July 20, 2002
Secret Guy , Black Cat Elliot , Bryan Thomas
Lark Tavern. Albany, New York.
Review by Bill Ketzer, Metroland
One of the oldest nightclubs in Albany, the Lark Tavern offers killer pub fare, colorful regulars and a remorseless knack for promoting some of the most esoteric live music bills around in recent years. This particular Saturday evening, we were treated to the wares of three very different styles of musica obscura and not-so-obscura. And-bonus!-each purveyor had new stuff on the table for our perusal, which can only bode well for the old tarmac of my brain.
Local solo favorite Bryan Thomas was first at bat, offering the dinner-hour crowd engaging and pleasantly rich melodies about "sex and race and art and God and the end of the world." Here is refreshing, fusion-on-a-short-fuse folk, instantly reassuring and provoking. One envisions Lenny Kravitz pit-fighting Prince in a beat-generation parking lot over a '62 Telecaster. This is hips-and-legs music, no questions asked. For a moment, one forgets that the place is utterly bereft of any real ventilation system. The place smells like Mothra's ashtray. But I digress.
Drawing mostly from his latest WT3 Records release, Ones and Zeros (which, in fact, provides a measure of the aforementioned aural support), Thomas was at times methodical, at other times migratory, sending up pearl after pearl and leaving the bullshitting to the barflies. This guy is wholly capable of holding his own, but one can't help but yearn for a tight, industrious band of hooligans beneath the opaque diversity of his voice.
Blackcat Elliot announced their opener as a sound check and proceeded to blast through a truncated set of 4/4 dandies and slow-dancers. From the solemn poetry of "So Nobody Knows" to the true lilt of "When My Party Ends," it was clear that frontman Kostas Hais spent much of his teen years in the bedroom, heeding the songwriting ethics of the Beatles, Badfinger and Cheap Trick. Never to be one-upped on cover choices, they also took time to memorialize the Ramones with "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," and revisit the final days of locally acclaimed wheelie kings North Again with "Don't Break the News."
Theirs is not a joyless lot, yet a certain sadness pervades the basic themes of BCE's melodies, something less obvious than a botched love affair, more proximal than the low buzz of guilt. Humble to the point of bewilderment, Hais and company quietly left the stage with a "thank you" and not so much as a sliver of feedback. If you like it lo-fi and honest, you'll like these guys.
All you need to know about Secretguy is that the floodgates to some satanic marshland have blasted open into the oceanic overwhelming might of some heavy-ass new deal. Engorged to the max with intense, deliberately gratuitous riffing and dusky, deep-South hollerin', Al Von Schaf and company selflessly batter and choke the life out of their poor gear as if it were a last ditch effort for devil-blue redemption. The evening's menu consisted of predominantly spanking new music from their upcoming release, Who is Secretguy? -including the utter bedlam of "Bring to Flood" and the wonderfully irreverent "Lord, My Lord."
The 'guy were selected as "Best Hard Rock Band" by Metroland editors this year, but the prize is misleading. A better category would be "Best Use of Ridiculously Deadly Force." People, the boys are loud, but it's the heft of the vibe that will get you (in fact, the room that night began to assume a different geometry). Aside from splitting eardrums, this effect is achieved more by an esoteric guitar tuning (DADAAD-explain that to Drowning Pool) that Albie confides is really an Eastern sitar tuning that he discovered "by accident when I was trying to learn a Jimmy Page lick." No matter, because by Crom it's the heaviest thing since Rosie O'Donnell's head, and twice as grumpy, which was good enough for me.
This article first appeared in Metroland July 25, 2002.