BALLBOY, VHS OR BETA
Crocodile Cafe, 441-5611, $10
9 p.m. Tues., Oct. 1
"WHAT A GREAT BAND . . . both of them."
That was a nearly breathless David Gedge's summation after leveling a Crocodile crowd with a blistering rendition of "Blue Eyes"—a staple of his former band the Wedding Present's live set—the last time Cinerama stopped in Seattle. The qualifier at the end of his statement may have partly been a diplomatic nod to his current bandmates, but the dopey, proud-papa grin on his face more than confirmed his sincerity.
Gedge does have plenty of room to brag. By turns an irrepressible flirt, a hopeless romantic, and the pre-eminent spokesperson for the heartbroken, Gedge has been penning beautifully tortured love songs for almost 20 years now. That he's been so successful with so narrow a focus may be testament to the vicissitudes of love, but, really, it's more a commentary on his powers as a writer; at the very least he possesses a fertile imagination—certainly no one could actually endure so much relationship drama. That Gedge has continued to wear his heart on his sleeve just as defiantly with Cinerama doesn't mean, however, that he's treading the same old ground.
The Wedding Present were first and foremost a guitar band. The two-pronged attack of Gedge and Peter Solowka's hyper jangle provided clear contrast between the band and its foppish mid-'80s U.K. contemporaries. Later guitarmates Paul Dorrington and Simon Cleave moved at a slightly slower pace but provided no less a potent punk sheen to the proceedings. Examples abound, but tracks like "Kennedy," "Brassneck," or "Corduroy" could be used as primers on perfectly executed guitar pop.
The lush, keyboard-heavy arrangements on Cinerama's 1998 debut, Va Va Voom, were certainly a major shift—as was partnering with vocalist Sally Murrell—even though the sound was clearly a suitable match for Gedge's brand of elegantly bruised romanticism. Where the transition didn't work, according to Gedge, was onstage—a place where the Wedding Present had always excelled.
"You can push some keys that duplicate the sound of strings or whatever, but that always sounds artificial," notes Gedge from his home in England. "But Cinerama started as more of a studio project for me and Sally, and it's become an actual band. We sound much better live now."
Two major components in that evolution were the recruitment of former Wedding Present-mate Cleave into the group and a renewed collaboration with producer Steve Albini, whom Gedge credits for making 1991's Seamonsters LP the first Wedding Present record that "captured the live sound of the band." Disco Volante, Cinerama's 2000 sophomore release, retained many of the loungier elements of Va Va Voom, diving even further into the '60s soundtrack territory of John Barry, yet it's unmistakably the product of a rock band. The extended guitar jaunts on songs like "Wow" marked a clear return to Gedge's rawer roots (not to mention providing some exhilarating live fare).
On Cinerama's latest, Torino (which reassembles Albini and four-fifths of the primary band from Disco Volante), the guitars are even higher in the mix. While tempting, to suggest that Gedge has come full circle isn't accurate. Start to finish, Torino is easily Gedge's most brooding batch of songs, the focus on the messy aftermath of the love affair providing a perfect counterpoint to Disco Volante's tales of seduction. Mostly, though, the album just reflects Gedge's most immediate interests: "I am more into guitars right now, but I think all the records I've done are reflective of whatever I'm most interested in exploring at the moment. I'm not good at repeating myself. Except for maybe the first two Wedding Present albums, I don't think I've ever made the same record twice."
Despite the forward thinking, Gedge has become increasingly comfortable embracing his legacy, incorporating more and more Wedding Present material into Cinerama's set list, despite some of the typical consequences. "I suppose it's a little annoying to have people shouting 'Brassneck' all the time, but mostly it's flattering that people still care. It's been almost six years since the Wedding Present stopped, so it's a lot of fun to play some of those songs again. There will always be some people who won't be happy that we don't play their favorite, but I think overall people will be [pleased] with the current set."
It's a set, Gedge reports, that includes nothing from Va Va Voom. He doesn't disown those songs, but his larger concern is putting on a crowd-pleasing show and representing a great band.
Both of them.