By Jim Sullivan
San Diego Union-Tribune, 1998?
In an alt-rock world glutted with, as Gene Ween recently put it here, five bands all sounding like one Sublime song, and the rest of them regurgitating the stale crumbs of grunge, the Boston-based quartet Come stands out.
“Those bands are standard rock bands,” says Come singer-guitarist Thalia Zedek, “not really that different from what’s been in the Top 40 for the last 20 years — maybe with a different vocal style or more feedback on the guitar.
“We’ve never come out of that tradition of the straight-ahead rock band. The music we make is not that commercial. The songs are kind of long and don’t repeat the same sections over and over; the melody might be in the guitar part, not the chorus.”
Come, formed in late 1990, may be a semi-avant-garde rock band, but Zedek and co-leader, guitarist-singer Chris Brokaw, came from even more left-field projects — Zedek from New York art/noisemakers Live Skull via Uzi and Dangerous Birds, and Brokaw from the slow-burning Codeine, among others.
Come, celebrating the release of its fourth album, “Gently Down the Stream” (Matador), is hardly distortion free, but there’s a bluesy undertone and some eloquent guitar excursions that both mesh and clash. There’s certainly a churning, corrosive quality to the songs, but there’s dark beauty in that squall, too.
“I’ve always hoped that what we’re doing was creating something beautiful,” says Brokaw, who brings Come to San Diego Sunday at The Casbah in Middletown, “something more beautiful than ourselves. I thought when we were playing out a year ago in a piano-based setting some people were surprised we could turn these loud rock songs into something pretty. I thought they were pretty all along, but you don’t always notice that at 110 decibels.”
“I just like sad music, dramatic music,” adds Zedek, “even in other music, not just rock. I like flamenco music and Greek music — it’s minor-key and really sad. Not that I can’t enjoy other stuff, but it’s just my taste.”
Of their guitar interplay, Zedek says, “How I relate to him is to try and not pay attention to the chords he’s playing; I’ll try to play something different, to play off of him. I think we have a certain way of playing together. It’s pretty spontaneous. We don’t sit and work out guitar parts, outside of rehearsal.”
The low-pitched nature of their sound results from their tuning, to E-flat. “It’s a standard tuning,” says Brokaw, “but one note below standard perfect pitch. It was kind of an accident we arrived upon when we first started. We didn’t have a guitar tuner. We were playing and guessing and wrote this song we wanted to get a harmonica for. We didn’t know which one to buy so we took a guitar to a store and played along to the harmonica and bought the proper one. Then, we got a tuner and realized it was flat, so we’re sort of stuck in E-flat.
“It’s kind of cool. When we toured with Nirvana, we found they tuned to E-flat. Jimi Hendrix also tuned to E-flat.”
Come is fleshed out by Daniel Coughlin and, at present, German bassist Sasha Steinfurth, who is filing in for Winston Bramen, who does double duty in Fuzzy and is working with them now. (Steinfurth played with Come when they were in the initial stages of working up new songs.)
One new standout is a wise-after-the-event song called “Sorry Too Late,” with Zedek, in torrential outpour mode, singing: I started drinking because I knew / It didn’t matter if I waited / And I got no patience…Sorry I’m so dumb / Sorry I’m no fun …Sorry that I miss you …Didn’t want to bother you / Didn’t mean to fall for you.
“I met someone,” says Zedek of the song’s source, “but really at the wrong time. It’s about that: when you feel you’re too late in someone’s life.”
Another key song is “Saints Around My Neck,” which has whisper-to-a-scream dynamics and Zedek singing of being choked by those “saints” — the religious or good luck talismans people wear. “It’s not really so much anti-religious,” she says, “as it is about superstitions and the weird things people do to ward off evil. It’s not about being hypocritical, it’s a human thing. I’m actually a pretty superstitious person.”