Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stay Lucky

The best band in the whole world are breaking up. The Lucksmiths call it quits.

I first saw the Lucksmiths in Chris Munford's living room on Roosevelt, back when he was in Incredible Force of Junior, playing with Kissing Book. Just the three of them then, Tali's snare drum and duct tape kit, Mark grazing the ceiling with his head and the head of his bass (I've seen him smack others), and Marty hunched over his big f-hole guitar (Gibson? Gretsch? Guild? Ibanez? I never pay attention to these things). They were different; I'd never really heard an indiepop band until then with a singer who could really sing.

And their songs were so homely and charming and bookish and cozy and comfy but tricky and true. And words! "Outside every thin man is another man who's fat." "When we were arrested we were bare-chested." "I'm not happy but I'm near enough." "That was the winter of my discount tent." "She's a damsel in distress; she feels a damn fool in this dress." Very clever, but more than that: funny and vernacular and aware. Marty's songs were as true as the clear ringing yearn in Tali's sweet voice. With a bit of warble. I like a bit of warble.

At the time they reminded me of another great Australian band The Sugargliders, who had a similar approach, but not as personal, as quotidian, as these Melbourne scruffs.

Is there a more evocative, anticipatory phrase in pop than "take the tennis ball off the towbar"? Seven words. And then "If either one of us could dri-i-i-ive, we could drive away, and the times of our lives could begin today". Indiepop is always striving for wistfulness, but the Lucksmiths make it look easy. And little things like the way he sings "The hedges and the hibiscus" in "Untidy Towns" -- right there on the "hi" of "hibiscus" still make my heart flutter like a little girl.

That first time was 1997; they should have played the Seattle Popfest but we were too stupid. They had records out but they were rare and foreign and acquirable only at gigs. For many years I thought "A Green Bicycle Case" was some sort of confusing, er, case that you'd put a bicycle in for some arcane Australian reason.

Later that year we stumbled across them in a restaurant in Somerville, Mass., where they were playing in front of a roomful of diners who clearly weren't there for the music. Cramped -- the Lucksmiths could always set up in the tiniest of corners -- they charmed further. They are the most charming band ever as well.

Further gigs, every two years, more or less: Graceland (or was it still the Off-Ramp then?); The Baltic Room; Victoria, BC in front of three spectators other than the opening band (the amazing Salteens) -- me, Nancy, and the drunkest man in the world who alternately demanded I buy him a beer (the bartender had cut him off), sloppily hit on the Salteen's girl keyboard player, complaining about how hard it was to be gay in Victoria, and calling me a goddamn faggot; Bellingham; the Crocodile Sunset Tavern a couple of times; the 2003 San Francisco Pop Holiday, another gig at the Rickshaw in San Francisco we stumbled across by chance; Portland; a few odd record store appearances; and a wonderful trip to Melbourne to see the Candle Records Tenth Anniversary show at the Corner Hotel. I've missed a few, I'm pretty sure.

Every single one of them was magic, not just magic but like points in a line an infinite series of magical moments too close together to distinguish from each other.

I haven't even mentioned Mark's inventive and yet oddly sociable bass lines or Marty's guitar playing, surely the least-obtrusive in the world, just enough to prop up the improbable rollercoasters of the melody, or fourth-member Louis's altogether more muscular guitar texture, roaring (but subtlely, if that's a word) like something out of Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine or early Slumberland band Lilys. Or, most amazing of all, the crazy breath control that allows Tali to sing like an angel while playing drums standing up. Pretty good drums, too; I've always felt that the best drummers are the ones with the fewest pieces.

The records are pretty great, too. Naturaliste and Why That Doesn't Surprise Me are the two best albums of this decade to my mind, and I'll take "Midweek Midmorning" from Naturaliste to dance to, or the overlooked b-side "Winter Proper" from Spring A Leak to cry to: "she's going if not gone, and nothing said could stop her; put something warmer on, and await the winter proper" --Tali's voice slicing it off clean like a limb cut off so quickly there's no blood yet.

Next week I'll have a different two faves, maybe "The Music Next Door": "it might have been the music from next door, reminding me I should have loved you more, a song I've heard a hundred times before" -- Tali, better than anyone, better than Morrissey or Ferry or Lennon or Presley, drives another one home. He's relentless, both a butterfly and a sledgehammer at once. His phrasing is unparalleled.

Or "Here we are, silhouetted in the smoke from the shipwrecks at the bar of the Anchor and Hope" and the last time he sings "And I haven't seen you smile in quite a while, and I haven't seen you anywhere in ages", damn, that little rise makes my heart pucker and buckle every time: "Synchronized Sinking".

Or "You keep the curtains closed and you hide behind the newspaper; You got yourself some nicotine in the nick of time. And even though the weekend doesn’t really make much difference, You spent Thursday on your backside whistling “Friday On My Mind”, Super-supine."

Or "And I say it like it’s unrehearsed but I said it in the bathroom first."

Or "What sorry sights we sometimes are; these sameshit nights under stayaway stars -- these sameshit nights in the saddest bars, the city lights and the stayaway stars". Like a good dozen or more of their songs on this one when the chorus swells my heart rises in my chest and my eyes well up with tears; I'm doing it now just looking at the lyric of the song.

"Your loyalties are divided between digital and vinyl, but I’m biding time until the cassingle revival, because you promised when it happens you’ll return." Now I'm waiting for it too.

I know the lads are not deceased, and music will continue to be made. I wish them all the happiness there is. A different poet, E. E. Cummings: "Accept all happiness from me. Then shall i turn my face, and hear one bird sing terribly afar in the lost lands." That little bird is singing a Lucksmiths song. God bless.

EDIT: aside from a couple of idiotic errors, I seem to have somehow neglected to mention that all of the song lyrics quoted above are by the incomparable MARTY DONALD, ladies and gentlemen.


tunic said...

maybe they're not deceased but for us fans whose connection to the band was solely their musical output, it kind of feels that way.. they will be missed (at least we can hope for a resurrection)

PS the guitar was an epiphone dot

Anonymous said...

They were in a time all their own. Seattle never seemed to get or understand them either.

Fnarf said...

Thanks for the guitar info. Now if I can only remember the name of the beast that Louis plays -- I remember he bought it in San Francisco, after a long search, and I looked it up then -- it's extremely unusual. But my memory is toast.

They did OK in Seattle for a pop band. There was a time when a band like that wouldn't draw five people in this town, and would get spit on in the street. I thought those last few Sunset Tavern shows (not the Croc, as I said originally, stupidly) could have been in a larger venue. Not that I'm complaining; the Sunset's great.

Dimitra Daisy said...

Brilliant post. I've only seen them once and that was actually before I fell in love with them properly but still. I am ridiculously sad over this.

By 'Wednesday week', do you mean 'Midweek midmorning' or am I missing something? And being annoying?

Fnarf said...

Good lord, yes. "Wednesday Week" is an Undertones song! My mind is going.

Chris said...

Your words make me miss them more, "super supine" indeed! Louis nabbed a Microfrets guitar in S.F., it was rare and weird, he couldn't have been happier about it.