So much soul

Pub date May 17, 2011
WriterAndre Torrez

Before he’d excuse himself to dance the boogaloo on stage, Soul Brother No. 1 would quip into the mic, often saying things like, “So much soul, I got some to spare!” So in case you’re wondering, James Brown is pretty much the inspiration for the name of this column. As for my intentions, I hope to keep the parameters somewhat loose, but focused on celebrating our local music scene. However, sometimes these Bay Area bands want to celebrate elsewhere.

Take Bare Wires, for example. On my recent trip to Portland, Ore., I unexpectedly caught one of their shows at a bar. Not that I haven’t seen them play here numerous times. It was more of a pleasant surprise, sort of like the tulips that were in full bloom everywhere, but not like the great scrutiny my nearly expired driver’s license went through. Most bartenders would normally just wish me a happy birthday, but nine times out of 10, I’d get discerning looks and these stern words of caution: “You know this expires in a few days?” I conclude that Portland hates birthdays but loves flowers and the way Oakland’s Bare Wires, decked out in ’70s garb, straggle out of their van, a virtual Mystery Machine. It was a solid performance with an engaged audience, complete with an attendee who stole the mic at the end of the set for some shrieking. Way to represent.

Speaking of ’70s-inspired, I was listening to KUSF in Exile’s web stream — which has been available thanks to WFMU for about two months now — and I heard a song that sounded familiar in more ways than one. I didn’t recognize it as a Marc Bolan song at first, until the chorus gave way. The DJ read the playback and the singer was revealed to be Ty Segall. The song, “Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart,” was from Tyrannosaurus Rex’s 1970 Beard of Stars album. Segall’s limited edition 12-inch of all T. Rex covers, appropriately titled Ty Rex (Goner Records), is a bold move that almost addresses taboo. The idolizing of Bolan is up-front and out in the open. It’s kind of like saying ‘Screw it, I wanna sound like T. Rex, so I’m just gonna do a bunch of their songs.’ And the result is pretty right on.

“Woodland Rock” — a song I’m less familiar with — is reminiscent of “Go Home,” the opening track from Segall first self-titled album. The explosion of fast-paced energy sounds like fun or the discovery of one’s creative self.

I was glad he chose to cover “Salamanda Palaganda,” partly because of its absurd title. Here Segall chooses to slow down what was once a hyper-frenzied acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex workout and puts his own twist on it, which consists of lots of fuzz and reverb that was the prevailing affect on 2009’s Lemons (Goner Records). His version of “Elemental Child” is full of distortion and there may even be a slight mimicry of Bolan’s trademark warbled vocal.

I guess it’s interesting that the six tracks chosen on this album seem so carefully picked from a period where the lyrically long-winded and acoustic Bolan would transform his mystical, musical image and persona by going electric and abbreviating the band’s name. Segall even takes on two tracks from the iconic Slider album where Bolan, by then glamorous, had perfected his craft, tapped into the industry, and attained mass appeal.

I managed to get my hands on the record at one of those last packed Eagle Tavern shows in April which doubled as a Save KUSF benefit (Segall being an avid Save KUSF supporter). I saw Segall by the merch booth after his set while Thee Oh Sees were playing and jokingly asked how he’d feel if Marc Bolan covered his songs. He just kinda smiled and said something like “That’d be it.” As fate would have it, Bolan wouldn’t boogie past 1977.