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Music Review: The Plimsouls – Beach Town Confidential

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I love the introduction to this live album: “Introducing the hardest working band in show-business, The Plimsouls!” Their newly-released CD is titled Beach Town Confidential, and documents a performance at a venue called the Golden Bear in 1983. If there was ever a time to see this legendary band live, it would have been in ‘83. The performance smokes — and it just makes me sad that I was not there, because this is an album of straight-ahead rock ‘n roll that is just about perfect.

The Plimsouls were critical darlings from the start, which can sometimes be the kiss of death. But why they never caught on with the public at large still baffles me. They had the classic four-piece lineup; Peter Case (vocals, guitar, and some fine harmonica), David Pahoe (bass), Eddie Munoz (guitar), and Lou Ramirez (drums). They wrote what (to me at least) were timeless songs as well. The Plimsouls are best-known for “A Million Miles Away,” but they wrote so many other killer tracks that (for whatever reason) did not get the same exposure.

“Who’s Gonna Break The Ice?” is one example. On one hand, it is a basic 4/4 rock song about how to “get a chick.” On the other hand, though, there are all kinds of really cool rock references, especially towards surf music. I hear a tune like this and the first thing I want to do is play it for my friends. It’s like, “Can you believe that we never heard this before?”

The surf influence becomes even stronger during the guitar solo of “Fall On You.” They had many other touchstones going as well though. Although The Plimsouls were a much “poppier” band than their contemporaries The Replacements, both shared an obvious love of the music of Big Star. To this day I cannot figure out why that type of music never really caught on, but nearly 30 years later, I guess it is a bit of a moot point.

One ingredient of The Plimsouls’ music that makes it so special is the harmonica of Peter Case. He used it sparingly, so that it never became a gimmick. When he did bring it out, though, it always added a wonderful element to the music. I cannot even think of anyone besides ’60s-era Brits who wanted to emulate old blues guys, who ever included harmonica solos in their music (besides Dylan, of course). My point is that on the couple of occasions that Case does give us a “harp” solo, they are not mere affectations.

A very telling point of where this band was at in 1983 is the placement of “A Million Miles Away.” It is the tenth tune, played about three-quarters of the way through their set — and the audience’s reaction is as if it is just another great song. Today, that song would be what everybody plunked down their hard-earned cash to hear, and most likely would have been the closer.

While that little point may seem moot, it actually says a lot about the band, and its fans in 1983. The Plimsouls should have gone further than the dreaded “college-rock” genre they wound up in. Their recognition as a truly great American group happened long after they had split up.

Beach Town Confidential captures The Plimsouls in their prime. Listen to a song like “Now” and tell me that this was a band that wasn’t criminally ignored. This is a fantastic performance by a group who never really got their due. I’m preaching to the choir by telling Plimsouls and Peter Case fans that this is a “must.” But for fans of Alex Chilton, Rockpile, and even early (first two albums) Joe Jackson, Beach Town Confidential is an album you need to hear.

Beach Town Confidential is set for release February 7, 2012.

 

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