When you examine the state of popular music in 1978, it's disillusioning. Most of the music being played on FM seems to be the same mediocre bilge repeated over and over. AM is largely a disco wasteland. (When you think about it, disco is representative of the state of the world for the 1970's--mechanical, impersonal, and the dance steps are done with military precision.)
Today's popular music has been broken down into several inflexible categories: progressive rock, funk rock, disco rock, jazz rock, country rock, blues rock, and so on. What I would like to know is this: Whatever happened to good old rock? ROCK AND ROLL???
The sense of fun and enthusiasm that is an essential ingredient of true rock 'n' roll has for the most part been displaced this decade.
Lo and behold, someone realized that. In 1976 a different sort of music entered the scene, known to some as punk rock (another silly categorization). While some of this was admittedly junk, talented groups survived, persisted and exist today. What makes them so inaccessible to other contemporary bands is their flair for FUN, their enthusiasm for their audience (an aspect badly overlooked by many top bands), readily identifiable personalities, and a rejection of mediocrity in general.
The bottom line is so simple that it's astonishing--it's all back-to-basic, no frills rock 'n' roll, a '70s updating of all the things that made rock 'n' roll recognized in the first place. The point of all this is not so much to preach, but to tell you about a band who makes rock 'n' roll so much energetic fun it's amazing. Hailing from Champaign, Illinois, it's The Rave!
First of all, the Rave should not be associated with punk rock, New Wave, nor any other derogatory term. For lack of a better classification, their music could be called power pop, but even that's too vague; it's smart rock 'n' roll: wild, happy, and entertaining.
The Rave's crusade is to let the people of the midwest know that there IS an alternative to "homogenized; rehashed pop poop" of bands filling the charts.
A better explanation of what the group is about can be determined by examining the material they cover in their live shows. Their repertoire runs the gamut from '6O's hard pop classics like the Dave Clark 5's "Any Way You Want It" to tough, biting '70's rockers like Elvis Costello's "Mystery Dance" and the Motors' "Dancing the Night Away" (their version beats the original hands-down). The material that they cover is not trendy but the kind of stuff that will be played for years to come; this band has good ears.
They also perform some original tunes in their act. They haven't developed their songwriting to a great extent, but the few they offer are melodic pop songs with a hard edge to them. They've been writing quite a bit of material recently, so their progress should be evident soon. And available.
As good as their music is, the best thing about this band is their collective stage personality. The focal point of the group is Herbert Tareyton; affectionately, Herbie. Herbie is an overweight (but I pudgy, not fat) guitarist who sings most of their songs (the originals are usually handled by bassist Lyle Diamond). Herbie has been seen on stage decked out in a complete Steak & Shake Uniform, but at a recent performance he was decked out in dark trousers, a striped I button-down shirt and an AMVETS hat, and with his glasses askew he looked for all the world like a middle-aged man who had wandered into the wrong bar. (He later changed his hat, putting on his reliable Steak & Shake cap and then a tattered red and white silk cap which gave him the appearance of a destitute Santa Claus eager for coin). His stage comments were amusing and revealed a sense of humor appropriate for his appearance.
Herbie uses the entire stage as a trampoline while the rest of the band remains stationary. While performing some wonderful kicks and jumps, his hat, glasses and shoulder strap fly away.
Herbie's interpretation of other people's songs is one of the most irascible aspects of the Rave's show. Elvis Costello's "Mystery Dance" has an added comedic aspect which Elvis' own version neglects. On their bizarre adaptation of "The In Crowd," a wonderful '60s (revived bizarrely by Bryan Ferry several years ago), Herbie's reading of the lyrics is hilarious and dynamic--dynamic in the sense that he's no mere humorist but can focus your attention on him at will.
However, he's obviously not the whole band. Tom Garza plays the drums precisely, proficiently; former Finchley Boy guitarist Garrett Oostdyk is no slouch on his axe either. Garrett is also interesting visually--sporting very dimestore plastic green sunglasses on stage. Bassist Brian Cook (Lyle Diamond) thunders a powerful storm underneath the sheets of notes on notes in rhythm.
What really makes the show are the versions of two songs from the first Talking Heads LP, "Pulled Up" and "Psycho Killer." The Rave take the basic compositions, add a bit more force to them, and let Herbie run wild over the eccentric and unnerving lyrics.
Herbie, whose vocal mannerisms do become quirky at times, is perfect for this material. Talking Heads themselves couldn't do these songs any better than the Rave. Lines like "Deep and wonderful, food on the table/There's really no hurry, I'll eat in a while," are natural for Herb, if a bit confusing to the audience. However, if there is one reason for seeing this band, it's for their singular rendition of "Psycho Killer." Herbie prefaced the number by dedicating it to all the mentally ill people in the audience. Then he sorta looked crosseyed, weak in the knees and melodramatically desperate as he piercingly blurted "YOU START A CONVERSATION YOU CAN'T EVEN FINISH IT" and did a convincing job of concurrently portraying terror and humor. Killer, indeed.
The Rave are out to entertain you, and they back it up with a wide variety of high quality material. Lyle described the band as being "personality oriented," and their visual image is certainly a strong point. In a way they owe credit to Cheap Trick, who as recent groundbreakers proved a band--a midwest band--could be recognizable and unique visually as well as aurally, but the individuals of CT have appearances that are usually consistent while the Rave are more varied, spontaneous. The visual comparisons are inevitable, but the Rave's image is separate from CT's. Complete within itself.
The Rave will be playing all over the midwest the next few months, concentrating on the Illinois/Iowa/Wisconsin trail with frequent stops in Chicago. The Rave don't have a recording contract, although Herbie sarcastically remarked that they hoped for an album coming out on K-Tel Records. The Rave purvey no-holes-barred, thoroughly enjoyable and unpredictable rock 'n' roll, and I hope you can get out to see them.
Oh, and one more thing--they really do eat at Steak & Shake. Steakburgers, fries, milk shakes and the Rave--eat it up!