by JOEL HARTSE & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & et's get a few things out of the way. Yes, he used to be in Weezer, Yes, he quit Weezer to focus on the Rentals. Yes, the Rentals broke up after two albums. Yes, he freaked out and vanished into a small town in Tennessee. Yes, his solo albums were boring. Yes, he re-formed the Rentals.

There are a lot of people pulling for Matt Sharp. His departure as Weezer's bassist coincided with that band's decline into boring Top 40 pop, while his Rentals albums crackled with the kind of sprawling enthusiasm missing from much of '90s rock. So when he announced he was reassembling the Rentals (with all new members, save occasional collaborator Rachel Haden), expectations were high. Now the new Rentals are prepared to release their first recording in almost 10 years. What's changed? Everything.

Reconfiguring the band, says Sharp, "seemed to be the most natural thing to do. I guess when I first started working with Sara [Radle], one of our singers, we got together and she asked me if I would work on a song of hers. At that time as we started doing it, that relationship of male/female interaction in the songs and things like that were very familiar and comforting to me."

Though the basic sound of the new Rentals EP, Last Little Life (out Aug. 14) hasn't changed much -- there are still boy/girl harmonies, strings, and all-important Moogs -- the feel certainly has. The huge, towering arrangements of 1998's Seven More Minutes have given way to something more sparse and sprightly, mostly because Last Little Life is essentially "home recordings." Sharp says: "We were working in our drummer's recording studio that he has in his garage."

"Seven More Minutes in general was kind of an epic process," Sharp adds. "Certainly at that time when I was working on it, it was the most ambitious thing I'd tried to do or be a part of."

Sharp made Seven More Minutes as the sole consistent member of the group. The entity known as the Rentals is now actually a band, and even though the current resurgence in their popularity is due largely to a reputation for gutsy power-pop that Sharp built by himself, the new group is moving forward together. "With this group," Sharp says, "where we're at now, there is a sense of us going through the kind of the ABCs that you have to go through when you're in your first band. We're playing together, we're rehearsing a lot together. Everyone who's in the Rentals is completely invested in it."

Time will tell if their audience will respond to their EP and next year's full-length album -- but for now, the band's exuberant live shows are more than enough.

"The shows have been really high-energy, and a lot of it is really a celebration that I feel very connected to," says Sharp. "[I'm] so overwhelmed by people's generosity and enthusiasm for what we did in that past and what we're doing."

The Rentals with Copeland at the Big Easy on Sunday, Aug. 5, at 8 pm. $16; $18, at the door. Visit or call 325-SEAT.

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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