max logo Mike, Kim, Paul, Terry

Freaky friends


A freak, in 1970 terms, was collective and concerted crazy. An either-or thing: Either you're for us or again us. And when that polite, good-looking kid next door suddenly freaked out with bushels of hair, strange-smelling cigarettes and music loud enough to maim, why, the whole neighborhood shuddered in bewilderment.

Max Webster are like that - four boys-next-door, maybe a little wild you know, but nice kids. Right here in Windsor, too - Mike Tilka was a fixture on bass around this city for awhile, and the band has played here occasionally. Not common people, you understand, but not . . . well, weird.

Their music is weird, though. Genuinely freaky. A slap in John Denver's face. Max Webster, their first album (on Taurus-London), is freaky music to astonish the neighbours.

I don't mean outrageous, exactly, though it is challenging. Their tongues are stuck too firmly in their cheeks to really annoy. But the dissonance, the noise, the oddity and obscurity, certainly can perplex. We need Frank Zappa as translator.

It's a strange feeling to hear the yowls of Hangover and know you've joined your buddies in the band in that particular rite of atonement (and in the rituals leading thereto).

Toronto, their hometown, and a city with some self-conception of itself as freaky, gives them plenty of support. "In Canadian terms," says Tilka's press release, "We have proved that a commercial band need not be limited to a repertoire of boogie tunes." That's for sure. Nothing on the album will be played in discos.

They are, though, as businesslike as that statement implies. They work well together, too, with the flash soloists - Kim Mitchell, lightning guitarist, and Paul Kersey, imaginative drummer - never upsetting the unit. Lots of ingenuity, but a problem: They don't sing so hot. Talking the songs, like Zappa, is part of the solution. But the vocal part of their identity hasn't coalesced.

Blowing the Blues Away is a light enough little song that some radio stations can play; Here Among the Cats is their popular thudder. Some of the other stuff on the album is more brash than substantial, but it's a carefully established debut, including the three-eyed heads in the cover painting by Terry Watkinson, who didn't learn to draw like that when he played the bars with the Yeomen years ago.

Crazy? Like a fox, maybe.