by Mike Corrigan

It's been two long years since the touring machine known as THE MAYFIELD FOUR was out churning up the blacktop and invading communities across the nation. Two years since singer Myles Kennedy was out there flexing his vocal chords for a crowd teeming with unknown faces. Two years since bassist Marty Meisner and drummer Zia Uddin synched up their precise rhythmic thump-boom-crash as strangers in a strange land. Yet during this protracted touring hiatus, something emerged. A new album. A new spirit. And in many ways, a new band. This Tuesday night at Outback's, Spokane's own Mayfield Four -- with new touring guitarist, Alessandro Cortini -- take to the stage to herald the national release of their sophomore effort, Second Skin with newfound vitality and sense of purpose.

The band has just returned home from a few quick East Coast gigs with Everclear and a showcase for their label (Epic) in New York. The June 26 release of Second Skin marks the beginning of a new, full-on touring cycle -- their first since the end of the one promoting their debut album, Fallout.

"It's been a long time," Meisner acknowledges. "But it was actually a good time for us to regroup and really spend a lot of time working on this record."

The appropriately titled Second Skin finds the group defining and re-defining what Mayfield Four is all about. Where Fallout was tentative, moody and introspective, the new album is focused, brisk and aggressive. In fact, the change in tone and attitude is striking.

Meisner, however, says it's still the same guys, drawing on the same sources of inspiration, making music pretty much the same way they always have.

"We're still a rock band," he says. "Our influences have never changed. This album is just more directed and a lot more radio-friendly. I mean, we learned a lot as far as what to do on the road, and how to come across to the people as far as just being more accepted."

Is mass appeal and radio-friendliness an overriding concern for the group, something they've made a conscious effort to pursue?

"I don't think it's really a conscious effort," responds Meisner. "I think it's more just a learning process and finding out what feels right. You know, people's attention span is pretty short. If they hear something on the radio, they want to hear it and be captured by it right away. I think that comes across in a lot of the writing of this record."

The recording sessions for Second Skin went down relatively smoothly, due in part to the band's road-honed instrumental chops.

"Zia and myself were actually done in five days. We had all the basic tracks done. Zia was amazing. He hit almost everything in the first take. I think with the three of us, everything just comes together so much easier as far as rehearsing, and playing and dealing with all aspects of the label and business and everything. That's made it a lot easier for us to focus more on the music."

But Epic, too, had a positive influence to bestow on the sessions. Meisner explains: "The label really wanted something to happen because the sales for Fallout weren't that great. We really didn't have any publicity other than local stations spinning us and getting a few spins around the country. With this record, the label really wanted to make sure that we had the time to get this thing right. They weren't on any timeframe with us. They just wanted to have everything set up properly. That helped because we really didn't have anyone breathing down our necks to put out this record. It really took a lot of the weight off."

In fact, the band's relationship with Epic has been a good one. And the label is strongly supportive of Second Skin (the album's first single, "Eden" is currently spinning at nearly 60 radio stations nationwide).

Still, this reporter thought there just had to be some big label-related friction to report, some ridiculous request that the band was disinclined to fulfill.

"They just wanted me to wear a tutu," quips Meisner. "No, they haven't asked us to do really anything out of the ordinary. We're not a band that has any kind of problem with the input of the label. You know, we're doing everything we can to make this record happen. Right now, Miles is in L.A. at a convention for radio. He's meeting with a lot of different radio stations and just taking care of business. We have to be available for stuff like that. This is our second record, and a lot of eyes are on us right now. Including those in the industry."

Zowie. The second record.

"It's make or break," he adds with disarming calm. "We were fortunate enough to be able to have another record. And another one after this. So, we'll see what happens."

The Mayfield Four CD release party at Outback Jack's is on Tuesday, June 26, at 9:30 pm. Tickets are free and will be given out as prizes through Rock 94.5 or at the door starting at 9 pm the night of the show. Call: 624-4549. The band will also appear with Everclear and American Hi Fi at the Playfair Pavilion on Saturday, Aug. 4, at 4:30 pm. Tickets: $25. Call: 325-SEAT.

Living in Limbo

Who denies the inherent alienation of the human race -- that crippling sense of solitude that we're born with and bear all our lives? Only a few. Who tries to sing about alienation in symphonic, frenetic and poetic terms? Almost everyone. Who succeeds in any lasting sense? Only a few. The British rock band RADIOHEAD (set to perform at the Gorge this Saturday), fall in with these few. They've been criticized for outputting inaccessible sounds. But ultimately, they're revered as a voice of electronic angst for this generation.

Formed in the late '80s by five Oxford University students, Thom Yorke (lead vocals, guitar), Ed O'Brien (guitar, vocals), Jonny Greenwood (guitar), Colin Greenwood (bass) and Phil Selway (drums) first called themselves On a Friday and later Radiohead, in reference to a Talking Heads song. Their 1993 debut, Pablo Honey, put them on the musical map with "Creep," an unexpectedly successful alt-rock anthem. The follow-up, 1995's The Bends, secured them critical praise and a stable international fan base. Two years later, OK Computer was dubbed an electronic masterpiece.

Their sound? Ever-evolving, some have described Radiohead as an internalized version of U2 -- arena rock contorted in on itself. With a strong three-guitar attack, the band builds a blurred world between alternative rock paradigms and an atmosphere of eerie, futuristic electronics. Last year's Kid A and the group's latest, Amnesiac, abandon some of the familiar lands of post-punk rock, venturing into space-scapes of muted vocals and ethereal, digital orchestrations. Inaccessible? Sure. Sounds like wandering aliens? Yeah. Radio un-friendly? Probably. Still, Radiohead fans remain faithful to the aural avant-garde (Kid A debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. album charts).

As a band with an evolving artistic voice, Radiohead has been deified for its defiance of musical norm. Each successive album pushes the bounds of convention and expectation. But if you can depend on anything consistent from Radiohead -- thematically or musically -- you can depend on the band's sense of paradox. With discomforting lullabies and anthems buried underground, they compose electric tunes that decry the discontent of an electronic world. They reek of nihilism and with their wailing, demand hope -- an alienation painted with open arms.

Where are they going as a group, as a concept, as an emblem for the modern human dilemma? No one, perhaps not even they, can answer. Regardless, they have something to say, and anyone with an ear for their complex electronic sound might consider a pilgrimage to the Gorge this Saturday a worthy venture.

Perhaps it's true: The depth of human distress is incommunicable, even in the hands of great artists and musicians. Still, with electronic mechanisms in their command joined with the machine of human voice, Radiohead comes closer than most to giving angst a span of wings.

-- Andrea Palpant

Radiohead plays the Gorge on Saturday, June 23, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $40. Call: (509) 735-0500.

Burnin' Rubber

Popular music trends come and go, and BRIAN SETZER has spearheaded more than his share. He's made a name for himself as a revivalist, first helping to resurrect rockabilly (with the Stray Cats) then big band sounds and swing (with his Brian Setzer Orchestra). But his genre hopping isn't motivated by boredom or mere attempts to cash in on time-tested formulas. Setzer's stylistic switchbacks are directly inspired by his rich and varied musical background, which began with euphonium lessons at age 8. He played the tuba-like instrument for a decade before being derailed from big band dreams by the punk explosion of the late '70s. Wherever his musical morphing takes him, Setzer approaches it all with passion, verve and true showmanship. He performs at the Fox on Sunday night.

Setzer formed the wildly successful rockabilly outfit the Stray Cats in 1979. Fierce playing, a string of irresistible hits (including "Stray Cat Strut" and "Rock This Town") and eye-catching music videos quickly transformed the stripped-down three piece into international stars.

But even as the Stray Cats were hustling the charts, Setzer was indulging his other musical loves, visiting New York jazz clubs, listening to recordings of bandleaders Krupa and Goodman and dreaming of bigger things. When the Stray Cats dissolved, Setzer began assembling his dream orchestra with himself on guitar as bandleader. His big band inclinations eventually took hold in the popular consciousness with the 1998 album, The Dirty Boogie, which produced the hit, "Jump, Jive an' Wail."

His latest project, Brian Setzer '68 Comeback Special, is a return of sorts to minimalist themes. Featuring Setzer on guitar and fellow orchestra members, drummer Bernie Dresel and slap-bassist Mark W. Winchester, his new act is once again invoking the stuff of adolescent male fantasy: fast cars and fast women. Live, the group tackles a smattering of Setzer material including songs from the new album (Ignition), Stray Cats faves and streamlined versions of BSO tunes.

But this recent nitro-fueled action in no way heralds the demise of Setzer's larger, brassier ambitions (in fact, the full orchestra is preparing for a tour later this summer). The '68 Comeback Special should be taken for what it is: a side trip on the way to a final destination unknown.

The Brian Setzer '68 Comeback Special plays at the Fox on Sunday, June 24, at 8 pm.

Tickets: $24.50. Call: 325-SEAT.

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