Thurs May 30
If you were one of the millions of viewers who witnessed the final Osbournes episode, you heard a portion of the Mooney Suzuki song "I Woke up This Morning." The chorus couldn't have been more appropriate for everyone's favorite fucked-up father: "I woke up this morning and felt like I might die/but I woke up this morning and found myself alive." Those are also appropriate lines from a New York band lauded for preaching a lifestyle of excess. Recently quoted on MTV.com's "You Hear It First," Suzuki frontman Sammy James Jr. boasted, "
If someone's going to tell you that they picked up a guitar for any other reason other than the fact that they want to be a rock star and meet girls, it's a lie."
Since the Mooney Suzuki's conception in '97, when guitarist Graham Tyler replied to a "musicians wanted" flier posted by James in a downtown record store, the boys in the band have been branding their shtick well. Even James' moniker has been self-fashioned, as his real last name is Buonaugurio (thank God for the change, because unless you're in the Italian Mob or watch The Sopranos religiously, you wouldn't be able to pronounce his familial signature). Suzuki's showy modus operandi was apparent from their first gig, with a tailored, head-to-toe black wardrobe, custom-made Beatles boots, and action-packed gigs. Even though James told me their look "is so much less about 'let's look '60s' than it is 'let's look like nothing,'" it's obvious that this is a band that's carefully cultivating its perception to the public, both style-wise and musically.
Before Suzuki were being tooted around the country with the media's favorite Swedes, the Hives, they were hustling the New York City club circuit--like the debaucherous nights held at the West Village's now-defunct club Life, or the weekly mod/dance party Tiswas--where'd they entertain hipsters and music connoisseurs alike with windmill guitar moves, revved-up handclaps, and a decent amount of tambourine shaking (and throwing). Upping the ante for what was expected at a garage rock show, Mooney Suzuki have continued cultivating a certain cocky aesthetic, mixed with a guitar-oriented, R&B vibe that's fueled by an overdose of listening to "Kick out the Jams" or the Who's Live at Leeds. Their appreciation for such older music has earned Suzuki comparisons to everyone from the Velvet Underground to newbies like the Von Bondies, and they've opened for original '60s acts like the Pretty Things and the Zombies.
Suzuki were the youngest act to be invited to 1999's Cavestomp--the weekend music festival that boasts the best new and old garage rock acts around--alongside the Monks and the Chocolate Watchband, which helped spread the Suzuki gospel, as did the release of their 2000 record, People Get Ready (Estrus Records), which was produced by infamous noisemaker Tim Kerr.
Suzuki's latest album, Electric Sweat--released in April on New York-based Gammon Records, and produced by Jim Diamond of Ghetto Recorders in Detroit--lives up to its name. On "In a Young Man's Mind," James tells us how it works: "It's a simple world/there's a little bit of music/and the rest is girls be like Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page and Hendrix too/we're gonna learn how to play/I might meet some ladies this way." In real life, it's uncertain whether or not there's girls hanging out after their gigs, but James sure likes to sing about the get-it-on rock 'n' roll lifestyle that's been engraved in our heads since Pamela Des Barres exposed the real meaning of a backstage pass in I'm with the Band.
Suzuki's latest release is chock-full of garage-rock send-ups, but it also changes things up a bit with several slower numbers, showing a more tender side to intimate relations. On the heartfelt epic "Oh Sweet Susanna," James leaves the groupies alone to tenderly reminisce about a past summer love. On "The Broken Heart," he actually sings (instead of hollering or yelping): "But dawn can't break ni-ni-night and make it day/and sunlight can make storm clouds fade away"--it's a lullaby, complete with an organ, for the punk rockers with duct tape on their hearts.
Live, James, Tyler, bassist Michael Bangs, and drummer Augie Wilson give 200 percent, all the time. And yeah, there's a lot of attitude built into their shows (James never plays without his Lou Reed sunglasses, and Tyler will climb onto James' shoulders or play guitar behind his back), but rock 'n' roll's a performance art, and the Mooney Suzuki would rather make a lot of noise, grab a lot of girls, and give off a lot of attitude than come off like some kinda punk wallflower wilting under the invisible weight of its own standoffish world.