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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hello Wisconsin!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I remember granting a fake interview a couple years ago, because the fake interview is the only kind I ever grant. And, oddly enough, the only kind I've ever been asked to grant, so apparently the policy has served me well.

The scenario was a hazing ritual given to all IPM Radio first time visitors. A dozen or so "let's get to know you and please don't take yourself seriously" questions that serve as an intro for those present and whoever's listening. Among the questions was "Name the first LP/CD/Cylinder Recording that you paid actual money for and why."

It was easy. Cheap Trick's 1977 sophomore release "In Color." I added some drunken ramble about the duality of man or self actualization represented by the cover and the makeup of the group itself. Or some horseshit within those general horseshit parameters.

This is a band that has surprised me from the very beginning. They turn up when I'm looking for them least and disappear when I'm looking for them most. I recall an early Toad's Place performance (Hartford, CT) that was cancelled due to poor sales/promotion. Apparently the same firm was responsible for announcing the cancellation, because we found out about it via a piece of magic markered notebook paper taped to the venue door.

And I recall a Beatles-Sullivan moment when flipping through the channels in '77 and finding them manically tearing it up on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. No warning, no MTV profile of their sneaker closets, just a random unadvertised landing on the late night airwaves. I was transfixed. A guitarist that looked like Huntz Hall kicking heroin. A lead singer that could channel Lennon, McCartney, or both. A chain-smoking drummer nabbed from central accounting.

Everyone has a story about the record that was played until it would play no more, and for me this was it. Maybe it has to do with the cash outlay and being the first. Maybe it was the hours spent trying to replicate Clock Strikes Ten's Big Ben harmonics on the crappiest acoustic guitar in all of North America. Who would ever admit to buying a complete dud that wound up having no influence on their life whatsoever? How could it be anything less than an eye-opening, sea-parting turning point? I wondered: Did this gatefold, this neat split down the middle, signify some real-world rift within the band? Did the handsome guys ever hang out with the older, not-so-handsome guys? Cover to cover scanning of Circus and Creem ensued.

To me they represented a logical step between the AOR FM radio of the day and the burgeoning new wave movement, never quite belonging within either of these contexts. They never belonged anywhere, really. Within a year or so, there was Heaven Tonight and Live at Budokan, the latter playing an odd (cheap?) trick on their career. They were placed in the very Framptonesque position of waiting for a well-received live album to die down while a backlog of follow-ups accumulated. Like Frampton, the stars never quite aligned for them after that, and it's been clubland and county fairs ever since.

I hope that changes, because today they surprised me yet again. I stumbled upon their brand new disc at one of the Marts, which means they've got top shelf distribution this time around, which means someone in charge liked what they heard, which means maybe a gig at something snazzier than the Emerald Ballroom or the Waukesha Chili Cook-off. And I hope they make a comeback under their own steam, not via the name-dropping patronage of some rock star du jour (Billy Corgan, last time around).

It's slick, it's yellow, it's cartoony. It has a remake of an In Color song. It might even be good, I just don't know. You can never wish for lightning to strike twice, but maybe everything works if you let it. Or maybe the kiddies will confuse it with a Gorillaz release and it'll take off.

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