Mandel Maven's Nest: And Then There's Russell Crowe—
The Music



Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts

Here's Crowe's explanation of his band's original name, from an interview on radio station WKQX 101's Mancow Morning Madhouse August 14, 2001 in Chicago:
"'30 Odd Foot of Grunts' was actually an ADR, which is an Analog Dialog Replacement line for the movie Virtuousity. It was the fight sequence on the roof, right, and I go in to replace the dialog because of aircraft or whatever and it said between 558 and 588, because film was still measured in feet, 'Please put in 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.' I just thought it was kind of snappy. Just rolled off the tongue."

The band has now morphed into The Ordinary Fear of God, with the frequent participation of Alan Doyle and other members of the Celt-ish Canadian band Great Big Sea. Muchmoremusic "caught up with the actor in LA recently where he told us how he hooked up with Doyle at the 2004 NHL Awards. 'We used to do one of their songs as I say, regularly assassinate one of their songs. So he sort of saw me there and jumped up and manufactured to meet me backstage. They were doing a show, so I went and saw the show a couple weeks from then and we just started talking and we just made a deal to see if we could get together and write a song."

Doyle has been a part of Crowe's entourage since his Cinderella Man promotional travels. They performed together in Bonnieux in the south of France during filming of A Good Year and they performed songs from his Doyle-produced album My Hand My Heart together at gig at O'Reilly's pub in Doyle's home town of St. John's, Newfoundland 6/2005. Crowe joined them on stage in Washington, D.C. on St. Patrick's Day 2008, where Crowe was making State of Play, in which he inserted his cop listening to their "The Night Pat Murphy Died", probably from Road Rage, on his car radio. Presumably Crowe influenced getting him cast along side him as the troubadour "Allan A'Dayle" in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood.
Crowe revealed on Late Night with Conan on 6/9/2005 about his six-hour incarceration for phone assault courtesy of the NYPD earlier in the week: "I got a little bit claustrophobic at one point. Quite frankly, it was not an enjoyable experience at all, but I went up to the bars of the cell at one point and asked the arresting officer if she would like me to sing her a song. She goes, 'That'll be a first.' So, in order to relax myself, I sang an old Irish folk tune to her." The song was a favorite of Doyle's, I'm A Man You Don't Meet Every Day, which is featured on The Pogues' Rum, Sodomy & The Lash.
Doyle sings Mothers Cross that Crowe wrote in memory of TOFOG band mate David Kelly's mother.
Crowe and Doyle co-wroteHit the Ground and Run that Doyle performs. (updated 6/28/2010)

Another link between his movies and his music:
According to "First Mates" by Penny McLeod in the December 2003 Limelight magazine: Crowe met Australian Chamber Orchestra's artistic director Richard Tognetti in 1998 for a group performance of a Leonard Cohen song at Tognetti's annual Huntington Estate Music Festival at the family vineyard in country NSW. Tognetti also played at Crowe's wedding. That's after he taught him to play the violin for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, says Crowe: "I really did fall in love with the idea of [the violin] and the process of it. It's a totally romantic instrument. And I always refer to it in the feminine - and I don't mean any offense to anyone -- it's just the way I felt. If you are strong with the violin you get something quite mystical, if you are aggressive, you get nothing."

There's also a connection between Crowe/TOFOG and one of my favorite late, lamented TV shows: Going to California

Here's my reviews (and some added commentary) of Crowe's body of musical work: (background photo thanks to "Croweaddict" on the Crowe's Perch):

Concert Performance in NYC

CD: Gaslight

CD: Bastard Life or Clarity

CD: Other Ways Of Speaking

CD: My Hand My Heart

DVD: Texas

Concert Performance at Irving Plaza, New York City, NY, August 29th, 2001

I got in training for the concert by dealing three nights in advance with the loud drunken fans of the Irish-American NYC band Black 47 at a festival and the night before with the loud drunken fans of Buckwheat Zydeco on the Blues Cruise through NY harbor. Then did more serious prep at a pre-concert lunch of The Crowe's Perch bulletin board participants -- meeting interesting women from as far as Boston, Quebec, and Toronto.
Accompanied by two friends who were more curious than fans--and were converted to fans before the encores-- (I gave my 4th ticket to a guy who's also a fan of Australian rock music), we ended up about halfway down the enter line, as the doors opened over an hour past the 8 pm deadline (ironically, as I was the first one on line to originally purchase the tickets). I was highly suspicious of the media types surfing the line for stereotyped comments, but my friend called over "Stuttering John" of the "Howard Stern Show." I managed to cut in and evenly answered his attempts at painting us as crazy women who knew nothing about TOFOG's music (not that I can even remember the names of my kids with a microphone stuck in front of my mouth) to forestall him from having fodder to make fun of. Luckily, he didn't hear the coarse screamer in front of me.
But having just turned 50 and probably shrunken from my 5' 1 1/2", I erred on the side of physical caution in strategically dealing with Irving Plaza (a converted vaudeville house/movie theater), which while I knew was virtually all standing room I had thought was required by NYC to be smoke-free. So after buying the merchandise (DVD, tank top, tour hat, though they were out of Size small T-shirts so had to make do with size medium) I opted for the rear of the auditorium. So I watched the awfully bad, tasteless comic on the rear TVs over the bar, and the same with Danielle Spencer (the inspiration for Crowe's sad love song "Danielle") as she was hard to see sitting at her keyboard. Her voice was really sweet, but the songs did have a sameness that she implied would sound different on her CD as these were being done acoustic and the album is electronic. Her cellist was wonderful. Crowe's aboriginal friend's spiritual dance was environmentally mood setting, as well as the Australian rock music played over the speakers afterwards, especially my favorite Crowded House track "Weather With You" and Tom Waits' take on "Waltzing Matilda."
Crowe's entrance after the band was electric! What presence he has! Charisma oozes! Having just about been cognizant of the birth of rock 'n' roll (my first rock 'n ' roll memory is the Mourning After the Day the Music Died, I was a daily viewer of American Bandstand by '59, was a Rolling Stone subscriber, plus a viewer of countless serious documentaries from PBS to A & E and VH-1 and MTV on rock), I know flat out that a hefty percentage of the impact of the music is stage persona. EVERY (hetero) guy who ever picked up a guitar ALWAYS says it was for the same reason: "To get girls." So it's silly for the critics to be snide that TOFOG's audiences are primarily women (let alone older women). When I saw Bruce at the NJ arena in '84 the critics neglected to mention that audience was 80% testosterone-dripping male.
And Russell Crowe has IT.
From reading many fan reports and the nasty press reviews by male critics of the tour across the country, I could tell that Crowe changed the concert to respond, unfortunately. He made the choice to hardly do any monologues or song explanations, and opted to interpret all the songs as pretty hard rockers, regardless of how they were done on the CDs, which I thought was to Stewart Kirwan's disadvantage on the horns (which is my favorite part of CD: Bastard Life or Clarity) until he got to blast in the last encore. I appreciated that there were a substantial number of songs from CD: Gaslight. The males did mostly gather towards the back, but there were several taller people in the middle blocking us height-challenged folks (ah, when I'm emperor of the world they won't be able to do that!). And there were many disinterested talkers back at the bar, but then I was also surprised that Crowe didn't thank his opening acts, which most gracious headliners do.
Here's what I think was the set list, as I could make it out, though I think I may have missed or gotten wrong one or so:
The Photograph Kills (hard rockin')
Things Have Got to Change
The Night That Davey Hit The Train (surprisingly with no intro or explanation about the fate of his co-star from Romper Stomper)
White Circles
Wendy
Sail Those Same Oceans (his intro pointed out it's the first single in the U.S. -- and there was some singing along
She's Not Impressed
Oblique is My Love
How Did We Get From I Love You. . .(intro explanation about Newfoundland vis a vis Tasmania and comparable part of US, that the song was a cover of the Canadian group Great Big Sea song -- they didn't perform it when I saw them earlier this summer in NYC, as it's not on their US released CDs)
Swept Away Bayou (lotsa audience clapping participation)
Somebody Else's Princess (intro'd by some joshing about NY's basketball team, followed by lots of sweaty head-shaking)
1st Encore: (after one hour of performance -- many people left and I was able to get closer with a better view while dodging lit cigarettes)
Eternity
David (with a good-natured but serious attempt at shutting up the squealers and those shouting for him to take off his shirt: "Stop fucking screaming. This is a fucking band, not Chippendales." Then the long detailed intro about same name coincidences. He led a sing-along at the end, such that we earned a "That was pretty damn good.")
The Legend of Barry Kable (with the longest detailed intro of the night, about how he learned about this homeless guy with the sad, violent past)
2nd Encore (after lots of rhythmic clapping and stomping)
Swallow My Gift
Folsom Prison Blues (Absolutely outstanding, very non-country version of the Johnny Cash classic! With each band member getting a chance to shine.)
A closing appreciation that he thought a NYC audience would be too sophisticated (cynical?) for their band, so he was rewarded by our warm response. My friends and I all felt this was a rockin' bar band by ALL the band mates, and that Crowe is a dynamic front-man with a voice and persona as legit for rock 'n' roll as David Johansen, etc. Sure, his voice at the end of the tour wasn't as subtle or balladic as on the CD, but this was so much more ALIVE than, say, Madonna's canned theatrics on HBO. Long live rock 'n' roll!

Here's a report, from Kristin/Krip, another member of the Idiot's Delight Digest (posted with permission):
I have to admit that I too was part of the 98% female crowd at the Russell Crowe (okay, TOFOG) concert at Irving Plaza.
His opening act - Danielle, Russell's Old Girlfriend - sucked.
Take the most annoying aspects of Jewel and Tori Amos, strip them of any appeal whatsoever (except for Jewel's flaxen hair), and have the resulting act play 10 songs that ALL sound the same, and you have what we saw/heard that night. Ugh.
Then there was some sort of aborigine dancer for about 10 minutes. I am NOT kidding.
Oh, and both of these acts were preceded/followed by an obnoxious Aussie "comedian" (I say that lightly) with scatological 3rd-grade punch lines.
By this time, it was about 10:30. (The show was called for 8:00), but after standing in line for about an hour outside, we finally made it in the building around 9.
So picture this: my friends and I are staked out by the 2nd floor bar, just waiting for Russell to FINALLY appear, when suddenly, from behind a velvet rope directly to our right, he actually DOES.
In person.
About 2 feet (I am not exaggerating) from us.
Our eyes widen.
Our knees jelly.
Our hearts pound.
He sees it all.
He smiles.
He keeps walking through the not-so-dense crowd (everyone else was apparently pretty keen on the Aborigine dancer), leaving a very small wake.
When he finally took the stage, it was kind of anti-climactic.
We had our moment with Russell.
It was worth the price of admission.
And oh yeah, the music wasn't too bad. I hadn't heard any of it before (not even one song), and was pleasantly surprised.
He actually sounded a little bit like Hedwig. And he was just as charismatic. He loves being on stage.
I wonder if he is disappointed in the female-ness of his crowds. I mean, if he wants to be a rocker, you'd think he'd want male approval. But it's also clear that he loves standing on stage flirting with 2000 women at once - I'm sure that's quite a rush.

CD: Gaslight

Their first full-length CD, independently released (track listing doesn't match the song order on the CD booklet)

"Circus" - pleasant soft rock

"You Treat Me Like Chocolate" - ooo, sexy and seductive: "You treat me like chocolate/Something you shouldn't touch between meals/Instead of having at it"

"Oblique Is My Love" - a fuzz-rocker, done live on the CD

"What's Her Name" - harder rock, done live on the CD, either a "Love the One You're With" philosophy of trying to be faithful while being horny, or hornily longing for a friend to be more

"The Legend of Barry Kable" - live version, with the long, socially relevant intro that he's not always able to do live due to rowdy audiences

"She's Not Impressed" - the sexy song with the infamous lyric: "I want babies/I don't provide the safety to build her nest/I want babies/Just not right now" and an envy for his parents' long marriage.

"David" - introduced in live performance with a long story about people who keep coming up to him and asking him if he's that other Russell Crowe they've read about

"What You Want Me To Forget" - rhythmic. He explained the origin of the song at a '03 concert at Surfer's Beer Garden in Australia, reports Lindy: "Between songs Russell would stop to tell us stories, about his early days, Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, and even his Dad. He told a good story about how his father had once been told during a job interview that he was overqualified. His Dad really needed the job, so said 'Well, what do you want me to forget?' "Now maybe you know where I get my sense of humour from," Crowe said as the band launched into the song.

"Nowhere" - precursor to Kid Rock and Linkin Park, in trying to incorporate rap (co-written and rapped by Kevin Durand of Mystery, Alaska and Dark Angel) so not my cuppa

"Eternity" - guitars shine with catchy rhythms

"Wendy" - socially relevant sympathy for a single mother

"Kill Me" - rocker remorse at his self-destructive behavior. Sure all his fans wish he would stop smoking and rest up more!

"Castle Builder" - More romantic longing for home and relationship stability, sigh

"Danielle" - my favorite song, about his once and again girlfriend now wife, Danielle Spencer, an actress and singer/songwriter, of the Tori Amos variety, in her own right. (updated 12/18/2002)

CD: Bastard Life or Clarity - a real step up in production and musicality, and a broadening of sound with the addition of Stewart Kirwan's horns.

"Things Have Got to Change" - the first single and video in Australia. Much more sophisticated guitar work than from their previous pub band sound, plus those soulful horns.

"Memorial Day" - "I wear my grand dad's medals/The ones he wouldn't wear" - not just to the Anzacs parades described here (which are a central focus of his first major movie The Crossing) but also to the Academy Awards 2001, as his grand dad earned those medals as a cinematographer for New Zealand's forces. Spoken word conclusion over wailing guitar and drums. Vin Scelsa annually plays this for the U.S. commemoration on his Idiot's Delight radio and streaming show on WFUV.

"Hold You" - ah, such hidden yearning, like a hidden stalker.

"Sail Those Same Oceans" - This hit single (up to #7 on the Australian charts) can now be seen as a precursor to his next film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World as the video was shot on a replica of The Bounty. Very tender and melodic, universal theme through history, only now it's the frequent flyer miles that originally broke up him and Danielle. Dedicated to Jack Thompson, his mentoring co-star on The Sum of Us

"The Legend of Barry Kable" - the studio version, starts sadly acoustic with a spoken word bridge that builds up to bitter rocking

"Somebody Else's Princess" - Lotsa gossip as to whom this is about! Sharon Stone circa The Quick and the Dead?

"Wendy" - a repeat from Gaslight, but now with horns and smoother production

"The Night That Davey Hit the Train" - a memorial to his co-star from Romper Stomper, full of rockin' regret

"Swept Away Bayou" - an old-fashioned, fun rocker with a Buddy Holly beat. This should be the next single as it would make a great radio-in-the-car sing along. Just add a bit of Doucet fiddle!

"Judas Cart" - based on the traditional Irish air "Si Beag Si Mor" (a fine version is on Pat Kilbride's Loose Cannon CD on Green Linnet) and inspired by his brother's bitter divorce. The "little girl" is his niece, who he brought to the 2000 Academy Awards, and for whom he did the family film The Silver Brumby: King of the Wild Stallions.

CD: Other Ways Of Speaking - another step up in production values, especially with the horns, so something is lost, and something is gained. A running theme about relationships, fear of intimacy and overcoming it.

The album was recorded all over the world from Austin, TX to Sydney, Australia to Baja, Mexico to Los Angeles and New York.

"Painted Veil" [i should have been amazed]" -- sweet regret, with brief lovely, lovelorn horn. In a Chicago concert 8/03, Crowe explained that this song is for his wife, that the title is a reference to the W. Somerset Maugham novel about love (that John Curran later made into a film), and that Danni said she feels like a "trinket", so he responds that he sees her in a much deeper, more meaningful light.(sigh)

"Never Be Alone Again" - at concerts he explained the song was written at the Swiss Hotel in Quito, Ecuador, when he sat in the pool in the Presidential suite which had no water in it (It had cracks in it and if they put water in it, the water would leak onto the "Vice Presidential suite" below) but had great acoustics. On the album, the song is a duet between Russell and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and is the strongest song and first single on U.S. radio. They are both tentatively holding back when singing together at first, but his craggy bass suits her craggy alto as it builds up and each puts emotion into it. Just that the choice of wording "you engender in me fear" is intriguing but a bit of a melodic stopper.

She's still the real thing: Let Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders tell you how it is by Aaron Wherry, National Post , February 11, 2003 (fair use excerpts)
"[H]ear her relate tales of her latest adventures -- this time with growlin' and brawlin' Aussie leading man Russell Crowe.
What began as a joke among record industry types became a duet on the latest album from Crowe's band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, during the recording of which Crowe charmed Hynde with his hospitality.
'He sent a helicopter to the Malibu airport, and I took a helicopter all the way down to Mexico, where he was filming, just to spend a couple of hours to do this duet. He was such a sweetheart and he was so gracious and nice. He had this big vegan feast laid out and he wasn't wearing a belt -- he wasn't even wearing shoes. I don't think anyone was allowed to wear leather when I came in,' explains Hynde, a devout vegan and outspoken spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Later, it was off to Crowe's hotel suite for a listen to the finished product.
'I went over, and we spent about three hours just smoking pot and got really silly. And he was showing me stuff he'd done. To me he was just a bloke in a band,' she says, insisting he's not the bad boy you read about in tabloids, but adding: 'I have to admit -- I didn't mention it to him because he probably didn't want to talk about it too much -- but when he opened the door of his hotel suite, he did have a black eye.'"

More from Hynde, in Hynde sight by Iain Shedden, The Australian, 1/1/04: "It's not an easy gig to have Russell Crowe as your lead singer," she says. "But when I met him I related to him as a music person. I found him extremely personable. Real friendly. And he has a beautiful voice."

"Mission Beat" -- good beat; the vodaphone electronica is probably intentionally distancing. Are the back-up girl singers intentionally recalling Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side"?

"What's Her Name?" -- nice harmonica and tougher guitar.

"Inside Her Eyes" -- the full band treatment (at a 7/03 concert in his hometown of Coff's Harbor he explained that he wrote this song after his first date with Dani and he sang it to her on their second date)

"The Same Person" -- a mouthful of sensual lyrics and less use of Crowe's effective lower register, but nice band work

"Other Ways Of Speaking" -- romantic violin accompaniment for a seduction. A much sweeter take on "Should I Stay? Or Should I Go?" than the Clash. Crowe's preferred CD cover was of cows "speaking" to each other.

"Full Length Of The River" -- lotsa longing and rhythms, nice guitar, horns and back-up singing

"Afraid" -- a rocking challenge on the challenges of a relationship

"All The White Circles" -- the full band treatment with passion

"Unfaithful Man" -- gentle criticism and guilt -- reminds me of a quizzical take on "Who's Making Love To Your Old Lady While You Were Out Making Love?"

"Charlie's Song" -- a NYC character study - refers to Charlie Fisher, band manager in early 90s for TOFOG and Savage Garden

"Swallow My Gift" -- the full band treatment with nice drums, now it sounds like a look back at his own hubris of a young buck wanting to break into Hollywood?

"Farm Noises"

"Folsom Prison Blues" - live cover of Johnny Cash from an encore in Austin at Stubb's, flat-out rollicking by the guitars, drums, Stewey's horn, and Crowe's singing, in sharp contrast to the restraint on the rest of the album. Crowe at concerts expresses great appreciation for Cash and also performs "Ring of Fire."
(updated 9/1/2003)

CD: My Hand My Heart With time on his hands when an Australian film production fell apart, Crowe communicated directly to his fans that he worked on a primarily solo album (with lyrics and detailed stories behind each song)- shades of Bruce without the E Street band -- that's now available as a download only.
One can hear the influence of the album's producer and co-writer Alan Doyle. This is not a bar band album as the TOFOG CDs mostly are, but much more personally emotional soft rock about family and feelings, particularly about his parents, wife and baby son. The lovely horn sound from the previous CD suffuses on this CD as well, especially the many tracks about looking back with regret about what wasn't done right. Just about each song on the CD ends on an apology and a note of gratitude for present love.

"The Weight of A Man" - a bit schmaltzy apologia of gratitude to their wives, as it's a co-write, but lovely. I like his conflation of the physical and the emotional as defining how women live with men.

"How Did We Get From Saying I Love You?" - Crowe aims for more subtle emoting in Doyle's tale of regret at bumping into an ex. Kind of '60's Top 40 pop sound. Very hummable. This is the Great Big Sea cover that TOFOG performed in public and led to meeting Doyle.

"Land of the Second Chance" - Slow intro then builds into a Bryan Adams-ish rocker, with good drum work. A bit too wordy per line, but he has a sweet working class hero story to tell. I didn't even know sugar cane is cut in Queensland. If this were a Dave Alvin song it wouldn't have such a happy ending.

"Raewyn" - the first single, not marketable as a pop song but a declaration of the themes in this album. This is a story song of regret about the impact of suicide and sudden deaths on family and friends as Crowe recalls so many around him and his thanks for "my Charlie Crowe."

"Mickey" - another co-write but a defense of his passionate life style - "I'd rather regret the things I've done/than the things I didn't do" but sung too quietly. Could have worked less schmatzily as an all out fist up rocker.

"Worst in the World" - another co-write defense, this time vs. his media image - "I am only as I am, Not Satan, I'm not a Superman"-- though he claims it's about Prince Harry's experience with being the center of the negative whirlwind. Segue into Lisa Marie Presley covering the Eagles' "Dirty Laundry."

"My Hand My Heart" - Crowe considers this his rock 'n' roll drinking song, but it's more Billy Joel in a piano bar. More regret for the past and gratitude for the present. It recalls Tom Waits' "The Piano Has Been Drinking," but a more upbeat conclusion.

"One Good Year" - a cover of one of my favorite Slaid Cleves songs that I consider my New Year's Eve/Erev Rosh ha Shanah song. This starts out like Slaid's version but gets more rock 'n' roll with a familiar Springsteenian guitar riff. In addition to any PR and royalties that might accrue to the singer-songwriter, including citing him on Charlie Rose, Crowe has expressed his appreciation to him directly, as an Illinois blogger reported 5/05: "At the Slaid Cleaves/Hayes Carl/Ray Wylie Hubbard show last night Slaid told a great Russell Crowe story. Apparently sometime last year Russell Crowe was in Canada [filming Cinderella Man - and he feels the song captures the movie's story] at the same time that Slaid was touring the great white north. Russell came to the show and was hanging out after and took Slaid aside to say that he'd been in bands and knew how hard the life could be and that Slaid shouldn't refuse what he was about to do. A minute later he stuffed a wad of bills into Slaid's front shirt pocket and told him to enjoy the next couple of days." Cleves has been providing more details on his summer tour. "CGee" at the Crowes Perch adds that at Joe's Pub in NYC: "He went on to joke it was Canadian money not U.S. and that it was enough to upgrade everyone from Motel 6 to Express Holiday Inn!"

"Mr. [Richard] Harris - a moving tribute to his co-star in Gladiator. A choral requiem that sounds like a traditional Irish sports chant, as they shared a love of rugby and football, complete with bagpipes.

"I Miss My Mind" - Another cover, perhaps one appeal of this regret-tinged song was the ship metaphors a la Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World">Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
(5/22/2005 (amended 8/21/2009


DVD: Texas

Whew, I'm only an hour into it and I gather there's hours more to watch, though as without a full DVD player I can only watch through my computer's DVD drive so I'm not sure I can catch all the hidden goodies. It's certainly hard to watch a tour film without resonances of This is Spinal Tap, Texas does capture the individuality and camaraderie of the old friends who constitute TOFOG, the devotion of the fans (including ones I met while waiting on the line to buy tickets at Irving Plaza), and the dynamism of the live performances, including rarer songs. A version of the CD is showing at various film festivals around the world.

Other Tracks

Review coming shortly!

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