MP3 Neo Pseudo - Ancient Windows
Tribal Folk Rock, improv music for free wheeling dancing around the world.
9 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Americana, POP: with Live-band Production
Neo Pseudo began life on this planet during the late 1980’s, a fertile musical time in the valley of Happy, also known as Central Pennsylvania, or more specifically State College, home to Penn State University. In those heady days of yore there were bands a plenty. There was Cartoon, weaving it’s four part harmonies around an amazing array of originals as well as folk rock standards. On the punky side you had Back Seat VanGogh who worked in the pop-punk vein to yield radio hits like “Catch a New Wave”. The artsy side of punk, post-punk, or whatever you’d call it had Archie Blue, again a band packed with stellar original tunes and wonderfully freaky covers of Talking Heads etc. There was the Rustical Quality String Band and Whetstone Run holding down the traditional folk and bluegrass sounds and The Screaming Ducks churning out classic rock covers. It was into this wonderful mix of music strode the brothers Biddison, Mike and Dave as a part of the band Space Goop. The band featured excellent harmonies and original tunes. They managed to be popular in bars, fraternities and with a more thinking, listening audience as well. Another popular band of the day was Bookends which featured the angelic harmonies of Susie Door and Beth Williams combined with Chris Mincer on guitar. At first, they were primarily a cover band treading the well worn path of sixties/seventies folky standards, but Beth Williams soon emerged as a talented songwriter. Along about 1985 Ticapoo Brain was born featuring the Biddison brothers, Beth Williams and Scott Turner. The group played to packed crowds in the local bars and showed off four excellent songwriters and singers. As all of this was evolving, the development of the four track cassette recorder was having a rather large impact on the world of “home recording” Almost overnight it seemed an aspiring songwriter could have a multi-track recording studio in their basement, bedroom or bath for under five hundred bucks. Kevin Slick, a local musician, songwriter, radio DJ and veteran of many bands was an active practioner of the recording craft and began to release his material on cassettes, the popular medium for low-budget releases in those days. His work attracted the attention of several national and international magazines and radio shows devoted to covering the emerging “DIY” culture in music.
In the spring of 1988 Ticapoo Brain had split up and Mike Biddison came calling on Kevin Slick. Biddison said he was interested in getting to know the guy who was “putting out all those tapes.” Mike had already booked a gig at Penn State for an outdoor concert and it soon became apparent that the new duo would work out. The early song list featured classics from the folk rock cannon mixed with originals. The sound, according to Slick was “sort of neo-folk, pseudo-pop” He later stated that having recently had many of his tapes reviewed in magazines, the words “neo” and “pseudo” seemed to pop up often, so it was that they called themselves Neo Pseudo. Actually the original show was billed as Mike Biddison and Kevin Slick as Neo and Pseudo. The duo began gigging at various State College venues, The Brickhouse, The Phryst and strangely enough, Champs Sports Bar. Since Mike’s previous bands had been big draws in the bars and at fraternities, Neo Pseudo ventured into many of the same establishments. This lead to one of the oddest of the early gigs, a frat party where Mike grew more sick as the evening went on and Kevin ended up plowing through an array of classic rock covers that ended with a drunken crowd gathered around him, arm-in-arm swaying and singing Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” Slick’s background as a radio personality came in quite handy that night.
Almost as soon as they began to play, the two started recording. The first tape featured “Choosing”, “Emerging”, “Riot in Heaven” and “Tribal Fireworks” although these songs would undergo many changes in arrangement over the years, the basic template of Neo Pseudo songs was set. The tape also featured Mike and Kevin’s playful side as they recounted their origins in outer space. At this time the band was sometimes still known as Neo and Pseudo, but soon evolved into simply Neo Pseudo.
A second tape rolled out soon after featuring the more acoustic side of the group, and allowed Kevin to display his bluegrass and folk roots adding banjo and mandolin to his guitar playing. The album “Neo Folk and Dogfood Popcorn” was named in honor of the fact that Crazy Carl’s Brickhouse Tavern (where they often played) served popcorn in dogfood bowls…don’t ask why.
Throughout the rest of 1988, Neo Pseudo continued to play gigs in State College and record their music. Apart from the fact that they were recording and releasing material there was little to indicate that the band was much different than many other acoustic guitar wielding entities that roamed the college town landscape. This changed as the year changed. In February 1989, Mike and Kevin played at a local coffeehouse, Food For Thought and presented for the first time “The Suite Cave in D and A” their first attempt at a more theatrical presentation of music. Mixing new and old material around a theme of humanity in the technological world, the show gave audiences their first glimpse into the artistic side of Neo Pseudo. This should have come as no surprise since both Mike and Kevin were active visual artists. Sonically, the most important development of those early months of 1989 was the addition of Curtis Bayer on synth. A friend of Mikes, Curtis was the perfect compliment to the duo. He had a curiosity for new sounds and wasn’t afraid to tread into improvisational waters musically. The addition of a third instrumental that expanded the sound, allowed Kevin in particular more room to create sparse guitar lines that could hold the rhythm without needing to cover all the sonic space. The new “Suite” also allowed Mike the freedom to play or not play an instrument and concentrate more on his lyrics, sometimes improvised for the moment.
The next major shift in the Neo sound came as they prepared to unleash “Suite Cave” for a second time, now with a multi-media component using stacks of old television sets running a strange video Mike and Kevin had cobbled together from fragments of old public service films on how to survive a nuclear attack and original footage. Kevin had known Ed Nardi for many years and the two had played together in various incarnations of the band Random Draw. With his vast knowledge of percussion styles, not to mention percussion instruments including marimba, Ed would be the perfect addition to the band for the upcoming show at Café 210 West on March 4, 1989. Ed played a variety of hand drums and percussion sound makers to augment and drive the sound. Suddenly Neo Pseudo was a band you could dance to. With that show, Neo Pseudo had created their identity. This was a band playing primarily original songs, using costumes, videos, slides, painted back drops and combining theatrical presentation with danceable music. As several writers in the local press noted, “This wasn’t another cover band”.
The sound of the band was still developing and for the first time the group began using the name “Neo Pseudo and the Invisible Band” Just who was the “Invisible Band”? Perhaps the audience, perhaps the world at large, or maybe it was the ever growing membership of the band itself. Within the month another player had stepped into the Neo world, Paul Butler. Butler had a solid background in jazz and played with several groups in the Philadelphia area, where coincidentally Ed Nardi also lived. He was another adventurous player who added his jazz flare to the evolving music.
Two other highlights of the spring season included a gig at the famous Jawbone coffeehouse entitled “Vegetables for Dessert, A Tribute to the Cleveland Indians and Pasted To a Bulletin Board” This performance featured the first use of pre-recorded tracks, sound effects and audience participation. A month later, Neo Pseudo was invited to perform at a gallery opening for the works of noted artist and author Frederick Franck. Mike and Kevin chose passages from his books, primarily The Zen of Seeing.
Kevin describes the event; “He seemed interested in what we were up to, and liked the idea that we were going to use words from his books but admitted that he really only listened to Bach…I thought we were way up a creek without a paddle on this one and began to wonder who’s bright idea it was for us to play for this event. As we were about to start, he pulled up a chair and sat right in front of us. Needless to say I was more than a little scared. Happily for all involved it was fantastic; Mr. Franck was pleased and even invited us to his home in New York. I corresponded with him for several years after that. He once sent me a beautiful sketch with a line from one of my songs written underneath.”
The spring of 1989 also saw the first event billed as the “Traveling Circus”. The gig featured Beth Williams and Dave Biddison (brother of Mike) who were married at the time and living in Nashville. The evening was broken into segments with The Shaggy Dogs (now joined by Kevin on banjo, mandolin and guitar), Beth Williams and lastly Neo Pseudo joined by Dave and Beth.
This coincided with the release of the first recording by the band to feature Curtis, Ed and Paul. The album “World of Symbols” captured the jazzy folk rock feel of the band and was essentially recorded live in the studio, so it is a pretty good idea of the sound of the band in concert at that time.
Throughout the rest of 1989 the band continued to play regular gigs at Stonies Post House tavern in State College where a group of regulars began appearing and soon became known as the “Tribe of Dorks” Neo Pseudo began making the trip to Philadelphia, opening for bands in that area.
The first full length article about the band appeared in the Penn State Daily Collegian in the fall of ’89. Mike and Kevin were interviewed about the music, their art work and the general direction of the band under the headline “Neo Pseudo Brings Art to Pop Music”
During this time Kevin and Mike began exhibiting their visual art more frequently often with Neo Pseudo providing music at the galleries.
As 1990 dawned, Neo Pseudo was recording their second full band album “Ritual Laughter” Released on cassette, the dominant independent format of the day, the album was reviewed in many of the leading magazines of the “indie music world” Later in the year, “World” and “Ritual” were combined onto one CD (minus a few cuts due to time limitations) entitled “Laughing Symbols:NoSono”
The tag-line “NoSono” was in reference to Luke Butler, son of Paul who was two at the time. “NoSono” was how he pronounced “Neo Pseudo”.
The release of their music on CD opened the door to not only more reviews, but also airplay. College radio picked up on the album, and it even appeared on some national charts, due mostly to the dedicated fans at WFMU in northern New Jersey, often listed as the best college station in the country.
1990 saw the return of the “Traveling Circus”. The group gathered for a week in the summer of that year at the remote farm of internationally known sculptor Rob Fisher to practice, and in Ed’s case, drive the tractor around the fields. In July, the assembled multitude played Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at the VFW Ballroom, several gigs as The Shaggy Dogs at the Central Pennsylvania Arts Festival and a headlining gig at the same festival. The annual CPFA attracted a few hundred thousand people to the Penn State campus and downtown State College. During the 1990 festival, it rained the entire week. The one break in the rain came as Neo Pseudo finished “Choosing” and moved into “Naked We Are Pure”. Listening to the recording of the show you can hear the crowd roaring and the next day there was a picture of the band on stage with the caption “Neo Pseudo Brings The Sun to the Arts Festival”
The band continued to play regular gigs in State College incorporating performance art and dance into shows and traveling to Philadelphia where they began to play in larger venues. By the end of the year Mike and Kevin had decided to move to Philadelphia and the plans were set in motion to move the band into a full time experience. By 1991, Mike and Kevin had moved to Phoenixville to share a house with Ed. Paul was already living in Philadelphia with his family so the band became primarily a three piece – Ed, Mike and Kevin with Paul sitting in whenever possible. Curtis remained in State College although he participated in some of the recording sessions of that year. For a brief period of time the band operated as a folky-acoustic band playing at venues like the legendary Godfrey Daniels and the Folk Factory Coffeehouse. During this time, Ed, Mike and Kevin began playing a regular gig at Makam’s Kitchen in west Philly.
The three played completely acoustic and incorporated a wide variety of traditional tunes, many of which would return to the set list in years to come, although often in a more danceable groove.
At the same time, the band began playing in New York City, often at the famous CBGBs .
The first year in Philadelphia included playing on street corners, various rallies and benefit shows, folk gigs, recording and perhaps most strange, a role in a play where they played themselves in the after-life. A local writer having seen and heard the group wrote them into a play in progress where the band played several tunes including “Riot in Heaven”. The major change that happened after re-locating was the decision of Mike’s brother Dave to move from Nashville to join the band. Ed moved to playing the midi-mallet keyboard, a digital marimba. Dave played drums, sang and added his collection of original songs as well as the “brother harmony singing” element to the sound. With the addition of Dave on drums, Ed moved to playing the digital marimba, also know as the midi-mallet controller. Where most synths were played via a piano keyboard, this instrument was driven, or played by a marimba keyboard. Ed became the master of the sounds, bringing back many of the textures that had disappeared with Curtis’ departure from the band. At this point the band became a four piece group playing full time. Since Paul Butler was still active in the jazz scene and not able to commit to playing full time with Neo Pseudo, he appeared less frequently with the band, sitting in on rare occasions. A look at the group’s calendar from that year shows that by the summer of 1991 they were playing at least three nights a week, and often gigging five or six nights in a row. The band started their Saturday night residency at Casa Mexicana in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia. Soon crowds would be waiting in line, snaking their way up the three flights of stairs to the upstairs bar where the Pseudo lads held court. Dave brought a healthy collection of original songs with him and quickly began adding new material to the band. The sound was still a mixture of styles but began to lean more heavily towards pop rock. Without Paul’s horns, the jazzy element was missing. The dance groove was well in place however, and with the collective backgrounds of Ed, Mike, Dave and Kevin, all veterans of bar bands back in State College, they could now easily rip through a large catalog of cover tunes if the mood was right. Listening to live tapes you can hear the band sail through Talking Heads, David Bowie, The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, CSNY etc. all mixing with their original tunes.
The Neo sound was eventually captured on the album “Vanity Frizbee” which was so named because a reviewer in the magazine “Philly Rock Guide” had hated their previous album so much he said it was nothing more than a “vanity frizbee” Not wanting the let such a good phrase slip away, the band put it to good use. The same magazine eventually gave the new album a fantastic review as did several other publications in the Philadelphia area. There was much more airplay and national reviews as well.
From 1992-93, the band toured a regular circuit from Philly, to New York, New Jersey, northern and central Pennsylvania and back again.
Having started as a bit of a lark for an evening concert five years before, the band now had a manager, their own van and roadie/driver. Eventually the need to make a more substantial income intruded on the Pseudo life. Ed decided to hang up the marimba mallets in 1994 and after a “pseudo farewell” show at Philadelphia’s North Star Bar the band went on a sabbatical, which became a mondayical, and then a tuesdayical. After about six months the next phase Neo Pseudo appeared at the same North Star Bar. Mike moved into the lead singer role and gave up guitar and bass duties. Kevin picked up guitar full time while Dave continued slamming the drums. Joining the lads were Brian Delaney on bass and Steve Whitlock on guitar. Brian and Steve were castaways from a Grateful Dead band and happy to be playing mostly original material. Toward the end of Ed’s time with the band, coinciding with the recording of “Vanity Frizbee” Kevin had begun to incorporate electric guitar more into the sound. With Brian and Steve joining the group, the move was made completely to an electric sound. This is heard quite clearly on the recording made in September 1995 “Last Night in Philadelphia” where Steve plays his Strat and Kevin, his Les Paul, both cranking through Fender Twin Reverb amps (turned way up)
That same gig was indeed the “last night” as Mike was making ready to move to Boulder, Colorado. Ed and Paul returned to jam with the group that night and the Tribe of Dorks once again danced like crazy to tunes like “Tribal Fireworks” and “Choosing”.
Since that night, there have been a few Neo gatherings but the band has never returned to playing full time, part time or any kind of regular time.
Everyone has remained involved in music making in some way or another. Who knows? 2008 will be the 20th anniversary of the band, a good time for a reunion perhaps.
People who are interested in U2 The Beatles Grateful Dead should consider this download.