Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
For a first encounter, the one that Apollo Sunshine offered was memorable. It connected on multiple levels in the fall of 2004 as the band's treasured hardball club, the Boston Red Sox, were beating the brains out of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. This was a year that Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were growing their hairs to newsworthy lengths. The four-game sweep came just following an unfathomable overcoming of a 3-0 deficit to the despised New York Yankees in the AL division series, not to mention this all coming two years after the bizarre news of Ted Williams' body being cryogenically frozen so that there may be a chance some time in the future for his family to all be together again on this earth, thanks to the glory of science.
The band, which is based out of Andover, Mass., were playing in the ceramic-tiled lobby of a Knox College dormitory in Galesburg, Ill., on the campus that was the host of one of the most famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. Opening for The Decemberists, Apollo Sunshine entwisted every inch of their instruments, amplifiers and much of the stage they lit up with strands of Christmas lights. Between almost every song, which they filled with sweaty bravado and lip-smacking guitar whinnying, they would ask the few clustered baseball fanatics at the back of the room, near the mounted television set, what the score was now. With all that they were doing on stage - all of the physicality and all of the feasts set for the eyes, all of the mind-blasting squall and gooey pop choruses - the interplay was a reminder that all of this, every second of it was supposed to be as fun as all hell. Worrying about a baseball game while performing is perfectly acceptable if you're putting out as much as Apollo Sunshine puts out every goddamn night.
These three men - Sam Cohen, Jesse Gallagher and Jeremy Black — find ways to leave themselves all chopped up and worked over on any given stage, breathless and sticky, having fully embraced the exhibition of live performance as strenuous activity. It should be a lesson to any slacker with a guitar and a powerful amplifier to give it an extra few percentage points if you're trying to get the attention of the paying customer, of which their numbers are depleted. Those rare birds can be stingy so they need the kind of exuberant stimulation and expert hooks that Apollo Sunshine float their way on the bare backs of the kind of riff-tacular stoner freakouts that come from the bottoms of the toes and can turn you sloppy drunk and comfortably high just by getting them blown into your ears. However many points - refreshing style or refreshing otherwise - we give these guys, those are surface merits and it's like awarding a logger many lauds and awe-stricken backslaps for the way he chops.
Apollo Sunshine strike from multiple fronts and angles, and they must be recognized for their turns of phrase as much for their melty summations of the shiny and bar-b-que-ed blues rock smoke rings that they produce like carbon dioxide - every breath another blast. The messages are just as strong, coming from guys who may have gone green a long time ago and who are likely sickened by the homogenization that has taken over nearly all of the parts of this country. They sing sadly about being able to buy the same thing everywhere all around the world and they get into the worldly power struggle - in a listing fashion - with new song "Better Change Your Mind," calling out countries, cultures and people who seem to all have the overriding belief that the planet revolves around them. It's a plea for idiocy to end and for the right things to be done — the band that plays so hard is down for thinking so hard too. At the same time, they could be counting down the days until spring training, when pitchers and catchers report.
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Apollo Sunshine Official Site