According to drummer Mark White, Denver's Gladhand is giving locals a reason to smile. "People have come up to me and said, `I've had a shitty three weeks, and after you guys played I became really happy,'" he says. "I mean, these people leave grinning ear to ear."
That analysis may be hyperbole, but there's no doubting that Gladhand (White, vocalist/didgeridoo player David Spurvey, guitarist John Getter, violinist Carrie Beeder and bassist Mike Brown) has an effect on its audiences. This is a band far odder than the average provincial rock act. Live, for example, the five permanent Gladhanders are supplemented by a constantly changing cast of extras who at various times have included go-go flower girls, writhing bodies encased in bags and the Gladhand Man, the group's ever-present caped mascot. In addition, the musicians themselves perform in costumes culled from their vast wardrobe (think psycho-hillbillies) and pull off unique acts of showmanship involving pyrotechnics and big bowls of chili served to hungry audience members. The result, needless to say, is surreal. "Some people seem kind of confused," Brown admits. "We do a couple of songs where people, after we're done, kind of just sit there and go, `Do we clap, do we throw stuff at them or what?'"
This bewilderment is understandable: The combination of the quintet's exotic, seemingly random instrumental choices and the extra-musical shenanigans sometimes borders on unwieldy performance art. Fortunately, the theatrics (a palette-clenching woman who paints listeners; a faux-couch potato who sits on stage watching television as the band plays) avoid pretentiousness thanks to the humility of the people involved. The musicians' costumes and props are not nearly as contrived as, say, early Kiss or late Spinal Tap. Rather, Gladhand's players take a more eclectic approach, basing antics on whatever strikes them as fun--like, on one occasion, wrapping Spurvey in rolls of green plastic wrap and decorating his head with bendable drinking straws. "It's all serendipitous," Getter says. "It just happens."
Of course, the band, which got its start in early 1993, runs the risk of being dismissed as a novelty act. Getter is the first to admit that this prospect has sparked hot debates among the group's members. "I argued with Mark because I thought costumes would make us seem like clowns, and I wanted people to listen more to the music," he recalls. "But it seems to work for us to have a visual element--because, really, we're just being ourselves."
"I used to go see a lot of good bands, and I noticed that people would not pay attention to them because they were boring to watch," White adds.
Thus, Gladhand introduced interactive, attention-grabbing elements into its gigs. Over time, these ideas have evolved into the polished non-sequiturs that the band utilizes today. As Beeder puts it, "You've got to put on a show."
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And put on a show they do, thanks to music that's as full, varied and arresting as Gladhand's visuals. The band's latest cassette, Puddin' Tip, is a case in point--a collection that sometimes suggests quirky innovators such as Pere Ubu. Perhaps the strangest track on the tape is "Umpa," based on the chant of the Oompa-Loompas (the diminutive workers featured in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). In Gladhand's version of this mantra, the Oompa-Loompas sound as if they are foaming at the mouth. Other songs in Gladhand's repertoire, including the ambient, didgeridoo-laden "Frogland" and the Frank Zappa-ish square-dance number called "Road Apples & Meadow Muffins," display the members' talents at incorporating differing styles and miscellaneous influences.
The songs also showcase Gladhand's instrumental choices. Although the tunes are almost always based on a basic drums-guitar-bass arrangement, the five-piece further flavors the numbers with added devices. Better yet, they do so without sounding gimmicky. "There are parts when we'll actually slow down a song a little and I'll throw in the didgeridoo," Spurvey says. "But for the uninitiated, it's something of an acquired taste, so we try not to engage in overkill." The violin is also doled out in measured fashion. "I try to fly across the tops of songs rather than compete with the guitar," explains Beeder, who joined the band in July.
At present, the members of Gladhand want the group to get bigger. Literally. "We'd like a horn section," says White--and by horns, he means the huge Swiss monstrosities featured in a current cough-drop commercial. "We just want to play, have fun and see what happens."
Greg Ginn, with Transition and Gladhand. 8 p.m. Monday, September 12, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $8, 830-2525.