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Ambassadors of the absurd: A Pollanaire Rave at Valentine’s. Photo by Martin Benjamin.

Expect the Unexpected

By John Rodat

A Pollanaire Rave, the Gaven Richard Band, the Stars of Rock
Valentine’s, Feb. 22

The dissemination of information these days is nearly instantaneous, but the transmission of taste as slow as it ever has been—there are some things technology doesn’t touch. Everyone, for example, knows what a rock star looks like, what a rock band sounds like and what the rewards of the rock & roll lifestyle are. So, if you want to be a rock star, you just follow the format MTV and E! Online provide. If you look like that, if you sound like that, who’s to say you won’t see your own mug plastered up there eventually? It’s rock & roll vo-tech. Bryant & Stratton is offering pop star as a major these days; Sally Struthers has an O-Town production company.

OK, that’s not really true, but I had started to feel that way. I could live with the brain-numbing sameness of commercial radio, and the fact that the outlet that most regularly exposed me to decent songs was Volkswagen ads, but when it infiltrated the clubs . . . Lord, I was depressed seeing well-rehearsed 20-year-olds with picture-perfect rock star moves and no distinct character at all. And they didn’t suck, which bummed me out further. They could play, I just couldn’t figure out why they bothered. Where had all the weird gone? Where had the passionate and inept, or the inspired and insane, retreated to? Nowhere. They’re still there, and when the recording industry collapses (in about 14 months) they’ll regain their foothold in the decentralized music universe—and I propose we elect Kevin Barnes their ambassador to the U.N.

Under the name A Pollanaire Rave, Of Montreal’s Barnes and two able assistants staged a performance-art-meets-sketch-comedy-meets-pop-music karaoke festival that no one, I say, no one could have expected. Interspersing absurdist vignettes in which the romantic foibles of the Greek gods were dramatized as trailer-park spats, or a grade-school girl explained why she feels retarded—“I tried to think of unicorns, and it makes me think of rainbows, and rainbows make me think of love, and when I think of love I feel retarded”—with punchier bits suitable for Saturday Night Live (if that show were still funny), like the bit advertising a quieter version of Stomp called Shhhh, with breezy ’60s-psychedelic-pop revisionism reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock, A Pollanaire Rave just killed.

The sketches were low-budget, to say the least, with thrift-store props and costuming; the songs were sung to prerecorded tracks played on a CD Walkman through the house system. Nevertheless, the whole thing worked both as theater and as rock & roll—and in no way resembled the shlocky elements of either we’ve been stunned into accepting as inescapable.

Opening for A Pollaire Rave, Albany’s Stars of Rock provided a bit of theater and rock & roll as well: The band’s deadpan banter and gracious humor provided a scaled-down version of the former, and their loose, informal, unpretentious romp through playful pop and indie-rock gave an ample dose of the latter.

First up were a trio called, I think, the Gaven Richard Band. Brent Gorton of the Stars of Rock and Matt Loiacono of the Kamikaze Hearts provided backup for Richard (also of the Kamikaze Hearts) for an electric run through songs from his newest album, Live From Restaurant Island, his earlier release, the locally prized Live From Lake Plastic, and a couple of knockout covers culled from the repertoire of other—now defunct—local bands. Richard’s version of the Annabel Lee song “Anchors Aweigh” was a stellar, haunting and slightly twisted love song that reminds me how much I regret having missed the band when they were still playing. Don’t doom yourself to such regret by passing up a chance to catch Richard, whose compositions all could fit those adjectives.


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