Mitch Easter is a legendary cult figure in the world of pop music. Since the late 1970’s, his Drive-In Studio in (Winston Salem) North Carolina, production genius, and sense of melody and hooks when it comes to guitar-based rock ‘n roll have been unrivaled. He worked with Chris Stamey and Will Rigby in Sneakers before The Db’s were born. He produced or co-produced (w/ Don Dixon) the seminal early R.E.M. recordings (“Radio Free Europe” 45 on Hib-Tone, “Chronic Town” EP, “Murmur” and “Reckoning”) and set them on their way to superstardom. He’s worked with Marshall Crenshaw, Velvet Crush, Game Theory, The Orange Humble Band, The Someloves (with Australian pop wizard Dom Mariani), and countless others. And his own band, Let’s Active, was one of the great college radio/pop groups of the ’80s, releasing one EP and three LP’s on the IRS label before calling it quits in 1989–but not before he left us with one of the truly classic singles of the decade, “Every Word Means No.”
Mitch is touring behind his first new album of solo material in 18 years, “Dynamico,” and played The Social last night with his trio in downtown Orlando. Though the hairline has receded (a lot of us can say that) and my girlfriend thought he now looked a little like Gene Wilder, the Rickenbackers rang truer than ever and he delivered a fine set composed of equal parts new LP, classic Let’s Active material, and a couple of inspired covers: The Hollies “Pay You Back With Interest” and The Small Faces “Song For a Baker.” But here’s the sad catch–the audience numbered no more than 20 people or so, including relatives of the opening band, Big Kitty. This happened to me a couple of years ago at the same club when Squeeze co-founder Glen Tilbrook came through town on a solo tour and hardly anyone showed up. It’s simply mind-boggling and quite pathetic–not one peep out of the Orlando Weekly or Orlando Sentinel that Mitch Easter was playing in town for a measly $10 on a rainy Sunday night, and no effort at all to attend from the friends and old Peaches co-workers who surely remember his music.
And we wonder why “nobody good ever plays Orlando anymore,” or “how come there’s never any music worth seeing?” Disappointingly, I rest my case…