Hail to the Chief
Putnam Murdock, guitarist and vocalist for Boulder's Chief Broom, is not an especially earnest student, but he has learned something important during his time at the University of Colorado in Boulder. "As I grow older," he says, "I'm realizing that there's no real point to college."
Luckily for Murdock (and whoever is footing his tuition bill), he's found a musically talented group of CU-Boulder classmates--lead guitarist Bruce Chester Bell, drummer Brian Ravitsky, bassist Bill Dube, vocalist Jessica Goodkin, pianist/vocalist Dave Cieri and Chief Broom manager Jason Fionta--who share his disillusion with academia. To what extent these friends are actually studying is difficult to determine, but their majors (which range from anthropology to philosophy) seem to have been chosen from the "How to Remain Unemployed After College" guidebook. This fact hasn't been lost on Cieri, who cites it as a prime reason he sees music as his first and best career option. "We're going to play rock and roll after college," he states defiantly. "What the hell else can you do with a philosophy degree?"
Nietzsche couldn't argue with this logic. However, the members of Chief Broom face a stiff challenge if they wish to transcend the narrow-minded and astringent Boulder music scene, especially since observers tend to place them in the area's most oversaturated stylistic subgenre--the hippie-jam category. Murdock resists such labeling, but he concedes that "the music of the Sixties and Seventies brought us all together." Still, he adds, "we each have our own extremes. Bluegrass is my extreme, Dave's is blues, Jess and Bruce are into college music, and we're all really into any kind of music you might hear in boarding school."
Therein lies the band's success. Broom's visceral folk-rock texturalizing draws on all of the above influences but without ever embracing the cliches spewed out by so many other Boulder outfits. "What we have is boogie music--groove music that we get out pretty well," Murdoch says. "But it's also original and genuine."
The group's approach is rooted in Cieri's fine piano playing, though he by no means dominates Broom's sound. And while the band is prone to improvisational tangents, they're never of the guitar-noodling, patience-testing variety. "You have your structured parts, and in between you have your improvisational parts," Bell explains. "Then you tie it down at the end. What we try to do is close our eyes and listen to everybody. Never just put your head down and listen to yourself."
Moderation is another of Chief Broom's attri-butes. "There's not a lot of virtuosity," Dube points out. "It's more together as a unit."
At the same time, the act is not so different that it has alienated the CU crowd that supports so many Boulder jammers. To the contrary, Chief Broom has developed a rabidly loyal following in the two years it's been around. "The response has been really positive," Murdock notes. "It gives you the kind of energy that we've been getting from crowds lately."
The reactions of the bandmates' guardians have been considerably more mixed. According to Murdock, "I've gotten a very typical reaction from my parents about all this: 'What the hell are you doing? We're not paying for you to do this!'"
"My dad wants me to be a psychiatrist," pipes up a disbelieving Goodkin, who is presently majoring in music. "He doesn't want to support me."
Fortunately for Dube, he has avoided such parental criticism. "My father was a musician for most of his life, and he finally just bought me an amplifier," he reveals. "And he's not really in the habit of buying me things." As for Cieri, he says, "My dad lives on a boat, so he doesn't care. I mean, he's not setting much of an example."
The Chiefs, however, plan to work even harder as musicians than they would have been forced to do in their allegedly chosen fields. Although they've stuck to Boulder thus far, they're in the midst of scheduling visits to Denver and beyond. "This summer we're going to be playing on the West Coast," Bell says. "A few festivals, and then hopefully we'll have some money together to record a CD." Upon the disc's completion, the players hope to be riding on a slow but steady growth curve that will allow them to tour the country. But even if this scenario hits some snags, Cieri says, "we're going to play music. Anywhere they're going to hire us, we're going to play music."
"What it comes down to is, this is our passion," Murdock declares. "The overriding feeling is that music makes us happy. Now, I know you need money to live, but we're going to try it with music rather than working in the mail room of some big corporation."
Chief Broom, with Mumbling Douglas. 9 p.m., Wednesday, April 2, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, $3, 443-3399.
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