It doesn’t get any better
Favorite weird vignette in Sacramento for July: Emerging from R5 Records at midday Sunday and seeing a man on a huge, purple Harley stopped at the light on Broadway headed west. Pumping out of the motorcycle’s speakers was a stream of high-volume “smooth jazz,” as if this Johnny Appleseed of musical Prozac was roaring about the Midtown grid, inflicting pain and misery on any sentient beings within earshot. Well, almost all—one guy across the street gave the purple rider a big thumb’s up. Yikers.
Speaking of yikers, on Saturday night I ventured into Marilyn’s on K, where the venerable and erstwhile trio Frank Jordan was playing what had been billed as its final local gig. Ever walk out of a show totally drained, ears ringing, thinking, well, that’s certainly the best show I’ve seen in months?
It wasn’t brilliant because of the sound, which was sometimes spotty and didn’t do the band justice. And there were no strippers working poles, or laser lights, or scale-model replicas of Neolithic structures anywhere near the stage. There were, however, three guys playing hard, like there was no tomorrow even, and a crowd that shouted its approval after every song. Some even sang along.
You’ve read ravings about Frank Jordan in these pages before. In all sincerity, I still believe this: I stand in utter mystification as to why this band isn’t one of the biggest bands on the planet, especially whenever I hear its 2004 masterpiece Milk the Thrills or I witness a live performance of the caliber Frank Jordan delivered on Saturday at Marilyn’s.
On Saturday, singer and guitarist Mike Visser, whose vocals, although not sufficiently mixed on this night, evoked such rock choirboy banshees as Robert Plant and the late great Jeff Buckley. His guitar playing, on a Fender Stratocaster through a Fender amp, combined the ‘80s rock brilliance of the Cure‘s Robert Smith with the primal, freakout sonics of live Dick Dale, especially the times when the Beirut-born, surf-rock icon is shredding his fretboard with Middle Eastern-sounding runs. Matt Ontjes, as in-the-pocket a bass player as you’ll find, played melodic low-end underpinnings that provided a perfect complement to Visser’s guitar work. And nuclear-powered drummer Devin Hurley is a skin pounder so intense that at one point in the show, he literally destroyed his bass drum, and Visser and Ontjes were forced to vamp until the opening band’s bass drum was substituted. Watching Hurley’s ultra-kinetic assault on his kit from the side of the stage was a real highlight; the man can drum.
Of course, any group of wankers can play hard. What sets Frank Jordan apart is the quality of its material. The melodies take weird, unexpected turns, like one might hear from some Scandinavian composer who was trying to approximate “oriental” music. The songs have idiosyncratic structures, with lyrics that evoke feelings rather than erect billboards, and those structures lend themselves to the kind of textural and dynamic explorations that a top-notch group of players can provide—think Led Zeppelin.
Much of the set came from Milk the Thrills, and the band reached to its just-released follow-up, Ohio, for the encore.
My wish for Frank Jordan? Please reconsider. The world is ready for you now.