June 23, 2005
by BOB DORAN
MONDAY AFTERNOON, AROUND 2:15,
Slamming down the newspaper to show us the Dr. Awkward column, Jesse drums on the table, singing the contents of one of the column's letters, "Dear Abe He Sees." He glimpses something there that soon becomes apparent to the rest of us: "Abe He Sees" is really "ABC" the letters patterned to the rhythm of the alphabet song -- and he begins to drum and sing louder so that all within earshot know that Jesse Short is here for the good of us all.
"So are you the P.R. for the group," I ask.
"No," he replies, "I'm just short."
There is a change coming in the air, and it might not just be the weather, as a foray from the Windy City rolls into town lead by Humboldt native Max Brotman and his band, Brotman & Short.
B&S began little over a year ago while both Max and Jesse were invested in another Chicago-based group, It's a Trap, a more or less traditional rock 'n' roll band. As it happened, Max and Jesse shared a deep interest in experimental rock, which they felt was neglected in It's a Trap, so they decided to create a side project to develop those interests.
The plan was to explore experimental rock, but without the use of computers or guitars ("too obvious" as Max relates). They then incorporated keyboards and various eclectic devices ("thunder-tubes" included) in improvised recording sessions that could stretch up to an hour, producing audio sketches that then were cut up and divided into multiple tracks. Their live shows, which both members see as the heart of their musical efforts, utilize aspects of those recorded tracks, but heavily altered and construed.
"We're a lot like Sisyphus," says Jesse, referencing the character from the ancient Greek myth, a sinner condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again. "We like building something up then breaking it apart again."
After receiving positive support from Chicago audiences and from their peers in Dance to Panic, a collective of artists, musicians and filmmakers in the Chicago neighborhood Wicker Park, Max and Jesse embarked upon a West Coast tour that eventually landed them in Humboldt County.
Usually suspicious of the term "experimental" when applied to rock music (as opposed to progressive or alternative or any other catchall phrase), I begin to wonder what is it that these two have to offer that is really -- experimental.
"We find that experimental music can be too textual or too intellectual," Jesse reports.
"Too pretentious," adds Max.
So how do you make it better or even just different?
With humor, they tell me.
Yes, that's right, ha-ha.
"We want to play upon musical humor found in the timing," and the juxtaposition "of unrelated events," relates Max. "Use humor to relieve the tension in the music."
As demonstration, Jesse strikes up what looks like a hand-held kaleidoscope, but with a spring inside producing a variety of quirky thunderous noises.
"A thunder-tube!" he calls it. "It's our next stage prop."
And suddenly I realize what may lay behind the rolling giggles that rush forth from this dynamic duo, and I don't know whether to find the nearest broom closet to hide in or to grab two spoons and join along.
Max and Jesse then eagerly proceed to relay the glory of their past live shows ("the best part" Max's girlfriend, Amanda, relates) involving a food fight between band and audience utilizing White Castle cheeseburgers, toilet papering on both sides, bubble guns, goggles and water wings.
What should we expect at any of the three live shows they are planning for Humboldt County?
"It's a surprise," says Jesse with an enigmatic grin. "We're going to pull out all the plugs, lobotomize the audience mentally and sexualize phonetically."
Wow -- phonetically -- really? The hooks begin to crawl in my brain and trigger my saliva glands into overdrive. This could be interesting.
Brotman & Short perform at the Placebo on June 23 with two other Chicago bands, Rotten Milk Vs. Bubblegum Shitface and Carpet of Sexy, then play there again on June 25 for the final Manila Placebo show with Eureka Garbage Co., The Dean, This Hospital Earth, Sars From Mars, Strix Vega and Pubic Zirconium. In between, on June 24, B&S play at the Eureka Veterans Hall Lounge with The Daytime Minutes, Ezee Tiger, Le Flange du Maul and The Drinks.
Comments? Write a letter!
© Copyright 2005, North Coast Journal, Inc.