The Reigning Sound's Live at Maxwell's is not the sort of disc you want to play in the car. You run the risk of stopping traffic as passengers bolt forth to dance in the street and submit to fits of cathartic hollering.
It suffers some of the shortcomings of any live disk; most frustratingly, lead songwriter and guitarist Greg Cartwright's emotionally aggressive lyrics are lost in the noise. Still, Maxwell's does a remarkable job of capturing the virtually nonstop explosion of energy that is a Reigning Sound show, while also revealing many of the melodic and lyric hooks that transport this band out of the garage milieu into genuine pop, and even soul, territory.
Maxwell's was the first of two discs the band has released this year, by way of saying farewell to the lineup that played on them. (The band is now a three-piece, sans organ, and with a new bassist.) The second, Home for Orphans, released last month, gave a home to orphan songs, outtakes and alternative takes, mostly from the band's 2004 detonator, Too Much Guitar.
Orphans is a dark and brooding set of mostly ballads, a mood Cartwright visits only rarely, and then mostly for effect. Fortunately for Tucson fans out for a treat on Halloween, Orphans is the anomaly, and the band's new configuration will deliver a show in the Maxwell's vein to exercise, if not exorcize, whatever gremlins may be haunting Plush for the occasion.
Of Orphans, Cartwright says, "It's much moodier, although we do play a couple of songs off of it in the sets we do live. The show is mostly rock stuff, but we usually do one or two slow songs, because I like that kind of stuff, too.
"People like a little breather. It makes it that much more exciting when you move to the next rock song."
The Reigning Sound's supernatural energy, tethered to tense, Southern soul grooves, has hyper-charged fans on two continents since the Hives tapped them to open a couple of tours last year. Little Steven Van Zandt also has also given the Sound a big boost with repeated airplay on his syndicated radio show.
How is Cartwright able to sustain the stamina for such dynamic live performances? After all, he's been living the music going on 17 years with such previous garage projects as the Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers. He has no magic potions, he says; he gets his juice from the fans. "I think the best way to take care of yourself, to keep the energy level up, is just to stay interested. That's it. It's not a physical thing. Your body can provide when you need it, if you really believe that you need it. It's like adrenaline, you know? As long as you have a conviction about what you're doing, your body will find a way.
"A live performance is kind of like communion to me," he says. "That's the best part. Making records is fun and everything, but human communication, that's what art is.
"Anything else is a reproduction of art. If you don't get out there and do it frequently enough, then you kind of lose touch with the whole idea of why you do it. You're looking for some kind of epiphany, and you can't really do it sitting in your living room."
Cartwright will get a double dose of communion on Halloween night; he's doubling as a guitarist for headliners the Detroit Cobras--a sort of Cramps-like outfit that you could take home to meet your mom. It's a big, big sound, best summed up in the highlight of the band's Bloodshot Records debut, "I Wanna Holler (but the Town's Too Small)."
"That is the best part," Cartwright says. "They are two different bands and two different sounds going on. That's what makes it really fun for me. I get to do two different things every night. That's awesome!
"It's not like it's all a chore, you know? I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't love it."