Holy Rollers

Pounding down in Lolitaville with the centrifugion of the Terrors

And if Elba's vocabulary is a cut above the usual moon-June-sha-la-la inanities, the twisted subject matter he tackles is more common to short stories than rock tunes. "Cigarettello," for example, tells the Costello-ish tale of a stiletto-heeled dominatrix who passes out while entertaining a date. Bound to a chair, he watches helplessly as her fallen cigarette sets the room ablaze."As the flames consume my skin/So does my desire/As the flames keep rising," Elba croons in a normal singing voice, before bursting into a death shriek to end the song with, "High-yer! And high-yer! And high-yer! And high-yer!"

"The Bad Son," based on a gut-wrenching real-life dialogue between Elba and his terminally ill father (who passed away last year), voices a dying cancer patient's plea to his reluctant son to put him out of his misery ("Take this gun, my only son"); "Angel Killer" is a chilling glimpse inside the brain of a serial killer; "Rape of the Vespers" is a meditation on the infamous Central Park "wilding" incident; "Lolitaville" (the song) is an attempt to fathom the mindset of the man who abducted Polly Klaas.

"What was this guy thinking?" wonders Elba. "People like that must see the world as one big Lolitaville, full of vulnerable, nubile women and girls whose only purpose is to give them pleasure.

"There's so much violence against women," he continues, shaking his head in resignation. "It's everywhere -- in real life, in music, in advertising, in the media. When I read about Polly Klaas I couldn't help thinking about my own little girl up in her room...." His voice trails off.

Elba is a genuine enigma. He looks more like a yuppie jeweler (his day job) than a rock singer. Yet he wears very little jewelry for a man who makes his living selling it. No bracelets, no chains around his neck. A modest gold wedding band adorns his left hand. The only concession to rock fashion on Elba's person would appear to be the two skull rings on his right hand. ("My allegiance to Satan!" he laughs.) There's a slightly deranged glint in his eyes that calls to mind Michael Douglas's computer-nerd-turned-urban-vigilante character in Falling Down. Passionate as a man possessed when he's singing, between songs and off-stage Elba is a Letterman-like master of dry humor and sly put-downs. When he drops a line such as, "Too bad [that Natural Causes broke up]. They could have been the next Counting Crows," you can't be sure whether he means it as a dig or as a compliment. (The smart money rides on dig.)

The frontman's pet peeve is local critics who confuse acoustic music with good songwriting. "Writers always single out Natural Causes or Mary Karlzen for their songwriting [New Times being as guilty as anyone, although Elba expresses particular displeasure with the Herald in this regard] but they rarely mention harder bands like us or, say, Radiobaghdad. It's always like, 'The Terrors? Oh, they're great live.' That really bugs me," he protests. (To be fair to us lame-o music writers, it's hard to tell how strong a song's lyrics are when the vocalist sounds so agitated he might spontaneously combust. Lolitaville's first-rate packaging, thankfully, includes a hand-lettered transcription of all the songs' lyrics as part of the vibrant Joey Seeman artwork, and should go a long way toward rectifying the situation.)

Caustic ad-libs and sardonic patter may delight Terrors fans, but they have not endeared Elba to many of his peers or to the local music press. He has been known to disparage other well-liked South Florida bands during radio interviews and to lambaste music writers by name from the stage. As a countermeasure, the rest of the band has taken to launching into one song as soon as the previous one ends so that there's no time for Elba to go off. During a recent set at Churchill's the singer had to include a "diatribe break" in the setlist so that the band would let him talk to the crowd.

It's a bizarre mix: the dark subject matter, the biting humor, the over-the-top vocals, and the contemplative, self-described "responsible guy" with a wife, two daughters, and a serious day job. You can't help wondering what sensation his suburban Broward customers would experience if they saw him performing at the Gallery of the Unknown Artists, an exhibition of John Wayne Gacy's paintings adorning the walls, the veins bulging in Elba's elastic neck as he pushed his vocal cords to the shredding point and squealed, "It's the shape of their heads! It's the shape of their heads! It's the shape of their heads!" with the urgency of a madman being dragged kicking and screaming to the asylum.

Intrepidation, maybe.

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