Sometime in the 1970s, rock ’n’ roll split in half. On the one hand, there was progressive rock: long, complicated songs filled with ideas borrowed from jazz and classical music. On the other hand, there was punk: short songs filled with energy and rebellion. The two camps really didn’t see eye to eye.
“Yeah, you either liked Yes, or you liked the Ramones,” says Johnny Harpo of local band the Madorians. “You couldn’t like both. … Well, we like both those bands.”
It could be argued that the two camps—punk and prog—were reunited sometime around 1988 when Dinosaur Jr.’s Bug and Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation came out. Maybe the reunification of rock ’n’ roll came even earlier than that. Maybe a couple of years later. It doesn’t really matter.
What’s great about listening to the Madorians is that it’s like the split never happened in the first place. They’ll play a stomping garage rock song with a decidedly punk title, like “I Don’t Wanna be Your Boyfriend,” and throw a wah-wah guitar solo in the middle of it—totally flying in the face of punk orthodoxy, where guitar solos are considered self-indulgent. (That song features one of the purest sentiments of rock ’n’ roll eloquently expressed: “I don’t wanna be your boyfriend, I just want to be your man.”)
Or they’ll play a long, psychedelic jam, like “Bad Music,” from their new self-titled EP, and give it a chorus that borrows explicitly from rockabilly punks the Cramps’ album Bad Music for Bad People.
“We all love some prog,” says Johnny. “And we like to go way, way out—but we just love pop songs. I want to write songs that I would actually want to listen to, songs that would make me sing along.”
They look like an archetypical rock band: four skinny 20-something dudes in tight jeans. The group has two singer-vocalists: Johnny, who looks like a young Roger Daltrey, is the slightly poppier of the two—and Wes Harpo is a little bluesier. He sings the majority of the songs with a gruff rock ’n’ roll holler. And the in-the-pocket rhythm section of bassist Jesse Gaddis and drummer Wes Forster is so tight that their musical affinity seems to have affected their appearance: They look like twins even though they’re not even related.
As influences go, the group mentions classic rock band Free, as well as Funkadelic and jazz-rock fusion guitarist John McLaughlin. And they acknowledge, “It’s hard not to be influenced by Led Zeppelin.”
The group’s name is a shortened version of Tralfamadorians, the name of an alien race in the works of author Kurt Vonnegut. It’s not a reference to the melon liqueur Midori.
“People said that at our first show,” says Wes, with a laugh. “I’d never even heard of it before.”
The band members describe their sound as “neo-psychedelic R&B basement rock,” and they’re billing the record release party for their new EP as the “Magical Mystery Show.” The show, at Studio on 4th on Feb. 27, will also feature The Humans, Hopscotch Whiskey, CrimeThink and the I Knows.
“It’ll be a night of psychedelic debauchery—music and art intertwined!” says Johnny. It’s like it’s 1969 all the time.