Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Cavedogs - Joyrides For Shut-Ins (Enigma, 1990)

Often overlooked in a Boston scene that produced such notables as the Pixies, Lemonheads and Throwing Muses, The Cavedogs concocted a plot of playful revenge via the title track from the Tayter Country EP. Brian Stevens (bass/vocals) and Todd Spahr (guitar/vocals) took notice of a Tayters (a brand of regional potato chips) truck that drove by their 9-to-5 each morning. The pair regarded typical Boston show goers as "cold and cliquish," so they began calling the folded-armed masses "Tayters." Mark Rivers (drums/vocals) assisted in the putdowns of jaded scenesters. Spahr's lyrics were in attack mode ("The volume drones to a hundred black/We'll play 'The End' and then give it back/To the comfy light of tradition/'Cause when the shroud is removed from you/The cutting edge becomes petting zoo"), but the catchy '60s pop-meets-'90s modern rock approach gained enough white-flag wavers to make "Tayter Country" the band's first local hit. The irony wasn't lost on The Cavedogs, but they couldn't resist a parting shot (paraphrasing): "Besides, the only words they could understand were, '...with a machine gun'". Lightheartedness also came in the form of a comedy troupe who regularly performed before AND during the band's sets, as well as the trio's penchant for offbeat covers like "What's New, Pussycat?" and "I Melt With You" done 'Doggy-style.

Don't be fooled by the jesting, though. All three members possess a knack for sharp songwriting, a gift for harmonies and an emphasis on powerful arrangements. Todd Spahr's "Tayter Country" is wisely reprised on Joyrides For Shut-Ins, and its Who-cum-Smithereens stance leads off the album like a four-bagger over the Green Monster. Another at-bat, "La La La," finds Spahr pulling a fastball in the direction of himself and his teammates ("We're just three white rich kids bitching 'bout the world/We think we've got problems, but we ain't got problems"). Think Paul Westerberg playing pepper with Paul Weller at Target Field. Main Spahr-ing partner Brian Stevens (AKA "The Lennon Guy") throws his strongest jab on "Leave Me Alone" ("Pointed speech just flows right through my head/Leaving me with wounds from what you said/There is one thing I can plainly see/A hundred faces making fun of me"). If Julian Lennon had traded blows with Ken Stringfellow, perhaps they would've turned in a classic Hagler/Hearns-esque round like this one. Collaborative efforts between Spahr and Stevens yield a couple of ripe fruits. "Proud Land" is a Beatles/XTC juice mix flavored with equal amounts of sweetness and cynicism ("On any nameless street/The clothes are on the line/The dogwood's blooming/And the paper's right on time"). "Taking Up Space" fills the basket with insomnia brought upon by worriment ("Sally doesn't sleep a lot at night/Sometimes she wishes she could/But the preparation must begin with the light/To look is to be good"). An A-1 drum roll is found at the core of this tasty apple. Speaking of which, add Mark Rivers' name to the list of folks whose talents aren't strictly confined behind a snare and cymbals. Though Rivers propels The Cavedogs' backbeat with the ferocity of Keith Moon/Bun E. Carlos, he has bandleader ambitions a la Grant Hart/Dave Grohl. The betrayal in "Bed Of Nails" ("Could you stand to watch me crawl?/Would you move to help me?/Turn your back or break my fall/Save my name or sell me") and finality of "What In The World?" ("And so you're back to your guns, but now they're pointed at you/And your shot in the dark hit what you listened to/What was critically done was not so easily said/And with your feet in the mud, they moved on") prove that Rivers is worthy of holding the baton.

Even if you're not a recluse, take a joyride in a Tayters truck today.

-Gunther 8544

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