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Killing time (continued)

Finally, last summer, an advance copy of Sparkle in the Finish, the new album by the newly christened Ike Reilly Assassination, showed up in the mail, replete with a full press kit and Warner Bros. distribution through the Philly-based Rock Ridge Music, an upstart label helmed by former Universal marketing exec Tom Derr. In the years since Salesmen and Racists, Reilly and his band had been embraced throughout the Midwest (especially in Minneapolis) and had developed pockets of loyal fans elsewhere. With a tenacious bar-band backing, and producer/keyboardist Ed Tinley’s knack for framing white-boy raps, beaten poetry, and garage-rock hooks in a more straightforwardly Midwestern take on pomo Beckian folk-punk blooze, Reilly had improved with age. He sounds downright cocky even down in the dumps on "Garbage Day," as sharp social critiques segue into mixed romantic reveries — "Later that day we came upon an execution/Like a carnival of death with protest and confusion/I met a girl from the college in the crowd/She dropped her shoes when she bent down it made me feel so all alone." And the slowly building "The Boat Song (We’re Getting Loaded)" is as good an underdog anthem as the Replacements ever wrote, only Reilly fills his ship with a whole load of witty Dylanesque rambling sung in an unmistakably subterranean-homesick-blues cadence — "empty bottles and broken models with their hollow smiles and open throttles . . . all these moneyed men with their flight attendants . . . the promise keepers, yeah those righteous creeps, the legend seekers of the Ivy League . . . the vulgar boatmen and the drunken showmen and the Willy Lomans of rock and roll" — before getting loaded with "the cheap-seats boys." Let’s just say it’s not hard to see why Minneapolis has been so kind to Reilly. Or for that matter, why critics have had such a hard time deciding whether the Ike Reilly Assassination are the best bar band in America or, more potently, a vehicle for a gifted songwriter to fuse the wise-ass ramblings of Dylan with the lovable underachiever fight songs of the Replacements.

Reilly for his part isn’t sure what to think of it all, especially when it comes to Minneapolis and the Replacements. "They make that Replacements comparison a lot, and I don’t know . . . that term bar band has always sounded distasteful to me. But I guess I’ve also always thought of the Clash and the Stones as bar bands. So I have mixed feelings about it. But where I’m from, you see guys who are playing ‘Proud Mary’ and that’s a bar band. Or maybe those are just cover bands. So I guess I’ve come to accept the bar-band thing, even though I think our songs are produced really well."

There is, however, no denying the Dylan thing. "I know we’ve talked about this before, but what Dylan did in ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ is some of the first rapping. But we’re not like Rage Against the Machine or anything. Our politics aren’t overt. If you listen to the music, you’ll find subversiveness there. But I could never be the kind of protest singer who could get up there and say, ‘Lay down your arms.’ The band in the song ‘Ex-Americans’ are sort of that mythological band that I wish I could have been in. While you call us a bar band, the Ex-Americans are a band who would mean something to people — a band with a political agenda. But the joke is, people go to see them based on some kind of protest, but the guy in the band really just wants to know if he can get his drinks for free."

Twists like that are central to Reilly’s appeal. He always lets you in on the joke — as in "American Thighs #17," when he lashes out, "No limey ever wrote a song like ‘I Walk the Line’ " — but he’s not usually just kidding around. "I think there’s a celebratory nature to even the darkest themes that come through in my songs. I don’t know, you and I have talked so much about this, but the overall approach to my songwriting is like the dark humor at an Irish wake. Because I kid about something or make fun of it doesn’t mean that I don’t care."

Indeed, Reilly can’t help finding humor even in sacrosanct subjects like the surge of patriotism that followed September 11. "I wrote an answer to all of that that we aren’t going to record. It’s called ‘They Really Put the Cunt Back into Country,’ and it’s based on the selling of patriotism through those country songs by guys like Toby Keith, you know, singing about putting his foot up Saddam’s ass and that kind of crap. I love that song because there’s nothing like singing ‘cunt’ 25 times in three minutes in front of a crowd that’s never heard you before."

The Ike Reilly Assassination headline this Monday, March 14, at T.T. the Bear’s Place, 10 Brookline Street in Central Square; call (617) 492-BEAR.

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Issue Date: March 11 - 17, 2005
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