tom smith | make green bay weird | june 2016
I was ecstatic when my editor at Frankly Green Bay informed me that I would be sent on assignment to cover a book release in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. You may ask yourself, why so excited about a book release? Well, let me tell you, when the book is “Dirty Windshields: The Best and the Worst of The Smugglers Tour Diaries" by Grant Lawrence that entails a release show at the Commodore Ballroom with performances by The Smugglers, The Muffs, Chixdiggit and Needles//Pins, you get passport-getting excited. In fact, my first passport ever, driven by the desire to fly to another country to see a quasi-Concert Café reunion. The Smugglers, The Muffs and Chixdiggit were three of the most cherished artists to grace the stage of the Concert Café. In fact, hanging up at the Commodore Ballroom were a number of flyers from The Smugglers touring past. One of them was for a Smugglers show on a Sunday night at the Concert Café. I got a kick out of seeing that on the wall, especially seeing Green Bay band Agent Q on the flyer.
I flew in on a Friday, took a train from the airport to downtown Vancouver and was immediately in awe of its beauty, vibrancy, diversity and food options. My hotel was the Empire Landmark and the view from my room on the 36th floor was pretty sweet. That evening I had a sub from Steamrollers and proceeded to the pre-book release party at a bar called What's Up? Hot Dog on Hastings Street East. This establishment is undoubtedly the greatest punk rock bar I've ever patronized. Great staff, and the bar just radiated a reverent respect for the Vancouver punk scene. Looking up at the wall from the booth I was sitting in I could see a great flyer for a show that had the New Bomb Turks and The Smugglers. The friends I was with loved their food and I thought the local IPA I was drinking was delicious. I recommend this joint for anyone visiting Vancouver and will be visiting next time I'm in town.
The next day I had eight hours to kill before show time, so me and my no-smartphone-having-butt decided to walk around Vancouver. Yes, I did discover the bad neighborhood that later people told me to avoid, but I kept walking. I discovered a shop that sells cat toys and while conversing with the clerk I expressed the fact that I missed my cats at home and would love to see some cats. I had seen many dogs already in Vancouver, most of them with homeless people. Luckily for me, I was informed of a lounge that had cats at it. I soon discovered this lounge was also for smoking marijuana, which is probably why I got into this hours long discussion with this guy who told me he was a shaman who can cure cancer with hallucinogens and was very worried about this alien supergoo that came to Earth by way of a meteorite that is planning to take over the world. Next on my adventure was the best tasting sushi I've ever had in my life. Now I was all ready for my first-ever live show in Canada.
Needles//Pins impressed me on my first time seeing them, Chixdiggit just as rocking as when they played the Crunchy Frog a few years back. The Muffs submitted for my approval a blistering set reminiscent of their performance last summer at The Lyric Room. This was the first Smugglers show in thirteen years and in that span of time the members had nine children and one heart attack. The Smugglers were just as great as the times I saw them at the Concert Café. They were, without question, passport worthy, and in fact, so good that I'm flying to Toronto to see them in June. I also have vowed to bring The Smugglers back to Green Bay.
While it's fun to visit an exotic city and daydream about living there, I do love Green Bay, even in spite of its issues, including at times a cultural suffocation and lack of proper respect for original live music. The reason I look forward to returning to GB is the people. Green Bay's seldom-talked-about natural resource — people — is a true selling point of this city. Year after year I see the brain drain on Green Bay sapping it of essential humans to move this city forward, young and old. What's even worse is when we lose an exemplary artist whose passion and energy knew no limits. Unfortunately Green Bay just lost one of those citizens. His name was Benjamin Kuether, who we all knew as Benny from T.I.G.T. and Seasick Felix. This is just two of the many groups of musicians that Benny worked with. Benny wasn't just a multi-instrumentalist who played a lot of shows in Green Bay and many other areas in Wisconsin, but a ball of positive energy that improved any situation. Benny's mojo inspired many to tap their inner artist. Benny loved to help in setting up house shows and just playing live, period. I first met Benny when I was booking at the Crunchy Frog. I instantly liked him and truly believe that there is no hyperbole attached to the statement Benny was the nicest guy in the world. I remember when Benny left town to go ride the rails and I recall being jealous of the ability to just hit the road with such freedom. I foolishly never read “On The Road" until I was 30 years old, and at that point in my life, there was absolutely no way I could have done that. I and many others are going to be missing Benny quite awfully. The last time I saw Benny I gave him a big hug. I'm lucky for that and we were lucky to have Benny in our lives. I just wish it had been longer. You will be remembered.
Sub Pop Records
Timebomb rating: 13 of 13
I had been dragging my feet on reviewing the reissue of Soundgarden's “Ultramega OK." The recent, tragic news of the passing of Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell has forced me to take that bull by the horns. My condolences to all the family, friends and many fans of his. I know many of the Soundgarden fans in the Green Bay area — I've been selling their records at the Exclusive Company my entire 29-year career there. I also have many fond memories of playing Soundgarden on WGBW when I attended UWGB. My favorite songs to play by them was the Ohio Players cover “Fopp" and also “Sub Pop Rock City" from “Sub Pop 200" compilation. I also played a boatload of tracks off of “Ultramega OK" when it was first released on SST Records. I was fortunate enough to have seen Soundgarden live at least five times. The only time in Green Bay that I saw them was opening up for Skid Row at the Brown County Arena. I remember after Soundgarden's slobberknocker of a performance we made a beeline for the exit and a grumpy old security officer yelled at us, “If you go out you can't come back in!" to which I responded with a big smile, “Thank you." My favorite Soundgarden show ever was in Milwaukee when they were in the middle of a three band bill that had Voivod as the headliner and Faith No More as the opener. Faith No More would, of course, go on to briefly be the biggest band in the world. This reissue for Sub Pop has been remixed by Jack Endino. Jack is a producer of many Seattle bands in the mid to late '80s and '90s whose impact was close to what George Martin did with the Beatles, or for a '70s reference, what Eddie Kramer had with English hard rock bands. So obviously, this remix was in good hands. I hadn't listened to this album in some time. My first listen had me quoting Ron Simmons because my response was “Damn." This record has lost nothing. I then made the decision to listen to this album daily for a good 10 days to really see how it holds up. I'm happy to report it certainly does. A great side effect of this constant Soundgarden trip through memory lane was that it transported me back to 1988. I basically would just think about bands I was listening to from that era, and that was quite fun. I also flashed back to how I thought Soundgarden, at times, reminded me of Die Kreuzen, as did Green River, another Seattle band from that era. I always knew this, and now I even believe it more, that this was Soundgarden's best album. I really hate tagging a band with the premise they peaked on album one, but I really believe this and if they didn't want to peak on their first album then they shouldn't have made it so good. I thought it was weird that Chris Cornell died one day before the reissue of the soundtrack for “Singles."
Live long and prosper.
Since 1984, when he first began selling records at Galaxy of Sound inside the Port Plaza Mall, Tom Smith has been part of the Green Bay music scene. Promoting his first show in 1986 and hitting his stride with the Concert Café (1995-2001), Smith continues to promote shows in Green Bay. He first honed his journalistic chops while serving as a student DJ at WGBW, interviewing such icons as Motörhead and the Ramones. Today you can find him championing live music and managing The Exclusive Company in Green Bay.