MINUS 5, ORANGER
Crocodile Cafe, 441-5611, $8 9 p.m. Fri., Aug. 17
THIS PAST WINTER at San Francisco's Noise Pop festival, two bands met after a show. The first was composed of psychedelic pop-loving young men, the other of equally psychedelically inclined, slightly older men. The members of the first band were huge fans of the second band, as well as all the various side projects and starting points of the latter. In fact, the drummer of the first band wept when he met the bass player of the second. The frontman of the second band told the first band that they should come to their town sometime and play a show with them. It turned out that the second band was as enamored with the first as the first was with the second. Confused? Don't be. The long and short of it is that after Minus 5's set, Scott McCaughey invited San Francisco's Oranger to Seattle and Peter Buck made Jim Lindsay cry.
Guitarist and singer Mike Drake tells that story over the phone, and it strikes me that, as far as rubbing elbows with the right people goes, he and his bandmates (Lindsay, Matt Harris, and Patrick Main) have been downright diligent. Or maybe just lucky. The California quartet's first full-length, The Quiet Vibration Land, was released on Amazing Grease, a San Francisco-based label run by the band in tandem with former Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg (a.k.a. Spiral Stairs).
"The first time they came to see us, we kinda wigged out," says Drake of their premiere Pavement run-in. "Scott was like, 'I wanna put your record out,' and I was like, 'We're already kinda running a label, do you wanna join forces?'" recounts Drake. And from there, the brand was born.
But don't go thinking that the business union means the two bands have a similar sound. Oranger's pop leans toward the collective Elephant 6 aesthetic—a retro-futuristic pop soaked in harmony and strained through the buzz and bounce of a room full of glockenspiels, clavichords, and mellotrons. Quiet Vibration Land's songs start off sounding like hidden tracks from the Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, and end up somewhere near a stadium filled with screaming rock fans and guitar fuzz.
"A lot of people compare us to the Who in terms of the energy and vibe," says Drake. "We like a certain type of music, and we like playing it."
In describing drummer Jim Lindsay, Drake evokes a description that would make old-school Pavement fans, at least those who remember the arms-flailing, antics-crazed drummer Gary Young, perk up and take notice.
"He's an amazing drummer, but not in a Neil Peart—from Rush—kinda way," Drake says. "Jim is a great drummer because he challenges himself constantly, and he's not afraid to fuck up. He believes that the live show is for entertainment."
But that, coupled with the Kannberg label co-op, is about as far as the Pavement comparisons can go. It's not that the band is opposed to being closely associated with indie rock's favorite sons, it's just that the correlation can be a little bit misleading.
"In a way, that's almost a detriment," says Drake. "The people that pick up on it are the super hard-core Pavement fans. They're probably the people who aren't gonna like us because we aren't that similar. We opened a few shows for Pavement, and that was kinda strange because you know how Pavement are—half the people are there to have fun, and the other half are arm-crossing scrutinizers. We're kinda fun, I guess that's the way to describe it, and I think a lot of people who see a band opening for Pavement kinda get put off by that."
Which doesn't do much to explain the fact that they also toured Europe with Elliot Smith, a man who isn't necessarily known for his stand-up act. Drake says his band used that tour to tighten up their live set, playing the shows to please themselves and generally staying out of trouble.
"I would just stay kinda backstage," remembers Drake. "I was afraid I'd walk out some wrong door and not be able to speak German, and they wouldn't let me back in."
Crazy drummers, backstage run-ins, business lunches, and cross-referenced rock references aside, Oranger is just looking to have a good time.
"We're really, really laid back," says Drake. "We've always played just to please ourselves and make ourselves happy."
And as it turns out, they're good at pleasing others, too.