Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Missing persons (in bands)

I was excited last week to go with my son and a friend to see Buzzcocks and Modern English in concert at a smallish club here in Los Angeles. I’m a fan of both acts, and while I’ve seen Modern English several times, I’d never seen Buzzcocks.

Thing is:  I still don’t think I’ve seen Buzzcocks — and never will. “Buzzcocks” as we know them, are gone, their lead singer/guitarist/songwriter dead and his beautiful pitch with him, his role now filled awkwardly by their former bassist. I think of this incarnation as Buzzcock, singular. Buzzcock is enthusiastic, but he isn’t a lead guitarist and he certainly isn’t a lead vocalist and he clearly isn’t a frontman, because he doesn’t know how to get the audience going or how to command attention or even how to dress the part, looking very much like he’s a bloke who wandered in from the pub. He and the three fill-ins will, though, play most of the five songs you know, minus one of their hits because even he knows he can’t hit those notes. 

(The opening act for the evening, by the way, was The Reflectors, a young San Diego band whose members appear to be about one-third my age. My 21-year-old son disagreed, stating that I can’t accurately ascertain youth anymore, and that to him they looked to be in their 40s. “Even the 15-year-old Latino bass player?” I asked. “Oh, well, not him,” he replied. 

I do have some advice for the band:

The Reflectors’ drummer kept stretching to hit his cymbal in a way that I can confidently predict foreshadows a future rotator cuff injury, having one myself. It’s no fun. Maybe pull that drum kit together a little more. Which is what the drummer for Guns ‘n Roses once advised a drummer friend of mine; she said it worked miracles.

Second bit of advice:  Maybe vary the songs a bit. So that, y’know, 45 minutes sounds like there are individual songs in there. As my son said, “They need to find a new beat.” Exactly.

The final bit of advice:  If you’ve got two “lead” guitarists who both play the same three chords at the same time, fire the blond one who doesn’t sing and split your fee three ways instead of four. Instant payday!)

As for Modern English, my interest in them stems primarily from their keyboardist, Stephen Walker. I’ve been listening to this band for 40 years, and I can tell you that most of what’s interesting is coming from Mr. Walker. Modern English’s music is primarily power pop — a harder sound than mere new wave — but what sets it apart is the fills and the soundscapes and the occasional leads that Stephen Walker adds to everything. I like their songs, but it’s their sound that gets me, and that’s mostly Stephen Walker. I advised my son to watch the keyboardist when the band comes on, because that’s where it’s really happening.

So imagine my distress when the band came on without Stephen Walker, their member throughout their history.

Or their lead guitarist.

Instead, it was lead singer Robbie Grey, and their longtime bassist Michael Conroy with some drummer and a guitarist. And no keyboardist whatsoever.

Meaning that it didn’t really look like or sound like Modern English. (Even though, evidently, they’ve sampled some of the keyboard effects.) This was more like post-Modern English.

Their other members are still on their website, still listed on Wikipedia, and on their new album… so I dunno what’s going on. But I sure missed them!

All of this got me to think about music acts that are on tour. Are they really those acts?

I like The Stranglers, but I won’t go see them again, because, again, to me their keyboardist was essential to their sound and he died during the COVID pandemic. Now there’s only one original member left (a bassist again!), and I think of them as The Strangler. Singular.

Echo and the Bunnymen put on an erratic show, given the proclivities of their erratic frontman, but I recall the band as a foursome. Now there are two Bunnymen:  the singer and the guitarist. Is that really Echo and the Bunnymen?

I don’t like The Eagles, but is it still The Eagles without Glenn Frey? Even when you’ve replaced Glenn Frey with his son, Deacon Frey — who has now left the band anyway? Who’s going to be the next Eagle? Glenn Frey’s great-nephew?

I’ve seen The Beach Boys many times, dating back to the 1980s both on the beach in Atlantic City and at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, and since then in Dallas in 2012 for their 50th anniversary tour and a few years afterward in a concert in Pasadena I was helping to promote. What’s touring under that name now is enjoyable, but it’s not The Beach Boys. There’s not one person named Wilson in it (understandable given that two of the Wilson brothers are dead and that the third sadly has dementia), it’s got one longtime replacement Beach Boy (that’d be Bruce Johnston, who by this point has earned the title Beach Boy having joined the band in 1965) and it’s got one actual key member of the band:  Mike Love. Is this the Beach Boys?

I know that seeing what’s left of these bands provides some real enjoyment to many people. If nothing else, it’s a chance to hear the songs you love played live. And in some cases, the replacement players are terrific. Poor Phil Collins can no longer play drums due to nerve damage, but I can tell you with authority that his son is a sensational drummer who manages to replicate his father’s drum sound and style while bringing added power. 

But I do wonder: If Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr went on tour as The Beatles, how would we feel?

What if Micky Dolenz toured as The Monkee? And, actually… he kinda does, and puts on a great show. But shouldn’t he change the lyric to: “Hey, hey, I’m the Monkee. People say I’m monkeying around….”

3 Responses to “Missing persons (in bands)”

  1. Dan Says:

    The only consolation I can offer
    is that the disappointment you felt at seeing musicians rake the ashes of the dead
    must be less distressing
    than the feelings of the musicians themselves at doing the raking

  2. Stafford Joseph Says:

    Dear Lee: This is some really great writing here, and no, I’m not just blowing smoke. I’ve got nothing near your expert eye (ear?) for all things, music music, music. Pick your genre, I’ve got nothing on you at all, when it comes to naming names and stating statistics. But what really grabs me is that you’ve really stopped me cold on the state of affairs that we are all witness to here in the first ‘near-quarter’ of the 21st-century. It’s a spot on the calendar, that said 21st century, that I used to look forward to, for the first 45 years of my life.

    It’s hard to believe that we’re almost 25 years in, and in spite of everything that’s happened in the last 24 years, I keep looking forward to what’s next. My sense of optimism is unbounded even though as you make clear, some of our music of the long past isn’t what it was because of generational change and absent friends. And yet I can probably pick up my iPhone right now and order up the first 20 albums of The Beach Boys, yes, those Beach Boys, the dead ones the demented ones, and the ones, by age, which are now at less than their optimal levels – and hear them in my Beats headphones. Just as they sounded in 1965. And the sentimental irony is, hearing those recordings makes us miss our absent friends, even more.

    And even those realizations don’t make me sad or wish that I could go back in time. It just serves to make me more optimistic about the days and years and centuries ahead and retain my ability to hold onto hope. As I think back, every election I have voted in since becoming voting age in 1974 (another pivotal year) has been referred to as the most important election in all history. This year, I’m holding my optimism, especially close because of how important it truly is. And of course how naturally bolstered my optimism is going to be if we manage to see our way clear of 2024, without becoming mired into a state of true fuckeduppedness.

    But the subject was – Bands.
    This year, 2024 The Over and Out Tour of Jeff Lynne’s ELO, the final tour, is coming to the U.S. – yet another reason to ‘Hold On Tight’ to HOPE!

  3. Uncle Rich Says:

    I had a good experience in this area. Martin Barre, original guitarist and second flute for Jethro Tull, has his own show of Tull tunes. He’s an amazing player, with a great band and vocalist, and has good stage presence. He wisely bills the act as The Martin Barre Band. (And it was a free concert on the beach.)

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