I don't want to write about the Keenlies. I mean, I really don't want to write about the Keenlies. For one thing, certain of the band-members are friends of mine, and that situation always raises the ugly specter of the journalist's black hole: Conflict of Interest. So, reader be warned: some of these people are friends of mine. That might make me tempted to overpraise. Then again, it could just mean I was lucky enough to hear them before most anyone knew they were worth hearing about. The following words recommend a band that is newsworthy neither for product on the market nor for a substantial following, but only for this critic's perception that there's a seriously good time to be had by a bunch of folk who haven't figured out where to find it yet. Which brings us to the second reason I don't want to write about the Keenlies: if I write about them well enough, there's some slim chance that the leisure-class hordes might descend upon their turf and act like idiots, raise the price of beer, and generally turn the whole scene into a rotting husk of its present tiny self. Sometimes in this job you stumble upon something so joyous that -- even though it's your job to dig up the cool stuff and bring it to the light of day -- you want to keep it to yourself.
But, there are other considerations. Like the fact that every really phenomenal rock band that this city turns out tends to self-destruct before anyone's really had a chance to fully enjoy it. Think back to Fleshmop. Why is Fleshmop no more? Remember Tab Jones, whose first farewell show prompted a weepy outpouring of critical love from booze-music appreciators all over the city? Baby, please don't go. But there they both went, Fleshmop and Tab Jones, gone. Never properly recorded. Never widely appreciated. Never, in all likelihood, paid. Tiny sparkling magnesium flashes in the urban rock-and-roll pan.
The prospect of that happening again is why, against all of my better instincts, I'm going to widen the circle of secret sharers and write about the Keenlies, in the hopes that someone somewhere will get off his fat butt and record them, book them, and send them on a world-conquering tour. Or at least buy them a beer, fer Chrissakes.
The Keenlies (actually, there's no "the," just Keenlies, but that's difficult to write a sentence around) are Brad Moore on vocals, Deryk Wen on guitar, Gerry Silar on bass, and Bo Morris -- whom you may have seen playing trumpet with Sprawl -- on drums. The band is almost a year old, has twelve songs in its repertoire and played its first show about nine months back at Escondido. They're holding court at Epstein's these days, and if you want a news hook for this rave, they'll be playing on that venue's upstairs corner stage every Tuesday in February. So far, they've been drawing crowds of anywhere from three to 20 people, which is plenty enough to have a good time, but still a little bit stingy, considering that the Keenlies are, in at least one messed-up sense, the most jaw-droppingly fun amateur rock band in the city.
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Morris drums in a speedy funk vein that rushes at you as if the idea of the ballad had never been conceived. Silar plays weird bass lines that climb up to the top of the neck and hang there, dangling out over empty space. Wen attacks his guitar like it's something that needs to be beat down to keep it from crawling up onto his face. And Moore bounces off the walls, somehow managing to scream out his lyrics even though De Schmog bassist Jonathan is hanging off his back 80 percent of the time, and some member or another of Rusted Shut is fighting him for the mike the other 20 percent.
The songs that come out when all that adds up are sloppy, and nuts, and absolutely require that you dance in whatever sort of (preferably frantic) fashion you dance. Comparative description is doomed to randomness. There are songs that sound like the early Police might have sounded if Sting hadn't had that kernel of pomposity growing deep inside him. There are songs that sound like Pink Floyd might have written them, if everyone in Pink Floyd hadn't been in a grumpy mood for the past 20 years. The first time I heard a Keenlies set, I assumed they must have been playing covers of really cool songs I'd never heard. They aren't. Wen writes much of the music and Moore writes the lyrics, and somehow they've managed to squeeze out a batch of tunes that make me think, for some reason, of the best British pub rock that London's Stiff label was recording in the late '70s. Maybe pre-professional Elvis Costello. The guitar is clean (most of the time), the bass is relentlessly upbeat and the whole mess just moves, like a bee in a Mason jar.
And if, some Tuesday night this month, you show up, check out the set and for some inexplicable reason don't walk away a fan, then all I can guess is that you're probably not a white ex-suburban boy with an almost crippling fetish for high-energy, lo-fi pop.
The Keenlies will play every Tuesday in February at Epstein's, 614 West Gray, 523-9828.