May 8 - 15, 1 9 9 7
[Music Reviews]
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All that glitters . . .

Silver Star & the Jukebox Angels get it on

by Brett Milano

[Silver Star] Ten years ago at this time, a lot of Boston's better bands were plugging into the impassioned garage-rock sound of the '60s. So it makes sense that a good number of local bands nowadays are taking equal inspiration from the '70s. Of course, the '70s were a pretty diverse decade, and the bands who most often get emulated -- Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Cheap Trick -- are the ones who never went too far out of style in the first place. You may be wondering, though, why hardly anybody's tried to revive glitter rock, which gave the early '70s some of its flashiest, trashiest, most fun moments. Even modern-day glitter boys like the London Suede never get beyond really obvious role models like David Bowie and, uh, David Bowie.

That's where Silver Star & the Jukebox Angels come in. The band sound as if they'd just materialized from a silver-sparkled time warp, with obvious influences including Sweet, Slade, and T. Rex (lead singer Rob Small has that Marc Bolan vocal quaver down pat). Even the production harks back to the heyday of UK glitter, complete with that tribal drum sound familiar from the old Gary Glitter records. "Star Baby" may share its title with a glitter-era hit by the Guess Who, but the song has a loping beat, heavily miked acoustic guitar, and lusty lyrics that bring some of the T. Rex ballads (especially "Hot Love") to mind, with a bit of the Small Faces' "Itchycoo Park" thrown in.

The payoff, though, is that all three of the songs on the tape are good enough to have come out back then, with the quality of the writing lifting the band into the realm of serious fun. "Tambourine Girl" pays tribute to those unsung heroes of rock and roll, with a bubblegum hook that doesn't quit -- what with the handclaps, the oh-yeahs, and the lyrical come-ons, the song's a perfect antidote to whatever too-serious rock you've heard lately. The one live track -- "Tiger Beat," recorded last year at Mama Kin -- has to make do without the overdubbed handclaps, but the song's opening couplet ("Whoa girl, don't you leave alone/"Cause I know you're really stoned") makes up for that. See them live and you'd be able to watch the band's two heavily glammed back-up singers strut their stuff, but it's clear enough from this tape that a wild time was had by all. Their next gig is set for May 24 at the Middle East.

Together since early last year, with the two Jukebox Angels recently added to the act, Silver Star have spent more time in the studio lately: producer Dave Frangione, who did preproduction work on the last Aerosmith album, liked their demo and will be the producer of their forthcoming CD. "I call our music bubblegum space pop," Small says. "We have kind of a '50s sensibility, but we put that into a 21st-century vernacular. Melodies are the most important thing, so we want to take them and give them a more spacy approach."

All of which means he wants to keep the band out of the '70s-glitter pigeonhole, but he admits to loving that kind of music. "It's funny, because when people hear our influences they think we're older than we are, but I'm 28 and I'm the oldest in the band. I'm pretty heavily influenced by that Phil Spector wall of sound, and even by a band like Chic -- their melodies were great. And obviously we love T. Rex, but I think we're more modern than that."

But do a band even have to be modern to be good?

"Not to me."


You can't accuse the Sugar Twins of not getting to the point. On the sweetly surf-rocking "For You," singers Holly and Honey Sugar harmonize for a few lines about how all-fired wonderful the guy they're singing about is, then make this modest proposal: "All I wanna do is sing and dance/All I want is a new romance/All I want is to take off my pants, for yooouuuu . . . " (The other choruses are even less discreet). The Sugar Twins have a whole lotta love to give to the world at large. Their playfully seductive personality harks back to the glory days of bachelor-pad pop, though the sound on the tape also recalls the glory days of the B-52's. The whole thing would fall flat if there were too much art-school irony, but the Twins' love-kitten concept is pulled off with wit, style and, of course, sweetness.

The Doom Buggies are the band who double as the Throbbing Lobsters, doing covers of such vintage Boston bands as the Bags, Classic Ruins, and the Neighborhoods. It wouldn't be a disservice to say that the band's own demo tape is the same basic idea, but with original songs. It's a classic-model Boston rock thang with a tight three-piece sound that especially brings punk-with-tunes bands like the early Neighborhoods, Big Dipper, and the Prime Movers (minus keyboard) to mind.

The three songs here could easily have appeared locally a decade ago, maybe even on the Throbbing Lobster label. Of course the above-mentioned bands all succeeded mainly on their songwriting, and the Buggies are no slouches in that area either. The group sport two lead singers, and the songs include "Think Big" -- whose lyrics have an offbeat Big Dipper-esque humor -- and "Mystified," a pop number whose title is stretched out to seven syllables (as in "I feel mystifi-yi-yi-yi-ed"). The closer, "Rocket," is so catchy that they've gotten away with sneaking it into Throbbing Lobsters sets and passing it off as a long-lost local classic.

The Pilfers are the first local ska band in recent memory whose name isn't a pun. And the opening track of their album-length tape Rude by Association presents an interesting question. The tune, "Jolly Jolly Jolly," is a heartfelt ode to the pleasures of ganja. But if they've really smoked so much of the stuff, how are they able to play this fast? In any case, the tape's a solid effort that combines a trombone-driven roots sound with a poppier, harmony-vocal approach that brings the English Beat to mind. The instrumental sound is fronted alternately by the horn and by an assertive lead guitar, with dub echoes often thrown into the mix as well. The result manages to cross punk, pop, and ska without sounding much like the Bosstones.

Like the Cherry 2000 tape that won our previous Demo Derby, Twitcher's three-song tape, which boasts the wonderfully offensive title Leg of Lamb of God, slants its punk/pop/rock formula a bit differently on each track. "Hide" is the big, angry punk outburst, though singer Sandra Malak shows a bit more subtlety than you might expect. "Frantic" is a guitar-driven instrumental that lives up to its title; "Time in Pain" introduces a midtempo, psychedelicky approach. Good mix of urgency and technical chops on this one.

There may be a few too many song ideas floating around in Slept's 12-song tape Ick Tank, but most of them are good. Like XTC in the early days, this band run through song structures like bulls in the proverbial china shop, cramming them full of information and sticking in multiple bridges and time changes. Not everyone can be XTC, however; there are times when Slept would do well to simplify just a bit (or at least to beef up the production, which is a little thin). Still, these folks write fine hooks and have a tight three-piece sound, and the right ingredients for big-time pop are here.

Jack Frosting's latest effort is a real oddity: why would a band known for their songwriting circulate a demo whose one track is a cover? And why would that cover be "Walking in the Rain," the Flash & the Pan song that was a hit in 1979 and now smacks of new-wave kitsch? The use of a live rhythm section gives the song a tense groove that the original didn't have (maybe Jack Frosting just couldn't afford the drum machine), but otherwise their version is surprisingly faithful, complete with megaphoned vocal and cheesy synth lick. They deserve a mention for even bothering: the song's just weird enough to be worth a revival, and at least they covered it for real instead of trashing it. But we also hope they change directions again before they start doing Blancmange and Ebn-Ozn covers.


Tonight (Thursday), local psychedelic pop up-and-comers the Sky Heroes hit Mama Kin . . . Friday, Laurie Sargent comes to Bill's on the heels of her new Warner Bros. CD, and Railroad Jerk tumble into T.T. the Bear's from NYC. Local soul-bluesers Bellvue Cadillac play Johnny D's . . . On Saturday, T.T.'s hosts a reunion of Boston's '80s garage-rock Dead End Kids the Dogmatics, and loud-and-dirty Thee Headcoats rumble the Middle East upstairs . . . On Sunday, skirt-wearing blues hotshot Chris Duarte hits the House of Blues (sorry, Chris, but Howlin' Wolf would not understand) . . . On Wednesday, the Descendents descend on Lupo's in Providence. And there are still a few tickets available for Bill Morrissey's Brattle Theatre show next Friday, May 16.

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