Cardiacs Attack

I’ve spent several evenings now obsessing over Cardiacs, the British band that’s going to be the subject of a tribute/benefit concert on Sunday, May 8, at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco.

In the ‘States, their music seems to only be available on iTunes — a shame for those of us who don’t like tithing Apple and don’t like restrictions on our music. (Yes, iTunes went DRM-free, but that doesn’t equate to freedom.) Even so, if the band gets a couple of dimes from my iTunes purchase, then some good comes out of it all.

Cardiacs comes in two flavors: One is bouncy, evil-clown music with crazed chords going off the rails, virtuoso insane keyboard riffs, strangely metered songs (lines that go on for 5 or 7 or 9.5 measures rather than the usual 4 or 8), and some saxophone for artsy cred and even a jazzy uplift. The other is a more straight guitar band, with a burning post-punk sound… and strangely metered songs and occasional saxophone — you get the idea.

Cardiacs songs can be thick and complex — comparisons to Zappa and Beefheart abound — but Cardiacs can also turn a searing pop tune. “Is This the Life” was their one minor hit in the mainstream, dark and anthemic and big, simple enough for radio, too calloused for a John Hughes soundtrack. It rocks.

I’d not heard of Cardiacs* until Moe! Staiano started talking on Facebook about putting together that benefit show. Tim Smith, the guitarist and songwriter, suffered a heart attack and subsequent strokes about two-and-a-half years ago and is still in hospital. Efforts to aid in his care have included a benefit CD (my copy’s in the post, as they say) and things like Moe!’s upcoming benefit show. Need the details again? May 8, at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco.

I’ve been delving into Cardiacs’ catalogue via YouTube, and now I’m going to start collecting the albums proper, in electronic form. This band is amazing.

You’ll hear me say more about them between now and May 8, and beyond, I’m sure. For now, here’s a video. Their most “grab ya” song is probably “Tarred and Feathered,” but this one, “R.E.S.,” seems to have been an important one in their history, and it’s the one that really got my attention. I can’t get its various pieces out of my head.

* It turns out Amy X. Neuburg and Herb Heinz played Cardiacs on my radio show way back in 2004. I’d invited them to bring some CDs and help enlighten the masses, and one of their choices was apparently Cardiacs’ Guns.  Going to have to dig up that tape from my closet!

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