Hate to wring a wet towel like Huey Lewis in relation to the electrified rock of Seattle's Big Business, but ever since I found out they were playing the unlikely rock capital of Cleveland on a brief East-to-Midwest jump, I couldn't shake the unassailable "Heart of Rock and Roll" ( . . . is still beating—in Cleveland). The Business' big beat is a calculated assault with enough low-end throb to slick Huey's cowlick and send the News cowering behind the pool table. Considering the power duo's have-bass-will-travel economy, I think Lewis may be on to something. Let Cleveland rock one night of the year!
I've tracked the band's tour itinerary through the Midwest before bassist Jared Warren calls from a Fargo, N.D., phone booth (Big Business is so rock 'n' roll, they don't carry a cell phone on tour) "Cleveland was all right," he says with a nothing-special sigh. Warren recounts an illegal Brooklyn show shut down by cops and moved to a bar at the last minute, still drawing a crowd and receiving no-frills endorsements like "How much can one band RULE?" and "Big Business is *good* for America" on the band's message board. Warren and Business partner Coady Wills have also been granted plenty of downtime. "We sit in complete silence and communicate telepathically," he says sarcastically. "It's just the nature of being on tour, being stuck in a vehicle. We've all been on tour enough times not take it out on one another." (Warren was in Karp, Tight Bros From Way Back When, and the WHIP; Wills, in the Murder City Devils and Dead Low Tide).
Warren may sound muffled by phone, but his wattage sends smoke signals all the way from Missoula. So does the duo's forthcoming debut, Head for the Shallow (Hydra Head): Eight metallic-tinged, Sabbath-worshipping, crack-up funny songs with classic rocks-in-your-head Phil Ek production. The album also makes room for kitschy fun. There's levity in pun-filled titles "Focus Pocus" and "Stareadactyl," even though they sound like a dog choked by electrical wires from a television tossed into a bathtub. Warren and Wills might have a good laugh and a smoke at the spectacle.
The two musicians initially collaborated in 2003 following the dissolve of the WHIP and Dead Low Tide. Warren was mourning the untimely death of Karp bandmate Scott Jernigan when acquaintance Wills called with an offer to start a band. "I wasn't motivated to pull up my boot straps without someone's urging," Warren says. Both were looking for a new outlet through which to vent.
Head for the Shallow is as much catharsis as kitsch. A railroad whistle signals Warren's eardrum-rattling bass, and Wills' backing hoots and howls inject guileless fun into "Focus Pocus." Before long, Warren spits, "Take my advice, don't come any closer." His pounding instrument is just as standoffish, like a forehead vein about to burst. "White Pizazz" is militaristic, as Wills stages an opening coup with circular fills while Warren provides the high-end with a barely discernible squelch and a mired coo to cap it off. "Technically Electrified," like much of Shallow, adds a mantralike chorus "Things will keep falling apart."
For now, Big Business will keep their ruckus streamlined. "As a two-piece, we can play around for hours and not get distracted—actually get things done." Warren also hints at adding a guitar player (former Scared of Chaka sideman Dave Hernandez plays on Head for the Shallow). "We're still figuring out how to play with one another and learning what we're capable of."
Big Business play Graceland with Book of Black Earth, Crictor, and Skin Culture at 9 p.m. Sat., Dec. 18. $8.