Special Patrol Group
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Special Patrol Group

New York City, New York, United States

New York City, New York, United States
Band Rock


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Concert Review: Special Patrol Group at Arlene Grocery, NYC 2/27/09
March 2, 2009

The karaoke girl who was on before Special Patrol Group left a long table full of computer gear onstage, sauntering off to the bar to gab with her sorority sisters while the band waited patiently for her to get it out of the way. Since the band employs a lot of background vocals, meaning mics for pretty much everybody, this only made it harder for the sound guy (resulting in blasts of feedback throughout the show) he looked like he was working hard, but what is it about this place? And they had Crystal Meth Girl on door duty again). To their credit, the band rose above the dodgy sonics and delivered a tight, intriguing set. There aren't many groups in New York this good.

With guitar, keys, rhythm section and plenty of harmonies, they mixed material from their cd The Very Provocative Special Patrol Group along with some newer songs. Their lyrics are clever, allusive and often snide. With a cinematic feel, they draw the listener in to search for the culprits hiding amongst the verbal shrubbery. Their song structures are counterintuitive, surprising, bounding all over the place with tricky time changes, turning on a dime when least expected. A newcomer to their music would probably assume they're British: their sound mostly closely resembles Blur at their mid-90s Parklife peak, or maybe the Larch, with echoes of classic Squeeze and Costello back there in the rearview mirror. The musicians all seemed in high spirits, the bassist taking a smoothly aggressive solo during the inscrutable sex song Battery in Your Pocket, the keyboardist playfully adding strange and amusing vintage 70s synth colors much as Pulp's Candida Doyle would do.

While songwriter/guitarist Matt DeMella took the majority of the vocal leads and didn't embarrass himself, the star of the show was singer Katie Schmidt, projecting an effortless, somewhat dismissive charisma whether she was going down into the lower registers, all dark and smoky, or leaping to the rafters with the same kind of effortlessness as Sonya Madan of Echobelly. Working her vocals into more of the songs -- especially the understatedly caustic Late September, a slacker parable -- was a smart move, and the crowd responded warmly. She also dazzled on a more recent song, the pounding, garage-inflected Only an Oasis, a sardonic reflection on a Connecticut childhood, before passing the baton to DeMello. They closed on a high note with another new one, August, a stomping pop song for Schmidt to go sailing over, its fragmentary lyrics clearly some kind of accusation: "August and still unaware -- always there around your eyes -- packed into lies." Nice to see a good crowd come out for a good band on a depression-era Friday night. Watch this space for upcoming shows. - Lucid Culture


SPG released its first full length, "The Very Provocative Special Patrol Group," in December 2008. Mid September has been played on several college stations since release, as well as Never Negotiate. We recorded and released a second three song EP in the summer of 2009, "Special Patrol Group Completes One Task," and we have since continued writing and recording. Our LP is currently underway with an expected release date of Spring 2012.



The story of the band is the story of its members. Here are two inside perspectives of SPG, from songwriter Matt and singer Katie:

"I never know what to say when people ask me what SPG sounds like.

Power pop seems like an obvious comparison, and although I love the songs, sounds and arrangements on LPs by Big Star and the Raspberries, I could probably never write or sing a lyric like, "Ecstasy, when you kiss me I'm in ecstasy," and really mean it (Though I am very grateful that Eric Carmen could).

Some have detected the influence of jazz in our harmonies and rhythms. In truth I got a taste for these harmonies listening to rock and pop songs. In the early eighties as I rode around in the back of my mom's Pinto I heard songs by Bacharach, The Zombies and Steely Dan and their chords just sounded right to me (Though I always thought their music should be louder). Early music by the Smiths and Joe Jackson made even more sense, presenting these pretty and interesting harmonies in the form of punky rock and pop songs. Anyway, I don't think of Charles Mingus rhythms as jazz rhythms, I just think of them as good rhythms.

In the early 1990s, when I decided I wanted to write songs, I spent a lot of time trying to resolve the differences between the high brow stuff I listened to in music school and the great rock music that had wiped out all of the terrible hair metal from the late 1980s. I often found myself the only person among a bunch of string and wind players who understood that all you needed to make great music was an electric guitar, bass and drums. And none of my "rock" friends seemed to understand why I went on and on about the melodies of Johannes Brahms and Claude Debussy. I finally decided that the so-called differences between these two musical worlds were mostly on the surface. In my opinion, if you can't hear the similarities between the angular rhythmic peculiarities of Soundgarden and Igor Stravinsky, then you're just not listening hard enough.

When I was a kid, my older brother told me that if I was going to write song lyrics, I would have to be "a poet." I probably would have been much less intimidated by this had I known that by "poet," Jonathan had meant "Bono." Seriously- there are poetic devices in our lyrics, and they sound good set to music, but I couldn't call them poetry. Here is a lyric from a song "So Functional," from our first LP, The Very Provocative. I like the way the double meaning in the phrase, "content to have a ball" gives the lyric both a lighthearted and bitter tone:

"On a lake of million stars
On the hunt for love, content to have a ball
So romantic, it leaves scars
Blond and blunt she is the cat who makes the call"

All this is my perception of what Special Patrol Group should sound like. But the arrangements and sounds of these songs are shaped as much by the four other people who play them. I asked Katie to join the band because I love the sound of mixed male and female voices, and I wanted someone to share lead vocal duties. Katie has a strong soulful, unique voice. She spent her childhood living classic American show tunes, and it shows in the way she sings and interprets our songs. She also has an incredible ear for harmony and has composed a lot of wonderful vocal parts especially for our latest songs. Actually, she usually seems to just improvise them. My brother and I never really played music together as children. He played guitar and I played piano, but neither of us seriously pursued it at the time. About five years ago when I couldn't find a bassist I asked Jonathan to join me for a recording session in Portland OR. He had never played bass before. These days he sounds amazing. Our live shows and all of our recorded work feature his thunderous groovy bass playing. We occasionally disagree about the role of a bassist ("Enough f*cking inversions already") but we both share an affinity for humongous face melting bass tones. See "Mid September," "Battery In Your Pocket," and anything from our EP, Completes One Task for further examples of this. Michael and I met at the University of Connecticut music department about 15 years ago and we have played together in one band or another, ever since. He is an inventive, awesome drummer. He is also a virtuoso mallet percussionist and arranger. We have always seemed to love the same kinds of music, which may explain why we've played together for so long.

I play a Fender Jazzmaster because I have always loved Elvis Costello and Dinosaur Jr. I am a decent guitarist and singer, but my songs are catchy, funny, pretty and melodic and are probably unlike anything you have heard before. And lucky for me, my band plays them with aggression, precision, and heart.

For those interested, I took the name Special Patrol Group from a British sitcom that aired in reruns on MTV in the 1980s, called The Young Ones. The show, for its reckless energy and absurd plot contriva