Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Underground Garage: It's the Ginchiest

I winced when Sirius Satellite Radio merged with my cherished XM Radio (creative law number 1: When companies merge, creativity takes it in the shorts), and that wincing devolved into some major cussing when said merger knocked a couple of favorite stations off the air. XM's all-disco channel Chrome, for one, disappeared, and Sirius/XM's exhortation to 'try the 70's on 7 channel ' sent me into a glitterball-and-platform-chucking fit. When you wanna shake your tail feather to some Chic, mewling granola-huffers like England Dan and John Ford Coley do not, nor will they ever, EVER provide adequate succor, guys. Not even close.

But all was forgiven when a twist of the ol' car radio dial landed on channel 59: Little Steven's Underground Garage. Screw Best Sirius/XM Station laurels: It's the best damned channel on the planet. Period. And you'll have to pry the dial from my cold dead fingers.


Little Steven is, of course, Little Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band (and late of the Sopranos ensemble), and the channel he's birthed largely celebrates raw, unadorned rock and roll from the last sixty years. Sure, there are swatches of blue-collar rock a la Springsteen, but the breadth and depth of their playlist routinely sets my music nerd head a' spinning.


You get blues from the forties through the sixties; fifties rock, doo-wop and rockabilly; vintage girl groups from rock and roll's first two decades; even a sprinkling of Rat Pack action. It's a mix put together by folks with respect for the past, but an eye (and a blown eardrum) turned squarely in the direction of the present.


True to its name, though, the Underground Garage straddles the loud and cathartic goodness of--you guessed it--garage rock old and new more vigorously than any other station in the whole wide world.


That means three chords, attitude and energy over finesse, and more primal glee in three random minutes of air time than most of today's 'modern rock' stations can cough up in a year. The Underground spins stuff from the sixties, touching on classic Brit Invasion tracks as well as stuff too raw or weird to graduate to Golden Oldies status; the seventies get a nod, but it's first-wave punk and the sugar buzz of power pop like Big Star and (WOOT!) Cheap Trick; then they hit the eighties via second-generation garage-psych knuckledraggers like the Lime Spiders; and a few truly worthy modern bands make the cut, too. The White Stripes' rejiggering of garage rock's DNA gets play, as do snot-nosed keepers of the flame like Swedish fireballs the Hives and English rascals The Silver Brazilians, whose deliciously cheeky ode to actress Kate Winslet ("I'm no diplomat, but you look better fat/Kate Winslet") will burrow its Dizzy-Miss-Lizzy way into you like a leather-jacketed tapeworm.


Oh, and I double-dog dare you to find a cooler set of DJ's on the planet. Most of 'em are musicians themselves, and all of 'em sport taste (and smarts) to burn. In addition to Van Zandt (always brimming with avuncular wit and stories about everything from astral physics to Count Dracula), there's Handsome Dick Manitoba (former lead singer of proto-punks the Dictators and the best cool New York uncle you never had), Ko Melina (bassist from Detroit's godlike Dirtbombs, and an ace judge of new punk and garage talent), and Andrew Loog Oldham (yes, the legendary British producer who produced the Rolling Stones' best records, and a fount of great stories about those glory years). The chat's never inane, and no one talks over the tunes. Christ laying on a busted distortion pedal, I couldn't program a better station myself.

Lest all this geeking out scare all of you non-music dorks away, give a listen to the current Playlist on this here Blog, which features only bands/tunes I've heard on the Underground Garage in the last month. Or better yet, go to the Underground Garage website and listen to an archived show. If none of this sets your ass to shaking and your fingers to involuntarily cranking the volume, someone needs to take a Defibrillator to you.

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