The Boston Phoenix
July 27 - August 3, 2000

[Music Reviews]

| clubs by night | bands in town | club directory | pop concerts | classical concerts | reviews | hot links |

Back in the garage

Heidi, Muck & the Mires, and the Gizmos

Cellars by Starlight by Brett Milano

After a year in which Boston embraced heavy metal and arena rock in a big way, it's starting to look like the summer of garage-punk revenge. Consider the evidence: an old-school punk/pop band, Darkbuster, won everybody's hearts at this year's Rumble; the folks at Lilli's are doing their darndest to create a new garage scene and revive the old one; and I saw a pair of great, well-attended gigs by the Real Kids and the Lyres just last week. What year is it again?

Call it a throwback season, but I say it's more proof that Boston is remembering what's always mattered: good songs, punk irreverence, and garage roots. When garage rock gets revived, so do its close cousins, fun punk and punk-with-tunes. In short, it's the perfect time for a band like Heidi to rule.

Talking to the members of Heidi at the Middle East, I encounter four women with one guiding purpose and one goal in life. This is drummer Lisa Pimentel explaining how the band formed: "We started writing songs because we had to rock; I mean, we really wanted to rock." This is singer Jilly B explaining why she stopped being a horn player: "Probably out of rebellion, after my last band, Flunky, broke up. And I really needed to rock." Here's Pimentel again, explaining how guitarist Janet Egan joined the band: "I asked Sandy [bassist Sandy Monticello] if she rocked and Sandy said she did." And this is Egan explaining why she joined: "I saw them and thought they were awesome; I thought they rocked."

Actually the four members come from somewhat diverse backgrounds. Pimentel and Jilly B were indeed horn players in ska bands; both were in Flunky, and Jilly was in the Allstonians' first line-up ("That was my high-school band"). Monticello has been kicking around town for years, most recently in Bosley. (Full-disclosure notice: I was once in an outfit with her that never got out of the basement -- but even then she could play circles around the rest of us.) Egan, also known as WBCN's Juanita, was the last addition; and Heidi is a change for her after she'd made a name in two heavier bands, Malachite and the Tulips. "Heidi's songs just got to me, I liked the lyrics and melodies a lot," she says. "And I still love playing guitar; it's the only thing that makes me happy."

So far Heidi's sound brings to mind a couple of first-class bands, the Fastbacks and the Muffs, both of whom embrace pop-punk roots without getting trapped by them. But Heidi came up with a couple of ways to make themselves stand out. The first was to write their songs about specific people and attach women's names to most of them. "But we stopped doing that after it played itself out," Jilly explains. "I mean, the first album has `Susan' and `Suzanne' on it, and it was getting so even we couldn't tell them apart."

The subjects could be friends, enemies, or people who just sparked Heidi's interest. "Flora" is about a local eccentric they once saw do an interpretive dance at the coffeehouse Carberry's. The obvious hit and the one conventionally titled song on their self-released Heidi (which they sell at gigs) is "People We Hate," whose two subjects get skewered so thoroughly that one hopes they never hear the song. "They're people that probably wouldn't wind up hearing it," Monticello points out. "Their identities are our little secret," adds Jilly. "But we really don't want to hurt anyone's feelings; we just want to rock." Of course.

Heidi's other attention grabber is their cheerleaders' skirts and tube socks -- which they wear because, well, they can. "It's like a school uniform that shows you're on the same team and don't compete with each other," Monticello observes. "And you won't believe me, but they make me feel like a different person," adds Pimentel. "I'm in power when I put the socks on. You can wear them under your pants all day and you know they're there."

At present Heidi are recording new demos, with Letters to Cleo bassist Scott Reibling producing. The two tracks I've heard ("My Day Anyway" and "I Don't Want It") are terrific songs, respectively sporting funk and metal influences that were absent on Heidi. "I don't listen to one kind of music so I can't see playing just one kind -- and I think I ripped that quote off from somewhere," Monticello says. "But I listen to so much R&B right now that in a perfect world I'd be playing Otis Redding songs. And that's not out of the question with this band."

Do they feel that local trends are going their way? "I like to think it goes in cycles," she answers. "Whenever the angry-metal thing is happening, people say, `I'm so relieved to hear a pop band.' Before long people will get sick of us, too."

Heidi will share a bill with Darkbuster at the Middle East this Saturday, July 29.

MUCK & THE MIRES. After all these years, new stocks of '60s garage singles are still being unearthed. And I recently stumbled across what sounds like a good one from an ultra-obscure Canadian band called Muck & the Mires. Their "best-of" CD, All Mucked Up (on the Ontario-based Amp label), gives no info about the band, but one would guess that they recorded around 1964, just after the first Beatles and Dave Clark Five singles leaked out of England. You can sense that in the primitive recording quality -- lots of wide stereo and lo-fi guitars -- and in the sound, a mix of beat-combo harmonies and R&B harmonica. The songs are all short (12 of 'em in 24 minutes) and damn catchy -- so catchy that you have to wonder why they never had a hit, and why even diehard garage collectors have never heard of this band.

The reason, of course, is that they didn't exist. The CD is a little hoax cooked up by Nines frontman Evan Shore, a gifted hook slinger whose love for the British Invasion is matched only by his love for the Ramones. The disc originated as Nines demos, but when he realized they were sounding more '60s-ish than usual, he took the ball and ran with it. The Canadian label is for real (it ordinarily does garage rock and reissues), but even Amp wasn't told that there's no band -- behind the joky pseudonyms (Joey Muccarino on guitar, Pete and Bob Myers on bass and drums), it's Shore playing everything. And unless you count some of Roky Erickson's basement tapes, it's likely the first one-man garage record ever made.

"I didn't need to take credit because I had enough of an ego trip just making the album," Shore explains. "The whole thing's just about having fun. Plus, my drumming's so lousy that I didn't want my name on it." But it gave him a chance to get the '60s out of his system -- he even samples the handclaps off the Beatles' "Roll Over Beethoven" (which he could do because he has the British version, where the claps are panned to one channel). "It's funny, what Amp loved about the album was the retro sound, but I made it in a totally non-retro way, starting with a scratch guitar track and building the rest on top of that. But I wanted it to sound like it was the Beatles in a room playing to two-track."

Made-up bands always have a certain cachet. XTC are are still more popular in some quarters as the Dukes of Stratosphear than as their true identity. Shore senses that something similar may happen with Muck & the Mires. "It's already gotten me a couple of production gigs. And it would be ironic if this wound up doing better than the Nines, but I welcome the competition." He's already setting up some Mires gigs for the fall, where he'll be joined by his fellow Nines (drummer Linda Koury and bassist Bob Skaltsis) plus Ape Hangers guitarist Pete Sjostedt. Meanwhile the Nines play the Milky Way with the Real Kids this Friday, July 28.

GIZMOS CD. No round-up of garage rock would be complete without a mention of Kenne Highland, without whom the local scene (or at least Club Bohemia on Friday nights) would be a lot quieter. But before Highland became one of Boston's resident rock madmen, he was part of a band of delinquent teens in Bloomington, Indiana. That group, the Gizmos, released a few EPs in 1976-'77 and drew a thumbs-up from critic Richard Meltzer, and they rate as one of the last outfits you'd ever expect to see reissued on CD.

Nonetheless, the CD The Gizmos: Studio Recordings was released on the band's own Gulcher label this month. It reveals a group with a Ramones-inspired sense of the basics, plus a sense of humor somewhere between Lester Bangs and Mad magazine. I wouldn't guess that anyone's ever come up with a more understanding response to sexual rejection than their Faces homage "That's Cool, I Respect You More." On the other side of the coin, as it were, is Highland's lyrical masterwork, "Muff Divin' in Wilkie South." The title refers to an Indiana University dorm; the lyric might be called an instruction manual ("Let her know she's your favorite gal/Stick your tongue in her birth canal"). The disc also uncovers a strange twist of history: guesting with the Gizmos on one track is one of the other punks who resided in Bloomington at the time, a kid who called himself Johnny Cougar. It may be the first evidence that Mellencamp once had a sense of humor.

The Cellars by Starlight archive

[Music Footer]