Monday, August 10, 2009

Brave Combo

When I started college in 1981 at what was then North Texas State University in Denton, the telephone poles and bulletin boards were always covered with hundreds of xeroxed, hand-drawn flyers for bands playing the local bars. I don't know if this one band was playing a lot more often than any of the others in town but the flyers that stood out the most to me were the ones for Brave Combo: I remember thinking, "what a great name!" I had absolutely no idea what kind of music they played—as a poor theater major who was always going to a rehearsal somewhere, I didn't get out to bars all that much—but their announcements always registered somewhere in the recesses of my brain and I was intrigued by the band.

In 1984, I moved back to Fort Worth to finish up my undergrad at TCU. Across University Drive from the campus, in a small strip of retail stores, was the kind of old-fashioned record store we may never see again: Record Town (remarkably, I've just learned from Google maps, it's still there). One day, when I was in there riffling through the bins to see if anything struck my fancy, I stumbled across Brave Combo's World Dance Music. I've never been a big one for buying records—to this day, I still purchase fewer than a dozen albums a year—but, for whatever reason, I remembered the band's name and thought, "what the heck?"*

From the very first song on the album, a ska cover of Skokiaan, Brave Combo had me hooked: something about their jazz-influenced Tejano polkas spoke to me unlike any jazz-influenced Tejano polkas I'd yet heard. The album was eclectic (polka, rock, ska, pop, reggae, mambo—clearly, Carl Finch never met a musical style he didn't like); it had a wonderful sense of humor (The Doors' People Are Strange as a psychodelic hora? Now that's funny!); incredible musicianship (if you can blow through it, Jeffrey Barnes can play it); and you could dance to it all night long: what's not to like?

Every summer, Brave Combo plays a gig in NYC and Catherine and I always do our best to be there for it. For many years, they'd be at The Bottom Line in the Village—for my money, the best music club in the City—until it closed in 2004; since then, they've been in various venues around town. This year, they're at The Bell House in Brooklyn on August 17th; unfortunately, Catherine and I will be on Fire Island with friends (it's only unfortunate in that we won't be able to see the show: I'm looking forward to spending time with our friends). If you're a New Yorker and have never had the Brave Combo experience, I encourage you to check 'em out: not only will they put on a fan-damn-tastic show for you but they'll let you dance your way around the world without a TSA pat-down (unless you want one: in which case, I'm sure one of the band members will accommodate you).

*At the same time, I also bought an LP by another Denton band, Schwantz Lefantz, because I'd recently seen them at The HOP on Berry Street. I haven't listened to the album in years, of course, but it had a very '80s new wave sound, as I recall. Now I've piqued my own curiousity... I may have to dust off the old turntable...

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