Confusion Is Good

Ima Robot mess with gender, subvert expectations

Fear played a part in Timmy Anderson losing his Virgin-ity. The Ima Robot bassist found out bigger isn't always better when the Los Angeles band got dropped by Virgin Records in April after an industry shake-up. It was a clean break.

"We got tons of fans out of [being on Virgin]," Anderson says. "They hurt us as much as helped us." The pain wasn't the Michael Stipe-y type, but more a presence that made the press reluctant to review their Virgin release, Monument to the Masses. Now the band has gone DIY with the CD Search and Destroy, a rehash of favorites along with some newbies—including the irresistible "Good Girl."

Ima Robot are overjoyed by this development, even though they could be giddier, barely, by actually being gay. As front man Alex Ebert strokes the back of a svelte brunette with Chrissy Hynde fringe before a May gig at Costa Mesa's Detroit Bar, he isn't fazed when discussion turns to his unilateral artistic direction with the recent music video, "Lovers in Captivity," which could be seen as a Dear John letter to Virgin.

When Ima Robot hit the scene in 1999, they were known as "that band with those Beck guys"—weird, since Ebert and Anderson had no connection to the Loser, other than playing with two musicians who did time in a band with him. They've since been replaced by drummer Scott Devours (formerly of Oleander), Filip Nikolic (ex-Junior Senior, still in Guns'n'Bombs) and Andy Marlow.

These days, Ima Robot are known for their synergistic explosion, a brilliant Violent Femmes-like abrasiveness. Their music reeks of Johnny Rotten, Danny Elfman, David Bowie, Primus and RZA.

Flash back to the late '80s. A young Ebert studied at the school of In Living Color, emulating the Fly Girls, learning every line from the Pharcyde, Mobb Deep and Wu-Tang Clan. But then all that "Biggie and Tupac shit went down." That's how Ebert, the mullet-wearing, mustachioed dandy who strips down onstage, says it, the same guy who blurs the lines of sexuality and waxes poetic about God's impotence.

Ima Robot's oddness becomes clear when you hear how Anderson and Ebert met, though the details are hazy. There was a party. Someone grabbed Ebert and asked whether he freestyles. Minutes later, the two were bonding in the back seat of Anderson's Yukon over Ol' Dirty Bastard and Method Man. Does he still freestyle Wu-Tang? "Fuck, yeah," he said.

However, the "Lovers in Captivity" video prompts one to ask a more pressing question: "What the hell were you thinking?" It features Ebert and a he/she dancing provocatively in androgynous glory. After the last beat, you may question your own sexuality.

"He just went off and did it," Anderson says, adding it was done without the band and label's knowledge and released on YouTube. "That is him, all the way, completely unhinged." Which is what makes the stage show so compelling.

"I'm into really straightforward shit," Ebert says, staring off into space. The story unfolds. Ebert watched Breakfast on Pluto, a quirky film about an eccentric bad-boy tranny. The movie's unlikely hero haunted him. Then there was a Liza Minnelli TV special mixed in. Director Matt Amato instantly felt Ebert's vision, and recently outed young actor Brady Corbet (24, Thunderbirds) lent his lipsticked services.

"I like blurring the lines," Ebert says, still caressing the chick on the couch. "Adding to the confusion is good."

Initially, Ebert did fret. But then, he reasoned, "What am I going to do, not do it because I'm scared?" The band's fan page went wild. One girl's post clarified the point: "He's just sexual. Get over it."

Previous reactions haven't always been so cordial. In 2003, a writer at Splendid wrote, "[Ima Robot] won't matter in a year or even six months, but for the time being, they are an utterly entrancing and joyously frivolous antidote." Rolling Stone called Ebert's voice "polarizing."

Songs like "Creeped Out" hint at why. "She don't screw my friends, and she cleans up my house/All of this love is creeping me out," Ebert sings in his manic tone. The song is one of his many easy-come-easy-go love paeans, with the kind of freewheeling song structure and harmonies that made the band volatile at Virgin. But it's damned contagious.

IMA ROBOT PERFORM WITH LOS ABANDONED, TIGERCITY AND HAIRBRAIN SCHEME AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES, 1530 S. DISNEYLAND DR., ANAHEIM, (714) 778-BLUE; WWW.HOB.COM . TUES., 7 P.M. $12.99-$15. ALL AGES.

 
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