By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
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LISTENING TO ALBUMS at home is nice. But getting to witness a drummer's semi-sexual (and ultra-embarrassing) facial contortions while he plays live is even nicer. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that live shows unveil the mystique of how music is made, putting a name to every power chord and a face to every onstage swig of Manishevitz (all the kids are going for a kosher high these days!). But all I know is, if I had a nickel for every time I heard, "Their album is good, but you should see them play live!" I would buy all of you greedy little audiophiles a ticket to go see some of the most energetic local performers around: Exercise. Wait a minute, who am I kidding? I'm no philanthropist. I'd probably just pay my rent in pocket change.
But please don't let that deter you from seeing Exercise. Over a few beers at the Turf Club's Clown Lounge (the management had sold out of the concord grape), I spoke with the band about their recent performances. I would classify their music as melodic, post-hardcore rock 'n' roll, as in Fugazi. Bassist Arthur Gandy classifies it as "poseur metal"...as in, hipsters wearing Slayer T-shirts.
"We're an audience-reaction band," says lead singer Preston Olson, and the tales of their live shows support his statement. During a recent gig at the 7th St. Entry, Olson wore nothing but underwear with a monkey face covering, as he puts it, "where yer business is." (The generous singer even allowed his underwear to share lead vocals: He stuck his microphone down his pants and squeezed the primate's face, at which point the mechanized voice therein let out a screech.) After being urged on by the audience, Gandy once ate a spider that was hanging from the stage at the Entry. ("Before I swallowed it, that thing probably ate whatever grows in that gross Entry bathroom," Gandy notes dejectedly.)
The two pranksters often team up in their shenanigans: Gandy once lifted a wheelchair-bound Olson out of their car and rolled him in to perform on a St. Cloud public-access TV station. After a few songs, Olson leaped out of his chair and started jumping around. Olson remembers that one 16-year-old cameraman appeared deeply scarred by the shock of it all.
So what, most of all, makes for an exciting Exercise show? "When Lars gets drunk, it's always a good show," Olson says smiling, referring to guitarist Lars Ostrom, who seems to be the most earnest and business-minded member of the group.
As for himself, Olson likes to be referred to as "the Billy Crystal of rock." ("With a few more drinks," he adds, patting his stomach, "I could be the Louie Anderson of rock.") But just because Exercise have a sense of humor doesn't mean you can pass them off as just another novelty band. Their forthcoming six-song EP is a serious work of jerky guitars, torrential drumbeats, and memorable songs--even if the band themselves can't recall the album's name. ("It's called We Gotta Tonight," drummer Jason Ralph says. "I thought it was We Got It Tonight?" says Ostrom. "Maybe it's Gatorade Tonight?" offers Gandy.)
On the album's opener, "Thousand Island," Ostrom's guitar cuts downward, chord by chord, into an abrupt silence, then starts up again. "Microfiche" finds Ralph echoing Ostrom's tri-chord riffs with three heavy beats while Olson emits a raging, hoarse squall. In "Structure," Olson uses a quieter bridge to sing-speak over Ralph's minimalist drums before the rampant guitars rush back in. The EP truly revives the catchy, start-stop vigor inherent in a repetitious rock structure.
Yet Exercise has not sent copies of this EP out to anyone in the local press--unless, of course, a writer requests it. One might say that they're willing to take their time with the music: The EP was recorded on Easter of this year and has only recently been remastered. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that--like many Twin Cities musicians--each band member has a full-time job on top of his music career. But, in truth, Exercise seem not to invest much of their limited free time in promoting themselves. During our conversation, a friend of theirs approaches our table and says, "Hey, you guys want to play a show in December?" and they all nod their heads. "We don't really book any shows," says Gandy. "People just approach us, and we say we'll play."
Perhaps this is how they've managed, thus far, to remain a well-kept secret in the local music scene. I myself only happened upon them by accident. The first time I saw the group play at the Entry, they spilled beer on my head. Then Gandy stuck the beer bottle down Olson's pants. Then the band erupted into a rousing round of thrash. Live shows, I thought, wiping hops from my jacket. This is just what they should be.