Sunday, August 19, 2012

a.k.a. Belle, The Sporx and Kif Bender @ Boise Rock School (8/16/12)

Looking back, I suppose that the path to this blog started when I was ten or eleven.  I was riding in the car with my dad one evening when a Motown song came on the radio (I want to say that it was the Temptations or the Four Tops).  My dad turned the volume up a notch and told me, "I'm going to teach you the secret weapon of all great Motown songs."

That was the beginning, as far as I can recall.  Over the next few years, my parents would tell me and my brother stories about seeing the Who in '71, Springsteen in '75, the Clash in '78 and on and on (my favorite story might be the time they saw Randy Newman play at the Troubadour, which I'll save for some other time).  As we got older, my brother and I started dipping into Mom and Dad's fantastic CD and vinyl collection (the latter of which included an original copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico--they'd peeled part of the banana peel away and taped it back in place).  I got a little embarrassed when my dad asked to listen to one of my Nine Inch Nails CD's, but that's dumbass teenagers for ya.

Anyway, I was and am a very fortunate son in a lot of ways, and I consider this musical education one of the biggest (y'know, aside from that whole roof-over-my-head and unconditional love thing).  Thinking about this made me want to check out something at Boise Rock School, which has been teaching kids how to play in bands and make music for four years now.  Last Thursday's show caught my interest because one of my favorite local groups, a.k.a. Belle, was scheduled to play a set.  I wondered what an all-ages audience might bring out of the Merricks, who I've heard are parents themselves.

One thing I would've bet money on: they weren't gonna play "Jesus Christ, Goddamn You for Killing My Dog."

The audience didn't get much larger than the handful of kids, parents and grandparents that I saw when I got down there.  Ryan Peck, one of Boise Rock School's co-founders, explained that they tend to draw bigger crowds when the weather's cooler.  That made sense--I started melting as I waited for the show to begin.

I walked around the outside of the school and peeked in at some of the classes.  I didn't go inside or look too long for fear of disturbing them (BRS's other co-founder, Jared Goodpaster, very graciously showed me around later on).  I did take note of this, though:

Little things like this give me hope for the future.

First up this evening was Kif Bender, a twelve-year-old musician from San Francisco.  An article that I stumbled across called him "Kif the Kid Wonder," and not without good reason: his clear, calm voice sounded twice as old as he was.  He handled both his covers (Florence and the Machine, Maroon 5, SF songwriter Megan Slankard) and his own originals (which didn't sound too shabby at all) with an impressive assuredness and self-possession.

Bender mentioned near the end of his set that he planned to record and release an EP soon (he got some studio time as a Christmas present).  Sheesh.  If he can keep this up, we might be talking about him one day like we talk about Jodie Foster now.  (I thought about writing Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder there, but that would've set the bar REALLY high and sounded like an inadvertent curse to boot.)

Next up was BRS student band the Sporx, who had to substitute some personnel for this gig (a fellow student stepped in on drums while an instructor played guitar).  Keyboardist/lead vocalist Barrett Coyle sounded just a little forced on Duran Duran's "Rio," but dang if she didn't nail Cake's "Long Time" and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' "Home" but good.  Meanwhile, in a heartwarming display of proper instruction and values, the bassist and drummer laid down a promising groove.

Sam and Catherine Merrick from a.k.a. Belle provided a fine and mellow ending to the show.  Their cover of Jody Reynolds/The Gun Club's "Fire of Love" helped justify some of those John-and-Exene comparisons, and the warmth, playfulness and thoughtfulness of the rest of their set made me think, "Yeah, these are the kind of parents that kids oughtta have."  Highlights included Sam Merrick's running gag on touring with the Sporx, Catherine Merrick's reminiscence of meeting Pete Seeger as a little girl and (cuz I can be a softie like that) Barrett Coyle helping them sing the chorus to "Painted, Faded and Tainted."

You can find info on Kif Bender, a.k.a. Belle and Boise Rock School on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Oh, and by the way: Motown's secret weapon was/is James Jamerson, their house band's bassist.  Recommended listening: "Reach Out, I'll Be There" by the Four Tops, "Going to a Go-Go" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, "You Can't Hurry Love" by the Supremes, "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye.  Hell, just listen to most everything Motown put out in the 60's.


  1. JAMERSON!!!! Damn that fellow was a genius.

  2. Rio is a helluva hard song to sing! You try it! ;) Thanks Benjamin, I've told you this many times already, but I'll tell you again...thanks for your positive coverage of the Treasure Valley music scene! ~ Steph Coyle