January 1999

---------------------- NIGHTCLUB JITTERS ----------------------

Pop, Snap & Crackle Wetlands - New York City by Larry Davis At Wetlands in lower Manhattan, the first annual Pop, Snap & Crackle fest took place, and NYC still hasn't recovered! Finally, there's an east coast equivalent of the famed popfests in Los Angeles and Nashville, even if it's only one evening. It seems every NY area pop artists or band played here, as well as Baltimore's Splitsville and Sweden's Merrymakers. There were two floors going at once, with not much time for anyone to go between floors. Constant nonstop pop! The top floor was emceed by George Usher, who now records for Parasol, and he played host to the more rocking half of the acts. Below was the intimate singer/songwriter half (except for Splitsville) and was hosted by Lauren Agnelli and Dave Rave.

On the top floor, the proceedings started with New Jersey out-of-nowhere upstarts Evelyn Forever with a loud, harmony heavy, tuneful pop set, which had the place bopping along to their remarkable songs. They played tunes from their debut CD, Nightclub Jitters, like "Rock 'N Roll Girl" and "Double Dip," as well as songs from their new CD, Lost In The Supermarket. A truly wonderful up-and-coming band.

Following Evelyn Forever were fellow statesmen The Grip Weeds. They played tunes from their new album, The Sound Is In You, as well as their last CD, House of Vibes. Great '60s meets '90s rock, with ripping guitars, powerful drumming, and golden harmonies on top. Besides their great originals, they also did their cover staple of the Move's "I Can Hear The Grass Grow." One of the best live bands today, do check them out, as well as their CDs.

Deni Bonet came up next, backed by her right-hand band. Deni's mostly famous for her collaborations and connections with Robyn Hitchcock. Deni's a singer/songwriter who plays violin, accordion, and mandolin, and live now, as you may never get the opportunity again in a small setting. Her smart tunes are catchy and she rocks. She even played Lillith Fair this past summer.

Upstairs host George Usher followed Ms. Bonet to the stage. He played his wonderful Byrdsian jangle pop with a combination of quiet conviction, and a live persona that made him seem like the nice next-door-neighbor. Backed by his superb five-piece band, especially lead guitarist Doug Larney, George played his wonderful songs, and he made it look so darn easy. He has a brand new CD out on Parasol called Dutch April, and it's a winner. New tunes like "Wooden Nickel" and "Orpheous Rising" match his prior work and even raise the quality bar a notch.

Sweden's Merrymakers were up next, making their NYC debut. This set was widely anticipated by all of us, and rightly so. I had only read top raves over this band, saying they were the holy grail when it came to power pop, especially from Sweden, where many wonderful bands come from. Well, the rumors weren't wrong at all. After hearing their two albums, No Sleep Till Famous, and the recent Bubblegum on Virgin Sweden and Japan, they sound as great live as they do on record, with top tunes that Noel Gallagher and Paul McCartney would die for. This is the show that won over Big Deal's Dean Brownrout, and now, the Merrymakers are signed to Big Deal. Watch out for these guys!

NYC's own Richard X. Heyman followed the Merrymakers with a set that was as good as the best ones he's done all over the city. Now playing as a trio, with his wife Nancy Leigh on bass, and Grip Weed Kurt Reil on drums, they rocked Wetlands as if it was 1966, combining Beatlesque tunefulness, Ray Davies' lyrical whimsy, and a mod-like rocking stance. He played gems off all three of his CDs, focusing on the recent Conerstone, and new songs tossed in the mix. The guy is an overlooked, underrated genius, and in a perfect world, he'd be a true superstar.

Joe McGinty's Baby Steps finished up the top floor's proceedings with a set of his wonderful orchestral 70's-style keyboard-dominated pop. Joe and his band played a bunch of swell originals that will hopefully find their way on to CD some day. Joe is also responsible for the series known as the Loser's Lounge, where a certain artist is focused on (Todd Rundgren is next), and local artists each perform a cover of their songs, sometimes in a theatrical way. Very cool.

Downstairs, the show was much more intimate. As I spent most of my time upstairs, I missed a lot of the acts down here, but I'll tell you who played, etc., First was Mannix (whom I DID see), the duo of Joe Mannix and Chris Peck, formerly of Oral Groove. They've been doing their Everly's acoustic-duo-pop thing for a while, to test out their new songs. Wonderful stuff, especially "Time Travel." Now, they're full-blown electric and signed to Permanent Press, so look out for them.

Mark Johnson was next, playing his pop songs solo on an 80's metal-era BC Rich electric guitar straight out of a Motley Crue video. He's great, having written tunes with the Smithereens among others, and has a release out on Not Lame. Hosts Lauren Agnalli and Dave Rave were up next also doing a stripped-down set, doing songs old and new. They always sound great together, the songs are gems, especially "When Patti Rocked" and "Weight Of The World," and they're very fun to watch. Lastly were two acts who record for Big Deal, Dan Kibler and Splitsville. Dan Kibler is a singer/songwriter in the tradition of Alex Chilton or Dwight Twilley. He played selections from his two Big Deal CDs, Haunted and the recent Capsule. Splitsville came from Baltimore and played songs old and new. They have a new CD out called Repeater, and they played cuts from that release as well as some from Ultrasound and Splitsville USA.

All in all, Pop, Snap & Crackle was a major success except maybe next time the fest could be spread out over a couple of days so the acts aren't competing with each other to be heard