasel (of the Riverdales, Screeching Weasel) called WVFI requesting if they could play the show with their friends the Potatomen. I recall I had to go an early evening seminar at the Snite Museum on New Mexican pottery. Usually the Southwestern subject would have truly engaged me, but this night was hard to sit through as I was thinking about the possibilities of the 2nd Riverdales show ever! The day of the show finally arrived and I stopped by WVFI and Jim Jadwisiak and Ron Garcia were at the station. Jim said, “I have some good news and bad news for you Ted. The bad news is that Ben Weasel called and had to cancel because of problems with their van. The good news is that the station got the new Mr. T Experience EP today.” To a non-Buddhist trained mind, it was letdown city as I thought to myself there was simply no comparison and Ford Econoline Rent-A-Vans were surely easy to come by in Chicago. On a regular day, the arrival of a new MTX EP would have been exciting, but this would have been a major coup for WVFI to bring Ben Weasel to ND-or technically SMC. In those days before widespread internet use, word about the Riverdales’ cancellation traveled slower than the I-31 highway under construction.

That small and endearing coffee house known as Dalloway’s was packed by the time the Potatomen, all the way from Berkeley, went on that April 5th night. The Potatomen were so well received and reflected my current perspective that music can be a complex thing that has the power to make the world simple again. Making their triumphant return to ND/SMC/South Bend/Michiana, the headliners cub played a joyful set that had almost the whole room dancing. The night hit its zenith when the Vancouver, BC band ripped out their Cars’ cover of "My Best Friend's Girl." At one point, I looked back beyond a room of smiles to the shadowy back corners and spotted a bunch of upset hardcore punks. The arrival of these hardcore punks (perhaps from the Chicago suburbs or maybe even Granger) to encounter two indie rock bands, the Potatomen and cub and no Ben Weasel made for quite the sideshow element. (However, if they were truly upset what were they doing hanging around for the entire show?) The night had it all: Harmony, Contrast, Balance, Unity, and Disorder as the Dalloway’s cash box was ripped off that night...

This edition of Friends of the Bend brings us the thoughts and reflections of Larry Livermore. Larry was the leader/lead singer of the Potatomen and co-founder of Lookout Records–the label which brought the world the sounds of Green Day, Screeching Weasel, the Mr. T Experience, the Queers and our own Ted Leo. The UC-Berkeley graduate is now living in Brooklyn, following his beloved Fulham Football club and writing his first novel.

TL: After the show, you made the very Hank Williams-esque statement that crisscrossing the country as a band was easy street or biscuits 'n' gravy or some such thing. At the time, I didn’t know if you were being facetious or serious or both.

LL: Ha! I don’t remember ever using either of those expressions in my life, but I very well might have said something like that, hopefully in a similar vernacular. I was probably being facetiously serious, in that up to that point, we hadn’t had any real problems on the tour, and it had indeed been as easy as dipping biscuits in gravy, or however the saying might go. But that’s easily explainable by the fact that the Notre Dame show was only the second one of the tour; it had been booked in an unfortunate format that required us to drive some 2,400 miles before playing our first show in Ann Arbor, Michigan. So although the three days it took us to make that drive were filled with some chagrin that we hadn’t had the foresight or aptitude to set up shows for ourselves along the way in, for example, Winnemucca or North Platte or even lovely Dubuque, we otherwise had a good old time listening to music, arguing among ourselves as to what was the best Smiths or Hank Williams song, and having a feet-up-on-the-dashboard look at this great country of ours. The trip back west was not quite so smooth, involving such things as blizzards, break-ins and fitful bursts of rancor and tears, but I’ll suppose you’ll ask more about that later on.

TL: Would you like to add any words here about life on the road as a band? I recall, from a Lookout ‘zine, you wrote about the trials of listening to a bandmate's New Order tape over and over again on one of the Potatomen's tours.

LL: And it looks as though I was right! I don’t, however, remember any specific incidents with a New Order tape, though that’s entirely possible. Ironically, New Order are now ranked high in the regular rotation on my iPod, being especially appropriate for gym workouts and running, but at the time, I would have found it a trial, and it’s quite possible that the bandmate in question might not have been with us for the long run. As noted above, the Smiths and Hank Williams maintained a stranglehold on the Potatomen van (known as Blimpo, by the way) stereo, along with occasional discursions into Morrissey solo records.

But yes, other trials: well, there was the time we had a raging argument that lasted from Berkeley to Portland, Oregon over the merits or lack thereof of facial hair, with the band being evenly divided on the subject. By the time we’d hit the far north of California, I (one of the antis) was being accused of wanting to put all bearded men into concentration camps, when in fact, all I’d said was that if you put a fence down the middle of the planet and put all the beardos on one side and all the clean-shavens on the other, a survey would demonstrate a better intellectual and moral climate on the clean-shaven side.

After we left Notre Dame on that particular trip, things went smoothly enough for a while, the roughest part being when we were required to attend a backyard barbecue in Minneapolis, where locals stood around in t-shirts and shorts despite the temperature hovering around 40 degrees (apparently this is what passes for summer in Minnesota). Two days later, we were stranded in a sudden blizzard near Bismarck, North Dakota (it was the first or second week of April, so I think we were entitled to a little indignation).

The worst episode of the tour, however (provided we’re not talking about the quality of some of our performances) came in Missoula, Montana, where someone broke out the front window of our van and ran off with all our clothes, my acoustic guitar, Patrick’s violin, and my brand new leather jacket, while we were on stage playing. Apparently it happens quite a bit in that deceptively small and innocent-looking town, but we were completely unprepared for it, and even more unprepared for having to make the rest of the trip with a sheet of plastic covering the window and the wind howling like a banshee at a volume that made arguments about the Smiths and Hank Williams not only impossible, but also more pointless than usual, because we could no longer hear the stereo either.

TL: I was under the impression that the band arrived in the late afternoon on an overcast day and really didn’t have time to wander the verdant campus. Still, any impressions of South Bend? It’s OK if you compare it to Eureka, CA or Westland, MI... Any comments on the Notre Dame music scene at the time? (Again, I realize you only encountered 6-7 hours worth of certain aspects of it.)

LL: We did get there fairly late in the afternoon, and it was gray, and we didn’t really have time to see much more than we saw from the van as we found our way to where we’d been instructed to show up. I honestly don’t remember who set up the show for us, but now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure it would have been cub’s booking agent, Margie, as she arranged the entire tour. Anyway, I don’t remember seeing much of South Bend apart from the campus, and not too much of that, which was kind of a disappointment for a Catholic boy who’d been filled with stories of Notre Dame for 12 years of elementary school and high school. Some of our teachers actually used to make us say a prayer for Notre Dame on Fridays during football season. It was as though they saw Notre Dame winning as a victory for all Catholics in much the same way JFK’s election was.

For what I saw of it, I was very impressed by the Notre Dame music scene. It was the kind of scene I occasionally encountered in smallish towns – Arcata, California was another one – that were located far enough from major population or cultural centers that people got together and made up their own entertainment rather than just wait for it to come to them, and the result tended to be more creative, quirky and eccentric than you’d typically encounter in one of the more conventional scenes. I’m thinking of both Krautmiser and Sweep The Leg Johnny in particular. Also, such scenes tend to be much more cooperative and supportive as opposed to the competitive and copycat tendencies one tends to encounter in the “big” towns.

TL: I remember that you told a group of us a story that a nun once told you, “One day, you’ll make it to Notre Dame” and how grateful you were to play at the University with the Potatomen.

LL: I highly doubt that any nun ever predicted that I would make it to Notre Dame; if anything it would have been the opposite: more along the lines of, “If you carry on the way you are, you’re not only never going to get to Notre Dame, you’ll be lucky to get anywhere apart from reform school.”

That being said, I was indeed very proud and grateful to finally make it to Notre Dame, even if it was under circumstances that I never would have imagined back in high school. If anything, I wished the nuns could have seen me, though I doubt they’d have been too impressed. One of them had also rejected me from the high school glee club because I “just didn’t have a voice made for singing.”

TL: You were generous enough to distribute your last major issue (#40) of Lookout that night. I remember friends and myself discussing your writing and perspectives for months. I know your life situation shifted in major ways at that time in your life, but did you foresee (#40) being that last major issue of Lookout?

LL: No, I had no idea at the time that #40 would be the last issue. On the contrary, I was quite pleased in that I felt I had broken new ground with that issue (first full color cover, much greater diversity of material, expanded size) and that I had passed the 10-year mark in publishing it. I was already writing articles for the next issue, including a tour journal that I was keeping, and to this day I have a computer file somewhere full of outlines and partially completed stories for what would have been Lookout #41. It’s just that things were getting a little crazy back in California with the rapid expansion of Lookout Records and the attendant complications brought on by that, and the work just kept getting put off and put off until one day I realized that it probably wasn’t ever going to happen. And once I left the record company, I lost the distribution network that had enabled me to get the magazine all over the country. It was a bit discouraging.

I remember that people wanted the Potatomen and cub to stay longer in South Bend, but the band had to get to (West) Lafayette to record at Mass Giorgini’s Sonic Iguana to record that same night (the split EP with cub). Was West Lafayette the ending point of this tour?

LL: No, on the contrary, Ann Arbor and South Bend were the first two shows of the tour. We had one day off in Lafayette (West Lafayette, the home of Purdue, was just a few minutes walk away, but the studio itself, as well as Mass’s home, was located in Lafayette. From there we went on to Minneapolis. cub had a show in Chicago which we were not asked to play, so that night, the two bands played separate shows, and then we met up again in Fargo ND/Moorhead MN the following night for the rest of the tour out to the West Coast.

TL: Did the successful ND/SMC experience/show influence those Sonic Iguana recording sessions which resulted in the first Mint Records/Lookout label split 7”/CD? (The Beautiful & Damned by the Potatomen and The Day I Said Goodbye by cub.)

LL: I think we were all buzzing from the excitement and enjoyment, and that that did in fact help us to breeze through the Sonic Iguana session (only one; we had to do it in a hurry). Normally, Potatomen recording sessions were drawn-out ordeals, owing in large part to my perfectionism and nervousness that caused me to make an inordinate number of mistakes. But those three songs (our two songs plus a Buddy Holly cover for the CD version) were done in two or three takes at the most. In fact, we chose the Buddy Holly cover and learned to play it on the spot when we realized we should probably record a bonus track for the CD. While I do think that recording on the heels of a great show helped the mood considerably, we also had the advantage of working with the very talented – both on his instrument and behind the board – Mass Giorgini. Just having him in the band and as our recording engineer made us feel about ten times more professional than we ever had before.

MP3 download:
The Potatomen - "The Beautiful & Damned"
(from the Potatomen/cub split EP, The Beautiful & Damned/The Day I Said Goodbye)

see also:
The Potatomen @
The Potatomen on MySpace
The Potatomen on

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Snowi Springs - Snowi Springs/Yam Soap

"This is dedicated to anyone who's ever picked up instruments, played and/or recorded a few songs then thought up a name then called themselves a band." -- Snowi Springs

The snowy spring of 1993 begat Snowi Springs. Colin Clary, Ted Leo, Chris Norborg. St. Peter Street. Drums, bass, guitar, one mic. Tape running, all improv.

So, I'm downloading the Snowi Springs as I type, and though I remember these recordings fondly, I have a conceptual issue to bring up (and I ask this with all good humor) - is it right that everything that everyone has ever done be made eternally available for anyone with an internet connection?  I mean, all of those different improv groups that happened - Snowi Springs, Sweet Mama of Guadeloupe, Oatmeal, Water, Ferry to Helsinki version of Chisel, etc. - like, I think that part of the reason they remain so special in my mind is because we were just doing it for us - no pressure, no goals or intent other than to have fun and create, and the amazing thing is that we came up with some amazing stuff, and probably, whether we knew it or not, grew as artists because of it.  I've become really bummed out on the instant gratification world and the entitlement that the yung'ns seem to fee they have to that access to instant gratification for all things at all times lately - it's one thing I dislike about YouTube - a show can never be about living in and experiencing and APPRECIATING the moment anymore - there's always someone taking video for tomorrow or later that night or years down the road.  I love Snowi Springs because I remember that weather and that house and that night, and I love that it happened.  And I have no problem sharing it with people, but I'm driven to deny universal access, not because I need to cling, but because I feel like it cheapens it a little.  Listen - I am MORE than willing to admit that I may be putting too much weight on these otherwise fun things, but does someone wanna try and talk me down from this ledge?

Listening to it right now... it's pretty great...  I'm on "Foil Belt" now... shit - I'm about to go completely back on everything I said above and say we should do a fucking reunion...

O.K.  Fuck that - this tape is AWESOME - "Alice & Roland??"  "WASHY??!?"  So good.  The world should have universal access to this.

I live on that ledge. Not that I want to go back to the days of nothing but oral histories and whatnot -- long live John Lomax -- but, to my mind, we should have stopped with the crackly old silent Super 8 home movies. The advent of home video was not-a-so-good, in my opinion. Virtually every second of my younger cousins' childhoods are committed to video tape. Now every sight and sound is digitized, cataloged, reminisced over, commented upon, and widely disseminated. No more warm and charmingly fuzzy memories.

But whatevs. We were our own poor man's Lomaxes. And let us not forgot the core principle of Sudden Shame - that is, sudden shame. Not that it's all shameful. But some of it sure is! And it definitely has a certain 1993 Time Capsule feel to it, what with "Joe's Apartment" (MTV used to be so good) and the Koresh-inspired "ATF" (which I love, btw).

Listening to it now-- I was often somewhere between huge smile, big cringe, and rueful and amused laughter! I think that there is something totally awesome and also something a little embarrassing about the recordings, but I agree with the idea of staying true to what the thing was about– the whole semi-spontaneous aspect of getting on an instrument, having to say what the name of the song was gonna be and then going for it.

"Dextro" sounds awesome (except for my wack singing, which ranks up there with "Long D Silver" and "When I Can" as some of my least awesome!). I love "ATF," "Foil Belt," "You Must Know How Beautiful You Are." As a document of what it was, I love it 100%.  "Bag of Gardetto's!"  "Rebus!"  Yow! The power of an upright, right in your hand!

I love living room bands, so much fun. Some of this cracks me up with its awesomeness. Sometimes I can tell I wanted the song to go on forever, other times I'm not sure what we were thinking. There were chance elements involved and we just went for it. Recording an album should feel this easy...

I never regret that we pressed the record button. I couldn't think of a better way to have spent those days.


see also:
Snowi Springs on MySpace

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Krautmiser - Last Show 6/3/1995

In the summer of 1995, Krautmiser went on tour through the Midwest. It culminated in a final show in Doug McEachern's basement in Pennsylvania, where all good things must come to an end. Amazingly, a video of the show survives, and even more amazingly, we're going to feature it here. Krautmiser aficionados may recognize the deep tracks "Daft Benefactor" and "Puck's Theme," previously thought lost forever.

On this tour, a Vietnam vet in Sandusky was close to starting a fight with us; in South Bend, we took all the couches, tables, chairs, indeed every stick of furniture, out of Jules and Jack's house and burned them in a midnight bonfire, causing the fire department to attempt to pay us a visit--a failed attempt, for Cripe Street was under construction; we enjoyed an enchanted evening with St. Louis' own Beatle Bob; and our roadie went AWOL from the Army.

Those are the true Krautmiser stories. Here is a fake Krautmiser story, which James wrote on tour and read aloud before Krautmiser's show at a coffeehouse in Kansas City.

Krautmiser didn't intend to go on tour in that humid summer of '95. The boys had decided to take time off from the music for a while and go prospecting for gold in the Ozarks. You may find it hard to imagine those dapper young men of leisure sweating in the afternoon sun as they toil with rock picks and chisels, but make no mistake: a gaggle of pale effete aesthetes Krautmiser is not. Although Krautmiser's streetfighting days were behind them, their pugilist's strength and endurance remained: indeed, the London Times, reported that not only was Krautmiser rumored to have participated incognito in shady prizefighting tournaments, but that drummer Jack Howard had actually killed a man in the ring—a revelation that scandalized a nation. Protective mothers forbade their daughters from attending Krautmiser shows, tut-tutting that "if those lads can't control themselves in the ring, how do you think they'll treat a young lady?"

In any case, as the rest of Krautmiser was panning for gold in the Arkansas River deep in the heart of the Ozarks, Jules Dingle, Krautmiser guitarist, struck the mother lode. "Gold! Gold! Gold, I tell you, boys, gold!" Jules bellowed from the side of the mountain as he rappelled down. Krautmiser's eyes opened wide at the sight of the vein Jules had uncovered in the side of the mountain. What a windfall! Finally, Krautmiser would have enough money to buy a moon rocket. This was a longtime dream of vocalist Dave McMahon's, and only reluctantly revealed after one too many white wine spritzers at a local saloon. "Daddy always said, son, you gotta be a moon man," Dave slurred as he swung his bottle around in a clumsy arc. "He always said I was his little moon man. Dad always said, son, you gotta go to the moon. Damnit!" Dave threw his bottle to the ground. "Who am I kidding? I'll never make it to the moon. I ain't nothin' but another chump in a suit. They don't let chumps on the moon, I hear! Oh, what's the use! I'll never be an astronaut! Pour me another drink there, Kennedy—I'm blubbering like a baby."

But now it looked like Dave's crying days were over. "Finally," muttered bassist James Kennedy as he swung his rock hammer into the mountain, "we won't have to listen to that sniveling buffoon weep into his pillow every night about his precious moon."

It took days for Krautmiser to mine the gold, but at the end of the week, all the ore was packed into Krautmiser's stagecoaches. It was only then that Krautmiser had their first fateful run-in with Old Man Grizzard—the self-proclaimed "Master of the Mountain" who headed his own obscure cult of renegade hillmen and unsavory ex-rangers.

"Varmints! Cotton-pickers! Carpetbaggin' scalawags!" spat the grizzled old prospector, waggling his rock pick accusingly in Krautmiser's direction. "That there's my gold you're totin', boys!"

As always, Jules Dingle was calm and cool and ready with his acid tongue. "By what rights, you locust-eating old coot? Out of our way, or we will be forced to strike you."

"Goddamned city boys—I'll keelhaul the lot of ya!" sputtered Old Man Grizzard. "I'll have you know that this is my land you're standing on—and I suggest you clear off in a hurry—sans that gold, of course!"

"Your land, huh?" Jack Howard asked skeptically. "Prove it."

"Why, I just happen to have the deed right here," said Old Man Grizzard. And out of the right breast pocket of his flannel shirt he produced a crumpled, yellowed legal document. "See here, boys, this mountain has belonged to me since eighteen-ought-four!"

James Kennedy scanned the document with a critical eye, bringing his encyclopaedic knowledge of nineteenth-century American colonial law to bear on it. "This is all well and good, Mr. Grizzard, but not only is this document improperly notarized, but it also has its basis in an archaic Missouri statute that was struck down by the Supreme Court's landmark 1837 Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge decision, in which then-Chief Justice Roger B. Taney established the policy of 'eminent domain.' In other words, this land belongs to no one—and therefore, the gold we mined belongs to us."

"Flamin' hootenannys of sweet Jesus! I own this land de facto!" snarled the ornery mountain man. Burly, gamey-smelling figures stepped out of the shadows, fingering the triggers of their muskets. Old Man Grizzard chuckled to himself. "You drop that gold right now, fellers—or I'll fill your behinds so full of lead that you'll never have to worry about atomic radiation again for the rest of your lives."

"Your deadly uranium is our morning tea," riposted Jack Howard airily. Rolling up his shirtsleeves, he turned to Krautmiser. "Boys! Shall we scrap a bit with these hillbillies for our hard-earned gold?"

Dave McMahon, tears brimming in his wide, innocent eyes, stepped forward. "I've never wanted anything in my life so much as a moon rocket," he said, voice cracking a little. He shook a tiny trembling fist. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get it. I say we fight, guys."

"Then it's settled," smirked James Kennedy as he finished changing into his purple-and-yellow spandex fighting gear, complete with glitter and lace ruffles. "Let's throw down, you inbred honkies—and let me teach you a new meaning of 'squatter's rights.'"

And so the brawl began. "Man, those gymkata lessons sure are coming in handy," muttered Jules Dingle as he delivered a roundhouse kick to Old Man Grizzard's chin from off the pommel horse, ending in a triple reverse flip and flawless recovery that brought the judges' table to their feet. "Gottinhimmel!" shouted the notoriously difficult-to-please German judges in exultant joy. "A new Mary Lou Retton for a new unified Fatherland!"

"Sorry, boys," said Dingle as he wiped his brow. "But my heart and my incomparable gymkata skills belong to the good ol' U. S. of A. Good luck in '96, guys—you'll need it."

Soon Krautmiser had dispatched all of the mountain men. Only Old Man Grizzard was left standing.

"Hogtied! Hornswaggled!" howled Old Man Grizzard impotently, jumping up and down in rage. "You done put some kinda hex on my boys or somethin'—this ain't right! Tain't natural!"

"Nothing magical about it at all," replied James Kennedy as he wiped blood and spittle from his hands with a pre-moistened lemon-scented towelette. "Just the usual skills one picks up when one has to fight one's way out of an Iranian prison with nothing but one's own bare knuckles and a first edition of Brideshead Revisited."

And so Krautmiser boarded their stagecoaches and left the Ozarks for good. But even as they pulled away from the mountains, they could still hear Old Man Grizzard's mad ravings:

"This ain't the end! No, not by a sight!" hollered the crusty codger. "I'll pursue you gold-heistin' varmints up and down this great land of ours—I'll strap on my magic nose and smell the roads for your droppings—I'll pursue you in the dead of night from city to city, soiling my own undergarments in the sheer thrill of the chase. O! Young Krautmisers! You have stolen gold from the wrong man. For as you can see, I am more than a man—I am a man who is even now wetting himself."

And so began Krautmiser's 1995 summer tour. Pursued by gold prospector Grizzard, Krautmiser flitted from St. Louis—to Oklahoma City—to Kansas City—to Chicago—to Sandusky—to South Bend—to Pittsburgh—to Philadelphia—to Newtown, PA—and finally to the moon, where Krautmiser had their lunar showdown with Old Man Grizzard in the barren wastes of the Sea of Tranquility.

A new addition to the Krautmiser cast: our roadie, the indefatigable Puck

Naturally, none of it could've been done without the help of Krautmiser's resourceful roadie Puck. Three cheers to Puck, who was always on hand with the right quip, riff, or farming implement to help Krautmiser out of a tight situation. Puck’s unparalleled beekeeping skills have saved Krautmiser from Dr. Hexagon's "flesh hive" more than once. An accomplished linguist, Puck once compiled a definitive Etruscan-to-English dictionary—essentially, the elusive "holy grail" of classical liguistics—during his off-hours on one of Krautmiser’s international tours. However, as soon as Puck completed the massive scholarly opus, he just as deliberately and soberly burned it, if only to spite the hidebound academic establishment that had jealously expelled him from their ranks so many bitter years ago. And, of course, every schoolchild knows that Krautmiser would be in Davy Jones’ locker at the bottom of the Challenger Deep had not Puck single-handedly outwitted the merciless Emperor Gionko and his cadre of pinochle-playing robots at their own game. The beloved tale was produced by Universal Studios as a full-length motion picture, starring Emmanuel Lewis as Puck, the Facts of Life girls as Krautmiser, and the 1985 Chicago Bears as the scheming yet fickle Emperor whose lust for potpourri spray and brass knickknacks was—ironically enough—his own undoing.

see also:
Krautmiser on MySpace