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Autumn In Tallahassee

by Matthew Moyer

Man, you shoulda been there. For a few weeks, it seemed like Tallahassee was big doings -- we were alternately blessed and cursed with what New Musick had to offer. There was definitely an energy in the air, and all this scene needed was a good documentarian; unfortunately, all they got was me, torn between the two magnetic poles of laziness and guilt. Seriously, I'm not sure what happened in the last couple of months. I wrote some notes, and then some drafts, deleted those drafts, and then went back to notes again. And then set the notes on fire. I would have given up this whole goddamn "concert review" charade if it weren't for two things bearing down on my psyche like a fucking hellhound 1. Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat deserve, nay demand, as much gushing, ass-kissing praise as is humanly possible and 2. Heather took some bang-up photographs. What else can I do but pray that my crappy words don't get in the way of the overall vibe? You'll notice that Quintron gets most of the column inches here. That is no coincidence. Enjoy Tallahassee's high watermark.

Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat

Club Downunder, FSU, Tallahassee, FL September 26, 2002

Quintron is God, plain and simple. No, wait. Miss Pussycat is God, short and sweet. No, that doesn't work either. Fuck it, pantheism all the way -- they're both God. Four years on, hundreds of bands and concerts that I've consumed since then, and goddamnit, there are only a handful of peers to the purity and quirky hedonism of the Bizarro world medicine show that is Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat. Yes, they came back to lowly ol' FSU to preach and convert and crucially, to entertain.

photo by Heather Lorusso
Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat

Four years on, with all this newfound mainstream attention to and absorption of, shall we say, "styling and profiling" (c/o Ric Flair) and rock and roll in its most primal forms (Stooges, Chuck Berry, Oral Roberts and so on) and STILL the record companies haven't grown a pod person even close to replicating the deranged harmonic originality of Mr. Quintron. That says something. They've got the White Stripes selling Nissans and Mr. Quintron is still a lone voice in the wilderness of rock. By choice, mind you.

Quintron is one of the foremost names on Bill Hicks' "artistic roll call" -- he's independent and original and artistic all without trying to be, and without having to protest his status in the pages of your favorite glossy lifestyle magazine. In fact, Quintron has gotten more song-oriented and less noisy over the years, yet he's still way out there. Andrew W.K. used to be on the same label; silly record company suits, you grabbed the wrong man. Oh, but he has all the time in the world to wait for the human race to come along. Psst… Quintron and Pussycat, they're not aging. In fact, they're getting younger and more passionate every time I see them.

photo by Heather Lorusso
Miss Pussycat's Puppet Show

Miss Pussycat starts off the proceedings with dry ice and her own little puppet show. It's kinda twisted, yes, but it has that wide-eyed beautiful naivety that only children can truly manage, y'know the type that hipsters usually mess up? Pussycat gets it right with a tale of a guitar-shredding contest in the middle of the forest between animals and monsters. Then she emerges from behind the puppet hutch, clad in a powder-blue poodle skirt with a skeleton patch, picks up the maracas and she starts to rage. Mr. Quintron is all duded up in his Sunday best, and he looks like Ian Curtis as a Dr. John homage. Fuck yeah! He's fucking singing, playing a single drum, beating the organ into submission, and fiddling with any number of switches. Somewhere between Suicide and Holiday Inn lounge band speedfreaks channeling voodoo magic. Yes!

photo by Heather Lorusso
Mr. Quintron demonstrates the Drum Buddy

Some things haven't changed, then again, how much do things really need to change when you're still on the cutting edge of avant-garde lounge Satanism? He still does the ace Drum Buddy product placement, complete with demonstration and drum machine flame-throwing that would make Gene Simmons feel very "small" indeed. They're even tighter and more efficient as a performing unit; I had no idea, since Suicide, that only two people (and one isn't even playing any electric instruments) could create such a pleasing roar of noise. The live experience, a multimedia extravaganza of lights, sound, beauty and sensory overload, stand in marked contrast to the junk shop lunacy of their records. Both ways work for me. One of my favorite moments is when Quintron plants a cymbal in the middle of the audience, then poises himself precariously on the monitors to sing and scream, just so he can crash the cymbal with his elegant shoe at a few critical junctures. All that's missing is someone to throw coats over their shoulders and escort them offstage afterwards. They might as well walk on rose pedals.

The proof is in the pudding and after the show I bought an 8x10 of Miss Pussycat and her puppets and Heather bought a Quintron record. Yeah, she's in love with a Drum Buddy. Feels good to be so right.

Bright Eyes

Beta Bar, Tallahassee, FL October 1, 2002

 
photo by Heather Lorusso
Bright Eyes
So where's this 15-piece orchestra I was promised? Ahem… Once every twenty years, there comes a talent so incredibly awe-inspiring and pants-shittingly great that you … cough, cough… excuse me… cough…. I had something in my throat there. Oh yeah, misdirected hyperbole.

Some Dirty Little Secrets About Bright Eyes

1. If you're not completely snow-blinded by the most effusive media hype this side of a Kevin Blechdom review by, well, me, then about forty-seconds into the Bright Eyes experience you'll realize very quickly that Bright Eyes are not, in fact, the second coming or even the new Dylan, but they are actually a less charming Lemonheads. With less tunes. And, obviously, more Rites of Spring records. Think Ben Lee, a little less doofy.
2. Bright Eyes is one of the most ruthlessly niche-marketed acts going today. I'd say the target demographic is 16-22. Why do you think Rolling Stone and Spin prattle on so breathlessly? They need the emo TRL action, baby! Oh, let me add rock critics too then, they need to feel cutting-edge and validated, and the youthful, yet underground, gruel that Bright Eyes churns out keeps them regular and hip. Wow!

 
photo by Heather Lorusso
Bright Eyes
I just don't get Bright Eyes. Sure his lyrics are painful and naked, but c'mon, even Christina Aguilera and Pink are doing painful and naked these days. He screeches and cries onstage but I JUST last week saw Quintron do his speedfreak-preacher-punk shtick to a much more dazzling, life-affirming effect. Yep, the songwriting is solid, but half the time my mind kept drifting back to Mark Cohn or Elton John. Boy meets Guitar. Blah. Give me the weirdness of the Melvins or the alienation aesthetics of Billy Childish any day. And as far as the lo-fi songsmith-makes-good thing goes, Will Oldham, Smog, Plush, Cynthia Dahl, and Cat Power all run fucking circles around Bright Eyes. I left the club feeling like nothing had changed except for the hands on the clock. I didn't feel transformed, and I wasn't punching the air in triumph and sheer joy to be alive. I was somewhat pleased to be out and about, but that was it. It didn't even rock.

Har Mar Superstar

Club Downunder, FSU, Tallahassee, FL October 23, 2002

 
photo by Heather Lorusso
Har Mar Superstar
Fact is, this cat has got some huge major label muscle behind him, and apparently he's tied in with the Osbournes, so the last thing he needs is for me to turn on the hype machine. He's gonna be damn near ub-i-qui-tous soon enough. But let me say this: the once and future Sean Na Na is really fucking on to something here. His latest incarnation, R&B godhead Har Mar Superstar, sings out loud and proud in front of the mirror, "Superstar, I'm a superstar, emotion lotion!" And then I emerge from the bathroom stall, unbeknownst to him, and whisper appreciatively, "Kid, you got the goods."

 
photo by Heather Lorusso
Har Mar Superstar
Well, that didn't really happen; in point of fact, Har Mar Superstar is fucking cool enough that he doesn't need Mr. Show riffs to get over. It's like I tried to explain to Chuck Bantam -- Har Mar Superstar makes you laugh out loud, but not in a self-referential, postmodern, awkward funnymusik Green Jelly or Jimmy Fallon way. It's just because what he does is so individual and bursting with self-belief and conviction that you will be smiling the whole time, because you're alive and watching a great fucking show and basking in pure eccentric creative vibes. Everything about him runs counter to traditional expectations of the urbanpop icon -- he's short, overweight, sports a hairstyle and facial foliage combo that recalls Ron Jeremy in his prime, is white yet plays a soulful, salacious R&B hybrid and is brimming with showmanship gaudier than Liberace. You'd think a man who "just" got done opening for (fucking) Incubus across town would be a little tired, a little distracted, but no way man, Har Mar gives, to a surprisingly large crowd that is composed of equal part college radio burnouts and future middle class of America squares, his chaps n' tasseled all. "I'm Har Mar Superstar and I fucking rule." Yow! A sexy, sexy beast. Plus he has a line about Generra Hypercolor in one of his songs. But again, you don't need "me" to tell you that he's gonna be huge, just keep your eyes peeled on one of our many monolithic media outlets. In the meantime, though…

photo by Heather Lorusso
Har Mar Superstar

 
photo by Heather Lorusso
The Kills
The Kills

Club Downunder, FSU, Tallahassee, FL October 24, 2002

One of the surest signs that it's going to be one of THOSE nights is when the soundman can't even get the incidental pre-gig music right, resulting in regular intervals of feedback, "hot mic" and generator hum during the most skeletal of classic garage nuggets. But that don't matter -- surely such a lil' thing can't stop the sludge rock juggernaut that the Kills are slowly becoming? The Kills -- cheekbones and dark stains. The Kills -- Hotel (ex-fella out of UK's Scarfo) with the mod hair and VV (ex-girl from Florida's Discount) with the Danzig hair. The Kills -- Velvets, Stooges, Trux, Godflesh. The Kills -- one guitar, two voices, one scary voodoo drum machine that still manages to sound like a fucking tidal wave of cyanide. Or rather, it would sound like the aforementioned natural disaster if the soundman would get his fucking act together. What is this shit, like student intern night or something? Shame on you, Club Downunder.

 
photo by Heather Lorusso
The Kills
They get through like one complete song, all power chords, drone percussion and Staley poses, before the vocals go out totally. What follows next is like the most uncomfortable twenty minutes of concert I've ever experienced (and that includes getting hit with a bottle at Suicide), as the hapless sound intern tried to figure out the big scary soundboard to increasing frustration from both Kills. At one point Hotel snapped, "You're taking the piss, man," and several times muttered darkly about stopping the show. VV tried to calm the situation, but mostly retreated behind her lank black curtain of hair. I slunk away from the stage in horror. The only good part was, after like 13 mock soundchecks, Hotel jumped off the stage, stalked over to the soundboard, adjusted a few levels angrily, returned to the stage and kicked into a devastating riff.

But even a pissed-off Kills playing an abbreviated set to a sparse house is better than most of the shit out there today. So yeah, it was pretty transcendent. And maybe even decadent. Hotel's got a great scowl, and VV has a cool Lou Reed circa "Sally Can't Dance" onstage vibe, weird spasms of self-immolation. And even though the songs are thick black spite with a ruby heart of pain, I can't help but feel a slight pang when they look into each other's eyes and sing, locking out the whole stupid world.

Black Heart Procession

The Radar Bros

Club Downunder, FSU, Tallahassee, FL October 25, 2002

 
photo by Heather Lorusso
Black Heart Procession
It should be a truism right now that you should always trust a band led by a man with a horse for a head; especially if that band proffers a potent hybrid of avant noir cabaret and dusky Godspeed! style agony (and the ecstasy). Hailing from the sunny climes of Californi-yay, ladies and gentlemen, the Black Hearts Procession! And now the man with a horse for a head is singing AND playing a singing saw, quite competently, I might add. My heart is well and truly taken. I'd never heard them before tonight, but the Black Heart Procession specializes in a venomous and windswept take on Weil, Brecht, latter-day Neubauten and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Tonight they're doing a song suite about a murder mystery to boot! The horse head eventually comes off the singer, replaced by goggles and a beaten-down baseball cap, but the waves of depression and paranoia keep flowing forth. The band augments their sound with all manner of unconventional instruments, radio static, keyboard strings, and Morricone geetar. The crowd doesn't it take to it as well as hoped, it looks as they were expecting more cheery and bouncy fare; well, a name like "Black Heart Procession" sure can be misleading, fucking twats. But I had fun, I love them for their vision, for their experimentation, for their bravery, and for wearing their tattered hearts proudly on their dirty Mack the Knife sleeves.

 
photo by Heather Lorusso
The Radar Bros.
The Radar Bros have been treading the boards for a cult fanbase for quite some time now, but from the evidence of the show tonight, it hasn't embittered them or faded the edges at all. In fact, somehow, by some quirk of fate, it's only made them more magical. They were supposed to be opening the show tonight, but due to the vicissitudes of car tires and the Florida highway system, they arrive late and headline by default. Of course, after the performance the Radar Bros give tonight, maybe it was the gods' way of setting the order of appearance right. I can't remember many of the details of the show, maybe the spells that were woven knocked out my already precarious short-term memory. I think the Radar Bros might have been more powerful than love and loss and holding hands and cold autumn nights combined. All I know is that as soon as a handful of aging bohemians, all resembling adjunct instructors in a sculpture program, hit the stage, a solid wall of golden melancholy worked its way in and around me. The audience looked a little older this time, hipsters who maybe actually tuned in to the Bros' first EP years ago. The singer, by "conventional wisdom," looked a little old to be doing this, but my fucking god, when his eyes opened wide, fixed at an indeterminate point in the horizon, and those angelic coos began insinuating themselves around warm, organic mantra arrangements, everything became very right and rooted in this one moment. Just think the Velvet Underground circa "Ocean," Galaxie 500 circa "Fire," and Red House Painters circa non-crappy. And then think about how you wish that this moment would never end.