Photo by Carlos Andrés Restrepo Vergara

Alts Weekly: Nirvana, the Colorblind James Experience and Shayne Smith

Do you ever fantasize about traveling back in time and seeing your favorite band live before they sold millions of records? Before the arenas and soccer moms? Before they became jaded? Just, perhaps, to see how the audience reacted to songs now considered classics?

If you have, you’ll want to read Jon Scorfina’s “An Oral History of Nirvana’s Lone, Near-Riotous St. Louis Show at Mississippi Nights” in Riverfront Times. It’s the next best thing to traveling back in time to experience the show yourself.

As Scorfina explains in the intro, Nirvana played its first and only St. Louis show at the “beloved and now-bygone” venue Mississippi Nights 30 years ago. “It was a clear and cool autumn Wednesday,” he writes, “when the trio of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl pulled into the late, famous … nightclub.” The band was in the middle of a “massive metamorphosis” from underground punk-rockers to international superstars, its landmark album Nevermind having been released three weeks earlier and the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had recently premiered on MTV. The 1,000-capacity venue was oversold. (Tickets cost $8 to $10!) “What happened that night has gone down in St. Louis history as one of those legendary gigs,” writes Scorfina, “a show that now everyone claims to have attended but only a lucky few actually witnessed.” Scorfina interviewed some of the lucky few—and the accompanying art includes a handwritten setlist, a backstage pass and the ad for the show that ran in Riverfront Times—bringing this chaotic and memorable night vividly back to life.

Let’s stick with music, but move from Missouri to New York. The last line of the story “Paying Tribute to the Colorblind James Experience,” which recently ran in Rochester’s CITY, is sure to get a reaction from readers. “In terms of quality and quantity,” bassist Ken Frank tells Jeff Spevak, “I truly believe the only other artist in Chuck’s league is Bob Dylan.” So who the hell is Chuck? And how can he possibly compare to Dylan? Spevak provides some of the details. Chuck Cuminale was a New York native who moved to San Francisco in the early 1980s to pursue music. He returned to Rochester in the mid-’80s, where he and the band he formed, the Colorblind James Experience, soon found some success. They released nine albums of “rock, country, bluegrass and jazz set to polka beats,” writes Spevak, which were powered by Chuck’s songwriting and deadpan vocals. Cuminale died in 2001, but his music lives on. The Colorblind James Experience is gigging this weekend in Rochester with a lineup that includes Frank, guitarist Phil Marshall, vocalist Rita Coulter and Cuminale’s son Mark (guitar and vocals).

Is Chuck Cuminale in Dylan’s league? Judge for yourself; the Colorblind James Experience’s music is available on Spotify and YouTube.

From music to comedy and from New York to Texas … and to one of the week’s more irresistible headlines: “Comedian Shayne Smith Opens Up about Gang Activity and Why He Was Banned from Karate.” In this entertaining preview-profile, Dallas Observer clubs editor David Fletcher introduces readers to Smith, who, according to the lead, “started doing comedy at the age of 28 after about four years of taking on crappy jobs during his time on probation. The decade before, however, was a wild ride of violence, robberies and face tattoos.” Smith is starting to, Fletcher writes, incorporate his shady past into his act. “I talk a lot about my childhood and what it’s like growing up being just like a white trash trailer kid from the middle of nowhere,” Smith says. “I talk about growing up with three brothers and the fighting and all that leads up to the gang activity.” Unfortunately, the story never reveals why Smith—whose future looks brighter than his past—was banned from karate. Guess we’ll have to catch him on his Banned from Karate tour to find out.

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