Cobra Verde is rock and roll. We’re talking pyrotechnics, feather boas, and ridiculous backstage parties here. Lead singer John Petkovic has this sort of David Bowie thing going for him and for some reason it really works. While listening to this album, I visualize fuzzy 1970’s VH1 footage of Petkovic on stage in a Ziggy Stardust-type outfit flying all over the stage as only he can. Petkovic is tall, skinny, awkward, and very gaudy. Yet his presence is formidable, his moves are solid, and his wit sharp. Petkovic has been the driving force behind Cobra Verde since 1994, and Nightlife is his latest attempt at getting glitzy and letting it all hang out. The record is about going out, getting it on, having fun, and just flat-out rocking. It’s the excited anticipation of a night out on the town, and the self-loathing guilt of the day after.
Petkovic and Don Depew were in the band in 1997 when they recorded and toured with lo-fi hero Robert Pollard in one of many incarnations of Guided By Voices. Cobra Verde’s contributions were striking, instantly bringing an edge to the GBV sound when there had previously been just fuzz. But the Guided By Verde project was short-lived, and Cobra Verde was back to rock again by 1998. The band lost guitarist Doug Gillard, who stayed with GBV, but Petkovic was already envisioning a more glam-influenced sound with keyboards, synthesizers, and horns.
Nightlife has too many great moments to list. “What Makes A Man A Man” is a sleazy, sax-driven number sung with a swagger by Petkovic. “One Step Away From Myself” and “Heaven In The Gutter” rock so hard you might be tempted to get up on your bed in your pajamas, dance like a fool, and turn the volume up so loud your crotchety neighbors call the cops. The closer, “Pontius Pilate,” is a bit out of place on the record, but is a witty nod to geek-rock ala They Might Be Giants. Some will say that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But each individual track on Nightlife is so strong that the whole is bursting at the seams. This is as glorious as rock gets and as satisfying as anything I’ve heard this year.
Magnet Magazine called John Petkovic “The Last Rock Star.” He’s also a columnist for Cleveland’s daily newspaper, an aide for the exiled Crown Prince of Yugoslavia, a producer for Cleveland’s NPR affiliate, and the creator of his own online magazine. But on Nightlife he is one thing, and one thing only, and Magnet hit it right on the head.