A friend and I were talking the other day about music, specifically the recent Jacksonville Jazz Festival. We both had played the festival, I with a world music ensemble, he with a pop cover band. I was astonished that a self-proclaimed world-class jazz festival allowed a band to play pop, much less pop covers like Pharrell Williams' "Happy."
Yes, "Happy" at a jazz festival.
I was incensed. This is the problem, I said, with American music consumers. No sense of adventure, a fear of the unknown, a complete lack of desire to experiment. I likened the phenomenon to walking around the same block every day of one's life. You see the same people, pet the same dogs, enjoy a level of familiarity synonymous with security.
And how freakin' boring is that?
I prefer to find new neighborhoods, walk interesting streets and get into trouble in dangerous parts of town. I may not enjoy every journey but, more often than not, the experience is worthwhile, opening me up to a world of ideas and concepts I may not have otherwise considered.
It is in this spirit that I revisit Crawfish of Love's 1995 release septober … octember. Crawfish of Love, a folky performance art group, was unusual at its core. Founded by outsider schoolteacher and songwriter Dave Roberts, the "band" featured a number of Jacksonville's old guard. Musicians like Craig Spirko, Randy Judy, Andy King, Lauren Fincham, Nancy Cohen, Ed Richardson and Scott Sisson would come together for recording sessions or live shows under Roberts' command. Musicians not necessarily known for getting "out there" would be asked to do weird and wonderful things.
Even better, every Crawfish performance was its last. Roberts would announce before a gig that the ensemble would disband following its next gig, the end of an era that lasted but a few hours. Then, somewhere down the road, a week or a year later, he'd pull them together again for another farewell performance. Was it a comment on the fleeting nature of our existence, or a total mind blow for his audience? Probably both.
Septober … opens with the bizarrely poetic "Merengue Podium," a narrative involving an exploding ICEE machine and pipe wrench on a linoleum kitchen floor. Backed by atmospheric jazz, Roberts' spoken word rolls out innocuously enough, but hides a menacing air. The jazz continues with the Tom Waitsesque "Bourbon Street Monster," featuring "big green titties … flippin', flappin', floppin' in the Creole sun." Those titties belong to a big, ugly junkie who has sex with tourists. I think. It's hard to know what the eff Roberts is talking about as the album plays out.
More whacked poetry in the freakout "Opie, Eat the Gazelle." A lyric sampling: "Be the sea lion deep within your pilgrim hat mind." The music backing the poem is equally odd, a mix of beatnik jazz and evil surf music. It comes in bursts and lasts only a moment. "We Must Collect Our Lips" is a brief distorted noise experiment, a nonsensical rambling that ends with the urgency with which it began. "She Colors the Noodles Blue," "Fierce Bubble Initials" and "Horrible Mall" — all trippy adventures not for the faint of heart. Dave Roberts lives in a dangerous sonic neighborhood. But know that it's an exciting one, too, should you decide to visit.
A few years ago, Roberts released Darkest Show on Earth, a circus-set song cycle just as disturbing as septober … octember. Both albums are available at the Global Recording Artists website (gragroup.com/crawfish). It may be the only way you'll get to hear this material. Then again, Crawfish of Love may have a show on the calendar, one we don't yet know about, one that will surely be their last.