by Joe Coughlin

There’s so much constantly
going on with this guy, there’s barely enough room for his own words
here. Conveniently, he was pretty economical with ’em anyway, which
is bound to happen when you’re distracted from writing your
boatload of killer songs (and the writer’s dictaphone largely shits
the bed). It ended up being fairly accurate to downplay that whole angle
anyway, as the volume and quality of it all truly does speak for itself,
but all quotes are Chandler’s.

Most, uh, topically, there’s
the recent solo disc,
She Left
, an unplugged-type
thing of quieter stuff, a gently stunning meld of melancholy and chin-up/
feel-good sentiments (review in November ’09 issue). It closes with
the gorgeous and heartbreaking “Goodbye,” a tribute to his old pal
George Carlin written just after his passing. I pompously asked Chandler
to expound on the artistic/ academic differences regarding presentation
vs. desired audience perceptions of the solo stuff in contrast to his
more barrelhouse methods in the louder settings: “I’d like to do
more of ’em.” Well, awrighty, then! There are many such prior solo
outings in various formats, including a supremely twisted retardo-romp
as the insane character Lippy Blappinklappy (search YouTube for “Bongo’s
Summer Cottage”).

But he’s probably
best-known (right this sec, anyway) for the relentlessly prolific Chandler
Travis Philharmonic (one year saw nearly
live releases with only
a few takes of anything repeated among ’em). Often and unfairly labeled
as strictly-about-the-zany, the rotating cast of monster players can,
and do, perform every kind of music known to humanity, and quite a few
that aren’t. Laughter, tears, rump-shakin’ and head-scratchin’
are just a few guarantees at their multicolored blowouts, not to mention
train-wreck mashups such as “In-a-Gadda-da-Brown-Eyed-Girl” or,
say, some impromptu klezmer/ dirge mutilation of “I’ve Been Workin’
On the Railroad.” They’re finishing up a live-in-the-studio disc,
“which has only happened, so far, for the first four cuts of
Let’s Have a Pancake!, literally having everyone there and playing
together. We’ve got like, seventeen songs.” (Tentative album titles
Blows and James
.) Add that to their several
overstuffed studio releases
alone, and it’s more than most bands produce in
two or three times that kinda lifespan.

One of the great things
about these records is that the studio takes are often miles from what
you’re used to seeing live. For instance, the song “Fluffy” features,
in place of the usual instrument solo, a voicemail message left for
Chandler by Mr. Carlin, ranting in complete alien gibberish. And it
actually works rather nicely. (It should be noted that it was years
before I even realized that the song—a fawning paean to its subject’s
pearly teeth, gleaming hair, and regular bowel movements—isn’t about
a girl, but a dog.) A more recent golden moment was seeing them in New
York, where they had the chrome-plated balls to do their song, “Fuck
the Yankees Anyway.” Stripped-down versions play smaller venues, and
there are duo and trio spinoffs as well. Asked about these more intimate
settings, connecting with an audience in that non-party atmosphere,
Chandler elaborated, “It’s a fun way to go.” He also wishes to
give more serious props to all his cohorts, especially the long-time
vets. “I wouldn’t be here without ’em.” I can vouch for that.
The fact that so many have made the treks from all over, learning that
many songs, for so many years, for standard club pay, speaks volumes
for their dedication to the common vision. Being a fan has its perks,
too. Stalwart show-goer Fred Boak became their merch guy, and is now
an official member as Chandler’s singing “valet.”

“And the next
[project] is some kind of a pop album. The working band name is either
the Buzzards, or Princess Sally Muffin and, you know, we’re accepting
advice.” Members are perennial cohorts Rikki Bates (drums) and Dinty Child (you
name it) along with Steve Wood (guitar maniac of the Greenheads). Wood
was a partner with Chandler in the short-lived (1992 and ’93) band
Lester, a kind of less-bitter Replacements, who made one self-titled
disc and played just a handful of shows, the one I saw being as fine
a display of lunkhead bar-rock as I’ve ever witnessed. Songs, chops,
brains, humor, and attitude galore.

Then there’s the
Incredible Casuals, who, between full-lengths, EPs, singles, limited
cassette-onlys, and tracks on compilations, have averaged four or five
releases per year since 1981. For over 25 of those years, they’ve played
the Wellfleet Beachcomber every Sunday for the entire summer season,
and this past year sold out virtually every one. Prior to even that
was Travis Shook & Club Wow (they’ve used various names), who
even appeared on the Johnny Carson show a few times. “One time, Pat
Boone was also a guest, and we spotted him at rehearsal and played our
rendition of an old weird B-side of his called ‘The Wang Dang Taffy
Apple Tango Mambo Cha Cha Cha,’ which caused him to fall on the floor.”
The song remains a staple of the Philharmonic’s live set, sung by
the increasingly fetching Rikki.

Virtually everything
mentioned so far here comes out on the Sonic Trout label. It’s run
by Chris Blood, who’s released two sets as the White Prince, wherein
he gleefully destroys such dreck as “Let’s Get Physical” and “We
Built This City,” backed by the Casuals, who appear as the Brain Bats
of Venus (members: Follicle Blocky, Candy Chartreuse, Bib Whiz, and
Remedios the Beauty).

There is, of course,
a very small amount of cross-pollination, but even if, say, the Philharmonic
do a Casuals or Chandler solo number (or any way you mix it around),
the versions are entirely retooled into whole other animals, sometimes
barely recognizable, but always just as effective in their new approaches.
Consider also that each of the acts listed here boasts not just many
hundreds of originals between them, but probably just as many obscure
covers that are whipped out at whim. (A fave of mine is “Softly in
the Night,” by the Cookies, who were Ray Charles’ backup singers.)

You’d think that’d
be enough for the average genius to relax and rest on his laurels a
bit, but fuck that. He just scored a musical stage play,
Boyce & Melinda Peterson’s
Investment Strategies for the Post-Money World!,
was held over in Truro (MA), will have opened in Boston by the time
you read this, and is booked for a run in Seattle some time after this
spring. The Boyce and Melinda characters have become money gurus after
failing as musicians. It’s a fake investment seminar set in the year
2020. “The future economy has collapsed entirely, and President Palin
has gone into hiding.” It was written by Chandler’s pal Gip Hoppe,
who requested numbers parodying
music, Celine Dion, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, and more.
The cast members sing to backing tapes. I was
able to hear a demo of sorts, an arresting Prince-like ’80s synth-and-funk-fest
called “Stimulus Package.” I had
it was Chandler singing
on it (let alone a
male) until we spoke. If the rest of these decidedly-not-piss-takes
are remotely as engaging, the soundtrack is positively screaming for
a release of its own. I implored him to pursue this at all costs: “Hm,
yeah, well
there’s an idea.” Honest to Christ, I don’t think
it actually occurred to the guy. His mind was on the next day’s rehearsal
and a few thousand other ideas.

about dealing with so many personalities among his various lineups and
the according quirks, tastes, and preferences brought to the table:
“One of my bands, unfortunately, is a democracy.” Given said avalanche
of styles, I resorted to the dreaded “what are
your influences?” routine, expecting a glib,
toss-off answer, but Chandler didn’t hesitate: “Terry [Adams, of
NRBQ]. He’s the best. The best keyboard player in the world, as far
as I’m concerned, and an
amazing showman.” The two are now in talks about
doing an actual 7-inch vinyl single, material as yet undecided, maybe
joint compositions, maybe one song each, maybe something else.

Oh, yeah, and that
decade-or-so-long-running Cape Cod newspaper column as Thurston Kelp
(tons still available online). And there’s probably a lot more I’m
forgetting offhand, but there’s scads more info on all this and more

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