Eat your idols
Retro has always been cool, particularly in musical circles. To be in the hipper-than-thou crowd, one must be able to rattle off band names, members and arcane historical anecdotes. Syd Barrett is cool, but Edward Ka-Spel is perhaps cooler because he is more obscure than the Pink Floyd founding member is. For that matter, Texas weirdo Jandek is cooler yet for the same reasons.
The difference between Barrett and his progeny, though, is that Jandek and Ka-Spel often seem to be merely emulating the original 1960s acid casualty. It is sometimes difficult, therefore, to escape a nasty critical feedback loop: Where does emulation end and originality begin?
This problem is central to music and, in fact, to creative arts in general. One either can run screaming from his or her influences (a process that often merely sends the person into a new set of influences) or embrace them entirely.
The Trouble Makers happily have chosen option No. 2.
Simply to state that the Trouble Makers embrace a 1960s garage-band aesthetic would be missing the point entirely. The Trouble Makers are that aesthetic, creating a fire-fueled barrage of sound that is like stepping off our plank of digital culture and falling into a sea of vacuum tubes, go-go boots, torn speakers and shaggy haircuts—a band that has managed to shake itself, fully alive, from the sleeve of the original double-LP Nuggets anthology.
Last weekend at the Distillery, on a bill featuring the Bippies and Tucson’s the Okmoniks, the Trouble Makers put on a show that was pure old-school garage rock. Each member wore the matching zebra-striped vests that are the band’s trademark, a fashion statement particularly effective with lead singer Tim Foster. Foster looked every bit the part of bandleader, like a clean-cut frat boy who inexplicably has succumbed to a mixture of highballs and reefer madness. And his stage antics included leaping into the audience, winding through it with his microphone and then returning to the stage area, effectively creating pandemonium in his wake as audience members (including guitarist Mike Farrell, Magnolia Thunderfinger’s Skid Jones and St. Simon 3’s Simon Ennis) scrambled to keep from getting mowed down by the mic cable.
Strangely, though, the real stars of the evening were middle-slot act the Okmoniks, who proved inside of eight seconds that there is more to Arizona’s music scene than the “desert core” sounds of Calexico and Giant Sand. What sets the Okmoniks apart is their lead singer, Helene 33, and her Hammond organ. In a rock world dominated by men, a woman’s voice is always strikingly different (particularly in a loud band), and the Hammond offers some differentiation from the usual guitar-bass-drums triumvirate. Furthermore, the band is tight, and its songs have hooks, a facet that sometimes is forgotten when bands so completely adopt a particularly anachronistic sound and look; the novelty is there, but the songs, sometimes, are not.
Both bands bring up a particularly interesting solution to the problem of influences: Perhaps the right path isn’t to kill your idols but to become them.