Friday, July 28, 2006

ROCK, SOUL ... And a frontman called J. Po

With The Neighborhoods, Quarter Ton And Change, and the Joe Mazzari Band
Sat., July 15, about 8 p.m.
Area Venue, 3 River Lane, Newport
Tickets $25


Some musicians clam up if you try to get them to talk about their influences.

But John Powhida, the 40-year-old frontman of Boston's rock 'n' soul powerhouse The Rudds, lights right up if you start talking about some of his heroes. Whether you mention Prince or Todd Rundgren, the man known to his friends as J. Po is not afraid to admit it.

"It's two things - rock and soul," Powhida said last Friday when we met for a between-band beverage at the Middle East in Cambridge, Mass. We probably could have carried on for hours, but we kept the chat quick because Powhida was there that night as a fan rather than a performer. Wigged rockers the Upper Crust, one of Powhida's local faves, were set to headline after Rudds cohort Andrea Gillis had turned in a scorching, soulful blues rock set with an eight-piece combo in tow.

Powhida, an Albany ex-pat who said he has been musically inclined since he "was a little kid," moved to Boston in 2000 specifically to make the Rudds a reality.

"I'm a late bloomer," Powhida said. "I put a capable and potent band together to capture whatever ideas I had."

The vision has since yielded two albums and a solid roster of Boston-area all stars in their own right. Bass player Tony Goddess spent years with the band Papas Fritas and is an established producer; for years lead guitarist Brett Rosenberg has fronted his own act, the Brett Rosenberg Problem, and was recently hired to tour with Graham Parker's band; drummer Nathan Logus is involved with the Boston band Baby Ray, and like keyboardist/instrumentalist Dave Leib, gets a lot of work as a studio gun-for-hire. Gillis joined the fold as a singer after she was hired to help the Rudds work on their second album, 2005's "Get The Femuline Hang On."

"She was incredible and she's got soul," Powhida said. "She's a great singer and songwriter and I had to utilize her strengths."

The band is currently in the process of working on its third full-length record. "It's all over the map," Powhida offered. "It's even crazier than the last one. There's a rap song."

Compared to the band's 2003 self-titled debut disc - which was co-produced by Mike Gent of garage pop stalwarts The Figgs, yet another one of J. Po's heroes - "Femuline" certainly saw more of Powhida's various tastes making their way into the brew of full-throttle, Cheap Trick-inspired power pop. Straight-up rockers, like "Astrological Sign Choker" and "Hot Child" were balanced with tunes that bore the mark of the band's taste for funk acts like Sly and the Family Stone and blue-eyed-soul pop like Darryl Hall and John Oates. When I said that I also detected some similarities to the later material of Urge Overkill, the Chicago-based band whose noise punk origins would give way to slick, precise, occasionally-tongue-in-cheek power pop gems, Powhida agreed.

"I'm glad you mentioned that," he said. "I think Urge Overkill were one of the two great American bands (of the 1990s): Urge and The Figgs. (Urge Overkill's) Nash (Kato) and Eddie (Roeser) are great American songwriters. They're very deep. 'Exit the Dragon' (Urge Overkill's swan song double album) is a masterpiece. They had a sense of humor, too."

After the upcoming Area gig, The Rudds are slated to open for and later take the stage as backing band for Bebe Buell - the rocker and model perhaps best known as Liv Tyler's mom. It would mark the first time The Rudds will play Rhode Island, but Powhida was clearly thrilled that he'd have the chance to share a bill with the Neighborhoods.

"Minehan is one of my rock idols," said Powhida, who first saw the band back in 1984. "I became hooked. Dave Minehan is an absolute star. They broke up at the height of their powers."


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