“Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!” – Herman Melville “Moby Dick” Chapter 37
My friend Juli Crockett just signed a recording deal with a Fluff & Gravy Records in Portland and is releasing the long-awaited new album from her band, the Evangenitals. Last Thursday night the band played Portland and I’d like to tell you about it. This is not really a “review” because I’m too biased. I already like the band and Juli, and I know how long the subject of the new recording has been part of her life. So, I can’t really write a balanced review. Here are a couple quick pics to prove I actually was there, though!
The gang devoted much of Thursday night’s show to the new album. It’s called “Moby Dick” or more accurately “Moby Dick; or, the Album“. The distinction is important and I’m sad to say that I did not start laughing about how wonderful the post-semicolon clause is until the day after I bought the CD. (I’ll blame the black stouts I was drinking for my slowness of response to the nuance). In case you don’t get it, the full title of Melville’s book is “Moby Dick; or, the Whale”. Now… get it? It’s a great CD of under an hour in length; just the right duration to play in full in one set – which they did – presumably in reverse though I was paying more attention to the band itself than to the set list.
My personal favorite songs are the ones most closely related to the story of Ahab and the great white whale. “Shipwreck Blues”, “Moby Dick,” and “The Lee Shore” are wonderfully poetic and sit clearly in the realm of story telling. Note that the track named for the whale himself is not called “Moby Dick”; it is called “Moby Dick ” which I just find to be totally awesome – partly because it’s funny but more importantly because it speaks to the linguistic quality of Juli’s writing; I do want to point out that I would have called the song “Moby Dick;” to be true to the play on punctuation. But anyone in an alt-country band with the intellect to even HAVE a play on punctuation gets a million extra points for awesomeness in my book! Let me take a second to share why I love the literal “Whale songs” the best – but before I do, here’s a photo of the band in action.
I have been obsessed with cetaceans for longer than some of my friends have been alive. In high school I first encountered the books “The Center of the Cyclone” and “Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer” by John Lilly. This led me to John’s work with cetaceans, an interest in his interspecies communication project “Janus“, and ultimately to knowing and studying with him.
As early as the late 1970’s I created a Musique Concrete piece called “Tursiops” that used the reading of the names of John’s colleagues like Gregory Bateson, Jill Fairchild, and Scott McVay as a text. And back in 1982, I set a wonderful poem by Jeanne Foster Hill, called “From Point Reyes“, as the text for a chamber piece sung for my graduation recital at CalArts by Bunny Thornburgh.
I’ve always loved whales but never been one of those people obsessed with “Moby Dick”. Still, my belief that cetaceans may be the one inhabitant of Earth with a neuroanatomy that supports greater intelligence than humans certainly allows me to relate to the great white whale and his ultimate triumph against Ahab the men of the Peguod. Further, I think the book is a brilliant study of anger, revenge, tenacity, and the human need to challenge nature.
So, I’m always intrigued by artists who have an obsession with Moby Dick.
The album is not limited to songs that tell a literal story. It also has an eminently danceable pseudo-punkesque, extremely fun song called “Turbulent Flow” and a a song called “Quee Queg” which you won’t really understand in its full glorious irony unless you’ve read “Moby Dick” and you remember the scene of bed sharing with Starbuck. It just goes to show once more that Juli knows the book REALLY well. The tune is (to me anyway) a sort of love song between a big, tattooed but very mild-mannered, heathen and a long-at-sea first mate. Very (VERY) cool.
NO, those 2 guys above are not what the song is about. But, to their credit, they are one really talented mandolin player and a superb fiddler. So, Juli may front the band but everyone else in it is an amazing talent, too!
That includes the awesome Ms. Lisa Dee, above; not just the guys! And, here is one of my better shots from the evening:
The Evangenitals “Moby Dick” show does not stop with the 7 tracks from the album. If you like alt-country (Damn… I almost said “more traditional alt-country” whatever the heck that is”) then the show has lots more to be happy about besides the 7 whale songs. They played some of my favorites like the highly danceable tune “Ode to Scientology”, a number of great earlier songs, and the one song my wife refuses to sing but which seems to frequently get stuck in my head, “Fu*k ’em all”. My wife doesn’t really mind the song; she just has an issue with the audience sing-along (which of course is my favorite part!). To me, when you want to assertively stand up for yourself as an individual you can’t get any better combination of songs than Matisyahu’s “Youth“, Bob Marley’s “Get up, Stand up“, Ani DeFranco’s “Napoleon“, and The Evangenitals”‘ “Fu*k ’em all“. So, I’d say there is one alt-country band that’s in pretty darn good company!
“And we who know life among the belchings and heat of the belly, see the giant emerging from our own being; the whole, enormous, shadowy form of it” – “From Point Reyes by Jeanne Foster Hill”