Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Imperial Teen - What Is Not To Love
For my birthday in 2002, my girlfriend gave me two tickets to see The Breeders play at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City later that month. Rob, one of my New Zealand buddies, was over in the States that summer, working as a swim instructor at a summer camp for underprivileged urban children in Vermont (his normal gig is as an actor and print and TV model in NZ - here's his website if you're interested: http://www.robertfaith.com). So I invited him to come along (my girl wasn't a big Breeders fan). Rob was pretty psyched to learn about our upcoming trip; he'd been stuck up at that ramshackle camp for weeks, and was itching to get away and get back to New York, a place he had visited only one time previously but instantly fell in love with.
The only issue was that I had to schlepp my way up to Vermont to get him, as he had no transportation. I didn't see that as a major issue. On the week of the show, I was to be away in Atlanta until early Friday afternoon. The plan was that I would fly back to Providence, drive home to pack my stuff, then shoot up to Vermont to pick Rob up en route to NYC. The camp managers had only given him two days off, so it was going to be a quick trip. Up to that point in my life, I had never been to Vermont - really didn't have any reason to. But it looked small on the map, so how long could it take to get there?
[Well, I found out EXACTLY how long it took to drive through that stultifyingly boring state. I'll spare you the details of that journey - a tragicomedy of plane delays, traffic jams and assorted errors that began in Atlanta and didn't end for another 18 hours or so. Let me just say that, no offense to the good citizens of Vermont, but I'll live just as long and die just as happy never having to visit that boring-ass state ever again . . .]
By the time we finally got to New York in the very wee hours of that Saturday morning, we were dead beat. But we were also starving, so we threw our stuff down at the Helmsley and went to the Carnegie Deli (which is open until 4 am) for a feed (even at that late hour, there were famous faces there - Tommy Lasorda sat gorging himself at the table next to us) before stumbling back to the hotel and collapsing exhaustedly into our beds.
We were up fairly early the next morning - I was worn out from all of the traveling and delays, but Rob only had 48 hours of leave from the camp, and didn't want to waste it sleeping. The show didn't start until 8-ish, so we killed the day running around town, from Central Park to Canal Street and points in between. Rob hit the city wearing his "party/concert" attire, which consisted of bright orange jeans with cargo pockets and a black mesh shirt . . . I nearly collapsed with laughter. His outfit looked like something the Festrunk Brothers from SNL would wear in New York to look 'hip'.
[Of course, I ended up eating my words and guffaws - as we walked around Soho that afternoon, a guy with a camera came up to us, told Rob he was a professional photographer for a nationally-known men's fashion magazine, and asked to take his picture for an upcoming issue (the bastard completely ignored me - guess I wasn't dressed 'hip' enough). And sure enough, a couple of months later, a small shot of Rob sporting his 'look' appeared in the magazine. So that shows how much I know . . .]
After a few drinks (at the Cub Room on Sullivan St. - great place) and some chow (at Blue Ribbon Sushi just down the street - highly recommended), we hopped a taxi for the show, soon arriving in front of the venue. I was really looking forward to seeing the reformed Breeders, with both Kim and Kelley Deal back in the band (they were touring on Title TK, their first new album in nine years). In the years since the last show I saw with them together (in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1995 (detailed in my previous Kelley Deal 6000 post)), I'd seen Kelley's band play several times all over the country. And in 1997, I was part of a very disappointed packed house at DC's 9:30 Club listening to a set performed by what was touted as a "Breeders" band fronted by Kim, but stocked with lame, no-name musicians playing lame, no-name songs (I discovered later that most of those ersatz Breeders were actually members of Kim's more recent band The Amps). In both cases, some of the spark and chemistry was missing; it just wasn't the same as seeing the sisters perform together. So I was pretty jazzed (I was also secretly hoping that Kelley would remember me, her old friend from years past, and take the time to say hello - but I wasn't going to press the issue). Rob and I went up the stairs to the main stage area of the Bowery Ballroom, got a couple of drinks, and milled around waiting for the show to start.
I didn't know anything at all about the supporting band, Imperial Teen, so I was sort of surprised when, in speaking with some of the other concert attendees before the show, a fairly good number of them were there to support this band. Although they were the opener, they were touring on their own new album, 2002's On. Others there were enthusiastic, but I honestly didn't know what to expect as Imperial Teen took the stage.
Imperial Teen was formed in late 1994/early 1995 by Roddy Bottum, keyboardist for Faith No More. Soon after the 1992 release of Faith No More's Angel Dust, the band's most commercially successful album, Bottum began going through a series of personal crises (including the death of his father and coming out of the closet) that significantly limited his input and activity with that band. After getting through his rough period, he started a band, Star 69, as a side project with another San Francisco-area musician, former Sister Double Happiness member Lynn Perko (they later changed their name to Imperial Teen). They were joined by Perko's friend and former bandmate Jone Stebbins and local rocker Will Schwartz.
Imperial Teen released their debut album, Seasick, in 1996, followed by What Is Not To Love in 1998. From what I understand, these albums, featuring alternative/college radio hits like "You're One", "Yoo Hoo" and "Lipstick", were very well received in certain quarters. And due to relentless touring (including opening for Courtney Love's band Hole in 1998), they had established a pretty strong following. I don't know why I was so clueless, and hadn't heard of them . . . (oh yeah, now I remember - I lived in Texas).
Well, that night in the Bowery, I discovered what I had been missing all of those years. Imperial Teen was absolutely FANTASTIC. The songs were all outstanding, but what really struck me was the dispositions of the four band members; it's nice to go to a show and see a band actually having fun up on stage, and enjoying one another. And they were all completely unpretentious and 'precious' regarding their musical input - I was stunned when, after a couple of songs, the band members switched off on instruments - Perko left the drum kit and grabbed Bottum's guitar, Schwartz moved from guitar to bass, Stubbins took over guitar and lead vocals, and Bottum settled behind the drums. During the course of the show, every band member played every instrument. But it didn't come off as a sort of musical circuit training - it seemed totally natural, and of course for every variation the band sounded great.
Combined with a great set by The Breeders (who were in perfect form that night - it was as if that nine-year hiatus never happened), the entire show was superb. I arrived there a big fan of one band, but left there that evening a big fan of two.
We had to leave NYC on Sunday mid-afternoon, in order to get Rob back up to his camp on time. But I used some of our remaining time in the city to track down all of the Imperial Teen music I could, and we left the city with all three albums in our possession. Listening to those tunes in the car eased the hateful trip back up to Vermont (somewhat). Rob was bumming about having to go back to that mosquito-infested hellhole and resume his camp duties with those sullen city kids. But I was glad that I had the opportunity to show him a bit of fun that summer. And of course, getting new tunes out of it made it all worthwhile for me as well.
So, here's Imperial Teen's second album, What Is Not To Love, released by Slash Records in 1998. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think:
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