Karmic Chameleon

Kelley Stoltz's Antique Glow shines with a voice both familiar and unique

When Stoltz gave a copy of the LP to Chuck Prophet after a show, the longtime local artist flipped. "In a world of MP3s and jewel cases and McDonald's apple pies that aren't even fried and other generally disposable stuff, that record was something I knew I would hold onto forever," Prophet says. When it came to the music itself, he was even more impressed. "Sonically and compositionally, the way Kelley can funnel this personal shit through his own sonic Cuisinart is amazing." (Prophet would eventually help get the disc released on CD for the first time, via an Australian label called Corduroy.)

Antique Glowtruly is a huge step forward for Stoltz. Whereas on The Past Was Faster, he might slip into Syd Barrett's skin, here he merely rubs elbows. Bits and pieces -- a snatch of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" at the beginning of "Perpetual Night," a throbbing Velvet Underground beat underneath "Mt. Fuji" -- sound familiar, but the parts serve as signposts rather than the road itself. Rockers like "Underwater's Where the Action Is" and "Are You Electric" add woozy noises and heavenly harmonies to their careening riffs, taking post-punk in freakier directions. And then there's "Please Visit Soon," which Stoltz says was an attempt to make "psychedelic Muzak," but which comes out sounding like carnival jazz.

The main reason the album works so well is Stoltz's delivery. On ballads like "My Silver Lining" and "Jewel of the Evening," he sings in a gravelly purr, imbuing lines like "Yeah I think I know why/ Everyone must die/ On the way to love" with sad wonder. For the upbeat "Underwater's Where the Action Is," he sings in a sexy yelp, making such lines as "Flippers and manatee, they will be everyday vocabulary/ If you'd come on down a league or two with me" sound both seductive and kooky. If you're going to sing about mermaids and hot air balloons and crystal balls, you'd better be able to sell the sizzle, which Stoltz certainly can.

Debra A. Zeller

Details

Celebrates the release of Antique Glow

Saturday, Oct. 11, at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $10

861-5016

www. cafedunord.com

Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market (at Sanchez), S.F.

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While he was content with Antique Glow, Stoltz was miserable by the end of 2001. "I was finished and proud of it, but all I had to show for it was 89 records [after selling or giving some away]," he says. "Now I've got to make phone calls and try to make it work, and I don't want to do any of it, so I would go down to the studio and try to record new stuff instead." Alas, the material sounded crappy. Hoping to break out of his rut, Stoltz attempted recording "Going Up," the first song off Echo & the Bunnymen's 1980 LP Crocodiles. He had so much fun that he tried the second and then the third tracks from the record. That's when the light bulb went on over his head. Inspired by his pal Mike Fornatale, who had composed his own version of Moby Grape and Jefferson Airplane albums for friends, Stoltz decided to record all of Crocodiles.

One of the resultant copies (called Crockodials) made it into the hands of Nick Tangborn, owner of the Jackpine Social Club label (which has released albums by locals Sonny Smith, Oranger, and Jesse DeNatale). At the 2002 South by Southwest music festival, Tangborn passed a disc to former Pavement member Scott Kannenberg, who is also a huge Echo & the Bunnymen fan. Kannenberg was so excited that he offered to fly down from his Seattle home to re-create the album live.

In May and June of this year, the duo -- augmented by bassist Shayde Sartin, keyboardist Shana Kingsley, and drummer Jon Weiss -- performed Crocodilesto sellout crowds at the Hemlock Tavern and the Make-Out Room. "Performed," of course, doesn't quite do the extravaganza justice. There was a smoke machine working overtime, specialized lighting beaming down, and cigarettes that dangled at just the right angle. Stoltz brought out his old British accent and between-song banter culled from 40-odd live bootlegs. And the music, well, let's just say there were more goose bumps than at a petting zoo.

"I wanted to make sure it was just right," says Stoltz, "so that the three people out there who were just as nuts as me, and maybe had the same bootlegs, would say, 'What?!'"

The shows seemed to have the desired effect. This year's CMJ Music Marathon in New York has requested that the band repeat its performance, even going so far as to move its scheduling around so the real members of Echo & the Bunnymen (who are also performing that night) can attend the show if they like.

So Stoltz has come full circle. The Detroit teen aping his hero in his mirror now gets to play him for large crowds -- which just might include the hero himself. But, even more important, Stoltz can also perform his own originals at the festival, thanks to the official release of Antique Glowon Jackpine Social Club last month. Now, perhaps some star-struck kid will go home and begin striking Kelley Stoltz poses.

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