By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
"It's as accurate as we're gonna get," Livingston adds. "But all of our songs don't have the same thing. There's a lot of funk. There's weird reggae styles. Other ones sound jazzy. It's probably closest related to pop."
During a marathon recording session at Ian Hlatky's Woodshed Studios on Palm Sunday last year ("04-04-04 is the neighbor of the beast," Livingston jokes), the Inactivists exorcised their many influences by slamming together a debut album in ten hours. Despite the feedback, vocal mishaps, dropped drumsticks and broken strings, the seventeen songs on Punching Each Other span melodic styles as disparate as the Captain Beefheart-inflected title cut, a doo-wop-inspired torch song and a masturbatory country weeper. Unfortunately the record's successful completion also signified the departure of the band's original reedsman.
After trying out a vibraphonist for a spell, the Inactivists recruited a keeper in saxophone and clarinet player Todd Burba, who moonlights with the jazz-leaning Sentimental Hitmen. Newly energized, the Inactivists resumed weekly rehearsals at Lundy's home in Arvada, which doubles as Cuttlefish Arts, a graphic-design studio, and took whatever gigs came their way -- including an in-bookstore appearance at Black and Read and a recent live-radio slot on KGNU hosted by Little Fyodor. And whether they're collaborating on a Yuletide-themed split disc with Fyo's paramour, Babushka (It's An "The Inactivists" Xmas!!!), or test-driving an Esperanto-samba version of "La Bamba," Livingston and company keep their mind open to anything, good, bad or anal-retentive.
"I used to say there was no idea that was too stupid for the band," Sumner says. "We could come up with any idea, and everybody would feel it out and give it a try."
Such an approach has led to eulogizing Dale Earnhardt wannabes and recording a handful of tunes that don't exceed three seconds. In what could hardly be considered a sophomore slump, the Inactivists' whimsical new release, Disappointing Follow-up, finds the band bursting with ideas, hooks and plenty of dadaist wordplay. The chicken-scratching opener, "Won'cha Hit Me in the Face," sets the tone for another eclectic romp along the tightrope between sense and nonsense, juggling sunny dance numbers for the "poor and huddled masses" ("Here They Go Again") with coffee-achieving frag-rock ("Fresh 'n' Lemony"). Standout cut "Pieces of Jesus" removes any doubt that the Inactivists can write a solid pop song; it comes complete with a deep snake-charmer groove and five-part vocal harmonies. Singing on his own, however, Livingston takes some getting used to. Although he can pull off a convincingly psychotic David Byrne impression ("Talk to Me"), more often than not he recalls the nasal cavities of John Flansburgh or Mark Mothersbaugh. Call it the white man's burden.
"Bob Dylan couldn't sing worth a crap, but he did it anyway," Livingston insists. "The whole thing is, you don't have to sing well. You just have to believe you can sing well."
So far, the listening public seems receptive. "We provoke a lot of different reactions," Sumner reveals. "Anger. Confusion. Laughter. The more drunk they are, the more they like us. We actually get relief from sound guys who have to sit through a lot of angry metal bands. The lady at Pink E's called us 'delightful.'"
Not resting on their oars, the Inactivists hope to spread their brand of delightfulness beyond the Front Range, considering weekend outbacks to Phoenix or Omaha. They've even planned Follow-up's followup: Dreaded Concept Album.
"We haven't sent anything off to any record companies, so we've definitely inactivated on that front," Sumner admits. "I'd be happy if we could just play a few shows a month and have some money to pay for our recordings."
"I don't really care about becoming famous or getting a record contract," Livingston concludes. "I just wish people would listen to us, 'cause I think one out of every hundred would be entertained.
"We do everything we can to get people to come to shows," he adds. "But we're a fairly anti-social group, so it's not like we've got tons of friends. Why do you think we met on the Internet?"