by Brian Block
“Let me introduce the dulcet tones of Rikki”
Chandler Travis Band, RAZORCLAMS AND WATERCRESS
One outgrowth of devoting my music site specifically to albums is that I am forced, when dealing with exclusively live bands, to either ignore them, or to review albums that do not, technically, exist. The best way to get use out of this review is to visit the Kirkland Cafe on Tuesday nights and watch this band. For Boston (Mass, USA) residents, take the Red Line to Porter Square, then ask for directions, you’re real close. If you don’t live in/around Boston, move.
Chandler is the vocalist/guitarist leading an ensemble of 2 saxes, trombone, trumpet, usually near-inaudible synth, standup bass, and drums. The overall sound falls loosely between one of the energetic kinds of jazz and They Might Be Giants’ JOHN HENRY. One reason this band excites me is the drummer, Rikki, whom if I was a famous music journalist I would condescendingly suggest is “the best unrecorded transvestite drummer in America”, but as an amateur and fan I simply allude to that underhandedly in sneaky quotes while saying that honestly, s/he’s one of the best drummers I’ve ever heard, no narrowing adjectives required. He can keep up a busy, complicated, _loud_ beat, or play subtle little variations with the cymbals, but most importantly, as best demonstrated on “Get Away From Me” (“let me introduce the dulcet tones of Rikki”), he remembers that the whole point of being a drummer is that you get to hit things! Without bothering the cops! Bang! Whamwhamwham! Over and over and over, fast, crash crash! Subtlety is useful, and important, and _optional_ (as the song ended with her drumkit in pieces, Travis admitted “this song is usually a bit longer”).
The band also has a saxophonist who has a comedically expressive face exactly like that of my friend Larry David, whose $30K+/year teaching job the sax player could probably steal without any of the kids complaining, since Larry has the unfortunate belief that the proper job of a history teacher to teach history, not to be funny (which he’s gifted at), as if there was somehow a contradiction; whereas this saxophonist feels even something as important as song lyrics should be mouthed along to in absurdist Chevy-Chase-mocking-the-dimwit-newscaster style. Which won’t be true on disc, so you didn’t need to know that. But it was a nice segue because it mentioned “lyrics”.
Yes, this band is one of those annoying ones that reminds me how even if I ever get my own songs into presentable form, I’ll still never be a true writer. Yeah, I could write a lyric like “Vampires. Vampires. Scary, scary” (from the rightly horror-shaded “Vampire”, with clarinet and toy instruments). Yeah, I could write lyrics synpathizing about the difficulties of finding fresh blood in grocery stores or the finer restaurants— in fact I _have_ written lyrics about that, and if you got an English prof to rate his and mine on a 1-to-10 scale of poeticness, you’d be fully justified in rubbing that prof’s forehead repeatedly with an electric saw as punishment for abetting the Entertainment Weekly-ization of America. But I lack the genius for a couplet like “All the best vampire movies were from Universal. MGM couldn’t make vampire flicks worth shit”, yet there it is from onstage (I am NOT being sarcastic: I think that turning the mundanest of life’s random details into something as transcendent as a good song, is a rare and wondrous alchemy). Even better is “Bongo’s Summer Playhouse”, where the titular phrase comes in an exaggerated kiddie-show chorus paired with a sophisticated progressive-rock drumming pattern, and is returned to periodically after verses and spoken asides about the guy they knew from some Carolina vacation who had a 9-year-old rabbit “and that’s old for a rabbit”, whom they “didn’t particularly like, even though he built”, tense pause, cue jingle and drums, “Bongo’s summer playhouse!”. Comparably structured but quite different-sounding is “You’re A Monkey”, with a pulsing dark wordless horns’n’keys groove veering into a fast trading-around of avant-garde licks a la the raucously spirited coda of They Might Be Giants’s “Spy”, over which Chandler reads accusatory lyrics like the hammiest dude at a poetry slam. “House Of Wax”, on the other hand, makes its quick point in 30 seconds of Vincent Price-y organ and soft cymbals. And their Vegas-loungey hometown tribute “Somerville” (“at night you can watch the traffic lights change from red to green. And then watch them switch back, from green, to red”)— by summoning the ghost of the Hampton Grease Band’s “Halifax”, where the statistics on the miles of boulevards and avenues feel like they’re being screamed at you as the entire Halifax Chamber Of Commerce clutches your collar— reminds you of what a basically laid-back good time this, in comparison, is.
They live on tips, so I donated $6 (too low, but I’m poor). You can too, if you attend. But I doubt they’ll mind if you, as a substitute plan, send them money for their CD. They might make one eventually, and it’ll include nice color photos of the garish multihued pajamas they wear, and you’ll have helped them buy those pajamas, and I think that’s so sweet of you.
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