Event Review: Bonniwell’s Music Machine
An In-Your-Face Parisian Concert Review
Hello! I’m back, Lancers! 'Dis Astro, the mighty Atom Boy from The French Connection, and after a year’s long silence, I've decided to give you the lowdown on what's happening now in not so "Gay Paree":
A few things have changed and evolved in the local scene. Paris, capital de la mode, is now swingin' to the comeback of rock in the form of the new "garage rock," following the advent of, first the wimpy Strokes, then the White Stripes and the Hives from a couple years back. As fashion shows no longer require the presence of a Deejay mix-o-master of electronica and deepshit house muzak, there is now a demand for wholesome rock bands to play during their procession, thus opening up new venues for genuine bands to gig and promotional labels like "Coup Franc!" to spring up, including the organizing of festivals and one-nighters under the "Gloria" moniker. In fact, the guys at Gloria have managed to bring over garage legends like the reformed "new" Seeds; then Arthur Lee's Love following the months of his release from prison; the Downliner's Sect; London's neo-garage ‘80s legends, the Barracudas; Sweden's neo garage band, the much maligned Nomads (in true fact, heavy metal rockers masquerading as garagers!); and, only recently, saving in my opinion, the best for the last of the year 2004, Bonniwell's Music Machine! (Check their site at http://www.gloriaclub.fr for updates!)
Like all the other gigs, I wuz there: the Gloria team had to catch the band just on their way back from last November's "Wild Weekend" in Spain, and they barely made it Tuesday night right before Bonniwell's flight home to California! Wuz lucky! This time, Paris' Men in the Loon (I mean "Moon"!) didn't have to open for them as they did on one of Sky Saxon's gigs in France last time ('member my last report?).To simplify things the organizers stuck to the same program as the Wild Weekend: Japan's power punk exponents, the forceful Faceful (Gabba, Gabba Hey!) opened the show! The girl singer jumped all over the stage and dove into the audience like some manic rock cliché or a rehashed scene of ‘70s punk rock going back to the IG or even the Pretty Things. She even hijacked a couple people in the public, forcing them to play games with her, indulging in some wild offbeat bop dance! Not a very natural thing to do with the stiff-stuck, stuffy Parisian audience. Oh, they were forcefully "fun" and energetic all right, but after a few runs up and down the riff-o-meter speedometer and the sameness of one number after the other, I grew a bit tired of all the running, jumping, standing still, just when the French crowd finally started to enlighten and react to the action and sounds of this contagious Ramones' type of punk energy made copycat Japanese style. I was dying to see Bonniwell and his new reputedly impeccable Music Machine ersatz band.
In the meantime, sensing that Bonniwell was never gonna mix in the crowd and appear supposedly to sign T-shirts, pictures, CDs and posters sold from the BMM stand, my brother and I sneaked upstairs to the artists' lounge to meet our cowboy-hatted hero, Sean! At the end of a corridor, in a lit storage room at the back, seated between two new MM members nervously running thru the frets of their instruments while awaiting their hour on stage, there was the master guru: Bonniwell, appearing a bit frail and lost in the midst of this strange venue located deep in the suburbs of No Man's Land Paris! The man immediately stood on his feet when my younger brother bravely introduced ourselves as fans hunting for some autographs. (We both had our mint original MM copies under our arms for signing!) He politely stretched his hand for some shakin'. (I myself was shaking in my pants, personally, so thrilled and intimidated I was!)
A bit star struck, we then proceeded to ask him to sign our records: "Well! A PRISTINE copy of the Warner Bros' album and a rare promo!" he exclaimed, and when I dug out the rare solo album T.S. Bonniwell: Close ( YES, I have that you mofo's; eat your hearts out!) he nearly went into a fit screaming, "Oooh! Wow!" He couldn't believe his eyes, as that was a scarce one seldom seen, and to actually see it in the hands of a remote French fan; that's how dedicated we fans are! Bonniwell took out his fetish silver marker, as an old seasoned autograph signer does, and we were, both my brother and I, in rock-n-roll heaven!
Then came time to go on stage. Back in the hall with dimmed lights, my brother, who was specially appointed as deejay for the show, put on the turntable a vintage whacky radio jingle of the sixties announcing the original Music Machine. (Where did he ever get hold of that piece of vinyl?) A blinding stroboscopic light showered the silhouettes of the new MM, a disparate composite of garage-rock musicians, critics and musicologists from Boston, Southern California and eastern European immigrants from Germany (of all places, but not so surprising when you think of it): Robert Ampersand - bass, Tim Ellison - fuzz guitar, Jana Caldwell - organ, her brother Leonard Svilar - rhythm guitar, and Jason Pienkowski - drums. They started doing a note precise medley of old Music Machine standards: "The People In Me," "No Girl Gonna Cry," "Talk, Talk," "The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly," "Come On In," "Double Yellow Line," "Bottom of the Soul," "Trouble," and then back to "The People in Me" (or some such number with which they started the medley; I don't remember exactly. Sorry!), all in one take, like a real music machine; simply awesome!
Then, like some holy ghost, Bonniwell's shade gradually appeared from behind the front line of string musicians, singing to one of the tunes to finally introduce himself, full face to a rip-roaring growl of applause! The crowd was ecstatic. Then Sean proceeded to introduce each of his songs one after another, explaining the deeper meanings of each song’s purpose. I especially remember his lecturing of how things were not "absolutely positively" wrong or right, good or bad, or permanently "affirmative no" ("Nothing is absolute, which itself IS an absolute affirmation!”). He went on quoting his own liners for the old Rhino Best of the Music Machine vinyl LP.)
Naturally, most of the audience didn't get it and some even broke loose shouting, "Shut up and play!" What was really amazing was how the new BMM achieved with relatively apparent ease to reproduce exact tone-and-note renditions of the original Music Machine tracks: "Wrong," "Masculine Intuition," and how! As precise as a Swiss watch! Even the less classic ones like "I've Loved You" or "Me, Myself and I," later obscure ones like "Advise and Consent," "You'll Love Me Again," and "Tin Can Beach," or even the unreleased material like "Dark Snow," "The Point of No Return," and "King Mixer!" How did these new guys master it anyway?! Simply awesome, I tell ya! Never a come-back artist or group, in my opinion, has achieved such level of perfection (I remember Sky Saxon indulging in substandard versions of "Escape, Escape" or "Flower Lady and her Assistant," barely holding his near extinguished voice; here Sean treated the crowd with respect by preserving his voice intact and insuring that his backing band played note-perfect versions of his songs), even the Remains!
Naturally, the ungrateful Frenchie frog audience had to criticize how Mister Bonniwell looked awkward, outta place like some old burnt-out acid cowboy (or born-again Christian for that matter); and that's exactly what he is! He never pretended to be a rock star again, like Sky or Arthur does. That's how honest this guy is; just like his music, it comes straight from the heart—human soul underneath mechanical inhumanity! Can't you see out the truth, the duality, the powerfulness, and the ultimate beauty of the entire concept, you fuckers! And that his voice was trembling on the edge or something (oh, really? Listen, that's what we call a soulish voice: harsh, warm and vibrating underneath the gravel plus. Hey, the guy is over 60 years old, you mutha fuckas, so you might as well treat him with a minimum of respect by keeping your mouths shut you snail-eating bastards!). I can't believe this shit. Why don't they go to the toilet and flush themselves down the septic tank? They're the very bad elements that have been boggin' down the French scene far too long! I mean really, you'd have to explain everything to those gutless pigs. La confiture aux cochons! is how we say it in France: Pigs can't sense they're being fed caviar even if their life depended on it; they just snort away! (Mind you, I'm NO Muslim; I like pork.)
The fact is that Mister Bonniwell looked real dignified like an elderly gentleman of rock should look, and he never tried to posture as a has-been star desperately tryin' to come back and look young like most of his contemporaries do, namely Sky Saxon, looking phony with his creepers under glitter pants and a fake leopard shirt; or the pathetic Downliner’s Sect still trying to make it happen, all dressed up in leather pants and boots, Johnny Thunders' junkie style; or even Arthur Lee posing like some black Georges Harrison and copying Little Stevie's Underground look with his bandana. No! Sean Bonniwell would have none of that! He looked well, truthful and honest! And what's funny, even though they criticized the man afterwards, during the actual show, they couldn't leave; nobody could! We were all drawn to the stage, magnetized, like a dark hole that attracts and swallows stars and galaxies in the universe!
The other fact is, it was truly invigorating to hear all those classic, masterful songs played live here in front of our very own eyes for the first time, as until then we could only have dreamt of it in all our most remote Garage fantasies. Oh! A lot of us DID see that classic blurred bootleg quality video clip alright, of the original Music Machine mimicking to the playback tune of "Talk, Talk" on TV that had passed thru hands around garage fans the world over all these years, but it will never match THIS: the reality! And, the new, specially formed-for-the-tour-Bonniwell-backing Music Machine band did a wonderful job at it, probably better than if it had been with the original members, I'm sure.
And then, came the encore: it took Sean Bonniwell himself to come out and exhort the crowd to cheer and holler a bit louder if they wanted more from the band. "Folks! You'll have to rave just a little bit more if you want to bring back these new Music Machine guys," he said; never once did he act like he was the star. This is not Starlet Sky or Arthur Buddha Love, I tell you! . I love this guy—so simple and humble like the true greats of life! And so, after a few more half-backed yeah, yeah, yeah’s, and whistles and claps, the gang bonded together as if they were part of some special sect, all dressed in black, one-hand gloved and all. Somebody said they were more "Music Machine" then Sean himself, which may not be half-wrong in fact. It's true that Sean, too self-conscious as he was, might just have thought he was a bit too old for the game and acted like he was an outsider emceeing and conducting the show, came running back for the bonus.
I can't remember exactly what they did for the "More!" except that they did redo a couple of the songs; maybe this time 'round they just reverted to do the covers like "C. C. Rider" and "Hey Joe" from that classic first LP? That's how exhausted I was! And then still, the Music Machine didn't do six albums, like Love, MK1 and Two, or even five like the Seeds. They didn't have that much material, so, what did you expect? I for one was more than satisfied! The shorter, the more memorable.
I hate when a rock 'n' roll show drags on and on like back in the San 'Frisco of the old days jamming for hours on end; or even if it was some kind a marathon show, like the Fleshtones indulges themselves to. They finish out ruining the gig with the whole process. Just like good rock 'n' roll records should finish under the three-minute tag; otherwise, it turns to jass and jelly or even jazz! See?
After the show, my brother kicked the dance set with the classic Fever Tree cover of "Masculine Intuition" and then some similar Music Machine sounding records like "Back Up" by the Light, "2 + 2 = " by Bob Seger's System, and "Question of Temperature" by the Balloon Farm. But, just a couple guys wiggled and jerked a few bars and the rest of the crowd just vanished to the other side of the bar. Like I said, this being France, "ridicule" kills (nobody dared make a spectacle of him or herself. "One for all and no one for yourself,” as the saying should go.
Well, at least we had our records signed and my brother got a few free drinks for his trouble of playing his records to a nowhere crowd. That should do. In fact, the crowd was mostly composed of inside musicians and rock critics: Christian Eudeline, author of "Nos Années Punk"; his brother Patrick, the French “Lester Bangs”; the Men in the Moon (or, what's left of it!); Paris indie-popsters, the Hush Puppies; French pop label, Tricatel's House Band; and the A.S Dragon to name a few. They were all swarming around—a real who's who of the Paris underground garage-rock scene!
I even bumped into and talked with underground French comic artist Frank Margerin, creator of the popular (over here) cartoon hero, Lucien, the traditional French, red-neck rocker with his perfecto biker's jacket ala Brando in the “The Wild One.” His Mexican Santiago boots and faded Levi jeans, and his ever-greased pompadour fixed and hanging above his head like an old vacuum cleaner's tube (If there's one thing the French can be proud of, it’s their comic-book artists!). Frank now lives semi-retired, collecting old ‘50s bikes!
Seems a lot of people came more to show off their presence than to watch Bonniwell sing. At least this shows the event had some stature among status seekers in the Paris rock "in-crowd"; you had to be there to be seen. (More Parisian concert reviews next month.)
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