House of Large Sizes has the Spirit of the Minutemen! This timely revelation is, as the kids say, “very emergency,” because it is precisely that spirit that is most conspicuously lacking in a goodly amount of today’s music.
See, in the short period that they existed, the Minutemen (D. Boon, Mike Watt, and George Hurley) held up a near-perfect model for rock ‘n’ roll bands to espouse. They didn’t start their band to get chicks or make money or whatever hoary old implied perquisites impel pubescent men to start bands. They did it because they felt The Calling: God, Yahweh, The Fates, The Fat Elvis, Cthulu—whatever you like; some divine interloper made D. Boon fall out of a tree and land on Mike Watt (true story!) in San Pedro, Calif., some time in the early ’70s. Whereupon D. took Mike over to his house and recited an entire George Carlin album from memory, leaving Watt slackjawed. The two took up instruments and learned the chords from Foghat and CCR songs, intent on living the traditional rock dream. Sometime during high school, however, the two sojourned to Hollywood to see Wire on a whim. Watt realized then that he and D. should start a band, because Wire demonstrated that you don’t need to be a guitar god to be in a band, you just need to be possessed of—and ready to apply—the vision and drive to set your band apart.
I figure the House of Large Sizes started up their band on a similar premise. This three-piece from Cedar Falls, Iowa, have all of that which made the Minutemen such a unique outfit. To listen to their music is to be privy to the camaraderie, the kinship of spirit, and the unfaltering collaborative effort involved in its construction.
On their new live album, Idiots Out Wandering Around (I.O.W.A., get it?), the first thing that occurs to the listener is, “Sweet baby Jesus asleep in a manger! These guys are a powerful live act!” And again, it’s the composition and innovation, not a wall of Marshall cabs, that provides the bombast. It’s just well-executed, if peculiar, power pop from small-town goobers like yourself who are unsullied by that which makes rock music more often than not so eminently unpalatable. The guitar “solos,” for lack of a more clever turn of phrase, aren’t the “put-the-spotlight-on-me-while-I-prop-my-foot-up-on-the-bass-drum-and-bite-my-lower-lip” routine you’ve come to expect in your Rocky Rolly. They’re quick, weird blasts of higher-register guitar playing punctuated with distorted high-end bass. And the drummer goes way beyond the call of duty. Like George Hurley of the Minutemen, every beat of every measure is accounted for with some class of percussive sound. And, most importantly, House of Large Sizes are able to pull off the dreaded “slow song” with a bare minimum of listener aggravation, an attribute so rare among rock bands as to be long past laughable. (YK)
Fireballs of Freedom
Thoughts, they return from space. A little fragment of something I read in Rolling Stone years and years ago came back to me in the middle of Total Fucking Blowout: an incensed Slayer fan writing in to complain about a review of South of Heaven. “Slayer doesn’t make music for Debbie Gibson fans,” he groused. “Slayer makes music for Slayer fans.” Youth of today, imagine a time when Slayer and Debbie Gibson could appear in the same magazine, let alone the same sentence. The world was a lot smaller then. People were shorter and lived near water.
The Fireballs of Freedom never really had to evolve, you know. They could have stopped reaching and settled for mere greatness a long time ago. Ever since that first show at the late Connie’s Lounge, I’ve always been firmly of a mind that, at any given stage in their evolution, they’ve always been twice the band they really needed to be, not just to get by, but to completely blow everyone’s mind. At their laziest, they still had twice the zap most bands could hope to summon on the best of nights. And when they were on—and I mean really on—there was just nothing to compare.
But when you’ve already exhausted a dictionary’s worth of superlatives, where is there really to go? The Fireballs’ debut long-player, 1998’s The New Professionals, sounded exactly like what it was: a pack of rock animals loose in a tricked-out studio, wired way too tight and completely blowing down doors. Sammy James couldn’t pound any more hell out of those skins. The Gator’s yowl couldn’t give any more and between him and Von Venner there just wasn’t any room left for another tear-ass guitar lead in there, no how, no way. Most bands would have stepped back from that obsidian monolith and just said, “Dude. We’re set. Just keep playing that.”
So what do the Fireballs do? They flex. They grab it with both hands, and they flex molten muscles of lava. I give up, as should anyone out there still scrambling for useless synonyms to describe this blast furnace, these Fireballs of Freedom. No doubt there’s still some reviewer out there still trying to reverse-engineer the doomsday machine and trace the FOF pedigree back to this band or that band, but it’s a fool’s errand. The Fireballs have incinerated their influences, and I know when I’m licked.
So who are they playing for? God only knows. The Fireballs of Freedom, in their quest to smash the mountain to bits, have put it back together upside down. If this isn’t the future of rock, there is no future for rock. Anyone who can’t see that is running from his own destruction. (AS)