Ramona Silver – at the WBCN Rumble with The Amazing Royal Crowns & Fluffy – Review

Ramona Silver

with The Amazing Royal Crowns & Fluffy at the WBCN Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble at The Middle East
by Scott Hefflon
photos by Jaymes Leavitt

Look, I know a lot of people think Ramona Silver is really swell, and all the scenester folk have such pleasant things to say about Ramona personally (once they realize we’re on record, and after they’ve pitched their own band, side projects, and release party at Steve’s house in Allston), but I just don’t get it. Ramona Silver is probably just peachy keen to the ears of anyone who’s never heard Tracy Bonham. Ramona Silver is to Tracy Bonham as some old fart in a granddaddy Caddy is to Mario Andretti. Allow me to create an image for you, Ramona Silver chugs along just fine. I mean, she pretty much keeps to the speed limit, she doesn’t cut anyone off, she uses her blinker (MA residents may have to ask someone about this reference), and she provides a smooth, comfortable, relaxing ride for her passengers. Tracy Bonham, on the other hand, is an expert driver, one you feel you can trust even when she’s pulling stunts that make ya shit your shorts. As she “throws” the wheel, and landscapes swim before your eyes and you emit a small whimper, you get the impression she knows what she’s doing. (The mad cackling and screeching is obviously just for show. Gosh, just look at that innocent face and sweet lullaby voice, aw shucks.) Ramona Silver sets the cruise control down the middle of the road, while Tracy Bonham’s got that wound-up engine purring contentedly one moment, then jumping the curb to zig-zag wildly through the underbrush, all the while racing through the gears like a pro and howling a have-at-you battlecry that’d make banshees tuck tail and head for cover, yet when she leaps the median to fish-tail, catch it, and resume chug, chug, chuggin’ along, she daintily fixes her hair and asks if you want to stop for a bite to eat.

Waitaminute, I’m supposed to be reviewing Ramona Silver, right? Um, well, in all fairness, I did dig a couple songs that were on the Fingerprint Sampler a while back. I seem to recall having a kind word or two for her and wishing her well, but my review doesn’t stick in my head any more than her tunes did. (Perhaps this is alterna-elitism, but I probably gave her a hunky dory review so she’d get those much-sought-after warm fuzzies, feel nurtured, and have something for her scrapbook/presskit, but now that she’s popular, signed, sealed, and delivered, I feel no sense of loyalty and, in fact, am driven to critique honestly and harshly the way I probably shoulda the first time around. Supporting an unknown with potential is far different from cutting some slack to a now-known who has yet to realize that potential. Much like voting at the polls for the underdog simply ’cause ya feel bad for ’em, then later discovering the fucker won ’cause of all the doe-eyed, (sym)pathetic chumps like you.) But on with the show: Ramona Silver doesn’t move around very much. Her songs, while lilting at times, gusty at others, all “rock out” within very specific parameters of tempo and range. In English, they don’t deviate much from the center of the road. And when she lets loose a fuck-all tirade against, oh I dunno, someone (I had difficulty paying attention), I couldn’t help but hear the last gasp of a drowning person.

Yet the crowd went ape-shit over her. Then again, the crowd at this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble seemed ready to go bananas over anything. That’s a frightening feeling. Have you ever been at a sporting event and felt the whole crowd surging and breathing as one multi-celled organism? Sure, you’re there and you’re buying into the whole trip and really grooving on it, but something clicks in your mind and you become objective, viewing the whooping hysteria around you with a critical eye. That, my friends, is fear. The mob rules. Mindless groupthink, even when it’s joyous, is an awesome power to behold. The cheering turned to chanting and sounded suspiciously like synchronized bleating. So I ordered a lot of drinks.

My impression of the crowd was this: Gophers. Or are they moles? Whatever. These chubby-faced creatures come out of the woodwork (or out of the suburbs) and peek their twitching little pink noses into the air to see what’s out there. Their eyes blink at the daylight (or the nightlight), their skin pasty from spending too much time in the dark (pun intended). They’re tentatively feeling their way around in small circles, huddled closely with their clan. My god, those blinking eyes searching, seeking, wary, wondering! Ah, but I wish I had the patience to be one of those… whatever you call those people who travel halfway around the world to watch gorillas fuck. (Hell, I just go to the video store and rent something with Ron Jeremy.) Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss the self-important scenesters until you’re surrounded by non-important dweeboids. Never before had the word “consumer” really meant so much. Conversation flapped like the pages of a dog-eared magazine caught in a heady breeze. No, literally (except for the heady part, I just thought that sounded cool). If I’d bothered to transcribe the chit-chat, with a lot of copy-editing, of course, you’d basically have poorly paraphrased copies of the last few issues of Rolling Stone, the Boston Globe, and all the hypester hoopla the DJs on commercial alternative (an oxymoron, I know) radio have been sputtering. Including ads.

Luckily, the booze was kickin’ my head in like an over-zealous drill sergeant, the horrid PA music was drowned out by a rush of creative ideas (an alcohol-induced delusion, I know, but my self-preservation instincts were as juiced up as I was), and my faithful friend handed me two earplugs saying, “Take two of these and call a cab when it’s over,” and stranded me there. I’m kidding. I did get the earplugs, though. Honestly, it’s a frightening thing when a corporate force such as The Rock of Boston has such lousy taste in music that you, tired, jaded, and rapidly approaching blithering incoherence, wish the band you hated would come back for an encore or something. What’s with the easy listening muzak? Hey, I agree that the alternative mindstate ought to imply open-mindedness (yet, of course, it means the exact opposite), and that dweeby, unabashed retro nostalgia is coyly post-hip, but, um, I get the impression that these dorks aren’t getting the joke, they are the joke. These dumbfucks have no point of reference aside from 20 gazillion channels of “tastes great/less filling” programming, so of course this live show seems amazingly interactive. But man, this is as useless as going to a huge, packed party where everyone stands around talking to the people they came with.

Yeah, but then The Amazing Royal Crowns took the stage. And baby, they did just that. This styling bunch stole the show, folded, spindled, and mutilated it, and threw away the “Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law” tag like it weren’t no thing. In a nutshell, they sweat. The singer started out all dapper and shit, but as the night wore on, kept stripping off layers to reveal badass tat sleeves and a clean undershirt. But I get ahead of myself. The guitarist donned a black, broad-rimmed cowboy hat and dark sunglasses throughout the show, and I’m sure we all left, sweaty and disheveled, thinking, “Who was that madly grinning guitarist in the black, broad-rimmed cowboy hat and dark sunglasses anyway?” And sure, the stand up bassist looked all Buddy Holly, but he dipped, then held his bass close, like he was dancing with some really swingin’ Sally. What the boppin’ gals in the back were supposed to do besides look all shades of happ’nin’ in dark sunglasses and Tight Black Wear™, I really dunno. The Crowns’ cover of the Misfits’ “American Nightmare” was totally hip, but I got the feeling they woulda gotten a better response if they did “Rock This Town.” Sure, to the uninitiated, The Crowns are merely pepped up Stray Cat Strutters, but perhaps the good Reverend and a few true to the Dippity-Do will lead the masses toward the salvation sounds of rockabilly. Yeah, that singer can really yip. Well, what would you call it? Ya know, that little hiccup thing The King used to do (when he could still enunciate). It ain’t a chirp, it’s not a yap like one of those useless little dogs that look like rats, it’s a yip. (Look, I’m on a deadline, OK?) While my fave stuff is when they burn the barn, steal the tractor, and go hell raisin’, a-hootin’ and a hollerin’, through the cornfield long past midnight on a school night all jacked up on cheap beer and whisky, the crowd seemed to groove equally on the slow dancin’, cheek to cheek with ma baby ballads. Then again, I hate this crowd so who gives a foul-foul-filth-and-foul what they like. The Crowns rock.

Fluffy closed out the night while the judges tallied their votes. Boy, that’s a tough one, huh? And still the crowd lowed loudly, this time to the New York trash Brit punk snottiness of Fluffy. The gals play tight, nasty, loud, and melodic. The singer’s got kinda a Marilyn Monroe thing going on, but it doesn’t take long for the bratty Drew Barrymore sneer to appear to warm the hearts and cockles. My companion offered to pour a drink on my flaming cockles, but I declined, wiping the drool from my lower lip with a bar napkin. It would sound smashing if I were to say Fluffy knocked me for a loop, got my head a-spinnin’, and dropped my jaw to the ground, but the booze had already done that (in the last case, followed far-too-rapidly by the rest of me). One thing I’ve got to say for Fluffy – any band that can fuzz-out their sound (intentionally) to the point where it’s almost one massive blur, yet have dynamics within that blur that are so strong that they still leap out and jar the most addled mind, man, now them’s good songs.

To make matters short (damn, ya call this short!), The Amazing Royal Crowns won. There shant be angry rioting in the streets tonight (hell, I can barely stand), and the Earth can feel free to keep spinning, but perhaps a little slower might be nice. There is equilibrium in the Boston Music Scene after all, this fucker wasn’t fixed, and wow, am I going to have a hangover tomorrow.

(p.s. Please ignore the “Oh God, what have I done!” cries in the night. That’s just my wail of self-loathing for flushing the remains of my tattered and stained reputation, now destined to wander these ill-lit streets ostracized and alone, banned from every self-respecting hipster joint in town.)