David Bash – International Pop Fan

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This was originally written in November 2006, when I was attending Syracuse University. We were asked to write a day-in-the-life story about someone interesting. Given that the assignment coincided with our Flashcubes date in Boston at that year’s International Pop Overthrow Festival, it was an natural fit to write about the event’s founder.

David Bash is a man on a mission. Well, two actually. As the founder of the International Pop Overthrow festival he is on a mission to spread the word about pop music that he loves.

But in the more immediate sense, he is late for the second night of his own festival in Boston and can’t afford to be deterred. When I run into Bash on the street at 7 p.m., he blurts out a quick apology and says “Sorry, I can’t talk now, I’m later than I want to be, but I’ll talk to you at the club.” Without another word, he walks quickly away towards the Paradise Lounge, where the first band is set to kick off the evening at 8 p.m.

To say that David Bash is a pop music fan is only the beginning of his story. As a lifelong fan, but never a musician, Bash has created a niche for himself and the music he loves as a music writer for numerous magazines, and with the International Pop Overthrow.

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IPO, as it is affectionately called, is now in its ninth year with no signs of slowing down. Presently Bash stages nine festivals a year that vary in length from one to two weeks, depending on the strength of the local scene and the availability of the club. He presently stages festivals in major cities throughout the U.S. and, for the past four years, in Liverpool, England, the birthplace of the Beatles.  His mission is turning the world on to all the great underground pop bands that he loves, a task, he admits, that is an uphill struggle.

“It’s always a battle trying to present to people a festival where 90 percent of the acts, and maybe more, are gonna be ones that they have never heard of,” says Bash. “And you’re trying to tell them to come out and see this music. People have so many other options today and you’re trying to sell them on something that – at least on the surface – would appear to be the least desirable option. So you’ve got to present it in a way where they say, ‘umm, y’know? this sounds like it could be pretty cool.’ ”

Friday night in Boston, Bash is hoping to attract enough of those people to stage a successful evening of music for the audience, and for the bands he has invited to perform.

At 7:50, the activity around the stage is hectic. Bash provides back line – amps and drums – for the bands to use, but every act has different requirements: keyboards, an extra guitar amp or vocal microphone, and everything has to be in place for the show to begin. As the band members and the sound crew hustle to get the stage together, Bash paces nervously from side to side in front of the stage. Dressed in green slacks, black shirt, colorful tie and his ever-present black three-cornered hat, he looks slightly ill at ease. He says that all the preparation in the world cannot guarantee that everything will always go smoothly. It just gives you a better chance.

But eight minutes later, Bash hops on stage, positions himself at one of the microphones and begins addressing the crowd. He not only finds the bands, books the clubs, and schedules every show of every event, he also acts as the event’s emcee. It is a job he clearly relishes, for it’s his moment in the spotlight.

Onstage, Bash is part host and part cheerleader. He knows he’s responsible for keeping the night on schedule so he keeps his introductions brief, while always making sure to plug the bands’ recordings, (“available at our merch table”), and the following nights’ performances (“don’t forget we’re here ’til Monday night”).  He is always gracious, thanking everyone for coming and thanking the club for having him and his festival, which he always refers to as a unit (“thanks for having us,” “this is our fourth year in Boston,” etc). He only singles himself out when praising each band in his introductions, ie: “I’ve always been a fan of this band,” or “I was totally impressed with their performance at last year’s IPO.”

As a music writer, Bash says, he was always loathe to submit reviews to magazines for CD’s that he did not like. He is clearly more comfortable heaping on the praise for each of his acts.

“This first band has beautiful stuff…just great power pop; laid-back power pop. And if that sounds like an oxymoron, it really isn’t. When you hear these guys you’ll know what I’m talking about. They have two CD’s for sale, including the latest, which is called “Sunshine Girl.” Check it out. They’ve come up from Connecticut and we’re glad they did. Will you please give a huge welcome to the Naomi Star.”

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The band jumps right into the first song. Having driven over three hours from their home in New Haven, Connecticut, they are eager to make the most of their allotted 20-minute slot.

IPO’s strength, for the audience, is seeing eight bands in just four hours. Bash achieves this by limiting each band to just 20 minutes. That means that most bands will only perform five or six songs, depending on the length. There are no encores, as that would cut into the 10-minute changeover time between acts, which is already frantic.

While Naomi Star performs, Bash is at the door greeting late-arriving musicians with handshakes and eager slaps on the back. Throughout most of the evening there will be a constant flow of people passing in and out of the door. Because there are so many different acts, some audience members come to see only their favorite band, and leave when they are done, a practice Bash tries to discourage in his exhortations from the stage. As each set ends, he is quick to grab the microphone and, while asking for “one more round of applause,” urges the audience to stick around for these next bands: “you won’t want to miss them!”

The next two bands, Silver Lining and Temper are on and off in good speed and Bash’s night is humming along nicely. There is a slight commotion at the door with several people seemingly entering and leaving at the same time. What is really happening is the appearance of a small party of industry people, just arriving from New York City, who have ties to the undisputed kings of the power pop scene, Eric Carmen and the Raspberries. Carmen and his band were prominent in the early 70’s and pioneered the sound Bash’s festival now strives to celebrate with such seminal hits as “Go All The Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Tonight” and “Overnight Sensation.”

Dennis Ferrante was the recording studio engineer for those hits and Bernie Hogya maintains the web site for the band who, while long defunct, is still very influential. They have come to Boston to see a rare live appearance by my band, The Flashcubes (one of eight bands on tonight’s bill). They are longtime friends with our drummer, Tommy Allen, but Bash has met them both before and is clearly excited to greet this semblance of power pop royalty-by-association at his event.

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At 9:35, Bash is back onstage, waiting to introduce the next act. He has grown more confident with each appearance. Maybe it’s the luminaries in the crowd, maybe it’s the obvious success of the event – the club is filled to near-capacity – or maybe it’s satisfaction that with the fourth act of the evening, they are only running five minutes behind. Given the chaos taking place behind him, as guitars are plugged in and a piano is moved into place, that is impressive.

“This next band has now played Boston for the second year in a row. Great band. I was totally impressed last year. Totally blown away and I’m glad to have them back. An extraordinary indie pop band. They’re on the Stop, Drop & Roll label, very cool. Please welcome the Rooftop Suicide Club.”

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More than any other time in the evening, Bash’s hype matches the band. While their appearance (t-shirts and jeans) wouldn’t necessarily indicate as much, these guys could be stars. Almost every musician in the audience – and there are many of them – has stopped to take them in. Their music builds in slow patterns, with soaring melodies, explosive rhythms and hook after hook of just great, memorable song writing. They are one of several real highlights in a consistently-strong evening of music.

As the band finishes and begins to break down their equipment, Bash hovers near the stage, eager to move things along.  He’d like to pitch in, but that’s not really his job. The bands change over at their own pace. Surrounded by musicians, he seems to stand alone, his hands at his side, fingers snapping, as if it might speed things up. When the next band finally signals that they’re ready, Bash keeps his intro short.

“We’re very glad to have this band back after a fantastic set last year. They are a great, great rock band from right here in Boston. Please give it up for The Luxury.”

With five down and three to go, it is now 10:55 p.m. The show is now nearly a half-hour behind schedule, but Bash takes his time with our intro. Either because of the industry people who’ve come so far to see us, or because of his own early connection to us, he gives the Flashcubes the longest intro of the night.

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“I’ve been a huge fan of this next band since 1978, when I was at Syracuse University and bought a 45 RPM record of theirs called “Christi Girl,” which absolutely blew me away. It’s been an honor to have this band play our festival in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and now their fourth year in Boston. They are Power Pop!  And you’re gonna find that out in just a minute. They’ve got CD’s for sale out there, the latest one called “Brilliant,” on Northside Records. Please give a huge welcome to The Flashcubes.”

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We are the oldest band on the bill, and the only band with roots that stretch back to the 70’s, Power Pop’s golden age, when the Raspberries, Badfinger (England) and Big Star (Memphis) defined the genre. We are the only band that ‘dresses up,’ with suit jackets and skinny ties, and our presentation is decidedly old school, with no space between songs and a premium put on visual presentation. We roar through six songs and are greeted with a standing ovation.  David Bash quickly commands the microphone and gives us the only encore of the night. We respond with a rousing cover of the Eddie & the Hot Rods UK punk classic, “Do Anything You Wanna Do.”

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It is clear, as the stage is reset for the seventh time, that the majority of the audience has come to the Paradise this evening to see Rooftop Suicide Club, The Luxury and The Flashcubes. The bar, which was four-deep with customers just a moment ago, is now quickly emptying.

At 11:40, and faced with a dwindling crowd, Bash remains upbeat. If he’s discouraged by the nearly-mass exodus, it doesn’t show. Possibly, he has done so many of these events that he knows that it’s just part of the normal flow of the evening and accepts it as such.

“OK, two more to go tonight. I was so impressed when I heard this next band’s application to International Pop Overthrow. They totally rock. Modern rock with great melodies and awesome vocals. I’m really glad they’re here and you will be too. Please welcome My Little Radio.”

As they, and the last band – Minky Starshine & the New Cardinals – finish up the night, Bash finally sits down. He has been a flurry of activity all night, but now seems to have earned his rest. He sits at the merchandise table in the back of the dimly-lit club, with his face illuminated by the light of his laptop computer. He sit quietly, checking his e-mail, to make sure that everything is in place for the next night’s show.

For nine festivals each year, on nearly a hundred evenings like this one, David Bash does everything he can to present a successful event for the audience, and for the bands. Although his travels have taken him all over the country and abroad, he seems to thrive on the pace.

“The travel isn’t too much of a headache,” he says, “and it’s exciting; it really keeps your adrenaline flowing.”

Bash addresses the challenge of maintaining his enthusiasm for IPO, year after year.

“Well, there are always new bands, and I try to add new cities every now and then to keep it fresh. There’s also getting to see my old friends, and some of the old bands that bring back great memories from past IPO’s. Just being a music fan and loving it…it’s always exciting and it always brings a new set of memories. I hope to never get tired of going out there and presenting great music.”

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Brian Wilson – Today

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We’ve all felt that sensation, where hearing an old song can transport you back in time. And for those of us of a certain age, there is the larger, deeper, version where listening to new music from an artist we’ve followed since we were young, can touch a special place in our souls, and resonate more greatly than almost anything else. For some it might be new music by Paul McCartney or the Stones, or a long-awaited new CD by Ray Davies, David Crosby, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell or numerous other legacy artists still making new music.

For me, it’s Brian Wilson, the legendary Beach Boys’ songwriter and producer. Whether it’s his countless sun-drenched hit singles or the visionary albums like Pet Sounds, Smile, Sunflower & That Lucky Old Sun, his work has always touched the deepest part of me. And at 72, he’s still releasing new music.

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The fact that Wilson is even still alive, given his past history of drug abuse and mental illness, seems miraculous. In fact, anyone who thought Brian Wilson would outlive his younger brothers Dennis & Carl – who died respectively in 1983 and 1998 – might’ve also put money on Jerry Lee Lewis outliving his Million Dollar Quartet bandmates, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash & Carl Perkins. Some things just defy reason.

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And yet, Brian Wilson is still here, and experiencing one of the most productive years of his career with a film of his life, Love & Mercy, (set to premiere next month), a new autobiography, “I Am Brian Wilson,” (slated for a fall release) and a brand new studio album, No Pier Pressure, out now, with a tour to follow this summer.

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How can a man with such a troubled past do all this, you might ask? I believe that despite all of his well-documented past problems, Brian Wilson has an inner strength and a drive to succeed that few others of his generation possess. He must have! And he still has that competitive fire, not only, to release new music, but to avidly follow the charts to see how his new music fares against modern competition young enough to be his grandchildren.

When it was announced last year that Wilson would be working with several younger artists on his new album, I feared the worst. It’s almost become standard boilerplate for older artists, trying to sustain a career with live albums, cover albums and Christmas albums, to also do a duets album, with young, “hip” artists: think Elton John, Smokey Robinson, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Van Morrison and numerous others. But rather than a retread of his older hits, with him sharing the mic with much younger stars, Wilson did something entirely unexpected. He wrote new songs, sometimes with the guests, and sometimes for the guests. 

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If you think back to the 60s heyday of the Beach Boys, Brian wrote, arranged and produced all the songs, and he also chose who in the band would sing each song, whether it be Mike Love, Al Jardine, or either of his gifted brothers, Carl and Dennis. And of course, he would always sing a few, too. But the point is that casting each song to the right singer was one of his many talents, and that’s exactly what he is doing again on this new album. He is joined by former Beach Boys Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, who both shine on several lead vocals, and by younger stars like Zooey Deschanel, Kacey Musgrave,  Sebu Simian (Capital Cities), Peter Hollens and Nate Ruess (Fun.). And they all add something very special to Wilson’s songs.

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It’s been said that Wilson thinks in five-part harmony. And while his harmony writing and arranging is such a large part of his musical identity, sometimes his actual songwriting gets overlooked. The late-classical composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein once referred to the distinctive sound of a composer’s music as his “musical voice,” implying that the way a composer combined the elements of melody, chords and rhythm, were as distinctive as one’s speaking voice. I’ve always felt that concept could be applied to Rock’s great writers, as well, whether it be Paul McCartney, Ray Davies, Todd Rundgren, Brian Wilson or any number of talented others. Regardless of whether they are singing the song or not, you can just tell that it’s one of their songs.

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And that’s the beautiful thing about this new Brian Wilson album. It sounds like him, in all the best ways possible. The soaring melodies, the surprising chord changes, the exuberant rhythms, and those achingly-beautiful harmonies; all elements intact. It is easily his best solo album, short of Smile, which was written in the 60s. To be able to say that about a 72-year-old artist is truly remarkable. I could list favorite songs, but at this early date, I seem to have a different favorite every day. The music of Brian Wilson has been a constant in my life for nearly 50 years now, and I’m happy to report that his is the musical gift that keeps on giving.

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