February 29 - March 7, 1 9 9 6

| clubs by night | clubs directory | bands in town | reviews and features | concerts | hot links |

Up, please

The Elevator Drops take the Pop Bus; the Nields get complex

by Brett Milano

["Elevator The most remarkable thing about the Elevator Drops' career may well be the fact that they haven't gotten beaten up yet. Last year in these pages they took some amusing potshots at better-known local artists, most notably Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo ("We had a nice phone conversation with her afterward, and let's leave it at that," notes singer/guitarist Josh Hager). That's all changed, of course: after doing a few shows with Blur, The Elevator Drops are now touring with the Rentals, and they're on their good behavior -- sort of.

"The Rentals? The people in the band are all nice, except for that one guy," reports Hager from a radio studio in Omaha. He's referring to Matt Sharp, the Weezer member who's the celebrity in the Rentals. "He's really into his own genius. He's got that whole thing of `Yeah, I'm brilliant. I'll be on the tour bus, wake me up when the show's over.' "

The Elevator Drops' album (on Time Bomb) is called Pop Bus, and try spelling that backward if you don't get the joke. Although disguised as an indie release, it's actually close to a major-label debut. Although Time Bomb does its own publicity and signings, it's a boutique label funded and distributed by Arista. That's the kind of faux-indie arrangement that purists rail about, but The Elevator Drops -- who parted with the local Curve of the Earth label after some bitter contractual wrangling -- don't seem particularly loyal to indiedom. "There's a real deep meaning to the album title," Hager says. "Whatever Sub Pop may mean to you, we're the sheep running in the other direction, carrying Kurt Cobain's bloody head."

" . . . Whatever's left of it, anyway," pipes in bassist Dave Goolkasian (who has also produced for other local musicians, including Tracy Bonham). Asked about their current relationship with Curve of the Earth, Hager shoots back, "Let's go on to the next question."

As far as their music goes, The Elevator Drops are more like nerds who talk a good game. (The third member of the band is drummer Scott Fitts.) Take away the attitude, the lyrical sarcasm, and the ridiculous costumes they wear on stage and you've got a pop band whose sound is polished, melodic, maybe even a little twee. Keep in mind, however, that the above is a compliment in some circles, and that Pop Bus is a perfectly good twee pop album. The Elevator Drops couch their hooks in an ornate studio setting that brings Jellyfish and (gasp) Queen to mind, even though the lyrics are likely to be out of synch with the sweetness of the sound. The catchiest tune, for example, bears the title "Beautiful Junkie" and sports this chorus: "Be a part of your generation/Be a Lemonhead and don't complain." You've got to like an outfit that devotes part of its national debut to making fun of Evan Dando. (The band claim that Dando's heard the song and likes it -- and given his self-depreciating sense of humor, that doesn't seem farfetched.)

One could argue, of course, that the joke is somewhat outdated, and that Pop Bus's other local in-joke, "I Wanna Be a Drop Nineteen," is really outdated. Blame that on the album's having been in the can for a year. "The only reason that the song about the Drop Nineteens [who have since broken up] is on there is that they were working upstairs from us when we were in the studio," explains Hager. "We were jealous of them and they were a little snotty; we'd bump into them and they wouldn't say hello. We're not making fun of them, just reliving our past."

"We make fun of Zeppelin on the album too, and it's too late to do that as well," Goolkasian adds.

The closest thing to a straight answer comes from Goolkasian when explaining the songwriting. "If the songs change a lot, it's a matter of attention spans -- everyone's is so short nowadays that you need to keep their attention all through the song. Otherwise we'd think it was boring." As for the studio technique, Hager says there isn't any. "It's a lot of naïveté, really -- we don't know what we're doing in the studio, so this album came out of it. But it's better than making the kind of album that's well produced but really boring. Like all the ones from Fort Apache."


As Bob Dylan discovered in 1966, it's not hard to alienate the diehard folk audience. Throw in some bass guitar and drums and somebody's going to claim you sold out. This happened to the Nields recently, even though they've always insisted they were essentially a rock band.

"We just played the Folk Alliance conference in Washington, and somebody wrote on the Internet that we were about as folk as the Spin Doctors," singer and main songwriter Nerissa Nields said last week from the group's current base in western Massachusetts. (Nerissa founded the group with sister/lead singer Katryna and husband/guitarist David, all of whom share the same last name.) "But there's been no attempt on our part to try and be folk. If there's a folk element to us, it's partly that most rock songs seem to be written in a first-person, confessional mode, while ours tend to be story-songs. The other part is that I think there's a community feeling to our shows, a sense of opening our arms to our audience and saying, `You're part of us.' That's something that we learned from Pete Seeger. At the same time, I grew up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and always wished I was in a band like that. I saw Mick Jagger and it was the only time I've ever wished I was a boy."

To rock-trained ears, there's nothing radical about a melodic rock band with two lead singers in folkish harmony, and the Nields have been moving toward this format since the release of a strong live disc (now out of print) recorded three years ago at Northampton's Iron Horse. On that disc, the two sisters still came off as engaging bohemian folkies, but the songs were moving toward pop structures and David was throwing in some Richard Thompson-esque licks. Last year's Bob on the Ceiling introduced the electric-band format but didn't quite pull it off -- the rhythm section sounded grafted on, and some of Nerissa's songs were uncharacteristically lightweight. For the first time, the group were on the wrong side of the line between quirky and cute.

Not the case on Gotta Get Over Greta, (due in stores this week), which is the Nields' first national-label album and their best to date. (Released on the large indie Razor & Tie, the album saw a couple of false starts. A label deal with Elektra fell apart at the last minute, and John Hampton -- who wound up overseeing two tracks -- was slated to produce before his usual clients, the Gin Blossoms, beckoned.) They've come up with a not-quite-rock, not-quite-folk format that makes the most of the sisters' offbeat harmonies, Nerissa's creative turns of melody, and David's rocker tendencies. Using producer Kevin Moloney, they've got a better handle on full-band arrangements.

It's Nerissa's songs that stand out, however. Despite the album's bright color cartoon cover, it's a darker collection that explores more complex situations. The title track is about a marriage that gets haunted by the ghost of an intense childhood friendship. "All My Pretty Horses" is an upbeat yet eerie song about a dying woman looking back with affection. One suspects that Nerissa had exhausted the conventional song angles and went in a more challenging direction.

"I do try to surprise the listener sometimes," she says. "I listen to somebody like Aimee Mann or Dar Williams and say, `My God, I never would have thought to write about that,' so maybe I try to make my songs interesting in the same way. Also, I feel that people are complicated. And you can feel as strongly and passionately about, say, your best friend when you were a kid -- that can have as much validity as a wrecked romance that you had when you were 22."

Like most good writers, she picks and chooses among observations and pieces of her own experience. "I think this reflects where we are as writers. In some ways, all of the songs deal with the process of getting over, and everyone has things in their lives that they struggle with. It could be losing your virginity, or the romance that wrecked you. It could be an Oedipal complex, or it could be acne."


First-generation plunk locker Wayne Kramer is back in town at Mama Kin tonight (Thursday), Boss Hog and Quivvver are at T.T. the Bear's Place, and recent indie-label dumpees Smackmelon are at the Middle East. Meanwhile, Jen Trynin continues her recent string of small-club gigs, with the fab Poundcake at the Kendall Café . . . It's Vision Thing's CD-release show at T.T.'s tomorrow (Friday), while Scatterfield play the Attic in Newton and the Softies/Elliott Smith double bill takes place at the Middle East . . . Dino Jr. member Mike Johnson hits the Middle East Saturday; Bikini Kill, Team Dresch, and other women of a riotous persuasion are at T.T.'s, ace songwriter John Wesley Harding is at Bill's Bar, and Tree headline the Rat.

On Sunday, ex-Alarmer Mike Peters headlines an Amnesty International blowout at Mama Kin, Magnetic Fields are at T.T.'s, and Celtic songwriter Mike Scott plays Berklee . . . The unmissable Steve Wynn/Come collaboration plays its only American show at Mama Kin Monday . . . One of the many incarnations (it hardly matters which one) of seminal space-rockers Gong makes an ultra-rare local appearance at Mama Kin Wednesday with local progsters Architectural Metaphor opening. Meanwhile Throneberry play the Middle East.

| What's New | About the Phoenix | Home Page | Search | Feedback |
Copyright © 1995 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.