an interview feature from the boston phoenix:
Tall Guy is in a (really good) band!
By: CAMILLE DODERO
The soul-bellowing body blast almost makes you forget that their bassist is the most famous spectator in Boston live music.
The Big Disappointments are an important local band for two reasons. One, they kill live, with a gut-quaking locomotive rumble of psych-rock riffs and rockabilly-voodoo beats. Two, their bassist is arguably the most famous spectator in the last decade of Boston live music. His government name is Jon Littlefield, but you probably know him as Tall Guy. Or Tall Jon. Or The Guy Who Goes to Every Show.
Don’t know who I mean? Yes, you do: at six-foot-seven, he cuts an unmistakable figure — Where’s Waldo reinvented to star a laconic art-rock/noise über-fan with Nick Cave’s cheekbones and Thurston Moore’s gaunt loftiness. He’s the scally-capped shape with the PJ Harvey T-shirt whose omnipresence is immortalized in Nick Zinner’s I Hope You Are All Happy Now, a softcover book of photos that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist shot from the stage. Further evidence that I’m not overstating Littlefield’s ubiquity: when the Big Disappointments played P.A.’s Lounge in early August (they’ll be there again this Friday), a dark-haired man who later introduced himself as Francis walked into the venue’s rec-room performance area, spotted Littlefield thrumming the bass, and excitedly whispered to a friend, “Holy shit! Tall Guy’s in a band!” Then he high-fived his buddy.
“We all know that we’ve all seen Jon at every show,” confirms TBD frontman/guitarist Eric Boomhower with a slightly bored sigh. “We weren’t seeking to have Jon in this band because he’s ‘Tall Jon.’ That’s not what this band is about.”
And it isn’t, even though Littlefield’s presence might be something of a selling point. Rather, the Big Disappointments are the sum of their four parts: a hurly-burly engine of desert-menace guitars, underlying bass trellis, and psychobilly stomp. They’re physically unassuming (aside from Tall Jon), with no visual agenda: two guitarists in plain T-shirts and jeans (Boomhower and Andy Abrahamson, both formerly of the In Out) and a cute, petite girl tucked behind the drum kit. But once Lisa Mullen (who happily tells me she likes playing music with guys because “I was once a boy!”) starts banging out that pomade swing, you’re confronted by a soul-bellowing body blast that makes you forget the beer you just bought or the stranger you just met or the taxi your ignorant ass just called. Instead you think about strung-out drifters speeding along cactus-lined highways, truck-stop death-panic scenes, the Gun Club, Lux Interior and his leather pants.
You can project any images you like onto the Big Disappointments’ songs because Boomhower’s words are nearly indecipherable live. The slapback delay he uses gives his delivery a trippy echo-chamber quality of muted consonants and swollen vowels. “I got that from old rough blues recordings and certain Joy Division songs, really old music,” he explains as the five of us down beers at P.A.’s. “Plus, it also makes the vocals sound more like a melodic instrument.”
In truth, Boomhower, chief songwriter and band architect, is singing about his political disillusionment. “The songs are touching upon things in this world that I have a problem with, that I’m trying to deal with and come to terms with. If I don’t write about them, it’ll drive me fuckin’ crazy. I call it [the genre] ‘poelitical.’ ” The Big Disappointments as a proper name aren’t the four band mates reveling in their loser status; the Big Disappointments refer to what Boomhower views as life’s cruel realities, the failures of the modern era. The four-minute-plus rallying cry “A Warhead” is littered with metaphorical phrases like the “foreign exchange,” “coming infestation,” and “a suicide contest.” Boomhower says, “You can say it’s poetry or you can say it’s political rubbish; it doesn’t matter to me.”
People know TBD as a live band, but they have recorded nearly everything since their first show last April — every rehearsal, every song. At the end of the month, they’ll head into the studio with Thalia Zedek, who’s roommates with Boomhower. “She’s offered to produce our record. Which is like having one of your greatest influences involved personally in your music.”
Until then, their total output is both posted on-line and released on a homeburned CD Live at Studio-Eight 2006. Scanning titles like “The Hunted Whale” and “Deathbed Country,” you’d expect the gear-grinding opener, “Chemicals,” to be about nuclear war. Nope, says Boomhower, it’s a love song. “It’s basically saying, ‘This is how I feel about this person, this is what attracts me to this person, it’s their chemicals coming off.’ ”
It seems he’s never discussed these lyrics (“Seems like I keep my face beneath/Your winter coat where I can breathe/Seems like I need your chemicals”) with the rest of the band. He wonders who else knew this was a love ballad.
“It’s so obvious, my God,” says Littlefield. “It’s all about smells.”
Then Mullen peeps, “Chemicals is why I’m a lady now!” Everyone at the table cracks up.
If Littlefield is the face of TBD and Boomhower is the legs, then Mullen is the laugh. (Abrahamson didn’t talk enough for me to assign him a body part.) She has the tiniest voice I’ve ever heard come out of a human, and most of her comments are absurdly comical non sequiturs.
“If you have too much testosterone in a band, you’re going to end up sounding like Metallica,” says Boomhower about playing beside Mullen. “And that’s not what we want.”
“Besides,” Mullen says, smacking Littlefield’s arm in a Red Stripe epiphany, “The audience likes seeing the tallest person in Boston and the smallest person in Boston on stage together!”
- Camille Dodero, Boston Phoenix
Eric is less “proclaimer”, no Knight Exemplar: Eric needs you to testify. With your sweat, with your pulse, with your hoarse throat you do. To a large Sabbath that drudges through the bar, stampeding a decibel retardo. The clash of sacred and judicial. And with gnashing rock drums, Lisa wears a burdened look, “Thiiiisssss isss sooo damned harrrrdd!”. She slashes rhythm in a petulant melee with the kit in front of us all. It’s the truth. It is hard. (Evan Rossi www.myspace.com/letsgreenfield
The whole thing shines like a piece of gold found on a lonesome fog-bound trail somewhere in the West. Damn near perfect. (Tim Emswiler)
One is in the presence of a very great group. - Nicko (2007)