Monday, May 9, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #122

Imitation, they say, is the most sincere form of flattery.  If that be the case, then the Talking Heads should have been overwhelmed by the flattery heaped upon them by Washington, DC's Urban Verbs.

That lead singer Roddy Frantz was the younger brother of Heads drummer Chris Frantz helps to explain Urban Verbs' nearly direct imitation of the older sibling's band, although to listen to his vocals, you would not be shocked if his last name were Byrne.  His delivery, inflection, and tone were nearly identical to David Byrne's, and the Verbs' skittish, claustrophobic music and paranoid lyrics were a more than fair approximation of just about everything on the first few Heads albums.  The duplication was so impressive as to have been a major hindrance: they were quickly dismissed as clones, when in fact they were a damn good band.

Behind Frantz, the Urban Verbs were rounded out by guitarist Robert Goldstein, bass player Linda France (say, wasn't there another band with a female bassist?), drummer Danny Frankel and Robin Rose on synths.  Beginning in 1977, Urban Verbs were regulars on the DC club circuit.  Goldstein was the main booker for The Atlantis Club, giving the Verbs a regular place to play; in 1980 The Atlantis would change names to become The 930 Club - the main venue for Punk and New Wave acts to play in the DC area.  Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

It was at The 930 where Urban Verbs were spotted by Brian Eno, who so enjoyed the band that he offered to help record a few demos for them.  That connection brought them to the attention of Warner Bros. Records, who signed them up and issued both Urban Verbs albums, Urban Verbs and Early Damage, within a twelve month span between 1980 and 1981.

Despite generating a lot of interest and underground airplay with the single "Subways" from the first record, neither album sold well, thanks in large part to the "Talking Heads clones" tag.  Taken on their own, however, both are solid, well-played records that bear - and endure - repeated listenings.  Fans of that more well-known band are advised to proceed without caution - you'll love them.

This week's NW4NW entry is an audio-only clip of "Subways" - try to listen past the obvious and discover the gem hidden here.  Enjoy!