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Conventional wisdom says Los Angeles noise-rock band the Icarus Line should be dead. Since the quintet's last offering, 2004's Penance Soiree, the group has lost guitarist Aaron North to Nine Inch Nails and bassist Don Devore to something less exciting than joining Nine Inch Nails.
North, an original member, was the first to go. In his absence, Devore (a former six-stringer in Philadelphia's Ink and Dagger and the band's second bassist) switched to guitar. The foursome added a bassist, then lost said bassist and seemed to slip into oblivion. A few scattered performances caught the revamped group as a quartet with Devore on guitar and previous guitarist Alvin DeGuzman on bass. Then Devore split, and the band, which critics hailed as the new Stooges, appeared over to everyone except lead singer Joe Cardamone.
"We kind of didn't have any direction for a second," Cardamone admits. "At that point, people probably did count us out. It was pretty fucked-up, but I can't feel that way. If you're that way, you're fucked, so I didn't. I always want to put out one more record. Luckily, we've never had any success, so every record feels like the first one."
Not much was happening after Devore's departure. The group's website was as fresh as the day it launched three years ago and, taking a cue from New York hardcore band Born Against, a cryptic message on the band's MySpace page declared, "The Icarus Line are Fucking Dead." Things began to look a bit brighter once news leaked that the band had signed with Dim Mak Records, but the lengthy interval between the confirmation of the deal and an actual release seemed to signal the end was nigh. Quietly, the Black Presents EP hit stores last year, but not much else was stewing.
Then everything changed. The website was updated, word of a full-length on Dim Mak surfaced, and several national and European shows were booked with the recently reunited Lemonheads. The pairing of the '90s alterna-heartthrob band with a group that appeared to be taking their final breath could be seen as either a fresh start to a band in need of a makeover or a desperate attempt to get anyone to notice they were still around. Although Cardamone says the camaraderie between his group and Evan Dando's is sky-high, when asked if the audiences are responding well, the singer says, "Not really. There are older people in the crowd, and they're a little more open. If we toured with a band that sounded like the Lemonheads that was young, we'd ?be fucked."
The string of dates with the Lemonheads let the new-look Line cut their teeth the best way bands know how—in front of an audience. It proved worthwhile because both had just completed a European jaunt that led to a record-release party for the full-length Black Lives at the Golden Coast at Silver Lake's El Cid on July 13. The tiny Mexican restaurant/concert venue was packed with apprehensive, greasy longhairs and dressed-up scenesters who didn't know which Icarus Line would show up: the visceral kings of LA rock, or the down-and-out band playing like headless chickens.
Recent history definitely wasn't on the band's side, and a growing sense of urgency emerged when the Icarus Line missed their 10:30 p.m. start time by more than an hour. But suddenly the house music stopped, and four guys—bassist DeGuzman, drummer Jeff "The Captain" Watson, and new guitarists Jason DeCorse and James Striff—exploded with a heavy, deep groove punctuated by cacophonous guitar shredding, while Cardamone paced patiently. Halfway through the first jam, it became joyfully obvious the Icarus Line were not, in fact, "fucking dead." Rather, they were fucking alive and, more important, fucking awesome. Better than ever, perhaps. The band played a 45-minute set highlighted by tunes from Penance that featured reworked arrangements to properly fit this lineup. There was also new material from Black Lives that answered any questions about the validity of the Icarus Line circa 2007.
Cardamone calls this version the best yet. "This is the kind of band I wanted when I was a little kid, when I first got into rock & roll and dreamed about what it would be like to have a great band."