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Aural Report

'Super Sale' is the new CD
Caveman Shoestore
by Kurt Dahlke

s a lover of hyperbole I'll say it's pretty easy comparing on-and-off Portland band Caveman Shoestore to prog-rock demigod King Crimson. Both groups foment rewarding, challenging music that rocks like bentwood when circumstances call. Both also seem to answer mostly to the band as meta-identity. Guitarist Robert Fripp once said that when music appears that only Crimson can play, then Crimson appears to make it happen.

Similarly, tunes that are only for Caveman Shoestore have recently surfaced and, after a few years off, we now have Caveman Shoestore (formed in the early '90s) back to play them.

A good fit: Super Sale, the 2005 release.

The songs manifest as the Build-A-Buzz records release, Super Sale. All the Shoestore elements are present in evolved form: multiple, shifting time signatures, either oblique or fiercely political lyrics, rhythms that bring to mind all phases of horse-riding and a general vibe that's like having a few hyper-martinis in the lounge of a flying saucer.

And really, it's a pretty brisk trip through the Van Allen Belt, encompassing 15 art-rock songs in a little over 38 minutes.

Which proves that these Shoestore sales people don't even need to mess around. They're world class.

When Caveman went underground in the mid-'90s, bassist and Stick player Fred Chalenor moved up to Seattle "to make money ... as club gigs in Portland do not pay the bills, or all of them, anyway." While in Seattle, Chalenor loaned his considerable talents to a rogue's list of heavies, including Wayne Horvitz and Zony Mash, the Walkabouts, along with session work with people like Laura Viers, Ken Stringfellow, Octant, Bill Rieflin, Chris Connelly and Carla Torgerson.

While playing with Horvitz in The President, Chalenor enjoyed touring Europe, which led to Horvitz's next project, uber-jazz groover Pigpen.

"That band recorded a lot and toured Europe several times," Chalenor said. "Now, how could I turn down the chance to tour Europe? I had done many [other] tours with the Tone Dogs but they were no picnic."

Meanwhile, Caveman drummer Henry Franzoni (rumored to have broken eight pairs of sticks while recording the song "Flying" for Caveman's first album, Master Cylinder) was making another name for himself as a Pacific Northwest crypto-zoologist. The splintercat hunter, however, wanted to splinter drumsticks again.

Caveman Hughscore, 1995

An initial winter-bug influenced jam with diFalco and Franzoni at Chalenor's apartment illuminated things.

As Chalenor describes: "The new CD, Super Sale, came about after months of Henry and I getting together on the weekends and playing through song bits we had written. We recorded everything to mini disc and kept track of what we thought was good, compiling sections of songs and sending them to Elaine diFalco, our keyboardist/singer who lives in Petaluma. Elaine is a pro. She works very fast and nails her parts. When it came time to record the music for Super Sale, Elaine flew up to Seattle and we all just walked into the studio and did our thing."

That thing beguiles. DiFalco's throaty, sultry vocals float through clouds of reverb and multipart harmonies to convey her message. "Every whim eludes a wiser choice," she muses on a gently ambling "The West" from Super Sale.

Sandwiched between that and the eerily childlike and intricate "Hoverlude" is a tune that highlights the smooth jet engine rage of Chalenor's fuzz bass, one of the things that makes Shoestore so special.

Non-ironically, worldwide fame and dollars have eluded these extremely talented folks. I ask Chalenor why he doesn't follow the example of the group of musical monsters (including similarly skilled bassist Les Claypool) in Primus and at least try to sell out.

Chalenor takes the realist's approach: "I write pretty strange stuff. I figured out a long time ago that I am best at writing music that comes about naturally without concern over piles of money. Right now I am excited about getting a good tone out of my upright bass with the French bow. In fact, when I finish drinking a cup of tea, I am heading into my practice room to do just that. Play long tones."

The priorities and plan are solid, like the concisely rocking freak-out, "The Beast," that closes Super Sale.

Doing what he loves for the sake of doing it works for Chalenor. In fact, he just finished working with Rieflin on an especially cool project called Slow Music, which includes (note the slick tie-in to this column's opening) King Crimson-ite Robert Fripp.

Rieflin, REM's drummer, told Chalenor about his idea "to record really slow ambient-ish music, but with really good musicians. I, of course, said yes because I know Bill and I believe he would not steer me into some lame project. [But] at the time I had no idea of who, what, when or anything."

The Slow Music band includes Hector Zazou on keyboards and electronics, Rieflin on keyboards and electronics, ex-Tone Dogs and Soundgarden drummer Matt Chamberlain on drums, Peter Buck on electric guitar and electric zither, Fripp on guitar and Chalenor mostly on upright bass and sometimes electric bass.

Chalenor says Fripp is "a really sweet guy and a very serious musician ... very funny and easy to hang out with and of course he plays great. At the gig it was six guys playing with a lot of space in the music, listening very deeply. There might be some more gigs in Seattle, London and Paris and there will be a CD."

Just as Caveman Shoestore music can make you feel like you've overdosed on Nyquil, the opportunity to play gigs in Paris with Fripp might give one a swelled head, too, but Chalenor remains remarkably down to earth. Gigging is fun, especially in Portland where, as Chalenor notes, there are "many more places to play than Seattle and where I can usually find a parking spot."

Flux, 1995

But he's not hooked on performing.

"Really, the time you spend actually playing is quite short compared to all the time it takes working up to having the bass plugged in and hitting that first note. I have been doing this for years and I must say music is still fun, I love it. It's all the other stuff that is mundane. I am a bass player, I learn the music, arrive on time, and do my job."

Discerning music fans will rejoice that diFalco, Franzoni and Chalenor's jobs can be counted on to occasionally summon the thing known as Caveman Shoestore.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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