The Boston Phoenix
December 18 - 25, 1997

[Music Reviews]

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Paradise Found: The Elevator Drops, The Upper Crust, Roadsaw

In the genre-savvy world of Boston rock, cross-pollinated bills like last Friday's high-profile gig at the Paradise with The Elevator Drops (electropop), the Upper Crust (AC/DC-ish hard rock), and Roadsaw (metal) are something of a rarity. Then again, you could fit all of 'em under the rubric of bands who have eked high art (well, at least big kicks) out of aggressively not taking themselves too seriously.

Rock-and-roll dionysians Roadsaw were the bill's sacrifice to the cruel gods presiding over those unfortunate shows that start before most people get home from work. Once upon a time Roadsaw were heavy-metal apologists -- instead of writing really smart songs about how dumb metal is, they wrote bigger, dumber songs about how much fun metal is. And then they added a self-conscious blush, the musical equivalent of the look a kid gets when he's caught with his hand in the cookie jar (or in his pants). The surprising subtext of their humor was a kind of guilt -- though with their new Nationwide (Curve of the Earth) giving Fu Manchu a run for their money for needle-in-the-red monster-truck rock, they seem to have gotten over that.

Well, almost. "I don't know why I wrap myself up in tinfoil," quipped guitarist Daryl Shepard, looking down at his gaudy silver shirt. But by and large they came headlong with a defiantly rockist charm that was best exemplified by their mammoth proto-psychedelic dirge "Black Flower," in which singer Craig Riggs -- who's perfected the crucial art of throwing a full beer in the air and catching it without spilling a drop -- bellowed such timeless declarations of resistance as "Loud as I wanna be . . . as long as I wanna be." The evening's best exchange came when, in response to a call for requests, someone shouted, "Play something good!" Bassist Tim Catz stood his ground: "Nope. No way." "This is rock and roll," philosophized Shepard. "It's all bad."

Shepard's shirt had nothing on the Upper Crust, the reigning monarchs of rock-and-roll satire, who just may turn out to be the best joke of the decade. Dressed as always in powdered wigs and knickers, and keeping their foppish dialects intact, Lord Bendover and company (minus Lord Rockingham, who -- no joke -- is off writing foreign-policy speeches for Bill Clinton) proved that their dead-on portrayal of rock star as 18th-century nobility remains a supple and limber gag. One might hasten to add that, given the Crust's upcoming gig opening for some real-life rock royalty (Aerosmith) at the FleetCenter on New Year's Eve, the line between the satirist and what he's making fun of is wearing a bit thin. Their recorded efforts to the contrary, the Crust are a formidable live band, and since you can't see Jackie Kickassis fan himself after every song on disc, they remain a gag best experienced in the flesh.

And of course for three bands with astute wits, the plight of the Paradise -- which is closing for a month as a result of last month's Everclear fiasco, when Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe and his teammates introduced "stage diving" into the lexicon of sports radio -- proved too big a target to pass up. The Crust had the best response. "We heard that the Paradise was going to be closed down, so we wrote a song about it," smirked Lord Bendover, with his characteristic 18th-century blueblood erudition. "It's called `Paradise Lost.' "

But the night's real revelation -- and surprise wild card -- was The Elevator Drops, whose reputation as arch pranksters prepared few for an onslaught of arty gadget-pop weirdness. The Drops' second disc for Time Bomb, People Mover, is hard to get a handle on. Vaguely new-wave and littered with a wide spectrum of non sequitur pop references from the Who to T. Rex to U2 to Kraftwerk, People Mover finds the Drops sounding just a little too smart for their own good. But on Friday it all coalesced -- like a cross between Jonathan Fire*Eater and Devo, prep-school robot zombies with a maddeningly assaultive light show. And though plenty of what came out of the speakers was canned, the constriction of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard established a much-needed sonic continuity -- even if it was, in loose sense, taking jerky new-wave pop to places it was never meant to go.

-- Carly Carioli
[Music Footer]

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