The Crying Game

Readyville revels in its country-tinged, bemused sadness.

We begin by allowing the distinguished gentlemen of Readyville, if they are so inclined, to openly mock and insult me. Botched their name, you see. In praising the duo’s hoedown in late September at a Mama Buzz show — raw and forlorn urban country tunes, yet pleasantly mirthful — I inadvertently christened them Readymade.

No, no, no, no, no.

Readymade: A filler track on Beck’s Odelay, and a trendy magazine that instructs you on how to construct patio furniture out of old sweat socks.

Readyville: Two folk-punk SF dudes sharing their name with a small town in Tennessee. “We think it’s enthusiastic and kind of bucolic, and that’s kind of what we’re going for,” explains singer and guitarist Nick Palatucci. “That we’re prepared,” adds multi-instrumentalist cohort Eoin Galvin, “but we’re not gonna go anywhere.”

Nick and Eoin are gracious, forgiving, and disinclined to talk trash despite this columnist’s error. “Is that like a zine or something that you do?” Nick inquires. “You and your buddies?”

Yeah, anyway, Readyville is quite keen — two high school friends and former pop/punk bandmates until Nick started taking songwriting classes with Nedelle and veered more toward acoustic-slamming sad-sack tunes. But he sorta half-sings, half-yells them, with a great deal more force and bemused self-awareness than your average Wimpy White Guy. This works splendidly whether it’s the no-mics living-room starkness of Mama Buzz or the electric and electrified chaos of 924 Gilman.

Eoin, meanwhile, sings harmony and adds guitar, lap steel, and Organaire, a bizarre accordion/keyboard contraption that requires constant tinkering (via some fix-it dude in SF’s Bayview) and constant inner-organ transplants (via eBay). Soundmen, it would appear, detest the Organaire. “It’s the saddest thing in the world,” Eoin admits, proudly.

Sadness as a concept is of particular interest to these guys. Readyville’s self-titled debut CD — out on Oakland label Antenna Farm, best known for ’70s-fetishizing soft-rock fare like Bart Davenport and Beam — is both more and less modern. It’s loaded with contemporary Dude Whining About His Girlfriend odes; for a while all the songs are named after different ladies (“Lorena,” “Anne,” “Monica”). But the harmonicas and lap-steel and overwhelming Tear in My Beer vibe point to classic capital-C Country, a tip of the (metaphorical) trucker hat to Hank Williams and so forth.

This is very much by design. “Playin’ really sad songs is kinda hard to get away with,” Nick admits. “But if you kind of make it a little bit country, than people forgive you for everything, ’cause there’s such a tradition to it. You can be, like, super-weepy and super-self-involved and pitying … it’s a little more sad for sad’s sake than just ‘Oh, I’m so sad.'”

“We picked country because country’s the saddest,” Eoin adds, “and it’s sadder to do songs in a major key than in a minor key, because hope is sadder than, like, not hope.” Charlie Brown is a sadder figure because he keeps trying to kick the football, etc.

Nick is inclined to get philosophical about all this, especially the difference between Emo Sadness and Country Sadness — the former is a shut-in diary whining style, as though the listener is intruding on a private meltdown, whereas country guys are proud to be forlorn, and proclaim such loudly and publicly. “It also plays into the whole enthusiasm of it, singing about a really sad thing — maybe shameful or embarrassing — but singin’ it like you just can’t wait for everyone to know it,” he explains. “Everyone’s enthusiastic about their sadness — they just don’t admit it, you know what I mean?”

There’s nothing that terribly sad about Readyville — a bummed but not broken tableau of busted relationships, El Caminos, stifling small towns (including El Cerrito, but only because it rhymes with El Camino), exposed hearts falling off the Lynn Haven Ferry, and poignant couplets like So go on and take your good looks and your almost perfect timing/Get packed and get on out of here and leave me to my whining. It’s not irony, but rather a very subtle acknowledgment that these guys realize they are not, in fact, the center of the universe. Both Nick and Eoin idolize John Prine in this regard, specifically his penchant for fusing corny jokes to more literary bouts of melancholy: And the windows feel no pain (har)/The air’s as still as the throttle on a funeral train (yikes).

Readyville hasn’t quite ascended to Prine’s level yet, but the duo is fast developing a gleefully macabre sense of humor. Take, for example, “The Night That Stephen Handley Died,” a non-album track addressing the sad passing of Nick’s former roommate, Stephen Handley, who is not, in fact, dead, and in fact resents that a song about his death has already been written and performed. “He was actually not happy about that, and I hope you print it, because I’m still pissed at him for not being happy about it,” Nick says. “Why is that not funny to you? Wouldn’t that be funny? Rob’s dead!”

I’d better not piss off these guys again.


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