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Best of Providence 2009

Rude awakening

The rousing sounds of Coma Coma
By CHRIS CONTI  |  April 22, 2009


Coma Coma singer/bassist Eric Sampson brushes off the notion that Rhode Island's music community currently lacks quality acts.

"As far as having great bands, the current scene is alive and kicking," Sampson recently told me. "It's the fans who have died. People just don't go out to shows like they used to, and I wish more people would."

Recession aside, Sampson has a valid point: local clubs have been stepping up after the closing of the Living Room and Jake's (the site for Coma Coma's new EP Live at Jake's, available at, hosting low-dough weekend shows. The three-dozen or so people rocking out with the High Seas, Girl Haggard, Six Star General, and Coma Coma at Firehouse 13 two weeks ago sure-as-hell got their $6 worth. Sampson, guitarist Steve Demers, and drummer Dan Ulmschneider took the stage while fans were still buzzing about the face-melting performance provided by Six Star General, who closed their set with a kinetic cover of the Flaming Lips' "Jesus Shooting Heroin." Coma Coma opened with "Urban Death Maze" and "Binary Code" from their debut six-song EP, Does Your Remote Control Have a Remote Control? ("My brother has a crazy $300 TV remote," Ulmschneider explained). The trio, together for just over a year, locked in from start to finish, which was impressive considering Ulmschneider had just played with Six Star General on short notice, and after witnessing that set the fact Ulmschneider had zero practice time with SSG still blows my mind.

But what followed sent us older folk into a frenzy — a cover of "In the Mouth a Desert" by Pavement. And as Demers nonchalantly carved out that slowly-churned, lackadaisical riff, friends yelled out "No fucking way" as Sampson pridefully declared, "I told you it was a surprise." The bassist looks like a dude you'd find doing keg stands in the basement or stumbling down Lansdowne Street after a Sox game, the kind of guy who'd be in a band called Mustache Ride (on RedTide Records) — which happens to be the name of the other band featuring Sampson on bass.

"Playing in Mustache Ride is a blast, but I wanted to do something closer to the music I grew up listening to," Sampson told me. Coma Coma clearly caters to the trio's influences, namely Silkworm, the Minutemen, and Ween; Live at Jake's opens with their rendition of "Baby Bitch." When I asked Sampson to pick any band he could open for, he declared "Hands down — any band with Mike Watt." The 75OrLess Records press release for Live at Jake's states: "The improvised guitar solos meld seamlessly with a pulsating rhythm section that explores their sonic landscape." In other words, high-quality improv jams most likely fueled by Narragansett tallboys and bong rips.

"Mustache Ride is straight-up pop-punk, we drink and make fun of ourselves," Sampson said. "Coma Coma is a little more eclectic and experimental. We tend to jam out a little more and put more time into the songwriting aspect."

The band is currently working on their first full-length release, tentatively titled Chateau Rex. It's due in late summer as a co-release with 75OrLess and RedTide Records. Remote Control? showed potential on cuts such as "Popsichemicle" and "Plastic Goldfish," where Sampson coolly snipes, "I got a razor tongue that only spits rust, all day dawn till dusk." They will continue to debut new stuff, with a gig at the Blackstone on June 27 and a handful of dates around New England this summer (visit for updates). I asked the guys what other "surprise" covers may be unveiled (I requested "Freezing Point" by Archers of Loaf).

"We've done Neil Young, Fugazi, and Built to Spill in the past," Demers said via email. "I'm hoping we can try a TV theme song sometime in the near future, maybe The A-Team."

Sampson had other ideas.

"I was thinking about doing a Wesley Willis song, that'd be different," he said. "Maybe 'Wayne Coyne' or 'Chicken Cow.' "

And Lupo's is the place to be on Friday

Local venues are staying busy, and there's plenty of recession-friendly shows out there, beginning with a pair of 'em TONIGHT (the 23rd): Veteran guitarist PETER GENDRON goes acoustic on Main Street, bringing his band to the Greenwich Hotel (401.884.4200), and 'tis the season for some high-caliber surf-rock when THE FATHOMS, who recently released their first album in 10 years, visit Nick-a-Nee's (401.861.7290). No cover for both shows. And alt-pop quartet Someday Providence will surely have their groupie contingent in tow at the Newport Blues Cafe, call 401.841.5510. Big news abounds on FRIDAY (the 24th), first with a visit from esteemed DIY duo MECCA NORMAL (celebrating their 25-year anniversary), who will present "How Art & Music Can Change the World," a film/exhibit/lecture, at RISD on Friday before taking over AS220 (401.831.9327) on SATURDAY (the 25th). A trio of sharp Saturday gigs include THE 'MERICANS going acoustic all night long at Nick-a-Nee's, JERI & THE JEEPSTERS at the 133 Club (401.438.1330) in EP, and DAN LILLEY & LOVETRAIN pulling into the Greenwich Hotel. Veteran blues-rockers BLACK & WHITE work the East Bay with shows at Newport Grand Casino (401.849.5000) on Friday and the Topside Lounge (401.253.1566) in Bristol on Saturday. On SUNDAY (the 26th), THE KILLDEVILS stomp out some country-boogie blues at Billy Goode's in Newport, call 401.848.5013 for the scoop. AS220 caps the weekend with two solid shows: on Sunday it's WRONG REASONS, BROKEDOWN SERENADE, and BROWN BIRD, and MONDAY (the 27th) features catchy newcomers BIG TALL BUILDINGS, with ALLYSEN CALLERY AND THE LAND OF NOD and Coventry's GAMES FOR NOW opening. But the hands-down big-ticket of the week goes to a threesome of Rhody-infused icons with DEER TICK, Brown alumnus ELVIS PERKINS IN DEARLAND, and THE LOW ANTHEM at Lupo's. Tickets are $14 at the door and will most likely sell out by the time the Low Anthem take the stage at 9 pm, so plan accordingly. Call 401.331.5876.

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Related: Sugar-coated pop, anyone?, Springing ahead, One shining moment, More more >
  Topics: New England Music News , AS220, Billy Goode, Black & White,  More more >
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