Column 22, rehash for further study…

Category: Blog — @ 12:26 pm April 21, 2005

This week’s column is a rehash of Sunday’s blog entry — a review of the Mercy Rule/Frontier Trust split 7-inch release show at The Brothers last Saturday. If you’re a daily reader, you might want to skip the rest, however a few additional comments are thrown in while other stuff was cut due to The Reader’s word-count limit. I include it here again for the sake of completeness, and to give you a chance to compare and contrast the blog style with the column style (all of this, of course, will be on The Final, which will be a take-home essay. I expect Blue Books on my desk by the last day of the semester…).

Column 22: Deja Vu All Over Again
Last Saturday’s show at The Brothers turned back the clock, for one night.
Before I get to the review of last week’s historic show at The Brother’s, let me stress that it’s impossible to underestimate the impact that Linoma bands Frontier Trust and Mercy Rule have had on today’s Nebraska indie music scene.

Those of you who weren’t around in the mid-’90s or weren’t paying attention probably will never understand this. Along with bands like Mousetrap, Simon Joyner and Ritual Device, Mercy Rule and Frontier Trust were doing the impossible — they were making music in their own unique voice and performing it all over the country. The idea that you could be in a band that wasn’t aping the current radio trend and be successful was revolutionary. These bands have been sited countless times by the Saddle Creek Records artists as not only influential, but inspirational.

I always thought both Mercy Rule and Frontier Trust could make it to the next level, but especially Mercy Rule. The trio’s music combined Jon Taylor’s guitar angst with Ron Albertson’s hard-fisted drumming and offset it with Heidi Ore’s throaty, girlie voice singing lyrics that were personal but not confessional. Their songs were anthems to individuality — love songs with hope that any schmuck could understand and identify with, but without a sticky layer of sentimentality or treacle. The fact that national label Relativity screwed them didn’t stop Mercy Rule from putting out a career-topping LP, The Flat Black Chronicles, on Lincoln’s Caulfield Records. After that they could move on, comforted by the fact that they created a masterwork that stands as an icon to late-’90s Nebraska music.
I saw a lot of familiar faces from the past that night at The Brothers, all looking a little older, a little wiser, and a little heavier. Frontier Trust was really Half Trust, featuring only frontman Gary Dean Davis and guitarist Bill Thornton. No bass player, and drummer Double Joe Kobjerowski shacked up somewhere in Portland (though he apparently called in and heard part of the set via a held-up cell phone).

Gary didn’t sound or look any different than he did a decade ago — he still has that same off-pitch bellow which he yells into a microphone gripped like he’s strangling a bunny, screaming right in its frightened, furry face stories about politics, unemployment, girls, swimming holes and race cars. A shaggy Thornton hadn’t changed much either, sporting the same walkabout stroll as he peddled his ax with a smile.

Mercy Rule didn’t get on stage until 12:30, probably because they had to set up their infamous floor lights. For this gig, it was only Heidi and Jon. As Heidi explained, “Ron is in New York, where he’s making money, has a girlfriend and has a band.” That was met with plenty of whoops and laughter. The time machine has been good to Heidi and Jon. Heidi looks like she just walked off the stage at Hairy Mary’s circa 1994; Jon’s put on a few pounds but carries it like a rugged farm dad in a crewcut and nerd glasses. Heidi never sounded better, and Jon was in his usual maniacal form, his guitar slung to his knees, bent over, chopping like a steam locomotive pushrod in full throttle.

Seeing them on stage again was a thrill for everyone there. Oh sure, it was great to see Gary and Bill playing the old favorites, but Mercy Rule… well, it may never happen again.

Their set lasted well past closing time, and before everyone left, Gary hustled as many copies of the new split as he could (It’s also available at The Antiquarium, Drastic Plastic and probably Homer’s). The Frontier Trust song, “Arlington,” is vintage tractor punk, while Mercy Rule’s single, “Don’t Let It Go,” is a treasure — among the better songs from their oeuvre, pure pop-punk with huge, chiming guitars, a great mid-song break featuring Jon and Ron, and Heidi belting out the line “Never let it walk out the door / Never let it leave your life.” A fitting message for what will likely be the last song they’ll ever release.

If you own a record player you really should pick up a copy of this single. The Mercy Rule track was recorded during the Flat Black Chronicles sessions at Madison’s Smart Studio and captures the band at their full-throttle best. The Frontier Trust track was recorded at Lincoln’s Whoop Ass Studio — the precursor to Presto! Studio — by one of the Mogis brothers (or maybe both, there is no engineer/producer credit in the liner notes). Both songs were remastered for this release by Doug Van Sloun at Studio B. Liner notes by The Monroes’ bass player/attorney Mike Tulis, and artwork by Mercy Rule drummer Ron Albertson (as testimony to Ron’s artistic genius, there are no fewer than three Albertson originals hanging in my house). More info at the Speed! Nebraska website, though you still can’t order the single from there…yet.

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