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San Francisco’s Imperial Teen occupies a class of its own in the indie-music world. Possessing neither the clever, glamorous attitude of British groups like Blur or Suede, nor the sappy Beach Boys fascination of current American groups, its greatest asset is its admirable search for a unique identity. The Teen’s biggest claim to fame is the guitarist and drummer Roddy Bottum, who doubles as the keyboardist in Faith No More, but they’re as far removed from that band as possible. Unpretentious and undemanding, the ever-smiling Imperial Teen brought the forgotten fun back into pop music.
Not hesitating to dive into the new material, Teen began with “Open Season” and “The Beginning,” two songs that rely as much on the Kinks as early ’80s California punk. My favorite Teen lyrics belong to “Year of the Tan.” Schwartz sings, “Shaking hips for a living / it’s the year of the tan / another Jagger imitation / drinking wine out of a can.” A comment on beach culture? A satire of the music industry? Imperial Teen spares no one, but they’d be the first to poke fun at themselves.
The crafty singer/guitarist Will Schwartz slurred words Pavement-style for their latest single “Yoo Hoo,” repeating something like “I used you” instead of the chorus “Aye yoo hoo.” This tune was one of the strongest of the night despite its similarity to Blur’s “Song No. 2” (recall that other annoying “woo-hoo” line). For this number, the drummer Lynn Perko rose from her drum kit, picked up the bass, and shook her hips lustfully to this midtempo tale of seduction. Most interesting was that all three band members sang breathy backups to Schwartz’s whiny vocals.
Imperial Teen played the old favorites “You’re One” and “Butch” from their debut album Seasick. “Lipstick,” a tune from the new What Is Not To Love on regular rotation on WPRK, was Bottum’s showcase, but on this night it lacked the angular pop-punk verve as heard on the album. The floating, experimental “Alone in the Grass” rivaled anything Sonic Youth has done in recent years. Teen drew out the song’s introduction with a noisy, psychedelic drone courtesy of the distortion and wah-wah pedals. I believe the band performed all eleven songs from the new album.
The local trio Precious opened the show with their brand of bland alt-rock. The singer/guitarist Steve Garron reminded me of a cross between Billy Corgan and Carrot Top. His between-song banter never rose above junior-high locker-room crudity as he revealed that Precious songs referred to a teenage incestuous relationship with his mother, his girlfriend’s slut status, metaphorical ass-raping, and childhood castration. His foul-mouthed, Andrew “Dice” Clay–inspired chatter and praise of underaged girls easily proved his dedication to comedic originality and sincere professionalism. Yes, they did get around to performing their Real Radio 104.1 smash hit, the astoundingly clichéd “Bi-curious George.” Their sarcastic demeanor seemed a bit out of place paired with the lighthearted Imperial Teen.