The Reaganauts

July 28, 2006 § 1 Comment

by Phil Pilgrim

Fitchburg, October 2006

“Artists must be sacrificed to their art. Like bees, they must put their lives into the sting they give”-Emerson

Fitchburg’s The Reaganauts go from being just barely in control to completely warped and twisted in all the ways you love to see a good rock band. They are strange, visceral and frantic in a way totally unheard of in the flaccid Fitchburg scene. They are a shot in the arm compared to the zombie local flavor which we’ve all grown accustomed to. “We’re not a band”, says drummer Anthony Geehan. “We’re a snuff film.”

To fully understand why The Reaganauts are the saviors of rock n’ roll in-waiting, we must first understand their origins. Fitchburg, Massachusetts was recently ranked as one of the worst places to live in America. While the locals thought this was a bum-rap, I can say (with the authority of a boy who has partied at FSC for the past three years) that whatever qualifications a town might need to top that list, Fitchburg has it: syringes in the street, drug deals in broad daylight, shootings, stabbings and the ever-popular drunken bimbo puking everywhere (yes, Allston made the list, too).

Long before I had seen The Reaganauts, they were the toast of the campus; at every party, Gatsby-like gossip buzzed over just who these Reaganauts were. Now, I can confidently tell you: they are simply one of the most incredible and quirky bands I’ve ever seen.

Now, a cynic would stick out his tongue and call them sloppy punk rock… but cynics make such statements from bus stops in the dead of winter. A true music fan, upon watching them perform, sees a carnival of noise and badness – in the best sense of the word. The energy they bring to every show throws all concerns for pitch-perfect playing out the window. They are a napalm burn from which its impossible to look away.

The band admitted that this was one of the sloppier shows they’d played. Steve Bailey (guitar) said the equipment didn’t work and the sound wasn’t right. At one point, his amp malfunctioned completely, so he “started bashing [his] telecaster on the ground in utter frustration”.

And THEN the bottom fell out. “On the second to last song I began to bleed from a few of my fingertips,” Steve told me “and lost my pick, so I just flailed like a maniac… and we ended the set kind of in shambles.” Despite Steve’s disappointment in the ending, I saw it as Pete Townsend in the local gym, the kind of stunt that would make little Johnny Guitar of Myspace cringe. Now THAT’S committment! It’s further proof that this band is on the verge of either greatness or complete collapse.

The band, with its rhythm section sounding like a kid off his meds knee-deep in Halloween candy (courtesy of Danger Tom on bass, Anthony on drums), chugged along with the enthusiasm of tweens in the basement, guitars matching with the surreal passion of day trippers on fire. It’s Justine, the frontwoman, who steals the show. Reminiscent of the old singing harlot in Clint Eastwood westerns, she’s seductive and completely daft, but with a shy ‘aw-shucks’ quality that gives her dimensions beyond her Brody/Karen O throaty yelp. There were times when the crowd churned before her and the music built to the point of insanity, and she’d let out a little girl giggle, a dent in her rock star armor. Her mannerisms suggest that while aware of the sweaty, possessed boys around her, and perhaps a little embarrassed to be part of this queer racket, she’s having the time of her life. She’s the dirty debutante with the rasp and holler that the world’s been looking for since Debby Harry became a crypt-keeper; she’s Karen O dropping the art-punk act remaking the Pixies sound for the new millenium.

Speaking of the Pixies, a highlight of the show was their mutilated version of “Where Is My Mind?”, where the haunting cerebral quality of the song mounted until it became an animal, a beast alive and hunting the room. From the bands own canon, “I Heart Henry Rollins” stands out as the finest pop track I’ve heard from a local artist this year. It has nothing to do with the thick-necked hardcore guru and everything to do with the infectious hook, “Kids at the rock show don’t wanna dance!” repeated over and over, sometimes with roll-your-eyes boredom and sometimes with lip-biting glee. It’s catchier than the invisible friends in your high school slut’s bed. It’s the love child of “Tick” by Yeah Yeah and The Clash’s “I’m So Bored With the USA”. The setlist made a dirty bomb of a wind-up toy, and the crowd was swirling, fawning, and dancing as the band gave calamity a saucy wink.

You need to get in on the ground floor of this thing. Join the party before kids at the mall, before some geek is introducing them on SNL. And hell, put your own credibility aside for a second, little hipster, and simply feel the joy of free-form pogoing, of dancing like a lunatic and of actually liking the people you go to see on a windy weekend night. Go see the Reaganauts, little hipster.

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