Come change their line-up, then plunge boldly ahead

by Brett Milano

The Boston Phoenix, August 25, 1995

hateDon’t know about you, but I’m really going to miss that band whose fans followed them around, the band who wove various threads of American music into something of their own, the band who explored uncharted territory on stage, the band fronted by that magnetic, inscrutable singer/guitarist.

And I hear that the Grateful Dead are in trouble as well. But if the break-up (or semi-break-up) of Come is more emotional than most, that’s because the band gave local audiences something they don’t often get: a sense of the unpredictable. For a group who had only about two dozen songs in their repertoire, Come were especially open to shifts in dynamics, and they were perfectly capable of meandering shows that never quite clicked. But you could always tell when they were having a good night (one show late last summer at T.T. the Bear’s Place comes to mind). If Chris Brokaw’s guitar psychedelics were in synch with Thalia Zedek’s vocal psychodramas, and if the rhythm section ebbed and flowed in just the right places, you could walk out throbbing.

That said, last Saturday’s well-attended farewell show at the Middle East wasn’t really the end of an era, or even the end of a band. It was, however, the end of Come as local audiences know them; bassist Sean O’Brien and drummer Arthur Johnson (both transplants from Athens, Georgia) are both quitting for the usual musical burnout/need-a-life reasons. They served notice before an especially tense gig at the Wellfleet Beachcomber earlier this summer, and some of the tension likely spilled over to Saturday’s gig (“I totally understand their reasons for leaving, but it’s not always easy to be rational in those situations,” Brokaw said afterward). But Brokaw and Zedek plan to keep the band going, without committing to a full-time rhythm section. Next month they begin work on the third Come album with a few guests, including the former rhythm section of Rodan. “Most of it was written with Sean and Arthur in mind, so it shouldn’t be too different,” Brokaw explains.

Neither has the original line-up been heard for the last time. They just recorded a new song, “Cimarron,” that will appear on Ain’t Nothing But a Girl Thing, a compilation that London Records is releasing to benefit women’s causes. Come’s track will be heard right alongside Sinéad O’Connor, Salt-N-Pepa, and Annie Lennox. They’re also working on a new album by former Dream Syndicate and current Gutterball frontman Steve Wynn. Work on that disc began at Fort Apache last weekend; a second session is set for October and a handful of live shows may follow. One can expect Come to push Wynn away from his introspective singer/songwriter tendencies and toward the dark guitar jams of the early Syndicate. It’s likely he recruited them for just that reason.

Last weekend’s show didn’t sustain the intensity as well as some I’ve seen, largely because they played longer than usual (just shy of two hours) and did nearly all of their album tracks an B-sides, including the dronier pieces from Eleven:eleven that are usually done in more sparingly (last year’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell didn’t get as strong a buzz, but it’s the better album). Still, the band hit their stride often enough, matching Brokaw’s avant-heroics with the rhythm section’s instinctive knowledge of when to nail down a groove and when to mess it up. The cabaret-decadent “Let’s Get Lost” from Don’t Ask was the night’s early peak, an ode to sexual/narcotic abandon that found the two guitars surfing on the undertow.

As usual, Zedek was responsible for a good part of the anti-star charisma as well as the nasty exterior: look closely at her guitar and you’ll see the word “HATE” in Day-Glo letters. But the moments of rock celebration are also the real thing. The venomous “Poison” found her and Brokaw jousting Kiss-like with their guitar necks. There was also an on-stage looseness that’s rare for this band. Before “Finish Line,” Brokaw noted, “This is not a drug song,” and Zedek sang those words to the tune of PiL’s “This Is Not a Love Song” — okay, not exactly a howler, but the first joke I’ve ever seen her crack on stage.

The all-covers encore managed to cover most of the band’s range, starting with a Brokaw-sung version of the Only One’s punk-pop gem “City of Fun,” which led into the Swell Maps’ chaotic instrumental “Loin of the Surf.” But it was the Rolling Stones’ “I Got the Blues” that showed how well Come can wrap themselves around a slow, swampy groove. Zedek keyed into the lyric’s obsessive quality, ending the night with the song’s kicker: “If you don’t believe what I’m saying/At four o’clock in the morning I’ll be singing my song for you.” On the Stones’ version the lyric was actually “three o’clock in the morning,” but it’s typical of Come to take things another hour into the darkness.