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The apocalyptic acid-rock attack of Comets on Fire

Wednesday, Dec 18 2002
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Not much has changed since Iggy Pop first wailed, "It's 1969, OK?/ War across the U.S.A." Our government is still bombing the shit out of foreign countries, and the kids are still playing garage rock. But unlike today's more polished, '60s-derived musicians, the Bay Area freaks in Comets on Fire sound like they might actually have dwelled in the dark recesses of some suburban enclave.

Born in turn-of-the-century Santa Cruz, the Comets came together from such strange musical outfits as the Lowdown, Philistine Tent Revival, and the Exploding Crustaceans. While the group's bass/drums/guitar foundation offers plenty of fucked-up rock 'n' roll, it's Noel Harmonson's old tape-echo unit that truly pushes the quartet over the top. In the grand tradition of soundmen-turned-bandmates (see Roxy Music's Brian Eno and Mission of Burma's Martin Swope), Harmonson warps and refracts the other members' parts, raising a ruckus not unlike Jimi Hendrix and Blue Cheer playing simultaneously and at high volume. As Harmonson works his magic, vocal yelps fly around the room like careening bats, while one overamped guitar turns into a thousand caterwauling demons.

Comets on Fire's delay tricks would fall flat if the rest of the band weren't so inspired. The foursome's 2001 vinyl-only debut reveals that, underneath the noise, guitarist/vocalist Ethan Miller is a pretty soulful screamer, and the rhythm section of bassist Ben Flashman and drummer Chris Gonzalez (since replaced by Utrillo Belcher) can be thunderous. The act's new CD, Field Recordings From the Sun (Ba Da Bing Records), ups the Comets' acid quotient, incorporating bells and chanting into an all-out fuzz attack aided by guest guitarist Ben Chasney (from Six Organs of Admittance) and recording engineer Tim Green (of the Fucking Champs). But while the records are incendiary, Comets on Fire truly shines live. When all that noise coalesces, it's apocalyptic -- easily one of the rawest sonic experiences you're likely to find in the Bay Area these days.

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Glenn Donaldson

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