Friday, November 15, 2019

"I Loved It! It Was Better Than CATS!!!"

So a certain Shady Dame took me to see David Byrne's American Utopia show on Broadway last night (which was a very nice birthday present, obviously -- thanks doll!). Byrne himself has barely aged that you can tell, was charming and funny, and the whole thing was very imaginatively staged in a sort of minimalist way.

In other words, basically, it was like every Talking Heads show I've ever seen, going back to the CBGBs days when they were still a trio. Which is to say a lot of it was really good and a lot of it was really pretentious in pretty much equal measure. No surprise there, right?

But what did take me aback somewhat was this blurb from the NME that was prominently displayed outside the Hudson Theater as we were waiting on line.

"It may just be the best live show of all time."

I mean -- WTF?

I looked it up, and that was written by some freelance scribbler named Tom Connick -- you can read the review it's excerpted from over here. Make sure you scroll down to the end for the money quote.

I could make merciless fun of it, but the poor guy is probably too young to know how utterly ridiculous it is, so I won't.

However, to put it all in context I thought I'd recycle one of my own finest moments.

A review of mine from Stereo Review back in 1979.


Ladies and gentlemen -- I give you....the greatest album ever recorded!

I can hear you already -- nitpickers, musicologists, the small-minded, owners of Book of Lists toilet paper. What, you cry, of Dennis Brain playing the Mozart horn concertos? What of Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, B. B. King's Live at the Regal, Bruno Walter's Mahler Fourth, Sgt. Pepper and John Coltrane's A Love Supreme? Not to mention Nervous Norvus' "Transfusion," John Wayne's "America: Why I Love Her," and the Singing Dogs' "Jingle Bells."

Oh, all right. So I lied. But, honestly, it's the kind of lie that Life in the Foodchain inspires even in as responsible a critic as me. Its creator, Tonio K., is easily twice as angry as Elvis Costello and about six times funnier, and though he spent this decade's middle years in a Southern California booby hatch, rest assured that his songs sound nothing like James Taylor's. What they sound like, actually, is Loudon Wainwright if he'd O.D.'d on the absurdity of American life and then been drafted as the lead singer for Led Zeppelin. Beyond that, it's hard to describe the songs because to do so, or to quote the lyrics, would be like giving away the one-liners in a Woody Allen film.

Let me simply say, then, that Tonio K. thinks that humor is a serious business and that the next big dance craze will be "The Funky Western Civilization." Let me also say that he is the only rocker in memory whose album contains a cameo vocal appearance by Joan of Arc, that his music is bone-crushing rock-and-roll as manic as any punk band's but infinitely more sophisticated, and that his lyrics are so absurdly literate and corrosively cynical that they have reduced me to rolling on the floor from the mere reading of them. To hear them declaimed by Tonio in his marvelously twisted voice while the band conducts an aural demolition derby behind him is the most exciting experience I expect to have in my living room for the remainder of this year.

The bottom line? Tonio K., if not the future, is certainly at least the George Metesky of rock-and-roll. As a matter of fact, I think I'll have to take back my earlier disclaimer: this IS the greatest album ever recorded. -- Steve Simels

And the response it engendered from the artist himself, which we actually ran in the letters section.

Has Simels gone mad? Life in the Foodchain, while certainly a good, great, maybe even swell album, can't possibly be the greatest album ever recorded. James Brown Live at the Apollo is. This can be substantiated with actual documentation. so don't argue with me. And what about the Seeds' first album? And is the cat still in the freezer?

Tonio K., Calabasas, Calif.

Just in case I'm not making the point clear -- I was obviously kidding. Unlike that kid in England.

Have a great weekend, everybody!


Gummo said...


The biggest Springsteen fan on the planet calling another artist "pretentious."


I'll just say I saw a preliminary version of this show a year ago at Kings Theater in Brooklyn and it was one of the best concerts I've seen in years. And it wasn't even Broadway prices!

Billy B said...

Got the Tonio K album when it came out. Outstanding stuff.

I never really got the Talking Heads.

Blue Ash Fan said...

I'm with you, Billy. Never quite saw the appeal of the Heads.

As for the review, to this day it remains my favorite of all time. It made me rush right out and buy Foodchain.

Billy B said...

Blue Ash - I kept a Stereo Review subscription for years just to read Master Simels' record reviews (back then I certainly couldn't afford any of the music equipment in the magazine 8^)). Sadly, I can't remember if his review of Tonio's first album caused me to go and get it.

steve simels said...

"The biggest Springsteen fan on the planet calling another artist "pretentious."

Hey, pal -- I'm the biggest formerly LAPSED Springsteen fan on the planet. :-)

Gummo said...

So you're not a NEW fan, you're more of a Floor Model?


cthulhu said...

I wish I could say I bought “Foodchain” on the strength of your review, but no: I saw a very positive review in, I’m not making this up, People magazine (at the dentist’s office, trying to distract myself), and was in our small town’s “indie” record store a couple of days later, was browsing the T section, saw the album and bought it. It was great; your review a few weeks later, plus your review of Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy” had me checking out your reviews more often, usually with a good result (except for Bruce, who I continue to not get).

I still recommend Tonio K. to people looking for something they haven’t heard before.

cthulhu said...

Oh, and I’m a fan of most of the Talking Heads oeuvre, plus I saw them live in 1982 and they were exceptionally tight - great show. Byrne solo...not so much.

Anonymous said...


Let Eddie out of the freezer already, it's been 41 years!

Captain Al

neal t said...

You skipped the summation quality of recording and the other one :). that review made me get the album and still consider it one of the best no one heard records ever. Didn't catch Tonio K's letter back in the day. Not a big DB or TH fan but like a lot. the show that he toured with that I assume is the same as this Broadway show was indeed one of the best performances I've ever seen (not better than the 65 Bruce shows). Lucky to see first at the JF and it blew me away despite outdoors, daytime, etc. A month later indoors. Mind boggling really. Hope they put on Netflix like Boss did so all us flyover folks get to see.

Anonymous said...

Still the greatest record review ever. Thank you Steve.

steve simels said...

And speaking of Talking Heads:

I am reminded of some snark I came up with in Stereo Review when his band first impinged on the public consciousness.

"The success of Talking Heads has raised a question for rock critics. To wit -- is it possible to rock authoritatively without having attended the Rhode Island School of Design?"