Velvet Crush drummer Ric Menck drew plenty of fire a year or so ago for saying that not only was Velvet Crush not a power pop band, but that he didn't much like power pop bands to begin with.
“I think power pop attracts people who haven’t had a lot of real life experiences, especially relationships, so they gravitate to this music that gives them idealized visions of love, and a lot of it is just jive,” he said in the rock magazine The Big Takeover. “It doesn’t deliver what I need from music.”
While a solid argument could be made - the form’s usual lyrical obsession with girls aside—that Velvet Crush should be the definitive power pop band, the crunching guitars and rock action drums propelling these songs chock full of pop hooks, Velvet Crush seems to make another argument: It’s a rock band.
After giving Rock Concert a spin, you’d be hard pressed to differ. In fact, the entire argument seems moot. Who cares what you call it as long as it’s this good?
A tour through the band’s catalog will bolster that argument. Starting with the sloppy pop of In the Presence of Greatness, the band has evolved, through the classic pop of Teenage Symphonies to God to the harder-edged Heavy Changes and sweeping rock/country/pop fusion of Free Expression. At this point, Velvet Crush is really a rock band with pop tendencies, as opposed to the other way around.
This set has been long-rumored, and has been on release schedules of one sort or another for years. Coming now, it seems a bit out of time. The performance comes from a show supporting Teenage Symphonies to God, with two songs - “Window to the World” from In the Presence of Greatness and “Ash and Earth” from an early single - drawn from pre-Teenage releases.
Now that it’s finally available, the only complaint is that we get so little of the band on Rock Concert. The release is an EP, eight songs over 27 minutes. As such, it pretty well captures the Crush as a live band: Most of its shows over the past decade have been in opening slots, a quick half-hour warm-up before the headliners, just enough time to get in, toss out a handful of gems, and get out.
On the web site for the band’s Parasol-distributed imprint, Action Musik, the disc is explained in just that way. It’s a set recorded at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro on a tour stop where the Crush was opening for Mazzy Star and the Jesus and Mary Chain. “We only had about 35 minutes to work our magic, and as usual the odd assortment of goths and socially maladjusted discontents who’d shown up early to secure a good position on the floor to view their idols were a bit hesitant to react to our firebrand rock action,” writes someone from the band. “But, we got ‘em by the end, and this is as good a representation of our live act as there’ll ever be. Must be played loud!”
Indeed. This disc sounds best when blaring from some decent speakers, preferably those in the back of a fast car. It has all the qualities of a well-recorded bootleg, a quick set with the between-set banter and cheering left intact. That certainly contributes to the energy of this muscular performance.
The band tears through the set, speeding up and rocking out a set of tunes that on record are decent pop songs leavened by a bit of crunch. Tunes like “This Life is Killing Me”, a quaint album track from Teenage Symphonies, are shredded by the twin-guitar attack of Crush guitarist Jeffrey Underhill and gun-for-hire Tommy Keene, and the manic drumming of Ric Menck. The band’s near-hit, “Hold Me Up”, becomes a propulsive rocker, the only tune not incredibly sped up.
The disc closes with a ripping cover of 20/20’s “Ride the Lightning”, a tune that hearkens back to the 70s heyday of power pop, showing that perhaps, in the classic sense, Velvet Crush really is a power pop band. No matter the nomenclature, the band is one of the best for fans of melodic rock with hooks aplenty.
The disc closes, much as Velvet Crush’s set did, with the faint strains of the between-set music piped through the Cabaret Metro’s sound system before Mazzy Star came on. The song is “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” by Joe South.
As the sound fades, the song’s lyrics seem an instructive caveat for those on all sides of the “is it power pop?” debate:
Walk a mile in my shoes
Just walk a mile in my shoes
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Then walk a mile in my shoes.
// Notes from the Road
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