December 29, 2010
Shoreworld: The Grip Weeds & ‘Wings’ at the Paramount Theatre
by John Pfeiffer
The Grip Weeds
Strange Change Machine
The Grip Weeds are a sneak attack. The Al Pacino quote from The Devil’s Advocate comes to mind when describing these New Jersey psych rockers. “I’m the hand up Mona Lisa’s skirt, I’m a surprise, and they’ll never see me coming.” That’s pretty much how I sum up the low profile attack of The Grip Weeds and their long, successful history.
The Grip Weeds formed in 1988 in New Brunswick by brothers Rick Reil (guitar) and Kurt Reil (drums). The band is named after the fictional character of Musketeer Gripweed, played by John Lennon in Richard Lester’s 1967 motion picture How I Won The War. The Reil brothers enlisted guitarist Kristin Pinell and bassist Michael Kelly from New York City band The Rooks.
The have put in years of national and international touring and released several records, beginning with their home-produced EP in 1992 and going through a string of single releases on German-based Twang!, as well as their first full-length before moving on to Rainbow Quartz Records for several more recordings. Then in 2008, “Little” Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool label released the compilation CD Infinite Soul: The Best Of The Grip Weeds. Van Zandt remains a vocal supporter of the band to this day. The band’s latest CD sees them back with Rainbow Quartz International.
Even though The Grip Weeds are with a good label, they still retain all the DIY practices that got them where they are. They actually bought a house and built their own private Grip Weeds studio called House Of Vibes, which also has become a successful commercial enterprise. Through House of Vibes Productions they have recorded and produced many artists besides the Grip Weeds, such as Buzzed Meg, Swinging Neckbreakers, Evelyn Forever and Danny Alderman.
The Grip Weeds have pursued a very high standard of originality in both their live presentation and their recorded sound and it doesn’t surprise me to see large amounts of praise from some of the biggest magazines known to mankind on their media page.
Their latest band project is titled, Strange Change Machine and it is a two-fisted delivery of offbeat excellence, boasting over 24 songs in the two-disc set. An Eclectic treasure box filled with pop sensibilities and arabesque journeys through style, Strange Change Machine is music for people who care about what they put into their brains.
“Speed Of Life” blows right out of the gate and brings you back to heady English days of The Who as well as the curious back road progressions of Gentle Giant or even Yes. Plenty of tasteful dissonance puts this right into the psychedelic sights of The Amboy Dukes as well. All of these are just suggested influences for a song that is an absolute thoroughbred.
The knack beat of “Don’t You Believe It” pounds four on the floor rhythmic pop with its farfisa and vox magic. The Grip Weeds are all lifelong singers, which means that they really pack a significant signature live and in the studio. Guitar lines and wah-wah whines tear the seams all over this tight tune.
“Be Here Now” mixes jungles of jangling guitar, pristine layers of backing vocals and vibrant electric pianos. Recollections of the early ‘70s and the Carpenters, Bread, as well as the late model vibe of Third Eye Blind put this song deep in the AOR top ten.
“You’re Not Walking Away” showcases the vocal talents of Kristen Pinell who belts in the vein of Kim Deal or Kate Pierson and allows the band to rage heavy, proving that these guys can rock as loud as anything Jersey has to offer, including the Smithereens. Great compositional job on this, solid, eerie and gritty as hell.
The Ambient, meditative glint of “Sun Shower” mixes lush mystery of The Walker Brothers with the airy, psychedelic spray of the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Varied and hard to pin down, the Grip Weeds manage to pack their songs with influential sounds without getting lost in clone sauce.
Disc two has over eleven more tunes to explore and I’m just plumb out of space here. I didn’t do an actual top ten list this year, but I’ll state right now that this is definitely one of the smartest, most varied records I’ve heard all year. The Grip Weeds embrace their vast idiosyncrasies and use them to take the listener on vast, musical journeys to the center of our minds. For more information on this highly underrated New Jersey band, please head over to gripweeds.com.