Epitaph for the Florenteens


Washington, D.C.
August 20, 2004


“Pop” music has always been a fluid term, but even allowing for definitional variation, its meaning has been perverted over the past 20 years or so. Once upon a time, pop signified something catchy -- whether the intelligently hook-laden works of Bacharach-David (as sung by Dionne Warwick, Jackie DeShannon, and many others), the latest Beatles single, ’70s AM radio fodder like “Brandy” and “It Never Rains in Southern California,” or power pop from the ’70s to the present.

Simple, right? Not exactly. Since the ’80s, there’s been an endless parade of “alternative” music that promises pop, but that instead delivers hooks that couldn’t catch a minnow in a bathtub. This "pop" is all atmosphere and no melody -- and even at that, the substantive equivalent of a cumulonimbus. There’s of course also the endless parade of diva bimbos, boy bands, and TV-contest-winning schmucks serving up songs that wouldn’t even make good Osmonds outtakes.

Washington, D.C.’s Florenteens, however, have earned the right to be called a pop band. Since their formation in March, through a series of gigs throughout the DC metro area and beyond in the ensuing months, the Florenteens have been playing their pure pop for now people -- with a nearly all-original repertoire of songs that stick to the ribs like filet mignon and, in some cases, taste just as good.

In the power pop stakes, the Florenteens may not have the rhythmic energy of the Jam, the flamboyance of Cheap Trick, the ’60s vibe of the Raspberries, or the punk junkie raunch of the Real Kids, but they do have songs. Think Elvis Costello without the spectacles. Or the Last’s L.A. Explosion album without a few of the studio tricks.
But all things must pass, and with guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter James Mackison moving to Boston for grad school, the band is over. But fortunately, they did leave behind a fine self-released EP (Like You Mean It) and, on Friday, August 20 at Staccato in D.C., a farewell gig to match.

Greeted by their largest crowd ever and sweltering heat (the club had no air conditioning -- yikes!), the Florenteens followed Joe Perry’s advice: Let the music do the talking. No pyrotechnics, no stage antics, a little stage banter -- but mainly, the music.

Things got started with two of the band’s more uptempo numbers, “Love Is in My Sights” and “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” before segueing into one of their best melodies, “Back Seat Girl,” a song enhanced by a couple “doo doo doo” refrains that would make Mr. Costello proud. Unfortunately, neither it nor the next song in the set, “When You Drink,” have been committed to tape, but the fifth song, “Kiss 123,” has. Buttressed by a magnificent chorus and guitar line to match, "Kiss 123" might be described as the band's hit single.

“Nightgown,” “Gone Too Long,” “Bad Days Good” and “There is This Girl” followed, each song garnering a rousing response -- but not as rousing as “Won’t You,” a more driving, assertive rocker that’s apparently a fan favorite. After a pair from the EP, “When Your Heart is Breaking” and “Unique,” “Goddess or Lawn Ornament” was on deck -- as was Tricia Sieveke, invited onstage to play the part of real-life blonde goddess/tambourine-flailing go-go dancer. Except there was no flailing -- as Sieveke managed to capture the rhythm in both her body and the instrument at waist level, good enough for another standing ovation (not that most people had a choice; the bar has few seating options). (“I’m just happy to be fulfilling my dream of being a no-talent groupie,” she waxed later.)

But Sieveke had competition. Pamela Leahigh leapt onstage to do the same for the Florenteens’ cover of “Till the End of the Day,” exchanging the suave moves of her predecessor for a more Las Vegas grind approach, all underscored by her red Assrockers T-shirt and the solid bottom laid down by bassist Dave Meyer (dig that blue Italia Maranello bass) and drummer Chetan Rao, a rhythm section that managed to jell in just five short months.

After “Say It Like You Mean It” (one of their only moody numbers) and a quickie stab at Costello’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” the final curtain fell on the Florenteens. When Meyer subsequently told me of leaving work early that day out of depression, it all became clear. While too short-lived to be called a relationship, the Florenteens were like a weekend love affair: short, sweet, not long enough for a deeper connection, but sad upon completion nevertheless.

The Florenteens were sandwiched between Lejeune and Pagoda. I didn’t catch the entire Lejeune set, but I liked enough of what I heard of their indy pop sound to mark them down as a band to check out again. Though not quite my cup of tea, Pagoda were good -- and scored high marks for an avant-garde cover of the Troggs’ “66-5-4-3-2-1” that had to be heard to believed.