SONIC REDUCER Try this out for size: "ELO, the other band that matters." Electric Light Orchestra bulb changer Jeff Lynne would probably prefer that handle to "ELO, the other white meat" – the former sentiment is probably about as good as it gets, emanating from a member of Klaxons, the Brit buzz bomb and neu-rave crossover pop phenom of the moment.
Isn’t ELO, like, your parents’ guilty pleasure, the LP they tuck away when the hep seniors wheel over for low-carb hash brownies? "I actually think they’re quite cool right now," counters Klaxons vocalist-keyboardist-bassist James Righton, on the phone shortly after touching down in Los Angeles for Klaxons’ first US tour. "The Pussycat Dolls used a sample of ‘Evil Woman.’ I think people are looking again at Jeff Lynne’s work and the great, inventive pop music that ELO made. We haven’t experimented with strings sounds like Jeff Lynne has.
"I dunno, Jamie is getting to be a big Roy Orbison fan. I might become a huge Traveling Wilburys fan."
High praise – and heady irreverence – coming from one of the freshest-sounding UK bands accompanied by much blog hum and Euro chart action. Dusting off and sexily propagating rave siren honk, disco flash, and propulsive beats, Klaxons come off less like nostalgia hounds stuck in the acid house’s broken-down Hacienda – Simian Mobile Disco and Soulwax remixes aside – than like a spastic-elastic, at times noisy, at times infectious, synth-driven rock unit ready to embrace the harsh urgency of dance punk (changing it up like restless, simulacra-sick toddlers picking up, suckling, and tossing off one reference after another) and sci-fi postmodernism (bidding semper fi to J.G. Ballard with the title of their debut, Myths of the Near Future, on Geffen/Polydor, and Thomas Pynchon with their first single, "Gravity’s Rainbow").
Add magic, psychedelia, and a Web community devoted to guitarist Simon Taylor’s hair to Klaxons’ recipe, and one wonders, could this be the future – once again with that dehydrated feeling (time to unearth those glowsticks) – if not the present? Flying right like a good, recycling-conscious meta-zen from Planet Baudrillard, Righton owns up honestly that the band would never dare to consider themselves – um, gag! – truly unique. "I think it’s hard to create something truly original, especially if you’re in the traditional guitar-bass-drum format. We just stole a lot from other people. We just weren’t picking from the usual Dylan, Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin," he drawls. "We picked a lot of Brian Eno, Bowie, Gang Gang Dance, a lot of noise, Faust, ELO…." As above so below, as Aleister Crowley and Klaxons go.
THE GOOD, THE GOOD, AND THE GOOD Former Clash bassist Paul Simonon is all too familiar with the anxiety of influence – and the dilemma of surpassing personal bests. The onetime low-end linchpin of the first group marketed as the only band that mattered, Simonon graciously took time from a camping trip with his son to chat in the English woods ("not really Sherwood but quite close") about his latest project with Blur boy Damon Albarn, Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen, and the Verve guitarist Simon Tong: the hypnotic, elegiac Danger Mouse-produced full-length The Good, the Bad and the Queen (Virgin).
"I’m sort of finding I’m sympathetic to the problems that a musician has when they’ve been very successful, to come up with another album or possibility," he told the trees and me, describing his empathy with Notting Hill neighbor Albarn (after Albarn rang up, Simonon says, "we got chatting and discovered we were neighbors by two streets") and the way their collaboration materialized. "It’s very easy to fall into the trap of sort of doing what we did the last time. It’s sort of different, but with the Clash we moved around: the first album is no comparison to the second, the second was no comparison to the third, and I find that’s Damon’s approach too. Otherwise, it’s really boring, and you might as well get a job and move into another field, rather than just clodding on."
True to his word, Simonon made his own career switch a while back, making and showing grimly realistic paintings of the Thames over the past few years. "The great thing about painting is that you don’t have to discuss it with anybody," he explains. "It’s difficult because if it doesn’t seem to pass the test, you have to destroy it. I don’t find it easy. It’s trial by error."
Simonon had stopped playing until this album – "’Retired’ sounds like I’m in a wheelchair or something!" – but he won’t make the error of trying to blow air into the Clash’s still elegant cadaver. It’s one punk reunion you shouldn’t hold your breath for. "I never entertained the idea, really, seemed like a backward step, really," he says matter-of-factly. "We went on solidly for seven years nonstop. I think it would do no good to re-form – no matter how much money is offered. My calculations are pretty bad, really – a million here or there is all just toy money from my own personal perspective. It meant the Clash – it didn’t mean the cash!" *
With Amy Winehouse
Thurs/26, 9 p.m. doors, sold out
330 Ritch, SF
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE QUEEN
Sun/29, 8 p.m., $32.50
Grand at the Regency Center
1290 Sutter, SF