By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Are You Dead Yet?
The Necro Tonz
Last Beat Records
Any time a band develops a personal style past the jeans 'n' T-shirt mainstream that prevails in rock music, they run the risk of being labeled--and dismissed--as a novelty act. While the premise behind the Necro Tonz "death lounge" act--a group of misadventurers who all ended up whacked and buried in the sands outside of Las Vegas, only to be re-animated by radiation left over from Cold War bomb tests, after which they form a band--certainly asks for that tag, the group manages to go past mere black kookiness.
A lot of this of course depends on the listener's ability to go with a band's flow. If you're prone to derisive snorting and eye-rolling, the Necro Tonz--with their death-mask face paint and burial tuxedos--probably aren't for you. If, however, you can keep a sense of humor about you, the Tonz reward your attention with a commitment to their shtick that won't leave you feeling like a dork at the end of the disc (or evening).
The Tonz specialize either in songs about death or songs by bands with a decidedly fatal history, often with the words changed (Van Morrison's "Moondance, for instance, starts out with "It's a marvelous night for a murder"). Lead singer and frontperson Necrophilia presents a campy black-widow vibe, sort of like Elvira after a few days without sleep. The format of Are You Dead Yet? is a "live" recording of the band--complete with stage patter, applause, and audience noise--playing ersatz lounge-style covers of songs like "Suicide is Painless," "Ain't Talking About Love" (Van Halen's career, at least, is dead enough), "Helter Skelter," and others in some Nightclub of the Damned.
It's not really about chops, but the Tonz are proficient enough on their instruments, and they keep their sound varied by using a variety of instruments like flute, sax, and cello. This avoids the bane of the "novelty" acts, which are often more concept than music. If you were to put this album on in the background, the morbid theatrics wouldn't necessarily intrude. The Fernwood 2Nite sense of tenuousness is real, with blown lines here and there, but that fits in well with the "live in a club" context. What doesn't fit, however, is the way audience noise is often abruptly faded out when a song starts. This jars the illusion, allowing just a peek behind a mask that the band otherwise keeps firmly in place.
The band has fun with rock's innate fascination with death and the icons (like Jim Morrison and his "Soul Kitchen") we've created out of it, and at some point you find yourself envying them just a little bit for choosing a presentation that's so different yet so involving. That's when the Necro Tonz transcend the novelty label.