Tris McCall

I'm Assuming You're All In Bands: Tris McCall in Brooklyn
Jersey Beat Music

Note: I'm acquainted with Tris McCall. We've walked around Jersey City together, hanging concert posters on hot, sunny days. One of us would hold the poster in place, while the other taped. Our bands have performed together. I've sat in his kitchen. Tris McCall is my friend and neighbor.

This is an album of highly poetic reflections on life in and around a Williamsburg rock and roll band. Portraits of the floppy-haired, black-and-white-striped, skinny-jeaned Brooklyn neighborhood (my prejudices, not Tris') are sung, spoken, and shouted over funky bass lines and glorious electric harpsichord. Yes, electric harpsichord. But, before we get to that, let's focus on the lyrics. Tris McCall is a street photographer, a beat poet, a journalist, an anthropologist.

anthropology: the science of human beings; especially: the study of human beings in relation to distribution, origin, classification, and relationship of races, physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture.

In "An American Tourist in Brooklyn," a slinky, laid-back groove, Tris begins by stating his hatred of hanging concert posters. He's not inclined to promotion, but it's necessary "when you're in a group." And then he reflects:

I remember in college Professor Mitzi Goheen
Described primitive cultures
and their drive toward branding
They put the totem of the tribe on rocks and stumps
Emblazoned the sign
Reproduced, refined
And I am reminded of Lot 49
Full phantasmagoria of graphic design
Insignias on lampposts, Nike swoosh earrings
Fifty-year old shopkeeper with Arcade Fire t-shirt

These lines are followed by more snapshots of iconography, publicity, and tattoos before Tris is back on the L train, on his way out of Brooklyn.

The album was recorded live, in sequence, and it sounds like it. Which is to say: with the occasional missed beat and bad note, it's full of heat and urgency, a special moment captured. The band is on fire. And certainly tight enough; drums and bass lock in place when needed, and female backing vox surround Tris with oohs and ahhs, while supporting his most delicate sentiments, ready to catch his falling voice.

And that electric harpsichord. It does sound out of place at times. The intro to "The Clean Version" sort of sounds like the seventh inning stretch at Coney Island's Keyspan Park, and tracks like "Colonial Williamsburg" and "Nobody Wants Your Shit" have no choice but to resemble a game show theme song. If that sounds cheesy, well... it is, but it's also irresistible. When it's right, it's brilliant. Pound your fist and bang your head to the powerful "An Ass of U and Me" and get down with "Not Another Song About You," an infectious and weirdly awesome marriage of Devo and Springsteen, an examination and redefinition of rock and roll.

To learn more about Tris McCall, get lost in The Tris McCall Report. To hear some of the music, visit the Myspace page. To buy a copy of the album, you can contact him through his website, or mail $7 to 166 Grand Street, JC, NJ 07302. He'll send you a copy.