"Can I Hear You Say Yeah?" -- Ian Svenonious: A Video History


(Cross-posted from Going Out Gurus blog.)

Chain and the Gang perform at Comet Ping Pong tonight. It marks the D.C. debut of the latest band from Ian Svenonious -- aka the Spiv -- D.C.'s finest frontman / philosopher / liberation theologist / interviewer / DJ / astrology expert / Castro-sympathizer. The man's history is momentous, but for the uninitiated we'll give a quick rundown of his musical past, in video form.

Nation of Ulysses

Every band of the past 20 years with an energetic, over-the-top lead singer is basically doing a Ian Svenonious impression from his days leading Nation of Ulysses. As you can see from this video, his flailing, leaping and spasmodic shaking is unparalleled. NOU was less a band and more a manifesto set to music. Debut album "13-Point Plan to Destroy America" lives up to its title, talking up revolution. In the form of not tattling.

Cupid Car Club

Cupid Car Club served as the bridge between Nation of Ulysses and the Make-Up. In this band, Svenonious was joined by former NOU mates James Canty and Steve Gamboa, along with Kim Thompson (Delta 72!) It's not too far removed from NOU's breakneck blasts; there are a few more twists and turns, but once again mostly a vehicle for Svenonious to flail around while screaming. Hey, don't mess with perfection.

The Make-Up

The Make-Up represented a definite musical shift for Sveonious and Co. "Gospel Yeh-Yeh" was what the band called its fusion of punk, soul and garage rock. Things were slowed down and funked up. You could actually dance to these songs instead of just slamming into people. I saw this band as many times as I possibly could during high school, which means I saw tons of Make-Up shows. And wish I could have seen more -- there was never a bad one. The best ones were when Svenonious would walk on top of the audience's upturned hands.

(Into the 21st century, after the jump.)

Scene Creamers/Weird War

After the Make-Up ended its impressive five year run, Svenonious -- surprise! -- started a new band, Scene Creamers. (Eventually they'd change their name to Weird War due to legal reasons.) The band's music was often grimy and dirty, working with deep, lascivious grooves. But there were also some truly pleasant pop songs in the band's catalogue -- check "Crystal Healing" or "You're Beautiful" for examples of those.

Chain and the Gang

And now we get to present day. Twenty-plus years of doing variations on the same theme -- Svenonious preaching about some ridiculous topic over some sort of funkiness -- and it still works. Chain and the Gang is closer to the Make-Up, lots of call and response and funkiness without getting too down and dirty.

Bonus: Soft Focus

The Spiv hosts one of the best shows on the Internet, "Soft Focus," where he gets his Charlie Rose on by digging deep into the minds of musical luminaries. Here's part one of his interview with Ian MacKaye. It's more D.C. than humid 97 degree days in late August.

Bonus II: "The Psychic Soviet"
Svenonious released a book of essays a couple years ago. It's a hoot. You think you've settled the "Beatles vs. Stones" debate? Not until you've read Beatles vs. Stones" the Spiv's take on it.

-- David

By David Malitz |  April 29, 2009; 1:20 PM ET Local News
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Actually Weird War came first with Neil Hagerty of Royal Trux, then when Neil left they changed their name to the Scene Creamers, but after that first record they changed their name back to Weird War (still w/o Neil Hagerty).

Posted by: rohan3 | April 30, 2009 8:06 AM

Soft Focus is kind of fantastic. I enjoy how much he embraces the car-crash aspect of the interview. The funniest part is that if you didn't know it, there's no way you would guess that Svenonious recorded multiple albums for Dischord, or that he had even met MacKaye before.

Posted by: M__N | April 30, 2009 8:56 AM

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