On Stage: Barone and Mercer revist NYC music scene of the late 70’s

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Richard Barone and Glenn Mercer

If you want to hear a top caliber musician tap into musical history with authority and bring music from the past to the present to perform it in a contemporary way, then Richard Barone is your man.

Barone is an American rock musician who first gained attention as frontman for the Bongos. He works as a songwriter, arranger, author, director, and record producer, releases albums as a solo artist, tours, and has created concert events at Carnegie Hall, Hollywood Bowl, SXSW, and New York’s Central Park. He serves on the Board of Governors for The Recording Academy (Grammys), the Board of Advisors for Anthology Film Archives, and is affiliated with the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.

Barone began his career at age seven as “The Littlest DJ” on local, Tampa, Florida top-40 radio station WALT. At age sixteen, a chance meeting with Tiny Tim led to producing an album for the pop culture icon. A few years later, another fortuitous meeting, with the Monkees, led Barone to New York City, where he gained attention as the frontman of The Bongos, the new wave band that ignited the Hoboken, N.J. music scene of the early 80s.

Rock music as we know it now grew and flourished in New York City. The epicenter of this music was Greenwich Village – especially the 20-square-block area near Washington Square that included Bleecker Street.

It was an area that was home to such legendary music clubs as the Bitter End, Café Au Go Go, the Gaslight Café, the Village Gate, Café Wha?, Gerde’s Folk City and the Village Vanguard.

Barone, a veteran New York rocker, knows the area and its history extremely well. And, he has a deep respect for the area’s musical history and the world-famous musicians it spawned.

His most recent album “Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village In The 1960s” casts light on the songs that sprang from the singer-songwriters in and around Greenwich Village during that pivotal decade.

Barone’s current project focuses on the thriving music scene in New York in the 1970s and revolves around the music of Lou Reed, T. Rex, David Bowie, Brian Eno and Iggy Pop.

The project is “Richard Barone & Glenn Mercer; Hazy Cosmic Jive,” and it will present its first Philadelphia appearance on February 1 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com).

A rare duo performance by Richard Barone of the Bongos and Glenn Mercer of the Feelies, joining forces for a curated set of music from the post-Velvet Underground universe of the mid-1970s — a particularly fertile period of rock experimentation.

Barone and Mercer will be exploring songs by David Bowie, Brian Eno, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, T.Rex and others, along with songs from their own Bongos and Feelies catalogues.Barone and Mercer on guitars and vocals will be joined by Feelies percussionist Dave Weckerman, Slambovian Circus of Dreams bassist Bob Torsello, and special guests.

“I did the 1960s Greenwich Village shows for three years,” said Barone, during a phone interview Thursday from his home in New York. “I try to bring some of the original music, and it hasn’t stopped. That album has a life of its own. It’s like a movie. It’s a story about our era. ‘Hazy Cosmic Jive’ is also a story.”

“Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village In The 1960s” was more cerebral – focusing on the wealth of great songs written by super talented songwriters such as Paul Simon, John Sebastian, Janis Ian, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tim Hardin, and Fred Neil. “Hazy Cosmic Jive” is more physical – focusing on the powerful rock of acts like Iggy Pop, Roxy Music, Marc Bolan, the Velvet Underground and Bowie.

“This new show is based on the sounds of that era – the raw power,” said Barone. “In 2018, there was an exhibition in New York – the Velvet Underground Experience. It was a small pop-up museum dedicated to the Velvet Underground’s music and their legacy.

“The asked Glenn and me to play a set of Velvet Underground songs and we did. Looking back at that music—Bowie, Roxy, solo Lou Reed – that became interesting to us. It’s a natural part of our inspirations – like T. Rex. I’m a big fan of Marc Bolan.

“In the ’70s, all that incredible music was part of that generation. Iggy Pop was a big part – that pure energy of rock-and-roll. In our show, all the music is from that era except for late in the set with two of our songs from the Bongos and the Feelies. All the songs are high energy tracks.”

This music is both cerebral and physical with lyrics that make you think and music that rattles your ribcage.

“It’s very specific mid-70s,” said Barone, who just developed a signature guitar pedal called Mambo Sun that came out a few weeks ago.

“The earliest is a T. Rex song. There are some Ziggy Stardust songs and Roxy Music songs by the band and by solo members, including a song by Phil Manzanera. We do some Eno solo music. A lot of it extends from David Bowie. He was like a hub for this.”

With “Hazy Cosmic Jive,” Barone is continuing to keep vital music from past eras alive and onstage. It all started with his Greenwich Village 1960s project which still has a lot of life left.

“My mission on the road is to bring ‘Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village In The 1960s’ to people everywhere,” said Barone. “It’s become the story of Greenwich Village as well as the story of the music. That era created so many songs.”

Barone explained the catalyst for that project.

“I’ve lived in Greenwich Village since the mid-1980s and have always been aware of its history,” said Baron. I was taught about its history by Tiny Tim when I was younger and living in Tampa, Florida. He talked about how there were all these great artists living in the same area – artist like Dylan and the Lovin’ Spoonful.

“As a kid, I had an idea that I’d visit Greenwich Village one day. I had no idea I’d ever live in the Village. It’s still an amazing place. For years, I thought about all these artists living near Washington Square. They were a new generation of singer-songwriters. They wrote their own music and it was a big deal. My album is a tribute to the genius of songwriting.”

Barone, who also has a gig as a music professor at New York University, has embarked on this new project with another New York rock veteran.

Glenn Mercer started on his musical path playing bass guitar with friends in various neighborhood bands. While studying art in college, he switched to guitar and helped form the “Out Kids,” with fellow Feelie Dave Weckerman on drums. Playing covers of semi-obscure garage bands from the 60’s; they soon began writing original material and playing shows in NYC. Bill Million was soon brought in as a replacement for the original bassist player. When the Out Kids broke-up, Glenn, Dave and Bill decided to stay together; Glenn took over lead vocals and Bill switched to 2nd guitar, and they chose the name “the Feelies.”

They released three records in the 80’s (including the classic Crazy Rhythms), before disbanding. Glenn and Dave soon formed the band Wake Ooloo that put out three albums in the ‘90’s. Glenn also began playing with other locals such as Sunburst and East of Venus, then put out Wheels In Motion. In 2008, he reunited with the Feelies for ongoing live performances, and released Here Before in 2011. The Feelies have continued performing at strategic intervals ever since. Their cover of “Paint It Black” appears in the latest Jonathan Demme movie, Ricki and the Flash.

“The Feelies were one of my favorite bands,” said Baron. “But I had never worked with Glenn before that Velvet Underground museum show. It’s very special to be trading solos with Glenn.”

Video link for Richard Barone – https://youtu.be/Nnb00JafOUQ.

The show at the World Café Live will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15.

It will be a homecoming of sorts when Red Death visits Philadelphia on February 1.

Red Death

Red Death — Will Wagstaff – guitar; Chad Troncale – vocals, bass; Ace Mendoza – guitar; Connor Donegan – drumsis touring in support of its new album “Sickness Divine,” which was released November 29 through Century Media Records. The album support tour brings then to Philly for a show at Ortlieb’s (847 North Third Street, Philadelphia, 267- 324-3348, https://www.eventbrite.com/e/red-death-tickets-84788451541?aff=ebdssbeac) with Enforced as the opening act.

“We recorded ‘Sickness Divine’ in Philadelphia in May 2019,” said Donegan, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon as the band traveled from Toronto, Ontario to a gig in Montreal, Quebec. “We worked on it for a period of two months and then it came out in November.”

The band, which has ’80s thrash metal and classic hardcore in its DNA, worked with producer Arthur Rizk, extreme music sound engineer producer and musician specializing in heavy metal hardcore and rock. His resume includes includes Power Trip’s “Nightmare Logic,” Code Orange’s “Forever,” Pissed Jeans’ “Why Love Now,” Inquisition’s “Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith,” Trapped Under Ice’s “Heatwave” and Prurient’s “Frozen Niagara Falls.”

“Red Death formed in 2013,” said Donegan. “Ace and I grew up together in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We moved to D.C. in 2013 and we were living in the same house as Chad. We were all fans of Cro-Mags so we started playing together. Will is in the band but not in the writing. He’s also the drummer for Enforced and he’s playing with both bands on this tour.”

Still living in D.C., Red Death commuted to this area to make the album.

“Arthur lives in Philly, so we drove up from D.C. to record with him,” said Donegan. “We used a studio in South Philly that we rented, and we crashed at Arthur’s house. We came up for one week initially. Then, for the next few months, we’d come up on-and-off when we were available.

“Everything we had written for the album made it on to the album. We came in with 10 songs and left with 10 songs. We all do the writing. We share the job. Sometimes, people come in with a whole song. Other times, it’s more collaborative.

“The 10 songs were written all in the same session. They express the way we feel at this time in our life. Our big influences are Metallica, Megadeth and Cro-Mags as well as classical music – classical guitar harmonies.”

“Sickness Divine” is Red Death’s third album. The band released its debut album, “Permanent Exile,” in 2015 and its sophomore LP, “Formidable Darkness,” in 2017.

“The difference between ‘Formidable Darkness’ and ‘Sickness Divine’ is that we got a little more progressive,” said Donegan. “And we got more confident in our songwriting. It ushered in a new era for the band. ‘Permanent Exile’ was scrappier – more energy. Our new music is more than just going 100 m.p.h. all the time.”

Video link for Red Death – https://youtu.be/yhW0Y3clLKE.

The show at Ortlieb’s, which has Enforced and Backslider as the opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.

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