CULTURE

Long paths of cult rock ’n’ roll heroes set to converge in Athens this week

The paths of three acts with plenty of rock ‘n’ roll mileage behind them – 1960s thrill-seeker Arthur Lee, Blixa Bargeld, who recently ended a 20-year career with Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds, and the enduring garage-rock band the Fuzztones – will cross in Greece this weekend for shows in Athens. They’ve been around for lengthy periods, mostly as growing cult figures in underground music circles, yet, despite the passage of time, they remain relevant figures, each in their own way. Arthur Lee’s current situation of being free and able to perform comes as somewhat of a personal triumph for a man who has served considerable time confined to a prison cell. The prime architect of the cult 1960s psychedelic-folk band Love, Lee, now in his late 50s, was freed from jail a little over a year ago after serving almost six years of an 11-year sentence. An unsung American musical hero whose widespread and enduring critical acclaim never quite turned into sturdy album sales, Lee began roaming stages and playing to keen fans of all ages, including here, soon after his release. The erratic and enigmatic figure was arrested and handed his hefty 11-year sentence in 1996 after being caught breaking Californian law for a third time when he fired a gun into the air during an argument with a neighbor. He was charged with illegal possession of a firearm. A year earlier, Lee had spent a brief period behind bars for breaking into an ex-girlfriend’s flat and trying to torch it but was bailed out by a record label which had just released a compilation album of Lee’s work, «Love Story.» His first of three strikes, a drug offense, dates back to the 1980s. On this latest visit, Lee, who will be at the Rodon Club in Athens (24 Marni, 210.524.7427) on Friday, will present his old group Love’s most heralded album, 1967’s elaborately arranged «Forever Changes,» with the backing of an orchestra. Brass and string players, four apiece, will join Lee and others for a full-fleshed delivery of the album that continues to top current polls chronicling rock music’s all-time best albums. The lauded album, Love’s third, had emerged during a difficult, drug-hazed period for Lee and his partners. Apparently, they were all in such terrible shape as the substances began to take their toll that the group’s record label at the time, Electra, had decided to use session musicians to back Lee for the «Forever Changes» project. But two songs into the scheme, the band was shocked back into reality after seeing outsiders in their place. The revival, though, was short-lived. Love started crumbling, as did Lee’s career. The songwriter sacked all the group’s original members, brought in less-talented musicians for several mediocre psychedelic-folk albums released between the late 1960s and early 1970s, and then shifted to lackluster hard rock as his standing waned. Yet, with time, critics and younger peers have all held on to Lee’s golden-period work. Countless more recent acts of various styles – from the abrasive punk rockers the Ramones to the serene psychedelic-folk act Mazzy Star – have all found reasons to dig up old Lee-penned songs and redeliver. Skeptical concertgoers, fearing a wiped-out veteran rocker reduced to aping his way through spiritless sets, should take into consideration that press reports of Lee’s shows since his prison release have been favorable. Seasoned yet far more recent, the post-punk figure Blixa Bargeld, also due in Athens this week for one show at the Gagarin 205 (205 Liosion, tel 210.854.7600) on Saturday, will arrive here shortly after having announced a major musical change in his life. Bargeld, who established his fame as the musician with the unorthodox, distinctive guitar sound and style in Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds – especially during the group’s earlier phase – confirmed his departure from the weighty outfit just days ago. The Berliner, also a founding member of the German «industrial» outfit Einsturzende Neubauten, announced that the split was amicable and could be attributed to his personal need to focus on «other creative sides.» Besides Einsturzende Neubauten – infamous for using power drills at shows during their wilder nascent period in the early 1980s – Bargeld’s other projects include writing music for film and theater. In other statements released by band members, Cave noted that they «split as friends.» Fellow Bad Seed Mick Harvey – who has worked with Cave, a high school buddy, since the songwriter’s embryonic days in Bad Seed precursor groups Boys Next Door and The Birthday Party – remarked that «Blixa is irreplaceable. I’m sorry that we’re going to have to manage without him.»  For his current tour as solo performer, a limited one, Bargeld will be backed by other musicians. The week’s other weathered but appealing act, the Fuzztones, have been booked for one night at the Gagarin Club on Friday. Riding upon the latest wave of garage-rock revivalism propelled by popular younger acts such as the White Stripes and the Strokes, the Fuzztones have returned to performing in more recent times. Disbanded a decade ago, the group reinvented and stylized the short-lived garage-rock fad of the mid-1960s as the basis for its own extended existence, which stretches back to New York City in 1980. The group’s raw guitars and Farfiza organs, splashed all over with contagious pop-rock simplicity, eventually established the Fuzztones into a widely followed cult act of five intense showmen intent on outdoing each other during shows. They should still have the required stamina for their antics this Friday.