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Better Ned than Red

June 24th, 2006 | File Under Nate, Sound | Only one comment so far

Last week I did something I hadn’t done in about a decade — listen to a new Ned’s Atomic Dustbin single.

See, the band split up in the mid-90s, due to record label trouble. And for a long time, there was nothing. Several band members started other projects, some just left music entirely. Then in 2000, they were invited to perform a set at a multi-band showcase show celebrating the birthday of the local club where they got their break.

They must have enjoyed it, because the following year they played a couple of other gigs. In fact, they were scheduled to play in New York on September 14th (or 15th?), 2001 — I was unable to travel up there to attend, but did persuade the then-local Alisa Cooper to purchase tickets. That show, of course, never happened, given what transpired a few days before the scheduled event. The Neds never returned to the US.

But they kept doing more and more regular shows — Christmas every year is a staple — while maintaining that they only wanted to remain event-centric, not “reunited.” But then they released a couple of live CDs, and a concert DVD, then last year, a couple of new songs began to appear in the setlists. Finally, a couple of weeks ago (on my birthday, no less) they released a new single. I preordered.

Reasons to like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin? Legion. For one thing, they straddle genres in some unique ways. I say it’s like punk music if it had been invented by youths non-angry and (lacking a more polite way to put it) non-stupid. Most non-fans remember them only as “the band with two bass players” — although that doesn’t really describe the sound. One plays rhythm lines, the other lead. Yeah. Lead on bass. Don’t think Primus; nothing like that. The chap’s name is Alex Griffin, and he plays the bass like a guitar — either the melody or a countermelody to the lead guitar. But unlike with two guitars playing lead, the bass and guitar lines are in different enough registers that they don’t step on each other (I’m not a musicologist, if you hadn’t guessed). It’s just different.

That and Jonn Penney, the vocalist, who is a reason unto himself. The most upbeat individual in the music biz. He’s clever, he uses wordplay, he writes introspective, optimisticly-melancholy lyrics, and no matter what he says, he wins you over. I’m serious; in the Ned’s hiatus he founded an indie record label and in a one-page interview about it, he had me excited about indie music and local artistry — through talking about Stourbridge England, and how positive he felt about its music scene. I’ve never been to Stourbridge.

The Neds today are a little different; two of the original five — though invited, and still apparently on good terms — are not playing with them, replaced instead by volunteers from Jonn’s other hiatus project, Groundswell UK (whose album and single are also worth hearing).

So, how’s this new single sound? It’s good. Hibernation; for the fans I’d say it falls into the Are You Normal? spectrum, but not exactly. Beyond that it’s catchy enough that it sticks in your head. It seems to be well-received, too — according to MySpace, Ned’s are (temporarily) the number-one merchandise-selling artist.

Lucky for us, the band’s Web site says they’ve now headed to the studio, recording more new material. Perhaps that means a full-length album. If so, whichever direction they take it, it’s always fun to see those first-time reviewers grapple for a new way to comment on the two bass players.

For taller or for shorter, or Tengo sombrero grande

June 13th, 2006 | File Under Nate | 3 comments

Over the weekend, I attended/participated the wedding of my friends Don Bell and Melissa Martinez down in sooouth Texas. As we speak, they are still in the air on their way to their honeymoon destination New Zealand, where they will make wisecracks about the Lord O The Rings movies, and be met with wisecracks about giants and elves in reply.*

I come away from this experience with a collection of groomsman gear generously denoted “keepers” by the tux rental people — including a top hat, gloves, spats (yes, you read that correctly) and cane. I rarely wear tuxes in my day to day routine, but the amenities will certainly come in handy in my pimpin’.

But more importantly, I come away with a host of unusual stories, gleaned from all the friends I visited with and have not seen (in some cases) for years. For instance, Matt Shaw, Man of the People, has inexplicably added to his reportoire the ability to make unlikely things Just Happen. By talking to the desk, for example, he got our shared hotel room bumped up to a suite at no extra charge, despite the hotel being booked solid.

Even less likely was the series of events now known as The Simpsons Incident. It works like this: I decided that, rather than some impersonal item from the official registry, I needed to give Don and Mel the now out-of-print Simpsons Monopoly game. Since it is only available through back channels, it took some searching; eventually I decided I had to purchase one via eBay. As the wedding drew near, I found two up for auction: one in the metroplex and one in Denver. Since Matt Shaw lives in Golden, he agreed to retrieve it and bring it to me in Harlingen if I won it.

Matt + Hat: the top hat; the Drum Kit of the headgear world -- everyone who sees one has to try itNaturally, I did win the one in Denver. Picking it up was problematic: coordinating schedules with the seller, assuring the seller that the stranger who wanted her address (and was not the buyer) was legitimate, and finding a way to get there around work and packing for a trip to Texas are not small tasks.

Finally it came down to do-or-die time; Matt sent the seller an email saying he would have to pick it up Thursday morning before his 10 AM flight. He drove to the address in Denver, and as he got out a car pulled up to the driveway. Matt asked for the seller by name, and was told “oh yes, this is her right here in the car, we just came back to the house for her wallet.”

The game is retrieved, and after Matt flies it down to Texas, he finds waiting for him an email from the seller (sent after he left for her house that morning) regretting that she has to be gone all day and will have to arrange another time for the handoff. For anyone else, a missed opportunity, for MSMOTP, it all falls into place, like clockwork.

There was far more worthy of telling, of course. We went to South Padre on Saturday morning. I talked Hilary into stopping at a highway fruit stand on the highway on the drive home Sunday. There are giant pink gorillas denoting gas stations in certain parts of Texas. The pizza guy at the bachelor party went to the wrong hotel multiple times. Fingerless gloves were smuggled. More people crashed the reception than attended the ceremony.

But there’s time for that kind of talk later.

* That would make sense to you if you had seen Don and Melissa standing together.