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[Cellars]

Wake-up calls
Ushering in the New Year; Kay does Josie

BY MATT ASHARE

The indie band Bedhead got their start out of what the Trouser Press Guide ’90s Rock refers to as “the unlikely locale of” Dallas. And until they called it quits in 1998, after three full-length CDs, Bedhead were generally thought of as that poetically quiet three-guitar band with the bearded brothers (guitarists Matt and Bubba Kadane) from Dallas. But for the last couple of years of Bedhead, Matt lived in Boston. And though Bubba’s still in Texas, the duo’s new outfit, the New Year, finds them teaming up with a familiar face from the Boston music scene — Come guitarist Chris Brokaw. Which means that Boston can certainly make a legitimate claim to calling the latest Kadane incarnation our own.

“We’re actually brothers too,” jokes Brokaw, who plays drums in the New Year and on their debut CD, Newness Ends (Touch and Go), when I sit down with him and Matt at the Joshua Tree, in Davis Square. “I met Matt and Bubba when Come were touring the US for the first time and we played with Bedhead in Fort Worth. We were like, ‘This is the best local band we’ve seen in a long time.’ So we knew each other through that. And eventually Matt moved to the Boston area to do graduate work, and I started seeing him more often. After Bedhead broke up, I asked Matt what he was going to do, and he said he and Bubba still wanted to do something, so I just sort of said that if they needed any help with it I’d . . . ”

“Now we’re like an old couple because I don’t remember quite like that,” Kadane interrupts. “It was true up to that point. But what happened was that Bubba and I were going to do another record. And I was going to play drums on it. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that if we were going to make a record we might as well play live. And if we play live, we definitely want to get a drummer, unless I wanted to pull a Don Henley. So I called Chris to see if he would want to do it.”

Whatever the genesis, the ensemble that came together as the New Year, and that will perform an early 7 p.m. show this Saturday (April 7) at the Middle East, doesn’t look all that different from Bedhead. Some of the names have changed, but the instrument line-up remains the same — three guitarists (Matt, Bubba, and occasional Bedhead fill-in Peter Schmidt), a bassist (Mike Donofrio of the band Saturnine), and a drummer, Brokaw returning to the instrument he played in the slowcore trio Codeine in the early ’90s. The Kadane brothers’ trademark sound — an unadorned mix of largely undistorted Velvetsy strum-and-drone guitars, sleepy vocals, and often elliptical lyrics — hasn’t really changed much either, with the exception of the tempos, which have become more and more varied as the Kadanes have moved on from their slowcore roots. Indeed, the disc’s catchiest track, the relatively propulsive rocker “Gasoline,” is neither quiet nor slow. But it’s a song that was written for and performed with Bedhead.

“A couple of the songs on the New Year album we actually played on the last Bedhead tour,” says Kadane. “The majority weren’t, but I don’t think there’s really any question that these would have been the songs on the fourth Bedhead record.”

So, why bother changing a name around which the Kadanes had already built a fan base?

“I think we were getting kind of tired of playing the same songs over and over again. so we wanted to make a break,” Matt answers. “Of course, just now, on the way over here, I was saying to Chris that we’ve got to learn some Bedhead songs for the tour.”

That shouldn’t be a problem what with the New Year retaining Bedhead’s three-guitar line-up, a conceit far more common in the raucous realm of Skynyrd-style Southern rock than in the dreamier domain of melancholy indie pop. “Well, Bedhead were a Southern rock band,” Kadane quips. “We had three guitars, Bubba and I had beards, and we are from the South. But it kind of came about because we started out playing with a violin player and we really liked the single-note sustain element of that. So we ended up trying to create chords with three different guitars to get the sustain you get with a bowed instrument.”

With the addition of Silkworm’s Andy Cohn, the touring line-up will actually feature four guitarists. “I think we might be headed towards Molly Hatchet territory,” Kadane jokes.

In the meantime, Brokaw remains one of the hardest-working indie-rockers in Boston. Along with playing drums in the New Year, he’s quietly been toiling away on his first solo album — “It’s all instrumental stuff, guitars and drums, basically.” He also plays on two other albums due out this year. Pullman, a post-rock instrumental quartet featuring Brokaw, Bundy K. Brown, Curtis Harvey, and Doug McCombs, have a sophomore disc that’s expected this summer and a short tour planned for September. And Brokaw plays guitar on Here Come the Miracles (Down There), the new album by former Dream Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn that’s due on June 5.

Where does that leave Come? “The plot is getting more interesting by the day,” Brokaw explains. “Pretty much all of what people think of as Come are going in the studio next week to make a record. It’s me and Thalia and [drummer] Daniel [Coughlin] and Dave Curry — and Mel Lederman from Victory at Sea is going to be playing piano. But it’s basically going to be Thalia’s solo record. It’s all her songs, and it’s her calling the shots on the arrangements, which are pretty stripped down. I don’t know what all that means in terms of Come, but hopefully we can go back to doing something more collaborative at some point.”

NEW RELEASES. The Babyface-produced soundtrack to the Hollywood teen flick Josie and the Pussycats is out on Epic, and hidden in the credits are a number of familiar names from the local scene. For starters, Letters to Cleo singer Kay Hanley is the “voice” of Josie, which is another way of saying that she handles the lead vocals on 11 of the disc’s 13 cuts, including a modern-rock update of the theme to the original Hanna Barbera cartoon and “Shapeshifter,” a tune penned by Hanley and husband/Letters to Cleo guitarist Michael Eisenstein. The tunes are, well, very Cleo-ish, in a pleasantly bubblegrungy sort of way. Which is not too surprising when you consider that Gigolo Aunt singer/guitarist Dave Gibbs, who’s been living in LA for the past few years, has co-writing credit on five tracks, Gigolo Aunt bassist Steve Hurley turns up with a co-credit on two cuts, and Q Division’s Mike Denneen produced five of the tunes at the new Q in Somerville. The most amusing fine-print detail: one song, the simple bittersweet acoustic ballad “You Don’t See Me,” is credited to nine writers, among them Gibbs, Hurley, Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz, Go-Go Jane Weidlin, singer/songwriter Jason Faulkner, and, yes, Babyface himself.

Closer to home: Calendar Girl celebrate the release of their debut full-length, [everyone but you] (Intelligent), this Saturday (April 7) with a show at T.T. the Bear’s Place. The disc delivers a playful yet driving mix of art-damaged indie guitar pop and punkier riff rock. It all comes together quite nicely on “Falling Flat,” a tunefully glammy track that sounds an awful lot like Imperial Teen, for anyone who remembers Roddy Bottum’s post–Faith No More glam-punk incarnation. And singer/guitarist Johnny Anguish sounds as if he were vying for a spot in the losercore hall of fame with his amusingly deadpan delivery of lines like “If you leave it up to me/I will disappoint you again” (“Crawl”). Calendar Girl are joined on the T.T.’s bill by Seventeen, the Decals, and Frigate.

IN THE STUDIO. Since roughly 1996, though no one involved seems able to pinpoint the date, Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz and Fuzzy’s Chris Toppin have been moonlighting in a little countrified project known as the Bathing Beauties. Originally just a loose vehicle whereby the duo could mess around with some of their favorite cover tunes (they still do a gorgeous version of “No Easy Way Down,” a Carole King tune popularized by Dusty Springfield), the Bathing Beauties seem to be evolving into a more serious band, with Dean Fisher (former Juliana Hatfield Three bassist) on drums, producer Paul Q. Kolderie on bass, and keyboardist Phil Aitken (who’s toured as part of Buffalo Tom). Last week the Beauties even spent a couple of days at Somerville’s My Generation studio, recording a few of their newer tunes.

“We like to record every year or so whether we need it or not,” Kolderie jokes from behind the mixing board in a room crowded with beautiful vintage gear (My Generation is unassumingly tucked away upstairs from Anthony’s function hall on Highland Avenue). “Yeah, and we now have more than three of our own songs,” Toppin adds with mock pride.

“When we first started this thing, we really were all very busy,” Janovitz points out. “So it was just a fun way to have a cover band.” But everyone involved seems to agree that the Bathing Beauties have turned into something more substantial. “We’re even considering changing the name now,” Toppin reveals.

Which is not to say that the individual Bathing Beauties aren’t all pretty busy these days. Fuzzy are finishing up a new album featuring tracks produced by Fort Apache’s Gary Smith and by Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, who plays guitar on some tracks. Fisher, who plays bass in wife Tanya Donelly’s band, says she’s almost done with her next solo album. And last Friday, Kolderie, who co-produced the forthcoming Go-Go’s album God Bless the Go-Go’s with Sean Slade, went straight from the studio to Johnny D’s, where he played bass with the three surviving members of Treat Her Right (drummer Billy Conway, guitarist Dave Champagne, and harmonica player Jim Fitting) at a rocking reunion show.

CLUB NEWS. Rumors of Lilli’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Somerville club, which opened in the smartly remodeled space Club 3 used to occupy earlier this year, is, however, set to undergo some major changes. According to Lilli Dennison, the club’s namesake and one of its owners, the plan is to begin construction on a full-service kitchen soon, with the hope of turning what now is just another rock club with a much nicer-than-average interior decorating scheme into something, well, a little cooler.

“I absolutely didn’t want this place to become just another nightclub,” Dennison explains. “We want to be able to do some fun, creative things here. So we’re hoping to be ready to start serving food sometime this summer. Once that’s up and going, the place is going to become what we really wanted it to be in the first place — a hang that also dishes up fine, fine live music. We just didn’t realize that you need the food element to make that happen.”

Dennison has plenty of experience in this area: she created the Monday-night meal-and-music scene that kept Central Square’s Green Street Grille hopping once a week through most of the ’90s. And her partner, Patrick Sullivan, seems to have a magic touch when it comes to the bar/restaurant/hangout thing: he’s definitely made that work at his other place, the B-Side. It won’t hurt that they’ve drafted Mark Romano, who’s been the sous chef at the Blue Room for the past decade, to run the kitchen.

So, for now, Boston isn’t losing another rock club, it’s gaining a cool place to eat — and if all goes as planned, the kind of hangout scene that’s helped make the Middle East more than just a rock club. “We’re still going to do cool, cutting-edge music,” Dennison emphasizes, “It’s just going to start a little later.”

Issue Date: April 5 - 12, 2001