You'd think Lee Burik, guitarist and co-founder of the San Francisco quintet evening, would have already gotten his fill of meeting people. Not only is he in a buzz band on the cusp of national recognition -- which brings around the requisite fans, friends, friends of friends, groupies, hangers-on, stalkers, journalists, music-biz types and others -- he drives a cab six nights a week and somehow squeezes in a bartending job as well.
Apparently, though, all of that interaction with humanity just wasn't enough for Burik. He also felt the deep-seated need to become the City by the Bay's official greeter. Mind you, this isn't a government-sanctioned position -- the gig didn't even exist until he suited up for his first day on the job several weeks back.
"I obsessed over the idea for a few years," Burik explains. "I paid this girl 200 bucks to make me this really nice wool robe, it's like a Jesuit robe, and I got this old bell from England on eBay. Then I made this big scroll that said I was the town greeter, and I came up with these little cards to hand out with random things printed on them like 'The sidewalk is always grayer on the other side of the street,' stuff like that, and I went down to the Golden Gate Bridge."
San Francisco may have a famously high tolerance for freakiness, but Burik's stunt didn't exactly go over so well. "I had this big wooden box that I was gonna stand on, so I'm walking across the bridge with it and this cop rolls up and says, 'Okay, what's in the box?' And then he's like, 'I've had tourists coming off the other end saying they think there's a terrorist on the bridge.' Basically he told me that I could walk to the end of the bridge but not to pull any shit.
"So I went to the end and set up my box and started ringing the bell and bestowing good luck upon people, and right away this police helicopter comes and the cop pulls up and he's like, 'Goddamnit, you made me lose my lunch break!' There were cops everywhere and they were asking me who I was and who I worked for and on and on, and I was just trying to explain that I'd been obsessing over this idea my whole life, and that I had this big show the next night so they had to let me go. And finally he was like, 'All right, I'm gonna escort you off this bridge, but if you ever try this shit again, I swear you're going to jail for a long time.'"
Okay, so that fantasy was quashed in fairly short order, but things are looking much better on the music front for Burik and the other gentlemen of evening -- fellow guitarist Patrik Sklenar, singer Matt Rist, bassist Zach Brewer, and drummer Brian Kim. Nearly seven years after Burik and his San Francisco State University pal Sklenar formed the band, its lineup is finally steady; evening's lately gotten opening stints with Interpol, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Hot Hot Heat, and, currently, stellastarr*; and a riveting full-length debut, Other Victorians, came out in February.
The album pits grandiose glam swagger against dusky, shoegazery noise-pop like two wily animals in a cage; they circle one another, parrying for structural and melodic dominance, then tumble together in a blurred embrace of flamboyant vocals, otherworldly electronic fragments, rugged rhythms, filmy keyboards, slow-leaking guitar wooziness, and jagged, stormy riffs. Rist's voice stakes a high-pitched middle ground between Suede's Bret Anderson and Supertramp's Roger Hodgson, while the music crashing around it is something akin to early Pink Floyd meshed with Sonic Youth -- "piper at the gates of brawn," if you will. The lyrics, meanwhile, offer a glimpse into the disconsolate atmosphere in which the album was written and recorded.
"We came up with a lot of the songs during a really dark period for the band," Burik says. "There was drug use . . . our singer got hit in the head with a lead pipe and had to have a metal plate put in his face, plus his dad tried to commit suicide -- he shot himself in the face and lived through it so [Rist] had to see his dad with half a face. And then his girlfriend moved to Los Angeles, and then he became a speed addict because he was so fucked up. So when we recorded that album, he was really fucked up and it just, uh, it was bleak. A lot of the songs are very much about those experiences."
Having weathered those tough times helps in putting the occasional bad review or snide comment in perspective, Burik notes. Though the response to Other Victorians and the band's robust live set has so far been overwhelmingly positive, he says that Rist's voice has been called "annoying"; that evening's been deemed a "faggy art band" by some fans of Lookout! Records (the venerable Berkeley pop-punk label, which signed evening as part of its roster diversification efforts); and, most annoyingly, that they've been slagged by a handful of critics as "too Radiohead-ish."
"I just think that any band that's somewhat artistic nowadays, people automatically lump it into the Radiohead category. It's pretty hard to dodge that. And I'm a big fan, but I don't sit around copying Jonny Greenwood's guitar licks all day."
"I won't deny that hearing bad stuff can kinda be frustrating sometimes," he continues. "So can lugging your amp up some stairs in Peoria when you're hung over from the last show and you know you're about to play for like one person. But then you get an e-mail saying, 'Your record is the soundtrack of my life right now,' or we play a packed show and everyone goes nuts, and that's what keeps you going. When you're onstage playing, it's better than any drug. There's nothing comparable. And we all want to be doing that for a living -- I, for one, don't wanna spend the rest of my life driving cabs."
Letting go of the greetership thing, no matter how successful evening may get, is a different matter entirely.
"Yeah, I might bring my outfit out on tour," Burik says, laughing. "Gotta keep the dream alive!"
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