May 8-14, 2003
Lefty’s Deceiver picks up new tricks and throws down the rock on Cheats.
Leftys Deceiver is drained.
The members of this Philly rock trio are slumped around a table at the Ministry of Information, an off-the-beaten-path Northern Liberties pub. Singer/guitarist Andy Williams picks listlessly at a Japanese dish while drummer Mike Kennedy and bassist Kristine Muller nurse their beers (a pint of lager and a bottle of Bud, respectively) over the constant clicking of pool balls in the smoky air.
The bar's basement doubles as the band's practice space and the trio just finished a healthy workout down there. But their apparent exhaustion is the result of more sustained physical taxation.
The band just returned from a whirlwind cross-country tour with Matt Pond PA (in which Kennedy also plays) and Bitter, Bitter Weeks -- the solo project of Philly producer Brian McTear, who has recorded both bands. They dubbed the outing "The Philadelphia Throwdown."
The tour took the bands through the South, across the Southwest and up and down the country in a mammoth figure-8 pattern punctuated by several van breakdowns and culminating in a haul from Chicago to Philadelphia, with a show in Columbus, Ohio, along the way. For Kennedy, the finale was particularly taxing, as Columbus was one of the few tour stops when a Lefty's set directly followed one by Matt Pond PA; as drummer for both bands, he was behind the kit for a solid three hours.
"I was concerned at the outset of the tour that I didn't have the cardiovascular strength to handle playing drums that much," he says. "It ended up being nice because generally Lefty's would play first, then Bitter, Bitter Weeks would play. It would give me 40 minutes to relax before playing with Matt Pond. But those back-to-back nights were like all right, I need a beer.'"
Kennedy's post-tour exhaustion runs parallel to the recording process of the new Lefty's Deceiver album Cheats (My Pal God). In the midst of last August's heat wave, Lefty's was holed up sans climate control in McTear's Manayunk studio, rushing to lay down tracks over three weeks before Kennedy hit the road with MPPA in the fall.
"Last summer had a record number of days over 90 degrees and we recorded probably on half of them," says Muller. "We all lost weight."
The experience was actually Muller's first foray into the complete Lefty's Deceiver music-making procedure. Already a friend and collaborator of Williams (the two, along with Undergirl drummer Frank Domanico, were involved in a short-lived experimental outfit), she joined in June 2001 after the restructuring of her previous group, Rhode Island, and the departure of former Lefty's bassist Ed Hogarty. Muller played a series of shows with Kennedy and Williams to get acclimated to her new group's back catalog before the three buckled down to write Cheats.
"The speed of things took a little time to get used to since these guys have done it a lot longer than me," she recalls. "But on this tour I finally started to feel comfortable." Maybe it was the sauna-esque conditions in the studio, but as Williams tells it, Muller and Kennedy locked onto a catchy rhythmic groove early in the process. The relaxed chemistry is evident in the album's surface simplicity.
The intricate math rock from Lefty's Deceiver's days of yore is played down on this 10-song set in favor of a pure pop foundation. The storytelling Philadelphia rumination "East Coast Traffic" quickly stands out with jangling single-note progressions and a hummable melody, while Muller points out that disco-fied gem "Cincinnati on Replay" is essentially comprised of a single guitar chord strummed ad infinitum.
"I've gradually gotten to the point where I only want to play songs that are fun to play," says Williams. "Maybe they aren't as cerebral as they once were. In the past, I've shown up to practice with all these complicated parts that we really have to pick apart to figure out what timing it's all in. But I think we've gotten better at making intelligent music and being subtle about it."
As Lefty's spent this spring caravaning around the country with hometown friends (and sporting Burning Brides T-shirts), the tour seemed true to its handle. It wasn't your everyday trek in support of a new record, it was a genuine awareness-builder for the Philly scene, and the bandmates describe being questioned post-show by crowd members who wanted to know what it was all about.
Williams says the lack of a common sound among Philly indie rock bands -- probably the scene's most fascinating aspect -- made it difficult for some people to grasp. "There's this perception that bands from Chicago sound like a certain thing, bands from D.C. sound like a certain thing," he says. "There really is no way to pigeonhole Philadelphia like that."
But he says the sonic disparity was reflected in the lineup, which ranged from the band's own "jump-around rock 'n' roll" to MPPA's elegant string-based chamber pop to McTear's acoustic folk with Bitter, Bitter Weeks. And, for the most part, Lefty's reports that the mix went over swimmingly.
"The audiences were surprisingly attentive for all three sets," says Muller. "They really did look at it as all one show. It gave the impression of Philadelphia being a cooperative place where people who didn't necessarily dress the same or listen to the same music can still share, um, a tour?"
The group collectively chuckles and Kennedy muses, "We're ambassadors."
Leftys Deceiver plays Fri., May 9, 9:30 p.m., $8, with Matt Pond PA and Bitter, Bitter Weeks, UACA Hall, 847 N. Franklin St., www.mypalgodrecords.com.