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Greg Lisher Elected Mayor!

At least that's what his band mates announced at Camper Van Beethoven's Catalyst show Friday. And you know what, why the fuck not? I mean, I think I deserve to be mayor, and Lisher can play electric guitar way better than me, so by logical extension, I think it's safe to say that he deserves it even more than I do.

I only bring this up because Lisher's lead guitar work Friday was nothing short of incredible. He had told me in an interview the week before that he thought the band was playing far better than it ever had, but what he didn't mention is that the imagination and skill he's putting into his own parts have taken the band's best songs to an incredible new level. This was stunningly evident on several of the songs from their last two albums, especially "She Divines Water" and "Life Is Grand" from Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and "All Her Favorite Fruit" and "Sweethearts" from Key Lime Pie. I've always thought of these as some of Camper's most transcendent, evocative songs anyway, but in the hands of Lisher and the rest of the clearly rested and ready band Friday, they soared on epic instrumentals and strong vocals from David Lowery (who unfortunately had to struggle through some technical difficulties on "Sweethearts").

But some fans prefer their earlier, funnier stuff (I am dying to reference Woody Allen's Stardust Memories here, so I will), and that was in abundance, as well, from "Take the Skinheads Bowling" to "Club Med Sucks" to "(We're A) Bad Trip" to "Joe Stalin's Cadillac."

Jesus, what didn't they play over the course of two sets? By the way, if you didn't stick around for the second set (I know, I know, that was never 20 minutes), you missed a brilliant moment as the band donned red sweaters in honor of Mr. Fred Rogers and proceeded to play "Flowers" and "O Death." It was a beautiful, if twisted, day in the neighborhood.

Steve Palopoli

How to Handle Your Tortoise

Art rock ... what's it worth? If nothing else, it makes me think about what this thing called music is all about ... or, more specifically, it makes me think, what in the hell is this noise that's bouncing around in my earholes? A part of me rebels against art rock, stands up and shouts unsavory critiques, thrashes in the clutches of a universe that just doesn't make sense. Another part of me is still, Zen-like, cooing words of patience into the ear of the rotten heckler. "In a world where pop music reigns," my Zen-self says in an impossibly deep baritone, "one band stood alone. And they changed the face of modern music ... forever. Tortoise: The Band That Changed the World."

Look, huge chunks of the capacity crowd are blissing out. With two drummers and two sets of vibraphones, the percussion is clearly the backbone here. Without the interference of the rest of the band, the pounding rhythms are ancient, stimulating some cortex or other that makes one feel like painting one's face with sheep's tongue and dancing around fire in a loincloth. Then, at the frothy peak of one's twirling, howling transcendental union with the gods, some lame-ass guitar lick intrudes like your mom on a bong sesh, leaving one with nothing to say except ... Dude, you're harshing my mellow. Has the world really come to this?

Tortoise clearly had some kind of groove going on, plenty of non-lame-ass guitar licks, plenty of interesting, high-register, brain-reverberating chords vibrating out of the bass ... but it didn't hit me right here (thumps chest with fist). The jazzy explorations often felt disparate and unwieldy, until the very end of the show during their encore, when each musician contributed subtle musings from their respective instruments that, as a coherent whole, induced post-massage feelings of relaxation. Ahhh, art rock. Sometimes, by the grace of gods unnamed, it works.

Take run_return, the unassuming semilocally-based duo that opened the show. R_R's set was captivating and beautiful, swimming in a warm sea of vibraphones and mellow electronica, and punched up with scattered showers of crashing cymbals and thunderous fills from the drum kit. The only thing missing was some flying monkeys, and maybe the sweetly tortured facial expressions of a big-haired lead guitarist. Meaning that their antics onstage weren't much to watch, so it felt a bit like sitting in on a really good rehearsal. But what's a laptop band to do? Obviously, pyrotechnics are not the way to go. I just closed my eyes and thought of David Lee Roth, 'cause that guy was big hair, flying monkeys and everything that's anything in between.

Mike Connor

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From the March 5-12, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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