Tricia Scotti: Paradise Lost, and the Song Remains the Same
How strange it was this week to hear that The Paradise music club in Boston is closing. ("What, again?" offered an unsympathetic Sean at the counter, ruining the mood.) I won't say it made me feel old, because it didn't. I won't tell you it made me feel young -- even Captain Kirk can't get away with that line. But a door quietly shut and vanished, taking with it a cherished room full of mental memorabilia and nostalgic scraps.
Your Mr. Cyrano spent much of the 80's in Boston and Slummerville on a budget that made trips to the Paradise rare. Each is a jewel in memory. With The Channel gone, and don't even get me started on Storyville, and now this, I felt the dislocated jar you get when you stick your hand in your pocket and suddenly the house keys aren't there. When you pop over to get an order of those Szechuan dumplings in hot oil from down the way and find the restaurant has become a Starbucks overnight. When you suddenly realize in the middle of a big dinner out that you haven't paid your VISA bill in a really long time. When you feel, as Chryssie Hynde tells it, that "my city was gone." I'm not from there, but it was home for a time.
Time is full of these compromises, these minute losses. It's how boulders turn into beaches and how dinosaurs end up as chickens. Each erosion is packed with stories, which explains those weird encounters with relatives when you were a kid ("When I was your age we didn't have refrigerators." "Yeah, right"). Eventually you have to be the old fogey -- you can start doing this any time after your 14th birthday -- and tell all the pups what it used to be like. Back when things were better. Back when it was all just starting. Before they sold out, before they got big, before all the posers came along. When it was pure, and just for the love of it.
The Paradise may or may not have been about purity back when I was busy not going there much, but it was about breaking bands. Callow I was (pass me my walker, would you?), but those shows snagged my heart and feet and made my soul dance. That snagging dancing rush comes now and then but ever so rarely, now as then. Which brings us to Tricia Scotti, whose recent shows downtown in NYC have been little Joy Batteries in the cold season, powering up the long dreary darktime with big unabashed cut-to-the-bone three-piece rock done like it oughtta.
Tricia has been polishing the music thing in the City for six years, but the bug bit long before. "I've been doing this my whole life," she says, leaving a morning message on the machine to answer a few questions and clear up a few lyrics. "I don't know how I started. I don't really know. And I just woke up." I first caught her act three and some years ago, several lineups and hair styles and wardrobe changes back, and this past summer all of the Tricia Scotti Band pieces fell together with a glorious clang. The old band waned -- they do this -- and after a brief solo period Tricia stepped out on guitar and vocals with Anne Husick (Shameless, Band of Susans) on bass/backing vox and most recently Mike Irene on drums, in a stripped-down pop-rock outfit that decorates but doesn't overwhelm her crafty, cutting songs. One sultry June or July night at The C-Note I slipped in late and sweaty and hectic and full of coffee, running whatever circles I was running in that month: and stayed to the end, enchanted and enraptured and a little tingly. There's been no looking back since.
There are songs that stay with you after a set, and there are songs that lodge in a bit of disused brain and set up house there for weeks, popping out and chiming their hooks and ducking back again like pagers misplaced at a noisy party. Tricia plays the keeping kind, fusing ballsy rock arrangements with catchy, memorable and sometimes sentimental pop melodies (and she writes a mean bridge, which is a dying art in New York pop circles). Post-New-Wave spunk drives her music straight down between the genre lines. There's insistence without inculcation, sweetness without cloy, room without rambling. Raven-haired and night-pale, with bottomless dark eyes and an angular luxurious face half-masked by long tresses, Tricia is a swagger of confidence and a deer in headlights by turns on stage, and her clear voice navigates her straight-shot material with no stops for bombast, irony or sticky confessionals.
If there's one thing at which Scotti as songwriter excels, it's the Blurt. The stuff you just don't say is meat on the slim bones of her most startling writing. In "Ordinary Girl," which opens her terrific three-song self-released 1998 CD and is not at all about being an ordinary girl -- or perhaps it is, depending on how many levels in you want to read -- she plunks this one down: "I used to love you, now I just plain hate you / I want to fuck you, but I don't want to date you." The song tells a story of a night of moods and moments, from capricious to wavering to blissful, in a non-linear chronology of drinking, thinking and mis/behaving. If you live or summer on Earth you'll have watched men struggle to understand how women think. (Women, who have better things to do, don't seem to worry quite so much about how or if we do it. Hmmph.) Here it's all obvious: opaque and impenetrable and as present as rocks are hard. Take it or leave it, she says; that's the way it is.
Tricia isn't a war-of-the-sexes writer, but she loves a good skirmish. In the uptempo rocker "Out of Time," her disheveled narrator shrugs off an in/discretion in fine Conversation From Hell style: "When you said that I was evil you were right," she sings, "'Cause I don't have one regret from what I did last night / It was really a good one / If you know what I mean / My feet they never even touched the ground / And everything that happened in between." She writes with a tender pen with equal ease in her love songs ("He is in love / that cool boy is in deep"), and overall with an economy of words in the vein of songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Crow. At her last (birthday!) show at Luna Lounge there was a tease of new material during sound check, and she's recording now, so we're hoping for more than just three tracks to have and to hold. Soon, please.
When she's not fronting her own eponymous, Tricia Scotti plays and sings backup with Ronnie Spector and with downtown's Shameless (bass player Anne Husick fronts this band, and the two acts gig together often: Mr. Cyrano sez, catch 'em both). She's a regular with the Loser's Lounge house band, and her feature numbers in that tribute series (most recently Queen's "Tie Your Mother Down," which she romped through in a black plastic contraption that looked like a Dr. Who special effect, and before then Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon," which I missed but am still hearing about) are high points. She has written and sung with area artists including Amelia's Dream and Pat Cisarano, she rang in the 2000's at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the
backing band for Wilson Pickett this past New Year's Eve, and she's an alumna of an ASCAP summer writing seminar which she attended with Pilley of Ila's Dress, another favorite in this corner here in front of trusty ol' Horse the 486 (clop-clop, clop-clop). Tricia's spare Web site is sporadically updated (it's OK right now), and you can catch her next on March 23rd at Arlene Grocery and on April 12th at the Knitting Factory; dates with Shameless, Ronnie Spector and Loser's Lounge are also posted at the site. Tip: run your mouse over the annoying pop-up picture of her and she winks. It's kind of adorable.
Twice this past week I had a chance to catch Professor and Maryann unplugged. That word, "unplugged," has gone through an odd meaning shift lately, and it translates roughly to "no Marshall stacks" in modern parlance. But both times they were really unplugged, and it illuminated just how far we've gone in assuming technology.
We'll visit this band in more detail sometime down the line, but in brief Professor and Maryann is a duo. Mostly. Usually. Sometimes. Guitarist Ken Rockwood does the wistful, odd-duck songwriting, and Danielle Brancaccio interprets Ken's nighttime words, curling them into dusky travels through a heightened, cinematic world. Professor and Maryann shows make me think of: fedoras, ascots, brandy in globe snifters. Well-worn black leather shoes. Still air, dappled hillsides frozen on film, brisk autumn wind. Night stars in black and white. The City at grey dawn, seen through a window high above lonely streets. Chased silver, a neglected rose. There's love and heat and light out there, and the songs move toward the glow on silent moth's wings. They don't get there, but they keep moving, bringing you with them.
Until recently Professor and Maryann had expanded into a six-piece, with vibes, stand-up bass, accordion and drums sprinkling an off-kilter carnival lilt on the spare texture of Ken's guitar. They're back to basics these days, and the two of them piled a bit sheepishly of a Thursday night into SMF, a bar on St. Mark's Place, for a true unplugged show. Ken played without an amp, and Danielle stood on a bar bench and sang to the room unadorned. Now, this works gangbusters up at the Metropolitan Opera, but that room was built for the purpose; and at the Postcrypt uptown the vibe is silent and respectful. In the bar, frankly, it was really hard to hear. Happily Mr. Cyrano is none too tall and used to getting right up front, so from my vantage it was a notable short set. We're not accustomed to silence in this flapflap age, and you could see everyone itching to tell the next person over how cool it was to be here listening to a for-real band playing quietly in what might as well have been the corner of a living room, except with more drinks. Eventually everyone did let loose with opinions (which boiled down to "Wow, isn't this cool? Being here?"), and the hubbub drowned out the music. And the Noble Experiment was done.
It was a great dry run, though, for the session on Saturday in a Village recording studio. With a double handful of friends and longtime fans by invite, and the requisite refreshments downstairs in the fridge, Danielle and Ken set up with candles and incense and their rapt silent audience of the converted spread out on mats on the studio floor before them. Then dimmed the lights and played, and played, and played. A gentle reminder, dear readers, that music is about sound in the air, about warmth and waves, about vibrations caressing the flesh. Just for the love of it. All the rest is just Business.
OK, I wrote "raven-haired." Hackneyed as a dobbin, but now you owe me a beer. (Complex emoticon of Mr. Cyrano sticking his tongue out here.) You know who you are.
The rest of you, see you in two.
Scariest Phrase Recently Heard on Radio: "...when suddenly 41 shots rang out."
Coolest Show Seen at The Paradise: REM, touring behind the then-untitled EP
Best Guilty-Pleasure Show Seen at The Paradise: Berlin, on the Pleasure Victim Tour
Show of Most Historic Import Seen in Boston: Til Tuesday on the cusp of signing the label deal, closing the Inn Square Men's Bar forever and ending several small eras at once
Professor and Maryann
Tricia Scotti and Professor and Maryann photos by Linus Gelber. Tricia and Danielle both just had birthdays.
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