It didn’t take long for the irony to hit me down at the recent Tiswas night at Don Hill’s in the West Village. A crowd of downtown hipsters dressed in smashing mod regalia had assembled to see a Smiths cover band called the Salford Lads. Long Island has long lived with the stigma of having more than its fair share of cover bands, but Manhattan? The Village?
Making the scene even more surreal was the fact that the cover band thrilling these smartly dressed nighthawks was the brainchild and labor of love of native Long Islander and ex-Stony Brook indie-rocker John Kapp.
The Baldwin native got the idea for the Salford Lads during a trip to the West Coast, when he saw that cover bands performing emotionally charged versions of the misanthropic anthems of British cult faves the Smiths were packing in crowds. The Smiths themselves were together only until 1987 and toured the United States sporadically, even canceling some much-anticipated shows on what would prove to be their last American tour. Kapp saw an untapped market on the East Coast. “It’s an easy way to get a crowd,” he says, “and you always have a lot of good songs to play.”
He also gets an outlet for his own musical energies, which had been on the backburner since the breakup of the Mad Planets, the Stony Brook-based indie-pop band for which he once drummed. The whole idea of this project is perplexing. Why go from a strikingly original band like the Planets to, of all things, a cover band? And really now, would the fabulously sanctimonious Smiths devotees swallow this?
After picking a name that refers to a famous Smiths photo shoot in front of Manchester’s Salford’s Lads Club, Kapp and bandmates began playing East Coast shows from D.C. to Brooklyn.
Seeing them strutting beneath the swirling lights at Tiswas, it was apparent that the Lads’ love of the Smiths’ music was heartfelt and not merely the crafty calculation of some savvy subculture salesmen. The Lads’ lead singer was a very good physical match to Morrissey himself, down to an eerily similar nose. His voice was more than passable and his clothes gave a clever tweaking to the original’s. Kapp, having forsaken the drums for the electric guitar, played a jangling Rickenbacker and was, as they say, close enough for horseshoes.
Billed as “Louder Than the Smiths” (a pun on the Smiths’ album Louder Than Bombs), the Lads delivered a tangibly more aggressive reading of the Smiths’ depressive canon. Songs like “Shoplifters of the World Unite” and “I Want the One I Can’t Have” were riveting. What the Lads lack in true Smiths-ian subtlety, they make up for with desperate devotion. When Morrissey II ripped off his button-down Oxford to reveal the phrase “Mock Star” scrawled on the T-shirt beneath, I was sold on this fun, if somewhat baffling, display of postmodernism.
Perhaps in 15 years we will have Salford Lads cover bands longing for the days of first-generation imitation. But hell, if it feels good, do it. And so help me God, it feels good.
Tom Conklin has been busy reconstructing the progressive music night he had at the My Room Lounge, called “Lush Life,” with an equally indispensable Thursday night series down at the Wrong Way Inn in Amityville. Progressive Islanders who have already appeared include Bunsen Honeydew and the New Jesus, featuring Zoom Zoom and Chi Chi. The Dec. 23 show presents ska double-agents the Slackers and post-punk agitators Radio 4. The lads in Radio 4 will transmit songs from their upcoming Gern Blandsten release, while the Slackers will be mixing shades of Jamaica blue beat like a suedehead version of the Juiceman. If you drink and dance enough you can probably still be relatively desensitized come Christmas, when your relatives start asking you if ever plan on finishing college. Cheers.
SLACKERS and RADIO 4, 9pm Dec 23 at Wrong Way Inn,198 Broadway, Amityville, 516-798-9132. $5.