Sacramento’s late great Didley Squat started out as a fun project for four high school junior nerds: David Mohr (vocals), Stuart Nishiyama (keyboards), Jacob Barcena (guitar), and Casey James (drums). After getting their feet wet at a few open-mic nights at the True Love Coffeehouse, they developed a reputation in town as one of its most popular live bands. Mohr, sounding at times like a frantic Robert Smith, always delivered outrageously high-energy performances that the rest of the band miraculously managed to match.
Didley Squat’s first album, The Smile Box (2004), is a whirlwind mixture of pop and punk that doesn’t really manage to qualify as pop-punk. Mohr’s rapid-fire delivery and Nishiyama’s sprightly playing in songs like “Hong Kong” make for a very exciting listening experience. My favorite track is “Too Nervous,” which builds momentum and tension through a squealing guitar and frenzied vocals. As out of control as they often sound, their lyrics indicate that they’re also very smart lads. As they instruct in “Tuesday Garden,” “Sugar breaks down into water and carbon.” Despite the teen angst, these kids were doing alright indeed!
One thing I must confess here is that I’m not a huge fan of EPs, especially for bands and musicians that are prolific enough to crank out full-length albums every few years or so. Because of this, I resisted purchasing Didley Squat’s four-track intermediary release Burning Alive Making a Living (2005) despite being tempted the numerous times I spotted it at The Beat. No longer able to find it at the store, I finally ordered it through Amazon seven years after the fact. Fortunately, it turned out to be a worthy follow-up to The Smile Box with “Tigerlily” and “My Better Half” among their best-loved songs. “Little Darling” starts out as a lazy ballad but picks up the tempo considerably and closes things out in a typically rockin’ fashion. Burning Alive hasn’t necessarily made me reconsider my ambivalence towards EPs, but at least I appreciate the effort they put into this particular one.
Sadly, a show held on March 8, 2008 at the relocated True Love Coffeehouse was officially Didley Squat’s last. However, they did have the good sense to spit out a second album shortly before their final bow. Though not quite as solid as their debut, Big Blue Burden (2007) ended things on a high note with “Friend of a Friend,” “Paint By Numbers,” and “Good Looking Scientists” proving they could still give 100%. And though it hardly seems possible, Mohr double-tracking his vocals on a few songs gives them an even more delirious edge. And as with the first two releases, the multi-talented Mohr designed the simple and whimsical cartoon graphics for the album’s cover (in addition to posters for their shows). Considering how young they were when they broke up, we can only imagine what these guys would’ve accomplished had they stuck it out for a few more years.
Bonus Fun Fact – According to Mohr, three of the four band members hated the band’s name. However, there’s no indication which one favored the moniker enough to let it stick.
You can find Didley Squat’s The Smile Box for sale here.
Public Nuisance was one of the great lost bands of the Sixties, having built up an admirable reputation in the Sacramento area through live performances while never releasing any recordings during its time beyond a failed single. It originated in 1964 as an instrumental surf band called The Jaguars with David Houston and Jim Mathews on guitar, Larry Holmes on bass, and Ron McMaster manning the drums. Once Pat Minter replaced Holmes as bassist, a shift was made towards vocals and the more British influenced rock that was all the rage. In 1966, they recorded and rerecorded a pair of songs (“There She Goes” and “Please Come Back”) as Moss and the Rocks before finally settling on the name Public Nuisance. Houston and Minter shared songwriting and vocal duties, and several more recording stints yielded enough material for two albums.
Unfortunately, circumstances beyond their control kept all of it from seeing the light of day until it was finally compiled on a double-CD collection in 2002 called Gotta Survive. Tracks from another recording session remain lost, but everything that could be recovered is apparently included in this collection. As welcome as the archival approach is, it does prove to be too much of a good thing in a few cases. Listening to both versions of the first two recorded songs will likely be of interest only to completists since the later renditions are superior to the originals. “I Am Going” ironically wears out its welcome as a pleasant Beatlesque melody is driven into the ground with one false ending too many. With an assist on lyrics by his pal Kevin Seconds, Houston did a remarkable job of transforming an untitled backing track into a winning song called “Going Nowhere,” and it fits in quite well with the rest of the album. However, having the bare-bones instrumental track follow immediately after really dilutes what is otherwise a unique achievement as far as I’m concerned. So more can be less, but ultimately we should be grateful that music of this overall quality should finally be made available after being lost for almost 35 years. Joey D’s liner notes might be overly enthusiastic, but his excitement is understandable. You definitely feel a sense of discovery when you listen to this anthology for the first time, and it’s hard to believe that the most outstanding of these tracks never shared the national spotlight with acknowledged classics by The Seeds, Count Five, and The Sonics. “America,” “Small Faces,” “Magical Music Box,” “Ecstasy,” “Darlin’,” “Love is a Feeling,” and “Gotta Survive” can stand alongside much of the 60′s garage rock comprising the legendary Nuggets box sets. This is hard-rockin’ stuff, my friends! Granted, some of it is a bit dated; Public Nuisance were part of the “Make love, not war” generation, after all. But these sentiments will never really go out of style as long as a national policy of aggression exists to rebel against.
Since the dissolution of Public Nuisance, David Houston has kept himself busy recording music for other artists at his own studio. As a musician, he’s left behind the sonic force of his former band, and the only Public Nuisance song I’ve heard him perform in recent years was easily the gentlest in its repertoire, “7 or 10.” I caught his set at a Velvet Underground tribute show in which he focused on the lovelier offerings of that famously abrasive band, and I was really impressed with how much thought he put into the arrangements he devised for his string accompanists. I had seen him sit in with so many groups during shows that I once jokingly referred to him as “an honorary member of every band in Sacramento.” For a more comprehensive account of Public Nuisance’s history and Houston’s impact on the Sacramento music scene, please check out Jackson Griffith’s excellent 2003 Sacramento News & Review article Evolver.
Bonus Fun Fact – David Houston had the honor of having The White Stripes cover “Small Faces” during their 2003 tour and being invited to meet them backstage after a Bay Area performance. It’s a shame Jack and Meg never recorded it for one of their subsequent albums.
You can find Public Nuisance’s Gotta Survive for sale here.
When rock duo Pets recorded their first album Pick Up Your Feet (2006), Derek Fieth and Allison Jones came by their signature sound by playing guitars in unison while letting a drum machine fill in the beats. Despite their minimalist approach, Pets managed to create a soundscape of Spectorian proportions with the addition of keyboards and electronic effects. “Pushy” gets things off to a lively start with Derek mumbling about his girl’s aggressive nature while Allison eggs him on by screaming the album’s title over and over. And from that point on, the production work by the band and Doug Godsey is damn near insane! A consistent barrage of noises bounce around and sweep through like a monstrous mosquito while other moments are accented with shimmering echoes. As a vocalist, Allison is a force to be reckoned with, exploding with “SET TO ATTACK!” to kick off the album’s second track “Meatbee” (which, not coincidentally, is another name for the hostile yellow jacket wasp). On tunes like “Backseat,” “Coldhouse,” and “Be My Friend,” she yelps and chants and often sounds as though she’s on the verge of hysteria. Derek, on the other hand, has a much more laid-back demeanor on songs like “Pretty” and “Give You a Ride.” And when the two engage in a round of call-and-response, there’s something undeniably sexy about the way they play off each other. I have to admit the two tracks in the middle that don’t feature a lead vocal by either member of the band aren’t as engaging to me as the ones before and after, but they still feel as though they belong thanks to the clever segueways and sequencing. The focus is clearly on sound dynamics and how this music makes you feel rather than how it makes you think. Sex, dancing, and generally having a good time with the one you love is primarily what matters here, and I can state from firsthand experience that they’ve succeeded admirably in inspiring that credo. The album closes with a near-instrumental track during which Derek and Allison’s voices faintly rise up in the distance as it progresses. It’s a nicely subdued ending for a record that can really get your heart pumping and feet moving.
Quite frankly, I was a bit confused the first time I listened to the follow-up album, Ready the Rifles (2010). Pick Up Your Feet split the vocal duties evenly between Pets’ two members, but Ready the Rifles is basically Derek’s moment in the spotlight with Allison literally in the backseat. She has only one lead here on “Switchblade” and just provides background and harmony vocals on some of the other tracks. Since Allison injected a welcome dose of adrenalin to many of the first album’s songs, I wasn’t quite prepared for her relative absence the second time around. Another unexpected development involves the general sound of the recording, which is considerably more relaxed and conventional compared to Pets’ first outing. (Also different: Ira Skinner adds a more human touch on the drums and serves as an unofficial third member.) Having spent more time with Ready the Rifles and allowing my initial expectations to gradually fade away, I can now assess it on its own merits. What this album lacks in visceral impact, it makes up for with simple and engaging pop songs that’ll remind you of The Vaselines (“Lost in There”) and The Jesus and Mary Chain, who serve as ground zero for the majority of Derek’s more melodic material. Stripping away most of the sonic jewelry has allowed for a more streamlined sound that lets the hooks dominate more readily. As with Pick Up Your Feet, the lyrics here are pretty basic and are mostly present to hang the infectious rhythms on. The following lines from “Clever is Whatever” seem to suggest that physical satisfaction is still a priority: “The last thing I’m trying to do is to seem smart to you / The furthest thing from my mind is what goes on inside your brain.” But with persistent references to guns (naturally) and breaking hearts, there seems to be more going on below the surface for this second go-around. And when Allison does chime in from time to time, there’ll be no doubting that this is a Pets album. Granted, it’ll have quite a few older fans like myself scratching their heads during its maiden voyage, but stick with it and I think it’ll begin to shine as a low-key gem over time.
Bonus Fun Fact – Pets have been nominated for SAMMIE Awards in no less than five different categories in just as many years: Electronic, Rock, Pop, Indie, and Post-Punk. Stay tuned to see how they’ll be classified in the near future!
You can find Pets’ Pick Up Your Feet for sale here.
Once upon a time, Tower Records was the place to go for aural satisfaction throughout much of the world and was an important part of my life beyond my own overwhelming love for music. I worked for Tower for twelve years at the chain’s first store in Sacramento and then for nine more at the company’s corporate office before it fell victim to changing trends in technology. Without Tower as the predominant music retailer, independent stores like The Beat and Dimple ruled Sacramento by default. Tower founder Russ Solomon tried to make a modest comeback with R5 Records in a location where one of his famous stores once stood, but it came and went after a few years of struggling to make a profit. R5′s demise freed things up for former employee Dal Basi (who had also been a longtime Tower buyer) to start his own store with the help of partner Nicholas Lujan. Located on K Street in the heart of Midtown Sac, the small shop holds quite an impressive collection of great titles. Their emphasis is decidedly on vinyl, which reportedly has had a very healthy market in recent years, and they’ve always got something pretty cool spinning on a turntable. Still, I’ll admit I’ve never looked back once I began collecting CDs, so I was eager to see what they had waiting for me in that format. Within a minute of browsing on the store’s opening day, I found about five discs I was interested in buying! Granted, the limited selection means you likely won’t be successful if you’re seeking something in particular, but anyone who’s serious about music in general will almost certainly leave with an unexpected treasure or two. During my initial visit, I was surprised to find a bootleg collection of demos by The Screamers, a legendary L.A. punk band that failed to release a proper album before they prematurely broke up. I’ve also purchased terrific stuff by Pylon, Neko Case, Suede, Devo, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, U2, The Louvin Brothers, The Vaselines, Pere Ubu, Galaxie 500, The Replacements, Annie Lennox, The Lemonheads, The Strokes, Simply Red, The Pooh Sticks, Bettie Serveert, and Sacramento’s own Ricky Berger. I was also offered a free mixed CD of power pop that Dal was cool enough to throw together for early bird customers, and unlike The Beat (which has admittedly gotten a lot of business from me over the years), Phono Select’s used CDs are reasonably priced and can go for as low as three bucks. The cozy size of the store makes it a comfortable place to hang out and chat with the guys, and if there’s anything you want that you just can’t find anywhere else in town, Dal or Nich will gladly order it for you if it’s available.
For more information about Phono Select, please go here.
I’ve been procrastinating for the better part of a year, but I’m finally ready to announce that I’m head over heels for Natalie Gordon, the extraordinarily talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist for Sacramento’s Agent Ribbons. She’s so damn groovy and gorgeous that she almost instantly became my local celebrity crush the first time I had an opportunity to watch her do her thing. Here, take a gander and you’ll see what I mean:
Yeah, she’s a doll alright, but you ain’t gonna hear her music just by staring at her. That’s why I’m here to let you know that Agent Ribbons’ debut release On Time Travel and Romance has given Sacramento another reason to be proud of its homegrown musicians. It all began when Natalie befriended Lauren Hess in a downtown used record store (which happens to be the very same store featured on the cover of DJ Shadow’s magnum opus Entroducing . . . ) This meeting of minds gave Natalie a renewed interest in her musical ambitions and inspired her to form a band (à la Art Brut) with Lauren sitting in on drums. Agent Ribbons has a decidedly retro sound thanks to Natalie’s focus on vaudeville, cabaret, and blues traditions in her songs, but she still manages to put a contemporary spin on everything she touches. Writing stories about looking for love after death and running off to join the circus, Natalie has a talent for dishing out the whimsy without ever sounding overly cute. And her vocal on “Birds and Bees” is so hypnotically sensuous that it’s become a permanent fixture on my profile on MySpace. I particularly like how Agent Ribbons’ DIY discipline extended to recording the album. They’ve admitted that they just wanted to take a batch of Natalie’s terrific songs and bang ‘em out without much thought of what they would sound like. They weren’t very proficient on their instruments at the time, but they figured out how to compensate by creating a signature sound that supported their material but didn’t overstep their reach. Natalie’s vocals are up front and center, her tunes are simple but instantly memorable, and the chemistry she shared with Lauren is quite apparent since there’s very little else competing for attention. A classic album, as far as I’m concerned.
Their follow-up, Chateau Crone, might possibly be a classic as well, but it’s definitely another creature altogether. With a much fuller palette and considerably more ambition on display, I was quite impressed with how much work they put into this one compared to the first. I have to admit I was pretty surprised when I finally heard the leadoff song “I’m Alright” up close rather than from a distance. (I’d heard it in a park as Sacramento concert promoter and Agent Ribbons groupie Jerry Perry played the new album repeatedly at a chalk art festival I was involved with.) Not exactly what I expected to hear from the ladies, but it sounds like they were born for it. Absolutely rockin’ and yet so damn smooth . . . . a hit single floating in from a much cooler time and place! What follows is generally more familiar for those accustomed to their older stuff, but with newest member Naomi Cherie adding violin and cello to the mix as well as the addition of background vocals and fancy effects, it does give them sort of a “Wall of Sound” compared to the minimal accompaniment they established before. That means you’re gonna have to listen to it a few times before it really starts to sink in, but it’s certainly worth the extra time it takes to sort it all out. Natalie’s vocals are more subdued and less quirky this time, but she still sounds fabulous. She seems to be haunted by the ghost of Roy Orbison in “I Was Born to Sing Sad Songs,” which is one of the most majestically melancholic ballads I’ve heard in quite some time. The album ends with popular concert favorite “Wood Lead Rubber,” but Naomi’s violin runs certainly add a thrilling dynamic not present in their live renditions when Natalie and Lauren performed it as a duo.
Sadly, the ladies weren’t able to make ends meet in their hometown and moved to Austin in March 2010 with the hope of greater success. Naomi unexpectedly left the band during a national tour, but Agent Ribbons bounced back with a BUST Magazine interview a few months later. Let’s hope the next few years bring more ups than downs for this wonderfully talented pair of ladies.
Bonus Fun Fact – In 2008, Agent Ribbons was banned from entering the U.K. for a full ten years! Okay, perhaps the word ‘fun’ doesn’t exactly apply here, but that certainly is an attention grabber. Here’s the full story.
You can find Agent Ribbons’ On Time Travel and Romance for sale here.
My introduction to Sacramento pop band Knock Knock began with an inside joke at a SAMMIES Showcase I attended in 2006. Just before getting started, lead singer Allen Maxwell announced that he and his band would be performing nothing but Anton Barbeau songs. Anton had thoroughly kicked ass in the previous set, and since he had long been my favorite local musician (see my first “Lost in Sacramento” entry below), hearing more of his songs sounded like a pretty sweet deal. Alas, Maxwell was just goofing around following some backstage shenanigans with Anton, but I was still impressed with how he provided a rousing beat for opening song “She Knocks Me Out” with handclaps. It’s true: A well-rehearsed clapping of hands can almost always win me over.
A couple years later, Knock Knock was awarded a SAMMIE to honor their second CD Girls on the Run (2008), but as superb as that release is, I feel their debut was just as deserving of the recognition. Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders (2004) is comprised of such an abundant range of intriguing textures and indelible melodies that it would inevitably be a tough act to follow. It’s remarkable that exuberant uptempo tunes like “I’ve Been a Drag” and “Dan Can You Stand” can occupy the same space with the languid beauty of “Oceanography” and “Levee,” but Knock Knock seems to have a knack for mixing things up without having to struggle to do so. “Eye of the Storm” finds a nice balance between the two extremes and is perhaps the best representation of their work as a whole, but you certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on other catchy numbers like “Jorge” and “Rotten Dogs.” Think of a poppier version of Yo La Tengo and you might have an idea of what to expect. Maxwell’s feathery-but-urgent vocals compare favorably to Ira Kaplan’s while Heather Conway adds an even lighter touch to a pair of songs a la Georgia Hubley.
Tasty stuff indeed, and when you’re finished with that one, you should be more than ready to take in the gorgeous harmonies and sugar-rush momentum of Girls on the Run. Punchy, jittery, chiming, rhyming . . . that’s what makes Pop pop, and it’s all here and then some. Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders had its share, but nearly every track on the follow-up features some variation on the standard “ooo” vocals to the point where Knock Knock can practically claim ownership. It’s almost as though they’re mantras providing temporary sanctuary from everything trying to rip the singer’s whole life apart. (“It’s alright now, it’s alright now . . . ooooooo,” Maxwell reassures in the title track.) Apocalyptic musings throughout the album could be referring to the end of the world or just the end of a relationship, but is there really a difference when it’s your heart on the chopping block?
Getting back to inside jokes, there’s plenty to be found inside the sleeves of both CDs. If you like that sort of thing, which I kinda do.
Bonus Fun Fact – According to Knock Knock’s bio, original member Nicola Miller signed a contract stating she would be the drummer to Maxwell’s bass for at least 20 years. She apparently found a loophole because she was replaced by Christine Shelley prior to the band recording its excellent third album, We Will Raise Your Child (2012). Then again, the contract is likely just another inside joke, so maybe we should call this “fun fiction.”
You can find Knock Knock’s Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders for sale here.
Dutch Falconi and His Twisted Orchestra was one of Sacramento’s most popular live acts during the 1990s. Taking the big band dynamic to its logical extreme with up to 32 members performing onstage or on the sidelines, these guys and dolls really knew how to put on a show! I happened to mention Dutch Falconi in passing while talking to former co-worker Dean Alleger during a lunch break, and he responded that he had not only played trumpet for the group but also co-produced its masterpiece Crime Boss Hootenanny (1997). I was absolutely awestruck to discover that someone I’d spent so much time shooting the breeze with had largely been responsible for piecing together a musical mosaic I had admired for so long.
On Crime Boss Hootenanny, Dutch Falconi drew inspiration from Cab Calloway, The Andrew Sisters, Tom Waits, and various other sources, but what really stands out besides the consummate musicianship is a satirical bent that recalls Firesign Theater at its wackiest. (Alleger was kind enough to give me a CD documenting a mock radio production that confirmed the Firesign influence wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.) There are the few expected showstoppers here like “Jerry the Junker” and guest vocalist Countess Kitten Fontina’s Bavarian mobster saga “Lepke Finger Gang,” but to truly appreciate this album, you really need to listen to it from beginning to end. In an attempt to fill the compact disc format with as much entertainment as the technology would allow, an 8-minute skit serving as an intermission was inserted at the appropriate interval. Alleger informed me that the basic tracks took only five days to lay down but that the album as a whole took two years to complete due to all of the nuttiness that was included in the final product.
Falconi’s out-of-print debut album The Shoes of Despair (1994) remained a holy grail for me until just recently when Dutch himself delivered it to my doorstep. I still think Crime Boss Hootenanny easily stands as their towering achievement, but The Shoes of Despair established the template for their theatrical approach to performing. Dutch’s introduction kicking off “Bandstand” makes it clear that he and his ensemble have a show to put on, and what a show it is! Unabashed tributes to cannibalism (“Potatoes, Carrots and You”), corruption of the innocent (“I’ll Show Them”), and exploitation cinema (“Rocket Bra Revenge”) abound, and the musicians gathered together for this first outing were in full swing right from the start. The liner notes alone are state of the art, covering each and every track as well as recalling DFO’s victorious court win against no less than The United Mass Marketing Agents of America.
As for Crime Boss Hootenanny, if you think you might be interested in checking out what I’ve often referred to as “The Sgt. Pepper of Swing,” you can find new copies for sale on Amazon for no more than a buck-and-a-half.
Bonus Fun Fact – The Dutch Falconi Orchestra incorporated a penis guillotine in its act for several shows, the gory details of which can be found here. Not for the faint of heart!
You can find Dutch Falconi’s Crime Boss Hootenanny for sale here.
Daisy Spot has been one of Sacramento’s most interesting and exciting bands for the past two decades even though they’ve released only one CD to date. Fortunately, their self-titled debut album was well worth the 13-year wait. Co-lead singers Mike Farrell and Tatiana Latour manage to maintain a sensuous vibe throughout as they seductively croon in unison on most of the tracks. Despite the consistent tone, the band touches on a variety of styles, including bossa nova (“Leinaala”), country (“See Dick Drive”), rock (“Stuck in the Mud”), and soul (“All I Wanna Know”). The album won a SAMMIE (Sacramento Area Music Award) in 2006 for “Best Local CD,” although I believe it could’ve been in contention for the best among any released nationally that year had it reached more ears. Tatiana also won for “Best Female Vocalist,” and she could’ve easily earned it just for her breathtakingly-beautiful performance on “All I Wanna Know.” Her other solo number “Erzulie” was recorded on an answering machine, giving it an eerie quality that’s highlighted at the right moment by the sound of a distant siren in the background.
Although the CD’s an instant classic, it doesn’t quite prepare the uninitiated for just how exhilarating their live shows can be. Bassist Brian Latour and drummer Alex Jenkins always provide reliable and steady support, but the adrenaline really kicks in whenever guitarist Farrell launches into one of his incendiary solos while Tatiana dances as though in a trance. I remember being mesmerized by this pair of former lovers the first time I saw them perform in a club, and they’ve continued to work their magic together many years after introducing themselves as a rock ‘n’ roll couple. Unfortunately, their live appearances have been very sporadic in recent years, and the likelihood of another Daisy Spot album seems slim even though they’ve developed enough material over the years to justify the effort.
In addition to Daisy Spot, Mike Farrell has been involved with a number of other bands like Th’ Losin Streaks, Persephone’s Bees, Moore, Sex 66, and, most recently, Jenn Rogar and the Adorables. In 2009, he finally released his first solo album Devil May Care, which also comes highly recommended. It didn’t knock me out right away as Daisy Spot’s debut did, but I couldn’t deny just how phenomenal it really is once I spent more time with it. It certainly does a much better job of showing off Farrell’s full range as a musician in a way his various other projects have been unable to do. Longtime fans know Farrell’s paid the price for his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Having spent a great deal of time in rehab, he’s lucky just to be alive, and he knows it. He’s also a badass rock star, and he knows that too. He’s Jimi Hendrix, Mick & Keith, Lou Reed, Jim Morrison, Johnny Rotten . . . screw it, he’s Mike Farrell, dammit! I have no idea why his legend hasn’t extended well beyond Sacramento, but I suppose I could say the same for all the artists featured in this blog. Anyway, back to Devil May Care. I could break it down for you track by track, but you really need to just buy it and listen and be amazed that an old-fashioned rocker like Farrell can still pull out all the stops and leave you breathless. The only thing remotely disappointing is that the garish cover art and the typeface used for the song titles circling the border make them extremely difficult to read. But then perfection’s ridiculously overrated, isn’t it?
Bonus Fun Fact – Mike Farrell once performed as a clown in a Tom Jones tribute band called Bozo Knows Jones. He also played drums and portrayed a decidedly un-American superhero called Captain Commie for the notorious Whorelords.
You can find Daisy Spot for sale here.
Let me begin by stating that Anton Barbeau was the first local artist I fell in love with way back in the late ’80s, and he remains my favorite despite some fairly stiff competition. He was Sacramento’s resident pop genius until he made the decision not to be several years ago, and there just seems to be no stopping him some 25 years into his prolific career. Anton has been blessed with that rare gift for being able to compose melodies that sound like they’ve always been with us. If songs like “Octagon,” “Leave It With Me, I’m Always Gentle,” and “Creepy Tray” don’t end up lodged in your brain after a few spins, then catchy Beatlesque pop clearly isn’t your cup of tea. I get the feeling that even a few of Anton’s heroes like Paul McCartney and Andy Partridge would be singing along with those and many others should they be lucky enough to encounter them at some point during their lives.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed about Anton is that he’ll sometimes make references to himself as a musician in his lyrics, either in an obvious way (“Another Anton Song”) or more subtly with just a few lines here and there. (Examples: “I don’t know a single damn thing / ‘Bout these words or the world or the feelings that force me to sing” and “She’s singing along to something I wrote last summer / The melody’s wrong, but that’s okay”) “Nobody Adores a Vacuum” name-checks so many of Anton’s songs that it stands as his “Glass Onion,” and “Reasonable Freq.” from his recent release Psychedelic Mynde of Moses continues to document his life as an artist. You could say that most musicians’ work reflects their own lives and sensibilities to some degree, but Anton seems to be the rare songwriter who actually incorporates his relationship to his profession directly in his songs. (A bit like what screenwriter Charlie Kaufman did when he wrote Adaptation, I suppose.) And even when it’s not explicitly mentioned in his tunes, you can often sense how important the music is to him just by listening to it. He puts so much of himself into his work that it’s very tempting to say I know him quite well even though we haven’t interacted much over the years outside of the occasional e-mail correspondence.
Granted, an unfiltered talent like Anton’s should be expected to be a little erratic at times. It’s surprising how a musician who can be so crafty at writing such perfectly enjoyable songs can rarely put together an album without tacking on a meandering track at the end. His live performances tend to ramble on as well with stream-of-consciousness monologues that don’t always connect with his audiences, but catch him on a good night with the right crowd and you’re sure to have a few good laughs while keeping your toes tapping along to his tunes.
Any of the CDs listed below will guarantee a pretty good time, although The Horse’s Tongue is currently out of print, and The Golden Boot was haphazardly thrown together rather than given the special attention deserving of the tracks contained within. A Splendid Tray, which features “The Banana Song” (Anton’s personal favorite and a highlight of his live shows), would be a good place to start. And for those with more of an inclination towards psychedelic pop, In the Village of the Apple Sun kicked off a relatively new phase in his career with an appropriately ornate batch of colorful numbers.
Oh, and as I indicated earlier, Anton is no longer a resident of Sacramento. He defected to England several years ago and rarely visits the town of his whelping.
Bonus Fun Fact – In 2001, a 23-hour “Anton-a-thon” was held in Barbeau’s honor at the dearly-missed True Love Coffeehouse with over 20 performers (including Anton himself) covering songs from his considerable catalog.
ANTON BARBEAU DISCOGRAPHY
The Horse’s Tongue (1993)
Waterbugs and Beetles (1995/2006)
Antology V.1 (1999)
A Splendid Tray (1999)
17th Century Fuzzbox Blues (2000)
The Golden Boot: Antology V.2 (2001)
Will Ant for Frond (2002) [This is a limited edition disc comprised of demos for King of Missouri as well as an assortment of covers and radio ads.]
King of Missouri (2003/2005; w/The Bevis Frond)
What If It Works? (2006) [Anton shares credit with The Loud Family, with early mentor Scott Miller contributing an equal number of songs and the two knocking out three covers.]
In the Village of the Apple Sun (2006)
Drug Free (2006)
The Automatic Door (2007)
Running Without Scissors (2009; cassette)
Plastic Guitar (2009)
Bag of Kittens (2009) [This is credited to Allyson Seconds, but Anton wrote and produced the whole album as well as provided instrumental and vocal support and rounded up a set of musicians who frequent his own recordings, so I consider this to be an Anton Barbeau release as well.]
Psychedelic Mynde of Moses (2010)
Empire of Potential (2011) [This compilation features 18 songs that highlight Anton's career to date with a few re-recorded for the occasion.]
Three Minute Tease (2011) [The band Three Minute Tease is essentially Anton backed by former Soft Boys Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor.]
You can find Anton Barbeau’s A Splendid Tray for sale here.