Vancouver, take solace. If Allan Wilson, percussionist and sax player for dance-punk mavericks !!! is to believed, we are not the only city with a Footloose-like aversion to cutting a rug.
"Everyone always says to us 'I can't believe you made Portland dance!', or 'I can't believe you made people in Chicago dance!', or even 'I can't believe you made people in London dance'. We hear it all the time–I guess that's a problem all over."
Wilson, on his cellphone hurtling up the I-5 to San Francisco, is addressing !!!'s last show in Vancouver, where his eight-piece band managed to get every single body in a packed Plaza nightclub dancing like your dad at a wedding.
"I don't know why people have such an [aversion to] dancing. Maybe because they're too cerebral, maybe they just need, like, permission."
And there, Wilson may have summed up the appeal of his band thus far: it gives fans the chance to shake a tail feather and still maintain their self-respect. !!! (pronounced "chk-chk-chk", or if you prefer, any percussive sound repeated three times) formed in Sacramento in 1996 but only really appeared on the radar with the 2003 single "Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard". The band subsequently thrust itself into critics' and audiences' hearts with the 2004 full-length, Louden Up Now. The music was undeniably groovy, yet the lyrics were political and dark enough to let any horn-rimmed, self-styled intellectual rip up the dance floor guilt-free. It's the end of the world, their music seemed to implore, so you may as well cut loose.
With 2007's Myth Takes, the members of the group, now strewn across the country in Brooklyn, Nashville, and Portland, were presented with a new challenge: what comes after postapocalyptic? The answer, it turns out, is pop.
"There's a lot of short songs on this new record, that I guess, yeah, are more like pop," agrees the affable Wilson. "I mean, with our last album, I think the shortest song was, like, six minutes. On this one, there's three-minute songsí¢â‚¬ ¦. I feel like it's a more hopeful album, but Nic, who wrote a lot of the lyrics, he still thinks it's quite dark."
Myth Takes is actually both light and dark. There are still songs with a brooding political bent to counter the nonstop disco beats (as on the Bush-lamenting "All My Heroes Are Weirdos"), but there are also new elements to be found. Softness (the Ian Brown-esque "Infinfold") and lust ("Must Be the Moon") abound, as well as hooks that stick like bubble gum on the sidewalk. As always, the songs are jam-packed with ideas, and the sound–driving, funky bass, and keys cribbed from early Talking Heads–is as infectious as ever.
"We've been together for a long time, so we can tell each other 'Take this part out' or 'Stop doing that!'" says Wilson, who makes the idea of recording an album with seven other players sound easy. "You pick your battles."
In total, Myth Takes makes !!! sound like a band that has given itself permission to grow up, if just a little.
"I mean, we're all in our 30s now," Wilson reveals. "A couple of us are married, and some of us have kids, yeah, but I don't think it's affected us besides, like, from a tour-scheduling perspective. I mean, we still like to dance and have a good time. I still will be playing a show, dancing at five in the morning, and I think 'God, this is my job!'"
!!! plays Richard's on Richards on Friday (May 4).