"Of all the bands to come from Miami and end up on a movie soundtrack, you wouldn't promptly think of us," scoffs Tom Smith. Placing tongue firmly in cheek, he adds, "But talent rises to the top, babe!"
Indeed. Smith and his current outfit, To Live and Shave in L.A., are known for many things: clearing rooms, inducing puzzled looks (and often migraines) from onlookers with their frontal assault of high-pitched squelch and shrieking noise, even causing a near-riot at a recent New York City gig when several aggrieved audience members took offense with the band's lead singer and tried to remove her from the stage. Nowhere in this résumé is the ability to end up as part of a highly tipped Hollywood film. In this case as part of the soundtrack to Committed, the second picture from director Lisa Krueger, whose Manny & Lo was one of 1996's most highly regarded indies. Slated for an April release, Committed features Heather Graham (of Boogie Nights and Austin Powers fame) in its lead role, a feature that should help bring Smith's music to ears far beyond the avant-garde milieu in which To Live and Shave in L.A. currently resides.
The song in question, "Fringe Benefits," is a fourteen-minute-long fuzzed-out jam reminiscent of the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray," as much for its chugging guitar crunch as for its tuneful intensity from start to finish. Playing alongside Smith's tortured vocals and To Live and Shave in L.A. core member (and Miami's foremost aural terrorist) Rat Bastard are Sonic Youth members Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley, ex-Velvet Monkey Don Fleming, and Sean Lennon -- a collective they've dubbed the Walter Sears. Is it possible that under the expanded group's influence, Smith is (shudder) mellowing? After all this is a musician whose personal aesthetic is best described by the title of an Eighties album he released under the moniker Peach of Immortality: R.E.M. Is Air Supply.
"We've changed," allows Smith. "You can't do the same thing year after year." Switching into his trademark deadpan, he continues: "We've demonstrated that we can destroy the world, and once you've demonstrated that, why wield that power every day? Why not walk hand in hand with a beautiful lass down a daisy-covered lane every once in a while?"
While Smith may have learned to appreciate the merits of the occasional power ballad, his feelings toward Miami's rock scene (wherein he logged six years before relocating in 1996 to his current home of Atlanta) remain firm.
"Why should we play in Miami?" he snaps in reply to the notion of a Walter Sears show here. "There's lots of interesting stuff happening in other cultures. There's plenty of wild-ass stuff going on in the world of bass, or salsa, or compas -- but the rock that's in Miami is very generic; there's hardly any original voices. Unless you're a second-shift bartender or an unlicensed massage therapist, it's hard to get too excited about it." Making an exception for Marilyn Manson, based solely on his fashion sense (or lack thereof), Smith adds dismissively: "There are bands that escape South Florida. They get signed to major labels and then inevitably flop every time, because the music is so weak. Rock bands in Miami exist for only two reasons: drug money and pussy. That's it. It's about getting laid after the show and buying the next round of coke."
Jackson Pollack eat your heart out: "Action painting" currently finds itself being resurrected in the hands of cartoonist Lebo, whose rapid-fire anime and hip-hop-tinged live sketching is projected behind the Spam Allstars, now in residence Thursday evenings at Brandt's Break. While it's hardly the light show from the Fillmore East, Lebo's work meshes satisfyingly with Spam's dubbed out grooves. The result is one of the few remaining laid-back nights out on the Beach.
Proponents of the theory that everything in South Florida can be chalked up to "something in the water supply," can point proudly to NRBQ as proof. Thirty-two years after the band first came together in Miami, even their most die-hard fans (a body that runs the gamut from Paul McCartney and Yo La Tengo to animator Matt Groening, who recently featured the group on his show The Simpsons) have trouble putting their finger on just what makes NRBQ so beloved, beyond a simple explanation that "they make me feel good!"
The dreaded word eclectic hardly does justice to NRBQ's bathtub-gin take on Americana. The polyglot musical ingredients that define the group were all securely in place as early as their 1969 debut album, which ripped through a seething, hopped-up Eddie Cochran cover, only to then jump sideways into Sun Ra's "Rocket #9," transforming that song's cosmic jazz into interplanetary funk, complete with get-on-the-good-foot cowbell, chicken-scratch guitar, and a kindergartenesque sing-along. Mind you, this was back at a time when even the bulk of the jazz world didn't know what to make of Sun Ra, let alone a bunch of backwoods freaks from Miami.
Three decades on, NRBQ remains fresh as ever, still enraptured with the spirit of old-fashioned rock and roll, which in its hands actually sounds new again. Jaded hipsters, as well as rock en españolers convinced they've reinvented the wheel, take note: NRBQ performs this Friday at Churchill's, and at Alligator Alley on Saturday.
Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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