Santa Claus Conquers the Nuggets

Greenhornes have two hits

One day I'll fingerpaint a pizza box and release my own Children of Children of NuggetsI Was a Teenage Nuggets? Santa Claus Conquers the Nuggets? The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Nuggets?—that starts around the early pre-fire Estrus discography, chases after Billy Childish, peels around Memphis and Detroit, and spackles out all the gaps with the few good songs from bands like the band the Greenhornes used to be: "Two hits and 10 pieces of junk," said Phil Spector once, holding potentially any of billions of rock & roll records in his vicious hands, and Phil was right. Bands would make one (or maybe two) good song(s) and then keep going because sometimes vanity gets the better of us.

Most bands don't have much in them. You gotta know when to stop. And the Greenhornes don't know when to stop. This is their 10th year. But after 10 years, they are rising from the mud. They have two good songs. Maybe three. Out of a five-song EP, that's fantastic. If every band that had one good song could write two good songs, humanity's capability for joy would instantly double.

I (of course) grade hard. You probably hear 10 good songs a day. You probably also feel a nagging unhappiness in your most private moments. That is because you are too casual with your affections. The things you like cannot be trusted to be true when you need them. Man cannot live off 10 pieces of junk. You need two hits per day to stay sane and happy. But it's easy to sort the two apart: your band can be a rip-off, but they have to execute the rip-off with surgical precision and black-marketeer subterfuge; and your band can be bad, but they have to be bad with either obvious unrehearsed honesty—were they homeschooled? How touching!—or intelligent musical objective. Are they the bad version of Magical Power Mako while their peers are the bad version of Social Distortion? Then kudos to ambitious failure! And they can even be boring, but only if there are important lessons they bear for the world—I well understand how instruction must be gracefully suffered—and if they are boring with no promise of eventual return on intellectual investment, then I want my two minutes back plus interest; you can start by vacuuming my hatchback.

And the Greenhornes overcame each of these trials during their 10 years of squeezing out records: they quit being bad and they quit being boring and they now nip and tuck whatever rip-offs they must rip so neatly you can't even see the scars, even if you're right up on Ray Davies' face. Good work.

That East Grand BluesEP shows that these no-longer-young (for music) men (who will be touring with Anaheim's favorite feral skiffle combo the Willowz, currently uncomfortably 21) have grown out of their 10-pieces-of-junk youth and are tapping at the two-hits part with what must be some seasoned-and-wizened index fingers. Five songs, one of which ("Shelter of Your Arms") is still hung on Animalisms and one of which ("Pattern Skies") is Billy Childish's "Troubled Mind" (and he was just the latest guy to put his initials on the riff) and one of which ("At Night") could really tighten up into a Kinks song and probably delivers quite reliably live. That's the maybe song. And then there's two hits, produced in Brendan Benson's attic: "I'm Going Away," which is Beatles drums and Byrds harmonies and a guitar mic-ed close enough to hear each string pop and twinkle, and "Shine Like the Sun," which is the Kinks' "Tell Me Now So I'll Know," but that particular Kinks song was barely officially released and the Greenhornes did a noble thing by blowing a little blood back into it—if you're gonna rip off, rip off the songs that never got a chance. Good work: two songs that aren't lifted from "Stepping Stone" or "Rumble," which is a time-honored tradition that I don't mind listening to as long as I don't have to put any money into it; two songs that knock politely, make a good case and bow as they back down the porch steps. Two songs you can trust. This was Jac Holzman's trick when he put together the very first Nuggets: he knew how to scare the junk away from the hits. That's our dearest privilege as listeners: we don't have to write 10 years of songs to get to the good ones. We just pick and click and let it play, and that's how you too can be so happy all the time. Good work.

THE GREENHORNES PERFORM WITH THE WILLOWZ AND INNAWAY AT THE GLASS HOUSE, 200 W. SECOND ST., POMONA, (909) 629-0377. SAT., 7:30 P.M. $10. ALL AGES.

 
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