By Ian S. Port
By Cory Sklar
By Godofredo Vasquez
By Gil Riego Jr.
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Christopher Victorio
By Ian S. Port
Dispensing with the campy Eames-chair cliches that make much of today's so-called "loungecore" music such a Muzak-y chore to listen to, Tipsy's Tim Digulla and David Gardner have made a smart and swanky pop blend that's both retro-happy and distinctively modern. Influenced by ambient techno swirls and hip-hop beats as much as cork-popping predecessors like Esquivel, Tipsy's Digulla, Gardner, and an array of co-conspirators mix together keyboards, horns, guitars, and turntables for their sauntering instrumentals. It's a sound that is beautifully all over the place: Their 1996 debut, Trip Tease, swims through a glistening ocean of Latin rhythms, psychedelia, surf rock, and Mystic Moods Orchestra chintz. Throughout the past year they've taken their self-proclaimed "Tipsylandia" on the road with upward of a dozen members and scored choice gigs, including a plum opening slot for David Byrne at the Warfield. As an old Sinatra album put it, it's a swingin' affair, but don't you dare call it easy listening. With a sound this complex and engaging, Tipsy finally ushers in an era of lounge-pop that does more than lie around like a shag carpet.
The Amazing Embarrassonic
All cover bands survive on disproportionate amounts of gimmick and talent. The Amazing Embarrassonic has both. Then again, although they can perform more than 250 covers the Amazing Embarrassonic isn't really a cover band. Sure, Lev Delany, Jim Galbraith, and Greg Foot play guitar, bass, and drums. And yes, they play songs that other bands wrote long ago. But the trio's got an unbeatable gimmick that sets it apart from average ape bands. The Amazing Embarrassonic isn't really a band, it's a human karaoke machine. Here's the way it works: Audience members sign up on a list; after drinking copious amounts of alcohol they approach the stage and choose a song out of the Amazing Embarrassonic's list; the band members switch instruments depending on which member knows the song best; the band revs up and the audience member sings the lyrics out of a book. Alcohol figures prominently in all stages of the performance. Like all karaoke, the drunker people get, the funnier the songs and the better the entertainment. And also like most karaoke bars, available songs range from good (The Pixies' "Here Comes Your Man") to bad (Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl") to worse (Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever"). It's a hell of a gimmick.
The Dukes of Hamburg
Inspired by German beat groups like the Lords and the Rattles, the Dukes of Hamburg have re-created the lo-fi '60s garage sound first popularized by British bands like the Kinks and the Yardbirds. Taking it one step further -- paying homage to the bands that likewise inspired the Brits -- the Dukes have restricted themselves to covering songs popularized by American masters like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Jimmy Reed. While the mono-styled recordings of the Dukes take some getting used to, their live shows, when frontman Russell Quan -- of Bobbyteens and Phantom Surfers fame -- and his fellow Dukes dress in disastrously unkempt bob wigs and bow ties, have become legendary among the Purple Onion '60s garage set. Billy Childish and Thee Headcoats would be proud.
Me First & the Gimme Gimmes
Punk rock musicians have always had a love-hate relationship with mainstream pop music. On the one hand, Neil Diamond and Billy Joel represent everything punk fought against: clinical songcraft, sappy lyrics, hammy singers. But whether punks want to admit it or not, it's the stuff they grew up on and those chords are hard-wired into their multipierced heads. So Me First & the Gimme Gimmes deserve credit for admitting their secret love for mainstream pop, and even more credit for turning that '70s schlock into bracing, frenetic punk rock covers. Led by Mike "Spike" Slawson with assistance from members of Lagwagon and Screw 32, the brash and adorably goofball covers on last year's album Have a Ball -- Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," Elton John's "Rocket Man," and Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun" -- work surprisingly well in a punk context. Unlike bands like Killdozer, who growled through "American Pie" and "One Tin Soldier" like they were signs of the apocalypse, the Gimme Gimmes genuinely enjoy their work as middle-of-the-road archivists; if you think about it, the defiance of Paul Simon's "I Am a Rock" was always a punk rock anthem waiting to happen. The quintet have already proved themselves masters of pop's recent history; can Budokan be far behind?
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