TULBox on the Move; Notes on the Fluid, Stavin’ Chain and PJ Harvey

Supporters of WTUL’s TULbox live simulcasts need not fret that the college rock series has been dumped—it’s merely on hiatus. A Monday night fixture at Tipitina’s since 1988, the show has provided a welcome, steady outlet for both local and touring talent.

Station General Manager Ardis Eschenberg says a new venue for the rest of the summer (and possibly beyond) will be selected soon. Regarding the split with Tip’s, she says, “Being diplomatic, there were problems on both ends.”

In ’88, Tipitina’s bought the microwave equipment necessary for live broadcasts, with ‘TUL signed to a “work to own” deal. Under the agreement, the club took in all receipts from the TULbox. At the end of each year, the station received 1/50th of that figure to put towards the equipment, which they now own outright, making the location switch possible.

Eschenberg is confident that, regardless of the new spot, the series will continue to drum up business on an otherwise off night: “I don’t think that people who can’t make it [to the club] say, ‘Oh, I’ll stay home and listen to the radio’.” Instead, she says, the TULbox simply “adds diversity and is a fun thing” for the station, and they’re building an impressive archive of the broadcasts. Her personal favorite show: the Violent Femmes. “Anything with the Dick Nixons is pretty cool,” she adds, “and so many of the acts we’ve had in the past two years have broken big. It’s neat.”

Speaking of music for college types, on June 1 at the Howlin’ Wolf it was a triple bill of alternamania—the real, high-voltage, grassroots kind that hasn’t yet graduated to vids and multi-bus tour packages. Openers Seam, a North Carolina foursome led by Sooyoung Park of Bitch Magnet, looked like a Benetton ad (female bassist, dreadlocked guitar player), but their music was anything but pastel-colored.They traded off post-punk bursts of bottled energy with deconstructionist dirges of serial-killing tone. Live, they did both styles surely and squarely, a marked improvement over their iffy 1991 debut Headsparks (on which Superchunk’s leader Mac McCaughan took a crack at the drums).

Maybe it’s indicative of my lousy consensus-building ability as a reviewer that one of my pet new bands of the past two years, Seattle’s Love Battery, still doesn’t even headline 100-head club shows. No matter…when I need my cage rattled, I’ll cue up “Cool School (Trane of Thought)” (from 1992’s SubPop release Dayglo) before the latest drivel from Details fashion spread rockers, every time.

On stage, this band proved truly worthy, able to recreate much of their simultaneously precise and bludgeoning layers of riffs (reaching for a rock rag metaphor: what do you call those Oriental weapons, the bocce balls with razors all over?).

Anyway, a handful of potent new songs indicated that LB may rise from that already clichéd ash pile of the Pacific Northwest “sound” with or without my dubious plugs.

The Fluid hail from Denver, where they were the rock ‘n’ roll crème de la crème, according to New Orleans’ newest punkabilly trio, Mustang Lightning. This mutual admiration society is easy to comprehend, given that The Fluid are as retroactive as the Mustangs, but theirs is a fuzzy feeling for a different bygone era: that of the visionary near-punk of late ‘60s/early ’70s in Detroit.

Lead singer John Robinson resurrects glam in an East Coast (not Sunset Strip) fashion, and lead guitarist Rick Kulwicki portrays the quintessential elbows-and-pencil case nerd transmuted by the almighty power of the electric amp. Their show, however, was long on concept but just shy of the vivid dynamics set as a standard by the previous two acts.

Guitar player Grayson Capps unveiled his new band Stavin Chain at Jimmy’s on the 5th. Parting ways with his old thrash-folk group, the House Levelers, Capps has set a tack fixed on the blooze, with the boat sometimes sailing smoothly, sometimes mooring in a brackish eddy.

Although roots rock is by definition derivative, Stavin Chain displayed a knack for a hummable sort of reinvention of tested themes. Examples: a snatch of the “Peter Gunn” theme reared up in the middle of a Kentucky-fried instrumental, and “Dust My Broom” shared airtime with songs featuring “shoo-wops.” For me, the goings-on were guiltily pleasurable in a classic hits vein, until tale-telling time set in. Yes, I’m tickled that the trash can used as percussion during the band’s unplugged segment came verifiably from Muddy Waters’ house, and I’m glad the band members left a pair of shades in barter, but I just wish they’d edit themselves to an acceptable length of windiness. Quoth Zappa, “Shut up and play yer guitar.”

The sullen British rock star PJ Harvey certainly subscribed to that theory. At Tip’s on the 19th, she opened her North American tour with towering expectations. Her trio let their three-minute psychodramas and Ms. Harvey’s furious bray do the talking.

Although the set clocked in at barely an hour, the band, supporting its second LP, Rid of Me, made like grizzled veterans as they cranked up the room’s tension instantly and suspended it over the heads of the healthy turnout.

I’ve heard a handful of malcontents shout down the Steve Albini-produced Rid of Me as inappropriately gussied up, but I disagree. Live, new songs like the title cut, “50 ft. Queenie” and a barely recognizable “Highway 61 Revisited” matched the corkers from the group’s stunning debut, Dry, blow for blow.

Here is a performer who uses her art as a no-holds-barred battleground. Her songs are ferociously personal, turning both genders’ preconceived notions about sex on their heads. They may not be pretty, but they get you where it counts, and Ms. Harvey howls gleefully throughout.

PS: After a whirlwind courtship, this will be my last “Dig It Up” column for OffBeat. Necessity beckons, and by next month I’ll be relocated to Chicago. I take comfort in the fact that the move is geographically (and spiritually) symmetrical, one that’s already been undertaken by many a man with the soul of a poet. And while these musings may not have been exactly poetry, they’ve given me boundless pleasure. Hopefully, a good time was had by all.

PPS: I can (and will) sneak back into town, when nobody’s looking. Arrivederci.