The Eight-Year Intermission
To say that TVBC go into a trance when they play is an understatement; the band's total immersion can look something like a fugue state. A recent appearance at Dinkytown's Know Name Records bore this out. Customers shouted over the din, cash registers rang, and a free (and shirtless) spirit hopped off his bike and started undulating to the frantic ebb and sinuous flow of the music. TVBC, in the midst of their epic set piece "Gandhi," paid no heed to this bustle. Guitarist Paul Metzger bent over his beat-up turquoise Danelectro and nodded furiously, his eyes wandering or perhaps making contact with some soul on a different astral plane. Dapper drummer Freddy Votel crashed his cymbals and pounded his kick drum as if it had questioned the sexual virtue of his mother. Bassist Scott Evans, dressed for a winter funeral or a cat burglary, warily eyed both of his bandmates from under his watch cap. The audience seemed transported as well. When the set ended, after two tinnitus-inflicting hours, it took a minute for the attendees to shake themselves alert and clap like crazy.
Sitting in his Midway home a few weeks later, Metzger wonders aloud how the audience manages to weather the deluge of sound. "[We] have some compositions that run 20 minutes. You're playing along--ten minutes in, you expect to look up and see an empty room. Who's going to hang for 20 [minutes]? Nobody. But people do, and I'm always so happy with that." Votel says good-naturedly, if a hair apologetically, "It's not like we're trying to chase them out!"
In fact, quite the opposite. Despite the complete absence of a marketing gene, the band has managed to lure a dedicated audience of art students, punks, and teens looking for an all-ages thrill since their earliest performances in the late Eighties. "They were the first band that I was exposed to with the Eastern motifs," says Erik Wivinus, guitarist for Skye Klad and Salamander, "and the improvisational factor made it utterly imperative you go see what would happen next." He fondly remembers being warped as a teen by watching Metzger karate-chop a guitar placed across his lap at the Entry, and drag it down a wall at the Walker. "I've been trying to rip off his guitar style ever since."
In between inflicting damage on his instrument, Metzger pursues a sonic style he describes as "kind of brittle and really, really loud." (His models are more gentle: Django Reinhardt and finger-style folk guitarist and instructor Duck Baker.) With Votel's incredible rhythmic flexibility, the band's self-limited palette ultimately yields a wide array of colors. Their repertoire is fairly small, but it's constantly evolving: Metzger likens the composition process to a sculpture that never gets fired because it's always being adjusted. There is little repetition, even in pieces they have played for years.
Metzger says that the complex dictates of North Indian classical music are an influence of sorts. "Even though the rules are unbelievably strict, there's incredible freedom," he says. "There's rigidity that facilitates endless variation within that structure--the infinite at your fingertips."
Unfortunately, their shows and releases have proved all too finite. They made only two records for the now-defunct Treehouse imprint, and they've gone dormant for protracted periods. "We got a virus in our system," Votel says. "We would play every three to four months. Then it turned into six months. A year. And then it was eight years." In 1992, about a year before the band wound down for its longest hiatus, TVBC recorded tracks with producer Brian Paulson (Soul Asylum, Superchunk) in the offices of Rykodisc, finally preserving "Gandhi" for posterity.
After that, Metzger returned to school and Votel joined Cows. Without the prospect of live shows, the original bassist, Pat Dzieweczynski, drifted out of the band.
Having sat out for most of the Clinton years, Metzger and Votel started woodshedding with Evans, resulting in an appearance at a First Avenue media-only show in January of 2001. Striking while the iron was red-hot--at least in TVBC terms--they played another, better-publicized reunion show at the Turf Club in February 2002, to celebrate the release of the 1992 recordings, titled Gone.
Now that they're back, the shows are flying fast, thick, and often barely announced (in publicity, at least, these musicians remain committed minimalists). They'll return to the Turf Club to headline a show with Reverend Angus Strychn on Friday, June 28 and plan to record new material with Evans soon. Maybe they'll commit one of their tweaked jazz standards to tape. In February they surprised longtime fans with a skittering, daredevil take on Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" (the band plans to interpret "Bemsha Swing" and "Cherokee" in the future). And even though they rarely left the Twin Cities during their prime, they now toy with the idea of touring.
Metzger thinks they may be loosening up in their old age. He remembers getting a pep talk from a soused female Entry patron when TVBC were first playing out: "'You guys are really good, but you gotta drop trou!'" Metzger chuckles. "That just sums up the disconnect between what we do and what has come to be expected by musical combos. 'Play the music, but drop trou, dude!' And it's funny, because I was talking to [my wife] Elaine about how I used to play facing the drums, facing the wall. Being inside my own little deal. So now I'm experimenting with not doing that. Facing outward. That ends up being my own version of dropping trou."
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.