After nearly thirty years of performing as Little Fyodor, Dave Lichtenberg is putting his current project, Little Fyodor & Babushka Band, on indefinite hiatus. That means that the band's show on Saturday, October 15, at the Lion's Lair will be its last performance for the foreseeable future. The event is Frank Bell's Franksgiving benefiting the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America and will feature Bell on DJ duties and the usual hot-dog-and-doughnut buffet.
Lichtenberg has been a mainstay of the Denver and Boulder underground music scene since 1981, when the singer-songwriter moved to Colorado from New Jersey and formed influential tape-collage group Walls of Genius. The persona of Little Fyodor emerged during the development of Walls of Genius, when Lichtenberg would occasionally perform a kind of interlude as Little Fyodor, sometimes with a birdcage on his head. He released his first solo seven-inch in the fall of 1985 and performed his first solo show a year later, after the dissolution of his old band.
The first Little Fyodor show in Denver happened at the Lion's Lair in the late '80s, around the same time Lichtenberg met his future partner in music crime, Babushka, in an alley near a Haters show at the Art Department (now Chac Gallery) on Santa Fe Drive. The two have performed together ever since.
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In the early '90s, Lichtenberg gave a fledgling band called the Apples their big break opening for Little Fyodor & Babushka at now-defunct Boulder coffeehouse Penny Lane. After that band began calling itself the Apples in Stereo, Robert Schneider released the first Little Fyodor & Babushka album Dance of the Salted Slug in 1994 on the Elephant 6 imprint. The Apples also took Little Fyodor & Babushka on its 1994 tour in California, but fans didn't really know what to make of the duo — despite the fact that Lichtenberg's songwriting is accessible and catchy, with more in common with the Ramones than the avant-garde.
“Almost anything I do is experimental if I sing, because my voice is so wrong that it's going to sound experimental even if I'm playing a two-chord rock song,” says Lichtenberg. “But ultimately whether or not it's experimental is for other people to decide.”
Various lineups of Little Fyodor & Babushka with a bass player and a drummer began in the mid-2000s. In 2010, the current membership solidified: Lichtenberg on guitar and vocals, Babushka on keys and vocals, Amadeus Tonguefingers on bass and Tricky Dick Wicket on drums. The band has played virtually every DIY space, quasi-respectable dive bar in town and many of the more commercial venues, and it's enjoyed an audience across a broad spectrum of ages. Little Fyodor & Babushka is a cult band beyond just Colorado and Lichtenberg's psychologically insightful and frank songs and kinetic performances that command your attention. But Lichtenberg has reached a place where he feels the band must take a break or end.
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“Like a lot of things in life, there is a push and a pull,” says Lichtenberg. “The push comes from the feeling that I'm not growing. There's no really clever, elegant or witty way to put it, but I just haven't been productive creatively. My writing has been drying up. Our last record was half covers. And I love those covers and I'm proud of the way we did them, but I don't want to be a cover band. We have some songs that will be released posthumously, and they are our contributions to the Ralph Gean tribute album that Arlo White is compiling. As cool as it is to cover Ralph Gean, if I'm not writing songs, it wouldn't feel right to keep doing this. The reason I'm not sure if this is really it is that I'm not sure I can live without it. It's a drug, pure and simple. I don't know if this will be a release into freedom or if I'm just going to miss that high, that response to tell me that I'm worth something in life.”
Lichtenberg says he's not someone who can produce songs on command. “The songs came to me and hit me over the head," he says. "I wrote 'Peace Is Boring' when I walked by someone that had a sign that said, 'Peace' in their yard and thought, 'Oh, give me a break! Peace is boring.' Then within a couple of days I had the whole song. I can never really decide when I'm going to write a song. It's got to come to me. It's not happening to me much anymore. I don't think it's because I'm happier, because I've always written my songs to deal with issues and problems. I still have those.”
“Then there's the pull,” says Lichtenberg. “I've been meaning for a long time to get a home-studio situation going where I can record anything and everything. I should have been able to get a home studio going and do rock and roll at the same time but, I'm just too tech-stupid to do that. I really just need to focus on that and nothing but that for a while. I've always been of the opinion that people who make excuses are never going to do what they say they'll do if only things were different. So we'll see if I'm more what I'm hoping I'll be or more what I cynically think of other people.”
Franksgiving: A Benefit for Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America featuring Little Fyodor & Babushka Band w/Ralph Gean, Esmerelda Strange, Suzi Homewreker and DJ Frank Bell on Saturday, October 15, at Lion's Lair, 303-320-9200.