Upper [band photo] Crust

We tried to think of the worst idea for a rock band we could, and a band of foppish 18th-century degenerates popped out."

So said Lord Rockingham in a March 1996 article explaining the birth of the Upper Crust. Exactly when this Archimedean event occurred can only be guessed at. However, based on published accounts, we are able to piece together this rough timeline. Mind you, this version of events differs considerably from the official biography of the band.

In a hurry? Jump on down to your favorite year: 1995, 1996, or 1997,


Spring or Summer: Local Boston band The Clamdiggers -- five Boston rock veterans described variously as "A New England version of the Beach Boys" or "surf rock with a nod toward Satanism" -- are returning home from a gig at Cape Cod's Beachcomber club. Drummer Jim Janota and bass player Marc Mazzarelli, having indulged in the liquid portion of the band's pay, somehow hit on the idea of a band composed of faux nobles. Egged on by bandmates Ted Widmer, Dave Fredette, and trust-fund beneficiary Nat Freedberg, the Upper Crust begins to take shape.


January: On the 14th, The Upper Crust perform at the Middle East in Cambridge. The concept has been carried out to the extreme: the band play in powdered wigs and velvet knickers, and their songs depict the difficulties of life at the top. The members of the band have adopted stage names better suited to this new combo: Lord Bendover (Freedberg), Lord Rockingham (Widmer), the Duc d'Istortion (Fredette), the Marquis de Roque (Mazzarelli, a/k/a Marquis Mark) and Jackie Kickassis (Janota). The Boston Globe reports "they rock like the Dickens."

February/March:The Crust play more gigs in Boston (at Venus de Milo) and in New York City (most likely at Brownies). Conan O'Brien, a Harvard classmate of Lord Rockingham, catches the New York show. This leads to...

April: The Upper Crust appear on Late Night with Conan O'Brien on the 24th (along with Penn & Teller and Larry Holmes). They are one of a handful of unsigned acts to appear on a late-night talk show.

Summer: The Crust continue gigging to packed houses, including an appearance on the third stage at the Massachusetts Lollapalooza show in July, another show at Brownies on June 16th, and an appearance at a street fair in Central Square in Cambridge. They are also featured in a layout in Vogue. Meanwhile, they record their debut CD, Let Them Eat Rock, and shoot a video for the title track.

September: Let Them Eat Rock is released on the Upstart label, part of the Rounder records group. The band also receives a proclamation (30k) -- and the key to the city -- from the Mayor of Cambridge! The Crust also perform live on the Pipeline radio show, though most of the songs they do aren't on the new album. However, a goodly number of them later turn up on the second release a couple of years later.

October: A record release party for Let Them Eat Rock is held on Friday the 13th at the Middle East. The Boston Herald reports that the evening includes a "posh pit:" a cordoned-off area with plush easy chairs and brandy snifters into which only those with the appropriate pedigree and attire are admitted. The Crust play at Brownies the following night, arriving in a horse-drawn carriage according to Time Out magazine.


January-February: The Upper Crust embark upon a scattershot national tour, visiting such locales as Philadelphia, Washington DC, Raleigh, Tuscaloosa, Austin (appearing at the annual SXSW indiefest), Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis and Portland (Oregon and Maine!). The Upstart records press release described the event thusly:

The Upper Crust Present:
An Evening Of Rock

Consider yourself lucky to be invited to such an extravagant display of power chords and powdered wigs. In a most gracious fashion, Lord Bendover, the Duc d'Istortion, Lord Rockingham, and Jackie Kickassis have deigned to grace your miserable little town with their magnificent presence. The philosophy of the Crust is simple. As Lord Bendover puts it, "The upper classes have done everything better for so long that they can certainly rock 'n' roll harder and more steadfastly than the lower classes, due to superior breeding and education." To those who say the rich cannot rock, we say balderdash!

The tour culminates in what could only have been a regal homecoming with a gig at Boston's legendary Rat at the end of February. It is interesting to note the absence of the Marquis de Roque in the press release above. While it was most likely an innocent oversight, it proved to be prophetic.

March: On March 22nd and 23rd, two nights of rock celebrate the release of a two-CD set featuring numerous Boston-area bands' live performances (including the until-recently unavailable Crust track "Ne'er Do Well") on a long-running college radio show. The shows took place at the Middle East and T.T. the Bear's in Cambridge. According to a report in the Boston Phoenix,

...the Upper Crust's set offered, shall we say, a new dimension in audience participation: a bout of fisticuffs between Nat "Lord Bendover" Freedberg and some audience members. A repentant Freedberg declined comment last week, but the Upper Crust's label reports that he's apologized to all concerned and promises not to beat up any more audience members.

In the wake of this brouhaha, bassist Mark (Marquis de Roque) Mazzarelli leaves the band.

April: A new bass player is found practically right under the upward-pointing noses of the band: Chris Cote, co-founder of Upstart, joins as Count Bassie and makes his debut at a few gigs North of the border. The Count also performs vocal duties on Minuet and Gold Plated Radio in the absence of Lord Rockingham, who is not able to make the trip.
The previous month's dust-up, however, apparently convinces Boston-area club owners to declare the Crust rabble rousers, ne'er-do-wells, and personae non grata. (In New York, of course, they would have immediately been asked if they were available next weekend.)

June: The Boston Globe reports the departure of the Marquis de Roque. Furthermore, Nat (Lord Bendover) Freedberg says the band has been on hiatus. The article adds that "the Crust intend to make album No. 2, with or without the backing of Upstart, their Cambridge-based label."

July: Signs of life from the Crust, as they again play at Brownies in NYC and are said to be recording tracks for a new album.

September: The Upper Crust headline two -- count 'em -- shows at Brownies on Friday and Saturday, the 20th and 21st. Both shows are packed with peasants, or "ill-bred persons" as Count Bassie puts it. On a personal note, these are your web serf's first Crust shows.

December: The Crust return to Brownies on the 7th. Despite the fact that it's Pearl Harbor day, no Rickshaw jokes are forthcoming.


January: Leaving the comfort of Brownies behind, the Crust play two NYC-area shows on the 11th and 12th. The Friday show is on the Frying Pan, a rusty old ship turned nightspot. (Coincidentally, one of Nat Freedberg's earlier bands, The Titanics, covered a Captain Beefheart song called "Out Of The Frying Pan." However, the song is not resurrected for this evening's performance.) The next night's show is at Maxwell's, across the river in Hoboken, NJ. T-shirts are on sale with art (42k) by one Stephen Fredette (the Duc d'Istortion frère).
A brief article appears in the Boston Globe's Calendar section discussing the Frying Pan show and relaying some other tidbits, such as the fact that the band has had few (if any) Boston gigs since the Middle East conflict. Lord Bendover doesn't sound especially homesick, however: "We're celebrities in New York City. They're hungry for glam-rock, which is what they think we remind them of." Bendover finds the Boston fans to be "a bunch of yahoos in baseball caps." [Memo to self: don't wear baseball cap to future Upper Crust shows.] In keeping with these views, it's rumored online that Lord Bendover has actually moved to New York. The Globe article does not address this, but according to one source Bendover is spending about half his time in New York and half in Boston.
The Globe does mention that the second album is "in the can" (but there is no indication of when or by whom it will be released), and that the Crust will be featured in the March issue of English music magazine Mojo.
On the 25th, the Upper Crust play their first Boston-area show in months at O'Brien's in Allstonia --er, Allston.

February: The band's international fame grows as the March issue of Mojo appears on newsstands in the U.K. and elsewhere. The band appears in a suitably decadent photo with half-naked women and a bearskin rug. Under the headline "The Rakes' Progress," the article is favorable in tone and concludes with this mission statement from Lord Bendover: "Rock'n'roll should be funny and stupid. I should like to be in the position where I could bless the entire world with music. The poor struggling masses should not have to suffer longer without our shining gift." The article and photos will be available here shortly.
In an unrelated development, the newest Upper Crust website formally launches!

March: The month comes in like a royal lion as the Upper Crust once again roar in to Brownies on the first of the month. The club is packed, and one latecomer reports that the line to get in extends to the end of the block before the show is officially declared a sellout. Inside, the Crust bring the house down. By the time they get to the encore, though, an unusually obstreperous Lord Bendover is unable to fully recall Rock & Roll Butler, stopping twice in mid-song to regroup.
In the days and weeks following this show, word filters in from various parties that there was a pretty messy fight within the band immediately following the performance. At the very least, strong words were exchanged and there was pushing and shoving. Some punches may have been thrown as well, though I can't say whether any of those punches landed.
The following day, the Crust (sans Lord Rockingham) head for the hinterlands of Brooklyn to tape the intro for a
Comedy Central special called "Town Hall". The show premiered on March 12; the Crust wrote and performed the opening theme (featuring an all-too-rare lead vocal from Le Duc) and appeared briefly in pre-taped segments before and after commercial breaks.

April: An ominous development: a gig scheduled for the 25th of this month is cancelled, and rumors of the band's breakup are swirling. Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, but breakup or no breakup it's clear that the band hasn't settled the argument(s?) that broke out following the March 1 show. One positive note: a tape of a new Upper Crust album is floating around.

July: Mysterious and not-so-mysterious e-mail received by your weblord confirms that a new Upper Crust release is indeed on the way, hopefully in the fall.

August: Official confirmation that the new Upper Crust CD will be released by the Emperor Norton label sometime in October. Meanwhile, Lord Rockingham gave a solo recital on August 2 at Brownies. Unfortunately your weblord was out of town and is unable to provide a review. (Did you go? e-mail me!)

September: First word of the first Upper Crust gig since the March kafuffle comes by way of an e-mail schedule received by a visitor to this site. The Middle East in Central Square, Cambridge, lists a November 1 Upper Crust "record release" show. New York City shows are tentatively set for October 30 and 31st. (No word yet on whether the Crust will dress as commoners for Halloween.)

Please direct all enquiries to your Web serf, crust@juvalamu.com.

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