If you'd already heard of the Queers before last year's Don't Back Down, you're probably the sort of Mohawked, ultra-into-punk punk who's already written the band off as a commercial sellout. If Don't Back Down was your first exposure, you're probably wearing a Green Day T-shirt and skateboarding home from school. Or maybe you're not. But that, according to bassist B-Face, is the band's basic fan axis, and the reason for it is that New Hampshire's Queers have been, for all intents and purposes, two entirely different bands over the course of the past 15 years.
They first spat to life on the New Hampshire coast in 1982. That band played snotty blasts of lo-fi, two-chord punk rock, logged a few shows and recorded two singles that are today punk rock collectibles. That was the first Queers, in which Joe King was a mere guitar player. That band fell apart. Four years later, King started over, slowly formulating a new lineup that solidified in 1990 with drummer Hugh O'Neill Jr. and B-Face. Joe King is now Joe Queer, the band's singer/songwriter/leader, and while you can tell that he's thrashed through his share of slapdash punk days, it's his fixation on Beach Boys-style '60s pop that gives the current incarnation of the Queers its distinctly bubble-gummy charge. Round about 1990, punk bible Maximum Rock & Roll began lionizing the band, and MR&R columnist Ben Weasel was instrumental in getting the band its deal with Berkeley's Lookout! label.
"The main thing that changed," says B-Face, "is back [at the beginning] it was just four guys having a good time and they all had input in the band, and once they broke up, Joe continued using the band's name and basically took over the songwriting and singing. So it's more like his vision of the Queers. Every time we tour and every album we do just seems to do better and better for the band. It hasn't gone downward yet."
Still, Joe Queer's hybrid vision is one that purist factions at MR&R turned on last year when the Queers filmed their first video -- MTV-bound, as it turned out -- in MR&R's hometown of San Francisco.
"Since we did the video they've sort of given us the big middle finger," says B-Face. "They basically said 'fuck off' on the pages of the magazine. But whatever. They did support us a lot in the earlier years. So I don't have any problem with MR&R at all. I still read it every time it comes out. It's entertaining."
Entertaining it is, though on the order of watching a mama cat eat her young. But it's not quite as entertaining as Don't Back Down, named after the Beach Boys cover thereon. It's a sugary blast of adrenalized pop punk that's probably too feel-good for the hard-core crowd, but sounds like great, fast, melodic rock and roll to the less cripplingly politicized. Lookout! has re-released the Queers' early output for purists, who probably won't care now that their precious limited editions are available to everyone. Newcomers might find it a small shock to hear what the Queers were like before Joe's pop fixation took over. But you know what? Skip it. Don't Back Down is where the band arrives at full-blooded, road-polished fruition. If the cranks at MR&R don't get it, then the cranks at MR&R just don't get it.
-- Brad Tyer
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The Queers perform Thursday, February 13, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 8 p.m. Cover is $7. Screw 32 and Groovie Ghoulies open. For info, call 862-3838.
New Edition -- This Boston-bred quintet-turned-quartet-turned-quintet-and-now-sextet is the black music equivalent of Van Halen. Think about it: Both groups started young and appealed mainly to a Clearasil-soaked audience; both groups had to let go of a loose-cannon lead singer; and both groups made their return on an MTV Video Music Awards telecast. But while Van Halen has had trouble resolving its differences, the members of New Edition -- Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe and Ralph Tresvant -- are once again joined at the hip for a veritable force field of hip-hop, funk and soul. Although some fans say this reunion is five years too late, the restored New Edition is a welcome change from the freak-me-baby doo-woppers they begat. At the Summit at 7:30 p.m. Friday, February 14. Tickets are $36.25. Blackstreets, Keith Sweat and 702 open. 629-3700. (Craig D. Lindsey)
Low and Sweet Orchestra -- As a favorite live act of Hollywood's elite, the Low and Sweet Orchestra has played to its fair share of movie stars. The L.A. septet's membership is even blessed with its own paparazzi magnet, Dermot Mulroney -- not quite a Johnny Depp, maybe, but then again, Low and Sweet is no P, Depp's butt-awful foray into music. As Low and Sweet's man on mandolin, dobro and cello, Mulroney is just another member of the band, which gleefully exhumes the Celtic tradition of U.K. groups such as the Waterboys and the Pogues. Not that their debut CD, Goodbye to All That, doesn't contain some genuinely American moments. Low and Sweet's blackjack-blunt lyrical wit and loose embrace of punk, blues and C&W should ensure that they aren't written off as a quaint Old World curiosity. At Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, at 8 p.m. Monday, February 17. Tickets are $10. 869-TICS. (Hobart Rowland