SONIC REDUCER You scream, I scream, we all scream for … the black concert T. It’s the music-merch phenom that will always annoyingly outsell all other comers, as Brad Hudson of JSR Merchandising explained at SXSW earlier this year. Keep your bandeezys and doggie baseball jerseys — the black T-shirt is the Coke Classic of live-show sales, the fail-safe upon which Stones tours are built. Why? Well, as one multitentacled insider recently announced to me, you can’t download a T-shirt!
But what to wear after that? It wasn’t hard to figure that out during my struggles through the two recent diva releases, Beyoncé’s strident, backward-glancing sophomore full-length, B’Day (Sony BMG), and Paris Hilton’s microdermabrasioned lite-pop debut, Paris (Warner Bros.). Both CDs find the ladies busily hawking duds and assorted nonmusical product. Why even bother critiquing what lay embedded in the shiny plastic discs behind Beyoncé’s eerily blank Madame Tussaud’s wax cover image or Hilton’s sleek rich-bitch-slash-sexpot pose? Why celebrate Hilton’s easy, sleazy, ultimately unfulfilling musical grabs at the Grease soundtrack and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” or bash Beyoncé’s dog-note shrieks (she’s playing Diana Ross in Dream Girls, so why compete on record?) and frantic but intriguing ladies-first messages? These CDs are so clearly vehicles from which to launch clothing lines (in Beyoncé’s case, her mother’s Dereon by House of Dereon label, baldly peddled in the inside booklet) and perfume (Paris’s Heiress, as well as handbags and watches).
Too bad then that Beyoncé has simultaneously hit a fashion low point, modeling a hideous mod houndstooth swimsuit and bastardized Bardot milkmaid frills on her CD — B has been damaged by one too many Guess Jeans and Baby Phat advertising campaigns, I presume. All of which could have been forgiven if Beyoncé had coughed up a track on par with “Crazy in Love” — but no such luck. The emergency-siren sample of “Ring the Alarm,” echoed on Paris’s opening, “Turn It Up,” can’t save that siren’s single; I prefer the unexpected guilty pleasure kick-him-to-the-curb power ballad “Irreplaceable.” How telling that as the B girl declares war on good taste on B’Day, the worst faux-fierce track is titled “Freakum Dress.”
Amid all this accessorized insanity, we should thank our musical deities that when it comes to local clothes hos, we have been gifted with the gifted Music Lovers. The band’s singer-songwriter, Matthew “Ted” Edwards, has been much in demand of late. When he and drummer Ping Chu sat in last month at the Sonic Reducer DJ night at Hemlock Tavern, the Birmingham, England, native was psyched about the group’s rave reviews in Europe and was occupied writing the music for superfan Margaret Cho’s latest burlesque project, “Sensuous Woman Cabaret,” and rehearsing with Cho at the Plush Room. But who wants to get into details about the new Music Lovers’ Guide for Young People (le Grand Magistery) — and its songs of kebabs and lager (“Brother, I Am Walking”) and a certain Anglo avant-garde Marxist composer (“Thank You, Cornelius Cardew”)? Edwards would much rather discuss the Music Lovers’ love of shopping.
“We adhere to a pretty strict dress code, which is enforced by all of us,” he told me recently over the phone, “because it’s respectful to the audience. I want to say I made an effort and do the best I can. I’m not interested in seeing another group of lads in T-shirts.”
So the besuited Music Lovers are actually a little like — the Ramones?
“Except we’re tidier,” he replied. “I make no apologies for that. I’ll spend my last 60 bucks on a decent shirt.
“We’re a band apart.”
You have to admire such a hard stand on the seemingly superficial topic of style, but then Edwards does fall in line with a mod way of thought: dress sharp, seize that dream, and maintain a sense of dignity even if you have to spend every bit of your bellhop wages to do it. Likewise, the rangy, suave pop Guide, which boasts harder-rock moments than the Lovers’ debut, The Words We Say before We Sleep, maintains a subtle, knifelike edge and wit that a cultural connoisseur like SF-reared comedian Margaret Cho can appreciate. “I think that the Music Lovers are the greatest, and I love working with them because they have such a sophisticated sound, completely new yet strangely familiar,” she e-mailed me. “Listening to them feels like I’m stepping into a film like Purple Noon or Belle du Jour, and I have really long earrings on that almost touch my shoulders.”
It takes an effort to maintain that romantic mood: Edwards, 38, never quite recovered from his “horrific experience signed to Virgin as a fresh-faced 20-year-old” fronting an R&B and pop band. “We recorded an album with a guy named Pete Walsh who recorded Climate of the Hunter with Scott Walker, and we made this incredible album. And Virgin put it on the shelf. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, but I’ll never be on another major label.”
Since then, Edwards, now an occupational therapist, has been accruing the experience that comes in handy when writing songs about artful eccentrics like Cardew: he once called bingo numbers and sang covers aboard a Scandinavian cruise line and did a tour of Italian communist clubs. “We’re a band of Little Edies,” Edwards declares when I ask him for his favorite character from the brilliant Grey Gardens, the Maysles’ documentary that graced the cover of the Lovers’ 2003 EP, Cheap Songs Tell the Truth. “I probably veer between Little Edie and [handyperson] Jerry. Sometimes I’m Jerry and I mope around the garden. But I could also be Big Edie, because I do have a tendency to lie in bed covered with cats.” SFBG< MUSIC LOVERS Thurs/14, 8 p.m. Amnesia 853 Valencia, SF Call for price (415) 970-0012 Fri/15, 6 p.m. Amoeba Music 1855 Haight, SF Free (415) 831-1200