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September 24, 1982 - Image 17

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1982-09-24
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7f

0

SLK: Playing the bar circuit

Bands
from page 1
the bars for what they are-cavernous
hideaways with sticky walls, sticky
floors, sticky chairs, and sticky tables.
Beer and smoke coat everything in the
place, including the air. But that's not
the important part. The important part
is when the lights are down, the bands
are playing, and everybody's having
fun.
There's nothing particularly new in
that scene. There's nothing in the
frenetic energy of the performances to
belie how desperately some of them-
SLK, the Urbations, and Ragnar
Kvaran, among others-want to
graduate from the bar circuit, just as
there's nothing in the crazed bopping of
the dancers that would indicate they
have exams hanging over their heads.
There is, however, something new
behind the scenes. There's something
strange going on in the basements of
Ann Arbor. These musicians are spen-
ding all of their time composing and
rehearsing, and all of their money
recording 45s, albums, and-most im-
portantly-demo tapes, all with the
hope of making it to the top. Between
them, they've got hundreds of thousan-
ds of dollars invested in their dreams.
But it isn't a fantasy world they're in;
they aren't kids who "like, really like,
to make music, man." They've got
managers, soundmen, and minds tun-
ed to both the art and the business of
music.
And there's something going on out-
side Ann Arbor, in the mystical world of
the music industry, that may help them
realize their dreams, according to
Those Who Know. During the last five
years an upsurge of independent record

labels has opened a door to recognition
that has been denied most groups for
more than a decade. In the early days
of FM radio, disc jockeys provided that
service. "You used to be able to get into
the business by going to see a disc
jockey, giving him a record. If he liked
it, he'd play it, and you'd have a hit,"
says Al Hurschman, chief engineer for
A2 Studio, the only world-class recor-
ding facility in Ann Arbor. But now,
Hurschman explains, the industry is on
a slide. Major labels aren't as adven-
turous as they were when Ann Arbor
acts like Bob Seger, Commander Cody,
and the MC5 made it big. The indepen-
dent labels have taken up the slack.

make it onto a major label.
SLK is a relatively young band,
especially given the spot it occupies in
the hearts of audiences and at the top of
local bars' hiring lists. Most of its eight
members, age 20 to 23, have had no
formal musical training. But in the
short time they've been around, they've
learned enough to manage themselves,
for the time being. "Getting our hair
cut, dressing up like this, we do this to
make people notice us," Behrman ex-
plains, sporting hair so short it's barely
visible and a jacket and narrow tie
which certainly pull in a second look.
"People who've never heard our (ska)
music before sometimes take a while to

'In the best of all possible worlds, the
president of Atlantic Records will call and
say, 'Hey, I saw your (video). Why don't we
fly you out to New York, and advance you a
hundred thou' on the album.'
-Mike Gould
local musician

hissing. But. three songs later, they
were dancing. We just don't slow down.
They think we will, but we don't,"
Mesereau says.
Even when people absolutely won't
accept their music, they say, they can
deal with it. "Those are the hayseeds,"
Behrman says, shaking his head. "We
played a place in East Lansing, and out
of 200 people, about two clapped. That
doesn't bother us." And if they're
heckled on home turf, Mesereau says,
there's no problem at all. "We have
some followers we call 'rude boys.' We
don't ask them to, but they take care of
people giving us trouble. Like, we were
playing and some guy kept throwing
notes up on the stage telling us we
sucked, and one of the rude boys chased
him around, trying to stuff the notes
down his throat. If people don't like us, I
think they should just leave, and not
bring everyone else down," he says.
A GREATER problem than the
heckler, however, is the unrespon-
sive audience. A few nights of watching
a sea of blank faces can leave
musicians that hope to take on the
world feeling that they can't even deal
with their own back yard. "There can
certainly be a boredom, but then we can
entertain ourselves," says David "Chip
Reed" Swain, saxophonist for what he
calls a "zesty dance band," the Ur-.
bations. Playing roughly 20 gigs a mon-
th in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area, the
Urbations have developed a number of
tricks to keep themselves and their
audiences entertained. "Sometimes,
it's hard to get people's attention,"
Swain says. "One of the things we do is,
well, we have a dance. The Squirm," he
says with a mischievous smile. "You
have to lay down on the floor and, well,
squirm.
"One night, after we finished playing
at Rick's-it was raining-we went out-
side, and there were a bunch of people

Local
releases
By Ben Ticho
ANN ARBOR bands have a tough
time of things these days: record
companies are stingier than ever in
signing new acts, interest in live shows
has declined with a tightening
economy, and on top of all that,
everybody keeps putting them down.
But they persist in the face of all od-
ds. Many bands have recorded and
released their own records with
varying degrees of success. Here's a
sample of the many selections of area
bands available to record buyers in Ann
Arbor.
SLK-'Trigger Talk' b/w
'Lorale' (Millionaire)
Back in 1980 guitarist Mike Behrman
and some friends at the University's
Alpha Delta Phi house and beyond star-
ted jamming around with British ska,
the punk-reggae-influenced beat
revitalized by bands such as the
Specials, the English Beat, and Mad-
ness. An early appearance at East
Quad's Halfway Inn landed a gig at
Rick's and the group was on its way.
Buoyed by strong local support and a
very danceable sound, SLK (Street
Light Knights) began interspersing
originals amidst the covers of "Do the
Dog," "Twist and Crawl" and "One
Step Beyond."
Late in 1981 the band recorded bassist
Roger Schwoebel's "Trigger Talk" and
Behrman's "Lorale" at Ann Arbor's
Brookwood Studios. Though marred by
a definitely muddy 8-track production,
the single highlights Art Brownell's
Britishy voice and an up beat to keep
you on the floor. "Lorale" is a personal
favorite which captures your attention
with its tossaway refrain and engaging
lyrics ("Hope you're happy with
your businessman"). Since this
release, SLK has changed drummers
and added guitarist Bill McNally and
John Mesereau's saxophone, but the
devotion to quality ska and raucous
stage shows continues.
Look for a full album soon, featuring
a re-recording of "Trigger Talk" and
"Lorale" as well as originals, "Bored
and Tired" and "So Hard."
The Confessions- ' Don't
Count On Me' b/w 'Strait
Jacket'
The Confessions are Ann Arbor's
current version of the quintessential
garage/party rock covers band. Per-
formances at parties (I first heard
them at East Quad) and bars have built
up a loyal following, but the Confessions
may well be limited in the recording
studio at this point in time due partly to
inexperience and to an immediate style
which does not transfer particularly
well from the dance floor to vinyl.
Lead singer Chris Schuller's "Don't
Count On Me" opens with an eerie
James Bond guitar line into an

4
atypically downbeat song. Guitarist
Rob O'Brien's "Strait Jacket" moves
better, but without lyrics of equal
quality. Not a bad start; with a little
more experimentation, maybe-...
I must admit I haven't seen a Con-
fessions show too recently, but unless
they've shifted stream considerably,
I'd guess the group is for the moment
confined to keeping local main-stream
covers fans happy.
Ragnar Kvaran-Desparate
Characters' b/w 'Perfect
World' (Stigmata)
Ragnar Kvaran-'Wrecked
On Love' EP (ATC)
Possibly the most original and suc-
cessful (at least in recorded material)
of all recent Ann Arbor bands. Lead
singer Kvaran has a rather scruffy
voice and a poetic bend in lyrics. Lead
guitarist Terry Vogel and drummer
Dave Whipple collaborated in writing
"Perfect World," with its great line,
"Gustav Mahler was the name of
your dog. "

Ministers of Melody are Ann Arbor's
classic R&B ensemble, with wit and
humor a la Louis Jordan (or Joe
Jackson, if you want someone more
contemporary).
Siegel is close to his Ann Arbor en-
vironment; he even sings about it in
numbers like "Angelo's," a tribute to
Ann Arbor's favorite med campus
eatery. Other topics include our friend,
the Michigan winter ("When the sumac
is on Fire"), and the shrinking state of
the Cadillac ("Downsize Blues").
Siegel knows what he's doing and has
a sure grip on his revivalist genre both
in live performances and on S'nap!;
he's a true R&B entertainer in the
Saturday night sense of the word. The
only problem is, and this is his strong
point as well I guess: he is a singer of
styles past, presenting an extra
challenge for performer and listener
alike.
Still, he's one of a kind in this town,
and for miles around.
The Urbations-'The
Urbations' EP (Wild Child
Discs)
Why they recorded this live I don't
know. Yes, the Urbs' strongest point is
the exuberance of their stage shows,
and it must be nice to be able to write
"recorded live at a famous bar in down-
town Detroit," (guess which one),
but...
The Urbations have thoroughly
mastered the Ann Arbor art of covers;
they've got the obscure and overlooked,
the frivolous and fun. It's always a good
time to hear a wailing brass section on
old tracks like Oscar Wills' "Flatfoot
Sam" and "Bertha Lou," a Clint Miller
tune circa 1957.
Personally, I'm no great fan of Iggy
Pop, so it comes as no surprise that I
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OPEN M-SAT, 9-6
OPEN FRI. 9-8
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- - - Ed

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Wrecked On Love, the 1981 EP, got
some national airplay and represents
the group's best recorded material to
date, although I haven't heard a new
live release coming soon on the French
Celluloid label. The music on Wrecked
is often moody and brooding, but
always has a driving rock sound behind
it. "Betty Ann" is closest to a true pop
song, but even here Kvaran has a
strange inflection that kept it from
becoming singles material.
Ragnar Kvaran is unique among
local bands in that, while Ann Arbor
support sometimes wavers, the group
has established a limited following
many miles away, even in Europe. It's
listening music more than dance music,
but always intelligent and often in-
novative-unusual traits in Covers
City.
Dick Siegel-'S'nap!'
(Boo-Kay)
This is the album with "What Would
Brando Do?" on it. Dick Diegel and the

SLK-the Street Light Knights-is a
group that has skyrocketed to local
stardom during the last few months of
its 18-month existence. Tell them they
don't have a chance, and they'll tell you
that two record companies already
have shown an interest in them.
Elektra Records and Boardwalk (Joan
Jett and the Blackhearts) both have the
band's latest demo. Lead guitar Mike
Behrman says he expects to know by
Christmas whether the four songs
already recorded for an album will

get used to it. We just play the songs so
goddamn fast, and sweat so goddamn
hard, to convey some of the energy to
the audience. We always get them dan-
cing."
Saxophone player John Mersereau
says SLK has developed a strong
enough reputation to hire a warm-up
band for gigs at Rick's American Cafe,
one of Ann Arbor's main live-music
bars. Even out of town, SLK can hold its
own, he says. "We played in Traverse
City. once, and the people started

TB4
BR
Jul*10

10 ~ Wekend /September 24; 1982 3 ,'-----..- _ --_ I

.3 .#W

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