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Spring Music Preview: Queer Bands and Groups
by Gregg Shapiro
2004-03-10

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'Never Getting Married,' a song on Big City Sin and Small Town Redemption (Fueled By Ramen) by Roy is such a potent dose of current events that it deserves to be blasted from car radios on highways, city streets and gravel roads across the country. In it, Roy lead singer and openly gay member Brian Cook sings 'our day is coming / just wish it would hurry up/ because we're never getting married/ unless half of the population comes around,' a sentiment that rings true for every gay man and lesbian who has been reading or voting in the recent spate of USA Today and CNN polls on the subject of gay marriage. He continues, 'the city seems ready/ so let's move on to the suburbs and small towns/ we'll do it on front porches/ shamelessly for everyone to see/ because I don't need their paper/ and you only want a diamond ring/ and the blessings of our families.' What's even more remarkable about the song is that it is performed in a simple acoustic guitar, piano and vocal arrangement, making it that much more effective. The remaining songs, a collection of thumping and twanging alternative country rockers are also well worth your time and attention.

It was only a matter of time before a queer artist covered Liz Phair's 'H.W.C.' (which stands for 'hot white cum'), a song from her most recent self-titled album. I'm glad that it was The Bootlickers, an accessible and tasty quartet from Philadelphia, whose enticing 2001 full-length disc Huge is a sizable achievement. While I'm not a fan of the short form, The Bootlickers' new six-song EP Automatic Ball Cleaner (CoLinGa) is a wonderful and worthy effort. In addition to the fabulous Phair cover, The Bootlickers do a mean Pansy Division impression on their rendition of PD's 'Homo-Xmas,' which makes it feel like Christmas all year long. The four originals, including the sticky and sexy 'I Just Did Your Boyfriend' (you can almost smell the post-coital aroma), the queer twang of 'Pretty' and the toe-tapper 'Boy,' only made me long for more spit-shine and polished songs by The Bootlickers.

Just a little bit south of Philadelphia, the Washington, D.C.-based lesbian duo CommonbonD celebrated 10 years together on its live CD Ten (www.commonbondweb .com). For some artists, their true essence comes through best in live performance, and such is the case with Mary Beth de Pompa and Ashland Miller of CommonbonD. After being less than impressed with the duo's Naked Soul Dance and Chasing Solace studio discs, I found my opinion changed after listening to Ten, which includes live renditions of 'Fly' and 'Old River' from Naked Soul Dance, as well as particularly powerful numbers such as 'I Don't Know' ('written for Matthew Shepard and his family'), the acoustic blues of 'History Of Rock & Roll,' and the fierce and forthright 'Ainnobodybiniss.'

Women's voices, even in multi-member units, continue to dominate the queer music landscape. In existence for 10 years, The Indianapolis Women's Chorus released its debut CD To Sing Is To Fly (Softsound) in the autumn of 2003. The beautifully blended voices of the chorus can be heard on 20 songs, including the title track with lyrics by Joan Baez and music by Gwyneth Walker.

Also hailing from the Midwest, Detroit to be exact, is Sista Otis and the Wholly Rollers. With the feverish fervor of a faith healer, Sista Otis and company rolls through a series of songs on its CD Worldwide Release (Wholly Roller) that sound as if they were baptized in hip-hop ('Beat On The Road'), funk ('Love Is Spiritual'), modern rock ('Rollin' Stone,' 'Mama Look At Me'), and the blues ('Letter To Denine'), and bring the listener to the brink of testifying.

On their fourth album, the colorful Make Yr Life (Yep Roc), the Butchies have moved into, dare I say it, a more commercially accessible realm. That's not to say that they have lost the queercore edge that pushed them to the head of the class; they definitely haven't abandoned it in the least. But if the same music-buying public that embraced the questionable queerness of T.A.T.U. is ready to have their world rocked by the genuine article, then they ought to listen to a propulsive sexy same-sex tune such as 'Send Me You,' with the lines 'She says I'm crazy I said oh really/ I'm gonna jump you on the bed/ make me a monkey make me fall over/ make me a cradle and hold me instead.' Hip-shaking heat also emanates from the title track, 'She's So Lovely,' '17' and 'Lydia.' The Butchies' cover of The Outfield's 'Your Love' reveals an unexpected side to the trio.

Queer Bay Area trio The Quails continue to build their nest on the twigs and branches of vintage punk and present-day riot grrrl inspiration on their third disc The Song Is Love (Mr. Lady). Mission of Burma meets Sleater-Kinney time and again and songs such as 'Move Forward,' 'Cold War,' 'More Gender, More Of The Time,' 'Pitch Memory,' 'We'll Take It,' and 'He Likes To Lift Heavy Things,' hammer home that point. Swooping and soaring, The Quails' flight patterns even include protest folk as you can hear on 'The War Will Be Over When We Want It.'

Originally composed for Merce Cunningham Dance Company's production Split Sides, the Sigur Ros EP Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do (Geffen/Fat Cat) contains the three sections that the Icelandic group created for the event. Sigur Ros, fronted by openly gay lead singer Jonsi (a.k.a. Jon Thor Birgisson) continues to create otherworldly music that defies categorization, and when you hear these three tracks, 'Ba Ba,' 'Ti Ki,' and 'Di Do' (all of which are 'designed to be played in any order'), that crackle and bubble like a music box in a fireplace, it will be easy to imagine them being incorporated into a program of dance performance. Heck, it might inspire you to choreograph one of your own.

Not a musical group, the Fab Five (the quintet from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy) have nevertheless generated the kind of excitement usually reserved for rock stars. The five gay men (Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez) are as much a commodity (see the recently published book Queer Eye For The Straight Guy: The Fab 5's Guide To Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better and Living Better) as they are cult figures. Naturally, a soundtrack for the Bravo TV series had to surface, and on the various artists Queer Eye For The Straight Guy Soundtrack (Capitol) compilation, there are members of the community (Junior Senior, DJ and remixer Barry Harris, and Elton John, who unearthed a long-hidden gem for the disc), friends of the community (Kylie Minogue, Liz Phair) and an array of superstars (Sting, Duran Duran, Basement Jaxx), all angling for a slice of the queer pie. While I'm not entirely sure what 'things' are being referred to in Widelife's Queer Eye theme song 'All Things (Just Keep Getting Better),' it's hard to deny the well-meaning sentiment of such a catchy number.


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