The Liquor Giants played in San Francisco last week, opening for the Young Fresh Fellows. Just before they went on, a guy in the pool room said to me, “So who are the Liquor Giants, anyway?”
“Do you remember a band called the Pontiac Brothers?” I said, tentatively. Now at any other gig in the world, this query would have drawn a big fat blank, but this being a Fellows show, and thus full of people for whom 1987 is a crucial year in pop, the guy’s face lit up. “Fiesta in la Biblioteca!” he chanted, and rushed into the main room, where the Giants — led by former Pontiac Brothers guitarist Ward Dotson, with former PoBro singer Matt Simon on drums — were playing a searing yet hilarious set of songs drawn from their two new LPs comprising originals like “Beautiful Flo” and “Riverdale High” as well as covers like Bowie’s “When You’re a Boy,” Carole King’s “Locomotion” and the Move’s “Fire Brigade.”
It was a fairly epiphanic performance, recalling certain glorious days of yore, and it was made all the more poignant because Dotson is one of rock’s great secret heroes. A founding member of the Gun Club, he took a back seat in the PoBros, though their best moments — “Be Married Song,” for example — were when he sang. In the Liquor Giants, however, he is the front man, and one of those rare beings who can combine wittiness and sincerity into an almost heartbreaking mix.
“Every Other Day at a Time” is the Liquor Giants’ fourth LP, and it’s much less Replacementsy (not to mention less Stonesy) than their previous work. Not for nothing does this band cover a song called “Beatles, Please Come Back”: Their music is suddenly Beatlesesque, drenched in huge dollops of Beach Boys harmony laid over chiming guitars and achingly pretty tunes. “Dearest Darling” and “Caroline” have obvious “Pet Sounds” damage, but not every song is quite that catholic: “I’ll Never Mind,” “Medicine Ball Game” and “Multicolored Hipshake” combine similarly simple ’60s tunes — the Hollies often pop to mind — with a far more modern idiom (i.e., “Swinging and cursing as usual,” “Who’s crapping out now?” and “It’s so amusing when you know that you can break me down”).
What Dotson has discovered is a way to make relevant an extremely purist musical stance on pop — a feat he manages by turning up the emotional intensity on songs that would otherwise sound feather-light. He’s also got one of those clever but twisted minds that can make the dopeyist lyric sound poignant, which is a great help when it comes to imbuing Dusty Springfield covers with meaning. Indeed, Dotson’s ability to do this trick is so highly developed that the band has just released “Something Special for the Kids,” a record of obscure covers released on the equally obscure Blood Red Vinyl and Discs label.
According to the liner notes, the impetus behind “Something Special” can be “chalk[ed] up to self-indulgence or perhaps a hankering to bug others.” The record includes songs from a huge range of sources, including the Turtles, the Idle Race, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Beck, the aforementioned Springfield and an all-but-unknown Christian group called the Sons of Thunder; it hearkens back to the type of mid-’80s “the DeFranko Family Were A Lot Better Than They’re Ever Given Credit For” mind-set that eventually led to the plethora of ’90s tribute LPs (not to mention the current overpraise of Hanson). Those LPs have all but wrecked the idea of cover songs, but anyone brought up in the school of hard ‘Mats will still take great pleasure in “Something Special.” An even greater number of people could take pleasure in “Every Other Day,” however, so here’s hoping that they somehow find out about it.