This show didn't turn out to be a April Fool's Day joke of some kind -- although that was certainly a possibility given that the Inactivists are jokers with a wickedly mischievous sense of humor. Nonetheless, at least The War On Jazz Hands got a proper introduction into the world at large at a venue with excellent sound and with bands on the bill that were as high quality as the headliner.
Seeing Little Fyodor & Babushka Band is a little like seeing The Ramones, except the songs are not played at maximum speed and are more twisted and bizarre, as if Edward Gorey wrote the lyrics while not being particularly focused on the macbre. This outfit doesn't really take breaks between songs except to engage in quasi-lewd commentary as theater. Little Fyodor himself is a dream subject of fascination for someone suffering from a combination of OCD and ADD, as his face constantly shifts from one contorted expression to the next when he's not singing profane and curiously memorable lyrics. But this was not a novelty act, even though Babushka, too, has a persona for the stage like a Lithuanian great aunt.
The band played songs with titles like "You Give Me Hard-On," about, well, just what you might think it's about, and covered Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," with Babushka, fully in character, on vocals. And each moment and note was executed with a precision and fluidity that only comes from honed talent. As per times past, Little Fyodor ended the show with his signature set of unpredictable dance moves called "The Dance of the Salted Slug." While the rest of the band played even weirder than usual music, Fyodor ran off stage into the audience to spread the weird to people often too afraid to be near it.
When the Inactivists took stage, most of the band was wearing some piece of military gear because, well, it's a "War on Jazz Hands," right? But even that obvious gesture is just one layer of the ability of this band to use humor and sarcasm to express the absurd with great clarity. Opening with "Wannabe Dale Earnhardt," the Inactivists made us chuckle with a light-hearted evisceration of bad drivers with no sense of reality or care for other people on the road.
After the first two songs, the band played largely from The War On Jazz Hands. "Failed At Life" sounded like a bizarre cross between the music for those silly Cialis commercials and a solo Donald Fagen song -- tou know, from The Nightfly or something. But it worked, because while it is borderline cheesy, it veers off from convention both lyrically and in terms of the aim of the music. Jeremy "Babblin' Brooks" Young was called to the stage to guest rap and such but he was not there. Nor was Sara Century who was called up to do some vocals but was detained at the door over a paperwork technicality.
Little Fyodor joined the band on stage for its cover of "You Give Me Hard-On" and, providing backing vocals in call-and-response to Scot Livingston, sounded a bit like a more coherent version of the monster from Young Frankenstein when it tries to sing "Puttin' On the Ritz." On his own original, Fyodor does not sound like that. On "Defenestration Imbroglio," Tim Kaminski, Nate Huisgen and Brent Moran from Yerkish came to the stage to sang along and then stayed there as part of a chorus for most of the rest of the show. Additionally, Matt Maher of Mourning Sickness filled out the stage further to perform a song he wrote with the band called "Richard."
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Everyone seemed to be having so much fun on stage, it was almost too bad that the set had to end with "Press the Space Bar." But with enough coaxing from the sizable crowd, the Inactivists were convinced to make us all sorry by playing "The Center Square." Somehow I don't think anyone there felt sorry for getting to see that weirdest of songs from a band already blessed with plenty of strange music. It's probably too early to say but this was easily one of the most entertaining and fun local shows of the year already. But it was.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Bias: These are three of the best, most consistently compelling and interesting bands out of Denver for the last several years. Random Detail: They have places on the wall of the stage where you can hang your guitar when it's not in use. By the Way: The new album from The Skivies is due out sooner than later this year.