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Freak Show: Bobby Conn with Baby Teeth and Parish Festival, March 10 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Wednesday, 07 March 2007 02:41

Bobby Conn He has the magisterial licks and unbound ambition of Billy Corgan without the self-seriousness. He has the expressive, expansive palette of Andrew Bird but with an arena-rock heart. He's an insatiable omnivore like Mike Patton, stirring everything together into a sometimes-ugly stew, but without the aggressiveness and with most of the rougher edges buffed off. He has a fascination with twee '60s pop, and with muscular prog rock.

We could go down this path with many other comparisons and references, but they all stretch toward the same thing: Bobby Conn - who will be performing at RIBCO on Saturday, March 10 - is a headstrong, crazy-ass visionary/schizophrenic whose music will either drive you batty with its ever-shifting nature or thrill you with its daring confidence. You will not call it boring.

The Chicago-based Conn will be performing with Baby Teeth (also from the Windy City) and the Quad Cities trio Parish Festival. And if Conn's and Baby Teeth's new albums are representative, this will easily be the strangest show the Quad Cities host all year. I mean that in a good way. (And the Parish Festival is hardly conventional, with its jazzy pop/rock that prominently features a banjo.)

Bobby Conn's Conn's King for a Day is an all-encompassing mess that doesn't pretend to be pretty or coherent. His record label's Web site features a Q&A with Conn (http://thrilljockey.com/catalog/?id=100548) in which he describes the CD as "my desperate attempt to lose myself in a candy-colored fantasy land of freaks and fairies."

The page also answers some apparently common questions, such as "Wasn't he supposed to be the Anti-Christ or something?" and "How tall is Bobby? My friend says an average person could pick him up and drown him in a teacup." A question about his age informs us that "since 1998, Bobby has resorted to dramatic makeup and fanciful costumes to distract audiences from his fading youth. The ravages of time may have pitted and cracked his once boyish appearance, but there's still a kindly twinkle in his eye, just like Santa Claus."

That good humor pervades King for a Day, and it rescues it from the pit of pompous, humorless concept albums. You might call the record a mishmash or undisciplined, but to these ears it sounds generous and curious, exploring a wide swath of musical terrain and never happy to stay in one place too long, but also never so impatient that it moves on before you're ready. It's welcoming and tolerant, not difficult.

Baby Teeth (which is led by Abraham Levitan from Conn's backing band, the Glass Gypsies) can't compete with the space oddity that is Conn, but it, too, repels classification. The band, anchored by Levitan's keyboards, has an obvious and unhealthy fascination with the AM pop of the 1970s: the cheese keyboards, synthesized-string disco, Elton John, a certain texture of the harmonies ... . But that only describes the building blocks of "The Simp."

Baby Teeth At various points, the album's scope expands, a blob reaching forward to grab what it needs from other genres and periods - from Queen-y theatrics to Slash guitar heroics to the earnest pleadings of the power ballad (mixed with horns, or course) to a fuzzy, urgent bass. The album - earnest rather than arch - is committed to whatever strange choices the songs seem to require.

The gentle "God Girlfriend" is followed by the punky dance-bop of "Diaghalev Was Right," in which the man with the easy platitude for any situation gets his comeuppance. "The Birds Are Crying" is straight, throbbing disco broken open by the squawk of a triumphant guitar solo. "Swim Team" is coated in so much power-pop sugar and gloss that it's easy to miss its quiet menace, asking "Do you wanna fuck with me?"

That sweet darkness is a clue that "The Simp" isn't a record stuck in the '70s, but one that happily resides in that decade yet has the clairvoyance to steal from what will follow.

That's another way of saying that although Baby Teeth has given the world a less-spastic statement than Conn's latest CD, it's still pretty damned weird.

 

Bobby Conn will perform at RIBCO on Saturday, March 10, with guests Baby Teeth and Parish Festival. Cover is $7.

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