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The Week's Can't-Miss Performance 

Charles Atlas avenges the nerds with cinematic instrumentals

Wednesday, Dec 19 2001
In 1921, Physical Culture magazine declared Charles Atlas "the world's most perfectly developed man." The bodybuilder would go on to become a fitness guru, a comic book ad icon, and the father of modern mail order; eventually, his body measurements were placed in a time capsule for posterity. If he were alive today, his first task might be to pump a little iron into the San Francisco combo that sports his name.

The band Charles Atlas has more in common with the "97-pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face" in Atlas' ads than with the muscleman himself. Led by guitarist Charles Wyatt and keyboard player Matt Greenberg (both of whom served in local mope-rock group Dart), Charles Atlas plays mellow instrumentals of the experimental nature that can only come from scrawny pencil-neck geeks.

Fortunately for the band, one usually hears live music in dark venues rather than on sunny beaches. In the shadowy confines of clubland, art-rock nerds get the girls. While Charles Atlas' recorded material may be thoroughly placid -- its new long-player, Felt Cover, could lull bullies to sleep -- its live shows have a seductive power that Atlas would have appreciated. Joined in concert by drummer Jason Lakis, the pair anchor their drifty guitar figures and seesawing keyboard noise with tense, terse grooves. Many songs approach the cinematic grandeur of Roy Budd's '60s soundtracks like Get Carter, creating vivid mental images via Greenberg's echoing organ, Wyatt's softly buzzing feedback, and guest cellist Alex Kort's arching drones. One minute you're in a beer-soaked nightclub trying to remember where you parked the car, and the next you're racing along the cliffs of Dover as the rain pours down. (This U.K. vibe may have something to do with Wyatt's one-time residence in England, where he recorded with the similarly minded Piano Magic.)

Perhaps Atlas would've admired his namesake band after all. These boys could star in an experimental-music remake of Revenge of the Nerds, in which brainy improvisers wrestle with the notion of what rock should be and win the love of the ladies in the end.

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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