Sale' is the new CD
a lover of hyperbole I'll say it's pretty easy comparing on-and-off
Portland band Caveman Shoestore to prog-rock demigod King Crimson.
Both groups foment rewarding, challenging music that rocks like
bentwood when circumstances call. Both also seem to answer mostly
to the band as meta-identity. Guitarist Robert Fripp once said that
when music appears that only Crimson can play, then Crimson appears
to make it happen.
Similarly, tunes that are only for Caveman Shoestore have recently
surfaced and, after a few years off, we now have Caveman Shoestore
(formed in the early '90s) back to play them.
good fit: Super Sale, the 2005 release.
The songs manifest as the Build-A-Buzz records release, Super
Sale. All the Shoestore elements are present in evolved form:
multiple, shifting time signatures, either oblique or fiercely political
lyrics, rhythms that bring to mind all phases of horse-riding and
a general vibe that's like having a few hyper-martinis in the lounge
of a flying saucer.
And really, it's a pretty brisk trip through the Van Allen Belt,
encompassing 15 art-rock songs in a little over 38 minutes.
Which proves that these Shoestore sales people don't even need
to mess around. They're world class.
When Caveman went underground in the mid-'90s, bassist and Stick
player Fred Chalenor moved up to Seattle "to make money ...
as club gigs in Portland do not pay the bills, or all of them, anyway."
While in Seattle, Chalenor loaned his considerable talents to a
rogue's list of heavies, including Wayne Horvitz and Zony Mash,
the Walkabouts, along with session work with people like Laura Viers,
Ken Stringfellow, Octant, Bill Rieflin, Chris Connelly and Carla
While playing with Horvitz in The President, Chalenor enjoyed touring
Europe, which led to Horvitz's next project, uber-jazz groover Pigpen.
"That band recorded a lot and toured Europe several times,"
Chalenor said. "Now, how could I turn down the chance to tour
Europe? I had done many [other] tours with the Tone Dogs but they
were no picnic."
Meanwhile, Caveman drummer Henry Franzoni (rumored to have broken
eight pairs of sticks while recording the song "Flying"
for Caveman's first album, Master Cylinder) was making another
name for himself as a Pacific Northwest crypto-zoologist. The splintercat
hunter, however, wanted to splinter drumsticks again.
An initial winter-bug influenced jam with diFalco and Franzoni
at Chalenor's apartment illuminated things.
As Chalenor describes: "The new CD, Super Sale, came
about after months of Henry and I getting together on the weekends
and playing through song bits we had written. We recorded everything
to mini disc and kept track of what we thought was good, compiling
sections of songs and sending them to Elaine diFalco, our keyboardist/singer
who lives in Petaluma. Elaine is a pro. She works very fast and
nails her parts. When it came time to record the music for Super
Sale, Elaine flew up to Seattle and we all just walked into
the studio and did our thing."
That thing beguiles. DiFalco's throaty, sultry vocals float through
clouds of reverb and multipart harmonies to convey her message.
"Every whim eludes a wiser choice," she muses on a gently
ambling "The West" from Super Sale.
Sandwiched between that and the eerily childlike and intricate
"Hoverlude" is a tune that highlights the smooth jet engine
rage of Chalenor's fuzz bass, one of the things that makes Shoestore
Non-ironically, worldwide fame and dollars have eluded these extremely
talented folks. I ask Chalenor why he doesn't follow the example
of the group of musical monsters (including similarly skilled bassist
Les Claypool) in Primus and at least try to sell out.
Chalenor takes the realist's approach: "I write pretty strange
stuff. I figured out a long time ago that I am best at writing music
that comes about naturally without concern over piles of money.
Right now I am excited about getting a good tone out of my upright
bass with the French bow. In fact, when I finish drinking a cup
of tea, I am heading into my practice room to do just that. Play
The priorities and plan are solid, like the concisely rocking freak-out,
"The Beast," that closes Super Sale.
Doing what he loves for the sake of doing it works for Chalenor.
In fact, he just finished working with Rieflin on an especially
cool project called Slow Music, which includes (note the slick tie-in
to this column's opening) King Crimson-ite Robert Fripp.
Rieflin, REM's drummer, told Chalenor about his idea "to
record really slow ambient-ish music, but with really good musicians.
I, of course, said yes because I know Bill and I believe he would
not steer me into some lame project. [But] at the time I had no
idea of who, what, when or anything."
The Slow Music band includes Hector Zazou on keyboards and electronics,
Rieflin on keyboards and electronics, ex-Tone Dogs and Soundgarden
drummer Matt Chamberlain on drums, Peter Buck on electric guitar
and electric zither, Fripp on guitar and Chalenor mostly on upright
bass and sometimes electric bass.
Chalenor says Fripp is "a really sweet guy and a very serious
musician ... very funny and easy to hang out with and of course
he plays great. At the gig it was six guys playing with a lot of
space in the music, listening very deeply. There might be some more
gigs in Seattle, London and Paris and there will be a CD."
Just as Caveman Shoestore music can make you feel like you've overdosed
on Nyquil, the opportunity to play gigs in Paris with Fripp might
give one a swelled head, too, but Chalenor remains remarkably down
to earth. Gigging is fun, especially in Portland where, as Chalenor
notes, there are "many more places to play than Seattle and
where I can usually find a parking spot."
But he's not hooked on performing.
"Really, the time you spend actually playing is quite short
compared to all the time it takes working up to having the bass
plugged in and hitting that first note. I have been doing this for
years and I must say music is still fun, I love it. It's all the
other stuff that is mundane. I am a bass player, I learn the music,
arrive on time, and do my job."
Discerning music fans will rejoice that diFalco, Franzoni and Chalenor's
jobs can be counted on to occasionally summon the thing known as