Rocket Queen: Innocent When You Dream

Promising punks, Fleet Foxes, and fond farewells.

People who appreciate Tom Waits tend to treasure his songs like precious trinkets that speak directly to them, and can usually name their favorite song by the grizzled, gravel-gargling scoundrel in a heartbeat. A quick sampling of my friends yields nearly instantaneous responses: "'Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis,' hands down!" writes one; "It changes all the time, but today it's 'Ruby's Arms,'" writes another. And copious votes for "Jersey Girl" and "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)" are inevitable. Unsurprisingly, there are also plenty of artists naming their creations in Waits' honor. There are more bands throughout the country named Raindogs than I can count, and locally, the Gun Street Girls were a once-popular, punk-inspired burlesque troupe which took its name from one of Waits' mischief-inducing protagonists. However, I've yet to encounter such a savvy and accurate homage as that of newcomers Cold Cold Ground. Formed from the remnants of a lesser-known band called the Curiosities, Cold Cold Ground's recent performances have earned them the sort of lightning-fast-but-legitimate buzz that's likely going to prompt jealousy in the ranks. Thanks to good looks and a gloomy organ, the influence of the Murder City Devils is an easy comparison to distill; but unlike bands such as Black Eyes and Neckties, who tread precariously close to derivativeness, CCG are entirely their own creation. There's a distinct '50s throwback element woven into their punk core, so much so that I felt as if I'd stepped into an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show when I caught them at the Rendezvous' JewelBox Theater last Friday. Frontman Joel Boten even looked like he was on live television, tense and high on adrenalin, furtively aiming his gaze toward the back of the room. There's something especially compelling about a performer who looks like he's standing in front of an oncoming train, but remains unwilling to back down. Perhaps that's because Boten knows he has a helluva backup crew on hand. Guitarist Zan Ferguson looks deadly serious onstage but plays with an impressive balance of tight and loose grooves, counter-weighted with almost genetic precision by CCG's taut rhythm section. The band is tentatively slated to begin tracking demos at Vera Project with producers Andrew Chapman and Jeff McNaulty (Bow + Arrow, Little Party and the Bad Business) in the next couple of weeks. Your next opportunity to catch them live will be at the Rendezvous again on Friday, February 6. Much further along the spectrum of success, the bashful boys in Fleet Foxes found themselves pushed into even brighter national spotlights last weekend when they made their debut on Saturday Night Live (introduced by actress Rosario Dawson, no slouch in the fox department herself). Many a local band has sweated through shaky performances in the SNL pressure cooker, but FF really pulled off their renditions of "Mykonos" and "Blue Ridge Mountains" beautifully. Graceful execution aside, the most heartwarming moment was watching drummer Josh Tillman lean back and triumphantly punch his fists skyward during the show's end credits. On a much sadder note, the passing of beloved local businessman Peter Steichen was the source of widespread sorrow in the local music community last weekend. A somber and sharply dressed crowd of colleagues and family members spilled out onto the sunny sidewalk on Sunday in front of Showbox at the Market, where his memorial was held. Steichen was the elder brother and longtime business partner of Jeff Steichen, with whom he opened both the Market and SoDo Showbox locations (and engaged in countless other music-related ventures over the past couple of decades). "He was my best friend, mentor, [and] partner," says Jeff. "If you want to break down the three elements leading to the success of the Showbox: The staff is the heart, I might be the soul, [and] Peter was most certainly the glue that bound it all." Spiritual, if not biological, twins, the Steichen brothers were incredibly close, and my deepest sympathies go out to Jeff and the entire Steichen family at this time.

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