San Francisco's Heavenly States was the first American band to ever play a concert in Libya...barely. In February, the band's Australian record label organized the trip as a super-sized chance at publicity, and unfortunately, it became just that--the barely-known quartet was put through every wringer possible, from missed flights and scheduling snafus to canceled shows and threats of deportation, before finally playing only one concert in the faraway land.
The band made the most of its brutal, confusing trip, cracking countless jokes about the insanity, picking up headlines across the globe and riding the publicity into the release of its best album yet, Black Comet. After such an international ordeal, you'd expect lead singer and guitarist Ted Nesseth to be glad to be back in the States for Thanksgiving, but the kind of person willing to tour Libya isn't exactly someone you can peg with expectations.
"We're actually gonna be [touring] in L.A. for Thanksgiving, which has to be the least Thanksgiving-est place in the world," Nesseth says. "This is the first time I'm not having a proper Thanksgiving, which is weird, because I usually try to pick fights with Native Americans. Just to keep the tradition."
He then explains a plot to take over all Native American casinos and trap their owners in a single, 140-story building, which sounds horrendous out of context from Nesseth's never-ending stream of jokes. He doesn't let up, either, from tirades against trendy Web site MySpace ("I'm developing this new site called YourSpace. The idea is that nobody goes to it, because it's yours.") to quips about Texas friends that used to work for Enron. ("They're all hot dog vendors now, but they still want to have a good time.")
It's not an attitude necessarily reflected on Black Comet, a fiery fusion of Nesseth's howls and Ted Leo-style guitar blasts with Genevieve Gagon's loving dabs of violin and synthesizer. The material is far from serious--really, try not to bob your head through even the album's slowest songs--but it's way too good to laugh at. In fact, when I tell Nesseth his album is easily one of the Top 10 albums of 2005, he counters, if predictably, by saying I've seen nothing yet.
"I think the Heavenly States are responsible for getting more people laid than..." Nesseth stops, as if to seriously ponder his hyperbole. "Other than Prince, I would say, and Barry White, obviously. Who else is helping, really? Getting people to laugh, have a good time, feel confident... sexy. Especially because of our stage show--we'll lay, like, a pink cloth over the stage, and some black sheer over that. Get some candles, put 'em up, and some incense. We're just trying to make it simple, fun and slightly sexy."
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