THE THINGZ (Changed Upon a Garage Guitar)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

THE THINGZ (Changed Upon a Garage Guitar)

The usual claim about popular music is that one is primarily interested in the bands that were on the play lists of one’s adolescence. While retaining an enormous affection for the glory days of Motown, I would prefer to devote what little time I can spare for contemporary pop music to younger musicians. In particular, I’m interested in those who are picking up the legacy of bands and songwriters between 1975 and 1995 who refused to let the corporate music business determine the future of guitar-oriented art. Part of that curiosity is simply sympathy for a similar goal in the small press world I was a part of back in those years. I remember Elvis Costello in the late 1970s saying that his goal was to destroy the record business. Of course, some of that was only the rambunctious bluster of self-promotion, but that attitude also reverberated with more sincerity than many people realized. Certainly, many of the most interesting bands that came out of that period were as little interested in getting signed by MCA as poets on the West Coast were in being aligned with Harper & Row.

If I have kept listening to popular music at all, it’s largely driven by the hope of hearing lingering strands of resistance to the ever-expanding commodification of culture. I’ll grant that my extremely fragmentary knowledge of current music is largely an intermittent act of overhearing at this point. There’s only so much time that one can give to all the many things that are worthy of our attention. Just as it’s now impossible for anyone to keep up with all of contemporary poetry, there’s no way that anyone can possibly keep track of pop music bands. That shouldn’t be used as an excuse for those whose blogs are primarily devoted to poetry to neglect commenting on the work being done in the field of popular music. One thing I’ll try to do in this blog is to give some minimal attention to popular music.

A few weeks ago, I walked over to the Prospector Bar at Seventh and Junipero in Long Beach at 11:00 p.m. to see one of my favorite “local” bands, THE THINGZ. I had listened to their second CD earlier this spring and wanted to find out how they sounded live.  Unfortunately, the band went on a bit later than the scheduled time, and I couldn’t stay for the whole set, which was a shame because the band was really kicking in as I headed home to get some sleep. I think Linda and I had an early dental appointment the next morning and I can no longer function on less than six hours sleep. My one reservation about the performance at The Prospector by the Thingz was that the drummer didn’t seem quite in synch in the opening numbers, but I was told the next time I saw the band members walking their dog that he had played sets for two other bands earlier in the day and was still trying to shift gears.

The Thingz is a three-member band, and one could think of them as a kind of stripped down version of X, with Billy Zoom being dropped from the line-up. The overall sound is an extremely melodic post-punk convergence of well articulated chord shifts with vocals traded back and forth with simmering dexterity. In a song such as “Secret Chamber,” for instance, I hear echoes of the B-52s as channeled through an impeccable garage band ethos. I’ll have more to say about this song later on. By chance, Linda and I saw them again the other day as they were walking home from a shopping trip and they mentioned they were playing this afternoon.

Today’s show was in a huge dirt lot near Sixth and Pine in Long Beach and this time they not only went on stage fairly close to the announced time, but the drummer was in fine form from the very first lick and the whole band seemed to glide effortlessly from song to song. The Thingz were kind enough to give me a copy of their set list, which included five songs from their new album, STEP RIGHT UP.

“She’s a Piranha”

“Human Pancake”

Mothballs & Bloodmeal

Old Arthur

Song for Sam

Your Misfortune

Lay Me Down

Bacon Slap

Thingz Theme

Secret Chamber

Clara Belle

Not Mean (Just Soured)

I enjoyed their show too much to spend time taking notes, but want to give special praise to “Bacon Slap” and “Clara Belle,” which was old-fashioned rocker of a number that made our rear ends twinkle with energy for a minute and a half of non-stop delight. Both songs served as a contrast to my favorite song of the afternoon, “Secret Chamber,” which featured guitar work by Michael that pushed far past the ordinary expectations one has for a pop music song. The song seemed longer live than on the new album, so the music in the instrumental portion at the end of the song may well have been improvised. If so, it coiled through a taproot that was close to being profound composition. Brief as it was, it sent a suction jolt of perfectly fermented antagonism through the resolution chambers of an inner dance that cannot be choreographed, but only passed through and released. Very well done.

If you want to download their latest effort, “Step Right Up” go to thethingz.bandcamp.com. You can get a code to download it with if you write the band itself at info@thethingz.com.