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July 31 - August 7, 1997

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Blue Cheer

Plexi make goth rock

by Carly Carioli

[Plexi] In the middle of a breathtaking set by Plexi earlier this year at T.T. the Bear's Place, someone in the audience lobbed a question up to bassist/singer Michael Angelos: "Hey, where'd you guys come from?"

"Hollywood," he smirked. "Can't you tell?"

Shoulda known. In retrospect, the look is a dead giveaway -- glitter goth just screams Hollywood, its hyper-real appropriation of the sleaziest and most decadent aspects of the American dream synonymous with Tinseltown's Babylonian excesses. Angelos (born in Beverly Hills, grew up in Hollywood) and his fellow LA-bred bandmates, guitarist Michael Barragan and drummer Norm Block, capture that sordid, beautiful, depressing aura and turn it into sublime sonic poetry.

Not many people got to hear that when Plexi's debut, Cheer Up, came out on Sub Pop last year. Within weeks of its release, the band found themselves caught in the middle of a well-publicized shake-up at the label that led to the firing of several long-time staffers.

"It was really weird," recounts Angelos, over the phone from Hollywood. "One of the main reasons we signed to Sub Pop was that we'd made a bunch of friends up there. And when all of that stuff happened, we very much knew everyone that all that stuff was going down on. And on top of that, it happened right as our record was coming out, or within the first month or two, which made the album sorta vulnerable."

The good news is that Cheer Up has been given a second life by Lava/Atlantic, which re-released it last Tuesday. Part of what makes the disc work is that you can't quite process everything the band throw into the mix -- the refracted, spectral dissonance of Bauhaus filtered through Barragan's Spaceman 3/British neo-psychedelia fetish, a sugary doo-wah chorus breaking out in the middle of a punk drill, handclaps and bubblegum hooks launching "Roller Rock Cam" from pulsing meditation into stratospheric teenage joyride overdrive. And overstimulation, of course, is way Hollywood.

"I think on a lot of levels growing up in Hollywood desensitizes you to a certain extent," says Angelos. The band are in California getting ready to play the black sheep on a tour with Sugar Ray and Smashmouth that hits the Middle East this Saturday. "If anything, it gave me a sense of show business, a heightened sense and awareness of the aesthetics behind what you're doing creatively," Angelos continues. "Both Michael Barragan and Norm had that same sense of showmanship, and we all have a good time playing with all the various rock-and-roll archetypes. Being from Hollywood definitely has given us that, and maybe less of an attachment to any one specific genre -- more of an appreciation for all these various aesthetics. One minute we're almost more glam, the next minute we're almost a little more goth."

A lot of the time they're something different altogether. Even the album title, Cheer Up, is only partly tongue-in-cheek, since that's sort of what they do to goth with Angelos's star-studded pop hooks and Barragan's sci-fi guitar effects. "Ordinary Things" playfully ridicules goth's melodramatic melancholy: "You like depression, you hate the sun," Angelos sings tenderly, almost like a lullaby. "You like the romance, having no one." Ultimately he's sympathetic, of course.

"When I was 16, 17," he explains, "I was in a black dress with black dreadlocks with the black lipstick and the whole thing, going to all the underground goth clubs in LA and that was like what I was -- you know, fishnets around the arms and the whole nine yards. And that has played a very important role for me musically. The goth is something that is just sorta there, I think it's like an underlying thing. There's always gonna be a darker slant to whatever this band does.

"My favorite bands have always been bands that you could never really put your finger on what they were doing. I always sorta realized that a pivotal moment in my life was when I was about 14 and I went from listening to Iron Maiden to getting turned on to Bauhaus and Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground. That completely changed my whole musical outlook. And my lifestyle."

As a friend of mine likes to say, Plexi kinda sound like what Bauhaus would've sounded like if they'd actually listened to Spiders from Mars-era Bowie instead of just covering "Ziggy Stardust." They not only make connections among glam, goth, space rock, and sleazy punk, they make them make sense in a way that no other glam, goth, or glam-goth bands have in recent memory.

(Plexi play the Middle East with Sugar Ray and Smashmouth this Saturday, August 2. Call 497-0576.)

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