Adam Stoiber seems like a nice, jovial guy. His band, Concord quartet the Catholic Comb, is nice enough, if not particularly jovial. And he has graciously handled an interview featuring such hard-hitting queries as So, what’s with all the fog? and Tell me about your hair.
I have one last matter to discuss with Adam, but this should be approached delicately.
Well, you know, I like your band alright, but I do have a business proposition.
Hopefully you won’t take this the wrong way.
“No, that’s cool.”
I will personally pay you, out of my own pocket, $20, if you promise to never publicly attempt to cover the Talking Heads again.
“No, that’ll never happen again. You don’t have to pay me for that.”
Are you sure?
“Did it turn out that bad?”
BAMF. Here we are on a bumpin’ Saturday night at iMusicast, the high-tech Oakland all-ages club, packed as always with miniature humans pogoing to the swingin’ sounds of pop-punk (Tragedy Andy) and, without irony or apology, ska (Suburban Legends). And here, smack in the bill’s dead center, is the Catholic Comb. Moody goth-pop dudes (and bass dudette). Dressed entirely in black. Clearly indebted to the Cure in both sound and aesthetic. All but motionless onstage as Adam sings bummed-out new wave odes to thunderstorms and “Young People in Love” while veiled by a fascinating asymmetrical jet-black hairdo that clings precariously to his forehead like an errant rock climber. Keyboard player Daniel Awand appears to be wearing a sweater vest.
Furthermore, at the band’s frequent onstage request, enormous plumes billow from the fog machine. “You can never have too much fog,” Adam notes, as a fresh wave nearly blots him out entirely.
“Too emo!” someone hoots.
“It’s fuckin’ hot in here, right?” Adam asks nervously — someone in the front row informs him that he’s wearing a black thigh-length faux-velour coat. “Hey, fashion before function, dude,” the singer replies sheepishly.
Dude is silent.
The crowd is disoriented, and in some instances, openly displeased, as registered on iMusicast’s brilliant multiple-station live chat room. “Fudge this,” someone pronounces. “I’m goin’ outside these guys suck emo chuncks.”
Marooned on ska-punk island, the Comb has been miscast; this isn’t exactly fair. Adam soldiers bravely onward, with a tuneful deadpan tenor that only gets really agitated when he repeats I take you by the hand a dozen or so times. He also lets fly with a few hilariously disembodied Aooooowwww yelps, a tic he openly credits to Robert Smith and Shane McGowan. As ’80s goth-pop Cure rips goes, this ain’t bad by a long shot.
And then, “Road to Nowhere.”
It shouldn’t take $20 to dissuade you/your band from attempting a Talking Heads cover. That shit is hard to play, and specifically, hard to sing — David Byrne’s voice is a deranged, flailing, multi-octave yelp that can’t be safely approached, let alone replicated. Don’t even think about it. And yet, here’s the Comb, pulling a coupla buddies onstage, breaking out the accordion, and launching full-tilt into “Road to Nowhere,” and though Adam’s voice is mannered and pristine when confined to his own range, when forced to mimic Byrne’s histrionics he starts flopping about like a large-mouth bass in a fishing boat.
It blew chuncks. Fudge this.
I resolve to spend $20 to ensure this atrocity is not repeated. I consider getting one of those enormous checks they hand out at charity functions and golf tournaments, just to visually drive the point home. But Adam, reached a coupla days later, is, as in all things, polite and receptive. He promises his cooperation, no compensation required. Of course, there are other matters to discuss.
So, what’s with all the fog?
“I grew up loving the Cure. I just love the atmosphere of having fog on the stage. It’s pretty cornball, but you know, it’s fun, I guess. I gotta worry about how much about I have to drink before I play. That’s more obstructive than the fog.”
He politely deflects the “too emo” tag, which frankly doesn’t fit the Comb at all — “Fugazi used to be considered emo,” Adam points out. And though anyone willing to announce “This song’s called ‘Young People in Love'” to a roomful of teenagers is a bit, eh, sensitive, the tunes on the band’s debut CD, Ghost Stories, are not five-hankie-diary weepers of the Dashboard Confessional variety. “I did that a long time ago, and I was disgusted with myself,” Adam says. “I was embarrassed by it.”
One exception is “Frisbee in the Rain,” also announced from the iMusicast stage to mild hoots of derision. “A rare superpersonal song,” Adam admits. “I never got along with my brother at all when we were growing up. We hated each other. So it’s a song about the first time we actually started to bond, kind of understand each other, and strangely enough, we just started playing Frisbee in the rain. And it was a weird bonding thing.”
An unexpectedly poignant answer. Let’s move on.
Tell me about your hair.
“Just typical rock ‘n’ roll, tryin’ to make yourself look like a cartoon character.”
One Catholic Comb member not interested in cartoon shtick is bassist Kelly-Jean Rice. An odd case, Kelly-Jean. Lately the Comb has fared well in Express Best Of polls, and indeed, this year pulled down Catchiest Band and Most Charismatic Performer honors. The latter for Kelly-Jean. Who, onstage, is essentially motionless, does not make eye contact with the crowd, and indeed often turns her back to the crowd entirely.
We detect sarcasm.
“I was hearing from a lot of people, people were getting really into how detached from everything she is,” Adam explains. “People were like, ‘Aw man, she is so not there that we’re really into it.'” To put it plainly, people find Kelly-Jean’s complete lack of onstage charisma incredibly charismatic.
This is a pretty strange band. And, if Adam would like, a band $20 richer, if he manages to exercise a little more discretion.