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Hail the swinging geniuses!

A fan's notes on the Young Adults
By TED WIDMER  |  May 25, 2011

Should I go to college?
Or should I join the service?
Thinking 'bout my future
Makes me nervous

_The Young Adults, "Complex World"


For a tiny state, Rhode Island has offered much to the world — Mr. Potato Head, the Claus von Bulow trial, and a rich local music scene that covers the waterfront from alternative acts to
blues, country, and a wide variety of artists in electronic noise, working out of the mill buildings and factory lofts that dot the landscape around Providence and Pawtucket. For most of these musicians, the story of Talking Heads is still legendary — a few emaciated RISD students who formed a band in Providence in the mid-1970s, made it to CBGB's in New York, got signed at the crest of the punk/new wave movement, and eventually became Brazilian.

>>READ: "The triumphant (three-night only) return of the Young Adults" by Jim Macnie <<

But for many Rhode Islanders, another band, contemporary with Talking Heads, left just as powerful an impact, even if they are little known outside the invisible force field of the state's boundaries. At first glance, the Young Adults had almost nothing in common with their friends and rivals in David Byrne's outfit. Where Talking Heads were all Adam's apples and googly eyes, dispensing artsy funk in Izod shirts, the Young Adults were a band of robust appetites. Musicians sprawled across the stage, changing costumes and instruments, and creating a sonic assault that included honking saxophones, tinkling ivories, and (this was the 1970s) a humongous guitar sound that Queen's Brian May would not have disdained. Sheer bombast, and proud of it. For sheer entertainment value, Borscht Belt banter, and the fez quotient (not knowing what kind of hat they would wear on a given night), there was nothing to compete with them. Musically, they were untouchable, able to dispense nasty licks and tight backbeats without breaking a sweat. Lyrically, they were even better, celebrating whatever came into their cluttered minds, from the late, lamented Harmon Killebrew ("Men") to Franklin Roosevelt ("New Deal"). "A Power Tool Is Not a Toy" told the story of a hippie who took LSD and got too close to a chainsaw ("his mind left his body the hard way"). Sometimes it was very rock and roll; at other times it almost verged into Cole Porter territory, as with "Christmas In Japan In July." They may have been the only band in history that cited S.J. Perelman as a major influence.

The Young Adults ruled Rhode Island from approximately 1975 to 1980, and to this day, there are thousands who remember their shows at the old haunts — especially the original Lupo's — with awe. Live tapes still circulate from those shows, and a brilliant short movie, Cobra Snake for a Necktie, captures a concert the Young Adults did with Bo Diddley at the height of their powers. It remains almost impossible to see, rendering it all the more essential.

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  Topics: Music Features , Politics, Music, Rhode Island,  More more >
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