Bill Janovitz – Lizard Lounge (Cambridge. MA)
As the alternative-rock market opened up in the mid-’90s for all to shop at, both Bill Janovitz and Curt Kirkwood found wider fame fronting their respective bands: Janovitz with Boston-based guitar-driven pop trio Buffalo Tom, Kirkwood with Phoenix-bred psychedelic cowpunk trio Meat Puppets. Any similarities end there, you’d think. Yet with those bands splintered (though not entirely broken), Janovitz and Kirkwood pitched in to share a six-date co-headlining tour of the East Coast, with each performing solo.
First up in the stageless tiny bar was Janovitz. Looking nervous in front of a hometown crowd, he bemoaned the fact that his backing singer of late, Fuzzy’s Chris Toppin, had cried out of the gig using her pregnancy as an excuse. “How dare she!” he scoffed ironically. Once past the fact that he was there alone, very alone, Janovitz was soon rolling and pounding out Tom tunes, such as the resounding “Sodajerk”, with riveting force.
Songs from Janovitz’s second solo album, Up There, were equally memorable. The stillness of “Atlantic” drove a chilly wistfulness through the air, while in contrast “Long Island” became a gaudy vaudevillian sing-along. Where necessary, Janovitz was a power trio in one single shot, but he was also able to translate quieter songs with equal drive and passion.
Kirkwood took the floor next, but he wasn’t about to go all singer-songwriter on us. Armed with a guitar, a Marshall amp, and a delay pedal, he fielded skittish delirious noise around the room, first to introduce himself and later as wild, careening punctuation between songs. In between that psychedelic sonic circus, the Puppets’ “Plateau” rang out as a haunting campfire lament, and the band’s breakthrough hit, “Backwater”, was lovingly retold, its undulating rhythm beautifully woven with a delicate, airy vocal.
Hamming it up, Kirkwood turned out Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” as an incensed dustbowl rant, and stomped along to his own country ditty, “Lake Of Fire”, with similar cartoonish mania. Along with songs from the latest Meat Puppets album, Golden Lies, Kirkwood added some new songs, rumored for an upcoming record, perhaps solo (perhaps not).
Just as Janovitz had not completely shaken off the magnificent shadow of Buffalo Tom, Kirkwood also stood with illustrious musical ghosts. Both, however, made their relevance in the here and now keenly felt.