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Mixed rock

Jocobono just wanna have fun; Mistle Thrush's new Silt

by Brett Milano

[image] Ask a member of Jocobono what kind of music they play and you don't have to worry about not getting a straight answer. "Cock rock. That's what we're good at," responds bassist Mike Welsh. "It's pretty testosterone -driven music, but we don't mind that. We like to drink and have fun and write fun songs; that's the whole idea of what we do. We've all been through so much bullshit trying to write certain kinds of songs. Now we do what we want to do."

Jocobono sprang up to local headline status in a hurry, but it's not as if they came from nowhere. All three of the members -- ex-Heretix bassist Welsh, ex-Orangutang drummer Todd Perlmutter, and ex-Seka (nobody inside or outside the band seems to use their label-dictated alias, Strip Mind anymore) singer/guitarist Billy O'Malley -- had played in headlining bands who happened to be falling apart at roughly the same time. Welsh hints that all three of the band's members were tired of fitting into their bands' chosen formats, and that was certainly his case with Heretix. "For me Heretix was a chance to get into a band that was doing well. It kind of legitimized them because it wasn't all the same members; they'd gotten this punk kid in the band. Part of me liked playing the big shows, but part of me wanted to revolt and do raunchier, nastier stuff. Even when Ray [Heretix singer Ray Lemieux] was on the cover of the Phoenix, I was still wishing I could be in Slughog."

Jocobono wound up getting a weekend-headliner slot at the Middle East for their very first gig and signing to CherryDisc before getting even that far. Much of the Jocobono comes from the group's first demo sessions. Which meant that a few sideways glances were cast in their direction for not paying any collective dues.

"Oh, you mean jealousy?", Welsh shoots back. "Blah blah blah, I can't really see it. We may all be pretty young [Welsh first joined Left Nut as a teenager and is now 24], but we're not spring chickens; we've all been hacking around here for a while. So the first thing [about Jocobono's success] is that I think we deserve it. But the other thing is that we didn't call [CherryDisc owner] John Horton; he called us. And we didn't call clubs who wanted us to headline, that was their trip. We want to be lowbrow and go out and open for all our friends' bands, but if clubs want to pay us money, we're not going to argue with them."

There's a lot of loud music on Jocobono, though it was recorded before the band had settled on a particular sound. So some of it's more-or-less alternative (the opening "Goddess" has a Nirvana-ish hook; a cover of the Laughing Hyenas' "Wild Heart" has a doctored vocal à la NIN). There's some serious bluster metal at one extreme, garagy dumb-fun metal at the other. (There's also a 33-minute bonus track that repeats the entire album -- a trick Welsh readily admits he stole from the Supersuckers.) I'll go with the dumb fun myself, which means skipping past the locker-room outbursts of "Leave" and "Ripped Off" and instead heading for "Last Call at Foley's," an instant anthem that celebrates that local ritual and ends with a sincere plea for a six-pack to go.

Welsh suggests that the band are going in that direction, and recent shows have borne him out. "We'll do anything that entertains people. We'll dress up like chicks -- I've been doing that forever. I work at Jerel Roberts's hair salon, so I dressed like a girl when I was in the Heretix."

Hold on a second -- Jocobono are cock rock, but they play shows in drag?

"Sure. We smash up our instruments, too. You get so tired of going to clubs and seeing bands who look bummed out. It's this PC college-radio crap, this whiny little attitude. Who wants to see that? You should be going out to see a freakshow. People around here think it's cool not to smile, and they need to be loosened up."


I've always been a sucker for dramatic contrasts; give me a pretty female voice and I'll invariably want to drape it in the raunchiest guitars that can be found. I heard a version of that sound at Mistle Thrush's CD-release party recently, and it was a good one -- with singer Valerie Forgione, who is a walking definition of "ethereal," pitted against a toothsome guitar back-up. The sound was especially surprising, since Mistle Thrush initially seemed to have the lightest and poppiest touch of all the nose-ring and black-tights bands in town (note how we've avoided using the G-word, which never quite suited them anyway).

That sound wasn't fully captured on Mistle Thrush's just-released Silt (on Bedazzled), which leans toward a softer and lusher sound. But this time they've come up with enough melodic ideas to pull it off, relying more on songcraft and less on Forgione's still-grabbing voice. Although the songs are less overtly pop (running as long as nine minutes), there's a much-developed sense of structure and dynamics. I compared their first disc to ABBA; I'll compare this one to Renaissance -- perhaps an equally uncool reference point, but a band who did some lovely and mysterious work in their time.

"Mystery is an important thing to us. I'm sure that if we sat down and tried to write a punk-rock song, it would still come out mysterious," Forgione says over the phone. "Tapping into the mystery of music is the beauty of it. As a lyricist I like to be vague about what I'm saying, so I'm not telling people what to think or feel. The lyrics tend to be visual for me, and I like paintings to be abstract too. I'd rather look and see something weird than say, `Oh that's a painting of a vase.' "

Initially Mistle Thrush were often lumped together with sirensong and Opium Den, but now they seem to have outlasted both bands (the former recently broke up, the latter are on indefinite hiatus). And Forgione's still not sure which clique they belong to. "We've never been goth enough for goth bands, or indie enough for indie bands. We have the discussion all the time about whether we're goth or not, but to me that just means taking yourself too seriously -- and we've played with bands like that: shrouds of velvet, incense and candles. Our old guitarist was pushing us more in that direction [Scott Patalano is the current ax man]. Now we're really five people with five different tastes in music. The only thing we have in common is that we're all huge Beatles fans."

Finally, one of Forgione's secrets. If you're at one of the band's shows take a close look at her between songs, because that's when she gets really nervous. "I have a big phobia about speaking in public, so when the song stops, the fear sets in -- partly because I'm very comfortable about music and less comfortable with myself personally. That's something I've been trying to work on, but when you're that way, you're just that way."


The weekend before last will undoubtedly be remembered for the return of that fab quartet who entertained us all in a bygone time -- who seemed gone for good when one of their members was killed but beat the odds by getting back and rocking one more time.

I'm told the Beatles did something that weekend as well. But the Rat that Saturday belonged to the Dogmatics, the quintessential fun-lovin', beer-drinkin' Boston combo who played their first gig since a break-up prompted by the 1986 death of bassist Paul O'Halloran in a motorcycle crash. The one-time-only show tied in with the release of Dogmatics 1981-1986 (on the West Coast-based Shredder label), which includes both their EPs along with four bonus tracks, plus liner notes (by singer/guitarist Jerry Lehane and band friend Kate Roper) that do a good job of capturing the group's spirit.

As did the show, which found various O'Halloran sibs, cousins, and friends augmenting the surviving trio. (As for the sound, it was summed up by an awestruck Juli Kryslur, former manager and now Shanachie staffer, who was in town for the occasion: "They sound . . . exactly the same." Although their covers were nearly all rockabilly, the Dogmatics' originals were proudly unpolished pre-hardcore punk. And they weren't above a joke like "Teenager on Drugs" (to the tune of Dion's "Teenager in Love," of course). Digging up nearly everything in their repertoire, the Dogmatics still took good-natured pokes at everybody, from the skinheads in Kenmore Square ("Hardcore Rules") to people in really deep, meaningful relationships ("Pussywhipped"). Best of all was "Drinking by the Pool," where the band invite you along for an unpretentious good time -- though they do warn that "We're drinkin' Miller, Bud and Bud Light, too/We saved the Old Milwaukee for you." Good to see the Dogmatics roll out the barrel once again.


More bands to the CVB (Castle von Buhler) label, which is known for its Soon and Anon compilations. Turkish Delight are definitely in, with two more bands heard on Anon likely to follow. Co-owner Cynthia von Buhler also reports that a third compilation is in the works, and that her own Women of Sodom are making their own disc for the PussyKitty label.


Melissa Ferrick from Atlantic, after the excellent debut Massive Blur and the pretty good follow-up Willing To Wait. Ferrick's World Wide Web site reports that she's beginning work on her third album anyway, leaning toward a loud, rock-trio sound.


She's Lauren Agnelli from the late-'80s folk trio Washington Squares, he's Dave Rave from the Canadian band Teenage Head. Together they're Agnelli & Rave, and they support a fine new CD at Kendall Café tonight (Thursday). The Elevator Drops are back to find more people to piss off at the Middle East tonight; Jorma Kaukonen hits the House of Blues  . . .  Lloyd Cole brings his literate pop to the Paradise tomorrow (Friday); Rue Loper, Blau Zur, and Crazy Alice are at the Causeway, Lydia Lunch and Exene Cervenka support their politically righteous Rude Hieroglyphics album at T.T. the Bear's, St. Chimerae are at the Middle East, and Rippopotamus play the Tam . . . San Francisco weirdos Thinking Fellers Union Local #282 are at T.T.'s Saturday, Black #9 and Big Bad Bollocks are at the Rat, Young Neil & the Vipers hit Johnny D's, the Flaming Lips are at Mama Kin, and 6L6 play their "last show till next year" (i.e., they're taking a couple weeks off) at the Middle East . . .  The cocktail trend claims another victim as the temporarily renamed Martini Farmer play Bill's Bar Tuesday . . . And the martini-favoring but hard-rocking Swank hit Axis on Wednesday while Janet LaValley and Fledgling are at the Middle East.

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