140 Acts and 15 Days - a Gourmet's Guide

by Kevin Bronson
(First appeared in the LA Times Calendar section - July 15, 2001)





By many measurements, International Pop Overthrow makes for sumptuous listening of the three-chord variety.

I, pop geek, am not self-conscious. I can Brian Wilson in the shower, Rick Nielsen across the living room, Mick Avory on the steering wheel, and if you catch me I will shrug and smile, only momentarily nonplused, before slipping back into three-chord reverie. I awaken each day with a song running through my head, and it's just as likely to be Crash Into June as it is U2, or from 1968 as from 1998. My mental random-play button operates independently from what is cool or what sells a gazillion records. And whether blistering guitar or the spindly vocals of a lovelorn strummer, the tunes on the jukebox of the brain are short-lived--receding to the shelves of a modest, alphabetized record collection the moment I am spoken to, usually in mid-chorus. International Pop Overthrow was invented for me.

If you spend considerable time in front of the stereo, and perhaps feel your classic rock albums are a bit tired or are disillusioned with what you hear on commercial radio, it might be for you. The 15-day festival, which draws 140 acts for 19 shows at 10 Southland venues beginning Saturday, is an amusement park for those who ride hooks and harmonies. In its fourth year, the brainchild of Los Angeles promoter-writer-aficionado David Bash is a head-bobbing, thigh-slapping, foot-tapping, hip-swaying wonderland. Yes, IPO teems with elements that seem hopelessly stuck in a time warp--retro not to make a fashion statement or because the past is a proper point of departure, but owing to creative entropy. But whether you believe the seminal veins of the '60s, '70s and '80s can be mined for more gold, IPO's participants perform as if possessed by the notion that maybe, just maybe, the No. 1 Pop Song of All Time hasn't been written yet. As for me, a guy whose mood can swing on a single arpeggio, I like that attitude. Here are some reasons you might:

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FOR SERENDIPITY'S SAKE: Gatherings such as IPO offer as much in the thrill of discovery as they do in the intimacy of the performances, which feature six to eight bands on a bill. Show up to see the Smithereens' Pat DiNizio (July 25, the Troubadour in West Hollywood), and you might discover the raucous garage-pop of the Pills, a Boston quartet. Or spin the festival's compilation CD (see review, Page 68) to hear the familiar voice of the Beach Boys' Al Jardine (who performs Aug. 4 at the Troubadour), and you might be struck by the fuzzy melody of Swirl 360 (July 28, the Gig Hollywood). Which brings me to the Fletcher Pratt. On its recent release "Nine by Nine," the Detroit foursome (July 31, the Knitting Factory Hollywood) coaxes enormous energy from raw guitars, fashioning a sound that wouldn't have been an anachronism in any of four post-Invasion decades. Dave Clark Five tries the Clash, the Replacements play the Fab Four, Elvis Costello fronts the Who--but don't take me too literally, I'm busy hitting "repeat."

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FOR STAR QUALITY: With more than 20 bands coming to L.A. from outside the country and another 60 from elsewhere in the U.S., the festival has been likened to a convention. Jason Falkner (Aug. 2 at Vynyl in Hollywood) is the keynote speaker. The former Jellyfish and the Grays member, who recently released a compilation of his demos ("Necessity: The 4-Track Years"), makes fulfilling but not predictable songs (including an album's worth of new material to shop), possesses matinee-idol charm and, supporters of the Southland purepop scene tell you with frowns, has no record contract.

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FOR THE SINGULAR VOICES: The penumbra between spotlight and shadow for singer-songwriters is mighty thin. At least three artists performing at IPO have the material to move out of the margins. Take Wendy Ip (Saturday at Lush in Glendale). On her album "Fan Favorites So Far," she comes off as a savvy '90s songstress who's been locked in a small room with old Beatles records. Parthenon Huxley, who fronts the band P. Hux (next Sunday, El Rey Theatre in L.A.), is an accomplished sideman with a commanding presence who lost his wife five years ago to brain cancer. His recent release "Purgatory Falls" eloquently explores the nooks and crannies of despair. And there is Wendie Colter, who promotes the Third Thursday and Girls' Night Out monthly pop shows in Hollywood. On her solo album "Payday," Colter (next Sunday afternoon, the Gig Hollywood) occupies the artistic space between Aimee Mann and Alanis Morissette, fashioning catchy songs with cathartic humor.

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FOR A LITTLE NOSTALGIA: Aside to my college roommate--Dear Mike, I remember you got cranky after I played "Switchin' to Glide" for the 10,000th time in the winter of '80-'81. You muttered something about sending the power popsters back to Canada where they came from. Well, the Kings are here (July 26, El Rey Theatre).

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FOR A PEEK AHEAD: Might the industry cast an eye toward IPO in a search for talent? With the exception of one flirtation a European band had with a label two years ago, there is little indication the record business has taken much interest, festival founder Bash says. No matter who's doing the selling, I'm buying Big Hello (July 29 at the Galaxy Theatre in Anaheim), a Chicago four-piece. It has made two CDs of punchy, bratty three-minute gems and, with two new members joining drummer Brad Elvis and frontwoman Chloe Orwell, is recording a third album this fall. I'm buying Copperpot, the nom de guitar of New Jersey suburbanite Jarrett Randazzo (July 24, Knitting Factory Hollywood), who made his do-it-yourself debut "Nothing Lasts Forever" as a teenager although it sounds polished far beyond his years. I'm buying Einstein's Sister (Aug. 1, the Gig Hollywood), a Midwestern outfit that shapes buoyant melodies out of a Squeeze/Crowded House sensibility. And I'm buying the Waking Hours (on the same bill as Copperpot) because their edgy, ringing guitars can make freeway commuting bearable.

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AND MYRIAD OTHER REASONS: It's dizzying, really, even for a geek. In the spring, the Tories (July 24, Knitting Factory Hollywood) released one of the top power pop albums so far this year, "Upside of Down." ... And where else can you find the Australian band Starky playing on a bill right in front of Hutch? (next Sunday, El Rey Theatre) ....Or maybe I'll satisfy my curiosity about what kind of music KFI-AM radio host Wayne Resnick makes (Aug. 4, the Gig Hollywood)....The outdoor show July 29 at Eastgate Park in Garden Grove will appeal to fans who appreciate a family picnic atmosphere. Then there is the annual question: How many times will Robbie Rist perform? Rist, a former child actor (cousin Oliver on the "The Brady Bunch") who by now has to be tired of seeing "former child actor" after his name, is a multi-instrumentalist and kinetic showman. A member of the Masticators and the Andersons, he'll also sit in with Buzzie, Cosmo Topper and ex-Translator guitarist Steve Barton. "And I might get a few other phone calls," he says with a laugh. "Hey, I just wanna play."

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* The complete schedule can be found at www.internationalpopoverthrow.com. Cover charges range from $5 to $10, except the July 29 show at Eastgate Park in Garden Grove, which is free.

Kevin Bronson, a Times Staff Writer, Can Be Reached at Kevin.bronson@latimes.com
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times


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