Mark Springer / Rip Rig and Panic - Circa Rip Rig and Panic

by Bill Golembeski Rating:8 Release Date:2017-07-28

I really think you had to be there. Prog was a four letter word. (It still is just that.)  The Damned cut an album, and their song “Neat, Neat, Neat” had chords that could be counted on one finger. (Guess which one?) The Sex Pistols spit and swore a lot. Then they got banned. The Clash told us that they were “so bored with the USA.” And I listened to My Aim Is True all the time. Life was pretty simple.

And then a funny thing happened.

Suddenly, there were bands everywhere that just made cool records. Joy Division, REM, Magazine, and The Sound were intense. There were other bands like A Certain Ration, Sad Lovers and Giants, and my favorite, 23 Skidoo. Even U2 made sense back then. And in the midst of this revelation, smack dab in the hurricane’s eye, came the wonderful Rip Rig + Panic (named, of course, after the Roland Kirk album).

Their first album was simply called, God. I saw it for the first time in the racks of a Minneapolis record store called “Northern Lights.” I didn’t have enough money to buy it because I had cashed out at another store called Oar Folkjokeopus on Roy Harper imports. So I gave blood at the Lake Street Plasma Center for ten bucks. I gave my A- blood so I could buy that very record called God by Rip Rig + Panic. I think other people were just trying to scrounge some money to eat. I just needed a record. No one believes me, but the guy selling his plasma in the next chair was Fidel Castro. But that’s beside the point.

Rip Rig's first album God came as two long-playing 45 rpm records. How cool was that in an era that produced Genesis’ ABACAB with their song “No Reply at All”? Oh, ABACAB’s crappy abstract cover came in four different colors to gouge the true fans. Trust me. As I said, you really had to be there. RR+P’s second album, I Am Cold (another two 45rpm set) was even better with Don Cherry(!) on trumpet and vocals. Their final album, Attitude, is an absolute beauty of a classic. The song “Sunken Love” is worth the price of several pints of blood, with or without Fidel Castro sitting in the next chair.

So now, Mark Springer, keyboardist of my beloved RR+P, has released an album of old and unreleased (mostly piano dominated) songs. The title Circa Rip Rig & Panic says it all. Sean Oliver (RIP) shouts, plays bass and, of course, cello on “Cello Song.”Unfortunately, Neneh Cherry doesn’t sing on any of the songs. But there are no catchy tunes like “You’re My Kind of Climate,” Storm the Reality Asylum,” or “Bob Hope Takes Risks.”

Let’s see: Yeah, I like this record a lot. It is, as expected, the odd stuff from Rip, Rig, & Panic. It’s the weird and catchy piano tunes like perennial favorites “Wilhelm Show Me the Diagram (Function of an Orgasm)” or “Through Nomad Eyeballs.” And there is some equally odd sax from Flash. Mr. Radue (aka Jazz Guy) liked the album straight off. He commented, “The record sounds like Ceil Taylor, Don Pullen, and George Winston.” I added “and some classical guy” without a specific name check because we collectively know nothing about that high brow stuff. And Jazz Guy is a good friend, so I will forgive him for the George Winston comparison. The piano playing reminded me of Keith Tippett (of British jazz and King Crimson’s “Cat Food” and Lizard fame). Then I found out via CD liner notes that he and Mark were friends. Well, that friendship certainly shakes hands in this music.

Just so you know: This doesn’t resemble pop music in any way.

But just so you should also know: Pop music should resemble this in many ways.

Put simply: This has some of the excitement and beauty of the best Rip Rig & Panic music. While it’s true Neneh Cherry’s funky vocals were an important aspect of RR &P’s sound and they are sadly missing here, it’s also true to say this lovely (and at times crazy) instrumental work was an equal partner in the band’s ethos. So I’ll take what I can get. “Sakura” starts the album with a beautiful theme. “Threevolution” is just a lot of fun to hear with the interplay of sax, bass, and piano. Even I know it’s jazz. The sixth track, “1619 A Dutch Vessel Docks with 20 Humans for Sale at Townhouse Version,” reverses the frivolity with a sincere and sadly dramatic piano solo. (That song was included in the Attitude bonus tracks.) There is deep emotion here. With “I’ve Got To Two Hand It to You,” it’s back to classical stuff. “Oh Lonesome Train” is crazy RR&P in full stride. And then “Sakura” is reprised to create a wonderful sense of unity to all disparate sounds. I think that’s the point, and it’s a really great point to be made. And, of course, Nico (of Velvet Underground fame) sings the eerie “A Given Voice A Given Choice.” It all ends with a lovely and contemplative solo piano piece, “Watching the River.”

There’s quite a bit here for lovers of the more experimental Canterbury Scene and the likes of Soft Machine, Egg, and Hatfield and the North. A clever sense of humor pervades this music. I always secretly hoped that RR&P would play a cover version of the Dave Stewart (of Egg and the Hatfields not Eurythmics fame) song “Big John Wayne Socks Psychology on the Jaw.” And I would be remiss not mention a similarity to Pigbag of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag” fame.

Now, I’m often asked, if during my encounter with Fidel Castro at the Lake Street Plasma Center, he was wearing the green cap and equally green military comandante outfit. Well, no, but I just figured he only wore that stuff during his day job as Dictator of Cuba. I wouldn’t expect any kid who worked at a Dairy Queen to wear the working duds to a high school dance. So I wasn’t disappointed. I’m also asked about the reason I didn’t ask the guy if he was, indeed, the cigar-smoking Communist rebel real deal. Well, it’s simple: I didn’t then (nor do now) speak Spanish. And I just chalked it up to be one of those Great Unexplained Mysteries of My Life. I actually keep a list of such events in order of importance. My Possible Fidel Castro Encounter is currently #5.

But as our boy Hamlet sort of asked, To give blood, or not to give blood, that is the question. Would I still, after all these years, still go through all the bother to sell a pint of my best A- plasma just for a pretty cool record album? That’s a pretty good question. To that I would just say: In (and definitely with) a heartbeat! And, you know, I would certainly do it for this music by Mark Springer, Circa Rip Rig & Panic.

 

 

 

 

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