The spirit of Mick Ronson inspires the Payola$ at the Town Pump

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 20, 1994

Ya gotta like that Bob Rock guy. When he gets tired of producing platinum-plus CDs for bands like Metallica and Mötley Crüe, he forms his own group, Rockhead, and gets back to his ’70s-rock roots with melodic, radio-friendly sing-along tunes such as “Bed of Roses” and “Chelsea Road”.

Then when he figures it’s time to resurrect one of Vancouver’s most influential punk-era acts—possibly to capitalize on the recent resurgence of punkish bands like Green Day and Offspring, but more likely just to have a rockin’ good time—he brings old buddy Paul Hyde out of retirement. Next thing you know, the Payola$ are tearing things up down at the Town Pump. Rock gets things done, and rock fans benefit. It’s a good thing.

Before the reunited Payola$ took the stage last Thursday (October 13), several tunes from the final Mick Ronson album, Heaven and Hull, were cranked out over the PA system, and no doubt Rock had something to do with the choice of pre-set music. Ronson, who succumbed to cancer last year, produced some of the Payola$ best work, and his music—especially the material he recorded with Ian Hunter in the ’70s—had a huge influence on both Rock and Hyde. Maybe hearing their idol’s last recordings helped inspire the two to put on the killer show that followed.

The band kicked off with “In a Place Like This”, the title track of its 1981 debut, and it was clear from the start that this year’s Payola$ mean business. Crucial to that effect was the passionate drumwork of Matt Frenette, who never fails to impress, whether he’s slamming the skins for Kim Mitchell, Tom Cochrane, or local bands at a Sunday jam. He’s an ideal replacement for original Payola$ drummer Chris Taylor, who has left music to work as a cameraman with Shane Lunny Productions. Also on board and adding his own brand of sleek rhythm was longtime bassist Alex “A-Train” Boynton. The band was rounded out by competent keyboardist Richard Sera, an alumnus of the post-Payola$ Rock & Hyde days.

The Pump wasn’t sold-out for this first evening of a two-night stand, but there were about 300 paying customers in attendance, and many of those showed dance-floor support for old Payola$ stompers like “China Boys” and “Soldier”, as well as for more pop-oriented Rock & Hyde selections like “I Will” and “Dirty Water”. I never did like “Never Said I Love You”, but the majority of Pump patrons took it upon themselves to bounce happily to that ditty’s calypso beat.

Although Rock’s vocal duties are usually confined to backup mode, he took over original co-singer Carole Pope’s lead part on that number and proved himself quite a capable…backup vocalist. Rock’s status as superman on guitar and in the studio does not extend to singing.

“Finally, finally!” spouted one beer-guzzling Pumper as the familiar strains of the Payola$ 1983 Juno Award–winning single, “Eyes of a Stranger”, rolled off the stage at 1:30 a.m. With such great tunes as that, you wonder why the Payola$ never made it big internationally, although soft-rock producer David Foster’s attempt to turn the band into a sucky Adult Contemporary act on its final LP, Here’s the World For Ya, had plenty to do with its demise. Still, if Rock and Hyde can reharness the sharp songwriting skills of their early days, the Payola$ could always give worldwide fame another shot.

You never know what might happen in the world of Rock.

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