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Saturday, August 14, 2010

What to Do Tonight: Coffinberry's Farewell Show

Posted By on Sat, Aug 14, 2010 at 8:00 AM

Working on Mozart’s rarely played “Concerto for Eight Hands”
  • Working on Mozart’s rarely played “Concerto for Eight Hands”

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in late July and Tony Cross and Pat O’Connor are relaxing at their West 117th Street headquarters. They’re reminiscing about eight years of playing music in the Cleveland rock quartet Coffinberry (while drinking champagne spritzers and Bloody Marys), talking about blasting out fuzzy rock grooves at breakneck speeds with their best buds.

“We’re all better friends at this point than we are members of the band,” says drummer Cross. “Back when we started, I was always amazed at bands that weren’t friends. If they were friends, they weren’t close friends; they just met to practice. I never wanted it to be like that. I wanted it to just be buddies getting together to play.”

Coffinberry were inseparable for nearly a decade — buddies, band, roommates, and partners in crime. When the four pals weren’t out playing at local bars, they were always hanging at this very house on West 117th Street, where they’ve all lived for six years (Tony’s brother and singer-guitarist Nick Cross and guitarist Tony Janicek included). Practicing and often recording in the mini-studio in the basement, the band made three albums, two EPs, and two seven-inch vinyl singles of excellent indie rock — a mixture of low-fi garage, high-spirited R&B, and real-gone acoustic roots.

But times are changing. As Janicek prepares to move to Portland, Oregon, the group is playing its final show this weekend. “We thought about maybe keeping going and finding someone else, but it wouldn’t be the same,” says bassist O’Connor. “We’ve released half a dozen records, played a lot of shows, and toured the country. We’ve been doing this since 2001. It seems like it’s run its course.”

But before the band calls it quits, the guys have prepared a parting gift for fans and friends: a final album, Adult Situations. It’s their loudest, most raucous set of barroom bruisers yet — a simultaneously sentimental and smartass sort of farewell.

“Some of the lyrics are about things ending — relationships and friendships and transitions — which is why I like the title,” says Tony Cross. “[It’s] something [you hear] when you’re younger, and someone tells you, ‘Hey, this is really an adult situation.’”

The black-and-white cover art (illustrated by local music poster artist and Coffinberry friend Jake Kelly) shows a confused looking T. rex, snacking on lizards and surrounded by volcanoes that spell out the band’s moniker in smoke. The record’s 14 songs have a similar primordial sound: 33 minutes of volcanic rock anthems built on guitar tectonics, molten percussion, and the aging howls of the Cross boys, the band’s two main writers and singers.

It’s a far cry from last year’s self-titled sophomore release, which was a low-fi roots record that sounded like Tom Waits and the Rolling Stones swapping acoustic sets in a drunk tank. The new album — which was recorded in the group’s basement studios earlier this year — replicates the band’s live sound, sorta like the Replacements crossed with Deer Tick.

“We didn’t labor over it like we did the last one,” says O’Connor. “We recorded it in a couple of days. We had never gone into a recording session thinking we wanted to make a heavy record, do it really quick, and slam it out. For us, it’s about as heavy as it gets.”

“Home Free” is all barn-stomping brawl, swinging axes, chugging backbeat, and middle-finger salute to bands like Kings of Leon; “Bitch Cop” sounds like a high-speed car chase, steering out of control on spiky guitars and broken cymbals. It’s exactly what you love about the Coffinberry live experience: two-minute rock gems, backed by a blitzkrieg of fuzzed-out six-strings, goofball aesthetics, and the raspy, gravelly vocals of the dueling Cross bothers.

Coffinberry’s strengths always relied on its high-energy stage performances. The band has played nearly every venue in Cleveland, including a Thanksgiving gig at Pat’s in the Flats for the past five years. They toured the countryside from Boston to Portland, but also to quaint country burgs like Morgantown, West Virginia, creating pockets of followers. They’ve opened up for bands like the French Kicks, Arcade Fire, and Of Montreal, but were always more at home headlining the Happy Dog or Beachland Tavern. They started the band when they were in their early 20s, and as they approach their 30s, they’re not exactly sure what’s next.

“It’s a bittersweet ending because I’ll miss it, but I wouldn’t want it to keep going either,” says Cross. “I think I’m going to take a break from playing music for at least the rest of this year. Nick and I will probably continue to write songs together, but I don’t know. If we did do another band, I wouldn’t want to make another version of this. I wouldn’t want to make another Coffinberry.” —Keith Gribbins

Coffinberry, with Prisoners and Uno Lady, play Pat’s in the Flats at 10 p.m. Tickets: $5.

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