Detroit’s finest, Outrageous Cherry, generated massive amounts of psychic energy at their concert at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco last night, resulting in poltergeist activity, UFO sightings, and pretty girls going insane all along the dimensional bandwidth.
For a band with a sound so cosmic in scale, Outrageous Cherry themselves are all-too-human in appearance. Leader Matthew Smith, in an orange and purple striped pullover, frets over monitors and pedals, tossing out Eastern-tinged lines on his Stratocaster during the sound check. Gaunt lead guitarist Larry Ray, looking like he had a serious run-in with “LDS in the sixties,” faces the brick wall on his left, doing a magnificent impression of someone who's not there, while simultaneously playing his soul out. Armed with only two toms for percussion, Carey Gustafson hypnotizes with a tribal stomp. She's Moe Tucker at a boxing gym. Courtney Sheedy burns cool on her bass, leaning up against the side of the stage, poking out for back up vocals. Visually, they have to be one of the weirdest looking bands out there. It shouldn’t come together as a unit, but sonically it does. Perhaps because, as any good student of Crowley could tell you, power comes from the balancing of opposites, in this case, male-female, young-old.
It’s the aural equivalent of a magik ritual held by the Archies in the auditorium of Riverdale High. The critics call it psychedelic, thus branding it “retro,” and leave it at that. But this ignores that the search for altered states of consciousness via music, goes all the way back to the roots of our mushroom chomping caveman brains. Far from being a faddish product of the sixties, psychedelica is really a search for the possibilities of the present. Smith explains that Outrageous Cherry's sound came from “experimenting with reverb, compression, using every knob I’ve got.”
But before you begin to suspect that Outrageous Cherry are a bunch of over-earnest witches and warlocks, keep in mind that their worldview was assembled from what Alan Moore calls the ‘trash strata’: Thrift store record collections, sci-fi paperbacks, and drive-in theater documentaries about “The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena.” And yet it’s here, at the lowest level of junk culture that genuine flashes of insight can be found.
Which is why I stood in the front row singing along with every song I could.
They only played for a little over an hour, which was far too short for my level of fanaticism. I took the set list off the stage after they were done. For the sake of posterity (and Carl Horn), here it is…
The Astral Transit Authority
You’re Not a Nice Girl
Pretty Girls Go Insane
Georgie Don’t You Know
Our Love Will Change the World
Girl, You Have Magic Inside You
Nice to Be Here (AKA Spectral Sunrise)
What Have You Invented Today
If You Want Me
A Song For Someone Sometimes
See You Next Time
Afterwards, mutual friend Ian Robertson gave me an introduction to Matthew Smith, who formed Outrageous Cherry in 1992. He explained that, after a series of records, "we found the sound with (1999’s) Out There in the Dark. Then it became a matter of how to expand on it." The mind-blowing double LP that followed, The Book of Spectral Projections, was “the fastest thing I’d ever done. The songs were writing themselves. The band was learning, like, five new songs a day, and we’d record them at night. It’s also my favorite thing we’ve done. There’s kind of a narrative to the whole thing, but it’s not so clear what it is, even to me. I was waking up and writing in this notebook and I kept seeing the same words over and over again: like ‘invisible’ and ‘frequency.’ There was something going on with that record.”
The song When You Emerge was tucked deep inside Spectral Projections when it was released in June 2001. But three months later, it's lyrics like "When you emerge like the ghost of a hero, walking away across ground zero” took on a new meaning. Smith: “A people mentioned that it seemed like the song predicted 9/11. It was really strange.”
After Spectral Projections, Outrageous Cherry began to rotate back to delivering concise pop songs. Smith’s more explorative side now has a home in his THTX (for Twenty-three Hour Technicolor Xorcism) side-project, which ventures into epic acid jazz and prog-rock territory. He’s also active in alt-country band The Volebeats and deeply involved in Detroit’s famed music scene as a producer.
Meanwhile, back at the show, the band is making room for the up and coming headliners, Gris Gris. To be honest, it was clear that most of the crowd came to see them instead of the still-unknown Outrageous Cherry.
On her way off the stage tugging an amp almost as big as she was, Courtney stopped and told one particularly sweaty fan, “I love it when someone sings along with us. It’s so great. Every time I smiled it was because of that.” Guilty as charged, and delirious from my brief tour of the astral plane, I replied, “Hey, you make the music. I just receive it.”
I suggest that you turn on your receivers now.
Outrageous Cherry homepage (with MP3 samples)
THTX homepage (with MP3 samples)