It's a common syndrome.
Great live party bands, when put in the clinical confines of the recording studio, often just don't cut it. It's easy to see why. Live performance and recording require very different skills. Manic energy and fierce commitment can carry a live show, but they rarely survive the translation to disc. The recording process puts a premium on craftsmanship and strong, distinctive material, and many funksters simply never learn the difference between a groove and a song.
On the surface, Fred Green seems to be the ultimate local example of a band that must be experienced live to be understood. Yet its new album Groover actually makes an even better case for this band's musical mastery than its sweaty, orgiastic live shows.
In a way, Groover differs little from the band's 1996 debut, Dillywagon. It's a series of tight, funky noise reefers that jerk in and out of tortured time signatures, loaded with drummer/singer Chris Peeler's subtle and not-so-subtle celebrations of the sacred herb.
What makes this album such a pleasant surprise is the way it expands upon both Dillywagon and the band's live performances. For one thing, the trio takes advantage of the studio to achieve rich and complex vocal harmonies it only hints at onstage. As a result, "Dome Light" emerges as not merely a midtempo funk exercise, but also a beautifully soulful vocal showcase for Peeler, bassist Ben Gilley and guitarist Todd Minnix.
But, ultimately, Fred Green is about rhythm, the "groove vibe that keeps us alive," as it says in "Dubble Bubble." The band seamlessly finds connections between reggae, Led Zep, P-Funk, aggro and bebop that 311 is still trying to negotiate.
These restless rhythmatists put all their assets in one place for "Utah Marshall," probably the finest track they've yet committed to record. Opening with a strangled Primus bass line, the song downshifts into a mellow jazz groove, and finds harmonic bliss in the chorus, even as the lyrics target narrow-minded authority ("When the straight and oppressive can stand in your way/Strong and quite unimpressive, in resistance I find my own way"). Elsewhere, Fred Green strikes more irreverent stoner poses ("Dope," "Hybachi"), but no song makes its rebellion sound quite as noble as "Utah Marshall." It's the perfect proof that this band is every bit as comfortable in the studio as on stage.
I always disliked Soul Asylum. Way before I resented Dave Pirner for dating Winona Ryder, I resented him for clogging rock's underground railroad with music that aped the Replacements' essence, but added nothing of its own. Back then, I could rationalize that those second-string Mats served no purpose and only distracted the masses away from the real thing.
Now that the Replacements are mere pop history, and the solo Paul Westerberg sounds little like his former self, the idea of a Replacements-inspired band holds a lot more appeal (as long as it's not the Goo Goo Dolls).
The Piersons don't sound that much like the Replacements. They put their own spin on the boozy, rambunctious rock that the Mats patented. For instance, "Lightnin' Speed" is more nakedly Stones-inspired than the Replacements usually dared to be. And the whiplash drone of "India" recalls nothing in Westerberg's canon.
But, like the Replacements, the Piersons are cocky losers who know it's lonely at the bottom, but don't really want the company anyway. For them, heaven is an empty barstool, and breakfast comes in a bottle. Even when singer/guitarist Patrick Sedillo reaches out for solace, as in the last-drink lament "Got It Made," he gets stuck alone at the bar, more depressed than ever.
Ultimately, what lifts these guys above the Mat Pack is their sure songwriting touch. Never overwrought or pretentious, they offer quick emotional snapshots of isolation ("Just Like Now"), existential nervousness ("Sometimes, Sometimes") and sexual paranoia ("Tease"), put a fast beat underneath and get the hell out before the idea wears thin. They've even got their pop-culture references down ("Walking down Bleecker/Well, I didn't see Dylan"). Best of all, as the jangly, slide-guitar-laced "California Eyes" confirms, these guys have a way with a hook.
Zig Zag Black
Full Wave Rectifier
Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt, but it's been known to sire some glassy-eyed apathy on occasion. Try spending a few years with the same person. Before you know it, you're liable to start feeling like your skin is camouflage gear and your voice is in a frequency no longer audible to human ears.
That's what the members of Zig Zag Black are up against. They've been a consistently solid presence on the local scene for so long, some people forget they're around. Having weathered the 1994 death of founding guitarist Mike Venell and outlived several barometric shifts in the music industry, they just keep pounding away, nowhere with more relish than on their third album, Full Wave Rectifier.
Zig Zag has been around long enough to see hard rock go from the unfashionable domain of spandex-clad crotch stuffers to a legitimate wing of so-called alternative music. The album's best cut, "Julie," shows what the band has learned from the alt-rock revolution.
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In contrast to the band's usual frantic syncopations, here it gets behind a driving, punky rhythm with big-muff guitar dynamics sharp enough to rival Kurt Cobain's. This song sets the band's catchiest tune to a eulogy for a misunderstood girl who "lived in a different dimension." It's easy to hear both this song and the album's dark coda, "Twenty Seven"--with printed lyrics "suppressed by artist"--as final, tortured goodbyes to Venell.
These guys know about different dimensions. They've occupied their own space on the local scene for ages, and now they almost willfully stand apart from the happenings on Mill Avenue. If Full Wave Rectifier doesn't qualify as a major sonic breakthrough, it is the sound of a band that won't go down without raising a ruckus.