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Your parents and grandparents are great and all, but they’re not as cool as Fred and Toody Cole. The couple has been married since 1967, when Fred was the front man for a succession of 1960s and ’70s bands. Then he and Toody had three kids and settled outside Portland, and they are now the grandparents of seven. But they’ve spent most of the past 25 years playing music together, first as the Rats, then as legendary Portland garage punks Dead Moon (legendary as in Pearl Jam often covers their song “It’s OK”). They’re now performing as Pierced Arrows, with a handwritten endorsement from Eddie Vedder published Feb. 2 by Spinner.com. “In a day and age when authenticity is harder to come by than an honest Republican,” the Pearl Jam leader notes, “legends Fred and Toody Cole deliver on every record and at every show.”
The Coles are on tour supporting the 18th album they’ve made together, their second since forming Pierced Arrows with drummer Kelly Halliburton in 2006. Called Descending Shadows, it was released by hipster record company Vice, the result, Toody explains, of touring with Black Lips. But at this point, labels and even albums for the Coles are just a reason to get back on the road. “You just need to be off the road long enough to forget about what really happens to keep coming back—breakin’ shit, the long drives, being worried about if you have a voice,” Toody says with a laugh. “It’s like AC/DC says: ‘It ain’t as easy as it looks.’”
For as long and as hard as Dead Moon toiled in relative obscurity, Pierced Arrows have made the Coles a, gasp, hip band. Toody puts it in perspective: “As big as Dead Moon was, this was the next step. We did our first album on Tombstone [their label]. We went on tour with Black Lips, and that’s how we met Vice. It was simple.”
Speaking of simplicity—and meaning that in the best rock & roll way possible—Descending Shadows has a raw authenticity to it, crackling with honesty and immediacy like an ungrounded guitar cord. Sure, Fred’s creaky songs about “Paranoia” can be part Roky Erickson and part Spinal Tap, but in an era when sarcasm and snarkiness pass for some form of sincerity, Toody and Fred (and Kelly) are, if not the, then at least a real deal. When Fred sings, “I don’t wanna carry about the baggage of our fights” on “This Is the Day,” you get chills—especially since he sounds like Elvis Costello fronting Crazy Horse.
It’s Toody’s singing, though, in her magnificently unpolished Patti Smith manner on “This Time Around” that speaks to the couple’s status as garage punk’s lion and lioness in winter: “Might be the first time, might be the last time, seems like I’ve been here before/Maybe the best time, this might be the next time . . . I feel like I knew you from somewhere long ago.”
Is it any wonder Vedder adopted Dead Moon’s “It’s OK” as a gentle answer to the tragedy of trampled festivalgoers rushing the stage to see Pearl Jam at Roskilde in Denmark in 2000? Not just the song, but also the hope of playing music with your soul mate at age 60? Toody says she and Fred have been at it so long that success has always been relative—even irrelevant—as a world primed by the White Stripes and Wolfmother slowly catches on to what they’ve been doing all along. “You do what you’re doing, and if they catch up, great. But we’ve been doing this for 20 years,” she says. “We’re happy as hell to have any modicum of success, but that’s not what we’re searching for, all the shit that comes with success.”
One thing that is different this time around is that not only the Coles’ kids—even the IRS guy in Boise, the white sheep of the family—can come out to shows, but the grandkids are old enough to get in, too. “Our daughter’s daughter is at NYU. The show in Hoboken is 18-and-over, so she’s going to come out and bring her roommate to see us,” Toody says, sounding not that much like a grandmother. Grandparents visit their grandkids in college and take ’em to Olive Garden. The Coles give them and everybody else a killer rock show.
Pierced Arrows perform with Lullabye Arkestra at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Thurs., March 25, 9 p.m. $10. 21+.
This article appeared in print as "On Target: Pierced Arrows’ Fred and Toody Cole are Eddie Vedder-approved garage punks (and grandparents)."