Good Year for Bad Days

It's an archetypical Western story.
Four earnest young cowpunks pile onto a bus and set out on the hardest road they can find, looking for life and adventure and irony. Along the way, they make people laugh and dance. They find unexpected success, then return home with an empty gas tank and a hero's welcome, only to be sucker-punched and wake up face down in the street with wallets missing.

Then like any prototypical Westerners, they get back up to do it all over again.

The story could be cast in a lyric by Roger Clyne, lead singer and songwriter for the Tempe rock band the Refreshments, and it would chart their rapid ascent during the past two years and sudden stall over the past two months.

The band charmed Tempe with its danceable, upbeat rock tunes, full of heartbreak and smartass, then took its first major-label CD, Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, well up the charts, spiking a single named "Banditos" (with its bad-attitude refrain, "Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people").

The Refreshments toured the continent, earning a quirky following that seemed a subset of Jimmy Buffett's Parrotheads, made the right TV appearances, sold a song to a TV show, sold another to a movie soundtrack, recorded a second album.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Refreshments returned from 14 months on the road and played a sold-out, kick-ass show at the Cajun House in Scottsdale, "happy to be home and well-rehearsed," as one band member put it.

Then came the one-two sucker punch.
Through bad luck and bad management, they lost a spot playing at the Tostitos Tempe Fiesta Bowl Block Party and then got dragged into court over it.

And early this month, Mercury Records let the band's recording contract lapse, unimpressed by the flagging sales of its second CD, The Bottle & Fresh Horses. The critics liked the second CD for its more mature content; the fans apparently liked the band's cantina-rat persona and didn't want the boys to dry out and grow up just yet.

Through a corporate management shuffle, the Refreshments had lost their champion at Mercury. No one seemed to remember the band's potential, the numbers of its first CD, the excitement of its concerts.

That's not enough to keep four good men down. While it shops for a new recording company, the band is holed up in its practice studio in Tempe, writing and rehearsing new songs, then airing them out in the same little clubs where the band got its start.

There had been an omen in the chorus of the Refreshments' latest single, "Good Year," a song that Mercury released against the band's better judgment. And it bombed.

It's been a good year for bad days
or a bad year for good days,
well, here we go again now
here we go again now.

"We're happier being independent," Clyne said bravely last Sunday night at the Yucca Tap Room, where the band put on a free, impromptu show. Then as always, good times or bad, the boys turned the amps up loud and brought down the house.

On Christmas night at Gibson's in Tempe, a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd patiently waited for the Refreshments, through the sets of two bands.

A Refreshments concert is a joyous, sardine-packed sing-along, and if everyone has his or her arms in the air, it may be as much for lack of space as for dance rhythm.

Singer-guitarist Roger Clyne has puppy-dog good looks, brown hair that falls along his face and down his neck. He wears big bright Hawaiian shirts--especially one with a 1940s version of a racy lady dressed in a strapless bra--that drape over the frame of a "healthy 159-pound American boy," as he sings in one song.

Singing, for Clyne, is often a tuneful shouting that wracks his shoulders and contorts his face. He taps time on his amp with a big, floppy Jack Purcell sneaker. He bounds and bounces or leaps Springsteenlike, with his back to the audience, legs tucked to one side, guitar counterbalancing on the other. His charisma beams through the room; blond co-eds stare at him longingly.

Bassist Buddy Edwards, his head nearly shaved, bounces nearby; drummer P.H. Naffah stares intently from beneath a baseball cap, pounding relentlessly. All three flail and throb, so that the whole group would be in danger of levitating if lead guitarist Brian Blush weren't so steadfastly anchoring the other side of the stage.

Blush braces himself in a corner, in a Western-sequined jacket and a black 10-gallon Stetson, eyes closed, smiling blissfully, occasionally busting a minimalist Chuck Berry duck walk, and pumping out the big raw guitar licks that start and end nearly every Refreshments song.

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Michael Kiefer