Potylo show means first full-band performance for two albums
In talking about Rob Potylo’s new album, “So Far from the Hatch,” and therefore about the CD release show Thursday, there’s good news and bad news.
The bad is that “Hatch” isn’t as strong an album as Potylo’s previous work, “Worried All the Time I’ll Make Mistakes.” The good is that, given the low-key release “Worried” got only months ago, Potylo has included 10 key tracks from that 18-track album as the second half of “Hatch.” (The new album also includes the hilarious hip-hop instant classic “Revere Beach.”) And because he hasn’t performed with a full band since he finished “Worried,” the “Hatch” show will certainly feature those songs.
That’s not just good news. It’s excellent news. There are at least a half-dozen songs from “Worried” that simply demand play by a live, full band. “No Delay,” for instance, is an absolutely heroic, barn-burner of a song with blistering guitar work — such a good song it induces the violent mixing of metaphors — and songs such as “A Line of Traffic” and “Five Steps” are just beautiful and will be exciting to hear with a full-band treatment.
Much of the music on “Hatch” is, on the surface, purposefully sillier or more incidental, and the mix often makes the band sound distant from Potylo’s lyrics and singing. The previous album was all over the place, but it segued well and the music felt more immediate and integrated.
Another change since “Worried”: Potylo’s running commentary on how the songs are going has been dialed back again. The live-mic interactions on last year’s Super Time Pilot disc were a major part of the album; there was necessarily less on “Worried,” since he didn’t have a partner to banter or exchange insults and threats with, but it still contributed to a loose and engaging feel. All the chatter is gone on “Hatch,” except for a 43-second message in which Potylo explains the 10 tracks that follow. Eliminating the commentary suggests “Hatch” is going to be a more professional album, but, well, this wasn’t the album that rated that raising of expectations.
In video games
That’s not to bash “Hatch” — it’s good, with “Let Me Fly Your Kite” and “Do You Like Cake” the standout songs. “I Solved Every Mini-Quest” misses rising to the level of “No Delay,” thwarted again by that distancing sound mix.
The inclusion of that song, which was first released last year by Robby Roadsteamer before Potylo stopped recording as Roadsteamer, leads to another reason this artist is so ridiculously interesting: his obsessive use of video game imagery in his songs.
Not to get too serious about it, which would betray the whole point of the discussion, but the preoccupation is probably important to understand. He has described this album as “dark,” for instance, which could be hard to square with the creepy-jolly tone of “Saco Maine” let alone the lyrics of “See You Soon?” It includes dalliances between Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man, Miss Pac-Man and many others, and it’s only another in an endless steam of Potylo songs with such a theme, including “Tetris,” “Pitfall 2 and Solomon’s Key,” “The Legend of Zelda,” “Kathy Sucks at Karnov,” “Rush’n Attack” and, of course, “In Video Games.”
In that song, Potylo sings that “In video games, you don’t cry when your lunch break is over … In video games, you don’t shit yourself at the arcade (Don’t ask) …”
Taken together, Potylo is simultaneously saying: Life is better in video games, even the artifacts of long-abandoned systems he uses despite, in comparison to today’s fare, their hopelessly lame graphics and play; and that life is like video games, where the interactions of the characters can be used to look at our own life.
Then layer on the fact Potylo chooses to hide meekly in his room playing those video games, which is still considered rather nerdy behavior, perform as a singer-songwriter (or concocter of “children’s songs for adults”) rather than as a rock god, and make jokes at his own expense while exploiting his ability to look like a turtle — but on the rare, oddly whimsical moments onstage he takes off his shirt, Potylo has the physique of a superhero.
It’s just that there’s very little room for superheroes in real life, so he keeps his shirt on, a joystick in his hand and his head in cyberspace. When he’s not hiding, he uses a manic barrage of words and stream-of-consciousness rants to protect himself, not his fists or even the ability to intimidate that could be his.
In Potylo’s world, he’s a chunky little lo-res character battling an entire world of threats to goofy music, and those threats keep knocking him back. He keeps getting more lives, though, and eventually he’ll learn the patterns to make it through.
For his fans, that — and the rest of his quirks — are good news, and there is no bad.
Rob Potylo plays at 10 p.m. Thursday with comedian Bigg Nez, Bacchus King at 9 p.m., Humanwine at 11 p.m. and SuperPower at midnight at T.T. the Bear’s Place, 10 Brookline Ave., Central Square, Cambridge. For information, click here or call (617) 492-BEAR.