It's a sticky summer evening in Cleveland, and Head Automatica lead singer Daryl Palumbo wanders into a record store, wearing a scruffy T-shirt. He rifles through a trove of obscure DVDs and CDs in hushed concentration. Suddenly, his silence is broken. Looking up from his mission, he displays a bemused glee.
"Now that is incredible," he says, holding up a rare Zappa DVD bootleg for the rest of his bandmates to see. "Can you believe they even have this? Classic." He snaps up the title, along with a handful of other Zappa boots. "I collect them," Palumbo says later. "Guess you could say I'm a lifelong appreciator."
With Whodini's "Freaks Come Out at Night" thumping from the store's speakers, I introduce myself, thus crossing into Gap-salesman territory and forgetting the Audiophile Golden Rule: Always leave us alone to shop. Bad move. But Palumbo smiles cordially and extends a hand before glancing back at the racks of discs. "I've got a little more shopping to do," he says in a hushed tone. "Let me catch up with you later, OK?"
The irony of Whodini's synthesized mantra emerges later that night at Head Automatica's show. Palumbo's 100-megaton rock-star persona explodes onstage. The band kicks things off with a double-down of "Graduation Day" and "Laughing at You," and our frontman's quiet side yields to some dirty, sexed-up, schoolboy alter-ego.
By the time Head Automatica is charging through "Lying Through Your Teeth" the third song on its current effort, Popaganda Palumbo is a lightning rod. This neo-mod, extroverted catalyst is belting out lines with exaggerated, "My Generation"-like stutters.
Sweat flies off Palumbo, who is now in a saturated button-down. He delivers lines with raw sexual swagger and sassy sucker-punches: "Yer lyin' through yer t-t-t-teeeeth...yer not at all, not at all whatcha seem."
As good as the band is, it's hard not to gawk stupidly just at Palumbo. The guy onstage is beyond possessed. Is it any wonder that so many fans of his heavier, more hardcore project, Glassjaw, have come along for this very clean and precise pop-rock joyride?
The plan for Head Automatica has been in Palumbo's head for a long time. Born of electronica, computer-sequencing and hip-hop production experiments, their sound is now very much informed by mod-rock's past. Palumbo says that "no one in America wants to say they're in a pop band," but he doesn't have such reservations. "A lot of people here have a problem with melody."
Pop was hardly the direction of Decadence, the group's 2004 debut album. Produced by Dan "The Automator" Nakamura (Gorillaz, Cornershop), Decadence was a deft mélange of styles, with a flair for the dance party and even space-age über-disco. The results were uneven, but tours with the Used, Interpol and the Rapture were anything but.
The Automator is out of the picture now, but if there's a reason for (or even a benefit to) Nakamura's lack of involvement, Palumbo won't elaborate. "We just don't work together anymore," he says flatly.
It hardly matters. Popaganda is far more consistent than Decadence."We're not abandoning that sound," Palumbo says. "I wanted to make something less cerebral. And I promise that [our sound] will always change. It's no revolution. Scenes and people change. It has to be that way. I refuse to be stagnant and lose that creative drive." Peter Chakerian
7 p.m. Monday, November 13. Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $21. 314-726-6161.
Rev It Up
Maybe today's youth are too busy screwing, drinking and swearing to go to church, but they haven't been too busy to become reverends. In fact, in a trend that's slipped under the radar of most Christian groups, there are more self-proclaimed reverends making music today than ever before and we're not talking about choir tunes. Here's the shortlist of some notable holy rollers indoctrinating the atheists of tomorrow.
Reverend Glasseye: Boston's premier Americana revivalists sing hymns of soulful repentance. With some of the saddest banjo-strumming imaginable, these theatrical musicians draw in sinners with their offbeat, David Lynch-does-Carnivàle sound and wrench every offense out of them by the end of the night.
Strawfoot's Reverend Uncle Marc: Preaching to a choir of local converts, the Reverend is flanked by his alt-country brothers and sisters. His songs flirt with damnation and sin, yet he always ends his sermons with a hearty "Amen!"
The Reverend Horton Heat: Referred to by fans as simply "The Rev," the rockabilly band leader used to have a monopoly on the title of religious cleric when the band formed in the late '80s. Now the Rev may share his moniker with many, but his slick style still sets him apart.
Avenged Sevenfold's The Reverend Tholomew Plague: The band's name refers to a passage in the Book of Genesis, and all of its members go by roller-derby-esque stage names. But if drummer the Rev is preaching anything through his heavy-metal style, we haven't yet been able to discern his message.
The Reverend Whiskey Richard: St. Louis can claim this Magee's regular as all its own. And despite the occasional donning of a priest's collar, this Reverend sings perhaps the most drunkenly blasphemous songs of them all. Andrea Noble Strawfoot and Reverend Glasseye perform as part of Twangbang. 9 p.m. Friday, November 10. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $8. 314-773-3363.
Few storytellers can match wits with Tom Waits. For three decades, he has summoned up the things that go bump in the night with a voice that resembles a busted carburetor being dragged down a dirt road. Before Scarlett Johansson has her way with him (Scarlett Sings Tom Waits hits shelves in 2007 seriously), check out a few tracks from the upcoming Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards, a three-disc collection of rarities and new material. "Road to Peace" and "Bottom of the World" (Brawlers) showcases the more boisterous side of Waits; "You Can Never Hold Back Spring" (Bawlers) slows things down for a Louis Armstrong-style ballad. Bastards is reserved for the truly bizarre. Now playing at www.anti.com.