CL on the Road: Athens/Atlanta band, The Shut-Ups, becomes re-acquainted with the ATL scene

The self-described New Wave power pop band -- whose music has been dubbed as nerd rock by critics -- was started as a studio project in 2000 by singer/keyboardist/composer/ lyricist Don Condescending (Chris Snell), and another local Athens musician, Jason NeSmith of Casper & the Cookies.


[image-1]In 2002, guitarist/vocalist Ben Spraker and bassist/back-up vocalist Thaddeus Thompson (pictured left) joined the band. The Shut-ups have seen a small turnover in drummers and second guitarists, but current members include Teenage Man on the drums and Shadraq Meeshaq on the guitar.


The Shut Ups are truly matchless. Condescending's songwriting crosses the musical boundaries of the '60s, '70s and '80s, though you won't hear many influences from the '90s - - Condescending considers the decade regrettable when it comes to music.


Spraker said when he first met Condescending, Nirvana was big and Condescending just didn't get it. Spraker also credited Condescending with being one of the most prolific songwriters in the Athens/Atlanta area. He said the musical mastermind thinks everything out from beginning to end, often writing difficult songs not really within human limitations of playing.


Before the Kavarna show, Condescending was huddled in a corner, head bent, fervently writing away.


"He's brainstorming on ideas and things to talk about with the audience," Spraker told me. "The theme (of the show) is always a surprise."


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Condescending's onstage character was apparent in his dialogue with the crowd as well as his body language and wild facial expressions. During The Shut-Ups performance, Condescending humorously addressed several current events and the band's late 2008 tour in Japan.


"For those of you who've never heard of us, I think we're best described as the bastard child of Mike Vick and Uga (The University of Georgia's bulldog mascot)," Condescending joked.


The Shut-Ups opened the Kavarna show with "Other Bands" off their third studio effort, 2005's The Stud Album. (The back of the CD jewel case says the album was inspired by Robert Greene's The Art of Seduction.)


The musicians stood with their backs to the crowd and slowly turned around as their respective parts began. Condescending was the first to turn as he began the slower tune with a catchy, fluid line on the keyboard as he sang, "Why do you listen to other bands? / Why are they not discarded? / Might you be squarer than a bell-bottom wearer? / Might you be retarted?"


When Spraker joined the tune with a gnarly guitar riff that mimicked the melody of the verses, I felt my spirit lift. The song was infectious and the perfect opener for what was to be a night of inimitable sounds.


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The Shut-Ups set list included songs from all four of their studio albums, including their fourth and latest, Imaginary Dancer, a song-by-song response to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The latter was only released in Japan (with selective albums sold in the U.S.) and I'm still not sure how each song relates to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack; Condescending's abstract concept is way over my head and I need to be inside his to fully understand it.


When The Shut-Ups' set ended, the crowd was quick to chant for an encore. Condescending informed them that "It is rude to ask for an encore in Japan." But the band pleased its listeners and performed two more numbers: "It Hurts to be Seen," a sad yet sweet song with heavy backing vocals and a '60s pop rock vibe emanating from the verses; and the experimental Weenesque, "I'm Pretending to be a Robot."


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The Shut-Ups' loyal fans happily welcomed back the band after their hiatus from the Atlanta music scene. The musicians not only delivered magical tunes but lots of laughs and the element of surprise - par for the course, if you ask me. Perhaps sometime in the future The Shut-Ups will tour Florida (hint, hint) and music fans in the Sunshine State can get a taste of Don Condescending's wisdom and unconventional songwriting.

It's been a year-and-a-half since Athens-Atlanta band The Shut-Ups played Atlanta. As their set neared, Kavarna — laid-back coffee joint by day, music venue by night — filled up with excited fans, friends and family. As the five-piece band took the stage clad in their trademark dress suits, silence ensued and the onlookers' lips curved into anticipatory smiles. What could the audience expect from the fun witty, upbeat band?

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