Rhythm & Views

Grand Champeen

What could you possibly have in your Palm Pilot that you can't afford to get your chaps rocked clear to next Tuesday? If you're scheduled for heart surgery, you'd better skip the Grand Champeen set at Plush Friday night, lest you be overcome by the excitement. But you may want to pick up the record to speed your recovery: It'll get your head-bobbing and pogo-ing for all the exercise you could ever need.

Grand Champeen exploded onto the Austin music scene three years ago to seize the category "best live act," any genre. Word traveled fast. The band's debut showcase at the South by Southwest Music Conference in 2001 turned so many people away that an outdoor venue was quickly scheduled for the next day, and even that show, unannounced, strained the fire code. With their third full-length release, The One That Brought You, Champeen has at last all but overcome its previous records' inability to match the energy of their live show.

Principals Channing Lewis (guitar, vocals, songwriting), Michael Crow (guitar, vocals, songwriting) and Ned Stewart (drums) met in high school in the early '90s and worked through three band names in three states before self-releasing Out Front by the Van as Grand Champeen in 2000. Later, they were joined by bassist and songwriter Alex Livingstone. The three-songwriter attack results in an all-too-rare integration of virally infectious, pounding, power pop/punk music and lyrics worth figuring out. Anger, confusion and even cynicism are balanced by a passion for life, wrapped up in a wry, and sometimes goofy, sense of humor.

Band life is a favorite topic: "The Good Slot," for instance, hammers the being-in-a-band fantasy in rapid fire, while "Alma Mater" is an a cappella send up of a fraternity song: "Grand Champeen, courageous, fighting and brave." The garage waltz "One and Only" treats romance in that semi-sweet way of adolescence, with hormones raging in the rhythm section. But "Step Into My Heart" offers a much less innocent perspective. Played with an almost '70s soul feel, the song limns a very grown-up ambivalence: "You were afraid he was the one/so what were you afraid of? Makes you wonder what you're made of."

The lyrics are smart, but the arrangements are spectacular. Fuzz, distortion, bleed, gut-wrenching riffage--they're all here, but with a hyperspeed skill level unusual in the punk/pop category. The pace and time signature changes in the rockers are insane, hook after power-punch hook. The best part, though, is that it's all about fun--ours and theirs.

Champeen's early influences are transparent; the band is repeatedly likened to The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Big Star and even Uncle Tupelo. Such comparisons may peg their forebears, but they sell the band short by a couple of decades. Their sound is entirely its own, less a rehash or even a synthesis than a leap from that foundation into the new millennium.

As the last stop on the current tour, Tucson is apt to witness a unique, tour-capping blowout at Plush. But depending on the volume potential of your stereo equipment, and the tolerance of your neighbors, The One That Brought You will rock you long after, as they sing in "Bottle Glass," "Whatever we had that could make this town/like stars in the lake--It's gone."

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