Tiger Army with Social Distortion and the explosion at Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Monday (October 25). $35. 416-870-8000 (also at Rotate This and Sonic Temple). Rating: NNNNN
Since they formed in 1996, Berkeley's Tiger Army have gone through many personnel changes. In fact, you could say the band is Nick 13 and whomever he happens to be playing with at the time. He's getting used to it.
"The lineup we're touring with right now," says 13 on the phone from Philadelphia, "is the fourth totally different one for Tiger Army. I've been in this position before, and in a way there's a comfort in that."
The current group has 13 on vocals and guitar, Jeff Roffredo on stand-up bass and Mike Fasano on drums.
Fasano takes the place of Fred Hell, who was shot four times in a botched home invasion robbery in March 2003. He survived, and in a very Def Leppard-like show of solidarity Tiger Army waited out his recovery and Hell rejoined the troops surprisingly shortly thereafter - considering.
It soon became apparent, however, that he wasn't yet up to the task of recording their third album, Tiger Army III: Ghost Tigers Rise, so Fasano stepped into the studio in his stead. Hell gave it another go later, but it wasn't to be .
"That was really hard, because we did wait quite a while and we wanted him to come back really badly. We did do a couple of tours with him, but eventually we had to face the fact that his recovery wasn't complete and he wasn't physically up to playing with the band."
Hell is OK, says 13, as far as day-to-day living goes but may never fully recover. There is, after all, still a bullet lodged in his brain.
So Tiger Army soldier on.
Ghost Tigers Rise is an ooky-spooky, upbeat psychobilly offering that delves at times into the post-punk 80s jangle of the likes of Lords of the New Church, the Cure or the Smiths. Other times it leaks into country turf or explores a wide realm of rock, at least as much as a band can while staying true to a musical form that's also considered a movement and has its own fashion rules.
The psychobilly male looks like a cross between a punk and a rockabilly and wears eyeliner. The female has Bettie Page hair and may also wear eyeliner. Both are fond of tattoos. They share an appreciation for B-grade horror movies and hot rods.
Nick 13 has his own historical perspective: "The psychobilly subculture evolved in the early 80s (with bands like the Meteors and the Sharks) in England. It never came over to America until two or three years ago."
He has a croon so smooth it even makes lyrics like "Our love is a black rose" forgivable.
"Now it's gotten really big in Southern California and throughout the rest of the States and Canada."
Unlike many fashion subcultures, however, 13 points out that psychobilly is decidedly apolitical.
"We've all seen the role that extreme politics can have in tearing a musical scene apart. We don't all have to be coming from the same perspective politically. We're saying, I'm into this music because I like it, not to change the world."