When I put on The Ordeal of Civility by Gary Lucas’ Gods and Monsters for the first time, I immediately asked myself: Who are these guys? Finishing 11 tracks of blues riffs, 80s style rock and vocals from a singer that range from Nick Cave to Ian McCulloch to Brian Setzer, and I pose a question to you. Who are Gary Lucas’ Gods and Monsters?
Are they an up and coming band that is heavily influenced by 1980s style blues rock and big band sensibilities or pioneers of the sound that have been recording and playing in other bands for the last thirty-plus years? Sadly, I did not know the answer until now.
Before I am accosted by diehard music fans and beaten to death by their Captain Beefheart albums, yes, I knew of The Magic Band; Talking Heads; Television; and the New York Dolls, but I didn’t know of their New York based side project Gods and Monsters. Let me say that I am already mentally beating myself up for this ignorance. It is obvious that Gary Lucas, former guitarist for the aforementioned Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley is a great musician; the proof is in the album.
You do not need a PhD in Gods and Monsters to enjoy this body of work. The Ordeal of Civility is anything but civil. It starts out with a four track barrage of psychedelic rock, blues riffs, space-age synthesizers, (from the far off distant year of 1999) baritone vocals ranging from twangy to breathy and saxophone solos that will have you thinking of sports jackets with rolled up sleeves and skinny ties. The listener is then treated to a mashup of big band swing and roadhouse blues in “Hot and Cold Everything” before being led into “Lady of Shalott,” a renfair quality minstrel song.
After the break, a distortion-filled slide guitar rendition of “Amazing Grace” starts up and then a horn accompanied jam session starts with “Peep Show Bible,” a railing against the hypocrisy of organized religion contained in the bawdy tales of the Old Testament. “From Genesis to Revelations ain’t a thing that ain’t been tried and done,” Lucas proclaims and whose statement is punctuated by crisp horn blasts. After listening to this song, my thoughts were simply: “Man these guys rock!” And I never talk like that – that is the power this band has over me. That power is held until the end of the album when the Jimmy Page-esque “Lazy Flowers” instrumental sets up the hauntingly grand “Jedwabne.”
The power of The Ordeal of Civility is its ability to transport you into the past. It makes me yearn for an era of rock and roll rich in sound and complex in makeup. Songs like “Climb the Highest Mountain” and “Whirlygig” make me want to buy a rusted out pickup truck that gets 12 miles to the gallon so I can play the song on tape complain about how Ronald Reagan is ruining America.
Do you like Stevie Ray Vaughan? What about the Traveling Wilburys? Brian Setzer and his Orchestra? Bluegrass bands that play bar patios on a summer night? Then this is up your alley. Are you thinking about starting a band? Then this is must listen: it is pure Rock Theory 101; an essential tool for aspiring musicians. Most of all, it is a great throwback to a fun time in rock and roll and is one hundred percent irony free.