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Concert Preview: Modey Lemon puts a twist of mayhem into every set

Friday, February 15, 2002

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

It's a physically punishing show, an assault on the senses that starts with the music -- rock 'n' roll that knows its roots in backwoods blues but loves its punk-rock all the same -- and ends in the sort of destruction and chaos you'd find in an early Who performance.

Guitar-playing vocalist Phil Boyd will describe the madness and the mayhem of the Modey Lemon as follows.

"Sort of rowdy and, like, turbulent."

His partner, drummer Paul Quattrone, has thrown his cymbals at the wall.

He's thrown his bass drum to the crowd.

He's smashed his head through an actual door that somehow found its way on stage.

Or so the story goes.

"I don't think it was an oak door," says Tommy Amoeba (who briefly played with Quattrone in his own band, Amoeba Knievel). "I think it was plywood."

Boyd explains.

"The house Paul lived in when we started the band, there were all these extra doors in the basement. It was a pretty big house. So we'd bring them or he would bring a trash can or something. We have this one song with this freakout section, and he'd bring a mallet and just sort of start pounding his way through the door."

They did a number on a door the night the Modey Lemon met Pat Thetic, the Anti-Flag drummer who signed the duo to his own band's label, A-F Records.

 
 
Modey Lemon

WHERE: Brew House, South Side.

WHEN: 7:30 tonight.

ADMISSION: $4

BAND WEB SITE: www.themodeylemon.com

   
 

"We just started freaking out," says Boyd. "And I looked back and Paul's just slamming into the door with the mallet. It started knocking all our amps over. So by that point, we couldn't really play a serious song anymore. And then, I saw him jump up as high as he can go in the air and just land on the door, which was almost, like, laying down flat on top of the amps now, with his shoulder. And then, I started jumping on it, too. And then, we decided to go back into the song anyway."

As punk-rock A&R guy Thetic says, "I thought to myself, 'This is one of the best bands I've seen out of Pittsburgh. I want to work with them.' "

Another time, the duo brought a trash can out on stage.

"And Paul was smashing that," says Boyd. "And then, at the end of the set, I jumped up into it and landed in the trash can, which was one of those old metal trash cans, like an Oscar the Grouch can. And I don't know if I broke my foot, but just with the adrenaline of the set, I didn't realize how badly I hurt myself, 'cause I was limping home. And it woke me up in the middle of the night. My foot was throbbing and I had to put ice on it. I'd never been woken up by pain until I started playing in this band."

The road to throbbing feet and broken doors began at Pitt.

"I came to Pittsburgh," Boyd explains, "to go to school. But my main motivation was to start a band. My parents didn't want me to not go to college, so I'm like, well, I'll just go to a city."

With a laugh, he adds, "or, you know, somewhat of a city."

The guitarist found his future drummer playing in a funky seven-piece that Boyd insists was not a jam band.

"And the minute I saw him, I was like, 'That's the guy I want to play music with,' " he says.

Quattrone, though, wasn't nearly so impressed.

As Boyd explains, "I tried to get to know him, but he didn't like me at first, 'cause I was just another guitar player -- like how many guitar players did he probably run into every day? But eventually, that band asked me to play rhythm guitar for them. ... We'd have these practices and they'd be just a mess because we weren't, like, a serious band. And there were so many of us that Paul and I would just end up going off on these tangents."

After a while, says Boyd, the drummer came to realize that the two were clicking.

They started a three-piece, eventually settling into a two-man lineup playing blues songs on the sidewalk in the Strip "just for the hell of it."

Explaining the duo's decision to make it a duo, Boyd says, "We figured we never worked well with other people anyway."

They found the band name on the sidewalk in the Strip.

"We figured," says Boyd, "that since we were white and playing the blues, we might as well act British, too. So we were down there screaming at the people walking by in British accents. And the only place that we could find to plug in my amp was in front of this produce stand. And there were moldy lemons on the ground and since we were yelling in British accents, it was like, 'We're the Modey Lemon.' "

At first, the band was modeled on the two-man rural blues acts on Fat Possum Records.

"A lot of those old blues guys on that label were just a guitarist and drummer," says Boyd. "So that's the style we started playing in."

It wasn't long before that style began grow into a sound the Modey Lemon could more accurately call its own, with elements of punk and rock and psychedelia.

"It's hard," says Boyd, "to just like one thing when you're a music lover, so it's hard to just play one style. But it's not hard to want to rock out, you know, whatever way you do it."

While you can't see any busted doors or people flying into trash cans, you can hear the energy they put into performing in the band's self-titled album, out this week on A-F Records. Boasting great new songs like "Big Bang" and "Recycler" while recycling Modey oldies from the self-released "House on the Hill," it rocks the way few albums rock -- the way the White Stripes album rocks, but different. And you see what all that rocking did for that band.

With the right breaks, Boyd and Quattrone could tap into all that U.K.-generated hype the Strokes and White Stripes brought to rock 'n' roll that doesn't suck.

It's gonna take some touring, though. And Boyd is looking forward to the challenge.

"When we get on stage," he says, "we just want to exert ourselves to the limit because what else is the point? To not rock out as far as you can take it? We try to exhaust ourselves, because we feel like the show was a success if we can do it. It's like, 'All right, I'm tired. My neck hurts. My back hurts. I can't sleep. But people came to see a show and I came to play a show so I'm gonna do it with everything I've got.' "

It's what he likes to see when he goes out to see a band.

"You can't deny that," he says. "And we don't even do it to the level that we'd like to."

That could change, though.

With a laugh, he says, "But, you know, I've been jogging."

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