The grinning Fang, Feist and folk translations

Nov 13, 2007 at 7:50 pm

Saturday, Nov. 17
Headliners Saturday night might not be filled with kazoo choruses and musical scissors. But the show will be a celebration of a new musical work that makes damn good use of those unusual elements. It’s Wax Fang’s CD release party for their full-length, La-La Land.

Singer-guitarist Scott Carney formed the trio after returning to his hometown from a film-school stint in Pittsburgh. Music was always on his artistic plate, though, as attested by bassist Jake Heustis, whose admiration for Carney was part of the reason he moved on from playing with Cabin: “I was in school, he was in Pittsburgh. He kept sending me his recordings, and I kept having unfaithful thoughts.”

Drummer Kevin Ratterman likes to share about his own recruitment. Wax Fang’s first release featured Carney playing just about everything in recordings engineered by Ratterman. “He came to my studio for Black and Endless Night, but really hoping that I’d play drums.”

With the lineup in place, the three dug into a pile of songs that Carney had ready for stage. Soon enough, the other members were helping to complete some unfinished material, and all three are amazed at how well they fit together as a unit. Carney considers their creative interaction “bizarrely natural. I genuinely feel they’re extensions of myself. Kevin and I play drums very similarly. We’re on the same page, and the same with Jake. So the bass is bouncy and walk-y and scale-y.”

The initial recordings for La La Land went well, but when it was time for mixing, they moved from Ratterman’s studio to a Nashville facility. There they faced the expense of booking time and the creative tension of working with someone else at the board. Eventually, the band had such a united, personal vision of where the tracks must go that they were given free reign, but it took return visits and straining budget to achieve the final product.

It was worth the sweat and bucks. “When I heard the final, I burst into tears like a little kid,” Ratterman says. “It was a sense of relief that I’d never had before.” Heustis is similarly proud when he heard how well it sounded: “big and warm and strange.”

This is slightly theatrical rock. There are sudden shifts and grand sweep. The band refers to the album as a journey, and they followed through on that often-talked-up notion by revisiting some of the ways and means of the classic-rock masterpieces. As Carney remembers, “In doing the sequencing, we kept thinking of Side A and Side B.” Ratterman sums up, “We wanted to craft an album, which we think we’ve done. This is a piece of work, instead of 10 songs.”

Each track does stand on its own, catching the ear the way that a filmmaker’s deep-focus landscape pan catches the eye. Those fast-moving details aren’t just window-dressing, and they’re also not of a realist’s, or traditionalist’s, bent.

So how did the scissors get into “The Doctor Will See You Now”? For a song about mental illness, Carney says he wanted something “percussive and metallic and a little sinister.” Then there’s “At Sea,” an instrumental that has, by Ratterman’s count, 100 tracks of kazoos and a cello. “Scott did it over a month. There’s about eight hours of kazoo. There were times when we had an hour, so we’d put on 10 takes of kazoo.” Carney laughingly tries to put over a story where he was forced into the kazoo campaign, “Kevin’s way of torturing me and exerting some kind of control.”

The 10 tracks are absurd, humorous, melodic, dynamic and rocking. For signposts on how to appreciate what Wax Fang’s done here, think of Thunderclap Newman, Focus or the Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd. The rhythm section must turn on a dime from Who-like flailing to lightly wielded punctuation, and they do it marvelously. Carney’s vocals are the capper. “Scott’s voice is kinda urgent on its own,” Ratterman says. “It’s hard for someone else to sing harmony above it.”

Consider it a matter of urgency that you hear this album as soon as possible, and if possible, get to its premiere Saturday night at Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088). Centipede E’Est and Lucky Pineapple will open. Show’s at 9 p.m. and tickets are $8. If you want an encore, Wax Fang play a free in-store at ear X-tacy (1534 Bardstown Road, 452-1799) at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Saturday, Nov. 17
More people have probably seen Kelly Willis on a recent allergy-medicine commercial than have heard her music, and that’s tragic enough. This singer’s talents shine when her country-pop performing style is applied to the sensitivities of alt-folk material. On Translated from Love, Willis pulls off easygoing sophistication that won’t tolerate the precious or maudlin, even when she’s within range of mainstream country. She appears with Andrea Davidson Saturday night at Phoenix Hill (644 Baxter Ave., 589-4957). Show’s at 8 p.m., tickets are $15.

Tuesday, Nov. 20

Feist is making the most of a recognition shift into high gear, and she’s certainly earned it. The Canadian thrush has been a member of Broken Social Scene, among many projects. The popular and well-regarded The Reminder, though, is only her second solo record. Feist is now on a tour that takes her to the Brown Theatre (315 W. Broadway, 584-7777) Tuesday. Feist draws comparisons to Cat Power based on similar aesthetics (idiosyncratic arrangements of emotive material; recordings with finesse and cleverness, yet way short of slick). But this classic indie singer puts her voice upfront, where it deserves to be, as will be crystal clear when she breaks into “My Moon My Man.” Jason Collett opens; show’s at 8 p.m.; tickets are $23.

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