Shocks Make A Scene

By Race Bannon

Judging by the traffic, most of Louisville was celebrating the Fourth of July on the Belvedere. But the real fireworks were at the Cardinal Inn, where the Shocks provided a pyrotechnic opening act for the Exploding Veils. According to one witness, the Shocks, a Bowling Green, Ky. quartet, "were smokin'."

Formerly Toxic Shocks, the band are relatively new faces in Louisville with only three other local appearances under their belts: one at the Red Barn and two at Tewligans. In their three years together the Shocks have played extensively in Bowling Green and Lexington, Ky., Nashville, Tenn., and Carbondale, Ill.

The Shocks opened their set with "By Any Means Necessary," a tribute to civil rights leader Malcolm X and an attack on the inherent racism in the Bush Administration's war on drugs. Other originals included "America, the Beautiful," "Too Easy," "Big Commotion," and "Black Label," in which they praise their favorite beer. The Shocks also offered tongue-in-cheek covers of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "What's Your Name?" and the Beatles' "Let It Be," with a small change: "I wake up to the Sound of Music. Julie Andrews sleeps with me . . ."

The Shocks' true essence, however, is in the performance. It is an understatement to say that guitarist Chris Becker is among the most physically expressive players around, leaping about the stage as if at the end of a bungi cord. His brother, drummer Pat Becker, delivers a cannonade of rhythmic artillery. John Boland's bass playing, punctuated by funky slaps and pops, reminds one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea. Combining rage and grace is singer Jack Tapp: Johnny Rotten meets James Brown. Drawing on musical and non-musical influences as diverse as punk, rap, metal, alcohol, and the evening news, the Shocks are exhilarating fun.

While they deftly employ candor and irony, carefully avoiding the angry-young-men cliche, the Shocks are arrogant, to be sure. Pat Becker, wearing only an American flag wrapped around him like a diaper, said that "the Louisville music scene is lame. There are no bands with soul, that mean what they're doing. Mostly rich-kid brat bands." "Most people don't know what's going on . . . seeing real rock 'n' roll confuses them. We create our own scene," he said. For John Boland, "playing live is a religious experience. It's therapy. It helps clear your conscience . . . otherwise, we'd be (expletive deleted) off all the time." Boland said the Shocks' message is "for dumb people to get smart. Unfortunately, they're too dumb to get it."

Chris Becker said he's in the Shocks because "there's nothing else I can do . . . nothing else to do." "Sometimes I'll see somebody doing a job, like selling cars, and I'll think, 'Could I do a job like that?' and I'll say, 'No, man.'" Becker said the Shocks' lyrics "are about everything that's (expletive deleted) up, from America to getting married young because you got someone pregnant. But even our songs about girls, like 'Night Train,' are sympathetic. They're satirical."

Pat Becker added that the Shocks' favorite baseball players are "Bake McBride, because he had the baddest Afro, and Thurman Munson, who died in a plane crash like Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was the Freebird of baseball."

The Shocks are currently the opening act for several dates on the "Night of the Reptile '90" Tour, sponsored by Reptile Records. The tour also features Government Cheese, the Dusters and Susan Marshall. While the Shocks are waiting for the Reptile tour to end before scheduling new dates, they're eager to come back to Louisville and make an even bigger noise. When the opportunity to catch the Shocks comes back around, do so. They definitely demand attention.