Hugh Cornwell, Glen Matlock and Clem Burke
Nick & Eddie, Minneapolis, MN
Friday, March 2, 2012
I grew up in rural Minnesota in the 1970’s and enjoyed all the cultural benefits you would expect when living mere minutes from Fargo, ND. Like most men of my vintage, I acquired an early taste for classic rock but as I grew older my soundtrack evolved. At the time, however, I struggled to catch glimpses: Bowie, Iggy Pop and Cheap Trick had to be special-ordered but then the local radio station inexplicably slipped The Clash, Blondie and Gary Numan between Kenny Loggins and REO. I kept seeing glimpses: the 60 Minutes segment on the Sex Pistols until my mom turned it off in disgust; the Dickies on CPO Sharkey; “punk” rock on Quincy; Roxy Music in the $.50 bin at Woolworths. Then my brother started sending me the mixtapes…
I am living proof of the benefit of older brothers in college with fast cars and powerful stereos. Mine introduced me to the Stranglers, Buzzcocks and Killing Joke, c. 1981, and I never looked back.
Hugh Cornwell and Clem Burke played the 400 Bar in Minneapolis last fall. There were maybe 35 people in attendance and most were probably also in the audience when Clem’s original band opened for the Kinks at the Longhorn in 1978. The addition of a curiosity-factor Glen Matlock plus heavy pimping by local hipster cruise director Jake Rudh brought maybe 150 people to Nick & Eddie last Friday. Say what you will about Mr. Rudh, but his ability to successfully mobilize his flying monkeys in support of an otherwise under-promoted show cannot be denied. Let’s see what he can do for Peter Case and Paul Collins at the Amsterdam Pub on 3/22.
As a restaurant, Nick & Eddie violated my 3-strikes rule for food and service several years ago and I haven’t been back since. As a music venue, however, Nick & Eddie is a pretty good restaurant. Located in Loring Park by Lurcat and Joe’s Garage, Nick & Eddie maintains a late-80’s Manhattan vibe, with tall ceilings and rows of (functional?) speakers set into whitewashed walls. It’s the kind of place that used to appear in Spy magazine features from 1988, maybe with a picture of James Spader standing at the end of the bar. During the concert, Clem Burke described N&E as “an upscale CBGB’s,” and he wasn’t far off. An ad hoc concert space at best, the stage is set up at the back of the house along the bar. There was no formal concert lighting either; rather, the performance was lit by the three or four halogens that hadn’t been unscrewed above the musicians. And much like CBGB’s, the single bathroom was visible but unreachable, requiring a long slog to the front of the stage, then a hard left turn. Many of the lucky few who made it chose to watch the show from behind the stage rather than make their way back through the crowd.
I held it.
Glen Matlock: Original bass player for the Sex Pistols before he was pitched to the curb by Malcolm McLaren in favor of the pathetic yet marketable Sid Vicious. Never a “punk” himself, Matlock had committed the cardinal sins of knowing how to play an instrument and write songs. A somewhat successful solo performer and bass-for-hire, Matlock has gigged with Iggy Pop and re-formed versions of both the Sex Pistols and the Faces. His most recent visit to Minnesota was at Lee’s in 2011 with rockabilly icon Robert Gordon and proto-punk Chris Spedding of “Motorbikin’” fame. A good show, I’m told, and one you should all be very sorry for missing.
Hugh Cornwell: Led The Stranglers from 1974 through an acrimonious split in 1990. Significantly older than their punk peers, the Stranglers’ bass-heavy and organ-driven psychedelics were nonetheless lumped in with that scene by virtue of nothing more than proximity and a shitty attitude. A hugely popular band for a time in the UK and Europe, the Stranglers never had much visibility in the States beyond the record-store cognoscenti. Cornwell has been slogging it out on the solo road ever since, even while his old band mates invoke his legacy at sold-out shows back in England, including at London’s Roundhouse this coming Friday (3/9). Both Matlock and Cornwell played separate sets supported by Hall-of-Fame drummer Clem Burke from Blondie and Steve Fishman from the Contortions on bass (Google him).
I missed openers the Fuck Knights but kudos to N&E for supporting local music. Glen Matlock then took the stage with Fishman and Burke and plowed through a 45-minute set of serviceably enthusiastic bar rock. Amiable and appreciative, Matlock chatted up the crowd in a heavy West London accent before launching into several solo numbers that started heads bobbing. I sensed hipster confusion, however, during the first few songs, since Glen Matlock plays guitar, not bass, when he performs solo. Many in attendance had simply assumed that the person playing bass (Fishman) must be Matlock and who was this guy singing? While most were hoping for a greater emphasis on Sex Pistols’ tunes, Matlock played only “God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant,” building up a good head of steam that had the crowd actually moving and singing along. A few punk geezers tried vainly to be annoying for old time’s sake, but the saps queuing for the bathroom were far more pissed. I even saw Punk Bob in his bedazzled denim vest, awkwardly pin-balling about like a vaguely reptilian Vivian from the Young Ones. Matlock also received nods of recognition with “Ambition” from Iggy Pop’s Soldier album and “Ghosts of Princes in Towers” from the Rich Kids, his first post-Pistols group with Midge Ure, later of Ultravox. The encore, however, was an unexpected surprise when Matlock returned to play “Montague Terrace (in Blue)” by pop godhead Scott Walker. The arrangement, venue, crowd and performers all gelled into a perfect representation of why I ever went to see live music in the first place, although not so much anymore. Good stuff.
After less than 15 minutes, Hugh Cornwell, Fishman and Burke started in with “Toiler on the Sea” from the Stranglers’ 3rd album, Black and White. The Stranglers’ guttural bass and organ flourishes were noticeably absent but Cornwell’s distinctive guitar sound and iconic voice were intact, even at the age of 62. They continued with several back catalogue deep cuts, including “Bear Cage,” “Goodbye Toulouse,” “Nuclear Device” and my personal favorite Stranglers tune, “Straighten Out,” a b-side from 1977. Cornwell’s snarling vocals and slashing guitar lead on hits like “Hanging Around,” “No More Heroes” and the much-covered “(Get A) Grip (On Yourself) confirmed him as a progenitor of punk aggression, even if he had discarded that label himself more than two decades ago. Several solo numbers were politely received and only on “Golden Brown” did the band falter. A monstrous and uncharacteristic hit for the Stranglers in 1981, “Golden Brown” is a delicate, harpsichord-driven paean to heroin that switches in and out of ¾ waltz time. Forced to copy on guitar a melody previously played on the organ, Cornwell and Fishman struggled to stay in step. A quick YouTube search, however, reveals that the Stranglers themselves could rarely keep the song together so this is nitpicking over a truly solid set. Cornwell made several cordial references to past local gigs, resulting in knowing woots from the crowd. He also noted that Minneapolis was a lovely city that needed to be relocated to a warmer coastal area.
Regarding Clem Burke - obviously a world-class musician, his support for lesser-known colleagues is admirable. He is, however, a pop drummer at heart, with a busy style and a loose wrist that manifests itself in excessive high-hat and frequent snare fills. The Stranglers’ style was thuggish and spartan; Burke’s flourishes seemed periodically at odds with the music, at least to those familiar with the originals. At 58, though, Burke has been too successful to warrant criticism for a gig that is obviously a labor of love, especially if the worst thing I can say is that the drummer was too perky.
I’ve been listening to Hugh Cornwell, Glen Matlock and Clem Burke for over 30 years now. Before the show I had thought to bring down an old Trouser Press magazine for them to sign, one where all three appeared in their respective bands. I’ve had bad luck in the past with meeting my musical heroes, however, so I left it at home. After the show I stood within a yard of where Hugh Cornwell was graciously chatting with fans. I thought about stopping to shake his hand and express my appreciation, to tell him how he had helped change things for me, but then I just kept walking. I have some pretty solid memories of him, and I’d like to keep them that way. I didn’t get to tell him what his music meant to me growing up but maybe during the show he saw the tall guy along the bar, mouthing the words to every one of his songs.
I’d like to think that he did.