THERE'S A SONG on the new Rex Daisy album called "Bottom O' the World," a riches-to-rags anthem that ought to be subtitled "The Story of Rex Daisy." It evokes fond memories of yesteryear--like October '92, when Rex exploded onto the local scene via Iowa. They had it all. A boisterous and robust power-pop sound. A Lennon-ite vocal in guitarist/songwriter Mike Ruekberg. A cellist. Stupid humor. Star quality. For sure these boys were gonna be the next Soul Asylum. Then there was the South By Southwest music festival in March of '94, when I awoke to find the Daisies' mugs on the front of the Sunday paper, with an article about TV crews and label scouts chasing the lads down the street. Soon would come news of a Geffen contract. Hugeness loomed.
So why have the members of Rex Daisy--Ruekberg, drummer Jerry Anderson, and bassist Steve Price--spent all of '96 as three-fifths of the schlocky '70s/'80s cover band, 2 Tickets 2 Paradise? Here's one theory: Shattered by their ouster from the Geffen family (their CD was ultimately not released), Rex went underground in shame, only to emerge as a much more profitable Thursday night house band at Lee's Liquor Bar.
Not exactly, says Ruekberg, lounging with his mates in basement of Lee's before 2 Tickets goes on. "The Geffen thing did not crush us at all. What we got was a vacation; we ate great for three weeks, we got to hang out with (producer) Paul Fox (Semisonic, XTC, Sugarcubes), and we made a very high-fidelity record very fast, and then they gave it to us. Looking back, there's nothing to be upset about."
The record in question, now titled Guys and Dolls, is finally out, four years after the fact, on Chicago indie label Pravda (home to Wake Ooloo, among others). It's a rock-solid venture from perhaps the last surviving Minneapolis buzz band from the class of '92 (others being Muskellunge, Spectors, and Guzzard). So then, why 2 Tickets 2 Paradise?
"(2 Tickets) have been crucial to the rejuvenation of Rex Daisy," Ruekberg says. "It reminded us there was still some fun to be had in rock, and you shouldn't take it too damn seriously, because when you do, you lose cello players and you lose interest." It turns out, in fact, that arena rock covers are merely a return to roots for the Daisies. Their first regular gig was as an AOR tribute band at an outdoor Mexican restaurant in Iowa. The band's straight rendering of the Welcome Back Kotter theme tune on Guys and Dolls may give you an idea of where their sensibilities lie. But don't be scared by the novelties: Guys and Dolls is primarily an album of original songwriting steeped in that rich '70s AM pop tradition.
Which brings us back to "Bottom O' The World": years old, but seemingly prophetic. "Feelin' so much stress/ Diggin' for success/ I think it's time to stop," sings Ruekberg. "What did you expect?/ How high will we get?/ I wanna be on the bottom of the world/ 'Cause it's not such a long way down."
And so Rex Daisy is back to working from the bottom up, without the instant fame that once dangled before them. "We did truly get kicked around. We lived the cliché there for a little bit. We learned about the biz a little bit, and we could have learned a lot harder," Ruekberg concedes.
"But this is not a comeback!" he's quick to add. "We never went away!
"Once we took off the makeup," interjects bassist Price, "it was a whole new game." (Simon Peter Groebner)
Rex Daisy hosts a CD listening party Wednesday, November 27 at Caffe Solo and performs December 14 at 7th Street Entry.
CINDY LAWSON OF Whoops Kitty is a renaissance woman. As a member of the Stonesy punk band The Clams 10 years back, she helped give local rock a gender jolt long before Babes in Toyland. In the decade since, she's dabbled in almost every kind of artistic endeavor and has been involved in Rock For Choice activism. With Whoops Kitty, Lawson has assembled a supergroup of underrated Minneapolis retro-pop old schoolers--guitarist Jerry Lefkowitz (Fauna, Siscera, Something Fierce), bassist Amy McCumber (Green Pyramids, the B-Sides), and drummer Brent Hansen (The Nectarmen)--to create a self-titled CD of diversely hefty and dreamy pop. Lefkowitz and co-producer Tommy Roberts give the disc a heavy, oceanic feel; as the band name implies, Lawson's songs can be soft and silly, but they're more likely to come up quite the opposite. The band plays a CD-release gig Friday with Wood (who are also releasing a CD), The Pulsars, and Chris Harrington. ($5. 8 p.m. 7th Street Entry, 338-8388.)
Polara has reportedly been so prolific in the studio that they've postponed the release of their sophomore album until the end of winter. As an appetizer, they've released a four-song EP, Pantomine (their first new release on Interscope Records) on both CD and 10-inch vinyl formats. Each format includes a song not on the other; I recommend the CD version, since the CD-only track "Light the Fuse and Run" is better than the vinyl's "Wove a Magic Carpet." The new songs are unassuming at first, but sneakily become epic and gorgeous on repeated listens; overall, they make one even more curious about the full-length recording. Polara plays the Entry Saturday with aMiniature and Lifter Puller ($6; 8 p.m.; 338-8388).
That same night, Milwaukee instrumental/surf combo The Exotics will rock Lee's Liquor Bar to herald their CD Go Go Guitars (distributed by the local Sci-Fi Western label). Says in the liners that these kids "were drawn together at Seagull Bluffs high school by their shared passion for record collecting and Polynesian culture," and they've since become one of Minneapolis's biggest small-club draws. The CD doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does offer 16 rich instrumentals with spirit and finesse. (9 p.m. Lee's Liquor Bar, 101 Glenwood Ave. N., Mpls.; 338-9491). (Groebner)
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