Life is a carnival

The musical midway of Citizen Lane

Citizen Lane may well slay audiences with their three-ring-circus approach to music and performance--incorporating ska, white-boy funk, salsa, Cole Porter, Dada, and P.T. Barnum--but in this age of The Pitch, the hard sell is going to be to the record labels.

To envision the average A&R stooge trying to describe to a record company mogul--in 30 seconds or less--the hydra-headed musical beast that is Citizen Lane is to invite impatience and disbelief. These people, after all, want concise, moron-friendly, proven formulae: "Give me Korn with a Courtney Love front-babe" or "We need a cross between Marilyn Manson and the Spice Girls, with a little Mark Eitzel-style angst."

The good news is that Lane Eubank, the ringmaster and head muse behind Citizen Lane, isn't particularly concerned about whether his music readily fits any "hit molds" being fashioned by major labels at the moment. Should a record label recognize and appreciate that Citizen Lane has a quantifiably unique sound and bonds with their devoted and growing legion of fans in a magical, Widespread Panic-Robert Earl Keen-Grateful Dead kind of way, well, so much the better.

"I can't say," Eubank says by phone from the band's Austin headquarters, "that if we never got any attention from the recording industry specifically, I wouldn't be disappointed. I would. There is one side of me that has to be able to look at it in [the major label] context. But Citizen Lane didn't come about because I said, 'Hmm, there's this void in music that I think I can fill.'"

Besides, who can tell what corporate executives are going to do anymore? As society barrels toward the millennium in an across-the-board sweep of homogenization, the odd, compelling tunes of Citizen Lane might well create a buzz in record-label land in the near future. It wasn't quite a decade ago, after all, that Poi Dog Pondering leapfrogged out of Austin with a contract to record their peculiar bag of tunes for Columbia. (Granted, the vision of their leader, Frank Orrall, melded with the plans of the label in the same fashion as butterscotch topping on tuna salad, but every day promises a new, possibly successful recipe in these crazy times.)

In the meantime, Citizen Lane is an ever-growing, ever-changing work in progress, a concept that occupies its core members (multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Eubank, guitarist Nate DeLacretaz, bassist Bob Amonett, drummer Konrad Meissner, saxophonist-vocalist "Reverend" Pain Hernandez, and trumpeter Isaac Pena) in cheerful and challenging fashion. A reasonably up-to-the-minute representation of this process can be found on Lion's Mouth, the band's latest CD, recently released on their own Pagan Gospel label.

An ambitious, gleeful, carnivalesque record, Lion's Mouth comes off like nothing so much as a Slip 'n' Slide tournament between Fishbone, Bertolt Brecht, Ruben Blades, Salvador Dali, and the Specials--with everyone winning. Which is to say that Lion's Mouth provides many things demanded of contemporary rock music, not the least of which is a helluva good time.

For the dance throng, there are "Angry," "Allday Just For You," and "Citizen's Arrest." "Circus," "Dear Darwin," "Dream #23," and "Express Myself" represent the band's White Album tendencies in a fresh and original fashion, and "Big Noise," "Maria Jane," and "Mister Death" dabble in jazzy pop, Caribbean cabaret, and tongue-in-cheek King Crimson, respectively.

The idea of all this presented onstage is a heady and winning concept--and it's something Citizen Lane pulls off with chops, theatrics, and a gentle, self-effacing humor.

"There's definitely a fun factor to being in this band," Eubank says, "but we're all on the same plane. We all have a bunch of different influences and backgrounds that we want to bring to the table, and it turns out that this mix of things works well in this configuration."

That the group exists at all is probably proof of divine intervention of some sort, inasmuch as it wasn't exactly the sort of situation where Eubank put ads on music-store bulletin boards saying, "Yo, dudes. Needed: two screaming guitars, a cookin' bass player, and steam-hammer drummer for kick-ass rock band! Must dig Scorpions, Priest, and Ozzie!"

Instead, in 1994, Eubank--who'd grown up listening to Walt Disney soundtracks, Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown music, and his big sister's Beatles and Stevie Wonder albums--dropped out of the exalted music program at the University of North Texas and moved to Austin. Despairing of finding like-minded musical compadres, he was moderately content to hang on Sixth Street, playing his djembe (a particularly tonal African percussion instrument) and singing his own multi-faceted songs to bemused passersby.

He graduated from there to open-mike nights and gradually attracted the attention of other musicians. One by one, stragglers joined the burgeoning group, and eventually Eubank woke up to realize he was ensconced in a living, breathing musical entity--more or less of his own design. Before long, Citizen Lane, as the group came to be called, was amazing Austin club audiences and causing keg pile-ups on the lucrative fraternity circuit.

From the outset, though, the band kept a steady eye on the future--as in original material--and Lane has consistently responded with a wellspring of songs from which to explore and delight. But to say Eubank is the end-all creator for the outfit would be unjust.

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