Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Urban Verbs

More nostalgia.

Sometime in the Spring of 1981, WREK, the Georgia Tech student radio station, started playing a song called "Acceleration" by the Urban Verbs.

The Urban Verbs were from DC, and in fact in 1978 they were the first DC band to play at CBGB's in New York. They were on a bill with the Cramps, and holy mother of God and all her wacky nephews, what a show that must have been. Their lead singer, Roddy Frantz, was the brother of the Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, which caused unfair comparisons to be drawn between the two bands and caused (if the conventional music-critic wisdom is to be believed) the Verbs' fall into obscurity. Which I find kind of odd, because I don't hear much in common between the two bands other than a penchant for funky ostinato bass lines. Even at their weirdest, the Talking Heads always seemed to be informed by an unshakable pop sensibility (not that there's anything wrong with that!). The Verbs, on the other hand, were turning out much darker, more difficult stuff.

Anyway, hearing "Acceleration" back then turned my 16-year-old head inside out. (You can hear it on their MySpace page.) The bass and drums start out shaping a dark, repetitive, robotic figure, and in comes this shimmering guitar tracing suspended chords that hang in the air like fireworks. I'd never heard anyone playing guitar like that before. I still get chills listening to it twenty-seven years later.

The tension (or is it the harmony?) between the technological and the organic is at the core of the music I compose, and while there were other artists who pushed me this way (Laurie Anderson, OMD in their Dazzle Ships period, Pylon of course), I think the Urban Verbs were the first.

I'm writing about this because I just found Early Damage, newly re-released, at Melody Records yesterday, and I discovered this morning that they're getting back together for a show at the 9:30 Club on May 24th, at which they'll be recording a live CD. This is the best news I've had in a long while. I plan to be there, acting like the great big embarrassing fanboy that I am.

Here they are playing "The Next Question" with Brian Eno.

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