By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
Not everyone east of the Atlantic is thrilled by this situation; a considerable part of the populace wouldn't be burning U.S. flags and refusing to attend Euro-Disney if they were. But Black seems to cherish American creativity almost indiscriminately. "I even like the tackiest pop," he enthused, as nearly as I could tell. "Like TLC. Look at 'Waterfalls.' That's so beautifully put together that it's fucking amazing. And even that gang stuff, like Warren G. and Snoop Doggy Dogg, is brilliant. Since the war, all the best music has come from America, and all the best paintings and films and literature, too."
This claim is not merely idle chatter: Black spoke knowledgeably about the novels of William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury) and Erskine Caldwell (Tobacco Road) and the films of Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil), Howard Hawks (Red River), John Ford (The Searchers) and even Leonard Kastle (The Honeymoon Killers). But it was music that made the largest impact on him. "When we were kids growing up in Glasgow, mate, there was a guy in every pub on every corner with a guitar and a drum box doing Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson songs," I'm pretty sure he recalled. "That's why we revere that music the same as we revere the Beatles and the Stones. We were weaned on it. It's so funny that people will go, 'Why do you do that Americana when you're from Scotland?' I say, 'What's unusual about it?' We've all been doing it since Elvis--since rock and roll started. I don't see anything unusual about it at all."
Nonetheless, the first music Black made on his own was of the dance variety. He was a DJ, and after hooking up with Larry Love (given name: Robert Spragg) during the mid-Eighties, he became a well-known figure on the British rave scene. "We used to host illegal acid-house parties," he very likely boasted. "But the music got boring after a while. So one night Rob, who's a massive country-blues fan, started singing Hank Williams songs while I laid down acid tracks. And that's how the original idea started."
The combo's shtick remained an underground sensation until a couple of years back, when domestic record companies decided that dance music might be just the thing to rescue the record industry from a post-grunge sales slump. Enthused by a couple of A3 singles, executives at Geffen came calling with checkbooks in hand, eventually inking the combo to a contract worth a reported $1 million. And even though the firm hasn't come close to recouping its investment thus far, the suits remain optimistic about A3's future, if for no other reason than that the band actually goes to the trouble of putting on a stage show, unlike the majority of its electronic brethren.
"So many of them are just not happening live," I'd be willing to bet Black pointed out. "Which is surprising to me, because this music has been around for at least ten years now. It makes me wonder why they bother performing on stage at all. They have all the big screens and the lighting rigs, but that's not enough. If you're going to do it, you need to do a rock-and-roll thing, and that's where we have an edge. We have a party on stage--a big party, where we can rant and rave and evangelize. We give you all the craziness, all the voices. It's pure fucking pantomime, with fucking incredible beats and sequences. It's not boring, that's for certain."
Audiences here are just now getting a chance to see if A3 lives up to Black's hyperbole--and Black finally has the opportunity to discover if the real America lives up to the one he's created in his imagination. "We've never toured there before, and I've only visited it briefly," he probably conceded. "So there are so many places we want to go. Like Graceland, of course, and Birmingham, Alabama, where my colleagues tell me more interest is being shown about us than anywhere else." He claimed to be unsurprised that Alabamans are excited, not offended, by A3's approach: "I knew they'd like it, because I knew they'd see the fun in there, and I knew they'd see our deep reverence for the musical forms. They might not agree with some of our politics, but a lot of people don't give a shit about the words as long as the music is good. And that's the vibe I'm getting."
Between shows, Black is also looking forward to finding other uniquely American sounds that he can refashion. "We've not worked on any jazz yet," he may have noted. "I've already got lots of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane--treated Coltrane horns that I've run backwards and sampled. And I want to meet Camille Paglia, the world's greatest living philosopher. She's a joy, that woman. I want to do a record with her; I want her to do a rap over my beats about Monica Lewinsky."
At least I think he said Monica Lewinsky. Then again, it might have been Tara Lipinski. Or Peter Tchaikovsky. Or Rodney Allen Rippy...
Chumbawamba, with A3. 9 p.m. Friday, March 6, Boulder Theater, 2030 14th Street, $15.75-$17.85, 830-