Before we dip into the treasure chest of sound this month, let me tell you to go see the Fastbacks. Simply one of the best bands ever to emerge from the Pacific Northwest (that means Seattle). That's at Boston's on Tuesday, with Jeff Dahl. And, on the home front, Idols of Perversity (useta be Tao Overstreet, remember?) are throwing down the Fender gauntlet. The Idols will give a brand-new Stratocaster--I think that means it was made in Japan--to the person who can play a one-minute guitar solo better than the band's own lead ax-slinger. The first ten badasses to sign up get to try their luck, and the winner will be judged by applause. That's Saturday at the Mason Jar; be there at 9 p.m.
And now, on with the bloodshed.
I'll admit it. I was a little scared when I put on Crown of Thorns' tape Loneliness Is Black. The first cut, "My Love Is Pain," begins with an ominous wash of guitar noodling; I could almost smell the fog wafting out of the dry-ice machine. Then the thing kicks in like a sonofabitch. This is good ol' head-bangin' metal played by four guys who speak the language quite well, thank you. My only gripe is that vocalist Patrick R. Flannery sounds like he's doing a David Lee Roth impersonation, right down to the Ethel Mermanesque vibrato at the end of each line. But, hey, it's a damn fine David Lee Roth impersonation! C.O.T.'s material, while not breaking any ground in the originality department, packs a mighty wallop, and should make for excellent ear-bludgeoning live. Call 423-9891.
Box of Cherries' latest project, Stuff, is carved from the rarely used genre of novelty bubblegum pop. I can't tell you what the songs are called, 'cause the titles aren't on the tape, but there's more than one song about life from a dog's point of view. And one tune begins with a guitar intro followed by a burp. But let me say this: The Cherries can write a hook, play in the grand tradition of the Rubinoos and the Records, and their harmonies aren't too shabby, either. My only question is: What's with the goofy lyrics? Call 360-7625. I've got to hand it to Clock People; this band really knows how to put together a promo package. I received a lovely, orange cardboard box with "My School Things" written on the side, and a sticker that read "Property of Bobby." And this is what it contained: a pocket calculator, cassettes of Billy Joel, the Eagles, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Disco Super Hits, a tampon, two crayons, a nail, a penny, a pink highlighter and a tube of Polysporin. Oh, and Eddie's Space Time Continuum, the People's new four-song tape. Is that bitchin' or what? All Serene Dominic gets are threatening phone calls! So, about the music: The People womp out a pretty decent batch of catchy brood-pop, sort of in the realm of Smithereens or the Connells. No, I'm not gonna say R.E.M. The song "17" stands out to my ears, with a chorus that rock critics who use trite, hackneyed adjectives would call infectious. Sometimes, the vocals turn a little self-consciously stern, particularly on "My Head," but I'm sure a few beers would solve that problem. For the singer, not me. I hate to admit it, but the cassette box, which I assume had a phone number on it, melted in my car and I threw it out. If the Clocks call me, I'll print it next week. Sorry.
Is there cause to tout the Uncommon? This Phoenix quartet's slick-sounding tape is reminiscent of bygone corporate rockers like Hootie and the Blowfish. So it's not surprising that singer-songwriter Michael Alossi's tunes are a little too common and generic for comfort. Unimaginative song titles like "Never Give Up," "Life Goes On" and "She's Got a Way" pretty much reveal the paucity of ideas at work here. Plus, using already-used-up titles only draws unfair comparisons to beloved rock classics--in this case, "Time" and "Mother." Unlike Lennon's bitter song of the same name, Mike Alossi's "Mother" is about how his mom did the best she could for him. Since it's poor form to say anything bad about one's mama, we'll skip over to "Time," which doesn't have any groovy clocks at the beginning and is about Mike deciding it's "time for me to be a man." Why not just call the song "To Be a Man" or "'Cause (It's Time)," for Chrissakes? "Does Anybody Know" has nice harmonies, but also has a guitar so heavily drenched in chorus effects that it makes the whole song sound out of tune. The tape's insert has a cheeky reminder for listeners: "Support local music--especially us!" A worthy sentiment, to be sure. But although there's nothing to outright hate about the Uncommon, for now, there's also too little to support, either. (No number.)
Even if you don't support the dark, heavy-metal musings of Tempe's Plaidstone, you've got to admire the band's shrewd marketing savvy. The group's five-song EP, Normal Avenue, is not being sold in stores, but comes free with the purchase of a Plaidstone water pipe. Not to be confused with a bong, kids. Most bands think they're hot shit if they have two-color tee shirts, right? Yet how many bands have their own water pipes? Gotta be a first. This strategy seems a little suspicious, though, like when Cheech and Chong urged you to go see their unfunny movies stoned. According to Plaidstone's bio/pipe hype sheet, it's the group's goal to "raise every emotion possible--anger, love, fear, desire." What about giddiness, glee and the penchant that most stoned people have for laughing like hyenas at the most common everyday occurrences? For that, you can play the mock-dramatics of "God Given" and hear the nearest approximation we have locally to William Shatner singing "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." The group does better on the other four tracks. Plaidstone houses four writers/vocalists, so any random tune could start out sounding like Blind Melon and end up like Megadeth. These contrasts provide Normal Avenue's best moments, but since New Times was not furnished with a "reviewer's pipe," we had to arrive at this critique more or less straight. If you need another reason to be simply mad about Plaidstone, this is the first aggregation since the Bay City Rollers to be tartan-clad onstage. I-yi-yi-yi just can't wait to see them play in Tempe some S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night! For band and pipe information, write to P.O. Box 876, Tempe, AZ 85280-0876.
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On the folky side of the street, there's Gas Giant and the Outer Planets. Essentially the work of one Dan Downing, this vanity tape is aptly named The Vanity Tape. He sounds a little like Arlo Guthrie with Gary Lewis' limited range. For folk-rock, these songs are quite busily arranged, with digital keyboards. Also, Dan (I can't bring myself to call a grown man "Gas") tends to cram too many words into a line to make his point. But he sounds like a pretty sincere guy, and turns in several amusing observations like "Life is hell when you're a pinball machine." That, incidentally, is a song sung from the viewpoint of, yes, a pinball machine. Need something a little more--well, human, perhaps? "Domesticland" finds father Downing happy with his lot in life ("Boink the babe, teach the kids to shave, walk the dog in the rain"), but possibly extends the truth when he says he loves his wife to the hilt "with all 12 inches"! Somebody grab the Vanity Measuring Tape! Call 482-3447.
You're probably never going to hear Richard Dance's bar-bandish Demo on the radio, so, in a sense, he's more alternative than most alternative acts working today. But any nightspot with a two-drink minimum would gladly welcome this Dance music. Richard's four-song tape sounds somewhat like Huey Lewis and the News, if a sedate Jerry Lee Lewis were singing with 'em instead of Huey. The white-boy funk begins with "Fat Chance," a tune about two professional musicians of opposite genders trying to make a little music on the side. Even so, yuppies will instantly identify with the line "I gave her my business card, but I wanted a kiss." Even though Dance says he's 38 on "Wee J T," that's not stopping him from putting the moves on some 22-year-old tail. While others his age are getting in touch with their inner child, or with their feminine side, Dance is urging every sweet young thing to get in touch with his male side. Richard Dance sounds as horny as 76 trombones, so girls, beware--left to his own devices, he might try to give you a demo that has nothing to do with these four songs. Call 833-1183.
Last April, a six-song tape from Feel came in the mail and got a less-than-enthusiastic reception from yours truly. Now those same six recordings (possibly remixed or with other parts added) come with another nine tracks on a new CD, Zulu Time. Has inching six months closer to senility mellowed this writer or has Feel improved like sharp Cheddar cheese? Possibly both. The stuff that reminded me of Jane's Addiction ("What") still sounds great. The stuff that reminded me of Marty Balin ("Hero") merely grates, and the stuff that I was straddling the fence on benefits from the improved clarity of CD technology. As far as the new songs go, "Feel (Live Version)" is the best of the batch, heavy in a Zeppelin-Creamish sort of way, and "Emotional Fixtures" is not far behind. Well-played, and well worth inspecting live. Call 224-5568.
Another round and digital slab of music comes to us courtesy of Glendale's Difference Engine. Normally, synth duos are keyboard nerds who can't get other human musicians to flesh out their icy, antisocial ideas. The best moments on the band's CD, Connected, are when real drums and wires are being struck instead of octapads and DX1s. That's just a personal preference, but if you like the sound of a mosquito landing on a pocket calculator, these guys do the combination progressive rock/techno thing better than any aggregation I've chanced upon in Phoenix. One minor gripe: Whoever mixed this CD seems to favor keyboard voicings over human ones, so it's hard to know what these songs are about. One thing's for sure: It's not about sitting cozily by the fire with a warm glass of milk and cookies and a good book. It's the future, so get ready to feel uncomfortable! (No number.)