Gut Check

Half of Less Pain Forever morphs into the minimalist Lovers of Guts. But does the one-man band have the stomach to perform solo?

Minimalism. The term has spawned more run-on sentences by pinheaded writers than any other movement. And yet no written word has ever allayed suspicion in this pinhead that there is little more than shuck involved in any minimal installation. In music, when the dread word minimalism rears its head, it generally means one of two things:

1. A pretentious piano player whose "keyboard treatments" involve repeating the same series of notes over and over so that the listener is too euthanised to notice that the sequence has changed by a semi-quiver.

2. Punk rockers who use The Ramones as an excuse to not learn any minor chords or guitar solos extending beyond two notes.

Less is more: Chris Pomerenke is the sum total of Lovers of Guts, and he prides himself on his spare sound: "When you leave a little less, it's like giving a kiss on the cheek for a first date, instead of someone trying to grope you."
Todd H. Lillard
Less is more: Chris Pomerenke is the sum total of Lovers of Guts, and he prides himself on his spare sound: "When you leave a little less, it's like giving a kiss on the cheek for a first date, instead of someone trying to grope you."

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Plays at 9 p.m. every Sunday, and opens for the Poster Children at Nita's Hideaway on Thursday, July 4.
Emerald Lounge

Somewhere between these polar opposites, you'll find the one-man band, who, by virtue of his solitude, is expected to reduce the bells and whistles but often feels compelled to overcompensate by placing some crash cymbals between his knees.

Christopher Pomerenke is the closest thing Phoenix has to a one-man band. In Less Pain Forever (formerly Lush Budget presents The Les Payne Product), Pomerenke sang and played drums and keyboards simultaneously. Two months ago, he suddenly found himself a limited company when the other half of Less Pain split to New Jersey to be with the girlfriend he met on the band's yearlong RV trek across the U.S. Guitarist James Karnes has been in bands with Pomerenke since the early '90s, so when you consider all the time they spent together, compounded by a year of close-quarters RV living, it isn't far-fetched to wonder if Pomerenke is gigging solo because the two hated each other's guts.

"Not at all. Never. Not even like a Fuck you, you're being a dick,'" says Pomerenke, as we settle into Chez Nous for a nightcap. Ironically, the band working onstage is Street Life, a great three-man band that does the work of a six-man R&B outfit.

"We never even raised our voices at each other," Pomerenke continues. "I wasn't thinking about it, but I realized that's exactly what we needed to do."

While the band continued to talk about regrouping, there didn't seem to be any deadline as to when Karnes was moving back to Phoenix with his girlfriend to restart Less Pain Forever. Faced with an empty calendar, Pomerenke immediately began booking shows as Lovers of Guts, a name bandied about as a Less Pain side project for years. The name stems from a phone miscommunication he had with Jim Andreas of Trunk Federation and Down With Buildings.

"We were talking about bands from the early '80s, and Jim said his favorite band from Phoenix was called Lovers of Guts," recalls Pomerenke. "I thought to myself, that's the best band name anyone could ever want. About a month later, I asked him what was that band like, that Lovers of Guts, and Jim said he never heard of them. . . . So James and I have been kicking that name around ever since. . . . It seemed to represent a lot of things to me. Not to be cheesy, but it kind of represented acceptance. Acceptance of your innards. And my great-grandma used to say, I hate your guts and your liver,' so it's a combination of that."

Pomerenke wasn't sure if he had the stomach for performing solo, which explains why he hides behind a group moniker and tells audiences, "We're Lovers of Guts, and we're gonna try another song for you."

"I really had no idea what I was gonna do when I booked the Lovers of Guts shows, if I was gonna do guitar or piano or get a drummer to sit in," he admits. "I didn't even have any songs written. I kind of had it in my head that was I gonna do a drums-and-piano thing, but I didn't leave much to time to practice. And I realized just having one free hand to play the keyboard is like cutting the song in half."

Instead, Pomerenke's choice of instrumentation is a simple Horner Pianet T, the same electric piano used by Rod Argent in the Zombies. And as for the ever-important beat, there is the business of his one tapping toe, which can sound like a well-placed pop on a vinyl record if the club is sufficiently hushed.

Chill-inducing quiet seemed to be the reaction to some of Lovers of Guts' earlier sets. Take his first gig opening for the Hypnotwists, the house band at the Emerald Lounge.

"It sounded like maybe three crickets rubbing their knees afterwards," he laughs. "It's really scary when I get done playing and it's quiet. I feel like I'm responsible for a little bit of the tense atmosphere. I just hope it doesn't leave the club and spill over into fender-benders and broken noses."

Pomerenke is a little too enamored of his underdog status to admit that, out of the dozen or so shows already under his belt, he's been able to reach people on an intimate level that Less Pain Forever's epic song structures never allowed. Take the sensitive emo audiences who never quite got Less Pain, because the band's songs were too carnivalesque and just plain happy for their moody palates. With Lovers of Guts, they hear a lone piano player and the sound of one toe tapping and connect with what they believe is the poignant content of Pomerenke's songs. Even if it is a sentiment as crass as "Some of these people really creep me out/I can't stop rolling my eyes" or "My words hang around like kids in the mall," it's not hard for listeners to exclaim, "Hey, he's singing about us!"

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