Go To Blazes – Lakeside Lounge (New York City, NY)
Set up without much publicity as a public trial-run before a mini-reunion stand at several European alt-country festivals, this show (followed by another in their native Philadelphia the next night) was the first public appearance by Go To Blazes in the U.S. since 1996.
One of the most capable twang-influenced rock ‘n’ roll bands of the ’88-’96 period, Go To Blazes reconvened with all four key members — lead singer and co-songwriter Ed Warren, lead guitarist and co-writer Tom Heyman, bassist Ted Pappadapoulos, and drummer Keith Donnellan — in the friendly (even cozy) confines of the East Village venue co-owned and managed by their onetime producer and bonus instrumentalist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel.
Go To Blazes was a fairly classic case of a good band that fell a bit between the waves. At once part of the Southern rock (from above the Mason-Dixon line), ’80s cowpunk and early alt-country scenes, they weren’t really able to ride any of those waves all that far, despite their sheer capability as twang-influenced rockers. The most obvious comparisons may have been the Beat Farmers then (with whom they sometimes played) and Blue Mountain now.
I’d argue (and they apparently agree) that their best recorded work was the atypically restrained, limited-edition disc And Other Crimes that surfaced at the very end of their run and has been quietly selling ever since. It’s dominated by surprising turns on everything from Kinky Friedman’s “Sold American” to Lee Hazlewood’s “Love And Other Crimes” and even Blue Mountain’s “Jimmy Carter”. Transformed numbers from Charlie Rich or Neil Young or Gordon Lightfoot were also a regular feature of their live act.
But most of their five albums were built on chugging rock originals, and that was the focus of this reunion (though we were offered their spirited version of Lou Reed’s “Underneath The Bottle”). With a dozen-plus Warren/Heyman originals delivered in rapid if slightly haphazard succession, the band’s strengths and the situation’s limitations were both in evidence. Warren’s straightforward lead vocals allow the audience to make out what they’re singing about, even over those ascending Neil Young-influenced guitar leads of Heyman’s and the band’s pleasingly loud, choogling rhythms. They sang about everything from lost love to (in “Bloody Sam”) the travails and triumphs of Sam Peckinpah.
Go To Blazes’ polished, riff-based, midtempo rockers were as effective as head-bobbers on a number-by-number bass as ever — which is something in itself for guys who aren’t exactly young punks on the make anymore. But the succession of 14 numbers of similar tempo and construction tended to cause interest to flag over time. Pacing we did not get.
These guys have recorded a wide variety of solid twang rock, of different tones and themes, volumes and speeds, but like so many bands have often stuck slavishly to the standby midtempo crunch in live performance. The absence of mandolin and organ and dobro and steel on this night may have made variation problematic.
It was great, in any case, to see this talented band back and at it. They should not be forgotten. But it would have been greater to see them sneak the full range of their material onstage, while hardly anybody was looking.