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 (1999), 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 (2006) 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 and then Germany 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.]
Bite the Hand (2014) [Anton’s second outing fronting Three Minute Tease.]
Distortion Schlager (2014)
You can find Anton Barbeau’s A Splendid Tray for sale here.