Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Catherine Wheel: Tree to Fruit, Apple to Seed


Good grief.  Has it really been almost two years since I've done a ticket post?  To think this was supposed to be the basis of this blog...


Among the silliest cliches that music enthusiasts routinely drag out is the belief that one band or another "should have been bigger."

The irony of this statement is that more often than not, the artist in question has - for all intents and purposes - made it big already.  Maybe they didn't make it to superstar status.  But by the time that band's music reached your ears, they'd likely been signed to a decent major or independent label.  They'd probably toured and amassed a litany of road stories.  At one point or another they'd met, hung out with, or shared a stage with someone impressive. They'd definitely been interviewed, seen themselves on TV, and heard themselves on the radio. And at least one -- if not all -- of them at some point got laid when they didn't necessarily deserve to.

Still, even with all of that behind them, sometimes you feel like a certain band deserved to do a bit better.  For me, that band is Catherine Wheel.

If you recall, the late 90's were awash in a heck of a lot of terrible "indie" music.  The genre had its champions, for sure.  But for every Beck or Weezer or Breeders, you'd have to sort through ten or more Tonics or Better Than Ezras or Crackers...bands that all wrote catchy enough songs (I guess), but would have likely been interchangeably made into hair metal bands ten years earlier, grunge bands five years earlier, or garage bands five years later.

Amongst all of that underwhelming radio rock, its easy to forget the 90's bands that sacrificed a little more airplay for the benefit of more artistic approach to things.  Pavement (rightfully) is the poster child for this community, but I could make a case for Catherine Wheel being right there with them.

Catherine Wheel wasn't particularly avant garde.  Quite the opposite: they were a straight-ahead, melodic rock band.  But they also had an uncommon literary streak; their lyrics tended to be deeply introspective and intellectual, often melancholy, but never bound by the nerdiness or self-pity that so often defines bands working towards being "smart" or "sensitive". That ability alone makes them stand out among their peers.

I suspect that it was their frequent return to themes of passion, romance and yearning that kept Catherine Wheel relatable. So often, the band's soaring choruses (enhanced by singer Rob Dickinson's fantastic pipes) were abstract. But they also were often instantly familiar to me in a way that didn't need a lot of explanation.  Choruses to songs like "Heal" (It's how high you are/And the time it takes to heal"), or "Fripp" ("I need so much to sleep/You shine me on/Too much is not enough") were deeply evocative to me, without any need to be narrative.

This is only half the story, however.  Catherine Wheel also boasted a pretty excellent repertoire of straight-up pop songs.  To this day I can't help myself but to grin when my iPhone randomly digs up "Delicious", "Satellite", or "Show Me Mary". And I respect the band so much for their ability to put the intellectual stuff on the shelf once in a while for the sake of supporting a great hook.

There is always a flip side, however. And the flip side to Catherine Wheel is that their output could be dreadfully unsteady. A friend burned me a stack of their CD's one summer, and I vividly remember becoming less and less excited about the band as I delved deeper and deeper into their catalog.  In fact, Catherine Wheel sometimes came across self-indulgent and a bit lost within themselves.  Songs could meander.  Hooks could get lost or just go absent.  Their videos even suggest that Dickinson might have had something of a rock star complex. 

And that's all a shame, because each and every one of their albums offers about three excellent tracks for every clunker.

About this show.....

I went to this concert by myself, which wasn't uncommon in those days.  And what I recall most - for better or for worse -- was my shock in seeing that the concert was kind of a sausage-hang.

I certainly don't want to give anyone the impression that I went to shows back then solely to pick up girls, but let's just say that given the fact that Rob Dickinson is not only a blood relative to heavy metal royalty, but is also, well, totally adorable, I expected there to be a LOT more women there.  And there were not.

I recall that the band played "Fripp"...and I recall this because "Fripp" has something of a legend behind it among the band's biggest fans.  (I can't speak very much to what that legend is, but suffice it to say that several of their concerts were defined over the years by whether or not they played the track).

I also remember that at or near the end of the set, the band played my favorite track at that moment in time: the afore-mentioned "Heal".  During the quiet breakdown at the end of the song, I also recall that Dickinson turned away from the crowd and affixed a pulsating heart-shaped LED ornament on his chest.  It was a cute effect -- honestly, a touching moment to which my words can't quite do justice, no matter how many times I attempt to rewrite that sentence.

I leave you with a sampling of my favorite Catherine Wheel tracks. I intended to only use one, but got a little carried away as I remembered just how much I used to love this band.  I hope you enjoy.

Judy Staring at the Sun 



The Nude


Here Comes the Fat Controller


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

You are correct, Catherine Wheel was good. But you are foolish to dismiss Better than Ezra and Cracker as "interchangeable" or whatever. Like CW, both are bands with more substance than style.

t-o-n said...

Thanks for your comment. I actually kind of liked Better than Ezra, but I can't say that they offered much to me beyond their pop appeal. (That's not necessarily a bad thing; Pop is a wonderful genre).

Cracker, I just never got at all. I could feel them working towards an aesthetic, but it wasn't one that appealed to me. Maybe that's my problem, but I come by it honestly :)