Rock had a great divergence from pop in the 1960s. So much so that the term pop is now something of a dirty word, translating as thematically sanitary or plain, or as manufactured and soulless. The Byrds or Herman's Hermits don't get nearly the credit of Zeppelin, or even Question Mark and the Mysterians.
But those bands weren't infantile or vanilla like the modern conception of pop. The Byrds were even banned from radio for being too risque. To see a band not afraid to flaunt their pop chops, to offer good songs a listener can identify with rather than just trying to push the envelope of tone or volume, or trying to display as much flair for their corresponding subculture as possible, is all too rare.
I mention all of this because I had the dumb luck to walk in to the Bouquet thinking it was open mic night on Sunday, only to discover Cabin Fever, a Cincinnati band that falls somewhere between alt-country and '60s pop-rock. They opened with a cover of "I've Just Seen a Face" by The Beatles, and it was a clear goal for their sound, one they gave an excellent run at with shuffling beats and harmonized vocals for melodically tactful, somewhat sweet songs. One of them, based off an Italian folk tale about the origins of theft, is a hit single waiting to happen.
It's clear that Cabin Fever has a sincerity in their love of music. That is, sadly, rare. You can see it in a series of videos posted on their myspace, where they break into assorted buildings to record a series of guerrilla performances in odd settings with good acoustics.
But its also clear that Cabin Fever has a tremendous immaturity as a band. Songs frequently stopped rather than concluding and much of the complexities of the quartet came from a single instrument rather than a compositions or arrangements. They didn't play with the road-tightened precision of the next big thing so much as a band about to graduate from the caffeine circuit. And though that immaturity was obvious, what Cabin Fever was showing wasn't the finished product so much as the seeds of much better things to come. And they were pretty good seeds. I hope they make it past the initial year and tour that kills so many bands, because I'd really like to see where they end up.
Having seen them, I'm still not sure that isn't the case. Their jumpsuits and energy domes were top-notch, as was their choice of songs—"Girl You Want," "Beautiful World," "Mongoloid," "Whip It" and more—and the singer's Mothersbaugh vocals, but the harder delivery stripped some of the weirdness that made Devo great. It didn't help that the keyboard wasn't well-mixed into the overall sound making it a somewhat harsh sound muscling in on stage right.
That said, I sang along and even pumped my fist with a shit-eating grin a few times.
I think the question you have to answer with a band like The Mongoloids, is this: CAN you make a novelty act on top of what many already consider something of a novelty act? Devo was as much a commentary on commercialism and modern society as it was a band. Many, the band included, might even say that the music was almost secondary. They started as art and film students using the band more as a vehicle for satirical commentary. Their upcoming album was created democratically, allowing listeners to vote online for everything from the song choices to the color of their helmets.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter. You'll either like them or not, based less on anything The Mongoloids do, than whether or not you like Devo beyond occasionally dropping the phrase "tattoo detective," in casual conversation.
For me, it was pleasantly unexpected, but unlikely to become a destination.
It's doubly nice as there are some styles and sounds that aren't generally pursued solo, metal or hard rock being chief amongst them. And Oilslave certainly does rock. Though lacking the ability to palm-mute or play dual harmonized solos, the heaviness and the largeness of the sound is impressive as were weeping riffs and walls of distortion over moving beats and fills tailored to the song rather than just lumped underneath as a backing track. The songs would work just as well played with two members, but he manages them with just one, even if that limitation boxes the sound in a bit. It was a short set, which was likely to its benefit as it didn't allow it to stagnate.
It's hard to argue that there isn't something of a novelty factor that goes with music of this kind. That to see a performance is equal parts spectacle and music. Where exactly Oilslave falls on that scale may just have to do with where you fall on the metal scale. If you're true fan, the kind of person who might own a gauntlet, swears Metallica all died in that bus crash and doesn't find Manowar even slightly comical, then game on. If you like Mastodon, but the only time you've actually heard them was in the opening credits of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, you're probably going to focus more on the novelty. Either way though, it was another pleasant surprise.