The lounge at Berbati's is not the sort of place where one would expect to have a chat with Portland's most promising team of musical go-getters. The Removes are about "action, flash, Go! Fight! Win!" not four-dollar cocktails and Kruder & Dorfmeister on the overhead. But, as any team that's practiced and struggled for eighteen months can attest, a break is needed every once in a while.
For a three-piece (guitarist Dave Sullivan, bassist Jeanne Kennedy Crosby, drummer Joe Kobjerowski), the Removes make a helluva racket. A helluva melodic, rocking racket. Sullivan's low tenor works anti-melodically, contrasting with the riffs emanating from his Telecaster and the high harmonies provided by Crosby. There's a touch of John Doe and Exene in their mutual delivery, but it doesn't overstay its welcome. Crosby creates a solid pocket with Kobjerowski's kick; it's easy to get lost in his drumming, but the groove is there and keeps the songs on solid ground.
Where did they come from? Crosby, who at the time had been playing bass for mere months, answered Sullivan's "musicians wanted" ad. She was drawn to it because it "didn't say anything about him, or what kind of music he played, or what he was looking for [it was] the vaguest, most non-descriptive ad looking for a bass player."
After a series of basement practices with a drum machine for accompaniment, Sullivan was able to convince Kobjerowski (an old friend from Nebraska) to move to Portland and join the band. It's Kobjerowski's drumming that provides the Removes with their secret weapon.
Equal parts Keith Moon chaos and John Bonham volume, Kobjerowski's ability is second only to the viciousness with which he attacks his kit. In fact, Crosby had to upgrade her equipment just to be able to be heard over the drummer at practices.
Now that the team was formed, they needed a game plan. Sullivan concocted the grand notion of "getting in touch with the genesis of rock." This isn't a roots-rock revival, however, as the band draws equal inspiration from the New York of the late '70s (Richard Hell, Ramones) and L.A. roots-punk scene of the early '80s (X, Los Lobos, the Blasters). Mid-tempo stuff, with a feel that's a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll. It's a nice dichotomy that lends the band's material well to both gritty urban nightclubs and outdoor street fairs.
Owing to local sound systems, it's difficult to make out Sullivan's lyrics, but when he and Crosby sing/shout, "Texas is the reason," you realize it doesn't matter what said reason is--hell, they could be singing about bluebonnets--it's still powerful in the way that only comes from good rock.
Every band has influences, of course, but what separates the wheat from the chaff is how this inspiration is subsumed into the group's sound. The Removes, then, are not the Strokes--aping their sources with little regard for creativity. If anything, the Removes are the Removes and more power to them.
So until the time that a Removes record does see the light of day, their gigs will have to suffice. Don't consider that a loss. The Removes, with Sullivan's guitar god/total shambles personae, Crosby's sly grin and cool demeanor, and Kobjerowski's jaw-dropping volume and skills, are a very exciting live act. Go see them, but leave your irony at home; bring ear plugs and your dancing shoes.