In theater, films and music, the themes of modern-age paranoia and alienation are not new, but rarely are they expressed with the visual and musical energy displayed by the Screamers.
In their sold-out engagement at the Whisky last weekend, the Screamers, a four-piece, L.A.-based group, proved just how potent those concepts can be. Their show, like most, is flawed, but the better moments compensate for the lesser. The lead singer, who is billed as "Tomato du Plenty," stalks the stage with a disturbingly obsessive stare, singing about things like "vertigo" and "peer pressure. The other screamers, meanwhile, maintain the kinetic pace with two keyboardists (Tommy Gear and Paul Roessler) and a drummer (who goes by "K.K.").
The Screamers' act is visually (although not lyrically) blatant, yet the essential themes are never obscured. What's more commendable, though, is that the group conveys its message without the sterile abstractness of say, Kraftwerk.
"We really like the appeal of the Bay City Rollers and Shaun Cassidy," said du Plenty in an interview after Friday's performance. "I saw Shaun Cassidy last week, and he put on a fantastic show - he really relates to the audience, and that's what we want to accomplish. Whereas with groups such as Kraftwerk, it's like looking at an ice cube onstage."
Using an instrumental line-up of two keyboardists, a drummer, and a vocalist, as the Screamers do, is distinct from most pop groups. The combination, however, is more coincidental than it is calculated.
"I often refer to the tyranny of guitars in popular music," Tommy Gear said. "It seems that guitars have been overused, and have become real cliche and tawdry. It's interesting to use different combinations of instruments and not come up with a cliche sound, like the Hawaiian guitar ... or the accordion - now there's an instrument that could really use a renaissance."
The Screamers' goals are characteristic of many new wave groups. Despite a professed primitivism, what once began as an artistically limited genre is becoming increasingly theatrical.
"I think it's very important to be in touch with with certain things the word 'Primitive' connotes - certain feelings or certain deep-rooted experiences. that way, you can get a better understanding of what goes beyond mere primitivism.
"I think we're definitely in touch with those things. I like to think that we're post-modern. 'Modern' is too elusive - it's something you have to keep chasing, Like any artist, we're reacting with the environment and trying to relate what's going on inside of us. And I don't think we're different from anyone else in that respect."
The Screamers are different, though, in one important respect: the group is extremely wary of being limited by a static musical or visual approach, as has occurred with other artists. Instead, the group intends to continue experimenting - an idea that is sure to please its fans. And, more importantly, it should prevent their musical and visual medium from becoming hopelessly stagnant in the future.
-By MARK NELSON