Schlock tease

Pub date May 23, 2006
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features


"I must have been bit by a spider when I was very young," Country Teasers vocalist Ben Wallers drones on "Spiderman in the Flesh," the opening track to the band’s new album, The Empire Strikes Back (In the Red). "Because now I’m grown-up I spend five days a week going up the fucking wall." This wall makes a reprise midway through the tune, as the music ratchets up from a sleepy, two-step waltz to the fascist grandeur of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with a lyrical nod toward "In the Flesh" from that psychodepressonervous breakdown rock opera: "Are there any queers in the theater tonight? Get ’em up against the wall!"

And thus, halfway through the first track, with a borrowed lyric "jacked from the sonic matrix," as Sonic Youth would say from a prog rock magnum opus, the Teasers arrive at the type of lowbrow social satire they’ve turned into high art. Well, high lowbrow art. They take a frail, empty stereotype and strap a rocket pack to its back. Of course it’s not going to survive, but it’s hilarious to see it zoom about the cosmos, flailing.

Take my personal favorite Teasers tune, "Black Change," from 1996’s epic Satan Is Real Again, or Feeling Good about Bad Thoughts (Crypt). In it, the narrator undergoes a transformation akin to John Howard Griffin’s in Black Like Me, "a black change operation." The results? "My dick went long, my hair went fuzzy … I traded in my white friends for pretty white ladies. My new black body drove them crazy." Ten years later, he’s got to go back to the surgeon to have the procedure reversed: "Too much trouble, from those envious white men…. My wife won’t touch me…. ‘Once you go black,’ she says, ‘you never go back.’"

In its hyperbole, "Black Change" is the quintessential Country Teasers song. It’s satire that’s offensive if you do get the joke. It’s up there with Jonathan Swift’s essay "A Modest Proposal," which suggested that the Irish eat their children to prevent the latter "from being a burden to their parents or country." Up there with Lou Reed’s "I Wanna Be Black,” a song that exposes racism, white guilt, and the white co-opting of black cultural idioms, but does so with lines like "I wanna be like Malcolm X, and cast a hex over President Kennedy’s tomb. And have a big prick, too." A song that makes Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher look like the teatime for pussies that it is. Either you get the satire and are loose enough to laugh at the stereotypes that are still imbedded in our culture, or you start getting that itchy feeling up under your collar, afraid that your good liberal friends the "clean white citizens" in "Black Change" might hear what you’re listening to, and shamefacedly pull the disc from the deck.

Like moralistic ’80s punks Crass, the Country Teasers make their statement, but they use humor to do it, as opposed to histrionic art-house punk screech. They too go for the jugular: They find your comfort zone and blissfully stomp all over it. Besides "Black Change," they’ve got songs called "Young Mums up for Sex," "Man v Cock," and "Country Fag." More recently, The Empire Strikes Back is likewise true to its title, dipping into geopolitical analysis vis-à-vis whether the world is currently more like the Death Star or Mos Eisley spaceport. Mix these lyrical fixations with the lo-fi schmaltz of Smog and all the early Drag City bands, the "we’ve got a fuzzbox and we’re not quite sure how to use it" of early Pussy Galore, and the straight-ahead rhythmic sensibilities of vintage Johnny Cash, and, well, to this humble music writer, what you get is fuckin’ genius.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying they’re genius. Einstein was genius. Mozart, Walt Whitman, Jonas Salk, what have you. Fuckin’ genius is the guy who decided to package beef jerky and that dyed-orange cheese right next to each other in the same package. Just how do they get the cheese to be crumbly and greasy at the same time?

The Teasers gestalt reads like the opening line of a joke: OK, so a noise band, a drunk Scottish football team, and a boy named Sue walk into a bar … And when they walk into the Hemlock on Friday, May 26, all the way from Scotland, the land that invented whiskey, it’ll be much the same.

If you come expecting a noise band, you’re screwed. If you come expecting a country band, you’re screwed. If you come expecting stand-up comedy or social satire, you’re screwed. And if you come expecting a punk band, you’re screwed. Then again, the Country Teasers are noisy like vintage Honeymoon Killers; twangy in that same crooked-teeth, British Isles way that Billy Childish can be said to be twangy; bitingly satirical like mclusky; and definitely the punkest thing to come out of Scotland since the Rezillos. SFBG

Country Teasers with E-Zee Tiger and 16 Bitch Pileup

Fri/26, 9:30 p.m.

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF


(415) 923-0923