Happiness Is A Warm Gun
You've heard all this before. That first guitar chord rings in the air a moment before the drummer comes in. There's the recognizable chime of the melody, the kick of the backbeat, and the frontman singing about cigarettes and a girl and concrete in his dreams. Then the guitar drops into a dirty riff and the rhythm section puts its head down and the whole thing builds and builds and builds until the singer's howling and now you're shaking your hair along to the whole thing. Losing it.
When Revolver launch into "Silhouettes" onstage, you realize that even though their sound is familiar, you certainly don't hear enough of it. Much of the music's appeal lies in the band's lead singer. Over drinks at the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown, Ehsan Alam--who writes all the band's lyrics and most of the song structures--sheepishly reveals that his name is Persian for "the best" and "the world." Tonight he's wearing a narrowly cut black suit with a tightly knotted tie and pants that are a little too short, enough to show his ankles. But onstage Alam is a Salman Rushdie novel's rock hero: tall and dark and skinny, with shiny black hair and a deep blue vibrato that can be as phlegmatic as it is desperate. He sings about desire and the loneliness that comes with it. In fact, Alam admits that if he were to transcribe his lyrics for me, I would probably think he's the "most suicidal, self-destructive person around." Or maybe just somebody who has a long-distance girlfriend living in Italy, which he does.
During Revolver's shows, Alam gets the engineer to crank the reverb enough to obscure his voice. But a few seconds into "Silhouettes," none of his insecurities matter anymore: He's already lost it like the rest of us. "By the time the band comes in on that first song," he says, "I'm not expressing the lyrics as much as I'm dancing or falling down or making an ass of myself." Sometimes his shirt comes untucked from his pants and he's toppling over on his bandmates and you can't understand every word he's singing. But you can definitely hear his longing.
The guy who usually breaks Alam's fall is Revolver's lead guitarist, Michael Arnold. Arnold taught Alam how to play the guitar back in 1999 when they were college roommates at the University of Minnesota. Short and fair, Arnold sports a dramatic cowlick--the only thing not dwarfed by the Gretsch guitar strapped across his body. His chest-filling feedback, cribbed from his guitar hero Johnny Marr, perfectly accentuates Alam's quieter sentiments. Alam and Arnold are backed on drums by Arnold's childhood friend Jesse Winsell. But my favorite of them all is Revolver's bass player, known simply as "the Nun." Stop me if you've heard this one before: They found her working in an art gallery. She liked the same bands they did. The Nun had never played the bass before, but her background in modern dance gave her a good understanding of rhythm. Now she wears motorcycle boots and a lot of eye makeup and gives the rest of the band a detached what the hell look during Revolver's shows. Perfect, right?
Like I said, Revolver aren't careful about hiding their influences: The penned-in track listing on my press copy of their forthcoming self-titled, self-released album even includes a song called "80s."
"Ehsan hates naming his songs," explains Arnold. "So we usually name them something simple." At the last minute, they changed "80s" to "Shake Me Gently, I'm Still Breathing" for the album's official release. You can imagine them naming all the songs on their full-length album according to their year of reference: "81," "80," "81," "79," "81," "81," "82," and "80."
But unlike some of the other bands influenced by Joy Division, New Order, the Smiths, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and their ilk, Revolver temper their moodiness with goofy adolescent lust. Maybe they do this because they count the Suburbs among their postpunk idols. Or maybe it's because Alam is so much sexier that Ian Curtis. Though if you think Ian Curtis is sexy, your belt and shoelaces should be confiscated.
If there's any early criticism to be made of a young band with this much promise, it's a minor one. Live, Revolver's headlong, disjointed whoosh sounds like it's going to fall apart any minute--and not in that exciting punk rock way. Much of this can be attributed to Alam, who needs about five songs to exorcise the demons that force him to wave his microphone frantically in front of his face. But it's to Alam's credit that there's a goofiness to all of his hurting. There are times when he'll sing every last aching lyric while flopping around on his back.
"Are you in pain up there?" I ask. "I mean, other than from all those lyrics about the long distance girlfriend?"
"Yes," he admits. "Especially when I fall over Michael and onto a beer bottle."
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