BRITISH SEA POWER at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Monday (November 3). $8.50. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
only a special kind of band plays its gigs dressed in ancient military garb on a stage festooned with shrubs, twigs and stuffed birds and can rant enthusiastically and unprompted about Czech military heroes and the glory of ornithology. British Sea Power is not your average dull rock band. Not since the days of the Nation of Ulysses, the late DC punk band built around revolutionary manifestoes and the outlandish claim that the members never slept, has a band spent so much energy creating an alternate reality for their music.
Their monthly Brighton Sea Power open stage is a showcase for the furthest out of British eccentrics. Missives on the British Sea Power Web site (www. britishseapower.co.uk) rave about blue herons and walks in the country in archaic language, and it's all illustrated with pictures of serious-looking men with excessively long beards.
Their live shows, meanwhile, are legendary for the band's creative use of foliage and the occasional reading of a C.S. Lewis poem to set the mood.
All this would be a pleasant enough though ultimately empty sideshow if the music itself weren't so dynamic. The UK foursome's The Decline Of British Sea Power debut begins with some Gregorian chanting before launching into a furious two minutes of post-punk called Apologies To Insect Life.
"We've never really understood the mantra you get from most bands that 'It's all about the music,'" surprisingly straitlaced BSP bassist Hamilton (just Hamilton) offers from home. "That's always struck me as completely idiotic. Clearly, it's not all about the music. The bands that say this are generally as concerned with what they wear as with their music.
"I remember David Byrne saying that the very nature of getting onstage was an artificial thing to do, that the idea of scratching your head onstage isn't the same as doing it automatically off the stage. We've just taken that whole act a bit further."
It's part of the plan that people won't quite know how to take British Sea Power.
"We've lost a few along the way," Hamilton laughs. "People genuinely get alarmed when you do something that might be perceived as out of the form. These are the same people who would have been saying to the Velvet Underground in 1967, 'You've got some nice rock songs here, but enough with the strange German woman and this Andy Warhol fruit.' At the end of the day, they're just a few plastic birds.
"A sense of fun and wonder should be a staple of pop music. We understand that people aren't blindfolded when they go see music, so they might as well have something to look at as well as something to hear. I like to think of us as entertainers."
On the verge of their first North American tour, the current brow-furrower for the band involves getting their stuffed owls and bear suits through customs. Keeping it local, foliage will be gathered here.
"We've had some problems in the past," Hamilton concedes. "Although we understand that a tree is something that can regenerate itself and that if you just take a few branches off you won't harm it, some people get a bit excited when they see you out with a saw cutting branches off their local willow.
"We got attacked the last time we were in New York by someone who was slightly unhinged and quite upset that we were pruning a tree in a local park for our stage setting. He called the people at the venue, who thought it was hilarious. Their response was, 'We often get bands in with drug problems, but never before one with tree problems. '"