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Outta this world

The Strangemen's single hits the beach

by Brett Milano

[The Strangemen] The Strangemen are like most other surf bands in Boston . . . except maybe for the foot-high hairstyles and silver day-glo uniforms. And the Amazon dancer who joins them at every show. And the way they veer off into rockabilly, spy music, and proudly cheesy sci-fi soundtracks. And their claim to be from outer space. Other than that, they're perfectly all right.

"We're not able to divulge our full origin," notes lead singer Captain Ernest Summertime, a man who never breaks character. "We come from the future, from a place called Noman's Land. We were surfin' a riptide and got caught in a time pool, which deposited us here. In our passage through time we developed our new personas here, albeit our hair has changed. There are other rumors about us, that we're the bastard children of Elvis from outer space. These also need to be investigated."

You get the picture, and you can probably tell why these folks are fun to see live. For starters, they spend more time dressing for a gig than most bands spend playing. ("We do require a separate vehicle for the hair," Summertime reveals.) Their next show is set for Valentine's Day weekend at Mama Kin. But can they deliver the goods on disc? Their just-released single, "Hitch Hike UFO"/"Killer Wave," says they can. The A-side is a blatant but nifty Cramps homage, the flip a blatant but nifty homage to Dick Dale's "Mr. Eliminator." Guitarist Del Champion (pun duly noted) and drummer Johnny Odd provide plenty of propulsion. If you really can save the world through garage grind, outer-space scenarios, and bitchin' tremolo, rest assured that the Strangemen are on the case.

Since most of their songs concern the three big S's -- space, sex, and surfing -- I ask Summertime what the connection among them might be. "Well, they all require extreme physical ability, of which we have no shortcoming. We're not the kind of band that adapts a stage persona, then you see them off-stage and they're regular guys in thrift-store clothes. It's bigger than I am; it's a way of life. When you're a Strangeman, you can do anything and still be strange." Letting a bit of context slip through, he reveals a possible source of inspiration. "Our hair really comes from Kate Pierson [the B-52s' singer, you'll recall]. Or if you read the credits of the first B-52's album, it says `Hair by LaVern,' so maybe we should be thanking her. We're thematically influenced by everything from Brian Epstein's designing uniforms for the Beatles to Devo's matching hairpieces. We take a little bit of everything; we want to be the masters of recycling pop culture."

At the moment the Strangemen are negotiating with managers and lawyers, in hopes of realizing their dream of making their debut disc a CD-ROM. Meanwhile they've gotten some support from another source. "We've been in close contact with Sammy Davis Jr., channeling his voice and his spirit. He really digs us; in fact, he said, `What a scene, babe.' " Can't ask for a more fitting recommendation than that.


So who started the rumor that Bill Janovitz's solo album Lonesome Billy (out this week on Beggars Banquet) is a country album? It's definitely a step away from Buffalo Tom -- more in terms of arrangement/production than songwriting. It's also more experimental and acoustic. But it ain't country, unless the occasional presence of steel guitar and harmonica makes it so. The opening "Girl's Club" shows the direction he's gone. The song itself is right up Buffalo Tom's alley, both for the tune and for the lyric (romantic loser gets self-depreciating: "The things she said to me/`You sure ain't no Kennedy' "). But instead of the power chords you'd hear in a band version, the setting here -- with brushed drums, feedback, and overdubbed vocals that don't quite synch -- give it a woozy, late-night feel.

Other tracks are more surprising, like "Ghost in My Piano" (an accordion/chant instrumental that reminds me of the Clash's weird-Western moments) and "My Funny Valentine" -- yep, the Rodgers & Hart one, which he treats more menacingly than Elvis Costello did. The one outright country song, "Strangers," brings the Rolling Stones to mind, notably their drunk studio jams that turn up on bootlegs. Janovitz's songwriting knack holds all this together, and he tries some new vocal approaches. "Shoulder," a nice acoustic tune, may be his most understated lead yet. And for good measure there's "Gaslight," a rocker that could pass as a new single by his regular band. In short, if you couldn't stand to wait another few months for a new Buffalo Tom album, now you've more or less got one.


Add Poundcake to the list of bands who packed it in when the rocking was good; despite the strong critical reaction to their Q Division album Aloha via Satellite (which made a few 10-best lists, including mine), they'll play their last gig tomorrow (Friday) night at T.T. the Bear's Place, co-headlining with Papas Fritas. The break-up was instigated by singer/guitarist Clayton Scoble, who's fronted the band with ex-Cavedogs singer/drummer Mark Rivers. The latter is clearly less pleased about it. "It's less a shake-up than the Cavedogs split because I'm older and wiser, but I'm a little disappointed," said Rivers last week. "Clayton wants to be a solo songwriter; it pretty much comes down to that."

"Ultimately, that's true, but I'd hate to say it was one-sided," Scoble says in a separate interview. "I know Mark felt it was a little premature. We got along really well, but I need to be the dictator. Maybe not that, but at least the one who stands up front and does all the singing and songwriting. Maybe I'll suck, but I need to find that out."

As for Rivers's next move, he says that "it's hard, because a singing drummer is a bit of an odd commodity. I haven't decided whether I want to be a drummer in someone else's band or pick up a guitar and sing." Anything special planned for the last Poundcake show? "Haven't thought about that yet, but who knows. Maybe I'll set my drums on fire. Or maybe I'll set Clayton on fire."


Barrence Whitfield has another band, but for the first time in his 12 years of gigging, they aren't called the Savages. Instead, he and the new line-up (which retains only drummer Ducky Carlisle from the last incarnation) are going out as Mogambo Twist, sporting a guitar-centered sound rather than the usual sax and piano. I caught the new group's debut at Johnny D's two weeks ago, and they turned out to be right in the Savages tradition. Material was still weighted toward screamin' crowd pleasers like "Caveman" and "Georgia Slop," though they kicked back mid set and played a couple of the rootsier numbers from Whitfield's two albums with Tom Russell. (The Stax-style version of Lucinda Williams "I Just Want To See You So Bad" was a standout.) You also get more Barrence for your buck, since he can now catch his breath by doing a softer number instead of leaving the stage for an instrumental. He and the band are heading off to Europe for another tour, and the possible producer for the next album is longtime friend and Los Lobos frontman David Hidalgo.


Big fun is guaranteed when Dash Rip Rock play Mama Kin tonight (Thursday); Jerry Lehane's Hornets open. Boy Wonder and the Sky Heroes are at Bill's Bar, Roadsaw and 3 1/2 Girls are at the Middle East, the Pills and Vision Thing are at the Attic in Newton, Jack Frosting and Motorbaby are at T.T. the Bear's Place . . . The Time Beings and Doom Buggies are at Club Bohemia tomorrow (Friday), Gigolo Aunts play Bill's Bar, Karate and New Radiant Storm King are at the Middle East, Frogpond and Jennyanykind are at Mama Kin, Young Neal & the Vipers are at Harpers Ferry, Monster Mike Welch plays the House of Blues, and the fab five, Beatlejuice, are at Johnny D's . . . The Dirt Merchants play upstairs at the Middle East Saturday while Goldfinger perform downstairs; Trona and Serum are at the Attic, D-Con headline the Rat, and Chainsuck play an early show at Axis . . . New Orleans bar-hoppers Royal Fingerbowl play Green Street on Sunday . . . Merrie Amsterburg and ex-Story member Jennifer Kimball are Todd Thibaud's guests at Bill's Bar Monday . . . Downset play the Middle East on Wednesday.

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