God loves all his/her creatures, great and small, sure, but God loves some of his/her creatures more than he/she loves chumps like you and me. The loveliest of them all — in the eye of the pyramid — is the old white-haired freaky solitary dancer at the rock show. This blessed snow angel, who dances off time and enthusiastically through both guitar solo and pre-show house mix alike, never hitting on ladies because he has a half his age art-school groove cat or age-appropriate Dead Moon-esque momma sitting at the bar, never bothering nobody really and turning down every drink your stupid smarmy boyfriend offered condescendingly, is the stringy-coifed heart of the still expanding universe. He just wants to tell you about Captain Beefheart, dance too close to the speakers, and occasionally, if it’s very cool, to be put on the list. Who wouldn’t love this man? And who wouldn’t love this man’s band?
Dead Rider is the newish band from Todd Rittmann, who, truth be told, doesn’t have white hair (it’s sort of suburban brown), and who previously played in U.S. Maple, a boho alt-band that I’ve been pretending to know about in bars for years. Ask me about their albums on Skin Graft and I will nod and smile like a Clinton under oath. U.S. Maple was second only to Thinking Fellers Local Union 282 in terms of bands that when a pasty dude in an untucked flannel made reference to them, I made sure to agree with whatever was said. Indie is cut throat and avant-indie is the most cut throat of all, and if you think I feel like being made fun of for just wanting to listen to Mudhoney, think again, motherfucker. (Due Diligence Full Disclosure: I’ve listened to U.S. Maple a bunch in the last few days so I can be a big boy reviewer. Pretty good.)
Dead Rider are angel-headed hipsters who rule in a heaven where Sonny Sharrock is as popular as Prince and Chuck Eddy’s insistence that Teena Marie’s Emerald City truly is the ninth greatest heavy metal album of all time is taken as gospel. Matthew McConaughey is perpetually shirtless here too (it is heaven after all), but it’s the Birthday Party that’s blasting from the classic rock station on the pickup’s speakers and it’s not pot that’s currency; it’s poppers, mescaline and Jameson.
Dead Rider’s third album, Chills on Glass, and debut for perpetual freak flag flyers Drag City, is another attempt by Rittmann to create something wholly new within the extremely limited confines of rock ’n’ roll music. Rock is arguably the most conservative genre available (that’s why I like it; I love America and fear jazz) and to attempt to be free within it is damned hard. That’s why prog is the butler from Remains of the Day’s favorite genre and hardcore is the sound of young Republicanism.
Dead Rider, though, succeeds well past what could reasonably be expected, mainly by being entirely unselfconscious in its goals. When Rittmann wants to vamp, he vamps, when synth player/keyboardist/trumpet player Andrea Faught is called upon to make space the place she does so, and when the knob needs to be twisted to let in some wow and flutter, she does that too. (You’ll have to forgive my lack of technical terminology; I’m a singer and when I’m not busy pretending to have heard albums I’ve never heard, I’m lying on the couch during band practice reading back issues of Maximum Rocknroll. Just assign my adjectives sounds in your head, Google the references to other songs, and assume it’s all complimentary.)
Faught also provides the low end, allowing the rest of the band to skitter and water bug to their Voivod-ish hearts’ content. All the while, Rittmann sexifies and testifies like a beat poet Greg Dulli without the adolescent view of women. It’s really satisfying hearing someone sing like a jerk while clearly not being one. That’s a hard lead singer row to hoe, but Rittmann pulls it off. When, on “Of One Thousand,” Rittmann asks the “kids” to do the jerk and if they know how to do the “bag of hammers” amongst other swell dances the “kids” would be well advised to learn, you know there are no kids in attendance (unless the sitter canceled), but that’s cool; what have the kids done for me, let alone Chris Kenner, lately? Rittmann’s both the eccentric lone dancer and the one singing the off-kilter anthem for all freakazoid solitary dancers.
There’s a couple moment of quiet contemplation, most notably on album opener “New Eyes,” “Four Cocks,” and the middle of “The Unnatural Act” (where the improvisational base of most of the songs is most evident; the groove weaving in and out between the dropped-in piano lines) but most of Chills on Glass is a dance record for people who haven’t been to a dance club since every name dropped in “Life During Wartime” closed, but still manage to, you know, dance like no one not high is watching. With its stop-start rhythms and slathered on burble and skronk, the record showcases Dead Rider as a band willing to bullhead against the constraints of its own choosing. It’s only rock ’n’ roll but fuck it. I admire their obstinacy. Rock and Roll is like capitalism in that it’s the worst system except for all the others. Rock ’n’ roll is like capitalism in a number of other respects, too. But you already know that. So may God continue to love the Emma Goldmans, their revolutions, their dancing.