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American Music Club: Reborn a Patriot

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Nov. 10, 2004

American Music Club
w/Will Johnson of Centro-Matic
Nov. 15, 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha

For those of you suffering in the throes of despair, flailing in an ocean of utter futility and hopelessness after last Tuesday's election, American Music Club's Mark Eitzel has a message for you.

Don't let the bastards get you down.

"I was playing in a club in Chicago, and I was in rare form, railing against Bush and how horrible he was," recalled Eitzel, calling from his home in San Francisco. "And there was this girl who couldn't have been in her 20s who had been sitting in the front row. And she says, 'Just stop it with your self-indulgent whining. You're no better then they are when you talk like that. Just shut up.' And I was, you know, taken aback. Here was this girl cutting the legs out from under one of my best drunken stories. But she was right."




Eitzel was on a roll. No one can tell a story -- spoken or in tune -- quite like him. "I've got a new approach that says, 'Look for the good things.' It's like the way the album starts out, 'Ladies and Gentlemen it's time for all that's good in you to shine,'" he says, reciting the opening lines of AMC's just-released Love Songs for Patriots. "I really believe that. That's what it's about. It's not about dwelling on everything that's wrong."

The irony is that our interview took place months ago, squeezed into Eitzel's busy schedule before he took off on the tour that brings him to Sokol Underground Nov. 15. Before the election.

Eitzel was still flying over his recent series of good fortunes: his band reforming, moving back to San Francisco after living a short time in Chicago, landing a record deal with his old acquaintances at Merge Records, and releasing what may be AMC's finest collection of songs.

The story of American Music Club's reformation after a decade apart is somewhat matter-of-fact, laced with little drama. Seems the summer before last, AMC drummer Tim Mooney called Eitzel and the rest of the band, now living scattered throughout the West Coast and beyond, to play and record again. Eitzel had been working on a batch of songs and the band decided that they could be the seeds for what would become a new record. Things went so well, that the band decided to hit the road again between recording sessions. AMC played a string of sold-out tour dates across Europe and the U.S. in February and March of 2004 including the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX.







"I've got a new approach that says, 'Look for the good things.'"





" I just read a review that says it's the same old, depressing Eitzel, and it pisses me off."



Though the line-up was the same -- Eitzel on vocals and guitar, Dan Pearson on bass, Mooney on drums and Vudi on guitar with new member Marc Capelle on piano/trumpet -- their approach was somewhat different. Formed in 1983, American Music Club had garnered a reputation for its travels in rather stark territory, thanks to powerhouse -- though overlooked -- albums like 1991's cinematically gloomy Everclear and its follow-up, 1993's haunting Mercury. Eitzel's songs were dark, drunken rants, soaked in soul-searching, angry reflection and regret, recanting and recasting painfully attractive life episodes that throb like a decayed tooth that you can't seem to quit pushing with your tongue.

With Love Songs for Patriots, however, Eitzel and company have re-emerged in brighter, more hopeful terrain. Peppered with socio-political glances, the record rocks more often than it floats (for you outsiders, think upbeat Twilight Singers or Red House Painters). The unmistakable optimism is woven into songs like the lilting "Only Love Can Set You Free," where Eitzel urgently testifies "I've been so lucky," or "Another Morning," where he tells a down-and-out friend, "You wear your pain with pride you refuse to remove it / You become the evil that plays with you like a doll," or the first-person fable, "Myopic Books," where he realizes that "Maybe the worst is over."

Or maybe Eitzel is just being ironic and I was misreading the whole collection. Are these really songs of hope?

"I think so," he said. "I certainly didn't set out to write them that way, but I think there's a lot of positive stuff here. Still, I just read a review that says it's the same old, depressing Eitzel, and it pisses me off. They got it all wrong. They weren't listening."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Nov.10, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.