Rocks Off

It ain't heavy, it's the unclassifiable thunder of Freudian Slip

It was one of those moments that tested the limits of nostalgia.
See, last year MTV was hosting its second in a series of "Where are they now?" '80s retrospectives, this one dedicated to heavy metal. Catching up with war-horses like Kevin Dubrow and Kip Winger was a queasy enough proposition, but the real breaking point came when Lita Ford--insufferably schlocky diva of the lite-metal, hair-band era--sat on the beach and bemoaned the disappearance of "real" rock 'n' roll (and, presumably, the corresponding Amelia Earhartlike MIA that her career has become).

Ford asserted that the '90s rise of alternative music had squeezed out "rock," and she let us all know that she was "pissed off about it." Clutching her beach towel for solace, she offered the hope that starved rock 'n' roll fans would soon have their music back.

Of course, if Lita Ford's head hadn't been buried deeply in the sand for the past several years, she would know that hard rock hasn't gone anywhere, it's simply rid itself of major impurities. It's excised the cheesy, power-ballad-driven, mousse-abused, pay-to-play subgenre that L.A. inflicted on us a decade ago via Poison, Mstley CrYe, Warrant and their sorry peers.

Unlike those bands, the '90s breed of hard rockers takes its cue not from the mascara and flash of KISS, but from the technical prowess and dark, brooding spirit of Black Sabbath and the first wave of metal. That spirit resurfaced in the maverick attitude of Metallica and can now be found in the work of Pantera, Helmet, Tool and others.

In a way, Freudian Slip is the perfect example of heavy rock's metamorphosis. This Mesa trio plays metal the way nature intended--hard, brutally tight and vaguely menacing. Clearly, they're into music for the music, not as an excuse to squeeze into bulge-revealing spandex.

Their catholic musical tastes tell a lot of the story. Drummer Jason Graham is deeply into jazz, bassist Paul Schneider--the son of two band directors--admires classical, and singer/guitarist Christian Henry shows his Tennessee roots when he reveals that he almost started a country band in '95 just before launching Freudian Slip.

Saturday, July 5, provides the biggest-yet showcase for Freudian Slip and its brand of heavyness. The band celebrates the release of its second CD, Involuntary Pelvic Contractions, at Electric Ballroom in Tempe along with seven other local bands that it hand-picked. It adds up to a night that Electric Ballroom owner Jim Torgeson calls "a kind of local Lollapalooza." Torgeson anticipates an audience of about 1,000 to pack the place.

This will be a crowd unconcerned with musical categories, but dedicated to getting professionally rocked on a weekend night. If the line separating "alternative" from "metal" has become seriously blurred in the less-judgmental '90s, that's perfectly fine with Freudian Slip. During a break from rehearsal at Henry's home/band headquarters, the members considered their place in the '90s music labyrinth.

"We don't even say," says Schneider when asked how they classify their sound. "We just say come see us and you can tell us."

"Back in the old days, it was fine," adds Henry, a Marine reservist since the '91 Persian Gulf War whose buzz cut needed not a whit of trimming during a recent two-week hitch in Virginia. "Now classification is basically obsolete. There are so many people calling the same types of music so many different things, none of the classifications mean anything."

Freudian Slip's eclectic roots can be traced all over its latest batch of tunes. The hair-trigger drumfills that animate the thick funk of "Screwed" suggest that Graham has more than a passing acquaintance with Buddy Rich. Schneider's harmony vocals are stranger and more complex than your average metal band would muster, and Henry's Beatles fixation subtly slips into the hookier material, such as the unusually hyper title song.

The band credits local engineer Larry Elyea at Mind's Eye Digital Studios with getting a sound that's "100 times better" than the debut CD it recorded in San Francisco at a considerably higher cost. Elyea helped accentuate the band's live, mosh-friendly clamor: a natural rumble of thunderous bass chording, chain-saw start-and-stop guitar riffs and reverb-drenched vocals that conjure some foggy nightmare.

Not to say that Freudian Slip is completely above the adolescent salaciousness that defined the '80s hair bands. The CD's lead song, "Wet"--originally conceived as a hidden track until the members realized how much they liked it--is the tale of a guy who experiences more than his share of nocturnal emissions. The CD's title refers to a magazine ad the band saw that proclaimed masturbation to be a sure-fire weight-loss method ("Watch the pounds fly off through involuntary pelvic contractions"). Even the band's name derives from Henry's admiration for Freud's sexual theories.

Yet when sexual fantasy rears its head on Freudian Slip's material, the effect generally avoids the nudge-wink cutsiness of something like Poison's "Unskinny Bop" (hadn't thought about that song for a while, huh?). Henry and cohorts have an eerie way of making even their most lighthearted lyrics sound brooding and scary. For that reason, it's perversely hilarious to hear Henry boom, like a Dante in the pits of hell, "My boxer shorts are soaking wet."

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