Sound Advice: : Matt the Electrician, Subhumans and Oh My God

Upcoming concert previews of note

Sep 19, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Matt the Electrician

Matt the Electrician

Wednesday · The Comet

One particular evening a few years ago, singer/songwriter Matt Sever took the stage for a gig in his adopted hometown of Austin, Tex., and, having come straight from his day job, introduced himself with the Sesame Street-tinged appellation of Matt the Electrician to explain his work day appearance. The name stuck. Sever's re-christening might not have been completely accidental; his sense of universal absurdity is reminiscent of Arlo Guthrie (the bio on Matt's Web site tells the tale of how his family, the Electricians, moved around the country) and he peppers his Folk/Pop songs with subtle doses of lyrical humor and cheeky musical references — "These Boots," begins "These boots are made for workin'/That's just what they do/One of these days I'm gonna have to buy some new boots" and "King of the Losers" features pieces of "Whistle While You Work" and Steve Miller's "The Joker." Later on the same album, he covers Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl."

Although Sever has label-shopped during the course of his decade-long career, he has yet to find a deal to his liking and he has self-released all five of his albums, including his latest, One Thing Right. As on his previous four, Sever strikes a balance between gravity and levity like the greats in the genre (both Guthries, John Prine, Loudon Wainwright III, Jerry Jeff Walker), this time adding a little sly political commentary to the mix. On "Change the Subject," Sever makes a sidelong observation about the current administration ("If we can change the subject/Then we can change the king") and "My Dog" seems completely transparent until the punch-line jab ("My dog's right and you are wrong/You're not from around these parts/Go on back to California/If you don't love freedom").

Matt the Electrician wires houses during the day and he wires audiences at night with a different skill set, but the same result — people get a little bit brighter when he's done with them. (Brian Baker)

Subhumans with World/Inferno Friendship Society

Wednesday · 20th Century Theater

In 1980, the same year that a soon-to-be doddering Ronald Reagan assumed control of the White House, UK Punk howler Dick Lucas took leave of his mates in his band The Mental to join a recently formed group of politically and socially charged crazies known as Subhumans. For the next seven years, Subhumans released a dozen EPs and full-lengths filled with bracing Punk anthems featuring some of the most intelligent and thoughtful lyrics the genre had to offer.

In 1987, the Subs called it a day and Lucas went on to form the equally thought-provoking and viscerally entertaining Culture Shock and Citizen Fish, which ultimately put him back in a band with former Subs Phil and Trotsky, who had been in the band's final lineup in 1983 after nearly a half-dozen personnel shifts. In 1998, after an 11-year hiatus, the Subhumans roared back into existence with Unfinished Business, an album of re-recorded vault tracks. In 2004, the Subs unleashed their first live album, Live in a Dive, on premiere American Punk label Fat Wreck Chords.

This month, 27 years after Subhumans thrashed into existence in Thatcher-era Great Britain, 21 years after their last album of new original material, 19 years after their break-up and nine years after their unlikely reformation, Subhumans will release Internal Riot and hit the road to support it.

The real story here is that Punk rose up in the late '70s as a reaction to the bloated excess that had overtaken the music industry and music itself, and told the bald-faced truth in response to the political and cultural lies that were being rammed down our throats by our leaders and our social elite. Over a quarter century later, the same things are happening in politics and culture (thank God the music's gotten better), which means there's still a burning need for top-volume Punk truth-tellers. That's twice in 27 years that the time has been exactly right for the likes of Subhumans. (BB)

oh my god with The Moon Fails and The Chocolate Horse

Friday · The Gypsy Hut

Chicago's oh my god takes their music in a number of unexpected directions. Likewise, one of the more unexpected things about the band is their physical make-up, consisting of keyboards, bass and drums. Clearly it's not unheard of — there was that Ben Folds fellow — but oh my god definitely worked a unique angle within the unusual trio configuration they'd established since their formation in the late '90s.

To begin, keyboardist Brian Berkowitz (who goes by the nom du Rock Iguana aka Ig) is more influenced by guitar Punk like Hüsker Dü and Wire, yet he is just as much a product of his years of experience playing behind Blues greats like Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and Junior Wells. Hooking up with bassist/vocalist Billy O'Neill and drummer Bish, Ig found that, as time wore on, the trio could actually stand on its own without the auspices of a guitarist. They proceeded in a guitar-less state, open to the possibility of adding one if the opportunity arose, but building a rabidly loyal fan base without one.

Utilizing a sound that suggests a hybrid of Punk/New Wave and Classic Rock (Emerson, Lake and Weezer? Devo Purple? Steppencars?), oh my god has managed to self-release a handful of impressive albums. Its 2003 effort, Interrogations and Confessions, came out on a small label, but by the following year's You're Too Straight to Love Me, the band had decided to remain autonomous and returned to releasing their own albums.

As is often the case in the ever-shifting fortunes of those who rock, oh my god's unofficial manifesto got a major revision this year when snarling guitar strangler Jake Garcia, from similarly-themed NYC unit Darediablo, joined forces with the trio to record their latest album, Fools Want Noise (out on the newly-formed Split Red Records). As proof of their further willingness to change things up at the universe's bequest, Garcia will be accompanying oh my god on their current tour, making them, for the first time in their history, a guitar-toting quartet. Rest assured, oh my god will do the four-piece thing the same way they did the three-piece — with their originality and a strong sense of classicism intact. (BB)