There's a fine line between novelty and being an artist with a well-defined theme. One thing that usually insulates a band from being written off as a party trick is its pedigree. And while New York's Morricone Youth may not feature Ian MacKaye and Kim Gordon, they do have a pretty well-respected past, with members from bands like Big Numbers, CGibbs Review and one of San Diego's most loved '90s bands, Creedle.
"I miss El Cuervo, El Zarape, Rico's and Valentine's. Shit, I miss Salazar's, Santana's, La Posta and even Roberto's. New York City's Mexican food fucking sucks!"
"I miss Fred from the Repair Zone and Tim Pinell from Top Gear. Gear and amp repair people in New York fucking suck!"
"I miss Tim Mays. Club owners in New York fucking suck!"
Judging by his adept and frequent use of the f-bomb, Devon Goldberg is now officially a New Yorker. The former frontman for Creedle has lived there for six years now. A year before he left, he and pals Chris Stillwell (Greyboy Allstars) and Steve Kader (B-Side Players) had tinkered with the idea of forming a cover band that played nothing but movie scores.
Nothing came of the idea until Goldberg landed in NYC and found some likeminded cinema junkies. Thus, Morricone Youth was born (the name is both a nod to Italian spaghetti-western maestro Ennio Morricone and a pun on Ciccone Youth, Sonic Youth's side project of Madonna cover songs). They're heavily influenced by material from the '60s and '70s-spaghetti westerns, Italian and Japanese horror films, James Bond, German sci-fi-a time when composers like Morricone, Lalo Schifrin and Jerry Goldsmith were in their prime.
"We also cover a lot of off-the-beaten-track stuff for soundtracks," Goldberg says. "Iggy Pop did Repo Man. The Germs did a song for Cruising. The only rule has always been that it must have been written specifically for film or TV or we can't touch it.
"Creedle definitely had a film-soundtrack influence," Goldberg says. "Music is such a big part of the film-watching experience for me. Good music can usually make a film. I started collecting old soundtracks from thrift stores in San Diego back in the early '90s."
Morricone Youth was only supposed to be a side project-film scores giving a wide-open source that allowed Goldbert to combine all his interests, from rock to jazz to soul to Latin music and beyond. His main project was Dao Son For, a collaboration with fellow Morricone Youth member Jefferson Rabb. Some of the songs were holdovers from the Creedle days.
But then Morricone Youth "blossomed into something much more than I had originally expected," Goldberg explains. The band is now a six-piece that reads like a list of San Diego ex-pats, with Dreiky Caprice on vocals (ex-Crash Worship), drummer Greg O'Keefe (ex-aminiature) and bassist John Castro (The Rugburns). They recorded their debut, Silenzio Violente, with iconic producer Martin Bisi.
Goldberg loved Bisi's stories of bands he'd produced, "like Bootsy [Collins] discovering mid-mix that some of the dudes in Dee-Lite were gay, Joey Ramone trying to choke Bill Laswell....
"The board was purchased from Sigma Studios in Philly, which is the board that arguably disco was created on by Huff & Gamble in the '70s. It's the same board that Bowie's Young Americans was recorded on."
The result is 14 mostly original songs that were inspired by classic movie tunes. It recasts the melodramatic romance of classic film as something fit for rock dives and art galleries. One reviewer called it "Sharp, funny, sexy and captivating." Another suggested that "Calexico has already mastered this translation without the stain of bad sax solos and weak vocals."
Either way, it's an ambitious concept well executed by some musicians who are worth their spit, and should thrill any film buff looking for a live, interactive game of "Name That Tune."
Morricone Youth plays with Goblin Cock, Buzzkill Romantics and Dreaming of Tanks at the Casbah on Dec. 28. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $8. 619-232-HELL.