The Boston Phoenix
May 20 - 27, 1999

[Music Reviews]

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Mars needs guitars

The Best Music Poll party blasts off

by Jonathan Perry
photos by Eric Antoniou

Elliot Smith If last year's Phoenix/WFNX Best Music Poll festival was all about swinging hepcats and block-rocking electronica beats, this year's 11th annual all-night (well, okay, eight-hour) bash was about Marshall stacks -- lots of them -- and guitars, guitars, and more guitars. For the most part, old-school rock and roll ruled the roost on Lansdowne Street Monday, what with roots-rock acid eaters Cracker headlining the outdoor stage and the crowd jam-packing the clubs to check out local and not-so local heroes like the Gravel Pit, Mercury Rev, and Buffalo Tom, who took home two Best Music Poll trophies this year (Chris Colbourn, Best Local Male vocalist; "Rachael," Best Local Song). Heck, even the ska stage was littered with as many guitars as horns this year (witness Buck-O-Nine's ska-punk slamdunk).

Also, Best Music Poll results

A few highlights, shall we? Even though it was still way too sunny when local yokels the Strangemen mounted the outdoor stage (then again, the lead singer's name is Captain Summertime), it was hard to ignore five guys wearing skyscraper-high platinum-blond bouffant hairdos, leopard-skin vests, and vinyl trousers playing B-movie-dragstrip surfabilly. Besides, they rocked without even trying that hard -- certainly not as hard as Cowboy Mouth, who tried to make a go of it in daylight with their wacky brand of animated, goofy groove-cum-classic rock.

Cracker Thanks to the glimmer-twin showmanship of singer David Lowery, guitarist Johnny Hickman, and faux country trash like "Eurotrash Girl" and "Lonesome Johnny Blues," Cracker proved they just might be a (mid-'70s) Stones for our times -- or better yet, a Faces. What the world needs now, indeed. As for the Shods, last year, they played to a half-empty house. Not this year. With a Best Music Poll title declaring them Best Local Live Show, the dapper crew revved and raved before both the faithful and the curious at Karma -- about the same time psychedelic noise merchants Mercury Rev continued to capitalize on the boatload of praise they earned from last year's Deserter's Songs (V2) with a hypnotic set that mixed white-light/white-heat guitar (there's that word again) skronk with oscillating, spiritualized soul. And fleshed out by bass and drums, the once solo-flying Elliott Smith's collection of quietly articulate, Anglo-flavored pop songs became only more majestic, more freighted with his signature gentle, powerful sorrow.

Mercury Rev Buffalo Tom bassist Chris Colbourn must've let those BMP awards go to his head -- guitarist Bill Janovitz had to go it alone for a good half-hour before Colbourn showed up, sheepish and late (hey, at least we got some new Janovitz numbers like "One, Two, Three"). When finally intact, the band sounded epic, roaring through a slew of sturdy near-hits and polishing off their blistering set with "Mineral." Who could ask for a better ending than that?

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