By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
All the members of the band are in other bands: singer-guitarist Eric Shutt (Doosu), guitarist Justin Wilson (Red Animal War), drummer Dominic Weir (Flickerstick), bassist Jason Jones (the Feds) and recent hire Mike Graff (Halls of the Machine) on guitar. That's one of the main credentials for any supergroup, and the Mermaid Purse's lineup is almost overqualified in that respect. Graff alone has enough history (with his tours of duty in Course of Empire and Pleasure Club, among others) to balance out any shortcomings.
Here's where it gets a bit sticky. Some would say a true supergroup is cobbled together from pieces of other successful bands either looking for another musical outlet during their downtime (say, Temple of the Dog) or attempting a fresh start (Damn Yankees, maybe). Others would suggest the idea works just as well if you replace "successful" with "talented." We'll sit on the fence for now and just give you the facts. And keep in mind, because all the groups involved in the Mermaid Purse are local, we're grading on a curve.
"Successful": Red Animal War has released a pair of well-received discs on Deep Elm Records and toured internationally. Flickerstick won VH1's Bands on the Run, (briefly) had a major-label deal with Epic and still packs 'em in around here. The Feds recorded an album for Capitol Records, which was never released, thanks to shifting priorities and regime changes. Course of Empire was one of the biggest bands in town for a time, Pleasure Club is a consistent draw and Halls of the Machine impresses everyone who hears it. Doosu has never had a firm grip on the brass ring, but there's still time. So in this sense, yes, for the most part, the Mermaid Purse is a supergroup.
"Talented": Red Animal War gets better with each song and is one of the most thrilling bands in town. Flickerstick we've just never been able to get our heads around; it's kind of like if Radiohead decided it wanted to be the Goo Goo Dolls. (Maybe their new EP, due in the next few weeks, will change our minds.) The Feds have great record collections and pretty terrible songs. Everything Graff does is better for his being around. Lately, Doosu has become a master of the Big Rock Song. Take Graff out of the equation, and the Mermaid Purse is a 50/50 proposition. But he's there, so on this scorecard, again, the Mermaid Purse is a supergroup. With an asterisk.
But here's the thing: They prolly don't care either way. They're just having a good time making music. The "band" started in Shutt's home studio, and back then, he was pretty much the only member. Once people started hearing the songs, though, a live act came together, and the Mermaid Purse has been playing sporadically in the area since May. There are a few MP3s on their site (www.mermaidpurse.com) that show this is a band worth taking seriously, both by its members and its listeners. See if you agree when they play September 4 at Club Clearview, with John Price and the Action.
Radiant* is just about ready to finally release its The Sound of Splitting Atoms EP. We raved about the seven-song disc a few months ago ("Rise and Shine," March 27) when the group gave us a CD-R copy. To refresh your memory: "The disc grabs you in a hug from the first few notes of 'Wondermaker' and doesn't let go until 'Save Us' comes close to doing just that, suggesting a Texan version of Coldplay without putting too fine a point on it. That said, 'Way You Make Me Feel' might be the best song not credited to Berryman/Buckland/Champion/Martin, bridging the gap between Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head with a chorus that knocks you to the floor and is nice enough to help you up after. It's rock music, but so much more--there's soul to spare, emotion you can't deny. You can't help but get caught up in it." The band plays September 6 at Curtain Club, with OHNO, and it's tentatively scheduled to be a CD-release show. If you're lucky, it will be.