Spoonboy and the Papas at the Black Cat – 7/29

Spoonboy and the Papas is a long-germinating outlet for Max Levine Ensemble singer and guitarist and Takoma Park native David “Max” Combs.
TMLE has been going around for more than a decade; they’ve been one of the best bands in the D.C. area for ages, hooking the youth on fast, fun, fresh pop-punk from an anarchist’s perspective.
At times the Papas sound just like TMLE, and at times they sound better – live, the Papas offer heaps of beguiling vocal harmonies that TMLE doesn’t try to pull off, and the band has a second guitarist, Brandon Moses who is occasionally used to excellent effect (TMLE is a trio; Moses also plays in the band Laughing Man). One main
difference between Max Levine and the Papas is that the Papas’ songs are generally
slower. The focus on keen melodies is the same.
If I were in the mood to offer some constructive advice to my ol’ pal “Max,” I would suggest adding more guitar leads, interplay, etc. – to use guitarist Brandon Moses to excellent effect more often, encourage him to do his thing, etc.
Most of the songs covered similar stylistic terrain: good to excellent alternative rock ’n’ roll / pop-punk rock with “diary-entry” lyrics.
You could discern the words.
I’ve seen Ted Leo used as an apt point of reference for TLME; the Papas also sound like TL fairly often.
The other two Papas are bassist Michael Cantor (also of the Ambulars) and drummer Alex Attas (ex-Black Powder Fuzzbox). Aptly, Attas has managed to reproduce.
Watching Spoonboy and his Papas stand there on the stage, I thought the band’s sterling harmonies and melodies put a lump in my throat. In retrospect, it seems likely that my reaction was caused by a combination of the harmonies, the melodies, the alcohol, and, of course, my vulnerable emotional state.
I listened to the Papas’ tracks online quite a bit after this show, and Max, you’ve accomplished the songwriter’s goal: These songs get stuck in one’s head, resurfacing unbidden, hours, days, weeks later.
In sum, this set would certainly appeal to many TMLE fans – it’s a side project which is often audibly indiscernible from the main project.
This performance wasn’t the tightest. I figured that the band hadn’t been together for that long. I asked Max about the group’s history and he emailed me this: “When I started making my latest “solo” record, I got a bunch of friends in Athens, GA to form a band and record with me.  We did a small tour with part of that lineup, and then after the record was out I started talking to Mikey C. about playing doing full band versions of the songs live.  That’s how “Spoonboy and the Papas” started.  That started in April I think.”
This Friday night show was a benefit for Girls Rock D.C. and SatP played first. Early on, the gig was sparsely attended; by the end of the night there was a decent crowd. By that point the Max was back at work, slinging tofu and fries at the Black Cat’s café.
There is man called Toast who is considered remarkably helpful and respectable by those with whom he labors in obscurity within the D.C. punk netherworld. Toast worked the SatP merchandise table, unnoticed by the fans.
David Combs has a particular high-pitched vocal style that some people find annoying. I don’t find it annoying, but can see where they’re coming from. I know him and he talks like an ordinary guy.
I wonder if that’s his normal, relaxed and unaffected singing style or if he’s singing that way for some reason. His written response: My vocal style isn’t affected, at least not to make it more high pitched.  That’s just how it comes out.
Musically, what Spoons & the Papas have going on is aces.
Lyrically, I can’t relate. A lot of the lyrics relate to David’s distaste for his own poppa; I didn’t really want to hear about it. I could say that punk lyrics complaining about yr parents, particularly yr old man, are trite, but it’s not as though my own lyrics aren’t quintessential.
Anyway, it’s always nice to weave a personal essay within the fabric of a show review and my pops is as admirable as he is traditional. A hard worker and family man of unusual integrity, wisdom, common sense and physical strength to boot, he is an excellent provider as well as a stoic, somewhat shy, taciturn, and witty sports fan and erstwhile union man who follows the news of the world and enjoys spending time in the woods. He wanted to go to Vietnam to get out of New Jersey, of course, but he was too young and the war was winding down.
He worked a job he hated for three decades because it paid well, offered good benefits and a great retirement and he had a growing family, etc. He worked a ton of overtime.
Left largely to his own devices after his early adolescence, he enjoyed wild youthful times. He has been married for 40 years.
An expert on classic rock ’n’ roll, he easily names obscure tunes after hearing the first few notes. In the past few decades he’s gotten into country music. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Seeger Sessions” is among his favorite albums.
I’ll never be as cool as my pops is, and it’s looking like I’ll never be as good, stable, comfortable, or secure as him, either.
My grandmother asked me once what punk is. I stammered and pondered and my dad replied, “Mad rock, basically – right?”
He was right.
He said, “I thought punk was about self-mutilation, but you never came home mutilated, so I didn’t really worry about it.”
I should write a song about how great he is. I’m sure it would go over like a led balloon.
As Loren Martin once said, “One thing all types of punks have in common is that they all like complaining.”

Thanks to Max for putting me on the press list for the show.

Was Pat Vogel at this show? No.

Thanks to Spoons for putting me on the press list for the show.

Was Pat Vogel at this show? No.

More info from Spoons about his solo efforts: I started doing solo stuff when I was living in Indiana and TMLE was less active, and I’ve continued to do it because people responded well to it, and also because playing solo is an easy way to go on tour and play music more often than TMLE’s schedule permits.  There’s also been a certain songwriting delineation that’s developed in my mind over what constitutes
a “Spoonboy” song or a TMLE song.

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