by Mike Corrigan
From the beginning, Alien Crime Syndicate did everything exactly right. Singer and guitarist Joe Reineke formed the group in 1997 with bassist Jeff Rouse after the unfortunate demise of his well-loved and -respected previous band, pop-punk outfit, the Meises. In hot pursuit of what they hoped would be a well-deserved rise to fortune and fame, the initial incarnation of the group relocated from San Francisco to L.A., hooked up with a terrific producer (Pixies and Foo Fighters sound shaper, Gil Norton) and a big, fat label (Warner Bros.), then cut an album. Yet their swiftly unfolding fairy tale turned sour in a heartbeat when the Warner executive who signed the band got the ax. The new powers-that-be decided against releasing the record, and the band was abruptly dropped from the label's roster.
Stinging a bit from that run-in with the music industry's career-killing machine, Reineke and Rouse retreated to Seattle, and, determined to make another go of it, recruited drummer Nabil Ayers (formerly of Micro Mini). After a year of live touring, Alien Crime Syndicate entered the studio once again and emerged with Dust to Dirt, which was released on Ayers' own Collective Fruit label. That same year (2000), with successes stacking up and rapidly outnumbering defeats, the Norton-produced sessions were finally wrestled away from Warner and released by Will Records as From the Word Go (both albums contained the college radio hit, "Take Me to Your Leader").
"I guess we have pretty been up and down," admits Ayers. "But for the most part, we've remained a self-sufficient band, and when things aren't going our way, it's not like we just sit there and wait for somebody to come do something for us, you know? We like playing and touring together. So whatever's going on, we'll figure out a way to get through it."
And these days, there's certainly a lot going on with Alien Crime Syndicate. Reineke, Rouse, Ayers and Mike Squires (on second guitar) currently have more feathers in their collective cap than they know what to do with -- not to mention two gigs in Spokane this weekend to polish off a November mini-tour of the West Coast. Their explosive new album, XL From Coast to Coast (on new label, V2), is big and brash with ACS-brand spaced-out power pop turned way up -- from stun vaporize.
The album's irresistibly catchy single, "Ozzy," for instance, manipulates with equal skill guitar and vocal dynamics, electronic gurgles and metal heartstrings in a fist-shaking celebration of arena rock. (The single is featured in the new and recently aired "Catching Up With the Osbournes" on E!. "There's this big chunk where there's no talking or anything," says Ayers. "They just cut to it and play the song for a minute. It's hilarious.") Here and elsewhere, the album effectively closes the gap between a measured "studio sound" and what fans will recognize as the group's frenetic live attack. ACS spent the summer of 2002 touring the West, the East and the nation's breadbasket before returning home to Seattle to play a triumphant gig at this year's Bumbershoot festival.
About the move to Moby's V2 label -- a label the band is quite satisfied with, thank you very much -- Ayers says, "It was fun to get a bunch of stuff going on by ourselves and then have somebody actually notice and say, 'Oh look, we should pick this up and run with it.' It's definitely a good feeling."
The band shows no sign of letting up. With world domination on their minds (and with tongues lodged against cheeks), Alien Crime Syndicate is storming into Spokane for a show at the Quarterhorse (with local opener, Selfles) on Friday night and at Fat Tuesday's Concert Hall (with local opener 10 Minutes Down) on Saturday night.
Lovers of fine rock are hereby encouraged to attend.
Progfathers -- For the first time in five years, keyboardist Rick Wakeman is back with Yes, completing what many fans considered to be the band's quintessential lineup with singer Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White. After leaving Yes (yet again) in 1997, Wakeman had virtually ruled out the possibility of returning. Now he says he is looking forward to a future that not only includes touring this year, but recording new CDs with the group.
Anderson, however, sounds a cautious note. "We'll see," he says. "It's like the unknown."
The singer has plenty of reason to speak cautiously about any long-term plans for Yes. After all, the band's history has included plenty of drama, with frequent arrivals and departures of various members. Still, Yes is widely recognized as arguably the most enduring progressive rock band in music, with a catalog of material that, while frequently derided by critics as pompous and overblown, remains highly admired by the group's large fan base.
Anderson formed Yes in London in 1968 with bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye and drummer Bill Bruford. From the start, Anderson and Squire envisioned creating a new style of rock music that would combine pop hooks with complex movements that owed a debt to classical and jazz. But it wasn't until the release of the group's third LP, The Yes Album (with Howe replacing Banks), that the group started to catch on in a major way.
"Steve Howe joined the band, and he sort of locked the rhythm section tighter and made it all jell," says Anderson. "Myself, Steve and Chris were writing very quickly in those days. It was a very fresh approach."
The group's creative ambitions took another step forward in 1971 when Wakeman replaced Kaye. The first album by the newly revamped lineup was Fragile, and with a top 20 hit in "Roundabout," the album transformed the Yes men into major stars.
"We were given free rein," Anderson remembers about the Fragile sessions. "We were given time to just rehearse and record for the first time. [Atlantic Records] were very receptive to the band. I think Emerson, Lake and Palmer were working downstairs and we were working upstairs, and there was a great feeling that music was totally empowering. The record company never came by. They didn't tell us what to play, what to write. They let us create what we wanted to create. There was a lot of good work done then."
The band's next album, Close to the Edge, was ambitious in scope but caused rifts to form within the band. After completing it, Bruford left, and was replaced by White. Wakeman left after the two-record, four song Tales From Topographic Oceans only to return for 1977's Going for the One and then leave again after 1979's Tormato.
By this time, the band as a whole had run out of steam.
"We were tired of everybody," says Anderson. "Everybody was tired of everything, tired and not interested and exhausted."
Squire, though, refused to let Yes die. He recruited new members, establishing a revolving door method of replacing talent that resulted in a dizzying list of short-timers: Trevor Horn, Geoff Downs, Trevor Rabin, Igor Khoroshev, Billy Sherwood.
Rabin brought a fresh energy to the group, and just before the recording of the 1983 CD, 90125, was completed, Anderson rejoined Yes to bring his signature vocals to the project. The album spawned the band's biggest hit, "Owner of a Lonely Heart," and introduced a poppier, more radio-friendly edition of Yes.
Despite all this, and despite all the partial reunion tours and various Yes member recording collaborations fans have had to endure over the years, Anderson says he has no doubts that the current touring band will be able to meet the expectations that come with reforming the classic lineup.
"The way we talk to each other is sort of like sign language," he says. "We don't have anything so much written down musically speaking. But collectively we're very critical about making sure it sounds good in rehearsal. So we're very on top of each other's sort of musical knowledge and remembering about the music." -- Alan Sculley