'Round the Dial: the last one
Wednesday 16 May @ 18:29:24
by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Virtue is more to a man than fire or water. I have seen men die from treading on water and fire, but I have never seen a man die from treading the course of virtue.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “The Future”
For my final column, I thought it might be interesting to take a little trip back in time, both as an inspiration to the new pups out there buyin’ guitars and drums and a treat for longtime readers who will know of what I speak momentarily. I figured since I started my Pulse writing career with an exposé of a brand new pop band (The Beatifics), it would only be fair to wind ’er up with an exposé/catch-up with one of our greatest local outfits of all time, a band who never really (outside of their own fan base) got the props they deserved at the time, and one who’s still going strong today—fame, money, and glory be damned. Ladies and gentlemen, I bid you a fond farewell for now, and bring you ...
The Flamin’ Oh’s
Long Live The King
When you pen a piece on a band with this long and storied of a career, it behooves you to throw out a little history before you dig into the review itself. So while my overview of the group’s career may not be the whole story, I’ve researched, read fan websites, and actually spoken via e-mail to band founder/frontman/guitarist/vocalist Robert Wilkinson. For you longtime, rabid fans who may have different recollections of the ’Oh’s over the years, or have info I may not have, Robert has a website set up at www.theflaminohs.com where you can read a plethora of happy and wistful recollections of a band that helped the Twin Cities make the nearly impossible transition from a disco-fied, cover-band-infested hell-hole into the hotbed of amazing original outfits it is today.
The Flamin’ Oh’s actually started out with a few different names (Private Eyes, Prodigy, and Flamingo) in the late ’70s as a party band who were well known for their raucous, debauched lifestyles both on and off the stage, after which they began to write their own material and helped to wipe disco and flatulent radio fodder off the local map. Along the way, they were threatened with legal action for using the name Flamingo, and the name The Flamin’ Oh’s (which still seems much cooler to me) replaced it and has stuck to this day.
The band (was comprised over time of Robert Wilkinson on lead guitar and vocals, Johnny Rey on guitar and vocals, Bob Meide on drums, Jody Rey on bass, and the late, beloved Joseph Behrand on piano, organ, vocals, and insane, unforgettable stage antics. They played their first gigs at places that (for the most part) have long ceased to exist, but represent the clubs and bars where a brand new, live and original scene began here in the Twin Towns—The Longhorn Bar, The Shorewood, private parties, and a few places that still stand—the Entry, The Cabooze and O’Gara’s among them.
They shared stages from St. Cloud to Duluth and back to the Cities with such hallowed artists as Curtiss A, The Suicide Commandos, The Phones, and The Crash Street Kids, and they helped to nurture some of today’s taken-for-granted concert standards, including pogo-ing, climbing on-stage and joining in, and stage-diving. They were one of the first local (and maybe even national) acts to release rock videos, and they included their fans in every gig, after-party and private affair they jammed at. To say the band is much beloved would be a complete understatement.
Band leader Robert Wilkinson was something of a local “rock star” (not that he acted the part—he was friendly as hell and still is today), wearing either new-wave get-ups or Keith Richards-esque outfits, rock star shades, and long, Goth-looking raincoats. He and the band always had the coolest hair, the freshest threads, and gaggles of giggly girls following them around—to this day I don’t think there’s been a live Flamin’ Oh’s gig where the dance floor hasn’t been absolutely packed, and this is to ROCK music. The group was truly a sensation on the scene- and at least one fan on his site calls Robert “...the best songwriter ever out of Minneapolis.” Others remember his more mellow (by a tad) home life; one fan writes in to recall listening to RW listening to Rolling Stones songs loudly “...24 hours a day out of his apartment.” Point being: These cats actually lived the lives they brought to the stage with them.
With their powerful, pogo-inducing sound and visually stimulating show, which they still possess and continue to release in videos (speaking of which, there’s a really cool YouTube video of their song “I Remember Romance” up online—check it out!), channeling the energy they tossed so effortlessly out to the audience, taking it all back in with the dancing, the love, and the cheer, and then tossing it back out again. I would say you had to be there. But thankfully they have a fresh recording out and are planning on some local gigs as we speak.
The band went through all (and maybe more) of the wild adventures most early indie/underground outfits like The Minutemen did, touring Minnesota and the Midwest tirelessly, recording constantly, and actually making an effort to get out and see their fellow artists perform around town. They shared the ups and the downs- as did their fans.
The Oh’s survived their forced name-change, several lineup and label changes, a plethora of venue and genre/style fads, and the tragic 1989 murder—he was actually beaten to death with his own guitar in his apartment—of original member Joseph Behrend, a case which still remains unsolved to this day. Yet they live on—for the fans, for the next generation coming up, and most of all, for themselves. These are guys who wouldn’t know what to do if they couldn’t play a live show or record a single, EP or an album. They simply wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. Robert’s musical legacy lives on in both his son, John Jr., who is a long-time member of local trip-rappers Doomtree (whom I’ve written about more than once in these here pages) while his teenage daughter has been known to take to the stage with dad and kick out the jams.
The band released three official albums (two of which are now available—along with a pile o’ treats, singles, and EPs—as a double album, plus an album of material which remains frustratingly unreleased) over the years, and are proud to be back both in the studio and on-stage with some fresh material. Their latest, Long Live the King, was produced by local studio whiz Rich Mattson and released on his SMA label—Rich told me it was like “...working with the gods of rock themselves...”
A grand tapestry of the absolute best qualities this pop/rock/new wave outfit possesses, the album proves, hands down, that The Flamin’ Oh’s are timeless, ageless, and without a doubt, a die-hard crew of rockers/pop heroes. Long Live the King contains 12 cuts (two of them—“I Wanna Talk” and “Dreamtalk”—are from the “long-lost” ‘Oh’s album, so fans will get to at least hear modern cuts of those tracks), and every one of them only proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this band should have been just as or more respected and memorialized than later scene contemporaries like Husker Du and The Replacements.
Easing in with the Alarm-ish “I Can Tell,” Wilkinson and Company. prove right off the bat that they’ve lost none of their pop chops, and when the bass and drums kick in and Robert utters a primal “Uh-Uh!!” you know age hasn’t affected their ability to kick pop in the ass, back it up with gorgeous keyboards, on-the-money skins, jangly guitars, and whip-smart lyrics, and send it runnin’ back to the dance floor with a blush and a grin.
Think about what might have happened if The Only Ones, the early Cars, Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw met up with one of those “Oi!” bands on a stage, and you’ll be about a quarter of the way towards sussing this massive, grand sound. Long live the king, indeed. Like somebody else said recently, “Once the real Elvis (meaning Costello) replaced Presley, rock and roll was finally able to grow...”
“Big Love” slams out with runaway axe-work, frantic keys, driving beats, and Wilkinson’s pop-perfect voice upholding his longtime message of love, romance and peace with a shrug and a wink. “I Wanna Talk to You” (one of those long-lost cuts) grooves with a reggae-ish beat, a slightly paranoid, Wayne-Kramer-esque vibe, and probably would’ve been at least a local/regional hit had it been released when it was intended to. “Dreamtalk,” the other “lost track,” is another Costello-ish romp through Robert’s incredibly romantic inner muse, a jingled-up, half-punk, half-New Wave flow running through it like the sweat on a drummer’s brow.
On “Rich and Famous,” the band really shows their chops as a unit, the keys becoming a bigger part of the beast at large, Wilkinson spitting out smart-ass lines like, “Maybe someday we’ll be rich and famous/Maybe someday I’ll be a rock star ... but now, time doesn’t matter, it could be one minute/It could be one day/You thought I was harder/I thought you were innocent/It just seemed that way ....” A catchy, undeniably romantic yet rocked up ballad. “Days of Summer” features Mattson on a high lonesome harmonica, and catches Robert telling a story of love and loss as the band takes obvious joy in just rocking the beat behind him—a wistful, hazy slow rocker of the highest order.
“The Hardest Thing” is a soul-deep (“I got a heart full of rain/And it’s put out flames...”), Cure-like slice of heavenly pop mastery, recalling at different points some of the Stones’ early, pre-”Satisfaction” work, as well as the poetic lyrical wisdom of a Nick Drake or a Bonnie Prince Billie.
Album closer (and title cut) “Long Live the King” sees the band throwing caution to the wind (“It’s daylight, and I’m breakin’ down again/My parachute won’t open, it’s no joke/So what, you won’t understand/Can’t you see, I’m tryin’ not to choke ... everything I thought I knew was wrong ...”) and putting the perfect, rocking cap on this infectiously-catchy, Lemonheads-esque salute to the human condition and all of our needs, wants and hopes: “...when did I become part of this dream/When did I lose touch with everything,” howls Wilkinson, “..give me some room so I can breath/Get the poor boy up off his knees—long live the king, long live the king, long live the king...”
Long live the fucking Flamin’ Oh’s—and an excellent, fired-up, inspiring collection of songs from guys (“We were gonna be the next big thing!”) who should have, by all rights, been national rock stars 20 years ago. And as they prove here, maybe it’s never too late; this record sounds better than 90 percent of the crap I hear on the radio, that’s for damn sure.
I’ll say this—they’re rock stars to me, and if you have anything to do with the local music scene, they should be like walking, talking founts of knowledge for you. Buy their albums, talk to Robert on his web space, help keep the rock ’n’ roll dream alive, and never, ever think a band’s down and out until they’re either quadriplegics or six feet under.
A keeper, an invaluable slice of indubitable rock ’n’ roll knowledge, and just an all-around damn good album. Your next chance to catch ‘em live will be June 16 at The River Rock Music Festival at Lakefront Park in Hudson, Wis. You can betcher ass I’ll be there—maybe take a typewriter onstage, mic it up, and jam with the band. Ha. Ha. Stop worrying now Robert, I’m joking. Or am I ....?? Ha! Ha! Ha! Haaa! Keep up with Robert and his merry band of rockers at www.flaminohs.com.