I’m pretty sure everyone eventually ends up having their Favorite Band That Never Quite Made It. Despite its idiotic “friend”-mania and Rupert Murdoch ownership, myspace has the great virtue of allowing any someone’s favorite band to put its songs out there cheaply and more or less permanently…whereby some other someone might someday stumble across them, tripping all kinds of obscure neural circuitry and basically causing that person to think, damn, how come I never heard of these guys?
In the late eighties and early nineties, though, all of that was science fiction. If a band could afford it, they might be able to release a single (and hope to hell the pressing plant understood that the hole needed to be exactly centered…) or, perhaps, a cassette (the poorer quality examples of which made bands sound as if they were recording in a huge swimming pool – underwater). Those cassettes disappear beneath the seats of elderly Chevy Novas, get tossed out the window during drunken arguments, or are found shattered and unspooled, washed up against the curb after a fall rainstorm. They’re not, unfortunately, a sound source after all that.
Still, some of that music survives. I’ve written before (indirectly) about one of my FBTNQMIs, Wobble Test. I’d bought their sole official release, a cassette entitled trixienickybambibo (named after each band member’s childhood dogs), and I’d managed to cadge a couple more cassettes’ worth of material from Mike DeVogel, one of the band’s guitar-playing singers and songwriters – but thanks to the generosity of Dan Franke (late of the fabulous Mighty Deerlick), who sent me two CD-Rs jammed full of Milwaukee bands’ mp3s, I now have loads of Wobble Test stuff in a more durable – and virtually portable – format.
Which means I can share it with you. One of my favorite tracks from trixienickybambibo is “Verse Me.” This one gives a good sense of the slightly off-kilter vocal chemistry between DeVogel and Tim Buckley (no, not that Tim Buckley), as well as their creative approach to twin-guitar parts. Sounds simple – but the chords go for quite a little walk before they return back home again – and the goofy little interjections after each phrase never fail to amuse me. Sort of equal part Replacements, Jam, and Raspberries.
The band recorded a full LP’s worth of material, and it’s really a shame it never came out, because nearly top to bottom it’s a winner. I seem to recall it was going to be titled Tea Town (the stunningly lovely title track can be heard at V-Fib Recordings, along with another song from trixie…, “Rewind” – and I recommend pretty much every track at that site as well) – and it opened with a blast from the rocketing “Cadillac,” which also showcases Tim and Mike’s back-and-forth vocal interplay. “Bob” follows “Tea Town” (if you want to reconstruct the first three tracks of the LP) – and, yes, between the title, and “Gordon” and “Howard,” it is about the classic Bob Newhart TV show… The band tosses that initial tricky rhythm bit around from instrument to instrument, and its somewhat unsteady agitation is nicely balanced by the slamming four-on-the-floor beat in other parts of the song. “Lola” (not the Kinks song) is one of the band’s most structurally complex songs. I’m particularly fond of the way the low guitar part sets up a slightly odd harmony with the second guitar in the “deliver me…” bridge, and the way that section’s chords lead back to the reprise of the opening instrumental section. Okay, I can’t post the whole damned album (too little storage space) – but it ends with “On a Dress” (or at least, it does in my memory – too many years and I can’t recall if I’m using Mike D’s sequence or one I decided on at some point). One favorite bit is the diverging harmony vocals (“never ending…”). Also key is Tim Buckley’s guitar solo: I wouldn’t call him the most fluid guitarist ever or anything, but he had a certain raw intensity, a sense of hacking rhythmically through thickets to arrive at a sort of rough-hewn melody, and this solo’s a fine example.
I could try to explain the tangled intersections of the various bands that led to and came from Wobble Test, but it’ll be easier to reproduce Dan’s clever illustration on the CD –
Got that? Anyway, Wobble Test broke up when Tim and John Daniels (the bass player) found that their Blow Pops side project with two members of another local band (Root Cellar) was attracting a goodly amount of attention (from the Cynics and their Get Hip! label, who eventually released two Blow Pops CDs), and so they moved to Boston, hoping for better luck from what they hoped would be a larger, more enthusiastic, and better publicized scene. Hoping to document a handful of unrecorded Wobble Test songs, however, the band recorded them in an acoustic session masterminded by eventual Sound of Music producer (and future Maki multi-instrumentalist: are you confused yet?) Alan Weatherhead. Some of these songs feel not quite finished, or under-rehearsed (and I think one of the vocalists had a cold that day) – but still, there’s a nice intimacy and clarity to the recordings that demonstrates how well put together their best songs were. One of my favorites, “No. 1,” was not recorded in its electric, rock’n’roll version, but here it is acoustically. Without the sound and fury of live performance, it’s easier to hear the way Mike and Tim often created new, richer chords by playing two clashing chords simultaneously.
Anyway, Tim and John were part of a peculiar mass migration of Milwaukee musicians to Richmond, Virginia, sometime in the mid-nineties, where they formed Maki with Weatherhead and drummer Miguel Urbiztondo (f/k/a Mickey Rodriguez). That band is apparently almost finished with its follow-up to the wonderful Tears on the Blastshield.
Well, we’re about out of time. I hope you paid attention – there will be a quiz.
Wobble Test “Verse Me” (trixienickybambibo cassette, 1989 or 1990)
Wobble Test “Cadillac” Tea Town (unreleased – 1990 or 1991)
Wobble Test “Bob” Tea Town (unreleased – 1990 or 1991)
Wobble Test “Lola” Tea Town (unreleased – 1990 or 1991)
Wobble Test “On a Dress” Tea Town (unreleased – 1990 or 1991)
Wobble Test “No. 1” (unreleased, 1992)
addendum: Okay, this is weird: I’m playing “Verse Me” in iTunes…and it brings up the cassette artwork! I didn’t put it there…WTF? The recording doesn’t appear to be available on iTunes… Odd!