Nellie Bly Oakland University|
Pioneer Food Court
January 13, 2004
January saw the return of Missy Gibson to Detroit, braving theMichigan weather and receiving a warm welcome. The Pioneer Food Court in the Oakland Center of Oakland University has a dark off cropping with tables and a real, lit fireplace creating a nice atmosphere. Nellie Bly is just Missy Gibson on vocalist and percussion stick beat against the microphone stand and Michael Flanagan on acoustic guitar. "I like it here in Detroit. I think I like it here better than Los Angeles. I asked for directions here and they gave them to me!", Missy said with astonishment in her voice. Flanagan came back with, "I asked for directions in LA and they gave them to me but I ended up somewhere than were I asked to be... and they asked me for money."
Gibson is wearing white, thick framed sunglasses and her hair is up in blond pigtails. After singing the opening song, "His Uncheckered Life," Missy asked, "How many of you are here as a class requirement?" No one raised their hands. "How many of you were expecting a big loud band?" A few people raised their hands. "We thought we'd do the intimate thing when we saw the fireplace." Flanagan piped up, "Yeah, we took all our amps and equipment back to the car when we saw the fire." Missy said with a smile "There will be s'mores later."
Everyone got comfortable real fast with this amusing banter. She mentioned that Mike Flanagan is in a Journey cover band. "Excuse me, we're a Journey tribute band," corrects Flanagan. Missy laughs and says, "With Breech we're lucky to get 50 people at a show while his Journey tribute band sells out shows. What is surprising to me is the audience is so young and yet they know all the words."
I noticed that students would walk down the main hall, hear the band and stop to listen. Even a couple of janitors took their break by listening in. Nellie Bly played "Bucket of Blood" followed by "Bloodletting." "This is the bloody portion of the show," says Gibson. They played a little game with the next song. "This next song is a cover song. I have a friend in a jazz band who makes fun of me for using the term cover band. We'll give you a free Nellie Bly CD if you can guess the artist." Well, no one could. Finally, a friend of her's guessed Rickie Lee Jones, which was correct. "Did you know the song or did you guess because you know I like Rickie?" He knew she liked Rickie Lee Jones.
They played "Pretty Girl" followed by "Snow Day." "In LA I have to explain what a snow day is. It's more fun playing this song here in Detroit. We were at one show and this guy says, 'I lost my virginity on a snow day' and the guy next to him says, 'Dude, so did I!' They proceeded to talk about how they lost their virginity. During our set we were kind of distracted because we wanted to hear what they had to say."
Nellie Bly closed with a stripped down version of a Breech song and began a questions and answer session with the students. There were several women who were taking women's studies course, so their questions involved women in rock. Gibson talked about being at the Rebel Girls Music Camp taught in Ann Arbor as a teacher, wondering "what do I have to offer?" but the organizers realized that she had been at it forever and had lots of experience. "Someone once asked me, 'Why are the boys always trying to keep us down?' but I say we put ourselves in that situation. I like to define myself as a gender rebel."
Gibson explained how Breech won DIY record of the year last year because they raised $7000 in bake sales to pay for their A"pron Strings" CD. "We used the bake sales to pay for the CD. We'd set up the outside of big rock concerts, like David Byrne's concert. The bake sales were good at promoting ourselves as well as raising money. We'd sell baked goods of course, but also Breech aprons and spatulas. David Byrne bought some. Benico del Toro gave us a $20. It got to the point where people knew more about the bake sales than about the band. LA Times interviewed me at home while I was baking. The newspaper dubbed me as 'Betty Rocker" and it stuck. Our Midwest fans wanted to get in on this, so we toyed with the idea of an online bake sale, but shipping costs a lot. Pistachio bread was the best seller."
Someone asked about the name Nellie Bly. She explained that in third grade she had to write a paper on famous historical women. She didn't want to go the usual Betsy Ross route and looked for the most obscure women in American history and discovered Nellie Bly, a journalist from the turn of the century. "She would dress like a man to get a story. She wrote a expose' on mental hospitals by getting herself committed then writing about all the bad things that happened in there. She wrote a bestseller about riding around the world in an aeroplane in 80 days." Nellie Bly is also the name of a Stephen Foster song.
Another asked what song she would like to be known for. "'Pretty Girl' speaks for me." With lyrics like "Maybe I'm not graceful, but I stand up when I fall," I can understand why. She told us fun facts like her first band she put together in third grade. It was an all girl band called the Black Widows and they charged ten cents a ticket. Her first real band she pit together when was 15 called the Platonics. She gave up that band when the guys suggested she "dress more sexy. Those baggy jeans just ain't doin it."
Someone asked her to compare the music scene, Detroit versus Los Angeles. "Detroit is a smaller city. The music scene in Detroit is rather incestuous; everyone knows everyone. LA is an incredibly vast city with a big music scene. You can see like 50 bands any day of the week. And everyone in LA is in five bands... including me. It's easy to get lost in the LA music scene, kind of demoralizing at times." She told us how she had a record deal but dropped the idea when she was sexually harassed. "Lucky for me, nothing was in writing. It was incredible experience and I learned a lot. I have no regrets." LA does offer many opportunities and she makes money by doing commercials as well as having publishing deal to write music reviews. "Commercial work is not very fulfilling, but it's nice to be singing and it beats flipping burgers. You might have even heard me without realizing it."
The Breech song "Thistle" has been used on premiere episode of "Dawson's Creek". She was asked to write a new "Dawson's Creek" theme song. "We were told they needed the new song by Friday. They asked us on Wednesday. We didn't sleep two days. And we were told it had to be happy, uplifting." Flanagan joked, "Yeah, you're the perfect lyricist for that." Gibson said, "We ended up turning in three songs. Of course in the end they kept the original song."
They were also tasked with the job of writing a grunge song for the movie "Rock Star." "It was supposed to be the first grunge song the band in the movie ever played. They ended up picking a pop song instead of a grunge song though. And we were asked to write on spec a song for the "Freaky Friday" remake while we were on tour in the Great Plains." She began looking through her old journals from when she was a teenager for ideas and mostly found stuff like "I hate my mom" and "I hate everyone." Gibson said, "we were the runner up. So it's a lot of hard work and can be disappointing, but you have to keep yourself open for opportunities."
She wrapped up telling us the story of her alternate identity as Donnie Perelli of the band Birtha Fist. It involve her cross dressing as a shallow, sexist kinda guy in response to being told that "women aren't in this year" by a record executive. "Donnie's a stud and a jerk. At a concert Birtha Fist would follow Breech and insult the band, especially the female vocalist. We just like to see what the response will be."
She invites everyone present to come downtown to the Century Theater to see her show of "Standards, Classics and Songs from Days Gone By." After buying a Nellie Bly CD and a Breech spatula, I decide to take her up on the offer.
Missy Gibson and Ed Wells Standards, Classics and Songs from Days Gone By Century Theater Detroit, Michigan January 14, 2004
The Century Theater is a beautiful old building with lots of glorious wood, rich brown hues dominate and Art Nouveau floral filigree decorate the ceiling. There is a stained glass window at top of stairs that is backlit. No wonder that the building was moved five blocks to its current site on Madison; the largest object ever moved on wheels. Downstairs is a ginger bread model of the Century Theater.
I wasn't even sure the show was going to happen. January 14th was the day eight inches of snow were dumped on Detroit. You remember well, I'm sure. A twenty minute trip turned into an hour plus drive. When I got there, there were more employees than fans; four in the audience including me when show started. I don't think it could get more intimate. Front row seats for everyone! Overheard: "Why the low attendance?" Answer: "Well, the word on the street is... SNOW!" The show started a little late as they waited for more people and Missy's family to show.
Gibson first performed "Standards, Classics and Songs from Days Gone By" at the Century Theater last September. I think it an honor for Detroit to receive this encore performance. Gibson describes the show as "a sordid blend of honest, twisted storytelling and toe tapping tunes from the past" which she dedicates to her father who has always given her support. Pianist Ed Wells, who regularly plays jazz and blues at the Century Grille, opened the show with a couple of piano tunes. Wells and Gibson have known each other since 1992 when Wells first moved to Detroit.
Gibson made her entrance as Wells played an old Elvis Presley tune. Now this was a Missy Gibson I've never seen before. She wore a beautiful vintage silver sparkle gown with a white fur collar, silver shoes, a silver stone necklace and her hair pulled up; very lovely. She begins to sing, lowering her voice and giving us a little lip curl sneer just like Elvis used to do. She mentions she was quite nervous, saying "I almost had to do the show from the bathroom." She talked about using a fake ID to get into places like Lili's which led into the song "Grounded." It's odd to hear a Breech song stripped down and played on piano.
During the song "Do Right" she talked about her father singing in church, being a bit of a vocal show off just as her dad walked in. Busted! Actually, he was quite good natured about it all, even joking back. She sang some standards by Nat King Cole and Brenda Lee followed by "Route 66" which Wells played with boogie woogie synchopation. I have to say that Ed Wells is a fabulous piano player and very modest about it when every Gibson or the audience said as much. She sang a sad song by Patsy Cline with the lyrics, "I got your records, she's got you." Next she sang a song her father wrote when he was 11 called "I Took The Rap For You." It's written from the point-of-view of a man sitting in jail pining for his love. Missy had her dad sing a verse from his table then they did a little duet. It has a WWI "Pack Up Your Kitbag" soldier song quality to it.
She sang "Gonna Wash That Man Outta My Hair" followed by "Don't Wanna Grow Up" after which she tells us a story about facing up to a grammar school bully when she was 8-years-old. She was making a go-kart out of old scrap parts scavenged from the neighborhood. As she was painting the go-kart with white spray paint, said bully came over and gave her a hard time, She retaliated by blasting the bully right in the eyes with the spray paint and became a hero in the eyes of her schoolmates.
Singing "You Really Got A Hold On Me," she mentions she was raised on '70s rock that she listened to on her clock radio and learned the lyrics by buying copies of "Song Hits." She sang "Sarah Smile" by Hall & Oates which was slowed down and made extra moody. She closed the first set with Carole King's "Tumbling Down."
During intermission I notice that there's about 15 people in the audience. The director of the Century Theater offered everyone present one free drink as a consolation of the weather, or maybe reward is a better word for making the treacherous journey downtown.
After intermission, Mike Flanagan pops on stage with Wells and Gibson wearing a suit and tie to play clarinet during "L-O-V-E." She sang "Cry Me A River," "Nobody's Business," "Them There Eyes," and "Do I." Ed Wells played saloon blues piano during "Black Coffee" then they struck an amazing upbeat mood with "Wonderful, Marvelous." She closed with "Let It Snow" to celebrate the weather outdoors. Someone yelled "sing 'Snow Day'" which she found funny. "Let It Snow" turned into a sing-along with everyone in the audience singing and having a good time.
After the show, she talked to each and every one in attendance. Asked her if she was enjoying the snow and she said she actually was. And what did Californian Mike Flanagan think about it? "I never seen so much snow. How do you live like this?!" Missy said, "It makes us tenacious" and mentioned that she was the one drove down those slippery streets. I complimented on her lovely silver gown and she boasted that she got it on tour at a resale shop advertising vintage wear. "I saw it, I wanted it, I bought it. It was priced at $50, but I got the price down to $35. I asked, "Will you do this show in LA?" She replied, "Yes, soon."
Look for Missy and Mike on tour with Breech this summer. Also check out the October, 2003 issue of Jam Rag at www.JamRag.com for an interview with Missy Gibson. Her website is www.breech.net has information on Breech, Nellie Bly, her Irish band Paddy's Pig and many other projects.
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