Wacky NRBQ celebrates the phenomenon of the tap-dancing bats



By Steve Newton

If there were such a thing as the Illustrated Dictionary of Pop-Rock, you could probably look up the word whimsical and see a picture of Toronto’s clown princes of pop, the Barenaked Ladies.

Or maybe not.

Nowadays that spot may be filled by NRBQ, who—with new tunes like “I Want My Mommy”, “Puddin’ Truck”, and “CM Pups”—have pretty well cornered the market in smiley-faced pop-rock. Another such ditty on the group’s new self-titled CD is “Housekeeping”, a kooky commentary on the intrusive habits of hotel service staff.

“I don’t care if you’re dead,” croons singer-keyboardist Terry Adams to that tune’s boogie beat. “You’re gonna get outta bed/I’m gonna get in your room/Make way for the vacuum.”

On the afternoon when the Straight is scheduled to call Adams at his home in Vermont, the interview is cancelled because the 50-year-old rocker isn’t feeling well. When we do connect, he’s quick to blame his brief illness on the subjects of “Housekeeping”, those cart-pushing sheet changers from hell. “That’s probably how I got sick,” he says with a chuckle, “too much housekeepin’ last week in Florida.”

Adams once wrote a song called “Howard Johnson’s Got His Ho-Jo Workin’ ”. He’s one wacky guy, and his out-there persona has been instrumental in making NRBQ a unique attraction since its formation in 1969. For the new disc, Adams thought it would be nice to record his band enthusiastically chomping on some vegetables, thus creating sound effects for the closing track, “Termites”. “I think we were chewin’ on carrots or something,” he explains, “maybe celery. I wrote that song for the Rainforest Alliance, to save the rain forest. But I don’t know if they’re gonna use it.”

The playful vibe of “Termites” is similar to the one that coloured NRBQ’s wonderful kids’ record of 1997, You’re Nice People You Are. That was the band’s first studio recording since the departure of long-time guitarist “Big Al” Anderson, replaced in ’94 by founding bassist Joey Spampinato’s younger brother, Johnny. “Tom [drummer Tom Ardolino] and I just have to keep an eye on them,” reports Adams of the NRBQ siblings, “that they don’t go off into some unknown world of the Spampinatos. By the way, I’m gonna be getting converted to Italian—Adamsio—so that we’ll all be brothers.”

With his happily skewed perspective on life, it’s not surprising that Adams is a die-hard fan of TV’s The Simpsons. NRBQ has turned up three times on the show’s soundtrack, and Adams brags that he and his bandmates were the first “humans” (nonanimated characters) to appear on the series. The group also shows up in the upcoming Sandra Bullock film 28 Days,  contributing several songs. If you missed NRBQ on the small screen—or don’t feel like sitting through 90 minutes of Bullock just to catch a glimpse of them—you can experience the band in all its goofy glory at Richard’s on Richards come Sunday (February 27).

“Canada is probably one of my favourite places to be,” says the native of Louisville, Kentucky. “There’s just something really great about it. I mean, we like every place—San Francisco, Japan—but I swear Canada seems to get more beautiful every time we’re up there. Over there. Up there.”

When NRBQ does get up/over here, there’ll be a special treat in store for the loco locals who fancy the band’s zany performance style. Now there’s much more to the band’s stage show than lampshades on their heads and Cabbage Patch Kids on their keyboards.

“We’re celebrating the phenomenon of the tap-dancing bats,” confides Adams. “We found out about the dance that they do before they mate, and we’ve got this whole piece about that. You know, bats are mammals, they’re warm-blooded, so it’s somethin’ that we can all relate to.”

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