Rockin' Teenage Combo brings new life to the jazz gene pool


Smart lads in lab coats will tell you that rats display an uncanny sixth sense in their affaires du coeur. Our crawly brothers and sisters can whiff out genetic flaws in potential mates. It doesn't matter if a given rat is the rodential equivalent of a Theta Theta on a clothing-optional Spring Break rum bender-if there's oddment in the coding, no juju.

There's no telling what such an ability could do for us humans, especially in the world of music.

Take jazz. In spite of a robust primordial heritage, this field is currently overrun with sterile hybrids, specimens with weak chins and skin that glows a faint puke-green. In a grim landscape littered with the headless bodies of Kenny G fans, only a few promising artists rear up. The giants may be gone, but every once in a while a group can conjure up their ghosts or, at least, keep a decent party rolling.

Catch the cool, meta-retro stylings of RTC at Sean Kelly’s next Friday.

Rockin' Teenage Combo, an ambitious trio from Seattle that aims to explore some borderlands while staying accessible and even, uh, funky, hits Missoula for a pair of gigs this week. They'll play live on KBGA on Wednesday the 24th and at Sean Kelly's, the Gaeli-fied tavern that's made an effort to book good touring jazz acts, on the 26th.

I checked out the Combo-which isn't teenage and is rockin' only in the most general sense-last year when they played at the Old Post. Wielding a line-up of keys, stand-up bass and trap kit, RTC more than filled the room with their aggressive sound. They don't play the sort of jazz that melts into the wallpaper.

Keyboardist Dara Quinn promises that their new material, most of which will be released on a CD due next month, is even more assaultive than the selection I heard-"a little less jazz and a little more rock," as she says.

Their most recent album, Songs from the Smoking Section, captures a rollicking, adventuresome set. Quinn, drummer Oliver Klomp (cool name) and bassist PK steer clear of the goony retro excesses of the Swing Revival, opting for a sophisticated attack. On the more avant- garde tracks, the whole trio seems to whisper along right at the threshold of hearings, occasionally allowing a skittering drum roll or piano crescendo to rise out of quiet, intricate meanderings.

That restraint gives the band room to explode into straightforward cocktail party raves, some of which call to mind new-school acid jazz while maintaining their own identity. At its best, Rockin' Teenage Combo churns out cinematic, slinky themes-make-out music for a post-James Bond world.

All of which leaves them standing tall over both the eunuchs of lite jazz and the converted jock-rockers of the swing set. If you tune in or turn out for one of their upcoming shows, you'll have a chance to move, but prepare for a challenge.

Rockin' Teenage Combo plays live on KBGA on Wednesday, March 24 at 7 p.m., and at Sean Kelly's on Friday, March 26 at 9 p.m., cover TBA.

Semi-punk and post-rock, NoMeansNo stands alone


Ever been in a car full of NoMeansNo fans? Slap a copy of the Canadian trio's Wrong LP into the tape deck and watch your Dodge Dart Swinger explode into a Saint Vitus showcase of air guitar, air bass, and air drumming. It can't be helped. Victoria, B.C.'s premier musical export breeds a specific kind of worshipful mimicry among their followers, a chorea of bobbing heads and flailing limbs seldom seen since fellow Canucks Rush released Exit Stage Left.

The first time I heard NoMeansNo was in November 1989. The album was 1988's Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed. My parents were gone for the weekend and some friends and I were toasting that fortunate happenstance by swilling vodka and jumping off speaker stacks at an all-ages hardcore show. The headlining band, Dissent, preambled their show with some choice selections from Small Parts blasted through the decrepit PA system. By the time Dissent hit the stage, the kids were ready to put their heads through the wall.

"Victory," especially, took root in my polluted skull and wouldn't budge for several hours. Even after I returned home and found that half of Billings Skyview's Class of '90 had let themselves into my house to swill Coors Light and accidentally break stuff, one line from "Victory" rose above the din: "What are you gonna do? Die? NO!" A serviceable mantra, too, since I reckoned my odds of surviving to manhood at about 30 to 1 when my parents rolled back into town.

What part of NoMeansNo don’t you understand? Find out Thursday, March 25.

It's still one of my favorite NoMeansNo songs-a sullen, brooding exception to the rule-even if its parent album isn't the most solid one in the NoMeansNo catalogue. An informal survey of NoMeansNo fans suggests that far more young questers have found their way to the light via 1989's Wrong, the LP that contains the thickest wad of essential NoMeansNo: "It's Catching Up," "The Tower," "Rag and Bone," "Big Dick" and many more. "It's Catching Up," the album's opener, is probably the unofficial gateway track to lifelong NoMeansNo addiction. From the opening salvo of stuttering bass to the sweet feedback that bleeds into "The Tower," it's a propulsive blast of pure adrenaline.

NoMeansNo doesn't fit snugly into any musical category. Punk in design if not execution; jazz in complexity if not structure, they stand alone because nothing else sounds even a little like them. The band's newest album, Dance of the Headless Bourgeoisie, lines up nicely behind a string of tuff Alternative Tentacles releases longer than the Canadian Constitution. As on previous albums, muscular bass and tommy gun drumming fuse seamlessly into patterns tight enough to bounce a Loony dollar.

After some 17 years of playing together, the band has definitely carved out a singular musical niche for itself. The quality of their live show is legendary in some parts: There are tales of rabid fans riding hundreds of miles in car trunks for out-of-town shows. This time, at least, Missoula's NoMeansNo fans won't have to.

NoMeansNo plays The Cowboy Bar, Thursday, March 25 at 9 p.m. Tickets $8, available at the door and at Ear Candy. 21 and over.

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