Outta this world
The Strangemen's single hits the beach
by Brett Milano
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
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.
JANOVITZ SOLOSo 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
POUNDCAKE BREAK-UPAdd 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."
NEW BARRENCEBarrence 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.
COMING UPBig 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.