Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Play That Fast Thing (One More Time)" / Brinsley Schwarz

Hope you all had lovely holidays !  My favorite presents were a Beatles Trivial Pursuit game (which I won handily, thank you), my own copy of Crazy Heart (loooooove Jeff Bridges), and a vinyl LP of Pet Sounds. That is, if you don't count the Kinks mugs I discovered on eBay while shopping for other things for other people.

But now Christmas is over and it is time to get off that Christmas playlist I've been playing to death.  Time to go for something resolutely non-seasonal -- like this delicious little Brinsley Schwarz number. Later on Nick Lowe got his new band Rockpile to do a very speedy version of this song, which is perfectly nice if you like that sort of thing.  But me, I'm much fonder of the laidback Brinsleys original.

A little background, if you will. Having suffered a bit of a crisis of faith in Nick Lowe lately (too much to go into, but ask Scott Sherman), I recently have discovered (dumb me) that the Brinsleys are not all about Nick Lowe.  There's Bob Andrews, for example, whose lightning-fast keyboard work completely gobsmacked me a few weeks ago when I had the distinct pleasure of seeing most of the Rumour accompanying Graham Parker at a suitably divey East Village bar. (A once-in-a-lifetime gig fer sure.)  And then there is Ian Gomm, whose solo work wasn't well known this side of the pond but is way beyond worth checking out.

So I'm listening to all the Brinsley stuff with new ears -- and this song in question comes out aces.  I can just imagine how much fun this would have been to hear in a North London pub circa 1975.  It's still killing me that I was only a few miles away at the time and had no idea this was going on.  Kick me now.


Look for this track on their 1973 outing, Please Don't Ever Change, by which time the band had figured out that they weren't going to be pop stars and might as well just have as much fun as possible, doing the country-rock thing for their adoring local following. What marks this as a quintessential Brinsley track is the setting -- an evening at the pub ("Hanging out at Frankie's") with a grooved-out ambience ("Everyone was stoned").  Beyond that it's a sort of picaresque tale, circling around over and over to the crowd's demand for the one thing they can count on:  "Play that fast thing one more time / It does something to me that makes me feel so fine."  

Sure, this song is their fast number -- the bravura crowd pleaser the band might pull out for an encore -- but speed isn't its only quality.  With a sneaky bit of irony, the song is deliberately generic, recycling familiar riffs and phrases from the great grab-bag of pop music; even the regulars don't know its name, calling it just "that fast thing."  But they love it all the same, love it because it's familiar, lively, fun -- perfect bar-band music.  It's infectiously boppy, and it does make you feel fine.

The main thing is that boogie-woogie piano capering along.  Yes, there is a charming instrumental break of plain old rock-and-roll guitar (love that descending riff), but that unstoppable piano line is the real point of this song.   I love how it careens up and down the scale, like a rock-and-roll juggernaut. Note that I say "rock AND roll," because there's a playfulness here, a  give-and-take, that perfectly complements the pounding tempo and revved-up energy. The Rockpile version substitutes a rockabilly guitar on that through line, which changes the whole balance, letting the rock overpower the roll. And when guys start showing off how fast they can shred their guitars, I tune out completely.  

I can imagine, of course, that the Brinsleys revved it up when they performed this song live, challenging Bob to peel those riffs off at warp speed.  (Having now seen him play in person, I can testify that he most likely nailed it.)  But whether he hit all the keys correctly is beside the point. A few wrong notes here or there wouldn't spoil this song one bit; it would just confirm that it's being played by real live musicians, not robots. In our age of auto-tuning and studio tinkering, the rambunctious loose spirit of a song like this seems all the more precious.

I think that's Nick singing, although Ian's vocals are so similar, they've fooled me more than once before.  At this point I don't really care -- I'd like to think it was Ian, though the fakey country pronunciations are touchingly Nick-ish.  Ian, if you're out there, please confirm!  (Or Nick, if -- wonder of wonders -- you've finally learned to surf the Interweb.)

Even though I was never lucky enough to see the Brinsleys live, I remember that era well -- remember the euphoria of a night out with your tribe, getting a buzz on and listening to loud music. I'd like to think if I had stumbled into a Brinsley gig, I'd have gotten into the spirit in a nanosecond.  Listening to this track, somehow I still can.


scottmandu said...

If anyone asks, what should I say?
Please don't lose faith, Holly.

Holly A Hughes said...

;) I knew that would pique your interest!

If anyone asks, just say that Nick needs to get out of his comfort zone more. Maybe if he'd watched how his opening acts connected with the crowd, he'd realize that he can't just recycle the same songs and banter repeatedly. For those of us crazy enough to see several shows on the same tour, it begins to feel rote and stale.

Maybe it's not fair to compare him to guys like Ray Davies or Graham Parker or even Ron Sexsmith, who pride themselves on making each show different, fresh, exciting. But then again, if they can do it, why can't Nick? He used to be Mr. Spontaneity, didn't he?

Never fear, I'll recover in time to rave about his new album when it's released...

Holly A Hughes said...

PS Mostly I'm just in a funk that I missed that San Francisco show where Nick and Elvis C sang each other's songs. That would have restored my faith!

NickS said...

that San Francisco show where Nick and Elvis C sang each other's songs.

Out of curiosity, have you listened to the two Fiona Apple Elvis Costello covers:

I Want You

Shabby Doll

I'm still reserving judgment somewhat, but my first impulse is that they're very good.

Fiona Apple has a very different style than EC, but I think it works.

scottmandu said...

Now I remember the thread to which you refer. It was getting late that night, some wine was involved.
When I find myself wondering what to say onstage, my mental search engine will often double-clutch before I blurt out a trite salutation ("We love you!" or "How's ev'rybody feelin' tonight?"), song description ("I wrote this one about my ranch") or other such trash. But it's all in the delivery, y'see.
On the other hand, performing the same material in the same order with the same patter every night, while possibly comfortable to some degree, certainly does not acknowledge that portion of the audience who are devoted enough to attend multiple shows on a tour. However, it's even worse when a performer relies on the same schtick year after year, while the band goes through the carefully-rehearsed motions. Recipe for decreasing ticket sales.