Monday, November 5, 2018

Permanent Green Light - Hallucinations & The Death of Rock: Peter Holsapple vs. Alex Chilton (2016, Omnivore) - A brief review.

I'll admit it.  Even I've privately referred to Permanent Green Light as "That post-Three O'Clock band."  I didn't have an immediate allegiance to PGL, if only because my intro to the was not through one of their originals, rather a B-52s cover on the Freedom of Choice compilation.  No, in order to really see the Light, I started with the ringleader's (Michael Quercio) more renown predecessor band, the aforementioned Three O'Clock.  During their mid/late '80s tenure, TO'C christened the very namesake of the movement they were the quintessential vanguard of - the Paisley Underground.  Alongside local L.A. contemporaries Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade and even pre-stardom Bangles, the Three O'Clock married a forward thinking collegiate rock aesthetic with the more docile affectations of '60s psych-pop.  From a sonic standpoint, this melange wasn't as sub-rosa as I may be leading on, but the subtle nuances these groups exuded went along way in earning them copious amounts of critical acclaim and cult status.

By 1990, The Three O'Clock were more than half past their anointed hour, and the next year saw the first flurry of activity by Quercio's newly activated Permanent Green Light, a trio fleshed out with emerging area indie stalwarts Matt Devine (bass) and Chris Bruckner (percussion).  Not a total 180 from what TO'C were about (but nonetheless a horse of a demonstrably different color) PGL's aptitude proved to be a whip smart dalliance of power pop and the more cerebral quotient of ‘90s alt-rock.  Survived by an ep, the 1993 full-length Against Nature, and a clutch of singles, the band's catalog has been cherry picked for the newly minted compendium Hallucinations, an album that makes an almost air-tight argument for PGL, even more consistent and inviting than the individual releases it's sourced from.

Michael Quercio has a fairly unmistakable timbre - high, running just shy of a falsetto.  It was an ideal fit for Three O'Clock's more whimsical New-Romantic forays, but how did that translate to a power trio template?  Surprisingly apropos, in fact, as PGL's comparatively muscular tact never exceeded to the point where Quercio was forced to overpower the music.  Possessing a stupefying array of sophisticated, melodic chops didn't hurt either, acutely evidenced on "The Truth This Time," "Street Love," and "(You & I Are The) Summertime."  And these guys packed a visceral wallop as well, with stinging slammers like "Honestly" and "We Could Just Die" which soared in the same airspace as Redd Kross and Frosting on the Beater-era Posies.  I should also point out that Michael gave guitarist Matt Devine the "green light" to pen and present some of his own songs, yielding the spare ballads "Portmanteau" and "Marianne Gave Up Her Hand."

Were it not for the fact that Permanent Green Light releases were confined to such small labels (predominantly Gasatanka, a subsidiary of Rockville Records helmed by recently deceased White Flag frontman Bill Bartell) there wouldn't be a need for such an exhumation as Hallucinations.  Nonetheless, even if PGL are a posthumous discovery to most there's some fantastic music here that's far better discovered later than never.

File The Death of Rock under: Peter Holsapple, Alex Chilton, Big Star, The dB's, proto-power pop, or simply under informal recordings.  Music fandom can take a person a long way.  In the case of one future dB's co-frontman Peter Holsapple, the man in question was so enamored with the first two Big Star albums, he headed to the band's hallowed home turf of Memphis, TN to track some recordings at the storied Sam Phillips Studios.  It was his intention to imbibe some of the vibes that made the Birthplace of Rock and Roll what it was, and perhaps cross paths with his "mentor" Alex Chilton himself.

The Death of Rock is and never was intended to be a proper album.  It exists as an artifact to document a mildly haphazard collection of 1978 recordings cut by an ambitious Holsapple who set out to be something of a Chilton protege.  Only thing was, by this time Alex had very much fallen out of love with the brand of semi-precious pop that gracefully adorned Big Star's Radio City and #1 Record landmark albums, and was very much in the process of forging his own path, soon to be evidenced on the freewheeling and genre dabbling Like Flies on Sherbert.  The first quotient of Death is actually pretty together, with Holsapple previewing two of the dB's signature pieces, the lusciously hooky "Bad Reputation," and nearly as potent "We Were Happy There."  The centerpiece of these glorified demos is the ambitious title track, channeling what both contemporary Rolling Stones and The Who had notched themselves up to the late '70s.  Amazingly, the song would be given to the Troggs who would retool it into a song dubbed "I'm in Control" for a 1992 reunion album.

Midway through the recordings, Holsapple managed to corner Alex Chilton in a Memphis bar.  A belittling compliment from Chilton directed to his junior ultimately led to a jam session, which is what the second tranche of songs on Death zero in.  Per Holsapple's liner notes, AC ambled into Sam Phillips studio shortly after for some casual woodshedding - and the results were caught on tape. Problem was, the very loose collaboration appeared to be intended as a demonstration by Chilton, not so much a substantive recording session.  Wielding a painfully untuned bass, the former Big Star/Box Tops wunderkind joined Peter in a seemingly impromptu bluesy piece "Tennis Bum," concerning Chris Bell's fixation for the pastime. "Marshall Law" is similarly cut from less-than-structured cloth, and jammy renditions of "Train Kept a Rollin'" and "Hey Mona" were also priorities of the moment, and in fact make a more lasting impression than the aforementioned Chilton originals.  In all frankness this brief meeting of the minds was likely never intended to see the light of day, but it points to the looser direction Alex was embracing, just as his counterpart was striving to be the popsmith his icon was merely five years or so before.

The Death of Rock rounds out with a grab-bag of session leftovers, mostly of Holsapple rehearsal takes including the title cut, "Bad Reputation," and even some very brief finaglings of Big Star's "O My Soul" and "In the Street."  Just don't get your hopes up as far as those renditions.  Generally speaking this is not your traditional "reissue," nor is it representative of the quintessence of anyone involved.  Nothing seminal here, merely a few moments in time captured on tape, passed along digitally to whomever may be eager enough to experience it.

Both Hallucinations and The Death of Rock are available direct from Omnivore or iTunes and Amazon.


joel dantas said...


Can you please re-upload the square root of now – bent around corners album?
I'll be very grateful.

P.S. - love your blog.


spavid said...

Will get to that soon.

johnnybgoode said...

Spavid, Agree 100% with your Permanent Green Light review. Aside from Cantaloupe Girlfriend, I always thought 3:00 were a bit too precious for my harder leanings at the time. Permanent Green Light went right by me, until listening to this comp. What a hard charging set of well-written, produced and played songs. Totally worth the $10 download fee ($9.50 from Amazon).

Rob-in-Brevard said...

A spot-on review of the PH vs. LX release. It's "nice" for fans like me, but little wonder that neither Omnivore nor Peter are doing much to promote it. If anyone's reading this who's curious whether to spring for this one or the new Peter solo album Game Day, I definitely recommend the latter (also released by Omnivore). It took a while, but it's really growing on me.

Farquhar Throckmorton III said...

Dead right about Green Light. TTOC was and remains a great pop group, with even their lesser recordings sounding sparkley in these days of dearth. I was put off PGL at the time by the general "not as good as TTOC" critical response, which made me less than willing to hunt out the records. How very wrong I was (and they were). This stunning collection demands reassessment of Quercio's toy-box genius, and I'm plunging headlong into the Jupiter Affect just as soon as I can stop playing this. Oh - great group name, great cover, too.