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Making things obvious has just never been Hot Snakes' style. "Hi-Lites," from 2004's Audit in Progress, provides a great example of this MO in action. The song begins with a shivering, impetuous guitar line that sounds like it's desperate to break out of a confined space and go skyward. When those nimble, uneasy notes finally escape, they tear off wildly, and the rest of Hot Snakes' instruments jump in and follow this path. Don't, however, expect Rick Froberg to try to translate the special quality of this frenetic yet weirdly subtle song into words. "I wouldn't bother," says the guitarist and vocalist with a laugh. "I wouldn't know how to describe it. I mean, that's the thing about playing music: You're not much with words — [otherwise] you'd be an author or something."
He sells himself short with that perspective. "Hi-Lites" reads like an abbreviated William Carlos Williams poem dedicated to city-based shut-ins who are sick of the overwhelming, garish vibes of metropolitan life. "High treble! Hi-lites!" Froberg shrieks, sounding, in a very good way, like he's a few thousand tools short of a hardware store. The only other words/phrases recited in "Hi-Lites" are "Decor, decor: pink," "Strobes," and "Don't intervene," rendering it a brilliantly composed skeleton that both paints an abstract portrait of excess and leaves lots of room open for interpretation. But like his take on the sounds of "Hi-Lites," Froberg offers little about his words. "The lyrics are more to create some sort of picture. It has no overt meaning. They just kind of match the feeling of the song or whatever," says the man who speaks in a soft mumble on the phone but sounds totally uninhibited on the mic.
On one hand, the lack of new insight is disappointing, given that the San Diego-bred act bombards you with bizarre, bold imagery (both lyrics and cover art) and gasoline-soaked rock 'n' roll that rarely reveal their backgrounds. On the other, it should come as no surprise, since they're very much about letting their disquieting, dissatisfied music doing the heavy lifting. Nothing else is as necessary.
The Phoenix show is part of Snakes' short West Coast-centric series — one of their longest tours since their reunion last year. (They originally ran from 1999 to 2005, until bassist Gar Wood decided he didn't want to do the band anymore.) Froberg talks about this group as if it isn't anything especially noteworthy. Granted, he now has Obits (notably, Snakes guitarist/vocalist John Reis also has The Night Marchers), and perhaps the initial novelty has worn off, but still, this is the reformation of a sharp and underappreciated band. "We just play and have a good time. There's no plans to record or anything like that," Froberg says in short order. "It's a reunion."
When asked about what he thought when the band's breakup was solidified, he says, "I guess that's that." (You can hear shrugging if you listen closely.) They reunited for likely reasons: Snakes' profile increased in their absence, they got a healthy payday, and it had been a while. (They'll probably break up again after this year.)
He can't pinpoint any substantial differences between Hot Snakes and other bands of their style, and when asked about memories he associates with this group, his only specific story is the time they played in Detroit and saw the northern lights. Froberg isn't much for thinking too much about the band's legacy, either. "People always take away what they take away, and ever since I've been playing music, it's always a surprise — or sometimes, it's not a surprise — but it's very rarely that something that people will pick up on is what you're trying to do or get across," he says. "But why they should they [take away what I want]? It doesn't matter what I want people to think of it. Once you put it out there, it just does what it does."