By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Cleansed by Fire
They used to be the biggest contrivance in town, two half-half-dressed women undulating to the beat only they seemed to hear; the soundtrack was Sonic Youth with in-tune guitars, the gimmick was just a variation on a familiar cock-rock theme--the mostly male audience watched far more than they listened. Of course, you could have said the same for Vibrolux on some nights, but there was one slight difference: Kim Pendleton had the beautiful, rusty pipes to crush all comers, while Cristina Harrison and Rachel Strauss were one-shtick ponies fronting a band that would have gotten Wednesday-night gigs without their frontwomen.
But now Harrison (now McLean) is gone, and the double-hump routine has long been excised from the set list; six years down the road, Pervis is now, for better or worse, just another downtown rock-and-roll band that keeps pumping out records while it searches for the major-label deal that stays forever out of reach (they once got some demo money from MCA Records, but it was just a tease). The sound is familiar enough to anyone whose record collection stops with the Bs: Black Sabbath and the Blackhearts are the common frames of reference upon which Pervis builds its vernacular rock and roll. It's nothing too grand, too ambitious, too pretentious, just a mountain of blue-cheer riffs you might be tempted to mistake for a trash heap if you're not in a generous mood.
One the one hand, you've got to admire the evolution, even if it is a backward step: Most bands would have ridden the raunch-and-roll thing till it rotted onstage, but not these mid-level careerists; who wants to be a novelty the rest of their life? But too bad their idea of moving onward is churning out a brand of sneering grunge-metal that's well past its expiration date; too bad the gimmick was half the appeal, even if it didn't translate to disc. Cleansed by Fire is so unabashedly average, you wonder why anyone bothers listening to, much less making, this shit anymore. There are moments when the record's just unlousy enough to make you wish it were better: "Rotten Tuna" isn't exactly the stuff of wit and wisdom, but it's a passable kiss-off/piss-off if you're willing to overlook the Bikini Kill comparisons. And "Steroid to Heavin'" is a great song title, if only that.
But in the end, you have to wonder just what in the world a band gets out of playing by-the-numbers, workwomanlike junk-rock; it can't be the catharsis, because the songs go nowhere, and it can't be for pleasure, because every song's about how much everything sucks. Theirs is the most banal kind of rock and roll imaginable--driven less by need than by the desire to keep from breaking up; they still want to be heard, even if they've nothing new to say or offer. In the end, Pervis seems to exist almost despite itself. Hell, I thought they broke up four years ago.