Courtesy Drag City MediaOf the many broken promises sprinkled throughout two millennia of western art, almost nothing can touch the Band Whose Album Cover Sets Impossible Expectations. Journey's music really had little to do with the galactic scarabs that soared across their album covers. Molly Hatchet's tunes didn't really make you think of the brutal Viking warriors that glared out from theirs.
San Francisco's the Fucking Champs, though, seemingly redeem this dictum—theirmusic sounds like what their album covers look like. Okay, well, maybe not theircovers, but other people's. The solar winds that buffet an adult Jackson 5 on the cover of 1984's Victoryare neatly conjured in the Fucking Champs' "Policenauts." One can envision the triumphantly preening guitar solos of "Andres Segovia Interests Me" being blasted throughout the mess halls and poop decks onboard the mighty guitar-city starships of Boston's Don'tLookBackand ThirdStagecovers, scoring the flight from a dying Earth and the subsequent search for habitable worlds to populate or make war upon. And what can the Giorgio Moroder-steeped "Heart to Heart" possibly point to if not the waning utopias of Roger Dean's Asia and Yes covers?
Much self-congratulatory hash is made of the indie scene's embrace of the Fucking Champs, just as the same has engendered much distrust. The Fucking Champs' heavy-metal fetish is one source of consternation—is the band celebrating metal or mocking it? Are the band's enthusiastic crowds honoring or disrespecting this same genre? Even the band name (witty legal maneuvering around the Champs, authors of "Tequila") muddies issues of intent.
These are not minor matters to everyone. Reviewers have been known to froth, accusing the band or its audience of not caring for "real" metal. Yet the band denies pulling any legs, and one is obliged to believe them. Listening to the Fucking Champs is like admiring the craftsmanship of a vintage slat-backed Shaker rocking chair: both are things built with care; both reflect the value of doing something well for the sake of doing something well; if you sit on either, they won't break.
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But in person, the Fucking Champs will break your heart. How can they possibly live up to the body of material contained in their four albums and assorted compilation tracks? They cannot. They are only men. If you shank them with a ballpoint, they will bleed. If you moon them, they will laugh. If you die of cancer during their set, they will cry. The winged, extra-limbed beings summoned by their thunderous riffs and enchanting synth lines have only been channeled by this band; these creatures did not actually play the instruments.
Coincidentally (or not), the Fucking Champs' own album covers feature the visual equivalent of vintage slat-backed Shaker rocking chairs, showcasing the band members in all their human frailty. Guitarists Josh Smith and Tim Green stand solemnly with drummer/guitarist Tim Soete. The attire is casual. No one has bothered to work out for these photos. No planets are being terraformed. No young men are being invited to explore new worlds. Last year's Goldtook the understatement a step farther, into sheer monochrome. But we listeners are smart. Will we let such decoys trick us?
We shan't, the Fucking Champs. We shan't.
THE FUCKING CHAMPS WITH PARCHMANT FARM, THE MASS AND MAKESHIFT LOVE AFFAIR AT ALEX'S BAR, 2913 E. ANAHEIM ST., LONG BEACH, (562) 434-8292; WWW.ALEXSBAR.COM. FRI., 8 P.M. $10. 21+.