Rhythm and News
New Orleans music news and reviews.
July 21, 1997:
As tough as it is to see a good thing go, you can't argue with an evolving artist. And if disheartened fans listen well, they will understand the motivations behind Bob Pollard's new sound. In 10 years of helming Guided by Voices, Pollard has constantly tweaked his lineups, shuffling through an amazing 51 personnel combinations. With 1994's Bee Thousand, Pollard produced a gem that won the ardor of all lo-fi music lovers lucky enough to get good reception from the nearest college radio. Surreal and sad yet laden with delectable hooks, the album's brief songs were cut off at the ends and strung together with little transition, leaving only the juiciest parts for a mystical thrill.
After he produced two more EPs and various smaller works chock full of this winsome melancholy, it is little wonder Pollard was up for a change. He'd mastered lo-fi, and the 39-year-old was ready to rock -- with the help of some friends. Pollard recruited members of Cleveland glam-rockers Cobra Verde, a band he had been grooming since he saw its first show on a Scat Records tour three years ago.
"It was a building process," says guitarist John Petkovic. "I think it was bound to happen; it just so happened that it came down now."
After only six practices, Cobra Verde was ready to hit the stage with 40 of Pollard's songs. Learning the tunes was easy for the members of the seasoned, tightknit CV, who share Pollard's sensibilities and understand his vision.
"Bob is really easy to work with," says Petkovic. "There's no ego."
The full-length product of this charmed pairing is Mag Earwhig!, an ode to pure guitar rock. Songs are longer, the static has cleared, and production is more polished. But the album is still nicely GBV-ish, with plenty of quirky, cosmic recipes for synthesizer. In a characteristic feast of creativity, previous members and guest players contribute and everyone plays a variety of instruments. The result is a diverse and wild patchwork of sounds made cohesive by a driving new energy fans should come to welcome.
Apparently, people are adjusting. Album sales so far have exceeded prior efforts, and a video for the rock blitz "Bulldog Skin" has become a fixture on MTV's 120 Minutes. Guided by Voices' energetic shows, which include several selections from Bee Thousand and random picks from Pollard's vast attic, are garnering multiple encores.
Petkovic, a freelance writer and horse race columnist by day, is unfazed by the group's growing popularity. Above all, GBV remains dedicated to art -- and to a focus that humorously encompasses big rock antics and attitude. "We're wilder now," says Petkovic cheekily. "We're sustaining more injuries, passing out on couches and stuff like that."
Despite the evolution in style, GBV still hangs layers of absurdities like a veil over deep strains of woe and yearning. The namesake of this album, the earwig, bears this out. Like good music, this funny little insect is capable of slipping into your ear and carving an irrevocable path through your mind. With Magnificent Earwhig!, Pollard continues to carve away. ...
Call it the David Lee Roth syndrome. When a successful band and its attention-getting singer part ways and focus on different projects, there's only room on the charts for one of the resulting factions. So far, the Maniacs' former focal point, Natalie Merchant, seems to have gained the upper hand thanks to a couple of sluggish singles from her debut solo outing, Tigerlily. So the remaining Maniacs, now fronted by Mary Ramsey, have the cards stacked against them. And having eschewed the poppier, edgier material of the last Maniacs album in favor of a lush, Sunday Morning vibe, the band clearly isn't aiming for the top of the pops. The new Love Among the Ruins is promising. Ramsey's fine voice shines on "Rainy Day" and a cover of Roxy Music's "More Than This," and the band's deftly turned-out soundscapes manage to avoid drifting into background noise on the lilting title track and the smile-inducing "You Won't Find Me There." Backed by such guests as Jules Shear -- an underrated Dylanesque singer/songwriter -- the Maniacs have produced a solid, if not particularly dynamic, blueprint for the second half of their career, as long as they continue to play to their strengths and move out of the musical shadow of their former incarnation. Rating: Worthwhile -- K.M.
The Hi-Fives at Mermaid Lounge
Question: What looks like the Dave Clark Five and smells like a bottle of your grandfather's favorite aftershave? Answer: The Hi-Fives. While the group's latest platter might not be on your parents' turntable, this is one band that prides itself on being squeaky clean enough to take home to mom. So wholesome, in fact, that kiddie-punk megastars Green Day asked the lads to open a few stadium shows for them and their army of 11-year-old fans. The winners of last year's "Best Alternative Rock/Pop Band" in the annual Bay Area Music Awards are the reigning kings of two-piece-suit punk. And the Hi-Fives have been playing their patented brand of revved-up rock to packed crowds around northern California since their earlier incarnation as the Ne'er-Do-Wells. But this past year the guys have been expanding their audience and steadily creeping up from college radio slots onto the commercial alterna-airwaves. What's behind the Hi-Fives hoopla? A listen to And a Whole Lotta You!, the band's latest offering on Lookout Records, brings up a few of life's ever-baffling questions: Are they pop? Are they punk? What's a nonstop frug-out? And, if retro's dead, why are these guys still dancing? The Hi-Fives hit New Orleans this week before they join up with buddies the Mr. T. Experience for a tour of Japan. Expect swank thrift store stylings, flying neckties and frontman John Denery's dapper spazoid dance. The band loves playing live, and it shows. Showtime 10:30 p.m. The Rex Pistols open. -- C.W.
Hovercraft at Jimmy's
Hovercraft's stage show may be the Alternative Nation's final answer to '70s art-rock pioneers such as Pink Floyd and King Crimson, although attendees are just as likely to find the band a throwback to such progressive music purveyors as Kraftwerk, the Residents and Can. Hiding behind mock-futuristic stage names like Sadie 7 and Campbell 2000, the members of Hovercraft don't so much make music as perform an ongoing aural experiment, usually against the backdrop of an accompanying film presentation. In fact, inasmuch as the group doesn't have a singer and its music doesn't follow conventions -- like breaking down into individual songs, for instance -- it's a bit of a stretch to refer to Hovercraft as a `band' in the traditional rock sense at all. But unlike some of the above-named outfits (not to mention a lot of today's "techno" music), the results of the Hovercraft experiment don't sound like something cooked up in a laboratory. Press materials are suspiciously tight-lipped about the fact that the band has been known to feature Mr. & Mrs. Eddie Vedder in past performances supporting former Minuteman Mike Watt. Whoever's on board, however, fans of eclectic rock should be on hand when this craft lands at Jimmy's tonight in support of its recent album, akathisia. Showtime 10 p.m. -- K.M.
Women in Jazz Revue at Snug Harbor
Three young women jazzers -- saxophonist Rebecca Berry, vocalist Karen Williams and trumpeter/singer/songwriter Sarah Kramer -- will take over the stage at Snug Harbor tonight. Some of you might have caught a couple of these players sitting in at nightspots like Donna's or performing at the Sandbar on the University of New Orleans campus. Pianist Michael Pellera, a hugely talented veteran, will supply a solid bottom on piano. Berry and Williams have been honing their skills as students in the UNO jazz department. Showtimes 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. -- G.W.
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