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Young Fresh Fellows vs. The Minus 5; Soft Boys 

Because We Hate You / Let The War Against Music Begin (Mammoth); Underwater Moonlight (Matador)

Wednesday, Apr 4 2001
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Seattle's Young Fresh Fellows formed in the early '80s, between the '60s garage glory of the Sonics and Nirvana's grungy '90s, when not a lot was going on up north. Although the group started out as a fanzine in-joke -- a fictitious band playing fictitious gigs at fictitious clubs -- after 20 years of high-class horsing around, YFF is one of America's most underrecognized live bands. Capable of shifting gears at the tap of a cymbal, the Fellows play with an uninhibited joyfulness that is rare among the current crop of über-cool, image-conscious indie rockers.

The band also toys with the problem of how to be taken seriously when your songs are completely goofy: Songwriter Scott McCaughey has a wry, hyperactive sense of humor, which sometimes masks his talent as a performer. Whether he's taunting Christian singer Amy Grant or praising B-movie actor John Agar, McCaughey distills boomer pop culture to its couch potato essence, coating comedic references and associations under gooey guitar distortion.

Because We Hate You upholds YFF's irreverent tradition, featuring hypercatchy odes to "Good Times Rock 'n' Roll" and "Mamie Dunn, Employee of the Month." It's billed as a double-CD battle of the bands, except that -- surprise! -- the other act is also a McCaughey brainchild. A loose grouping of McCaughey's pals, the Minus 5 grew out of his side gig as a backup guitarist for R.E.M. during the '90s. R.E.M.'s Peter Buck is a member, along with Ken Stringfellow of the Posies, Sean O'Hagan of High Llamas, and other indie insiders. English oddball Robyn Hitchcock is also part of the crew, which is appropriate given that his absurdist songwriting and Beach Boys fixation are a perfect match for McCaughey's.

Hitchcock's old band, the Soft Boys, recently reassembled to celebrate a spiffy reissue of its first album, Underwater Moonlight. Originally released to little commercial interest in 1980, Moonlight had "cult favorite" written all over it -- and to that end it became one of the touchstones of the late-'80s college rock landscape. Penetrating Hitchcock's lustful, surrealistic lyrics can be a dizzying task, although the songs' bouncy, erratic melodies make for irresistible fun. Matador's lavish new edition includes over two dozen outtakes and demos, all of which are outrageously inventive and compelling.

Most likely, fans will line up around the block when the Soft Boys play this week, especially after they see who is opening. Why, it's Young Fresh Fellows, of course. It's a battle of the bands!

About The Author

Lawrence Kay

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