Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Laurels

Laurels- 90-95
Laurels- L

The first rock show that I ever saw was Duran Duran at the Worcester Centrum in 1987. From there, the venues I saw bands at got smaller- the Orpheum, Avalon, Paradise, Middle East Down, Middle East Up.

The Middle East was a particular revelation for me- a club big enough to accommodate all the people that wanted to see most bands I liked, but a small enough place so that it was conceivable that you could actually go over and talk to the people in the acts. It was a concept that took a little bit of getting used to, but it was cool- Simon LeBon and John Lydon and even Mike Ness were just people on magazine pages, album inserts.

I started seeing the Laurels play in 1992, when they opened for Pavement in Providence. The club was a pretty decent size, like five hundred people, and I remember tripping hard on being able to talk to Jeff Toste, the Laurels' singer, after the show. (And it turns out that I talked to a bunch of the Pavement guys before their set, but didn’t realize it- they didn’t have any pictures of themselves in their albums.)

I wore my Pavement shirt when my folks dropped me off for my first day of college, presuming that my dorm would be stocked with hipsters since all the good bands were played on college radio. Didn’t work that way- I was disappointed that there weren’t more people wandering around talking about the rock.

I started calling WUNH, trying to think of bands that I could request songs by. It started with stuff that I already had, but wanted to hear over the radio anyway, thinking about how widespread the looting and rioting on campus would be when Nation of Ulysses went out over the airwaves. The hickey underground would arrive!

No riots were started, and I quickly tired of the game. Instead, I started asking for music that I didn’t have in my collection. I called up one day and asked for the Laurels. Two songs later, the band’s new single was playing. Man, did they ever put out a lot of ‘em- every six months or so the DJ’s would get their grubby paws on a new seven inch and they’d play the shit out of it. The band played UNH a bunch of times, even got invited to play the ‘BCN Rumble to a largely indifferent crowd (except for me, natch, and maybe Chris Gerbi and Terry G., who I dragged to the Paradise.) I said hi to Jeff Toste outside and was all psyched.

I bought a few of the bands’ seven inches as they came out (‘Hate Me’ and ‘Rex,’ if memory serves) before moving on/out to the fundamentalist pastures of pop-punk and Maximum Rock N’ Roll. Much later, I picked the band’s two CD’s – a singles comp and a proper full-length- out of local bargain bins for like a buck per.

Frankly, I’m amazed that the Laurels didn’t get more attention. I guess their LP was re-released fairly recently, but, again, no one seems to have noticed the band or their music, which is a shame.

There are so many sounds to be heard on the band’s recordings. The singes comp, predictably, varies a good bit sonically, not always reflecting the band’s full power, but hey, comps do that. Though there are stylistic variations to be found, the main sounds are there: sinister, echoey songs that tend to be driven by the rhythm section rather than by the guitar. The vocals sound like they’re being telephoned in, maybe from the same empty marble room the guitarist is playing in/from, with sound bouncing all over the place, making the listener wonder the difference between perception and phantoms. (The production is more solid on ‘L’, the full-length, which features knob twiddlin' by none other than Steve Albini. The whole phoned-in aspect is still there, just beefed up.)

Jeff Toste’s voice is amazing- plaintive and meek on some songs, a forceful roar on others. I jotted down a few names as I was listening to the band’s stuff: David Yow, Mike Patton, Ween. And, most importantly, I think: Les Savy Fav. Both the Laurels and the Fav were from Providence, at least initially- it comes as no surprise that the Laurels were an influence, both vocally and musically. The Laurels’ dynamics and range can be heard in the Fav’s stuff.

Both of these records are gems, and should be heard.

MIX TAPE: ‘Ruby’


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