The Good Fight
Someone has to take the blame for the swing revival's cigar-chomping, martini-swilling madness and rampant retro-fashion sense. And right now, Royal Crown Revue is happy to shoulder the brunt of it.
"We pretty much take responsibility for doing this first, turning on most of these other people playing in all these other bands to this whole trip to begin with," says Royal Crown Revue drummer Daniel Glass.
He may be right. The Los Angeles outfit has been at it since 1989. Yet, the seven-piece ensemble -- which also includes singer Eddie Nichols, guitarist James Achor, sax players Bill Ungerman and Mando Dorame, trumpet player Scott Steen, and bassist Vikko Lepisto -- faces the distinct possibility of never capitalizing on the trend they helped spawn. Their August release, The Contender, revisits -- and reinvigorates -- the World-War-II-era, hard swing of their three previous albums. But is anyone paying attention? With the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Cherry Poppin' Daddies currently hogging the charts, Royal Crown Revue is waiting patiently for a shot at its first hit, all while praying the fad won't run its course before then.
Glass admits that the scale of the "revival" caught the band off-guard. "Now, we're having a difficult time getting on [the radio] because there are quotas," he says. "[Radio stations are saying], 'We allow two [swing] songs in our format, and that's that.' Who gets [on the radio] is sort of a lottery, more than anything. We knocked on a lot of radio doors for a couple of years, and we finally come out with our new record and it's like, 'Sorry, there's too much swing on alternative radio.' "
But it's more than Royal Crown Revue's own commercial success that concerns Glass: he wants the swing phenomenon to continue because he's a real fan. His fear is that the media is gobbling up and spitting out the music before it has time to evolve.
"I'm hoping that radio will hear [the next single] 'The Contender' and say, 'This is cool, this is more of an alternative song than [Cherry Poppin' Daddies'] 'Zoot Suit Riot,' " he says. "Hopefully [that would] allow for the fact that this thing could grow or develop or show a little more than just this one particular facet that has been just shoved down everybody's throat. I'm afraid that everyone is going to go, 'Oh, swing. It's over; I'm tired of hearing 'Zoot Suit Riot.' "
Perhaps it's just that sort of frustration that has put the band in such a fighting disposition of late: Nichols -- who, ironically enough, is pictured on The Contender's cover in a bare-knuckled fighting stance -- was arrested last month in Toledo, Ohio, after a physical altercation with off-duty police officers. A hearing has been set for November 24. But The Contender is more than just one big pugilistic pose. It has its share of varying moods, from the calypso-spiced reflection of "Morning Light" to the giddy bop of "Salt Peanuts" and the big-band feistiness of "Work Baby Work." The CD shows off the band's chops as it underlines its continued commitment to diverse variations on the swing theme.
Such versatility has likely been a factor in the group's touring compatibility with everyone from the B-52s to Kiss. Performing to different crowds is a challenge that the Revue welcomes. After all, when they started performing, grunge was in vogue.
"Definitely, neither one of those crowds was our crowd, per se. But I think some of them are now," says Glass about the Kiss and B-52s shows the Revue opened. "We've been doing seemingly non-matched shows like that for a long time. As of even two years ago, there was no 'swing scene,' there were no swing clubs, there were no swing kids -- in a national sense. It was very like an underground kind of a thing. So when we did tours, it wasn't like you could put together happy, little swing packages."
Adds Glass, "A big part of our mission has been trying to prove to people that this kind of music can be played at rock and roll venues to rock and roll audiences and to young kids. That's why we did the Warped Tour in '97: [so] people will get [swing] on that kind of level, and that it will be perfectly acceptable to do it that way."
Befitting that objective, Royal Crown Revue presents itself as an alternative to the doom-and-gloom alt-rock/metal set. Hitting on perhaps a real reason for the resurgence of danceable, rock-influenced jazz, Glass notes that when people are fed a steady, numbing diet of angst, sooner or later they're going to crave a new taste -- even if it may only be the flavor of the month.
"In the last few years, the only option presented to kids has been really negative, nihilistic, pessimistic," Glass says. "The Marilyn Mansons, and Metallicas and the Kurt Cobains of the world [are] one way to look at life, and that's definitely fine. But there should be another option: Go out, have some fun, dress up and dance."
Royal Crown Revue performs Thursday, November 12, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. For info, call 869-
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