Tuesday, July 8, 2014

New Tunes: Tutu & The Pirates - 'Trail of the Great White Beaver'

By Gene Wagendorf III 

Drop the needle on Trail of the Great White Beaver and, at first, you might think nothing has changed with local punk pioneers Tutu & The Pirates. Formed in 1977, the group's material was heavy on tongue-in-cheek, adolescent snottiness, crunchy riffs and driving, fist-pump inducing beats. Raw anthems like "I Wanna Be A Janitor" and "Anarchy, Man" showed off an eye for satire and a warped sense of humor that helped make Tutu outsiders in a local music landscape dominated by what we now call "classic rock."

Flip the calendar almost 40 years and the band's new album opens with the raucous, crude and ultimately hilarious rocker "Jerk It To Sleep." Delightfully perverted lyrics aside (I didn't wanna wake you up/Had to jerk it to sleep/But I needed to shake things up/And make a mess on my sheets/Ew...), the song sets the tone for Beaver with it's combination of derecho guitars, bludgeoning drums and Lil Richie Speck's ornery crooning. "Debbie Debbie Debbie (And Her) Prison Baby" follows with a buzzsaw riff and massive percussion- think an even more buoyant take on The Ramones' "Teenage Lobotomy."

That isn't to say Tutu are simply rehashing old ideas. Rather than offer up a record wherein a bunch of old punks act like teenagers, we've got a dynamic album that sounds like it's the record they always wanted to make. "Ode De Toilette" stomps out in a sort of no-wave fit, growling and churning its way to a chorus so sinister and haunting it belies its subject matter. "Man With A Vagina" sounds less typical punk and more like a sludgy Bowie tune, while "Hellish Clitly" mixes the glam with serpentine brass work and an almost hip-hop/scat delivery from Speck. Perhaps the finest moment on Beaver is its riskiest, the borderline show tunes romp "Oh Fuck." A jocular look at the recession's effect on the McMansion crowd sung in the first person, the song unfolds dramatically with Speck waxing nostalgic about "the good life" before the introduction of a determined piano and bouncing rhythm section. It's fine and funny storytelling, and probably the most "punk" moment on a record that includes a track called "American Taliban."

In 1977 Tutu were outsiders, even in the smaller punk community that existed within Chicago. Joe Losurdo's excellent documentary You Weren't There: A History of Chicago Punk, 1977-1984 offers a great glimpse into the scene, one which appeared to be dominated by hardcore-leaning acts whose styles didn't jive with Tutu. While the current scene is an extremely inclusive one, The Pirates still seem like an odd-shaped puzzle piece, unlike under-appreciated '80s group ONO who have slid into the current landscape seamlessly.  Trail of the Great White Beaver just might be the introduction Chicago needs to one of its most important and one of its most fun bands. 


Trail of the Great White Beaver is out now and available on limited edition vinyl here and at local record stores (Reckless, Laurie's, Logan Hardware, Hip Cat) and digitally via iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby. Tutu & The Pirates play The Empty Bottle on Saturday, July 12th with infamous Detroit protopunks Death and HoZac's The Man (9pm, 21+, $20). You can snag tickets here and then check out "Jerk It To Sleep" below.

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