Click to hear: “East Coast Rebel”
Classic rock, to me, is dad music. Every time I happen to tune in to ‘BLM and catch John Cougar Mellencamp extolling the virtues of the heartland, I can’t help but picture someone’s dad enthusiastically drumming on a steering wheel and, provided he’s alone in the car, singing along with the chorus.
Intellectually, I know that younger classic rock enthusiasts exist. I know this the same way I know giraffes must exist. However, knowing about a thing and encountering it in the wild can be very different experiences. Accordingly, I was somewhat taken aback seeing local musician Jay Basiner perform.
Basiner, playing under the name J Biddy, has a standing engagement at Bull Feeney’s fronting the bar’s house band, One Two Many. The five members of One Two Many, all of whom appear to be in their mid-twenties, play a four-hour wall of classic rock covers every Thursday night.
According to his press release, Basiner has a library of 350 songs he can play upon request. When I saw One Two Many recently, he was adding yet another tune to the list during a sound check. Basiner played once through the changes for the Beatles song “Don’t Let Me Down,” and by the time the drummer was finished doing whatever minutiae it is that drummers spend so much time doing to their kits, the rest of the band (who, I’d wager, are music school graduates) had internalized the song. The result was a spot-on cover after maybe 10 minutes of rehearsal time, at most.
The thing that most impressed me about the set that followed was not the obvious skill of the musicians or the blindingly loud volume in the room – both of which were exceptional – but the earnestness of Basiner’s performance. He pulled out all the standard rock vocal tricks (the Springsteen-style grammar and Stonesy swagger) without even a hint of irony, and sounded, for the most part, like the real deal. An engaging and charismatic live performer, he effortlessly drew the crowd in and coaxed a good number into dancing – no mean feat in our stiff social climate.
In addition to One Two Many, Basiner fronts J Biddy and the Crossfire Inferno, a band that plays his original material. Their debut album, Restless, unfortunately does not convey the same excitement as his live performances. The same classic rock gestures that were endearing while he covered others’ songs seem stale and less credible in his own work. For instance, when, on “East Coast Rebel,” he declares, “I ain’t gonna give up now, pretty baby,” the classic rock bit is a bit hard to deal with. Without the visual of Basiner earnestly belting it out, it’s hard to tell whether the rock bravado is supposed to be taken seriously or as some sort of sly joke.
The material on Restless sticks close to the classic rock canon and offers few surprises. That’s one of the dangers of being a performer with a revivalist bent – especially one attempting to “revive” a genre that never really went away in the first place.
This isn’t to say Restless is entirely without merit. The performances are all polished, the recording is clear and concise, and there are a couple of moments that do stand out.
The final track, “Tell Me, Is There Something Wrong?,” features a flawless execution of a really quite lovely vocal melody. This song strays from the bluesy bar rock of the rest of the album and into a more Elton John sort of place. The arrangement is deftly handled, limited to just piano and voice for the first minute and a half before the rhythm section kicks in and builds to a surprisingly understated peak. The subtlety employed here shows J Biddy and the Crossfire Inferno can deliver a well-crafted original song, though they miss the mark more often than they hit it.
— Galen Richmond
J Biddy and the Crossfire Inferno play Brian Ború, 57 Center St., Portland, on Sat., Dec. 16, at 10 p.m. Call 780-1506 for cover (21+). They’ll also be playing at Ború on New Year’s Eve, at 10 p.m. One Two Many has a regular gig Thursday nights at Bull Feeney’s, 375 Fore St., Portland, at 9:30 p.m. Free (21+). J Biddy regularly performs there solo on Friday nights, at 9 p.m. Free (21+). For more info, call 773-7210.