October 04, 2003

The Vertebrats "A Thousand Day Dream"

Every city--especially college towns--has a phenomenon called The Local Rock Heroes. These bands are the ones who play every chance they get--be it frat parties, opening for a big touring band, or just playing to their friends in the college pub, it doesn't really matter. Often, the music is bar-room rock, garage rock, or a variation of what's popular at the time, and their fans are college students. Sometimes these bands luck out and get huge, but most of the time they don't. Heck, many of them are lucky if they're able to record a single. If they make it to an album, they're even luckier. Usually, they don't have much of a life outside of their town. Throughout Rock Music Journalism, such bands are regulated to the unenviable position of being 'talked about;' they suffer the fate of being namedropped by those who are older, bitter, or simply like to have a badge of honor to give them some 'roots' in the 'scene.'

As these things go, The Vertebrats are no exception to this rule. In fact, they fit it quite well. These guys were active in Champaign-Urbana between 1979 and 1982, so if you're under the age of 35 and/or not from Champaign-Urbana, you have a doctor's note excusing you from not having heard of them. In fact, were it not for Reaction Records' reissue of A Thousand Day Dream, you wouldn't have heard of them, and I wouldn't be writing about them. Their racket--typical late-'70s/early '80s college-rock with a '60s Garage Rock beat--is very much of the time, and there's a reason why history has pretty much forgotten The Vertebrats: they weren't very good.

Now, that doesn't mean they were bad. They have this certain charm, the kind that's normally reserved for a child who tries to do something they're too little to do, yet they never let their own inability stop them. The Verte brats were nothign if not determined; they have one classic moment, "Left In The Dark," which was released back then on a compilation, Battle of the Garages Volume One. It wasn't until 1992 that this album of material appeared on the scene, and even then, it was a collection of a few sessions that they recorded here and there. Basically a collection of three different recording sessions, A Thousand Day Dream is the sound of a band growing. My particular favorite of the sessions would have to be the Faithful Studio. These songs have a certain shine on them that reminds me of the mid-60s, especially the Rolling Stones' more blues-oriented material. The winner here is "Robbery," which is pretty much a straight-up rip-off of Them's hit "Gloria."
Don't even get me started on the following track, "Put Your Toys Away," the even-more-blatant ripoff of The Grass Roots' "Let's Live for Today"

The Vertebrats weren't the greatest band in the world, but they weren't the worst. No, what they had was a grasp of the charm of amateurism, and they used their charm quite well. It's only rock and roll, but the Vertebrats liked it, and they did it the best that they could. A Thousand Day Dream is a nice little document of a band whose sound might not impress you immediatly but will charm you with their innocence and earnest attempts at greatness. Plus, if you like the garage-rock thing (especially that of the 60s), then it's really hard not to like The Vertebrats, either. If songs like "Try Again" or "Left in the Dark" or "Diamonds In The Rough" don't move you, it's okay.

Curiously enough, the best way to really get into A Thousand Day Dream is to follow the band's instruction for listening: 'We've found through exprience that most of these songs sound best when played at a ridiculously exaggerated volume on a Friday or Saturday night, in the company of a great many people, most of whom you don't yet know." Oddly enough...it works. There's something about turning up the volume and not paying particular attention to the music that makes it all seem so wonderful, so warm, so human, and it's at that moment--when you're meeting people for the first time and you're generally having fun--that the Vertebrats turn into the best band on the planet.

Can't beat that, can you?

--Joseph Kyle


Anonymous said...

this review is horribly written

except in some contexts where I have to admit it's ok

Joseph Kyle said...

it's easy to be negative when you don't show yr face.

Anonymous said...

This review is great because the writer wants to not like the Vertebrats. He wants to remain unmoved by how great they are! So he first says the Vertebrats were not that great but admits they have some charm, some limited appeal...by the end of the review he ends up suggesting that they may be the best band on the planet! As a fan whose appreciation of the VB's has only grown over the years as I realized what great staying power their songs have and how great their live shows were and still are -including their reunion this September in Champaign Urbana - it's wonderful to see how the band continues to win new fans -even austere, detached popular music critics! -September 2006