Although it took several weeks for news to jump the pond, Sweet front man Brian Connolly died of liver failure last month in Slough, England. Here's why you should care: For better or worse, Connolly was the godfather of glam--the first rock star to put glitter on his face, wear platform shoes, and bend gender like a lead-guitar note. He was known to match Who drummer Keith Moon shot for shot. Just like Moon, the excess killed him--it just took longer. Moon died a celebrity. Connolly stuck it out for 20 years after his last hit. He was 52.
Sweet's biggest singles were sticky slabs of bubblegum rock like "Ballroom Blitz," "Little Willy" and "Fox on the Run," which hit stateside in the mid-'70s. Now a lot of you are going, "Oh, that band." Which is fine. Life isn't a rock-trivia game. But the truth remains that everyone from KISS to David Bowie, Cheap Trick to Mstley CrYe--they all rang up a debt to Sweet. Connolly's impact was massive, even if his fame was not.
Anyway, I just wanted to write a little bit about Connolly 'cause out in the clubs the last couple of weekends, I kept mentioning his death and getting blank stares. One exception was Beat Angels lead singer Brian Smith, who was positively despondent.
"Brian Connolly came from a time when rock 'n' roll was still something beautiful and important," Smith said. "When there was such a thing as a rock 'n' roll aristocracy. When rock stars still dressed like rock stars, dammit. When it was all still a glittery, romantic illusion. 'Fox on the Run,' man, come on--that's rock 'n' roll. Clothes, hair, cars, women, drugs, booze. And no one cares this guy's dead. It makes me sad, man. He deserves more respect."
Smith said this about 15 minutes before the Beat Angels played one of the most bizarre sets I've ever heard by any band, anywhere, at the Phoenix Art Museum's opening party for "It's Only Rock and Roll: Rock and Roll Currents in Contemporary Art," an exhibition of art that deals at least obtusely with rock music. "It's Only Rock and Roll" runs through June 15. The opening gala was Saturday, March 22.
The first sign of trouble was the $10 cover charge. Hey, no offense, but $10 to your average Beat Angels fan is food money for a day. Maybe two. So while there were maybe 175 people in the museum's Cummings Hall, the place looked like the lobby of a Bruce Hornsby concert at intermission, except for a few dolled-up debutantes who (in my fantasy world where everyone's cool) were out trolling for rock boys.
Furthermore, even with a $10 cover, the drinks were four bucks. And they were selling hot dogs. Hot dogs. What--was that someone's idea of "rock 'n' roll food"? Anyway, when I got to the museum around 7:30, some group called the Chris Putrino Band was onstage, playing dated rock covers with all the vigor of a cut-rate wedding band. Which I suspect it is. The whole scene stunned me. "Let me get this straight," I said to myself, internally assessing the scenario. "The Beat Angels are going to show up and play here in 30 minutes? This I've got to see."
Well, I saw. And here's what happened. The Beat Angels showed up about ten to eight, without a PA. Smith told me Sound City had backed out on the band at the last minute, and later asked the audience to ". . . beat those guys up on the street if you see them." Anyway, point is, the Beat Angels didn't have a sound system. So they borrowed the Chris Putrino Band's. The look on Putrino's face when the Beat Angels jacked into his band's amps and started to sound check--loudly--was one of clear, resigned horror.
Smith, meanwhile, was in the rest room slamming a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor he'd got into the museum in a backpack. "Well," I thought, "these people wanted a rock 'n' roll band. They're about to get one."
First, the Beat Angels blew the Putrino band's amps. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what happened. It went like this: The Beat Angels started playing, a fourth of the crowd ran for cover (some literally shaking their heads on their way out the door), and something bad happened to the Putrino band's gear. The sound levels suddenly dropped and got dirty.
Then Smith followed suit by falling down onstage. Now, understand this about Brian Smith--he usually plays drunk, and he usually pulls it off. He's got a cat's grace, which means that even when he loses control, slides across the kitchen counter with feet scrabbling, goes airborne and bashes into the stove--we're talking figuratively here--he immediately bounces back up with an "I totally meant to do that" air about him. So Smith fell down, he got up and he kept going, leaps, twirls and all, with that same sassy smirk he wears whenever he's not singing. He was also gyrating his hips and holding the mike stand in a suggestive manner.
Putrino's bass player, meanwhile, was standing in the back of the hall, laughing at the Beat Angels with a rent-a-cop. Hey, guy--you shouldn't be talking shit about anyone until you do something about that permed-mullet cut.
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Meanwhile, the cavernous acoustics of Cummings Hall didn't aid the situation, and the sound sucked big horrible things. That didn't faze the teenage girls in the audience, though. All two of them got close to the stage during the second song and stayed there for the rest of the set, dancing madly, oblivious to the lethargic adult audience behind them. I thought back to something else Smith said when I asked him about Brian Connolly. "Sweet defined the idea that rock works best when it's a colorful explosion of sight, sound and sexual tension for little girls. That's rock 'n' roll, man."
David Holthouse is now wired.
The Web site is Mothership. The address is www.phoenixnewtimes.com/extra/holt/index.html. The options are myriad (multigenre criticism, archives, rave data, freak links).