Hymns Of The Flesh - Intercontinental Playboys (I-94 Bar Records)
I was a fan of Sonics/Seeds/Shadows of Knight-inspahrd garage grunt right up until the moment when the likes of the Hives (My new favorite band? Not likely, pal) and the execrable Jet arrived on the set – which coincidentally was around the same time I started running, not walking, away anytime some SXSW shill offered me a new band’s CD-R that sounded “just like the MC5!” It seemed to me that the whole trip was starting to sound not just stale and derivative, but even a tad bit formulaic. What to do, then, but recede back into my bunker with my Boris and Ornette Coleman records? But The Barman pulled my coat to these guys, and the Barman is an honourable man.
First thing I noticed about the Playboys was their unusual instrumentation – stand-up singer, guitar, keys, and drums – which adopts the same “final solution” to the bass player problem as the Doors did back in the day, e.g., replacing the four-stringed instrument with, um, the organ player’s left hand.
The extent of their achievement really becomes evident in the coupla live cuts on "Hymns of the Flesh", where you can hear just how full of a sound they’re able to put out onstage with just two tonal instruments – quite a coup, compared to the keyb-centric local Foat Wuth outfit I saw a few months back who even had an actual bassplayer, but lost one nut every time the guitarist-singer decided to grab the mic stand a la Brooce instead of cranking out the chords. The Playboys strip it down to the essentials, those being: 1) Big Beat, 2) organ cheese, and 3) lotsa fuzz. Plus I like the way the intro to “Downright Right Now” quotes “My Little Red Book.” And the way Tom Von Spatula’s stage patter seems to channel 40-and-fat Elvis.
Living an ocean away, I’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying these Playboys live, but from the Youtube vids I’ve seen, their onstage garage-soul shtick has the same goofball energy as Dr. Feelgood, the early Damned, the Cramps, and the Mooney Suzuki (I can imagine Sammy James, Jr., singing “The Department of Love” as easily as I can imagine Lorenzo St. Dubois singing “Driving Sideways”).
To their credit, they’re able to recapture that energy in the studio, kicking down the door with the Hellacopters-like guitar blast of “Sitting Pretty (You’re In Control),” surprising unsuspecting listeners with poppy harmonies over the chorus of “Circle Girl” (which is propelled by the most hypnotically insistent riff in recent memory), crossing into Black Keys territory with the overdubbed fuzztone apocalypse that opens “Bad Queenie.” “The Maestro’s Shadow” resurrects the shade of teen snot psychedelia (think Chocolate Watch Band) over the same beat as the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.”
Pushing back musical frontiers though they might not be, the Intercontinental Playboys at least rock out with the correct spirit, and for that we can be grateful. Bless them.