I remember, from my cloistered teens, multiple instances of skaters in Thrasher and Transworld (and even Poweredge) talking about the synergy between the twin U.S. coasts: some skater would invent and name a new move in California just as some East Coast type, removed from everything happening on the Left Coast save for rumor and conversation, invented the exact same move, and named it something different.
I’ve always been fond of the notion that the same ideas can spring up in different places at the same time, spurned on by other different ideas. I love similar arrivals despite disparate routes.
Make no mistake, when I saw the Cowboy Band play Whitehaus last year in February I was stoked: the band shambled their mathy way through grooves and breaks, with the sort of abandon which I gradually realized meant that, like the best bands, they were in total control even though they seemed to teeter on the brink of collapse, threatening to come off the rails at any moment. These cats didn’t even need eye contact, such was their skittery telepathy.
This was in a sweaty basement, so words weren’t clear to me, but I figured I had their number anyway: the Minutemen were obviously involved, what with Cowboy Band’s adherence to individual tangents and embellishments which added to the sum rather than subtracting from it. Gang of Four was in there, too.
Well, what do I know? When I buttonhooked and harassed one of the guys afterwards, they professed no knowledge of either band. What they were into, they said, was taking old cowboy classics – hence their name– and reinterpreting them. Allan Lomax’s field recordings were the biggest influences, as was Alvin Ayler’s stuff.
The music itself was (and is) enough to pique my interest but the band’s arrival at this, their great point, is somehow greater to me (and hopefully to you) because of their path: they set out to do something, and did it, landing at a point which will stoke listeners of an entirely different thing. Theirs draws on a folky, down home tradition which is maybe only aware of the punk family tree on the far edges of periphery, but to weirdos like me in the Minutemen/Beefheart/Gang of Four/Pere Ubu subsection, it’s right there, on its own coast, doing its own thing but –but!— also involved in this other conversation. Which turns out to be the same one after all. Just different.
Michael T. Fournier