Tag Archives: Inactivists

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New Threads – Inactivists release “The War on Jazz Hands” to a hungry public at the Walnut Room

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Inactivists new record, "The War on Jazz Hands"

The Inactivists celebrate the release of their fifth studio album, "The War on Jazz Hands," at the Walnut Room tonight, April Fool's Day. Enlist and support your troops!

If there’s one thing we need less of in this world, it’s got to be those annoying flapping fingers at the end of swirling hands, and a more worthy cause for war probably doesn’t currently exist. And yet, as a country, we’re dang near broke. But I already digress . . .

This sentiment comes from the title of The Inactivists’ latest record, “The War On Jazz Hands.” The Denver band remains one of the local scene’s hidden treasures, and the title’s an adroit summation of their personality and style: playful like They Might Be Giants with an adult humor that hovers around that of Ween, but remains more explicitly juvenile. And yet, they’re always musically complex, diverse and accomplished, in the only way that would ever allow a true theremin artist – in this case the accomplished and extremely talented Victoria Lundy – to fit in.

Inactivists will be unveiling “The War On Jazz Hands” at the Walnut Room tonight, Friday, April 1st, in a CD release party that will include Little Fyodor and Babushka and The Skivies. Doors are at 9, and tickets are a mere $7 – which is a great deal at thrice the cost!

Frontman Scot Livingston’s wry, pedestrian humor – a style that at times delves down to a middle school mindset – makes Inactivists’ music more than just banal and giggly party accompaniment (something they come dangerously close to from time to time). The compositions are funk- and jazz-ified mathrock pieces built around rhythms laid down in true art rock form by drummer Kelly Prestridge and bassist Matt Sumner. And, though they often follow a  predictable blueprint- at least lyrically and melodically – it’s that formulaic ease that enhances the juvenile subtext and makes the result both hilarious and palatable.

From homoerotic ramblings about the life aboard a pirate ship for months at a time – limited of course to male shipmates – in “Rum, Sodomy and the Lash,” to a meditation on a hippy-laden, vegan scenario for the up and coming zombie apocalypse in “Vegan Zombies,” to lounge lizard ranting about personal failure in “I Fail At Life,” The Inactivists seem to have covered a fair swath of the cultural landscape on their new record. And the songs are so much more than just Broadway standup – they’re clearly meditations worthy of comedic koans.

There’s even a terrifying psychedelic homage to longtime celebrity players on “The Hollywood Squares.” “The Center Square” features a creepily chanted “Charles Nelson Riley” over and over, interspersed with other celebrities like Kitty Carlisle and Lyle Alzado, atop a dizzyingly hypnotic tune that incites a spiral into nauseating visions of afternoon television from the ’70s and ’80s. Livingston, like me, looks to have spent many an hour passing time in front of the show, conniving  ….

“The Center Square” features a creepily chanted “Charles Nelson Riley” over and over, interspersed with other celebrities like Kitty Carlisle and Lyle Alzado ….

The group also shows undying support of the Denver scene by covering two local bands’ works: “You Make Me Hard,” by Little Fyodor, and “Defrenistation Imbroglio” by Yerkish. Like all great covers, these two are done in a style all Inactivists’ own, and made into entirely new tunes. “… Hard” is transformed from its frenetically angry and explosive greatness into an equally great – though exponentially more creepy – porn movie soundtrack. “… Imbroglio” creates an atmosphere of political thriller in its portrayal of the demise of a political figure, but Inactivists make the situation seem lighter than the Yerkish version, and more hilarious. And, also like great covers, they both still retain their original angst and promise.

BONUS: If you buy the CD, be sure to download the free second disc. Built to the tune of a tribute album, the second disc contains reworked versions of all the songs on the first disc – minus the two covers (though they start off with samples of the originals, followed by some truly special hidden treasures).  And, in true satirist style, the band created this disc with some offbeat commentary in mind.

These aren’t tunes that The Inactivists merely looked to trusted friends and musicians to cover. They’ve all been farmed out to online musician entrepreneurs – or “some of Nashville’s least expensive songwriter demo recording services,” as the band’s website proclaims. And they’ve all been worked, “professionally,” in the fashion of old school demo studios. The results are pretty spectacular. There’s a funkified version of “Vegan Zombies” that easily challenges any blaxploitation film theme, and an over-the-top countrified version of “I Fail At Life,” which is just a tad too close to a potential back-from-the-grave hit for the Billy Ray Cyrus genre, to name a few gems.

If you want to hear real evidence of the inherent professionalism, combined with over the top verisimilitude, in the song-poem recording industry, get a load of the cover version of the title track. The sexy crooner wrapping what could only be luscious, lipstick-drenched lips around such a smokey and sensuous voice seems deeply, deeply rapt as she sings the anthem with the urgency of a WWII war-bonds pitch. The disc two version of “Press the Space Bar” features a similar performance, complete with a unique pronunciation of the word “cholera,” that makes listening to the entire 4’31” totally worth it.

The second disc versions make a collection that holds its own in legitimacy almost as well as the first, actually. As an experiment in satirical humor and social commentary, the two together make a killing statement, and a tremendously satisfying foray into the Zappa-esque world of musical theater.

Inactivists will be unveiling “The War On Jazz Hands” at the Walnut Room tonight, Friday, April 1st, in a CD release party that will include Little Fyodor and Babushka and The Skivies. Doors are at 9, and tickets are a mere $7 – which is a great deal at thrice the cost!


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Threading The Scene: The Inactivists spread their love straight into the heart of Denver

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“Bury your hatchet in me!
What else can a bygone be?”
Inactivists, “Why (Aren’t You (In Love (With Me)))”

The Inactivists are ready to soothe your broken heart, by showing you theirs. (Photo: The Inactivists)

The Inactivists are ready to soothe your broken heart, by showing you theirs. (Photo: The Inactivists)

As we round that corner of the year leading up to the sickening sweetness of another Hallmark-sponsored Valentine’s Day, I’ve been introduced to the perfect collection of songs to commemorate the “holiday,” complete with the appropriate level of irony, humor and lovelorn misgivings in The Inactivists‘ “Love Songs & Other Songs About Love,” released last year. So much more than merely a pile of rosy, soap opera schmaltz, this record, through The Inactivists’ sharp wit and sense of humor, represents probably the most honest revelation of love from the eyes of a constantly unrequited nerd (and let’s face it, all of us have been that, at one time or another), played by a band of Muppets that landed a daily gig in a bar inside David Lynch’s cranium.

The five piece plays an eclectic style of pop that defies any one genre, and deifies many. Sometimes it’s funk from Sly & the Family Stone – albeit often with an overwhelming flavor of Morris Day & The Time – and sometimes it’s arty rock from bands like King Crimson, or sick and flirty forays into psychedelia that rival Butthole Surfers’ wildest. And it’s all played with tongues planted firmly in cheek and wrapped up in a grown-up’s version of They Might Be Giants meets Captain Beefheart (many of the songs are not safe for office play, at least not without headphones – which, of course, makes them even more hilarious). Not bad for a band with a heavy metal ukelele and constant theremin as the root for their sound, not bad at all.

The Inactivists’ sense of humor altogether, represents probably the most honest revelation of love from the eyes of a constantly unrequited nerd  . . . played by a band of Muppets that landed a daily gig in a bar inside David Lynch’s cranium.

The lineup, after some 6 years that included some inevitable personnel changes, includes Scot Livingston on ukelele, guitars and vocals, Pattie Melt on tenor sax, accordion, flute and clarinet, Kelly Prestridge on drums and vocals, Victoria Lundy on theremin and vocals and Matt Sumner on bass and vocals, a combination that proves more than solid. As I visited their “practice lair” in Westminster (Prestridge’s home) recently, I was impressed with the deep, easy camaraderie the group exudes. Like old friends, all with loads of talent and similar tastes in humor and nothing to prove, each of their personalities bounces easily off another’s, which results in a practice time that seems more like a welcome break to the mundane.

“We actually look forward to this night weekly together,” said Prestridge. “Many of us play in other bands, but this is the one we enjoy the most, probably.”

You can feel it in their performance, also. Where some bands may bend under some of their own weightiness, or seem to thrive on some internal competition (at least for a while, before they self-destruct) The Inactivists show little, if any, internal strife, and their happiness only adds to their successful formula of weirdness, dry humor and art-rock. When Livingston laments that “ . . . you say that I should be myself, because I might be someone else” in “What I Want Wants,” the opening  tune from “Love Songs,” it never comes across as disingenuous, or, say, overdramatic (he’s about as far from Morrissey as you’re likely to find – and that’s a damned good thing). It does reek of the sad reality of many, many relationships, though, even if the band means it all as a joke.

The Inactivists' latest CD: Love Songs & Other Songs About Love

The Inactivists' latest CD: Love Songs & Other Songs About Love

Other highlights on the record include a smoky, tiki-styled torch song in “Tell Me So,” about the internal meanderings of your average paranoid boyfriend, wallowing in the deepest basement of his own self esteem, and “Lock Jah,” a spikey death-jab to reggae about contracting lock jaw in the process of losing weight from fear of a constantly imminent breakup. A clear standout for me is “You Love Me Too,” which features Livingston singing through a voice synth that makes him sound like the Smurf version of Gibby Haynes as he screams vindication against an ex lover – or an imagined one, perhaps. The song has a creepy sort of stalker flavor that makes it that much more attractive.

Make no mistake – as much fun as The Inactivists are always having, they do take themselves pretty seriously – at least musically. Prestridge’s drumming leans more towards the Peart variety than the average drummer, and matches Sumner’s eclectic and skillfull bass perfectly. And the combination of Lundy’s omnipresent, eerie and sensual theremin with Melt’s sax – sometimes reminiscent of Romeo Void, others more like Morphine – and accordion couldn’t be more spot on with Livingston’s ukelele and guitar constructions. And the vocals, shared by all behind Livingston’s lead, and changing drastically with song subject and feel, add the right amount of maladroit clumsiness to give the humor extra bite.

The Inactivists have largely been more of a suburban item in the past, as far as live shows, but they’re starting a campaign this year to both boost their presence in downtown Denver’s scene, and to add more touring to their plate. They have a show this upcoming Saturday, January 30th, at The Walnut Room, followed by another show (venue TBA) on February 6th, and an appearance at Bender’s Tavern on February 13th (Valentine’s Day Eve, to add just a little more to the nature of the latest record), and a few shows supporting Little Fyodor up in Wyoming in the coming months. They’ve acquired a new publicist in Prestridge’s wife, Heather (also one of the members of Ground Above Zero), who plans to make sure The Inactivists see their fair share of Denver, and that Denver gets the privilege of seeing this band live.

If you go to see one show this year with the intent to be entertained, and to potentially shoot your cocktail through your nose in abject laughter, or to ease a broken heart by commiserating with the fellow love-crushed, make a point of making it to wither The Walnut Room show (THIS SATURDAY – JANUARY 30th! – Buy Tickets!) or to the Valentine’s Eve show on February 13th at Bender’s. Nothing soothes a soar love muscle like some great music, and laughter can only help, too.

Here’s a hilarious sample of The Inactivists’ version of Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” live from late 2008:


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