The tour rider for most hipper-than-thou bands being exported from Brooklyn's suddenly fertile rock scene looks something like this: hair gel, eyeliner, ironic rock T-shirt ('80s metal a plus), designer drugs, and a Rolodex of malnourished groupies. So the fact that the Mink Lungs have figured out a way to sprinkle their hallucinogenic pop madness across the country by bringing 2,000 red harvester ants along for the ride should tell you two things: 1) The Mink Lungs are weird as hell, and 2) Motherfuckers know their ants.
"Well, red harvester ants are the only kind you can really use," explains singer/guitarist/ant-handler Gian Carlo Feleppa on the eve of the band's first coast-to-coast tour. "They can't crawl up the sides of plastic objects, which means they all basically stay in the same place so it looks a lot cooler when we're projecting them all over our faces."
Yep, that's right. Perhaps the only band currently placing live ants--live stinging ants, no less!--on an overhead projector during their concerts, the Mink Lungs unleash the warped brilliance of their new album, I'll Take It (Arena Rock), at Minneapolis's 400 Bar Wednesday night. Expect mind-altering rock, sing-along manifestos, and tiny little ants exploding like popcorn kernels under the projection lamp--PETA be damned.
"They're normally sold as feed," Feleppa says. "So at least they're getting to travel and live the life of celebrity ants before they die."
While the Mink Lungs--Feleppa, his half-brother Tim Faleppa, Jennifer "Miss Frosty" Hoopes, and Tom Galbraith--will never be confused with the pretty, vacant glitterati of New York's current rock revival (the Minks have bad cheekbones, day jobs, actual songs, sadly), they've carved their names into the city's chest with their notorious, mayhem-fueled live shows, acting like Neo might have if he'd taken a hit of acid instead of the red pill.
"We didn't have that long a period where we had to play bad shows," Galbraith says. "We're lucky that way."
Lucky? Maybe. Unusual? Does the pope shit in a funny hat? At an early gig, they constructed jumpsuits with blinking Christmas lights sewn inside. Toward the end of the show, Gian Carlo took on a strange glow, somewhere between ecstatic and petrified--turns out he was in the early stages of electrocution. Now the show has evolved to include hula hoops, farm animals, psychedelic lightning bolts, exoskeletal fireworks, and sometimes even a special appearance from Jimmy Swaggart--or rather, Gian Carlo's interpretation of the televangelist, which involves wearing a choral robe and preaching the demon powers of rock 'n' roll while hoisting cow hearts or bloody doll bodies above his head.
Although Gian Carlo's Swaggart currently resides in semi-retirement ("Fans'll have to ask for him," he says. "He's a request-only item"), the Mink Lungs Experience still ranks alongside that of the Flaming Lips in the pantheon of live, lo-fi rock 'n' roll freakshows. "It's something we've gotten better at, and now we're able to actually afford good shit," Gian Carlo says. "But when you've got all that--ants, costumes, lights, overheads--and [you're] still trying to play a great show, well, we're pretty much flying by the seat of our underpants."
The fact that their new album may just be the best, most lovingly crafted piece of left-field NYC rock since the Talking Heads' Remain in Light only proves that the Mink Lungs' substance is catching up with their curious style. While their Arena Rock debut, The Better Button, was a loveable, but sometimes ragged, tangle of duct-taped home recordings, I'll Take It has a sheen of cohesive production that manages to enhance the off-kilter vibe, saw off loose ends, and still allow each of the Mink's four songwriters to chew the scenery.
"I think sometimes people wimp out by not going a bit further out production-wise," Gian Carlo says. "Sometimes you need that, but at the same time we're not trying to make an art statement. We want people to hear the songs this time."
The tracks on I'll Take It are a Technicolor game of Twister where sex, drugs, love, and death oil-wrestle for supremacy while folk rock, psychedelic pop, and bagpipes blare in the background. And then, of course, there are the ditties about UFOs. "When I'm having trouble writing a song," explains principal alien scribe Tim Feleppa, "I just take drugs or start flipping through old sci-fi novels looking for inspiration." The result is not one, but--count 'em--three songs about outer space. And don't even try dissecting "Gorilla," a hummable blast of Pixies feedback equating a fling with a girlfriend to a primate in the throes of ecstasy.
But as clever as some of the songs can be, the Lungs' eccentricity never overshadows their ability to lodge their music in your skull or possess your feet to dance.
"We're not trying to be weird. I don't have time for music that's weird for weird's sake," says Gian Carlo. "This album made enough logistical sense to us, but I guess it is kind of flattering that somebody thinks we're weird."
There's a silence, then Tim pipes in, mocking offense: "But, we are weird, man."
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