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Something for everyone

Hands and Knees' vintage-to-Fraggle rock
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  May 12, 2009

WHO MADE WHO? "When people have written stuff about us, they always mention bands that I either don't know or have never listened to," says Joe O'Brien.

Hands and Knees, "You Got Pop, You Got Style" (mp3)
Bombers Burrito Bar, where you can purchase a vegan chicken-nugget burrito the size of an infant child, is the only reason I know of to visit Albany, New York. So I was a little disappointed when Hands and Knees didn't heed my advice and scope it out during their recent Albany tour stop.

"We ate pizza next door, because we were a little tight on time. Someone else was like, 'Oh, you should eat at this sushi place.' It was odd. We got a lot of recommendations [for places to eat]," says vocalist and guitarist Joe O'Brien while driving around Greenpoint in Brooklyn. He recommends a Peruvian eatery on Brooklyn's Manhattan Ave, the name of which he can't remember. The band, who number four in all, are planning to eat banana bread later at their show at the Lower East Side's Cake Shop. This tour's route actually had them playing in Manhattan, then in North Carolina two days later, then in Brooklyn the following day.

"We are really horrible at booking tours," O'Brien concedes. "We're cool about writing songs, and trying to get better about playing them, but terrible about getting good shows and knowing what to do as a band."

That's a peculiar statement when you consider what Hands and Knees have accomplished in three years. They've been signed to the Beatings' Midriff Records and racked up ample gold stars from critics; late last month they dropped their splendid sophomore record, Et tu, Fluffy? Their unfussy, piquant, Americana-tinged presentation of indie pop (or, could it be . . . rawk?) is well on its way to garnering comparisons with every other band, ever.

"When people have written stuff about us, it's kind of odd because they always mention bands that I either don't know or have never listened to," says O'Brien. "I kind of chuckle at the whole thing. I don't know who I'd compare us to, to be honest. We're in this same genre of all those bands — rock, Chuck Berry, or whatever. It's all the same genre, more or less."

He goes on, "Carina will write some song, and she'll be like, 'This is a total ripoff of Al Green.' " He's referring to bassist and co-vocalist Carina Kelly. "It's good to rip off people who you don't naturally resemble."

O'Brien and Kelly are both from Massachusetts origins and both now live in Boston, but they happened upon each other — and their knack for seamless vocal harmonizing — while in New Mexico. They weren't thinking about a band; they just began writing songs. These wouldn't be recorded until a year later, on the other side of the country, when the two reconvened and joined guitarist Scott Hoffman in his loft studio in Shelburne Falls. Only then did they decide, astutely, that a band would be a worthwhile venture.

As for Et tu, Fluffy?, it journeys from sparkly, punky, crank-'em-uppers like "Blue Day Moon" and "Anywhere But Here" to the smoky cool of "Do You Really Need a Drummer" (they do have one, Philip Ilatovsky) all with charmingly modest production values. There's also some gnarly guitar licks, and an unforced surreality to the sung words. Li'l something for everyone here.

"I always admired David Bowie's songwriting, because every song was its own little thing, and it didn't all sound the same, so I kind of picked up on that," says O'Brien, citing yet another major influence Hands and Knees resemble only in spirit. Let's face it: everyone sounds like the Pixies, at least a little, but I'm name-checking Gogol Bordello, adding them to the list of Hands and Knees' inspirations, to illustrate the rickety oom-pah of Et tu's "You Got Pop, You Got Style."

O'Brien is down with that. "Gogol Bordello are like crazy, party Fraggle music. It's like this Euro Gypsy-beat thing, all kind of sloppy and loud. 'You Got Pop . . . ' is like that. I don't know why I think of Fraggle Rock when I think of that beat, but there are certain bands that make me go, 'Fraggle music!' "

If the endpoint is a world that more closely resembles Fraggle Rock, I'd say a 12-hour detour to North Carolina is worth every mile.

HANDS AND KNEES + WYE OAK + THE POMEGRANATES + MR. SISTER | T.T. the Bear's Place, 10 Brookline St, Cambridge | May 14 at 9 pm | $9 | 617.492.BEAR or

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  Topics: Music Features , Al Green, Carina Kelly, Chuck Berry,  More more >
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