By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Pop of Futures Past
Beware the current wave of early-'90s nostalgia that has Q Magazine listing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as the best single of all time. Beware also this critic, as I wax hyperbolic about the great local indie-pop explosion of 1991-93. That said, hear me out on one point: In 1993, when the 24 Bar still existed and the Uptown Bar still mattered, 'Sota-pop standard-bearers Lily Liver were worth all the hopes their fans pinned on them.
The band itself might disagree, of course. "We didn't have a plan at all," says singer-guitarist Missy Greernow, remembering how she and drummer Hallie Kaufman, her best friend since junior high school, began the group by banging on pots and pans in her kitchen. "After our first show, we just did whatever concerts people asked us to play," Greer says. Had the girl-girl-boy trio emerged in Boston a few years earlier, they might have become the Blake Babies. The band had its own Juliana Hatfield in Greer, whose vocals were both tough and girlish, even if her lyrics were much simpler than Hatfield's.
But in the postmod Minneapolis scene of '93, simplicity was cool, "pop" was called "the new punk," and anything too stuffy went out the practice-space window. Instead of jangling, Lily Liver zoomed like the Buzzcocks, firing off "a-whoah whoah" refrains about, well, woe. The band used depression as source material for cheery-sounding songs about loss, to catchy, cathartic effect. Now some of these tunes appear on the long-awaited debut album, I've Got You Right Where You Want Me, which hits stores this week.
Recorded and mixed during '97 and '98, the album is as much an anthology of the band's past five years as a current snapshot, and it suffers unevenness as a result. Mature new songs like the rhythmically angular "Way to Go" are set against derivative, early-career standbys ("Va Va Va Voom" is a dead ringer for the Descendents' "Suburban Home"). Still, I've Got You is a milestone, not just for the half dozen or so great songs, but for the terrible setbacks that preceded their recording.
To back up a bit, Lily Liver seemed to coast on sheer enthusiasm and hooks in the beginning; today they admit they "couldn't play." Bassist Rob Burkhardt co-wrote and shared vocals, giving their sound a John Doe/Exene Cervenka-like blend, while drummer Kaufman kept pace. Their high-energy, Superfriendsvibeconnected with an audience that waited for the band to take the next step.
But they never did. A year after Lily Liver won the 1994 "Best New Band Poll" in City Pages, Greer began seeking treatment for severe fatigue and immune-deficiency problems--the kind normally associated with AIDS, though doctors soon eliminated that diagnosis. (Though recovered somewhat, she's still sick, and reports that her doctors are no closer to discovering the source of her illness.)
The band's stage energy dipped, and the group went on a kind of hiatus, playing short-notice gigs when Greer was able. Burkhardt left the group, then returned more than a year later on lead guitar. Ian Young joined on bass, then left town, and Dan Long took over. For a while, Kaufman and Greer's brother Scott wrote songs in her living room to cheer her up--many of which now appear on I've Got You.
Last year, Scott took his own life, and in the wake of the tragedy, the album was dedicated to his memory. Lily Liver continued to play out, learning to plan around Greer's condition. And though Greer is better now at coping with the waves of fatigue that hit her, she still has to move at her own pace. "I do have to lay down a lot during practice," Greer admits. "These guys can keep going for three or four hours, and I have to stop and go, I'm done."
For everyone involved, putting out the album became a motivating goal, but Greer says its release isn't the end of the story. "I'd been sick for so long, and I hadn't played enough. So I didn't want to lose that stuff that we all worked so hard on," Greer says. "But I wanted to get it down so we could start doing what we're doing now, which is writing more songs. We're starting to get the fun part back." (Peter S. Scholtes)
Lily Liver will perform onRadio K's Off the Record Friday at 4 p.m. They'll also perform a record-release concert on Saturday for City Pages' second Sweet Potato Party, beginning at 9:30 p.m at the 400 Bar. Street Hassle and Puck open; (612) 332-2903.
Since the audience demographic for a Law & Order-themed Mollycuddlesong consists of about one person (me), Guilt Ridden Pop label-owner Keith Moran called me as soon as he got the news that the local indie-poppers had won a fan in Jill Hennessy, the first female star of NBC's detective show Law & Order. Moran had sent a copy of the band's new album, It's Not You, It's Me (GRP), which contains a song called "The Ballad of Jill Hennessy," to the actress, and a flattered Hennessy called back with an offer to join the band on rhythm guitar. No word yet on the band's response. (Peter S. Scholtes)