Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Ian Svenonious "Plays Pretty" for the gang.
I had a birthday this month and my good pal Matt was nice enough to buy me a ticket to see Ian Svenonious's new project "Chain and the Gang" perform at Space 1026 in Philly.
I first heard of Ian through my friend Mike and his crew back when I was a teenager. As supporters of the insanely creative Washington D.C. scene, Ian's band "Nation of Ulysses" quickly became a band that was often heard when we all hung out and blasted records late at night. At times, and at the very least, certain songs would make the track listing on countless mix tapes exchanged between our friends. NOU was great. They were essentially a punk band (who liked being considered a political party versus a musical group and) who wrote songs about conspiracies, unique and varied political stances, international relations, and even love. Their shows were rumored to have been nothing short of intense, with Svenonious's stage presence rivaling that of D.C. label mate's Guy Picciotto's (Fugazi) legendary dangerous on-stage antics. We're talking broken bones.
Ian went on to dabble within several experimental projects once the arrival of popular alternative rock destroyed his chances of touring and catching on the way he initially envisioned NOU would. One of those bands was "Cupid Car Club" - a band that would only release one 7" and contribute a few songs to a couple K records compilations released at that time. The imagery and vibe (another concept group that encouraged membership) of the release was similar to that of NOU, taking guitarist Steve Gamboa from NOU with him. Another change was that Delta 72's Kim Thompson would add vocals while playing bass. This would mark the beginning of Svenonious's preference to female bassists/singers. The band didn't last long as work with Make-Up took priority and eventually strangled CCC and left it for dead.
The Make-Up (sometimes referred to as simply "Make-Up") would become the most successful group to date in Svenonious's career. Gambona would join this time on drums for another round with Ian and groovy bassist Michelle Mae would come aboard. The band's catalog would become impressive quickly, with over fifteen releases (four being full length studio albums) and about a dozen appearances on compilations. They also released an amazing short film in 1998 Blue is Beautiful wherein the members perform live, experience a run-in with customs while crossing international lines, all while shot on 16mm camera.
Seeing the Make-Up was a real treat. They played at an eating club at Princeton University in New Jersey. It was Thursday March 2nd, 2000 and the other bands that performed were All Scars and the Gunga Din. Ted Leo introduced them M.C. Style and the second that the funk, garage bass kicked in Mr. Svenonious was wailing at the top his lungs like a hysterical James Brown. Clad in a vintage suit and sporting thick black sideburns with a wild bouffant hairstyle, he quickly climbed into the crowd with the assistance of a small wooden stool that he barged out onto stage with. He tugged at people's collars begging people to "reach deep down inside and find the seed that each one of us has planted in us". We bopped, danced, screamed, and rocked to the garagey riffs and "Gospel Yeh-yeh" ways of The Make Up. It was incredible. But it didn't last forever...
Ian released a solo record in 2001 under the name David Candy. The album: Play Power. Some bubble gum rock meets sixties espionage music and all tied together by "David's" restraining order worthy lyrics. Super creepy words with incredibly tasteful samples and riffs, Play Power is a complete success. There is also an incredible cover of the theme song to Rosemary's Baby. Even if you hate everything on the album, the cover song alone is worth the price of the record.
Ian continued with another band with a similar idea to that of The Make-Up, keeping Mae on bass but tapping more into the more colorful, less serious indie scene. They ironically first called themselves the Scene Creamers but quickly became Weird War. Their most popular song AK-47 can be seen performed in Brandon Canty's Burn To Shine Vol. 1 01-14-04. This band has proved to be another very productive project (releasing four studio albums on Chicago indie label Drag City) and has made no mention of disbanding.
Ian Svenenious's newest project to date is "Chain and the Gang", and seeing them was fantastic. Down with Liberty... Up with Chains is the album name, and jailhouse rock is their M.O. With songs ranging from conspiracies reviewed both outside the big house walls and behind bars, these crooks rock with a bland emotionless power that only hard time could be to blame. Imagine garage meets R&B meets Vietnam era classic rock with some hints that Svenonious aka "Chain" still has some gospel soul running through his poisoned veins.
I stood right up front and instantly did whatever I could to avoid eye contact with Ian. He historically enjoys incorporating the crowd in his somewhat improvised performances and being up front, I was basically asking for it. It turned out great, as his hugs and yells and pointing affected just about everyone,leaving no one to really stand out other than himself. What a time.
P.S. Do yourself a favor and watch as many episodes of Soft Focus as you can and read The Psychic Soviet.